Category Archives: Digital/social media

The power of social networks

When I was 9 years old, my family moved to Finland and I went to the International School of Helsinki until the age of 11, when I went off to boarding school in the UK. My best friend, probably the first one I had, was an American girl called Katja Ollendorff. She lived in the next suburb to us, so we spent a lot of time at each other’s houses and we were both obsessed with the Police. I remember evenings spent dissecting all the inner meaning of the lyrics of every song on Zenyatta Mondatta, and probably ascribing much more meaning than the original authors ever intended.

In the way of diplomatic kids, though, our respective families moved on. We kept in touch by letter for a while, but eventually lost touch.

Fast forward to 2014. I use a mail application called Mailbox, which encourages you to aim for #inboxzero. When you get there, you get an image, curated from somewhere on the web. Today it was a very striking pattern, and I was intrigued, so I clicked on it.

It took me through to an Instagram page and you can probably imagine my astonishment when the account was owned by a graphic designer called Katja Ollendorff! Like Antonia Mochan, this is hardly a run-of-the-mill name! I left a message on the page, to see if it was indeed the same one, and it is.

We all know that the 6 degrees of separation seem to have been reduced to half that through social networks, or maybe they are just more visible. But this connection seems utterly random. The connection between me and Mailbox, and Mailbox and Katja is so tenuous as to have made this connection hugely unlikely. What if I hadn’t got to #inboxzero today? I might never have come across her again. Even when I do reach it, I rarely click on the picture – this one was just particularly eye-catching. The whole thing is completely weird and wonderful at the same time.

As you know, I am a passionate advocate for the power of social networks to bring people together. It was joyous to have this example of how that happens given to me today.

#babel14

Bienvenue à la Journée du Blogging Plurilingue! Cette année, la journée sera plus longue que dans les années précédentes, étant donné que je suis en Australie.

ça n’a pas commencé bien: quand j’ai essayé d’acceder au blogue ce matin, j’ai reçu un écran blanc, et le message “Error establishing a database connection”. Panique totale! Heureusement et grace aux bons gens chez EZPZ Hosting, le problème est maintenant resolu, et je peux continuer…

J’ai créé une liste de tous les blogues participants, pour le rendre plus facile à suivre  et je mettrai les liens à tous les papiers ici ici en bas au fur et à mesure.  Pas oublier à utiliser le hashtag #babel14!

Bon blogging!

Digital tools for study – updated

Not long after I arrived I write a post about the digital tools I was thinking about using for my studies. I thought it would be interesting to look back 8 months on and see which I found useful, which were replaced by something else, which didn’t deliver and which new ones I picked up along the way.

First I’ll look at the ones I mentioned in the original post.

1. Evernote

I’m still using it, but not as much as I thought. But it’s really useful to have a note-taking service, and I do use the widget on my desktop to clip links, or take little notes while I”m working on my laptop.

2. Flipboard

Dear me, I love this tool. Not only does it make reading social content so much more pleasurable than most interfaces, but it is a fantastic content curation tool. I’ve been using it to curate content for the company where I am working, as well as putting together magazines on several issues of  interest to me.

3. Mendeley/Zotero

I mentioned Mendeley as a reference management tool, but in the end I went with Zotero. It has a Firefox add-on so that when you download the pdf of an article, you download it directly into the service. Then you can search all articles by title, content and author, read the articles and generate references. It’s difficult to over-estimate the importance of generating references, in terms of what a time-saver it is for essays, and I have found that Google Scholar’s references just aren’t reliable.

4. Wunderlist/Trello

I do love Wunderlist, but I haven’t used it as much as I have been using Trello, and actually good old pen and paper. But as an online tool, Trello has helped me in all sorts of ways. It’s great for keeping a note of what you need to do and with the upgrade you get for inviting new people and tweeting about the serivce, you can add calendar reminders and various other useful enhancements. Trello really comes into its own for project work: we used it for our (winning!) team at start-up weekend and in our final project management class it was a great way for us to keep in touch as a team when the group was physically broken up. I’ve had a go at other management tools like Asana and Knotable, but Trello seems to have got a great balance of simple and effective.

5. Dropbox

Dropbox has remained a staple for me. It integrates into my Finder window so it’s a seamless part of my set up, and it also makes it easy to share content with others. Definitely a gold star service.

6. Scrivener

I haven’t really had call to use this yet, though it may come into its own with my research project next semester.

So those were the ones I thought I would use a lot. I was right about some, not about others. So which were the ones I hadn’t thought of that I use?

7. Google

Another set of services that in spite of myself I really couldn’t have got here without. Google Docs, Sheets and Slides have all been invaluable for the various group projects we have had to do across a number of subjects, plus presentations in Google Slides seem to avoid incompatability problems. They are not full versions of their equivalents in Office or the Mac Suite, but for collaborative working, there really isn’t anything like them.

8. GoodReader

One more to add to the ‘indispensable’ list. Goodreader is a document reader which I have on my iPad, allowing me to make notes, either free-hand or typed, highlight sections and generally read the many many articles that are part and parcel of a social science Masters. It links to Dropbox, so I can access whatever I save in there.

9. Meetup

Not really a digital tool, but something that has been pretty central to my life in Melbourne, Meetup has been a wonderful way to connect with a range of interesting events and people, from startups to music fans to my favourites, the monthly French-speaking meetup. Chouette!

Crowdsourcing research ideas

It seems incredible to think so, with more than a year left on my visa, but I really have to start thinking about what I’m going to do after my course finishes. Decisions I make in the next couple of months will need to take this into account – do I do an internship? If so where? Or do I undertake a mini-thesis, maybe with an idea of going on to further study, i.e. a PhD. If I do research, I’m pretty sure it will be somewhere in the political communication/digital media area.

This is where you come in. Is there some research that would help you? Is there something specific where you have thought “it would be great if someone could look into this”? If I am going to spend time on a PhD, or even just a mini-thesis, it’d be good to do it with something that would be useful to people in the field.

Do leave me a comment, or send me a tweet at @euonymblog or @antoniam

Photo by Nancy Phillips used under a Creative Commons license.

A returning Masters student’s view on digital environments

On Thursday I took part via online conferencing in the European Commission’s Digital Competence Day 2014. I was asked to talk about the digital experience going back to University. Due to the somewhat intermittent nature of Aussie broadband (or maybe the instabilities of the conferencing system) I got frozen out at the end, and I’m not sure how much anyone really heard of it. So I thought I’d write up the main points I was trying to make.

I was last at university in 1993. We didn’t have email then. There was an internal messaging system called the Vax that we used to send ridiculous messages within our group of friends – I think I still have the print-outs in a box somewhere. There were a few computers with the library catalogue, but loads of card catalogues still around. I typed up my essays on a word processing machine (a sort of glorified typewriter that saved the text).

Now the university experience is completely digital. Your interaction with the university administration is completely through the online portal. You enrol, register, get your timetable, pay your fees there. All information about your classes is sent via the Learning Management System. Most lecturers ask you to submit essays through TurnItIn, a system for checking for plagiarism. The library catalogue is online, you can request books online from other libraries, renew online and pay your fees. Pretty much any article you want from an academic journal is available online. You can get serious research done without going near the university. You can send things for printing from home, and access them once on campus by swiping your student card.

You have no option about this. This is the way things are. Digital by default indeed. But there is a lot of help. The library has a student-run IT help-desk. There are Twitter and Facebook accounts to help you and they reply very quickly. The library has an online chat function, which I have used and is incredibly practical. There is even a phone number to call if you need advice or assistance!

The other interesting element is the focus on BYOD – bring your own device. Obviously for a university, the provision of equipment is not a resource option (though there are of course workstations in the libraries that you can book. Online of course!). Space is at a premium and teaching spaces take priority. So the university sees BYOD as an opportunity.

Wireless is available to staff and students in all buildings of the university. There are higher levels of security than logging on to wireless in most public spaces. Each student has an allowance of 1GB of data per week from external (non-University) websites. It is clear what the rules are (no copyright infringement etc) and there are sanctions for breaching these rules, such as a loss of access to the network. The system is designed assuming that most people will play by the rules, and builds in how to deal with those that don’t, rather than designing it so that no-one can break the rules, but making it unwieldy and hard to use.

Of course, a university is different from a workplace. For one thing, work is much less collaborative here. (Something I found when applying and being asked to provide examples of my writing: if I hadn’t had the blog I wouldn’t have had anything to show that was me.) Also, this is a place of ideas, free-thinking, innovation. They can’t lock us into certain processes or tools as that would shut down the very freedom and creativity they are trying to develop in us.

But I do think there are lessons to learn.

Firstly, people work in different ways so providing one way of doing things is counter-productive, in the literal sense that it will reduce people’s productivity. Creating an environment that recognises and allows those differences will, I believe, be positive for the organisation.

Secondly, the leadership challenge is in helping people to adapt to the change. It isn’t good leadership to allow them to avoid or bypass it. That is self-defeating for them personally and for the organisation as a whole.

When I look at the change in the Commission’s digital mindset over the time I have been involved in this, I think we have a lot to be proud of. But we also have a long way to go and I hope we can learn from outside experiences such as this.

Digital tools for study

With O-week starting tomorrow, and several sessions programmed about returning to study, I’m getting really excited about embarking on my academic adventure the following week. But there’s one area that’s going to be really different for me this time and that’s the use of digital tools for studying. Last time I was at university we didn’t even have email, and you could handwrite assignments. I remember writing what I thought was a satirical article about the LSE in 2020, when lectures would be delivered straight into students’ rooms and essays submitted electronically. Well, that all happened a lot earlier than 2020!

But of course, it’s me, so I have done some thinking about and digging around for digital tools that will help me organise my study. Here are the ones I’ve lined up for the new semester. It’ll be interesting to look back in a few weeks and see how they’re going.

1. Evernote

I was slow getting into Evernote. Well, I set up an account ages ago but never used it much. But the development of IFTTT transformed my use of the service. I have IFTTT set up so that when I favourite a tweet, it gets saved to Evernote. This is a really easy way to mark things for later reading that I come across on Twitter. I can then later organise them into my various Evernote notebooks, one of which is for the EMA. I went the whole hog and bought premium – only about £30 for a whole year. It means you can use the notebooks offline and search them better, though I haven’t yet got it to search the photos I take from real-life notebooks, which it said it could do.

2. Flipboard

Flipboard is a very attractive way of reading social content, slurping your feeds from Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+ and whatever else you use into a magazine-style interface that you can leaf through. It used to work with Google Reader, but since that was closed, you need to feed from individual sites. It’s not great for the interaction element of these sites (it’s driving me mad that you can’t read Twitter bios) but is a great way of curating content and sorting it into categories through their magazine function. I now have a magazine called EMA Times, into which I can flip any content from across my feeds that I think will be relevant to the course.

3. Mendeley

I’ve just signed up for this tonight. It describes itself as a referencing tool and academic social network. The idea is that you load your PDFs of articles and it slurps the citation information. It also allows you to connect with academic colleagues. I can’t remember where I came across it (it was in Evernote, so maybe on Twitter?) but I’m willing to give it a go.

4. Wunderlist

Assignments, research activities, parties, club meetings: uni is going to be about time management. There are thousands of to-do list apps out there, but Wunderlist is the best one I’ve come across. Partly it’s the attractive interface, partly the flexibility in nesting activities, setting due dates and prioritising. Also it syncs seamlessly across the desktop, iPad and iPhone.

5. Dropbox

I bought a MacBook Air to come to uni, and it’s great that it’s so light, when I have to walk to campus in the morning, or lug it on the tram. But it doesn’t have much storage space. So Dropbox is a saviour. It’ll also mean that my research, drafts etc are accessible whether I have my laptop with me or not.

6. Scrivener

I bought this software at the suggestion of a friend who said it was extremely helpful for preparing drafts of academic papers and other manuscripts. It’ll be a while till I need this, but as it is linked to Index Card, which I already use a lot, I thought it was worth giving it a go.

I’m sure I’ll also be using a lot of the tools I found useful when working, such as Prezi, Yammer (there is a unimelb network), and Pearltrees. Though at the moment the best ones are those keeping me in touch with family and friends, and helping me make new friends here!

Social media in my future

In advance of heading off to Australia, I’ve been rethinking my social media activities a little. Once I leave the Commission, I will use @euonymblog on Twitter for the things I use it for now and write about here – digital and tech, media and communication issues, EU stuff, education, social enterprise. I’ve also set up a Facebook page for those sorts of things, as Facebook is so big in Australia.

I will of course stop contributing to @EUlondonrep, which will be a bit of a wrench, as that was my very first Twitter account :) But it has outgrown me and its original purpose, which is very satisfying to see!

Hopefully whoever replaces me at the Rep will be as enthusiastic about the potential of digital tools to connect with people and understand better their hopes, aspirations and concerns with regards to the EU. And equally hopefully I will meet as many amazing people through using social media there as I have here in the UK!

Is eBay a force for good?

I took part in the @EurVoice Twitter event yesterday, which was a most enjoyable and interesting experience. One question that came up was ‘is eBay a force for good’ and I replied that the answer to that was too complex for 140 characters, but that I would try to blog on it. So here we go.

We’re at a moment of major change at the moment. Our ways of working, communicating, interacting are changing almost on a daily basis. Even in the 6 years since I did the Eisenhower Fellowship, communication technologies have been revolutionised by smartphones and tablets. Traditional media is being disrupted by the ability of people to talk to each other directly. The upshot of this is that there is a lot of focus on tools and platforms, and moral values are ascribed to them.

My position is that these tools and platforms are morally neutral. They are only as good or bad as the people that use them and own them. Twitter may have a lot of people using it to be horrendously sexist and misogynist, but that’s because those people are those things. Twitter is also used by the victims to bring this behaviour into the daylight, rather than hiding in the shadows as it has done for years. This isn’t even about technology. A stick can be used to help an injured person walk, or to bash someone over the head. It’s about the user, not the tool.

This is of course a generalisation – there are some tools that are specifically designed to harm and should be dealt with in that light (guns, say, or spyware). And of course the people that run the tools and platforms have their own obligations – to be open with us about what they do with our information, to make sure that they put rules in place to limit abuses, to respect the laws that apply to normal behaviour on their platforms.

So is eBay a force for good? If used by good people to do good things, of course. Is it inherently a force for good? No. But neither is it inherently a force for bad.