Archive | review RSS for this section

Google Buzz – another moral panic over “public by default”

The messages on Twitter and Facebook containing warnings regarding a ‘huge privacy flaw’ in Google’s Buzz started popping up right after the first users noticed Buzz was available. A few weeks ago, Facebook’s move towards ‘public as default’ caused numerous outcries, now Google had taken up this notion of a new status quo and provided Buzz users with public by default settings. What people keep bemoaning is clearly not a flaw but intention – why would Google launch a system that competes with Facebook but resort to privacy standards that they perceive below (depending on your view it is: above) Facebook’s standards?

In contrast to Facebook, where working through all privacy and account settings can take up quite a bit of your time, and where they seem to undergo changes every now and then, Google’s Buzz offers a simple link to your profile where you can edit it. 3 options are available, ticked by default:

  1. Display my full name so I can be found in search
  2. Allow people to contact me (without showing my email address)
  3. Display the list of people I’m following and people following me

Untick at least option 2 as viewers are actually able to see you full email address, once they click on it. Untick all 3 options and you are done with privacy.

A full list of all options and possibilities illustrated with screenshots that also show you where to switch off Buzz entirely is available on: FastCompany.com. There is also the Google Buzz Video on Youtube and more on Google.com/buzz .

Then there is an option to choose between 2 different styles of your Profile URL and a menu that allows you to add links (URLs) to your social networking sites, outside Google’s world (i.e. beyond Blogspot, Picasa, the RSS Reader etc.). You can add your Linkedin profile, your LifeJournal, Twitter, Flickr etc. So far, I found it a straightforward way to handle privacy and decide to what degree I want to keep my connections public or not. Following others is equally easy: either click on follow or unfollow in structures which resemble Twitter.

What I find a lot more complex is the ongoing pro/con debate on Twitter and subsequent blogposts. I wished we, in particular the academic and technology expert community, moved on to a tone that enabled a debate beyond the simplified notion: users need privacy [by default]. We have shown that privacy is on our mind, but not all the time. The degree, to which we post consciously personal details, full email addresses and other potentially compromising data on the web, is not static and purely based on our age, social class and educational background. Rather, we may post information, share links and leave traces that we regret at a later point – simply because we are not rational beings 24/7 (some of us tweet in pubs, in moments of overjoy, frustration, while tired or very hungry…).

We may also get distracted or experience an impatient moment when we log in a social networking site that offers an unexpected dialogue requesting us to make a yes/no or now/later decision when all we want right now is to respond to that interesting / hilarious / unfair / nasty comment one of our friends posted and it got forwarded to our email inbox. It’s all about priorities. Then we fail to remember that there was something waiting for us to make – a not so exiting, let’s be honest – privacy decision. And there is no reminder (we seem to have become used to reminders: welcome back, switch off your out of office reply; your payment is due; your deadline is fast approaching etc).

I agree with the idea that social networking sites need to offer privacy options that are easy to navigate, clear in wording and transparent in their accessibility within the site. However, I also believe that we urgently need to move on towards a more mature discussion of what we can expect from users and how we should learn to grow up within the social media that we keep using on a daily basis. We do not benefit from systems that reflect a virtual nanny state but rather, we are living in an age where choices and options can leave us somewhat paralysed (analogous to dozens of TV channels to choose from – and no one telling us to switch it off).

Once we have understood that privacy is not a vain exercise but vital to our long-term well-being and sense of control, it should become less of a controversial notion to navigate around in a new system and familiarise ourselves with the available options. Rather than waiting for the day someone annoys us with their comments or – worst case scenario – has hacked our account, it should be informed by our sense of belonging to a virtual community to do that minimal piece of homework and surf the very site we use. It’s a bit like in real life – you rent an apartment and hold the property-owner responsible for whatever does not work but you will need to take care of the keys, and ensure doors and windows are being closed on a daily basis.

I am not saying that all the responsibility lies with the user but that the world of social media is a very dynamic space and users need to continue to respond to security holes, hidden gaps, poorly structured privacy settings etc. But at the same time they also need to resist resorting to moral panics every time a new system is being launched – mainly, because this prevents system developers / providers and users from having an efficient and meaningful dialogue. It seems to create an aggressive bubble in which pro/con arguments are being traded when all we need is to look at how the system can be improved towards a standard that is acceptable (to all age groups) at a certain point in time. After all, Buzz privacy settings might become as overblown and still not fully satisfactory just as Facebook’s are right now, yet, it would be a lot more useful and socially sustainable to develop a stance as user that perceives negotiating various options and flaws by taking in more complex views – and making this the very ‘default option’.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Tackfilm killed the hero

It was a short-lived celebrity status Tackfilm had bestowed me. In the early hours of Sunday morning I noticed Tackfilm had suffered and subsequently resorted to radical measures:

Thank you for visiting our International Hero Movie Application! Unfortunately, we’ve been forced to close this site for non-Swedish users due to the huge amount of visitors.

It seems, united we crashed it. United we mourn the short-lived existence of virtual heroes we were. Or perhaps we just flock to the next interactive video…supposed we find another one that promises just as much fun as Tackfilm had managed to give us.

Of course, Tackfilm is still available on its Swedish domain Tackfilm.se. Use Google Translate in case you can’t make sense of the Swedish instructions. If you use Google Chrome you will be able to access the site by help of a new incognito window, in case your non-Swedish IP address excludes you.

Yesterday, I had also trouble accessing Stopp.se’s website, the producers behind Tackfilm. More details on them in my previous post about Tackfilm.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Google Wave invites for you

The first 8 invites have gone, another 10 are available for those who email me at
bbohlinger [at ] googlemail [dot] com. Just get in touch.

My review of 14 November is available within my blog: My post on Google Wave’s potential.

It focuses on qualitative aspects of my own experience with Wave. Google have conducted a quantitative study and published their findings in a post highlighting statistics on what users like and dislike.

I strongly recommend to use Google Chrome which is a lot faster than Internet Explorer (add-in) or Firefox – in particular in larger Waves. Google Chrome works well even on mobile broadband, so worthwhile trying if you haven’t downloaded it yet.

If you are interested in more sophisticated waves for business or education and other projects, check this detailed blogpost that features a number of helpful screenshots: Lifehacker’s Google Wave for projects article.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

Discourse Analysis: study material, references

I have received online access to all material for Discourse Analysis (key theoretical, philosophical, and methodological debates), the Open University’s post-graduate course in the Social Sciences programme. It’s a 16 week course at 30 credit points and will be my second last course towards the MA degree, with 3 assignments to be submitted electronically and an exam in April 2010. All material has been provided right at the start of the course in PDFs – which can be edited by help of mark-up. Below the links to the study material on Amazon (look inside feature) and material from previous years (PDFs are not editable) which vary only in terms of dates from the current presentation.

There is also a specimen exam paper delivered online but not made accessible to the public by the Open University, further a number of exam papers from previous years available on the OUSA Online Store for purchase. Moreover, preparation notes, a guide for submitting electronic assignments (time of submission will change in December from 12am to 12noon) and the assignment booklet itself.

Further required readings:

  • Fairclough, N. and Wodak, R. (1997) ‘Critical discourse analysis’ in van Dijk, Teun A. (ed.) Discourse as Social Interaction, vol. 2, London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi: Sage, pp. 258–84.
  • Locke, A. and Edwards, D. (2003) ‘Bill and Monica: memory, emotion and normativity in Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 42, part 2, pp. 239–56.
  • Pomerantz, A. and Fehr, B.J. (1997) ‘Conversation analysis: an approach to the study of social action as sense making practices’ in van Dijk, Teun A. (ed.) Discourse as Social Interaction,vol.2, London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi: Sage Publications, pp. 64–91.
  • Potter, J. (2005) ‘Making psychology relevant’, Discourse and Society, vol. 16, no. 5, pp. 739–47.
  • van Dijk, Teun A. (1992) ‘Discourse and the denial of racism’, Discourse and Society, vol. 3, no.1, pp. 87–118

Tackfilm Sweden features: You, the Hero

Staring in a Swedish film, takes less than 5 minutes and makes you look like a global hero in a professionally made short film. Tackfilm – tack means thank you in Swedish – is thanking Swedish citizens for paying their broadcasting fees. Subtitled and smart (upload your own pic, turn off sound and run the faster version if on slow connection) it’s a toy that can potentially teach more than clever marketing.

It conveys a sense of how easy it is making someone look pretty good – in this case it’s me who’s the hero: Tackfilm features Britta – in no less than 8 (!) appearances…stunning, almost convinced myself of being Sweden’s hero 😉

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

challenges, passion – and Higher Education

Alone in walled cyberspace: I was working on a collaborative project today and made some interesting observations. The university forum was quiet, as so often now. We are six groups of 10 students each, each group works with an allocated associated lecturer. They could potentially get discussions going but debate has decreased to a degree where 3-5 students per week at best contribute, it’s rather monologues than debates. The current project is a group presentation based on notions of definition of professionalism, excellence, best practices and related illustrating material in educational contexts. It’s fairly straightforward and I have already selected my case studies, summarised the key points which I think justify calling them excellent and posted that. So I can concentrate on a paper due next week for the course on accessibility.

Wiki and Moodle: We use a Wiki within the Moodle environment. Even though Moodle is open source, the technology is rather hindering than facilitating efficient and enjoyable communication and collaboration. The course is 100% online, i.e. no printed material, no audio or video conferences. A huge minus, it means you don’t talk to any student or lecturer over the course of five months, you won’t see them if they opt for those object-centred avatars, the least personal thing anyone could possibly come up with.

Online collaboration: Based on these premises, the collaboration is mediocre, we try, of course, to hit the deadline, and produce something that will pass. But we depend on each other (which would be a lot more fascinating to study…) and what happened over the past few days was quite amusing. People were reminded to show up in the forum and collaborate on the project as this is a must-do activity – one of the many that are not mentioned in the course description when students sign up for splashing out a four-digit amount on this course just to end up being frustrated but end up not daring to express it.

Power and Panopticon: The forums could be linked together rather than running individual walled gardens where a group of no more than ten students watched by their lecturer makes for a spirit of a Foucauldian panopticon because lecturers neither engage in debates (other than ‘oh, that’s a good point’) nor do they share conference announcements, their own publications or anything that I think would be normal to do in an online course at post-graduate level. I found myself posting conference announcement until I noticed that all lecturers and course authors attend plenty of conferences but remain utterly shy when it comes to sharing. No papers, no ideas beyond the course content, no events. Make your own way if you want to be one of us.

Sharing practices 1.0: Now, people emailed the lecturer asking to get their email address distributed. The Open University does not support student contact lists we were told, which means you have to email the lecturer and ask them explicitly to email that to other students. Once they have done that students get an email with one email address of a fellow student addressed to an undisclosed recipient list. Now to me that is so web 1.0 and so control-freakish that I couldn’t help but post my email address straight into the course Wiki – which is, you guessed it, behind walls, password-secured, of course.

Dependent learners: I found the Wiki work so far not exactly inspiring, you get an impression there are students who throw into it whatever they can think of – or the opposite, nothing at all. We are asked to collaborate with regard to cleaning up etc but it feels a bit like reinventing the wheel – there are publicly accessible wikis in the net, so why not having a look and getting inspired? Oh, self-directed learning, critical and independent thinking and questioning minds, are we ready for them or shall we rather re-produce the well-tried docile bodies and minds that come in so handy in consumerist societies that just suffered a major blow to the unquestioning buy-now, let the next-generation-pay attitude? It’s so convenient to not being questioned, and to not engage with some of those tireless students who are such a nuisance…

The administrator-lecturer:The whole course would greatly benefit from more critical thinking, concerted action and a much less administrative attitude of lecturers who see their role obviously in copy and pasting individual snippets of the course guide following the pattern ‘activity 2.4 – please discuss…’. It’s all asynchronous and students tend to ramble away, everyone under considerable time pressure due to all those exercises that focus on rhetoric rather than substance. So far I have been missing theoretical frameworks that required a bit of work and dare I say it? Thinking, just thinking through ideas, not one single concept that was hard to grasp.

Inter-disciplinarity? No thanks: Boring, over-priced and somewhat hysteric with all its pieces of 300 or 500 words of reflective practice. This course does not allow us to reflect on the institutional agenda, the politics of academia or the self-centred assessment obsession we are presented with. Nor do lecturer or authors make any references to auto-ethnography, auto-biography or reflexivity. I was told, it’s another discipline and hence we won’t discuss it, so no chance to get the course anywhere near inter-disciplinary approaches or harness the power of collective student knowledge in academic crowd-sourcing style.

Off the record – student feedback: In 1:1 conversations behind other walled gardens I get to hear that this course is a ‘raw deal’, that the references we are presented with are predominantly freely accessible government reports, papers produced by academics who don’t work with the Open University or other material that has been licensed under a Creative Commons License and was intended for non-profit purposes – but who dares to cry wolf when they have spent a considerable amount of money on degree courses they try to do to get on with careers that are not exactly exciting? Clearly, it takes another kind of student to get a bit of protest than the ones the Open University usually attracts and manages well to keep as far apart as possible – networking outcomes are incredibly poor at the Open University, any conference or workshop will provide a better opportunity. In this way, though, any student rebels remain under control, I haven’t seen anything remotely resembling what I witnessed on a regular basis in Berlin’s universities – where students do have to pay at worst a minor fraction of what we are being charged here – but still seem to have fierce critical thinking for breakfast and never get tired pointing out what’s wrong with ‘the system’.

Not understanding social media practices: Technology, after all, is not a panacea. To me it seems, some academics discovered social media as cash-generating holy grail, so they came up with online courses that require students to do a lot of administrative work that course teams used to do in the past. Lecturers have started blogging, some of them explored the liberating effects of reflecting over compromising personal material they declare they don’t want to share in the student forums but you will find them on Google within a minute. Others don’t trust any applications which are freeware or shareware or anything that requires interaction between peers, no matter where you are in the hierarchies in real life. I feel like attempting to educate educators who lack experience in social media and think that a bit of blogging in pseudo-anonymous style and a few friends on facebook are all that’s to be known about social media. Elearning itself is so overrated and yet so misunderstood and under-harnessed in this course that I wonder what comes next. The exciting aspects of studies based on books and papers? The unquestioned technological determinism that has been creeping into the study material compiled by people who barely know anything about building networks and resolving conflicts or getting into such in social networks is shocking. What qualifies these people to teach us in this top-down manner (in particular as they request us to provide evidence even in cases when we argue we haven’t made any personal or professional progress)? Why should I be content with this after experiencing experts in the field sharing on Twitter and in blogs in a constant stream of enthusiasm? Why should I trust experts in online edcuation when they do not even have a sound online identity (or none at all)?

Before we hyped elearning: Non-online courses at the Open University were provided as heavy packs of audio, video and paper material (one of them delivered numerous interviews with Stuart Hall -perhaps I need to let the Open University know that these courses were the ones which educated me towards the demanding student I am nowadays, that was at half the fee I pay now and just 4 years ago). Now, this is gone, though. Whenever my internet connection is down, I am lost. The entire material is provided as html sites, lots of links, so please check them and if you intend to highlight or work with the material offline, happy copy and pasting. Whenever the student server is down, the same applies.

Harnessing the limitations: Over the past 11 weeks or so I have been through a number of angry moments, and I wasn’t shy in expressing my frustration. The aspect that infuriates me most is the lack of challenging course work, the total obsession with assessment and the massive lack of flexibility. This is new, in previous courses (under-graduate and post-graduate) the Open University provided enough room for personal planning around other commitments – after all that’s why busy people study there. Now it’s every week another 3-5 activities we’ve got to do. Plus essays and projects. Write 500 words on this or that, post it on your blog (and mess up your online identity) and debate in the forum – where noone will respond to what you say – beyond oh yes, good point – because people are busy ticking all the boxes of this ‘new’ micro-management teaching style. Flow, the kind of immersed happiness that comes with getting deeply into studies, does not kick in. I assume, that is what I miss most and that’s why I am angry. I feel betrayed for the best that learning has to offer.

Flows of learning: In all my disappointment (there are more aspects that make you laugh out loud in disbelief, check my Twitter channel) I noticed I have been fuelled with – supposedly – negative energy and a lack of inspiring and driven debate that poured right into my spinning activities. We spinners in London’s Soho Gym Camden are blessed with a remarkable individual. I have come from weak to outstanding (I get to hear) over the past 10 months and keep having amusing conversations about personal development and informal learning – unexpected, unplanned, all down to someone who is outstanding in his teaching, motivational and observational skills. Our instructor will not break a spinner, but he will yell at us in complete passion ‘fly! fly!’ and we will. He will observe your progress and won’t push you beyond your personal maximum limit but he will get you very close. That’s a rare skill, too many lecturers either don’t challenge you or too much or only in all the wrong aspects.

Informal learning: I have learned an enormous amount from these spinning classes that have made me see skills I possess but never thought I would have. I have became a lot braver, trusting, confident in the unknown – I have started exploring the mental space that is between getting on that bike and the 5th minute after getting the body into a different mode. I develop ideas in a non-intellectual way when I work through the 70th minute on a Sunday morning, the body in ecstatic sweatiness, the mind sharp and ready to tackle whatever may come. I have learned to be in a state of very happy meditation, a state of deep fulfilment, generated by nothing but physical work and focus, focus, focus. Don’t let go! The mantra that wipes out any doubt in the manipulating power an instructor can have over you. Don’t let go! – the same few words Rose got to hear from Jack on the Titanic. You know how far she got after he drowned in the icy sea…(that’s another story though).

Transferable social skills: I have learned to trust an instructor who’s got the power to make or break (and I wasn’t aware of this before) by manipulating us. I have also learned that a good and passionate teacher is not shy of sharing what they do learn from us learners. And they do. In fact they may even discover things in learner they envy as they haven’t had that experience yet. It’s been a rewarding and fantastic journey that has got me to look at learning and teaching even more from a sharing and equality angle. I am less than ever before willing to buy into the assessment-driven micro-management teaching I experience in my university.

Producing docile minds versus the greed for a challenge: Studies that lack enthusiasm and the kind of inspired atmosphere that leaves people happily exhausted are something we all should learn to criticise a lot harsher. Too many have been educated to be docile, to not question the power and hierarchy, the funding politics and institutional agendas embedded in learning practices that protesting for harder student work and more challenges do not seem to come naturally to many students – and I mean qualitative harder studies, not just a mind-numbing quantity of easily assessable tasks. I find this sad, even more so ever since I have been joining these spinning classes which are always fully booked and transform people over an hour into happily exhausted perma-grinners, excited in the experience and keen on coming back and progressing. Fly, fly!

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

using Google Wave: lots of potential

I got an invite to Google Wave some time back and at the moment about half of my 11 contacts in Wave have engaged in some online collaboration. This was predominantly in 1:1 conversation, so very similar to emailing at this point.

One major exception, though. A wave that started on 6th November, includes in this hour 125 -invited- users (basically by friend’s snow-balling), and discusses the simple question whether Wave will become a success. So, it’s Yes, No or Maybe. Nearly 80 messages and comments have been generated and to me it’s been an excellent way to explore the limited options a little further. Wave Preview is restricted with respect to add- ins and gadgets. Here is a list of Google Wave extensions and Google Wave Robots that we are supposed to be able to use sometime soon (when exactly is still unclear).

Some users within this Wave declared they were getting impatient, this was the main argument people made who thought Wave is not going to be a success. However, this specific wave is managed (so people stay on the topic) and contains some gadgets. New comments are highlighted, in order to trace back when a wave was started and what was said by whom there is a playback menu, which also allows to toggle between frames and lists a full list of participants of a wave.

So far I find it very interesting to see how much speculation there is and how much misconception – this extends to those users who haven’t engaged in the managed wave. It seems the lack of communication provided by Google within Wave feeds into pessimism and the lack of time or curiosity to explore options and play equally nurtures the failure some see on the horizon. Those who are not familiar with editing wikis and collaborating in semi-private online spaces argue they want more privacy and control, others claims it’s boring and some said they would only log in to see whether someone had said something to them (which, I admit, made me instantly think about their real life relationships…).

Wave raises interesting questions as to power and control, censorship and regulation – on the micro-level of the individual user. Some seem to be very comfortable talking to anyone who has posted something worth commenting on. Others remain observers – at least they are still listed as such. Users can unfollow any wave, just like in Twitter. There is an option that allows users to tag a wave, so it’s collective tagging which is fun – and can help looking at discussions from a different angle, depending on the users’ expertise and professional background. Now there is also an option to up-and download a wave or copy it to another wave. The latter option made me wonder whether all comments are recognised by users as not copyrighted. Basically, Wave operates as password-protected area but I doubt every user holds the same authorship ethos – attribution may become an issue.

Wave is fast and operates well in Google Chrome but it seems to cause problems in other browsers. So far it has delivered it key promise: to provide the main features of Twitter, Facebook and Wikis, with a few more options and gadgets, this could become my favourite tool of discussion, in particular in combination with Google Docs.

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

%d bloggers like this: