Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Unbearable Politeness of Tweeting

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.


Isabel Joely Black said...

As we were sitting together at the event, I knew what this might contain. I commented elsewhere that the event was fascinating - and indeed it was - but perhaps not for the most obvious reasons.

This is the really awkward thing about connecting live "real life" events and online spaces where we say what we really think. When the two get together, we seem suddenly stymied. What would have happened if somebody said what they were really thinking?

That said, I had a great time afterwards (didn't get home till about 1am) and it was great to meet other twitterati and lots of new people.

David Prior said...

Although I'm a big fan of FACT for its cinema first and foremost, I actually thought Heather did a decent job and I didn't get any sense of can't-be-bothered-ness.

However, I was unsure as to why she was actually speaking to us? The open source software cafe or media arts cafe maybe, but SMC? I'd personally much rather hear a talk from someone with interesting thoughts about the ways in which to use social media within a commercial context - how it's measured and monitored, how it can be good for some companies and not for others, the innovative ways it is currently being used, etc. That seems to me to be the big talking point at the moment.

Julie Delvaux said...

Tim, thanks a lot for your review of the night. I can see where some of the criticism is coming from, but my feeling is that this was something like 'Futuresonic visiting SMC': as the comment from David shows, Social Media seems more interesting when discussed in connection with marketing and advertising, rather than Arts sector. Saying so, there were potentially more illuminating examples of the merge of Social Media and Arts... maybe another time :-)

The only thing I would say, in response to David's comment, is that we should be wary not to turn the Social Media Cafe into a marketing event. As much as Social Media is used for commercial purposes, it is also used by artists as well as educational institutions, so we should strive to highlight all the different 'uses' of Social Media.

munklefish web design manchester said...

Hmm, I was gutted when i couldnt make the 2nd #smc_mcr because the first one was such a well organised and informative / interesting event.

I went with a "cant be arsed with this potentious wannabe's 'medium of the moment', but hoping to learn why i should be arsed" approach. However ive become totally entwittered since attending and being persuaded by your good self to join the twitterers of smc.

After the event we spoke about how it would be difficult to keep the high standard of the event, going on to future events. We also spoke about the weird parallel of people in the room twittering about things in the room, to one another!

So its no suprise that -with a little influence from yourself it seems- the event floundered(?) to both these areas of discussion.

It seems the presentation wasnt up to much -at least by comparison to #smc_mcr 1- and the onscreen twittering wasnt such a good idea either. ??

The beauty of twitter etc is that its semi-anonymous. Ok so people kind of know whos saying what, but its not really real. Its in another dimension that has limited cross over under typical circumstances. However when you mix it like this with 'real life' its no longer anonymous and the boundaries are blurred.

Ultimately if you cant use somethingfor what its good for, then its no good! So if the presentation was poor and people cant express this on the live twitter feed -coz its live in front of everyone- then its value is grossly deminished.

Shame really. But i guess there is value in learning from such mistakes.

P.s. my info is third hand since i wasnt their. Maybe it wasnt that bad after all?

Tim Difford... said...


Thanks for the comments all.

It should be said that last night's #smc_mcr was, for the most part, a very good event.

To be fair, the FACT stuff is pretty interesting too in its own right. I just got fascinated by the group dynamics and how they began to warp on the introduction of the plasma screen and that took over for me and became the main event. I will be taking time out shortly to look through Heather's delicious links because I'll probably be able to appreciate them more in that context.

Joely and Phill, you both seem to be as gripped as I am by what happens to behaviours when we teeter between one communication channel and another.

Julie & David, I've been a little snooty about the FACT 'bobbins' when actually I'm a big fan of that kind of activity. Plus, I'm all for exploring the social media/arts axis as a means of steering it away from SM's current PR-centric positioning.


Julie Delvaux said...


just so you don't think that I critised you, because actually I saw your point very well - but, as you say yourself, we should be exploring the 'artistic' dimension of Social Media, otherwise Social Media Cafe will become a satellite to Digital Marketing events organised by MDDA. :-)

Samscam said...

It's a tricky one... I agree that it was a case of presentation-fail on a whole number of levels. Though I expect there were interesting things in there somewhere. And yes in the absence of anything worth saying few of us twittered anything. I myself was all ready to tweet but just phased out after a few minutes, posted a photo and shut the lid...

I'd echo Julie's point that it's good to have a balance between marketing, business, education, arts, journalism and anything else that the community feels worth talking about. Crossovers and mashups between them all the better. Apart from anything it will keep us vibrant!

I really like the heads-up twitter feed and am generally pretty into ambient technologies for conferences and workplaces.... Perhaps the "Backchannel" screen needs physically moving to the back of the room next time?

Steven Tuck said...

Being new to this event (I missed #scm_mcr 1) I wasn't sure what to expect. Coming with a local gov/social engagement/democracy interest, Heather's presentation didn't have much relevance to my particular area, but like many aspects social media, elements of what she had to say were relevant across the spectrum. I was slightly amused, however, with the overuse of google to locate examples when delicious links were open in another browser tab.

I wasn't entirely sure how we ended up discussing the nature of art ("Are YouTube mashups art?" and "Does the ease of covering digital mistakes devalue....?") hence the tweet, "I may not know much about code but I know what I like". Maybe it did go off the rails a bit here but it was recovered with some humour with "Are geeks sexy?"

Regarding the clash of channels: Not everybody has the confidence for public speaking (perhaps Heather too, as evidenced by the nervous vibrato in her voice) and therefore may be reluctant to raise their hands to ask questions in a public forum, preferring instead to raise them by proxy (eg via twitter). Live tweets present on large, public screens may be to some akin to speaking in front of a large audience?

The networking session after Heather's speach was invaluable. Getting involved in several conversations (especially @red_mark) about the possibilities for social media to foster social change, it really did begin to feel like perhaps, even if only in a small way, things are about to change. Whilst "Changing the world at #smc_mcr" was both provocotive and slightly tongue in cheek, the sentiment was intentional. Whilst it took a while for the penny to drop :-( the response "Changing a tyre at Stalybridge" disabled me with laughter once I'd got it.

I regret not getting round to talk to more people (my own fault) but enjoyed and value meeting everyone that I did - no matter how briefly - and I'm looking forward to the event in January 09.

Chi-chi Ekweozor said...

Sorry, rather late to the party on this...

Hmm, I see where you’re coming from, Tim, having been at both events and ‘presented’ at the first one.

On Monday night I came away thinking that social media is still too new a subject/medium for it to be used effectively as a ‘soap box’ for showcasing online projects within a specific industry.

Having said that, I’m with @David Prior, it’s tricky to balance the needs of an audience of non-marketing social media enthusiasts with those who want to know what companies are doing commercially and in marketing within the space. And yes, @Julie Delvaux is right; there are some great examples of social media 'executions' within the arts community.

I think the next few events will allow the Social Media Café to find its feet.

The 'real social networking' after each presentation is probably more important for many than any direct interaction via a Twitter Backchannel, as @Steven Tuck rightly pointed out.

Tim Difford... said...

Julie, Sam, Steven & Chi-chi - thanks for the further comments on this post...

Overall, I think we're agreeing that the group is forming, storming, norming etc, which is all to the good. It's fun and I'm actually looking forward to next next #smc_mcr to see where it takes us, aren't you?