Monday, July 27, 2009

Back on the road

Last weekend I hit the road as I undertook my first tour since joining the band Rhombus. We had a blast, and I must thank all the people who made me feel so welcome and said very positive things - its always a worry coming into an established band, especially with such a large and loyal fan base but you guys were great.

The first night was playing the Scala in London as main support for The Eden House and as a slight taster, below is a bootleg video of us playing the song 'One Day More'.

I'm the one that looks like this --> Ian - Scala, London 24th July 09

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Turn on, Log in, Opt out

Despite the scare stories and bar stool reasoning which informs so much public opinion, we are only really starting to scratch the surface when it comes to the debate, let alone the understanding of the durability of our digital footprints; Those patterns and trails our online activity leaves for others to find.

We vaguely understand the notion of a 'privacy policy' or data privacy legislation but appreciating when something is in the public domain or not is far from obvious, if one thinks about it at all.

This is of course partly to do with the still nascent technology and culture the Internet has spawned. We have little in the way of societal opinion, no tradition, no common knowledge passed down from parent to child, as is the case with longer hewn technologies.

Telephones on the other hand, we do understand! We understand our phone numbers and we know whether or not we want them freely available.

Generally most people didn't object to their land lines being listed in a directory, even if recently this carried the added admin of having to pay the TPS a visit to minimize cold calls.

However, mobile phones it seems provoke a different response. The cell phone is a much more personal device, the on-device address book acts as much as a representation of identity, peer group allegiance and lifestyle as it does a convenient method for dialing. We are, it seems, much less free and easy giving out our cell phone numbers.

Which is why perhaps that the 118800 service in the UK prompted such emotive reaction.

The service provides a directory of mobile phone numbers, but of course, seeing as mobile operators don't then there is no central source for the contents of 118800 directory. Their contents have been acquired from commercially traded lists, ie all those shops, services, online stores, utilities companies etc whose forms contain small print about 'passing on details to third parties'. Sometimes we opt out, sometime we think we have, some times we forget, but regardless, the notion of data being passed on to 'selected third parties' still requires a conceptual leap to what is essentially placing details such as one's cell phone number in the public domain - the raison d'etre of a directory. To be fair 118 800 doesn't give out the numbers, it just connects you for a fee.

If none of that bothers you then all is well. There are advantages in people being able to look up your number, the same as they could for a land line. Much of it depends on how you use your mobile phone and what job you feel it does for you.

However, those who were concerned about inclusion in the directory were comforted with the knowledge that they could simply visit the 118800 website and have their number removed. Or at least, that was the promise ... unfortunately the web site is currently down! Whether this is because it has crumpled under the sheer volume of traffic from would be 'opt outs' as some reports would suggest, or whether there is some other more mundane problem I can't say, but I suspect that the unsubscribe service will, when active, be pretty popular.

Now, as we do develop a cultural sense of our digital shadows, is the new frontier to be characterized by constant opting out and curating of public and hidden information? Or will we find, we just don't care?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Getting back to it and thinking about Twitter and other things

How many blog posts are there out there in the world (wide web) which are mostly apologies for the lack of recent posts and the promise to be a little more productive starting ... now?

I've certainly read a lot ... I know that I've written several.

So, I'm not going to explicitly say any of that ;-)

Its true that much of what I would have blogged from a personal interest point of view finds an outlet on Twitter, which I still haven't decided whether its an incredibly useful communications tool or an ill conceived, perhaps even evil distraction.

Its true, that my good friend, colleague and collaborator Imran and I momentarily found our conversation falter when we last met up in person as pretty much every piece of news we had for each other was met with a reply of "Yeah, I know, I saw your Tweet!". Of course many have tried and failed to halt our free ranging, stream of consciousness tangent spinning conversations in the past, and so we were back on track before very long - but the whole experience set me thinking....

... There is a surface level at which Twitter and to a lesser extent facebook status reports and their like, appear to keep one informed as to the activities of one's nearest and dearest (and furthest and not-so-dearest for that matter), but there is of course a great deal of substance and context missing. Imran and I were indeed apprised of each other's news, but it took a proper conversation to understand any of it with any depth. In much the same way that a picture postcard doesn't render the post holiday story conversations superfluous.

A slightly different example occurred last night with reference to my friend Zoonie. Now I consider Zoonie a friend even though we haven't been co-located in at least two and a half years and most of our contact has been through various social network apps rather than direct conversation exchange. I like the fact that I kinda feel abreast of whats going on in her life. However, last night I saw a stream of tweets from her which sounded fascinating but due to a context gap I had absolutely no idea whatsoever as to what the comments were all about. I was left trying to piece things together by cross-referencing all the other places that I know Zoonie's digital life leaves a trail.

A few years ago I was working with the guys at Calico Jack on system which would pull together conversations into contextually related bundles across telephony, email and IM. Throw in things like twitter, social networks and other personal publishing apps, such as Flickr and the concept seems more relevant than ever. Which, of course is what Google wave could start to unlock.

So, I guess right now I can see the value of Twitter as a stream of flags, conceptual pointers or log entries alluding to deeper activity; the missing piece for me right now is the mechanism to explore the depth or at least, fill in the gaps.

Or maybe I should just be happy with twitter supplying a list of topics to talk about next time I get chance to have a proper conversation. The longer I work in technology, the more I discover the 'bits of life' that I don't want an automated solution for.