Tag Archive | microblogging

endless threads on facebook and other online collaborative tools

I have recently been engaging – and indulging – in very long threads of comments following on from Twitter updates that were posted to my Facebook account. As much as I love this way of sharing ideas and throwing in a bit of banter and more seriously contemplated ideas, I wished there would be better ways of getting the material collected and brought into a form that allows for further editing and sharing – once Facebook takes way too much time to load all the comments and you are finally forced to start a new thread. It is a semi-public way of sharing and debating on Twitter, Facebook, Youtube etc where screenshots are the least convient way to capture long and complex threads.

In a corporate context which provides users with shared drives/servers Microsoft Excel’s share option has been the standard tool for collaboration with multiple users in most organisations I have been working with so far. However, as soon as more than 3 users start reviewing a large Microsoft Word document processing speed slows down. Also, a number of functions, such as merging cells, are not available in shared MS-Excel spreadsheets. Frequently, all useful tools which facilitate editing, sharing and tracking of changes, and especially many useful social bookmarking tools are simply blocked by corporate data protection policies. Collaboration with individuals outside the organisation needs to take into account that users may work under different systems. Further issues are data protection, copyright and security of the data.

For small and specific projects, Microsoft-users may find CoWord and CoPowerPoint a useful option. The download of these applications is free. Editing files in a real-time multi-user collaboration is made possible without need to share one telepointer (mouse cursor) but users can even hide those of others. The CoWord manual provides a good overview and helps identifying whether these specific applications will be sufficient for the project in question.

Google Docs is also a free browser-based application to edit and create documents (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and form; sharing of PDFs) in real-time in collaboration with other users. The autosave option prevents data loss but data is saved on Google servers by default. While files are mobile browser enabled (view, not edit) the document size as well as the total number of imported files is restricted, though. There seems to be widespread confusion about the requirement for a Google Applications account and a Gmail account: users do not need a Gmail [Googlemail] account, they sign up with their existing email address and only need to open a Google Applications account.

There is ongoing debate about data security in Google Applications and especially in collaborative work the issues of intellectual property, privacy, data protection many may want to take a closer look at, so the Terms of Service deserve a comment. Google makes a number of reassuring promises but by taking a “buyer beware” approach, users agree to make Google not liable for any possible damages caused. So, basically, if something goes wrong, for instance by loss or destruction, it is the user’s problem. In research that might mean a breach of ethical requirements and potential harm of research participants.

EtherPad does not seem to offer that much more than Google Docs – the real-time collaborative text editing has been built into Google Docs and hence the bonus free EtherPad used to have had has gone. What makes a difference, though, is that Etherpad does not require a specific account: links are emailed back and forth, also, tracking changes by various authors is facilitated by colour highlighters and the extensive “undo” function is a plus. Currently, the application is still free and data/pads are part-secured by unique and what they call “non-guessable” URLs. So once you loose the URL or it was emailed accidentally to the wrong recipient, data security may be under threat. EtherPad is planning to charge business and individuals equally for secure data hosting.

As a web-based application, free of charge for individuals and a limited number of projects / collaborating users, there is then also
ZOHO which enables simultaneous collaboration between multiple users. The large range of suites includes Writer, Sheet (spreadsheet application), DB and Reports (database and reporting – pivots, charts etc), Show (presentations, import Microsoft PowerPoint), Projects ( Gantt charts , reports, share supporting files), Wiki, Planner, Notebook, Chat, Mail and Meeting (web conferencing – participants can use any operating system).
Certainly an impressive range. Much appreciated also the fact that ZOHO applications are available for mobile devices such as PDAs and the iPhone. ZOHO’s word processor supports Microsoft Word, Office Open, various text-formats, HTML, RTF, JPG, GIF & PNG files. In addition it is able to embed media from hosting sites, such as Flickr, Zooomr, Youtube and Vimeo.

ZOHO Writer’s earlier version suffered from an updating delay, but the latest version comes with real-time notification from ZOHO Chat. Security-wise ZOHO argues that they have a large range of physical and processoral systems in place that prevent loss, damage or abuse of data, this includes back-up on multiple servers and data encryption.

When ZOHO introduced login through Google or Yahoo IDs it was argued that this backdoor would compromise their privacy policy. But ZOHO (Sridhar Vembu, CEO of Zoho parent company AdventNet) claims that “We do NOT transmit any data to Google or Yahoo – in fact, we do not actually collect your Google or Yahoo password at all – it directly goes to Google/Yahoo. They inform us that you have been authenticated, and then we let you into Zoho”.

Having looked into these options, I am inclined to go for ZOHO, mainly because it is covering such a large range of applications which will help me to stay flexible and efficient – especially for building up on current data collection towards a larger PhD project, although it comes at a price cf. ZOHO pricing_all applications. The conditions seem to be fair and allow to up- or downgrade or terminate whenever necessary cf. ZOHO Projects pricing and they will even please commitment phobes.

So, in preparation of my Master thesis research project I will now need to look into survey tools – SurveyMonkey has been my initial choice but a more thorough evaluation at this stage may pay off later – and also I am going through my notes on methodological aspects, especially the material compiled during last year’s Open University course Ethnography (D844).

I am most grateful for your comments – let me know what your experiences have been so far with this and how you collaborate best online. I have a feeling that a successful and enjoyable online collaboration with strangers has a considerable impact on the expectations and attitudes in offline settings…

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you’ve got power: bloggers and microbloggers set the pace

On 18 December Vietnam approved new blogging restrictions that aim at regulating bloggers’ content which the government deems sensitive or inappropriate. National providers are requested to report and remove posts which

  • undermine national security,
  • incite violence or crime,
  • disclose state secrets,
  • or include inaccurate information that could damage the reputation of individuals and organizations.

The booming blogosphere which is growing fast into an alternative newsroom has provided a wakeup call to the government which is resorting to drastic measures of censorship. State-controlled media in a communist state is no longer the only source of information with bloggers seizing power and spreading what is perceived as harmful. The language itself is subject to regulations which encourage bloggers to write in ‘clean and healthy Vietnamese’.

Outside Vietnam, traditional media is getting increasingly under pressure. The Financial Times titled on 22 December: ‘Plane crash geek Twitters from burning Denver aircraft, Philippe Naughton’. Real-time citizen journalism also played a significant role in the recent Mumbai attacks when users posted the events in 140 character messages into the online sphere. Twitter had come under attack for providing terrorists at the scene with information about the situation.

Giving away some of the power traditional or state-owned media used to hold is still widely perceived as inviting anarchism and social chaos. Societies and governments are going through the very challenging processes of getting used to listening to their people’s views – who’ve got a lot to say, it turns out. How to control this? When and what exactly is to be controlled? By whom? Currently, there are still far too many in control who are non-users of the new social media, those who neither blog, wiki, facebook or twitter. In short: those who actually do not have any expertise in the very field they want to regulate so desparately.

Successful ‘control’, i.e. such that is neither patronising nor does it trigger instant resistance but is adapted by users as enabling and empowering, may rather come from peers than in the traditional top-down manner. After all, bloggers and microbloggers are technically already able to remove messages and exercise self-moderation if required. Instilling a sense of responsible information-sharing while learning to produce quality content is the actual challenge at stake. Yet, with all the shifts in external control and regulation a review of internal mechanisms is to me the more realistic and sustainable approach: self-reflection and self-evaluation of one’s own contribution strengthen the sense of ownership and third party assessment. It is not just citizens who need to learn how to engage and publish with responsibility – it is also governments who need to learn to take their citizens seriously and work in collaboration with them on information-sharing in a globalised world.

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Social media, corporations and changing markets

Applying for a job in Barack Obama’s new team forced every applicant to dig deep in their own past: those who aim at high-ranking roles faced a questionnaire including 63 questions. Among many personal questions the links to blogs and Facebook pages were required. You may think this is taking things way too far. Such an intrusive approach may be detrimental to a fruitful collaboration. A German friend working in Human Resources argued similarly: they would not google applicants for “we trust people”. And of course, you will need the resources to conduct such research: personnel who are skilled and know what to look for.

It does seem many organisations are not taking social media very seriously. My friend pointed towards the age of corporate decision-makers. This might be one aspect, others may be related to power, hierarchical structures and a lack of understanding communication as a 2-way process rather than the still widespread top-down trickle. Not to forget cultural practices – some of them unconsciously practices and reproduced.

Using social media in times of financial markets in turmoil, drastic policy changes, lay offs and plenty of rumours does not seem to loom large on companies’ to-do lists. Micro-/blogging is frowned upon in circles which have not even arrived at websites that offer more than carefully choreographed content and a simple contact form: banking is certainly among the least transparent and progressive industries in this regard. Information is money, has to be money – and profit has to be quantifiable. Or?

Whistleblower Cityboy managed to shake up things a little by breaking the Code of Silence strictly enforced in London’s financial district. His blogging activites in Fear and Loathing in the City provide great entertainment, raised eyebrows and a few voices – but he did not manage to bring about change to the long established culture of scarce flows of information.

Now in the era of bailing out banks – as if they were hostages – one may think things could change and transparency would be imposed by help of governmental bodies – and the public who paid a high price for a slice of all those toxic assets. But no, this is illusionary, as some of the stakeholders may well have changed now but the corporate culture remained the same. In this context, “YES, I CAN!” is not the banker’s mantra.

Net presence and staff activism, corporate blogging in a proactive attempt to manage and control change, shape opinion-making and bring about change in a way remotely echoing Obama’s extensive use of platforms and channels in the sphere of social media is something the banking sector is not even ready to think about. Dismissing social media as lacking a sound business model seems to be right if taking the short-term perspective.

On the long run though, social media offers opportunities to manage relationships with customers as well as staff which may well pay off: the worst in times of financial crises is to leave image and status management to traditional PR campaigns and the local papers. Generation Digital Native is mobile and targeted by those who don’t sleep, they might also be much less loyal to parties, corporations and brands than widely assumed. I can hear their “yes, we can”…

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microblogging and stakeholdership in Barack Obama’s new political era

When Michelle Obama’s twitter account was hacked it seemed to be a nasty nuisance, to some perhaps almost to be expected as a public figure in the final stages of the election. Post 4 November 2008 and the landslide victory of her husband we may want to rethink our ideas of what it means to activate an electorate in the age of social media and microblogging in specific. I have been following Barack Obama (and Joseph Biden) for quite some time and one of the most remarkable features of his settings or befriending politics involve equality – if you follow him, he follows you – and yes, it is auto-follow but at some point this was an option chosen consciously.

Equality rather than just a marketing trick as sceptics thought seems to have informed his choice. He managed what politicians around the globe have been dreaming of for centuries: mobilise the masses, engaging them by listening carefully to their very basic need of being taken seriously and therefore gain their trust, support – and passion. The speed at which tweets were forwarded, retweeted and commented on when they had been set up as status updates in facebook was unprecedented. And even though I was travelling that day in Germany and had only limited access on my mobile I felt I was part of the events to an extent I had never been before in any other election. Obama may have had an excellent and hard working team of skilled aides who were trained in capturing their every move in max 140 characters – but why are so many other politicians obviously entirely unable to follow suit and at least set up an account and start engaging with the electorate? The underlying issues may be little surprising: the widespread model of leadership which is more concerned with maintinaing power than solving problems and developing the hierarchy-driven societies towards transparent global communities of stakeholders has come seriously under threat thanks to one man who has proved that being media-savvy is not sufficient – listening skills and the ability to involve them rather than exclude until the day of ticking that box dawns are key to understanding his momentous victory. Now, what next for the 44th US president who has been greeted with plenty of doubt when it comes to capabilities of resolving the issues inherited by the past government? I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him pursuing that path further and getting citizens debate and participate in solutions by help of microforums .

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