Friday, 19 June 2009

Help Build Some Amazing Treehouses!

One of the most exciting things happening in London this summer is the Treehouse Gallery that's planned for Regents Park - and, if you have any time on your hands this month, you can help make it happen.

The gallery is the work of some of the wonderful people behind the Temporary School of Thought which I was involved with back in January. All kinds of magical things are planned for the treehouses through the summer - and I'll be curating three days of strangeness from 7th-9th August.

Right now, a team of volunteers are building the treehouse structures offsite, at Area 10 in Peckham:

Steph and Claudia, who have organised the project, tell me they could do with some extra pairs of hands. The build is going on from 9am till midnight every day, so there is plenty of opportunity to get involved. So if you have a spare couple of hours - or even a spare few days - please do go and support them.

For more information, go here.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Wanted: university leavers to try out Signpostr

Back in January, I asked how we could use social media to help people cope with the personal consequences of the recession. That post sparked a lot of conversations and several projects. From today, we're looking for people to start trying out one of those projects - specifically, young people who are leaving education into the toughest job market for a generation.

Signpostr is a response to the rapid rise in unemployment here in the UK and elsewhere. The site is about helping each other find a way through the recession. It gives people a space in which to:

  • talk honestly about the realities of the current job market

  • find and share information about resources that are useful for finding work and living cheaply

  • create projects, gather people and resources, and get things started

The situation is more urgent today than it was in January. Even if the current signs of economic recovery continue, hundreds of thousands of people are still expected lose their jobs in the months ahead. Among the harshest hit will be those leaving education this summer. As the Guardian reports this week:

figures compiled by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit, which works with careers services, suggest that one in 10 of this year's graduates will be out of work, and many more will be working in bars and retail to make ends meet, or leaving the country.

So it is with those graduates that we want to start testing Signpostr.

From today, the site is open to those with or .edu email addresses - and we are looking for people to try it out and help us improve it.

If you've just left college or university and are looking for work, try it out - add some Resource listings for things you've found that help save money or increase your chances of getting a job; create a Project for that idea you've got that you'd like to make happen; tell people what you need and what you can offer.

If that's not you, can you help us by spreading the word to people you know who are leaving education this summer? Send them a link to:

Finally, you can follow @signpostr on Twitter, where we'll be talking about the site, sharing ideas about looking for work, living cheaply and helping each other through the recession.

Thanks to everyone who's joined in the conversations that fed into this project - both online and face-to-face! I look forward to continuing those conversations as we put Signpostr to the test.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Why journalists write so much rubbish about Twitter

Around the start of 2009, the media here in Britain discovered Twitter. At times, it's been hard to tell whether the service had just crossed the chasm or jumped the shark. What's distinctive, though, is quite how bad the reporting of Twitter has been - significantly worse, I would say, than the equivalent coverage of Facebook, when it made a similar leap into public consciousness a couple of years earlier.

"Oh yes," my dad said, when I mentioned Twitter to him back in February. "It's one of those things that people are using that means they don't have real conversations any more." I couldn't blame him for getting this impression - I'd heard the same report on Radio 4 earlier that week - and I'm no unbridled techno-enthusiast myself. Yet what has annoyed me about the reporting of Twitter is that these claims of its anti-social effects are so dramatically at odds with my experience as a user. I can honestly say I've never met a tool which has led to so many interesting offline, face-to-face experiences.

Of course, the media coverage is unlikely to harm Twitter. My mum even signed up for it the other week. (You can give her a nice surprise by following @dougaldsmum!)

But, since I keep hearing the same recycled nonsense, I thought I'd write a couple of posts about why I've found Twitter such an exciting tool - but, first, about why the media find it so difficult to report well.

As I see it, there are at least three significant problems when it comes to covering Twitter, over and above the usual reasons journalists get things wrong.

1. Because it was Stephen Fry, Russell Brand and co who brought it to their attention, they focus on celebrity Twitterers. The trouble is that trying to understand social media by looking at the behaviour of celebrity users makes about as much sense as trying to understand society by looking at the behaviour of celebrities.

2. A number of eloquent and apparently expert voices have offered very strong opinions on the service, without having used it or apparently paid much attention to how others actually use it - in some cases, making unjustified use of their authority in other fields. Oliver James, Alain de Botton and Baroness Susan Greenfield are all guilty of this. (And don't take my word for it - Ben Goldacre, the Guardian's Bad Science columnist, accuses the Baroness of "abusing her position as a professor, and head of the Royal Institution... using these roles to give weight to her speculations and prejudices in a way that is entirely inappropriate".)

3. Twitter takes time to get your head round - and journalists are permanently in a hurry:

  • The value of Google was immediately obvious the first time you used it and got good search results, whereas the value of Twitter grows on you gradually.

  • We don't have good short-hand ways of explaining what it does. ('Micro-blogging', for example, is a really misleading tag.)

  • To complicate matters further, getting the best out of Twitter generally requires the use of an external client (a program that runs on your desktop) such as Tweetdeck, rather than visiting directly. Most non-specialist journalists, like most internet users, are only beginning to adjust to the possibility that the web isn't about going to sites, but about information coming to you.

So unless a reporter has been using the service personally for long enough to get a feel for it, they are very likely to pick up the wrong end of the stick. Or mistake the stick for a snake.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Video: The Long Doom?

Here are the videos of my talk at the London Long Now meetup on May 27th. Thanks to Paul for organising the event - and to Vinay for filming it. To find out about future Long Now events in London, go to their Meetup page.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Space Makers: Tony Sephton,

Tony Sephton is the founder of, a new site that gives businesses and organisations a simple way to sell spare desks on an hourly basis - and gives freelancers/etc a way to find temporary desk space. The site just launched in London and is currently looking for more offices to offer desks.

I was keen to talk to Tony because Desksurfer is a really simple example of making use of slack space/time. In fact, it's an idea that several people have floated around the Space Makers Network, so it's great to see it put into practice.

I'm also interested in how this could develop in other directions - Desksurfer provides cheap deskspace, but are there also circumstances under which you could provide free deskspace through a similar model? (Having a Freecycle version as well as an eBay one?) And how about home-based co-working, as Jelly are doing in New York?

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