Tweetastic at IWMW2009

I survived!! I think this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop went really well but as one of our local organisers Keith Brooke put it “it’s a bit hard to gauge when you’re in the thick of things“…and I certainly was in the thick of things! Anyway all the feedback I’ve received so far has been very positive.

There is a lot to be said about the event but there are some fab resources available (for example the IWMW2009 blog and the IWMW2009 event on Slideshare) so on this blog I just want to concentrate on one aspect: What it was like to be a remote attendee?

Now this is a tricky one for me because I wasn’t a remote attendee, I was physically there, but I am trying to get some remote attendees to come forward and talk about their experience – hopefully more on that in another post.

I want to start off by looking at the use of one particular technology as a remote attendee aid….Twitter.


There were a hell of a lot of tweets during the event. A few stats…Twapperkeeper reports 1,614 tweets in the archive and the number is still rising. What the hashtag reports 1,462 tweets, 162 contributors with 43.7% coming from “The Top 10”, only 4.4% are retweets and 36.1% have multiple hashtags. An archive of Tweets and further stats are available from the IWMW 2009 Twitter page on the IWMW Web site.

What is tricky to know is how many of these were remote attendees. A bit of data mining might be possible.

Desk tweet

However what is clear is that Twitter helped support remote attendees in quite a few ways:


Providing information
Delegates and remote attendees alike benefited from following the iwmw and iwmwlive accounts. The live account, facilitated by Kirsty McGill, provided live blogging on every plenary and was extremely useful.
Asking questions
On a number of occasions remote attendees asked questions using Twitter. Kirsty McGill, our live blogger, did a great job of asking for and monitoring tweets from remote people. She then asked them at the appropriate moment. Karine Joly has blogged about her experience of asking a question.
Giving Feedback
In a 3 day event there is always bound to be technical mishaps. Twitter was an easy way for remote attendees to keep us informed when things weren’t working exactly as they should. For example when I held a lapel mike a bit too close and deafened everyone! They also pointed out the need for question askers to talk into the mike.
Tweeting on the wall
We gave tags to different sessions which allowed us to pull relevant tweets up on the Twitter wall (we used Twitter Fall). This meant that the ‘remoteness’ of an attendee was invisible.
I linked the IWMW2009 blog to the IWMW Twitter account using Tweetfeed. This allowed all posts to be automatically sent out to the Twitter feed and to everyone interested (not just people attending). No worries about spamming people because these were people who had registered because they were interested. In the past we probably would have used the IWMW delegate email for this and missed all remote attendees.
Taking photos
The use of Twitpic meant that photos could go out very quickly and in response to questions. Helpful for those unable to see exactly what was going on.
Creating Community
After the event Chis Gutteridge set up a Southampton developers group using the #sodev tag. There has also been talk of using #iwmc as a tag for the Institutional Web management community.

We also used Netvibes to pull all the IWMW2009 resources together and pulled the tweets in too through CoveritLive.


What was your experience of Twitter like at IWMW?


Travelling Kit for a Remote Worker

John Kirriemuir, digital nomad (!), has written a great post for us on his remote working kit: from hardware to software, apps and web sites.

JohnMy name is John Kirriemuir. My website and blog are currently gathering dust at I’ve been self-employed for nearly a decade now; time flies when you are having fun. 🙂

About a third of what I do is examining the use of virtual worlds in education in the UK, under the banner of Virtual World Watch which, in a nice way, is a tie-in to Marieke. UKOLN is where I used to work as web editor of Ariadne and it’s where I met Andy Powell, who now is a “big cheese” in Eduserv Research. A few years ago, we got chatting about virtual world uses in education and decided to try and work out who does what. And that’s basically what Eduserv fund me to do i.e. a series of “snapshot” reports on who is doing what with virtual worlds (not just Second Life) in UK education.

Anyway, the moral of that little digression is to never neglect your contact network. One day, week, month, year or (in my case) decade, it’ll put food on the table.

Self-employed is different for working for an organisation in many ways, but the things that stick out in my mind are:

  1. I choose who I work with and for. No-one else chooses. I don’t like the client; they aren’t the client.
  2. I do, however, have a sort-of ‘line manager’. It’s my bank balance and can be quietly persuasive.
  3. You are always working. When you aren’t doing paid work, you are looking for paid work.
  4. The big downside, compared to working in a university: no expense claims. No swanning off to every conference in a tropical location that is even slightly related to the digital library project you are working on, unless you negotiated a spectacularly good contract with a client.

My definition of ‘remote working’ is therefore a little different from someone who works for an organisation, but operates out of their home. To me, ‘remote working’ has meant:

  1. Working in the three areas of the world I spend most of my time inhabiting and travelling around, namely Britain, the USA and Scandinavia.
  2. Working while travelling by plane, train, boat, car or coach – in that order of preference. I don’t drive a car for the same reasons as David Mitchell, so I’m always the passenger. When you’re on an 11 hour flight to Los Angeles, this gives you a lot of time to do work and hope that your laptop battery will last.
  3. Doing work ‘stuff’ where the client (or your line manager) isn’t looking over your shoulder.
  4. Not having to share an office with people I don’t like, or choose to share an office with. This is a huge plus; life is simply too short to spend it being forced to listen to the utterances of people I don’t like.

How does all this relate to ICT? Well, I need stuff that:

  • Allows me to continue my work whether travelling, or waiting to travel, or based in somewhere expected – or unexpected.
  • Is portable.
  • Isn’t going to land me with large bills wherever I am in the world.
  • Can get through airport security okay.
  • Is easy to back-up. I haven’t suffered a disaster through not having data backed up, and I’m not going to have one now.
  • Allows me to communicate with clients and my work sector with ease.
  • Allows me to monitor and change my financial ins and outs with no restrictions.


So what’s my kit then? I’ve got an iPhone, MacBook Pro, EEE laptop, Camera, credit card, passport, toothbrush, thong and a pair of speedos – that’s my basic kit for being able to go anywhere and work.

The iPhone.
I’ve had one for several months and find it indispensable now. When abroad roaming is usually turned off to avoid massive bills but it’s still good for places where there’s free wifi – in the case of the USA, many restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels and even launderettes.
MacBook Pro 2.66 GHz.
Runs Second Life like a dream, and has software such as Scrivener and Numbers (more on these later) which tipped the balance for me between getting a Mac or a PC when my last laptop croaked out on me. Very reliable, which counts for a lot when you are self-employed. Time really is money – my money, and when I’m not working, through technical or other problems, I’m not earning. The only downside is that it’s bulky, though the screen clarity is worth it.
Asus EEE.
‘Samantha’ was my travelling companion on a month around America last autumn and proved herself to be robust and reliable. It’s true, you wouldn’t want to write an article on it, or try running Second Life in any serious way. But for doing Flickr uploads, light webbing and emailing, it’s fine. The weight and size of it also makes it good to sling into the shoulderbag for day trips out.
Sony Cyber-shot camera.
Partially replaced by the camera on the iPhone, I still use this for taking pictures for mainly adorning Flickr.
Various back up devices.
A Lacie external drive (despite mixed reviews), three USB memory sticks, and online storage eliminates most possibilities of SPF (Single Point of Failure). Unlike other people – and I am surprised how often people do this – I don’t carry all my devices and their associated backup storage media in the same bag.

Software, apps and websites

I do a lot of travelling – I’m writing this while on my 52nd trip abroad, and my 7th to the USA. And in another window, I’m planning trips 53 to 56. Hence, a lot of the software and websites I use are to do with travel or finance.

First, there’s the standard ones. On the Mac, there’s Numbers (spreadsheet) and Pages (word processing). Numbers, especially, I use a lot. Being self-employed, owning two houses and generally having a complicated life means lots of monies going in and out of various places, and I’ve found that Numbers trumps Excel in the ease of helping me keep an eye on things.

iPhone apps. I rarely use the iPhone for making phone calls, and I’m not alone in this. It’s all in the apps for me, and here’s ten of those I use for work and related logistics much of the time:

  • Twitterfon (for, of course, Twitter).
  • Currency, so I can find out if the UK pound is worth more than a dead herring locally.
  • Urbanspoon to find somewhere to eat.
  • iRail for accurate European train times.
  • Flight Status for lots of information about future and current flights.
  • Airline Seat Guide for finding the better seats on a plane. Use in conjunction with SeatGuru to minimise your chances of being in a cramped seat with no amenities and being served food last.
  • QuickVoice so I can record something instantly.
  • PayPal for doing transactions.
  • Fring. An alternative way of trying Internet Messaging and the like.
  • Ocarina. This has no work purpose at all, but it’s a great app (especially for a Zelda fan) and there’s little better than falling asleep listening to people around the world playing Ocarina music on it in real time.
  • Skype, for making cheaper calls. Which leads us onto applications I use through the MacBook .

Skype Essential for making phone calls. Alas, not everyone can cope with emails and the like, and it’s necessary to be available for calls, and to make calls. Skype has saved me a considerable amount of money over the past year, and as this trip around the restaurants and baseball parks of America enters its third month, continues to do so. Set up is easy; quality varies – but then again, so does making a landline call from the USA.

Twitter I use more than email now, as most of my work colleagues and contacts are on it, I have a twitter window open all of the time, and it’s quicker than email. Plus, using Twitter DMs means that replies to questions are (usually) short and snappy, encouraging Yes / No responses rather than (time consuming) essays. At the core of Twitter is the ability to build your own perfect community, with content streaming in from ONLY those people you find interesting and/or useful. Oh, if only real life was like this. So, Twitter is also a highly concentrated source of information that’s relevant to work. There are so many things e.g. reports, events, news, that I would have missed, or been late to, without Twitter.

Flickr which many people assume is solely about pictures. Well, it’s not. As well as the email capabilities, it’s a useful piece of social networking software for finding people and content e.g. pictures for presentations, as well as identifying places to visit and planning trips. For example: unsure about a hotel? Combine using Flickr and Trip Advisor to check out how other people have seen and experienced it.

Scrivener is basically software for writing books. It’s a dream to work with, being as intuitive as you can get and letting you focus on the dumping of content and ideas, and the organisation of it into something readable. I’m trying to write three books at the same time on different topics, a process which was, literally, inching along under Word. Using Scrivener, it’s quicker and less stressful.

I spend a lot of time looking at finance and travel-related websites. Trip Advisor I use, with some caution, to identify places to stay at – though as I’ve got loyalty accounts and points with several hotel chains it’s usually a back-up option. Expedia and Opodo I use to identify flight options, and websites such as Eurocheapo and the list in Wikipedia are useful for identifying more airlines, but I usually book flights and accommodation directly with the hotel or airline. The less companies and people involved, the less chances of things going wrong and (increasingly) the better chances of the best room or seat.

Other social software? Facebook I occasionally use, but more as a directory of people I know. The same goes for linkedin which I haven’t found generates much in the way of new connections to new and useful contacts; Twitter has been the predominant tool for me in that area.

There’s many more websites I use as a “remote”, travelling and self-employed worker; I’ll go through some of these in my next posting for Marieke.

Establishing Our Online Identity

A Friday treat for you all! Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University has written a great guest blog post on the significance of online identity for remote workers. (I touched on this a few weeks back when discussing the distribution of vanity URLs for Facebook).

Those who read Martin’s very popular blog (The Ed Techie) and/or follow him on Twitter (mweller) will know that digital identity and the issues surrounding it are an area of much discussion among Martin and his colleagues.

martinI recently gave a talk about online academic identity. I argued that for academics our online identity will become our academic identity. What I meant by this was that, just as with academic papers, if they can’t be found and accessed online (usually via Google) then they don’t really exist. Most people now, whether consciously or not, make the access trade-off: even if a different resource may be better if they can’t access it directly (and freely), then they will choose a lesser one. The same will happen for people – if your academic identity isn’t represented in some means online then you will be left out of discussions, projects, collaboration, references.

For those of us who often work at home, establishing this identity has dual significance, because it is both how we are represented to the world, but also to our work colleagues. The good news is that creating such an identity is not only easy with the number of tools we have available, but it may actually be more effective than the traditional, face to face methods.

In the 1980s in the heyday of the Yuppie, there was talk of the ‘power breakfast’ when Masters of the Universe would meet at breakfast to do business to show how tough they were. This is nothing – nowadays I get up and reply to some tweets, put a comment on someone’s blog, respond to comments on my own blog that have come in overnight and maybe even produce a quick publication in the form of a blog post. I have done global networking before I’ve changed out of my pyjamas. And I’m pretty normal in this.

So it is not just that our identity is distributed over space (ie through multiple sites which highlight different facets of our personality), but it is also distributed over time. And this allows for a greater network of contacts than when we are limited by the physical environment. If I tweet a joke or observation, it is the type of comment only a few people in a face to face setting would hear, but on twitter it is potentially ‘heard’ by all 1700 followers (and more if it is retweeted, although in reality it will only be a fraction of these that actually read the tweet). And these are the type of ‘social glue’ comments that connect people.

I used to work on campus 5 days a week, but working at home more has coincided with the advent of blogs and twitter. My professional and personal profile on campus is now much higher than it was when I attended every day, but largely sat in my office, and occasionally ventured out for coffee. I have contact across many different units which are both professionally useful, but also more social and personal than they were previously. I am sure being a homeworker has meant that I have worked harder at establishing this online identity.

The talk I mentioned at the start was given to a small audience of about 20-30 OU academics. Afterwards I recorded an accompanying audio soundtrack and sequenced this to make a slidecast over at slideshare. In a week the recording has had 719 views. If I look back at my other slideshare presentations the number of views of most of them number in the 1000s, with the highest being 6331. This is possible because they are distributed across place and time.

I know that some people now don’t bother attending my ‘live’ presentations (or are unconcerned if they miss them) because they know I will put them up later. And more than that, I feel that I have time to correct the presentations (although they still remain a fine example of amateur hour) so that the recorded version may well be superior to the live one. I think this may pervade across all of my online identity: my blog has more interesting things to say than I do, and my twitter stream is wittier than I am. I have become like one of those bands of whom people bemoan ‘they’re not as good live’. And as we perfect our online skills, maybe this is the fate that will befall us all. In which case, don’t ask me to give a keynote, I’ll just record you one instead.

Snow, Snow and more Snow

Hey, did you know that it’s been snowing today?

Of course you did! You couldn’t avoid it with the blizzard of news items, photos and Twitter messages.

You can get snow reports via Twitter or use the #uksnow hashtag to share what’s happening in your area and plot it on a Googlemaps mash up.

The UK always goes crazy for a bit of snow and in London they shut down the tube too just to add to the chaos!

A Twitter post from Euan Semple gave an interesting ‘remote worker’ angle to the mayhem:
how much more productive will the UK be today when people can work online from home instead of being “busy” in the office?

There’s a lot in this short tweet. Firstly, Euan is sort of saying that a snowed in UK of today could manage a lot better then a snowed in UK of times past because so many of us work from home. He’s also weighing up the value of the 9-5 worker who is in the office and ‘seen to be working’ against the remote worker who is possibly more output driven and may work on a less social/different schedule.

The BBC web site actually reported that demand for broadband was up by 20% caused by people working from home. However there were also reports that the snow fall put strain on technology networks as many people accessed travel web sites, like national rail enquiries. It also effected mobile networks.

Ironically I had to travel in to the office today so didn’t have the luxury of being snowed in at home. Shame, my Snow in a Wiltshire Gardengarden looks like it’s crying out for a snowman!

Who’s been blocking my Twitter?

I’ve been following a thread on the LIS-BLOGGERS@JISCMAIL.AC.UK list (a discussion list for library and information services bloggers) with interest. The original posting asked about the current use of Twitter by libraries.

There have been some useful links to information about which libraries have accounts and how people are using it. However the most interesting thing for me has been an offshoot conversation about blocking of Web sites and Twitter.

One person (I won’t mention any names here) responded with a useful link and then went on to explain that this site (a blog – which sounded like a pretty useful site) along with others were blocked during core work hours. Note that the person who made the comment works for a commercial law company.

I guess at this point most of the list subscribers who work in academia took a sharp intake of breath. Blocking of sites seems alien to those of us who work in a culture of ‘learning’. However in the not to distant past there have been discussions of IT services blocking use of tools like Skype, though this tends to be more for security and bandwidth reasons. Blocking the Web seems very strange to us academics.

Tim Fletcher from Birbeck then pointed out that the blockage of such sites “leaves those of us who are trying use services such as Twitter for perfectly legitimate and appropriate purposes in a difficult position”.He goes on to say that he feels “the difficulty comes when a “social network” tool goes into the mainstream and becomes a business or service network tool and some employers or institutions are not prepared or geared up for that change. It is also a benefit of working in the HE sector and possibly we have a role in trying and testing these things so that colleagues in other sectors can show their employer or institution the benefits, assuming there are some.” Some good points here.

Although it was actually a Web site that had been blocked Phil Bradley equated this with the blocking of Twitter and explained that “it is absolute insanity to ban its use in an organizational setting.

The posts reiterate the divide in culture between the academic and the commercial sectors. However I think they also show how Web 2.0 technologies have started to bridge this divide. Twitter is now mainstream. Its business uses have been well documented and most forward thinking commercial companies already use it. Even if the bosses are not supportive of the use of certain technologies and sites it seems to me only a matter of time before they succumb. It’s not just about treating your staff as responsible workers but also recognising the current trend in communication.

In the meantime those of us who work from home can feel smug that no-one gets to block what we look at.

Seasons Tweetings

I previously mentioned on Ramblings.. that despite having a go I was Still Not Getting Twitter.

I have to admit to being surprised at the response. Friends, colleagues and blog readers who use Twitter (successfully) really went out of their way to convince me (both online and off) that it’s worth investing time in.

Most people told me why they used it and what they got out of it:

I have a very concentrated almost live-news summary of what’s happening in the various sectors I’m involved in a way of listening in on other people’s streams-of-consciousness

I really like the feeling of community chat: seeing people I know sending @messages to other people I know is somehow very satisfying and somehow reinforces my online social network..

(From blog comments)

Fewer people answered my concerns about not having enough to say, the time to update or read messages.

That said I have had a few tools tipped in my direction that could possibly help, so for those not so in the know here they are.

Updating Messages



A very simple way to send the RSS feed of your blog to Twitter. This means I send a tweet every few days without even having to think about it!

Facebook Twitter Application

This allows you to update Facebook from Twitter. I can’t work out how to do it the other way round though without having programming skills and your own server (if anyone knows let me know). As my colleague Paul Walk put it “it’s almost as though Facebook is a bit of a walled garden….”. I take it this is why developers aren’t so keen on Facebook. Twitter on the other hand is king of the APIs!

Reading Messages


TweetDeck is an Adobe Air desktop application that allows you to organise your tweets. You can sort them, group them and even search live tweet information.

A great way to filter out what is useful and relevant to you.

My colleague Brian Kelly has just written a blog post exploring the usefulness of Tweetdeck to our current project work.

A few other Twitter tools I’ve stumbled on include

  • Twist: tracks trend in terms used
  • Tweetscan: a Twitter search engine
  • I’ve also recently started using Yammer, which is an enterprise version of Twitter, for keeping track of what I’m working on.

It seems there is no escaping the tweeting….

Still Not Getting Twitter

I’m currently working on a fairly technical project (Good APIs) so last week under went some ‘geek’ immersion therapy by attending both the CETIS conference and Mashed Library. Both great events.

At both events everyone seemed to be using Twitter. Twitter for notification about the event, Twitter hashtags for live blogging and Twitter for chatting about the event (before, during and after). I’ve seen it before at other events but this time I started to feel a little left out…

For those who aren’t familiar with Twitter it is:

a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

As someone recently explained to me: every tweet is a bit like a haiku! What a creative bunch the Twitterers are!

For those more familiar with Facebook it is like the updates bit on its own, you ‘follow’ people and they can ‘follow’ you back.

I had a go at writing a few tweets during the events but previous to this my last tweet was 7 months ago. As one colleague put it:

intrigued by @mariekeguy tweet pattern… “back to watching the Gadget show” on Apr 28th, then nothing until 5 hours ago! hell of a show!

Oh dear…

When it comes to Twitter I’m just another one of those people who “doesn’t get it…”

I think the main reasons for this are:

  • I spend a lot of time offline and I have a pay-as-you-go phone (OK embarrassing but true – 3 small children cost money to keep) so I don’t want to do updates via my phone.
  • I like the status updates on Facebook because you can do them every couple of days and it doesn’t seem odd, but with Twitter you feel like you have to update it a lot. People have compared it to an open chat forum; I just think I’d never have enough to say. One blog describes Twitter as “a weird animal that seemingly only exists to feed one’s ego” (though you could say the same about blogs…). Perhaps I don’t have the ego?
  • Twitter isn’t mainstream yet so a lot of the people I know don’t use it…I’m not sure if this is a proper excuse…
  • I’m not very good at having to restrict what I have to say. I’d probably go for an email or skype chat to fill in the detail.
  • I don’t seem to have the time (or the inclination) to get my head round how you use it. What’s are @replies and nudges anyway?
  • I think it is mainly work people who use Twitter but still the work/home boundaries can get very blurred. Last week on Facebook updates I put that I was off to the CETIS conference and a couple of my friends mentioned extraterrestrial life (they obviously thought I was going to a SETI conference!). I’d be concerned about scaring friends with work information and boring colleagues with home information!

That said I’m concerned that I’m going to miss out. Those who are into Twitter seem to be first with the news and first on the scene. My colleagues rave about it (Brian Kelly – UK Web Focus , Paul Walk, eFoundations)) and I keep thinking maybe I should just persevere.

And then I get distracted by something that can’t be described in 140 characters….

Any advice?