Shameless Self Promotion

Communities, Technologies and Participation: Notes from C&T 2009

CCT2009 Participation was the overriding theme at the 4th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (C&T 2009) last week. We can design and deploy technology to support a community, but how do we truly engage that community and motivate its members to participate? One way I was personally trying to promote engagement via technology within the C&T 2009 community was through the use of SlideShare ("YouTube for Powerpoint"); a number of presenters have uploaded their C&T 2009 slides, tagged with cct2009, and I will provide specific links to presentations I know about in my notes below. There are also a number of C&T 2009 photos posted to Flickr tagged with cct2009 ... and a number of tweets from / to / about the conference with the #cct2009 hashtag on Twitter (and I plan to post one more tweet pointing back at this blog post once I'm done).

David McDonald from NSFDavid McDonald opened up the conference with an engaging keynote in which he introduced the new U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) program on Social-Computational Systems (SoCS), which promotes an agenda of embedding more social intelligence into computational systems. The idea is to combine collective human intelligence with socially intelligent computing, making computers first-class participants in a new breed of emergent intelligence. Although he stipulated that the intention is to "let people do what people do best, and let computers do what computers do best", I got the distinct impression that one goal of the program is to render unto computers what is social ... which may lead to the [unintended] consequence of rendering unto humans what is computational. As a recovering AI researcher, who believes that a little AI goes a long way - and a lot of AI goes a short way - I am, no doubt, rather biased (and perhaps jaded). In any case, the program strikes me as a resurgence of strong AI in HCI clothing (and others voiced concerns about the prospective domination of computers in this proposed partnership during the Q&A after his talk).

On a lighter note, Dave began his talk with an amusing delineation of the "four stages of 'invited' talk" - idealism & excitement, realization, despair, and finally, resolution - and proceeded to highlight the stages of NSF sponsorship of communities and technologies over the years. He noted that many communities arise as a side effect - someone tries something, people like it, and form a community around it (reminding me of the notion of object-centered sociality) - and posed a thought experiment to encourage us to think about charting new applications of community (and technology) ... I found his idea of - where voyeurs might login and help conduct bag inspections at the TSA X-ray machines in airports (reminding me of the Texas Border Watch program) - particularly provocative.

In the first paper session I attended at the conference, Marla Boughton presented "Supportive Communication, Sense of Virtual Community and Health Outcomes in Online Infertility Groups", in which she looked at the differing impacts on the sense of virtual community (SOVC) offered by emotional vs. informational support in an online infertility support group. Observing emotional support by members of the community turned out to be the most significant positive factor - surprisingly, even more than providing or receiving emotional support in SOVC ("'tis better to observe than to give or receive" (?!)) - while observing informational support turned out to be the most significant negative correlation in SOVC (I forget whether she reported on giving / receiving informational support).

Dana Rotman shared some observations and insights into the world of video blogging ("vlogging") in "The Community is Where the Rapport Is - On Sense and Structure in the YouTube Community" [slides]. Grounded theory analysis of users’ feelings and interaction patterns revealed repeated themes, among which was the distinction between YouTubers (people who post vlogs) and Tourists (who don't). She found that comments constituted the “most important interaction mechanism”, a finding very much in alignment with my own thinking - and blogging - about comments as validation (or as my friend Noah Kagan so pithily put it, "comments make me orgasm"). This finding was particularly interesting given that she also found considerable ambivalence in the vlogger community about whether people who [only] post comments qualify as full-fledged YouTubers or mere Tourists (and I find the ambivalence all the more interesting given my own musings about whether bloggers are more likely to post comments on other blogs than non-bloggers). Other interesting findings include what she called triangulation - vloggers expose their thoughts, feelings and face and [so] comments are all based around an individual (vs. community bulletin board, forum) - and the preference of Gmail over YouTube's own direct 1:1 communication mechanisms. In addition to stimulating content of Dana's talk, the form of her slides - using a tag cloud for the slide titles - was so creative, I just had to embed a copy here in this post:

WikipediaLogo Pnina Shachaf reported an experiment on "Answer Quality on the Wikipedia Reference Desk" [paper | slides], in which she compared the the quality of answers produced [collectively] on the Wikipedia Reference Desk (WRD) to those produced by individual professional reference librarians. The experiment was motivated by an interesting series of responses to a question she posted on the WRD asking about the prefix following pico- (one trillionth) in the international system of units, (it is femto-, one quadrillionth) and the discussion about linguistic origins of that term which followed. The collective wisdom of WRD on this topic was vacillating back and forth between Spanish and Italian (and the professional librarian she consulted also posited one of these two sources - I forget which [Update: Prina has uploaded her slides, which have the full story]), but eventually, over the course of discussions in WRD, the Danish origin of the word was established. Other motivations include Andrew Keen's scree against Wikipedia and other forms of social media, The Cult of the Amateur, and the ongoing debate(s) about the relative accuracy of Wikipedia vs. more traditional encyclopedias. Pnina decided to conduct an experiment to test the relative quality of WRD vs. professional reference librarians more rigorously. Using Nvivo 7 for the ontent analysis of 434 messages involving 77 transactions (where a transaction = a question + one or more answers) among 170 unique users (of whom 122 were "seasoned" Wikipedia users), she found that Wikipedia is generally doing as well or better than professional librarians. In particular, WRD was, on average, more responsive (4 hours vs. 18-21 hours), more complete (63% vs. 47%), and verifiable (88% vs. 53%) than professional librarians. The accuracy was the same (55%), and the explicit satisfaction - as measured by messages of unsolicited thanks - was similar (20% vs. 16-20%) [and I'll pass on the opportunity to extend this into an unsolicited rant about how many people are, or appear to be, so ungrateful (ubiquitous ingratitude?) ... a topic I've previously ranted about in the context of community, football and food).] Among the possible explanations she gave for the relatively high quality of WRD answers were: technology (interactive nature of WRD), the likelihood that many WRD volunteers have relevant professional background, type types of questions asked on WRD, and the collaborative nature of social reference, i.e., what she called amalgamated answers - iterative elaborations by both the requester and the responders (WRD questions generated an average of 4.6 responses).

Lev Gonick gave the second keynote of the conference, "From Digital Campus to Connected Community", providing an overview of the OneCommunity project that he is helping to lead in Cleveland. As with with the earlier keynote, Lev led off with some light-hearted fare - a satirical "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video" ... which either inspired or was inspired by a contest for a positive Hastily Made Tourism Video ... the former has been viewed over 2M times ... approximately 2000 times more than the winning entry of the positive videos.

Apollo11-NASA-as11_36_5355 Internet_map_800 Lev proceeded to show a photo of the earth taken during the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969 ([similar to that] shown on the left), noting that this photo produced a new cognitive map of what place meant [I found myself musing on the term "placemeant"], and what community meant - as did another momentous - though more terrestrial (but perhaps transcendental for some) - event in 1969 (Woodstock) - and how a more recent map of the internet ([similar to that] shown on the right) similarly [re]frames our conception of community ... at least within the context of a conference on communities and technologies. Continuing the progression from the larger to the smaller, and from more abstract to more concrete, Lev devoted much of the rest of his talk to describing OneCommunity:

OneCommunity is a connected-community venture, informed by a mission to be a big bold 21st-century community-oriented project that delivers advanced information technology capabilities to achieve community priorities for economic development, learning, job training, research support, preeminence and distinction.

Logo_OneCommunity As the CIO of OneCommunity, he emphasized the importance of technology infrastructure (the "glue") but also highlighted that the challenge for us (technologists) is to find a way to get out of the way (of the community that will be using the technology) ... rather than indulging our fondness for complexity, a fondness which is not generally shared by "Joe Sixpack". OneCommunity is partnering with non-industry organiations (universities, libraries, hospitals) so that they can more effectively give away control in community networking projects, which he sees as an essential element in their prospects for success. Impactful community applications developed thus far in the 5 year old project have focused on health and education, including a Green Computing Initiative to collect, refurbish and re-install computers in Cleveland schools, and OneClassroom, a collaboration between Cleveland schools and the Cleveland Clinic to provide students with remote birds-eye views of - and interaction opportunities with those engaged in - surgical procedures conducted at the clinic.

During the Q&A session that followed, some of the questions revolved around the issue of the sharp economic decline that Cleveland has suffered in recent years (which was reflected in the video shown at the outset). Acknowledging this, and echoing sentiments expressed by Rahm Emanuel and others recasting crises as opportunities [aside: I recently discovered that the notion that crisis = danger + opportunity in Chinese ideographical notation is a myth], Lev noted that "we start from pain" and "progress can be measured directly proportional to the real or perceived state of crisis". Coupled with earlier comments Lev made about the need for collaborative teams composed of visionaries and can-do personalities, I was reminded of one of my favorite Rumi poems, "Not Here":

There's courage involved if you want to become truth. 
There is a broken-open place in a lover. 
Where are those qualities of bravery and sharp compassion?
What's the use of old and frozen thought? 
I want a howling hurt. 
This is not a treasury where gold is stored; this is for copper.
We alchemists look for talent that can heat up and change. 
Lukewarm won't do.
Halfhearted holding back, well-enough getting by? 
Not here.

Shifting from poetry to prose - and from 13th century Persia to here and now (or, at this point, a more local and recent "there and then") - Doug Schuler gave a talk in the following session on "Communities, Technology, and Civic Intelligence" in which he defined civic intelligence as "how smart a society is as-a-whole in relation to its problems". Given the increasing economic, environmental and social problems we are witnessing, posed the timely and provocative question: "will we be smart enough, soon enough?" In contrast to Tim O'Reilly's framing of web 2.0 as a business revolution, harnessing collective intelligence, Doug suggested that civic intelligence represents a social revolution in communication, enhancing civic intelligence ... and [so] we have to choose whether we want to promote a paradigm of people in service to the computer industry vs. the computer industry in service to people. Doug finished off with a couple of plugs - for the Public Sphere project and a new book based on one of the project's latest areas of focus, Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution - and an exhortation: don’t rely on the emergence of civic intelligence as a side effect.

CCT2009-10Karim Lakhani opened up the second day of the conference with a keynote on "Knowledge Reuse and Novelty in Community Settings", in which he offered some interesting insights into and experiences with collaborative and competitive projects, as well as some that represented a combination of the two approaches. Karim offered Wikipedia ("the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit") as an example of collaborative endeavors, Innocentive (where Seekers post challenges and Solvers compete to produce - and be paid for - the best solutions) as an example of competitive endeavors, and Threadless (where t-shirt designs are submitted and scored by a community of mutually supportive designers) as a middle ground. He claimed that similar motivations appear to be at work for both competitive and cooperative efforts, and has been investigating the relative costs and benefits of each approach in a series of experiments.

One such experiment - that represents a mixture of competitive and cooperative processes - was a one-week MATLAB “wiki-like” programming contest in which the rules specified that participants could view and modify each others' code and see each others' relative standings (though I'm not sure how these standings were computed - e.g., via explicit voting or via more implicit [re]use of code). The contest generated 4402 entries, of which 181 were leaders at some point. The winning entry was based on code borrowed by 30 other participants. One of my favorite quotes from the presentation - not sure if it was from Karim or the winning contestant - was "A successful competitor is a creator, a recycler and a talent scout." In assessing the factors that lead to success in such a contest, Karim and his colleagues found 3 factors that positively correlated with individual success: contributing new knowledge (knowledge = code), combining existing knowledge in novel ways and conformance (which, I believe, relates to the adherence of the code to stylistic guidelines). 2 factors not correlated with individual success were complexity and using existing knowledge (presumably without novel contributions), though these 2 factors - along with the other 3 - were positively correlated with collective success ... I believe the non-novel use of existing knowledge may contribute to collective success due to the implicit voting represented by the use of that knowledge ... but I must admit that I fell behind in my notes, so I'm not sure about some of these details.

The rewards for the MATLAB experiment were fame, glory and a t-shirt. A second experiment was run within the TopCoder platform (which provides financial incentives to winners, as well as a coveted "TopCoder rating" which acts as an unofficial certification used by many software companies in their assessment of candidates), using a problem in computational biology. Participants were partitioned into three "treatments": full competitive, full collaborative and hybrid. The collaborative treatment resulted in the fewest entries, lowest effort and best performance (possibly surpassing the state of the art in computational biology); the competitive treatment resulted in the most entries, highest effort, and worst performance; the hybrid treatment, as one might expect, had results between these two extremes.

During the Q&A, Karim noted noted that most competitive systems operate despite massive failure rates, and [so] learning, signaling and intrinsic motivations are important factors. Among the gems contributed by the audience were Ben Shneiderman's recommendation of Alfie Kohn's book, No Contest: The Case Against Competition (or perhaps he was referring to Kohn's essay with the same title ... which should not be confused with Karim's earlier reference to an article in Nature by Marek Kohn, The Needs of the Many), and Jenny Preece's observation that we should be mindful of cultural differences, e.g., Americans tend to be very individualistic - and thus more competitive - than people from other cultures. [Note: Paul Resnick has also posted some notes on Karim's keynote.]

wConnect Mary Beth Rosson presented "wConnect: A Facebook-Based Developmental Learning Community to Support Women in Information Technology", in which she shared some lessons she and her colleagues learned in developing an online community to support the development of women in computer and information sciences. They started out using Bridgetools to create the first version of wConnect, which, while not very successful, helped them understand that they had to "embed wConnect activities within social activities that members enjoy in their everyday lives, and use those interactions to bootstrap the developmental learning community" (as opposed to a "build it and they will come" approach). Their second version used Facebook Groups which simplified many aspects (especially programming), but introduced a number of complications as well, e.g., limited customization, concerns about privacy, marginalization of wConnect members who were not [active] Facebook members, and the merging of personal and professional identities. One of the challenges they faced was how to lower the barriers to enrollment and authentication, while ensuring that only members of their target community - women who are in or thinking about careers in computer and information sciences - have access.

Ibm-Welcome-Center-02Bridget Blodgett gave a talk entitled "And the Ringleaders were Banned: An Examination of Protest in Virtual Worlds", offering a brief history of virtual world protests, starting with reactions to a 1993 cyberrape in LambdaMoo, a text-only virtual world, to more recent social uprisings in modern 3D virtual worlds including EVE Online and Ultima Online (I was surprised to discover that there is so much criticism of Ultima Online, the topic has its own Wikipedia page!). My favorite example was one that bridged gaps between online and offline: protests against IBM in Second Life (I was slightly less surprised to discover there is an entire blog devoted to the movement ... and even less surprised to find a YouTube video). In the fall of 2007, IBM removed bonuses and reduced wages for unionized Italian employees, who then went on strike in Second Life (SL), recruited up to 2000 virtual protesters from all over the world (including bananas and triangles, as well as more human-like avatars), managed to shut down IBM islands in SL, and disrupt IBM business (a real IBM meeting in SL). From what I can gather, the protest achieved its goals (in real life), and there is even a SL museum dedicated to the protest. The other examples of protests Bridget shared were all against companies that host virtual worlds. IBM is a global company with a large stake in the physical world, although I should note that IBM has been very active in Second Life (and a recent report suggests that it has reaped a significant ROI through its use of Second Life). Given my longstanding misgivings about the pervasiveness and permeability of games worlds (not that SL is, strictly speaking, a game), I was heartened to see participation in a virtual world yield positive impact in the real world.

Speaking of online and offline participation, the next session I attended was a panel on "Making Participation a Priority", moderated by Ben Shneiderman, in which Gerhard Fischer, Jenny Preece and Marc Smith shared their perspectives on participation.

  • Ben led off with a challenge: to become [more] politically engaged. He cited an Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) blog post about strengthening civic participation, the National Initiative on Social Participation he recently instigated, and concluded with a proposal that everyone [at the conference] should dedicate 2 hours per week for outreach to other communities to promote civic participation. [I wonder if this blog post counts]
  • Gerhard invoked Stephen Jay Gould's notion of punctuated equilibrium, saying we are in a time of fundamental transformation, in which we are shifting from a culture of passive consumption to a culture of participation. He concluded with an invitation to rethink education, referencing the classic book by Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, in which schools and universities were described as reproductive organs of a consumer society, and [implicitly?] suggesting that we recast our educational institutions as reproductive organs of a participatory culture.
  • Jenny led off with a [widely shared] complaint about the mainstream media's news coverage of the death of Michael Jackson eclipsing all other news (e.g., the protests over elections in Iran), talked about her efforts to get students to work not just collaboratively on participatory projects but to choose projects that have impact on outside communities,  proposed criteria for the initiation of future projects - will your project live on after you’re done and continue giving value to a community? - and closed with an exhortation to make all projects international.
  • Marc offered some cautionary counterperspective, channeling Howard Rheingold's observation that a smart mob does not necessarily mean a wise mob, noting that not all participation is good - "openness is an attractive idea until it lets in something you're not attracted to" - and warning that the masses are fickle and have short attention spans (later, during dinner, he shared another great quote: "The first of the great operations of discipline is [to] . . . transform the confused, useless or dangerous multitudes into ordered multiplicities" by Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish).

During the audience participation portion of this panel on participation, Jack Carroll - the chair of C&T 2009 - voiced further caution, noting that we [who have been conducting research into communities and technologies] have benefited from being funded like computer scientists, and asking "if we succeed in making social participation an important component of future research [funding], will we be funded like sociologists?" This observation may well be part of the what is driving some of the computational prioritization in the NSF program that Dave McDonald had introduced in his opening keynote. Shelly Farnham attempted to shift the conversation back toward a more positive perspective, noting that while there are some risks to broadening the scope of participation, greater participation is, generally speaking, A Good Thing.

[Update: Ben has since pointed me to a recent article he and Jenny have coauthored - and about which Marc has blogged - that provides much more information on some of the topics discussed in the panel, exploring the progression from reader to contributor to collaborator to leader for [some] users of social media. I'll include a graphic representation of the Reader-to-Leader Framework (Figure 1 from the paper (also included in Marc's blog post)) and a reference to the full paper below:


Preece, Jennifer and Shneiderman, Ben (2009) "The Reader-to-Leader Framework: Motivating Technology-Mediated Social Participation," AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction (1) 1, pp. 13-32. Available at:]

The next day started off with a panel on "Community technology to support geographically-based communities", moderated by Marcus Foth (who co-organized the Digital Cities 6 workshop at C&T 2009 and will be chairing C&T 2011), and included Paul Resnick, Fiorella de Cindio, Keith Hampton and me.

  • Paul talked about ride sharing, offering many interesting observations, insights and photos of the practices surrounding slugging (casual carpooling) in U.S. cities, including "slugging etiquette", in which casual carpool riders are expected not to talk to the drivers who pick them up (reminding me of elevator etiquette, and a report I once heard about Inuit culture, in which facing away from the center of an igloo or tent indicates that the ensuing conversation should be interpreted as private - i.e., not [over]heard - by other people sharing the space).
  • Fiorella presented some examples of online communities that support real-world geographic communities, including web sites such as FixMyStreet, a UK site where people can report potholes and other infrastructural problems in a metropolitan area, and check back to see whether / when the problems have been addressed. [Update, 2009-09-22: I just read a post on about a related application, CitySourced, "a real time mobile civic engagement tool" available in NYC]
  • Keith offered a whirlwind overview of a keynote on "New media and the structure of community in private, public and parochial spaces" he'd just presented at the Communicative Cities Conference ("Integrating Technology and Place"). Unfortunately, as I was the next one up, I have don't have any notes from his panel presentation - but I will include several notes from his subsequent presentation in the next paper session at the conference.
  • I presented three examples of work that I have been involved in using proactive displays to enhance community in shared physical spaces: at the UbiComp 2003 conference in Seattle, at the office of Nokia Research Center Palo Alto, and most recently, in a number of coffeehouses and other "third places" around Seattle. I also intended to provoke some discussion by contrasting mobile vs. situated, place vs. space and online vs. offline ... but we didn't have much time for questions by the end of our opening remarks. In the spirit of walking the talk of encouraging people to post slides of their presentations at C&T 2009 (and, perhaps, shameless self promotion), I'll include my slides from the panel below.

There was time for a few questions, but unfortunately, I did not take careful notes. The only thing I remember from the Q&A session was Doug Schuler urging us not to forget the importance of human animation, citing as an example a woman in one of his classes last semester who always got people talking on her bus (which sounds like a great example of civic participation, but I wondered how the practice was perceived by other bus riders ... and whether there is such a thing as bus etiquette).

SocialLifeCover The next session I attended was a set of papers on Placed Community, [also] chaired by Marcus Foth. Keith Hampton led off this session with "The Social Life of Wireless Urban Spaces: Internet Use, Social Networks, and the Public Realm", a project in which Keith and his colleagues followed in the footsteps of William Whyte's classic work (and book (and video)) on "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" to see how the introduction of WiFi into these spaces affects their usage(s). Keith noted a confluence of trends that constrain diversity: homogeneity within the mass media, privatism, and changes to the physical form and use of urban public spaces. He defined three "realms" of social interaction that affect the public sphere: private (the home), parochial (neighborhoods, workplaces, and many third places, where people are generally familiar with other inhabitants of the space) and public (parks, plazas and other public spaces, where people are generally not familiar with many of their co-inhabitants). Whyte's insightful studies were conducted in an era before the Internet, and before the advent of portable devices that could be used to connect to - and through - the internet, such as mobile phones and laptop computers, so Keith and his colleagues set out to see how these recent technological developments have affected the social life of these small urban spaces.

Keith distinguished between co-located acquaintanceships (people sharing and interacting in physical space) and copresent acquaintanceships (people interacting online with others who whom they are not sharing physical space). Among the interesting findings: 10% of the people using wireless Internet in public spaces were observed to have an extended interaction with a stranger, compared with 13% of people people using more traditional media (books, newspapers), 5% of people using mobile phones, and 0% of people using portable music players, making iPods the most effective portable involvement shields. However, 24% of wireless Internet users were "infrequently attentive" to their surroundings, compared to 15% of print media users, 10% of portable music device users, 7% of portable gaming device users and 3% of mobile phone users. In close observations of the wireiess Internet use - and Keith showed a number of fabulous photos showing just how close his observers were able to get to their subjects - it appeared that 29% visited a social networking website, 8% contributed to a blog, and 43% consumed online news or political information.

There is a considerable amount of research into - and controversy about - the impact of Internet use on society and culture, with some claiming that Internet use erodes the sense of community while others claiming that it enhances the sense of community. Keith cited a 2006 study by McPherson, et al., "Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades", showing that the average American had an average of 2.08 people with whom he / she discusses important matters, and 24.6% of Americans have no such "discussion ties" at all. Although wireless Internet users may interact less with co-located people in public settings, they enjoy an average of 3.82 discussion ties, and only 3.5% report having no discussion ties. One possible explanation Keith offered for this was that wireless Internet use may better balance opposition and like-mindedness to maximize tolerance, deliberation and discursive participation than exposure to provocative and contested public settings. In concluding his presentation, Keith noted that public spaces do not appear to constitute a public realm for wireless Internet users, but may offer new opportunities for engagement - with copresent but not co-located others - in the public sphere ... and while serendipity is nice, it probably is not vital to a public space.

Unfortunately, due to my frantic last-minute preparations for my own presentation at the end of the session, I do not have any notes from the second presentation - "Facilitating Participatory Decision-Making in Local Communities through Map-Based Online Discussion", by Bo Yu.

My presentation was on "Supporting Community in Third Places with Situated Social Software" (I've posted the slides on SlideShare and embedded them below), in which I reported on some studies we conducted on the adoption, use and impact of our Community Collage (CoCollage) application - a system that shows a dynamic collage of photos and quotes uploaded to a web site by café patrons and staff on a large computer display in the café, providing a new channel for awareness, interactions and relationships among people co-located there. In his influential book, "The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community", the sociologist Ray Oldenburg distinguishes third places from first places (home) and second places (work), characterizing them as "'homes away from home' where unrelated people relate", offering access to the "full spectrum of local humanity" in environments that foster inclusive sociability and ease of association. General purpose technology - particularly laptops with WiFi connections - has negatively impacted the sociability in many such places in the U.S., leading some coffeehouses to turn off their WiFi access points on weekends. CoCollage was designed for the specific situation of a third place, leveraging existing offline "technologies" in such places (photos, art, sketches, posters, flyers) to bring some of the richness of online social networks into the physical spaces we share with others. The paper presents some results of a study showing that CoCollage had a significant impact on the dependency component of place attachment (the extent to which people rely on the café to have their needs met) and the neighboring component of sense of community (the extent to which people visit each others' homes and do each other favors), and includes a number of examples of open text responses to survey questions asking what people like and don't like about CoCollage.

The final keynote of the conference was by Mark Finkle, a community evangelist at Mozilla, on "Mozilla – Working with the Community", in which he distinguished between the Mozilla Foundation (guidance), the Mozilla Corporation (thrust), and the Mozilla Community (fuel). Mark said that Mozilla wants to push forward an agenda that is not corporate, but advocates for end users. He offered the following interesting statistics about Mozilla's community of communities:

  • 300M+ users
  • 22% market share
  • 3K+ community-contributed extensions
  • 70+ languages (and growing)
  • 1600 contributors to code base (40% of code)
  • 1000s of volunteers and evangelists
  • 150+ employees (no sales) – highly distributed (e.g., Mark works out of State College)

One of the most interesting statistics Mark mentioned was that new beta releases of Firefox attract a community of 800,000 volunteer testers, or 0.25% of the user population (!). Dan McComb recently pointed me to a fabulous series of blog posts on Community by the Numbers, and I've been thinking a lot about how many active members a community needs to be successful (and how to define "active" ... and "successful"), so this provided a useful data point.

Mark shared a number of lessons he has learned from the Mozilla approach to "design by community", emphasizing the needs to listen to the community, lead the community and let the community play and explore. Unfortunately, one of Mark's observations about etiquette - "Be respectful until you’re respected" - drew what I consider to be an inordinate number of questions from some in the audience during the Q&A session (I was tempted to tweet "please be respectful of other audience members and allow them to ask questions on other topics #cct2009" ... but didn't ... as I thought that might not be respectful Twitter etiquette).

One of the things I like about the Communities and Technologies conferences is that they represent a community of communities, but in a more intimate setting than, say, the much larger, multi-track CHI conferences. However, I should note that, due to the dual track nature of the conference, I only saw (and am thus only sharing notes on) about half the paper presentations. Apologies to all the other authors who were presenting work at the conference - even with only two tracks, every session required a tough decision.

I wasn't quite as blown away this year as I was at the last conference (C&T 2007), which I suspect is due, in part, to this being the second time I've attended the conference (the first time at a conference is always the most impressive). I still enjoyed meeting and reconnecting with a number of remarkable people. And, as I hope my notes show, I learned a lot of interesting, relevant and useful information about communities, technologies and participation!

Many thanks to the conference chair, Jack Carroll, the program committee, student volunteers, presenters and other participants for co-creating a great the conference!

[I forgot to mention that I've also posted some notes about the Digital Cities 6 pre-conference workshop.]

Digital Cities 6

I finally got a chance to attend a workshop in the Digital Cities series last week at the 4th International Conference on Communities and Technologies (C&T 2009) at Penn State University. Digital Cities 6, organized by Marcus Foth, Laura Forlano and Hiromitsu Hattori, focused on the theme of "Concepts, Methods and Systems of Urban Informatics". The participants and projects represented a broad range of ways that digital technology can enhance people, places, events and other things in cities. [I've posted some photos from the workshop on Flickr, with the "digitalcities6" tag.]

Martijn de Waal started things off with "The Urban ideals of Location Based Media", positing the question "What is a city?" and noting some of its dimensions:

  • a bunch of infrastructure
  • a cultural system
  • a community
  • a polity

Among the themes that resonated most strongly with me was his assertion that location based media is not [necessarily] "anywhere, anytime, anything" but here and now, his suggestion that we shift our attention from placelessness to situatedness, his invitation to reconsider the prioritization of efficiency over all else, and his distinction between casting people as citizens vs. consumers. Martijn has [also] posted a set of excellent notes from the workshop.

CO2nfessionCO2mittment-small Jonas Fritsch presented "Between Engagement and Information: Experimental Urban Media in the Climate Change Debate" [slides], which included a number of interesting projects designed to promote civic engagement (a recurring theme throughout the workshop and the conference). One project was CO2nfession / CO2mmitment (photo on right), in which citizens could enter a booth at a climate change event in Aarhus to videorecord both a confession of their sins of CO2 emissions and seek absolution through a commitment to reducing their future emissions. These CO2nfessions and CO2mmitments were then shown on displays at the event venue. Another project was Climate on the Wall, inspired by magnetic poetry (and perhaps Tetris), in which words and phrases associated with climate change were projected on the side of a building, and people could physically interact with those projected terms to form statements reflecting their views on climate change via their movement at or near the wall.

Jon Lukens was next up, talking about "Seeing the City through Machines: Non-anthropocentric Design and Youth Robotics", in which he described a workshop to get youth involved in the design of urban robots to encourage them to think critically about different (non-human) relations to the environment helps reveal new design considerations - seeing the city through new [robotic] eyes. The students were given the task of designing a robot to participate in an infrastructure scavenger hunt in an urban area. One group of students produced a video called "Curiosity Killed the Camera", but unfortunately, I can't find it anywhere. Interestingly, while encouraging students to think more critically about themselves and their bodies as they exist in space, one student asked "am I a robot?" I found myself thinking about Stelarc as representing a rather extreme position on the spectrum of reconsidering selves, bodies and spaces.

CreateClub-Jelly-PaneraBread-KansasCity-LauraForlano Laura Forlano shared some ideas about "Building the Open Source City: Changing Work Environments for Collaboration and Innovation" (many of which are described in greater detail in a great blog post about Work and the Open Source City). She motivated this theme, in part, via an experience at Panera Bread in Kansas City, where she stumbled upon some people working at a table with a sign saying "Create Club" and "Jelly" (see photo to the right), the latter of which has become a meme [tag] for casual coworking - people working on different things coming together to work in the company of others at homes or third places. Laura talked about NEWworkCITY, a slightly more formal comunity coworking space (reminding me of Office Nomads here in Seattle), noting that a natural tension arises in such such spaces “for like-minded people” between homogeneity and heterogeneity. She also presented Project BREAKOUT!, part of the Toward the Sentient City exhibition planned for September 2009, in which people will be invited to bring their work out of their offices and into public spaces around New York City (such as parks), in what sounded to me a bit like a flash work mob. She finished off with a brief description of UrbanOmnibus, a project of the Architectural League of New York that seeks engagement from a broad range of urban stakeholders in the design and redesign of urban spaces.

I presented "Ambient Informatics in Urban Cafés", an overview of CoCollage, our place-based social networking application that uses a large computer display to show a dynamic collage of photos and quotes uploaded to a special web site by patrons and staff in a café or other community-oriented place. Rather than writing more about it here, I'll simply embed the slides I used for the presentation from SlideShare ... and encourage any readers who were also at the workshop (or the conference) to post their slides, with the "cct2009" tag (I also used the "digitalcities6" tag for my workshop slides). [Further details can be found in our main conference paper, "Supporting Community in Third Places with Situated Social Software".]

Marcus Foth motivated his talk on "Urban Futures: A Performance-based Approach to Residential Design" by noting a frequent problem in the urban planning process (which UrbanOmnibus is presumably also trying to address): citizens share ideas with urban planners, but they never get any feedback, i.e., they rarely know whether any of their input has any impact on the planning. Marcus and his colleagues created some new ways to elicit ideas from prospective citizens (or denizens) of a future master-planned community about what their ideal house would look and feel like. In an open space, participants were invited to close their eyes, imagine and act out (perform) how they would enter their home, and then record their ideas using crayons and paper on the floor. The outcome is a set of personas representing the kinds of people who might like to live in the planned community. The approach strikes me as an interesting mashup between the TrueHome approach of walkthroughs and interviews to understand personalities in the process of designing a home (which I first read about in Sam Gosling's book, Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You, and I think some of his other insights into possessions, perceptions projections and personalities would also be applicable), and the Focus Troupe approach of using drama and theatre to elicit ideas for new consumer products.

Ross Harley - who traveled all the way from the University of New South Wales, Australia, just to attend the one-day workshop (and not the rest of the conference) - presented "Contactless Contact: Reconceptualising Radio and Architecture in the Wireless City". Ross showed some videos visualizing traveling through airspace in and around airports developed as part of the Aviopolis project. He and his colleagues are now shifting from studying airports to studying air, applying what ethermapping and other methods from experimental geography to explore the politics and aesthetics of invisible radio frequency networks - and their "intersecting thresholds of intensities" (my favorite new term from the workshop) - in and around cities. He cited the Touch Project, which explores potential connections between RFID-enabled mobile phones and [other] physical things, and a paper by Jerry Kang on Pervasive Computing: Embedding the Public Sphere, as interesting related examples of this kind of work ... and I found myself thinking about one of my favorite [dystopian] videos depicting a scenario in which the [RF] airwaves might be mined and mapped in interesting ways: The Catalogue, by Chris Oakley:

SenseableCity-TheWorldInsideNewYork Clio Andris presented the keynote, "Urban Informatics in a Digital Revolution", a catalog of projects at the Senseable City Lab at MIT, on behalf of her advisor, Carlo Ratti, who was unable to attend. There were way too many projects presented in this whirlwind tour to describe them here - all can be found at the Senseable City Lab home page - so I'll just mention a few here. One was the New York Talk Exchange, which includes visualizations on varying scales of the different places to which people in New York make phone calls (proxies for the web of the connections and relationships of New Yorkers). The photo on the right is one such visualization, The World Inside New York, representing the connections made from different neighborhoods within New York to different countries around the world. Clio talked about an extension of this work that is / will be applying graph theory to mobile phone calls made around the city (though it may be a city in UK) as a way of approximating the demarcation of the city boundaries.

TrashTrack-StarbucksCup StarbucksCupsAtEtech2007 Another project, Trash | Track, allows users (citizens?) to attach an active RFID tracking device to an article of trash, and then be able to track where that trash goes. The first example is a Starbucks cup that has been tracked in Seattle. The project reminds me of an automated version of Where's George, where dollar bills are tracked via serial numbers manually entered into a web site. There is a blog associated with the project, and there is a set of photos on Flickr, but I haven't been able to find anywhere that people can track any items in real-time. The photo to the left is from one of the recent blog entries, which represents the trajectory of the aforementioned Starbucks cup (as of, approximately, 20 May 2009) ... and the photo to the right is one I took two years at the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies conference (ETech 2007) ... and I'm thinking that ETech 2010 might be a promising venue for a demonstration of Trash | Track. Meanwhile, I'd love to find out how I can participate in Trash | Track locally.

The presentation concluded with some historical context:

  • The agricultural revolution allowed us to harvest food to achieve sustainability
  • The industrial revolution allowed us to harvest human innovation and capitol labor resources
  • The digital revolution is allowing us to harvest information about all agents in the built environment, seen and unseen

I'm not entirely comfortable with the framing of these developments in terms of harvesting - which could be cast as a form of corporatist exploitation and extraction that Doug Rushkoff talks about in his recent book, Life, Inc. - but the presentation achieved its goal of being relevant, stimulating and provocative.

Ubidisplays-toripolliisi_small Hannu Kukka presented "A Digital City Needs Open Pervasive Computing Infrastructure", providing an overview of the UrBan Interactions (UBI) program at the University of Oulu in Finland. The goal of the program is to impose a visible and lasting change on the Finnish society (as opposed, or perhaps in addition, to publishing papers about the work). The program is deploying a network of UBI displays - large interactive displays with cameras, NFC / RFID, Bluetooth, wireless LAN and touch-screen capabilities - throughout Oulu. Twelve displays will be deployed - 6 indoor and 6 outdoor (the outdoor display installations will have two screens facing opposite directions). The displays will include user-generated media as well as local information and advertising. They are developing and plan to release open source toolkits for mobile phones that will enable users to interact with the displays, and to develop their own applications for use on / with the displays. Among the recent publications from the project is "Leveraging social networking services to encourage interaction in public spaces" from the MUM 2008 conference ... which sounds very relevant to our current project as well as some earlier work on "The Context, Content & Community Collage: Sharing Personal Digital Media in the Physical Workplace", a paper presented at the CSCW 2008 conference (for which, of course, I posted the slides). It sounds like a very interesting and relevant project - far more ambitious than our C3 Collage project at Nokia - but unfortunately, I can't find any images or videos to include in these notes. [Update: Timo Ojala sent me some links to photos and a video; I've embedded one of the photos above, but the video is a 58MB FLV file that must be downloaded to be viewed.]

Songdo_First_World_Tower_001 Germaine Halegoua presented "The Export of Ubiquitous Place: Investigating South Korean U-cities", including some interviews she's conducted with some of the people involved in the U-City project in Seoul, South Korea (aka the Seoul Digital Media City or DMC) and the Songdo U-Life project outside of Seoul in the new Free Economic Zone (FEZ) created in Incheon. Germaine is interested in what she calls the "cultural geography of media" (another cool new term for me), investigating the places of production and places of consumption of online media. In the DMC, the effort is to integrate new media technology into an existing city (what she called "hybridity" or "coexisting combination"); in U-Life, the goal is to co-develop the technology infrastructure with other dimensions of the planning and architecture - what the developers call a "Synergy City" - and then to export the business model to other cities. A recent photo of the Sondo is included to the right; more photos and a video can be found on their master plan page. Germaine will be traveling to Korea soon, to see how these plans are developing first-hand.

Last, but not least, Andrew Wong presented "Mobile Interactions as Social Machine: Young Urban Poor at Play in Cities in Bangladesh", in which he described three genres of using mobile phones: entertainment, enlarging their social network and creative mobile use to save cost through code. Many of the practices of the young urban poor are quite interesting, but I was particularly fascinated by what he called "missed call signaling" - calling a number and hanging up, sometimes multiple times in succession, to save the cost of an answered mobile phone call. Andrew described the "regional" languages - or perhaps dialects - that have evolved over time (he used the term "hyper-localization of communication"), highlighting how shallow media can be imbued with rich meaning with the right confluence of economic, social and/or entertainment incentives. This nuanced use of signaling reminded me of what was (for me), the highlight of the last Communities and Technologies conference (C&T 2007): Judith Donath's keynote on "Standing on Boxes: Signaling Costs and Benefits in Online and Offline Social Network".

I'll post some notes from the main conference in the near future. For now, I'll end off by noting that one of the many interesting serendipitous discoveries I made in searching around for links relating to the workshop is, unfortunately, a missed opportunity: a relevant project being conducted at Penn State Public Broadcasting - The Geospatial Revolution ("The location of anything is becoming everything"). Unfortunately, I did not see any members from that team at the workshop, despite its being held at the PSU campus ... perhaps we'll see them at the next Digital Cities workshop at C&T 2011, in Queensland, Australia (being chaired by Marcus Foth, one of he organizers of the Digital Cities workshop this year).

Many thanks to the organizers - and other participants - for co-creating such an engaging event!

Innovating at MyStrands, Seattle

It's been a little over a month since I left Nokia and started principally instigating at MyStrands, Seattle. Most of my time thus far has been devoted to talking with people and looking at places, as my top two initial instigative goals are to attract a dream team and setup shop in a dream space. Eventually, we'll make progress on other p's - prototypes, papers and patents - but not without the right people and only (or, at least, more easily) in the right place.

I'm making some progress on these initial goals - I will be making official announcements when formal transitions take place - but meanwhile I thought it would be helpful (to me, at least) to write a little bit about what kinds of innovation - and what kinds of innovators - I hope to facilitate with this great new team and great new space! Taking a cue from one of Glenn Kelman's pearls of wisdom - "We never say 'I'" - during an inspiring presentation at my crash course in entrepreneurship (NWEN's Entrepreneur University 2005), I'll be using "we" liberally below, even though "we" is, technically speaking, "I" at this particular moment.

The mission of the Seattle Innovation Team for MyStrands is

To design, develop and deploy technologies that weave together the various strands of our activities, interests and passions to bridge the gaps between the digital and physical worlds and help people relate to the other people, places and things around them in ways that offer value to all participants.

That's quite a mouthful (even for me) so I want to unpack that a little:

  • weave together the various strands of our activities, interests and passions: MyStrands started out as MusicStrands, a web application that can recommend new music based on the music you listen to ("what you play counts!"). Since then, the company has branched out into other types of media (e.g., MyStrands.TV), and we want to further extend this extension to additional types of media, as well as other digital representations of our activities, interests and passions.
  • bridge the gaps between the digital and physical worlds: with the growing wealth of digital representations of our activities, interests and passions, and the proliferation of mobile devices and wireless connectivity, there are increasing opportunities to create new value by opening portals to that wealth in the physical world, either through mobile social computing (MoSoSo) applications or more situated social computing (SiSoSo) applications, such as proactive displays.
  • help people relate to the other people, places and things around them: we all long to feel a sense of belonging and connection to other people we encounter, the places we inhabit and the things we see (or at least some of those people, places and things); our technologies will be designed to help real world communities better enjoy the benefits of virtual communities, digital communications and electronic commerce.
  • offer value to all participants: one of the things I learned - the hard way - during my earlier entrepreneurial endeavor (Interrelativity, Inc.) was the importance of aligning innovative social technologies with viable business models; although our primary focus will be on technical innovations with significant - and positive - social impact, we want to do so in an economically sustainable way that enriches all stakeholders.

As for the types of innovators (we don't call ourselves researchers - or developers - at MyStrands, though we will be doing both) we hope to attract, the primary criteria will be a passionate commitment to the mission of the lab. Of course, following the precepts of Joel Sposky, we also generally want smart people who can get things done. Among the more specific types of smarts that we value are insights into and experience with social computing, mobile and ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction, many flavors of design (user interface design, interaction design, user experience design, visual communication design), web programming, rapid prototyping, personal and social psychology, economics, business models ... and, of course, recommender systems.

I'm planning to follow the lead of Lars Erik Holmquist with respect to [one of] his goals for the PLAY Research Group: build a multidisciplinary team composed of multidisciplinary people. As Anne Galloway relayed this idea (in what may be an unexpected recursion based on something I may have sent / said to her about Lars Erik's CHI 2000 organizational overview talk):

Alan Kay once remarked that he was attracted to the MIT Media Lab because of the..."attempt to collide technology with the arts, rather than [to] collide technologists with artists," and continued "You're always better getting people who have already had that collision in themselves." In PLAY, rather than composing a multi-disciplinary group, we try to have a group of multi-disciplinary people ... No group member specializes in only one topic. A typical member has a degree in a relevant field such as computer science, informatics or fine arts, but a strong interest in several other fields such as electrical engineering, linguistics, literature, film, or music. Whether accompanied by academic degrees or not, a wide range of interests is seen as a vital factor in the composition of the group.

Ideally, we will compose a diverse group of diverse people, with a variety of skills, from a variety of backgrounds, who respect each other and work well together, even though - or perhaps because - we may not always agree with each other (indeed, I hope we won't always agree with each other). I have enjoyed many conversations with many talented people so far, and I welcome the opportunity to initiate or renew conversations with other talented people. If current trends continue, we may be able to assemble a dream team without ever having to compose or post a formal job description.

As I mentioned in my review of First Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently, I subscribe to the philosophy of Bud Grant, former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings:

You can’t draw up plays and then just plug your players in. No matter how well you have designed your play book, it’s useless if you don’t know which plays your players can run. When I draw up my play book, I always go from the players to the play.

Given my commitment to multidisciplinarity, I'm going one step further and not even specifying player positions at this early stage, hoping that we will be able attract just the right people with just the right talents to accomplish our innovation mission.

[Update: I forgot to mention that we have a number of more formally specified job openings at many of our other sites around the world. The (Senior) Mobile User Experience / Interaction Designer position may be of particular interest to some of my international friends.]

SlideShare: YouTube for Presesentations

I signed up for an account on SlideShare shortly after Mor Naaman told me about this social networking service for slides (after I'd asked him for his slides from Mobile Persuasion 2007). SlideShare is like a YouTube for presentations, with capabilities for creating links to or embedding slides into a web page (such as a blog), tagging, commenting, favoriting, grouping and subscribing.

It seems to me (and others) that any social networking service offers some form of self-presentation (manifestations of Erving Goffman's notions of Presentation of Self in Everyday Life), so it's only natural to have a service devoted to the self-presentation of presentations. Of course, most people don't create and give presentations on a daily basis, so this service may have a more limited set of producers and consumers than, say, Flickr.

I see that there are entire conferences represented [pun intended] on SlideShare. Given that it is an increasingly common practice to post photos from a conference with a particular tag, e.g., "pervasive07", it will be interesting to see whether a conference content aggregator service emerges in the near future.

Although I haven't given any conference presentations recently, I decided to experiment with the site by uploading some older presentations. I hope to have some new presentations (and papers) to share in the near future, and may even experiment with uploading presentations before a conference (er, except that I'm usually, er, "refining" the presentations right up until I take the stage).

Anyhow, a selection of oldies [but goodies (?)] is included below.

Working at Nokia on Context, Content and Community

We recently posted an external web page for the Context, Content and Community project I'm working on (and playing with) in collaboration with some of my new colleagues here at Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto. This is, by definition (or at least by name), a rather broad and ambitious undertaking. As we summarize it on the site:

Our project is dedicated to the design, development and deployment of systems to connect individuals with relevant resources in ways that create value for all stakeholders.

As we continue to explore this space, the distinctions between context, content and community seem increasingly blurred (to me). For example, as more aspects of our physical world context(s) can be captured and represented digitally, this becomes yet another dimension of content. As the people formerly-known-as consumers are empowered to [co-]create, organize and share digital content more effectively, communities of shared interests (and shared differences) emerge and grow more naturally. And as these communities form and flourish, they offer a new perspective that can, in turn, affect the contexts within which future content may be collected, shared ...  and, one hopes, better understood.

[Slightly] more detail about the project can be found on our web page (the project only officially started this month). While I am interested -- and will likely, at varying levels, be involved -- in all aspects of the project, I am particularly interested in the part that represents a continuation of a decade-long exploration:

Demonstrate new applications with compelling value propositions for bridging the gaps between people by bridging the gaps between the physical and digital worlds

Although our plans along this dimension are still incubating, the basic idea is to extend the work we [well, different we's at different times and places] have done with using technology to help people relate to and connect with one another by showing elements of people's online representations of self in the physical spaces they share with others (e.g., the Intel proactive display deployment at UbiComp 2003 and in subsequent Interrelativity deployments). The profiles we will be creating and utilizing as part of the Context, Content and Community project will be far richer, and more useful (and hopefully usable) than the special-purpose profiles that were incorporated into the earlier systems, and using mobile phones as digital proxies -- rather than special-purpose RFID tags -- offers a more natural and convenient way of enabling people to reveal more about themselves in an ambient manner.

I'll be writing more about this project as our thoughts, plans and [other] actions evolve. For now, I simply wanted to note that we have "gone public" ... and that we are hiring -- interns and post-docs, as well as full-time research scientists / engineers -- in case anyone reading this has skills, experience and passion for the design, development and deployment of sociotechnical systems that will redefine our perspectives on, and approaches to, connecting people.

Almost Famous

Kristi Heim wrote a nice article about Interrelativity (and me) in The Seattle Times, entitled Using High-Tech to Help Break Ice, that appeared in today's paper.  As with Kristi's' great article about Amal Graafstra and his RFID agenda, she really captured the essence of what Interrelativity -- and I -- are all about.

I felt quite honored (and, perhaps, somewhat self-important) to be invited in for an interview.  The hour with Kristi flew by, and we spoke about so many interesting topics, I was looking forward to seeing which aspects she would choose to focus on.  When the article came out this morning, I could not have been happier ... except that I [now] recognize that I was looking forward to some "atta boy's" from people who might read the article.  To my surprise, I didn't receive much acknowlegement that anyone I know -- aside from people I'd told about it -- had read the article ... and, as with most surprises, this represents a learning opportunity.

Cindy, a friend in the neighborhood, brought by a copy of the article, but I had seen her yesterday, and mentioned the article, and [so] I am not sure whether she would have noticed the article ... or thought to drop off a copy (though I suspect she would, given that she is an incredibly kind and generous person).  Dan and Scott, other kind and generous friends, sent emails -- as did my mom -- but I had alerted them about the upcoming article, too. I received an email from Anthony, at 3:30am, who had read the online version after it was posted around midnight and had some great suggestions about other potential applications of proactive displays ... and also noted that the email link on the web site was broken (which I hastened to repair). I received another email from Adam, who kindly offered to help me find office space for Interrelativity, an offer I'm not in a good position to take advantage of now, but perhaps will be able to, if / when we grow beyond my home office in the future.

All of these acknowledgements were welcome, but I felt some disappointment that I didn't hear or read from more friends (or acquaintances ... or strangers).  Recognizing this disappointment has, in turn, helped me realize that, despite my best intentions, I have not [yet] succeeded in living without attachments.  I will continue to work on this issue of attachment to outcomes, but I also want to take the opportunity to muse a bit further.

There are several possible explanations to this low level of response, among them:

  • Few people read the article
  • Few people who know [of] me (or Interrelativity) read the article
  • People read the article but were not impressed with the article or its topic (or both)
  • People read the article and thought it was a good article and/or topic, but didn't think it was worth mentioning [to me]

While this seemed like a big deal to me, perhaps it doesn't seem like a big deal to most other people ... not the first time I've experienced mismatch between my perceptions and those of others. It reminded me of Noah Kagan's recent observations about the joy of receiving comments on a blog post , my own observations about filling buckets online and offline, and Don Miguel Ruiz' first agreement to be Impeccable with your Word, as one's words -- or lack thereof -- can exert a strong influence (positive or negative) on others.

I feel a bit self-conscious in writing about this, as one possible outcome is that people might read this blog post and submit comments ackowledging the post and/or the Seattle Times article.  However, one of my explicit goals in maintaining this blog is to detach from any expectation that anyone else is reading it, much less willing to take the time to comment.  I now recognize that I was applying a different perspective to the newspaper article ... and I recognize all the more poignantly the value of detaching from outcomes ... especially those involving [near] fame and fortune.

Blog What You Love, The Money Will Follow

I signed an agreement with Newstex yesterday to include the Gumption weblog feed in the collection of online content they make available to their customers:

The revolutionary Newstex Blogs On Demand product delivers value-added full-text blog content. Newstex processes blogs in real-time through its NewsRouter technology to automatically tag each blog post with key data such as company names, stock tickers, key executives and government officials, and detailed topical categories for distribution to downstream enterprise customers to ensure greater exposure and reach for this valuable content.

I will receive a percentage of royalties generated by subscriptions that include the content from this blog.  My intention is to continue ruminating on what inspires me, what I aspire to, and/or what I perspire about without being influenced by this arrangement with Newstex.  The only change I expect is to have more incentive to blog more often (though my uncertainty over whether this will help me be a better blogger continues ... perhaps increasing the quantity of my blog posts will help me gain clarity on this issue -- doing something, rather than simply thinking, about it).

Gene Becker recently posted some of his insights into and experiences with the use of advertising in blogs, commenting on the impact of advertising on relevance, aesthetics and public and personal morality.  I have noticed an increasing number of blogs that have Google Adsense frames on them, and I have to admit that the more advertising I see on a blog, the more I question the motivation(s) of the blogger.  Gene's comments on the personal morality issue are particularly relevant to my decision to link up with Newstex:

This is the bad one: having ads changed how I thought about blogging. Instead of focusing on my own interests and creative expression, I started to think about what kind of content would attract ads with higher CPM rates. Mind you, this didn't show up in actual behavior b/c I've just been 2B2B (too busy to blog, eh?). Nonetheless I'm amazed by how quickly and easily the money influenced the content; this seems immoral on a very personal level.

Like Gene, I do not want to be influenced by monetary considerations; however, I consider Gene a man of the highest level of personal and professional integrity, and so if he found there was a creeping influence of financial considerations into his blog during his experiment (he has since removed all advertising from his blog), I know I need to be extremely vigilant.

I have never checked on any statistics for my weblog (e.g., subsribers or visitors); the only way I know about whether / when anyone reads anything I post is when they post comments, use trackbacks or send email.  I do not want to pay attention to subscriptions or readership via Newstex, but I suppose that if royalties do flow my way, the checks will be accompanied by some kind of accounting statistics, and so I will not be completely ignorant.  However, I do not want Newstex to tell me how my blog (or entries) are categorized, or what kinds of people and organizations are reading or subscribing to this blog -- although if there are any such entities out there, "welcome!" :-). 

I have seen increasing signs that the Internet is creating an entirely new set of tools for realizing the promise of "Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow".  At a recent Idea Day presentation on podcasting, Alex Williams and Matt Day highlighted a number of ways that people are creating podcasts (many of which, presumably, are about things they love), and making money from them.  One of the insights I came away with from a recent panel discussion on eBay was that people who are creating specialty niche products (many of which, I again assume, are labors of love) have a new channel through which to make a living via eBay.  There are already a number of bloggers who have money following them because they blog about what they love.  I don't know whether I will be joining their ranks, but I'm willing to open myself up to yet another dimension of the abundance of the blogosphere.

Practically Creative

The first issue of Practically Creative Quarterly was published recently: "a free webzine and creative community on the grow, exploring the creative process ~ increasing creative productivity ~ enjoying the creative life."  There are many inspiring short articles throughout the magazine, with sections focusing on process, craft, practicalities, creations, practice and practices, crackles and preferrals.  All of the articles are about creativity and inspiration, differing in the channels through which these are expressed, including studio muses, stray puppies, gardening, and cycling.  In addition to the non-fiction articles, the magazine includes works of fiction, business card art, doodle art, floating tissue art, photography, poetry and a cartoon.  There is also a practically creative blog.

Highly recommended ... and not only because one of the articles is a nicely edited revision of one of my blog posts (thanks, Nancy!).

"Living Labs" keynote at UCSD

I'll be giving the keynote this Friday at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering Research Review. The theme is "Living Labs" and while I will, of course, be talking primarily about our experience with proactive displays at UbiComp 2003, I'll be starting off by emphasizing the committment of Intel Research to the concept of living labs (as illustrated by this and other projects, e.g., PlanetLab and PlaceLab).

The other talks look interesting [too], with topics including a network telescope, unmanned aerial vehicles, a smart vivarium and a project to "integrate live cell arrays with synthetic 'chip' platforms" (this last one, in particular, adds a whole new dimension to the idea of a "living lab").