Capillaries can carry compressed context

I’ve been playing around with FoxyTunes, installing it in Firefox, getting the TwittyTunes extension. And it’s not just because I like music. I think what’s happening here is very powerful.

Let’s start with Twitter, it looks harmless and gormless, what possible use could it have? After all, what can you do in 140 characters? Let’s see.

First off, I can send messages that look like the one below. I typed it in myself, it described what I was doing at the time.


What don’t I like about it? Well, it’s not good enough for the 21st century. For starters, I shouldn’t have to type it in. Something should be scraping what I am doing, capturing it in a way I can choose to share with others. Choose, we must remember that word. And what else? Oh yes, wouldn’t it be nice if I could enrich the information I was sending? Provide more information about the artist or group, maybe YouTube video links, maybe Wikipedia links, maybe Flickr links, maybe even the homepage of the band or group. How about a link to the song itself, so that someone else can sample it, try it out, decide for themselves if they like it? Maybe even a way to search for more information, and the tools to buy the CD or DVD in physical or digital format?

Chance would be a fine thing, but ….. how can I SMS all that? But wait a minute, the 140 character limit isn’t a real limit, not if I send a short url linking to all that. Or even better, having someone do that for me, a web service like tinyurl.

So now all I need is for someone to build an app that scrapes what I am listening to, figures out what it is, goes and collects the enrichments and conveniences I want to send with the information (band links, YouTube, Flickr, Google, Amazon, the Facebook fan page, maybe a Netvibes collection of related feeds, the Wikipedia entry and so on) and then packages all that into a small space using something like tinyurl.

Which brings me to TwittyTunes and FoxyTunes. Now my Twitter message looks like this:


It does the scraping, directly out of my iTunes. It lets me choose whether to share what I am listening to with others, song by song. It sends the message on to Twitter. But that’s not where the value is. For that, you, the “follower” of my tweet, need to click on the link, and hey presto, you get something that looks like this:


You see, this is why I play with things like Twitter. Not because I want to appear cool. But because I am so old and grey and slow that the best way I learn is by playing. Now I can really see how something like Twitter can add value in the enterprise. And I’m secure enough in myself to want to share what I find out, openly and freely. Which is what I’m doing here. [Without a business model or a monetisation plan in sight :-)]

It’s worth bearing a few things in mind. First there was the web. Then there was SMS. Without SMS there is no Twitter. Without the web there is no Twitter. Now we’ve had tinyurl for a long time, but it starts coming into its own when we start using something like Twitter. As a result of all this, someone else could build something like FoxyTunes (which looks like Netvibes meeting, and then building TwittyTunes to connect up with the Twitter world. And then suddenly everything else waltzes in to enrich what we can see and do, ranging from text to audio to video, from search and syndication and conversation to fulfilment.

What strikes me is the power manifest here, the power of connecting simple things like SMS and tinyurl and Twitter. Small pieces loosely joined, as David Weinberger said.

We are moving into a world where open multisided platforms will dominate, with simple standards and simple tools connecting up wide open spaces. We are seeing it happen now. This post is not about FoxyTunes. Or TwittyTunes. Twitter. Or Facebook. Or Google. Or Amazon. Or iTunes. Or Flickr. Or YouTube.

It’s about all of them. It’s about all of them, and the apps we don’t know about yet, the ones that will emerge tomorrow. How we can find ways of bringing all of them together and moving information around them, linking information between them, enriching and sharing that information beyond them.

By the way, we do stuff like this in the enterprise already. This is what we use e-mail and attachments for, this is why we use mailing lists and address books and spreadsheets and documents and presentations. All the things we’ve grown to love.

Or, in my case, hate. If you’re like me, you’ve had it with those tools. Absolutely had it. H.A.D. I.T. They are so not fit for purpose. Or. looking at it another way, there is a generation of tools out there that are so much more fit for purpose.

We’re not dealing with firehoses any more. We’re dealing with capillaries, as I discussed in my post yesterday. And these capillaries carry and distribute information nutrients, and process and eject information waste and toxins. The real power of all this lies in the increasing transportability of context.

Oh, incidentally, in the past, I’ve found the tools for grabbing screenshots frustratingly complex and time-consuming, so I’ve tended not to use them. It is fitting that this time around, I could do all this easily. Because of a project called Jing, and because I then had simple and seamless ways of going from Jing to Flickr to iPhoto to ecto to WordPress. And guess how I found out about Jing? Through someone’s tweet.

Also incidentally, it would be worth looking at the role played by the opensource movement in making sure we can move around so freely between all these applications. Which brings me to a strange conclusion. More a hypothesis. Am I right in considering the possibility that VRM is necessary only because everything is not opensource? That good opensource obviates the need for VRM? Doc? Don? Steve? Chris? Chris? Anyone out there?

Why I still use Facebook, and other musings on social networks

I am sometimes bemused by life. Confused even.

Over the last few months it has become ever more fashionable to bash social networks in general, and Facebook in particular; the king is dead, long live the new king, blah blah. Just a few months ago, you couldn’t walk around without bumping into a Facebook conference, you couldn’t read around without bumping into a Facebook article, you couldn’t talk around without bumping into a Facebook conversation.

Such is life. I haven’t stopped using Facebook during all that; I haven’t stopped wanting to build a Facebook for the Enterprise, creating a Behind-The-Firewall set of functions and utilities that can extend Facebook functionality while coexisting with Facebook. And, as far as I can see, there are 60 million other people who haven’t stopped using it. People who largely don’t know any of the critics, people who have been using Facebook since it began. People like my daughter. She doesn’t know about much of the kerfuffle, and doesn’t care.

I can understand her.

You see, I didn’t use Facebook to be cool, to have something to say, to have something to blog about. I went into Facebook because I saw a set of utilities that would help me in my quest for Four Pillars in the Enterprise: Search, Syndication, Fulfilment and Conversation.

So when I saw the wave of pushback against Facebook, I had to ask myself why I continued to use it. And think hard about my answer. And it taught me something about how I felt about social networks. Which is this:

The information that flows through a social network exists in three dimensions. One dimension is time, past, present and future. A second dimension is number, one to many. A third is movement, static to dynamic. When I share my contact details with another person, I am providing static, present, one-to-one information.  When I share what I am intending to do with a whole community, I am providing dynamic, future, one-to-many information.

The motivation to provide information is, at least in part, driven by an expected value of the information coming out of Facebook. And one other thing: the comfort level of providing, to a community, what is essentially private information.

Generation M and their successors are comfortable with sharing their past actions, current state and their future intentions with the community they belong to; they’re comfortable with sharing changes to states and intentions as well. They do this because they believe new value will emerge from that sharing. Collaborative, communal value, shared value.

So why do I use continue to use Facebook?

It’s simple. Because it continues to give me more than the value I used to get from it. Because it continues to give me more than the value I expected when I started using it. Because I can see a way of deriving even more value from it. Particularly as I learn to use tools that augment the Facebook experience, tools like Twitter and Dopplr and even WordPress.

Nothing changed for me. Or my daughter. Or her friends.

That’s all.

Applauding our own behinds

While returning from New York yesterday, I read David Rakoff’s Don’t Get Too Comfortable on the plane. Viciously funny. But that’s not the point of this post.

In a chapter entitled What Is The Sound of One Hand Shopping, Rakoff quotes the inimitable Lenny Bruce, saying:

Lenny Bruce described flamenco as being an art form wherein a dancer applauds his own ass


I love flamenco, in all its forms. The music, the fingerstyle guitar playing, the dancing, the atmosphere. I also love what Lenny seems to be saying, which I personally interpreted as “Be careful, don’t take yourself too seriously, otherwise passion becomes pretension.”

And I think we do need to be careful. We of the blogosphere and the A-listers, the technomemes and the Dr Seuss naming conventions and the Everything 2.0, we need to make sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We need to recognise that we’re nothing more than a bunch of passionate early adopters participating in a big and potentially far-reaching set of changes to how we communicate.

When I see the kerfuffle surrounding the Scoble-Facebook face-off, I begin to wonder. I really begin to wonder.

More musings about what makes Facebook different

A few days ago, I commented on the some of the reasons why I thought Facebook was different, and ended with this:

So that’s my guess, that Facebook is a multidimensional conversation. Why is that important to the enterprise? Why is it important to work-life balance? These are questions I will seek to answer over the next two days. If you’re interested, keep an eye out.

It’s time to keep my word.

Why are multidimensional conversations important to the enterprise? Let us first look at what I mean by multidimensional conversations.

[As with anything else I write, I urge you to pick it up, mangle it, shred it and in all probability improve it. That’s the important thing, as long as you also share what you improve. Who said I had a monopoly on articulation? I sure didn’t. I’d rather we opensourced the idea, as it were, so that we see Linus’s Law operate on ideas and concepts, not just on code].

When I say multidimensional conversation, I mean some sort of interaction that takes place between people in different contexts: family, work, beliefs, hobbies, interests, whatever. Each a “community” in its own right. With people belonging to multiple communities at the same time, some more than others. With people having different roles to play in these different communities.

I think that’s the first thing that really struck me about Facebook. That it wasn’t just a community site; instead, it was a site where communities coalesced and sometimes even collided. I felt this really resonated with real life; people often belong to multiple communities when they are young; it gives them the chance to be “different people” in different communities, so they do it. Over time these communities tend to merge and coalesce; in some cases, people fight to keep their different personas distinct and separate, and this causes them immense anguish.

What does this have to do with enterprises? I think people belong to different communities even in enterprises, each community with its own purpose, its ethos and values, its membership, rites, rituals, interests, what-have-you. If the communities are few, and if they don’t overlap, then you get tribalism. And an enterprise riven by tribalism is a dank and gloomy place.

Humour me for a moment, and accept, for a few minutes, the idea that people, even enterprise people, enjoy belonging to multiple communities. Multiple memberships in multiple overlapping communities. Why would this be of value to enterprises?  Let me try and explain.

When you belong to a community, you have some sort of relationship with others in that community. When everyone belongs to multiple communities, you land up having multiple “strands” of relationship with the same person. That’s really useful when you’re in a pinch together, or even in a full-blown crisis. Even if one of the strands is weakened, the others hold the two of you together.  This is not just true for a given pair of people, it works multilaterally.

Christopher Locke used to call this “organic gardening”, this concept of having shared interests beyond work, but at work. When I first met him in 2000, he was passionate about the need for firms to have multiple levels of relationship, both within the firm as well as across the enterprise boundaries.

Working together is all about relationship, about trust and respect. These things get fed and enriched when you spend time together. It’s the same at home. You want a worthwhile relationship with your partner, your children, your parents, your friends? You’d better put the time in. How do you put the time in? It’s simple when you have common interests.

So what am I saying? I think that Facebook facilitates relationships at multiple levels between people, by providing utility services to multiple overlapping communities. I think that as a result, multidimensional conversations take place. I think that the relationships that grow as a result are fundamental to enterprise success.

Talking about relationships. I think it’s time for a segue into privacy. Why segue at this stage? Because I think there is a critical link between relationships and privacy. I was talking over aspects of privacy with Kaliya Hamlin sometime ago in Brussels, and she recommended that I read Daniel Solove’s The Digital Person. Which I duly did. Great book. Actually, Kaliya’s great to talk to about anything to do with identity and privacy; while I don’t always agree with her, I always learn from talking to her.

Solove’s book covers a lot of ground. I won’t pretend to be able to summarise it here, but let me touch on a couple of points.

One, Solove talks about three “large databases” interactions to do with information about the individual: business to business; government and the individual; government acquiring from business. While Solove is concerned about malevolent use of the large quantities of  private data flowing around, he seems to be much more concerned about the Kafkaesque misuse of the same information, as a consequence of bureaucratic bungling.

Two, Solove makes the assertion that we can never train individuals to process large quantities of private data as efficiently as a (bungling) bureaucracy, and as a result most attempts to protect the “data” will fail. The bureaucracy gets information as a result, and the individual gets shafted.

I think Solove has a point there. I have never seen “data protection” legislation amount to much….. just look at what’s been happening in the UK recently…. the trouble with empowering bureaucrats with handling large quantities of private information is simple…. when something goes wrong, no one is accountable.  And the individual suffers.

In trying to get over this, Solove raises an interesting idea. Regulate the relationship, not the data. As with priests, lawyers and doctors, make the relationship between information provider and information gatherer a sacrosanct one.

[Incidentally, these should not be seen as attempts to paraphrase Daniel Solove. Please read the book for yourself. All you see above is some of the takeaways I had from his book, read some time ago. My apologies to all who feel I have misinterpreted what he said.]

Which brings me back to Facebook. As long as (a) I am free to choose what information to share with Facebook; (b) I am free to choose whom I am sharing it with as a result; and (c) I can see what I am sharing, and with whom …. we are making progress. Sure, I would like to see better tools for importing and exporting information in and out of Facebook, but I sense that it’s happening. Maybe it’s not happening fast enough for some people, maybe it’s not happening openly enough for some people, but it’s happening.

In that sense I think of Facebook like I think of iPods when they first came out. I was prepared to accept a degree of closedness initially, if I liked the design, if there was utility value, and directionally I could see an open way forward.

So much for the multidimensional conversation bit. What can Facebook do to help me with work-life balance? This is really an offbeat theme, something I’ve picked up from comments people have made over the last year or so. Where I work, I think we have around 7500 people on Facebook. Some 50 of those are my “friends” …. while I may know more of the 7500, we haven’t yet got around to exchanging friend requests.

Over the last year or so, we’ve had the opportunity to watch each other’s multidimensional interactions on Facebook, and this has accelerated our understanding and appreciation for one another. Some of my “friends”, observing my status messages and receiving updates on my activities in their Mini feeds, have commented on something I hadn’t considered. That what I do lays down an audit trail of my work-life balance. As a result, they can see whether I “walk the walk” or not.

Unintended consequence it may be, but I thought it was valuable. There is a level of transparency that comes about as a result of using tools like Facebook in the enterprise, a transparency that can demonstrate whether people actually adhere to the values they speak of.

Facilitating multidimensional relationships. Providing an audit trail showing whether people adhere to the values they speak of. These are the sort of things that, in my opinion, differentiate Facebook from other social network sites.

Is Facebook the greatest thing since sliced bread? No. Can it be improved? Yes. Will I expect to see better competition emerge, especially for the enterprise space? Yes. Is it open enough? No. If misused, can it form a gigantic threat to privacy? Yes.

There are a hundred questions, and a hundred answers. I’d rather not spend time pontificating about all that. What I’d rather do is to use Facebook in order to improve it, in order to build the right things outside it, in order to build the right things in it, in order to be able to make worthwhile comments.

So that’s what I’m doing. Comments welcome.

Some Friday evening ruminations around Facebook et al

I guess I used to be a CIO for a while. At least that’s what my business card said. I have so far not been able to convince my employers, past or present, to let me call myself Grand Panjandrum or (my current preference) CXO (formally expanded as Chief Something-Or-The-Other). So CIO it was, and CIO it had to be. At least until recently, when I reverted to being a Managing Director, something else I used to be multiple iterations ago, in both my previous incarnations.

Because I was a CIO for a while, I became part of a network. Many networks. An embattled breed, CIOs tend to work together, ask each other for advice, share experiences and issues. Which is a good thing. Cross-enterprise collaboration is always a good thing.

Over the last eighteen months or so, one of the questions I got asked regularly was my attitude to Facebook. Some of the questioners read my blog, so they want to know why I am so pro Facebook. Others, less aware of my position, just want to know what my employers think. What stance we take.

So a lot of guys asked me about Facebook. Which was interesting. Because these guys never asked me my stance on MySpace. Or Bebo. Or CyWorld. Or Flickr. Or LinkedIn. Or Plaxo. Or Spoke. Or Xing. [For completeness’s sake, I should point out that a few of them did ask me about YouTube, particularly after there were rumours of an Amarillo video taking down the army’s network.]

Why is Facebook different? I don’t quite know, but it is. Stuff like MySpace and Bebo are overtly narcissistic, it’s all about how you express yourself. Facebook, on the other hand, is about relationships and conversations. I guess you can say that about LinkedIn as well, but it’s not the same thing. LinkedIn is a very narrow one-dimensional conversation. If you’re not looking to hire or be hired, it’s not a place to go. I may have a few hundred connections on LinkedIn, but the reality is that it becomes a useful virtual address book for me, one that gets kept up to date by the person who owns the address.

So that’s my guess, that Facebook is a multidimensional conversation. Why is that important to the enterprise? Why is it important to work-life balance? These are questions I will seek to answer over the next two days. If you’re interested, keep an eye out.