Week 8 – Lego serious Play and Course Summary

The social media driving licence has come to an end. It’s all over bar the shouting and like all good journeys seems to have flown by in minutes.


This 8 week programme was well put together and of course well run. My fellow participants, some of whom had no real experience of the social media concepts or tools before the course started, or were extremely wary about opening themselves up in terms of content and contribution (what can I say of interest?) for fear of repercussions and ridicule, but they Just blossomed in front of my very eyes. That was so great to see.

If I’m honest I signed up more out solidarity with my peers and a sense of duty than anything else.  But what was I going to learn?  I thought I was coming from a position of strength in that I’d been using Social Media for years. What could they teach me?

I really didn’t know what to expect. But because of my previous experience my expectation was not high. The reality was so much better, I very much enjoyed the course and I did learn stuff, mainly about Social Media but also about the people I work with, who to a man (or women) all seem to have hidden depths. Quite often we (or is it just me?) make our minds up about people during our first interaction with them; or worse from what we hear from others.

Aside from the Social Media aspects what I have learned is we are so fortunate as an organisation to have loads of smart, talented and more often than not genuinely nice people to work with. It’s a cliché and we say it all the time without much evidence of late – but it’s not until you see, hear and read what people do, say and write that makes you think wow! you know what, these guys are great.

The Social Media

So the people are cool, but what about the Social Media? was that all it was cracked up to be?  I thought rather than a critique of each and every aspect I’d just share my highlights, the things I’ll take away and use again and again. The course covered quite a bit of ground and I was pleased we looked at blogging. I like blogging. 🙂

I was pleased to get some pretty nifty tips that will help me with my WordPress site. The links with Social Media platforms are cool as are the free plugins, themes and controls.  You can make your site look great in seconds and if you know how, you can edit and have complete control over its design, look and feel. We also looked at Tumblr which is great but for me WordPress is king!

Best tip:  Linking to Twitter and being able to customise the text of the tweet from within your post.


Feedly: as I said in an earlier blog post this app is just fantastic. Having all my frequent web sites, news and RSS feeds in one place is such a simple idea, but until you start using feedly in anger you don’t know how handy it is.


Best tip: I subscribe to some podcasts. (for the curious these are theanfieldwrap.com for footy and therider.com for new music, both highly recommended!) These don’t always update on my feedly phone app, though that could be user error. So a manual refresh is sometimes needed.


Hootsuite was also something of a revelation. I could see how this would be very useful for those who work from desktops or tablets, there is just too much info on screen for me as I work on social media mainly from my mobile. It is full of features and a great tool for managing multiple accounts, I imagine this would be invaluable for anyone who has to use Social Media as part of their job function.  I liked its list management feature and may use that after the course ends.

Best tip: The ability to schedule a tweet.

1.  Click “Compose Message”
2.  Type your message and include links if you have any
3.  Click to select a profile(s) from the profile picker
4.  Click the calendar icon
5.  From the calendar, select the date for the message to be sent
6.  Select the time for the message to be sent
7.  Click “Schedule”

That is all there is to it. Marvellous and very useful!


Bitly is a fabulous tool. Again as I said in other blog posts the Schools SharePoint system creates massive URLs so for me this is an essential tool. I also love that it saves all your short urls once you have an account for later use. Brilliant.


Best tip:  Create an account and log in. This allows you to create custom urls such as:

instead of

This is such a great little trick and one that I’ll be using long after the course is over.


So they are my faves. Though we did learn about a whole host of other tools and how to use them.  The tips I mention are what I picked up and will definitely be using when the course is finished. So in one respect this has made my use of the Social Media services and associated tools that bit more productive.  I can also see some obvious wins for the School, making use of these free tools for productive and collaborative purposes. The key will surely be:

Where do we go from here?


So finally, to the colleagues who did the course with me, I hope you enjoyed it as much as me and it has been great reading your blogs and tweets and hope you will continue to use and enjoy Social Media long after the course ends on Friday the 25th July.

To the information and library services team, well done for putting on the course and thanks for letting me on it.







Week 7 – Caring and Sharing

The caring and sharing session in week 7 I was late getting to but I arrived just as we started looking at PicMonkey. I have been looking (I say looking, what I meant was hoping something would float to my attention without having to work too hard) for a decent online picture editor for donkeys years and so was very pleased the SMDL team introduced us to this great little web app.


So what is it?

In a nutshell PicMonkey is feature rich free online photo editor that you can use for free and works right in your browser.  For one off editing it is great and comes with all the tools you’ll need including:

  • Crop
  • Rotate
  • Exposure
  • Colour
  • Sharpen
  • Resize

As yet it does not integrate with Twitter, Facebook or Google +. You can create an account and sign in, but you can also use it without the hassle of creating yet another online account. The app is made to look very simple but I know image editing applications are complex, so they have done a good job of making this one look simple and be extremely easy to use.

It works in any browser which is cool, but alas there is no mobile version as yet. That for me will be when this app moves from very good to must have.

Week 6 – Google, more than just a search engine

I was pleased we discussed Google tools as this was touched on earlier in the week during my ‘Judge 101’ about Online storage. I’m writing this from an IT Manager’s perspective but as always with end user experience in mind.

The dirty internet is what network engineers call the joins between two end points on a network map. It used to be represented with an image of a cloud, in other words “We know there is stuff here, but we can’t identify it precisely”. In their eyes the cloud is not soft and white and fluffy far from it, the cloud is very dark and mysterious, and it is unfiltered, unclean. Bad things happen in ‘The Dirty Internet’.


Then along came sales & marketing who said something like “Hey network engineers, this image you portray of the internet just won’t do. We want to maximise its potential. We are going to have to change its name”.  And from that day forward the unprecise parts of the internet where all kinds of services are provided would become forever known as ‘The Cloud’.


Ok, maybe this is not quite the story but it does reflect the reality. I use most of the Google tools we’ve looked at during the session and there are some I will use as a result of the SMDL. Cloud based services are great, convenience wins out over risk for many of us. This course has shown us just a fraction of what is available, the products and services are endless and just keep coming each new service making our lives easier, helping us do our jobs and live our lives better and more effectively. Crikey, those marketing people were right weren’t they? The Cloud is so fluffy and cuddly and fabulous.

fluffy cloud

Or is it?

Computing has evolved so fast, in my ‘Judge 101’ I wanted to show how storage hardware is transformed every 3 – 5 years. We’ve gone from punch cards to Big Data in the blink of an eye.

At the same time the internet has grown and continues to grow exponentially (see the map of the internet in the computer lab for an idea of size). IT departments struggle to maintain and backup the massive amounts of data we all now produce and this has led to cloud based storage becoming readily available at first for individuals but increasingly for business use.

The challenge for IT is to ensure that business data is stored securely and away from the grabbing hands. Data is critical (certainly business data), and where it its stored and who has access to it will be the key to successful cloud services for the Business School and the University. It is no surprise that the only bit of Google apps supported by the University is the Calendar.  I’m naturally curious about the traces we leave behind on the Internet and how that could prejudice decisions about services in the future, it’s very early days but the with the advent of big data analysis new tools will be created and used to build pictures or profiles of all internet usage for individuals and corporate organisations.  Online privacy appears to be going the way of the dodo and the Northern light search engine.

I think that’s scary.

Having said all that I Google + as a social network is great, it has all the features you’d expect from one the world’s biggest and most innovative companies millions of users can’t be wrong.

What’s not to like?

Well, to be honest I just can’t get my head around the monopoly they seem to have now, they have fingers in all the pies and that for me just can’t be a good thing. Any rival is snapped up quickly or steam rollered (as Ange said in the discussion, “do you remember or use any other search engines?”). The long term effect is unknown, but a world with just 3 or 4 choices is not too far away and I’d have to question if that is a good thing.

I keep coming back to the data. Where is this data and who is looking/using/manipulating it? As a personal user I care less about that, as we said earlier convenience wins out over risk. But as an IT professional it is one of the biggest concerns I have.


Week 5- ResearchGate

This post is being edited on the bus. Forgive.

The podcast I looked at was the one in which Jaideep Prabhu, arguably the coolest academic at the School was talking about ResearchGate, a Social Media platform for academics and researchers. (before we go any further, and just as aside, my WordPress spell checker keeps trying to change Prabhu to Raghu, read into that what you will)

Anyway, ResearchGate – I was so hoping this was going to be a story of intrigue and espionage from the research space in and around Cambridge. It wasn’t, but nevertheless this is a podcast I enjoyed very much. Not least because it is very encouraging to hear academics embracing Social Media and actively going out and seeking services that work for them.


I had not heard of it but ResearchGate seems to be an excellent platform for academics to publish and share their research papers and ideas in a social environment. Jaideep comments that there are a lot of younger academics from all sorts of fields using the platform  and it is being used in Cambridge,  although there are some Business School colleagues on ResearchGate there are also plenty of other interdisciplinary academics around the University who are using it too.

The system is definitely not a VLE but has some elements that are similar, for example Jaideep likes the statistics the system provides, and talked about the inbuilt  points system for contributing to online discussions.

Users are diverse and it caters for everyone, from junior researchers to senior well respected academics, its success is driven by its ease of use and the fact the students and peers invite each other in to discuss and collaborate.

This is not just another network. From my point of view as an IT Manager, this is the holy grail of any system or service – if not exponential growth, certainly popularity based on word of mouth and peer use mainly because it contains features and functions that users are looking for and find useful. I also like that academics from parts of the world that may not otherwise have access to decent research papers are able to make use of it to learn and advance their careers.

ResearchGate appears to be a Social(ist) platform and I’m made up that it is Jaideep who is advocating its use. This was a great podcast, well worth a listen.

Week 5 – Tools of the trade

This weeks session of the SMDL “Twitter tools: curation, control and reach”  introduced the participants to the tools of the social media trade.  If Twitter, Facebook et al are the raw materials, what we saw this week in Hootsuite, Bit.ly, Feedly and Storify are the tools that enable us to take those raw materials to build and curate our own personalised social media management environments. How cool is that?

feedly image

Because the current version of SharePoint 2010 creates massive URLs I have used Bit.ly quite a lot at the School, Hootsuite to a lesser degree (I love the schedule a tweet function) but I was most interested in Storify and Feedly.

Frankly, I think both are fantastic apps for anyone that has an online presence to manage. I like Storify a lot, but feedly is my new favourite web application. As followers of this blog will know, much of my time is spent on the bus, and I always end up scrapping around trying to get news, music and sports updates when the almost non-existent signal permits.

With feedly they are all just there, all my favourite sites and RSS feeds in one place direct to my phone without any of the faffing about.  I found it easier to use the desktop browser version to set everything up – its really not that intuitive on the Android app which also does not offer a Twitter login, other than that I’m very happy with it and will continue to use it long after the course is finished.

Week 4 – Live tweets

After a hard day’s work and then some play time with the kids before they go to bed I can often be found in front of the telly, large glass of red in one hand mobile phone in the other.  One of the reasons for this is modern TV lets you interact, live if not quite direct.  Let’s put the world to rights before bedtime is my motto.  We love to question, challenge and generally just give our tuppence worth on the issues of the day.

Or at least I do.

That is why tweeting is so important to me.  When time permits in our house we watch Question Time (#bbcqt) Later with Jools (#laterjools) or Match of the day (#motd) all shows in which active tweeting is encouraged and I for one like to participate. After all why should they get away with shoddy journalism, terrible music or clockwork punditry?  Live tweeting has been just myself and Mrs Miller and it has been pretty easy, I really enjoy it.

The session in our fabulous computer lab last Friday was interesting in that we’d got a room full of delegates eager to learn all about live tweeting and a guest speaker who was interesting and able to hold the audience attentions as they typed on what I now know are very noisy keyboards.  Despite best efforts I was really struggling to focus on what was being said as well as make (or rather type) comments that were useful or even readable. I wanted to look the speaker in the eye as I think its respectful to look at someone when they are talking to you, so found it hard to focus on both things at once (Mrs Miller often reminds of how she can do 10 or more tasks at once, best not to digress though eh?)

Anyway. This was not a typical live tweeting experience for me, I can only compare to trying to write witty, interesting and cohesive tweets at Latitude last summer and failing due to a number of variables, copious amounts of alcohol can sometimes be a barrier.

I wonder if next time the course runs, they could fit this exercise around a School event (Staff meeting, social event) and delegates could live tweet from that?  Might just get a different picture.  I don’t want to sound harsh, it was very enjoyable and so cool to see all the delegates contribute and lovely to hear about the speakers experience of social media, so in that respect a good result. I’m not sure what others got out of it, but I’d say persevere, because when it works its ace.

Electronic Patriotism? A very personal look at my Twitter experience

EngerlandWe are into the second week of the world cup. I’m travelling to work. It is 07:15 and I’m on the bus, he’s a young driver and we’re careering down Exning road in Newmarket (imagine the runaway mine cart in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) the driver barely in control.

The passengers white knuckled looking at each other in disbelief as if this is their final journey. At last we reach the relative safety of the Rookery bus station thankful to have survived sweating, shaken and stirred but oh so grateful.  The driver gets off to have a cigarette non-plussed. I guess I picked the wrong week to give up smoking.  Then almost in unison everyone gets out a smartphone (some have IPhone’s too) and start to update Facebook and Twitter, no doubt with posts beginning: ‘OMG’.

Exning road and I have previous but that’s another story.

One thing the punters along there have always done during major national, European or world sporting events in which England are competing is show their patriotism by going absolutely mad for St. George flags and banners which normally hang ragged and proud out of upstairs windows, tied to trees, lamp posts, car aerials and small children. Strangely not this time. There is not a hint the World Cup is on. If it weren’t on TV 24/7 you’d never guess England were playing in a major tournament with their best chance of winning in generations. Come to think of it my whole commute follows this same pattern, by and large most of the traditional flagpoles are left unadorned. It got me thinking, why is that?

I want to blame Ed Milliband but that’s another story.

I think it’s largely to do with social media. There are no longer any dark horses, countries or players we’ve never heard of (remember Zaire?) and all the fancied countries and players have been heavily analysed, results published and shared on all the media channels. Opta ensure every fact, chart, table and statistic is available on every platform. Everyone has an opinion, and boy do they like letting us know about it.  Have our mobile phones, tablets and computers become the preferred method of displaying patriotic support for the national team?

The lack of printed polyester bellowing in the wind plus the evidence on my Twitter TL and the dreaded Facebook suggest maybe a ‘like’ is enough. We are all so well informed now and it is easy to pledge allgiance with just a press from your texting thumb. It seems to me social media, and in particular Twitter is actually having an effect on the national psyche, I think there has indeed been a shift to a form of electronic patriotism.

I’m alright with that.