55 posts categorized "Giving Information"

November 23, 2008

The fascists' names are leaked... crowdsourcing finds its place

BNP Heatmap Earlier this week the UK's very own "Nationalist Party", the BNP, had the misfortune to leak its member list, showing the names and addresses of racists, fascists and those who "don't want that kind of person taking our jobs". It's been citizen-created mashups of this data that have made the news.

To republish the list would be illegal, so newspapers such as the Guardian printed the numerical stats on line-art maps. Far from breaking the law, it was crowdsourcing that came up with a better solution, both allowing us to see how many BNP-ers are on our doorstep without revealing their names and exact locations. Cue the anonymous, but powerful, BNP member Google Heatmap, which has since allowed our Government ministers to realise the pockets where local politics lets people down.

These are some of the subversive uses of technology that keep an eye on money and power that we are keen to support further through 4iP. We've got a few on the boil, so keep your eyes peeled for them.

Thanks to Stuart on the 38minutes blog for highlighting it.

July 25, 2008

You're invited! LTS Inspiration Session: Exploring technology's simplicity

Camera_view When it comes to technology simplicity sells. That's the title of David Pogue's TED Talk which provides the basis of discussion at the third Inspiration Session for Learning and Teaching Scotland employees. But this time, with Scotland's teachers on holiday and clearly with nothing else better to do, we're inviting you along.

With apologies for the late invitation, if you fancy a trip to Glasgow or live nearby, you are welcome to join members of the Glow, online services and technology teams, as well as Development Officers and Knowledge Management colleagues from across the organisation:

  • Monday, July 28th, 11.45-14.00
  • Classroom of the Future at Learning and Teaching Scotland, Glasgow
    Optima building, 58 Robertson Street
  • Meet at 11.45am in the 9th floor reception, session from midday until around 2pm.
  • If you wish to attend, please leave a comment here or email me.

This session will feature a team viewing of the, ahem, sideways look of technology and what 'simplicity' actually means. We'll then have a fairly loose discussion around how LTS could do its job better by finding its simplicity bone. Your input here would be most valuable. I do hope you can come along. If you want to see what we've done so far in our inspiration sessions, please flick over to Connected Live.

For the past three months I've been hosting these Inspiration Sessions, providing regular "thinking pitstops" for nearly half the staff in this time, getting to grips with what new technologies' potential might be for their own projects and mining the staff at all levels, from administrator to Director, for their creative ideas. Several new blogs and web services have been launched with the growing confidence of staff, and internally we're beginning to see much better sharing of information using the likes of social bookmarking on del.icio.us, an internal wiki and weblogs.

June 30, 2008

Why would you use words on the screen when they do just fine in your mouth?

Presentation_skills David Jakes and Dean Shareski show us that it's not just what you say, but how you say it. It's 21 years since PowerPoint was invented, 21 years since we've had to relearn how we communicate, to get away from the bullet-point death into which many of us were induced throughout the nineties and right up to the current day.

1. Teach them biology
When we experience a presentation we experience it in two ways - through the auditory nerves (ears) and the optical nerves (eyes). The brain is geared up to seeing above all else: 30% of the cortex is devoted to visual processing, only 8% for touch and 3% for hearing. So, biology tells us that our presentations must be, above all, visual.

2. Teach them to make it visual
PowerPoint doesn't kill presentations. Bullet points do. We need to move our students away from text-based presentations. The text is in what we say.

"Why would you use words on the screen when they do just fine in your mouth?" Seth Godin.

It's not about killing all the words in a presentation, but if you remove most of them then the presenter has to internalise the content. Great for learners. But great for listeners, too. Our cognitive load will tend to move into overload if we have too much going on through the screen as we listen to the words from the presenter.

3. Teach them how to find images
Flickr is great for finding images, but Flickrstorm is another alternative, which makes it easier to search within the creative commons images contained on Flickr, add them to your tray of photos, and download all of them at once, providing you simultaneously with the original URL of each picture. iStockphoto is a pay-for site but gives an exceptional quality of image. The best part for presentations, is that images can be searched for with white space in particular areas. Tell the advanced search that you want to have images with whitespace in the top left corner, so that your text there can be legible, and it will return images that suit your means perfectly.

4 Tell them how to respect Creative Commons
Creative Commons is the licence that tells people how they can use your content in their own sites or project, legally. There are several types of licence which are important to understand. Not everyone does, so it needs taught, not caught.

5. Teach them design
Design is often seen as the thing that we get around to eventually, "if there's enough time to get to it". Design is key. It's the first thing we need to consider. It changes the way we develop our original idea so fundamentally, we're best to approach things from a design perspective from the outset.

The first thing we need to do is strip away the template that came with the presentation package. We also need to strip away anything that's minor, that we can simply add in passing. Then, can we reduce what's left to once sentence, with an image that speaks 1000 words telling us everything we need to know, along with the oral presentation that we're giving.

6. Teach them to sell
In libraries we see children copy and paste chunks of text, learning nothing about that particular topic. Children need to learn how to craft and sell a message. Communication is the transfer of emotion (another Godin-ism).

7. Colour and font choice matters
Fire trucks are becoming yellow - it's the most noticeable colour in our spectrum. Green signifies renewal for most cultures. Red signifies alertness or anger in most cultures. Americans do indeed seem to have a preference for the colour blue, deep blue signifying trust. Combining national preference with the most flashy colour leads Blockbusters and Goodyear to the logos they have.

"Comic sans is illegal in 34 States," says Jakes. Serif fonts help you move from one word to the next, great for when you're reading. But in presentations you don't want your audience to be reading - you want them to be listening to you. Therefore, in presentations we need to use Sans Serif fonts. With American audiences, avoid the use of Helvetica - it's used by the Inland Revenue Service.

8. Teach them to incorporate multimedia
Everything on the web these days, if it's worth watching, has the word <EMBED> next to it. But if YouTube or Google Video is blocked in your school district then students need to learn how to use Vixy or ZamZar to convert online video at home to a hard file they can import into their presentation.

9. Teach them some PowerPoint secrets
Pressing the button B makes the PowerPoint go blank. W makes the screen go white. Typing the number of a slide will take you to a slide, even if it's a hidden slide that we didn't see in the main presentation.

10. Teach them to share
Dan Roam's new book is the quickest read (it took me a Sunday afternoon) but one of the most valuable if you present.
Pic: Presentation Skills from RXAphotography.com

June 16, 2008

20 Ideas For Local Authorities To Engage With Web 2.0

La_maps A week ago I spent a whole day leading a session on behalf of Socitm, the Society of Information Technology Management, where we were exploring the impact new media could have in Local Authorities and other public bodies. Most of those present were from the world of corporate IT and, as someone presenting a variety of tools they were likely to be blocking on their home patch, I was a tad nervous about taking them on this particular learning journey.

I needn't have been. Having explained in broad terms the main drivers of change thanks to this technology, I was able to explore some more specific examples of public sector engagement with the social web, from eduBuzz in the domain of education, to several health-related initiatives of the NHS. We saw how technology is taking politics towards the realm of direct democracy, and explored the potential for some of the mobile, ambient and participative media that citizens are increasingly using in their day-to-day (social) lives.

We worked through the afternoon seeking practical, do-able actions that these IT managers could take forward, without the need for engagement of the senior management teams or specialist outsourced expertise. They relished the task, and came up with some superb ideas they could implement in days, rather than months or years. Some of them have even put them into action already: take a peek at Stratford's homepage, complete with Twitter updates. Here are the rest, coming to a local council near you:
What are the biggest challenges in your organisation?

  1. Competitions for art work on Flickr
  2. Mental health blog
    1. Teachmeet-style therapy group
    2. Video diary of experiences
  3. Flickr/Google Earth mashups
    1. Things to do in the area, events, locations for recycling etc...
    2. Online estate agency for social housing
    3. Statistics in a glance mashup
    4. Graffiti tracking, crowdsourcing for finding the source of the 'tag'
    5. Mashups to reveal extent of disruption during strikes, accidents
  4. Crowdsourcing FAQs on a wiki
  5. Homeworkers can have real-time advice between 'virtual desks' (RSS feed to mobile)
  6. Twitter for mass-collaboration during crises and a blog to quickly publish information and provide an instant feedback loop
  7. Longitudinal e-consultation on complex issues
  8. Using Flickr to provide stock photography to local press and council workers (like this)
  9. Providing digital cameras to council gardeners to share the process and final result with enthusiasts and ciizens.
  10. Twitter private groups for quick intranet publishing
  11. Watchlist introduction for the PO, PR, Comms team
  12. Culture change through a "from-the-top" blog by the CEO
  13. Suggestion box for cost-effectiveness

June 02, 2008

Navigating genius: TEDSphere

Ted_sphere There are so many great talks from the TED Conference that choosing one to watch in a spare 20 minutes is beginning to become a tricky task. Cue TEDSphere for information aesthetic junkies like meself. Beautiful globe interactive stuff, and quite handy to boot.

What would you make of something like this to spot the links and connections for your social network or potential Glow friends and FOAFs?

May 30, 2008

I love it when a (RSA) plan comes together

Rsa_clay_shirky_new_website Over last autumn and winter I was fortunate to work with the Executive Board and about half the employees of the RSA on what new media could bring to them personally and to their organisation. At the same time, Anshuman Rane and his web team were developing a new web service on an open source Content Management System, that would benefit from a greater uptake and understanding of new media tools and attitudes by the staff.

In a symphony of ideas, the two lines of effort have met this week with the launch of their new web service, incorporating for the first time a virtual means into the amazing lectures series that takes place in the historic Adam Street RSA House.

Currently residing in RSA Vision are talks from Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody) and Jonathan Zittrain (The Future of the Internet: And how to stop it). In coming weeks I wonder whether we'll see an addition from Sir Ken Robinson, as he receives his Benjamin Franklin Medal at Adam House.

It's hard to describe the satisfaction you get working with such an amazing bunch of people, remembering the very conversation sessions you had about vaunting that lecture series, equipping young people with cameras to record events and having RSA staff and fellows interact through and on the site, only to see it come together in a rather tight timescale. Long may the innovations continue (and with a staff like that, they will). The real trick is getting more of the 27,000 fellows, of which I was recently invited to become one, to connect in ways other than F2F meetings, conventions and workshops. Many of us are combining efforts online, but there'll never be too many doing this.

Keep an eye open on the site over the next few weeks as more is added, and enjoy having "tomorrow's ideas today".

March 17, 2008

Social media and ambient intimacy for software engineers

When you're designing a new piece of kit, a platform for the web or a nifty widget for Bebo, it's vital that you have an audience in mind, an understanding of what might be possible, and the ability to change your plans frequently without sacrificing the integrity of your project. That was the main message at my lecture to the BScs and BEngs at Napier University, Edinburgh, today.

Why the 'users' are different

The generation of 21st Century 'users' would not appreciate the title. They are contributors, creators, co-creators, participants... 90% of 15-25 year olds have visited their social network in the past month, vast numbers of these Bebo Boomers using the platform in ways the platform engineers hadn't dreamt of.

Expertise comes in different forms from before. It won't be long before PhDs will be submitted on YouTube. Wine buffs don't need to wear particular clothes and visit stuffy vineyards; you can be an expert on your own blog, or have your passion facilitated and encouraged by the platform itself. You don't have to visit a pub to feel like you're a regular. You can join its Facebook group or take a peek at what's going on through its Flickr photo pool.

The main global shifts affecting innovation

With technology providing a means for consumers, users, participators to take part in the co-creation of products, services and knowledge (think Dell's community, Seesmic's relationship around product development with its users (as many follow it as it follows; its users are fanatical) and educationalists around the world, or Wikipedia, even), it means that competition in the space to have your voice heard and your service used has never been greater.

Daniel Pink notices what technology has allowed to happen, and sums it up with the three 'A's.

Asia

What happens in Asia won't take long to happen elsewhere. At the moment if it's mobile, it's happening, yet so few software engineers start out by thinking how they'll make a mobile app usable on the web. Instead, we see companies struggle to make mobile products from the web. The one exception to this: Twitter. Asia's not only a growing market but a global one: China will soon be the number one English-speaking country in the world, its top 5% of graduates numbering more than the whole population of the UK. They have more gifted and talented students than we have students. Change is on the cards, with tomorrow's teens facing over 29 jobs in their lifetime, which means long-term planning and big budget developments risk more failure for software engineers than small-scale, agile, flexible development.

Abundance

The need for being mobile has never been greater. What's this? Or this? Try this then. With 426,000 mobiles being chucked out every year in the States alone, the signal is this: mobile telephony and internet access is not only burgeoning, but consumers are becoming fans, and want to engage with the latest, most powerful kit. They need apps that push their devices and they will be ready to chuck the device before they chuck the web service that makes their mobile tick (think iPhone).

Automation

Automation of search has probably been the one most important automation to have taken place since the net was born. Everyone has become a cataloguer, but people still need help understanding the stories large amounts of data can tell. To prevent information overload, we need computer designers and engineers to come up with ever more ingenius ways to find and present information to the 'user'/co-creator. Jonathan Harris is getting there, showing us some degree of geography in the way we feel (the web's never been great at location or time) or time and pace in a photograph.

Automation of copy and paste has also meant that we have the potential to be more creative - or a lot less creative. It might be down to software engineers to design interfaces that make it more fun to be original than to be a copy cat. Adidas seem to  be having some success on Jumpcut with their sneaker remizes.

We also talked about the role of the engineer in adoption strategy, especially when such a strategy feeds back into the development of further fuctionality, and how privacy issues, which can sometimes be the death of a project, can lend itself to structuring social media projects for particular groups of potential participants. Case in point: ARGs and Voluntary Computing.

Ultimately, as we started, we saw that the potent power of the net is not in code, but in people. If we can code to bring people together, the right people at just the right time, then we release the potential. It's hard to do this, with most software engineers working in groups where the ideas and direction may come from mere mortals like myself ;-) Communication, therefore, remains a key skill, and one that is often underdeveloped until the engineer is summoned to Demo and given a course by Shel. I love the way some developers express themselves in presentations at the likes of Demo or BarCamp, or in YouTube videos: this SecondLife development is more beautiful in its development than in the final product, I'd argue.

The easiest way to communicate with potential clients, employers or programming peers? A blog. In this case, if you're developing software for the web, for the social web at that, there's no excuse to be towards the end of a university career with no means to market yourself and build contacts in the slightly less cossetted world out there.

Software developers need to jump on every bandwagon going, to see if it's headed anywhere (thanks, Mike). They need to make sure that, using the tools of the ambiently intimate, they are at the front of the minds of everyone who matters to them now and into the future.

Continue reading "Social media and ambient intimacy for software engineers" »

March 12, 2008

Public service web: moving towards civic innovation and participation

Web20 I've been working with a group of web service people from all over the public service in the UK, from education to Local Authorities, health boards to city facilities services. The main message: citizens need to be able to participate more in their online civic world.

The message ties in with work at the RSA, LTS and other public sector projects. Civic innovation needs to flourish, but with our current attitudes to information gatekeeping and fear of handing the speaking stick to citizens this will not happen any time soon in the front garden of the public service organisations themselves. Even where appearances would seem to indicate a desire from our most senior civic leaders to participate in discussion with the citizen, we can see from the lack of linkage between one blog post and another, and the lack of conversation in those 182 pages of comments, that we are seeing a real Meatball Sundae - the cream's on top, but nothing has changed underneath. The result? The number of us wanting to participate in a discussion online with our leaders is diminishing. Fast. Instead, we will have to be savvy webusers who know of the existence of those other ways into the halls of power. Give me Bill Marriott's real leader's communication any day.

I try to show where our citizens have come to in recent years, from the simple act of uploading a 'silly video' to YouTube, to participating in the coverage of a concert or an event, to being highly creative in remixing content for different purposes and using the social web to coordinate smart democracy mobs. I showed how volunteer computing and the world of Alternate Reality Games had changed the nature of participation, from 'press the red button' to something much more profound, where 'consumers' really were the ones in charge of the TV show (think, I Love Bees). It's not just for entertainment or play: scientists are harnessing group thinking power and computer power to channel scientific data, find extra terrestrial life and make the world a better place.

Key to this, for the public sector, is working out where they stand in relation to their 'secret' information and the public/private relationships they have with their citizens.

Hopefully a few seeds have been sown in the minds of these web pros, from this enthusiastic amateur. I am, after all, first and foremost a citizen that wants to participate more in his civic (online) life, but who currently can't.

February 06, 2008

Before we design a new tool...

Analoguedigi ... We need to look at the 'old' separate ones that we currently use. This separateness is often seen as a problem - "wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to log in to a zillion sites to get what we want?", and arguably is one of the USPs of Glow, the Scottish national intranet for education.

Although the rundown through email, Twitter, feed readers et al might be great for the geeks, I'm more interested in the reasons for delving into the quantity of information that some of us choose to, while others don't.

Take a look at decision-making. How do social tools affect decision-making? Without social tools, decisions tend to be made by those who've been around the most, who are invested in a long-term line of action (which may not necessarily be the best one). They tend to be time-limited, deadline-focused, leading to long-term plans.

With social tools, we can be tempted into making smaller, more regular decisions, bringing more of the organisation into the process, from the tuned-in intern to the email-junky CEO. Research is ongoing for every decision, informing whether or not we should change our decisions before, during or after their deadline is up. There's a danger of both group think, where the echo chamber reassures a group that they are on the right track, and having just too much noise to get to the core of the matter. Trust is required to believe the information coming through these 'playful' social tools. But the pay-off is greater transparency about who is making decisions and how those decisions came around (if the CEO wants it ;-)

Looking at alternative ways to make decisions
I hadn't heard of Gary Klein's Recognition Prime Decision-making before, but it's use in high risk decision-making environments makes it an interesting model to see how technology can make the process better and safer.

  1. Situation Analysis
    The decision-maker interprets cues from the environment.
    Social tools here: If decision-making here is about taking from the little things, then social media in its current form might not be the utopia we think - there's just so many of the little things getting published that it's hard to spot the little thing that might matter most.
  2. Pattern recognition
    The decision-maker analyses the cues from the environment and compares them against stored cues.

    The email inbox gives you no way to recognise a pattern, and feedreaders only give a little more in terms of searchability and pattern recognition.
  3. Idea generation
    The decision-maker generates workable solutions to the problem in hand.
  4. Solution generation
  5. Simulation

It would seem that technology quickly helps only to cloud the process. It's worth asking, really, if digital is necessarily better than analogue. Is my dad's analogue film Leica, at 42 mega-pixels per image, better than my instant digital SLR, at 8.1 mega-pixels?

On with the design...

October 20, 2007

There are no shelves on the web

And there's no "top" to the web, either. If you've never had the time to read Weinberger's masterpiece on how the web has changed our assumptions about information, or to watch his talk at last year's Learning Festival, then this second Michael Wesch film (from the maker of The Machine Is Us/ing Us) is a must-watch.
Thanks to David, Euan, Johnnie and Adriana for the collective nod.

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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