Social Technologies Summit – Day 3 (Part 1)

May 15th, 2009

Its day 3 of the conference and I’m already starting to feel conference fatigue. I’m also not sure to this blogging aspect, which requires me to record much more detailed notes during the event and as a result, I seem to be spending lots of time on my laptop rather than trying to meet people face to face. Its ironic in a conference that is about social technologies, we are not making actual physical connections (I’m not the only person in the conference with my head buried in my laptop) but actually interacting with our virtual social network.

By the way, Sarah Hartley who is a journalist is also blogging at this event so you might like to check out what she thought of the conference.

The morning session was divided up into a keynote speaker and shorter presentations in the Mobile discussion stream. The keynote was by Adam Greenfield (who is head of Design Direction at Nokia) discussing the issues surrounding networked urbanism. A detailed review of this keynote will be in Part 2.

Mobile Stream
A majority of the talks are around the idea of geo-locations applications and art projects. The rise of GPS enabled mobile devices. Tristan Thielmann asked how locative media might be able solve the climate debate. Alfie Dennen presented art related projects that dealt with issues of geo-located media which is a result of combining mobile devices with location geo-marking photography. Selene Kolmen works for Bliin, which is a location aware platform for GPS mobile devices. It allows users to geo-tag their sms message, photographs and enabling users to make public their locations and vice versa to find their friends who might be close by.

Christian Licoppe is interested in studying the phenomenon of Japanese MOGI game, a mobile multiplayer gameplay. Its a game ‘on the move’ where you pick up ‘virtual’ items and trade them with other players. It was quite interesting talk in the sense of highlighting how patterns of social interactions changes. Some of the more interesting conclusions that came out of his study were the reshaping of mobility patterns, the emergent of hybrid territories comprised from the real and the virtual environment, between web and mobile and a new zoology of new types of social encounters in these hybrid environment.

The panel discussion at the end discussed issues around possible emergent behaviours that might arise from the rise of using GPS enabled mobile devices. Features that enable a user to toggle their location on/off and provide different levels of location granularity (pinpoint to city, rather than a street) should be an important consideration for future developers.

Semantic Web Stream
The after lunch session was the Semantic Web: Cultural Algorithms stream. It featured 2 speakers, Tom Ilube who had the keynote and Roland Harwood who was from NESTA. Tom Illube spoke mostly about how the semantic web is different from the current WWW. The semantic web is a web of linked data rather web of documents, it is a web of links and relationship. He talked about RDF (Resource Description Framework) and SPARQL (an RDF query language). I’m showing my ignorance here and actually had to look up what RDF stood for and thought that SPARQL was spelt ‘Sparkle’! So what is the difference between the current web and a semantic web? He gave the examples of the Friends of a Friend project, which creates a Web of machine-readable pages describing people, the links between them and the things they create and do. In theory, it means that a user won’t be penalised for choosing a different tools or service (like Facebook) and not be able to share with friends who have made different choices. I can’t wait!

Roland Harwood from NESTA gave a rather disjointed talk, but its probably due to that fact that he decided alter his talk from being about deciphering trust in networked innovation to discussions around behaviours in the different types of social structures. These structures are formal hierarchies, informal networks, heterachies (multiple hierarchies bumping into each other). Formal structures are fragile and can be disrupted by informal structures which could lead to interesting and new emergent behaviours.

Social Technolgies Summit – Day 2

May 14th, 2009

Oh no. I’ve turned into one of those people who are on their laptops all the time in conferences. I’m gonna look like such a twat! And the worst thing is…I might succumb to being a twitter nerd, feeling peer pressured to start following people’s tweets!

I started the day trying to decipher the rather complicated programme. After staring at it for about 5 minutes, I realised why – the programme is really badly designed! There are parallel sessions happening throughout the day including workshops but I was unable to decipher is due to the design of the timetable layout. Can you guess why?

I’ve decided to attend presentations in the first half of the day and then to commit myself to a workshop in the afternoon. I have summarised the day in a sentence or two for each event that I attended to give you a flavour of the day. I have written a fuller description of Stowe Boyd’s talk because it was one of the more interesting talks and was well delivered (plus I had the most notes on it).

Keynote Presentation:
Stowe Boyd: Social Tools – The Shape of Future Culture (full review below)

He predicts the rise of the Edglings – a movement away from the centre to the edge of current social location and of mass organisation to one of a rich network of connections. He says, ‘I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections’.

James Marriot: Museum of the Corporation
This talk was a call to arms to depower, de-legitimise and de-centralised corporations who should take responsibility and acknowledge their contribution to our current environmental crisis. We need to de-legitimise the power and position of corporations in our imagination. Corporations should only be allowed to exist in museums, where they can do no harm.

Usman Haque: Real-time Data Environment
His current work on real-time data environment is founded on 3 principles of environment (not the physical but space generated by our existence), platform and relations (relating my environment to your environment). He introduces a sensor network platform Pachube which is ‘a service that enables you to connect, tag and share real time sensor data from objects, devices, buildings and environments around the world. The key aim is to facilitate interaction between remote environments, both physical and virtual’. I should also mention an ongoing project that is on display at the Cube gallery – called Natural Fuse.

Tapio Makela: Ecolocatedness
He introduces the concept of ecolocatedness which is how to act quickly in multiple, affective and effective ways through localised actions yet still take time to consider and gather evidence through a considered knowledge-based process. An illustration of this concept is the MARIN (Media Art Research Interdisciplinary Network) project which is a mobile residency program located on a sailing boat sailing to different research sites. It is a networked residency and research initiative, integrating artistic and scientific research on marin ecology and sustainability of mobility.

Dave Griffths: FoAM Lab and Groworld
Guerilla gardening meets open source gaming software. He is part of the FoAM collective of artist, programmers and designers with the motto of ‘grow you own world.’ Groworld is FoAM’s interstice between ecology, culture and technology. It brings together three ‘forces’ capable of transforming the world on human and ecological scale: design, permaculture and technology.

Aaron Koblin: Data visualisation – interpreting complexity
Data tells stories of our lives but he also paints a very pretty picture with it. Some examples of work includes visualising flight patterns, visualising number of SMS messages sent during new year’s eve and visualising location of emails sent to geographically. His latest works looks at other ways to translate the data into more intuitive manner and one of his experiments includes representing the access patterns of internet channels into audio rhythmic feedback.

Christian Nold: Bijlmer Euro
Christian is an artist who works with local communities to develop the idea of a ‘transition town’. A transition town is an organisation that tries to encourage local food production, local economy and through what he calls local currency. Local currency is the local equivalent of versions of the legal currency and in some cases be the only currencies accepted by local stores. The idea is to spend your money locally and be mindful at where you spend it. It can also become a political choice if only local stores accept it and not larger chain shops like Macdonald for example. It’s ultimately about trust. Trust can be based on local identity. Local trust can exist parasitically on top of big institutional structures like the Bijlmer Euro currency developed for the town of Bijlmer in Amsterdam. Basically is sticking an RFID tag onto an existing currency. The tag will contain information of its monetary value and will provide extra benefits when used in local shops.

Which talks did I enjoy the most?

Stowed Boyd for his insights into the affects, and ultimately beneficial nature of social tools.

Usman Haque because his projects are really cool!

Aaron Koblin because he is doing visual and audio wonders with data.

Christian Nold for introducing me to the idea of a parasitic money network.

Detail Review
Stowe Boyd Social Tools: The Shape of Future Culture
The morning keynote started with a presentation by Stowe Boyd talking about social tools. This was the guy who coined the term ‘Social tools’ in 1999 and describes himself to be a ‘presentist’ rather than a futurist. He is generally concerned about the ‘impact of social tools on us as individuals’ based on the hypothesis that the cultural impact of these tools is difficult to examined.

What are social tools? It’s a new category of software intended to augment social systems, software intended to shape culture. These tools are primary designed to support social connectedness amongst people. He illustrates how our social interactions are changing by comparing email, chat and microblogging( like twitter). He talks about these shifts from 3 aspects of tempo, access and contacts.

(Email) Asynchronous–> (Chat) Synchronous–>(Microblogging) Synchronous

(Email) Secret–> (Chat) Private–>(Microblogging) Public

(Email) Inbox–> (Chat) Room–>(Microblogging) Stream

He observers a dramatic shift in microblogging and for future generation, the use of email as a social tool will be in decline the same way as postal communication has now been restricted to communication with corporations.

His talk also discusses the rise of the ‘Edgelings’, a movement away from the edge, mass organisation and results in creating a rich network of connections. It is characterise by these characteristics: bottom up, egalitarian, subjective, partial, networks, glocalism, participative, restoring, sustainable, decentralised and enigmatic. The core issue is a move towards a re-humanism of ourselves, a movement from idealogy that divides us. He ends with a quote by Claude Levi-Strauss:

‘A well-ordered humanism does not begin with itself, but puts things back in their place. It puts the world before life, life before man, and the respect of other before self.’

A quick postscript, I did attend the Nokia Forum Workshop in the afternoon. It was supposed to last a few hours but I ended up leaving earlier. I didn’t really know to expect as the programme description was quite vague. It turns out that it was a workshop to learn how to code in Python language to develop mobile applications for Nokia. Unfortunately, this platform is only currently available on Nokia and only on certain models (so it won’t work on Android or on the Iphone). So, while it was interesting to try it out (we got to code and run the script on the phones), it was just not well set up as a workshop. Most of the participants did not know what to expect and should have been asked to bring a laptop, as coding more than a few lines on the phone is really time consuming. Python is a really powerful programming language, but in the context of a mobile phone apps, its very limited if its only available on Nokia platforms.