A newsletter: The Augmentationist Weekly

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A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. I’ll publish a weekly newsletter (as from next week on Friday) to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

Here’s the content of the first newsletter – subscription details at the end or in the column at the right-handside of this site:

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology canaugment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

Collective Intelligence 2014

“This interdisciplinary conference seeks to bring together researchers from a variety of fields relevant to understanding and designing collective intelligence of many types.” This conference seems to be very interesting: from digital sweatshops to social computing and crowdsourcing….

(via Howard Rheingold on Scoop.It!)

Thinking the Unthinkable

Speaking about augmentation: a friend of mine sent me this video about Media for Thinking the Unthinkable, a presentation by Bret Victor. who tries to invent the medium and representations in which scientists, engineers, and artists will understand and create systems. The content of his illustrations is very geeky, but try to see beyond that and try to grasp what he’s trying to invent.

The Next Big Opportunity: Tools that cure our short attention spans

A venture investor looks at the opportunities and obstacles in trying to create new tools to help people deal with information distraction online.

(via Howard Rheingold on Scoop.It!)

#Unplug

Mentioned on our Twitter feed #thinkknow: Baratunde Thurston left the internet for 25 days. You should try this too, but read the article at FastCompany for some useful tips.

Working with TheBrain

During the latest Think-Know course facilitated by Howard Rheingold we’ve been using TheBrain, a kind of database/mindmap for your thoughts and thought-clusters. Some students tried out TeamBrain, which allows for collaboration. Imagine a group of bloggers developing ideas in TeamBrain, discovering unexpected relationships between ideas and thoughts, which eventually lead to more inspiring blogposts.

Of course one could try to do this also with other collaborative mindmaps, but TheBrain is one of the most sophisticated tools out there.

One of our TheBrain and mindmap-specialists mentioned some interesting research about the use of mindmap-like structures in dialogue mapping. Read McGee’s Musings about the book Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems by Jeff Conklin.

Cooking as Augmentation

In our Alumni-social bookmarks I found this gem on Brainpickings, a link to a review of Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. The book looks at cooking as a significant tool (thinking augmentation) that changed our ways of thinking and had a significant impact on culture.

Peeragogy in Spanish

Peeragogy.org is a handbook for those who want to launch a peer2peer-learning project. A very international group of contributors create the handbook (the book is never ‘really’ finished), and now it seems the project gains quite some traction in the Spanish-speaking world.  A teacher in Uruguay launched a Google+ community for the Spanish speaking community.

The Spanish short version of the handbook will be published by the UOC Press in October in a book called EDUCACIÓN, MEDIOS DIGITALES Y CULTURA DE LA PARTICIPACIÓN (Education, Digital Media and Participatory Culture). A Spanish group runs a very interesting cooperative project called ‘hybrid learning’  that we can include in the handbook.

The Peeragogy-folks also have a thriving Google+-community, it’s not too late to join!

gmooc

Digital Game Based Learning MOOCs: Join in September!

So nice. We already had the connectivist Massive Open Online Courses – based on learner-centric, distributed activities using a syndication engine to connect the various events. Then came the xMOOCs – more top-down like massive courses, experimenting with auto-grading systems. Now I learned about gMOOCs – game-based MOOCs.

 

 

Read online.

MOOC.ca updated

Connectivist Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) specialist Stephen Downes updated the MOOC.casite a bit and made it easier to submit MOOC and to find them. Of most importance is the new Submit MOOC page, an easy way to enter information about your MOOC and have it listed on the MOOC.CA website and also mentioned in the MOOC.ca newsletter (which has more than 5,000 subscribers).

Newspapers and MOOCs

Kevin Werbach is a Wharton-professor who gave a very interesting MOOC about gamification (and author of a book about this art, For the Win, How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business). He sent out an interesting tweet about Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post: “Bezos should convert the Washington Post into a MOOC.”

Exactly: could we consider the newspaper as a potential Massive Online Open Course? With distributed discussions – the people formerly known as ‘the audience’ discussing and co-publishing with journalists on various platforms?

The HRU Knowmads

I finished the latest Think-know Tools course organized by Howard Rheingold about the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management. I’m becoming quite a veteran of his courses, and I continue meeting co-learners via the HRU Alumni network.

These meetings are very webby – completely dispersed over various platforms and tools.

Read online.

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Journalism as a service: what it means

There are no journalists, there is only the service of journalism. That’s at least what Jeff Jarvis, author, journalist and entrepreneurial journalism expert wrote on his blog BuzzMachine. So what does this mean? In his post he explains:

Journalism helps communities organize their knowledge so they can better organize themselves.

Anyway, I had the opportunity to meet him in Mechelen, Belgium, at the World Journalism Education Congress:



So why is this important? Because it makes it obvious that thinking about journalism is not something only journalists should do. As so many of us engage in ‘acts of journalism’, there are important issues which concern far more people in a very direct way.

This became very obvious when professor Yochai Benkler testified (pdf) in the case United States vs. PFC Bradley E. Manning. Jarvis reacted on this testimony in the Guardian (read it, also for the discussion section and the many links provided by Jarvis). Benkler explained that journalism is a network in which there are many roles that can be linked together: witnessing, gathering, selecting, authenticating, explaining, distributing. Each can be an act of journalism. Each can be done by someone else, not necessarily working in a single institution. Jarvis quotes him as saying:

One of the things that’s happened is people realize that you can’t have all the smartest people and all the resources working in the same organization. So we have seen a much greater distribution in networks that even though they use the internet, what’s important about the network structure is actually permissions, who’s allowed to work on what resource or assignments of work assignments.

Which is an important thought, as it has consequences for the political debate about whistle blowers, security and transparency, but also for the organization of journalism as a business.

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R.I.P. Google Reader and the Open Web

A friend of mine started a Facebook page, asking for one minute of silence for the demise of Google Reader.

For many of us, Google Reader was a crucial part of the curating toolkit. Just subscribe to RSS-feeds, organize them in folders, view it in various ways. Save the interesting stuff for later, then put those articles which stay relevant for a longer time in diigo/dilicious/pearltrees… It was easy, and then Google killed it.

The company said it wants to focus on fewer projects. They felt there were enough good alternatives. And mostly, I guess, they were convinced Google Reader was no longer the future. So what is the future according to Google? Curation via social networks, first of all Google+, but of course also Twitter and Facebook. Algorithms and clever apps such as Flipboard and Zite are the present, readers the past. The future: even more algorithms, pushing information to you based on your explicitly and implicitly revealed preferences, your social graph, your locations, the time of the day… through wearable devices such as Glass.

Let’s be honest: the mainstream web users never embraced Reader. So, was Reader right about stopping Reader? What’s all the fuss about anyway?

The fuss is about the fear that Google is turning its back to the open web. People like Dave Winer, Felix Salmon  and Anil Dash lament about link rot and ‘the web we lost’. The big corporates such as Twitter, Facebook and Google primarily want to lock the users into their very own walled gardens. You and your friends can get data into those places, but getting the data out is another matter. Not that your data are particularly safe, they are not. They are not longer YOUR data, they are owned by the big corporations. When the web was still young people worked really hard for interoperability. Now the open web is on the retreat.

The mainstream, who never made it to Reader, is addicted to Facebook, and somewhat less to Twitter and Google+. Robert Scoble says it’s too late to save the common web, because the common users left. He gets more conversations about his articles and videos on Facebook and Google+ than on his blog/RSS feeds. Bruce Sterling says talking about “the internet” makes no sense anymore, and there are five reasons for that: Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft (not clear to me why he doesn’t add Twitter):

Stacks. In 2012 it made less and less sense to talk about “the Internet,” “the PC business,” “telephones,” “Silicon Valley,” or “the media,” and much more sense to just study Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. These big five American vertically organized silos are re-making the world in their image.

Chances are this will be self-defeating. It reminds me of the old Compuserve and AOL, ancient examples of walled gardens brought down or being forced to reinvent themselves by the open web. Sterling does not think that the stacks are stable entities:

Still, the Stacks figure they can disrupt and disintermediate all those old-school businesses; it’s the stock-markets that scare them, because they all know that, if they’re destroyed, it will surely be through that method; moguls can destroy the Stacks just like they destroyed the world of the 90s dot-com boom.

Are the Stacks “stable?” In a word, No. They’re all dizzyingly unstable Napoleonic gimcrack empires built by eccentric geek weirdos. Besides which, they’ve all learned to hate each other, and they’ve been stocking up patents for an almighty legal war for years now.

Maybe there will be non-American stacks (Samsung? some Chinese conglomerate?) – or maybe the open source and Makers movements will come up with something which is open van vastly superior to what the stacks offer now. We simply don’t know.

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A rather dystopian view

I’ve been reading a text in Wired by Bill Joy with a fascinating title: The Future Doesn’t Need Us. At the same time I was researching some stuff about terrorism, security, things Edward Snowden said. I realize that the empowerment of the individual by information technology and the availability of knowledge about stuff such as nanotech, genetics, robotics, biotech also empowers individuals and small groups to commit mass atrocities. Bill Joy uses the expression “knowledge-enabled mass destruction”. In this context I guess security services everywhere find it easier to convince governments that mass surveillance is necessary.

However, in order to organize the Big Data which they accumulate, super computers are needed, machines which can learn and decide. In order to create that, we need more nanotech, information technology and other stuff which in turn empowers the individuals even more as the availability of these technologies spreads out. It’s like an infernal cycle. I used Google Drawing to sketch my thinking about this (click on the map to go to the clickable version):

A dystopian view

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Strange things happen…

I did something strange today. I registered for a course facilitated by Howard Rheingold, the Think-Know Tools, you’ll find more about this on the wiki of Rheingold U (I even think you can still register, but hurry up – also, this course is not free).

The strange thing is that I participate in this course for the second time. In fact it’s about the fifth time I participate in one of Howard’s courses, not counting my participation in real life in a master class he gave in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Here you find his keynote he gave on that occasion:


So, why taking a course for a second time (even taking into account the discount Rheingold U alumni get)? Because, even though it’s important to have a great facilitator such as Howard, the students ultimately learn from each other. New contacts mean new discoveries. And because people change – the questions I have today are different from the questions I had the first time I took this course.

For instance, I read a great article by John Reynols in the Guardian about Google X. One quote from the article:

Teller said he believed that a likely innovation within the next 20 to 30 years will be the creation of “factories for ideas”, virtual factories which will produce “new ideas in every domain”. (RL: Astro Teller is the top executive of Google X)

I’ve no idea what he really means by these “factories for ideas”. Maybe these virtual factories are beyond humans, as they will be populated by intelligent computers? But in my presentation we can make virtual factories for ideas today already, using Think-Know tools helping us to collaborate, to detect crap, to filter information and build knowledge radars. That’s at least something I want to explore in this course.

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Streams of News

Stuff I’ve been thinking about:

  • There are advantages of working for an established newspaper. Like having a salary, infrastructure, lots of news-addicts around you. But it’s becoming ever more important to look at how media companies from a streaming tradition innovate. Wire services such as Reuters for instance build rivers of news. Justin Ellis on Nieman Journalism Lab says Every page is your homepage: Reuters, untied to print metaphor, builds a modern river of news.
  • Ben Adler at the Columbia Journalism Review discusses Streams of Consciousness: Millennials expect a steady diet of quick-hit, social-media-mediated bits and bytes. What does that mean for journalism? Adler:

    I found four overlapping, and mutually reinforcing, trends:

    Proliferation of news sources, formats, and new technologies for media consumption
    Participation by consumers in the dissemination and creation of news, through social-media sharing, commenting, blogging, and the posting online of photos, audio, and video
    Personalization of one’s streams of news via email, mobile apps, and social media
    Source promiscuity Rather than having strong relationships with a handful of media brands, young people graze among a vast array of news outlets.

  • One of the most interesting coders/philosophers of the rivers of news is Dave Winer. He explains why every news organization should have a river. It’s about the curation of streams, not of stories: the streams one monitors oneself in order to produce media, the streams produced by bloggers who collaborate or even by those who are competitors, the streams the own organization puts out.Another one by Winer: 11th hour for news nets.
  • Great story about a start-up, Gittip, getting a call from TechCrunch. The guys from the start-up react by saying they want to stream the interview in real-time and publicly. TechCrunch was not amused. Read about it on the blog of Gittip. Even famous blogs have problems adapting to streams.

I found some great folks on Google+ wanting to discuss media in the era of streams. I asked them: Suppose today you got 15 minutes to either follow your social streams (Facebook, Twitter, Google+… ) or read a newspaper. What’s your choice? Answers on my Google+ page

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Are our attention spans becoming longer again?

There has been an eerie silence on this blog for the past weeks. I was immersed in various learning projects. I had to focus for longer times, and this made me switch my attention away from social media streams, unless I could focus on certain topics via Twitter lists for instance.

howard rheingoldSo what is the learning about? I’m still absorbing stuff I learned at the various courses facilitated by Howard Rheingold (there’s a new one coming up about Mind Amplifiers). Also, I attended a real life class featuring Howard in the Netherlands (more about this in a later post, but that’s where I took the picture), where he discussed the major findings of his book Net Smart (which can be considered as a long and deep study of attention practices). In this part of the learning it’s all about forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat and Twitter.

– The other part of my learning is about tools for digital stortytelling and data journalism. I made a good start on Codeacademy, but somehow I need the intervention of real tutors to continue the learning process. So I decided to take courses at the O’Reilly School of Technology. They even deliver certificates for professional developments. I do realize it are not the certificates which are that important, but it’s a kind of an interesting gamification element. The ‘school’ offers a nice interactive coding environment and tutors evaluate the homework and give feedback.

Crucial technologies I want to master: the components of HTML5 (HTML, CSS, JavaScript), jQuery, and for stuff such as web scraping I need a language such as Python.

Data Journalism is something we’re learning at our media company, and our teacher is Peter Verweij (who was so kind as to include the very basics of using spreadsheets in his program).

– Finally there is a big experiment of helping a newsroom to adapt to the age of never-ending social media streams, community interaction and digital storytelling.

Frankly, all this is pretty exhausting – but at least it forces me to focus for longer periods of time on the same subjects. In this sense it’s immersive – when one is trying to meet some Python course objective, times passes very fast – it’s like playing in some 3D environment.

Is something changing?

These last few years I got the impression we were evolving from longer, immersive experiences to sequences of fast dipping in and out of media streams (status updates, tweets etc). In that context I was not surprised an immersive envrionment such as Second Life was stagnating. It quite simply takes too much time and our attention spans were getting too short for this.

But think again. Maybe we once again want something more. People start complaining about the ‘Facebook-experience’. They start reading books such as Net Smart or meditate about mindfulness. But there’s also something going on at the technology-side of things.

Philip Rosedale, Chairman of Linden LabPhilip Rosedale (archive picture), the founding father of Second Life, has a new company, High Fidelity, to create a new kind of virtual reality platform. True Ventures invested in the company. It’s about a new virtual world enabling rich avatar interactions driven by sensor-equipped hardware, simulated and served by devices (phones, tablets and laptops/desktops) contributed by end-users. Virtual worlds watcher Wagner James Au on New World Notes says that Rosedale is not alone: others are working hard to create new virtual reality platforms: “Overall, this feels like a real trend, made possible by continued leaps in computer power, especially related to 3D graphics, and their continued drop in price.”

But maybe this new trend is also driven by the need of balancing the short attention bursts by longer periods of mindful attention…

Read also: 

True Ventures about the investment in High Fidelity.

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Teaching journalists to become entrepreneurs…

Student journalists, financing their projects through the French crowdsourcing platform KissKissBankBank, that’s what I encountered last Saturday in the offices of the Belgian startup accelerator NestUp at Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium). The journalist/teacher/entrepreneur/blogger Damain Van Achter facilitates the project. He is a guy who teaches his students to first learn the rules, then break them. Anyway, what he actually teaches them, is to thrive in a media environment which will become totally disrupted.

They also learn themselves to sell their projects on the crowdfinancing platform and to their peers. It involves communicating and connecting, also after they manage to get the money – they need to explain what they’re doing and how the project advances.

In some cases this is a great way to finance the making of a video, in other cases it may lead to the creation of a more permanent project or even… a media company.



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ds106 for digital storytelling

Let’s try another MOOC. A real one, along connectivist principles: ds106 for digital storytelling. This is what it’s about, and also why I like it – because it’s free, it’s adaptable to my needs, and I’m sure there will be serendipitous encounters along the way:

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

Looking at the examples of the co-learners there, I feel a bit intimidated – these people create out of the box, and toy around with digital affordances like digital natives should. But hey, let’s give it a try.

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When people make rather than just buy goods

I went to the Lift innovation conference in Geneva, Switzerland, last week – and I’ll reflect on my experiences in the next few days.

Here is a short interview I did with co-founder Massimo Banzi of Arduino, the open source hardware and software technology project:



Here is his full presentation:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/2619102/events/1826081/videos/11112460

As I’m fascinated by the Maker movement, I also interviewed Caroline Drucker, country manager for Germany at Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods:



And the full presentation:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/2619102/events/1826081/videos/11115574

Massimo announced a European-wide Maker Faire in Rome, October 3 to 6, 2013. I will go there.

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