The Augmentationist about Surveillance and Sousveillance

augmentationist_logoIn this edition of the weekly Augmentationist I gathered some interesting links about questions of surveillance and sousveillance. You can read The Augmentationist here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site.

The internet as a surveillance platform

The Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica published new revelations about the US and UK spy angencies: how they unlock encryption used to protect emails, banking and medical records. They work covertly with tech companies. The information is deeply disturbing. The Obama administrationresponded by saying the information is not news but provides a road map to the adversaries.

In other news: a federal court in Dallas, Texas has imposed a gag order on the jailed activist-journalist Barrett Brown and his legal team that prevents them from talking to the media about his prosecution in which he faces up to 100 years in prison for alleged offences relating to his work exposing online surveillance (the Guardian).

As much as I applaud efforts to combat terrorism, it seems to me that the tactics used to stop journalists and bloggers from investigating intelligence activities and practices are very worrying. We shouldn’t sacrifice democracy in the attempt to defend it against its real adversaries.

Please read Slavoj Zizek in the Guardian about Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, and especially his reference to Immanuel Kant and his distinction between “public” and “private” use of reason. Also worth reading: Hacktivists as Gadflies by philosopher Peter Ludlow in The New York Times, discussing hacktivism and Socrates.

Historical Reading

It’s almost uncanny, but this article about Crypto Rebels in Wired Magazine by Steven Levy was written in 1993: “It’s the FBIs, NSAs, and Equifaxes of the world versus a swelling movement of Cypherpunks , civil libertarians, and millionaire hackers. At stake: Whether privacy will exist in the 21st century.” Of course, nowadays we realize the real question is whether humanity can afford privacy now technological progress makes small groups capable to use doomsday weapons?

Stuff recommended by Howard Rheingold

Howard posted in our G+ HRU Alumni community about cooperation and morality: “A set of cultural norms may encourage and enforce cooperation within a group, but the world consists of many groups, different cultures, and the deep problem is precisely the one that Joshua Greene is pursuing.” ReadDeep Pragmatism, A conversation with Joshua D. Greene.

The other recommendation is about the “always-on lifestyle”. Howard: “I find many critiques of the always-on lifestyle to be shallow, but Rebecca Solnit’s is worth paying attention to. I’m assigning it to my Stanford students.” Read Diary in the London Review of Books.

The Augmentationist Weekly | Building, Spaces, Learning

logoThe latest edition of the weekly Augmentationist. You can read it here and subscribe at the right-hand side of this site. In the collection of interesting links some great insights about spaces and sharing spaces, learning and Massive Open Online Courses, and about “building” and “coding”.

Friday, August 30, 2013

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

The historical proposal for the WWW, in 1989

Who says newsletters are about new news? Keeping an eye on Howard Rheingold’s bookmarks I found this gem: the proposal (HTMLized) by Tim Berners-Lee for the World Wide Web. As he explains: “an attempt to persuade CERN management that a global hypertext system was in CERN’s interests. Note that the only name I had for it at this time was “Mesh” — I decided on “World Wide Web” when writing the code in 1990.”

What Second Life Got Right

Mitch Wagner is an adorable journalist and blogger who also happens to be an expert in Second Life. While he believes that Second Life today is as retro as manual typewriters and vinyl records, he explains in internet evolution that what the people of Linden Lab (the company behind that user-generated virtual world)  got right is the sense of presence in a shared space and time. It’s absolutely true that at least in that regard Second Life offers a magical experience. As for videochat (Google Hangouts most notably): this comes very close, but as Wagner says, many people are reluctant to appear ‘on camera’. Read also a comment on the article by virtual worlds specialist Wagner James Au on New World Notes.   Or have a look at this article about the 3D dreams of Skype. 

Digital Humanities is about building things

Professor Stephen Ramsay about Digital Humanities: “But if you are not making anything, you are not — in my less-than-three-minute opinion — a digital humanist.” Knowing how to code is a big positive (but then again you can be part of a building team without coding skills). But what is “building”? Mind you, he said that in 2011 during a three-minute presentation. But he elaborated on the theme later on and explained: “All the technai of Digital Humanities — data mining, xml encoding, text analysis, gis, Web design, visualization, programming, tool design, database design, etc — involve building; only a few of them require programming, per se.”

So he’s casting a wider net: yes, learning how to code changes your view on the world – but we can say the same about learning how to speak Arabic or Mandarin Chinese and about all major learning projects. So it might be a very good idea to focus on  the shift from “reading” to “making” as changing your world view.

Hat tip to Bruce Sterling for mentioning the Digital Humanities talk on Beyond the Beyond.

Collaborative Exploration

Via our Peeragogy in Action community on G+ I learned about Collaborative Explorations: Creative Thinking for All — Fall 2013, offered in collaboration with the Creative and Critical Thinking Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. ‘Although massively online open courses (MOOCs) promise wide access to knowledge and new learning communities, there is still a need for more intimate, connective and deep inquiries. Collaborative Explorations or “moderate-sized open online collaborative learning” are a response to these learning desires.’ More on G+ (a recording of a first Hangout).

How MOOCs Will Evolve In The Physical World

Some interesting thoughts in Forbes by former theater producer Giovanni Rodriguez about spaces and Massive Open Online Courses, online and offline. ““Massive Online Offline Communities” seems more like it.  And unlike the online communities of the past, these communities are learning communities, driven by the new lifelong modality of transformative experience. Expect a land grab for branding and positioning.  The disruption in education is just beginning, and the players are just becoming visible.”


Twitter and Facebook: what’s the difference? Facebook introduced hashtags, Twitter makes it easier tofollow conversations by introducing threads and organizing those in a chronological order. Om Malik analyzes the motivations and what it means on GigaOM. And yes, it’s a big deal, not only for a Twitter IPO, but more general. Malik:  “What is going on? Well, how about the standardization of all social platforms around the concept of objects and comments, especially on mobile.”

The Augmentationist Weekly: innovate or be left behind

logoThis week’s newsletter contains links to great articles and videos about education, journalism and the Commons. You can read it here and/or subscribe in the right-handside column of the site.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

The importance of Ivan Illich

David Bollier analyzes the quiet realization of Ivan Illich’s ideas in the contemporary Commons movement. Howard Rheingold comments on Scoop.It:

“Elinor Ostrom won her economics Nobel Prize for her work on “governing the commons” — demonstrating that “tragedy” was not inevitable when groups of people are faced with managing common pool resources. She also pointed out that neither socialism-style State ownership nor unregulated privatization were necessarily the only or best routes to well-managed commons. David Bollier has done a service by making this argument, and for reminding us of the pioneering work of Ivan Illich, who was mentor to California governor Jerry Brown, Stewart Brand, and many others.”

A culture war about information and authority?

I’m not sure ‘culture war’ is the right label for the stream of events and articles about Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, but it sure is an interesting perspective. Quinn Norton discussesBradley Manning and the Two Americas on Medium.

Reminding me of the discussions we had during previous Rheingold courses about surveillance and sousveillance: on GigaOM Om Malik interviewed Phil Zimmermann, the man who invented Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), the email encryption software.

A MOOC about the Future of Storytelling

Berlin-based iversity organizes a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) about the Future of Storytelling. The course starts on October 25. They’ll focus on fiction formats and discuss stuff such as

– storytelling basics
– serial formats (on the TV, web and beyond)
– storytelling in role-playing games
– interactive storytelling in video games
– transmedia storytelling
– alternate-reality gaming
– augmented reality and location-based storytelling
– the role of tools, interfaces and information architectures in current storytelling.

Living on the edge in Italy

For those interested in peer2peer learning, and exploring new ways of doing things not only in education but also in society at large, this might be an interesting gathering: Living On The Edge(#LOTE) meets from October 29 through November 3 in a spectacular place in southern Italy. Maybe some people of our Peeragogy community will attend.

Creating an online learning environment

series of videos featuring Howard Rheingold and Jim Groom about using WordPress, MediaWiki and other open source stuff to build an online learning environment. Useful for teachers, students, and the learners of this century.

Connected learners

student-produced book: Connected Learners: A step-by-step guide to creating a global classroom.  They introduce each chapter with a video.

Innovate or be left behind

As a journalist I’m very interested in journalism education. Things are changing so very rapidly in my profession, and journalism education is struggling to keep up with the change, hence the need for peer2peer education.

Anyway, John Wihbey posted a great reading list about changes in journalism and journalism education. Even if you’re not into these professions, it’s at least an interesting case. Consider this quote: “Those who don’t innovate in the classroom will be left behind. Just like those who chose not to innovate in the newsroom.” (Poynter Institute’s Aug. 8 survey and report)

Twitter and IFTTT

For those using the web automation service If This Then That there is good news, The Next Web reports: you can use the service with Twitter again.

The Augmentationist Weekly | New Ways of Writing and Publishing

augmentationist_logoWant to subscribe to the weekly newsletter? Use the form at the right-handside!

Of course you can also find the content on this site (for the very first edition, click here):

Rheingold about tech, power, innovation and the commons

The structure of the internet allows for decentralized collaboration and innovation, Howard Rheingold explains in this video-intrevie (April 2007, just published on YouTube). In fact, there are two videos with him, one about shifts in technology and power and the other about innovation and the commons.  Both videos were mentioned in the The #ThinkKnow Chronicle.

Scraping for everybody

In fact, the book is titled Scraping for Journalists by Paul Bradshaw, but then again, I think many others might benefit from this highly instructive ebook which learns you how to grab data from hundreds of sources and put those data “in a form you can interrogate”. It’s a leanpub-publication and one of the nice features is that the text gets updated. There is a minimum price and a suggested price.

In other news: the Knight Center started this week a MOOC about Data-Driven Journalism.

Learn Do Share

Learn Do Share is a pdf book series that captures storytelling experiments at diy days. It’s a narrative exploration into ethos, socio-economic context and open collaboration. The results are rather unusual look-do-and-think-books that explore the methods we used, pitfalls we encountered and lessons we learned when we try all kinds of games and methods to trigger social innovation.

The diy days take place in various cities around the world – also in Ghent here in Belgium.

(via Peeragogy in action at G+).

GitHub for Writers

GitHub is a platform for collaboration, code review and code management for open source and private projects. But, as J.J. Merelo explains at Medium, writers (so not just coders) can use the platform too fortext-based collaboration. He explains how in Writers: start using GitHub now and has interesting things to say about open sourcing novels.

Publishers pushing toward the annotated web

Caroline O’Donovan at Niemanlab discusses a number of experiments by start-ups and legacy media to promote and use the annotated web as a 21st century way to organize discussion by the people formerly known as “the readers”.

I often think publishers are rather condescending toward the ‘readers’ – seemingly not realizing that chances are that members of their audience probably are far more knowledgeable about certain topics than the staff journalists or bloggers. But if you organize the discussions on media sites in a bad way, you get bad results – which is a pity, as I’m convinced media should be more like Massive Open Online Courses – not in the top-down version, but in the distributed, learner-centric version of connectivist courses.

Agile Learning Centers

The Peeragogy-community at Google+ is about to reach 500 members. One of the new members works with a team of educators, entrepreneurs, and social change agents to develop Agile Learning Centers — ‘a 21st Century model of education.’ They launched a Indiegogo campaign:

Just like GitHub can be used for other groups than coders, the Agile methods can be applied outside the world of software development. Of course, it became famous in the programming world because Agile “empowers teams and individuals to respond directly to user needs in quick, iterative sprints”, but here Agile practices (such a standup meetings, Kanban boards) are used in the context of a learner-centric education.

Feedly will support Dynamic OPML

Feedly is one of the main alternatives for Google Reader, the beloved RSS-reader which passed away far too soon. Dave Winer on Scripting News reports that Feedly will support dynamic OPML in version 18 or 19. “This is very good news for Feedly users, of course, and for people and organizations with domain expertise (curators) and app developers. ”

OPML allows you to hook up other RSS-tools to the service or to export your feeds – for your own convenience or for others. ‘Dynamic’ means that changes in the feeds selection can propagate immediately (correct me if I’m wrong) while static OPML would make it necessary to export the file all over again.

Graphic blog posts

This is new for me: comics-posts. In this case about Doug Engelbart and the importance of experiences and serendipitous encounters, by Jeff Branzburg.


A newsletter: The Augmentationist Weekly


A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology can augment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. I’ll publish a weekly newsletter (as from next week on Friday) to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

Here’s the content of the first newsletter – subscription details at the end or in the column at the right-handside of this site:

What this newsletter is about

A group of co-learners, inspired by Howard Rheingold, studies how information technology canaugment human intellect. Our discussions are dispersed through various social media and closed online venues. In this newsletter I try to give an overview of the discussions in our network. I also include brief comments on related stuff elsewhere.

Collective Intelligence 2014

“This interdisciplinary conference seeks to bring together researchers from a variety of fields relevant to understanding and designing collective intelligence of many types.” This conference seems to be very interesting: from digital sweatshops to social computing and crowdsourcing….

(via Howard Rheingold on Scoop.It!)

Thinking the Unthinkable

Speaking about augmentation: a friend of mine sent me this video about Media for Thinking the Unthinkable, a presentation by Bret Victor. who tries to invent the medium and representations in which scientists, engineers, and artists will understand and create systems. The content of his illustrations is very geeky, but try to see beyond that and try to grasp what he’s trying to invent.

The Next Big Opportunity: Tools that cure our short attention spans

A venture investor looks at the opportunities and obstacles in trying to create new tools to help people deal with information distraction online.

(via Howard Rheingold on Scoop.It!)


Mentioned on our Twitter feed #thinkknow: Baratunde Thurston left the internet for 25 days. You should try this too, but read the article at FastCompany for some useful tips.

Working with TheBrain

During the latest Think-Know course facilitated by Howard Rheingold we’ve been using TheBrain, a kind of database/mindmap for your thoughts and thought-clusters. Some students tried out TeamBrain, which allows for collaboration. Imagine a group of bloggers developing ideas in TeamBrain, discovering unexpected relationships between ideas and thoughts, which eventually lead to more inspiring blogposts.

Of course one could try to do this also with other collaborative mindmaps, but TheBrain is one of the most sophisticated tools out there.

One of our TheBrain and mindmap-specialists mentioned some interesting research about the use of mindmap-like structures in dialogue mapping. Read McGee’s Musings about the book Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems by Jeff Conklin.

Cooking as Augmentation

In our Alumni-social bookmarks I found this gem on Brainpickings, a link to a review of Michael Pollan’s book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. The book looks at cooking as a significant tool (thinking augmentation) that changed our ways of thinking and had a significant impact on culture.

Peeragogy in Spanish is a handbook for those who want to launch a peer2peer-learning project. A very international group of contributors create the handbook (the book is never ‘really’ finished), and now it seems the project gains quite some traction in the Spanish-speaking world.  A teacher in Uruguay launched a Google+ community for the Spanish speaking community.

The Spanish short version of the handbook will be published by the UOC Press in October in a book called EDUCACIÓN, MEDIOS DIGITALES Y CULTURA DE LA PARTICIPACIÓN (Education, Digital Media and Participatory Culture). A Spanish group runs a very interesting cooperative project called ‘hybrid learning’  that we can include in the handbook.

The Peeragogy-folks also have a thriving Google+-community, it’s not too late to join!


Digital Game Based Learning MOOCs: Join in September!

So nice. We already had the connectivist Massive Open Online Courses – based on learner-centric, distributed activities using a syndication engine to connect the various events. Then came the xMOOCs – more top-down like massive courses, experimenting with auto-grading systems. Now I learned about gMOOCs – game-based MOOCs.



Read online. updated

Connectivist Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) specialist Stephen Downes updated the MOOC.casite a bit and made it easier to submit MOOC and to find them. Of most importance is the new Submit MOOC page, an easy way to enter information about your MOOC and have it listed on the MOOC.CA website and also mentioned in the newsletter (which has more than 5,000 subscribers).

Newspapers and MOOCs

Kevin Werbach is a Wharton-professor who gave a very interesting MOOC about gamification (and author of a book about this art, For the Win, How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business). He sent out an interesting tweet about Jeff Bezos buying The Washington Post: “Bezos should convert the Washington Post into a MOOC.”

Exactly: could we consider the newspaper as a potential Massive Online Open Course? With distributed discussions – the people formerly known as ‘the audience’ discussing and co-publishing with journalists on various platforms?

The HRU Knowmads

I finished the latest Think-know Tools course organized by Howard Rheingold about the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management. I’m becoming quite a veteran of his courses, and I continue meeting co-learners via the HRU Alumni network.

These meetings are very webby – completely dispersed over various platforms and tools.

Read online.

Subscription form:

Strange things happen…

I did something strange today. I registered for a course facilitated by Howard Rheingold, the Think-Know Tools, you’ll find more about this on the wiki of Rheingold U (I even think you can still register, but hurry up – also, this course is not free).

The strange thing is that I participate in this course for the second time. In fact it’s about the fifth time I participate in one of Howard’s courses, not counting my participation in real life in a master class he gave in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Here you find his keynote he gave on that occasion:

So, why taking a course for a second time (even taking into account the discount Rheingold U alumni get)? Because, even though it’s important to have a great facilitator such as Howard, the students ultimately learn from each other. New contacts mean new discoveries. And because people change – the questions I have today are different from the questions I had the first time I took this course.

For instance, I read a great article by John Reynols in the Guardian about Google X. One quote from the article:

Teller said he believed that a likely innovation within the next 20 to 30 years will be the creation of “factories for ideas”, virtual factories which will produce “new ideas in every domain”. (RL: Astro Teller is the top executive of Google X)

I’ve no idea what he really means by these “factories for ideas”. Maybe these virtual factories are beyond humans, as they will be populated by intelligent computers? But in my presentation we can make virtual factories for ideas today already, using Think-Know tools helping us to collaborate, to detect crap, to filter information and build knowledge radars. That’s at least something I want to explore in this course.

Old texts make us dream and build the future

I just finished the first session of Howard Rheingold’s online Think-Know course. It seems the participants are an amazing group of people dispersed over several continents. The next weeks we’ll dive into both the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management.

We’ve been reading Rheingold’s Tools for Thought (available online), As we may think (Vannevar Bush), Augmenting Human Intellect: a conceptual framework (Douglas Engelbart) and Man-Computer Symbiosis (JCR Licklider). Dates of publication: first edition of Tools for Thought was in 1985, As We May Think was published in 1945, Man-Computer Symbiosis in 1960 and Augmenting Human Intellect in 1962.

Why bother reading those old texts about a fast-moving technology? My personal opinion: because we don’t move that very fast. We tend to use new technology to repeat old formats. We had print books, we’ll make ebooks now which try to be as print book-like as possible. We have print newspapers, well, even this day and age newspapers online try to imitate their print look and feel. It’s like the fledgling movie industry once was, trying to capture theater pieces rather than making actual movies.

The visionaries, living during the Second World War or during the Cold War, were convinced the world becomes very dangerous and moves very fast and in very complex ways. How can we humans cope with that, avoiding some horrible self-destruction? How can we make sense of the floods of information, data and noise? Those daring intellectuals dreamed up very new ways to read, write and collaborate – in fact, new ways to think. They were often too far ahead to be of much interest to commercial corporations, but the military were more than interested as they realized what was at stake.

How do we design interfaces which allow for new, in-depth, inspiring thought and collaboration? I think that data journalism, liveblogging, fluid and stream-like coverage, 3D visualization, local and contextual meaning, crap detection, filters and curation point the way to radical change, as do the artful organization of personal learning networks and tools such as combined databases/mindmaps. All this being made possible by ever-increasing computational power (raw power, but also ever more sophisticated software) and by the ever-shrinking devices we carry around (and which make our mind-amplifying electronic tools ubiquitous and hardly visible).

This course also makes us actually experiment with all this – for instance inciting us to collectively mindmap in real-time even though we are geographically totally dispersed. Here you see our raw mindmap (we’ll straighten it out during the coming days):

our course mindmap

If you want more ‘old’ but extremely inspiring texts about mind-amplifying tools: the New Media Reader (MIT) is a must-read

Pentagon’s Plan X: how it could change cyberwarfare –

“The same Pentagon futurologists who helped create the Internet are about to begin a new era of cyberwarfare.
For years, the Pentagon has been open and adamant about the nation’s need to defend itself against cyberattack, but its ability and desire to attack enemies with cyberweapons has been cloaked in mystery.

Next week, however, the Pentagon’s Defense Advance Research Products Agency (DARPA) will launch Plan X – an effort to improve the offensive cyberwarfare capabilities “needed to dominate the cyber battlespace,” according to an announcement for the workshop.”

It gives a strange feeling, reading this, not because I’m surprised about the importance of these issues, but because I’m reading Howard Rheingold’s Tools for Thought about the history of ‘mind amplifying machines’ as computers are being called. It’s pretty obvious how major breakthroughs became possible in the context of the Second World War and the Cold War. 

Will this new cycle in research and financing lead to more mind-amplifying stuff, or to mayhem and horror? 
via Diigo