Help jij ons mee organiseren? We gaan een IndieWebCamp organiseren in Utrecht, een event om het gebruik van het Open Web te bevorderen, en met elkaar praktische zaken aan je eigen site te verbeteren. We zoeken nog een geschikte datum en locatie in Utrecht. Je hulp is dus van harte welkom.

Op het Open Web bepaal jij zelf wat je publiceert, hoe het er uit ziet, en met wie je in gesprek gaat. Op het Open Web bepaal je zelf wie en wat je volgt en leest. Het Open Web was er altijd al, maar in de loop van de tijd zijn we allemaal min of meer opgesloten geraakt in de silo’s van Facebook, Twitter, en al die anderen. Hun algoritmes en timelines bepalen nu wat jij leest. Dat kan ook anders. Bouw je eigen site, waar anderen niet tussendoor komen fietsen omdat ze advertentie-inkomsten willen genereren. Houd je eigen nieuwsbronnen bij, zonder dat andermans algoritme je opsluit in een bubbel. Dat is het IndieWeb: jouw content, jouw relaties, jij zit aan het stuur.

Frank Meeuwsen en ik zijn al heel lang onderdeel van internet en dat Open Web, maar brengen/brachten ook veel tijd in websilo’s als Facebook door. Inmiddels zijn we beiden actieve ‘terugkeerders’ op het Open Web. Afgelopen november waren we samen op het IndieWebCamp Nürnberg, waar een twintigtal mensen met elkaar discussieerde en ook zelf actief aan de slag gingen met hun eigen websites. Sommigen programmeerden geavanceerde dingen, maar de meesten zoals ikzelf bijvoorbeeld, deden juist kleine dingen (zoals het verwijderen van een link naar de auteur van postings op deze site). Kleine dingen zijn vaak al lastig genoeg. Toen we terugreden met de trein naar Nederland waren we het er al snel over eens: er moet ook een IndieWebCamp in Nederland komen. In Utrecht dus, dit voorjaar.

Om Frank te citeren:

Voel je je aangesproken door de ideeën van het open web, indieweb, wil je aan de slag met een eigen site die meer vrij staat van de invloeden sociale silo’s en datatracking? Wil je een nieuwsvoorziening die niet meer primair wordt gevoed door algoritmen en polariserende roeptoeters? Dan verwelkomen we je op twee dagen IndieWebCamp Utrecht.

Laat weten of je er bij wilt zijn.
Laat weten of je kunt helpen met het vinden van een locatie.
Laat weten hoe wij jou kunnen helpen bij je stappen op het Open Web.

Je bent uitgenodigd!

The ‘on this day in earlier years‘ plugin I recently installed on this blog is already proving to be useful in the way I hoped: creating somewhat coincidental feedback loops to my earlier blogposts, self serendipity.

Last week I had lunch with Lilia and Robert, and 15 years ago today another lunch with Lilia prompted a posting on lurking in social networks / blog networks. With seventeen comments, many of them pointing to other blogposts it’s a good example of the type of distributed conversations blogging can create. Or could, 15 years ago. Re-reading that posting now, it is still relevant to me. And a timely reminder. I think it would be worth some time to go through more of my postings about information strategies from back then, and see how they compare to now, and how they would translate to now.

Today I’m working at Library Service Fryslan to further document and detail our Networked Agency based library program Impact through Connection. This is a continuation of our work last December.

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The team in skype conversation, which is why all are staring towards the laptop.

We sat down to augment material and write this morning. In the afternoon we spent an hour talking to David Lankes. He’s the director of USC’s library and information science school, and the originator of the term ‘community librarian’. Jeroen de Boer, our team lead, had asked him last month for some reflection on our work. That took the shape of an extended skype confcall this afternoon, which was very helpful.

Trying to make our effort much more tangible in terms of examples and in supporting librarians in their role in Impact through Connections, is one thing that was emphasised. The need for training librarians in the methodological aspects of this, to help them feel more comfortable in the open-ended setting we create for this project, another. It also made us realise that some of the things we already mentioned, or did earlier, but since dropped of our radar somewhat, need to be pulled more into the center again. The suggestion to create multiple parallel propositions for libraries, as a way to better engage in conversation about the level of service provided, involvement of librarians, and the consequences different choices carry, I think was a good practical tip.

A conversation with David Lankes
In conversation with David Lankes

Donald Clark writes about the use of voice tech for learning. I find I struggle enormously with voice. While I recognise several aspects put forward in that posting as likely useful in learning settings (auto transcription, text to speech, oral traditions), there are others that remain barriers to adoption to me.

For taking in information as voice. Podcasts are mentioned as a useful tool, but don’t work for me at all. I get distracted after about 30 seconds. The voices drone on, there’s often tons of fluff as the speaker is trying to get to the point (often a lack of preparation I suppose). I don’t have moments in my day I know others use to listen to podcasts: walking the dog, sitting in traffic, going for a run. Reading a transcript is very much faster, also because you get to skip the bits that don’t interest you, or reread sections that do. Which you can’t do when listening, because you don’t know when a uninteresting segment will end, or when it might segue into something of interest. And then you’ve listened to the end and can’t get those lost minutes back. (Videos have the same issue, or rather I have the same issue with videos)

For using voice to ask or control things. There are obvious privacy issues with voice assistants. Having active microphones around for one. Even if they are supposed to only fully activate upon the use of the wake-up word, they get triggered by false positives. And don’t distinguish between me and other people that maybe it shouldn’t respond to. A while ago I asked around in my network how people use their Google and Amazon microphones, and the consensus was that most settle on a small range of specific uses. For those it shouldn’t be needed to have cloud processing of what those microphones tape in your living room, those should be able to be dealt with locally, with only novel questions or instructions being processed in the cloud. (Of course that’s not the business model of these listening devices).

A very different factor in using voice to control things, or for instance dictate is self-consciousness. Switching on a microphone in a meeting has a silencing effect usually. For dictation, I won’t dictate text to software e.g. at a client’s office, or while in public (like on a train). Nor will I talk to my headset while walking down the street. I might do it at home, but only if I know I’m not distracting others around me. In the cases where I did use dictation software (which nowadays works remarkably well), I find it clashes with my thinking and formulation. Ultimately it’s easier for me to shape sentences on paper or screen where I see them take shape in front of me. When dictating it easily descends into meaninglessness, and it’s impossible to structure. Stream of thought dictation is the only bit that works somewhat, but that needs a lot of cleaning up afterwards. Judging by all podcasts I sampled over the years, it is something that happens to more people when confronted with a microphone (see the paragraph above). Maybe if it’s something more prepared like a lecture, or presentation, it might be different, but those types of speech have been prepared in writing usually, so there is likely a written source for it already. In any case, dictation never saved me any time. It is of course very different if you don’t have the use of your hands. Then dictation is your door to the world.

It makes me wonder how voice services are helping you? How is it saving you time or effort? In which cases is it more novelty than effectiveness?

Sometime last year I had a conversation with a friend who told me he was starting a new company together with his wife. I thought it was an inspiring and intriguing step, and also a logical extension of thinking of the household as an economic unit (after all, economics, after Aristotle(‘s student)’s work titled Οἰκονομικά, oikonimika, means household management).

We’re in a similar situation, both of us working as independent professionals. Regularly there are things where one of us might support the other with something, so both of us can be more effective in our work.

Today we sat down for a first scheduled and real conversation about how to augment each other’s efforts, and what steps to take. It is in part also a result of our sessions with our financial planner, which showed us the importance of more closely looking at our household as an economic unit, and less as two separate working individuals.

Some first actions have been formulated, and I hope we can keep up these conversations and sparring sessions.

Today I made my first Open Street Map edit. Open Street Map is a global map, created by its users (which includes lots of open government geographic data). My first edit was triggered by Peter Rukavina’s call to action. He wrote how he wants to add or correct Open Street Map data for a location when he mentions that location or business in his blogposts. He also calls upon others to do the same thing.

I don’t think I mention locations such as restaurants often or even at all in my blog, so it’s an easy enough promise for me to make. However, I did read and copy the steps Peter describes. First installing Alfred on my laptop. Alfred is a workflow assistant basically. I know Peter uses it a lot, and I looked at it before, and until now concluded that the Mac’s standard Spotlight interface and Hazel work well enough for me. But the use case he describes for quickly searching in a map through Alfred made sense to me: it’s a good way to make Open Street Map my default search option, and foregoing Google Maps. So I installed Alfred, and made a custom search to use Open Street Map (OSM).

The next step was seeing if there was something small I could do in OSM. Taking a look on the map around our house, I checked the description of the nearest restaurant and realised most meta-data (such as opening hours, cuisine, etc) were missing. I registered my account on OSM, and proceeded to add the info. As Peter mentions, such edits immediately get passed on to applications making use of OSM. One of those applications is a map layer showing restaurants that are currently open, and my added opening hours show up immediately:

My first edit also resulted in being contacted by a OSM community member, as they usually review the early edits any new user makes. It seems I inadvertently did something wrong regarding the address (OSM in the Netherlands makes use of the government data on addresses, BAG, and I entered an address by hand. As it came from a pick-up list I assumed it was sourced from the BAG, but apparently not). So that’s something to correct, after I find out how to do that.

[UPDATE: The fix was simple to do. The issue was that in the Netherlands the convention is to add meta data about stores to its corresponding address node (not as a separate node, unless there are more businesses at the same address). So the restaurant node I amended should not have been there. I copied all the attributes (tags) over to the address node, and then deleted the original node I edited. The information about the restaurant is now available from the address node itself. If you follow the link to the earlier node, you will now see it says that I deleted it.

I think it’s also great that within minutes of my original edit I had a message from a long time community member, Eggie. He welcomed me, pointed me to some resources on good practice and conventions, before providing some constructive criticism and nudge me in the right direction. Not by fixing what I did wrong, but by explaining why something needed improvement, and linking to where I could find out how to fix it myself, and saying if I had any questions to message him. After my correction I messaged him to check if everything was up to standard now which he acknowledged, ending with ‘happy mapping’. This is the type of welcoming and guidance that healthy communities provide. My Wikipedia experiences have been different I must say.
/UPDATE]

Frank Meeuwsen (in Dutch) writes about “what I don’t know”. Two things stand out for me from Frank’s post:
One is how he quotes Colin Devroe who on the same topic says he calls himself a Reverse Engineer, figuring something out when the need arises. I love that ‘job title’.

Second is how Frank puts curiosity forward as the key ingredient for anything. Curiosity takes you a long way he says. And it does. Which is why I get worried when I don’t have the energy to be curious about new things. Or when I realise I’m no longer truly curious about the needs and drives of clients. It’s often a sign something needs to change, or that I might need to move on. In the past few years there was little space for curiosity, mostly because we had five major life events happen in the space of 24 months and it took a year to settle back into ‘normal’. This is why I am glad I found my blogging voice back in the past 12 months. Over the last 16 years my blog has been a good instrument to trigger, feed and explore my curiosity. Me blogging more means I’m curious to expand my horizons again. It’s also why I want to get back into the habit of reading more non-fiction, as reading the thoughts of others usually triggers thoughts and questions to explore on my end. And it addresses part of the knowledge gap. Even if it never fixes it, after all everyone has chronical impostor syndrome.

Liked Wat ik niet weet by Frank Meeuwsen
Ik heb soms het idee dat mij meer kennis en intelligentie wordt toegedicht dan de werkelijkheid heeft te bieden. Er zijn onderwerpen en kennisgebieden waar ik iets meer dan gemiddeld in ben geïnteresseerd maar ik kan me moeilijk een echte specialist op een gebied noemen. Het is goed om te weten dat...

After my initial posting on this yesterday, Greg shares a few more quotes from his students. It reminds me of the things both teachers and students said at the end of my 2008 project at Rotterdam university for applied sciences. There, a group of teachers explored how to use digital technology, blogs and the myriad of social web tools, to both support their own learning and change their teaching. The sentiments expressed are similar, if you look at the quotes in the last two sections (change yourself, change your students) of my 2009 posting about it. What jumps out most for me, is the sense of agency, the power that comes from discovering that agency.

Replied to Some quick quotes on #edu106 and the power of #IndieWeb #creativity #edtechchat #mb by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry
....fun to figure out everything I wanted to do with my website,....gained a sense of voice...,...I’m so tired of all the endless perfection I see on social media......my relationship with technology changed....

This week, like last week, I spent two full days working with the Library Services Fryslan’s Frysklab team. We sat down to in full detail document our work and thinking on the ‘Impact Through Connection’ projects. At the start of 2017 we did a first pilot, of which the design was based on my networked agency framework. Since then several instances of the project have been delivered, and the team noticed a pressure to oversimplify it into something focused solely on the act of digital making. It’s a type of greedy reductionism, to have something novel fit into the existing, and judge it not by impact but by needed effort to deliver the project. This often means it needs to be reduced to a point where it no longer requires change of those doing the projects, and the cheapest form in which it is believed the same results can be claimed on paper. Even if the stated purpose of the project remains to create that change.


Our 8 person team writing sprint in progress (photo Bertus Douwes)

As I said last week it is a luxury to sit down with dedicated people and document all we know and experienced around these projects, so we can build new narratives to help others embrace its core tenets and not oversimplify.
Even though working with Mediawiki is a pain, we’ve put together a strong amount of material. In the coming weeks we will be slowly detailing and shaping that to turn it into useful material for different stakeholders for these projects (our team, our pool of facilitators, library staff, directors, school leaders, teachers, children, their parents and the people in their neighbourhood). Early next year we’ll get together again to reflect with a wider group of stakeholders on whether we need more or different things to add.


Discussing some of our material before getting back to writing. (photo Jeroen de Boer)

It was good to in a sprint like this create a living document we can now take forward at a more calm pace.

Our team every time is in awe of the energy the projects create. During the pilot project we were regularly cheered and applauded when arriving for a session with the class of 10 year olds. In the video below from the end of a project in the past days, our facilitators were sung to each in turn by the participating children.

This week and next week I am working with the Library Services Fryslan team (BSF), the ones who also run Frysklab, a mobile FabLab. We’re taking about 5 full days and two evenings to dive deeply into detailing and shaping the Impact Through Connection projects BSF runs. Those are based on my networked agency framework. Now that BSF has done a number of these projects they find that they need a better way to talk about it to library decision makers, and a better way to keep the pool of facilitators much closer to the original intentions and notions, as well as find ways to better explain the projects to participants.

It’s quite a luxury to take the time with 5 others to spend a lot of time on talking through our experiences, jotting them down, and reworking them into new narratives and potential experiments. It’s also very intensive, as well as challenging to capture what we share, discuss and construct. In the end we want to be able to explain the why, what and how of networked agency to different groups much better, next to improving the way we execute the Impact Through Connection projects.

After doing a braindump on day 1, we used the second day to discuss some of what we gathered, figure out what’s missing, what needs more detail. We’ve now started to bring all that disjointed material into a wiki, so that we can move things around, and tease out the connections between different elements. This will be the basis for further reflection, planning to end up with ‘living documentation’ that allows us remix and select material for different contexts and groups.

Currently I think we are at the stage of having collected a mountain of thoughts and material, without much sight of how we will be able to process it all. But experience tells me we will get through that by just going on. It makes the luxury of having allocated the time to really do that all the more tangible.

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Today I attended the public defense of the PhD thesis of Freddy Veltman-van Vugt, titled ‘Grensverleggend leren’ (roughly translates to ’moving the frontier of learning forward’). She focused on what it takes for teachers to learn and teach skills critical to our highly digitised and interconnected world in a self directed way. Her doctorate already started some 14 years ago (I think she started writing in earnest after her retirement), and I was invited because one of my all time favourite projects, the Homo Zappiens 2008 project, was one of four cases that were the subject of her empirical research. Ten years ago Freddy promised me to invite me to her public defense, and she kept word. This is the third time my work has become the object of study of a PhD thesis, and today I thought it’s a rather fun indicator of whether I’m working on something novel and worthwile. (The other two were my blogging practices and my open data work). Today when asked by one of the learned opponents at the defense, Freddy said she saw our 2008 project as one with the most compelling predictive value. During the reception afterwards she followed that up with the remark that our project from 10 years ago is still a rare and unique approach. She asked me if I had done any more projects like it, and actually there’s only the current project with the Library Service Fryslan ‘Impact through Connection’ that resembles what we tried to do then.

In the Homo Zappiens project about a dozen teachers of the Rotterdam university of applied sciences took a year to informally work together on changing their teaching towards more self-directed learning, while incorporating more of the affordances networked technology gives us. The form of the project was shaped exactly the same, self-directed, action-oriented. We held that you can’t learn to teach differently if that’s being taught the traditional way. The results clustered around authenticity, co-creation, the skills involved in creating that, knowledge transfer to colleagues not involved in the project, and formats for new or altered work forms during teaching to let form follow function. The project meant deep personal change for many of the members of our ‘gang’. Rediscovering the fun of learning, finding the guts to experiment, getting so much closer to students and colleagues. “I came to change my teaching module, I left having changed my world”. It’s a project I’m still very glad about, and I feel I was able to co-create what I think of as a Reboot—like turning point for the participants.

I also picked up a useful new word today from Freddy’s PhD thesis, “agency shyness”. She talked about the critical factors involved in self directed learning, and next to engaging with real intractable problems, then also referenced the guts needed to experiment in a settled working environment. Not all teachers she came across in her cases dared to experiment, to try and do things differently. They were shy to explore new agency.

Agency shyness is very much relevant to my current work with the Library Service Fryslan on networked agency. We encounter it in the teams we work with, in contrast with my own mission behind networked agency, battling feelings of disempowerment.

It was good to see Freddy get her doctorate, and to realise our 2008 project is still standing strong, and would still be novel to most. After ten years it is still an iconic project.

Something that strikes me as odd in addressing fake news, is that it’s almost exclusively focused on the information production and distribution. Not on the skills and strategies of the entity taking information in. Partly this is understandable, as forcing transparency on how your information might have been influenced is helpful (especially to see if what you get presented with is something others / everyone else is presented with). But otherwise it’s as if those receiving information are treated as passive consumers, not as agents in their own right.

“Our best defense against hostile influence, whatever its vector, is to invest in critical thinking skills at all levels of the population so that outlandish claims are seen for what they truly are: emotional exploitation for political or monetary gain”, wrote Nina Jankowicz on how Finnish society instills critical thinking skills.

The question of course is whether governments truly want to inoculate society, or merely want to deflect disinformation and manipulation from specific sources. Then it’s easier to understand where the focus on technology oriented solutions, or ones that presume centralised efforts come from.

In networks smartness needs to be at the endpoints, not in the core. There’s a lack of attention for the information strategies, filtering and interpreting tactics of those receiving information. Crap detection skills need to be developed for instance, and societies have a duty to self-inoculate. I think the obligation to explain* applies here too, showing others what you do and how.

Here’s a list of postings about my information habits. They’re not fixed, and currently I’m in the process of describing them again, and taking a critical look at them. What are your information habits, have you ever put them into words?

*The obligation to explain is something I’ve adopted from my friend Peter Rukavina: “The benefits of a rich, open pool of knowledge are so great that those who have learned have an obligation to share what they’ve learned.

From the recent posting on Mastodon and it currently lacking a long tail, I want to highlight a specific notion, and that’s why I am posting it here separately. This is the notion that tool usage having a long tail is a measure of distribution, and as such a proxy for networked agency. [A long tail is defined as the bottom 80% of certain things making up over 50% of a ‘market’. The 80% least sold books in the world make up more than 50% of total book sales. The 80% smallest Mastodon instances on the other hand account for less than 15% of all Mastodon users, so it’s not a long tail].

To me being able to deploy and control your own tools (both technology and methods), as a small group of connected individuals, is a source of agency, of empowerment. I call this Networked Agency, as opposed to individual agency. Networked also means that running your own tool is useful in itself, and even more useful when connected to other instances of the same tool. It is useful for me to have this blog even if I am its only reader, but my blog is even more useful to me because it creates conversations with other bloggers, it creates relationships. That ‘more useful when connected’ is why distributed technology is important. It allows you to do your own thing while being connected to the wider world, but you’re not dependent on that wider world to be able to do your own thing.

Whether a technology or method supports a distributed mode, in other words is an important feature to look for when deciding to use it or not. Another aspect is the threshold to adoption of such a tool. If it is too high, it is unlikely that people will use it, and the actual distribution will be very low, even if in theory the tools support it. Looking at the distribution of usage of a tool is then a good measure of success of a tool. Are more people using it individually or in small groups, or are more people using it in a centralised way? That is what a long tail describes: at least 50% of usage takes place in the 80% of smallest occurrences.

In June I spoke at State of the Net in Trieste, where I talked about Networked Agency. One of the issues raised there in response was about scale, as in “what you propose will never scale”. I interpreted that as a ‘centralist’ remark, and not a ‘distributed’ view, as it implied somebody specific would do the scaling. In response I wrote about the ‘invisible hand of networks‘:

“Every node in a network is a scaler, by doing something because it is of value to themselves in the moment, changes them, and by extension adding themselves to the growing number of nodes doing it. Some nodes may take a stronger interest in spreading something, convincing others to adopt something, but that’s about it. You might say the source of scaling is the invisible hand of networks.”

In part it is a pun on the ‘invisible hand of markets’, but it is also a bit of hand waving, as I don’t actually had precise notions of how that would need to work at the time of writing. Thinking about the long tail that is missing in Mastodon, and thus Mastodon not yet building the distributed social networking experience that Mastodon is intended for, allows me to make the ‘invisible hand of networks’ a bit more visible I think.

If we want to see distributed tools get more traction, that really should not come from a central entity doing the scaling. It will create counter-productive effects. Most of the Mastodon promotion comes from the first few moderators that as a consequence now run large de-facto centralised services, where 77% of all participants are housed on 0,7% (25 of over 3400) of servers. In networks smartness needs to be at the edges goes the adagium, and that means that promoting adoption needs to come from those edges, not the core, to extend the edges, to expand the frontier. In the case of Mastodon that means the outreach needs to come from the smallest instances towards their immediate environment.

Long tail forming as an adoption pattern is a good way then to see if broad distribution is being achieved.
Likely elements in promoting from the edge, that form the ‘invisible hand of networks’ doing the scaling are I suspect:

  • Show and tell, how one instance of tool has value to you, how connected instances have more value
  • Being able to explain core concepts (distribution, federation, agency) in contextually meaningful ways
  • Being able to explain how you can discover others using the same tool, that you might want to connect to
  • Lower thresholds of adoption (technically, financially, socially, intellectually)
  • Reach out to groups and people close to you (geographically, socially, intellectually), that you think would derive value from adoption. Your contextual knowledge is key to adoption.
  • Help those you reach out to set up their own tools, or if that is still too hard, ‘take them in’ and allow them the use of your own tools (so they at least can experience if it has value to them, building motivation to do it themselves)
  • Document and share all you do. In Bruce Sterling’s words: it’s not experimenting if you’re not publishing about it.

stm18
An adoption-inducing setting: Frank Meeuwsen explaining his steps in leaving online silos like Facebook, Twitter, and doing more on the open web. In our living room, during my wife’s birthday party.