Anti-social media

I’ve slowly been catching up Professor Hannah Fry‘s Secret Genius of Modern Life series. Summing up the episode on virtual assistants, Prof Hannah says:

“[…] it’s the technology that leads the way it’s and only later society asks the question of whether it’s something that we really want in our lives. And that I think is a trend that we’re going to have to deal with a lot more in future”

Professor Hannah Fry, The Secret Genius of Modern Life: S1E3 Virtual Assistants

This, very astute, observation is a concern. Virtual assistants are a branch of the technology field known as artificial intelligence. But they’re not the only examples of technology created without consideration for their impact on society.

As created, technology is neither good, nor bad. Whether it becomes one of those things is about the way we use it.

All too often, we invent something and then work out how to use it. And all to often, the techies decide the way, with society left to mop up the issues.

Social media is one such example.

Social networks come of age

This week, Facebook turned 20.

Gen-Xers like me didn’t grow up with social media but we’re heavy users of the technology. Or we were. Now, as the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk work out how to make money from the vast platforms, they are losing their purpose.

Once it was easy: Facebook for social sharing; Instagram for photos; YouTube for videos; WhatsApp for messaging; LinkedIn for who knows who; Twitter for brief micro-blogging; blogs for long form prose. But Google killed blogs; LinkedIn tried to be Facebook for business (small B, Facebook also tried to launch Facebook for Business); and the other platforms copied each other until they all had versions of similar features. Meanwhile, one of the world’s richest men appears to have delivered a lesson on how to destroy a social network.

Anti-social media

Modern politics – and modern media – seems to be about setting groups of people against each other.

Cyclists against motorists. Brexit or remain. Guns or no guns (in the USA). Your choice of political party (red or blue – on both sides of the Atlantic). Woke or anti-woke (whatever that means). Even whether it makes sense to park a car forwards or backwards.

Social media should have been a force for good. but everything was reduced to a soundbite. It lost the nuance, context, critical thinking. As Zoe Kleinman wrote in the tweet I embedded earlier, “at its best, it brings people together. At its worst, it destroys them.”

Where did it all go wrong?

I stopped using Facebook a while back. The Cambridge Analytica data scandal showed how the information we were giving away freely was being used by others. Not just to advertise but to target for political means. Even, some might say, to subvert democracy.

My experience of Twitter in recent years is that it has descended into a place that’s full of hate, division, bots promoting porn, and with very little genuine engagement. Instagram became very needy, with notifications trying to encourage the growth of Threads, or cross-fertilisation to other Meta properties (like Facebook).

Where next?

I’m still on LinkedIn, reluctantly, and scaling out my use professionally.

But what replaces Twitter/X (I still can’t bring myself to use the new name)? I don’t know but it’s probably not Bluesky, Post, Hue or any of those similar sites. Certainly not Mastodon. That one network where everyone came together is gone… the future looks like it will consist of small niches. Special interest groups. 

Writing last year for Wired Magazine, Jason Parham said that first-gen social media users have nowhere to go. That article is from a Millennial perspective but it resonates with Gen-X me too. Fifteen years of scrolling for news and entertainment. And fifteen years of having a platform to share, discuss and learn. What do I do now? Increasingly, I feel lost.

I’ll work out a new content strategy in 2024. We’re already a month in and I’m not sure what it is yet. One thing I do know is that you’re likely to see less from me on Twitter/X, once I work out where and how to host my history. And I’m too old to start again somewhere else.

Featured image by Daria Nepriakhina ?? on Unsplash.

Weeknote 2024/03: missing cyclocross; digitally transforming my family; installing Ethernet and much, much more

Another week has flown by – this time I kept notes to keep track of it all in the hope it would speed up the weeknote writing. It didn’t, so I need to work on the format. Anyway, this is how it looks this week.

My week at work

Understandably, I can’t write much about what I do in the day job. Suffice to say, it’s been busy, busy, busy. I’m preparing for a presentation to the Node4 Go To Market (GTM) team next week. This will be me, along with my colleague Bjoern, presenting to the entire salesforce and trying to convince them why they should be selling more of the services we’re responsible for. And, in parallel, I’m refreshing the collateral to support the sales of those same services.

I also spent some time on a call with one of our business partner this week, learning more about how they are developing their offers and how we can potentially do more work together.

My week in cycling

I know, this blog is supposed to be about tech, but I also have two very sporty teenagers that I’m very proud of. Their sports activities are a big part of my week (and my life in general).

Last weekend, I should have been in Falkirk, supporting my eldest son, Matt, at the 2024 British National Cyclocross Championships. As things transpired, that was not to be…

At 2023’s National Champs (Matt’s first senior year), Cameron Mason was so dominant in the Elite/U23 Men’s race that only 7 riders were permitted to finish the race (under the 80% rule). It’s a big investment of time and money to travel the length of the country for a short race but we would have been there, if Matt felt he was ready for it. Unfortunately, after a challenging few weeks with a return to racing after spending the autumn leading cycle tours in Greece, he decided to end his cyclocross season early. Apart from podiums in the local Central Cyclocross League (CCXL), third place in the Central Regional CX Champs was to be his only significant result this season. He’s preparing to build two new bikes for the 2024/25 cyclocross season – and he has plans for the 2024 road season too. I’m sure those plans will end up in these weeknotes in due course.

Just as a side note, after the demise of GCN Plus, it’s great to see BBC Scotland providing mainstream TV coverage of the national champs!

My week in technology

Adding AirPlay to an old Hi-Fi amplifier

With a bonus weekend at home, I got to finish up a tech project that’s been on the list for a while – adding AirPlay to my old 1990s Technics amplifier. When I moved in with my wife, my mid-range Hi-Fi stack was labelled “black loud crap”. As a result, it was banished from the house, but still lives on in the Man Cave. Adding an old Raspberry Pi 2B running as an audio gateway has provided the necessary tech to cast audio, without needing to invest in more Sonos (or IKEA Symfonisk) as I have in the rest of the house. This is the guide I followed, at PiMyLifeUp.

There’s the odd stutter, which I think may be due to a weak 2.4MHz Wi-Fi signal. It could also be down to running on a relatively old Pi 2. It certainly beats connecting Spotify via Alexa which used my account and so only worked for me and not the whole family. Plus it also works with other apps, like Pocket Casts and Audible.

Wilson family digital transformation

Late last year, I convinced Mrs W that we could use the family calendar on our iPhones to manage our busy family life. Previously, the paper calendar on the kitchen wall was the single source of the truth. That’s not too helpful when we’re not at home. This digital transformation of the Wilson family has been a huge success but it’s also shown me that people use calendars in different ways!

For example, our eldest son is currently away skiing. Is that one long appointment for 2 weeks? Or do we just need to know the dates he leaves and returns? And how do we record our youngest son’s Hockey training sessions? Is it the actual session times, or the times we leave the house and return? I’m trying not to be too “Mark” about this, but it’s an interesting insight into how other people think!

On a related note, I also learned this week that not everyone sees pictures in their mind, like I do. I don’t know what they do “see”, but it explains why not everyone can visualise what something will look like when it’s finished!

AirTag all the the things

After a trial with an Apple AirTag in my luggage (very useful when it wasn’t put on the plane at Stansted one holiday), I’ve been expanding our use of these devices. One use case that’s been particularly helpful is my youngest son’s keys… as he’s already had to replace at least one set that he lost before I tagged them. Now I regularly hear the “FindMy sound” as he searches for them before leaving the house.

On a similar note, for Christmas, my eldest son bought me an Apple FindMy-compatible tracker for my glasses. It doesn’t have the Precision Finding feature of the AirTag, but it does tell me where they were last seen, and lets me play a sound. Now, when I leave them somewhere, I can listen for the chirp of the Orbit sensor. It’s a bit strange charging my glasses though, but this is relatively infrequent.

Other bits and pieces of tech

  • After seeing a thread about date formats, ISO standards and RFCs, I thought about my frustrations with people who write dates “the wrong way”. By the wrong way, I mean not putting the most significant portion first. The US convention of mm/dd/yyyy is nonsensical. UK dd/mm/yyyy is better, but I generally name files using yyyymmdd etc. because they appear in order. On that basis, I realised that my naming for these weeknotes should be year/week number (inspired by Sharon O’Dea). Previously I had erroneously named them week number/year. From this week forwards, that is corrected.
  • After watching a YouTube video, I successfully resuscitated an apparently-dead Li-ion battery pack (the on-board circuitry needed its capacity recharging before it would accept a charge). This is potentially dangerous – I’m not responsible for anything that happens if you try it, but it worked for me, and saved me quite a few quid. Some say to use a resistor for safety. Others stress to only “jump start” momentarily (as I did).
  • I was looking at some communications from Vodafone about the 3G switch off… and wondered if that is the same part of the spectrum as 4G… i.e. more channels freed up for 4G/5G or will 4G/5G have access to extra spectrum now? Twitter helped me out with that…
  • Hopefully that section between the hall (OpenReach ONT) and the garage “datacentre” (ISP router) is all the Ethernet I need to run, but I have plenty of spare cable if I need to pull any more for a potential CCTV project… (I’ve been watching lots of videos about Reolink cameras).
  • Oh yes, one more thing. I finally changed my LinkedIn profile picture… my previous professional headshot was taken when I was in my late 30s, I think. I’m nearly 52 and afraid it’s time to look my age. This may not sound like news but it took me ages to find something suitably professional that I liked!

My week in TV

I’ll spare you all my YouTube highlights this week but, over in streaming TV land, Mrs W and I wrapped up three excellent series:

  • Mr Bates vs the Post Office (ITV);
  • Slow Horses (Apple TV); and
  • The Crown (Netflix).

This last season of The Crown has been criticised for being too dramatic but I thought it was well done. There will be no season 7 and it feels like it was left at just the right point, at the marriage of Charles and Camilla (then Prince and Princess of Wales) and the early days of William and Katherine’s relationship (the current Prince and Princess of Wales). It even contained a nod to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral, with her involvement in the plans but also some scenes that linked to the actual events last year.

And in case we hadn’t had enough Toby Jones, we’ve started watching season 2 of Detectorists, for some light hearted relief from the more serious stuff.

Other things that should probably be a blog post on their own

I was going to write some more, but I’m getting bored of writing this now – goodness knows how you feel, dear reader. So there may need to be an overflow post or two about these topics, or maybe the tweets will say enough:

  • Well-paid IT folks moaning about the inconvenience that strikes have on their lives… playing to the “them and us” narrative.
  • Rebooting the car to get Apple CarPlay to work again!
  • CTOs with 30 years of industry experience being approached about a job that claims to need a technical degree.
  • Storytelling. And how pictures can convey messages that words alone cannot. Or bring meaning to words when they are in another language that you only have a passing knowledge of.
  • Rail fare “simplification” and the very different approaches taken by LNER (UK Government-owned) and ScotRail (Scottish Government-owned).
  • Public sector IT contracts, and the need to be a good client – it’s not all about the supplier.
  • The increasingly anti-social nature of social media.

My week in pictures

Featured image: author’s own

Poorly-targeted InMail on LinkedIn…

This content is 6 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

A good chunk of the email I receive is either:

  1. Spam from SEO specialists who can’t even present a well-written email (so why would I let them loose on my website?).
  2. Spam from people who want to advertise on my website or write content to link to their client’s dubious sites (no thanks).
  3. LinkedIn requests from recruiters I’ve never even spoken to (read on).

Now, let me be clear, there are some good recruiters out there: people who build rapport and work on relationships with people. Maybe one day we’ll work together, maybe we won’t but when I hear my peers talking about recruiters that I know, then I know they are well-connected within our industry and they will be my first port of call if I find myself looking for work (or to recruit).

Then there’s stuff like this, a real email, received tonight via LinkedIn’s InMail feature. I’ve changed the names to protect the guilty but apart from that, it’s a facsimile:

“Hi Mark,

[Do I know you?]

A leading global provider of retail software solutions is seeking an experienced EPOS Architect to join the European Portfolio team in a key leadership role at the heart of a massive digital transformation programme.

[Doesn’t appear to be very well researched: I’m an Enterprise Architect, not an EPOS Architect… I know very little about EPOS systems. Sure, maybe EPOS might be part of something I do put together but I’m no EPOS specialist. Well, it starts with E and ends with Architect – so it must be related! Does this recruiter even know what they are recruiting for?]

You’ll be working closely with the technical leadership of tier 1 global retailers such as huge retailer name removed, and leading national retailers across Europe to shape and deliver next generation cloud and on premise point of sale systems.

[Minor point but it’s “on-premises”, FFS. It’s a place, not an idea.]

An excellent package of £75,000 – £100,000 + car + bonus is on offer, plus extensive European travel to the headquarters of the continent’s leading businesses.

[Since when was “extensive European travel to the headquarters of the continent’s leading businesses” a perk? This is the sort of benefit dreamed up by people who never leave their office. What it generally means is “spend lots of time away from home travelling economy class to a business park but never really see the city you’re going to…”]

Further details: website/Job/Detail/epos-solution-architect-leeds-en-GB

[So it’s in Leeds. Leeds is 3 hours from where I live]

For a fully confidential discussion, contact someone.i.dont-know@recruiter.co.uk

 

Someone Else
Senior Recruitment Consultant @ leading global specialist recruitment group | Specialising in Testing across Yorkshire | someone.else@recruiter.com

[Why am I getting email on a Friday evening from one person I don’t know to ask me to contact someone else I don’t know? Mind you, if their specialism is “Testing across Yorkshire”, maybe that explains the poor targetting of this role to a guy 150 miles away in Milton Keynes…]”

Luckily, I’m not looking for work (or to hire anyone) at the moment but, when I am, this agency will not be on my list… sadly, this is not an isolated incident.

Why LinkedIn endorsements are meaningless (and some ITIL Foundation exam study tips)

This content is 7 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

According to my LinkedIn profile, 25 people have endorsed me for IT Service Management skills. Until last month* my entire knowledge of IT Service Management came from watching Karl McCarthy present at the Northampton branch of the BCS, which does leave me wondering about the value of LinkedIn endorsements…

…still, over the last few weeks, I have been learning about IT Service Management (or at least, about the IT Infrastructure Library, usually abbreviated to ITIL®).

Those who follow this blog will have seen my recent 6-part series of preparation notes as I studied for my ITIL Foundation certification (see the end of this post) and my efforts were clearly worthwhile, as I passed the exam today. A non-disclosure agreement prevents me from commenting on the exam itself but I will highlight the resources that I used:

So, that’s another certification in the bag (and one of my 2016-17 objectives ticked off…). Now time to put the theory into practice, which for me will mean some more thinking about service architecture in the course of my work.

I was going to continue this blog with some notes from Karl’s 2015 talk on “IT Service Management – Putting the theory into practice” but the notes appear to have gone AWOL. Maybe that’s one to save for another day…

* Putting aside anything I’ve picked up from 20+ years working in IT.

Further Reading

This post and those linked above (which were written and published prior to taking the exam, so they do not breach any NDA). are intended as an aid and no guarantee is given or implied as to their suitability for others hoping to pass the exam.

ITIL® is a registered trademark of Axelos limited.

Short takes: Android screenshots; LinkedIn invitation preferences; and hiding Excel headings

This content is 10 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Every now and again, in an attempt to close down some “must blog about that” tabs in my browser, I write one of these “short takes” posts… here’s the latest snippets from the world of Mark…

Screen-grabbing on Android

There have been a couple of occasions recently when I’ve wanted to take a screenshot on my Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini… but couldn’t find how to…

Having to Google to work out how to take a screen shot in Android is… a little odd… but there are a couple of methods mentioned in an Android News post (and six more methods here).  And the reason for the most recent screengrab?  This:

Why does LinkedIn sometimes need an email address before you can send an invitation to connect

I’ve noticed a few times recently that I’ve needed to supply someone’s email address (to prove I know them) when connecting on LinkedIn.  Whilst some Internet reports suggest this is because you’ve been marked as having too many “I don’t know this person” reports, it seemed to be inconsistent for me so that’s not the only reason this happens.  It turns out that there’s an option deep within LinkedIn’s preferences to only receive invitations from members who know your email address.  Now that I know about it, I’ve activated it on my profile too…

Displaying/hiding row and column headings in Excel

I received an Excel workbook recently where all of the row and column headings were missing.  Confused? I certainly was (especially as I wanted to add some columns) but it seems it’s a simple configuration option (just maybe not that commonly used?!), at least in Excel 2013 (your mileage may vary with other versions).

Using LinkedIn as a B2B social media platform (#smwmecsocial #smwldn)

This content is 12 years old. I don't routinely update old blog posts as they are only intended to represent a view at a particular point in time. Please be warned that the information here may be out of date.

Yesterday, I wrote about an event I’d attended as part of Social Media Week London, hosted by MEC Global, looking at thought leadership and B2B social media. For reasons of brevity, I skipped over much of LinkedIn‘s presentation in my original post but it provided a lot of insights that I would like to share… so here’s the follow-up!

LinkedIn’s Colin Smith was talking about the role of social in a digital ecosystem and he started out by saying that social media in 2011 was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to an emerging audience, with organisations testing campaigns and activity, predicting that 2012 will be the year when social gets down to business.

Brands are now what people say they are, and:

“The impact of social media is far-reaching,well beyond how we connect with our friends.It has changed how we work. It is changing how we make markets. It has, critically, re-leveled the playing field.”

[George Gallate, Global Chairman, Euro RSCG 4D]

Citing various statistics from a recent CIM/Ipsos ASI study (Social Media Benchmark), Colin Smith highlighted that:

  • Consumers want to be engaged in a conversation – not sold to.
  • Brands are now what people say they are.
  • Business is evolving – moving from transactional to relational. This affects the speed to close deals, the size of those deals and the length of the relationship.
  • Liking, sharing and commenting are all emotions – we need to build an emotional relationship with our customers [I agree: people buy from people – not brands, although there are some brands that will always be considered “safe bets”].
  • Decision cycles in B2B take longer than in B2C – longevity makes a difference in the relationship.
  • People will, on average, follow just 2.8 companies in a given sector, but 50% will follow a company in perpetuity – so you want to your brand to be in that 2.8!
  • Don’t forget that your staff  have profiles, engage with, and are probably connected to competitors and customers – people will check what your staff profiles look like.
  • Sometimes you’ll know that someone is talking about you, sometimes you don’t – some reactions will be negative and some positive.

It’s important to consider that customers have [LinkedIn – and other social network] profiles too. Before they come to meetings they will check out yours, your staff, your company page, what people are saying and come armed – you need to do the same. They follow, like, share, comment – and expect engagement. They connect to your staff and communicate with them. And they will trust you if communicate and share useful information.

  • Social hygiene is about the ways in which people [your audience: customers; staff; business partners] expect you to engage. It’s about having an authentic voice and sharing. Businesses have a challenge to be open, authentic, honest, engaging.
  • Don’t just ask an agency to do this – it needs to go to the core of the business – the CEO, or others who are senior enough and have the credibility [and charisma] to speak on behalf of a brand.
  • Think about social media in the context of employment – it reflects your brand (even if you don’t employ someone they may make buying decisions elsewhere).

Colin gave some advice for engaging on LinkedIn:

  • Engagement starts with creating a presence, for example, a company page built out on LinkedIn. Many of these are generated through algorithms so claim yours and make it say what you need it to.
  • Once you have the presence right, think about who want to attract (think about a specific audience – CEOs, CIOs, procurement advisors, etc.) – LinkedIn can target specific audiences. Samsung ran a LinkedIn campaign and gained 20000 followers in 3 days. Mercedes were looking at just the C-suite and gained 12000 followers in 5 weeks. These are not just big numbers, they are highly targetted and therefore the reach is potentially significant.
  • Continue to engage through company status updates – provide value at scale. LinkedIn has found that 45% would like weekly updates.
  • Amplify – as with engagement, think who followers are connected to (LinkedIn average is 151 connections per person).
  • The only cost is building a content strategy, the hard bit is acquiring followers.
  • Groups can be used to position a company as a thought leader in an existing conversation or a topic that’s important. For example, Statoil is facilitating a conversation for people to talk about energy innovation. A strategy for content will be required when the group is first started (initial 3-6 months) after which it should take on a life of its own.

Involving your brand in a social conversation

Finally, Colin gave some tips for better use of LinkedIn [although many of these could equally be applied to other channels]:

  1. Improve your company page to attract a more relevant audience.
  2. Consider engagement with followers – questions and topics to seed into a group.
  3. Members expect insights and news from companies they follow: 66% expect industry insight; 65% expect upcoming company news (advance information before it hits the press); 45% expect the opportunity to join a group; 45% expect sneak peeks of upcoming products and services; and 43% desire inclusion in a community with similar interests.
  4. Interrogate the social hygiene of your company.
  5. Work across departments so that all customer-facing departments have profiles that are relevant to your company – make sure your brand is represented across the board with links to company pages, blogs, etc. Think about whether modifying a LinkedIn profile is part of the induction process for new employees – and, equally, what people say when they leave.

As an individual, I don’t use LinkedIn as a daily destination – it’s still about professional networking for me. For daily conversations, I prefer the immediacy of Twitter (besides, some of my tweets are more suitable for that audience – and the frequency would  just be too high for LinkedIn) but I took a lot away from this presentation about how brands might better engage on the platform.

One thing’s for sure, as MEC’s Shane O’Byrne highlighted at yesterday’s event, B2B social media requires effort on the part of the company, and cannot just be left to an agency. That means applying resource, possibly dedicated, but certainly as part of their work (not as an add-on to do “in their spare time”) to generate content that makes an audience want to engage.  That’s been the challenge that I’ve struggled with in my own work on corporate blogs and other B2B social media activities over the last couple of years – and making a B2B brand become “social” is a lot more work than simply setting up a few accounts on major platforms…