Deconstructing wikis – The Heavy Metal Umlaut

Posted by jerry on April 19th, 2008 — Posted in New media, Technology, Theory

The wikipedia phenomenon has been with us for a while – but aside from the occasional press article, scholarly treatments of wikis are few and far between.

Here is one exception – a serious look at the evolution and development of a wikipedia entry on heavy metal music – and the introduction and use of the umlaut in the names of heavy metal bands. John Udell’s video examines several aspects of the wiki through this example. One of the more interesting aspects is the ‘wisdom of crowds’ – the self-correction of wiki entries. At one point the wiki entry was vandalised, and within a minute it was restored by someone else. This phenomenon has been observed elsewhere. I recall reading that the ABC TV Australia did a short documentary on wikipedia and deliberately put in wrong information on some prominent entries, and the longest it took before the entry was corrected was four hours. That’s pretty impressive for a global free gafitti wall!

Thanks to Beth Kanter for bringing this to my attention.


Slow Craft

Posted by jerry on December 16th, 2007 — Posted in DIY, Journal, Theory

Sharon has been blogging lately about the notion of slow craft and slow cloth – as aspects of the Slow Movement. The aims and aspirations are laudable, because there is so much emphasis these days on craft in the fast lane – make this thing in 15 minutes and watch it break the record for the fastest gift to go from wrapper to bin…

I guess my table is an example of slow craft – showing respect to the origins of the timber (the tree that burnt in our yard during the Canberra Bushfires), and producing something irrespective of the time taken to produce it, and with the greatest of care in the making. And sure, I use machines where my hand skill is not up to the task, leaving me the time to do the processes I can do well by hand.

Years ago I had a blacksmith’s forge in my back yard and made some nice fire tools and brackets for hanging baskets and stuff like that. I guess that too could be called slow craft – I knew the sources of all the materials, I even built the forge myself using an old metal desk and a vacuum cleaner working in reverse. Using coal and coke I could get welding temperature on that thing!

There is an environmental aspect to the slow craft philosophy. And here is where I wonder if I come unstuck? It’s great and very satisfying to make something yourself. And it’s great to take the time to develop a real skill, like playing your own music. But my forge? I was burning coal – very inefficiently which would have produced more greenhouse gases in in a hour than my car ever would in a week. Now imagine if everyone did that! At least big industry has SOME regulations about operating cleanly and safely – and they have the resources to develop catalytic converters to reduce the bad stuff. I certainly don’t – not for a home-scale forge. I was in Papua New Guinea some years ago and found that out in the villages you could rarely see the stars at night – because everyone had open cooking fires, and home forges – it was as polluted as any major city I’ve been in!

And my table? Yes I used ethically produced timber, but the machines I bought in order to do my own processing – imagine the resources used in China to make my jointer and the drill and the circular saw and the industrial processes for making the sandpaper I used and the electricity to run those inefficient home-level machines – I wonder if my table cost more than I realised, not just in the investment of money on tools, but in the environmental impact of producing these specialised machines for me to use rarely and on occasion just because I feel like making something with care myself with fresh tree timber or recycled pallets. Hmmm…

Now don’t get me wrong – this is not to denigrate the slow craft movement – and part of it is to make something once. With care. For life. And that is a great way to live. One of the reasons we bought just one car, and have driven the same car since 1984 is that the resources that go into producing a car can’t really be justified for the sake of change of style every couple of years. I guess my point is that we need to look carefully at the cost – including to the environment – of individual production versus well-resourced larger production. And to make reasoned informed choices.

I think Linn makes a good point – that there are some things we produce quickly to satisfy a need – like a quickly made blanket to keep out the cold, and there are other things that are produced quickly as a step in another process, so as long as it is fit for purpose it can be made quickly and without elegance – it does the job. Then there are those things we make because there is meaning in it – like my table, or my violin – and these are made with care and as much skill as can be brought to bear and taking as much time as it takes to do it right the first time. And these will last a lifetime. I guess the idea is to strike a balance based on the purpose and meaning that each object has, and to be aware of all of the resources that go into things – then make the decision as to whether or not to consume it, or to make it, or to keep it simple.

With my table I made a conscious decision that it would not be a Malaysian rainforest timber mass produced number, but balanced that with the knowledge that the power tools I have mean I can get sufficient accuracy to produce it myself.

The same goes for textiles: if you are quilting – sure assemble it with a sewing machine – especially if it frees you the time to hand-embroider the seam embellishments.

My jointer means I can recycle pallet timber that would otherwise have just been burnt. It also meant that I could produce a professional edge to make a seamless table top and allow me to make something beautiful in honour of the tree that saved our house. And I think that is what it’s all about. Doing it reflectively and with consideration.


On the etiquette of pokes

Posted by jerry on September 27th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Technology, Theory

A while ago someone on Facebook poked me – and then wrote on my wall that they were not sure if they knew me well enough to poke, and whether this was too intrusive.

I had to think about that one. Where does a poke sit, ontologically speaking, – especially a virtual poke?

Clearly a poke is attention seeking, but it’s also a way of saying ‘I’m thinking of you’ – without the complication of words which could be misconstrued. Pokes are relatively undemanding – at least virtual ones are, so there is little pressure – I can choose to respond or not as I see fit and no-one will be upset if I don’t poke back, or if I do.

It is a way of keeping in touch without having to think too hard about a response, and it takes up little bandwidth, unlike the reams of emailed jokes and videos that seem to serve the same function in the email world.

I suppose, like any form of communication it could be seen as adding marks to an otherwise blank space, but it clearly performs a narrative and above all social function. And I suspect that that is why Facebook pokes are so popular – and it’s no accident that the poke function was one of the first to be added to Facebook and forms part of the core of the software.

As a micro-function of social software a poke helps to enact a sense of community and acknowledges that someone out there is thinking of you!


Revisiting Wittgenstein

Posted by jerry on August 19th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Theory

I think it’s timely to revisit Wittgenstein – the early and the late – it terms of how do his views stand up in respect of new media and new media literacies.

“The world is all that is the case – the world is the totality of facts not of things”

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world”

Here in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein is setting out an extension of the phenomenological understanding of the world – ie as it presents itself to us – as a function of concepts, perhaps not independent of ‘world stuff’, but constrained by our understanding of that which presents itself to our senses.

In the later Philosophical Investigations (16 years after the Tractatus) Wittgenstein extends his views to speak of language in context and of non-linguistic thought and raises the question of the possibility of a private language, or a pre-linguistic one. “If I draw a person what do I mean by it?” At what point is meaning present? and is ‘meaning’ the same as ‘thought’?”

At this point, Wittgenstein acknowledges that one can mean without verbal language – that even an air-drawing may signify a person, and so he continues to problematise aspects of language as only one of many signifying systems. Moreover he speaks of the problem of perception and that what may be intended may not be what is conveyed – for example by the ambiguous drawing of a duck-rabbit – sometimes seen as one or the other – often depending on context – ie if pictured with a field of rabbits we see a rabbit, but if in a pond of ducks we see the duck. So he is identifying the limits of language – notably that each person’s experience causes them to comprehend something a little different from the same utterance as that of another.

In this sense, Wittgenstein is also acknowledging Saussure’s view that the assignation of meaning to signs in language is arbitrary.

Perhaps this underlines the importance of even the limited gestures available in SecondLife and other virtual worlds.

Living Online – Cybermind and online community

Posted by jerry on August 3rd, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media, Theory

I’ve seen some exciting news on Angela’s blog: Jon Marshall – a very good friend of mine – has written a book about online communities – based on Cybermind, an email discussion list that began on 10 May 1994. How do I know the date? I was was one of the founding members.

Living Online - Jon Marshall

The discussion list was opened to discuss the philosophy and psychology of the internet, and in the process became one of the most remarkable online communities. It was founded and co-moderated by artist/musician/poet Alan Sondheim and film theorist the late Michael Currant began and could have gone the way of many academic online communities – exchanging a few theoretical snippets and eventually moving on. But it didn’t. The list was waiting to happen, and within days had more than 500 subscribers. There were a few fairly academic exchanges of a more or less formal nature, some discussion about the name – should it be capitalised or split into two words, and a few opening thoughts on the nature of community in the abstract.

The sudden death of Michael Currant was a physical and emotional shock, and abruptly the list went quiet, with a few bizarre appearances of response from Michael himself, that had been held up n this or that server and finally delivered. Soon a few started to write about their feelings about Michael’s death and the list transformed into a community of people sharing their feelings as well as their academic thoughts – a new phenomenon in the online world.

Cybermind went on to spawn physical meetings in cybercafes – flesh-meets – and an academic conference in Perth Western Australia which was the first of its kind probably in teh world – a discussion-list conference with simaltaneous chat being projected behind the speakers and the whole thing videoed and streamed live via cuseeme onto the web – and this only two years after the worldwide web was made fully public domain. At the after-conference party I played my first live-streamed fiddle concert onto the web. It was an extraordinary effort by many people working behind-the-scenes to keep the technology running throughout the conference.

And one of the early members was Jon Marshall, an Australian anthropologist/academic who lived among the online tribes, and one of the few who kept a good archive of the early days of Cybermind. I’ve met him several times and deeply respect his intellect.

His book deals with issues of identity and gender, the nature of community and online ethics. I shall be in the queue when his book launches – forget Harry Potter! Buy Living Online 🙂