Posts Tagged ‘google’
I was at a full day about innovation at Mediaplaza in Utrecht today. We used a room that had a stage in the center and chairs on four sides around it. This is a bit weird as the speaker has to look in four directions to be able to connect with the audience. The funny thing is that it actualy works (also because there are four screens on each wall): each of the speakers could do nothing else than be dynamic on the stage.
Below my public notes on a few of the presentations:
Gijs van der Hulst, Business Development Manager at Google
The Wall Street Journal has done some research and found out that there has been an increase of 65% in how often top 500 companies mention the word “innovation” in their public documents in the last five years. Unfortunately the business practices of these companies have not really changed. How can you really effect change?
Google has nine “rules for innovation”:
- Innovation, not instant perfection. Another way of saying this is “launch and iterate”: first push it to the market and then see if it is working.
- Ideas come from everywhere. They can come from employees, but also from acquisitions or from outsiders.
- A licence to pursue your dreams. An example of a 20% project that was very succesful is Gmail. This was started by somebody who didn’t like how email was working at the time.
- Morph projects – don’t kill them. Google’s failed social efforts (Buzz, Wave) has taught it valuable lessons for its current effort: Google+
- Share as much information as you can. This is very different from most companies. The default for documents within the company is to share with everyone.
- Users, users, users. At Google they innovate on the basis what users want, not on profit.
- Data is apolitical. Opinions are less important than the data that supports them. They always seek evidence in the data to support their ideas. Personal note from me: Really? Really?? You cannot be serious!
- Creativity love constraints. Their obsession with speed (with hard criteria for how quickly the interface has to react to user input) is an example of an enabler for many of their innovations.
- You’re brilliant? We’re hiring. In the end it is about people and Google puts a lot of effort into making sure they have the right people on board.
Larger companies are more bureaucratic than smaller companies. Google is now more bureaucratic than it used to be. One of the ways this can be battled is by reorganizing which is exactly what Google has done recently.
Sean Gourley, Co-founder and CTO of Quid
Sean talked about our eye as an incredible machine with an incredible range. We enhanced our sight through microscopy and telescopy which opened up views towards the very small and the very big. We have yet to develop something that helps us see the very complex. He calls that “macroscopy”. For macroscopy you need:
- big data
He used this framing for his PhD work on understanding war. His team used publicly available information to analyze the war. When wikileaks leaked the US sig event database they could validate their data set and found that they had 81% coverage. His work was published in Science and in Nature. He decided to take it further though as he really wanted to understand complex systems. They needed to go from 300K in funding and 6 people towards an ambition level of about $100M and a 1000 people. He sought venture capital and had Peter Thiel as his first funder for Quid.
Sean then demoed the Quid software analyzing the term “big data”. Quid allows you to interactively play with the information. They extract entities from the information. So for example there are about 1500 companies involved in the big data space which can be put into different themes allowing you to see the connections between them while also sizing them for influence. Next was a fractal zoom into American Express where they looked at their patents portfolio and explored their IP creating a cognitive map of what it is that American Express does.
In 1997 Deep Blue changed the way we discussed artificial intelligence. We were beaten in chess by brute horsepower. As a reaction Kasparov started a new way of playing chess where you are allowed to bring anything you want to the chess table. The combination of human and machine turned out to be the best one. Gourley sees that as a metaphor for what he is trying to do with Quid: enhancing human cognitive capacity with machines, augmenting our ability to perceive this complex world.
Sean also talked about the adjacent possible: the way that the world could be if we used the pieces that are on the table right in front of you (e.g. the Apollo 13 Air Filter and duct tape).
His research on insurgents has taught him that some of them are successful and when they are, it is because of the following reasons:
- Many groups
- Internal Competition
- Long Distance Connections
- Reinforce Success
Polly Summer, Chief Adoption Officer at Salesforce
Salesforce was recently recognized by Forbes as the most innovative company in the world. According to Polly the tech industry has significant innovations every 10 years. For each of these ten-year cycles the industry has 10 times more users.
The ingredients for continueous innovation at Salesforce are: Alignment & Collaboration, “A Beginners Mind”, Agility, Listen to customers and Think big.
Polly talked about how she used their social platform called Chatter to collaborate in a completely “flat” way. They now even use Chatter as a means to make the worldwide management offsite meeting radically transparent. The next step in the Chatter platform is to “gamify” it and let the individual contributors rise and recognize their contributions (they’ve acquired Rypple for example).
Agile is about maintaining innovation velocity and delivering at speed. The “prioritize, create, deliver, get feedback, iterate”-cycle needs to be sped up. One way of doing this is by listening to your customers as they are all a natural source for ideas. She showed a couple of examples from Starbucks and KLM:
Polly then shared an example of where Salesforce made a mistake: they announced a premium service that they wanted to charge extra for. Customers complained loudly on social media and within 24 hours they reversed their decision.
In 2000 they asked themselves the questions: Why isn’t all enterprise software like Amazon.com? Right now in 2011 they asked themselves a different question: Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook? She would consider 2011 the year of Social Revolution. Salesforce’s vision is that of a social enterprise: allowing the employee social network and the customer social network to connect (preferably in a single social profile).
Bjarte Bogsnes, VP Performance Management Development for Statoil, chairman of Beyond Budgeting Roundtable Europe
On Fortune 500 Statoil rates first on social responsibility and seventh on Innovation.
Bjarte discussed the problems with traditional management. He used my favourite metaphor, traffic, comparing traffic lights to roundabouts. Roundabouts are more efficient, but also more difficult to navigate. A roundabout is values-based and a traffic light is rules-based. Roundabouts are self-regulating and this is what we need in management models too. He then touched on Theory X and Theory Y.
When you combine Theory X with a perception of a stable business environment you get traditional management (rigid, detailed and annual, rules-based micromanagement, centralised command and control, secrecy, sticks and carrots). If you perceive the business environment as stable and you have Theory Y your management is based on values, autonomy, transparency (can be an alternative control mechanism) and internal motivation. If you combine Theory X with a dynamic business environment you get relative and directional goals, dynamic planning, forecasting and resource allocation and holistic performance evaluation.
Finally, if you combine Theory Y with a dynamic business environment you get Beyond Budgeting.
Beyond Budgeting has a set of twelve principles (it isn’t a recipe, but more of an idea or a philosophy):
Governance and transparency
- Values: Bind people to a common cause; not a central plan
- Governance: Govern through shared values and sound judgement; not detailed rules and regulations
- Transparency Make information open and transparent; don’t restrict and control it
- Teams: Organize around a seamless network of accountable teams; not centralized functions
- Trust: Trust teams to regulate their performance; don’t micro-manage them
- Accountability: Base accountability on holistic criteria and peer reviews; not on hierarchical relationships
Goals and rewards
- Goals: Set ambitious medium-term goals; not short-term fixed targets
- Rewards: Base rewards on relative performance; not on meeting fixed targets
Planning and controls
- Planning: Make planning a continuous and inclusive process; not a top-down annual event
- Coordination: Coordinate interactions dynamically; not through annual budgets
- Resources: Make resources available just-in-time; not just-in-case
- Controls: Base controls on fast, frequent feedback; not budget variances
Most companies use budgeting for three different things:
- Setting targets
- Resource allocation
When we combine these three things in a single number then we might run into its conflicting purposes. So the first step towards Beyond Budgeting is separating these three things. So for example the target is what you want to happen and the forecast is what you think will happen. The next step is to become more event driven rather than calendar driven.
Statoil has a programme called “Ambition to Action”:
- Performance is ultimately about performing better than those we compare ourselves with.
- Do the right thing in the actual situation, guided by the Statoil book, your Ambition to action, decision criteria & authorities and sound business judgement.
- Within this framework, resources are made available or allocated case-by-case.
- Business follow up is forward looking* and action oriented.
- Performance evaluation is a holistic assessment of delivery and behaviour.
From strategic ambitions to KPIs (“Nothing happens just because you measure: you don’t lose weight by weighing yourself.”) and then into actions/forecasts and finally into individual or team goals.
Fosdem is the place where you’ll find a Google engineer who as a “full time hobby” is lead developer for WorldForge an open source Massive Multiplayer Online game, or where you have a beer with a developer who has a hard time finding a job, because all the code he write has to have a free software license: “you don’t ask a vegan to have a little bit of meat do you?”. It probably is the world’s biggest free software conference: More than 5000 people show up yearly in Brussels, there is no fee to attend and there is no registration process.
I really enjoy going because there are few other events that have this few barriers to attendance and to approaching the event the way you want to approach it. I like wondering around and thinking about how these are the people that actually keep the Internet working. Below some notes about the different talks that I attended (very little educational technology to be found, beware!).
Free Software: A viable model for Commercial Success
Robert Dewar from AdaCore had an interesting talk about how to use free software as a true commercial offering. There was no ideology in his talk but only a pure commercial perspective. They usually sell free software as “open source” and focus on convenience and utility in their selling proposition. They tell the customer they get the source code included without locks and with no limits on the number of installs.
The business model is based around subscriptions (for support, testing, etc.). What he really likes about that model is that the interests of them and the customer are fully aligned: they only make money when the customer renews. Often companies have to get used to asking for support though, they have not been “trained” to value support in the past.
He considers commercial versus open source a bogus distinction. In many ways he would consider AdaCore to be very similar to what Microsoft in what they do. The main difference is the license of the software. The AdaCore is much more permissive as you are allowed to copy and do with it what you want.
He also spent some time thinking about whether AdaCore’s approach would work with other companies. Could Microsoft open source Windows? He thinks they could without it affecting them badly: people would be willing to pay for timely updates and support. Could a games company open source their games? Copryright protection is one way they currently protect their very large investments. It might be hard for them to open source, but in general the model could be used much more widely. Every company is in the business of giving users what they want and open source licenses are that much more convenient for users.
A New OSI For A New Decade
Simon Phipps has joined the board of the Open Rights Group and the Open Source Initiative (OSI). He talked about reptiles: they have no morality and are very old and only react to fear and hunger. Corporates are reptiles too. Corporations don’t have ethics, people have ethics. OSI tried to find a way to show large organizations that the four software freedoms (use, study, modify and distribute) are important for them too. A pragmatic rather than a moral perspective on open source software helped the OSI to be able to get corporate involvement. Their initial focus was very much on licensing. They have been succesful: OSI has become the standard for open source in government and the fear around the term has been turned around: other processes are now appropriating the term.
We are now in a new decade: Open Source is the default and digital liberty is moving to centre stage. OSI has lost some of its relevance, so they decided to reinvigorate the organization with a member-based governance which should include all stakeholders. They now have new affiliates (other open source non-profits like Mozilla or Drupal) and the next stage will be government bodies and non-entities (whatever that might mean). Later they will get personal associates and then corporate patrons. All of this should enable a bottom-up governance. Members will decide how OSI will operate, they will create OSI initiatives, they can use OSI as a policy venue and they will co-ordinate initiatives locally and globally.
A new OSI project will try and help educators educate the world about open source: FLOSSBOK. I am personally not sure the world is waiting for another project like this. There are quite a few alternatives already.
Tristan Nitot, Principal Mozilla Evangelist kickstarted the Mozilla Devroom. He told us that six European organisations have gotten significant grants from Mozilla (one of them being Fosdem). Mozilla strives to create an Internet that is benefiting everyone. The Internet that is being built currently does not benefit everyone. He focused on a couple of trends on the net:
- App Stores have good sides (app discovery and monetization), but also very bad sides: they create vendor lock-in and prevent people from switching platform (I have personally felt this when contemplating switching away from the iOS platform) and occasionally inhibit free speech through “censorship”. Mozilla believes you can get the good of the app stores without the bad.
- Social networks have obvious good sides, but also profile users, prevent users from porting their data to other services and identity providers can even lock people out of their digital lives. Using Facebook is ok, but don’t use it exclusively to interact with others. When you use something for free, then you can assume that you are the products. He showed us a great cartoon about Facebook users:
- Newer devices (tablets, smartphones and netbooks) are increasingly convenient and popular. Very often they force users to a specific browser (e.g. Chrome on the Chromebook or Safari on iOS) making them definition the opposite of the web.
What is Mozilla doing about these things:
- They are trying to solve identity in a decentralized, browser agnostic and privacy respecting way. The codename for the project is BrowserID and it is based on using email addresses to provide identity.
- Boot2Gecko (B2G) is a complete operating system build for the open web. Check out the Frequently Asked Questions about the project.
In my book these three projects (especially the last one) make Mozilla a group of absolute heroes. Donate here!
There was an interesting talk about how Mozilla organizes its own IT services. Currently that is done by paid staff, but they strongly believe they can get this done through the community (MediaWiki does something similar.
Kai Engert talked about a very important topic: “Web security, and how to prevent the next DigiNotar“. He has a let’s say “unconventional” presentation style: instead of slides he used a piece of written text that he displayed on the screen and read out loud. Maybe this should be called something like “live visual podcasting”. His points were good though. He explained how it is a problem that every Certificate Authority (CA) has unlimited power and he listed the alternatives. You could maybe use a web of trust like the CAcert community. This still doesn’t solve the problem of a single root key. Another proposed solution was Convergence using notaries that would monitor certificates. Kai see too many problems with this as a solution for general users. One suggestion could be build on top of DNSSEC. Again that has problems. How do you know who has signed the the DNS? Google has also proposed something called Certificate Transparency which might work, but also might create some problems. His proposed solution builds on what is in existence using the existings CA combined wit the notary system. This talk was bit dense (I got lost half way if I am honest, obsessibely reading Megan Amram), so if you want to read it yourself find it here.
Michelle Thorne is the global event strategist for Mozilla. She is currently very focused on creating communities of “webmakers” and they are starting with children, video makers and journalists first. She presented three tools/projects for these webmakers:
- Hackasaurus let’s anybody edit the web. Kids are suddenly empowered to remix existing web pages. Check out the hacktivity kit if you want to use this in the classroom.
- Popcorn.js is a HTLM5 media framework that allows you to connect web content with video.
- OpenNews (formerly called knight-mozilla) puts web developers in newsrooms building tools that help journalistic challenges.
One thing I noticed is that she used htmlpad to present a few slides. I need to check this out as it is probably one of the simplest ways of collaborating around text or getting a quick HTML page online.
The focus for Mozilla in Fosdem is very much on the technology side of things and less on the broader themes that the Mozilla foundation is tackling. I had a hard time finding somebody from the Mozilla Learning team to talk about Open Badges, but did get some good connections to have this conversation later in the year.
Wikiotics did a very short lightning talk of which I only managed to catch the tail end. Their goal is to make a site that allows anybody to create, update, remix interactive language lessons.
The Pandora is a small Nintendo DS sized open Linux computer designed for gaming. It has a 800×480 touchscreen, wifi, bluetooth, two SDHC card slots, SVideo output, two analogue controllers, a DPad, L/R buttons, a QWERTY thumb keyboard, 256/512MB RAM and 512MB NAND Storage. It has about 10 hours of battery life (full use).
It comes with its own repository (an app store) allowing for easy installation and updating of games and other applications. One thing that will appeal to many people is the amount of emulators that it can run. If you want to relive the days you spent on the Amiga 500, Commodora 64, Apple II or the Atari ST it will work for you.
Because the device is so open, the possibilities are limitless. For example, you could connect a keyboard and mouse using a USB hub and connect it to a TV to turn the Pandora into a small desktop PC or connect a USB harddisk and turn it into a web- or fileserver. The price price will be €375 (ex VAT). What is great is that the device is produced in Germany and so does not have any sick labour conditions for the people building it.
Balancing Games, The Open Source Way
Jeremy Rosen has been working on Battle for Wesnoth, a turn-based strategy game, since 2004. He talked about how to achieve balance in a game. When you are talking about multiplayer balance:
- No match should be decided by the matchup
- No match should be decided by the chosen map
- The best player should win… usually
Single player balance is different, in single player game fairness is not important anymore, it is just about having fun:
- The AI won’t complain if the game is unfair (Jeremy on the AI: “By the way our AI doesn’t cheat, but is very good in math”)
- Players want the game to be challenging
- Each player has different capacities, we need to decide who we balance for
Balance problems can occur in many places (e.g. map balance, cross scenario balance, unit characteristics) and aren’t easy to find. One way of finding them is by organizing tournaments as people will do their best to exploit balance weaknesses to win. Balance will always be a moving target and new strategies will appear. User feedback is not so useful because players think they never make mistakes and that all their strategies should work. Sometimes you can find some good providers of feedback: “These persons are important, and like all of us, they are fueled by ego. Don’t forget to fuel them”.
His recommendation is to find somebody in your game’s community who can make a balance a fulltime job.
Freedom Box: Out of the Box!
Bdale Garbee, gave us an update on the activities at the FreedomBox Foundation. According to him it really is a problem that we are willfully hand over a lot of personal data to companies to manage on our behalf without thinking much about the consequences. Regardless of the intention of companies, for-profit companies have to operate within the rules of the jurisdictions that they operate and can lead to things like Photo DNA.
Freedombox’ vision is to create a personal server running a free software operating system and applications designed to create and preserve personal privacy that should run on cheap, power-efficient plug computers that people can install in their own homes. That will then be a platform on which privacy-respecting federated alternatives to current social networks can be build. These devices will probably be mesh-networked to augment or replace the current infrastructure.
The foundation has to do four things:
- User Experience (this is very important if it is going to be useful for people who are not “geeks”)
- Publicity and Fund-Raising
- Industry Relations
They have had to bound the challenge by focusing on software, rather than custom hardware and on servers and services rather than client devices. They have also decided to use existing networking infrastructure where appropriate while working to move away from central infrastructure control points (like the Domain Name System (DNS)). Another decision has been to build all elements of their reference implementation on top of Debian which is a completely open volunteer based International organisation. This means that regardless of how successful they will be as a foundation all of their work will survive and remain available. Their goal is that new stable releases of Debian should have everything needed to create FreedomBoxes “out of the box”.
The first “application” they want to deliver is a secure chat service. They have based this on XMPP with Prosody on a single host (by chance I was sitting next to one of the Prosody developers).
They have also decided to make OpenPGP (GnuPG) keys as the root of trust. It is great technology, but it is hard to establish initial trust relationships. One interesting idea is to take advantage of smartphone technology (that we all walk around with) to facilitate initial key exchange (see the work from Stefano Maffuli).
He finished his talk by quoting Benjamin Franklin:
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
What I should have written last year: distributed and federated systems
There is an overarching trend at Fosdem that I could already see last year: the idea of decentralisised, distributed and federated systems for social networking and collaboration. There is a whole set of people working on creating social networks without a center (e.g. BuddyCloud or Status.net or distributed filesystems (like OpenAFS), alternatives to GoogleDocs (LibreDocs) and mesh networking (like Village Telco with the Mesh Potato). There are even people who are trying to separate cloud storage from the cloud application (Project Unhosted). These are very important project that have my full attention.
If you have reached this far in the post and still want to read more (with a little bit more of a learning perspective) then you should check out Bert De Coutere’s blogpost. Through him I learned about Open Advice, an interesting approach to capturing lessons learned.
Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. In our previous post we tried to argue whether you could engineer serendipity. The conclusion was: no, you cannot engineer serendipity (on the web). In this post we use the same recipe to investigate the corollary: the (social) web is hindering serendipity by clustering and clumping similar information around our web presence based on our online behaviour (e.g. the social graph). You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.
In my teens I went to a Montessori high school in Amsterdam Zuid. The school is known for its liberal and cultural approach to education. My friends and I all thought we were free thinkers and radicals. It was therefore quite a shock to me when I learned at the college for PE teacher education that not all people had the “VPRO gids” at home and read the “Volkskrant”. It suddenly dawned on me how silo-ed my experience at high school had been and how similar we all were in our drive to be different. Occasionally I get the feeling that I am in a very similar position in my current educational technology profession.
The current toolset on the web helps us find people that are like ourselves, recommends us books that are similar to the ones we have already read and amplifies our existing opinions by aligning them to people who think the same as us. There are no tools to do the opposite: find people who are very different from you or content that gives new perspectives. In this post I would like to give a couple of examples of how the web helps in turning us into mussels (sessile animals that like being close to each other).
Example 1: The concept of RSS and Google Reader
Every day I spent 30 to 60 minutes reading my news feeds through Google Reader. I have subscribed to over 300 feeds and try to not miss any news items from about 100 of them. These feeds are very specific (one of the affordances of RSS is that it can easily be generated based on tags or search words). None of them carry general world news. Instead of reading the Guardian’s most important world news, I read the Guardian news that is tagged with Royal Dutch Shell. Instead of general feeds about the state of education and learning I read the posts of certain learning gurus. This means that on my Google Reader news from the last couple of days there was no way for me to encounter the release of Aung San Suu Kyi (I only learned about it by looking it up just now), whereas I read about Facebook’s new messaging system at least three different times (here, here and here) with very similar perspectives each time.
Google is also willing to suggest some new feeds for me to subscribe to. As of today the first four suggested sources that Google gives me are as follows:
More of the same! Wouldn’t it be way more beneficial for me to be confronted with people, opinions and news that is very different from the things I already know? It seems like there isn’t enough semantic understanding of the things that I am reading to be able to tell me: “You always read news about Shell on the Guardian, the Financial Times usually has a very different perspective”. How far off do you think we are before that becomes a reality?
Example 2: Amazon suggestions
Amazon was one of the first companies that made use of its customer’s behaviour to improve the service to that same customer. When you browse at Amazon they track everything, not just your purchases, but also your browsing history, the links you click, the reviews you read and write, the books you don’t buy and probably how much time you spend doing each of these things. They use this data and correlate it with other people’s data to be able to suggest a couple of books that should interest you.
I haven’t bought at Amazon for a while (I now buy my books at Book Depository as they ship for free), but my current suggestions do include titles like Drive (which I am reading right now), Free and Growing Up Digital (and many other similar titles that I have already read). These books increase my specialization in the field of Internet and educational technology. There is no way for me to try and find books on Amazon that can function as a bridge to other genres.
There also is no way to really browse serendipitously. Like RSS, the categorization of the books is incredibly specific. Much more than in a traditional book store. On Amazon I would be able to go to one of my favourite subjects cognitive psychology (finding more than 8000 titles), whereas in a book store I would have to go to “popular science”. The latter forces me to run into books in fields of science that I wouldn’t usually look at. A book shelve also has a nicer (and faster!) browsing experience: running with a finger past all the books, taking one out and quickly scanning its contents all do not work on Amazon.
Example 3: Anglo-Saxon focus through the English language and through Silicon Valley based innovation
Silicon valley seems to be a village. I listen to Leo Laporte’s podcasts (e.g. This Week in Tech), read TechCrunch, Mashable and ReadWriteWeb and am inundated with news about Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft and mobile phone carriers in the US. A lot of the web technology innovation is indeed driven by companies in Silicon valley and innovative start-ups from all over the world flock to California to be successful (see here for an example). But it does leave me wondering whether I am not missing out on a large part of the technium by not being able to read Japanese, Mandarin, German, etc. Through Western (English) media I have learned that Japan has a very specific mobile phone culture. But in all ways I am completely disconnected from it.
To experience how true this is, I would like you to do the following assignment: Use Google to try and find three sites in Japanese about technology culture. Let me know in the comments how that went…
Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. For this post we agreed to write about things we cannot live without. The restriction is that the things should have a hierarchical relationship where the lowest level of hierarchy is the microprocessor and the highest level is the Internet. Each thing should be described in 100 words. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.
Please don’t take the title of this post too literally: yes, even I realise that I will be able to live without these things. Instead consider this a tribute to these five things. Also be aware that the title is not “The 5 Things I Cannot Live Without”, there are many other things that I find way more useful and crucial (think bed, dishwasher, etc.).
So here goes, in a loose hierarchy from local to global:
1. The Microprocessor
What do you know about the microprocessor? If it as much as I used to, then it will be very little! Did you know that the first microprocessors appeared in the early seventies and that they were mostly used for calculators? Did you know that their capacity follows Moore’s law? Did you know that microprocessors not only integrated in computers, but also in cars, toasters, TVs, dishwashers (again!) and most other electrical equipment with some advanced functionality? Finally, did you know the Wikipedia article for Microprocessors needs additional citations and references? Why don’t you get to work and fix it?
2. My iPhone
I don’t think I have yet waxed lyrical about my iPhone. First of all I am late to the party: I have only bought one last December. This is because I resisted buying a closed down Apple product for as long as possible. I really really wanted to buy an Android phone, but all the ones that I tried were seriously less capable than the iPhone. So why is it that much better? Because thought has been put into every single element of the software and hardware design. Nothing is accidental, everything is considered. No other company is there yet.
My Internet provider is XS4ALL. There are a couple of reasons why this will be the case for the foreseeable future (even though their price/speed ratio is not competitive):
- XS4ALL is consistently the best provider in the Netherlands.
- Their corporate values and activism are excellent. See this campaign for an example.
- They have repeatedly shown they have a backbone. Their support of Karin Spaink in her Scientology case is the best example of this.
- Innovation is important to them.
- When you call their helpdesk (at a number which has normal rates), you get competent staff.
4. Google Services
Over the last couple of years I have come to rely more and more on Google’s services. So much so that it has become increasingly hard to even list all the Google services that I have an account for or use regularly otherwise. As an excercise I have used this Wikipedia page to list all the products I use regularly (on Ubuntu or iPhone): Chrome, Sketchup, Gears, Calendar, Gmail, Product Search, Reader, Apps, Feedburner, Youtube, OpenSocial, Maps, Aardvark, Alerts, Translate, Groups, Image Search, Scholar, Web search, Analytics, Gapminder, Trends and Zeitgeist. Couldn’t be bothered to link them all: Google them!
5. The Internet
It is a cliché to call the Internet a “game changer”. However, it cannot be denied that it is the most disruptive technology out there. It creates feasibility spaces for social practice (thank you Benkler) and it forces you to rethink traditional ways of doing things. In the field of educational technology for example it has led to, among other things, new course paradigms, an Edupunk movement and deep critiques of the learning function. We cannot fathom what the near future of the Internet will look like as the pace of change is continually accelerating. I cannot wait for it!
P.S. This post was inspired by Techcruch’s Products I Can’t Live Without.
Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. For this post we agreed to write about how (auto)presence could increase team and network communication. The post also has to include some video or audio. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.
I would love your comments and ideas on this matter!
Jane Hart does the educational technology community a big favour by compiling top 10 lists of learning tools which are send to her by educational professionals from around the world. She creates a top 100 list that is an interesting reflection of current (and past) popular technology in education and learning.
Each year you get a chance to update your own list. I haven’t done that this year, so here goes:
- Moodle – This open source course management system is still very much my bread and butter and has led me into the free software world. Its community of teachers and its enlightened leadership is second to none.
- Google Reader – The only way that I am able to keep up with the things that I want to read. Outsourcing my subscriptions and read/unread statusses to Google makes it possible for me to use my laptop, my cellphone or any random computer and see the same information.
- Ubuntu – My operating system of choice. Not only does it give me the freedom to use it how I want, it is also the source of much learning about how computers work. I see it as a critical enabler.
- Google Search – Still the best search technology around. I have a couple of stock queries that I do all the time like “better than x” if I want to find an alternative to x and I can usually find what I need in one or two queries.
- Wikipedia – More and more the easiest way to find a piece of factual information. I use a lot of materials from the Wikimedia Commons in most things that I create. Wikipedia has been decisive in many kitchen table arguments.
- WordPress – I have been blogging for over a year now and the process of writing for an audience has forced me to think deeper about my profession. Writing blogs could a central part of many courses. It really is a heavily underutilised pedagogical tool. I have to admit I don’t run my own installation, but trust the excellent WordPress.com service.
- Chromium – Most of the work that on do on my computer is done in a browser window. Google’s open source effort is now my default browser. This is mainly because of it’s amazing speed and the Omnibox. Read this blog post for more of my reasons.
- LAMP = Apache, MySQL, PHP – This technology makes it trivial for a non-programmer like me to create my own tools that do what I need them do. Using the APIs of the different web services I can create my own mashups.
- Youtube – This has become an indispensable resource. Stuck in a level on a Nintendo DS game? Type the games name and a level to see a walk through. There are endless tutorials on anything that you might want to learn.
- Delicious – The social bookmarking site not only remembers all I have seen that is interesting on the net, but it is also an excellent way of finding many good sites on a topic. My slowly expanding network of del.icio.us friend tag interesting pages for me to look at.
It wasn’t intentional, but I now notice that the only things that are not web applications are an operating and a browser (the bare essentials). That must be of some significance!
Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. For this post we agreed to write about a new technology using Linux Format‘s “What on Earth is …?” style (see example on Android). We did not agree on a particular technology and we would get bonus points for a nice pixellated image to accompany the post. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.
RSS Cloud? I am getting a bit tired of this cloud computing trend.
Yes, I also think that cloud computing is slightly over hyped. However RSS Cloud is not about cloud computing. It is about bringing real-time updates to the RSS protocol.
I have only just grasped what RSS is. Only the technorati seem to use it, normal computer users have no idea.
Indeed: most people have no idea what RSS is or how they can use it. They still visit all their favourite news sites one after the other to check whether something new has been posted. However even people that don’t understand it often use it. If you download podcasts through iTunes you are using RSS technology. Furthermore RSS is the technological glue for many of the popular mashup sites. You don’t need to understand a technology for it to be useful to you.
Fair enough, so how would you explain RSS Cloud to a lay person?
Sites that have content that changes often (think blogs or news sites) publish an RSS feed on their server. Whenever a new item is posted it will be added to the feed, usually dropping the oldest item from the list at the same time. If you are interested in those news items you can use a news reader (also called an aggregator) and tell this news reader to check whether new items are added to the feed, if there is an update, then the news reader can retrieve it. A news reader typically does this every fifteen minutes or so. This means the news can be 15 minutes old when you get it. RSS Cloud makes it possible for news readers to subscribe to the updates of a feed. Whenever something new is added the feed, the RSS Cloud server notifies all subscribers so that they can pick up the content immediately: in real-time.
Another buzz word! What is the benefit of real-time? Can’t people just wait a couple of minutes before they get their news?
People listen to the radio so that they can hear the sports results in real-time. Weren’t you upset when all your friends knew about Michael Jackson’s death earlier than you, because they heard it on Twitter? The success of Twitter search and trending topics shows that people want to know about stuff as it happens and not fifteen minutes later.
Now that you mention it: Twitter indeed works in real-time. Why do we need something else, what’s wrong with Twitter?
Twitter actually also uses a “polling” model for its content. Each single Twitter client will have to access the Twitter API to see whether something new has been posted by the people you are following. This is a huge waste of computer resources. All these clients asking for new information even if there is none. It is a model that does not scale well. A “push” model actually works much better in this respect.
Oh, so it is a bit like the difference between getting your email once every couple of minutes and getting it immediately on your Blackberry?
Yes, that is a nice analogy. The Blackberry uses push email. You get the email as soon as it hits the server, because it is pushed to your phone. Traditional email clients, like Outlook, go to the server once every couple of minutes to see whether something new is there.
So what large company is trying to push this idea?
This time it is not a big company trying to establish a standard or protocol. The RSS Cloud protocol is designed by Dave Winer who also drafted the original RSS specification.
Dave Winer, isn’t that the guy that loves to rub people the wrong way?
He is a controversial character and is certainly very vocal and opinionated. At the same time, he is a true pioneer and one of those people that embody the values of the Internet. His vision for Cloud RSS is not about blogging. Instead, he wants to provide a decentralised architecture for microblog messages. To him the fact that Twitter centralises all the microblogging activity is a real vulnerability. His goal is to create a network that can work alongside Twitter without being in the control of a single company.
Talking about companies. I suddenly remember hearing about a similar technology. One of these cute names with many vowels?
You probably mean PubSubHubbub. This is a Google sponsored protocol that has already been implemented in Google Reader.
Great: another standards war. VHS versus Betamax, RSS versus Atom, Britney versus Whitney. Will we never learn?
This shouldn’t become a problem. RSS and Atom for example live happily next to each other now. It is easy to implement both. PubSubHubbub has a slightly different goal in comparison to Cloud RSS. It focuses mainly on blogging and associates itself with Feed Burner. The two technologies should be able to live next to each other, at least that is what Dave says.
Well, let’s hope he and you are right. By the way, isn’t this Cloud RSS just another sneaky way to measure subscribers, generate some statistics and store information about where they are from and what they are doing?
It is true that an RSS reader will have to register itself with the the RSS cloud for the protocol to work. However the RSS cloud forgets about the RSS reader if the registration isn’t renewed every 24 hours. You also have to remember that many people will use readers that do not support RSS Cloud. There are much better ways to get statistics.
Aren’t you a learning technology person? What does this have to do with learning?
I am very interested in Cloud RSS because I am a learning technologist! Like all new Internet based technologies it will only be a matter of time before some smart developer finds a way of using this in some unexpected fashion. Remember: technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice! Just think of what kind of course delivery models RSS has made possible: the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course could not run without it for example.
You are a Moodle evangelist. Does Moodle support RSS Cloud yet?
I haven’t checked, but I doubt it. It is very new and the Moodle developers are focusing on getting Moodle 2.0 to a beta release. However, I am sure that in the future, parts of Moodle will move towards real-time. Imagine how Cloud RSS could be used to create activity streams or notify people of comments on their work. It could effectively bridge the gap between asynchronous activities like discussion forums and assignments and synchronous activities like web conferencing.
Ok, you have managed to pique my interested. Where can I go if I want to start using it?
There are two ways of using it. First, you can make your own feeds RSS Cloud enabled. If you have blog at WordPress.com this is automatically the case. You can opt-in if you host your own WordPress blog. The other way of using it would be to have an RSS reader that supports the protocol. Currently only River2 supports it and Lazyfeed has announced that it will support it too. Only web based readers can support it, as the RSS Cloud server needs to be able to ping the reader with the update.
Are there any sites that can tell me a bit more?
The current home of the protocol is http://www.rsscloud.org. Here you will find news about the protocol and an implementation guide. The Wikipedia entry could be better. Why don’t you help fixing it?