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.

Discomfort

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 smallpict.com 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

Analysis

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”
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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

But….

“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.”
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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!

 

Happy (belated) Tenth Birthday

birthday cake

This blog turned ten years old a couple of weeks ago.

Looking back at how I used to blog back then I see that it was mostly comment on current events.

My first post was about a book – How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker. I think I still have that book somewhere, although it may have been one of the many that I parted company with during the course of four house moves since that time. Of course, if I really wanted, I could buy it again, and start reading it within minutes thanks to the wonders of pervasive internet retailing and e-books.

In the intervening years there have been several lean periods, where the only posts have been automated linklogs from delicious – as far as I can see I started doing that in January 2004, so the basics of lifestreaming are pretty old now!

I started on Moveable Type, but migrated to WordPress in May 2004

These days most content here is aggregated from other sources: links I have captured, comments on other blogs, tweets I have made; but I still think there is a place for the personal site, often with blog-like features. The role of a site like this is still, I think, to be a personal hub, reflecting the flow of online engagement, learning and co-creation.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

It’s just embarrassing…

Blog posting flow chart
Image by MastaBaba via Flickr

…the length of time since I left this blog fallow.

It’s not as if I am not doing interesting things, far from it, I am busier than ever at work, involved in the many things that a head of IT has to get involved with in a small/medium organisation with a significant focus on web engagement and rich information-based analysis.

But that’s the problem – I am very busy doing stuff which can’t really be blogged, and I haven’t been making the time to reflect on what I am learning to the degree that can be abstracted and anonymised into a public blog post.

So this post is a reminder for me, a call to action about the things that I should be finding a bit of room for.

To try and get myself into the groove, I’ve started re-visiting some good posts from others about the writing habit – these from Chris Brogan are a great start.

Someone else has the same problem about blogging

Apart from posting links, I’ve not been writing here much. Partly that has been through lack of attention, in part because I have been posting (occasionally) on my other blog, but there’s also been another factor – I’m busy with lots of interesting things at work, but have not felt able to write about them.

Neil McIntosh seems to be having the same problem:

Why the secrecy? Lots of folk write lots of stuff about this business, after all. Trouble is, the business of blogging about the intersection of technology, [and a particular profession] and social change is one that’s dominated by academics and consultants; people who make their living from advising. They’re free to discuss whatever they like and, indeed, it’s good for their business that they do, because they are in the knowledge business, not the delivery business.

It’s a seductive world, because it’s about ideas, not the more difficult business of implementation. The latter is less about the heroic individual, and more about the unglamorous world of meeting rooms, progress charts and compromise.

Some of things happening at work would have been good to blog here, not least because blogging is part of my reflective process, part of how I learn from action, but they are things which contain far too much information about what we are up to – sometimes nothing especially exciting, but as Neil puts it it’s frequently either too dull, or to messy, to expose.

I’ve tried anonymising by generalisation, but that is a lot of work, and usually takes all the impact away from the issue.

Perhaps the answer is one of focus – perhaps if I set a particular frame before work that I am looking for things that I can write about then the ideas will emerge?

Another blog

One of the reasons I’ve been quiet in this blog has been that I have started another blog specifically focused on Managing Successful Programmes.

When I set that blog up, I was planning on attending a training course in June on Managing Successful Programmes (MSP), leading (hopefully) to the practitioner certificatation. MSP is the UK Office of Government Commerce (OGC) approach to ensuring the success of major change programmes.

I’ve set up the other site as an online learning diary, and a central place for various notes. To support the blog there is also a wiki for more long-form notes.
Unfortunately the course I was attending has been withdrawn for June by the provider. Looks like I shall now go in October. Inevitably my motivation to go through the pre-work has been somewhat reduced, however I shall continue to post over there – I’m finding lots of ways to introduce key elements of the MSP approach into day-to-day work.

This should also mean that I have a little more online time to keep this place up-to-date!

Qumana re-visited

Having mentioned Qumana in a recent post, the ever-vigilant Qumana team picked up on my comment and asked if I’d look again at the tool. As I promised, here is a note of my re-visit. In the spirit of the thing, this post is written using the tool (3.0.0-b2 Beta).

The two things that put me off Qumana before were its inability to post via a web proxy (not tested this time), and the lack of control over the HTML it was creating. The second thing has been fixed now, with a "Source View" tab.

Things I like

The drop-pad – this makes it really easy to grab links and bits of content as you work and park them in a scratchpad for blogging later. This was the key part of the workflow that Earl Mardle described.

The writing interface is really clean, with the minimum of interferences to get in the way of the words you want to write, and really clear, so you can review your words easily. Being a beta there are a couple of funnies – for example "Insert Link" and "Align Left" seem to share the same keyboard shortcut as described in the menu (actually it applies "Insert Link") – but those are trivial things that I’m sure will be fixed in the release version.

Integrated speeling chocker – definitely a requirement for those fast posts!

Things I don’t like

Unless I missed it in my exploration of the configuration, there is no way to post to your blog as draft. For me this is the killer feature-lack that makes it difficult for me to integrate Qumana into my preferred workflow. I can see an argument that says this tool is for creating fast posts, but I’m sure that many people would like the ability to post in draft. If nothing else, this makes it easy to capture thoughts when they happen, for later access and editing from another computer.

There’s another reason that I would want a "post to draft" facility, which is more to do with my specific blog setup – I make use of the Ultimate Tag Warrior plugin to create tags on my blog, and this requires access to the online WordPress editing screen. If when you read this post it doesn’t have any tags, that’s because I’ve only just posted it and haven’t time to go into WordPress and add them. In fairness to Qumana, this is not something they could realistically accomodate as a specific requirement because it lies outside the XML-RPC interface to WordPress, however a "Post to Draft" feature would enable it. And of course, they do include an easy shortcut for inserting Technorati tags "the normal way".

Things I don’t really care about

A key part of the functionality of Qumana is the ability to easily include adverts in your posts through the close integration with Adgenta. As this isn’t something I particularly want to do on my blog (unless the ISP fees go up!) then it isn’t a selling point for me – nor did I test this aspect to see how well it works.

Summary

A nice tool, and if it had the ability to post in draft I would probably use it. If that isn’t a requirement for your own preferred style of blogging, then give it a go!

Does it work?

New on the blogroll is The “Does it Work?” Diary from my friend Clare Walker.

She’s taken on the challenge of documenting “Which personal development techniques actually work”, and amongst other things is documenting a self-experiment on the positive affect on mood obtained by abstaining from watching television news.

She says:

I’m not certain why this may work, but suspect that:

1) The bias of most news is depressing (eg an emphasis on crime, disaster, problems, etc)….(And yes, I know that the media can do tremendous good by highlighting poverty, disasters and destruction, but if in the end we’re all too depressed to respond, that isn’t, in fact very useful).

2) Most of this is illustrated with pictures (which people’s unconscious minds just lap up).

3) Watching television is known to induce an alpha-brain-wave, trance-like state

(the very same state in which it’s also easiest to create positive emotional change too).

4) I watch most TV news at night…which is also the time I think of for both myself and my students as being the most powerful for personal development and changework. (Something to do perhaps with tiredness after the day inducing that all-important alpha brain-wave state again.

Try it for yourself!

Updated link to Clare’s new location at http://www.selfworks.net/blog/doesitworkdiary/