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.
  • 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, 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.”

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, 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):

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:

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, 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.

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 there is more about the TechSoup Digital Storytelling Event 2011 with free webinars and tweetchats.

Blue Mars restructures, goes mobile

Virtual worlds and restructuring… it’s becoming a long story. The latest episode: Blue Mars. The company behind the virtual world platform Blue Mars, Avatar Reality, is restructuring “in order to concentrate on bringing Blue Mars to portable touch screen devices like the iPhone and iPad.”

The company says they have a functioning alpha in house and they aim to release the first builds of Blue Mars on iOS next month. CEO Jim Sink leaves the company:

Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to keep the current team together while building Blue Mars Mobile. Like many of my friends here, today is my last day at Avatar Reality. It has been a true pleasure working on Blue Mars with so many talented and dedicated creative professionals. Just as rewarding was seeing the growth and creative output of the Blue Mars community. Thank you all for your sharing your creativity with our community. It was fun.

See you on Mars,

“The first versions of Blue Mars Mobile will be an extension to the PC client but over time, the mobile version will absorb many of the features found in the PC version. With our focus now clearly on mobile, updates to the PC version of the software will likely be restricted to bug fixes for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, we will no longer charge our current City Developers for the monthly city hosting service. The servers will remain online, city updates and uploads will continue, and shop and residence rentals will still function but technical support for the user client will no longer be offered.”

It is unclear how many people leave the company. No mention is being made of a new CEO. My first impression: the strategy of having a heavy PC client did not succeed. I did not visit the Blue Mars environments very often, but the times I went there I had the impression it did not gain traction. The few people in-world often were developer-types or Second Life residents exploring another world. The graphics are impressive, but for those who like open ended user generated virtual worlds Blue Mars lacked the buzz of Second Life and OpenSim.

“The focus for the first version of Blue Mars Mobile is avatar style and rankings. The initial versions will allow people to share their Blue Mars avatars through a native iOS application. In the next few months, an app store for clothing, Facebook Connect integration, avatar snapshots, account registration, and character customization will be added. The items you have created or own will already work with the mobile version as will the Blue Mars item creation tools.”

Mobile and Facebook Connect, it all seems rather logical, because these are growth areas. However, for the moment the announcement sounds like an admission of defeat.

The last press release on the Avatar Reality site (March 23, 2010) announced that an additional $4.2 million was raised from venture capitalists including Henk Rogers and Kolohala Ventures. “To date, more than $13 million has been invested in Avatar Reality”, so it was said.

Avatar Reality was founded in 2006 by interactive entertainment visionaries Henk Rogers – best known for introducing Tetris to the world – and Kazuyuki Hashimoto, former CTO of Squaresoft and vice president at Electronic Arts. In March 2010 the company had more than 30 employees in Honolulu and San Francisco.

Can Avatar Kinect make virtual environments go mainstream?

Microsoft announces Avatar Kinect. Notice how it seems to be possible to give the avatars facial expressions. Of course, I don’t think this will be a user generated world, boasting its very own economy etc. Maybe it will fail miserably, like Google’s Lively did. But then again, maybe it’ll take off, combining motion based gestures, facial and voice recognition and taking the dream of avatar mediated interaction into another direction…

Rehearsing the day that we’ll program matter

So I’ve been monitoring that State of the World 2011 conversation on The WELL (with Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowski), learning about design fiction (see also critical design) and watching an awesome video about Claytronics (programmable matter). Sterling, on his blog Beyond the Beyond: “Check out this bonkers Discovery Channel treatment of some Carnegie Mellon nano-visionary weirdness.”

The video made me think that what we currently do in Second Life and OpenSim is sometimes a kind of design fiction, making people used to programming virtual matter, preparing them for the day when we actually program ‘physical’ matter. When could it become feasible, when will it have an impact on the economy? I’ve no idea, but I asked on Quora (skipping for now the question whether we’ll be happy in such a world, and how long it will last before doomsday becomes reality).


On an even more general level: if programmable matter would become mainstream, would that be an event which we could call ‘technological singularity‘, would it be part of that? Talking of which I recently stumbled upon a fascinating conversation between Robin Hanson (George Mason University) and the economist Robert Russell, contemplating a situation in which worldwide output would double every two weeks instead of every 15 years (the current situation). What would it mean for the return on capital, on labor? What about the environment, security and so many other crucial aspects? You’ll find the long audio discussion on the Library of Economics and Liberty.

Talking about virtual worlds outside virtual worlds: The WELL

In our first blog about other venues where people discuss virtual worlds, we talked about Quora. While Quora is very new, The WELL is almost ancient:

The WELL is a cherished and acclaimed destination for conversation and discussion. It is widely known as the primordial ooze where the online community movement was born — where Howard Rheingold first coined the term “virtual community.” Since long before the public Internet was unleashed, it has quietly captivated some accomplished and imaginative people. Over the last two and a half decades, it’s been described as “the world’s most influential online community” in a Wired Magazine cover story, and ” the Park Place of email addresses” by John Perry Barlow. It’s won Dvorak and Webby Awards, inspired songs and novels, and almost invisibly influences modern culture.

In 2010, this social site celebrates its 25th birthday online. A wide variety of topics are being discussed in ‘conferences’. The ‘Virtual Communities’ conference has among its topics ‘Second Life: The World-Building MMOG’, but I don’t think there is a topic ‘blue mars’ or ‘opensim’ (search did not yield results).

The conversations are very instructive and friendly. Just like for the Quora discussions people are supposed to use their real names. There are moderators, ‘conference hosts’. However, there are also major differences between the two services.

Those differences boil down to this: The Well wants to be a walled garden. As they explain themselves: “Membership is not for everyone, partly because we are non-anonymous here.” One cannot vote a question or an answer up or down. There are no ‘follow’ buttons next to the names of the participants. In fact, you own your own words, meaning that you are responsible for them but also that others cannot simply copy paste them outside The WELL. Before quoting or even mentioning that another person is a member, one should ask that other person whether she agrees.

Another major aspect of the “walled garden”: membership is not free.

There are about 3.000 members now, and to be honest, I don’t think the community, owned by, can boast tremendous growth figures.

In fact, The WELL is rather fascinating. Because of its history but also because of this non-viral approach of a members only gathering. Whether it will be able to survive, faced with competition such as Quora, is another matter. Quora uses real identities, but provides connections with Twitter and Facebook, is free, and for now manages to maintain good quality using a voting system. The WELL however is a bunch of micro-communities (around the conferences) where more intimate relationships can develop.

Sterling and Lebkowsky

conference page the well
To be fair, The WELL is not completely a walled garden. Non-members can for instance join the ‘Inkwell: Authors and Artists’ conference. Author Bruce Sterling and internet&cyberculture expert Jon Lebkowsky discuss this week State of the World 2011.

The organizers even run a wild experiment: a Facebook event page for feedback (great discussion there) and the ever cunning Lebkwoski announced on that page a Twitter hashtag (#sotw2011)!