The Daily State Of Disruption: Design Principles, Project Glass and Its Discontents

An overview of some major discussions about the internet and technology during the last few days. About technology and ideology, big internet corporations and their doom, project glass and its discontents.

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Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)

There is a true explosion going on in open online learning. I don’t know whether it’s always “massive” as in Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), but anyway, there is a lot happening out there.

I don’t have statistics about how many projects there are, nor about the total number of participants and how many “succeed”. One of the issues here is that the definitions are not obvious. When do we say something is “massive”? What does it mean to “succeed”? The other issue is that I don’t care. I just feel that there is so much going on that I cannot find the time to blog about it all. For instance, I did not yet find the time to report about the MOOC  A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour.

You’ll notice that the above link directs you to a site on P2PU, which is The Peer 2 Peer University:

a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. P2PU – learning for everyone, by everyone about almost anything.

The participants conduct virtual world tours and exploration, study and experiment using machinima, World of Warcraft and discuss about the bleeding edge of these technologies.

Of course there is a lot of Second Life in all this, which is normal because it really is a world where about all content is being created by the “residents”, using 3D building and scripting techniques. However, the course also discusses Inworldz and New World Grid – virtual worlds based on the OpenSim software (and as such very familiar for those used to Second Life), the games EVE Online and World of Warcraft (WoW), and I guess other virtual or game environments will be discussed as well (Minecraft).

The course is very distributed, participants work in the virtual environments but also on a number of social media platforms, while the whole things is organized and commented through the P2P U site and a WordPress blog. Also have a look at the social bookmark collection at Diigo.

Lack of time prevented me from participating in this course, but I did read posts on the forums. Subjects being discussed:

– How games such as WoW manage to make missions difficult enough to be interesting but not so difficult as to chase the players away.

– How games incite players to analyze situations and to work together in teams (for raids) and in larger groups (guilds). Leadership skills are being learned and practiced which can be useful in the “real world”.

– How can sophisticated virtual world Intelligent Agents (NPCs or BOTs) be used in learning environments?

– Practical stuff about screen capturing and making video in virtual environments, and about the educational application of these practices. (In general: even for those not participating in the course, you’ll learn a lot just browsing through the posts and bookmarks, watching the videos. One also discovers tools such as Livebinder and in Livebinder this collection of tools about screen capturing and video producing in virtual and gaming environments… )

– Interesting discussions about how educators try to use and promote cutting edge technology in their work, which is not always appreciated by everyone in the institutions.

This MOOC follows on a three-day conference  about best practices for virtual worlds in education (VWBPE).  Here is the video announcing the  VWBPE conference – I like it because it illustrates how original and creative gatherings in a virtual world can be. Which makes me believe that even the further expansion of affordable and free videoconferencing will not make such virtual meetings obsolete.

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Open online community of digital storytellers DS106 finances itself through Kickstarter

Last week I attended a Rheingold Youniversity Alumni meeting with Bryan Alexander, who talked about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), and he mentioned DS106, an open online community of digital storytellers. Here is how DS106 describes itself:

DS106 is a digital storytelling course that began as a face-to-face course at the University of Mary Washington. In Spring of 2011, Jim Groom opened the course up to allow open online participants to join and become involved. That semester gave birth to a radio station, a TV station, an assignment bank with over 280 contributions, and an explosion of creativity and fostered community like never before. There are now 7 universities participating in DS106 formally with over 1200 open online participants that have generated over 18,000 posts. What’s more, the community is growing every day.

The world is small, and today I read a post by Stephen Downes, who made me discover the delicious madness of MOOCs way back in 2008:

I’ve been interested to follow the story of Jim Groom and company’s use of Kickstarter to raise money to continue the DS106 experiment. In 24 hours they made their goal of $4200 and will be buying “a grown-up server (in the cloud no less!) which comes with its own grown-up costs to the tune of over $2,800 this year.”

So it seems we have a very interesting situation here. We’ve a project which already has a good reputation and seems to be the kind of MOOC I like (creative, non-hierarchical, meritocratic, fun etc) and which uses a very interesting way to finance itself: Kickstarter, a new way to fund creative projects.

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Race against the machine meets radical transparency

In the book Race against the machine, written by the MIT-researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, one of the examples of the exponential technological development is the self-driving Google car. Google claims to have safely completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, even though there is some discussion about this.

Of course there is scepticism about the self-driving car (read also the post on TPM Idealab). Who is ultimately responsible if anything goes wrong? There must be some human to blame, no?

In Race Against the Machine  the vision is optimistic. It is told how in 2004 the first DARPA Grand Challenge (in an unpopulated desert) ended miserably. In 2010 Google could announce that it had modified Toyota Priuses into fully autonomous cars. In only a few years time something seemingly impossible became possible.

So maybe that in a not too distant future we’ll consider automated truck driving normal while we will deem the practice of humans driving dangerous trucks as foolishly dangerous. But then again, isn’t driving a car or a truck a most passionate act, and can we even imagine to make computer driving the default option?

Information technology could change other things as well on our roads, even without self-driving cars. When the Internet of Things turns objects into endless streams of communication, it would be very odd to continue with weird interventions such as random speed limit controls – and even weirder, the announcement and localization of those controls by the authorities themselves.  What we can expect are cars which constantly send out streams of information, triggering alerts when speed limits and other regulations are being violated. Those alerts could be easily communicated and the offending drivers would pay the consequences or would at least have to justify their driving behavior.

But do we actually want this to happen? Of course we can locate almost each and every one of us by way of smartphone signals, but monitoring this information and sending it to authorities seems unacceptable – except for very specific situations. Once again there is this notion of freedom and something “typically human” which seems to be challenged. Even though one could argue that hundreds of thousands of tragic traffic accidents could be avoided by combinations of computer driven cars and real-time monitoring, one can be sure that there will be stiff resistance by those claiming that fundamental privacy rights and other freedoms are being sacrificed in a kind of Big Brother system.

The wider discussion is about “radical transparency“, which not only demands that corporations and authorities are transparent, but that transparence would be the “normal” situation for every citizen. It seems to be the underlying philosophy of Facebook for instance. The idea is that such transparency would make the diversity of lifestyles obvious and as such increase tolerance. Media expert danah boyd discusses this for instance on her blog apophenia, discussing these quotes from Facebook-founder Zuckerberg:

“We always thought people would share more if we didn’t let them do whatever they wanted, because it gave them some order.” – Zuckerberg, 2004
“You have one identity… The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” – Zuckerberg, 2009

 

She explains her position also in this recent video:

Webstock ’12: danah boyd – Culture of Fear + Attention Economy = ?!?! from Webstock on Vimeo.

What is fascinating is that these discussions are not about some distant future. All these things, the ubiquitous social networks, the internet of things, self-driving cars, the demand for radical transparency, the viral spreading of fear are realities – sometimes in very early phases, but realities nevertheless.

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WTF… Corporate Rebels???

This was pretty amazing: a post about Corporate Rebels United by Peter Vander Auwera on his personal blog. Peter works for Innotribe:  SWIFT’s innovation initiative.

“Corporate” and “Rebel”? The corporate world seems to be the world of the suits, no? Places where one better can be predictable and reliable, achieving the top-down defined objectives – and oh yes, new ideas are welcome, as long as they don’t rock the boat. The notion of “corporate rebel” is not new but, as could be expected, some express reservations –  “rebel” might be “too negative”. Are there “good” and “bad” rebels, or should that distinction be deconstructed? References to this discussion can be found in Peter’s inspiring post.

His own position is clear:

The aim of “Corporate Rebels United” is to create a global community of extraordinary corporate change agents. It is not an academic exercise or research effort. It’s something deeply actionable.

Our mission is to build the most amazing community of corporate rebels worldwide to ensure that true change and innovation happens virally

The initial idea for Corporate Rebels United emerged when innovation teams of Alcatel-Lucent and Swift met and worked closely in the context of Swift’s Innotribe program. We were excited by the exchange of ideas and energy that emerged when like-minded folks came together. And that got us thinking about some big “what if’s”:

  • What if we could create a tribe of the best and most exceptional corporate rebels worldwide – people like us, people like you?
  • What if we could start leveraging each other’s ideas, energy and best practices?
  • What if we could design a movement to support each other when the going gets tough?
  • What if we could cross-fertilize and infect our organizations with the change-virus from within?

More about the spirit of innovation in Peter’s Prezi presentation:

More about the practical organization of the Corporate Rebels United in Peter’s post. What fascinates me also is whether this can be considered as yet another example of peer2peer learning – at the level of big corporations. Will they recuperate the notion of being a rebel and of peer2peer learning into sanitized versions, acceptable for the status quo? Or will it facilitate a wave of innovation, involving also one person-enterprises, scientific institutions, local groups into a bewildering but highly productive variety of connections?

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Three observations about perseverance in online learning

The blog has been idle for about two weeks now – because of family emergencies, the launching of a liveblog and a column at my newspaper. Which allows me to reflect on the issue of loyalty toward online projects and communities.

Gameification does not really work for me. I also participated at CodeYear (the course/campaign to learn coding in 2012) but I gave up on that. CodeYear uses gameification elements, and I got a number of badges, but to be honest: I don’t care about badges. And to give full disclosure: I’m notoriously bad in self-discipline, I cannot count the number of online courses I started without ever getting close to finishing them – like the famous MIT-open course stuff. I even managed to sign up for a Stanford open course thing without ever starting it. I also participated in the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) facilitated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens – with some more success, even though I’m mostly a lurker there. This being said: CodeYear has developed an interesting social layer, such as a forum where participants help each other and also meet-ups in the physical world.

However, I do care about other participants in a course or a project. I had more success in continuing my efforts during a course about the Digital Awakening (reading a selection of texts from the MIT New Media Reader). We met in Second Life, about each week, for synchronous sessions – and doing so we created this feeling of being together in this project, and I experienced a group pressure to keep up with the course.

I had exactly the same experience participating in Howard Rheingold’s courses about Mind Amplifiers and Cooperation Theory. In addition to using synchronous sessions (using Blackboard Collaborate, the former Elluminate) there was also the opportunity to tell more about personal projects in the forums. All of which creates social bonds and a sense of being part of a project – or even a tribe.

Paying for something helps. There is yet another aspect: the two Rheingold courses I mentioned were not free. I’ve the feeling that paying for a course adds some sense of “well, I paid for it, so I’d better get value for my money”.  So, when organizing some course or even a peer2peer-learning project, this is something to consider: maybe asking others to contribute financially can actually help them to pause and ask themselves “do I really want this?”.

Identity. Of course, there is not only the issue of the format (synchronous, asynchronous… ), the group dynamics and whether or not to contribute financially.  It’s about content and practice as well. Again facilitated by Rheingold we’re working on a Peeragogy-handbook (about peer2peer learning). Also, there are other venues such as the WELL  or the Rheingold U Alumni. The project and venues are not really limited in time, and I do contribute from time to time, feeling some guilt when I don’t for a longer time. Why do I care? Because they are important for my “personal value system” – I think that peer2peer learning in the broadest sense of those words is in many ways crucial for our societies and even the planet.

It’s not just about narrowly defined education (like formal school stuff for young people), it’s about more even than lifelong learning because peer2peer learning can lead to peer2peer production and business. (Maybe that’s the reason I’m not really active in the MOOC-courses as they are heavily oriented toward educators in schools and universities while I’m more interested in much broader applications of the MOOC-principles.) In other words, peer2peer could very well become a pillar of our economies while at the same time I feel it resonates with my very personal anarchist sympathies – I really am deeply suspicious about  authority and hierarchical organization (while recognizing these are necessary in many contexts – but then again, in many other contexts classical authoritarian structures are not efficient at all). So a long rant to point out that loyalty to some online learning project also depends on this feeling that the practice and content is an important core of who you are or want to be. This includes the two other aspects: if it really matters, the personal relationships you develop along the way will make those projects even matter more, and eventually you’ll be ready to invest money and time.

 

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Howard Rheingold: Attention!

I interviewed Howard Rheingold about his new book, Net Smart. It was a broad-ranging conversation, which was published on PBS MediaShift. Here is what he said about the importance of attention:

You are known for giving students exercises in attention — rather than just ordering them to close their laptops during the course. In “Net Smart” you explain the importance of attention for all of us living in this era of ubiquitous computing.

Rheingold: Attention is the fundamental instrument we use for learning, thinking, communicating, deciding, yet neither parents nor schools spend any time helping young people learn how to manage information streams and control the ways they deploy their attention.

Why not include basic media mindfulness in the fundamentals that parents AND schools are expected to provide to their children if they want them to succeed in the networked society? Don’t parents need to weigh their urge to check their BlackBerry against their sons’ and daughters’ requests for their attention? Attention, and especially attention to media, is a topic that deserves a discussion more nuanced and more proactive than “multitasking doesn’t work” and “too many people are bumping into other people while looking at their smartphone screens.”

Both mindfulness meditation disciplines and modern neuroscientific study of metacognition strongly suggest that people can learn to deploy their attention more effectively. Teaching people elementary mindfulness is extraordinarily inexpensive compared to the cost of producing smart devices and deploying global broadband networks.

(Much) more on PBS Mediashift!

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Social discovery services turn the world into a virtual environment

There is something strange going on with virtual worlds. MixedRealities used to focus heavily on worlds such as Second Life, but these days less so as I no longer think that Second Life is “the future of the internet”. It’s an interesting niche product, but not about to go mainstream, not now and I suspect it never will in its current form.

But on the other hands, the physical reality now gets augmented by all kinds of social and mobile layers. For now augmented reality as such did not go mainstream either, but that could change if ever the “Google Goggles” would indeed be launched by year-end and if it proves popular. But in a less spectacular, but more pervasive way, virtual worlds elements are finding their way to mass adoption.

First, what do I mean by “virtual world elements”? Well, everything related to “social discovery”: you look around on a virtual world map, and typically you see those dots representing other participants. You click on a dot or hover on it, and you get access to their profile, you get means to chat with them etc. In Second Life at least I’ve the impression that the text chat function is extremely popular: lots of avatars standing around, not moving, seemingly away from keyboard (AFK) but in reality happily text chatting away.

Now look at the mobile & social internet. On SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, social discovery services the new big thing. Apps such as Glancee, Highlight, Sonar, Banjo and others allow you to see who is around, and (some more than others) try to filter those present in function of their relevance to you: number of contacts you both share on the social networks, interests you share via Facebook… Basically they use the information which is out there about you (via social networks, via the localization data of your smartphone) in order to match you with “relevant people” close to you (hence a new version emerges of the filter bubble danger, I guess).

The world, looked at through your smartphone, becomes a map where your contacts are localized in more or less real time. A touch and you get more information about those people: what was it again you have in common? And of course the possibility to chat with them is another touch away. Well, this is something virtual worlds people are used to.

The social discovery services go beyond the individual level. Shadow Cities allows you to play a World of Warcraft kind of game based on your location, and to unite in a guild. Wallit! builds virtual walls which can be seen by everyone but where you need to be in the neighborhood in order to leave a message on the wall – maybe it could be used for neighborhood projects. Localmind organizes the participants as “local experts” who can respond to questions.

For more information about the action going on in the “personal discovery field” in Austin, read Robert Scoble. Remember: the 2007 edition of SXSW brought us Twitter, in 2009 Foursquare (and Gowalla) was the talk of the town and in 2011 “group texting” was the big theme – so chances are we’re witnessing now another big move in the social&mobile evolution.

No doubt not all of those personal discovery thingies and other location-based services will survive, but the trend is clear: an overwhelming supply of apps allowing you to “discover people” locally, to exchange information and collaborate locally. Add this to wearable devices, to face recognition and our physical world blends with the digital realm in such a way that we can, indeed, consider it a “mixed reality”. Which will very soon be a concept for non-digital natives, as the new generations will just consider these services as part of their one and only reality, just like we no longer think that phones and televisions are some kind of special dimension.

But we, who lived through the first adventurous steps of bulletin boards, chat systems, forums and virtual environments, see the evolution and cannot help being amazed, and also a bit worried. But more about that later.

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The Daily State of Disruption: Controversy about viral #stopkony campaign

Today’s The State of Disruption is about the the campaign to stop Joseph Kony, a cruel warlord who is accused of abducting, murdering and raping children in Uganda and neighboring countries. A video produced by the Invisible Children went totally viral, and #stopkony was a worldwide trending topic. However, there are some fundamental discussions going on about this campaign. Why do we discuss something which is clearly a matter of human rights and foreign policy? Because this video has been viewed by millions of people all over the world, and leads to in-depth discussions about a situation which seems far away and hardly relevant to most Westerners. It seems that the web once again is bridging geographical distances and goes beyond the borders of states and the old institutions.

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