This is the end…

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6694404201_3bc6a0c6f9_oThere was no indication that Tuesday 20th May 2014 was anything other than a fairly normal day. Looking back, I see that I missed the unveiling of a perfectly preserved baby mammoth, 42,000 years after its death, at the Natural History Museum in London, but a scan through the news for the day reveals no (other) great world events (at least, not from the perspective of a left-leaning broadsheet published on a little rocky island on the edge of the Atlantic).

At the Cambridge Judge Business School, however, Something Was Afoot. This date was, namely, the deadline for places on the Social Media Driving Licence. (As an aside, it’s reassuring to see that, while the Licence might have revolutionised my social media world, I’m still leaving things to the last minute, be that applying for my place on the licence or doing my blogging homework…)

Fast-forward 2 months, and, once I’ve got over the disquieting ponder on quite how these months have managed to slip by so fast, it’s now time to reflect on the marvel that has been the Social Media Driving Licence.

Before this course, the idea of social media was a daunting one to me. So many different ways of communicating, so much noise and activity, so little space for reflection, and no safe zone to try things out in. Now, thanks to the fantastic efforts of the Information & Library Services team (plus guest speakers) at the Judge Business School, I’m equipped to start making sense of this landscape. There’s still a lot of effort and time required on my behalf, that’s certain, but I now feel able to ask the right questions.

The aspect of the course I’ve found most useful, at least in the immediate term, has been the flavour we’ve gained of the types of tools there are out there, and the way the course’s immersive ethos forced us (in the nicest possible way!) to try them. Combined with this is the pleasing idea floated during the course that there is a social media platform out there for everyone – I’m already in discussion with people from two very different strands of my work about how we might incorporate two platforms (yammer and blogging) into what I do. Overall, therefore, I can safely say that the Social Media Driving Licence has brought clarity to a topic I had previously viewed as a confusing amorphous mass.

Social media is basically all about people – no great revelation there. In the same way, the Social Media Driving Licence is all about people; in this case, the great team behind the Licence. As well as wanting to learn about social media, my ulterior motive in applying for a place was to be able to learn from the Information & Library Services team, and they have not disappointed. Unwavering support, great humour throughout, beautiful presentations, an unending supply of refreshers, mentions of Zoolander, polite cajoling, playing with lego – you name it, they did it. So here’s a big thank you to all involved. Enjoy the SMDL post-Oscars party tomorrow evening!14230121242_54cd6e944f_k

Image credits:
(top) Paola Marchiò via Flickr Creative Commons
(bottom) Werner Bayer via Flickr Creative Commons

Joining the (academic) dots

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large_4269947837Picture the scene. A lab in darkness, late at night. The stillness suddenly disturbed by hushed voices, as the light from torches slices though the darkness. The sound of a filing cabinet sliding open…

OK, OK, so ResearchGate doesn’t quite have the drama, subterfuge and general skulduggery that marked some American politics in the 1970s. Thanks to an enlightening podcast as part of the Cambridge Judge Business School Social Media Driving Licence, I now know ResearchGate to be a social media platform for academics (and not just scientists, as its home page might have you believe). In the podcast, Jaideep Prabhu, Professor of Marketing at the Cambridge Judge Business School and a fairly recent convert to ResearchGate, explains how academia is inherently social and thus a social media platform specifically tailored to academics is a natural fit. Throw in a few well-designed extras, like a well-designed interface, plus an incentive scheme that rewards people who interact through the platform, and you have a winning formula (insert E = mc2 joke here).

As someone with more than a passing interest in collaboration (particularly across academic disciplines) and communication, I paid particular attention to Jaideep’s thoughts on whether this platform enabled engagement with new audiences. Jaideep’s experience suggests that ResearchGate attracts a younger audience, as well as people from across many countries. However, Jaideep’s comments also make clear that there are also new contacts to be made closer to home. Looking at the most downloaded papers from the University of Cambridge, Jaideep described his surprise at seeing papers with titles that are relevant to his work, but which are not written by people from the Cambridge Judge Business School, and suggested that this would be an interesting way of discovering colleagues working on similar topics. To my mind this is a great example of a social media tool working well – providing a channel to new audiences, wherever they might be.

So, in short, far from having to resort to nefarious means to track what other academics are up to, ResearchGate offers a well-designed means of discovering people’s perspectives, research areas and publications from the comfort of your own office.

photo credit: whitney waller via Flickr Creative Commons

Feed me now…

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The idea of a ‘news aggregator’ doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun – just more and more stuff to read, with even more stuff arriving before you’ve finished reading the last thing, which is then old news, and so on and so on.

What a pleasure, therefore, to have a play-around with Feedly, one of the tools shared in week 5 of the Cambridge Judge Business School Social Media Driving Licence course, and a news aggregator, but in a friendly, unbossy sort of way. Yes, there is a lot of information, but the way this information appears feels calm rather than clamouring for attention. I also like the odd juxtapositions it creates between unread articles, too – I’ve only added five sites so far, but already there are some pleasing pairings: “A colourfully clever solution to slippery pedals” (CycleLove) is nestling up to “Bumblebees and the foxglove challenge” (Cabinet of Curiosities) while “Kjæreste (Norwegian)” (Better than English) is getting on famously with “Colourful Street Art on the Train Tracks of Portugal” (Colossal). What’s more, the mobile version keeps faith with the clean lines of its parent and therefore looks great.

It’s just a matter now of feeding Feedly with more sites, and, as ever, finding time to read the articles on there, as well as exploring all the other vistas they lead to…

Image courtesy of Jon S via Flickr Creative Commons

Putting the creative into commons

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If I had designed the internet I would hope that the idea of creative commons would have been there from the outset. It seems like a utopian dream – you mean, people put their work online and you can use it for free?! I’ve reaped the benefits of the generosity of these strangers for years now – hopefully credited appropriately in all cases…

Over and above the immediate aspect of being able to transform webpages, presentations, brochures, etc. with stunning images, there are other, less material aspects to the freedom to find good images licensed though creative commons (and I’m thinking in particular of Flickr).

1. Creativity. This is a sort of reverse creativity to finding a good image, particularly when you’re trying to illustrate something fairly abstract. Capacity-building in NGOs, something I’ve had to find images for in the past, is one such concept. In order to find a suitable image, you have to step back from the idea, and tease out what it means to you using the currency of nouns, and, even trickier, how your intended audience might think of this word. Here’s an image that I think fits with the idea of capacity building (though potentially only to my interpretation of the words!):

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2. Serendipity. The world of Flickr is as convoluted and folded as brain coral, and I often find myself shimmying down routes and following avenues that take me far away from my intended target. You think you know the image that you want, search for it, and then something else really interesting pops up on the periphery, which you then have to chase down, and that triggers another thought, and off you dance again. In this way you can find yourself in whole new areas of information/interest, or reawakening previous thoughts, having followed a crazy-paving path to get there.

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3. Other people’s lives. One of the things that I find fascinating and generally really positive about searching for images on Flickr is the insights it gives you into the lives of strangers. Not only do I often wonder why the key word I’ve searched on has generated particular images but there’s also the little glimpses of people going about their daily lives. Searching for Wimbledon Common, for example, not only generated beautiful pictures of the Common, but also photos of golfers, stylish dog walkers, soldiers from The Household Cavalry Regiment, windmills, tobogganers: in short, a brilliant maelstrom of randomness.

So, in conclusion, and in keeping with the theme of penultimate session of the Social Media Driving Licence (“caring and sharing”), I feel I should close with a heartfelt thanks to all those lovely people who share their material via Flickr, and creative commons in general, for our benefit and delight.

Image credits (from top):
Tibbets Corner / Wimbledon Common by Chris Guy via Flickr
Lámha suas an Eargail (Hands Up Errigal) by Liam Moloney via Flickr
Brain coral by Via Tsuji via Flickr

“Everyone’s working with air now”

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I heard that quote on the radio this evening, made by the Swedish writer Fredrik Backman. He was musing on intergenerational differences, and how the generation that was used to making things is perplexed by the virtual nature of much of life today.

And it’s not just older generations looking on with bemusement. Whereas before, all that clouds really needed to remember when they left the house of a morning was their silver lining; now they’re charged with storing all the things we want to keep safe and access from anywhere. If you’ve ever been a bit underwhelmed at finding yourself in an actual cloud (damp… cold… turbulent at times…), I think you’ll agree that the extra burden of carting around millions of files (mostly cat videos) would be enough to send anything into a soggy sulk.

P1010956As someone who sees herself very much as a digital visitor (in David White’s terminology), cloud storage is, so far, the aspect of the Cambridge Judge Business School Social Media Driving Licence course that I have most experience with. Its usefulness spans both professional and personal worlds, from sharing a spreadsheet with a web designer that allows us both to have instant access to the most recent version, and to co-edit this document simultaneously, to sending holiday snaps, cloud storage is a brilliant tool.

Having said this, I do have a few niggling concerns, chiefly around the vagueness of where my data is being stored, and, more importantly, by whom. I also worry that using cloud storage breeds a sort of laziness – I like the idea of having a tidy digital footprint but once something’s stored in the cloud there’s little incentive to remove it, even when it’s no longer needed. Perhaps the penultimate session of the Social Media Driving Licence, on caring and sharing in social media, will provide some hints on how to keep that digital footprint neatly trimmed…

Slight thaw in the Twitter scepticism

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As my previous blog may have indicated, I’m a Twitter-sceptic. (I also think that my Twitter biography, which references snails, is more and more apt, seeing as how glacially slow I’ve been at writing this blog).

 

I therefore surprised myself by enjoying reading the live tweets that were generated by the live-tweeting event that happened on 20 June as part of the Judge Business School’s Social Media Driving Licence (which I couldn’t attend). What’s more, I don’t think this is solely down to post-holiday joviality, or even the fact that the live-tweetee admitted to not being Twitter’s biggest fan (although I did like reading that – thanks to @PriestLib for sharing this quote). What I liked best was that the style of the tweets reflected the character of the tweeters (from what little I know of them) – even when people were tweeting very similar things, they were saying them in slightly different ways. I imagine that live-tweeting, where you have even less time to craft a message than non-live tweeting, really brings this to the fore. This tied into something that Dr Bakarat mentioned in a podcast, about live-tweeting being a great starter for conversation at live-tweeting events. It’s interesting seeing the interactions that were happening between people, the little eddies and currents that Twitter was enabling.

 

Swirling water flows still characterises my relationship with Twitter for now – I’m content to observe the passing traffic rather than take up residence mid-stream. I’m starting to think, however, that my interaction might be less trout-like, idling beneath the river bank, and more like that of a dipper: observing for the most part, but leaping beneath the water’s surface from time to time to snap up choice morsels. And maybe, just maybe, tweeting myself once in a while.

White-throated dipper

(White-throated dipper image courtesy of Francesco Veronesi via Flickr

Diving into the world of Twitter…

bird_croppedI’ve started this blog post* in my head a few times now, and mostly ended up descending into ranting fairly swiftly. There’s a social media platform for everyone, apparently, and I’m currently of the opinion that, for me, twitter is like one of those platforms I remember from childhood holidays – some distance off shore, full of lithe people diving about with great skill, but a heck of a long way to swim to, especially for someone who can only really do a belly-flop-excuse of a dive.

So let me start on the positive: I can see how twitter can be great for connecting people with things, and other people, they’re interested in. I can see that, professionally, twitter can be a great means of engaging, informally, with people.

On a personal level though, I struggle with twitter. A luddite in my personal life, I like to come home and not look at a screen all evening (imagine my annoying I-told-you-so-flavoured delight at the recent reports that blue light might be disrupting our sleep patterns). At work, the temptation for procrastination, shot through with a good memory and a great nosey-ness, means that having twitter on in the background while I try to concentrate on something else doesn’t seem practical.

Then there’s the point made about the necessity of ‘being in the moment’. As an indecisive perfectionist I find I spend so long thinking about how to truncate a thought into 140 characters that the moment has passed (a sort of esprit d’escalier, or staircase wit, where you think of the perfect retort, but too late).

Re-reading this blog now (see earlier reference to indecision and perfectionism), I can see how many of the things we’re learning as part of the Social Media Driving Licence would offset some of these concerns. For me at the moment, though, the jury’s still out (an elegant way to phrase the (slightly tortuous) link here to tides, sea shores and diving platforms will no doubt come to me once I’ve got to the bottom of this particular staircase…).

* For those not doing the Cambridge Judge Business School Social Media Driving Licence: we’re required to write blogs about the course. Hence the tenuous link to cycling in the previous post, and the complete absence of cycling in this one.

Look Mum, no hands!

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P1030363One evening, walking home from work, I watched in jealous admiration as a boy cycled past me, eating a pizza slice from one hand while the other hand held the pizza box. I’ve never been able to master the no hands technique, despite snatched moments of practice on straight, empty roads that beg, wide-eyed, for something different, something a little daring.

Cycling, with or without hands on handlebars, is one of those things that you can’t explain how you do it. Sure, you can explain that your legs go round on the pedals and that moves the chain which moves the wheels (already, I’m getting hazy here – apologies to any readers who really know about this stuff) but explaining to someone who doesn’t cycle how to manage the heft and weight of a bike, explaining what you do in the moment you move from being an earth-bound pedestrian into an air-bound cyclist – that’s not possible to capture in a form that someone else could read and follow. This, I now know (thanks to a review of a book about a Hungarian philosopher of science, Michael Polanyi), is called ‘tacit knowledge’; knowledge we have that we can’t easily pass on in written or verbal form, like how to ride a bike.

When it comes to blogging, my knowledge is definitely not yet tacit: I’m still very much in the ‘stablisers-on’ mode. There’s some wobbling, some looking over my shoulder to make sure the trusted hand on the saddle (in this case, the wonderful team running the Social Media Driving Licence at Cambridge Judge Business School) is still there, and, most fundamentally, I’m going far too slowly not to fall off when they let go. However, their patient guidance, and the encouragement of my fellow driving licencees, should (hopefully…) result in a level of competance that will make it hard to remember when blogging required so much painstaking thought and effort. No-hands, insouciant pizza-eating blogging seems some way off just yet, but at least I’m out on the pavement and facing in the right direction…

Pros and cons of social media… a first-time blogger’s perspective

Pros and cons of social media: a list drawn up as a requirement for the (brilliant) CJBS Social Media Driving Licence

Pros

  • The serendipity of finding things you didn’t know you needed
  • The opportunity to connect with people
  • The ability to broadcast a message to many, plus the autonomy of your followers: people can choose to follow if they are interested in knowing what you have to say
  • The potential of seeing a more informal side of people than through more rigid communication channels

Cons

  • The time required!
  • Being online all the time – the ratcheting up of the need to respond fast, potentially losing the considered response
  • Blurring of personal and private
  • The (perceived) need to be brief, succinct and quick at making decisions
  • Seeing what people want you to see – the façade, not the scaffold

Image that represents social media to me (currently):kilner jar_landscape

Something waiting to be filled with my thoughts, that will be visible to others – if only I can work out how to get into it…