Updates on Method

I’ve been following the work of Jason Farman for a while, and am now enjoying his book Mobile Interface Theory (excerpt here). It’s really good, but in the process of being good also points out many gaps in our contemporary thinking about mobile (it’s not just phones) and phenomenology (it’s not mutually exclusive of poststructuralism; it’s not outmoded). Needless to say, this is yet another new work among many that relates well to my dissertation in process.

It feels a little uneasy bringing (as Farman does) the concept of embodiment (via Katherine Hayles) to a constructivist interpretation of technology, but in some ways, it makes sense and feels right. Why the uneasiness? Well, I recall trying to do so in my comprehensive exams and getting cautioned not to do so by one of my supervisors. I cannot recall the precise reason why I was so cautioned (though it seemed like a good reason at the time, and under the pressure of the oral exam, I chose to backpedal away from my more adventurous ideas rather than fight for them), but it had something to with this:

I was trying to make the point that Hayles’ notion of embodiment as a process involving mutual constitution of biology and mind (Farman brilliantly extends this to bodies and space) is resonant with Latourian concepts of hybridity. That is, acknowledging the mutual constitution of biology and mind is identical to acknowledging the hybrid of politics and science. Somehow the literary dimensions of Hayles’ work didn’t sit well with Latour for that member of my committee.

Am I nuts? Naive? Reading vandalized books? Hep me, I want to resolve this.

Recruiting Android users for mobile app research, March 31-April 14

I’m looking for study participants (Metro Vancouver area only) for empirical research I’m doing about mobile apps and location awareness. And, you can win an iPod Touch if you participate.

What will participants do? They will beta test a sustainability challenge application for two weeks (March 31-April 14), comment about the experience, and complete two online surveys (one at the start, and one at the end). Some participants will use the Facebook version of the app, while some will use an Android version they will install to their Android smartphone. Android users will also agree to have their location tracked for the two week period (Android users’ personal location data are not exposed to Facebook nor made public. Location data are anonymized for the purposes of analysis and any future publication of the research). All data is stored on Canadian servers.

All participants must have a Facebook account (we use it to authenticate users in both versions of the app). None of your data in the app is shared with Facebook – you have the choice to have all of your participation in the app viewable by “Only Me”.

I need to recruit Facebook and Android users in roughly equal numbers. After 50 Facebook users have signed up, I will only be recruiting Android users, until their number also reaches 50. Then I will open the study up to more Facebook users.

Those who complete the full cycle of required app testing and complete two online surveys get entered into a draw for an iPod Touch. There will also be runner-up prizes of lesser value.

This study is part of the empirical research I’m doing for my PhD dissertation. It’s also part of a multi-university project called Greenest City Conversations.

If you are interested in participating, please email me (jeanhebert at sfu dot ca) with the following information:

(1) “Mobile GCCP app” should appear in the subject line;
(2) your name;
(3) the email address you use for Facebook; and
(4) whether you have an Android device (by indicating this you put yourself in the Android group).

Once you’ve indicated your interest, I’ll add you to my list of potential participants and send you more detailed information about what the study involves. Once I’ve reached a critical mass of potential participants (I expect sometime early next week), I’ll send you all a link to the informed consent and entrance survey (which must be completed by March 31st, and must be done before you can install the app).

Thanks for your attention!

ubitasking. Taylorism. The horror…

Visualization of over 16,000 Mechanical Turk workers in the United States. Click on the image for the original (much bigger).

I’m always trying to think of silly new buzzwords (“ubitasking”), and I’m also always trying to avoid the hackneyed ones (“crowdsourcing”). Mechanical Turk (ach! 41% of it is SPAM) -type platforms are brushing up against place-sensitive applications, and the results are intriguing, particularly in the coordination of humanitarian aid. In one case, Crowdflower participated in Haitian earthquake relief efforts, in conjunction with the well-known Ushahidi platform and a ‘Turk-like ‘form called Samasource. This is interesting (and relevant to my research) for two reasons:

Firstly, the work sourced through Samasource involved translation of text messages so that aid workers could read them and respond – which is an important general consideration when envisioning the localization of any ICTs to particular cities (and neighborhoods within cities). Vancouver is made up of a number of linguistic communities; reaching out broadly to ensure they are all included requires an awareness of such tactics and a readiness to deploy them in the rollout of any mobile application(s). So, for instance – should the design team prescribe something with a similar “task orientation” (like ubitasking notifications to the City about sick trees or potholes) – translation services can be similarly sourced and organized here. The elderly Korean woman who has a community garden plot next to ours (who is constantly giving us gardening advice, in Korean, as she speaks no English whatsoever) inspires me to demand a community babelfish…

Secondly, and troublingly, all this “task orientation” (should be “tsk. orientation…”) smacks of Taylorism writ even more granular than ever before. If you doubt me, just read Crowdflower’s FAQ page for things such as “By saving the correct answers to a small set of Units prior to running a job, we track the quality of a worker’s performance and reject a worker once his or her accuracy drops below a defined threshold. When no Gold Units are inserted, the quality of work plummets…”. Yep, that’s your name alright, Taylorism. Routinizing work; building human powered Difference Engines; monitoring space and time with cool algorithms. Not your Lefebvre‘s city. More like yr Le Corbusier‘s…

I’m not dis(mis)sing Crowdflower, though, as they clearly have a charitable and progressive ethos going on, by all accounts. Just picking on the FAQ language, noting the exacting character of software, and pointing out where I’ve seen it all before.

So yes, pluses and minuses so far in the prelims, as expected. I’m looking at a few more technical options, and I’m prescribing nothing.

Image credit: sethoscope (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sethoscope/5410862747/) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Laboratory Life: Seeking input from YOU on course design

So I’m redesigning a course I’ve taught a few times now (CMNS 253, which I’m teaching right now, too) to transform it from a lecture/tutorial format that uses an all-in-one wiki/blog/CMS (Howard Rheingold’s Social Media Classroom build of Drupal) into, well, a lecture/lab course in writing for social, mobile and pervasive media (using Mediawiki, WordPress, Twitter, Digg, and a whole ecosystem of other open-platform mobile and social media tools).

The 2 hour lectures still follow the same format, tracing the history of analog and digital communications media as told by Wade Rowland in Spirit of the Web. However, what’s new is the lab component: 1 hour following the lecture every week is a workshop in social media literacies and tools, culminating in (1) an individually written research paper in the form of a crowdsource-mediated blog post and (2) a citizen journalism exercise/team multimedia project.

I’m interested in your input, so I’ve included a draft of the syllabus below. Please comment on this post if you have any ideas or criticism. Some of it is more-or-less complete, while stuff toward the end of the thirteen weeks is a bit hazier as of now.

In particular, I’m wondering if there is room in here for things I haven’t yet included – web metrics and analytics, for one, but there are probably others. And I’m also open to suggestion as to whether the lectures should match each lab somehow in terms of theme (though I don’t think this is really warranted, as Rowland’s history stands on its own, and dramatically underlines the watershed represented by the Internet and social media in communications history.


CMNS 253 (W) J1, Spring 2010 – Draft Syllabus

Week 1 (Jan 5) Information, technology, new media, social software.

  • Read: Rowland, Prologue, Chapters 1, 2, 3. See Week 1 for details.
  • LAB: Introduction to the computer lab
    • Overview of Lab Assignments
    • Start a Blog, Get on the Wiki
    • Post a brief blog post about yourself, then post a link to it on the wiki.


Week 2 (Jan 12) The Telegraph. Theories of technology.

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 4, 5, 6. Also, Kierkegaard’s The Present Age. See Week 2 for details.
  • LAB: Doing online research
    • Tools: Google Scholar, Google Books, EBSCO & library databases
    • Style: APA, blogging/linking conventions, attributing, Zotero, Endnote
    • How to identify and use a peer reviewed source
    • How and why to use non-peer reviewed sources
    • Choose a topic (you sill stay with this topic throughout the semester) from a list provided, OR choose one off-list by emailing me about it.
    • Exercise: find a scholarly article that is relevant to the topic you’ve chosen, post the APA-cited reference to it on your blog before next class (we will need you to read it before next class too, as you will be discussing it in next week’s lab).


Week 3 (Jan 19) The Telephone. Theories and critics of Information Society.

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 7, 8, 9. Also, Howard Rheingold’s Disinformocracy, Rheingold’s encounter with Habermas and Kellner on Habermas. See Week 3 for details.
  • LAB: Searching and Social Bookmarking
    • Digg, Delicious, StumbleUpon introduced. (We vote on which to use)
    • Search techniques (both push -twitter, friendfeed, etc. , or pull -google,yahoo,wikipedia)
    • Topic search to find a news article, blog, or other timely (academic or non-academic) source of relevance to your topic
    • Find at least 2 people who are experts on your topic who you can follow for timely topical updates
    • Create a social bookmark for the article you found. Establish a routine search for topical items. Everyday, do a news/bookmark/digg search. Also read your feeds (people, experts)


Week 4 (Jan 26) Radio. The Tetrad Protocol as a method.

Read: Rowland, Chapters 10, 11, 12. See Week 4 for details.
LAB: Microblogging (twittering), bouncing ideas around about topics.

Start a twitter account (link to it on our designated wiki page for this)
Find the people (experts) on twitter that you identified last week. Follow them and create a twitter list for your topic.
Update this list regularly, and post a link to it on the appropriate wiki page.
Tweet about something related to your topic. use a hash tag. reply to two other tweets (I will configure a twitter list for the class. You can reply to someone else in the class, or to one of your tweeps you’ve identified as a ‘knowledge broker” in your topic).


Week 5 (Feb 2) Radio as an Industry.

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 13, 14, 15. See Week 5 for details.
  • LAB: Blogging.
    • Post a blog as a first draft for your Major Research paper, based on your research thus far. Include your two sources (at least one academic) found thus far. Be sure to cite in APA (including a references cited list) and link/attribute appropriately.
    • Comment constructively on 2 other students’ blog posts about social media.
  • Assignment: Major Research Paper draft


Week 6 (Feb 9) Television (and review of previous weeks).

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 16, 17, 18. See Week 6 for details.
  • LAB: Collaborating on a Wiki
    • team forming, idea clustering (based on topics chosen) (teams will also work together on the video assignment later)
    • discuss and differentiate your ideas. identify your unique contribution (we can’t all write about “Facebook and surveillance”, for example – if more than one person is writing about something – try to work together to differentiate your individual topics)
  • Due: Major Research Paper draft. Give it to a partner for formal peer review.


Week 7 (Feb 23) Midterm exam

No reading assigned this week. No lecture/lab this week. 2 hour in class exam. See Week 7 for details.

Week 8 (March 2) Pre-history and history of computers

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23. See Week 8 for details.
  • LAB: Exploring & Coordinating Online Syndication: RSS & APIs
  • Due: Major Research Paper draft – formal peer review – use form for review, communicate review privately to original writer (ccd to me).


Week 9 (March 9) Microchips, computers, and the Internet

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. See Week 9 for details.
  • LAB: Exploring multimedia sources
  • Due: Major Research Paper (final draft). Post as a document (Word, Open Office, something that permits me to comment and edit) to your blog. Revise based on peer feedback.


Week 10 (March 16) Search, Social Media and the Real-Time Web

  • Read: Rowland, Chapters 29, 30, 31 and 32, and Jenkins’ “If it Doesn’t Spread It’s Dead” (part one). See Week 10 for details.
  • LAB: Mobilizing your social media
    • What’s in your phone/laptop?
    • Using SMS and MMS with social media
    • Using cameras, streaming media
    • Using location apps
    • Using the field: making use of free wi-fi, 3G, Bluetooth to communicate live (laptop or cel phone)
  • Assignment: for the final multimedia assignment, decide on a topic based on your teams’ individual research. Can you combine your topics or just use one (or two) of your individual studies to springboard into a multimedia project? Remember that you will decide on a local event (or create your own) that is useful to your research topic – a conference, barcamp, public event, political protest, or flashmob. Preferable to use one that’s already happening.


Week 11 (March 30) Copyright and its Digital Discontents

  • Read: Oswald’s “Plunderphonics”, Doctorow’s “The DRM Sausage Factory” and DeBeer’s “Respect and Reality are Keys to Reform” See Week 11 for details.
  • FIELD EXERCISE: Citizen Journalism and/or Flash Mob. We will cover a live event, or create one of our own and cover it, in teams we formed back in Week 6. we will decide on the location ahead of time, so the timing might not sync with lab time. in that case, we’ll cover the event (on a weekend or evening only that we decide as a team, or as a class if we all do the same thing, but regardless it will have to be something that happens in wek 10 or 11 in order to have enough time to edit footage down. I will compile an event calendar of things accessible via skytrain or bus that will be suitable), and instead use this time in the lab for editing/scripting as needed by the various teams of 5. post your footage to the wiki, blogs, and make it creative commons.
  • Assignment: In teams, and using the wiki, script/design your video or multimedia project. Remember that as we’re doing this around a live event, you need to decide what kinds of footage you’re likely to need:
    • interviews – with whom, and using what questions? script your interviews ahead of time, get model release forms and informed consent forms signed first, on location
    • b-roll – establishing shots, ambient footage. looks good behind voice-overs, can be used for montage, etc.
    • event footage. when we get closer to the event, spec out the setting for: lighting, probable noise, angles, probably sites where the action will be, where the audience will be, where signage is, etc.


Week 12 (April 6) The Mobile Web and Pervasive Computing

  • Read: Castells et al, The Mobile Communication Society (Chapters 6 and 7). See Week 12 for details.
  • LAB: editing, remixing, mashing
  • Assignment: Edit your video or multimedia project.


Week 13 (April 13) Student Video Presentation Day

  • No assigned readings. See Week 13 for details.
  • Hand in video/multimedia project via this wiki the night before (April 12), and bring a hard copy to class as a backup.
  • Screening of student multimedia projects in Lecture.

Open Web Vancouver

I’m attending (and presenting at) Open Web Vancouver next week, celebrating (and problematizing) with many others the many affordances and limitations of open source and open formats in our digitally mediated world. My talk will likely be rather policy-wonkish, as a current concern of mine (and a crucial chapter in my dissertation research) is that of the potential impact of broad public participation in wireless and mobile internet policy development. If you haven’t yet, register here. The leader of the Pirate Party is keynoting, so it’s well worth the hundred and eighty five clams, to my mind.

Hope to see you there.

summer summer summer summer/it’s like a merry-go-round

Perhaps it would be more appropriate for me to entitle this post with a reference to Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” (given that Isabel has mysteriously begun singing “mummy’s alright/and daddy’s alright/and baby’s alright/bla bla bla etc…” – where’d she get that? her new nanny? SFU childcare? hopefully no one’s introducing her to that lame Guitar Hero crapola) rather than The Cars as I have done, but given how things have been unfolding around here I think the Rik Ocasek lyric is most appropriate. And I blurt all this even though I should be disassociating myself from 20C Top 40 posthaste, given the maturation and crustification of my tastes (I mostly listen to music from various parts of Africa now. Western pop is becoming increasingly foreign and bewildering to me, and calm down, I’m not bragging or anything – it’s simply the way it’s playing out for me at the ripe old age of 37. Like I care anymore what anyone thinks).

Hello self-indulgent LJ-land. Anyhoo, the merry-go-round. Ah, well, it’s an exaggeration, really. I just have a bunch of conferences coming up. Cossette Convergence next week (part of Vancouver Digital Week), CCA at the end of the month, Open Web Vancouver and Communicating Cities in June. I’m also teaching a 2nd year course (CMNS 253) at SFU this summer, which promises to take up much time. So, retainer firmly in mouth (temporary speech impediment on), I’m talking lots this summer: about tech, about the history of broadcasting, the internet and new media, and about the pervasive (mobile) social web’s potential to afford broader social inclusion, emancipation, and revolutionary change in the nodes in which it is activated.

That, and I thought I’d post because I’m totally stoked about the first Android phones coming to Canada. I want one. I want everyone to have one. Open mobiles, baby!

Friday Zeitgeist: GeoChat, Twitter filters, Street Hacks, Youtube FAIL

Youtube CSS FAILI might start trying to do a “weekly zeitgeist” digest every Friday (or at worst, just paste together some cool links I’ve found). I’d like to include the sorts of links that contain answers (even partial, or even just plain wrong) to all of our questions, before many of us even formulate those questions. That, and funny shit. Here goes…

GeoChat is inviting participants. I’m joining, and so should you! Open source, network-traversing GPS/messaging? For disaster scenarios? A no brainer.

Russel Beattie reads my mind (and raman amplifiermany others), and he’s working on some code to separate the tweets from the twits (snarkiness mine). Let’s see if he gets there before some round-cornered logo accompanies some social media hipster-whoreapp that does the same thing but makes us feel icky because of the fast-talking jerk who made it. Snarkiness. Mine. Srsly though, where would we be without fast-talking jerks?

Too much coffee, man. Or, It’s Friday, I’m in Love.

An excellent read (so far), ccd so you can download (tipped off by @janchip, who’s also bringing the skinny on street hacks to MIT next week).

And finally, a major CSS FAIL at Youtube hit some student work at SFU (pictured above). Thankfully I had Grab ready and reproduced one of the borked pages (for the full comedic effect of the upside down youtube page, go to the full size jpeg on my Flickr account and read what it says in the blue box on the right).

Have a great weekend, folks.

Vancouver Digital Week, Cossette Convergence 09, and the Future of Mobile

Vancouver Digital Week is coming up soon (May 11-14), and it’s a must-attend for anyone in the New/Social/Mobile Media scenes in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, it’s an international must-attend event (even GDC is part of it this year, so it’s going to be huge in 2009!). So all you folks outside of Vaneattleland should be coming here too!

Kicking off the week on May 11th is the ever-engrossing Cossette Convergence conference, at which I will be presenting (as part of a panel called “Mobile Marketing: Are we at the tipping point?“). The program description is as follows:

Mobile marketing and applications are not new, but many marketers have been sitting on the sidelines watching savvy wireless wizards forge new relationships on emerging platforms.  Has mobile marketing finally reached the tipping point in 2009?  Learn the latest developments in mobile and leave this session appreciating the role mobile will have in the coming year and how you can best integrate mobile or build an entire campaign around this burgeoning technology.

I’ll also be demonstrating the Mobile Muse platform for the audience. Looks like so much fun!

Did I mention the keynote at Cossette this year is none other than David Plouffe, chief campaign manager for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign?

You excited now? I said “Obama” – that should’ve done it.

Sharkbook and Twitnets

I’m going to call it now – Facebook has officially jumped the shark.

This comes with apologies to those who thought FB died hours ago, when it made another attack-user-privacy-or-otherwise-degrade-user-happiness move. And gosh darnit, if this isn’t the type of action the FB population was just starting to get used to.

This comes without apologies to those of you who thought FB started to suck the moment the CIA conspiracy theory started circulating. You folks fell on your own sword there, as that rumour has long been debunked (FYI, awesome post, Brainsturbator – who knew Tetris was a CIA plot, too?), even though many news agencies and websites still repeat it, some as recently as this month.

With all of you mentioned above, I disagree and call FB’s failure now. In its move to beat twitter at its own game – by reorganizing its formerly compartmentalized and configurable information structure into the simple, much-maligned “What’s on your mind?” deluge – and best of all, forcing all users to adopt it – FB has copied its best competitor (twitter) in the worst possible way, and ceased being innovative. So they’re basically the new Myspace (when it sold out to News Corp), the new Friendster (when it started banning fakesters) – or, perhaps, depending on where you were in 2000 – the new makeoutclub.

Twitter might survive as a different animal altogether (of the let’s take the “site” out of “social networking site” variety), should it remain an “extensible” “application”. Or put another way, if the high tech venture capital economy really does tank, the twitterverse could still survive in the same manner as Usenet did – free, open, but with perhaps less reach than any present-day social network service. And perhaps the new twitterverse would also be as fragmented and shadowy as that channel-centred realm was.

Then again, perhaps the lure of venture capital is too compelling for Twitter? Might twitter transform, in baby steps of course, into a monolithic entity like FB, too tethered and walled to be revolutionary, too heavy for its own hype, and clinging, like many “web” “sites” to the mere shadow of the VC balloon of yesteryear?

I’m on the side of the Depression-era Twitnet (barring twitter ever becoming some sort of gamechanger that takes us all by surprise, completely transforming the way we use the Internets – don’t count on it!). Given twitter’s ability to cross devices and networks (e.g., to cross over to devices and networks accessible by more people with lesser means), I’m more inclined to see it as a potential class leveler than a class divider. In a depressed economy (that was already depressed for most human beings), where efficiency and thrift constitute the logic that will prevail for most of us, 140 characters beats 160. And SMS beats email.

And blogs.

(throws that in a blender with the critique of television transforming printed news and editorial into dumbed down, ad-driven sound bytes).

Canada, Japan: iPhone Go Home

Hey, read this:

The greatest threat to mobile innovations like the iPhone isn’t consumer behaviour, cultural differences or reception to features, but epic and unregulated telco pricing. What’s needed is nothing less than a telecommunications revolution in which mobile developers and consumers join together to demand better data plans that are both competitive and realistic for these thoroughly mobile times.

…and that’s not just me talking, either. It’s Melanie at SmartMobs. Glad to start seeing high profile blogs giving this problem its due notice (I’ve been on about this here, here, and here, and as far back as I can remember…).

Having access to advanced Nokia smartphones for research purposes (thank you Nokia!) I can also sympathize with the reasons why the iPhone has not been a seducer of Japanese folk, either:

Japanese handset users are extremely into video and photos — and the iPhone has neither a video camera nor multimedia text messaging.

Yep. Agreed.

More to the point, though – to get over this divide, Apple (and other handset manufacturers) needs to take some respectable risk on and stand up to Canadian carriers just like it once stood up to the music industry oligarchy. Or, he threatens, we’re all going Android/Openmoko/Village Telco sometime in the next five years.

(…with nods to the fact that Apple’s music industry fight, over the “one price fits all” model for iTunes, has now been made obsolete in the light of the newest compromise to achieve a DRM free music store, acknowledging the greater good realized in freeing music…).