Tag Archives: open

Social media, creativity, and open collaboration

The University of Westminster asked me a while back to contribute to their Creative Juice seminar yesterday, and I was in a slight panic last week when I realised I needed to talk to a mix of designers, freelances and academics about social media and creativity.
I didn’t really have much fresh to pull out of my on-screen experiences: I’m not a web developer. Then it dawned on me that I had three areas of innovation and creativity that I could draw on, and which might be different from other presentations.
The first was the Social Innovation Camp, which I written about here. Six projects chosen from eighty, then teams of social activists and geeks working to develop creative solutions over a weekend.

The second was the co-design process undertaken by Ruralnet to develop a distributed online community, using blogs and other tools. Creativity came from opening up to their partners and those using the system – and asking what they wanted.

Thirdly I could talk about how workshop games – like those developed here and here with Drew Mackie – may be used to simulate in a few hours the process of defining a situation and its challenges, choosing tools, and playing through how things may work out for those using the system.

The point I was making throughout was that we now have a host of social media tools, with many potential uses and benefits, that we are trying to apply to complex situations in organisations or across networks, where people have very different levels of skills, and communication preferences. It’s pretty impossible get things right from “on high”. You have to find ways to engage with the many different people involved, and create with them … not just for them.

Anyway, I put together a set of slides, which you can see here, and promised a follow-up blog post with some links … which is this.

Early in the presentation I suggested that people took a look at the excellent set of blog posts by Michele Martin at The Bamboo Project, aimed at helping people develop their personal learning path with social media. At the end I recommended Beth Kante’s blog as an example of personal creativity using social media.

I hope the presentation and discussion worked for people yesterday. I prefer doing more interactive workshops, but I’m grateful to the University for the invitation. As usual I don’t really know what I think until I write it down – or in this case present. It helped me realise the underlying linkages between creative events, games and co-design. Later today I’m off to hear more about games at an event organised by Johnnie Moore. Knowing Johnnie, that will undoubtedly be creative.

Ruralnet shows how to do distributed communities


A few months back my friends at Ruralnetonline started an experiment in re-inventing their business in the open, through a co-design process online and in workshops.

The highlight of last week’s Collaborate|2008 event was a demonstration of the results: a very smart network of linked blog sites for communities tackling climate change, with any amount of feeds from bookmarks, other news sources, photos, videos, maps … and Twitter. You will find the site here, and as you’ll see it acts as a sort of dashboard for the rest of the carbon neutral network. It’s a forerunner or a much wider network of organisations and communities.

I have to confess that I missed the presentation by Ruralnet chief executive Simon Berry and Paul Henderson, because conversation in the cybercafe was equally gripping, and I was shooting some video on my phone to upload to Qik. Paul Webster, Paul H and I were feeding stuff from our Nokia phones to an event site, as you can see here. Anyway, I was pretty sure I could get a replay.

Simon has uploaded the presentation here explaining how Ruralnetonline has developed over the past ten years, and how the new developments are a reversal of their earlier strategy of a subscription-based walled garden.


Simon and Paul then gave me a quick recap of the presentation that they did. The big question, of course, is how to make this pay, since items like the newsletter and other content are free. Rualnetonline is to offer some premium charged-for services like the highly-successful Experts Online, and I think there will be substantial demand for custom developments.
What I think is exciting is the ability to build a system using free or low-cost tools; to put the emphasis on bottom-up content; to embrace the idea of distributed communities which I wrote about over here; to give users so many options on how to engage, and to do this in an open way that allows content to be linked to other sites.

I should declare an interest here: I’ve known Simon and the team pretty much since they started online, and they are partners in the Membership Project where we are exploring what social media may mean to membership organisations, and the notion of organising without organisations. However, I think I’m fairly dispassionate in believing that they are now ahead of the UK nonprofit/social enterprise field in the range of online services that they can provide. Or does anyone have other innovative examples? The good thing is, I know the people at Ruralnet would be glad to collaborate.

Oh yes, they do non-rural projects too through Networksonline. Technical note: the blogs are built using WordPress MU, with Drupal providing some other services.

Are transparency and information enough from the media?

British journalism professor Adrian Monck gives us a summary, on his blog, of his forthcoming book Can You Trust The Media?

The first two chapters look in detail at the recent crises in trust – the what, who, when, where and why of the events that have brought this issue to dominate so much of the public headspace – from the ethics of the editors of the Sun to the blatant fictions of the New York Times to the downfall of a generation of BBC bosses.

After summarising other chapters Adrian writes:

Conclusions are hard to come by in this morass, but there is one thing that I am convinced of and that is the more public information available, the better. In chapter nine, using recent UK terrorism cases along with examples from the world of business and their treatment by the media, I put forward my argument for a more transparent society. For me, transparency and information supersede our need for trust.

I think that for society to function successfully we do need a degree of trust in our institutions. I’m not sure whether Adrian is saying transparency and information are enough without trust – it’s a good teaser. Fortunately Adrian offers a pdf to anyone interested in reviewing, so maybe I can get an answer before the launch event at City University on 30 April at 6.30pm. Details to follow on that.

Journalists consider civic role: privately

The RSA is launching an RSA Journalism Network, with this introduction from Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication and Co-Director of the Centre for Digital Citizenship:

The public’s declining trust in the news media is a worrying trend. The RSA and the Reuters Institute of Journalism are looking at how we can support the civic function of news. We’re particularly interested in how professional journalists and Fellows relate to the public’s ideas about news and what it is for.

Discussion is starting over on the RSA networks site, but as you’ll find when you click this link it is behind a login. At present registration is open to anyone, but within a few weeks the Networks site will be limited to RSA members (known as Fellows) and specifically invited guests.

The idea of the journalism network is, according to an RSA staff member in response to my query: “to get our professional journalist Fellows involved and talking about their own ideas about the future of news … and to construct a bit of a safe space for that to happen”. Those currently accessing the site are urged to help by “accepting those parameters”.

I personally believe journalists should be prepared to talk about their work in public, as I’ve written at greater length over here. That seems to me particularly the case when the issue is the civic function of news. I think I’ll leave them to it. I am an RSA Fellow, but feeling less and less comfortable about that as a result of this sort of walled garden thinking. It’s not where a social reporter should be.

Photo credit: Sylvar – Quis custodiet custodes ipsos?

Break open the walled gardens

Demolition ballThe Economist sees little future for walled garden social networking sites like Facebook and Second Life if they continue to restrict the flow of content across the Internet. A few years back we had AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy each providing their own subscription-based services, and look what happened to them:

Why stay within a closed community when you can roam outside its walled garden, into the wilds of the internet proper? Admittedly, it took a while for open and standardised forms of e-mail, discussion boards and file downloads—not to mention a new publishing technology called the world wide web—to match the proprietary, closed versions that preceded them. Today only AOL survives, and in a very different form: as an open web portal supported by advertising.

The Economist provides a more detailed analysis of the uncertain business models for social networking sites, which prompted me to wonder over here whether the walled garden approach will serve membership organisations well. I think it is another example of World 1 thinking.