My Social Experiment

We recently passed another Labor Day Weekend.  It marked the end of the summer of 2015, and the beginning of a new school year for my kids.  My work life this summer has been more than a bit challenging over the past few months, with a lot of change occurring around me — new leadership, relationships changing, and the like. Part of the fallout of all the change is an increase in the number of distinct threads of activity thrust upon me and my leadership team, all requiring a certain level of effort to address.

For those that know me would say I am a devoted user of technology.  I have one of almost everything in computers, tablets, smartphones and other devices.  I also enjoy the use of social media, actively using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  I’m in a Social Media Advocacy group at work to support the company’s efforts to increase business impact of social media tools at the corporate level.  I really enjoy this stuff, and all that it brings to enhance our lives.

Yes, I am fully connected.  Sometimes to a fault.  I get feedback (most of the time justified) from my family about my use when I should be more present.  It has happened at work, and, for the record, I am not the only one.

I wondered what might happen if I took a full holiday from my iPhone?  Would I become anxious or upset, almost like a drug addict?  Would my work suffer because I wasn’t paying attention over a long weekend to those that chose to work?  What would I see if I paid a little more attention to what’s going on around me?

I decided to do it.  Friday night I turned off my iPhone, placed it in the bedside table and left it there until Tuesday morning.  The world did not end.  I didn’t break into a cold sweat.  Social media continued and didn’t really notice I was absent. The work emails were there and it really didn’t matter whether or not I responded before.  It was a nice weekend because I let myself see the world around me through my own eyes, not tainted in any way by what was going on.

The biggest thing I noticed was that I lived with my head up.  The iPhone, even when in my pocket, draws my head downward.  Downward to look at it, downward to even sense it’s presence on my person or in the car.  For three days, there was no downward force drawing me away from my world.  I saw my world more fully, whether it was to be present with my family, or just to enjoy watching people as I went about my business.

I’m still a huge fan of my iPhone, and will continue to be.  However, I will be less afraid going forward of turning it off when it doesn’t really need to be on, and enjoy seeing life for myself.  I am going to be asking myself the question more often – does the iPhone really need to be on right now?

At the end of all this, it’s really about the fact the smartphone has arguably destroyed the boundary between personal and professional life.  Maybe shutting these devices off a little more often will help me reclaim some of my own personal life.  We’ll see what happens.


Technology Easing Our Family Crisis

Last week my father suffered a mild heart attack.  During the process of diagnosing the heart attack, a CT scan revealed a significant mass in his lung.  To make a long story short, this heart attack probably saved his life.

As we have been dealing with this crisis, we have had the need to communicate with our sister in Colorado as well as extended family members.  During this process it occurred to me how much our everyday mobile technology and social media has made that task so much easier.  Also, it has helped us cope with long waits by providing entertainment options (e.g. music, games and media) and access to the outside world.

In this photo you see what I am talking about.  My brothers and Mom are enjoying a game of Monopoly on an iPad, and my brother is using SMS on his iPhone to continuously communicate with our sister.

Andy, Charley and Mom playing Monopoly on iPad


Social media has also been a huge help on a few levels.  First, posting updates on Facebook has allowed me to update my broader network on what’s happening with Dad.  It has also invoked a virtual prayer chain in support of my family during this crisis.  I was able to read to Dad many names of people sending well wishes.  I got the feeling he appreciated the thought.

Coping with this whole ordeal would have been much more difficult without these tools.  Thank God we have them!

Cool New Twitter feature: Who to follow

Who to follow on Twitter
New Twitter feature

I noticed a few days ago that Twitter has created a new feature that suggests people to follow on Twitter, much in the way Facebook does it.  I’ve found it to be useful to find people of interest in my work, as well as my personal interests.  On the Twitter web page, look on the right side of your home page, there you will find a “Who to follow” section which includes a few ideas for people to follow based on the people you are already following on Twitter.  If you click the “view all” link, you will find a much longer list of suggestions.  Furthermore, there is navigation on the right-hand side of that page listing major categories.  This is really useful.  A much more focused list follows where it becomes very efficient to pick and choose who to follow.  I found some real gems in these lists.  More is better, I believe.  Yes, it’s more information to process.  However, with a tool like Twitter it is very easy to quickly cull through information to figure out what is happening in the world.

Based on my earlier post on accessing thought leadership with Twitter, this is a great way to get a finger on the pulse of interesting external developments.  In my world, it’s about new technology developments around software and systems.  Most recently, I have used Twitter to follow Apple iPhone/iPad developments, which has proven to be useful.

Software Quality Assurance and Social Media — Is There A Connection?

A few months ago I posed the question to a vendor of mine — what do social media technologies have to do with software quality assurance?  Does it even matter?  I still think they are or should be connected but I don’t know exactly how.  So, I am creating this post to hopefully generate some discussion and more ideas.

Here are some ideas I had:

1.  Use microblogging technology (e.g. Twitter) internally within the dev team to quickly communicate what is happening real-time.

2.  Could a test plan be a Wiki page rather than a document?  I suspect this wouldn’t work in a regulated environment, but maybe not?

3.  Use microblogging to ask quick questions to anyone on the team — might reduce email clutter?

4.  Analyze social media traffic to determine how the customers are using the product being tested.  Could this influence the direction of the test plan?

5.  Microblogging with linking to point to specific issues in the team system (e.g. TFS) needing attention – maybe a defect, or a user story?

6.  Other indirect uses: development team morale, searching microblogs for internal trends (create some retrospective ideas?), etc.

What connections do you see?  Can’t wait to uncover some ideas!

Twitter Use #3 – Lighten Up

The first two posts I made about uses of Twitter were definitely focused on a more practical, professional value propositions.  Accessing thought leadership quickly as well as using Twitter to find great web content are useful (in fact, I got my first pingback today on the great web content post).

We are working really hard these days.  With a depressed economy (still) we are asked to do more with less again and again.  Hours are long and emotions can sometimes get the best of us.  Moments of levity during the day can be really helpful to manage our stress, and Twitter can deliver those effectively without impacting our productivity much at all.

For me, I tend to follow a few pretty interesting personalities from pop culture as well as certain professional athletes.  Besides being interested in their particular fields, my criteria for electing to follow is that they tweet fairly frequently.  Some of the people I follow include Rainn Wilson (@rainnwilson — Dwight from “The Office”), Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) and the basketball star Shaquille O’Neal (@THE_REAL_SHAQ).  A word of caution, however, is in order here.  There are a number of Twitter users that are impersonating famous people.  Twitter has a “Verified Account” feature now, so we can be sure that the person is who they say they are on their homepage.  I include a snip from Conan’s page to illustrate.  My favorite tweeter is @sh&*mydadsays (yes, I replaced a few characters).  It’s a young man (28 years old or thereabout) who lives with his parents and he writes down what his dad says.  It it enormously popular with over 1.2 million followers.  It’s a little vulgar, but I think it is popular because it’s SO close to home with many people.

Conan's Twitter Page

So, lighten up.  Take a couple of minutes and follow some people on Twitter just for fun.  You’ll pick up some great conversation starters for the lunchtime conversation in the cafeteria.

Twitter Use #2: Finding Great Web Content

It used to be that whenever I would go to the Web to find content, especially in the context of my daily work, I would simply go to Google, enter the search terms and then ferret through the results until I got the information I sought.  If you get the right search term this exercise is pretty simple, but it also can be quite difficult if you get it wrong.  My wife, as a professional librarian, is an expert at getting the right search terms every time.  I cannot claim the same level of success, usually.  I’m retrying searches multiple times so that the most pertinent stuff ends up on top.

With a tool like Twitter it can be pretty easy to find great content through their search engine, and you can quickly see what the “crowd” views as good content based on their comments in their tweets, or even their hash tags.  It has gotten to the point that I now start with Twitter to search for blog posts, videos or images relating to what I need.  This change in paradigm was inspired by the following YouTube video (recommendation: follow @equalman on Twitter – he’s really on top of all of this stuff).

I like to think of it as looking for the breadcrumbs that the experts left behind for me to find and harvest for my gain.  If you read the tweets, it does not take long to figure out where the good stuff is hiding.  And, usually they are kind enough to leave a link to follow.

Retweets are also important to note.  What’s happening here is that a tweeter thought something was important or especially good at wanted to share the tweet with his or her followers.  It’s also good Twitter etiquette to give the originator credit for the effort.  This is another opportunity to find an authority on a topic.  Find the original tweeter and follow him/her.

Google also is thinking this is important.  This blog post describes a new 2-way search feature that mixes results from Twitter into its search results.  The Bing “decision engine” also contains this capability, however it is somewhat buried as one of many options (follow the “More” link on the top to find the Twitter search).

The social media crowd is taking control of the web.  I think this phenomenon will shape the way we all search for relevant content.  As Twitter expands, it will only make it more valuable as an information worker.  See you in Twitterland!

Twitter Use #1: Access to Thought Leadership

If you are a Twitter veteran, this post is not for you. I encounter people all the time that express a level of confusion about the value proposition of Twitter. They see things like the following YouTube clip of a recent Verizon ad:

I say there is great value to be had. Twitter provides a great opportunity to get insight from thought leaders in industry. In my word, having a pipeline to leaders in the technical community like Bill Gates (@billgates) and Werner Vogels (@werner) to see what is happening in their worlds. They tweet about trends they see, as well as fun personal details that provide both insight and entertainment. As more and more leaders start tweeting, the possibilities will become seemingly endless.

It’s not necessarily about each individual tweets they write, but a composite view of these thought leaders can provide a new level of understanding of an industry that can prove to be very useful. The way to do this effectively is to use Twitter lists so you can isolate those thought leaders into a group so you can view their tweets together and scan them very quickly. Or, one can find lists that other Twitter users have created, which can be a shortcut to finding those leaders. I prefer to create my own lists as I then have the ability to manage it as I see fit. Whichever way you go, using a list make it is simple to detect trends that may be worth investigating further, or just hold back in the memory bank for later. I can say that having that type of information available has proven to be valuable on more than once occasion.

I have a few other posts in the queue relating to the usefulness of Twitter. In the meantime, how do you derive value from Twitter?