Communication

Talk

Kim picked out (in Google Reader) a piece on Joe Moran’s blog, and there at the end is this:

How many people turn on the radio and leave the room, satisfied with the distant and sufficient noise? Is this absurd? Not in the least. What is essential is not that one particular person speak and another hear, but that, with no one in particular speaking and no one in particular listening, there should nonetheless be speech, and a kind of undefined promise to communicate, guaranteed by the incessant coming and going of solitary words. — Maurice Blanchot

The experience of hearing someone in the family turning on a radio somewhere in the house, and then to become aware that they are no longer attending to the radio, if they ever were, but the radio continues, is surely very common. Yet this is the first time I’ve ever read anyone remarking and reflecting on this.

‘There should nonetheless be speech … a[n] … undefined promise to communicate, guaranteed by the incessant coming and going of solitary words’.

Yes. That.


Founder’s myopia

Just before Christmas, John Lanchester had a good essay in the LRB, Let us Pay, ‘on the future of the newspaper industry’. It dealt very well with the crippling expense and economics of the physical product and all that that means (something Horace Dediu also tackled late last year — ‘one wit remarked that a newspaper is nothing more than an instrument that permits the depreciation of a printing plant’).

Here’s something from Lanchester’s piece that I’d not heard before (it’s probably very well known):

In some ways, the story of text messaging is a parable for the way the net has evolved. SMS messaging was taken up by Nokia in Finland as a way of allowing engineers to communicate short, factual messages about where they were, what they were doing and how long it would take. Nokia then made the service available on their phones, since, well, there it was, so you might as well let the punters have a go. They were amazed to see the spike in data traffic which suddenly showed up. The reason: Finnish teenagers were using SMS to organise their social lives. From there, texting hasn’t looked back. Nobody decided what the purpose of SMS would be, it just evolved.

(He goes on: ‘It would be hard to deny that texting is a new thing; also hard to argue that it has fundamentally changed the world. I’d say that’s roughly where we are with the journalistic uses of the new media. Their democratising and decentralising effects have barely begun, and aren’t going to go away.’ Both he and Dediu — ‘the medium needs its Orson Welles’ — look ahead to the Murdoch online-only paper, the Daily.)

And here’s Janet Abbate on email (Inventing the Internet, pp 106–111):

Email (initially called “net notes” or simply “mail”) made an inconspicuous entry onto the ARPANET scene. Since many time sharing systems provided ways for users to send messages to others on the same computer, personal electronic mail was already a familiar concept to many ARPANET users. By mid 1971 … several ARPANET sites had begun experimenting with ideas for simple programs that would transfer a message from one computer to another and place it in a designated “mailbox” file. … Email quickly became the network’s most popular and influential service, surpassing all expectations. … From ARPA email began to spread to the rest of the military, and by 1974 “hundreds” of military groups were using the ARPANET for email …

The popularity of email was not foreseen by the ARPANET’s planners. Roberts had not included electronic email in the original blueprint for the network. In fact, in 1967 he had called the ability to send messages between users “not an important motivation for a network of scientific computers” … Yet the idea of electronic mail was not new. MIT’s CTSS computer had had a message feature as early as 1965, and mail programs were common in the time sharing computers that followed …

Why then was the popularity of email such a surprise? … The rationale for building the network had focused on providing access to computers rather than to people. … The paradigm of resource sharing may have blinded the ARPANET community to other potential uses of the network. … Email and mailing lists were crucial to creating and maintaining a feeling of community among ARPANET users. … Even more important, mailing lists allowed a virtual community to take on an identity that was more than the sum of the individuals who made it up … [providing] a way for people to “meet” and interact on the basis of shared interests, rather than relying on physical proximity …

In the process of using the network, the ARPANET community developed a new conception of what networking meant. … the network planners … did not anticipate that people would turn out to be the network’s most valued resources. Network users challenged the initial assumptions, voting with their packets by sending a huge volume of electronic mail but making relatively little use of remote hardware and software. Through grassroots innovations and thousands of individual choices, the old idea of resource sharing that had propelled the ARPANET project forward was gradually replaced by the idea of the network as a means for bringing people together. Email laid the groundwork for creating virtual communities through the network. Increasingly, people within and outside the ARPA community would come to see the ARPANET not as a computing system but rather as a communications system. Succeeding generations of networks inspired by ARPANET would be designed from the start to act as communications media. By embracing email, ARPANET users gave the network a new purpose and initiated a significant change in the theory and practice of networking.

We teach about the unexpected rise of email in our first year ICT course — adding in, for good measure, John Vittal’s 1975 addition of Reply and Forward. We also point out that no-one foresaw the appeal of SMS, but it’s lovely to be able to include that story from Finland.

And here’s something else in the same vein (again centring on our love of communication) that makes a point about invention. I’m reading Tim Wu’s The Master Switch, and early on there’s this about the early American rural telephone companies (chapter 3):

The Independents, rooted in the farms and small towns of the West, were innovators, but of a conceptual kind, not the technical kind à la Alexander Bell. They saw a different world, in which the telephone was made cheaper and more common, a tool of mass communications, and an aid in daily life. They intuited that the telephone’s paramount value was not as a better version of the telegraph or a more efficient means of commerce, but as the first social technology. As one farmer captured it in 1904, ‘With a telephone in the house, comes a new companionship, new life, new possibilities, new relationships, and attachments for the old farm by both old and young.’

Typically, the rural telephone systems were giant party lines, allowing a whole community to chat with or listen to one another. Obviously there was no privacy, but there were benefits to communal telephony other than secure person-to-person communications. Farmers would use the telephone lines to carry their own musical performances. …

And so, while the Bell Company may have invented the telephone, it clearly didn’t perceive the full spectrum of its uses. This is such a common affliction that we might name it “founder’s myopia”. Again and again in the development of technology, full appreciation of an invention’s potential importance falls to others—not necessarily technical geniuses themsleves—who develop it in ways that the inventor never dreamed of. The phenomenon is hardly mystical: the inventor, after all, is but one person, with his own blind spots, while there are millions, if not billions, of others with eyes to see new uses that had been right under the inventor’s nose. … it was simple farmers in the early 1900s who pioneered the  use of the phone line for broadcasting long before the rise of radio broadcasting in the 1920s.


Narrating the work (II)

This resonates with me so much and I see I jotted down some notes about it before. Re-reading the posts involved, and some others, has set me thinking again. Some significant bookmarks I want to keep to hand:

1) Jon Udell, 2001, on the web:

an environment in which everyone can produce as well as consume web content. The web began in this state of grace, soon fell from it, and has recently been trying to find its way back. It's been a hard road, frankly.

That's both beautiful and true.

2) From the same:

There's one talent common to all these creative disciplines: storytelling. We are, as a species, hardwired not only for language but for narrative. A story is, you might say, an evolutionary mechanism designed to focus the attention of a group. Sometimes the point is to entertain, sometimes to teach, often both. The power of narrative, whatever its purpose, flows from a deep human need to identify with a group, and above all to find out what happens next. … It all boils down to just three things: a storyteller, an audience, and a venue.
3) Dave Winer, 2002, discussing an Instant Outliner:
(…) narrating your work is the way to go.
4) This is Jon Udell, back in April 2004, The participant/narrator: owning the role, writing about the "XML-Deviant column at O'Reilly's XML.com … which began in January 2000, [and] would have been called a blog had the term been more current then":
For people who lack the time to closely monitor activity in some area, these bulletins are a way to keep a finger on the pulse. For the participant/narrator, they're a way to build personal brand and -- perhaps -- influence the agenda. It's been clear to me for a long time that the participant/narrator, armed with easy-to-use Web publishing technology (aka blog tools), will be a key player on every professional and civic team.
And:
Now that the hype about political blogs has died down, it's clear that this is the real deal: a grassroots effort to connect a political process to itself, to its constituency, and to the outside world. No fanfare, just steady and reliable information flow. Every team can benefit from this approach. By narrating the work, as Dave Winer once put it, we clarify the work. There can be more than [one] narrator, but it makes sense to have one team member own the primary role just as other members own other roles.
5) Jon Udell, July 2007, Beautiful code, expert minds, discussing a book where coders narrate their work ("Although this is a book by programmers and for programmers, the method of narrating the work process is, in principle, much more widely applicable"):
Access to expert minds is just inherently valuable. We’re entering an era in which we’ll be able to access many more — and many different kinds of — expert minds. I’m looking forward to it.
6) All this was set going again by Dave Winer's fine post yesterday, Narrate Your Work, "a big part of the future Rebooted News system, imho":
I clicked on the page of NYT editorial people on Twitter that I keep and I saw something very different, and this is the point of this story. I saw a news organization at work. Careful to say what they do and don't know. Informing each other on experience with similar stories in the past. Whether they were all reading all of the others' posts, I don't know. They were reading and passing on reports from other Twitter users, even those that didn't work at the Times. They were coordinating the work of a larger community than just people who work at the Times. … real reporters dealing with a true breaking story not just a simulation of a breaking story, let their hair down and share everything they know with the world. This is the impulse of news …

Jon Udell, 2001: "The web's leading blogger is clearly Dave Winer, who has for years pursued parallel careers as a software developer and storyteller (or, he might say, technology journalist)."


Three other passages from Jon Udell's 2001 post stand out for me:

Could it be that, despite Tim Berners-Lee's dream (and mine), the writable web is not the natural state of affairs? That, in fact, it is appropriate for consumers of web content to outnumber producers? And that tools and technologies are not the major constraint on the production of web content? Recent history suggests that the answer to all of these questions is probably yes. Personal computers have forever changed the way people make publications, movies, and music. But they have not changed the people who do these things. If you lack writing or editing or illustration skills, or filmic flair, or musical ability, then desktop publishing or video or music tools can't change that. What they can do -- and it's no small thing -- is help people with latent abilities in these areas discover and grow their talents. …
Blogging as a form of mainstream web entertainment, with its star performers and its popularity ratings, may or may not be a passing fad. What will endure, in any case, matters more: a powerful new way to tell stories that refer to, and make sense of, the documents and messages that we create and exchange in our professional lives. …
It [his project weblog] looks like a newspaper, and indeed serves a similar purpose.

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Things (and quite a few people) are talking to me

Stephen Fry — on Twitter

One of the bits of our new course for Year 9 that has given me the most pleasure to write is the part about microblogging. We have a number of students nurturing entrepreneurial ambitions and, when their ideas hit some kind of maturity, the next thing they may come to talk about is how to get themselves known. Looking at how Stephen Fry has used Twitter to reach a lot of people is something instructive to put before these students (if only because of what makes him so different), but everyone can benefit from looking at this sequence below. There’s much food for thought here — about celebrity and the web, brands and the web, scale, writing for unknown audiences, creating and sustaining (and providing confirmation of) your digital identity, the relationship between the person posting and the companies she/he is associated with … as well as “just” microblogging in general, of course. (Roo has a very good post, How do you use Twitter?, that I recommend to our students.)

 

As of today …

 

That’s one strand.

Then, all those things now a-twittering: Andy House, Botanicalls0106, Mars Phoenix, the Shipping Forecast, Tower Bridgeold Father Thames.

Oh to be young now and see how this all works out. Matt: "treating the web not as a web of pages and websites but as a web of data"; "digital and physical things—and, increasingly, excitingly—things that can’t make up their mind which they are". Russell: "The stuff that digital technologies have catalysed online and on screens is starting to migrate into the real world of objects."

In just one lesson (35 minutes) a week, in just one year group, sometimes we can’t do more than give a heads-up (omitting so much), but I hope our nascent engineers, software developers, designers, advertisers, planners of cities, architects, climate scientists, privacy activists, politicians, doctors, civil servants … in short, all wide awake citizens-to-be are getting this.

 

Fry9

 

PS   I haven’t even mentioned Google Profiles — have you created yours (or taken the decision not to)? Or used that new Contact info tab yet? There’s a bit about them, and Windows Live Profiles, in Lesson 17. Jyri just twittered, “Google profiles reached that state where it was time to point my blog’s About link there”.


Kayaking

The internet means you don’t have to convince anyone else that something is a good idea before trying it.
Scott Bradner, former trustee of the Internet Society (quoted in Here Comes Everybody)

The communications tools broadly adopted in the last decade are the first to fit human social networks well,
and because they are easily modifiable they can be made to fit better over time.
— Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody, p 158) 

Clay Shirky at the ICABack before Easter, I was at the ICA for the Eno/Shirky evening. One of the books I then read over the break was Here Comes Everybody. I’ve been meaning for some time to put down a few notes about it here. This has grown to be a long post as I’ve added to it, wanting to get a few things out on the page and, so, clearer in my own mind.

It’s a great book to suggest to friends who are not familiar with the technologies Shirky discusses as it hides its knowledge well — but there are still leads to follow up. The modest ten or so pages of the Bibliography threw up a number of articles I'd either not heard of before or hadn’t visited in a long while. In the former camp, I recommend: Anderson: More Is Different (Science — 1972); R H Coase: The Nature of the Firm (pdf) — a 1937 economics paper; Richard P. Gabriel — Lisp: Good News, Bad News, How to Win Big: worse is better (1991); Alan Page Fiske: Human Sociality. (There’s an online “webliography” here.) And chapters 8–11, covering so many big topics — social capital; three kinds of loss (some solve-a-hard-problem jobs; some social bargains; negative aspects to new freedoms); small world networks; more on social capital; failure (‘open source … is outfailing’ commercial efforts, 245); more on groups (‘every working system is a mix of social and technological factors’, 260) — hit my Amazon Prime account hard. (Incidentally, there’s a Kevin Kelly piece on “more is different”, Zillionics, that appeared earlier this year. See also Kevin Kelly’s The Google Way of Science and Wired’s The Petabyte Age: Because More Isn't Just More — More Is Different.)

Further reading to one side, a number of things discussed in the book particularly interested me straightaway. Firstly, sociality, privacy and exposure online. Leisa recently posted Ambient Exposure, an update (of sorts) to her post of last March, Ambient Intimacy. The titles tell their own story. Early on, Clay writes about ‘how dramatically connected we've become to one another … [how much] information we give off about our selves’. This took me back to Adam Greenfield’s recent talk at the Royal Society (I’ve also been re-reading Everyware). Our love of flocking is being fed handsomely by means of the new tools Clay Shirky discusses so well.

Privacy is always coming up in conversations at school about online life, and what I’m hearing suggests our students are beginning to look at privacy and exposure with growing circumspection. Facebook’s People You May Know functionality has made some sit up and wonder where social software might be taking us. We’re slowly acquiring a stronger sense of how seduction through imagined privacy works (alone in a room, save for screen and keyboard) and a more developed understanding of what it means to write for unseen audiences. Meanwhile, there are things to be unlearned: ‘those of us who grew up with a strong separation between communication and broadcast media … assume that if something is out where we can find it, it must have been written for us. … Now that the cost of posting things in a global medium has collapsed, much of what gets posted on any given day is in public but not for the public’ (90).  In the Bibliography, Clay refers to a post of Danny O’Brien’s — all about register — which is a longtime favourite of mine, too.

Then there was what the book had to say about media and journalism. Simon Waldman, well-placed to pass comment, on chapters 3 and 4:

The chapters most relevant to media/journalism - ‘Everyone is a media outlet’ and ‘Publish first, filter later’ should be required reading for pretty much everyone currently sitting in a newspaper/broadcaster. It’s certainly the best thought through thing I’ve read on this, and the comparison to the decline of the scribes when the printing press came in is really well drawn. 

The summary to Chapter 4 (‘Publish, Then Filter’) runs, ‘The media landscape is transformed, because personal communication and publishing, previously separate functions, now shade into one another. One result is to break the older pattern of professional filtering of the good from the mediocre before publication; now such filtering is increasingly social, and happens after the fact’. ‘Filter-then-publish … rested on a scarcity of media that is a thing of the past. The expansion of social media means the only working system is publish-then-filter’ (98). (Language like this can sound an utopian note that rings on in the head long after the book’s been closed, as if we’d entered a world beyond old constraints. And look!: the Praetorian Guard of elite gatekeepers is no more.)

I was interested, too, to read Shirky’s thoughts about the impact of new technologies on institutions. His application of Ronald Coase’s 1937 paper and, in particular, the idea of the Coasean floor (‘activities … [that] are valuable to someone but too expensive to be taken on in any institutional way’), was very striking: the new tools allow ‘serious, complex work [to be] taken on without institutional direction’ and things can now be achieved by ‘loosely coordinated groups’ which previously ‘lay under the Coasean floor’.

We didn't notice how many things were under that floor because, prior to the current era, the alternative to institutional action was usually no action. (47)

Later in the book (107), he comes back to institutions, taking what is happening to media businesses as not unique but prophetic — for ‘All businesses are media businesses … [as] all businesses rely on the managing of information for two audiences — employees and the world’:

The increase in the power of both individuals and groups, outside traditional organisational structures, is unprecedented. Many institutions we rely on today will not survive this change without significant alteration, and the more an institution or industry relies on information as its core product, the greater and more complete the change will be. The linking of symmetrical participation and amateur production makes this period of change remarkable. Symmetrical participation means that once people have the capacity to receive information, they have the capability to send it as well. Owning a television does not give you the ability to make TV shows, but owning a computer means that you can create as well as receive many kinds of content, from the written word through sound and images. Amateur production, the result of all this new capability, means that the category of "consumer" is now a temporary behaviour rather than a permanent identity.

‘Every new user is a potential creator and consumer’ (106) is reminiscent of Bradley Horowitz in Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers (2006).

*****

Continue reading "Kayaking" »


3 x 3 = 9x

The diagram comes from John Gourville’s paper, Eager Sellers and Stony Buyers (2006), and is one iteration of what he calls the 9x problem. I’d not come across Gourville’s work until yesterday, when I read Andrew McAfee’s 2006 post, The 9X Email Problem. Andrew’s post is so good, I hope I may be forgiven for reblogging a substantial part of it here:   

A while back I heard John Gourville, a colleague in HBS's Marketing department, talk about his research investigating why so many new consumer products fail to catch on with their intended audiences despite the clear advantages they offer over what's currently on the market.

His explanation was fascinating, and very insightful.  He said that we need to stop thinking about consumers as highly rational evaluators of the old vs. the new products, lining up pros and cons of each in mental tables and then selecting the winner.  Instead, we need to keep in mind three well-documented features of our cognitive 'equipment' for making evaluations.    

  • We make relative evaluations, not absolute ones.  When I'm at a poker table deciding whether to call a bet, I don't think of what my total net worth will be if I win the hand vs. if I lose it.  Instead, I think in relative terms --  whether I'll be 'up' or 'down.'

  • Our reference point is the status quo.  My poker table comparisons are made with respect to where I am at that point in time.  "If I win this hand I'll be up $40; if I lose it I'll be down $10 compared to my current bankroll."  It's only at the end of the night that my horizon broadens enough to see if I'm up or down for the whole game.

  • We are loss averse.  A $50 loss looms larger than a $50 gain.  Loss aversion is virtually universal across people and contexts, and is not much affected by how much wealth one already has.  Ample research has demonstrated that people find that a prospective loss of $x is about two to three times as painful as a prospective gain of $x is pleasurable.   

When combined, these three lead to what the behavioral economist Richard Thaler has called the "endowment effect:"  We value items in our possession more than prospective items that could be in our possession, especially if the prospective item is a proposed substitute.  We mentally compare having the prospective item to giving up what we already have (our 'endowment'), but because we're loss averse giving up what we already have (our reference point) looms large.   

And Gourville points out three factors that make the situation worse for product developers who want their offerings to succeed.  First is timing:  adopters have to give up their endowment immediately, and only get benefits sometime in the future.  Second, these benefits are not certain; the new product might not work as promised.  Third, benefits are usually qualitative, making them difficult to enumerate and compare.   

As if all this weren't enough, Gourville also highlights that the people developing new products are very dissimilar from the products' prospective consumers.  You don't go work for TiVo (to use his example) if you don't 'get' the potential of digital video recorders and think they're a really good idea.  And after working for the company for a while, having TiVo becomes part of your endowment; you think of things in comparison to TiVo, instead of in comparison to a VCR.  Both of these factors make it harder for developers to see things as their target customers do.   

Because of all of the above, Gourville talks about the '9X problem' --  "a mismatch of 9 to 1 between what innovators think consumers want and what consumers actually want."1  The 9X problem goes a long way to explaining the tech industry folk wisdom that to spread like wildfire a new product has to offer a tenfold improvement over what's currently out there.2  …   

Email is virtually everyone's current endowment of collaboration software.  Gourville's research suggests that the average person will underweight the prospective benefits of a replacement technology for it by about a factor of three, and overweight by the same factor everything they're being asked to give up by not using email.   This is the 9X problem developers of new collaboration technologies will have to overcome.   

1Gourville, J. T. (2004). Why consumers don't buy: The psychology of new product adoption, Harvard Business School Note #504-056   

2Andy Grove, Churning things up,  Fortune, July 21, 2003

 

Mobiles

To get a sense of how rapidly cellphones are penetrating the global marketplace, you need only to look at the sales figures. According to statistics from the market database Wireless Intelligence, it took about 20 years for the first billion mobile phones to sell worldwide. The second billion sold in four years, and the third billion sold in two. Eighty percent of the world’s population now lives within range of a cellular network, which is double the level in 2000. And figures from the International Telecommunications Union show that by the end of 2006, 68 percent of the world’s mobile subscriptions were in developing countries.

— from The New York Times article focusing on the work of Jan Chipchase (and colleagues), Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?.

… have you ever stopped to wonder why? Why, regardless of culture, age, gender and increasingly context you're likely to find a mobile phone in the hand, pocket or bag of the person next to you? Put simply - the ability to communicate over distances in a personal convenient manner is universally understood and appreciated, and it's easy enough to get the basics without going to night school or taking a PhD. It certainly helps that, as a functional tool that can be used discreetly or with a flourish, the mobile phone makes an ideal vehicle for projecting one’s status and personal preferences - from the choice of brand, model, ring tone or wallpaper, or simply that (because you're connected) you've arrived.

Today over 3 billion of the world's 6.6 billion people have cellular connectivity and it is expected that another billion will be connected by 2010. But what is often overlooked is the disproportionate impact of mobile phones on different societies, which is one of the reasons why as researchers, we increasingly prefer to spend time in places like Cairo and Kampala: there is simply more to learn. These are places where for many, it's the first time they have the ability to communicate personally and conveniently over distances - without having to worry whether someone can overhear the topic of their conversation - communicate with whom they want, when they want. It makes new businesses viable and creates markets where there was none. For many it's the first time they can provide a stable fixed point of reference to the outside world - a phone number, which in turn creates a new form of identity that in turn enables everything from rudimentary banking to commerce. And not least - each new feature on or accessible through the mobile phone brings new modes of use - unencumbered by my, and probably your entrenched (and increasingly outdated) notions of entertainment, the 'right' way to capture and share experiences, the internet. If you work or study in the mobile space and you're expected to innovate, these are places that bring fresh thinking and new perspectives.

— from Jan Chipchase's article, Small Objects, Travelling Further, Faster.

The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth. ... we've passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine.

"We knew this was going to happen a few years ago. And we know how it will end," says Eric Schmidt, chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Google. "It will end with 5 billion out of the 6" with cellphones. ... "Eventually there will be more cellphone users than people who read and write. I think if you get that right, then everything else becomes obvious."

"It's the technology most adapted to the essence of the human species -- sociability," says Arthur Molella, director of the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. "It's the ultimate tool to find each other. It's wonderful technology for being human."

— from The Washington Post, Our Cells, Ourselves.


What we're teaching this year

I thought I'd post here some links to stuff we've developed and are using with our first year students (13 year-olds). The material is in the public domain, on JotSpot.

So, here's the syllabus. (It's open to revision this year, as we teach it, and, of course, before we teach it again next year.)

Autumn Term

ICT at school, home ... mobile
Internet & web: key figures and events
Reading the social web: browsers, RSS and search
Communicating & collaborating, on- and off-line I: Office(s)

Spring Term

Communicating & collaborating, on- and off-line II: webmail, IM, chat, VoIP; blogs & wikis; video- and photo-sharing; social bookmarking and tagging; maps

Summer Term

Responsibility and Identity: Wikipedia (critical reading, responsible writing); social software (privacy, safety, digital identity)
The Law: copyright (links, permissions, problems); music (file-sharing, DRM); defamation and abuse (rights and responsibilities)
Games
Virtual Worlds   

Then there's a wealth of linked-to background material that served earlier this year as stuff for the department to immerse itself in as it readied itself. (We're very fortunate in the quality and commitment of the team which teaches this course.) I update this material from time to time so it can remain useful. 

Finally, the lessons to date: 

1  Introduction

2  Home & mobile technologies

3  The internet

4  Internet pioneers

5  The web

6  The web

7  Browsers

8  Personalisation and home pages

9  RSS and Aggregators

10  Search

11  RSS & Search: improving the signal to noise ratio

12  Office: I

We've had fun delivering these within the constraints of time (one 40-minute lesson a week!) and the engagement of the pupils has been inspiring. 

In doing what we've been doing, my concern has been to leave behind what John Naughton called (in the Observer) the Old Person's ICT Curriculum. I also found inspiration along the way in Dave Snowden's blog post, Huginn and Muginn. Not everything there meshes with what we're doing (we're not delivering touch-typing and, yes, we should be) and we are teaching something of a body of knowledge (eg, about web history —€” Eliot: 'A people without history Is not redeemed from time' — but that's not what he was referring to: see 'don't teach ICT as if it was a "body of knowledge"'). Such things apart, I'm entirely at one with the spirit of remarks like these:

make computers and broadband a universal right, like water … most computing skills and all social computing capability is learnt by doing and by regular practice rather than classroom lessons.

what really matters is that children experience and contribute to the evolution of technology, and to see that evolution as a symbiotic relationship with human kind. That requires us … [to be] thoughtful and mindful. We don't need to sacrifice an eye to gain wisdom … but we do need to sacrifice an over explicit non-experiential approach to ICT teaching.

I also like his fifth point:

Let things emerge, don't plan … It's not so much about repeating a success as repeating the conditions which led to that success. In any complex system you can never replicate outcome, but you can replicate starting conditions. … you want multiple diverse initiatives to emerge, and you want to measure their impact on the social and educational fabric … not a series of pre-determined targeted outcomes.

There's been a surprising amount of room for things to emerge: pupils experiment in their own time, bring a lot to the table, anyway, and are excited by discovering more about the powers given them by contemporary computing.

I'd add to all this a word about the re-appraisal of Prensky's influential digital natives meme — a re-appraisal that has been going on for some time now. Here's Henry Jenkins (writing earlier this month):

Talk of "digital natives" helps us to recognize and respect the new kinds of learning and cultural expression which have emerged from a generation that has come of age alongside the personal and networked computer. Yet, talk of "digital natives" may also mask the different degrees [of] access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.

Teaching this course this year, we have had it confirmed that being born in 1994 doesn't mean that online life, for all that it may be familiar, is well understood: where it's come from, what it can do and what your options are —€” these are all things that unite adults and teens as we seek to develop and mature in this new and changing world.


Trend watching

1) Bill Tanger, general manger of global research at Hitwise, writing in Time:

Perhaps a more interesting — and more accurate — way to figure out where college students are going online is to assess which of the 172 web categories tracked by Hitwise get the most hits from 18- to 24-year-olds. Here's a shocker: Porn is not No. 1. I've actually been puzzled by the decrease in visits to the Adult Entertainment category over the last two years. Visits to porn sites have dropped from 16.9% of all site visits in the U.S. in October 2005 to 11.9% as of last week, a 33% decline. Currently, for web users over the age of 25, Adult Entertainment still ranks high in popularity, coming in second, after search engines. Not so for 18- to 24-year-olds, for whom social networks rank first, followed by search engines, then web-based e-mail — with porn sites lagging behind in fourth. If you chart the rate of visits to social-networking sites against those to adult sites over the last two years, there appears to be a strong negative correlation (i.e., visits to social networks go up as visits to adult sites go down). It's a leap to say there's a real correlation there, but if there is one, then I'd bet it has everything to do with Gen Y's changing habits: they're too busy chatting with friends to look at online skin. Imagine.

This reshaped online landscape leaves me feeling old and out of the loop. It seems that social-networking sites have not only usurped porn in popularity, but they've also gobbled up time Gen Y-ers used to spend on traditional e-mail and IM. When you can reach all of your friends through Facebook or MySpace, there's little reason to spend time in your old-school inbox.

2) Via John Naughton, a report from Hitwise: 'For the first time last month, UK Internet visits to social networks overtook visits to web-based email services' —

image

3) From /personal:

It seems like all the camera usage graphs at Flickr are pointing down and look somewhat like this:

Canon camera usage on Flickr
Canon camera usage on Flickr (November 2007)

Are people using Flickr less than before? Or is camera usage more distributed by model than before? (I find this unlikely.) Is Facebook to blame?

(A number of explanations are possible, of course, of which The Facebook Factor is one — see the comments.)