My Interest in Organisations and how Social Media Fits in [en]

[fr] Ce qui m'intéresse dans ces histoires d'organisations, et le lien avec les médias sociaux (du coup, aussi des infos sur mon intérêt pour ceux-ci).

I found these thoughts about organisations at the beginning of Here Comes Everybody fascinating: organisations and how they disfunction are a long-standing interest of mine, dating back to when I was a student with a part-time job at Orange. My initial interest was of course function rather than dysfunction. How does one make things happen in an organisation? What are the processes? Who knows what? It was the organisation as system that I found interesting.

Quickly, though, I bumped my head against things like processes that nobody knew of and nobody was following. Or processes that were so cumbersome that people took shortcuts. Already at the time, it seems I displayed a “user-oriented” streak, because my first impulse was to try to figure out what was so broken about those processes that people found it more costly to follow them than come up with workarounds. Or try to understand how we could tweak the processes so that they were usable. In reaction to which one manager answered “no, people must follow the processes”. I didn’t know it then, but I guess that was when I took my first step towards the door that would lead me out of the corporate world.

More recently, and I think I haven’t yet got around to blogging this, I have remembered that my initial very “cluetrainy” interest for the internet and blogging and social media really has to do with improving how people can relate to each other, access information, and communicate. The revelation I had at Lift’06 (yes, the very first Lift conference!) while listening to Robert Scoble and Hugh McLeod about how this blogging thing I loved so much was relevant to business was that it pushed business to change and humanised it. Blogging and corpepeak don’t mix well, blogging is about putting people in contact, and about listening to what is being said to you. As the Cluetrain Manifesto can be summarised: it’s about how the internet changes the way organisations interact with people, both outside and inside the organisation.

That is what rocks my boat. Not marketing on Facebook or earning revenue from your blog.

Again and again, when I talk to clients who are trying to understand what social media does and how to introduce it in their organisation, we realise that social media is the little piece of string you start pulling which unravels everything, from corporate culture to sometimes even the business model of the organisation. You cannot show the human faces of a company that treats its employees like robots. You cannot be “authentic” if you’re out there to screw people. You cannot say you’re listening if you’re not willing to actually listen.

Of course, there is the question of scale. I’ll get back to that. Personal doesn’t scale. Radical transparency or authenticity doesn’t scale. But your average organisation is so far off in the other direction…

I’ve realised that my interest lies more with organisations and forms of collaboration and group effort than with social media per se, which I see first and foremost as a tool, a means to an end, something which has changed our culture and society. I find ROWE and Agile super interesting and want to learn more about them. I have a long-standing interest in freelancing and people who “do things differently”. I’m interested in understanding how we can work and be happy, both. I’m also realising that I have more community management skills than I take credit for.

In the pile of books I brought up with me to the chalet, next to “Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do” by my friend Euan Semple and books around freelancing there is “Delivering Happiness“, the story of Zappos, and “One From Many“, the story of VISA, the “chaordic organisation” — and “Rework” (37signals) has now joined the ranks of the “have read” books in my bookshelves.

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Here Comes Everybody: Organisations and Transaction Costs [en]

[fr] Je lis "Here Comes Everybody" et je blogue mes notes. Un deuxième chapitre fascinant (en tous cas pour moi) sur les coûts organisationnels.

In an effort to be a better reader, here are some notes and related thoughts to my reading of Clay Shirky‘s book Here Comes Everybody (chapter 2).

Making a decision inside a large unstructured group is hopeless, as you’ve most certainly experienced if you’ve found yourself caught up in a spontaneous “dinner party group” of 15 people or so at the end of a conference (a larger group is more complex). What ends up happening is that somebody steps up and seizes power, either by dictating a venue and giving marching orders, or proposing a decision-making process for the group. If that doesn’t happen, you can bet that some group members will get tired of the situation and head off in their own separate sub-groups, in which it was possible to reach an agreement for action more easily. (I personally usually end up playing “friendly dictator”.)

“More is different” (Philip Anderson, 1972). Aggregates exhibit novel properties which their components did not have. Scale changes the nature of things. This is super important.

At some point of group size, it becomes very costly to maintain connection between each member of the group, and so the “everybody interacting with everybody” dynamic of a small group breaks down. Add more employees to a late project and it will make it even later, because more people involved means higher cost of coordination for the group (Fred Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month). But it’s an inevitable problem: large groups have to be managed in some way, and that’s why people gather together into organisations.

A hierarchical structure simplifies communication between organisation members, but also requires resources to maintain itself. This means that job number one of any organisation is self-preservation, as if it breaks down there is no way in which it can fulfil its stated mission.

Preserving the organisation requires work, and comes at a cost. It’s worth it as long as this cost is lower than the gain from having an organisation (i.e., the organisation allows us to do stuff that would not be possible in an open market of individuals, who would all have to independently agree on how to work together: higher transaction costs).

The Coasean ceiling (Ronald Coase, 1937, The Nature of the Firm): when the organisation grows so much that the cost of managing the business destroys any profit margin. There is a cost whether your hierarchy is flat or deep: if it’s flat, each manager has more subordinates, and so has to spend more time communicating with other people; if it’s deep, there are more layers, and information has to transit through more people.

The first org chart, probably: Western Railroad (McCallum, 1855 or so). It’s a management system designed, amongst other things, to produce “such information, to be obtained through a system of daily reports and checks, that will not embarrass principal officers nor lessen their influence with their subordinates.” No wonder the head so often seems disconnected from the hands and feet in the organisation!

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Blogging Tribe: A Social and Blogging Experiment Looking for Volunteers [en]

[fr] Recherche de volontaires motivés pour une expérience socio-blogueuse.

Here’s the idea: form a group of bloggers, who agree to blog regularly for a certain amount of time, and read each other.

Scale? A dozen bloggers or so. From a dozen posts a month to one a day on average. For three months (or six? or six weeks?).


One of the things I understood while reading Here Comes Everybody, and which was missing from my global thinking about the connected world we live in, is the question of scale. That with more, comes different. Small group dynamics are not the same as large group dynamics. Small networks do not behave the same as big ones. At one point power laws kick in, and large groups or networks become fundamentally “unbalanced”.

Clay talks about the early blogging communities in his book, and I’ve understood what we feel we have “lost”, we bloggers of old: we’ve lost the small group dynamics, where we all read each other and there was a ball in the air that we all kept in movement.

I’ve seen that feeling reappear during the two “Back to Blogging” challenges I threw at fellow bloggers. For the ten days the challenge lasted, we started reading each other again, responding to each other in comments and even in blog posts.

So, I’d like to do this on a slightly larger scale. Larger not by the number of people, but larger as far as the dynamics are concerned. “Back to Blogging” has made a little foam appear in the egg whites we were beating — I want to try and turn the jug that holds them upside down.

Unlike Back to Blogging where I set the rules and dived in with what amounts to “qui m’aime me suive”, I’d like us to hash out the precise details together.

If you’re interested in this experiment and contemplating taking part, please get in touch with me. I’ll set up a quick mailing-list or Facebook book so we can all discuss the specifics and get the ball rolling.

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Fear the Culture of Fear (danah boyd SXSW 2012) [en]

[fr] A écouter absolument, cette conférence donnée par danah boyd l'an dernier sur le lien entre la peur, l'économie de l'attention, les réseaux, la surcharge d'information, la transparence, et bien d'autre chose encore. Version écrite.

Danah‘s talk is titled The Power of Fear in Networked Publics. Listen to it as soon as you can. (It’s an hour long, and danah is a wonderful speaker.) Or do what I did, which is drop it into iTunes and have it come up randomly a year later when you’re listening to music.

The amount of content available fuels the attention economy, in which fear is a great tool to get people’s attention. The internet and social media increase the information overload issue (though it is not a new problem, as Anaïs Saint-Jude brilliantly explained at Lift12), thus intensifying the role of fear in our society.

Oh, and sewing machines are evil because women will spend their days rubbing their legs together.

Listen to danah. I’m going to listen again. These are complex issues and danah is absolutely great at laying out that complexity.



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Gmail: essentiel d'activer la double identification (avec téléphone) [fr]

[en] Haven't turned on Google two-factor authorization? Do it now, or you risk being the next Mat Honan.

Pour mes lecteurs plus francophones, dans la série “sécurité internet de base”, il est essentiel d’avoir pour votre e-mail non seulement un bon mot de passe, unique, et que vous ne partagez pas, mais également d’activer l’authentification en deux étapes.

C’est le genre de système qu’utilise votre e-banking depuis des lustres: pour vous connecter, vous devez donner votre mot de passe (=quelque chose que vous savez) et prouver via un code reçu par SMS que vous êtes en possession de votre téléphone mobile (=quelque chose que vous avez). Ainsi, le simple crack de votre mot de passe ne suffit plus à rentrer dans votre boîte e-mail.

Une fois activée la double authentification, Google va générer à votre demande des mots de passe à usage unique pour les services et applications que vous avez besoin de connecter à votre compte Gmail. Par exemple, votre logiciel de chat pour Google Talk, votre client e-mail sur votre ordinateur si vous en utilisez un, ou un réseau social qui voudrait accéder à vos contacts pour vous aider à démarrer.

Pas convaincu encore? Lisez Matt Cutts, patron de l’anti-webspam chez Google, qui vaporise un certain nombre de mythes (oui, si vous perdez votre téléphone, il y a quand même moyen pour vous d’accéder à votre e-mail!). Il a écrit cet article suite au hacking assez dramatique dont a été victime Mat Honan (en gros, perdu toutes ses données dans l’histoire, y compris toutes les photos de la première année de vie de sa fille). Si cette triste histoire ne vous motive pas à prendre un tout petit peu sérieusement la sécurité de votre identité en ligne… je ne peux rien faire pour vous!

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Sometimes We Need Pseudonyms [en]

[fr] Pourquoi on a besoin de l'anonymat et du pseudonymat en ligne.

Ten years ago, if I’d spent over an hour reading stuff on a website, I would probably have written a blog post about it. Not necessarily a long blog post. But I would have blogged about it.

Nowadays, I share the link on Twitter and Facebook. (I’m having trouble dragging myself to Google+, for some reason, and only just signed up for — can I please have a client that allows me to post to all four at the same time? maybe even with customized text for each, but from the same place? please?)

So today, here’s My Name Is Me. Picked up on Twitter, and I’ve already forgotten through who. Click on some names there. Read the stories.

I’m a self-confessed fan of real names (it goes way back) — but I’m by far not an absolutist. I believe in trying to live an “integrated” life, in being as whole as reasonably possible in the various aspects of my life. I’m lucky to have a life and circumstances which make that pursuit realistic. Though I have my secrets and I do value my privacy (even if it doesn’t include certain things many others would consider private) I am not in a situation where there are whole aspects of my life I need to keep from certain people. I’m straight, I don’t have an employer, I’m not in a job like teaching or being a therapist or a lawyer where my personal life could be of interest to the people I work with, I’m not well-known enough for fame (or that of others close to me) to mess up my relations with people, I’m not an abuse survivor or an activist. I have it easy.

Like many of the people sharing their stories on My Name Is Me, I don’t believe enforcing real names will eliminate bad behaviour. I think it’s reasonably legitimate for some spaces to ask people to use their most stable identity (usually their “real name”), but there are always edge cases. I also believe there is a huge difference between “anonymity” (often short-lived and slippery) and a stable pseudonymic identity accompanied by a verifiable reputation. I think such identities are fragile, but sometimes they are the less bad solution.

I started off my life online very careful (almost paranoid) about keeping my real name a secret. I was afraid. Afraid of all these “strangers” populating the internet, the weirdos I might stumble upon. After a while I chose a pseudonym which I started using (“Tara Star“) as my “real name”. Some people knew my real name, but most didn’t. I was active on Webdesign-L at the time, and remember that I began feeling increasingly uneasy that (a) all the people around me seemed to be using their civilian identity, and I was kind of “cheating” and (b) I was building a reputation for myself which was not connected to who I “really” was. That’s an important bit: Tara Star was just a buffer for me between who I was and this strange online world that still scared me. Who I was was Stephanie Booth. I took the plunge to ditch Tara and be fully Stephanie online when I registered the domain name for this blog — also realizing that the domain registration made it possible for me to be looked up.

Trolls and haters are a problem online. The fact they are often (not always) anon/pseudonymous does not mean that others don’t have valid reasons for hiding their identities, nor that they are unable to use a pseudonym responsibly.

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Pseudonyms on Facebook [en]

[fr] Vrais noms, faux noms, Facebook. Oui, je suis un peu crispée là-dessus.

I have to admit to a bit of a hang-up: I don’t like pseudonyms in real-names-only spaces.The first time I realized I disliked them in that context (and in that context only — I have no problem in general with anonymity/pseudonymity, except that it’s fragile and potentially dangerous to the one who tries to hide, and is bound to be discovered someday) a very long time ago, in another life, when I was very active on an e-mail discussion list called webdesign-L.

At the time, I was still suffering from the paranoia of the newcomer on the Internets: nobody shall know who I am, nobody shall know where I live, nobody shall know what I look like, nobody shall identify me. (Yes, my real online life started in the murky chatrooms of Chatplanet, in 98. I was completely freaked out about these “anonymous strangers”. I’ve come a long way.)

Until I registered, I used a pseudonym as my “real name” in all my online dealings: Tara Star. My coming-out as Stephanie Booth was not difficult, because by that time I had become increasingly uncomfortable about the fact that

  1. I was misleading a whole bunch of really nice people about my identity, when they were being honest about theirs
  2. I was starting to build a reputation for myself which was disconnected from my civilian identity.

So, on Facebook it’s different. The few contacts I have who use “fake names” use “obviously fake” names. I knew them offline before connecting to them on Facebook (you won’t find me connecting to people on Facebook that I don’t already know previously somehow or other, by the way).

But it bothers me that Facebook explicitly says “Real Names Please” and that not everyone plays by the rules. Now, I understand the rationale behind the need for anonymity/pseudonymity in some cases. That’s why I say I have a hang-up, because my position is not 100% coherent. It bothers me when people willfully “go against social norms”.

From a more practical point of view, it really annoys me to have to remember that this or that person is using this or that pseudonym on Facebook, when I know them under their real name in meatspace. It makes looking them up and inviting them to stuff complicated. And when they have two accounts, it’s even worse. Which of them do I invite? Thank goodness it’s only a small handful of my contacts that makes me think overtime 😉

This is an old topic for me — we discussed it at length on Spirolattic.

So, Facebook? Well, my hang-up makes it really difficult for me to say “yes” to friend requests from people who don’t use their real identity (or some minor variation thereof) on Facebook. But well, there are exceptions. So, dear friends-with-two-accounts-or-fake-names, consider what you mean to me if you’re in my contacts!

Thanks to Jon Husband for his question on Facebook, which prompted me to produce this dormant post.

#back2blog challenge (8/10):

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Drive, Practical Wisdom, Money and Congress, Alone Together [en]

[fr] Quelques lectures, vidéos, podcasts.

A few random thoughts about stuff I’ve been reading. Or maybe, random pointers to stuff I’ve been reading. Or watching.

I had a chat the other day with a friend about needing to make time for “serious reading” (that I want to do!) and we both decided to try and fit in 30 minutes of reading during lunch break when we didn’t have meetings or appointments. I think this has motivated me to get back on the podcast-listening and talk-watching track too. Interestingly, I’m seeing collisions between the various things I’m reading/listening to/watching from various sources.

Anyway. Start with Drive, the book I’m reading. It’s about motivation. I’m around page 30 so far, and it’s talking about the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation stuff I’m so interested in since I bumped into it whilst reading The How of Happiness. Now read I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave, a rather chilling account of what happens on the other end when you order stuff online (physical stuff, that is stored in warehouses, and needs to get to you). No place for intrinsic motivation of any kind in there.

And here’s a TED talk by Barry Schwartz (the guy who wrote The Paradox of Choice) on using our practical wisdom. What’s that? Quoting from memory, it’s about wanting to do the right thing, and knowing where and how to bend the rules to do the right thing. Barry gives examples of how rule-ridden our culture (particularly American culture) has become.

And in the same vein, watch Larry Lessig explain how money corrupts congress, and how it can be stopped. Sobering.

This morning I decided to listen to an RSA talk (I subscribed to their podcast ages ago but haven’t yet really listened to anything). I picked one with a title that appealed to me: Alone Together, title of a book by Sherry Turkle. She talks about two things, mainly. Robots is the second. It’s a huge topic: how willing we are to enter into relationships with machines designed to imitate the behaviours of living/sentient/caring beings — and the consequences of that.

But that’s less interesting for me right now than her thoughts on always-on mobile connectedness: smartphone in hand, we always have the option of bailing out of our lives with each other. She gives the great example of the 15-year-old birthday party. When everyone wants to leave, it gets uncomfortable. They have to talk to each other. Say that they’re leaving. Now, they just “disappear” into Facebook and avoid having to confront that uncomfortable moment.

We have this capacity to leave where we are physically to go someplace else, which is easier. And avoid facing moments where maybe we need to learn something as a human being — growing moments.

Later in the discussion, she talks about our inflated expectations of responsiveness from one another. This is a topic that’s dear to my heart. I strongly believe that we should not cave in to being “always available” and “ever responsive”. Sherry says that before e-mail, when professors were asked if they would contribute to a publication, the average response time was 3 weeks. Now it’s 1.5 days. We’re not thinking anymore. We’re responding as fast as our fingers can type on our Blackberries. She suggests trying to answer an e-mail with “I’m thinking” to see the reaction. Maybe I’ll try. 🙂

Update 16h45: oh yes, forgot this one. More hours does not mean more productivity.

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#buspeople and #trainpeople: Annoying People in Public Transport [en]

[fr] Un tumblr pour collecter automatiquement les commentaires sarcastiques au sujet de nos covoyageurs des transports publics, publiés sur Twitter avec les hashtags #buspeople ou #trainpeople.

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (I’m @stephtara) know that I regularly make snarky comments about annoying or irritating (or sometimes simply very weird) people encountered while using public transportation.

It smells like spring this morning, and I was up late last night putting together the little project that has been trotting around in my head: a tumblr blog, Annoying People in Public Transport, which collects tweets containing the #buspeople and #trainpeople hashtags.

Setting up a tumblr to capture hashtagged tweets is dead simple with ifttt — here is the recipe for the tasks I used.

So, next time you’re tempted to make a snarky comment on Twitter about a co-passenger, don’t forget your hashtag!

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Hanging out Online: Why it's Important for me [en]

[fr] Aux abonnés absents: le temps passé à trainer en ligne sans but précis. La faute à trop de travail, peut-être, à trop de structure dans mon travail, et à une fuite de l'ordinateur lorsque je cherche à me détendre. Il y a un équilibre à retrouver -- parce que trainer en ligne, c'est quand même fun, et c'est ce qui m'a amené à faire le métier que je fais!

One thing I realized shortly after writing my article on downtime is that I have stopped “hanging out online”. And I think that “downtime” activity plays a more important role in my life balance than I’d realized until now.

I think two or three things led to this.

First, I’ve had lots of work this spring (nothing new, but I like to keep repeating it). I managed to preserve most of my “off the computer” downtime, and I realize now that what I sacrificed was the aimless tinkering-chatting-reading-writing-hanging-out online.

More importantly, I started using Paymo in April to give myself an idea of how much time I’ve been spending on what — and how many hours of actual work I was doing. It’s been really useful and has helped me gather precious info on my work, but it has had a side effect: I have started thinking more about what I spend my time on, and being more “monotask” in the way I work.

When I know I have the timer running on preparing my SAWI course, for example, or working on LeWeb blogger accreditations, I don’t feel free to drift off into something else, or read an article or check out Tumblr while I’m working. This is kind of twisted, because the only person who cares how much time I spend on something in this case is me.

So, I’ve changed the way I work, and I’m not sure it’s entirely a good thing. I think I’ve lost my balance.

Using the Pomodoro Technique has made it “worse”. I mean, it has accentuated this trend. It’s been really good for my productivity, it’s been really good to help me be less stressed, and it’s been really good to help me beat my procrastinative tendancies. But I think it hasn’t been good for my overall satisfaction about my work. Something is missing — that’s what I’ve been telling people all these last months. Everything is fine with my work, I have enough of it (more than enough!), it’s interesting, but something is not quite right.

And I think that part of this “not quite right” is that I’ve become too focused on just getting the “work work” done (the one that pays), and I’ve neglected the fun part of work, which is my interest for the online world and the people who inhabit it. I also suspect this can have something to do with my lack of blogging — there hasn’t been much to feed that part of me recently.

So, maybe I have to come back in part to how I was working before. Find a balance. This is not a new preoccupation of mine: for a few years now I’ve been lamenting the fact that I’m not managing to set aside enough time to tinker online, write, do research. But I think it’s become more extreme since I started focusing more exclusively on my client work.

Maybe what I need to do is do tomatoes in the morning, and work more “loosely” in the afternoon (or the opposite). Tinker, get stuff done, write, whatever I feel like doing (including dealing with emergencies or “too much work” if I feel the daily rythm of morning tomatoes isn’t cutting it). Maybe I need to have “tomato days” and “non-tomato days”. Maybe I need to watch less TV (haha!) in the evening and spend more time hanging out online on Google+. Maybe I need to find a way to allow myself to multitask more (!) when I’m working. I’m not sure what the answer is yet.

What hanging out online does for me is the following, as far as I can make out:

  • gives my brain time to wander around (cf. Downtime post)
  • allows me to keep in touch with what’s going on in the social media world, and the people who are part of it
  • gives me food for thought a something to do with those thoughts (if all I do is work and consume fiction, chances are I won’t have much to blog about, right?)
  • it’s a space to tinker with tech and new toys (something I like doing per se)

And more importantly (this is something I think I’ve already written about somewhere regarding blogging and its relation to my work), “online” is a space I enjoy. I like being there. It’s part of the reason I made my job about it. So, just as it is a warning light if my job prevents me from blogging, it’s a warning light if the way I organize my work life prevents me from hanging out online.

Now, as I’ve already said: it’s all a question of balance. Spending my whole life tinkering online and working does not work either.

But these last months (and maybe years), the balance has been off. And right now, I think I’m starting to get unstuck, and am on my way to finding (building?) more balance.

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