A happy commuter

Sunday, July 24, 2011 at 3:42 | Posted in Estonia, railways, tallinn, traffic | 2 Comments

The Tallinn commuter train service is just great. I live well outside the capital and do not visit it too often. It makes sense to buy a single ticket rather than having a monthly card.

I do not need to have cash with me on board. There is a card I can upload either money or travel time to. Debet card payments are not accepted on board but other than that, I am happy.

Last time I uploaded balance to my rail card, it did not work with Firefox. Chrome was the only of my options to work. Of course I complained in Twitter.

Uploading yesterday, I detected suddenly that there was no problem with Firefox. The Elektriraudtee have a Twitter account of their own and it seems they follow feedback as well. Not to mention their real time updates whenever something extraordinary happens.

There is also a wifi network on trains, allowing me to spend the 70-75 minute journey doing something useful on line. When the rails and trains get modernised there will not be very much to hope for.

I am a happy commuter.

Summary of workshop discussions

Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 15:52 | Posted in Estonia, Finland, helsinki, internet, Media, social media, tallinn | 7 Comments
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This is a summary of discussions in the workshop  “Bloggers, portals and social media” in Helsinki Tallinn Euregio Forum in Tallinn.  The workshop took place on 14th September 2010. My Finnish live reporting of discussions on 15th December is here.

Social media workshop

Social media is not going to set up the agenda of a future twin city but it is a tool in composing and developing it. It offers tools for citizens, businesses and administrations to discuss and and share their arguments and goals.

Community tools, such as video blogs and map based community software make it possible for grassroot communities in both cities to interact directly. A good example of this is the similar character – historically, demographically and visually – of Uus Maailm in Tallinn and Käpylä-Kumpula in Helsinki. Tools of social media make it eaiser than hitherto to common interest communities like these to “discover” each other and interact both virtually and in “real” life.

The idea of a twin city region is not new. It has been discussed for years but very little has materialized. Both these discussions and – hopefully – ideas that will eventually become reality should be recorded for future. The idea of a community composed wiki arose in our discussions and we warmly support it.

As businesses have learned, a successful usage of social media is not free. The platforms are in general free but you need to allocate resources. This goes for the public sector as well. If you obligate a worker to maintain a large and time consuming visability in channels of social media you can not reasonably expect them to carry on with their other obligations.

People using social media on behalf of their public sector employer have a legitimate concern of mixing their public roll with their private personal profile in social media, Facebook in particular. Luckily, most platforms, Facebook included, offer tools to address this issue. Public sector employers need to actively draw their personnel’s attention to this kind of problems.

Not only were our discussions deep and good in quality. We addressed a broad range of issues and it would be impossible to give you a full acoount of everything. Luckily, the discussions were recorded both by Tallinn TV and by volunteer participants of the group. The former recording is going to be made available at Tallinn TV web site and the raw material of the latter may become available as a downloadable torrent and Common Creatives licencing.

It has been said that the purpose of the Talsinki Hellin twin city concept is that the two cities will grow together. This does not mean that Helsinki is going to become a suburb of Tallinn. Much less so the other way round.

The process of growing together into a real twin city, a twin city with living people, prosperous businesses and a good government must be fulfilled for the benefit of the people, by the people. Social media can offer a channel to distribute the will of the people.

Edit: You will find most of the presentations at the forum here.

The giant cocktail party called social media

Thursday, September 9, 2010 at 14:21 | Posted in Estonia, Finland, helsinki, internet, Media, social media, tallinn | 1 Comment
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This post is a part of my preparations for the  Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio Forum to take place in Tallinn on 14th and 15th September 2010. I am going to co-moderate with Barbi Pilvre a workgroup for bloggers, portals and social media. I have posted related links onto the Facebook page of the group.

As Seth Godin says on this video clip, the Internet is a giant cocktail party which certainly also goes for social media. It does not matter if you have 5000 followers in Twitter because you tell a dirty joke every two hours. If you want to be connected with people that matter for you, your input to social media needs to add value for them. You need to build your relationship with your contacts in a way that promotes your goals and theirs equally.

Vesa Ilola writes in his blog (Finnish) about organising a business oriented cocktail party in social media. While the post (as well as what Serh Godin says in the clip above) relates to businesses, the basics also apply to public sector. A cocktail party hosted by a government on any level (local, regional, central) takes place in the same giant ballroom whereby creating and maintaining contacts that matter happens much the same way.

No matter whether you are an individual, corporate or private business or indeed a municipal government you need a plan, a manuscript of your virtual cocktail party. While the platform is (more often than not) free, you still need to allocate resources such as time, staff and intellectual effort to keep your party going smoothly and to reach your goals. You also need to listen, interact and breathe together with your contacts in social media.

“Is the public sector, especially municipalities, flexible enough to interact in the ever-changing media space?” That is one of the crucial questions the Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio Forum is seeking to answer. Corporate businesses may have hard time understanding that social  media is a two way street where you need a totally new approach to interacting. Municipal government has traditionally been an environment where creative thinking and flexibility have not exactly been encouraged. But municipal bodies just have to rethink their approach unless they want to get alienated from their citizens and the everyday life of citizens.

Incidentally, politicians who (are supposed to) run the government, seem to have even a bigger problem with orientating in the rapidly changing giant ballroom environment. In this interview in Kansan Uutiset (Finnish) Jussi Lähde predicts that right or wrong approach to social media is going to make a huge difference with several seats filled in the Finnish parliamentary election in April 2012. Do you still think that social media is something that does not effect the way a municipal government works? Think again!

The media landscape revolution is not only a future prospect. Much of it has already taken place and most municipal governments (politicians and civil service alike) are lagging behind. They can not afford to ignore the giant cocktail party called social media or they are going to be ignored themselves.

Still not convinced? Just take a few minutes to watch this clip and digest the facts displayed!

Twin city tourism in social media

Friday, August 27, 2010 at 2:10 | Posted in Estonia, Finland, helsinki, internet, Media, social media, tallinn | 1 Comment
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In my previous post about Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio Forum I wrote that I had not detected active usage of social media by any governmental or municipal organisation in Finland. I did write, however, that there is a growing interest in social media in administrations of Tallinn and Helsinki and it is probably being used “in a light scale” by both.

Today I discovered that Helsinki City Tourist office, in addition to their traditional web site, also have an active presence in YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. I would have embedded the lead video clip of their YouTube channel but they unfortunately seem to have disabled embedding. Something to reconsider?

In context of Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio Forum, tourism is one of the very core areas of a common information space since it is one of the few areas – if not even the only one – where the twin city concept already works in practical terms. Not only do Estonians and Finns frequently visit each other’s capital cities. An increasing number of tourists from elsewhere, while having either Helsinki or Tallinn as their main object, also spend a day or two in the other.

It would accordingly  be in the best interest of both Tallinn and Helsinki to attract tourists to the twin city region in the first place. Whichever city the potential visitor may choose, chances are they would bring in some revenue to the other city as well. This seems to answer one of the questions that the Forum’s group V (Bloggers, portals and social media, moderated by Barbi Pilvre and myself) is expected to discuss: What are the chances for common information space bridge building in social media?

Let us have a look at what the Helsinki Tourist Office have done! Their main focus seems to be in Facebook which is understandable, given the huge penetration of Facebook among target groups. The site is well done and frequently updated. Even more importantly, comments and questions are being responded to. I am positively surprised!

As I mentioned above, embedding video clips is disabled in the Visit Helsinki YouTube channel. I would strongly advice to enable it because allowing to share is exactly the way to spread information in social media. Those clips are real nice and nice videos are definitely helpful in bringing visitors to the twin city region if redistributed by bloggers, tweeps and in Facebook. The good content is right there, why prevent people from sharing it?

@HelsinkiTourism in Twitter seems to be orientated the same way as many of the Estonian governmental organisations I wrote about in my last post. There is a lot of useful info to be found but it is a one way street. Notably, they have 254 followers but just 10 are followed back and those 10 seem to be their partners. It is by no means wrong to use Twitter this way but a crucial part of potential of the social media is being missed if you do not interact and discuss.

Now, back to the common Helsinki-Tallinn information space which is the main topic of this year’s forum! As I mentioned tourism is one of the key areas where a common information space is easy to build up and practically certain to bring in positive response and practical advantage in a very short term. Tallinn has an ambitious tourism portal of its own but I have yet to discover any usage of social media (forgive me if I am wrong).

Why not join efforts with Helsinki to build up a twin city presence in social media?

Thoughts about (local) government and social media

Friday, August 20, 2010 at 3:47 | Posted in Estonia, Finland, helsinki, internet, Media, social media, tallinn | 2 Comments
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I have been approached by Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio Forum to participate in the event which is going to take place in Tallinn 14th and 15th September. I am going to write more specifically about what I am going to do there closer to the date. My input is connected to the workshop “Bloggers, portals and social media“.

The Forum is a biannual event organized in one of the two capitals, this year in Tallinn. It involves the local governments of both of the two cities plus regional administrations of Uusimaa in Finland and Harjumaa in Estonia. The twin city concept is an essential part of the Forum. This year’s event discusses developing a common Helsinki-Tallinn information space.

As a part of my preparations for the Forum I am going to discuss related topics both in this web space, my Finnish and Estonian blogs and elsewhere. One of the places is the Facebook page “Helsinki-Tallinn Capital Regions Common Info Space“. To kick it off I am posting some loose thoughts about (local) government and social media. Since the idea is partly to build up my own input and partly to give a chance to anybody interested (whether they actually participate in the event or not) to contribute, your comments are most welcome either here in the blog or at any of the two Facebook pages linked above (1, 2).

If you browse the web sites of Helsinki and Tallinn you do not easily detect signs to suggest that social media would be actively and systematically used as a tool by either city. Yet I know that there is a growing interest in social media in both administrations and it is probably being used in a light scale by both. It is more than likely that neither Helsinki nor Tallinn has yet a comprehensive social media strategy, i.e. they have yet to figure out how to use it and what for.

Please correct me if I am wrong but I have in fact not detected any active social media presence from governmental organisations in Finland, neither local, regional nor central government. The picture is somewhat brighter in Estonia. Various levels of government are using the channels of social media in various ways and with a variable level of success.

Most notably, the President of Estonia, Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves has a Facebook page of his own. The page is being frequently updated and is very popular (9,575 people like it). Each post collects a lot of comments. The president does not seem to talk back but I do not really think anybody would expect him to.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry has an official blog which is very actively updated by Estonian diplomats around the World and by civil servants of the ministry. The comments are very few and practically never responded to. The blog portraits a colourful picture of life and people in external service but basically works as a one way street.

Returning to the local level of government, the City of Tartu appears in Twitter. The tweets are posted fairly regularly and almost always consist of links to the city’s web site. By following them I get quite a lot of interesting information about current events in Estonia’s second largest city without drowning into a bulk of stuff less interesting for me which would be the case if I subscribed to their RSS feed.

The city does not seem to discuss with their followers. Alas, I conclude that their strategy is to get their message through effectively. Looks like it works reasonably well and does not require very much resources to be invested to. On the other hand, Tartu does no doubt miss the benefits of the very idea of social media: it is a two way street. Incidentally, the University of Tartu seems to have a bit more sophisticated approach: they also link to sites other than their own and even occasionally respond to comments and retweet.

The most boring approach to social media is the Twitter feed of the Government of Estonia. The feed is practically a duplicate of their RSS feed, thus adding no value if followed. Despite having (at this moment) 566 followers they only follow back 8, all of which are governmental organizations or institutions. As you could expect, no replies or retweets to be found.

As you may or may not know, the two European Capitals of Culture next year are going to be Tallinn and Turku. The Foundation Tallinn 2011 has a pretty nice presence in Twitter. Not only do they post operative info about preparations to the year as Cultural Capital, they also discuss with their followers. Add to that their activities in Facebook and YouTube and you get something which looks like an impressive social media strategy for an institution sponsored by a local government.

These are just a few examples of different approaches to social media in various governmental operators. They all have a different strategy (or in some cases lack of it). I hope to soon return to the question of social media strategy more specifically. In the mean time I would appreciate any thoughts you may have.

A Baltic vision

Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 1:30 | Posted in Estonia | 4 Comments
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In this clip the Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves uses five minutes efficiently by putting into a nutshell how the three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have changed and how the whole World has changed during the last 20 years. He appeared together with his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts in Riga in the final session of Transatlantic Agenda 2010 A Baltic Vision.

Just a bit too far

Sunday, July 13, 2008 at 16:50 | Posted in Estonia, traffic | Leave a comment
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This footage from Estonian channel 2 shows the effects of the Moscow-Tallinn train going just a bit too far due to a break failure. The engine driver and his number two are now being investigated (Estonian) as it turns out that they failed to make some of the mandatory break checks during the journey.

Jaan Kross passed away

Thursday, December 27, 2007 at 16:34 | Posted in Estonia, History, literature | 7 Comments
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I just heard in the radio and read in the paper that the great Estonian writer Jaan Kross passed away today at the age of 87. He was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel price in literature but was unfortunately never rewarded.

Jaan Kross was imprisoned during WW II by the German occupation and after the war by the Soviets. He was deported to Siberia by the Russians. His career as a writer started when he was allowed to return to Estonia 1954.

Kross started his career as a poet but he is best known of his historical novels. The Wikman Boys, 1988 and Tahtamaa (2001) are in my bookshelf. Between Three Plagues, 1970 and The Czar’s Madman, 1978, are among his most celebrated books.

Jaan Kross had a long and outstanding life. Unfortunately he did not survive to experience the 90th anniversary of Estonian independence which is five days after what would have been his own 88th birthday.

Valga/Valka twin town

Sunday, December 23, 2007 at 11:42 | Posted in Estonia, eu, Personal | 2 Comments
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Martin-Eric was in the twin town of Valga/Valka at the Estonian Latvian border when the Schengen treaty enlargement took effect at midnight Friday. He has posted a comprehensive description of the last hour of the old border procedures and the first hour of border freedom.

Mid town border poin in Valga/Valka

The first time I was in Valga/Valka was late 1990’ies. The mid town border crossing point (picture) was then open for Baltic citizens only. The Estonian border guard would have allowed me to pass but her Latvian colleague checked with his boss who said no way.

I had to take a walk of good two kilometers to the international transit point outside mid town. The road I walked was practically on the border which was only marked with a sign. I could have jumped the border without a problem as no border patrols were to be seen on either side but I wanted a stamp in my passport. Besides, I did not want to risk getting in trouble on my way back to Estonia.

Ironically, I only got an Estonian stamp that time because the Latvian border guards had none to issue. I did get a Latvian stamp as I returned to town a year later so I have that old passport among my dear souveniers. Incidentally, that very same passport also has the last stamps issued in Berlin both from Checkpoint Charlie and Friedrichstarsse Railway Station when the Brandenburg Gate was opened and East German border guards no longer stamped the passports.

last Berlin stamps, click for a larger image

As I was less than enthusiastic to walk back and forth between mid town and the international border point I decided to stay overnight in Valka in the only very modest hotel in the Latvian side. The hotel was run by an elderly lady who spoke fluent Estonian. She told me that she had lived near Pärnu for decades during the Soviet occupation. During my stay she was the only person I was able to communicate with in Estonian. At that time Russian would have been a useful language to command, very few people in town spoke any English at all.

When I returned to Valga/Valka in August 2004, both Estonia and Latvia had recently joined the EU. The mid town border point was open for all nationalities which speared me from a five kilometer walk to get to exactly the same point. The formalities were somewhat easier than before. Latvians checked my documents when I was entering Latvia and Estonians in the other direction. A double check in both directions was performed earlier.

At that time I did not stay overnight and did not even go to see if the old lady was still running the hotel. I just went for a couple of beers near the border. I had changed 100 Estonian crowns which is around 6 €. That money bought me two pints in the pub and eight bottles to take with me back to Estonia which almost qualifies to free beer.

I had considered celebrating the lifting of border barriers either in Tallinn or Valga/Valka but unfortunately I had other matters to take care of. The twin town is the closest open land border to Helsinki. Since there are no longer any formalities, I am certain to return there sooner or later.

On a more frequent basis I am going to notice the benefits of the Schengen treaty in the harbours of Tallinn and Helsinki where lines for the passport control no longer exist. But that is nothing compared to the relief that a number of Estonian families in Suve street in Valka are experiencing. They have the rest of their life in Estonia but their houses were left on the Latvian side of the border when Estonia and Latvia regained their independence. Now they are able to legally cross the border at the most convenient spot rather than taking a long detour through the official crossing points.

New Yorker apologizes

Friday, December 21, 2007 at 18:06 | Posted in Estonia | Leave a comment
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As I wrote yesterday, The German clothes retailer New Yorker opened a store in Tallinn a couple of weeks ago but failed to recruit sufficient with Estonian speaking personnel. The store apologizes for any inconvenience they may have caused their customers by failing to guarantee customer service in Estonian at all times, Ärileht writes.

According to district manager Anja Toppe, New Yorker uses German personnel as a temporary emergency solution. New Yorker has a policy of sending German personnel to assist the regular personnel in new stores but their function is normally to advice and assist, not serve clients. Toppe says that New Yorker was encountered with unexpected problems with recruiting Estonian personnel: they had not sufficient with “good applicants”.

At the moment the store has nine Germans and seven Estonians on their payroll. Estonian speaking sales personnel work in every shift. New Yorker hopes to be able to improve the situation as soon as possible.

Wie bitte?

Thursday, December 20, 2007 at 8:44 | Posted in Estonia, languages | 3 Comments
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The German clothes retailer New Yorker recently opened a store in Tallinn but failed to recruit local personnel, Estonian TV reports. Most of the sales persons speak fluent German and wooden English but no Estonian at all. After a number of customer complaints the governmental Language Inspection detected that only seven of the 21 employees are capable of serving customers in Estonian.

The New Yorker store apparently opened before recruiting suitable local sales personnel. The Language Inspection issued an injunction saying that New Yorker must bring their operation into  accord with the Estonian Language Act by tomorrow.

Thank you folks

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 at 7:57 | Posted in Estonia | Leave a comment
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I thought I would be able to cover the conference on line in real time. However, even with an existing wifi the event is faster than that. I am particulary happy that fellow countrymen in Canada and US shared their thoughts with me.

I am going to publish the video footage as soon as I get the chance to edit it. I thought I could do it during the conference but I have less time in my desposal than I thought. Anyways, thanks for your input, respected fellow countrymen.

Heading for a conference in Tallinn

Sunday, November 11, 2007 at 11:48 | Posted in Estonia, tallinn, web 2.0. | Leave a comment
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I am in the middle of Gulf of Finland sailing for Tallinn where I am going to participate in  a conference discussing the Estonian government’s program for fellow countrymen abroad. The current program is effective for the period 2004-2008 and the conference, organized by the Ministry of Education, will discuss the frameworks of the next program period. I am one  of the three delegates representing the Association of Estonians in Finland.

I am planning to cover the conference on line in real time primarily in the association’s blog. There is also a Facebook event for the conference. I hope to get as much feedback from people both in Estonia and abroad in order to present suggestions received from readers to the conference.

While most of my coverage is naturally in Estonian, I am going to try to make a few summarizing posts in English as well. So if you want to learn about the issues discussed, keep an eye on this space and the Facebook event. The conference will open tomorrow morning and close on Tuesday afternoon.

By the way, I already received some good suggestions in comments added to my Estonian blog. Those will be discussed as soon as I meet my fellow delegates and we are going to present the ideas either in the floor or in committees.

Trucks at Estonian Russian border

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 10:03 | Posted in Estonia, russia, traffic | Leave a comment

This footage shows trucks lined up near the town of Narva at the Estonian Russian border waiting to enter Russia. The situation is very similar at the Finnish border against Russia, has been for a long time. The line can be anything between 30 and 50 kilometers on any given day. Why? Because Russia gives a shit to conduct its border formalities in accordance with international treaties, let alone common sense.

Good and bad options

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 23:51 | Posted in Estonia, internet, wifi | 2 Comments

As I sailed from Helsinki to Tallinn this morning, I was on line through the on board wifi during all of the voyage. I even recorded a short video, uploaded it and posted it to my Estonian blog. There are electric outlets allover the ship so I did not even have to consume my battery to stay on line.

Since I had four hours in Tallinn before taking a train to Tartu and the train was supposed to have a web connection, I figured that it would be smart not to consume the battery for reading my e-mails in Tallinn. Otherwise I might run out of power during the two and a half hours in train. Unfortunately, though, the train’s connection was off due to a technical failure.

So I did not read my mail during the four hours in Tallinn, for which I had plenty of time and free wifi spots would have been available allover the town. In addition to that I spent another two hours and a half in a train without a working wifi. Which means, of course, that my inbox was loaded as I finally made it to Tartu. Luckily I have a free wifi right here in my hotel room.

My situation is ideal up to Saturday morning. I can use the web as much as I need to in the hostel and recharge my battery while I do it. Then I can go downtown for the day and log in practically everywhere to return to the hostel in evening to recharge my battery and stay on line.

But my problems are going to start early on Saturday morning. There are two trains serving the Tartu-Tallinn line on weekends. Both of them are supposed to have wifi but one of them apparently does not. And I do not know which one of them is going to be on track in the morning as I get on board.

All of this is of course not such a big deal. Just a small annoyance when things do not work the way you imagined they would. I know that a 24/7 access to the web where ever you happen to be is something that people in many other countries could not even dream of. But since Estonia just happens to be the country in Europe where access to the web is regarded as essential as access to clean water or electricity, you tend to get sour when your plans to stay on line do not work.

I’ll just enjoy things as they are and prepare for a positive surprise on Saturday. Being cut off would no longer be a surprise but something I actually have to take in to consideration as an option.

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