My Media Intake (End of 2012)

Some people have asked what magazines I read or what podcasts I listen to. I intend to write this post every year so that I can track how my interests change over the years.

The list below is my full media “intake”. If something does not show up in any of these channels, then the chance that I have seen it is very small. This also works the other way around: consider this a playlist for any media manipulator targeting me.

Magazines

  • Wired – I have been reading the US version of this classic Internet-age magazine from cover to cover for over 10 years now.
  • New York Review of Books – A liberal (and quite US centric) look at books about the world.
  • Adbusters – Magazine from “a global network of culture jammers and creatives”.
  • Makeshift Magazine – Showing the hidden creativity of resource constrained locations.
  • Vives – Free (Dutch) magazine on the use of technology in primary and secondary education.
  • Kaskade – The European juggling magazine.
  • Linux Format – Easily the best Linux magazine in the world.
  • Shell Venster – The “house magazine” of my employer.
  • The Economist – Even though I much more align with the political/economic views of the Guardian Weekly, I still can’t find any other weekly news source that has the breadth of the Economist. I would appreciate recommendations for alternatives (I don’t read German, so the Stern wouldn’t work for me).
  • NRC weekly book supplement – A weekly overview of the latest books from a Dutch newspaper.
  • Linux Magazine – The only Dutch magazine on Linux that I know of.

Podcasts

  • This American Life – I cannot imagine somebody making a better radio show. Has me both crying and laughing out loud regularly.
  • Guardian Science Weekly – Alok Jha is knowledgable and extremely funny.
  • Guardian Tech Weekly – A good weekly overview of technology news only slightly slanted towards the UK.
  • This Week in Tech – Leo Laporte’s podcasting empire keeps growing, but this is the original weekly show with a set of regular pundits.
  • Radiolab – Probably the most artistic way to talk about science.
  • 99% Invisible – A podcast about architecture and design that nearly always find fascinating.
  • Security Now – Steve Gibson has a knack for explaining complicated things in a simply fashion.
  • Econtalk – I would probably disagree with most of Russ Roberts’ ideals and politics but he does have interesting guests and he manages to have interesting conversations with them.
  • Triangulation – Leo Laporte again, but now with a single guest.
  • FLOSS Weekly – I listen to this show about Free (as in speech) software when the topic is appealing.
  • How Stuff Works – Still not sure what to think of these two presenters explaining things, often I find them a bit too loose with the facts and the noise to signal ratio isn’t optimal for me either. They do have great titles and questions though.
  • TEDTalks – I can listen to the talks that interest me at 1.4 times the normal speed and while I am on my bike.

Feeds/Email newsletters

  • Twitter daily digest – Twitter sends me a daily email with a few of the stories that have been tweeted about the most in my network,they combine these with the tweets that got the most retweets. Consider it my personalized news service.
  • News.me – Similar to the update that Twitter sends me.
  • Stephen Downes – Unsung hero of the learning world. Subscribe to his daily email.
  • Audrey Watters – By far my favourite ed-tech journalist. Get the weekly newsletter.
  • Springwise – A weekly update of fresh business ideas.
  • To email – I’ve am using a folder in my Google Reader account to create a single RSS feed from multiple RSS feeds. I then feed this into If This Then That so that I get an email whenever one of the following people or blog create a new item:
  • Shell news from the New York Times, the Guardian and Shell itself – I make these feeds come into my email inbox too.

Other

  • NewsConsole: Innovation and Learning Innovation themes – A big data approach to finding news (patterns).

Learning Business Models

Any real innovation in Learning & Development will necessarily change the prevailing business model. Changing business models is hard. This is one of the reasons why many innovations don’t take hold.

Only by making current and potential business models more explicit will it be possible fundamentally change the way learning operates in an organisation.

Willem Manders and I are starting a year of playing with business models. We need help.

Join us!

The Future of Work and the Free Radical

The following introduction sketches the problem that this panel tried to address:

How we work is changing. But where we work isn’t. Over the last ten years a new way of working has emerged, along with some people who live it every day. They’re available 24/7. They network endlessly, and then plug their skills into others’ in surprising combinations. They choose when and how they do what they do, on their terms. They don’t want job security – they want career fluidity. We call them free radicals. And they’re creating the future of work. But when they look for a place to do all that, the options are weirdly outdated: office, home, or on the go – say, a café. Those are actually poor choices. Offices mean fixed cost and daily routine. Home is isolated and full of distractions. And cafés get old after the second latté.

The speakers at this panel were from Grind (beautiful concept and beautiful website, check it out!), the Freelancers Union, Coolhunting and Behance.

To connect somebody to the workspace now comes at the same costs and space requirements of a single laptop. This is happening in a time where there is a big amount of distrust towards big corporations. The space for free-radicals is growing fast (it will grow 25% in 2013). We seem to all become a little more selfish: we expect to be fully utilised, do what we love, work on our terms, we have little time for bureaucracy and want more meritocracy. If you are in a job that doesn’t give you these things, then because of the lack of fraction for doing something for yourself, you now have few excuses for going on working for large corporations. One excuse that is still there is the lack of economic security (things like health insurance). The infrastructure for creating that safety net is now being build around the power and resources of the group.

Scott Belsky talked about how we can create the feedback, refinement and discipline that comes with working in large organizations for free radicals too. Promotion doesn’t exist anymore as a way to gauge your progress. He expects to see meritocratic communities spring up to fulfil this need and co-working spaces to help this process.

It is now increasingly possible to be a free radical inside a company. It is possible to adopt this methodology of work within this corporate structure (to be honest: this is something that I am trying to do more and more myself). The more successful you are in doing this, the more likely you are to do your best work. There are two clear benefits for this for companies: the first one is the real estate costs going down, the second is the advantage to have a more fluid way of pulling together a bespoke team of expert free radicals and make proper use of talent. So it makes sense for organizations to try and reduce the friction to make free radicals succeed.

One problem is that our current education system doesn’t prepare us for this kind of life- and workstyle. High schools are trying to mimic the cubicle workplace (via Audrey Watters):

Highschool trying to mimic a cubicle farm

Highschool trying to mimic a cubicle farm

One thing that is enabling this free radical revolution is the democratization of professional tools. You used to have to “join the mothership” to be able to get access to the tools you need to do your job. Now you can get these tools for 99 bucks. The documentary PressPausePlay addresses this point:

Personal marketing is very important. There is a little bit of a taboo around self-marketing in the creative world, but you have to spend some time making sure people can see the work that you have done. This led to a little bit of a discussion on whether free radicals need some sort of collective brand. The panel was divided on this: some thought it was a bit contrary to the point of being your own (wo)man. Others thought it was important to popularize the notion and one panelist even thought it was very important for the movement to put a proper label on it and create a group identity.

Get Lucky: Create Serendipity to Spur Innovation

The Princes of Serendip

The Princes of Serendip

This was a big panel (five people from IBM, Deloitte Center for the Edge, Dell and the Community Roundtable) talking about serendipity. The word serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole who formed it from the Persian fairy tale The three princes of Serendip. The session was introduced as follows:

Call it chance, luck, or juju, serendipity is the act of unexpectedly finding something of value. It is the muse of innovation and a silent driver of business; consider how Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of the antibiotic penicillin revolutionized medicine, reducing suffering across the entire world. From the world changing to the mundane task of finding relevant information on Google+ or Twitter, serendipity is the mysterious force that gives us the breaks that many of us seek. But what is serendipity? How do you encourage it? Is there a downside to it? How does it apply to work, art or play? Can you design for serendipity? We say you can and should. Whether you’re building the next super social network, doing scientific research, or building a community, there are steps you can take and skills you can develop to help you recognize and act on it. It is more than just naturally being fortuitous; rather, it takes practice to get lucky.

A very quick defition of serendipity would be: “the accidental discovery that leads to unexpected value”. How does innovation relate to serendipity? Innovation (unlike invention) needs to be accepted by society. There are things you can do to increase the chances of serendipity. One panel member calls that “facilitated creativity”. Interestingly this was the second time this week that I heard somebody recommending to have community management at the executive level. Why? Because facilitation is critical especially in virtual spaces. They then talked a lot about what kind of conscious design decisions you can make for your physical spaces when you want to encourage serendipity. These were a bit obvious (“obvious” would be my summary of the session): long lunch tables, open spaces and unconference type meetings, diversity in the room, introducing constraints, transparent glass walls, etc.

Kulasooriya made an interesting point: ambient location technologies (as discussed by Amber Case) will make cities even more important as “spiky places” for serendipitous connections. A term that relates to this is “coindensity”.

Future15 at SxSW

One format at SxSW is called “Future15”. These are five solo presentations of 15 minutes each. I attended one of these sessions.

Demystifying Design: Fewer Secrets, Greater Impact

Jeff Gothelf is a lean UX advocate with a book that will hit the stores soon. He describes what the design process looks like for people outside of the profession: basically it looks like a mystery. He is convinced that designers actually feel this mystery as empowering and giving them control. Jeff thinks the mystery isolates the designers from the non-designers. It creates artificial silos which quickly degenerates into an us and them situation. There is no shared language or common understanding. This means that a project manager is usually the person in the middle. This will get you to the end-state, but it will be lacklustre. He says that transparency is the key component to making the best products, mainly because the efficacy of collaboration is directly related to team cohesion. The onus is on the designers to demystify the way that they work. If they do this, the “fingerprints” of the customer and the other team members will show up in the work. This doesn’t make everybody a designer, it actually make the role of the designer more valuable. One thing that bothers designers with this way of working is that it “shows your gut” and that might be very tough to do.

There a few simple things that designers can do to help this process along:

  • Draw together (share “trade secrets”)
  • Show raw works (frequently)
  • Teach the discipline
  • Demystify the jargon
  • Be transparent

The Art of the No-Decision Decision

Peter Sheahan is a founder of Change|Labs and has all the mannerisms of a bullshit artist. He talked about decision makingHe drew a simple framework that showed that people make decisions on the basis of their identity or the consequences. These he calls “decisions”. Habits and structural things also make us make decisions. He calls this “no-decision decisions”. He gives an example of a Japanese toilet that measure people’s blood sugar levels and contacts a doctor when the levels are not what they need to be: a no-decision decision. I guess his main point was that we need to remove the user from the experience and design technology and the environment in a way to get behaviour you want. There are four things we can do to help people make no-decision decisions:

  1. Be intentional with design (physical and flow)
  2. Build in real-time feedback loops
  3. Put “new” behaviour in flow
  4. Put new behaviour “in the way”

Creating Engagement: Brains, Games & Design

Pamela Rutledge at SxSW

Pamela Rutledge at SxSW

Pamela Rutledge is a psychologist. She talked a little bit about the different systems in our brain and the ages of those (the reptile brain, the emotional brain and the new brain, you know the drill). The only way to really engage the “new brain” is through turning the experience into a story. She then went on to talk about “flow” the optimal balance between anxiety and boredom and challenge and skill. The easiest way to get the brain into a flow state is by using story. The story is the real secret weapon to get the brain engaged, this is becayse they are both instinctual and abstract and can speak to all parts of the brain. She finished off with saying the following: “You design for people. So the psychology matters.”

Why Mobile Apps Must Die

Scott Jenson from Frog Design made a humble proposal: mobile apps must die. The usual reaction from people is to ask him what he is smoking. He doesn’t mean to say that native UX isn’t currently better than web UX. What he does mean is that only focusing on native UX we have stopped thinking about things and our design future. To him we are currently on a local optimum. He sees three trends:

  1. App glut. Are we really going to have an app for every story we are going to walk into. The user is becoming the bottleneck now: customers are now gardening their phones and removing cruft. The pain of apps is starting to be bigger than the value of them.
  2. Size and cost reduction. The cost of computing and connectivity is going down. There are going to be an incredible amount of devices.
  3. Leveraging other platforms.

These three trends all work against the native apps paradigm. He sees a lot of “just-in-time” interaction with the web. Installing an app is too much work for these type of interactions. It is hard to change away from the “app” paradigm. Scott showed us an alternative: Active RFID, GPS, Bluetooth and Wifi are four technologies that can help us show us what is around us. They cn show us what is nearby without us having to discover it. Companies that can deliver on this promise might become the next Google. This will be hard to do: we don’t yet have the just-in-time ecosystem where we have phones asking “what’s here” and other objects going “I’m here”. If we don’t start thinking about these things now, then we won’t have them tomorrow.

Geo Interfaces for Actual Humans

Eric Gelinas works at Flickr. They are using geolocated photos to make the photos more discoverable and easier to navigate. Location very often helps to contextualize a photo. To make this easier they created a 3-step zoom. The default is zoomed out, when you hover over the maps you are zoomed into the city and then when you hover over the point on the map you are fully zoomed in. A lot of map interfaces have traditionally be very awkward: not dynamic, information overload. A lot of websites are switching away from Google Maps now and move towards OpenStreetMap data often in combination with MapBox (e.g. Foursquare, it allowed them to put much more design into the maps and escape the licensing costs from Google). There is a campaign to help others switch over to OpenStreetMap: Switch2OSM. Eric wrote a lot of code for Flickr to make their maps. Right he might have used something like Mapstraction. Another great library is Leaflet.

In Flickr you can put in your geo-preferences which allow you to hide your detailed location for particular locations. Merlin Mann wrote the following tweet about that technology:
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