NESTA Social Media event

19 11 2009

Remote attendance

I feel like I today attended an event remotely for the first time. There have been previous events where I’ve followed the goings-on via Twitter etc., but NESTA’s event today was organised really well, so it felt like I didn’t have any disadvantage from not actually being there (apart from the occasional slight technical glitch).

Social media – a force for good?

In case you’re not aware of this, it was an event where Stephen Fry, actor, journalist and celebrity ‘Tweeter’ and self-confessed technophile; Biz Stone, Founder and Chief Executive of Twitter; and Reid Hoffman, Founder and Chief Executive of LinkedIn discussed the phenomenon of social media and its future impact (I stole most of that from NESTA’s web page about the event:

Keep it simple!

This event didn’t try to use any fancy technology, there was no logging in, it was all extremely simple: all you had to do was go to the web page and watch the live, streamed video! The great thing about this was that it meant I could easily open Twitterfall in another window (the easier to keyboard-shortcut it between the two) and follow what people were saying, both those at the event, and those following remotely like me.

I’ve heard of events being held in SecondLife, but that tends to crash my machine, or I can’t find where I want to go, and this was ridiculously easy to join in. I wouldn’t actually have minded having to register to get to the page, so they know who attended (although my tweets probably gave that away!).


I hope they chose this method because a large proportion of people won’t be allowed to access Webinar websites, or download software to their machine. Hopefully, most people should have been able to access this, even if they have a lot of websites blocked. I’m very lucky to have unrestricted computer access in my company, but I know that a lot of places put so many restrictions on access that even some work-related activities are impossible.

I’ll take this lesson away as one that UKeiG, or Oxford Innovation, could use in future. You don’t need to use fancy technology or anything like that – just a video connected to the website (which I’m sure is more complicated than it sounds!).

At last – content!

Well, what did they say? Because of the nature of the event, I think there was a lot said for the time it took! Rather than being speakers sermonising at you, they had a really interactive session, with lots of questions and answers. For me, the main points that I thought were of interest were (and I apologise for not being able to say who said what – it all happened so fast!):

  • Twitter comes from a mobile DNA, and as technology and Twitter develop, it will probably revert to its roots again
  • We don’t know where twitter might be going, or what competition might develop, but if you spend too long looking in the rearview mirror, you’ll drive off the road.
  • The value of Twitter is that it is personal, it comes from people. It can (and does) have value in a business context, but that comes from the people you interact with on it.
  • There are many ways the internet reflects more general human nature, with the same ebbs and flows from open groups, gradually becoming more closed and going open again. It’s like the way we used to roam the land freely, then gradually enclosed sections, created villages that became towns that became cities. the people decide they want to be more free again. Our interaction on the internet mirrors that
  • They discussed the validity of just listening to sycophants over and ignoring our enemies. I think that listening to your detractors can have more power than your sycophants – it will teach you how you can improve and grow
  • Twitter learnt from the images showing campuses, where the pavements weren’t where people actually walked; they left an ‘open campus’ and are paving where people are walking (of course, whether they pave in the right places is still debatable, given the uproar over the beta ReTweet update!)
  • Stephen Fry doesn’t tend to read blog comments, because they’re people who want to be heard to be nasty, people who are vitriolic. I’m not sure this argument is completely valid, as the comments can be where you get fascinating discussion, but the people who leave comments will tend to be people with strong opinions, and this can spill over into rudeness that is unnecessary
  • 25% of Tweets have an outside link, so Twitter is being used to discuss already-created news a lot. I think this could be more an indication that a lot of people are using twitter as another way to publicise their own blog, which is quite different! But not a bad thing
  • Politicians have an opportunity to be honest and open on twitter and allow us to trust them again by hearing from them without the spin from their press office, or from the newspaper’s spin.
  • Someone asked whether Twitter is reducing literacy levels – Stephen Fry pointed out that Byron used text-esque abbreviations, since paper was so expensive as to be prohibitive! He reasoned (this may be slightly my interpretation of what he said) that there are some people who delight in making the modern world seem inferior to the idols of the past simply by not being the same. He also believes the stereotypes of modern ‘youth’ are rubbish anyway!


So, what did I learn from this? Not a lot in practical terms, but I feel that it was well worthwhile listening in. The speakers were interesting and had a lot to say in an intelligent way, the audience asked interesting questions, and there were some insightful thoughts on what social media can bring and where it might be going. I’ll be looking out for events from them in the future, and events that are run like this, as it worked so well!

The only thing I think could be improved was the focus on Twitter – the event was branded as being about social media, but that seemed to translate as Twitter. I assume because Twitter’s founder was there, as the recent brouhaha about Stephen Fry’s Twittering (or lack of it). The event only last an hour and a half, so they couldn’t talk about everything, but it did feel sometimes like a discussion on the merits of Twitter!

NESTA have put the video on the website (, so if you missed it, you haven’t missed your opportunity!




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