Tag Archives: networks

(Disruptive) Innovation in Assembly

The concept of disruptive innovation, pioneered by Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen, describes the way in which industries might be overhauled by new products of services that—rather than treating on existing practices—diverge in new, disruptive directions offering more value or convenience to consumers (see Bower and Christensen, 1995, p.44). Disruptive innovations have dramatically changed the space in which technology platforms can operate, and the history of progess is a catalog of the ways in which the desire for convenience has trumped almost every other concern.  Disruptive innovations appeal to convenience, ignore accepted wisdom, and disturb prevailing habits. Well-managed companies have collapsed because they failed to capitalise on innovations that were inferior in quality to their own, yet won popular support by diverging in meaningful ways. Services that reshape online communities have proliferated exponentially in the last decade, and the most successful ones have embraced the transformative effects of change and disruption.

To survive and thrive in this constantly iterating and innovating environment, it is vital to facilitate and promote an openness and adaptability. The smartest companies are doing just this by stepping outside themselves and allowing third-parties to strip, re-purpose, and recompose their services through the use of open-data platforms and accessible API’s. Soliciting contributions from developers, leveraging people, and allowing innovation and creativity to emerge naturally feeds the value of an organisation and builds functionality.

In an age of the ‘mashup ecosystem’ empowering these third-parites to remix and reinterpret how to use a service is an undisputed best practice. Encouraging an engaged community of developers not only creates openness in a platform, but it allows for alternative interfaces, sophisticated tools, and encourages others to do meaningful work for you. The plugins and clients spawned from community contributions doesn’t just address gaps in incomplete solutions: they provide entirely new solutions.

True insight comes from examining how users are actually making use of a service, and building around these qualities. Offering stimulating, integrated services is the cornerstone of Web 2.0, and failing to embrace community development is a consequence of a lack of ambition.

Source: IFTTT

A magnificent example of a service pursuing a trajectory of consistent improvement is IFTTT (If this then that). IFTTT is an incredibly easy to use service that calls on the API’s of over 50 different popular web services in the one place. Services such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Dropbox—all proponents of open API’s to begin with—are brought together under the IFTTT umbrella to create a truly limitless set of possibilities. Based on a series of ‘recipies’ IFTTT allows users without any complicated programming knowledge to setup complicated triggers and sequences of events that connect and interact across services. By hooking together the powerful API’s of each platform, a user can create simple automated workflows such as: User A takes a photo in Instagram which is automatically added to a Dropbox folder, which in turn triggers Tweeting a link, and cross-posts it to Facebook. User B—an avid follower of User A—is immediately notified by SMS, since they’ve hooked IFTTT up to their Twitter feed and phone to provide seamless alerts to content that interests them.

IFTTT demonstrates not only the potential of API’s to provide unanticipated and rich user-experiences, but fully embraces what Web 2.0 represents: empowering users to be the final authority on how technology enriches their lives.

Additionally: If you have even the slightest interest in innovation and innovative practices I cannot stress enough how vital Clayton Christensen’s work is to explore.

Some further reading options include:

Bower, J. J., & Christensen, C. (1993). Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. Harvard Business Review, 73(1), p. 43-53.

Christensen, C. (2003). The Innovators Dilemma. New York: Harper Business Essentials.

Christensen, C. (2007). Bracing for disruption. Electronic Engineering Times, (1461), p.83-88.

Christensen,  C., Dyer, J. & Gregrsen, H. (2011). The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press

Christensen, C. & Wessel, M.(2012). Surviving Disruption. Harvard Business Review, 90(12), p.56-64.

Christensen, C. & Wessel, M. (2013). Innovating over the Horizon: How to Survive Disruption and Thrive, [Slideshow] Retrieved: http://blogs.hbr.org/events/2013/04/innovating-over-the-horizon-ho.html

 

What’s in a game? Free-riders and the participation problem

Major online communities such as Reddit, Digg, and Slashdot are at the cornerstone of the social web: crowd-sourced content hubs that tackle the difficult task of collecting, evaluating, and promoting quality user-generated content. Loosely related, these platforms all perform a similar task of meta-moderating—or curating—content by tasking users to submit, up vote, or bury content based on its perceived value.

Source: Reddit.com

The only way to stratify the wealth of content they gather and distinguish it within these communities is to use intangible tiers of reputation and visibility. The idea to convert currencies of attention and reputation directly into positive feedback (ie. ‘Karma’ points) provides some tangible marker of digital success. The more popular or approved a piece of content is, the more visibility it—and its creator/poster—gains. The reputation-based Web is all about communities, participation, and peering; it is not, however, about authorial control or objectively professional qualities. Regardless, they are popular to a staggering degree and produce and promote untold amounts of content every minute of the day.

Inside and behind this content overload is a fundamental question of motivation: why does anyone contribute at all?

It seems that the mechanics at play here are some of the most interesting  qualities disseminated in economics, maths, and psychology: specifically, the ideas behind game theory.

The essential kernel of game theory is easy to grasp. Game theory is founded on a very simple but powerful way of schematising conflict. The underlying mechanics of John Von Neumann’s theory of economic games models the behaviour of perfectly logical parties interested only in winning. The dilemma of online producers and consumers alike resembles a game where players can only win by having access to quality content. Communities like Reddit and Slashdot expose this content through necessary participation, but those who contribute nothing still benefit from the results even if they put in no work to achieve them—often known as the free-rider dilemma.

The free-rider game is originally based on public transport, but remains true for modelling online communities. It posits that those who are willing to pay for the use of the railway system subsidise those who do not, because a single non-paying commuter is unlikely to bankrupt the whole system or take up an unreasonable amount of room on the train. Reddit users can easily rationalise lurking or browsing to their heart’s content, because their non-participation has a minuscule effect on the health of the system and the entire systems keeps chugging along.

And here’s the thing: the free-riders are right. They can reap all the benefits of vibrant, online communities without contributing any energy themselves. It is perfectly rational and provides the best possible outcome for the end-user. There is nothing wrong with thinking this way, that is, until everybody starts thinking ‘rationally’. Individually rational action—letting others do the participatory work—leads to a collectively irrational outcome: no one has any access to content—the trains stop running. The bargain of leeching off the system is a fiction; and ultimately, the only bargain offered by non-participation is a Faustian one.

But, since these repositories of user-generated content represent a kind of online collectivism that mired in an anonymous tide of mass mediocrity it is almost impossible to rely on anything other than the altruism of enthusiastic amateurs to produce meaningful work. Web 2.0 has demonstrated a frightening degree of indifference to participation as beautifully outlined by Jakob Nielsen’s treatise on participation inequality, and the intermittent contributions of idle users cannot be relied upon. However, the reputation-based currencies (such as ‘karma’) that these content-aggregators employ might as well be labelled as the bribes they are, because without an overt reward system, these communities would languish.

Source: Nielsen Group

With that in mind, these communities are resoundingly successful at encouraging contributions. Even if their scoring systems can be criticised as self-aggrandising, self-indulgent, and insular, the economics of reputation do directly encourage users to actively work within the rules of the system: it is effectively bribing them to participate. And in doing so, the system becomes universally more valuable to everyone. So long as users participate actively in posting and rating content they are organising the platform and allowing content to move properly through the system. Sure their internet points may be relevant only to their digital peers, but they are a powerful motivator so long as they derive some meaning from their boosted reputation.

Remembering that most-users don’t participate—and that they’re perfectly rational to do so—I’d love to hear why some of you do choose to get involved!

 

Huxley’s Nightmare: Twitch plays Pokemon

Famed science-fiction author Aldous Huxley dreamed a of dystopia in his novel Brave New World whereby the onslaught of trivial media had transformed the character of society into a burlesque. Years earlier, his grandfather—and noted evolutionary biologist—T.H Huxley had first supposed that a million monkeys on a million typewriters might one day collectively compose Shakespeare.

Neither Huxley could reasonably have anticipated that their speculations might converge and manifest themselves through the lens of Nintendo’s Pokemon franchise.

Source: imgur user Rhycool

In February 2014, a user identified as ‘twitchplayspokemon’ launched a channel on Twitch.tv—an online platform for live-streaming video games—running an emulated version of Pokemon Red, an 18 year old Gameboy game. Twitch.tv boasts a lively community of gaming enthusiasts streaming, watching, and interacting around a shared interest in playing and experiencing games. The community dynamics hinge on chat features embedded in the Twitch platform, and the interactions between streamers and viewers transforms typically solitary gaming pursuits into social experiences.

Twitch plays Pokemon takes this community interaction one step further, and by bootstrapping a chat-parsing bot onto the emulator viewers can input commands into the chat stream to dictate the inputs of the game. Typing in simple “up”, “down”, “left”, “right”, “A”, “B”, or “start” will feed the corresponding action into inputs for the game.  Predictably, thousands of people clamouring in chat and spitting out hundreds of commands simultaneously creates unmitigated chaos. The avatar gets stuck on terrain, he constantly flits between menu screens, spins around in circles, and ultimately behaves like a man possessed. Without pattern or purpose, the result is a bizarre mix of the trivial and captivating. For every hour spent in inaction and anarchy, brief flurries of cooperation incrementally nudge the game forward and demonstrate a complexity of collective action that verges on impossible.

This communal watch-and-play experience showcases some of the best and worst qualities of user-driven content; Web 2.0’s greatest strength also represents a terrible vulnerability, to aggregate the wisdom of the masses you have to invite their madness in too. The beating heart of Twitch.tv lies in its users coming together to share and interact, but their collective activity does little to build a community. Far from it, as TwitchplaysPokemon has demonstrated time and time again the contributions of the many are not necessarily helpful. In fact, the disruptive—often maliciously antagonistic—anarchy of the users creates something wholly unique and unanticipated from what should be relatively mundane, boring elements.

Source: imgur user Rhycool

Counterpoint to Tim O’Reilly’s position that harnessing collective intelligence has an effect liken to that of the sum being greater than the whole, the Twitch community thrives not on inclusiveness and cooperation like so many other Web 2.0 hubs, but rather on the toxic levels of animosity and trolling behaviour between users. The raw energy and interest that Twitch produces is not generating a collectively ‘intelligent’ behaviour across the sum of interactions. While there is something to be said for the collective joy of achieving the most basic goals when 100 000 voices are all arguing at once, the most compelling part of Twitch—the thing that binds the community together—is how devastatingly broken it all is.

After more than 2 weeks of continuous play, Pokemon was finally beaten. This is either an incredible feat of crowd-sourced collaboration, or a tacit endorsement that monkeys might well compose Shakespeare given time. If nothing else it opens the way for a new approach to how games and gaming are consumed and integrated on social platforms. The potential for participatory collaborations on Twitch need no longer be constrained to a simple viewer/streamer relationship. The possibilities for building a community—nay, a society—around even the most trivial of media, when experienced cooperatively, is limitless should Twitch—or other platforms—choose to leverage this position.

Looking forward, it certainly appears that Twitch plays Pokemon has ushered in a brave new world for Twitch.tv.

 

Piqued QRiosity

I’m a big fan of QR codes!

Fellow students may remember my Information Retrieval assignment from Semester 1 (A copy of which is available here) that incorporated a QR code to keep the design aesthetic of my poster consistent, and provide a permanent way of tying the poster to my separate reference submission. poster

In the interest of exploring the uses for QR codes, I’ve also mocked-up a ‘calling card’ QR code that could potentially be embedded on business cards, or incorporated as a signature on my work.

I think there’s great potential for using QR codes in public spaces such as galleries to tie pertinent metadata or information to a piece of work without overwhelming the space. A subtle QR code next to a painting or sculpture could have embedded audio-tour information, history, and provenance of a piece without requiring cumbersome text bloating the area.

I’m less convinced of the uses of QR codes in my own professional contexts, as I’ve worked hard to streamline my online identities and contact details into a unified and easily transmittable form of using the moniker ‘mjjfeeney’ across networks, email address, and web presences.

Ultimately, I’d probably just hardlink a business card QR code to this blog. But, in the interest of playing with the medium I’ve mocked up a ‘mini-site’ that can be accessed by scanning the code below.

  About Me

qrcode.17141422

Camera Obscura

My reticence to jump on the filter bandwagon has finally crumbled.

Rejoice readers! After a brief struggle with the arcane vagaries of WordPress shortcode and some bootstrapped php I managed to wrangle together an effective way to pull my Instagram feed into this blog (and only broke everything completely once). There’s a lesson in here somewhere about keeping your plugins up to date and remembering to switch from visual layouts to manual text entry…but who has time for these things?

My wacky japes and capers surviving post-graduate study are now available in a full-colour (well, sepia mostly).

I’ve since removed the gallery from the core of this blog, but I’m still out there on Instagram!

Facing the Facts

Google+ failed to dislodge Facebook in any meaningful way. Google is fully integrated into my workflow, I make use of a wide variety of Google online services, I manage multiple accounts, and use Google’s MX records to manage my domain’s email.

I use Google for a huge portion of my online activities, but I don’t use Google+.

The service is amazingly slick. It’s attractive and engaging. It’s more logically laid out than Facebook and harness the tremendous power of Google’s backend to do amazing, magical things like recognising, identifying, and tagging images automatically and offering best-in-class features like realtime video chat via Hangouts.

Sure, it doesn’t do quite as many things as Facebook does, but what it does do it does well. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to pick any single category where Facebook offers a superior experience.

So, why is Google+ a ghost town?

Because social networks are intrinsically valueless. The entire purpose of these networks is generated and propped up by the connections you have within the system—and nobody I interact with is invested in the Google+ ecosystem.

Being the best at something doesn’t matter if the audience is entrenched elsewhere. Everyone would probably prefer to use Google+, it’s one less account you need to juggle, it’s better integrated into your devices, and the forthcoming Google Glass will hook it directly to your face. We’d be crazy to move to Google+ on our own if none of the people in our lives moved too.

But, in a Heller-esque case of circular logic, everybody likes Google+, everybody agrees it’s great, and nobody moves.

Skype and beyond the infinite

Fooled around with Skype for a class activity on the weekend. Ben Harkin and I had a good run at discussing an upcoming assignment, and I took the opportunity to try and break Skype by simultaneously running the conversation on as many platforms as possible. It is a remarkably resilient application, try as I might I couldn’t get it to de-sync or really face any problems at all.

As far as IM platforms go, Skype is certainly the most prolific. The fact that it can pull in chat streams from other services (ie. Facebook chat) is situationally useful too. As with so many online services, their value increases exponentially based on the use-scenarios you can find for it in your day-to-day life. The ubiquity of Skype–the fact that it is so prolific–makes it the most powerful and useful chat service going.

What good is a messaging service if there’s no one to message?

photo2photo (1)

photoScreen Shot 2013-08-24 at 8.33.55 PM

skype2skype4

Microblogging and Me

There is no such thing as a tool that is good even if used without consideration. Social media, microblogging, and corporate communications platforms are no exception to this. That being said, they are a powerful way to flatten hierarchies and open up the conversation within an organisation.

My previous employer–a major web-hosting company–were heavily invested in creating an open, integrated communications system within the company. With offices in a number of locations around Australia and the world, there was often a significant disconnect between all but the most closely integrated departments. To combat this isolation, the organisation rolled out Yammer across the company. Yammer, for those unfamiliar with the platform, is more-or-less a facebook news-feed clone for closed, internal use. Much like familiar social media platforms, Yammer invites users to post, comment, and follow discussions and share links and the such like.

Because the organisation had not followed through with a comprehensive internal communications policy for Yammer, the results were mixed. The posting quickly turned into inane, trivial, and mundane minutia such as: ‘The coffee pot on level 5 is empty’, ‘Lol who turned out the lights,’ and ‘Woo! Go accounts. More sales!’…you get the idea. There were some flashes of inspired thinking on the service, such as the CFO opening up a forum for discussing summer reading titles relevant to business and technology, which invited a rare opportunity to speak candidly (about books!) with the managing directors of a multi-national corporation. These opportunities to make my voice heard were few and far between, but I welcomed the fact that such a conversation could not have been possible without a tool like Yammer.

Ultimately, the problem with corporate microblogging and social feeds is one of restraint and management. Unchecked, it becomes yet another source for information-bloat and distraction. Too-regulated and it becomes a cork-board for posting internal PR releases.

Organisations take note! You should start hiring internal social media moderators and curators to better direct, manage, and engage the use of these platforms in your organisation. I’m certain that my peers and I would welcome the challenge!

 

Giving Back: Personal Learning Networks

In 1985, Steven Brand published the now famous information doctrine Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, which stipulated the unique ethos of the hacking subculture and claimed that ‘All information wants to be free’:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. (Brand, 1985, p. 49) 

But, information is not made solely of ephemeral ideas; it is made of ideas and work. Sadly, I’m guilty of taking advantage of the altruism of others and exploiting that good work selfishly. Having recently explicitly examined the idea of a ‘Personal Learning Network’ (PLN) I realised that I’m a ‘drain’ on my localised PLN: I take more than I put back.

I have embedded myself in a community of people with like interests, who I make use of as a sort of social filter to hopefully reveal the most relevant information to me. I actively scour blogs, twitter feeds, and other social data to skim off the cream-of-the-crop of trends coming down in the LIS sector. But, even when I have something to contribute, I remain largely silent. I realise that this isn’t a particularly admirable state of affairs, and aim to rectify it in the coming months.

First things first, I’m going to get some fresh, original content up on this blog. I’m really fascinated by social aggregation and the transformation of controlled taxonomies into organic folksonomies, so stay tuned for some of that in the near future.

Also, I’ve started repurposing some of my writing from 2010+ on the evolution of digital publishing, price, and piracy to snazzy blog-sized chunks.

So, I come hat in hand to my PLN, offering these small morsels of content to repay the free-ride I’ve been taking so far. It’s not much, but it’s a start.