Christmas 2011 and Giving

<Places humbug hat on head> It’s at this time of year all the Christmas cards start flooding in from people I know professionally and personally (including readers of this blog and Twitter followers).

I’m delighted to receive them, but if you’re expecting one from me please don’t be disappointed or unhappy if you don’t receive one. I don’t send Christmas cards to family, friends or colleagues. Arguably I’m a scrooge but I have a good reason not to do so. Rather than spend money sending cards to people, I give the money I would have spend on cards and stamps to the British Heart Foundation.

In 2005 my dad died suddenly, and very unexpectedly, from a massive heart attack. He was only 59. He was a very fit man, lean and healthy, and having had some good fortune was able to stop working in his early 50s. He worked some land he acquired in France growing fresh veg and fruit off which he pretty much lived – fine healthy food, great lifestyle – all that was correct. He’d been pronounced 100% fit 2 weeks before he died during his annual health assessment with his GP. The doctor on hearing of his death was astounded and could not believe it.

So he died of an unknown, undetectable, genetic heart condition. And that needs finding out and eradicating. It’s one thing to extend people’s lives but other people are dying too early. So I need to help to stop this. If you want to give too, you can do here.

Happy Christmas to you all. In the real world, I’ll see some of you and share a beer. In the virtual world I’ll speak to you too (maybe less beer) – a tweet, a Facebook conversation (hey I’ll go mad and do a Google+). Much better than a card. And much more personal.


Living with a Nokia Lumia 800 (or “Life after an iPhone”)

After having had an iPhone through many generations from the very start, my latest phone upgrade proved to be a challenge. Instinctively, like any Apple fanboi, you would expect that I would have simply gone to the iPhone 4S. But something irked me on this upgrade. I thought about the Samsung Galaxy Note, but something about the Nokia was calling me – it just seemed that bit more special.

So I’ve opted for the Nokia. It’s a Windows Mobile 7 device, which is supposed to save Nokia from destruction.

Having had it for 3 days and used it to the hilt, what do I think?

1. Battery life: it stinks – it’s almost as bad as an iPhone. But there lies the crux of the issue. It’s almost as bad as an iPhone, not as bad as an iPhone. I have to do the same things to make the battery last that I do with an iPhone. Turn off all the push services, turn off 3G (you can’t do that with an iPhone on Three – you’re trapped on 3G – but you can on a Nokia), set settings for minimal battery use. So actually the challenge goes back out to all phone manufacturers – make a phone that can use all its features for an entire day without dying. I was particularly sad that Nokia hadn’t achieved this – I remember my E61 lasting days and days on 3G. Nokia say an update coming this month will considerably improve battery life.

2. Windows Mobile experience – within minutes of starting up my entire online life was integrated. I could not believe the speed of access to my cloud data such as contacts. This is much more integrated and seamless compared to the iPhone. And the whole thing is very, very fast

3. Onboard apps – take a bit of getting use to as you’re relearning a way of working but I really like the simple clutter-free view of a lot of information.

4. Call quality – knocks iPhone into a cocked hat

5. Apps Marketplace – clearly not as a well developed as iPhone Appstore yet, but the key apps are there for me: 4square, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Train information etc….. but the built in access to a whole raft of services almost renders some of these unnecessary thought not quite. From a games perspective, it’s clear the XBox service is attracting developers. The KPI of Angry Birds being there has been clearly met.

6. Interface – part of experience I guess but it make IOS look a bit old fashioned now. The screen is beautiful.

Not sure what I miss from IOS yet. It certainly isn’t a problem having split away from “The Tribe”. More soon.

SMC_MCR: Is Social Media Cafe losing its Way?

I don’t write very often. Last night was a night of heightened passions at SMC_MCR. Helen Keegan (@heloukee) was the brave volunteer who wanted (I think) to talk about her experiences of observing the role of social media in motivating and leveraging the Occupy movement in the United States.

This would have been an interesting discussion in itself. SMC_MCR has always prided itself on being able to have interesting and diverse presentations on the role of technology (and in particular social technology) in people’s work and in people’s lives.

But I think the flavour of last night’s event was markedly different from any previous SMC. Indeed, I’d say that there was very little in the way of discussion on the role of social media or other technologies. Helen bravely pushed the contributions she’d seen with socially curated imagery from the events in America, along with various tweets. These would have been interesting to explore, but the audience (perhaps mea culpa here) wanted to simply explore the Occupy movement itself.

My view is that many people who attended SMC were not really interested in a discussion of the role of Social Media and other interesting mediating technologies – they were more interested in a discussion of ideology of Occupy itself.

Now sure that’s fascinating but I think it’s outside of the remit of the event. As one member of the audience declared, there was already a meeting about Occupy elsewhere in the city – and to paraphrase – this member of the audience thought that SMC having a similarly themed evening that prevented other Occupy-interested people from attending was a bourgeois ploy. With that I think the evening was set to become a political discussion about a political movement than a technologically themed discussion and how that technology supported a contemporary issue. And lacking something else to offer I guess I joined in as the wind-up merchant I am.

My views on Occupy are irrelevant in this post, but the danger of last night is that SMC essentially became a talk shop for liberal politics rather than the relatively politicly agnostic talk shop for interesting issues in technology that it should be. There’s nothing wrong with discussion and debate surrounding liberal politics and tactics. But the context of SMC is not the place for it.

Why is that dangerous? SMC_MCR relies on a good groundswell of regular and new members and participants to make it an engaging event. It needs support from differing communities within the City to make it work. It needs to be a place to network (networking is key for the business community as well as the social community). By becoming what it became last night, SMC runs the risk of alienating much of its core membership and ultimately suffer an untimely demise. Somehow it needs to find its way back to its roots – something of the social, digital and techie vibe that got people excited.

Part 2: #Fail BT and a Failure of Customer Care

In Part 1 of the BT Customer Care Fail, we talked about a breakdown in customer care standards at BT over a relatively simple residential telecomms matter.

A couple of people read the blog (several hundred on the day) and it must have been read somewhere by BT. My last email to @BTCare asked them to initiate a formal complaint. Corporations often have a formal complaints procedure – in fact I set one up once precisely to stop people complaining: most people when they call want to let off steam – if you ask them if they want to initiate the formal complains procedure and say there will be forms to fill in, most people say, “no thanks – I just wanted to get it off my chest.” But I wanted the formality on this occasion. The flipside to a formal process is that it will make grown-ups sit in a room, take notes and document things.

The finality of the last email from @BTCare suggested that the Call Sign number was unrecoverable. But then a day later came this piece of really interesting mail from David, one of the Customer Care staff who’d been dealing with a lot of the emails.

I had raised this with our senior management stall within BT since my last e-mail as to be honest i felt this was not great customer service that we were providing to you. I have managed to get this reported as we should be able to provide our customers with the same number if they remain within the same exchange but it was our system and other issues that were stopping us from doing so.

In light of this i was able to raise this directly with our suppliers to see if they were able to put a fix into place and i am happy to say that they were able to do some tweaking and some changes and they have now been able to re-provide you the call sign service with your original number on it. We did do a test call but unfortunately we got no response so we are unsure if it is working at your end of if it was just that you were unavailable at the time of the call.

If you could please confirm if the service is now back up and running again as i will need to close down the orders on your account to show it as working or check why if it is not yet working.

Note the first couple of lines: you can see the first signs of empowered customer service, of a genuine person within the business. Work I did in the past with opening call centres showed me that great customer care is often about empowering individuals to make change happen, about allowing people at the coal face actually make a difference to the people who call them. You’ll note from Lisa Harrington’s comment on the blog that there is clearly some work to be done at @BTCare when trying to combine traditional contact centre process (telephones) with email and twitter contact management. Fundamentally everyone must be singing from the same hymn sheet, and at the same time, contact centre staff for all channels need to be empowered to make change when there are clear reasons to do so. Lisa’s also arranged to call me at a future date and I’ll write more about our discussion if appropriate.

If you want to see an empowered customer care outfit, take a look at US retail store Woot: they’ve recently been acquired by Amazon, and one of their staff made an excellent video which reflects their open and empowered culture (which the video actually suggests they would like to keep). Thanks to @KatieMoffat for that one.

And finally – the good news. The Call Sign is back. The old number has been restored. Mrs EB’s own culture of customer care can resume. You can buy things from New Rooms and call if there is ever a problem or (more likely) if everything is how it should be.

It’s a Mini Mockery

You may have seen links to the Mini E trial. This exciting outing for the new electronic Mini is likely to create some waves. The iconic little car is having a new power source, and it’s likely to make waves, because the Mini is already a cool car. The provision of environmental credentials – it doesn’t use fossil fuels in the creation of its motion (yes we know the arguments about electricity from power sources being equally fossil fuel derived, and we know that it is in the manufacture of vehicles that most of the damage to the environment is done) – will surely add credibility to its cool popularity.

Well that’s what I thought. And then there’s the Mini E trial. A cool research project in which the Mini E will be given for six months to a number of lucky research participants. Yes, a whole group of aspiring, not-tree-huggy-but-environmentally concerned drivers will spend six months living with the Mini E so that the company can assess what it is like to live with the product on a day-to-day basis.

There are some caveats. First of all, you have to live in the South East of England (they want built up areas to study but remain within a geographically compact region) so that’s Northern testers out (hey we’re pretty good at seeing how something will last up here). A South-East test means that most of the “team” on the programme won’t have far to travel. And you’ve got to have a private drive, carport or garage. So that means that most people who live in terraced, apartment or social housing won’t be able to take part (are they already socially engineering the electric car?)

And finally – you have to pay £330 for the privilege. YOU PAY TO TAKE PART IN THE TEST/RESEARCH. You pay money so that they can test the car on you. This cheap little marketing trick is strange. After all, testing will probably involve you keeping some kind of diary, being visited, maybe even filmed. Maybe they’ll look at you and how you live with the car. I can see all the UGC-derived adverts. Lots of video diaries, a kind of Blair Witch marketing story. And you pay £330 to for the joy of taking part. So – the rub is: you actually pay as you would for a normal car, which is still a prototype, still in beta. You pay as much as you would for a large contract hire diesel car (I’ve seen some C class Mercedes at this price).

I wonder what will happen if feedback is less than favourable. I wonder how it will work out, if I do a genuine test of daily use. “Day 3, and I drove the mini home pissed…… Crashed it into the private garage again. And now it’s been set on fire by outraged, impoverished product testers who live in the flats opposite me.” It’s going to be huge. It’s a Mini Adventure.

Traveling Geeks 2009: Econsultancy Roundtable

There are times in your life when you get to go on a gig that, on the face of it seems relatively mundane, but actually has some significant relevance to yourself, your work and maybe even your life.

Traveling Geeks, on the face of it, looks like another round of US entrepreneurs and commentators foisting themselves on a UK public. But for me a it was a bit different, the key thing being able to talk candidly, openly and at close range with some people that I have admired for a very long time. Not in a conference style, but round a table as equals.

Howard Rheingold and David

Howard Rheingold and David

For me, meeting and talking with Howard Rheingold was a particular lifelong goal. Howard inspired me in the 90s to start thinking about communities of people as the source of learning for each other, and inevitably caused me to develop ideas on community-based learning (we call it “social” now) that I used towards the end of my time at the University of Salford and in the development work that I did at Academee. I still use those ideas now in the work I do with students in their online learning communities. Nowadays I think of it as ordinary, but it’s great to think of them as coming from a time when they were classed as ground-breaking.

It’s also good to see that as Howard has got older, his dress sense hasn’t gotten any better 🙂 I hope I degrade as disgracefully as he does.

Hastings Direct AstroTurf FaceBookCreep

I wrote a little post about how I thought Hastings Direct had lost a little piece of business, because it was now easier to be part of an invisible community with a lot of power at it’s finger tips (see: Some time later, a comment appeared on the blog purporting to be from a “grass roots” user (this is a key term as we’ll see in a minute) and you can see this here: – look for Jackcat1’s comment. I particularly like:

“In contract however, but for a different reason (I had a claim with Hastings Direct) I found the call centre extremely helpful and put my mind at rest immediately when worried about my car claim. Everything was taken care off, I didn’t even have to dig for information like I have had to do in the past. The polite young lady explained everything I needed to know. Excellent service. Highly recommended and my renewal premium was competitive!”

Jackcat’s real name is Karen Sealy Bell (if her Hotmail address is anything to go by: nice trick). Karen Sealy Bell is Web Development Manager at Equity Insurance Group. You can check this by looking at her LinkedIn profile: You’ll note that Equity and Hastings Direct are one and the same company. Granted, this may be someone masquerading as Karen, but I can’t imagine why they would do this.

So what Karen has done is AstroTurfing – which Wikipedia describes as “formal politicaladvertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior (sic)”

Karen has pretended to be a regular member of the public (and not mentioned she has an interest in the firm). If you look at the language, you’ll note that it doesn’t reference the subject matter of the original post (about the power of consumers in the digital age) but seems to focus on my apparent lack of understanding of the insurance market (I was once married to an underwriter so that’s not true). This is then followed by a personal anecdote of her own contact with the firm.

It doesn’t ring true – nice touch with the spelling and grammar errors. It’s too squeaky clean and lovely. People are rarely effusive about receiving normal service, especially about products where they don’t have an emotional involvement (I’m in love with my car but not the insurance).

So – a case of AstroTurfing: quite an old crime in social media, and one that can be used as an example of how not to engage with the public. Naughty Torty!

Thanks to @linkmonkey, @Buzzmartin, @Mattorchard and @Jenniferogrady for their professional twittered opinions.

Twitter status and Facebook status: fussiness & following

Whilst we all get to grips with Twitter and try and find ways we can monetize this channel, I thought it might be interesting to look at a few ideas that seem to be circulating amongst the Twitterati (love this new word).

What do you use your status in Facebook for? Many put how they feel or some witty riposte. Twitter as a status seems to be used for far more informative reasons, like asking a question of your Twitter constituency or for providing a useful nugget of content that you’ve produced or that you’ve seen elsewhere. It seems quite a place for viral distribution of info (retweeting) and it happens in real-time. I’ve noticed that people rarely openly tweet the mundane, beyond possibly pointing out what project they’re working on at the moment (with a view to solicit useful advice/input from their constituency).

I’ve noticed form my own followers/following, and from talking to other Twitter users, that unlike my Facebook constituency, my Twitter constituency is far more cognate: given the subject of my research, teaching and consulting, many of my following are working in the industry – people following me perhaps less so – but an interesting conversation with fellow twitterers led to a conclusion that we’re very fussy who we’ll twitter with, and that many twitterers regularly weed and cull their following/follower lists, particularly if they’re a daytime business user. Many block a follower who doesn’t have much of a bio or whose bio seems quite irrelevant tor their professional or personal interests. Others stop following a twitterer who, despite initial impressions, is simply a self publicist and/or a twitter spam merchant. On the other hand, these fellow twitterers had hundreds of “friends” on Facebook  – many of whom they did not know.

So my growing opinion is that Twitter constituencies are perhaps more tightly knit and a lot more fussy about who they involve. A great example of this is how Twitter users like to introduce a new Twitter user to their followers on the basis of trust – “I know this person, I think you’ll find them interesting and appropriate in your Twitter world.”

I’ll follow Twitter culture with interest, because I think it says quite a lot about how people feel about privacy.