Monday, September 25, 2006

"The Future of the Internet II"

The Pew International Report - "The Future of the Internet II" provides some fascinating scenarios for discussing the state of Network Culture. For example, their summary suggests that by 2020:-

"A low-cost global network will be thriving and creating new opportunities in a “flattening” world;

Humans will remain in charge of technology, even as more activity is automated and “smart agents” proliferate. However, a significant 42% of survey respondents were pessimistic about humans’ ability to control the technology in the future. This significant majority agreed that dangers and dependencies will grow beyond our ability to stay in charge of technology. This was one of the major surprises in the survey;

Virtual reality will be compelling enough to enhance worker productivity and also spawn new addiction problems;

Tech “refuseniks” will emerge as a cultural group characterized by their choice to live off the network. Some will do this as a benign way to limit information overload, while others will commit acts of violence and terror against technology-inspired change;

People will wittingly and unwittingly disclose more about themselves, gaining some benefits in the process even as they lose some privacy;

English will be a universal language of global communications, but other languages will not be displaced. Indeed, many felt other languages such as Mandarin, would grow in prominence"

Pew Internet: Future of the Internet

I am only just beginning to read the report so I can't say that I have come up with a considered reaction to it (this is a reactive blogging post). However, I can't help feeling that in the summary and reporting I have read so far there is very little made of the impact of the American Government or the so-called War on Terror on the development of Net Culture. I think this is important because I am afraid that we might be moving into an era of techno-jingo-ism and cold war ( with elements of 'hot' war mixed in) which will bring technologists and scientists into ethical conflict with the institutions of state and international governance on an unprecedented scale.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Farewell to the PC screen - Take 2

BBC NEWS | Technology | Roll-up screens 'moving closer'

Well what do you know...the Beeb are reporting another screen-killing technology today. This one is a roll-up screen that is made of a 'smart' metallic material. Funnily enough, my first impressions of this image was that it was a picture of a papyrus scroll, a technology that was suceeded by the codex book a few hundred years ago. It would something of an irony if the scroll was the technology that ended our cultural love-affair with the book. Somehow I can't see however. I like the 'virtual' projector solution I blogged yesterday. It appears to be a lot less bulky and more flexible. I guess it will come down to issues of weight, resolution and colour. Watch this space! 

Blogged with Flock

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Is this the end for the PC screen?

BBC NEWS | Technology | Projector size of sugar cube made

The technology section of BBC News is reporting the laser-based data projector pictured above. It is certainly small and could be fitted into phones and the like so that they can be turned into projector devices. I can see a market for such a device because it would certainly make life easier for anyone, like me, who is forced to lug-around a data projector as part of their kit. In the longer term, I can also imagine in this world of hot-desks and cramped offices that this kind of device might stand in for a desk top screen, as all one would have to do it clear a bit of wall space (or put up a piece of white card) in front of your desk. It will feel really odd to have adequate space in which to work!

However, there is always some kind of caveat in a tech story. This particular projector has a limited colour set (based on blue and red lasers), as the team have yet to make a small enough green laser, so I don't expect that I will be giving up my daily dose of radiation any time in the near future.

An Image from Howard Rheingold's presentation as VP at De Montfort University, UK

I was lucky enough to get invited to the first lecture by Howard Rheingold as Visiting Professor at De Montfort University. I will write alot more about this tomorrow ( I am a reflective blogger these days).

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Leighton Carnival

Leighton Carnival
Originally uploaded by gavinandrewstewart.
I have just spent a great afternoon at the Leighton Buzzard Carnival. There was lots of the normal fair ground stuff to see and do. I particularly enjoyed the display of what I guess I shall have to call flag-waving (as I am unsure what this particular activity was really called) . I also enjoyed scaring myself silly on the Big Wheel and having a look around the local fire engine.

Nice to be in sunshine in mid-September!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Teachable Moments - Matthew Henry Hall

Make sure you carry your TV licence!

The BBC are reporting the introduction of the BT Movio service which provides TV to mobile phones - BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Major TV broadcasters go mobile . In contrast to the other TV services to phones this will use the DAB digital network rather than the 3G system. This move will certainly please the notional mobile moocher (described by the BBC) that wants to watch ITV's Corrie down the boozer. It will also have significant impact on the structure and profits of the industry. 3G was supposed to 'save' the Mobile Network Operators. However, in a prescient resource article written last year ( Virgin, BT Movio, and the Case for Mobile TV without the MNO) Pyramid Research argued that they might become "casualties of a dis-intermediation process that would minimize their role in the Mobile TV value chain or remove them altogether." Pyramind Research argue that they have already missed out on the riches to be gleaned from the music download gold rush.

It seems that almost everyone's head is being bashed together by the processes of convergence. In fact, rather than any kind of nirvana, the great coming-together it is proving to be a tortuous train wreck that is twisting all sorts of institutions -new and old - into some strange and contorted shapes. Who would have thought that one would need a TV licence to carry a mobile phone in the UK? Who would have thought back then during the great feeding frenzy for 3G licences that the profits of the mobile phone industry would be challenged by DAB radio?

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Google News Archive Search

"I'm strongly in favour of the democratisation of access to historical documents, but also cautious about how much information Google now controls," said Professor Roy Rosenzeig, a historian from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in the US."

BBC NEWS | Business | Google opens up 200 years of news

It seems that barely a day goes by without Google announcing another eye-catching search application. The latest announcements are for the Google News Archive Search . This is a search resource that can provide access to news reporting from "a large collection of historical archives including major newspapers/magazines, news archives and legal archives". Access to some of these archives is free and others are on a pay-for-access basis. One of the 'coolest' features is the time line which arranges the retrieved stories into a date-structured order, which allows one to see the evolution of the story. However, it has to be said that this function is only as good as its data sources. I tapped in the 'Crimean War' into the search engine and was provided with a time line that started in the 1890s (some 40 years after the war ended) and then had a time line that ran right up to the present day. I am guessing that this is due to the search engine not having access to records of contemporary European paper coverage. I was also provided with another equally odd time line when I tapped in my own name in to the search engine, with entries ranging from 1986 to the present (but none of which referred to yours truly).

I believe that Prof Rosenzeig ( quoted in the BBC) has hit on to a legitimate concern about these services provided by Google. It is very exciting as a writer, to have a news service archive on the desktop ( as it will save on trips to the library). It is also great that this service can be reached by everyone with a browser (and not just academics). However, it is very disturbing to see access to these services being mediated by a US corporation. In the past, in Britain, for example, such services were sometimes seen as being for the common good and were provided by libraries and foundations. The BBC also argues that it has a role to play in providing access to its archives to the general public. However, one should not idealize the current situation as, for example, the British library has a readers pass system that effectively eliminates access to most of the general public.

It will be interesting to see what regulators and custodians of collections will do if Google tries to extend this service to include further news archive providers.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, September 04, 2006

What goes around comes around…

seach engines I have just added a Creative Commons attribution license to all my public photos on flickr. I thought that this might be a pain but in fact it proved to be easy to batch change the settings on my current public photos and then to alter the default setting on my future public uploads.

I have been happy to put the CC license on my work because it makes explicit to other users that I am delighted for them to use and modify these images (providing they give me a little nod in their credits). This is important to me because I have often found myself in a situation where I need an image of something (to illustrate an idea such as 'search engines') and having searched on the image I find that there is no licence associated with the image to tell me whether I am free to use the image or not. I have often found this a waste of time and nervous energy.

This situation is improving, however and there are some excellent search facilities now available for CC licensed images – for example – flickr has an engine at . The Creative Commons organization also has a most-excellent search facility at which draws on the flickr search and others such as google. The Lifehacker site has an excellent post on ‘6 ways to find reusable media’ which provides links to a lot of great sites such as WIKImedia.

BTW – The CC licensed image on this post is by Matt McGee at

Friday, September 01, 2006

I have noticed a couple of stories this week...

I have noticed a couple of stories this week that point to significant changes in the way I will be working with the Net in the next few years.

Firstly, the BBC notes that the City of Norwich in the UK has begun experimenting with a city wide wi-fi project called Norfolk Open Link .The Norwich system uses antennas positioned on lamp posts (and other street furniture) to create blanket wi-fi coverage in key sectors of the city. I was interested to read in the Beebs article that in the first three weeks of this pilot they had seen the highest usage around the University of East Anglia, the college in the city and the central library which suggests to me that the 'young' (students, gamers, the young at heart) will be the early adopters of this innovation. I was also interested to note that this pilot had been funded by the Regional Development Agency, which suggests to me that ubiquitous access to the Internet might well be funded in many areas as a way of adding an economic advantage to the local economy.

Of course, Norwich is not alone in this kind of undertaking. I know that San Francisco, for example, has plans to roll out wi-fi right across the city (anyone know where this project has got to?). The Norwich scheme has a relative low connection speed (I think it is 256kpbs for the general public). This has been done so that it does not compete with smaller-scale hi-speed commercial wi-fi. However far from being a limitation, I think this kind of project and funding structure will appeal to cities in the UK. Furthermore, I predict that wi-fi in our city centres will have effect on a number of our cultural institutions, including that most important organ for developing public opinion in the UK - the Pub Bore. Can you image - PB - launches into an 'authoritative' tale beginning with 'Did you know...'. He will then drift across a moonscape of ill-informed prejudice and intellectual flat spots. Meanwhile, at the next table the swift fingers of youth will be searching on the appropriate keywords to pull-down the collective might of WIKIpedia, the BBC and my blog. Who knows, if PB is particularly long-winded they might be able to vlog the windbag's argument (and its counter-argument) as he is pontificating.

I don't want to sound to smug about this scenario, however, because the same might apply to a humble visiting lecturer forced to deliver some rehashed material slightly off subject because of personal poverty and a timetabling clash. This might be particularly hazardous if the students actually do some reading!

The other article from the BBC that grabbed my attention was not really a 'new' news story but one that marked the moment that I finally got the point. The article was headlined 'google makes novels free to print' which, as you can imagine, grabbed my attention. However, on subsequent reading it transpired that the article referred to the Google Book Search which provides access to the text of books no longer under copyright in print-ready formats (which is hardly the same as 'novels free to print'). However, following the principle of feet-first experimentation which has informed most of my engagement with the web I realize that this search engine is more powerful than I originally thought. I tapped in the word 'addressivity' (a term I used in my PhD thesis after reading Mikhail Bakhtin). It is an obscure word (in the great scheme of things) which delivered 635 individual hits for the whole of the www. Imagine my surprise that it is also used in some 600 books (some of which are nearly new/ some of which were old and obscured). The insights derived from this search engine kick in when one analyzes the context of the word. In many cases, the page, the chapter title and the book synopsis give huge clues to the significance or otherwise of the usage of the term.

I can see that this particular kind of search is going to have quite significant impact on a broad sweep of scholarship over the next couple of years. It is going to bring a lot of material into view in a timely fashion, particularly if scholars start to engage with the database/open API-revolution that is occurring at present.

I hope, however, that I don't sound like a paid-up techno-utopian in this blog post because my first reaction to my search was ...'oh my god'...followed by... 'I hope my PhD is not out there already'. There is so much written about the term 'addressivity' that it would be impossible to read every single use of the term. However, I am guessing that it might give out arguments to those inclined to argue with you. I am also guessing that this will mean that university scholars will have to be explicit about the fact that their subject knowledge is based on a mere fraction of the total word-horde out there.

Of course, my sense of insignificance, when faced with the stacks of a sizable library, for example, is nothing new. I feel sure that many others have had a similar sensation over the centuries when faced with the British Library collection. Let's face it, total coverage has never been possible. However, now it is made clear with a three second search. Debates should get a bit more lively in the near future!

Watch out the waffler and the over-blown expert!