Vindication and Unintentional Plagiarism [en]

[fr] Je retrouve dans Here Comes Everybody plein d'idées "à moi". Sont-ce vraiment les miennes? D'où viennent-elles? Peu importe, au final. Un livre dont je recommande chaudement la lecture.

I’m reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. I should have read it a long time ago, like most unread books on my bookshelf. It’s about the behavioural and social change brought about by social tools. Each chapter is making me go “yes, wow!” and I get a sense of vindication, because so much of what Shirky so clearly explains is stuff that I’ve been saying for years. It feels like “he agrees with me”.

The truth is certainly more complex. These “theories” that I’ve come up with over the years to explain the online connected world to outsiders, and which feel like mine, well, I didn’t conjure them out of thin air. We all know about unintentional plagiarism, don’t we? Maybe I even read them on Shirky’s blog, once upon a time. Or heard them from somebody who read the book, or knows him.

Though Clay Shirky and I have never met, we have many friends and acquaintances in common. The Acknowledgements section at the end of his book is so full of people I’ve met and spoken with (when they’re not simply friends) that it’s a little surreal. I’m offline, or I’d check on Facebook and see how many contacts we have in common. Fair to say that we’re part of a tightly connected area of the network. (One notable difference, amongst others, though: Shirky took the trouble to write a book :-))

Another possibility is that these are “ambient ideas”. I’ve forgotten the reference for this (but Scott Berkun‘s book The Myths of Innovation almost certainly talks about it), but innovation is generally not an isolated event. The climate is ripe, and it is not rare that more than one person comes up with a new idea around the same time. These are possibly the “collective theories” in certain circles we are part of. It’s at the same time fascinating and frustrating that it is not possible to trace precisely how ideas travel through the network.

It doesn’t really matter, though. It feels good to see in print what I’ve been thinking and saying for years, even if I don’t remember how I came to these conclusions. Allow me to risk basking in the warm fuzzy glow of confirmation bias for a while.

What if Generalist vs. Expert was a Mistake? [en]

[fr] L'expertise peut être alimentée par une connaissance exhaustive d'un seul domaine, ou par une connaissance approfondie de multiples domaines. Le généraliste a également une connaissance de multiples domaines, mais elle est superficielle. On a tendance à considérer que n'importe qui ayant des connaissances dans plusieurs domaines différents ne peut être un expert -- et c'est à mon sens une erreur. L'expertise n'est pas obligatoirement liée à la spécialisation. On peut être un expert dans de nombreux domaines -- un poly-expert plutôt qu'un mono-expert.

First of all, I urge you to go and read my friend Stephanie Troeth‘s article “The generalist’s dilemma“. We had a short chat a day or two ago about the difficulty we multi-talented people face making a decision about “what do to with our lives”. I touch upon this subject a little in my recent article “What Do We Call Ourselves?“, actually, but from a slightly different angle.

“Jack of all trades, master of none.” It rings in our heads like an accusation, or worse, a verdict. The message is clear: the more varied your interests, the more diverse your talents, the less authority and expertise you can expect to have in those areas. If you’re a generalist, then clearly, you cannot be the expert we’re looking for.

I think this way of thinking is (at least partly) mistaken. Even if my areas of expertise are varied, for example, I can be an expert on the question of teenagers and social media. I will be a different kind of expert than the person who devotes their career exclusively to this question, of course — but an expert nonetheless.

As Stephanie’s post shows very clearly, skills and expertise in various areas tend to reinforce and feed each other. An obvious example of that in my career (obvious to me, maybe not to everybody) is how my initial expertise in Indian culture and history of religions helps shape me as an expert of social media and online culture. Notice how I slipped the word culture in there? That’s the kind of “expert” I am in the field. I’m not the same kind of “expert” as somebody who has a marketing or business background.

I don’t want to discount the merits of specialization — but as a process rather than an end. My teacher at university used to tell us how important it was for us to specialize in one of the “major religions” our curriculum offered us: “if you have done it once, if you have once been through the process of acquiring deep expertise on one precise topic, you can do it again and again for others; if you just keep skimming the surface, you will never learn how to delve deep into anything.”

Does this sound in contradiction to what I’ve been saying above? It doesn’t to me. You see, I think there are two kinds of “generalists”:

  • those who have acquired expertise or specialized in a wide variety of subjects
  • those who touch upon a wide variety of subjects because they only ever skim the surface.

It is a fatal mistake to confuse the two of them. And maybe we need different names to distinguish between the two.

The idea that a generalist has “superficial understanding of everything” and can in fact only be jack of all trades, master of none, is what makes “generalist” a pejorative label — what makes people say “oh, we want an expert, not a “generalist”. What they maybe don’t realize is that some people who end up calling themselves “generalists” are in fact “poly-experts” (or “multi-experts”) as opposed to “mono-experts”.

The mono-expert builds his expertise on digging deeper and deeper and acquiring an exhaustive knowledge of his subject. He runs the risk of becoming blind to what is outside his specialty, or viewing the world through the distorted glasses of excessive specialization.

The poly-expert builds his expertise on digging again and again in different fields. In addition to being an expert in the various fields he has explored, the poly-expert is an expert as digging and acquiring expertise. By creating links between multiple fields of expertise, he avoids the pitfalls of excessive specialization — but on the other hand, he is often recognized as a superficial generalist rather than a kind of super-expert (because “you can’t be an expert in all those things, can you?”)

The generalist (superficial type) is the one who has studied “a bit of everything”. For lack of inclination, ability, or simply appropriate curriculum, the generalist has never gone through the process of digging deep enough to acquire proper expertise. Shallow understanding can be more dangerous than no understanding at all, and this profile is one that nobody actually wants to fit.

There might be more to investigate about the “pure/superficial generalist” profile’s assets, though — see “What Specifically do Generalists do?” on the Creative Generalist blog; but are we talking about the same “generalist”? Is this the right word to use here? Is my threefold typology leaving anything out? I feel like I’m painting an all-negative picture of the superficial generalist, and I’m not really happy with that. (For example, think of medicine, where “general medicine” — at least in French — is a specialty.)

In any case, framing the debate as “knows one thing = specialist” vs. “knows many things = generalist” completely misses the fact that the degree of expertise has little to do with the breadth of it. What’s important is if somebody has expertise or not, and that is not measured by the absence or presence of knowledge in other fields.

Expertise, for me, means that:

  • you know more (quantity) in that field than most people (you’re in the top n%)
  • you can make sense of what you know, and know what you’re talking about
  • you know where the limits of your expertise is
  • your bring value to others that is magnitudes above what the “average joe” with some hobby-knowledge of the field would

(This was off the top of my head and might need another post to be dealt with properly — defining expertise.)

For some people, expertise will be nourished by comparable expertise in other fields (poly-experts). For others, it will be nourished by exhaustive knowledge of a single field (mono-experts). Both are experts. It’s then a question of personal preference which one to be or hire. However, given the prejudices against generalists and “jack of all trades”, the latter is easier to market than the former.

Too Many People [en]

[fr] J'ai atteint un point où je n'ai plus envie de faire de nouvelles connaissances. Je n'arrive déjà pas à voir les gens qui me sont chers autant que je voudrais. En ligne, les relations "délicates" (asymétriques, par exemple) sont plus faciles à gérer qu'hors ligne. De plus, les outils de "réseautage en ligne" nous aident à rester en contact avec plus de personnes qu'il ne nous serait normalement possible. Quand tout ça passe hors ligne, cela frise l'overdose.

This is a post in which I expect to be misunderstood, judged, and which will probably upset some. But it’s something that needs to be spoken about, because I’m certain I’m not the only one going through this, and I think it’s strongly related to what changes the internet is bringing into our lives when it comes to relating to people.

I’ve argued many times that online relationships and behaviors in general reproduce what goes on offline, so it may seem that I’m contradicting myself somewhat. But I think it’s also clear for everybody in this space that technology does change the way we live with others. Right now I see that our world is changing — it’s a bit blurry ahead, and actually I’m quite scared to see more clearly — and in our lifetimes, chances are the nature of human relationships will be deeply impacted by the technologies we are using and developing.

If all this doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. I’m not sure I understand what I’m saying myself. These might just be the tired rantings of a burnt-out and frustrated node in the network.

“Being an online person”, as I call it, means two things:

  • there are people out there who know you, sometimes quite well, but that you have never heard of
  • the “presence” dimension of our social tools allow you to keep in touch with more people (and better) than you would be able to offline

With their consequences, when your “online social life” goes offline:

  • micro-celebrity, micro-fame, fans
  • more relationships to nurture than the limited space and time permits

Our online social network does not necessarily translate well offline.

Let’s have a look at a few aspects of our relationships with others that we are maybe not necessarily the most proud of:

  • we like (or even love) some people more than others — or perhaps simply differently
  • we find some people more interesting than others
  • some people we are happy to spend long periods of time with, but infrequently — if we saw them every day they would drive us up the wall
  • some people we are happy to see a little each day, but would not want to spend a whole afternoon with
  • we sometimes want to spend time with one person (or some people) at the exclusion of others (others who can be people we care about, too)
  • we keep in touch with some people or are nice to them because they are useful to us
  • we like some people less than they like us (and vice-versa)
  • some people are business contacts to us, but would like to be our personal friend (or even get into our pants)

I think that if you look honestly, you will recognize yourself here. These facts about our social life are uncomfortable to deal with, and awkward. We don’t like thinking about them, much less talking about them. And we very rarely deal with them directly in the relationships they apply to.

Offline, we deal with a lot of this social awkwardness by avoiding it. This is why I argue that contact tagging, if done to structure our personal social network, must remain a private matter. We don’t tell some people certain things. We don’t mention that we’re meeting with Judy after lunch. We act a bit more distant with Tom than with Peter, hoping he’ll “get the message”. We tell Susie we’re too busy to see her, but drop everything when Mike invites us on a date.

Online, it’s even easier. We don’t respond to IMs or e-mails. We read certain blogs but not others. We chat absent-mindedly with Joe who is telling us his life-story, while we have a heart-to-heart discussion with Jack. We mark our status as DND but still respond to our best friend. We receive Twitter notifications on our phone from a select few, and keep a distracted eye on others’ updates. We lie more easily.

So, online, we actually have more freedom of movement (mainly because our emotional reactions are not so readily readable on the moment) to deal with some of these “awkward relationships” than offline — particularly, I would say, what I’d call the asymmetrical ones. From a networking point of view, being online is a huge advantage: the technology allows you to “stay in touch” with people who are geographically estranged from you, with a greater number of people than you could actually manage offline (“continuous partial friendship“), and it also allows you to keep in your network people who would probably not be in your offline circle, because it helps you tone down relationship awkwardness.

Conferences have lost their magic for me. I know, I know, I’m coming to this 18 months after everybody I know (I mean, I know I’m not alone and this is a normal process — but I’m still interested in analysing it). The first conferences I went to were bloody exciting. I got to meet all these people who were just names in my online universe, or with whom I’d been chatting for months or years, or whose blog I’d been reading in awe for ages. I made a lot of friends. (Maybe they wouldn’t agree, but that’s what it was like for me.) I met many people that I found interesting, likeable, wonderful, even. Some of them who also seemed to appreciate me back (as far as I can tell).

Over the last six months, conferences have become more and more frustrating. I’m speaking only of the social/networking aspect here. A dozen if not twenty people I really like are in town, sometimes more. Getting to see them offline is a rare occasion for me, and I’d like to spend half a day with each of them. But there is no time for that. People are here, and gone. They also have their other friends to see, which might not be mine.

To some, maybe, I’m “just another fan” — that I can live with, even if nobody likes being “just another fan”. But does one have to make conversation and appreciate every reader of one’s blog? If you like somebody’s blog, does that automatically mean they’re going to like you? Find your presence or conversation interesting? The hard reality of celebrity and fandom, even micro, is that the answer is “no”. It doesn’t mean that as a fan, I’m not an interesting person in my own right. It doesn’t mean that if I got to spend enough time with the person I’m fan of, they wouldn’t appreciate my company and find it enriching. But the fact I’m a fan, or a reader, doesn’t earn me any rights.

And increasingly, I’ve noted over the four or five last conferences I attended that there seem to be more people who want to get to know me than people I want to get to know. Or people who are interested in me for business reasons, but of the type where they get something out of me, and I don’t get much out of them. Or people who have been reading my blog for ages and are happy to be able to talk to me, but I know nothing of them.

I’ve reached a point where I don’t want any more people. I can’t keep up with my people, to start with. I feel spread too thin. I want to deepen relationships, not collect superficial ones. Contacts are useful for business, and though I’ve said many a time that the line between business and personal is more and more blurred, business contacts do not have to become personal friends. I know there are lots of wonderful people out there I don’t know. Lots of wonderful people I’ve maybe brushed aside or pushed away when suffering from “people overload”, when all I want to do is climb into my cave and stay there.

But you know, there are way too many great, interesting, fascinating people in the world to give them all the attention they deserve. Even if the world, here, is just “Web2.0-land”. But there is also a limit to how many meaningful conversations one can have in a day, and to how many meaningful relationships one can fit in a life. Those limits are personal. They vary from person to person. Some have them low, some have them high. But when the limit is reached, it’s reached.

So at some point, I need to choose who I spend my time with. In a very selfish way, I choose to give priority to the people in my life that I care for, and who bring me something. I’m there for me first, others after. I consider that one can only truly give and bring value to others when it is not at one’s own expense. I think this is valid in the economy of social relationships too. Being spread too thin impairs my ability to care — and I don’t want that.

Choosing who I spend my time with online is rather easy. I can tell the umpteenth guy who wants to “be friends” with me on IM that I have enough friends, I’m not looking for more, don’t chat with people I don’t know, and really can’t chat with him now. If he insists, I can ask him to leave me alone, and tell him that if he doesn’t, I’m going to have to block him. I can keep him out.

Offline, in a conference, it’s way more difficult. Maybe we need to take inspiration from Aram Bartholl and hang status messages around our necks, or chat windows (with curtains?) that we can close. I’m kidding, I honestly don’t think there is a real solution apart from being honest — in a socially acceptable and non-rejecting way (easier said than done).

I think we need more awareness of the complications offline to online transitions bring about. Maybe we’re going to have to start being explicit about these “social awkwardnesses” that I mentioned above — because changing the setting from online to offline makes it much more difficult to resolve them by ignoring them.

We’ve all been through the very unpleasant experience of being “stuck” in a conversation we don’t find interesting, but which is obviously fascinating for the other party. It happens even with our friends: I’m talking with Jill, and hear with my spare ear that Bill and Kate are talking about something much more interesting to me, but I can’t just dump Jill, can I? But what if Jill is somebody I’ve met 3 minutes ago — does that change anything? And of course, this dreadful thought: heck, could it be that I’m his/her Jill? Have I been the dreadful boring person one tries to shake off, without noticing?

These are human problems — they’re not technological. I feel I’m getting tired now and before I ramble too much (I feel I’m not very coherent anymore), I’ll don my flame-retardant suit (you never know) and hit publish. I’m looking forward to reading your reactions — whether you agree or disagree with me, of course.

Diving Into Something New [en]

[fr] Pour se familiariser avec un sujet nouveau, il faut lire, et même si on ne comprend pas tout, continuer à lire. Au bout d'un moment, les choses commencent à tomber en place, et on peut reprendre avec plus de succès les premiers textes que l'on avait compris que partiellement.

I remember very clearly when I understood this: I was working on my coursework about gnosticism. I didn’t know anything about the subject and had a pile of about 10 books to go through.

I started reading, and felt completely lost: I couldn’t really understand much. But by the time I reached the middle of the pile of books, things started to make sense. I went back to the first books, and they were making sense too.

To learn about something new, one method is to dive in, and just read on even if you don’t understand. At some point, it will sink in, come together, and you’ll start to get it.

Something about Agile popped up this morning when I clicked my Google Reader “Next” bookmarklet this morning. This isn’t the first time I hear about Agile, and I have a rough idea what it is, but I thought that I should probably read up a bit on it. So I’m reading this case study, even though not everything makes sense. At some point, it will. I’m just starting.

Note: don’t misunderstand. I’m not heading for a career change into software development. I just want to understand more.

Comment se faire connaître comme indépendant [fr]

[en] I'm often asked how I made myself known as a freelancer. I was lucky enough to have quite a bit of coverage, but when you look closely, the way I got people to find me was through my blog.

Start blogging about your passion and demonstrate your expertise on your blog. The rest will follow.

Histoire de combattre la paralysie du blogueur voici un petit billet « sur le vif ». Il est fréquent qu’on me demande comment j’ai fait pour me mettre à mon compte et devenir indépendante. (Mon site professionnel, vers lequel je viens de faire un lien, a grand besoin d’être remis à jour, mais allez quand même jeter un coup d’oeil.)

Il y a près de dix-huit mois, j’ai raconté un peu mes débuts dans l’émission « Déclics » de la Radio Suisse Romande. Vous pouvez probablement encore écouter ce que j’ai dit à l’époque.

En fait, c’est assez simple. En l’an 2000, j’ai un peu par hasard ouvert un blog, dans lequel je parlais de tout ce qui me chantait. Je pense que si on relit maintenant ces sept années d’écriture, on doit pouvoir voir comment mes intérêts ont évolué. Une des choses — parmi d’autres — qui m’intéressait, c’était l’intersection de la technologie d’Internet et des relations humaines. Les blogs tombent en plein là-dedans.

Petit à petit, alors que j’étais plutôt récalcitrante au départ, j’ai commencé à faire ce que l’on appelait du « metablogging » : je bloguais à propos du « phénomène blog ». Par ailleurs, mon blog gagnait gentiment en popularité. J’ai aussi créé le premier annuaire de blogs suisses.

Lorsque les premiers journalistes romands ont commencé à s’intéresser aux blogs, il n’ont pas tardé à s’adresser à moi (vu ma présence en ligne assez étendue, je n’étais pas très difficile à trouver) — d’une part en tant que blogueuse, mais d’autre part et assez rapidement en tant que personne qui y connaissait quelque chose aux blogs. J’ai eu droit à un véritable cercle vertueux en ce qui concerne ma présence dans la presse. Je suis tout à fait consciente qu’il y a là-dedans une bonne part de « au bon endroit au bon moment », et que les médias ont beaucoup aidé à me faire connaître du public.

Peu après, on m’a contacté pour me demander de faire une première conférence. J’ai rapidement mis en ligne un site Internet professionnel dans lequel j’annonçais quel genre de services j’étais en mesure de fournir. Entre le bouche à oreille, la presse, et surtout mon blog, la quantité de mandats a doucement augmenté durant la première année, jusqu’à ce qu’elle devienne suffisante pour que j’envisage de mettre entièrement à mon compte et de quitter complètement l’enseignement.

Comme je dis souvent, tout cela s’est fait « presque malgré moi ».

Si on me demande conseil, j’en ai un : bloguer, bloguer, bloguer.

Je sais que mon cas est un peu particulier : une partie de ce que je mets à disposition de mes clients, c’est mon expertise sur les blogs. Et j’utilise mon blog pour la démontrer.

Même si votre domaine d’expertise n’est pas les blogs, vous pouvez utiliser votre blog pour mettre en avant cette expertise. C’est l’outil idéal pour cela : relativement simple à utiliser, et qui permet une documentation au jour le jour de vos expériences, découvertes, réflexions et recherches dans le domaine qui vous passionne au point que vous avez décidé d’en faire votre métier.

Peu de gens aujourd’hui soutiendront qu’on peut se passer d’avoir un site Web si l’on se lance comme indépendant. Et en général, on désire que ce site Web soit bien référencé. Les blogs sont extrêmement bien référencés dans les moteurs de recherche : la page d’accueil est mise à jour à chaque fois que vous publiez un nouvel article, chaque article a sa page propre, vous encouragez autrui à faire des liens vers votre contenu, et l’outil que vous utilisez a été conçu pour faciliter le travail des moteurs de recherche.

En bloguant, vous augmentez de façon importante votre visibilité sur Internet, et mettez sur pied du même coup une documentation fantastique de votre domaine d’expertise et de vos compétences. Pas mal, côté marketing, non ? Et le blog étant un extraordinaire outil de réseautage en ligne, il vous aidera également à rentrer en contact avec les personnes qui ont des intérêts similaires aux vôtres : des « collègues », des partenaires, des passionnés, et bien entendu… Des futurs clients.

En pratique ? Vous créez un un blog chez (c’est tout simple à utiliser), ouvrez un compte chez Flickr (attention à la prononciation) pour héberger vos images ou photos (peu importe le domaine dans lequel vous vous lancez, il y aura des illustrations d’une façon ou d’une autre). Le compte illimité chez Flickr coûte $ 25, utiliser son propre nom de domaine pour son blog $ 10, et avoir un look personnalisé pour son blog (autre que la cinquantaine de mises en page disponibles gratuitement) $ 15, mais tout cela est optionnel.

Donc, pour pas un sou, vous pouvez avoir entre les mains un outil de communication marketing très puissant. Il « suffit » de l’alimenter !

Petite page de pub — et très franchement, je n’ai pas commencé à écrire cet article avec l’idée de finir comme ça, du tout. L’utilisation de base du blog, d’un point de vue technique, et simple. C’est une chose qui fait sa force. Les difficultés qui peuvent se présenter sont d’ordre rédactionnelles et culturelles. Il est possible et réaliste pour quelqu’un qui se met à son compte d’apprendre tout ça sur le tas. Si votre temps est compté, par contre, ou si vous désirez vous donner les moyens de tirer le maximum de profit du média conversationnel qu’est le blog, cela vous tout à fait la peine d’investir une partie de notre budget marketing dans une formation à cet outil. Dans ce cas, bien sûr, vous savez à qui vous adresser : c’est tout à fait le genre de chose que je fais. Fin de la page de pub !

My Twitter Usage Answers [en]

[fr] Voici les réponses que j'ai données à danah boyd (chercheuse dans le domaine des espaces numériques) suite au questionnaire sur Twitter qu'elle a envoyé à ses "Twitter-friends". Le questionnaire est ouvert à tous si vous désirez lui envoyer vos réponses (mais en anglais, elle ne parle pas français!)

Yesterday, danah sent me and a bunch of other Twitter users a few questions to answer about our Twitter usage. Here are my answers to her questions.

1 Why do you use Twitter? What do you like/dislike about it?

Twitter helps me stay connected to my “tribe”. I get little snippets
from them about what’s going on in their lives or minds, and they get
the same from me. It gives me the same kind of “in touch” feeling as
hanging out in an IRC channel, but with the added bonus that it’s “an
IRC channel populated by my IM buddylist” (well, not exactly of
course, not everybody is on Twitter, but close enough). And it’s IRC
with permalinks.

I can dump thoughts of the moment into it which are two short for a
blog post, and find them again later (micro-blogging). It’s an easy
way to let people know what I’m upto, as I publish my feed on my blog.

I like the people who hang out on Twitter. Most of “my important
online people” (people I like, those who count, in my world) are
there. I like being able to send messages to Twitter whether I’m
online or offline. I like the 140 character limit.

I don’t like the current “all or nothing” way of dealing with people
you follow. It makes getting twitters on my phone impossible, there
are too many of them. I’d like to be able to define groups, and
follow/unfollow certain groups easily on my phone. I don’t really like
the “all or nothing” privacy system: sometimes there is one message
I’d like to show only my friends, and not publish on my website like
the rest of my twitter stream. Or show a group of friends.

Oh, and I don’t like that direct twitters almost systematically come
up as two text messages on my phone.

But these things are are missing are “nice to haves” for me. What I
like most is that twitter sets out to do one thing (let you send short
status messages), and does it (in my opinion) pretty well.

2 Who do you think is reading your Tweets? Is this the audience you want? Why/why not? Tell me anything you think of relating to the audience for your Tweets.

At the beginning I kept my twitters/Tweets private. It felt too
IRC-like for me to make public. But then I realised that I wanted to
include the feed on my site, and that for that I had to go public. I
had a good think about this, also because I realised that if I started
out private, I was going to put private stuff in Twitter, and that
would prevent me from going public in future, as it would reveal my
past private twitters. So I decided the “safer” option was to go
public straight away (make sense?)

So, my main, most active audience is the people who are following me
on Twitter. I know many of them (my “friends”) but there are also many
I don’t know (“fans”?!). As my Twitter feed is published on my blog, I
know anybody who reads my blog or lands there can read them.

My attitude towards twittering (what do I twitter? what don’t I?) is
the same as with blogging: I assume everyone and anyone can read my
twitters, or is likely to at some point, whether friend, stranger, or
as-of-today-offline-person. So I make sure I’m reasonably comfortable
with anybody reading what I twitter, and balance risks when I’m saying
things about people. I’m aware that things I send to twitter have less
visibility for the “non 2.0” crowd, so I know I can get away with
certain things, even though the risk of being read is there.

I’m more “personal” in my Facebook status, for example — because I
know that (normally) future clients are not my friends on Facebook.
But I assume future clients read my blog 😉

As I mentioned in reply to your first question, I think selective
privacy would be a great thing for Twitter. Maybe I’d like my twitters
to be public by default, but every once in a while I’d like to send a
twitter which is visible only to my friends, or (if there is some kind
of grouping feature) to the group of people I’ve tagged “my

3 How do you read others’ Tweets? Do you read all of them? Who do you read/not read and why? Do you know them all?

I skim twitters of the people I’m following, at regular intervals
during the day. Sometimes, I’ll click on a single person’s Twitter
page and read the last 10-20 they sent. There are a few people I’m
very close to for which I’ll do that a few times a day.

I usually follow people I know (and not strangers), though by the
magic of one-sided conversations on Twitter, I have come to add people
who were friends with a friend of mine (one could say we were
twitter-introduced), and who have since then become “my friends”.
There are a few people I follow “as a fan” — I wouldn’t expect them
to follow me back — but those are not the most important people in my

4 What content do you think is appropriate for a Tweet? What is inappropriate? Have you ever found yourself wanting to Tweet and then deciding against it? Why?

I guess my answer to the second question is also relevant here. My
twitters are public, so I’m not going to twitter stuff I would not
generally consider “blog-safe” (ie, I don’t speak about my love life,
I don’t comment on arguments I might be having with people who are
close to me, I’m quite careful when speaking of others in general, and
I don’t usually give details of my last visit at the doctor’s).

So, yes, of course I’ve found myself wanting to send something to
twitter and deciding against it — just like it happens every now and
again with blogging, on IRC, or in a conversation with a friend.
Sometimes I decide it is best not to say what I am tempted to say,
because it is not appropriate for this situation/relationship/medium.
But it’s not an attitude I relate to Twitter as such.

5 Are your Tweets public? Why/why not? How do you feel about people you don’t know coming across them? What about people you do know?

They’re public, for the reasons I explained in answer to question 2. I
adapt my twittering so that I’ll be comfortable with the audience it
technically makes available (ie, “everyone”, strangers and friends —
online or off — alike). Just as with my blogging.

6 What do i need to know about why Twitter is/is not working for you or your friends?

I’ve heard quite a few complaints about people who twitter a lot
(which can be me, on some days). I think the ability to be more
selective about whose twitters one receives on phone/im could help
with that (it’s already possible to unfollow a person from the phone,
but it’s a rather drastic “general” action, instead of saying “I’m
following him, but don’t give me his twitters on my phone, thanks”.

I think it works because it’s simple.

I think it “doesn’t work” for many people before they ever start using
it because it’s hard to “get”. Many people out there don’t “get it”,
because they reduce it to some kind of totally egocentric
micro-blogging spewing messages which have no value to the world. So
it can be rather hard to bring in people who are not familiar with
online presence.

English Only: Barrier to Adoption [en]

Foreword: this turned into a rather longer post than I had expected. The importance of language and localization online is one of my pet topics (I’ve just decided that it would be what I’d talk about at BlogCamp, rather than teenagers and stuff), so I do tend to get carried away a little.

I was surprised last night to realise that this wasn’t necessarily obvious — so I think it’s probably worth a blog post.

The fact a service is in English only is a showstopper for many non-native speakers, hence a barrier to wider adoption in Europe.

But doesn’t everybody speak English, more or less? Isn’t it the lingua franca of today that everybody speaks? It isn’t. At least not in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and I’m certain there are many other places in Europe where the situation is similar.

Come and spend a little time in Lausanne, for example, and try communicating in English with the man on the street. Even if many people have done a couple of years of English at school, most have never had any use for it after that and have promptly forgotten it. German is a way more important “foreign language” around here, as it is the linguistic majority in Switzerland, and most administrative centers of big companies (and the government) are in the German-speaking part of the country (which doesn’t mean that everybody speaks German, either).

The people who are reasonably comfortable with English around here will most often be those who have taken up higher academic studies, particularly in scientific subjects (“soft” and “hard” science alike).

And if I’m the person who comes to your mind when you think “Swiss”, think again — my father is British, I was born in England, went to an English medium school and spoke English at home until I was 8, conversed regularly with English-speaking grandparents during my growing years, and never stopped reading in English: all that gave me enough of a headstart that even though my English had become very rusty at the end of my teens, I dove into the English-speaking internet with a passion, and spent an anglophone year in India. So, no. I’m not your average Lausanne-living French-speaker. I’m a strange bilingual beast.

Imagine somebody whose native language is not English, even though they may theoretically know enough English to get around if you parachuted them into London. (Let’s forget about the man on the street who barely understands you when you ask where the station is.) I like to think of my (step-)sister as a good test-case (not that I want to insist on the “step-“, but it explains why she isn’t bilingual). She took up the “modern languages” path at school, which means she did German, English, and Italian during her teenage years, and ended up being quite proficient in all three (she’s pretty good with languages). She went to university after that and used some English during her studies. But since then, she honestly hasn’t had much use for the language. She’ll read my blog in English, can converse reasonably comfortably, but will tend to watch the TV series I lend her in the dubbed French version.

I’m telling you this to help paint a picture of somebody which you might (legitimately) classify as “speaks English”, but for whom it represents an extra effort. And again, I’d like to insist, my sister would be very representative of most people around here who “speak English but don’t use it regularly at work”. That is already not representative of the general population, who “did a bit of English at school but forgot it all” and can barely communicate with the lost English-speaking tourist. Oh, and forget about the teenagers: they start English at school when they’re 13, and by the time they’re 15-16 they might (if they are lucky) have enough knowledge of it to converse on everyday topics (again: learning German starts a few years before that, and is more important in the business world). This is the state of “speaking English” around here.

A service or tool which is not available in French faces a barrier to adoption in the Suisse Romande on two levels:

  • first of all, there are people who simply don’t know enough English to understand what’s written on the sign-up page;
  • second, there are people who would understand most of what’s on the sign-up page, but for whom it represents and extra effort.

Let’s concentrate on the second batch. An *extra effort”?! Lazy people! Think of it. All this talk about making applications more usable, about optimizing the sign-up process to make it so painless that people can do it with their eyes closed? Well, throw a page in a foreign language at most normal people and they’ll perceive it as an extra difficulty. And it may very well be the one that just makes them navigate away from the page and never come back. Same goes for using the service or application once they have signed up: it makes everything more complicated, and people anticipate that.

Let’s look at some examples.

The first example isn’t exactly about a web service or application, but it shows how important language is for the adoption of new ideas (this isn’t anything groundbreaking if you look at human history, but sometimes the web seems to forget that the world hasn’t changed that much…). Thanks for bearing with me while I ramble on.

In February 2001, I briefly mentioned the WaSP Browser Push and realised that the French-speaking web was really “behind” on design and web standards ressources. I also realised that although there was interest for web standards, many French-speaking people couldn’t read the original English material. This encouraged me to blog in French about it, translate Zeldman’s article, launching the translation site in the process., and the associated mailing-list, followed a year or so later by OpenWeb, eventually became a hub for the budding francophone web standards community, which is still very active to this day.

(What happened with the Swiss Blog Awards is in my opinion another example of how important language issues are.)

Back to web applications proper. Flickr is an application I love, but I have a hard time getting people to sign up and use it, even when I’ve walked them through the lengthy Yahoo-ID process., on the other hand, exists in French, and I can now easily persuade my friends and clients to open blogs there. There is a strong French-speaking WordPress community too. A few years ago, when the translation and support were not what they are now, a very nice little blogging tool named DotClear became hugely popular amongst francophone bloggers (and it still is!) in part because it was in French when other major blogging solutions were insufficient in that respect.

Regarding WordPress, I’d like to point out the community-driven translation effort to which everybody can contribute. Such an open way of doing things has its pitfalls (like dreadful, dreadful translations which linger on the home page until somebody comes along to correct them) but overall, I think the benefits outweigh the risks. In almost no time, dozens of localized versions can be made available, maintained by those who know the language best.

Let’s look at teenagers. When MySpace was all that was being talked about in the US, French-speaking teenagers were going wild on skyblog. MySpace is catching up a bit now because it also exists in French. Facebook? In English, nobody here has heard of it. Live Messenger aka MSN? Very much in French, unlike ICQ, which is only used here by anglophile early adopters.

Skype and GMail/GTalk are really taking off here now that they are available in French.

Learning to use a new service, or just trying out the latest toy, can be challenging enough an experience for the average user without adding the extra hurdle of having to struggle with an unfamiliar language. Even though a non-localized service like Flickr may be the home to various linguistic groups, it’s important to keep in mind that their members will tend to be the more “anglophone” of this language group, and are not representative.

The bottom line is that even with a lot of encouragement, most local people around here are not going to use a service which doesn’t talk to them in their language.

9:52 Afterthought credit:

I just realised that this article on why startups condense in America was the little seed planted a few days ago which finally brought me to writing this post. I haven’t read all the article, but this little part of it struck me and has been working in the background ever since:

What sustains a startup in the beginning is the prospect of getting their initial product out. The successful ones therefore make the first version as simple as possible. In the US they usually begin by making something just for the local market.

This works in America, because the local market is 300 million people. It wouldn’t work so well in Sweden. In a small country, a startup has a harder task: they have to sell internationally from the start.

The EU was designed partly to simulate a single, large domestic market. The problem is that the inhabitants still speak many different languages. So a software startup in Sweden is still at a disadvantage relative to one in the US, because they have to deal with internationalization from the beginning. It’s significant that the most famous recent startup in Europe, Skype, worked on a problem that was intrinsically international.

Steph+Suw Podcast: First! [en]

[fr] Suw et moi avons enfin enregistré le fameux podcast-conversation dont nous parlons depuis notre première rencontre, en mai 2004. C'est en anglais et c'est assez long, mais on s'en est pas trop mal sorties pour une première!

Each time Suw and I meet, we talk about recording a podcast together. We met for the first time in June 2004, and if I believe the Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts I wrote a little less than a year later, that was indeed when we first started talking about using audio to record conversations.

I’m definitely sure that we talked about it at BlogTalk 2. I don’t think Skype was in the air then, but we talked about hooking up our phones to some audio recording device, and left it at that. At that time, people were getting excited about “audioblogging” (did we already talk about “podcasting” back then? It seems a long, long time ago) and we agreed that were audio really became interesting was in rendering conversations. (See the Podcasting and Beercasting Thoughts post for more about that.)

Anyway, now we have Skype, and Call Recorder (which reminds me, I need to write up a post about the ethics of recording audio conversations), and we finally got round to doing it. It’s a bit long-ish (40 minutes — not surprising if you know us!) and has been slightly edited in that respect, but honestly, it’s not too bad for a start.

Here is roughly what we talked about.

  • San Francisco, web geek paradise
  • City sizes (see this London-SF superimposition map)
  • Segways
  • The cat/geek Venn diagram (Twitter error message)
  • I really want a Wii
  • IRC screen names
  • The difficulties of pronouncing S-u-w
  • When geeks name children: A unique identifier or anonymity?
  • Stalkers and geoinformation
  • Perceptions of security
  • Giving out your phone number and address, and personal boundaries
  • Airport security (background…)
  • Risk and expectations of risk
  • Death, religion, and the medical industry
  • Naming our podcast… something about blondes, apparently
  • Clueless marketeering from the Fabric nightclub in London
  • The repercussions of having a blog that people think is influential (even if
    you don’t think it is)

Let us know what you liked and didn’t like! View Suw’s post about this podcast.

Inde spirituelle ou matérialiste? [fr]

[en] India's materialism is not anything new. If you dig into vedic religion, it's centred on sacrifices and actions more than interior spirituality. That side of Indian religious expression came about later. As for Gandhi, I think it's important to keep in mind that his background includes connections to the Theosophical Society, and that his philosophy is therefore not a pure traditional product of Indian thought.

J’écoute en ce moment à la radio une émission sur l’infanticide féminin, en Inde entre autres. Sujet et émissions intéressants, mais à l’instant, quelque chose qui me fait bondir. Parlant de la dot, l’intervenante (dont je n’ai pas bien compris le nom) nous dit que l’Inde moderne devient en effet matérialiste, tournant le dos à ses idéaux spirituels du passé, et même à la philosophie de Gandhi.

Holà. Primo, si on va creuser dans la religion védique, c’est une religion du rituel et de l’acte, et non pas de la “spiritualité intériorisée” au sens où nous l’entendons. Ça, c’est venu plus tard. On voit encore aujourd’hui cette primauté de l’action, lorsque vous trouvez des gens qui pratiquent consciencieusement les puja ou qui passent au temple faire des offrandes, sans pour autant croire à l’existence des dieux.

Mais bon, c’est pour dire que l’importance du matériel en Inde n’a rien de nouveau, et que la spiritualisation de l’Inde est entre autres grandement due à son intéraction avec l’Occident. On y voit plus d’expression religieuse, mais cela ne veut pas dire que les gens sont plus spirituels que chez nous, où la religion est une affaire privée et souvent avec peu de manifestations extérieures.

Quant à Gandhi, souvenons-nous de l’influence qu’a eue sur lui la Société Théosophique, et que les valeurs qu’il a prônées (totalement indépendamment de leur valeur) ne sont donc pas un pur produit traditionnel indien.

Constat d'ordre [fr]

[en] The weak link in the "keep kitchen clean" workflow is the bin. A full bin means I have to take it out to the container. That tends to not happen, and therefore various types of clutter tend to accumulate.

Le goulot d’étranglement dans le workflow qui maintient la cuisine propre, c’est la poubelle. Une poubelle pleine génère presque immanquablement une accumulation de “choses en attente” (soyons pudiques) sur les surfaces disponibles.

C’est une étape demandant un effort important, changer cette poubelle pleine: il faut la monter en haut du chemin pour la mettre au container.

Lamentable. M’en vais la sortir illico.