Sep 08

Greenbelt Social Media: What was different this year?

Greenbelt is an excellent conversationYesterday, responding to a post Steve wrote on our Social Media efforts at Greenbelt I noted that it’s important to remember that this wasn’t the first year we’d worked with social media at the festival. Flickr has been our most prominent outlet, with the festival’s tags being some of the most visible in the week following the festival for several years now. But as I’ve written about here in the past (from a fairly techie perspective), we’ve made efforts to aggregate content from multiple blogs, social bookmarking services, and the like a few times previously. So what was different this year?

As Steve points out, video is a significantly different medium to photos or text and it has its own set of hooks. This wasn’t the first festival video to be posted online—a few videos had snuck onto youtube in previous years—but it was the first time tools like qik were available to allow live streaming. As I noted a few days ago live streaming currently benefits from its novelty: “this is streaming live on the internet” is a great hook for drawing in guests and viewers. That may well not last, just as blogging has lost much of its mystique over the past six years, but this year it served us well.

The “embeddability” of the content is a very important factor. We’re all pretty used to embedded youtube videos at this point, but it’s only been in the past few months that its become the majority of media storage sites that have offered facilities along the lines of what Dan Hill dubbed ‘tear-off’ content. That’s significant in a number of ways. We didn’t have time to really develop the platform for what we were doing (we’d wondered about using Alfie‘s moblog platform but ran out of time) but we knew that if we used qik we could not only export the video later, but we could very quickly embed widgets into blogs and other sites to promote the content. That freedom from worrying too much about platform is liberating, but for achieving attention in a festival environment it’s the ease of embedding that’s key.

Twitter was, of course, a vital component of our strategy. Just as there was no time to build up a platform for aggregating the content, we didn’t have time or budget to do any real promotion, and since this was a very experimental approach we didn’t even have time to build it into the editorial content of the festival’s own website. But we’ve all got relatively large personal networks on twitter (and for some of us our twitter posts are syndicated into facebook) and we’ve been cultivating a Greenbelt twitter account and it was easy enough to post notes there. Whether posting automatically (“I’m streaming live on qik …”) or personally, we saw a very good response and were able to receive some quick feedback. Twitter works really well as a glue between pieces of content you’re generating around the web, acting as a hub for a network that will follow link and engage with content hosted in a variety of locations.

Perhaps the key non-techie reason that things felt different this year was that there was concerted effort from a team. The real turning point for our flickr presence was when we started posting the festival’s official photos there—it gave it a certain kudos for those festivalgoers who may have been reticent and meant we were promoting flickr heavily in our editorial—and similarly having a group of people establishing a body of content provided something resembling a critical mass. Since our online networks intersect fairly heavily there was some reinforcement (“oh, X and Y have both mentioned this, I should check it out…”) but there’s enough distinction that the message went wider than any one of our personal networks. As a team we were also able to exchange skills and discoveries through the weekend which helped enormously when we had so little time to get up and running.

In purely numeric terms flickr is still where the vast majority of social media attention around the festival rests, with views of the photos being an order of magnitude greater than of the videos. Much of the conversation is taking place among blogs, with many scattered posts picking up a few comments. It’ll be interesting to see whether video capture at the festival follows in the footsteps of flickr and attracts a much larger group of producers or whether it remains an activity of a fairly small group. Either way, we’re very pleased with how it worked out this year.

(photo above is by Jon McKay, from his ‘So What Do You Think?‘ project)

Jul 08

The victory of version control

It’s always fascinating to see how applying good practice in one area can lead to unforeseen benefits. The article on version control with subversion in the latest issue of A List Apart is a fine example of just that. Not only is the use of version control a good way to manage your own projects, it’s a vital enabler for significant shifts in working practices and management styles.

Those of us who’ve been building software for a while and keep tabs on best practice in that arena are unlikely to see version control as anything new—CVS has been around since the 80s, after all—but it’s arguably only now really coming into its own as we see social practices, work practices and coding practices coming together. And of course we’re finally starting to see promising mac subversion clients, which has to help.

On a related note, John Gruber noted a couple of days ago:

It strikes me as an odd coincidence that two serious Subversion clients would debut at a time when many developers are starting to switch away from Subversion to distributed revision control systems such as Git and Mercurial.

You could argue that it isn’t really a coincidence at all. Perhaps the fact that technologists have found a superior model for managing versions, and matured it to a point where many of us are starting to use Git is a consequence of really getting to grips with what tools like subversion allow. We’ve become good enough at communicating the features and flaws of one generation of tools that we can both provide friendly tools, and simultaneously witness a more widespread migration to their progeny?