Monthly Archives: June 2008

Smell of ink

I’m sure I could find somewhere on the Internet everything I want to know about Google, plus tonnes I don’t. There are websites with search guides, how-to videos, gossip, a Google maps mash-up list and much more.

Next week I’m running a one hour training course on effective search techniques for people working as elder abuse and neglect coordinators. For a change I’ve turned to old fashioned print resources to learn more about Google search to share with participants. An added bonus is I’ll be able to pass around the books, which will help people who like to read things to learn that way.

Yeah, so I got a couple of books. Pretty hefty ones at that.

Michael Miller’s second edition of “Googlepedia: the ultimate Google resource” is a mammoth 822 pages. About a third of the book is devoted to searching, but virtually all the other Google applications and services are covered too. It’s designed for everybody internet user so has lots of diagrams and tips. Michael shares his opinions so it’s not too dry.

“Google Hacks: tips and tools for finding and using the world’s information” (3rd edition)
published by O’Reilly is a very different beast. Apart from the first 80 odd pages on searching, I don’t know if the workshop participants will appreciate the other 420 pages. Its a technical book with scripting and code descriptions, guidance on how-to create your own maps and stuff like that. The amazing things you can do, well, it’s pretty overwhelming actually.

Sandy Berger has written a book for baby boomers, and their parents. “The Great Age Guide to the Internet” is for people new to computing and the Internet. The basics are covered really nicely. I’m particularly fond of the Blooper alerts – things don’t always go as predicted, so lets not be shy about that.

Over the weekend I’ll grab a copy of Netguide and ComputerWorld from the library to supplement these tomes. Plus, if Reuben Schwarz’s computer page in the Dominion Post is relevant, I’ll grab that too.

I’d love any other ideas for top search tips. Either physical or virtual, I don’t mind.

Take me to the social web workshop, a report

When I met Beth Kanter after having read her blog for several years she made a real impression on me. It wasn’t just her committed personal activism, wide ranging knowledge and willingness to share, so much as her phenomenal connectedness that struck me. Set loose on the keyboard and she connects with people, for just causes.

During a one-day workshop after the Connecting Up 08 conference a small group of 20 or so got see what it means to be really connected online.

It soon became obvious she has formed connections online with hundreds and hundreds of people. These might be people she’s worked with in depth, somebody she chatted to at a conference, or just someone who has accidentally found her online.

When she needs to, as she did when fundraising for the Sharing Foundation in Cambodia, Beth will (carefully) reach out to her networks. At other times she’ll ask people for help with research for an article or presentation she’s making, or as the example she gave us, ask what is the best sim card to use in Australia.

I have no doubt this is reciprocal. Beth is happy for people to know about what she is doing and is very open about this. She blogs in several places, has a twitter account anyone can follow, is on facebook, has an avatar on second life and is out there in numerous other places too no doubt.

The types of relationships formed transcend any easy description. Friend, colleague, fellow-professional, neighbour, supporter? It’s hard to know how to describe members of the online network Beth has built up. It probably doesn’t matter, but what it suggests is that when you match the internet medium with trust and reciprocity you get a pretty powerful combination.

There might be a drawback to all this. It would seem that Beth lives a very online life. Perhaps one which means you’ve got to be stuck in front of a computer. Interminably.

As I’m Twitter-averse and Facebook challenged, I don’t imagine myself joining let along creating such networks. Even though they could be immensely valuable, my introspective side flares up when I think about it. This ultra connectedness is not for everyone. Nor should it be, for the internet really is about people having choice. However, I do now really understand the potential of creating networks, particularly for organisations.

There are ways of managing the temptations of constant, ubiquitous connectivity. Beth talked about how she keeps things under control. She has at times designated Twitter Tuesdays, or Facebook Fridays. And it’s obvious she communicates on her on terms (ie seldom instantly unless the time is right).

And before you think Beth is baring all (something she has done, see the Beth 5.0 flickr photo set), when we go online it’s obvious we only present the parts of ourselves we want others to see. That is, we use a persona. It’s a word that came out during the workshop as another online survival gambit.

So, what was it that we actually covered in the workshop? The day long session was a practical how-to advice on using social media, including a chance for Beth to share some of her frameworks.

Beth introduced a common sense framework for community and voluntary organisations wanting to use new online tools. The three basic steps are:

  1. Listen
  2. Join the conversation
  3. Experiment. Start by blogging.

Capturing what you learn as you go was considered pretty important. Beth suggested using a learning diary and saving material on a shared wiki or web page. Other participants suggested giving permission for team members to experiment with the web on the condition they report to the rest of the team.

The main point to underline is permission to explore social media in your own time, on your own terms.

You can take a look at the record of the workshop (and part instructional tool) at http://take-to-the-social-web.wikispaces.com.

My biggest takeaway (a north American colloquialism which stands in for “what I learned today”): online networks can involve new people and reinvigorate others to get active or give.

A loud happy yelp goes out to Beth, an avid dog lover. Thanks for coming all way down under.

My broadband saga concludes

Downstairs in my office I’ve got a webserver running. On Wednesday night it began hosting this blog along with some other websites, programmes and my email from its new possie. The only thing I know about keeping it going is how to switch the power back on if we have a powercut.

I appreciate the wonders of technology, but I’m not actually that keen to get my hands dirty. The server is only here because AJ departs for adventures in Europe early next month.

It was an effort to better cater for the webserver I wanted to get fast cable broadband through TelstraClear. I wrote earlier about some hassles I was having (see “Broadband tale of woe”) which meant I was without broadband for three weeks, surviving only on some inadequate, temporary measures and forking out over $200 to get a Vodem with a one month account.

Irony pervades the whole saga, as I am back with ihug after TelstraClear concluded it is uneconomic to connect my house to cable broadband, at the moment anyway. It’s something I wish they’d known before agreeing to take me on as a customer – it would have saved a lot of anguish.

After about eight humble apologies, I accepted an offer of compensation from TelstraClear, though it is yet to materialise in my bank account. The $12.50 for each apology I’m receiving makes me think they really did understand the inconvenience caused by the inept way the installation proceeded.

My conclusion that large hierarchical organisations are inherently flawed – not matter how many nice people work for them – has been confirmed. It’s not a saga I’d like to repeat, but I’m sure as long as bureaucracies exist, it’s bound to happen again.

Happy birthday www.commonknowledge.net.nz

It was a year ago today that I purchased the domain www.commonknowledge.net.nz/new_wp. This calls for raising of glasses and toasts. Not so much to celebrate the first birthday of a domain name, but to recognise I’ve been self-employed for my first year.

Being self-employed has its up and downs but right now I’m feeling pretty positive about where my business is heading.

This month I’ve picked up a short contract with the State Services Commission to help facilitate the growth and development of the online participation community of practice. The notice for the workshop which will kick this process off, was emailed out yesterday.

My goal to specialise in working with NGOs is paying off as I’m currently working on five projects within the tangata whenua, community and voluntary sector.

Later this month I’m running a one hour training session on searching Google and how to learn about using the Internet. It’s definitely my smallest piece of work, but something that’s spurred me to learn more about the Google behemoth.

Yeah, so cheers www.commonknowledge.net.nz/new_wp – many happy returns.