Gripping Twitter gently by the throat

In Breaking the Ubiquity of Stream Mode I wrote that, inspired by “Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment”,  I would start taking overt control of my Twitter use.

I shall use this post to both plan and report progress

Updated 12 Feb 2016

First part is to decide on the lists I want. I can’t disagree with the initial triumvirate described by Luis –  “Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From

I also think I need a couple more public lists that reflect my other uses of Twitter – probably one for local / London accounts.

I also think I need some private lists – certainly for friends/family.

And during the migration process I will probably put up a temporary public list for “People I used to follow” – this will be a good place to link to this post to explain what is happening.

Updated 15 Feb 2016

Moving people to lists and unfollowing through a normal Twitter client is SLOW – I estimated about 6 weeks work.

There doesn’t seem to be a tool that will do it all in one go, so I have split the task:

for updating list membership TwitListManager seems to do the trick, with a simple tabular display:


Update 16 Feb 2016

From a couple of comments it’s clear that some people didn’t get beyond the title of the list “People I used to follow”, so I’ve renamed it to the (perhaps) clearer “Moving from follow to lists”.

Interesting as well to see the people for whom Twitter is only about the follower count. I’ve even been accused of being “passive aggressive” by a follower of one of the people I unfollowed 🙂  I suppose I shouoldn’t be surprised that a change which is designed to emphasise Twitter as conversation will seem odd to those who think of it as a broadcast channel.

To be continued…..

Breaking the ubiquity of Stream Mode

A blog post by Luis Suarez has served nicely as a catalyst to start crystallizing some thoughts from the last couple of weeks.


I’ve become increasingly aware of tensions I feel when I think about how I manage my personal sense-making. In hindsight the seeds were sown when taking Harold Jarche’s PKM in 40 days course. During that study I realised that although I “talk the talk” around PKM, mostly what I do is the “Seek” part of Seek-Sense-Share, with sharing only at the level of filtering a set of public bookmarks. My approach to sense-making is opportunistic, driven by the needs of the moment, and often quite ephemeral – knowledge is cast away to the depths of memory when not needed for the task in hand.

I’ve noticed a number of things, which I now suspect are related:

  • I become more and more convinced that email is toxic, yet find myself dragged back into using it by the unhealthy habits of those I work with. Although I find the collaboration in Luis’s #no-email Slack group to be a great support, I spent much of last year not participating
  • I’m increasingly aware of tensions whenever I think about long-form writing and thinking – a whole blog post feels like a lot of pressure! 🙂
    As an aside, I wonder if in fact my long-form thinking is being expressed in a different medium – code – although the job title might mislead you, I write quite a bit of code these days  – and “code is poetry” after all!
  • I find myself attracted to Federated Wiki – the combined timelessness of wiki ( = “no pressure”) with it being “my site”. The ability to quickly bang together related thoughts on pages which are never “finished” feels more accessible than the blank page, dated post, tyranny of the blog
  • I like the speed of Fargo (although the default blog style with dates is a bit reminiscent of timelines). Publishing via is baked in, if I plan to use this tool more I want my own server, and not just syndicate it.
  • Regardless of anything I say in this post, I’m still quite attracted by the immediacy of a Twitter timeline, the frequent updates on Facebook, the serendipitous comments that arise when I post the name of the film I am about to watch – I’ve realised that acknowledging that attraction is a key step in starting to build something else into my practice


Part of recognising an issue is to be aware of the feelings of discomfort, and part is having the right concepts to categorise what is happening.

I came across Mike Caulfield‘s multifarious online presences when I started looking into Federated Wiki. The ones that have seemed most useful in this context are where he has drawn out the definition of StreamMode, contrasted with StateMode  (bloghighlighted version). In his words,

“You know that you are in StreamMode if you never return to edit the things you are posting on the web”
(context, src)

Mike recognises that StreamMode may have some advantages, and Bill Seitz makes an interesting contrast link to Tim Kastelle  on Managing Knowledge Flow, not Knowledge Stocks


“We end up hitting Twitter refresh like sad Skinner-boxed lab rats looking for the next pellet instead of collaborating to extend and enhance the scope of human knowledge.”
(context, src)

Or in the words of Jack Dorsey – “Twitter is live, Twitter is real-time” – both its strength and its weakness.

The Firehose is addictive – it makes us feel “in touch with the pulse” at the same time as it weakens our ability to pause and take stock – it is the refined white sugar of the knowledge world.

What’s Next

Change relies on motivation and a plan.

So you have an addiction – do you really want to fix it?

Why would I want to reduce the hold that StreamMode has over my online interactions?

Put very simply, if I’m going to spend time online, I want it to be useful in some way – personally, professionally.

And the plan? Reinforce positive behaviours, and manage those which are inefficient, unhelpful or not-fun.

Although I complained above about being dragged back into the toxicity of email I have had some success with “Working Out Loud“:

  • Using a product management toolset that within the scope of a single user licence allows me to make my planning work visible across the company, and for colleagues to comment, and create their own ideas for change (sorry for the plug, but I really like the tool)
  • With internal and external technical teams, reinforcing the use of DVCS repositories, and using comments and pull requests as a way of documenting our design discussions
  • Wherever I can, moving more general internal discussions to a combination of Yammer and internal blogs

So a big part of my strategy is to keep using these, and move more and more of my “inside the firewall” conversations to them.

Outside the firewall, in many ways I feel I have been going backwards, not least because outside the firewall is where the stream is so pervasive.

I think the first step is to take back some control, and of all the things I have read, Luis’s approach to gripping Twitter by the throat and bending it to his will is the most appealing.

So I’m planning my own version of the “Great Unfollowing

That will do for a start. There will be more on evolving practices, but another secret to making a change is not to try too many things at once.

And change often needs a public commitment – here it is!


Copyright, Creative Commons, and attribution on the web

Some colleagues were asking about Creative Commons, so I pulled together these notes. I am not a lawyer, and this post is based on a brief overview of published sources. Do not rely on this information as a substitute for legal advice

Copyright is a broad term covering the legal protections given to the creators of written and other work, allowing them the sole right to reproduce or exploit the work for a set period, after which the work transfers to the public domain. Philosophically it is a trade-off between allowing individuals or companies to profit from their ideas, whilst ensuring that eventually ideas become part of the intellectual and cultural commons from which all humanity benefits, and thus ensuring that in the long run there is general progress in the “sciences and arts”.

In 2014 a number of changes were introduced to English law to clarify the “fair use” provisions, and to extend the law to treat digital media in a manner consistent with older forms in which copyright work are expressed. Nevertheless, the position remains that the majority of uses of copyright materials continue to require permission from copyright owners.

After a landmark legal case in the USA that retrospectively extended the term of copyrights by 20 years, Stanford Law School (now Harvard) professor Lawrence Lessig published “Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity“.

The core argument of the book was that as large media corporations used their political and financial muscle to lobby for ever-longer copyright periods, and lock down media with anti-copying technology, they were increasing their profits at the expense of cultural freedom and the future creativity of the USA.

At about the same time, the Creative Commons Foundation started to create new forms of copyright licences that creators could choose to apply to their work. These new licences allow the creator of a work to choose exactly which copyright protections they wish to retain, and which they wish to set aside, in the interests of a wider usability of their work. The vision of Creative Commons is:

“realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity”
From <>

The main protections that Creative Commons (CC) licences allow creators to release or keep, as they choose, are:


Attribution All CC licences require you to attribute the work to the original author
Share-Alike This characteristic, if applied, means that any derivative works must be licenced on the same terms as the original work
NoDerivs This characteristic means that the creator is NOT licensing the creation of derivative works from their work
NonCommercial This characteristic means that you cannot re-use or re-purpose the work for commercial purposes, although you may be allowed to do so for non-commercial purposes if the other characteristics of the licence allow it

Earlier versions of Creative Commons licences have been ported into over 50 legal systems. The legal documents underpinning the latest (4.0) licences are adapted to be universally usable.

A key point when using CC material is proper attribution – see the CC guidance. There is similar advice on marking your work to indicate that it is released under a CC licence.

The last word on attribution, in cartoon form, should go to Nina Paley, via (found via Harold Jarche).


PKM40 – what have I learned so far?

I’m currently following Harold Jarche‘s “Personal Knowledge Management in 40 days” course. We’re just over half way through, and Harold recently challenged us to reflect on what we have learned so far, and what we would like to achieve.

At the start of the course I thought that I was fairly familiar with the material, and that this was really just a refresher. Much of what has been presented is familiar, but looking at it again, with specific exercises, has made me look closer. I’m recognising (perhaps not for the first time) that my particular challenge is that professionally I tend to need to know “quite a lot about quite a lot”, and this seems to fit my learning preferences. (aka “butterfly brain”!)

In practice this means that I tend to have fairly broad nets for the “Seek” part of PKM, but my sense-making tends to be fairly limited in the public arena – usually limited to annotations in Diigo. Certainly in professional terms sense-making seems to be something that takes place in the production of specific work products, and then discarded as we move on. Although I have had a blog since 2002, little sharing happens here at the moment – in fact the bulk of my sharing is implicit (via Diigo), combined with some rather “noise like” retweeting from time to time.

So what do I want to do differently?

In common with at least one other person on the course, I’ve started to see that my knowledge-seeking has become a bit too unfocused, a bit too broad. I’m starting to refine Twitter lists, and hone the collection structure in my I’ve experimented a bit with converting Twitter searches to RSS feeds (using this technique), although at the moment I don’t think I’ve found the right combination of search terms to give me usable filtered streams.

In terms of overt sense-making and sharing, I’ve started being more attentive to “working out loud“, especially the combination of “Narrating your work + Observable work”, although that takes different forms depending on the work. I’m paying more attention to blogging inside the firewall, and I’m looking for more opportunities to write about what I am doing for work in a non-compromising way on my public blog. The main challenge is the amount of time a blog post can take, so again trying to make that part of my process rather than an addition.

I’m very interested in the concept of roles in PKM, not just in terms of seeking out those people for my network, but in terms of identifying and filling the gaps, and the overlap with roles in action-based networks.

Starting the Journey to a Social Business

What benefit are companies getting from social?

A recent McKinsey survey found that use and integration of social tools have had most impact, perhaps unsurprisingly, on customer-facing activities. Based on the responses of the companies that were most committed to the use of social technology, there are also large benefits to be found in the more operational and back-office functions, but that to get there, companies “must become better at engaging more employees, customers, and external partners through social tools, then capturing new benefits and measuring them in a systematic way“.

It was noticeable across their survey that the companies which were “fully networked” saw significantly greater gains from internal and external social interactions across all processes:


What’s behind this?

Walter Adamson, writing at Kinship Enterprise commented on these McKinsey results, and his opinion, the reason fully networked companies get better ROI from social technologies is fundamentally about the way they view the world – “Companies that are using social technologies just internally have a different mindset about the value of social technologies than those using them internally and externally

As Walter says, mindset is hard to change, but by embracing communities of purpose that transcend the organisation boundary in the service of collaboration towards a shared vision, then there is possibility to co-create social good. On a more cautionary note he says that before companies can reach for that goal, they have to make sure that the processes that are built around social technologies are the way the work is done, and not something glued on the side

Dion Hinchcliffe has a not-dissimilar stance on the strategic value of social business , classifying the benefits into:

  • Tactical improvements on ways of working
  • Supporting tacit interactions
  • Re-imagining institutional practices


Looking across these ideas, there’s a common starting point, in terms of changing basic business processes to make full use of social technology – Hinchcliffe classifies the likely benefits as “finding needed information faster, lowering operational expenditures, higher customer satisfaction/retention, increased productivity, more successful innovation, and reduced travel/communications costs“.

However both Hinchcliffe and Stowe Boyd (Understanding the failed promise of ‘social collaboration’) warn that the real benefit will come from processes and tools that support “deep work” – “Cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve“. It may be that this is the area where Harold Jarche‘s approach to Personal Knowledge Management has most to offer in an organisational context.

The third level of benefit, the transformation of a business into something that transcends the organisation boundary, is clearly the furthest target of all. Hinchcliffe offers some clues though – using social as the starting point for digital transformation, understanding the 22 power laws underneath social business, and letting go and letting the network do the work


Links to annotated versions of the sources via my Diigo library:

Living without email – quick update

For quite some time Luis Suarez has been championing a Life Without Email, not just on his blog, but (amongst other places) in the Google+ community of the same name.

Last month, he announced a new community in Slack around the same topic. Why two communities? As he brings out in that G+ post, while the G+ community is very much a Community of Interest, the Slack team is for those people who are both interested and driving initiatives (large or small) to reduce the inefficiencies we all suffer through an over-use of email – a Community of Practice.

The nature of a practice-based community that’s working well is that people share real experiences, and I’m reticent to copy even my own stuff verbatim. If you are interested, Luis opens the group to all – although as he says with a true sense of irony, he needs an email address to let people in! See the G+ post for more information.

One minor experiment of my own that I’m happy to share, as a quick test of how well it’s going, has been to leave Outlook closed this week. I’ve been aiming to only use webmail and web calendar – and so far it’s working OK – I’ve also noticed that my browser tabs for SharePoint, Yammer and the other services I use during my working day have been open far more often than the mail tabs.

A long way from the sort of metrics that would be needed at an organisation level, but nevertheless a good quick test…

Personal Knowledge Management – why and what

I’m refocusing my study and practice around Personal Knowledge Management (and taking Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge mastery in 40 days course).

A few short points on the “why and what” of PKM – this is a placeholder post that I will expand with more links over time.

Why is Personal Knowledge Management important?

In very simple terms, we all need to earn a living, and in the modern workplace some of the most important facets contributing to that are:

  • what we know
  • who we know
  • how well we acquire, internalise and apply new knowledge

Beyond that, there is the change in the nature of work – more and more work is being automated, and not just at the level of manual labour or transaction processing. The jobs that are left will be those where work cannot be standardised, and this sort of work relies heavily on tacit knowledge.

Harold Jarche has done the homework, here’s his post on “Why mastering personal knowledge is critical to success

What is Personal Knowledge Management?

In 2009, Jo Smedley, Newport Business School published “Modelling Personal Knowledge Management” which links PKM to experiential learning and communities of practice.

Harold Jarche offers the Seek-Sense-Share framework as a way of framing and embedding practice. He draws the distinction between collaboration (working together on a shared goal) and co-operation (sharing information and knowledge), and notes that PKM bridges the gap between work teams, communities of practice and social networks.

Seeking is about choosing the right sources, and using the right tools to select high quality information. One of the best ways of doing this is to use human filters – people whose views you trust and who share knowledge.

Sensing is about internalisation and action

Sharing is the giving back, the act that establishes you as a valuable member of the network in your own right.

Email makes you stupid – so what can we do about it?

Luis Suarez (@elsua), curator of the Life without eMail G+ community, has posted a Vodcast co-presented with Claire Burge (@claireburge)

Here’s the full video:


Here are my notes on the highlights of what Luis and Claire think is wrong with email:

Email creates a dumber workforce” (3:02), because (4:02) the structure of email forces an obsession with emptying the inbox without action.

Email is a selfish tool (4:59) – centred around individual, not team or company goals (because you cannot see the impact of your email on the other person’s workload).

Email doesn’t help people focus on work (7:20) – it misdirects focus and attention. Stuff just flows in, recipient is expected to filter and sort (7:45). People don’t have time, so fall back to just emptying the inbox and treating their email as a task list. This leads to inefficiency through constant task-switching (8:10).

The inefficiencies are not about the technology, but about the human behaviours it engenders (8:58).

[more and more] people justify their workload by how many emails they process (9:22) – so if we take away the email you they have nothing to do. The implication (10:27) is that all the company knowledge, contacts, content and tasks are locked in email

Email gets used as a tool for covertly managing staff (10:45) – yes some interactions need to be confidential, but most aren’t.

Knowledge is power (11:25) – share as little as possible. Which means (12:09) that when someone leaves the company, much of the knowledge they created is lost.

In an increasingly-complex world, email is no longer an effective productivity tool (12:48) – nowadays the environment is complex – multi-project, multi-team, multi-geo – this means companies need open collaboration (13:36) which email cannot provide. Email has been around so long (13:50) that people are scared to try other things. Email doesn’t engender the behaviours we need to be effective in the modern business world (15:08).

Some behaviours need to be unlearned, some need to be taken from email to a new environment (15:27):

Deep parallel between closed inbox mindset and static fixed job descriptions. What results is a series of blockages to the flow of work. (27:30)

Collaborative environment exposes the blocks, (27:56) but this leads to enquiry into the root causes of blockages, making it about the flow of work rather than about the person (28:24)

But, if you keep evolving the process to make the work better, then the job descriptions have to keep evolving too (29:08)