We’re back, with learnstreaming!

I recently discovered the blog Learnstreaming where Dennis Callahan demonstrates the practice of learning based lifestreaming.

I find this really interesting as I learn quite a few things these days: I’m still working on the peeragogy.org handbook, I participate on forums at The WELL and brainstorms.rheingold.com, not to mention my Google+, Facebook and Twitter-activities. Oh yes, there are also my social bookmarks at Diigo and Delicious. And of course I learn a lot in my newsroom, experimenting with new media and participating in our newspaper community.

I could also mention Tumblr and Quora, and many other services (some of which I might have forgotten about).

A lot of those services can be considered as part of my personal learning network. I’ve been wondering how to stream at least part of the learning which is going on there. I considered platforms such as Tumblr or Posterous, Google+ and Facebook. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I think I prefer good old WordPress.

I somehow trust WordPress more than some commercial company which will inevitably merge, disappear or change essential policies in function of considerations which are not necessarily in the interest of its users. I also want to avoid walled gardens – in fact, I want to publish some of my thoughts and experiences which I discussed previously behind closed virtual doors.

Just to warn you that this blog will become far more active. I’ll post about online education, the interaction between digital and physical environments, games (more specifically gamification and serious games), near-future science fiction and other crazy stuff. Watch this space!

Mind-blowing books, interviews about Avatars, Otaku

Professor Henry Jenkins published the second part of his interview with his colleague Beth Coleman about avatars and the x-reality (the thing we live in when we constantly switch back and forth from digital space to what we used to call the ‘real world’). I also read Coleman’s book Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation.

About everything in the interviews and the book is very important to me (also have a look at my Storify of the interview). It’s a deep meditation about the power of co-presence in participatory culture:

Telepresence, or what I am calling copresence (the sense of being present with someone via mediation), is huge for participatory culture. We are moving unerringly toward a more graphic and increasingly real-time mediation. One of the things I underscore in the book is the idea that people in their everyday engagement of networked media create all kinds of innovation and intervention.

Beth Coleman puts all the stuff I care about in a very rich context of the history of gaming, virtuality, but also of cultural studies and philosophy (yes, even the French philosopher Jacques Derrida is mentioned as is the French thinker Jean Baudrillard).

I was just recovering from the book and the tremendous interview when I noticed that Jenkins posted yet another fascinating post, about Otaku culture:

(…) the culture of a technologically literate segment of the population which is characterized by their impassioned engagement, skilled reworking, and intellectual mastery over elements borrowed from many aspects of popular culture, including not only anime and manga, but also games, popular music, digital culture, even history or trains.

William Gibson, the author who coined the word ‘cyberculture’, writes in Distrust That Particular Flavor:

Understanding otaku-hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the Web. There is something profoundly postnational about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the postmodern world, whether we want to be or not.

Jenkins now reports the publication of Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, edited by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Izumi Tsuji, and bringing together works by leading Japanese and western researchers interested in Otaku culture as both a national and transnational phenomenon.

I’ve the impression many people who are knowledgeable in all kinds of web and mobile technologies often are no longer aware of the culture and literature of  ‘cyberspace’ – which is a shame, as I think it’s crucial for creativity to combine technical expertise with in-depth knowledge of the humanities (literature, philosophy, sociology, anthropology…) as it relates to the disruptive change toward a networked society. Not just creativity in the sense of inventing yet another location-based social network, but the kind of creativity which gave us the iPhone and the iPad.

Anyway, here is a nice video about Otaku which you can also find on Aca-Fan, Jenkins’ site:

MOOCs in Space

Over at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour people seem to have a really great time. I’m just lurking at their P2PU site, but go there too and have a look at pictures about the game EVE Online which is a a player-driven, persistent-world Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) set in a science fiction space setting.

Also have a look at the slideshow on Flickr.

Interesting stuff I noted: the MOOC uses Google+ for orientations in Second Life and MMORPGs. Google+ is also being used by the community of co-learners around Howard Rheingold and even though there are limitations (one cannot participate in a Hangout with more than 10 people), it’s really a very interesting collaboration platform, enabling audio, video, screen-sharing, text chat… for free.

Read also: Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)

Where is your avatar, anyway?

These last few days were very rich in eye-opening news events and posts – enabling us to get a better view on fundamental changes in media and technology. An overview:

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.

What Aristotle teaches us about our being cyborgs

Applying Aristotle on interactions between humans and computers: it can be done. Just read Brenda Laurel about The Six Elements and the Causal Relations between them (in the New Media Reader, MIT, links and documents here) as we did in the Digital Awakening course.

Aristotle talks about drama as an organic whole. He distinguishes six qualitative elements: action, character, thought, language, pattern and enactment.

I’d like to pick out just one nugget out of this text: how we’re humanizing our tools. Once computers were being considered as big, clunky, intimidating and often maddening machines, a kind of dumb administrators.
Visionaries such as Vannevar Bush, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson saw very early on that computers could be much more.

It’s not just that the entertainment and social aspects of computers (in all their forms) prove to be so appealing. It’s that something in our relation with those devices is changing dramatically.

In her discussion of the element ’Thought’ Laurel mentions the familiar conundrum:’can computers think’ and the answer is surprisingly easy: ’computer-based agents, like dramatic characters, do not have to think (in fact, there are many ways in which they cannot); they simply have to provide a representation from which thought may be inferred.’

When you double-click on a folder of your Mac and it divulges its content, it seems as if it understood what you wanted. Does it actually understand anything at all? It does not matter; “The real issue is that the representation succeeded in getting me to make the right inferences about it’s “thoughts”. It also succeeded in representing to me that it made the right inferences about mine!”

This idea of making inferences about the “thoughts” of devices spreads of course as our computers become slick, small, nigh-powered devices we carry all the time with us. Increasingly, we’re no longer limited to double-clicking folders, but we can speak to those devices – humanizing them even more.

This may seem self-evident, bit it’s obvious this is a vast project and we’re just in the initial phases. Just think about how we deal with news media. Instead of searching desperately in unwieldy online newspaper archives, your smartphone – as your personal assistant – will alert you when there’s breaking news about, let’s say, Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

You’ll enter into a conversation, you’ll ask a question to get more details, a background question about someone who is mentioned in the report. Your personal assistant will use lot’s of sources, narrating the answers to your questions, indicating sources or taking into account the reputations stats of the sources. Chances are it will not be some mainstream media company developing such an assistant, but yet another young tech company.

The GigaOM Roadmap conference discussed this kind of evolution. Om Malik reports on GigaOm:

Mathew Ingram. The thread I was most interested in that came out of RoadMap was what Jack Dorsey called “the arc where technology meets humanness.” The Twitter and Square founder talked about using technology to help us connect more with what makes us human, Tony Fadell of Nest talked about making devices that respond more intuitively, and Mark Rolston from frog design was really passionate about getting the computer out of the way, to the point where we barely even realize there is a computer at all. Put together, all those make for a very powerful message that I wish more technology companies would pay attention to.

In Natural Born Cyborgs? by Andy Clark the author says:

Understanding what is distinctive about human reason thus involves understanding the complementary contributions of both biology and (broadly speaking) technology, as well as the dense, reciprocal patterns of causal and co-evolutionary influence that run between them. We cannot see ourselves aright until we see ourselves as nature’s very own cyborgs: cognitive hybrids who repeatedly occupy regions of design space radically different from those of our biological forbears. The hard task, of course, is now to transform all this from (mere) impressionistic sketch into a balanced scientific account of the extended mind.

So the computer becoming human-like is not something external, which happens “out there” and involves just one of the many tools we humans use. It actually is another evolution of our extended mind, our becoming increasingly cyborg-like.

It also has implications for our perceived identity. This could be an aspect of this remark in Clark’s above mentioned text:

In addition it may soon be quite important (morally, socially, and politically) to publicly loosen the bonds between the very ideas of minds and persons and the image of the bounds, properties, locations and limitations of the basic biological organism.

The nice thing for my course-program this Fall is that these texts and discussion allow me to “connect the dots”: Clark and his thinking about the extended mind is an important part of a previous course facilitated by Howard Rheingold (Introduction to Mind Amplifiers) which is not unrelated to his other courseToward a Literacy of Cooperation, while the discussion about Brenda Laurel and the Six Elements is part of the above mentioned Digital Awakening course. Next Wednesday we’ll meet Howard in that course (in Second Life), and we’ll discuss Sherry Turkle’s text Video Games and Computer Holding Power (documents, program and practical details can be found here). One of the aspects of Turkle’s research is about role-playing and the exploration of “aspects of the self” and seems to fit very nicely in the context of the previous discussions.

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).

The future of money

Facebook Credits becoming more important than the dollar? Not any time soon – but there are some thought-provoking elements in this discussion about the future of money (by Ross Dawson and Gerd Leonhard). Recently Ben Bernanke got the question whether gold is money. The answer was ‘no’. But maybe we’ll have to ask him whether Facebook Credits, Bitcoins or Linden dollars are money.

Gerd Leonhard reacted on Google+ that what he said about the dollar vs. Facebook Credits was meant more as a provocation than as serious prediction.

Previously we posted about similar ideas being presented by Sean Park: ‘The Sixth Paradigm

In the comments on my Google+ entry there’s also a discussion about what Linden Lab says regarding the Linden dollar (the famous ‘You acknowledge that Linden dollars are not real currency or any type of financial instrument and are not redeemable for any sum of money from Linden Lab at any time.’).

MetaMeets Day 2: going beyond virtual worlds, machinima, avatars…

Beyond the beyond is the name of Bruce Sterling’s famous blog on Wired. It’s a habit of sci-fi people to think beyond what is anticipated by the mainstream, eventually to think about how ‘change‘ or ‘beyond’ itself gets new meanings.

It seems also virtual people love to think ‘beyond’: beyond virtual worlds, avatars, machinima. That at least is the conviction I have after attending the MetaMeets conference about virtual worlds, augmented reality and video/machinima in Amsterdam. I’ll give a very fast overview of the second and last day of the conference to illustrate this.

Heidi Foster is involved in the management of a new breedable pet in Second Life, Meeroos, with a large customer base. Meeroos are mythical animals, Foster explained, but they are mostly very cute and they ask to be picked up. To be precise: the project launched on May 21 and now there are 22,000 players and 250,000 Meeroos in Second Life. It’s conceivable that the Meeroos will invade the rest of the Metaverse by spreading to other virtual worlds such as OpenSim. In the discussion it was suggested to expand to mobile devices as well. That would be awesome I think: develop and launch on Second Life, spreading throughout other virtual places and ending up on smartphones and tablets.

Not a potential but a real move to mobile devices was presented by Timo Mank, an artist-curator at the Archipel Medialab. In 1999 he co-founded Art Hotel Dit Eiland (This Island) in the Dutch village of Hollum on Ameland. The Medialab initiates Artist In Residences focused on cross reality projects. Many artists from PARK 4DTV worked on Ameland creating content for web based virtual islands. Until recently Timo was curating Playground Ameland Secondlife.

Early this year the Foundation Archipel Ameland shifted focus from yearly media art interventions to transmedia story telling for iPad. The project is called TMSP TV and it connects twitter with guests at the TMSP studio in Diabolus Artspace Secondlife. The LiveLab uses the daily on goings in the World Herritage Waddensea and brings this material as live feed to virtual space where it’s playfully reevaluated, mixed and redistilled by guests and performers.

Toni Alatalo is the CTO of a small games company, Playsign, and the current lead architect of the open source realXtend platform. He explained that not every virtual world needs avatars. Imagine a virtual environment allowing to explore the human body by traveling through the veins, or just think Google Earth. Technologically speaking avatars do not need to be part of the core code of the virtual environment, instead the code could be modular. Which could lead us indeed to virtual worlds without avatars, or to avatars in environments which are not perceived as classical virtual worlds (think augmented reality, smartphones).

metameets audience looking at 3D video

Of course there were things which seemed very familiar to seasoned users of Second Life or Open Sim. Melanie Thielker (Avination) talked about roleplaying, commenting a video depicting the awesomeness of user-generated content. ‘Content’ is an awful word used by publishers when they mean all kinds of stuff such as texts, videos, infographics, images. In this case it refers to impressive builds made by users of the virtual worlds, but Melanie emphasized rightfully that the most important content items are the storylines people create, the characters they build, the backstories they provide, the communities they form. They write their own books in a very experimental, fluid, ever-changing setting.

But even this well-known practice is going somehow ‘beyond’ as it takes place in Melanie’s own virtual world, independently from Second Life. Melanie is an entrepreneur in the Metaverse.

Karen Wheatley is the director of the Jewell Theatre in Second Life. She goes beyond theatres and beyond some existing Second Life subcultures. She runs a theatre in Gor. The Gorean subculture is known for its traditions (based on novels by John Norman), is fond of a warrior ethos, (mostly) female slaves and dislikes furries (avatars with animal-like features) and kid-avatars. All of which does not prevent Wheatley to organize her Shakespearian performances in Gor, open for all avatars. She gets sponsoring and so we could consider her being an entrepreneur too.

Draxtor Despres goes beyond in various ways. In his video reportages he combines ‘real’ footage with video shot in virtual environments. He presented his newest big project: a documentary for the German public television ZDF, Login2Life which will come out mid-July. It goes beyond Second Life as it also shows World of Warcraft.

Stephen M. Zapytowski, Professor of Design and Technology at the School of Theatre and Dance of the Kent State University presented another example of crossing boundaries: April 2011 saw the premier of his avatar ghost for Kent State’s production of Hamlet. This ghost played “live” on stage with real life actors in a blend of virtual and real worlds. Which of course made the audience dream of avatars and humans playing nicely together in the augmented reality (please stay calm: we’re not there yet).

Talking about playing together: that’s what the music panel with JooZz & Al Hofmann talked about. They want even more sophisticated means for people from all over the planet to jam together in perfect synchronicity.

Chantal Gerards showed us a few machinima videos, and I sensed a bit of frustration. In one of her creations she used music from the director David Lynch. Unfortunately, he did not even want to watch the video as ‘he does not like machinima’.

Chantal said: “I have a scoop for you today. I stop making machinima”, adding a bit mysteriously that she will move ‘beyond machinima’. Her advice goes beyond machinima as well: create together, with all kinds of people and platforms, move beyond the platform so that what you create gains wider relevance.

Read also my write-up of the first day: “we are at the beginning