Bjelkeman's travel notes

Travels with the cloud in my pocket.

Reflektioner på #SSWC 11 dagar senare

Some reflections on the un-conference Swedish Social Web Camp #SSWC, in Swedish.

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Första frågan var: “Vad var #SSWC för dig?” och Anna Hass (@glimra) börjar, följt av Roman Pixell (@d0pp13r) och till sist Jennifer Bark (@thejennie). Vi satt tillsammans med ett gäng andra på lite post #SSWC snack.

SSWC-Jesus

För övrigt så måste jag säga att min favoritbild från #SSWC 2010 är “Jesus på berget” eller “SSWC Jesus”: Roman Pixell (@d0pp13r) i kimono, predikande visa ord om hur du får din nättjänst att stå ut i mängden. Bilden innehåller allt man behöver veta om SSWC 2010: det var avslappnat nog att man kunde hålla en session in kimono utan att ses som ett freak, eken, sommar, deltagandet av alla närvarande och naturen.

Filed under: SSWC

Crowd-sourced books, a passing fad?

SSWC-boken at Sweden Social Web Camp 2010

“SSWC-boken at Sweden Social Web Camp 2010 by bisonblog, on Flickr

Most recently I have been participating in two crowd sourced books and picked up the results of a third. The first one I got prompted to contribute to is The Future We Deserve, @theFWD, which is organised by Vinay Gupta, @leashless. TheFWD essays are supposed to be about the future and about 500 words long, with a goal of 100 essays in 100 days. TheFWD has not been published yet, but you can help make it happen.

The second book, which I contributed to, got delivered into my hand at Swedish Social Web Camp #SSWC over the weekend. The book is called SSWC-boken 2010/The SSWC-book 2010. The contributors were mostly people who went to the #SSWC un-conference, who could contribute something new or something old which they had published before. The goal was to have the book available by the time #SSWC started. The initiative for the SSWC-boken was taken by Mattias Boström, @mattiasb, who works for the publisher Piratförlaget, @piratforlaget.

The third book, that I didn’t contribute to, which I was given a copy of at #SSWC, is called Intangible Artifacts. The brief for this book was loose, but focused around the urban environment. It was worked on by a number of people but the instigator was Martin Palacios, @palace, who works at Veidekke Bostad, a property developer.

Intangible Artifacts

"Intangible Artifacts" delas ut av @palace #sswc #digitalstorytelling

The three books have been put together using rather different approaches. The brief about Intangible Artifacts went out to the community that follows the #SSWC event, probably a couple of thousand people, with a narrow brief with, what I feel, an implicit goal of getting some quality essays written. The result is a slick book in full colour, with good essays following the subject matter around the urban landscape, with a fairly strong connection to social media. Resulting in 24 essays covering 78 pages. The quality of the production is what you would expect of a fairly edgy print magazine. They had a “zero” budget for the book, but I think Veidekke paid for the printing. The books were given away for free. Supposedly there are still some copies left. Otherwise you can read it online.

SSWC-boken

The brief for SSWC-boken was a lot wider. Essentially a short piece written by yourself. Again the call for essays went out to the community that follows #SSWC. The result is a thick book, with 180 essays making up 590 pages. The book is printed on-demand in black and white, it demonstrates to me how far the on-demand printing business have come, it feels solid. I haven’t read much of it yet, but people who have tell me that it is both serious and laughter inducing, and feels like a good cross-section of what the social web is like in Sweden in 2010. Piratförlaget paid for the printing, and asked everyone who wanted to buy a book at #SSWC to pay the printing cost, 100 kr, about 10 Euro. They are now selling the book online for 125 kr plus shipping. Go on, it is the Swedish social web book of the year, buy it!

The Future We Deserve

The Future We Deserve had in many ways a much narrower brief than both of these books. Writing a meaningful piece about the future in 500 words is pretty hard. This essentially meant that most people had to write something from scratch, or condense some earlier writing. I also think that the context means that people think carefully about what they write. These 500 words will follow you around for a long time and show how wrong you were. 🙂 #TheFWD is still being assembled and the funding for putting together the book is being crowd-sourced via Kickstarter. I would encourage you to contribute to the book, either with an essay, a couple of bucks or both. I know it is going to be worth it!

Different approaches

I think the main difference between these books were that TheFWD is worked on by a group of people that are unlikely to see each other in the flesh anytime soon. The SSWC-book and Intangible Artifacts were both written with a goal in mind, a meeting, #SSWC, where you could actually both see and get the book and meet the people who contributed. I think that put a lot more urgency onto the production and encouraged people to contribute in a more hands-on way.

A passing fad?

Are crowd-sourced books a passing fad or something which we will see a lot of in the future? I am not sure. Do assemblies of of essays make sense if you can’t package them nicely? After all, the blog part of the web is like a giant assembly of essays in many ways.

The hard copy version of the book, is it an echo from the past, where us born after the revolution the web represents, still value our words in bound print? I suspect it is. As soon as I had some decent bandwidth I downloaded the ePub version of SSWC-boken to my iPad and I expect I will read most of it there, rather than in hardcopy. The hardcopy book is heavier, doesn’t have search or lots of bookmarks (without getting messy) and can’t be synced with my iPhone when I am on the move.

But there is an intense pleasure to read a good book in hardcopy, not mentioning all the benefits of dead tree books. Which my home attests to, by having five wall covering book cases, with several thousands of books.

I think collection of essays, whether they are crowed-sourced or not, are here to stay. But hard copy versions of them are going to be more like the LP or the CD in the future, or even the hand written bible. A rarity, even if you can on demand print it. My books will age with me, clearly showing that I started reading before the revolution that is fast approaching our bookshelves. But their replacement is a thing of joy, rather than sadness, as never has as much been written before as today, and that is something to celebrate.

Picture credit for the Intangible Artifacts, Jan Videren


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Filed under: Books, Crowd-sourcing, Culture, ITC technology, SSWC

Working remotely, a session at #SSWC 2010

Stora tältet

Last weekend I was at a most excellent unconference, Sweden Social Web Camp, #sswc. A lot was said and a lot of really interesting stuff happened there, (all of it in Swedish, except for maybe the “allsång“).

One of the sessions which I attended was called Working remotely, with a subtitle of, How do you live in Thailand and invoice in Sweden?

Now, I don’t actually have a picture of the grid with the real title, so I may well be off a bit there. And I didn’t take notes during the session, so this is all from memory, which is pretty flaky at the moment. So rather than trying to account for what happened, other than in a short summary, I will discuss how me and my team work, as not many have the privilege to work in a distributed organization the way I do.

Summary of the discussion

What the session was wanting to investigate were aspects around working remotely, away from your normal office. The discussions wandered through practical things like: How do you make your employer understand that you are effective, even if you are not at your desk? What are tools and practices you use? Where are you wanting / going to work? Through to discussions around specifics around taxation.

The key things I think we all agreed on were:

  • It is hard to convince a traditional employer that it is a good idea for you to give up your office and work from… anywhere.
  • The tools are there to get the job done.
  • People didn’t have a strong reason to work in any specific remote location. It was more a feeling that the traditional office is stifling creativity and restrictive.
  • Nobody seemed to care much about specific tax avoidance issues, even though the discussion dwelt on the specifics quite a lot.

How we at Akvo.org do it

Akvo is a small foundation, 12 people, running internet and mobile services for development aid organizations. We develop open-source software and use this software to run our services.

Even though we are only 12 people we are spread over nine physical locations. We have a shared office in the Hague, Netherlands, where four people work. One shared office for one person in London. The other seven all work from home. Two in Stockholm, one in Gothenburg, two more in London and two in San Francisco.

The four people who work in the Netherlands are actually employed by another organization, and then seconded to work for Akvo. Akvo started out as a project of this organization, but we are in the process of separating the organizations to make Akvo independent, now when the foundation is able to stand on its own.

The other eight people are all sole traders and independent entrepreneurs, contracted to work for Akvo. Even I, who is an executive director of the foundation isn’t employed by it, but contracted in. We essentially are independent organizations a tax and invoicing point of view, what is called in Sweden “F-skattesedel”. This is the easiest from a tax and central administration point of view, but places some burden on the individual.

The EU may have an open market and freedom of movement of a worker, but the regulatory framework is hopelessly behind in a context where a person works for an organization in one country and lives in another. So the easiest way to solve it is as described above. This also takes care of issues like pension plans and health care. Each individual is responsible for their own cost and selection of services. If you, like me, live in Sweden, the choice is easy. You take 50% of what you have invoiced and send to the taxman, and they sort you out. (Well, mostly.)

We use a lot of tools to make our work possible. I presume you probably use most of them in your own work, the following is an incomplete list:

  • iChat for four-way video chat (yes, we are all Mac-heads). We use this a lot.
  • Skype for voice conferences, when we are five or more, and one on one video when iChat doesn’t want to work.
  • Google Docs, for shared documents
  • Google Wave, for shared simultaneous editing (maybe Etherpad as a replacement)
  • Dropbox for a shared document repository
  • Twitter, for a public backchannel and sometimes front-channel, to our work.
  • Mediawiki for shared public documentation

Benefits and drawbacks

The mission critical benefit we derive from this setup is that we wouldn’t have set Akvo up if we couldn’t get the right team. The right team had people in Sweden, UK, Netherlands and the US. This automatically also gives us an inherently international outlook.

We are a distributed organization, so there is no way for me, or anyone else, to have a particular strong check on who is working when. This is an advantage, as it means we get self driven individuals who take responsibility for their work. We have several who have children, who can take care of them, take them to daycare or school when they would normally be sitting at an office desk. They compensate by working other times. The primary thing in our team is that you get the work done. But, everyone is so dedicated and passionate about the work I don’t think a single one works the minimum hours we expect, except during shorter periods. (Here I am, soon midnight, and I am blogging about work. See what I mean?)

Being used to remote working also means that we are able to let people travel for shorter periods (up to a couple of months) and work remotely.

Drawbacks
The major drawback is that we are not sitting in the same office. No quick answers to questions (well, people often have iChat/Skype up, so not all is lost), but it is also easy to work without interruption. No easy brainstorming sessions when you drag in everyone or anyone you need.

It can also be hard to communicate well, which make misunderstandings are harder to avoid. It is also easier to get angry at someone who isn’t in front of you. Email and chat, even voice conferences hide many cues which we use to avoid conflict. So heated discussions happen more often than if we sat in an office together.

The timezones are hard to deal with as well. The US crew has to be up at 07.00 for a 15.00/16.00 Euro-time team meeting, or the EU crowd is up at 07.00 for a 22.00 Pacific-time team meeting.

Does it work?

Absolutely.

Do I wish we sat in the same office? Yes, sometimes this would be very nice.

Don’t hesitate to ask any questions. I’ll answer when I manage to get away from this late night conference call with the US…

Filed under: ITC technology, SSWC, Travel

About Bjelkeman

thomas@bjelkeman.com

Co-founder/director: Akvo Foundation

+46-8-626 7609

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