Did the 21st century really start now?

Another hectic week, and the last few days were an emotional roller-coaster as I covered the events in Egypt – from a distance, immersing myself in social media.

So, is this a Twitter or a Facebook-revolution? I don’t think it makes much sense to put it that way. This revolution is the result of having a large population of young people, a lot of them well-educated and used to social media but underemployed, having no real future in Egypt and realizing how corrupt the system is.

Twitter and Facebook are being used, but combined with audiovisual media (think Al Jazeera), blogs, live blogs, dumb phones and smartphones etc.

However, it’s the horizontal nature of the protests which is fascinating. The web allows us to communicate up and down, and also horizontally – with our peers. The real power is in this horizontal communication. The revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia had no charismatic leaders who were telling their followers what to do. That made it very hard for the regimes to defeat the protesters. Could it be that the 21st century – the age of participation, The Great Horizontal – started a few weeks ago in the Arab world?

Here you can watch Wael Ghonim (a Google manager who participated in the uprising) talking about the revolution and the web:

Read also Terry Heaton’s PoMo Blog, Living History, After Tunisia and Egypt: towards a new typology of media and networked by political change by Charlie Beckett and on this blog The murmuration in the Arab world.

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‘Silicon Valley is a state of mind, not a place’

Cities, centers of innovation, do matter. Even though we have telecom, internet, tele-presence technologies, people seem to need concentrations of innovation and expertise: look at the international financial centers and the geographical clusters of technological innovation.

The tech blogger and evangelist Robert Scoble brought a round-up of what’s hot in Silicon Valley at the LIFT conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Some companies he discussed are located in Silicon Valley, others in San Francisco… but does it make any sense to make a separation Valley/San Francisco? Of course not, and Scoble said: ‘Silicon Valley is a state of mind, not a place’.

Which is interesting for virtual worlds people. There is a need for those cities and regions where innovation is so important (read also the works of Richard Florida). However, one can take part in this state of mind, even from a distance. I think virtual places such as Second Life can be important here.

It helps to actually talk to innovators (using SL voice for instance) and to share a same virtual space with other tech-minded people. I do know for a fact that my own passion for internet technology got a tremendous boost by meeting internet-minded people from all over the world in virtual environments, and most of the time in Second Life.

Of course virtual environments are part of a wider social media ecosystem (Twitter, Plurk, blogs, video, machinima, wikis, forums, offline meetings etc), but as we speak about changing mentalities and worldviews, meeting other people is of crucial importance – in virtual or physical environments.

So what is hot these days in Silicon Valley? Mark Littlewood has this great post about Scoble’s list on The Business Leaders Network. For the new media Scoble mentioned Flipboard (personalized social mazagines), PostPost (online newspaper based on your Facebook links), The History of Jazz (reinvention of the book on the iPad) and Datasift (screening streams of information).

Other media stuff: Storify (for curating social media), Curated.by (another curating tool), PearlTrees (a way to curate, structure and exchange information) and Prezi (cool alternative for Powerpoint).

What is not mentioned? Well, virtual environments. They are not on the list of hot new developments. So yes, for some people at least virtual environments help to get into a Silicon Valley state of mind, but those environments themselves are no longer perceived as being an important part of the future of the internet. Oh yes, Blue Mars now lets you rate avatars on the iPhone, but you won’t hear comments on that during innovation conferences such as LIFT. More will be needed to make virtual environments ‘hot’ again.

Related (about the innovation conference LIFT):
Digital natives are not the same everywhere
The murmuration in the Arab World

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Digital natives are not the same everywhere

In the previous post I talked about the digital natives and how they put into question the way our old leaders think. At the LIFT conference in Geneva, Switzerland, experts contrasted the network-focus of the digital natives with the focus on hierarchy and distance of the leaders. It was also mentioned that the real tsunami of digital natives does not take place in Europe or Japan because of demographic trends. Many European countries and Japan risk becoming countries with majorities of senior citizens.

However, all this does not imply that digital natives in emerging countries are one homogeneous group. Florence Chee talked at LIFT about her research in the use of virtual worlds and games as means of communication. How do factors like culture, social structure, and infrastructure affect how people play online games in different global contexts? Chee visited 6 countries and researched the remarkable differences in the usage of virtual worlds and games. Here is the video of her presentation at LIFT (the title ‘Yuri Suzuki’ is an error):

You can find more on her blog, Constructing Amusement and for the academically inclined there is this link to Public Virtual World Gaming in Asia: Preparatory Fieldwork for Site Selection, Protocol Testing and Research Instrument Development (go here for the full pdf document).

Related on MixedRealities: the work of Cory Doctorow and his recent book For the Win about young gamers uniting internationally to defend their rights.

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The murmuration in the Arab World

Back to blogging on MixedRealities. I’ve been very busy covering Egypt for my other blog (Dutch language) at the newspaper. I used Storify to integrate blog and twitter content, for instance here for the March of a Million. I also went to Geneva, Switzerland, for the LIFT conference “what can the future do for you.” I did send out a few tweets about the conference, but I felt I needed time to think it all over. In the next few days I’ll post about some remarkable presentations and conversations.

Let me start with Egypt again.

Don Tapscott
specializes in business strategy, organizational transformation and the role of technology in business and society. His fourteenth book is Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, co-authored by Anthony D. Williams.

At the LIFT conference he showed us this video, about the “murmuration”:

The murmuration seems to protect the birds against predators such as the hawk in the video. It’s also a way to exchange information. It’s an impressive image of self-organization with shifting leaders.

The image also seems to describe the self-organization of the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. Don Tapscott said that there is a revolution in revolutions. There is no party or charismatic leader to command the revolutionaries. There is a tsunami of digital natives (not in Japan or Europe though because of the demographics) and quite a lot of those digital natives seem to be very upset about what the old leaders in their countries are doing or failing to do.

“Change is sweeping though the Middle East and it’s the Facebook generation that has kickstarted it”, Mona Eltahawy said in the Guardian. The new generation dares to say “I count”:

Most of the people in the Arab world are aged 25 or are younger. They have known no other leaders than those dictators who grew older and richer as the young saw their opportunities – political and economic – dwindle. The internet didn’t invent courage; activists in Egypt have exposed Mubarak’s police state of torture and jailings for years. And we’ve seen that even when the dictator shuts the internet down protesters can still organise. Along with making “I” count, social media allowed activists to connect with ordinary people and form the kind of alliances that we’re seeing on the streets of Egypt where protesters come from every age and background. Youth kickstarted the revolt, but they’ve been joined by old and young.

The internet technologist and journalist Ben Hammersley also mentioned Egypt at LIFT:

Over the past few days and years you will have seen the same bewildered look on old people’s faces. Hosni Mubarak, a Swiss industrialist that has just seen the internet, a media mogul whose empire has imploded.

Those same bewildered looks are shared by world leaders who are supposed to be leading the way to the future but don’t have a freaking clue about the present.

(using Mark Littlewood’s report on The Business Leaders Network)

The video of the presentation by Ben Hammersley:

Those speakers do not claim that we’re witnessing Twitter revolutions in the Arab world. What they say is that old people’s worldview is focused on distance and hierachical organization while young people – digital natives – have networks, and sheets of interest. Of course, there is a generation in-between, and Hammersley suggests that those in-between should translate the new visions of the young for the old guard.

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Reading: network theory, vernacular video, Kindle publishing and web of flow

This is an overview of interesting stuff I found online. I’ll publish this on a regular basis (but not on a daily basis, I think).

  • Even though some people think tools such as RSS feeds Google Reader are no longer relevant in this era of Twitter-based information streams, I still use my Google Reader a lot. It still is very much my social media dashboard. Today I discovered yet another gem via Google Reader in my Delicious-network, where choconancy (Nancy White) pointed to Howard Rheingold’s Posterous and more in particular to this minicourse on network and social network literacy. In fact, the minicourse is not that very mini, especially not if you go deeper and take the suggested reading seriously.
  • The author Bruce Sterling talks about vernacular video. The video is much longer than your average viral vernacular video. It’s also sardonic and very insightful (via Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing). Maybe it’s interesting to compare this with Howard Rheingold’s thing about vernacular video.
  • Author, blogger and economist Tyler Cowen was a guest on the Metanomics show in Second Life. He’s publishing a new book, The Great Stagnation. It’s available on Kindle and not on bookstore shelves, NiemanJournalismLab talked with Cowen about this publishing strategy. Also interesting is the importance of his blog Marginal Revolution as part of that strategy.
  • PostPost.com is a new way to organize the media shared by your social graph on Facebook. There is of course also FlipBoard but that only works on the iPad and is more like a magazine. PostPost is part of the ‘iPadification of the web’. Another service which comes to mind is Paper.li, but here the difference is PostPost’s more glossy interface and the realtime aspect of the service. Robert Scoble has this video about PostPost:
  • Which reminds me of Stowe Boyd who talks about “liquid email” and the “web of flow“. He says: “Paradoxically, the places with the strongest flow will seem the most calm, because we won’t be jumping from the stream to the browser and back again a hundred times a day: we will stay in the stream: media content will be harvested, and pulled into context for us.”
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Hacks/Hackers talking about WikiLeaks and the future of journalism

Journalists sometimes call themselves “hacks,” a tongue-in-cheek term for someone who can churn out words in any situation. Hackers use the digital equivalent of duct tape to whip out code. Hacks/Hackers tries to bridge those two worlds. This movement started in the US but journalists and bloggers worldwide are joining in.

We’ve a group in Brussels, Belgium now and during our meetup this week we discussed WikiLeaks: what is the added value, how do journalists work with WikiLeaks, should they work with WikiLeaks, is WikiLeaks itself leaking, is transparency always good, why do sources prefer going to WikiLeaks rather than contacting mainstream media…

One of the difficulties in many mainstream media outlets is the separation of developers and journalists. A better integration of the two groups leads to stuff such as data driven journalism and database journalism.

It can also lead to more awareness of security issues: how can investigative reporters use the internet in a safe way.

The meetup was organized together with HackDemocracy, a “community of hackers and workers in public institutions who care about the future of our democracies.”

There was a presentation by UCLouvain cryptographer Jean-Jacques Quisquater about the way in which organizations like Wikileaks – but also traditional media – can use technology to insure leakers remain anonymous.

Next on stage was Owni.fr, who have worked closely with Wikileaks. Owni also have a very particular organizational model: the team is composed of 1/3 journalists, 1/3 developers and 1/3 graphic designers. Nicolas Voisin (CEO), Nicolas Kaiser-Brill & Olivier Tesquet (data-journalists) were on stage to talk about their work on Wikileaks and the future of journalism.

Academic researcher Sidney Leclercq (Université Libre de Bruxelles) talked about Wikileaks’ implications for international relations and diplomacy.

This video gives a good impression of various discussions and presentations during our meetup (as you’ll see, not everyone was convinced of the added value of WikiLeaks):

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At last! Moving around in Second Life using Kinect

Remember the guys who used the Kinect to move around and play in World of Warcraft? I was frustrated that Second Life did not have the scoop… but here we are now: those same people from the University of Southern California, Institute for Creative Technologies, demonstrate how they use the Kinect to move an avatar and to use the camera:

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Can we do evil while curating and practicing social media optimization?

Not everyone is an avid explorer of new media. Not only that a majority of internet users won’t give Second Life a try, they even won’t use Twitter. The fast moving streams of information or the immersive experiences in virtual environments are new experiences and it’s not always easy to convince people and communities that these new phenomena have value.

What helps a lot is curation: offering selections of sources, of information and providing context. As a journalist and blogger I use Storify, others will use Curated.by, Keepstream, Storyful or other services. Not only Storify helps me to make selections and add context, I can also embed the stories on blogs and sites so that people can read and comment in a familiar environment. I guess that embedding immersive environments will also help these more immersive media to gain more traction.

I’ve been experimenting with curation on my financial blog (Dutch language) for a few months and I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Xavier Damman, the co-founder of Storify.

Echoing what is an increasingly common refrain, Damman told me that everybody is a reporter now. Which means it’s the responsibility of journalists (and bloggers of course) to find the best content and turn it into a story, adding context and making sense of it all. He also talked about a related concept: social media optimization (SMO), which is all about sharing and connecting. But SMO of course is also related to search engine optimization (SEO) – which reminds me of certain evil aspects of all this ‘optimizing’.

More about all of this on my PBS MediaShift blog.

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The practicalities of digital storytelling unveiled

For months I was having questions about the practicalities of digital storytelling. How much time does it take? Which tools should one use? What are the alternatives? InKenzo has a great post about all this on Nonprofit Commons, Digital Storytelling Methods: Time & Resources Needed?

Digital Storytelling can be about machinima, but also about using the Flip-camera, Flickr photo collections or animation. On TechSoup.org there is more about the TechSoup Digital Storytelling Event 2011 with free webinars and tweetchats.

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