Talk about barriers to entry!

A while back I got an invitation to join a new social network 434U & was amazed at the barriers to entry & the onerous rules for participation. It’s a new invitation only social network – I do wish them luck. But for me it makes me go “meh”.

Let’s just have a quick squiz at some of the rules:

  • Must have a headshot, but it can only be a headshot of you – if you have other people in your picture they message you to crop them out: e.g. “social says: you need to change your photo asap A SOLO HEAD SHOT NO SUNGLASSES PLEASE” or “social says: hey mate it needs to be a solo photo sorry mate you can crop that one with child in it thanks”
  • “In order to have an active account on 434u you must have at least 4 active members in your crew. Active members are members who have 4 active crew members under them. Once your 4 crew members have recruited 4 active members your account will automatically become active.” – I can barely manage my own online activity let alone consider moderate my buddies too!
  • “Members can invite 6 friends only to join. A member is then responsible for the moderation of those members who form their crew.”
  • You have to log in every 14 days
  • “By empowering members to moderate, market and promote the site, 434U can then afford to share revenue from the site among its members 70/30.”

It seems to me that some people just don’t understand the concept of barriers to entry. With complex rules like that a social network would need to offer me some compelling value. Not sure what value this one offers?

Also they seem to misunderstand how many people use their avatars and how an avatar can also become almost a part of our personality. I feel quite odd when changing avatars. So making it just a photo of me is not an attractive proposition at all.

Suspect it will need to clarify the cost-benefit equation a lot more before they catch my interest.

UPDATE 1 Jan 2010: Just to prove that everyone is different here’s an alternative perspective on this new social network 434U
434u-300x114 copy


Twitter 2009 retrospective

Twitter_Logo_node_full_image_2For me 2009 goes down as the year other people discovered Twitter. It went from a small and fairly intimate place to hangout to a busy bustling intersection of information, commerce and conversations.

It felt almost like moving from a small town to a big and somewhat impersonal city.

Some of the events of 2009 in which Twitter played a big part for me included:

and the various BarCamps in Sydney & Canberra.

The growth of community in real life that was enabled by Twitter continues to amaze me – STUB, Silicon Beach, the various Sydney Coffee Mornings (e.g. NSCM), & SHTBOX in Sydney and countless informal meetups.  A big thank-you to all the kind and lovely people that I met on Twitter and at the various meetups – wishing you all a wonderful 2010.

Twitter also played a different part in reporting the news.  No longer did I rely upon news agencies for breaking news. Instead people on Twitter broke the news and it was left to the traditional news agencies to verify and follow up on the stories.

2009 a personal year in review

luck or hard work?This year has been one of great personal challenges for me and my family. To have made it to the end of the year with all of us still on deck is a good feeling.

2009 brought home to me how truly important continued good health is, and how lucky we are in Australia with our health system.

The year saw many plans in train at the start of the year, with most of them deferred due to the aforementioned personal challenges. So it feels like I did not really achieve much that I’d hoped.

But putting all of that aside, it was a year that revealed the kindness of friends and power of online networks to create and build real relationships. Real life friends who supported me this year have made all the difference.

Another great example of that was the diverse group of people who’ve banded together for Northside Coffee Mornings – where online relationships have merged into offline ones and a supportive network has started to evolve.

The sheer number of kindhearted people who cared for & supported me, who helped me when I was down, fed me, nurtured me, worried with me, and rejoiced when the news was good is truly humbling.

Another thing that amazed me was how many people want to make make the world a better place. And how many of those people are willing to take action in that cause.

I was lucky enough to be involved in various conferences, unconferences and seminars, meeting a large number of fascinating people.

A big thank-you to all those people who were kind and inclusive, sharing ideas and working together. Special thanks to everyone who helped out with Cupcake Camp Sydney – it was great fun and we helped out the RSPCA.

Each year, instead of making new year resolutions, I pick a theme for the year. That way when I get sidetracked (as often happens) I can simply return to the theme. Also with a theme there are often many different things I can do to support it.

For 2009 my theme was simplicity and frugal living. The results here were pretty good on the whole. A big reduction in my carbon footprint; using public transport wherever possible; and living local as much as possible.

I’m still thinking about my theme for 2010, more on that later.

Social media 2009 and beyond

2009 ranks as both the year that social media went mainstream and as the year that we saw a seismic shift in the comfortable world of traditional media.

Some evidence of the former is the fact that Dell made $6.5 million in direct sales via Twitter. Further evidence is the rise of the social media job, with titles like Emerging Media Manager, Senior Digital Strategist or Social Media Community Manager.

Many businesses as well as individuals now see it as normal to have a Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube channel, a website and/or a blog.

It is also the year that MySpace lost out to Facebook – by focusing on eyeballs and advertising rather than ease of user interaction it marginalised itself.

Facebook went from strength to strength by year end picking up 700,000 new users per day; ending the year as the de facto social network for both geeks and non-geeks. Key to the growth and success of these social platforms among the mainstream population is ease of use, ease of connection with others, and ease of sharing. It is much easier for something to go viral when it is easy for ordinary people to share it.

Facebook is a clear winner on each of these criteria, while Twitter has had a slower adoption as the how-to is not as evident to the new user. However, Twitter is winning the day as the home of buzz and breaking news.

Another example of the mainstreaming of social media is the way it is now an integral part of traditional media such as newspapers, radio and television. Most newspaper sites now enable readers to share content on various social networking sites and to comment on the site.

Many television and radio stations supplement their regular content with additional content such as video, podcast and forums. The BBC has asked its viewers to provide video and image content, while other newspaper sites actively solicit reader photographs or videos for use on their sites.

To the chagrin of the traditional media power brokers much of the innovation in social media is coming from the public broadcasters – for example the BBC in the UK and the ABC in Australia.

Each of these has embraced podcasts, time shift video and active involvement on Twitter and other social networks. This has led to some lively debates between traditional media owners like the powerful Murdoch family and the public broadcasters (see Murdoch attack on ‘dominant’ BBC).

And it, in turn, has drawn spirited responses from the public broadcasters, for example: Mark Scott of the ABC in Australia in The Fall of Rome: Media after Empire One thing is clear from the events of 2009, the landscape and revenue models for traditional media have shifted and the industry is faced with threats to its very survival.

There have been many and varied responses to the shift in the traditional media landscape. Rupert Murdoch deciding to take his News Corporation content out of Google or put it behind a paywall; myriad local newspapers in the US closing down; and ordinary people not caring much at all as they continue to obtain good quality information from various online sources. One thing is certain; there has been a huge shift in purchasing patterns for traditional media. Newspaper sales are down as are free to air television audiences with associated reductions in advertising revenue for proprietors.

There have been some interesting responses to this shift in the traditional media landscape; including the Media140 series of conferences (please note I was live blogging the Sydney event). This is the brainchild of Ande Gregson and his grand plan is to have conferences around the world in 140 days.

Media140 is focused on bringing together practitioners from journalism, politics, advertising; new media and entertainment to consider how the real-time web is changing the way we communicate, socialise and do business. New business models will evolve to take advantage of the social media and real-time web. Their evolution will be driven by the conversations and business ventures that occur during this time of shift in the media industry.

In 2009 the familiar media world we knew from the past century shifted. The age of real-time, social, computer driven news and communications is upon us. It is powered by web 2.0 platforms and funded by emerging business models. Old empires are trembling and new ones are being born. We are in for an interesting time in 2010 as all of these trends continue and we get a glimpse of the winners and losers in this shift.

Social media, web 2.0 and implications for education

There are three areas that are relevant to both our society in general and to us as educators in particular. They are the:

  1. overall landscape in which we are operating;
  2. social implications of the changes being driven by technology and how we are using it; and
  3. changing models that are beginning to impact on educational practice.


Before we leap into a look at the landscape it is important to clarify some things about web 2.0 and some key trends that are impacting on the landscape. Key points about web 2.0 are that:

  1. It is not new technology – the technology stack is decades old in many cases
  2. It is new ways of using older technology – we are putting the technology together differently enabled by reasonable broadband access
  3. It is not using the old mindset where technology was the province of gurus – now any script kiddie can make things happen with technology
  4. It is democratizing technology – this is breaking down the old cabals of experts
  5. It is applying new business models – we are seeing this with companies like Google and Facebook

In terms of the broader landscape I have identified five macro trends that are shaping both computing and our world at present:

  • Next Generation Internet – semantics, contextual, geo-aware
  • New interfaces – gesture, haptic, auditory, human-computer, voice user interfaces
  • Hardware – Virtualization , cloud computing enabled by solid state drives, blade technology
  • Social computing – It’s here and it will continue to grow
  • Ubiquitous computing – Wearable, networks, convergence

Of these I will concentrate on social computing and the next generation internet as they are driving a lot of change that is impacting on the education sector.

But probably the biggest change over the past thirty years is the rate of change. Once it was completely acceptable to wait a week for a letter to arrive, to ponder one’s response for a few days and then write and dispatch a letter by post. Then the fax machine changed all of that. Now we receive emails immediately followed by a phone call asking why we have not yet responded.

The pace of change is increasing and has increased substantially over the past 30 years. Look at the mobile phone as an example of this. From the time the telephone was invented until the mid-1980s it remained recognisably the same device. Now, to a person who last saw a telephone in 1980, the iPhone or SmartPhone would not even seem to be in the same family of devices. And, indeed they are not. The modern mobile phone is really converged computing, telecommunications and entertainment device. They even have more memory than my first server.

The next thing to consider is the revolution of the internet. Originally conceived as a bulwark against nuclear war and as a way for academic researchers to communicate it has reshaped the world. Now many people use the internet every day as an integral part of their lives – for sending email, chatting online, shopping, entertainment and business.

Along with this growth in the pragmatic use of the internet, social networks are also becoming mainstream; with Pew Research from 2009 showing 46% of US adults have used a social network at least once, and 27% used one yesterday.

This area of social computing has been the real area of growth and the data clearly shows how social computing is changing how ordinary people share, communicate and interact.

Some examples of these changes include:

  • In the past email and search engine internet traffic exceeded that of social networks. However, in December 2009 search traffic and social network traffic approached parity in Australia for the first time.
  • Also previously in late 2007, social network traffic surpassed that from email in the UK for the first time.
  • And adult website traffic was also overtaken by social networking traffic for the first time in late 2008.

The important thing to note here is that the behaviours of searching, sending emails or checking out p~rn did not change. What changed is the location in which it happens. Thus if you are in Facebook and so are all of your friends it simply does not make sense to leave the application to use another email client.

There has also been development of niche networks for different interest groups. For business there are LinkedIn and Plaxo (amongst many others) and Facebook is winning the war as the de facto social network for everyone else.

Another interesting characteristic of this landscape is that ordinary people are creating and participating online in ways that were once unthinkable. Without specialised technical assistance people are creating videos to share on YouTube or Viddler; they are creating blogs on WordPress, Blogger or Typepad; they are sharing photos on Facebook or Flickr. Remixing music or visual materials is rife –questions of provenance and copyright remain unanswered. Video downloads, online shopping, banking and travel arrangements are becoming the norm.

Against this backdrop various researchers have mapped the generations:

  • GI Generation aged 73+
  • Silent Generation aged 64-72
  • Older Boomers aged 55-63
  • Younger Boomer aged 45-54
  • Gen X aged 33-44
  • Gen Y aged 18-32

And, while the notion of dividing up the population on the basis of age cohorts is useful for analytical purposes, it ignores some simple facts about people. In each age cohort is a bell curve for change adoption – with some members as early adopters, the mass as early & late majority, followed by the laggards. I fundamentally disagree with the idea that mere membership of an age cohort determines a person’s relationship to technology or propensity to adopt change. Rather the determining factor will become one’s willingness to be connected.

This willingness and desire to be hyperconnected via technology will become the new generation gap. A great example of this is the loose confederation of people who meetup on Thursday mornings on the northside of Sydney for coffee. Most of them met originally on Twitter, decided that they liked each other and thought it would be good to catch up informally for coffee.

What has happened is that this has created a vibrant group of people who know each other in real life now. Business ideas are exchanged, family and social tips are shared and other connections are made and broadened. More can be seen at their Posterous site at .There are now many similar groups all around Australia – I have attended them in Perth and Brisbane.

What is interesting here is that online and offline activities are blurring and the boundaries between public and private are no longer clear. The conflicts between the connected and the unconnected are already being seen in schools, colleges and workplaces around the world. Just try asking members of your class to turn off their mobile phones to test this hypothesis.

Social implications

The social implications for all of this are astounding. They reverberate across all areas of life from business to education to socialising.

This technology and the way it is being used now is creating massive interconnections between people and enabling the creation of groups and communities. This kind of community building and collaboration is similar to that we experienced when living in smaller villages rather than in large cities.

But think on this – the children of today will stay in loose contact with every group of people the meet throughout their lives from kindergarten onwards. It is going to be a challenge to manage over a lifetime. The only way to manage these masses of loose connections is by chunking them up into niches. This is where richer technologies that enable this to happen seamlessly based on use rather than manually based on effort.

Another feature of this interconnected world we live in is that we no longer need to wait. Delayed gratification is becoming a thing of the past in many respects. For example in the area of entertainment we used to wait for a movie to come out or wait until our favourite television show was broadcast. But now with the advent of decent broadband and streaming video there is no more waiting. Anyone can watch what they want when they want. And they do exactly that, as anyone with teenagers in the house with a broadband connection knows all too well.

However, against the backdrop of this explosion in connections, information and entertainment at our fingertips we remain unreconstructed human beings. This remains similar to our cave dwelling days.

We still retain our tribal brains that work best in small groups the size of a basketball team. Our brains are wired to deal with small chunks of information – like the magic number seven, which is the number of items we can retain in our short-term memory.

Also we are constrained in our ability to handle a great many close relationships. Many cite Dunbar’s number which is the supposed cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships: the kind of relationships that go with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person.

Imagine how many contacts you would have if everyone you had ever met since kindergarten was a friend on Facebook. This is precisely what is happening to our young people today.

This means that we need to chunk up all of those massive networks we collect so as to manage them over time. It also means that we are maintaining increasingly loose ties with larger numbers of people.

Ultimately we are social creatures and want to create social networks either on or offline. I often use the example of Facebook, where ordinary people of all ages are routinely creating affiliation groups. These online groups are even creating real life relationships – for example the Twitter community in Sydney often meets up physically with most of us having met online originally.

Another element to the mix is the amount of information we are required to process everyday – email, news, social networks, entertainment, etc. We can no longer store all of this information in our heads.

spartan-brad-pittThis is not merely a gratuitous picture of Brad Pitt. It harks back to a time in the past when our societies used epic poetry to store and transmit important information, but now it is all in nearline or online storage. For example, many of us no longer recall the phone numbers of our nearest and dearest since they are stored so handily in our mobile phones.

Also the question of how we are going to retrieve a lot of that information in the future is open to question. I’ve got a floppy disk at home with some interesting photos of a data centre I built a few years ago, but no longer have any technology to access that information.

Changing models

So where does all of this put us as educators? There are some who talk of a nirvana where all students are self directed learners and we are coaches and facilitators. But I suspect that those people have not met some of my students.

Let’s look back to the web 2.0 meme map from O’Reilly’s Foo Camp a few years ago. It clearly talks about all of the things that have become part of social computing (and this includes social media and social networking).

Web 2.0 “Meme Map” by Tim O‟Reilly (2009) 

The following is an overview of the Web 2.0 Design Patterns which will impact upon the future (in general and for education):

The Long Tail Small sites make up the bulk of the internet’s content; narrow niches make up the bulk of internet’s the possible applications. Therefore:Leverage customer-self service and algorithmic data management to reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the center, to the long tail and not just the head.

Data is the Next Intel Inside Applications are increasingly data-driven. Therefore: For competitive advantage, seek to own a unique, hard-to-recreate source of data.

Users Add Value The key to competitive advantage in internet applications is the extent to which users add their own data to that which you provide. Therefore: Don’t restrict your “architecture of participation” to software development. Involve your users both implicitly and explicitly in adding value to your application.

Network Effects by Default Only a small percentage of users will go to the trouble of adding value to your application. Therefore: Set inclusive defaults for aggregating user data as a side-effect of their use of the application.

Some Rights Reserved Intellectual property protection limits re-use and prevents experimentation. Therefore: When benefits come from collective adoption, not private restriction, make sure that barriers to adoption are low. Follow existing standards, and use licenses with as few restrictions as possible. Design for “hackability” and “remixability.”

The Perpetual BetaWhen devices and programs are connected to the internet, applications are no longer software artifacts, they are ongoing services. Therefore: Don’t package up new features into monolithic releases, but instead add them on a regular basis as part of the normal user experience. Engage your users as real-time testers, and instrument the service so that you know how people use the new features.

Cooperate, Don’t Control Web 2.0 applications are built of a network of cooperating data services. Therefore: Offer web services interfaces and content syndication, and re-use the data services of others. Support lightweight programming models that allow for loosely-coupled systems.

Software Above the Level of a Single Device The PC is no longer the only access device for internet applications, and applications that are limited to a single device are less valuable than those that are connected. Therefore: Design your application from the get-go to integrate services across handheld devices, PCs, and internet servers.

The social web has developed a set of values based on that original web 2.0 meme map and this Wordle map shows some of those enacted in social computing at present.

But teaching has its own longstanding set of values. And today we are seeing a conflict between those two sets of values in classrooms and lecture halls around the world.

But first a few comments on the nature of these new tools. These tools are a great enabler for minority groups. It levels the playing field for them in many ways. However, it is well to note, as Grady Booch once said: “a fool with a tool is still a fool”.

Our learning institutions are sometimes slow to change and adapt to new ways. On the other hand teachers are often the ones in vanguard embracing change and pushing the boundaries. The institutions of learning in this country are pretty conservative and slow to adopt new fangled technology, usually quite sensibly on the basis of cost.  But now with web 2.0 social computing and open source the main arguments against new technology adoption are being destroyed.

Individual teachers are embracing change, but sometimes when I meet these visionary folks they seem more like revolutionary cells of the vanguard than part of the institutional mainstream.  But the learners will eventually force our hands by disengaging if we do not respond to the shifts in their cultural practices.

This leads into another area of contention, that of boundaries. These new tools are creating disputes about the appropriate times and places where it is appropriate to use the technology (for example, have you ever tried to get a Gen Y class to turn off their mobile phones?). Also questions about the content and authority of information created or shared. Think about the endless discussions about plagiarism and the appropriateness of Wikipedia as a research authority.

We are dealing with a radically different set of expectations – from our staff, administrators and students (or consumers). Many of these people were socialised in the old non-digital world; while others are digital natives.

As part of my preparation for this session I’ve been trying to distil my thoughts on the implications of new technology on culture and learning.  And for me it has all come down to sensemaking as the purpose of education.  Dan Russell provides a nice definition of sensemaking: “Sensemaking is in many ways a search for the right organization or the right way to represent what you know about a topic. It’s data collection, analysis, organization and performing the task.”

To a certain extent I think that these changes mean we need to become co-participants in the learning experience.  Become facilitators of the process rather than the experts.  This does not mean that our experience or empirical knowledge is not valuable.  We need to establish mutual respect and open dialogue. And luckily now we have the technological tools to facilitate that dialogue.

It is going to be an interesting balancing act between those different sets of expectations. Defining boundaries in a hyperconnected world is a challenge, but it is worth remembering that interesting discoveries are made at the boundaries of the currently known world. Some of the tools to help with this sense-making process are to embrace the values of web 2.0 as part of classroom practice.

But the challenges to the authority of the teacher and of the institution are not only coming from students and society in general. They are also coming from competitors.

By this I mean the institutions that are subverting traditional ideas of the university or college and putting their intellectual property out online for free.  The institutions doing this include the august (e.g. Stanford, MIT) as well as the ambitious (e.g. USQ) as Lifehacker so kindly lists.

Other challenges are coming because of the radical transparency that the web enables. Here I’m thinking of things like Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor. No more hiding from bad appraisals by students it’s all out in the open now. But looking on the bright side it’s happening to kittens as well.

All of this brings us tremendous opportunities as both a society and as educators. It seems like we’re not in control any more. But I do question if the control we once had was merely an illusion. And I wonder if this new world might not be a healthier one for all of us?

The biggest shift is that we are dealing with connected individuals who are at the centre of a web of networks enabled and mediated by technology. This will give rise to power shifts that we will need to live through and embrace in order to survive.

Note: all data mentioned above is detailed in my slides here


What Is Web 2.0.: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software, by Tim O’Reilly, 09/30/2005


Social computing and its implications for education

I really enjoyed the opportunity to present to the TAFE teachers of the Western Sydney Insititute recently about social computing and its implications for education. Slides follow and more detailed notes will be posted shortly.

Social connectors for #followfriday

One thing that has amazed me over the years is how some people are natural connectors. It is no surprise that many of those folks have ended up on Twitter.

Here’s a few amazing people connectors that I follow on Twitter:

@hollingsworth – one of the mainstays of Sydney tweetups of all kinds (from #GelatoTUB to #nscm), an all round nice guy & one of my favourite people to catch up with IRL

@Rog42 – he’s all about mobile these days, passionate, opinionated and always good for an interesting debate on Twitter or IRL

@ScottRhodie – debonair man about town, with a bawdy sense of humour & a strange distaste for fish, heart of gold and up for a good ‘debate’ any time (has been known to drink beer)

@middleclassgirl – amusing, intelligent & wry; one of my favourite people for spirited repartee IRL or on Twitter

@amoir – adorable & entertaining but has been known to be a ‘bad’ influence on the tone of conversation (especially late at night and on @middleclassgirl & me)