We may already have our answer to the future of Twitter

Thanks to @CommCats for pointing me in the direction of a post from HR blogger @HRManNZ[1] on the decline of social media and blogging.

Some choice questions:

  • Have we reached a saturation point where every element of HR has now been battered, blogged and tweeted into submission?
  • Are our attention spans now so short we can’t read anything more than a one paragraph summary without passing judgement and moving on?
  • Is there simply too much out there that it’s getting harder and harder to find the quality and the different perspective?
  • Are there too many other ways of getting messages out there now?
  • Has the move to accessing everything online via phone made it harder to really take things in?
  • Are people consuming their learning in different ways?
  • Or, are we just consumed by group think and boring each other senseless?

and an interesting reflection:

Perhaps there is just too much noise and it’s just time for a little more quiet reflection in the HR and business world rather than trying harder to shout above it.

This is right in line with a consistent thread of thought here – see, for example, Whither Twitter(?) and No News is Good. This way of thinking has lead to my trying to blog, read and watch films more and tweet less in 2016 and numerous Twitter breaks over the last two years.

What I think is most interesting, though, is that HRManNZ‘s thoughts are related to a specific area of expertise (i.e. HR). Part of me had been thinking the issues of social media and blogging had been general ones, but his post alerts me to the fact that the problems actually apply just as much – if not more – to specific areas (in my case, that’s primarily social care, health and public service reform, where there is indeed a weekly avalanche of ‘content’).

We can all ponder the question of the future of Twitter and the like. If you’re already personally feeling like you’re not enjoying it much and are looking around for different ways to be, to reflect and to be in touch with interesting people, we may already have our answer.

[1] – A man called Rich W who also enjoys cricket. He must be right!


This is what you’ll get

Having said I’d be blogging much more in 2016, I thought it only fair to share what you might expect to get. In no particular order:

  • Reflections on public policy and public services. Policy blogging will mostly be on social care, health and disability equality. Public service blogging will be on all sorts, including integration, commissioning, evidence and change. What you won’t get here is the latest gossip on (party) politics and politicians.
  • Books. Not reviews as such, but a record of the books I’m reading, quotes from them I’ve found provoking or reflections prompted by the book. The vast majority will be non-fiction (politics, history, quasi-academic) with bits of fiction thrown in.
  • Interesting writing elsewhere. Sharing great posts and writing from other blogs and publications, especially bringing together different posts that cover similar themes.
  • Films. Some bad film criticism – not criticism of bad films, but bad criticism of films. It will probably be A-Level standard stuff.
  • Self. The occasional post reflecting on trying to be a good person, and the attempts of others to also be so. Will include some posts on running.

You also get a bonus point for recognising the lyric reference of this post’s title, indicating that there will be the occasional random music post, too.

Rich’s Christmas quiz, 2013

A very relaxing Christmas was had by all in the Watts household, including a break for me from all things online (email, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Feedly etc.).

One of the things I enjoy doing over the festive break is putting together a Christmas quiz. It’s usually a combination of my own questions and others cobbled together from 2013 quizzes when I’ve inevitably run out of time, but it’s usually quite good fun.

If you’re hosting a quiz in the last few days of any festive break you’re having (e.g. a New Year’s Eve party) and need a quiz that works for a general audience, then below is a copy of my quiz. Feel free to use it however you wish!

Not Joan Didion

It’s been a peculiar feeling that as I spend proportionately less time doing work things that my blogging about work things has disproportionately increased.

Indeed, virtually all of the posts I’ve written here have dealt with the topic of Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations.

This is about to change, reflecting a few things that I’ve been working on – mainly in myself – over the last few months.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I care less about work and so am doing less of it; it’s more that  I’m getting much better at balancing – as much as that’s ever possible – the time my mind spends on work and family / play / rest. Plus, I was starting from a pretty high baseline work-wise that wasn’t, really, sustainable.

At the same time, I’ve had an increasing sense that I feel more confident in the things I’d like to write about and the voice I may use in sharing them (partly inspired by people such as Robert Brook, whose newsletter you should really subscribe to, and Paul Clarke, whose blog is consistently excellent).

All of this probably also comes about from it being nearly a year since quite a few significant things happened at around the same time – a death, a new baby, a job change, a house move (though, thankfully, the same wife). I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t attribute some mystical significance to the arbitrary passing of a year since most of those things happened, and so find myself drawn to attempt to elicit some sense of progress or learning from that time.

Which is all by means of saying that I’m hoping to blog a little more over the coming weeks.

Quite why this naval gazing would be of interest to you, I don’t know. But here it is, and here it will be, soon enough.

(Joan Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking. My thinking won’t be at all magical, so don’t get your hopes up.)

Man walks into a column, no.50: End

Judging myself with appropriate strictness against the criterion I established exactly a year ago, I have failed.

A quick glance at the big fat fifty embedded within the title of this post tells the whole tale: this man may’ve walked into a weekly column but, well before the end, this man fell short. Crumbs of comfort come from 50 being a much nicer, rounder number than 52, and… actually that’s it really. I hope I can count on your goodwill; it’s the season for it, after all.

In my ‘statement of intent post’ on the last day of 2010 I specified no end point for my column partly, I would imagine, because to do so would’ve been rather over-confident: my non-resolution felt intimidatingly large and foolhardy from the start and it took many weeks for it to feel anything close to achievable.

But with happy irony the relative success of my 2011 blogging (relative to the paltry showing of 2010, that is) has encouraged me to branch out from the feathery down lining the wing of ac’s Chief Blogger (and my dear friend) Rich Watts, and set up shop on my own, in a neighbouring borough of this great big webby world.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve realised it’s that I enjoy blogging best when ‘on my own turf’: when I’m writing about something for which I feel a genuine interest – in some cases even a passion – and have a little more knowledge than usual, bred from familiarity with the topic in question.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that this is, indeed, the end of my column (tee-hee), although I can’t promise I’ll keep away from this grand blog entirely.

How to mark the end? Anyone who works with me will tell you that I’m a Category Addict, so rather than offer my columnar highlights in an arbitrary fashion, I proudly present the five categories of things I’ve posted about in 2011. In no particular order, my posts have been:

  1. Political – both small and slightly bigger ‘p’ – covering library cuts, AV, Scottish independence, privatisation, the census, UK constitution and protest. The largest number of posts (14) are in this broad category, and a particular run of four – written in the summer months – are the ones of which I’m most proud, dealing respectively with: public attitudes towards teachers, independent school dominance of Oxbridge, the stupidity of denying the ideological dimension of policymaking and, um, what Spotify can teach us about public service reform.
  2. Self-ish or sociable – a similarly-sized chunk of posts (12) have been either ‘about the self’ (neuroplasticity, meditation etc.), ‘about the self in relation to others’ (from Facebook to charitable giving), or just downright self-centred, for example ‘covering’ the day I gave up daily diary-writing, my arrival at a position of liberal personal atheism, and momentous decision to use my personal iPhone as my work phone too. You heard it here first.
  3. Phoned-in – this category (of 6) divides into posts that were written on the road – figuratively phoned-in – from locales including Brussels, Nottinghamshire and Sydney (the last accounting for a valiant long-haul series of three) and one that was just shit; ‘phoned-in’ in the Late Period De Niro sense of the phrase.
  4. Presidential – I’m referring here to the subject matter, not the quality of the writing: nine posts, all but two in the autumn and winter months, looked at US political shenanigans, mostly with a view to the 2012 presidential election. This category contains the majority of the posts I’ve enjoyed writing the most, of which more below.
  5. Phoney – last and certainly least (how refreshing to write that for once) are posts that, with hindsight, belonged elsewhere. The best blogs have a coherence, but with these eight posts I risked turning arbitrary constant into a jumble sale: with book reviews (of Banville, Powell and Pamuk) and half-baked musicology.

I’ve learnt more than one thing, naturally. I’ve learnt that blogging is utterly self indulgent, both in the positive sense of being overwhelmingly for one’s beneficence and in the less positive sense of being for (almost) no-one else’s, such is the maelstrom of competition for the attention of the online citizen. I think bearing this in mind at all times helps to preserve a sense of modesty in an over-inflated world.

(As footnote: I came across an updating of Warhol’s ‘famous for fifteen minutes’ saying today, which I’m sure will be familiar to everyone but me, but I still thought worth quoting here for its aptness. David Weinberger popularised this version for the blogging generation: ‘everyone will be famous for fifteen people’. I hope I’m getting there, but wouldn’t count on it. Quality not quantity.)

So that’s it: another chapter closes. A happy new year to you, and I very much hope to see you on or around my new blog Wannabe Yank in 2012 or on Twitter @philblogs.

Go Ron!

Housekeeping (interim)

This is just a brief note to say that arbitrary constant will be moving from its current set up (using Movable Type) to WordPress. As a result, the best place to directly access the blog will be https://arbitraryc.wordpress.com. I’ll be setting up re-directs on the more traditional URL in due course, but thought you’d like to know what was happening now!

On blogging in 2011

I’ve recorded an audioboo on what you can expect from this blog in 2011. Click below to listen.


Man walks into a column, no.1: Resolution

Note: This is a post by Phil

There are, apparently, many reasons not to make New Year’s resolutions. So it’s with those many reasons in mind I should point out that I decided upon this course of action a full day in advance of the dawn of 2011. A full day, I tell you (alright, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was on in the background at the time, so it was probably a little less than a full day). 

My non-resolution is to write a weekly ‘column’ on arbitrary constant, and this is why. I began posting on this fine blog about a year ago, and after doing enough of something you find yourself lapsing into self doubt and indecision or, at least, I do. What can I possibly offer, dear readers, that Master Watts and Brother Webb cannot provide? (If anyone can spot the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves reference in that last sentence then, well, I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.)

So, to cut a long story short: I decided to ignore my lack of expertise and find a way to ‘institutionalise’ my place on this blog instead, so that hopefully, given enough time, Rich feels he has no choice but to maintain my stipend: because those who browse these pages will have become accustomed to my posts, much in the way that one becomes accustomed to a vaguely irritating, moderately persistent but ultimately benign mole.

This is where the weekly ‘column’ comes in (inverted commas out of respect to the fact that, surely, a column is a slightly meaningless concept in web terms). I honestly don’t know what it will look like or what it will cover. Should it be a round-up attempt, aping Paul Carr on TechCrunch? Depends a bit on how much Rich decides to post, I guess. How about a review of the things I’ve read? Relies on me actually reading things, which can’t be relied upon in any given week. Irreverent commentary on the Big Issues of the day? Pffft. Let’s just settle for some words – not too many, fear not – posted on a more-or-less weekly basis. One step at a time, fifty-two in total.

This week, I’m a little behind the curve in only just having read TIME magazine’s lengthy ‘person of the year’ piece, written by Lev Grossman about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. I should point out from the off that, much as over time I’ve come to be a friend of Twitter, I hate the very idea of Facebook with all my heart and soul. But when you see statistics that suggest that almost half the population of the UK is doing something (nearly 29m users!) you start to think you might be missing out. And there’s definitely something attractive in Zuckerberg’s vision, as rendered by TIME:

…after the Facebookization of the Web […] wherever you go online, you’ll see your friends. On Amazon, you might see your friends’ reviews. On YouTube, you might see what your friends watched or see their comments first. Those reviews and comments will be meaningful because you know who wrote them and what your relationship to those authors is. They have a social context.

But… then again… the problem with Facebook is the way it is structurally biased towards a one-dimensional status of ‘friend’ – you’re friends with your spouse, and you’re friends with your plumber. As Grossman adeptly points out:

Just because you present a different face to your co-workers and your family doesn’t mean you’re leading a double life. Identity isn’t a simple thing: it’s complex and dynamic and fluid. It needs to flex a little, the way a skyscraper does in a high wind, and your Facebook profile isn’t built to flex.

And I will admit to nodding in particularly vigorous assent when Grossman goes on to say:

Facebook is still a painfully blunt instrument for doing the delicate work of transmitting human relationships […] relationships cannot be reduced to the exchange of information or making binary decisions between liking and not liking, friending and unfriending.

That’s to say nothing of the fact that, as the article pointedly notes, governments around the world have shown a marked interest in the power of Facebook (the director of the FBI was visiting at the same time the interview was conducted!) because it’s a database of personal information many orders of magnitude bigger than anything we would hand over to our political masters. And I found Zuckerberg’s ‘commitment’ to occasionally pushing back when it receives a subpoena very unconvincing. 

Am I being hypocritical by liking Twitter whilst loathing Facebook? I don’t think so, because there’s no danger of anyone, ever, pretending that a personality can be distilled into (however many) 140 character blobs. Thanks to its simplicity, Twitter is controllable: a tool for communication rather than a philosophy for life.

Until next week, I’ll be tweeting sporadically @philblogs. Happy New Year!

2010: A year in blogging

As the year reaches an end, I thought I’d crunch the numbers on blogging here on arbitrary constant.

Over the course of the year, there were 579 posts (average of 48 per month). The busiest month was May (due to the General Election) and the quietest was February (because it’s a short month).

In January the site averaged 455 visits per day, rising to 1,102 visits per day by December 2010, averaging 755 visits per day across the year.

Comments were generally quiet on the site – for example, there were 76 in total from 1 September to 29 December.

In terms of content, the top 10 entries were as follows (excluding the index page, which received 9,298 page views):

  1. The Budget and DLA: initial reactions – 8,098 page views
  2. Cuts to disability benefits already being planned? – 2,210 page views
  3. Poverty, worklessness… and DLA? – 1,858 page views
  4. DLA reform consultation: Great Expectations, Worst Apprehensions – 1,316 page views
  5. Independent Living Fund essentially closed for business – 707 page views
  6. Paul Corrigan on the Health White Paper – 670 page views
  7. Patient voice in the Health White Paper – 624 page views
  8. Osborne: Welfare cheats are “like burglars” – 601 page views
  9. Independent Living Fund (ILF) to close – 508 page views
  10. Redistributing my tax rebate: £621.97 up for grabs – 499 page views

I have to admit to some pleasure at this, since nearly all of the above are original content based on areas of expertise we have here at arbitrary constant, namely disability and equality. They are also all posts that considerable effort went into, rather than posts that were done to keep the numbers up (of which, I’m afraid to say, there were a few).

Honorable mentions should also go to my two blogging compadres, Phil and Stef. Phil has done a brilliant job bringing some much needed erudition, arts and intelligence to the blog (I’ve hugely enjoyed his contributions to the YouTune series); whilst Stef, though sporadic, has brought true panache and thinking in his posts that others don’t reach. I hope they’ll continue in 2011.

For me, I’ve been thinking a lot about blogging, partly in light of the information gleaned above. I will post something further about how my approach will change and the content I’ll be focusing on in 2011 in a separate post early in the New Year.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who has read and contributed to arbitrary constant, either here or on Twitter. I can safely say it’s been the best year of online engagement and discussion I’ve ever had, and it wouldn’t have been the same without you.