Saturday, December 16, 2017

It was my 11th Twitter birthday yesterday

I've been a member since 15th December 2006. Eleven years. I was one of the early adopters in the UK. This is how it happened.

Downstairs back wall
The calm before the storm
London Tech Christmas Party December 2006
I was part of the London Tech community's Christmas 'Mega Bash' of 2006 led by Ian Forrester of BBC Backstage. The idea was to get all the London tech community groups together and to have a big Christmas bash on Saturday 9 December 2006. Swedish Beers was one of the groups involved alongside London Girl Geekdinners, Geekdinners, London Perlmongers, London Webstandards Group, London Ruby user group, Open rights group, London 2.0, Mobile Monday, LondonSEO. Of those, Swedish Beers is definitely still going strong with no sign of letting up any time soon (I hope).

The sponsors on the night fared better. Trusted Places went to Yell. SkillsMatter, Chinwag, TechCrunch UK, and O'Reilly are all still around in one form or another. AdMob sold to Google for megabucks. And Connect Me Anywhere was the precursor to Iovox.

Twitter didn't quite make the grade as a full-on sponsor, but they were involved in some way. It's a long time ago. I can't remember the detail. There was some Twitter activity that night, but I hadn't been organised enough to sign up to the service. And in all honesty, I really couldn't see the point of micro-blogging. I'd been doing long-form blogging for 3 years at that point and I'd been an active member of Flickr since 2005 and even had a PRO account so I could store more photos. That was my social network of choice at the time. We used that and Moblog a bit like Instagram is used now except we took our photos on our mobile or cameras and uploaded via desktop or laptop computer.  My business networking was done on Soflow, Ecademy and LinkedIn. So I could see the point of social networking (although we didn't call it that then), but microblogging? Yeah, wasn't so sure on that one.

I took some nudging from Ian to get signed up to Twitter. I did it as a favour to him after the party to help him meet his obligations to Twitter. And in those early days, I really couldn't see the point so I wasn't particularly active. And my first tweets don't reveal very much of note either. Also at the time, Twitter wasn't market leader. We also had Jaiku and Pownce. Jaiku has more functionality. I seem to remember Pownce having some weird USP that I can't quite remember, but they were both also about micro-blogging.

Fast forward to February 2007, and it's 3GSM in Barcelona - what is now Mobile World Congress. Twitter is integrated with SMS and you could do things like create an interest group and everyone in the group would receive the messages via SMS. You could post and receive via SMS for free as well. In Barcelona, on roaming, and many of us on the same mission to find out where the action was at 3GSM, Twitter suddenly had a purpose. The most similar thing to that now would be a WhatsApp or WeChat Group. Now I got the point. We could share messages with each other easily and for free. We could find out about what was going on and get answers to questions. All useful stuff. And now, all superseded by other services.

It's fair to say that for a few years I was an enthusiastic Twitter user. I met many people via Twitter. Engaged in the offline Twitter meet-ups and I met new clients via Twitter as well. It was still small enough that you could keep track of the people you were following and in turn, you could be found and make an impression. Most people still couldn't see the point of it so it stayed in the category of quality not quantity in those days.

But as the masses joined in, the usefulness and relevance for me decreased. And for the last few years, I've hardly used it at all. Facebook and LinkedIn have taken over in usefulness and reach for me - particularly the former, even for business-related content.

But, I'm still there and I'm using it a bit more again since I picked up the blogging pace this November. It's harder work because of the volume of stuff to wade through. And I'm not sure how much reach I get from Twitter. My blog stats say Google and Facebook are my main drivers of traffic with Twitter barely showing a blip these days. But maybe that will change now that I'm a bit more engaged. These platforms have a way of ebbing and flowing over time. And maybe now that Twitter is not quite as micro-blogging as before, it will make a difference.

If you'd like to relive that London Tech Mega Christmas Bash 2006, you can do that here. And if you're feeling brave, you can check out the photos. We certainly look younger, but so many of the photos are deeply, deeply unflattering!

Day 16/25 Blogmas

Friday, December 15, 2017

It's Quizmas!

My friend, Jane, runs the International Quizzing Association and is arguably, the Queen of Quizzing. She and her team write and verify thousands of quiz questions for TV and radio quiz shows and mobile quiz apps. She also runs various quiz events including the World Quizzing Championships and the Quizzing Olympiad. And if you run your local pub quiz or need quiz questions for a magazine, newspaper or something else, you can buy them via  the store on her website.

As a Christmas treat, Jane and her team have put a FREE Quizmas Quiz into their online store for you all to enjoy this festive season. The quiz has three rounds of 10 questions along with an anagram round and a picture quiz. It's designed for you to share with friends and family over the holiday. If you go to the home page, just hit the 'Store' button on the top right and follow the link.

Not only that, but you can also have 20% off any of the 16,000+ questions that are the Quizzing store too. These questions are available to download as soon as you have paid for them - just type QUIZMAS in at checkout. (Code is valid until 31 December 2017.)

Good luck and happy quizzing!

Day 15/25 Blogmas

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Have you been Wham'd?

It's Whamageddon time. Are you playing? I'm a bit late to this as it's been going since 1st December but since I haven't yet been Wham'd, I'm still in the game.

I have a soft spot for this Christmas song as it played a big part of my teenagehood and forms the soundtrack to many happy memories so I don't mind hearing it. It's also by George Michael and with him passing earlier this year, it's a reminder of his contribution to our musical history (arguably, he wrote better songs than this, but this one is possibly the most pervasive).

Have you been Wham'd?

Day 14/25 Blogmas

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Less can be more

It's very easy to get carried away at Christmas and buy huge amounts of gifts for your nearest and dearest. Sometimes the pressure to get a present means you end up buying things the recipient neither needs nor wants, but it fulfils your self-imposed obligation of buying a gift. It's also tempting at this time to buy gifts for yourself as you're out shopping with the intention of buying for others, especially when there are sales on and discounts in so many of our High Street stores. I'm not sure that online shopping makes that any better.

A friend just shared this quote about toddlers being happier with fewer toys. I think it's particularly pertinent at this time of year. Gift giving is lovely and arguably gives as much, if not more pleasure to the gift giver than the recipient, especially when you get the gift 'just right'. I'm not suggesting you stop buying anything or stop buying gifts at all, but maybe take a little more care over what you're buying and why and consider what one Mum shared about her experience of living with less.
"'When I took away most of my children’s toys, I gave them the gift of imagination. When I let go of all the extra sets of dishes, I gave my kids the gift of an extra hour with them at the end of the day that would otherwise be spent rinsing plates. When I simplified their wardrobes, I gave them back the focus of a mother no longer drowning in laundry cycles. When I cleaned out our family room and turned off the TV, I gave them time to connect with me and one another. All the choices I made, everything I removed from our space, it all gave my children more minutes with their mama.'
Now science proves it: Kids are happier with fewer toys. And you probably will be, too."
 Via Motherly

Day 13/25 Blogmas

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

France to ban mobile phones in schools

Photo: AFP via The Local FR.
Following on from yesterday's post about mobile phone etiquette at the theatre, I read a post this morning about France banning mobile phones in schools. Apparently phones are already banned from classrooms, but from September next year, students will be banned from taking them out at breaks, lunchtimes and between lessons according to this news report from The Local.
"France's education minister announced on Sunday that mobile phones will be banned from schools in France.
Jean-Michel Blanquer confirmed that the ban, which the government had been mulling for some time, will be implemented in September 2018. Phones are already banned in the classrooms in France but from September next year, pupils will be barred from taking them out at breaks, lunch times and between lessons.
"These days the children don't play at break time anymore, they are just all in front of their smartphones and from an educational point of view that's a problem," said Blanquer."
Amazingly this was in the manifesto that helped elect centrist, Emmanuel Macron. It was seen as a matter of public health. I get the reasons why they want to do it - lessen the chances of cyber bullying, allow pupils several hours away from a screen, it avoids distraction from learning so helps discipline, reducing reliance on social media and encouraging students to establish relationships in person rather than virtually, reducing isolation and reduce mobile phone addiction, lessen incidents of RSI. I'm sure there are many more good reasons for the ban.

I just don't see how it can be done. Can the genie be put back in the bottle? Pupils already admit to breaking the rules about using their phones in the classroom. There were no mobile phones in my day at school, but we routinely broke the rules about passing notes to each other, reading banned books during lessons (Christiane F and Flowers in the Attic are the two most remember) amongst other transgressions.

And where do connected devices come into this - the smartwatches, the Fitbits, the connected medical devices (for those that need the)? Or what I think is most likely to happen, is that pupils will start having more than one device. They'll check one phone in in the morning and get it locked away and keep another one on their person.

There have also been calls for this in the UK. If you click on this link to a letter in the Guardian on the topic, you'll see a whole bunch of other related articles on the same topic.

Of course, this approach goes against the grain of mobile learning which can be extremely powerful. Thinking back to my experience with Woebot, I'm wondering if something like that could be used to help a child dealing with stress or bullying at school during school hours. Equally, I think Chatbots could be useful to help children with revision or to learn a topic they may be having trouble with learning in a classroom environment.

This always on thing isn't without problems and I guess we're still learning about how to integrate it into our lives. Hmmm.

Day 12/25 Blogmas

Monday, December 11, 2017

Mobile phone etiquette raises its head again...

I go to the theatre a lot and inevitably, at some shows, there will be a mobile phone that starts ringing part-way through the performance. You think you've turned your phone to silent but for some reason it isn't silent. Mistakes happen. I can ignore it. It happened once to me. A phone, for whom nobody knows the number (it has a US number), started vibrating in my bag. I didn't react because I didn't think it could be my phone as no-one knows the number so who would be calling me? It turns out it was my phone and it was some spammer bulk dialling and taking a chance on the number being live.

I must admit, I don't like it when I can see someone has their phone screen on during a performance. Those screens are really bright and when you're plunged into darkness in a theatre, if you're upstairs in the Royal or Upper Circle, you can see a phone light go on straight away. It's distracting. If there were a persistent offender sitting near me, I would probably have a word with them. In the same way that I would have a word if someone was talking during a performance. I don't have to do it very often, but I do do it.

Unfortunately, calling out poor etiquette can have consequences. Just last week, The Stage reports that there was an incident at The Old Vic in London. Adam Gale, a theatre producer from New York witnessed a woman using her mobile phone throughout the first half of a performance of A Christmas Carol and asked her to stop using it. I think that's fair enough. I would probably do the same in the same circumstances. Unfortunately for Adam, during the interval, the woman's partner punched Mr Gale and the couple left the theatre. The theatre confirmed that there had been an altercation between three people over a mobile phone.

It's not the first time I've read of tempers fraying in a theatre over the use of a mobile phone. Arguably, it's something that ushers should be dealing with more promptly. However, ushers are not particularly well paid and they're generally young people and potentially may be reticent to intervene in case it causes aggravation.

Some are calling for a zero tolerance policy for mobile phones in the theatre. In China, they use lasers to shame patrons using their mobile phones during a performance. Numerous examples of actors calling theatre-goers out when their phone rings or they can see the light from a mobile screen are noted here. Back in 2015, Benedict Cumberbatch made an impassioned plea to the audience about restricting their use of their phones to outside of the performance. The problem persists.

And there will be some cases where it's important for someone to be able to access their phone during a performance - a doctor on call, for example. Or, as I experienced this week, there was a reviewer taking notes about the performance I was watching and using his phone as a torch. He was using it as subtly as possible with the screen turned towards the page and we were both at the back so unlikely to distract anyone much. Once I could see what he was doing, I put it out of my mind. In both instances, I would ask in that people turn their screen brightness right down. It helps a bit.

Meanwhile, theatre desperately needs publicity about shows and performances that are best shared via mobile devices. They need the tweets, Facebook statuses and Instagram photos so that the word gets out about the show. Yet, theatres can be very tough with theatre goers about taking a photo of the stage on arrival, for example if you're checking in to Swarm or Facebook. That seems to me to be over-zealous. There's a big difference between a pre-show selfie and a mid-show recording.

Occasionally with shows, the audience is encouraged to get their phones out and take photos and video. They do this at the end of School of Rock and it's a touch of genius. It's at a point in the story where it feels most like a rock concert and phones are most definitely part and parcel of a rock concert. The genius part of it though is that the audience take hundreds of amazing action shots of the show and immediately share them with their friends and family telling them how fantastic the show is. (And it really is a fantastic show).

So there's a time and a place. And there's awareness of how your behaviour may affect others experience. And there's downright selfishness.

Zero tolerance is not the answer. You really don't know the reason someone has their phone on. There might be a valid reason. And there will always be fellow theatregoers who munch or talk their way through a show. I dunno. Maybe some relaxation of photography rules pre and post show coupled with a firmer stance from (trained) ushers during a show may pay dividends.

And let's not mention the annoying lights from a smartwatch or Fitbit...

Day 11/25 Blogmas