Posted by: jimmydlg | November 16, 2008

Twitter

Of all the technologies I’ve been introduced to recently, this is one that I had been biased to and found to my amazement, I had good reason for my apprehension.

Twitter is sort of a micro-blog that asks what are you doing now? The problem I’m having with it is I don’t particularly care what others are doing at any given moment. I can see using a blog to obtain specific, targeted and topical information, but from what I’ve experienced with Twitter so far, that doesn’t seem to exist.

While it may not be the purpose of Twitter to receive targeted or topical information, one of the things I noticed about all the recent technologies I’ve been introduced to, like WordPress, or NetVibes is that they seemed to filter out some of the noise of the net and allowed me to access the information that matters most quickly. Of the handful of twitter accounts I looked at, it seemed the goal of Twitter was to introduce as much noise as possible.

For example, clowdiaa feels important that the world knows:

I love how its completely acceptable to smoke out of a bong in a dorm
I did it to myself i cant blame anyone else but me…my spring schedule is coming along tho 🙂
Watching lion king 1 1/2, dont care that i have a 6pg paper and a shit load of russian hw to do

 

I know the best way to explore Twitter might not be to browse random users, but I don’t know anyone else using Twitter. In fact many of my friends ridiculed me for creating an account (as I would have them, given the types of Twitter users I have been previously exposed to.)

I did know of one person using Twitter, Ian Dixon has a blog I follow, and I noticed recently he had a “follow me” link at the top of his blog rss feeds. So I decided to follow him and see what he said:

Flip video is nice, my kids loved playing with it but the software is horrible
New Blog Post: Opportunity to beta test Windows Media Center: Over on TheGreenButton Micros.. http://tinyurl.com/6plgjs
New Blog Post: My Movies for Windows Home Server 1.02 adds Extender compatible DVD ripping:.. http://tinyurl.com/655x5u

 

I already have access to his blog, which I get updates on in my reader. But when viewing his twitter, I simply see notices he’s posted to his blog, along with details of his personal life.

Some users such as Darcy Norman even point out (even though he’s a twitter fanatic, or was at least) that when you’re forced to condense all your happenings into 140 words, you begin to lose connection with the deeper parts of relationships, since 140 words is so limiting and tends to be too few words to describe meaningful topics in any sort of depth.

In addition, while browsing for more information on Twitter itself, I frequently came across mention of a growing problem where bloggers are twittering more (with noise) and blogging less. I see blogs as extremely useful, and twitter as a toy, so I really hope this is not becoming a common practice.

I can understand that if i was interested in someone’s personal life I might enjoy a bit of twitter, but when is enough information too much information about someone? I really don’t think twitter is for me. Maybe there’s a very small niche use of it out there that may make sense, but so far it’s met my expectations and I don’t see myself continuing to use it.

Posted by: jimmydlg | November 8, 2008

Collective Intelligence

Collective Intelligence is certainly not a new way of groups showing more of an aptitude at performing a task or accomplishing goals together than they might have been capable of individually. In fact, the earliest cited example of collective intelligence may indeed be as old as 3.5 billion years (according to Howard Bloom, pg. 16,) as evidenced by the capacity of primordial cyanobacteria to create elaborate communities and prosper through the division of labor.

Collective Intelligence generally refers to the intelligence that emerges from the collaboration and competition of many individuals. There are many communities throughout our lives that can evolve to exhibit various levels of CI, for example, political parties, shared public forums, even users of massively multi-player online role playing games (or MMORPGS.)

Whenever a group of individuals collaborates on a large or massive scale where there is openness, peering, sharing and global acting, CI begins to emerge. CI, while a very powerful organization force, can be subject to errors promoted in society that bring about limitations to communication and ideas on such a large scale. Such emersions of degraded forms of CI are sometimes referred to as collective stupidity, and can be seen in the less than optimal decisions crowds of people sometimes make.

Recognizing this, the question was posed, is it possible to prevent humans from falling victim to collective idiocy and instead enabling them with machines and technology that exhibit an intelligence far greater than any individual or machine could alone?

Absolutely.

Machines are great at organizing information, and humans of course, are great at understanding it. While much advancement has been made in the area of artificial intelligence, at their core, computers are programmed to respond to given situations or information in a particular way. They alone are currently incapable of rationalizing new input into the complex series of social connections and integration that define the process of human understanding.

Humans of course are disadvantaged by the fact they are able to process information at a fixed rate, and while, information processing may be optimized or slightly accelerated from time to time, it certainly doesn’t seem to double with each generation of humans as it does with computers. And while our brains may have a comparable capacity of 3 terabytes or so, we are far more inefficient at recalling discrete facts than a computer. In fact, human recollection is generally tainted with memory gaps and substitutions.

Anytime you have two disparate but compatible groups (be it of technology, societies, or individuals) with similar goals that each have their own advantages, you can almost certainly expect a more favorable outcome by their introductions. In nature, this is most commonly seen as symbiotic relationships, and their existence is not only common, but expected.

By allowing humans to do what humans do best, understand, and computers to assist them by doing what computers do best, catalog, organize and connect, we have the recipe for a very stimulating and rewarding potential evolution of Collective Intelligence.

We’ve seen slight examples of the potential benefits of this already with wikis and Wikipedia, and the integration of information via services such as those offered by Google that allow people to “mash up” data and view these separate collections of data in new intelligent ways.

There will always be room for improvement, and although having a lot of information isn’t necessarily the same as having good information, I think by far we’ll see more of an improvement by paring humans and machines together in a collective intelligence forum than we won’t.

Posted by: jimmydlg | October 29, 2008

Practice Makes.. a Community?

Yes, it does (and “perfect” of course as well.)

Etienne Wenger sums up what communities of practice are concisely as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

He points out that communities of practice can be many things, such as a surviving tribe, band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems and even a clique of pupils defining their own identity in the school.

In order to be a true community of practice, three important characteristics must exist: a shared domain of interest, a common community of individuals pursuing their interest in their domain, and the actual practice, or, a shared repertoire of stories, tools, experiences and ways of addressing recurring problems.

Many of us have experienced communities of practice before, even if we haven’t realized it. I for one have encountered several of them throughout my professional career. I’ve both participated and lead shared mentorship communities of practice, as well as watch them grow in organizations building IT support teams from the ground up. In both cases, the development of these communities of practices not only benefited the participants, but the companies that employed them as well.

In fact, there has been a lot of research done on the benefit of communities of practice and how it relates to organization performance. IBM specifically points out that the development of communities of practice fosters the growth of social capital, which in turn positively influences business performance. Specifically, these influences:

  • Decrease the learning curve of new employees
  • Allow employees to respond more rapidly to customer needs and inquiries
  • Reduce rework and prevent “reinvention of the wheel”
  • Spawn new ideas for products and services
  •  

    I’ve personally found communities of practice invaluable in my various professions, however, I haven’t participated in them in every job I’ve ever held. Some companies are structured in a way that make communities of practice difficult to promote. In a government sponsored research project, Mike Burk points out that to be successful, communities of practice need the “right environment” which means they not only have to be formed legitimately in the eyes of the company, but they must not be scrutinized too carefully and need the appropriate tools to grow.

    In some jobs I’ve held, my team members were all sequestered from each other because interaction was thought to reduce a productive work environment. We frequently found that we had all reached the same solution via different paths (or reinvented the wheel.)

    Having realized the benefit of communities of practice however, I can say for sure I’ll be seeking them out in future endeavors. If I ever get the opportunity to employ enough workers to sustain a community, I’m going to be sure to encourage them as well.

    Communities of practice are invaluable to companies and have been and will be an integral part of my professional career and education. And now that I know what makes them successful, it should be easier to be a useful member in any I may encounter in the future.

    Posted by: jimmydlg | October 23, 2008

    Blogging Like a Pro

    So apparently if I simply write blog entries without attempting to attract users, my population of readers will most likely grow at an extremely slow rate (and I’d be considered an insular blogger.) Stephen Downes (in his article How To Be Heard) gives several useful pieces of advice on how to thwart a “languish” existence.

    Stephen Downes basically states we should have a plan with purpose, support to develop a reputation of trust towards a targeted audience, and relevant content (which many others see as an important characteristic of a successful blog.) We should then implement an attractive design on an existing blogging platform so as to make use of all the blog API goodies that go on in the background, such as Trackbacks (which are a way of informing authors of referral links that their content has been consumed on your blog) referrals, XML Syndication support and other such useful tools.

    To encourage people to visit your blog, you should have an official launch where you email your associates, list members, or friends letting them know your new blog is online.

    Stephen offers some excellent advice on how to attract blog readers, but I have to question if I really want the attention that might be attracted by leaving my blog address in my email signature, or shameless self promotion on other sites where I may be leaving comments.

    I have to honestly ask myself why I would want a large population of readers, and it seems a when you search around for tips on blogging you come across many posts by individuals describing blogging as a Blogging as a Source of Income (which would be one reason to have such a population of readers on hand.) While I might enjoy an occasional post to get my thoughts down and see how others may or may not react to my musings, I’m not sure that blogging intensely enough to maintain an active and attentive community of readers would interest me in itself.

    Of course, I’m not saying earning targeted advertising revenue off my blog would be a bad thing, but again, in the long run it may actually be less effective at generating income for me than say concentrating on my day job.

    For one, the idea of having to constantly come up with new ideas to blog for seems quite daunting. And even if I eventually got to the point where I had enough (enough interesting) things to say as to not bore or aggravate a reader, I would probably feel pressured to respond and manage comments, trackbacks, and blog topics.

    I definitely understand the benefits and requirements for having a successful blog, such as showing a potential employer I have no problems staying connected with others or sharing my ideas, however, in most cases I could see making my blog available enough so that the people it mattered to (such as a potential employer) could access it if they wished, without me having to promote myself to any level of significant popularity.

    It seems like the advice offered by Stephen Downes (and others such as Matthew Stibbe) would be extremely effective at drawing attention. I have a hard enough time keeping up with friends and family, let alone a mostly anonymous community of blog readers.

    I’m not saying I won’t leave comments with a link to my blog, occasionally market myself with search engines or aggregation services, and try to maintain my content and readers, but, I just don’t see myself centering my online presence around successful blogging behaviors. I think of a blog more of a casual hobby where whatever happens, happens. 🙂

    Posted by: jimmydlg | October 18, 2008

    Rich Site Summary (RSS)

    Most people are probably familiar with the general concept of RSS Feeds: a document that includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship. But why is this important and why is this special?

    Way back in 1997, Dave Winer got the idea to separate the content of his website from his website’s design. His website was www.scripting.com, and he called the process of separating the content Scripting News.

    When data is sent from a web server to your machine on the Internet, it’s sent as a series of letters, numbers, and other human readable characters (or letters on a computer screen.) When your browser receives this information, it parses it, or, breaks it up and figures out where to put it on the screen so the author’s intended rendition is displayed. One easy way to parse a language is by defining “Tokens” or common elements that signify keywords, or the beginning and and of specific elements.

    HTML contains a vastly limited vocabulary made up of these keywords that are used to describe position and formatting of content. In fact, HTML 4.0 contains only 91 keywords (besides any content text) that can be used to describe elements within HTML, and hardly any of these keywords were appropriate to accurately and concisely describe only the content itself.

    XML differs from HTML in that, instead of defining what content or tokens can be expected, it provides for the understanding necessary to describe any kind of content and is still easily parsed by browsers and other software. Think of HTML as music and XML as an MP3 player.

    RSS, and Dave Winer’s new “Scripting News” format is based off XML, not HTML, which affords an unlimited number of ways to describe the contents of that XML. What Dave Winer realized is that if he separated the Content from his design, anyone could format the Content in their own browser however they wished.

    When I gave the definition of RSS Feeds earlier, it was a definition describing the purpose of the documents generated in RSS. RSS itself is actually a specification, or a set of rules one must follow to generate an RSS document (or “feed”.) The flexibility of XML allowed developers to craft a special document that contained what they considered the perfect vocabulary for describing only Content, and while RSS has fewer keywords than HTML, they keywords in an RSS document precisely describe the content. Extending my analogy from earlier, RSS would be on the same MP3 player as HTML, but it would be audio book. Both music and audio books could describe stories, but you can see how an audio book’s sole purpose is to describe a story.

    In addition, because RSS content is standard, multiple RSS Sources can be combined in one location, or aggregated, without affecting the design of the consumer of those RSS Feeds.

    So here we have a convention for describing information that’s standardized, easy to parse, efficient (since it doesn’t contain unnecessary vocabulary), widely used and content can be easily aggregated. Because of these traits, RSS has wide reaching effects on the Internet (and on me as well.)

    Because it’s standardized, I don’t have to spend time concentrating on the design necessary to convey my ideas. I simply have to “fill in the form” and because of that I can spend more time concentrating on the content.

    Since RSS is easy to parse and efficient, I can use it on my Windows Mobile phone to easily access content through an aggregated news reader application and have recent and developing news right in the palm of my hands (and I have been making use of RSS from the Internet on my phone since around 2003, I’m currently trying out a new RSS reader called Viigo and it’s also available for BlackBerry.)

    Because RSS is widely used, I can gain the benefits of both publishing content and knowing it can easily be integrated by others as well as having a vast array of content to choose to acquire myself. This in itself means that I could enjoy the fact my opinions in a personal blog could reach many people, or my ideas in a professional blog could help promote my business.

    Also, since RSS can be so easily aggregated, I spend much less time visiting page after page to get the new information that matters most to me, and more time digesting that information.

    With RSS I can stay informed and inform others.. what more could I ask for?

    Posted by: jimmydlg | October 13, 2008

    Personal Learning Environments

    If you dig around this Web 2.0 stuff long enough, you’re bound to come across the term PLE. A PLE is simply “a system that helps learners take control of and manage their own learning.”  This is contrary to the concept of a Learning Management System (or LMS) which many of us may have experienced as online course based training software, or student workflow systems that outline and manage education topics in much the same way.

    Web 2.0 offers an ideal platform to build Personal Learning Environments (or PLEs,) which helps extend the collaborative learning process fostered by Web 2.0 environments themselves. Think of PLEs as a network of closely related pages, each a tool for a specific resource in the set of resources that encompass your learning or knowledge goals.

    Because PLEs reflect resources specific to both you and your knowledge purposes, they can and are expected to vary greatly from person to person. The fact that they are so varied can make describing one a bit difficult, but I’ll try anyway as an example of what my own PLE might look like.

    If I were to have a “professional” PLE, that’s, a PLE to help foster my professional education (which deals with the programming, development, and hosting tasks of a Microsoft and Microsoft.NET environment,) it would most likely contain sites or “tools” that link to various documentation sites, code practice resource sites, sites with source code examples, blogs about software development, and sites that aggregate information about current developments within the software I use.

    While PLEs are a great concept, there’re several barriers that exist currently that hinder their adoption, such as an overwhelming set of tools, no formal definition, and having access to the technology and software to successfully execute a PLE. Most of these stem from the fact that the concept is still much in it’s infancy. These barriers should disolve over time as the definition becomes more formal, and education and training on PLEs themselves improves (since their facilitation and use may be more complicated than a LMS).

    Regardless of any challenges that exist, many individuals are moving forward with their own PLEs. PLEs are a natural extension to the internet and it’s their inherent purpose of fostering lifelong learning that make them attractive and worth the effort.

    Posted by: jimmydlg | October 9, 2008

    What is Web 2.0?

    One of the most profound notions I discovered when researching “Web 2.0” was that it wasn’t an evolution in graphics or design as I thought, or even an evolution in the capabilities of software platforms and standards. The idea more accurately refer how software developers and end-users consume information from the web in a collaborative, interactive and interconnected environment.

    I typically spend time injesting knownledge specific to either my working or personal environment. As I haven’t been in critical need of understanding full what “Web 2.0” was describing, I always had a vague idealization of the term in the back of my mind. Honestly, I think the reason I never grasped the concept more fully was because as it turns out, the concept of “Web 2.0” is more abstract than literal.

    In addition to being abstract concept (or maybe because it is an abstract concept) “Web 2.0”, (which I’ll stop quoting) is comprised of several key concepts, a conglomoration of ideas. It is itself its own definition in a way.

    Web 2.0 was first described in Tim O’Reilly’s essay as a product of a brainstorming session between O’Reilly and MediaLive International; a collaboration itself that mimicks the openess and desire to share and exchange information that Web 2.0 seeks to employ.

    This is, of course, completely contrary to how even I myself operate now. Knowledge to me has always been precious, and valuable. It’s a commodity that I can package, market and sell through a portfolio, resume, and client base. And this is exactly what Web 2.0 seeks to open, not just for me, but for many other individuals, companies, and communities.

    Porfitable Web 1.0 Sites in the past followed the same line of thinking I myself have: The user sees what they need to see to purchase a product, and moves on. By encouraging the process of collaboration, self maintaining content, open protocols for integration, and the design aspects that help accomplish these processes, such as AJAX for a fast and more immediate user experience, or streamlined graphic elements to eliminate clutter, not only can business earn loyalty, but they can inspire and benefit from ideas based on an entire community.

    Since Web 2.0 Sites are generally maintained from a wide and diverse set of sources, content is both varied and ever changing. This gives existing users a reason to visit the site to participate, and allows new users a path to arriving at the site. It also fosters customer feedback and product improvement discussion, further cementing the business/customer relationship in addition to providing many other benefits.

    So why aren’t all companies rushing to pursue Web 2.0 design philosophies? Well, for starters, there has been a decent amount of criticism over the concepts of Web 2.0, intentions and origins, attempting to dismiss them as fads, marketing ploys, or investment capital generating buzz words. Some see Web 2.0 as an attempt to ignite a new “dot-com” boom, and are fearful of repeating past mistakes or skeptical of a return on investments. It’s hard to argue however with the pattern of success that has long since emerged from Web 2.0 startups and even though corporate America is well known for being less nimble in the face of change than smaller companies, they are also known for agressivley pursuing profit.

    Web 2.0 is not a new concept. It’s new to me personally, but it’s certainly been around for some time. It’s exciting to see the concept’s evolution from the outside, and because it’s core tenants include cooperation, open apis and even community spirit, I’m sure it’ll be even more exciting from the inside.

    Posted by: jimmydlg | October 9, 2008

    In Addition…

    In addition to being new to the blog scene, I’ve also created a Net Vibes account and a public portal for some information I plan to aggregate.

    NetVibes allows you to create a public facing (as well as private) portal where you can aggregate information, add modules similar to iGoogle, and maintain links to friends’ NetVibes portals as well.

    I still plan to link information from this page as well, for example, my good friend Tom Kidd‘s blog, but NetVibes seems like a handy way to organize information, and it was quick and easy to set up as well.

    Posted by: jimmydlg | October 8, 2008

    Hello world!

    Hello World is special to programmers, and being a software developer, I think I’ll keep this title. It’s fitting that one of my first programs written with “Hello World” will share some commonality with the first blog I’m writing.

    I’ve never been a fan of writing arbitrary topics for random reading in a public environment. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading content written by others, but I’ve always questioned what relevance my own topics would have to anyone else but me.

    People who know me also know I sometimes may be a slight bit opinionated and frequently get into long “discussions” where I tend to enjoy proving my point. I’ve always imagined that if I had a blog, I would end up invariably defending myself in topics I wrote. To me, this didn’t (at the time) seem like a reasonable use of my time, however, given that I’ve frequently gained insight from the Blog’s of others, perhaps there is someone who might find an opinion or two of mine useful.

    Therefore, I’m looking forward to exploring the world of blogging, and hopefully, it will be useful to both myself and others as well.

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