Archive for the ‘observations’ Category

On Lurking

Yes, the blog has been quiet lately. And I’ve been getting out less. A few people have noted that my Twitter activity is down also.

So it would seem I’ve gone into lurking mode.

The reasons for this are varied, ranging from focusing on web 1.0 issues at work, to getting used to managing a team (damn it’s way harder than I’d ever imagined), to wanting to spend more time outside. And we can’t forget that it’s baseball season.

But rest assured, I am still here.

In defense of lurking: I don’t always have something useful to say about what I come across online. It takes time to come up with intelligent commentary — time that I often don’t have. I’m not so hot at instant feedback either, I tend to need to go away and think about stuff for a while to make up my mind. And in an environment where attention moves on to the next thing quickly, the imperative of the fast response often leaves me feeling like there’s little point making a post or dropping comments on something that’s a few (or more) days old. Why make the effort when everyone else has moved on to the next shiny object?

Oh and I’ll be honest — I’m easily distracted too. Instead of sitting down and banging this post out in a few concentrated minutes, it’s taken me all day (in fits and starts of course) to put together these few words.

So it all adds up to my being on the fringes a lot of the time. I know I’m not alone — think of the well-known 90-9-1 principle, a model of online communities where 90% are lurkers, 9% are somewhat active, and only 1% are fully engaged.

But wait, isn’t lurking bad? Anathema to participation, engagement, openness, etc. etc. On the contrary, I’m fine with it.

Some folks just aren’t that comfortable with active participation online — like this obviously very bright fella who attributes his lurkiness to a form of performance anxiety.

And then there’s this defense of lurking, described by a blogger at FCW:

Upon encountering the term “lurker” I felt guilty, like I was hiding behind my chair and sneaking peaks at the online entries of the greater community. Upon further research I found, in an MIT study, a defense of lurking that was better than anything I could make up. The study found that active lurkers in an online community might constitute closer to 40 percent to 50 percent of members and, while these people might not contribute directly to the online forum, they contribute by taking some of the ideas from the specific community and sharing them in the world at large. I propose we call these people “worker bees” instead of lurkers, as they take the pollen from one online community and spread it to others. (I think “worker bee” sounds much better than “lurking” also, but I don’t think I want to go too much further with a pollination analogy.)

Sounds good to me — I’m gonna use that as my excuse. Lately, I’m too busy pollinating the real world with the ideas I find online to actually participate there.

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Small Potatoes

I made a quick reference to Canada being “small potatoes” in my last post. After all, there are slightly less that 22 million online Canadians, while countries like China or the USA can count many more netizens. Orders of magnitude more.

Here’s a map that helps to show just how small the Canadian online population is. Almost half the world’s netizens live in China, the USA, India, Russia and Brazil. Meanwhile Canada accounts for a tad more than 1% of the global online population.

World map showing countries with the largest numbers of netizens

Source: Morgan Stanley, Internet Trends, April 2010

Source: Morgan Stanley

In looking at this again, I wonder actually about several other countries who I would imagine would have significant numbers of internet users. Where’s Japan? Germany? the UK? France? Italy? South Korea? etc. I’d quote a table from good ol’ www.internetworldstats.com, but they don’t seem to set their info up that way.

Update: Of course, the CIA World Factbook would have that info. Here’s a table showing their estimates of numbers internet users by country. It’s based on 2008 data, so getting a little stale now. It also shows Canada with 25 million online citizens, which is higher than Statistics Canada’s more recent research.

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On Monday, Statistics Canada released the latest iteration of its Canadian Internet Use Survey, based on data from November 2009.

According to the study, Canada’s population of Netizens stands at 21.7 million people. This represented a 7% increase over 2007, the last time the study was conducted.

When I scanned the release, I initially decided I wouldn’t blog about it, since there wasn’t much that was noteworthy. To me, it painted a picture of a largely stable — OK, slightly increasing — state of connectivity in Canada. Ho hum.

But then I saw this:  China’s population of Internet users in 2009 was 384 million – about 18 times larger than the Great White North. And size of China’s Netizenry is exploding, showing 29% year-over-year growth.

OK, OK, big deal – China’s a huge country and it’s rapidly modernizing so of course you’re going to see that we’re small potatoes by comparison.

What’s more interesting is the difference between China and Canada in *how* Internet users get online. In China, access is dominated by mobile — 61% of all Internet users are mobile Internet users. In Canada, while mobile is growing, connectivity is dominated by wireline access — provided by either cable or telephone lines. The following chart shows the dominance of wireline access in Canada.

Bar chart comparing DSL, cable and wireless Internet access in Canada from 2007 to 2009

Source: Canadian Internet Use Survey (2009), Statistics Canada

Actually, this chart doesn’t even mention mobile as a unique class of Internet access — it lumps it in with “other.” Although I suspect that the vast majority of this category is in fact access via mobile devices. So let’s say that that is the case.

Personally, I see mobile as the future of the Internet. (I’ve posted about this before.) So given the rapid year-over-year growth and prevalence of mobile connectivity in China, I read this as Chinese Internet users actually skipping over a step that countries (like Canada) with more established ‘Net populations went through. Where we started with wireline access plugged into a desktop PC, then moved on to a laptop (still ultimately connected to a wireline, even though we added wireless networks within our homes), and are only now moving to mobile, it seems like many in China have simply leapfrogged straight from unconnected to mobile Internet access. & in the process, leaving in the dust those in countries where Net connectivity started with wirelines.

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Ah, “personal branding.” Definitely a topic worthy of a straw poll.

I’ve been thinking about changing my Twitter name. Why would I do that?

The usual response I get when I meet Tweeting folk is one of surprise — “oh that’s you? I had no idea!” So that’s not good. Plus, I find that @spaghetti_p is pretty long. Including the @ symbol, it’s 11 characters, and I’d rather something less than 10. Finally, it’s kind of dumb and I’m pretty tired of it.

So why did I choose it in the first place? It was a halfhearted attempt at carrying something from the name of this blog over into my Twitter presence. (It’s hard to be original at 1 a.m. when you are signing up for the latest social site.) Also my real name is extremely generic, so @petersmith was long gone by the time I got to Twitter. As was @smith, @psmith, @smithp.

But it been a long time since I’ve been tweeting as @spaghetti_p. The majority of my followers know me under that username. More significantly, my Twitter presence has the most “reach” on a daily basis – it’s my main “social habit.” It’s the public place where I interact most with others online. So is there a risk in changing it?

At a technical level, I had first thought that the answer would be no. On Twitter.com, all I have to do is change my account settings and automagically, everyone who’s following @spaghetti_p will be following whatever new name I choose. But almost immediately I realized that it’s not that simple — I’ve set up a lot of profiles elsewhere (main public ones listed on this blog’s about page, and I can’t forget internal-to-GC ones also) that point to the URL http://twitter.com/spaghetti_p. It’d take some work to re-point all these — but it’s doable and obviously worth it.

I also came across multiple listings of my Twitter account throughout the ecosystem of apps and services that has grown up around Twitter — quick examples: Topsy, TwitIQ, FavStar, Sency… the list goes on and on. I’ve never heard of most of these & have no idea what they do. And what happens to them if I change my Twitter name – do they also update? Do they break? I suppose mostly it doesn’t matter, they’re just machines.

What’s more important to me is: will folks find this annoying? Will they unfollow? Will they even care? And do I even care what anyone thinks? Mainstream “personal branding” thinking says I should — online is my calling card, and Twitter is the primary channel for that and yadda yadda yadda. But I’m not a product to be managed, ya know? I’m a mere human. So the answer to all of these, even the last one, about which I feel really ambivalent, is: I don’t really know.

So I’ll give up and turn it over to you: should I change my Twitter name?

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From Saturday’s Ottawa Citizen:

Maria Barrados, president of the Public Service Commission, has commissioned a study on the implications of generational turnover as the baby boomers retire. The twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who are starting their public-service careers today have grown up in a different world from that of their parents. There’s bound to be some friction, but friction can be useful, if it leads to positive change.

If it doesn’t, the new recruits will quickly become disillusioned. They might stay in their jobs because of the great benefits, good hours and security, but they’ll stop trying to be creative if creativity isn’t prized. They’ll learn, soon enough, how just to put in their hours and go home, and channel all their creativity into other parts of their lives. That won’t serve the taxpayers.

Full story: Tomorrow’s bureaucrats.

My own experience, from the perspective of more than 10 years “inside”: I still feel that creativity is possible, perhaps more so now than ever. The adjustment for me was learning that every so-called great idea (or brain fart) that I had was not necessarily the best thing organizationally speaking.

In the first few years I spent in the bureaucracy, I spent a lot of time being frustrated about this, but I gradually came to learn that it’s not just about me. How can it be? I am but one individual among more than 200,000 that make of the federal public service. Let alone the 30+ million citizens that we serve.

I wouldn’t call this realization disillusionment. Instead it’s far closer to enlightenment. I still bring creativity to my work. But I now have a much better sense of where to focus my creative energies. What’s that saying? Pick your battles. To me, it’s about leverage — spotting the achievable, realistic points at which you can effect change, and then taking advantage of them.

That’s not saying cherry pick the easy stuff — often the easiest changes to make are change for its own sake, stuff that doesn’t matter. I’m talking about making real, concrete changes that benefit Canadians who are touched by the services I provide. Pinpointing what those changes could be and then following through is a long process, and requires patience and persistence.

In my case, it’s about making GC websites and web communications better. Not prettier or flashier, but more useful. And for the websites I am currently responsible for, I feel like I’m just at the beginning. There is a lot to do. Good.

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Mind The Gap

"Web 2.0? We haven’t even got Web 1.0 right yet!"
– I’ve heard variations on this phrase from my peers many times over the last little while. It’s the lament of the typical digital comms manager in government, feeling the gap between theory and practice. Something I’ve been experiencing rather keenly lately.

I feel that I have a reasonably good handle on the way the web is developing and where my (tiny) team should be taking our web presence. But the struggle it will take to get there? Phew, it can be overwhelming. Some days it feels like trying to step on to a (clue)train that’s rushing by at 200 miles an hour. Other days, it’s like arriving late at the station, and looking down the track to see that the train’s already left without you.

And since it’s the holiday season, it’s tempting to wish for Santa to come and automagically catch us up… yup all I want for xmas is my #gc20.

Ah well, ol’ Saint Nick is probably still trying to decide if the #gc20 folk are naughty or nice…

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