Category Archives: Online

Twitiquette

This post was prompted by the news that Conservative MP Nadine Dorries and Labour MP Kerry McCarthy (both frequent  twitteres) have both broken out in a spate of blocking people on Twitter.  Is it acceptable to cease to communicate with people in the onlineosphere, or is it tantamount to not accepting that your views can be challenged?

Firstly, I think its clear that if a stranger started talking to you in a shop and followed you around occasionally calling you names, and constantly denying or arguing against everything you said, then you would be justified in not wanting to be their friend.  However, Twitter is not like a shop because it is there as a communication medium – you join Twitter to tweet, and to receive tweets, so you should expect a bit of back-chat.

Secondly, debate on Twitter is not really like debate elsewhere because it generally seems to happen at multiple levels of engagement, with some people taking the whole thing very seriously and other people just there to swear and make a mockery of others.  But then, I think it should be accepted that most people intelligent enough to engage with Twitter are probably intelligent enough to recognise when someone is just messing around, and so to simple ignore Tweets that are of no use to anyone.

Thirdly, an MP is just a person, and they should be allowed to engage online without having to submit themselves to barrages of un-pleasantness.  But actually, MPs take decisions that have enormous influence over us, so in fact they are not like anyone else, and if they do engage in online debate, then they should expect to excite huge interest and lots of opposing views.  Generally they have a thick skin to insults and counter-arguments, and this should extend to Twitter.

Thus, I think that it is unreasonable for MPs in particular, but for anyone else as well, to block others in online forums like Twitter or on blog posts.  As libraries engage more and more online, we as librarians will also have to accept that criticism, some of it very robust, will be directed at us.  I think we have to either enjoy the benefits of being engaged online and swallow the potential nasty side of it, or become alienated and isolated.

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GoogleWave

Sarah Ison and Emma Illingworth posted recently about the value of GoogleWave, and I got an invite last week – so basically I know very little about it – please correct me when I say something inaccurate. I’m going to firstly outline what I consider to be its drawbacks, and then why I think its a good thing, and why we will end up using it anyway.

If you don’t know what it is, watch the video below.  Essentially its a collaboration and instant messenger tool that also doubles as email.  It is currently in beta testing, and after the initial 100,000 invites Google now strictly limits the number of new users by giving a handful of invites to each user.

Drawbacks:

  • No RSS – no way of monitoring when a wave is updated.  Highly annoying.  This presumably will be changed, but untill then it seriously limits its usefulness.
  • No status monitoring – who is online?  This is a basic function in nearly all IM systems and it is highly frustrating in Wave not to be able to see who is there.
  • At the moment, it is too slow.  This may be due to lack server space allocated by Google for the beta stage, but whatever the reason, an IM/realtime system that takes sometimes up to a minute to update is not working properly.
  • Not enough users.  For collaborative things to work, you need to be able to safely assume that whoever you want to work with will be on there.  When this isn’t the case its all a bit vacuous – you end up using it for the sake of using it on the basis that you’ve found someone else you know who has already received an invite. Clearly this problem will be resolved as the project grows, but why are Google limiting the number of invites that users are given?
  • If you get invited (is that the right term?) to a wave that is already in full flow, it looks almost commedically complex massively off-putting to people not intimately familiar with the other participants or the system its self.
  • Lack of categorisation within waves – would be good to be able to organise the stuff people contribute

Positives:

  • It is really fun to use – seeing people edit text as they write is brilliant.
  • It is revolutionary.  I have never seen anything like real time communication on this scale before – when it does become adopted on wiki’s and other large scale collaborations, it will be really interesting.
  • The potential to adapt and adopt it into other pages and webtools is almost limitless.  There are so many things that it or an imitator will be used in, as to make current tools look almost dead already – blog comments, document collaboration, e-meeting, how-to guides, multiplayer games………..
  • Most of the drawbacks can be resolved be if you accept the fact that it is only in beta (or in fact in ‘preview’, a pre-beta testing stage) so most of these problems will be ironed out.

The other central point is that it is a Google product, and when they begin to incorporate it into their other services, I find it hard to accept that it won’t become hugely popular. Their natural inclination towards heuristically brilliant tools means that usability concerns will probably be completely resolved as the product develops. Although I can’t really imagine a revenue stream, I’m sure the bloodsuckers in Google HQ can, meaning that they have every interest in developing the thing.

Librarians are traditionally quick to adopt new technologies and make use of them in their professional lives.  The need for collaborative tools is quite high in libraries because we engage in a fair amount of project work, often have fairly distributed staff and because of the naturally consensual way that libraries operate.  This fact, combined with the fact that librarians need to be able to communicate with their users in engaging ways, means that libraries will no doubt make good use of this tool. 

I have several invites and would prefer to share them with professional contacts, so if you would like to try GoogleWave, then let me know.

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Online communities

What follows is a brief long account of the political online community. I’m not an active member of this community, but I do compulsively read politics blogs.  I’d be quite interested to hear about other online communities that other people are involved or interested in. I read recently about the alarmingly eloquent and interesting Tavi Gevinson and so got a window onto an online community and a world that I know nothing about.  I wonder what else is out there…

The right of centre was the first side in the political argument to mobiles online to any great extent. This is probably due to the fact that during the years following 1997 the political right needed to re-group.  Online tools were just becoming accessible to the general population and provided a good opportunity for them to do this (just as in America, it was the left of centre who seized the initiative online during their years in the political wilderness which also coincided with the birth of web accessibility)There are several fairly influential blogging Tory MPs, and many lesser commentators, including those on the fringes of the party, and those who’s views are too incoherent for any political party.  However, the most important voices in the right of centre are those of Iain Dale, ConservativeHome and Guido Fawkes (who is probably the most influential blogger from any part of the political spectrum – see below).  Iain Dale was a Conservative Party Candidate (for Norfolk North, which he lost) and was campaign manager for David Davis’s failed bid to win the Conservative Party leadership.  He blogs frequently, and although his views on many topics are to the right of his party’s stated position, he is popular and widely read.  ConservativeHome is a website designed to provide a forum in which the Party’s grassroots have an opportunity to discuss matters important to them.  It is large site, almost like newspaper in terms of the number of posts a day and in terms of the size of its readership.

It is worth talking about Guido Fawkes’ blog in some detail, since it is one of the most influential blogs in Britain (despite its own description of itself as “tittle-tattle, gossip and rumors”) largely because it is avidly read within the community it discusses, which happens to include Britain’s political leaders.  Its author, Paul Staines, claims to be politically non-aligned.  He espouses a form of populist libertarianism which sees the whole political class as the enemy.  New Labour, and Gordon Brown in particular (referred to on the site as the Prime Mentalist), are loathed with some passion.  His biggest coup and one that dramatically raised the profile of the Guido Fawkes brand, was the resignation of the Damien McBride, a senior communications advisor to Brown.  Staines acquired some emails between Derek Draper (then editor of LabourList) and McBride, detailing plans to set up a left-wing gossip site called Red Rag, and outlining some fictitious stories about the health of Conservative politicians.  Two days after a picture of McBride appeared on Guido’s site with the caption “he who lives by the smear…” he had resigned.  Timed to coincide with the end of the G20 forum in London, the revelations provoked a storm of headlines, de-railed the government’s communication strategy and caused a significant dip in the opinion polls for the Labour Party.

The left of centre blogosphere is quite disparate, with no core, ‘must-read’ blogs on which the rest of the blogging ecosystem depend (unlike in the right of centre blogosphere).  LabourList is a grass roots site which is a functional mirror to ConservativeHome (the birth of LabourList was marred by controversy because the divisive Derek Draper was appointed editor and promptly alienated large swathes of the political blogosphere against him and his fledgling site).  Tom Harris is a widely read and engaging Labour MP blogger, as is Tom Watson (another casualty of the McBride affair). Other popular left of centre blogs include Liberal Conspiracy, Alastair Cambell, Hopi Sen and the now defunct Sadie’s Tavern

Although it is quite difficult to talk about non-aligned political blogs, since blogging is so personal an activity and genuinely non-aligned people are very rare, there are some blogs that, for various reasons, present a very balanced view of politics.  These include certain political journalists including Nick Robinson and the ever interesting Paul Waugh.  Also among the more balanced political sites is the enormously influential Political Betting, and also PoliticsHome, which ran into controversy recently when it was bought by the billionaire Tory Peer (and Deputy Party Chairman) Michael Ashcroft, arguably compromising its impartiality. 

There is no question that the political blogosphere is a rough-and-tumble communityemotions run deep when it comes to politics.  There are amusingly deep seated rivalries, but also rather touching cross-party love affairs.  In addition there are ill-fact checked, border-line racist, and mundanely boring articles published on politics blogs every day, providing a fairly compelling argument for the continued existence of edited, regulated newspapers, regardless of whether they are accessed online or in printed form.  The worth of political blogs, is that they exist in a pluralist media, where one partisan voice is balanced by an opposing one, and all tempered by a strictly regulated series of more established organs.  The blogs enable the voicing of concerns and views that would never be raised by mainstream media, and which are stronger when balanced and blended.  One of the challenges facing politics in the coming years is to find a resolution to the emerging dichotomy between free and controlled media – they exist in an uneasy symbiotic tryst at the moment, but various pressures will undoubtably alter this.

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Afloat

Ok, this thing is finally up and running.

Please feel free to use the comments to tell me your thoughts on what sort of things should be changed about it. Also recommend links that you think should be available from this blog. I’m investigating the whole guest posting idea. So far the options appear to be either everyone who wants to post is given administrative rights (or possibly writing rights), or posts are given to me and I post them.  I favour the former approach because this blog is intended for new professionals, and not just me, although after discussions today I understand that there are arguments for the latter. Speak your brains.

Update: Just found out about options – people can be added as authors with very little hassle…I’m happy to do that for anyone who wants to have that done to them.

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