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web 1.0 reborn

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I’ve just deleted my account at Twitter, and intend to cut my participation on forums down, even further than I already have. I left The National Midday Sun (TNMS) last year, and the MythBusters fan forum a few months go – two forums that sucked up epic spans of time, but provided little real reward, only an illusory aura of “participation”.

Reboot 9.0 is kicking off, in Copenhagen, tonight: a year ago I was at Reboot 8.0, wondering if I could get a handle on all this Web 2.0 stuff. I came away with an overriding impression, backed up by explicit statements from other bloggers, that Web 2.0 is all about creating more intrusive links between a person and the Internet. This is a double-edged sword, in my opinion.

The first edge is the drive for “personalization”; they will help you get what you want, in the way that you want, so you can make better use of your time and attention. The same information, about your interests and plans, can be used to customise advertising directed at you – something that, it is hoped, advertisers will happily pay more for. It’s an illustration of a universal truth behind any new non-scientific endeavour: follow the money.

The second edge is the drive to put oneself out there, to create the “brand of me”. If you search the Internet for “brand of me”, you can find many examples of how to do this well, but you’ll also note that the practitioners of this are those with something to sell. The most vocal proponent of this approach, that I know of, is Sally Hogshead, blogger and author of Radical Careering, a book which appears to be about careers in general, but seems to me to be focused on “public-facing sales” careers, such as marketing and advertising.

To hear these “brand of me” proponents speak, you would think that everyone needs to be a marketeer, because everyone has something to sell: yourself. This reminds me of something I heard an employer say: “everyone is a salesperson”. (That one got a good laugh at the time.)

I understand there are occasions when such measures are necessary – when looking for a job, for example – but once you are done with that, why keep selling yourself? The stock answer that I’ve heard goes something like “you never stop looking for new work and new challenges, and you need to push your brand message at every possible opportunity”.

This, allegedly, is the way of the future. To reach out to anyone in this attention-starved, noise-saturated world, to survive in a hyper-economy, you need to be faster, louder, and more aggressive, in your drive to make your name known and sell your services. To effectively reap the benefits of personalization, or effectively market yourself, you sacrifice privacy and anonymity, because everyone can see you.

If I look at the steps I have already taken without close examination, and those I plan to take in the next few months, I realise that I have already decided how much personalization I want, and how important the “brand of me” is.

I’m not “dropping off” the Internet. but I am giving up any illusions I may have had about active participation in the “web 2.0 revolution”. My plans are moving from the virtual world back in to the real world. More details will follow in the next few months; not that anyone will notice, since I have not effectively marketed myself or this site. Never mind Second Life; I have a First Life to live. 8)

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Written by brian t

May 30, 2007 at 6:40 pm

rebooted

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Ugh! I got photographed! That’s me in the middle, somewhere between two and three cans of Tuborg Green, on a boat in the middle of Copenhagen Harbour, about a week ago. The booze cruise was the precursor to the reboot 8 conference I attended, to bone up on my Web 2.0 2.1 concepts and knowledge.

The term Web 2.0 is slightly deprecated these days, ever since O’Reilly Publications started trying to stop anyone else using it in the context of a conference. I have my own concerns about the term, too, and while the conference gave me much food for thought, it hasn’t done much to quell my misgivings.

The short version is: it’s looking more and more like a cultural or even artistic phenomenom, rather than a business. A few (not many) of the speakers touched on “monetizing” Web 2.0 – making money out of it – but they generally appeared to be doing it out for fun and interest first, with business sense way down the list. I don’t have a problem with that at all: try too hard to make money from any form of culture, and you risk alienating an audience who generally does not need any of this – which ties in nicely with Brian Eno’s concept of culture as “everything we don’t have to do”.

I enjoyed a breakout session on “Sociology ABC”, which tried to condense a year’s worth of Sociology lectures in to 40 minutes, and was pretty successful at it too. My notes are quite long but contain gaps I’ll have to fill from memory or imagination.

Extreme Closeup!I didn’t stay the full length of the conference: getting out to the farm to see friends and chill out was more important. I made several new friends there too: one Irish Cob horse, two Shetland ponies, three dogs, about seven sheep, and a Common Buzzard. Here’s one of the sheep, getting up close and personal before trying to eat my trousers.

Written by brian t

June 7, 2006 at 11:36 am

Posted in culture, reboot, travel, web 2.0

what am I selling?

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Simple question, eh? It is today, but might not remain that way for much longer.

I subscribe to a whole bunch of RSS feeds, as you can see by the “bloglines blogroll” list on the right. Some of those talk about blogging, with certain assumptions, and the foremost of those is that the blogger has something to sell, and that is why he or she is blogging. Over four years since I started blogging, and I’m only asking this question now?

Let’s start with the philosophical: in various discussions I’ve had with people on the topic of religion, I arrived at an interesting conclusion. All religions have an evangelical element to them, to different degrees. Even Buddhism, the least pushy religions I know of, has a subtle “grassroots” marketing element to it The thing is: I’m an atheist, a term derived from what I don’t believe in. I have no sacred texts to follow, no rituals to observe. No gurus to worship – much as I appreciate what the likes of Richard Dawkins, Isaac Asimov, Richard P Feynman or Arthur C Clarke offer to those with inquiring minds and a sense of adventure.

In other words, there is no such thing as “evangelist atheism”. Sure, I may express concern at the negative effects of religion, but what do I say to an individual? “You’re wrong to believe?” I don’t need to try that to know what to expect. Besides, the old cliche still applies: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”. I’m not trying to sell my philosophy to anyone; there would be no actual benefit to me, real or theoretical, if anyone bought it.

What about money, or my livelihood? This is where things may need to change a little. I’ve been in steady employment for six-and-a-half years, here in Ireland, which is longer than I expected to be. By the end of this year, or even sooner, I should have a good idea of how much longer I will be keeping my job, since my colleagues and I are allegedly too expensive. Lower costs are the reason I was brought to Ireland in the first place, and will be the reason my job heads to India or China. Who knows where I will go?

The reboot 8 conference next month is a chance to immerse myself in the possibilities opening up under the heading of “web 2.0” – however you define it – and what, if anything I can get involved with. Where do I fit in? I don’t know. What I do know is: when I’m out looking for new employment I will need to focus on myself. Do a better job of identifying my key skills and enhancing them. Then I will have something to sell: an unpleasant prospect, but a nettle I will need to grasp.

As if that was not enough, I will have to consider the possibility of a limited public presence for myself. Not in any conventional media sense, but it seems to me that anyone with something serious to say in a technical field can’t do it behind a cloak of anonymity. The “brand of me” is something I’ve refused to countenance, and I still sneer at “celebrities” who are famous for nothing real or useful.

I’ve been an intensely private person all my life, and have always resisted giving out personally identifiable information. It’s been used against me in the past, by marketers, and by people turning up on my doorstep and making demands of me. Relaxing enough to use my own name in public is not going to be easy. I’m not even sure it’s possible, but enough time has passed to let me consider the possibility. Fear not: a career in politics is a very long way off.

Written by brian t

May 22, 2006 at 11:51 pm

Posted in atheism, reboot, web 2.0

weblarney

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Though I’m based in Dublin, Ireland, I’m not an “Irish Blogger”. The fact that I’m not Irish is only the half of it: I seem to have a completely different attitude to the “local” bloggers, starting with the concept of “local”.

For starters, I place very little importance on location and/or nationality. Of course these factors will be relevant to what I write, because they’re interesting details, but I could be in the UK, Europe, USA or Canada, for all the fundamental difference it makes to me. There are countries where location is a major influence – countries with reduced internet or press freedom – but Ireland is not one of those.

This is partly why I find the upcoming Web2Ireland conference amusing, but not terribly interesting. It’s got an Irish slant to it. It’s organised by an Irish government body, Enterprise Ireland. I’m not in the target market, as the blurb says:

Web2Ireland is for entrepreneurs, investors, software developers and for those in academia, politics and public policy.

Finally, and most importantly, my views on Web 2.0 would be completely out of place. I wrote a bit about this last week, but I would summarize my position as seeing Web 2.0 as an attitude that informs what you do and how you do it. It’s not a product, or a technology, or a standard, or anything else that can be neatly packaged in a form fit for sale to anyone.

While government is all about centralisation of power and resources, the web is about decentralisation, disintermediation, the removal of barriers between people and information. I see no need for any national government, Irish or otherwise, to try to “shape the agenda” or “help our country catch up”. It’s already here, because it’s already everywhere, it does not respect borders any more than Web 1.0 does.

Besides, how Web 2.0 is it to have a registration process that involves downloading and filling in a Microsoft Word document? Web 2.0 is as Web 2.0 does, people. This sends the message that your parochial little conference will be all talk, and no action. No thanks; I can wait for reboot at the beginning of June, my flights and hotel are already booked.

Written by brian t

April 18, 2006 at 12:58 pm

how many webs do we weave?

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Since I signed up for the reboot 8 conference in Copenhagen at the start of June, I’ve been looking at it as a “web 2.0” conference, but hoping it is more than that. What is Web 2.0? Wikipedia offers a useful summary of the history, current situation, and arguments for and against the use of the term. It also includes links to various commentary on the topic.

“Knowledge is organized information”: a motto that may sound simplistic, unless one takes into account the recursive nature of the process: by organizing information you are creating more information. When this process is able to run, and keep running, the results can be startlingly effective. Witness the rise of Wikipedia in the last year, the amount of time and effort that goes into it.

One criticism leveled at Wikipedia is that it is not an authoritative source: this is missing the point altogether. If anything, it is a reflection of the original idea I remember: the use of the Web to make connections between all manner of pieces or information, to let you find the authorative source. The differences in my view, is that it is centralized without (much) bureaucracy. Call it a “clearing house” for information on a topic: you may start there, but you won’t necessarily stop there, not if you are looking for anything authoritative. With that in mind, I’m not sure that it’s completely necessary to refer to Wikipedia as “Web 2.0” at all. Or, to put it another way, could Web 2.0 be seen as the realisation of some (if not all) of the promises (implicit or explicit), made by the World Wide Web, version 1?

One thing I am sure of: Web 2.0, whatever that is, is not a technology or set of technologies. It certainly isn’t AJAX, which I keep running in to whenever a web site refuses to work unless I allow JavaScript to run. (I have scripts blocked by default, because I got sick of all the gimmicks and invasive ads it’s more commonly used for.) No, I see Web 2.0 as a philosophy, or an attitude, that can be summed up in one word: Organization. If Knowledge is organized Information, what do you get when you apply organization to Connections, the basic currency of the Internet? The word I prefer is Context.

How Web 2.0 is Wikipedia? It doesn’t use AJAX, as far as I can see; the Wiki technology it uses is ancient by web standards, but that’s not what it’s about, if you ask me. A Wiki, in principle, is a web page that anyone can edit, a web publication under no strict editorial control. It takes advantage of the boundless brainpower, energy and goodwill offered by people passionate about a subject. Something’s missing or broken? We’ll fix it. It might not be right away – there’s no deadline imposed on me – but it’ll be done, probably quicker than you expect. The result, to me, screams Web 2.0, because it is all about knowledge and context, with added links to the authoritative content where possible.

Can I use the same principles at work? I currently work for a large US technology company, which makes various claims about its technology leadership. Yet, neither the people I work with, nor the company I work for, are remotely ready for Web 2.0, to be blunt. We spend so much of our available brainpower, in coping with the day-to-day stresses of our work, that gathering knowledge is a secondary consideration, and sharing knowledge still further down the list of priorities. I have been trying to encourage some knowledge sharing, using our internal Microsoft Sharepoint service, my colleagues are treating that as a place to post documents to read, and little else. I wish we could get into the relevance of the contents to us, and our work, and be able to summarize it.

Never mind Web 2.0: we’d be hard-pressed to call ourselves Web 1.0, given how hard we have to work to find the basic information we need to do our jobs, in any form, organized or not. The frustration is getting to us, and I’m clearly on the way out of my current role; that much would be clear, even if my job was not on its way to India. If the reboot 8 conference is to be any use to me, it will help me decide whether I have a future in the technology business at all, or if I should become a plumber or a teacher, or go and work with horses in a racing stable.

Written by brian t

April 9, 2006 at 7:11 pm

april foolish

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april fools @ st pauls #4Two weeks without a post, for two good reasons. Work is one of them: when I’m at work, I’m really at work, with little time for much else, or energy to do much afterwards. Never mind that my job is being advertised in India today, quite literally: we have been told we will probably lose 30% of our staff this year, and we expect the figure to be more like 50%.

The other reason is related to travel. At the beginning of this year I thought there would be little travel this year, but it’s turning out rather differently. The photo above is from a quickly-organised trip to London last weekend, for shopping, and to meet up with some old friends. We did something I had never done in eight years in London: visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. Once past the “tourist trap” – £9 to get through the door! – it was actually fairly interesting. It’s not hard to see how the dome was designed to instil feelings of awe and submission in Christians, through innovative use of space and acoustics.

The crypt was interesting, with its memorials to all manner of soldiers and nobles. I was surprised to see one to my namesake, 1st Baron Roy Thomson of Fleet, the Scots-Canadian media baron with the clout to get my family its own tartan. Then, the 530 steps up to the Golden Gallery, with its amazing views of London. I’ve added some pictures to my image gallery, follow the link behind the picture above.

The next trip is in ten days’ time, to Portugal, a few days holiday that includes a wedding of a colleague from work. I’ll be staying in the northern resort of Esposende, and hoping the weather plays fair with me, something not guaranteed in that part of the world at this time of year. Rather than fly to Porto via Stansted on RyanAir, I’ll fly direct to Lisbon by Aer Lingus and take the train up the coast to Porto.

As if that wasn’t enough, I have a “two birds, one stone” trip to Denmark at the end of May: after visiting the reboot 8 conference, I’ll be visiting friends on a farm for a weekend. The farm is quite some way from Copenhagen, in the middle of the island of Fyn (Funen), a hundred kilometers away. The conference is all about “Web 2.0”, something I am still profoundly sceptical about, especially when it comes to privacy matters. I can’t help wondering just what I’m missing, so this will be an opportunity to find out.

Since my job security is clearly limited, I know I have to look beyond my normal hardware / operating system interests in the IT world, and even beyond that.

It’s now well after 2AM, and much as I’m enjoying the live baseball on cable TV – Japan flattening Cuba in the World Championships in San Diego – I have work on Monday, and need to stick to a sensible circadian rhythm, for the next week at least. After that, only the day of my return flight from Portugal requires an early start, and I can sleepwalk through that connection.

Written by brian t

April 9, 2006 at 2:48 am