Sunday, May 31, 2009


Foppa is the nickname of Swedish ice-hockey star Peter Forsberg. Copies of this portrait of Foppa are, at intervals, placed in various locations in the Umea area, offering a link to the blog Foppakuppen, and making traversals between physical public spaces and a virtual repository of the bloggers' activities. As visitors or strangers in that place, without good access to necessary linguistic and cultural resources, it was hard to connect with this instance of avantgaming/situational art. It took me and my colleagues the best part of a week to weave a naartive web around the images we saw. The final denouement was a combination of the efforts of a hotel receptionist who translated parts of the blog for us and a taxi-driver who made the connection with Sweden's most unstylish consumer item, the foppatoffel (or Croc). But somehow the meanings we made from Foppakuppen were rich and arguably richer than the basic facts. It's perhaps just as well that we are comfortable with multiple truths; that way we are insulated from the disappointments of being wrong, whilst being forced to concede that some people just love their crocs!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tweeting at conferences

I’m getting interested in what happens when you tweet at a conference. It's clear that the back-channel can work well as an outlet for frustration, or those useful off-task exchanges, but also I do feel that the fluidity of ideas can be exposed in productive ways. However, I am at the same time completely unsure what the effect on remote followers might be. Twitter might help them participate or then again it might annoy or mislead them! Of course that's before you take into consideration the feelings of those co-present in RL who may not be favourably disposed to back-channeling. Do our new modes of communicative interaction cause us to challenge or re-make social divisions as well as social conventions? Are there new protocols of politeness (the public display of shame when your phone rings in a meeting) and are these necessarily more fluid at this moment in time? Well, the picture shows me in action via twitpic and was available at the end of my presentation here at Kronlund. And here’s something I’ve been reading about Twitter at conferences (the pdf is here). And this is a link to a book recommended by one of the conference participants.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Real world designs

I’ve been very impressed by the physical spaces that I’ve seen at the University of Umea. An informed architectural sensibility combines with an eye for design to create well-lit and comfortable meeting places. Each faculty has a distinctive feel, but yet it is all interlinked. Cohesive without being over-branded. I’m not sure if it’s a design for the future but it’s a good design for the present. The Beyond Current Horizons programme has its vision-mapper up and running, so I went straight to the school redesign section. I liked the statement that: creative and effective use of space can have a huge influence on learning and I think that’s what we may have here. Of course it’s all viewed through strangers eyes, rose-tinted spectacles and so on. But that all suggests that how we see spaces and the effect they have upon us is important.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Right place, wrong hotel

It’s good to be in Umea and it’s only a little cooler than back home. But all in all it was quite a shock to discover we’d been booked into a hotel with the right name in a completely different part of Sweden (here in Fjallbacka!). So we’re currently holed up in a smoking room above a burger bar. Not the best of locations, but at least there’s free wifi and a pool. Things can only get better!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Meaning of numbers

So apparently 3845 is the Thievery number. And I have 74 followers on Twitter and only 3 on Blogger (but surely I have more readers than that?). Then again, I have 17 contacts on Flickr, 1482 items and 13557 views. Does this bewildering array of information derive from the fact that I have intersecting online networks? And how do they intersect with offline networks? Does anyone care? And more worryingly, who’s collecting information on me? The New Scientist report on Dunbar’s number suggests that we average about 150 in our social networks and, of course, this has implications for what we do online (here). Now when you add this in with the idea that everyone on the planet is connected by six steps (six degrees of separation) it must mean that we are all pretty well connected. Somehow I don’t think so. All in all I prefer my All Consuming stats that tell me that I’m consuming 153 things, doing 1 thing and going no places!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Twittering on

I’ve been posting all week about ways of thinking about microblogging and, at the same time, mentioning these thoughts on Twitter. What’s interesting about that is that I get a quick test of the ideas as they form, and can reconfigure them on the basis of feedback. It’s not quite like putting your ideas to the vote, but that casual conversation can help you refine your thinking. Is there a method here? I’m not sure; but one thing that comes up is the unexpected. So for instance, I hadn’t thought that distraction, or the attraction of distraction, played an important part. Quite a few people have referred to Twitter in terms of filling the interstitial spaces or providing an escape for what has become routine, boring or frustrating. So I’m adding that in, too. Then there’s another thing that came from a face-to-face exchange, phrased as I hate it when people tweet too much! Well I’m really interested in that, because maintaining a presence seems to be important, whereas overdoing it is almost viewed as a transgression. Is there an implied rhythm like conversational turn-taking? So here we have the challenge of negotiating an appropriate kind of presence within the obligation to be there in the Twitterverse. Here’s John Tomlinson in The Culture of Speed discussing that sense of obligation. 'There is an increasing tacit assumption - structured into both the work process and wider social etiquette - that we have a social obligation to be both skilled users of the technology and, more importantly, to be almost constantly available to and for communication. That it is a mark of neglect, of irresponsibility, to be off-line, off-message, incommunicado. The denial of instant access to ourselves - not owning a mobile phone, or not keeping it switched on - has rather curiously become a breach of communicational duty, almost a token of cultural marginality. It is something to be owned up to, or defended as a rather defiant, eccentric circumscription of one’s personal time and space.' Well, get back to me on that one (but don’t feel under any pressure).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The immediacy effect

The third of the three characteristics of microblogging is the immediacy effect. What you're doing, thinking or linking to now is what is important in the Twittersphere; not what you did, said or thought yesterday. The archive is largely irrelevant as the regular feeds from your friends becomes liquid modern communication. Distance and separation appear to be conquered by technology, driven along by the impatience to accelerate, to live in the nearly now. This is what can make microblogging compulsive as well as what appears to keep social networks live.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Materiality and microblogging

So this is number two in a list of three. It's the materiality of devices. I’m drawing a bit on Daniel Miller here, who underlines the significance of material objects in cultural life. When we start thinking of web-based communication we very often get seduced by the virtual spaces that are created and forget the very basic nature of the material objects we use. As these become woven into everyday life they become normalised to the extent that they are almost rendered invisible. So today at the British Academy, the audience was connected in a variety of ways. Most notable of these ways seemed to be the presence of i-phones and Blackberrys, used to enter the Twitter backchannel and do other sorts of work, too. Handheld and discreet we are left to our own devices, but yet the devices we have (own) and their affordances are central to mobile microblogging.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ambient sociability

Well, this is a revision in the light of Twitter feedback on the idea of ambient intimacy (see yesterday). Although one or two liked the idea, others felt that intimacy over-stated the case or over-emphasised the phatic. So, instead I'm going for ambient sociability instead. Ambience seems to catch the sense of lightweight contact that typifies microblogging, and sociability leaves it open to both the level of friendship and the sort of exchanges that are transacted. Ambient sociability can now become the first of the three. On its own its not enough though, because you can achieve this through mobile messaging and even through regular text exchanges. OK, this is theory-building in action and many thanks for the feedback (tweetback?)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thoughts on microblogging

First reflections nearly always seem to come in threes for me. I wonder what this means? Anyway, these three continue a thread that’s been running through recent posts on microblogging. So I’m suggesting that the key features of microblogging are: ambient intimacy; the materiality of devices and the immediacy effect. First, ambient intimacy, a term borrowed from Leisa Reichelt, who uses it, at least in part, to describe an ongoing lightweight communication between networked friends. Second, the materiality of devices seems important because it is the way in which we carry our connections with us or access them from static interfaces. Basically microblogging has to be dependent on a mediating object, and as these become more available and more portable this kind of social networking gets easier. Finally the immediacy effect is the other ingredient in that equation of remote presence. In microblogging, what seems most important is what is going on now (or nearly now), not what is archived from yesterday. Of course tweeting between timezones or from locations with dodgy signals tends to disrupt this, but the immediacy effect is my attempt to try to grapple with the perceived focus being on the most recent comments.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ask the youth

I notice that the NFER are just about set to complete work on children and young people's views on Web 2.0 technologies (link). The project aims to gather young people's views about Web 2.0 technologies, particularly how social work educators and practitioners could best engage and support them in the use of such 'new media' technologies. An interesting slant, and another part of the frantic rush to ask kids what they’re up to and what they think about it. We seem to be entering into a new phase of Web 2.0 research, moving beyond the definitions, trends and potentials and approaching the description of practices. But I think there’s still a way to go on this from the methodological and theoretical points of view. Note here, the NFER work is based on focus groups.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Academics and social media

In this report we get a glimpse of the role that social media like Twitter could or perhaps already play in academic life. The THES reports that 'In September, the RIN will publish a paper that it hopes will shed light on how online technologies such as Twitter can be incorporated into academic research.' That will be worth looking out for. In my work, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between technology and social networks, taking the view that social networking is a good way of describing the patterning of our everyday relationships. The older communicative technologies (associated with postal services and telephone networks) allowed us to sustain and thicken existing social ties. But they also ushered in some innovations like the letter of introduction, cold-calling, as well as mailshots and telesales. SNSs seem to follow this trend, building on existing practices and then, by the ways in which we imagine their possibilities, creating new or augmented ones. So academics operating in SNSs seem to be able to find people with similar interests and then start trading the ideas, references, links that capture their attention. So what’s new? Mostly speed and simplicity. Then perhaps there’s some other interesting peripheral phenomena like the blurring of the personal and professional, the seemingly random juxtaposition of threads, and of course the effects of the telegraphese or haiku form that is created in an environment like Twitter. Might some of these forms spill over into face-to-face work? Conference papers that last for two minutes, for example?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Social networks

I've been thinking about SNSs and the way in which boyd and Ellison (2008) anchor their definition to three core characteristics. 1. Individual users or members construct a public or semi-public profile on the site 2. Users/members create and list connections with others (friends, followers or buddies) 3.Users/members traverse the site through their own and others’ friendlists. These characteristics are shared with other environments which may not focus on friendship quite so explicitly (Blogger and similar applications come to mind), but the emphasis on presence, connection and community has got to be central to an understanding of social networking sites. But something's missing and that something is to do with acting upon each other, sharing and building understandings, playfulness and the creative juxtaposition of ideas.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Remixing Mario

I really enjoyed this, a great juxtaposition of a classic platform game and the wistful-sounding Mountain Goats and Kaki King. Remix or mash-up? Maybe it's an artificial distinction but I tend to see this sort of thing as a remix as opposed to a software mash-up, such as the Twitter Fountain featured below. Am I inventing a distinction that doesn't really exist? That's not clear, but I suppose the first is about working and reworking the media, whereas the latter is reworking the code. Not better, just different. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Cloud cuckoo land?

I read this in the blurb for the latest New Horizon Report and it seemed to explain something I've been writing about for a while in a much clearer way than I've ever done! It goes "Traditionally, a learning environment has been a physical space, but the idea of what constitutes a learning environment is changing. The "spaces" where students learn are becoming more community-driven, interdisciplinary, and supported by technologies that engage virtual communication and collaboration. This changing concept of the learning environment has clear implications for schools, where learning is the key focus of the space." Seeing it succinctly put by someone else offers a bit of reflective distance. So I found myself wondering about the key underlying assumptions. Firstly, that students are all learning in these ways (and who that "all" really is) and secondly, that if its true, education has to take it on board. Like the authors of the report I'm excited by learning through the new literacies of emerging technology, but have to admit that it's an agenda. The New Horzon Report looks at emerging technologies for the K-12 age range, and so it is refreshingly school-focused. The pdf is here. I recommend it; and also it gives a good definition of cloud computing which I've never really understood!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Facebook Strategies For The Classroom

Digging around for educational uses of Facebook, I found this which is quite interesting, particularly in the later slides. I liked the reference to Leisa Reichelt's ambient intimacy (but not sure whether I agree). I also liked the mapping of different kinds of spaces which you can find on Flickr. And, oh dear, I just missed a deadline and that's something I hate doing. But then again I reckon 24 hrs late is more or less OK!