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Author Archives: devin

Crowdsourcing is written by Jeff Howe, a contributing editor to Wired magazine, where he covers the entertainment and technology industries. He discusses the rise of a number of remarkable websites which seemingly broke the rules of business. How did they do it? They utilized the power of the crowd.

Jeff Howe explains how the wisdom of crowds is nothing new, but it’s only recently that we have been able to utilize the collective power of the crowd, with the widespread use of the Internet. He has the book split into three parts: a past, present, and future of Crowdsourcing, entitled How We Got Here, Where We Are, and Where We’re Going.

Howe discusses the creation of Linux and the rise of open source software. He recounts the creation stories of websites like Threadless, iStockPhoto, Wikipedia and even CincyMoms, a site where moms located in the Cincinnati area can get their local news, share cooking tips, and rate restaurants. The site received over 50,000 visitors a day just weeks after its launch, and earned $270,000 in advertising revenue in its first three months of operation. He has countless examples of Crowdsourcing in action, ranging from the value of holding public programming contests to punk bands on Warped Tour who use MySpace to have their fans do the marketing for them.

This is a really insightful book and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who’s even remotely interested in computers, technology, business trends or the Internet.

I just finished reading a book a few days ago called Socialnomics, by Eric Qualman. (I find it funny that his logical email or Twitter name shortens to equalman.) The book is about social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and to a lesser extent, Youtube, and how they are impacting the way we live and do business.

It’s a pretty interesting book, and Qualman brings up some pretty solid points about the social and economic effects of social media sites. He uses a lot of hypothetical stories, which to me come off as lazy. I feel like if he’d dug a little bit, he could have come up with real accounts of interesting people who have benefited from sites like Youtube and Facebook. Instead, we get News Site A vs Blog Site B, home to Jane the Blogger. Surely Qualman could have found a similar example that actually happened, done a bit of research, a couple of interviews, and then recounted the story. Maybe he felt he could better illustrate his points with picture-perfect hypothetical examples, but to me it just seems lazy. Speaking of lazy, I’m not going to spend my time doing research to find a case that would have worked, and will move on.

Despite the nitpicking, there are a lot of insights to be had here. Qualman equates Social media to braggadocian behaviour, which he argues is a positive thing for society as it allows us to take collective stock of our lives and to monitor the social lives of our friends and colleagues more efficiently than we have in the past. He has another chapter on the Obama campaign, and how he used social media sites such as Facebook in order to build a grassroots campaign. Did you know that one of the four founders of Facebook, Chris Hughes, worked on the Obama campaign? I bet he knew how to reach a lot of people on Facebook for a small amount of money…

Overall, it’s a pretty interesting book, but I have to wonder if it had an editor. I’m not claiming to be a grammar whiz or anything, but there are numerous places in the book where you just have to scratch your head and wonder how an editor could have missed not only the first and second confusions of your and you’re or it and its, but the third and fourth as well. I’m exaggerating, but that’s not to say it’s a prize winning piece of prose.

“Instead of focusing on the teacher, the education system should focus on the student.

Instead of lecturing, teachers should interact with students and help them discover for themselves.

Instead of isolating students, the schools should encourage them to collaborate.”

Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, on the education system.

This book analyzes the Net Generation, those who have grown up with the Internet as a daily part of their lives. I just finished reading Chapter 5: The Net Generation as Learners, and it’s really interesting to me, as somebody who has been tutoring high school math and science for the past year and a half. There are a number of great quotes in this chapter, including this one from a college president named Jeffrey Bannister about the state of his professor’s technological advancements in the classroom:

“We’ve got a bunch of professors reading from handwritten notes, writing on blackboards, and the students are writing down what they say. This is a pre-Gutenberg model – the printing press is not even an important part of the learing paradigm. Wait til students who are 14 and have grown up learning on the Net hit the [college] classrooms – sparks are going to fly!”

Some of the kids who are in middle school right now have had daily access to the Internet since the day they were born (or could type). These students’ brains have developed in a digital world, and the way they function is different than a boomer, for example. Tapscott often compares Net Geners and boomers, and how differently they have grown up. Today’s student grows up with a Facebook profile, an iTunes account, Youtube and the instant answers of Google. A boomer grew up with the neighbourhood kids, Leave it to Beaver on one of four TV channels, and the daily newspaper. Things are different.

Tapscott calls for a shift from individual to collaborative learning, but notes that this is a tough approach to sell to traditionalists. He tells the story of Chris Avenir, a first-year engineering student at Toronto’s Ryerson University, who set up a Facebook group called Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry. The group gained 147 students as members, and shared tips on how to solve the assignments that were worth just 10% of their grade. When the teacher found out, he was outraged, and the school nearly expelled Chris, but due to protests, he was allowed to stay. He did get zero on his homework assignments though.

I think this story is ridiculous, and shows how far off some professors and/or schools are. We learn by working with each other, and in the real world, every test is open book and subject to collaboration. Why isolate people in this digital age of information? Let them collaborate on assignments. Is there really anything wrong with 147 students discussing a particular assignment? Would it be okay if they discussed it in person? Did the act of making the discussions public and in text form make it wrong?

This reminds me a lot of the story about Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, who had a similar incident during his university career at Harvard. As the story goes, Zuckerberg had an art history exam coming up, and because he had been so busy building a little website called Facebook, he had forgotten to go to class. So he did what any computer geek would do: he set up a website that contained all the pieces of art that would be covered on his exam. He left spaces for other students to leave comments, and in a few days, he had a website that was filled with comments and discussions about the pieces of art that would be on the upcoming exam. Zuckerberg studied the website and aced the test. When the professor found out, he was (according to Zuckerberg) “really pleased”, and also noted that the entire class did better than normal, perhaps due to the online collaboration.

I personally think that approaches such as Zuckerberg’s and Avenir’s are certainly the ways of the future in education, and it’s up to educators to not only accept, but also embrace and encourage the change.

This book has inspired me to start posting on here again. I realized that when you’re writing in a blog, it doesn’t matter who’s reading. You’re writing it for yourself. If other people happen to like it, that’s great. If not? Oh, well.

By writing down my thoughts about a particular book, I am keeping a recollection of what the book meant to me.

In What Would Google Do? by Jeff Jarvis, the creator of Entertainment Weekly and the originator of the Dell sucks! blog which lead to the computer company’s near-death, goes inside the world of Google. He explains how the search giant has quickly become an advertising titan which controls the organization of information.  He explains the Google Rules, what Google would do if it ruled the world, and Generation G, home to a growing amount of people who are being influenced by Google in all aspects of life: how we think, act, shop, navigate and converse.

Gmail, Google Maps, and the almighty Google search. Where would you be without them?

I’m about half way through it right now, and am hooked so far. It’s really opening my eyes to a lot of niche markets, and I sort of see the book as a spirtitual successor to Chris Anderon’s The Long Tail, which explored the new demand curve and what it meant for the lower half of the curve:  the smaller market, less than blockbuster hits – the things you can only find on Amazon, eBay, or Youtube.

Because he is such a veteran of the entertainment journalism industry, he has countless stories to recount about lunches with former bosses at TV Guide, discussions with Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, and conference exchanges with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

This books brings up a number of interesting questions, such as:

– What did Facebook do so well that it became so popular? It established elegant organization to existing networks that already existed in your social lives.

– What can be done to save the failing book industry?

– How can Hollywood use the Google Rules to capitalize on a new era of consumers in a Long Tail marketplace?

I am currently reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson (the editor of Wired magazine). It’s about how nowadays, markets are not dominated by hits anymore. Instead, the less popular niche markets (the onesies and twosies) are adding up to create huge sources of revenue for companies like Apple (through iTunes), Amazon and even Google, with their advertising market. The Long Tail looks a little something like this:

The Long Tail Graph

It’s a pretty cool book so far, and is really making me think about how much the marketplace has changed in the past 10 years.

I was just watching CNN and their debate about Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize. Coincidentally, I just finished a book that tells the story of a guy who was just nominated by US Congress for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Three Cups of Tea is the true story of Greg Mortenson, an American mountain climber who has built over 130 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in the war-torn mountain terrain most commonly associated with the Taliban.

Mortenson keeps coming back to the idea that the path to peace is not one that can be accomplished overnight by simply sending in more troops. It’s a long term process that begins with education. As he says, “If we truly want a legacy of peace for our children, we need to understand that this is a war that will ultimately be won with books, not with bombs.”

Walking around during the Word on the Street festival in the Library Square, I couldn’t help but notice the marketing campaign going on for the Sony Reader. This is Sony’s eReader, their answer to Amazon’s Kindle.Sony_PRS-300

I am really curious to see if these things will take off. I have yet to see anyone using one on the bus or in a coffee shop. While it’s true that every new technology might seem a little strange at first, I have a very hard time picturing myself reading books on a small digital screen. Then again, I’m sure people resisted the switch to paper, claiming there was nothing wrong with their stone slabs and chisels.

Anyway, why buy an eReader that is limited to books, music and video? Why not simply buy a smart phone that can not only store books, pictures, and video, but also act as a phone and camera?

Perhaps I’m missing something, but to me it seems kind of pointless to have an electronic device whose sole purpose is to store e-books.

Just what exactly is a technological singularity? Can the universe’s history be split up into six neat epochs? What type of impact will the coming revolution in Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics have on you and me, the average person?

Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near came out in 2005, and the movie releases continues to be pushed back, and is now listed as an early 2011 release. I am unsure how this movie is going to work, but I’m picturing a documentary similar in style to What the Bleep Do We Know?

Author: Ray Kurzweil

What is it about? Just as he did in 1999 with The Age of Spiritual Machines, Ray Kurzweil once again writes about the future course of humanity and its interactions with computers and artificial intelligence by using  Moore’s Law (the amount of transistors which can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit increases exponentially, doubling every two years) as a basis for his predictions. The Singularity is described as the point in technology’s evolution when artificial intelligences surpass human intelligences as the most advanced and capable life forms on Earth. Kurzweil predicts it will occur around 2045.

Excerpts: From the section We Are Becoming Cyborgs:

“The human body version 2.0 scenario represents the continuation of a long-standing trend in which we grow more intimate with our technology. Computers started out as large, remote machines in air-conditioned rooms tended by white-coated technicians. They moved onto our desks, then under our arms, and now into our pockets. Soon, we’ll routinely put them inside our bodies and brains. By the 2030s we will become more non-biological than biological. As I discussed in chapter 3, by the 2040s nonbiological intelligence will be billions of times more capable than our biological intelligence.” – Ray Kurzweil, 2005

My Two Cents: I found this much more engaging to read than his previous book. It’s a tough read at times, especially in the very wordy Achieving the Computational Capacity of the Human Brain chapter. I particularly liked Kurzweil’s splitting of the universe’s history into six epochs:

Epoch 1: Physics and Chemistry – Begins with the Big Bang, with the elements and physical properties forming in this time.

Epoch 2: Biology and DNA – Genetic information is stored in biological molecules and evolution takes place slowly, over generations, rather than within organisms’ lifetimes.

Epoch 3: Brains – Evolutionary information is now stored in neural patterns, as life has evolved to the point where complex and fast central control centers (brains) are necessary for survival.

Epoch 4: Technology – Humans become the only species able to develop technology, which is also subject to evolution and most importantly, not restricted to biological means of storing data.

Epoch 5: The Merger of Human Technology with Human Intelligence – The epoch which Kurzweil suggests we are beginning to enter, where technology begins to achieve the fine structures and capabilities of biological entities.

Epoch 6: The Universe Wakes Up – Human/machine civilization will expand its reach into the cosmos, saturating the universe and converting all inanimate matter into substrates for computation and intelligence.

I think this breakdown of the universe’s history (and future) into six epochs is quite revealing and interesting to think about. It shows how each successive epoch is shorter than the one before it, suggesting exponential growth. Just think, for the first 10 billion years or so, the universe expanded, elements were formed, stars were born, stars died, and then finally the Earth was formed about 4.6 billion years ago. It wasn’t until just 200,000 years ago that humans started to appear in the fossil record. And lastly, it wasn’t until 60 years ago that computers as we know them started to appear, and already we are approaching the point where our own technology is getting ready to surpass us!

You might like it if you like: The Age of Spiritual Machines, The Matrix, computers, technology.

“Of course the world isn’t flat. But it’s not round anymore, either. I have found that using the simple notion of flatness to describe how more people can plug, play, compete, connect, and collaborate with more equal power than ever before – which is what is happening in the world – really helps people who are trying to understand the essential impact of all the technological changes coming together today.”– from the introduction to The World Is Flat Version 3.0 (2007)

I know this book is a couple of years old, but I am reading it for the first time and finding it fascinating. As the author (Thomas L. Friedman) continuously points out, the flattening forces shaping our world are happening right under our noses, and the majority of us are oblivious to these changes. Friedman shows us the capabilities of a flat world by exploring  a variety of topics, such as Wal-Mart’s incredible supply chain, UPS’s elaborate and far-reaching tracking system, and the ascending importance of both India and China in an increasingly digital world.

So far, this book has opened my mind to a whole new way of thinking, making me acutely aware of just how connected we really are.

I’ve been reading a book called The Singularity Is Near by futurist Ray Kurzweil (author of The Age of Spiritual Machines). Kurzweil has been called “the ultimate thinking machine” by Forbes and the “rightful heir to Thomas Edison” by Inc. Magazine. Kurzweil uses his Law of Accelerating Returns to make predictions about the future course of humanity and its interactions with computers.

Kurzweil is an optimist, envisioning a future that is full of promise and marvelous cures for diabetes, cancer, and even human hunger. Yes, he’s that optimistic. Something I found amazing was this section on Interfacing the Brain and Machines:

“Migusel Nicolelis and his colleagues at Duke University implanted sensors in the brains of monkeys, enabling the animals to control a robot through thought alone. The first step in the experiment involved teaching the monkeys to control a cursor on a screen with a joystick. The scientists collected a pattern of signals from EEGs (brain sensors) and subsequently caused the cursor to respond to the appropriate patterns rather than physical movements of the joystick. The monkeys quickly learned that the joystick was no longer operative and that they could control the cursor just by thinking. This “thought detection” system was then hooked up to a robot, and the monkeys were able to learn how to control the robot’s movements with their thoughts alone. By getting visual feedback on the robot’s performance, the monkeys were able to perfect their thought control over the robot. The goal of this research is to provide a similar system for paralyzed humans that will enable them to control their limbs and environments.”

Kurzweil has opened my eyes to a variety of studies on the brain which I had no idea they were even doing.  A preview of The Singularity Is Near can be read on Google Books.

The book is being adapated for the screen, and will hit the silver screens in September 2009.