Monthly Archives: February 2008

In-betweens culture

In a project world with too many synchronous and ubiquitous communication tools available at all times, I reflected on the emergent working/thinking culture. What I see is that people are not fully engaged/engageable anymore, and that this may pose a threat to our achievements (learning and otherwise).

People go to meetings with their laptops, pdas, mobile phones, pagers and other connectivity devices and simultaneously carry out remote tasks or research. With these tools in constant listening mode (and ourselves too), focus of attention is at best degrading. In this way, the keynote lecture we sit in becomes an “in-between” to online chats and meetings, where neither one gets our undivided attention.


Presence Technologies

Scott Wilson gave a captivating presentation at the Innsbruck Winterschool 2008 on presence technologies and their use. There has as yet been very little analysis and research on the use and exploitation of such tools and services, starting from your status message in Skype or IM to your twitter and jaiku utterings.

The thoughts that go through my mind are about how to exploit these thingies/services for education. Is twittering useful or just demonstrating that you got too much time on your hands to broadcast to the world that you’re drinking a cup of tea? What happens when presence snippets become part of a conversation?

At the same time, managing your presence and moods is becoming more complex. As people from various parts of your life intrude into your buddy list, these become non-sensical and more configuration options for different groups are badly needed.

I am curious to see what learning designs can be elaborated around these technologies and how this may strengthen the virtual classroom bonding between learners.

Subtitles for YouTube

Ever wanted to show the fabulous Common Craft video tutorials to your lecturers, but thought that there would be a language barrier for them to understand? My friend Antonio pointed me to a superb site where you can find and create subtitles to your favorite online movies.

Subdot screenshot

Move your mouse to dotsub and chances are you may already find subtitled presentations in the languages you need, like above in Macedonian. If not, you can sign up and create them yourself or join forces and complete or correct other translations.

Future technologies

Had an interesting exchange with Scott Wilson today on future technology trends. Clearly, the diversity trend encountered under Web 2.0 and PLEs burdens the users with loads of extra maintenance work. Updating profiles, twitters, shouts, or status messages across multiple applications online and on the desktop, consumes too much time. How much easier would it be to type in your mood status locally and it auto-updates your profile in Facebook, your Skype and MSN daily message, sends a shout to your favorite friends’ network etc.

I can see high demand in convergence tools that operate maybe on a single, maybe on multiple functionalities – much like the one-to-many many-to-one mail client. So, you can have your photos here and there on the Web (flickr, lockr, picasa, google base, etc), but a common remote image manager brings them together in a workspace. If you want to edit your metatags, for example, it changes them wherever the photos are actually held.

The importance of aesthetics

Conzilla 2.2 is a perfect example how a potentially powerful application can be a turn-off by the lack of an aesthetic interface. Apart from the miserable requirement of downloading and installing another Java RE, which I personally hate, the Java engine is clunky and slow.

But what an ugly interface! You must be colourblind and tasteless to use the gray box with its brownish yellow tool tip post-its. Yes, it does the job, but, hey man, this is 2007! Visual appearance has conquered the Web and for a great part drives adoption of technology. Functionality alone is insufficient these days, just like in the automobile market: 4 wheels are not enough.

Un-virtualising the Net

Virtual theft in Habbo hotel has been punished in a real court in the Netherlands recently. One step closer to un-virtualising the net. It’s interesting to see how the two worlds slowly merge and converge. Mobile and ambient technologies as well as permanent presence make it now possible to live in both worlds simultaneously not only when you sit at your desk with your PC switched on.

With the law taking more and more shape in the shady world of cyber exchange, we see the further closing down of Net freedom. It was bound to happen, cause there cannot be any real freedom when humans collide – virtually or in real life. The virtual society is nothing more than an illusion of what could have been an ideal world.

Evaluation Tool for Wikipedia

Are you – like me – worried about astroturfing, fake or wrong information, and the lack of transparency in democratic publishing to the Web? Then this tool may help you (or worry you even more): the WikiScanner! It says on the tin: “WikiScanner: List anonymous wikipedia edits from interesting organizations”.

WikiScanner can help you evaluate the content of a particular Wikipedia entry or allow you to search for contributors and their edits. It also shows up the amount of vandalism that has to be battled against on a continuous basis; entries like:

[[WPAES|]]Replaced page with ‘asdasdasd’

Some interesting findings may enlighten your consumption of what is regarded the showcase of democratic content production: the people’s encyclopedia. Look at the entry for “Taliban”:

[[WPAES|]]Replaced page with ‘the taliban r gay people that drop bombs’

america is OWNING the towel heads this time around, dont fuck with america

For the more educated of us, these statements are easy to spot and quickly rejected. Not so with more subtle statements and edit battles:

/* Israeli-Palestinian conflict */ reverting’s misconceptions
/* reverting’s personal interpretation difficulties

It may also interest you to see who else in your institution is posting to Wikipedia. Just enter the IP range and take a peep.

We need quality!

Learning on the Web? So much choice so little time. The hype about free access to content and learning opportunities may suffer the fate of other Web 2.0 trends. Apart from maybe a small number of beacon sites, there is a rising tide of junk.

Learning is like eating, feed yourself on junk and it will paralyze your abilities. Of course, junk is quick and cheap. Little bites and learning snacks here and there, this is what the fast knowledge society is all hungry for. No time to digest and internalize. Quick Wikipedia intakes on-demand and a few blog entries for lunch. But is this taking you further? Maybe for this afternoon it’s enough.

The Web looses its idealism, if it ever was carried by it. Commercial interests and nasties are increasingly dominating the purported information and the associated Information Society. Astroturfing has been banned in the EU but this is likely to be just as effective as the ban on spam.

Can we trust the content we consume? Increasing dangers point towards the ‘Misinformation Society’ and there are plenty of organizations who are interested in promoting it: beginning with News and other media industries who want to sell us their latest stars and stories, political parties who want to manipulate voters, companies who want to influence customers, and, yes!, educational institutions too.

More importantly, it becomes increasingly clear that Web 2.0 is scarred with the false belief in the “wisdom of the crowds”. Letting the mob rule sadly does not produce quality, as Wikipedia had to learn over the years. It has more to do with vandalism, tyranny of the few, and astroturfing then with quality information sharing. Transparency isn’t a virtue either of many a Web 2.0 site like Digg, where unlike the official user figures only a few key players dominate the headlines.

Let’s face it, the vast majority of users cannot distinguish the validity and authenticity of content on the Web and are overwhelmed by the amount available. As market analysis has shown repeatedly, Google and other search engines are filters to what we consume. The more sophisticated ones use Google Scholar, but that is merely a disguised approach to limited content and it’s still a googled view on the world. We hardly ever look beyond page three of the Google results – which is the most economic solution (in terms of getting a response), but not necessarily the best.