Monthly Archive for August, 2007

Today’s Links: Some recent statistics on social media…

Time to get outta here...
While our cities crumble, our virtual worlds thrive…

Video: My views about Second Life on Channel News Asia

As some of you noticed, here’s one of my last interviews in Singapore, and it’s about Second Life. This was broadcasted on Channel News Asia’s “That’s IT” show on Wed, 2007 JUL 25, 8.30pm.

Yes, I do feel funny bringing up Second Life, as I frankly told the producer that I didn’t really login as much anymore. I’m not the only one feeling this way; there’s a debate going on as to whether Second Life is on a decline.

When the camera rolled, producer Tiffany Ang asked about what I typically do in Second Life, why people enjoy it as well as the serious applications of such MUVEs (multi-user virtual environments). I focused on the educational aspect of it, on what works (simulations) and what doesn’t (virtual classrooms). I spoke based on a previous interview I had with EdTech Librarian / SL Resident, Milosun.

While Linden Lab’s CTO, Cory, made an appearance, I also pointed out key players in our Singapore Second Life scene (Alvin Loo, Rinaz, Aileen), but I believe CNA was too strapped for time to reach them.

Aside 1: You can also view the clip on Youtube and Google Video.

Aside 2: Hat tip to Priscilla Tan for acquiring the clip and sending it via DVD to Buffalo!

Livecasting: “Web 2.0: What Went Wrong?” by Trebor Scholz

UPDATE: This was livecasted on Tuesday, 1pm EST. Here is Trebor’s high quality videocast in Quicktime format.

Having gotten the green light, I’ll be livecasting (live, not life this time) the first class of Trebor Scholz’s latest UB digital media study course, The Social Web (DMS415). Here’s the course briefing from his blog:

Today, is it feasible to live ethical, meaningful lives in the context of the Social Web?

This course formulates a critique of the Social Web. Based on the rapid growth of participation in social life online and in mobile space– from social news, referral, social search, media sharing, social bookmarking, tagging, virtual worlds and social networked games, social mapping, IM, social networking, blogging and dating, this class formulates a critical analysis of the international Social Web with regard to privacy, intellectual property, and the utilization of social creation of value through the lens of a small number of case studies in the areas of education, political activism, and art. The course starts with a history of computer-facilitated networked sociality. We’ll discuss the preconditions, motivations, and typologies of participation in order to then start to debunk the Web 2.0 ideology. The course concludes with an examination of the future of the Internet (mobile social space, net neutrality, and the changed nature of the digital divide) in order to then locate fields of possibility for social change.

Key theoretical texts that we study include Yochai Benkler’s Wealth of Networks, Henry Jenkins’ Convergence Culture, Trebor Scholz’ What the MySpace generation should know about working for free, Jurgen Habermas on the Internet and the public sphere, Fred Turner’s Where the Counterculture Met the New Economy, Jeff Jarvis’ “Who owns the wisdom of the crowd? The crowd.,” Nicholas Carr’s “Sharecropping the long tail,” Michael Hardt’s “Affective labor,” Olga Goriunova’s “From Art on Networks to Art on Platforms“ and Adam Arvidsson’s “The Crisis of Value and the Ethical Economy.”

This is a theory-based course that also teaches you to participate, discuss and analyze practices on the Social Web (e.g., the use of Facebook, Twitter, IM, blogs, SecondLife).

This Fall 2007 course will be held every Tuesday and Thursday from 1pm to 2.50pm (EST), and though I’m not likely to narrowcast those, I’ll try to share notes. In the meantime, his presentation slides are available here.

BTW: I’m auditing this class under my own academic interest.

Niche networks // Neocha: China’s MySpace for the Creative People

While busy at work, I saw two of my ETC colleagues (student assistants) checking out Facebook so I chatted with them about social networks, specifically on what they used them for.

What are we really doing in Facebook?
Interestingly, instead of trying to spend time creating a more impressive profile than their peers, they seemed to be more interested in looking (or spying) at what their friends are doing. To top that off, I also saw how one of them went as far as dropping their real-life persona in favor of a pseudonym on Facebook. While this isn’t news to most of us, it does make me wonder if some better design could be incorporated in such social networks to accommodate this behavior.

Putting the “Social” in Social Networks
Facebook does so with the mini-newsfeed of your friends (see Fearmongering Facebook’s News Feed…), LiveJournal started the friends blog aggregation some time ago, while Vox did so quite well and improved on the idea with their QotD: Question of the Day feature which bring all kinds of Vox users together, thus truly mixing and socializing them. In essence, we need services that facilitate being in touch with friend according, or even to the extent of recommending other (e.g. Last.fm recommends music and “neighboring” friends!).

The Economics of Lurking
It’s incredible how much time people spend everyday in social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. Perhaps most of us enjoy sharing ourselves with others, while some of us are simply wary of it and prefer to lurk. Lurking isn’t “free” in most of these networks, requiring you to invest your time in joining in, creating a profile and adding friends. Before you know it, the trade-off happens… you watch others, just as others can watch you. Truth is reinforced when your identity online is verified by friends who leave testimonials or write on your wall. It’s a pretty fair game.

Your time in Facebook = Free Labor
For me, I’d rather do share under my own space such as my blog where I have more control and ownership over my identity and content. Personally, I use social networks just to maintain presence with my friends, where they can search for me and feel comfort in knowing that I’m show up in their search results. For instance, I believe that I’m a great friend simply because show up when I’m needed, be it in real life (offline) or online. I don’t really spend too much time in these networks because I have this feeling that my effort is really benefitting someone else… in this case Facebook. While the cost benefit makes it worthwhile for most people to spend a lot of time “working for” these commercial spaces, other like me who are able to create our own online space might be inclined to do so in our own terms (e.g. our own blogs).

Trebor’s “Participation on the Social Web”
So, are we really giving away free labor to these social networks? Incidentally, researchers are asking the same question. Artist and media theorist, Trebor Scholz, is really (really) curious about participatory behavior online. His interest has led him to begin writing a book which critically addresses the ethics of the sociable web. You can find out more about his work online, but more importantly, he’s inviting everyone to participate in a relatively short survey to help with his book.

Still unhappy with our current social networks?
Friendster and MySpace are really messy (though nicely hackable) to me, and Facebook has lost the exclusive vibe that it once had for the academic crowd, since it opened its doors to everyone. In fact, Robert Scoble thinks so too, but his reason is that all the social networks simple takes up too much time. He noted also how Facebook has turned into a modern day rolodex for finding business contacts, and I’ve seem to have read somewhere that some have also made business deals via Facebook. Joi Ito noted the same affordance years ago when he likened World of Warcraft to the new golf. Thing is, if Facebook is where companies are going, how did LinkedIn get left out?

Make it Niche, Make it Damn Easy
That’s where I thought “niche social networks” should enter and hold value by being really quick to use (functional), while being extremely relevant and fiercely exclusive (e.g. offering services specific to the relevant crowd). As fragmented it would turn the social networking scene, it would serve as the long tail, catering to the smaller but passionate group of users. For instance, Estee of blogbuzz.tv recently pinged me about a social networking site for professional women cleverly called Damsels in Success. While I only took a superficial look at it, I was more intrigued by how social networking sites like these weren’t about having huge populations of users (quantitative), but rather solid relevance to specific mobs of interests (qualitative).

Heard of Neocha (it’s actually a vulgar wordplay)?
When my ETC colleagues happened to talk about how ugly MySpace was, I then pointed out Virb, a MySpace clone for designers. ETC student assistant and media artist, BingXia (as seen in video above), chimed in with Neocha, which was China’s own MySpace for creative people as well. She complains that it isn’t popular, since there’s less people on it than MySpace. I beg to differ… the value lies in how you aren’t in a huge community of strangers, but of close friends you can actually do stuff with.

Update: The Big Switch has more thoughts on China’s Online Creative Community…

Did you know: AT&T’s International Data Global Plan for iPhone

Geek Terminal Launch Party - 8
It ain’t the real iPhone, but it ain’t got roaming charges either! (That’s Nic!)

Peter was doing a little sleuthing on the AT&T web site and found a little gem about an unreported International Data Global Plan for the iPhone

“For just an additional $24.99 per month, iPhone customers may add a Data Global Plan to their existing domestic data plan and receive 20MB of data usage in 29 countries, including Canada, China, Mexico and many additional countries in Europe/Asia. Overage rate is $.005/KB. Outside the 29 discounted countries, the data usage rate is $.0195/KB”

He called AT&T’s customer service and they told him that he needed to sign a 12 month agreement, which isn’t even mentioned on the website. I was telling Peter how insane that is… and how 20MB would easily be exceeded if the iPhone were left unchecked. Just don’t get hit with a $5k data roaming charge!

Read about AT&T’s International Data Global Plan here…

Aside: Another pretty promising “unlock hack” was shown today on video…

What Skype’s outage reminds us of…

What we're reading...
With Skype down last week, we rediscovered the joys of video iChat. Here we are sharing our reads…

The reason why Skype went down was funny but serious at the same time…

“The disruption was triggered by a massive restart of our users’ computers across the globe within a very short timeframe as they rebooted after receiving a routine set of patches through Windows Update,” Skype indicated on its blog.

So a timely Windows Update took out the network?
As highlighted by Ars Technica from Skype’s blog, “Normally Skype’s peer-to-peer network has an inbuilt ability to self-heal, however, this event revealed a previously unseen software bug within the network resource allocation algorithm which prevented the self-healing function from working quickly.”

Yup, we’re still vulnerable…
Just as we’ve discover how vulnerable the global Internet is (remember Taiwan’s earthquake disrupting Singapore’s connectivity?), here’s an instance of a Peer-to-Peer network falling apart when it theoretically shouldn’t.

If you’ve trouble visualizing this, a chat with Su Yuen makes it easy:
Su Yuen: Its like how in the Atlanta olympics…
Su Yuen: Everyone flushed the toilet simultaneously, causing the piping system to burst and leak
Kevin: That is an interesting analogy
Kevin: do you have the link source for that? URL?
Su Yuen: No, I heard it on the Sydney Olympic park tour
Su Yuen: The tour guide told us about it
Su Yuen: and that’s why he said for the Sydney Olympics, they had everyone flush simultaneously a few times to ensure the piping system would be able to manage it.

When the net goes down…
While Facebook might go down for a day, affecting the moods of (mostly) students everywhere, Skype’s outage would have not only amounted to lost business relations (benefiting some), but possibly long distance couples everywhere feeling the blues of being “unavailable”.

P.S. That’s where Gizmo Project, pfingo, Googletalk, and iChat all come in…

Cooking Together, Happy Together

Homemade Dinner

Sorry for the deluge of food photos lately, but cooking a decent dinner for someone else actually feels good.

While Hai Lee prepared seaweed soup and scrambled ham and eggs, I baked something resembling sweet and sour fish back in Singapore. Wrapped in each foil were a tilapia, two scallops, broccoli, string veggies and pieces of mango, all topped with tropical pineapple sauce. In this land far from Singapore, it was perfect. I actually loved what I made. So did Kenny and Hai Lee. Now to figure out what else I can make that’s not fish…

Aside: Andrea Ng, also a previous students of mine, also has a Buffalo blog.

Video: Priscilla asks about my 24/7 blog cam (lifecasting)

As many of you have noticed, you can watch what I’m doing right now.

Priscilla has been intrigued by the 24/7 blog cam I have running on my blog’s sidebar, so we got around to a friendly interview via iChat. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the video iChat interview, together with my blog’s lifestreaming widget (see my uStream.tv channel).

All this is part of my sousveillance video project, where I experiment with ways of establishing a richer sense of presence and feedback in a non-directional everyday setting. As seen in the video interview, this project has involved concepts such as:

1. Continuous Partial Presence: Loved ones feel as if I am actually close by (e.g. in the next room).

2. Live Crowdsourcing: Friends have called me based on what I’m doing (e.g. remind me to work, ask what I’m eating).

3. Public Therapy (?): The idea that I’d be mindful of bad habits since my life is visible to all.

4. Redefinition of Privacy: Privacy is a broad term, so here I am trying to find boundaries (e.g. I don’t broadcast sound).

5. Memory Prosthetic: I can opt to record moments of my life on video, and search by date, time, subject matter, etc.

Friends have made interesting suggestions on how I could further this project, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’d like to see this take flight. I also encourage you to try this on your own, so feel free to ask if you have any questions.

If you’d like to know more, read her blog post entitled “It’s Live – Intrigued by Ustream“.

2-in-1: How to make steamed Tilapia + Editing in iMovie 7

Do note that this is a two-in-one blog post:
1) It’s my first home cooked meal, made healthier based on your suggestions (yes, veggies!)
2) It’s my first go at using the new and controversial iMovie 7 (part of iLife ’08)

Homemade Steamed Tilapia Dinner - 1

The Setup
The setup has me going through Wegmans supermarket to buy what I need for that evening’s dinner. Since my buddy Peter taught me how simple it was to prepare Tilapia, I decided to go with that, adding some seasoning, veggies and cooking by steaming or grilling.

Thoughts on iMovie 7
The new iMovie 7 feels unlike anything I’ve used before and while I agree it’s faster than other iMovies I’ve used before, the interface does seem too strange for my liking… in fact, counterproductive. Adding titles and setting duration takes a bit of guesswork, but on the whole, the new iMovie is designed for a faster workflow, so some intricacies were sacrificed for simplicity.

Editing in iMovie 7 feels weird...

One of the most sought after features of the new iMovie is the “Export to Youtube” capability. As a videoblogger, this frees me from the time-sucking step of waiting for videos to encode, then manually uploading them. Interestingly, this was the first instance I’ve seen any application work with Youtube’s API directly, just as how many apps are now communicating with Flickr API once you authorized the transaction.

While all could be peachy, I found that the “Export to Youtube” video quality isn’t the best possible. It isn’t encoded to give you a the highest quality Youtube video, but rather iMovie 7 simply uploads Apple’s mobile-quality video which is: H.264, 480 x 360, Millions, AAC, Stereo (L R), 44.100 kHz

A properly encoded video for Youtube would be:
H.264 (or Divx), 320 x 240, Millions
AAC, Mono, 22kHz
30fps (or 15fps for speedier transfers)

Now compare the Youtube and .Mac Gallery videos exported via the new iMovie 7, as well as one manually encoded for best quality on Youtube. Which reigns supreme?

iMovie's "Share on Youtube" video quality compared...

Here’s a comparison I made between iMovie 7’s “Share on Youtube” feature (see video sample) versus my ideal encoding setting using Quicktime (see video sample) . As you can see, the iMovie’s Youtube video appears more washed-out while the Youtube-specific video encoding standard yields better image clarity. Just compare the text on the packages and the color saturation in both instances.

.Mac Web Gallery "Making Steamed Tilapia dinner" video

Of course when it comes to sharing higher definition videos on the web, nothing has come as clear and simple as the new .Mac Gallery export, which uploads videos at a number of resolutions to suit various devices. If the mobile quality is sharp, you can only imagine how the Medium and High quality versions look like. Take a look for yourself…

Overall, iMovie 7 is pretty much a first generation application with the intention of letting you make great looking videos fast. Rendering of titles and transitions are much faster, and so does the browsing of video clips thanks to the new “skimming” thumbnail rollover feature. I think it’s a good base to work from, and here’s hoping for more improvements in future versions.

Homemade Steamed Tilapia Dinner - 3

Oh, before I have my dinner, here’s a video encoding guide I shot for anyone making videos for Viddler.com, my favorite video sharing service. :)

BTW: I made a grilled version for lunch today! Have you made any nice meals lately?

Say hello to my new housemates: Hai Lee and Kenny

Hai Lee & Kenny @ Triad Apartments

I’m happy to have two of my previous UB/SIM students as housemates at my humble apartment.

Meet Hai Lee and Kenny standing proud at their new home, the Triad Apartment (talk about Asian representation!). They’ve shared a mini-travelogue of their time here and if you’re interested to see life around the University at Buffalo, you’ve now got three of us bloggers to give you the low-down.

We’ll give reality TV a run for their money! :P