Social media are (also) learning networks

Social media can be learning networks. Self-evident? Maybe so, but these last few months I gave a few presentations for young, somewhat less young and more senior people – all of them well-educated – and they seemed to be surprised about stuff such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the fact that we can consider Wikipedia, Linux or Arduino as learning networks, the Maker Movement and related topics.
Mentioning Facebook often results in discussions about privacy and the NSA (older folks), about looking for alternatives such as Twitter (younger people), but Facebook as part of a personal learning environment is new for many people ‘out there’.

Of course, the only solution is to talk even more about it. Especially because the ‘digital world’ is merging rapidly with what we used to consider as a purely ‘physical’ world – sensors, social media, data, mobile internet, location aware devices, it all permeates that so-called ‘physical world’, turning it effectively into a mixed reality.

Once people start to realize the opportunities and dangers they start asking ‘how do I start learning about this’, on a rather practical level. I’ll limit myself to three books:

- Net Smart by Howard Rheingold in order to learn to use social media intelligently, mindfully and humanely.
- Peeragogy.org, a handbook for all those wanting to engage themselves into peer2peer learning (a collective work in which I participated).
- The Age of Context by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel about mobile, social media, data, sensors and location services.

In case you wonder what I talked about during the presentation:


When people make rather than just buy goods

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

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



Here is his full presentation:

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

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



And the full presentation:

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

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

Open source communities meet… in real life!

Not sure I’ll understand very much of the seminars about “The Anykernel and Rump Kernels” or “Porting Fedora to 64-bit ARM systems” but then again they’ll talk also about “Open Science, Open Software, and Reproducible Code” and “the legislation in the European Union affecting free software”.

Anyway, FosDem gathers more than 5,000 hackers in Brussels, Belgium, February 2 and 3:

FOSDEM is a free event that offers open source communities a place to meet, share ideas and collaborate.
It is renowned for being highly developer-oriented and brings together 5000+ geeks from all over the world.

A virtual worlds community going beyond virtual worlds?

Fleep Tuque, a major virtual worlds community expert, said on her Google+ page that AvaCon, the organizers of the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) plans to include the open-source version of Second Life, OpenSim, and other platforms, in the upcoming gatherings (which will get another name). On the AvaCon website it seems they’re looking for volunteers.

In a famous blogpost Tuque previously explained that people who care about the future of the Metaverse need to move beyond Second Life. There was no edition 2012 of the SLCC as there was disagreement between Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, and AvaCon.

All of which is very interesting as the community conventions were highly creative gatherings, with keynotes from visionaries such as Philip Rosedale and Ray Kurzweil. Most of all, these conventions inspired people who are actually building new layers on top of our reality and who are part of a digital culture avant-garde.

This is how AvaCon defines its mission:

Our mission is to promote the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces. We hold conventions and meetings to promote educational and scientific inquiry into these spaces, and to support organized fan activities, including performances, lectures, art, music, machinima, and much more. Our primary goal is to connect and support the diverse communities and practitioners involved in co-creating and using virtual worlds, and to educate the public and our constituents about the emerging ecosystem of technologies broadly known as the metaverse.

But what is the Metaverse exactly? This is what Wikipedia says:

The Metaverse is our collective online shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

So we talk here about the sum of all virtual worlds but also about augmented reality and even ‘the internet’, which seems to be quite a broad definition. Maybe that’s normal as the mobile revolution, ubiquitous computing, the internet of things are integrating ‘the internet’ with the ‘physical space’.

I do hope AvaCon will embrace this broad definition. (Some) people in virtual worlds not only want to export their creations into other virtual places, they also want to turn bits into atoms through 3D-printing (read about Second Life artisan Maxi Gossamer in the New World Notes).

It also makes sense to go beyond virtual worlds (which does not mean abandoning them) as we know them and not just beyond Second Life. In essence these virtual worlds create the illusion of 3D on a flat screen. But what about this? Thesis Prize Winner at the Harvard Graduate School of Design 2011 Greg Tran:

Greg believes that ”People assume we have digital 3D already but this is a fallacy. When you rotate your model on ascreen or watch a Pixar animation is actually just a digital 2d REPRESENTATION of material 3d.What people are calling 3DTV and 3D movies are just a form of shallow depth or Bas Relief, not true digital 3D. The critical/operative imperative of the digital 3D is that there is a subject moving through space. The digital 3D is in its beginning stages, but will evolve in a similar way to the digital 2D. The digital 2D began as a specialized, singular medium which was largely used for documentation purposes, but has evolved towards personalization, interactivity, fluency and distribution.”

Or what about telepresence through iPads mounted on light structures? Or about avatars combined with robotics?

One of the lessons of the latest MetaMeets conference was that it’s very worthwhile to gather people who are interested in augmented reality, mobile applications, Kinect and Kinect-style sensors, and virtual worlds (plural). I hope AvaCon will succeed in doing this on an even bigger scale and that they will embed their virtual worlds focus into a larger vision.

Read also: The Metaverse is Dead (and the discussion following the post).

Hat tip to Daniel Voyager for posting about Fleep Tuque on Google+ (did I mention I’m kind of addicted to Google+?)

Hack your games!

Mozilla has a challenge for you: Show what’s possible using the web as an open gaming platform for the world. From the Mozilla-blog:

Imagine the Web as an open gaming platform for the world. Where game players seamlessly become game creators. Where your favorite games work on any device, anytime, anywhere. And where your own personal web-based creations earn you internet fame, fortune and the adulation of gamers around the world.

Sound like fun? Game on.

The Game On Competition wants YOU
Today, we’re proud to invite game designers, developers and enthusiasts everywhere to take part in this year’s Game On competition. We’re looking for your ideas and playable protoypes for gaming experiences that push the limits of what open Web technologies can do.

All are welcome to submit their entries now at gameon.mozilla.org. The deadline is Feb 24, 2013.

You can submit games in one of three categories: Hackable Games, Multi-Device Games and Web-Only Games. Hackable games? Have a look:


The guys at Mozilla explain:

Imagine games you could hack and remix to make even better — with open Web building blocks like HTML, CSS and Javascript serving as the world’s ultimate “level editor.” (Want to replace that zombie’s face with a picture of your dog? Go right ahead.)

“What if we looked at games as open, creative systems that, like the Web itself, are hackable by design?” says Mozilla’s Chloe Varelidi.

“Games are traditionally at the forefront of tech, continually pushing the envelope of what’s possible,” she says. “Mozilla is inviting you to re-imagine the Web as the console, and use the power of the browser to revolutionize the way we make and play games.”

More about open web technologies:

This includes but is not limited to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, WebGL and WebRTC, as well as server-side code like PHP, Python, Ruby or Java. Please go ahead and use freely available libraries and modules — there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Please list all the libraries and stock resources you use on your team’s profile page to provide fair attribution.

We also encourage you to make use of third-party web services and their APIs (like Twitter, Flickr, Google Maps, etc). We love mashups and would love to see what you can do with these kinds of web services in the context of a game. Again, please be sure to list any of these services you use on your game entry page.

WebGL, a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D graphics and 2D graphics within any compatible web browser without the use of plug-ins, was also a popular subject at the recent MetaMeets gathering in the Netherlands. It’s an important building block for a browser based virtual world such as Cloud Party (which just has upgraded its Marketplace in a significant way – but I still wait anxiously for a mobile version).

‘Virtual worlds are not dead, they only smell funny’

Allow Flufee McFluff to introduce this post about the first day of the MetaMeets conference:



You can find the mindmap on which my own presentation (slideshow) was based in the previous post. I update the mindmap in function of what I learn during this two day-conference.
Some highlights of the conference:

The artist Sander Veenhof showed us the beauty and the subversive power of augmented reality. For instance by organizing an exhibition at the MoMa without any official approval:



Veenhof often uses Layar, which is a mobile browser for augmented reality. However, these days Layar seems to focus more on activating print media with interactive experiences – which may be more interesting business-wise, but seems less revolutionary. So it’s not surprising Veenhof these days is rather fond of junaio, which boasts being ‘the most advances augmented reality browser.’

- CJ Davies and John McCaffery presented the Project Open Virtual Worlds at the University of St Andrews. CJ is currently developing a modified Second Life viewer for a tablet computer that allows avatar movement & camera control to reflect the tablet’s real world position & orientation using a combination of accelerometer, magnetometer & GPS data. I think it’s pretty exciting to combine avatars and real world in this way.

- Talking about combining the virtual and ‘the real’, Bart Veldhuizen talked about shapeways.com which is specialized in 3D-printing in various materials – so not only plastics but also metal, nylon or silver. Shapeways boasts a community of about 150,000 members. So would it be interesting for those community members to collaborate in 3D environments? That’s not self-evident as the ideal designs for 3D-printing often diverge from what is ideal in a virtual world such as Second Life. Also, the community members may also be competitors and not so keen on collaborating. There is discussion about all this, as other designers often do want to collaborate and work in ‘virtual guilds’ and virtual worlds could be interesting places for discussions, brainstorming and early prototyping.

- So, to refer to Flufee, are virtual worlds dead, now that the talk is so much about 3D-printing and augmented reality? In the discussions about virtual worlds Maria Korolov (Hypergrid Business) gave expert advice about OpenSim, which seems a good solution for education, especially for younger kids. This was also demonstrated by Nick Zwart, an award-winning pioneer in the educational use of virtual worlds (language education) who uses OpenSim.

MetaMeets! Virtuality Meets Reality

Tomorrow I’ll participate in the MetaMeets gathering in ‘s-Hertogenbosch,The Netherlands. What we’l do and talk about:

MetaMeets is a seminar/meeting about virtual worlds, augmented reality and 3D internet, this year’s topic will be The Art of Creation : Virtuality meets Reality.

Virtual worlds and 3D internet have been developing continuously. Mobile and browser based worlds have been created. Mesh format uploads have provided huge progress in content creation through open source programs like Blender and Google Sketchup.
Machinima creation has grown and improved with special interfaces and innovations in visual possibilities, making films shot in virtual worlds a professional tool for presentation to a mainstream audience.

MetaMeets has chosen this year to shine a light on this versatile digital canvas by taking its participants interactively into the Art of Creation. The programme will begin with a few lectures on the current state of virtual worlds and their new developments. Subsequently, we will have workshops exploring methods of accomplishing each of the key steps in 3D creation. The workshops will range from creating a virtual world on your own server, creating 3D content, creating (motion) pictures of it, and even printing 3D objects as real world 3D models.

We also will have an interactive roundtable discussion based on the movie The Singularity is Near that is released this summer for download and availible on dvd.

This is a mindmap I prepared. My subject is about the virtual which escapes into the real. Or how maybe Second Life is catering for a niche group of people, but the ethos of virtual worlds is spreading fast in what we once called the ‘real world’.



Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Should MOOC-platforms be open, portable and interoperable?

While working at the Peeragogy Handbook I’m having some discussions about the business models of xMOOCs, the Massive Open Online Courses on platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and edX. The xMOOCs are, for now, free. The building of the courses is rather expensive – so what’s the return? Also, just like in the media industry, there are questions about the impact on the traditional university business model. Will more people apply and pay for a traditional education because they got really interested after participating in a free online course, or would fewer people want to pay as there are free alternatives (promotion vs substitution effect)?

One of the possible business models might be that the enormous amount of data accumulated during the courses get monetized so that recruiters can make a more efficient selection of candidates. Or maybe testing-for-a-degree will be an added service which would not be free.

However, one should refrain from jumping to conclusions. Maybe major universities also support these xMOOCs because they truly want to spread knowledge worldwide as a service to humanity. Monetizing these efforts would be a way to do this on a durable basis. While peer2peer courses seem to be more of a ‘reciprocal gift’ nature, in the gift economy there might also be reputation and network-building effects which lead to financial returns. All this in itself is not necessarily detrimental to the learning experiences.

Of more immediate concern for those engaging in MOOCs is the openness of the course material. Can the material be accessed and used in other contexts, or are there technical and legal restrictions? It’s interesting to note that the Stanford Class2Go is a platform which explicitly wants to be open, portable and interoperable.

  • It’s open. The platform is open source so that anyone who wants to can collaborate with us. We would love to have others use the platform, or to work together with similar efforts in other places.
  • It’s portable. We believe strongly that valuable course content shouldn’t be tied to any one platform. Documents are already portable; the videos are outside our system (on YouTube) and the assets themselves can be repurposed as faculty see fit. And our exercises and problem sets, instead of being trapped in a proprietary database, are in the Khan Academy format, so they can be used elsewhere.
  • It’s interoperable. We don’t want to build or maintain more than we have to. We’re standing on the shoulders of developments from Khan Academy, Piazza, YouTube, MySQL, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode, and Github.

I think these three characteristics are important ones when evaluating MOOCs as part of a broader peer2peer learning project – but this does not mean more closed models should be avoided at all cost.

Radically Local | Flong

” “Commons-Based Peer Production”.
It’s a revolution in how things are made, by whom, and in what quantities.
In some ways, the future looks a lot like the past.
These blacksmiths are making a local solution to a local problem.
And we’re going to be seeing a lot more of that.”

And this was a presentation for the World Economic Forum, in China. 

Just imagine how we can use the web and virtual spaces to work with global teams, in order to produce on a very local level… 
via Diigo http://www.flong.com/blog/2012/radically-local-presentation-at-the-world-economic-forum/

Discovering Makers (and Leanpub, and Readmill)

In an open ended, user-generated virtual environment, you get that exciting feeling that you can build your own world. You just start creating objects and scripting them, following the tutorials and getting help from community members. It’s a kind of ‘makers ethos’ which increasingly permeates the ‘real world’.

Of course, there always was something like DIY, but these days people ‘hack’ about anything. 3D printing, drones, hardware hacking using Arduino, biotech hacking and the DIY building and using of drones – it’s all becoming affordable and increasingly popular. It’s also evolving far beyond the hobby-activities, and something like a new economy is emerging between the ruins of the financial & economics & social crisis.

The individuals and teams working on those DIY-project experiment with new ways of running projects. The boundaries between users and builders, between the providers of infrastructure and builders, between the builders themselves often seem very different from the hierarchical and corporate-like organizational structures.

The founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, experienced what the possibilities and limits are of virtual worlds, and currently (Reuters video) he is very involved in how work and collaboration will change in the future (think co-working spaces, companies-in-coffeeshops, exchange of labor through social networks, and telepresence robots). This being said, Rosedale firmly believes virtual worlds teach us something profound which still needs time to be seen for what it can be. It seems to me that the technological evolution is increasingly empowering individuals and small teams to make very sophisticated stuff on a global scale.

I’m two years late in discovering the (free) book Makers, written by Cory Doctorow. How did I find it? I wanted to buy the e-book Model for the 21st Century Newsroom – Redux, but it turned out that the author, Paul Bradshaw, offers it for free, via Leanpub. The Leanpub site offers the possibility to use the Readmill-app, which allows for social highlighting. One of the free books I got access to via Readmill, was Doctorow’s Makers.

The combination Leanpub/Readmill demonstrates this ‘new thinking’ in making things – in this case books. Leanpub has a lengthy Lean Publishing Manifesto. Doctorow himself, in the ‘About this download’ section of his book, attacks the legal departments at ebook publishers – because they don’t believe in copyright law. They say that when you buy an ebook, you’re really only licensing that book. They can claim that because of the confusing and unreadable license agreements people click on, but the buttons on their websites say “buy this book” – which is problematic, as you can give away to whoever you want a book you own, but this fundamental right is far from universally recognized in the weird world of the ebook-publishers.

So the way the book Makers is published, is in itself a demonstration of what that book is about, and of what this new emerging economy is about: the joy and the urge of making, regardless of the economic and financial environment. Here, I’ll let Doctorow explain it himself: