I have something to say about that…

Collaborative learning resources

Just a quick follow-up to my feature on collaborative learning over at LGEO Research….  I’ve been asked for references, so here they are!

e-Learning Anaesthesia (eLA)
This is a joint programme between the Department of Health’s e-Learning for Healthcare (e-LfH) and the Royal College of Anaesthetists. They are collaboratively developing clinically-appropriate, peer-reviewed online learning modules to help trainee anasesthetists to revise for their FRCA exams.

Dimitracopoulou, A. (2005)  Designing collaborative learning systems: current trends & future research agenda.
Computer Support for Collaborative Learning (Proceedings of the 2005 conference on Computer support for collaborative learning: learning 2005: the next 10 years!) Taipei, Taiwan. p 115 – 124.
This is a good background paper on computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) and models for the different kinds of systems.

Smith, B. L and MacGregor, J. T. (1992) ‘What is Collaborative Learning?‘  Abbreviation of Smith and MacGregor’s article, “What Is Collaborative Learning?” in Collaborative Learning: A Sourcebook for Higher Education, by Anne Goodsell, Michelle Maher, Vincent Tinto, Barbara Leigh Smith and Jean MacGregor. Pennsylvania State University: National Center on Postsecondary Teaching, Learning, and Assessment.
This paper outlines the theory of collaborative learning (face-to-face or technological).

Baker , M., Quignard, M., Lund, K. & Sejourne A. (2003). Computer-supported collaborative learning in the space of debate. In B.Wasson, S. Ludvigsen and U. Hoppe (eds): CSCL: Designing for Change in Networked Learning Environments, CSCL 2003 congress: 14-18 June 2003, Bergen, Norway, pp.11-20
This paper is about designing collaborative learning spaces.  It explains that giving more feedback (for example, dialogue graphs which visually show the user how much they participate) increases the number of arguments a participant contributes.

Hope these are helpful!

Bulgaria sees the value in tech growth

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Bulgaria and was struck by a country in economic and technological transition. The apartment blocks and factories, remnants of an industrial Communist era now past, clashed sharply with the modest stone-and-wood houses built by occupants who might herd goats or raise roosters in the garden. Overlaid atop this architectural tug-of-war across the countryside (no doubt simmering since the Soviet Army invaded in 1944) are signs of technological infrastructure and Western prosperity.

The billboards at Sofia airport for Hewlett-Packard and our other favourite technology companies were my first evidence that the country is growing both with through technology tools and with the innovation funds that their creator companies bring. The technology sector already accounts for 10% of Bulgaria’s GDP and the country is proud of it.

“There is no doubt the ‘old’ EU member states, for all their experience, could learn from what we have been doing in Bulgaria in terms of economic growth and competitiveness,” said Sergei Stanishev, Bulgarian prime minister, last week. Stanishev spoke in a pre-Spring EU summit in Brussels.

Stanishev’s pride wasn’t just talk — I was particularly impressed with the Bansko ski resort, boasting new Doppelmayr ski lifts and the RFID-based Skidata passes that allowed us skiers through a turnstile and straight onto the lift. Far more efficient than checking paper passes by hand! Bansko seems to have been planned out with technology and efficiency in mind. gondola at Bansko in the snow

Stanishev did admit that intellectual property protections (among other things) remain a challenge for Bulgaria to become a competitor in the world technology market. Yesterday, Bulgaria’s EU Commissioner Meglena Kuneva made effort towards laying down IP policy for the country. Weighing in on the international iTunes music debate in her capacity as European Commissioner for Consumers, Kuneva said, “[I do not find it] proper that a music CD can be played on all trademarks of players, but the music sold in iTunes can be played only on an iPod.” Taking this leadership role for the EU in such a high-stakes IP struggle could be significant for Bulgaria. Watch this space.

It appears that this beautiful country, which joined the EU at the beginning of this year, has every intention of becoming a major player in the tech economy. Today’s news announces that they have just been slated to receive €7 billion in EU funding over the next 7 years — I’m quite keen to see what they accomplish with it.

The spam of my blog

Because it’s a Friday, and because this has made me laugh through the week, I’d like to share with you a bit about my blog’s spam.

Quick background: let me help you boost your search ranking

Google ranks web pages based on a formula which includes their popularity (measured by how many other pages have links that point to it — see the classic Google paper Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Search Engine for more details). Consequently, the more pages out there refer to yours, the better your chances are of ending up near the top of the Google Results list when someone does a search. If you’re out to artificially inflate that ranking, planting links to your site around the web will boost your ratings. The higher your ranking, the more users will notice you, the more traffic you will get, and the more advertising revenue or potential sales you’ll land by getting them (figuratively) through the door.

And where to plant links to your site? Blog comments! Most blogging software will let you post more or less what you like, in HTML, on endless pages within the millions of blogs out there. (Note: at press time, Technorati is currently tracking 69.2 million blogs. And they haven’t got the whole blogosphere. The field is vast.)

We do have anti-spam software that filters spam comments, for example by the number of links a post contains. We blog-holders are not captive to the wills of blog spammers. But my spam filter, Akismet, kindly holds the spam comments it detects for my review. It is from this week’s list of Akismet spam from my blog that I pull the following trends.

Spam for my blog!

This past week, I’ve kept a particular eye on my blog’s spam. Since I delete them and you never get to see how funny they are, I thought I’d pull up a few to share with you.

Because they’re just out to get their links up on my site, the spammers have to convince me to post (or not delete) their comment. Each spam post begins with a little commentary around the links they are promoting, a feeble effort to catch my attention or fool me into thinking it’s a legitimate comment. These are what amuse me, and what I want to show to you.

  • A number of them are complimentary to my site or a particular post.

Hi! Guys how you manage to make such perfect sites? Good fellows!
(This was for debt consolidation services. I like the idea of being called “fellows”. Apt for a lone female running the site.)

With posts like this how long before we give up the newspaper?!!
(This was a site just trying to generate traffic. But I like that they’re referencing the whole Web 2.0-threatens-mainstream-media debate.)

This is a cool site! Thanks and wish you better luck!
(This was a comment selling replica handbags. It was posted on my Privacy Legislation and Teenagers post. It’s nice of them to, er, extend their sympathies… but I didn’t find that article so difficult to write! I imagine this was written with a more emotional blog in mind.)

That was a very nice post, I’m proud of you.
(Now that’s sweet. It recurs regularly, and even though I’m not interested in the loans and refinancing it offers, the comment always makes me feel good about the hard work I put into my blog.)

  • Some are just unrelated to the links. I got this romantic text under the subject heading of Cheap Shopping:

Lorsque la main d’un homme effleure la main d’une femme, tous deux touchent a l’éternité.
(Rough translation: “As the man’s hand brushes the woman’s, both of them touch eternity.” It may actually be syrupy enough to warrant the painkillers they were touting.)

Another tries to play the sympathy card:

My life’s been generally bland. I’ve just been letting everything happen without me. I don’t care. I’ve just been sitting around doing nothing, but eh.
(This came with a gmail address, and just to be sure I sent them an email asking if everything was okay. Hey, I’m a nice person! Not surprisingly, the message bounced. I then discovered that the link URL was a pointer which resolved to a site selling Viagra.)

  • I got one yesterday that was actually honest. No preamble, just a long list of links titled Greats from me: . I still didn’t post it, and I don’t need the sleep aids that were listed below, but I do appreciate the forthright approach.
  • For sheer creativity, as well as honesty in marketing, my current favourite is this one:

Hello.
If your site getting constantly spammed, then you are in urgent need of a new folding table
Check these: folding poker tables
Sincerely yours,
folding tables seller

That did catch my attention. I had to laugh. A salesman who knows their market! I’m impressed that they thought about what drives me as a consumer. It’s too bad that I can’t see how a folding table would solve my spam issues, but if they want to come back and leave a comment about it, I will be happy to approve it for posting.

a folding tab le

Information security for the UK: making everyone happy?

The Cabinet Office has released their e-Government framework for Information Assurance for draft consultation. The document sets forth guidelines for implementing the transformational government agenda of delivering more effective, more efficient customer-centric public services. These guidelines are intended to inform all transactions (and their supporting infrastructures) between UK government and its citizens.

The document has an interesting list of relevant legislation under appendix B, ‘Related Policy and Guidance’ (cited below).

The principal pieces of legislation that are likely to inform the IA requirements for e-Government service implementations include and are not limited to [links are added]:

  • the Human Rights Act and the underlying European Convention on Human Rights set out everyone’s right to privacy in their correspondence;
  • the Data Protection Act sets requirements for the proper handling and protection of personal information held within information processing systems;
  • the Electronic Communications Act sets the requirements for electronic signatures and their equivalence to conventional signatures;
  • the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act makes it an offence to intercept communication on any public or private network; case and time limited exemptions may be granted subject to warrant;
  • the Terrorism Act makes it an offence to take actions which are designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system;
  • the Wireless Telegraphy Act controls the monitoring of wireless telegraphy;
  • the Police and Criminal Evidence Act defines conditions under which law enforcement may obtain and use evidence;
  • the Computer Misuse Act makes attempted of actual penetration or subversion of computer systems a criminal act; the Public Records Act lays down requirements for the proper care and preservation of documentary records of government activities;
  • the Official Secrets Act lays down requirements for the proper control of government information;
  • the Freedom of Information Act lays down the citizen’s rights of access to government held information.

I’m posting this list because it illustrates what a balancing act information policy is. On the one hand, we fight to preserve open paths of communication to our legislators and civil servants; we encourage all individuals to be involved in their government; we promote citizenship and interaction through digital inclusion of those who might otherwise be marginalised. Similarly, we have charged the same government with protecting us and our communities; we want them to have full access to the ‘bad guys’ and to anticipate — even pre-empt — any threat to us. From those arguments, we should open everything to everyone!

On the other hand, we have agreed that our human rights grant us the freedom to our own confidentiality. We have also agreed, through our democracy, that the government should have some leeway in keeping information from us (particularly about each other) to deliver effective public services to us and our neighbours and to protect us from the bad guys.
687585_padlock-thumbnail
Both of these bits of secrecy mean that each party wants to maintain a certain level of control over allowing access into our conversations.

It’s a lot to juggle.

[Consultation on the e-Government framework for Information Assurance runs until 13th March 2007.]

Saying it BIG

When billboards, radio jingles and online banner ads aren’t enough to make a statement about your product…

Gulfstream Aerospace sent their Gulfstream V plane on a skywriting expedition yesterday, leaving the initials ‘GV’ traced over Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. FlightAware (which tracks flight progress from FAA data) has a map of the journey here.

Similarly, Swift City travel company in Sydney organised a giant eye advertisement in a local park last week to be picked up by aerial photographers from Google Earth and Microsoft. They used 2,500 sheets of A4 paper, pinned into the ground to make their statement. See here for their pictures.

Slashdot, who carried both these stories, used the descriptor ‘spam’ for planting ads into Google maps. And some of its readers expressed disgust with the environmental consequences of flying a plane across 11 states for the sole purpose of ‘leaving their mark on the net’. I’m clearly amused enough with these companies’ efforts to pass on the stories, but I’m not convince that either of these events will come back to bite their sponsors.

At the moment, it appears that only Digg and Slashdot have picked up the Gulfstream story. And though Google hasn’t released its new pictures of Sydney yet, I’ll be amazed if the Swift City efforts result in anything more than a self-congratulatory news item on their own website. But am I wrong? Does the information distribution power of the Internet mean that that bigger-better-faster is now on a whole new scale?

Privacy legislation and teenagers: Leave me and my Facebook alone!

Developing an adolescent network of friends

Being a teenager, for me, was largely a trial-and-error process of figuring out how to be an adult. I wanted autonomy, I wanted to succeed, and I wanted to be able to ask for help — but only on my terms. I created a “family” of friends, relying on them for the moral support and frames of reference that I had previously looked to my relatives for. We muddled our way through adolescence, as I imagine most teens do, trying to work out together how to handle our uncertain futures, new relationships and the stress of achieving good grades. We learned together.

Underneath that bonding and grouping, I distinctly remember not just drifting from my family but actively setting up blocks. “I want to do this my way, by myself!” was a big mantra of those years. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in the 1890s that the US Constitution guarantees “the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men”. I was pretty positive Brandeis was writing right to me; as a (self-declared) civilised almost-adult, I thought that right was sacrosanct. I wanted to be let alone with my friends.

Social Networking – the online models of our groups of friends

607145_feet_of_friends-thumbnailSocial networking platforms like Facebook, Myspace and Bebo allow teenagers to intensify their relationships with members of their group. In creating a profile or home page, they can create and re-create their own identities, experimenting with who they are and how they want to be seen. They get to identify themselves with social groups, be seen as belonging (through displaying their friends) and discover who else belongs with whom. And best of all — the parents aren’t invited. This is a world of their own, ideally suited to the adolescent’s social development.

The tension: Protecting the kids or invading their privacy?

If we can extrapolate my experience to a majority of Internet-using teenagers, social networking sites are supporting them in the social development they’re already doing. The challenge comes in building new relationships, where the lack of context can make it easy for someone with a nefarious agenda to mislead the unsuspecting. (See previous post.) The quick intimacy teenagers build can mask the fact that they don’t actually know who is on the other end of the conversation.

Recent US legislation has attempted to minimise the risks to kids. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) prohibits site operators from collecting personal data from kids under 13 without verifiable parental consent, and removes their liability for disclosing information to the parent about the child. In a previous post, I have discussed the proposed Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006, and this week the Georgia Senate has begun to consider a bill that would raise the age of parental consent to 18. No minors in Georgia would be allowed to engage in social networks without their parents having full access.

At the same time, the chief privacy officer for Facebook, Chris Kelly, maintains that they are restricted from sharing activity and profile content with parents by federal law. “Under the Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, we cannot give anyone access to or control of an individual’s profile on Facebook”, Kelly said. In addition to the overhead if they were required to open up all that data and verify which parent belongs to which kid, the inevitable response would be diminished site activity. If kids knew that Mom and Dad could listen in, they would find somewhere else to talk.

(Facebook of course has an interest in keeping activity levels high and therefore maintaining its revenue stream, which appears to be advertising-based. But it would fall short of its goal of “helping people better understand the world around them” if everyone restrained their contributions to each other’s world views because they felt they were being spied on.)

How do we sort this out?

256781_biking_-_shadows-thumbnailIf we go back to my assertion that social networking is modelling interactions and social development that we all do anyway, then the dangers aren’t actually that new. As an offline teenager, I was certainly taught not to give my address to anyone I didn’t know, and not to talk to strangers. I knew to look both ways before crossing the street. I knew how to listen for conversational cues that I was talking to someone with bad motives, and to recognise that friends of friends aren’t necessarily okay just because they come with a “reference” from somebody I know. All these messages kept me safe in the big bad real world, and I knew them because I was taught.

Teenagers need to form groups, to share information and to grow with their friends. And to establish a bit of independence from their families. Social networking can support this growth, but someone needs to make sure that online safety is included with the “surviving in the real world” lessons every kid gets either at home or at school. Particularly because parents are less involved in the conversation than they were when the children were younger, teenagers must be well prepared to make good decisions on their own. Unfortunately, legislation restricting access or allowing parents to “eavesdrop” won’t teach good judgment. Nor will applying privacy legislation — many kids wouldn’t figure this out on their own. Parents, teachers and role models are still ultimately responsible for these almost-adults, and it should be up to these adults to prepare them properly.

28874_hiking_down2

Being yourself in the virtual world

The messages we broadcast

As I wander through my day, I’m reasonably conscious of the messages I’m broadcasting: I try to dress well to present an image of being competent, I phrase my comments in such a way that my colleagues will feel good about working with me, I’m conscious of editing out any commentary about the wine from last night or having burned breakfast this morning. I’m not obsessive about it, I just try to put my best foot forward.

I think we all do this, to one extent or another. We show certain sides of ourselves to whoever the audience happens to be, some of which is selective and some of which is situational (for example, it may be that I don’t mention the breakfast mess to my colleagues because I’m too busy to remember that it happened). We try to balance the messages we’re sending deliberately (for example, the words I choose) with the back channel information we project (like the fact that I smell like burned toast or that they overheard me telling someone else about my head ringing from the smoke alarm).

We therefore end up with each person/group seeing a distinct part of us, some of which we control and some of which we don’t.

What everyone (work colleagues, flatmates, family, etc.) sees of me — each a different side
What they see of me

We play to that, trying to make the best impression possible with the information we’re sending out to each specific audience. It’s nice to be well-liked, and having allies facilitates getting things done when you need help. In the business world it’s called marketing, self-promotion and networking; in psychology it’s situationally responsive behaviour and relationship-building.

Who we are online

Now let’s take it to the virtual world. Part of the success of chat rooms, avatars, role playing games and online communities comes from the fact that you get to create and control everything that makes up others’ opinions about you.

Me online — a different person in each setting
Someone online can project the appearance of anyone they want. This picture shows that the ‘me’ hiding on the inside has nothing to do with the shape that the online contacts think they’re seeing on the outside.

As my father’s favourite New Yorker cartoon spells out (“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”), once you get to create and control the messages that go out, you can be anybody. You won’t be betrayed by any back channel information, so no one will notice that you’re having a bad hair day or are too tired to speak at the meeting or aren’t, in fact, of the same species (see below).

This is, unfortunately, not just an opportunity for reinventing yourself to hide your insecurities; it’s also an easy mark for fraud. The US House of Representatives passed the Deleting Online Predators Act of 2006 in response to concerns about paedophiliacs posing as children on social networking sites to build trust and arrange meetings with their prey. The controversially-worded bill was intended to protect kids from people who were misrepresenting themselves, which is evidence of how much potential we have for being anyone we like online. (The bill is currently awaiting debate in the Senate.)

Why we bother to be real

Most of us actually live in the real world. We meet the majority of our work contacts face-to-face (or at the very least, exchange phone calls). We hug our families and share a sofa when having coffee with a friend. Physical presence — and it’s associated accountability — are priorities for us. It’s how we are used to relating to each other, and the best scenario for us to communicate the most information, accurately and efficiently.

When I began this blog, I thought carefully about whether I would use my real name. There are legitimate privacy concerns around exposing any personal information that is available to the 1.076 billion people who have internet access. But ultimately, I’m out to share my views, spark discussions and create contacts who will be useful to me in my real life. I want any benefits of this ‘virtual’ work to be connected to who I am in reality. So I’ve made that link.

Similarly, the news has been busy in the past few months with stories of how online worlds can grow to successfully parallel reality. The hype surrounding Digimask‘s technology, which takes a 3D image of the user and puts you literally into the multi-player game, reflects this trend. (See today’s BBC News video rundown of Digimask). Apparently if we’re going to go to the trouble of blasting bad guys in Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas on your Xbox 360, we want the credit for our real selves.

The most common example of this keeping-it-real trend comes from multi-player online role-playing games (MMORPGs), like Entropia Universe and Second Life. Entropia Universe (formerly Project Entropia) calls itself a ‘massive online virtual universe’ and maintains a (real) cash economy. In May the developers sold a ‘virtual space resort’ to one of its users for $100,000. The purchaser bought it to establish an online night club, a marketplace through which the (real-life) entertainment industry can sell their wares to other members of the Universe. When you’re looking for cash, keeping ties to reality (and credit cards) are the only way to go. (For more information, see this article on BBC News.)

Second Life is another online world that has caught the attention of significant corporations out to encourage spending by actual people bringing their real wallets. In just the past day, ABN-AMRO has announced that it is opening a branch of its bank inside the virtual world, while IBM have hosted a Virtual Worlds European Media & Influencer Event. (They’re also proud of having replicated this year’s Wimbledon inside Second Life.) This continuation of big-business commerce on the virtual site is only possible because the users maintain links to their real-people bank accounts and come to the site with their banking or marketing needs in tow. Users don’t divorce Second Life from their first lives.

Keeping it real

I’ll repeat what I usually say: technology is most useful when it is supporting something we want to do anyway. And whether that’s sparking conversations through my blog to further my professional growth, finding new routes to market for existing commerce, or knowing that the world reveres me because I slaughtered more bad guys than my buddies could — we can only collect on the real-world rewards when the online contacts know who we are.

Tessellations: a math metaphor for team working

When I was in fifth grade, our math teacher introduced us to tessellations. Here’s the brief rundown:

A tessellation is a repeated pattern of 1 closed shape, arrayed one after the next, with no gaps or overlaps. At their simplest, a grid of squares or a pattern of hexagon tiles on a bathroom floor are tessellations.

We were taught that if you start with a tessellating shape (like a square) and remove a section of it from one edge but add that same section to another edge, the shape will still tessellate. (This preserves the surface area of the shape. See diagrams below for examples.) We cut these tiles out of construction paper and glued 4×4 squares of them of them to a black background, learning from the 20-some examples in our class that this process always works.

Recently, this memory has been tapping me on the shoulder and it’s taken me a few days to figure out why. In constructing a project team, I’ve been conscious of allowing space for conflicting personalities and filling skills gaps. But the team members need go grow together: for the team to successfully accomplish its goals, each member should be adaptable, ready to interact with any of the other members at any time. They need to allow for personality differences and varieties of skills across the group. Tessellations make an interesting metaphor for this adaptation. (Each shape represents one person)

Tessellating squares, tiled one after another
A group of colleagues working in the same space, but on different projects. (Can you see the outlines of cubicles forming?)

 

Tessellated figures that aren't square, but still fit perfectly together in an infinite pattern
A close team, as you might find in a small company. Each team member is adapting for the others, compensating for gaps and allowing for preferences. This team doesn’t necessarily work much with other teams, so it’s allowed to have “rough edges”.

 

Four tessellated shapes that themselves fit perfectly into a larger square
A close team within a larger company of other teams. Each team then has to tessellate with the other teams. Smooth outside edges make this easier (on the assumption that the other teams will also have smooth outside edges, to collaborate with whomever they need).

These are ideals for a team, and generally take quite a while to build. In my experience, when you initially bring a team together, it looks something like this:

Four mismatched irregular shapes, which won't fit together
A newly-formed team

The “team-building process” is one of learning to identify the shape of your colleagues and adapt yours to accommodate them (and vice versa). With a bit of work, you can end up a bit more like this:

The four mismatched shapes are starting to form common boundaries, melding into a closer fit
The newly-formed team is adapting.

This is a model (and I admit I like the uniformity of a tessellation) and I’ll acknowledge its limitations. For the sake of argument, we should note that each team member doesn’t generally tessellate to the roles of their counterparts in the team. (Because each person brings differing experiences and personalities to the situation, they may each end up with a shape of their own, as opposed to being one repeating uniform shape labelled “team member”.) But there is one benefit to approaching the metaphor with the concept of uniformity:

When you remove one team member and replace them with someone outside, the clearer that tessellating shape is (ie., what it means to be a member of this team), the easier it will be for that new person to adapt.

Take these two teams as examples. The first is tessellating, each member has adopted a uniform method of interacting and set of expectations for their team members. (Therefore each has the same shape.) Along comes the new person, who can learn from any of the original members how to fit in and what is expected of them.

Three perfectly fitting shapes and one new one that doesn't fit with the three
A well-organised team with clear ways of working together and expectations for each other. While the new person, in black, will have to adapt to fit into the team, they should have a fairly easy time of it due to the clarity in the existing team.

In contrast, this picture below shows a chaotic team with no coherence. The new person has no idea how the members are working together, let alone how to join them. The best he/she can do is to pick an outside edge (anybody’s!) and start there, try to connect with everyone in due course and build up a shape of their own to fit the odd structure already there. If you’re the new person, it’s a much less fun scenario.

Three disparate and unrelated shapes, and a fourth new shape that also doesn't fit
A team with no coherence or organisation, attempting to incorporate a new person. This scenario is hard for the newcomer, as the team’s ways of working are unclear and even communication between the existing members doesn’t appear to be guaranteed. How should the newcomer adapt themselves?

These visual images provide a model for the ways team members work together. Though I’ve found that the shape of each tessellation changes from team to team (and even changes when a new person joins a team), it’s important to have a fundamental model. Every team member I’ve worked with has indicated that they are happier and more productive when they see the whole of which they are a part. Understanding the shape (or role) they are to take is a big step towards seeing the bigger picture — the entire team, the company, or even the entire industry.

Four complex but perfectly tessellated shapes, fitting into one neat square

Internet art: displaying our messages and feelings

These are from the Yahoo! Time Capsule, a fascinating bit of collaborative art. The capsule is accepting contributions from any and all from the 10th of October to the 8th of November. This electronic anthropology project will be preserved by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in Washington D.C.

These are a couple of tiles that caught my attention: they’re intriguing. I’m impressed at how much contributors have been willing to share of themselves. (To see them in their original layout, click on the picture or the text. Or go check out the site — The swirling ball motif that organises all the entries is quite impressive.)

Boy sitting in a big bench, tying his shoe

Text: PICTURE/136551 From a female in her 30s in ann arbor MI, United States. A hundreds-year old plantation home in Greenfield Vilage. The women docents chop at the tobacco plants in the hot sun. My son sits on the porch, slowly working his shoelaces into a knot. Determination. Hope. Anything is possible.

A man in a jean jacket, a hoodie and brown corduroy trousers. He's looking at the camera.

Text: Text: PICTURE/136203. From a female in her 20s in beijing, China. I don't know how long I will like him!

A finger and a thumb, pushing against each other. The finger has a tiny red heart drawn on it.

Text: PICTURE/75361. From a female in her 20s in Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro. I love another guy! TAGS you heart another love


Text: Sophie, je t'aime, mais je ne sais comment te le dire. Veux tu que nous construisons ensemble notre bonheur? LaurentText: WORDS/75422. From a male in his 30s in Paris, France. Love declaration.

The Yahoo! Time Capsule is the brainchild of internet artist Jonathan Harris, who has also produced (in collaboration with Sepandar Kamvar) the endlessly fascinating We Feel Fine project, which graphically displays sentences that include “I feel…” from blogs all over the web. It uses a data engine to search all the usual blog sites (including LiveJournal, MSN Spaces, MySpace, Blogger, Flickr, Technorati, Feedster, Ice Rocket, and Google) for the text strings “I feel” and “I am feeling”, then maps them against a list of 500 emotions and assigns a colour to each. They become a universe of bouncing coloured balls; as a user you dynamically ‘generate’ the whole scape and then investigate whatever area (or coloured ball) you’re interested in. It’s amazing to see what people are writing about.

Many thanks to Julie for introducing me to the Yahoo! Time Capsule.

$100million could set us free

10 days ago, Jimmy Wales at the Wikimedia Foundation issued the world the following challenge:

Dream big. Imagine there existed a budget of $100 million to purchase
copyrights to be made available under a free license. What would you
like to see purchased and released under a free license? Photos libraries? textbooks? newspaper archives? Be bold, be specific, be general, brainstorm, have fun with it.

The main list of suggestions has been growing and is listed here. (Slashdot, Digg, Metafilter, Meneame, and Heise all began lists of their own to support the effort, though they’ve been combined into the main list.)

Suggestions thus far include a range of topics: textbooks, dictionaries (in particular the OED), satellite imagery and geodata, technology standards like mp3 and PDF, encyclopedias, academic and research journals, news archives and first-person historical artifacts, sheet music, pictures on the web, Microsoft software and online translators. (There was also lots of talk about drug formulations, though those are patent protected rather than copyrighted.)

A few that struck me (all direct quotes):

  • Some photos taken by Ernesto “Che” Guevara when he travelled around the world (at least one photo from each country he visited) or all photos depicting him.
  • Photos of endangered or recently extinct species
  • Legal documents: West Publishing holds the copyrights on the legal reporters (volumes of caselaw) that contain the published opinions of state and federal courts in the United States. (In some cases, West can’t claim copyright to the opinions themselves, but does claim copyright to the pagination system and the headnotes that to some extent are the basis of the most common forms of legal citation). Making this information publicly available could make it easier for people who do not have easy or affordable access to Westlaw or Lexis/Nexis to research legal points.
  • Classified Information: I suppose the CIA probably wouldn’t overtly start handing over juicy secrets for cash, but there are some private intelligence agencies that might have some pretty interesting dirt that could be made public.
  • Something like a chunk of the video archive of the BBC might be nice to have. (This is already in progress… see here)
  • Make wikipedia easier for elderly people and people with age related disabilities to partake in. Think of all the knowledge that the elderly contain ‘because they were there’ that they cant share because of an obfuscated geek designed interface prevents them.
  • The song “Happy Birthday to you…” is still under active copyright which is why you will never hear it on TV, Radio, etc. If there is any cash spare this would be a good one to purchase.
  • Medical quality photographs and diagrams of the human body and its organs etc both in health and disease (all too often we have to fall back on a single image from Gray’s Anatomy when any article could benefit from more than one diagram and photographs with different focus/perspectives)
  • All the archives about the murder of JFK

Is there anything you’d add?  $100 million free a lot of information, knowledge and processes to the world.  What do we need to know?  The site is still open!