Speed Dating at the 2012 Learning Technologies

On Wednesday, January 25th I attended the Learning Technologies exhibit at Olympia in London. I used agreeadate to schedule as many meetings with corporate learning luminaries as possible. Next to catching up, I decided to ask each of them the following four questions:

  1. What will be the most exciting (professional) thing you are planning to do in 2012?
  2. Which corporate learning trend will “break through” this year?
  3. Which company (other than your own) is doing interesting things in the learning space?
  4. What was the best book you have read in 2011?

So here goes, in the same order as during the day:

Steve Dineen

Steve is the Chief Executive at Fusion Universal. We mainly talked about Fuse their video-centric social platform. In the next few weeks they will swap out the current video player and will replace it with one that makes it easier to display subtitles and transcripts, will do bandwidth detection and will allow for much better reporting on how the video has been viewed. They will also roll out adaptive testing with adaptive learning journeys. See here for example:

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The implementation of pull learning, seeing learning as a journey rather than a process and then the provision of the environment to let personal learning happen (as a platform and an environment). Another exciting thing is the Virtual School, they should be going live with a full secondary school curriculum by September.
  2. People will start to understand that not all learning needs to be centered around a course. This is a big paradigm shift for which we are now seeing the pioneers emerging.
  3. Fusion is not necessarily taking inspiration from the learning technology community. Instead, they are taking inspiration from YouTube. It is incredible to see what they have done to their platform. On design matters they take inspiration from Apple.
  4. The four books he enjoyed in the last few months were The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and Presentation Zen, Good to Great and The Innovators Dilemma.

Barry Sampson

Barry is one of the three partners in Onlignment, a learning consultancy with broad capability. He is also responsible for changing my life by properly introducing me to Markdown, the greatest thing since sliced bread for people who have to do a lot of writing of any kind. They have put a lot of effort into truly blending their own offerings. Rather than just teach a course on learning design for a few days they now design a journey towards independence. For one client they do a workshop first and then one-on-one coaching sessions (virtual and face to face). The end result will include e-learning content created by the participants themselves and guided by Onlignment.

Onlignment's Circles

Onlignment's Circles

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. Making the circles live. The circles make it very clear what Onlignment is offering and from now on we will only do work on things that fit with these circles.
  2. What we will see is a lot of mobile learning done badly (“everyone will screw up mobile this year”). Everybody will deliver e-learning content on mobile technology. It is usually crap on a PC and will be worse on mobile. He has also seen more Moodle vendors than ever before at this exhibit, so Moodle seems to be breaking through too.
  3. Two companies that are doing interesting things are Aardpress and Coloni. The former has a Software as a Service (SaaS) version of Moodle and the latter has a great licencing model: you pay on the basis of the space you take on their servers (their roots are a website development company) and they are very actively engaged with their clients.
  4. The only book that Barry has read in the last year is a book about becoming a dad.

Lawrence O’Connor

Lawrence was the only person who was excused from my four questions. Instead we had a discussion around topics like mindmapping, authenticity, tools for conviviality (and the speed of transportation), theatre and doing what you love. We spotted Jaron Lanier who has written the thought provoking You are Not a Gadget, but were too late to invite him over to join our lunch.

Amir Elion

Amir works for Kineo Israel an e-learning development company and has written 100 Presentation Ideas which is now also available as an iPhone app. I have had many virtual meetings with Amir over the last two years (he participated in the Learning in 3D reading group for example, but this was the first time we got together in real life.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The first thing that he is looking forward to is to try and see if mobile learning can be made into something real. It has a lot of potential and is a new way of supporting performance. There are still many questions around it that need to be answered. There is a lot of technical work to do, but more importantly the learning models and the performance support models will need to be rebuild. Kineo is doing pilots with a few clients. The second thing he is excited about is advancing blending learning through using a learning typology. He has started drawing a table explaining which type of solutions solve particular challenges.
  2. He hopes the break-through trend will be the open source Learning Management System (LMS) and would prefer that to be Totara. In Israel that is very likely to happen. Many companies there do not have an easy way to track learning now and the fear for open source has subsided. Companies now actually see the advantages of open source: flexibility, lower costs and supplier independence (“there is always another Totara partner”).
  3. The companies that are creating the development tools are really moving forward quickly. Articulate Storyline is exciting in how it really supports non-linear learning and now can also work in Hebrew and other right-to-left language. The latest version of Adobe Captivate is also good. These companies really work with the e-learning development companies to incorporate e-learning best practices into their tools. Other than that it is mostly individuals that he learns from. Donald Clark, Cathy Moore with her Action Mapping, Cammy Bean (from Kineo US) or David Kelley.
  4. The book he liked was Drive. The concepts of autonomy, mastery and purpose can directly be applied in corporate learning.

Kineo has a tradition of producing very useful promotional booklets. They gave me a copy of the very sensible Designing Mobile Learning (available on the Free Thinking area of their website) . It has ten tips on designing mobile learning:

  1. Always ask “Why make this mobile?”
  2. Use those off the shelf information and communication apps NOW
  3. Bring the informal into the blend
  4. Make sure it’s more than e-learning on a tablet
  5. Make it tactile
  6. You’re in their personal space; you’d better make it worth their while
  7. Make the limited space count
  8. Consider developing templates for efficient design
  9. Extend the impact of your media assets
  10. Find the right place to use mobile learning in your new-look blends

and 10 examples of where mlearning can make a difference:

  1. Make it easy to review the latest news and information
  2. Scan it, learn about it
  3. Just-in-time guides
  4. Performance support and checklists
  5. You know where I am, help me!
  6. Refresher learning
  7. Push reminders
  8. ‘Mobile company uses mobile learning’ shocker… Use the medium they use
  9. The LMS on the go
  10. Talk to me, interactively

David Perring

David is director of research the UK-based and EMEA focused educational technology analysts Elearnity. Elearnity has been working hard at writing vendor perspectives. The summaries will be available for free and the in-depth reports are available for a fee.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. The most interesting and exciting thing for him is always working with clients who have interesting challenges. It is fascinating to work for people who have different perspectives but also bring intelligence into the process. For him it is the “freshness of working with 10 organizations rather than with one”.
  2. He is not sure that there will be any more break throughs in the next year. Certain organizations might have find some “inspirational moments”, a lightbulb going on. Maybe some sales forces will start using mobile technology for its real potential, rather than having people use mobile technology in the classroom. He thinks the economic pressures will mean that there might be a lot more technology assisted learning and less face to face training in the years ahead.
  3. He doesn’t believe you will find companies doing interesting things, you will always find people doing interesting things. It is very difficult to find people in organizations who are willing to share the interesting things they are doing: the catalysts for change, the mavens who help organisations reach tipping points.
  4. The book he really enjoyed reading last year was Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler, My Part in his Downfall. Milligan is a comic genius.

We also discussed how great it would be to create more pencasts, using the Livescribe to sketch out and explain concepts. This is something that is still on my list to try out properly.

Rob Hubbard

Rob runs his own company LearningAge Solutions and is the chair of the E-learning Network (ELN). The ELN was present at Learning Technologies and was campaigning hard for effective elearning through “The Campaign for Effective Elearning” (also see: #c4ee on Twitter. He is very worried that people will start to think that all e-learning is cheap and crap. This would be bad for the industry (I see this kind of reaction in my company already). The ELN will therefore start highlighting things that really make a difference. Rob will be a busy man in 2012 because there is a publishing deal with Wiley Pfeiffer for a book from the ELN and with LearningAge he has created a piece of web based technology that implements the concept of “goal-based learning”, which is all about solving the transfer problem and putting learning into practice.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. He hopes that he will be able to do a very big project which uses games and simulations to train thousands of people up to a certain skill level. Another exciting thing is his Rapid E-Learning Design course (I met Rob as a pilot participant of this truly excellent course) which he will be offering for free for the first time this year. Why free? Because it is a great way to meet new people.
  2. Something that really seems to be gathering pace is the concept of gamification. People are starting to take it more seriously and the market is picking up on that, there even was one stand that advertised with “gamify your learning”. He likes how it aligns with the way our brain works: we have always learned through experimenting and getting awards for behaviour that works.
  3. HT2 is doing interesting stuff, but in general he would consider science fiction to be more inspiring than what other companies are doing. One thing he showed me as an inspiration was an an interactive storybook on the iPad titled The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore made by Moonbot studios. It is incredible interactive and it teaches children how to play a song on the piano or how to write with the letters in a cereal bowl.
  4. He is really enjoying The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson which at some level is basically a book about e-learning and performance support.

Laura Overton

Laura is the Managing Director of Towards Maturity an organization that helps companies get the most out of their learning technology. She was incredibly busy at the conference trying to connect “upstairs” (where the conference is) to “downstairs” (where the salespeople are exhibiting) through organising exchanges between speakers at the conference and attendees at the exhibit.

Her answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. One of the things Towards Maturity is looking at in 2012 is how to use all the data they have for practical change and to stimulate thinking. They will start doing some sector views. Next week they are launching a series of in-focus reports on particular issues that they know are holding the industry back. One of them is the cycle of indifference to change. One research report will be focused on business leaders asking them to demand more and be less satisfied. She hopes this will stimulate some new dialog between business and learning. She would not consider herself a technologist, instead she wants people to act: it does not matter what technology they use as long as they get better results.
  2. A lot of people expect social learning to break through. She doesn’t think that will happen this year, especially the use of external social media (i.e. Facebook) will not work. Mobile learning is really on the verge of break through. User-generated content and an openness to that is an interesting thing too. They have seen quite a bit of growth in that.
  3. She naturally has something good to say about all the Towards Maturity ambassadors. She likes the e-learning vendors that are really looking at the business issue. They come up with business solutions rather than with elearning modules. Things like natural assessment, storytelling, experiential learning. Concepts rather than the technology.
  4. She thought Nudge, a book about influencing and persuasion, was great.

Ben Betts

Ben has his own company H2T and inhabits the edge between academic research and innovative education technology practice.

His answers to my four questions were as follows:

  1. He is the most excited about Mozilla’s Open Badges project. He hopes it can help bridge the gap between Open Educational Resources and traditional formal accreditation. Anybody or any organisation can become a badge prodider (it will be one of my goals to start handing out Hans de Zwart-related badges before the end of the year), so he could already see something similar happening as in LinkedIn, “I recommend you and you recommend me”. I could see how you might get a meta-badge ecosystem with accreditors accrediting accreditors (Where would the buck stop? At Stephen Downes?). In 2012 he will also finish his doctorate thesis which is currently titled “Improving Participation in Collaborative Learning Environments” (I hope he doesn’t follow Dougiamas’ footsteps on this one).
  2. There was one word that he thought would be the word to watch for 2012. Unfortunately he could recollect it and then had to go for “Curation” (which he think is probably last year’s word).
  3. He quite likes what Epic is doing with Gomo, although they still have some way to go. Another great company is of couse Mozilla. He wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by Apple’s iBook announcement.
  4. The most interesting book for him was probably the biography of Steve Jobs. He is currently reading Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Also good was A Theory of Fun for Game Design which shows that having learned something is the definition of fun in a game. Another great book was Business Model Generation (I just read that too). Finally he would like to recommend Resonate by Nancy Duarte, which is basically “stuff you already know put really complicated” (mostly about telling stories), but it the best example he knows of how a book should be layed out.

Concluding

I didn’t have a lot of time to spend at the exhibit, but did do a very quick walkaround and found companies I just want to highlight:

  • Toolwire is going to evolve what they call Learnscapes into gamescapes, using their normal interface and turning it into a realtime multiplayer event.
  • I have never written about Lynda on this blog before. They provide videos teaching people how to do things with software applications (think about teaching you a particular effect in Photoshop for example). You can pay per video or get a subscription. They are hugely successful. I consider them another example of a thing that “geeks” have managed to get right, without the rest of the world noticing. Why aren’t they an enlightened example in the corporate learning world? Related to this I will create a theme for myself this year: Open source communities have been the first to find solutions for certain problems (collaboration at scale for example). What can businesses learn from this?

It was a great privilege to be able to speak to these eight people in a single day (I could have talked for hours with each and everyone of them…) and it takes an event like Learning Technologies to bring these people together. I will have to find a good reason to go again next year. Maybe a speaking engagement?

Make Sure You Read This: Hackers by Steven Levy

Hackers

Hackers by Steven Levy

Wow! This is a masterful book.

Levy reports on three different eras that have shaped modern computing:

  • The group of hackers at MIT in the early sixties who were the first to use computers for anything other than computing things (the first computer game, the first chess computer, the first time that a computer is connected to a robot, etc.) and created a culture, the hacker ethic, in the process.
  • The people around the Homebrew Computer Club in California in the early seventies who were the first to create hardware at a scale that could work for hobbyists and in households
  • A group of Apple and Atari enthusiasts (fanatics?) who invented whole new genres of gaming and birthed the modern game industry in the early eighties.

Levy is an excellent writer (you have read In The Plex, haven’t you?) and through his writing I was immediately and completely awed by the brilliant playfulness of these geniuses.

The hacker ethic is something that still today has tremendous value. Levy teases out these principles from the MIT culture that he investigates:

  1. Access to computers—and anything that might teach you something about the way the world works—should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!
  2. All information should be free.
  3. Mistrust Authority—Promote Decentralization. (From the book: “Bureaucracies, whether corporate, government, or university, are flawed sys-tems, dangerous in that they cannot accommodate the exploratory impulse of true hackers.”)
  4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position.
  5. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  6. Computers can change your life for the better.

Paragraphs like this:

As for royalties, wasn’t software more like a gift to the world, something that was reward in itself? The idea was to make a computer more usable, to make it more exciting to users, to make computers so interesting that people would be tempted to play with them, explore them, and eventually hack on them. When you wrote a fine program you were building a community, not churning out a product.

made me understand more fully why Richard Stallman is so pained thinking about what we lost. Greenblatt is also pretty vocal:

The real problem, Greenblatt says, is that business interests have intruded on a culture that was built on the ideals of openness and creativity. In Greenblatt’s heyday, he and his friends shared code freely, devoting themselves purely to the goal of building better products. “There’s a dynamic now that says, ‘Let’s format our web page so people have to push the button a lot so that they’ll see lots of ads,‘” Greenblatt says. “Basically, the people who win are the people who manage to make things the most inconvenient for you.”

Some things haven’t changed though. Go to places like Fosdem and you realize that the following is still the case:

It is telling, though, to note the things that the hackers did not talk about. They did not spend much time discussing the social and political implications of computers in society (except maybe to mention how utterly wrong and naive the popular conception of computers was). They did not talk sports. They generally kept their own emotional and personal lives—as far as they had any—to themselves. And for a group of healthy college-age males, there was remarkably little discussion of a topic, which commonly obsesses groups of that composition: females.

There is a lot of hacker wisdom:

[..] An important corollary of hackerism states that no system or program is ever completed. You can always make it better. Systems are organic, living creations: if people stop working on them and improving them, they die.

This book was written in the mid eighties and discusses some topics that are still relevant today. Read the following paragraph and think about the current battle between Android and iOS: hackers insist

[..] that when manuals and other “secrets” are freely disseminated the creators have more fun, the challenge is greater, the industry benefits, and the users get rewarded by much better products.

We also encounter Bill Gates and Steve Jobs right at the start of their companies. I thought it very was very funny how already then they showed something of their later self: Gates was complaining publicly in 1976 how everybody was just copying his version of Altair Basic without paying for it and Jobs was already purely focused on marketing, the user experience and what the actual hardware would look like (even when you opened the Apple 2, it had to look neat and accessible).

We absolutely have to thank O’Reilly for republishing this classic!

Reflecting on Lift France 2011: Key Themes

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Lift France 2011 conference. For me this was different than my usual conference experience. I have written before how Anglo-Saxon my perspective is, so to be at a conference where the majority of the audience is French was refreshing.

Although there was a track about learning, most of the conference approached the effects of digital technology on society from angles that were relatively new to me. In a pure learning conference, I am usually able to contextualize what I see immediately and do some real time reflecting. This time I had to stick to reporting on what I saw (all my #lift11 posts are listed here) and was forced to take a few days and reflect on what I had seen.

Below, in random order, an overview of what I would consider to be the big themes of the conference. Occasionally I will try to speculate on what these themes might mean for learning and for innovation.

Utilization of excess capacity empowered by collaborative platforms

Robin Chase gave the clearest explanation of this theme that many speakers kept referring back to:

Economic Logic of Using Access Capacity by Robin Chase

Economic Logic of Using Access Capacity by Robin Chase

This world has large amounts of excess capacity that isn’t used. In the past, the transaction costs of sharing (or renting out) this capacity was too high to make it worthwhile. The Internet has facilitated the creation of collaborative platforms that lower these transaction costs and make trust explicit. Chase’s most simple example is the couch surfing idea and her Zipcar and Buzzcar businesses are examples of this too.

Entangled with the idea of sharing capacity is the idea of access being more important than ownership. This will likely come with a change in the models for consumption: from owning a product to consuming a service. The importance of access shows why it is important to pay attention to the (legal) battles being fought on patents, copyrights, trademarks and licenses.

I had some good discussions with colleagues about this topic. Many facilities, like desks in offices, are underused and it would be good to try and find ways of getting the percentage of utilization up. One problem we saw is how to deal with peak demand. Rick Marriner made the valid suggestion that transparency about the demand (e.g. knowing how many cars are booked in the near future) will actually feed back into the demand and thus flatten the peaks.

A quick question that any (part of an) organization should ask itself is which assets and resources have excess capacity because in the past transaction costs for sharing them across the organization were too high. Would it now be possible to create platforms that allow the use of this extra capacity?

Another question to which I currently do not have an answer is whether we can translate this story to cognitive capacity. Do we have excess cognitive capacity and would there be a way of sharing this? Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus and the Wikipedia project seem to suggest we do. Can organizations capture this value?

Disintermediation

The idea of the Internet getting rid of intermediaries is very much related to the point above. Intermediaries were a big part of the transaction costs and they are disappearing everywhere. Travel agents are the canonical example, but at the conference, Paul Wicks talked about PatientsLikeMe, a site that partially tries to disintermediate doctors out of the patient-medicine relationship.

What candidates for disintermediation exist in learning? Is the Learning Management System the intermediary or the disintermediator? I think the former. What about the learning function itself? In the last years I have seen a shift where the learning function is moving away from designing learning programs into becoming a curator of content and service providers and a manager of logistics. These are exactly the type of activities that are not needed anymore in the networked world. Is this why the learning profession is in crisis? I certainly think so.

The primacy (and urgency) of design

Maybe it was the fact that the conference was full of French designeurs (with the characteristic Philippe Starck-ish eccentricities that I enjoy so much), but it really did put the urgency of design to the forefront once again for me. I would argue that design means you think about the effects that you would like to have in this world. As a creator it is your responsibility to think deeply and holistically. I will not say that you can always know the results of your design (product, service, building, city, organization, etc.), there will be externalities, but it is important that you leave nothing to chance (accident) or to convenience (laziness).

There is a wealth of productivity to be gained here. I am bombarded by bad (non-)design every single day. Large corporations are the worst offenders. The only design parameter that seems to be relevant for processes is whether they reduce risk enough, not whether they are usable for somebody trying to get something done. Most templates focus on completeness and not on aesthetics or ease of use. When last did you receive a PowerPoint deck that wasn’t full of superfluous elements that the author couldn’t be bothered to remove?

Ivo Wenzler reminded me of Checkhov’s gun (no unnecessary elements in a story). What percentage of the learning events that you have attended in the last couple of years adhered to this?

We can’t afford not to design. The company I work for is full of brilliant engineers. Where are the brilliant designers?

Distributed, federated and networked systems

Robin Chase used the image below and explicitly said that we now finally realize that distributed networks are the right model to overcome the problems of centralized and decentralized systems.

From "On Distributed Communication Networks", Baran, 1962

From "On Distributed Communication Networks", Baran, 1962

I have to admit that the distinction between decentralized and distributed eludes me for now (I guess I should read Baran’s paper), but I did notice at Fosdem earlier this year that the open source world is urgently trying to create alternatives to big centralized services like Twitter and Facebook. Moglen talked about the Freedombox as a small local computer that would do all the tasks that the cloud would normally do, there is StatusNet, unhosted and even talk of distributed redundant file systems and wireless mesh networking.

Can large organizations learn from this? I always see a tension between the need for central governance, standardization and uniformity on the one hand and the local and specific requirements on the other hand. More and more systems are now designed to allow for central governance and the advantages of interoperability and integration, while at the same time providing configurability away from the center. Call it organized customization or maybe even federation. I truly believe you should think deeply about this whenever you are implementing (or designing!) large scale information systems.

Blurring the distinction between the real and the virtual worlds

Lift also had an exhibitors section titled “the lift experience“, mostly a place for multimedia art (imagine a goldfish in a bowl sat atop an electric wheelchair, a camera captured the direction the fish swam in and the wheelchair would then move in the same direction). There were quite a few projects using the Arduino and even more that used “hacked” Kinects to enable new types of interaction languages.

Photo by Rick Marriner

Photo by Rick Marriner

Most projects tried, in some way, to negotiate a new way of working between the virtual and the real (or should I call it the visceral). As soon as those boundaries disappear designers will have an increased ability to shape reality. One of the projects that I engaged with the most was the UrbanMusicalGame: a set of gyroscopes and accelerometers hidden in soft balls. By playing with these balls you could make beautiful music while using an iPhone app to change the settings (unfortunately the algorithms were not yet optimized for my juggling). This type of project is the vanguard of what we will see in the near term.

Discomfort with the dehumanizing aspects of technology

A surprising theme for me was the well articulated discomfort with the dehumanizing aspects of some of the emerging digital technologies. As Benkler says: technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice and not all practices that are becoming feasible now have positive societal impact.

One artist, Emmanuel Germond, seemed to be very much in touch with these feeling. His project, Exposition au Danger Psychologique, made fun of people’s inability to deal with all this information and provided some coy solutions. Alex Peng talked about contemplative computing, Chris de Decker showed examples of low-tech solutions from the past that can help solve our current problems and projects in the Lift Experience showed things like analog wooden interfaces for manipulating digital music.

This leads me to believe that both physical reality and being disconnected will come at a premium in the near future. People will be willing to pay for having real experiences versus the ubiquitous virtual experiences. Not being connected to the virtual world will become more expensive as it becomes more difficult. Imagine a retreat which markets itself as having no wifi and a giving you a free physical newspaper in the morning (places like this are starting to pop up, see this unplugged conference or this reporter’s unconnected weekend).

There will be consequences for Learning and HR at large. For the last couple of years we have been moving more and more of our learning interventions into the virtual space. Companies have set up virtual universities with virtual classrooms, thousands and thousands of hours of e-learning are produced every year and the virtual worlds that are used in serious games are getting more like reality every month.

Thinking about the premium of reality it is then only logical that allowing your staff to connect with each other in the real world and collaborate in face to face meetings will be a differentiator for acquiring and retaining talent.

Big data for innovation

I’ve done a lot of thinking about big data this year (see for example these learning analytics posts) and this was a tangential topic at the conference. The clearest example came from a carpool site which can use it’s data about future reservation to clearly predict how busy traffic will be on a particular day. PatientsLikeMe is of course another example of a company that uses data as a valuable asset.

Supercrunchers is full of examples of data-driven solutions to business problems. The ease of capturing data, combined with the increase in computing power and data storage has made doing randomized trials and regression analysis feasible where before it was impossible.

This means that the following question is now relevant for any business: How can we use the data that we capture to make our products, services and processes better? Any answers?

The need to overcome the open/closed dichotomy

In my circles, I usually only encounter people who believe that most things should be open. Geoff Mulgan spoke of ways to synthesize the open/closed dichotomy. I am not completely sure how he foresees doing this, but I do know that both sides have a lot to learn from each other.

Disruptive software innovations currently don’t seem to happen int the open source world, but open source does manage to innovate when it comes to their own processes. They manage to scale projects to thousands of participants, have figured out ways of pragmatically dealing with issues of intellectual property (in a way that doesn’t inhibit development) and have created their own tool sets to make them successful at working in dispersed teams (Git being my favorite example).

When we want to change the way we do innovation in a networked world, then we shouldn’t look at the open source world for the content of innovation or the thought leadership, instead we should look at their process.

Your thoughts

A lot of the above is still very immature and incoherent thinking. I would therefore love to have a dialog with anybody who could help me deepen my thoughts on these topics.

Finally, to give a quick flavour of all my other posts about Lift 11, the following word cloud based on those posts:

Lift11 Word Cloud

My Lift 11 wordcloud, made with Wordle

Open – What Happens When Barriers to Innovation Become Drastically Lower?

The final themed session at Lift 11 France is about OPEN – What happens when barriers to innovation become drastically lower?. From the introduction:

The Internet has radically open innovation systems in digital products, content and services. Today, the same is happening to manufacturing, finance, urban services, even health care and life sciences. What will this new innovation landscape look like?

First up is Juliana Rotich from GlobalVoices. Her talk is about Ushahidi which builds democratizing technology and is powered by open source.

The true size of Africa

The true size of Africa

She starts her talk by showing how large Africa truly is. Ushahidi shares a heritage of openness with the Internet. Africa is getting connected fast and the costs of the connection keeps on dropping. Eventually this will change the rural landscape. Initially a lot of web 2.0 services where local copies of silicon valley services, but now we are starting to see services being developed for true local (check out iHub).

Mobile technology plays an important part. The coverage is getting better. In 2015 they expect to have 7.2 billion non smartphones and 1.3 billion smartphones in Africa. Mobile money is an innovation that is a third world first. More than 20% of Kenia’s GDP flows trough the mobile money system. It is transforming many (government) services: for example prepaying for electricity.

By making the tools open source, people can take the tools, use their own data and make it their own: it really lowers the barriers for people to use the technology. Ushahidi as a platform is now used for all kinds of use-cases that were never imagined. Crowdmap has pushed the number of Ushahidi implementations to over 15.000.

Of course there are challenges: the last mile stays difficult. Nothing is as big a showstopper as power black outs. She then goes on to critique Facebook as a walled garden for its lack of generativity. When there are closed walls around technology it becomes much harder to innovate (hear, hear!). So her advice is to bet on generativity and open source.

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino has a talk titled Homesense project: agile and open innovation against all odds.

Homesense started with a blog post. She got a bit sick of the idea of the “smart” home. Every home is different. She thought it would be a good idea to give this new simple open technology to “normal” people without any specific interest in technology and let them use it in a creative commons way. She then went looking for people who were willing to get people to volunteer their home for experimentation. In the end they found 6 households in 4 countries.

The Homesense Kit

The Homesense Kit

So what happened? People were given a “homesense kit” based around the Arduino. The households worked with technological experts to create things that were useful to them, like a robot that would tell you when you left the toilet seat up, or a little map that would show you were the shared bike-hubs around your house had bikes available, or something that would turn off the light when there was enough light around the house.

Then suddenly the project received a cease and desist letter from a large manufacturer who has a trademark on the word “Homesense”. Luckily, after some legal advice, they could go on. Now they’ve been invited by the MoMa to exhibit their project in the Talk to me exhibition.

Open innovation is hard to do when you are an organization. It is very hard to do when you are a big business. Smaller outfits can do this much cheaper and get the results shared much more quickly.

The last speaker in this session about openness is Gabriel Borges talking about two initiatives based on open innovation. He will show how peer production can be the main factor of innovation.

Brazil is now the 5th largest Internet audience with only 38% penetration. A new digital middle class is coming up in Brazil and they are the most intense social media users in the world. Portuguese is the second most spoken language in Twitter and Brazil is the 2nd largest Youtube audience in the world. Why is this the case? Brazilians are social by nature. A global average social media user in the world has 120 network friends, in Latin America this is 176 and Brazil this is 230 friends.

What happens when you mix all these ingredients? You can get things like Queremos with five guys organizing concert by disintermediating all the people that are normally between a band and the attendee. It works like this:

Queremos

Another example is how they used WordPress to invite consumers to really help in designing a concept car. The Fiat Mio concept car had 17.000 consumers bringing in their 11.000 ideas in about 15 months. It is fundamentally changing the way that Fiat Brazil wants to work going forward.

What are the 3 key learnings from this?

  1. A collaborative environment should never be based on anarchy. Leadership, stimulation, organization and ground rules are very necessary.
  2. It doesn’t mean that everyone interested in your cause will feel thrilled to collaborate effectively. Make room for all interested people.
  3. Even for the most collaborative cause, at the end, the motivation for any and every participant will be extremely individualist.

Who needs to become “smart” in tomorrow’s cities?

Transforming abandoned oil platforms into ocean mini cities

Transforming abandoned oil platforms into ocean mini cities

The first true theme of the conference is Urban, who needs to become smart in tomorrow’s cities. From the introduction:

We want cities to become greener, safer, more competitive, more inclusive, more vibrant or easier to move in. To achieve that takes more than great engineering and determined leadership, yet this is what most models of “smart cities” are built around. It requires trust and collaboration, the deliberate sharing of urban (hardware, software, informational) resources, open innovation ecosystems, empowerment policies… How will we achieve smart and open cities that could be livable?

Saskia Sassen is talking about The future of smart cities. Her research question is how much of the new technologies are truly urbanised. The cities is not just the materialities, it also is the people, the practices, etc. This means that the city can “talk back” and there is a notion “cityness”.

What would it mean to do open source urbanism? What would it mean if we start to think of the city as the hacker? Incompleteness is her foundational image for the future of the city because the concepts of the user don’t align with the concepts of the engineer.

I thought it was unfortunate that Sassen did not develop her thoughts further than these large broad philosophical strokes. This was in stark contract with the next speaker: Adam Greenfield runs a shop in New York called Urbanscale. His talk is titled: On public objects: connected things and civic responsibilities in the networked city. He prefers the term “network city” over “smart city”).

He is inspired by Lefebvre’s concept of the right to the city. In our current networked city we have become an instrumented population. There is a strong spread of locative and declarative media. Increasingly we live among declarative objects (see Tom Armitage’s project of the talking Tower bridge).

We are surrounded by objects that can process information and “speak” to us leading to new modes of surveillance based on information gathering objects. What might it mean to speak of our right to the networked city. Maybe we need a new theory of public objects to help us think about them?

Greenberg show examples of a couple of technologies that are used in urban settings to get at a “taxonomy of effects” and a first start at thinking about the morality of objects:

  • Välkky traffic sensors are non objectionable: there is local collection with a local effect and a clear public good.
  • The Nikon advertisement that is “paparazzi billboard” is mildly disruptive: there is local collection and local effect, but there is no public good and slight disruption.
  • The Acure touchscreen vending unit is gathering information about you and tries to discern your age and your gender and then present you with the right proposition. This is a prescriptive and normative non-urban technology. This is local collection with global effect and no public good: the data is analysed and used to change the propositions.
  • Quividi (“he who watches”) VidiReports video analytics suite is a technology that records people as they pass by billboards and tracks their attention. Vidireports is leeching value of the cityscape. This technology is predictive and prospectively normative. Greenfield is actively trying to influence government to legislate against this type of technology.

Greenfield then gives a definition of the public objects. They should be designed in such a way that they are open and easily available. This has some problems: we are enormously increasing the “attack surface”. We also don’t have the etiquettes and protocols of precedence and deconfliction. But the aspirations are big though: among other things it could be a physical manifestation of the public sphere.

Next up was Alain Renk talking about Unlimited cities. He talked in French which was simultaneously translated. This setup made it very hard for me to both pay attention to the talk and blog. According to him we are confronted by a trend of standardisation of urban environment and it is very difficult to develop “urbadiversity”.

Robin Chase gave an incredibly inspiring talk about people-(em)powered platforms.

Some examples of people-(em)powered platforms are meetup and Etsy, Waze, Airbnb or Couchsurfing. This stuf is powerful: Intercontinental built 4400 hotels in 60 years, whereas Couchsurfing has 1.2m “couches” in 8 years (twice the volume of Intercontinental).

The economics are sustainable: I put my excess capacity into a common platform. This can grow very fast (low financial risk) because now the common platforms are completely scalable. This is a much more efficient use of resources. It is a dematerialisation: so more service than asset and it is focused and collaborative consumption. Put another way: ownership will not be the higher status consumption.

Chase has now started buzzcar (they have an app), a way for people to share their cars. It uses a collectively built infrastructure that is collaboratively financed where end users gain financially. Doing it like this she doesn’t have to wait for government or private companies, instead she has “auto-preneurs” putting their cars into the system. See here for a video explaining the concept. This way one well-used shared car can be used by 30-50 people. Some of these people will sell their car so one well-used shared car equals about 15-20 cars and can save 40-60 parking spaces.

This type of collaboratively built infrastructure will create the people’s city. Rather than having centralized or decentralized systems you now get distributed robust and resilient systems. We can finally have a future where there is scale without the homogenisation that this would usually bring.

The final talk is by Frédéric Mazzella. He has created a new way of carpooling and talked about how car-pooling can help forecast car traffic. Covoiturage.fr has 1.2 million members. By using people’s intentions of where they want to go when, they can forecast traffic (he showed a nice visualisation of this).