Commentary

competition or co-operation? both!

March 15th, 2010  |  Published in Commentary, Finnland

Ok, here in IBS we have the following class setup:

  • 7 teams of 4 to 5 students each
  • 1 team of coaches (7 regulars, some additional visitors)
  • 1 learning module with a main case study as our project and additional smaller tasks based on lectures around recurring themes

That group of people comprises the typical learning environment we find ourselves in.

The last module ended like this: each group gave a presentation ranging from about 20 to 60 minutes on the theories and findings used to analyse the case given to all groups. As mentioned earlier, there was a lot of overlap.

We are now starting in the next module, with a case about Staart, a Finnish interactive marketing agency.

So what should be different this time (from my point of view)?

All the information we dig up should be shared as much as possible. We use a private wiki as a platform, so only students and coaches can access it. No need to hold back any type of confidential info – if one group gets it, the other should, too.

Nobody should need to explain the basic theory about some model (we have references for that). Everybody can read up on it beforehand, if it seems interesting. If not, they can still learn things later.

Any type of source and material used by the groups should be linked and shared beforehand. Why not? Digging up stuff on Google is not an art form. Using the right thing, in the right context is a real skill.

Nobody is expected to know about everything. That’s what the wiki is for. If you have fun reading a whole encyclopedia, go ahead. Instead, pick your specialty. Let the other groups know about it, so you can discuss topics further. Let people know what you want to get out of the case, so others can forward stuff to you.

Nobody is a specialist anyway. Let’s be honest: Have you written books about the topic? Worked in the field for 10 years? Does it matter?  - No, because those guys are out there, writing scientific articles, blogs, books, sharing stuff on slideshare, rambling on twitter. Go out, find them. Use their stuff, link it up.

But here’s the catch: How do they know I did this?

All fine and dandy, but here’s a problem. As some students said in other conversations “I really don’t like it when that guy makes changes to my stuff.” or “What if they use my stuff?”

So why do it in the first place? Why share?

Everybody is doing it. You hand out the simple stuff to everybody for free and the special stuff is what you keep to yourself. The hard decision is this one: What do you keep? Basically, only what you (as a person or group) can add that is valuable and genuine. Good explanations, a well-though-through argument, or whatever. Anything that can only be done live and on a stage (this is how authors an musicians make money in the future, via live performance).

So just add your stuff. And if you are afraid of other people mis-using it: Copyright it. But make it simple, with Creative Commons. Now tell people about your learning goals and the license you want to use for your stuff.

That’s the personal part. On to the group thing.

So are we all one big group now?

If it’s up to me, yes. We always were, including coaches. Because in the end, everybody is as much a teacher as they are a learner. So helping each other out does no harm. Everybody benefits. But yes, in the end, still each group and individual gets evaluated separately.

As Reijo said “I really like the idea of the wiki, because suddenly groups are really competing against each other”.

Well, sort of. This is called co-opetition. That means, you share some stuff. You work together for a while, then you do your own thing. And if it makes sense, you form a group with other people. Like a task force on sales forecasting. Or a group that looks deeply into how an AdWords campaign works. Stuff like that.

Never saw this kind of thing? Well, that’s how the CD was born. Sony and Philips agreed to collaborate, so you don’t scratch your head about square shaped silver plates fitting into your new machine and everybody can sell more.

Addendum (for the interested): So how does this fit in with IBS?

  • the coaches are our customers
  • the material, information we use comes from suppliers (any source, no need to pay, I hope)
  • the other groups are sometimes competitors and sometimes complementors (you decide)

Now your group has to figure out how they add their value (in the final presentation and analysis) and what tactics they use (to work with other teams).

But to be honest, you have to do this anyway – even without this fancy theory around things. And without the wiki.

online learning – one link at a time

March 15th, 2010  |  Published in Commentary, Finnland

How do you learn?

Well, in your brain at least, most of learning works by connecting these things called neurons to one another. So you take one thing and link it up to another.

But instead of diving into the theories of that, let’s go straight into the use of this information.

In practice it means, when you see stuff, you go back to memories and compare it to previous activities. Like riding a bike. Once you learned the mechanics of it (keep pedaling, don’t shake the handlebar constantly) it’s quite simple and hard to forget.

That’s quite handy to survive in life, and is basically the process that education is supposed to be really good at encouraging: Getting you to link the stuff that’s thrown at you – inside your head. By practicing it, using it, ripping it apart and most importantly – by linking it to other stuff you already know. That’s what learning journals, group work and reading other people’s texts is all about.

So when technology (esp. the internet) comes into the picture, things are actually quite simple. Thanks to Sergey and Larry and the way Google search works, links are really important. And because everybody wants to be found through search, links are a way of discovering things everywhere.

the problem with wikipedia (XKCD)

the problem with wikipedia (XKCD)

No matter if it’s a blog, a wiki or a regular website: a link helps to jump to another concept, so you can follow your curiosity. But that’s how other people have set things up for you.

How do you use linking to improve learning for yourself?

If you want to use this concept in a more active fashion, the easiest way is to keep using it yourself. Start a blog, link your stuff like crazy and see what comes out of it.

And if you’re too lazy or not narcissistic enough for that, go to a wiki instead.

I came up with this post while I was talking to one of my classmates (Juho) from IBS about the (internal) course wiki we started.

He just finished linking up a list of 20 words in our breakout glossary for the case study, to get the crew up and running with it.

I put together the initial list of words from top of mind, he’s now digging deeper into some of them. Everybody profits. And everybody did less.

So what’s next? Getting this attitude to work in the whole team and during the whole term of our third module.

So everybody can become a synthesizer (at least a little):

Are You a Synthesizer? - by David Armano

Are You a Synthesizer? - by David Armano

The general idea: information is a commodity, the internet is a copy machine. Only how you interpret the bits and pieces (and form knowledge, understanding and wisdom) and how you then put them into action is what can provide real value to your specific context.

What have you been linking up today?

Problems and their scale

March 11th, 2010  |  Published in Commentary

When deciding what issues to focus on, a lot of measures can be taken.
As the internet leaves us with exploding amounts of information about everything, we should look for the factors that don’t follow exponential growth such as Moore’s law.
The most obvious one: how many people are involved?
Even if suddenly everybody and their dad is posting on blogs, twitter and the like, the total amount of people or groups involved in any contemporary activity remains fairly predictable in more regular cases (not talking about FarmVille or Facebook here).
Take 1: Say you want to fix the education system?
Even though teacher-to-student ratios might change a bit, there won’t be sudden explosions or everybody replaced by a robot tomorrow.
Or higher education: there are only 18 000 university-like institutions in the world. From that we can jump to the amount of students, professors, staff, alumni-output-per year. Yes, in the current economic times, more people are going to college then ever, but still the numbers should be quite easy to grasp.
So if you want to solve any issues in the sphere, go by the constants and variables.
Take 2: You want to invest your money in the stock market?
Well, turns out there are only about 45.000 companies being traded on only 56 public stock exchanges worldwide.  Wolfram tells me that there are 38 “money centre banks”, and on Wikipedia we find a couple more. Both numbers are misleading, but a nice start for individual looks. But then we notice that in the U.S. alone there are more than 9000 banks, Germany has at least 2000 and so on. But hey, there are only about 200 countries in the world so it can’t be that hard.
But as usual, Pareto’s 80-20 Rule applies, and only the fewest of them actively trade and are highly connected at the same time.
So to go further, do as any good journalist and follow the money. And the people that handle it.
A good example for this practice: how Enron’s fraud was uncovered, nicely narrated by Malcolm Gladwell in Open Secrets.
Summary:
1. try to estimate and count the  number of groups and people involved in the field you are looking at.
2. if you want to profit from it, see who is spending the money, and how much of it there is.
3. remember that all people and groups are extremely well connected, so decisions should be fairly easy to predict
4. don’t get too drawn into the observations of outsiders (analysts, journalists, bloggers) as they mostly describe the obvious, but hide the not so obvious (that guy is our client, we are theirs, i own their stock, etc.)
Most of the time, thanks to the internet, your problem is probably a mystery and not so much a puzzle.
Kiss off: But how do exponential shifts happen in groups of people then?
But still, why are things like Twitter, Facebook, Mafia Wars, Fishville, Farmville and Multi-Level-Marketing scams working?
Simple answer: Metcalf’s Law:
the value of a network grows with every new participant that’s added (exponentially)
A bit more nuanced: Beckstrom’s Law:
The value of a network equals the net value of each user’s transactions conducted through that network, valued from the perspective of each user, and summed for all.
Translation: Facebook is that cool, because everybody is there, talking to you and marking your face on those party pictures. And then, everybody is commenting on it. And you reply, they like, you poke, they send out cows for adoption and so on.
So, what problem are you trying to measure up?

The Future of Social Media

September 15th, 2009  |  Published in Commentary

Here in IBS, one of our current tasks is to describe our vision of the future of Social Networks and Social Media (in the next three to five years).

To get started, Reijo gave us a Mashable post and a SlideShare presentation to enable some insights on the current ideas about tech and the influence on social, digital interactions.

These are the themes that I came up with so far.

Additional inspiration came from J. Owyang and C. Li.

ubiquity

technology pervades everything BUT is acting as a bridge between people or people and objects

immersive interaction metaphors require no special knowledge (contrasting to: keyboard, mouse)

examples: RFID tags, augmented reality apps, immersive tele-conferencing, project natal, vision 2019, mind-reading tech

immediacy

opportunity cost, friction for changing a device, place, situation is approaching zero:

activities happen in real time, user adaption (syntax, knowledge, habits) becomes unneccessary

examples: realtime search, touch interfaces, natural language commands (Mozilla ubiquity), speech commands, gestural interfaces

connectedness

every thing (physical object) is connected to the web,

all information about all things is interconnected

there will be no line between different applications (contrast: Gmail, Moodle, Joomla, WordPress, Word Document, Notepad, Paper or SMS vs. Email vs. Facebook Chat vs. IM), documents as such don’t exist anymore

no passwords, no profiles, only ONE constantly-connected individual

examples: Arduino, portable identity (Facebook connect, OpenID), semantic web, Google Wave Applications and Basics

contextualization, where, when, who

computers, services know the users context and adapt accordingly

examples:

when GPS locates you in office, cellphone is muted, callers get info about next available spot on your schedule

when you write in a “word processor” (text input field), spell-checking will recognize the language without needing any manual settings

a service knows your media consumption preferences, shows you only videos or transcribes audio-only material to text based on usage patterns

information normalization, one right answer

based on connected information and natural language processing, services will be able to fully interpret a users intent,

when one definite answer can’t be computed, the activity will run in a feedback circle with another human (à la Aardvark, Amazon Mechanical Turk or Elance) in real time

examples: curated datasets (Wolfram Alpha), recommendation engines (Amazon, Netflix)

Influence on social media and social relations (scenarios):

Reviews from amazon can be viewed inside the book (small screen), user can see the relationships of reviewers (who is also publishing their books with this company?), authers biography can also be looked up.

Your fridge knows its content (RFID) can send you an SMS “buy milk” or order the groceries via email and have them delivered to your home.

Your computer identifies you via facial recognition, logs you into all needed systems.

You read a book by opening it in MS Word, edit the text as you wish, put in your own words, click a button and your prose will be converted to bullet points (for a presentation in power point). Additionally, pictures to illustrate your point are added automatically by a recommendation engine.

If the computers, devices around you know all facts in the world (even events), relationships, jobs and the basis for recognition in relationships is changing quite heavily.

If your computer/cellphone can exactly characterize a new contact by his facial expression, facebook activity log and other internet activities, you won’t meet many people outside of your comfort zone.

The Waves are rolling in

June 7th, 2009  |  Published in Commentary

Ok, so as I’ve been at I/O 2009, I now have the luck to be a Wave Sandbox Account holder. Until now, most observations around my trial runs with the Wave Client revolve around minor bugs and annoyances (like not having any contacts to talk to with this shiny toy).

But then again, there is one new idea for a wave application/robot/gadget on my mind per day.

While I won’t find the time to implement them all, I might as well jot them down here and see how long it takes for them to be implemented by somebody:


Legacy System integration
Although there is a Twitter search bot, most other current systems are not yet integrated with the Wave Protocol. To make the Wave Client a true “one inbox to rule them all”, there are some obvious knots to be tied:
  • Email – sending messages to a Wave account via email, syncing your current email contacts with Wave contacts and sending out messages to non-wave users.
  • RSS/Atom – using a Wave Client as a feed reader: write a robot to take an RSS url or an OPML file and push new feed entries into the current Wave.
  • ICQ/AIM/MSN/Jabber – same as Email, but for all Instant Messenger Protocols
  • Twitter/Friendfeed/Backtype – write a robot to auto-post all conversation threads as wavelets that revolve around a certain hashtag/blog post/tweet/blip/URL: no matter if they are on a Movable Type, WordPress, Blogger blog; Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook, identi.ca or brightkyte. Take Backtype/IntenseDebate or Feedly as an example/inspiration.
WordPress Publishing Robot / Plugin
As some have pointed out the diffculties of SEO on a wave, I would just go the same route as the existing “Bloggy” robot: Publish a wave to an existing WordPress Blog.
Result: your custom look, a great interface for writing and edits and (possibly) a moderation panel for below-the-fold or even inline comments. I remember an experiment using YUI for displaying comments at a certain line withing a regular blog (and can’t find the damn link).
But then again, do we really need our own “view” on contents or discussions? Have our own logo, colors and fonts attached to a certain thought?
Let’s see in the next examples.


Wikipedia Editing powered by Wave
As with any Wiki, concurrent and simultanious editing is a bummer: In comes the Wave. If there is a Robot/API/Frontend for editing regular Wikipedia content, current contributors could swarm into a certain section or article and redo it based on previous discussions. The discussion around the artcle itself could be handled in a linked wave.
Although the notion of 25 people re-editing an article at the same time might make watching it “live” impossible, the replay-feature and the usable WYSIWYG editor can ease the influx of new contributors to the project while circumventing the challenges the other 95% face.


Additionally, while lots bemoan the chaos of a “traditional” wiki, especially the Wikimedia community has found the right means to organize around content creation.
With LiquidThreads never properly integrated into core Wikipedia, Wave as a protocol, frontend and delivery mechanism for discussion could become the engine of an even sharper growth of the content base.
And in case this approach (due to corporate sponsorship by Google) is not realized onsite, all contents could be ported into a mixture of Knol, Squidoo, Wikipedia, Mahalo and SearchWiki.


Realtime Answer Services
If there’s something you want to know that has only one answer, who/what do you ask? Google, Wolfram Alpha, your Twitter/Friendfeed/IM buddies?
How about a Wave Robot that dispatches the question in your blip to Aardvark, Twitter, Friendfeed, Wolfram, Bing, Wikipedia, Yahoo Answers and (depending on niche, services like Stackoverflow)?


Wave Edit/Update Handling
As a Wave client user, one thing about the realtime updates can make handling a large volume of waves impossible: minor updates.


Since logging into Wave for the first time, the test waves sent to all users have been edited several times: typos, formatting, wording etc.


The big question: Which of these updates is important enough for me to be notified about? And who decides this?


I’d suggest measuring the relevance of updates in a ratio of delta/length of blip. So, if you add a new blip to a wave, I get notified, but if you edit 5 characters of a 500 char text (1%), I won’t be pinged about it. As engineers, the Google guys should figure out the right ratio/percentage, but I’d like this as a setting for the client as well.


That’s it for now about the Wave.


The takeaway: With Waves, content is king. Whatever you write will be scanned, sliced, diced, enhanced and published allover the web. All in realtime.


Add your own ideas and comments below and follow the discussion:
Examples:

the Web will always be in your Browser

May 12th, 2009  |  Published in Commentary

This is a reply to Rod Edwards @ TechFold.

As Adobe and MSFT try to improve on the UI and UX with their “parallel web” ideas, Mozilla and more importantly Google are bundling the remaining features into the native browser experience (Prism, Gears).

As soon as Chrome reaches a market share of 10 %, they’ll integrate location awareness and similar hardware bindings (e.g. O3D) natively (opt-in, where applicable), thus making the advantages of AIR, JavaFX and even the iPhone SDK nonexistent from a feature-set perspective.

Combined with App Engine and the Chrome plugin structures, they might be able to pull off the web app marketplace: paid or adsense-integrated “browser apps” that will run on your desktop and mobile. The difference is only in the presentation layer.

While it makes sense for the NYT to have a standalone app to create information vendor lock-in, such a strategy (akin to the Kindle) will only survive in the short run. As all information is moving onto the internet, the real value is in linkage, context and ambiance, all of which are duplicate features or non-central issues in a standalone app like this.

The overall user experience from start to finish is the remaining issue to solve:

From my point of view, installing a desktop app (after signing up for yet another user account) to read the news sounds to me  almost like waiting for the print edition and reading it on paper.

And we know what is happening to those cases.

 

Disclaimer: I’m a believer in SaaS, the Cloud, UXaaS and the Open Stack.