Full circle conversations

I had to explain to journalism students how to use social media (I only had one hour!). Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe the first stage is organizing your thoughts and listening. After that participate actively in conversations but don’t just broadcast your messages. So the sequence could be like this:

  • Organise your thoughts using mindmapping. There are lots of tools, I like to use MindMeister. The added benefit is that, in a later stage, you can turn your mindmap into a collaborative map, asking others to help you. There are free alternatives for online mindmapping but they won’t all allow for collaborative mindmapping.
  •  Head over to social media such as Twitter and Facebook to listen. Organize relevant people in Twitter lists, search for hashtags. Other interesting places for in-depth discussions are Reddit and Quora, and for each subject you’ll find specialized forums.
  • Use a good dashboard such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to keep stuff organized.
  • I still use RSS-feeds and RSS-readers, in my case that’s Feedly.
  • Make your own procedure for hunting and gathering important content. You can stock posts into Feedly and in social bookmark services such as Diigo. I use Diigo a lot, it makes it easy to use tags, descriptions and to work in groups.
  • Have your own blog, but don’t underestimate the technical hassle. An easy solution might be Tumblr or Medium. Or you could go for a fully hosted WordPress or Drupal solution.
  • Of course you also need social media to talk about your blog posts and to discuss with others. Don’t hesitate giving others credit for their posts and contributions and engage in real conversations, not in thin excuses to promote yourself.
  • This is where the circle closes itself: you return to the social media to tell people about your post and to reconnect. You can use the feedback to develop your mindmap even further and then you can publish the mindmap as a collaborative document where others can add their own thoughts. Maybe this will inspire you for a new post and a new cycle.
  • Chances are that you can invite people to form a small community on Slack, where you can work together – exchange bookmarks, organize channels for different aspects of the subject the community is interested in. A videoconferencing tool such as Zoom enables you to engage with that community into a weekly of monthly meeting. Or you can invite experts for short presentations and experiment with realtime collaborative mindmapping.

Social media in this classical sense costs time and effort (which I myself lack for the moment). A lot can be said about strategy – I recommended the students to focus on well-defined subjects. Specialized subjects and real-time communication also help to avoid the kind of brutal and rude social media fights one witnesses every single moment these days.

Journalism and Artificial Intelligence

Today I have to give a very brief talk about journalism and artificial intelligence here in Brussels, Belgium. I’m not an AI-expert but at the newsroom we read and talk about the AI-disruption all the time.

I made a mindmap:

Some conclusions and questions: what are the implicit ethical choices we make while using AI-powered tools? We used to speak about ‘the people formerly known as the audience” implying that these days the “audience” is an active participant in the news process – will AI help us in exploring that further or will it just simulate interaction and debate? What about the journalists, will they simply lose their jobs? I think they’ll have to engage even more in team work but this time the teams will consist not only out of reporters and multimedia wizards but also AI-agents will join us. The hybrid human/AI-teams who are most efficient in coordinating tasks will outperform.

New Media experts: 3 steps to get ready for Virtual Reality

You’re a new media expert, specializing in video, social media, liveblogging or infograhics? Get ready for the final breakthrough in virtual reality, which is starting to impact sectors such as education and even the newspaper industry. As a columnist about new media for the business newspaper De Tijd in Belgium, I realized this year that there’s little time left to get ready for the transformation virtual reality will cause in very diverse industries.

When Facebook bought Oculus VR in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said:

This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.

Zuckerberg sees virtual reality changing industries such as healthcare, education and sports news coverage. This evolution will take quite a few years, but the future is being prepared now and early but convincing examples will be soon accessible for huge audiences. Also take note that Facebook and YouTube enable users to post 360 degree videos, right now.

I’ll present you two recent articles demonstrating the high expectations regarding virtual reality, then I’ll give my recommendations.

The first article was published in the British newspaper The Financial Times and seems totally enthusiastic: Our virtual reality future is bigger than it appears. The author of the article, Jonathan Margolisbecame firmly convinced about virtual reality during a number of meetings in Los Angeles.

Interesting enough, the breakthrough is not “just” in entertainment. Education for instance is very interested in the new possibilities. Roy Taylor, a vice-president of the chipmaker AMD, told Margolis: “VR is happening here on a scale and with an energy you can’t believe.” Taylor added that the universities are pouring “millions of dollars into it.”  

The author of the article also refers to first-hand experience: he was totally blown away by a virtual reality video about the Wright Brother’s flight. He watched it using the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

Personally I use a prototype of the Oculus Rift but recently I bought the Google Cardboard headset – less sophisticated maybe, but very cheap.
cardboard

(Graphics from https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/)

A second article which is very positive about the future of virtual reality – even outside the traditional gamers communities – comes from Jessica Davies on Digiday. She reports about the worldwide ambitions of the British newspaper The Guardian in sports coverage.

Sports journalism is often very innovative as The Guardian demonstrates with the use of liveblogging. The future of sports coverage will be even more spectacular.  Davies quotes The Guardian’s sports editor Ian Prior as saying: “VR could have major ramifications for live sport experiences and really drive the next iteration of journalism.”

The New York Times recently sent Google Cardboard virtual headsets to its subscribers. In combination with the app NytVR people can experience news coverage about the refugee crisis and the Paris terror attacks in a far more immersive way.

What should you do in order to keep a close eye on the virtual reality breakthrough?

  • Get Google Cardboard It is cheap and gives access to a lot of interesting virtual reality content, it works with most smartphones.
  • Consider buying Samsung Gear VRThis headset works with Samsung smartphones and it powered by Oculus Rift.
  • Wait for Oculus Rift VR headset –  It will be available for consumers in Q1 201 and you’ll need a gaming PC to get access to a premium quality virtual reality experience.

Summary

Virtual Reality will start going mainstream in 2016, if you want to be part of the action, invest now in getting hands-on experience with it.

 I got inspired for this post as a participant in the Social Media Marketing course at Coursera, created by Northwestern University. Feel free to reach me at @rolandlegrand on Twitter. 

 

Why bother to blog

These latest weeks have been quiet on MixedRealities. I had some holidays end of last year, and the new year was one hectic rush of news about terrorism, the war in Ukraine and the elections in Greece. I continued online studying, however I did not participate in any Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but use other interactive ways of learning such as Treehouse for learning some programming skills. More importantly, there was this nagging feeling about blogging: why bother doing it now the world is flooded by Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook-updates (never mind Google+)?

When Andrew Sullivan quit blogging there was a new peak in the ‘blogging is dead’ debate. Kevin Drum on MotherJones responded with a post saying blogging isn’t dead but old-school blogging is definitely dying. He has a neat definition of old-school blogging: “a daily blog with frequent updates written by one person (or possibly two, but not much more)”. The reasons he mentions:

  • Conventional blogging doesn’t scale well. Nothing beats the engagement some good Facebook-posts can generate, and in order to make blogging sustainable, massive traffic and engagement are needed. Uber-bloggers such as Robert Scoble simply moved to Facebook.
  • Conventional blogging often takes the form of longer rants, which one can only fully understand if one is familiar with  previous posts and comments.
  • Professionalism. Big media hired good bloggers, experts and journalists started their own blogs but mainly link to content owned by the company they work for.

So, old school blogging is not cost-effective. What about new school blogging? A blogger can adapt to the reality that conversations often happen on social networks (and not only or even not mainly on Twitter, but on Facebook). This means self-contained posts with one theme. It probably also means tracking conversations which happen on social media and curating them on the blog.

There is something more. The reverse chronological order of the blog (and of Twitter) is no longer sacrosanct. Recency is no longer an absolute criterion as Facebook demonstrates with its possibility to organize the ‘stream’ based on importance and not recency. Maybe people want once again pieces of content which remain valuable over time, with a beginning, middle and end, beautifully crafted, finished and self-contained, as Alexis C. Madrigal said in The Atlantic. An example of this could be the longread format, think Snow Fall.

In the midst of all this doom and gloom about blogging I was rescued by Dave Winer. In a re-run of an old post he suggests this definition of what makes a blog:

If it was one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think — then it was a blog, no matter what form it took. If it was the result of group-think, with lots of ass-covering and offense avoiding, then it’s not. Things like spelling and grammatic errors were okay, in fact they helped convince one that it was unedited.

All of which won’t prevent Winer from using Facebook: “Because it’s a fixture. It will heavily influence the new systems of the decades to come.” In another of his posts, A note about blogging, I read:

Even if no one read my blog, I’d still write it. Not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s something like this — I would still cook even if I was the only person eating.

Winer refers to the Japanese hostages in Syria (both murdered now) and how they both kept blogs and their writing informed the reporters covering their story. Conclusion: “If you have something to say you should be blogging it.” For now, I stick to that.

Immersive journalism puts you in the middle of the news

How would immersive journalism look like? Immersive as in ‘immersing the reader/viewer/participant into a situation in such a way she learns something new’? Actually there exists a website immersivejournalism.com where journalist and scholar Nonny de la Peña discusses her work and ideas about this topic.
I first encountered this work of hers in Second Life in 2010:

But you’ll notice how she evolves and now uses virtual reality tools for her newest projects, about food banks…

…or about Syrian refugees:

Immersive video

Now I learned about a project by another team “which will be centered on live video, delivering an experience that feels more like documentary and photo journalism than a console game.”

They use new experimental cameras which are able to capture live motion 360° and 3D virtual reality footage.

The kit is made from 12-16 cameras mounted to a 3D printed brace, and then stitched onto a virtual sphere to form a 360 degree virtual environment. These new kits are also stereoscopic, adding depth of field.

The project is a partnership between Frontline, The Secret Location, and the Tow Center. You can read more about it on the Tow Center site.

Understanding Media by Understanding Facebook

Professor Owen R. Youngman teaches a great course about Understanding Media by Understanding Google, but maybe he should consider a follow-up: Understanding Media by Understanding Facebook. Ravi Somaiya explains in The New York Times how Facebook is changing the way its users consume journalism. For quite some time media experts have been talking about the ‘unbundling’ of news – the fact that people no longer want to buy complete newspapers or magazines, but focus on individual stories which they find through search and social networks. What they ‘consume’ is determined at least partially by the algorithms used by Google and Facebook. It seems that the unbundling is happening right now.

Aaron Sankin posted on The Kernel a story about how Facebook is ‘wrecking political news’. In his opinion, the ‘trending topics’ feature on Facebook causes media to surf along whatever is ‘trending’ in order to attract the crowds they need for their traffic and advertizing revenues. Not only the choice of the topics is debatable, also the fact that stories are published in a hurry in order to benefit from the momentum leads to particularly bad journalism.

These are issues which should be discussed in both courses I’m following right now: the above mentioned Understanding Media by Understanding Google but also the Connected Courses which studies education and web culture. Facebook is changing online culture in very important but not always very visible ways. The world of blogs, RSS-feeds, social bookmarks and probably even web-based search is increasingly being replaced by a very different environment dominated by mobile social networks.

Understanding Google, embeddable content and MOOCs

googlecourseWhat makes mobile so transformative? Why is Google a revolutionary company? These are questions asked and answered in the Coursera course
Understanding Media by Understanding Google. Professor Owen R. Youngman (Northwestern University) focuses during six weeks on Google and what makes it so important, not just for media people but for all of us. If you use a smartphone or a social network, you should know why these technologies are so much more than gadgets. The course offers the typical talking head videos but professor Youngman also adds his talent as a curator by selecting half a dozen books and many press articles dealing with fundamental aspects of Google – and of course both highly critical and more jubilant commentators are being discussed.

MOOCs and embeddable content

This is a second run for this course. Of course, it would be interesting to ask the question What Would Google Do (title of a book by Jeff Jarvis) about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as they are organized by Coursera. In an interview by Youngman, professor Jeff Jarvis promotes the idea of the ’embeddable article’. Just like Google makes YouTube-videos embeddable, media companies could do the same for their news articles (incorporating their brand and ads in the embeddable content and adding a link back to their site). Wouldn’t this be a great idea for parts of the Coursera-content – or not really? Maybe this is less a problem for more connectivist-styled MOOCs such as Connected Courses – ultimately it boils down to choices about the business model (or lack of such a model).

The Open Newsroom: the crucial difference between tools and method

Newsroom in Berdsk.

Newsroom in Berdsk, workshop co-facilitator Charles Maynes is on the left.

Should a newsroom be totally open? As in ‘tell everyone in real-time what you’re discussing and doing’? I don’t think so. Investigative reporting for instance needs discretion, and sources do not always want to be in the open. However, there are also less convincing reasons for keeping the doors – physically and virtually – closed, such as ‘we can’t let the competition know what we’re planning’. In general, I believe newsrooms should be far more open than they are now.

Why? Because right now, people don’t trust journalists. Whether it’s in Russia or in the United States, media are regarded with suspicion. What are the hidden agendas? How independent are newsrooms? Telling the world ‘outside’ about news projects, from the very beginning (even right from the brainstorming phase) can improve the reputation of news services.

It’s not just a reputation issue. A lot of innovation in countless industries is taking place at the intersection of the digital and the physical world. It’s in that ‘mixed reality’ that journalists can experiment with crowdsourcing, data-gathering, networking with external coders etc. Having a more open newsroom facilitates all that.

The New Journalist’s Full Circle presentation I included in a previous blogpost points out in some detail which tools to use and which methodology to follow in order to benefit from an Open Newsroom approach.

The Eurasia Foundation gave me the opportunity to discuss these ideas with journalists in Russia. I worked with a local newspaper in Siberia, Kurer-Sreda, which reports diligently about local news in Berdsk.

The journalists had a very natural reaction when I presented the Full Circle tools: they pick and choose. They won’t use that particular social bookmark tool, but they will consider using some visualization tool or maybe some chat and video-streaming tools. I get the same reaction in my own newsroom and during other workshops.

Newsroom in Iskitim, Siberia

Newsroom in Iskitim, Siberia

It’s totally okay to pick and choose, and in the Russian case there is an additional element: it simply isn’t true that English is universally spoken. Non-Russian interfaces can be a considerable hurdle. Furthermore, Facebook and Google are global companies, but in huge countries such as Russia there are strong local competitors: VKontakte is an alternative for Facebook and Yandex beats Google in Russia. Which is an additional complication if you want to introduce people to stuff such as Google Hangout On Air.

Demonstrating Google Hangout

Here I’m demonstrating Google Hangout on Air, but Google is not universal.

However, the specific tools are not crucial. What is most important is the philosophy. There are many tools out there for organizing public collaborative mind maps, social media radars, forums, blogs and online discussions. What is most needed is the change of mentality, away from private note-taking and brainstorming behind closed doors. Newsrooms should embrace the sharing of ideas and resources. Journalists can try this out for specific projects but my real hope is that they will embrace it for the daily newsroom activities, by default livestreaming their deliberations and information gathering and only closing the doors in order to protect sources and delicate aspects of investigative work.

The five forces transforming media revisited (updated)

Updated: at the end of the post, discussion notes

I had a great discussion today with a group of journalism students at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium). I facilitated a discussion about the five forces transforming media, based on the book The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel  (about mobile, social media, data, sensors and location):


After this discussion I talked about how we adapt our newspaper and newsroom practices.

I also presented a Prezi about how journalists (or bloggers of course) can use social media to make the people formerly called ‘the audience’ participate in the production of the story or project:



I was very fortunate: my students had very outspoken opinions. They insisted on the need for well-designed digital news media. It seems people get bombarded with far too much information they are not interested in.

Some students suggested to present only a few news items deemed ‘need to know’ to all users. So each day journalists would select two, maybe 5 at the most, news items as ‘universally’ important. There would be much more content, but that content would be suggested through personalized filters so that people get news in function of their own preferences. Tags, key words, hidden tags and semantic techniques were suggested to accomplish this.

Another suggestion was to use Amazon.com-like tools such as ‘people who read this article also read these other articles’. I mentioned Flipboard which uses the social graph as a filter and Zite which allows users to correct the suggestions made by the algorithm (by giving a thumbs up or down).

However, not all students liked the idea of personalized digital news media – some of them wanted the newsroom to continue to decide the news selection and hierarchy. They fear that personalized news could lead to a filter bubble in which we only learn what we want to learn and block everything which is inconvenient.

We did not go very deep in analyzing how wearable computing could impact news media. Google Glass, virtual assistents will make us rethink the newspaper-metaphor for digital media in a very fundamental way, and I’m sure the issues of ‘filter bubble’ and privacy will stay high on the list of urgent discussion themes.

The Augmentationist Weekly: Surveillance, Attention Economy, DRM and Standards

augmentationist_logoThe Augmentationist Weekly with links about the Age of Context, Old and New Media, the Surveillance Society, the Attention Economy, Digital Rights Management and Lowering Standards. You can read The Augmentationist here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site.

What this newsletter is about

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. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

The Age Of Context

I’ve been reading The Age of Context, a book by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. They analyze five forces which are developing rapidly and interacting with each other: mobile, social, data, sensors and location-based technology. I think the book provides a framework for analyzing all kinds of industries – news media for instance, or education.

While the book is fundamentally optimistic about the consequences of the five above-mentioned forces, it also contains a clear warning about the dangers (most notably loss of privacy, political and corporate abuse).

It’s About Relationships

While Google and ever more other companies know where I am, what time of day it’s for me, what I’m interested in, and are getting ever better in finding out about my intentions, newspapers still believe in the myth of the mass media. “Why does *every* newspaper site still treat it’s hompepage as a one-size-fits-all pring page when it could prioritize news that might be more relevant to me?”, Jeff Jarvis asks onbuzzmachine. Newspaper fail to build relationships with individual readers and fail to help advertisers to build such relationships. He reacts against a Googler who – so Jarvis says – does not apply the Google-lessons to the newspaper industry: chief economist Hal Varian.

I partially agree with Jarvis about relationships, but then again I personally like to escape from filter bubbles and look at the news selection made by quality media.

Tablet Magazines are a failure

On GigaOm Jon Lund considers tablet magazines a failure. Not that Lund is a total pessimist: “I believe the future for producing quality content for niches is both bright and promising. But it has to be presented openly, socially, in flow — not in closed tablet apps.”

Does using Tor turns you into a target?

Journalists, bloggers, whistle blowers, dissidents, anarchists, terrorists, police, spies, illegal porn trafickers and drugs dealers use Tor software to hide their traces on the internet. The whole thing was financed by the US military. These days the NSA tries to find out who uses the software and what for. Even though Tor is a pretty robust system, using it seems to heighten the probability that the NSA will try to find out who you are, and there are quite some mistakes one can make which cancel the advantages of the Tor-features. Bruce Schneier explains it in some detail in the Guardian.

Related: Britain is sliding towards an entirely new kind of surveillance society, John Lanchester says in the Guardian.

The Attention Economy

Daniel Estrada about a ‘big idea’ on Digital Interface: “Attention Economy is a protocol for social organization and economic management that works by accounting for what all the system’s users attend to. The idea is one part Augmented Reality, one part Internet of Things, one part Use-Theory of Value, and one part Cognitive Surplus. I am utterly convinced that an attention-economic system will ultimately replace both money and centralized governance as the dominant method for large-scale organizational management, and moreover that it is the only method for ensuring a timely and effective response to global climate change andsustainability.”

No idea what he talks about? The best illustration, so Estrada says, can be found in science fiction, in Bruce Sterling’s 2009 novel The Caryatids (lengthy quote in his article).

Also read an analysis by Kevin Carson on P2P Foundation’s Blog

DRM and the Future of the W3C

Danny O’Brien on the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) analyzes the announcement by the W3C that its Director, Tim Berners-Lee, had determined that the “playback of protected content” was in scope for the W3C HTML Working Group’s new charter, overriding EFF’s formal objection against its inclusion. This means the controversial Encrypted Media Extension (EME) proposal will continue to be part of that group’s work product, and may be included in the W3C’s HTML5.1 standard.

O’Brien is not happy: “A Web where you cannot cut and paste text; where your browser can’t “Save As…” an image; where the “allowed” uses of saved files are monitored beyond the browser; where JavaScript is sealed away in opaque tombs; and maybe even where we can no longer effectively “View Source” on some sites, is a very different Web from the one we have today. It’s a Web where user agents—browsers—must navigate a nest of enforced duties every time they visit a page. It’s a place where the next Tim Berners-Lee or Mozilla, if they were building a new browser from scratch, couldn’t just look up the details of all the “Web” technologies. They’d have to negotiate and sign compliance agreements with a raft of DRM providers just to be fully standards-compliant and interoperable.”