Archive for January, 2009

Reality literacy

January 20, 2009

My comrade in editorial arms, Gaynor Backhouse, is quoted in today’s Guardian about the long term future of higher education. She puts forward an idea that we have been debating in the office recently: reality literacy.

Where the current concern of educators is digital literacy – the ability to judge the provenance of information on the Web – in 20 years’ time the problem is more likely to be connected to our ability to judge what is real. In the Guardian piece Gaynor makes the point that we are likely to see the widespread use of virtual reality and virtual worlds in education. The technologies that support this – advanced displays and haptic (touch) interfaces – will make today’s VR, like Second Life, look positively clunky. We may even have a situation in which we have to train the young in reality literacy – discerning real life from virtual worlds.

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Tweeting for Britain

January 19, 2009

Iain Dodsworth, a British Web 2.0 technologist, has just pulled in seed funding for his Tweetdeck application. I’ve been playing about with this recently as it’s a good way to get to grips with Adobe Air – a way of running Web-type applications away from the browser. TweetDeck allows you to split your twitter tweets into streams of content based on groups or topics which you control. Interesting to see that in these benighted times there is still some technology venture capital action. And it’s nice to see that not all Web 2.0 related stuff is being conceived and built in California.

Blog Bandits at 12 o’clock

January 16, 2009

Most people’s view of the air force is probably still pretty tainted by hazy, black and white memories of scenes from the ‘Dambusters’ film. The siren goes, the pilots drop their crosswords and still-smoking pipes and sprint from the officer’s Mess to the waiting spitfires. However, things have moved on considerably by the sound of it and it looks like Biggles is facing new threats.

Matt from Backpass blog has alerted me to an item on something that is doing the rounds of the websphere. The US air force has produced a blog assessment chart for use by their public affairs people. It takes the user through the potential threats from the blogosphere and provides advice on retaliatory action.

The enemy are out there, somewhere, Ginger…tapping away.

Open source development

January 6, 2009

One of the live issues in the software world at the moment is whether or not open source code can have long-term sustainability. That is, if there is no clear proprietary ownership can a user be sure that the code will be maintained and developed over a long period? Back in October I was commissioned to write up a workshop hosted by Oxford University’s OSS Watch service that looked at some of these issues. The article, “From a trickle to a flood”, has now been published.

One of the big issues is the methods, or models, that are used to create the code. There are a number of models that are being explored by different open source groups but the Oxford event focused on just one: the open (sometimes called the ‘community-led’) development model.

In this model a diverse community of developers and users work together for the longer-term benefit of the product. The argument is that sustainability can be achieved through the development of a wide and diverse community, a kind of eco-system, which nurtures and supports the code over the long term. The model works with what Harvard Internet lawyer Yochai Benkler has theorised as commons-based peer-production, a process by which everyone who contributes also gets something back that furthers their interests. One of the keynote speakers, Gianugo Rabellino, CEO of SourceSense, described it this way: “It is a bunch of folks, working together, with diverse motivations, and who are not bound by any strong tie – we don’t for example work for the same company…” He goes on to say that: “it is not just grabbing software, attaching an open source licence to it and dumping it somewhere. It is more about understanding and working with others. For me, it is the natural way to express oneself in a connected world”.

For people who are not used to working in this way I think these are quite hard concepts to grasp. There’s no doubt in my mind, though, that Gianugo was talking from the heart. He really believes what he says and lives the open development method as a kind of credo, which is what makes it so fascinating.