Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Scraping, feeding and spitting out ... or "How I learnt to stop going to conferences and love the Real"

"As Western technophiles enamored by the affordances of the tools of networked society and rhetorically situated inside a 'global culture' the quick upload is the vector of desire. The fantasy of products consumed by the mass Other creates a sort of compulsive drive to upload, express, share, tag, intersect, etc. Speed and immediacy have become our drug because they imply the lessening of mediation, negotiation, or the possibility of control."

I said/blogged that last year after my first encounter with an FLNW as it somewhat clashed with the pace and networking capacity of the island I live on. And while at that time it all seemed to me possibly a bit of a culturally insensitive 'shoot first upload immediately and ask questions later' style affair ... it was turned out to be one of the most interesting, inspiring, and engaging encounters of my 'professional' life -- so much so that I can't even stomach the thought of attending yet another *fest style conference.

I'm still engaged in a variety of different dialogues with some of the participants; some face to face, some via IM, Google group posts, blog posts/comments, Wiki Talk pages, or Skype; i've loaned one my spare bedroom, and I often track their Flickr photos and add my tags to networks I know they're lurking/participating in. No doubt we will be called a bunch of bloody navel gazing, tech, geek, nerd, self important anti-socialist wankers! at some point (yea, yea, ... "First they mock you, then they fight you, then you win." yadda, yadda, yadda.) But I'll say that FLNW #1 changed my life a bit, it definately changed the way I think about a lot of things in the world of networked teaching & learning.

There's a curve somewhere, on some mathematically adept sociologists graphing software that would explain/rationalise some of the criticisms of swapmeets, unconferences, and hyperactive networked literacies ... it peaks at a point, then flattens out and along the way some people will get runover, and others age indiscriminately, their mousing hands succumbing to arthritic pangs, their predictive txting dictionaries falling miserably behind the vernacular. I know that all this TALOing stuff doesn't sprinkle pixie dust on schools along the way, there's a heap of soap-boxing going on, but it does act like a magnet for some of the outcasts, outside thinkers, luminaries, geeks, nerds, artists and other passionate sociopaths who on one level see learning as some kind of metanarrative glue for almost everything we do in this world. What I really like about it all is that it's never about the "best practice", it's not the "tried and true", the "path most trodden" because personally I'm not really in it for those things. My world doesn't seem to work like that, I mostly feel like I'm making it up as I go along, i'm suckered in by emergence. And so for that reason I'll go along for part deux if I can regardless of any critics or naysayers. I may not actually make it physically, but if not I'll be a virtual support crew - headset strapped on, aggregating and directing flows of data thru chanells ready for the stuff or not. Because, after all, I am enamored by the fantasy -- there isn't really any escaping it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Good NetVibrations!

I've tried a plethora of Feed Readers, Aggregators, personal homepages, whatever you want to call them... I've tried Sage and Aggreg8 for Firefox, Google Reader, Protopage, Straw and Liferea for Linux, as well as some others back in the day on for Mac whos names I can no longer remember... but for the past year or so I've been stuck on Netvibes. For a while I thought I wanted a standalone application, but I'm not sure why. All the stuff in the reader comes from the Web anyways so integrating it into the browser seemed the best route to go, so after overcoming my attraction for the standalone app I went for Sage. I still recommend Sage to quite a few people. It's really simple and works well with Firefox, is easy to install and does autodiscovery of feeds which is a real plus for newbies who fear the orange button. But it gets a biut unweildy when you start getting hundreds of feeds going! Then I tried Netvibes. Netvibes has a fantastic drag and drop web interface, is really easy to add feeds (including autodiscovery -- autodiscovery means that you can just point it towards a web page and it will try to find out whether there is a feed associated or not.) It also includes a simple way to group my feeds with a tab interface along the top and you can also add a heap of "widgets" that have been created by the Netvibes community, including things like pulling in your Flickr photos, bookmarks, weather widgets, and my new favourite - the Remember the Milk widget, etc, etc. I like also that they keep plugging away at it. A new feature appears almost every month or so and so far they've all been really useful and not gratuitous. Just today I noticed that you can now actually view the site that the post came from, from within the Netvibes interface. This is really handy because sometimes I need to go to the site to get to the article (most notably for me on Stephen Downes site) and i'm sick of opening tabs or new windows to get there. This feature allow me to switch effortlessly between the feed view and the actual site. Nice!

There's a whole other part of Netvibes that I've not really looked that far into, what they call the Netvibes Ecosystem. From what I can tell it's a place for all the third party modules, etc, but there's also an option on your feeds to be able to share them via email, IM, or some cut'n'paste code for your blog or web page which could be really useful.

Friday, March 16, 2007

The country where I quite want to be

Finland, Finland, Finland,
The country where I want to be,
Pony trekking or camping,
Or just watching TV.
Finland, Finland, Finland.
It's the country for me.

Lyrics by Michael Palin.

Forget watching TV ... if I was in Helsinki right now I'd be txt messaging the MobilED Helsinki server. Basically it goes like this: the server receives an SMS search query, looks it up on a MediaWiki they've got setup, then calls you back and reads the article found from the wiki to you! Teemu and co have just got the basic functionality up and running.

Find out more here:
and if you're going to be in Helsinki anytime soon drop Teemu a line - he says he'll give you the # to txt to try it out. Nice job Teemu!


Monday, March 12, 2007

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

It seems that even more these days i'm swamped by information that is of interest to me (RSS feeds, blogs, etc) or that i'm obliged to read (a.k.a., email.) It's getting pretty critical for those of us who spend a lot of time in here to be able to sort through this stuff, to slow this flash flood of a data flow down a bit and try to just irrigate the bits of our brains that we're currently into cultivating. To this end I spent a few hours over the weekend looking into Yahoo Pipes which is a really cool idea and one that I suspect will be a dominant geek meme next year as others jump into this space as well (there's already a few). Basically Pipes is a relatively simple GUI for creating aggregate RSS feeds; it's a bit more dynamic than that, there's some neat stuff you can do besides just combine feeds like doing content analysis on a feed for dominant words, or allow user input into a hosted Pipe to create searches across focused data sources.

So why would you need this? Well I suspect that a huge part of the literacy of networked learning will be about acquiring the skills on just how to manage your personal learning by being able to alternate between broad and narrow approaches to information. Search is generally the broadest approach but with the sheer amount of information currently available even the best boolean searches are often thwarted. Which is why establishing narrow, focused approaches to information acquisition through network protocols like RSS, Atom and then creating specific content interactions with applications like Pipes will be crucial for learners as they become more specialized in their subjects and pursuits. The interaction with content and data that the learner engages in will be in creating connections between content and data sources which for a lot of people equates to what learning is all about anyways.

These skills are not easy to explain (I've helped create two tutorials on Boolean in my life and it always confuses students) - i'm still having a hellishly hard time explaining what RSS it to most people and why it's so valuable let alone something like Pipes, but I think that it's time we start developing some basic resources on how to do these things: how to subscribe to a feed, how to tag resources in social bookmarking systems then subscribe to the feed of this tag, etc. We'll need to make all this as simple as, well... looking at a picture of a pipe.

I've got it in the pipe to do so on WikiEducator and Wikiversity as part of the Networked Learning resources ... it's just that with all this stuff to read I get so little time these days :-)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Second Life, second rate

I'm not a huge fan of Second Life for a couple of reasons. One is admittedly that I'm mostly a text guy - i like being locked in discursive struggles over meaning making which is why I prefer chat, IRC, blogging and tagging over having to negotiate moving through virtual worlds. The second reason though why I'm not a huge Second Life afficianado (and I have been in there a dozen or so times) is that I find it's model to be so completely last century that it I think that they'll suffer from the Tivo "first mover" effect before too long. While being the first to market has it's advantages it also has the disadvantage that others who follow can learn from your costly mistakes. I think Second Life has made a mistake -- which is strange, since the example was all around them.

I have no doubt though that for another generation of highly networked youth, spaces like Second Life will be where they prefer to inhabit, where they play and where they work and learn. I just think that a highly centralized, proprietary and highly commercialized 'service' is not where it's at - it didn't work for the internet as we mostly know it today, and I don't see why it will be what the Web3Ders of tomorrow will want either.

For this reason it was interesting to see Tim Wang's post: Arts Metaverse Constructed on Open Croquet. Tim's group at the University of British Columbia, who have already done work on the UBC island in Second Life, are now moving into developing for the Open Source Croquet system. Croquet is:

an open source software development environment for the creation and large-scale distributed deployment of multi-user virtual 3D applications and Metaverse that are (1) persistent (2) deeply collaborative, (3) interconnected and (4) interoperable. The Croquet architecture supports synchronous communication, collaboration, resource sharing and computation among large numbers of users on multiple platforms and multiple devices.
There are a lot of advantages to Croquet over Second Life (some are mentioned in Tim's post) but the most obvious and powerful has to be that it is truly Open Source and that there is the possibility for the server power required to run these kinds of enivonments to be distributed over the network, ie. decentralized. If Croquet can start getting some real backing by developers like the UBC is doing and other organisations who start looking beyond the fancy graphics and more at the long term implications of supporting proprietary and centralized services then this platform could make Second Life look second rate.