Economics


11
Jan 14

Twitter and the Reputation Economy in 2014

Back in 2009 when Twitter Lists first came out, I had a little epiphany about the reputation economy.  It isn’t just what you say about yourself online, but what others say and post about you in the aggregate, and all the associated metadata of your online life, that can define “who you are” in the Metaverse.  That only seems to be more true as time has gone on, and despite the over-hype of the “reputation economy” buzzword, I still find it interesting and potentially meaningful, but only if the measures of reputation are accurate.  We’re definitely not there yet, and I’m not sure we’re really any further than we were in 2009, either.

It’s hard to do an analysis of accuracy for anyone but myself, but if I had to say which system seems to currently have the best measure of “who I am” based on what others say about me, I’d have to say it’s not Klout, or LinkedIn Endorsements or any of those obvious attempts to measure reputation.  The best measure as far as I can tell is actually Twitter.  What Twitter Lists people have placed me in, which isn’t obvious at all, and isn’t even something Twitter seems to explicitly leverage as a measure of reputation, is actually a pretty good measure!

[A brief aside, I’m sad that Twitter seems to have buried Lists and made them almost non-obvious, since as far as I’m concerned, Lists are a crucial component of making Twitter useful at all.  Many folks who joined Twitter after Lists came out don’t even seem to know they exist!  If you happen to be one of those unfortunate souls, get thee to your Twitter page > Me > Lists > Create List and start categorizing people.  Or click “Member of” to see what lists others have added to you to.  I bet you’ll find some of them very surprising, hopefully in a good way.  And after you’ve made some lists, tools like TweetDeck will suddenly make a LOT more sense to you, and your Twitter stream will become much more meaningful, relevant and less.. ephemeral.]

But back to the topic.  So what does my Twitter network say about me?  Some pretty good stuff, actually:

Twitter Lists Word Cloud for Fleep

When I boiled the List Names down, I got 191 unique terms and, though I modified the frequency to make the word cloud readable (if I hadn’t, all you would see is: Second Life, Virtual Worlds, Education, Immersive, Cincinnati, which were the top 5 list names), I’d say that’s a really accurate representation of my online life.  It accurately reflects my professional and geeky interests, and if you dig in there a bit, it tells you my gender, where I live, what I do for a living, some of the books I’ve read, games I’ve played, conferences I’ve attended, that I’m old enough to be on someone’s BBS list, and if I can say it humbly, that overall people have a pretty positive opinion of me.   

I am of course quite biased, but I think I have a pretty awesome network of super intelligent people who love digging into the future of technology and education, and who like to think about what all this emerging tech will mean for the future of society, so it’s all the more interesting to see what kinds of categories they create for themselves and where they place me within that context.  (I confess to having some warm fuzzies after seeing how the word cloud came out, so thanks Twitter peeps!)

LinkedIn’s Endorsements are another interesting measure, though of a slightly different sort.  I’d say it’s also fairly accurate, but it pretty much captures only my professional interests and misses all the personal, quirky, or other interests I have.

LinkedIn Endorsements for Fleep 2014

Some folks I know have also complained that they get endorsements for skills from people who aren’t even in a position to know whether or not they have any expertise in that topic, and that happens to me, too.  But in general, I’d say LinkedIn Endorsements are less a measure of what you are actually skilled at doing and more a measure of what people think you are skilled at doing.  They aren’t the same thing, but both are interesting and useful measures.

By comparison, I would say Klout is the least representative of the various “reputation economy” or influence measures about me.  I don’t know how they weight stuff, but it looks like the Klout list was probably fairly accurate about 5 years ago, but as my focus, interests, and activities have changed, Klout hasn’t seemed to have kept up.  It captures the same top 5 categories as Twitter Lists, but that’s about it.  None of the nuance, history, and none of the topics I’ve become interested in since.. what, their initial calculations?  I’m not sure.

I should also admit some bias here, I became very aggravated with Klout when they sent me what seemed like an email every few days to tell me my Klout score was going down, when at the time I was helping take care of my grandpa who was dying of cancer.  The insensitivity of it really struck a nerve, like I should really give a hoot about my Klout score at a time like that?  And how meaningful a measure could it possibly be if I’m less influential because I’m offline doing something important?

No matter what Klout says, I know my network values human life and knows what is and isn’t truly important.  In fact, my guess is that my network would probably rank my reputation higher for having been a dedicated caregiver, not lower.

And of course that’s the big problem with all of these reputation or influence measures – the algorithms can’t yet measure what’s REALLY important: trustworthiness, competence, honesty, reliability, compassion, dedication, clarity, ability to synthesize and make meaning from complexity.  These are the measures I really want to know about someone, and as far as I can tell, there’s nothing out there like that yet.

The Twitter List names that people create for themselves, some of which touch on values not just buzzwords, are the closest I’ve seen to anything like those kinds of measures, which for me makes Twitter a potentially overlooked but pretty important tool in the reputation and influence measure toolkit in 2014.


7
Jan 14

How Do We “Immunize” Society Against Technology Futures We DON’T Want?

Recently The Guardian published an interesting critique of the TED Talks series by Benjamin Bratton that I’ve been thinking about since I read it.   The piece asks what good does it do for TED to take extremely complex topics and boil them down into 20 minute presentations, which are viewed as infotainment by a certain segment of people, and then not much gets done about the issues being discussed.  I think it’s an interesting critique, and as someone who organizes technology conferences, I often worry that if we all just come and do a lot of talking and not much afterwards, what purpose has the conference really served?  I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts.

Beyond the critique of TED Talks, however, there were two lines in particular that really struck me:

Because, if a problem is in fact endemic to a system, then the exponential effects of Moore’s law also serve to amplify what’s broken.

And the concept of not just innovating but also “immunizing” society:

The potential for these technologies are both wonderful and horrifying at the same time, and to make them serve good futures, design as “innovation” just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself. We need to talk more about design as “immunisation,” actively preventing certain potential “innovations” that we do not want from happening.

Regarding the exponential effects of Moore’s Law, I’ve written before that I think our public institutions (government, academia, social structures) aren’t just failing to keep pace with changes in technology, but that the technology itself is amplifying their (our) failures.  Wherever a gap existed before the information age, now it’s becoming a gulf (think income disparity, socio-economic mobility, access to real political power).

Whatever minor systemic failures or bureaucratic quagmires that crept in during the industrial age are turning into full-blown catastrophic disasters in the information age. See the US Congress or our public education system for stark examples, both represent not just a failure to adapt to a changing world, but technology is also amplifying the ills inherent in those systems with truly catastrophic results – a congress that has gone from dysfunctional to not functional at all, and a public school system that is failing the very students it was designed to help – the poor, the underserved, the first-generation students.

We talk and read about “disruptive innovation” every day in the tech and business press, but often its in the context of “creative destruction” as some new business model or product displaces an old one, and in general that’s seen as a positive outcome in a “free” market system.  But for public systems and institutions, those public goods that have no profit or market incentive, this amplification of the broken is really very scary to me and I am not at all convinced that privatization of public systems is the answer (which is why I don’t support charter schools or for-profit education businesses, no matter how innovative they promise to be – MOOCx blah blah blah).

The most important things in life can’t be quantified in dollars and we can’t “innovate” a business model or technology solution that changes that basic fact.

So where does that leave us?  I’m not sure, but I’m intrigued by Bratton’s concept of “immunizing” society against the futures we don’t want, and I’m wondering just how we might go about doing that.  Bratton says:

Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true.  “Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.

.. and I’m inclined to agree.  I think those of us who consider ourselves technology evangelists and futurists need to think long and hard about these questions.

As a practical step, perhaps one way to help “immunize” society against the technology futures we don’t want would be to make sure that every talk we give, every presentation, every slide deck (or Prezi or whatever), every workshop has a section about possible NEGATIVE outcomes of the technology we’re talking about, and what we could or should do to avoid it?  If we’re going to spread the word about new tech, don’t we have a responsibility to also discuss the possible negative effects? Perhaps as conference organizers and workshop planners, we need to include not just positive visioning, activities, and keynotes, but  sessions that specifically talk about the possible negative outcomes?

I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m thinking about and want to keep in mind.


2
Oct 12

“The problem is joblessness..”

No time to write a post, but I found this quote very compelling and didn’t want to lose it in the shuffle of browser tabs:

“The problem is joblessness, and the problem is very concrete. You don’t have to be a genius to look around the society and say, ‘look, something is going wrong. There is a huge mess of people who want to work, there is an enormous amount of work that has to be done, there are plenty of resources, and for some reason those things can’t be put together.’ That tells you there is something deeply pathological about the general socio-economic system.”

Who said it?  Does it matter?  Don’t you think that’s pretty much the crux of the issue?

Raw Story (http://s.tt/1oSRB)


11
Sep 12

A September Eleven Blue Sky

In a moment of tragedy or crisis, it’s strange what single detail stands out most among a thousand details of a scene. Some people remember where they were standing when they saw the towers fall on tv, some remember who they lost that day.

For me, the single detail I remember most is a certain shade of blue sky that I will always think of as September Eleven Blue. As I walked to work after spending hours glued to the television set, my brain was on some strange surreal loop. I kept looking up into the most pristine and sparkling blue sky I’d ever seen and thinking over and over:  How could this happen? How could someone deliberately fly a plane full of people into a building full of people on such a beautiful sunny day? How could this happen?

The horror of it was more than I could fathom, it seemed somehow all the more horrific against that backdrop of happy blue – as if tragedy could only happen when it’s storming outside.

Image courtesy of New York Social Diary, “The Morning of September 11” by Alexandra Lebenthal

I don’t think I’ve ever posted a reflection on that day before, because in the weeks and years that followed, I became exhausted by and to the whole spectacle of 9/11. Instead of engendering feelings of patriotism or love of country, the cheap plastic flags and yellow ribbons pasted on every available surface, car, window, and t-shirt came to feel very cheap indeed – hollow symbols of a feeling of unity that lasted for only a brief millisecond before we turned to, not politics as usual, but far worse, the politics of fear and retribution. I didn’t know then that it would eventually lead to the War on Terror and the War on Iraq and the War on Afghanistan, so many wars on so many things, I just knew that I felt numb and frightened and suddenly very painfully aware of how fragile life is.

I had friends and colleagues who seemed for a while to need to know every gory detail of every victim’s last moments, but I didn’t. I didn’t listen to the last voice mails and the 911 recordings, I didn’t watch the videos of the people jumping, I tried not to imagine what it would have felt like to be in that plane over Pennsylvania, or to be burned alive or buried in the rubble. I couldn’t. For me, the horror of what I already knew was enough and the fascination with the tragic details felt repulsive – I couldn’t understand it. They have a name for that phenomenon now, disaster porn they call it.

To me it just felt somehow.. disrespectful. And something worse, some word I can’t put a name to, that thing that makes us gawk and take some creepy pleasure in seeing other people’s agony. Or maybe using other people’s agony to fuel our own ugly impulses, to go kill whoever was responsible, even if it meant killing hundreds of thousands of other completely innocent people as collateral damage to salve our wounded American soul.

I was afraid, back then, to even say words like these. To not feel a burning patriotic fervor to hunt down the evil-doers in the post-9/11 world was to be a traitor. In the city where I live, conservative, religious, American heartland Cincinnati, Ohio, it was impossible to avoid the forwarded-hundreds-of-times email chain letters (this was before Facebook or Twitter existed) about how we would destroy Osama bin-Ladin and every “towelhead” who got in our way. Jingoism doesn’t begin to describe it, I saw blood lust even in the eyes of my mild mannered office mates. That scared me far more than the terrorists did, far more than whatever horrible thing al-Qaida might have planned. I became afraid of my own countrymen and my own government more than I was afraid of any shadowy enemy in the middle east.

Terror Alert: Orange lasted for years afterwards. And when it was over (is it over? will the wars ever be over?) I felt mostly sadness that all those people died so tragically, and sadness that in their names we destroyed nations and our own civil liberties. That so many of our own young men and women in the military had paid as high a price as the victims of 9/11 in as senseless a tragedy through the War in Iraq.

Another Anniversary, Another Election

As another 9/11 anniversary approaches, another presidential election, I can’t help but think back about that time and how that incident really did change us. How it really did change the trajectory of our nation, our politics, our financial security. For a long time there was that cynical joke about how if you do X, the terrorists win.  I sometimes think, looking back, that the terrorists did win, and win big.  9/11  changed so much about our culture, made us so much more willing to surrender our privacy and our human rights for often just the illusion of security.

One of the things that struck me about the political conventions this year was how little 9/11 was mentioned, how little the history of the last 10 years was discussed beyond the current economic issues and pandering to military voters.  There was little acknowledgement even from the Democrats about the truly brutal, dishonest, and frightening Bush administration.  They didn’t really tell the narrative about exactly how and why the Republican Party led us into disaster and how and why it would be disasterous to put them back in charge of the White House again.  Why didn’t they tell that story more forcefully?

For my part, I felt an enormous amount of rage towards the those who had led us to that precipice.  After spending billions or trillions of dollars in Iraq, after pushing through tax cuts for the wealthy, after de-regulating financial reforms put in place to protect us from another Great Depression, the Republicans marched us to catastrophe.  In US Economic Crisis – “Privatizing Gains, Socializing Losses”, I wrote:

The REPUBLICAN PARTY, representing free-market capitalists, has largely had their way in terms of economic policy, they passed their tax cuts, they gutted many of the laws put in place after the Great Depression, and theysuccessfully protected the profits – the sickeningly vast profits – of a very, very tiny percentage of very, very wealthy Americans. […]

I am angry. Afraid. Worried. The REPUBLICAN PARTY has quite literally wrapped themselves in the American Flag and used every dirty trick in the book to keep the average, church-going American distracted by issues like guns, abortion, and gay marriage so they can rob our country blind. And they seem to be getting away with it.

When does it stop? When does the party of “Country First” actually start putting the country – the whole country, not wealthy investors – first?

It was a welcome relief to me when Obama was elected at the end of that year. Obama’s campaign rhetoric stirred in me some of those patriotic and hopeful passions I remembered from the days before 9/11, when I still believed that reasonable people could find some agreement.  That’s back when I thought most Republicans were conservative like my grandpa, a staunch life-long Republican, who I loved and respected greatly, even as I passionately disagreed with his philosophies about human nature.  Where he and I found common ground, I assumed so would be the case between the Left and the Right.  I thought love of country and the need to help each other in such dire times would bring some kind of relief from the endless political bickering.

But I was disappointed to discover that we were more divided by partisan zealotry than ever before.  Obama’s complete cop-out on a single payer system, or even a public option, for healthcare reform, his wholesale embrace of the Right’s solution did nothing to quell the divide.  Such a pitiful excuse for a “socialist” solution to the healthcare problem was so well spun by the Right that it led to the birth of the Tea Party nutjobs and the “Keep the government out of my Medicare” protests.  Republicans in Congress began their steadfast refusal to do anything but say “no”, be damned the consequences, including the debt ceiling fiasco that actually led to the downgrading of our nation’s credit rating.

These last few years, it has seemed as if all sanity has flown the coop.  One cannot reason with those who are unreasonable, those who do not believe in science, or education, those who would rather scream about God than have any faith in or compassion for each other – those who seem to revel in the disaster porn that our nation has become.  The divide has become such a chasm, I wonder what America they are even living in, because it doesn’t seem like the one I am living in.

The only exception to these political divisions seemed to be the night Osama bin-Ladin was finally killed. I wrote about how it felt to experience that moment with others through Twitter, and just like with 9/11 itself where I could not feel pure hatred and bloodlust, I could not feel pure joy and glee that we killed bin-Ladin, either.  I felt somewhat ashamed of the reactions; disgusted by the calls to literally put bin-Ladin’s head on a spike as if we should engage in some gruesome medieval display of power.  Reflecting back, I wrote:

 By my view, the world really did change on September 11th, and it has been a long, brutal, depressing decade since. Whatever innocent naivete I still held at the wise old age of 25 began to crumble as those towers fell and the 10 years since have held many bitter lessons still. Wars that seem unending and against people and ideologies that are complex and don’t lend themselves to simple narratives about “defeating our enemies”. A decade of absolute fiscal corruption and robbery that would have made the robber barons blush. A political system that seems barely functional on the good days and completely ill equipped to address any of the real issues facing our nation. Catastrophes like Katrina from mother nature, and catastrophes of our own making, leaving people without homes and jobs and even those of us who still have both ever fearful that they could disappear tomorrow.

” A nation that can’t resolve sensibly any issue that matters..”

I’ve been pretty candid about my political views.  I’ve written about why I consider myself a progressive, and about the values and beliefs that guide my political conscience.  I know that other people value other things, have beliefs that are different than mine, and I can accept and understand that.  What I can’t understand, what I can’t accept, is pretending as if this history didn’t happen: Two wars costing trillions of dollars, millions of wounded, and hundreds of thousands of lives lost.  An economic disaster that triggered a global crisis, erased a decade of wealth in the US, and left millions of our own people in desperate straights.  These two things frame the beginning and the end of the last decade of our nation, and both of them happened under the leadership of the Republican Party, and with little to no meaningful dissent from the Democratic Party.

This history leads the partisan part of me to want to ask anyone who’s even considering voting for Mitt Romney – what the heck are you thinking?  Have you completely forgotten that it was a Republican led White House that took us falsely to war in Iraq?  Have you completely forgotten that it was Republican led de-regulation of the financial industry that led us to this depression/recession/whatever mess?  Aren’t you absolutely horrified by the voter suppression, the racism, the insulting belief they should control women’s bodies, the religious zealotry, the anti-science, anti-education, anti-common-freaking-sense craziness of today’s Republican Party?

But make no mistake, that partisan part of me is just as furiously angry with an Obama administration who has not closed Guantanamo Bay, not ended either war, continued and even extended some of the worst parts of the Patriot Act, who completely caved on the Bush era tax cuts, whose administration has not done more to help homeowners and average working people after bailing out big business and big banks, who has not prosecuted those who were responsible for the collapse, or passed any reasonable legislation to stop it from happening again.

Indeed, I am left feeling that, while I’ll be voting for Obama again this election because the lunatic right just isn’t an option, the entire system is so corrupt that a vote for Obama or even a win for Obama is just a degree in difference, not kind.  When Lessig points out that:

A tiny number of Americans — .26 percent — give more than $200 to a congressional campaign. .05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. .01 percent give more than $10,000 in any election cycle. And .000063 percent — 196 Americans — have given more than 80 percent of the individual super-PAC money spent in the presidential elections so far.

These few don’t exercise their power directly. None can simply buy a congressman, or dictate the results they want. But because they are the source of the funds that fuel elections, their influence operates as a filter on which policies are likely to survive. It is as if America ran two elections every cycle, one a money election and one a voting election. To get to the second, you need to win the first. But to win the first, you must keep that tiniest fraction of the one percent happy. Just a couple thousand of them banding together is enough to assure that any reform gets stopped.

Some call this plutocracy. Some call it a corrupted aristocracy. I call it unstable. Just as America learned under the Articles of Confederation, where one state had the power to block the resolve of the rest, a nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.

.. what else can a simple working girl like me think but that the whole game is just plain rigged?  When so many pressing issues of our time go unaddressed while we spend billions and billions of dollars and months and months of time on campaigns, not just for president, but for congress and governors and local officials as well, it seems that the entire system is just plain failing us. I feel so frustrated, so distrustful, so dissapointed in what has become of our country since 9/11, that I am paralyzed by it.

Many things have changed since the Twin Towers fell, but eleven years later, I’m still looking up into a September Eleven Blue sky caught in that surreal loop, wondering how all these things could have happened.  Just as I wondered how on earth someone could deliberately fly a plane full of people into a building full of people on a perfectly beautiful sunny day, I wonder what kind of craven souls could deliberately be playing political cat and mouse with each other instead of dealing with the enormous challenges facing our country – or worse, how it has come to be that we the people seemingly have no more power to stop this calamity than we had to stop those towers from falling.

Lessig ends by saying that a nation that can’t resolve sensibly any issue that matters is a nation that will fail.  I’m afraid he’s right.

 


13
Mar 10

Cincinnati Food Security: A Community Assessment

For my second learning mission on EVOKE, I read a Master’s thesis entitled Cincinnati Food Security: A Community Assessment written by Brandy Jeanette McQueary at the University of Cincinnati (2008).

From the paper’s abstract:

This study investigates whether residents within the City of Cincinnati, Ohio have equal food access. For the purpose of this project, literature was reviewed from the following disciplines: international development, sociology,  environmental science, urban policy, geography, planning, health, nutrition, and economics. For the purpose of this study, food access evaluates both geographic and social character. The research project establishes whether food deserts exist within Cincinnati neighborhoods, and whether a correlation exists between neighborhood social character and food insecurity.

From the paper’s first couple of chapters, I learned more about the definitions of phrases like “food security” “food deserts” “grocery gap” and other terms defined by international as well as US organizations. This helped me to better understand the research. I also learned some interesting facts about food production and security in the US:

  • In the US, just 10 companies supply more than half of the food and drink consumed in this country.
  • Farmers account for less than 1% of the US population.
  • Food travels 2,000 miles on average from farm to plate in the US.
  • Inner-city shoppers sometimes pay as much as 40% more for basic grocery items than suburban shoppers.
  • Food production and delivery systems are often not considered or accounted for in urban planning models.

While I was aware that food production and distribution chains have consolidated tremendously in the last few decades, I didn’t realize just how much! And it was disturbing to discover how vulnerable inner-city populations are to food insecurity, and that urban planning often fails to address food system needs at all. Food is so basic to community sustainability (obviously!), it is shocking to realize that city planners don’t even take it into account!

After the introductory information about the topic and laying out the terms and definitions to be used for the study, the paper continued with its primary objectives, to identify all the grocery facilities in the Cincinnati metro area, defined as fifty-two Cincinnati neighborhoods, and to identify if there were “food deserts” in Cincinnati. A grocery store was considered to have a service area of 1/2 mile radius around the store, since that is the distance a healthy person could walk within 15 minutes to reach the store.

Based on McQueary’s survey of grocery stores in the Cincinnati area, I learned:

  • Cincinnati is home to 165 grocery stores – 91 supermarkets, and 74 convenience stores.
  • Of the 52 neighborhoods in Cincinnati, not one is completely food secure.
  • 31 neighborhoods do not have a single grocery store within their boundaries.

And significant portions of the Cincinnati metro area could be defined as a “food desert” as indicated in this graphic (all areas outside the circles):

external image 4429654088_7e95174965.jpg

Based on this research, it appears that Cincinnati is not nearly as “food secure” as I would have thought, for being such a large metropolitan area surrounded by extensive farmland in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. These findings are quite disturbing!

My mom and I have talked about finding out if a community garden exists in our neighborhood, and if not, maybe we should start one, and this research just reminds me that we need to get moving on that.    Mom, are you reading this?  Call me!


25
Jan 10

“Fear the Boom and Bust” a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

This is hysterical!  And sure maybe a little overdone, but economics lessons that make you laugh can’t be all bad, right?

Thanks @ThomasStone for the link. 🙂


8
Nov 09

Educause 09, Copyright/IP in Virtual Worlds, Dusan’s War

This week seemed impossibly full of interesting, with not enough time to process.  Wait, who am I kidding, I never feel there’s enough time to process, but this week more so than usual.  So a quick roundup to remind myself to keep thinking about these things:

EDUCAUSE 2009

I made a vow last year to reduce my conference travel.  It seemed prudent to cut back on expenses in this tough budget climate, but more than that, all the conferences began to run together in my mind, all the sessions sounding the same, the airports and hotel rooms one big blur.  From time to time I’ve felt sad to miss seeing good netfriends, at SLCC09 especially, but it also felt good to take a step back and not be so darned harried.  Until this past week, when so many people I admire gathered at EDUCAUSE 2009, and for the first time I felt a tinge of real regret.  Because it sounds like maybe this year’s EDUCAUSE breathed a bit of fresh air into the room.

Fortunately, I was able to follow at least some of what was happening through the ever fascinating tweets of EDUCAUSE attendees, and the conference organizers (bless them) streamed many sessions on the web, so those of us who couldn’t attend don’t get too terribly left behind.  I haven’t watched all the sessions, but two in particular that I want to keep thinking about:

Point/Counterpoint:  Disrespectful and Time-Wasting, or Engaged and Transformative
The Mile High Twitter Debate (Gardner Campbell and Bruce Maas)

I first met Gardner Campbell (@gardnercambell) through an NMC Summer Conference several years ago (another conference I was sad to miss this year) and I’ve been a faithful reader of his blog Gardner Writes ever since.  His passion for teaching, and for exploring the use of technology in teaching in meaningful ways, has been illuminating.  He’s the kind of faculty member I want to learn from and collaborate with, and he’s always been unbelievably approachable for such a rock star.  😉   So when I heard he was taking the pro-Twitter position in a Point/Counterpoint session, it seemed like a must-see and I wasn’t disappointed.

From now on, when administrators and faculty ask me what the point of Twitter is, I’m not even going to discuss it, I’ll just send them a link to this video.  If they aren’t convinced after that, there’s no hope.

Thanks to Gardner and Bruce Mass for a great debate and a terrific resource we can share with others.

It’s About Time:  Getting Our Values Around Copyright Right
(Lawrence Lessig)

The other “must-watch” video from the conference is really a must-watch for more than just educators.  Netizens everywhere need to be thinking about this issue, especially in light of the ACTA treaty negotiations that were leaked this week (see the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s take, ReadWriteWeb, Wired, and more – universal sentiment is “BAD – VERY BAD”).  I’m beyond outraged about ACTA and hope to make a separate post on that topic soon.

In any case, Lessig delivered a powerful talk about copyright that I hope you’ll take the time to review.  You won’t be sorry you did.

On Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, & the Rule of Law in Virtual Worlds

These issues, of copyright and intellectual property, are not abstract for many Second Life users.  Indeed, I often imagine that these Second Life content creators (the ones who make the virtual clothes, hair, buildings, cars, etc. that you can buy in Second Life or on the web) are likely some of the very people who downloaded pirated music, software, or movies without a second thought in earlier times, but now the tables are turned after experiencing what it is like to create something from your own imagination, market it, sell it, and have it stolen out from under them.  (Reminder to self, experience is truly the best teacher. )

I refer to the great angst and gnashing of teeth over content theft in virtual worlds.  Linden Lab responded to the lawsuit filed by SexGen bed maker this week, a group of content creators staged a 48 hour period of creating nothing to protest content theft, Ben Duranske urged everyone to register their copyright with the US government, and the very controversial Emerald Viewer team filed a DMCA notice to Google about the much vilified Neilife viewer.

Oh, and by the way, Michael Risch at the West Virginia University College of Law makes a compelling case that the rule of law has been an abysmal failure in virtual worlds.  From the abstract:

The article finds – unsurprisingly – that virtual worlds now lack many of the elements of the rule of law. Which aspects fail is more surprising, however. Provider agreements and computer software, the sources of regulation that are most often criticized as “anti-user,” provide the best theoretical hope for achieving the rule of law, even if they currently fail in practice. On the contrary, widely proposed “reforms,” such as community norms, self-regulation, and importation of real-world law face both theoretical and practical barriers to implementation of the rule of law in virtual worlds.

What are we to make of all this copyright/IP mess?  I dunno.  I don’t have any easy answers either.

But I have long argued that one of the greatest benefits of being involved in virtual worlds like Second Life is that you get to see some of the great issues of our time being played out in another context, a different context than the “real world” – a smaller context – and that this gives us a new perspective with which to view what’s happening in the “real world”.   It’s so difficult for me to articulate this thought, I wish I could do a better job of it, but it’s the primary reason I feel like educators – no – academics and intellectuals of all stripes – should be involved in what’s happening in virtual worlds.  This copyright issue is just one of many examples, it’s fascinating to see how it plays out in the context of a conversation at EDUCAUSE versus the context and conversations of Second Life.

On one hand, we hear Lessig imploring educators and edtech IT folks to find ways to honor the rights of content creators in ways that do not turn our kids into terrorists.  He says, and I agree, that the creativity unleashed by mashups in the digital age cannot be stopped.  We hear Lessig warning us that by forcing people to live a a life outside the law, we undermine the very rule of law that democracy requires.  He urges us to help find a third way, a middle road between copyright extremists on both ends of the spectrum.

In another context, in the microcosm of virtual worlds and Second Life, we hear that the rule of law has yet to even emerge, all while we watch from the sidelines as real life courts are asked to adjudicate a potentially precedent-setting case about virtual content theft.   We hear some virtual world content creators arguing they must have the right to back up their work, to port their work, the products and artifacts of their creativity, into whatever medium they desire, whatever grid they happen to be on.   Other content creators are arguing that so long as the tools to make this backup/portability possible can also be used to steal THEIR content and creativity, these tools should NOT be available.  Even though they already are.  And, I think they are here to stay, no matter how much Linden Lab tries to enforce some kind of 3rd party registration for viewers.

Much to think about.  And I wonder,  what would the content creators who staged the 48 hour “create nothing” protest say to Lessig’s point?

I’ve run out of time to finish this post, and didn’t even get to the other big stories of the week.  I’ll add some links to remind myself, because they all play into this conversation even if I can’t synthesize it all at the moment:

Linden Lab offers standalone “behind the firewall” servers at $50k a year price – are they crazy?

Dusan talks about the Lab being at war with itself, and humanity at war with ourselves, and with technology – what?  I want to respond to this, I want to argue some of us ARE stopping to think about it – obsessively thinking about it even –  but it’s just all happening so damned fast (see this post, I can’t even get a few hours to properly synthesize):

But there’s a Masonic feeling to the whole thing: we’re not just individual actors contributing to the common good, we’re individual actors contributing to the evolution of digital spaces that have no governing body, and we’re hoping that in so doing our collective contributions will lead to a common good, without always stopping to have much of a conversation about it, although we start to get worried if it happens all over again: if Google actually turns out to BE the next Microsoft, although it’s typically only the big, easy-to-spot targets that we worry about – the rest of it is too granular, too innocuous, the metadata is invisible to us, it’s all held in those windowless rooms.

Healthcare reform passes the House after bitter partisan vote – will it actually improve anything?  Is this REALLY what democracy has come to in the digital age?  Am I the only one disgusted with the sausage making mess?

A fellow from the team writing recommendations for the National Education Technology Plan comes to Second Life for feedback – did he get anything useful from the process?  I greatly appreciated the effort of the ISTE organizers and all the speakers, and that he made the effort to reach out to cutting edge educators, but I found the process chaotic, frustrating, and unsure what the take-away was.

I’ll have to stop here.  Too much to process this week.


21
Sep 08

US Economic Crisis – “Privatizing Gains, Socializing Losses”

The quote in the title of this post comes from Gretchen Morgenson, who writes the MarketWatch column for the Sunday New York Times, on the 9/19/08 episode of PBS’ Bill Moyers Journal. Watch it.

I am so thoroughly disturbed by the current state of affairs in the US economy that I must put all political correctness aside for a moment and ask you, dear reader, for a reality check.

It appears that our government is about to take on a tremendous amount of debt by nationalizing private entities, buying trillions in bad debt, and by some accounts, taking on some 70% of the mortgages in the United States.

This is unprecedented. Cataclysmic. Terrifying.

I spent some time last night actually watching TV, something I do less and less of these days, catching up on a backlog of Tivo from the past week. I watched a bunch of news reports, pundits, and analysis of how and why this economic crisis has come to a head, what the government is doing about it, what those who have been reporting on the financial sector for 30 years think about it, and the whole time I’m thinking to myself, wow: I have absolutely no faith that anyone in the US government or otherwise actually knows what they are doing with regards to this imploding/exploding economic mess.

If you somehow aren’t following this, you should be. Every American citizen certainly should be, because we the American people are about to be saddled with TRILLIONS of dollars of more debt – and I cannot imagine how this won’t impact the rest of the world in some way – so you should be paying attention even if you aren’t in the US. Did I mention _trillions_ of dollars in new debt? I can’t really fathom a trillion dollars, personally, it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around billions of dollars. Here’s a quick primer, if you’re trying to catch up:

Government Pledges Swift Financial Crisis Rescue

Wall Street Turmoil Marks Wholesale Banking Shift

So, from what I can tell, the last 30 years of banking deregulation (i.e. relaxing the laws, standards, and oversight of what financial institutions and Wall St. investors are allowed to do), has led to ever larger financial institutions creating ever more complex financial “products” that have become so damned shady and complicated that even Wall Street itself doesn’t understand what they’ve gotten us all into.

You’d have to have been hiding under a rock to not know that a bunch of companies made a bunch of risky loans for people to buy houses they couldn’t really afford, and as the price of everything (especially energy) began to soar, a bunch of these people couldn’t afford to make the payments on their homes anymore. The companies that loaned them the money weren’t too worried, cause they’d “packaged” up big bunches of these loans and “sold” them to other companies and banks, who then themselves sold pieces of this debt to a bunch of other companies and banks, and so on and so on. And as more and more people stopped being able to pay their mortgages, more and more of these companies and banks were stuck holding the bag on all this debt that no one was paying on. This is the “Subprime Mortgage Crisis” that we’ve been hearing about all year.

Except it seems that the people in the US government and the geniuses on Wall St. either didn’t know or didn’t want to admit that these “packages” of defaulted loans had become so widely sold, traded, and mixed in with other stuff, that even big, stable, long term financial institutions and companies were in big trouble as more and more people became unable to pay for their houses. Suddenly the troubles of “Main Street” were wreaking havok on “Wall Street” and everyone began to panic. It got so bad, that big name companies that everyone thought were safe and stable started filing for bankruptcy and begging other big banks to buy them, it got so bad, that people and companies began to take their money out of money market accounts and other funds and that caused even MORE people to panic.

And so, in the span of a week, the Bush Administration’s people have stepped in and said, don’t freak out, we, the US government, will take over some of these failing companies, and we, the US government will insure your money market funds, and we, the US government will take on the debt of all these houses that no one is paying for anymore. And Wall Street rallied at this news on Friday and had a big party that Uncle Sam was going to swoop in and save the day.


From what I can tell, this is the craziest, scary economic situation of our lifetimes. The financial health of the United States of America hasn’t been this jeopardized since the Great Depression.

Now one of the analysts on PBS said that you don’t stop to fix the leaks in your roof when the hurricane is still going strong, you just do what you have to do to survive the hurricane, and you fix the structural damage when it’s over. I think that’s true. I think if the government had not stepped in, goodness knows how far reaching this crisis might have become, it’s truly terrifying to think about, particularly considering how much US debt is owned by foreign investors.

But. BUT.

It seems to me that this means that the US government is going to make damned sure that the free market capitalists don’t loose THEIR homes and savings and retirement, and the ordinary people who have already lost their homes and savings and retirement are just out of luck. For all of my living memory, the REPUBLICAN PARTY has stood for business, for smaller government, for telling regulators to butt out of what business does, let the all-knowing all-wise market sort out the winners and losers. And when they were winning, all those profits, all that money, was THEIR money and the government shouldn’t tax it, shouldn’t take any of it, the American people as a whole shouldn’t share any of it, because it was the gutsy risk-taking of the capitalists that led to the profit in the first place, and the market rewards winners and punishes losers. Not two weeks ago I saw a political ad for John McCain talking about making the tax cuts to the wealthy that the Bush Administration enacted early on permanent.

Except now, when the all-knowing, all-wise market started doing exactly that, started punishing the risk takers who were taking TOO MUCH RISK, now the REPUBLICAN PARTY is saying wait, hold on, the American people, the US government (you know, the ones who didn’t get to share in the wealth cause it was all YOUR money), well, we’ll take on a bunch of your debt. We’ll take on a bunch of the risky crap that you’ve gotten yourselves into. Hell, we’re even going to take over some of your companies. And the free market capitalists are saying HALLELUJAH, yes please, please take all this mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. PLEASE TAKE IT. The financial press is using words like toxic, poisonous, and radioactive to describe this debt. The wonky economic analysts in their rumpled suits and crooked ties and silver hair, the people who have been studying this stuff for their whole professional lives admit that even they don’t understand exactly how “toxic” this toxic stuff is.

And me and you, Joe, we’re about to get handed that bag of toxic stuff.

My undergraduate degree is in Political Science. I (sadly) didn’t focus on economics as much as I wish I had, and I can’t claim to understand everything that’s going on right now if even the pros don’t have a clue, but I just have to put this out there, publicly, for my own conscience.

The REPUBLICAN PARTY, representing free-market capitalists, has largely had their way in terms of economic policy, they have successfully gutted many of the laws put in place after the Great Depression, and they have successfully protected the profits – the sickeningly vast profits – of a very, very tiny percentage of very, very wealthy Americans.

I’ll sit tight with everyone else while the hurricane is upon us, but when it’s over, we have a LOT more than just repairing the roof to do. I personally know people in my family, people in my social circle, who are facing homelessness and dire economic circumstances. I personally know people who got a few thousand dollars into credit card debt (and I’m talking $4-5000 range) who then had something bad happen, an illness, a job loss, who were unable to get out from under it and are struggling to just plain feed their kids. And I didn’t see Uncle Sam coming to bail THEM out.

I am angry. Afraid. Worried. And I genuinely believe that the REPUBLICAN PARTY has quite literally wrapped themselves in the American Flag and used every dirty trick in the book to keep the average, church-going American distracted by issues like guns, abortion, and gay marriage so they can rob our country blind. And they seem to be getting away with it.

When does it stop? When does the party of “Country First” actually start putting the country – the whole country, not wealthy investors – first?

I do not understand how any sane person could vote for John McCain in this election. I really don’t. I don’t know how any sane person could be watching this and not see the horrible irony of wealthy “government keep your hands off” investors begging the government to take on their private debt, so much money than I can’t even fathom it in any real sense. 35% more than the entire US defense budget. 4/5ths of the output of our entire national economy in debt.

It’s staggering. Just plain staggering.

And the last time I looked, this is what CNN’s homepage looked like. The only indication of this on the front page? A tiny link on the right.

And on that depressing note, I’m off to finish laundry and go to my grandpa’s house. He grew up in just-post depression America, and I hope he has some damned good advice for me.

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9
Aug 08

Letter to Linden Lab Re: Mainland Policies

Ad Farm Alley in Mangyeong
An ad farm along the Linden Road in Mangyeong sim seems much unchanged, despite changes in Linden Lab policies about ad farms announced seven months ago.

The Second Life community is all abuzz over a recent post from Linden Lab about upcoming changes in mainland policies. Several vocal SL bloggers have chimed in, including Gwen and Prokofy, comments on this blog, the Missing Image, and SLUniverse, in Italian, Russian, and in Germany, and reported on by New World Notes, Massively, Silicon Alley Insider, and Reuters.

Because of my professional work in Second Life, it is very rare that I publicly discuss my frustrations. I still believe that the Second Life platform is on the leading edge of the hundreds of virtual worlds (or more accurately, virtual environments) out there. I am still committed to Second Life, I pay my tier every month even though it gets harder and harder in this economy.

Griefer fireball in Chilbo
A griefer fireball in Chilbo (slightly camouflaged by our bushes) that has been sitting undisturbed for over 14 months, despite abuse reports to Linden Lab, on a parcel of land that was claimed in October 2006 by a resident who has not logged in (as far as we can tell) once in nearly two years.

I am still a committed community leader, I founded a mainland community, manage Second Life projects at work, and have taken a lead role in organizing a portion of this year’s Second Life Community Convention through the Second Life Education Community Conference.

But in light of Linden Lab’s recent blog posts, I feel compelled to speak my mind as both a citizen of this virtual world. These are my personal views and do not represent any of the professional, community, or other organizations I work with or represent.

My post to the closed forum is cited in full below:

Dear Jack,

I have invested thousands of dollars in building the Chilbo community on the mainland over the past couple years, as have others in my group, and spent countless hours of time working with mainland residents, dealing with abandoned parcels, griefers, and ad farm jerks. This is a very serious investment for me. Further, I’ve extolled the virtues of Second Life and virtual worlds to literally thousands of educators and administrators at workshops and conferences all over the US. I can’t even calculate how many residents, universities, and colleges have come into Second Life directly due to my hard (uncompensated by Linden Lab) work. I feel I have paid my dues as a Second Life resident and then some with a cherry on top.

Regarding the mainland, in the past 6 months, representatives of Linden Lab have kicked me in the teeth in several ways: they have placed abandoned parcels for public auction despite the fact that our community owns the land on three or even all four sides, at least once resulting in me paying over $20,000L for a 512m parcel because it was literally right next to our Town Hall in the heart of our community; they have worked out private deals with other residents who are NOT members of or invested in the area around Chilbo, giving them abandoned land for $1L that they then turned around and sold for extortionist prices; they have sold huge tracts of abandoned land near Chilbo through private deals rather than putting them up on auction, which were then cut up into small parcels and sold for extortionist prices; they have left griefer objects on abandoned land for literally years; and they have failed to address nearly every single ad abuse report we’ve filed despite a supposed change in policy all those months ago.

I, too, am quite skeptical that a change in mainland zoning policy will do anything but hurt honest community building groups like Chilbo, and will indeed like so many other changes, only help those who want to make a quick buck. In all my years in Second Life, I’ve always been working towards creating open, diverse, pleasant mainland communities, and no one at Linden Lab has ever bothered to take the time to look and see that our community owns land in 6 neighboring mainland sims, that our community actually uses the group tier donation model, that we ALREADY HAVE community standards but no way to enforce them, that we meet regularly to resolve our own disputes and issues, and that we are very serious and dedicated in our investment into Second Life and the mainland. They just pop in when they finally address an abandoned parcel, sometimes dole it out to someone who has a connection with them and sometimes just throw it up on public auction, and it as if our community, our hard work, and our investment of time and money doesn’t even exist. We’re left to fend for ourselves and pay through the nose if we want to try to continue to grow and keep a cohesive feel to our little tiny spot of goodwill in the anarchy of the mainland.

My suggestions:

1. Remove blanket banlines and pay-to-enter barriers from the mainland PERIOD. If you want absolute privacy, buy land on an island or eject jerks and implement individual bans. Blanket bans and pay to enter zones are the bane of mainland existence, worse than ad farms in my opinion.

2. Make the process for reclaiming land absolutely transparent so mainland communities can plan ahead and not feel subject to Linden Lab’s whims. If you don’t pay your tier after X months, your land is cleared and reclaimed automatically the very day after that period expires. 3 to 4 months is more than reasonable.

3. When a parcel is abandoned or reclaimed for lack of payment, all landowning group owners and private landowners in the sim should be notified FIRST and get FIRST SHOT at a private, closed auction. This should be relatively easy to automate. This would allow existing residents to work it out amongst themselves who wants to compete for the land. This would encourage cooperation and self governance by people who already have an investment in that region. Only after a set period of time if no existing landowner in the sim bids should that parcel then be put up for public auction. STOP ALLOWING EXTORTIONIST PROFITEERS TO BENEFIT MORE FROM LINDEN LAB POLICIES THAN GOOD HONEST COMMUNITY BUILDERS DO. IT IS THE COMMUNITIES THAT RETAIN RESIDENTS, PROMOTE PREMIUM MEMBERSHIPS, AND INCREASE USER HOURS, NOT LAND FLIPPERS.

4. Linden Lab has for years claimed that they eventually wanted to put more governance in the hands of residents since they do not have the staff or the time to resolve all disputes. So do it. Where organized communities exist, empower long-term residents with established records of good payment, good stewardship, and good relations to manage the sims instead of Linden Lab. Enforce our community-generated standards or allow us to enforce them. Whether through appointment or elections or petitions or through some other means, give community managers the ability to remove offensive ads, griefer objects, and banlines. Put your money where your mouth has been for the last 5 years.

5. Do what you say you will do. Consistently. Across the board. In a timely manner. Quit making special deals with residents who are friends of Lindens at the expense of those of us who don’t cultivate insider relationships.

A short forum or blog post can barely do justice to the injustice I feel Linden Lab has done to its best customers. I rarely ever speak of it, I keep a good public PR face, I do my best to soothe the irritation of the residents of Chilbo, newbies, teachers, and students. I am a good citizen of Second Life, but I am angry, frustrated, and distrustful of the company who repeatedly says they want to do better but somehow ends up implementing policies that make my work harder. Maybe this time will be different, but I won’t hold my breath.

Sincerely,

Fleep Tuque
Founder, Chilbo Community Building Project
Web: http://fleeptuque.com
Email: fleep.tuque@gmail.com

Chilbo Community in the Mainland of Second Life
Web: http://chilbo.org
SLurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Chilbo/112/222/121

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15
Jul 08

Obama Addresses NAACP in Cincinnati

I was quite bummed to miss the rally tonight for Obama’s address to the NAACP (had family obligations). Local media broadcast the speech to a crowd in downtown Fountain Square, and local media reports a couple thousand people showed up.

Unfortunately I can’t embed the video directly here and it’s not yet up on YouTube, but you can click the image below to watch the speech.

Obama giving speech to NAACP

Given the audience, it’s not surprising that he addressed social justice issues (breaking down barriers and fighting oppression), but said that’s not enough alone, it’s also about economic justice.

He stressed corporate and government responsibility. “America is better off when the well being of American business and the American people are aligned. Our CEOs have to recognize that they have a responsibility, not just to grow their profit margins, but to be fair to their workers and honest to their shareholders and to help strengthen our economy as a whole. That’s how we’ll ensure that economic justice is being served, and that’s what this election is all about,” he said.

He also addressed public education, which given the abysmal state of the Cincinnati Public School district, should have been absolutely cutting to the administrators who have completely botched our local school system, and the need to educate and train those coming out of the prison systems.

But perhaps the most controversial part of his speech came at the end, when he stressed personal responsibility, directly addressing the firestorm over Jesse Jackson’s crude and critical comments caught on an open mic a few days ago. (For more on the response from the African American community, check out this NPR clip addressing, “..a growing disconnect between Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and several prominent African Americans, who argue that he is moving to the center and catering to white voters too much.”)

I have to quote from Obama’s speech in full because it’s just too good:

“If we’re serious about reclaiming that dream, we have to do more in our own lives. There’s nothing wrong with saying that,” he said, “We can lead by example as we did during the civil rights movement, ’cause the problems that plague our communities are not unique to us, we just have it a little worse, but they’re not unique to us. Providing guidance for our children, turning off the TV set, putting away the video games, attending those parent teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework, setting a good example, that’s what everybody’s got to do if we’re going to be moving this country forward. Teaching our daughters to never allow images on television that tell them what they’re worth, teaching our sons to treat women with respect, and to realize that responsibility does not end at conception, that what makes them a man is not the ability to have a child but to raise one, that’s a message we need to send!”

And this in a week when the New Yorker had the horribly bad taste to run a cover “satirizing” the misconceptions and stereotypes about the Obamas. I’m not going to embed the image here because I think it was totally irresponsible of the New Yorker to publish it and I don’t want to give it more eyeballs on my site, but it portrays Michelle Obama as a radical militant and Barack Obama as an anti-American, flag burning Muslim.

And that’s a shame because if the statements I quoted above are “militant” or “anti-American” then I guess you can put me in that category, too. I don’t care if it’s just election year rhetoric or not at this point, it’s the best damned rhetoric I’ve heard in a long time from any politician and I give credit to Obama for not ducking the issue as the fellow from EbonyJet.com on NPR advised him to do.

Take the bull by the horns and address the complex and difficult problems we face, that’s what our leaders are supposed to do.

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