Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Unbearable Politeness of Tweeting

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Another decent turnout for the Social Media Cafe (#smc_mcr) at the The Northern last night and a tip'o'the hat to those involved in organising the event.

It's encouraging that such events can actually be arranged so quickly and, in that sense, social media is working very nicely thank-you.

Since the first #smc_mcr, the group's wiki has a more lived-in feel with plenty of people putting their names forward to both speak and attend the events (although, oddly, not last night's speaker). The group has even spawned it's own sub-group on last.fm which takes the concept of the 'silent disco' one step further in that you don't even have to turn up. You can observe what other smc_mcr's are listening to from the comfort of your own garrett. Encouragingly, Boards of Canada are at the thick end of the group's dinky Long Tail after just one week, proving that those that have signed up on last.fm are a right-thinking bunch.

Anyway, at the inaugural #smc_mcr last month I tweeted, during the proceedings, that it might be a good idea to have a screen or a ticker showing what people were tweeting about during the presentations. Within minutes that idea took shape and well done to Julian at Littlestar for organising two big screens for last nights event. However, and I shall be the first to admit this, the idea was fundamentally flawed. In putting Twitter on the 'big screen' we inadvertently turned the back-channel into a highly visible front-channel. Frozen in the glare of the throbbing plasma, the great and good lost all control of their critical faculties and struggled to muster any decent comment/challenge re the 'speaker' of the evening.

I say 'speaker', because that generally creates an impression in the reader that someone with presentation skills is being described. Sadly that wasn't the case last night. Heather Corcoran from FACT, lovely lady though I'm sure she is, turned up with an online connection to some pleasant enough non-controversial arty bobbins obviously thinking, 'that'll do'. It wasn't enough really as she mumbled through link after link of fractionally-diverting, grant-attracting shenanigans. However, to her credit and with Paul Dirac-like aplomb, Heather inadvertantly created Anti-Twitter, as the assembled crowd, reserved and British to the last, refused to comment or acknowledge this faux-pas ridden 'elephant in the room' on the back-channel.

Itchy fingers hovered tentatively over iPhone touchscreens as the North West Twitterati tried to psyche themselves up to saying what they really felt. Those who did tweet, favoured safer topics such as 'are geek's sexy?' and 'will these links be on the wiki?', the rest stayed stock still formulating their next drinks order or putting off that nagging visit to the loo. One person at the back held on so long, they needed to be held over a grid.

Never mind. Lots learnt and we move on. It was a great opportunity, before and after, to put faces to avatars and I wasn't the only one enjoying some interesting and fun conversation. I'm looking forward to the next #smc_mcr as it continues to evolve and must remphasise the point made by those who organised the first two events, that we're all part of this thing and can play a part in shaping and organising these events. Any criticism in this post should be taken in this spirit as I'm as keen as everyone else for #smc_mcr to go from strength to strength and to guard against it becoming 'the scene that celebrates itself'. I'm happy to play a part.

Monday, 1 December 2008

The Mysteries of Twitsburg

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After a while you kind of get pulled under by Twitter and before long there's a form of acceptance about what you experience. However, when you take a step back, there remain a number of oddities and unanswered questions about the Twitterverse and what goes on in there.

Whilst there are number of over-riding similarities in Twitter behaviour, there are just as many, if not more, huge differences.

Why We Tweet?

  • Some Twitterers seem to be set almost exclusively on Output mode. 'It's all about ME!!' I guess they see this as an opportunity to sell themselves without opening up any meaningful dialogue with an audience. Replies seem to go unread. They are certainly unacknowledged. Odd. (I suppose for some of the really popular Twitterers, a self-imposed 'no-reply' policy might be the only way to handle volume, but if @stephenfry can manage the odd reply...)

  • Others are obviously set to Input and whilst they seem to follow others, sometimes many others, they rarely tweet themselves. It's hard to tell whether they are lurking, or whether thay have simply left the building.

  • Then there's The Conversationalist with Nothing to Say'. These Twitterers only tend to communicate in reply to someone else. Every single tweet is usually prefixed with an @twitterer and they are happy to offer views or add value to someone else's tweet without ever kicking off a conversation themselves.

  • Then there are those textbook Twitterers who will ask sensible questions, often in the form of 'Pointed statement or question. Discuss!' in order to invite replies or attract people to their blogs. Quite often though, these Twitterers don't acknowledge their Twitter replies or the comments received on their blogs, so it all breaks down.
A Certain Ratio

Some Twitterers seem to be an a race to gain as many followers as they can and do this by following as many others as possible in the hope that most of them will follow back, which they often do. This can lead to a quantity over quality problem, however, as these Twitterers may never hit a point where thay have more Followers than people they are Following.

On the other hand, some Twitterers seem to have vast numbers of followers whilst they themselves seem to follow very few. This seems unfathomable at first, as the Tweet content of these ostensibly popular Twitterers is often patchy and banal. Then it dawns on you that, these ratios can also be because you are:
  1. famous,
  2. pretending to be famous.
  3. a very pretty lady* with your picture on your avatar, or
  4. someone pretending to be a very pretty lady with a picture of a very pretty lady on your avatar.
So that seems to be the key to successful Twittering. If you've nothing much to say, get a picture of a sexy lady or Stephen Fry on your avatar and you'll never be short of friends.

[*Sorry guys, not being sexist here, but, @stephenfry aside, blokes looking straight into the camera for their avatar picture don't look sexy. They look like serial killers.]

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Social Media Mavens: Get like Gladwell, Know Your Woofers from Your Tweeters!

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Reading Malcolm Gladwell's book 'Blink' has got me thinking. I'm only on page 35, but already he's covered the topic of 'thin-slicing', i.e. by relying on first impressions, rather than always drilling down for more information, it's surprising how accurate our intuitions can be.

In this way, Gladwell cites how specialists can predict how robust a couple's marriage is by observing no more than 15 minutes of them in conversation on any topic. In another example, students correctly assess the effectiveness of a series of lecturers completely unknown to them on the basis of only two seconds of video. On their first glance, two experts on Greek statuary turn over 18 months of detailed and costly analysis validating the authenticity of a recently 'discovered' marble, exposing it as a fraud, purely based on instinct.

In short, it's probably not really worth reading pages 36-277 of Blink, as I already have that gut-feeling that it is a fascinating work. However, whilst I've been reading I've also been fidgeting with Twitter and listening to the new album from the School of Seven Bells on my iPhone. So what? Well, there is a connection...

I received a Tweet from WiReD (it's Listening Post blog) the other day which provided enough of a hook in it's 140-max characters to prompt me to click on the embedded TinyURL. This took me to an article about Musebin, a new service currently in private beta which cludges music reviews with Twitter by enabling contributors to submit reviews of albums in less than 140 characters. As I said, it's in beta, so it can still be a little flaky in its efforts to search for album-art within a quirky pop-up form, but by and large, submitting mini-reviews is a liberating little experience.

How is it possible to capture the essence of, say Genesis' 'The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway', Kraftwerk's 'Autobahn' or Christina Aguilera's latest 'Best Of' with only 140 characters to play with? Well, of course, the answer is 'easier than you might think'. The trick is to start with albums you know and love, I suppose. Once you've registered, Musebin allows multiple reviews of the same album and makes no judgements regarding whether or not the album was released in the last thirty years or the last thirty minutes

Other visitors are encouraged to give your reviews a Yay! or a Nay! based on whether they accurately capture the spirit of the recording. They can even leave a comment longer than the review itself if they wish!

The 140 character limit is no accident. Register your Twitter details and your reviews are automatically added to your Twitstream and those of your followers, who get to click on a TinyUrl to Musebin itself. (Whilst it's still in beta, this prompts followers to log-in or register which will unfortunately put a few people off for now). What's more, if as a Twitterer you decide to follow @musebin, your reviews, along with any others posted on the Musebin site will arrive as Tweets into your Twitstream, teasing and tempting you to check out something new, revisit something old, or log into Musebin to set the record(!) straight about Guns & Roses' Chinese Democracy by posting your own review.

Brilliant little synchronicities emerge. I'd waivered over the new School of Seven Bells album in the iTunes store for a few days, figuring that it was my kind of thing, but still hanging back from clicking that all-too-worn Buy Album button. Then a couple of hours later, this Tweet appeared and I needed no more encouragement:

Via @jasonvo: Ethereal. Quirky. Beautifully musical dissonance and head bobbing beats make this dream pop... http://musebin.com/schoolof33N

Working together, Twitter and Musebin provided me with a little nudge in 140 characters, but maybe I'd have got round to buying the SVIIB album sooner or later. I don't know. However, this tripped my train of thought onto one of the questions that I hate the most. 'Where on earth do you find out about these bands?' It drives me nuts! Why I'm not sure. Certainly, there is an childish element within me that prefers bands at that sweet spot just before they hit the charts or make it big. Somehow, after that happens they're not mine any more. I'm not like that with everyone you understand. I certainly don't just like things because they're obscure. Indeed, I'm happy that a lot of the stuff that is somewhat obscure stays that way. Similarly, bands that I 'collected' as my own personal 'property' in their formative years, might still get a visit from me today (my foray to Geneva to see REM [#remgeneva] a couple of months back being a good example). On the whole though, I haven't got a really good answer to the question 'Where on earth do you find out about these bands?' I just do.

I suppose it's a mix of purposeful and subliminal multi-channel overload, but I can't put my finger on it. All I do know, and this brings us back to Malcolm Gladwell in a couple of ways, is that I'm not not to bad at judging books (and CDs) from their covers. I suppose I have a diverse range of interests, but I don't often bring home or download a dud, even if it's something I haven't heard or even heard of before, from deep down in The Long Tail somewhere.

I'm so used to it, I can buy at a 'Blink' and get it right most of the time. What's more, the compelling stickiness of powerful Social Media tools such as Twitter, when combined with Musebin, combined with, I suppose, 'knowing what I like' could maybe transform me into a Maven and a Connector (two of the stars of Gladwell's The Tipping Point) at the same time. Hardly Paul Revere, and I certainly couldn't lay claim to assuming the role of the third of The Tipping Point's stars 'The Salesman', but maybe I'll think about that one tomorrow

By the way, Musebin's a Brooklyn based startup and currently looking for an Intern to help with the office admin along with some of the beta-testing and bug-fixing. How did they advertise for the role? On Twitter of course. Want to apply? Apply @musebin. Your resume/CV must be no more than 140 characters long. Good luck!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Their life's work in 140 characters or less!

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I'm loving Musebin which accelerates the drive towards the Twitterisation of everything by creating a platform for creating, sharing and rating albums in 140 characters or less. It's a great discipline for focusing your critical faculties as you try to describe the latest Xtina Best Of or the earliest eurohippy noodlings of Kraftwerk before they discovered Stylophones.

It swipes your reviews straight into your Twitterfeed too.

Musebin is still in beta... ask them for an invite.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Conversation(s) - #smc_mcr goes live

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I attended the first Manchester Social Media Club gathering at The Northern last night. A pleasant hour or so. Well attended, well organised.

The debate got a bit too blogged down.

The electric current which drove most people to attend is probably Twitter and its related appendages, Brightkite, Twinkle, Fireeagle, etc. They weren't overly mentioned, which is a shame as I think that Twitter is the glue that holds all the already established blogs and sites together. I also think that the limits imposed by Twitter can enrobe an author in a veil of mystique and glamour which is often quickly whisked away when the link to the their blog is clicked. I tend to enjoy people's twitstreams without always bothering to read their blogs. 'Fun and foxy' across 140 characters can sometimes translate to 'dull as ditch' over a full post. (Sorry to those of you who're paid by the word). The medium is, yet again, the message.

Social Media works when it results in a room full of people talking to each other, but there was something else going down last night throughout the debate which was even more fascinating. People in the room Tweeting away, liveblogging or commenting (sometimes with some acidity) on the quality of the debate. How weird is that? A load of people who don't know each other but discover each other on Twitter, get together in real life, to stand next to each other Twittering on their phones.

Who cares? It was fun, with some real socialising done too. Until next time #smc_mcr.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Spare Planet Req... Apply Here

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Such is our reckless burn rate of the earth's natural capital, it's predicted that we'll need a spare planet as back up by 2030. Well at least it's something to take your mind off SachsRossBrandGate.

A standard method for measuring carbon footprints will be welcomed... at least by those trying hard to set themselves meaningful green targets. It'll be less comfortable for the greenwashers who have, to date, been able to think of a number and find some pseudo-science to back it up.

New hydro-kinetic energy Vortex from WiReD.

Here's the full Living Planet Report from the top story.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Tweetest Thing

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Once you get the hang of the Twitterverse is surprising just what interesting and relevant stuff turns up.

Aside from Stephen Fry's adventures in Africa, which everyone seems to be following, there's all sorts of great stuff to follow. Check out global tweets here as they happen.

Also, pop over here for like minds... and vote! Unfortunately, green projects will be hit by the credit crunch, mainly because those holding the purse strings don't realise that, if implementedly correctly, green initiatives can save money... and even generate new revenue streams!

Friday, 10 October 2008

The Sweet Spot

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I didn't even realise I'd sent a letter to the editor until someone mailed me and said they'd read my missive in this week's Computing. I'd actually commented on a blog which was spun off the Computing site. My comment got topped and tailed and turned into a Letter to the Editor in old world parlance. Anyway, all publicity is good publicity I suppose. It's worth perusing the actual blog post I commented on... as ever the IT world is obsessed with hardware and datacentres as the 'low hanging fruit' for green first movers with little thought as yet as to just how projects (green or otherwise) are delivered.

You can have non-green products delivered in a sustainable way OR green products delivered in traditional non-green ways. The sweet spot we're aiming for is where green products are also delivered using green and sustainable tools and delivery techniques.

This is where I was coming from at the Agile Business Conference and where I'll keep coming from as a I gather up Bright Green Solutions which hit this sweet spot.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Green Agile

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I'm speaking at the Agile Business Conference today on Green Agile. As project delivery techniques Agile methods are a natural fit for the green and sustainable agenda as they already established, proven and green 'out of box' and place great emphasis on the reuse of software, hardware, tools, techniques and other artefacts.

Agile thinking also focuses strongly reducing waste by ensuring that teams share ideas and collaborate closely throughout the life of a project. The parallels with reduce, reuse and recycle messages which resonate throughout a media keen to demonstrate how we can all be greener in our daily lives are obvious.

Beyond today's Conference, the soon to launch IT Green Alliance will evolve Green Agile thinking and extend the focus of current green projects and programmes beyond hardware ('my server's more energy efficient than your server!') through software and on into business processes... ('it ain't what you do it's the way that you do it').

I'll keep you posted here... in the meantime get involved!

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

I always said McFly were brilliant.

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If you like to get your news and views from a less mainstream source, perhaps with a more local edge, you could do worse than by taking a look at Only Planet.

Compiled by a passionate team of North-West based campaigners, writers, thought-leaders and, dare I say it, activists, Only Planet is being launched in an eco-friendly book-format at Manchester's Sandbar at 8pm on Wednesday 17th September. If you can't be there, look out for McFly (or the Manchester Climate Fortnightly to give it its Sunday name).

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Viral Banking. What is it?

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I was in a creative innovation lab session yesterday and came up with the term 'viral banking'. I think it's usually best to come up with the jargon and then re-engineer it into a concept which is likely to have resonance with customers and industries. So what could it mean then?

Well, bearing in mind that Faster Payments as a policy-driven initiative being overseen by one of the UK banking industries overseers (APACS) is about to speed up all of our banking transactions, maybe viral banking is a threat to mitigate against. As processing times for our funds transfers speed up from around four days to something less than 15 seconds, everyone is rightly nervous about the opportunities this presents to fraudsters looking to make a quick cash-grab and disappear. As you can imagine, introducing the scheme without opening the door to criminals in this way has been top of the list for the security conscious banks.


But what are customers getting from this... could they be the real beneficiaries of viral banking on the back of the Faster Payments initiative? Rate watchers, day traders and the financially astute have become used to tracking their investments on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour and even minutes-by-minute basis. Ultimately though what Faster Payments could deliver is the means to transfer allegiances around the financial services marketplace within seconds based on new deals, new offers or even scare stories!


Imagine the queues running round the block for days on end which we witnessed when Northern Rock ran into trouble being over and done with online in a matter of seconds. Have you ever been sitting there clicking refresh, refresh, refresh trying to buy sought-after tickets for, say the Led Zep reunion only to be disappointed and to read later that the event sold out in something like 11 seconds. Well viral banking could be like that. Marketeers used to spending weeks or months developing, focus-grouping and readying new banking and saving products will need to be on their toes to keep up with the ultra-responsive mechanisms available to all customers across all channels.


The impact on brands? My guess is we'll see more 'limited edition' products and rates as banks use the energy created by the increasing momentum of the industry's payments traffic to further stratify their customer base and try to understand the true meaning of loyalty when the value of a new offer can be assessed, rejected and countered in minutes!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Cars and Girls. Well, just cars actually.

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Lots of ad's plugging new cars and their green credentials, which usually amount to one or two modest features and fail to take into the account the carbon cost of creating a brand new vehicle in the first place. It's better run your thirsty old banger into the ground, or buy a second-hand replacement than to buy a new vehicle, even if it's a Prius.

Elsewhere, Europe's car manufacturers struggle to meet EU targets for reducing CO2 emissions from all new cars. In a way it's fingers crossed that fuel prices keep rising, as it's the only thing getting us out of our cars.

In America, where the right bear car-keys is almost enshrined in the constitution, rental companies are finding that most of the SUVs are left sitting on forecourts, shunned by customers selecting economy hatch-backs which are now in short supply.

Meanwhile, the Church has seen the light.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Don't Chill Out...

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We're pretty certain what weather we're going to experience over the next few days and what we're likely to see over the next century. It's less certain what's going to happen over the problematic medium-term.

This week's New Scientist suggests that we might have cracked this mid-term forecasting problem (seems ocean cycles our the best guide to changes here), but that the messages these mid term forecasts are throwing up some issues which might just scupper the current political momentum towards effective measures to drive down average temperatures and limit the volmes of CO2 in the atmosphere.

It seems that we might be in for several years of cooling and possibly a slow-down in overall global warming in around 5 years which is only going to make it harder to convince people to do the right thing. Apparently, the cooler 2008 we're experiencing to date is already driving up the 'global warming is a hoax' stories.

Trouble is, even several years of cooling won't change the longer term trend towards significant warming. It's just going to make us less likely to mitigate.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Love Saves The Day... or What Really Killed Top of the Pops!

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Cramming to credit all my references for a project I'm working on, I came across this when re-reading George Monbiot's Heat:.

'Love Miles: The distance you must travel to visit friends and partners and relatives on the other side of the planet. The world could be destroyed by love.'

In other reading (like I said, I'm cramming) WiReD's Chris Anderson has a book from a couple of years back, 'The Long Tail', which neatly explains the economics behind why our tastes and choices have, in the past, been constrained by only being able to access goods in the physical world and the limitations imposed on us by suppliers who have only been willing to stock what they are pretty certain they'll sell.

Now that we have a virtually infinite catalogue of books, CDs, movies etc at our fingertips, our tastes are broadening rapidly. The importance of what lies at the the top of the charts is beginning to diminish as the aggregate of all of the more obscure books, films, music tracks selected by people who, in the past, could never have even found them in Tesco or Wal-Mart begins to dominate the numbers. Fascinating stuff, but still all about our capacity and desire to consume more products.

How to balance the economics of commercial innovation with those of green innovation?

Thursday, 7 August 2008

I Melt With You

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Today's Guardian takes a lead on DEFRA's warning that we need to prepare for a catastrophic 4C temperature rise only the day after George Monbiot and Julie Burchill debated on Radio 4's Today programme just how ordinary people are being lectured on the green agenda.

It's hard to avoid the lecture approach when the situation is this dire. In a much softer way it feels like the mid 90s when early adopters of the Web drove through a more commercial internet than the academic/military comms network which had existed before. The man in the street wasn't interested then and certainly wouldn't be lectured on the changes likely to impact his life for the better... and yet now who hasn't got a mobile phone, thinks nothing of texting, updating their Sat Nav over the air and pausing live TV with their Sky Plus or TiVo.

This time, people are being hectored about more life changing events... more likely to be for the worse than for the better.

Elsewhere, I noticed irony-free reporting of the international fight over much easier access to previously unobtainable supplies of oil and gas underneath the ice-cap at the North Pole which is melting due to excessive use of... you guessed it. It's like a Dan Brown.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Freecyclette

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Recycling is everywhere in Poitou Charente. On the whole, I think the French are ahead of us in this regard. (No surprise seeing as they've been driving us mad with their lack of free carrier bags at supermarche checkouts for years.... now we get it!!!).

Anyway, these are roadside collection bins are in a car park in Saumur. Room for bottles, magazines, and embellage (polythene bags, etc). I even saw a bucket for collecting used batteries in the Super U.
Interesting Freegan stuff in today's Telegraph.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

En Vacances

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We stayed here for a couple of days. It's called Huttopia. It's a chain of green/ethical campsites throughout France. We stayed at the one in Rambouillet and used it as a base to get into Paris on the train for the tourist trail.

At Huttopia, the focus is very strongly on the environment, with all sorts of optional activities planned, plus huts and other facilities made from reclaimed materials. There's even a fresh-water swimming pool which looks great and completely different to your usual holiday poolside scene.


Also, this is good on what comes after green.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Papa's got a brand new bag...again!

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It struck me the other day as I bought yet another reusable bag at Sainsbury's because, yet again, I'd left mine at home, that we could all be damaging the environment even more than previously as demand for these hefty thick plastic bags outstrips that for the old thin ones.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Let The Sun Shine!

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Of course solar panels have been around for years. As the price falls, we see them reaching ubiquity in garden centres everywhere, as they are used to power outdoor nick-nacks from the essential to the completely unnecessary. However, innovation in this area continues to surge forward and provide betters answers for our more serious future domestic and industrial energy needs.

Perhaps surprisingly, it's through the treatment of ordinary windows with transparent dyes that can readily convert them into effective solar panels. This technology could revolutionise solar power and, from a cost perspective, begin to challenge the national grid. Why? Well instead of coating the whole panel with expensive solar cells, the units can just be attached to the sides. The special dyes which coat the surface of the glass automatically route the energy to the edges of the frame where it can be harnessed. This means 100 times less photovoltaic (PV) cells at 100 less cost!

Don't panic if you've just gone solar and can see the solar equivalent of Moore's Law catching you up! It's not just windows that can be converted. Existing solar panels and arrays can also be upgraded.

This breakthrough has been made by teams at MIT and widely welcomed by the likes of Greenpeace.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Weekend Update

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Nearly missed this green innovation!

I love this letter in this week's New Scientist.

Getting closer to getting paid to be green.

The Age of Stupid:


Friday, 11 July 2008

Scream if you want to go slower!

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My wife and I have a got a new game. (No it's not that kind of blog!)

We're having a race to see who can drive the most economically. Everyone's doing it. Even Jeremy Clarkson. I promise I'm only doing it on the days when public transport just isn't viable, but hey, yesterday I improved my average from 31.6 to 42.1 on a 50 mile round trip. Admittedly, I couldn't see where I was going, because I'd steamed up without air-con. Plus, I had to whistle without the radio on, but still.

Have a go! It's the new speeding!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Cornerhouse Rules

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Went to see Peter Saville talk to a smallish crowd at the Cornerhouse earlier.

He referred to his artwork for New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies as his career high, but I asked him about his biggest mistake.

Head in hands he offered an unexpected insight into the concepts of reuse and waste management and their application in the adjacent but quarrelsome fields of art and design. Invited to show at an Art Fair for the first time in his career ('a designer at an art fair is like a pop star in a movie... they've accepted the invitation to fuck up in public'), he and his team had spent some time experimenting with the digital transformation of rejected design projects. In other words, waste projects were pulled out of the scrap and given a deluxe 'photoshop' treatment, via the Wave filter, and re-presented as art.

A version of a Maurice Lewis painting was given this treatment by Saville and selected as his showpiece at the Frieze Art Fair. So far so good. Then on preview night Saville wandered on past his own piece and down the aisle only to pass a Maurice Lewis original hanging only feet away. Both were presented as art. Saville was embarrassed... for four long days.

Moving on, there were plenty of Factory anecdotes, but I was keen to hear what he might have to say about his role as Manchester's Creative Director.

Like Ray Hammond and James Bellini at the Visions of the Future event a couple of weeks ago, Saville is interested in work... what it is, what it isn't any more and what it might be in the future. In particular, he's keen to understand just how people will live and work in a future version of Manchester which, right now, is probably best summed up as mostly about 'Universities and Football'! In short, Saville suggested that 'the world will know about Manchester when Manchester is doing things that the world is interested in'. Yank a random boy off the streets of, say, Sao Paulo or Beijing and he'll know all about Manchester. United! This isn't a bad thing of course, but, for Saville, Manchester clearly needs to work up a more rounded global personality.

Before rushing for the train back to London, Saville suggested that Manchester needs to keep hold of a few more of those visionary and ambitious people who come to the city to study... and then leave.

Nocturnal Emissions

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I was only telling someone last week, who'd come up with the idea of capturing the kinetic energy emitted by the hundreds and thousands of footsteps taken by employees as they pad around the office every day that there was a nightclub in Rotterdam which does exactly that... i.e. capture the energy from all those dancing feet via a specially sprung dancefloor and convert it into electricity to help power the club and its all important sound and light show.

It was, therefore, a bit surprising to hear an item on this morning's Today programme on Radio 4 about tonight's opening of the Surya nightclub in the King's Cross area of London and its claim to be the world's first eco-nightclub, with its own piezo-electric dancefloor and other green gadgetry. Well, it's not quite the first as clubbers in Rotterdam and, apparently, San Francisco will attest, but let's not nit-pick because it's a good story and a useful initiative. As the club grows in popularity, they hope to share some of their excess N-R-G with the neighbours. On tonight's guest list, it will be the politicians who'll be voting with their feet.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Spray it with bombers.

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Sadly, and rather annoyingly, I'm going to miss the Guardian Climate Change Summit 2008 due to an unfortunately timed but still welcome holiday. (No long haul flights this year... it's a lengthy drive and ferry to the Poitou Charente region of France... maybe a staycation next year?)

Nevertheless, it will be shame to miss the summit, especially with it coming so hot on the heels of the G8 summit which is flooding our news bulletins, papers, websites, blogs and tweets for some of the right reasons and quite a few of the wrong ones.

Elsewhere, Chris Mooney writes about a radical route to a cooler earth... spraying a million tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere from military jet! Would it work?

My quest for the perfect man-bag may be over.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Can't do right for doing wrong!

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Found this on WorldChanging (and if you haven't got the book yet, why not?). It dates back to June but relates directly to my earlier post and some of onegreenerday's overall thoughts around doing the right thing.

It's worth a read... particularly as it suggests that the small steps which individuals and organisations are beginning to take to be greener might actually have an adverse effect as consumers do their bit and then relax...
"I've changed my lightbulbs now, so now I'm off to the shops in my new 4x4 to pick up my new plasma tv!"

Monday, 7 July 2008

What's the big idea?

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Solving the climate crisis isn't rocket science. Well, actually, some of it is a bit like rocket science but, in the main, it's the small incremental changes that we can all make, which will make a big difference, whilst we wait for the REALLY BIG IDEAS to come along.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when you ask a group of people for green ideas, a number of common themes begin to emerge. Lots of thoughts about better transport, about home-working, about better lighting, less wasteful printing, etc.

This tells us that the real killer apps and ideas are harder to come by, but it also suggests that there is still a huge amount to be done to address the more everyday themes on people's minds.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties

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The world population explosion, driving up demand for food, clashes with the West's desire to reduce its dependency on the world's major oil producers by growing biofuels. Biofuels seemed to be a brilliant response to declining fossil fuel energy reserves, but are they just adding to the chaos? So it seems according to a leaked World Bank Report which estimates that the drive to biofuels has driven up world food prices by a massive 75%.

Doh! Gotta think of something else! In our rush to address the multiple interlinked crises we are beginning to face by seizing the latest innovation, we usually find it is too good to be true. It's usually only as we alter our behaviour and begin to relax that the true implications of the gear shift become clear. Biofuels is one example, carbon offsetting is another as people and organisations continue to burn through fuel whilst outsourcing their conscience to some corporate-accounting jiggery-pokery.

Still, it's hard. I even felt myself exhale calmly, at last week's New Scientist event, as Ray Hammond hinted that artificial intelligence may soon come to our rescue by solving all of the problems that currently reside in homo sapiens' 'too hard' box. It might, but we can't stop trying to solve our problems in the meantime just because we think that the world's greatest agony aunt might be a few technological iterations away. We are continually challenged with seeking out, adopting and quite often rejecting new technologies, tools, techniques and behaviours as we try to keep the plates spinning until the 'singularity' event, when our computers' intelligence eclipses our own, occurs.

As markets transform themselves in the face of technical, cultural and commercial changes, will their new identities pass the green test? Take the music industry for example. Always one for predicting its own untimely demise, it is in fact a multi-billion dollar industry which has proved itself more than adept at coping with the demise of vinyl, the rise and fall of the CD, the spectre of Napster and the rise of legimate and illegitimate downloads. Its current response is to shift its emphasis away from making the bulk of its money on the music itself and diverting its attention to the huge revenues which can be generated from mammoth tours and festivals, with all of the merchandising and spin-off activities that come with them.

So whilst we all take a greener route to accessing our media, through downloading music or video, those savings get trounced as the entertainment industry ramps up its spend on ever more expensive energy-sapping tours, events and festivals which, the the UK, US and Europe, fill up almost every weekend from Easter to autumn. No doubt there's some convenient carbon offsetting going on... so that's OK.

Festivals. I'm rarely drawn to them. I usually skim across the vast line-ups sprawling over multiple stages and several days and circle those acts I'd like to see. I generally come up with less than a handful... enough to fill a couple of hours really. However, this week saw the line-up revealed for September's "All Tomorrow's Parties" festival. Unusually, I found that I was circling more acts than I was striking out. I'd love to go, but even if I could afford it, how could I justify flying to New York's Catskill Mountains for the weekend.

Where will we look for experiences to rival the live gig/festival experience? Probably to technology again as the avatars we create in our Second Lives become more closely integrated with our most closely-felt perceptions and experiences. In the meantime, I suppose that I'll just have to wait for another opportunity to see Bob Mould, Dinosaur Jr, Tortoise and Mogwai on the same bill. What are the odds?
UPDATE:
Here's a useful perspective on this stuff from today's Sunday Times.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Your survival is not mandatory.

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I went along to last week's Visions of the Future event at London's Science Museum as organised by the New Scientist. The aim of the event was to present awards to those who had won a competition to decide which technology would have the biggest impact on our working lives in 50 years’ time. However, shoring up the awards ceremony were futurologists James Bellini and Ray Hammond and I was keen to hear what they had to say about how our lives are going to change over the the remainder of this century.

My trick back meant that I took a seat towards the back of the 500 or so guests as they milled about quaffing wine and eating canapes. So whilst I saw very little of the speakers, I had the opportunity to sit and think about what they had to say instead of shuffling from foot to foot.

Bellini kicked off with some definitions. Most importantly he makes a differentation between digital natives and digital immigrants. Those who've grown up with the internet and mobile phones are without doubt digital natives, whereas those who've begun to adopt and adapt tend to form the digital immigrant community. The main point though is, when over 50% of the world's population has yet to make a phone-call, most of us are still digital immigrants!

A lot of the commentary which followed focused on work and its shift from being somewhere we go to, to something we do. This, combined with our ongoing immersion in an always-on, always-connected, networked world introduces wider concepts such as the wisdom of the crowd and the worldwide conversation. By 2020, Bellini suggests that 80% of all workers will be free-workers or teleworkers. Yes people will still meet up. The hotdesking trend of the '90s continues, but human nature still intervenes as regular staff get in earlier and earlier to bag the same hotdesk every day!

Hammond followed on from Bellini with a number of clear themes which he feels are going to shape our future. Firstly, the world population explosion actually underpins a number of the subsequent themes, particularly the energy and food crisis, as we seek to find enough water for a global population set to almost double in our lifetimes.

Unsurprisingly, the climate crisis was up next. Hammond refuses to use the term climate change, which sounds more like a lifestyle choice or global warming which almost hints at being a good thing.

In discussing the looming energy crisis Hammond reassured his audience that oil will never ever run out. This is simply because it will become far too expensive to burn.

Globalisation is a theme which can probably contribute the most as a force for goodness and peace across the planet, as it lifts millions out of poverty.

A revolution in medicine will see us shifting towards the prevention of the disease and extending life. Nano medicines and stem cell technologies may see us regrowing and replacing organs within 15 years!

The exponential accleration in technological development is a critical theme, as it just might contain some of the answers to the challenges set by the others. As the Moore's Law curve reaches the near vertical we will draw closer to what Hammond describes as a singularity event between 2028 and 2035.

If this sounds like science fiction, that's because it has been to date, but around that time computers will become as clever as humans. In the years to follow, they will carry on along that same curve. So after a year they'll be twice as clever as we are, after two years, they'll be four times as smart, and so on. Scary stuff for Terminator fans. However, we simply don't know what lies beyond the singularity and just how technology will be brought to bear on the other challenges we face.

Will this super-human intelligence be able to deliver renewable energy sources quickly enough to enable us to reduce the density of carbon in our atmosphere in sufficient time to avert disaster. Will it enable us develop new crops and food technologies to meet the needs of the world's burgeoning population.

Of course, we simply don't know, but it just might be too soon to give up hope for Lent.

On the other hand, something reminded Hammond of a final theme, just before the close of the event. The others... the bottom billion people on the world who don't form part of the developing 2.2 billion. If we don't do something for them, the revolution in cheap and ubiquitous communications means that they will see our lifestyles and they will come and take it for themselves by whatever means necessary. What's more, we may not notice this final theme until it is too late.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Having the idea is the easy part!

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Most organisations are keen to hear new ideas from their business partners and suppliers, whether innovation is 'baked into the deal' or not! Even if they like the ideas, the business case stacks up and the return on investment is incredibly attractive, many companies stall at this point. Why? Well it's often to do with the fact that the very things which the organisation would benefit from the most are often the hardest things to do.

For example, most companies would be responsive to a proposition which would see them saving costs by reducing duplication across their business, streamlining processes, and sharing and collaborating across divisions and subsidiaries. In fact, central to the drive towards true Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is the sharing of common services across often complex business and channels to market. SOA aims to break down the business silos which many organisations shape themselves around in order to strip out inefficiencies, heighten competitiveness and accelerate their speed to market. The trouble is, most companies like their silos. In most cases, their whole organisational structure, culture and ethos is based around these silos, as autonomous divisions take responsibility for their own P&L, strategy and behaviours, sometimes in direct competition with group colleagues in other divisions and subsidiaries.

All of this brings us back to why it's often so hard for companies genuinely looking for new ideas and innovations to simply do the right thing. It's even more difficult to do the green thing!

Many large organisations are beginning to appreciate the compelling case made by energy saving software which ensures that everybody's PCs and monitors are switched off automatically when not in use and which tells you just how much energy (and cash) you are saving to boot.

However, in any organisation of size, several business areas would normally need to come together to fund a pilot and then a rollout of such software... a corporate dance requiring quite elaborate choreography. However, and here's the kicker, even if you could get everyone round a table signing up to co-sponsor this, when will they see the promised ROI of, say, six months?

Well, possibly never, because energy savings are picked up by central facilities and not by the individual departments occupying the floorspace across the corporate office estate. These meetings often end abruptly as stakeholders rush off to spend their limited budgets on projects where the benefits are realised within their own empires. This further compounds the silo problem, sends SOA further into the future and inhibits an organisation which so desparately wants to do the right thing from actually doing it.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Just tell me what to do.

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On the face of it it's encouraging to read the report in today's Guardian that, based on an ICM survey, voters now believe that taking positive action to address the climate crisis is more important than tackling the recession. This news is particularly welcome after last week's Ipsos Mori poll which suggested that people's interest in the green agenda is waning in the face of the economic downturn.

There are, however, some caveats to the more upbeat ICM findings which hint that people don't really want the responsibility of tackling climate issues and are instead, looking to the government to take the lead.

This reinforces the need for regulation and intervention and mirrors many attitudes in the corporate world where businesses and their subdivisions clamour to be seen to do something green (and don't get me wrong, the small steps are important) but large scale energy savings, recycling and reuse benefits will only ever be derived when the CEO or the Board mandate it.

When companies suddenly find their carbon performance taxed and their senior executives find themselves having to deliver on green targets, this will all of a sudden ripple down organisational hierarchies which will leap from 'greenwashing' PR activities into true green action programmes.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

What do we want? We don't know. When do we want it? Now!

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"We've got Innovation baked into the deal!" sounds great in the board-room and, in fact, innovation features in the vast majority of all new contracts between private and public sector businesses and their technology and business oursourcing partners, but do those businesses really know what they're asking for and would they recognise it if they got it?

In fact, innovation is often quite high on the list of 'must haves' when organisations set out on a lengthy procurement process to find a new business partner, but ask them what they are really looking for and you'll often be met with a 'dazzled in the headlights' stare.

Why is it so hard? Well, it's not really. It's usually a matter of definitions. A quick trawl around Google throws up a huge selection of wide and varied definitions of 'innovation' from as many wide and varied sources. However, the one thing that the clear majority seem to agree on is the word 'new'. By and large, an innovative idea should be about something new but, and here's the easy part, it doesn't actually have to be brand new!

Don't worry if you are full of whizzy, blue sky ideas that no-one could ever create other than you, those ideas will do fine thanks very much. Often, however, an idea based upon something you are already doing for a client in another industry or in a different geography can be just as innovative and fresh to your new customer. In fact, these ideas can often blend a mix of new thinking with a degree of referenceability which, daring and dynamic as your new customers think they are, will often give them the reassurance they will really need if they are going to fund your new ideas and adopt them for their business.

So really, it's not just about the ideas, it's also about how you come up with, develop and communicate those ideas. It's not too hard to create some structure around how you attract both brand new ideas and tweaks to existing products and services, especially if you use the most important resources already at your disposal... your colleagues, staff, customers and business partners. People love being asked for their input. Plus, if there's a chance of their idea becoming a reality, people suddenly become incredibly creative!

Be happy to start small. Organise a competition amongst the teams within your organisation. Offer some prizes to get people moving but, other than that, don't set too many ground rules as they can put people off. Also, don't tell people that they will have an opportunity to pitch their idea straight to the Board! They'll stay away in droves. Instead offer simple templates (problem/solution/benefits) to those that want them. Otherwise accept all ideas in good faith... from two lines on a Post-It to a detailed white paper.

The best ideas are often the simplest and easiest ones to explain!