Category Archives: Social Media

Is Meeting F2F All That Important?

Virtual Handshake

Nice to Meet You!

This morning I had a wonderful Skype conversation with my reasonably long-time “friend”, Euan Semple. I use “friend” because we’ve never met in person. We have, however, been connected through various social channels (including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn) for something like six or seven years.

Euan had contacted me and suggested, since we were likely never to meet IRL (in real life), a Skype chat might be in order and asked if I was interested. I was. Actually, I was thrilled as I have enormous respect for Euan and the things he has accomplished. I urge you to check him out, especially his blog “The Obvious?“, to which he has been posting since February of 2001 (that’s 13 years!).

As the time for our conversation was approaching, I found myself wondering whether or not we should have a video chat, as opposed to merely audio. That got me thinking about the value of F2F (face-to-face or IRL) meetings, which then drew me into the value of virtual teams and meetings and, finally, all the possibilities and ramifications in between.

I have written previously about virtual teams and the value of in-person contact, but I took things in a slightly different direction this time (at least I think I did) and Euan added an important piece as well, later on in our conversation. So here are some of the things I was wondering:

  • How important is breaking bread together for team/group cohesion?
  • Assuming it can prove valuable, can you “share” a meal virtually? In other words, is there value to meeting at a time where all those involved (especially if it’s only two or three people) can spend part of the time — perhaps all of it — just eating and shooting the shit?
  • Assuming “water cooler” conversations can be quite valuable, is there a virtual analog, e.g. chat, IM?
  • Is there value in being able to pick up body language and, if so, how much?
  • How likely is it that a person can disguise their true feelings and “fool” their colleagues/fellow attendees when they’re meeting face-to-face? Euan had suggested it would be easier for some to do this in person precisely because of body language and eye contact.
  • What about when they’re meeting virtually? Can’t a video chat accomplish almost the same thing?
  • Can a virtual team work without ever meeting in person?
  • If not, how long should the intervals be between f2f meetings and what can be done in between to build cohesiveness and get things done?

This is just a placeholder and starter list. There are likely many issues I’ve missed and that others have thought of. I’d love to hear what you think.


I Review Age of Context: A Must Read

Age of Context Cover

I’m not in the habit of reviewing books, but I have a special interest in this one, not merely because I played a role in its production, but because of what the book means to us culturally and economically. What follows is the review I posted on Amazon.

I have long been enamored of the concept of Systems Thinking, which holds (among other things) that systems cannot be understood absent their context, the interrelationships of components within each system and with other systems of which they are a part (or are a part of them). In my career I have often heard it said “context is king.” I am predisposed to look for the contextual interrelationships in all things I attempt to understand.

It was nearly a year ago when Shel Israel posted a request for help on Facebook. He was looking for people who could serve as fact-checkers for his and Robert Scoble‘s new book. At the time, I responded and suggested I could serve as his proofreader. He accepted. Thus began a wonderful adventure. Soon I was proofing Shel’s columns in Forbes (q.v.) under the general title “The Social Beat”. Most of them were portions of what would become the chapters of this book “Age of Context”.

Since that time, I have proofed nearly every column he’s written related to the book, as well as each chapter that ultimately became this wonderful book. I also outlined at least six of the chapters for the authors to use in interviews and at speaking engagements and, toward the end, ended up checking each hyperlink and compiling them into a single document.

I bring all this up in part to reveal what surely has the appearance of a conflict of interest in my recommending you purchase and read this book. However, the greater part of what I’m revealing is how thoroughly it moved and excited me. I will admit to being a techno-geek, and I am naturally drawn to shiny new things. I am somewhat prejudiced. However, Robert and Shel have carefully scoured the tech world and now present their findings and conclusions, and many of them should fairly knock your socks off. I can’t tell you how many times I practically came out of my seat as I was reading about their discoveries. It made it hard at times to do my job. Frequently, I wanted to add my own comments to what they were explaining. I somehow managed to contain my excitement. It’s their book, after all.

In “Age of Context” you will find dozens and dozens of applications and approaches that seek to more completely understand, and integrate into, various aspects of our lives. Whether in the home, at work, or at play; whether in their approach to health, recreation, designing and building cities, or marketing product intelligently, Robert and Shel bring together (put into context, if you will) what these developments mean and how they can — and most likely will — improve our lives. They also recognize, and in no way gloss over, the important issues of privacy and safety many of these developments raise.

Yes, I am somewhat prejudiced. However, I feel quite safe in saying this is an important book. I don’t care for the term “futurist”, but I’d like to think I can recognize some of the next big things. There are a lot of them in this book. You owe it to yourself to understand the coming storm of innovation and change the authors so presciently offer.

Buy it at Amazon
My Review on Amazon


What Goes Around . . .

It’s been nearly three years since I “retired” from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. I’ve been through several iterations of “What do I want to be when I grow up” and I think my latest incarnation is actually working! I’ve given myself until the end of this year for it to prove out to be a viable trajectory, at least for a few more years while I still have to tend closely to my children. You can read my most recent self-assessment/self-promotion at LinkedIn.

Additionally, some of the seeds I planted a while back may be sprouting, which would be really satisfying and might steer me comfortably toward another line of work I can enjoy.

It seems understanding Social Media’s role, both inside and outside the corporate firewall, wasn’t a terribly interesting subject for most organizations and, despite my zeal, I couldn’t get the traction I needed to do what I thought made sense. Equally, at least here in Simi Valley, small businesses have had a very hard time – as a whole – seeing how social can be used to promote their business or organize their work a little more effectively. I need to say . . . there were lots of opportunity for being a charlatan and raking in some dough or for doing something I didn’t really enjoy just to make money. I’ve chosen not to follow those paths, so the challenge has been finding – again – who and what I want to be or, more accurately, continue becoming. Being frugal’s been kind of important as well. :D

It’s important to note there are lots of large organizations who recognize the value of social for reaching out to, and communicating with, their current and potential customers. There are fewer, in my estimation (disclosure: I have not researched the numbers. I have, however, been observing for a long time) that appreciate the value of social to build community inside the firewall, let alone in the space they share with their suppliers/vendors.

At any rate, I haven’t given up entirely and I was gratified to be contacted by someone who interviewed me on the subject nearly 2 years ago. He asked if the audio could be used in a couple other blogs and sent me a link to it. Frankly, I had completely forgottenI did the interview. Also, inasmuch as I am now doing some editing/proofreading professionally, I was a tad dismayed to read the copy that accompanied it, and I’ve asked for the opportunity to proofread these new publications prior to publication. I don’t believe I  had that opportunity with the first publication, which can be found here. Below is the Vimeo audio file with my interview. I don’t think I made a fool of myself. I’m hoping I actually make more sense today than I did back then. I’m gratified Dustin felt it was worthy of being repeated.

PS – I may no longer be a Chief BooMillennial Officer, but I do think I’m still an Emergineer and definitely a Serendipity Wrangler.


Excerpt From “Age of Context” – Sensors

If you want to get a better understanding of where our phones, tablets, autos, goggles, glasses, and medical devices (among many others) will be taking us in the next few years, check out this extract in Forbes from Shel Israel and Robert Scoble‘s upcoming book, Age of Context. This chapter extract is on sensors, the use of which is exploding in dozens of fields and applications world-wide. Were you aware the average smart phone has a total of seven sensors in it, and you probably use every one of them every day?

Shel and Robert (also know as Scobleizer) are writing their second book on the changes they see coming as the result of advances in technology. Their first book, Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk withCustomers, was published over seven years ago (January 2006) and made the case for business blogging. In it they suggested blogs offered businesses something that had long been lacking in their communication with customers — meaningful dialogue. Today we see many businesses carrying on honest, meaningful dialogue with their customers through the use of blogs and, as the authors also suggested, other forms of social media.

They’re also asking for feedback prior to publication. Here’s your chance to put your two cents worth into what I believe will be an important book on technology, culture, and commerce.

To give you an idea of what they’re talking about when discussing sensors, here’s a video with Robert interviewing Yaniv Vakrat, of Primesense, about their sensor capabilities and what they portend for commerce and retail analytics, among other things. Primesense developed the sensor technology used in Microsoft‘s Xbox Kinect.


Out of the Mouths of Babes

Rick's visor

What Geordi La Forge’s visor would look like if it was designed by the British Royal Family.

My youngest daughter, Alyssa (9), says I need to write more blog posts if I expect people to visit and read. Why didn’t I think of that? I don’t know what it is, but sometime you just don’t have a great deal to say. Sure, I frequently post things to Twitter and even more to Facebook, but this is my blog. This is where I give vent to the things that are most important to me . . . or, is it?

I have to admit I’ve always had trouble writing about certain things, not the least of which is my becoming a first-time adoptive father at the age of 55 . . . and doing it again at 59. I want to write about the experience, but I also have long felt the need to protect my daughters’ privacy. It is, after all, their story to tell, and it’s far more about them than it is about me and my wife. I think there may be a happy medium, however, and I’m close to figuring out what it is.

So . . . here are a few goals of mine. I want to continue writing about some of the things that are of interest to me professionally, e.g. Knowledge Management, Social Media (especially as it affects business and civil society), Politics, and Religion/Philosophy. I also want to share some of my personal experiences, especially those I know are a bit out of the ordinary, e.g. International adoption late in life, retirement, becoming a man in the 1960s (including my political activism back then), and maybe some things for which the statute of limitations has thankfully run or for which the trail of evidence is too dry for me to worry about. :)

This is a process and involves (I think) my re-doing how this site is set up. I’ll be getting to that soon. Right now I’m busy looking for ways in which to supplement my retirement income. I’ll probably be writing a bit more about that as well. I have always been somewhat of a late bloomer. Now I’m just hoping I live long enough to see my latest “career move” come to fruition. I greatly appreciate those of you who take the time to visit and read. I think, perhaps, another goal of mine will be to see if I can’t elicit a few more comments. I wonder if writing about controversial subjects will accomplish that? We’ll see.

Here’s a thought. Anyone interested in the intricacies . . . and the legal and moral issues . . . of International adoption should read this. It’s one of the issues I plan on writing about as I loosen up on the subject. It was not something we thought about prior to our first adoption, but was definitely part of the thought process when we adopted our younger daughter. Now it just haunts me. One of my goals is to live long enough to see my girls to adulthood. Then I’ll be able to discuss it with them. The reality is we just don’t know for sure what happened before they came into our lives. I’d much rather it haunted me, and not them.


Death of the Postscript?

Oh, BTW.

Just an afterthought

Do you remember the postscript? You know, that extra thought preceded by a PS, usually appearing after the signature in a letter. I’ve come to the realization postscripts are a thing of the past, a relic of the days in which we would actually write letters, cards, and notes and send them to others. When using pen and ink, one had no choice but to put an afterthought in a postscript. The computer has put an end to that. Regardless of the medium, any afterthought you have can easily be inserted in the body of the main message prior to sending. Even when instant messaging or texting, there’s no longer a need for what used to be the fairly ubiquitous PS (sometimes even a PPS). Just keep adding to the thread.

This came to me the other day when, after posting something to Facebook, I realized I wanted to add another thought. Of course, it was too late to edit the original post, but I was able to comment on my own post, which is exactly what I did. In fact, I even preceded the comment with a “PS”. It dawned on me this wasn’t quite the same usage as those of us who can remember actual written communication were used to. In those days, if you didn’t include the PS you were forever barred from adding – and let’s not forget commenting, texting, etc. are virtually instantaneous – the afterthought.

I have no clear idea how this affects our ability to communicate, though I suspect it’s an improvement in clarity of thought. Given some of the lamentations I’ve read over the decline of the English language and proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation in today’s rapid-fire communications, I assume there are those who would disagree with me. Nevertheless, that’s my story.

PS – I’m sticking to it!


The University of Twitterville

I joined Twitter on March 2, 2008; 1678 days ago. I know this because I asked the Internet when I joined. I kind of remembered, but wanted to be sure. I just typed into Google “When did I join Twitter?”. Actually, I didn’t have to finish my sentence. Google finished it for me. I was presented with the following link, http://www.whendidyoujointwitter.com/. I put in my user name and in less than a second I had my answer. A short while later I remembered HootSuite knows when I joined and shares that info quite easily as well. Oh well. It’s good to have choices, eh?

University of Twitterville

The University of Twitterville

At the time I joined I was working for a rather large aerospace company (Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a division of United Technologies), where I had been a member of the Space Shuttle Main Engine team for nearly twenty years. My job at the time, which had changed considerably over the years, was to seek out new technologies for communication and collaboration and determine if we could use them internally to our advantage. I don’t recall when I tweeted for the first time and I just tried a whole bunch of applications which purport to reveal that initial tweet, but none of them can handle the number  I’ve made (18,036 at the moment). My recollection, however, is that it took me nearly six months until I was able to figure out a use case that made sense.

I was never interested in following celebrities and I wasn’t interested in small talk. I was looking for how Twitter could be used for a business to help its people get their work done efficiently and effectively. I think one of the first actual uses I encountered that impressed me was my discovery the team preparing one of the Shuttle Orbiters for its next launch were using it to share status updates in real-time. I had been part of teams that had “stand up” meetings every morning to update each other on the previous day’s activities. These were hugely wasteful exercises made necessary by the limited communication capability at the time. There were many days when only 20% or less of the team needed to be at the meeting, but there was no way to know that until it was over.

With Twitter, I imagined the NASA team being able to follow each other and share their status immediately. The value to this could be, in my estimation, enormous. For instance, if a team member was offsite picking up an item that another member of the team needed to continue working on a particular task, the knowledge that it would be available in four hours could allow them to start a task, knowing that the upstream portion of it was now complete or that a needed component for finishing that task was on its way. There are all kinds of scenarios where not having to wait until the following day saves time. There’s also something to be said merely for the value of one-to-many communication capabilities, which is one of the many value propositions of Twitter.

Unfortunately, I could never get anyone at Rocketdyne to experiment with Twitter as a communications tool, so I had to look for another use case; one that benefitted me but might have broader implications as well. So here’s what I, personally, got out of Twitter and why I think it is so valuable. One of the first people I started following was Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly). He had written what I found to be the seminal paper on the transition in the Internet from a one-way, broadcast medium to a multi-path, participatory medium. It was entitled “What is Web 2.0“, and reading it had been one of the more enlightening reads of my career. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it highly.

It wasn’t long before I was following quite a few thought leaders. What made all this so incredibly valuable was not merely being able to read their pithy tweets, but also being able to read the papers, columns, and blog posts they provided links to. Thanks to link shortening services like tiny.url and bit.ly, a very long URL could be shortened to less than 25 characters, allowing the author of a tweet to not only share the link, but also to provide a little information on what the subject is. This made it easy to determine if something was going to be of interest to me.

Although I hold a professional degree (Juris Doctorate) and a Masters degree (in Knowledge Management), I am largely an autodidact; a self-learner. I never went to undergraduate school and got into Law School on the strength of my LSAT scores, which I am reasonably certain were high based on my being self-taught and, therefore, fairly well rounded and well educated. I barely made it out of high school, taking an extra semester to finish enough credits to be able to graduate. I’m a lousy student, but a powerful, self-actualized learner.

In my opinion, perhaps in large part because I’m already someone who learns on his own, I found the things I learned – the education I got, if you will – from Twitter was every bit as valuable and useful as what it took for me to get either of those advanced degrees. In some ways I’m pretty certain it was actually better. It was certainly more pleasurable because it was done entirely on my schedule and nothing I studied was superfluous. I can’t say that of any other educational experience I have had in my entire life.

My experience with Twitter, therefore, is analogous to having gone to University; one of my choosing, taught by people I admire and respect, and studied on a schedule completely of my choosing. Tests came in the form of real-life applications both on-the-job at Rocketdyne and in various interactions I had with professional and other organizations and people. I am very grateful to be a proud graduate of the University of Twitterville.

Has Twitter affected you in any appreciable, useful way and, if so, what was it?


A Slight Change of Course

Since my presentation to the American Oil Chemists’ Society at the end of April, I’ve been seeking out other engagements to talk about using social media for managing communities within an enterprise. All of my experience heretofore has been inside the firewall of a large (very large) aerospace corporation, and it was the essence of my presentation to the AOCS.

I haven’t been actually hustling engagements; rather I’ve just been suggesting I’m available and that I might have something worthwhile to say. Today, nearly four months later, I finally had the opportunity to present to an organization that could use social media to improve their ability to achieve their goals, which are manifold – but not commercial.

The organization I spoke with today is a local Rotary Club that has two major fund-raisers each year. Originally, I had spoken with my friend and former Manager who, since retiring, has joined this Club and had suggested I might present, about the one I gave to the AOCS. However, after having dinner with the President of the Club it became clear he wanted to at least partially address the difficulty he’d been having with getting the membership to “like” their Fan pages and join and engage with their group page.

So . . . I put this together somewhat hastily and concentrated primarily on the benefits social media provide for communicating and sharing knowledge, as well as addressing the issue of reluctance to participate. I finished with a little info on how its use is disruptive and pointed out how they could use Clayton Christensen‘s concept of Jobs-to-be-done (disruptive innovation is one of his as well) to address the direction they might take their new efforts in.

I also prepared the presentation exclusively using Google Docs; the first time I have ever done that. The only exception is that I imported a couple of slides from my AOCS preso, which I originally prepared using PowerPoint. I also heavily annotated the slides, which I do not normally do, and printed out a copy of them and the notes. However, I did not use them during the presentation. Once I got going I just winged it, which seems to fit my style perfectly. Having the notes kept me from being nervous, but turned out to be mostly superfluous. I only experienced one moment when I couldn’t think of the right word I wanted to make a point, but it came to me reasonably quickly.

So . . . here ’tis. I don’t know how intelligible it is without the notes. Especially considering I made these slides last close to 25 minutes, I believe. I guess having a long history and lots of stories comes in handy when you tend toward loquaciousness. :)

One more thing. I uploaded the .pdf to Slideshare in the early evening and shortly afterward received an email from them that my presentation was the most talked about one on Facebook (where I had shared it) and so they were featuring it on their home page. Frankly, I didn’t see any evidence of the discussion, but the preso had been viewed close to 180 times last I looked, so maybe I’m getting some traction there. Hope you enjoy it.


Can You Sense Me Now?

Below is a Slideshare presentation posted by a friend who is in the process of authoring a new book entitled “The Age of Context”. He’s presenting it today at the Big 3 Conference in San Francisco, where he is one of the keynote speakers. It’s quite high level and somewhat simplistic at this point, but you should be able to get an idea of the direction the book will be taking.

I have long believed we humans are on the road to becoming a race of cyborgs. Nothing that’s happened in the last quarter century has served to dissuade me from this belief, either. At the rate we’re developing and making use of prostheses, and with continuing advancements in Fetal surgery and in utero cardiac procedures, it’s only a matter of time (100 years? 1000 years?) before most humans will have some sort of inorganic component attached or implanted.

I haven’t thought much about this lately, being content to watch as we meandered down this path. However, recently I was made aware that a couple of social media “friends” of mine were writing a book discussing another aspect of this inevitable evolutionary route we’re on. Their current working title is The Age of Context and I am really glad they’re writing it.

What they’re talking about is the newest developments in the fields of mobile technologies, wearable computers, sensing and mapping capabilities, big data residing in “the cloud”, and the apps and services that bring them together. I believe they’re truly on to something.

The book likely won’t be available until sometime next year. However, one of the authors (they are Shel Israel and Robert Scoble) has put together a simple Slideshare presentation that gives some hints of the direction they’re heading in. Since the presentation is available, I thought I would share it to give you a taste of what they’re seeing and thinking. I am hopeful I’ll have a lot more to say about the subject as time goes on. Suffice it to say I’m very excited about their thoughts, including how they mesh with and supplement those I’ve had for several decades now.

Disclosure: At the request for assistance by the authors, I offered to proofread the manuscript for them and they agreed. Here is how Shel tweeted about it a couple of weeks ago.


People ARE Talking. Are YOU Listening?

Infoweek Cover

Yes. They Are. You Need to be Paying Attention.

The title of this post used to be the tag line I put on my business card. It’s still on the vehicle sign that covers the rear window of my Honda Pilot, and it’s still in my Facebook Fan Page’s “about” section. The first paragraph of that section continues, “Your company – your brand – is being discussed publicly. Don’t you think you should join the conversation?”

Information Week made it the cover story of their June 25, 2012 edition and I pointed out the similarity in a graphic I created and posted on my Facebook Fan Page. In some respects, we weren’t quite talking about the same thing, though, but they’re closely related. Their article focuses on sentiment analysis and my thoughts were more directed toward overall engagement, which includes sentiment analysis. They are also far more attuned to the needs of larger brands, whereas my concern is for small businesses and the value they can get from what I see as the proper use of social media.

Today I was pointed to an article by Brian Solis of the Altimeter Group, entitled “Why Digital Influence is So Important“. Brian discusses the value of shared experiences, the building of trust, and the spread of influential content, pointing out the value of online recommendations from people we know and trust. He concludes with the following questions: “Do you know what’s being said about your business? And who’s saying it? How are you getting closer to your customer by examining your digital influence?”

Now the reason I bring this up is there are a number of people here in Simi Valley who have created Facebook groups designed to help us communicate or promote local businesses or both. One of the activities that’s taking place is what some call “Cash Mobs“. We are trying to pick out small, independently owned businesses that we might be able to help out (at least with their cash flow) by patronizing them.

As a result of this, one of the members suggested a location that might be able to use a small infusion of business and, consequently, cash. Since I have been trying to get locals to realize the value of using mostly free platforms, services, and apps to market and publicize their businesses, I’m always wondering how well certain ones are doing this. So I decided to check out this particular business with respect to a few things I think it could (or should) be doing.

I didn’t do extensive research, but I did find out some things I think are interesting in light of what Brian has to say about digital influence, as well as what I know about it from my research and experience. What I found was the following:

  • They have a Facebook fan page but do very little with it. The page has 45 likes and 10 people have gone to the trouble of checking in there.
  • They haven’t bothered to claim their venue on Foursquare (a very simple process) and, even though 30 people have checked in a total of 106 times (that’s an average of 3 times per person; an indication of some loyalty), they cannot create specials to reward that loyalty and, perhaps, entice more people to try them out.
  • They also have two listings in Yelp but have yet to claim either of them. Were they to do so, they would be able to correct one of the listings, as well as provide accurate information on what it is they do. What they do have is four (two for each listing) high quality, five-star reviews for their establishment. I say high-quality because all of the reviewers have numerous friends and have posted multiple reviews in Yelp.
  • I also checked Yahoo Local (basic minimum listing), Bing Local (basic listing w/two of the Yelp reviews), and they don’t show up at all in Google+ Local.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Here’s another quote from Brian:

“In the end, people are at the center of your business. And connections are the ties that bind in social media. Your next step is to see what people are saying or what they’re not saying about your business to learn how you can become part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

My contention is that by not taking the small amount of time required to at least claim venues and ensure they are completely populated with information about your business, you are showing you don’t really care what people are saying about you. Your absence from Yelp means you lose the ability to both thank people who take the time to say something nice about you, and to respond to those who take the time to report a problem they may have had. Without Foursquare you lose the ability to create specials designed to reward loyalty from current customers who are using the service and to entice new customers to try you out.

Even if you’re reading the reviews on Yelp and the tips on Foursquare (and it’s highly likely you aren’t) you have no possibility of “becoming part of the conversation and ultimately part of the decision making process.”

There’s another factor as well, which Brian discusses in his article. When people check in to your business on Facebook or Foursquare or Yelp, which they can do with their smart phones, tablets, and laptops there is always the chance some of their friends will see where they are or where they’ve been. Since the most trusted method of referral is that received from a friend, either online or in person, every business that doesn’t take advantage of these tools is shortchanging themselves. There are other issues having to do with gamification, peer response, and virality but we’ll leave them alone for now. They are important to fully understanding how to use each of these applications, but they don’t matter one bit if your business isn’t using them at even their most basic level.

In this economy I’m of the opinion not taking advantage of free marketing seems almost criminal and, while the tools may change as time goes by, the concepts aren’t going anywhere. What are you doing about it?


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