This is the archive of version one, made in 2006, launched in 2007, and active until 2012. It’s archived to preserve the original design and its content that was referenced in multiple posts, books and galleries. There’s a holding page before the new site arrives.

Entries tagged with ‘social’


  1. Self-promotion

    The world has changed. Everything we do is more immediately visible to others than ever before, but much remains the same; the relationships we develop are as important as they always were. This post is a few thoughts on self-promotion, and how to have good relationships as a self-publisher.

    Meeting people face to face is ace. They could be colleagues, vendors, or clients; at conferences, coffee shops, or meeting rooms. The hallway and bar tracks at conferences are particularly great. I always come away with a refreshed appreciation for meatspace. However, most of our interactions take place over the Web. On the Web, the lines separating different kinds of relationships are a little blurred. The company trying to get you to buy a product or conference ticket uses the same medium as your friends.

    Freelancers and small companies (and co-ops!) can have as much of an impact as big businesses. ‘I publish therefore I am’ could be our new mantra. Hence this post, in a way. Although, I confess I have discussed these thoughts with friends and thought it was about time I kept my promise to publish them.

    Publishing primarily means text and images. Text is the most prevalent. However, much more meaning is conveyed non-verbally. ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.’

    Text can contain non-verbal elements like style — either handwritten or typographic characters — and emoticons, but we don’t control style in Twitter, email, or feeds. Or in any of the main situations where people read what we write (unless it’s our own site). Emoticons are often used in text to indicate tone, pitch, inflection, and emotion like irony, humour, or dismay. They plug gaps in the Latin alphabet’s scope that could be filled with punctuation like the sarcasm mark. By using them, we affirm how important non-verbal communication is.

    The other critical non-verbal communication around text is karma. Karma is our reputation, our social capital with our audience of peers, commentators, and customers. It has two distinct parts: Personality, and professional reputation. ‘It’s not what was said, it’s who said what.’

    So, after that quick brain dump, let me recap:

    • Relationships are everything.
    • We publish primarily in text without the nuance of critical non-verbal communication.
    • Text has non-verbal elements like style and emoticons, but we can only control the latter.
    • Context is also non-verbal communication. Context is karma: Character and professional reputation.

    Us Brits are a funny bunch. Traditionally reserved. Hyperbole-shy. At least, in public. We use certain extreme adjectives sparingly for the most part, and usually avoid superlatives if at all possible. We wince a little if we forget and get super-excited. We sometimes prefer ‘spiffing’ accompanied by a wry, ironic smile over an outright ‘awesome’. Both are genuine — one has an extra layer in the inflection cake. However, we take great displeasure in observing blunt marketing messages that try to convince us something is true with massive, lobe-smacking enthusiasm, and some sort of exaggerated adjective-osmosis effect. We poke fun at attempts to be overly cool. We expect a decent level of self-awareness and ring of honesty from people who would sell us stuff. The Web is no exception. In fact, I may go so far as to say that the sensibilities of the Web are fairly closely aligned with British sensibilities. Without, of course, any of our crippling embarrassment. In an age when promoting oneself on the Web is almost required for designers, that’s no bad thing. After all, running smack bang through the middle of the new marketing arts is a large dose of reality; we’re just a bunch of folks telling our story. No manipulation, cool-kid feigned nonchalance, or lobe-smacking enthusiasm required.

    Consider what the majority of designers do to promote themselves in this brave new maker-creative culture. People like my friend, Elliot Jay Stocks: making his own magazine, making music, distributing WordPress themes, and writing about his experiences. Yes, it is important for him that he has an audience, and yes, he wants us to buy his stuff, but no, he won’t try to impress or trick us into liking him. It’s our choice. Compare this to traditional advertising that tries to appeal to your demographic with key phrases from your tribe, life-style pitches, and the usual raft of Freudian manipulations. (Sarcasm mark needed here, although I do confess to a soft spot for the more visceral and kitsch Freudian manipulations.)

    There is a middle ground between the two though. A dangerous place full of bad surprises: The outfit that seems like a human being. It appears to publish just like you would. They want money in exchange for their amazing stuff they’re super-duper proud of. Then, you find out they’re selling it to you at twice the price it is in the States, or that it crashes every time it closes, or has awful OpenType support. You find out the human being was really a corporate cyborg who sounds like you, but is not of you, and it’s impervious to your appeals to human fairness. Then there are the folks who definitely are human, after all they’re only small, and you know their names. All the non-verbal communication tells you so. Then you peek a little closer —  you see the context — and all they seem to do is talk about themselves, or their business. Their interactions are as carefully crafted as the big companies, and they treat their audience as a captive market. Great spirit forefend they share the bandwidth by celebrating anyone else. They sound like one of us, but act like one of them. Their popularity is inversely proportional to their humanity.

    Extreme examples, I know. This is me exploring thoughts though, and harsh light helps define the edges. Feel free to sound off if it offends, but mind your non-verbal communication. :)

    That brings me to self-promotion versus self-aggrandisement; there’s a big difference between the two. As independent designers and developer-type people, self-promotion is good, necessary, and often mutually beneficial. It’s about goodwill. It connects us to each other and lubricates the Web. We need it. Self-aggrandisement is coarse, obvious, and often an act of denial; the odour of insecurity or arrogance is nauseating. It is to be avoided.

    If you consider the difference between a show-off and a celebrant, perhaps it will be clearer what I’m reaching for:

    The very best form of self-promotion is celebration. To celebrate is to share the joy of what you do (and critically also celebrate what others do) and invite folks to participate in the party. To show off is a weakness of character — an act that demands acknowledgement and accolade before the actor can feel the tragic joy of thinking themselves affirmed. To celebrate is to share joy. To show-off is to yearn for it.

    It’s as tragic as the disdainful, casual arrogance of criticising the output of others less accomplished than oneself. Don’t be lazy now. Critique, if you please. Be bothered to help, or if you can’t hold back, have a little grace by being discreet and respectful. If you’re arrogant enough to think you have the right to treat anyone in the world badly, you grant them the right to reciprocate. Beware.

    Celebrants don’t reserve their bandwidth for themselves. They don’t treat their friends like a tricky audience who may throw pennies at you at the end of the performance. They treat them like friends. It’s a pretty simple way of measuring whether what you publish is good: would I do/say/act the same way with my friends? Human scales are always the best scales.

    So, this ends. I feel very out of practise at writing. It’s hard after a hiatus. These are a few thoughts that still feel partially-formed in my mind, but I hope there was a tiny snippet or two in there that fired off a few neurons in your brain. Not too many, though, it’s early yet. :)


  2. Twitter :focus

    Tiled background using the letters of 'twitter' to make up different words.

    The preceeding image contains words formed from some of the letters in, ‘Twitter’. They’re not anagrams because not all the letters are used in every word, but it was fun. It’s a seamless tile. If you have a use for it, please feel free under the usual licence. Just out of interest, the typeface seems to be a bespoke variant of Chickens by David Buck (SparkyType).

    I like Twitter because…

    It reminds me is that human beings are still tribal. As an example, if you check your own address book, or think about your family and friends, they probably number no more than two hundred people. We may have more in the book, but it’s rare for our intimates to be greater than two hundred people. Our networks are geographically dispersed these days. Even if your network is mostly in one location, people are so busy living that it can be difficult to stay in touch. Twitter is a facsimile of living and working in proximity for me, and provides something unique, too:

    It may often be prosaic, but I like reading about the daily lives of people I know. The small details of peoples’ lives are often the most poignant. The ambient intimacy is priceless. Working alone in my office, mild doses of cabin fever are inevitable. I miss being around people. I miss being around people I like even more. Twitter brings them to me. If we like people for their good qualities, but love them for their frailties, Twitter helps us do both. Everyday it adds texture to the picture I have of my friends.
    It also introduces people to me I would not have met, and enriches relationships with people I’ve only met briefly. This can’t be understated in developing relationships with people. In many ways, it’s even better than geographic intimacy because I can turn it on and off. Rather than subjecting my followers to every detail of my day which would be painful if we were in the same room, I can moderate what I share. The same is true in reverse. If used judiciously, Twitter is priceless for getting to know people without being intrusive.
    Information comes my way that I’d otherwise miss. The things that are fascinating or important to people I care about or respect are delivered in short bursts. I can’t count how many interesting snippets have come my way through the fingers of those I’m following or followers’ direct replies. It’s akin to hearing people think out loud. There’s a freedom I think we all feel using Twitter that enables us to throw random thoughts and links out to the world. The fact they don’t impose unless the recipient wants them to might be something to do with it. It’s unobtrusive soap-boxing at its best.
    If people have taken the time to follow a person or organisation, the chances are they are interested in what they have to say. However, the intent behind the content is important: There’s a fine balance between self-promotion and self-aggrandisement. One is the personal delight we take in sharing what we’ve done, the other is giving it the ‘big Billy Graham’ to encourage obeisance or be commercially manipulative. I appreciate it when people make announcements or share links that are relevant to me, or a delight to them. The same goes for organisations. But, if it feels like they wish to use me as a witness to their greatness, I always shy away.

    I’d like it more if it had…

    1. UK inbound SMS, again. The recent loss of SMS notifications was a blow. Like many people, I only used inbound SMS for direct message notifications. In the UK, the sender pays for SMS delivery, not the sender and the recipient like in the USA. Twitter had to bear the brunt of all charges; UK companies were too short-sighted to give a decent deal to a service that was extending SMS usage. Hey, it’s not like SMS is their most profitable service, or anything. Consider the amount of data in a single text message and how much they charge for it. For the same cost you probably get about a minute of call time transferring much more data. See what I mean? SMS equals huge profits.
    2. Friend filters. I’d like to be able to add many more people to my list of friends if I could. The truth is, when I’m head down with work, I struggle to keep up with those I follow right now. Allowing me to asign friends to groups and filter groups would enable me to track colleagues and close friends when I’m swamped but also dip into the lives of acquaintances better when I have a spare moment. Another filter in a similar vein is one all Twitter users miss: followers filters to be able to organise follows alphabetically, or chronologically, if nothing else.
    3. Hashtag filters. Hashtags are supremely useful in tracking topics — automatic linking would be good — but they could also be useful in ignoring them, too. Especially around conference time when the chatter can get overwhelming as people organise social stuff and live-tweet the talks. This is not rudeness, just signal versus noise filtering when I’m tethered to my desk.
    4. Link filters. I admit it, sometimes I’m only interested in the links people share. That would make me the hyperlink version of a gold digger, or you could say I love some people for their brain, more than their breakfast.
    5. Full archiving: I use Twitter like a narrowcast journal. The events and moments are worth remembering. Recently the archive got extended to 820 tweets, or 41 pages, but I’m pretty certain the rest are in the database; we just need a way of getting at them.
    6. (Last but not least:) Better use of :focus. Currently, the improved interface has no styles on :focus, and much more seriously, the reply, favourite and delete icons for each tweet are not available at all via the keyboard.

    Today and everyday

    I get more from Twitter than any other social web service. Take today for instance: I found out that Chris broke his toe playing football, Tim got clotted-cream fudge from a colleague, Paulo posted about his transsiberian journey, and Paul and John were spammed. ‘Eureka!’ moments they are not, and I’ve only met two of those folks in the flesh, but that’s exactly why the tweets are so valuable. I feel like I already know a little about people I’ve never met because of Twitter. Everyday life happens all the time, not just in the momentous or unique moments you remember to blog about. Perhaps that’s what Twitter is: the everyday social network.

    With a lot of help from Jon Gibbins my tweets also appear in the asides.

    I use it to watch friends’ lives unfold, and share the events of the day with colleagues. I guess I should say I’m jontangerine on Twitter. Feel free to follow, but I can’t promise to always give you the perfect signal. That’s the beautiful imperfection of Twitter posts though. If nothing else, they’re very honest, and everyone has a different voice. If you haven’t already, you should try it! If you’ve come across it already, how do you find it?


  3. Collaboration at OSCON ’08

    OSCON 2008

    In just under two weeks time I’ll be delivering a joint talk with Chris Shiflett at OSCON, the biggest open source convention in the world run by O’Reilly. It happens to be my first time at OSCON, as well as my first talk. It also happens to be OSCON’s 10th birthday. Needless to say, I’m a little nervous: First, at the privilege of speaking in front of such an erudite crowd at such an important event, and second, because losing your cherry is always nerve-wracking, unless you’re drunk.

    Just for the record, I have no intention of being drunk.

    It was Chris’s idea. He thought that our working process was valuable enough to share. I’ve really enjoyed the way we’ve worked together over the last couple of years, so thanks Chris for suggesting we talk about it.

    Our talk will be about collaboration, what we’ve called experience-driven development. We’ll be exploring how we can do our best work, and enjoy the relationships and processes that get us there, no matter the size or complexity of the project. I don’t want to give anything away, but hopefully it will be fun as well as informative. With a bit of luck we’ll leave folks with some food for thought to take away with them and re-heat later.

    The talk will take place on Thursday 24th July from 10:45am to 11:30am in room E145. If you can make it, I’ll see you there! Also, let me know if you’re going, and feel free to come and say hi anytime. I’m looking forward to meeting people and generally soaking in the vibe! If anyone is considering grabbing a last minute pass, and could use a 15% discount, contact me. You don’t have to come along to our talk, but we’d love to see you.


  4. A Day and a Night of Bristol Geekery

    The Watershed, Bristol

    You might be surprised how much is going on in Bristol. Last night it was SkillSwap Relaunched and today I spent the morning at the UWE Web Developer Conference.

    SkillSwap Relaunched

    I landed at SkillSwap after playing Lego Mars Mission with the kids, giving Xen a bath and seeing them both to bed. So I was late arriving at the new and swanky Goldbrick House on Park Street (Note: Whoever stole the <h1> from their web site, please hand it in at the bar.) Many thanks to Siftware for the bottle of Gem to welcome me in the middle of the “musical chairs” session (as I named it,) where anyone can get involved in the discussion by taking one of the five seats. People come, people go, the discussion moves on swimmingly. It’s relaxed but dynamic. I liked, very much.

    After that came Matt Jones’s talk. The only man I’ve seen yet to say something negative about the iPhone, have people laugh and feel obliged to join him in a drink at the same time. Hey, it’s all in the experience stack… somewhere. Nice work, Matt.

    It was great to catch up (briefly) with future Borg member, Ian, meet Ed in the flesh as well as Gisela, and share a pint of cider after with Steve. So a good night was had by all. SkillSwap was fun. Come to the next one with me.

    UWE Web Dev Conference

    Today at The Watershed, the UWE Web Developer Conference saw Andy Budd give a sterling talk about UX. He hit all the right spots and gave us some great future reference material to rationalise UX for clients.

    Dave Raggett’s opening talk on The Web of All Things was particularly fascinating. Some of it I got, some passed me by like a designer staring at UNIX (which I felt like.) The concept of ubiquitous computing leading to a paradigm shift in design from the desktop / laptop to multi–modal presentation seemed to fit somehow with Matt’s take on interfaces demanding too much attention, and the need to make tasks almost effortless (from the night before.) Not sure how yet, but it demands further research.

    It was good to see Sam again and grab a chat on the most slouching sofa in Bristol with Alex. I’m only sorry I couldn’t stay around for the rest of the afternoon, especially to see our own Chris Garrett take part in a panel on working in the South West. Nevertheless, congratulations to Dan Dixon and everyone at UWE for putting on such a great event.

    Regarding Parapets and Geek Togethers

    It’s always amazing to me how events happening in other cities always seem to be on my radar, but big ’ol Bristol with its masses of technical and creative talent floats somewhere in the background.

    For a long time I kept my head below the parapet in the Grow bubble. It was like a little island inside Bristol populated with a few old colleagues and techies. From the inside looking out (as it were) Bristol seemed fairly silent—not many social events around Web design, and pretty quiet all ’round.

    About a month ago, I grabbed a coffee with Richard Caddick of CXPartners to talk about his company doing some UCD work as part of the design consulting I’d been asked to do on behalf of a client in the states. We got into a discussion about people, co–ops, events and Bristol. It adjourned to another day where I also met Joe Leech—both “diamond geezers ”—and started to be enthused by the idea of trying to lend my weight (physically vast, influentially small) to promote Bristol, fellow geeks and any of the events happening in the city. So that’s what I’ll try and do which this post is starting. If you have any ideas throw them my way and perhaps we can put old Brizzle on the map a little more, and along the way maybe make some new friends. Cool, eh?

    P.S. In the spirit of Geek Togetherness, next Tuesday evening we’re hosting a few drinks and a bit of food for Chris on his first visit to Bristol before his workshop on web app security at FOWA. If you’d like to pop down and say hi, give me a shout.

    Note to self: Marking up lots of vCards in posts needs a shortcut. Call in the Gibbins.