Monday, March 30, 2009

When Recession Meets the Cloud

I often do workshops and presentations on Web 2 and social media, but you'll now hear a new hesitation in the current topics I cover. In the past (a few brief months ago), I passionately demonstrated and encouraged the shift from desktop work to the amazing collaborative possibilities in shared knowledge creation via the cloud. Wikis, Blogs, RSS, Google Apps, flickr, furl...endless tools for combinatory work in creating emergent and consensus-based information. A new digital world, literacy, connectivism.

I don't change my philosophies lightly, but in a workshop this weekend for the Phoenix Think Tank, I proposed caution. Working in the cloud means your data exists out there, and it doesn't take a mind like Ray Kurzweil's to know that some of the companies providing free tools we're accessing will go bust up ahead. Never is it more important to have a backup of your data. And backups of data originally entered in the cloud aren't easy to access, shape, manage or recreate for meaning.

Free wasn't a sustainable business model. Great software, free accounts, almost unlimited storage. What happens to our collaborative mind maps if MindMeister folds? To our common galleries, and personal collections, if flickr falls? To our shared documents, calendars, spreadsheets if Google takes down the free versions of GoogleApps?  What, lose Google stuff?? Yes, dear reader, even Google users,  knowing that the G-kids are richer than God, aren't immune. I lost all my avatar work when Google abandoned Lively, and now that they're shutting down GooglePages, I'm expecting the same to happen to the Web site I have there. Even the wealthiest vendors may become tired of providing a free lunch in troubled times. And the ones hanging on by a thread will no longer be able to sustain the investment.

So I'll continue to promote the tools I demontrated for the Think Tank:

A rich discussion related to the  "we smarter than me" wisdom of crowds philosophy ensued, and included the rise of Wikipedia, and concerns regarding the definition of expert, smart and literate in the digital, just-in-time everything age. 

Great group. Great discussion. Still lots of enthusiasm regarding social media, but business-minded people know that we're in a new (and every other kind of com) bust and it may not be wise to depend on these tools being here tomorrow. There's no such thing as a free lunch OR free software. You pay somehow. In the past, with Web 2, the publicity and advertising worked for vendors. Don't expect it to work for all of them in the months ahead.

My guess is that most of the survivors will succeed through a tiered system of features and services. SurveyMonkey provides great entry tools for free, but if you need to download and do deeper analysis on your data, you pay for a deeper license.  In the future, I'm guessing many vendors will find current services unsustainable. 

If your software has value to the user, it has a chance. Otherwise, we'll give up the toys that clutter our bookmarks. We'll choose more cautiously: 
  • individuals will pay for features they need, 
  • companies will pay for ROI-driven tools that are backed by security, privacy and firewalls (see Google's commercial offering of GoogleApps), and 
  • those of us who love techno-bling will pay for the next affordable killer app that lures us in and makes us realize we just can't do without it. (Take a look at IntroNetwork's social networking software for a new candidate in this category!)
That's what I talked about at the last presentation. But I'm known to change my mind. And as Dennis Miller used to say after his infamous rants, "I could be wrong."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Twitter, Part 2

A few more thoughts on the not instantly apparent value of our favorite love/hate tool. Trick is, to find the value, you need to leave the site and use other tools. 
Here's my favorite:
Login with your Twitter account there and join your friends, colleagues, team, etc in a real-time, spontaneous chatroom where all tweets are auto-hashed, as well as created and displayed in that tweetchat window.  YOUR tweets are auto-posted to your personal stream. I could have actually done without the latter as a group conversation on Twitter can become quite raucous and my running Tweet quick bits don't need to be streamed to my followers. (That sounds so cute, my followers!)
Still, Tweetchat is a fast, effective, easy to dynamically access a chat room and preserve the chat. All you need is to choose a name and everyone is in. The room name becomes the hash tag in Twitter.

So, speaking of hash tags: let's dig in there too. If you want to 'collect' all tweets on a topic when not in a tweetchat, put a # in front of that term and then, we search for that hash tag at
By customizing a key term using the hash tag, a group can create a common flow and gather all the tweets on a topic. Now yes, will search on any word, not just hash tags but the value of the hash is being able to label and gather a certain set of posts. Example: hash tags have been used effectively at conferences, where attendees can find, follow, connect to other attendees' posts. Search for "#sxsw09" and check out all the fun tweets that came out of the Austin festival recently.

Twitter as chat room with archive.
Twitter as ...collective sharing of tweets around an event or issue or ...whatever you collectively decide to hash. 
New tools mean new uses. These are a couple of little child tools hanging off the mother tool, Twitter. If you know more, or know more uses for Twitter and Twitter children, let us know!


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Twitter!

I'll be the first to admit that I struggled with Twitter. I am a person that picks picks picks apart a technology until I feel that I understand, if not it's buttons and icons and features and hidden tools, then at least - at the very least - it's purpose. What is affordance? How will it help us learn, think, connect, serve, become, undertand, share, create, facilitate? What does it DO?

Twitter was released three years ago today as a 140 character (or less) micro-blogging site. At least that's what others said. Twitter simply said "Tell us what you're doing right now." So, people shared Zen-like bits of minutia. This threw off my hunt for meaning. Micro-blogging would be sharing your ideas, positions, passions in 140 characters or less. It's not having your readers stroll through endless posts on what you're watching, eating, seeing out the window. And yet, that's how people were using Twitter. Because Twitter asked "What are you doing?"

Now, people stay in touch - with friends, colleagues, heroes, wonderful characters, minor celebrities - at the most intimate of details regarding what they eat and do. In 140 characters or less. Maybe it creates community in the old, lost neighborhood sense regarding knowing people on the level of the mundane.

Still, the people who claimed it was a micro-blogging venue are correct, too. Depending who you follow, you find rich posts, deep linking, breaking news. If you're one of the 'need to be plugged in' addicts, Twitter is a killer app. News by the second. Follow enough newsy tweets and your head spins faster than watching CNN ticker feeds while eating and reading the newspaper.

So I still don't know what Twitter's singular affordance might be, but using it to create streaming information across a 'mutual following' community is a great way to gather and share the fleeting, even though atemporal, moment. I think we may find multiple shared thought uses, for academic courses and community, if we think deeply over time. Meanwhile, let me know if you need ideas on how you might use Twitter to reach students, prospective studens, faculty ...or worse. (I'm thinking hashtags and ?)

Happy birthday, Twitter. Wish I could invite all my lovely Twitter friends to your virtual birthday party!