If this then that


Here’s another cool little tool. ifttt, or ‘if this, then that’ is a way of automating tasks across your social networks. It describes itself as ‘digital duct tape’.

It basically allows you to set rules and actions to happen whenever you interact online.

One example described on the site is creating a task that whenever a photo is uploaded to Instagram, it should also be added to your Dropbox account.

Just to test it, I’ve created a task  that emails me everytime someone mentions me on Twitter. Not particularly useful, or unique, but the process for creating tasks is very user friendly, and the potential is huge, with lots of different services included, such as Facebook, Google Reader, Foursquare, Delicious, Tumblr, WordPress… the list goes on.

It’s a cool idea and I am sure that people more imaginative than I could come up with some great uses of it!

It isn’t just government…

…that is struggling with some of this stuff.

Take a look at Phil Bradley’s marvellous post, railing against the attitudes of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals):

The next section really did make my jaw drop. “In terms of “official” activity, cyber life is just like real like (sic) – if it happens in a CILIP-sanctioned space, it’s official; if it happens down the pub or in someone else’s space, it isn’t.” This is a classic ‘ownership’ issue – if we say it’s real then it’s real, and if we say it isn’t real, then it’s not. If I’m in a CILIP sanctioned space (whatever that is!) do my words and arguments take on more meaning than if I’m not? Or perhaps I need to have an official CILIP representative to add some gravitas to my comments? We don’t live in a world when the organization or PR department can control the message any longer – things have moved on, and the webpage/site, while important, is no longer the sole place in which activity can take place.

Looks like another good example for David’s (and others) membership project.

Simon Wakeman: Local gov shoudn’t be on Facebook

Simon Wakeman has a thought-provoking post on whether Councils should maintain corporate presences in social networking sites like Facebook at all:

People using social networks befriend (or fan, whatever the appropriate phrase is) organisations, movements, clubs etc on Facebook and other social networks because they have an emotional bond of some description with that entity.

They might be fans in the muscial or film sense (eg by signing up to a band’s page), be replicating membership of an offline group (eg by signing up to a sports club’s page) or be part of a shared interest movement (eg by signing up to a campaign or political group’s page).

All of these conscious choices by individuals using social networks are done because they have some empathetic or emotional relationship with the entity to which the page belongs. They become a fan because they want to and because they care in some way.

How does this sit with a local council? In the real world I’m not convinced people have such a bond with their council as a corporate body – yes, they have that emotional or empathetic reaction about many of the services that their local council provides them, but not about the council as a whole. There’s no real world basis for the creation of an online community.

As Liz’s research shows, one can see where Simon is coming from. Councils, at the moment, are not fairing terribly well on social networks.

I’d agree, as I have noted before, that making people become friends or fans of public bodies probably isn’t going to work. I commented on Simon’s piece:

However, there is a convincing argument for me that public bodies should be providing information to people in a format and in a location that suits them. There are many people who wouldn’t ever dream of visiting a council website who none-the-less might find the information available there useful. The trick is to present that information where they are likely to find it.

I think I’ve identified a way in which local authority, indeed any government organisation, can approach Facebook presence in a way that won’t embarrass those that use it. More soon.

New media for a new generation

I spent a very enjoyable day today at an event co-organised by Opportunity Links and 4Children. It was a good chance to listen to some interesting and challenging content about the social web and what young people are actually doing online.

It was also a great chance to meet up some some pals, like Mark Cheverton, Steven Flowers and Tim Davies. Tim was running his social networking game, using his Moo.com printed cards. It was excellent – focusing in on one particularly relevant technology for youth workers.

It seems that the area of youth work and the web is a rather complicated one, but it still should be relatively straightforward so long as everyone is sensible about it. Interesting to hear that the biggest problem still facing most youth workers wanting to get involved in the social web is having no access to social networking sites at work!

Social networks, or beefed-up blogs?

I have been looking around recently at social networkings systems, focusing on freely available ones, such as Elgg (which powers the rather lovely UnLtdWorld, and which has its proper v1.0 release out soon) and PeopleAggregator. The other option I had thought of would be to fashion something out of Drupal.

A post at Read/WriteWeb, however, has made me step back and think a little:

Platforms like WordPress and Movable Type democratized the process of self-publishing. With these tools, everyone could be a publisher and it didn’t require advanced technical expertise to do so. Now, the next revolution for publishing is to bring that same ease of creation to the process of building social networks. With Six Apart’s recent release of Movable Type 4.2, that revolution has begun. The new release provides DIY tools for building your own social networking platform which includes member profiles, forums, friending capabilities, rating of content, and more. WordPress isn’t too far behind, either – a new platform called BuddyPress, is being built on the WordPress core. Is this the future of blogging? Or is this the future of web publishing altogether?

I had been aware of BuddyPress for a while, but whilst I have noted Moveable Type’s development, I’ve never really go into that platform, for some reason. I think the Buddy/WordPress approach is sound, though, not building up the core functionality of the platform, but adding the social networking features as add-ons. If you want it, it’s there to use, otherwise you don’t need to be troubled with it.

BuddyPress is sadly some way from being production ready, so for now I’ll stick with the dedicated social network platforms. But in the future, rather than learn a new system, it will be a lot easier to use one I am familiar with to develop exactly what I need.

What are other folks’ views?

Planning trips, 2.0

We’re off for a trip next week, to Cornwall for a few days. There may well be some light blogging ahead. Anyway, we are trying to cram in as much stuff as we can, and make the best use of our membership of both English Heritage and the National Trust.

(It’s always done my head in that there needs to be two different organisations to manage heritage properties in the UK, but I am sure there is a good reason for it. Probably.)

Anyway, there are a number of things that are quite important to consider when planning what we are seeing when, for example: the distance between places, the distance back to where we are staying, how long each journey will take, how long we might want to stay in one place for.To get this done, we had to:

  • Look in the two different handbooks to see what places we might like to visit
  • Check the map to see if they were near each other
  • Use Google Maps to work out distances and times
  • Record it all on a spreadsheet

This is a pain in the arse. Fair enough, you don’t want to plan these things too much, else it stops being fun, but some idea of an itinerary is probably a good thing if you want to make the best use of your time.

I did think, though, that it would be easier if we had a Google Maps mashup, linked to a database containing the postcodes of EH, NT and other touristy type attractions, where you could build a route for each day, maybe the system could even suggest stuff that’s close by.

I’m sure this wouldn’t be so hard to do, if you had the information available. As David Wilcox reported, EH are starting to do stuff in the social networking space, albeit focusing on volunteers etc rather than visitors (I think). Having quickly Googled, I couldn’t find any kind of online community for people interested in these kinds of places, not even a forum. OK, so I didn’t look very hard, but this is pretty surprising.

There’s opportunities everywhere.

Anonymous contributions

Jeremy Gould – barcamp impresario, Ministry of Justice web dude and blogger – raises the issue of anonymous contributions, both within blogs and comments on other blogs:

I was thinking about this last week when I came across a new blog by a civil servant who chooses not declare their identity. Its entertaining and a pretty accurate description of life inside a Whitehall department. But two problems come to mind:

  1. It will be too easy to say something inappropriate on the basis that no one knows who you are, and
  2. If the blog gains traction you can bet your bottom dollar that people will do their best to work out who it is – and eventually they will, causing problems for the author.

Interesting stuff, as this issue has been raised by quite a few people I have talked to about my plans for an online collaborative social network for the information authority. People say they would like to be able to post on the communities anonymously, in case their bosses are lurking, presumably, about stuff they wouldn’t like to be associated with their names.

I’m against it, and I will push for there to be no anonymous functionality in the new platform. There are several reasons for this, on top of those Jeremy identifies:

  • It gives an excuse for a potentially valid point to be ignored. It could be perceived, for example, that if the person contributing the idea is ashamed to be associated with it, then why should it be pursued?
  • The social graph is based on identity. The way social networks work is because we know and trust who people are. Anonymity takes that away.
  • Anonymous posting removes the responsibility for your actions – having stuff posted with your name next to it will make you think twice before posting
  • The need for anonymity is almost certainly a symptom of some wider problem which really ought to be addressed – why the fear in speaking out?

I found this article by Ben Macintyre in The Times interesting:

People behave badly when they think they are invisible. Masked balls were an opportunity for licentious behaviour in a buttoned-down society because (supposedly) no one knew who was who. People who would not dream of being rude in day-to-day transactions feel no such constraints behind the wheel, because the four walls of the car offer the illusion of anonymity; in my experience, drivers with tinted windows are far more aggressive than those without.

Bearing all this in mind, my view is not to provide the ability for people to post anything anonymously. Instead, make it clear how you can be contacted through the back channel, maybe an email or phone call, for ideas which a person might want to have aired but not attributed to them. It might be important to get information out, in which case quote an anonymous source, but make the it the exception rather than the rule.