NativeHQ’s take on Facebook, in the Western Mail today

Here in Cardiff we keep a close eye on the Western Mail, so thanks to David Williamson for including my views on Facebook in his wide-ranging piece published today:

Carl Morris, a digital media consultant at Cardiff-based NativeHQ, thinks Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the internet equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife – a site that provides every tool you could want.

While he respects the achievements of its founders, he compared Facebook to a “walled garden” with its corporate-controlled environment.

He said people should remember that the site is a business which makes its money by appealing to advertisers.

“People think that when they join Facebook they become Facebook’s customer but you’re not the customer – you’re what’s being sold,” he said.

While I stand by David’s faithful quotation of my words, such an articles can only ever be an introduction to the topic at hand, particularly where the practical use of technology is concerned. So although generally critical of Facebook’s failings in the article, I do make fairly regular use of it – both in my work as a digital media consultant and personal life.

As with any tool, where, how or even if we use Facebook on a project depends on the objectives. In technology there is no perfect tool for every application, only pros and cons to any choice.

Incidentally, I would have to disagree partly with one of the article’s quotations from Prof Chris Price of Aberystwyth University:

“I don’t worry about Facebook at all,” he said, adding that he is not surprised people are turning to the social network to send messages to their friends instead of using a single e-mail account. But he said he does not expect e-mail to die, instead becoming the medium for professional communications.

The professor said: “In some ways it’s quite a sensible split.”

He also expects people to have multiple identities online to reflect the different nature of their relationships in real life.

“People talk about having one Facebook account for their friends and another which is the one their parents can look at,” he said.

Yes, people do have multiple identities online and have excellent reasons for doing so. (Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly failed to emphasise this fact, arguably because it drives Facebook’s growth and chimes with his philosophy.)

But don’t create multiple personal accounts! There’s no need, it’s potentially confusing and certainly creates more work for you. There are multiple ways of controlling visibility of your posts, photos and other content on the basis of individual people and friend lists, via what Facebook calls the privacy settings.

Another point I made to David at the Western Mail, which unfortunately didn’t make it to the final article, is that web services such as Twitter and WordPress which default to everything public can be said to possess – paradoxically maybe – better privacy policies than that of Facebook. They have fewer privacy settings, it’s very clear that your posts will be findable on the web, therefore you as a user have a clearer idea of who can read your posts. And if you’re not comfortable with something being on the web at large (rather than an ill-defined semi-public like your Facebook friends), you won’t post it in the first place.

Of course, in practice, privacy is a wider issue than software settings.

How (not) to promote healthy discussion online

You could be forgiven for thinking all online discourse is nothing but flaming, trolling and abuse.

The truth? It is possible to have healthy, rational and polite discussion online. It just needs some very careful planning.

This very insightful post by Chris Applegate takes the example of the BBC Have Your Say forums and offers some observations of where they go wrong.

In an age where every company is a media company, this will go far beyond news organisations like the BBC.

Read the whole of Applegate’s post if you’re interested in how and how not to create spaces where people converse about your company and your projects.

Organising an event? Record and share it

I met a representative of an arts organisation this week. She mentioned one of their key aims is to help artists and other people they deal with to share knowledge. So they are organising an event, a get-together, to allow people who wouldn’t normally meet to do so.

The event itself sounded like a good move. It also made me think of the possible benefits of recording the event and uploading it online.

The recording might be a video, on a service such as YouTube or Vimeo. Or it might be just the audio, on a service such as Soundcloud. Attendees and other people can then embed a player on their blogs and websites, if you allow this (and usually there’s no reason not to allow embedding). Ideally you could embed it on your organisation or company website – but you don’t even need to do that to get started, at least for now.

The equipment for just documenting something is so ridiculously cheap now. We’re not talking about high production values or live streaming, just documenting the thing.

(There plenty of other ways to document an event using social media but today I’ll focus on getting the whole event as audio or video.)

Most attendees can be fine with audio or video if you tell them beforehand. Let them know about good opportunities to introduce themselves and plug their own work – at the start of each person’s first comment for example.

For video we use the Flip cam at NativeHQ, which is just a suggestion but it is cheap and an additional bonus is its size. It’s portable and so small that even the less confident people can happily ignore it and get on with sharing their thoughts.

So here are some possible benefits.

Extending the reach
There will probably be people who want to attend your event but can’t, because of time and geography. Recording it allows them to catch up afterwards.

For people who do attend your event it serves as a reminder of what was discussed. It might even help them to concentrate and fully participate in the meeting rather than struggle to take notes of everything.

Awareness of your organisation
Publishing a recording helps wider awareness of your organisation, its aims, its projects and so on. Relevant recordings lead to inbound links and boost to your online reputation.

One feature of the web, thought by many to be the beauty of the web, is that your recording is potentially accessible to anyone. What about exclusivity? Some audio and video services do allow you to control access to recordings. But in most situations you can just make it open. Why place limits on who can get this information? It might seem paradoxical, but some of the most competitive people and companies are the ones sharing the most useful recordings. Most things aren’t sensitive. They may as well be open.

Promotion of the event itself
This follows from the previous point. There are lots of reasons to attend your event. Some of these reasons are: meeting other attendees face-to-face, asking questions, having more influence, helping oneself to a drink or buffet. None of these are replaced by a recording. Often the recording can promote the event. (For instance, look at how the prestigious TED talks have taken off since they started sharing video. The attendance fee has increased too.)

Having a recording of key points may allow you to avoid having to repeat yourself. You can keep the recording online for weeks, months, even years afterwards. All of the good audio and video services will give your recording a permalink. This will not change and can thus be emailed to your community and shared between them and other people. Your recording will also be found by people searching for keywords contained in its title or list of tags.

Unknown reasons
I kick myself to think of the useful events I’ve attended – or even organised – and not had recorded. That’s because you don’t always know how useful the recording will be until afterwards. Or maybe sometime later. Those meetings just vanished into thin air. I’ll get by, but it would have taken hardly any effort to record them – so why not? (I’ve also been to some boring and irrelevant meetings in my time, but that’s subjective. Even those might have been of use to someone out there. You never know.)

These benefits can apply to anything good you choose to put online, not just audio and video. You could substitute the word “recording” above with “blog post”. You might already have guessed that for me, typing out this blog post ticks off some of the benefits described above.

Carsonified – A Model of a Good Company Blog

I subscribe to quite a lot of blogs.

But I don’t subscribe to many company blogs.

By “company blog” I mean a blog which is an adjunct to a company’s ordinary business. I just haven’t found many that are worth following. In order to get my attention, the blog needs a human voice and needs to tell me something useful, relevant or interesting.

Usually, companies either don’t do it or they do it wrongly. I know you want me to buy your goods and services. But to keep me coming back to your website you need to give me more than a pitch.

One exception to this is the blog of Carsonified, a software development company based in Bath, UK, who specialise in web-based applications and related conferences. Please bear with me, even if that’s not your area of interest.

To be sure, they have plenty of work to be getting on with besides writing blog posts. But something about the industry insights of co-founder Ryan Carson in particular has kept me coming back, plus his eagerness to blog honestly about their company activities.

Building and launching a successful web app is a fraught and turbulent business, which adds to the fascination for me. It reminds me of artist development in the music industry, especially music managers I’ve met – not least in the fact there is an abundance of people making a play and only a few who will win. Even by their own definitions of success.

As if to undermine part of what I’ve just said (!), Ryan Carson sometimes gets it wrong, as he admits in this new video, Blogging Tips for Downturn 2.0 (don’t let the title put you off).

After laying off three employees in December 2008, Carson (with their permission) decided to blog about it. That wasn’t the problem. Yes, layoffs are embarrassing but the news will travel anyway. So you may as well set the tone. And you’ll probably do the former employees a favour by highlighting their availability.

His mistake, in his view, was to combine the news with some advice about how to be a “good” employee. In effect, he combined two blog posts into one which gave out an impression that he was admonishing them, which wasn’t his intention. You can still read the original post about the redundancies.

Those who don’t blog may ask: was all this worth the effort for Carson? Well, I for one am reading his blog and checking out his products and have also mentioned the company to a few people as a result, including you now. So make up your own mind.