Archive for the ‘web 2.0’ Category

An important part of my role as a web communications strategist is to stay connected to other practitioners engaged in web communications, social media, web 2.0, etc – particularly in government, but of course there is always value in seeing what’s happening outside of government circles as well.

Below are some online and face-to-face communities and groups that I am connected with, and which I feel provide a great way to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in online communications.


govloopA facebook-type of online space and community dedicated to connecting government employees from around the world.  GovLoop has hundreds (maybe thousands?) of different groups, forums, blogs, etc where participants can share best practices, ask questions, and connect with other like-minded people on issues of common interest.  It’s easy to create your own profile, search for “friends” and connect with them, blog, join groups, etc.   If you’re not on GovLoop already, I highly recommend joining!


w2pThis is a less-formal but very beneficial local Ottawa community of government practitioners interested in Web 2.0 use in/for government.  Organized by Doug Bastien using Twitter and TwitVite (ex: this group meets regularly to discuss a variety of issues related to web 2.0/social media use in government.  Focus tends to be on federal government, but there are many issues that apply at the local level.  The W2P community has also organized an annual (free!) full-day networking event for the past two years.  I attended the event this year, and it was on-par with conferences organized by ALI and the Conference Board – each of which cost > $1000 pp.  Well worth connecting with #W2P on twitter and going out to their meetings and events.

CPS Renewal / Nick Charney


Ok so this isn’t a community, but rather a very active “connector” in social media for government, and definitely someone to connect with!  Follow Nick on Twitter, and read Nick’s blog to stay in the loop on the latest trends and happenings (particularly in Ottawa) around web 2.0/social media and government, and government transformation.

Third Tuesday Ottawa

thirdtuesdayWhile not focused specifically on government, the Third Tuesday Ottawa Meetups are about bringing together people in a F2F venue from Ottawa to discuss communications and marketing.  Many of the speakers and topics in the past have focused on social media use and web 2.0, and have been presented by government employees.  Worth joining the group and keeping an eye out for topics of interest.

Social Media Breakfast Ottawa

smbottawaWith a specific focus on social media, these events are a great way to meet other local people in a F2F venue interested in social media.  Not focused specifically on government, these events are typically an interesting way to learn and share about novel uses of social media tools and approaches.  They have in the past taken place at Gowlings on Elgin Street right across from City Hall – conveniently located to drop by before work (usually from 7:30-9am)

Girl Geek Dinner Ottawa

GGDOttawaMonthly F2F events aimed to make technology accessible and interesting to all age groups and all people, particularly women.  The dinners are always held in pubs, bars or restaurants and there is usually a speaker (or several) who talk for a short while on a chosen subject for the evening.  I’ve never been to one of their events, but have heard great things about them!

I’m sure I’ve missed lots of other great communities, groups, networks worth mentioning – please share your examples of local Ottawa F2F and online groups.


There are many great examples of governments taking the initiative to share their public data openly.  It’s not a simple matter of just put it online – in order to be useful to people, the data must be (1) appropriate types of data; (2) available in usable formats; (3) owned and maintained by someone – as a reliable data source; and (4) used to create things that are useful and usable to people.  This involves a set of polices, guidelines, procedures, roles and responsibilities, and best practices to create an effective open data initiative.  Here are some examples of the current state of open data initiatives in a variety of governments – I’m sure there are many other great examples missing from my list, and I’d be delighted to learn about other examples – please share them!

Washington, DC

Washington DC is currently THE model for Open Data.  They started by aggregating data into a publicly available collection at:

Key issues – data needs to have clear owner; maintenance schedule, policies, procedures; common accessible formats; added value is for community to have way to contribute back to the City with app development.

Evolved to Apps for Democracy competition:

Involved a modest amount of prize money awarded to application developers creating new web-based applications that utilized the City’s open data.

A second Apps for Democracy competition (dubbed Community Edition) extended the competition to focus on City problems that could be solved with technology, and to develop 311 online applications to help solve those problems. The 2nd competition has taken the bar to a whole new level with the development of a DC 311 API:

DC 311 API – allows developers to create application interfaces to interact with the DC 311 call centre.  For example, the Facebook and iPhone applications ( were developed using the DC 311 API.

The initiative of Washington has sparked many other Governments to look at sharing their public data:

US Federal Government

The former CIO of Washington (Vivek Kundra) moved on to work with as the US Federal Government CIO, and quickly established the Open Data initiative to make public data generated by Fed Gov’t branches available at a central location.  One application developed to date is for Federal Parks & Recreation data – it allows you to search by state/activity/etc.  One issue/problem with this dataset is that it’s only Federal Level data, so searching for “New York State” and “camping” returns Federal Parks only, omitting any State park information… next step would be to include state & municipal level data into the mix.

San Francisco

A pretty amazing collection of datasets is available at including a pretty impressive collection of apps (both web-based and mobile) at: for example for the iPhone to help people find locations to recycle or dispose of “just about anything”.


Recently announced an open data initiative, and already has a Beta website up with some data available in various formats:

Nanaimo, BC

Already has a pretty rich collection of datasets available on the web:


At the MESH Conference in Toronto, April 2009, Toronto Mayor Miller announced the City’s intentions for an open data plan.  Details and timeline (initial datasets released Fall of 09) is available at:

New York

Gale Brewer, chair of the Committee on Technology in Government of the New York City Council, has introduced a draft law that would adopt open data sharing standards for the city’s government. (Source: Blog)

New York City is organizing an Open 311 Dev Camp to bring together community members to discuss development of a NYC 311 API (or possibly a more universal 311 API):


Announced plans for an open data initiative in July 2009:

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources

Perhaps a great example of how NOT to do an open data initiative, the MNR has a page of “Data available to the general public”, with such useful datasets (sarcastic tone inferred) as Beaver Dam locations between 1976-1996.  Ok, their dataset selection is certainly useful to a select crowd, but to get the data you have to email someone – not good.

Portland, OR

Excellent City Council resolution in support of Open Data & Open Source.

A few weeks ago I was at the MESH Conference in Toronto – an excellent event, well worth attending – where the term community emerged as one of the core concepts being used by many of the presenters.  Other than being a bit peeved at the bastardization of the term community, it was a pleasure to connect with other social media community folks at MESH!  I started reflecting on the concept after hearing many people toss the term around quite losely, and also thinking about the meaning of community in a web-enabled world.

community1Let’s start with the concept… a community is a sociological construct or model which means different things to different people, but at it’s core involves a group of people with identifyable commonalities. Traditionally tied by geographic proximity, in the modern digital era the meaning of community has evolved and changed radically as the degree of virtual interconnectness has increased.

There are core values which are critical to the cohesive bonding required for a group of people to identify themselves as a community. Community affiliation is dependent upon unity or connectiveness among a group of people driven by common values, ethics, and/or interests that are meaningful, identifiable, and which have a degree of commitment from the members.

Etienne Wegner, in defining a Community of Practice, describes a community as having an “identity defined by a shared domain of interest”, with a “commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people”.  It’s the commitment to the domain that I think challenges the concept of community in an online world.  It’s an easy process to join an online group, or be part of an online community; and to participate in that online space.  It’s also easy to quickly disassociate oneself from that space and association, and the bond or commitment to that space could be neglible.  While not all members of a community would necessarily know each other, they should be able to identify and connect with each other in a meaningful way.

Some companies seem to be using the concept of online communities as a marketing move in an attempt to make people feel more connected to their products, and to try to build increased brand awareness and loyalty.  Does this make those groups of online people communities?  I would argue that in most cases no – associating with others online around a particular brand could easily be dependent upon the satisfaction to the brand more than any bond with the group of people themselves.  So if, for example, a member of the Pepsi “community” were to start drinking Coke (or better yet Green Smoothies) instead, then there is no longer an association or commitment to that group of people.  It’s easy to make this brand-change, and the bonds tying people together aren’t founded on common values, ethics or interests.  I can’t picture people who drink pepsi high-fiving each other in the street just because they drink pepsi (or even acknowledging that connection at all).

One of the challenges of cultivating online communities is the ease with which people can dissociate themselves, or just forget about the group of people.  It takes time and commitment around a strong set of core values to build stickiness and depth that bonds and holds a group together as a community.

There are of course many examples of strong vibrant communities that either exist completely online, or are founded in a strong online presence.  The social media community is a great example  – with common values, interests & connections bonding people together, both virtually through various online spaces; and in person at a variety of ongoing events.  The MuniGov community is another great example, which brings people together around shared areas of focus, expertise and values – yet is entirely virtual, operating through Second Life and the web.  We could look to these (and many other) examples for what makes online communities work – in another post!

Of course there are many other issues defining online community – identity, privacy, access, etc, etc… I’d love to hear your opinions on the concept of community in a web-enable world.

Many organizations around the world are demonstrating the business value of engaging in social media, from large multi-national corporations using social media for marketing activities, to small firms engaging their clients more directly, and governments seeking new ways to connect and interact with constituents.

socialmedia-businesscaseDespite the growing adoption rates of social media around the world, many organizations are still reticent, and fail to see the value of it. Governments in particular are struggling with the potential benefit of participating in social media in contrast to the potential for employee abuse. There are many examples of governments using social media while banning access for employees. There is also a perception that websites and tools like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs or wikis are intended strictly for personal use, are time-wasters and not only provide little to no value for an organization, but distract employees or take away from business operations.

Not everyone has the benefit of jumping into social media as an experiment or pilot activity, so here is a simplified framework for developing a business case for social media. This is intended to sketch out some of the key arguments for introducing social media in your organization, and to help you develop a sound business case to present to decision makers. The examples are very brief, while providing rationale, examples, and support to generate an understanding of the argument.

1. Rationale

Describe why the organization should use social media, and the goals and objectives that you’re trying to achieve.  Provide details of the problems, challenges, opportunities or shortcomings that will be addressed by using social media.

Ex: Our clients are complaining about us on blogs & twitter, and not contacting us directly. Goals – increase the satisfaction levels of our clients by establishing a more direct link with our clients and putting a human face on our corporation.

Define the specific details of what the initiative will achieve, change, or impact; and how success will be measured.

Ex: Success could be measured by reduced complaints on blogs & twitter; an increase in sales, or reduction in product returns or complaints.

2. Client-centric perspective

Provide an understanding of how people currently access the organization’s information and services; and how they want to access your information and services (ex: through a survey, or market research).

Get metrics & statistics on your website usage, and search terms used; any supporting general Internet usage statistics; and any statistics and information from competitors. Compare the way you do business online with other organizations (not just your competitors).

3. Risks

(a) Identify the risks associated with the initative, including what could go wrong, and a description of the worst-case scenario.

Ex: Lots of bad comments and reviews on your website.

(b) Identify the risks association with not undertaking the initiative, including what could happen if you don’t engage in social media.  Know your client, and get an understanding of the perception of your business if you do/don’t engage in social media.

The conversation is happening out there anyways – with or without you – the degree to which you engage is optional, but you should at least be aware of the conversation and monitoring it.

4. Business Intelligence

Define the type of functionality required to meet your goals and objectives; meet your client’s needs; and reduce the risks.  Research and describe possible solutions.  Include reviews, case studies, and comparisons.

  • What are others doing?
  • What are the industry best practices?
  • Who are your competitors, and what are they doing?
  • What is popular or trending?
  • What relevant technology advances are happening?

5. Stakeholders

Identify all the key stakeholders who need to be involved in the process of introducing social media to your organization, including:

  • Business clients
  • Communications
  • IT
  • Legal
  • Accessibility
  • Clients, etc

6. Investment

Provide a breakdown of the costs involved, including:

  • People
  • Money
  • IT infrastructure needs, etc.

7. Process, Roles & Responsibilities

Identify the steps that need to happen to introduce social media to your organization.

Developing, piloting, testing, soft launch, public launch, etc?

Identify roles and responsibilities for various aspects of the initiative.

Who will provide support (technical, training), monitoring, facilitating, engagement, etc?

Include a plan for how to monitor and evaluate the success of the initiative – related back to the goals and objectives.

I recently registered for the MESH conference in Toronto (April 7 & 8 at the fabulous MaRS Collaboration Centre), and one of the keynote speakers is Jessica Jackley, co-founder of a new spin on microfinancing.

I remember hearing about micro-financing many years ago when I worked for the International Development Research Centre.  The concept was first introduced by the Grameen Bank as a way to help alleviate poverty in developing countries by empowering people to take action themselves.  It’s a great concept, and over time it’s certainly proven it’s value as one means of helping people to help themselves, and to provide opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist. broadens the concept through the power of the participatory web to allow anyone around the world to become a micro-lender.  It’s quick and simple to create an account, add funds through PayPal or with a credit card, and direct those funds to micro-borrowers from anywhere around the world.  Kiva works with a network of microfinancing institutions around the world to receive funding requests and dispurse loans.

Through the Kiva website lenders can easily track the repayment of funds, and search for other opportunities to support interesting ventures of entrepreneurs in developing countries.  Kiva also helps to connect lenders through their groups feature, which allows group members to collaborate with each other, and target their funds together in support of partiuclar ventures.

Great to see the power of web 2.0 being put to such great use and having a significant impact (over $64 million in funds dispursed to almost 100,000 unique loan requests) to improve the lives of people who are otherwise quite removed from the developed world.

I’m looking forward to hearing more from Jessica at the MESH conference in a few weeks.  In the interim, be sure to check out


Last week I attended Ottawa’s first Social Media Book Club meeting, which brought together about a dozen social media enthusiasts from the area.  The meeting was organized by Kelly Rusk from and Scott Lake.  I’ve actually never been part of a book club before, even though I enjoy reading – so this was a first for me.  I also find it difficult to find the time to sit and chat about social media with like-minded people f2f, so another bonus!

outliersThe book club was also inspiration for me to read a new book, the choice of the month being “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell.  Having read “Tipping Point” (and lovin it!), I was pretty excited about Outliers.  In case you haven’t read it already, it’s about different conditions that come together to propel people to excellence in life – examples including Bill Gates journey to world IT domination, which was not just hard work (although the 10,000+ hours of computer time helped!), but also a series of “lucky” circumstances including the time period he was born, access to computer labs when he was young, and a series of opportunities that helped foster his skills.

Gladwell goes on to argue that not all exceptionally skilled people succeed, largely because it takes much more than individual effort, but rather social support to cultivate the skill set and create the right environment for someone to succeed.

One of the interesting topics raised at the book club meeting was, “how does social media influence the ‘outliers’ effect?”  In other words, in today’s connected world, do people have greater opportunities?  Is the playing field leveled?  I would argue that people have greater opportunities to social support networks through social media channels, and this presents more potential to collaborate, share knowledge and ideas, and gain more experience – thus improving the potential for people to become “outliers”.  For example, an aspiring musician has access to a wealth of information, lessons, examples, peers, and mentors online.  Furthermore, it’s easy for someone to connect with other musicians, and even to jam online with others from around the world.  When I was growing up I was limited to jamming with friends from school – and thus the reason I’m not on a world-wide tour today!

I’m not sure yet what the next book club selection will be, but hopefully either “Naked Conversations” or “Here Comes Everybody”, as I have both of them sitting on my bookshelf waiting for some motivation to dig in!

Yammer is a tool for helping companies and organizations to be more productive through the exchange of short frequent messages.  It functions similar to an instant messaging client, however messages are visible to an entire group of participants, rather than sent as bilateral exchanges between two participants only.  Access to a Yammer group is limited to participants with the same email extension (ex:

yammer-logoThe tool is an invaluable way to collaborate as a team, share quick updates, relevant links and information nuggets, without relying on email.  Yammer can be used to quickly collect a list of useful reference materials; share notices of events; share relevant website links; share short industry-relevant news updates; and many other short pieces of information, opinion and knowledge that are relevant.

The desktop client allows a participant to post and read messages sent to Yammer, and more importantly to be notified of new messages through a taskbar icon.  The desktop client extends the use of Yammer to include more timely information sharing, more dynamic online conversations, and improved interaction, knowledge sharing and collaboration.

I’ve been using Yammer at work since Sept 08, and find it to be a great way to share things with the entire team, and have short quick conversations that would be of interest to the entire team.  Rather than sending email messages cc’d to everyone, yammer is a great way to ensure that everyone can view the message, and can also search through the archive of messages at a later time.  The desktop client certainly extends the value of Yammer, simply because of the notification icon in the toolbar, although the web version does auto-refresh and include a number in the tab-name when new messages appear, which is handy.

ChangeCamp Toronto

Posted: January 26, 2009 in web 2.0
Tags: , , ,

changecamp I had the pleasure of attending ChangeCamp in Toronto over the weekend, and it was an excellent experience.

The event actually came together really quickly – I heard that the organizers started pulling it all together in mid-December – and the end result was incredible. I actually learned about ChangeCamp only a few days before the event through Twitter, and made a quick decision to attend. The (un)conference was very well organized, with some obvious good sponsorship backing to provide the event with an excellent venue (the MaRS collaboration centre), an abundance of support staff, resources, and materials to make everything happen very smoothly. They even had some good food and drinks free of charge.

So what was ChangeCamp? ChangeCamp is a free participatory web-enabled face-to-face event that brings together citizens, technologists, designers, academics, policy wonks, political players, change-makers and government employees to answer one question: How do we re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation?

The turnout was impressive, with about 100 people in attendance. They used an open space conference approach – basically the agenda is created in the morning by those in attendance. Anyone can suggest a specific topic (related to the general theme of the conference), and select a time and location to discuss the topic (from a pre-defined grid of timeslots with about two dozen table locations for each time). Once all the times are filled, the event begins, and people self-select the topics of most interest to them to attend. Participants can wander between groups, with the intent that ideas will flow between groups.

All of these sessions were captured using a wiki as the primary central archive, and lots of folks also snapping photos, shooting video, and capturing audio clips. The end result being a large organic collection of discussions, ideas, concepts and action plans.

I found that time was a bit limited to reach the action-plan stage, but there was certainly a lot of great ideas being shared, and tons of enthusiasm to see the ideas turn into actions.

I led a discussion on “how cities can use social media to help manage crisis situations”, from which I took two main points: (1) establish City social media channels for “regular business”, build a strong following and get known in the community so that can be converted to emergency channels during a crisis and reach a significant number of people (including mainstream media); (2) in a crisis have a plan with an elevated, staged approach for using various social media channels to inform & engage people, for example, using twitter for the initial quick reaction, with a blog/audio cast to followup, and a videocast later.

Another key point to raise is the incredible attendance at the event from City of Toronto staff members. There was about a dozen staff members there, including the CIO and the Communications Director for TTC. They are clearly on board with social media, although from my discussions I’d say they are at about the same place as we are in terms of getting their ideas in place.

So it was well worth the journey to Toronto; and I hope to participate in other events like this in the coming days… next one is the Third Tuesday Meetup in Ottawa on Monday Feburary 2nd.

I’m currently reading “Outliers” for the first upcoming Social Media Bookclub (book review to follow later). For now I thought I’d share some thoughts on another wonderful book I read recently.

groundswell“Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies” by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (Forrester Research) is a great read for anyone interested in social media; or in general how to transform an organization to tap into new ways of collaborating.

For the newbie, they give a good overview of different Web 2.0 technologies, with good practical examples throughout the book. A big focus of the book is on the social behavioral aspects of technology use, and not on the technologies themselves. Technology is an enabler for making improved connections between people – whether an organization connecting with clients, with other partners, or within an organization to improve internal work practices.

The authors tap into the experience and research of Forrester for profiling different types of Internet users – termed creators, critics, collectors, joiners, spectators, and inactives. They draw on some statistical data of demographics based on profile type (gender, location, age, etc), for determining appropriate ways to engage or interact online.

Their recommendations for implementing social media is very strategically driven (to be expected!), with an incremental approach based on goals and various strategies for listening to Internet activity (blogs, discussions, etc); actively engaging people through various social media channels; energizing interactivity and collaboration online through dedicated efforts; and instigating cultural changes to embrace social media. In a true collaborative manner, they invite people to continue the conversation online at:

I think their book further emphasizes the importance of transparency and collective input into organizational communication (both internal and external). Also a good read for marketing and communications folks to think of additional ways to connect with constituents, partners, and each other.

Well worth the read! Have you read Groundswell? What did you think of it?

One of the biggest challenges faced by many organizations trying to introduce social media into the mix is changing some of the ingrained organizational culture practices, and a resistance to change. Changing organizational culture can be a long and challenging process, and involves a series of complex interrelated steps. This is not an attempt to overly simplify things, but more of a summary of some general issues and one approach that I came across about 6 years ago while working for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC): the idea of storytelling to spark change.

Some primary challenges face by a lot of organizations: Firstly an organization-centric approach to business excludes the perspective or the client, and puts up a wall between the organization and the public. But, the public is out there, and they’re talking about YOU, so that wall needs to come down! Second, the degree to which different parts of an organization collaborate (which is often not very much, or not very well), creates silos within an organization, and a reluctance to engage people outside the organization (if it doesn’t happen within an organization, it’s a challenge to get people doing it outside the walls). Embracing a more open, collaborative work ethic requires a shift in both support and incentive from various levels of management to acknowledge inter-unit contributions. Thirdly, related to the issue of collaboration, is the level of comfort to work transparently and openly. If there is a perceived risk of making statements that are visible to the entire organization, and a perceived (real or not) threat of negative consequences for speaking out within the organization, then participation will simply not happen very openly.

These are some large organizational obstacles to collaboration that I’ve observed and encountered over the years – not necessarily the most important or relevant to all organizations – but certainly things that are a serious hindrance to social media adoption.

One idea for cultivating organizational change…

storytellingA few years ago I attended a workshop in Washington D.C. led by Steve Denning, formerly of the World Bank, on Storytelling for Organizational Change. The main concept behind his idea is to use well crafted stories, of which people can take ownership, to instill and spread simple ideas for change around an organization. More powerful than a presentation or document, a story can help people to visualize the relevance of concepts for their own set of problems. It also helps people to easily package the story as their own, and spread the idea around the organization.

Steve’s book, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations, was published in the pre-web2.0 era. However, I think that the concepts are still very relevant, both in a face-to-face context for sparking org-change; but also as stories are told and shared in an online collaborative environment through various web 2.0 tools.

Storytelling could easily be used to both to spread positive stories about the successful use of web 2.0 tools and social media approaches to adding business value; and as a (web-based) tool or approach in itself – for example, success stories shared through a blog.

Has anyone out there ever used storytelling to spark changes within your organization?