Thursday, March 19, 2009

Microblogging is not micromessaging

While I understand that from a technical perspective, microblogging is in fact micromessaging, I would rather argue that from a conceptual and communication-oriented perspective, the term microblogging for services such as twitter or jaiku is indeed more appropriate. The explanation may seem rather simple:

  • In messaging applications, there is a sender defining a number of addresses. Typically, these applications are working asynchronously. For synchronous applications, the term to use would be conferencing, in analogy to meetings.
  • In blogging applications, the originator of a message or contribution does not know about who will read, as there are no reading access restrictions. This also means that anyone may comment (or reply) to a contribution. With regards to weblogs, commenting may be moderated (i. e. the owner needs to approve a comment), or turned off (e. g. if discussions following a contribution should be suppressed).

That is, in a nutshell, why microblogging is in fact just that, and not micromessaging.

Friday, March 13, 2009

E-Books and their readers

I have often asked myself what the benefit of e-books and their associated hardware is. With incompatible formats (e. g. Amazon's custom format vs. Epub and Adobe's EBook format), being dependent on energy sources, I am convinced that there must be additional benefits. OK, an incorporated search function is a good point to quickly find what you are looking for, but there must be more. For instance, a personal profile that augments itself with every downloaded item and that would allow for personal recommendations of items to buy / download. Once newspapers will start offering their articles in e-book compatible formats, personalization and consideration of current context is another idea, even if the provider does not offer such a feature. Providing a link to social library services, such as LibraryThing, being able to not only read reviews, but also share book recommendations (with alerts from one's own social networks) seems to be interesting. The reader itself does not need to be pimped up a lot for that, it could also use a central broker service offering these features and needs to be able to provide appropriate input and output channels. With WLAN this does not seem to be a problem. So, what do YOU think is the future of e-books and their readers?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Future of News?

Newsmakers are increasingly going online, which started with selected articles from their printed publications, sometimes abbreviated versions to give an overview and offering full articles for an additional fee. In most cases, it is possible to leave comments, and sometimes, text is enriched with (inline) video contributions, which are sometimes excerpts from TV programs related to a given topic. In order to inform their clients, daily newsletters are being compiled and sent to interested users. Many newsmakers also participate in social networks in order to make their "brand" more visible so it is possible to become a "fan", whatever this means. Another useful channel to inform users about new issues is microblogging, where headlines are posted to e. g. Twitter with a link to a related article.

All in all (besides being able to comment), news is still a one-way business where contributions (text, audio, video) are being published, sometimes aggregated by topic. It is neither personalized, nor is there a link between paper and online news.

Enter 2D barcodes as a potential link between articles or ads and related resources. With regards to ads, Google has been experimenting with barcode-enhanced ads that lead to a result page aggregating results related to the product or resource being advertised, including e. g. some additional information on the related company. With barcode-enhanced printed articles, URLs to multimedia resources can be coded, along with other static information. Given a thin client on a mobile device, which is capable of gathering context information (e. g. time, location, weather) and able to access personal information (e. g. a user profile), the prerequisites are there to create a genuinely customized media consumption experience.

Still a question remains unanswered: how to interact with news beyond retrieval and comments? I would welcome any thoughts and ideas on this issue. I am almost certain that others have reflected on this issue before I did, so any pointers are also welcome.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Back to un-prefixed learning

I remember having been exposed to eLearning for the first time around 1995, when I started working as a PhD student on a number of projects focusing on teleteaching. A few years later, I got involved in a project making use of a so-called learning platform, which at the core was a document management system. Of course, these were then called knowledge management systems, but I will not concentrate on the (perhaps more philosophical question) whether it is possible to actually manage knowledge.

Of course a large number of projects in the field of eLearning have had their success, being forerunners in making learning media available, combined with synchronous and asynchronous communication tools (chat, internal mail) and tools to customize a student's access to learning media. At some point, modularization of learning media and tools to combine previously stored chunks of material for students became an important issue, as well as being able to annotate learning material. As new terms for learning support were coined, I remember having spoken at a conference on computer-supported cooperative learning (CSCL). I won't go into too much detail, but every now and then I find expressions such as ubiquitous and mobile learning being employed. Surely technological progress will also result in new application scenarios, but are they really so new - or shouldn't we focus more on what learning is all about from a pedagogical point of view and critically evaluate on what will help to improve learning processes and curricula? Learning programs that help to prepare students better for their future jobs (for those that are not necessarily planning to pursue an academic career) as well as advanced training programs are being installed, but there still seems to be a gap between learning on the job and learning off the job. Thus, the challenge seems to be to embed learning processes in everyday work, thus focusing less on learning in university settings and more on work-related scenarios.

All in all, learning seems to be focused way to much on the individual (independently of the used tools), and not enough on team and collaborative efforts. My impression is that tools will not help much to change this. We produce lots of documents, save them on file systems, web servers or other repositories, but who actually reads them? Who and what might help us to improve the organization of information? Why do we believe so much in tools and the promises that are being made that new tools will solve all our problems? eLearning is focused way to much on tools and processes, forgetting about the involved persons applying their knowledge to everyday's needs. Let us get back to learning and accept that the promises of eLearning were often not based on solid ground.