Summary of and Reflections on “Learning in 3D”, Chapter 1

The first chapter of Learning in 3D titled “Here Comes the Immersive Internet” consists of three parts. The first part gives an overview of the three “Webvolution Waves”, the second part focuses on four convergence points that all lead to a next-generation Immersive Internet architecture and the chapter closes with a short analysis of what this might mean for the enterprise.

Three Webvolution Waves
The web browser arrived in 1993 and was used to connect “to” the information that was available on the web. The web grew fast and businesses helping people with getting on the web (Internet Service Providers like AOL) or finding the information on the web (e.g. Yahoo and Google) where the clear winners of the first wave.

In the early noughties companies like Google and Amazon truly started to leverage “the aggregated behaviour of many users to differentiate their [..] offerings”. This insight combined with the increased ability of people to participate in the web by uploading their own content became the core of “Web 2.0“, characterised by the authors as connecting “through“.

Allegedly the next phase of the web will be about connecting “within” and immersive 3D  experiences will be a fundamental part of that. Kapp and O’Driscoll give a couple of examples, mainly from MMORPGs. In games like World of Warcraft people come together in a (semi-) three-dimensional worlds and collaborate as teams to battle other team. There is real economic value in these games as the practice of gold farming clearly shows.

The description of this third phase obviously has much less clarity than the first two phases: we are now in this “webvolution” and we are not sure which of these points are the most salient aspects. I don’t think that “immersiveness” is the only candidate to be at the heart of the next generation of web technology. It could still be that the semantic web will have more impact on social practice. Or alternatively it could the social graph which will be the all pervasive aspect of the new web. In that latter case Facebook seems to be in prime position to be the next Google with their recently announced Graph API. I am sure these trends reinforce each other, but I am not sure that 3-dimensionality will be as important as this book seems to think it will be.

Four Convergence Points
The authors think there are four current technologies that are integrating with each other, creating four convergence points in the process. All these points converge to the immersive Internet. I don’t want to steal their diagram (you can find it on page 18 of the book), so I’ll describe it here.

  • 2D synchronous learning and knowledge sharing spaces are combining to create immediate networked virtual spaces.
  • Knowledge sharing spaces and web 2.0 technologies are integrating into intuitive dynamic knowledge discovery.
  • Web 2.0 technologies and virtual world technologies are coming together in interactive 3D social networking.
  • Virtual world technologies and 2D synchronous learning together can create immersive 3D learning experiences.

I really like this model as it provides four clear spaces in which you could look at technology. The problem for me is that in my job I do indeed see immediate networked virtual space and am starting to see intuitive dynamic knowledge discovery, but I do not see the two 3D convergence points yet. This could be my lack of knowledge and experience of what is out there, in which case I would gladly see some examples and demonstrations!

What does this mean for business?
The web has had a profound impact on the way we do business and organise ourselves. I want  to address the points that I thought most interesting by quoting three passages from the book. The first quote is about information abundance and the subversion of hierarchy by networks:

As the Internet continues to pervade society, the scarcity paradigm that undergirds most modern economic theory is being challenged. Unlike currency, information is non-appropriable, which essentially means that it can be shared without being given away. Today, information no longer moves in one direction, from the top to the bottom or from teacher to student. Instead, it has a social life all its own.

The second quote is about how the web allows people to come together without needing formal organisations to do it:

As communication costs have decreased and the quality of web-based interactivity has increased, communities of co-creators no longer need to rely on a formal organization to become organized. Rather than employing an enterprise infrastructure to plan ahead of time, they leverage the pervasive and immersive affordances of the web to coordinate their activities in real time.

The above is one of the most important points (and actually the subtitle) of Clay Shirky’s wonderful Here Comes Everybody and I think this reading group is an example of how this can work.

And finally a quote about how companies have to innovate faster and how this affects the role of the learning function in the enterprise:

For change to occur it is a precondition that learning take place. [..] In the case of the centralize hierarchies, [organizations] must unlearn all that brought it success in the pre-webvolution era and quickly learn how to leverage the Immersive Internet to reconfigure its resources and capabilities to achieve sustainable competitive advantage in a world gone web. […] The perennial challenge of the learning function within the enterprise is to ensure that human capital investment yields a workforce capable of innovating faster than the competition and work processes that allow the organization to adapt to changes with minimal disruption. This suggests that the learning function should become increasingly strategic to the enterprise.

The last sentence is the step-up to the rest of the book. I am looking forward to it!

Questions for discussion
Please participate in these two polls:

In the teleconference I would like to discuss the following questions:

  • In what way has your company or organisation changed because of the webvolution? How has this affected the learning function?
  • What are your thoughts about the convergence to an immersive web? Do you have examples of how 2D synchronous learning and web 2.0 combine with 3D virtual worlds?
  • What will change when we make the shift from a scarcity paradigm to an abundance paradigm for information.

We will discuss these questions in our weekly teleconference on Monday April 26th at 15:30 CET. Please contact me if you want to call in and don’t have the dial in details.

The Spy in the Coffee Machine

Spy in the Coffee Machine

The Spy in the Coffee Machine

Slightly over a year ago, I had a conversation with Erik Duval about privacy in this digital world. He basically argued that losing privacy is not a problem as long as the transparency is symmetric. This is basically the point that David Brin writes about in The Transparent Society. The conversation started my thinking on this topic. Was Bill Joy right when he allegedly said “Privacy is dead, get over it”?

I was hoping that O’hara and Shadbolt’s The Spy in the Coffee Machine would give me some new perspectives on this issue.

The book opens with a chapter on the “disappearing body”. We have less and less face-to-face contact and more and more phone, email and Internet (IM, (micro)blogs, social networks) communications. A physical presence leaves behind few signs, whereas information is persistent.

When the prophetic but currently unfashionable Marshall McLuhan predicted that we would soon be living in a global village thanks to new technologies and media, most people took that to mean that travel would be straightforward, intermingling of diverse cultures frequent and influences wide and strong. But one other property of a village is the absence of anonymity and secrecy. Privacy is at a premium, and that is another aspect of the global village with which we will have to come to terms.

In our society we have a very hybrid view on privacy. It isn’t a value neutral concept. Some cultures regard privacy with suspicion. In “the West” we have a positive opinion on privacy and see it as something to be protected by law:

But on the other hand, many use new technologies to expose themselves to view to a previously unimaginable degree. Webcams and Big Brother provide almost unlimited access to some exhibitionists, while very few people will pass up the opportunity to appear on television. […] Most academics would kill to be interviewed about their work, even as they cling to the copyrights of their unread articles.

The book then provides a comprehensive overview of current technologies and how these relate to privacy. They do this in a matter of fact, objective and entertaining way. A couple of examples:

Moore’s law makes it trivial to search extremely large datasets (the end of practical obscurity) and is especially interesting when it comes to personal memory:

The amount of information that an ordinary person can generate, and store, is now colossal. It is possible to store digital versions of life’s memories in increasing quantities. As human-computer interaction specialist Alan Dix one playfully noted, it takes 100 kilobits/second to get high quality audio and video. If we imagine someone with a camera strapped to his or her head for 70 years, that will generate video requiring something of the order of 27.5 terabytes of storage, or about 450 60gb iPods. And if Moore’s law continues to hold for the next 20 years or so [..] we could store a continuous record of a life on a device the size of a sugar cube.
The ability to record memories, and store them indefinitely in digital form in virtually unlimited quantities has been dubbed the phenomenon of memories for life. This is an important area of interdisciplinary research; we will need to understand how it will affect our social and political lives, and our psychological memories.

Web 2.0 mashups allow you to easily bring multiple public resources together. By combining different databases you can now easily see where in your area all the sex offenders live (see Megan’s law):

In a clever demonstration of the dangers of mashups, consultant Tom Owad mashed up book wishlists published on Amazon with Google Earth, but with a twist. The Amazon users leave a name and a home town, which was often enough to locate them via Yahoo! People Search, at an individual address, of which Google Earth would hold a detailed satellite image. He also filtered out most of the books, to leave only those who read subversive literature. The result was a map of the world with readers of subversive books located upon it; click on the location of such a reader, and get a high resolution satellite image of his or her house. Of course, Owad was merely demonstrating the principle, not building a usable system for genuine deployment by the Thought Police. But ….

There are also technologies that could help in keeping us empowered. The Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P) Project for example “enables Websites to express their privacy practices in a standard format that can be retrieved automatically and interpreted easily by user agents”.

The Panopticon is here according to the authors. They use the final chapter of the book to finally give some of their own opinion about whether we have a worrying future ahead of us. They take a very balanced viewpoint: these new technologies also solve many problems and have big advantages. At the same time we should never forget that bureaucracies are information thirsty and that function creep is a reality:

The struggle for personal space between the individual and the community takes place on a number of fronts, and we should not expect sweeping victories for either side. There will be small advances here, mini-retreats there. In the background, the astonishing progress of technology will keep changing the context.

As I finished this book I read about the premiere of Privacy Matters‘ (Dutch spoken) film about the importance of privacy. They do not allow the embedding of their video so I will link to a version on Youtube:

The production quality of the film is incredible and the special effects are great. The final message of the film makes sense: stay aware. However, I found the tone too fear mongering and paternalistic. It made me averse to the video and left a sour taste in my mouth. Where is the constructive look towards the future?

For me this post about privacy is an unfinished conversation. There are lots of things to think about and I guess we should keep paying attention. Privacy will be one the many sociological concepts which will get a completely different meaning over the next decades. What are your thoughts on this topic?