Full circle conversations

I had to explain to journalism students how to use social media (I only had one hour!). Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe the first stage is organizing your thoughts and listening. After that participate actively in conversations but don’t just broadcast your messages. So the sequence could be like this:

  • Organise your thoughts using mindmapping. There are lots of tools, I like to use MindMeister. The added benefit is that, in a later stage, you can turn your mindmap into a collaborative map, asking others to help you. There are free alternatives for online mindmapping but they won’t all allow for collaborative mindmapping.
  •  Head over to social media such as Twitter and Facebook to listen. Organize relevant people in Twitter lists, search for hashtags. Other interesting places for in-depth discussions are Reddit and Quora, and for each subject you’ll find specialized forums.
  • Use a good dashboard such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to keep stuff organized.
  • I still use RSS-feeds and RSS-readers, in my case that’s Feedly.
  • Make your own procedure for hunting and gathering important content. You can stock posts into Feedly and in social bookmark services such as Diigo. I use Diigo a lot, it makes it easy to use tags, descriptions and to work in groups.
  • Have your own blog, but don’t underestimate the technical hassle. An easy solution might be Tumblr or Medium. Or you could go for a fully hosted WordPress or Drupal solution.
  • Of course you also need social media to talk about your blog posts and to discuss with others. Don’t hesitate giving others credit for their posts and contributions and engage in real conversations, not in thin excuses to promote yourself.
  • This is where the circle closes itself: you return to the social media to tell people about your post and to reconnect. You can use the feedback to develop your mindmap even further and then you can publish the mindmap as a collaborative document where others can add their own thoughts. Maybe this will inspire you for a new post and a new cycle.
  • Chances are that you can invite people to form a small community on Slack, where you can work together – exchange bookmarks, organize channels for different aspects of the subject the community is interested in. A videoconferencing tool such as Zoom enables you to engage with that community into a weekly of monthly meeting. Or you can invite experts for short presentations and experiment with realtime collaborative mindmapping.

Social media in this classical sense costs time and effort (which I myself lack for the moment). A lot can be said about strategy – I recommended the students to focus on well-defined subjects. Specialized subjects and real-time communication also help to avoid the kind of brutal and rude social media fights one witnesses every single moment these days.

Yuval Noah Harari asks tough ethical questions

Screenshot of the Time Well Spent site

Screenshot of the Time Well Spent site


I’m reading the book Homo Deus these days, written by Yuval Noah Harari, the author of another bestselling book,Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Homo Deus is about “a brief history of tomorrow”, it goes back to the hunter-gatherers and leaps into a largely unknown future of a possible successor of the homo sapiens.I won’t try to review the book here, as others did so very well.

The book made a big impression on me, so I was delighted to discover a long article by Harari in The Financial Times, in which he challenges the “the future according to Facebook” – reacting on Mark Zuckerberg’s Manifesto about the Global Community Facebook wants to build.

I think this discussion is very crucial for those of us who are interested in VR, AR and MR, because Facebook is a big player in these fledgling industries and Zuckerberg has a very articulated vision on the importance of all these realities. In “Building Global Community” Mark Zuckerberg explains how much value the users of his network get from participating in specific groups/communities (parenting, patients… ) and how important this can be also for their offline lives. Harari is critical:

(…) he never acknowledges that in some cases online comes at the expense of offline, and that there is a fundamental difference between the two. Physical communities have a depth that virtual communities cannot hope to match, at least not in the near future. If I lay sick at my home in Israel, my online friends from California can talk to me, but they cannot bring me soup or a nice cup of tea.

People have bodies, so Harari reminds us, and we don’t have (yet?) the means to virtually recreate the depth of physical presence. The problem with Facebook and its business model is that it needs its users to use its services as much, as long and as intensely as possible – even when that’s not in the best interest of the users.

He refers to the designer/philosopher Tristan Harris, an ex-Google person who nowadays promotes the Time Well Spent movement. He wants to make people aware of the design of tools such as smartphones (or headsets I guess) and he asks designers some inconvenient questions: in whose interest do they work? Will they stimulate people to connect to the physical world around them, or will they serve the interests of the shareholders of Facebook, Netflix and other similar companies who have a vested interest in being as sticky as possible?

I think this should not be read as a damning condemnation of all things virtual or augmented. One can imagine virtual experiences which open our eyes to the realities around us, and even more so augmented and mixed reality inciting us to explore the physical world (remember Pokemon Go?). What I like about Harari and Harris is that they confront us with ethical choices in our exploration of VR and AR.

Mixed Realities Musings on Facebook

I launched a page on Facebook about the same subjects I cover here on this blog: virtual worlds, virtual reality, augmented and mixed reality.

On MixedRealitiesMusings I’ll post links to this blog but also to posts and videos on other blogs and sites.

The very first visitor to post on the new page was Howard Rheingold:

MixedRealities lives also on Twitter.

Facebook as the Mixed Reality which really matters

This blog remained silent for more than a year. I continued writing my column Legrand Inconnu for my newspaper De Tijd – about the impact of technology on society and the economy. Part of my writing is about Virtual Reality, Virtual Worlds and Augmented Reality.

I’m still fascinated by VR and VW even though I’m convinced it’s a niche activity. VR tries to seduce hard-core gamers and even that is an uphill battle. Pokemon Go had its moment of mainstream glory, and maybe Apple will give it another boost if reports are true that the next iPhone would enable higher quality AR. Microsoft’s HoloLens seems fascinating but not yet ready for the consumer market.

Mixed Realities is still young and provides endless subjects for thought experiments. What if I could blend my international friends into my physical environment as realtime holograms, enabling them to observe and interact as if they were here? What if I could visualize in AR the emerging Internet of Things around me? Robert Scoble tells us on Inside AR&VR that mixed reality interfaces will be used for all those things: AI, cryptocurrencies, robots, drones, self-driving cars… But it’s still early day.

Conclusion for this blog: it makes little sense to focus on Second Life as I did when I started about ten years ago. Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, is working on a VR compatible virtual world, and founding father Philip Rosedale has his own VR project, but in my view this will attract mainly a subset of current Second Life users. Technically it will be superior to the current Second Life environment, but will it add new philosophical dimensions to the virtual experience? I’m not sure, but I may be proven wrong.

Facebook

What about the impact on society? I bought an Oculus Rift because Facebook is behind it. I do believe Mark Zuckerberg has this great ambition of making  VR and AR mainstream – in ten years time. For now he has more urgent worries.

Zuckerberg wrote a very interesting Manifesto, Building Global Community. He seems very worried that the dream of an ever more connected world turns into a nightmare of tribalism, political and cultural wars and hate.

He wonders how we can experience each other online as full human beings and not just as partisans of the opposing political group. Maybe VR and AR can help in the longer run, but for now it will be a matter of better designed groups, AI orienting people to groups which could be very important to them, detection of extreme behavior before it really escalates (while still promoting encryption) and stuff like that. The redesigning of our online social structure will be quite a challenge but much-needed. Zuckerberg wants to promote the ‘very meaningful groups‘  (about parenting, patients, education, religion…) which constitute for their members a major part of the online experience but are also crucial for the physical existence of people (hence mixed reality).

The real mixed reality world out there could very well be Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp with it’s more than 2 billion users. That constellation matters politically and economically, and yes, VR and AR will be part of that, somewhere in the future. As I’m most interested in that societal impact, right now I’m more interested in how Facebook will redesign it’s social infrastructure than in the latest VR rand VW releases.

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.

Big tech in love with VR and AR, so we update our mindmap

Crazy times for virtual reality, or so it seems. ‘It’s the future’, people at Facebook say. Users will not only be able to experience immersive Facebook-experiences, but will also create them, Eric David posts on SiliconAngle. ‘Users’ means not just developer-types, but the average user. However, it is totally unclear when virtual Facebook-apps would hit the market.

While Facebook executives dream about immersing all of us in their product, some people at Apple share that dream for their own products. Apple was awarded a patent titled “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display,” which details a virtual reality headset powered by an iPhone or iPod, according to Apple Insider. The device does look not fundamentally different from other systems strapping your smartphones on your face such as Google’s Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus).

But we may still have to wait a long time before Apple presents a consumer-ready device, and that device could also be something rather different from Oculus and be more along the line of Microsoft’s HoloLens – as one could think looking at patents filed two years ago, BusinessInsider says.

Since I started a wiki mind map about Oculus Rift developments, quite some people added useful stuff to it. I now added these latest developments (use the icon with the arrow under the map to maximize):



Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

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.

How one gets tired of virtual worlds

Reacting on my previous post about Second Life veterans uniting, draxfiles asked on this site and on Facebook:

Interesting how some folks get “tired” of a world unlimited in its creative possibilities, a world that is continuously mind-boggling in the sense that folks make awesome things and yes: a LOT of them are a lot better than what was done in the hype days. The creative forces that are marveling at the tools that Linden churns out [xp tools, ALM model, etc] and use them = I am in awe of them and the monthly video show is not nearly enough to cover this bustling life. I simply do not understand how you get tired of it: it is like saying “I am tired of this pencil and this piece of paper!” :) Come on the show Roland and help those of us [in the audience of the show] who are pushing the envelope every day understand what this means!

Well here we go. Of course I agree that new tools are making new things possible (such as using Second Life on a mobile device or on old machines), and more is to come when Oculus Rift will release its VR-headset on the broader market.
However, people get tired because well, that’s life: people evolve, move on to new jobs, expand their families and end up with less time and energy. But there is more: Second Life and virtual worlds in 2007/2008 were technologically speaking less sophisticated, but there was this feeling that ‘this is the new thing’: the online world was evolving from 2D to 3D, and websites or social media feeds would become just a part of this encompassing 3D-metaverse.

Embassies, corporations, news wires and other media, religious institutions entered Second Life because it was the future. Then we all know what happened: the end of the hype, mass traction not materializing, corporations and institutions did not find out how to use this new space. The new headlines now claimed that Second Life was dying or that is was just “a niche of a niche”.

While it’s not correct to say Second Life is dying (I hope), I think it’s true to say that it’s a niche-activity. Will it finally gain traction during the Oculus (or similar devices) era? I’m not sure. People are tired and stressed out: this is an era of fast dipping into media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, SnapChat… ) not of long immersive media-experiences (at least when you’re not a young student). This argument has nothing to do with technological breakthroughs but with how we structure time in this first part of the 21st century.

So, when we speak about people getting tired of immersive worlds, this is what I mean: we have such limited time and right now and quite possibly for a long time these worlds will remain a niche industry. While you can probably find a job quite easily as a Facebook-marketing expert, I’m afraid it will be difficult to market your skills as a Second Life guru.

This being said, yes I’m impressed by the new energy and developments which are to be found in virtual reality and virtual worlds (both concepts being rather different). So, can one be impressed and tired at the same time? I think so.

Second Life veterans unite

I remember, in the good old days of the Metanomics show in Second Life, that we discussed a study about what happens when people have to leave a virtual world. You get a virtual diaspora, groups of people settling in new virtual worlds, and eventually you get tensions between those groups and people who already ‘live’ there.

Second Life is not closing down or forcing huge groups out, but there is this other phenomenon that people get tired after a few years. They look for something else and lose interest, or at least they reduce the time spent in Second Life. However, for many of those ‘old’ residents, Second Life changed their lives in some way, and they feel a need to meet up with their old friends and former fellow-residents.

That’s what happens on Facebook, where veterans launched the group Second Lifers for Life. People compile lists of names, remember those who passed away, discuss what they’re doing these days. Maybe it’s not really like a diaspora but more like former classmates meeting again. There is even a little bit of drama, with people complaining about the initiative and telling others they should look at the future, not the past. But then again, maybe it’s by meeting again that new projects will be born.