Stephen McLeod Blythe: Freedom of speech, Internet Law, and all things Digital Marketing

New Business Cards

Oh yeah.

business

TalkTalk Blocks Access to WordPress.com

This past month, TalkTalk repeated past form and unilaterally blocked access to millions of WordPress.com blogs.

It’s not clear exactly how they did this, or whether it was restricted to specific IP ranges, or whether or not this was part of any particular policy.

Don’t think that ‘porn’ filtering will affect you? It already is.

Read more from the Open Rights Group here.

Thoughts on (Flexible) Working From Home

It’s been a few weeks since I started working from home for Automattic, engineering happiness for users of WordPress.com.

Having moved from an (almost) standard 8.30-5pm, office-based working day, the switch has proven to be an interesting experience.

Even with my youth squandered in online tech communities that operate in very similar ways to Automattic, it’s definitely a mindset shift to go from that sort of world being just something that you do, to something that actually pays the bills. Work is meant to force you into set patterns begrudgingly… right? I didn’t expect there to be too much of an overhaul, but a job with complete flexibility has definitely brought with it some interesting quirks.

happy monday - working from home

Here are some of my observations:

You don’t get distracted

One of the usual reasons that people give for ‘not being able’ to work from home is that they get distracted and can’t concentrate on what they’re meant to be doing. As far as I’m concerned, that’s nonsense. Sure, it may well depend on the person, but if you are independent and self-motivated, you shouldn’t find it a problem to set out an area and dedicate the time you need. If a Gen Y-er can do it – with our alleged ridiculously short attention spans – then so can you.

Going to the bank isn’t the headache it used to be

Ahh… the dreaded trip to the bank/post office/travel agent/loanshark. It was always such a torture to have to undertake any sort of task that fell during the working day. This equally applies to the receiving of parcels. Sure, you can get small things delivered to work, but what happens when you order something big? Carting it back from the office is never a fun task… even if you are lucky enough to have access to a car. Working from home sweeps all of these troubles away in one fell swoop.

Your Neighbours Will Love You!

If you play your cards right, that is. So long as they’ve met you (and you’ve not been weird about it), you can easily become a local everyday hero. Just make it clear that you’re usually around during the day if they have parcels getting delivered, or need an eye kept out for something. Even if they never actually ask you to do anything, you’ve won major brownie points – especially handy when you throw that 7am-finish party with all of your dubious mates.

lunch

Lunch is better

The first week I worked from home, I ate nothing but bacon sandwiches – purely because I can. That can’t continue for long though, or I’ll balloon to some ridiculous size. In general though, it means you have access to your own kitchen, rather than an awful, over-priced canteen (or a microwave, if you’re lucky). I was never any good at avoiding squashing my sandwiches anyway, so this is a winner. The only real dilemma is… what to have? So much choice!

You get to mock those who have to commute

I’ve luckily managed to avoid travelling every day during the onset of the Scottish winter this year, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest perks about being based from wherever you choose.

It’s pretty soul-destroying to wake up early, in the dark, to make your way into work, only to return home at night, in the dark. What has never made any sense to me though, is the preposterous notion that people should fight their way for hours through gridlocked motorways in the rain, sleet, and snow, to get to an office to do a job that they could arguably do just as well from home. I’d even go so far as to argue that it’s negligent for employers to expect people to physically come in to work on days where the police are ‘advising motorists not to travel’.

That said, I think there are those who genuinely love this sort of daily battle, as if there is some sort of valour to be had in succeeding in such a pointless trip. Those, my friends, are those whom we should mock relentlessly.

Electricity bills

Uhhhm, Leave this one with me.

You can go hours without saying a single word to anybody

Insert your own joke about how it’s better if I keep my mouth shut here. There’s a lot of commentary about how it can be unproductive to be constantly interrupted in an open plan type office, and it’s definitely true. The flip-side is the total opposite though. Unless you live with other people, you can go entire days without uttering a single word. I’m not entirely sure whether it’s a completely zen-like experience just yet.

Watch this space.

The banter

This is related to the above. Sure, there are a lot of downsides about working in close proximity with over folk – like having people hang over your shoulder, or force you to look at links on the Daily Mail website (shudders – Linda, you know who you are!), but you can’t really beat the days in work when you’re surrounded by people who are working on the same thing, having a laugh together.

You need to make more of an effort to stay in the loop

This could well be partly because I am refusing to pay for a TV licence, and so am missing out on the news at night, (disclaimer: I don’t own a TV, or watch it as it’s broadcast online) but more often than we think (yes, even in the age of so-called ‘new media’), news is spread by word of mouth, through the people we come in contact with every day.

If your community is online rather than round about you, very quickly you might find that you aren’t as up to speed on local happenings as you might have been previously. It takes a real effort to keep up to date; a battle that I am currently losing, it has to be said.

You can find your natural schedule

I’ve never been a fan of mornings. Not that I don’t like the crisp, fresh air; the tweeting of the birds; and all that. I simply don’t function well at that time.

Part of the problem is that due to whatever screwy Circadian rhythm I have, I don’t naturally get tired until around 2-3am. Irrespective of how early I was up at in the morning, the time I went to bed remained the same. Working from home, I’ve shifted to a 10am-6pm day (roughly), which already means if I go to sleep at 3, I’m getting 7 hours sleep, compared to 4. That’s almost double the amount, and has meant I feel 100% better during the day, with no irresistible urge to disco-nap early evening.

Working from bed is the best thing ever

…for a few hours anyway.

Days seem shorter

Even though I am working the same number of hours, and finishing up the same time I would be getting in from work if I was commuting, the days still seem to fly by. Those extra 3 hours spent getting up, getting ready, and travelling to work in the morning have been converted into sleeping hours, which is probably what they should always have been in the first place.

life work balance

Concepts of time become more fluid

Weekend? What’s that? With total flexibility, there comes a blurring of the lines between the ‘working week’. When you are able to choose a schedule that fits around your life, that may not be in traditional daily blocks. Many people will shudder at the thought of the lines between work and personal life ‘blurring’, but that isn’t really what’s happening. Just because work becomes spread more diffusely, doesn’t mean that it takes over; it just allows you to integrate it more closely to what fits best for you. Working two hours in the evening or at the weekend instead of on a Monday morning doesn’t mean you are a slave to the job, it means that you are more in control of how and when you choose to give it your full attention.

When you spend all of your time in the one place, with work spread out more than beforehand, It does mean that weekends never feel quite like they used to.

I don’t actually think that that’s a bad thing, for what it’s worth.

People don’t get it

‘But… How do they know you’re actually working?!’

Public Sector Can’t Do Twitter

Let’s talk about public sector organisations using Twitter. In particular, those funded by the taxpayer.

Many councils and arms of Government have decided (read: been told) that they need to get on board with the digital age, and seek new ways to ‘engage with the public’ through different mediums. We expect them to be there, and so it makes sense that they are. In principle, this is a good thing. Organisations with such a direct role in people’s everyday lives should definitely be aware of the shift in how we are communicating. However, their response has to be considered, with a clear purpose, and strategy. It is clear that for many of those who are currently active on social media in this sphere, they don’t actually have a clue; more a case of diving in because they feel like they should, rather than having any real conception of what approach they should be taking.

Cardinal Sin Number One: ‘We don’t respond to messages’

The oft-repeated mantra across many public sector accounts is something along the lines of: “we monitor messages that we receive, but do not reply to them”. That is, if you are even lucky enough to get any sort of indication that somebody is actually behind these accounts. Glasgow City Council (@GlasgowCC) is one example of a local authority that don’t even bother to warn you about their blanket disregard for questions or comments they receive. Personally, I prefer this account… at least they reply:

Glasgow City Council Twitter

Do us proud, Glasgow.

When challenged (not over Twitter of course, because you wouldn’t get a response that way), what almost always happens is that those who are responsible for these accounts throw up their hands in faux despair, pointing to the legitimate concerns about the questions about funding in the current economic situation (ad nauseam). The benefits of using social media channels for ‘engagement’ are addressed in volume elsewhere, but we have to ask what exactly the point in an organisation investing any time in Twitter is, if they aren’t prepared to use it properly? Save the time and effort and get offline rather than building a house with sand foundations and making our towns and cities look out of touch, please.

Cardinal Sin Number Two: Posting Utter Guff

Imagine the most boring person you know, and multiply their drudgery tenfold. Now imagine being stuck with that same person at a party, where they spend all night randomly interjecting otherwise exhilarating conversations with banal statements that everybody already knows, and tries to ignore.

That fairly accurately describes the existence of most British councils that are on Twitter. It’s true that we shouldn’t really expect matters so regionally specific to be any more exciting than the weekly local newspapers, but routinely they manage to sink to even lower depths. Clearly devoid of anything worthwhile to say, at all, South Ayrshire Council chose to climb up onto the world stage with great fanfare and flourish, to deliver this poignant message:

Thank God for this reminder!

Thank God for this reminder!

Words actually fail me.

Seriously though, this is one of the most ridiculous, pointless tweets I’ve ever seen – and I follow @horse_ebooks

Winning at Twitter

@horse_ebooks – beating the public sector at Twitter with one hoof

There is so much wrong with the approach highlighted in the South Ayrshire example that it’s tough to know where to begin. How is this tweet relevant… to anybody? Is your target market really the tiny number of users that might be about to park a car somewhere in South Ayrshire, who are also checking Twitter at the same time? (not to mention the illegality of using your phone whilst driving). Total nonsense. Unless, of course, the role of Twitter is to randomly remind us of illegal acts. Maybe they should say DO NOT MURDER.

If you have time to post this sort of pish, then you have time to reply to people. No excuses.

Cardinal Sin Number Three: Not Reading What (or who) You Tweet:

There are a few larger organisations that actually do have a decent amount of stuff to talk about. Things that concern a lot of us; things that we might well be prepared to sacrifice a lack of correspondence to be kept up to date with. After all, plenty of people follow celebrities because they find what they say interesting (well…), not because they expect to get a personal reply.

The trouble is, public figures tend to be fairly savvy at using the technology for their own means; they have built their careers on galvanising crowds of people, after all. Sadly, this does not seem to apply to the public sector world.

A wonderful example comes from the Department of Work & Pensions. They are already guilty of committing Cardinal Sin Number 1 (and let’s face it, not too far from the folly of Cardinal Sin Number 2 either), but they manage to rack up a hat-trick by seemingly not even proof-reading what they post in the first place.

One tweet from early October linked to a video featuring Clare Pelham - Chief Executive of a disability charity – about issues relating to employment. In of itself, this was a great bit of content to share. However, it all went wrong. This is the Clare Pelham that they meant to mention:

Will the real Clare Pelham Please Stand Up?

Will the real Clare Pelham Please Stand Up?

…and this is the Clare that they actually ended up attributing:

@clare in promotion shocker

@clare in promotion shocker

Now I’m no expert in this field, but I’m sure that @clare might also be a bit surprised to hear the UK Government talking about her recent promotion. For reference, here is the offending tweet, in all of its tainted glory:

DWP Twitter Fail

DWP Twitter Fail

Derp.

Okay, so we all make mistakes. I’ve done (and do) it regularly. That might shock some of you, given my sheer articulate brilliance, but it’s true. However, I usually spot and rectify them within 0.6 seconds of the tweet going out to the world, and hang my head in shame. Not the DWP though! This particular example stayed online for at least ten days after going out. They did manage to get it right in following iterations, so it’s bizarre that they didn’t go back and make a correction. It’s probably still there, but I am too dis-heartened to check. 

This wasn’t a once off either. Less than a week later they were at it again, this time with rogue characters that should have been removed before posting:

That quotation mark has no business being there

That quotation mark has no business being there

Please… read before you tweet. (and if you can’t, delete it and throw yourself upon the mercy of the Twittersphere)

Cardinal Sin Number Four: Simply Not Getting It

To close, I leave you with an insight into the behaviour of Orkney Islands Council… the behaviour of which is best left without comment:

Orkney Islands Council Twitter Fail

Routine check for… what?