Last week saw the third edition of BarCamp in Amsterdam. Located, just as the first one (and second BarCamp ever), at Mediamatic offices near Amsterdam Central Station, a small group of people gathered to discuss their projects. I am not a coder, but do like to talk about the wishes and dreams I have about my tools. As before this was the still evolving story I brought to the programme.


Listening to Robert on Roomware.

The full title of my topic was "The tools I need/want but that don’t exist yet, or I am unaware of."

I started with a sketch of the three major quantitative changes I see.
First an increase in connections between people (induced by new global infrastructure like mobile telephony and internet).
Second, an increase in speed and dynamics (when you build roads, you create traffic)
Third an increase in information until the level of abundance.

As our previous strategies to deal with connections, speed and information don’t scale into a networked globalized world, we see qualitative answers emerging.

Those qualitative answers are along the lines of:
First a more pro-active attitude, making your own sense of the world.
Second different priorities in existing and new information skills.
Third, new tools and work forms that cater to a pro-active attitude, and different information skills.

The shift I see, also in working with clients, away from the Web 2.0 avant garde, is to a higher level of cooperation: networked co-creation. Here I quoted Ivan Labra from his talk at BarCamp Brussels, where he distinguishes three maturity levels (sharing information, coordinating tasks, co-creation).

When I look at what this requires to build effective working routines, I see things like:
Pattern recognition, and taking those patterns as input signals.
Being human on-line: more subtle and granular negotiation of trust levels and intimacy in information exchanges.
Visualisation: what is the quality of my social network as a filter, where are the white-spots, echo-chambers, dark zones.
True co-creation: simultaneous editing, re-arranging and adding, in real-time.

What resulted was a good conversation, in which others gave some tips and pointers to tools that might provide buidling blocks (though most were familiar). Yahoo Pipes, Megite, Quartz, APML and Open Search were among those mentioned.

I also noted in this conversation how deeply ingrained a notion it is that we look at information piece-meal. Where my point is, that I don’t look at individual information pieces when I want to get a feeling for what is happening in my communities. I look at what they are talking about, not what they are saying immediately. When I have a specific question to answer, then I do read individual items/entries that look to provide parts of the answer.

My main take-away however was the realization, in line with the needed pro-active attitude mentioned above, that I need to dig into this deeper myself. Have a dive into sources on data-mining and into the pointers given.

It also triggered me to think about redesigning the way I gather and combine my RSS feeds. That is the topic for the next posting.

More pics of BarCamp Amsterdam can be found in my Flickr stream, and some video’s I life-streamed with my phone are at my Qik account.

On March 1st and March 2nd, the third BarCamp Amsterdam will take place. Initiated by Ralph, again Mediamatic in the Post CS building will be hosts to it. Boris Mann suggested (or more like told me) I attend. So guess what? I think I will. See Upcoming and the BarCamp wiki for more.

Kitchen session at the first Amsterdam BarCamp (and the 2nd BarCamp ever) (more pics)

What is on the menu at this third Amsterdam BarCamp?
First of all there will be a follow-up session of the Federating Social Networks session held last December. That will spill over in a full-blown BarCamp where the agenda of course is set by those attending.
I think I will do something on how web2.0 tools may be more useful in making sense of the world around you. Part of that is the way I’d like federating social network sites to work (taking me, not the networking site as the crucial element). Another part is how I actually build a socially filtered learning environment (aka connectivism) from my Web2.0 tools and what that means for the design and development of those tools. A continuation of my contributions at Barcamps in Brussels and Vienna really.
Interested in learning at and contributing to (which are essentially sides of the same coin) BarCamp Amsterdam? Make yourself known (here or here) and see you there! (Or find out about an upcoming BarCamp near you)

After a flight that killed my ears (I have a terrible cold, and cabin pressure doesn’t help), Elmine and I ended up at BarCamp Vienna. It turned out someone had already put my name up on the roster to do a session. That’s why at the end of the afternoon I found myself presenting, without hearing much. I felt unfit, and talked way too fast I guess.

Basically I told the same story Boris Mann and I did a session about at last weeks BarCamp Brussels. And at the end asked for thoughts, ideas and pointers that might help create social software tools that are better at using human relationships for navigation, aggregation and views/slices.
Two things were put forward at the end (people were tired at the end of the day, and I really did talk too fast) before discussion died down.

Sebastian Fiedler put forward that 3D environments might be a way of presenting information/networks in a different way. This might be a route to break out of the more usual notions on how to present information(patterns).
I don’t see much of that at this point, but that doesn’t mean much. What I do see is how e.g. in Second Life attempts are made to connect SL to the information landscape of the internet, similar to how at the same time efforts are made to connect the information landscape to the physical landscape more. A set of parallel processes that might cross-fertilize.

Another participant mentioned a Linux tool called Dashboard, that by its description sounded a bit like 43people.com, a way to build portfolios around individuals. That is interesting as a first step, but I would like to be able to do the same for groups and communities. In a metafor I used in Barbara Kieslingers blog, and which I mentioned today as well: I do not need to know which trees are in a forest to know if the forest is on fire. Only when I really want to know which specific trees are burning, do I need to zoom in. Communities are my forests in that regard, and I only need a notion of what is important to a community at some point.

Sunday BarCamp Brussels took place in the beautiful venue SAP Lounge. A good number of participants, most staying on after the Drupal Conference in the days before. I’m not a coder, open source developer or such, and these meetings are very much about that, but I like to go to these events to talk about what I expect and need my tools to do, and how they might be improved.

Boris Mann and I finally had the more extended conversation we missed out on during the Amsterdam BarCamp last year, and decided to turn it into an impromptu session in the so-called ‘passionate users’ stream. I certainly qualify for that! In 20 minutes we whipped up a couple of sheets and examples, announced the session, and sat down with a group of about 15 people to discuss.

We talked how my strategy to deal with information abundance, and preventing it from becoming information overload, is to look at the human relationships behind that information.
It seemed not for all present it was immediately clear that with relationships I did not mean relationships between information objects :).

By shaping your social networks and context as one of two information filters (the other being your own passions, objectives and tasks. Representing both inside out and outside in perspectives). For really doing that well, you need to be able to evaluate relationships more thoroughly, preventing echo chambers in your social network, and adding enough variety of perspective and diversity in background. You need to be able to track the available feedback circles (they are important for patternbuilding) and keep them from being too much one-sided (turn into echo-chambers). Our tools therefore need to put people much more at the center.

Basically we tried to bring across the notion that most social software, although keeping the human visible, still put the information very much at the center. Which is understandable since it functions as the object of sociality, but a lot would be gained if you would make the aggregation, different views, and navigation a lot more people centered. Then it would allow us to put the information abundance to good use even more, by letting us really do social information filtering.

Take RSS readers as an example, where I have different feeds tracking different pieces of context around a person. (I don’t track information in my feed reader, I keep in touch with people by tracking the various information traces they leave on the net) Why not be able to create a portfolio like structure as they have at 43people (which both the people themselves as well as you can add stuff to)? But then take it a step further. Build network pictures and use it as a navigational device, add in semantic analysis that brings the flow of conversation in to view. (last two examples taken from the work Anjo Anjewierden is doing)

So in short, I’d like:

  • tools that put people at the center (make social software even more social)
  • tools that let me do social network analysis and navigate based on that (as I already called for at GOR 2006)
  • tools that use the principles of community building as principles of tool design (an idea I had writing my contribution to BlogTalk Reloaded)
  • tools that look at relationships in terms of social distance (far, close, layers in between) and not in terms of communication channels (broadcasting, 1 to 1, and many to many)
  • tools that allow me to shield or disclose information based on the depth of a relationship, relative to the current content (like Vox and Flickr attempt to do rather clumsily by having fixed layers of contacts, friends and family)
  • tools that let me flow easily from one to another, because the tools are the channels of communication. Human relationships don’t stick to channels, they flow through multiple ones simultaneously and they change channels over time.

Now this is all complex. Not surprisingly, as human behaviour tends to be that way.
The challenge is in finding a set of heuristics (not unlike the community design principles perhaps) that allows us to keep the tools essentially simple. And then let the people using the tools build their own unpredictable complex and complicated patterns with them.

One of the new insights that I took away from the session was that this puts the whole identity on-line discussion in a new light for me. An angle that is well worth exploring, and I am glad that both Boris Mann and Gunnar Langemark showed themselves willing to give that angle some thought. My gut feeling here is that we do not need any form of objective identity in the passport like sense, but something that is embedded with the context where it is used. Which makes it simpler I think. Similar to what Jimmy Wales said at Reboot 7: I don’t need to know who you are exactly, as long as I am able to know you in Wikipedia. Meaning that a persons behaviour pattern is enough identity if it is consistent within the context relevant to you at that point.

Big kudos to Peter Forret and team for organizing it all, and also to Skynet who made the excellent venue and excellent catering possible (thanks Clo!)

On to BarCamp Vienna next Saturday to bring the same message. Or perhaps to talk about the need to punch more holes from the information landscape to the physical landscape and vice-versa (which is the ultimate barrier for flowing in and out of tools/channels while interacting with others).

During BarCamp Amsterdam last Friday I prepared a few sheets that in the end I didn’t use. As everybody was busy coding or already in a presentation, and by the end of the afternoon everybody was starting to concentrate on the beer in the fridge more, I didn’t see a useful window of opportunity to get a group together for what is basically a conversation around a question I have. It concerns peer to peer social networking, and at this point is much more about concepts than tools I think. So Roland, sorry I didn’t grab a room and presented this, but let’s see if this conversation can get off the ground here as well.
 
My starting point is the notion that Information Overload doesn’t exist. The perceived stress is the symptom of failing information strategies that work fine in an environment where info is scarce but do not scale to the information abundance the internet offers us.
 
social network as info filter
 
A good way to build strategies that do work in information abundance, is taking the social context of information into account.
pattern search key
 
Doing that you then look for patterns without paying much attention to individual information items (the outside-in approach), or focus and those singular items that relate to a specific list of topics that concerns your current goals and actions (inside-out approach). Also, as you look at information within its social context (that basically taking its human source into account)  you try to move up information paths and networks of your contacts that are the source of that information.
 
Moving up those paths, and having a clear notion of the social context of an information item, requires some social networking tools if done on-line. The first generation yasns (linked-in, openbc, tribe, orkut etc) don’t cut it for me. Firstly because they have my data somewhere else, in the clubhouse so to speak, and if I am to do anything with it I have to do it in that clubhouse. As if my whole life takes places there, and I am not meeting people in the on-line equivalents of my home, my friends houses, my fav pubs, and public squares etc. Also relations require substance, an object to revolve around. Networking for the sake of networking such as most yasns seem to only offer is useless. Flickr and Plazes on the other hand readily provide object to form and have relations around.
 
 
What I really want from social networking tools is:
a) to have my data at home, or at least in one, not service specific, location where I can control it.
b) to finely nuance the levels of trust around information items I share (so that e.g. friends see more in my blog than the general public.But being able to specify that seamlessly per item per context, not as general settings only or merely on/off)
c) to be in the center of my own network, be able to visualize that, spider it, and do that in real time and over time. (Like Anjo Anjewierden in the picture above, or Valdis Krebs does)
 
 
How to do that? I don’t know.
I would like to have a true peer to peer social networking platform. Also I’d like to have my own spiders and agents.
FOAF isn’t ready for this kind of thing I think, but we might look to an existing p2p infrastructure like Skype to be a carrier. Boris Mann pretty much repeatedly said Jabber can do anything during BarCamp, and seemed to be only half joking.
 
What do you think?