Bits and bobs for Thursday 29 January 2015


An occasional effort to link to interesting things I have seen. Not convinced about the format yet – let me know what you think.

  • One of my current obsessions is around mobile messaging apps. This interview with the CEO of Kik helps explains why this space is so exciting.
  • Slack has bought a company that does screensharing and voice chat to add to its text based workplace group chat thing. Makes Slack potentially more attractive to those looking for something approaching an all in one internal comms thing. For me though, it doesn’t move the workplace tech conversation on far enough.
  • A post about the future of Medium – published on Medium, of course. I really can’t personally figure out if Medium is incredibly interesting or just really boring. Could go either way – and the crunch will be when it begins to try and create revenue, I suspect.
  • A nice example from Simon Wardley on how to use his value chain mapping method.
  • Tumblr is rolling out new tools in its editor to help people use it to write longer form articles – a bit like Medium. Interesting, but one cannot help but wonder whether this goes against what made Tumblr popular with the people it’s popular with – i.e. quick sharing of memes, videos and so on. Is this Yahoo! starting to fiddle with its marquee purchase?

Enabling government as a platform?

On Saturday at GovCamp 2015, Mike Bracken announced the enabling strategy, the approach GDS is developing to deliver something they call government as as platform.

Here’s the nice, short video that explains it:

Now, this is very sensible and it is hard to argue against it. The one quibble I have is whether this really is government as  platform.

There’s no doubt that what is being proposed is a platform. However, when one thinks of well known platform plays outside of government – Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, Google’s Cloud Platform, Salesforce and so on – the point is not that a platform has been developed, but that anyone can use it.

To me, what is being proposed by GDS is closer to a service oriented architecture – in itself a Good Thing and certainly not easy to achieve across as complex a system as government. Instead of building big end to end systems, we have a set of building blocks that can be assembled in different orders to create different systems. This saves time, and money, and creates more interoperable systems.

Perhaps, once all this is in place, the plan is to open it up to other organisations to make use of these service building blocks to develop their own tools. I hope so.

Imagine how good it would be if a supplier to government used the same financial platform that their customers were using? Could make life a hell of a lot more efficient.

Update: From GDS’s Deputy Director, Tom Loosemore:

The Social Media Exchange is coming up!


I’m really pleased to be helping out my good fried Jude Habib with the Social Media Exchange event, which is coming up early in February. There are still a few places available, so I thought I would let folk know about it here.

Here’s the skinny:

The Social Media Exchange (#SMEX15) takes place on Monday 9th February 2015 in London. #SMEX15 celebrates the power of digital storytelling and the impact it has to change the world around us. This event, from digital media trainers sounddelivery, is a series of bitesized interactive masterclasses, practical creative surgeries and networking opportunities to help charities navigate the changing media landscape and exploit the opportunities available to tell your stories. With 20+ sessions available you’ll be able to create your own training plan. Sessions will be led by staff from BBC News, YouTube, Save the Children, MNDA, JustGiving, Mind and many more.

Whether you want to learn about online petitions, viral campaigning, understanding how to work with your case studies, gain valuable insight into working with TV production companies, learn how to be creative with visual content or sound, improve your blogging or social media skills, or simply take away top practical tips from our interactive surgeries. There is something for everyone.

This day is for people working in the charity sector or for the charity sector with an interest in the power of storytelling and the impact it can have – to raise awareness, change perceptions, inspire action, recruit volunteers, engage supporters and generate funds.

Find out more and book tickets now – I look forward to seeing you there!

Bits and bobs for Monday 26 January 2015

An occasional effort to link to interesting things I have seen. Not convinced about the format yet – let me know what you think.

To finish, a video. This talk from Simon Wardley on value chain mapping is insanely interesting:

Could I make my blog my livelihood?


Bit navel-gazey this post, but bear with me, and I would love your feedback.

So, as mentioned previously, I am looking for a job. The main reason for this is that I want to be able to focus on one thing, and not have the freelancer’s dilemma of always looking for the next thing while doing the current thing.

Trouble is, I have rather a niche set of skills that are pretty hard to fit into any job description that hasn’t been put together with me in mind – and not even I am so arrogant to think that anyone would want to do that.

(Of course, if you do want to do that, please get in touch.)

So, what are the options? One might be to try and build a business, based around a particular product or service. I’ve plenty of ideas for such things, lots of folk I could collaborate with, and am not writing this off at all.

If I am honest though, I think my real dream would be to be able to make a living through this site. Y’know, just like Gruber or Thompson or Kottke.

How might that be possible? Well, I’m in a good place tech-wise as this site is now hosted on the Rainmaker platform, a customised hosted version of WordPress which has a load of functionality built in, including a membership scheme that can be charged for, have members-only content, the ability to host podcasts, and to have a members forum.

I’m not currently using much of this but am in the process of moving all the various bits of content I do into the platform.

Currently, my content-creation schedule is haphazard, with me writing posts, recording podcasts and doing other bits and pieces when I can fit it around contract work and other consulting gigs. It all acts basically as a marketing thing, to try and convince people I know what I am talking about so they hire me for more contract and consulting work.

So, what might a business model for this blog look like?

The free stuff

Well, some stuff would still need to be free. Probably the type of blog posts I usually publish at the moment would remain free and accessible to anyone – but if the blog was my main focus, there would be more of them. I find it so hard to blog daily when I am also doing a full time job.

My podcast would also remain free and public for its current form, doing interviews with interesting folk in the digital world. Again though, with the site being my main focus, I could do them much more regularly, whether every month or even weekly.

I’d also like to do more with my bookmarks. Currently they are pinged to Twitter, and I include the best of them in my newsletter (when I remember to send it out). I would like to have a daily link roundup post though on the blog.

Finally, a free weekly email newsletter, done properly and regularly. Having the time to focus on this would make it much easier. I need to find a way to make it easy for people to get the blog content by email, and then also the added value of a newsletter. Maybe I could combine one weekly newsletter which featured some new content, plus links and summaries of all the blog posts that week, plus my bookmarks from that week.

Maybe people could also opt-in to a daily blog posts by email thing as well, if they are super keen.

So, for free: blog posts, podcasts, link roundups, general email newsletter – all doable because the site and the content around it is my primary focus.

I could make this more sustainable by looking for sponsorship for the free, public content, of course. I’d need to find a non-annoying way for that to work, but some people do very well out of it.

Paid for stuff

The sustainable way to make all this happen is to have regular subscription model, with members paying a small monthly fee to both support the free, public content, and to get access to other stuff.

For instance, Ben Thompson charges $10 per month to members, and they get an exclusive email most days with in depth analysis, as well as access to a forum to discuss issues related to Thompson’s writing, which Ben takes part in himself.

So what could I offer to members of this site?

One thing I would probably do would be a weekly longer, in depth piece of writing just for members. Picking a topic of real interest to my readers, and doing a proper piece of research and writing that goes beyond my usual well intentioned but half baked blogging.

I’d probably do an occasional solo podcast as well, discussing a recent news topic that’s worthy of a quick bit of audio. Likewise I would like to do more videos, such as the quick training ones I trialled towards the end of last year, which got some great feedback – those could be members-only.

Adding a discussion forum would be simple – it’s baked into Rainmaker as discussed earlier – and also I already have a community with a good membership and activity on it. Access to that forum is currently free, so I would need to figure out a way for that to continue for those people, otherwise it wouldn’t really be fair.

So, members who pay roughly a tenner a month get a longer, in depth article a week, access to extra podcasts and video training content and the ability to take part in a discussion forum, with other members and me. They also get the warm glow that they are supporting me to produce the freely available, public content too.

Does that sound reasonable? I have no idea, personally.

The other question is how to make it work. How many subscribers would I need?

A hundred subscribers – which, if I am honest, sounds like a lot – would give me an income of £1,000 per month, which is sadly nowhere near enough to keep the Briggs family in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Not least when you think that there are costs to be taken out of that figure.

If I did sponsorship of the free content, that might be able to pull in £250 a month at the most to begin with – again, not enough.

Of course, what I would need to do then is to make up the deficit by doing contracting and consulting – but perhaps a bit less of it, to enable me to meet my content creation schedule.

Hopefully over time I could build up the membership side of things, enabling me to spend more time writing and sharing great stuff with people, which is what I really love to do.

Any thoughts?

So, what do you think? Would you pay for a membership to my site in exchange for those rewards?

Or should I just accept that I can’t make a living by blogging, and get back to the job hunt?

Why Facebook At Work is not the answer to workplace technology



Last week Facebook At Work was announced, a new way for organisations to make use of Facebook as a way of networking staff.

The product will allow employees to join a network which could be connected to their personal Facebook account to help keep things tidy. Members of a network can message one another, share (but not collaborate on) documents, and so forth.

Sounds familiar? Yeah, because it’s what Yammer has been doing for years, and Slack more recently. And, whilst useful, neither of those products – or the gazillions of others in this space – have seen the workplace transformed.

Why is that? Largely because the change isn’t significant enough, nor does it provide the improvement in working that people are needing.

After all, despite all the talk over the years of collaboration, enterprise 2.0 and social business, the vast majority of people working in offices, at desks (the so-called ‘knowledge workers’) spend most of their time reading and writing emails and documents, attending meetings and making phone calls. That still hasn’t changed.

What most of the technology to emerge so far has really just been a case of improving the way these activities take place. Is sharing a status update on Yammer really that different from sending an all user email around the office?

After all, the current model of doing things – having networked computers on people’s desks that they use to communicate and write documents – goes all the way back to 1973 and the Xerox Alto. 41 years!

The future must surely lie not in new tools to help us do what we’ve always done more efficiently, but in new ways of delivering value in our work.

There are few examples of this, but one I think was Google Wave. A much misunderstood project which was very poorly marketed as a kind of consumer replacement for email, Wave would have been much better positioned as a platform for developing new workflows in the office.

So initiatives like Facebook at Work strike me as being rather cynical, to be honest. Surely nobody at Facebook really thinks this is the solution for a happier, more effective workplace?

What’s needed is some real vision around what productivity software looks like in the networked era. Not just pushing email into social networks, or putting office applications into the browser, but radically defining how knowledge work works.

The triumph of the nerds

If you have a few hours to spare, you could do a lot worse than to spend them watching the three episodes that make up Triumph of the Nerds, a 1995 documentary charting the history of the microcomputer industry.

From the Altair 8800 through the Apple II to IBM’s PC and the dominance of Microsoft, there are tonnes of lessons about what it takes to make technology companies succeed.

As I say, well worth a watch. Just to be helpful, I’ve embedded them below.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Announcing #virtualgovcamp’s first sponsor – Jadu’s Spacecraft design agency

I’m delighted to say we have our first sponsor on board the good ship VirtualGovCamp, and it’s our friends at Jadu, who are promoting their Spacecraft design agency!


Our approach to design is well considered and successful. One size fits all isn’t the way we work and we recognise every project is different. We start with a blank piece of paper and embark on a journey of discovery and work on the basis of being one team, focused on, and committed to collaborative success.

We are experts in understanding your organisation and your audience, helping you realise your desired outcomes. That’s our commitment, our passion.

Check out what Jadu have to offer on their website, or go straight to finding out everything about Spacecraft!

Learning from Marissa Mayer and Yahoo!



I’ve just finished reading a book about Yahoo! and its current CEO, Marissa Mayer. A fairly slim tome, I got through it in a day on my Kindle.

It’s well worth a look for anyone interesting in how technology companies work (or in this case, don’t) and also how large companies can go around changing the way they work.

Overall, I think if Mayer is given enough time, she can make Yahoo! relevant again. It might not be in the shape that perhaps many of its investors would like, but it could once again be innovative and delivering real value to its users.

More on Yahoo! and Mayer by John Naughton and Jason Calacanis.

Here are my big three takeaways from the book.

There’s no fix for not knowing why you exist

Yahoo!’s well documented problem is that nobody knows what it is for. It’s birth was as a straightforward directory for the emerging web, something that is just no longer needed. All it has is a homepage that still has lots – although a decreasing number – of visitors.

Strategically, this is a killer. Not having a commonly understood vision makes it incredibly hard for an organisation to move forward, particularly during a time of change.

Before Meyer’s appointment, Yahoo!’s board had a decision to make. Was it a media company or a product company? They plumped for the latter, and appointed Meyer, who had a great track record in product development at Google.

Great start, but was everyone bought into the vision of Yahoo! the product company? Did they have the stomach for the fact that it would take years to move the company forward in that direction?

Undoubtably this is the biggest challenge at Yahoo!, and indeed any other organisation that has a problem identifying its reason for existence.

Stack ranking – no matter what you call it – is a bad idea

On her arrival, Meyer faced a problem – Yahoo! was overstaffed and had a lot of people who weren’t performing. Her solution was to bring in a performance review system that she had experienced at Google, and was used in other tech companies.

Here’s how it works. A manager sorts everyone on their team into five different rankings – from totally smashing it, to utter failure every quarter. These rankings over a period of time decide how big someone’s bonus is, or whether they even keep their job.

Sounds pretty standard. But where stack rankings differ is that managers have to have a certain percentage of staff in each ranking. So even if everyone on your team meets, or even beats, their targets, some of them will still have to be rated as failing.

This kind of thing can work well in the short term, in that it quickly weeds out those who really aren’t performing. Soon though, it starts to breed resentment, mistrust and a lack of collaboration.

The case of Microsoft’s use of stack ranking is a good example of how it can create a poisonous corporate culture.

Pitting employees against each other, no matter what the short term gains, is not the way to build a healthy, collaborative environment to work in.

Hiring is hard – but you have to get it right

Probably Meyer’s biggest failure at Yahoo! (so far) was the disastrous appointment of Henrique De Castro as Chief Operating Officer.

He joined the company with a huge financial package and when it didn’t work out, it ended up costing Yahoo! over $100m (!) for little over a year’s work.

A huge, costly, mistake and perhaps what makes it so bad is not the money wasted, but the time. The point of hiring De Castro was that it would enable Mayer to focus on product while someone else took care of the day to day media and advertising business.

For any organisation, hiring the right people is just so important. The people in an organisation forge its culture to a massive extent, and the time wasted, expense and sheer pain of getting it wrong can be incredibly damaging.

Shared CDO – looking for alignment


A key role for any CDO in an organisation is looking for, and creating, alignment.

The obvious one in the digital sphere is looking for alignment between the organisation’s preferred outcomes, and the needs of the people who use its services or products.

Take channel shift as a fairly obvious example. The outcomes that a council wants to see are more people using cheaper channels to access services and interact with it.

The needs of the people doing this interacting are to have efficient, usable services that let them get the help they need with the minimum of fuss.

By aligning these two things, a strategist can easily plot a course where developing high quality online services gives both sides what they want.

Not aligning them, by focusing too much or even exclusively on the organisation’s outcomes, will lead to failure to achieve either side’s objectives – because even if people want to use online services, they won’t if they are poorly designed.

It is possible to think of alignment as a tool for making things happen. Within an organisation, there will be many different motivations and objectives. Senior leaders want one thing. Service managers another. As CDO, you will have your own.

Rather than trying to convince people to do things they don’t feel they want to, the better approach is to consider what their preferred outcomes are, and align them with your own.

Finding this alignment allows you to build a shared sense of purpose and mission, and will reduce the friction you get when people feel like you are trying to make them change against their will.