Social media: the real issue is not ‘time’, but working by sharing ‘the making of’

This Summer I tried to have a mental break and to refrain from blogging here on MixedRealities. I think it helped me to reflect a bit on social media, and one of the things I understand better now is dat social media is primarily about deciding what you want to be public, what you want to share with others. This may seem extremely obvious, but it contrasts with the traditional objection against social media: ‘I don’t have time for that.’ Because the real issue is not the time which one needs, but whether one wants to do in public what remained behind closed doors until now.

Today I had the opportunity to talk about social media at the Brussels office of Linklaters. It was a networking event for lawyers and specialists in marketing for the legal profession, and I realized that many of those people already have impressive workloads. Is it not almost inconceivable that they would also engage in blogging?

The same question can be asked in my newsroom of course. Journalists do not exactly have a 9 to 5 job, so is it fair to ask them to tweet, blog, engage in online conversations?

I looked at the tools of the social media trade, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn, social bookmarks, Posterous and Tumblr, chat platforms… and I suddenly realized that many of these tools are just ways to do stuff we do already in a different way.

We already read and watch stuff online, take notes. Social media tools enable us to do all this, but sharing this activity with some others, many others, or everybody who cares to take notice. Instead of taking private notes during a conference, one tweets or posts stuff. Instead of reflecting on things privately, one decides to externalize these thoughts.

This externalization is not postponed until we have some quasi-perfect article, book or video – we publish the bits and pieces of on ongoing process. The ‘making of’ in real-time. It takes courage to do this. Journalists, lawyers and many others hate showing stuff which has not been checked over and over again. But in the real world, people don’t mind reading tweets about a conference, consulting a Tumblr post linking to some interesting article with a first comment, browsing social bookmarks or gazing at a tentative mindmap.

The combination of social media tools and mobile, ubiquitous internet is gradually removing the friction of this externalization. One tweets, includes links, reads other tweets from people one follows, and on the iPad it is magically transformed by an app called Flipboard into a glossy magazine.

Anyhow, here is a possible ‘social media production flow‘ I presented. One could start at the mindmap and then go clockwise, but in fact the real process involves jumping backwards and forwards, skipping phases or inventing new ones. People get easily bewildered by the many different tools, but the tools are not the most important aspect. What’s crucial is the question: could others be interested in my ‘making of’, and if so, which tools allow me to share this ‘making of’ easily.

During that same meeting at Linklaters Kristien Vermoesen gave a presentation social media for lawyers , but her very structured approach to social media practice is relevant for everybody.

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The future of money

Facebook Credits becoming more important than the dollar? Not any time soon – but there are some thought-provoking elements in this discussion about the future of money (by Ross Dawson and Gerd Leonhard). Recently Ben Bernanke got the question whether gold is money. The answer was ‘no’. But maybe we’ll have to ask him whether Facebook Credits, Bitcoins or Linden dollars are money.

Gerd Leonhard reacted on Google+ that what he said about the dollar vs. Facebook Credits was meant more as a provocation than as serious prediction.

Previously we posted about similar ideas being presented by Sean Park: ‘The Sixth Paradigm

In the comments on my Google+ entry there’s also a discussion about what Linden Lab says regarding the Linden dollar (the famous ‘You acknowledge that Linden dollars are not real currency or any type of financial instrument and are not redeemable for any sum of money from Linden Lab at any time.’).

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3D printing, Second Life and unemployment: how the blending of realities rips society apart

Sometimes the seemingly random combination of blog posts makes me think. For instance, watch this introductory video about 3D-printing, which I found on the financial blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis:

In the blog post you’ll find other great links about 3D printing.

Now switch to some very important question here in this TechCrunch post by Jon Bischke: the growing divide between Silicon Valley and unemployed America. Globalization and technology are exhilarating, but many people are being left behind. Another aspect not mentioned in the article (maybe more relevant for Europe): also national politics is very often being left behind in this revolution. While political leaders still want to control things on a national or regional level, often ignoring the technological changes, they contribute to ever bigger crisis situations rather than solving them.

Yes, we can marvel about the wonderful opportunities the technological revolution is bringing us. Just imagine the possibility of collaboratively working on 3D-objects, discussing them in virtual environments (Second Life now working hard on enabling mesh-import), turning those 3D digital objects into physical prototypes via 3D printing, wherever you want on the planet, and eventually convincing partners to start production – wherever on the planet.

All of which no longer requires huge amounts of capital. It’s about imagination, creativity, isn’t it? Of course, many people lack the knowledge and skills to actually explore those opportunities, but then again, the internetz make it easier and cheaper than ever to acquire those skills…

Or maybe not so. Using the internet to learn constantly, to find out about opportunities, requires a media literacy which is not self-evident. Not only the unemployed construction worker may lack this basic skill, also the graduate who supposedly is a digital native but never really made it beyond the Facebook-is-only-for-friends level of social media practice.

So we’re living in dangerous times. Technology and globalization are ripping the old structures apart. People get angry and upset about their leaders, even about society in general. We need schools and universities to teach people how to use the possibilities of this globalized internet age – because we’re getting into the phase where we not only manipulate bits and bytes as we like, but also atoms. And we do this by collaborating on a truly global scale, far beyond the reach of local governments.

In this new phase the virtual and the physical blend. 3D printing allows us to make that transition. Virtual money such as Bitcoins and CS are another interesting development. Philip Rosedale is a very visionary guy. After founding Second Life he’s now exploring the possibilities of location-based exchange en virtual currencies in the Bay area – using his virtual world knowledge and experience in the physical neighborhoods of his city. Mixed realities indeed, as location-based social networks, augmented reality, alternate reality games are steadily developing in new dimensions of our daily environments.

We have to do more than just hoping the education system will take care of it. We’ll have to teach and learn on a grassroots-level. Virtual environments can be extremely useful in this regard, but we should not neglect stuff such as Google+, or Facebook-groups not to mention meet-ups in what was once considered ‘meatspace’ but which is now a blended reality.

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Gorree: ‘avatars are everywhere. Let’s use them even more!’

Avatars are everywhere nowadays. Not only in fully immersive virtual worlds but also on social networks in Flatland such as Twitter, Facebook etc. They come in many forms and one might even say there have been avatars for centuries, like the heads of kings on coins or of presidents and other important people on paper money.
At the MetaMeets conference in Amsterdam I interviewed Tim Gorree, IT Solution Architect at Nokia, about avatars:

Previous posts about MetaMeets:
MetaMeets:”We are at the beginning
MetaMeets Day 2: “Going beyond virtual worlds, machinima, avatars…
“Kitely asks for some help to get virtual worlds on the web

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Kitely asks for some help to get virtual worlds on the web

I’ve been very busy covering the European debt crisis, but now it’s time for something completely different: the future of virtual worlds. At MetaMeets in Amsterdam, almost two weeks ago now, I interviewed some very inspiring people. I’m working on a story for a mainstream audience about virtual worlds, but I’ll publish some stuff now already on this blog.

Ilan Tochner is the founder of Kitely, a company which works on a project allowing users to create their OpenSim-based virtual world as easily as posting a YouTube-video. Just give it a try, it actually works!

Tochner however realizes that also the guests visiting those virtual worlds should have a very smooth, basically one-click kind of experience when entering those environments. He claims it’s possible to build web-based virtual world viewers – all Tochner needs is a little help from his virtual world friends.

I hope he is right about this – it would help tremendously offering a web-based access. People are used to the web, they want frictionless, instantaneous gratification. Every click extra, every hurdle they have to take means that your number of visitors dramatically decreases.

Remember: it’s not about convincing those who are willing to experiment with virtual worlds. It’s about offering some activity which interests a specific audience – an activity which probably has nothing to do with virtual worlds as such, virtual worlds would just be a cool platform. So getting people into your venue should be totally non-geeky and straightforward.

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MetaMeets Day 2: going beyond virtual worlds, machinima, avatars…

Beyond the beyond is the name of Bruce Sterling’s famous blog on Wired. It’s a habit of sci-fi people to think beyond what is anticipated by the mainstream, eventually to think about how ‘change‘ or ‘beyond’ itself gets new meanings.

It seems also virtual people love to think ‘beyond’: beyond virtual worlds, avatars, machinima. That at least is the conviction I have after attending the MetaMeets conference about virtual worlds, augmented reality and video/machinima in Amsterdam. I’ll give a very fast overview of the second and last day of the conference to illustrate this.

Heidi Foster is involved in the management of a new breedable pet in Second Life, Meeroos, with a large customer base. Meeroos are mythical animals, Foster explained, but they are mostly very cute and they ask to be picked up. To be precise: the project launched on May 21 and now there are 22,000 players and 250,000 Meeroos in Second Life. It’s conceivable that the Meeroos will invade the rest of the Metaverse by spreading to other virtual worlds such as OpenSim. In the discussion it was suggested to expand to mobile devices as well. That would be awesome I think: develop and launch on Second Life, spreading throughout other virtual places and ending up on smartphones and tablets.

Not a potential but a real move to mobile devices was presented by Timo Mank, an artist-curator at the Archipel Medialab. In 1999 he co-founded Art Hotel Dit Eiland (This Island) in the Dutch village of Hollum on Ameland. The Medialab initiates Artist In Residences focused on cross reality projects. Many artists from PARK 4DTV worked on Ameland creating content for web based virtual islands. Until recently Timo was curating Playground Ameland Secondlife.

Early this year the Foundation Archipel Ameland shifted focus from yearly media art interventions to transmedia story telling for iPad. The project is called TMSP TV and it connects twitter with guests at the TMSP studio in Diabolus Artspace Secondlife. The LiveLab uses the daily on goings in the World Herritage Waddensea and brings this material as live feed to virtual space where it’s playfully reevaluated, mixed and redistilled by guests and performers.

Toni Alatalo is the CTO of a small games company, Playsign, and the current lead architect of the open source realXtend platform. He explained that not every virtual world needs avatars. Imagine a virtual environment allowing to explore the human body by traveling through the veins, or just think Google Earth. Technologically speaking avatars do not need to be part of the core code of the virtual environment, instead the code could be modular. Which could lead us indeed to virtual worlds without avatars, or to avatars in environments which are not perceived as classical virtual worlds (think augmented reality, smartphones).

metameets audience looking at 3D video

Of course there were things which seemed very familiar to seasoned users of Second Life or Open Sim. Melanie Thielker (Avination) talked about roleplaying, commenting a video depicting the awesomeness of user-generated content. ‘Content’ is an awful word used by publishers when they mean all kinds of stuff such as texts, videos, infographics, images. In this case it refers to impressive builds made by users of the virtual worlds, but Melanie emphasized rightfully that the most important content items are the storylines people create, the characters they build, the backstories they provide, the communities they form. They write their own books in a very experimental, fluid, ever-changing setting.

But even this well-known practice is going somehow ‘beyond’ as it takes place in Melanie’s own virtual world, independently from Second Life. Melanie is an entrepreneur in the Metaverse.

Karen Wheatley is the director of the Jewell Theatre in Second Life. She goes beyond theatres and beyond some existing Second Life subcultures. She runs a theatre in Gor. The Gorean subculture is known for its traditions (based on novels by John Norman), is fond of a warrior ethos, (mostly) female slaves and dislikes furries (avatars with animal-like features) and kid-avatars. All of which does not prevent Wheatley to organize her Shakespearian performances in Gor, open for all avatars. She gets sponsoring and so we could consider her being an entrepreneur too.

Draxtor Despres goes beyond in various ways. In his video reportages he combines ‘real’ footage with video shot in virtual environments. He presented his newest big project: a documentary for the German public television ZDF, Login2Life which will come out mid-July. It goes beyond Second Life as it also shows World of Warcraft.

Stephen M. Zapytowski, Professor of Design and Technology at the School of Theatre and Dance of the Kent State University presented another example of crossing boundaries: April 2011 saw the premier of his avatar ghost for Kent State’s production of Hamlet. This ghost played “live” on stage with real life actors in a blend of virtual and real worlds. Which of course made the audience dream of avatars and humans playing nicely together in the augmented reality (please stay calm: we’re not there yet).

Talking about playing together: that’s what the music panel with JooZz & Al Hofmann talked about. They want even more sophisticated means for people from all over the planet to jam together in perfect synchronicity.

Chantal Gerards showed us a few machinima videos, and I sensed a bit of frustration. In one of her creations she used music from the director David Lynch. Unfortunately, he did not even want to watch the video as ‘he does not like machinima’.

Chantal said: “I have a scoop for you today. I stop making machinima”, adding a bit mysteriously that she will move ‘beyond machinima’. Her advice goes beyond machinima as well: create together, with all kinds of people and platforms, move beyond the platform so that what you create gains wider relevance.

Read also my write-up of the first day: “we are at the beginning

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MetaMeets: “We are at the beginning”

logo metameets“We are not at the end of the road but at the beginning;” That was how Tim Gorree, IT Architect, Web Technologies at Nokia, concluded the first day of MetaMeets in Amsterdam.

The conference was started by another Nokia person, the director of organization development Ian Gee. He told us that the concept of “change” is changing. Television shows deal with spectacular changes of individuals and help define how people look these days at change. He also challenged the audience to think out of the box, to give one example: why don’t we stop working at 40 and come back at 60? He learned me a new word: metanoia, change beyond that what can be anticipated and predicted.

Noah Felstein showed us how difficult it is to make predictions about change, commenting on the bewildering variety of life forms in the early stages of evolutions, then showing us Habitat, the online role-playing game developed by Lucasfilm Games and made available as a beta test in 1986 by Quantum Link, an online service for the Commodore 64 computer and the corporate progenitor to America Online.

Felstein was among the first ten employees at Lucasfilm Games (now LucasArts Entertainment), The 3DO Company, and Dreamworks Interactive. In his latest venture he has become a co-founder of a start-up company, where he is helping create software to enable speedy massively-multiplayer game capabilities across both mobile and web based platforms. He is a strong believer in presence and synchronous interaction.

As those topics demonstrate, MetaMeets is by no means a Second Life-centered conference. Justin Clarke Casey demonstrated OpenSim and Ilan Tochner showed us Kitely, a venture which enables people to launch real fast virtual worlds “on demand”, based on OpenSim (more about his ideas about ‘virtual worlds as apps’ and easy access for the end-user tomorrow).

As usual at these conferences about virtual environments, education is one of the most convincing useful applications, as demonstrated today again by various specialists. Lars Dijkema and Mathijs Hamers from Elde College presented a project for an ecologically sustainable school, which they visualized in 3D and in a virtual environment (FrancoGrid). A major reason for building in a virtual environment? The social interaction and feedback (their institution, Elde college, also encouraged them to use social media in order to get help and feedback from outside).

Social interaction in virtual environments is not always self-evident and can be very different from what teachers and students are used to in traditional settings. Jolanda Verleg from Insperion thinks up didactic concepts for schools or companies and helps them use visualizing them in virtual environments. She admits that some people are “dysvirtual” and will “never get it”, but points out that virtual training exists alongside the more traditional approaches.

Ineke Verheul from GameOn/Surfnet/Virtuality illustrated the educational importance of roleplay in virtual settings by the Chatterdale project, a virtual language learning village, where students had to investigate a bomb threat.

One of the impressive aspects of all these presentations is how virtual environments seem to incite people to become entrepreneurs. This was very obviously the case for yet another presenter, Melanie Thielker, who is the founder of Avination and an OpenSim Core Developer with a special interest in roleplay combat systems.

There are exceptions however. Lee Quick is the developer of the Kirstens Viewer, one of the longest established third party viewers (user interfaces) for Second Life. His business model? Just a passion for photography and images. Third party viewers are not really competition for the official viewer, so he explained. They just offer different tools for different jobs and so the Kirstens Viewer boasts 3D viewing, night vision, color filters and extra camera viewpoints – which makes it interesting for machinima-makers.

But maybe, just maybe, the virtual environments – Second Life or OpenSim – are not the endpoint of the technological evolution? What about augmented reality – putting layers of digital information on top of the physical reality? Meet Fred van Rijswijk, owner of C2K, a provider of “high end layar solutions” (Layar is a mobile browser for augmented reality).

The audience went wild, blending the virtual and the physical in an augmented reality. Just imagine (they’re really good in imagining things, those virtual worlds types) that avatars could “sit” in the conference room, visible through smartphones or other devices… Or maybe the devices should retreat in the background, offering us an immediate access to an augmented reality…

Tim Gorree said Microsoft is developing hyper realistic avatars and of course developed the Kinect. Why not use avatars as identity carriers, dealing with the typical problem of lost passwords?

“Count up all the virtual worlds user hours, gaming user hours, chances are all this is more important than the web”, so Tim continued. “Avatars have been used to validate transactions for hundreds of years – think stamps, coins for example. These days there are billions of (virtual) avatars out there, why not use them to change society?”

 

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