In the face of adversity, collaborate even more (and even smarter)

It was quite an evening, during which I tried to do some multitasking and so doing got some weird connections between ideas I’m working on.

  • I was attending the Metanomics show in Second Life, where professor Robert Bloomfield provided an overview of how economies are not dissimilar to game mechanics, and gave his take on what this means to the future of research (more about this in a later post).
  • While attending the show, I noticed there was dismay among members of the educational community. Not because of what Bloomfield was saying, but because of an announcement on the official Second Life blog, which seems to indicate that prices for many non-profits and educational projects will go up (currently such projects get discounts). Also have a look at the comments on the official blog post.
  • The New York Times via ReadWriteWeb quotes research by KZero, saying that the number of virtual world users breaks 1 billion, roughly half under age 15. In fact, it’s about registrations, not necessarily about active users, but still it’s an impressive number. The second largest group is 15 to 25 year olds, which increased by 15 million to hit 288 million accounts.
  • I was also reading Gamasutra (the art & business of making games) where Matt Christian posted an introduction to Agile and Scrum development. Scrum is an iterative, incremental methodology for project management often seen in agile software development, as explains Wikipedia. Christian explains how “Scrum creates a bottleneck (in a good way!) between management and the development team in order to keep the development team focused on the current piece of work.”
  • Finally, Robert Hernandez at the Online Journalism Review has a post about how to use geolocation paired up with augmented reality in journalism. He is working on media projects using tools such as Whrrl and stickybits.

So on the one hand there is this challenge of new generations of people familiar with games and virtual environments, there is this whole revolution of ubiquitous mobile computing power which gives us stuff like geo-locational services combined with social networks and games and augmented reality, on the other hand there is an educational system struggling for decent financing at a time of financial crisis.

Gaming and especially massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPG) are very interesting for research but also for studying how virtual communities work. Those ‘virtual’ communities tend to become very real, as companies outsource and collaborate with each other over the whole planet, meaning that people have to communicate and get on speaking terms disregarding geographical and cultural distances. Either people entering the workforce will be familiar with these environments, or they will suffer the consequences as they have to face the consequences of globalization without being able to use new media and virtual communities in a way which benefits them personally.

There are many educators and non-profit people (and also for profit people by the way) trying to spread the word, to convince older people to take these things seriously, to guide the young in their experiences of gaming, virtual worlds and augmented reality. There are many obstacles, as the new forces are disruptive and people often react in shock and denial. There is also a lack of proven business models for the most innovative projects (yay for augmented reality, but then again, even in the West only a minority has sophisticated smartphones and decent mobile broadband connections).

So traditionally educators, non-profits and people wanting to experiment ask for discounts and free rides. Sometimes companies will accept this because the hope it will ultimately be beneficial to the company, sometimes they won’t accept it because finally they are private companies and have shareholders who want a decent return on investment and don’t want to wait too long for that to happen.

All of which means that even more clever project management and collaboration is needed. Maybe more things can be done in Second Life, if we collaborate even more. Or maybe the technological challenges of open source projects such as OpenSim can be dealt with because the challenges can be tackled easily in collaboration with others.

Social media such as wikis, forums, virtual meeting places, blogs etc combined with open source, open transparent development projects and clever methodologies such as Scrum empower small nimble groups to innovate faster than established companies. Most importantly, in trying to do so and in self-educating ourselves through the achievements and inevitable failures, we’ll be better prepared to live in a globalized economy.

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Metanomics innovates once again, adds meet-ups, gets celebrity-guests

The Second Life show Metanomics is about to start a new season, and is innovating once again. In fact, Metanomics would be a great research topic for communication and media students, as it demonstrates key principles of new media.

Metanomics is owned and operated by Remedy Communications which also owns the blog Dusan Writer’s Metaverse.

Dusan Writer, in “real life” Doug Thompson and owner of Remedy, explains on his blog: “Metanomics provides insight into the changes in governance, economics, policy, enterprise, education and the nature of work facilitated by newer technologies. Guests have included authors, researchers, technologists, professionals, theorists and government policy makers and recently celebrated 100 episodes.”

In fact, Metanomics does many things. It is a gathering in Second Life, where people backchat while the host, professor Robert Bloomfield,  interviews the guests and takes up questions from the backchat. Treet.tv video streams the show on the Metanomics website, where the episodes are also archived. People who cannot join ‘in-world’ can participate in the backchat from the site.

This season another element will be added: a series of local meet-ups timed to show days. The first live meet-up will be held at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The audience will watch and participate in a Metanomics broadcast followed by discussion and networking.

Metanomics is a great example of how to immerse a global audience in an intellectual show, using web chat, virtual chat, video, blog texts providing context, transcripts, virtual community meetings and now also interaction in the physical world.

Join us at 12pm PST on October 4th at 12:00 p.m. PST/SLT in-world, when the usual host, professor Bloomfield, will this time be the guest and talk about Real World Lessons from Virtual Worlds, a subject which interests me, being a financial journalist, a lot: “Can virtual worlds provide insight into economic behavior? Does playing a game equate with how we interact in the physical world? What would a system look like that would let us test assumptions about how governments, companies and individuals act?”

I also have a background in philosophy, so I’m equally exited about the show on October 12th, featuring professor Noam Chomsky. Professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he has written and lectured widely on linguistics, philosophy, intellectual history, contemporary issues, international affairs and U.S. foreign policy.

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MMORPGs show us the future of media

Tomorrow I have the opportunity to facilitate a seminar for journalism students. Preparing the seminar I was surprised how strongly virtual worlds and gaming influence me. No, I don’t believe people will routinely watch and read the news in a World of Warcraft setting, dressed up as Orcs or Trolls. But yes, there is a more subtle but very fundamental influence with implications for the whole media ecosystem.

First I’ll talk about social media. I think it’s still useful to explain the social media ecosystem, mentioning immersive environments/virtual worlds as a way to organize small groups of very interested people, in order to get inspiration and feedback. Blogs, forums and chats are no marginal activities in a newsroom – they’re rapidly becoming core business.

This understanding of social media is just a first step towards gaining insights regarding the major changes taking place in the media. The second part of my presentation will be about the future of media, which sounds rather cliché, but then again, the participants in the seminar are that future.

In a MindMeister map I focus on two compelling aspects which hopefully point out the major change vectors: the social dimension and the real-time interaction. Both aspects lead to engagement of the people formerly known as the audience and thus to the relevance of the media operation.

It really does help to have even a minimal gaming experience. I used to play World of Warcraft for a while and these days I’m getting addicted to a very nice MMO on the iPad: Pocket Legends. The social interaction on forums, blogs and Facebook pages is fun, but what is really exhilirating is participating in a raid, fighting monsters in small groups.

What one experiences is the mental state of flow. Applications of this principle, even for serious news media, are obvious: just compare the action during a chat session with asynchronous commenting, or observe what happens when a comment has to be approved by moderators before it can appear (however, I am strongly in favor of real-time curation and moderation).

In the concept map I try to point out many other similarities between massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGS) and developments in the news media. This has important consequences for the business model and the management style of news media companies. Agile and Scrum suddenly become relevant for newsrooms. Openness of the development and of news production and curating process become crucial. Fast iteration of tools and design elements will become the norm. Theories about ‘the end of management (as we know it)’ become applicable (media more becoming like movie production, with teams which may get together and disband in function of projects and personal interests).

An example of this: the Liquid News project.
Other examples: have a look at crowdSPRING for design services or eLancer which also includes news-writing (thank you Dusan Writer for mentioning those services in an email-conversation). I don’t think my message for the students will be a pessimistic one. Maybe it will get harder to find a job at big mainstream media companies, but the media ecosystem is expanding. What is needed is an understanding of the many different components of that landscape and entrepreneurial talent.

The MindMeister map is a wiki-map, so feel free to add stuff.

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Installation, performances, group about identities in SL about to be launched

Identity is a fascinating subject, in some complicated ways it also determines the attraction and/or rejection people feel for virtual environments. The idea of being mediated by an avatar, who shares many characteristics of your real life persona, but who also is different, confronts people with the fact that their identity is not some homogeneous, simple and unchanging substance which can be easily described.

On Saturday 2 October and continuing through October there will be performances about this subject in Second Life.

The Caerleon Museum of Identity is the latest in the series of collaborative installations by the Caerleon Artists Coalition, a project of the Virtual Art Initiative. The show opens Saturday, 2 October at 12:00 PM (noon) PDT/SLT on the Caerleon Isle sim, with entertainment beginning at 1:00.

The Caerleon group was established by Georg Janick (Dr. Gary Zabel of the University of Massachusetts, Boston) and consists of artists, writers, musicians, and scholars who are using the immersive and interactive digital media to develop new forms of artistic content.

The Creative Identity group in Second Life will continue the discussions beyond the show and invites others to join.

“Georg Janick’s six Theses on the Art of Virtual Worlds are the framework for the series of collaborations on the Caerleon sims. In addition to major builds on each of the six theses, there have been numerous theme collaborations on various topics, including consumerism, imprisonment, surrealism, and masks, as well as limited resource challenges like the one-prim and limited texture shows.

The Caerleon Museum of Identity is an interpretation by the collaborative team of Georg’s fourth thesis: the Ambiguity of Identity. It states in part, “…digital bodies, and the names that uniquely identify them, can be altered, multiplied, discarded, or exchanged at the will of the user. Since bodily presence is open to such radical discontinuity, the identity of the virtual person is protean and ambiguous, including indicators of age, gender, race, and even biological species.”

The project has been in development for over a year. Weekly discussions about the project inevitably centered around the subject of identity and how people in virtual worlds both express themselves and interact with others. This is a subject of tremendous interest to many in SL, and some of the team members have formed the open Creative Identity group to continue talking about issues, especially as they relate to creative work.

In this context have a look at this machinima by BotGirl Questi:

Or this machinima by Ian Pahute:

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The re-invention of news curation

Checking on what’s happening around the Liquid News project on the #liquidnews Twitter feed, it seems the project is advancing: Toni Hopponen from Sparkbox posted on his blog that Liquid News will likely use his service to publish articles, opinions etc. of experts involved in this project.

Sparkbox is a live reporting widget, enabling citizen journalists and experts to publish directly on websites. It has admin tools which make it possible to define user-specific rights. The look and feel of the widget is customizable, and of course sharing on networks, liking and commenting are features of this widget. Example of its use: is a newspaper in Finland having 15 soccer experts comment on the recent World Cup, they also organize citizens to report on local news.

The important thing is here that the content is curated. Maybe there once was a time that the internet was only used by gentle, civilized and smart people, but as every community manager will tell you these days what matters is to curate and moderate. While a community manager often only has one site or forum to moderate, curation of real time news is even more challenging as conflicting reports in various languages on many different platforms have somehow to be filtered and selected. It also is more challenging than what traditional journalists used to do: curating information coming via news wires and sources they often knew face to face. Journalists still do that, but they also have to handle the social media streams giving unique but not necessarily reliable information.

Robert Scoble has a fascinating collection of videos and news about “the real-time curation wars” and also Robin Good posted extensively about real-time curation.

Here you see ‘media futurist’ Gerd Leonhard in this video shot by Robin Good talking about curation:

Robert Scoble interviewing Patrick Meier about Ushahidi about crisis news curation systems:

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Journalism in the age of data visualization

Journalists and data visualization, working together with comuter scientists, researchers and artists… Visit the site at Stanford University, produced during a 2009-2010 Knight Journalism Fellowship.

Journalists are coping with the rising information flood by borrowing data visualization techniques from computer scientists, researchers and artists. Some newsrooms are already beginning to retool their staffs and systems to prepare for a future in which data becomes a medium. But how do we communicate with data, how can traditional narratives be fused with sophisticated, interactive information displays?

Journalism in the Age of Data from geoff mcghee on Vimeo.

(hat tip Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture and Flowing Data).

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Yes, we all have time to blog

People often complain they don’t have  time to blog. This week I’ll have two seminar opportunities to try to convince people that even very busy people can blog – provided they are ready to change some daily work and life routines.

Journalists and students amaze me when they appear at meetings and jolt down notes on paper. There are so many tools for digital note taking these days – and for online and public note taking. There are still so many people keeping their bookmarks on their own browsers, instead of using social bookmarks, not to mention the limited use of tools such as Google Reader.

In March I posted on PBS MediaShift about the tools helping to “live-stream your newsroom”, but in fact one could use those same tools for a personal learning environment — and blogging is part of that environment. I now tried to use Prezi as a concept map and presentation tool in order to express these ideas. In contrast to the more linear slideshow I made about the subject, the Prezi-version shows better the cycle of the social media.

It starts from digital notes and concept map wikis, to evolve via Twitter and Tumblr to RSS feeds, social bookmarks, long form and live blogging to immersive discussions and participatory presentations. If everything goes well, the comments and interactions help the blogger to restart the whole cycle.

The emergence of simple tools such as Tumblr and Posterous, combined with smartphones and tablets, make it much easier to keep up with blogging and social media. This may sound self-evident to many of you, but in broader circles the discussion about the possibilities of these tools is just beginning. Just look around, how many entrepreneurs, managers and experts are actively blogging? Many of course, but many more don’t use these tools or ask their communication departments to do it in their place.

So here is the Prezi, I’ll update the thing this week, so don’t hesitate to comment!

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Liquid (Virtual) Newsroom Project Developed with Radical Openness

diagram illustrating liquid newsLiquidnews, or the Liquid Newsroom, is an emerging news project that’s all about the above strategy, radical openness. I found out about the project on Twitter via the #liquidnewshashtag. It’s where a group of people, many of whom are journalists, discuss a project for a “liquid” or a “virtual” newsroom.

They talk about what a Liquid Newsroom could be, about the business model, and the technological platform necessary make it happen. They exchange tweets such as this one from Steffen Konrath: “Currently exploring ways to add Sparkbox (@tonihopponen) & Clp.ly (@Kinanda) to the Liquid Newsroom project #liquidnews.”

On September 1, Konrath published a Liquid Newsroom Manifesto on his blog, which reads like a proposal for a kind of postmodern virtual enterprise. In his model, the relationship between the “outside” and the “inside” of a company changes fundamentally. For instance, he writes, that in this newsroom “the content is triggered by events and interest of the people, and not by the purpose of keeping a company alive.”

I had an interview with Steffen, which you can read on my blog at PBS MediaShift. Stay tuned for more about how virtual enterprises can help develop enterpreneurial journalism in the broadest sense of these words!

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How concept maps can be immersive

In this post I’ll talk about some rather simple immersive tools. They have to do with what knowledge is about, with visualization and non-linear thinking and presenting. Do not fear: there’s no need for high-end graphics. The elements on which this simple immersiveness is based are non-linearity, interactivity and visualization.

In the personal learning environments course #PLENK2010 you can find a discussion thread about concept mapping, with George Siemens providing a link to a paper about The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them by Joseph D. Novak and Alberto J. Cañas (Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition).

Siemens explains: “Concept mapping assumes relatedness of knowledge – i.e. the information you connect is what produces your knowledge.” The course uses Cmap but personally I love using MindMeister (which allows for open wiki mindmaps), for instance I made this map about real-time web and news media for a seminar in Moscow:

Please note that I only provided a basic structure for the map – others added many nodes, provided Russian translations etc in a pure wiki-style. The reason I like those maps is that they allow for non-linear thinking and discussion. The enhance a more organic, associative way of reflecting on things. Compare having a group discussion with a linear powerpoint presentation versus a more brainstorming type of session, or at least a meeting where people are allowed to really interact and to go back and forth the points discussed – eventually adding or eliminating discussion nodes.

Actually, you can use non-linear presentations derived directly from concept maps for larger audiences. A colleague of mine introduced me to an interesting tool, Prezi, which helps you to do just that.

Here is an example of such a Prezi presentation about teaching mathematics by Guy Murphy:

There are other examples at the Prezi site. The big advantage of a Prezi presentation, when used for an actual living audience, is that it’s very flexible and incites the group to connect ideas in ways which may even surprise the presenter.

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Second Life cohort will augment online seminars with virtual spaces at #PLENK2010

plenk2010 hq in chilbo

This is the virtual reading and meeting room for the connectivism courses in the virtual town Chilbo in Second Life. As pointed out in a comment on my previous post, there is a Second Life cohort (group PLENK2010) getting ready to experiment and a wiki has been launched.

One of the problems is that however immersive and engaging synchronous online meetings may be, they do cost time. There are already weekly Elluminate sessions to be followed for the PLENK2010 course, adding meetings in Second Life is not self-evident.

Glen Gatin on Conviviality Corners suggests to organize meetings in Second Life, enabling participants to share the same virtual space while attending the Elluminate sessions. Using UStream it might be possible to intervene (also using voice) from within Second Life.

But is there enough added value in this? People in Elluminate already can use a white-board and audio, maybe even video. The experiment will have to demonstrate that sharing a same space, creating watercooler-moments before and after the meeting, leads to more engagement and immersiveness.

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