SuperSkills talk at TEDxBrighton

The video of my SuperSkills talk a couple of weeks ago is up on the TEDx Brighton site and YouTube now.

The SuperSkills idea was one which I was airing for the first time, and am continuing to work on. The notes and links are all in the post – TEDx Brighton notes on my talk – I put up on the day. If you have any feedback at all I’d be immensely grateful…

And just so you can see what the slides are like with the fonts in beautiful Gotham – here they are again…

TEDx Brighton: SuperSkills View more presentations from Antony Mayfield.

I loved the experience and the opportunity to try out my idea. Thanks so much to Tom Bailey and his team who put the event on for next to nothing.
You can see the other TEDx Brighton 2011 presentations ont he TEDx Brighton website – I’m looking forward to watching many of them myself, there was some seriously interesting stuff there.

Thoughts on privacy and location: nosey neighbours and norming

This post is the extended version of the notes and research I made to prepare for a talk I gave at Local Social Summit 2010. Hence the length and odd format – if you’re thinking about or researching privacy, location and social media hopefully there’s some useful things here. Have a look at my Delicious bookmarks tagged privacy and location if you want to see the raw links…

Privacy is a complicated issue, to say the least. Giants like Facebook and Google regularly trip over it and look uncertain if not clumsy in their approach to it. Individuals are often either surprised to learn that this is an issue for them, or overly cautious about how they use the web.

Even as I started the talk and begin to write this post, I’m thinking of another post I need to write on the subject, along the lines of “designing for privacy”. It’s an issue everyone from developers to media and brand owners need to consider when thinking about the social web.

This is where I got to…

Privacy is a complex issue: Complex, but we keep trying to over-simplify it. Some talk about it as invioable right, without going into detail about what it entails. Web companies try to wish it away as an issue – I find it amazing that people as smart as Google CEO Eric Schmidt can use the“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” argument or Mark Zuckerberg can try to insist that the argument has finished and publicness-as-the-default has won.

Privacy is a proxy issue for people’s hope and fears about the web

In discussions I hear or read “Privacy!” thrown in like a rheotorical grenade. Bang! Stop everything! Privacy is under threat, and like motherhood and apple pie it is too precious to put at risk.

I sense that “privacy” is sometimes a catch-all term to encompass things that make people uncomfortable, their unease with social and cultural change that growing numbers of them realise is happening as a result of the web.

Privacy makes good headlines

Since I started researching for Me and My Web Shadow a couple of years ago, the number of stories about Facebook, Google and privacy in the mainstream media has grown. Last summer saw useful initiatives like make the headlines and then be hi-jacked by insurance aggregators as a PR story, while the Daily Mail criticised BT “spies” who “trawl internet” conversations to find people having problems with the firm.

These stories are worrying because they raise fears about privacy without looking closely at the issues or giving practical advice.


People are often unaware of what they are revealing about themselves

Geo-tagging your photos can give away a lot of information about you, but many people don’t realise they are doing it. A project by a interesting bunch of security experts called I Can Stalk U is trying to raise awareness about this by using a crawler to gather information about where people are when they post photos to Twitter and then Tweeting an @ message to let them know (see the post about Educational stalking for a related initiative by a secondary school English teacher).

Even the very digitally literate get the odd scare, as Shea Sylvia’s story The Night I Was Cyberstalked on Foursquare shows.

The privacy debate in society may take place at a local level

It could well be that it is at a local levels that people face the implications and consequences of online publicness and start to work out where they draw the line between public and private, how the new social norms will work.

If local authorities are happy to abuse laws designed to combat terrorism to investigate and surveil their citizens for petty offences, it is likely that sooner or later we’ll hear of some bright spark trying to use geo-tagged photos and Tweets to prove parents are lying about the school catchment area they live in or not recycling their plastics in the appropriate way.

Privacy is not a personal matter

Writing Me and My Web Shadow coincided with my less geeky friends (“Hotmail friends” as Danah Boyd, once put it) really committing to Facebook, going past the addiction and over-enthusiastic social games phases and starting to use it as part of their everyday lives.

It became clear to me that what I did with my Facebook privacy settings and vice versa affected us all. If I post photos of people online, I make some decisions about their web shadow for them.

Discussion and social norming are required for us to work out how privacy works within our actual social networks. This is something we can and will all take part in…

Privacy is a fluid concept

Bill Thompson puts it really well in a talk he gave to the Lift Conference. Privacy as we understand, or understood it, is a new concept and one which may disappear or change radically.

The notion of people being happy to trade away their privacy is wishful thinking

Many people want to be in control of what appears about them in the public domain. Witness the “whitewalling” trend among young people spotted by (again) Danah Boyd. They want and need access to Facebook, but in order to remain in control of what is on their wall, who tags them where, they close down their accounts completely (temporarily) while they are not online.

Innovation can solve privacy issues

Sharing my location is useful, but sharing it permanently with anyone in the world who knows how to look for it is an unattractive proposition. Services like Glympse set a precedent for handling privacy differently from presuming openness is what people want – you can use it to send your location to people or broadcast it but after a period of time you choose – say a couple of hours – that information is deleted. In a similar vein Whapee is a photo-sharing service that lets you geo-tag photos anonymously.

Maybe “personal data management” is a better description than “privacy”

Obviously it is not – it is not very pithy for a start – but you catch my drift. What we talking about with privacy in the context of the social web is not “the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people” (as my computer’s dictionary puts it), but being in control to some degree or other of what others observe or how they are able to disturb you.

We need to stay close to users’ perceptions of privacy

Point is, privacy, what privacy is, how people understand it and what they want from it is changing all the time. Different users will have different points of view, different personal policies. If you commissioning or building services and spaces in the social web you need to understand where they are at right now.

Privacy is a design issue

Perhaps I mean an innovation issue, and we’ve covered that above, but I suspect that applying design thinking to how users data, their privacy/publicness will be affected by a service would be useful. It is certainly something to be borne in mind from the outset in the development process.

Whitewalling: Teens create their own Facebook super log-off


Here’s an interesting approach that Microsoft researcher Danah Boyd found a young person using to manage their Facebook privacy and presence:

Mikalah uses Facebook but when she goes to log out, she deactivates her Facebook account. She knows that this doesn’t delete the account – that’s the point. She knows that when she logs back in, she’ll be able to reactivate the account and have all of her friend connections back. But when she’s not logged in, no one can post messages on her wall or send her messages privately or browse her content. But when she’s logged in, they can do all of that. And she can delete anything that she doesn’t like. Michael Ducker calls this practice “super-logoff” when he noticed a group of gay male adults doing the exact same thing.

Mikalah is not trying to get rid of her data or piss of her friends. And she’s not. What she’s trying to do is minimize risk when she’s not present to actually address it.

It goes to show that despite a platform’s desire to push people into disclosure by default, users will find ways to make their own choices about how publicness works. Because for many young people not being on Facebook just isn’t an option.

I asked Shamika why she bothered with Facebook in the first place, given that she sent over 1200 text messages a day. Once again, she looked at me incredulously, pointing out that there’s no way that she’d give just anyone her cell phone number. Texting was for close friends that respected her while Facebook was necessary to be a part of her school social life. And besides, she liked being able to touch base with people from her former schools or reach out to someone from school that she didn’t know well. Facebook is a lighter touch communication structure and that’s really important to her. But it doesn’t need to be persistent to be useful.

In the comments and related Tweets to this post, we can see that this hacking of the way Facebook works to suit personal reputation / presence management is common. One Tweet from @Tremblebot says their students call it “Whitewalling” or “Whitewashing”, and that the practice requires an investment up front and then makes it easy to stay on top of what people are posting about in the way of comments, tags and photos.

Perhaps this is something I should add the second edition of Me and My Web Shadow in the workflow for managing reputation. Certainly, if Facebook were to take a leaf out of Twitter’s playbook it would think about adding this as an easier to use or more prevalent feature.

“Whitewalling” also looks like evidence for the notion that people, yes even digital natives, want to retain some control over their privacy and what the world sees and hears about them.

How Howard does it: attention master at work

This is a great video in which Howard Rheingold (using Screenr, an interesting Twitter screencasting tool) explains his process, his workflow, for gathering information and putting it to work (or turning information into knowledge as he says).
The simple five-minute walkthrough is very useful to me personally, as I am thinking about both how I process information / knowledge and how to define and explain these processes and the digital literacies involved to others. Howard teaches digital media at Stanford and urges his students to use these tools as part of their work – so he has some strong insights to offer (to say the least).
There is so much information out there, in Twitter streams, in Google, in Delicious, in email in Facebook, in the articles that we read online, that the challenges for knowledge workers are becoming acute, specifically:
  • Attention: How do you focus on relevant things and not get distracted by the endless fascinating things being discussed in your social networks. Or as Howard has explained it before, how do you learn to switch from diffuse attention, where you are open to your network’s inputs and focused attention where you hone in on the thinking and effort around a single task, such as writing a report or chapter of a book. (The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr expands on issues around how we pay attention online and in deep thinking/reading long-form text, by the way – more to come on this from soon.)
  • Creating value / knowledge: Twitter for example, is wonderful. But you could spend all your time playing the game that is Twitter, collecting and sharing links with your ever-expanding network without ever turning the links into working knowledge, adding your perspective.
Blogging, for me, is one tactic for refining information into knowledge in this way (which is partly why I get twitchy if I don’t write a post for a long time). The discipline of switching my attention to creating a post and not diving back into the Twitter stream hunting for new hits of exciting information, is a way of of re-stating what I have learned in my own words.
That act of writing, reporting and analysising (even briefly) that both really understanding what I am reading and connecting it with other ideas, creating my own perspective. Sometimes that perspective adds value in my network, sometimes it just helps me understand things better (usually you don’t know which it will be – usefulness in networks is hard to predict).

In the video, Howard talks about various stages in this example process of turning information into knowledge. How I heard them was…
  • Tuning his network to get useful information: His Twitter network is tuned to topics he is interested in (multiple topics might be focused with Twitter lists, of course) and he uses Twitter searches to find new inputs.
  • Collecting/curating information: Useful sources of information are stored as annotated bookmarks in his Diigo / Delicious databases.
  • Refining the information in his own databases: Devonthink, a desktop personal database,?is put to work to categorise and combine bookmarks and documents, snippets of information. He is making sense of it, turning links and articles into personal, working knowledge.
  • Turning the information into knowledge: Howard describes the whole process as being about turning information into knowledge. In this case, he is writing a book about attention (which I can’t wait to read) – the Devonthink data informs his writing in the Scrivener application (which helps authors combine notes and draft manuscript elements in a clever way).

We need to be aware of how our own workflow/thinking processes work, for the simple reason that they are new, evolving, emerging. There are no neat sets of productivity tools available with a training course – we hack together our personal collections of tools and behaviours (I don’t use Devonthink for instance, and have done no more than dabble in things like Diigo and Scrivener, that Howard mentions as key elements of his process) that work for us.

Image (cc) RuffLife

To keep working effectively we need to be able to critically reflect on our own behaviours and adjust them. With practice it gets easier to do this. I think of the stages of the process like a kind of graphic equaliser – I’ll tinker with the levels as I go along, but as I get better at it I know there are pre-set patterns that will work best for different types of work: writing a speech may require little collecting from the network, but a focus on refining the information I have already collected my Delicious and my blog, whereas writing my new book will require tuning my network, interrogating it for new data and connections.

: : Note to self: One useful exercise we might carry out to examine our own processes and practices would be to turn on a screencasting tool and capture how we browse and what we do with what we find.

Transgressions: Noobs, boobs and Facebook privacy

A tangled web of transgressions...

Privacy is one of the most complex social, political and commercial issues on the web. It’s not a single issue at all really, it’s a seething mass of issues, struggles, norms being negotiated, lines being re-drawn…

For privacy, read: change. Read: brave new world. Read: cry for help. Read: incitement to revolt.

A few years ago, Matt Locke wrote an incredibly useful essay called Six spaces of social media (secret, group, publishing, performing, partcipation and watching), in an attempt to pry definitions of social spaces away from technical and platform ones and focus minds on what was actually happening in these spaces. You know, the interesting, human stuff. All of these spaces might exist in Facebook, for instance, or in a forum, or across several platforms (Twitter/blog/Facebook/email is a common combination).

Now he’s come back to the topic with a post about transgressions, that is to say when other users or the platform owners do things with your stuff (data, identity, images etc.) that you didn’t want them to.

Learning to read Twitter


Twitter. It’s all about learning to see it.

Out of utter respect for Howard Rheingold (and a weariness of Twitter neologisms) I’m going to stick with calling it Twitter literacy. If you have been reading about Twitter for a while I bet you five quid a revolting part of your brain is doing back flips right now,  trying to twist “Twitter” and either “literacy” or “neologism” together.

It’s OK – the noise does that to you. Drives you mad.

The noise may quieten down soon (maybe, possibly, please) as Twitter “down the backlash slope of the hype cycle”, as Howard puts it.

He’s summing up intelligently, in the context of social web literacy, what a good many Twitter advocates have been saying in the wake of Nielsen’s data about Twitter abandonnment by new users: “it took me a while to get it”.

To me, this represents a perfect example of a media literacy issue: Twitter is one of a growing breed of part-technological, part-social communication media that require some skills to use productively. Sure, Twitter is banal and trivial, full of self-promotion and outright spam. So is the Internet.

He continues…

The difference between seeing Twitter as a waste of time or as a powerful new community amplifier depends entirely on how you look at it – on knowing how to look at it.

There you go. A lot of very web literate souls took a year or more to learn to read Twitter, to speak Twitter, to become literate in it and weave it into their lives. Granted, there are more people who have the knack now, who can pass the skills along. But still the sign up – try it – becomes part of your media life process is seen by analysts and commentators as the only path that will lead to success.

I’m sure there is a data viz tool out there somewhere that if applied to my Twitter stream from three years ago would show a sputtering start, some pauses, a falter and then a stream of use. I’m sure I never even started doing really literate things like “re-tweeting” until about two years after I began.

Anyway, read Howard’s post, not least because he has compiled an elegant and compelling list of reasons that

Bring on the backlash, and an end to the hub-bub that distracts from people learning to read Twitter.

: : Bonus video. You could do a lot worse than watching this video of Laura Fitton talking to Google about Twitter. Smart stuff…