Last night saw a little gathering at The Wonk Foundation for the launch of their report cunningly linking social capital and social software (see what they’ve done there?). It was mostly fun because afterwards I could chat with friends on a sunny terrace overlooking The Mall while a woman fed us cocktail sausages. There were, of course, the expected “oh please” moments (“Virtual community is an idea whose time has passed”), a lot of blindingly obvious things that people have been saying for years and a few precious moments of sense.
The first of the two low points was Microsoft’s Paul Lidbetter who gave the impression he’d never heard of social software and, after pitching us on Tablet PCs, claimed social software was currently too niche for Microsoft. Hello? Hello? Presumably he was paying for the nibbles. The second big problem was, as ever, some of the audience’s lengthy comments. People who obviously didn’t quite get the concepts of social capital or social software rambling on and doing their best to avoid actually asking a concise question. Maybe these events need a gong…
This was the first talk I’d been to since EtCon and given my inability to concentrate on such things I realised how boring talks can be without the distraction of EtCon’s ranks of laptops and Wi-Fi. I desperately wanted to exchange instant messages with friends about what was going on or force myself to concentrate by getting stuck into some collaborative note-taking. Looking at your neighbour’s notepad just isn’t the same.
But the most surprising thing was hearing David Halpern, a Senior Policy Advisor in the government’s Strategy Unit. I’ve been brought up to expect disappointment from men wearing shirts and ties. While TV gives us, say, firm and reasoned police captains or striding and sharp-tongued men of political action the real world is full of blaggers, scrabbling their way up sweaty corporate ladders. But Halpern actually talked sense about social capital, which was nice.