Tribal Markings: hashtags

I found myself explaining the purpose of hashtags this morning on my Facebook page.  I’d posted to my news feed about a livestreaming event happening later in the day, with a reminder that hashtagging it would enable the conversation to be tracked.  Someone asked what a hashtag was.  Oh, how easily we forget that not everyone tosses around this jargon the way early adaptors (sometimes referred to as ‘geeks’) tend to do!  Here’s one definition

… a hashtag is a word preceded by a hash sign (#) that is collectively used by a group in their tweets, blog titles, videos, and pics to track discussions, events, conferences etc. It’s a good idea to keep them as specific, and short as possible e.g., a search in Twitter for #qldtheatre (a hashtag unique… to materials relating to theatre in Qld) will bring up any item tagged that way.

Another group had noted a definition of their own hashtag as a way for members of their ‘tribe’ to stay connected in discussions, events of various kinds, and to tag their posts, images etc.

In my wild, erratic fancy I imagined the humble hash mark # as a new kind of tribal marker. If you want to know more about this tribes conceit for groups connected in some way, see Seth Godin‘s terrific e-book Tribes.  It’s free to download along with other materials on tribal stuff at his site and to pass on – and don’t forget to hashtag it when you do #tribes.

Bye the bye, earlier in the week I watched a video shot by some Google folk.  It was a vox-pop kind of thing; interviewer approaches people in a crowded street – it looked like NYC – and asked them ‘Do you know what a web browser is?’  Like most of the general population they had a pretty fair idea; at least they knew it was a way to access the internet, even if they got it mixed up a bit at times.  The commentary on the blog post which referenced this video was shocked!  Well, maybe some members of various geek tribes were, but I’m not shocked by this response one-little-bit.  The good people who’d had a microphone and a camera shoved in their faces did pretty well – in fact I’d grade them a decent B to B+.  They knew how to use the web after all.  Baby steps, folks …

Anyhow, this post is about nothing so much as a random observation about how we’re constantly foxed by assumptions – that others know things that we, or someone else think they should know.  Well, how else will they learn if we don’t tell ’em.  I’m reminded of the first axiom of teaching: Assume nothing.

Creating a super-mobile conference blog

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

You know the old saying, ‘It never rains, but it pours’? Well, I’ve had one of those weeks … nice and slow for ages and suddenly, a bloggy downpour. At times during the week I found myself flipping backwards and forwards from one blog to another whilst fielding emails, telephone, and Skype calls from clients and collaborators. Oh the idiocy of multitasking! Continue reading “Creating a super-mobile conference blog”

BAD09: Green Theatre and other thoughts

blog action day
Image by sniggy via Flickr

Today, October 15 is Blog Action Day around the blogosphere. Those thousands of bloggers who have signed up to write about this year’s theme Climate Change, are sitting down and tapping out individual responses. The idea is simply to spread the word.  Maybe it’s preaching to the converted, or singing to the choir of our own smart tribe,  but we write from a personal angle about an issue that’s bigger than we collective bloggers combined.  Perhaps we do this to assuage some sort of guilt, knowing we contribute to the problem.  Perhaps it’s to create a collective sense of purpose.  And maybe it’s just by writing about it in this way that we are obliged to take 20 minutes or so from our busy lives to think a little more deeply about what it means to each one of us.

It’s hard to miss the reality of climate change. In my own neck of the woods, and during the past month I’ve experienced immense dust storms that have blocked out the sun, filled eyes and noses, and given rise to mordant apocalyptic jokes.  In late September windstorms swept across Australia over the course of a week dumping tonnes of precious topsoil out to sea. This week in my home city the dust was raised again as winds blew ferociously, rain storms broke overhead, and hail fell, and all in the space of a few hours on one day. This morning I drove through local countryside smoking from fires, while water-bombing helicopters buzzed overhead.  As I write, firefighters in various parts of Australia are on alert and continuing to battle bushfires, and it’s not even summer yet.  It might as well be; the countryside is tinder dry, and conditions are ripe for a disastrous summer.  We Australians are terrified of uncontrolled fire in our old, dry land; earlier this year in Victoria lives were destroyed with a speed and ferocity that still seems almost unbelievable.  We check the skies on a daily basis.  We long for rain – slow, steady, long, drenching days of rain, the kind we knew as kids.

We read about and listen to the debate, hoping that common sense and politics will converge before, during, and after the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year. We aim for a lighter carbon footprint, a term I wondered about a year ago when I wrote about BAD here on Groundling.  And so as individuals we try to do our bit; we sign up for solar-powered panels, and pay the extra few dollars on an air fare to offset carbon emissions, we turn off lights, refuse plastic bags, grow our own vegetables and reduce the food miles. Small towns ban water in plastic bottles – every bit helps.  And still the figures seem astronomical … beyond our capacity to control almost.  Certainly the forces of nature seem beyond our control.  It’s no wonder it all seems overwhelming, and why many find it all too hard, and just hope that things will get better. That’s no excuse of course, just the reality of people under siege.  Perhaps that is why we take some measure of comfort in doing things at home and at work that we hope will make a difference.  Arts companies are doing their bit in this regard.

It’s probably no coincidence given the date, but I read today in one of my blog feeds that New Leaf Theatre in Chicago is distributing ‘green programmes’ via smartphones as an alternative to the time-honoured paper artefact. The paper used to create what, to some, are precious memories of performance, are being reduced. This is a smart move; unsold, unused programmes are trashed or pulped in their thousands of tonnes each year. As I write this, the company I work with Queensland Theatre Company is squaring off with other state finalists for a national award through the Australian Business Arts Foundation. The ABAF awards honour the best relationships between business and the arts in the areas of partnering, volunteering, and giving. Queensland Theatre Company and URS, a global engineering and environmental services firm, embarked on achieving Queensland’s first ‘Green Theatre’ by working together during 2008 to create a carbon neutral production of The Importance of Being Earnest. They took out a state award, and are vying tonight for national recognition. Other arts companies throughout Australia are engaging with sustainable, green practices like this. The learnings from such partnering between the arts, engineering, and environmental science contributes to a growing body of knowledge about how human activity contributes to global warming, and in turn, assists in providing strategies to organisations to offset the emissions created.

Meanwhile, and in our own ways, we do what we can.  We hope that every bit helps.

Update: The ABAF partnership of the year was won by Bangarra Dance Theatre and Boral Australia.  Congratulations!

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Unsociable playground spats

When I was a primary (elementary) school teacher, one of the jobs I hated most was playground duty.  It meant losing your precious lunch or break ‘downtime’ to wander an always hot and dusty playground, often trailed by kids who liked nothing more than to tell tales on one another.  You had to keep an eye out for a little knot of kids; it almost always signalled a gathering over a new toy being proudly shown off, or just a game being played or a meeting amongst a gang of friends. It could also – and on rare occasions I’m glad to say – be one of those horrible physical kid fights – punching, rolling on the ground, always followed by tears and recriminations. You had to intervene, sort it out, dust them down and send them on their way with stern admonitions. It was also a lesson for me in reading the body language of everyone involved, even the onlookers, who were mostly shocked, teary and very very partisan – everyone had an opinion to accompany the pointing finger,  “S/he started it, miss.” Ah, the days in the old schoolyard!

Sometimes things get a bit rough and tumble in social networks too, and emoticons notwithstanding – you know these 🙂 🙁  – you can’t read the body language of the respondents, so it can be difficult to know who are the trolls or trouble-makers, and who just don’t have the social or linguistic skills needed to put a case.  Last night on Friendfeed – normally a fairly safe haven for robust discussion – a brainstorm session which I’d responded to was ‘interrupted’ shall we say by someone who was trying to put a counter argument. The big kids in the playground didn’t care for his contribution, and so he was ‘blocked’ – bye bye troll.   At this point I left the group and wandered on, glad I wasn’t on playground duty any more, but disappointed at the outcome of the discussion.  Shame though that some big kids still haven’t learned how to play nicely.

Have iPhone, will travel: the e-traveller another year on

I must say I’m missing my northern-summer travels this year. Perhaps it’s the cold westerly wind blowing outside as I sit here writing, while my thoughts turn to long, hot July days in the Mediterranean.  This picture is where I was one year ago – Knidos in Turkey.  For a few years now I have travelled with a couple of e-tools: a Nokia N95 and my trusty G4 Powerbook.  I used various online services to keep in touch with family and friends and to journal the experience. These included Flickr for the images that you have to capture on holidays, Twitter for quick, spontaneous comment on places and people, and of course the more reflective and longer posts which were sent directly to this blog.  Last year I tried something different.

Rather than keep my media enclosed within their respective sites, I embedded a Friend Feed widget within the posting pane here on Groundling.  As I uploaded images, posts, and tweets the ‘post’ stream kept updating. I called it ‘the blog that writes itself.’  It has a ring to it, you must admit!  This worked pretty well for most of the time, wireless hotspot dropouts and telco charges notwithstanding.  Would I change the way I journal my next holiday trip – at this stage planned for the northern spring of 2010? Well yes, of course, and why not?  The technology has moved on, and it’s a heck of a lot easier now to stay in touch.

Last week’s Macbreak Weekly (I’ve listened for years) included a panel discussion on how travellers can stay in touch using online services and a 3G enabled phone, in this case, an iPhone 3G or 3GS.  It seems the time has finally come when you can leave the laptop at home.  Leo Laporte and a couple of the panel, including Don McAllister and Andy Inhatko were about to head off to China for a week or so. They were sharing tips on how social media might simplify things.  There’s choice of course, from an RSS feed in a blog (similar to my idea from last year) through direct uploads to various social networks, and then through to aggregation on a Friend Feed stream. Don McAllister is using the ‘RSS in a blog’ model, while Leo Laporte is using his iPhone to upload material to various social networks via Posterous – as email attachments. These then get ported on to his Friend Feed stream.  Don’s approach is more focussed than Leo’s, and I wish I’d taken his advice about creating a separate and dedicated travel blog for the RSS feed. In that way I could have kept my travel posts more accessible as well as separate from Groundling’s other posts.  As it was, the embedded feed kept uploading after my return, and eventually I had to cut it off.  You live and learn as they say.

One tool that wasn’t available to me last year was the marvellous Audioboo for the iPhone. I’ve written about Audioboo before.  I’ve particularly enjoyed hearing Leo use this application from China. It’s really ideal to capture the sounds of a particular environment. I would certainly use Audioboo on my next trip – it comes complete with an image attachment and Google map location capability. Capturing a soundscape of the environment as well as providing an opportunity to interview people you meet, and to narrate responses to places and events is something I find really compelling. Audioboo’s tiny, simple to use, and the audio quality is first rate. It’s definitely on my packing list for next time.

As a footnote, apparently the Great Firewall of China is up this week, and Twitter is unavailable for use – my, what a powerful tool this is!  However, with a 3G-enabled phone, travellers like Leo are able to sidestep this ban by emailing their media as attachments to Posterous.  Seems there’s a workaround for pretty much everything these days.

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The evolution of a blog: enter the lifestream

If you’re a regular visitor to Groundling, you may have noticed that the last few days’ posts have been little compendiums of my online reading for the day. I haven’t posted any original material, but have chosen instead to share my day’s discoveries with my readers.  Lazy blogger? Mmm … well I don’t believe in posting when I don’t have anything to say, and whilst this temporary writer’s block isn’t going to last too much longer (I’m working on something dear reader, honestly), I’m banking on visitors here being perhaps interested in some of what floats by me or grabs my attention during the day.

Like many of us who blog I have a lot of other sites which require a certain amount of maintenance. What’s coming to be called a ‘life stream’ or the sum total of our posts and commentary on the web needs somewhere to call home. I want it to be here on Groundling – a hub, if you like that can take you out and beyond this site, but which also provides some return for your finding your way here. I’ve been working at the best way to do this. You’ll see my Friend Feed widget over there in the sidebar. This is a start, but there are other sites which I work in or visit, and which don’t create so much as a ripple here.  I’m referring especially to the many terrific posts which pop up daily in my subscription feeds to other blogs and websites.

Most articles from these feeds relate to Groundling’s interests, and would find a congenial place here snuggled up with other posts on creativity, performance, design, arts business … all the topics I write about.  Up to now I have tended to share particularly interesting material from these feeds via a ‘like’ or ‘share’ click directly from Google Reader or Feedly (a Mac desktop reader).  Shared posts then appear on my Google shares page, whilst ‘liked’ posts more recently have found themselves ported into my Friend Feed; I’ve set it up this way.  Other material I find and share during the day will arrive eventually in Friend Feed via Tumblr, Flickr, Vimeo, Facebook etc.  I do use these other sites selectively however: obviously Flickr for photos, Vimeo for video, but Tumblr for example tends to be for quotes that I like, whilst Facebook is for me, pretty much a ‘niche’ area which I quarantine from most other social sites.  In other words, I don’t send anything to Facebook automatically via Friend Feed.  Because of the way I have set it up, Friend Feed then streams selected posts out to Twitter.

Now while this reliance on Friend Feed works well for most of my finds, given the nature of the fast-flow in Friend Feed and Twitter, most of the links are quickly washed downstream and out of sight. Its rare to get an RT (retweet) or a comment in Twitter or Friend Feed after about 20 minutes – unless, of course, you post when a good portion of your followers or friends, especially those in another time zone, are otherwise occupied or asleep.  These usually get back to you within 12 hours or so,  if at all.  Now getting a comment or being re-tweeted is not my main intention in sharing via social networks. I also like to archive the more interesting or substantial links, and stash them away for research and reference. However, there’s no denying that stimulating conversation is one of the reasons I’ve engaged with social media. Here’s the rub: I’ve got lots of places where conversation and comment could happen, and whilst I’m pulling lots of these via Friend Feed, which any visitor here can access over there on the right, along with the latest tweets and Audioboos,  I’d like to pull even more into Groundling if I can – into the mainstream of the blog post – and make this the prime focus of my social networking as well a comment enabler on posts.  I want a workflow that meets all of my needs, and whilst I haven’t quite cracked it, I’m well on the way.  About those daily link readings … here’s how I set up automatic publication of my likes and shares to Groundling.

I check my feeds in Feedly on a daily basis – you may prefer every second day, or whatever rhythm suits.  Then, rather than ‘like’ or ‘share,’  I tag selected posts using a bookmartlet,  and add them to my Delicious site.  As far as each of these links is concerned, I read each post and write a brief introduction – I hate bare hotlinks!  I also keyword-tag these posts in the Delicious posting pane to make it easier to search for a particular article at a later stage.  Having got my links into a searchable, archivable site, the next step is to get them from Delicious to my blog on a regular basis.  To do this I set up the automatic Blogposting feature which you’ll find under ‘Blogging’ on your settings page in Delicious.  The default title for each of these daily posts is ‘Daily links plus the date.’ If you want to change this to something else, download the WordPress Delicious Daily Blogpost Fixer plugin which will do the job admirably; it’s at work here.  What I now have is an automatic post of my daily links straight from Delicious to Groundling.  Now here’s the good bit, and a productivity geek’s delight. I downloaded the WP FFDirect plugin which means that every post published here is pinged immediately to Friend Feed – the daily links as well as other posts. From there, because of the way I’ve set Friend Feed up, my post notifications also go out to Twitter. Set and forget, cover all the bases. Love it.

With this blog as the prime site, I’m starting to get my material flowing the way I want it in my lifestream. But of course, like a garden, it’s a work in progress. Stay tuned!

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