High Fidelity continues the tradition of virtual intellectual “salons”

What I love about virtual worlds are the incredible smart and visionary people one can meet there. This totally applies for High Fidelity, a young and cutting edge virtual world (think decentralized architecture, tokens, blockchain, VR-enabled, avatars who are responsive to their real life users). Founding father Philip Rosedale had this very inspiring chat with Kent Bye, the host of Voices of VR Podcast.

They and their audience of fellow geeks had an in-depth discussion about virtual worlds, virtual and augmented reality, blockchain in virtual worlds and psychology of virtual worlds. What I particularly like is that the chat was not limited to esoteric virtual world tech stuff, but tackled fundamental evolutions such as the emergence of an “Experiential Era”.

In this way High Fidelity continues the great tradition of virtual intellectual “salons“.

I found out about this video via New World Notes.

The deconstructed journalist

(this post reflects what I told during my presentation at the neojournalism2012 conference in Brussels, Belgium).
I remember it vividly. That particular day during the never-ending euro crisis I was covering a European Summit. My newspaper colleague was attending briefings, I was at the newsroom, monitoring about 300 people we follow on Twitter regarding the crisis. I talked to some colleagues from other European newspapers, wire services, blogs and television stations, via Twitter. Some of them where at that same summit, covering the same of other briefings. I told my colleague to contact some of my Twitter contacts, while getting a word by word translation of some statements in Italian and in Greek via other tweeting journos.

the Hootsuite social media dashboard

the Hootsuite social media dashboard

During that day I fully realized that the newsroom was no longer the newsroom, the audience no longer the audience, journalists no longer journalists. My newsroom was transformed and expanded. All of a sudden there were hundreds of us, at the summit, and at other ‘crucial meetings’ in Athens, Milan, Berlin, Paris… I tried to DJ all those sources into a liveblog on our site, and the people formerly known as the audience reacted, suggested new angles, referred to other sources.

Among those analyzing the events were fellow-journalists, but also economists working for banks or universities, traders in the City and on Wall Street or in Milan. It was often very difficult to see who was a journalist by profession and who was not. It did not seem to matter that very much.

Of course, the liveblog was like a stream, not like some finished, polished product. It was the reflection and part of the newsgathering process.

Sometimes I use the Twitter-site to monitor all those euro-sources, sometimes Hootsuite (a social media dashboard) or I use Flipboard on my iPad – converting the streams into a kind of glossy-looking online magazine. I use Flipboard also for other beats which interest me, but what is important to note: even though it looks like a magazine, there is no editorial staff deciding for me what I should read. It’s my selection of sources, and they come from many different media – in fact, in most cases, they are just individuals. I do not care what some newspaper or television station thinks about an important issue, but what a particular person at that organization thinks about it.

In the meantime, we are still very much involved in selling newspapers – in print, or digitally. It’s the old music industry situation: remember when you wanted to buy only one or two songs, but you had to buy the whole CD? Maybe the community wants to get the whole package about business, politics, markets and culture, but then again maybe many people would prefer just reading about one ‘beat’ or following only a few journalists. I’m pretty much convinced that we’re going through the same transformation as the music industry.

I don’t have an immediate answer in terms of a sustainable business model for the atomization of news and information. What we do at our newspaper is taking the community serious. That’s why we have liveblogs – we publish almost in real-time the raw material we see such as tweets, articles, videos, adding context and adding parts of the discussions we have. It’s a way of showing ‘the making of’, the process of news gathering, as it happens.

The liveblogs and blogs eventually lead to articles and videos, but we experiment with other forms of story-telling which of course use rich media but also have various possible entry-points. Stories do not have to be linear (my colleagues Nicolas Becquet uses Klynt for building his interactive stories). Another colleague, Raphael Cockx, uses data journalism allowing our community to analyze how their towns and villages compare, using data about income, unemployment, number of companies, growth and crime.

And of course we have long conversations with our community. I host a daily chat session and we experiment with Google Hangout On Air. It’s very different from the usual asynchronous comments on a news site – the real time interactivity facilitates more civilized, constructive conversations which teach us a lot about what people are looking for on our site.

So why deconstructon? We’re not talking about the destruction of journalism. We deconstruct it to obtain better journalism. In general, deconstruction means the questioning of boundaries, which often seem clear-cut but in reality are not (or should no longer be). The boundaries between journalists and other professions, between what is inside and what is outside the newsroom, between the journalists and the people formerly known as the audience are becoming subjects of negotiation. Not everything we discuss at the newsroom should be published in real-time, but there is a lot which can only benefit from being out there in the open.

My slides:

See previous posts for other news about the neojournalist conference:
– How the truth unfolds itself – Hermida about new media

– Journalists would be more cheerful being DJs
– The many meanings of neo-journalism
– A Storify report about the conference by my colleague Nicolas Becquet (French and English)

Playing around with Spreecast

I’m testing Spreecast, a service which allows you to run a videoshow, to invite people, to get reactions in text chat and to embed the whole thing wherever you like. Robert Scoble published an interview with co-founder Jeff Fluhr:

I’m a strong believer in synchronous communication and the co-presence it enables – whether one uses virtual environments, text chat modules, videoconferencing (such as Blackboard Collaborate or Google Hangout) or hybrid forms (video plus text chat, video plus video by guests plus chat text, podcasts with a live session).

So here I’ll embed my brandnew Spreecast-channel – and watching it myself I realize I should have looked more into the camera (and should have used a better headset) – but hey, it’s a learning experience!:

Just wondering how they will eventually monetize this – all of the video is being recorded now for free. I can imagine all kinds of ad-driven models, but then again I remember how Seesmic tried a video-chat format some years ago – and failed. Maybe we are further in the internet evolution now, with more and better connections… But then again, it’s also a matter of cultural acceptance: people tend to be shy on camera, IT-departments don’t think it’s necessary for people to have full audio and video capabilities for office computers or even have firewalls in place to prevent this kind of communication.

However, I can imagine Spreecast succeeding in the media sector – it’s an affordable way to organize talking-head kind of formats, and the audience can react using text, they don’t need to use their cameras. But just suppose it’s a success – what prevents Google from tweaking its Hangout service so that is offers the same features (recording, embedding etc)? One needs to be brave to be an entrepreneur in this industry…

Social discovery services turn the world into a virtual environment

There is something strange going on with virtual worlds. MixedRealities used to focus heavily on worlds such as Second Life, but these days less so as I no longer think that Second Life is “the future of the internet”. It’s an interesting niche product, but not about to go mainstream, not now and I suspect it never will in its current form.

But on the other hands, the physical reality now gets augmented by all kinds of social and mobile layers. For now augmented reality as such did not go mainstream either, but that could change if ever the “Google Goggles” would indeed be launched by year-end and if it proves popular. But in a less spectacular, but more pervasive way, virtual worlds elements are finding their way to mass adoption.

First, what do I mean by “virtual world elements”? Well, everything related to “social discovery”: you look around on a virtual world map, and typically you see those dots representing other participants. You click on a dot or hover on it, and you get access to their profile, you get means to chat with them etc. In Second Life at least I’ve the impression that the text chat function is extremely popular: lots of avatars standing around, not moving, seemingly away from keyboard (AFK) but in reality happily text chatting away.

Now look at the mobile & social internet. On SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, social discovery services the new big thing. Apps such as Glancee, Highlight, Sonar, Banjo and others allow you to see who is around, and (some more than others) try to filter those present in function of their relevance to you: number of contacts you both share on the social networks, interests you share via Facebook… Basically they use the information which is out there about you (via social networks, via the localization data of your smartphone) in order to match you with “relevant people” close to you (hence a new version emerges of the filter bubble danger, I guess).

The world, looked at through your smartphone, becomes a map where your contacts are localized in more or less real time. A touch and you get more information about those people: what was it again you have in common? And of course the possibility to chat with them is another touch away. Well, this is something virtual worlds people are used to.

The social discovery services go beyond the individual level. Shadow Cities allows you to play a World of Warcraft kind of game based on your location, and to unite in a guild. Wallit! builds virtual walls which can be seen by everyone but where you need to be in the neighborhood in order to leave a message on the wall – maybe it could be used for neighborhood projects. Localmind organizes the participants as “local experts” who can respond to questions.

For more information about the action going on in the “personal discovery field” in Austin, read Robert Scoble. Remember: the 2007 edition of SXSW brought us Twitter, in 2009 Foursquare (and Gowalla) was the talk of the town and in 2011 “group texting” was the big theme – so chances are we’re witnessing now another big move in the social&mobile evolution.

No doubt not all of those personal discovery thingies and other location-based services will survive, but the trend is clear: an overwhelming supply of apps allowing you to “discover people” locally, to exchange information and collaborate locally. Add this to wearable devices, to face recognition and our physical world blends with the digital realm in such a way that we can, indeed, consider it a “mixed reality”. Which will very soon be a concept for non-digital natives, as the new generations will just consider these services as part of their one and only reality, just like we no longer think that phones and televisions are some kind of special dimension.

But we, who lived through the first adventurous steps of bulletin boards, chat systems, forums and virtual environments, see the evolution and cannot help being amazed, and also a bit worried. But more about that later.

Amplifying my mind

Among my lofty intentions for the new year is amplifying my mind. This will be facilitated by Howard Rheingold. I really enjoyed Howard’s previous course, Toward a Literacy of Cooperation.

Introduction to Mind Amplifiers, is a five week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter.

Some of the texts we’ll read in the course will be familiar to the readers of the priceless The New Media Reader (MIT), like As We May Think (Vannevar Bush), Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (Douglas Engelbart) and Man-Computer Symbiosis (J.C.R. Licklider). These texts are incredibly deep and inspiring and could be the subject of whole course (we worked on them during the Digital Awakening Course, which had regular sessions in Second Life).

Howard is a master in inventing words and concepts – he is credited with inventing the notion of ‘virtual community’. In this course we’ll work on yet another of his ideas, infotention:

Infotention is a word I came up with to describe the psycho-social-techno skill/tools we all need to find our way online today, a mind-machine combination of brain-powered attention skills with computer-powered information filters. The inside and outside of infotention work best together: Honing the mental ability to deploy the form of attention appropriate for each moment is an essential internal skill for people who want to find, direct, and manage streams of relevant information by using online media knowledgeably. Knowing how to put together intelligence dashboards, news radars, and information filters from online tools like persistent search and RSS is the external technical component of information literacy.

As I learned during the previous course, Howard expects his students to be very active. This culminates in the final session(s) which are prepared and organized by the participants. In this course we’re also supposed to apply what we learn by developing an attentional-informational strategy, organizing an information dashboard etc. It’s my intention to do this focusing on the themes developed in the book Race Against the Machine (Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee).

I’ll report here, on MixedRealities, about my experiences during this new course.

One course ends, but the cooperation is just beginning

social media classroomImagine you explore in group wild and exotic lands. After six weeks the journey is over, and it’s time to say goodbye. Often that is a sad experience – just sharing the same experiences creates a bond between people, and when they leave, one feels a void.
This was what I felt after six weeks of Toward a Literacy of Cooperation, a course facilitated by Howard Rheingold (see previous posts like this one about the grand narrative or the most recent one about the G20).

I appreciated the format and the process of the course. The format was asynchronous (using wikis, forums, blogs, mindmaps, social bookmarks) and synchronous (live sessions using Blackboard Collaborate – the former Elluminate). Sorry, dear virtual worlds friends, there was no session in Second Life, OpenSim or other virtual environments. However, we used video and audio during the live sessions.

session in blackboard collaborate

Using video was very interesting – it was as if we were looking through that small window into each others world. It really was something which made us connect more. But this was not only about the tools but also about the process.

Howard incited all of us to take up roles during the sessions: people taking notes, others summarizing, participants watching over the mindmaps, other looking up useful links, adding those links to the pearltrees bookmarks. In-between the sessions he encouraged us – pushed us – to participate more on the forums and blogs.

Doing all that stuff was quite an experience, because it made one discover how rich in content each of those one hour sessions was (not to mention the abundant required and recommended reading and the forum discussions). The experience of collaboratively real-time mindmapping was most interesting – it was a demonstration of the power and joy of cooperation. I must say, I already was a user of mindmaps, but now mindmapping has become a fundamental part of about all my project and I try to incite my fellow journalists and members of our newspaper community to use mindmaps.

The last session was very special as well: the learners had to organize and produce themselves the Big Picture of this course. We had so much to discuss we finally needed two sessions and more than two hours in total – after which we all realized we were just beginning this learning journey.

It’s very hard to summarize the content we discussed during the past six weeks, but this TED-talk by Howard will give you an idea what is was all about:

Not the end

Even though this course had ended for us, the journey continues and I guess most of us will continue meeting at the Alumni Community which is organized in pretty much the same way as the course itself, using the asynchronous tools but also very regular live sessions.

The participants have all kinds of projects, from studying the neuroscience of cooperation over media and journalism projects to online community management and peer2peer-learning and I’m sure the Alumni-community will be a great help for these projects.

We’ll also continue discussing the design of this learning process. What about the relation between the inside and the outside? The participation in the course is not for free, and the number of participants is limited. What are the benefits and the drawbacks of these choices?

Also, I’m convinced that using a virtual environment such as Second Life has its advantages. Creating 3D mindmaps in a persistent environment, where one can share a same virtual space and enjoy ‘watercooler chats’, is something I’d personally like to add to the “social media classroom experience” at Howard’s project.

As our esteemed facilitator would say,


Connecting the dots between digital awakening, massive online learning and cooperation literacies

I should have done this earlier on already, but here it is (or rather, it’s developing): a mindmap about my online learning experiment. I try to connect the dots between the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Change11 (facilitated by Dave Cormier, George Siemens, Stephen Downes) , the Digital Awakening (Gardner Campbell)  and Introduction to Cooperation Theory (Howard Rheingold). You’ll find links the courses and some course material in the mindmap.

Some very general remarks:

– In Digital Awakening we discuss texts by the pioneers of our digital era. One of the recurring themes is the need to augment human intellect in order to cope with the complexities and the fast developments in an increasingly interconnected world. Computers and computer networks can help to augment human intellect, going far beyond a vision of computers as just “computing machines for nerds”. Questions here are whether these efforts to augment our human intellect do not contribute to the increasing complexity and the velocity of changes, resulting in increasing unpredictability and chaos. Or in other words: is the empowerment of small groups and individuals leading to a decrease of the capabilities of communities to determine their future development?

– Which leads us to the complexities of human cooperation and the relation between individual rationality and what is good for communities. In the course about literacies of cooperation we investigate what game theory learns about the tension between individual rationality and collective outcomes, but we also explore design principles which increase the possibilities of governing common pool resources. How can online networks and virtual communities leverage the possibilities of human cooperation?

– Talking about literacies: we have to acquire the insights but also the social and technological skills in order to augment cooperation. Is our education system doing a good job in this respect? Do we apply those literacies in designing education platforms (talking here about education and learning in a very broad sense, not only about schools and colleges catering primarily for young people in a formal context).

To put it more dramatically: if computer networks, mobile and ubiquitous computing lead to the development of a kind of worldwide thinking, dreaming and creating brain structure, how does this worldwide structure enables self-learning and -improvement, what is the role of human individuals and groups in this process, what about our emerging artificial intelligence overlords which may or may not become intelligent, self-learning and self-organizing entities?

(For using this map: use the icons next to the blue “share” button to zoom in and out, to enlarge the screen. You can also drag the map around in order to explore the different parts. Please take into account this is just a general structure and the map will be updated in the coming days and weeks).

How real-time collaborative mindmapping ended up being mind-amplifying

Should we give up things in courses because we need time to teach new media? It was a question on Twitter, in the #nmfs_f11 stream of the Digital Awakening course.

I think we don’t need to give up anything at all. It just boils down to doing what you already did, but on public platforms. Taking notes on a blog, bookmarking on a social platform, collaborative mindmapping, reaching out for ideas and help on social networks. As Howard Rheingold would say, new media are mind-amplifiers.

The three online courses I participate in as a student (see previous posts) all use some combination of blogs, social networks, social bookmarks, wiki and chat sessions. I’m getting the feeling (the hope?) this will become “the new normal”.

This picture of the latest session in Second Life of participants in the Digital Awakening course (#nmfs_f11) shows our virtual discussion space, a mindmap and other media, while the participants of course also blog and tweet.

course participants in second life

In Toward a Literacy of Communication, (#cooplit) the course facilitated by Howard Rheingold, we use collaborative mindmaps, working on them in real-time using the webconferencing tool Blackboard Collaborate (previously Elluminate). One clever aspect is that one sees in real-time how the map changes, but we cannot see which participant changes what – I have the feeling this helps people to experiment because they don’t have to fear ‘losing face’. It’s a very intense experience: working on a very rapidly changing map, structuring parts of the course as it unfolds and adding additional insights by the participants.

webconferencing session in progress

While in Second Life I more felt like sharing a space with the other participants – allowing for more informal meetings before and after the discussion – we did not (yet?) have a very intense group-mindmapping experience in that virtual world.

One of the texts we’re studying in the Digital Awakening course is The Computers as a Communication Device (1968) by J.C.R. Licklider.

His arguments for online communities, computer-assisted meetings and his thoughts about working collaboratively on the same screen are still very relevant today. It’s disappointing that these habits are not yet commonplace in many smaller and medium-sized organizations and companies.

In Toward a Literacy of Cooperation, we talked about game theory (prisoner’s dilemma, assurance game, chicken game…) and the notion of zero-sum game. People have this idea that life is a primarily a competition where one person’s gain is another’s loss. In reality there are plenty of examples of non-zero sum games, where collaboration makes all participants better off.

But non-zero sum does not necessarily mean “we all win”. As author Robert Wright explains, it can also mean we all lose. The same technology and learning practices which promise to better mankind, can also be used for destructive planning, especially in conjunction with nuclear, biochemical, biotech or nanotech technology:

Which means that our efforts are also moral issues. The visionary work of people such as Vannevar Bush and J.C.F. Licklider seems to be inspired by the fact that they realized we would have to make sense of a very complex, dangerous and rapidly changing world. Making sense of it, finding solutions and implementing them, needs a kind of augmented or amplified humanity.

Often the disruptive changes we study develop so rapidly that the usual scholarly research publication systems are getting behind. In yet another course, the Massive Open Online Course #Change11, Professor Martin Weller explained how the digital, open and networked world is changing scholarly research (while also provoking tensions in the academic communities).

Historically, we humans had to recognize the humanity of others in the context of a certain class in city-states, then broaden this to bigger entities such as what we call today nations, expanding to whole continental regions and finally arriving at a planetary scale. This recognition of the humanity of humans everywhere will hopefully be expressed and realized through the need for cooperation.

In this context experiencing the real-time collaborative making of a mind map by a bunch of course participants dispersed over the planet (Europe, North America, Australia) was a mind-amplifying experience in itself.

Roland Legrand

The quest for openness (and financing) by academics and media

At the Journalism Masterclass IHECS in Eghezée (Belgium) I talked about a social media production flow for the newsroom. It boils down to publishing, as it happens, the “making of” an article, a video, an audio document or an infographic . So journalists do what they usually do: asking for ideas, planning interviews, hunting and gathering stuff on the web, but instead of keeping all that raw material private, they would rather publish it via blog posts. When the article or whatever is “finally” published, it’s not the end, but it can be the beginning of a new round of comments and chat sessions, maybe new and augmented versions. What it means is that the mindset of the journalist shifts toward the open newsroom.

In the meantime, at the Massive Open Online Course #Change11 we’re in week 3 and Martin Weller is facilitating this week’s topic, Digital Scholarship. It’s about ‘changes in academic practice as a result of new technology’:

His book The Digital Scholar was published by Bloomsbury, but is available as a free open access book, under a Creative Commons license.

Academics, as journalists, want to have impact. New media often give more impact than scholarly publications alone. Weller then talks about openness:

(…) ‘digital scholarship’ is really a shorthand for digital, networked and open. Arguably it is the last component that is most significant. Openness in practice – whether it is sharing ideas via blogs, open courses, open educational resources, open access publishing or open data – is becoming a default approach for many academics (and this course is an example). This has profound implications on practice, business models, identity and the role of sectors, which we are only beginning to appreciate.

Impact and openness, the big themes not only for scientific publications, but also for the media in general. Of course there are tensions:

Tension – there exists a tension currently between the undoubted potential of many digital scholarship approaches and the context which it resides within. So we simultaneously have pockets of marvellous innovation, and at the same time, a markedly conservative, resistant attitude from many institutions, which is often manifest in the how digital scholarship is recognised or encouraged.

Journalists and bloggers can only rejoice about openness by scholars. However, there is a challenge here for traditional media: the journalist with her privileged access to scientists is no longer the inevitable go-between. For instance in economics academics are very active on blogs and even – gasp! – on Twitter. Journalists (and bloggers) of course can provide context and curation.

But while journalists and scientists want more impact and are increasingly in favor of openness, what does this mean for the business models? Opening the newsrooms, labs and universities for free? How will we finance those activities? It’s a question for media and institutions of learning and research alike.

Comparing online courses: Change11, NMFS_F11 and Toward A Literacy of Cooperation

Tomorrow I’ll give a presentation at a journalism masterclass in Belgium, MasterClass IHECS 2011 – with Open Newsroom – at Eghezée (or just #MC11). The class is facilitated by Damien Van Achter. These last few months I’ve been thinking about a social media production flow for bloggers and journalists, updating regularly my presentation Conversation tools for information professionals on Prezi.


I use Prezi because it’s not a production flow which follows some fixed sequence of steps. It’s more like a rhizome-like processus (like the horizontal stem of a plant) which inspired the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Also, Prezi allows me to have a conversation with the participants, rather than giving a classical presentation. It’s also more in line with the Connectivism idea which is the theoretical underpinning of the Massive Online Open Course Change11 I participate in.

Three courses

I will not limit the conversation to the “conversation tools”. These days I’m participating in various online courses: the Massive Open Online Course #Change11 and Awakening the Digital Imagination (#nmfs_f11). I also registered for a third course, facilitated by Howard Rheingold, Toward a literacy of cooperation:

A six week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter to introduce the fundamentals of an interdisciplinary study of cooperation: social dilemmas, institutions for collective action, the commons, evolution of cooperation, technologies of cooperation, and cooperative arrangements in biology from cells to ecosystems.

The three courses are content-wise rather different. MOOC is about learning styles and tools, the Digital Imagination studies foundational&inspiring texts about new media. At the same time these courses are “new media in action” and they use different formats and philosophies. The MOOC is very much participant-directed, open and flexible, the Digital Awakening is more syllabus-based, Rheingold’s course is highly directed by the organizer even though Howard made it clear that he wants us to form a learning community.

Why talk about these courses at a journalism class? Because for me journalism and blogging is a kind of learning. A lot of what educators do, and especially the massive open online formats, can be compared with media practice. So the tools and formats they use, as also the issues about business models, are very similar. If learning involves writing blog posts (in the three courses), making video, designing a game maybe, then we should no longer limit the relevance of education theories and practices to schools and universities.

This is a very preliminary wiki mindmap (yes, you can modify and add things) comparing the three courses. Use the icons to enlarge, zoom and edit the map:

Read also: Deconstructing learning through social media: virtual seminar, MOOC and OpenCourseware

Lessons in new media: don’t forget the old, simple stuff