Fast food outlets & professional communities

Quincy Market

Why can’t we have a chip shop?

Having come back from a lovely holiday in Boston & Iceland, I wondered if I had any inspiration for a blog post. I do, a little.

In Boston, I stayed near to Quincy Market, an old market hall, now jammed full of fast food outlets. There must be over 50, serving pizza, teriyaki, clams, lobster rolls, steak sandwiches, moussaka, sorbet, hot dogs, burritos, caramels, ice cream and way more stuff.

At home, in the little Highland village I live in, we have no fast food outlet. A couple of pubs will let you get food to take out, and the wood-fired pizza restaurant will give you pizza to go.

Why so many in one hall in Boston, and none in an entire village?

Well, there could be all sorts of reasons – yes, there will be more customers, as Boston is a busier place. But why in that one hall?

  • It’s a good place to buy fast food – so customers will come from some distance.
  • It’s a good place to sell fast food – so suppliers will come from all over
  • There’s a wide range of things to buy – so a customer can meet their needs there
  • If you can’t sell a meal there, you could still sell a dessert, a drink, coffee – as there are so many suppliers and customers together. If there’s a lot of demand for something, you betcha there will be people starting to provide it. [Like, clam chowder. *Lots* of places sell that in Boston!]

We don’t have the outlets crowded together, pulling the customers way into the Highlands – so we don’t even get a chippy!

Quality through Competition

I’m sure the outlets in Quincy Market vary in quality. The worst I saw was Good, as you wouldn’t survive in the maelstrom of competition there, if your food wasn’t acceptable. Most of the the experience was Very Good, and the teriyaki experience was Outstanding for fast food.


Trying to rank those outlets from 1-5, say, when looking at my worldwide catering experiences [which include British roadside cafes] would result in everything in Quincy’s market being 3-5 (more probably 4-5, but work with me on this).

Why are they better – because they learn from each other, all the time. If one offers free samples – so will another. If you can get your chowder in a bread bowl in one… another will offer something similar or better.

If you did rank them them from 1-5… the lowest (1 ranked) place would be a 3 against most British outlets – and that makes it a little hard to use a global ranking…

Professional Communities

I won’t apologise for riding my hobby horse again; I think professional communities have a lot to offer – and are one of the best ways you can lift performance, professionalism, accreditation and interest amongst a group.

Lots of professionals

You want a project manager? Good place to find one might be your putative “Programme & Project Management” Community. There’ll be a lot there, and they *should* be supporting each other and helping the level of certification and experience. They’ll learn hints and tips from each other.

Hey, maybe your project/bid manager needs a service wrap? Natch, there’ll be a service designer there who should be able to assist the team.

Lots of demand

As you have all these customers walking up to take services from your communities, you should get a damn fine idea of what these customers want. If you *don’t* have the Ruby on Rails guy, maybe there’s some other service you can provide the customer… while you think “Hmm, might need to get some RoR guys available”.

Explaining ranking

In a community of professionals, you generally have a self selecting group of achievers. There will be folk that are Good; some Very Good; and even a few Outstanding. Generally, if you aren’t at least Good – you won’t have had the wherewithal to make it into a community.

Now, if you force rank the individuals in the community… sure, you can do it. Take the people who’re in external terms good, and mark some of them as, say Generally Satisfactory or (kiss of death) Needs Improvement.

This is Vitality Curve behaviour – particularly if there’s a mechanistic approach to invoking HR involvement in bureacratic Performance Improvement Plans. Which there is, in large swathes of corporate Britain.

Vitality Curve damages Communities?

I’ve alluded previously to my concerns about this sort of approach.

I *need* to look better than you. Rather than spending time sharing my knowledge, or increasing my skills, it might pay me better to game the system.

So, rather than sharing my knowledge with people, I have to consider how I can look best at showing how much more I know than everyone else, and the most public way I can show how I’m sharing this knowledge.

Otherwise, I might not get marked Good, won’t recieve a bonus, and likely won’t get a pay rise.

Even better, if I get the opportunity to use a modified COTS “Performance management” system, and produce reams of impenetrable evidence, I’ll be able to show *what* I’ve done – even if it uses time I should spend on work…

On the other hand…

If you want Professional Communities… maybe let them manage themselves. Professionally. Not with advice from Neutron Jack.

Picture Credit Me!

What's the web changing, and are we helping?ll

threads on a loom

The internet changes marketing

I’ve recently read with interest Brian’s post on how university marketing departments just don’t get it. Briefly, some have produced promotional videos; an enterprising firm has hosted and promoted copies of these. Rather than being glad about the publicity, there have been take down notices issued. It made me wonder if there are other pockets of resistance to change.

The web – and Webside(TM) working – changes corporate access

I like many ex or soi-disant road warriors have a corporate laptop. I was used to carrying lan cables, phone cables & adapters, mini-switches, I have a locked down laptop which I use over a VPN to access corporate services. We have an IT support organisation that can look after this. My employer is moving to webside working; I still need to chuck up a VPN, but I can do that from my home PC; from an internet cafe – from my little eee PC. I understand some of the senior guys, and some of the software simians (@kerryb ‘s periphrasis of codemonkeys – as he honestly points out via Scott Adams) actually use Macs… This complicates support, because it means that you can no longer rely on folk having standard kit. This means you need better self diagnosis tools, and savvier staff to handle the calls that can’t self clear. It also means we need strong commitment to track down root cause, as it’s no longer (if it ever was) acceptable to say “You shouldn’t be using that software”. It also means that we have to stop some of the nonsense measures. Time to close an incident is irrelevant, if there hasn’t been a clear. But then, we get to targets…

User experience changes perceptions of official software

JP’s talked before about how people are used to using their favourite tools, and how it will ring them into the Enterprise. He’s pushing that… @san1t1 has discussed elsewhere how bizarre it is to have training to use a purchasing system, pointing out he must have missed the training to use Amazon etc.

People are used to intuitive systems, be they from or 37 Signals. Arcane comands on COTS stuff won’t cut it.

What should we do?

Well, I’m tempted to suggest like Richard Dennison “Proceed until apprehended”. You’re meant to push the envelopes; if you’re not taking risks – and sure, making mistakes, you’re not learning anything.

If things are causing you a problem and pain – shout long and loud so people can see the pain points – and address them.

Picture Credit Daniel F. Pigatto

Managing the stream of data

threads on a loom

How do you read all that stuff?

I’m often asked by friends, family and colleagues how I keep track of all the different sorts of things I’m interested in online.

In the past, good bookmarks, aided by social bookmarking like or ma.gnolia were useful to find places… but how to get through all of the content.

Drinking from the firehose

There’s so much good content on the internet that trying to consume all of it is impossible. You can take a sip or two as the river passes by, but how do you get the good bits? There are all sorts of ways to identify them – which will be meat for *another* post – but the key issue is how to get them in front of you.

The best way I have found is using RSS – an initialism which stands for a range of thing – let’s go with Really Simple Syndication.

At its simplest, it’s a way of a site pushing its latest content out in a format that can be captured by an RSS Reader; there are loads of them about.

Lee LeFever has a wonderful explanation of RSS shown here…

What other sort of feeds are there?

I use RSS to track the results of searches – I use to search twitter – where I am @steveellwood – and the feed ( will produce any mention of me – so I can see if I’ve missed any replies…

I use RSS to track news, blogs, and twitter – you can see some of the things that interest me below… in Sharing Your Reading

RSS Readers

One client I use at work is FeedReader which lets me pick up information about corporate news and activity within my Professional Community. It’s straightforward to use, and if there are private feeds – that can’t be seen outside your corporate network – it’s ideal.

Usually though as I move between a variety of PCs – my home desktop, my work laptop, and my lovely eee PC, I prefer an online reader.

There’s a variety of these, too including NewsGator products, Google Reader and my favourite, NetVibes.

Sharing your reading…

These online readers have the additional benefit that you can share what you think other people might be interested in – for example my public NetVibes universe, or my Google Reader shared items.

Those are my somewhat idiosyncratic choices, but the irrepressible Guy Kawasaki produced the wonderful which claims to have “all the top stories covered, all of the time”. You can get updated feeds about just about anything you want there. Sadly, I’m *not* one of the Twitterati – but I do follow some of them!

There’s even RSSmeme which allows you to search shared RSS feeds…

Will you sell RSS?

If you know people that don’t use RSS, do you tell them about it?
Are you an RSS user – and if you are, what do you read with?

Picture Credit janettowbin

Social Media reading

piles of books

You mean like – books?

Yes, I do mean books. Since I’ve started playing with the what social networking/social media might mean to me, I’ve bought more non-fiction books in the last 3 months than fiction.

Some of this has been catch-up – I’d heard of the long tail, I’d hear mavens mentioned…

Some have been as the result of my own research – looking for social capital I’d hear about Bowling Alone…

Shirky’s book was as a result of seeing Bill Barnett (@bb42) tweeting about some of Clay Shirky’s writings and me saying, “Wow, what should I start with?”

I love playing with the toys, but I think it’s even more important to try and get an understanding of how this area is formed and where it’s moving…

… and for me, that’s largely by reading what others have written.

Recent reading

This is my current list, most recent first – the first two still being read.

  • Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky
  • Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott & Anthony Williams
  • The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few by James Surowiecki
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand by Chris Anderson
  • Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community by Robert Putnam

What are you reading?

I’d really like to know your reading suggestions – mainly printed word, as I think RSS feeds are a matter for another post…

… which might be next week.

Picture Credit gadl

How to use social media?

jigsaw imageHow to deal with multiplicity?
I’m deeply puzzled – not that this is at all unusual.
There are lots of social media tools, and many of them link to each other. Like quite a lot of dabblers, I’ve ended up with a mish-mash of updates appearing in varied places. How best to use the wide variety of social media tools at my disposal? I’m coming to the conclusion I need to list and separate what I use – and how.

What do I use?
I’m trying a fair range of things. A fairly full list is below, sorted more or less in frequency of update.

Do I set my location?
Well, yes. Sort of. When I remember.
Largely I use microformats in twitter, as I indicated in Twitter – what it is, and how I use it.
I’ve also used Plazes.
I’m registered with FireEagle but no-one seems to be using that.

How do I update these?
On the web interfaces, often.
For twitter I’ve used and like both snitter and twhirl
For pownce, I’ve used a similar air client.
I’ve updated via voice on phone using Spinvox and by SMS to twitter. I’ve also used both on the web and as a WAP client on my mobile.

Where are they aggregated/streamed?
Often, bits are currently fed one to another – meaning that twitter feeds to jaiku, which feeds to Facebook, which feeds to friendfeed – which is echoed back to Facebook. Which is cluttered, untidy, and very likely the sign of a grasshopper mind.

I currently have some life streaming services I’m playing with at the moment, friendfeed which though I like the interface doesn’t seem to pick up all that’s going on – and onaswarm which gives a nice feel for what’s happening in my area. I’ve also given a shot but I haven’t made my mind up about that yet.

Which way am I heading?
I think I’m going to bite the bullet and take out all the inter-tool updates, with the probable exception of twitterfeed which lets people know when I’ve blogged.

Then it’ll be twitter for quick “What I’m doing/thinking”; for those important bookmarks; tumblr for future blogging ideas or GTD Someday/Maybe, Facebook for contacts, flickr for photos.
I’ll – eventually – choose an aggregator, probably friendfeed as it seems to be gaining traction…

Maybe, then, people won’t see the same wibble in 4 places from me – and won’t that be an improvement?

What are you doing?
I’d like to find out what others are doing.
Are you more choosy than me?
Am I a grasshopper bouncing from one thing to another?

Please, let me know your solutions.

Partial Inspiration
This is also the first blog post I’ve tried following Chris Brogan’s guidelines to Writing Effective Blog Posts. How was it for you?

Picture Credit place light – on a a project –

Data Portability – Data Ownership

having seen Robert Scoble’s latest post on Facebook’s rant about dataportability problems I thought it might be necessary for me to try and hone my understanding a bit.

I have data on A Social Network (ASN); this might include my name, email address, and a photo of me.

I also show other data on there; the identities of some of my friends, possibly including their contact details. A few RSS streams, some photos of some buddies when we went climbing…

ASN also shows some data about me; my subscriber status, my feedback rate and so on.

Which is mine? Well, my address and email; my assertion about my friends.

Which is my friends? Their email addresses; their photographs possibly .

What belongs to ASN? At a guess, my subscriber status, and possibly the feedback rating that members of the site have co-operated to give me with ASN’s system.

What can I take with me? This is where it gets tricky…

I can/should be able to take my name/identity/email address.

What about my friend’s email address? They might not want me to take it to another site.

What if I can identify them another way? How about their ID? My current OpenID is this blog… If someone wants to assert they are a friend of should that bother me? I freely make my blog available; if I can link to you(your OpenID) – I’m not linking to anything you don’t want used.

Just like with content, if I pass it off as mine, that’s wrong. Linking to things is what holds the internet together – so, I can link to the information that you do make publicly available. That may, or may not, include your email address.

What about those photos my friends took? Well, to be honest, it depends what they want to do with them. Howsabout if I say that I can point a link to them, if publicly available? If the link is on a commercial website, and they don’t want their pictures used there, they can either tell a linker to take them down on a case-by-case basis (unless we believe that most people will ask for permission) – or licence them with Creative Commons.

How will that work with my FOAF? I don’t know – yet – but am starting to play with this.

Would you object to me asserting a relationship to your OpenID? If you did, what do you think I should do, or you could do? Unless you explicitly assert the relationship back, how believable is my claim?

Should a FOAF be CreativeCommons Licenced?

Should I be able to take the ASN data? It depends, is the traditional answer; if they built it, they paid for it, they use it… perhaps I should pay if I want to take it – or maybe I can just point to it, while I reatain a relationship with ASN

Personal Blogging from within a Corporate?

It’s no secret that I work for a big corporate, and the PTB are aware that I blog about a range of things that interest me and affect both within and outside work.

My colleague Richard Dennison wrote an interesting post about the risks of blogger/social media interaction from disgruntled employees.

“On the one hand, you invited them to join the conversation in the first place and they’re just expressing their views … on the other, they’re damaging your brand. Leaving them to continue making negative comments feels uncomfortable … leaning on them through their line managers feels like censorship. “

It might show I’m old style, but I reckon that you shouldn’t sledge your employer in public – OK, I’ll make an exception for whistleblowing – when there are avenues for dealing with issues internally. I’m certainly happy to draw attention internally to people who damage the brand of the company that feeds me.

Now, if you feel those avenues aren’t delivering an open, honest and credible response to your people… there’s a nice improvement project to work on.

So, what to do?

First, make it clear what you expect people to do. The BBC have a nice blogging policy

“Personal blogs and websites should not reveal confidential information about the BBC. This might include aspects of BBC policy or details of internal BBC discussions. If in doubt about what might be confidential, staff members should consult their line manager.

Personal blogs and websites should not be used to attack or abuse colleagues.”

Seems pretty fair to me – and incidentally, the BBC explicitly allow staff to blog from work, as do my employers.

Who else has a sane policy? In a reaction to the Civil Serf furore, Tom Watson has come up with some suggested points for Civil Service blogging. Something I’d like see enacted.

Then, accept you are going to get some posts you don’t like … so, you do have hate groups – including employees or not – what to do? Engage where they are? – as Richard says

“Accepted social media ‘wisdom’ says you should engage ‘in the channel in which the comments were made’ to try to turn things around … but do you really want to get into a ‘dialogue’ with a mixture of disgruntled customers and employees?? “

I’d have said “No.” Well, maybe a qualified “No, but…”

…but there has to be an easy way for people to get human interaction. Don’t insist they go through callgate hell. Let’s bite the bullet, and take all the feedback we can get. Let’s really be customer connected.

Sandy Blair in an engaging and typically erudite comment says

“Much better to join the conversation with positive comments (and fix the issues people are raising).”

I know Apple, Verizon, Oracle and Microsoft all have some presence at Do you want to do that? A *big* corporate would bring loads of traffic to someone else’s site. Publicity for them and impact on their infrastructure. You’d need loads of folk handling enquiries, and you’d still get posts elsewhere – so perhaps not.So, just do it. Get a group of people on “20% time” to start digging at the issues raised in these individual sites. “My appointment failed…” Why? Sort that and we’ll sort issues for lots more than that individual. So, engage individually, sort root cause, and fix globally – meaning you’ll get more Right First Time.

How do you choose the people who’ll get the 20% time… well, they just volunteered, didn’t they? They saw and raised the problem… let them help to fix it.

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Building strong professional communities through Performance Mgt & HR initiatives

This post is in response to a request following a light hearted tweet about unlikely papers.

In common with many people in larger corporates, I work in what could loosely be called Professional Services(PS). My knowledge, skills, and experience can be used in internal projects or more enjoyably with opportunities within external companies.

Like many companies, mine organises into groups of professional communities. We arrange people into these by areas of expertise. In our implementation of these, we have two key areas of focus which are skill development and the adoption of appropriate professional methodologies.

The leadership team of each community define the development paths that individuals need to follow within their profession.

This means that, even when moving from assignment to assignment, everyone will have:

  • a clearly visible way of progressing his or her career (while the business gets clear visibility of what skills gaps it has for the future and can take action to address them).
  • a solid base where they can share knowledge, learning and take ownership for their own development.
  • an infrastructure with knowledge sharing, support structure and development pathways that create a true community of expertise.

So far, so good. I’m active in, and have enjoyed my time in Professional Communities. I wonder if it is the same everywhere?

Now, to produce these cohesive communities I’d suggest a key requirement is a willingness to share at least explicit knowledge, if not tacit. The community can then assess the level and experience of its members.

Performance Management
This is key to succesful growth of a community. How do we do this?

Forced ranking/Vitality Curve?
This is a very competitive model, which works against the idea of knowledge sharing – why should I, a B-ranked individual, help you a C-ranked individual. I *need* to look better than you. Rather than spending time sharing my knowledge, or increasing my skills, it might pay me better to game the system. Plenty of office politics, and subtle sledging of my peers.

In a knowledge based organisation, perhaps a System of Profound Knowledge might work better. That, of course is a reference to W.Edwards Deming who highlighted “Seven Deadly Diseases”.

Number 3 was “Evaluation by performance, merit rating, or annual review of performance“.

If you’re in a professional services organisation set up in communities with forced ranking – ask how does this help the community work together?

Difficult to know what to say about this group as they don’t know what to call themselves – but since they are managing the takeon and servicing of the key asset of a PS organisation – the people themselves – they must be key.

To enable a successful Professional Community, there must be really close links with the HR function, with an intimate understanding of the requirements of the community. The procedures followed must be transparent to avoid accusations of favouritism.

HR should provide clear guidance to Professional Communities on strategic issues like knowledge management, retention, professional development.

Does your HR service give clear advice on how to develop your community members – perhaps sticking them in a development bench area? If that’s what they are suggesting, an interesting article by a performance management company suggests that might not be such a good idea, saying keeping people on a bench can *lose* you people.

Do they give clear unequivocal guidance as to how much time should be spent on developing the skills within a community? If not, why not? Google give their engineers “20% time” to work on other projects…

…would 10% time be better for you?


No? So, how do you think this community is going to work.

Twitter – what it is, and how I use it.

I was chatting IRL with a valued colleague whose catholic spread of knowledge I enjoy greatly, and he told me he was finding his way round twitter. I said something dismissive like “Well, I only know bits and pieces…” and I thought that as I have to write a presentation on aspects of social networking I might start things about twitter

Twitter is :

  • a way of telling the world (and/or your friends)what you are doing now
  • a way of building links to colleagues and strangers
  • a microblogging phenomenon
  • Twitter says “Twitter is for staying in touch and keeping up with friends no matter where you are or what you’re doing.”

Basically, you can share 140 character snippets from your mobile, your messaging client, the web… with anyone who is interested. They can see these snippets on their mobile, their messaging client, the web or any one of them if they choose.

What will twitter do for you?

@pistachio asked the question “Twitter make you …what” folk answered

  • more socially aware
  • less alone
  • more knowledgeable
  • more informed
  • more inspired

amongst many other things.

I’ve learnt a great deal from it – including how to make Sicilian Spaghetti – and built links with a range of people in a wide range of countries, with a vast range of jobs and hobbies and interests.

How do you use it?
Fitting what you need to say in 140 characters can be quite challenging. Most folk use some of a range of Microformats

@ replies
Beginning a tweet with, say, @steveellwood alerts folk that this is in reply to something I’ve said or tweeted. This lets them choose whether to follow me or to track back what I’ve said. More than two or three of these in a row makes me feel it should have been done by a direct message (which is done by beginning a tweet with “d steveellwood “, and would only be visible to me, not the world and their spouse)

l: location details where you are – so folk can find you. This can be down to country, town, road, or house. Look at Twittermap and search for steveellwood, and it should show whereabouts I am.

++ or using plusplusbot you can show your pleasure or displeasure with a service, a product or an individual – for example, shows what I have done that is noteworthy or notorious… you do need to “follow” plusplusbot on twitter for this to work.

#hashtag by adding a #(hash) to the front of a word, you can tag the word to make it easy to search for mentions of the word by other folk. e.g. Discussions at BlogTalk 2008 – again you have to “follow” hashtags for this to see you.

What do you use with Twitter?

Terraminds for free search of the Twitter information stream: you can search for topics or individuals – and the search can be saved as RSS.

RSS (Really simple syndication) – is a web format used to publish frequently updated content. You can take RSS feeds from all over the place – including this blog – but it is very useful for twitter.

Some people publish large volumes of “tweets”; they can drown out the less frequent posters in the webclient. One example is Hugh Macleod (@GapingVoid). For his posts, I take an RSS Feed ( and look at it in my RSS Reader.

You won’t always see every tweet that mentions you; some you’ll miss, some will be folk you don’t follow… so using Terraminds referred to earlier you can do a search for yourself (n my case, and then get an RSS feed of the search.

Twittermap to see where folk are

Twitterkarma to see who follows me and I follow back

YouTwit a mashup to watch those who *I* follow

Gridjit – a grid view of who people twitter with – see mine

Tweeterboard – conversation analytics for some twitter users….

Snitter, twhirl, twitbin – all clients for twitter. You can also use most standard messaging clients.

Are there rules on how to use it?

Yes; No; Maybe.

Twitter works by consent; people will only see what you publish … if they choose to. Be boring, rude, irrelevant… and people won’t follow you. Be offensive, and they’ll block you from following them.

My colleague Phil Whitehouse(@Casablanca) wrote the 10 Commandments of Twitter

Robert Scoble, a very well known blogger (@scobleizer) writes how he breaks the 10 rules of Twitter

Paul Downey, another colleague, (@psd) divides folk into twits and twerps (Twits good, twerps bad).

Follow your own rules, and enjoy it.

Caroline Middlebrook wrote a fairly nice guide.

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