Friday, 30 March 2007

Epistolary Literature, Blog and Questions of Identity

Peter writes ...

“In the space of a few hours I had been through a host of situations which the longest life can scarcely provide in its whole course. I had heard the genuine language of the passions; I had seen the secret springs of self-interest and self-love operating in a hundred different ways: I had become privy to a multitude of incidents and I felt I had gained in experience.”

This quote relates not to the internet in general nor to social computing or blogs in particular, but is from the 18th Century French Philosopher Denis Diderot. It is cited in the introduction to the 'In Our Time' presentation of epistolary literature. As Melvyn Bragg and his guests reveal, at the dawn of the age of the novel, authors sometimes felt it important to conceal or manipulate their identity.

Even today, if you think about it, you can be sure of the authorship of very few of the books that surround you in a bookstore. For more, see 'Pen name'; a Wikipedia article written, of course, by persons unknown.

Friends, Mancunians, Countrymen and other speeches...

Peter writes...

Time not think of what Web 2.0 can do for you, but what you can do for Web 2.0. It is time to muscle in on the new goldrush.

Here is the the tale of Garrett Camp.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Trouble at the San Francisco Chronicle

Peter writes ...

"...journalism should become a required course, one or two semesters for every graduate. Why? Because journalism like everything else that used to be centralized is in the process of being distributed. In the future, every educated person will be a journalist, as today we are all travel agents and stock brokers."

Full story here.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

The Machine is Us/ing Us: The Director's Cut

Peter writes ...

Here is the final version of Michael Wesch's 'The Machine is Us/ing Us.' See also, the Social Computing Hypotheses.

Monday, 19 March 2007

"The future of sport is real-time science"

Peter writes ...
This Guardian piece on Mike Forde of Bolton Wanderers is interesting for many reasons. Its central theme is innovation, brought into sharpest focus by the real-time information Sam Allardyce can conjure during a half-time team talk.

But there are many more interesting nuances too. If you want to understand what Beer meant by System 4, you could do well to start with thinking about Mike Forde's work. Also, though I would not claim that this is a skunk works, it does show how innovation relies on structural and cultural separateness.

So, if you don't play by the same rules as everyone else, is that a good or bad thing? In many ways, the early 21st Century is no time to conform! Think disruption, asymmetry, Blue Ocean, and Bolton Wanderers!

Friday, 16 March 2007

Enterprise 2.0

Peter writes...

It is not just Manchester [2], but Harvard too. Here is Professor Andrew McAfee talking about what he calls Enterprise 2.0:

"Trying to turn lemons into lemonade in class, I asked some of the people who actually had sent a URL to describe the experience of starting a blog. They all shrugged and said it was no big deal, took about five minutes total, didn’t require any skills, etc. I then asked why I would give busy executives such a silly, trivial assignment. In both classes one smart student piped up to say "To show us exactly how trivial it was." At that point, class discussion became interesting."

This relates to a feature in Sloan Management Review.

Congratulations to all the groups today. Magnificent.

Thursday, 8 March 2007


Peter writes ...

Continuing the Wikipedia theme from Paul's posting below, yesterday the on-line encyclopedia was caught in a "Fake Professor" scandal. Two observations:

1. That Wikipedia is becoming increasingly organised with structures of various sorts (some ad-hoc, some organised by the foundation itself, e.g. the role of experts as arbitrators).
2. The real question, surely, is whether the imposter's postings were any good. In an ocean of anonymous and near-anonymous contributions, does it matter whether or not the professor title is genuine? Perhaps we might find a parallel of the Nature study of Wikipedia versus Britannica: that under scrutiny it is found that the quality of the fake professor's entries are equivalent to those of a real professor.


Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Groups, wikis and Big Brother

Paul writes...

It's obviously not just the trailblazing Exec MBA course that is using social computing on University programs. Here's a story from the Beeb about UEA students editing and building Wikipedia pages, as well as being assessed on their efforts.

I've thought for a while that the technical competencies of the wiki lend themselves extremely well to supporting academic assessment. The 'view history' feature alone is, it seems to me, a good way to start to combat the 'freeloader' syndrome that often happens in group projects.

Is that too much like Big Brother, or would it be valuable in your group work?


Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Much Ado About Money

Peter writes ...

Here are two examples of technology and people power in the banking industry:

1. The Guardian story on the consumer campaign website
2. Zopa: a new concept.... kind of open-source banking.

What do you think? Much ado about nothing? Much ado about much?

Thursday, 1 March 2007

A World Without America & Other Questions of Democracy

Peter writes ...

Has e-Democracy finally arrived? Will it ever? This useful BBC article is typically well-informed. It focuses upon the recent use of the web by major politicians and the recent campaign video, 'A World Without America.'

My personal view is that the recent developments are significant. Established political groups are taking the web more seriously and, whether or not you like their output, they are making more skilled use of its potential. Alongside this it is obviously easier to make oneself into a political voice or to create a political group. Again, the 'World Without America' video bears testimony to this, as do the comments and alternative videos that trail it on YouTube. This lowering of the barriers to entry might yet be very significant in our lives.

That all said, one must not mistake the debate for the execution. Ultimately, politics is about control, and until the web shifts the levers of control, I don't think we can announce the arrival of e-democracy. This is a subtle point. One needs an expansive view of what democracy is. e-Democracy will not necessarily be the replacement of the representatives in the council chamber by the electronic clicks of a thousand residents. It might be more concerned with the individual's ability to access and control what he or she thinks is important. For example, the spirit of democracy is unleashed in the simple acquisition of knowledge about stuff that's important, from medicine to benefits and taxation, and then outwards to work and entertainment. The spirit of democracy is then enshrined when as much control over as is possible is passed to the lowest possible level. So you get the maximum possible level of control over medicine, benefits, taxation, work, entertainment or whatever. And in this broader light, the web is already advancing the democratic cause.

But is it profound enough to merit the label e-democracy? And do you ever get total control? Well, no, because that is cybernetically impossible. Politics is about contested spaces, and in those spaces politicians shall always sit. They have to. Somebody has to decide about that contested planning application, that tax law, that allocation of school places. You can have all the e-petitions you like but someone, somewhere has got to read and take in all the opinions. That too, is probably cybernetically impossible.

And one final thought is that in the age of the machine, it might be immensely reassuring to know that ultimately, human hands are on the tiller. The law of surprising consequences might yet dictate that representative democracy is yet to have its finest hour.

See also, 'Designing Freedom and Handy on federalism and subsidiarity.