Social media for community projects

If you ever wonder what BPM analyst/architect/bloggers do in their spare time, wonder no more:

Ignite Toronto: Sandy Kemsley -The Hungry Geek from Ignite Toronto on Vimeo.

I was invited to give a presentation at Ignite! Toronto this week, and decided to discuss how I’ve been using social media – Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, blogging – and some integration technologies including RSS and Python scripting to promote a new farmers’ market in my community. I’m on the local volunteer committee that acts as the marketing team for the market. Here’s the presentation, it’s not too clear on the video:

If you’re not familiar with Ignite, it’s a type of speed presentation: 20 slides, 5 minutes, and your slides auto-advance every 15 seconds. For a marathon presenter like me, keeping it down to 5 minutes is a serious challenge, but this was a lot of fun.

For a technology view, check out slide 17 in the slide deck, which shows a sort of context diagram of the components involved. Twitter is central to this “market message delivery framework”, displaying content from a number of sources on the market Twitter account:

  • I manually tweet when I see something of interest related to the market or food. Also, I monitor and retweet some of our followers, and reply to anyone asking a question via Twitter.
  • When I publish a post on my personal blog that is in the category “market”, Twitterfeed picks it up through the RSS feed and posts the title and link on Twitter. These are posted to both the market account and my own Twitter account, so you may have seen them if you’re following me there.
  • Each week, I save up a list of interesting links and other tweet-worthy info, and put them in a text file. My talented other half wrote a Python script that tweets one message from that file each hour for the two days prior to each Saturday market day.
  • I connected my Flickr account with Twitter, and can either manually tweet a link to a photo directly from Flickr, or email a photo from my iPhone to a private Flickr email address that will cause the link to be tweeted. I could have used Twitpic for the latter functionality, but Flickr gives me better control over my photo archive.

The whole exercise has been a great case study on using social media for community projects with no budget, using some small bits of technology to tie things together so that it doesn’t take much of my time now that it’s up and running. I’d be doing most of the activities anyway: taking pictures of the market, cooking and blogging about it, and reading articles on local food and markets online. This just takes all of that and pushes it out to the market’s online community with very little additional effort on my part.

Cool Retaggr gadget

Via Mashable, I discovered a cool little gadget this morning: Retaggr, which allows me to create a profile page and badge with all my social media links, then embed it on my blog or website:

You can click on the links within it to show the content from those sites directly within the badge, or click through to the whole profile page. The badge here updates when I update my profile on Retaggr. I can also create my own custom badge, although the minimum width is wider than my current sidebar so I can’t put one there.

I’ve already added it to the contact page on my website and the About Me page on this blog in place of the manually-maintained lists of contact information on those pages.


There are few things that will get me out of bed early on a wintry Saturday morning. ChangeCamp is one of them: an unconference dedicated to re-imaging (Canadian) government and citizenship in the age of participation. My friend Mark, who is passionate about government, change and unconferences, is one of the ringleaders here, but there’s an amazing group of people who made all this come together in less than a month. I’ll be doing some wiki gardening, Twittering and live blogging about ChangeCamp today.

Why do we need an unconference about government? Because the usual methods of providing input to government aren’t, in general, working; unconferences shake things up and tend to get the communications lines unclogged. TransitCamp was a start to this, getting citizens involved in generating ideas for public transit and resulting in the ongoing Metronauts community, but also engaging with the TTC and causing some real change. HoHoTO showed how quickly people can come together to become something that’s bigger than themselves, raising over $25k for the Daily Bread Food Bank at a 600-person holiday party that went from inception to reality in 13 days.

And here we are today, pretty near a full house at the MaRS Centre to address the long tail of government.

There’s a couple of modifications to the usual open space format of unconferences: we’re being organized into groups up front to exchange some ideas and define problems, and there’s an opportunity for people who have a specific idea that they want to dive into and start developing something in ChangeLab.

Some memes never die

Barton George tagged me on the latest internet meme to tell you seven things about me. Given that less than two years ago, I played along with the “five things you don’t know about me” meme, I figure that I only owe you two more:

  1. I prefer to go barefoot, or at least sock-less, whenever possible. Given that I’ve lived most of my life in Toronto, I can only imagine that this is a flat-out subconscious rejection of winter.
  2. I tried to semi-retire at the age of 41, but it didn’t take. After three months of walkabout in Australia, I couldn’t resist heading home and starting up another business.

I’m supposed to inflict this on tag seven other people with this meme, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. I also don’t forward chain letters, regardless of the dire warnings therein.

You have to focus on vendors even if they are narcissistic or whiny

This post by analyst relations consultant Carter Lusher, entitled You have to focus on influential analysts even if they are negative or unpleasant, totally cracked me up. There are lots of analysts with attitude, but there are also lots of vendors out there who could use some lessons from Miss Manners: in dealing with vendors, I’ve had accusations of bias, suggestions for blog post topics that come straight from the vendor’s press releases, requests to sign a non-disclosure agreement before talking about something that they want me to write about, whiny complaints when I write about another vendor instead of them, and arguments from (always large) vendors why I should pay my own expenses to attend — and blog about — their conference.

These tend to be outliers; most of the people who I deal with at vendors are professional and reasonable, and don’t treat me like the hired help (which is good, because they’re not paying me anything) or like the enemy. Having to occasionally deal with negative and unpleasant people is just part of the job for most of us; for an analyst relations specialist to pretend that all of those negative and unpleasant people are on the analyst side of the vendor-analyst relationship is disingenuous.

Mobile experiments

I’ve been running a mobile device experiment for the past six weeks: since my Blackberry three-year contract ran out, I switched to using a standard mobile phone (with a greatly reduced monthly fee) plus an iPod Touch. I was lucky enough to score a free iPod Touch — BEA’s last marketing blowout at their conference before being absorbed by Oracle was to give one to every attendee — so this experiment costs me nothing to try out. Those who know me were aghast at seeing me without the trusty Blackberry at my side, where it has been for the past eight years, but I wanted to try out this combo for a couple of reasons.

First, there are so many new devices out lately and a number of new ones on the rise, that I want to reassess my Blackberry bigotry. Specifically, I’m thinking about switching to an iPhone and need to be sure that the non-phone functionality of the iPhone works for me (for those of you unfamiliar with the iPod Touch, is pretty much exactly like an iPhone except no phone, no camera, and no paid plan required from your mobile carrier since it only connects via wifi).

Second, Canada is about to see a rash of new entrants into the mobile carrier space in early spring of 2009, and I didn’t want to be locked into another contract with Rogers when those options became available. That means that I’ll likely stick with this configuration until I know what the new offerings will be: data plans have certainly come down in price here, but I’m also looking for a carrier that will provide me with better-priced US roaming, which is currently about $2/minute with Rogers.

Results so far:

Voice: I continue to use almost none of my voice minutes on the mobile phone, except for a couple of calls when I’m traveling. I’m just not big on talking on the phone.

Texting: I still do some text messaging from my regular mobile phone, but using a standard phone keyboard — even with predictive typing — is so much slower than the Blackberry that I’ve reduced that quite a bit.

Connectivity: Since the iPod Touch connects to any wifi that’s around, I use it around my home/office, at conferences where there’s wifi, and now in every Starbucks in Toronto where I can use my Bell Internet account (or a Starbucks card) to login to the Bell hotspot. A number of airports also have free wifi, allowing me to step off the plane, search for wifi, connect and check my email without breaking stride. Although I don’t have the uninterrupted service that I enjoyed with the Blackberry (which would, of course, be replicated on a full iPhone), I am finding that this is sufficient for most of my needs.

Typing: The touch keyboard on the iPod Touch (same as the iPhone) sucks when compared to the Blackberry: I can touch-type with my thumbs on a Blackberry, making it a very real email composition platform; on the iPod, I’m much more likely to send only a brief reply, if anything at all, and wait to get to my laptop before sending any substantial messages.

Reading email: The email reading experience is great on the iPod, certainly much better than the older Blackberry that I had. I use both Gmail and Google Apps mail, and the IMAP client works well with both, meaning that everything that I do on the iPod is reflected in my email online, and therefore in my desktop IMAP client. [The IMAP client on the Blackberry was always slow and a bit flaky for me, meaning that I used to do POP email there, then have to replicate what I did back on my desktop since I used the Blackberry Internet service, not a corporate server. Obviously, if you’re on a corporate Blackberry server, that experience will differ.]

Surfing: Amazingly good on the small screen, since zooming and rotating are a breeze. No Flash support, which is a bit of a hassle on some sites, but otherwise fairly widespread support. Many sites (including this blog) offer an iPhone-optimized version of their site that auto-detects that you’re on the platform and switches over.

Feed reading: Excellent with Google Reader; since I use Google Reader from my laptop as well, that means that everything read anywhere stays synced up.

Applications: I never found a lot of Blackberry applications that really worked for me, and with no central clearinghouse for them, they were hard to find. The iPod Touch, on the other hand, can run most of the applications available for the iPhone, allowing me to test out the full experience. No VOIP calling, of course, but plenty of useful stuff:

  • Red Rocket, one of only two paid applications that I use, which has all of the Toronto transit maps, routes and schedules. Very handy when I’m waiting at a streetcar stop wondering whether to wait for the next car or hail a taxi.
  • SplashID, the other paid app, which holds confidential information such as credit card numbers and PINs in a secure encrypted format.
  • Files lite, the free (but completely adequate) version of a file transfer/storage application that allows me to copy files from my PC to the iPod in a variety of formats: PDF, Word, PowerPoint, etc. More than storage, I can actually view the files on the iPod, making this a great place for a quick reference library.
  • Instapaper (again, the free version), which allows me to bookmark web pages either on the iPod or my PC, then sync them up to the iPod for offline viewing. Good if I want to review something on a plane or when I’m away from wifi access, but don’t want to print it. The rendering of the page isn’t perfect, but everything that I’ve tried is completely readable.
  • Stanza e-book reader, with a large selection of freely downloadable books, and a desktop application so that you can covert your own files into e-book format for transferring to and reading on the iPod. The reader is quite usable: the text is large enough, and although there’s not a lot of text on each page, flipping to the next page is so fast that it’s a pretty seamless experience.

Battery life: Not great, but then I’m using it for a lot of internet access so hard to compare with the Blackberry where I did less surfing since it wasn’t required for reading email. With a Blackberry, you have the option of carrying an extra charged battery and swapping it out, and it also holds a charge for several days if you’re not talking much.

In summary, I find the phone/iPod combo pretty useful, especially considering that most of my travel is done for the year so I’ll be around my office (where there’s wifi) or at clients in downtown Toronto (where there’s Starbucks wifi on every street corner); I can certainly last out for a few months with this combo to break the Crackberry addiction and consider some alternatives. The keyboard is certainly a huge deterrent to moving to the iPhone (if it weren’t, I would have been tempted to switch already), as well as the battery life issue.

HD antenna

HD OTA antennaFor those of you in the conversation at last week’s after-conference drinks about HD digital over-the-air (OTA) antennae, and how my husband built one out of a salad spoon and tin foil, here’s the details (on his blog).

And yes, for those of you who read his text, he really did make a working antenna out of a tea strainer and a metal tape measure, but I was laughing too hard to take the picture.

Bye bye, Blackberry

Those of you who have known me a while will be shocked to hear that I have abandoned my Blackberry: that trusty family of devices that has served me since 2000. My 3-year contract was finally up, and after a few months using the wifi on the iPod Touch that I scored at the last BEA conference, I decided to go with a phone plus the iPod for a few months while I figure out what I want.

Consider that I’m either in training for an iPhone, or for a Blackberry Bold, although after trying to type on the iPod in the back of a taxi earlier this week, I’m thinking that a tactile keyboard is more my style.

ARIS BPM buttons

I love getting presents in the mail, especially ones as cool as a set of little ARIS BPM buttons.

I met Sebastian Stein of IDS Scheer’s research group and the ARIS BPM blog at the recent BPM conference in Milan, and he was sporting an “I (heart) BPM” button on his lapel. I tried to talk him out of it; he resisted my charms, but promised to send me one in the mail. Today, a package arrived from Germany with not one button, but seven. Thanks, Sebastian!