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.”

Twitterbook

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.”

How the truth unfolds itself – Hermida about new media

So, is new media a revolution, changing society in a fundamental way, or is it a slow, very gradual process? That’s one of the many questions I have after having attended the neo-journalism conference in Brussels, Belgium.
Yesterday professor Alfred Hermida (University of British Columbia) gave his vision on The Ambient News Network. Think of Twitter as millions of voices worldwide, who are constantly talking about what they consider as being remarkable or meaningful. It’s like ambient music, and when all of a sudden the rhythm changes, we become very actively aware of that ‘music’ – probably something major unfolding somewhere.
It’s not just about Twitter though. It’s about a cultural shift. While the industrial world was linear, monolithic, hierarchical, with clearly defined borders and closures, the post-industrial world is non-linear, horizontal, open, ever-changing, so Hermida explained.
Newsrooms often are industrial: they specialize in producing finished products. Think neat articles or videos, professionally crafted, existing on their own, being published in a printed newspapers or homepages trying to be yet another perfectly finished product – even of it’s only for a day or for a few minutes.
Compare this to Twitter and to live blogging. It’s a never-ending river of updates, it’s always provisional, rough around the edges, with many voices blending in while final agreement among those voices is an illusion. Blogging/journalism is not a product, it’s a process.
Hermida said something very beautiful:

Liveblogs are the unfolding truth.

Liveblogs are fluid, open, dynamic, not stable. Through the many voices, the decentered but somehow recognizable style of the livebloggers/ DJs, there is something we could call a truth which makes itself being felt. (An idea which reminds me somehow of Walter Benjamin, but do not fear, I’ll explore that in some other post).
Then again there was a presentation by Anders Olof Larsson (Uppsala University, Sweden) about the use of Twitter for a talk show. He showed how the Twitter-traffic spiked during the airtime of the show, how the host was indeed engaging in rapid Q&A-like interactions with people on Twitter. Some of those people were more visible than others – it appeared those people had a professional background which made them more inclined to use Twitter intensively.
‘Culture changes slowly’, Anders Olof Larsson told me afterwards. Political tensions in countries often are fueled by issues which opposed people generations ago. Hermida, in his presentation, also pointed out that even though learning the technicalities of Twitter was not a big challenge for most journalists, the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial mindset was far more difficult. What we talk about here are new literacies, and acquiring those is not self-evident.
During the discussions it was also pointed out that Twitter is evolving from network which is famous for enhancing worldwide conversations into what it actually was all the time: a privately owned company with its own objectives. That is not different from most media companies and conglomerates of course. But at the same time there are a number of challenges regarding technologies and literacies: how can we help people to navigate the endless streams of liveblog-updates, tweets or other streaming media? We should keep as much possibilities open as possible to suggest our own solutions for these issues – it should not be something to be dealt with exclusively by the Twitter- or Facebook-coders, Hermida pointed out.

The audio-recording of Hermida’s keynote is available on his website, Reportr.net.

Entering a fluid state

Fluid. Liquid. Streaming. It are words often used to describe the new reality the more affluent part of humanity lives in. We are always on now, social, webbed, mobile, connected. As Om Malik says in Will We Define or Limit the Future:

Mobile phones of today might have innards of a PC, but they are not really computers. They are able to sense things, they react to touch and sound and location. Mobile phones are not computers, but they are an extension of us.

Stowe Boyd tells us what this means for media:

We are sliding into a liquid state from a former, more solid one. Our devices and software is where we are seeing this first, but it is already transforming the media world. Witness the headlong transition from solid media (media destination sites with their proprietary organization, with inward-focused links, concrete layout, and editorial curation) to liquid media (media content is just URL flotsam in the streaming apps we use, rendered by readering tools we choose and configure, and social curation).

Boyd sees beyond media and into the near future:

What is over the near horizon is a liquid world, in which social nets, ubiquitous connectivity, mobility, and web are all givens, forming the cornerstones of a vastly different world of user experience, participation, and utility. This is the new liquid world, just a few degrees away.

As I read about this and post stuff, services are being announced in rapid succession. On the readering side there are services such as FlipBoard, Zite and Pulse. I posted about the curation side of things a few days ago and new tools are being launched about every day, so have a look at my Scoop.It to see some of the latest developments – or join my curating team about curation on Pearltrees.

At The Next Web Robert Scoble gave a presentation about Humans + Reality + Virtual. He talked about experiments combining the physical with the virtual. Now, for me ‘virtual’ is more like environments such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, but Scoble uses it in a broader sense: ‘the digital’, ‘that what you see on you tablet or smartphone.’

He refers to apps such as Photosynth which allows you to make 3D pictures where you can look around and zoom. Mealsnap processes pictures you make of your food and tells you what you’re eating and how many calories that represents – again that mixture of human, real and virtual. Foodspotting allows you to share the places where you eat and what you eat, Cyclemeter tracks your walking, cycling, skiing, running, tells you how you’re doing, shares it on networks etc. Another application checks what you’re watching on tv and share that precious information with your friends. It makes pretty clear what Scoble means with human + real + virtual.

All of which sounds a bit frightening. What about my privacy? Isn’t all this Big Brother? Think about stuff such as Klout score, or PeerIndex, or internal measurement by Twitter telling how connected your are, what your online social capital is and how all this could be used as an asset on the job market or even in financial ratings.
Malik says in Will We Define of Limit the Future:

With this revolution, it has become easier to share our moments and other details of our life that have so far been less exposed. The sharing of location data becomes a cause of concern because it is the unknown. The situation is only going to get more complicated — we are after all entering a brave new world of sensor driven mobile experiences, as I wrote in an earlier newsletter. No, this is not science fiction stuff.

I’m getting more and more immersed in this mobile, connected, liquid state. I use an iPhone and things only got more intense now that I own a iPad. It’s a gradual process of discovering new apps, new social tools linking various aspects of your life and connecting you in many different ways with other people.

Even the ‘real virtual’ stuff is going mobile. First I discovered the massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) Pocket Legends and now Gameloft launched Order & Chaos Online, a kind of mobile version of World of Warcraft. It’s not hard to imagine some augmented reality enabled mixed realities environment, combining the real, the human, the virtual and what we usually call the virtual. When we get there in an increasingly convincing and integrated way, expect some profound changes in how we live, love, work and connect.

 

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)!

Liquid (Virtual) Newsroom Project Developed with Radical Openness

diagram illustrating liquid newsLiquidnews, or the Liquid Newsroom, is an emerging news project that’s all about the above strategy, radical openness. I found out about the project on Twitter via the #liquidnewshashtag. It’s where a group of people, many of whom are journalists, discuss a project for a “liquid” or a “virtual” newsroom.

They talk about what a Liquid Newsroom could be, about the business model, and the technological platform necessary make it happen. They exchange tweets such as this one from Steffen Konrath: “Currently exploring ways to add Sparkbox (@tonihopponen) & Clp.ly (@Kinanda) to the Liquid Newsroom project #liquidnews.”

On September 1, Konrath published a Liquid Newsroom Manifesto on his blog, which reads like a proposal for a kind of postmodern virtual enterprise. In his model, the relationship between the “outside” and the “inside” of a company changes fundamentally. For instance, he writes, that in this newsroom “the content is triggered by events and interest of the people, and not by the purpose of keeping a company alive.”

I had an interview with Steffen, which you can read on my blog at PBS MediaShift. Stay tuned for more about how virtual enterprises can help develop enterpreneurial journalism in the broadest sense of these words!

Also Twitter wants to be fast, easy and fun – sounds familiar?

So Twitter should be fast and easy. And fun of course. If not, they won’t ever go mainstream. For someone covering Second Life, it all sounds very familiar.

One of the interesting points I learned watching Robert Scoble’s live video stream during the Twitter press conference this week was that the overwhelming majority of Twitter users just use the website, there where no self-respecting member of the tech-elite ever go. The social media and tech people think it is so self-evident to use clients such as Tweetdeck or Seesmic that they cannot even imagine that everybody else just goes to www.twitter.com.
That silent majority is rather, well, silent. They (okay, many of them) use Twitter as a kind of social RSS-reader without engaging in a conversation or even without retweeting stuff. Twitter itself seems to consider their service as a real time news network rather than as a social network. A news network like CNN let’s say, but more customizable. But many users are there to consume news, just as they consume news watching CNN.
Let’s compare this with Second Life. The most vocal residents are the builders and scripters, the traders, the organizers. They are a minority – even though without them there would be no such thing as Second Life. This is not surprising: on web forums, discussion boards and chat rooms the really active people are a minority, and the bulk of the activity comes from a tiny group of very active people.
The challenge is to keep that minority happy while realizing that the needs and expectations of the overwhelming majority are different. I guess the web version of Twitter will be a success among the majority, while the power users will stick to their sophisticated client where they can manage all their different social media accounts.
The same probably applies for Second Life and similar virtual worlds. One needs viewer versions or settings which cater for the socializers or for users of devices such as the iPad, other versions can focus on the heavy users and content creators.
“Fast, easy and fun” will be crucial criteria for new media wanting to gain traction. “Fun like the iPhone” Philip Rosedale said during the Second Life Community Convention (SLCC) in Boston. “The iPhone is slower (…) but it’s delightful” he said. Just like reading Twitter or Facebook on Flipboard is maybe a bit slower, but more delightful. Don’t look down on that – making things delightful is the way to really change things.
Here is the video Scoble made at the Twitter conference: