Improving Bluesky

Bluesky is definitely feeling like the nicest Twitter/X replacement going. But it’s a long way from perfect.

The community feels compact, small but friendly. There’s a sense that people want to be there, and that it isn’t a chore (Mastodon sometimes just feels like hard work). It’s chatty, and whimsical, which is just how early Twitter felt.

It definitely needs more users. Hopefully the invites are dropping regularly enough to keep the flow up.

The main issue for me is that the web interface is really clunky. It’s ludicrously hard to actually clear notifications, so often it looks like there’s something new happening, when there isn’t. I find myself refreshing the browser a lot, which shouldn’t be necessary really.

The app on iOS suffers in the same sort of ways.

There’s also a bit of distraction with Bluesky – all the stuff about servers and things. I guess that important to people who think federation is important, but I suspect those people are limited in number. Most folk just want a usable, stable, Twitter-like experience that isn’t full of horrible behaviour.

Dave Winer would like to see Markdown style editing. Am not totally convinced of that, as I like the plain text approach, and I guess you can still use markup, only the reader has to use their imagination 😆

One thing it lacks, which actually I don’t care about too much, is private direct messages. Twitter/X has those, of course. Sometimes they are useful to drop someone a note to say you’d like to talk to them about something. Maybe though, it would be better to just let people feature their email addresses or other ways to contact them on their profiles. After all, nobody needs yet another place to check for these things.

What they definitely shouldn’t do is copy the way Mastodon does private messaging, which is a proper dog’s dinner. ‘Private mentions’ are almost indistinguishable from public ones, and it terrifies me!

Twitter

The latest ridiculous behaviour from Twitter seems to genuinely be sending the site into a death spiral, which saddens me in a lot of ways. I’ve been on there since the early days, and I’ve built a reasonably sized following on there as a result. I don’t really have anywhere else where I can easily put things that a sizable chunk of the people I’d like to see them would actually have a chance of doing so. But it’s more than that: Twitter was never just a channel, it was also a place I made actual friends, folk who I speak to regularly. Loose communities formed, dispersed, and reformed as and when they were needed. Looking back, those who were saying that Twitter wasn’t really a company, it was a bit of internet infrastructure, were probably right, but nobody listened.

So now there are hundreds of alternatives sprouting up, including the Instagram based Threads which is due to be released on Thursday. Bluesky seems popular, Mastodon is doing well within its slightly dorky niche. But what they all lack is the moment. It’s 2023, not 2007 when all this seemed so new and exciting; it’s not 2010 when the whole world seemed to wake up to what was possible on sites like Twitter. Without that excited, exploratory, experimental surge, I’m gloomy about the prospects of any of these places filling the gap that Twitter did, uniquely. Imperfectly, but uniquely.

If someone, somehow, managed to lift my whole Twitter network and shift it into a different thing, I would jump there like a shot. In the meantime, I think I will keep dabbling, but also spending time on more personal, and less ephemeral, spaces like this blog – and maybe make use of the newsletter more.

Recording podcasts

A few people have asked how I go about recording my podcast. So I don’t need to keep repeating myself, I thought it worthwhile to write it up here.

Skype

So, the format of my podcast is usual an interview, or really just a chat, between myself and one other person. It’s done using Skype,  just a normal free call using the basic service. It’s not perfect but is usually good enough.

When recording, I wear a pair of Logitech UE 4000 headphones which feature a microphone on them, which cuts down on too much background noise, and using headphones means there’s no echo too.

Call Recorder

To record the conversation I use a Mac app called Call Recorder. This really does exactly what it says – you start the Skype call, then when you’re ready, hit record and it starts to record both ends of the conversation.

The file is saved as a .mov on your desktop, and Call Recorder comes with another app to convert this file to mp3.

If you’re on Windows, then you could try Evaer instead of Call Recorder.

Garageband

I tend not to bother editing the podcast, unless something catastrophic happens during recording like Skype dropping out or similar. I use Garageband for this, which is a free bit of software on the Mac.

If you’re on another platform then the open source Audacity would be a good place to start.

Libsyn

Once the file is ready to go live, I upload it to Libsyn, which hosts the audio file and also creates an RSS feed for the podcast with the appropriate enclosure. Libsyn also submits the podcast to iTunes, helps you add an image to feed and so on, to make things look at least reasonably professional.

It’s pretty cheap – the basic tier is just a few pounds a month, although I pay a bit extra for more storage and some stats.

One thing I have found with uploading the file is that rather than using Libsyn’s browser based uploader, it’s best to save your audio file in Dropbox first and then use Libsyn’s tool to transfer that file into Libsyn. Just seems to work better and have less chance of failing.

WordPress

I then promote the podcast by creating a post on my blog here in WordPress. WordPress has an inbuilt audio player, so all I need to do is paste the URL to the audio file into my post, and WordPress does the rest for me.

I listen through the podcast and add links to the show notes as it plays, to help listeners find out more about what I am talking about with my guest.

Hope that’s useful! Any other podcasting tips?

ThinkUp – helps you improve your use of social

ThinkUp

ThinkUp is a great little service for anyone who likes to track how they are doing on the social sites Twitter and Facebook.

Rather than relying on some arbitrary grading system like Klout, ThinkUp instead provides simple, clear feedback on what you are doing online and how people are responding to it.

There’s a web interface where you can log in and check out the insights ThinkUp has to share with you, or you can just rely on the helpful daily email.

Here are some examples of the feedback ThinkUp provides (click to enlarge them):

thinkup2

thinkup1

There’s value in ThinkUp for everyone, but I think particularly for people in leadership positions in organisations who are just getting started with a tool like Twitter, ThinkUp can act as a virtual coach, providing positive advice and insight on a regular basis to keep enthusiasm levels as high as possible.

ThinkUp does cost $60 a year to use, but I think it’s good value.

 

 

Tips for running a LinkedIn group

linkedin-logoI’ve just started a LinkedIn group on the topic of digital skills in the workplace. You are very welcome to join.

I have to admit – I’ve not done much with LinkedIn groups before, and while much of it is pretty intuitive to anyone who has used similar features on other networks, I’ve had to learn a fair bit too.

Here’s some handy hints that might save you some bother if you have a go at setting up your own LinkedIn group in the future.

Sharing files

You can’t post documents – so you need to upload to Dropbox, Box or SkyDrive and link to them.

Likewise, if you want to collaborate on a document, you’ll need to use Google Doc or something similar.

You can only send one announcement email a week

So make it a good one – perhaps summarising the last 7 days activity and getting people excited about what’s to come. This is also a good way of bringing discussions to people’s attention that might otherwise have got lost in the flow of the group.

Be careful who you let in

There are armies of people who seem to attempt to join every single LinkedIn grow going for no apparent reason. My advice is to make your group invite only, and if you don’t recognise someone who applies to join, have a quick look at their profile.

If it isn’t immediately obvious why they would have an interest in your group, you can either just ignore them, or if you are feeling nice, ping them a message asking why they want to join your group.

Build a sense of exclusivity

Linked to the above, because there are a lot of groups on LinkedIn, you need to make yours stand out a bit. I did this by making my group a closed one, that you can only access if you are a member.

Practice in private

Have a private group that only you know about so that you can practice how the features work with minimal embarrassment. Not everything in LinkedIn works the way you’d expect it to, so having a sandbox you can play around in is a good idea!

Curate the stream

LinkedIn groups are effectively streams of content. It does some work for you in listing stuff on the main page in order of relevance and interest. However, bits will get lost unless you do some curation.

As mentioned above, one way of doing this is to use the weekly email announcement feature. However, I think it is probably worth having somewhere separate where the really good stuff can be listed on a web page somewhere – particularly for new members who need to catch up.

Edit the email templates

A key thing to do to make the community welcoming and a bit more personal is to edit the messages that get sent out to prospective members when they first apply to join.

A few of the groups I am a member of don’t do this, and it does make you feel like the group isn’t particularly actively managed or facilitated, so it can be off putting.

Remember – this is about community management

So even though the medium we are using is LinkedIn, everything else still applies – welcome new members, reply to people’s posts, seed conversations, promote the group in other channels, and so on. Go read Feverbee, and do what it tells you.

Have you any further tips for running a successful LinkedIn group?

Linkydink and MVPs

LinkydinkLinkydink is a lovely little service that does one thing very well. It allows people to add links to a group and for a daily list of the links collected to be emailed out to subscribers.

It is run by Makeshift, a fantastic company in London that seems to churn out excellent little tools such as this.

You could produce something similar to Linkydink by stitching together various other tools. Perhaps people could used Pinboard and Delicious to save links with a shared tag, and then use the RSS feed from the tag to pre populate a Mailchimp email newsletter… but I’ve lost you already, haven’t I?

Another thing I like about Linkydink is the access anyone has to the roadmap for the service – so users can know where it is heading and what new features are going to be implemented next.

It’s a great example of running projects in an agile, lean fashion. In fact I came across Linkydink in an article on PandoDaily (which despite the odd title is probably the best of the technology and startup focused blogs at the moment), which described digital companies that started without a single line of code being written.

In the article it is explained how someone used Linkydink to test the idea for their startup – which was a subscriber list of links to … In the parlance of the lean startup, this is an MVP, a minimum viable product. It’s the simplest, quickest and cheapest way to get a product on the market so you can start testing it, building up a customer base, and so on.

Sometimes to test the viability of an idea, it’s best to just do it – as simply as possible – so you can get some real world data on whether or not it is going to fly. Linkydink definitely does that and hopefully it is popular enough for Makeshift to keep working on it.

Why local councils ought to be getting social

This article was originally written for the SLCC‘s ‘Clerk’ magazine.

It’s almost impossible to turn on the television or open a newspaper these days without seeing reference to online networks such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The impact of these technologies in the last decade has been huge, transforming the way people communicate, work and play.

So just how can local councils make use of this technology?

Firstly, we can improve our communications. Lots of people now use online methods to communicate with their friends and families, as well as with businesses and other organisations. If councils want people to see what they are saying, then these new channels need to be used.

It could be as simple as using Twitter to provide quick updates of the work the Council is doing, or what is being discussed at a public meeting. Alternatively we can use different media to tell the same story – photographs are a great way of documenting online what is happening in an area and the web is a great way of publishing them to large audiences.

Second, it can be use to increase participation in the work we do. Not everybody has time to attend meetings, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to contribute. By giving people the opportunity to get involved online, we might be able to encourage them to engage even further in future.

This early, online stage could be as simple as giving views on a local issue on a Facebook page, responding to an online survey, or giving feedback on a draft document through a digital form.

Third, using this technology can help us change the culture of our councils, to be more open, transparent and collaborative. Once we start taking even baby steps into the digital world, the possibilities start to become apparent. Increasing numbers of councillors are saving their councils money by using their own devices to work paperlessly, using their iPads for example to read reports and other papers.

Other developing technologies have yet to make an impact on our sector, but they cannot be far away. The transparency agenda has seen councils in other tiers of government sharing their data, whether about council spending or other information. This data is then used by businesses, charities and communities to build apps and develop plans to improve their services.

The so-called ‘internet of things’, where everyday objects, not just computers, have access to the network, is another fast developing area. The concept of ‘smart cities’ is relatively well known now, but what might a smart village look like, when every house, community and business in a parish are connected by a high speed internet connection?

Local councils ought to be considering these issues to ensure they are well placed to make the most of new technological developments, so that they may continue to provide an effective and relevant service to their communities.

Having said all of this, the basics are still important. For example, I would never suggest a council only uses digital communications methods. A balance is required, otherwise people will be left out. However, using digital is scalable and cost effective, so the more of it we can use, the better.

Also, it’s important to get the online foundations right before we start using potentially more exciting channels such as social media. This means ensuring we have an effective website in place and are using tools such as email well – including having an email newsletter that people can subscribe to.

I will be discussing all the issues relating to using digital in the sector in an upcoming series of workshops in 2014, organised by SLCC. Find out more and book your place at http://www.slcc.co.uk/course/digital-engagement/40/

A taster of these sessions will also be provided at the SLCC practitioners’ conference in Spring 2014. More information can be found here: http://www.slcc.co.uk/conference/practitioners-conference/18/

Could a customer service centre be a source of social media content?

Just a quick thought: could local authority customer service centres be sources of content for their social media channels?

Most customer service departments in councils these days have CRMs of varying sophistication and they must be able to report on what the issues are that most people are calling about at any one time.

Perhaps this could be a great source of stuff to create content about on social media channels, whether Facebook pages or perhaps on Twitter, with links to web pages with more information.

After all, it’s by definition content that people would want, and might be a good way of channel shifting people away from the phone, if they are getting that information from elsewhere.

Anyone doing this already?