Public notebook

Twitter… witter… itter… tter… er.


Image: Beware the Echo… (Credit: Zorilla)

Tom‘s an echo-chamber refusenik, which is one of several good reasons I make a point of reading everything he posts on his blog Usable Interfaces. He’s a guard against lazy thinking, re-Tweeted half-thoughts and emergent untested aphorisms.

Take his latest broadside – “Just because you can” – against Twitter noise in the UK marketing networks. Basically he’s taking issue with the idea that agencies *should* have a Twitter voice and that the longevity and frequency of that voice will show you how good they are at social media stuff (this also chimes with my own suspicion of Twitter lists as meaning anything – how can you benchmark behaviour in a single way when people have so many different ways of using it?).

I’ll pick you out a few challenges and warnings that might shake you out of sleepwalking into a world where you declare microblogging to be the answer to the agency world’s ills:

  • “…it’s also fair to say that the mere presence or absence of a twitter stream does not confirm or deny a reasonable approach to the medium – just as the presence of a brain does not imply brain activity.”
  • “…isn’t ‘thought leadership’ something that PR people invented in the late 90s…. I mean the concept that a single thought-leading idea will be used in marketing or PR. Isn’t is an idea precisely oriented to single-track mass media of which Twitter is the antithesis?”
  • “…the benefit of Twitter in terms of promoting our agency is that people can see that there is a great deal of (leading) thought going on, and they can get involved in those thoughts and start a debate. But EMC Conchango as an entity doesn’t have a single view on anything. It’s got 400 views.”
  • Having a single Twitter voice for his agency “would be a denial of thought, and certainly wouldn’t be an indication of our leadership position. Unless we were following the North Korea model.”

Cheers, Tom – thanks for the challenges and keeping us intellectually honest.

Public notebook

“Command and control is dead”: the shape of next gen organisations is social networks


Image: John Chambers, CEO of Cisco: “command and control is dead”.

A lot of the questions I have had floating around my head for the past few years are beginning to be answered by innovative companies. Questions about how you manage companies, organisations, in the age of networks, when you have to move beyond the cloying constrictions of command and control hierarchies.

I was listening to a fantastic episode of Peter Day’s Global Business (can’t find it to link to on the BBC website – subscribe to it on iTunes if you don’t already). He was interviewing John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, about how the company was developing to keep up witht he pace of the web revolution.

The answer was that over the past two years Mr Chambers has been tearing down command and control as a way of doing things at Cisco. Why? Because “command and control is dead”, as will the companies that cling to it over the next five to ten years, he says.

Hunting around for more on the Cisco approach, I came across this lecture (can’t embed the video, please follow the link) John Chambers gave at MIT in January. It’s very, very good indeed – my ears pricked up especially at about 18 minutes in when he started talking about managing the 65.000 person business via social netowrks.

  • Uses a system of global councils (which build around a social networking group) to tackle any business need or challenge – they sketch out an outline approach within a couple of days and have a business plan in place in a couple of weeks (each council on market opportunities tends to be looking at $10 billion+ markets).
  • This networked, cross-functional approach is prioritised for all. Leaders are incentivised most of all on cross-functional success. [This is brilliant – focusing energy on tearing down divisions, siloes etc.] Behaviours changed very quickly once incentives were altered.
  • “I have 26 [of these Global Council networks] at the moment – I think it may be too few.” Previously Cisco’s operating committee were able to to tackle perhaps two or three of these issues a year.
  • “Speed and scale” – this is the imperative for adopting networks as a way of working. More gets done faster.
    “I blog. I would never have said I would blog two years ago. I video blog all of my messaging.”
  • Currently there Social networking approach means that instead of bringing 10 top leaders to bear on problems in the company he is able to get 50 to 500 leading. [Flatter organisations mean more leaders.]
  • Listen to how he had to adapt as a leader (59 minutes) – this was an effort of will for John personally. He had to sit on his hands and learn how not to be directive, among other things. But very quickly people were “making better decisions than I could have”.


Public notebook

Ada Lovelace Day: Shona Brown

Image: Ada Lovelace
Image: Ada Lovelace

Suw Charman has asked people to join her today on Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of the first computer programmer, in writing about women in technology that they admire.

Now, I’m a cultural rather than a tehcnical geek, so the woman who leapt to mind that I admire most in the tech industry is Shona Brown, SVP of Business Operations at Google.

Shona Brown took on responsibilities for Google’s business operations in 2003, following almost a decade consulting with technology clients in Toronto and Los Angeles for McKinsey & Company.

Image: Shona Brown, Google's SVP of Business Operations
Image: Shona Brown, Google’s SVP of Business Operations (image source: Google)

I first heard about Shona Brown in this 2006 profile of her in Fortune called Chaos by Design. She took on one of the most interesting cultural and business challenges in the world when she stepped into  Sergey and Larry invited her to come and take all of this on after reading Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos:

Brown has made a career of arguing that anarchy isn’t such a bad thing — which is why Page, co-founder Sergey Brin, and CEO Eric Schmidt hired her in 2003. A business theoretician in a company dominated by engineers, she considers Google the “ultimate petri dish” for her research, though her job is anything but theoretical. In addition to overseeing human resources (called “people operations”), Brown runs a SWAT team of 25 strategic consultants who are loaned out internally on ten or so projects at a time — restructuring a regional sales force here, guesstimating a market size there.

This isn’t about just management. It’s about how you manage companies and people in the age of networks, when hierarchical approaches are inadequate and an embrace of chaos.

The company’s goal, says Brown, is to determine precisely the amount of management it needs — and then use a little bit less. It’s an almost laughably Goldilocksian approach that Brown also advocates in her book, co-written with a Stanford business professor. The way to succeed in “fast-paced, ambiguous situations,” she tells me, is to avoid creating too much structure, but not to add too little either. In other words, just make it not too hot and not too cold, and you’re done.

Early on in my iCrossing experience I had left a lot of the certainties and structure of the PR agency world and embraced a start up mentality, drawing heavily on Guy Kawasaki’s thoughts in Art of the Start. when I read her interview Fortune magazine, I felt reassured and inspired simultaneously when I read her quote: “If I ever come into the office and I feel comfortable, if I don’t feel a little nervous about some crazy stuff going on, then we’ve taken it too far.”

It still inspires and informs the way that I think about the way that organisations need to adapt to be successful in networks, in an age defined by the complexity and pace of the web revolution.

Via Euan Semple.

Public notebook

Bild’s Vado publishing eco-system and the promise of user generated advertising

Image: The Vado from Creative
Image: The Vado from Creative

This was an amazing week, that passed at a few hundred miles an hour, so sorry for the silence.

First thing that has grabbed me this morning as I peruse my feeds is this story from Jeff Jarvis about how the German magazine Bild, took the concept of the Flip‘s small, simple video camera, made it its own and sold 21,000 to readers in five weeks for just 69 EUROs each.

Result: thousands of “reader reporter” videos being submitted. Soon, the magazine says it will be using this growing installed based of video camera’d readers to launch a concept called “user geenrated advertising” in four weeks.


Here’s Jeff talking to Kai Dieckmann, editor of Bild about the story of the Vado so far…

The magazine worked with electronics company Creative to make the camera which sells cheaper than the already reasonable Flip. Even at the poor Sterling / Euro rate we’re looking at a Flip-like camera for about £50.

The uploading of video via USB to your computer defaults to Bild’s website… which encourages people to post their videos there, naturally.

The model reminds me of iPod+iTunes, only in reverse – it’s about creating content rather than just comnsuming it. In this case it is camera+platform+media company to go and promote that platform…

Really looking forward to seeing what this highly innovative media company does with “user generated advertising”. I’ll be asking my colleagues at iCrossing Germany to keep a close eye on how this thing evolves…

Public notebook

In trust we trust: keeping it human…

Image: Don't feed the humans (Brighton graffitti)
Image: Don't feed the humans (Brighton graffitti)

Took some time to read some more of What Would Google Do? today and was stopped in my tracks by some of Jeff Jarvis’s thoughts on trust, a topic which has been much on my mind in recent weeks.

Trust is more of a two-way exchange than most people – especially those in power – realise. Leaders in government, news media, corporations, and universities think they and their institutions can own trust when, of course, trust is given to them. Trust is earned with difficulty and lost with ease. When those instituions treat consituents like masses of fools, children, miscreants, or prisoners – when they simply don’t listen – it’s unlikely they will engende warm feelings of mutual respect. Trust is an act of opening up; it’s a mutual relationship of transparency and sharing. The more ways you will build trust, which is your brand.

Trust makes up much of that thing we call reputation. And when hard times come, whether you’re a brand or an individual inside or outside an organisation, it is time to test your trust.

What have you earned? What have you won and stored away for when you need to make that ask, find that opportunity, seal that deal. You never really know how much you have or where it lies – it’s outside of your awareness and your control, out there in your networks, your tribe.

It also strikes me, yet again, that the rules, the emerging successful patterns of behaviour online, are very much the same for individuals as for brands.

It’s those parallels, the elevation, the restoration, of human social rules to what makes for successful politics, commerce, culture, that make me feel it’s OK to talk about “the social web” as being more than just about social computing tools.

I’m going to write about this a lot more soon, in a book. It’s not going to be going down the “personal branding” route – helpful as that is to some people. I’ll be avoiding the b-word applied to individuals, because for me brand carries too many connotations of control and design, and that’s even less helpful and appropriate for individuals that is for big corporate brands themselves.

Anyway, more later on that…

Public notebook

Typograhic history of the City of London

I’m posting a lot of videos recently. Maybe I should be setting up a Tumblr blog for this sort of thing. Maybe not.

Anyway, this is a gem: combining three of my interests: typography, London and history, it’s a short film by Michael Bokkowski at Linefeed:

A Typographic Survey of the City of London from Michael Bojkowski on Vimeo.

Definitely worth 15 minutes…

Via Peter Parkes

Public notebook

SXSW and Pepsico

OK, so I really wish I was at the uber-geek gathering SXSW. Ho hum. Packing up the house instead – I will get over it.

Was particularly interested to see that the whole thing was being sponsored by Pepsico.

i’d like to think that while the company justified its spend largely in traditional terms (opnion formers, blah blah, drink brands like Mountain Dew sposnoring certain elements of the event) that this is most likely about social web literacy. The sponsorship gets the company’s people in the thick of it, playing with the platforms. I was espacially taken with this good looking aggregator that catgorises what SXSW Tweetists are up to (Sunday morning UK time, they’re partying on Saturday night still).

Image: Pepsico's SXSW Twitter aggregator
Image: Pepsico's SXSW Twitter aggregator

Pepsico’s one of the growing number of big brands that over the last year has made senior appointments to lead its work around the social web and engagement.

It looks like a company that’s learning, spreading web literacy within.

Public notebook

API and they know it: Guardian distributes *everything* online

Image: Help yourself (to the Guardian's data
Image: Help yourself (to the Guardian's data)

* Updated *

I’ve also written about Best Buy setting its catalogue content free at the iCrossing Connect blog…

Jeff Jarvis has an excellent post headed APIs: The New Distribution about The Guardian’s decision to distribute everything online.

If you’re even slightly non-technical you may not know what an API is. Basically it’s a way of letting anyone who wants to take Guardian content (headlines, copy, images, video) as it is published and do something different with it.

It makes its content more portable, more shareable, more distributable.

It means The Guardian has taken the limits off of its own content, the limits of what it can think to do with it, and of what can happen on its own site. Feeds from its content will be fed into the most groundbreaking, gamechanging ideas of the next few years (and some duff ones too).

One of Jeff Jarvis’s colleagues describes the move as putting its content “into the fabric of the internet.”

This is a bold move, but one that shows the web literacy of the Guardian Media Group: it understands thefundamentals of being a brand in networks, that it is best served by being in the networks, making itself as useful as possible. It’s just taken the logical next… leap.

This comes at the same time as the BBC is freeing up its news videos to be embedded in other websites.

All well and good – neither organisation is beholden to a quarterly P&L. The Guardian’s a trust and the BBC is a publicly funded (and generously so) corporation. Makes you think that maybe companies that aren’t for profit are the ones who stand the best chance of surviving the gear crunch of adapting to the web. Maybe traditional commercial models aren’t going to be as good at  surviving when it comes to media?

Apart from trusts and public money, the other players in the media mix are the brands. They used to fund the media through advertising mostly, but now will be direct players. How many of them would win in the attention markets by releasing data through APIs like this? Insurance companies have giga-wotsits of useful information. So do publishers, so do pharma companies, so do most people.

If you could, what data from your organisation would put out through an API tomorrow?

Public notebook

Beautiful magnetic fields

I have to agree with Curtis – this film is amazing…

Magnetic Movie from Semiconductor on Vimeo.

It was commissioned by Channel 4 and made  by Semiconductor.

Here’s another for good measure….

Brilliant Noise from Semiconductor on Vimeo.

Public notebook

This sort of thing will give direct mail a good name…

…if they’re not careful.


When James Gardner got a copy of a book by someone with the same name it intrigued and then delighted him. Then he realised it was just a clever bit of direct marketing from Adobe.

The amount of time I spent examining this book – which has a table of contents outlining every significant feature of their solution – was orders of magnitude higher than I would have done on a simple brochure. In fact, the brochure would have been put in the bin immediately.

This book, however, will stay on my desk, probably indefinitely.

Nice work.