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 Kiva.org 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.

kiva_logoKiva.org 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 Kiva.org.

Twitter is an essential business tool – something that adds value to our work, extends our ability to collaborate and connect with other like-minded people, and tap into ongoing conversations that enrich our work.

twitterthumbnailAbout Twitter

Launched in July of 2006, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows participants to send short, concise updates (limited to 140 characters) called tweets.  Twitter uses a shared, centralized platform that provides a constant stream of updates from all registered users; and allows each user to subscribe and unsubscribe (filter) tweets to customize an individual stream of updates from select participants.

Used by many people to share news, updates, insights, commentaries, opinions, and advice, twitter is a great way for people to network.  The value of twitter for professional uses is in selective participation – following people who share and discuss things of direct business relevance; and tapping into a community of like-minded participants.  The tool makes it easy to add or remove people from an individual stream, which allows participants to refine the stream of tweets followed to select only those people providing useful updates.

A February 2009 Compete.com blog entry ranks Twitter as the third largest social network (behind Facebook and MySpace), and puts the number of users at roughly 6 million and the number of monthly visitors at 55 million. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter)

Example government users

List of hundreds of government agencies using Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/5jont7

Other business twitter users: http://www.bigwinner.org/twitter-leaders/

Building relationships

Twitter provides direct connections to live updates from industry experts, leaders, and other industry peers.  For example, members of the e-Media team follow updates from IT and communications people at the City of Toronto who are working on similar projects, and whom face similar daily issues; and from other peers and industry leaders around the world.

Stumbling across new people is easy.  Twitter provides a list of people, with a short profile, that each user is following – mapping relationships – and direct links to the profiles of individually quoted tweets (ReTweets – see below).

The non-hierarchical nature of Twitter  allows connections between anyone, whether they’re a student, company director or president, knowledge worker, or anyone else.  The value of the connections are judged by the quality of the posts, and less by the stature of the account holder.

I have established some very valuable connections through Twitter with people from other municipalities, private sector organizations, and other areas of government.  My relationships with these people have been strengthened by ongoing discussions and exchanges through Twitter.

Tapping into a global knowledge base

The value of collaborative knowledge sharing with a network of people interested and motivated by similar issues can have a massive impact on an organization.  Twitter allows participants to easily share ideas and solutions to problems through the twitter community – by simply sending a request for help through twitter (when you have enough like-minded followers), a range of creative options can emerge.

Ex: “The Awesomeness of Twitter” blog post provides an example of a request made through twitter for a creative solution to a problem, which quickly generated multiple responses and useful suggestionshttp://tinyurl.com/yum8ga

Access to quick updates

Participants can send and receive up to the minute news updates and live on the scene coverage of events and activities from around the world. Live coverage from conferences, meetings and events could help business users to participate and follow events on their own schedule.

Access to timely and relevant breaking news can be very beneficial to people – for example street closures due to an accident, or alerting the public of a gas leak in a downtown area. The recent crash of U.S. Airways flight 1549 was first reported through Twitter, and live coverage from the event was first broadcast through twitter. The potential to instantly connect with a large group of people and spread news through Twitter is very powerful.

Being a part of the conversation

The Twitter conversations are happening, with or without your participation. People are talking about your organization, and sharing things that are relevant and could be useful to your job. The option is there to tap into this, and to help lead and steer the conversation.  Twitter is not a broadcast only channel of communication.  Anyone can contribute to the conversation, providing alternative perspectives, added-value insights, or challenging conventional thinking through debate.

Retweets and the rapid spread of messages

Messages are quickly and easily shared across Twitter by simply “retweating” (or copying and pasting messages into a new message, preceeded with RT @username to indicate the originator). This practice helps to spread (virtual) word-of-mouth spreading of messages, except that it’s across interconnected networks of participants that otherwise would not be connected to each other.  Each individual has his/her own unique network, and thus messages can very quickly spread between a large number of people “virually” through network inter-connections.


Virtual Participation at Conferences & Meetings

A common, and very powerful example of the value of Twitter is it’s use at conferences and meetings.  Participants often use Twitter to post live updates and capture key points from events, sparking a discussion that extends beyond the physical boundaries of the event venue.  Using a hashtag (ex: #eventname), participants flag messages related to a particular subject or event, allowing anyone to follow that flag using http://search.twitter.com.

I learned about ChangeCamp Toronto through Twitter, and as a result of discussions about ChangeCamp on Twitter, decided to participate (in person) at the event.  The recent Web 2.0 Summit organized by the City of Toronto used Twitter to solicit questions and discussion from the live web-cast of events.  I was very active in those discussions, and was able to actively participate in the event from Ottawa using Twitter.

Twitter desktop clients

While Twitter can be accessed and used through a web-browser, a desktop client (such as TweetDeck or Twhirl) extends the functionality and capability of Twitter.  The web-based version requires manual refreshing, and does not flag any new updates.  The search tool runs from a separate website.  The desktop clients integrate search functionality, live updates, direct replies, and other features to delivery more timely information and integrated engagement into a single tool.  The desktop clients also allow for grouping of participants to seggregate and aggregate unique streams of feeds (for example, tweets from Ottawa residents into a single group; and other tweets in a second group).

How else is Twitter valuable to (1) your work on a daily basis; (2) your organization?  What other examples do you feel make a good argument for the value of Twitter?



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 http://web2dotwhat.com/ 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!

munigovlogoA few weeks ago I heard about a group of municipal government employees meeting on a regular basis in Second Life.  The group is called MuniGov, and from the description on their website was formed as a coalition of local/municipal governments focused on exploring the use and principles of Web 2.0 in an effort to improve citizen services and communication via technology.”

I thought cool, this is exactly the kind of folks I’d like to connect with to talk about some of the work that I’m involved with on a daily basis.  So I checked out the MuniGov website – a lot of great info about different technologies and how some cities are using them; some good reference materials about web 2.0 & government use of social media; a primer to using Second Life; and the latest tweets from the MuniGov twitter feed.

The group is also organizing “the first virtual conference on Web 2.0 for government, by government”.  The event will take place in Second Life on Friday April 10th from 1pm to 4pm EST, and will include a series of presentations about various web 2.0 initiatives at the municipal government level.  The group has been meeting on Wed evenings to discuss plans for the conference, and I’ve been wanted to attend for some time now, but always seem to have something else happening on Wed nights.

Last night I finally made it to my first MuniGov Second Life meeting:


It was pretty cool, seeing a bunch of cartoonish avatars sitting around a table of “uniquely styled” chairs on a virtual island.  The meeting convener, Bill Greeves IT Director at Roanoke County, aka Greever Wemyss appeared as a wolf, and let out the occasional howl.  Otherwise the meeting was very much like a real-world meeting, except that all the attendees were there from the virtual convenience of their own locales – whether Ottawa, Nanaimo BC, Roanoke County, LaSalle Illinois or any other place around the world.  I think most of the other participants were from the U.S., and incidentally most of the MuniGov members seem to be US or Canada based.

I think the meeting demonstrated an excellent use of virtual communities to bring together like-minded and intentioned people.  Although the meeting was longer than I had expected, I think it was no longer than a face-to-face or teleconference meeting would have been; and it was more powerful in some respects.  (Most) participants were able to chat with voice – some (myself included) did not use voice chat but instead participated using live text chatting; and there was the occassional direct (private) text messages flying around.  So a number of simultaneous conversations could be ongoing without disrupting the meeting.  One of the participants had worked on some logo concepts for the conference, and was able to display them to everyone in-world, and get immediate feedback from the participants.

I’m looking forward to future meetings and discussions with the MuniGov group in SL, and especially looking forward to the virtual conference on April 10.  Maybe I’ll “see” you there?!?

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: @orgname.com).

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: groundswell.forrester.com

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?