Tag: Twitter

education & learningemergencepsychologyscience & technologysocial media

The Future of Electronic Communication is also the Past


An interesting discussion has been taking place on the SourcePOV blog (hosted by Chris Jones) this week on the importance of communication — specifically the need for clarity and the methods that can promote it — and the trouble that ambiguity brings in a digital world. The debate, critique and insight from the many participants (myself included) has been a breath of fresh intellectual air this chilly week, not only because of the level of thought put into the discussion, but because the dialogue is challenging our collective assumptions about language in the present day digital era. Alas, we haven’t solved the problems of language and clarity in the information landscape, but we have posed some interesting questions.

One of the challenges that has come up is improving clarity in communications given the changing nature of the tools we use and the contexts in which we apply them. I’m not going to re-hash the debate here, rather I’d encourage you to join in at the source (no pun intended!) and add to the rich conversation going on there. What I am interested with this post is building on those ideas and offering some new ones on the future of communication. A few weeks ago I posted a highly unscientific, partly tongue-in-cheek poll to confirm or challenge something I was seeing in my personal communications, which was a shift from Facebook to Twitter and blogs in the number and nature of messages being shared. Facebook seemed to be getting quieter and Twitter and my blog-roll were heating up with messages and I wanted to know whether this was something unique to me and my network or something broader.

A few brave readers responded with 63 per cent (N=5) saying that Twitter and blog traffic is going up, while 1 participant felt there was no change and 2 voted for ‘other’. Unfortunately, no one commented and suggested to me what ‘other’ meant, as I’d hoped. Lesson: don’t expect much from half-serious polls.

Perhaps another lesson is that our electronic communications and online social networks are beginning to change. A look at the traffic for both sites over the past year shows that there was a big gain in March and April and a steady move upward or level since then. But what I see, and cannot be gained from these numbers, is a shift in the sophistication and quality of the content that I’m seeing on Twitter and my favourite blogs versus what is on Facebook. I would argue that 80 per cent or more of the very best content that I get on a daily basis can be traced back to my Google Reader and Twitter feeds.

It is not from academic journals or books or from formal presentations, rather it is content in the form of narrative fragments, little bits of information linked together, either unorganized or disorganized, and often free of any larger narrative beyond a general area of interest. Critics (too many to list here) suggest that this is a threat to literacy, a juvenile form of communicating, and out of sync with the way humans naturally communicate, which is based on stories with a beginning, middle and end.

While I agree that we are storytelling beings, I’d challenge the suggestion that stories (at least complete ones) are natural, while others suggesting that the electronic world of narrative fragments might very well be taking storytelling to a new level. The idea of ‘natural’ complete stories is a myth. When was the last time you sat down and told a complete story to someone (other than reading a bedtime story to a child) that could be reasonably understood and interpreted by someone other than the person you were communicating to? (In other words, you could take a transcript and show it to someone out of context and they would know what you’re talking about? No insider knowledge would be necessary, no shared history, no temporal or physical connection present). Probably not very often. The truth is that we communicate in fragments all the time. Twitter posts and Facebook updates work because the fragments we use have some other shared contexts with the audiences — intended or otherwise. These contexts shift and change and tools like Twitter, or text messages or other media provide a concise way to adapt quickly to rapidly changing contexts. This is why I think Twitter and blogs more generally are becoming the more powerful tool set for communicating and why I am seeing a change in my communication patterns.

In the days of Dickens people’s lives were far less complex than they were today. A person would communicate with a few dozen others at best and assume a few social roles. Today, we communicate with potentially thousands in many roles because of our vast networks and global reach through technologies. Yet the stories we tell are still done in fragments most of the time and require context to fully appreciate. So while our future of communication will require tools that enable us to communicate quickly in a variety of contexts to a broad audience, the importance of context will become as important as in Dickens time. A tool that allows us the ability to attract the right people (that is develop a shared context) and allow us to adapt it to the changes in context will be the one that fits with our natural communications and more likely to thrive. So the future will indeed be the past. Fire up the Delorean!

Join the discussion at the SourcePOV blog or here and in keeping with Dickens may I wish you all a Merry Christmas for those celebrating it and a happy holiday and insightful 2010 to all.


behaviour changedesign thinkingeducation & learning

Amazing Stuff: December 14th Edition

It’s final paper and exam time at the university so that means one thing: procrastination.

Procrastination also yields a lot of unusual thinking so with a nod to the serious and the silly, I’ve managed to whittle down the many amazing things sent my way to just five:

1. 1000 Awesome Things. Rather than be amazing, this blog captures awesome. Although not so much the amazing like mind-blowing or novel, what this blog does is remind us of the little, everyday kind of things that happen in life that make us smile, pause, or even contemplate enough to go “wow, that’s awesome”. AWESOME!

2. The Art of the Idea: 8 ways to Light a Lightbulb Above Your Head. Fast Company’s Sheryl Sulistiawan presents a visual pictorial based on John Hunt’s insights collected in his new book. It is a creative, artistic way to imagine new ways to visualize the creative process. It’s a lot different than the usual pictogram and got me thinking.

3. Yes, Bottled Water Really is That Bad. Another gem from Fast Company and their infographics: A look at just how awful bottled water is for the world. Where I live (Canada) we have more clean, fresh water than almost anyone in the world yet we fill our buildings with bottled water when its cheaper, healthier, and sometimes tastier to drink it from the tap.

4. The New York Times Magazine 9th Annual Year in Ideas issue. I look forward to this every issue every year for a highlight of the most innovative — and sometimes also ridiculous — inventions, social trends, and novel solutions to problems big and small. I’m  quite intrigued by the growing interest in zombie attack science.

5. World Food Programme’s Fight Hunger campaign. When you think of innovators and integrated thinking, the UN isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But the UN’s WFP has shown that it can out-campaign even the slickest corporation with its multi-channel social media campaign using Facebook, Twitter, crowd-funding and micro-donations to stimulate awareness and solicit donations to affect a problem that is big and getting bigger everyday. A great ‘101’ on the program is available in this CNN International profile.


Blogs and Twitter vs. Facebook: What’s going on?

I’m noticing that Facebook is getting far less traffic amongst my ‘friend’ group than usual, but that Twitter seems to be revving up more and so is traffic in the blogosphere. I’d like to know if this is just me or is this a trend that other social media users are noticing.

behaviour changecomplexitydesign thinkingeHealthpublic health

Benchmarking Success in Times of Change


Successful evaluators know the power of benchmark. The Oxford English Dictionary describes the act ‘to benchmark’ as “evaluate or check (something) by comparison with a standard. The Wikipedia definition of Benchmarking is:

Benchmarking is the process of comparing the business processes and performance metrics including cost, cycle time, productivity, or quality to another that is widely considered to be an industry standard benchmark or best practice. Essentially, benchmarking provides a snapshot of the performance of your business and helps you understand where you are in relation to a particular standard.”

From an evaluation standpoint, a benchmark provides us with a comparator to help assess how well (or poorly) a particular program is doing. From corporate leaders to university presidents to healthcare administrators benchmarking serves as the referent and focus for programming activities and the foundation for ‘best practice’. But what if best practice isn’t good enough? Or put another way, what if following the leader means going the wrong way?

In the world of consumer or behavioural eHealth much of what we use as our benchmarks are derived from a type of healthcare model that is institution and often technology-centred rather than patient-centred. It is more often something tied to medical treatment of specific problems and technology focused using a highly linear approach to treatment.

Yet in the age of Google Wave, these linear models don’t look to fare well. The future of healthcare, as Frog Design recently opined, is social. What are the benchmarks when your eHealth intervention is not a single technology, but a suite of interacting tools that are online, collaborative and mobile in different measures at different times within a diverse context of treatment and preventive behaviour? How do we measure success? What happens when the ‘effect’ of an intervention is social in nature and supported by multiple tools working in different combinations each time?

In evaluation, we often look for the most likely cause of a particular effect. Yet, what is the effect of any one wave in an ocean of influence? While it is impossible to deconstruct the influence of that wave, it is possible to anticipate what a wave might do under certain conditions and, if the timing is right, it might be possible to get on top of that wave and surf it to shore.

What if we took a wave model and, like surfers, read the seas to determine the appropriate time to dive in, acknowledging that the break will occur differently, the velocity might vary, the height of can’t be predicted, but through activity and practice we can enhance our anticipatory guidance systems to better select waves that might lead to some fine surfing? My research team at the University of Toronto has begun working on these models and methods because as anyone in public health can tell you, the tide is high and with complex problems like chronic disease, the waves are getting big. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, iPhone apps big and small are all collectively influencing people’s behaviour in subtle ways and through acknowledging that these collective tools are the cause and consequence of change can we begin to develop evaluation models to make sense of their impact on the world around us.

complexityeducation & learningpublic healthresearchsocial media

Storytelling in the Age of Twitter


Storytelling has been on my mind this week. Not the kind of stories that many of us had a children like those in Mother Goose, but rather the ones that we more often tell through chance encounters in the hallway or Tweet about over the Internet. However, like Mother Goose many of the stories we tell include narratives that feature archetypes and draw on a long history of shared knowledge between the storyteller and her or his audience. Unlike in cultures where storytelling is fashioned in a manner that requires sustained attention and considerable skill and practice (think of the many First Nations & Aboriginal communities worldwide or the Irish Seanachaidhean), tools like Twitter, blogs and Facebook enable us to tell stories in new, short form ways to audiences we might not even know about. Sorting through the tweets of 150 different people per day requires a process of sensemaking that is different from those used to ascertain meaning in a long form story. Both are valuable.

Although it is tempting to privilege long-form storytelling, the kind found in essays, feature films, and books, it may be those tweets that better fit with our cognitive tendencies for sensemaking. If you think about your average day, you might interact with a few dozen people face-to-face and perhaps many dozens more through your social networks. How many of those interactions featured a full-fledged story; one that had a clear start, middle, end and coherence that could only be gathered from the story itself, not past relationships with the storyteller? Probably very few. Instead, we much more often speak, write, and even film in narrative fragments; small chunks co-constructed and contextually bound. Think about any buzzword or catch phrase and you can see this in action. From ‘whassup‘ to ‘getting Kanyed‘, these terms have meanings that go far beyond the obvious and can be conveyed with one or two words. Twitter represents this very well with its 140 character limit.

This past week I spent three days with a great group of people getting learning about complexity-based approaches to sensemaking using narrative fragments, software and a variety of facilitation techniques aimed at taking the science of complexity into the practical change realm with the folk at Cognitive Edge. What this accreditation process did was provide a theory-based set of tools and strategies for making sense of vast amounts of information in the form of stories and narrative fragments for purposes of decision-making and research. What this method does is acknowledge the complex spaces in which many organizational decisions are made and, through the Cynefin framework, help groups make sense of the many bits of knowledge that they generate and share that is often unacknowledged. It provides a theoretically-grounded and data-driven method of making sense of large quantities of narrative fragments; the kind we tell in organizations and communities.

From a systems perspective, viewing knowledge exchange and generation through the narrative fragments that we produce is far more likely to lead to insights about how the system operates and developing anticipatory guidance for decision-making than waiting for fully-formed stories to appear and analyzing those. This, like nearly everything in systems thinking, requires a mind-shift from the linear and whole to the non-linear and fragmented. But thanks to Michael Cheveldave and Dave Snowden and their team this non-linearity need not be incoherent. I’d recommend checking out their amazing website for a whole list of novel and open-source methods of applying cognitive and complexity science to problem identification and intelligence.

Thanks Michael and the Toronto knowledge workers group for a great three days! I’m looking at my tweets in a whole new way.


Amazing Stuff: November 22 Edition

This week’s amazing stuff features photos, videos, participatory design, tweet tools, mindblowing statistics and more. I hope you find something amazing in all of this and feel free to share your amazing stuff with me via the comments page.

1. Five mindblowing stats you should know. Seeing a post like that makes me curious. Tony Tjan makes us aware of the utterly phenomenal growth of the Internet and social media and considers the way that it is impacting upon business and society by looking at five remarkable statistics.

2. Imagine open-source, open-access public service design. Can’t do it? Or want to see what that might look like? Visit the Participle group and watch how citizen engagement and design thinking can combine to create some remarkable new insights on how our public services can be structured in a sustainable and responsive manner.

3. “Jaw-dropping” was the descriptor given to this TED talk by Pranav Mistry from the MIT Media Lab as he shows how the world of data and the physical world can interact. It has to be seen to believed, but I think you’ll agree with the reviewers’ comments once you’ve finished watching it.

4. From ideas to products. This week I discovered Brizzly, another of the many Twitter and Facebook management tools out there. But unlike most, this web-based tool allows you to mute people on Twitter (think of those well-meaning, but often more annoying tweeters who tweet everything from the conferences they attend) and see what trending topics actually mean!

5. Lastly, I had the chance to take in a wonderful photo exhibit in Toronto at the Hotshot Gallery and Espresso bar in Kensington by up-and-coming photographer (and public health gambling researcher) Jennifer Reynolds. The show, which covers the world of travel, is on for a couple more days and if you’re in the neighbourhood check it out. In the meantime, you can get a taste for Jen’s eye for texture and shape at her website.

behaviour changeeHealthpublic health

eHealth and the Means-Ends Problem

Prescribing ChangeIt’s been a busy week and one that has focused on means and ends and provided me with many examples of how those two things get confused and become de-linked.

I started the week off in Vancouver with meetings focused on my ongoing research looking at collaboration and outcomes associated with the study and evaluation of the Life Sciences Institute at the University of British Colombia. Our research is trying to ascertain the means from the ends — and even what those ends are or should be. Does increasing interaction between scientists of different disciplines produce more research? better research? different research? and if so, is this a factor of the people?, the setting?, facilitators within the LSI and outside?, something else? or some combination? It’s the kind of problem that makes researchers squirm or jump (thankfully, I’m in the latter).

These kinds of means and ends are important for not only research, but understanding innovation in practice and creating better strategies to facilitate that. Nowhere was that more clear than in the two days of presentations and discussion at Medicine 2.0, perhaps the most important gathering of people — researchers, clinicians, decision makers, patients and advocates — interested in learning more about how collaborative e-tools brings about change. Events like these are dangerous; for those in eHealth and those outside it.

For those outside, the danger comes from having a group of innovators share with the world how ‘Web 2.0’ tools can facilitate self-organization, community engagement, and patient involvement in ways that challenge the status quo quickly and with tremendous force. As I tell my students in my Health Behaviour Change course at the U of T : the only people who truly welcome change are wet babies.

Take the eHealth Ontario debacle, which continues to roll along. It now has come to the attention of the public that Ontario already has an eHealth record system linking close to 100 facilities only it is focused solely on child health (i.e., those under the age of 19), when its spent millions on developing a completely new one, presumably for the other part of the population (?). What is required here is changing the tools to address a larger population, but more importantly, changing a mindset that there needs to be new tools, rather than adapting existing ones. The means (a centralized database for health records in this case) is confused with the end (a healthier province & a more efficient and effective health care system). A quest for getting the ‘right’ means or getting a particular ‘means’ is delaying our ability to move towards the healthy end.

From the inside eHealth, these kinds of events are dangerous for reasons that are not that different than those of outsiders. In this case, there is a tendency to focus on the means without consideration of the environment in which those methods are deployed. At Medicine 2.0 there were talks ranging from a focus on patient support needs and portals, public health support strategies, wiki-based clinical practice guidelines, and a variety of ways to engage various audiences with tools like Facebook and Twitter. In nearly every presentation the focus was on the novel ways in which technology could facilitating change. Yet in the audience and at the breaks these presenters (myself included) found ourselves talking less about the tools, but the organizational cultures and shifts that need to take place to make these tools work. Indeed, the tools can do a lot, but without an organizational mindshift within our health and public health systems, even the most innovative, responsive and affordable tools will not truly make the change that is espoused.

We are clear on our end, now its time to reconsider our means in light of the tools and the culture that exists around them.