E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

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Social Computing Guidelines and Why You Would Still Need Them

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A few weeks back I wrote about the first of the 5 pillars I keep using with clients, time and time again, whenever they are embarking on the so-called Digital Transformation journey. Back in that blog entry I mentioned how having the right purpose is the main trigger to get things going. From there onwards it all starts rolling out and for today I thought I would go ahead and continue with the series of articles and write about the second pillar itself, which I know is going to cause a bit of a surprise, and perhaps a bit of a stir, too, because most people are not going to believe that here we are, nearly at the end of 2015, and we still need them and pretty badly: Social Computing Guidelines.

Yes, that is right, whenever you are embarking on the Social Business journey, right after you may have figured out what the main purpose is for that transformation initiative through social / digital tools, the next big activity to look into is to have a rather robust, representative and relevant set of social computing guidelines. I know what you are thinking, here we are, already passed through 2015, and we still need guidelines? Really? Haven’t we learned much from the last 10 years or so? Well, you are probably not going to believe it, but we certainly do need them! 

Initially, because when starting to make use of social tools, whether internally, or externally, you would *not* want to use or talk about rules to describe how people should behave at work, no matter how insistent senior leadership may well be when stating they want to control how people behave in this brave new world of digital tools. Narrative matters, nowadays more than whatever you would have thought of in the past, and that’s the very first thing senior management would tell you that you would need to take care of: ‘Yes, I want to have a bunch of rules, so that my employees would not be goofing off, nor misbehave and what not and instead continue to work really hard. I want to command and control what they do‘. As if that ever happened in the past, right? Bless them … 

Here is the thing, if you let that happen you are just opening a can of worms you don’t want to open. Rules, control, entitlement, arrogance, (a certain) position or status, micro-management, etc. etc. don’t work well in an unstructured, almost chaotic, network driven environment where democratisation of conversations by earning the merit, the attention and the conversation of your peers is the new modus operandi. We no longer talk about rules, but guidelines. We no longer talk about imposing a certain method of operating while getting work done, but, instead, work through influencing certain behaviours to flourish and thrive over the course of time. Openness, transparency, publicy, trust, engagement don’t work well with rules. Quite the opposite. Those Social Computing Guidelines are your entrance door into modelling certain new mindset(s), behaviours and overall good business practices. 

Now, let’s have a look into what it would be like not having those social guidelines in placeLet’s take, for example, Twitter. Umair Haque put together, not long ago, a superb piece of writing in which it became pretty clear, right from the start, what Twitter is all about without those social guidelines themselves. The World Wide West would not suffice to put it mildly. You haven’t seen it just yet? Take a good look into Twitter’s Trending Topics, for instance, whenever you have got a chance, and you will see the kind of vitriol that takes a whole new level of describing what both trolling and bullying is all about. It’s just as if we are using these social tools as an additional digital layer of sociopathy that de-humanises not only who we are, but also both our actions and interactions with others. No wonder senior leaders are so scared of embracing internally social / digital tools, if they think things would be pretty much the same as what happens out there in the Social Web. 

See? There are many reasons why you would want to put together some Social Computing Guidelines in place, before you would run into potential trouble, but perhaps there are two of them that keep coming up time and time again in the conversations I usually have with my clients: 

  • Organisations need to become comfortable with their employees making good, smart and responsible use of these social tools, so they can put together a green check on their corporate legal records, and move on…
  • And people in organisations (i.e. knowledge workers) need to become smarter in terms of how they can make the most out of social tools to collaborate more openly and share more of their knowledge across to, eventually, help them get work done effectively vs. using it as a corporate weapon of massive destruction (of one’s own digital reputation, that is). 

That’s why whenever I work with clients I firstly asked them: ‘What’s your purpose?’ and, right after they have shared across the why, the what’s in it for them, I usually ask them whether they have thought about putting together a certain number of social guidelines to help their employees, and the overall organisation, prepare for the journey. And, if not, why not? Having a conversation about potential social media bloopers and evaluating, initially, the potential (negative) impact they can have within an organisation helps understand why those guidelines may well be needed, after all. From there onwards, ‘how do we get started with them?‘ usually comes up and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and start working on them. 

The good thing is when trying to get things started we are never starting from scratch. There are tons of really good resources out there already, as well as dozens of examples, of other businesses and organisations that have graciously shared their own as an opportunity to contribute into the overall #SocBiz community effort. Take a look into the Social Media Governance Web site, for instance, where you will find hundreds of those same examples I just mentioned above. Even just go into Google and search for ‘Social Computing Guidelines‘ and you will find (first link on the top!) the one that has been perused over and over again over the years: IBM’s own Social Computing Guidelines.

Back in May 2005, yes, that’s not a typo, IBM decided to ask a bunch of very brave and rather prolific IBM bloggers to come together over the course of a couple of weeks, and using a wiki, put together an initial ‘Blogging Policy & Guidelines‘ that will then need to be cross-checked with both corporate communications and the legal teams to ensure things were all right and then publicise them both internally and externally. After a couple of weeks of frantic co-editing, updating, adding, removing, revising and working together the guidelines were done and presented to both of those teams. Not a single update was needed and IBM’s Blogging Policy & Guidelines were born. May 2005

That was, right there, IBM’s opportunity to, instead of blocking the use of social tools, send out a pretty loud and clear message to its employees, customers, business partners and competitors that, if anything, IBM wasn’t going to block access to them at all, but, instead, fully support and embrace them altogether. And IBM’s official journey to become a Socially Integrated Enterprise had just begun. Two years later, pretty much the same group of bloggers, as well as everyone else already using, internally and externally, those social tools, came together again to revise them and update them accordingly with guidelines about new tools, trends, and what not. And IBM’s official Social Computing Guidelines were born. During that time none of us, i.e. that group of bloggers, would know such guidelines would become an industry standard, but they, eventually, did. If anything, reaffirming the power of co-creation, through a wiki, of a bunch of enthusiasts, advocates and overall 2.0 practitioners. 

10 years later I keep thinking the main reason why those different guidelines (not rules!) were a success, both for IBM, as well as other companies that decided to adapt them to their needs and embrace them accordingly, was because of two different factors that were taken into consideration right from the start: 

  • Match those guidelines to the corporate culture of the organisation, to send out there a very clear message to everyone that these social tools are business tools, and, as such, there is a certain netiquette that needs to be respected, complied with and abide to. It’s how you do business, people to people. 

  • Put yourself in the shoes of those (back then new) 2.0 practitioners and ask them how they would want to make a smarter use of those digital tools in a business context. Then invite them to tell you what directives they would feel comfortable with and embrace those. Helping define a level of comfort for those 2.0 practitioners in a co-creative manner they would want to go ahead with is just the beginning of sending out a clear message, from there onwards, that you, as an organisation, do care as much as they do. Why? Well, you trust them to do the right thing. And they will. 

With those two underlying principles in mind, and with all of the resources already mentioned above, it’s now a good time to get things going and decide whether you would want to open up the process of creating those social computing guidelines, as IBM did back in the day, or whether you would want to have a representative team, as much as possible, to work on them. Either way, let’s start!

Here are though, some additional thoughts you may want to take into consideration as well when beginning to work in those social guidelines that may prove to be both helpful and relevant: 

  • Align them to current, existing business conduct guidelines, corporate values, code of conduct, etc. that you may be using already to set the tone and their overall purpose. In a nutshell, it’s still work.
  • Keep them simple and straight to the point. You would not want them to be longer than a single page people can go ahead and quickly print & have it ready at their desk for when in doubt. Don’t over engineer nor add too much corporate speak into them. You don’t need it, neither do they. 
  • Use plenty of common sense. If you see those guidelines don’t have much of that, start again. Till they make good business sense both to the organisation and to those 2.0 practitioners.
  • When in doubt, ask those social computing champions, ambassadors, evangelists (or whatever other naming convention you may be using) to give you advice. They live daily this brave new world of social networking for business. Use that to your advantage and let them help you accordingly, where you may need it.
  • Think about your customers, because, more than anything else, you need to remember the final frontier is not that people should use internal social tools and that’s it. It’s way bigger than that. They need to be able to use, in a smarter manner, external ones to interact, collaborate, connect and share with your customers and business partners.
  • Don’t spend too much time in them; get them out of the way as soon as you can and publish them out there for everyone to use. Observe and learn how people would behave through them and if you would need to adjust, correct, update them and iterate again, do it. Better adjusting on the way than having to wait for 6 months or a year for your legal team to come around telling you it’s ok. Keep the pace up.
  • Ensure confidential content is properly addressed in the guidelines. There is a chance everyone would already know what to do with it, but better to still have it down in writing, in case people might forget. You know, just in case.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected; there is a great chance once you get started with this process you would be entering unknown territory and that’s a good thing. Learning to act accordingly while on the move will probably dictate whether the guidelines will be a success or not. Adjust and adapt accordingly.
  • Finally, once the guidelines are done, publicise them externally, communicate about them, bring them up at every single place you can imagine. The more you communicate about them, the better. You would want to have every single employee wanting to use social tools be well aware of them even way before they dive right into it. 

From there onwards, let the fun begin!

It’d then be a good time to move into pillar #3 of the Social Business and Digital Transformation Journey, where, in an upcoming blog entry, I will be talking about Building a Solid Library of Use Cases to help your 2.0 practitioners dive right into how they can get work done more effectively by working smarter, not necessarily harder. By making good use of the social / digital tools at their disposal, focusing on the tasks and activities at hand to help, in the long run, entice a new set of behaviours and mindset and, overall, good business practices to become a successful Socially Integrated Enterprise. But that would be the topic for another blog entry coming up next! 😀

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10th Year Blogiversary – The Unfinished Journey of Blogging and Why It Matters

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Remember the good old days when people were writing about the death of blogging thanks to social media tools? When they wrote, rather prolifically, about how Google Plus, Tumblr, LinkedIn’s Pulse, Facebook’s Notes, Medium and a whole bunch of other platforms were just going to kill our own ability to have a personal Web Journal of sorts where we would be able to host our own thoughts, have conversations, learn and overall  build, over time, strong online communities about topics we were all passionate about and that we would keep on writing about for years to come? Well, 21 years later, blogging is still alive and kicking, thank you very much! And on October 10th, 2015, I just made it through my 10th year blogiversary for http://elsua.net. Who knew… The Death of Blogging? Hummm, I don’t think so!

Thing is this is not the first time I write about this very same topic, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the last one either. It’s also not the first time I share across the many benefits as to why blogging still rules in the social / digital tools extensive landscape. But what I find the most baffling from it all is while a few people keep claiming that it’s now a dead medium for online publishing and personal journaling several other dozens more keep talking, and writing extensively, about the many perks behind having your own blog, whether it’s a corporate blog or not. The articles with dozens and dozens of tips can get quite overwhelming, but then again I keep getting dragged into reading through all of those listicles, because, you know, we are always going to be drawn upon them, whether we like it or not, so we better try to enjoy them and move on, don’t you think? Phew! That linking exercise I just did above to curated blog posts I have enjoyed in the last few months alone! has just been exhausting!  Oh, don’t worry, I don’t expect you to go through all of them. It’ was just an opportunity for me to highlight how blogging is alive and kicking if just a sample of the articles linked above contained hundreds of different blogging tips, whether you are a beginner, intermediate or an advanced blogger. Mind you, if you are starting your own blog, or think you could go and learn some new tricks, put some time aside to go through some of those. I can recommend reading through them to learn a new trick or two. I did. 

Anyway, see how silly the whole argument about the death of blogging really is? Here we are, 2015, and we are still talking about it. Yet, we keep on blogging. Regardless. And that’s a good thing, more than anything else because, if anything, blogging should be about just that: you writing along as an extension of your brain, of your thoughts and ideas you would want to share out there with the world. Just because you want to, not because of whatever other people may tell you otherwise. It’s about a unique opportunity, we all keep taking for granted, it seems, about having a voice (your voice!) and an opinion on a particular subject at your own place, that you care about and / or are really passionate about. Blogging, essentially, writing, is all about you. You are what you write. It’s a personal craft that takes years to master, if at all, and nothing, nor anyone, should be able to take that away from you. Ever. Don’t let them.

See? Writing in your blog on a more or regular basis can be both therapeutic and rather healthy, but perhaps, most importantly, cathartic and while you are all going to tell me you keep on writing on multiple different venues, i.e. social tools, with exactly that very same flair writing in the long from in your own blog where you reflect deeper on a particular topic of interest can well be a rather intimate and overall engaging activity of you yourself and your idea(s), before you allow the world to get a glimpse of them and do something about it.

David Weinberger (@dweinberger) put it brilliantly in this particular article under the thought-provoking title ‘Why Blogging Still Matters’: 

But, we thought, the most important challenge blogging posed was to the idea of the self in self-expression. Blogging was more about connecting with others than about expressing ourselves. Truth, we thought, was more likely to live in webs of ideas and responses than in the mouth of any one individual braying from soapbox, whether that soapbox was The New York Times or a blogger read by five people. By linking and commenting, we were consciously building a social space for voices in conversation.

 To then continue with this other rather relevant quote: 

We bloggers are still there, connecting, learning from one another, and speaking in our own flawed human voices’.

And that’s where I am myself, after 10 years of blogging in this blog, and although I have been blogging for nearly 13 years now in total plenty of other blogs I have had in the past have come and gone, whether on Intranets or not; and whether using various other different platforms for online publishing the thing is http://elsua.net still remains that special place I always call Home. A place, over the course of the years, I can always return to and be just my self

‘[…] a place for the sound of the individual’s own flawed voice in open conversation with others, building something bigger than itself.’

Thank you very much for sticking around throughout all of these years, faithful readers of this blog, and for allowing me to show and share with you my special place, my blog, my home. Thank you for being an integral part of quite an amazing, yet unfinished, journey!

Welcome on board! 

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What Do You Sell?

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‘What’s your own purpose then?’ That’s the main question I keep getting asked myself over and over again after I wrote about that very same topic a few days ago. ‘Is it still pretty much the same as when you were a salaried employee at a large IT firm? Or has it changed now that you’ve become an independent adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation?’ The questioning goes on and on and on (People are curious, after all, I suppose) and I keep answering pretty much the very same thing as if I were asked the following question: what do *you* sell? Because, you know, after all, deep inside, whether we realise it or not, we are all both sellers and marketers. Thus, what do I sell then, eventually?, you may be wondering, right? What’s my purpose? Well, I have been giving it plenty of thought and, over the course of time, I have pretty much narrowed it down to a single keyword that has become my mantra from all along, even while I was at IBM: enablement. 

Originally though, I always thought my main purpose for everything I do at work was all about empowerment, as in empowering others to take control back of their work lives and do something meaningful and purposeful with it. But, then again, my good friend, John Wenger (@JohnQShift), showed me otherwise and taught me empowerment is not really what I was aiming for, as he brilliantly put together on this particular article under the rather suggestive and thought-provoking title: ‘Why you can’t empower someone’, where the sub-header pretty much nails it for me in terms of describing what I do for work: ‘Effective leading is about enabling (not empowering)’.

What do you sell?’ Have you asked yourself„ out loud, that same question in the recent past and come up to a single keyword to describe it? Well, if you haven’t, you should. I can highly recommend it as an exercise to keep you focused and very down to earth on what you would want to achieve at work day in day out. To me, the answer to that particular question is pretty much the main purpose of doing what I do for work. Enablement. Now, I fully realise that in some cases both don’t align well with each other in terms of what we keep selling may well not be what our main purpose is right from the beginning, but, in my case, it certainly is. I don’t think I would be able to have it any other way, for that matter. That’s probably why, back in the day, I decided to stick around with this job title that pretty much describes what I love doing:

Chief Emergineer, People Enabler and Digital Humanist

Organisations are pretty much broken. We all know that. They may as well have been for a good few years already and while I think everyone could venture to state one, of multiple!, reasons as to why they are pretty much borked, those folks who have been regular and faithful readers of this blog would recognise the one single reason I keep tooting my own horn on with regards to what I feel is the main problem with organisations today: employee engagement or, better said, employee disengagement. To me, all along, and over the years, it’s the main business problem out there that needs fixing and pronto! We are already pretty late, judging by some recent studies done over the years. It’s the most critical business problem to fix that clearly would impact a whole other set of issues currently happening at work, all of them tightly aligned with the overall employee experience. Let’s not forget, happy employees = happy customers. Unhappy employees …  

Yes, I know, employee engagement is a fully loaded theme already, totally overhyped and perhaps too empty already from being abused left and right. On the other hand, my good friend, Perry Timms (@PerryTimms) is a big fan of Employee Involvement. And I quite like that idea for sure as it proves to be ever more refreshing and enticing into wanting to do things different in terms of what’s not working with employees at the moment: getting them involved in the first place! I do strongly believe there is a lot to be done in terms of helping improve the overall employee experience of knowledge (Web) workers at their workplace. That’s why, still today, my pet peeve continues to be employee engagement or rather the poor job we keep doing at it, if we look into the recent data put together by Gallup from 2013 where globally only 13% of active knowledge workers are engaged at work. And the data for 2014 (US only, alas) doesn’t seem to provide us with much hope for a huge % increase… 

Plenty of businesses will keep telling you all sorts of different problems they may have, or perhaps new business opportunities they would want to explore. Yet, the lack of, or better said, the low % of engaged employees doesn’t seem to be much of a worry for them, because, after all, there is still this implied thought that employees should just be happy they have got a job that helps them pay their bills at the end of the month, and, as such, they should keep quiet and be ever grateful. And if they are not happy they can always leave the organisation that thousand other people would be waiting to fill in that position in a heartbeat anyway. Somehow it just feels like people have become, over decades!, hankies you can easily dispose off while buying some new ones. Awful, terrible state of things, isn’t it? Where did we go wrong in the first place? Where did we turn sideways from believing that the biggest asset from any organisation are their people, i.e. their knowledge workers, and, yet, they are the very first thing they get rid of when things get tough without even looking what what they themselves could well do to help out? 

See? That’s why I get up every morning to come to work. A while ago (around 2007 to be more precise), and after thinking I could change the world and convince everyone there are better ways out there to get work done more effectively through social tools, while treating your employees with respect, trust, plenty of caring, and, specially, empathy, I realised I couldn’t change people. I still can’t today. Nor can we change organisations for that matter. We can only, essentially, provide the right conditions for people to come forward, self-empower themselves and change what’s broken for them and the work they do, from the inside, as if it were trojan mice, and as a personal transformation journey of sorts that happens within each and everyone of us and that’s usually triggered by doing something, making a start, like my good friend, the incredibly talented and rather smart, Anne Marie McEwan (@smartco), wrote recently on this very same topic quite brilliantly. 

Thus, my purpose, i.e. what I sell, is to help people, knowledge (Web) workers, get enabled on changing the nature of work, for the better, for themselves, without having to wait to tomorrow for the future of work to arrive, but, instead, take action today to perhaps start making their own work a little bit more open, transparent, collaborative, less hierarchical and more wirearchical, and, overall, more social altogether while we transition into new operating models like networks and communities (i.e. Wirearchy). In a nutshell, it’s some kind of democratisation of the workplace (as Harold Marche@hjarche – wrote not long ago), where the knowledge worker feels self-empowered to make the right decisions to keep learning, iterating and improving their own employee experience, so they can then influence their customers’ for the better… 

In order to make this happen, it takes a bit of bravery and courage to realise that everyone would need to step forward and become, potentially, a leader, an open and connected one, constantly learning understanding that ‘if work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning’. And since all along I have been very much in favour of leadership as fellowship (more than fellowship) it’s the co-creative learning process we are all in together that does the trick for me, because I have always suspected that enabling knowledge workers to find their own potential leadership capabilities in whatever form and shape, while they connect and network with their peers accordingly, is perhaps our very own, and only, chance to change not just our own selves for the better, but also businesses and organisations, and overall our societies, as our mere matter of survival changing the world. Today. Not tomorrow.

To me, that’s where the magic happens, and why, 18 years later, I still love doing what I do, as if it were just my very first day at work: that is, helping others become better at what they already do. 

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The Trials and Tribulations of Freelance Work

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Ever since I went independent, nearly two years ago, a recurring theme has been coming up in plenty of conversations I have been having, whether offline or online, with a good number of people going from former colleagues, to family members and friends, to several acquaintances. It’s a topic I have been interested in myself for a good while, although I never thought I would be experiencing it first hand, but, since I have been doing it for a while, I guess it’s time to start talking, more in length, about freelance work and how it is shaping up the nature of today’s work. After all, you know, people keep claiming it’s the future of work itself.

Today

After having worked at IBM for over 17 years, and deciding it was time to move on into the next big adventure, whatever that may well be, little did I know I would end up doing what I am currently working on today. Like with everyone else, potentially, it crossed my mind a few times to become a freelancer, why not, right?, but I was never too sure. I guess that was the toll I had to pay for having an extensive corporate life, according to today’s standards. I gave it a lot of thought though whether I wanted to work for another major corporation, or just stick around with a small, nationwide business (even within the IT industry), or perhaps even work at a startup (You are never too old for that, right?). I, eventually, decided to go from one extreme to the other and see what it would feel like. See whether I would be able to make it in the long run. Or not.

After all, switching from the largest, most complex, IT firm in the world to running your own business as an independent adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation can be quite something and, now that I am nearly two years down the road with it, I can surely confirm that it can be a lifetime changing experience. For the better, of course. And since I keep getting asked about it time and time again I guess it’s now a good time to start blogging about it and share some first hand experiences on what it is like having a new single boss to respond to: your customers.

I know, and fully realise, that this new series of blog posts I am kicking off today perhaps doesn’t have much to do with the usual themes and topics I have blogged over here for nearly 10 years, but I suppose I’m also getting a bit weary of having to answer the very same questions from multiple people over and over again with the same information, so I figured it may actually work out all right. We shall see. Either way, if you, faithful reader, feel like the time for you to move on has arrived, as I introduce this new series of articles around freelance work, please do go ahead and do so. No hard feelings. Life changes, constantly, and so do we, whether we like it or not. Best we can do is to adapt accordingly and where possible. The choice is ours. Always has and it will always be. Thank you for spending your precious time sticking around for that long… 

This is also part of the reason why I decided to open up this new series of blog entries around what it is like the trials and tribulations of a freelancer, more than anything else in the hope that some of those experiences, insights, know-how, hints & tips and practical advice may help out other freelancers, as well as others who may have already started hearing the internal voice that their time in big corporate life is now, finally, coming to an end (hopefully, a happy one, too!) and it’s time to move on to something else, whatever it may well be. 

Oh, in case you are wondering, this doesn’t necessarily mean I will stop writing over here about subjects that are pretty dear to my heart, like Social / Open Business, Digital Transformation, Knowledge Management, Online Communities, Learning, Productivity, social networks, social networking and social software in general. Quite the contrary. I am hoping to be able to add further up into each and everyone of those not only from that corporate point of view of 17 years at IBM having worked with hundreds of customers over time, but also add on a fresh new perspective of what it is like being an Open / Social Business as a freelancer and describe in full length how work has shifted into networks and (online) communities to a point of no return any time soon.

It’s a fascinating journey, it already has been for certain, seeing how there are plenty of differences, but also lots of similarities, in terms of how we, knowledge (Web) workers, operate whether working as salaried employees or just by ourselves, going solo. The thing I am hoping will be an immediate outcome from this new series as well, and that may also benefit others, is how I’ll keep walking the talk on what I have preached for a good number of years now about the many benefits from working out loud, even as a freelancer, as I plan to write about how I work by exposing plenty of my work routines, tools and processes I use, etc. etc. 

It’s bound to be good fun altogether, I am sure, as, if anything, it will help me get my act together as well on something that’s been in my mind for a good while now on whether one can thrive at work as an independent knowledge (Web) worker and still have a life. Yes!, work / life integration is also going to be one of the main topics I will be talking about in terms of being able to rediscover something I may have thought I lost at one point in time: productivity, or better said, effectiveness, without having to clock in 80+ hours per week. I think I may have just had enough pretending to be a workaholic. Why should we? There must be a better way out there, don’t you think? I suppose it’s time to explore, learn and co-create together, play and iterate accordingly, and where appropriate, and keep moving on…

All in all, and to wrap up this blog post, I thought I would put together over here a list of topics I will be covering over the course of time in terms of what it is like doing freelance work and whether it is worth while doing or not through sharing plenty of first hand experiences. Here it goes: 

  • Why freelance work? What’s in it for me?
     
  • Practical hints & tips on how to get started, what to watch out for, initial first steps, etc.
  • What social / productivity / business tools may well be a must-have for freelancers (according to my own experience)
  • What are my daily work routines and business processes? How does client prospecting work out?
  • How do the finances of a freelancer work eventually? How to cope best with the uncertainty creeping in every now and then?
  • Is freelance work the panacea of the so-called future of work?  Why or why not?
  • What role do social networks and communities play in helping freelancers thrive? Are we really all alone by ourselves?
  • What other additional resources do I have available to freelancers we should all be aware of?
  • And, finally, work / life integration: do freelancers have a life, after all? 

I am pretty sure there are tons of other topics that will come up over time I may be able to include over here as well, accordingly, but, for now, I think this will do. I’ll be counting on you all as well to share in the comments, and your own blog posts!, what it is like for you being a freelancer or having worked with a freelancer (why not?). I am not sure about you, but I am excited about the opportunity to start writing about what it is like both life & work from the other side of the fence, and to explore together whether freelancing really is the future of work, or perhaps a new fancy, hyped, buzzword we have been told it will save us all from our current miseries (and there are far too many!), if at all.

Ready for this new, exciting journey? I surely am! 

Let’s go! Let’s do it!

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Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Dunes (Playa del Inglés)

When I first got things started with #elsuahackstwitter, the experiment where I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter and instead move on to using, exclusively, Public Lists, I knew, right from the start, that I’d have a bit of a challenge in terms of not necessarily grouping people together, but what names would I pick up for each of those lists, so that a) they’d be rather representative and meaningful, and b) would not offend the people included in them (for whatever the reason). It wasn’t easy. It took me, eventually, a good few days to figure it out what I would go for in the long run. I knew I didn’t want to pick something vague, overhyped or just simply buzzwords du jour along the lines of gurus, ninjas, #SocBiz experts, influencers, future-of-work, digital-transformation, etc. etc. So I decided to look deeper, in retrospect, and try to define for myself the kinds of relationships I have built over the years with the people who I used to follow on Twitter and see how I would be able to group them accordingly. Finally, after a good few days of tinkering Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From were born. 

Ever since I was first exposed to Twitter Lists a good few years back, I knew they were going to be something rather special. It’s, by far, my favourite feature from Twitter from all along. An opportunity for the end-user to be, at long last, in full control of the flow of tweets going by, according to your own criteria in terms of people added to them, timelines (no longer a limit in there!), conversations, insights shared, etc. etc. vs. having to rely on the system to do it for you. I have been a huge fan of Lists. Currently, I have got 25 of them I, usually, check on a more or less regular basis. All along, though, most of them have always been, and still remain today, private, just for me. And for a good reason: I didn’t want to expose them, nor the folks grouped in each of them. 

The whole thing changed though, when I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter, and somehow I started to feel the urge of exposing, openly, where I usually spend my time on nowadays while tweeting away. Somehow I felt I needed to show the world a little bit of my Twitter world. The time of hiding is over and while the private lists are there I decided not to pay much attention to them anymore and instead focus on the public ones I created a few weeks back. Those new lists would become my new timeline(s) and, contrary to what was happening before, they are now exposed to everyone out there who may be interested, since they are publicly listed and people can subscribe to them, if they so wish to.

In a way, it’s some kind of brutal exercise around working out loud and openness, because, all of a sudden, everyone can now peek into my daily flows of tweets going back and forth and get a glimpse of what I’m exposed to, without having to even ask me, if they would want to. Yes, it’s both exciting and rather intriguing not knowing anymore what may well happen next, because one of the unexpected highlights from having run this experiment was that even though the lists are my lists some people have decided to subscribe to them as well. So, all of a sudden, I have transformed into a curator of connections, relationships, triangles to close, and good, relevant content on what matters to me. And share it with the world. 

You may be wondering by now then why did I pick up those names for my main three public lists, right? CollaboratorsCooperators and People I Learn From. Well, initially, there is the reason of proximity, just like when I blogged back in the day how I work through Google Plus’ Circles with One50, Two50 and TheRest. However, that proximity nowadays is mostly down to how I view people I used to follow on Twitter in terms of working together or learning together. Long time ago I decided to stop following people just for the sake of following if it meant I didn’t learn anything in the first place. Life is just too short to have a cluttered timeline, I am afraid.

Working together, for me, can be seen in terms of two different types of interactions: collaboration and / or cooperation. My good friend, Harold Jarche, put together, just recently, as he has been blogging about this very same topic for a good while now, a new superb article explaining the main differences between one and the other. ‘Cooperation for the network era’ is a highly recommended read, for certain, as it will make you think twice about the kinds of business relationships, contacts and networks each and everyone of us has been nurturing over time. At the end of the day though, to me, it’s also all about commitment, what differentiates one from the other, that is. 

When you collaborate (closely) with someone (or a group of people), there is a commitment to get something done in a timely manner, to get a deliverable out the door, finish off that task, activity or a project and move on the next one. The proximity and closeness is a notch tighter than when you cooperate with someone, which seems to be a lot less about commitment and more about sharing, connecting and learning. To quote Harold from that same article shared above: 

Cooperation is a foundational behaviour for effectively working in networks, and it’s in networks where most of us, and our children, will be working. Cooperation presumes the freedom of individuals to join and participate.

To then finish up with this other really nice quote that clearly differentiates what collaboration and cooperation are, and what they are not: 

Cooperation is not the same as collaboration, though they are complementary. Teams, groups, and markets collaborate. Online social networks and communities of practice cooperate. Working cooperatively requires a different mindset than merely collaborating on a defined project.

Organizations need to extend the notion of work beyond collaboration, beyond teams, and beyond the corporate fire wall. They need to make social networks, communities of practice, and narrative part of the work

Here’s something that Harold mentions on the last quote shared above that I think is rather interesting and pretty much nails it for me: ‘[…] they are complimentary […]’. Indeed, in the rather polarised world we currently live in, where it looks like we can only have a winner, a one single choice, a simple choice, yet, time and time again, reality tells us otherwise. Why can’t we have both? – I keep wondering about. Why can’t we have, in a work environment, where both collaboration and cooperation are working together nicely to achieve a certain goal, i.e. getting work done on their own terms (versus ruthlessly competing with one another)? What’s stopping us from doing that? The company firewall and bureaucratic business practices? A business and management system that haven’t changed much fundamentally in the last 150 years or perhaps even more so our very own mindset and behaviours and our inability to change even more so, if for the better?

This is, exactly, what I wanted to do in the first place when I put together these two Twitter Lists, to see if I could combine both collaboration, cooperation and mix them a bit to the point where they would become blurry and, eventually, perhaps a porous, intertwined duality. And then see what would happen next. As a result, and rather unexpectedly, I came up with a third one for another very specific activity altogether: learning. And this is how these public lists came along: 

  • Collaborators: The original description I used for this list was the following one: ’[Some] People I’ve collaborated with in the past, the present & hopefully in the near future as well’. Remember, this list was built up from the list of people I used to follow on Twitter, not the hundreds of people I have collaborated with over last couple of decades, and the criteria was essentially to figure out who would I be able to move over here and feel comfortable about it when talking about collaboration: some of the folks I have collaborated with in the past, or now in the present, or have the gut feeling I will be in the near future. That was the exercise to be done. How close did I feel to those folks in order to collaborate with them all, where needed and accordingly, in a heartbeat. It’s my primary list, the one I check every single day and read every single tweet from and the one where I progressively move people away on to from the other lists to keep it growing over time with folks I do committed work with. 

  • Cooperators: Again, reusing Harold’s definition for cooperation, this is the list of folks I cooperate with at times in different initiatives, and where the commitment may well be there some times, or not. This was the original description I used for it: ‘[Some] People I’ve cooperated with in the past, the present & hopefully in the near future as well’. Again, following pretty much the same flow as Collaborators, except that for this one the proximity is not as close as the one for collaborators. In a way, it’s like my second tier of interactions, the networks, the communities of practice, the weak ties that sooner or later I know I will eventually be doing work together with. It’s also the list I check and read every single tweet from daily as an opportunity to help build my social capital skills with them so I can provoke committed work with at some point in time. I’ll wait for when I feel things are ready.  
  • People I Learn From: While both Collaborators and Cooperators make my primary network of contacts and business relationships (and, of course, friendships!), all along I knew there would be a third one coming, one with people I keep learning from on a daily basis from our mutual tweet exchange and that, sooner or later, I know they will all end up being either in Collaborators or Cooperators. It’s the largest of all three lists and by a large margin. It’s also the one where most of my learning happens, although it doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t learn much from the other two. I still do, it’s just on a different level (i.e. I know them relatively well already…). The People I Learn From is essentially the list where I curate, nurture and foster relationships that I will then move on to one of the other two lists and become more involved with over the course of time. Mind you, I still get to read every single tweet that gets shared across. I use each and everyone of them as an opportunity to evaluate whether we are both ready to be moved up and, if so, make the move and carry on with the conversation on a higher level of involvement and intent. 

And from there onwards, I rely entirely on the magic of serendipity, that always seems to know more and way better than yours truly, to do its thing and keep redefining each and everyone of those lists. Helping me as well shaping them up accordingly over time by constantly building a trustworthy personal learning network where not only will I be able to continue learning from in the multiple areas we are all really passionate about, but also work with, whether collaboratively or cooperatively, or both!

It’s all about building the commitment, the intent, the context, and the ability to transform our daily work routines into the networked economy, because, for as long as social networks, communities and teams exist out there, we are no longer talking about the future of work, but the present of work. The continuous today. The one we can all collectively influence each and every time, because, after all, it still is our choice.

It always has been.

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Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Winter

Over three years ago I wrote a blog entry over here about Twitter under the provocative heading: ‘Twitter is where conversations go to die’. It was a cathartic article I needed to get out of my system in order to re-find my love with that social networking tool. I wasn’t enjoying it much back in those days. Three years later, here I am again, writing about it, once more, but this time around with a different twist. I still love Twitter, as I wrote just recently. I use it every single day of the week, it’s my favourite personal learning network by far, but I am starting to question the value of connections over there. Why? Well, no-one seems to care anymore, apparently.

I have been on Twitter since early 2007 and I keep remembering fondly the time when people would eagerly connect with one another; when they would share lots of interesting tidbits just for the sake of adding further value into the network(s) and the overall conversation; when they would converse with one another and learn from each other (even from total strangers); when people didn’t have double agendas nor were just they tooting their own horn by blasting out marketing messages whole day long repeatedly. Over and over again, all over the place and time, because, you know, you need to get your message out, or so we are told. Essentially, yes, I am still missing the days when Twitter was The Pulse of the Planet: The Global Conversation. The place to be.

Still is today, in my opinion, but all of the things we cherished and loved about Twitter seemed to have been long gone and lost, and, probably, not returning back any time soon. Unless we do something about it. Twitter, on its own, it’s just one of the many hundreds of different digital tools within the Social Web. It’s our smart use of the tool that makes the difference, like in pretty much anything technology related. Always. So when you know it is no longer working out for you there are a few things you can do:

  1. Let inertia run its course and stick around just because everyone else is still in there anyway and continue on the path to get bored to death over time.
     
  2. Move on to the next shiny object where you think everyone else is hanging out usually (Nowadays, it’s Facebook, apparently #Meh)
     
  3. Or do something about it, break the chain, challenge the status quo and redefine a completely new user experience. See if it works and, if it does, stick around with it. Move on. 

About a month and a half ago I decided to go for #3 and see whether it would work or not. Indeed, over 6 weeks ago I decided to run #elsuahackstwitter. An experiment where I’d be challenging not only how I make good use of Twitter, but those around me as well. I decided to unfollow everyone. Yes, everyone. No exceptions. From one day to another. And instead of relying on a combination of Twitter Lists and my home timeline, which is what I have been doing for years already, I decided to be brave enough and see whether I could survive just with Twitter Lists and following zero people and witness, first hand, whether the conversations moved elsewhere. Or not. Eventually, I wanted to see how disruptive such bold move would be like on how we use Twitter today.

Why Did I Do It Then?

Essentially, I wanted to challenge our basic perception of how we use Twitter nowadays and whether it would make sense without it or not. Everyone has got followers and their own following, but what happens when your following is no longer there? When you decide to stop following everyone and question the purpose of that connection in the first place? Is it still worth it, is it just a vanity metric, is it an influence metric you can make good use of? Why do we follow people on Twitter in the first place? To show off anticipating reciprocation, perhaps because of what they share across or maybe because of the conversations they host? I had to run the experiment and see what the fuss was all about.

What if Twitter decided to drop off the count of both followers and following? Would you still make use of it, like you are doing today? Imagine if Twitter decided get rid of that vanity metric, so that we would focus more on the conversations themselves, i.e. on topics, hashtags, events, etc., etc., do you think you would still be making use of Twitter and enjoy the overall experience as much as you are doing nowadays? Or maybe not much really. That’s exactly what I wanted to try out, whether I could live without that ego centric metric we all seem to be very keen on nurturing to prove and validate our own so-called influence and take my Twitter experience on to a different level. That’s how #elsuahackstwitter got started over a month and a half ago and I must confess, after a few weeks have gone by, I am quite enjoying the results and the overall experience. Although not too sure about what everyone else would think for that matter!

What Has Actually Happened?

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, I can tell you. An emotional journey of sorts, testing how far I could tame my own ego, that one of others, my reactions, their reactions, our two-way conversations and see whether after all that I would still be able to survive and not want to come back to the old model of following and be followed.

Six weeks later things are back to normal. In fact, after the initial frenzy of interactions with a bunch of folks who wanted to know why I was doing such thing the craze started to fade away to the point where I am back to where I was before, but with zero following. Perhaps vast majority of people who still follow me on Twitter didn’t even notice a single bit the crack I tried to provoke in the system 😉 as plenty of people keep saying, you know, that no-one reads Twitter anymore anyway. It’s just the place where we go to broadcast our messages and toot our very own horn without hearing others’ opinions, thoughts and experiences, so why bother, right?

The thing is that, on its own, it’s transformed entirely the way not only I see Twitter as my own personal learning network, but also how I use it on a regular basis and, although I can’t tell for others, it’s helped me find a new way of making it more personal, more conversational, more topic driven (while still keeping in touch with people), in short, overall more engaging and much less stressful altogether. And that’s exactly what I wanted to achieve with this experiment of #elsuahackstwitter.

In order for me to be able to conduct this experiment successfully though I had to continue running a parallel one I eventually got started with a while ago already and with some very good results altogether. I had to open my Twitter Direct Messages to everyone. Yes, that is right, if I was going to stop following everyone sending a direct message without opening them up first would have been a challenge. So before I got things started with that I opened DMs to everyone and played with it over the course of a few weeks to see whether I would be constantly abused by this new capability with lots of spam from whoever.

And the results from that other bold move have been, if anything, rather surprising, because contrary to the perception from everyone else out there, I haven’t been spammed to the point where I’d be needing to turn it off. Currently, I am getting about 1 DM per week unsolicited from anyone whom I typically don’t even know. Very doable, if you ask me. And now that we no longer have the 140 character limitation for those DMs even all the better! I can now send DMs to folks without having to use multiple 1/N messages to get the overall message across. And it’s also working very well. Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t even come close to the 10k character we are allowed to share across in a direct message on Twitter so far, and I doubt I’d ever come close to it. 

What Have I Learned?

So, with all of that said, let’s do a quick recap of the overall experiment I have been running with #elsuahackstwitter:

  1. I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter and instead rely on three Public Twitter Lists (I will blog about them in a follow-up entry to explain what they are and why I picked up the names for them that I did)
  2. I opened up my Twitter Direct Messages, so everyone of the potential 300+ million Twitter users could send me a DM, if they so wish to.
  3. I love the now expanded 10k limit for direct messages and for a good simple reason: I am still doing #noemail every single day, I deleted my Facebook account over 5 years ago, I deleted my LinkedIn profile nearly 18 months ago, I am currently going through a hate relationship with Google Plus (As I have recently talked about), so I was running out of options to exchange messages longer than 140 characters. Yes, I know, I am weird, but who isn’t, right? heh

Anyway, over the course of the first few weeks, I took plenty of copious notes (on the side) about what I was learning along the way with this experiment. I have shared a good number of them already under the hashtag #elsuahackstwitter on Twitter itself. 45 in total, as of the last count, and there may well be some more coming up to round up on 50. We shall see. Since I am not too sure how long they would be there anyway, that is, on Twitter, I thought I would add them all to this blog entry as well. Each and everyone of them, why not? More than anything else to remind me of not only what I learned about it, but also how I (and others) felt about it as well.

I will probably just share a single one-liner, or two, hopefully, not too long, for each of them and, where needed, and for very specific reasons, I may be able to pick up some of them and expand them further in upcoming blog posts over the course of time to explain some more about them and why I wrote what I wrote in the moment.

So without much further ado, here is what I learned, over six weeks ago, from having unfollowed the 1220 people I was following on Twitter back in the day:

  1. People I used to follow back in the day started to follow me back again once I unfollowed them. I haven’t followed them back again, of course, so they are still in one of the three public lists I put together. I guess it highlights the power of sending signals across as social gestures :-)
     
  2. Number of reciprocal unfollows was rather significant in the first three weeks (About 10% of those 1220 folks). Ouch! My ego hurt and a lot! Oh, yes!, it was also part of the experiment to figure out how my own ego will react from being brutally unfollowed the moment I did as well. Very emotional at first, but, lucky enough, it’s now dead, for good.
     
  3. Originally, I decided to create a Public List with all of those 1220 folks. In doing so I knew it would be sending out a notification (another social gesture), where I’d be pointing to a tweet which explained what I was doing. The unexpected result: A few folks (about 25) subscribed to the Public List itself. It felt weird.
     
  4. I knew I could unfollow everyone with a single click using a Chrome plugin, but, instead, I decided to unfollow everyone manually, one by one. Soon enough I was immersed on a superb trip down the memory lane of the folks I used to follow from over the years (I can highly recommend it, for sure!), and whom I am still in touch with, but also others where the contact was no more. I guess it was time to unfollow for good, I suppose. Life goes on, for all of us :-)
     
  5. As mentioned above in #3, by creating that public list of those folks I used to follow, I was exposing my own timeline and making it public to everyone for the first time. Before, it was just too cumbersome to do so. Now people could take a sneak peek into what I am getting exposed to myself daily. And that is still happening today with the three public lists I created and that I will be talking about in a new blog entry.
     
  6. Ever since I started with this experiment, lots of reactions & intriguing conversations have come through. Plenty of folks seem to be rather interested in the experiment itself, what I may have learned and whether it will work, or not. That’s why during the first three weeks the engagement in Twitter was just phenomenal, till things settled back in on the fourth week and we are now, once more, back to normal.
     
  7. Apparently, adding people to Public Lists allows them to automate a response back to you. Who knew? Oh, yes, that deserves an Unfollow for good! That was my first reaction AND action. Pretty much like when you generate an auto DM response if I would start following someone. No, thanks! Not interested in interacting with bots, but with humans.
     
  8. Was it something I said? :)’ eventually came about with a smiley at the end. I knew, from other folks doing similar experiments that this reaction would come along. I was ready for it :) Like I said, folks, it’s never been personal. At least, from me. It’s about finding a way to redefine how I use certain social tools. Nothing more, nothing less. And this time around Twitter was the chosen one. Not you, as individuals. 
     
  9. This is perhaps one of my favourite highlights from the whole experiment, the fact that I got exposed to a whole bunch of great memories while going through each unfollow manually. Remembering the when, the how, the why, the what for, the good fun. It’s amazing what 8 years of building your networks through Twitter can do to your brain. A highly recommended exercise for real!
     
  10. Apart from the initial rush of reactions from different people, there were a whole bunch of other folks who decided to use other social gestures to acknowledge what I was doing. Indeed, lots of those additional responses came by as Favourites from the original tweet to share a gesture of awareness, perhaps, even consent to the experiment. I surely loved the succinct method of engagement, as it confirmed the signal ‘Hi there, I know what you are doing, go ahead and enjoy it. It sounds interesting…’
     
  11. The word ‘friend’ also came up. And it was coming from a good friend of mine, too! ‘Yeah, you know, but we were friends all along, right? Right?’ Oh dear. No exceptions! 😀 (Yes, we will still be friends, as I know plenty of other places, whether offline and online, where I can find you, don’t worry!)
     
  12. First issue I bumped into, I still haven’t figured out just yet, is how to handle Private Twitter handles as Lists can’t follow their tweets :-( Apparently, you need to follow them, they need to approve your request and off you go, but with lists following people with private accounts is a dead end. So long, folks! Sad. Very sad, indeed. But, like I said, this was an exercise of no exceptions. Unfollow everyone.
     
  13. Something interesting I learned about setting up the right expectations, so things wouldn’t come up as a surprise: Creating a Public List to alert folks was a hit! A keeper! People were informed ahead of time of what I was about to start and became aware what was going on, without having to get asked multiple times what was going on …
     
  14. Some folks indicated they didn’t like being ‘an experiment’, after all. This was probably triggered by the name of the initial Public List I used: ‘Unfollowing Experiment‘. Lesson learned for next time around: avoid using the word ‘experiment‘ at all costs!
     
  15. Another favourite highlight and key learning is how, all along, it’s been a rather emotional experience for me, but also for some of the folks I used to follow. Somehow it feels like detaching one self from something, or someone. Will it come back after a while? I don’t know, but, originally, this was part of the experiment in terms of finding out for myself how much of my own ego was driving those Twitter interactions in the first place vs. everything else. It felt like being an orphan at first, for real! But then again you get to shake off that ego and move on to better things, i.e. the conversations. And I can now confirm that six weeks later, that emotional detach is no longer there. 
     
  16. Your Twitter home timeline becomes, all of a sudden, a weird thing on its own where only your own tweets will show along with recommendations to follow people who are already following you to entice you to build the network, again. One sided, really. Twitter needs to start getting their act together on Lists as it’s perhaps its most powerful, yet often ignored, capability. There is just so much potential that we haven’t discovered just yet about Lists…
     
  17. To my surprise and pure delight, there are already a number of people who are already doing exactly this very same thing of working with Twitter lists and zero following: Stephen Downes, a.k.a. @downes (See https://twitter.com/Downes/status/628575174309318656), Simon Calder, a.k.a. @simoncalder, as examples, etc., confirming that nowadays it’s very hard to be the very first one at doing something you think it’s new. There will always be someone way ahead of you, no matter what. And you know what is the best part? Well, it looks like for those folks it’s working out really well. Who knew?
     
  18. At the beginning, I was worried that several other systems I use on a regular basis to make the most out of Twitter would break, but so far I haven’t noticed any real impact from Nuzzle, Twitter’s email digest and bunch of other Twitter Tools, as they are based on my followers and not my following, apparently. Good news! Phew!
     
  19. If you are wondering about the number of new followers and whether it has started to decrease a little bit or not, I can definitely confirm your new followers count will drop off dramatically. As an example, overall, in the last six weeks I have had 236 new followers and 269 unfollows. It looks like if people notice you are not following anyone, you are not interested in conversing with anyone anymore and therefore only care about tooting your horn. Beep, wrong assumption. A quick check of the timeline, the Mentions and conversation threads will confirm whether you’re there for the broadcast or the engaging dialogue and overall conversation. I am much more interested in the latter, even if I decide not to follow anyone for that matter. The conversations will still flow along, if you care to dive in, that is… It just requires nowadays a bit more effort. That’s all. 
     
  20. An unintended (social) gesture I am re-discovering due to the experiment: using Favourites much more discretionarily as an opportunity to highlight ‘I’m here, listening, I haven’t gone away that far’. Eventually, showing I still care about what you tweet, no matter whether I’m following you or not. See where breaking off the mold was coming from? Who knew that Favourites could be used for that?
     
  21. Interestingly enough, plenty of people view Following as a personal touch, as a ‘connection’, even if they have never exchanged a single tweet with you! How weird is that? Seriously. When did it happen we all became just numbers in a counter?!?! Really sorry, but that’s not what, to me, makes up for a ‘connection’, if we have never exchanged a single tweet! Conversations are the new connections, I am afraid. That simple.
     
  22. Here is something that I wasn’t expecting either, and that I am finding fascinating to no end: those folks I know & have followed for a long long time haven’t said a single thing throughout all of these weeks about this experiment. Silence = consent? I don’t know. We are still conversing as much as we used to, although they all probably think I’m weirder than originally thought! Bless them for sticking around all along! :)
     
  23. Oh, and the so-called ‘Celebrities’ (those people with thousands of followers and following), as usual, will still keep ignoring you, just as ever, whether you follow them or not. It’s not their game. Their game is to keep bloating away their followers and following numbers even if they cannot longer even grasp what’s going on around them. But here is a little secret: they will never admit to it, but, they, too, make heavy use of Twitter Lists. It’s how they keep ignoring vast majority of what goes around while they focus on rather small niches. Off they go … Pretending is their currency, apparently. Not ours. 
     
  24. In case you are wondering what Twitter tools I am using to handle my Lists, so far the one that rules them all, at least, for me, is Tweetbot (On the Mac) or Tweetbot v2 & v3 (on my iPad & iPhone, respectively). You can make a single list your new home timeline and then work with the others as additional ‘sections / columns’ with the overall UI and quite like that approach, specially, when travelling on my iPhone. It’s like, all of a sudden, I have gone from a single timeline to three of them: one for each public list. I have said this many many times in the past, but it’s worth repeating: I love fragmentation. Helps me make better sense of the world around me, including Twitter, for that matter.
     
  25. It’s probably hard to believe, but using Public Lists makes conversations more organised and focused, therefore much more productive, and effective and overall much more engaging. To the point where two or three weeks into the experiment I started to question why go back then? One of the biggest issues with Twitter’s Following timeline is that it’s got a limit, imposed by the system, whereas with lists I am the one who sets the limit, helping me decide what goes and what doesn’t, what I read and what I don’t. Finally, the Personal Learning Network is defined by the end-user, not by the system.
     
  26. Roughly on the 4th day, after a few hectic days of full throttle, non stop, conversations, peace and quiet, finally, came back. Very much needed and appreciated, so I could catch up my breath and come back to business as usual :) Here is the thing though, if you are going to start doing something similar, set aside plenty of time, because you will be spending that time having plenty of conversations to explain, and somehow justify, why you are doing that and what you expect to get out of it. Get ready! Be prepared for the adrenaline rush and constant beeps.
     
  27. Oh, remember the good old days when we used to blog on a more or less regular basis and we didn’t care much about vanity metrics, but about conversations and ideas we shared across? That’s what I want back. After all, Twitter is all about microblogging, right? It was never framed as micro-following (or be followed), so why keep bothering with it eventually?
     
  28. By focusing so much more on conversations nowadays, it means I have to get my own act together and become more effective in terms of what content I get to share. It’s no longer oversharing for the sake of oversharing, but sharing with intent, with a purpose, that one of starting a conversation, of sparking an idea through dialogue, not just sharing across to demonstrate my presence. It’s the main reason why I never cared about being on Twitter constantly, or automating my interactions, or just simply pretending I was constantly living there. Back then, I wasn’t, and I am not going to start now either!
     
  29. Another intriguing highlight from this experiment so far is how it is making me question more and more by the day whether I’m valued because of what I know and share across through conversations and interesting links or who I am: one more number in a follower / following list? Somehow, I keep wanting to fight the notion I am just another number. No, I am not. I am a human being with an eagerness to learn through dialogue, through conversation. Curiosity will never be replaced by a number. Not today, not ever.
     
  30. For the record, and perhaps I’m writing this down once and for all, emotional blackmail will never work on yours truly. Ever. The ‘Why did you unfollow me after all of this time we have been together? I would have never done that to you’ is never going to work, specially, if a couple of days later you end up being the one unfollowing me as punishment. I’d rather prefer to quit Twitter altogether (or whatever other social tool) and move on. Please, please, don’t play that game. It never ends well. That is not how you should build your social capital and your networks, regardless of the digital tool you make use of. 
     
  31. Moving on to the next highlight, but still, perhaps, somewhat related: What’s more valuable eventually from our ‘relationship’? A conversation where we both learn something new, or, at least, give it try, or my following you? If the latter, really? I mean, seriously? Convince me otherwise, please. Again, we are not numbers, we are people, human beings, thriving in dialogue and always keen on wanting to learn more and more by the day. 
     
  32. It’s been, if anything, a liberating experience altogether, because of tweets like this one:
  33. Or this other one: 

  34. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have realised I am now much more conscious and aware of my own use of social gestures, like Likes / Favourites, Add to Lists, Mentions, etc. etc. More engaging altogether. It helps me bring forward, time and time again, a specific purpose of what I want to get out of Twitter by not being in there just for the sake of it, but always try to add some additional value others may as well benefit from, not just myself. That, to me, is where the magic happens.
     
  35. This is definitely one of my favourite highlights from the whole lot. By having moved my interactions into Lists, Twitter has turned itself to be pretty much like Slack where a List becomes a channel. No vanity metrics, just conversations, just learning, just work. How many people do you follow, or follow you, in Slack? Exactly what I mean! Just perfect!
     
  36. Earlier on in this blog entry I mentioned what an emotional experience it has been altogether. One other thing I can add though is that it helped me learn, probably the hard way, how to let go of my ego from the vanity metric and think of Twitter as just another collaboration, conversation and learning tool, pretty much like Slack, blogs, face to face, etc. where vanity metrics are just non-existent. After letting my ego go, and be torn down to pieces, I feel I’m, finally, getting the better of me out there as I keep using Twitter more purposefully and with plenty more intent, that one of adding value to the overall dialogue without expecting anything in between. If it comes, it comes, if it doesn’t, that’s fine, too. Time for me to work harder on it. 
     
  37. Six weeks have now passed and after having adjusted to that new flow of timelines, to having let go of my ego forgetting about the vanity metrics and, frankly, after enjoying the overall Twitter user experience ever so much more, my initial gut feeling is there is a great chance I’m going to stick around with the exclusive use of Lists, although next step would be to create 3 different public lists and group people in there, so they can see how I see them based on perceptions of our interactions. Six weeks later, those public lists are already up and running, even though it was quite a challenge to come up with names that would be both relevant and non offending at the same time and, judging from the reactions from people, it looks like the choice of words was just right: Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From (In an upcoming blog post I will detail further how each of them is positioned against one another to build up my new Twitter timeline(s)) from scratch.
     
  38. I am getting close to the end of highlights and key things learned with this experiment and I think I am starting to come to terms with the fact that perhaps what I really wanted to do, all along, was to, eventually, disrupt not just my use of Twitter, but also everyone else’s of those whom I followed and see how we would all react collectively about something we might have never experienced ourselves, and see if it would have something to bring forward on to the table. For instance, a big question that keeps coming up in my mind is the following: imagine if Twitter would not have followers / following and not even show it, would you still use it daily? And if so, what’s stopping us from jumping forward and destroy Twitter’s elitism of super power users that keeps deterring new comers from jumping in and participating further along? We must make an effort in helping democratise the tool again by engaging in conversations and topics of interest vs. being purely driven pretty much by our very own bloated egos than anything else. 
     
  39. There have been tons of different reactions from folks over the course of last few weeks, so it’d be difficult to try to summarise them all. However, there is one in particular that pretty much nails it for me in terms of what I am trying to do. It comes from my very good friend Anne Marie McEwan (a.k.a. @smartco) who tweeted back in the day: ‘You are just paying attention to people in a different way’. And that is exactly right! Now, how many people can, actually, say that? When was the last time you read your entire timeline of wonderful tweets, insights, thoughts and ideas coming through? Yes, I know, I know, it’s just the river of news and we dip in and out as we may see fit, but, seriously, when was the last time you did that vs. just tooting your own horn and move on to the next thing;-)? And then we still wonder as to why people don’t read our tweets any more. Probably if we would make the effort to read theirs and engage accordingly, we may get some of that back as well… Who knows … 
     
  40. Here is another key learning that took me a while to digest and make some sense out of it: using Lists forces me to be more human, more conversational, focusing on people and what they share rather than just interactions, transactions, even, of tweets flying by. Somehow, the world of Twitter has stopped for me from pouring away like a firehose, to then re-gain a certain pause where I’m enjoying much more what people share across and have a better way of reacting accordingly adding my two cents worth of value, where I possibly can. Boy, I can assure you, if anything, how the massive quality of the conversation has hit a higher notch of awesomeness. Food for the brain and for the soul altogether! Just brilliant!
     
  41. Here’s another key insight shared across that describes pretty much the shift some of us have gone through while embarking on this new exciting journey: 

  42. Ohhh, and did I tell you how much people do appreciate being put in Lists whose names AND descriptions mean a whole lot more than just vague concepts, or over hyped buzzwords and lots of mumbo jumbo (i.e. gurus, ninjas, #socbiz, experts, etc. etc. )? Show them how you care and there is a great chance that they will be caring back in return. Just saying … :)
     
  43. Moving to Lists, if anything, has resulted in helping me focus so much more on Learning by Topic & than Learning by Following XYZ. Learning becomes more intentional and resourceful, as one idea sparks another, then another, and another one, and, before you know it, you are down a wonderfully spiral of no return that may help you achieve something you just didn’t expect all along from the beginning. Oh, yes, the magic wonders of serendipity, in case you are wondering out loud, are still pretty much intact, or, if anything, enhanced tremendously.
     
  44. Now, with all of this said, there is a bit of uncertainty, a rather mysterious one, but one of wonder and edginess. Why? Well, you no longer know for certain who is following you or not, who adds you into Lists or who isn’t, because people can very well add you to their public lists, or, to their private ones, which makes it even more interesting, as it results in embracing uncertainty by which the focus is the overall learning experience itself: Can I learn something from what you share when we both hit the conversation without knowing each other who is who and how we might be connected? I quite like that unexpected effect of conversations you never know where they will take you till you bump into them and dive right in. 
     
  45. And, finally, one final insight, which is perhaps the most rewarding so far, from what I can tell. In that exercise of becoming more observant of how people get to use Twitter around you, one can’t but notice, how, with learning by doing, after a short while, people start doing their own thing with lists, sort their following, conference speakers, attendees, folks they usually hang out with, etc. into lists. Proving, if anything, that walking the talk when trying to influence a change of sorts in other folks, actually, works! Each and every single time. How cool is that?!?

And here we are, coming close to the end of a rather long blog post that pretty much tries to explain what I have been up to last 6 weeks of running an experiment on Twitter that has certainly helped me gain new perspectives in terms of how I view certain social networking tools. Perhaps there is just one last question waiting for an answer at this point in time, I bet, from all of you: Will I go back and start following people on Twitter or will I stick around in this brave new world of human relationships and conversations rather than pure metrics and numbers? 

Well, if I judge by how much my own perception of Twitter, and how I make use of it on a daily basis (Remember, it’s still my number #1 social networking tool out there on the Social Web), has shifted for the better since I first got started with this experiment, I guess I can now conclude with these few words to try to answer that question: Yes, the Unfollowing Experiment is no longer an experiment. It’s my new reality. It’s how I plan to continue making use of Twitter from here onwards, more than anything because it helps me, tremendously, to up the game in working out loud, and therefore become more effective at what I do, and even more so than ever before (I will explain what I mean with this in a follow-up post) and, essentially, because it’s helped me understand how social networking is a whole lot more profound and soul feeding than just a meagre, worthless vanity metric. Twitter may well be the place where connections go to die. To me, Twitter is where a bloody good conversation (or two) just begins … 

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