Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Walking iPads, is this just too much?

This story from web page first looked like a joke to us, but it does seem to be a real product:

Founded in 2011, Double Robotics is placing its product on pre-order, and it is an iPad-based platform called Double. This in essence is your “robot,” a mobile base with mounting bracket for the iPad, a robot imbued with technology that allows you to ask and say and learn what you want while being inhabited in the Double.

Read more at:

Okay, so it seems that you can get a $2,000 Double, or you can get someone to hold their iPhone and you can use face time.  Maybe a $50 tripod and a few minutes of someones time could help.

This might be cool in some very special conditions.  I could image a museum or building site using something like this for a more interactive experience.  Certainly someone will buy this thing and use it, but will this start an age of presence?  Will we be seeing robots standing in for us in real space like avatars.

A few years ago I spent a great deal of time studying Second Life.  I actually voyaged to almost every SIM in Second life from 2006 to 2010, meeting just about every time of avatar you can imagine and learning in detail the sociology and technology of the subculture.  I even have the blog to prove it.  One thing I learnt from the time I spent mapping and exploring Second Life is that if futurists and Science Fiction writers are keen on a concept of the future, it probably is not a very good concept.

My growing impression is that the current trend of technology promotes nomadic social existence.  This is not unique to mobile technology, the mass distribution of automobiles and trains also opened new nomadic kinds of life, reflected in the novel On the Road.  But we live in civilisation where power primarily is exercised via creating fixed sedentary structures, mapping landscapes in to matrix and terrains.

So for example a generation of people in America and Europe took advantage of the introduction of the steam engine to escape local village life and ride the rails, moving quickly from place to place in a kind of nomadic life that become so popular it has been made essentially illegal for some time.  These same engines in factories connected to trains fuelled the creation of company towns with new fixed locations and populations.

The automobile open up a great world of mobility to people.  It is still pretty amazing that almost any adult in America can just in their car and, for maybe a few hundred dollars in gasoline, can find themselves in any point in North America in a matter of a few days.  

But the automobiles real impact has been the creation of the mass suburbs with their office parks.  What would have been farm land of open country 100 years ago has been settled in to a matrix of fixed units of land use, units that use the illusion of grassy lawns to give a sense of open space that really does not exist.  The automobile has turned vast areas of the United States in to owned parcels of land, and made people even more locked in to their homes and isolated from their communities than would have ever been possible.

Certainly the TV seems to be the least nomadic of all inventions.  The TV certainly seemed to fix people in their homes, isolating them in singular locations.  But it is important to remember that the TV present its own kind of nomadic experience.  It allowed people to explore new ideas, to learn about the world like never before, to learn about travel, and to explore new belief systems and religions.  

Currently the computer is experiencing a rise in the nomadic stage of its use after being one of the greatest sedentary tools every created.  People are able to take their computing and media with them, tuck in a pocket or under an arm.  The question is if this trend is so radical it will transform the tendency to more and more settled from of life, if we are really becoming more nomadic and mobile after centuries of becoming more settled?  Or will more and more products like the Double try to extend the fixed features of this new technology?  The Double certainly could let you lot in to the presence of an office from anywhere, but it would also ground you use of the iPad in to a single location.  At $2,000 a unit it is likely you are going to only log in to a few of these through work.  It is possible that the iPad could ultimately extend you fixed presence in a single location no matter what you are doing, thus take the nomadic nature of the mobile device away and give you a more fixed experience beyond presence itself.

From my own feeling on how things are going I don't think so.  I think the mobile device is part of a more nomadic way of living, but I full anticipate that companies will see to convert their usage to more settled forms, this is simply how power works in civilisation.  

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

First half the movie Assange and Turing: A Love Story

Introduction, an overview of the two mens lives.


An introduction of the life of Alan Turing, with a perspective from after the age of gay liberation.

Overview of the life of Assange, the man who personified the Open Journalism movement via Wikileaks, and then more than anyone else oversaw the failure of that movement we see today.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Dumb phones, the dangers of iWalking

The Web 3.0 Lab looks at the intersection of social life and emerging mobile web technology, and despite some wonderful examples of people communicating and expressing themselves with new cheap mobile technology, there are obvious dangers.

 The video above shows a man so consumed by his smartphone that he almost walks into a bear. Yes you read that correctly. A man was so distracted walking with his mobile phone he almost walked right into a bear on the street.

 As unlikely as this might seem this collection of minor accidents caused by our inability to put down the web connectivity probably will be more familiar to many of us. TechCrunch has noted a few examples of the growing problem:

An estimated 1,152 people were sent to the emergency room last year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The stories of distracted texting as saddening as they are hilarious. Some highlights from the data:
  • A 24-year-old woman who walked into a telephone pole while texting; 
  • A 28-year-old man who was walking along a road when he fell into a ditch while talking on a cellphone 
  • A 12-year-old boy who was looking at a video game when he was clipped by a pickup truck as he crossed the street 
  • A 53-year-old woman who fell off a curb while texting and lacerated her face.

Distracted Walking Injuries Quadruple — Mobile Devices to Blame?

Certainly people need to be a bit more careful, but is this a real problem or just another example of web panic that grips the media, or worse is this a problem we are just going to ignore. A depressing case study of how real problems caused by use of the Internet is how we deal with pedophiles on the web. About 5 years ago there was a moral panic in much of the media about pedophile grooming on the web. Though certainly a real risk the levels of media hype about the problem were clearly about of proportion to the real danger. Then every new parent in America and Western Europe got a Facebook account. Now we see people posting images of new born children, of family plays, and of 5 year old daughters in bride's maid pictures all over Facebook, where they can circulate in the web along with more data about yourself than you relieve you may have given out. A serious problem was first hyped then ignored, but never dealt with. Perhaps the same problem will take place with distracted walking. 

Distracted walking was probably only really a problem in places like MIT and University of Chicago before the birth of the mobile phone, and 1,152 emergency room visits in a nation of over 300,000,000 people is not a massive crisis. These numbers are about how many young people take up smoking every day in the US.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Truth from Dalton Caldwell, now what?

I believe that future social platforms will behave more like infrastructure, and less like media companies. I believe that a number of smaller, interoperable social platforms with a clear, sustainable business models will usurp you. These future companies will be valued at a small fraction of what Facebook and Twitter currently are. I think that is OK. Platforms are judged by the value generated by their ecosystem, not by the value the platforms directly capture.

Dalton Caldwell's open letter to Mark Zuckerberg

The Web 3.0 Lab fully suppers Dalton Caldwell idea here.  Social Media platforms should be utilities, like phone lines or water companies, that produce far far more wealth for the overall economy than they produce for the firms.  In earlier times, say the 1980s, Facebooks and Twitter practices might even be investigated and changed via government regulation, but we live in the age of Enron, Libor, and check the web for the latest Corporate corruption story for it will have likely changed before I have a chance to press publish.

But what Mr Caldwell does not give us, what none of the Internet gurus who dream of Cyberutopias has been able to give us is a road map.

It is time to start thinking in term of political economy.  What kind of world wide web are we going to get in a world dominated by corporation and profit motive?  Well we already know:

  • Junk content: Wikipedia has produced quality content by avoiding the profit motive, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and the web in general has a high trash to content ratio that gets worse and worse all the time.  I assume most people have given up on trying to learn things from the web that matter.
  • Monopoly distribution: a few firms with massive leverage will continue to try and control the entire market, and in the current atmosphere of ideological paranoia around all things to do with Capitalism it is hard to see regulation of Internet firms coming anytime soon, and certainly not breaking up larger firms like Google, Facebook and Yahoo in to smaller firms.
  • Chaos: The internet is at its core an engine of chaos.  It does this in many ways.  The Internet speeds the process of information and money flow to a point where it is impossible for a human mind to make sense of it.  The Internet breaks down established patterns of trust and community that work against self interests by creating here today gone tomorrow virtual communities.  The Internet makes fraud easier and spreads panic.

There is not question that the Internet on every mobile phone has opened a new world of communication to vast numbers of human beings, but what is lacking is the social regulation of this new system to ensure we get the social outcomes we democratically want.  Look at Egypt, the very people who used Facebook and Twitter so effectively to get global support for their cause were utter failures in getting votes.

Having a unregulated world wide web is not the same as freedom.  And what freedom a Capitalist Anarchy might provide users now will be quickly lost as massive players start to exercise political power to ensure their revenues streams.  Already file sharing and bitturrents have been made criminal.  Probably porn will be next.  In time Twitter and Facebook will likely give us a more regulated speech, where corporate sponsors will be able to control who can see our tweets and likes.  

The time to do something is not now, it was 10 years ago.  Lets hope it is not too late. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Time to panic on Facebook?

The worst may be yet to come. On Aug. 16, 91 days after the IPO, insiders, such as company officers, directors and employees, can sell 268 million shares of stock. Between 91 and 181 days after the IPO, insiders can sell an additional 137 million shares. Given the stock's plunge so far, investors are braced for an avalanche of available shares from insider sales, putting more downward pressure on the stock price. It's a stunning reversal of fortune in a short period of time. Facebook is now the second-worst performer of all IPOs in the U.S. so far this year, says

Around the time of the IPO, individual and institutional investors alike were clamoring for shares of the multibillion-dollar IPO. Facebook shares' precipitous 43% price drop is slightly better than the 51% decline by Renewable Energy Group, which went public in January.

The fallout from Facebook's dismal performance isn't confined to the billions of dollars erased from CEO Mark Zuckerberg's personal fortune. Analysts attributed at least part of Tuesday's selloff to the announcement of Facebook-related losses by a large Swiss bank. UBS Tuesday reported a disappointing 58% decline in quarterly profits, in part, to a 349 million franc loss ($357 million U.S.) from its handling of Facebook stock at the IPO launch. The bank says it lost money due to technical problems handling orders of Facebook stock for clients.

"Facebook doesn't have any friends on Wall Street or Silicon Valley," says Gaskins. "That's a problem. Their brand has been damaged a lot."

Facebook shares hit new low, 43% below IPO price

Track Facebook stock history

It may be a bit early to write off Facebook, but you might notice a pattern with social media.  From Wikipedia, to MySpace, to Second Life, social media has found it very hard to convert hype and new users in to long term users and profits.

Some sites, like Wikipedia, have clearly transformed how information is shared around the world, but if Wikipedia was a business trying to make money it would be in very serious trouble.  Some thinkers have pointed out that the values of social media like sharing, user empowered content creation, and free mass distribution are not very useful for collecting profits.

Facebook tried to counter this by collecting data that would be of value to market firms, thus turning our sharing and collaboration in to insights about us.  Given the high level of noise in any Social Media outlet there is good reason to question if this will ever take place. 

The youth Green Revolution is taking place in the cities

Today, major urban agriculture projects are firmly rooted in Burlington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and dozens of other American cities. Sales of vegetable seeds have skyrocketed across the country. Backyard chickens have become a new norm, and schoolyard gardens have sprung up across the nation and beyond since Alice Waters began Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard Project almost two decades ago. Organic farms and farmers’ markets have proliferated, and for the first time in many decades the number of farmers is going up instead of down. Though those things can be counted, the transformation of awareness that both produces and is produced by all these things is incalculable

The Second Green Revolution, the revolution of the young, is taking place in the cities

The Web 3.0 lab sees a key possible result of the encoding of semantic and social data to geo-social life could be a more creative, decentralised and potentially even 'humane' use of space, especially urban space.

Visual pageant and Web 3.0 the case of #London2012

Map of social media content around Olympic Village

We are observing the following about use of mobile social media technology in the Olympic Village:

  • Tweeting levels are high and concentrated, but not extremely high for London.  In fact we have seen much more tweeting coming from protests in Madrid recently than at any point in the Olympic park.  People are certainly tweeting, but not at levels higher than concerts or other events.
  • We are seeing very high levels of Foursquare checkins, some of the highest we have ever seen.  Over 200 people were checked in at one point during the opening ceremony.  That is still less than one in 400 people, but that is actually fairly high.  This has been some of the most active use of foursquare we have ever seen and mark a major milestone for the platform.
  • Pictures!  We are seeing a flood of geo-tagged Flickr images being posted and these images are getting a lot of views.  Instagram and Facebook show the same thing: people are posting like crazy from the events.  

When you think of it this makes perfect sense.  The sociological system of an Olympic game is very different than a protest.  At a protest people come together because they have something to say.  So when over 100,000 people march on Madrid to protest austerity is it obvious people will turn to Twitter as an extent of chants and posters.  Certainly people do post mass images, but the objective of a protest is speech directed, and Twitter is an ideal medium for that.

An Olympic game is a spectacle, and as such it is to be witnessed and seen.  So people check in to Foursquare, to show that they have been there, and post images of the amazing visual event.  But like all staged spectacle there is very little to say but to acknowledge the witnessing of it.  People sure want to 'talk' about being at the Olympics, but they have precious little to 'say' about it other than 'I was there.'

This shows in the use of Web 3.0 social media, with people posting pictures and check ins in mass numbers, though they may tweet less than they might at a political protest.