On becoming a Glass Room Ingenius

I RARELY LOOK at email newsletters, even the ones I’ve subscribed to, but in September I opened ‘In The Loop’ from a Berlin technology collective called Tactical Tech, and inside was a dream opportunity to build on work begun during my sabbatical.

BE AN INGENIUS FOR THE GLASS ROOM LONDON
The Ingenius is the glue that holds The Glass Room together. We’re recruiting individuals who we can train up with tech, privacy and data skills in order to support The Glass Room exhibition (coming to London in October 2017). As an Ingenius you’d receive four days of training before carrying out a series of shifts in The Glass Room where you’d be on hand to answer questions, give advice, run workshops, and get people excited about digital security.

Having spent the first eight months of 2017 studying cybersecurity and cleaning up my own online practices, I had started offering free help sessions in our local café. Engagement was poor – it turns out that free infosec sessions aren’t in demand because busy people tend to put these things on the backburner and just hope they don’t get hacked in the meantime.

Francis Clarke, who co-runs the Birmingham Open Rights Group which campaigns around citizens’ digital rights, warned me that topics like infosec and data privacy were a hard sell. Friends and family confirmed it with ‘I don’t care if I get sent a few contextual ads’ or ‘I have nothing to hide’.

So how do you get people to become aware and start to care about their online practices?

Answer: The Glass Room.

***

The Glass Room – presented by Mozilla and curated by Tactical Tech – in every way resembles a bright, shiny tech store inviting passers-by in to check out its wares. Yet another shop on a busy London street. But the items on show are not gadgets but exhibits that help people look into their online lives and think more critically about their interactions with everyday digital services.

To be honest, I mostly saw The Glass Room as providing a readymade audience who were up for talking about this stuff because talking would enable me to get everything I’d been learning out of my head and also level up on my own understanding of the issues.

I didn’t think I would stand a chance of being selected but I applied anyway. I’ve listed some of the questions from the application and my (short version) answers for a bit more context on why I started on this journey – otherwise feel free to skip ahead.

Why are you interested in becoming an Ingenius? (provide 3 reasons)

Individually – I was blown away by Edward Snowden’s revelations and the Citizenfour documentary. I have been data detoxing and self-training in infosec, and I’m very interested in the engagement tools and workshop resources.

Locally – I’m involved in several campaigns. I want to help individuals and campaigners know how to keep their data and communications private and secure.

Nationally/internationally – I’m concerned with the normalisation of surveillance (both governmental and commercial) and how the line is constantly being redrawn in their favour. I would like to understand more about the politics of data and how to think about it more equitably in terms of the trade-offs concerned with policing, sensitive data sharing, commercial data capture and the individual right to privacy.

What do you think about the current state of privacy online?

I have concerns both about privacy clampdowns by governments and mass surveillance by commerce. I love the internet but find the fact that I have to jump through so many hoops to avoid being tracked or identified worrying. I feel I am part of some subversive resistance just to have control of my own data and this is intensifying as I have a writing project that I want to keep anonymous (almost impossible I since have discovered).  I’m also concerned that enacting the paths to anonymity may flag me on a list and that this may be used against me at some future point, especially if there is no context in the data.

I think our right to privacy is disappearing and the biggest issue is getting people to care enough to even talk about that. We seem to be giving up our privacy willingly because of a lack of digital literacy about how our information is being used, the dominance of data brokers such as Google and Facebook (for whom we are the product), the lack of transparency about how algorithms are processing our data, and so on. The issue feels buried and those who control information too powerful to stop.

How would you take the experience and learning as an Ingenius forward?

I’ll be taking it into my local community through advice surgeries in cafés and libraries. There seems to be little privacy/security support for individuals, activists, campaigners and small businesses. I also hope it will give me the wider knowledge to become more involved with Birmingham Open Rights group, which operates at a more political level.

Finally, I aim to connect more widely online around these topics and investigate options for setting up something to help people in Birmingham if I can find suitable collaborators.

***

I’M IN!

This is one of those things that will completely take me out of my comfort zone but will also likely be one of the best things ever.

***

THE GLASS ROOM when it ran in New York City saw 10,000 come through the doors. In London, on the busy Charing Cross Road, just up from Leicester Square, the figure was close to 20,000.

I was fretting  about all sorts of things before my first shift, mostly about standing on my feet and talking to people all day – normally I sit at a desk and say nothing for eight hours that isn’t typed. I was also nervous that despite the excellent four days of Glass Room training, I wouldn’t know enough to answer all the random questions of ‘the general public’, who might be anything from shy to panicked to supertechy.

But it was fine. More than fine, it was exhilarating, like the opening night of a show you’ve been rehearsing for weeks. If anything, I had to dial it back so that visitors would have a chance to figure things out for themselves. The team were lovely and the other Ingeniuses supportive and funny. Most importantly, the visiting public loved it, with 100-strong queues to get in during the final weekend of the exhibition.

It must be a complete rarity for people to want to come in, peruse and engage with items about wireless signals, data capture and metadata. But by materialising the invisible, people were able to socialise around the physical objects and ask questions about the issues that might affect them, or about the way big data and AI is affecting human society.

Day after day, people wandered in off the street and began playing with the interactive items in particular: facial recognition to find their online lookalikes, nine volumes of leaked passwords to find their password, newsfeed scanning to find the value of their data, the stinky Smell Dating exhibit to find out who they were attracted to from the raw exposed data of three-day-old T-shirts (c’mon people – add some metaphorical deodorant to your online interactions!).

They also spent time tuning into the trailers for highly  surveillant products and brands, and watching an actor reading Amazon Kindle’s terms and conditions (just under nine hours, even in the bath).

And they gathered en masse around the table-sized visualisations of Google’s vast Alphabet Empire that goes way beyond a search engine, Amazon’s future Hive factory run mostly by drones and other robots, Microsoft’s side investment into remote-controlled fertility chips, Apple’s 3D pie charts of turnover and tax avoided, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s House where you can buy total privacy for just $30 million.

***

THERE WERE THREE themed areas to explore inside The Glass Room, with three further spaces to go deeper and find out more:

  1. Something to hide – understanding the value of your data and also what you are not hiding.
  2. We know you – showing what the big five of GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft) are doing with the billions they make from your online interactions with them.
  3. Big mother – when technology decides to solve society’s problems (helping refugees, spotting illegal immigrants, health sensors for the elderly, DNA analysis to discover your roots), the effect can be chilling.
  4. Open the box – a browsing space on the mezzanine floor full of animations to explain what goes on behind the screen interface.
  5. Data Detox Bar – the empowerment station where people could get an eight-day Data Detox Kit (now online here) and ask Ingeniuses questions about the exhibition and issues raised.
  6. Basement area – an event space hosting a daily schedule of expert talks, films and hour-long workshops put on by the Ingeniuses.

During the curator’s tour by Tactical Tech co-founder Marek Tuszynski, what impressed me most was the framing for The Glass Room. This is not a top-down dictation of what to think but a laying out of the cards for you to decide where you draw the line in the battle between convenience and privacy, risk and reward.

I handed out kit after kit to people who were unaware of the data traces they were creating simply by going about their normal connected life, or unaware that there are alternatives where the default isn’t set to total data capture for future brokerage.

Some people needed talking down after seeing the exhibition, some asked how to protect their kids, others were already paranoid and trying to go off the grid or added their own stories of life in a quantified society.

***

THERE ARE THREE LESSONS I’ve taken away from my experience in The Glass Room to apply to any future sessions I might hold on these topics:

  1. Materialise the invisible – bring physical objects (art, prototypes, kits, display devices) so that people can interact and discuss, not just read, listen or be told.

2. Find the ‘why’ – most people are unaware of, or unconcerned about, the level of data and metadata they produce until they see how it is aggregated and used to profile, score and predict them. Finding out what people care about is where the conversation really starts.

3. More empowerment and empathy, less evangelism– don’t overload people with too many options or strategies for resistance, or polarise them with your own activist viewpoint. Meet them where they are at. Think small changes over time.

***

IT’S BEEN A MONTH SINCE The Glass Room and I’m proud of stepping up as an Ingenius and of overcoming my own fears and ‘imposter syndrome’.

As well as doing nine shifts at The Glass Room, I also ran two workshops on Investigating Metadata, despite being nervous as hell about public speaking. There are eight workshops modules in Tactical Tech’s resources so it would be interesting to work these up into a local training offering if any Brummies are interested in collaborating on this.

I wrote a blog post for NESTA about The Glass Room – you can read it here: Bringing the data privacy debate to the high street.

I did the Data Detox Surgery at an exhibition called Instructions for Humans at Birmingham Open Media, and also set up a mini version of The Glass Room with some pop-up resources from Tactical Tech – there’s a write-up about that here. The Ingenius training gave me the confidence and knowledge to lead this.

Leo from Birmingham ORG has also had Glass Room training so we will be looking for opportunities to set up the full pop-up version of The Glass Room in Birmingham in 2018. Get in touch if you’re interested– it needs to be a place with good footfall, somewhere like the Bullring or the Library of Birmingham perhaps, but we’re open to ideas.

There’s also a more commercial idea, which arose at the Data Detox Surgery, to develop this as an employee engagement mechanism within companies to help make their staff more cyber-secure. If employees learn more about their own data privacy and can workshop some of the issues around data collection, then they are more likely to care about company processes around data security and privacy. In short, if they understand the personal risks, they will be more security-conscious when working with customer or commercial data.

As ever, watch this space, or get in touch if you think any of this should be taken to a coffee shop for further discussion and development. You can also connect with me on Twitter if you want to follow this journey more remotely.

Thanks for staying to the end.

 

My digital switchover

Digital-Switchover-mix

I wasn’t going to post this but the above is what happens when a pun comment and some beery late night Photoshopping collide. All those TV reminders about the analogue-to-digital switchover in September must have also seeped into my brainz.

How many of the following can you spot in the picture: Robots (5), switches (3), iPhone, TV switchover logo, 8bit nerd, Twitter, multicoloured pixels, newspaper hat, newspaper, cat, magazine and me (twice)?

For the record I used to be a print journalist, now doing purely digital work. Hence the personal mashup of what is in my head now.

The reason I did post this in the end is because I realised afterwards that this IS, in fact, how I tend to learn my digital skills. I muck around with whatever software until I learn how to use it.

In this case, it was Photoshop, which I usually only use for prepping images for the web. Here I got to really delve around with cropping, polygonal lasso, transform, cut and paste, sharpen, rotate and a whole world of effects and settings under the filter menu. It was fun (if never-ending).

So welcome to another 1am production, featuring Creative Commons images from:

  1. http://www.flickr.com/photos/96khz/3127953038/
  2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/3351164820/
  3. http://www.flickr.com/photos/kb35/430976324/
  4. http://www.flickr.com/photos/90956819@N00/3778677707/
  5. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivyfield/4763965911/
  6. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dottiemae/5187384681/
  7. http://www.flickr.com/photos/25391595@N03/2447187344/
  8. http://www.flickr.com/photos/katerha/4259440136/
  9. http://www.flickr.com/photos/doviende/77324602/
  10. http://www.flickr.com/photos/psd/2892157056/
  11. http://www.flickr.com/photos/l_bo/4557215868/
  12. http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexlane/1779591809/
  13. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mujitra/4142397250/
  14. http://www.flickr.com/photos/bull3t/2615929761/

 

Want to become a company blogger?

Here are the quick links to my Blogger’s Style Guide, which I’ve posted over on my Subs’ Standards blog as a series of 10 posts.  This is the ‘how-to’ that I give to my company bloggers when they start writing posts for their employer’s blog. It acts as a support document for those who know their subject well, but know little about blog writing or publishing in general.

Blogger’s Style Guide

  1. How is blogging different?
  2. What readers like / ideas for your posts
  3. How to structure long posts
  4. Short or long?
  5. What does SEO mean for writers?
  6. Links are good!
  7. Five tips on tone
  8. Comments and feedback
  9. Writing a good title
  10. Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!
Of course, what happens after the raw copy comes in is a whole ‘nother series about content and blogger wrangling.

I’m also finding that this is overlapping with my Content Strategy work so I’m hoping to add posts on #CSforum10 here on this blog soon for those interested in the Content Strategy Forum in Paris last month.But I’d rather do it in context of my ongoing content strategy audits rather than just report back on the event so need to sort some permissions first.

RIP Sub-editing 1987-2008

My blog mentor used to say keep your posts short. One point per post. Three paragraphs should do it.

Well, here it is. The perfect post. Albeit leading to 3,000 >more< words of juicy goodness about a trade that is being eroded, outsourced and killed off as mainstream media declines. Over on Subs’ Standards, I’ve just posted up the final chunk of a three-part epic looking back over my 21 years as a sub-editor.

And here is it: RIP Sub-editing 1987-2008. Enjoy! Meanwhile check out these taster pics: of my old-skool kit and the changing size and shape of technology…

Typewriter, typescale, proof marks, reproduction computer
Typewriter, typescale, proof marks, reproduction computer
Typewriter vs laptop
Silver Reed vs MacBook

Five things I gained at SXSW 2010

Shuffleboard networking
Shuffleboard networking in Austin

After posting about the 12 things I learnt at SXSW 2010, here’s a more practical roundup of the things I came away with.

I gained…

* …some content strategy contacts
This was one of my main reasons for attending. Content strategy was a SXSW Interactive content buzzphrase this year. The content panels were packed out and the queen of content strategy Kristina Halvorson gave a talk that felt more like a keynote presentation. Content is messy and soaks up resource so it makes sense to apply some thinking to it ahead of where it usually gets chiselled in –ie,  right at the end. Anyhoo, there was an impromptu content strategy meetup, in a bar natch, to meet the early adopters. I now have at least two business cards in my biz-card-takehome-pile from people who I feel I can contact for help and advice. Also, Ruth Ward of Rewired PR and I are thinking of setting up a content strategy meetup in Birmingham for those looking to make the leap from web writing/editing, online PR/marketing, UX or IA into this growing field – as you can see on the link, all CS meetups are currently in the US. It’s an opportunity to bring Bham companies ahead of the curve.

* …a spontaneous urge to take up improv
Improv lessons for freelancers has inspired me to sign up for improv, which is not only a bit of fun, but also a confidence-booster when you’re being put on the spot in client-vendor relationships. Having been put on the spot in this session myself by some smart-arse on the front row, I realise I could do with learning to think and process on my feet a bit faster as well as learning the Whose Line Is it Anyway? art of the winning instant comeback.

* …the skill of shuffleboard networking
The great thing about SXSW is that it is more a festival than a conference. You can meet old friends and find new ones ridiculously easily. This year, one of the leading meet spots was at Buffalo Billiards over a game of table shuffleboard (see above). I think I had beginner’s luck with it and opened up some a can of Brummie whoop-ass on various delegates after randomly pairing up with the CEO/founder of TripLittle.

* …some potential work leads
It’s too early to say but I have a meeting lined up in April to do some blogging. And with a bit of luck, it might even lead to some international working. Watch this space. I also hope that all the chat about how digitally connected and determined we are in the West Midlands has fallen on fertile ground. With 25 of us out there shouting about the region, hopefully there will be some positive outcomes from the trip.

* …a haze of insight and context
It’s too early to assimilate all the things I heard and learnt over the five days at SXSW but it will feed into all the work that I do over the next 12 months. It feels kind of like doing an A’Level in a weekend and, at the moment, I’m post-exam with a blank mind, a whole lotta jet lag and the feeling of never wanting to work again.

SXSW – the Glastonbury of conferences

SXSW badge pickupA little SXSW diary catchup… It’s the halfway point of SXSW Interactive and I’m still gearing up into this festival to end all web festivals.

Here’s my personal/business mission statement for this year’s event – slightly different from last year as I’m being part-funded to attend by the UK’s Digital Mission along with about 25 others from the West Midlands. See the Heart of Austin site for more on who we are – but with a trade show stall the size of the UK’s stand and no other UK region represented here, you can see how much Birmingham UK values the digital dollar and I think is also representative of what a digitally connected hub the Midlands is.

SXSW Diary: from Miami to Austin
Arrived into Austin on Thursday at 9.30 am after 22 hours of train travelling from New Orleans and 25 hours of no sleep – you can see the state of me in this ‘Let’s look at the brewery’ video as I fail spectacularly to be a tourist guide to San Antonio from the train.

There will also be content going up on my travel blog, Tourist vs Traveller,  about my Amtrak train and Greyhound road trip from Miami to Austin via Atlanta, Birmingham and New Orleans. But mainly about the 24 hours this Brummie spent in our namesake city, Birmingham Alabama.

I’m also adding to my Flickr picture set as the days go by: SXSW2010 and USA2010 – if you want to see the trip that led up to the festival and see what Birmingham, Alabama looks like.

Thursday/Friday saw badge pickup – where I learnt that it pays to be late. Never to turn up at the listed time but at least two hours later if you want to avoid the queues.

First panels: mobile UX and improv lessons

Watching a keynote simulcast
Watching Danah Boyd's keynote simulcast in an empty hall because all my panels were oversubscribed

My kick-off panel was the UX of Mobile, which is a whole new world of design, dev and content and one that may lead website design in future rather than the other way round. In future, mobile design will be a key driver in all digital design, was the expert view, because shrinking down website to fit on a small screen (surprise, surprise) doesn’t work.

I spent most of this panel, however trying to track down a certain Bharath Kumar who had left his memory stick on a corridor floor by a power socket. It was like trying to solve a mystery. You’d think everyone at SXSW would be easily findable on the Web, but I tell you, Bharath Kumar is a VERY common name. In the end we found his mobile number somewhere on the stick and texted him. And he lived happily ever after.

The afternoon’s best session was Improv Lessons for Freelancers – and has inspired me to take up improv if there are any such sessions in Birmingham UK… This is not just about how to be charming to your clients but how to, for example, say yes positively to their ‘Make it pop’ requests without actually committing yourself to a bad design decision – or extra unpaid work.

How to network at SXSW
Over a margarita, of course. Thursday evening was the SXSW West Midlands networking dinner at the Iron Cactus, the social and business bonding oiled by the drink of SXSW: the margarita. Parties are another major feature of SXSW.

I’m a relative new arrival into Birmingham’s digital scene – see September 2009’s Why I am moving back to Brum – so it was good to cement a few friendships and to let people know that I’m a web writer, web editor and content strategy person who can plug into the commercial scene in Birmingham and create content for clients/agencies that need a professional web writer/editor.

The serendipitous Glastonbury effect

Why Keep Blogging panel
Why Keep Blogging panel

Saturday was a frustrating day. Every panel I chose to attend had a mile-long queue to get in.

But this is where SXSW reminds me of Glastonbury in that it’s all good. If you can’t get to something you want to see because it’s over the other side of the site and four floors up, or it’s oversubscribed, then there are some great little gigs right next to you. It may not be your subject but you can still take away something from it.

Critical Tits, for example, was an interesting one – a conversation where the Burning Man festival was being called to account for its new and tight restrictions on photography, where they see anything shared to a wider audience as ‘commercial use’. I think the move has stemmed from people snapping naked female artists and those shots appearing on porn sites. But the clamp down seems excessive and controlling being applied across the board as it is. I may be wrong on this, I didn’t get the full lowdown as the session was interrupted by an emergency fire alarm and evacuation of the whole Austin Convention Center.

I also attended Why Keep Blogging by some of the original superstars of blogging (SXSW is great for attracting big names) and How to Create a Viral Video – which was (possibly) more fun than useful but made by the attendance of Damian Kulash of OK Go viral video fame.

How to create a viral video
I think OK Go’s music has become secondary to their videos, but, OMG, This Too Shall Pass is a damn fine video. It starts with domino toppling and ends in the most astonishing series of pop music Mousetrap that you will ever, ever see. Ever.

An incredible idea if you can afford the 60 engineers and six months it took to make. Although the point was made that the record company couldn’t afford it but commercial sponsors State Farm Insurance could – and got very positive comments from the millions who have seen the video. And the only product plug was their logo on the side of a truck that sets the first domino falling, plus a credit at the end.

Now that’s what I call marketing 2010!

Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson
Kristina Halvorson presents Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy FTW was the highlight of my day. I received a major info download that is currently swirling around my head so will post another time on that.

Over the next year, I’m looking at employing content strategy for We Are Fierce in Birmingham and helping them to bring their festival, consultancy and training arms all under one unified web presence over the next year.

I’m not sure what will result, but it’s going to be interesting as few organisations pay this much attention to the haphazard and messy world of content. We shall bring order! And the basic premise is ‘Less is More’.

Will also be attending CS Forum 2010 – an entire conference devoted to the growing discipline of Content Strategy.

Daily Strangeness from Dorkbot to Kick-Ass

Dorkbot with dorkhat
Dorkbot with dorkhat

Finally, last night was fun. After a brief stop-off at the Dorkbot tent to twiddle some knobs (here I am with a BleepLabs Thingamagoop), we were hijacked on Sixth Street into a cab for an interview for (I think) DVD bonus features for a new superhero flick. SXSW Film Festival saw the premiere of Kick-Ass – a superhero movie based on a comic book of the same name – we signed our Hollywood movie waiver and proceeded to be drilled about what type of superhero skills we would have and who’s ‘ass’ would be like to kick and why, as we were driven around the streets of Austin in a cab emblazoned with Kick-Ass all over it.

It was one of those mad, interstitial Glastonbury moments that is tertiary to the main event but one of the things you remember most. After all, the slogan and ethos of this city and this festival is ‘Keep Austin weird’.

Off now to enjoy Tuttle at SXSWi, an inaugural Content Srategy meetup, Fray Café tonight and see what else Sunday brings. It’s going to be fun.

My first video interview ends in a Midlands Today fantasy

This is quite exciting, to me anyway, because I’ve done print interviews and I’ve taken video – now I’ve finally put both together. There are lots of mistakes but on the whole I’m not unhappy with it, especially as it runs uncut with no major hiccups.

Video interviewing feels kind of like driving a car. You can steer perfectly well but then you have to learn to duck-paddle your feet at the same time. Ie, you can ask questions but you also have to be thinking about the shot, and the directional mic (oops), and a good final line, and what they are saying, and what you might ask next, and oh dear, did I not even mention the name of the shop or who Chris and Pete are. (Well, it was spontaneous.)

In digital journalism, you’ll also most likely be holding the camera, too – fortunately, it was an easily manageable Flip in this case – but it can be hard to hold it steady when you’re gesturing with the other hand to keep on talking or trying to direct Pete Ashton back into shot…

Then you’ll need to write up a traditional news intro for your BBC Midlands Today presenters (or whoever), something like:

‘Retail is hard!’ – that’s the view of two local bloggers who have become shop managers overnight after opening the BullRing’s first-ever pop-up arts shop.

Local artists in Birmingham will be competing alongside big names such as Debenhams and Selfridges, after Chris Unitt and Pete Ashton were offered the chance to turn their arts blog into a retail opportunity in one of Europe’s largest shopping centres.

Called Created in Birmingham, after the blog, the shop aims to sell everything from paintings and prints, t-shirts to local photographs, all made by Birmingham artists. Shoppers are even being encouraged to come in and have a chat on the sofas to find out more about the artworks and how they are made.

It opened last night [25.02.2010] and we went along just as they let out their last customer…

Created in Birmingham shop opening night from Katchooo on Vimeo.

Then simply finish with a few quick voxpops with local grizzled shoppers, a cheesy chat between Nick Owen and Suzanne Virdee, and that’s a wrap.

Ok, well maybe I need a bit more practise first.

For more on the CiB shop, here’s the lowdown from the CiB blog.

Two simple ways to justify online spend to the boss

AVINASH_KAUSHIK
Avinash Kaushik gets ready to speak at SES London

There’s a lot of talk at Search Engine Strategies 2010 London about ‘doing it right’. SES London is a three-day conference and expo that brings together the superstars of SEO and SEM to reveal the latest ways they are dancing with the search engines, each side locked in a teeth-gritting tango and dancing each other across the floor in order to win the eyeballs and clicks of users, and present user targeted (marketed?) search results.

At least that’s how I understand it. You got love a metaphor.

But ‘doing it right’ –monitoring analytics, refining strategy, making informed decisions about whether to spend on SEO work (to boost presence in organic search results) or PPC (paid for results) – well, that takes resource and budget, aka time and money. There may be a lot of explaining here, by the way, as I get to grips with marketing buzzwords and attempt to translate it into words and concepts I understand, being from a journalistic background and thinking of B2B verticals as something smutty.

The ‘number one bitchfest’, as keynote speaker Avinash Kaushik put it today is : ‘I can’t get my company to pay for an analyst.’

And why don’t we get the love from our execs? Because they just don’t get it. It’s a rare CFO or purse-string holder that gets internet culture and what they should pay and where.

Without this, you don’t have an SEO strategy or, if the consultants at SES London are to be believed, a hope in hell of getting your brand/product seen.

So how do SEO’s thought leaders suggest you deal with this?

Here are two lovely anecdotes from their SES speeches:

Aaron Kahlow, Chairman & Founder, Online Marketing Summit

‘I was once asked, “If you had to, would you rather give up your laptop, mobile phone, social networks, etc, or would you rather cut off your left hand?”’

[short pause]

‘So I answered “my left hand”, right.’

And he said: ‘Gotcha! You didn’t say laptop, etc, – but you thought about it!’

Lesson: Tech is ubiquitous. Email is ubiquitous. Social networks are ubiquitous. Being disconnected is, for some, like having a left hand cut off. So try this question on your friends, colleagues, even the CFO – and convince your business people through their hesitation how important and embedded online has become.

Avinash Kaushik, Author, Blogger, Analytics Evangelist, Google

‘I can only blog at midnight. I have a job, I have two small kids so this is the only time I can blog. But my wife she loves me; she says, “Go to bed!”

‘Still I want to blog so I tell her, “I am kind of a big deal.” And she says, “Go to bed!”

‘Why? Because it is irrelevant to her. It is the same with executives.

‘So I hit her with data: last month I had 73,000 visits in 176 countries, even Somali pirates visit my blog. But still she doesn’t care. It’s not important to her and it’s not important to the executives.

‘The third time I quantified the goals of his blog (number of feed subscribers, conversion to speaking engagements, my about page which has tracking codes on all the links). I say, “Honey, you should let me blog because last month, I made $26,000 fake dollars!”

‘And she says, “Work harder”, because finally that number means something to her.’

Lesson: to transform your site, blog, etc, you need to compute the economic value to the financial people in your company. Talk to them in language that they understand.

That is all.

I am attending these keywords in 2010: SES, SXSWi and CSForum

Somehow I’ve lined up a conference a month for the next three months. Here are their taglines, blurbs and what I’m aiming to do at each one:

Search Engine Strategies 2010
London, UK, 15-19 February

Tagline: The Original Search Engine Marketing Event.

Blurb: Three days of sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, linking building, duplicate content, video optimisation, usability and more!

Me: Blogging (right here) points of interests – particularly interested in conversion rate optimisation stuff for websites and emails (esp after being RAC ezine’s online editor last year), information architecture, business tweeting and happy hour cocktails. So I’ll try to throw up (!) some posts on these from the event.

SXSW Interactive
Austin, Texas, 12-16 March

Tagline: Tomorrow Happens Here.

Blurb: Five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders and an unbeatable line up of special programs showcasing the best new websites, video games and startup ideas the community has to offer. Join us March 2010 for the panels, the parties, the 13th Annual Web Awards, the ScreenBurn at SXSW Arcade, the Film and Interactive Trade Show and Exhibition, Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator at SXSW and, of course, the inspirational experience that only SXSW can deliver.

Me: There for the margaritas, parties and crazy games naturally, but also to meet interesting contacts, learn best practice on content-related stuff and bring the skills back home. Also looking at finding some connections doing interesting stuff in the hotel/conference/travel line of work maybe. And generally promoting the digital side of the West Midlands region, which is part funding me to go on their digital mission. Should also be blogging a bit from the event as per last year. And hoping to hook up with the Tuttle 2 Texas crew somewhere around New Orleans for the last leg of their trip – more about what that’s about on the Tuttle2Texas Posterous. Oh and finally hoping to work out what distributed storytelling is all about from last year’s Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator MC and tech journo prof, Brad King.

Content Strategy Forum 2010
Paris, France, 15-16 April

Tagline: Vive la communication!

Blurb: Where business analysis meets user experience and content development – two exciting days of workshops, presentations and discussions led by leading experts and practitioners from the emerging field of Content Strategy. Whether you are already a content strategist, or looking to break into the field, this exceptional event will put you in touch with inspiring people and new ideas.

Me: Content strategy is what I’m most interested in right now and this is the only major conference featuring all the big names that doesn’t involve flying to the US. Looking to pick up skills in this area as I’ve just started working with the wonderful WTF! Fierce Festival to help get their content strategy ducks in a row in 2010. Also hope to finally meet Kristina Halvorson, content strategy queen. And will also be bringing an artist along to document Paris in an experiment of travel journalism for Tourist Vs Traveller – more of that in a future post.

That’s me sorted for the year, I think. Unless anyone knows of any interesting travel journalist conferences…

Why I am moving back to Brum…

Birmingham New Street station
Birmingham New St Station here I come

It looks like I’ve reached that moment in a blogger’s life when you log into your poor neglected blog(s), make apologies to folks for the lack of posting, explain why and then make a new promise to report back a bit more often in future.

Except… as Neil Gaiman once said (not sure who actually coined this): ‘Never apologise, never explain.’

Sooo, suffice it to say, that I have spent the last year in transition in many, many ways. One of the biggest changes has been going permanent on digital ‘stuff’ from a 20-year background in print journalism. How did this happen?

Well, in February 2008, I started a blog in my spare time (What to wear where), a good idea but ill-carried out by me while I got to grips with Web 2.0 changes.

Then I started Subs’ Standards in August 2008 – all about sub-editing and its changing nature in the digital world – and started to get the hang of things a bit more, thanks in the main to Pete Ashton‘s free social media surgeries. I’m well overdue to post on that blog, too, as I’m now only very occasionally subbing, and it’s digital subbing at that – which is quite a different type of ‘quality control’ beast.

Anyways… updating my digital chops late into the night after a hard day in print was exhausting – and salary-free. I did it for three months almost solidly but it got me into Seven Squared‘s digital team, which was in need of a web editor, back in January 2009. And now I’m busier than ever, corporate blogging for clients and producing a variety of digital work from ezines to SEO features.

Going to SXSWi back in March 2009 also gave me a load of context for working purely online, as well as a whole load of new ideas for playing with online content plus a contact book full of innerestin’ webby types from all over the world. I recommend it for anyone working online and trying to get their head around the bigger picture. (And yes, before you ask, it’s also a big festival with lots of bands and parties in the rather cool uni city of Austin, Texas.)

Unfortunately, working long hours in Seven’s digital bunker means I have little time to ‘rawk SXSW’ and so change has come again.

From October, I’ll be living and working in Birmingham, with my blog mentor Pete Ashton, as it happens. Turns out romance can blossom in the blurry gaps between online and offline.

I’ll still be corporate blogging for Seven Squared’s digital team, I hope, and maybe writing an SEO feature or two. And before I leave London I’ll also be joining a great new event (and site) for brand managers and those who represent a brand online, courtesy of Jo Geary – and maybe even guest-blogging on there if she’ll let me.

But for now I just want to say that I’m looking forward to the next era – to meet new people in Brum, and give myself some headspace to decide which projects to start/play with/experiment with in the West Mids, which seems to be something of a hot bed of  ‘social media’ goings-on, if the SXSW rival WXWM, the new FAILcamp and other such events are anything to go by.

I’ll also be looking for blogging or other content creation work, probably in the commercial sector, or quality control work for corporate clients. If you think you might want something like this, please do get in touch.

So, life has switched and instead of working in London and visiting Brum at weekends, I’ll be working and thinking  in Birmingham instead and visiting London for work days here and there, and sociables at the weekends. So if you’re in either vicinity, find me online (@fionacullinan if you’re on Twitter) and come say hi.

As they say, change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.

PS. (I’m a serial PS blogger.) Apologies if you get this 10 times in your feed, my WordPress preview appears to have karked it.