Weekend Reading: Atlantis goes down, brands not almighty and be warned about realtime

- News about the darknet. John Biggs on TechCrunch announces the demise of Atlantis, the competitor of the Silk Road online market for all kinds of drugs. Users access these markets, with encrypted web sessions on the Tor net and they pay in bitcoin.

- Interesting observation by David Holmes on Pandodaily about the divorce between Dow Jones and the tech bloggers at AllThingsD. The brand remains with News Corp (parent to Dow Jones) while journalists/bloggers/columnists Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg go their way and keep the staff.  Holmes points out that Swisher has more than 900,000 followers (Mossberg  500,000+) while AllThingsD has around 162,000. Guess who the readers will follow?

- Good news about Feedly, the leader of RSS-feeds since the closure of Google Reader. Saroj Kar on Devopsangle reports that Feedly opens APIs for developers to create third-party applications.

- On Hunterwalk I read more philosophical musings: Realtime Is A Trap & The Past Is Underrated. As he points out: “This isn’t a screed against multitasking, or social media, both of which I enjoy. It’s a question about a cognitive bias being exacerbated by our current product design.”

Are our attention spans becoming longer again?

There has been an eerie silence on this blog for the past weeks. I was immersed in various learning projects. I had to focus for longer times, and this made me switch my attention away from social media streams, unless I could focus on certain topics via Twitter lists for instance.

- howard rheingoldSo what is the learning about? I’m still absorbing stuff I learned at the various courses facilitated by Howard Rheingold (there’s a new one coming up about Mind Amplifiers). Also, I attended a real life class featuring Howard in the Netherlands (more about this in a later post, but that’s where I took the picture), where he discussed the major findings of his book Net Smart (which can be considered as a long and deep study of attention practices). In this part of the learning it’s all about forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat and Twitter.

- The other part of my learning is about tools for digital stortytelling and data journalism. I made a good start on Codeacademy, but somehow I need the intervention of real tutors to continue the learning process. So I decided to take courses at the O’Reilly School of Technology. They even deliver certificates for professional developments. I do realize it are not the certificates which are that important, but it’s a kind of an interesting gamification element. The ‘school’ offers a nice interactive coding environment and tutors evaluate the homework and give feedback.

Crucial technologies I want to master: the components of HTML5 (HTML, CSS, JavaScript), jQuery, and for stuff such as web scraping I need a language such as Python.

Data Journalism is something we’re learning at our media company, and our teacher is Peter Verweij (who was so kind as to include the very basics of using spreadsheets in his program).

- Finally there is a big experiment of helping a newsroom to adapt to the age of never-ending social media streams, community interaction and digital storytelling.

Frankly, all this is pretty exhausting – but at least it forces me to focus for longer periods of time on the same subjects. In this sense it’s immersive – when one is trying to meet some Python course objective, times passes very fast – it’s like playing in some 3D environment.

Is something changing?

These last few years I got the impression we were evolving from longer, immersive experiences to sequences of fast dipping in and out of media streams (status updates, tweets etc). In that context I was not surprised an immersive envrionment such as Second Life was stagnating. It quite simply takes too much time and our attention spans were getting too short for this.

But think again. Maybe we once again want something more. People start complaining about the ‘Facebook-experience’. They start reading books such as Net Smart or meditate about mindfulness. But there’s also something going on at the technology-side of things.

Philip Rosedale, Chairman of Linden LabPhilip Rosedale (archive picture), the founding father of Second Life, has a new company, High Fidelity, to create a new kind of virtual reality platform. True Ventures invested in the company. It’s about a new virtual world enabling rich avatar interactions driven by sensor-equipped hardware, simulated and served by devices (phones, tablets and laptops/desktops) contributed by end-users. Virtual worlds watcher Wagner James Au on New World Notes says that Rosedale is not alone: others are working hard to create new virtual reality platforms: “Overall, this feels like a real trend, made possible by continued leaps in computer power, especially related to 3D graphics, and their continued drop in price.”

But maybe this new trend is also driven by the need of balancing the short attention bursts by longer periods of mindful attention…

Read also: 

True Ventures about the investment in High Fidelity.

“The ideal technology is invisible and ambient”

I did not make it to the LeWeb conference in Paris, France, but I’m looking at the abundant streams of tweets and blog posts about the event. I won’t talk in this post about the Instagram-Twitter drama – it has been covered widely on so many other places. My personal interest is in the more abstract, almost philosophical side of things, and so I was very happy to discover this video of the presentation by Amber Case, a cyborg anthropologist and entrepreneur.

She talks about big data, the internet of things, the quantified self and geo-location. The ideal technology, so she explains, is ambient and invisible. So forget those dramatic images of machine-human cyborgs. The future cyborgs won’t appear carrying any gear at all – but then again, they actually do, and it will interact with their environment, and it will enable them to add more meaning to their lives rather than making it more superficial and empty.

Talking about the quantified self, the Canadian artist, scientist and intellectual Ariel Garten showed a EEG (Electroencephalography) headband to help you to find inner peace! But not only that, it is very conceivable that we’ll be able to improve gaming or avatar behavior by monitoring and steering our brainwaves. Take that, Kinect! Not only we’ll interact better using gestures, but also by being mindful of our brainwaves!

Microsoft has its own Project Glass

“Microsoft has it’s own Project Glass cooking in the R&D labs.

It’s an augmented reality glasses/heads-up display, that should supply you with various bits of trivia while you are watching a live event, e.g. baseball game. ”

The information is based on a patent application, so don’t expect a Microsoft Glass for Christmas. 
via Diigo http://www.unwiredview.com/2012/11/22/microsoft-has-its-own-project-glass-augmented-reality-glasseswearable-computer-combo/

patent drawings for microsoft glass

Nicholas Carlson at BusinessInsider explains the differences between Microsoft Glass and Google Glass. It seems that Google Glass will be more like a tiny screen somewhere in your vision while the Microsoft project is about overlaying digital information on the physical environment. However, the Microsoft project seems to be more about events – where the user is more or less staying on the same spot, while Google Glass is also about the users moving around, sky diving etc.

Purists would say the Google is not working on augmented reality (if the information about Google Glass) is correct as it does not really is overlaying digital information. In my opinion, if you look at it from a slightly different angle, in both cases we’re (at least in some applications) annotating the physical world.

Pilot Your Own Robotic Sub And Explore The Ocean With AcquatiCo | Singularity Hub

Another great story from Singularity Hub. If this Kickstarter project is successful, it will enable us to explore the oceans by just using our laptop or tablet. 

Which in a way reminds me of those cute iPad-robots enabling people to move around , see, hear and communicate from  whatever distance. So yes indeed, let’s do this in the oceans as well! 

“Eduardo Labarca wants to bring the ocean you. Not through the kind of striking, high-definition imagery that Planet Earth brought, but through an immersive experience where you actually get to navigate the corals, chase the fish, explore the shipwreck yourself. Which is why Labarca created AcquatiCo, a web-based ocean exploration platform. A Kickstarter campaign has been launched for the startup. If successful, it will be the first step in the company’s goal of giving people unprecedented access to the ocean’s treasures using just their computers, tablets or smartphones. I got a chance to talk with the Singularity University graduate and ask him about AcquatiCo, and his vision to “democratize the ocean.” ”

via Diigo http://singularityhub.com/2012/10/23/pilot-your-own-robotic-sub-and-explore-the-ocean-with-acquatico/

Find out about the future by looking at Defense

The computer visionary Doug Engelbart designed in the 1960s the NLS – the “oN-Line System” – a revolutionary computer collaboration system implemented by researchers at the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). The NLS system, so explains Wikipedia, was the first to employ the practical use of hypertext links, the mouse, raster-scan video monitors, information organized by relevance, screen windowing, presentation programs, and other modern computing concepts. The project was funded by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force.

Throughout the history of computing we see the crucial role being played by the military and the intelligence community (this is just one of the many interesting discussion threads of Howard Rheingold’s course about Think-Know tools). One of these famously funded project gave us the Mother of all Demos by Engelbart (the mouse! videoconferencing! hyperlinks!):

Maybe it’s a good idea to have a look at what they’re funding now in order to get an idea of the longer term developments in computing. Typically projects which are too long term and risky to be interesting for big corporations or even venture capitalists sometimes get support from those defense-related agencies. However, these days the capital needed for innovative projects is no longer as enormous as it used to be, and we see how agencies invest in commercial start-ups not only to stimulate research which otherwise may not have been done, but also to get first-hand information about research which the private sector is doing anyway.

One of the most fascinating agencies is DARPA, which has a habit of changing names. Wikipedia: “Its original name was simply Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), but it was renamed to “DARPA” (for Defense) in March 1972, then renamed “ARPA” again in February 1993, and then renamed “DARPA” again in March 1996.”

DARPA of course is not only active regarding information processing. This is what Wikipedia tells us about the more recent history: “During the 1980s, the attention of the Agency was centered on information processing and aircraft-related programs, including the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) or Hypersonic Research Program. The Strategic Computing Program enabled DARPA to exploit advanced processing and networking technologies and to rebuild and strengthen relationships with universities after the Vietnam War. In addition, DARPA began to pursue new concepts for small, lightweight satellites (LIGHTSAT) and directed new programs regarding defense manufacturing, submarine technology, and armor/anti-armor.
On October 28, 2009 the agency broke ground on a new facility in Arlington, Virginia a few miles from the Pentagon.
In fall 2011, DARPA hosted the 100 Year Starship Symposium with the aim of getting the public to start thinking seriously about interstellar travel.”
Interstellar travel really sounds cool, but let me look at that another time. For now, let’s just read how the Information Innovation Office describes itself on the DARPA-site:

I2O aims to ensure U.S. technological superiority in all areas where information can provide a decisive military advantage. This includes the conventional defense mission areas where information has already driven a revolution in military affairs: intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, command, control, communications, computing, networking, decision-making, planning, training, mission rehearsal, and operations support.

It also includes emergent information-enabled technologies and application domains such as social science and human, social, cultural, and behavioral modeling; social networking and crowd-based development paradigms; natural language processing, knowledge management, and machine learning and reasoning; medical/bio informatics; and information assurance and cyber-security.

I2O works to ensure U.S. technological superiority in these areas by conceptualizing and executing advanced research and development (R&D) projects to develop and demonstrate interdisciplinary, crosscutting and convergent technologies derived from emerging technological and societal trends that have the potential for game-changing disruptions of the status quo.

The capabilities developed by I2O enable the warfighter to better understand the battlespace and the capabilities, intentions and activities of allies and adversaries; empower the warfighter to discover insightful and effective strategies, tactics and plans; and securely connect the warfighter to the people and resources required for mission success.

Headings on that page are “understand“, “empower” and “connect“.

One of the many fascinating programs is Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC). It aims to develop “a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base. Through the program, DARPA seeks to develop tools to support the efforts of human operators to counter misinformation or deception campaigns with truthful information.”

It’s all there: analyzing narratives, experiments with role-playing games which make heavy use of social media…

In-Q-Tel

Yet another interesting organization is In-Q-Tel, launched in 1999 as an independent, not-for-profit organization, IQT was created to bridge the gap between the technology needs of the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and new advances in commercial technology.

Just looking here at information and communication technologies, the site of this special kind of venture capitalist explains:

Focus areas in the ICT practice include advanced analytic tools, next generation infrastructure and computing platforms, mobile communication and wireless technologies, embedded systems and components, geospatial and visualization tools, and digital identity analytics.

For more concrete information one can simply consult the list of companies in which In-Q-Tel invests (note to self: make a Twitter list which includes these companies to get updates!). To give but two examples:
- Streambase Systems, Inc., a leader in high-performance Complex Event Processing (CEP), provides software for rapidly building systems that analyze and act on real-time streaming data for instantaneous decision-making. The World Economic Forum awarded StreamBase the title of 2010 Technology Pioneer.

- Cloudera Enterprise is the most cost-effective way to perform large-scale data storage and analysis, and includes the tools, platform, and support necessary to use Hadoop in a production environment. (The Apache Hadoop software library is a framework that allows for the distributed processing of large data sets across clusters of computers using simple programming models.)

Read also:

- Pentagon’s Plan X

- Bezos, CIA invest $30M in quantum computing startup

- Big Data and Cyberpunk

- Cloudera Makes Hadoop Real-Time with Impala (SiliconAngle)

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)

Quants aren’t like regular people. Neither are algorithms.

“Everyone there was a “Quant.” No one cared what the underlying company represented by a given stock actually did. Apple or General Motors, CAT or IBM… Everything boiled down to a set of statistical observations that, when assembled into the proper algorithm, delivered a portfolio that beats the market.”

I just love the title of that conference: Alpha Generation – Using News Sentiment Data
via Diigo http://ftalphaville.ft.com/blog/2012/09/28/1183391/as-the-only-person-in-the-room-who-has-apparently-never-written-a-line-of-computer-code/