Time to Focus My Diverse Interests

So, it’s been a long time since I’ve written on this blog.

It’s not been because of a shortage of things to say, far from it, there’s been so much that I’ve been wanting to say, but just haven’t been able to bring myself to write, and talk about all of the many different things that interest, and fascinate me.  There’s been such activity both in my personal life, as well as in the London Tech Startup community that I’m a part of, amongst other things.

Then there’s also the heaps of different things that have been happening in the Social Media Community in London, and it makes me realise that actually there’s a whole lot more that I’d like to write about, but don’t do so, because it doesn’t always act in the best interests of my audience.

Over these last few months, I’ve started pondering about this approach to blogging that I’ve been taking, of amalgamating everything into one blog, and making everyone come to one place to find out the latest about me, my thoughts, insights, and experiences.  Perhaps I’ve been wrong.

I know that there’s most definitely a steady stream of interested readers of this blog, that know me from either the Social Media Perspective, or from the London Tech Startup crowd.  But what you guys probably didn’t know was that there is a part of me that is immensely spiritual, and metaphysically inclined.  I can also imagine the Social Media interests I have don’t necessarily directly translate into the extremely geeky and techie interests that also drive my entrepreneurial curiosity, and the craving to contribute to something more meaningful, and personally stimulating, as well as helping raise my profile, and perhaps in time, additional streams of revenue.

So until further notice, I’ve decided to hold back on the blogging here.  And when I say here, I mean just this blog – http://life.magitam.org.uk.. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up blogging completely, or that I’ve decided to stop blogging.  Far from it, I want to step back to figure out where I should  be blogging, and how so..  There’s a lot I want to say, and a lot of different places I want to say it.  But what I don’t want is for one audience to get confused or mixed in with another, or for me to get so de-focussed with my blog, that I lose the desire or focus as to what I’m going to talk about.  Initially I’m going to be setting up my other blogging sites, and then once I’m done, and have them set up, I’ll be sure to share here a list of all the different places where I’ll be blogging from in the future..

For now, this blog has become too much of an unfocussed chaos, and in order to start making some more coherent, focussed directed conversations, and discussions, around some of the many different communities I’m a member of, I’m going to step back, before taking a huge step forward, and start publishing in a more targetted and focussed manner, across mulitple sites across the internet ;)

Now any suggestions you might have as to what subjects you’d like to hear me write about, feel free to fill up the comments below, and I’ll see if what you my audience wants is at all in line with what I imagine my writing to be targetted towards.

The End of an Era as Michael Jackson Passes Away

I settled down last night, two nights prior to TweetCamp, to settle into some blogging, and post some updates, and just generally keep people abreast of the happenings, and of what’s going to happen at TweetCamp this Saturday, and as I briefly glanced at my Twitter, I caught the series of tweets, in rapid succession, from many of the people that I was following, talking about the tragic passing of Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson.

After reading some of the tweets, I eventually ventured across to CNN and BBC, to see what was being reported in the live media, and eventually I settled on watching BBC News, seeing as CNN was just showing a mute video showing people live, outside the hospital where he passed away.

Michael_jackson_bad_cd_cover_1987_cddaI don’t know quite what to write right now, but at the same time, really feel like I need to put something in words.  All evening, I’d been feeling a little odd, and something felt a bit funny, and out of place..  only seeing this news made me acutely aware of just what could have been causing so much commotion, and disturbance in my psyche, and the psyche of others in the world, who might have picked up on something not quite right.

Michael Jackson is a man who will be remembered for many years to come.  As he says farewell to us in this world, he shall be sorely missed.  Not necessarily for the man that he was, but more for the inspiration he was for so many.  His album Thriller grossed something like 51 million sales, the biggest ever selling album in the world, a record that has yet to be broken.

He was the first ever ‘black’ artist to feature on MTV, and become popular with mainstream pop, being appreciated for his work, and talent, more than the colour of his skin.  Whilst he spent his own life entertaining and amusing others, he himself led a life of sadness, and solitude, feeling lonely, all alone at the top.  Some say he was the last of a dying breed of true ‘Pop’ Stars, accomplishing such an inspiring level of success, and reward, but paying for it, with the price of his childhood, and spending the rest of his life trying to recapture his youth.

Listening to the BBC paying tribute to Michael Jackson for a few hours, when hearing from people that were close to him, or that could see him in his personal life, or just on his own, away from the media, he was most definitely a lonely man, who in spite of his successes, didn’t seem to have any ‘happiness’ in his life.

Uri Geller, a close personal friend of his, shared with the BBC, live last night, over the phone, how whilst he was helping Michael Jackson, and had him under hypnosis, he had asked Michael if he had ever touched any children inappropriately, and the answer he gave was a resounding no.  When asked why he had given the money, and settled, it was because he just couldn’t take the stress and pressure of it anymore.  Whilst it may have been unethical of Uri Geller to ask Michael these questions, whilst he was under hypnosis for something else, it just goes to show that ultimately, Michael Jackson was a decent and honourable man.  In spite of his quirks and eccentricities, he also endured a lot of pressure and stress, always being in the limelight, and being torn to shreds by the media.

It really feels like the end of an era, when you think of just how the 80′s was defined so heavily by Michael Jackson, and his music.  The fact that the video for Thriller, was the first of it’s kind – a pop video, something rarely seen before that.  And the success of that album, which really helped cement his future as an altogether different league of Musician, and Artist, he will be sorely missed and fondly remembered for his music, regardless of what people thought of him as a person.  Testimony to his appeal as a performer was the way in which tickets for his live performances at the O2 got snapped up.  In no time at all they were all sold out, a phenomenal accomplishment, given the number of days he would be on tour for, and how large the venue is.  Unfortunately, for all those fans, they shall never get to see him perform live.

Michael Jackson leaves, behind him his Ex Wife, Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of the great Elvis Presley himself, his second ex-wife Deborah Jeanne Rowe, a woman who was his nurse, as well as mother to two of his children, a boy and a girl, and a third child, who according to Wikipedia was born after artificial insemination of Jackson’s sperm with an undisclosed surrogate mother.

michael-jacksonThe man Michael Jackson shall be remembered for a long time to come, and his passing is truly going to be a loss for this world.  Not just for his originality and creativity, but also for his talent, and musical genius, his flair on the dance floor, and his unique contribution to bringing african americans into mainstream, breaking down for the first time the racial biases that may have existed before his time.

It feels like humanity has shifted in one night, and that the world will never be the same again.  With the current way in which music is increasingly more digital, and virtual, and more individiuals are able to create music, and be appreciated, the time of the ‘mega’ popstars appears to have finally drawn to a close.  Just as Elvis was the “King of Rock”, so Michael will be remembered as the “King of Pop”.  A man who’s musical genius, skill, talent, and undying passion for his art truly defined him as one of the greatest musicians that has ever lived.

Goodbye Michael, may you finally rest in peace.

Social Media as Social Currency

Social Media is a form of currency.  It’s a Social Currency.  It works based on the exchange of information, in exchange for your attention.  If I give you my ears, I let you tell me something, and equally, I will only listen to you, if I value your contribution.

For the longest time ever (perhaps as early as 2004) I’ve been actively using and advocating social media as a tool, or mechanism to build ever stronger relationships with the people you know and trust, as well as start screening across the many people who you know, to discover potential business relationships, potential customers, friends, and peers.

Pretty quickly the online space is starting to fill up, and it becomes increasingly difficult to start finding “real” value in exchanging meaningless messages in the ether we know as the Internet.  Slowly, for me, I’ve been starting to wonder just what does it matter, or how useful is it to just “talk” with, or exchange messages with completely random people who I hardly know?

In actual fact, it doesn’t.  It doesn’t matter one bit.  And then it hit me.  “Social Media”, unlike traditional online presences are not about hiding behind an anonymous identity.  Instead it’s about amplifying the presence we have in real life.  It’s all about being more of who you really are.  Which means that if in real life, you’re generally anti-social, or prefer to be introverted, and keep yourself to yourself, the moment you start to use Social Media, that doesn’t somehow magically change.  It doesn’t suddenly make you a public extrovert.  It does however allow you to stay more visibly connected to the people who you know, and meet, and want to engage with.

Since using Social Media, I’ve come to find many interesting and wonderful people, who I definitely would never have met in person, in real life, in the same way.  Common interests, mutual recognition of other colleagues in the same field as me, and also just generally people who I work with are all visible and present on the Social Web.  The difference is, that on the social web, what I say can be picked up, and can be left unnoticed.  There isn’t any necessity for everyone in all of my communities online to read every word that I post, blog, tweet, email, or communicate online.

There is however, something in having people’s attention online.  That I give mine, and in exchange receive other people’s attention in return is already starting to bring up questions of quality over quantity.  Given that the number of hours in a day are finite, that there’s only so many people I can reply to, and that there’s only so much I can do, until my primary motivations of income, survival, and relaxation/chilling kick in.  So far, I’ve been “playing” on this merry-go-round of Social Media, joining upto new services, and new sites, that are popping up, a dime a dozen.  But now, I’m starting to get “saturated”.  Saturated with noise, with media, with messages, with adverts, and with stuff that I don’t want to have to deal with.  I have to manually filter through all of this noise, before I get to the stuff that matters to me.

This has a cost associated with it.  It’s my time, it’s my energy, it’s my effort.  I don’t want to sound harsh, uncaring, or ungiving, but I only have so much time and attention to give. The same is true for everyone else.  Sooner or later, when you hit rock bottom on that bank account, you feel depleted, and drained, and you step back from it all.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand what I’m talking about just yet.  You could still be in the “oohh, shiny new toy” phase when it comes to Social Media.  Which is great! Enjoy it while you can.  It’s just sooner or later, it get’s old.  Sooner or later, you hit a low, or a bottom, or your account runs out.  This account, this balance, is the Social Currency I’m talking about.  It’s what happens when you give, give give, and get nothing back in return.

It’s a part of learning and growing… You stretch beyond your limits, you go as far as you can, you look everywhere with an enthusiastic, zestful gaze.  And then, one day, it hits you.  Or slowly, it starts to dawn on you, that as much fun as it is to just give, give give, and as much as you enjoy just “hanging out” online, with all these thousands or hundreds of cool friends, you actually have a life to live.  You actually have “real work” that you want to get done.  You have dreams, you have aspirations.  Things you actually want to accomplish.  And when that moment comes, suddenly you start questioning the real value of Social Media.  What have you been building up? What have you been putting all this time, and energy into?

Is it really all just a popularity contest where it only matters how many people are following you on twitter? Is it all about just blogging, and getting hundreds of comments?  Or is it really about regular people just talking with regular people?

Sooner or later, once the realisation kicks in, that relationships as great as they are, don’t put food on the table, keep a roof over your head, or keep you warm, and clothed, you may start to look at it all very differently.  I could be wrong.  It could be that Social Media is a great way to escape the world that provides you with your sustenance, and lets you look onto the world that you would love to work in, if you had the means to support yourself, or a job taht paid enough.  But for me, that’s not the case.

Looking at “social media”, and making sense of what it really is, and what it really means to me, has really been put into perspective recently.  I’ve realised that I’ve actually put a lot of time energy, and attention into my online social network.  I’ve built up my social capital.  I’ve earnt currency and favour with many people on line.  Some I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with in person too.  Not everyone is necessarily the type of person I would want as my best friend.  But then that never was or is the point.  I’ve built up this pool, this reservoir of a network or community, and occasionally, I can tap that with some of the social capital that I’ve built up in that community.  For those times when I feel a bit low, or just need some moral support, I can find friends to confide in, or peers, to encourage me on.  It’s a tight knit community, in my mind, in that I feel tight with many of them, and hope they feel the same with me.

Now, that social capital that’s been built up is a bit of a nebulous, unclear currency.  Something that doesn’t have a clear boundary, or delimitation at present.  Typically, you can tell your generating value, and contributing more into your online community when you start to draw more attention, and people into the conversation.  Likewise, the reverse is true too.  When people start dropping away, or stop following, or unfriend you, more often, than not, then you are clearly milking your Social Capital more than you’re contributing into that pool.

It seems I’m actually a bit slow with my thinking and ideas, since there’s already people out there who had understood this social capital as something of value, before I had gotten to it.  Eiso Kant (@eisokant), and Mac Taylor (@macwind) had already figured this out, and put into motion the beginnings of a tool or mechanism to help capture, and measure this inherent social capital that exists in our communities.  Their project Twollars, is a “gratitude currency”, that helps to start capturing some of the gratitude and thanks that people feel towards someone in their community.  At present the system works only on Twitter, and all you do is send out a tweet, using certain words, in a certain order, and the Twollars platform picks up your message, and adjusts the balances of your and your recipients twitter account accordingly.  Try it out say “Give x twollars @USERNAME [give reason]” where X is the number of twollars you want to give, and USERNAME is the twitter ID of the person you want to give twollars to.  By default, everyone starts out with a balance of 50 Twollars, and there’s no need to register to start using the service, since it is listening to the twittersphere stream of conversation all the time.

The idea behind twollars is that when someone is grateful, or want to show their appreciation to someone else, they can show that appreciation by giving twollars.  Then, companies can sponsor a charity, who can then receive twollars as donations, from people, and the sponsoring company would then buy the twollars, and give the charity $1 for each twollar they buy from them.  The idea being that then companies can gain some kudos in the community by making a positive contribution to the charity, and gain access to some of the social capital within the online sphere.

Of course how those companies then use twollars, and give them out to people will affect any real success they have with their social media campaigns.

It’s interesting, given that this week is the Charity SmackDown, where celebrities are competing to get as much money raised using social media tools as possible.  It’ll be interesting to see the fallout, and where the social capital that these celebs have built up, will land.  I’m gonna hazard a guess, and say that most of these celebs have all established such a strong bank account of social capital and goodwill with their communities, that they’ll have no trouble getting people to fork out, and participate, and contribute in the causes.  If anything, their requests, and appeals to their communities will build an even stronger bond, and make them even more liked, and loved by the people already following them.   It’s times like these that everyone’s social capital becomes a positive asset in it’s own right.  Of course, if someone with hardly any community were trying to accomplish something as simliar, it’s still entirely possible.  Look at Amanda Rose (@amanda), organiser of the Twestival fundraising event that happened globally.  Whilst her personal following isn’t more than a few thousand followers, her social capital and the social capital that was built up around Twestival made a readily available pool to tap into, and build upon.  This pool of social capital allowed the Twestival team to generate a tremendous amount of potential social good, with all the money that was raised (at least $250k) from just a single night of events, happening around the globe, on the same day..

I think Twollars is an excellent way of starting to calibrate some of the social capital that we take for granted, and never really appreciate, and will help us, in days to come help put some baby training wheels on brands and big business, as they start to tip toe their way through the minefield of social media faux pas, and start using their own money to buy some social capital to start building some of that trust for themselves.

Obviously translating this social capital into a currency, like Twollars, isn’t going to remove the need to learn the basics of Social Media etiquette, and it certainly isn’t going to be a substitute for real relationships.  But now that there’s a way to measure and give away Social Capital on Twitter, perhaps now people will start accounting for their time in terms of real value that gets generated for them, or that they contribute back, rather than engaging in mind numbing conversations, just for the sake of talking.  Only time will tell, I guess.

Disclaimer: I am currently being paid by Twollars to help them raise awareness around the Twollars concept, and whilst these ideas, and thoughts are my own, I do want to declare that I am being paid to write this content.  That being said, I do firmly believe in what I’ve written, and were the Twollars guys just good friends, I would probably still write something very similar to what’s been written here.  The thoughts insights, and ideas, shared here are all my own, with the exception of the concept and implementation of Twollars, which remains the product of Eiso Kant, and Mac Taylor, the founders of Twollars.  I have also drawn upon my experiences of my Twitter community online, without which these insights and thoughts through reflection would not have been possible.

Choose Your Attitude

I don’t normally pay much attention to emails, and chains that I get sent..  Often, they’re just a waste of time, and occasionally there’s something in them, that make me stop and think about some of the choices I’ve made in my life.

I don’t know why, and I normally would never do this, but I read this, and felt like sharing it, with the readers of this blog.

Yes, it is a “chain” email that is probably doing the rounds.  And yes, there probably are a very select group of people, who I’m going to finger out, and send this email to, but for once I thought I’ll share it on my blog.  Just because it feels so “right” for me, where I am in my life ;)   Sometimes it’s good to look at things from different perspectives…

Choose Your Attitude

Michael is the kind of guy you love to hate. He is always in a good mood and always has something positive to say: When someone would ask him how he was doing, He would reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!”

He was a natural motivator. If an employee was having a bad day, Michael was there telling the employee how they could look on the positive side of the situation. Seeing this style really made me curious, so one day I went up to Michael and asked him, “I don’t get it! You can’t be a positive person all of the time. How do you do it?”

Michael replied, “Each morning I wake up and say to myself, ‘You have two choices today. You can choose to be in a good mood or you can choose to be in a bad mood.’ I choose to be in a good mood. Each time something bad happens, I can choose to be a victim or I can choose to learn from it. I choose to learn from it. Every time someone comes to me complaining, I can choose to accept their complaining or I can point out the positive side of life. I choose the positive side of life.

“Yeah, right, it’s not that easy,” I protested. “Yes, it is,” Michael, said. “Life is all about choices. When you cut away all the junk, every situation is a choice. You choose how you react to situations. You choose how people affect your mood. Your bottom line: “It’s your choice how you live life.” I reflected on what Michael said.

Soon after, I left the company to start my own business. We lost touch, but I often thought about him when I made a choice about life instead of reacting to it.

Several years later, I heard that Michael was involved in a serious accident, falling some 60 feet from a communications tower. After 18 hours of surgery and weeks of intensive care, Michael was released from the hospital with rods placed in his back.

I saw Michael about six months after the accident. When I asked him how he was, he replied. “If I were any better, I’d be twins. Wanna see my scars?” I declined to see his wounds, but I did ask him what had gone through his mind as the accident took place.

“The first thing that went through my mind was the well being of my soon to be born daughter,” Michael replied. “Then, as I lay on the ground, I remembered that I had two choices: I could choose to live or I could choose to die. I chose to live.” “Weren’t you scared? Did you lose consciousness?” I asked.

Michael continued, “…the paramedics were great. They kept telling me I was going to be fine. But when they wheeled me into the ER and I saw the expressions on the faces of the doctors and nurses, I got really scared. In their eyes, I read, ‘he’s a dead man.’ I knew I needed to take action.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, there was a big burly nurse shouting questions at me,” said Michael. “She asked if I was allergic to anything. ‘Yes,’ I replied. The doctors and nurses stopped working as they waited for my reply. I took a deep breath and yelled…


Over their laughter, I told them, “I am choosing to live. Operate on me as if I am alive, not dead.”

Michael lived, thanks to the skill of his doctors, but also because of his amazing attitude. I learned from him that every day we have the choice to live fully. Attitude, after all, is everything.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. After all, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

You have two choices now:

1. Delete this.

2. Forward it to the people you care about.

I hope you will choose #2. I did.


UK's Tech Community Mourns the Loss of One of It's Colleagues

Rob Williams, one of the co-founders, of Dolphin Music, a UK based online retailer of music equipment, died in a skiing accident on Monday evening, in Verbier in the Swiss Alps.  Mr Williams, aged 29, was on a weekend break, with a group of UK Entrepreneurs (Verbier: ICE 2009), and he along with his friend, and co-founder Jason Tavaria were separated from their group, on Monday afternoon, after some harsh weather conditions led to poor visibility.

The search for the two went out across Twitter, and with the help of the community, their phone number was located, and with their iPhone and Google Maps, which helped establish their co-ordinates, a search team was able to make their way to the co-ordinates that were communicated back.

Because of the harsh weather conditions, it was impossible to send out a helicopter rescue, and so the search teams went out on foot, to find the pair.

Unfortunately, Jason and Rob had gotten seperated from each other, and after Jason was found, safely, it took longer to find Rob, who unfortunately, didn’t make it.

It is a great loss to the UK’s Tech community, and my condolences go out to his family, and friends.  I cannot imagine what it must be like for them, and can only pray and hope that they get through this eventually.

As tragic as this loss is, it could have so easily been any one of us, in the UK Tech Community.  At 29, he had so much to live for, and so much of a life ahead of him, and being the same age, I realise just how little we can predict in life.

I hope and pray that his family get through this, with as much love, and support from the community as we can send to them.  Our thoughts are with Rob and his family, and I just want to acknowledge, and thank the UK Tech community for choosing to abstain from publicly tweeting about this, until after his family had been informed.  The solidarity shown by the community meant that his family didn’t have to hear about this from the TV, or read it in a newspaper, but were able to be told in person, before the news was publicly published, and acknowledged in the Twittersphere.

It goes to show that whilst it’s possible for news to be spread like wildfire, the community can also show restraint, where appropriate, and using the more private back channels, like DM’s, emails, and SMS, still serve to communicate, where appropriate, without the whole world being informed, until it’s appropriate to do so.

TechCrunch UK have written an excellent tribute to Rob, which summarises some of his many accomplishments, and achievements, and I’m going to duplicate it here.  You can find the original here.


rob_williams_dolphinmusicRob launched Dolphin Enterprises – today one of the leading providers of musical equipment on the internet in the UK – with Jason while they were still at university in September 1999. Rob was originally responsible for creating Dolphin’s original php/MySQL web application and running its platform thereafter.

The pair had been friends since school in St Albans, selling everything from computer games to magazines to the other kids in the playground.

The two friends used their student loans to start the business. Like many typical startups they ran the business from home, but it has since grown to a staff of over 65 with turnover of £13m. In 2007 it was ranked Britain’s 11th fastest-growing company. They also opened retail stores in Liverpool, Gateshead and Huddersfield and had plans to expand into Europe and the Far East. Along with Jason, Rob was profiled in The Daily Telegraph in December last year. Dolphin Music was also presented with an award for Best Performing Business at the Kick Start Awards.

In December 2007 Dolphin Music was named in the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list for the second year running. The Liverpool-based musical instrument retailer was listed as the 37th fastest growing company in the UK, and was the only retailer to appear in the list. Dolphin is also on Twitter.

Rob was a great supporter of schemes to help young people into the entrepreneurial life, supporting the government’s Make Your Mark initiative. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and colleagues.

Publishing Full Content Through My RSS Feed in WordPress

Ok, I’ve just recently changed my RSS feed settings, so that it should now publish detailed blog postings, via RSS..

Had a request on twitter, by one of the readers of the blog, asking me why I didn’t publish the full content of the article, via RSS, and truth be told, I didn’t even know there was a setting.

Perhaps I had mistakenly set it earlier, or previously, but I didn’t really have an recollection of the setting at all..

Eventually, I found it, under Settings/Reading (in WordPress), and apparently I had set my feed summary to show only a brief portion of the article through the RSS feed.  It wasn’t deliberate, but in retrospect, people may prefer shorter summaries from me, given that some of my posts can be quite long and detailed, since I’m a firm believer in over delivering in value, and content, and less about generating lots of  ”fast”, “snappy” content, to try to increase my google ratings, or some such reason.  Besides, that’s not what I want to focus on here.  This is my personal living room, the place where I share with you my thoughts, my ideas, my perspectives in life.. And frankly, I want to make it as comfortable as I possibly can for you to listen in, and participate in conversations when you want to.

With that in mind – if anyone else has any feedback they’d like to share with me, about this blog, it’s RSS, what works, what doesn’t work, what they think of it.  I’d appreciate your thoughts, suggestions, and feedback :)  I’ll be blogging more over the coming weeks.. and apologise in advance if I haven’t finished off that article I said I would.. It’s in the pipeline.. I just have to figure out when to write it ;)

Choose Your Twitter ID Wisely

I recently changed my main twitter ID.

I used to be known as @magitam, and now I’m known, as @farhan. I got tired of having to introduce myself as both myself, and my twitter alter ego.

It all started, back at the first ever twestival in London.  If I remember correctly, I got asked by @matthagger how my twitter ID of @magitam related to my name?

It didn’t..

Magitam was a legacy reference to something I’d come up with when creating my “yahoo” account, back somewhere around 2001, or perhaps it was before that, when I first discovered IRC in 1997.  Either way it was my “handle”.  It had been something I’d been using to identify myself, anonymously when I first started to go online.  This is long before facebook, and myspace, and twitter.  This is going back to the days before gmail, when you might have had AOL as your main email account, and yahoo and hotmail were just getting started.  Days when you would hang out in IRC, because that’s where all the cool people online would be.. and this is back in those days when you would use “newsgroups”, to find stuff out, instead of RSS feeds from blogs, and news sites ;)

Back then I wanted my identity to be pseudo anonymous.  There weren’t enough people on the internet to ever think that I would ever be meeting in real life the people I’m having conversations with.  It just wasn’t something that you ever thought would happen.

Besides, you would put people through a vetting process, of getting to know them, of engaging and interacting with them virtually, and given enough time, you would start to have a familiarity with someone, you would know them, and be able to distinguish their personalities, and respective identities, as being synonymous with these anonymous tags, or handles that everyone used.

It wasn’t an internet that was meant to be real life social, or allow you to actually meet real people, it was an internet that was a refuge for the people who felt alienated and alone, or wanted to find friends with similar thinking to their own, or with common interests, who they could turn to, knowing that these were a crowd you could trust, and say and share pretty much anything, and there would be no serious repercussions.  It was a store of information, an online library, with talking in the corridors, and disused corners.  In some ways, it was a place where people would practice being themselves, with no pretense, and no barriers to being themselves, unless they chose to have them.  The worst repercussion could be that you’d be ostracised or alienated by your community, but then you would always be able to find a new group of people to connect with online.

Fast forward to 2008, and the Internet is a very different place. Now it’s a world of greater transparency, and visibility.  We now use the internet to stay connected with people we meet whilst travelling the globe.  We manage to make friends, all around the world, and now as we all travel globally, we actually try to meet the real people we made friends with online.

This is a very different world.  This is a very different internet..

Whilst I wasn’t consciously thinking about it I had actually assumed and brought forward the traits from the old internet with me to the world of Social Media.  It was cool.. My “identity” in this online world was “MagiTam” – and as I met more people, IRL (in real life), I started to build this brand and identity of MagiTam.  It was my online twitter persona, it was how people knew me.  It was all about creating this brand, this identity, associated with this label, or term, of MagiTam.  I was creating my own international brand, just like Nike, only with a team of 1 at the helm, and my logo was my profile photo of me.

Well, it finally dawned on me, that perhaps my “identity” of MagiTam just complicates things.  Having to introduce myself as @magitam and Farhan, was just double effort.  I didn’t really care to “hide” the person that I am.. And to be fair, I have my full name on my profile on Twitter, so it wasn’t like I was trying to hide my personal identity.

Then, it just clicked that perhaps I should see if I can get hold of @farhan.. and lo and behold, I asked Farhan Mannan, if he would mind terribly if I could have the twitter name of @farhan, since it was an integral part of my work, and if he wouldn’t mind terribly I’d like to be able to brand myself with that name..  Well, he kindly agreed, and a few hours later, I had set up a new account with the twitter ID of @farhan ;)   Thanks @farhanmannan!

Once I’d secured this identity (I already had @farhanrehman, in a seperate account), I realised that I wasn’t quite sure when or how to switch the name across, and if I should just switch it, or start tweeting from the new account, and re-start my twitter life. 

I happened to read recently about how @jimconnolly had just re-set his twitter account having inadvertently become a bit of a celebrity in the twitterverse, and mistakenly found himself following many internet marketers that were all asking him to tweet their websites, and share their products, or offerings.  Eventually, out of desperation, he decided to re-start, and just follow people who were clients, or actual friends.

I was going through one of these moments of desperation myself recently, where because I’ve reached a 2k limit on twitter, I can’t follow anymore people, until more than 2k people follow me back.. Which is quite annoying.. But my solution around it right now, is that I go to Twitter Karma and just unfollow people, based on who isn’t following me back.  Some people like @amanda or @paulwalsh I stay following, regardless of whether they follow back or not.  They appear to be staples of the london tech community, and so worth keeping an ear out for.  But others, who I don’t really know or recognise too well, and generally are based some place outside of the UK/London, are people who I start to unfollow, just so that I can start to follow more people who I’ve actually connected with in person, in some way shape or form.. 

The thing is, these are “real” connections, with real people, around conversations that I would actually have in person with them, if I were in the same locality.  In fact, thanks to tools like twitter, it actually makes it ever more likely that I will be able to actually meet more of these people that I engage and interact with on Social Networking platforms such as Twitter or Facebook.

With this much transparency, and this level of real world visibility, to the point that I can sometimes tell where people are, based on their tweets, and reference to events happening in and around London, I actually am looking for ever more opportunities to connect with people in person.  Especially people who I’ve spoken with, or exchanged messages with on platforms like Twitter, and Facebook.

This means that unlike Improbulus, who consciously chooses to maintain a certain level of anonymity and privacy, with regards to her real identity, I’m actually interested in being as open, visible and transparent as I can be.  Perhaps too much so, but given that my identity online is intrinsically woven into the persona
of me, even if someone wanted to steal or imitate me, it wouldn’t last very long, at least I don’t think it would be.  But I guess, I just don’t go there. 

Perhaps I believe a little too much in the innate goodness of people, but one thing that I’ve found, especially more so since using twitter, is that people want to talk with people.  They want to interact with the person.  They don’t really want to speak to an “identity” without knowing the person behind it.  Those days of virtual identities, and anonymity online are starting to be of a bygone era. Now we look at ever more increasingly effective ways of using Social Media to amplify our voices, and throw our messages out into an ether, that connects it to the right people at the right time, and brings us back, so much of what we need, when we need it.

With this current day internet, and world of Social Media, you want your name on twitter to be representative of you the person.  Some people might be happier being a brand, or a product, but I think unless you happen to embody that brand or that company, you’ll probably find it easier to just be yourself.  Think of a name that you want to be known as, in real life, when you meet with someone, who you might already know really well on twitter.  Will you have to introduce yourself as something other than your twitter ID?  Do you want to or care about that?

I guess for me, especially being a Social Media Consultant, I’m often advising people and learning myself about what works.. My name works best for me.  I’m happy to be known as Farhan in real life, and now that I’m also known as @farhan on twitter, I don’t have to worry about trying to explain who I am.  Even better, when I meet people who follow me, instead of them wondering what my name is, if they recognise me from twitter, my twitter id will be enough for them to remember who I am.

I sometimes find it a challenge, when you meet someone who doesn’t have their actual name in their twitter id, to remember or figure out who they are.. Like the girl with a one track mind (@girlonetrack).  Fortunately, I’ve seen her at events enough times, that I finally figured out her name as Zoe Margolis (though sneaking a peek at her twitter profile kinda helped ;)

I guess it’s always going to be cool to have a “label” or a “cool” twitter handle, when you’re using it amongst your friends, and people who know you, but then when joe bloggs starts using it, then it may or may not be as useful, or helpful to still have the same cool, “in” joke of a nick name.

I guess in some respects, it’s not really any different to having a nickname, versus your real name.  In my case, because I use twitter with people who I would want to do business with, as well as friends, and generally just want to be remembered, I choose to now use my actual name as my twitter identity.  At least now when people come upto me and ask me if I am my twitter ID, the answer will be a resounding yes, without having to then say “and also, my real name is…” ;)   Now I just have to sort out new Moo Cards, for the new Twitter handle…

Next I have to figure out what to use for my custom flickr url, since the magitam reference doesn’t apply anymore :(   Suggestions welcome below ;)

Does Social Networking Miss Out on the Human Element?

I’m missing something.

I don’t know what.  But it’s not something that is being satisfied by the usual, “engagement online”.  The twittering, the facebook, the email, all of it, I just don’t want any of it… I want the conversations with people, not the “virtual” interaction with someone.

There was a time, when I believed we could just do away with the human element of interaction for the most part.  We have the essence of all those communications, being exchanged, and communicated through the electronic forms, from avatars, and virtual representations in second life, to the thoughts and ideas being communicated across the spectrum via email, twitter, SMS, Facebook, IM.. The list goes on and on..

But I don’t think you can just swap one for the other.

I don’t think you can fundamentally replace the human engagement and interaction with something virtual and non-physical.. Why do I say that?? Because I feel that “lack”.. I feel what it’s like to be disconnected, and not have an outlet for expressing oneself as a person, as a human, as yourself.. Without having to type at 30 words per minute, or speak into a mic, and try to pretend that you can communicate the fullness of being in an electronic form.  It just doesn’t work.  You can’t do it.

There is something there, in taking the time to be with people, to be in the company of people, and to just chill with people that we can’t get through the technology.  It’s actually something that you can pretend doesn’t matter to you, but it most definitely cannot be replaced.  Just this evening, I was going through one of those “moments”.  You know those moments, when you decide that you don’t really want to continue down the path or road that you’re currently on, and you desperately wish you had someone to talk to?? (Oh, you don’t experience times like that?  Guess that’s just me then ;)

I had just gotten to a point where I needed more than just people who shared ideas, and concepts, and work, and life.. I wanted to just chill, to relax, to unwind.. To have friends I could call upon and just talk to, and let it out of my system, and know that they understand, and will just be there for me..

It’s gotten me thinking all about what am I missing?? What am I getting from this electronic twittering, and blogging, and facebooking… Why am I doing it? Why do I care??

Getting Personal with Twitter…

Jim Connolly (@jimconnolly) managed to build up an impressive network of followers, and people following him, on Twitter, with over 20,000 people in his twitter network, and discovered that he had drawn the wrong kind of attention.

He was being plagued by Internet Marketing “spammers” asking him to promote their website, and blogs, but who were very disinterested in having “real conversations”.  He wasn’t being followed by people who were necessarily interested in him, or his conversations, but were just looking to be promoted, and were DM’ing him to say so..

He’s since had to “reset” his Twitter account, in order to be able to start from scratch, and start re-building his following, and, more importantly, the people that he follows…

It’s raised an interesting conversation, in my mind, around this virtual community that can emerge, or be dissolved around your electronic identity.  Just by deleting, or closing an account, you can find yourself disconnected, unplugged, and separated from everyone else in that virtual space.  And just as easily, re-opening your account, you can quickly re-establish your identity, or be re-discovered by the friends, and familiar faces you come to encounter in these virtual worlds.

It starts to beg the question, of what defines our identity in this virtual space?? How are we truly connecting, or relating to each other, if with the flick of  a switch we can make ourselves invisible, or disconnected from each other??

Is it the conversations, and encounters we have with people that shape our use of the tools and services we use? Or are we innately just the sum product of our responses, and replies to others, on these social networks?

I’ve long been a firm believer in the power of personal connections, and meeting with people in person.. Taking the time to physically meet with people.  Take the time to talk with them.  Take the time to have real meaningful conversations, and connect with the person on the other side of the table.  But do social networks like twitter, dilute that down, or enrich the experience further?

I can see that connecting with a few thousand people in person might be less than possible, if I’m not someone like Thomas Power (founder of Ecademy), or Roger Hamilton (founder of XL Networks), people in large global social networks, who are visible advocates of their networks, jetting around the world, looking to make connections with people, and encouraging participation, that leads to them, eventually turning a profit.

But what kind of connection can you possibly have with a few thousand people? What about a few hundred people??

If it’s about quality, not quantity, then indeed, there has to be some discrimination, on each individuals part, as to who they add to their network and who they don’t.  Jim Connolloy, after his learning experience, has decided to only add people who he engages with, or who are clients, or contacts..  I think that’s an excellent approach to take, and an excellent idea, in principle… Of course, if Jim’s anything like me, and always out there looking to find new and interesting people to follow in conversation, he may happen across more people than he can reasonably follow.  I for one can’t actually follow any more people, until my following catches up with my interest in others… (there’s a Twitter imposed limit of 2k people that you can follow, until your number of people following back increases beyond that).

Nevertheless, I’m sure having gone through the hoops with Twitter once over already, @jimconnolly is already pulling in the conversation and reigning it around people, and things that interest him or engage him directly, rather than trying to cater to the masses.  Sooner or later, a message has to relate to your personal interests, to the things you like to do, to the people that you want to talk to, and less about who you think might be interesting to have those conversations with.

I wonder how long it will be before it’s going to be about having the conversations themselves, that matter, and less about the people having those conversations?

Or perhaps that would make it just too impersonal??  What do you think?

Jeff Pulver Visits London

Tuesday evening, 27th of January, 2009, at the London Geek Dinners, in Hummus Bros in Covent Garden, a bunch of techies and geeks gathered, waiting expectantly to hear some inspiring words of wisdom, and learn from Jeff Pulver, headlined as “Technology Anthropologist; Entrepreneur; Early-Stage Seed Investor; speaker, Living in Social Media”..

Arriving at Hummus Bros a little after 7pm, I was glad to find that I had arrived earlier than the guest speaker.  Digging into a warm apple juice with cinnamon, some tabouleh, and some hummus and avocado, gave me a chance to catch up with some familiar faces, and enjoy a satisfying dinner, before Jeff’s arrival.  Apparently, he was coming, straight from the airport, and arrived a short while after I finished ;) Nice timing indeed!

After Jeff got a chance to get settled, and have some dinner, he gave us a short 20 minute speech, sharing some interesting insights, and giving us some of his thoughts around Social Media.

He related some of his childhood stories, of being a Ham radio operator, as a child, and how his persona as a shy child at school was a completely different identity to the person that he could be on the radio.  The two worlds, allowed him to experience being “himself” – without people being able to go on anything more than his voice, and what he talked about.  That liberating freedom, to hide behind the technology, back when Ham Radio’s were mainstream, hasn’t really changed too much, to this day.  That ability to be yourself, with technology dealing with the job of masking the real you, has really become something of an everyday reality.  In fact, so much so, that I remember turning up to an event, where I was sat right behind someone, who I had befriended virtually, but until that moment, didn’t even know who she was ;)   It’s crazy that you can hide yourself, so well, behind the technology, and if you’re just a little afraid, you don’t have to worry about being yourself, until you’re hidden.  Then you magically discover the courage to be yourself.  Scary, yet empowering at the same time :)

Jeff related a story of his high school reunion, which he attended, and went equipped with a video camera, to ask people what they remembered of him, and the first three folks he asked couldn’t even remember who he was, and then the fourth person he asked remembered him, saying something like – ah yes, you’re the one with a cool dad!  Jeff’s take, on that, after reviewing the videotape, after the reunion, was to remember, that it’s not about how you remember yourself to be, but about how others remembered you to be.  An interesting point, I think, we can often forget about.  When creating an impression, it’s not about what you do, or say, it’s about how the other perceives what you’ve said or done..

My final take, from Jeff Pulver’s talk that evening, was about how he would never want to have, on his public facebook identity, pictures of his children.  He discussed the way in which there were clear segments of groups of people, and the ways he related, and connected to them, meant that to different groups of people he wanted to share different things, or disclose different bits of information.  That challenge alone is enough to realise the shortcomings of our current tools of communication..  This point, was, more saliently touching upon an idea that I’ve been playing with for a few years now, and been refining, and synthesizing, through my own needs.. Having the ability to segment, and selectively email groups of people has been in my list of targets to accomplish for a long time now..

Imagine that you have personal pictures that you want to share with your family, pictures of your work colleagues, you want to share with your work friends, and pictures of you out on the town, with friends, that you want to share with just that group of friends.. Right now – there’s no easy or simple solution to that dilemma.. but rest assured, I’m working on it ;) – If you want to talk more about that challenge, hear about some of the innovative solutions that have been thought of already, or help develop the next generation of information filtering and distribution, then get in touch, or comment below, and let’s get the conversation rolling ;)

Jeff, ended by sharing his take on the future… He saw the future as being even more converged, even more connected, even more interconnectedness across our world… He also talked about how technology is making the world smaller, and mentioned a bit about how the ability to stay connected, to have an ambient awareness of everything your friends have been upto.  He described how his childrens generation stayed connected with their friends, even through the school holidays, and that they each know what the others have been upto, thanks to facebook, myspace, and similar platforms..

Imagine who you might still be friends with, or connected with now, if you’d had these tools at your disposal when you were younger??  Our children are growing up in the world, where it’s normal to have travelled to another country, have friends around the world, and stay connected through technology.

Food for thought eh?? Or Fodder for your dreams!!  Night all!