Changing the way I use Twitter

Sitting down to write The Startup Factories made me realise that Twitter has had quite an impact on my concentration span. I’d got to the point with Twitter clients on my desktop, laptop and phone where I was twitchily checking it almost every few minutes and picking up a little endorphin rush each time. I started to feel like a trained rat — except one that was being trained not to write reports.

I also found that more and more of the things that I was seeing was basically puff and PR. I’ve complained that I’d rather people talked about the weather than ‘important stuff’ and that’s true. I also thought that the way that Twitter treated Tom Armitage’s Tower Bridge feed was abysmal — that was a real dent in the reputation of Twitter Inc for me.

So I’m giving up on using real time Twitter clients — I’ve uninstalled them all — and instead using a few daily services ( and are the ones I know about) to see if I can tame them to get the kind of news I want. I think I might have to build my own little extra service to just send me an email once a day with the tweets that have been retweeted but don’t contain any photos or links. They’re usually the funniest ones.

When we were at Demos there was a similar issue with email. My friend Matthew used to laugh out loud at the wrong moments. We basically used the “Staff: all” email list as a real time way of communicating in the office — and there were a few people who were very, very funny on it. It was a bit like the way people use Skype chat lists in the office now. The thing was, Matthew only used to check his email once a day so would get a concentrated burst at some point — and the laughs would alert all of us that Matthew had checked his email. The thing is Matthew was one of the best researchers and managers we ever had — not checking his email every few minutes certainly didn’t do him any harm.
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Wall Street vs The Social Network — and some problems that really need solving

During a recent trip to New York and San Francisco, a few people said they thought that the movie The Social Network was having an effect on the number of people who wanted to start a startup. Now, on the face of it, The Social Network isn’t a positive film. It’s mainly set in the offices of law firms as people sue each other over promises not kept. Â But there is something intoxicating about the story and I don’t think you can help coming out of the cinema thinking “that looks more exciting than working for a bank”.

When I saw the film last year I wondered whether it might be Wall Street for a new generation. Oliver Stone’s film was meant to be a cutting satire of Wall Street’s excesses (reading Roger Ebert’s original 1987 review is quite enlightening), but in a strange way it actually inspired the next generation of people working in finance who then arguably caused our current financial crisis.

If The Social Network does start a trend of people starting startups just for the sake of starting startups, what we have on our hands is a bubble. As Esther Dyson says, there’s probably enough innovation in the world, it’s putting it to good use that we’re missing. Maybe it’s a long shot but I hope the movie attracts people for the right reasons so if you’re thinking about starting a startup, here’s a list of problems you could have a go at solving. It’s by no means complete, but just some things that I think really need great people. And if you want to work on any of them, we’d love to have you apply to the next Social Innovation Camp in Edinburgh in June or Bethnal Green Ventures in the Autumn.

The new old -Â Whether you think it’s a demographic time bomb or see it as more of an opportunity, there’s little doubt we need to reinvent the way we care for our elders. Again this will need new models of finance and organisation. How can we get beyond the idea of dwindling pensions and depressing care homes? See this documentary by Gerry Robinson if you want more on the problem.

Keeping the lights on -Â If we’re going to tackle climate change, we need new products and services that will help people reduce their energy use by a factor of 10 not just by a few per cent. And we need new ways of getting zero-carbon energy generation to be adopted. How would you do that?

Unleashing underused assets and products — One of the main problems of twentieth century consumerism was that we all had to have one of everything. It made sense for companies to try and sell us new things all the time. In a resource constrained century, that no longer makes sense. Could you build something that helps co-ordinate sharing, lending and swapping of real world durable goods and property?

Hacking education — Education hasn’t changed in structure since the 19th Century but the world has. There’s massive  frustration with the system in the developed world and a crying need for brand new approaches in the developing world. Could you build new ways to organise, finance and expand education?

Prevention engines — We all know prevention is better than cure, yet almost all of us wait until it’s too late before we do anything about it. The problem is that public services generally only know about people when it’s too late. Could you build services that help get to people before they know they need help?

Access to real food — Much like consumer goods, the industrial age made cheap food possible. That was great, but also led to problems. Now we have different needs for a food system. We’re interested in ideas that can make a healthy, sustainable food system just as efficient as the over-processed, wasteful system we have now.

Insuring the uninsurable — What about applying the principles of peer-to-peer lending models to insurance? It’s a massive issue for many people if they’re already close to the edge and something goes wrong.

Disaster technology — When everything goes wrong, technology can save lives. Knowing where people are and being able to get the things they need to them as quickly as possible is vital. If we can do it for ecommerce, we can do it for saving lives. But we need more tools and services.

Loneliness — Partly linked to issues of ageing above, but actually a much wider concern is loneliness. Changes in the way our towns and cities are organised and the way we live our lives in terms of family structures and work have led to a rise in mental health problems — often linked to the number and quality of social relationships people have. Technology is just as good at helping people meet people in the real world as it is at helping them meet online. How could you use technology to help build real world communities?

Find out more about Social Innovation Camp and Bethnal Green Ventures.