New Media experts: 3 steps to get ready for Virtual Reality

You’re a new media expert, specializing in video, social media, liveblogging or infograhics? Get ready for the final breakthrough in virtual reality, which is starting to impact sectors such as education and even the newspaper industry. As a columnist about new media for the business newspaper De Tijd in Belgium, I realized this year that there’s little time left to get ready for the transformation virtual reality will cause in very diverse industries.

When Facebook bought Oculus VR in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said:

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

Zuckerberg sees virtual reality changing industries such as healthcare, education and sports news coverage. This evolution will take quite a few years, but the future is being prepared now and early but convincing examples will be soon accessible for huge audiences. Also take note that Facebook and YouTube enable users to post 360 degree videos, right now.

I’ll present you two recent articles demonstrating the high expectations regarding virtual reality, then I’ll give my recommendations.

The first article was published in the British newspaper The Financial Times and seems totally enthusiastic: Our virtual reality future is bigger than it appears. The author of the article, Jonathan Margolisbecame firmly convinced about virtual reality during a number of meetings in Los Angeles.

Interesting enough, the breakthrough is not “just” in entertainment. Education for instance is very interested in the new possibilities. Roy Taylor, a vice-president of the chipmaker AMD, told Margolis: “VR is happening here on a scale and with an energy you can’t believe.” Taylor added that the universities are pouring “millions of dollars into it.”  

The author of the article also refers to first-hand experience: he was totally blown away by a virtual reality video about the Wright Brother’s flight. He watched it using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Personally I use a prototype of the Oculus Rift but recently I bought the Google Cardboard headset – less sophisticated maybe, but very cheap.
cardboard

(Graphics from https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/)

A second article which is very positive about the future of virtual reality – even outside the traditional gamers communities – comes from Jessica Davies on Digiday. She reports about the worldwide ambitions of the British newspaper The Guardian in sports coverage.

Sports journalism is often very innovative as The Guardian demonstrates with the use of liveblogging. The future of sports coverage will be even more spectacular.  Davies quotes The Guardian’s sports editor Ian Prior as saying: “VR could have major ramifications for live sport experiences and really drive the next iteration of journalism.”

The New York Times recently sent Google Cardboard virtual headsets to its subscribers. In combination with the app NytVR people can experience news coverage about the refugee crisis and the Paris terror attacks in a far more immersive way.

What should you do in order to keep a close eye on the virtual reality breakthrough?

  • Get Google Cardboard It is cheap and gives access to a lot of interesting virtual reality content, it works with most smartphones.
  • Consider buying Samsung Gear VRThis headset works with Samsung smartphones and it powered by Oculus Rift.
  • Wait for Oculus Rift VR headset –  It will be available for consumers in Q1 201 and you’ll need a gaming PC to get access to a premium quality virtual reality experience.

Summary

Virtual Reality will start going mainstream in 2016, if you want to be part of the action, invest now in getting hands-on experience with it.

 I got inspired for this post as a participant in the Social Media Marketing course at Coursera, created by Northwestern University. Feel free to reach me at @rolandlegrand on Twitter. 

 

Thank you Gigaom

Such sadness. GigaOM, universally described as a ‘iconic tech blog’, shut down. They ‘recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time’.

The blog, founded by Om Malik, tried to find a suitable business model. They organized expensive conferences and offered expert analysis. It proved to be too difficult. The economics of blogging is far from self-evident. My impression is that blogs have to attract ever-increasing amounts of eyeballs in order to earn more or less the same revenue, while the costs increase.

Anyway, I’m deeply grateful for the insights the folks at Gigaom gave me. They are among the best. Let’s hope we find ways to earn a living while running quality blogs.

Why bother to blog

These latest weeks have been quiet on MixedRealities. I had some holidays end of last year, and the new year was one hectic rush of news about terrorism, the war in Ukraine and the elections in Greece. I continued online studying, however I did not participate in any Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but use other interactive ways of learning such as Treehouse for learning some programming skills. More importantly, there was this nagging feeling about blogging: why bother doing it now the world is flooded by Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook-updates (never mind Google+)?

When Andrew Sullivan quit blogging there was a new peak in the ‘blogging is dead’ debate. Kevin Drum on MotherJones responded with a post saying blogging isn’t dead but old-school blogging is definitely dying. He has a neat definition of old-school blogging: “a daily blog with frequent updates written by one person (or possibly two, but not much more)”. The reasons he mentions:

  • Conventional blogging doesn’t scale well. Nothing beats the engagement some good Facebook-posts can generate, and in order to make blogging sustainable, massive traffic and engagement are needed. Uber-bloggers such as Robert Scoble simply moved to Facebook.
  • Conventional blogging often takes the form of longer rants, which one can only fully understand if one is familiar with  previous posts and comments.
  • Professionalism. Big media hired good bloggers, experts and journalists started their own blogs but mainly link to content owned by the company they work for.

So, old school blogging is not cost-effective. What about new school blogging? A blogger can adapt to the reality that conversations often happen on social networks (and not only or even not mainly on Twitter, but on Facebook). This means self-contained posts with one theme. It probably also means tracking conversations which happen on social media and curating them on the blog.

There is something more. The reverse chronological order of the blog (and of Twitter) is no longer sacrosanct. Recency is no longer an absolute criterion as Facebook demonstrates with its possibility to organize the ‘stream’ based on importance and not recency. Maybe people want once again pieces of content which remain valuable over time, with a beginning, middle and end, beautifully crafted, finished and self-contained, as Alexis C. Madrigal said in The Atlantic. An example of this could be the longread format, think Snow Fall.

In the midst of all this doom and gloom about blogging I was rescued by Dave Winer. In a re-run of an old post he suggests this definition of what makes a blog:

If it was one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think — then it was a blog, no matter what form it took. If it was the result of group-think, with lots of ass-covering and offense avoiding, then it’s not. Things like spelling and grammatic errors were okay, in fact they helped convince one that it was unedited.

All of which won’t prevent Winer from using Facebook: “Because it’s a fixture. It will heavily influence the new systems of the decades to come.” In another of his posts, A note about blogging, I read:

Even if no one read my blog, I’d still write it. Not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s something like this — I would still cook even if I was the only person eating.

Winer refers to the Japanese hostages in Syria (both murdered now) and how they both kept blogs and their writing informed the reporters covering their story. Conclusion: “If you have something to say you should be blogging it.” For now, I stick to that.

A course about connected learning

This seems to be a fun course coming up at connectedcourses.net:

For Fall 2014, our major focus is on running a course for developing and teaching connected courses. The course is designed and taught by faculty from diverse institutions, some of whom are the folks behind successful connected courses such as FemTechNet>, ds106, phonar, and the National Writing Project CLMOOC. You can find the syllabus here, and the people involved here.

I have no plans for ‘developing and teaching’ connected courses, but I’d love to learn more about the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web – and this course will be very much about these topics.

Another thing I do like is the team facilitating this course. It can be interesting to participate in a more institutional MOOC, receiving the top-down knowledge from a rock star professor, but here you have a whole bunch of rock star experts who facilitate a learning process, which in my experience is almost always more fun and rewarding.

The pre-course is open now – with valuable comments about blogging – and the course runs till December.

A learning & facilitation challenge

A dear friend has an interesting question for me:

A group of about 30 adults want to explore various themes on the intersections between social care, web skills, various other professional occupations and social media. Possible topics are cyberbullying, safety on the web, collaboration practices. These people have various backgrounds, they are no academics, but they participate in the same course in “real world” – they meet on a weekly basis in a physical classroom. The course starts now and they’ll wrap it up at year-end. How can these people, working in groups of about 5 people, learn to put social themes on the agenda and engage in a collaboration to tackle these issues, using social media?

First thoughts I have about this challenge, based on my own learning at Rheingold U:

– Organize the physical classroom for group discussions (put the desks in such a way that the group members can interact in a natural way).

– For the facilitator: maybe it’s unavoidable to give a slide-presentation, but also try to use a mind map to present the project. The mindmap can be digital and online (I like using Mindjet and MindMeister) but one can use PostIts on the wall or blackboard as well (maybe even better, in a physical context). Make it physically interactive! The learners can use the mind mapping techniques later on for their own group discussions.

– Once the groups are formed and topics are decided, give every group member a role. Someone will be in charge of storing relevant links into a social bookmarking service such as Diigo (one can organize a closed or open group in Diigo, so all group members have access to a central place where they can find their stuff). There’s an instructive video on the Diigo homepage.

Another person will be a searcher, and look for relevant links (the facilitator can give tips about using Google or other engines for advanced search).

Yet another participant can look for central concepts and explain them in a document.

Maybe someone will be a mind map master (all participants can collaborate in drawing the map, and one person could make a ‘clean’ version of it later on), and ultimately someone could write a text/post about the session proceedings.

IMPORTANT: as there are a number of sessions, people should switch roles, so ideally everyone in the group would at least once have done the job of bookmarker, searcher, explainer, mind map master or blogger.

I’m not aware about the specific classroom conditions. Do they have wifi, does every participant has her own laptop? Maybe the facilitator will have to be very flexible…

– Where do these people meet outside the classroom? My friend suggested a Facebook group, and even though I’m in general more in favor of Google+, this might be a good idea because the participants are far more familiar with Facebook (also, in Diigo people can leave comments on links and react on those comments).

– How do the participants reach out to others? As they explore web resources, they can try to find interesting experts/authors on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+ and ask them questions using those networks. They could use the Facebook-group to keep each other informed about these conversations.

– What is the objective? The objective could be to make a web document about their collaborative work. This could be a text about how to deal with cyberbullying, for instance. The text could be written in a collaborative way on Google Drive and share it (for certain others or publicly). Or it could be a video of course, posted on YouTube or Vimeo. Or it could be a series of pictures, posted with texts, sounds and videos on Tumblr. Or it could be a Pinterest collection.

– Will others react on those documents? Will they succeed in having an online conversation? That’ll be one of the challenges.

Anyway, these are first thoughts… maybe you, dear reader, have suggestions to make, and I’ll ask around in our Google+ Peeragogy in Action community…

 

 

Journalism as a service: what it means

There are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism. That’s at least what Jeff Jarvis, author, journalist and entrepreneurial journalism expert wrote on his blog BuzzMachine. So what does this mean? In his post he explains:

Journalism helps communities organize their knowledge so they can better organize themselves.

Anyway, I had the opportunity to meet him in Mechelen, Belgium, at the World Journalism Education Congress:



So why is this important? Because it makes it obvious that thinking about journalism is not something only journalists should do. As so many of us engage in ‘acts of journalism’, there are important issues which concern far more people in a very direct way.

This became very obvious when professor Yochai Benkler testified (pdf) in the case United States vs. PFC Bradley E. Manning. Jarvis reacted on this testimony in the Guardian (read it, also for the discussion section and the many links provided by Jarvis). Benkler explained that journalism is a network in which there are many roles that can be linked together: witnessing, gathering, selecting, authenticating, explaining, distributing. Each can be an act of journalism. Each can be done by someone else, not necessarily working in a single institution. Jarvis quotes him as saying:

One of the things that’s happened is people realize that you can’t have all the smartest people and all the resources working in the same organization. So we have seen a much greater distribution in networks that even though they use the internet, what’s important about the network structure is actually permissions, who’s allowed to work on what resource or assignments of work assignments.

Which is an important thought, as it has consequences for the political debate about whistle blowers, security and transparency, but also for the organization of journalism as a business.

R.I.P. Google Reader and the Open Web

A friend of mine started a Facebook page, asking for one minute of silence for the demise of Google Reader.

For many of us, Google Reader was a crucial part of the curating toolkit. Just subscribe to RSS-feeds, organize them in folders, view it in various ways. Save the interesting stuff for later, then put those articles which stay relevant for a longer time in diigo/dilicious/pearltrees… It was easy, and then Google killed it.

The company said it wants to focus on fewer projects. They felt there were enough good alternatives. And mostly, I guess, they were convinced Google Reader was no longer the future. So what is the future according to Google? Curation via social networks, first of all Google+, but of course also Twitter and Facebook. Algorithms and clever apps such as Flipboard and Zite are the present, readers the past. The future: even more algorithms, pushing information to you based on your explicitly and implicitly revealed preferences, your social graph, your locations, the time of the day… through wearable devices such as Glass.

Let’s be honest: the mainstream web users never embraced Reader. So, was Reader right about stopping Reader? What’s all the fuss about anyway?

The fuss is about the fear that Google is turning its back to the open web. People like Dave Winer, Felix Salmon  and Anil Dash lament about link rot and ‘the web we lost’. The big corporates such as Twitter, Facebook and Google primarily want to lock the users into their very own walled gardens. You and your friends can get data into those places, but getting the data out is another matter. Not that your data are particularly safe, they are not. They are not longer YOUR data, they are owned by the big corporations. When the web was still young people worked really hard for interoperability. Now the open web is on the retreat.

The mainstream, who never made it to Reader, is addicted to Facebook, and somewhat less to Twitter and Google+. Robert Scoble says it’s too late to save the common web, because the common users left. He gets more conversations about his articles and videos on Facebook and Google+ than on his blog/RSS feeds. Bruce Sterling says talking about “the internet” makes no sense anymore, and there are five reasons for that: Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft (not clear to me why he doesn’t add Twitter):

Stacks. In 2012 it made less and less sense to talk about “the Internet,” “the PC business,” “telephones,” “Silicon Valley,” or “the media,” and much more sense to just study Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. These big five American vertically organized silos are re-making the world in their image.

Chances are this will be self-defeating. It reminds me of the old Compuserve and AOL, ancient examples of walled gardens brought down or being forced to reinvent themselves by the open web. Sterling does not think that the stacks are stable entities:

Still, the Stacks figure they can disrupt and disintermediate all those old-school businesses; it’s the stock-markets that scare them, because they all know that, if they’re destroyed, it will surely be through that method; moguls can destroy the Stacks just like they destroyed the world of the 90s dot-com boom.

Are the Stacks “stable?” In a word, No. They’re all dizzyingly unstable Napoleonic gimcrack empires built by eccentric geek weirdos. Besides which, they’ve all learned to hate each other, and they’ve been stocking up patents for an almighty legal war for years now.

Maybe there will be non-American stacks (Samsung? some Chinese conglomerate?) – or maybe the open source and Makers movements will come up with something which is open van vastly superior to what the stacks offer now. We simply don’t know.

Streams of News

Stuff I’ve been thinking about:

  • There are advantages of working for an established newspaper. Like having a salary, infrastructure, lots of news-addicts around you. But it’s becoming ever more important to look at how media companies from a streaming tradition innovate. Wire services such as Reuters for instance build rivers of news. Justin Ellis on Nieman Journalism Lab says Every page is your homepage: Reuters, untied to print metaphor, builds a modern river of news.
  • Ben Adler at the Columbia Journalism Review discusses Streams of Consciousness: Millennials expect a steady diet of quick-hit, social-media-mediated bits and bytes. What does that mean for journalism? Adler:

    I found four overlapping, and mutually reinforcing, trends:

    Proliferation of news sources, formats, and new technologies for media consumption
    Participation by consumers in the dissemination and creation of news, through social-media sharing, commenting, blogging, and the posting online of photos, audio, and video
    Personalization of one’s streams of news via email, mobile apps, and social media
    Source promiscuity Rather than having strong relationships with a handful of media brands, young people graze among a vast array of news outlets.

  • One of the most interesting coders/philosophers of the rivers of news is Dave Winer. He explains why every news organization should have a river. It’s about the curation of streams, not of stories: the streams one monitors oneself in order to produce media, the streams produced by bloggers who collaborate or even by those who are competitors, the streams the own organization puts out.Another one by Winer: 11th hour for news nets.
  • Great story about a start-up, Gittip, getting a call from TechCrunch. The guys from the start-up react by saying they want to stream the interview in real-time and publicly. TechCrunch was not amused. Read about it on the blog of Gittip. Even famous blogs have problems adapting to streams.

I found some great folks on Google+ wanting to discuss media in the era of streams. I asked them: Suppose today you got 15 minutes to either follow your social streams (Facebook, Twitter, Google+… ) or read a newspaper. What’s your choice? Answers on my Google+ page

Singularity Hub acquired by Singularity University

I recently posted about a video-interview with Ray Kurzweil I found on Singularity Hub. I also mentioned the membership-model this site uses. Now the site announced Singularity University acquired it.

Keith Kleiner founded the site five years ago. At first I thought it was part of the Singularity University, but in fact both were unrelated – until now. Kleiner in a post on the Hub:

(…) the two companies surprisingly had never formally collaborated in any way. Recently, however, Singularity University CEO Rob Nail and I came to the realization that our two organizations would make a perfect combination, ultimately leading to today’s announcement.

Difference and the unexpected are what matters

Nice video about how education changes and should change. Because difference and the unexpected matter more than identical competences and predictability.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=quYDkuD4dMU?version=3&hl=en_GB”>< Coursera is one of the examples of the 'new education', but I think other educational practices would be even more illustrative of the deep changes. Stephen Downes and George Siemens started back in 2008 with Massive Open Online Courses. Those courses are distributed, learner-centered. I remember how we had meetings at various online venues, also in Second Life and I even think World of Warcraft. People were expected to blog and interact on various platforms, and Stephen’s aggregation tool brought it all together. The important thing was to connect and to develop a personal learning project. The newsletter was like the newspaper of a vibrant learning community. I report about that kind of MOOCs in the Peeragogy Handbook.