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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Social media etiquette

I just received an invitation to a press briefing. Via a Facebook message. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if I used my Facebook account for professional purposes. But I don’t. I don’t connect to any clients on Facebook. I was a member of the UK tech journos and PRs group (although I have today left it). Someone (not me) did create a group to promote Net Records, one of the start-ups I’m involved in, but it wasn’t me. Of all the many ways on offer through which people can contact me, I have never told someone to reach me on Facebook in a professional capacity.

So why would they choose to contact me that way?

Say someone lists a range of phone numbers in their email footer — usually an office number, maybe a direct dial, and increasingly a mobile number. You wouldn’t ignore all of those and call them at home. The same rules apply to social media. I have a dedicated email address for my blog that I list publicly. I use LinkedIn for business networking. People can even just leave comments on the blog. So why bypass all that and contact me on Facebook, which I reserve for personal relationships?

The fact is that the woman who contacted me clearly uses social media differently. Her rules are different. She is almost a decade younger than me and from a different country. The web may be global but the etiquette for us both is very different and there is no fixed standard yet.

Etiquette is important. It defines the little details about how we behave towards each other and how we act in the presence of others. The little rules that if breached can feel like an insult, or an invasion of privacy, however small. It will take time for a broad standard to be adopted across the web, and they may never translate well across international and cultural boundaries. For now, I think we all should be a little cautious about how we use social and communications media, and ensure we don’t assume that our rules apply to everyone else.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Wishlist: mobile social networking on a wearable computer

Continuing a (very) occasional series on gadgets I would like but that don’t yet seem to exist. This idea started when carving (falling) down the snowy slopes in Verbier over new year. Posh, I know.

We were a big group, all of different skill levels and hence all travelling at different speeds. Navigating the less-than-well mapped slopes was tough. Managing to join up at chosen meeting points even harder without multiple costly and confusing mobile calls. At the same time I was trialling a helmet-mounted (or in my case, head-mounted) camera and listening to music on my iPhone.

As we rode the lifts up to the top for another run we regularly discussed our respective playlists, and I found myself thinking: “ Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all listen to the same playlist?” Clearly all plugging in to the same iPod was never going to work, so the tunes would have to be streamed wirelessly (humour me and ignore the PRS/digital rights implication for a moment).

That got me thinking about a wireless mesh network that would stop us sending high volumes of data over the expensive and less-than-reliable cellular network. Then I figured, wouldn’t it be cool if the network could identify people against their devices (like a Nintendo DS) and allow us to access various social networking features: automatically discovering people in your Facebook friends list when they come in to range (if you have chosen to be discoverable); sharing photos, images and videos (perhaps streamed live from a helmet/lapel mounted camera). Add in a mapping and navigation system and you have an incredibly useful tool.

The wearable bit comes in when you begin to think about the interface for all this. You certainly don’t want a screen and keyboard when you’re hurtling down the slopes, but you will need some sort of button-based affair and a display. Lots of companies have been making iPod and mobile-phone compatible clothing with such arrangements for a while now. Maybe a more sophisticated version of these items could contain a small screen.

Hardware-wise, the ideal is obviously something compact and robust, like a mobile phone. All of the features above could easily be added to a Gphone or iPhone, and probably some already have (BrightKite being a good example). But for something with a little more raw power, easy development and cheap peripherals, a Netbook would be a great start. You could probably assemble the hardware to do everything I list above for under £300 (maybe slightly more with uprated battery and storage).

The techy elements could be incorporated very discretely — certainly into ski-wear — so you wouldn’t look like a total dork. And I think the market for something like this is actually pretty huge. There’s the sports angle (cheap tactical gear for paintballing is one idea a colleague suggested), but also just the kid on the street angle. Revenues could come from all sorts of places — hardware sales; location-based advertising; data backhaul etc. Given that the mesh network would never be the total solution for connectivity, it may even appeal to the mobile operators.

Be interested in any comments. I’m quite tempted to look into funding to see if someone could begin to develop the idea, or at least look at its feasibility.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Increasing the UK’s crunch immunity

Why are we so susceptible to the effects of a ‘credit crunch’? Why should a loss of access to borrowing have such a devastating effect? It seems the modern economy is fueled not by wealth earned but by cash borrowed.

There seems to me to be a parallel with our reliance on fossil fuels. Both approaches leave us borrowing from the future and both have a finite limit. Having seen what happens when we reach a form of finite borrowing limit — a limit defined more by confidence than cash — should we not be looking at what will happen when we run out of oil?

The Liberal Democrats propose to tackle both problems at the same time
. Rather than spend £12.5bn on cutting VAT, they would spend that money on insulating schools, homes and hospitals, building new zero-carbon homes, and expanding and improving the rail network. This would create jobs in the short term, and reduce people’s (and the government’s) energy and travel costs in the long term, making us more immune to future financial challenges. It would also leave us with a long-term green legacy that would benefit the country for years to come.

This is not a political blog and I don’t intend it to become one, but I find it hard to argue with the merits of this suggestion.

Tom Cheesewright