Web 2.0

History, our future

… no civilization has ever saved everything; acknowledging that fact does not obviate the need to try and save as much as we can. — A Working Library

Way back in 2006, I heard Chris talk, demoing Nokia’s mobile web server. I loved that and in my imagination it combined with the idea of owning your own data. Imagine carrying your own data with you, the canonical copy of everything digital that’s you, serving it from your mobile device. (There was a newspaper picture I saw, during the terrible years after Yugoslavia disintegrated, of a refugee family carrying their hard drives stashed around their van and in their bags and coats. They called themselves, I think — I’ve never been able to find the picture since — the first hi-tech refugees, carrying with them all their digital stuff.)

Owning your own data:

I’m building a solution, bit by bit. It’s certainly incomplete, and with rough edges … but iteratively improving as I find time and inspiration to work on it. I’d rather host my data and live with such awkwardness in the open than be a sharecropper on so many beautiful social content farms. — Tantek Çelik

I haven’t even the beginnings of the technical knowledge needed to follow that particular path (‘This is what I mean by “own your data”. Your site should be the source and hub for everything you post online. This doesn’t exist yet, it’s a forward looking vision, and I and others are hard at work building it. It’s the future of the indie web.’), though I’d dearly like to. If someone builds that, I’d buy it.

In 2008, at Open Tech, I heard Danny O’Brien talk, Living on the Edge (pdf), and read his posts on the same theme: 2008–07–16, and then Independence DayIntermediariesDeath by BoredomH-T-T-P, You Know MeReachability on the EdgeHow Many Nines Does One Person Need?. From Independence Day: ‘a trend you couldn’t help but notice in this latest overexcitement is migration of data from the edge to centralised servers. … I’m curious as to what happens when one tries to buck this trend. … how much of our life that we share with the Web 2.0 giants do we really *need* to share? How much of these services can and should we be running from the comfort of our own homes?’

The year before, Ben had written: ‘I’m living out of webapps at the moment: Google Docs, Gmail, Reader, Meebo and the like. It has been a revelation: these things work really well.’ (And see Matt Haughey, writing in April that year.) How long ago that seems now!

Discussion of the issues hasn’t ceased and, for the foreseeable future, how can it? Take John Naughton, writing earlier this year: ‘the components needed for a new, user-controlled architecture are beginning to fall into place. It’s still a bit geeky, but all it needs is a human-friendly front end’ (my italics). And last year’s speech by Eben Moglen (FreedomBox), Freedom in the Cloud. Or, Take Back the Tubes — A DIY Data Manifesto:

… the web will likely never be completely free of centralized services and Winer recognizes that. Most people will still choose convenience over freedom. Twitter’s user interface is simple, easy to use and works on half a dozen devices. Winer doesn’t believe everyone will want to be part of the distributed web, just the dedicated. But he does believe there are more people who would choose a DIY path if they realized it wasn’t that difficult.

For much of the last year, I’ve become preoccupied with archiving and preserving our data; ‘we are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not’ (William Gibson, 2001). mmmarilyn: ‘The one thing that differentiates human beings from all other creatures on Earth is the externalization of subjective memory—first through notches in trees, then through cave paintings, then through the written word and now, through databases of almost otherworldly storage and retrieval power.’  And then — YAHOO!LOCAUST. John Naughton again (from earlier still this year):

Think of the pleasure we get from old family photographs or the delight that comes from clearing out an attic and finding boxes of love letters, school reports, our first exercise books and old appointment diaries. The contemporary versions of these personal documents are mostly stored either on obsolescent PC hard drives or on the servers of internet companies …

And,

The European Union says its member states must do more to digitize Europe’s cultural heritage and not simply leave that work to the private sector. To do otherwise, suggests a recently commissioned report, could steer Europe away from a digital Renaissance and “into a digital dark age.” — ReadWriteWeb, 2011

I’m no programmer, though decades ago I learned to use Fortran, writing my own program for an A level Biology project, and played with BASIC. Now, I’m playing with a Mac Mini server and a Pegasus R6. I want to know that we can hand on certain things … music, audio, photos, text and, increasingly important, video. History for the future.

Last Christmas, I was hoping we’d see some development in 2011 around the Mac Mini, though I suspected the game plan was more likely to be centred on the ecosystem that individuals, families and groups weave around multiple Apple devices. There’s room for both and it seems that Apple thinks so, too. I use cloud services a great deal, and this won’t stop as I play with creating our own, centralised repository of music, audio, photos, text and videos. I want our own backup and personally maintained server and store, but I know the cloud offers us so much, too.

In What if Flickr fails?, Doc Searls looked forward to ‘self-hosted versions of Flickr, or the equivalent’ but also to a future where we ‘pay more for what’s now free’:

I want them, and every other silo out there, to realize that the pendulum has now swung full distance in the silo’d direction — and that it’s going to swing back in the direction of open and distributed everything. And there’s plenty of money to be made there too.

Yes, indeed. If Apple gets it right with iCloud, I’ll happily pay for secure and really useful services in the cloud that respect my privacy and offer a level of backup and reliability that, even with all my best efforts, I’ll probably not (always) achieve at home. But I’ll hold them to the highest standards and aim not to have to miss a beat if it comes to moving to another service. Dave Winer:

The important thing is that you and your ideas live outside the silo and are ported into it at your pleasure. You never have to worry about getting your stuff out of the silo because it never lived in there in the first place.

Things my students might enjoy reading as they, too, wrestle with these matters:


Safe-keeping

Every year when I teach our first years (Year 9) about ICT it’s often surprising what stands out as having changed. It’s life-as-we-once-knew-it, Jim, but now more or less of a piece with this digital stuff. We’ve made a new thing. Lots of new things.

But quick! Look after them! They’re vanishing even as we look.

Recent lessons have developed a focus around the web-and-culture, the web-as-culture. So, lesson 15 is all about the stuff James talked about at dConstruct last year: history, historiography, memory; archiving the internet; time, growth, loss, decay … hope. James’s talk is the focus.

Last Thursday, in the discussion about all that, I found other things suggested themselves and fell satisfyingly into place. I’ve added some of these to the lesson as a supplementary page: Lee’s deeply affecting talk at Reboot 9 about Kozarac; the Long Now’s Rosetta Project. But also things I haven’t put on that supplementary page: Yahoo! and Geocities (already in the original lesson 15) led on to Yahoo! and Delicious (I showed them Pinboard and we talked about backing up locally as well as in the cloud), and Yahoo! and Flickr (which Yahoo!’s CEO doesn’t use: ‘One of the most highly visible and trafficked Yahoo properties and you don’t even have an account there’).

That led on to a look at cloud-computing and the ways in which the Wikileaks story has made people readjust their view of providers (see my last post). It got me scrambling around to find this photo that I knew I’d squirrelled away on Tumblr a while back:

Jerry Yang at Congress

Gao Qin Sheng, mother of Shi Tao, a Chinese reporter sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets, cries as Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang (left) testifies before a congressional committee hearing. (Photo: Reuters) — The Sydney Morning Herald (2007)

Wikileaks, Egypt … let’s not forget these lessons about cloud-computing and the responsibilities of global communications and cloud-computing providers.

And, as I find myself thinking more and more about archiving, memory and the digital, I really enjoyed Euan’s recent pieces: One small step (‘Goodness - a usenet search just stumbled upon my first ever experience, in 1995, of the power of the internet to make things easier’) and My first blog post. I hope Euan is happy if I re-blog the latter here (it’s so pertinent):

I knew I started blogging around this time of year in 2001 but thanks to a server crash in December 2001 I had no record of my first blog post. I tried The Wayback Machine but couldn’t remember the original url. I had tried various searches on Google and using Devon Agent but with no success but then I remembered that Ev Williams, who started Blogger and now Twitter, had made me a “Blog of Note” on the front page of Blogger in 2002. A search for that got me my old url and The Wayback Machine then came up with the goods.

So my first ever blog posts are preserved here and I began on the 3rd of March 2001. On day three I said:

“I started feeling a bit uneasy about this blog today. Who will ever read it and what will those who do think?”

Ten years later I am still wondering …..

URLs, permalinks, archives … preservation. It all matters so very much.

I’ve been pointing out to my Year 9 pupils the Facebook setting that lets you download your material to a local drive (thanks to Michael for pointing it out to me) — Account > Account settings > Download your information:

This tool lets you download a copy of your information, including your photos and videos, posts on your wall, all of your messages, your friend list and other content you have shared on your profile. Within this zip file, you will have access to your data in a simple, browseable manner. Learn More about downloading a copy of your information.

So many memories are held in Facebook — for now. Will these teenagers be grandparents with few photos of their teenage years to look back on, show and share? Back up, back up, back up.


Facebook, 2010

Where would we be without Facebook? For one thing, I could be spending time much more happily — reading, writing, gardening, walking … instead of trying to follow the labyrinth that is Facebook. 

The developments announced on 21 April have taken some time to digest and even now I’m not satisfied that we’re clear what differentiation there is for users below the age of 18. But in any case, I noticed last autumn that some users applying for university places were tidying up their profiles and photo albums — and, of course, for a number of these young students their eighteenth birthday was then upon them or imminent. Time-clocks ticking, biologically and digitally.

I posted something on our intranet today about the latest changes. The context and purpose required my having to overlook the good in all Facebook announced. Chris Messina wrote about this, as did David Recordon and DeWitt Clinton. But, as Tom Watson re-tweeted, ‘Facebook privacy settings are the new programming your VCR’ and, as several friends found, the post-f8 experience was … trying. (See Tony Hirst’s Keeping Up with Facebook Privacy Changes (Again) and Why I Joined the Facebook Privacy Changes Backlash…)

I would love, too, to have got more into my intranet posting of danah boyd’s latest writings on privacy, personal data, trust, context and the web (see, eg, Putting Privacy Settings in the Context of Use (in Facebook and elsewhere)Facebook’s move ain’t about changes in privacy norms — ‘Privacy is about having control of a situation. It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways. It’s about creating certainty so that we can act appropriately. People still care about privacy because they care about control’; Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data — ‘Privacy is not about control over data nor is it a property of data. … it’s about having control over a situation. It’s about understanding the audience and knowing how far information will flow. It’s about trusting the people, the situating, and the context.  People seek privacy so that they can make themselves vulnerable in order to gain something: personal support, knowledge, friendship, etc.’). But I hope I hinted at some of this just enough.

The difficulty with something as complex as these latest changes is not to put the reader off entirely and I asked a couple of folks, a student and a colleague, to vet the post first, fearing it was a swamp of detail. But as John (student) said: ‘On the issue of the information being a “swamp”‚ there’s not much anyone can do about it: Facebook privacy settings appear deliberately difficult to learn about and change. It reads well in despite of this.’ Kind words — and here’s the posting (it may have use beyond its immediate … context).

*****

Facebook and Privacy — May, 2010 

‘it may be best if you just assume that everything on Facebook will be public from now on and act accordingly’

 RWW: Facebook’s High Pressure Tactics: Opt-in or Else


Last December, Facebook changed its privacy settings. These and their implications were summarised on our intranet at the time.

On 21 April, Facebook announced a number of further, complicated changes. Some of the features users now need to understand include the following. All have privacy implications. (Note: if you have previously adjusted your privacy settings and not accepted Facebook's defaults, your experience of one or more of these new features may differ in some ways from what follows. You should check.)

  • Community Pages: a new kind of Page, replacing interests and activities. These pages are public.
  • Connected Profiles: opt-in, but ‘if you refuse to link to these new Pages, your profile information will be removed and your profile page will be left empty.’ — RWW: Facebook’s High Pressure Tactics: Opt-in or Else
  • Connections: treated as public information.
  • “Like” button: ‘When you click the button on an external website, you authorize Facebook to publish your activity to your Facebook profile (which, in turn, will also be published to your friends’ news feeds). Also, when your friends visit the external site, they will see that you’ve visited that site, too.’ — PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now
  • Instant Personalisation (currently, this involves just three sites: Microsoft DocsPandoraYelp). The “Allow” checkbox for Instant Personalization is on by default — you have to opt out. If you don’t opt out, ‘when you visit these sites, they can pull in information from your Facebook account, which includes your name, profile picture, gender and connections (and any other information that you’ve made visible to the public).’ — PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now

There’s a summary and “translation” of most of these terms (along with some others) on the EFF site: A Handy Facebook-to-English Translator. If you’re on Facebook, you should read this.

Within a week of the April announcement, 50,000 websites had already integrated with Facebook’s new social plugins (such as the “Like” button), including major sites such as CNN and The New York Times.

You also need to appreciate that Facebook applications access your personal data:

… many everyday Facebook users were shocked to find that applications (like quizzes) could access almost everything on a user profile, including hometown, groups you belong to, events attended, favorite books, and more. What’s worse is that your profile information becomes available to developers when your friends take the same quiz. — RWW: How to Delete Facebook Applications (and Why You Should)

That last point is important: for example, ‘Even if you opt out of Instant Personalization, there’s still data leakage if your friends use Instant Personalization websites — their activities can give away information about you, unless you block those applications individually.’ — EFF: A Handy Facebook-to-English Translator.

Whereas until 21 April Facebook apps could only store your data for 24 hours, now your data can be retained indefinitely.


All Facebook users would do well to look at another EFF post, Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline (‘Watch closely as your privacy disappears, one small change at a time!’). From there:

Since its incorporation just over five years ago, Facebook has undergone a remarkable transformation. When it started, it was a private space for communication with a group of your choice. Soon, it transformed into a platform where much of your information is public by default. Today, it has become a platform where you have no choice but to make certain information public, and this public information may be shared by Facebook with its partner websites and used to target ads.

Last week, Nick Bilton, Lead Technology Writer, The New York Timesreported on Twitter:

2010-04-29_23.26.53 adjusted.jpg


There’s huge value to personalisation and to sharing information. As Mark Zuckerberg wrote on 21 April: ‘if you’re logged into Facebook and go to Pandora for the first time, it can immediately start playing songs from bands you’ve liked across the web. And as you’re playing music, it can show you friends who also like the same songs as you, and then you can click to see other music they like’.

But personalisation means accepting some loss of privacy and you need to assess the value and the “risks” of this for yourself. Above all, users want to be in control of the context in which their information is used and when a company makes changes which affect this you simply must re-assess the situation.

The advice at the top of this page should be heeded: ‘it may be best if you just assume that everything on Facebook will be public from now on and act accordingly’.


A video and some links you may find helpful:

  (the blog post referred to in the video: EFF: How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization)

PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now

RWW: How to Delete Facebook Applications (and Why You Should)

Facebook: de-activating your account (you need to be logged in to Facebook to see this link)

Facebook: deleting your account (you need to be logged in to Facebook to see this link)


Who's programming the TiVo?

Jimmy Wales

Last Wednesday, it was my great pleasure to welcome Jimmy Wales to talk at school: ‘Wikipedia and Wikia : Free Culture for a Free World’. About 300 students and staff came to hear him, filling our main hall. Feedback has been very warm and appreciative (‘the best talk I’ve been to in my five years here’, ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity’, ‘the ethos of Wikipedia/Wikia is so inspiring’). We filmed the talk and Jimmy’s given us his slides and we’ll be posting these. I’m very grateful to him for coming, fitting us in during a short visit to London.

Early on in his hour with us, Jimmy asked how many of those there had ever edited Wikipedia. He reckoned about 80% of the students had. I wasn’t expecting that high a figure. As Chris said to me the next day, at the Guardian Changing Media Summit, the fact that that is going on, with no-one knowing the extent of it until the question is asked, is really appropriate to the nature of the project and the software.

There was a moment at the Guardian event that I hadn’t been expecting, either: Jimmy asked the media crowd how many of them had edited Wikipedia — about 30%. He then told them about the previous day: ‘yesterday I spoke at St Paul’s and the percentage was about 80% — so you’re behind. But don’t feel too bad about it: my daughter programs our TiVo.’ :) I heard some gasps from his audience.

The best unexpected moment on Friday of last week came when I was teaching ICT to a class of 13 year-olds: I must have said in passing how some folks at the Guardian event had tweeted about what Jimmy had said and, without my prompting, two of the class immediately searched Twitter (on “st pauls school”; “#cms2010 pauls” is, unsurprisingly, my search — same results):

2010-03-18_22.48.39 Wikipedia.jpeg

Two savvy, fast 13 year-olds, an impressed teacher and an excited class.

Just before Jimmy Wales came to school, I found out that we have a young student likely to become a Wikipedia admin. If this happens, he’ll be the second student (to the best of my knowledge) to become an admin whilst still at school here. (Alex became one in his final year with us — 2007/8.)

A parent wrote to me last week about his son editing Wikipedia: ‘in today’s interconnected way, this is the way to go and who knows what will happen then — expert status will allow him to develop other skills and is an asset in and of itself. It has also provided amazing learning for him.’

I find all this quite remarkable. We can grow so used to discussing change and the way young people now engage with the world, and we need experiences like those of last week to get us to look up and take stock again.

Wikipedia has played such a part in bringing about these new kinds of engagement.

Jimmy Wales

Datadecs

One of the things which brightened up our Christmas holiday was the arrival on 23 December of these datadecs:

Datadecs

(After years of large trees both real and, recently and unappealingly, fake, we were given this wee-but-living tree. As one of our sons said, ‘Not so much minimalist as miniature’. Give it time.)

Datadecs

Datadecs

A lovely present: many thanks to Russell, Tom and Ben at RIG, and to Andy — who writes,

For Christmas 2009 the Really Interesting Group wanted to create a a gift comprising a series of 4 unique decorations based on each recipient’s use of the Flickr, Dopplr, Last.fm and Twitter. Having used a couple of the software APIs they were thinking about using (flickr and dopplr) and with experience of rapid prototyping we worked together to turn the data into something physical. … Three of the four Datadecs are laser cut and one is rapid formed. For the laser cutting I developed a series of Processing sketches to generate cutting paths and the snowmen were generated using RhinoScript.

As Phil summarises it:

The snowman’s head size represents the number of followers I have on Twitter. The cloud and its rain represent my year’s trips on Dopplr. The blue shape shows the apertures of my photos on Flickr. And the red shape is the amount of music I played during the year, got from Last.fm.

More about these datadecs and their making in Andy’s post, and see, too, RIG’s page about them, Twitter mentions and Flickr tagged photos.

Very struck by these. Julian Bleecker: ‘this association between things materialized and things quantified is really significant’.

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Google

When I was at the Saïd Business School in September for the Oxford Social Media Convention 2009, I heard Matthew Hindman (author of The Myth of Digital Democracy) say that Google has spent more in the past six years on R&D than was spent on the entire Manhattan Project (figures adjusted for inflation: ‘constant 2002 dollars’).

In my opening remarks I strenuously disagreed with other presenters’ claims that the Internet provides for “low barriers to entry.” Different barriers to entry? Sure. Low barriers in 1995? Of course. But low barriers today? Not in any of the mature part of the Web, and certainly not in the niches that I study.

I thought of this again whilst reading John Naughton’s column on Sunday morning. If you have seven minutes to spare, watch this first:

John Naughton summarises:

The sting in the Android tail was also unveiled this week: Google has launched GPS navigation for the new handsets. It does everything that TomTom, Garmin et al do, and a lot more besides. For example, you can talk to it: tell it to “navigate to the museum with the King Tut exhibition” and it will do an instant Google search and present you with a list of options. Its maps are continually updated because they’re not held on the phone. It’ll give you live traffic data for your route. And when you get close to your destination it switches to Street View to show what it looks like. And it’s free.

That same day, in my Delicious network stream, Bill Gurley’s (now much lauded) post, Google Redefines Disruption: The “Less Than Free” Business Model, popped up, in which he reflects on Google’s progress from licensing data owned by the mapping duopoly of Tele Atlas and NavTeq to today’s state of independence:

… as a venture capitalist it is imperative to understand ways in which a smaller private company can gain the upper hand on a large incumbent. One of the most successful ways to do this is to change the rules of the game in such a way that the incumbent would need to abandon or destroy its core business in order to lay chase to your strategy. … when I read this week that Google was including free turn-by-turn navigation directions with each and every Android mobile OS, I had an immediate feeling that I was witnessing a disruptive play of a magnitude heretofore unseen. … Rumors abound about just how many cars Google has on the roads building it own turn-by-turn mapping data as well as its unique “Google Streetview” database. Whatever it is, it must be huge. This October 13th, just over one year after dropping NavTeq, the other shoe dropped as well. Google disconnected from Tele Atlas and began to offer maps that were free and clear of either license. These maps are based on a combination of their own data as well as freely available data. Two weeks after this, Google announces free turn-by-turn directions for all Android phones. … To understand just how disruptive this is to the GPS data market, you must first understand that “turn-by-turn” data was the lynchpin that held the duopoly together. … Google’s free navigation feature announcement dealt a crushing blow to the GPS stocks. Garmin fell 16%. TomTom fell 21%. Imagine trying to maintain high royalty rates against this strategic move by Google.

There’s much more to read there about the implications of Google’s move. Much, much more. Including the irresistible new ecosystem that will open up:

Google is apt to believe that the geographic taxonomy is a wonderful skeleton for a geo-based ad network. If your maps are distributed everywhere on the Internet and in every mobile device, you control that framework. Cash starved startups, building interesting and innovative mobile apps, will undoubtedly build on Google’s map API. It’s rich, it is easy to use, and quite frankly the price is right. In the future, if you want to advertise your local business to people with an interest in your local market, chances are you will look to Google for that access.

(Yesterday, talking to some business savvy students, I was struck by how much they already knew about this and how they lapped up Bill Gurley’s article for its navigation of the very far reaching implications of Google’s move. That breath on the nape of your neck? The next generation, coming up fast.)

Gizmodo reflected on this in Google and the Deadly Power of Data:

This is not an attack of Google’s business practices, but an explanation of the sort of destructive innovation that has made them so huge so fast. (It’s also a warning to consider carefully any entities that gets this strong, especially if you plan on going into business with one.) Though predecessors like Microsoft experienced similar explosive growth, and grew a similar sudden global dependence, we’ve never seen the likes of Google. The GPS business isn’t the only one that will be consumed by its mighty maw before it’s had its run.

We’ve already seen the devaluation of the office apps that make Microsoft rich; we’ve already seen how Google’s experiences with Apple and others helped it create telecommunications platforms (both mobile with Android and completely virtual with Google Voice) that threaten its former partners’ existence; we’ve already seen how Google converts photos, videos, news wire stories and other former commodities into freebies by smashing the false notion of scarcity that “service” providers had literally banked on.

Meanwhile, pundits remain fascinated by the economics of YouTube and the same edition of the Observer, in an article about Google’s ContentID system, repeated the line that, ‘Three years after Google bought the site for $1.65bn, it has yet to turn a profit and there are concerns the division is devouring the internet group’s cash reserves’. Last month, Eric Schmidt said, ‘We’re starting to make signifigant money off of Youtube’. But it was a recent Wired piece that held my attention:

… a new report from Arbor Networks suggests that Google’s traffic is approaching 10 percent of the net’s traffic, and that it’s got so much fiber optic cable, it is simply trading traffic, with no payment involved, with the net’s largest ISPs.

“I think Google’s transit costs are close to zero,” said Craig Labovitz, the chief scientist for Arbor Networks and a longtime internet researcher. Arbor Networks, which sells network monitoring equipment used by about 70 percent of the net’s ISPs, likely knows more about the net’s ebbs and flows than anyone outside of the National Security Agency.

And the extraordinary fact that a website serving nearly 100 billion videos a year has no bandwidth bill means the net isn’t the network it used to be.

(According to Chad Hurley, CEO and Co-founder of YouTube, YouTube now serves ‘well over a billion views a day’.)

More here on the Internet Observatory Report from Arbor Networks (I’d really like to get hold of the report itself and scrutinise the details), from whence this:

Evolution of the Internet Core: Over the last five years, Internet traffic has migrated away from the traditional Internet core of 10 to 12 Tier-1 international transit providers. Today, the majority of Internet traffic by volume flows directly between large content providers, datacenter / CDNs and consumer networks. Consequently, most Tier-1 networks have evolved their business models away from IP wholesale transit to focus on broader cloud / enterprise services, content hosting and VPNs.

Rise of the ‘Hyper Giants’: Five years ago, Internet traffic was proportionally distributed across tens of thousands of enterprise managed web sites and servers around the world. Today, most content has increasingly migrated to a small number of very large hosting, cloud and content providers. Out of the 40,000 routed end sites in the Internet, 30 large companies – “hyper giants” like Limelight, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and YouTube – now generate and consume a disproportionate 30% of all Internet traffic.

About the Wired piece, Ian commented on Delicious, ‘Another way to put it: Unless you own massive infrastructure, you will *never* be able to compete with Google. Welcome to the new net, indeed. Meet the new boss…’. The field certainly ain’t level.

All of which made me do what I’d a while ago grown bored of doing and once more note down something here (as a marker for myself) about … Google. Creative destruction.

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Last words on last year

A few words to add to what I wrote back in January about the first half of last academic year, 2008–9.

This was the second year we’d taught our Year 9 the new ICT course (online here). Now that this body of material is very familiar to us, we can move on with confidence, keeping the old cycle of lessons as a reference for us and for anyone else who wants this level of detail, but producing much cleaner, leaner lesson material for the pupils with more time, now, for hands-on experience both in lessons and beyond. Given the engagement we’re building with professionals based in London, and the inter-disciplinary collaboration now going on at school to make much more of all the considerable areas of overlap between art, ICT, technology, electronics, science, etc, I’m confident that there’s something underway which, properly nurtured and encouraged, could be very exciting and creative.

As part of our continuing exploration of computer games, we were fortunate to have two more visiting speakers of distinction. Ian Livingstone came in May. Eidos hosts a biography. One of the UK’s founding fathers of interactive games and fiction (he co-founded Games Workshop in 1975), at Eidos (the UK's leading developer and publisher of video games) he was instrumental in securing many of the company's major franchises, including Tomb Raider and Hitman. In 2000 he was awarded the BAFTA Special Award for his outstanding contribution to the interactive entertainment industry. In 2003 he was appointed Creative Industries advisor to the British Council and in 2005 he was appointed Chair of the Computer Games Skills Council. He was awarded an OBE in the 2006 New Year’s Honours List for his contribution to the Computer Games Industry. His talk, Life Is A Game, focused on his many years in games. He spoke about the acute skills shortage in the UK games industry and the urgent need for top quality UK maths/computer science graduates to consider it as a career.

I'm delighted that, again in May, Alice Taylor, Commissioning Editor, Education, at Channel 4 and a renowned gamer, came to talk about her life in gaming (she played Quake for England), what she does now and why she thinks gaming matters. You can read about her work with C4 and what she's up to on her blog. You can also read what Matt Locke at C4 has to say about her (‘she’s one of the most inspiring women I know working in technology at the moment’) and you can read about some of her thinking to do with a game C4 is developing about privacy. (And the game, Smokescreen, is now out.)

In June, we squeezed in another excellent talk — by Graham Cooke, eCommerce Senior Project Manager, EMEA, Google. He spoke about cloud-computing (trends and changes in computing and how cloud-computing is changing the way we work), his own work at Google and website analytics (what it takes to make a website work).

Last term saw us celebrate our 500th anniversary as a school and as part of that my colleague, Olly Rokison, showed off Centograph on our open day (more about our open day and ICT in an earlier post), a piece we’d commissioned from Tinker.it!. We’ve been talking with Alex and others at Tinker.it! for a while now (and Alex spoke at school last September), looking at ways in which we can make more use of Arduino in our teaching and at how we teach about “the internet of things”.

 

From the Tinker.it! post about Centograph:

image

Students in St. Paul’s technology classes are studying the fundamentals and the latest advances in computation, networks, electronics, and physical design. These technologies are increasingly complex and interconnected; this has been reflected in the emergence of fields such as interaction design, human computer interaction, and physical computing.

Centograph, a physical representation of virtual information, uses today’s technologies to encourage viewers to reflect on the past.

When you enter a search term into the computer, Centograph queries the Google News Archive for a list of related news articles over the past 100 years. The archive returns a timeline of articles sorted according to date. The bars on the graph then change height to display a histogram of the relative number of news articles for each decade. This allows you to view the ‘shape’ of the past century in relation to different topics—from progression in computing technology to times of war and peace to changing sources of energy, to name a few possibilities.

Centograph provides viewers with a context for exploration and reflection, and it urges viewers to seek connections between different subjects and evaluate changes in public discourse over time. It also raises questions about how we use technology today. How do we acquire and interpret information, and how do we connect the web of virtual data to our physical lives? Users type a search term into the computer and press enter. The bar graph then changes to display the histogram for the term. You can also browse through words that other people have entered by clicking on a term to see the related graph.

We’re looking forward to doing more with both Arduino and Tinker.it!.

And so, the new school year begins … More about us and AMEE, YouTube/Vimeo, etc as we go.


Back in May …

… St Paul’s held an open day to celebrate its 500th anniversary. For our part, we put together a small show in our main ICT room. My thanks to the four pupils who helped me set this up and who looked after our visitors so well for the whole of what was a fun but long afternoon.

Open Day  Open Day  Open Day  Open Day

Making use of the bank of desktop machines in the room, we gathered together a number of videos under this umbrella:

A brief introduction to the modern web: an overview of how computers shrank, became mobile and ever more powerful, an insight into how we teach about all this and a glimpse of the world we’re all soon going to be living in.

It may be that some of what follows in this longish post (a lot of video) is of interest beyond the immediate occasion of the day. I put the videos in playable form here as you may want to scan quickly and then dip in when something catches your eye. On the day, visitors could go round a number of videos/slideshows (mostly paired and in the sequence below) but of course, and as we expected, people dipped in and out: it was that or giving over a lot of the afternoon to this one room. (For me, in these very general talks or events, there’s quite a bit of churn, but it seems always to be the case that there’s plenty of new hooks for anyone whose life isn’t spent immersed in this stuff.)

Incidentally, one of the successes of the afternoon was the discovery of what you can do with the simplest of devices. Spotted in the field the previous week at Manchester’s Urbis, Staples’ slanted clear acrylic sign holders are a brilliant way of signing an exhibition with the minimum of fuss and a lot of clarity:

 The internet of things 

The only nod towards a more formal, display-board style of presentation was this:
 Moore's Law

(Sources: see the first slideshow below, Gizmodo for the smiling boy with the make-believe mobile and Intel’s Moore’s Law 40th Anniversary Press Kit for the two charts on the right.)

Finally, alternating on the overhead projector throughout the afternoon were these videos:

                     

1/

Slideshow 1 (credits as per the links and also: original Apple iPhone ads — see 6/ below; stills from Did You Know; the Flickr slide — from here).

A short history of how computers have grown in power, how their size has got smaller and smaller … and how they’ve gone mobile. Also (and very swiftly), an overview of developments in technology and the web, the advent of both cloud-computing and ubiquitous computing … and the emergence of astonishingly rich social sites and practices.

 
Steve Jobs (1991?) talks about what computers mean to him: ‘Computers are like a bicycle for our minds’.

 

2/  Apple, 1984

In January 1984, a youthful Steve Jobs demonstrated the first Apple Mac. This film still has the power to impress, such was the reception this innovative machine received. And then there’s also Jobs’ own reaction …


This advert, directed by Ridley Scott, was shown on US TV in 1984 and introduced the Mac personal computer. As they said in a later campaign,
Think Different.

 

3/  California dreaming

‘Knowledge Navigator’: another Apple film, from 1987, imagining a personal computer that would be like a PA, memex machine, scholastic aid, visual display — oh, and phone. (Sound familiar?)


‘Time Capsule’: an Apple film made in 1987 and imagining the future of 1997. “No question about it, the 1990s have really been the Apple decade.”

 

4/ Google and Cloud-Computing

It’s hard to believe that Google is just ten years old. In January this year, the company released this film looking back at what they’d done in that time. All 4th Formers get a thorough grounding in using Google’s tools and in managing their personal identity and privacy.


Cloud-computing: more and more of the data we create and use and store is not on our devices but “in the cloud” — in data centres such as this one. Google makes energy efficiency a priority.

 

5/  Google Earth

Everyone knows Google Earth and Google Street View. We explore in our 4th Form course the implications of these technologies for the visualisation of information. We also discuss the emergence of location-based social software and its implications for privacy.

Here’s a beautiful example of the educational value of Google Earth: Ancient Rome (a layer in Google Earth) as it looked in 320AD.

 

6/  iPhone

A game-changing device. The original advertising campaign from June 2007 summarises brilliantly what had been achieved.


The iPhone brought touchscreens into the lives of many. Will it be a key player in bringing ubiquitous computing into our lives, too?
4th Formers are taught that “computers” are much more, and much more present in our lives, than the single desktop this film is playing on.

 

7/  Living in a digital world

Slideshow 2:

An idea of how our students use web-based tools and a panoramic view of our course for 4th Formers.

(I used much of this material in my talk at C4’s recent What Comes Next? The Channel 4 Education Summer Conference.)


Editing Wikipedia: a time-lapse film of the edits made to the page about the London 7 July, 2005, bombings. The article was created, that morning, at 9.15am. In its first four hours, it was edited over a thousand times. All 4th Formers are taught how to understand, evaluate, use and edit Wikipedia.

 

8/  The near future

CGI: no water was harmed in this film. Or even used. Programmers from St Paul’s can look forward to working on enhancing such techniques even further, in film and videogames.


Big Dog, a robot built by Boston Dynamics, walks on rough terrain and ice whilst carrying heavy loads (340lbs). Control Technology works in areas that prepare students for fields like this.

                                          

 

9/  Games

A contentious area for some, the development of a substantial body of critical literature and the wise words of respected reports such as last year’s Byron Review, along with research and better knowledge generally, are leading to a more considered reception of computer games. This slideshow outlines some important research from last year and highlights a talk given here in November 2008.


Old Paulines created Rockstar Games (Grand Theft Auto, etc). In school today, we are creating an intelligent ethos for the discussion and understanding of games.

In designing videogames, something called The Uncanny Valley needs to be avoided. An entertainingly presented talk.

 

10/  The internet of things

Many of us have grown up thinking the internet is mainly the web — a web of pages. But the machines are coming: embedded devices of all kinds … Machines … talking … to us.

Gartner think that, “By year end 2012, physical sensors will create 20 percent of non-video internet traffic. … The extent and diversity of real-time environmental sensing is growing rapidly as our ability to act on and interpret the growing volumes of data to capture valuable information increases.”

Sensors to monitor energy consumption will become very common. Simon Hay, OP, has been working on this concept (see this poster and site) and three current pupils in the school will be using AMEE to record and monitor our energy usage.

This final Apple video shows the iPhone 3.0 and its use with medical devices — for example, in the monitoring of diabetes.

 

(And for further food for thought, Matt Jones’ iPhone 3.0: everyware-ready?.)

 

11/  Getting it wrong

So many of the things we imagine about the future are wildly wrong. This trip round the recent past and the fast-developing present has tried to avoid such wild predictions, preferring to look instead at some things that are coming true already (a near-future becoming the present) or that are already here.

Cue Postcards Show the Year 2000 (circa 1900). And then:

Here, in two parts, is the GM Futurama 1939 World’s Fair looking ahead to the imagined 1960s, a techno-utopian vision we still haven’t achieved.

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Our work (so far) this year

It’s again been an exhilarating experience to teach our first years (13 year-olds) their ICT course. The pace of adoption by them of technological developments still surprises: once again, I notice how this year’s cohort is just that much further on than the equivalent year group last year. It’s not just us, the adults, who notice this: where we might think that teenagers swim in all this digital stuff like fish in water, it’s eye-opening to watch only slightly older students being amazed at what 13 year-olds now know. So last month, a year on from when I last posted here about this course, I was feeding back to colleagues whose specialism is not ICT:

Last year, for example, we taught about tabbed browsing, but this year we didn’t need to: our 13 year-olds are experimenting freely with different browsers, wasting no time in downloading and adopting the recently released Google Chrome. They joined the school knowing more than last year’s 4ths about operating systems and several have experience of Linux. They are keen to learn about how they can maintain their personalised experience of computing (by exploiting web apps) when using the school’s networked machines and many were already using iGoogle before joining St Paul’s. One 4th former routinely uses PortableApps and showed others how to do the same. Others know about running Firefox from a memory stick, retaining all their individual settings no matter what PC they are on. There is a wide range of hardware in use and the barrier between desktop machines (hitherto commonly taken to be synonymous with computers) and mobile devices has gone — notebooks, mini-books, smartphones, the iPodTouch, iPhones ... all proving their computing worth in day-to-day life. Location-based services are being widely used on mobile phones; such services are coming soon to browsers (Firefox, Chrome) and operating systems (eg, Windows 7).

Some further context here: a year ago, iGoogle was alien to nearly all our first years; memory sticks were used more or less only as … memory sticks — running apps off of them was a fringe experience; browsers and the exploitable differences between them simply hadn’t the popular prominence they have now. Most interesting in many ways to me is the demand for Open Source software: because of 13 year-old, pupil-led demand we are networking Open Office, running it alongside MS Office. It’s up to the user which product he/she wants to use. I’m also interested in reports from colleagues about 13 and 14 year-old pupils, when asked to create a document or to collaborate, opening web-based apps as a matter of course.

So, the course as it is evolving this year is currently online here. I have no doubt, though, that we are now at a watershed and, as I also summed things up for colleagues, ‘The current course, revised from that of last year, will need fundamental revision for next year in order to keep pace with the changes afoot and the rate of adoption by young teenagers’. In particular, I think we’re now ready to make a fundamental shift towards the creative — and this pleases me a great deal.

They don’t have blogs, or I’d link to them, but my gratitude to the team with whom I co-teach this course (Richard, Andrew, Olly, David) is great: my thanks to them for all their hard work and enthusiasm.

This year has been very busy on a number of other fronts. We took the decision late last academic year to re-design our website and asked Clearleft to undertake the work. As I knew it would prove, it’s been a pleasure to work with Clearleft: we’re somewhere around halfway through the project and I’ve learned a great deal from them — about web-design, for sure (we had fun with affinity diagrams and played with post-its), but also about how good design work probes and challenges a company’s perception of how it’s promoting itself. I recommend the experience.

We’ve also been working a lot with Firefly, the company who write the software that powers both our website and our intranet. Simon and Joe, the founders and developers of Firefly, were pupils at St Paul’s and wrote the first iteration of Firefly whilst studying here. With the great help of Jess and Serena from Headshift, we have worked together, discussing how the interface and capabilities of Firefly might be developed, and this month saw the release of the new product. Thank you, Joe and Simon, for all your work on this. In summary: comments can now be enabled on all pages; we have blogs; the editing interface has been re-worked and made in-line, write-access is on by default and key editing options are immediately visible in hover-over mode; RSS has been made both much more obvious and widely available; the permissions dialogue has been improved and made more transparent; search has been improved both in UI and performance; template documentation is on its way, as is tagging; shared workspaces are available; calendaring now supports iCal; pages are owned by their creators but stewardship of a page is assignable (useful with classes, projects, etc). These are major software improvements for our intranet (which has amassed some 25,000 pages), providing us with something to build on collaboratively (staff and pupils) and develop further.

When we were deliberating the next iteration of our ICT Development Plan, I wanted green computing to be high on the agenda and I’m delighted that we worked with Gavin at AMEE and are now poised to start aggregating our energy data for the school (ie, the whole site) with AMEE. Our building program recognised the importance of sustainability from the outset.

We’ve been in discussion with Google about starting a branded YouTube channel. We filmed most of this year’s talks (see below) and have these and other stuff to go up. All this takes time, of course, but it’s coming.

This year we also began what I sense is necessarily a thoughtful, slow and sensitive engagement with games and gaming. These have a poor standing in schools, yet their cultural influence and their ubiquity in the lives of many younger people (by no means “just” students) is evident and widely reported. Grand Theft Auto originates from Paulines, of course, and it was high time to address the whole “matter”. We founded a society this term, met a couple of times (the first time without anyone, perhaps, realising it was meeting) and grew it out of two influential, important talks (see below). Next term we move the throttle forward and give it some more oomph. Those involved (it’s pretty popular) bought the idea of everyone reading more about games, and we’ll start with Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You.

We’ve had a great run of speakers so far this year, with more to come. Last academic year I blogged these talks as we went, but this year things have been too busy for that (along with all the work detailed here, I’ve also switched to commuting daily, which involved decamping mid-term from my school flat and giving some much overdue attention to our own home — and then there was learning to live with First Great Western …). So here’s the run-down …

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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).

*****

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