Writing in the long form
June 8th, 2012

#ff: Five Follow (inspirational) Fridays

I’m not a huge fan of the #ff (Follow Friday) thing, where people recommend other people to follow on Twitter. Usually, because many of the well-meaning people who do this throw out a list of @ twitter handles, with no reason why they should be followed. It can be a little overwhelming.

When doing the #ff myself I’ve usually recommended five people, giving each one a tweet-full of explanations or justification as to why they should be followed. No-one else seems to do it this way, but as my middle name should be “ploughing a lonely furrow”, this isn’t an issue.

So, here are five people you are invited to consider following on Twitter (or on other social media or, hey, in real life). Three are American (perhaps not surprising considering the many adventures there over the last decade) and two are English. Two I have never met, and two of the others I haven’t met for a good few years now. Hmmm. You don’t need to constantly see someone in real life for them to be an inspiration.

But I want to do a bit more justice, give a bit more detail than just a tweet, to these people. These five in particular I know in some way or other, and have been a significant positive influence over me for the last seventeen years or so. Perhaps ‘hero’ isn’t the right word, being more associated in these times with firemen, or military personnel, or people who save lives in some other way. Inspirations, or role models, then. People who I think more than once “Yeah, wish I was more like him/her.”

1. Jessamyn West (@jessamyn)

On the surface, Jessamyn just appears to be a librarian working in a small town library in a rural New England state. But, that’s just the surface. Jessamyn can be regarded as the online librarian equivalent of Patient Zero (Librarian Zero?) – in a positive sense. Through her work, profile, “this needs to be done so I’ll just do it” attitude, and longevity as an online presence, other librarians have raised their game. You can see this in her substantial online content, some of which is at the domain name many probably wish they’d gotten, librarian.net.

Jessamyn has a page on Wikipedia. She is only ten days older than me, but has achieved a heck of a lot more. She’s written the book Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide, and has been an open access, freedom of access to knowledge, privacy and library advocate for many years now.

questions and answers ii

As well as being a library and online trainer of residents (specialising in seniors), Jessamyn presents at many library events and spends a lot of time moderating, and adding content to, Metafilter which has become my main offbeat news source.

I first became aware of Jessamyn online in the 90s, when there seemed to be a librarian over in America, who was not in a library school, putting up lots of stuff on the websies that wasn’t pictures of cats. At the time, outside of academia and geekdom, this was an unusual thing to do. What’s impressed the most over the years is how consistently Jessamyn has put this increasing amount of material online. While I’ve scatter-gunned content everywhere that may take years to fix, Jessamyn has built a formidable one-person archive. Kudos.

I’ve never met her in real life, though we have been in a Chicago airport at the same time on two occasions, and it’s gotten to the point now where, perhaps oddly, I’m not sure I want to meet Jessamyn in real life; expectation would make me terrified and I’d probably hide.

2. Andy Powell (@andypowe11)

The punk rebel who always seems just a moment away from putting the Doc Martens back on, length of Britain cyclist, Eduserv programme director, metadata guru and occasional swimwear model.

Andy was poached from the technical services of Bath University to join the metadata team at UKOLN, back in the day when Lorcan was the boss. This was a big coup, and strengthened UKOLN in the technical research area. Of the many things he did there, Andy is perhaps best known for DC Dot, and his JISC Information Environment diagram which 73% of the worlds population have now seen at some point* (think “Monolith from 2001 A Space Odyssey” for gravitas).

Despite doing all these things, Andy always seems to have a remarkably laid-back, unstressed, demeanor. In our office at UKOLN, we came to the conclusion that his blood pressure reading is probably … 2. Andy appears in the famous “UKOLN team of 1996″ picture. Of the four devastatingly handsome men in the centre of the back row, he’s the furthest to the right:

UKOLN Staff Photo 1996 (Anne Chapman not present)

By coincidence, Andy Powell joined twitter exactly five years ago today. It was his tweeting that got me intrigued with the whole twitter thing, and encouraged me to give it a go. Here’s his first tweet:

First tweet of Andy Powell

After several years of creating all manner of teccie things and becoming a rather crucial person in the driving of such developments in the UK academic research sector, Andy made the move down the hill to Eduserv (whose historical roots are somewhat entwined with UKOLNs). With Andy running the programme, Eduserv gave funding and support to Virtual World Watch back a few years, which became my baby to run with (in an abstractly similar way to running with Ariadne some 12 years or so before).

There’s a lesson there; don’t burn your bridges. Oh, and the virtual world stuff brings us to…

3. Aleks Krotoski (@aleksk)

Aleks has a page on Wikipedia.

I first became aware of her in the late 1990s when a late night games review TV show, Bits, appeared on TV. It was, and still is, the best program of its kind on UK TV (though admittedly some of the competition is … not strong). Aleks and Emily and the other Emily bounced around various locations in Glasgow, and reviewed video games in an intelligent manner, as they had obviously played them in depth.

Aleks Krotoski

This was strangely liberating. Women, not men, talking with knowledge and depth about video games, while often sending up anything and everything. It’s the one games show, out of the many, I miss. For your amusement:

Aleks popped up in another games review programme (Thumb Bandits), started to write on matters gaming and technology for the Guardian, and presented the four part BBC TV series Virtual Revolution.

Academically she’s done a PhD, which involved using Second Life a lot. It was through Aleks giving me my first guided tour of that environment that I had my “Aha!” virtual-worlds-in-education moment, which led to Virtual World Watch as previously mentioned. Everything is connected; yo! Her book on Learning and Research in Virtual Worlds is also pretty good, in particular for academics who aren’t well up on this technology in education.

Like Jessamyn, Aleks is someone I’ve “known” only online and who, for the same reasons as for Jessamyn, am uncertain I now want to meet in real life. We nearly met at a Nintendo event on games I spoke at that she curated a few years ago, but Aleks was I think collecting an award elsewhere that evening (to add to the BAFTA, Emmy and other nice shiny things she’s accumulated).

4. Tom Roper (@tomroper)

After several interesting jobs in the library and information sector, Tom is now the Primary Care Librarian in Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust. He also runs, swims, sails, plays musical instruments, learns old languages, follows horse racing, sails, mans a lifeboat, and does a load of other things I’ve forgotten.

Tom Roper

Once described as “the most dangerous man in librarianship” I met Tom way back in the day, the mid-90s, during a presentation about digital library things that somehow mentioned squirrel hazing. This has not been forgotten, and unfortunately neither has [REDACTED].

Our first few meetings were, for me, quietly terrifying as Tom exhibited a casual but vast array of knowledge (think he decided to answer one of my questions in both Greek and Latin at one point). Tom is part of Voices for the Library; though he isn’t as high profile as some of the other activists online, don’t underestimate his influence and reach. Others have done so, to their cost (see the testimonials on his website).

5. Becky Yoose (@yo_bj)

After a few years as the Bibliographic Systems Librarian at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Becky is now the Discovery and Integrated Systems Librarian at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. As well as doing all manner of technical things which I don’t totally understand, Becky also runs libcatcode.org, is building the definitive list of library-cataloger types on twitter, has a writes loads of articles and chapters, is starting to run various groups again, and is heavily involved in the annual Code4Lib conference.

Yes, and she owns cats. Or they own her.

Laser Ninja Cat

Biased? No. There aren’t many people I know who, while still in their twenties, are the key teccie person in the library of a prestigious college (yeah; check out the size of the endowment fund for this college of just 1,600 students), have a degree and masters and are on tenure track, who own their own home, and already have an impressive CV including conference organisation and publications.

This was done with no help and hand-up, through a sheer putting-in-the-hours, and with the hindrance of a mad Englishman. Becky is also very skilled in working out what she wants, and how to get it.

Commonalities? Themes? Yes. Driven and self-motivated is probably the binding one.

  1. They are all seriously intelligent people, but haven’t wasted that intelligence.
  2. All have a strong work ethic and, well, just get stuff done.
  3. And because they’ve got a lot done, no matter the obstacles, they’ve achieved a lot.
  4. And despite achieving a lot, none of those five are arrogant, or have an ego. Or if they do, it’s well hidden. They are all genuine people.
  5. And they’re very active, or activists, in their field. Non of them is a nine to five person.

Anyway, that’s my list of inspirational people. Oh yeah; back to the original point, all of them tweet interesting stuff, so they’re also recommended people to follow on Twitter.

* = may be a slight exaggeration. But only a slight one.

May 1st, 2012

TO MOVE: Why I unfollowed you on Twitter

I’ve unfollowed a fair few people on Twitter over the last month. A couple of these have noticed and asked “Why?”, which is always an amusing question – asking someone why they’ve unfollowed you on a social media system runs the risk of getting a negative, personal or hurtful response back.

My own number of followers goes up and down daily; so be it. Some people probably find my tweets boring, irrelevant, offensive, crude, too frequent, politically incorrect or different to their own. Whatevs. Getting obsessed, or worried, about being unfollowed is unhealthy – and, pointless. Social media connections are simply not the same as friendship connections. Following someone on e.g. twitter is merely stating “I wish to receive your tweets automatically in my tweet feed”. It does not mean “I now regard you as a friend” or “I like you unconditionally” or “I have more respect for what you say than all of the people who I do not follow”.

This is illustrated by the reasons why I chose to unfollow some people. Non of these were agonisingly long decisions; there simply is not the time to have a long think about whether to follow someone, or not follow them, or to unfollow them. If you do invest lots of time in that activity, you need to seriously have a hard and honest look at how you spend your very finite time. Some of the people I’ve unfollowed I still regard as friends in the real world. And some of the people I still follow I don’t regard as a friend(*), and possibly don’t even like, or would avoid in the real world. In some cases – certainly not all cases – I’m following you on twitter because your tweets are useful, but I certainly don’t want to go out for a curry with you.


To ram this point bluntly home; see this graphic from xkcd.org. If this happened to you – and at some point in your life you will become seriously ill or die – then do you want a large chunk of the “before the bad time” episode of your life timeline to just be “considered in great details who to follow, or unfollow, on social media networks.”?

Anyway; why I unfollowed some people lately:

  1. You tweet-ranted about the “evils of advertising” in exaggerated detail. Then, straight afterwards, tweeted every time someone bought a copy of your fucking book. (Not a book about sex; it was just deeply annoying to see the same tweet over and over). Strike out for hypocrisy.
  2. You bitched about your ex, openly, in public, in intimate gynecological detail. Whether he or she was a good person or a bad person, I didn’t want to know these details. They’re probably false anyway as you obviously hate them. Also – any future partner who comes across your tweets will run a mile away.
  3. You made unamusing jokes about rape, sexual abuse or domestic violence. Unacceptable; to me, anyway. One of the downsides of twitter in particular is “trending topics”, where you become aware that you’re sharing the same social network with a lot of people who have a very different mindset to your own. That’s one thing, but when people who you had respect for, and thought were, well, better than that start picking up on the very dodgy hashtags and trends, it’s enormously disappointing. Not sure I want to spend time with you in real life, let alone on a social network.
  4. 92 tweets in one day (yes, counted them) was too much, blocked out much other stuff from my tweet stream. While tweeting a conference is good and often useful, tweeting literally every sentence a speaker said: not good.
  5. “The library is dead.” Oh just fuck off.
  6. “This [bad thing done by right wing politicians] disgusts me.” Here’s the thing. I agreed with most, possibly all, of your tweets. But with a 24/7 avalanche of news, and much of it bad things done by conservative politicians in the US and the UK, I know what you’re going to say, and seeing many tweets per day – or hour – of the same ilk means I ignore them and miss your occasionally useful tweets. In other words; your tweets are completely predictable, so it’s a waste of time reading them.
  7. [When no football on TV] “Sport A is boring. Sport B is boring. Sport C is boring. Sport XYZ is boring.” [When football on TV] “Oh great shot. Nearly scored. Another shot. Oh he misses.” Yadda yadda yadda. There’s a peculiarity with football in particular that more than a few fans seem remarkably and vocally intolerant of everything that is not football. I don’t like it for many reasons (who benefits financially, and the violent culture which surrounds it, being two) but I accept that many do like it. Tweet that you find football boring, however, when there’s a football match on and my god the reaction is often extreme and just bizarre. Even from above average intelligent people who you mutually follow, and seem to undergo a 90 minute temporary lobotomy when the match starts.
  8. “I’ve donated to [worthy cause]. And so should you.” Do not tell me how I should spend my money. Do not try and guilt-trip me. At best, come up with a dispassionate reason. You glowing in self-worthiness of donating is not a reason, irrelevant of the cause.
  9. “Here’s my latest blog post:” (nothing till next day) “Here’s my latest blog post:” (nothing till next day) “Here’s my latest…”. One I am guilty of myself, and I will probably hypocritically do by tweeting this post as soon as it’s finished and live. If you do this, at least try and tweet other things, rather than use twitter solely for self-promotion.
  10. “I’ve changed my avatar to protest [cause x]; change yours too”. “My twitter count for this week is up 3 followers, 14 retweets, 7 being an asshat, whatever these automated things vomit out.” “My klout score today is 73.3% pretentious douchebag.” “I have joined InstaHipstaGram. Follow this link to join.” One or two automated messages; okay. A regular flow of them, and they’re all vacuous; bye.

The common thread? To save time, and get a higher quality over quantity information feed from the collective herd of twitter.

Off the top of my head, that’s just my personal list of reasons why I’ve unfollowed some people in the last month or two. Your list will be different. Each to their own. Some people use filters to block out hashtags, or people who talk about certain things, but after some experimenting, it’s yet more time spent/lost on fiddling about with people and what they say.

(*) insecure people: please don’t DM me with “Did you mean me when you typed that?” :-)