Category Archives: collaboration

social media for innovation at the BBC (and elsewhere)

We’re trying out Yammer inside the BBC to create conversations outside of email. As we are always on the look out for better ways of communicating across collaborations inside and outside the BBC’s firewall and because we test a lot of tools opinion about which might be best for us is, of course divided even in our own community.

So I read with interest on Ethan’s blog that Telefonica in Spain have gone one step further. They use Yammer but they have also introduced an internal video sharing service.

Researchers working on projects get two minutes to explain their work to their colleagues – some break the rules and run long, but most as well-behaved, and it’s possible to get the gist of most projects with just a few seconds of video, making it far easier to surf through than a huge document repository. (I assume they’re heavily tagged and annotated to make them highly searchable.) Using Yammer, 350 members of his (Carlos Domingo, who runs the R&D unit) team share ideas on a Twitter-like network that’s closed to the company, and encourages employees to share what they’re working on and what problems they could use help with.

Now that’s what I call useful. I may have to suggest it back at the ranch. I have always thought that learning to collaborate and communicate well inside the organisation (“everyone can speak to everyone ” should be one of the mantras of any creative company) made it a lot easier to go down the open innovation route.

Companies which were born as digital natives have less of an issue with this it seems. Google put their video conversations about their research online .- Google roundtable has Researchers and Engineers talking about their R&D and their Tech talks are there there too – on You Tube, of course. But they also post women@google talks and authors@google and musicians@google talks amongst other things.

Euan Semple at the BBC lead us down the path of more open communications when he introduced our internal wikis and blogs way back in 2002/03. I remember that as a complete breakthrough. Places where we could share documents and actually reveal what we were doing and perhaps even discuss that with peers around the organisation, it sounds like nothing now, but it was huge. That paved the way (another post for another day) for our external blogs (the project I Iead on the innovation side ) and staff blogs in 2005/06. By the way the guidelines for BBC staffers blogging were all written up internally and collaboratively on a wiki masterminded by Nick Reynolds (and now published externally too)

BBC Backstage got through it’s own beta testing and launch at the same time which was no accident.

You’ll find lots of talk at the moment about opening up the BBC further through partnerships of one kind of another but these are and were , I think, necessary preconditions.

In the past you would have said the BBC really communicates what it is about to the public only via its programmes as well as via press releases, annual reports, consultations and complaints the historic tools of corporate communications.

But now many staff on official blogs and personal blogs offer additional insight into what is going on behind the scenes in terms of how we do our jobs, how the BBC works, how we make decisions and importantly who we are. That’s incredibly important for collaborations and partnerships of any kind – knowing who you are doing business with, or talking to and being able to talk to them creates a virtual circle of information leading to understanding and participation being able to be used effectively


Filed under bbc, Behind the Scenes, Blogging, collaboration, engagement, innovation, media, participation, research

picnic08: Charles Leadbeater and Clay Shirky. Boulders and Pebbles

I noticed at this conference that I got most from the sessions where there was room for new conversations to take place between the speakers after their keynotes or presentations in the one-on-one exchange between them , intersected by questions from the floor. I wonder too if it is the time when speakers themselves can think new thoughts? I have two examples of this from Picnic08 .

The first from my own talk when my CD and powerpoint became corrupted and I had to speak without slides which will be the subject of another post.. the second in the final moments of Charlie Leadbeater’s talk when Clay Shirky asked him some questions and you had two great minds on stage thinking together – thinking live, thinking as performance.

Charlie in one section of his talk , captured here , talked about mainstream media organisations as Boulders, and individual content creators as Pebbles. His argument which built very elegantly suggested more than strongly that the Pebbles will have the future and that Boulders could never understand the agility, creativity and sheer potential generated by the pro-am, the user-generated and the unleashed creative potential of the network.

And what’s more, he argued, the Boulder (mainstream media) could never manage creatively enough to harness this explosion of creativity (I am paraphrasing here so please do correct me if I am wrong) . The landscape of the beach was changing and this was a direction that was now unleashed. But in the Q&A with Clay Shirky Charlie talked about his earlier meetings with Business keen to harness the creativity of the Pebbles and who asked him how best to harness the energy and to mange their output?

Rocks, Pebbles and Boulders by SixSixSith

Rocks, Pebbles and Boulders by SixSixSith

This posed a bit of a conundrum, for me at least. On the one hand the future of creativity and agility was in the hand of the pebbles who are free to network and grow their interconnectedness, on the other the needs of business to harness such creativity in order to get output. So I made an observation from the conference floor which I hoped might move things on from this either /or dialogue. I identified myself as both a Boulder and a Pebble. I work in a Boulder, but I am also a Pebble I write my blog, I contribute to other blogs and in other ways with my more individual creativity and output. And what’s more I work in my Boulder to encourage more Pebbles to interact with us and our Boulder to become more permeable – and in this respect and now I am now pushing at an Open door.

So isn’t the landscape more beautiful if you have Boulders and Pebbles on the beach together ? Isn’t the question rather about what is the creative or dynamic type of leadership needed in the networked world to harness the strengths and creativity of both and encourage the exchange – rather than assert the two camps , with the one on the path to triumphing the other.

Clay picked up the theme and contextualised it in terms of governance and management: people need a framework in which to be creative or innovate – the blank page does not always help them. He also talked about his analysis of the Linux Kernel report and how even Boulders can fund people to produce work that is valuable to the wider eco-system and enable the Pebbles to become stronger (my paraphrasing but for a proper summary of that work see here . And so, whether Boulders or Pebbles, the issue is of governance and framework setting – creative management in a way if such a thing can exist. I think Charlie agreed with this – while there are lots of examples he cited of people coming together in networks to do things together there needs to be a spark or a catalysit – and it seems what we may be talking about is the new definition of leadership, or creative leadership in the networked work place, or the networked world.

What I do know is that the next morning Clay came back to the platform and told us that after that talk and exchange he had torn up his prepared talk and started again with something new – I blogged that at the time. So perhaps the new had been allowed to emerge in those moments of thinking aloud and live – those moments at conferences that so easily get lost to the schedule but which produce lots of new value.

But getting back to creative leadership the session at Picnic that certainly made me happiest was watching and listening to Itay Talgam talk to a packed hall about creative leadership in the form of the symphony conductor. I couldn’t have taken notes so spellbound I was by his dissection of the meaning of the body language of the various maestro (maestri?) he showed us. Of course if you go to a classical concert more likely than not you will see the back of the conductor’s head and shoulders and not his face. But Itay turned it all around with some clips, and stories and lead us into an understanding of what such leadership could be best demonstrated by Leonard Bernstein. Ethan Zuckerman’s description of the talk is terrific, as is the one by Masters of Media. At the end we were left watching a clip of Bernstein conducting without moving his body or his arms. The expressions on his face, a raised eyebrow or an expression of pleasure or suffering were enough to communicate all he needed to after all the work he had done with the orchestra in advance. Just one look and he had them where he wanted them, and they collaborated to give him, and us, what we wanted to hear. No better end to a day of discussions around collaboration and leadership, and boulders and pebbles.

Here is an interview with Itay from Picnic08, followed by a Leonard Bernstein clip (with hands!)

1 Comment

Filed under collaboration, conferences, creativity, engagement, media, participation

four and half things: Clay Shirky at Picnic08.

Clay Shirky went home yesterday and tore up his prepared speech for today. He figured that the audience here at Picnic08 pretty much got the kinds of things he was going to say . So instead he told us he would talk about 4.5 things that we will be needing to deal with in social media again and again.

Disclaimer. I am not a live blogger and this is now an hour after the event. More links and photos to follow. I am paraphrasing in some areas – and hope you will correct me, dear reader, if I miss a trick

Story 1 was about Flickr:- He talked about the High Dynamic Range (HDR) group and the kind of discussion that has grown up around the photos. So going from one photo , with one comment to several comments to the photo with one url delivering a whole seminar on how to do better HDR photography can diffuse through the community and this happens in about three months – instead of formerly a few years of waiting for an essay to come through in a Photo journal. Every photo is potentially a seminar. It’s a social object. Every url has this potential. First a photo, then a comment, then longer comments so the photo became the locus for the conversation about how to become a better photographer.

He then talked through the downside. Black and White Maniacs, another Flickr group….It’s about sharing but with some extra dimensions – not just look at mine and I will look at yours. On the about page is a description of the group – in that description is a para describing the ground rules. It’s four sentences. .

Post ONE photo, then immediately comment on the PREVIOUS TWO photos (to the right of your photo) and include “Black+White Maniacs” with your comment. Wait until two more photos have been posted before posting again. IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO COMMENT IMMEDIATELY, PLEASE WAIT TO POST YOUR PHOTO. It’s unfair to expect people to comment on your work when you’re not able to give them that same courtesy. (**NEW RULE: If you consistently leave one or two-word comments like, “nice,” “good b+w,” “great catch,”….etc. you’ll be removed from the group as well.)

So – the dilemmas that are being faced here are not design dilemmas, but social. Working out those problems are now the design problems.

Story two: : The Bronze Beta – is a Buffy fan site, When Warner Bros was selling Buffy to UPN – they told them that they had also set up a community bulletin board. UPN said please tell the users the old board will close down and we will set up our own. Clay told us that the users were not happy. They pooled resources and paid for a new site. They had fallen in love with each other and just wanted to be there. When they got their new site they didn’t want lots of new features, just text really.

And so this story confirms for me (Clay) that social software is the only area in software that I know that the later products have fewer features than the previous products – not the same in other areas. If someone a few years ago had told you that most of what would be published in 2008 will use the simpler tools not the more complicated tools. You wouldn’t have believed that if someone had predicted it as you want as many toys in your box as possible. If the tool is social then it matters a lot how you use it and how I use it.

Social media tools are tending to shift now with fewer and fewer features. It’s the easiest way to synchronise the mental models of the users. Nobody wants a door with 37 handles. Twitter launched with two features, and now they have six. Bronze beta has very few features – but look at the rules page They have 10 x more rules than they have features. Most of Bronze Beta runs in the minds of the users. For example …No changing the colour of the text without express permission of the management.

Sharing is the simplest pattern – and even here rules proliferate. Collaboration is harder. I have to do something with you to synchronise with what you are doing to create something shared.

Story 3: the Wikipedia article on Pluto – I use this as Observatory on Wikipedia. It got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago. It came in for a lot of edit revision. and got a lot of attention as a result. If you want to show someone the best kind of Wikipeda article show this one. But if you look at the Galileo article you will see an icon on the top right of the page so it’s semi protected. What you are seeing reflected on this page is a 500 year old flame war that has been raging in the Catholic Church and has landed here.

In social media design as you can see here you have to give up on the idea of designing for the user. It’s not just about users. But you are designing for one side of the argument or the other to take advantage and win the argument. So programmers are not just designers, but an avant garde wing of political philosophy…

Story 3.5: Clay referred us back to the talk Aaron Koblin gave yesterday when he decribed his 10,000 cent project .

Ethan Zuckerman did a write up of that session here:

What this story showed Clay was that when we are now operating at a global scale in this way we have (design) problems that we have never had before. You could say that Aaron had 10,000 people working for him as in a way he did – he only payed them a penny – but they were working to collaborate with him and each other. If this were a real company then that would put him high up the list of employers with a large staff. The largest groups in the world that are working collaboratively are working like this.

What we are seeing now is spontaneous conditions of labour springing up. The Division of labour is spontaneous and there is a spontaneous division of motivation. No-one who runs a large company with a management structure cannot understand this.

So yesterday I was asked what are the optimal conditions for collaboration? The answer is we don’t know. We can look at optimal conditions but it’s more like the weather as Linda Stone said yesterday “cloudy with a chance of collaboration”. So like the Linux community you can’t recruit you can only invite. Noone who runs a large company with a management structure cannot understand this.

Point 4. Collective action is harder. Clay told the story of the HSBC Bank and their recruitment of students to a no interest account. When the bank changed the terms and the account was no longer interest free they did not predict that not only would this be covered in the usual way in the press, but also there would be a Facebook page where people and people affected could go and find out what they could do. So Publishing is also for Acting. What the Telegraph does is to say – “just look what the bank is doing reneging on its terms”. But what the Facebook publishers are doing is saying “just look what they are doing, and here is what you can do about it”

So the big design challenge is around the fact that all these stories are about stop energy. Around getting people to stop doing things. But when we look at the phenomena of the explosion of intellectual and creative community and all the creative energy unleashed it seems long lived – so we are missing something ( ie where is the community collaboration with creative energy that is long lived and not about stopping stuff)

In 1980 Xerox delivered an important printer to the lab at MIT. Richard Stallman realised that it had no source code ..and he saw the future. He developed the GPL (Gnu Public License) and solved the Black and White Media problem for software developers by saying these are the circumstances in which we can share. Now we don’t have a license for collective action. If twelve friends go to a bank to open a bank account to do a project they can’t open a group account unless they are incorporated. Society recognises groups via incorporation or embodyment . But we need something like a group license that can be recognised. In Britain they have the CIC (community interest company) which has an assett lock on community value. In Vermont state we see the first state to allow virtual companies. We are seeing things like the MeetUp alliance – but which is going to work out we don’t know.

What I do know is the right area to be thinking about. The need is there and the potential. We have seen the explosion of creativity in the area of the intellectual, social and emotional spheres. But not around collective action . So we need to work this out in the area how we act and the way in which we act, as well as in the way we think…..”

There is so much here that resonates with most of what I am doing these days and thinking about I need to stop and think myself before editorialising in any way. But more later. Definately.

Leave a comment

Filed under collaboration, conferences, open, participation, picnic08

Michael Wesch does it again: watch and enjoy

An Anthropological Introduction to You Tube, by Dr Michael Wesch ( The Machine is Using Us)  – what else could induce me to stay at my screen for all 52 mins at the end of the day presented at the Library of Congress, June 23rd 2008 and posted a week ago.  Digital Ethnography comes of age.


Filed under collaboration, digital ethnography, engagement, participation, research