zondag 7 november 2010

MoM nov 6th

This is not a screen design, but combines a couple of aspects.

It's a further exploration of the header, using Bart's logo. Any of the four logo's could fit in; I put in this one, because I slightly prefer it, because of the way the asymetric UvA logo (weigth left) balances out the asemetric top (where the 'thoughtcloud-thingies' give weight to the right).

The menu items involve everything that is in the right column in the current MoM-blog. On mouse over the menu item hightlights (as is here the case on menu item 2) and the submenu items appear underneath. Searchfunction should be set apart on this same bar I imagine.

Then the cards

the upper three cards are examples of how they display when idle (no mouse over or anything). The grey transparent overlay shows just the title (so it varies how far up the overlay is). The card in the background shows author and date and: 1) the intro to the text, 2) a cut out of the text (this makes the whole page more playfull in case there's no images on it), or 3) an image if present.

On mouse over:
Illustrated in the second row are the cards as they would appear when your mouse hovers over the card. The overlay moves up and now shows also the tags. It only moves up so far as is needed for the text. Bacjground on the card stays the same. 

On click:
Clicking a card will open a new page, the post's page. I'll make something on that later.

Obviously there's other ways to arrange the data on the cards and overlays, like: having title, author, tags on the background card and the intro text on the overlay. Or anything in between. So, I'd like to hear your thoughts on that.

About the colours. They are not fully implemented yet as they were suggested, but I think there's too many of them... But we could use them for labels (like spacecollectives 'related projects'), which is not in the design yet. Background colour I found was difficult. White doesn't offset the cards, but most other colours from the suggested palettes make the design to dark... Something to discuss next time!

zondag 31 oktober 2010

Vampire energy

Vampire energyIn the spirit of Halloween, I’ve dug up the worn down topic of Vampire energy. Vampire energy? Does that have something to do with people that wear you down and drain you from energy? No, that’s Energy Vampires. Vampire energy is another expression for wasted standby power, which sucks (hence the vampire metaphor) energy without you being aware of it and therefore takes a bite out of your wallet.

Vampire energyWe sit at our computers a lot, for work, for play, or anything in between. Consider this computer. A desktop computer comes with a monitor. You’ll probably have a modem and possibly a wireless router on top. Some might have an external storage device that needs it’s own energy supply. What about having another computer, or laptop, next to the first one. That’s a lot of devices in need of power. Even when you’re not using them actively, but just leave it switched on ‘so it won’t take so long’ when you have to consult the internet on any sudden occurrence of information necessity. And that’s just looking at computers. Appliances like microwaves, phone chargers, stereo installations and even toothbrush chargers also suck up energy while not being used for anything.

An often heard excuse is that turning the devices on and off all the time can not be good for the equipment, it wears it down. But such a thing has never been proven and is highly unlikely according to some, saying that the most harm it does is the impracticality of having to reset an internal clock again.

Much attention has been paid to the topic of energy consumption since the last two decades. This attention has resulted in standards like Energy Star and a growing awareness among consumers. But we’re not there yet. Having a computer with the Energy Star label, doesn’t automatically mean you save energy. You have to configure the right settings for the computers energy usage: if it’s not set to go into sleep mode or hibernation mode after a certain amount of time, it will keep on using excessive power.

Power strips are among the easier solutions. Switching off the power strip when non of the plugged-in devices are in active use, totally cuts them off from the energy net and prevents them from ‘vampiring’ energy.

(look at one of the names that comes up at the end!!)

But the problem starts elsewhere. As long as we don’t realize how much energy we waste, and how much this waste costs us, we’re not likely to alter our ways. We often consider our own energy consumption to be around average, or we don’t consider it at all. So, the solution should start at confronting people with it. The data should be visual, metaphorical for consumers to grasp it’s implications. Furthermore, the data should not concern an average household, it should concern our own household. The smart meter is a promising development here. There’s issues concerning privacy (we’re talking about monitoring and storing personal data) that have to be taken into account, but the very personal and inhouse application of the meter will construct a personal bond between the data and the person using the power.

There are two problems that immediately pop up. First, not surprisingly it turns out to be difficult to convince consumers to install a smart meter. This year the Dutch energy supplier Liander posted a request for concepts on the crowdsourcing website Battle of Concepts, on how to have people ‘lining up for the smart meter’. Secondly, when the data is collected, it still doesn’t mean much to consumers. It has to be transformed into something tangible, preferably through a metaphor relating to money, and it has to be made accessible: data transformation and interface.

PumpkinBut, that’s a story for another time. Today, on Halloween, there is another type of energy that prevails: the raw energy of the fire in our lanterns and pumpkins when we roam the streets for yet another type of energy: the one you get from too much sugared candy!

zaterdag 30 oktober 2010

Professional use of e-readers: a whole different e-game

Take off your shoes, kick back and relax: cuddling up on the couch with your e-reader. Or forget about the couch and lay before the crackling open fire, maybe with a cup of hot coco like you might have done when you traditionally would read a long-awaited book. And then, let yourself be transported to that other universe the writer has laid out for you. For most people, e-reading is a substitute for leisurely book reading.

However, reading is of course not always for pleasure, and neither should e-reading be. E-readers have potential for professionals that are on the road a lot, who generally don’t work on a desk, but still need to have loads of information at hand. Imagine an architect on his building site who needs to consult a report. Or us students having to deal with dozens, maybe hundreds of academic articles. A city where I’m about to finish a webproject just started a pilot where the city councilors all get iPad’s to view notes, reports and minutes during the city councilor’s meetings. But, as apparent as the potential for this kind of usage is, the market seems to lag behind. The e-reader market for professional users turns out to be a whole different ball game, or e-game so to speak.


Why is it any different?

BooksThose who use the device for relaxing use it in a different way then those who need it for work. How do the requirements for professional use differ from relaxing purposes? Here are some of the criteria that a pro e-reader should meet. One of the main problems is the organization of information. Where a free time e-reader might randomly, or alphabetically, put the purchased books on some digital bookshelves, this method won’t do for professionals having to deal with loads of documents that need categorization. Another thing is the formats of the texts. On the work floor one should be able to consult common business formats such as Word and Powerpoint, and of course PDF. Also it should be easy to exchange the files, so they can be easily sharable, not just among colleagues, but also between platforms. An internet connection probably comes in useful for this sharing. Especially academics might want to make references to the text, so it’s handy if the e-reader supports easy referencing. And not just for this user group, but for all professional users, taking notes on the displayed text is essential. Last off, I would be nice if it’s touch screen.

Most e-readers on the market today don’t include these features, or only some of them. There have been two promising initiatives, but both haven't yet risen to the occasion.


Plastic Logic

Plastic Logic announced its first generation QUE proReader back in 2009, promising a new all-business e-reading device:
With QUE, Plastic Logic is expanding the eReader category, which to date has focused on leisure reading devices and casual users. QUE is designed to simplify the multi-faceted lifestyle of the modern businessperson, and to quite literally lighten their workload. In addition to connecting its users with their business and professional newspapers, books and periodicals, QUE supports the document formats business users need (including PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents) and features powerful tools for interacting with and managing the content. […] “More than an eReader, QUE means business.”

Plastic Logic's QUE proReaderPlastic Logic modeled the slick touch-screen device at the CES, January 2010. With Wi-Fi and 3G connection, document management functionality, calendar options and all this at roughly standard letter size and weighing 17.2 ounces, further developments appeared promising. But then, after having postponed production a couple of times, in august 2010 Plastic Logic CEO Richard Archuleta announced the cancelation of the QUE reader, stating that "we recognize the market has dramatically changed, and with the product delays we have experienced, it no longer make sense for us to move forward with our first generation electronic reading product." As of yet, it is not exaclty clear what further plans entail.


iRex Technologies/IRX Innovations

iRex DR1000Then there’s Dutch producer iRex Technologies. iRex already had products on the market from 2005, starting with the iLiad which was running well enough. The company originally intended to focus solely on the business market, but had gradually shifted towards the wider consumer market, leaving their original intentions unpursued. Some upcoming models, like the DR800 or the DR1000, seemed promising for business purposes in how they handled documents and connection possibilities. But as their new DR800 ran into problems when hitting the American market, delays resulted in the company missing out on the holiday season of 2009. It hit them hard, and by June 2010 the company was up for bankruptcy.

iRex Technologies hasen’t given up hope though. Well, iRex Technologies has, but the people behind it haven’t. CEO Hans Brons founded the new IRX Innovations and has learned some lessons, especially on the differences between the consumer market and the business market. Brons says the company lost focus on the original target group (professionals), but in it’s new form IRX Innovations will go back to it’s business-to-business formula and leave the consumer market for other producers to overtake.

Stack of ebooksI’m curious if IRX Innovations has what it takes to realize their promise this second time around. E-readers are booming and fact is that by now the iPads, the BeBooks, the Nooks and Kindles have taken up residence around us, just like their names have taken up residence in our minds. When we think of e-reading, we’ll think of those names, not of IRX. Missing out on that first big wave is a tough thing to overcome; especially when you were there, but just didn’t catch it.

donderdag 7 oktober 2010

Groupon: a sprouting little Wiki entry

Again I fell into the trap of thinking that it would be easy to write on a topic after my own choice. There’s lots of stuff that I find interesting, so there must be plenty to write about. This time it wasn’t to be just the blog post, but a Wikipedia entry on any topic that deserved a place in the Wiki Encyclopedia. So, I set about finding myself a topic. I used Frankwatching.com, a quality Dutch blog on e-trends, for inspiration, and found my topic: Groupon. Not something I would think of myself, since it always struck me as yet another commercial site offering daily discounts of restaurants, workshops, activities, and so on. But I value Frankwatching quite highly and I could not ignore the fact that Groupon had two entries in the English Wikipedia. So time for a Dutch version on Groupon.

The reason for this assignment was to first-handedly experience the Wikipedia machine and the mechanisms that regulate this body of over 16.7 million articles (and still counting). We can theorize about Wikipedia, as community knowledge is a very theorizable subject, but this was something we had to experience ourselves. Later, when we sat in class to share among fellow-wikipedians the stories of our attempts, I must admit that I was overtaken by a sense of excitement: what would the next story be like. Some were agonized to the border of cruel torture, others happily delighted by the compassionate nature of the editors who contributed to the new article. It reminded me of this schoolproject where you had to nurture garden cress seeds, until they sprouted. No big ordeal, but you’d get attached to the thing nonetheless. And so it was with the Wikipedia entry.

Garden Cress

My story must have been the most boring of all. Along with a few others I belonged to the group of people who’s articles found little to no critique from the community. Some of us were disappointed. When I picked Groupon as my topic of the week, I actually expected to run into some issues regarding debatable commercial interest. When I wrote an entry on my film festival some years ago, I remember I was corrected for speaking too promotionally about the festival. With that experience in the back of my head, I was interested in how that would turn out for Groupon. I used some ‘promotional’ words, but not in an obvious way. When I submitted the text, I was once asked by the system whether I was sure this wasn’t a commercial text. Upon entering that I was very sure, my article was admitted. Little happened after that. Someone changed ‘company’ to ‘marketingcompany’, a bot added a category, another one added a link to the German entry… And that was it.

Now my little garden cress sprout is out there in the big world. I hope it will grow a bit more.

maandag 27 september 2010

Involve me, and I'll understand: Classroom 2.0

"Tell me, and I'll forget. Show me, and I might remember. Involve me, and I'll understand."
- ancient Chinese proverb

Returning to the topic I wrote about two weeks ago, I’d like to have another look at the use of technology in education. It was easy to express my annoyances about the way platforms such as Blackboard are oftentimes used, but now for the more constructive part: what can we do about it? I’d like to broaden this subject to include not just electronic learning environments, but a wider range of digital social practices that could be used in educational settings, such as chat, wikis and blogs.


Why introducing Web 2.0 into the classroom

Digital NativesIn discussions on technology enhanced learning (TE-learning) a big part is played by the new generation of digital natives, who have reached the age where they become a critical user of the educational system. The assumption is that their needs will no longer be met by the traditional design of that system. This was considered one of the main drives to redesign education and head towards a more Web 2.0 way of learning. This approach has recently brought up some criticism however. A strict devision between digital natives (new generation of students) and digital immigrants (teachers) is questioned, as is the assumption that the digital natives dictate the ways in which traditional systems like education or history are to be viewed.

It’s an interesting discussion, but I agree with the critique that the need to take learning a digital step further does not depend on whether or not the digital divide is a demographic actuality. Even if the needs were not dictated by this new generation, the fact is that the technology is there and it keeps on evolving. If the tools are available and can enhance learning experience, then why not use them? I don’t think it is so much a matter of change being dictated by a new user group, but more as a new step in a continuous process of development.

Digital technology can either replace all physical aspects of learning, eliminating classes and other spatially determined dimensions of education, or it can be an addition to more traditional ways of teaching. Regarding the latter, I would discern roughly three aspects to successfully integrating Web 2.0 technology into the classroom. First, a Web 2.0 platform has to be usable for both students and teachers. Secondly, it isn’t always necessary nor useful to incorporate all possible means of social media. And finally, if digital means are used next to physical aspects in education, the two should be complementary and not be an element on its own.



When looking for texts and theories about TE-learning I found that they often focus of the obvious object: the student. They are the ones having to learn, they are the ones whose digital literacy counts as measure for the didactic needs. Graphic user interface (GUI) and information design have to be clear and appropriated to the needs and abilities of students. One aspect here is unjustly being left out: the teacher. Education, whether it be in physical form or digital, is still a pedagogic process, where a teacher holding certain knowledge has to transfer this knowledge onto the pupils. The vehicle for the knowledge transfer can be a book, a lecture, a blog, a wiki, but it’s primarily the quality of the input that determines the quality of the didactic process. The vehicle and the possibilities it presents come in second.

When thinking about which social media are useful in education, we shouldn’t only be considering the needs and wishes of students, but those of the ones teaching as well. They have to be just as comfortable with the technology, because they have to use it just the same.


Social MediaAmid all the possibilities Web 2.0 has to offer, it easily becomes confusing which ones can be of value to a course. All these practices have their own characteristics which should be considered. Blogs are very suitable for expressing personal opinions, which can be desirable in for example art critique. Wikis on the other hand fit to the need of documenting information more permanently, that could be desirable in a field like philosophy. Twitter has a more ad-hoc quality about it and can be useful when a course concerns information that can quickly change, politics or journalism, but mathematics probably less so.

All of these, and more, technologies could be used on their own, or could be integrated in a virtual learning environment; most of those software packages already include messaging boards/forums. These packages should be scalable. It should be easy enough to in- or exclude the different modules. And the scalability shouldn’t stand in the way of usability for both students and teachers.



When digital methods are used in addition to a physical aspect it should be contemplated how the two can positively enhance one another. When hearing Anita Ondine speak about transmedial storytelling at PICNIC’10, I realized how new media and Web 2.0 are often viewed as forms of media that stand on their own. Those who study media will probably question the straightforward autonomy of the two and explore how the two interrelate, but it’s a common conception among general users of new media. Educators constructing their program to include the use of social media should take this into account.


What needs exploring

When exploring the topic of TE-learning there’s definitely lessons to learn concerning the part educators play when using information technology in the curriculum. An ethnographic approach including case studies and interviews could give them a voice in the debate. The focus should not be on theories of differences between generations, but in stead needs to be practical: what are the different needs are how can they be met. Furthermore, pedagogic, social and media studies have to find ways to chart optimum use of digital technology as an addition to face-to-face teaching. This can only be done when a joined effort is made. I believe there is enormous potential in using new media and social platforms in the classroom and good examples pop up around the world. But in order to make this work for educational institutes in general, there’s still parts of the terrain that need a closer look.

zondag 26 september 2010

Review: Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, by Joe Karaganis (ed.)

Structures of Participation in Digital Culture (edited by Joe Karaganis)
Social Science Research Council | New York 2007 | 284 pages | ISBN 978-0-9790772-2-7
The entire book is available online.

Cover of 'Structures of Participation in Digital Culture'Structures of Participation in Digital Culture is a reader on the topic of private and public involvement with digital culture. Editor Joe Karaganis promises the reader of the book from the start that he will find different ways of going about the subject, in stead of just the known approaches originating from the fields of scholarly law, technology and media. Also, already from the beginning he states there is no answer to the question of causality when looking at cultural and technological change: no chickens, no eggs. That, for me, is a nice start. So let's have a look at what the book further does with these promises.

Structures of Participation is divided into three main parts: Alternative Geographies, Public Lives of Users and Corporate Architecture. They all highlight a different aspect of the discussion.

In the first part, the book looks at the ways in which we perceive the world, in which we perceive history in this digital age. In stead of looking at successive change, it is explored how people nowadays experience and construct the past differently. Databases play a big part in this construction play. On the other hand piracy and the so called ‘copy culture’ undermine a coherent view of any entity, such as the past or culture.

Part two mainly focuses on case studies of private and public engagement with social technology. Social technology here should not only be interpreted as the digital platforms, but also the part which physical networking plays, especially in more playful practices such as games. Even the complex ways in which people represent themselves within these social networks can be viewed as a game, one where people play with their representations and relations to the physical world. The play again goes further though, because real-world relationships can be influenced by the ways in which interpersonal relations are represented on digital social platforms. The one-level representation of links to all kinds of related people, can never do justice to the mutli-layer connections that you hold outside of the internet.

The last part refocusses on law and technology, contextualizing the topics treated in the book so far. We look at knowledge production and consumption, the impact communities like Wikipedia have on our appreciation of expertise and what this means means for authorship. The gaming world as mentioned in the second part, is put into a technological context. In all the excitement of the social networking possibilities, we should not forget that it’s not just about how you represent yourself and how other media play a part in the whole experience. There is still the technology that must enable it. And as long as hardware and software are build within their own set of wishes and limitations, people will still be limited in their online presence due to this, true networking and connecting beyond boundaries cannot be achieved.

For me, Joe Karaganis sticks to his promise. The approaches are very divers, not only in their point of view, but also in their presentation to the reader. Some texts are case studies, others are like notes to oneself. This gives it all a very accessible feel. The mix of shorter and longer texts further contribute to this. The tone-of-voice is pleasantly non-scholarly, but make no mistake, the book is not a simple read. The base is still academic and it’s definitely interesting for scholars. One look at the list of contributors shows that most of them are in fact professors, others are otherwise involved in (academic) research.

It's already back in 2007 when the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) published the reader 'Structures of Participation in Digital Culture'. The SSRC is a nonprofit organization based in New York, their focus is mainly on social science, but they stimulate an interdisciplinary approach. Joe Karaganis, the editor of the book, is a program director at the SSRC, where he mainly works in the field of media, technology and culture.

woensdag 15 september 2010

Do we only use 10% of our uh... Blackboard?

Having just started my New Media Master, I find myself speculating about what digital learning may look like in a couple of years. Even though I believe that face-to-face interaction will remain essential to education, I do see high additional potential in digital learning environments, or also electronic or virtual learning environment. And we can take that many steps further. Following lectures via your mobile phone or using your mobile phone to be updated on timetable changes, absent teachers and such is no longer something of the future. But before I dare think about what that future might bring in this field, I think we first need to have a look at the here-and-now of our Blackboard-system. That is apparently not a platform that everybody is very comfortable with. But do we use it for all that it's worth?

Admittedly, I was fairly late with my registration for the Master’s in New Media study at the UvA. So I was not so surprised that some administrative matters had not been fully taken care of by the time my first class started. According to the administration, my registration at the University was fully processed and I should be an official UvA-student: hurray! Something seemed wrong with my Blackboard account though, I couldn’t see any of the information that some fellow student could see. Very mysterious indeed. Now, I don’t consider myself to be a digital illiterate, this wouldn’t be a very befitting study if I were, but one cannot help slightly doubting ones digital skills in this situation. In the end it turned out that my UvA-profile was not properly linked to the account.

10% of BlackboardNow this is hardly a unique situation, I bet many of you have had such encounters with Blackboard, so I don’t intend to further wander on the topic. However, it did bring me to consider the ways Blackboard is used by educational institutes in general and the New Media study more specifically. I have used Blackboard several times before, at other Universities, but it has never impressed me. There’s much more to be done with it than I have seen up till now. I heard that and I believe it. There’s that truth about how we only use about ten percent of our brain, it’s the same with lots of computer software I believe: I’ve only seen the shadows of what Blackboard has to offer.
This does not withstand the fact that apparently Blackboard is not a very intuitive platform. That is not only my own feeling, but I hear this all around me. I hear professors say ‘never mind Blackboard, we’ll arrange the course some other way’. Should this then not be a reason to reconsider the digital learning environment? There are more and more alternatives on offer, like Moodle. On top of this, implementing a digital learning environment is on itself some tricky business, wether it be Blackboard or some other package.

Of course, a lot can happen as the year has only just started. And I am curious and cannot wait to be swept away by the possibilities of Blackboard... However, I am not fully confident this moment will come. And if it hasn’t by the end of the year, I reckon the New Media Master will have provided me with all relevant knowledge and experience needed to formulate a well founded advise on how to successfully implement a digital learning environment and what the next steps into the future of digital learning might be.