A funny thing happened in Manchester the week before last. I wasn’t there, but thanks to Twitter I was listening in to BIMShowLive via the #BSL2014 hashtag and my friends on twitter who are interested in BIM (Building Information Modeling).
Then out of the blue I got this tweet from Casey Rutland, an architect who works at Arup:
— Casey D Rutland (@CaseyRutland) April 24, 2014
My initial thought was ‘oh no, not another slide with loads of words on it – Death by Powerpoint!’, but then I looked a bit closer and the bottom of the slide said:
Say no to ‘UK BIM Crew’ – its not helpful and prevents wider adoption
This slide stirred up a lot of comment online, as you can imagine. There is so much voluble enthusiasm about BIM these days, and quite a lot of not so voluble doubt, fear and scepticism. Andrew Turner of Henry Riley LLP, who was presenting and I believe chose the wording of the slide, was making an important point. But I think his attention on the #UKBimCrew is mistaken and this is a shame.
What is a hashtag?
#UKbimcrew is a Hashtag. This is a device used on social media (originally on Twitter) whereby a # symbol is placed in front of a word, phrase, abbreviation or acronym. Placing the # symbol on the word tells Twitter that the word is a hashtag, and twitter makes the word clickable. If you click on a hashtag, wherever you see it on Twitter (and these days also on Facebook and Google Plus), you are taken to a search for all the updates that include that particular hashtag.
This ability to create an instant search makes hashtags extremely useful tools on Twitter. If you’re watching a TV programme, you can find people talking about the programme by the hashtag they are using (try #BBCQT when Question Time is on). If you’re attending an event, a hashtag might be used for attendees to keep in touch with each other, and also enables non-attendees to listen in on the buzz around the event, and participate from anywhere in the world.
But hashtags aren’t just about events, and TV programmes don’t own them, they belong to us all, and as such are great levellers.
A hashtag cannot by its nature be exclusive
If you search google for ‘hashtag disasters’ or similar search terms you’ll soon come across many examples where companies, including many big brands, have tried to use a hashtag to generate interest in their product or service, but it has backfired.
For example, the disastrous Q&A session with JP Morgan’s Executive Chairman #AskJPM, or the hilarious #WaitroseReasons…
The reason why these attempts fail is that twitter is a platform that anyone can use if they abide by the rules of engagement. Equally, anyone can create a hashtag, but the hashtag doesn’t belong to him or her, it belongs to anyone who uses it, and anyone can.
By their nature then, hashtags are not exclusive, they are uniquely, perfectly inclusive, automatically including anyone who uses them, anyone who bothers to include the hashtag in their tweet.
Origins of the #UKBIMcrew
I understand from Casey Rutland that the #ukbimcrew hashtag was first used by UK attendees at the 2012 Autodesk University conference in Vegas. With so many attendees from the US, the hashtag helped UK folk attending to find each other and interact on twitter aside from the main event hashtag. Casey also made a Twibbon – a banner you can add to your twitter profile picture, to help people attending find each other.
[CORRECTION: Casey has informed me that “The hash tag was first used in a conversation between Graham Stewart (@stewartGH1970), Darryl Store (@DarrylStore) and James Austin (@VirtuArch) sometime (February-ish) before AU2011, I then created the Twibbon for AU2011.” – as you were…]
The kind of people who took an interest in BIM in the UK at this time were often rather isolated. This was just after the government got behind BIM, before most people knew what it was, before the trade press started writing about it as something that might become mainstream. Its difficult for us to look back now and imagine what being a BIM enthusiast in a contractor or architects practice might have been like at the time. Certainly a lonely experience, made much less lonely by being able to find other people interested in the same subject as you.
After the conference was over, the people who had found #ukbimcrew naturally kept using the hashtag to keep in touch, wherever they were in the UK. They used the hashtag whenever they had something they wanted to share with the group, indeed, with anyone interested in BIM in the UK. And because hashtags are public, free and free to use, a larger community grew up around the hashtag.
Anyone can use #ukbimcrew. It became the entirely open forum where anyone could ask any kind of question about BIM and know that there was a group of people who were interested to help or discuss it. Those people ranged (and still range) from the extremely experienced senior practitioners to new graduates or students interested in BIM or writing about it as a project for their degree.
The Twibbon is still used by people to help identify them as people willing to share what they know about BIM. Its description is:
Adding this Twibbon to your profile pic indicates that you willing to ask questions and share BIM knowledge using the #UKBIMCrew hash tag. This enables other users to search for valuable information. You’re likely to reach a wide range of ‘experts’ from a wide array of disciplines, sharing knowledge to better the Design, Construction & FM industries. There’s a lot of experience out there… let’s share it!
Far from being exclusive then, #ukbimcrew is by its nature inclusive.
People probably do think BIM advocates are cliquey
I remember when I completed my teaching at the University of Liverpool and left to pursue a career back in the construction industry, in 1997. I looked for a job in London but found it almost impossible to find a job because I ‘didn’t have CAD’. Having been involved in teaching five years of architecture students, I knew what CAD was, but I didn’t need to know it, and now my drawing expertise was less in demand. If I were to complete my finals I would have to do a course.
When Andrew published that slide at BIMShowLive, I think he might have not clearly thought about what a hashtag was, but he had a point. As BIM stops being something that no-one knows about or wants to, and starts becoming something everyone has to understand, the early adopters can look very distant in the eyes of someone who doesn’t understand the jargon. And if one person feels they can’t learn about BIM because people aren’t willing to help them, then that’s one person too many.
I never did learn CAD – I didn’t need to. Instead I went into management, where there was a shortage of experienced, architecturally trained practice managers, and for the next 15 years had a successful career without having to use CAD. I did learn about it though, I learned to value its importance, how it was changing the industry, and how skilled its users were.
When I first learned a little about BIM, the #ukbimcrew hashtag and the people who use it were a boon for me. I’ve been able to find and attend events (online or in person) find useful resources, discuss matters in principle and detail, and become knowledgeable about BIM sufficient to do my job as a consultant. The #ukbimcrew continue to surprise me with what BIM is and what it might become. I know I can always find a useful ear there.
If you’re on Twitter, #ukbimcrew belongs to you
My solution to this challenge of making BIM open to all our industry is not to abandon the #ukbimcrew, it is to embrace it. The UKbimcrew hashtag has the potential to help dispel the very impressions people have assigned to it, if they understand that it is just a device to promote discussion.
If you want to know about BIM, go to twitter.com and search for #ukbimcrew, join twitter and tweet with the #ukbimcrew hashtag and ask your question. You’ll be assured of a welcoming response.
Image: Paul Wilkinson OpenBIM at TBIM2012 (creative commons)