Stowe Boyd on Blogging Networks
In recent months I have spent a lot of time talking about what changes there are on the horizon in terms of organisational structures and the way we work, and how the networks of bloggers we see emerging are a foreboding of this.
I am trying to get to grips with this myself, which is hard because it's inherently messy, these bottom-up emergent things. And I am trying to convince others that this is something worth paying attention to. My new colleagues, my blogging colleagues (and yes they are increasingly becoming like close colleagues: what is still missing is collective action). One of the objections I hear a lot is that messiness. As if this emergent vision is worthless because it cannot be described clear and precise yet. If it were that clear however, and predictable it wouldn't be so damn important to pay attention to.
One of the people who doesn't need convincing is Jon Husband who writes the very worthwile Wirearchy weblog. Through him I found this article in Darwins Magazine by Stowe Boyd. I'll take it as preparation for BlogWalk and BlogTalk where emerging networks of bloggers will be a hot topic.
Last weekend I installed WLAN at home. After I had been hooked on wireless connectivity ever since the first time I experienced it, the final push to go out and buy the infrastructure came when my tax-return came in.
Now two hotspots are fitted. One is used for my LAN and encrypted. The other (interdependent2) is open to the public, provides internet access only, and positioned at the roof-terrace. Not that the neighbours need it: I can see 7 wireless lans from the roof-terrace. :)
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So if you're ever walking around Enschede looking for connectivity.......
Increasing Brain Capacity by Offloading to the Environment
Dave Pollard picks up on Elmine's thinking on weblogs as communication hubs, extended by me into the Personal Presence Portal, and writes a worthwile piece. The basic distinction he makes is seperating between aspects of blogs that make it a communication medium, and those that make it a communication tool. Interesting stuff I'll have to get back on.
One passage triggered a few threads and markers in my memory:
There have been some interesting articles lately by people who say that making and keeping huge numbers of dynamic lists and notes, instead of trying to keep all that in our memories, we can actually enrich our brain's power, our intellectual effectiveness and even our intelligence by 'freeing up memory and brain CPU'.
Actually this is a basic point in the ideas of evolutionary philosophers like Daniel Dennett. Man has been offloading cues, clues and facts into the environment since ages. I'm not sure if I'm right but I think Dennett somewhere argues that our progression in terms of tool-use and technology both has been possible due to increasing the ability to offload stuff into the environment, as well as has been fueling that ability. From markings on a tree, attaching symbolic meaning to natural objects, to paintings in caves, to writing on tablets of clay, books, maps of the world, to using databases and weblogs.
Interestingly enough I recently read a sf-novel (Oryx and Crake) that takes this as a startingpoint. What it takes to bring down the world as we know it is to break the chain of transferring our collective knowledge from one generation to the next. After that a new generation will not be able to start the same path of development as we took after leaving the trees because the basic raw materials needed to get from one technological step to the next have been depleted by us already (like copper, iron, coal, oil). At least in the book. Though I don't think we're far off.
In the book this disruption from one generation to the next is achieved by denying the knowledge of how to access our offloaded memorycues to the new generation, and killing of the earlier generation who does know how to do that. This means no more 'standing on the shoulders of giants' as Isaac Newton did, but having to try and figure everything out on your own, but no raw materials to do it with (at least not the same raw materials).1 Comments and 0 Trackbacks | Permalink
Founding a City in Cyberspace
Five threads in my head combine into this post:
On the role of Cities
Cities are concentrations of people first, and because of that concentrations of relationships, networks, goods, production facilities, commodities, capital, ideas, novelties, news, information, knowledge, cultural activities, well the list goes on. For as long as there have been cities there has been a pull on people to move there, and by now more people live in cities than in the countryside that produces their food.
In cities you are more likely to come across people who can help you realize a novel idea, more generators of ideas, and more who can finance your innovative endeavours. In terms of aspects of Emergence (Johnson, 2002) this connects to more and longer traces, more is different, and the ability to watch more neighbours than in a rural village. Cities are hubs in information and knowledge flows, as well as the cradle of emergence. Johson goes as far as stating that cities could be seen as a superorganism, with us as it's unaware cells. Much like the aggregation of slime mold cells into one entity.
On our use of Cyberspace
Most of us cybersavvy people out here in the blogosphere, used to navigating the enormous amounts of information that are available to us, are citydwellers as well. However I also see people removing themselves from that picture somewhat. Flemming moved to France, not to rural France to be sure (Toulouse can hardly be called a quaint little village), but he did remove him and his family from their US life, while keeping up his economic connection to his previous place of living. My former co-student really lives out in the countryside. Celtic menhirs are more numerous where he now lives than neighbours. He still works for a California based firm however. They have not withdrawn themselves from the city-life they were leading before. Their on-line interactions, and their connectivity enables them to continue the best of their former lifestyle with the best the rural areas have to offer. Preventing peace and quiet turning into boredom and apathy.
I myself look for ideas, co-thinkers, sounding boards and conversational partners in the blogosphere. I talk to Martin Roell for instance on an almost day to day basis, while I don't really know who my nextdoor neighbour is. And the conversations Martin and I have are way more important to me than I can imagine having with the guy next door. So I too, am having part of my communication needs fulfilled on-line in stead of by the city I live in, and where I would traditionally have looked for it. If we can move aspects of citylive on-line, what would it take to move all of what we look for in cities into cyberspace?
On building a CyberCity
Ever since Cyberspace started 36 years ago in 1968 when military and scientific pioneers put up the first structures of a Cyberhicktown called Arpanet by connecting their computers, the number of inhabitants has increased steadily. I made my first travels there in 1988, and permanently took up residence in 1991 or so, before Tim Berners Lee turned the net into Boomtown by giving us the navigable web. Meanwhile I feel a growing need to be permanently connected. My always on DSL connection is no longer enough. It doesn't help me on the road, nor in other places than my own house. WiFi and the interplay between my laptop and my cellphone isn't quite as good yet as I would wish for. Also the seemless switching from one medium in the mix at my disposal to another is of growing importance.
This all has to do with facilitating me as a knowledge worker, with giving me presence. It is the combination of the two things Dave Pollard marks as the most important trends in Knowledge Management: connectivity and personal knowledge management. I have a feeling that that is exactly what I have to perfect myself in, to be able to become a full citizen of a Cybercity.
What elements do we need to make a City in Cyberspace? In Small Pieces Loosely Joined (Weinberger, 2002) David Weinberger lists how different concepts work out on the web, and we can find parallels for that in cities. (Those concepts were, place, time, perfection, togetherness, knowledge, matter and hope) Most obviously for place, perfection, and togetherness.
Johnson in Emergence adds to that what is for the most part still missing, mainly feedback. What would help is two-way links (nearness is based on links, links are based on interest), which would make the end point of a current link as near to the originating site as the target site is now viewed from the source-site.
The connection to our physical reality will of course always be important. The need for direct human contact, for tangible surroundings is an important part of our lives. It's no wonder that bloggers are arranging f2f meetings at any given opportunity. The intertwining of both our on-line and physical spheres of living is made possible by the asynchronicity built into the Internet (Weinberger, 2002)
What is missing in the current Cyberspace, to be able to turn it into 'real' city-life? The red light district is well established, now even with tools that turn manipulations of another person into physical sensations by letting these tools be remotely controlled through your internet connection. Coffeehouses for conversation (portals, fora), libraries, livingrooms/frontporches (blogs), neighbourhoods emerge (blognetworks), and work shops (wiki's) are there as well, as are of course the shops and the auction houses. There are tribes and nations of people living alongside eachother, not necessarily mingling. Crime is there, scam artists, Nigerian and otherwise.
But how many of us go to the theater on-line? I watch tv shows on-line, when available from public broadcasting websites here in the Netherlands, and the BBC. On-line stand up comedians? Fishmarkets? Harbours? Monuments? Old and new architecture? Heroes, villains?
In general there is an enormous amount of information coming at you, just like when you first enter a larg city, the noise, the choice can be overwhelming. (dealing with informationoverload as learning to live in a new busy city?) The biggest problem is probably do we see the net as a whole or as a myriad of largely unrelated fragments. Most internet users experience fragments, or a vast sea of information to be consumed.
Not nearly enough of us yet are there to shape the net to our own insights, as something to be produced. How many private persons run their own servers from home, how many of us are publishing stuff regularly on the net, thus creating 'places' of their own in the city they are in? We do it in our towns, decorating the front door, tending the garden, putting out the garbage for the cats to plunder.
On shaping our City
We shape our city as much as it shapes us. Until the the net is a two-way thing for most of it's users, it will be like an empty city however, where loads of tourists come everyday to look around, shipped from sight/site to sight/site without knowing how one relates to the other, but nobody breathes life into it, with no real inhabitants that both create and feel it's pulse. That is what the current state of the web is mostly like.
Planning of cities doesn't work very well, even if we try, but what micro actions can we take, in order to try and work towards this Cybercity where you and I could dwell in, travelling around the physical world for f2f meetings, withdrawing to a well connected village in between, doing our work on-line from wherever we are? Maybe we can draw on the ideas of emergence to answer that, in the light of Weinbergers characterization of the net?
I have some inkling of what those micro-actions might be, but will save it for a next post, as this one is already pretty long. Your thoughts of course are welcome.
[Addendum: A city is not a tree, interesting article]6 Comments and 6 Trackbacks | Permalink
Yesterday I visited a meeting of CP Square in Amsterdam. CP Square is a community on communities, started by Etienne Wenger (who coined the term community of practice) in 2003. It was sort of an informal warm-up to the Infonortics conference held today and tomorrow in The Hague on virtual communities. Several of the presenters there were at the Amsterdam get-together.
It was in an open space format, and I enjoyed a day filled with great conversations. Also nice to get to know Nancy White face to face, after reading her blog Full Circle.
Thanks to Erik van Bekkum for inviting me! Thanks to all present for the conversations we had.2 Comments and 0 Trackbacks | Permalink
I'm happy to see other events similar to BlogWalk happen:
(via Lee Bryant at Headshift)
Notcon '04: An informal, low-cost, one-day conference on things technologies perhaps were not intended to do.
Next Sunday at Imperial College, Kensington, London.
Go see the "All new Notcon '04 Minimalist Website".
BlogWalk 3.0 Announced
Even if I'm not sure whether or not I've already recovered fully from the meeting in Nuremberg last week, it is already time to announce the next BlogWalk!
........* weblog networks: how they develop, evolve and are sustained
........* how weblog networks are different from other networks
........* what does it take to spark actions from weblog networks
Blogwalk events are by invitation only. Invitations are sent to those in our collective networks we (Lilia, Sebastian and myself) think might contribute, and those who express their wish and ability to contribute to the conversations. The number of people that can attend is limited (around 25 this time), as we keep a small-scale profile for this. If you want to receive an invitation, please feel free to contact Ton Zijlstra (me). I look forward to it.
(The BlogWalk location)