Archive for June, 2007

Facebook Professional

June 28, 2007

Back in March I wrote that Reuter’s had announced plans to develop a corporate version of MySpace for people who work in finance. I said at the time that we might shortly see a rash of ‘grown-up’ uses of Web 2.0-style social networking. This does seem to be happening, and it looks like Facebook is stealing a march.

One of the interesting things about Facebook is that, according to Mark Zuckerberg, its co-founder (see video), its fastest growing segment is the 25+ age group. Facebook seems to be attracting an older, professional user and, indeed, there has been a slew of articles in the press over the last couple of weeks lauding the professional uses of Facebook, with the Observer calling it the current “craze du jour”. Why is this happening?

Firstly, and perhaps ironically, MySpace, which is owned by media giant News International, seems to have dropped the ball with regard to getting journalists to join and use the service. Journalists write technology stories, which readers follow up.

Facebook, for example, hosts the National Union of Journalists, and the BBC’s Facebook work group has over 13,000 members (and only employees with a BBC email address can join). Facebook claims it has over 500 groups for “journalism” although the vast majority are either student journo class groups or the less than serious, “Blondes for better journalism” (47 members), for example. A quick search of MySpace groups using the same term gave me 45 results and, as far as I can see, none (please correct me if I’ve missed something) are serious, professional networks.

Secondly, there has been a huge interest in the potential for innovation that is provided now that Facebook allows third-party programmers to add their own widgets through its Platform development system. These small applications can be made available to any user on Facebook and can even be revenue generating—what The Register calls a “social networking operating system”. High profile and media oriented developers of such widgets include Forbes and the Washington Post. Such a move is in contrast to MySpace, which has been reluctant to allow completely open access to third-party developers through their service.

But Rupert is aware. The Wall Street Journal reports that when asked whether newspaper readers (who tend to be older) were going to MySpace he replied: “I wish they were. They’re all going to Facebook at the moment”. No doubt there will be an impressive response shortly.


A proper lunch

June 25, 2007

As you know, this blog takes a keen interest in the status of lunch in the modern working environment. So I was delighted to read the following comment by scriptwriter Andrew Davies in yesterday’s Observer magazine (you’ll need to scroll to find the article, entitled Andrew Davies and Kate Lewis):

“I don’t really like working with anybody who doesn’t do lunch. It doesn’t have to be a grand lunch but it has to be a proper lunch with wine… There is a move in TV to do away with lunching which I’m passionately opposed to!”

Epicurean respect.


June 20, 2007

I enjoyed last week’s meeting of East Anglia Online User Group (EAOUG) at the Royal Society of Chemistry. There were several interesting speakers from the library world talking about ways in which technology was changing their working practices and introducing the need to learn new skills. Some of the presentations are now available online at the group’s website.

There were some interesting discussions and I learned a lot about some of the everyday realities of working with new technologies in libraries. There was a definite feeling that an issue for library staff is a developing ‘digital divide’ between the younger users, who are steeped in technology and have expectations as to its use, and the staff, who tend to be older and have less time to learn about new things. One delegate recounted how she had resorted to using Facebook in order to contact a young borrower who had failed to return a textbook as all other forms of communication, even email, had failed. Several people concurred in the view that students, in particular, viewed email as rather old fashioned!

As ever, a quick note on the lunch. My offline feedback is that I don’t devote enough time to lunch and that I need to try harder, so here goes. You may remember that I was a little bit worried about how far the Royal Society of Chemistry might go in the preparation of lunch. As the clocks on the wall had chemical symbols instead of numbers I was concerned that this might demonstrate a rather unhealthy interest in all things chemical. However, I’m pleased to report that this was not reflected in the either the choice of ingredients or the means of preparation. Lunch, in fact, consisted of a tasty spread of sandwiches with an interesting twist – the brown and white bread mixed together on the same sandwich. It’s these little touches that I find interesting. Desert was a platter of exotic fruit slices, so, an overdose of fructose rather than anything less healthy.

SOA in the movies

June 19, 2007

I was in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago for a series of talks on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), an approach to IT that is gaining prominence, particularly in corporate environments. There is growing interest in the education sector and the event was organised by UCISA (Universities and Colleges Information Systems Associations).

SOA is a complex concept to get across and requires a rethink of the way an organisation delivers its information services. As part of the day there was an opportunity to see the explanatory animation that JISC have produced. This Quick Time movie provides an excellent introduction to the subject that just about anyone involved in IT will find helpful and be able to grasp.

Speaking on Web 2.0

June 11, 2007

I have been invited to speak about Web 2.0 at the “Managing New and Emerging Library Technologies – Skills for the 21st Century” event being organised by the East Anglia Online User Group (EAOLUG).

The event takes place on Wednesday at the Royal Society of Chemistry so I’m hoping for a lunch in the style of one of these molecular gastronomy chefs like Heston Blumenthal. Then again, of course, it could just involve lots of sodium chloride or be something a bit weird like potassium permanganate on toast.

Strategic Lobsters

June 7, 2007

Yesterday I was in London, for an invited workshop on horizon scanning for strategic futures planning, courtesy of the DTI’s Office for Science and Innovation. Horizon scanning is a process of trying to anticipate the future through, to quote the Chief Scientific Advisors Committee, “the systematic examination of potential threats, opportunities and likely developments including but not restricted to those at the margins of current thinking and planning.”

This kind of technique is becoming more widely used in government circles. There has been a particular interest in it from those departments with an interest in science, especially after the BSE farming crisis and the perceived mishandling of the GM foods debate. Indeed, chatting to delegates over coffee, who were mainly from various government departments, it became clear that civil servants are being increasingly asked to move away from their traditional job of purely drafting policy. They are being asked to work in ‘delivery mode’ and act not only to manage projects, handle finances and deal with risk analysis, but also to have input to strategic decisions on future directions for government.

The event was held at a superb venue, the Founders Hall, home of the Worshipful Company of Founders, one of the thirty or so Companies of the old London City, dating from the 1500s. I was interested to see that hung above the porcelain in the toilets were framed examples of dinner menus from meetings of the Founders in the 1930s. These listed delights such as Lobster casserole au Chablis, Passion Fruit Sorbet and Grouse Pudding. I was therefore pretty upbeat about the prospect of lunch. Sadly, the nice, but unadventurous ricotta and spinach lasagne that was offered to vegetarians did not quite match my expectations. Although they did serve coffee with liquorice allsorts, something I’ve not come across before.

The coffee table surfaces as Microsoft’s next Big Thing

June 1, 2007

When you think about it, using a computer is quite a solitary experience. Personally, I think there’s a lot to be said for that, but bearing in mind that we operate in a working world that is increasingly about collaboration, team working and group brainstorming, sitting on your own in front of a smallish screen could be seen as rather anachronistic.

Bill Gates promised back in November last year With Microsoft Surface, you can plan a day of sightseeing without leaving your hotel lobby.that the next revolution in computing would not be the further development of the Web, but rather the manner in which we actually interact with computers. The first fruits of this were announced yesterday with the launch of Microsoft Surface, a coffee table with a built-in PC and touch-sensitive screen that several people can interact with at the same time.

Although this follows in the footsteps of Apple’s announcement of the touch-screen iPhone, what’s particularly interesting is the potential for multi-user activities. For sometime now, researchers, particularly in high-end activities like particle physics, have been experimenting with group working using wall-sized displays. The Surface may bring these kinds of activities down to less esoteric domains such as the average office, school or restaurant.

It’s not only fingers that will be used to interact with the display. Microsoft is keen to explore the potential for interaction between physical objects, for example, using RFID tags. The Microsoft press release cites a futuristic scenario where a wine glass triggers the display of information about the wine’s vineyard. However, from the coverage I’ve seen it’s not entirely clear what would happen if you actually used it as a coffee table and just put down a steaming hot mug of coffee and a plate of biscuits.