Monday, July 30, 2007

Youth & Digital Technology

Last week the results came out of an extensive study by Microsoft, MTV and Nickelodeon about the use of technology by kids. They surveyed 18,000 kids (age 8 to 24) in 16 countries (including Holland). You can find an extensive press release about the results here (I haven't been able to track down the full report yet).

The results of the study challenge some of the commonly held beliefs about kids and technology. I will not repeat all the findings here, but the quote that sums it all up for me is: young people are not geeks. They don't use iPods, camera phones and MySpace because they're gadget freaks, but because all their friends use it. It is an integral part of their lives. Globally, only 20% is interested in "technology". That number is even lower in countries like Holland and Denmark.

Friday, July 13, 2007

adding metadata, the difference between personal and corporate life

During my vacation I read the book everything is miscellaneous by david weinberger. I think the book is great in describing the third order of order and giving 4 new principles in ordering information. If your interested please read the book, it is excellent. In personal life some people tag a lot and the tools doing so are very good. But in corporate life tagging is not very wide spread. At the moment tagging is one of the best ways to show the miscellaneousness of information. In, lets say, delicious the use of tagging gets clear fast and results are instant. Because tagging and search go hand in hand. In corporate applications this is not the case. Workers mostly hate to add metadata because it is of no use to them and the benefits are unclear (i.e. search is not working properly). Tagging and search have to be synchronised in order for workers to instantly see the benefits. Why do sites like delicious got this working and a document repository not?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Looking back on Communities & Technologies 2007

photo by Ed Schipul

The Communities & Technologies conference ended today, so it is time to share some of my personal highlights with you. It was certainly a very worthwhile conference with Charles (Chip) Steinfeld (pictured above) as an excellent host.

The first keynote on Thursday night was by Marc Smith of Microsoft Research, who shared some of his insights based on the analysis of newsgroups. What I found most striking was the fact that only 2% of that community supplies all the answers (what he calls the "answer persons") and 66% only posts once. So a very small group of people actually defines such a community.

The keynote on Friday was a hilarious presentation by Rob Malda and Jeff Bates, the founders of Slashdot. The quote I take away from their story is: give people a number, and they will try to maximize it. In their case, this relates to a reputation score, but this principle was a recurring theme in many of the other presentations: a lot of things can (and will) be treated as a game.

Another thread that ran through the conference was that of social network analysis. One impressive visualization followed the other, often involving enormous data sets. A much needed word of caution was presented by Marleen Huysman and her colleagues. We have left a period behind us where we thought we could store and transfer knowledge by means of information technology. The danger is that we will now use that same instrumental approach for social networks: managers trying to create and optimize networks for knowledge sharing that are not properly embedded in the work practices.

The keynote this morning was by Judith Donath of MIT Media Lab, who gave an interesting talk about signaling. In biology, signals are a way to indicate qualities that are not directly observable. However, humans are able to manipulate these signals. I can rent an expensive sports car for a day to signal that I am rich, even though in reality I am not. In a computer-mediated context, this becomes an even bigger issue. I can create a very desirable avatar in Second Life that has very little to do with what I really look like. One of the keys here seems to be cost: an avatar in Second Life takes maybe fifteen minutes to create, a level-70 character in World of Warcraft takes months. The latter signal is therefore much more reliable.