It started out as a bit of fun a few years ago, making Christmas cards. But its taken on a life of its own now, and its one of the few rituals of Christmas I do. But this year its become a bit of a statement.
I get piles of unwanted direct mail each week. And given my demographic, it seems to mostly be about floaty clothes or home furnishings. Now don’t get me wrong, I do like nice furniture, but really. These things irk me. They hold out some promise of a perfect life: buy this item of white washed furniture / blanket / item of clothing and be magically happier / thinner / more successful. Its all a pile of bollocks really isn’t it. You’ll just be a few quid lighter, and the possessor of a new thing.
So the idea of turning this nonsense into something nice for folks I’m fond of at Christmas seemed appealing. We don’t do Christmas presents in our house, we give each other a two-week skiing holiday and leave the country instead. I can’t bear the advertising, the excess consumption, the drunken accidents. But I do like taking some time out to make things, personally. So here they are. Philosophical statement through the medium of Christmas card, in 4 easy steps.
1. Crappy advertising
2. Make snowflakes
3. fold, spray, stick
4. leave to dry
The CV. The Curriculum Vitae. The latin translation is more or less “the course of my life”.
Most of the ones I see are pretty regular layouts, ten point font on portrait A4. Twelve point font if I’m lucky (note this if you’re writing one – the person reading it might not have youthful sight – 12 point trumps 10 point every time). Sometimes some nice design work has gone in. More often than not though, it hasn’t. Its been an exercise in cramming in facts.
What strikes me more than anything though, is that CVs are backward facing. Historical. Telling us what the writer has done. I’m beginning to wonder if they should come with one of those of financial services warnings attached. You know, the ones that say “Past history is no guarantee of future performance”.
What would a CV be like if it was forward looking? Communicating Value.
Maybe like this?
I’ve been going through a ‘de-cluttering’ phase for a while now. Some bulkier low-value things I’ve given away on freecycle , I’ve done charity shop drops, and I’ve sold some things on ebay. My latest discovery is selling stuff on Amazon. And that’s really made me think differently about ‘owning stuff’.
Lots of the stuff we have in our home has arrived there courtesy of Amazon. I signed up years ago for the ‘prime’ membership, so we no longer paid for individual deliveries. This meant that I largely stopped shopping on the high street (I never was one for retail as a leisure activity), and had stuff delivered. The stuff was mostly books and DVDs, but extended, amongst other things, to batteries, electric toothbrushes and a food processor. It was quite startling, to look back over five years of online shopping. Embarrassing even. I’d been on a long term consumption binge. I’d somehow fallen for the marketing promise that I would be happier/thinner/more successful (delete as appropriate) if I had certain stuff in my life.
I was tickled by the recursive realisation that this stuff could now leave, just as it arrived, via Amazon. And boy have they made it easy. Log into Amazon, set up a ‘seller account’ (connected to your regular account), call up the list of things you’ve previously bought and click the button that says “sell yours here’. It’s lower-involvement than ebay – you don’t even have to write the product listing. Loads of DVDs and books have been leaving our shelves this way.
I’ve come to realise that I really don’t need to “own” much of this stuff. I rarely watch a film twice, and if by chance I do, I can always subscribe to Net Flix or Love Film for the cost of a DVD.
I like that someone else will get use from the physical product. The DVD doesn’t wear out when I’ve played it once. The print in the book doesn’t disappear when I’ve read it.
The internet has changed how we can consume media like films and music. And now its changing how we consume physical things – like Amazon enabling the re-circulation of stuff. And sharing sites like EcoModo that enable collaborative consumption.
I *need* very few of things we have gathering dust in our home. They haven’t made me magically happy. I’m lucky to have people in my life that do that.
I wonder about the wider impact of our collective fixation on having stuff. Our towns have a proliferation of storage depots for folks with possessions out-stripping their homes. IKEA sells millions of ‘storage solutions’. Big corporations are making shedloads of money selling us this stuff. And Wonga is trading in the currency of a big fat marketing lie. Stuff doesn’t make you happy.
Ok, its not going to rival the circulation of the Guardian anytime soon, but still. We made a newspaper.
The Carrier comes from a group of 42 people, all involved in interesting work with some kind of social purpose. The inspiration came to @CassieRobinson when a friends mum said…
“…I’d love to know more about the sorts of projects my daughter and her peers are doing – but those things just don’t make it into the papers”.
If you’re more of a newspaper reader than a netizen, your news is still mediated by the press barons. And social innovation projects aren’t yet headline grabbers for most part.
Cassie took up the mantle of co-ordinator, finding contributors, securing their financial and copy commitments, and a way of doing it online. The 42 wrote their copy (including some of us at the *last* minute of course), Cassie collated, and a few weeks later its rolled off the press. It looks great, and the stories are inspirational stuff. Happy days.
Big up the newspaperclub.com for providing the web tools to make it possible.
And big up @CassieRobinson for being the amazing connector that brings together 42 stories to make a newspaper.
I just love how the internet enables offline things. I love how those boundaries are blurring.
I wonder if this could be a model for a new type of customer magazine magazine for Housing Associations. They’re often expensive to produce for smaller organisations – the cost of traditional printing makes smaller print-runs uneconomic. Maybe this is a route forward? A way for local community groups can get together to make their *own* paper.
I had a fleeting thought yesterday as the cashier swiped my nectar card at the Sainsbury’s checkout. It would be great if Sainsbury’s would make an API available so I could could get a visualisation of my weekly shop. It would be useful to see, over time, the fat / salt / fibre etc in our household’s groceries. Like many folk, my weight tends to be a bit more than it should be, and as I get older, I’m conscious of eating well to maintain good health. I’ve tried various “diet tracking” apps, but I’ve not got the time (or commitment level) to enter everything I eat each day. But if a supermarket could give me that data, I’d see the headlines on where I’m straying from the path of virtue. In fact, it might even be the reason I’d use that supermarket. And heck, why stop there. If we could have a nice open data standard, I’d scan the stuff I buy at the local grocery store too – I try to get as much stuff locally as possible.
Could the supermarket also tell me how much CO2 is embedded in my consumption? Could amazon tell me how much CO2 is embedded in the goods I buy from them? An API to hook up to a ‘life tracking’ app, so I start to get some utility from all the data they have on me. As my last blog post covered, they’ve got pretty good data on most things I’ve bought in the last five years…
And how about my credit card? Could I hook up my credit card to the same ‘life-tracker’ so I catch the other expenditure (and CO2). Like my drinking habits, and fuel consumption.
Those big corporations know lots about me. And I’m getting a bit ticked off that they may well know more about me than I know about myself. I’d like them to share the data with me. I’d like to know myself better, and this data would help. I might make better choices if the data is staring me in the face.
I think I’d like to build the “life-tracking” app to do it. That should keep me busy for a bit.
I admit it. I think I’ve probably produced more than my fair share of excel pie charts and graphs over the 15 years. Often in the name of the annual report, tenants’ newsletter or performance report for the board papers. They were certainly an improvement on a table of numbers (unless like me, you happen to love numbers), but I’m not sure they really told their story effectively. I reckon most folks still had to ‘pay attention’ and concentrate to plough through the details, which was a disheartening after the all the work that went into collecting the data.
So I’m loving seeing the growth of ‘infographics’ as a way of interpreting data. Telling stories with data. Engaging the audience, pulling them in with interest, rather than requiring them them ‘to pay attention’. I think of the creative folks who produce these as ‘data-artists’. The disciplines of numeracy, logic and statistics are coming together with those of story-tellers and communicators, with spectacular results. I really look forward to seeing an RSL annual report done in this style soon.
Visual.ly is a useful showcase for inspiration. It’s where I found the one the one on the left (and there’s over 3,500 more to check out). It’s an infographic community site – a flickr.com for infographics if you like. You can check out work that other users have uploaded. If you register, you can upload your own work, and seek feedback on it from the community. There’s a cute twitter visualisation tool to get you started – you feed in your twitter @name, select some display preferences, and it’ll auto-generate a visualisation of your activity on twitter. They’re also planning to release some further tools to help with creating infographics, so keep an eye out. Follow them on twitter (@visually) for a regular feed of new data-loveliness
One thing I’ve noticed with lots of the most engaging infographics, is how they’ve given a simple, humanised interpretation of the headline data. It was easy to forget that facebook receives however many squillion page views per day in the UK, but I’ve remembered (since last November) that it’s one in four pages viewed. I’ll be trying to remember that next time I write a stats heavy performance report.
I first read this pamphlet from IDeA and Nesta just over a year ago when it was first published. Having just re-read it again this afternoon, it’s stood the test of time – a year in social media being a pretty long time.
There’s a wealth of examples of how local authorities are starting to use social media to engage with their communities. And just as interestingly, some great examples about how local communities are organising themselves and engaging with their local authorities – that ground up approach rather appeals to my inner activist. There are schools using twitter to keep parents up to date; fixmystreet.com enabling people to log details of problems which are piped directly to the relevant local authority for action, and many more. It’s available as a download or read it online at localbysocial.net .
It’s candid about some of the challenges involved in deploying such projects. There are new and evolving skills needed to resource them, and the fear associated with trying something new in the public eye. Though this quote from the intro pretty much sums it up for me…
The problem for councils though, is that not engaging now represents a far greater risk than engaging. Citizens will still use these networks to talk about you, whether you add your voice to the conversation or not.
I’m not going to summarise it further, as it deserves a full read. The author (@gandy) makes it a breeze to work through 44 pages. And I defy anyone to get to the end without thinking of something they could do in their organisation.
I haven’t come across a similar publication for the social housing sector yet. I wonder if it exists but my google-fu is failing me? Maybe it doesn’t exist yet? Maybe we could crowd source writing it…?
I’m quite a visually-driven person and I really like using mind maps to sketch out ideas, take notes and plan things. My daily notebook used to be full of ‘em. In order to make them more useful (and legible) for other people, I started using some mind mapping software a few years back. My favourite to date is mindmeister by a country mile.
Its a SaaS tool, which means there’s no software to install – just a few details to set up an account and you’re started straight away.
It’s intuitive and and easy to use, opening up with a large blank canvas. You start by making your central node, and then add branches as you need them. There’s everything you’d expect from a mind mapping tool…
- lots of styling options
- expand/collapse feature for big branches
- auto-placing for optimum layout
- embed icons, links, images, notes
- export your map to a pdf
The fact that it’s SaaS also means…
- mind maps stored online – you can access them from any computer connected to the internet
- you can invite others to view or collaborate on your maps
- mind maps can easily be embedded in a web page
There’s a iphone and ipad app for mindmeister, which, as a regular commuter, I love. It means I get to make use of journey time to do a bit of work without the faff of getting the laptop out.
I’ve use mind maps for loads of things, but my favourite is taking notes during meetings, with can then be shared with everyone else for instant minutes. I used to spend lots of time bothering about getting minutes neatly typed up, in numbered paragraphs with action points. I’m much less bothered about the format these days. By sending out the link to the mind map at the end of the meeting, folks can immediately review whilst things are fresh in the mind (and no-one misses the colour-highlighted action points). The only downside I’ve found is we’re all used to people taking notes on paper during a meeting, but someone tapping at a computer seemed a bit rude, like they weren’t really paying attention. I try to link the computer to a big screen during the meeting so folks can see what notes are being made – that seems to work quite well.
Nothing to do with being sassy. Everything to do with clouds.
SaaS is an acronym that stands for ‘Software As A Service’. But I reckon that still doesn’t help much if you’re not a bit geeky. Its not complicated though.
Instead of installing a piece of software on your computer (like you might do with say Microsoft Word), with SaaS, you simply use your browser to access software that’s been hosted in the cloud by the provider. Software becomes a service that you use, rather than a piece of code that you install on your computer.
The last few years have seen a huge increase in the variety of software tools available on a SaaS basis, from simple desktop applications like wordprocessing and spreadsheets, through to enterprise software like CRM and HRM systems.
Payment for SaaS is often a monthly access fee, compared to a one-off purchase fee for traditional software. There are often ‘freemium’ pricing models, where you can try out the basic service for free, and only pay for premium elements such as more features, storage or users.
I’ve been using SaaS tools more and more frequently over the past three years. One of the key benefits I’ve experienced, is how they’ve enabled effective collaboration with colleagues. Because they’re in the cloud and we’re sharing the same platform, they’ve helped enormously with the real-time creation of documents by remote teams; and the tedium (or confusion) of managing change control.
SaaS tools can help deliver two elements which feature in many organisational ICT strategies – enabling collaboration and creative working within organisations; and reducing the overall cost of technology ownership. They’ve already gained much traction in the private sector technology world, but are only just beginning to make an impact in organisations delivering public services. I wonder if this is simply an awareness issue, or whether folks have experienced problems?
Over the coming months, I’m going to write about the various tools I’m already using, and new ones that appear. I hope you find it useful. Feel free to use the comments to raise any questions or share your experience of using different services.