Category: Social Square

SocialSquare

A network-based organic food co-op

A month ago, my old colleagues at Socialsquare posted a short video interview with meon how the internet is changing business. The interview was an edited excerpt of a longer interview where I also talked about KBHFF as a concrete example of a networked, open source organisation. To me, that was the most interesting part of the interview.

So I’m very happy to find that they’ve put up another edited excerpt from the interview, focusing on KBHFF:

“How the internet is changing business”

Recently, I went to visit my old colleagues at Socialsquare to catch up. They also did a little interview with me about KBHFF, the Copenhagen food co-op I’m involved in, and how I see that the internet is changing business in general.

Yesterday, they posted this little video of some of the main points from the interview:

I must admit I find talking about “how the internet is changing business” in general to be rather diffuse subject matter. Business is such a broad field that it’s pretty difficult to claim that all of these trends are equally applicable to all sectors. I prefer very concrete examples and stories that can elucidate these new trends in a manner that’s easier to grasp. I did talk a lot about the food co-op in the interview. But as Kim writes in his blog post, they used that part in relation to a project with Aarstiderne. Who knows, maybe they’ll share it later on…

On my own

After having worked at Socialsquare for almost two years, I’ve resigned, ending my contract at the end of March. It was not a decision that I took lightly, since it was my first full time job since graduating, and it’s a bunch of talented, inspiring colleagues who’ve taught me so much.

I’ve learned a lot about working as a consultant, the process and pitfalls of designing social software, being part of a team and coordinating and solving huge and complex tasks together and producing deliverables that make sense and solve problems within the clients’ organisation.

And for that I’m very grateful.

But all things considered, I felt the need to move on. I felt a need to focus on ethnographic research rather than social business consultancy – and a need to focus on other non-work-related projects as well (more about those in later blog posts). And so, I found that the best way for me to do this is to try my hand at working on my own.

So, I’m starting my own one-man enterprise under my own name, and I’ve updated this website to reflect that. The main change is in the “About” text which now reads:

I??m an independent consultant and researcher working at the intersection between people and technology. I help organisations understand the everyday lives, practices, motivations, worries and needs of their users and stakeholders.

As an anthropologist, I meet people on their own terms, using ethnographic methods to gather empathic insights on how new products, experiences, spaces and services can have a positive impact and create value in existing social and cultural contexts.

I deliver such anthropological insights in a lucid and actionable manner that can be used to qualify decisions or develop people-centred design solutions, often in direct collaboration with other disciplines.

To me, this is the core product that I as an anthropologist can offer organisations: A better understanding of the relationships of which the organisation is part, and in which it wants to take part – whether through a new product, service, space or experience.

It’s kinda grand and kinda broad, I know. But at the moment, I’m trying to open up my expertise from the digital context in which I have been immersed for years and use ethnographic methods to engage in other contexts as well. Contexts where the social relations, interactions, tools and designs aren’t necessarily digital. If you’re curious to hear more, get in touch.

Let the user finish the design

At EPIC, I took part in a very interesting workshop discussion led by Jeanette Blomberg and Elin Rønby, two of the leading figures within the field of ethnography-supported design.

The theme of the workshop was making visible the object of design in the design process, and centred on this diagram describing the generalized design process:

design process

This diagram indicates four generalized phases in a design process, which have been placed between two overlapping dichotomies: Between reflecting and acting, and between using and designing:

Study – “Reflecting using” – The ethnographic examination and abstract reflection on the context and given circumstances under which a design is being used or may be used at some point.

Design – “Reflecting designing” – The abstract composing of concepts, ideas, and solutions based on the research and analysis of the existing tools and context of use.

Technology/intervention – “Acting designing” The concrete building, implementing, and configuring concepts in the form of real technological design to improve the existing tools and use.

Live/Work – “Acting using” – The concrete and actual use of the implemented design. The un-reflected day-to-day practices taking place in the given context.

But, as the workshop organizers noted, this is not (only) meant to be seen as a flow from “research to design to implementation to use”, but rather as a continuum – allowing for “back-and-forthing” between the four activities. Their argument was that we need more integration between these, and that the diagram wasn’t intended to maintain the boundaries between these activities, but rather to break them down.

That was the focus of the workshop: How can we best integrate these diverse elements of the design process to make the best possible solution?

It was at this point in the discussion that it became apparent that the phrase “object of design” isn’t quite transparent: The organizers had meant the object being designed: How can it be made visible throughout process – including the ethnographic study? But I had understood it as the object for design: The context, the potential users, the social relations in which the designed object will take part.

I argued that the main challenge in integrating the four elements above is to maintain a focus on the context, the actual situations where a given tool would be used. That is my main concern in the ethnographic work I do in relation to the design and development work at Socialsquare: Connecting the site of use with the designers and developers who build the new social tools for our clients.

Design in itself can only offer affordances for use, it cannot tell the users how to use it. When we design and build tools, especially social tools online, we seek to build the tools people want to use, but we can only do that by letting them use them. One of the other workshop participants said it best when he referred to a phrase one of his older engineer colleagues often used: ‘Let the user finish the design.’

The Community of Practice on Communities of Practice

Some time ago, I was invited by John D Smith to present my thesis work on Ubuntu as a Community of Practice at the CP Square autumn dissertation fest. CP Square is an online community of researchers and consultants working with Communities of Practice – a term coined by Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave, and which is a central part of the theoretical framework for my thesis.

I gave the online  presentation this evening, and if I hadn’t been so darned busy lately with work and moving to a different commune (more on that in a separate blog post), I would have blogged about the presentation earlier so that you’d all could have had had the opportunity to listen in.

Online in this case means via Skype teleconference  and a community chat channel, which meant visualizing my audience while talking, and linking to images that related to presentation in the online chat (NB: they’re not sorted. It’s a mess. I’ll add my notes to the images soon to give some sense of a sequence). It’s not the easiest of formats – a lot energy and rapport goes lost in the ether. But I thought it worked out well. The participants were attentive and inquisitive while remaining constructive and supportive – a real treat.

Actually, I was surprised to get the invitation. But I’ve really relished the chance to revisit my thesis work. As I reread it, I realised that writing the thesis is only the beginning.

Since I joining Socialsquare, I’ve been working with all sorts of aspects relating to communities online, and it’s been great to return to that the my work on the Ubuntu Community and see new ways to extend my old analyses and apply them in new contexts. But most of all, I’ve come back and found just what a good framing the Community of Practice is for understanding online communities, and I hope to learn a lot more on how to apply it from the CP Square community.

So square

So, I’ve got a job.

This Monday, I officially started working at SocialSquare, Denmark’s premier advisers, builders and communicators of all things related to social media. I stress “Officially” since I’ve already spent a month here on a sort of trial-internship to get to know the people, the projects and the processes. In that time, I even helped write the brand-spanking new company website, so you can learn more about what we do, too.

Along with the new website, the company has officially changed its company language from Danish to English, in a brave attempt to signal openness towards a global market. Since the company works to promote the effects of social media and social network services in our daily lives and help organizations embrace that change, they’ve chosen a name that is intended to reflect that mindset.

Now, if you look up ‘Square’ in Wikipedia, you’ll find it to be a very ambiguous name. But you can rest assured that the Square in SocialSquare isn’t referring to any sort of mathematics or the notion of being unhip. Rather, it refers to the Square as a place – such as the Town Square or the Market Square. The central idea is, that the Internet has made it possible for people to reinvent the Town Square of yore, but since that square is no longer related to a specific place, it exists solely through the sociality of the people interacting within an on-line community built from shared practice, interest, or relation. Thus, Social Square.

Well, at least that’s my interpretation. You’ll note the new, hip way of drawing the two words together, which may obfuscate this somewhat, but I feel that my interpretation gets substantial support from the company… well, it’s not so much a logo as it is a map… of a town square (PDF).

So, apart from documenting internal processes and fussing about the company name, what does my job at SocialSquare actually entail?

I’ve been hired to work as an “Ethnographic Researcher” – that means using qualitative methods to gather information – both within organizations and among their external stakeholders and the prospective users of the services they would like to build – analyzing that data, and presenting these analyses in such a way that they can help the companies make informed decisions as to their social media strategy, or inform an ongoing design process where we help organizations build the necessary platforms for interaction, which they may need.

Basically, the job is a totally sweet spot between design anthropology and the anthropology of social media and on-line communities. At least, that’s my hope and expectation. So far, I’ve been involved with two big projects. One of these I can talk about, which is a project we’re doing for the biggest interest Danish organisation for elderly people, ?ldre Sagen. We’re in the initial phase of figuring out how social media can help bring the family closer together in support of weak or ill members of the family.

You can follow our efforts on the new project blog, which opened recently (Danish only, unfortunately). I’ll be blogging there as the project progresses, sharing some of the ideas and findings that we come upon. On top of that, I’ll be blogging at the SocialSquare blog from time to time.

That means that in way I’ll be paid to blog! Just not here, unfortunately. So updates may remain sporadic for some time. Especially in the coming weeks, as I have a lot of interviews lined up. It’ll be a very busy start, which seems to confirm that there is lots to do in this field.