SMXQ – James Corbett

As well as being an advocate of 3D technology through his work organising 3Dcamp in Ireland James Corbett is also a prime mover in the Limerick business community; participating in such events as bizcamp Limerick and Open Coffee Limerick.

1. Could you tell us about your background (where you’re from, what you’ve done)?

I’m from rural Co. Limerick and qualified from the University of Limerick in 1995 with a degree in Computer Engineering and Grad. Dip. in Marketing. I went on to work with Apple Computer, Motorola and Analog Devices before starting my first company in 2002 which was an online sports forum. More recently I co-founded Daynuv which which develops virtual world applications for education and training. We received seed funding from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland to focus on applications for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

2. What was your route into social media?

I started blogging in 2003 and was shortlisted in the Technology category of the inaugural Irish Blog Awards. Around 2005 I became particularly interested in the area of blog feeds and wrote a lot about a technology which could group feeds in useful ways (called OPML). As a result of the ideas I put forth I was invited to join the advisory board of a Boston, MA startup called Grazr. It was proud moment for me when Dan Bricklin, co-creator of Visicalc, the first spreadsheet software for the PC, later joined the same board.

3. Tell us a little bit (if you can) about what you’re interested in or working on right now.

Daynuv provides the back-end infrastructure for 3D virtual worlds based on the opensource version of Second Life, called OpenSimulator.

A number of educational organizations around the country are currently trialling our system and we have developed a good partnership with which provides much needed support services to talented children and their parents.

4. What social media services do you use regularly and why?

Blogs are still my favourite social media, which I consume voraciously through a feed reader (Google Reader). As much as I enjoy the greater immediacy and two-way conversation of microblogging the original blogging format continues, on the whole, to generate deeper and more meaningful discussion.

Twitter is a close second and particularly good for business networking. It’s the virtual water cooler of choice and my network there churns out numerous nuggets of knowledge and wisdom each day.

LinkedIn is a useful third and continues to gain in importance. I’ve connected with many people there who seem disinterested in Twitter and Facebook. As for Facebook I have a profile there but have yet to find it of any great use. Then again it’s strength lies in true social networking, rather than professional networking.

Another social media service (though not always recognized as such) I find immensely useful is Delicious. I’m following a large number of people there who save bookmarks to articles and services that are often missed by other channels.

I’m also a fan of podcasting though I don’t have time to subscribe to as many channels as I’d like. Recently I’ve tuned into the Audioboo community and am finding it a refreshing return to the raw ‘braindumps’ of podcasting’s roots.

Not forgetting YouTube where I’ve subscribed to a large number of informative channels.

5. If you could only keep one service or tool, what would it be, and why have you chosen it?

I wish I could be original in this but I have to join the choir and chime in with… Twitter. In my ideal world everyone would blog and the necessary realtime protocols and plumbing would be in place to give the federated blogosphere the immediacy and bi-directionality of Twitter. But it’s not an ideal world and Twitter is here now and has the critical mass to be an invaluable intelligence hub.

6. Including your own area of expertise, what developments in social media do you think are particularly important?

As I understand it the technologies behind the emergent ‘federated social web’ have the potential to give us the best of both worlds – the aforementioned benefits of Twitter and the open Blogosphere combined. No one company, whether it be Twitter or Facebook should control the conversation. Microblogging should be no different to email in the sense that no one entity owns or monopolizes it.

7. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before the arrival of social media?

I can network like never before. I can exchange tips and advice with my peers though-out the day, every day. As someone who lived and worked in the cities of Cork and Limerick for a number of years before striking it out alone I had never accounted for the professional isolation of working from a home base in the countryside. That and the fact that I had no latent network to tap when starting my first business mean that without blogging and social networking it’s safe to say I’d have been back working a 9 to 5 job a long time ago.

8. What issues, either technical or social, do you see with social media?

My biggest issue is the tendency towards echo chambers. Which of course is both a social and technical issue. I’m looking forward to more innovations in microblogging tools and conventions that facilitate greater discovery of diverse viewpoints. For instance, the hashtag convention in Twitter is a great way to discover new people around a particular topic of conversation. And to read opinions outside of a stale follow list.

9. What one piece of advice would you give to someone entering the social media world?

Fill in your profile and use a passport-style photo. Then engage in some real conversation before going on a follower hunt. Like most longtime Twitter users I get many new follows each day from people who have built up no ‘track record’ and worse again have protected their tweets. Why would I take the effort to follow them back?

Be generous – retweet interesting points of view even if you disagree with them. Reply to those who engage with you. Reach out to newbies. Make introductions. Vary your tweets – don’t make them all replies, retweets or links. And definitely don’t make them all advertisements for your business.

10. How do you see social media helping and improving things for us in the future?

Innovation happens at the edges. For all the success of social media the flawed design of today’s tools draw us inevitably into silos and echo chambers. Stifling the cross-pollination of ideas across disciplines.

I’m very interested in the area of memetics which brings evolutionary models to the study of cultural information transfer. A meme is defined as a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one person to another by non-genetic means. Memes, like genes, are replicators and ‘use’ people as hosts (interesting aside: the movie ‘Inception’ refers to ‘the idea’ as the most contagious virus in the world).

So I see an evolution of social media in symbiosis with memetics. We will continue to refine the protocols, plumbing and tools such that social media will eventually not be seen as a mere part of the internet but the internet itself will be the ultimate social fabric and a hyper-efficient ‘meme machine’. Boundaries will disappear, silos and echo chambers will be consigned to memory and ideas will flow effortlessly across demographics and disciplines.

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