Targeting Communications

We have so many choices for communication that it’s easy for us to communicate in the wrong way, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

Strange GrafitiI doubt I’m unique in the variety of places that I interact. When I write something I try to think about the different groups that I’m wanting to communicate with and to hone my message to fit that group.

At a high level the groups fit a bit like this:

  • Twitter: This is quite a broad constituency, but it’s mainly the people that I work with. I tend not to write about personal things because of this. I do send updates about my blog to twitter, but they generally fit with that constituency as well. Twitter is my primary update location, if I’m going to update my status anywhere it will be on twitter. I have been trying to tone down the volume a bit recently.
  • Linkedin: Although I’m quite active on Linkedin I don’t write very much. I mainly use it to keep in contact with where colleagues and former colleagues are up to. I could send automatic updates from twitter and other places here, but I don’t.
  • Facebook: Nearly all of my interactions on Facebook are personal ones. There are some colleagues who I have as friends but mostly my interactions are with people outside work. As well as updating and commenting I’m also likely to use Facebook for instant messaging and messaging communications with those who I know use Facebook. I also send my twitter updates to Facebook.
  • Google+: Well, next too nothing really, I feel like I’m still keeping a watching brief. I sometimes post a link to my blog. Most of the people in my circles are work people. Google+ has not really taken off with my outside work friends.
  • Email: I use email all day every day but try to keep the communications as tightly targeted as possible. Most of the time I avoid reply-to-all, but occasionally get caught out, and try to reduce the distribution list rather than grow it.
  • Blogs: I run two blogs because I write about different things. This one is mostly about things that I’m thinking about from day to day, I’m not very targeted in what I write, but people seem to accept that. The blessings blog is about, well, blessings. A few people read avidly, but most people find information via search (>65% of my visitors are new each month).
  • Skype: Skype plays a minor part on my communication regime. It’s sometimes get used for instant messaging communications and sometimes for video interactions with the family.

I think that’s most of it, but if you want to know more my is a reasonable place to keep up to speed with what I’m contributing to.

I wondered whether other saw things in a similar way so I’ve talked to a number of people and many of them seem to be seeing themselves having similar persona to these.

With these broad collections in mind I’ll target different places based on what it is I am writing.

I also make assessments on the length of what it is I am going to write. This isn’t very elaborate, most of the time it’s a simple question – short or long? If it’s short I’ll try and constrain it down to the 140 characters of twitter, if it’s long it goes here on this blog. That is, unless it’s really one-to-one communication and that’s what I use email for, still. I don’t see that we have a suitable alternative to email for this type of communication just yet.

Communication is such an important thing that we do I think it’s vitally important that we do our best to communicate in the best possible way.

I seem to have written a lot about communications recently:

Writing Limits

The other week I wrote about how I’d tried to change the balance of my writing so that I was Writing Less to Write More.

Fell Foot Tree ArtThe challenge was to spend less time on Twitter and Facebook so that I wrote more consistently here.

The lesson I’ve learnt from this experiment is that there are limits to my writing output. I don’t have enough capacity to allow me to contribute in all of the places I’d like to, I have to be selective.

Over the last few weeks I’ve allowed myself to put the experiment in reverse and to deliberately get sucked back into Twitter and Facebook. This unsurprisingly precipitated a drop off in writing here, it wasn’t a conscious thing, it was just the way it was.

If you are a keen observer you will have noticed that I still wrote the occasional post, but nothing of any quality, or with any consideration. I wrote the easy stuff mainly in the Because it’s Friday category.

So I have a choice, I can contribute lots of little bits to all sorts of social media places, or I can contribute in a considered manner – I can’t do both. It’s a personal preference, but I think I’d rather be more considered, so it’s back to Writing Less to Write More.

Writing Less to Write More

Has anyone noticed that I’ve written less recently?

Has anyone noticed that I’ve written more recently?

Grandad takes a bathDepending upon what you read you may have noticed different things.

I took a look at the amount of time I spent writing interrupt driven content on Twitter and Facebook and decided that it wasn’t the best use of my time.

I found that I was spending a significant amount of time checking for updates so I could respond to updates. All I was doing was feeding my ADT.

I decided that it was time for a bit of housekeeping. My aim was to replace quantity with quality. Rather than writing hundreds of 140 character interactions, I want to write more considered, longer interactions of a higher quality.

So I’ve taken a few simple steps:

  • I’ve removed the Facebook and Twitter apps from my BlackBerry.
  • I’ve hidden Tweetdeck on my laptop, so I have to go and consciously choose to start it.
  • I’m limiting myself to one session on Twitter and one on Facebook a day.
  • I’ve made a conscious effort to maintain a list blog topics to improve the quality of what I write there.
  • Facebook and Twitter are banned after 8:00pm
  • Although Google+ looks interesting I’ve resisted the urge to add to my list of interruptions.

The result is that I’ve written a lot more on my blog and managed to calm down my ADT quite a bit. A bit like a reformed smoker, I’ve started to notice how bad some people are. I’ve read a lot more. As well as being more productive on my blog I’ve been more productive in a number of other areas too. I’ve also been sleeping better and increased the amount of exercise I do.

Not surprisingly, the number of visitors on my blog has grown significantly too, but that’s not why I’m doing it.

Privacy and Attention Dimensions: Groups

"If you want to control privacy and attention – just put them in a group" seems to be the answer that most of the socials media (and other) sites are moving towards.

Visiting Vernon StumpyEach of them has a subtly, or even dramatically, different way of implementing groups, but fundamentally they are all trying to do the same thing.

The basic philosophy is that we can put people into different buckets and the bucket is then linked to different levels of privacy and attention.

The main reason for the buckets is that they provide a way of simplifying the administration of the system.

In most instances the group configuration that most people use is quite simple. Flickr, for instance, doesn’t even let you create your own groups, it gives you three – contacts, contacts that are friends, contacts that are family – that’s it. People need to fit into one of these buckets if you are going to control what pictures people can see. Google+ has circles which are nicely animated, but basically do the same thing. You can have as many Circles as you like, and you can put people into those circles in order to control what people see and what you see about people. Twitter’s notion of a group is the list, but they only help attention management, they don’t do anything for privacy.

There are a number of challenges with this situation.

The first challenge is the most obvious issue – there is no way to manage groups across the various services. If I want a family bucket on Flickr and Facebook I need to create it, and administer a group on Facebook and another group on Flickr. If you really wanted to get organised about the groups that you use you would spend a significant amount of time administering all of them.

Another challenge, and the most fundamental one, is that socially a group is quite a fluid thing, and the fluid has different densities. My example here is an event with a group of friends. The group for the event starts off as the group of friends who are invited. The group related to the event doesn’t stay like that though, as people choose whether they are coming, or not, the group changes, but it doesn’t change in the same way for everyone. Some people who are not attending may still want to be told about the group as the event occurs, others don’t want to know anything. If we are running the event for the group of friends we will know the difference between the people to keep in the loop, and the people to leave out. The members of the group have changed, but so has the type of connection that people have with the group.

Groups might help us in administration terms, but I don’t think that groups really give us what we need.

Also see: Privacy and Attention Dimensions

Privacy and Attention Dimensions

I’ve found it quite interesting recently to watch as a number of social media sites, Facebook, Flickr, G+, have introduced changes in the ways that privacy is controlled and attention is raised.

Grandad wonders whether the old computer will run VistaMost of us have an instinctive approach to both privacy and attention. We tell certain things to certain people, and not to others. I doubt many of us could, in most instances, describe this instinctive privacy by a set of "if…then…" statements. Most of us have a similarly instinctive approach to attention, we know which messages require us to raise someone’s attention directly, and which are just noise.

There are, however, a set of people for whom this instinctive approach doesn’t work. All of us suffer times when we get the privacy and attention approach wrong. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have passed on a piece of information I thought was public to find that it’s pure gossip. But there are also a set of people who’s privacy and attention framework doesn’t work the same as the rest of society, for some people this manifests itself as autism.

Today’s online communication mechanisms are a bit like dealing with an autistic child. So many things that are shouted in public should really be said in private. There are certainly things that aren’t said as loudly as they should be too. One of the major complaints of any online system is the amount of noise they generate trying to get our attention – "no I don’t care that you’ve just bought a sheep".

We try to apply a set of physical world metaphors to our online privacy but the current approaches still require us to think about who we want to see what when we post it. I think we still have a long way to go before online systems get closer to being aligned to our privacy and attention instincts.. 

There are a whole set of dimensions to privacy and attention that I don’t think we yet really understand, and we certainly haven’t done enough to codify them yet.

It was with that in mind that I read about the new capability on Flickr to create geofences. Geofences enable you to define a privacy level for pictures taken in a certain location. This is a new dimension to the privacy debate as far as I can tell. I have, as an example, set pictures that are taken near my home to be private to Friends and Family only (no that’s not the location of my home):

It might be a new dimension, and add to the toolset available, but it’s still not really how I think my privacy instincts work.

Facebook has always had an attention problem which most people don’t realise you can adjust already by turning off certain notifications. There latest approach to tackling this problem is the new lists feature. I say new, but it feels very much like the way that Google+ works, although I’m sure they’d argue differently. Again, it’s another dimension to breaking down the attention problem, but I still don’t think that my personal attention instincts work that way.

One privacy dimension where I think we are nowhere near codifying our real world experience is in the area of memory. I think that we are only just reaching the point where we are realising what a good thing our ability to forget is. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like the internet to forget certain things about me.

Naked on the Fourth Plinth

In London’s famous Trafalgar Square there are a set of plinths with sculptures on them, there is also another plinth – known as the fourth plinth – which doesn’t have anything permanent on it.

Jimmy and Granddad visit Alnwick GardensThis fourth plinth has, in recent years, been used to host all sorts of art projects and installations.

The installation that gained, probably, the most public interest was Anthony Gormley’s One & Other.

In this project people were invited to apply for a sixty minute slot on the fourth plinth. The intention was to “create a collective portrait of humanity”, this translated into people doing all sorts of things for their sixty minutes of fame. Many people chose to carry plaques with a message on them others performed an activity, all of them were videoed.

The people who gained the most fame were, not surprisingly, the people who chose to spend some, or all, of their time naked.

I sometimes ask myself the question when I’m posting something to Twitter or Facebook or even this blog:

If I were stood naked on the fourth plinth and the whole of London were watching would I still be comfortable saying this?

There are a lot of people who could do with a similar checkpoint before they write and post.

(The reality of posting to Twitter or Facebook (or any other ‘social’ site) is actually a whole lot scarier than standing on the fourth plinth with a plaque but for some reason the scariness doesn’t translate into caution)

Facebook – Reducing the Noise and Losing the Interest

As part of my return to online life after my decontamination over the holidays I went through my Facebook wall and marked anything and everyone I wasn’t really interested in and clicked: “Hide all posts by…”

This had the effect of significantly reducing the number of updates on my wall. It also had a more significant impact – it removed much of the interest too.

I’m not talking about real interest.

I’m talking about the interest I give to all of those times I’ve found myself looking at photos of someone I vaguely know with their dog, cat, budgie, etc.

I’m talking about the interest I give to all of those petty conversations between people who should really be excluded from using a keyboard by virtue of the way in which they waste everyone else’s time.

I’m talking about all of the interest I show to status update messages from the applications that people are using because they don’t have anything better to do.

In short – I lost interest because I significantly reduced the “variable interval reinforcement schedule” of Facebook.

Try it someday you might actually enjoy it.

Facebook Productivity Impact

I was reminded this morning of a study from 2009 that tried to assess the productivity impact of Facebook.

It’s conclusion was this:

Nearly half of office employees access Facebook during work. Nucleus found companies effectively lose an average of 1.5 percent of total office productivity when employees can access Facebook during the work day.

I’ve heard this 1.5% impact repeated a number of times since that time even though it’s nor nearly 2 years old and a lot of things have changed since then. I’ve also heard the same statistic apply to social network sites in general and that’s definitely a stretch of the research.

If you look into the details of the research it’s done on the basis of interviewing 237 office workers and for 2009 is, in many ways, revealing an opinion for the time which still lives on today. That opinion being – while people are on Facebook they aren’t doing the work that they should, and would be doing.

My personal view is that it’s not that simple.

The first point to acknowledge is that I think for a number of people Facebook, and many other web sites for that matter, is a problem. It’s attention grabbing, it’s interesting, it’s a whole set of things that mean that it will be a productivity drain if we let it.

But my second, and more significant point, is that it’s very simplistic to assume that people are “productive” between 9:00 and 17:00 in the office location.

For starters, I don’t know many people who simply work from 9-to-5 these days, travel and collaboration requirements make this impossible for many people.

Then there’s the assumption that people are machines and are “productive” all of the time. They’re not, nor is it healthy for them to try to be. We provide facilities in offices because they are needed by the people who work there. But beyond that there are all sorts of times that could be measured as “unproductive”, but are actually times when it would be more accurate for them to be classed as “undefined productivity”. Most meetings, phone calls, coffee machine conversations, office chats could all be classed this way. it’s not clear what is being achieved in clear, unambiguous productivity terms – but they are all a necessary part of office life.

There are also a set of external distractions and activities that people already undertake during the working day. It would be interesting to know whether people who have access to Facebook have more, or less, distractions overall. I suspect it’s higher overall, but I would also expect there to be some level of offset.

Finally there’s the biggest productivity impact of all – morale. it would be interesting to know whether people feel a higher level of morale in companies that trust their staff to manage their time. I’m not sure whether lack of Facebook access would have an impact on my morale, but I do know that corporate blocking rules can have a negative impact overall. That’s not to say that corporate blocking rules are wrong, just that they have an impact.

To conclude, I don’t think that turning off access to Facebook in a corporate environment will get you a 1.5% productivity increase there are a lot of other factors to consider.

Limited Connectivity Week – Lessons Learnt

Last week was a week’s holiday for me, and I used it as an opportunity to limit my connectedness for a week.

This meant that I turned my BlackBerry off, completely.

Twitter was not updated or consulted

Facebook was ignored, apart from the updates my family gave me as part of the week’s conversations.

It couldn’t be a completely disconnected week because I had some thing I needed to do that required online access (buying beds), and I checked my personal email a couple of times, partly to get updates on the things I had ordered.

By Friday it felt good, but I was surprised by the withdrawal experience that I went through.

I have a basic mobile phone on pay-as-you-go for personal use, so that I can turn the BlackBerry off, but still be contactable by the family.

At the beginning of the week I found myself repeatedly checking this phone even though I knew that there wasn’t anything on it, and I knew there was nothing on it because I was with everyone who had the number of that phone.

When I started the laptop up I found myself going through an inbuilt routine which included checking Facebook and Twitter. I had to consciously choose not to go there.

I also found myself worrying about whether I was missing something ‘important’ on my BlackBerry. Now I’m back in the office it’s time to see whether anything was really that ‘important’ or whether it’s all blown over while I’ve been away. The two important phone calls that I’ve already had this morning would lead me to believe that things have survived just fine without me.

Going forward it’s definitely time to place some clear limits around the levels of connectedness. Prior to my holiday I was already limiting the number of updates on twitter, and I was consciously limiting the updates in my Facebook News Feed to ones that I might actually be interested in.

On the flip side, I’ve decided that there are a few places where I’m not being as vocal as I should be, and this blog is one of them.

I don’t often quote the Bible on this blog, but my Proverb for the day seems very apt:

The more talk, the less truth;
the wise measure their words.

Proverbs 10:19

I left for a while

I took a short sabbatical from twitter and facebook over the last two weeks – no updates and only the occasional message checks.

Jimmy and Granddad Explore the Lake DistrictIt was an experiment in focus. What would happen if I put it to one side and focussed those cycles on something else for a while?

When I started out on this experiment I was just going to ignore the updates, but I soon realised that I needed to be a bit more proactive because the lure was too great. This was particularly true when I was sat somewhere and my itchy fingers would get going on the BlackBerry. In the end I deleted all of the clients from all of my devices, this made the break much cleaner – and easier.

While two weeks isn’t long enough to really change habits it did help me to see areas of my life where things needed to get back into focus. One particular area was my abuse of thinking time. I hadn’t realised how much I had filled up all of the pondering time with stuff – checking twitter, reading facebook, etc..

You might have noticed that I’ve written more on this blog in the last two weeks than I have for a good while. It’s not the writing that takes the time when blogging, it’s the pondering. No pondering time meant no writing time. Creating pondering time resulted in a creation of the writing time.

My last two weeks have felt a bit like going on a nice long walk – time to think, and cogitate.

It also felt a bit like going through a form of detox.

I will be back, but I’m not sure in what form, and I may well leave again.

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