Thursday, June 30, 2011

Twitter for newsrooms - useful for government media professionals

If you're not watching the #gov2au hashtag, you might be interested in the latest support information from Twitter - how to use the service effectively for newsrooms.

Twitter for Newsrooms provides information on using Twitter to search for news sources and breaking news, how to tweet effectively and engage an audience, branding, publishing via Twitter and support information.

It contains a range of examples of how media professionals and organisations are using Twitter for news-gathering, filtering and distribution.

I recommend passing on the link to your media people and Ministerial media advisors.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Public Sector Innovation Toolkit released

Tonight the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research has released the Public Sector Innovation Toolkit website.

The website is part of the APS-wide innovation agenda, designed to help public servants develop and apply innovative solutions.

Published under a Creative Commons Attribution license, the Innovation Toolkit is being used to,
  • provide information about the innovation process, tools and approaches that can support innovation in public sector organisations
  • provide updates on developments in APS innovation
  • provide links to relevant information and research
  • discuss issues relating to public sector innovation
  • ask for input
  • highlight examples of innovation in the public sector.
 As a living resource I expect to see the toolkit growing and maturing based on the feedback of its users as a world-class tool for public servants.

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Are telephones a natural medium for internet natives?

I wanted to share this interesting post discussing the challenges faced by people used to online communications technologies when attempting to use old technologies like the telephone.

Technology’s Child: Why 21st-Century Teens Can’t Talk On the Phone discusses how phones conversations are "both too slow and too fast" and don't provide mechanisms for thinking about and carefully editing what is said.

Will telephone ettiquette become a victim of the internet revolution, replaced by new skills?

Time will tell.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

European Union requires websites to make users 'opt-in' to website cookies

The EU Government's 2009 Directive banning "unnecessary" cookies in websites (if the site doesn't ask users to accept the cookie first) has just begun coming into effect - causing havoc and distress amongst European webmasters.

Cookies are small text files that websites store on a user's computer in order to reduce the need for users to enter information again and again. They are used in ecommerce sites to 'remember' what is in your shopping trolley, in social media sites to remember that you're logged in, to personalise content or advertisements based on your preferences and by many sites to provide anonymous website reports.

It is estimated that around 92% of websites use cookies. In fact it is hard to imagine the modern web without them.

However in 2009 the European Union decided as part of a 2009 amendment to their Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive that even though all modern web browsers allow users to choose to accept or refuse cookies, cookies may pose a privacy threat to individuals.

While the Directive doesn't explain why they may pose a threat, it states that cookies can be a useful tool and,
their use should be allowed on condition that users are provided with clear and precise information in accordance with Directive 95/46/EC about the purposes of cookies or similar devices so as to ensure that users are made aware of information being placed on the terminal equipment they are using. Users should have the opportunity to refuse to have a cookie or similar device stored on their terminal equipment.

In other words, when cookies are used for a legitimate purpose (though 'legitimate' is not clearly defined in the Directive), they can be used by websites provided that users are provided with an up-front method to view what each cookie is for and 'opt-out' of each cookie.

This directive was to be interpreted into law by European states by May 2011. So far only three countries have complied, Denmark, Estonia and the United Kingdom. The UK has also given webmasters twelve months to introduce appropriate opt-out controls on their websites, recognising the impact of their law. Other countries in the EU will introduce their cookie laws soon.

So OK, European websites using cookies now must have an opt-out provision for UK, Denmark and Estonian users and soon for all Europeans in the EU.

So where is the sting in the tail?

Firstly, these laws may apply to all websites that are viewable in European countries, as existing European privacy laws already require. This would mean that Google, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites hosted in the UK, Asia or anywhere else in the world would need to change how they functioned due to European-only laws.

Under this interpretation (yet to be tested in court), all (hundred million plus) websites, whether ecommerce, news, information or government would have to comply.

That includes Australian government websites using cookies, including any using Google Analytics, 'share' tools, shopping carts or otherwise using cookies to store (even non-identifiable) information on users - even for a single session.

There is an alternative. Non-European websites could simply block Europeans from viewing their sites and therefore would not need to comply with the European law. That would present a very interesting geographic freedom-of-information ban, as well as damaging the businesses of many organisations and governments who want Europeans to access their websites.

The second concern is around how the opt-in approach to cookies must work.

There's no clear approach in the Directive and plenty of confusion on how the opt-in control should work. The suggested approaches in the UK are to use pop-ups (which most modern browsers automatically block) or to use an 'accordion' that appears at the top of all webpages, as is used by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) - the ugly block of text at the top of the website.

A more humorous implementation of a pop-up opt-in control is used on David Naylor's website - read the text.

The BBC has introduced an opt-in approach that accidentally managed to break the law while implementing it - by using a cookie to hide the message asking you to opt-in for cookies. Oops - they needed to have an opt-in for that too.

The third issue with this European directive is the impact on useful things websites do. It will become much harder to personalise content for users or report on websites. Indeed the impact of people opting out of cookies, therefore rendering all cookie-based reporting significantly more inaccurate, is already being tracked. The ICO's website has itself seen a 90% fall in recorded (tracked) traffic. This indicates that the ICO will no longer know what site users are doing and cannot as effectively optimise and improve their website. Magnify this across millions of websites.

For those who wish to learn more about European Cookie Laws, check out the short video below or read the The definitive guide to the Cookie law.

And, as always, I'd appreciate your thoughts - particularly on the questions below.

Has Europe become the Cookie Monster? Or is this a reasonable and appropriate step to improve user privacy?

Should Europe have the right to impose laws in their jurisdiction on the rest of the world? If not, should the rest of the world stop Europeans visiting our sites?

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Turning open government petitions into policies in Latvia, using online banking to authenticate citizens

It can be difficult to get a perspective on the Government 2.0 activities in non-English speaking countries.

However thanks to Francis Irving, who posted an account in the My Society email list in the UK, forwarded to the OpenAustralia Community list in Australia, here's a very interesting mini case-study on one initiative in Latvia.

In this case the initiative was created outside of government, however has become part of their parliamentary and law-making process.

It involves using online banking accounts to identify users, in partnership with the major local banks. This is an approach I've not seen used anywhere else in the world.

It is a well-structured open government initiative and one that I think Australia could do well to model similar activities on.

I've quoted Francis' email below. To learn more, join the OpenAustralia Community list.

Francis Irving (posted 24/6/2011):
I just met Kristofs Blaus, who spent a year researching petition / online initiative projects across the world. i.e. things where citizens propose and vote on new laws.

He launched ManaBalss.lv (Eurosay.com) in Latvia two weeks ago. Already two laws are going into force entirely because of the site.

Six things you ought to know about it:
  1. 2 days after launch, the president of Latvia promoted an initiative on the site because 20,000 people had signed it. It is to open the owners of offshore companies. Within 1 week of launch (i.e. last week!) it was passed in to law.  http://eurosay.com/atveram-of-orus/show

    You can watch for future ones being signed into law on this page: http://eurosay.com/initiatives/signed

    (What self respecting e-democracy site doesn't have a specific, high profile page, just showing things it has got passed into law!) 

  2. Within 2 weeks, a second initiative got enough support that both major groups in Parliament now support it (it'll become law after the recess in September). It's a meta-law - it makes the platform itself mandatory, so if any petition gets 10,000 authorised signatures, then the creator gets 5 minutes in Parliament to present it.
    http://eurosay.com/atveram-saeimu-/show

  3. There is a workflow process for making sure the initiatives that get through are sensible (rather than tabloidy stuff that tends to be popular on the UK's no. 10 petition site)
    1. You write an original draft
    2. Comments by skilled volunteers tell you what is wrong with it.
    3. You can fix it up.
    4. Then you gather support. You get a URL. The initiative doesn't appear in an index on the site, you have to promote it yourself.
    5. When you get 100 people (they're going to up it to 1000 due to popularity)
    6. Some real volunteer lawyers make it into a proper, viable legal text in a PDF on the initiative page.
    7. It goes on the public site, where large numbers of people can back it.

  4. That process ensures that:
    - It is a real proposal rather than aspirational
    - It can regulated by legislation
    - Technical details, such as if it requies a constitutional change it is written in the right form

  5. It's social. The GroupOn/PledgeBank nature of gathering support, and then later the petition nature of getting people to back finalised initiatives, both encourage spread. It links to your Facebook/Twitter so the initiatives can have a montage

  6. To ensure it can't be gamed, you authenticate yourself to the site using your online bank account (via your social security numebr). It launched (undemocratically!) with just one bank, but the others were then deseparate to be added.

  7. The site is now wildly popular. It trends all the time on Latvian Twitter. Politicians fall over themselves to back it. The media love it, as articles they publish about it get traffic from the site.
An article in English about it, but rare. Nobody has heard of this thing yet. Except you for being smart enough to be on this list ;) http://bnn-news.com/latvia%E2%80%99s-society-enormous-power-30587

Notably the two people who made it are businessmen rather than programmers. The coding was done by staff at Kristofs's company.

Kristofs Blaus - business strategy, inventing new products
Jānis Erts - marketing (he made this fake metorite http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8326483.stm)
 
Obviously, the above formulae is easy to critique in the UK. But I'm not really interested in that kind of stop energy.

What is extraordinary is that the right combination done in the right way can be wildly successful. That is almost certainly true here.

If anyone on the list wants to help Kristofs do that, please email me privately.

Francis

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

How much risk is really attached to cybercrime and hacking?

As a follow-up to my post last week Familiarity trumps understanding (dealing with Neophobiacs), John Sheridan has made me aware of a Sydney Morning Herald article by Chris Berg on One hack of a crime wave, or so they say.

The article argues that while claims have been made that online hacking and cybercrime industries are up to the size of Germany's economy (US$3 trillion per year), these are often made by consultants and, as a Microsoft report discovered, "the bulk of what we know comes from tiny surveys. The authors found at least 75 per cent of losses were extrapolated from just one or two unverified, cases."

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Familiarity trumps understanding (dealing with Neophobiacs)

Arthur C. Clarke, a famous science fiction and futurist once said,

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

I believe we reached that point quite some time ago in our civilisation. While most people watch television, drive cars, use electrical appliances, fly in jet aircraft, use computers and surf the internet, few understand how any of these technologies actually work, or the science that sits behind them.

In some cases many in society actively deny or denounce the science behind their everyday tools while still partaking of its benefits. They simply don't recognise or understand the disconnect.

Over in the Gov 2.0 Australia Group, Stefan Willoughby recently stated, in reference to Eventbrite and other online tools,
I just don't understand why it is so hard to convince people that these tools are valuable and not nearly as risky as they think.

Many of us working in the online space have encountered similar attitudes over the last 10-15 years, often from otherwise highly intelligent people.

I can't legitimately call this behaviour 'risk-aversion'. Those refusing to consider the use of online tools or expressing concern over the 'risks' often have little or no understanding of whether there are any risks (and of what magnitude), or whether the risks of these tools are less than the risks of the tools they are using now.

It is simply a 'fear of things new to me', without any intellectual consideration of the relative risks and benefits. This is a known phobia, Neophobia - the irrational fear of anything new.

I've thought about this issue a great deal over the years and tried a number of tactics to educate people on the uses and actual risks of online tools.

After 16 years I've come to the conclusion that explaining how online tools work simply isn't the right way to overcome irrational fears in most cases.

People don't really want to understand how the tools of our civilisation function - they just want to feel confident that they work consistently and in known ways.

In other words, familiarity trumps understanding.

To begin experimenting with a technology many people simply want assurance that 'others like me' have used it previously in a similar manner safety and successfully. Their comfort with its use then grows the more they use the tool themselves and the less new it feels.

They don't really care about the science or machinery under the hood.

Therefore as internet professionals our task isn't to share knowledge on the mechanics of online tools. It is to build a sense of comfort and familiarity with the medium.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't use evidence, explain how online tools differ and can be used for different goals or effectively identify and mitigate the real risks. This remains very, very important in familiarising people with the online world.

However we should spend less time on the technical details, explaining the machinery of how information is transmitted over the internet, how servers secure data, or how dynamic and static web pages are written and published. These things 'just work'.

Instead we need to focus on helping people use the tools themselves, provide examples of use by others and demonstrate practically how risks are managed and mitigated. Support people in understanding and trusting that each time they push a particular button a consistent result will occur.

Once people are familiar with a particular online tool and no longer consider it new it becomes much easier to move on to an accurate benefit and risk assessment and move organisations forward. Even if they don't really understand how it all works.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

ACT (finally) outlines open government plan

I am writing this piece as a resident in the ACT, with shades of my Gov 2.0 advocacy cap. And I should say, as a partially disappointed resident.

The ACT Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher, has finally laid out the ACT Government's vision for open government.

It's about time. The ACT has been a tailender at the State and Territory level for quite some time in the open government space, with occasional sparks of excitement quickly fading back into embers.

However rather than an auspicious start focusing on the benefits of openness to citizens and the Territory, Gallagher's media release focuses on political benefit.

"The plans outlined in a Ministerial Statement to the Assembly today, are set to make the ACT Cabinet the most open in the nation"
The most open cabinet in the nation... Not the most open government, or even the most effectively and sustainably open government.

I commend the step the ACT government is taking to establish an "open government website" - although a three month timeframe, if the website is starting now, leaves little room to build something meaningful or matching citizen expectations. I hope that the developers can pull off a miracle and develop something of substance, however I feel for them and the timeline they've been given.

I get worried at the announcement of a "commitment to hold a Virtual Community Cabinet on Twitter next month".

Twitter is not an effective mechanism for this type of endeavour. I would prefer to see a liveblog, supported by moderation, through a tool with strong archival and management mechanisms and on a more broadly used medium - such as CoverItLive.

And the step to "release a weekly report on key issues discussed and decisions taken by the Cabinet, starting in the first week in July" is a classic Gov 1.0 tactic transferred online.

The government could have been doing this type of informing at any time using other mediums - newsprint, radio or even television. Placing a transcript or list of topics and decisions online doesn't add much and certainly isn't in the spirit of Gov 2.0.

ACT has the highest concentration of Government 2.0 talent in Australia - with many Commonwealth agencies now launching and successfully managing these initiatives.

We should be the most advanced open government jurisdiction in Australia.

However this announcement by the Chief Minister doesn't support this view.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Empowering citizens to lead public governance reforms in developing and developed nations

One of the assumptions often applied to government funding for aid and governance reform programs is that the funding must be granted to established corporations, NGOs or not-for-profits that have hierarchies, governance structures, offices and methodologies for achieving outcomes.

It only makes sense - when investing government money into development activities there needs to be ways to mitigate risks and ensure accountability.

Surely a well-established organisation, with structural integrity and processes, must be well-equipped to manage and deliver change outcomes.

A ten-year research study from the Development Research Centre on Citizenship, Participation and Accountability (Citizenship DRC), has found that the assumption that an established organisation is better equipped to deliver governance reform is just that - an assumption.

As reported by Nick Benequista in the website of the Institute of Development Studies, the Citizenship DRC's report, Blurring the Boundaries: Citizenship Action Across States and Societies (PDF):

"argues that "the 'good governance' agenda that has persisted in international development since the early 1990s is itself due for a citizen-led upheaval."

Benequista's article, How a citizen-led approach can transform aid to governance, points to over 150 cases highlighted on the Citizenship DRC website where bottom-up citizen-led initiatives have been effective in achieving governance change in different countries, circumstances and on different issues.

Perhaps this is an area we need to explore more of in Government 2.0.

How can we rebalance the relationship between governments and citizens through development funding to achieve better outcomes.

Is giving money to established organisations the best approach, or do governments need to listen more directly to citizens and listen less to intermediaries.

With the emerging knowledge and experience in this area around the world it will be interesting to see whether Australian governments are willing - or able - to reframe their approach to development.

To finish with Benequista's words,

The good governance agenda of the 1990s has already overstayed its usefulness. The question now is whether what comes next will finally give citizens the role they have been demanding.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Could the fear of adopting social media be due to a fear of death?

Dr Travis Kemp of the Teleran Group presented at the National Stakeholder Engagement and Community Relations Officers' Forum 2011 in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago.

He provided an interesting view on how people identify for or against certain policies and worldviews, how bad humans are at accessing risks, and illustrated how it was possible to for someone to move from a position of 'this is new and different' to 'It will kill me' in less than ten steps.

He discussed how this type of powerful fear can dramatically influence how willing people are to consider new ideas, accept change or adopt new approaches, as well as how it distorts risk management processes, greatly exaggerating the risks of the 'new and different' and underrating the risks of the 'tried and true'.

One of his points was that the resistance to the use of social media may be due to a fear of death.

Here's an example of how a typical thought process for a senior official in a government agency might go...
  1. Social media channels are new and different
  2. I don't understand these channels well enough to understand the risks and pitfalls
  3. As I don't understand the risks and pitfalls, I could make mistakes, or allow mistakes to be made
  4. Mistakes could embarrass or diminish the reputation of the agency or the Minister
  5. If the agency or Minister are negatively impacted by use of social media in my area, I will be held responsible
  6. If I am held responsible for a social media mistake I will lose the respect of my manager and confidence of my agency and Minister
  7. If I lose the respect and confidence of my manager, agency and Minister, I could lose my job
  8. If I lose my job I could lose my house, family and friends
  9. If I am left homeless and friendless, I am likely to die.
  10. Therefore, if I use or allow the use of social media channels I am likely to die.

What do you think - is this a far-fetched or realistic explanation for fear of social media?

And what is really at the root of this fear?


By the way - I also presented at the forum (not on as dramatic a topic) and you can see my presentation on Slideshare here.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ignoring social media is a 'strategic error of the most basic nature' - Chief of US Naval Operations Adm

Fierce Government IT reports that Chief of US Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead says Ignoring social media is a 'strategic error of the most basic nature'.

In the US the military has been an active adopter of social media, with online channels seen as a critical theatre of influence. Most members of the US armed forces (with a few necessary exceptions) are encouraged and guided on how to communicate, collaborate and represent their nation and US forces in a effective manner through social media channels.

The article reported that,
"When you empower your workforce to be communicators, you must understand that you won't always agree with what they say or perhaps how they say it. You can certainly set reasonable boundaries--we tell our Sailors not to disclose classified information, and we expect everyone to treat everyone else with dignity and respect. But you can't dictate everything your people say," said Roughead.

The article also touched on the challenges of integrating social media into a hierarchical organisation,
Roughead said leaders must help the workforce navigate the blurring line between professional and personal, set policies that strike a balance between accountability and empowerment, and guard against the temptation of "making it about you," and not the organization.

It will be very interesting to see what the current review of social media use in Australia's armed forces says in comparison - and how they execute.

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Delib's downunder digital democracy documentary deliberations definitely defining

Delib's Chris Quigly has released the edited Australian digital democracy mini-documentary that he recorded earlier this year with a number of Government 2.0 leaders (plus myself) across Australia.

The nine minute mini-documentary provides an interesting perspective on Gov 2.0 approaches and trends in Australia. It also provides a defining view from the outside - how people in other countries might view what is happening in Australia.

I have not embedded the video below as it is worth reading Chris' post about the mini-documentary for context.

I cannot wait for the blooper reel! (well OK I can)

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dutch Civil Servant 2.0 books now available in English

Davied van Berlo's two books "Civil Servant 2.0" and "Civil Servant 2.0 beta" have finally been translated into English and are available online for free.

I've admired and followed the work of Davied, a Dutch Civil Servant, for several years now. Davied has been using the internet for about as long as I have and (at least in my opinion) is one of the leading thinkers regarding Government 2.0 in Europe.

Davied was named Dutch Information Professional of the Year in 2009 and voted second most influential person in local Dutch government in 2010.He participates broadly in global discussions on Government 2.0 through sites such as Govloop and is active on Twitter as @Davied in both Dutch and English. Davied also runs the 6,500 member Civil Servant 2.0 network in The Netherlands and is an active proponent for Pleio, a free open-source system for governments to rapidly roll out Government 2.0 initiatives.

Over 25,000 copies of Davied's two books have been circulated in The Netherlands and Belgium. Now they are in English, I expect to see this increase rapidly.

To paraphrase Davied's blog post Dutch Civil Servant 2.0 books translated in English,

The book "Civil Servant 2.0" (originally released in Dutch in 2008) explains the significance of web 2.0 for government in terms of its internal organisation, its relationship with the public, and the working methods of the civil servant. It also contains a lot of examples from the Netherlands.

"Civil Servant 2.0 beta" (2009), is an extension of Davied's first book, providing a practical interpretation of the concepts expressed in the first book, and contains action points and ideas for government organisations to develop their own strategies for government 2.0.

I regard both books a must-read for Government 2.0 practitioners and would-be practitioners in Australia.

Download Civil Servant 2.0 and Civil Servant 2.0 Beta for free

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Friday, June 10, 2011

AGIMO launches Government 2.0 Register for Commonwealth government

I've been a bit behind on blogging in the last two weeks due to my new job, however expect to get back into the flow next week.

In the meantime, this week has seen the important announcement of the Government 2.0 Register from AGIMO, which attempts to collect all of the Australian Government's social media initiatives into a single place.

The Register makes it much easier for agencies to compare and contrast executions, learn by others' innovation and build business cases for their own activities (where decision-makers are unaware of how much is actually going on).

While any list of this type is almost certainly going to miss a few initiatives, AGIMO has done an excellent job of identifying what is going on and is supporting user updating - meaning that agencies can self-report activities (or third parties can report for them).

Given the struggle I've had at time maintaining lists of Australian Gov 2.0 initiatives - as many agencies don't announce their public activities as publicly as they could - I'm very happy to see AGIMO taking on this challenge with their much greater resources and as they're actually paid to know what's going on so they can advise people effectively.

It is vital for Australian Governments to have internal self-knowledge of what their various agencies are doing, and sharing, collaborating and borrowing from the successes of others.

Otherwise we'd constantly be reinventing the wheel and waste public money hand over fist.

I hope we'll see similar initiatives outside of Gov 2.0 as well, enabled by Gov 2.0 platforms. Such as agency recruitment sites, research activities and reports, procurement practices, financial systems, organisational policies (starting with social media policies) and other areas where government agencies can share information in ways which improves collective knowledge and skills, reduces redundant work and saves money.

Who knows - maybe in the future new agencies will simply be able to pick from a 'shopping list' of best practice policies and approaches across government!



I'll keep updating my Twitter list with all the additional accounts AGIMO has identified, and with a bunch of others I've found - when I have spare time to do so.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Talking about Twitter

Thanks to links from John Sheridan (@sherro58) and Kerry Webb (@kwebb), I've been reading some of the latest articles and blog posts talking about Twitter.

They attempt to analyse and 'place' Twitter on the spectrum of human communication - discussing whether the service is more like text or like speech.

They also discuss the potential impacts of Twitter and other digital mediums on our brain chemistry and behaviour (which, incidentally, are affected by everything we do and learn).

I personally believe the best analogy to Twitter is thinking, not speech or text.

Twitter involves millions of individuals sharing small pieces of data at irregular intervals.  Taken together they form a mechanical stream of consciousness, layers of data, thoughts and experiences, most of it occurring outside of the conscious level of Twitter users (who don't follow these accounts or simply aren't looking at Twitter at the right time).

Many tweets - pieces of data - simply flow through the system and disappear, much like random thoughts.

However some contain data with interesting information pieces, such as news stories and events. These trigger some individual to click through to the full article in a webpage or video - a 'memory'.
 At other times Tweets form into conversations, between individuals or groups - frequently under a hashtag. While many of these conversations end unresolved, some build new knowledge on existing information or otherwise generate new ideas, leading to a further cascade of realisations.


The goal of all of these tweets is not necessarily to be lasting monuments to human achievement, or even to be relevant to most Twitter users. Some are signposts to more comprehensive content, memory markers for the web, others are processes of rationalisation, realisation or decision-making, or instant reports and analysis on 'now'.

If humans developed mechanical telepathy and connected several hundred million people together I believe the flow of content would not be dissimilar to the flow of information and dross across Twitter.

In fact, if we invented mechanical telepathy, Twitter might be a excellent medium for the transition of ephemeral and fast changing thoughts, using tools like hashtags to tie together sequences.


I've attached links to the pieces John and Kerry brought to my attention below, together with several student views on Twitter and several interesting infographics:

Thoughts about Twitter from several students in the Advanced Broadcast Journalism course at the University of Canberra:
Twitter Infographics:

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    Thursday, June 02, 2011

    Coping with the challenges of two-speed government agencies

    A couple of weeks ago I blogged about 21st Century society vs 19th Century laws and policing. My post discussed the interview and arrest of Ben Grubb, an Australian Technology Journalist, by Queensland Police in the context of the challenges for legislators and law enforcement in remaining current and relevant in a quickly digitalising world.

    A second issue arose on Twitter related to a response by @QPSMedia to a question. The QLD Police Media Unit stated publicly that Grubb had been interviewed but not arrested.

    Unfortunately this was untrue at the time. Grubb had been placed under arrest. @QLDMedia corrected their statement as soon as they were made aware of the changed situation (and took a little flak over their correction for "being too informal" - but that's the value of Twitter, short, fast and personable).

    My understanding in this case is that the Queensland Police Media Unit had checked and obtained high level clearance for the original 'interview' tweet. As far as they had known the original information was correct at the time of tweeting.

    I'm not about to criticise @QPSMedia for providing information they believe is correct at the time and then amend as soon as the error is recognised - that's actually very good practice. Frankly, considering the Queensland Police is a 24-hour organisation with 15,000 staff and over 5.2 million interactions with the public each year, it is unreasonable to assume that every interaction will be perfect.

    Even if you could effect a communications accuracy rate of 99.999% (with humans mind you, not machines) this would still leave room for one mistake each week (52 per year).


    What this particular situation does highlight for me is a major challenge for government agencies as they begin adopting social media. They are becoming two-speed organisations.

    The small teams in agencies that manage online channels and engage via social media are developing the culture, systems and processes to support rapid, open and less formal communication. They have, or are becoming, attuned to how to communicate effectively online and often provide broader advice and support to other teams in using these channels.

    However the areas that haven't embedded social media in their toolkit - the much larger 'rumps' of these agencies - are still operating on pre-internet systems and timeframes. Their focus isn't speed, but quality and diligence. They seek to ensure that information is triple checked before it is announced and that policies and communications are carefully deliberated and crafted to be precisely accurate in every particular.

    This means that whenever there is a need to respond quickly to public needs in a crisis or event, the social media team is ready and able to rise to the challenge (as @QPSMedia did in the Brisbane floods). However they may still struggle to source relevant, accurate and timely information from the rest of their organisation (as did @QPSMedia in the example I first provided).

    This may create communications and engagement breakdowns or slowdowns, leave agency social media teams looking ineffective or evasive and damage their ability to manage online relationships and incidents in effective ways.

    These slowdowns may ultimately impact on the overall reputations of agencies, leaving them looking slow or ineffectual.

    So how do we manage these two-speed government organisations?

    In the long-term we might see agencies capable of operating at internet speeds, with systems and processes that allow them to manage their data flow and quality needs while also meeting the public's desire for fast information.

    In the short-term, as our organisations evolve, it is critical to consider bridging tactics to allow agencies to operate at both speeds - deliberative and internet.

    These tactics can include preformatting messages wherever possible. For Twitter a former staff member in my team termed these 'Tweetplates', which could be pre-approved by management and then reused without additional approval requirements.

    Material or entire websites that aren't time sensitive can be prepared, reviewed and approved ahead of time, then used as needed in crisis (such as a list of hospital locations or standard emergency instructions). They should be reviewed periodically to keep them up-to-date.

    It is also possible to use delaying tactics - to a point. Rather than answering a question immediately it is acceptable to acknowledge the question, indicate that you're working on an answer and that you will provide the answer as soon as possible. Of course it remains necessary to actually answer the question when you said you would.

    Are there other tactics I've missed? Add them in the comments below.

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