Monthly Archive for March, 2007

Intentionally Concerned, Accidentally Titoudao

Titoudao: A Nostalgic Play on Singapore WayangTitoudao: A Nostalgic Play on Singapore Wayang

Seven-thirty saw me stopping by the National Library for a quiet dinner at Hans. As I sat outside in the warmth of the Singapore night, I browsed the web through my little computer. While sifting through emails of students submitting their blog assignments, I stared at my grilled fish dinner once again pondering on whether I’m truly happy with where I am in life. By the end of April, my role as a teacher would be over, and I’ll revert back to being a student given the charge of writing insurmountable amounts of papers to earn that seemingly impossible doctoral degree. I worry a lot, but then again, stress is good, since it keeps me on my toes.

Just then I noticed how my favorite library (second being Library@Esplanade) had a trove of people (and students) going up to the third floor. I recalled how the drama center was located there, though I had never been inside. Finishing the slice of melon in my dinner set, I packed my little computer and headed upstairs to investigate. Everyone was dressed for the occasion and it seemed more than just a regular night at the theater. Checking in with the show posters and brochures, I realized that tonight was the last showing of Titoudao, an interesting local production by the acclaimed Toy Factory.

Just my luck, there was a table of volunteers selling the remaining tickets. I went forth to ask what seats were available and for how much. Pointing to the seating chart, the girl said it would be $54, to which I felt was a decent price to pay if it were a good experience. As I opened my wallet, my heart sank… I only had $25 in cash. A senior lady came in (supposedly the manager) and said it’s ok, that I could pay part of it first and the rest during the intermission from the ATM downstairs (actually at the next building at Bras Basah). Thanking her, I grabbed the tickets just as the show was about to start.

My seat couldn’t have been better, as being on the second level circle meant that I had a vantage of all the action. A few kids started flashing their cameras on each other, to which the ushers went over to give them a lecture. Note that the ushers walked past me while I took the pictures above. While I could have taught those kids how to take photos covertly, I did it on my own because I wanted to share my experience in a respectful way. I feel that my words alone can’t give the authenticity of life as much as pictures do. Still, I know my limits and didn’t take any photos once the show really started.

I couldn’t possibly share every detail of the production, but there wasn’t a moment that I rested on my seat. The actors were constantly phasing in and out of their wayang performance, historical and modern day personas, using presentism ideas as a point of humor. With a history so colorful, the street wayang days are now numbered. This non-traditional traditional media known as the wayang (literally means “fake performance”) has now been overrun by modern media forms, fragmented over DVDs, cinemas, the Internet and what have you.

Here’s the gist of what the performance was about:

Titoudao is an English music drama about the life of a Hokkien street opera actress, Madam Oon Ah Chiam. During her early twenties, Madam Oon performed the role of this incorrigible but likeable character – Titoudao, to such perfection that the public fondly called her by this stage name. This is a play inspired by Madam Oon’s memories and experiences.

Set in the 1940s to the present day, Titoudao begins from her childhood in the poor rural area near Upper Bukit Timah Road. It traces her struggles against all odds to become a renowned wayang (Street Opera) star in Singapore and Malaysia. Through her painstaking story, we see the societal and economical changes in Singapore. It is a moving account of the struggles of a petite Chinese woman set against the progression of an ever developing island city. A heartwarming play that is poignant yet hilarious, it will make you burst into peals of laughter at one moment and weep the next. You will leave the theatre inspired by this extraordinary life experience of Madam Oon.

I really loved this performance not just because it was entertaining, but did excellent in its pedagogical approach to sharing a dying part of Singapore’s history. It reinforced some of the memories I had of childhood, and revealed once again the meaning of passion when one has to suffer through hardship. This is something very few Singaporean kids will understand.. to live with the fear of no tomorrow, yet being strong enough to dream in times of despair. Since I felt that it a socially important performance, I’ve donated some money to Toy Factory and signed up to be a volunteer. As the Dalai Lama once said to us students in UB, helping soothe the pain of others helps you forget the pains of your own.

The entire cast rocked, but it was Pam Oei how showed the most prowess being the lead actress. I’m sure that at some point, most of us have wondered about taking this acting route. The closest I’ve come to acting was by being an extra on an episode of a local Chinese TV series on Civil Defense, and I was actually given lines. Perhaps we’re all acting but we don’t know it. Even as a teacher today, I do feel that I am performing constantly with 75 pairs of eyes watching over me every week.

Being the last performance, the finishing treat came when Mdm Oon Ah Chiam showed up in the flesh (she looked young!), alongside director Goh Boon Teck as well as the incredible actors and actresses. Though the show is now over, you can still read about Titoudao here…

Experiencing Politics on the Internet (in the classroom)

The Singapore Political Bloggers Directory

For this week’s COM125 class, it’s all about “Politics on the Internet”.

This week’s assignment had my students “adopt” a local political blogger, be it an actual politician who blogs, or a citizen blogger discussing politics. After they complete a simple rubric about their chosen blogger, they were then asked to debate the following: “Do blogs allow for greater democracy in Singapore?”

You can see their blog responses here
Do leave them comments to cheer them on :)

Following up to their assignment, I devoted part of class-time to have students collaborate on a directory of Singaporean political bloggers using Google Spreadsheets.

The motivation for all these activities would be to help give the Singaporean public greater access to political discussions online. My take as always, is to allow students to see that their academic work can have an impact beyond the classroom.

Here is the spreadsheet which we intended to be a “Directory of Singaporean Political Bloggers“.

Aside 1: You can only view the document. If you wish to contribute, let me know in the comments together with your Gmail email account in the email field (which is automatically hidden from view). I will eventually be adding this to the greater Singapore Social Media Directory, a wiki which the Rambling Librarian generously started.

Aside 2: If you see my blog in the photo, it’s because some cheeky student added it as a joke.

Today’s Links: Press Coverage of Singaporeans in Second Life

Alvin Loo's "Lion City" in Second Life (Straits Times, 24th March 2007)
Congrats to Alvin and Marina for their well-deserved recognition in The Straits Times

Second Life

Singapore

Web 2.0

Hacks

Caption This: Spotted after Nexus 2007…

Seriously Cheesy Business Plan Ad

I stood there, took a picture and the crowd turned to look as well. This poster can be found at City Hall MRT towards Funan Center. It’s really value for money since it reminds us to start our own family and our own business at the same time.

What if Tomorrow.sg and Ping.sg were both babes…

Hawt Booth Babes
Hawt Booth Babes by Bluematt

This cracked me up after a long hard day at work. As Coleman pointed out, Astroboy says it best when differentiating the two…

“I like both ping.sg as well as tomorrow.sg. It is like 2 different woman. One is like the easy type, it doesn’t matter you are rich, poor, handsome or ugly. You sure can get some action. The other one is picky, you better be of some substance before you even get a glimpse of her clevage. Different but just as good. I wonder if there is a need to compare them at all. Then again comparing is a human nature instinct to make sense of the surrounding.”

Read the rest of Astroboy’s post…

Video: Twitter as Online Community @ COM125

In last week’s COM125 class on online communities, I reviewed my students’ experiences with Twitter and ran their impressions across frameworks from our readings on communities, both online and offline. You can see their responses here. I surmised that even though you can add as much friends as you want on Twitter, it still seems to be more of an ad-hoc community which forms when the need arises. One of my students, Jonathan Yip, made a succinct point by mentioning how “Twitter is not a ‘making more friends’ network. It is a ‘make better friends’ network”.

Nexus 2007: So how did it go?

Pretty good turnout for "Crowdsourcing The Media"
See this photo blown-up or see the entire photo set

It was fun… the morning bit was a little draggy for me. The individual panels were a little better, but the best part was about meeting old friends, calming down some fans and making new acquaintances. I also realized how some bloggers I thought I knew, actually had multiple pseudonyms. Note to self: They don’t tell you anything until you ask them *hint hint*…

Okay, I was joking about the fans part. Still, out of the 500+ people who attended the Web 2.0 event, surprisingly few many have now shared photos and blog posts using the “nexus2007” tag. So far there’s been only one video from the event, weren’t there anymore? Perhaps Technorati is just slow to find them all. If you’re interested, here are the photos I took at the conference.

Kevin's Helmetcam With my helmetcam mounted on the Timbuk2 shoulder strap this time (see Vantan’s photo), it was less jerky than being head-mounted, but the resulting videos might still be a challenge to watch. It’ll take me a while to process the gigabytes of footage on my Mac laptop, which has decidedly ran out of its 160gb hard drive space. Whoever said living with bits is better than atoms never archived files the way I do. If I do manage to get the video out, it’s cute because it feels like you’re watching a first-person shooter. Instead of a gun, I was either holding a plate of food, a bottle of water or my cell phone. I’ll probably string them together and find a huge block of time to dump it on Google Video. Speaking about uploading, Singapore really redefines “broadband”, since Youtube videos actually stutter when you watch it locally. Can anyone recommend a place with a reliable high-speed upstream connection?

Moderator for "Crowdsourcing the Media" On my end, the “Crowdsourcing the Media” panel at Nexus 2007 turned out quite well as there was a good amount of interaction. The panel speakers included Kathy Teo, Managing Director of CNET Networks (Asia Pacific), Jennifer Lewis, Editor of the Straits Times’ STOMP, and James Seng, Editor of Tomorrow.sg. They were all very pleasant in person and given their diverse experience, each had interesting anecdotes to share. When I presented them the question set printed from the conference wiki, Ms. Jennifer jested about how I’m a typical academic because I had about twenty questions to share (really?). Time flew by and before we knew it, we were whisked away from the speaker room to the larger conference room, which presented us with the sight above.

I took to the stage and after introducing the speakers, I got it going by presenting a snapshot on the state of user-generated content in Singapore:

Top Ten Anonymous Wikipedia Contributors

First, I shared some statistics on Wikipedia contributors, where the top anonymous contributor was in fact, a Singaporean (hat tip to Dan Li). Ms. Jennifer of STOMP chimed in with how Jimmy Wales has once visited Singapore to meet our avid contributors, and became pleasantly surprised when most of them turned out to be young Secondary school boys and girls. This puts Singapore in a unique position where we have a far younger contributor demographic compared to the rest of the world. This might also be a positive testament to the education system here, which even Cory of Linden Labs noted before deciding to open shop in Singapore.

Youtube videos by Country (24th March 2007)

Second, in response to James Seng’s question at the E27 Unconference on why we don’t see enough local videos on Youtube, I probed deeper. Doing a simple count of search results by entering countries as keywords into Youtube’s search engine, I was able to chart out the amount of video contributed onto Youtube from Singapore versus our neighbors. For our population size, we share a lot more video content than some of our bigger counterparts (about 23,000 videos as of publishing). Both these trends lead me to believe that Singapore does indeed have a healthy dose of user-generated content.

At this point I polled the audience on whether they’ve shared content online, and while about 40% of them have contributed videographic or photographic specific content, I realized that close to 90% of them were contributing textual content as bloggers! (Bloggercon anyone?) Intrigued, I asked them what they were expecting from this panel and found that they were interested in learning more about crowdsourcing and how one would define citizen journalism.

Korea's OhMyNews has influenced many others

Third, and lastly, I showed how citizen journalism took form in other countries, such as in the Korea (Ohmynews.com), which has in turn influenced user-generated news in India, Denmark, Israel, China and the States (hat tip to Preetam). I also highlighted how some were grassroots motivated (bottom-up), while others were driven by existing commercial news agencies (aka crowdsourcing, top-down, e.g. CNN, Yahoo). In the case of Singapore, most of what we know of citizen journalism seemed to be more top-down rather than bottom-up, such as the case of STOMP and CNet. Popular blog aggregators such as Tomorrow.sg and Ping.sg stood to be more bottom-up.

As Kathy Teo of CNet highlighted, citizen journalism would seem to be a subset of user-generated content. The question then became: How would we determine when a piece of user-generated content becomes a work of citizen journalism? My take on this is simply on whether the content was shared with an agenda attached. Whether it’s the creator or the subsequent viewer, I mentioned how anyone could purpose or re-purpose a piece of work as a form of citizen journalism through the process of agenda-setting (note: agenda doesn’t always mean politically-motivated).

Another thread came about in the nature of the news content sent on STOMP. I reiterated the popular notion that their content seem to thrive on the low brow rather than significant issues. Jennifer made an excellent point in how this could be the nature of Asians, as we’ve seen in the China’s Molive.cn example which I showed earlier (the site seems to be down). She believed that there’s a tendency by the common Asian folk to say less but show more through the use of SMS and MMS photos and videos. This seems to go in line with Wired magazine’s “Snack Culture” phenomenon.

I went further with this by asking all three speakers if there were any kind of news that wouldn’t be published. Aside from the typical political or sexually sensational content, Jennifer said that the role of STOMP would be to publish everything that people sent them, that it was important for them to be a democratic medium in order to set themselves apart form the other media. This was particularly refreshing to me, and would be worth trying out simply by SMSing them news at 75557. When I asked about the rate of messages STOMP was getting, Jennifer claimed that they were getting about 100 messages an hour. She then noted how it was particularly interesting when the recent tremors in Singapore became a major talking point, and was something which turned their online news service into an important socially-coordinating medium.

Kathy of CNet also noted how such was the case during the UK bombings, where she shared a personal account of how she was in UK at that time and how BBC was forever changed by citizens who sent in footage from the ground. I summarized how perhaps a natural calamity would unfortunately be the most significant kind of content to give online news agencies more legitimacy.

James took the opportunity to explain how news gets published on Tomorrow.sg. He considers Tomorrow.sg as a form of human news filter, where they depend on a diverse set of editors to create balanced gatekeeping. From geeks to celebrities, conservatives to liberals, tomorrow.sg has them all. Still, this has never been enough for some bloggers. Some time ago, I witnessed that the power law was developing in the Singapore blogosphere, and it was Clappingtrees (aka JK) who revitalized this idea at the panel’s Q&A, by raising the issue on why we need editors to filter the public’s content in the first place (i.e. censorship). I do feel that this issue has been beaten to death years ago and that the more productive route would be to try new ways of getting around this.

We Love Ping.sg

While I don’t work for tomorrow.sg, I tend to agree that bloggers could always start their own blog community or aggregator if they feel a need to. The Singapore Angle is a great example of a blog community, and they has carved their own niche by sharing political commentary. Another example came in the form of the Ping.sg aggregator, where its creator, U-Zyn (seen here with hottie blogger Veron), was on-hand to explain what it’s about. After adding your blog to his system, blog posts will be pinged there where users can then pong it to give it more popularity (Ping-ponged? Just think Digg). U-Zyn says that the aim was to have a more democratic platform for bloggers and that he doesn’t see it as a competitor to Tomorrow.sg. I mentioned how there are plenty of gaps to fill in our local blogosphere so sites like these help increase the definition of our social fabric. At the conference, everyone cheered U-Zyn for creating Ping.sg, which is a marvelous feat of code.

While I tend to agree that the popularity of Tomorrow.sg would likely be due to its editors consisting of well-known bloggers (reputation transfer), perhaps sites like Ping.sg could learn from this by getting help from other popular bloggers, at least to provide some form of endorsement. It’s ironic because Tomorrow.sg has personality since it consists of humans, while Ping.sg seems to be less personal with it’s mechanical “wisdom of the crowds” filtering system. I am interesting in how we could give ping.sg more of that missing personality. I could help make widgets…

Second Life Panel @ Nexus 2007

There might have been that more we talked about, but I think there’s been plenty to read already. I’ve been contacting the Nexus organizers to acquire the video for this panel and the Second Life one (as seen above thanks to U-Zyn), which was more causal. As soon as I get them, I’ll share them here. If you have photos or videos, please plug them in the comments too.

Meantime, here are the powerpoint slides (4.6mb) I produced on the state of user-generated content in Singapore which I used at the beginning of the conference panel. Feel free to use them with Creative Commons: Attribution to Dan Li, Preetam and me.

Aside 1: How about some Post-Nexus 2007 thoughts from Bjorn Lee (spot me in the crowd?), VanTan (OMFG, how does she do it?!?), Marina (she’s in today’s Sunday Times!), Ben Koe (StumbleUpon for Singapore?) and Siva, who was SMSing Kenneth at home where he was nursing a bad cold. Keep an eye on technorati tag “nexus2007” for more related content.

Aside 2: Big thanks to the incredibly talented people of The Digital Movement, namely Ming Yeow, Swati and Su Yuen. Frankly speaking, I was amazed that for a volunteer group of graduate students, they’ve managed to secure prominent speakers and sponsors for the event. Not only was the event professionally organized, it had interactive elements such as Twitter and Campfire for participants to play with as well. Looking forward to working with these guys again!

What a Second Life: Cory @ Idea Factory + Second Lifers @ Nexus 2007

Singapore SL in Real Life 1

Last night was my first time meeting Singaporean Second Life residents in the flesh…

Perhaps it was limited by invitation only, but most of the people who showed up were either smart, creative and/or gorgeous… which lends well to the fact that either geeks are getting pretty upmarket, or that upmarket people are getting geeky (how’s that for a scientific deduction).

Held at Goldhill Plaza’s penthouse, the venue was also home of The Idea Factory, a consultancy engaged by Linden Labs to oversee their impending arrival to Singapore. At this meetup, we got to meet and greet Cory Ondrejka, Chief Technology Officer for Linden Labs. I had recorded his talk about life in Linden Labs as well as their plans for Singapore, but I’ll will share this a little later (when I’ve time to upload the huge audio file).

At this meetup, it was also evident that we had plenty of fun ideas to share, such as making a First Life video of our Second Life avatars in action (as seen in the slideshow above). Likewise, I also mentioned about the Nexus 2007 conference this Saturday where a new panel just opened up for us. Entitled “Living, Working and Creating a Second Life” (at 2pm), guess who’s moderating that… that’s right, me. So it’s only natural that I rounded up as many people to join in the panel as I possibly could. This meetup certainly made it easy.

If you look at the Nexus conference agenda online, this Second Life conference panel isn’t even mentioned there yet, but fret not… from my discussion with organizer Ming Yeow, it’ll be a “bonus” mentioned on the day itself.

For this panel, I proposed that we have three three way discussion with the different classes of the SL community:
Residents / Users: Marina, Alvin, Preetam, etc
Organizations: First Meta’s Aileen, NYP’s Dioselin
Creators: Linden Labs’ Cory and Jean

This doesn’t mean that the rest of us are left out. People like Preetam, Vanessa, Coleman, me and so on can always interject and share our experiences. Having the three groups there helps reflect the interdependent cornerstones of the SL community.

As Jean mentioned, most people want to know what residents do in Second Life… I admit that I sometimes get bored in there, so it’d be good to see everyone sharing personal experiences what they’re doing. Some thoughts include Alvin on Lion City in Second Life (that virtual Singapore island), Marina on SL relationships (e.g. love, breakups, death), First Meta’s Aileen on business in SL, and my thoughts on education in SL (Building Rambling Librarian’s guitar + How NOT to teach in SL).

I’ve advised panelists as well as conference participants to bring their laptops. During the panel, we’ll be in Second Life as a projected backchannel to the ongoing discussion. Makes for a great photo-op there! The unbeknown public audience of (400-600 expected attendees) can then either gawk or get enthuse with us.

Finally, if you have something to share or have ideas of what else we could do with out 1hr 45mins Second Life panel time, feel free to plug it here. e.g. flashmobbing a Second Life party…

Unboxing my ultimate blogging machine…

Something arrived for me...

My new toy just arrived. Shipping from the States was cheap and fast, though Singapore’s GST was killer. Here’s a hint, it also runs Second Life. Wanna see?

Video: Edward’s Super-Powered Wifi/GPRS laptop @ SIM

I’ve seen geeks attach bumper stickers to their laptop lids, but these people are uber-geeks. While I’ve witness the great Hiroshi Ishii attach a Smartdisk hard drive onto his Powerbook, Edward however, attaches all kinds of wireless networking devices to his. This made my breakfast at SIM all the more interesting…