Category Archives: knowledge management

How to Leave Evernote?

Evernote
How to deal with the green elephant in the room?

After I quit using Gmail earlier this year, Evernote has become my biggest silo and single point of failure in my workflow. I have been using it since October 2010 with a premium account, and maintain some 4500 notes, about 25GB total in size. With my move away from Gmail, my use of Evernote has actually increased as well. Part of my e-mail triage process now is forwarding receipts etc to Evernote, before removing them from my mail box.

As with leaving Gmail, there are no immediately visible alternatives to Evernote, that cater to all convenient affordances I have become accustomed to. This was already apparant when I quit Gmail, when Peter Rukavina and I exchanged some thoughts about it. So in order to make the first steps towards ditching Evernote, I will follow the recipe I derived from leaving Gmail, as I presented it at the Koppelting conference in August.

Why do I want to leave?

  • It’s a single point of failure for both private and work related material
  • It’s on US servers, and I would like my own cloud instead
  • It’s not exportable in a general format

What I don’t like about Evernote

  • No easy way to get an overview or visualisation of my notes (although notes are easy to link, those links are not visible as a network)
  • No easy way to mine the total of notes, aside from regular search for specific notes
  • No way to let Evernote use my own cloud / server for storage
  • No reliable way to share with others who are not Evernote users themselves

What I like about Evernote

  • Really everything can be a note
  • It’s cross device (I consult material on my phone, and store e.g. boarding passes there during travel)
  • It has good webclippers for most browsers (allowing choosing the destination notebook, tags, and add remarks)
  • I can easily share to Evernote from most apps on my phone
  • I can e-mail material to it, while indicating destination notebook and adding tags
  • I can automate Evernote stuff with Applescript (I e.g. integrate Evernote with my other core tools Things (todo lists) and Tinderbox (mindmapping)
  • It makes handwritten stuff, images, and scans searchable (even if it doesn’t convert everything to text)

Next steps will be coming up with viable solutions and alternatives for each of those points, and see if I can then integrate those into a coherent whole again. Terry Frazier pointed me to The Brain again today on FB. The Brain is a tool I heavily used from 18 to 13 years ago. It turns out this mindmapping/note taking tool is still around. It currently works cross-device and has Android and iOS apps, and allows attaching files and navigating links in a visual way. It comes at a hefty price though, and still looks like it really is from 1998. Will explore a bit if it might fit my needs enough to give it another try.

On Agency Pt 3: Technology Needs for Increased Agency

This is the last of three postings about how I see agency in our networked era.
In part 1 I discussed how embracing the distributedness that is the core design feature of the internet needs to be an engine for agency. In part 2 I discussed how agency in the networked era is about both the individual and the immediate group she’s part of in the various contexts those groups exist, and consists of striking power, resilience and agility. In this third part I will discuss what we need to demand from our technology.

My perception of agency more or less provides the design brief for the technology that can support it.

Agency as the design brief for technology
If distributed networks are the leading metaphor for agency, then technology needs to be like that too.

If agency is located in both the individual and the social context of an immediate group the individual is functioning in for a given purpose, then technology needs to be able to support both the individual and group level, and must be trustworthy at that level.

If agency consists of local striking power, resilience, and agility, then technology must be able to take in global knowledge and perspective, but also be independently usable, and locally deployable, as well as socially replicable.

If technology isn’t really distributed, than at least it should be easy to avoid it becoming a single point of failure for your and your groups use case.

Two types of tech to consider
This applies to two forms of technology. The ‘hard’ technology, hardware and software, the stuff we usually call technology. But also the ‘soft’ technology, the way we organize ourselves, the methods we use, the attitudes we adopt.

Technology should be ‘smaller’ than us
My mental shorthand for this is that the technology must be smaller than us, if it is to provide us with agency that isn’t ultimately depending on the benevolence of some central point of authority or circumstances we cannot influence. In 2002 I described the power of social media (blogs, wiki’s etc.), when they emerged and became the backbone for me and my peer network, in exactly those terms: publishing, sharing and connecting between publishers became ‘smaller’ than us, so we could all be publishers. We could run our own outlet, and have distributed conversations over it. Over time our blog or rather our writing was supplanted, by larger blogging platforms, and by the likes of Facebook. This makes social media ‘bigger than us’ again. We don’t decide what FB shows us, breaking out of your own bubble (vital in healthy networks) becomes harder because sharing is based on pre-existing ‘friendships’ and discoverability has been removed. The erosion has been slow, but very visible, not only if you were disconnected from it for 6 years.

  • Smaller than us means it is easy enough to understand how to use the technology and has the possibility to tinker with it.
  • Smaller than us means it is cheap (in terms of time, money and effort) to deploy and to replace.
  • Smaller than us means it is as much within the scope of control/sphere of trust of the user group as possible (either you control your tools, or your node and participation in a much wider distributed whole).
  • Smaller than us means it can be deployed limited to the user group, while tapping into the global network if/when needed or valuable.

Striking power comes from the ease of understanding how to use technology in your group, the ability to tinker with it, to cheaply deploy it, and to trust or control it.
Resilience comes from being able to deploy it limited to the user group, even if the wider whole falls down temporarily, and easily replace the technology when it fails you, as well as from knowing the exact scope of your trust or control and reducing dependancy based on that.
Agility comes from being able to use the technology to keep in touch with the global network, and easily alter (tinker), replace or upgrade your technology.

Technology needs an upgrade
Most of the technology that could provide us with new agency however falls short of those demands, so currently doesn’t.

It is mostly not distributed but often centralized, or at best ‘hubs and spokes’ in nature, which introduces trust and control issues and single points of failure. Bitcoins ultimate centralization of the needed computing power in Chinese clusters is one, Facebooks full control over what it shows you is another.

It is often not easy to use or deploy, requiring strong skill sets even when it is cheap to buy or even freely available. To use Liquid Feedback decision making software for instance, you need unix admin skills to run it. To use cheap computing and sensing/actuating hardware like Arduino, you need both software and electronics skills. Technology might also still be expensive to many.

Technologies are often currently deployed either as a global thing (Facebook), or as a local thing (your local school’s activity board), where for agency local with the ability to tap into the global is key (this is part of true distributedness), as well as the ability to build the global out of the many local instances (like mesh networks, or The Things Network). Mimicking the local inside the centralized global is not good enough (your local school’s closed page on FB). We also need much more ability to make distinctions between local and global in the social sense, between social contexts.

There are many promising technologies out there, but we have to improve on them. Things need to be truly distributed whenever possible, allowing local independence inside global interdependence. Deploying something for a given individual/group and a given use needs to be plug and play, and packaging it like that will allow new demographics to adopt it.

The types of technology I apply this to
Like I said I apply this to both ‘hard’ tech, and ‘soft’ tech. But all are technologies that are currently not accessible enough and underused, but could provide agency on a much wider scale with some tweaks. Together they can provide the agency that broad swathes of people seem to crave, if only they could see what is possible just beyond their fingertips.

The ‘hard’ technologies where barriers need to come further down I am thinking about are:

  • Low cost open source hardware
  • Digital making
  • Low cost computing (devices or hosted)
  • (open) data and data-analysis
  • IoT (sensors and actuators)
  • Mesh networking
  • Algorithms
  • Machine learning
  • Blockchain
  • Energy production
  • Agrotech
  • Biotech

The ‘soft’ technologies where barriers need to come further down I am thinking about are:

  • Peer organizing, organisational structures
  • Peer sourcing
  • Open knowledge
  • Iterative processes and probing design
  • Social media / media production
  • Community building practices
  • Networked (mental) models
  • Workflow and decision making tools
  • Community currencies / exchanges
  • Hacking ethics
  • Ethics by design / Individual rights

Putting it all together gives us the design challenge
Putting the list of social contexts (Agency pt 2) alongside the lists of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ techs, and the areas of impact these techs create agency towards, and taking distributedness (Agency pt 1) and reduced barriers as prerequisites, gives us a menu from which we can select combinations to work on.
If we take a specific combination of individuals in a social context, and we combine one or more ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ technologies while bringing barriers down, what specific impact can the group in that context create for themselves? This is the design challenge we can now give ourselves.

In the coming months, as an experiment, with a provincial library and a local FabLab, we will explore putting this into practice. With groups of neighbours in a selected city we will collect specific issues they want to address but don’t currently see the means to (using a bare bones form of participatory narrative inquiry). Together we will work to lower the barriers to technology that allows the group to act on an issue they select from that collection. A separate experiment doing the same with a primary school class is planned as well.

Agency by Ton ZylstraAgency map, click to enlarge

How to leave Gmail

Leaving Gmail, a tough question
In the past two years I have been slowly reconfiguring my online routines to increase privacy safeguards, and bring more of my data under my own control, while avoiding making my work routines more difficult and thus less routine. How to create an e-mail workflow that does not rely on Gmail has been the hardest part of this effort. I think I now finally have figured out how to do it without loss of convenience, and hope to have made the switch after I finish exporting all e-mail data Google has from me.

mailinbox
After 12 years this will no longer be a familiar sight for me

Previous steps I took
Some things I already did to increase my control over my own data are:

Not that I don’t use anything but my own stuff now, I also am still a heavy user of various services, like Evernote for instance, or my Android phone. But the usage of third party services has become more varied and spread-out, reducing the impact of losing any one of them.

Why I want to leave Gmail
The net is a distributed place, and our information strategies and routines should embrace that distributedness. In practice however we often end up in various silos and walled gardens, because they are so very convenient to use, although they actually decrease our own control and/or introduce single points of failure. If your Facebook account gets suspended can you still interact with others? If your Google account gets suspended, do you still know how to reach people? Using Gmail also means all of my stuff resides on servers falling under the not very privacy sensitive US laws.

Since July 2004 I have however completely relied on Gmail. It is an easy way to combine the various e-mail addresses I use into 1 single inbox ( or rather multiple inboxes on the basis of follow-up actions), and it has great tagging, search and filtering so that you never need to file anything or sort into folders. I have used Gmail as my central inbox for everything. Since 2004 I have accumulated about 770.000 emails in 249.000 conversations, for a total of 21GB. Gmail is therefore the largest potential single point of failure in my information processing.

The issues to solve
To wean myself off Gmail there were several things for which I needed a similarly smooth working alternative:

  • All the mail addresses I use need to come together into a single mailbox, and conversations need to be threaded
  • Availability across devices, and via webmail. Especially on the road I use my phone for quick e-mail triage, and as alternative for phone calls. Webmail is my general purpose access point on my laptop while traveling
  • Having access to my full mail archive for search and retrieval
  • Excellent tagging and filtering possibilities

The steps I took to leave Gmail
Finding a path away from Gmail took two realisations, one about process and one about technology.

Changing my process
Concerning process I realized that Gmail allows me, or even invites me, to be very lazy in my e-mail processing routines. Because of the limitless storage I merely needed to be able to find things back (through the use of tags for instance), and never needed to really decide what to do with an e-mail.

This means for instance that lots of attachments only live on in my mailbox, without me adding them to relevant project documentation etc. Likely I spent hours in the past years searching for slide decks in my mountain of e-mail, in stead of spending half a minute once to store and archive an attachment in a more logical place where I’m more likely to find it with desktop search, or serendipitously bump into it, and then throw the mail message out. So mail processing has to become a much less lazy process with a few more active decisions in handling messages. E.g. attachments into a project folder, contact info into contacts, book keeping related messages to bookkeeping (and no longer going through all mail tagged bookkeeping every quarter to do my taxes), tasks and actions to my Things todo application. I already wrote several Apple Scripts to let my todo app and Evernote talk to various other software packages (like Tinderbox), but it is now likely I will write a few more to automate mail message processing further (because I prefer to still keep my process as lazy as possible).

Changing my tools
A second key realization was that my original reasons for staying within webmail had meanwhile been solved with better technology: it used to be that only Gmail provided the cross-device access to all my mail accounts simultaneously, something I could not easily do in 2004 with a desk/laptop mail client in combination with a mobile mail client. Now, with much broader IMAP support (not just by my software tools, but also by hosting companies) this is much easier, increasing the range of possible alternatives. Threading mail conversations is now also a more universal feature.

This now allowed me to start using Thunderbird mail client, including PGP encryption, on my laptop (I never intensively used a mail client before on my laptop), in combination with the open source K9 Android mail app (replacing the Gmail app for me), also with encryption options. Both allow tagging of messages, and Thunderbird allows filtering for not just incoming mail but also when sending and when archiving, which is really useful.

As an alternative to piping all my mail accounts into Gmail, I now use all the real inboxes of those mail accounts where they’re originally hosted, and use IMAP to combine into one user interface on my laptop and mobile. Those separate mailboxes do have lower storage limits (usually 500MB), so it is more likely I bump into limits, and that is the reason I need a much less lazy mail processing routine (especially concerning larger attachments), in which I can regularly archive older mail.

Separately I also now use a different webmail provider, Protonmail in Switzerland, that comes with default encryption. I’ve attached a domain name to it (zylstra.eu).

The archiving issue
The above shows how leaving Gmail moving forward from the here and now, by solving the one-inbox and the multiple device issues can be done by changing process and tools. That leaves the question of how to deal with the 21GB of mail archive from the past 12 years. Leaving it all in Gmail, and use that as archive might be a work-around for old mail, but doesn’t help me for future mail. I could add it as a local folder to the Thunderbird mail client, but that thought did not appeal to me and feels clunky. I find that I never use my mail archive from my mobile, so the archive does not need to be cloud based per se. So, I opted to keep my mail archive local, by storing it in a mysql database. This allows for query based searches, and even text mining, without it clogging up my mail client itself. Gmail can export your archive in a single MBOX file, and I used Mailsteward Pro to transform it into a mysql database. (More on that set-up in the next posting Archiving mail in mysql with MAMP and Mailsteward). With the archive now locally stored, the database is backed up to both my NAS drive and my VPS.

What remains
With the basic set-up for leaving Gmail now in place, there is still work te be done over the coming months. Clearing out the archive at Gmail is one step, once I feel comfortable with searching my new mysql archive. Creating more filters in my mail client, and writing a few scripts to integrate my mail processing with the other tools I use is another. There are also likely a whole bunch of things (accounts, subscriptions etc) that use my gmail address, which I will change as I go along.

My longtime blogging friend Roland Tanglao suggested to mine my mail archive for things that could be published, contact data, harvest old ideas that can feed into my work now etc. This sounds appealing but needs some contemplation and then a plan. Having the archive in mysql makes it a lot easier to come up with a plan though.

Beyond mail, there are of course more Google services I use heavily, especially Calendar, which are tied to my gmail address. I could move that to my Owncloud as well. I will keep my Google account, as this isn’t about ditching Google but about reducing risks and taking more control. Apart from Calendar there are no other single points of failure in the way I use my Google account. Beyond Google, Evernote is another silo I’m heavily invested in, and the content I keep there is arguably more valuable to me than my Gmail. So that is a future change to think about and seek alternatives for.

Inbox 0 is for Losers
I reached Inbox -1 on Gmail once in 2009 🙂

[Find the outline and slides of my Koppelting session on leaving Gmail in the follow-up posting at https://tzyl.eu/leavegarden. You can use the shortlink https://tzyl.eu/gmail to refer to this posting.

Rotterdam University Learning Community: Authenticity and Co-Creation Go Together

Last week I gave a presentation on the project I did at Rotterdam University in the past year. While making the slides I realized that out of the five areas where we created results in that project (we dubbed them the ‘Big Five‘: authenticity, co-creation CoP as workform, skills and knowledge generation), two are actually very much connected: authenticity and co-creation.
Authenticity
Authenticity in this project meant creating authentic learning experiences, making it as real as possible for the students involved. By using real time information, by solving actual existing problems, by doing exercises that reflect the actual level of complexity involved, by doing things as they are done in the professional fields you are training the students for. And by providing the books and other resources ‘merely’ as information objects while doing all that.
Co-creation
Co-creation in this project meant giving not only the teacher, but also her colleagues, as well as the students and possibly people working in the field they train for, active roles in creating the learning experience.
Think of having students ‘roleplay’, work in project teams together, having them explain things to other students, have professionals available for interviews/conversations, etc.
Authenticity and Co-creation are symbiotic
From all the different things the teachers in this project did in changing their teaching modules, one thing to me is clear as a pattern: you can’t have authenticity without co-creation, and you can’t do co-creation without increasing authenticity.

Rethink!
Our ‘rebel’ logo during the project

Let’s describe a few examples from the Rotterdam project to explain what I mean, even though this is going to make this posting the longest I’ve written 😉
Databases course
Rimmert teaches a module on databases in the informatics department. Most of the students he taught (40-50 in total) already work as coders in IT next to their education. Instead of taking a book as the basis of his module, he decided to let the students create the course (co-creation) because he hoped it would then be closer to the problems they actually encounter in their work as well as address actual knowledge gaps they have (authenticity). Co-creation to get a more authentic learning experience.
So students created a list of topics they wanted to address in the course, and then divvied up those topics amongst themselves. In sub groups relevant info, knowledge, and example problems was gathered and then presented in class to the others. In a wiki all the used material was collected and bundled (for the participants of the next course to build on). Because there was no information or actual content to test the students knowledge reproduction on as exam, the exam consisted of doing an actual case in which all the material discussed needed to be applied. By choosing a co-creation approach Rimmert increased the authenticity of his course.
HZap08 Final Informal Meeting Ron explaining, Jet multitasking
In the pub, and in discussion
Programming course
Rimmert also teaches programming. One of his issues is that most of his programming examples and test questions are contrived and over-simplified because otherwise there is no quick way of judging how well the students are doing. His teaching lacked authenticity, and he wanted to address that. Together with his colleagues he created a programming infrastructure/platform that completely resembles the way code is developed and committed in real software development, with the added possibility of being able as a teacher to see what steps individual people working in the platform had taken, and how code was eventually created. It allowed him to give the students real complex coding problems to work on (authenticity), while creating insight for himself into the whole coding process of his students without difficulty (the main reason for using simplified problems before). For the students this meant working in teams which added a layer to the learning experience (authenticity): the different roles of team members, team processes (ticketing for instance, or committing code), and the different snags teams run into during code development. In this way students were instrumental in creating the learning experience for their team members, as well as for themselves (co-creation), and each needed to play his part for real. There was no way around this, because grading was done on not just the results of the work, but predominantly of the process of the work being done.  By aiming for authenticity Rimmert ’caused’ a co-created learning experience.
City walks and Interviewing professionals
Jet teaches social pedagogy and orthopedagogy. Professionals in the field operate in disadvantaged neighbourhoods with lots of social problems. She found her first year students often had very unclear or unrealistic views of their chosen field of profession and wanted to address that by increasing the authenticity of the learning experience. Since years Jet organized city walks, where she would visit a neighborhood with her class, to point out the type of situations and contexts her students would be working in, and helping them to ‘read’ the social signs in these neighborhoods. She would take each of 7 classes on one such walk, usually picking one neighborhood. This time she asked her students to go out on their own in small groups with digital camera’s to take photos of things they thought relevant. The students would annotate these photos (‘why are they relevant?’) and share them on-line. By sending different groups out to different neighborhoods, Jet was now able to have the students cover most of the city of Rotterdam, broadening their scope of the city. Students not only shared photos with their class mates, but also with the 6 other classes. In parallel she had her students visit organizations they would typically end up working for and also video interview professionals there. This brought students into contact with their possible working environment, and have them ask questions to professionals in the field. The resulting videos were again shared with all students, resulting in a complete overview of possible working environments and professions for these students. Submerging the students into city neighborhoods and relevant organizations made the experience more authentic. Sharing the wealth of impressions between all students to reflect upon meant co-creating the experience. Another co-creation aspect was Jet asking the students beforehand what topics they would like to see addressed, what questions they had about their chosen field of profession. This to guide the students into looking at neighborhoods and organizations. Feedback of students was very good, to give one example: “When I started this year I had no clear picture of what this study was about. In a short time I now know so much more. Unbelievable really what we learned in just a few weeks.”

Mid project assesment of results
Working with Ernst on spotting emergent results

Covering Valuta Risks
Ron teaches a module on valuta options to cover the risks posed by having transactions in different currencies while the exchange rates between those currencies are dynamic (e.g. buying resources in Euro, selling part of your products in Dollar. What happens if the Dollar drops or rises between the time you set product price and you actually sell the product and get paid?).
Usually he spent most of his contact time with students explaining the data he based the exercises on and how students should go about doing those exercises. Ron aimed to intensify the learning experience and the quality of face to face time he had with the students. He created a series of short screencasts to explain all the ‘technical details’ of the course and put them on-line, so students could watch and repeat as much as they liked. He then added a few additional things he now had time for: he coupled the data he used to the actual exchange rates between Euro, Dollar and Pound, for the duration of the course, so all of a sudden real news events influencing the exchange rates became important for the students to track and hatch their bets. He worked with students from two different parts of financial management studies: one group to fill the role of financial officer at a company needing to cover valuta risks (and let them determine what % of risk they wanted or didn’t want to cover), and another group to play the role of the banks accepting and executing those valuta options of their ‘customers’. Following actual exchange rates, and having the roles of both banks and companies filled made for a much more authentic experience. At the same time the role playing part (and working in teams) meant co-creation as well. Another layer of co-creation was added by Ron explaining to the students the form of the course was an experiment to him as well, and asking for explicit feedback to help increase the quality. And finally Ron had much more time to discuss the material in depth with his students face to face.
Negotiating in different cultural settings
Maria teaches negotiation skills for cross-cultural situations. Students that complete the course continue their education in SE Asia for half a year, immediately after finishing the course. Therefore application of those skills is an important part of the course. Maria wanted to spend less time on the accompanying book, and more time on practicing and role playing. To do this she stopped lecturing based on the book. Instead she treated the book as information source for students and asked them in groups to present parts of the material to their fellow students, both using the book and using information sources from elsewhere. Presenting to their fellow students could take any shape: role playing games, acting scenes, showing relevant video footage found on-line with reflective discussion, etc. The exam for this course had been a problem in the past, as students were set to leave the country immediately after and the module being compulsory, failing the exam was a real logistical problem to all involved. In its new form the exam relied much heavier on an assessment during sessions in which the students needed to deal with actual negotiation cases in a role playing setting, as well as assessing what the student did during the course: continuous monitoring in place of having one point of measurement.
Maria changed the module working very closely together with two of her colleagues in parallel classes, and relied heavily on a much higher involvement of her students. Students outside of the class helped her create/collect alternative material as well as a website to put it in. A real co-creation effort, aimed at increasing the practical value of the module by making the contents more authentic. Both she and her students loved it (getting rid of the book as central element, and bringing the contents into the course themselves), even though she was sorry she couldn’t lecture as much anymore which she loves doing. ‘I started loving my students so much more’
Owning your learning path
In all 6 of these cases co-creation and authenticity worked together in lock-step. The starting point or aim might have been only one of them, but the other was always an important ingredient. The other projects the participants worked on were essentially no different. For me this is an important point: when you want to have a more authentic learning experience it means actively involving the learners in creating that learning experience. If you’re the learner it means actively owning your learning path, if you’re the teacher it means helping the learners own their learning paths, and see your work as a permanent learning path as well. There’s no way around it, I think.

Hogeschool Rotterdam
Rotterdam University in the evening

FabLab Community Building

As part of a guest lecture on supporting knowledge work in complex environments and creating circumstances for community building, I worked with a group of students ‘concept and product design’ in the last month. We used FabLab (I’m a board member of the Dutch FabLab Foundation) as a case.
I asked the students to come up with both on- and off-line elements to help strengthen the global network of FabLab, and stimulate community forming.
Dutch FabLabs as Accelerator
The Netherlands has a large density of FabLab initiatives (3 operational labs, about 5 in various stages of development, all within 2.5 hrs driving distance). This gives us unique opportunities. Globally the FabLab network is highly fragmented. As FabLabs are started, especially if its a completely local initiative, they are focussed on bootstrapping themselves into existence, not on connecting to the outside world. The high density of labs in the Netherlands allows us however to connect people and FabLabs much more easily. First having a number of FabLabs within close vicinity allows experiments in community building basically ‘locally’, without the need to do everything at a global scale immediately. Second the high density creates an ‘acceleration room’, it is the ‘city’ in the FabLab landscape, allowing quick iterations of those different experiments in community building. Successful community building efforts can then be offered to other FabLabs worldwide, or attract attention by themselves from the wider FabLab network.
Existing Building Blocks
Of course there already all kinds of things going on. To name a few:
The Dutch FabLabs are building a sharing platform, allowing different FabLabs to interact and share both content and user accounts easily;
FabLab Academy is being set-up, which is a collective educational programme coordinated by MIT;
There is a (almost) yearly FabLab conference, the next one coming August in Pune, India;
A number of FabLabs use a collective video-conferencing system.
Challenges
There are also challenges that will play a role when scaling up efforts to the global FabLab network:
Because FabLabs work locally, they are all firmly rooted in their own context, character and language. While this is a rich source of diversity, making global sharing of knowledge and designs more valuable, it also means there is little in terms of shared language, shared branding and iconography;
Access to enough bandwith or even internet itself is not guaranteed for each FabLab. This may imply having local copies of e.g. information, with periodical synchronization, or at the least more asynchronous communication;
FabLab challenges conventional notions of production. It brings industrial machinery in the hands of individuals. The ‘otherness’ of the concept is a source of attraction but may mean it’s actually harder to explain to others, before you have ‘proof’ of what it can mean.
Showing Students the FabLab Concept
Students trying out FabLab
Suggested Ideas
Most of the students handled the assignment well. What turned out to be very important is that a group of them visited the FabLab in Utrecht, Protospace, to experience first hand what a FabLab is, as well as see the machines and video conferencing equipment working. Those that visited Protospace did a whole lot better than those that didn’t.
Some of the ideas that were generated:
– Global single sign-on for FabLab users;
– FabTube, video tutorials;
– FabCases, instructables;
– A credit system (valid in every FabLab, you get credit for sharing things e.g.);
– Cases, workshops etc. with local companies;
– FabTalks, TED-like talks streamed on video;
– Fab Awards, yearly awards for great FabLab projects;
– Consistent use of recognizable visual elements throughout;
– Text only version of information, or stand-alone wiki’s on a stick;
– FabLab staff presented in person on websites;
– Connecting FabLab staff worldwide on shared expertise;
– Have a person in each FabLab focussing on/stimulating sharing with the FabLab network;
– Connecting those sharing-focussed people;
– Build contacts with local companies, higher-ed institutions, schools for workshop etc;
– Fab Elections: people nominate projects. Yearly award session in different FabLab each time;
– FabBook, a yearbook with sections by each FabLab. Some page maybe a design e.g. Book can be on reading tables, and on USB-sticks;
Concept Design Students
Students generating ideas
It’s a nice mix of both on- and offline elements. For the most part they can be implemented among the Dutch FabLabs first, without making later wider roll-out difficult. Especially the book and the credit system are interesting, but when put together in the mix of other things suggested. We’ll definitely start working on these ideas after the summer.

FabLab Platform Project

FabLabs are places where with a small set of digitally controlled machines individuals can make ‘almost anything’. In the Netherlands there are currently three FabLabs in operation, and half a dozen or so initiatives ongoing to create a FabLab. This means the Netherlands has a unique density of FabLabs.
FabLabs operate from the notion that designs and experiences are shared globally and build locally based on whatever material is available. Design global, build local. However thus far we think the amount of sharing being done can be improved on two important dimensions.
First, we want to improve the ease with which experiences and projects can be documented. It is hard to ask people visiting the FabLabs to document things after their work, or interrupt them during the flow of their work to do so. Also the sharing of experience between lab managers can be improved, concerning the smooth running of a FabLab etc. It is around these stories, experiences and descriptions that interaction will take place.
Second, we want to improve the way people can connect, locally around a single FabLab, nationally within the ecosystem of personal manufacturing of both FabLabs and other groups, and internationally between both individuals and FabLabs. It is along these relationships within the wider FabLab community that knowledge and experience will flow.
By making initial sharing of content easier we stimulate interaction and the building of relationships. By making connecting to others easier, we stimulate the wider sharing of knowledge. Both dimensions strengthen each other.
Brainstorming Joris Summarizing
During last week’s brainstorm session on starting the project at the Amsterdam FabLab
So last week we started a project to create a platform to do just that. It will be a Drupal-based platform. Each FabLab will be able to have their own web presence, but the underlying Drupal fundament will ensure that every FabLab website will be able to pull in content from all other FabLab websites using the Drupal fundament. It also means that when a new FabLab starts operations, it will be able to install a web platform out of the box that immediately gives access to any content they find relevant for themselves. Relevant for instance in terms of the machines they have available, or the languages they want to present content in. It also means being able to grant access to people from throughout the FabLab community. All FabLabs together will create a cloud as it were.
With contributions in time from the FabLabs in Amsterdam and Utrecht, as well as my self (I’m a board member of the Dutch FabLab Foundation), we have enough expertise and resources to get going. FabLabs from Iceland, Norway, Canada and the UK are interested in working with us on this as well. It would be great if we could also involve members of the Drupal community. We will document the project transparantly so all our work will be in English, ensuring the ability for the wider FabLab network to contribute and comment.
We aim at smaller tangible steps in development, that can be implemented piecemeal as they are delivered. First up is creating the initial basic platform and content types needed. On that basis we can start adding functionality. The labs in th Netherlands, due to the high number of FabLab initiatives here, are in a unique position to quickly experiment with using different types of functionality, and iteratively build a modular platform.
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A Short Explanation of the Cynefin Framework

Shawn Callahan of Anecdote has made a short explanation of the Cynefin Framework, which I hope you find useful.
Like him, I’ve been using the Cynefin framework ever since Dave Snowden introduced me to it at KM Europe in 2003, making a lasting impression.

Over the years I’ve seen the number of issues companies and professionals are dealing with shift more and more to the complex realm. Because our internet and mobile communications connected world as a whole has shifted towards this complex domain more by increasing the connections between us and as a result the speed of change, the dynamics around us and the amount of information. A quantitative shift with massive qualitative impact. Complexity is where predictability is absent, and only in hindsight cause and effect are clear. It’s the messy bits, as Shawn says, where human interaction, culture, innovation, trust are at play. And it’s those same messy bits where increasingly organizations are able to distinguish themselves from others, or not.
It’s the realm where you try to create top-down the circumstances that stimulate bottom-up, emergent effects. The place where control and giving space aren’t opposites but mutually strengthening. Where boundaries, barriers and attractors are your means for intervention, and where you run multiple experiments right in the real world (not the lab) to see what moves you into the right direction. It’s also the place where abstract theory and action are joined at the hip with no intermediate stage in between. Where what we actually know about ourselves and our behaviour as human beings is leading, not what we hope we are or think we are.
It’s the place where most of my current work is. In creating informal learning settings with communities of practice, in building the patchwork of social media tools that help you create your personal networked learning environment (connectivism, as per George Siemens), in increasing your ability to act (which is my working definition of knowledge) whether it’s by providing better means to create what you need (like in my work for the world wide FabLab community), or by providing more information for us all to make better decisions (like in my work to open up government data for free reuse by the public). All geared to help us make more sense of the world around us.
It’s also the place where I think we will find the best opportunities to get us out of the economic, environmental and energy mess we currently find ourselves in. A mess we got ourselves into I think by not recognizing where the limits of usefulness are of our lineair ways of working and planning. It’s in the realm of complexity we’ll have to find the resilience we need.
By the way, as a disclaimer, like Shawn I am part of the Cognitive Edge network of practicioners, started by Dave Snowden to put the Cynefin framework and related methods into action.

Say After Tim: Raw Data Now!

In the presentation below, that Tim Berners Lee gave last February at the TED conference, the creator of the Web talks about what needs to come next: linked data. This is Berners-Lee’s explanation of the semantic web.

The internet used to only connect servers to eacher other. I remember how in the very late ’80s I logged onto a Unix machine at some US University to get some material from that machine using command line entries.
Berners-Lee thought it frustrating that you would find documents and files in all kinds of formats for which you might not have the right software to read it. Out of that frustration came the Web. It didn’t look all that great initially (see pic below), but it meant you could open a document from any machine, and have it link to other documents. The Web connects documents.
Remember this page?
Een vroege versie van de CERN website.
Now he proposes to link data to eachother, much like we now link documents, and used to link servers to eachother. As the next step in the evolution of the internet.
How he imagines that you can see in the video. It needs loads of raw data however. Data that follows three rules: it is available in open formats, it has an URI, and it links to other data. Hence his call to arms: Raw Data Now!
Given the work I currently do on opening up public service information (PSI) in the Netherlands, I can only subscribe to that call. In his presentation Berners-Lee talks a bit more about what is important about opening up government data.
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Online Educa Berlin – My Presentation

Early evening yesterday I gave a key-note at the second plenary session of the Online Educa conference in Berlin (over 2000 participants, from 90 countries, 92 parallel and 4 plenary sessions in 2 days). Together with Clive Shepherd and Donald Clark, it was up to us three to entertain those that still had the courage to attend this last and late session (17:45-19:00) after what was a long and intensive day.
It seemed the session went over well.
The slides I used are online at SlideShare of course as well as embedded below:

My presentation consisted basically consisted of these messages:
1) It is not very useful to talk about Gen Y as a ‘different species’, because the world is changing, not these kids. The kids are adapting and so should we all. Treating the kids as having changed basically means you’re not prepared to change yourself to adapt to the new environment we find ourselves in. Therefore Gen Y is everybody that is adapting. I held up my niece, my mother in law and myself up as specimens of Gen Y.
2) My learning, life, and work has shifted enormously in the past years, due to internet and mobile communication. It has had much wider effects than just the possibilities the technologies bring in themselves
3) That wider effect is because we have created new infrastructure and that has always had major impact on all kinds of aspects in our culture and society
4) We all, not just kids, need to adapt to that new world we created ourselves, we all need to become part of Gen Y. And then added a number of quotes of the group I work with at Rotterdam University, that you can see as signs of how far you are on the path to becoming part of Gen Y. Notice that none of these quotes are about technology, but about personal change.
Afterwards I had dinner with a group of Dutch edubloggers, which was quite a lot of fun. During that dinner I discovered how many potatoes you can hide under a Wiener Schnitzel, and embarassed myself by complaining to the waiter that the potatoes I ordered weren’t there. To which the reply was: look under your schnitzel.
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Shifting Cultural Categories: Work Place

This posting is part of a series of postings on how our understanding and interpretation of cultural categories is shifting due to our use of the two infrastructures internet and mobile communication.
This posting is about Workplace

Candle factory, 1919 (from Dutch National Archive)
Workplace Is All About Access
In order to be able to complete your tasks effectively and efficiently you need to be in a place that provides easy access to everything you need for those tasks. That means access to the raw materials, the means of production, the finances, the knowledge, the information, the colleagues, the clients, and any other relevant stakeholder or object to your business. In the pre-industrial era this meant that your place of work and your place to live would often be the same, that other people plying the same trade would be located in each others vicinity, as would others in your ‘chain’ of production. And it would mean that as an artisan you would be located in a city, as population centers have creating access to virtually anything as a primary role.
In the industrial era, with its large immobile means of production, people needed to live right next to the factories. Only there could they perform their tasks. Urbanisation, and ‘workers neighbourhoods’ right next to factories inclined steeply in step with each smoke stack that was build.
The 'cheap' part
Factory metaphor projected on the office: document conveyor belts
When our economy shifted to services more, and office ‘white collar’ jobs became more widespread, our behaviour didn’t change much. We built our offices just as we built our factories. Large buildings with machines replaced by large amounts of paperwork. Work processes were similarly arranged as in the factory, with typewriting rooms and long hallways of offices. And when computers (late 80’s) internet (late 90’s) and cell phones (mid 90’s) became commonplace in the workplace at first we carried on as before. But slowly more and more people are realizing that the fundamental rationale behind our work place organisation, access to all we need for our tasks, is being eroded.

Access in a Networked World
Internet and mobile communications are infrastructures with qualities that increase the accessibility of people and any digitally available artefact.
First anyone connected to these infrastructures has access to any digital artefact (albeit documents, pictures, video, music, data sets, maps, voice packets) that is shared anywhere else on that infrastructure. Anything that is shared is shared as a perfect copy, undistinguishable from its original. This removes any scarcity of important pieces of information, as Wikipedia has written as its mission on its banner. As librarians, music companies, teachers, book publishers, and archivists, have found out, it also removes the need for many middle men that see themselves as gate keepers around that scarcity, forcing them to reinvent themselves whether they like it or not. In short I don’t need to be in the same place as the dossiers, documents or other digital artefacts are stored that I need to do my work.
Second internet and mobile communications do not require a geographically fixed end point. Unlike with landline phone, railways, postal mail and other infrastructure, on the internet and mobile communication networks you are the end point. We are our own address. I don’t need to know where you are to reach you. You don’t need to be in a defined spot for me to have access to you. You don’t need to be in the next cubicle down for me to have acces to you. I don’t need to know where you are at all for you to be my colleague.
Afternoon office
A suitable workplace
So if work place is about access, and as a white collar worker I can access any relevant document or any other person from anywhere, or as an artisan I can have access to customers from anywhere, then my work place can be basically any place. With ubiquitous access any place is as suited as any to stay in touch, sync and flow with my environment. With Wifi and coffee you’re all set. And it is showing in how we are organizing our work, impacting us well beyond the technology alone. Some examples:

Units of Business, Wirearchy
When access to the things you need to be effective at your work is ubiquitous, it becomes a lot easier to self-organize or to form ad-hoc groups around more complicated or complex tasks. It cuts down on the need of large overhead and hierarchical structures. I am a one man business, and work in different project teams for different clients. Those project teams have other members that are one man business as well.
None of us have managerial overhead, except for what is needed for the tasks at hand.
In fact the number of one man businesses is rising steadily. In the Netherlands they currently account for 50% of all businesses registered, and the expectation is that it will be 60% in 2 years time. The rapid growth in the number of these businesses started in 2000, right when both mobile communications (65% of all those above 17yrs old that year) and internet (75% of all businesses that year, 50% of all households) reached high penetration in the Netherlands. That year was the tipping point for access it seems. These independent people collaborate heavily: 60% of them regularly work with other independents, and another 25% want to do so.

In these collaborative settings hierarchy is replaced by networked structures such as wirearchies. We take on roles and tasks. I may be the project ‘leader’ in one project, and the ‘subordinate’ in another, but it’s always a role not a function, nor something permanently ‘attached’ to me. Because none of us is gatekeeper to the means of production or the needed resources, none of us can claim to be the ‘owner’ of the work, employing the others. In these teams there is mutual interdependence because only as a group could we have taken on the project. It shows in the places we choose as work settings; it is negotiated usually each time to fit what suits all participants best in relation to other obligations that impact their flexibility and mobility that day.

Work-Life Balance

Work-Life balance, in itself a recent term, used to be defined extremely simple. When you were at work, you were working. When you were not at work, you were doing the other things that made up your life.
Elmine
A conference for my wife’s birthday. Work-Life balance?
Having a fixed location for your work, and other fixed locations for your other activities, there are very clear boundaries between them by the act of moving from one location to another. But with internet and mobile communications that boundary is blurring and disappearing. Reading work e-mail at home, booking your summer holiday over the office internet connection, different activities are now seeping and creeping into others.
Being used to link contexts to locations (because location meant access) since basically forever, we are learning to adapt to find a new way of balancing all our activities now that location as a determining factor is disappearing (because access is ubiquitous).
When you have access to almost everything from almost any place, your own priorities and the needs of those important to you are the only guidelines to strike a balance between your activities. I could read business e-mail during dinner with my wife, as could she. I could do some shopping in a meeting with a client, as could she. We couldn’t before, now we can, so we need to learn to decide to do something or not more often than we were used to. Those decisions are informed by the truely scarce things, such as face to face time with somebody, which requires you to really be in the here and now, or the things that still are actually bound to a certain location.
Internet and mobile communications create access where there was none, making forms of organisation possible that weren’t before, and decoupling the context you need for a task from fixed geographic locations. Because of it we are reshaping our work place, and our work place is shifting.
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