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A Website and Weblog about Topics and Issues discussed in the book
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold

A platform for online social activism and digital citizenship in schools
October 26th, 2012

A Platform for Good initiative builds on Change.org in order to integrate and promote youth social activism in the classroom. The younger generation definitely has a voice, as proven among others by the Chilean Penguin Revolution, and a right to express their beliefs and personal preferences concerning the direction toward which different things go in the world. Change.org is a wider platform where people and groups of all ages can start petitions on issues they want to solve by gathering and harnessing social support. If enough support is obtained, the battle for the respective change is won.

The Platform for good makes use of these online collaborative resources with the goal of cultivating among students a sense of digital citizenship and involvement in social activism by initiating social movements for change at the level of local and national communities. On the website, links are given for successful projects like the First Woman Moderator of the Presidential Debates in 20 years, the Lorax Petition Project (with an environmental message built around the movie Lorax), and the Crayola Recycle Markers Project. Such examples educate and inspire students to believe in their power to make their country and the world a better place to live in.

The Cell Phone Cripples Malaria in Kenya
October 12th, 2012

Source. The mobile communication technology proves once again its usefulness in the realm of medical science. A study conducted by Harvard researchers and published in the journal Science used text messages sent in June 2008 and June 2009 from the mobile phones of 15 million Kenyan subscribers to track the origins and spreading patterns of malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that kills around 1 million people annually, 89% of these deaths occurring in Africa.

The cell phone technology helped with identifying and mapping a major mechanism of epidemic transmission by travel of humans from Lake Victoria, situated in the western edge of the country to Nairobi, its more central capital, thus revealing that the role of human carriers in the spreading of the parasite exceeds by far the flying limits of mosquitoes. This monitoring of human movement on a much larger scale by means of the unrelated mobile technology helps with gauging and understanding better the risk of infection.

And this is not the only benefit. Caroline Buckee, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and the author of the Science study said that the same cell phone technology that identifies malaria hot spots could improve the approaches for controlling the disease by warning travelers via text messages to avoid such risky areas. In addition to this, mobile phones could also be used to target and use resources more efficiently in the fight against malaria.

Howard Rheingold’s New Book: Mind Amplifier
October 11th, 2012

Mind Amplifier, Howard Rheingold’s latest book, published by TED Conferences in Kindle format, is short (62 pages), but conceptually dense and rich in ideas. It explores both familiar and new themes of Rheingoldian writing: mind extension tools, evolution of intellectual augmentation, a more human and effective technology, the future of machines-to-think-with, human-computer symbiosis, cyborg literacy, the polarized attitude towards networked electronic communication devices (enthusiasm for their use versus apprehension for their potential to create addiction and cultural regression), metacognition, collaborative cognition, collective intelligence, and much more.

Book description at Amazon:

“Instead of asking whether the Web is making us stupid, Howard Rheingold turns that question around and asks how designing and using digital media mindfully could make us smarter. What if humans could build tools that leverage our ability to think, communicate, and cooperate? We invented social learning, speech, writing, alphabets, printing, computers, and the Internet, which means we should be systematically directing the evolution of intellectual augmentation. ‘Mind Amplifier: Can Our Digital Tools Make Us Smarter?’ examines the origins of digital mind-extending tools, and then lays out the foundations for their future. Rheingold proposes an applied, interdisciplinary science of mind amplification. He also unveils a new protocol for developing techno-cognitive-social technologies that embrace empathy, mindfulness, and compassion — elements lacking from existing digital mind-tools.”

Howard Rheingold’s New Course: Think-Know Tools
October 9th, 2012

Think-Know Tools is an extension for the Introduction to Mind-Amplifiers course. It covers subjects like intellect augmentation, personal knowledge management, mind-amplifying devices, self-evolving collective intelligence networks, knowledge technologies. It involves new unconventional teaching and learning methods like asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, concept maps, Personal Brain, and synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter. The duration of the course is 6 weeks between October 17 and November 30, along 6 weekly modules, as follows:

Module 1: Roots & Visions of Augmentation
Module 2: Social Bookmarking as Collective Intelligence
Module 3: Concept Mapping
Module 4: Personal Knowledge Management
Module 5: The Extended Mind
Module 6: Self-Organized Co-Learning

Important note about participation

If you’re interested in registering for this course, you should know that the course is collaborative and participative, not a passive enjoyment of online lectures. If you want this to be a successful learning experience, bear in mind that the same standards Howard expects from Cal and Stanford students also apply to you. Preparation in advance (around 1-2 hours of reading and personal reflection per week) and involvement during the module sessions are a must for all participants if they want this to be a co-learning experience from which everyone benefits. It’s more than the teacher delivering and the students memorizing a body of knowledge. There are new ways of learning: individual and group learning blended with cooperative and collaborative learning, process-guided inquiry learning, etc.

The interdisciplinary, collaborative inquiry that the course is built on requires individual commitment to active participation that will involve some “un-schooling”, where you need to forget about the institutionalized ways of teaching and learning, and create new skills of participatory learning. Co-exploration and co-experimentation of social media theory and practice are involved and the students ultimately bear the responsibility of assembling and making sense of the knowledge presented and discussed.

So, the price of the course doesn’t consist much of money, but of a serious commitment in terms of time and attention. It requires less turning in homework at deadline and more constant input along the course through a variety of media in the contexts of inquiries, conversations, collaborative writing, team teaching, and group projects. It’s not simply about passive absorption of concepts and knowledge, but more about creating much needed and evolving skills that are directly linked to social media usage with overall benefits for your professional and personal development.

“Human Flesh Searches” – What They Are and How They Change China
October 6th, 2012

A recent article published on Tea Leaf Nation, and tweeted by Tricia Wang, explains what the flesh searches are and how they change China. Despite their ghoulish resonance, they refer to grassroots, collaborative efforts to share and probe personal information online with the goals of romance, kinship, justice, or vindication. They are netizen initiatives to solve cases of injustice and cruelty left unbalanced by a society that is not democratic and has no rule of law, where the government officials show innefficiency, detachment, or even smugness in the face of public tragedies or social injustices.

Which was the case of Yang Dacai, a government official, who’s grinning face while watching the burning bus that killed 36 people in August was tweeted via Sina Weibo, the China’s Tweeter. His dispassionate smile, contrasting the tragedy he was witnessing, and his expensive tastes in watches, belts, and eyeglasses that didn’t match the his meager wage as a government employee triggered the “cyber vigilatism” of the netizens (as Rebecca MacKinnon called it in her article) and prompted a flesh search. Yang was eventually dismissed from his position as chief of Shaanxi Safety Supervision Bureau.

Two other illustrative cases of flesh searches were the kitten killer from 2006, involving Wang Jiao from Heilongjiang province, and the incident from 2009 with pedicurist Deng Youjiao. Cruel Wang stomped a cat with the sharp point of her heel, an act that enraged netizens. Having no recourse for moral complaint, they took the matter in their own hand and started an investigation by means of flesh searches. Wang lost her government job. Pedicurist Deng Youjiao stabbed to death one of three Party official and was charged with murder. Wu Gan, a citizen reporter, launched an investigation that proved Deng acted on self-defense, after the three officials tried to rape her. Initially confined to a mental hospital, she was ultimately released without penalty.

Bottom line is flesh searches are essential to understanding China in the present. In an undemocratic country, where people have limited access to information about the activities of the public power that operates in a black box, flesh searches are Internet investigations, an asymmetrical form of protest, revealing misconduct and corruption of government officials.

Geo-tagging the Twitter Activity of Madrid Protesters
October 1st, 2012

Twitter is once again a pivotal mobile and online media tool for supporting social change. Spanish protesters in Madrid are making heavy use of it. Geo-location or geo-tagging technologies are now mapping the intensity of protests by measuring their so-called temperature by the number of tweets per hour in different locations. This way, the pulse of the protests is continuously and conscientiously monitored. You can take a look at the protests dynamics on Web 3.0 Lab.

Crowdsourcing the Response to the 2010 Haitian Earthquake Disaster
September 8th, 2012

Besides the earthquake in January, 2010, Haiti went through other major earthquakes in the recent recorded history, namely in 1770 and 1846. Although the previous earthquakes were estimated as being even more powerful, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 was more damaging because the area was a lot more populated than in the past. Still, the response to the disaster was the fastest due to crowdsourcing and instant messaging technology.

The blog about Mission 4636, which is owned by a lot of people and kept updated by Robert Munro from when he was coordinating the Mission 4636 efforts, describes how a free phone number (4636), a lot of volunteer effort (international, from Haitians in Diaspora, but mostly local Haitians) and also paid workers played a central role in the recovery period that followed after the disaster. The affected people sent around 80.000 messages through 4636, asking for help. Those messages were translated from Haitian Creole (or Kreyol), geolocated, categorized by level of emergency and importance, and distributed to various emergency responders and aid organizations by volunteers and paid crowdsourced workers gathered together into what is now known as “Mission 4636″. By help of this coordinated initiative, hundreds of Haitians were rescued and tens of thousands received first aid, food, water, medicine and other kinds of help and services.

A synthesis of the “Mission 4636″ report that will soon appear in the Journal of Information Retrieval straightens up a few misrepresented or unmentioned before realities (like the true percent of involvement from local Haitians when compared to international help, the significant role played by paid crowdsourced workers and the choosing of volunteers based on strong social ties), highlights the main findings, makes a few recommendations for future similar initiatives, and provides a few heartwarming testimonials coming from Haitians who volunteered for “Mission 4636″ from Diaspora.

The Chilean Penguin Revolution Continues Under Volunteer Watch
August 31st, 2012

The Chilean Penguin Revolution started in 2006, as a voice of the young democracy. Students wanted educational reforms, more generous budgets for education, a diminishing of educational disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods. Since they were officially living in a participatory democracy, they made use of their right to get involved in the democratic process, to protest against the educational status quo, and to spark a national debate. They proved they are not a selfish generation of pure consumers, but a generation concerned about the future of their younger brothers and sisters. In the beginning, they had a crushing majority of the population of their side (75% at a survey), a percent that declined a bit afterwards, but the support still remained strong. Everybody waited to see what the revolution of the students in black and white uniforms will bring.

Forward six years in time, and we are in 2012. The Penguin Revolution is far from over. Student still occupy school and university buildings in Santiago and other parts of the country, go on hunger strikes, organize marches that gather 10.000 strong, and use forms of protest that vary from soft and peaceful to radical and violent, like building barricades, throwing rocks and damaging public and private property. All that inevitably gives rise to street confrontations with the police. Police actions have become themselves more radical since last year: students get arrested, beaten (head injuries, broken noses, convulsions and breathing problems), dispersed with water cannons, submitted to tear gas and even to sexual humiliations.

But the students are not alone anymore. Their demonstration dynamics are watched from the side by volunteers called “helmets” because of the white or blue helmets they wear. An article from the New York Times covering the story describes that the volunteers are “ordinary citizens of all ages and walks of life, professionals and blue-collar workers, university students and retirees” and they are “armed with notebooks, cameras, voice recorders and gas masks”. One group is the Human Rights Observers and wears white helmets that are also wore by the members of Sutra, a labor union. The Observers and Defenders of Human Rights are the ones wearing blue helmets. The volunteers don’t interfere with the demonstrations, adopting a purely observatory and documentary stance, taking notes, jotting down names and car plates, taking pictures and recording audio and video material. Much of the information is posted immediately of Twitter. Their combined reports from the field are submitted to human rights commissions and organizations, and can serve in the future as proof at related trials.

Challenging government efficiency with digital activism and crowd-sourced disaster response
August 26th, 2012

Patrick Meier speaks in his latest blog post of a positive feedback loop between civil resistance protests and crowdsourced disaster responses. He gives various eloquent examples (the “Coup de text” against Estrada in Philippines from 2001 and the crowd-sourced response efforts to the disaster in 2012; the fires of 2010 and the recent Krymsk floods in Russia; the Egyptian revolution; the Iranian Green Revolution from 2009; even the Cyclone Bhola and the separation of Bangladesh from Pakistan through a war of independence in the pre-SMS era of the 1970s).

He talks about social media and online networking platforms as tools to mobilize and coordinate masses of people into action. FB can be a scheduling tool for meetings, Twitter can be used for coordination, and YouTube as a channel for broadcasting events, like in the case of the Egyptian Revolution. From an urge to speed relief responses to natural disasters, digitally savvy activists and volunteers have come to go around and ahead of governments, and that also serves as a potential form of non-violent protest and civil resistance. Their actions have the effect of increasing their social capital as online and offline activists and of challenging the readiness and efficiency of governments. Such events become windows of opportunity for catalyzing regime change.

One striking analogy that goes through my mind is that of the Internet and social media spreading into the society like nerves growing into a body, linking all of its different parts, moving information up and down with light speed, making possible the coordinated contraction of social muscles. Like cells inside a body, people demonstrate without any doubt that, given a social nervous system, so to speak, they can communicate and act together very efficiently towards common goals and the benefit of the whole social corpus. They learn to route around corrupt or inefficient governments like new blood vessels forming around clogged and diseased vessels, so that the social tissues are still nourished and oxygenated, and can organize political activist movements in order to dissolve and eliminate such deficient governments like tumors. Along with the information revolution, the social body evolved new abilities to protect and heal itself.

The perils of juxtaposition: Aurora
July 21st, 2012

Our hearts go out to all the bereaved.

This post is not about the tragic Aurora shooting, but about internet advertising mechanics.


If you know me & my Hipbone project, you know I’m always on about juxtaposition as a means of generating a sort of stereoscopic depth of understanding from two similar — or opposite — ideas, images etc.

And yes indeed, the juxtaposition of ideas and the creative leaps that juxtaposition generates are at the heart of the Sembl game approach that Cath Styles and I are prototyping.

Board for an iPad Sembl game + detail of a single move

-- image: board for an iPad Sembl game + detail of single move

But look, you need to have some sense of context.

And neither current algorithms nor remote humans seem to be terribly good at this.



The Celeb Boutique tweet above was posted when the word Aurora started trending after the recent awful cinema shooting, and was up for an hour before someone realized how inappropriate it was and took it down. In subsequent tweets, the boutique apologized and noted “our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend…”

I think that’s extremely unfortunate, but somewhat understandable: human error, outsourced.

The humans in question should have been as savvy as Paul Coelho, who counseled (just a day earlier, if I’m getting my dates right) as follows:



Then there was the Christian Science Monitor‘s article, Colorado shooting: A rare glimpse into Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, which showed up on my friend Critt Jarvis‘ monitor with this ad:

Again, that’s unfortunate — but the CSM’s ads are presumably chosen by algorithm, and I wouldn’t know where to send an algorithm to repent if I met one and it was sincerely apologetic…

The CSM website does offer us humans an opportunity to object to ads we find tasteless and inappropriate, however:

The Monitor is committed to showing only those ads that meet our standards for appropriate content. These particular ads are sold by internet advertising partners who share the revenue with The Christian Science Monitor. We have implemented filters with them that are designed to prevent unacceptable advertising from showing on the site. If you feel an inappropriate ad is being displayed, please contact us immediately using the form below. Ads that violate our acceptance standards will be removed from the site and our filters will be adjusted to help prevent a recurrence.

So humans can backtop the algorithms when they play foul… that’s good.


But all this just reinforces my appreciation for Cath Stylestweet last week, after she met with Mel from Serena (neat video, btw!):


There’s still no machine substitute for human wit and wisdom.

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