Home Office Workers Unite!
Home Office Workers Unite! That is the call Sebastian Fiedler put out earlier this week. He ponders about working a lot of your time in virtual environments, without close colleagues anywhere in physical vicinity: Though I am in frequent contact with various people in different parts of the continent and around the world, I have done very little to establish a local network of people who live and work in a similar way like I do. There must be loads in town... but we never seem to meet... and what I often find missing during a normal work day at home is the equivalent of the occasional coffee break that one gets with co-workers, the little chat on the corridor, and so forth. Sure, I compensate with mediated communication of all sorts... but the urban landscape and my mind is calling for something else.
I recognize Sebastian's thinking and feelings in several ways. Proven Partners, the company I work with, has no office at all. We are 12 people, voted last year's 'most mobile company' in the Netherlands, who meet at clients, along the road, or virtually. Phones, exchange server, e-mail, roadside restaurants and IM take the place of offices, conference rooms, coffee machines and gossip in the cafetaria during lunch. And I can emphatize with what Sebastian is saying. Face to face contact has different rhythms and nuances from our virtual encounters. In part this is of our own making, when we think that our virtual channels are for 'business only', where city sidewalks, terraces, markets but also our offices are geared to different rhythms and nuances. Marcel, a colleague who recently joined us was amazed at the amount of banter we were exchanging through e-mail. In his former job e-mail was 'serious' only, reminiscent of what Euan Semple recently wrote about. E-mail is our virtual coffee machine.
Whenever I work from home a number of days in a row, I get a bit restless. Because of working on your own. And the daily and frequent virtual contact with coworkers is not cure enough for that. To balance that we sometimes arrange to meet with colleagues to work together in the same geographic location. This isn't perfect of course, as you find yourself usually in some café or restaurant at a considerable driving distance, without the usual office appliances, and without the comfort of being in an environment you 'own', in a territory that is marked as 'yours'.
So being able to step outside for a bit and meet up with people in similar working conditions in your own neighbourhood seems like a good thing to me. Or agreeing to work together in some spot for a few hours, at someones place even. Fact is, apart from my partner Elmine, I don't think I know anyone in our home town either that works the way she and I do. And I am certain there must be quite a few. I think I would enjoy having a small circle of people around in the immediate vicinity like that, so why did this not happen and emerge? All other routines I have emerged in response to a felt need, as far as I can tell, so why not this one?
Perhaps it is the result of how your focus starts shifting once you enter a more virtual working life. When I first started building relationships around the topics that interested me, knowledge management e.g., I started looking outwards. I knew I was unlikely to find people in my home town, and knew I had to take an international perspective. Two years on, while looking for a new job and finding my current position, I realized that while I was busy building international contacts around knowledge management I did not know anyone (well, one or two) in the Netherlands around this topic, let alone in my town. Even though I was looking for a job in the Netherlands. I had been so busy looking outside, and so captivated by the conversations I found there, that I did not notice I was creating this big blind spot called 'local environment'. When we are used to meeting our virtual co-workers in Copenhagen, Vienna, or elsewhere, or that when they visit your home for f2f discussion it is not from within driving but from within flying distance, we easily forget that there might be people in similar working conditions right down the block. I think Lilia Efimova and I had already been in contact for several months on-line before we mutually realized we both lived in the same town, a ten minute bike ride apart, and had our first lunch discussing knowledge and blogging together, somewhere in 2002.
So I pick up the banner that Sebastian raised, and ask how many home office workers have you hooked up with in your home town? Home Office Workers Unite! And I think I might need to translate this into Dutch as well....
Photo Solidarity Mural by Atelier Teee, Office by Elmine, both under Creative Commons license, photo Witbiertje aan Zee by me. 3 Comments and 1 Trackbacks | Permalink
Adding Cropper to My Toolkit
In Earl Mardle's blog I found a little gem of usability today. He pointed to Cropper, a tool to easily create screenshots with, and to a plug-in to automatically upload those screenshots to your Flickr account. This sure beats my current routine, which is capturing complete screenshots, cropping them using IrfanView, and then uploading them through my blog software.
Once you've installed Cropper (for win also available as .msi), simply drag the files for the plugin to the plugin folder. Now in the menu of the Cropper icon in your system tray it should give you Flickr as an output option. Select it. Drag the Cropper icon onto your screen. This should open a 'form' that lets select parts of your screen.
In the picture above you see the selection tool
When you've made your selection, double click the 'form'. You now get to annotate, title and tag all of the screenshots before uploading them to Flickr. You need to select a Flickr set to upload to by the way, so create one in advance, or use an existing one for your screenshots.
Upon first uploading a picture it will ask you to authorize Cropper with Flickr. I am not sure why Cropper asks for both read, write and delete privileges. I'd say 'write' would be enough.
The Print Screen button still works too, for entire screen shots. Alt + PrtSc for the active window, and Ctrl Alt PrtSc for the section of your screen where your mouse is.
Good stuff! I think Earl just pointed me to a real timesaver.2 Comments and 0 Trackbacks | Permalink
Criticizing Wikipedia The Wrong Way
Via the de.licio.us bookmarks of an old university buddy I came across a column by Frank Ahrens in the Washington Post called Death By Wikipedia: The Kenneth Lay Chronicles.
A self proclaimed wikipedia and wiki fan (which I don't doubt) Ahrens uses the way the Wikipedia page about Enron's Kenneth Lay got edited in the hours after Lay's death was first reported to discuss flaws in Wikipedia. The columns itself however undermines Ahrens point, as well as leaving out the questions that we should be asking Wikipedians and Jimmy Wales about the quality and usefulness Wikipedia.
First part of the article is the basic fear mongering about the fact that anyone can edit Wikipedia. They may be written by experts or insane crazy people. Or worse, insane crazy people with an agenda, or even radicalized bloggers. Yes, they may. But at the same time it is highly unlikely that insanity will stand uncorrected for long. That wikipedia is edited by 'everybody' is more part of the Wikipedia mythology and folklore than reality. The fact that anyone can edit, does not mean that they will or should. Wikipedians in reality form a pretty tight community of people that not only create the bulk of its articles but also police the contributions by others, to weed out the insane crazy people with an agenda. Also wikipedia doesn't work because every single edit works, it works because the aggregate works.
It then continues with Lay's death on Wednesday illustrates the problem, as chronicled by the Reuters news service, which watched the Wikipedia article on Lay evolve with alarming speed and wildly inaccurate reporting. I do not doubt that the 'reporting' at first was inaccurate or speculative or sensationalist even. Looking at the history of the page in wikipedia July 5th shows a flurry of edits containing opinions and wild speculations (and I fail to see why the speed of editing would be alarming, as it applies to vandals and corrections alike: more fear mongering) but finally, by Wednesday afternoon, the Wikipedia entry about Lay said that he was pronounced dead at an Aspen, Colo., hospital and had died of a heart attack, citing news sources.
What it makes transparent to me is the whole process of how people tried to make sense of the news until the dust settled. It took a couple of hours. I imagine newsrooms are no different, with the big exception that they don't put it in print or on the air, or at least a number of them don't. When I first heard the news, my first thought was it could have been suicide. I imagine most editors in their newsrooms had the same notion and shouted to a reporter to go find out if that was the case. What we saw on the wikipedia page was a process of asking questions and looking for answers being made visible that must have been going on in every US newsroom at the same time. I agree that had no place on the wikipedia page itself, but should have been done in the attached discussion page (which yields a few interesting lines about how Reuter monitored the page). But already after a couple of hours all that messiness was gone, and what we see is the finished product. It wasn't an article those first hours, it was a meeting place, of experts, the insane, and the crazy, with or without an agenda. Afterwards it returned to being an article that does not include any piece of speculation.
Not making a distinction between these two roles of a wiki, as a meeting place, and as a repository, makes one fail to grasp what makes Wikipedia different from both news media and an encyclopedia, makes one fail to grasp why a wiki is social software.
During the bombing of the London underground last year July, the wikipedia page about it was a meeting place as well. And a very busy one. The general level of info was good, especially because, and this is a marked and hugely important difference with the Ken Lay case as it impacts accuracy enormously, a lot of edits came from Londoners comparing their first hand observations with what they saw on the news. People outside the UK added details from news footage (including linking to screenshots) that wasn't broadcast elsewhere etc. It was a place to pool and tell stories to collectively work out patterns and create a multi-subjective overview. The current page consists of the remaining traces of that meeting, and a much tidier set of traces than you get after a regular 'party'.
Writing a piece about the fact that the process of constructing a page can be inaccurate and messy does not constitute following Wikipedia in a critical way. It merely fails to grasp the different 'production model'. Another symptom of this in the column is the extremely odd mixing of discussing Wikipedia's quality as an encyclopedia using a case of news gathering and reporting as proof in point.
If you want to ask critical questions about Wikipedia, because you just want them to be better why not ask and research these questions:
- How is the wikipedia community divided socially, culturally, professionally and geographically and how does that impact the articles written, both in terms of subjects and themes, as in terms of viewpoint? Is it diverse enough, representative enough of the global community?
- How aware is the wikipedia community of this effect itself, and does it take pro-active steps to balance things? Is it reaching out to people to become a healthier community? How healthy is it as a network?
- Is wikipedia living up to its own standards of quality?
- How well is wikipedia serving the ideals of the wikipedia foundation?
- How does wikipedia relate to the other projects the wikipedia foundation is doing?
- How good is the wikipedia community in policing content, and how 'sane' is their judgment? Is it changing, developing over time, and in which direction?
You see these are all questions about community life really, about how healthy that community is, and not so much editorial questions or about quality of each action. We then should turn around and ask those same questions about our news media and our encyclopedic institutions. And about ourselves. The wikipedians community's health determines the quality of Wikipedia, our society's health the quality of the press, our personal social health the quality of all our lives. What does that say about Frank Ahrens hit piece?
(illustration Web Watch taken from Washington Post website as fair use)
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Social Software Works In Triangles
When I wrote about the dinner with Marc Canter here some 2 months ago I also mentioned thinking about social software as being composed of different triangles.
The notion stems from how I use Flickr and delicious. I track individuals and their bookmarks and through those two pieces of info I get to know their use of language as well as their general areas of interest for the day. But I also look at how the stuff I bookmark has been tagged by other people. Are these people already familiar to me? Different language use (in the tags) may hint towards different circles of people and communities. You see that in both cases I don't really look at the bookmark itself, and I certainly don't use it as a singular piece of information. It is merely an object around which I look for existing relationships, and scout out possible new ones. An object of sociality that has served its role as soon as I used it to find new people, or connect to already familiar ones. It works much the same way for Flickr, though the aspect to get a quick glance at what my existing relationships are up to is more important to me here.
In general you could say that both Flickr and delicious work in a triangle: person, picture/bookmark, and tag(s). Or more abstract a person, an object of sociality, and some descriptor. In every triangle there always needs to be a person and an object of sociality. The third point of the triangle is free to define as it were.
This becomes more interesting once you start using the descriptors to move from one object of sociality to the next, or when the descriptor is an object of sociality itself. Now you can hop through different applications while still doing the same thing you previously did inside one application: build connections to people based on their current interest, albeit a picture, a location, an event, a bookmark, a blogpost or a document.
We generally call the stacking of apps like this mash-up. But in this case more importantly it allows us as people to seamlessly wander from one application to another while not being interrupted because you have to consciously migrate from one 'channel' to another. It is not mash-up to bring more functionality into one new application based on existing ones, it is mash-up to more closely follow your own routines while building and maintaining relationships.
Plazes for instance puts itself in the place of the tags in Flickr, and presto, now pictures are tied to geographic locations and vice versa. Through which you then can find (new) people again.
To me this also means that self-proclaimed social applications that do not offer you the possibility to explore all sides of a triangle, aren't useful as a social medium. A bookmarking service that does say how many others bookmarked the same thing, but does not let you explore who these people are or lets you see who uses what tags, only the tags used by themselves, doesn't do much in a social sense. By maintaining the triangle you make sure that individuals keep their face in the masses even when you aggregate info. (You can always drill back to a person and her personal set of in this case bookmarks and tags)
You can enter any triangle through a single point. This is the most basic use of an application. I store pictures, I bookmark, I write, I geotag. But from that you can start exploring the sides of the triangle, finding new connections to people either based on the object of sociality, or by browsing the descriptors and hopping to the next object of sociality. Social software I think is social because it puts relationships in the center view, and less the information that flows through these relationships. The possibility of triangulation allows you to also extend and broaden both existing and new relationships into new information domains, and thus increases the likelihood of new networks of relationships and meaning emerging from the background noise.8 Comments and 1 Trackbacks | Permalink