Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ TTI Vanguard Conference Notes - 1

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Oct 05, 2010

David P. Reed - The Power of Peer

The technology seems to create phenomena in the people who surround it, or live in it. The hypothesis is that there's something about the scale, reach and openness that unlocks new power and potential in human organizational forms. TTI Vanguard has basically been talking about this every year for twenty years.

The network does the following functions for peers:
- switching - extenting the reach and domain of connections
- multicast - one-to-many broadcast, forum for distribution
- unification/collection - wikipedia, eBay
- liquidity - the ability to adapt/change/adjust
- group forming - can organize and contain

What has worked?
- people building their own cyberspaces
- the power of weak ties - especially for search, intelligence, viral marketing
- the emergence of patterns and structure
- the power of strong ties - eg. facebook
- "pick-up" collaborations - low cost to start a new project or business
- outsourcing to customers, eg., Intuit
- new kinds of science and politics

An important theme: pushing power to the edges. Survival requires more than power and strength. It requires adaptability and resiliency. Reed (2010) - "it has evolved sophicticated signaling and sensing mechanisms distributed among its parts."

Another theme: the notion of social capital. Trust is important, but we don't know what it is. Can an architecture create trust? This is a practical, not a theoretical, question. But social capital continues to be one of those undefinable variables. Is trust a property of the technology? Or of the individuals? It is a bit of both, maybe.

Malcolm Gladwell, Small Change - Changing the world is still pretty hard and dangerous work. In the end, it's about the strong ties among people at the edges, and what they are willing and able to do. The tools are shiny and addictive, but the power of the peer is in the peers.

John Kelly, Morningside Analytics
Cores, Bridges and Global Structure

The relation of perrs in peer media has structure and form, related to what they're iterested in. In peer media, everything they do is reflective of their ionterest. At the societal level, we are able to find the patterns of what are salient across large numbers of people.

The way people come together online in different societies reflects the kinds of things those societies are interested in - different language groups exhibit different patterns. The major types of forms we see are:
- clustering - English is homogenious but Russian tends to cluster into separate groups
- the footprint of platform choices - the platform choice may divide you into a silo

The diagrams are of individual bloggers / tweeters, size according to popularity, organized in clusters according to what they are paying attention to, as shown by links, eg.

Example: In the Arabic blogosphere - we see the role of nation is very strong. There are some areas of cross-interest, eg. the Levant-English bridge. But mostly they cluster according to different national cores. In some - like Egypt - there are sub-clusters, eg. Muslim brotherhood.

(Yes, we track by time as well, and can see the oscillations.)

(Yes - we identify by nation - but sometimes a nation is characterized by a diaspora - cyberspace doesn't respect borders.)

(We check each of the sources by person - and are able to place these into context. The research is multi-method using both (human) qualitative and (computer) quantitative).

This analysis tells us about what is attracting the interest of he long tail. Also, you can find what a particular cluster links to disproportionately.

Another example: we were hearing that the Iranian bogosphere consists of young democrats opposed to the regime, But these are really a localized cluster; there is an equally big and interesting religious cluster. Also, over time, that latter part of the blogosphere is the one that grew and become more robust. In the Iranian network we see a society divided around a religion-media nexus. Eg. BBC, YouTube is mainly limited to the opposition.

Example: Germany and the role of gender. In Syria it's mostly men, in Saudi, it's divided equally. In Germany, it's mainly men who talk about politics and business. But around the edge we see women talking about crafts and home and kids and kunst. You can also see the footprints of various media sources (eg. Spiegel) mapped against these topics. Or in Indonesia - married women blog on cooking, familu and parenting - and unlike German women, they hook up internationally. The unmarried women talk about fashion, and hook right into European fashion and style.

The issue of data quality is really important. We are paying more attention to macro structure than to individual bloggers. A lot of these maps are drawn from 6 to 15 thousand weblogs out of what might be 100 weblogs in a society, most of which are not connected to anything else. So we are mostly interested in those that give rise to structural formations. We are trying to measure the online network (which is different from  measuring the population) - we do not claim that what we are reporting is representative in any way. Eg. nobody looks at a television station and says that that television station is '18-35 and female'.

The main impact of these technologies is not at the level of 'citizens', it is at the level of elites.

(Reference to paper in Science on 'computational sociology' - there's no evidence that studying networks tells us anything about people, only that we are learning about networks. Response: it probably does mean something, but we don't know what.)

Bridges: these different cores are not separate, they are connected to the global network. For example, the intersection Arabic+English is an interesting phenomenon - but the connection is between Islamists and neo-Com English bloggers who hate them. The connection is between those who are duking it out.

Interestingly, if you throw the Afghan in with the Iranian blogospheres, it's one network - but not connected by politics and religion, but rather poetry and literature.

(For the very old societies, it's the culture that is the gravity that pulls them together - but what about the newer societies?)

My question: how much of this is descriptive and how much of this is manufactured. Eg., the 'English' blogosphere divides into two large 'liberal' and 'conservative' blocks - but these blocks are populated mostly by people who are basically pumping content in order to create these patterns.

Laura Forlano, Cornell University
Work and the Open Source City: Evolving Structures of Work and Place

I will be talking about micro-scale networks, that is, the people you are co-present with at work and home.

We have been saying people should work alone and focus on key competences. But this is wrong - we need to find ways to train people to be collaborative, interdiscipinary, and more.

Organizations need to support and train a new generation of mobile workers, and this will require a whole range of new competencies.

- from virtual and distributed back to local and face-to-face
- from isolation of mobile workers to co-working environments or communities
- from proprietary business models to peer production
- from ownership of individual offices to sharing of spaces.

(This raises a question about corporate security - people do the secure and private stuff by themselves, and can do the less secure stuff at the Starbucks).

It's interesting to note that the majority of corporate office spaces are empty most of the day as people zoom around to meetings in other places.

CD advertisement - the 'sounds of the office' - background noises you need to make it sound like you are working in a productive office, not at home.

Victor and his ad hoc incubator: he has three different spaces, all in a Starbucks. He has a pre-production space (in a bookstore Starbucks, where he can reserach). The production space, at another Starbucks, which has more plugs for gear, and is the hub of his social network, and is next to a Kinkos. Then there's his deadline space, at a Starbucks in KoreaTown, where nobody will ever speak to him. Why is doing design work in a Starbucks important? "Well, I'm designing for them, right?" The people who enter the Starbucks are also his customers - it's the idea of puttkng yourself out and among your user group.

New research suggests that people retain more when they work in varied environments. When the outside context is varied, the experience is varied.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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