A beach with wifi

Can’t quite believe I started blogging here about leadership, work and Web 2.0 way back in June last year, trying to suss out exactly what I’d be putting in the book I was supposed to be writing. Well, I’m chuffed to say that the book is done, dusted and about to become reality – December 1st 9th is the publication date (fingers crossed).

Maybe unsurprisingly, the book, Monkeys with Typewriters, has taken on a whole life of its own, so it seems a good time to set up a dedicated blog for those critters. And to reclaim this blog for all other iKnowHow news and projects. So, if you’d like to follow the monkeys, they’re over here.

As for iKH, well, all sorts of exciting plans are in the offing. But I’m trying to get priorities right. During a recent chat with Luis Suarez (yeah, Luis with the great job at IBM, and the life on Gran Canaria), I found myself saying that we were relocating to a beach, too. For a few months at least. That’s, um, after moving house. So, first big project? Find somewhere new to live. Second? Track down that beach with wifi!

Thanks to Princesscy on Flickr for the beautiful beach pic.


The monkeys are coming…

Monkey typing

Originally uploaded by Jemima G

It’s nearly over! As you might know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, or if you’ve ever had the misfortune to bump into me after a hard day’s graft, for the past two years I’ve been working on a book looking at social media at work.

It started out with a focus on leadership…and then morphed a bit – because you can’t look at “leaders” without taking “followers” into account as well.

So it’s turned out to be a bit of a socio-cultural, anthropological snapshot of the contemporary workplace, with some practical business stuff and future-shaping trends thrown in. All looked at in the context of the digital/ social media/ Web 2.0 revolution.

The title is “Monkeys with Typewriters: myths and realities of social media at work” and the publication date is 1 December. There’ll be a launch event at Cass Business School on 9 December.

Why the monkeys? Well, it was probably Andrew Keen who got me started on that. He warned that monkeys with typewriters are authoring our future. And the more I looked into the monkeys with typewriter idiom, the more I liked it.

Because, of course, we are the monkeys!


The man MPs love to hate

I was hoping to record some Audioboos last night at the RSA London Fellows’ monthly gathering, but typically arrived late and managed to miss much of the action.

It wasn’t a bad turnout – around 30 fellows, potential fellows and some I guess just there for the free drinks. There were a good few animated discussions taking place, and lots of uber-networking – not surprising when you’ve got nine candidates for the new RSA Fellowship Council trying to politely convince people to vote for them.

There was one key disruptor present who (no doubt to the great relief of the RSA powers-that-be), won’t be standing for election – Henry Gewanter, the man now famous for breaking the MPs’ expenses story.

Just to give you a flavour of the conversation (and in case you haven’t seen it already), social reporter David Wilcox has done a great interview with Henry. Click on the embedded video above to see it.

Henry L.Gewanter – what a name! What a guy! It goes without saying that his career in (ahem) corporate communications is over, but with those Newman-esque eyes and rotweiller character, surely a role as media luvvie beckons?


Happy birthday Aung San Suu Kyi!

Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday 2008:

Beneath London’s Strand, in one of the brick lined tunnels that used to enable boats to dock and goods to be unloaded in order to serve the grand houses, offices and hotels above, Burmese campaigner, Khun Saing, is talking about his love and respect for a woman 6,000 miles and many worlds away – Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Burma’s democracy movement.

“I feel so much discomfort and misery that she is now facing an unfair trial facing a maximum of five years in prison,” says Khun Saing.

He is referring to Suu Kyi ‘s current situation where she has been arrested and charged with “allowing” an unknown American to swim across the lake around her house, thereby “breaking the terms of her house arrest”.

Khun Saing remembers a party many years ago where he met Suu Kyi, already a pro-democracy activist and clearly someone who was being watched closely by Burma’s military regime. Anxiously, he asked her if she planned to stay in the country.

“ ‘Oh yes, of course. I have to stay,’ she replied, calmly and in perfect peace…I suddenly sensed she had already been thinking of that question many times herself… Her response was firm with no loss of composure…I felt the answer came from the bottom of her heart.”

A few months later Suu Kyi was arrested and imprisoned for the first time. Khun Saing was also arrested and thrown in jail. His fellow prisoners told him they had been building a house that was intended for Suu Kyi to live in. This was a clear sign that the regime planned to sentence Suu Kyi to further imprisonment.

“She always tried to change our country from military dictatorship to democracy by peaceful means,” says Khun Saing. “She always wanted to talk to the dictatorship.”

“20 years is enough. She has been harassed, humiliated and insulted. Through these years she has shown grace and dignity. She could have left the country at any time. She could have compromised with the regime for her own self-interest but she hasn’t sacrificed the needs of the Burmese people.”

“I feel guilty and ashamed of myself for putting that question to her and for leaving the country myself…I admire her courage and simplicity.”

Sitting in the audience at the RSA, where Khun Saing is telling his story, I can see that everyone is moved. Suu Kyi has committed no crime, yet she is growing old in prison. She is a leader without a hierarchy, a leader despite the years of abuse and attrition and emotional torture from her captors.

Suu Kyi is a symbol of hope for her people, but also a symbol of the struggle for human rights everywhere.

Today, is Aung San Suu Kyi’s 64th birthday. We should do all we can to remind Suu Kyi and the Burmese people that their plight is not forgotten. Please change your profile picture, blog, tweet and spread the word. To read more about the situation in Burma, see The Burma Campaign’s official Suu Kyi birthday site.


Putting your ideas on the line

Since 2007, Roland Harwood has been running Nesta Connect, a programme for collaborative innovation. I’ve come to Nesta to meet Roland because so many projects I’ve covered in the book, including Steve Moore’s 2gether and RSA Networks, have received funding through this initiative.

A central aspect of Nesta Connect’s research is the question of how big companies can organize themselves effectively in today’s “fluid” economic, technological and social environments.

Roland’s team helps large multinationals such as Procter & Gamble, Oracle and Virgin connect with the small innovative companies – and individuals – that can help them.

The question of who owns what intellectually is key in these relationships. Small players are fearful of being taken advantage of, while larger businesses are increasingly sensitive to accusations of greed or exploitation.

“With P&G we looked at IP in a project called “The Future of Laundry”. That may sound kind of trivial but domestic laundry is a massively important market… P&G set the bar very high – they only wanted to look at [collaborative] products with potential revenues of $1m or more per annum.”

It’s common for large businesses to have a policy of not signing non-disclosure agreements.

“You need to have a patent in place if you want to talk to [these companies],” explains Roland. “This is because they’ve had situations in the past where they’ve developed something similar in house [to that which a potential collaborator has proposed] and been taken to court. But securing a patent is expensive and can take years so potential partners are often excluded.”

P&G has a long history of collaboration but it wasn’t until the company’s share price collapse in 2000 that “Connect and Develop”, a programme specifically aimed at outside collaborators, was created. While the company’s strategy is to increase the percentage of products which involve an external collaborator, the need for patents was creating a barrier.

Nesta Connect stepped in and acted as a kind of “trust broker” between P&G and its potential collaborators.

“We were trying to open up the dialogue between P&G and small innovative companies. We formed what was essentially an “air lock” between Nesta, P&G and the small companies.

“The big learning from that whole project was that if you want large and small companies to communicate you need to build trust, and involving a neutral third party can be a good way of doing that.”

All in all, Roland’s experience of working with multinationals has been hugely positive: “I’m surprised at how receptive large companies [are] to trying this stuff.”


Power to the people

Maria Sipka is on cloud nine. And it doesn’t look like she’s coming down any time soon. Last month her new venture, Linqia, secured a second round of funding. And yesterday she heard that Plug and Play – the high powered US incubator – will seed Linqia’s expansion in the States.

But the thing that’s really got her buzzing was an event organised by Procter and Gamble on Wednesday night: in the last 36 hours Maria’s team has raised £7,265 to help vaccinate newborn babies against Tetanus – all as the result of a social media campaign that they set up in minutes.

“This event was held in Geneva last Wednesday and 200 employees from all over Europe attended, plus 50 people from social media – Google, MySpace etc. Over a few hours, they created this amazing experience.

“You can’t get 200 people in a room and motivate them without having a story to tell: social media is all about story-telling. P&G have this initiative with UNICEF, fronted by Salma Hayek, funding Tetanus vaccinations – the idea was to raise money for the cause.

“The event lasted around two hours. The way it was set up is that there were five different rooms with about 50 people in each room. We all walked into our assigned rooms and had to get started. I didn’t know what was going on, no-one knew what was going on. Everyone was like a herd of sheep.

“It was collaboration on a massive scale. At the start, it was the simple act of just sharing information: ‘What’s going on here?’. Then we had about ten minutes to define our strategy. And the leader (each room had a designated leader) asked ‘Shall we all work on the same thing or should each table do something different?’.

“We said ‘Let’s each do something different’ – so we had one table deciding key influencers, another table looking at SEO, one generating content, another identifying ‘big fish’ – super wealthy people – and another covering media buyers.

“And then it was like ‘Bang – go!’. And on the fly we had to define strategies. So I was sitting there telling people what Twitter was, for example. I had to identify ten followers who had a lot of followers: Mike Butcher, Robert Scoble etc. As a result of that initiative I had exposure to 100,000 people.

“Every time something important happened it flashed up on a big screen. And we could also see the results [of the fundraising] in real time. Someone called Salma Hayek and got her to donate. Someone else said ‘Hey who are the 100 most followed on Twitter? And got on the phone to Ashton Kutcher. Every time there was a success we celebrated it. We raised £12,000 in two hours, we were trending on Twitter. People’s heads were spinning.

“Overall more than £30K has been raised since Wednesday night. And that’s all as the result of a campaign which we invented on the spot – the great thing is that we got quick tangible results. That’s the sort of uplifting experience that says to anyone ‘You can do it!’”

The experience has created a Eureka moment for Maria:

“One of the biggest issues is getting people internally to evangelise. There’s no better way to indoctronate than to get people involved in an activity…This type of format works really well in convincing the cynics. It could be used anywhere.”

If engaging people and inciting their passion is the best way to get them to learn, it looks like Procter and Gamble have found a great way to crack it.


Your space or mine?

Steve Lawson’s mum is on Twitter and she loves it.

“I showed her my Twitter page. I showed her people we knew who were already on Twitter. I said you can now see what I’m up to and make funny comments about it and I’ll know what you’re up to. She said that’s fantastic, what a great little tool!'”

Steve’s a musician based in London; his mum is retired and lives in a tiny village in Scotland, so social media is a great way to keep in touch.

“She gets it because she curates the space. It’s not branded. She decides who she wants to follow. She can block people. She feels in control. One of the reasons she got into it was that I didn’t use the language of social media to explain it to her: I used the language of conversation and of letter writing.”

Steve’s a true social media champion. His blog gives regular updates on his very “2.0” approach to doing business:

“My entire career has been created online. I had a hunch early on that record labels weren’t the way to go. I set up my first website in 1997/8 and put out my first record beginning of 2000. I put a load of my first gig up online, and there were people who wanted to buy my CDs. The process of my ‘art’ happening in dialogue with my audience was already there.”

Steve joined MySpace in 2004 and now has 949 friends there, compared to 2,097 followers on Twitter, so it’s not hard to guess which network he prefers.

As Steve points out, MySpace is alienating to anyone over 30:

“They’ve used this pop culture language. People who are 50 look at it and think ‘Why the f*** would I want to be on MySpace? What a complete waste of time’! When they log onto the MySpace front page and see Lily Allen or Eminem and they’re barely literate, they think ‘Why do I want to be part of all that?’…[The message is] ‘It’s our space, and you’re invited to be in it, on our terms’.

All this wouldn’t be so bad if MySpace wasn’t one of social media’s flagbearers.

So, for anyone needing reassurance about taking the online networking plunge, apart from getting stuck into Twitter, what else does Steve recommend?

He’s a great fan of [fellow musician] Pat Kane’s book, The Play Ethic:

“I really like Pat Kane’s take on all this. He says: “It’s a big playground, a space to mess around in, not everything’s of massive significance. There are all these people who feel they need to ‘get’ it or they’re a failure but when you frame it as just a conversation removed from the limitations of proximity…just like walking into a bar…that makes it all seem much more accessible.”


Planet Rock

It’s nearly a month since the launch of Audioboo and Mark Rock is quietly pleased with progress.

This morning the social audio network was name-checked by Chris Moyles on his Radio One show. Tony Blackburn, Stephen Fry and the BBC’s Technology correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones are all fans.

Corporate clients include The BBC, ITV and The British Library.

Audioboo enables people to record and upload audio from anywhere using an i-phone. The technology will soon be available via other mobile phone networks.

Audioboo is not only easy to use – it’s completely free.

When Mark’s company, Best Before Media, launched Audioboo in partnership with Channel 4’s 4IP fund, they decided to make it a “Freemium” service.

This means that the majority of users can access the software for free; a small proportion (currently around 5 per cent) pay a monthly subscription of £2.95 for additional features (eg: easier uploading, larger photo allowance) while a tiny number of corporate clients pay around £500 a month for customised versions.

There are three reasons for launching Audioboo like this, says Mark:

1. It’s a social network so it doesn’t work without content
2. The costs of adding each extra user are minimal
3. It’s an innovative product – a relatively new idea

Podcasters love Audioboo: earlier this year, Christian Payne (aka Documentally) audiobooed the birth of his son. And news journalists are also finding it useful: when BBC reporter Matthew Weaver forgot his digital recorder at the G20 protests in London in March, he used Audioboo instead.

Mark is keen to build on this initial enthusiasm: he has ambitions for his new baby to be “the audio version of Twitter or Flickr”.

So he’s been thinking a lot about “sound ecology” (our aural environment) and speaking to people called “acousticians. Like all true innovators, Mark is carving out a market for something that we don’t know we needed – until now. Mark sells it winningly:

“When my three years old is 15, imagine how great it will be to have an audio record of her life!”

Every profile and tag on Audioboo has an RSS feed. And users can create audio maps featuring any type of sound they like. Soon, Best Before will publish an API that’ll enable people to build applications that expand Audioboo’s functionality. It’s very much a work in progress.

“It’s an agile model. The customer is more important than the business plan. You iterate. It’s all about trying stuff. Because a product isn’t fully developed, it means you launch as free.”

It’s early days and the product has yet to become profitable, but Mark is optimistic for the future. He cites networks such as Flickr, Vimeo, Last.FM and Spotify as examples of other networks apparently succeeding with the Freemium model.

There are competitors in this space: Twitmic and Evernote – but Mark’s social focus may just give him the edge.

Part of the challenge is thinking laterally. Among other plans, Audioboo hopes to tie in with The Guardian Hay Festival later this year. Watch the the Best Before blog for further updates!


Us Now: fave quotes

“Any system that tries to apply rules to human behavior leaves itself open to being gamed. It’s scarey. Not everyone can cope with it. But I think if you show trust, then what tends to happen is that you reduce the incentive to game the system substantially, so just by being open and showing trust you can actually protect yourself.”
– Lee Bryant, Headshift

“It’s just the beginning of this fantastic phenomenon. It’s really a very powerful force for good – the potential for people to connect in this way.”
– MT Rainey, Horse’s Mouth

“There are lots of challenges in doing something like this. There’ll be sabouters, there’ll be some people who won’t have access to the web, there’s the whole complexity of millions of ideas and how these can aggregate together and the good ones come to the core. But these are all in the category of implementation challenges, they’re not in the category of reasons not to do it.”
– Don Tapscott


Us Now launches online

Us Now from Banyak Films on Vimeo.

Ivo Gormley’s new (ish) film, backed by The RSA and ThinkPublic, is a timely look at how social media is impacting on political power. For anyone who couldn’t make or didn’t get to know about last year’s London premier, it’s great news that the entire film is (as of yesterday) available to view online – thanks to some hard coding work from Chris Thorpe at Jaggeree.

Case studies include travellers’ accommodation swap network Couch Surfing, peer to peer telephone exchange The People Speak, people’s bank Zopa, music financing engine Slice The Pie and fan-owned football team, Ebbsfleet United.

I love the score (originally composed by Orlando Robertson), the time-lapse photography (courtesy of Guy Gormley) and the overall optimistic message: I like the way the music gets scarey and the tone becomes dark as back-packer Eric looks up his couch-surfing host in a dimly-lit back street – only to be confronted by a smiley bloke cooking pasta.

Not surprisingly, Clay Shirky dominates the talking heads (the film opens and closes with his quotes) but there’s a rich seam of interviewees ranging from Shirky and Don Tapscott through our own home-grown experts Lee Bryant and MT Rainey to the less familiar faces of “ethical hacker” Shane Kelly and Mumsnet user Lorayn Brown. But it’s a shame JP Rangaswami didn’t make the final cut: he would have been a welcome non-white voice in an otherwise monotone selection.

Overall, a great film. There’s only one thing I’d disagree with: the claim (by Alan Cox) that some programmers had used Linux to hack their car speedometres to play Ride of the Valkyries as “a reminder to slow down” when they’d gone over the speed limit. Yeah, right.