15 Seconds of Activism

There’s been a good deal of talk already about the Morter brothers rigging the UK singles chart to upset this years winner of the X Factor show – and about how they used the internet and Facebook to do that.

It’s a fun story; it’s always fun when a little guy can beat the system and yell “motherfucker” at the guys who think they’ve got it made. But more than that, it’s actually interesting how a lot of mechanisms who only came into existence these past few years, come together to make this possible.

Most visible, there’s Facebook, the instrument for spreading the meme. But this only works because everyone is on Facebook now, and because of the culture of forwarding and sharing memes and amusing news on Facebook (and twitter) that has developed fairly recently. Then there’s iTunes, and web music shops in general. We no longer have to buy the single, instead we download just one song. This is actually a powerful enabler here. First, people don’t have to do a lot – just a few clicks in iTunes, no going out to buy a single, and the cost is low. But also, iTunes makes sure there’s music to buy, from the much spoken-about long tail. There’s no way a record company would have believed in this and made half a million singles available to buy, much less been able to produce and distribute them in time if they did. But iTunes does not have to do anything or believe in the idea – or even know about it.

But more than anything, this is a wonderful, miniature example of how movements organize on the internet. Clay Shirky talk in Here Comes Everybody about how movements and projects today, from Wikipedia to Boston Church reformers, build on the power of the aggregated effect of a lot of people, each making a very small contribution. In successful efforts there will be a few core people doing a lot, setting things in motions, drumming up support, setting direction, putting forward a vision, but what makes it work is that lots and lots of people join in, and can do so with minimal effort and cost. Wikipedia works (and grows) to a large extend because a lot of people can make just one edit to correct just one fact, with next to no effort. Ditto many, many other projects. And ditto here – social media, web shopping, digital downloads, iTunes, it all combines to make it cheap and easy for a lot of people to say “heck, yeah, I’ll join this prank”.

And all this adds up. It adds up to a very powerful instrument of you know how to play it. And it adds up to saying “we won’t do what you tell us” to the guys who thought they were in control. Because a lot of people will spend 15 seconds and a dollar to do that. 15 seconds and a dollar to be activists, just briefly. And once you aggregate that buy the millions, it’s a tremendous force.

That, I think, truly makes a merry Christmas.

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dogleather-clad biker

Nobody knows you're a dogPeter Steiner’s adage “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” is well known, but it got a new twist here (in Denmark) this week.

The host of a radio show for children and young people was apparently a little too interested in his audience. He went into chat-rooms, talking up young girls, letting on that he was a talent scout with a model agency. A 15-year old girl agreed to meet him. What the show host didn’t know, was that the girl’s father was a member of a biker gang. The result of all that was a severe punch in the nose and a trip to the hospital.

Just goes to show that the warning not to take identities on the net at face value goes for both sides in a conversation…

Copenhagen Wave Meetup

Yesterday, I went to a the first Google Wave Meetup in Denmark. It was a good event, I thought. Mostly a crowd of youngsters, many of them students at the IT University. Since the crowd was decidedly heterogeneous, we didn’t dive into any particular topic. Daniel Graversen gave a quick introduction to what the wave is and the many ways to use it, and Jacques Holst spoke about how students at ITU use wave for shared note-taking during lectures, for organizing and running meetings, etc. Finally, Daniel spoke about Wave gadgets and robots and the potential for programming for the Wave. It was agreed the next Meetup will focus on Wave programming.

We did shared minutes of the meeting, and Daniel has posted his slides and comments to the Mastering Wave blog.

I really liked the use-cases; I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the ITU students, and the number of people joining note-taking waves. For wave to evolve and find a place in the tool ecology, these kinds of experiments are crucial. One interesting observation was that waves, like wikis, evolve patters and user roles; Jacques mentioned a person on the shared-notes waves taking always doing small improvements (spelling, grammar issues, layout fixes), much like the WikiGnome wikipattern. Getting a sense of key wave patterns is probably as important as (and closely linked to) evolution of wave etiquette.

One thing about it I found interesting was the energy in the room. Despite the altogether different setting, it felt a lot like hanging out in terminal rooms talking about usenet in the mid-80, or giving the first Perl lectures in the late 80’s/early 90’s. There was that mix of enthusiasm, confusion, and sharing. I have no idea either the Copenhagen Wave community or the Wave in general will go, but this is fun. Thanks to Daniel for organizing and to Jacques for providing facilities.

Augmenting reality

At the recent NORDUnet conference in Copenhagen, Pranav Mistry gave an excellent talk on his many experiments in reality tagging and augmenting reality.

The talk was recorded and is available in streaming video

The talk was both an inspiration and a call for a different perspective on the way we use (internet) technologies. A recurrent theme in the talk was that Pranav prefers the real world over virtual realities, prefers to interact with physical objects to interacting with things inside a computer, and very much prefer interacting with people face-to-face to computer-mediated interaction. As a result, he pursues ways to make the computer assist and help in invisible ways; he seeks to improve physical-world objects and interactions by using tech to augments them. At times it’s sort of reverse human-computer interaction research – he’s using handwriting recognition, but not as an input method for computers; instead, the computer is used to improve the handwritten note. In Pranav’s vision, the paper with handwriting on it is the real thing; the computer is as invisible as the paper mill, contributing to making the paper useful, but not the subject matter for the user, or even an objet the user should be aware of.

It’s worth pointing out that there’s nothing luddite about it. There’s lots of tech, and even exciting new tech in what Pranav is doing. The result is just very different from what you usually see. His hugely exciting mobile phone device is a good example. It’s impressive tech, but it actively projects attention on the world around it – in a way that could hardly be more different than the iPhone i have in my pocket.