Discuss The State of the World

The venerable and ancient community The Well is still alive and kicking – it was bought by community members from salon.com. Right now and for the following days you can participate in the annual discussion with author, journalist, futurist and design guru Bruce Sterling and with entrepreneur and Internet veteran Jon Lebkowski about nothing less than the State of the World.

We’re discussing not just the latest trends in technology but also politics and culture. You don’t have to be a member to participate in this wide-ranging discussion. The URL: http://bit.ly/2013-state-of-the-world

The Daily State Of Disruption: Design Principles, Project Glass and Its Discontents

An overview of some major discussions about the internet and technology during the last few days. About technology and ideology, big internet corporations and their doom, project glass and its discontents.


Reading: network theory, vernacular video, Kindle publishing and web of flow

This is an overview of interesting stuff I found online. I’ll publish this on a regular basis (but not on a daily basis, I think).

  • Even though some people think tools such as RSS feeds Google Reader are no longer relevant in this era of Twitter-based information streams, I still use my Google Reader a lot. It still is very much my social media dashboard. Today I discovered yet another gem via Google Reader in my Delicious-network, where choconancy (Nancy White) pointed to Howard Rheingold’s Posterous and more in particular to this minicourse on network and social network literacy. In fact, the minicourse is not that very mini, especially not if you go deeper and take the suggested reading seriously.
  • The author Bruce Sterling talks about vernacular video. The video is much longer than your average viral vernacular video. It’s also sardonic and very insightful (via Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing). Maybe it’s interesting to compare this with Howard Rheingold’s thing about vernacular video.
  • Author, blogger and economist Tyler Cowen was a guest on the Metanomics show in Second Life. He’s publishing a new book, The Great Stagnation. It’s available on Kindle and not on bookstore shelves, NiemanJournalismLab talked with Cowen about this publishing strategy. Also interesting is the importance of his blog Marginal Revolution as part of that strategy.
  • PostPost.com is a new way to organize the media shared by your social graph on Facebook. There is of course also FlipBoard but that only works on the iPad and is more like a magazine. PostPost is part of the ‘iPadification of the web’. Another service which comes to mind is Paper.li, but here the difference is PostPost’s more glossy interface and the realtime aspect of the service. Robert Scoble has this video about PostPost:
  • Which reminds me of Stowe Boyd who talks about “liquid email” and the “web of flow“. He says: “Paradoxically, the places with the strongest flow will seem the most calm, because we won’t be jumping from the stream to the browser and back again a hundred times a day: we will stay in the stream: media content will be harvested, and pulled into context for us.”

Rehearsing the day that we’ll program matter

So I’ve been monitoring that State of the World 2011 conversation on The WELL (with Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowski), learning about design fiction (see also critical design) and watching an awesome video about Claytronics (programmable matter). Sterling, on his blog Beyond the Beyond: “Check out this bonkers Discovery Channel treatment of some Carnegie Mellon nano-visionary weirdness.”

The video made me think that what we currently do in Second Life and OpenSim is sometimes a kind of design fiction, making people used to programming virtual matter, preparing them for the day when we actually program ‘physical’ matter. When could it become feasible, when will it have an impact on the economy? I’ve no idea, but I asked on Quora (skipping for now the question whether we’ll be happy in such a world, and how long it will last before doomsday becomes reality).

Singularity

On an even more general level: if programmable matter would become mainstream, would that be an event which we could call ‘technological singularity‘, would it be part of that? Talking of which I recently stumbled upon a fascinating conversation between Robin Hanson (George Mason University) and the economist Robert Russell, contemplating a situation in which worldwide output would double every two weeks instead of every 15 years (the current situation). What would it mean for the return on capital, on labor? What about the environment, security and so many other crucial aspects? You’ll find the long audio discussion on the Library of Economics and Liberty.

Talking about virtual worlds outside virtual worlds: The WELL

In our first blog about other venues where people discuss virtual worlds, we talked about Quora. While Quora is very new, The WELL is almost ancient:

The WELL is a cherished and acclaimed destination for conversation and discussion. It is widely known as the primordial ooze where the online community movement was born — where Howard Rheingold first coined the term “virtual community.” Since long before the public Internet was unleashed, it has quietly captivated some accomplished and imaginative people. Over the last two and a half decades, it’s been described as “the world’s most influential online community” in a Wired Magazine cover story, and ” the Park Place of email addresses” by John Perry Barlow. It’s won Dvorak and Webby Awards, inspired songs and novels, and almost invisibly influences modern culture.

In 2010, this social site celebrates its 25th birthday online. A wide variety of topics are being discussed in ‘conferences’. The ‘Virtual Communities’ conference has among its topics ‘Second Life: The World-Building MMOG’, but I don’t think there is a topic ‘blue mars’ or ‘opensim’ (search did not yield results).

The conversations are very instructive and friendly. Just like for the Quora discussions people are supposed to use their real names. There are moderators, ‘conference hosts’. However, there are also major differences between the two services.

Those differences boil down to this: The Well wants to be a walled garden. As they explain themselves: “Membership is not for everyone, partly because we are non-anonymous here.” One cannot vote a question or an answer up or down. There are no ‘follow’ buttons next to the names of the participants. In fact, you own your own words, meaning that you are responsible for them but also that others cannot simply copy paste them outside The WELL. Before quoting or even mentioning that another person is a member, one should ask that other person whether she agrees.

Another major aspect of the “walled garden”: membership is not free.

There are about 3.000 members now, and to be honest, I don’t think the community, owned by Salon.com, can boast tremendous growth figures.

In fact, The WELL is rather fascinating. Because of its history but also because of this non-viral approach of a members only gathering. Whether it will be able to survive, faced with competition such as Quora, is another matter. Quora uses real identities, but provides connections with Twitter and Facebook, is free, and for now manages to maintain good quality using a voting system. The WELL however is a bunch of micro-communities (around the conferences) where more intimate relationships can develop.

Sterling and Lebkowsky

conference page the well
To be fair, The WELL is not completely a walled garden. Non-members can for instance join the ‘Inkwell: Authors and Artists’ conference. Author Bruce Sterling and internet&cyberculture expert Jon Lebkowsky discuss this week State of the World 2011.

The organizers even run a wild experiment: a Facebook event page for feedback (great discussion there) and the ever cunning Lebkwoski announced on that page a Twitter hashtag (#sotw2011)!