Recap: IABC Edmonton’s Connecting the Dots Workshop

The Edmonton chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) held a mini social media conference called Connecting the Dots yesterday the Art Gallery of Alberta. Hosted by Justin Archer and Jay Averill, the event featured three speakers and a panel. George Siemens opened the conference with a “30,000 foot view” of the social media landscape – you can take a look at his slides here. Next up was myself, talking about social media’s impact on public policy. I used the City Centre Airport debate as a case study. After me, Mary Pat Barry presented Edmonton Stories as a case study, outlining how the site came to be what the next steps are. Finally, four panelists closed out the event: Karen Unland, Norman Mendoza, Dave Cournoyer, and Chris LaBossiere.

The common thread for the day seemed to be that “the medium alters the message.” George talked about it in his keynote, and it popped up again and again throughout the day. Everyone seemed to agree that social media is still young, and there is much change and maturation on the horizon.

As for my own presentation, I think it went quite well. I tried to present the story of how social media played a role in the ECCA debate, and also attempted to pull out some lessons. The main ones were:

  • Blogs are the starts of social media! Something I’ve become fond of saying. I really think the fact that the pro-closure side used blogs so effectively had a huge impact. Blogs allow longer form content, they have great longevity (easy to find old posts, not so with tweets), and they index well in search engines.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel. From the hashtag (#ecca) to the Facebook group, I looked for existing communities when I got involved with the debate. Too often, organizations try to start something new, when it’s often a better idea to link up with whatever already exists.
  • Translate online interest into offline action. All of the tweeting and blogging and other social media activity that happened around the airport debate wouldn’t have meant anything if it didn’t translate into people calling and emailing their councillors.

The panel was really interesting. It wasn’t very balanced, with all four panelists being pro-social media, and I think that made the tone of the discussion with the audience a little combative. There were still some really great questions asked and answers given, however. Some of my favorite quotes/highlights:

  • Organizations can’t have conversations, only people can. (Chris)
  • People who live-tweet events probably listen better. (Karen)
  • Transparency is the new objectivity. (Karen, citing Jay Rosen)
  • Recognize that people make mistakes. How you handle them is more important than the actual mistake (usually). (me, on Twitter)
  • Links are the currency of the web. Social media helps us share them faster and wider. (me, on Twitter)

Twitter played an interesting role in the panel – there was a giant screen behind the panelists showing #iabcyeg tweets on TwitterFall. It became a point of contention, actually, with some arguing that expanding the conversation beyond the room was invaluable, while others thought perhaps it was disrespectful to be tweeting while others are talking. There were also questions about credibility, about employee use of social media, about how to monitor for mentions of you or your organization, etc. Really great discussion that probably could have gone on much longer!

Thanks to IABC for allowing me to take part – it was lots of fun! If you’re looking for a social media event to attend in the future, check out the conference that George and his team are organizing in April (on ShareEdmonton). And stay tuned to IABC Edmonton on Twitter.

Social Media Marketing Bootcamp comes to Edmonton

Vancouver-based Capulet Communications has been running a number of popular social media marketing ‘bootcamps’ in Victoria and Vancouver, and now they’re taking their show on the road. In addition to stops in Kamloops, Kelowna, and Calgary, Capulet will be in Edmonton on September 9th. Here’s what you can expect:

Adding social media into the marketing mix is increasingly important for marketers who want to establish an online presence for their businesses. Building on the sold-out course we taught for UBC Continuing Education this winter, we discuss the dos and don’ts of social media marketing; look at successful marketing campaigns; introduce the social media tools every marketer should know about; and cover online communications etiquette.

And a little on the instructors, who I know and definitely recommend:

We’re Julie Szabo and Darren Barefoot, the founders of Capulet Communications. With a background in technology and public relations, we’ve been running social media marketing campaigns since before it was called "social media". We’ve worked with the nation’s smallest startup and its biggest brands like Mountain Equipment Co-op and Best Buy.

Here are the details for the Edmonton event:

WHO: You!
WHAT: Social Media Marketing Bootcamp
WHERE: Metterra Hotel, 10454 82 Avenue (map)
WHEN: Wednesday, September 9th, 9:30am to 4:30pm
WHY: To learn all about social media marketing.
COST: $299 (or save $50 if you blog about it), register here

Darren also says they are looking for local marketing and communication groups to spread the word in exchange for a discount for members. If you’re one of those people, get in touch with him.

I’ve noticed a definite increase recently in the number of local individuals and organizations looking for help with social marketing. I think the City Centre Airport issue and the recent big storms have had a huge impact on increasing awareness of social media. People are naturally wondering how they can take advantage of it. I think Capulet’s bootcamp is a great way to get started, so don’t miss it.

Don't worry about undersea cable cuts

inet Remember all the undersea cables that were cut last month? I still haven’t come across a definitive reason for the disruptions, though a February 19th article at The Inquirer claims it was sabotage. I’m not sure about that, but the one thing that is clear is that everyone has moved on. For instance, Google announced a few weeks ago that it was joining a consortium building a new $300 million undersea fiber optic cable linking the US and Japan:

The new cable system – named Unity – will address broadband demand by providing much needed capacity to sustain the unprecedented growth in data and Internet traffic between Asia and the United States.  Unity is expected to initially increase Trans-Pacific lit cable capacity by about 20 percent, with the potential to add up to 7.68 Terabits per second (Tbps) of bandwidth across the Pacific.

Om Malik has a good roundup of reasons for why Google got involved.

Just a few days ago, AT&T announced big investments in data centers here in Canada as well as undersea cables in Asia and Australia:

“Recent cable cuts in Europe and Asia show we need to further improve resiliency and re-routing capability,” he says.

AT&T has the largest private fleet of cable-laying ships in the world, and operates its global network on 71 undersea cables laid over 450,000 miles…

If you do a quick search you’ll find a bunch of other announcements for cable systems, such as this new one in Africa, and this upgraded one that links Singapore and France.

Maybe new cables are being laid faster than they are being cut after all 🙂

Also – check out this post at the Royal Pingdom blog:

Over 260 ISPs, including major network providers like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, all cross-connect in a single data center in an office building in downtown LA.

This has been going on for 20 years. So much for not having a single point of failure.

A few cut cables seems kind of irrelevant compared to that.

Fifth undersea cable cut

inet cable With each passing day, another undersea cable serving the Middle East is severed. At least that’s the way things are going right now! Slashdot reported earlier today on the fifth incident, originally suggesting that it resulted in all of Iran going offline. They later backtracked as it became clear that Iran was still on the grid.

Not surprisingly, there is a Wikipedia entry up with information on the 2008 submarine cable disruption. It includes a timeline with details about which cables were damaged. In case you’re wondering, there’s a list of international submarine communications cables at Wikipedia too.

The cable known as SEA-ME-WE 4 has been affected the most, which is significant as it provides the primary connection between Europe, the Middle East, and South East Asia. Combined with the FLAG cable cut, the BBC has pointed out that only the older SEA-ME-WE 3 is currently connecting Europe and the Middle East, with capacity reduced by about 75%. This cable has experienced a couple disruptions of its own in the past. The first was in July of 2005, which mainly affected Pakistan. The second was back in December of 2006, the result of an earthquake known as Hengchun which occurred off the coast of Taiwan. Perhaps there are more that I haven’t found yet. Heck, portions of the cable have even been stolen and sold!

In my post yesterday, I expressed hope that the recent incidents would result in some action to prevent the situation from getting worse. The more I read about undersea cables however, the clearer it becomes that these events are certainly nothing new. It seems as though cable disruptions aren’t as uncommon as one might think.

Certainly the fact that five cables have been cut in less than two weeks should raise some eyebrows, however.

Here are some additional resources:

Wireless Cities

Post ImageTime for an update on wireless everywhere! Unfortunately Edmonton isn’t much closer to being covered in wonderful wireless Internet access, but many other cities are. What was once a side project in a few townships has become a big deal for some major locales:

Vendors that build and manage wireless networks report unprecedented municipal interest over the last couple of years, with requests for proposals streaming out of city halls everywhere.

“Overall, I’d say it’s very active,” said Lee Tsao, director of the global solutions group for Pronto Networks, a wireless provisioning company in Pleasanton, California. “In the last four months, we’ve signed up about 10 cities.” Todd Myers, founder and vice president of corporate development for AirPath Wireless, a provisioning firm based in Waltham, Massachusetts, put it more simply: “We’re swamped. There are just so many RFPs out now.”

Some of the newer technology like WiMax has been slow out of the gate, so most of the cities pursuing wireless networks are building so-called “mesh networks”, which essentially consist of daisy-chained Wi-Fi antennas. Apparently it’s pretty cost effective.

Wireless networks in cities show no sign of slowing down either:

In late September, research firm forecast that U.S. cities and counties will spend nearly $700 million over the next three years to build municipal wireless broadband networks.

Municipal wireless has also finally received support from politicians and lawmakers, notably FTC member Jon Leibowitz who “enorsed the concept of municipal broadband networks, comparing them to public schools and libraries.” (For a PDF of his endorsement, click here.)

Bring on the wireless cities!

Read: Wired

Skype 1.4 Released! Video coming soon?

Post ImageSkype launched the latest version of their Windows software yesterday, bringing the popular VoIP tool to version I installed it on both of my machines this afternoon, and it appears to be running quite well. Here are some of the more noticeable new features:

  • You can forward calls on to mobiles, landlines and other Skype Names.
  • They have added downloadable ringtones!
  • There’s a bunch of new emoticons, 21 to be exact.

You can see the entire list of new features, changes, and bugfixes here. And the coolest feature of all? A feature that might be coming in as little as a month, according to a post by Roland Tanglao:

There you have it! Skype introduces video calling in November 2005 for Windows. So Mac and Linux Skype video calling will be there in 2006 which means 2007 is the year of video calling for the masses.

Definitely check out his post to see the picture he attached. Interesting indeed! You can download the latest version of Skype at their website, and be sure to keep your eyes open for that video version!

As the new version of Skype has call forwarding, and because the application seems to work fairly well on my Tablet PC, I have decided to have my “mastermaq” account connect automatically, and I have set the old “blogosphereradio” account to simply forward. So if you want to get in touch with me over Skype, please use my mastermaq account.

Read: Skype

Presence: Pipe Dream?

Post ImageI got thinking about “presence” today, after reading a comment from Dan Gillmor in light of today’s eBay-Skype deal (hat tip Larry):

It’s official, and eBay will now be adding something to its portfolio: customers’ presence online. The possibilities are endless. I didn’t get this at first, but now I do.

Unfortunately he didn’t “get it” enough to elaborate in his post. There are of course a few “gotchas” associated with eBay acquiring presence – eBay users need to be Skype users, and somehow the two need to be associated or perhaps merged (like Yahoo and Flickr recently started to do). I disagree that the possibilities are endless though. Adding Skype doesn’t give eBay users any capabilities they didn’t already have with other IM systems. Of course, if the two companies can integrate auctions with Skype in a new and interesting way, that may change, but there’s still only so much presence information can give you.

The Holy Grail of Presence

There has long been a goal among technology companies, business people, and many others to have “presence” information about users. That is, knowing when someone is online or offline, available or unavailable. The idea works best when combined with location – are you online at home or at the office? There are many supposed benefits to having such information, not the least of which is greater productivity and efficiency. That being said, I think presence is one big pipe dream – at least for the forseeable future.

From Wikipedia:

Presence is defined as the “availability and willingness of the user (presentity) for communication”. Presence information is published by individuals to other systems users, known as ‘watchers’ or ‘subscribers’, to indicate their communication state. Although not limited to IP communications, it has become synonymous with IP applications such as VoIP and Instant Messaging.

The problem with presence is that it’s inaccurate at best. I have two MSN Messenger accounts. One is online 24/7 unless there’s a problem with my connection or with MSN itself. The other one is for my tablet, and I sign in as “Maq@Location” to try and share both presence and location information. But even back in the days of ICQ, my “always on” connection is usually set to Away, even when I’m here. That’s not really accurate! What users really want is to be able to say “Jack can contact me at any time, regardless of my status, but Mary can only contact me when I am Online”. Unfortunately, almost no one is going to take the time to manually set those restrictions.

And what about when you get up from your desk to grab a cup of coffee or use the washroom? Unless you remember to switch your status, your presence information is no longer accurate! How about moving from the computer to a different device, like your cell phone? You’d likely have to sign out of the computer and sign into the cell phone. Not the best scenario in the world is it?

Presence needs to be seamless for it to work. My devices and applications should all work together to know where and when I am available. In the best case, my devices should know that if I am out and about with only my cell phone or PDA, I might not be able to respond, and could then share this information with contacts. Let’s say I am working on a specific project in Outlook – my devices and applications should adjust my presence so that I am available to people related to the project, but maybe not to others.

Can we get there? I think one day we will, as much of the technology needed to achieve “true” presence exists today; things like wireless communications, RFID tags, web services, and other base technologies. For now though, presence remains a pipe dream.