Swivel: When Sharks Attack!

Monthly Iraqi Civilian Deaths vs. Coalition Military DeathsSwivel is a simple site where people can upload data sets and then graph them against each other. You get graphs from the intriguing like, When Sharks Attack! vs. NASDAQ Adjusted Close, to the serious, as in Monthly Iraqi Civilian Deaths vs. Coalition Military Deaths (seen in picture).

With Swivel you can explore other people’s data, graph different data sets, comment on graphs, and blog your results. It is a clean idea to get people experimenting with data. I wonder how we could provide something like this for texts?

Thanks to Sean for this.

What we need from universities

DeLuca and Rockwell PictureWhat sorts of graduates does Canada need? Bill Gates in a opinion piece At risk: innovation (subscription required) in the Globe and Mail about a month ago argued for more computer science and engineering graduates arguing that our ability to innovate is at risk. This triggered a response, that Technology’s overrated and that what we need are more business students. Frankly I think they are both wrong, we need social content innovation. The innovations of the Web 2.0 (from blogging and wikis to Flickr and YouTube) are not technical innovations, but content innovations involving innovative ways for groups of people to communicate meaningful content. The areas of growth in information and communications technology are those areas that intersect with creative practices like digital imaging and computer games, as the resport Beyond Productivity points out.

What we need are more arts, humanities and social science students who are comfortable with communications technology and curious to use it in interesting ways. We need what Eugene Roman of Bell Canada calls “content scientists”. Companies like Bell have neat technologies, but need people to find ways to use them to create value. Toys are not enough, people need to play with them to give toys meaning and that is what arts, humanities and social science students do. Imagine a world where we made soccer balls but never organized a game – that’s what Gates, Martin and Milway will leave us with. Instead, as Chad Gaffield, the new president of SSHRC, puts it, Canada should support the human sciences which encourage understandings of people and developing talent.

In the picture above, I am with Gerry De Luca of Bell Canada after a meeting between Bell Canada representatives and colleagues at McMaster where we discussed the problems we face in teaching and research. Can we find an appropriate way for an enterprise like Bell to support the development of talented content scientists? What’s in it for them? This is not an easy problem in the content disciplines as industry engagement carries different risks than in science and engineering. When industry supports research in engineering the site of the engagement is a matter of patentable property ownership that is relatively free of controversy. When industry supports the creation of content it is a matter of copyright or expression, something that resists control or ownership. On the one hand there is too much content making most new content worthless; on the other hand content innovation takes freedom and rarely has a commercialization pathway when free. To support innovative expression you have to be willing to risk the tasteless, the controversial, the political, and the just plain bad. What entreprise would want to be associated with a chaotic explosion of content, even if there were a gem or two? Likewise, how comfortable are universities allowing industry engagement in content science.

Ning: Andreessen gets into social networking

The Globe and Mail has a story, Andreessen gets into social networking, on Ning, a “platform” for creating your own social network. It’s like an open FaceBook that lets you create a network for your family or for a class. You can create private or public networks; the public ones are visible and you can join them. You can pay Ning to make money off ads and for other services. Andreessen is, of course, the famous founder of Netscape. (So this is what he is up to now.)

Ning Screen Shot
Ning has a nice simple interface for choosing what you want on the portal. You drag the modules you want to the different columns. It lets you see what you can have and lets you arrange what you want.

YouTube: Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us

Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us is a great short (4.3 minutes) video on digital text, hypertext and XML. It makes the point about how XML and tagging enrich text with knowledge that can be manipulated in innovative ways. The video does this by showing the editing of text where what is typed is the message and demonstrates the message. This is by Michael Wesch, a Cultural Anthropologist at Kansas State. See the Digital Ethnography group blog his is part of.

Thanks to Terry for this.

Deus In Machina | Exploring Religion and Technology in Comparative Perspective

Image of woman and technologyThis weekend I attended parts of a conference called Deus in Machina | Exploring Religion and Technology in Comparative Perspective that was organized by Jeremy Stolow. The conference started with a great paper by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimlett, “Social Sofware and Contemporary Jewish Life” that dealt ways in which new social networking tools are being used to reach out to youth. She talked about the The Open Source Judaism Project and other projects that are supported by ?û?¶?™ ¬ª MATZAT.

Geoffrey Rockwell on Facebook

So I got a Facebook account. (See Geoffrey Rockwell.) I’m not sure how to use it as a professor – do students really want their profs in their space?

For a good biography of Facebook see the profile by Sid Yadav from Augst 25, 2006 on Mashable.com:

Facebook is the second largest social network on the web, behind only MySpace in terms of traffic. Primarily focused on high school to college students, Facebook has been gaining market share, and more significantly a supportive user base. Since their launch in February 2004, they’ve been able to obtain over 8 million users in the U.S. alone and expand worldwide to 7 other English-speaking countries, with more to follow.