Conferences and Social Media

I stumbled across a conference yesterday via twitter. I say stumbled across because it was the least tweeted technology/information conference I have ever come across. From over 160 delegates, vendors and conference organisers there were less than 20 tweets by the middle of the last day and only 1 delegate was actively tweeting with the official hashtag (and a big hat tip to that gentleman since his tweets were how it popped up on my radar). Given how simple it is to do and how effective it can be at driving interest it was almost like they wanted to avoid attention.

Then thing is they obviously weren’t trying to hide themselves away. They had a hashtag and an official account that tweeted upcoming speakers in the previous weeks, the opening night of the conference and a piece of media coverage on one of the keynote talks. Unfortunately that was almost the sum of their activity. From what I could glean it seemed like a fascinating conference but I had no idea; I didn’t go and could only see a single piece presentation.

So what should conferences do here?

Simple: you use your social media presence to entertain, educate and inform your audience. How you use each particular channel is up to you but facebook, twitter, blog posts and slideshare are all givens. Advertise your conference on facebook, live tweet breaking news on twitter and drive interested people towards the presentations on slideshare and indepth analyses on blogs.

This is hardly ground breaking stuff.

Each time I’ve spoken at conferences either I’ve put my presentation on slideshare or the conference organisers have done it for me. Even better is when conferences record the keynote presentations and get them on youtube for all to see. If you want to recoup costs there is nothing stopping you from being able to sell a DVD of all talks separately but holding on tightly to all the content is just bad business as you waste a perfect marketing opportunity. By all means charge for premium content but if you just have a look around at any of the top conferences in this space like Velocity you will see how it should be done.

If you are going to all the trouble of creating a conference or summit it seems plain contrary not to use all the tools that are out there. Your conference benefits, your speakers and attendees benefit and your audience for next year say “I’m going there next year”.

Starting Afresh

Well it’s been a whirlwind couple of months. After 3 years working at Betfair in London I have decided to move on and seek a new challenge.

This new challenge was never just going to involve only some small change since it was always going to involve moving my family from UK to Australia. I’ve lived in London all my life and the opportunity to live in Sydney and see friends and relatives I haven’t seen for years was too good. Upping sticks was never going to be easy but even with the amazing friends I have left behind I think I would have regretted staying and not taking on this adventure.

My entry into Australia has been eased by doing some consultancy for the Australian arm of Betfair which has lessened some of the traditional concerns of the newly arrived – like paying the bills! While it’s awesome it’s also only (and deliberately) a time limited arrangement since I feel it’s time to look for something new and it would be too easy to stay with what I know.

So here I am on the North Shore of the Harbour City, rocking out in the gorgeous weather and wondering what’s around that next corner. Whatever it is, it’s gonna be great!

Can you measure your social media impact and more importantly, should you care?

Social AnalyticsThe recent spat between Peoplebrowsr and Twitter raised the profile of one area of the social tech scene that is sometimes ignored – social scoring. Peoplebrowsr own Kred a social analytics company which offers social analytics and scoring to individuals and companies. Klout is another famous example of this and there are also Adobe Social Analytics, TrackSocial, SproutSocial, Kontagent and many others in this space. You might even remember BackType, who were famously acquired by Twitter in July 2011.

The unholy combination of social graphs, big data, nosql and massively parallel algorithms sounds like a winning hand in recruitment bullshit bingo but these paradigms/technologies form the core of this industry where the interactions and relationships between interconnected entities (people and companies to you and me) are parsed and analysed.

If you are a brand, then these companies offer real insight into your presence in the social media. If you are a person, then you probably don’t give a monkeys. Yes yes I know that having a Klout score of over 50 gets you into the Singapore Air lounge at SFO but lets be honest, if you are the sort of person that can take advantage of that benefit you are highly likely to have access to lounges anyway so hardly a deal clincher.
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Failing productively

I was in the Facebook offices in London recently. Very cool offices in a very nice location but what one of the things that struck me most was the signage on the walls.

I have to say that I absolutely love this.

It’s one thing to hear this at conferences (which sometimes seem to exist for the express purpose of making us aware of our own incompetence!) or from coworkers who have your back anyway. It’s another thing to have this as fundamental aspect of the culture corporate and just a million miles away from the lip service that so many companies pay to this idea. You know the sort of company, they maybe have a nice motivational picture of an eagle along with a pithy comment about attitude and altitude and think they are being daring. If you are lucky your direct boss embraces the idea that being able to fail is a good thing and if you are really lucky your boss’s boss does too but the whole company? Really?
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Six papers for Big Data fans

Big Data, the processing of data sets that do not fit on a single computer, has come of age. It’s not just the level of interest shown at conferences like Strata but also the types of people participating. Sure there are loads of companies out there with products in this space but there are also plenty of end users coming forward and many of these are outside of technology companies. At the London version, one of the speakers was Ben Goldacre, doctor and author of the awesome Bad Science, who discussed the impact of missing data which is a huge issue for medical studies. Even the Whitehouse has weighed in on behalf of Big Data and emphasized its importance to business.

If you are going to use a technology I’m a big fan of going to the source and thankfully in this space, a lot of the published work on this is freely available. So I’ve collected some of the papers that are key to this area: five are about Big Data itself and the bonus one is about operational monitoring for massively distributed systems.

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Psychology for Technical Leaders

When I first moved into a position of leading developers I experienced a fair amount of good natured teasing that I’d do my best programming via Outlook and Omnigraffle. While this has been true (thankfully only to a point!) it has been outweighed by the ability to have a far greater say into the resourcing, architecture and implementation of projects and how my company does its work.

One thing that I’ve become painfully aware of is that the operational aspect of this position has a larger ‘people management’ aspect to it than I had previously thought. This is especially true when you extend your view to include recruitment, appraisals, motivating staff and the like and not just setting up your teams to deliver quality code as fast as they can. The soft skills of leadership tend not to come easily to those with a natural technical focus (describing almost every developer ever) so it only makes sense to take advantage of psychology research in the areas of skills assessment and motivation. These is a wealth of knowledge out there and I thought I would discuss a few of the more interesting/useful ones that I have come across.

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Why QA needs to change

It’s unarguable that Continuous Delivery has gone from being just a CTO friendly buzzword to a central requirement for a high performance delivery team. It’s no longer cutting edge to merely check in your code to source control and have Jenkins or other continuous integration box run the unit tests. You have to be able to get that code out into a live environment as fast as possible and that means Continuous Delivery. The ability to deliver code into production at will has a direct effect on your bottom line but to do this effectively you need two things, 1) understand the important areas of functionality that the customers really use and 2) be able to test these areas as quickly and easily as possible. The first is a business issue but the second boils down to automating your testing.

The trouble is that most of the industry holds on to a quality assurance process that is directly at odds with this. The reasons are mostly historical but companies have had varying levels of success in the drive to automate QA. The level varies on how highly the company values this ability. So what levels of QA do we commonly see?

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Conference Roundup: Velocity EU 2012 and WebPerfDays

The Velocity EU conference is over for this year and what an amazing time. It’s my third Velocity Conference and it just keeps getting better.

There were brilliant talks everywhere. Newer speakers like Andrew Brockhurst (BBC), Dave Nolan and Mark Jennings (Lonely Planet), Mike Krieger (Instagram), Brian Whitman (EchoNest) alongside veterans like Theo Schlossnagle (OmniTI), Artur Bergman (Fastly), Tim Morrow (Betfair), Steve Souders (Google), Mike Rembetsy, Patrick McDonnell and John Allspaw (Etsy.com) and everyone with a compelling message. Even I finally got up on stage and did a talk along with Abe (slides here) where hopefully I didn’t embarrass myself too much. It’s not a joke that hanging out in the hallway really is a fourth track. Along with the Operations and two Performance tracks, with so many smart people the clever kind of rubs off on you as you wander around in search of coffee. You are so much better just for having been there.
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Big Data for business: be careful what you ask for

This post on the temptation of data raised an interesting aspect of Big Data: that we run the risk of being overwhelmed by data and that organisations and investors are looking too hard for the one piece of data that will be the key to success. Drowning in data is a real risk to an enterprise and something that great leaders are aware of ( lesson 3 in this awesome leadersip slidedeck from Colin Powell – “Experts often posses more data than judgement”) but being swamped by the data is not the only problem.

Another problem with casting the net of big data wide in this way is that eventually you will end up finding some sort of pattern, any sort of pattern if you keep looking hard enough (there’s an XKCD for this). The human brain is a fantastic pattern recognition system and is easily fooled (see Pareidolia) and it’s far too easy to make mistakes like confusing correlation with causation.
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