What would Baudolino do with social media

Reliquary for the 3 Magi
Reliquary for the skulls of the three Magi in the Kölner Dom

Baudolino, the main character in a book by Umberto Eco, lived in the 12th century; a time in which Europe was in turmoil. A very exciting time. From a modest background, he managed to climb up to become a trusted advisor to the emperor Frederick Barbarossa. One of his main feats in the book, is to legitimize the rule of Barbarossa by creating a relic that proves the connection between the emperor and Jesus. This was a very important accomplishment in these days.

But, Baudolino would not have liked to be seen as a forger of artefacts. In fact, in our current world he would be a political advisor, maybe a spin doctor. His main trade would be to legitimize rulers. He would likely not turn to fabricating relics anymore. With wikipedia and google, it’s easy to find out more about the provenance of such a relic. It would simply not be worth his while. No, he would turn to social media.
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Don’t let your new blog topic run into a dead end: spin it off

deadend

As you may have noticed, I started blogging about being a Dad-to-be recently. After a few posts posted on this blog, I felt I had so much more to share about it, that I spun off the Dad-to-be blog to a dedicated site: The Neverending Miracle. Last year, when I was working on my poetry project A Poem Each Day, I did the same. Here are my three reasons for spinning off blogs.

Focus!
On this blog here, which I’ve been keeping since 2007 after having had several other blogs before that, I try to focus on a few topics. Some posts are inspired by our expat-life: discovering things in the place we live, other by work-related interests such as innovation. Then there are the things I feel are worth sharing: interesting reads, music, observations. So, maybe you could conclude that this blog has a lack of focus. But that’s a way of keeping it on-topic just the same. Just as with the poems, I felt that my Dad-to-be posts were going to be so numerous, that they would drown out the other posts here. Plus: it is such a specific subject, that a dedicating a site to it, seems the best thing to do.

Potential direction
This blog is really my personal blog, and I intend to keep it that way. I share my thoughts here on the topics mentioned above. The poetry blog, as well as the Dad-to-be project are of a slightly different nature. And even though I am running them alone, with only my content on them, they both have/had the potential of growing out to be something else. The best way to facilitate that, is to separate that specific content from the content on this website.

Audience
While the first two point are very much ‘sender-oriented’, the main point of posting your thoughts to a blog is that people read it. The third point has much to do with the first, however, more from an ‘receiver’ point of view. The poems I published last year were aimed at and attracting a specific type of audience: those who like to read poetry online. The Dad-to-be blog also has an audience in mind: relatives/friends and those who are also Dads-to-be, or maybe recently became dads, and want to read about how another guy is experiencing all this. In both cases, the audiences are likely to also have a focus, and might be chased away if the blog is to wide-ranging.

So, there you have it: my three reasons for operating several blogs. Do you work in a similar manner? Or the opposite? Let me know in the comments.

Why you need great community managers

Quality Hunters, a successful improvement program thanks to great community management

Quality Hunters, a successful improvement program thanks to great community management

Now that online platforms have established themselves as places where your customers talk about your brand, they have also become important factors for companies to thrive. Whether it is really understanding what your customers want (to buy), increase your innovative power, or enabling customers to complain to you and share their delight with others, online platforms can make or break your company.

And with this, the role of community managers becomes increasingly important. Without talented people who identify issues, challenge (potential) customers to come up with new products or services you can sell to them, and nurture relationships with (dis)satisfied consumers, you will be lost in the ever-growing Tower of Babel that places like Facebook and Twitter have become. Without great community managers, your message will not be heard by the right people. And they will not talk back to you.

Today is Community Manager Appreciation Day, and this is a great day to think about how you have organised community management in you company. For two great examples: follow Meena Kadri and Quality Hunters on Twitter. You’ll get some great insights on what great community management looks like.

Learning languages with @Duolingo – a review

Partial screen shot of Duolingo

Partial screen shot of Duolingo

As our move to Germany is coming closer, I started to practice my German language skills again. I do speak the language, and understanding it is quite easy for a Dutchman, but some exercise is needed to become fluent. Apart from reading online news, and watching news videos, I’ve started the German language course on Duolingo.

Learning a language on Duolingo is free. The offer is slightly limited, as now you can only learn French, German, Spanish and Portuguese if you speak English, and English if you speak Spanish or Portuguese. But, for me, it’s perfect.

Starting is made very easy: you sign up, fill out a bit of your profile, select a language and start lesson 1. Even though I had German in school, speak a language that is closely related and do understand and speak German, I decided to start with the basics. A good way of repeating and getting to know the Duolingo platform.

The lesson structure is great. You learn new words, how to use them and also how to write and speak them. There’s audio, and even a record-function to let you practice speaking. After completing a lesson, you unlock the next one. For each lesson you get points, and bonus points if you make less than four mistakes. So there’s also a bit of gamification.

If you think you can skip the basics, you can skip to a test that unlocks the first levels, and lets you start at a later point in the course. If you pass that test, that is.

Obvioulsy, there are many options online to learn a language. My choice for Duolingo was not based on extensive research, but on the story behind it. The founder of Duolingo is the same guy that is behind the great innovation of reCAPTCHA. You know, that bit of internet-software that makes you fill out a ‘distorted sequence of characters’ on web forms. Originally, you could pass the I’m-not-a-robot-test by correctly typing one word, but with reCAPTCHA you had to do two. One clearly legible, the other not so much. You probably know that by doing so, you help to perfect software that is able to read scanned documents. The less legible words of reCAPTCHA are scanned words that are found to be unrecognisable by computers. The idea is that if you get many people to say which word it is, the one most mentioned is likely to be it. This same principle applies to Duolingo. The lessons are free, if you also help with translating sentences from the language you’re learning into English. Many translations, that are then rated by many people, will teach machines to translate one language to another (in my case of learning German: help translate German into English). Unfortunately, this is also the weak point of Duolingo.

Because of the limited offer of languages, I estimate that most users will choose English as their starting language. However, I also think that many users probably do speak English, but not at a sufficient level to do and rate translations. As an example of this, one translation I found that was already ‘accepted’ was the standard closing of letters. In German that is ‘Mit freundlichen Grüße’. From what I’ve seen of the English language, the correct version of that would be ‘With kind regards’. However, the accepted version on Duolingo was the more literal translation ‘With friendly regards’. Word-by-word it might seem like a correct translation, and it is rated like that by the crowd of Duolingo users, but I think it is not. Considering the fact that these translations will be used in translation software available on the web, this slightly worries me.

On the other hand, there are always nitpickers like me who will suggest an edit to that translation. So if enough people use Duolingo, we can all together make automated translations better.

Now, I’m off to my next German lesson.

Mit freundlichen Grüße!

Lessons from a recognized enthusiastic user

Recently I referred to myself as a ‘recognized enthusiastic user’, when asked about my involvement with a certain online platform. And from a user, or customer, perspective, I think that’s an accurate description. The platform in question (OpenIDEO, an open innovation community for social good) is something I care deeply about, am an enthusiastic user of and therefore talk about it often in a positive way on several social media channels, all the while trying to convince my friends and followers to participate as well. So enthusiastic user seems accurate. Regularly I get mentioned on the social media channels OpenIDEO uses, and once I even was invited to join a workshop. That’s what I mean when I say recognized.

And it’s not only on OpenIDEO where I see myself as a recognized enthusiastic user, it’s also in the Quality Hunters community initiated last year by Finnair and Helsinki Airport. Again, it was my enthusiastic use that led to me being regularly mentioned and awarded a perk. A big one, in that case, as I traveled to Stuttgart and Hong Kong on their invitation, to blog about ideas for service improvement.

But it doesn’t need to be a matter of perks like that. Because of where I live, I often fly airBaltic, if I fly. If I have a question for them, I often ask it through Twitter, and get a quick reply, or direct assistance. To me, as a regular user of airBaltic services, this is also a form of recognition. Good service, and publicly answering questions and bringing solutions also make me feel like a ‘recognized enthusiastic user’ of a product or service.

Now, how can you turn this into valuable knowledge for your brand or organisation? Well, it’s rather simple. If you want to turn me into a brand advocate, make me a recognized enthusiastic user. Don’t put me in a call-center holding pattern with music of your choice that, even if it by chance is not horrible music, sounds horrible through the phone. Answer my questions on social media channels, and make it easy for me to share. Recognize me as a user.

Of course this starts with having a good product and great service. And if you throw me an occasional bone, or make me a key figure in a user forum, you have turned an user of your product into a brand advocate.

Food lovers and home chefs: Share your dishes in 2012 with #ShareDish

As 2011 is drawing to a close, Françoise Lin and I are working on a great new project for 2012: #ShareDish. Being passionate home chefs, foodies and travelers, we thought it a great idea to create a monthly forum, on which people can share their dishes.

Every first Wednesday of the month will be #ShareDish Wednesday. We will set a theme, and ask you, our fellow food lovers, home chefs and travelers, to make a dish that fits the theme, take a photo of it, and share that photo (plus the recipe, of course) through Twitter or Facebook. Obviously, you can use earlier work, especially if you have blogged about your creations before, and don’t hold back: you can share as many dishes as you like.

For those that feel less comfortable in the kitchen: you’re welcome to join in with dishes you have enjoyed, but which are made by others.

Oh, and before I forget: make sure the photos and recipes you share are your own, or give credit to the source.

The first #ShareDish Wednesday will be on 4 January 2012, with the theme ‘New Year’. We thought it fits nicely with the time of year, and a new project. Any types of dish photos are welcome, whether it is a traditionally French Galette des Rois, or a dish you made for the first time. Feel free to interpret the theme as it inspires you! Françoise and I will be hosting the first #ShareDish Wednesday, but if you want to join us next time, let us know. We can use your help.

To follow #ShareDish Wednesday, search for it on Twitter and like our Facebook Page.

Help me provide an alternative income for poachers

Open Planet Ideas is an open innovation platform initiated by Sony and WWF. The challenge is to find new ways of using today’s technology to tackle environmental challenges. To do so, Open Planet Ideas uses the methodology of OpenIDEO, which means that there are 4 phases to the challenge. The first phase is ‘Inspiration’ and aims to collect as many inspirational ideas as possible. The second phase is ‘Concepting’, in which people can contribute their concepts. We’re in that phase now, and I have also submitted a couple of concepts.

Now, almost at the end of the challenge, Open Planet Ideas is organizing ‘Build Hour‘. On 25 November at 16h00 GMT an hour of building on and improving concepts kicks off. One of my concepts is also up for input from others. It aims to find alternative income streams for poachers in order to relieve the pressure on endangered species.

So, if you think you can help out, have a look at the video above, check out my concept on the Open Planet Ideas website and give me a bit of your time on Thursday. Build hour takes place on twitter. To make it a bit easier for me please use @arjantupan or #OPI1 (or both) when you give feedback.

Some other great concepts that you can help build on are:

Is Your Twitter Account Safe?

You see it happen from time to time: twitter accounts that suddenly send out a strange message. Mainly in the form of a Direct Message. And then, suddenly, it happens to you. Today, at around 10h30 CET my twitter account sent out DMs containing the text ‘This you????’ and a link. Let me tell you: it is not funny. You feel, and probably are, responsible for it and maybe people trust you enough to click on the malicious link. Fortunately, some of my followers replied immediately with questions and warnings, so I could act quickly, albeit too late to stop the DMs.

Anyway, I have learned something from it, which I think is good to share. So here are my five tips which I hope will prevent you from experiencing the same thing:

  1. Make sure you have a password that Twitter considers to be ‘Very Strong’. Use upper and lower case character, use numbers and use special characters all in your password. Make sure it is at least 8 characters long.
  2. Change your password regularly.
  3. Do not enter your account/password combination on other sites. Use the Twitter oAuth functionality.
  4. Regularly go to Settings > Connections and verify if you still want all these applications to have access to your twitter account.
  5. If you find out: immediately let people know what’s going on. Apologise, explain and thank them for warning you.

Een Social Computing Reactie op de Kersttoespraak

Zoals elk jaar, heb ik de Kerst toespraak van Koningin Beatrix gemist. Gelukkig verscheen op Twitter al snel een link naar de volledige tekst. Dat is het mooie van twitter, vanachter een computer scherm kijk je naar berichten van mensen die je vertrouwt, tot op zekere hoogte. En die berichten leiden je vaak naar interessante inzichten, beter begrip voor andere standpunten, en waardevolle informatie. En daar hebben we gelijk een mooie brug naar de Kersttoespraak. Hoewel ik zeer veel voel voor de oproep tot gemeenschapszin die Koningin Beatrix doet, ik ben het sterk oneens met de notie dat het contact vanachter het scherm daar een tegengestelde kracht op vormt. Niet alleen is er al aardig wat wetenschappelijk onderzoek gedaan waaruit blijkt dat Social Computing een positief effect kan hebben in het opbouwen van teams en het bewerkstelligen van vertrouwen. Twee aspecten die aan gemeenschapszin zeker bijdragen. Daarnaast zijn er ook voorbeelden van hoe dat in werkelijkheid er aan toe kan gaan. Een voorbeeld uit mijn eigen ervaringen dit jaar, is de 10K4N Challenge die ik organiseerde. Volledig vanachter computerschermen werden wereldwijd 70 deelnemers aan een hardloopuitdaging georganiseerd, en werd 2000 dollar ingezameld, voldoende om een jaar onderwijs voor 21 meisjes in India te financieren. Als de Koningin vraagt om meer gemeenschapszin, dan kan sta ik daar volledige achter. Ik zou haar echter willen vragen om daarbij ook aandacht te geven aan de versterkende werking die social computing kan hebben op het opbouwen van een sterkere gemeenschap, ook buiten de eigen landsgrenzen.

(This post is a response to the Christmas Speech of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. In exception to the general rule here, it is posted in Dutch)

Speed Up Your Service, Please

Always a fan of doing things in a new way, I really liked 2009 so far. Thanks to an explosion in web2.0 services, or at least in the number of services I came to know this year, I have been rather active on Twitter, Yammer, Posterous etcetera. It enabled me to find cool and interestng new things to know and do and to do some impressive presentations at work. That thanks to Prezi, Animoto and Qipit. I like them, and like to use them. But their various functionalities and uses – often free to a certain degree – are not the only thing that is impressive. What might be a game changer in a far larger context, is their service.

As an early user (never the first, but not that far behind), sometimes I find things that I think they could improve. Not only do these guys give you an opportunity to send your feedback, they actually respond to it. Super fast. Sometimes even with a suggestion to play their product developers into prioritizing your suggested improvement. Their open, transparent, service minded, and did I already say Super Fast? As a user you are not only happy, but you are actually willing to send them more suggestions, providing them with valuable ideas to perfect their product or service. A win-win situation. Plus, you get to show off your voluntary work in an easy way, because you are enabled to easily share your thoughts on social networks like Twitter. Which is a free commercial for them. Again a win-win situation.

But, there will also be losers from this. Although I am a very patient person, my tolerance for slow service is getting lower and lower. Because these cool companies prove over and over again that slow service is not necessary and disrespectful. And my tolerance levels are sinking to the point that I switch to a different provider earlier. One that can give me the same good feeling as the Animoto’s and Prezi’s of the world. And although a one person sample is not really significant, I bet I am not alone. This could lead to the fact that companies that don’t get their service up to standard, will lose out in the end. Their processes and employees are just not respectful enough of the needs and requirements of the customers. So, a free piece of advise here: slow service companies, please take the example of Posterous, Qipit, Animoto, Prezi, Yammer and many, many others. Put us, your customers first. You might lose out otherwise.