Monthly Archives: September 2008

Picnic08: Green Challenge winner announced

Winner has been announced and it’s Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, an inventor team from the United States, offer sustainable ecological alternatives to conventional synthetic building materials.  Capra J’neva and partner Emilie Fetscher of the United States  invented easy-to-use consumer solar panels and were awarded a runners up prize.  There will be a lot of press to follow – I think they chose wisely..

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Paying attention to Africa : Ethan Zuckerman @ Picnic08

Trying to blog while Ethan is speaking proves that he can not only write at least twice as fast as I can, but he can speak as fast as he writes. So this will certainly not capture it all.

We don’t pay much attention to Africa – but if you look on Google news you will find ten times more news for countries outside Africa than countries inside Africa. Media attention map by a Dutch firm – shows Africa consistently falling off the map in this respect. But paying attention does matter. In November 2005 someone from the Malawi Times was passing through a village when he was shown a windmill that a kid had built and hooked up to generate power. It made enough power to power his parents house. It was blogged in Malawi then was picked up by AfriGadget – then there was an invite to speak at a conference which was picked up by international press. What this has meant up meaning is that people have now raised enough money for this young man to go to one of the best schools in malawi. His whole life has been transformed by the fact that someone did pay attention. how much more are we missing like this?

In the past lots of well meaning white guys have been talking about Africa – but the good news is that there will be fewer of us in the future and I want to introduce you to the world of African Bloggers and I am going to talk about Kenya.

There was a media blackout for a couple of day during the run up to the last elections in Kenya except fo the blogs , so you had an IT specialist going out with his camera and blogging. As things got harder and harder during the reporting of the election another blogger had to switch to updating from her phone. mashada a lively bulletin board site got really nasty during the election – lots of hatred but the guy who ran the site took it down as he got tired of moderating ethnic conflict and put another one up called “I have no tribe” and that started another discussion all about being Kenyan. Ushahidi.com set up after Kenya Pundit who moved from Kenya back to South Africa to be with her family said she was worried people would not be able to follow what was going on in the election process – and so a group of people got together and helped her set it up taking input via sms. You can find voices who do reflect what is going on. We do have aggregators. Now we have the Africa 2s – the Africa that goes to shopping malls. there is now a group of people who have enough disposable income to go shopping, and I would prefer to think of them as producers than consumers – moving swiftly towards the future. And its not the shopping mall that is the sign of the future but the mobile phone. I can’t emphasise enough how this is transforming Africa. Now interesting African problems can be solved that you guys do not need to solve. – eg cash accounting in Ghana. take your money , you buy a phone card , you get the code but don’t use it. You phone someone in the village give them the code and take my credit of $20 – now you have the credit, give $19 to my mother. So now mobile phone services are setting up. I wish I could pay for my taxi here in Amsterdam with my mobile phone….

Then Ethan talked about a Knife sharpening bicycle from AfriGadget – the guy who runs this stand makes $10 a day – that puts him in the Kenyan middle class. We hack what we have. In Africa a bicycle can become an ambulence. Block and Track an anti-theft device invented by a young man with no formal electronics training …During recent elections in Zimbabwe each polling station posted the number of votescast centraly and so they knew they had the numbers. They (mobile phones) have the ability to fix election systems too.

This infrastructure has expanded faster than anyone thought. Who is making money? In some case it is Africans. Someone built a mobile phone infrastructure in DFC while still at war , sold it and made money. We in the west have made money from Africa by taking stuff out. The way to make money in Africa now is to build stuff up. Biggest problem in Africa now is cost of power. Need to build . We tend to think of Africa in terms of Aid – how can we help. It’s not wrong but it’s incomplete – we need to figure out how to do infrastructure. China is looking at this from a different perspective. China is focussing on infrastructure because they want to get stuff out. Both think they are robbing each other, probably quite a good partnership. But the people who are going to build the content are the re diaspora. Africans who leave to get their education and then go back – and build up colleges – eg Ashesi college.

If Africa is surprising it’s just because you are not paying enough attention.

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preparing for the digital future: Ofcom’s experimental site

Just catching up on Ofcom’s proposals for stage two of the PSB review and noticed, apart from the proposals themselves, this “experimental” page where you can leave your comments alongside the proposals.  There are other ways too of responding formally.  But I’ll be interested to see who leaves comments here and how many.  There are lots of things we do at the BBC which could also benefit from this kind of approach to guage the views of our viewers and listeners in more informal ways.

On this experimental site we encourage you to leave informal comments alongside the Executive Summary of Ofcom’s Second Public Service Broadcasting Review – Phase Two: preparing for the digital future, published on 25 September 2008.

Alternatively, you can download the full consultation document, and/or respond formally to the consultation (closing date 4 December 2008). You can also follow the debate on the PSB Review blog.

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four and half things: Clay Shirky at Picnic08.

Clay Shirky went home yesterday and tore up his prepared speech for today. He figured that the audience here at Picnic08 pretty much got the kinds of things he was going to say . So instead he told us he would talk about 4.5 things that we will be needing to deal with in social media again and again.

Disclaimer. I am not a live blogger and this is now an hour after the event. More links and photos to follow. I am paraphrasing in some areas – and hope you will correct me, dear reader, if I miss a trick

Story 1 was about Flickr:- He talked about the High Dynamic Range (HDR) group and the kind of discussion that has grown up around the photos. So going from one photo , with one comment to several comments to the photo with one url delivering a whole seminar on how to do better HDR photography can diffuse through the community and this happens in about three months – instead of formerly a few years of waiting for an essay to come through in a Photo journal. Every photo is potentially a seminar. It’s a social object. Every url has this potential. First a photo, then a comment, then longer comments so the photo became the locus for the conversation about how to become a better photographer.

He then talked through the downside. Black and White Maniacs, another Flickr group….It’s about sharing but with some extra dimensions – not just look at mine and I will look at yours. On the about page is a description of the group – in that description is a para describing the ground rules. It’s four sentences. .

Post ONE photo, then immediately comment on the PREVIOUS TWO photos (to the right of your photo) and include “Black+White Maniacs” with your comment. Wait until two more photos have been posted before posting again. IF YOU DON’T HAVE TIME TO COMMENT IMMEDIATELY, PLEASE WAIT TO POST YOUR PHOTO. It’s unfair to expect people to comment on your work when you’re not able to give them that same courtesy. (**NEW RULE: If you consistently leave one or two-word comments like, “nice,” “good b+w,” “great catch,”….etc. you’ll be removed from the group as well.)

So – the dilemmas that are being faced here are not design dilemmas, but social. Working out those problems are now the design problems.

Story two: : The Bronze Beta – is a Buffy fan site, When Warner Bros was selling Buffy to UPN – they told them that they had also set up a community bulletin board. UPN said please tell the users the old board will close down and we will set up our own. Clay told us that the users were not happy. They pooled resources and paid for a new site. They had fallen in love with each other and just wanted to be there. When they got their new site they didn’t want lots of new features, just text really.

And so this story confirms for me (Clay) that social software is the only area in software that I know that the later products have fewer features than the previous products – not the same in other areas. If someone a few years ago had told you that most of what would be published in 2008 will use the simpler tools not the more complicated tools. You wouldn’t have believed that if someone had predicted it as you want as many toys in your box as possible. If the tool is social then it matters a lot how you use it and how I use it.

Social media tools are tending to shift now with fewer and fewer features. It’s the easiest way to synchronise the mental models of the users. Nobody wants a door with 37 handles. Twitter launched with two features, and now they have six. Bronze beta has very few features – but look at the rules page They have 10 x more rules than they have features. Most of Bronze Beta runs in the minds of the users. For example …No changing the colour of the text without express permission of the management.

Sharing is the simplest pattern – and even here rules proliferate. Collaboration is harder. I have to do something with you to synchronise with what you are doing to create something shared.

Story 3: the Wikipedia article on Pluto – I use this as Observatory on Wikipedia. It got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago. It came in for a lot of edit revision. and got a lot of attention as a result. If you want to show someone the best kind of Wikipeda article show this one. But if you look at the Galileo article you will see an icon on the top right of the page so it’s semi protected. What you are seeing reflected on this page is a 500 year old flame war that has been raging in the Catholic Church and has landed here.

In social media design as you can see here you have to give up on the idea of designing for the user. It’s not just about users. But you are designing for one side of the argument or the other to take advantage and win the argument. So programmers are not just designers, but an avant garde wing of political philosophy…

Story 3.5: Clay referred us back to the talk Aaron Koblin gave yesterday when he decribed his 10,000 cent project .

Ethan Zuckerman did a write up of that session here:

What this story showed Clay was that when we are now operating at a global scale in this way we have (design) problems that we have never had before. You could say that Aaron had 10,000 people working for him as in a way he did – he only payed them a penny – but they were working to collaborate with him and each other. If this were a real company then that would put him high up the list of employers with a large staff. The largest groups in the world that are working collaboratively are working like this.

What we are seeing now is spontaneous conditions of labour springing up. The Division of labour is spontaneous and there is a spontaneous division of motivation. No-one who runs a large company with a management structure cannot understand this.

So yesterday I was asked what are the optimal conditions for collaboration? The answer is we don’t know. We can look at optimal conditions but it’s more like the weather as Linda Stone said yesterday “cloudy with a chance of collaboration”. So like the Linux community you can’t recruit you can only invite. Noone who runs a large company with a management structure cannot understand this.

Point 4. Collective action is harder. Clay told the story of the HSBC Bank and their recruitment of students to a no interest account. When the bank changed the terms and the account was no longer interest free they did not predict that not only would this be covered in the usual way in the press, but also there would be a Facebook page where people and people affected could go and find out what they could do. So Publishing is also for Acting. What the Telegraph does is to say – “just look what the bank is doing reneging on its terms”. But what the Facebook publishers are doing is saying “just look what they are doing, and here is what you can do about it”

So the big design challenge is around the fact that all these stories are about stop energy. Around getting people to stop doing things. But when we look at the phenomena of the explosion of intellectual and creative community and all the creative energy unleashed it seems long lived – so we are missing something ( ie where is the community collaboration with creative energy that is long lived and not about stopping stuff)

In 1980 Xerox delivered an important printer to the lab at MIT. Richard Stallman realised that it had no source code ..and he saw the future. He developed the GPL (Gnu Public License) and solved the Black and White Media problem for software developers by saying these are the circumstances in which we can share. Now we don’t have a license for collective action. If twelve friends go to a bank to open a bank account to do a project they can’t open a group account unless they are incorporated. Society recognises groups via incorporation or embodyment . But we need something like a group license that can be recognised. In Britain they have the CIC (community interest company) which has an assett lock on community value. In Vermont state we see the first state to allow virtual companies. We are seeing things like the MeetUp alliance – but which is going to work out we don’t know.

What I do know is the right area to be thinking about. The need is there and the potential. We have seen the explosion of creativity in the area of the intellectual, social and emotional spheres. But not around collective action . So we need to work this out in the area how we act and the way in which we act, as well as in the way we think…..”

There is so much here that resonates with most of what I am doing these days and thinking about I need to stop and think myself before editorialising in any way. But more later. Definately.

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Serious Virtual Worlds, Coventry : Second Life, Forterra, IBM et al

Am wondering how the predictions made last year in Kuala Lumpur are going – so taking a day out to visit the SGI and the Serious Virtual Worlds Conference in Coventry live streaming on their page. I got here late but my colleague , Rain Ashford, has written up the morning before coffee.

I am no live blogger but I am highlighting something of a theme in this session which is all about interoperability. And that theme s that interoperability is not simply a technology issue. I’ll put in some more links and pictures later.

John burwell from Forterra– told us not underestimate technophobia as interoperability issue.

He went on to say that it’s people who need to do trials and want to. So make it possible for them or teach them how. Beware of Lock out – dangers of single source solutions. Make sure you can move around. Interoperability needs to be driven by commercial forces. Necessity is the mother of invention = mash ups and native integration. Delays in pilots and implementations as a result of these issues.

What other elements need to be interoperable? This is the list that Forterra’s clients keep on coming back with.

Content = eg clothing. Answer – adopt industry standards eg 3d studio max, maya, sktechup instead of building modeling systems

Interchange formats – eg Collada = answer they developed native importer for collada

scripting and animations

legal issues and intellectual property – who owns the data? Cap off to Linden – if you make content in SL you own it and you can take it wherever you like.

terrain

beyond islands and fractals

non-player characters

learning management systems

avatars , log in s etc

Next up was Jim Purbrick from Linden Lab – “a little interoperability goes a long way”

In Second life you have always been able to upload content and take it away . He went through some examples of this, but dwelt longer on CarbonGoggles – more later, with a nice plug for the BBC and in particular that he did some work for this application at  Mashed 08.

Images – James Au remix

Audio –

Animation – standard motion caption

Streaming Video – is enabling us to have this conference in Second Life now- people go to Second Life for speakes but stay to talk to each other – there will be more of this in the future

Streaming Audio

Web = embedding web pages in SL – not static – seen as huge step for interoperability

Should web browsers be enbedded in virtual worlds or should virtual worlds be in web browser – Jim thinks former

Web services – objects built in SL have links to real world services to pull data in – making the invisible visible – eg carbon data . Can’t do it in real life , can do it in SL. Takin gexisting stuff in SL and overlaying with data – much deeper integration – can actually pull in data from real world by reaching out to the web LINK here to carbon emissions data – app built in 24 hours at MASHED, nice plug here. Real deep application bang for buck most important type of work CARBON GOGGLES.

Machinima – most important area for ip in SL

Economy – i need some chairs, here are some good ones, they are here for 20 linden dollars so I will buy soe of them for my virtual world who needs a 3d artist – that is becase the economy is interoperable

have been working with IBM and Virtual Sims – The Future

Virtual worlds to be operated by different people eg IBM, Forterra, Linden , Uni – and some screenshots of Open Sims being teleported into SL regions and elsewhere.

Early work, long way to go before it can support big applications and reliability but in other ways very interesting, building in modular ways , using phsyics engines etc not for the fainthearted.

Open Source and Open Sims means you never get stuck (never get stuck good title) can always download source code if necessary! so small scale is poss, and so is large scale – this sounds good to me as a layperson as it will allow lots and lots of people to experiment.

Second Life has always been interoperable – this is not new. It has had media upload streaming media web embedding, web services, but imperoperability is not just about technology and talking to the web is more than puting viewer in a browser.

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