Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis

No neither my observations on the work of Kafka, nor that of Escher [1]. Instead some musings relating on how to transform a bare bones and unengaging chart into something that both captures the attention of the reader and better informs them of the message that the data displayed is relaying. Let’s consider an example:

Before:

Before

After:

After

The two images above are both renderings of the same dataset, which tracks the degree of fragmentation of the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – over time [2]. They are clearly rather different and – I would argue – the latter makes it a lot easier to absorb information and thus to draw inferences.

Boris Gorelik

Both are the work of Boris Gorelik a data scientist at Automattic, a company that is most well-known for creating freemium SAAS blogging platform, WordPress.com and open source blogging software, WordPress [3].

Data for breakfast

I have been a contented WordPress.com user since the inception of this blog back in November 2008, so it was with interest that I learnt that Automattic have their own data-focussed blog, Data for Breakfast, unsurprisingly hosted on WordPress.com. It was on Data for Breakfast that I found Boris’s article, Evolution of a Plot: Better Data Visualization, One Step at a Time. In this he takes the reader step by step through what he did to transform his data visualisation from the ugly duckling “before” exhibit to the beautiful swan “after” exhibit.

Boris is using Python and various related libraries to do his data visualisation work. Given that I stopped commercially programming sometime around 2009 (admittedly with a few lapses since), I typically use the much more quotidian Excel for most of the charts that appear on peterjamesthomas.com [4]. Sometimes, where warranted, I enhance these using Visio and / or PaintShop Pro.

For example, the three [5] visualisations featured in A Tale of Two [Brexit] Data Visualisations were produced this way. Despite the use of Calibri, which is probably something of a giveaway, I hope that none of these resembles a straight-out-of-the-box Excel graph [6].
 

Brexit Bar
UK Referendum on EU Membership – Percentage voting by age bracket (see notes)

 
Brexit Bar 2
UK Referendum on EU Membership – Numbers voting by age bracket (see notes)

 
Brexit Flag
UK Referendum on EU Membership – Number voting by age bracket (see notes)

 
While, in the above, I have not gone to the lengths that Boris has in transforming his initial and raw chart into something much more readable, I do my best to make my Excel charts look at least semi-professional. My reasoning is that, when the author of a chart has clearly put some effort into what their chart looks like and has at least attempted to consider how it will be read by people, then this is a strong signal that the subject matter merits some closer consideration.

Next time I develop a chart for posting on these pages, I may take Boris’s lead and also publish how I went about creating it.
 


 Notes

 
[1]
 
Though the latter’s work has adorned these pages on several occasions and indeed appears in my seminar decks.
 
[2]
 
Boris has charted a metric derived from how many parties there have been and how many representatives of each. See his article itself for further background.
 
[3]
 
You can learn more about the latter at WordPress.org.
 
[4]
 
Though I have also used GraphPad Prism for producing more scientific charts such as the main one featured in Data Visualisation – A Scientific Treatment.
 
[5]
 
Yes I can count. I have certificates which prove this.
 
[6]
 
Indeed the final one was designed to resemble a fractured British flag. I’ll leave readers to draw their own conclusions here.

 

 

Global Readership

World-wide stats

I quite like WordPress.com’s latest data visualisation tool, which allows you to see the spread of people reading your blog. The data only goes back to February 25th 2012 and presumably a number of hits can have no country attributed to them, but it’s still a nice addition and interesting for me to see the number of different places that readers come from.

Perhaps we’ll gloss over the Mercator Projection and also how annoying and fiddly the WordPress app for iOS is; then things are always harder on iPad – right?
 

LinkedIn does what it says on the can

Referring domains
An analysis of peterjamesthomas.com traffic based on linking site

I suppose, given that this is a essentially professional blog, I should not be surprised that LinkedIn dominates traffic for me, dwarfing even the mighty Google and Twitter (incidentally Facebook was in 13th place, below Microsoft – a verdict of “could do better”, but then Facebook is only semi-pro for me).

It is also worth noting that traffic from all WordPress blogs (not included in the 4% WordPress figure above) amounted to 3% of traffic. Adding in all other non-corporate blogs got this to 5% and notional 4th place).

It is also notable that StumbleUpon outdid all other social bookmarking sites, with Reddit next in a lowly 23rd place.
 
 
Some selected top threes…

Please note that the only criteria here is quantum of traffic.
 
 
The Social Media “Big Three”

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Twitter
  3. Facebook

 
Vendors

  1. Microsoft
  2. SAS
  3. IBM

 
Blogs

  1. Oracle Business Intelligence 101
  2. Judith Hurwitz
  3. Merv Adrian

 
Social Bookmarking

  1. StumbleUpon
  2. Reddit
  3. Delicious

 
Blog Readers

  1. Bloglines (now sadly defunct)
  2. Netvibes
  3. Google Reader

 
Technology News / Communities

  1. Smart Data Collective
  2. IT Business Edge
  3. Joint: IT Finance Connection & Social Media Today

 
Media

  1. CIO Magazine
  2. The Economist
  3. Computing

 

I should point out that the figures presented above are all-time, rather than say the last six months. It would be interesting to do some trending, but this is a bit more clunky to achieve than one might expect.
 

New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 3: LinkedIn

New Adventures in Wi-Fi (with apologies to R.E.M.)

Forming the final part of the trilogy, earlier episodes being:

New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 1: Blogging

New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 2: Twitter

 
Introduction

Having recently published an entire trilogy whose gestation had consumed more than three times that of a human infant, I am now returning to another troika whose first part I published back in July 2009. Before starting, I’ll repeat something that I mentioned at the beginning of both of the previous articles; I am not a great believer in Recipes for Success, this piece reflects my journey within LinkedInLand and your path may be very different. The intention is to provide some ideas, not to offer a foolproof set of steps that will lead to instant success in the media.

I should also stress that the suggestions that I present here are related to the professional aspects of Social Media. The personal aspects are different and, while there may be some overlap, please don’t expect my recommendations to wow your friends and relations!
 

Facelessness

If there's something strange in your neighBAAhood Who ya gonna call?

It may have occurred to some readers that my trilogy is winding to a close without encompassing the doyen of dozens of SM mavens; Facebook. I am probably exhibiting my occasional Luddite tendencies here, but I have always rather struggled to form the equation:

Facebook = Professional

To me throwing farm animals at other people is not 100% consistent with a medium for raising your industry profile (unless you are in on-line games development that is). If you are a B2C organisation, then I can see the point (The Arch Climbing Wall in London is a good example of a small business using Facebook well). If you are a B2B behemoth, then a Facebook presence seems more like a wheeze dreamt up by those awfully creative people in Marketing.

I do use Facebook, but used to 100% separate this from professional networking. Because I interact with a number of people that I have met through Blogging / LinkedIn / Twitter in areas outside the strictly professional (and also if I am honest as clicking the thumbs-up button is rather easy), I have strayed somewhat from this purist path of late. However it remains true that I have one sixth of the Facebook friends as I do LinkedIn connections.

Maybe at some point in the not too distant future my trio of professional Social Media outlets will become a quartet, but for now Facebook remains a peripheral business activity for me.

 
Why LinkedIn?

LinkedIn.com

I joined LinkedIn in July 2005 and so have been engaged in it for much longer than I have either blogged or tweeted. However, me devoting any real time to this area dates to around the same time that I embarked on these other activities; late 2008. At that point I was looking to achieve a few, fairly limited things:

  1. To build on my public speaking to establish a profile in the IT industry
  2. To develop a network of fellow professionals, both in my native UK and more widely
  3. To create another platform from which to showcase my abilities and experience
  4. To reconnect with past colleagues
  5. To try out what was – even at that point – an emerging media

It is perhaps odd to think, but I believe now that item five was probably much more influential that the others back then.

Over time these objectives have morphed as I have become more familiar with LinkedIn. Today the list would more often mention either “grow” or “maintain” than “develop”. Also LinkedIn has become the main channel through which my content – such as this article – reaches people who may be interested in reading it. This is one notable aspect of LinkedIn and the observation raises two points that I will come back to later in this article. First, that LinkedIn is a great way to find, or even form, groups who are interested in niche subjects (and I am not as yet arrogant enough to think that much of what I write is in the mainstream). Second, that LinkedIn tends to work best in conjunction with other elements of Social Media; for me at least the two that I cover in the earlier articles in this series.
 
 
The Seven Habits of Highly Connected People

I tend to have an allergic reaction to articles entitled “10 steps towards successful X”. I certainly don’t have all the answers and the last thing that I would ever want to do is to stop readers thinking for themselves. However, the material I will cover in this piece, which is based on no greater insight that my own experiences, is inevitably going to fit fairly and squarely within this blogosphere cliché.
 

  1. Your page – a shop window

    Once upon a time. Not so long ago. There was a little girl and her name was Emily. And she had a shop. There it is. It was rather an unusual shop because it didn't sell anything. You see, everything in that shop window was a thing that somebody had once lost. And Emily had found. And brought home to Bagpuss. Emily's cat Bagpuss. The most Important. The most Beautiful. The most Magical. Saggy old cloth cat in the whole wide world.

    First things first, once you have signed up for LinkedIn, you will need to build your own page. This is not as daunting as it might seem and LinkedIn have done most of the hard work for you. Also they are always coming up with new sections and new features that will allow you to position snippets of information about yourself. However, in essence, your LinkedIn page is your shop window and it is important to realise that developing its contents merits some care and attention.

    It is useful to bear in mind your main objective for using LinkedIn. If this is to get a new job, then – much like a CV – you should be looking to highlight the same things that you would highlight in a CV (try Googling “10 steps towards writing a successful CV”). However remember that you can also easily host your actual CV on LinkedIn, so it will probably be productive to take a slightly different slant on your page itself. If you are a consultant and want to generate new clients, then explaining what you offer and why it is different from others will be valuable. If you are simply interested in connecting with like-minded individuals, with whom you can converse about issues and trends in your industry or sector, then perhaps listing the types of areas that you would like to talk about is a good idea. Of course, most people will have multiple and overlapping reasons for being on LinkedIn and – if so – a measured and blended approach will probably be best.

    Example of Professional Headline

    As with a CV or a static advert, you probably have only a fleeting amount of time to engage the reader’s attention before they move on elsewhere. Given this, it makes sense to make use of things like your Professional Headline to pithily pitch yourself. It does no harm at all to also have a decent photo posted. My opinion is that a business-related one sets the right tone, but others think differently.

    An example of what you can do with your LinkedIn status

    If you catch the eye of passers-by, then your next hook is your Status – this can be something that you type in yourself, an update from your activity on a group, recent Twitter postings, or a link to other content. Again a little thought here will pay dividends. This is a chance to convey something distinctive to your readers, so do your best to take advantage of it.

    After the summary of basic career details that LinkedIn auto-generates, your next opportunity to engage with readers is the experience section. Here (within a limited number of characters) you can build on what you have led with in your Professional Headline and Status to provide a more rounded perspective of you as an individual.

    Although it makes most sense to get the upper pieces of your page just right (whatever that means for you), I would recommend also paying close attention to each of the details of your career (or those that you choose to post anyway) and even interests and other information. If you do manage to engage a reader and they invest the time to go through all of your information, then the last thing you want is to put them off right at the end with a glaring typo or inane comment. Whatever your reasons for being on LinkedIn, you probably would like readers to take away the idea that you are professional in what you do and a little thoroughness never hurt anyone.

    I will cover other ways in which you can use your LinkedIn page to greater effect later on, for now – as with most things in life – the more time and thought that you spend on this area, the better the results are likely to be.
     

  2. Who will you look to connect with?

    Knee bone connected to your thigh bone. Thigh bone connected to your hip bone. Hip bone connected to your Back bone. Back bone connected to you shoulder bone. Shoulder bone connected to your Neck bone. Neck bone connected to your Head bone Now hear the word of the Lord.

    There are two ways that connections are forged, you initiate the bond being formed, or someone else does. I’ll consider the second area in the next section, what type of people does it make sense for the LinkedIn user to try to actively connect with? There are a number of obvious categories:

    1. Current colleagues or business partners

      It is becoming increasingly prevalent that connecting on LinkedIn plays the role that exchanging business cards used to in previous times (it is actually not that uncommon to see LinkedIn details on business cards either). This is the most obvious source of connections and LinkedIn will helpfully suggest people who work for your organisation as candidates.

      Available for weddings, bar mitzvahs and christenings

      Having recently started at a new company, I would not suggest indiscriminately inviting everyone at your place of work to connect. As and when you meet people face-to-face and begin to interact more, a LinkedIn invitation can help to expand your relationship (and also potentially showcase aspects of your experience that have not formed part of your day-to-day dealings with someone). If you gave new colleagues or business partners a copy of your CV, they would probably never read it. People do however seem to have the habit of checking out LinkedIn profiles, no matter how similar the two activities would appear to be on the face of things.

      Anyone that you work with extensively at the current moment is a prime candidate for a LinkedIn contact; not least as you may be able to call on such people to recommend you at some later point (see below).

    2. Former colleagues or business partners

      The same comments apply (and the same LinkedIn suggestions), but it may pay to be a little more discerning with this group. It might even make sense to be a little hard-nosed – think about what such a connection might do for you and what being connected to them might say about you. Of course where you have enjoyed a very good and mutually productive business relationship with someone, why would you not want to connect? If you instead occasionally came across someone in an old organisation and you don’t have much in common, the case for sending out an invitation may be much less strong.

      Don’t get caught in the trap of chasing connections just for the sake of it; there are better ways to receive validation in life than via the cardinality of the set of people you are linked to!

    3. People who you have never met

      It's got to hurt having a question mark branded on your face...

      This is a strange one. Typically the advice from LinkedIn gurus – and from LinkedIn itself – is not to make such connections. I am actually in rather close connection with several people I have never met via the combination of Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn, but they generally all fall into the next section. Approaching people that you really have no business approaching is probably just as much of an antisocial behaviour on LinkedIn as it is in real life.

      Unless you share a group (or pay to upgrade to a premium account), you will need the e-mail of a target connection in order for an invitation to reach such a person. If you find yourself trying to Google this, you have probably crossed a line and should carefully consider if you really want to continue in this way.

    4. People who you have never met, but with whom you have some other connection

      What you have in common could be anything from both being members of a group on LinkedIn (see below again), to having read one of their blog articles, which you found interesting. Best is if you have actually “met” them virtually, e.g. struck up a discussion on LinkedIn, or via Twitter, or on the comments section of their (or your) blog. There are any number of people who I first “met” virtually and then physically later (see A first for me…, Another social media-inspired meeting and Some thoughts on the IRM(UK) DW/BI conference for some examples), most also were LinkedIn connections before we met face-to-face.

    5. Friends

      Aside from showing other people that you are not a sociopath (and excepting the case where friends are in a similar line of business), I’m not sure what value having cohorts of friends as connections serves. Returning to the box at the beginning of this article, maybe Facebook is the place for this.

    Finally in this section, asking someone to connect doesn’t have a major downside. At best they accept. At worst they ignore you (actually at worst they write to you and say how they would love to connect except for issues A, B and C and how this is all very unfortunate, but have a nice life). If you do get snubbed, you can comfort you self by thinking that probably no one else will ever know, or indeed care!
     

  3. Who should you accept invitations from?

    I was going to quote 50 Cent's ditty 'The Invitation' then decided that maybe this was a bad idea for a family blog

    This is a shorter section than the previous one. The answer to the question is “all of the above”. The only exception is in the People You Have Never Met section. I used to follow the received LinkedIn wisdom of only connecting with people with whom I had had some previous interaction (either on-line or IRL). Latterly I have come to the conclusion that if someone has gone to the substantial trouble of finding, or figuring out, my e-mail and then asking to be my connection, they must have some valid reason and who am I to deny them? Of course if the valid reason is wanting to sell me something, then it is not too onerous to disconnect. This actually seems to happen less frequently than one might think.
     

  4. Groups and what to share with them

    Every finite simple group is isomorphic to one of the following groups: 1) A cyclic group with prime order; 2) An alternating group of degree at least 5; 3) A simple group of Lie type, including both: a) the classical Lie groups, namely the groups of projective special linear, unitary, symplectic, or orthogonal transformations over a finite field; b) the exceptional and twisted groups of Lie type (including the Tits group which is not strictly a group of Lie type); 4) The 26 sporadic simple groups.

    As alluded to above, groups are one of the strongest points of LinkedIn. It could be argued that they have proliferated and splintered too much since their inception, but they remain a great way to interact with people who share your interests (for me everything from Mountain Biking to Data Warehouse Architecture). Joining a group both flags your areas of enthusiasm or expertise to the reader of your profile and provides a mechanism to connect with people via just what you have in common (you can generally send an invitation to the members of one a group you belong to without needing to know their e-mail address).

    However the greatest benefit of joining a group is that you can get involved in discussions. These may be responding to topics that others have raised, or web-pages that they have shared, or you may choose to initiate discussion threads of your own. For example, and anticipating the final part of this piece, I have lost track of how many of my blog articles had their genesis in LinkedIn group discussions. Of course when a group inspires you to write, you can then share the results back with the very people who provided the inspiration; a virtuous circle. You can learn a lot by just reading, but even more by jumping in and getting involved.

    Particular LinkedIn groups that have inspired me to write include:

    1. Business Intelligence Group
    2. Chief Information Officer (CIO) Network
    3. CIO Forum
    4. TDWI’s Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Discussion Group

    Nowadays, of the above, you are most likely to find me hanging out here:

    The Data Warehousing Institute

    At the time of writing there is a limit of 50 groups to which a LinkedIn user can belong. I am at that limit and probably need to do some weeding out in order to focus on the truly useful versus the mildly interesting. A final suggestion here is to – unlike me at present – devote your time to a smaller number of groups, giving each the attention that it deserves.

    A final recommendation under this sub-heading: don’t get into discussions with Young Earth advocates, especially those who somehow managed to graduate from your science-based alma mater – you have been warned.
     

  5. Recommendations – giving and getting

    Glenn McGrath, Australian cricket legend, recommending England as the team most likely to become world number one after their home and away Ashes victories

    Recommendations are another tricky area. Ideally you will receive these spontaneously, but back in the real world you may need to ask. As ever the praise of the praiseworthy is the most treasured of all, so I would strongly suggest that you do not ask for recommendations from all and sundry. Qualifications should be a) that you respect the person you are asking to recommend you, b) that you did substantive work together, c) that the person’s recommendation is pertinent to whatever you are trying to achieve on LinkedIn and d) [sadly this one is not within your control] that the recommendation conveys something other than mere platitudes. You can of course ask people to edit their recommendations, but maybe at that point the trickiness becomes terminal.

    Some people suggest that recommendations from superiors, or customers are the only ones that are worth having. I say poppycock! Two of the LinkedIn recommendations that I am most proud of come from colleagues who worked for people who worked for me. If displaying man-management or leadership skills play any part in your LinkedIn objectives – and of course if such recommendations appear genuine – then surely there is an awful lot of value in any recommendation from a colleague. Perhaps solely having testimonials from people who have worked for you might not set the right tone, but having none also says something in my opinion.
     

  6. Applications – closing the loop

    I mentioned above that there are other ways to jazz-up your LinkedIn page. Amongst these are add-in applications. The number of these has increased of late, but don’t expect the Apple or Android app stores. There are apps that will let you share presentations, tell people what you are reading (via Amazon), or flag your travels around the globe (useful if you are a rock band on its world tour, less helpful for a humble ITer like me). I only use a couple, but they both seem to add value.

    Box.net

    First I use Box.net, a cloud-based document repository on which I store nothing more exciting than my CV and some other career documentation. The app tells you when a document is downloaded (though obviously not who has downloaded it) and I am surprised how many readers have taken advantage of this. I hope that they found my CV a riveting read.

    Wordpress LinkedIn application

    Second I use WordPress’ own add-in which allows content from my blog to be displayed (see next section). The app doesn’t provide tracking information, but I can tell whence (anonymised) visitors to my blog arrive and a fair percentage appear to originate from this LinkedIn feature.

    Despite a slow start, I anticipate a growing number of LinkedIn apps becoming available in coming months. It will be interesting to see what other opportunities these provide. The core value of LinkedIn is going to continue to be vested in the sections that I describe above, but I can see future applications enhancing this in interesting ways.
     

  7. Combination with other elements of Social Media

    Media est omnis divisa in partes tres

    Way back in the first segment of this series I said that I felt that they interplay between Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn was more powerful than any single element. I have probably come into contact with a wider range of people via Twitter, maybe due to the low friction associated with following someone, but most of the more useful relationships have also become connections on LinkedIn. I mention above that LinkedIn groups have inspired a number of my blog articles. These include some of my most highly-rated pieces such as Who should be accountable for data quality?, A single version of the truth? and “Why Business Intelligence projects fail”. Perhaps the fact that they related to topical issues that people clearly wanted to discuss was a contributory factor in their popularity. I like to think that I often take a different slant from the original discussions on LinkedIn, but I would have often not put fingertip to keyboard without the initial conversation giving me a nudge.

    Of the three media, I put the most effort into blogging (as attested to by the length of this piece for example), but I interact with people more on LinkedIn. The way that WordPress reports referring URLs makes it difficult to be precise, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that linkedin.com is my most frequent referring domain by some way. My Twitter output has fallen somewhat in recent months, both due to other things consuming my time and also my developing opinion that it is becoming tougher to tell signal from noise. Nevertheless, it is a very common occurrence that a Twitter follow leads to a LinkedIn invitation in rapid succession and vice versa; it helps that each of the three sites have many links off to the others.

    You can link your Twitter output to LinkedIn, but I find that this can be a bit overwhelming for me, let alone people reading my LinkedIn page, so have generally turned this off again. Although I think there is great value in forming connections between LinekdIn and Twitter, I also think it is important to remember that they are distinct media which people peruse for different reasons, albeit with some overlap.

 
Final thoughts

B.T.L. - An eternal golden braid (with apologies to Douglas R Hofstadter

It has been a long journey, but I have now completed my traverse of the triangle formed by Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn, with each “side” having its own dedicated article. I think that I will risk over-extending this analogy by saying two things.

First in arriving back where I started it is important to state that you can never declare success in Social Media, you are only as good as your last article or tweet (OK maybe the bar is not set that high for tweets). In fact I feel mildly motivated to re-read the first article in this trilogy and see which of my own blogging tips I have been ignoring recently. As with most activities, Social Media success is driven by practice and, to borrow from the other Seven Habits by continually sharpening the saw.

Second a triangle, if properly formed, has structural integrity beyond that of its component parts. I think that the same holds true for the three parts of Social Media that I have covered in this series. For those readers who have persevered this far, there is just one thing that I would like you to take away from this article. This is the strength generated by using Blogging, Twitter and LinkedIn in a mutually reinforcing way.
 
Usurpo - Sustineo - Servo
 

 

New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 1: Blogging

New Adventures in Wi-Fi (with apologies to R.E.M.)
 
Introduction

I established this blog back in November 2008 – shortly after this I joined twitter.com in December 2008 – I had already been a member of LinkedIn.com since July 2005. However, my involvement with what is now collectively called social media goes back a lot further than this. Back then we tended to use the phrase on-line communities to describe what we were engaged in.

My first foray into this new world was in 1998/99 when I joined a, now defunct, discussion forum (then known as a Bulletin Board). This was focused on computer games. I wasn’t terribly in to such games at the time, I didn’t own a console and my PC was used for more prosaic purposes. Nevertheless, for reasons that I will not bore the reader with, I signed up. Since then I have been a member of a number of on-line forums, mostly with some sporting element, for example rock climbing.

Yahoo! Geocities

In May 1999, my forum activities led me to creating my first web-site (again now also defunct). I started on Geocities (another chance to use the word “defunct”) and then moved to having my own domain and an agreement with a hosting company. I even ended up jointly running a very successful forum with an on-line friend from Australia. Back then the men were real men, the women were real women and the HTML was real HTML. However this article is not about ancient history, but rather about my more recent experiences in social media.

Nowadays, nobody seems to think of it as being odd that you regularly “speak” to people you have never met and who inhabit countries on the other side of the world. People do not slowly back away from you at parties if you drop the fact that you have your own web-site into a conversation (though maybe one reason that the portmanteau of web-log became socially acceptable is that its abridgement to blog sounds the opposite of technological). It was not always thus and maybe I retain something of the spirit of those pioneering days. For example, I am currently typing these words into the HTML pane of WordPress.com. Old habits die hard and WYSIYWG is for softies!

Social media is now mainstream – in fact you could argue that it is real life that has become a minority activity – and things are a lot easier. Although I doggedly insist on still cutting HTML, you can be up and running with a fairly professional-looking blog on WordPress in minutes and without having to know much about any of the technical underpinnings. Software as a Service certainly works really well as an approach to blogging.

Over a number of articles, I am going to touch upon my recent experience of Social Media in the three areas that I first mentioned at the beginning: blogging, micro-blogging and professional networking. Without fully revealing the denouement of this series, I will state now that one of the most interesting things is how well these three areas work in combination and how mutually reinforcing they have become for me. The sequence starts with my thoughts on blogging.
 
 
WordPress and Motivation

WordPress.com

I suppose I have to thank my partner for getting me in to this area as she started her blog long before any of mine. However, having suffered a couple of climbing-related injuries I started my own training blog, both to chart my recovery and to act as a motivational tool.

I started out using Blogger as that was what my partner had used, but got rather frustrated with its lack of support for some basic HTML constructs (e.g. tables). A friend suggested WordPress instead and this became the venue for my training blog. Somewhat amazingly this is not defunct. However, after a period when I religiously posted at least once or twice every week, I haven’t updated it in a long while.

When I wanted to start a professional blog, WordPress seemed the way to go and I have been mostly happy with my choice. But what were my motivations for blogging about business-related issues? I guess that there were a few of these, in no particular order:

  1. I wanted to build upon the public profile that appearing in press articles and speaking at seminars had afforded me.
  2. I like writing and the idea of doing this in a more general context than internal strategy papers and memoranda seemed appealing.
  3. Based on the feedback I had received from my public speaking, I believed that I had quite a lot of relevant experience to draw on which might make interesting reading; at least for a niche audience.
  4. Although it would be fair to say that I started writing mostly for myself, over time the idea of building a blog following seemed like a challenge and I like challenges.
  5. In this same category of emergent motivation, after a short while the notion of establishing a corpus of work, spanning my ideas about a range of issues also became a factor. Maybe some element of Narcissism is present in most blogging.
  6. There was a big slice of simple curiosity about the area, how it worked and how I could be a part of it. You get some interaction in public speaking, but I was intrigued by the idea of getting the benefit of the input of a wider range of people.

So I leapt in with both feet and my first article was based on some reflections on attending a Change Management seminar. It was entitled Business is from Mars and IT is from Venus and dealt with what I see as an artificial divide between IT and business groups. I suppose it makes sense to start as you mean to go on and IT / Business alignment has been a theme running through much of what I have written.
 
 
Things that I have learnt so far

In a subsequent piece, Recipes for success?, I expressed my scepticism about articles of the type “My Top Ten Tips for Successful Blogging”, so the following is not meant to be a set of precepts to be followed to the last letter. Instead, with the benefit of over 60,000 page views (small beer compared to many blogs), here are some things that have worked for me. If some of these chime with your own experience, then great. If others are not pertinent to you, then this is only to be expected.

Finally I should also stress that these observations relate mostly to professional blogs, for personal blogs there are essentially no constraints on your creativity (assuming that the results of this are legal of course).

  1. Write about areas that you know something about. You don’t have to be a world authority, but on a professional blog, no one is going to be that interested in your fevered speculations on something that you know nothing about. This is one of many reasons that you will never see me blogging about IT Infrastructure!
  2. When you blog about an area of personal expertise, then you can be pretty free in expressing your opinions, though [note to self] a dose of humility never did anyone any harm.

    If you know as much as him, then knock yourself out. Else proceed with caution!

    When the subject is one in which your own knowledge is less well-developed (for me something like text analytics would fall into this category), then seek out the opinions of experts in the field and quote these (even if you disagree with them). Linking to the places that experts have expressed their thoughts also expands you network and increases the utility of your blog, which becomes part of a wider world.

  3. It helps if you are interested in the majority of the topics that you cover. If you are unmotivated about something, them why write about it? If you decide to do so for some reason (maybe because you haven’t written anything else this week, or because a piece of news is “hot” at present) then your personal ennui will seep into your words and be evident to your readers. No doubt it will generate similar feelings in them.
  4. Beyond the previous point, I would go further and say that it is crucial that you are truly passionate about at least one thing that you write about and ideally several. Expressing strong opinions is fine, assuming that you have some reason for holding them and that you remain open to the ideas of other people. For me, these areas of passion are Business Intelligence, its intimate connection with Cultural Transformation and the related area of IT / Business Alignment.

    Passion is not only important because it will hopefully infuse your words, but because it will sustain you returning to write about these areas over a long period of time. There are an awful lot of blogs out there where a bright beginning has petered out because the author had nothing left to say, or has lost interest.

  5. For the same reasons relating to sustaining your blog, I would recommend being yourself. If you really want to present an alternative personality to the world, then good luck to you (and your therapist), you will have to possess enormous perseverance and be a very talented actor.

    Not an ideal way to write your blog

    For me this means the presence of strong elliptical and eclectic qualities to my articles. I can do terse and to the point when it is necessary, but circumlocution is more my stock-in-trade. I’m more comfortable being myself and if this means my audience is one composed of people yearning for elliptic, eclectic, circumlocutory writing, then so be it!

  6. To me being yourself extends to the quantity of your writing. In an era sometimes characterised as one of short attention spans and instant gratification, the orthodox advice is to be punchy and direct. Sometimes the point I want to make in one of my articles (assuming that I can remember what this is by the time I get to the end of writing it) takes some time to develop – like a fine wine I like to think (or a mould the less kind might add).

    Not my target audience

    This means that my writing tends to resemble the River Amazon in both its meandering nature and length. I appreciate that this narrows my potential audience, but hope that it also means that at least a few people get some more out of it than they would from the CliffsNotes version.

  7. Blogging should also be about interaction. If you simply want to broadcast your incredibly wise thoughts, then write a book. I hope that some of the pieces that I write spur others to record their own thoughts, either as comments here, or in their own blog articles. If some of my ideas make it into other people’s PowerPoint decks or project proposals, then I am honoured.

    Equally, virtually everything that I write has been inspired to some degree by other people: co-workers, authors, the people that I come into contact with on the Internet and in real life on a daily basis and so on. I try to explicitly acknowledge (and link to) what has inspired me when I write, but I am sure that thousands of unconscious influencers go un-credited.

  8. While passion and having opinions contribute to developing your own voice, it is important to never think that you have all the answers. In a blogging context this means treating anyone who has taken the time to comment on your writing with the respect that this act deserves. While starting a conversation is clearly the best outcome of someone commenting on your blog, a simple ‘thank you’ from the author should be the very least that you can offer (when people whinge about the England cricket team having cheated their way to victory, this is an obvious exception to the rule).
    What do you want me to do? LEAVE? Then they'll keep being wrong!
    © xkcd.com

    In this area I also try to avoid deleting comments that are derogatory about my ideas. The approach I take is rather to either seek further clarification on why the contributor thinks this way, or to politely argue why I still believe that the points that I have made are valid. Of course I have not always 100% lived up to this aspiration!

  9. As in virtually every aspect of life, treating others as you would like to be treated yourself is not a bad approach. If you enjoy people commenting on your articles or linking to your blog, then maybe proactively doing these things yourself is a good idea. I don’t mean adding comments purely for the sake of it; that sounds awfully like spam. But if you read something that you find interesting, then thank the author.

    Better still, augment what they have written with your own ideas – either on their blog or in a piece on your own site that links back to their article. Even in this day and age, it is amazing how far being nice to people can get you. For the same reason, try to be as polite on-line as you would be in your more traditional professional life.

  10. [Yes I am aware of the irony of having ten bullet points here!]

    Finally, I mentioned the Narcissistic tendencies that can either be a cause or effect of blogging. I think that trying to not take yourself too seriously is a must as an antidote to this. Both the medium and my prose can veer towards the preachy sometimes, so some well-placed self-deprecation to balance this never goes amiss.

I hope that some readers will have been interested in my observations and that they will have helped a further subset of these in their blogging. For those who are pondering whether to join the blogosphre, my simple advice is give it a go. You will either hate it or love it, but at least you won’t die wondering “what if?”
 


 
The New Adventures in Wi-Fi series of articles on Social Media continues by discussing the relatively new world of micro-blogging and the phenomenon that is Twitter here.
 

tweet this Tweet this article on twitter.com
Bookmark this article with:
| Facebook | del.icio.us | digg | Reddit | Stumble

 

Irony and WordPress.com advertising

After the response that I posted yesterday to comments by Jim Davis, SVP and Chief Marketing Officer at SAS Institute, I suspect that the following advert is eveidence of the new irony module in WordPress.com‘s advertisng engine!

Ironic advertising
Ironic advertising