Post from another internet

I’ve been experimenting with Graphite Docs, a decentralized app (DApp) on the Blockstack-platform. It works remarkably well, it’s like an alternative for Google Docs. I actually prepared this post using Graphite. What I dislike about the Blockstack-universe is that one has to pay in bitcoin in order to get a username. In my opinion a new internet should not identify itself with one particular crypto-currency. Fortunately, one can use Graphite also without a username, just by using your blockchain-based credentials. The blockchain used is the bitcoin blockchain, but I think to have understood they could also use other blockchains.

I guess it means we have the regular web now, the dark web which is accessible via the Tor browser, and the decentralized internet like the one presented by Blockstack (there are some other platforms for decentralized apps).

It’s interesting to note that Blockstack is both an open source project and a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC):

“Blockstack PBC, a Public Benefit Corp, upholds specific commitments to the greater public good in addition to stockholder interests. The mission of Blockstack PBC is to enable an open, decentralized internet. Blockstack PBC is committed to always keep the core Blockstack software open-source, and to support the decentralization of the Blockstack network. Blockstack PBC has historically taken the lead on Blockstack protocol development, but in the future will work with other parties to build a fully transparent and adaptable decentralized internet.”

For now there are only a few DApps consumer-ready on the Blockstack platform. It will be interesting to see what other apps become available and whether these apps will actually be used by a broader audience.

Decentralized internet for you and me

It seems all the talk about the “decentralized internet” gets more concrete for ordinary internet users (citizens?) like me. Tom Simonite at Wired did a great job explaining decentralized applications (DApps) in his article The Decentralized Internet Is Here, With Some Glitches. He discusses alternatives for Google Docs (using Graphite), eBay, YouTube (DTube) and so on.

Graphite proudly says it’s powered by Blockstack and that it is the first truly decentralized and encrypted replacement for Google G-Suite and Microsoft Office. Blockstack explaining Blockstack:

I’ll experiment with these things the next few days. Tom Simonite warns the DApps can be pretty clunky, but isn’t that the charm of all new developments? The more fundamental objection is whether we really want a kind of unbreakable, unstoppable communication network. Just asking the question might seem like heresy to cyber libertarians, but isn’t there some value in stopping criminals and terrorists from communicating in total freedom and secrecy? I guess there must be some balance here, figuring out how to organize that balance is a complicated matter.

Virtual Reality, Virtual Worlds and Philosophy: join our reading group

What does philosophy tell us about virtual reality and virtual worlds? I’d like to start with some people who do not belong to the typical college overview of classical philosphers, people who started thinking about the augmentation of human intellect and human emotions such as Vannevar Bush (As Ae May Think, 1945), J.C.R. Licklider (Man-Computer Symbiosis, 1960), Douglas Engelbart (Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, 1962), Theodor H. Nelson (Computer Lib / Dream Machines, 1970-1974)… all authors and texts which can be found in The New Media Reader (MIT).

book cover of The New Media Reader

What they have in common is the awareness that the world becomes a complex, rapidly evolving and dangerous place. In order to keep up with the challenges we need to augment our intellectual capacities, not only our rational reasoning skills but also our ability for compassion and empathy. Computers in their many forms are a crucial part of that augmentation.

The texts in the New Media Reader are often decades old. They are chosen not only because the authors were able to predict the path of technological change, but also because they show us that those authors had ambitions and visions which have not been realized yet. In other words, they still inspire us to create new things which may be beneficial for the planet. I’m convinced that augmented and virtual reality are offer possibilities in the context of augmenting our faculties – for instance by enabling us to build 3D information structures.

There are many more authors and texts in this hugely inspiring book, among them also more “recognized” philosophers (at least in continental Europe) such as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus, 1980) and Donna Haraway (A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the late Twentieth Century, 1985).

I participate in a group reading those texts, and trying to develop practices and even tools in this context. The group, Metacaugs, lives primarily on Slack, if you’re interested have a look at our Orientation Guidebook

Big tech in love with VR and AR, so we update our mindmap

Crazy times for virtual reality, or so it seems. ‘It’s the future’, people at Facebook say. Users will not only be able to experience immersive Facebook-experiences, but will also create them, Eric David posts on SiliconAngle. ‘Users’ means not just developer-types, but the average user. However, it is totally unclear when virtual Facebook-apps would hit the market.

While Facebook executives dream about immersing all of us in their product, some people at Apple share that dream for their own products. Apple was awarded a patent titled “Head-Mounted Display Apparatus for Retaining a Portable Electronic Device with Display,” which details a virtual reality headset powered by an iPhone or iPod, according to Apple Insider. The device does look not fundamentally different from other systems strapping your smartphones on your face such as Google’s Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus).

But we may still have to wait a long time before Apple presents a consumer-ready device, and that device could also be something rather different from Oculus and be more along the line of Microsoft’s HoloLens – as one could think looking at patents filed two years ago, BusinessInsider says.

Since I started a wiki mind map about Oculus Rift developments, quite some people added useful stuff to it. I now added these latest developments (use the icon with the arrow under the map to maximize):

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Create your own mind maps at MindMeister
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The Age of Context shows us the storm ahead for news media

What happens if we apply the lessons of the book The Age of Context (Robert Scoble and Shel Israel) to news media? Well, I tried it today for a group of communication experts invited by the Belgian company Outsource and we got an intense debate.

The Age of Context analyzes five forces which are developing rapidly and interacting with each other: mobile, social, data, sensors and location-based technology. What could it mean for news media?

1) Mobile: we’re still finding out how to use tablets and smartphones to the fullest extent. More often than not newspapers transfer their print content to the mobile device, making it swipable, adding some videos and links. I think tablets offer new ways of telling stories. Remember movies: these are not just recordings of theater plays, using techniques such as cuts we can deliver a new media form – we’re still in the early phase of discovering the ‘cut’ which unlocks the unique possibilities of the tablet.

While we’re doing that, a new kind of mobile devices is about to be launched: wearable stuff such as Google Glass, making it even harder to stay in the print newspaper paradigm.

2) Social Media: meaning new curation practices for journalists but also new distribution challenges. Flipboard and Zite for instance convert social streams into customized news magazines. People re-assemble the content of very different providers through the filter of their social graph and preferences.

3) Data: do news media use the data on social media and on their own digital platforms to get to know the needs and intentions of their communities? They try to do so, but much more could be done.

4) Sensors. If sensors make devices aware of what their owner is doing (traveling, running, relaxing…) one could imagine that news will be selected and transmitted in a way which suits the user.

5) Location. There is no reason to assume that a user of a Belgian newspaper who happens to be in New York City needs the same information as someone who is in Brussels.

I added some ideas about communities, which in part can mitigate the conclusions mentioned above. If a newsroom can determine efficiently what really matters for a certain community, they’ll be more able to produce a common news selection which is relevant for the users as members of that community. The news provides a common background for the social interactions in that community. Real life meetings, forums and chat sessions help the newsroom to open up and to gain deeper insight in the needs of the community.

Of course we also discussed privacy. The Age of Context is optimistic: respect for privacy concerns will be a competitive advantage for makers of devices or service providers. Not everyone is that convinced – maybe the new generation cares less about privacy.

There was quite some discussion about ‘who determines what the individual wants’. I have the feeling that it’s not the newsroom, but not the individual either. It will be an algorithm, which makes a selection for the individual on the basis of revealed preferences, social graph, sensor and location data, and expressed preferences (explicit likes and dislikes).

The changes ahead are tremendous (we only discussed news production and distribution, but then there’s also the impact on advertising which adds another layer of complications) and very hard to predict. Exactly the kind of situation journalists like…

 

 

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.

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:
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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).

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’.

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Create your own mind maps at MindMeister
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Organizing my Online Brain

So what have I been doing at the Think-Know course facilitated by Howard Rheingold?

These past few weeks we’ve been using Diigo extensively. This social bookmark-service is well-suited for group collaboration. While the course group is reserved for members, you’re welcome to join my own group about the impact of technology on society and the economy (apply and I’ll respond).

The next phase was mindmapping. This is an example of a Cmap I made of one of our synchronous sessions:

mindmap of an online course

(click to enlarge)

During that session we talked about TheBrain, which is a mindmap and database in one. The nodes of the knowledge plex are called ‘thoughts”, and some people have more than 100,000 thoughts in their online brains. This is the company-presentation of TheBrain 7:

This is a section of the Technology-thoughts in my online brain – the tools enables you to have this kind of random walks:

Now what are the benefits of using a tool such as TheBrain? It allows to get things done by externalizing a number of cumbersome brain processes. It generates ideas – e.g. I was integrating a thought about Andy Clark‘s Extended Mind and Natural Born Cyborgs, and through a link/association with another thought about the reproduction of traditional gender relations in the counterculture, I realized I should study Donna Haraway and her feminist thinking regarding cyborgs and minds. This is a typical ‘jump thought’ facilitated by these tools and which makes them so valuable.

mindmap with donna haraway as active thought

Disclaimer: I’m using the above mentioned tools on my own expenses, I have no ties with the companies involved.