Archive for the ‘Web/Tech’ Category

5 reasons you should go to Thinking Digital 2014


I’ve written about Thinking Digital before, on a couple of occasions.

If you’ve seen any of the tweets over the last couple of days (search #tdc13) it may have piqued your interest but is it for you?

If you say ‘Yes’ to these 5 questions then you have your answer:

  1. Do you want to feel again the excitement you felt as a child when you discovered something new?
  2. Do you want to know what our future looks like and how to make a better present?
  3. Do you want to hear from those who are right at the heart of making, disrupting, changing and shaping the world around us?
  4. Do you enjoy meeting people who are open, authentic, unique and inspiring?
  5. Do you believe there is value to looking at everything from a different perspective, at least once in a while?

Go, and this time next year I guarantee you’ll be telling people that Thinking Digital is one of the best events you’ve ever been too.

*Photo: The incredible Sugata Mitra at Thinking Digital 2013

App review: Lift and the quantified self

Life hacking, self tracking, the quantified self; call it want you want, using technology to help track and improve your health and wellbeing is one of the fastest growing areas in digital.  Many respected bloggers are starting up blogs to cover this subject, like Stephen Davies’ and Drew Benvie’s bodydata.

One of the most highly anticipated launches in this area was for, mainly because two of its backers are twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone.  They have a lofty stated aim to “push the envelope of human potential through positive reinforcement”.

I’ve been using the beta app for a few weeks now and wanted to share my initial thoughts.  Firstly, it’s a great concept, and the app itself is, as you’d expect from a team this experienced, simple and intuitive to use.  You essentially decide on which ‘habits’ you want to track, like sleeping for 8 hours, doing more exercise or eating healthier (you can add your own, more random ones, if you like) and then every time you complete a habit, you check-in.  Over time you can see how you’ve performed with each habit.  You can see when other users check-in to a habit and you can give people ‘props’ for completing a habit.  There are a few other features, like the fact that you can add a commentary when you check-in but that’s essentially it.

The biggest question mark I have with the app in its current format (and obviously it’s only beta) is that there’s not much motivation to encourage you to keep using it. I open it, check-in, close it.  Not sure what their longer term plans are but for me there needs to be more of a connection between what you’re doing and what others are doing. You don’t have a community of friends/followers as with other networks and so it’s hard to build up a sense of relationships with other users.  Without this the app is a little bit, well, dull.

Hopefully the next version will address this.  There’s definitely something in lift but it needs more to motivate me to keep using it beyond it being a simple record of healthy/positive things I’ve done. changing the face of social networks (possibly…)


In just 6 short years twitter has established itself in our lives.  Hashtags on most TV programmes, the @ sign has become ubiquitous and every day celebrities help to extend it’s mainstream audience a little further.

It’s here to stay right?  Well lately there have been rumblings that twitter is losing its way, the increasing restrictions on developers using the API, the disgraceful way in which it sucked up to a major advertiser, deleting a journalist’s account for daring to criticise NBCs coverage of the Olympics, it’s all looking a bit murky.

The problem of course with an ad supported network is that, as we all know, if you’re not paying, you’re the product; a commodity to be bought and sold.  This is something we have always accepted but perhaps in the future we will look back in surprise at our compliance (if you’ve not read it, highly recommend Michael Wolff’s excellent piece on the essential problem with the ad supported model).

Just because it’s the way it’s always been, doesn’t mean it has to stay that way.

The founders of are daring to do something bold.  In their words they’re building, “a real-time social service where users and developers come first, not advertisers”.  Asking users to commit to paying $50 per year for an account, they’ve raised nearly $300,000 of a $500,000 goal but with 5 days to go until their deadline to raise funding it’s looking questionable whether they’ll get there.

And it’s not just the relationship with the users, will offer much more flexibility (and therefore innovation?) for developers.

I really hope they reach their target.  It’s so easy to plug ourselves into these platforms with no real consideration of the Faustian pact into which we’re entering.  Go and let’s find a better way.

*UPDATE: There’s a great piece about just gone up on TNW, which includes a Q&A with founder Dalton Caaldwell

*UPDATE: With 19 hours to go, App.Net have exceeded their target (currently at $600,00), so now it gets interesting.  I also wanted to link to this post by Orian Max, since it explains very well, all the various benefits of a App.Net.

Best iPad apps for children

Anyone who is lucky enough to have both children and an iPad will know what a great combination they make…

After exhaustive testing, here is my top 5 ipad apps for children

  1. Toca Hair Salon.  The team at Toca Boca have got iPad games for children completely sewn up.  Innovative, playful and delightful, from the quirky illustrative style to the intuitive game play, their games are some of the best around.  It’s hard to choose a favourite but Hair Salon wins for me because it appeals to all ages, from 4 up to around 10.
  2. The Monster at the End of This Book.  It’s Grover from Sesame Street and he’s very worried about the monster at the end of the book, so much so that he will try to stop you turning the pages.  You probably won’t get hours and hours of use out of it but it’s very funny and engaging. Perfect for ages four to six.
  3. Tiny Bang Story (see screenshot).  I’m not sure that strictly speaking this was created solely for children but my 10 year old loves this beautiful, immersive game.  There are no instructions and you have to work out what to do.  If you like clear game rules and direction then you may find this frustrating but I think the reason it appeals so much to children is because they aren’t yet in the adult mindset of rules and instructions.
  4. Monkey Preschool Lunchbox.  For younger children, around two to five years, this is a cute, fun game where children have to count, recognise colours and play simple games.  Get a game right and they can choose a virtual sticker and put it on their wall. Have never met I child who doesn’t like this game.
  5. Angry Birds.  Unless you live on the moon, chances are you’ll be aware of this game. Equally fun whether you’re 5, 10 or, ahem, slightly older.

Thinking Digital 2012

This year’s Thinking Digital was much anticipated (particularly after my love fest last year…) and it didn’t disappoint.  Once again, an eclectic mix of speakers enthralled, entertained and amazed the audience.  I always think that reading about live events is similar to listen to someone talking about their dreams; to them it was staggering, to you it seems less incredible.

But once again I would urge you to put Thinking Digital on your list for next year.  It’s not just the speakers that makes it great, it’s the intimacy of the event that is perfectly placed to encourage conversations between like-minded souls.

It’s incredibly difficult to single out highlights but if forced…

Our social media panel at TDC University: it’s probably cheating to choose something I was involved with (as panel chair) but with such knowledgeable set of panelists, there were some great debates around the future of established and newer platforms and emerging trends, such as social discovery, niche networks, privacy issues and social businesses

Mikko Hypponen : an eye-opening and somewhat alarming talk about the dangers of internet virus.  Clearly we saw a tip of an (albeit frightening) iceberg.  I dread to think of the things this guy has seen but it’s good to know that people like him are on the case.

Pam Warhurst from Incredible Edible: nothing to do with digital or technology but everything to do with the power of working collaboratively and just getting on with getting stuff done.  There were quite a few damp eyes in the audience by the end.

Sugata Mitra: Having seen Sugata before at Guardian Active8, I was aware of the incredible work done by this charming, humble man. Genuinely revolutionising the way we think about education and the way in which its delivered.  Go read about his work.

Richard Banks: an interaction designer at Microsoft who made us all consider our digital legacies and how future generations will deal with the mountains of content we are all creating.

Jennifer Gardy: Every audience member fell for this intelligent, engaging and funny scientist, who spoke about her work researching contagious diseases.  The little book she ‘just wrote’ showed that she’s also an amazing cartoonist and writer.  Is it fair for one person to have so much talent?

I conducted a few audio interviews.  A cracking one with Tom Scott, which sadly crashed half way through and I didn’t find out until much later (gutted as he’s such interesting character with an usual skill set – how many programmers do you know that can do stand up comedy?).

Sarah Hartley about notice and the future of hyperlocal journalism

Will McInnes about running a business that has an open and transparent business model

Adrian Hon from Six to Start (creators of the hugely popular Zombies! Run) about how he turned his agency into a product company and  funding projects through crowd sourcing sites like Kickstarter.

Thanks Herb.  Until next year.

Raspberry Pi – Will Some Children Be Left Behind?

This morning there is much excitement in the media and on twitter about the launch of Raspberry Pi.  A small computer developed to help children to learn how to code.

Rory Cellan-Jones talks about how it will offer “every child in the country a cheap computer on which they can learn to programme”. There’s no doubt it’s brilliant, long overdue in a country where our education system (with a few exceptions) has largely confined classes featuring computers to learning about how to use word processing packages, rather than what’s under the hood.

I went to school in the early 80s, when learning to programme really was something for the hardened coder.  It didn’t even feature on most people’s radar as being relevant or interesting or something that was worthwhile.  But as we know now, the geeks shall inherit the earth, and programming is officially cool.  Largely thanks to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Steve Wozniak et al, everyone appreciates the opportunities that can come from being a good programmer. And now there are so many resources available for anyone to teach themselves, with initiatives like Codecademy aiming to make it as accessible as possible.

So middle class parents, striving to give the best to their children, will no doubt be rushing out today to buy their Raspberry Pi’s to help give their child a head start (they may have to wait actually, stockists are already showing as sold out, presumably because vast swathes of middle aged men have already snapped them up…). And I think it’s fantastic to develop this kind of knowledge in children, I certainly will with mine. But I also worry that there will, inevitably, be a whole section of the population who will be left behind.

Martha Lane-Fox has long championed the need for digital inclusion, and Race Online 2012 is an admirable attempt to make a real difference to getting previously marginalised sections of society online.  With the launch of Raspberry Pi, we need to ensure that as well as encouraging people to get online, we also ensure that all children have access to these tools.  Because actually, programming is one of the few skills that really allows you to make a name for yourself with very little but your brains and dedication.  You don’t need friends in high places, or a daddy’s connections but you do need to have access to the tools.  Let’s hope Raspberry Pi really does make a difference.

*photo websmith (under Creative Commons)

Top 5 favourite tools & apps

A quick post to share my current top 5 favourite tools & apps (this isn’t a post about new apps, more those tools I’m using a lot):

*ifttt – With the tagline: ‘Put the internet to work for you’ – is a brilliantly simple yet clever idea which automates your use of the web.  For example every time I post to Instagram, ifttt saves it to Evernote for me.  Every time I favourite a tweet, it plugs it into Instapaper.  There are some fantastic ‘recipes’ from other people you can use or you can create your own.  Which bring me on to….

*Instapaper – Save web articles to read offline.  Brilliant on the iPad and equally useful on the laptop.  I constantly come across interesting stuff on twitter and elsewhere, now I tend to store them up and read them in a bunch, and (obviously) you don’t need wifi access.

*Feedly - I still use RSS loads, to catch up on new stuff.  Feedly remains my favourite way to sort through my google reader subscriptions (although yes, Flipboard is very pretty), particularly as I can switch between views – from ‘latest’ to individual topics ‘history’ or ‘saved’ stuff.

*tweetbot – twitter client for the iPhone.  Very slick and intuitive UI.  Miles better than official iPhone (although who remembers how much we loved tweetie?)

*Evernote – Note taking on steriods.  After years of persevering, I’m finally starting to get real value out of this.  The more you use, the better it gets.  Although I still feel like I’m barely scraping the surface of all the ways I could be using it

What are your current favourite tools & apps?


The 7-day no phone crash diet

I’ve just done something that I haven’t done for over three years, well 10 years depending on which way you look at it.
About three weeks ago I was coming out of the gym, pulled my iphone out of my pocket and wham, dropped it on the floor and completely smashed the screen.  So it had to go away to be repaired with the words buzzing in my ears from the insurance company that it could take “up to 10 days to be fixed”.  10 days?!! Were they out of their minds?

Now I pause at this point to acknowledge that I fully realise not having a phone for 10 days is hardly catastrophic in the scheme of things but it’s given me a short sharp shock into the reality (positive and negative) of a life lived in the thrall of the small screen.

So what did I find?

*I am utterly and completely addicted to tapping away on my bloody iphone.  There I said it.  Obvious, right? Well yes and no, I did realise how much time I spend swiping up and down timelines, checking in, checking emails, sharing photos, looking at photos, commenting on photos, updating, sharing, searching, listening to podcasts, checking the weather and numerous other trivial and not so trivial actions but when it’s not there anymore you really feel the gaping hole that was there and appreciate just how much time you waste spend on it.

*Without the phone, I let go of twitter since without the real-time aspect, I lost interest.  It just didn’t have the same grip.

*The three things I missed most: Instagram, mobile search and my beloved This American Life podcasts, particularly while travelling.

*For a couple of days when I was out and about I borrowed my son’s, basic to the core, Samsung (see the pic).  And for a brief time there was something nice about having a phone that only does two things: make calls and send texts.  Without any clutter on the phone, I didn’t have the ever present, unconscious ‘tap tap’ in my head, that causes me to launch twitter, check email, browse Instagram and on and on (from the minute I wake up until, quite literally, the moment I go to sleep).  I’ve always been someone with a surfeit of nervous energy.  In that respect technology is bad for me, it compounds my tendency to be constantly fiddling with stuff.  Without my phone I was, stiller.

So, I missed my phone and…I didn’t miss my phone.  I was inwardly ashamed at how utterly delighted I was when it turned up a whole three days early, you’d have thought I’d was being reunited with a long lost love. It was interesting (although I don’t want to repeat it). I’m trying to learn from the experience and be more mindful of how technology can seep under your skin without you really noticing how deep it has embedded itself into you.

I will teach my children about Steve Jobs

Desperately sad news about Steve Jobs.  I can’t add anything insightful to the millions of tributes that are being shared today.  But I had to post in complete respect for a man who changed everything.

This morning I tried to explain the significance of his passing to my 10 year old.  He has never known a world without the technology for which Jobs was responsible. To him it’s part of the fabric of everything.  When he and his brother are a bit older I will sit them down in front of the famous Stanford commencement speech.  I want them to understand why Jobs was so important and I want them to live with that advice ringing in their ears: to grab life with both hands, to jump into it, to not waste precious time doing something they’re not passionate about.

He gave us so much more than tech.

Yesterday I fell in love

Not once but over and over again.

I’m at Thinking Digital in Newcastle, a 2 day conference of ideas, culture and technology; yesterday was day one and by the end of it, I’d given away my heart.  Before I explain who was the object of my affections, I know that hearing about someone else’s experience of a conference can be similar to listening to them re-tell a dream; to them it blew their mind, to you it’s fairly inconsequential but this was a dream of passion and love so bear with me.

I don’t go to many conferences or events, a lot of them seem to regurgitate the same content, trotting out the same speakers.  But year after year I kept hearing fantastic things about Thinking Digital from people I respect and admire.

Which is why, yesterday, I found myself in the Sage being carried away on a tide of incredible people and falling head over heels. Scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, writers, all with stories or projects that left you longing for more. Steven BathicheErin McKean, Conrad Wolfram, Nancy Duarte, Dan Lyons, Maryanne Hobbs, Heather Knight… I won’t even attempt to explain what they each talked about, I couldn’t possibly do them justice.

Herb Kim has managed a rare feat with Thinking Digital, the word ‘inspired’ is used to death these days but there is no other word that adequately describes the way Thinking Digital makes you feel.  The speakers are people who draw you completely into their particular passion; you want to hear more, learn more, absorb yourself into their world.

Hence the falling in love thing…

*photo: trustypics