Designed for learning

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brainbook roundup

I supose this was expected. The Susan Greenfield story is going through the usual dance moves, with the old media and new media playing their typecast roles (Radio 4, so I’ve heard, balanced and sensible. well, surprise).

So, some of the good coverage I’ve seen so far:

Aleks Krotoski has seen it all before, but can’t avoid four poignant comments and a few good links.

Ben Goldacre gives the story the solid bad science treatment it deserves, and pointing us to

Vaughan‘s review of the  relevant literature at mindhacks.

I have to quote:

He points out the Dr Sigman quoted a 1998 paper called “The Internet Paradox”. This paper did indeed find a (weak) relationship between internet use and depression, loneliness, etc. This was 1998, at the very dawn of widespread use of the web, but more importantly, the very same authors went back and looked at the very same families, and found that the effect had disappeared. That seems relevant to me, especially if you’re going to quote the 1998 results, Dr Sigman?

You can read the paper in full online as a pdf. It says “This sample generally experienced positive effects of using the Internet on communication, social involvement, and well-being.”

There is no excuse for not knowing about this finding. Type the internet paradox into Google. Go on, do it:

Flessisgrass shares some notes from a recent talk Susan Greenfeld gave at the Jewish book week, giving us a glimpse at what she might have actually said at the Lords’ (as opposed to what the DM reported).

Those notes, as do some of the commentators, bring up the TV vs. Internet argument. Worth mentioning Clay Shirky‘s talk and Nick Carr‘s response.

Finally (ht @paternosterlift) here’s some new data on how we twit. Sorta related, and my way of saying, right, nuf, move on.

February 25, 2009 Posted by | neuroscience, Social Software | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clay Shirky: No, *you* shut up!

(title nods at Clay’s 2006 talk)

Charlie Beckett hosted Clay Shirky at the LSE a couple of weeks ago, and the Podcast is now available for download.

I couldn’t make it to Clay’s talk, but luckily, due to the snow (remember the #uksnow?) some of his interviews were canceled and he generously found some time to have coffee with Niall Winters and me.

Not surprisingly, the conversation turned to design patterns. Clay reminded us of the work he did a few years ago on moderation patterns. Sadly, the original moderation patterns wiki is down. But yay for the waybackmachine, here’s an archived copy.

There’s more than 40 patterns there, dealing with issues of digital identity and managing social dynamics for collaboration / conversation platforms. You would think that at the rate of current technology development, most of these would be obsolete. At the time they where written, nobody had heard of opensocial or OpenId. Yet they are surprisingly relevant. The reason is, that they deal with the social aspects of technology, not with the code. And as fast as technology may change – human nature is reletively stable.

Example? login with email. Have you noticed how more and more sites let you use either a username or login? The rationale for this has nothing to do with technology. Asking us to remember a user name and password for more than seven sites, give or take one, is ignoring the structure of human memory. That may be changed by technology, but marginally.

Social dynamics are much more complex than we tend to realise, which is why most social software is autistic. Its not a fault of the programmers that facebook’s friends featrue looks like this. Anyone (well, any 20 year old male) who would be asked to model the concept of friendship would come up with something similar. What we need is a serious and prolonged attempt at capturing the design patterns for social / participatory media.

But the death of the moderation patterns wiki holds a warning. Sustaining such an effort is not easy. It required institutional, personal and collaborative commitment. That, in turn, relies on the ability to show a constant stream of valuable outputs. I don’t have an answer to that, but its definitely something we’re thinking of as the pattern language network project nears the end of its life.

As for the moderation patterns themeselves, we’re looking into the options for giving them a new home. By the way, my personal favorite is use email.

February 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

want to change the world? learn to program

Joshua-Michéle Ross, (via @timoreily) on O’Reily Radar, tells the story of Stimuluswatch.org. As he rightly notes, yet another example of  Clay Shirky‘s  “self-organization without organizations.” In a nutshell, someone (Jerry Brito) said:

hey, lets have a service that allows people to rate and comment on new economic initiatives, and gives decision makers a better view of where they should put our money.

A couple of other guys heard this idea, and figured its worth a few days work and $40 hosting charges, and bingo:

StimulusWatch.org was built to help the new administration keep its pledge to invest stimulus money smartly, and to hold public officials to account for the taxpayer money they spend. We do this by allowing you, citizens around the country with local knowledge about the proposed “shovel-ready” projects in your city, to find, discuss and rate those projects. These projects are not part of the stimulus bill. They are candidates for funding by federal grant programs once the bill passes. Learn more by reading the FAQs.

How can you contribute? Find a project that interests you, or about which you have special knowledge, and let us know what you think. You can find projects by searching or by browsing by locality or program type. Once you find a program, there are three things you can do: 1) vote on whether you believe the project is critical or not; 2) edit the project’s description and points in favor or against, and 3) post a comment in the conversation about the project.

But, note bene. Mr Ross interviews one of the creators of the service:

After reading Jerry’s original blog post about the US Conference of Mayors report, I quickly wrote some python code to grab (screen scrape) all of the projects from their web site and put them into a sqlite database. The lxml module was awesome for this. Brian Mount took it and remastered the database into a MySQL database. Peter Snyder then popped up and offered to build the web site using a PHP based system called CodeIgniter. It lives up to its name (and Pete is awesome) because he had a fairly complex site up in no time. Now that we had a great base for the site, Jerry wrote copy and worked up some CSS/HTML which gives the site a great look and feel. Jerry also helped us integrate disqus and tumblr, which definitely helped reduce the number of wheels we had to reinvent. I experimented with several wiki backends and settled on MediaWiki. Using a perl module, I created wiki stubs for each of the projects to give users a bit of a framework for recording any facts they researched about each project, as well as listing points in favor and against. The whole thing now runs on an Amazon EC2 image.

What techies seem to forget is that most people can’t even read that. I have some good friends who would probably, if asked how to implement Jerry Brito’s idea, would suggest we call the guy who runs the internet and ask him if he could do that. If this idea would have fallen into institutional hands, I’m sure a three year mega-million project would have ensued, most probably based on sharepoint.

The critical resource for fixing the economy, society and the environment is open-minded hackers with a political edge. Please, if you want to do some good, don’t study economy, social science or environmental studies. Learn to program.

February 14, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 9 Comments

   

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