My five minute talk on analogy at UX Bristol

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At the end of the excellent UX Bristol back in July, a few of us gave 5 minute talks. These talks are now available to watch online.

I talked about how – when I was running the intranet at the BBC back in 2005 – I was inspired by the transformation programme at London’s South Bank Centre. I found it a useful analogy for the work we were doing to transform our digital workspace.

Useful to a point, I find analogies can become most interesting at the points where they break.

This is a short version of the longer talk I gave at London IA back in November 2010, which Martin Belam blogged about. See also Matthew Solle’s post Conversations Over Coffee for some more background and a little bit of ranting.

Beatnic font

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I made a font based on my handwriting for use in my digital sketches and e-learning.

Here’s a sample:

A sample of the Beatnic 0.5 handwriting font

It’s rough and ready, a little uneven on the baseline, and limited to A-Z caps and lower case, plus numbers 0-9 and a few other characters – but quite handy for keeping things looking sketchy. (At some point I’ll make a more comprehensive version.)

It’s in a zip file. You’ll need to unzip it and install it in your computer’s font directory.

If you use it, let me know 🙂

Social networking on intranets – have a problem to solve, and expect it to take time, says Jakob Nielsen

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Here are the findings from usability “guru” Jakob Nielsen’s report on Social Networking on Intranets


  • Underground efforts yield big results. Companies are turning a blind eye to underground social software efforts until they prove their worth, and then sanctioning them within the enterprise.
  • Frontline workers are driving the vision. Often, senior managers aren’t open to the possibilities for enterprise 2.0 innovation because they’re not actively using these tools outside of work. Indeed, many senior managers still consider such tools as something their kids do. One of the dirty secrets of enterprise 2.0 is that you don’t have to teach or convince younger workers to use these tools; they expect them and integrate them as easily into their work lives as they do in their personal lives.
  • Communities are self-policing. When left to their own devices, communities police themselves, leaving very little need for tight organizational control. And such peer-to-peer policing is often more effective than a big brother approach. Companies that we studied said abuse was rare in their communities.
  • Business need is the big driver. Although our report discusses specific tools (blogs, wikis, and such), enterprise 2.0’s power is not about tools, it’s about the communication shift that those tools enable.
  • Organizations must cede power. Using Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with customers has taught many companies that they can no longer control the message. This also rings true when using Web 2.0 tools for internal communication. Companies that once held to a command-and-control paradigm for corporate messaging are finding it hard to maintain that stance.


Nielsen talks a lot about integrating the social networking tools in to the rest of the intranet, where useful and possible. My team did a lot of work in this area a few years ago at the BBC.

Be careful, sometimes the writing really is on the wall

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Imagine my surprise the other day when I walked past a meeting room and read the words:

How to tell the team the bad news

Alright, that’s made up. But I have seen several rather over-revealing meeting titles on my way down various corridors recently.

Technology for setting up meetings is getting pretty sophisticated these days.

In one or two office buildings I’ve been in recently, there is a small touch-screen on the wall just outside each meeting room showing the subject of the meeting taking place therein.

Touchscreen outside meeting room

It’s all linked to the everyone’s Outlook (Exchange) calendars. You invite your colleague/s, give the meeting a subject, then you invite the room as a “resource”. The subject – and the name of the organiser – then appears on the touchscreen as the meeting takes place.

So, as a friendly word of advice, be careful what you call your meetings. More common and less high tech is for people to print out their daily agenda and walk around with it for all to see.

While we’re on the subject (as it were), and for good measure, put as much meaning in to the meeting title as possible, without giving away all your company’s top-secret information.

A popular bug-bear is when a meeting request arrives with the subject “Catch-up and coffee with Bob” or something similar. Of course it makes perfect sense to the organiser, but once Bob’s accepted the meeting requets, it doesn’t provide Bob with many clues at a glance!

Communities – start simple, don’t over-design

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Social notworking

In 2002 we built something on the BBC’s intranet called “Learning Online”. I was working with an amazing team of forward-thinking and innovative people.

We designed Learning Online to be the intranet home for BBC employees to manage their personal development, training and career development.

Alongside e-learning, personal development planning and a personalised virtual induction, was a section called MyNetworks.

If you picture MyNetworks as an early prototype for Facebook groups you’ll have a pretty close approximation. But this was 2002, so the concept was still fairly alien to most people.

The idea behind MyNetworks was simple. Create spaces for groups of people who had something in common where they could have conversations, share “knowledge” as documents or images, and plan events.

We had a lot of interest from various people, who set up and “ran” their networks with varying degrees of success.

There was one consistent and recurring theme.

Where a lot of time was spent “designing” a network before involving its members, the network invariably failed.

Often people would put great effort in to the planning of how a network would be run, and how the information in the network would be organised. When the network was finally launched, nobody used it. And those who did found a perplexing empty suite of rooms.

It seems obvious to say it, but the idea of “if we build it they will come” really did not work in most cases.

The less “designed” the network, the greater chance of its success, through participation and involvement of its members using the online tools to support the network, but not to be the network.

What is Twitter?

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Twitter is used in many different ways.

As @dulwichmum says, its nearest equivalent that people are familiar with is Facebook status updates.

Twitter updates, or “tweets” as they are sometimes called, are limited in length to 140 characters.

Apart from that, there are no rules about how to use Twitter.

Some people use it to share ideas, thoughts and links or to ask questions.

You can choose whether to make your updates public or private.

If you think someone is saying something interesting you can “follow” them, which subscribes you to their updates, which will appear on your Twitter homepage.

You can see who other people are following and who’s following them.

Well known people on Twitter include Stephen Fry, Imogen Heap, Andy Murray, Barack Obama (very quiet since he won the election).

Companies use Twitter to send out updates about their products and services and answer customers’ questions.

Even Tower Bridge has an account on Twitter, which sends out a tweet whenever the bridge is opening or closing.

There is a growing number of Twitter tools available to write, read and manage your updates, including apps for the iPhone.

One of the first and still one of the best applications I’ve seen is Twittervision – which overlays tweets from Twitter on a google map of the world, so you get to see where people are when they tweet something.

Robin Good at leweb: 12 things we must learn to do really well

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Thanks to Peter Bihr aka thewavingcat on Twitter I was able to sit in on some of Loic Lemeur‘s Leweb this week via, a livestreaming mashup of video and text updates.

One talk that caught my attention was by Robin Good who is MasterNewMedia.

He asked people about what learning really meant to them and played back recorded video of answers from learned learning afficionados in to the conference.

Good finished by listing 12 things we must all learn to do well. I just managed to scribble these down, so here they are:

  1. live healthily
  2. read and understand what you’re reading
  3. learn – the system and the method
  4. be creative, anybody can be
  5. empathise
  6. tell truth from fiction, especially in the “news”
  7. predict consequences
  8. value yourself
  9. live a meaningful life
  10. communicate effectively
  11. ask good questions
  12. have good fun

Double espresso – Wesabe

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Things I’ve been getting excited about recently over a double espresso…


I’ve been looking for easy ways to track what I’m spending. comes highly recommended but wouldn’t let me in without a US zip code (at the time of writing). So I went on the prowl for some alternatives.

After some research, checking reviews and so on, I came across Wesabe. And so far it’s exactly what I need.

It was quite easy to set up an account and start pulling in bank statements. Depending on who you bank with, some are automatic and some you have to update manually.

There’s a slight leap of faith moment when you start entering bank account details. But after reading around I felt reassured. Wesabe is very clear about their appreciation of and approach towards the need for top-notch privacy and security of your financial information.

Once you have all your statement info, you can start labelling or tagging your spending. You can choose to use “bills”, “utilities”, “gifts” and so on, tagging each item in your statement with as few or as many tags as you wish. And for me this is where it really starts to get useful. In fact it’s one of the few genuinely useful applications of a tag cloud I’ve come across (flickr and delicious being two others).

After about two hours I’d tagged all my income and outgoings across 6 accounts for the last 12 months, and now I could view them all together. I can easily separate out my business expenses from my personal spending, and have finally started to get my head round how much we’re spending on household bills!

This in turn is encouraging me to think about how to get better deals. Which means I’ll probably tap in to the community aspect of Wesabe before too long to learn and share tips.

The Wesabe folk seem well tapped in to the various channels available to keep across who’s saying what about them, and seem happy to join in the conversation. This is good news, and I think it’s pretty vital for companies offering services like this to have an authentic human voice, and not to hide behind corporate comms and PR machines.

Oh yes, I almost forgot… it doesn’t cost a penny to use.

Double espresso –

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Inspired by Tom Coombs’s recent “Have you seen…?” post, here are some of the things I’ve been banging on about recently over a double espresso. First…

Last FM plays you music while you’re online. It can create your own personalised radio station based the music you like, using its audioscrobbler music recommendation system. Connect it to iTunes to learn what you’re in to. Or just go to the site and type in the name of a band you like and start listening.

Click the heart symbol in the music player to “Love this track” and your radio station gets ever more tailored to you.

I’m listening over at

Starting life in East London in 2002, has really come in to its own with the proliferation of broadband and now mobile broadband. In 2007 was bought by CBS.

Every track you play will tell your profile something about what you like. It can connect you to other people who like what you like – and recommend songs from their music collections and yours too.


I’ve heard good things about the iPhone app.

And finally if, like me, you like to sing along from time to time, check out Lyrics Muse – which combines with a lyrics wiki to display the lyrics of the song you’re listening to in real time. And as the source is a wiki, if you think the lyrics displayed are wrong, you can always go and correct them.