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45 posts categorized "Web/Tech"

23 January 2013

04 January 2013

22 November 2012

24 October 2012

Computing in the Clouds for Small Business

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Many thanks to business and technology writer Carlo Pandian for contributing this post:

Everyone uses cloud computing services and many of us have been doing for some time – even if we weren’t entirely aware of it!  From Hotmail to Facebook, cloud computing has been a helpful tool for millions of people the world over to manage their personal lives and communicate with friends across the globe.  Cloud computing solutions for small businesses have however, been taken up more slowly, despite offering huge benefits.  Small firms in particular have most to gain from “the cloud”   So what is cloud computing and how can you benefit?

cloud-server

A typical cloud server

What is Cloud Computing?
Hotmail is a good example; it offers online access to your email account and allows you to access emails from any computer with an internet connection.  Unlike a desktop email software package all the data and any updates are dealt with remotely.  This is cloud computing in a very small nutshell.  New services, deliverable via the cloud, have been developing rapidly in the last couple of years or so.  Now, most software that you can install on your own computer can be found in cloud form.  From online accounting software, to media applications, the range is growing every day.  This has, in large part, been thanks to the rapid improvements in broadband capability in the last ten years and also to the explosion in popularity for mobile computing.   These days, if it can’t be done on the go, then it’s probably not worth doing!

File Share and Back Up
Data back up and online document storage is essential tools for most businesses and is now available in cloud form.  In the old days, data back-up meant a memory stick, or even (the horror, the horror) a floppy disk.  This type of storage was extremely vulnerable to loss, theft or damage.  Remote back up via an online platform removes these risks at one simple stroke.   There are an increasing number of providers who can offer online document storage and sharing options; Google Docs is one well known and well trusted brand, but there are other choices.  Check out Carbonite for a low cost and flexible option or Dropbox, which has been established for a number of years and is a firm favourite with many users.

Money Managing
Online accounting software offers incredible flexibility to small firms and the services on offer from Intuit are worth looking into.  Intuit is a world leader in providing small business solutions and the company’s range of accounting software is available in the old fashioned desktop variety and in the cloud version.  The latter allows small firms to keep records up to date and produce invoices on the go.  Most small business owners will immediately see the advantage of secure, online storage for their accounts along with the huge benefit in terms of time saving that cloud computing offers for those whose business keeps them out and about.

Small Screen Solutions
Online video conferencing facilities have been with us for some time now and there are a number of different providers.  SKYPE is well known and established in the field, although it has been designed specifically with the personal market in mind.  GoToMeeting is a good example of a more business focussed product in the cloud conferencing world.  There’s a free trial on the system and a range of different options to fit the needs of small, medium or larger businesses.  The basics package allows you to work effectively with colleagues or clients across the globe, while additional packages include one specifically designed to deliver training online, live and interactive.

The majority of cloud software available online comes with a free trial period which will allow you the chance to assess the usability of each system.  For many small businesses using cloud computing solutions will free up not only space on your hard drive but the most essential asset you have – time. From online accounting software to video conferencing the world of cloud computing frees up time for small businesses to grow.

Author Bio
Carlo_PandianCarlo Pandian is a business and technology writer and blogs on entrepreneurialism and latest technologies covering everything from user manuals on QuickBooks Online accounting software to tech driven organisational change. In his free time he likes cooking Asian and Italian food and inviting his friends for dinner.

16 May 2012

Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do by Euan Semple

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Euan-sempleYesterday evening the British Library hosted a book launch for Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do: A Manager’s Guide to the Social Web by Euan Semple.

Instead of a speech, Euan was interviewed by Richard Sambrook a friend and college from their days together at the BBC.

Here are my notes from the evening followed by my selections from Euan’s book:

  • The development of the internet and social media present a unique opportunity for social change – Euan considers this a phase change in society.
  • Euan wanted to be part of that change for his children’s sake.
  • He felt that when he was at the BBC, the World Service was a role model for the rest of the organisation. There people rubbed along together from all departments and levels sharing information. Other parts of the BBC were much more hierarchical and stuck in their silos.
  • A lot of the use of early collaboration technologies were simple tools to help people find out answers to simple questions, such as ‘does anyone know a fixer in Poland’, or ‘how do you claim for petrol expenses’.
  • On a wider level introducing these collaborative tools helped to create a shared understanding of corporate issues.
  • Euan recognises that the control issues for social media for many organisations such as law firms are non-trivial, but he believes they will get there eventually.
  • Finding your own ‘authentic voice’ through blogging is so much more valuable than writing endless management reports written in “management bollocks”, to a set formula,  which no one actually reads.
  • Euan describes his idealised vision of future corporations as ephemeral meritocracies.
  • He wonders if it is unreasonable to expect people to be able to, or want to have their own voice. And thinks that education and corporate structures have led to many thinking they don’t. But he believes that ultimately everyone wants to have a say in their lives.
  • The barriers to social media are not about age, but about open versus closed approaches to the world.
  • He believes the internet and social media is the next big story after 18th century religion, early 20th century fascism and communism, and late 20th century capitalism.

The tweets from the event have been Storified here.

A more detailed summary from the Strange Attractor blog by Suw Charman-Anderson.

Book coverReview of Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do

The book comes in 45 Bite sized chapters, each with introductions and summaries. And in fact each chapter can be purchased individually in electronic format. Euan’s idea is to make it as easy as possible to spread the message to those who remain unconvinced by the benefits of social media.

An essential read for anyone with a connection to social media in the workplace (which means everyone), it is very wide ranging, quite philosophical at times, and always passionately personal.

Euan makes a strong case for the democratising benefits of adopting  social media and collaborative tools.

However, my experience of both successes and failures to introduce these technologies in various workplaces, makes me think that Euan is somewhat naïvely optimistic (an accusation he is aware of, and attempts to address several times in the book).

He ended the engaging question and answer session by saying he thinks it will take up to fifty years for the change to fully occur, and this strikes me as more realistic.

Here are my highlights from reading the book:

What is the book for? It is not a “how to” book nor, I hope, is it cyber-utopian vision of the future….I prefer to think of it as a collection of ideas that… can make the web more understandable and useful in the world of work.

Growing up onlineWe will only be able to take full advantage of the networked world if we grow up, think for ourselves, and take responsibility for our lives and our actions. I am not naïve. I know that, at least to begin with, truly thinking for yourself and saying what you think with any degree of authenticity is a big ask. It may never happen for many people. There may just be too much at stake and too much to take into account for a politician or someone in a corporate setting to really be authentic.

Don’t let the techies ruin the party…keep things out of the hands of technologists as much as possible. Some of them aren’t so bad, and some of them are re-inventing themselves…if there is a single biggest block to making social media happen encountered by my clients in large organizations it is with their IT department.

Ten steps to success with technology:

  1. Have a variety of tools rather than a single system.
  2. Don’t have a clear idea where you are headed.
  3. Follow the energy.
  4. Be strategically tactical.
  5. Keep moving, stay in touch, and head for the high ground.
  6. Build networks of people who care.
  7. Be obsessively interested.
  8. Use the tools to manage the tools. E.G. Blog about blogging in your organisation.
  9. Laugh when things go wrong.
  10. Unleash the Trojan Mice. Don’t do big things or spend loads of money. Set small, nimble things running and see where they head.

Anarchy versus controlSomeone once called me “an organizational anarchist” and I have to admit I was quite chuffed at the description and took it as a compliment…. What I am talking about here is not complete free reign for individuals … I am more interested in the possibility  of all of us taking full responsibility for ourselves and those around us – the ultimate in democracy.

How about moving democracy inside the firewall instead of outside it?

Bosses who don’t get itIf you can’t get support from your boss, see if you can get support from their peers. Find senior people who get what you are trying to do and enlist their support … Keep talking to them in their language about what you are doing and why – even if they occasionally glaze over!

Collaboration and trustThere is a lot of “collaboration software” out there that is really just the same stuff that failed to deliver data management, information management, knowledge management  and is now failing to deliver collaboration. In fact a lot of the tools labelled as collaboration tools actually work against effective collaboration.

Blurring work boundariesThe blurring of the inside and outside raises issues both for us as individuals and organizations we work for. For us it means that we have to take more responsibility for whatever lines we draw between work and non-work.

PR and marketing under threatI believe that marketing and PR are professions at real risk of disintermediation by the web. We will need people to do our marketing for us less and less as we use the tools in everyday work and start to have more effective conversations between ourselves and our customers.
Help your staff to become your best advocates. Give them the tools and the insights to become your ambassadors online.

The Return on Investment of social media – … I am becoming more robust about the ROI question and turning it back on those who ask it. What is the ROI of the way we do things now? … Where is the competitive advantage in preventing staff from using these tools to build and maintain the networks that develop their knowledge and their ability to get things done. Where is the competitive advantage in allowing your competitors to embrace these changes before you do and potentially re-inventing the industry you are so rigidly clinging to?

Online indiscretionsMuch has been made about recruitment teams searching Facebook and LinkedIn to find prospective candidates and the damage supposedly done by online indiscretions. In some ways this is an anachronistic attitude coming from people who don’t themselves engage online. People are becoming much more robust and open in their online lives. Besides, what is so awful about these supposed indiscretions? Rather than worrying about photos of potential recruits drunk at parties, I would be more worried about people who appeared to have something to hide. In fact I would be less likely to employ someone who hadn’t been indiscreet as a student!

Deal with management fearsOnline …You can’t hide behind your status or your pomposity. In fact being remote and pompous will severely inhibit your attempts at effective communication on the web.

So the answer is to help those who are disapproving or pompous in reaction to what is happening on the web. Don’t dismiss their reactions or sneer at them but make it easier for them to relax and say what they think. Show them the ropes and hold their hands rather than ridicule them as they discover  for themselves the fast changing world they have felt excluded from.

Develop guidelines-not rules, collaborativelyDon’t start with rules. Learn to use your tools, and see how people make them work before you cast too much in stone.

Use Trojan miceSet up small, unobtrusive, inexpensive, and autonomous tools and practices, set them running, and cajole and nudge them until they begin to work out where to go and why.

Don’t feed the TrollsThe best way to deal with trolls is to befriend them. Even the worst of them are human.

If your critics have shown the energy to engage, and can then be turned around to be supportive of you, then this sends a very strong signal to other dissenters.

Radical transparencyIn fact online I recommend that people assume that if you have written something on a computer then someone else will at some time be able to see it.

Does this mean you can’t write about anything? No, but it does mean you have to think harder bout what you are writing, where, and why.

Blogging as therapyBy writing about the workplace you become more thoughtful about your place in it and what it does for you.

My favourite quote in the book comes from Vint Cerf, one of the ‘fathers of the internet’. When asked by a journalist if the internet was a good or a bad thing, he replied, “It is just a thing. Whether good or bad depends on what you are doing with it.”

Euan ends the book with his final blog post at BBC after 21, years about the importance of love at work.

18 April 2012

The law of unintended consequences and e-books – Fifty Shades of Grey

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50_shades_of_greyThe law of unintended consequences is an interesting topic in its own right, with perhaps the most well known example being the unexpected use of text messaging on mobile telephones.

The latest example according to David Sexton in the Evening Standard is the way e-book readers have allowed more women to read adult fiction. Apparently the lack of a racy cover and give-away title when reading a discretely packaged Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad, allows more and more women to indulge their tastes in public. No longer do they need to fear the snorts of derision or disapproving looks as they plough their way through the latest Bodice ripper.

Apparently the growth in e-books (one in eight of adult fiction books is now purchased digitally) has allowed for a rapid growth in what some call ‘Mommy porn‘, or literotica.

The UK market leader in this genre is E L James and her début adult romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey. According to her official website;

E_L_JamesE L James is a TV executive, wife and mother-of-two based in West London. Since early childhood she dreamed of writing stories that readers would fall in love with, but put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and her career. She finally plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey.

It is claimed 250,000 copies have already been sold in different formats, and has topped the New York Times Bestseller list.

So, the next time you see a fellow commuter looking a bit hot and bothered, it may not be due to the faulty heating system on the train, but caused by something hot and steamy in her e-book reader.

03 April 2012

Personal Paralegal: The Social Media Dos and Don’ts to Protect Your Privacy

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1384549_93705926b_httpwww.sxc.huprofilechidseyMany thanks to Fiona Causer from Paralegal.net for writing this useful guide to Social Media Privacy.

In this day and age, it behooves everyone to use social media to some degree – and it can be a great and fun way to keep track of friends, promote a product, or interact with customers. But with this freedom of idea and information exchange has come a new platform for privacy to be compromised by Internet predators, governments or even potential employers with whom one may be seeking employment.

With these cases of privacy violations on the rise, they have become a key topic of interest to paralegal schools looking to equip their graduates with the correct tools to navigate the murky waters of privacy law.  With social media usage sky-rocketing, more accounts of privacy violations will surely arise.  In order to protect your privacy, there are certain Dos and Don’ts that need to be kept in mind when using sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Foursquare.

Do:

1.     Follow the sites you are on regularly. If someone posts to your wall or says something unflattering, inappropriate or untrue about you, you want to be able to react within hours, not days or weeks.

2.     Know the privacy policies of each site. Reading the fine print can be a drag, but it allows you to understand what information is publicly viewable, what information is shared with other companies and what options you have in protecting yourself.

3.     Think before you post. You may write things or provide information that you later regret. If you’re angry or upset, wait a few hours before posting.

4.     Make sure that you have the latest security updates installed in your computer. This is just generally good advice. Also, consider downloading Facebook’s security software to further protect yourself.

5.     Keep your credit card and bank information to yourself. With the ubiquity of online purchasing, there’s a tendency to get a little too free with one’s financial information. If you’re not on a secure site with the intent to purchase, there’s no reason to provide this information.

Don’t:

1.     Don’t accept requests from strangers, particularly if something seems fishy. They may be after your password, or attempting to pass you a virus. Check out who they are before clicking on any links they provide.

2.     If you’re an individual, don’t provide your exact address, particularly on Foursquare. People can tell when you’re on vacation – publicly letting them know that you’re out of town, while also showing them a map to your door is a bad idea.

3.     Don’t let unflattering photographs be tagged. Facebook will allow you to un-tag any photos taken of you. Make sure you’re in control of your own images.

4.     Don’t post without proofreading. Spelling errors, clumsy grammar and typos all serve to make you look bad – and it gives view to a private thought process that you may want to keep to yourself. In other words, no reason to show others your first drafts. An extra minute and you can look much better.

5.     Don’t keep an account if you’re not going to use it. Especially if you’re running a business, having a Twitter account (or other account) that is only used once every five months is worse than having no account at all. Plus, because it appears that you’re inattentive, it’s ripe for poachers, who may start using your account to spam others connected to you.

30 March 2012

Archiving video games – the search for the impossible

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gameCity_logoOn Monday we had a presentation from James Newman and Iain Simons, co-authors of 100 Video Games, co-founders of Game City, and co-founders of the UK National Videogame Archive. And what an entertaining pair they made, switching seamlessly from slide to slide and from one to the other. They handled the great many enthusiastic interruptions from the very knowledgeable audience with patience and politeness.

They were at the British Library to talk about why the archive was created in 2008 and progress it has made since then. In practice much of the talk was explaining why it is impossible to archive vidoe games, due to their very temporary nature. Even the plastic of the early consoles is starting to degrade, ending eventually in a pile of fine grey dust.

With my background in computer science, I was expecting to hear about all the clever ways programmers are preserving the games so that they are playable on current hardware. They did talk about emulators and the good work fan programmers are doing, but ultimately their efforts are doomed to failure.

It will never be possible to exactly replicate the way the games played back on cathode ray tube (CRT) screens and 16 bit processors. And even if you could, the cultural context will have been lost. Consequently they are concentrating on preserving the experience of game-playing rather than the games themselves.

They do this by capturing live game playing at events like GameCity, and preserving written material relating to games such as Walkthroughs, also known as cheats.

They ended their fascinating and stimulating presentation with a wonderfully rude example of the challenges of completing a Super Mario Brothers level. This has had an amazing 20 million views on YouTube, but comes with a health warning as it is fully of swearing in response to the frustrations of playing the game.

As something of a failed gamer, it certainly make me laugh.