To Lurk Or Not To Lurk!

Something that continues to amaze me is the fact that while the whole point of blogging is to share and communicate your thoughts and experiences to the wider world out there, the interactivity built into blogging software and formats is shockingly limited. If I wanted to communicate in a static way I'd put up a web-page not a blog. I put up blogs because I want them to become seeds for discussion points - to get other people involved and to get involved in return. But the only mechanism for discourse provided on most blogs is a space to comment. All very well, but once someone has commented, how can I, as the author or even participant, explore or take that thread of thought to its conclusion if I can't respond specifically to that comment? Writing another comment on the blog is not the same thing. They need to be directly linked.

And that in a nutshell is why most people just read blogs and never bother to comment, and why I believe that while blogs sometimes make interesting reading, as a community development tool they will struggle until their structure changes to become more like discussion threads. I can't see any reason for why blog softwares don't do this as standard, other than it's just the way they originally started in the primitive days of when web logs were simply online diaries. Unfortunately that basic static format has since become the norm.

The funny thing is that I clearly see blogs as the logical next step in online discussion, but while forums and discussion threads seem to be dying out or surviving firmly in computer geek world, no one seems to be making the simple connection and evolving blogging software to enable this extension. If I could write code, it would be my top priority!

This blog format of course is a perfect point in case. Go ahead and comment. You know I can't really reply and converse with you so we can't effectively discuss this much further. Not that satisfying is it??

Dummies Guide to Startups - Online Branding

An Introduction

I've recently had some really kind offers of help with designing logos, so this is probably a good time to start sharing the basics around brand building...

The success of any branding or marketing strategy is primarily down to exploiting the medium to your advantage. The net has transformed the nature of communication. With a multitude of options just a click away, branding needs to be designed to capture those 'sticky eyeballs' and focus them on your product or service.

As with offline marketing strategies around positioning, brand building and target marketing also apply to the virtual market place. Anyone extending products and services to the virtual world must adopt a branding strategy that will synchronise with any existing or future terrestrial banding. This is not only to ensure higher brand equity, but also to achieve the necessary differentiation of products and services.

The key however, is to think differently and not simply replicate terrestrial branding models. The online audience is different and interactive, and has greater choice coupled with a lower threshold of patience. Online branding is therefore about an experience rather than the traditional one-way bombardment of messages.

Offline, branding is about crafting careful visual and textual images that potential buyers passively consume. Branding on the Web is entirely different, because it needs to be active and not simply about associating a colour, phrase or character with a service. Everything you do online becomes part of the brand building experience, with people forming an image of brand based on their experience and the messages they perceive.

The point to note is that a brand will acquire an identity through association and interaction, whether it is proactively planned or not; so it makes sense to develop branding strategies that allow you take control of this process.

The next few posts in this series will walk through the basics you need to know to build your brand. I'll try and update these at least once a week. Probably every Thursday, so hey now you have a reason to come back! If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer it.

Shadow in the Stone

My previous post 'Remembering People' had a deeper point. Recent events remind me how fragile we are. In a life fraught with risk, I take a lot for granted. So this is a completely personal post to say it's great to have you along, and that I hope life is treating you gently wherever you are.

Here's a brilliant poem my sister wrote. It will be published but I wanted to be the first to share it....


Shadow in the Stone

Red tulips splash
across a pastel blue sky,
I see with my father's eyes
and hope the memory stays alive
to water me
in sorrow's time.

Walking, with my hand outstretched
to feel the stone, the marble set
of furniture
that has travelled seas,
to touch my palm,
to be with me.

I saw my shadow nights ago
peep out at me so suddenly,
I jumped, then laughed
"It's only me!"
My darker side,
but only me.

~~~~~~© Shaista Tayabali


Arif, I hope you get better soon.

Remembering people

Much has happened over the past week or so that may change the way we go about setting this up. Not least that there are a couple of other efforts to do something similar. This in itself is no big issue, because it is the end goal that's important and not the route or associated kudos.

I'll be talking some more with the people from i-genius who may be looking to partner up around their volunteering needs. I've also been in touch with the Red Foundation who apparently have received government funding to look at ways of utilising social networks to improve volunteering services. Maybe we can partner with them. Finally, there seems to have been an attempt to create an ivolunteer site already somewhere in Canada, but considering that their holding page still refers to September 2007, one might assume that something hasn't quite gone to plan. Still, I've been in touch in case we can help. Finally, who knows what changes to the plan Phuket will bring.

Anyway, point being that social enterprise is about people not enterprise, and what's important is achieving our vision of positive change, regardless of how we get there. In the focus on capital and concept and design and delivery and sustainability, sometimes it's easy to forget that.

i-genius World Summit for Social Entrepreneurs

You know I keep talking about all these exciting new people and projects and events I've started hearing about? Well, this week I came across the fact that 'i-genius' are running a world summit for Social Entrepreneurs. Check the pic. Quite apart from the underlying theme and opportunity to meet really interesting and socially minded people, doesn't the location look awesome?! I'm definitely going. 4 days in March this year. Starts on Thursday 13th and ends on Sunday 16th in Phuket, Thailand.

Costs are about £690 all incl. at the 5 Star Indigo Pearl Resort; plus flights of course. I'm thinking of turning it into a 2 week holiday starting on Sat 8th and getting back on Sun 23rd March. Fly into Bangkok which is cheapest (at about £500) and then backpack overland to Phuket in time for the conference and then head back via beaches!! Interested?? Come on, you know it'll be a great trip and the more the merrier :D

On a more serious and social note, anyone that attends can set up their own workshops - in our case we could do one on volunteering. Attendees can also arrange to pitch to social investors at the event, which is absolutely brilliant. If you have any ideas to change the world, this could be the perfect opportunity. Take a risk, it might pay off. And if it doesn't, hey, there's a great holiday built in anyway!!

Visit the World Summit Event Page for more info on what it's all about.

10 Social Networking Trends for 2008

I guess the bandwagon wouldn't be a bandwagon if we didn't all jump on it, but there really is some merit in keeping an eye on the future when you're looking to start something. So here's an adaptation from my post Multi-Channel Trendspotting focusing on what I think are some of the exciting new developments that might affect us.

  1. Localisation of social networks - My city, my neighbourhood type social networks. Will be a key consideration for any volunteer network

  2. More privacy in social networks - The privacy issue really kicked off this with Facebook's advertising shenanigans

  3. Opensource social networking - OpenSocial, OpenID, OpenAds, FOAF

  4. More virtual reality online - We already have Second Life,, Kaneva, Gaia, Habbo Hotel etc

  5. More video and multimedia online – Videoblogging and Videocasting via mobile phones could be the next big thing

  6. Free Wifi services on plains, trains and the high street could make internet use and social networking over mobiles a lot more common - Mobiluck, Migg33, Meetmoi, Loopt, SoonR, Aki-Aki are already some examples, with the standard twitter, tumblr, facebook status updaters already tapping into mobile mania

  7. Mobile Marketing - and consequently mobile spam!

  8. Crowd/Social decision making in social networks

  9. Revenue based social networking - Dada, MeYouWorld etc. .. yes we're talking the dreaded pyramid schemes for the web

  10. Social lending & Social Entrepreneurship

Different Travel & Voluntourism

As I've mentioned before, the best thing about this project is that I'm starting to meet and hear from people who've already achieved ways of making a difference. I mentioned the School of Social Enterprise already, and I've now just had a shout from Vicky Smith who's just joined our Facebook Group and who has just introduced me to the concept of Voluntourism. A great description for the sort of developing world volunteering excursions that give us an opportunity to make a difference while travelling the world.

Her company Different Travel runs 2-3 week volunteer holidays for individuals, including challenges abroad involving volunteering as well as a physical stuff like canoeing the Zambezi or trekking the Inca trail for fund raising charity trips. They also do other groups such as corporate employee engagement/training/teamwork.

Different Travel is "a volunteer holidays and travel (voluntourism) specialist offering the volunteer opportunity to work alongside local people on local community development projects, with the focus on the benefits to the host community, helping them towards sustainable self sufficiency."

I think it's a great effort and really pleased to find that our Volunteering Directory is worth the add request. If any of you are looking for a bit of travel volunteering this year, you now know where to go!

Reflecting on the journey so far...

It's exactly 2 months since I started this blog, and in between we've seen the Christmas break come and go, heralding resolutions and new fresh starts. I've been home, I've been on holiday, and I've even watched India win a test match against Australia - albeit not in person! All in all, a great start to a new year.

Judging from Feedburners slightly unpredictable stats, the blog has been visited over 2000 times by people from places all over the world, including America, Australia, India, Singapore, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Finland, China, Spain, Italy, and France to name a few, and has nearly 30 regular subscribers which is awesome given the minimal exposure. The facebook group is hovering around 125 members and everyone I've spoken to has been hugely encouraging and supportive.

There are moments where I feel daunted by the size of what I'm trying to do, but it is quickly wiped away by the massive increase in quality of life stemming from the all the new things I'm learning and the inspiring and positive people I'm meeting - my existing friends included.

One of the most amazing things for me is the fact that I never knew how much was happening in the social entreprise space. Starting this project has been a bit like stepping through a looking glass into a world I never really knew existed. There are so many groups and sites and people all working to make something of themselves while changing the world in a positive way. The scale of what's out there suggests this is not some fleeting movement, but a way of life that has clearly reached the critical mass it needs to become a fully fledged lifestyle choice.

Is 2008 the Year of the Social Entrepreneur? I reckon it is, so watch this blog over the next few weeks for a lot more info on how you can be a part of it too. Hey, you know you heard it here first!!

Facing reality - 6th not happening :(

As you can imagine, this is a journey into a fairly serious unknown for me. Lots of walls I have no idea how to scale and ideas that keep expanding but with detail that's hard to pin down. But underneath it all, here's what it comes down to: If other people can do it, so can I! And frankly if other people couldn't do it, I'd try anyway because it's important enough.

The biggest challenge I've found is communicating the fact that this is still a journey following the progress of an idea; especially when talking to people who need the ideas to be clearly defined before they can engage. I don't have answers to much right now, but figuring out answers is what I do for a living and I'm really not that bad at it, so I'm tempted to say hey have a bit of faith - but that would of course be rude! The reality is that I can't spend every living minute, day and night working this out, so along with a day job and other pressures it is going to take it's time.

Knowing this, and after an enlightening conversation with Ray, I have to agree that setting up any sort of networking event before I have more detail worked out could just be wasting your time. Frankly, it's going to take me longer than early Feb to be in position to really outline what we could build if we wanted to make this volunteering network a reality.

So, while I get a little more prepared to say something useful, I guess this is a rain check on setting up that group meet I floated in my last post. Sorry all :(

8 Tips for Serial Procrastinators

Do you put things off until the last minute? Or worse still, until it's too late?

Keeping in line with today's tips theme, here's a few for serial Procrastinators. You can of course buy books on this topic and find lots of tips from highly organised people who really don’t understand why some people don’t lead methodical and carefully managed lives, but here's a few ideas from someone who's entire life is routineless and utterly disorganised but still manages to get stuff done - yep yours truly!

  1. Try and figure out why you don’t want to do that particular task. Do you think it will take too long; are you unsure of how to do it etc. - and then deal with the symptom.
  2. Find someone to help you – doesn’t matter if they don’t have a clue either. Mostly it’s just the moral support that will get you through it.
  3. Realise that it really doesn’t have to be perfectly executed
  4. Feel the fear and do it anyway – think T-Shirt slogans!
  5. Write it down – it helps sometimes
  6. Break the task down into small components that are easy to do it in little bits - this is the textbook view
  7. Tell your friends what you're planning to do – it’ll create some external pressure that might motivate you
  8. Make a start - any start!

And finally, you could always look at it like this. If you really can keep putting it off, it probably isn’t that important. Most of the time I just use it as a yardstick to filter out all the crap I really don’t need to do!!

What brought this on you ask? Well I’ve been meaning to set up this networking event for the Urban Survival Project and I keep putting it off. Frankly because entertaining people is just not my idea of fun; networking makes me groan; it sounds like the sort of thing I’d have to present something at and of course I have no idea what I’m going to say. But in the interest of following my own advice, I’m going to take the slogan approach, feel the fear and do it anyway...

So if you’re reading this you have now been formally invited to the first USP catch up event on the 6th of February 2008. Location and further details to follow!

6 Tips For Ambitious Entrepreneurs

I recently came across an interesting article on Donald Trump's rules of corporate warfare, most of which were pretty relevant for entrepreneurs in general. I've used this quote before but I really agree with it. So in a nutshell then here's the philosophy ... THINK BIG!

Donald Trump - Who's the daddy?

Of course I personally don't think Trump's the daddy, but what matters is that he does... so here's a paraphrasing of 6 of his tips for entrepreneurs:

  1. Adopt a big attitude
  2. You are what you think are - think big
  3. Ditch your doubts - believe you can do it
  4. Speak your mind - don't worry what others think
  5. Hang out with other big thinkers
  6. Be prepared for big setbacks - failure is not defeat!

(source - Shortlist Magazine)

Top 100 Volunteering Sites Online

I'm a lot further along in my drive to decode the global volunteering landscape, so for all you potential volunteers out there, here's a more definitive directory:

General & Online Volunteering

Social Collaboration Sites

NGOs & Transnational Organisations that accept Volunteers

International, Development & Travel Volunteering

Niche Volunteering - Medical, IT, Teaching etc.


Volunteering Information & Resources

I know it is a very 'developed country' oriented list, but this is primarily because it is difficult for me to evaluate sites that aren't in English!

What do you think? Does this categorisation make sense to you? Do you know of any great volunteering sites I've missed? Comment below or drop me a note and let me know...

USP Research Methodology

Following on from the last few Dummies Guide posts on Research, here are our 3 starting hypotheses:

  1. There is no true social networking volunteer website in existence as yet

  2. There is no online resource of information dedicated to disadvantaged urban youth in the 15 to 21 age bracket at a literacy level that can be sensibly assimilated by people without further education

  3. There is no real-time interactive online resource dedicated to connecting skilled young professionals with disadvantaged young people who need knowledge
Ok there are a number of other hypotheses and variants being tested too, but in the interests of keeping it simple for you, these are the core ones.
Our research at this early stage is based on trawling the web for volunteering sites and youth services, categorising and reviewing them, talking to offline organisations that provide youth support, capturing information about the size of prospective audiences, understanding which other sites and projects are doing similar things in other industries, and generally collating reference information related to the 'market' we're entering.

Here's a snapshot view:

Volunteering and Youth Services research will help with 'Positioning', which is where the next step of 'Analysis' is leading; and Social Web 2.0 research will help us get a bead on technology, success factors and innovation in social networking online.

The time frame I'm thinking of is about 3 weeks, given that it's only me and I've got a full time day job. Hopefully by the end of January we'll we be well away! Of course it could be quicker if any of you want to help me ;)

Cooling down with a little something different

Couple of hours to go til I hit the Kensington Roof Gardens - well if I can be bothered to trek across London for a few overpriced beers that is! So, since I have time to kill and little to do, I might as well finish up with something a little different.

As you probably guessed by the ridiculous number of posts today, it's been a day of surfing and blogging, and although it's all in the name of a good cause, I think I've about had as much as I can take of volunteering sites! Anyway, in my trawls across the net while piling up information for analysis, I've come across some pretty cool things, so here's a few worth sharing.

Cool Design

For starters check out the The Cool Hunter Blog. How awesome is this? You'd really have to be oblivious to design to not love this.

Cool Software

And then there's the Space Time browser which has an awesome feature which actually brings up the actual pages from each set of results you search for in 3D. All very futuristic. Takes a little figuring out, so read the one page user guide before playing with it. But it works well and also automatically imports everything from Internet Explorer so personally I like it a lot. Free of course. Check it out at

Cool Store

Love graphic design? You'll love Upper Playground. There's a store in London just behind Liberties on Gt Marlborough St. and a couple in California. What I love most about them is how deeply design is buried into the way they operate. The clothes are cool; the bags they give you are cool; the catalogue is cool; and they really market to their audience. A great example of design thinking across the whole spectrum if there ever was one.

Cool Concept

And finally something socially cool. Kiva is a site where you can directly connect with and sponsor small businesses in the developing world and help them move towards economic independence. You get emails and so on from the businesses you sponsor and the idea is they repay your loan over time so you can go on and sponsor someone else. Brilliant idea.

On which positive note, it's time to rock n roll. Hope you're having a good weekend wherever you are. I'm off to make the most of loud music and cold beers!

USP Research Methodology

Following on from the last few Dummies Guide posts on Research, here are our 3 starting hypotheses:

  1. There is no true social networking volunteer website in existence as yet

  2. There is no online resource of information dedicated to disadvantaged urban youth in the 15 to 21 age bracket at a literacy level that can be sensibly assimilated by people without further education

  3. There is no real-time interactive online resource dedicated to connecting skilled young professionals with disadvantaged young people who need knowledge
Ok there are a number of other hypotheses and variants being tested too, but in the interests of keeping it simple for you, these are the core ones.
Our research at this early stage is based on trawling the web for volunteering sites and youth services, categorising and reviewing them, talking to offline organisations that provide youth support, capturing information about the size of prospective audiences, understanding which other sites and projects are doing similar things in other industries, and generally collating reference information related to the 'market' we're entering.

Here's a snapshot view:

Volunteering and Youth Services research will help with 'Positioning', which is where the next step of 'Analysis' is leading; and Social Web 2.0 research will help us get a bead on technology, success factors and innovation in social networking online.

The time frame I'm thinking of is about 3 weeks, given that it's only me and I've got a full time day job. Hopefully by the end of January we'll we be well away! Of course it could be quicker if any of you want to help me ;)

Dummies Guide to Startups - Research Methodology

'Methodology' is a big word that basically means approach. All you really need to know for this is that you need at least one hypothesis - another big word for a what is just some statement that you're trying to prove.

The easiest one is around whatever you're planning to base your startup on. e.g. You want to sell niche jelly beans, then your hypothesis would be something like "There is a gap in the market for little jelly beans made of mud...". Who cares if there isn't. Your aim is to find out whether you're right or wrong before you go off and start a mud factory employing tiny little jelly bean engineers!

So here's your basic research methodology

  • Create a hypothesis

  • Decide on appropriate research technique

  • Decide on realistic level of detail you need/want

  • Plan timeframe

  • Get on with it!
For any startup, I'd suggest you expand also your research to include general learning about what it is you're trying to do. Refresh your knowledge about whatever specialist area you're entering. If it's jelly beans made of mud, then I guess that's where you have to start!

I'll discuss what we're doing in terms of research with USP in the next post.

Dummies Guide to Startups - Research 101

"Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work!" - Thomas Edison

Continuing from the last post, lets focus on Research for a minute. Market Research is finding out about who else is in your space, what they're doing, how they're doing it, and how they stack up against each other. It is about checking to see if there's any demand for what you're offering and which bits of it your audience will really like.

At it's simplest Research for startups is about:

  • Segmenting (categorising) your competitors and audience

  • Looking for trends

  • Reading, reviewing and making notes - Online vs offline

  • Capturing both qualitative and quantitative information

  • Running Questionnaires, Surveys & Interviews

  • Group discussions with stakeholders

  • Subscriptions to research houses – Datamonitor, Forrester, Mintel

  • Subscriptions to blogs and news related to your idea
Outputs usually include:
  • Copied and pasted text and links from the web

  • Mind maps - scribbles on paper

  • Outlines and overviews in Word

  • Comparison tables in Excel

  • Screenshots with observation notes in Powerpoint

  • Visual Diagrams - always a good bet if you can think that way!

  • Stats and Graphs for the more ambitious

  • The more reference material you have, the better your analysis will be.

I'd recommend using a tool to manage your notes - something like Google Notebook which is always available anywhere online or via mobile, and maybe bookmarking sites like Del.ic.ious to keep track of interesting links and stuff you may want to go back to one day.

Dummies Guide to Startups – Market Research & Analysis

Think of strategy as a cyclic loop. You need a vision and some goals to have some kind of starting point, and then you need to do some research and analysis to figure out whether they are sensible or not, and then you need to revise them based on what you've learnt and back again until you're happy you're in the right place. And then a little while later you have to repeat the cycle again, just to make sure you're still on the right track, and so on periodically.

So this post is about the next step... Market Research & Analysis.


Some people make the business of research and analysis very complicated, and you can go into as much detail as you like, but for start-ups at stage 1, the important thing is to understand what’s happening around you for two reasons

  1. You don’t waste your time and money doing something that either won’t work, or has already been done to death by lots of other companies with more resources

  2. You are able to show possible investors:
    • how your offering differentiates, and
    • that it has opportunities to succeed financially or otherwise in whichever market you are planning to enter

Entrepreneur types, w00t and Smarta!

Well, it’s finally Friday! And although I’m quite looking forward to a weekend without my back killing me (cheers to Eoghan who by the way is a great physio if you need one in London), this has been a pretty productive week. Amazingly enough after my mention of School of Everything, I went along to a w00t session last night for social innovators looking to share ideas and help; and it was run by the School of Everything guys, which was a great coincidence. Still not quite sure what w00t is, but got invited to the Disruptive Social Innovators event in Feb which sounds great. Definitely like what they’re doing, and particularly Andy Gibson’s new political philosophy of Sociablism! Even found out there is actually a School for Social Entrepreneurs. Kept trying to push away mental images of Jack Black and the School of Rock, but it really highlights how far the capitalist circle has turned.

Anyway the long of short of both my conversations with Howard and Andy is that it really is important to be able to articulate at least one core activity that outlines how the site would work. I still reckon it’s important to finish the landscape analysis I was working on to clarify gaps in what’s available, and also spend a bit of time understanding the needs and motivations of our target audiences to narrow down options before we do this, but maybe it is something worth running in parallel. Maybe I could try and arrange a brainstorm session with any of you that would be interested in a little ‘helper-helpee’ role play to imagine out some scenarios.

I guess I’m in the unusual situation of:

  1. Starting out alone on something of this scale
  2. Formally kicking off a project that starts with creating ideas rather than delivering well defined ones – every sensible project manager’s nightmare!
  3. Targeting the web without actually being a ‘tech ninja’ – yes it is a well known term I only heard of a couple of days ago!! Google it :D

On the topic of generating ideas, I’m thinking of shifting the model towards focusing on creating a generic platform that develops a network of global volunteers overlaid with a user experience that allows niche interactions like the Urban Survival Project. Meantime the actual Urban Survival Project could evolve into a shell Social Enterprise whose core goal is to fund, create and develop new projects that make a positive difference to the quality of urban life, particularly for the more vulnerable members of inner-city society. More on this later. As a first step I’ve added the domains & to my grab bag in case we decide to go that way. Will explore this further as we go along.

Meriem also pointed me to an
Entrepreneur test set up by Rachel Elnaugh, who it turns out is one of the women off Dragon’s Den. Check it out if you like. Beware she uses terms like Alpha and Zeta, which should’ve been a warning sign, but I needed a break so gave it a shot out of curiousity. First note – if you’re not a fan of tests where you have to order multiple options that all seem equally applicable this will pain you. And of course there’s always a few in there that simply don’t apply at all – on any scale. Leaves you desperately trying to figure out which order won’t conclude you to be no kind of entrepreneur at all!

Rachel has
9 different types of entrepreneur – yes 9!

  1. Ultrapreneur
  2. Alphapreneur
  3. Passionpreneur
  4. Sociopreneur
  5. Bosspreneur
  6. Execpreneur
  7. Dadpreneur
  8. Mumpreneur
  9. Safepreneur

I suppose if you can’t add to the brimming pool of jargon that already exists, you haven’t really left your mark. One guess around which one Rachel is believes she is. The order and naming says it all ;)

(source –
Rachel Elnaugh)

I quite wanted to be a ‘mumpreneur’ for the sake of bucking a trend, but apparently I’m a ‘sociopreneur’ which I guess is about right; and so while I apparently want to ‘change the world’, it seems that Rachel has decided I ‘may lack drive and commercial skills‘. A few years here or there of business consulting to multinational corporations don’t count I suppose. More than a touch of the old star sign bullsh*t about the categorisation I fear! Nevertheless an interesting bit of fun.

Finally a quick plug. Meriem has been working on a website called Smarta specifically for Entrepreneurs of all sorts. It’s a great idea that is being very well executed. Still very early on but if you’re thinking of setting up your own thing, it’s worth keeping an eye out for. She’s also setting up a blog which goes live in a couple of weeks too, so watch this space!

Library escapades

Unfortunately yesterday's plans to hit the research centre at the British Library didn't quite work out. Turn out you need a Reader's Pass to get past the door, and for that you need a bank statement and some kind of signature ID. A driving licence however is perfectly ok, even if it is 13 years old, utterly battered, and the address is completely out of date!

So I got in but Howard didn't. Never mind, their coffee room has great atmosphere even if the wine is extortionate, and we still had a pretty productive evening. Howard used to work with startups so has a wealth of useful knowledge, and very sensibly spent most of the time getting me to focus on what's important here.

As usual I'm busy thinking of everything under the sun. Possibility after possibility, but of course the important thing is to get the landscape analysis done, figure out the needs of our audience and then work out the gaps we need to fill. So it's back to the grind. Volunteer sites here I come again. You can't imagine how tedious it is to research websites properly. You can't really appreciate what they offer unless you sign up and use their services, and most of them have no consideration for user experience. "Work hard you b*stard!" is clearly the user interaction philosophy most of them use.

Anyway thanks Howard. Help much appreciated!

Also came across quite an interesting site that is worth a mention. School of Everything. Something to look at when thinking about the sort of interactions we'll need if we want our project to work. Gotta thank Dave for the recommendation - cheers mate.

Changes to the blog & Hello 2008

After much pain and trauma involving Google searches, HTML hacks, CSS and weird code in Blogger templates, I've finally managed to add a few pages to the blog. Phew!! Still a way from being exciting but small steps eh?

So now we've got a new 'About Us' page and some info on how people can 'Get Involved' and help out if they want. Wishful thinking I know, but hey you don't ask you don't get :)

And to all of you who've subscribed to the blog or joined the group, this is also to say thanks for listening and being present. It really helps to know I'm not just chasing shadows.

So cheers all, and Happy New Year wherever you are!!

Dummies Guide to Startups - Strategy

Strategy is simply a plan to achieve a goal.

Defined in order of goal, then plan - ideally in an evolving feedback cycle.

What I'd add is that both goal and plan must be feasible and flexible. If a goal isn't clearly achievable, break it down into goals that are and plan to achieve those instead.

Be aware that starting goals are very likely to change when reality bites - and it does! So make sure your goals can evolve and your plans are flexible enough to adapt to change. Ours for example are already evolving and it's only been a month!

How do you know if your goals are achievable? Well, research and analysis is the answer. H
as it been done before? Was it successful? Is there really a gap you can fill?

Trawl the Internet; get to a library; ask your friends. At startup stage it's about viability and sustainability. You must be able to validate your startup's vision with data - primarily your unique selling points, the size of your target market and the realistic financial opportunity.

Anyway I said I'd keep it simple, so here's the USP overview on Strategy

Strategy Overview Diagram. Components include Vision, Goals and Objectives, Market and Landscape Analysis, Positioning and Planning.

We've already looked at Vision and Goals. As a project we're now in the Market analysis stage. I use the term 'Landscape' instead because this isn't a commercial exercise and we aren't looking to 'compete' in the traditional sense. Anyway, on Tuesday, I'll be dragging myself down to the British Library for the second time to get on with the exciting business of trawling through data, thankfully with some help - cheers Howard!

ps. if you're bored, there's lots more detail on what the experts think strategy is @

Dummies Guide to Startups - Modelling the Enterprise

Following on from my last post What is an Enterprise? here's how I'm looking at it - The USP Guide to Modeling the Enterprise :)

Enterprise Model Diagram. Model elements include Strategy, Identity & Brand, Entity & Infrastructure, People, Legal & Regulatory, Finance, Technology, Knowledge, and Audience.

I guess I should reiterate that this is a high level overview and there is no particular significance to the order. However, I'd recommend starting with Strategy, which at its most basic is defining what you want to do, understanding if it is really feasible, and figuring out how you're going to go about it. In case you're wondering, obvious stuff like setting up your company/enterprise, planning, competitor/stakeholder analysis, marketing and communications etc. fall in as sub-categories in different areas, and I'll explain more about these when I get to them.

Meantime for anyone thinking of setting something up, my advice is consider the implications of each of these categories to check for any major red flags before you gamble anything serious. If you're not confident about any one of these areas, and don't know anyone who can help you understand a bit more about what they mean for your enterprise, think very carefully before committing.

Dummies Guide to Startups - What is an Enterprise?

My original reasons for modeling the enterprise were:

  1. To have a way of making sure I don't miss anything while setting things up, and
  2. So that people who want to get involved can see that it isn't just about volunteering, young people or web design
I then realised that there is isn't anything really simple out there for complete novices. So as part of this blog I figure I'll try and create a dummies guide to starting an enterprise based on how we're doing it.

So what is an Enterprise really?

An enterprise is of course anything from a one man show to a group or collective of groups achieving something.

But regardless of whether it's Fred beavering alone in his garage, or lots and lots of people collaborating towards some global goal, we are still talking about a multi-dimensional meeting of disciplines and specialisms.

Enterprises then are about strategy, ideas, research, brand, people, marketing, accounting, audiences, legalities, risk, planning, operations, technology, knowledge and a host of other detail that you have to consider.

In the next posts I'll chuck up some simple visuals that walk through the process I'm using to get this project off the ground. Lets hope they hold up as we go along!

The Amateur's Guide to adding Tag Clouds to your Blog

Tag clouds are so much nicer than boring lists. If you have a 'Blogger' blog, here's two ways of doing it

The easy way as shown on the Frivous Motion blog post How To Make An Awesome Tag Cloud! - I recommend this one. It's very easy. You just copy and paste a few lines of code over your existing 'Label' widget. Even I could do it and you can see the results on the right!

The harder way as outlined in Phydeaux3's blog post Setup and configuration for New Blogger Tag Cloud / Label Cloud - yes the title says it all. A bit more technical! Enough to keep me looking for something easier. But apparently it works well too.

Adapting to the rapid evolution of the internet

For those of you who don't already know... the World Wide Web was invented by a guy called Tim Berners Lee, and I recently came across an interesting interview with him around the social web phenomenon. Here's a short snippet I think is relevant to the Urban Survival Project

"...The web has developed from a technological tool, based on technical protocols, to something that also combines social rules.

The internet is based on a series of microscopic rules that combine to affect social behaviour on a macroscopic level, though we do not yet understand how this works.

A site such as eBay is designed and built using protocols such as the mechanisms to identify its users, determine reputations and make payments. However, it is also based on a social system of buying, selling and reputation.

It was designed to work for two people, but because eBay got the microscopic design right, it created a new market that works on a large scale.

Web 2.0 initiatives such as social networking sites have also been technically designed to define the way people talk to each other, but have grown to form macroscopic communities..."

(Read the full article

In effect what Berners Lee is saying is that the success of any online enterprise is going to be more and more dependent on understanding the social psychology of audiences on the web.

For us I guess this means understanding the motivations and interactions of the person behind the volunteer in our target group. Similarly for vulnerable young people that need help, it isn't just about their support needs but who they are and what they want as both individuals and an interacting group.

Decoding the Volunteering Landscape

If you woke up one morning and thought about doing something useful with your life... maybe volunteering, what would you do? Search the net I'd imagine. Your expectation would involve a quick search and an easy route to what you're thinking of. What you'd find however, is that your search would throw up so many options, each with their own particular focus and requirements, that you'd probably be overwhelmed to the point of giving up. If you persevered however, and selected a few sites to browse through, you'd hit the same problem again. Massive lists of projects and programmes and opportunities that you have to search through and individually sort. Only the most determined, or those who already know exactly what, how and where they want to volunteer are likely to make it through.

Have to say I made the same mistake. When I started this comparative exercise I figured I'd search the net, collate a list of volunteer sites out there worth looking, understand their offerings and gaps and then map them in some kind of grid to figure out where we need to fit and differentiate. Simple.

What I didn't realise is how many variations and options there were, how much text you have to wade through, and how organisational rather than personal many of them are; I think because of their focus on displaying opportunities rather than engaging people.

So I scrapped my initial approach and set up about trying to make sense of what's out there. Step 1 = some kind of categorisation. Here's my first draft...

General & Online Volunteering

Niche Volunteering

International, Development & Travel Volunteering

Regional UK

Regional US

Regional Other

NGOs that accept Volunteers

Volunteering Information

Next step is explore these, review the ones worth focusing on and see what we can we learn for future reference.

I'm still trawling through the myriad volunteering sites currently out there, but it's taking a while to review them all. Meantime just thought I'd say I quite like what they're trying to do with, even if the site feels a little too complicated to engage with easily. In their own words "Idealist is an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives."

Unfortunately while it is a little more Web 2 than some of the other sites, it is still isn't quite the sort of social networking we're talking about with the Urban Survival Project, but if you're interested in social engagement it's worth a look...


Creative Commons License

The Urban Survival Project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.