I am Docent Klang

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted about good news but wanted to wait until it was official.

It’s still not formally official but it is established enough to spread. My application to the next level of academia has been accepted. I have been deemed qualified to be titled Docent.

The docent is the second highest grade in the Swedish academic system (the next is Professor) its not a job description but a rank (like the PhD), a mark of expertise. Wikipedia writes:

A docent qualification is required of all head doctoral student supervisors. For conferment of the title, there is a requirement that the researcher has a good overview of his research area and has demonstrated both the ability to formulate research problems and to independently carry through research programs. It is a requirement that the researcher should be able to lead research projects. The researcher must have substantial scientific research experience and be well published in scientific journals.

The application is a very rigorous description of the applicants merits and experience in both research and teaching. In addition to which the applicant needs to show an impact inside and outside of academia.

The position still has to be confirmed at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science but the expert has notified the department so this is just a formality.

Translating the title is somewhat confusing but in the states I would be a tenured Associate Professor and in the UK I would be a Reader. But you must admit, Docent sounds much cooler. The only thing missing is a black belt or a cane with a silver handle.

Real Fame at Last: my acceptance speech

As an academic we measure stuff and compare all the time. I’m not talking about research but rather the comparisons between each other. Who has the longest publication list, given the most keynotes, sat on the most advisory boards…

Today is a major moment as I have received the highest form of praise an Internet researcher can obtain. It is an object of desire that I have been dreaming of, but not daring to hope for.

So I would like to thank the academy, my advisers, supervisors and all my collaborators: without you guys none of this would have been possible.

Today a cease and desist letter finally graced my inbox.

We are requesting that you remove the link back to our site.

Admittedly it’s the weakest form of c&d letter and is not accompanied by evil threats but it contains the most vital statement necessary to enable induction into the halls of Internet fame. Once again: Thank You.

IR13: notes from a conference

This is part conference report and part therapy. For the inadequacy of the former I give you my apologies, for the erratic gushing of the latter I offer none.

I cannot really blog the explosion of experience that is the Internet Research conference. It’s a gathering of the creative intelligentsia of my tribe. You cannot swing a cat without hitting someone attempting to debunk, reinterpret, explore, tease out, affect or simply study an amazing little feature that is technology and life. Some of these are pointed out by the newbies in a hushed tone using the honorific “the”, as in isn’t that The so-and-so. But this quickly changes and the fans are seamlessly made into friends and friends form this tribe and shape this conference.

Code is the invisible omission of the gathering. It’s always there but seldom mentioned, and sometimes, I fear, a bit misunderstood. But Susanna Paasonen captured the true nature of worlds created by codes: In a world of code, gaps and omissions can become knots of anxiety. Pure poetry.

It’s not a code conference. Mary L Gray put it well, she no longer wants to do toaster studies. When we become so immersed in technology then technology itself should not be the focus. Studying another toaster will not achieve much. It’s a people conference with a core of intelligent strong women. Usually I don’t care about the gender of a panel but when a conference begins with a panel of female power researchers – you notice.

The scholarship is first class – expect nothing less! But what sets IR apart is the passion of the delivery. Passion was set by the first speakers and absolutely lifted to a next level when Terri Senft gave her talk. Picture it: we were in a darkened theatre, she spoke without slides, capturing the audience by segments until she had us all. You could have heard a pin drop! Or to be more clear: we were mesmerized and stopped twittering bon mots and pithy phrases. Thank you Terri you made my conference with that passion and by demanding we shift attention from meaning to mattering.

The idea of IR is to capture the elusive meaning of technology this also was set forth in the beginning when in reply to a question about listening to users experiences with technologies replied: Sometimes a boring-ass story about a phone isn’t really about a phone.

From this the all too brief days become an intense mix of ideas, conversations, papers, discussion, disagreements, arguments and support. And it has a twitter channel that equals to a presidential debate (well, in tweets per capita). You may have guessed by now its about the conversation. Anybody can create a conference where we present papers – creating a forum for discussion is differnet. In many conferences the words “I disagree” are usually hidden underneath another phrase but here if you have the ideas you push them: titles, publication lists and other academic merits be damned – here they talk.

This is where a true conference blog becomes pointless. This crowd has history reflected in memes and traditions – some more obscure than others. There is Senft’s hair, Zizi’s hats and, of course, the sing star (or Kylie’s passion). Where there is culture there is counterculture (what else could the short lived Kruse Klang hair appreciation society be?)

Highlights for me were – and of course I will miss many:

Tim Hutchings mix of religion and technology “of course there is an app for that” and understanding surviellance through scripture. Hey Zuck! God was the original source of radical transparency! Lorie Kendall’s look at personal archiving and geneologi basically turned serveral concepts upside down – the family is not about togetherness but a legitimacy for the individual. Joseph Regal’s infocide: the fascinating study of people in open content movements who decide to leave their online life sometimes removing all traces sometimes removing just themselves.

Activism turned out to be a major theme. Most of these academics are, or present like, activists but the tracks that contain activism and activism studies also shows that internet is a crucial infrastructure for social movements. We knew this but the studies show how, who, why and concerns about the future.

The best new term I learned came from an audience comment: asphal: the Indonesian term for a thing that isn’t authentic but works anyway. Imagine this as a part of a piracy, plagiarism or trademark discourse?

The social events are social. Meeting new people and old friends. Looking for real ale in Manchester with the Culture & Communications people from Drexell was a highlight.

This rambling will stop here. This is my second time at IR and I highly recommend it to all who are interested in Internet Research.

How I learnt to love my echo chamber

This week The Guardian had an article entitled Is Twitter anything more than an online echo chamber? Now basically an echo-chamber is a metaphor for digital spaces where opinions are enhanced and reinforced, where opposing opinion is removed from sight. This is supposed to be a form of criticism against the media implying that the users are removing the people they don’t want to hear, leaving only a group of people who think the same.

But did you really believe that people would use the web to seek out opposing views? Is this what we do in real life? Do you chose newspapers based on the fact that you like the topics, language and opinions you read or do you actively seek out the people who annoy you? Of course twitter is an echo chamber.

For those who feel that this is a problem I would recommend trying to enter into a discussion forum with people you dislike and attempt to have a discussion with them. All you will face is exhaustion, annoyance and probably a fair amount of abuse. You will not have enlightened either yourself or the people you are discussing with.

The point of twitter is to surround yourself (as in life) with interesting, amusing, useful, friendly people. So making twitter into your personal echo chamber is the whole point of twitter. This is the strength of the net – you can always find people who share your most bizarre interests whether it’s 18th century dutch polka music or copyright licenses.

Recently I began working with my echo chamber to actively make it more of an echo chamber. Instead of attempting to include more people I actively began removing people who were “doing twitter wrong”. Of course this is subjective. It has to be. And I fully expect to be treated in the same way.

Some of my simpler criteria for removal are:

  • People who say tweeps regularly
  • People who say good morning/night every day
  • People who say thank you for every reTweet
  • People who insist on telling me where they are (Yes I’m a Foursquare hater) or how far they have run (& a Runkeeper hater)

I’m sure they are all nice people but I don’t want that kind of information there. Once I began doing this my flow of information has become more focused and more interesting. It’s developing into a nice useful and pleasant echo chamber. What are your criteria for exclusion from your echo chamber?


Technology Specs and Techno Emotion

Is there anything more boring than reading instructions or manuals? Ok there is some sado-maschocistic enjoyment in the frustration when attempting to decipher the badly translated or incomplete. What is interesting is the huge leap between the dry explanatory text to the emotional response when we use a piece of well designed technology.

Came across an interesting quote on the nature of man from Buckminster Fuller (apparently from chapter, The Phantom Captain, Nine Chains to the Moon):

Man? Man is a self-balancing, 28-jointed adapter-base biped, and electro-chemical reduction plant, integral with the segregated stowages of special energy extracts in storage batteries, for subsequent activation of thousands of hydraulic and pneumatic pumps, with motors attached; 62,000 miles of capillaries, millions of warning signal, railroad and conveyor systems, crushers and cranes, and a universally distributed telephone system needing no service for seventy years if well managed, the whole extraordinary complex mechanism guided with exquisite precision from a turret in which are located telescopic and microscopic self-registering and recording range-finders, a spectroscope, etc.

Wonderful and precise but lacking something essential to explain the way in which we behave when we are in love. I don’t lack some reference to a soul or a deity but there is something difficult, if not impossible to reduce people to the sum and function of their parts.

These vague thoughts can also be applied to technological systems. On paper they show their intent and purpose but once implemented into a social context they may warp and change into something that was not intended.

Wikipedia Reader: new free book

Another book has been added to my growing hoard of CC licensed works that are somehow relevant to my research area.

The Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader is an interesting work featuring research from a large group of exciting and original thinkers. It is, as the blurb states:

About the book: For millions of internet users around the globe, the search for new knowledge begins with Wikipedia. The encyclopedia’s rapid rise, novel organization, and freely offered content have been marveled at and denounced by a host of commentators. Critical Point of View moves beyond unflagging praise, well-worn facts, and questions about its reliability and accuracy, to unveil the complex, messy, and controversial realities of a distributed knowledge platform.

Right now the chapters which have my interest are

The Argument Engine by Joseph Reagle, What is an Encyclopedia? From Pliny to Wikipedia by Dan O’Sullivan
A Brief History of the Internet from the 15th to the 18th Century by Lawrence Liang, Questioning Wikipedia by Nicholas Carr, The Missing Wikipedians by Heather Ford, and The Right to Fork: A Historical Survey of De/centralization in Wikipedia by Andrew Famiglietti. But this is only a small fraction of the topics covered in this work.

So check out: Geert Lovink and Nathaniel Tkacz (eds), Critical Point of View: A Wikpedia Reader, Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011. Its available in online, pdf, or good old dead tree versions!

Also if there are other titles of CC licensed books which should be included in the list please let me know…

schlemiel or schlemihl or shlemiel

One of the main benefits of the web is the mass of totally meaningless information that is just waiting to be discovered. It could be used for amusement, procrastination or actual meaningful use (whatever that is…)

A fantastic resource is the old fashioned A.Word.A.Day mailing list administered by Anu Garg. It’s a daily email with an interesting word, with its background, meaning, etymology, pronounciation and more. Just check out some excerpts from the information about today’s word: schlemiel

noun: An inept, clumsy person: a habitual bungler.
From Yiddish shlemil, from Hebrew Shelumiel, a Biblical and Talmudic figure who met an unhappy end, according to the Talmud. Earliest documented use: 1892.
No discussion of schlemiel would be complete without mentioning schlimazel, one prone to having bad luck. In a restaurant, a schlemiel is the waiter who spills soup, and a schlimazel is the diner on whom it lands.
What’s not to love?

Nomination period open for Nordic Free Software Award

The Nordic Free Software Award is given to people, projects or organisations in the Nordic countries that have made a prominent contribution to the advancement of Free Software. The award will be announced during FSCONS 2011 in Gothenburg.

Send an email to award [AT] fscons.org (moderated mailing list) with the following information:

* Name of nominee
* Bio of nominee
* Website
* Contact info
* Motivation

The nomination period ends October 22

Join the award committee
Send an email to award [AT] fscons.org (moderated mailing list) with the following information:

* Your name
* Your email
* Motivation why you want to join the award committee

List of nominated 2011
Will be presented in October

Previous Award winners
* 2010 Bjarni Rúnar Einarsson (more info)
* 2009 Simon Josefsson and Daniel Stenberg (more info)
* 2008 Mats Östling (more info)
* 2007 SkoleLinux (more info)


Via Bruce Schneier come news of an important plugin

ShareMeNot is a Firefox add-on for preventing tracking from third-party buttons (like the Facebook “Like” button or the Google “+1” button) until the user actually chooses to interact with them. That is, ShareMeNot doesn’t disable/remove these buttons completely. Rather, it allows them to render on the page, but prevents the cookies from being sent until the user actually clicks on them, at which point ShareMeNot releases the cookies and the user gets the desired behavior (i.e., they can Like or +1 the page).

The add-on is also important as it highlights the fact that information is being shared even when the button is not clicked.

Information diets

What happens when we finally reach a point of information saturation? Can we see information in the same way as food? Some food would be healthy, some would be unhealthy, but no matter what food – overeating is never a good thing.

In 2004 Jimmy Wales was quoted saying (“Wikimedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds,” Slashdot (200407-28)):

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge

This is, in essence, a wonderful idea – but imagine what will happen in a world were the sum of all human knowledge is available? I began to explore this in a presentation called Wikipedia & Dr Faustus? where I discussed the effects all the worlds information being made available.

The problem with wishing for access to information is that we today have an infrastructure that can provide all the information that we desire but the technology will not discriminate between healthy and unhealthy information. As part of summer reading I began The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser and came across an interesting quote from Danah Boyd from her speech at the 2009 Web 2.0 Expo:

Our bodies are programmed to consume fat an sugars because they’re rare in nature… In the same way, we’re biologically programmed to be attentive to things that stimulate: content that is gross, violent, or sexual and that gossip which is humiliating, embarrassing, or offensive. If we’re not careful, we’re going to develop the psychological equivalent of obesity. We’ll find ourselves consuming content that is least beneficial for ourselves or society as a whole.

Maybe Boyd is making a value judgement on the different forms of information and compares the “gross, violent, or sexual” to fatty foods – which would probably make necessary facts and information (e.g. maps, statistics) high protein or high fiber. In relation to food we are programmed for fats and sugars but in relation to information we are programmed to relationships. Information about which berries are edible varies but information about relations is universal. We are programmed to be wary of precisely the gross, the sexual, the humiliating and the embarrassing – our survival in the group depends upon it.

The problem is that our interests in these areas is related to other people, people who we are not related to or dependent upon they serve only as entertainment or simple diversion. The evolutionary role of diversion is unclear but we certainly do seem to desire it – or at least fear boredom. So in our desire to avoid boredom we overindulge in our consumption of unhealthy information.

There are basically two ways of dealing with over-consumption (1) more exercise, or (2) dieting. The former is not really efficient but is more a method of coping with the effects of over-consumption. The latter is healthier as it reduces the intake and avoids the negative side effects of over-consumption. Exercise is hard work, but dieting is harder still. It goes against all our natural instincts to overindulge in preparation for the next information glut.

We need to learn healthy information habits right from the start and to ensure that we keep away from information binges. Staying information healthy may be important, but it sure sounds boring.