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:

Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)

There is a true explosion going on in open online learning. I don’t know whether it’s always “massive” as in Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), but anyway, there is a lot happening out there.

I don’t have statistics about how many projects there are, nor about the total number of participants and how many “succeed”. One of the issues here is that the definitions are not obvious. When do we say something is “massive”? What does it mean to “succeed”? The other issue is that I don’t care. I just feel that there is so much going on that I cannot find the time to blog about it all. For instance, I did not yet find the time to report about the MOOC  A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour.

You’ll notice that the above link directs you to a site on P2PU, which is The Peer 2 Peer University:

a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. P2PU – learning for everyone, by everyone about almost anything.

The participants conduct virtual world tours and exploration, study and experiment using machinima, World of Warcraft and discuss about the bleeding edge of these technologies.

Of course there is a lot of Second Life in all this, which is normal because it really is a world where about all content is being created by the “residents”, using 3D building and scripting techniques. However, the course also discusses Inworldz and New World Grid – virtual worlds based on the OpenSim software (and as such very familiar for those used to Second Life), the games EVE Online and World of Warcraft (WoW), and I guess other virtual or game environments will be discussed as well (Minecraft).

The course is very distributed, participants work in the virtual environments but also on a number of social media platforms, while the whole things is organized and commented through the P2P U site and a WordPress blog. Also have a look at the social bookmark collection at Diigo.

Lack of time prevented me from participating in this course, but I did read posts on the forums. Subjects being discussed:

- How games such as WoW manage to make missions difficult enough to be interesting but not so difficult as to chase the players away.

- How games incite players to analyze situations and to work together in teams (for raids) and in larger groups (guilds). Leadership skills are being learned and practiced which can be useful in the “real world”.

- How can sophisticated virtual world Intelligent Agents (NPCs or BOTs) be used in learning environments?

- Practical stuff about screen capturing and making video in virtual environments, and about the educational application of these practices. (In general: even for those not participating in the course, you’ll learn a lot just browsing through the posts and bookmarks, watching the videos. One also discovers tools such as Livebinder and in Livebinder this collection of tools about screen capturing and video producing in virtual and gaming environments… )

- Interesting discussions about how educators try to use and promote cutting edge technology in their work, which is not always appreciated by everyone in the institutions.

This MOOC follows on a three-day conference  about best practices for virtual worlds in education (VWBPE).  Here is the video announcing the  VWBPE conference – I like it because it illustrates how original and creative gatherings in a virtual world can be. Which makes me believe that even the further expansion of affordable and free videoconferencing will not make such virtual meetings obsolete.

Social discovery services turn the world into a virtual environment

There is something strange going on with virtual worlds. MixedRealities used to focus heavily on worlds such as Second Life, but these days less so as I no longer think that Second Life is “the future of the internet”. It’s an interesting niche product, but not about to go mainstream, not now and I suspect it never will in its current form.

But on the other hands, the physical reality now gets augmented by all kinds of social and mobile layers. For now augmented reality as such did not go mainstream either, but that could change if ever the “Google Goggles” would indeed be launched by year-end and if it proves popular. But in a less spectacular, but more pervasive way, virtual worlds elements are finding their way to mass adoption.

First, what do I mean by “virtual world elements”? Well, everything related to “social discovery”: you look around on a virtual world map, and typically you see those dots representing other participants. You click on a dot or hover on it, and you get access to their profile, you get means to chat with them etc. In Second Life at least I’ve the impression that the text chat function is extremely popular: lots of avatars standing around, not moving, seemingly away from keyboard (AFK) but in reality happily text chatting away.

Now look at the mobile & social internet. On SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, social discovery services the new big thing. Apps such as Glancee, Highlight, Sonar, Banjo and others allow you to see who is around, and (some more than others) try to filter those present in function of their relevance to you: number of contacts you both share on the social networks, interests you share via Facebook… Basically they use the information which is out there about you (via social networks, via the localization data of your smartphone) in order to match you with “relevant people” close to you (hence a new version emerges of the filter bubble danger, I guess).

The world, looked at through your smartphone, becomes a map where your contacts are localized in more or less real time. A touch and you get more information about those people: what was it again you have in common? And of course the possibility to chat with them is another touch away. Well, this is something virtual worlds people are used to.

The social discovery services go beyond the individual level. Shadow Cities allows you to play a World of Warcraft kind of game based on your location, and to unite in a guild. Wallit! builds virtual walls which can be seen by everyone but where you need to be in the neighborhood in order to leave a message on the wall – maybe it could be used for neighborhood projects. Localmind organizes the participants as “local experts” who can respond to questions.

For more information about the action going on in the “personal discovery field” in Austin, read Robert Scoble. Remember: the 2007 edition of SXSW brought us Twitter, in 2009 Foursquare (and Gowalla) was the talk of the town and in 2011 “group texting” was the big theme – so chances are we’re witnessing now another big move in the social&mobile evolution.

No doubt not all of those personal discovery thingies and other location-based services will survive, but the trend is clear: an overwhelming supply of apps allowing you to “discover people” locally, to exchange information and collaborate locally. Add this to wearable devices, to face recognition and our physical world blends with the digital realm in such a way that we can, indeed, consider it a “mixed reality”. Which will very soon be a concept for non-digital natives, as the new generations will just consider these services as part of their one and only reality, just like we no longer think that phones and televisions are some kind of special dimension.

But we, who lived through the first adventurous steps of bulletin boards, chat systems, forums and virtual environments, see the evolution and cannot help being amazed, and also a bit worried. But more about that later.

World of Teachcraft

This seems great:

Title: World of Teachcraft: The Learning Quest

Date: November 2 – December 16, 2010

Location: Rockcliffe University http://slurl.com/secondlife/Rockcliffe%20Library/215/73/23

Campus portion 5 pm SLT Tuesday and Thursday (On Rockcliffe in Second Life)

Reporting over 12 million paying subscribers, World of Warcraft (WoW) is the most popular massively multi-player online role-playing game on the Internet. Rockcliffe is looking for 6 adventurous educators to participate in World of Teachcraft course!

Your Quest: After participating in a 6 week pilot project, you should have experienced, researched and analyzed how this MMORPG could be used in your classroom, online course, after school program or professional development activity.

Your Battleground: Each week, participants will attend a synchronous meeting in Second Life. World of Warcraft will be used for the laboratory portion and online discussions will take place in at Rockcliffe University’s Moodle course.

I loved playing World of Warcraft but I was so addictive I decided to stop. Recently I could not longer resist and I returned with a new character, Wilbear.

Note however that the course also uses Second Life, which is an open-ended while World of Warcraft – to my knowledge – is focused on a specific game experience. I guess World of Warcraft is more popular among younger people, just because it provides well-defined goals even though it allows for a variety of behaviors (for instance catering for players who primarily want to roleplay). The open-ended nature of Second Life is more flexible but makes people wonder “what the hell am I doing here”, so it seems a nice idea to combine both environments in this learning experience.

More information can be found in this page on the site of Rockcliffe University Consortium.

Because I can’t resist, here is the trailer for World of Warcraft ‘Cataclysm’: