“Unlike Us” conference and reader

14 03 2013

Are you over all the hype of social media networks like Facebook? Are you tired of reading all the delusional self marketing that goes on? Perhaps a bit jaded by all the cat memes? If so, and you are in Amsterdam, then you might like to get along to the third Unlike Us conference March 22 and 23, 2013 at TrouwAmsterdam.

Unlike Us #3 Mini Poster

Unlike Us #3 Mini Poster

Unlike us is a project that was conceived by Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Lemasol), which is designed to “analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software.”

The project is supported by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam, founded by Geert Lovink. You can check out more information on my earlier post Unlike Us: Understanding Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives

To complement the conference,  Unlike Us will also be launching the first-ever Unlike Us Reader at the event. Here is some information about the reader:

Unlike Us #3 has “Social Media: Design or Decline” as its theme and will be centred around the following sub-themes: “Theory and Critique of the Social‚” “Are You Distributed? The Federated Web Show,” “Political Economy of Social Networks: Art & Practice‚” “Mobile Use of Social Media” and “Facebook Riot: Join or Decline.” Speakers include Bernard Stiegler (FR), George Danezis (UK), Reni Hofmüller (AT), Arvind Narayanan (US), Spideralex (ES), Benjamin Grosser (US), Tobias Leingruber (DE), Simona Lodi (IT), Hester Scheurwater (NL), Nathan Freitas (US), Marion Walton (ZA), Miriyam Aouragh (UK) and many more. Additionally, there will be a set of workshops: Facebook Resistance and the Social ID Bureau with Tobias Leingruber, and a ‘hackathon catalyst’—all held at the MediaLAB Amsterdam.

A full list of speakers, more information about the program and details on locations and tickets can be found here on the Unlike Us website: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/unlikeus/3-amsterdam/ .

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Low and High Fidelity in Electronic Arts

23 09 2011

One of the things I find eternally interesting in discussions around art and technology is the question of what drives the production of the work. For some artists it is about the slick use of new technologies and the concept is either invisible or of secondary importance. For other artists, it is the process of discovery and using the technology to work through conceptual issues within their work. There is value in both approaches undoubtedly, but this value often does not translate to an equal representation in art exhibitions and art funding. There is also the additional issue of gender representation, which has recently been a hot topic on the faces list.

When I was at the recent ISEA2011 in Istanbul, I had a great time meeting up with old friends, making some new friends and sharing ideas about where electronic arts is and where it is going.

In a forthcoming post I will review some of my highlights of ISEA and show some  of the projects that I personally found inspiring.

In this post I would like to unravel a notion of high and low fidelity in the space of media arts and online communications. Low and high fidelity is often a phrase used in UX design to describe ways of prototyping design. Low fidelity ranges from post-it notes and sketches to other basic forms of media to work through design and Information Architecture challenges, whereas high fidelity can mean anything from a fully marked up website in HTML and CSS to the use of Photoshop and Fireworks and other software to mockup designs (see my post on User Experience Fundamentals for more info).

High fidelity, low fidelity and Electronic Arts

So where is the value proposition in electronic arts (digital arts, art/sci, new media, and so on)? Is slicker, more tech reliant work *better* than work that explores the process not necessarily the outcome? Also, what constitutes as ‘art’ in this space. For example, I had a great conversation with Di Ball about Van Gogh’s chair and the relationship between blogging as a form of art and the notion of invention in electronic art (see her blog at http://thebeautyandthegeeks.blogspot.com/). Interestingly when I first met Di, we were both experimenting with web and back in the mid nineties it was a tres cool to even have a website, let alone one with animated gifs:-)

Di Ball - The beauty and the geeks

Di Ball - The beauty and the geeks

Anyway, I digress. I have seen some amazing work – some of which could be described as high fidelity and some equally great work which is comparatively low fidelity. I guess it comes back to what you are into – for me concept wins every time and I especially enjoy work that considers the implications of the technology being used. ( For example, I get quite annoyed with work that has the environment or climate change as its theme and is a power hungry, consuming beast that undermines the concept).

Also artists work in different ways – much of the high fidelity work relies on teams of image and sound renderers, programmers, etc, etc. What disappoints me is when those people are not recognised. Yes – the concept is important, but the work could not be realised without the support of many others.

High fidelity artwork is also more vulnerable to technical failure – I saw many potentially  interesting works, that did not *work*.

Also, wrapped in this dynamic of high and low fidelity is the question of funding – many works do not have the benefit of large buckets of research money. To be honest, I prefer to see work that is inventive and manages to exist despite a lack of institutional support.

To conclude, I hope that curators take the time to consider more than just the slick end result and consider the value of work made via experimentation, innovation which may not have all the bells and whistles. It is worth remembering that when he was alive Vincent van Gogh had very little support for his work and the arts establishment were very dismissive of his experimental, investigative approach. Let us not go down the same path with electronic arts.

Perhaps we need more of this sentiment:

QR Code - Old Age Anarchy





From Geokult – Istanbul and ISEA2011 – physical and virtual access

18 09 2011
Lost at the Spice Bazzar or 'Leeches at the Pet Market'

Lost at the Spice Bazzar or 'Leeches at the Pet Market'

One of the biggest challenges we have experienced in Istanbul is actually working out where we are on the map. It is relatively easy to identity significant sites like the Hagia Sofia, The Blue Mosque and Taksim Square, but to try and find small galleries, restaurants and hotels off the main streets is somewhat difficult. We have four different tourist maps of the Sultanahmet and Taksim areas of the city and none of them are the same. That said, we have now been here nearly a week and have worked out how to get to most places that we want to go to.

We have also experienced other issues with access, primarily around accessing the Internet. At our hotel the WiFi connection changes with the wind, despite a wireless transmitter being on every floor. At the moment we are sitting on the rooftop terrace and the wind seems to be holding thankfully. Besides, there could be a lot worse places to sit and wait to the WiFi to blow in.

Navigating the ISEA2011 festival is also somewhat challenging, both physically and virtually as there is so much happening at many locations around the city.

Nicholas Knouf made these incisive comments about accessing the main ISEA2011 venue on the -empyre- list:

This requires being checked off of a list and then traveling through a metal detector with your belongings x-rayed. You find yourself in front of two gleaming towers of uncountable numbers of floors that reflect the blue sky. You realize that this is not the university, but rather the headquarters for Sabanci Holding (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Sabanci_Group), which appears to be the largest industrial and financial conglomerate in Turkey, while also the organization behind the founding of Sabanci University. Once you make your way through men and women in perfectly tailored business suits and executives being escorted into Mercedes to be driven to power lunches, you find yourself in front of another metal detector and x-ray machine which may or may not be used (I didn’t have to go through it when I entered). Inside is bland corporate decor not unlike anything else in the globalized world. Hacker or DIY space this certainly is not, and the internet seems to block anything that doesn’t travel on ports 80 or 443 (meaning any local e-mail clients on computers or smartphones won’t work; Blackberries won’t work; and seemingly only web traffic will go through).

Language is also proving a challenge at times. Many people do not understand English and when we have attempted to speak Turkish quite often we just get shrugged shoulders. What we have found effective however, especially in cafes and on the tram is to use French. This is quite hilarious as our French is very rudimentary, though expressions like ‘Pardon?’ and ‘Bon chance’ seem to be working well.

As we finish writing this blog, we now are at the Karakoy campus of the Sabanci University, because there is no WiFi access at our hotel. Apparently (according to the hotel manager), the entire area of Sultanahmet is without Wifi. Hmmm, I don’t think so.

Despite the challenges in access and language, we are still enjoying Istanbul and ISEA2011. We have seen some wonderful exhibitions as part of ISEA2011 and the Istanbul Biennial, which we will report on later.

This post has also been published in Geokult.





Gov 2.0 Conference – Some thoughts

5 11 2010

The recent Gov 2.0 conference in Canberra was a great demonstration of the momentum that is continuing to build around social media and access to open government data.

These moves have not come over night, over the course of many years there has been a strong movement towards applying the principles of the W3C and the vision of the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee. In short, his vision is about a Web for everyone and by everyone­—accessible, usable and a space of equity. Berners-Lee’s creation was fueled by a highly personal vision of the Web as a powerful force for social change and individual creativity. See Weaving the Web (1999) if you are interested in his philosophical take on the web.

The reality is that although open source, free ware developers, artists and citizen journalists have been actively sharing, talking, forming communities and mixing online content for nearly two decades, government has been slow to come to the table. Issues of copyright, protection of information and IT security are all seen as potential barriers for government agencies to join the conversation.

The community online has also changed exponentially. For example, research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics about Internet Activity cited that 3.8 million Internet subscribers registered in Australia at the end of the September quarter 2000, and by June 2010 this had increased to 9.6 million. Also, the way we access the internet has changed – with wireless and mobile access now almost on par with broadband access. See Internet Activity, Australia, Jun 2010 for more information.

These videos from YouTube is a good example of the growth of social media


What this conference has demonstrated is that there is a significant risk to not taking action, as government will be left behind and not seen as credible, approachable or responsive to citizens concerns. Sadly to say, in many areas of government there is active resistance to the principles of Gov2.0 because of an unwillingness to acknowledge that the issues are not about technology but about effective engagement and fostering behaviour change. But on the positive side there is some very engaged use of social media and open data that demonstrates a willingness to ‘go to where the conversation is’.

Aside from the recommendations set forth in the Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0 report put out by the Gov 2.0 Taskforce and the Declaration of Open Government, there are also significant moves in the sharing of government data. Peter Alexander from AGIMO discussed a range of initiatives, which are all on the AGIMO Blog as well as the use of Creative Commons Licences (see the Qld Government Information Licencing Framework).

The range of talks was excellent and to have senior public servants supporting moves towards Gov2.0  is very encouraging – thanks especially to Mia Garlick, Andrew Stott, Andrew Mills, Patrick McCormack and Peter Alexander.

In conclusion, there are still many challenges to educate people in decision making positions about the benefits of social media and open data. Perhaps the wrong people were in the room as there was a sense of ‘preaching to the converted’.  The tweet stream reflected this sentiment with one tweet referring to the lack of support as CRAP – Chronic Risk Averse Paranoia, which I thought was hilarious. That said, what I took away from the conference was some potential solutions and strategies that may be effective in terms of building support for more open and engaged approaches to communications and information sharing.

Gov 2.0 2010 Conference themes included:

  • Update on where the government will take Gov 2.0
  • Promoting innovation
  • Using a crowd sourced community of peers to assist decision making
  • Implementing a business communication strategy that includes Gov 2.0
  • Demonstrating net outcomes and benefits
  • Upskilling your team in social media
  • Utilising open and closed online forums, blogs, twitter and e-newsletters
  • Managing engagement within the twitter sphere
  • Maximising the time of limited resources

Check out:





TEDxCanberra

24 10 2010

I was not quite sure what to expect at TEDxCanberra, as this was the first time I had attended a TED event. However, I did have a few clues — I had seen videos of other talks online and knew that the tag line was “Ideas Worth Spreading”. TED started in 1984 with the original context being about “Technology, Entertainment, Design” but the event had grown far beyond those categories.

TEDxCanberras theme was ”Thinking Way Beyond”, with sessions divided into four categories: society, knowing, empowerment and change.  Notions of society, health, technology, education, the arts, science, human behaviour and culture were explored, ”in the context of what these things could be in the future or how they are making our future now”.

Three ideas have stuck in my head: “find your passions”, “pay it forward” and “follow your dreams” and all are aspirational and inspirational.

I particularly loved the video of Temple Grandin, who spoke about how “The world needs all kinds of minds“. In the video clip she talks about how her mind works — sharing her ability to “think in pictures,” which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids. Her talk reminded me of how important it is as a teacher and as a designer to think of how people receive, store and retrieve information – visually, aurally and kinetically .

Under the theme of Empowerment and with a focus on making dreams come true, I found Francis Owusu and his performers from Kulture Break very inspiring. I wonder if this is because I am a parent of a teenager that is starting to follow his dreams. Francis talked about how we should be dream enablers not dream stealers, an important point to remember as a parent. His presentation was broken up into sections and there were Hip-hop performances in-between, which illustrated and integrated the points of the talk, as well as being really cool and entertaining.

Kulture Break dancers

Kulture Break

Attribution Some rights reserved by Gavin Tapp

Here is some more information about Kulture Break  from the website:

Kulture Break all began in 2003 with founder Francis Owusu wanting to provide an outlet for young people to use their creative abilities to discover who they really are. He believed that you didn’t need to become somebody you are somebody! So he started out teaching break-dance and Hip-hop to students in a local high school where the name “Kulture Break” was born. The name embraces the meaning of breaking new territory, overcoming negative cultural barriers, stereotypes and empowering people. Kulture Break’s vision is to “influence a culture and empower a generation“. Offering more than just dance; it’s has become a movement with a positive message of hope and transformation for youth.

There seemed to be running through the talks a message of how we could transform society in a positive way, with a focus on empowering communities, especially young people, making me wish I had brought along my 17y/o son.

Ash Donaldson’s discussion on notions of bias was also very interesting and a number of his points rang true for me and my personal bias around so many issues. Also, by him talking about how are all biased in the way we see the world, it reminded me of when I was at university studying Art History. As trainee critics we were expected to look at an artwork objectively — a concept I always struggled with as we bring our own perspective and experience to everything we see and do.

So many of the other talks were fantastic as well — Pete Williams on Flowerdale, Mitchell Whitelaw (as always), Sunny Forsyth on the fantastic Abundant Water project, Kristin Alford, Mark Pesce and of course Patrick McGorry, whose work on raising awareness about mental health and youth is critical.

In summary, TedxCanberra is a cogent reminder that as a society we need to think differently, to prioritise differently and to think beyond ourselves as individuals to move forward. If we are enabled and empowered and aware of each other, anything is possible.

Thanks so much to all the organisers and the speakers for a wonderful event.

For all the tweets go to #tedxcanberra

Check out images on the Flickr TedxCanberra Group Pool

In the media: Great minds come together at TEDx Canberra Read the rest of this entry »





What’s hot at Web Directions

15 10 2010

Yesterday a colleague and I were interviewed at Web Directions about “What’s hot and what’s not”. This was a great opportunity for us to plug livinggreener.gov.au as well as offer our opinion about what is emerging in the web development and design space.

Well, for me what is smoking hot at the moment is HTML5 and CSS3. I am uber impressed by what you can do without Javascript – transitions, fades, specialised fonts, animating images. To be honest I don’t think I have even explored the tip of the iceberg here as there is so much new stuff.

It seems so long ago when I created my first page in 1995, complete with tiled pineapples and a flashing title (many would remember that now ousted tag). There was not a lot of opportunity to animate then, not unless you included an animated gif or a flash tag. Javascript and Flash came later and both had their pros and cons. The capacity HTML5 and CSS3 has for doing much more of this work with less code is very inspiring.

Silvia Pfeiffer’s talk on HTML5 audio and video was fantastic (I know that is totally uncritical feedback). It was excellent because the possibilities offered to audio and video in HTML5. Silvia’s knowledge of this area as impressive and I look forward to keeping abreast of developments with HTML5, particularly in the open video space.

Knud Möller’s talk on RDFa was good value. As a member of the W3C RDFa working group he has a lot of insight into this emerging standard for tagging data. Again, there seems to be some good support in the open source community with Drupal 7 including RDFa as part of the standard set up.

Michael Smith’s “HTML5 Report Card” was very entertaining, the information was really useful and the presenting style was lots of fun. The useful links from this talk are all covered in his presentation on Slideshare (where he appears under the handle of sideshowbarker).

Also, I think there is momentum building in the geomapping space, though I have a way to go to get around the dev side of things. Icelabs Max Wheeler’s talk went a bit over my head on a technical level, though his website decaf sucks, is a lovely example of the use of geo-data that displays elegantly across desktop and mobile devices. Although I still have lots to learn, I am certainly getting a much better idea of what is possible with flexible design and geo-data.

Speaking of Icelab, it was great to see Nathan McGinness, who used to work there and was a member of dorkbot cbr before he relocated to Sydney to work with Digital Eskimo. He was there showing off his invention sketch lab. Good luck Nathan – it is a great idea!

Nathan McGinness - sketch lab

As a first timer, I understand now why so many web people make the pilgrimage to Web Direction year after year, as this is a great opportunity to learn, network, catch up with friends, colleagues and even past students. One of the things that hit me the most is this where people talk about how they make things, rather than just thinking or writing about it (which is what I have spent last 9 years doing –  focusing on my PhD).

I am looking forward to much more time to play and learning through doing, not just observing and I have plenty to inspiration thanks to Web Directions.





Real World CSS3 for designers – Dan Rubin workshop

13 10 2010

Dan Rubin’s CSS3 workshop was featured as part of the Web Directions South, which is a very popular event for web professionals.

It must be said that Dan is a bit of celebrity in this community as he has been involved in many high profile projects and contributed to a number of influential texts in this field. For example, Dan is a contributing author of Cascading Style Sheets: Sepa­rating Content from Presen­tation (2nd Edition, friends of ED, 2003), tech­nical reviewer for Beginning CSS Web Devel­opment (Apress, 2006), The Art & Science of CSS (Site­Point, 2007) and Sexy Web Design (Site­Point, 2009), coauthor of Pro CSS Tech­niques (Apress, 2006), and Web Stan­dards Creativity (friends of ED, 2007).

Even though I am not a designer in my current job, occasionally I do some freelance work, and, as my approach focuses on accessibility and usability, there is a significant role for CSS in the design process. Ironically, I really got into CSS when one of my PhD advisers, Tim Brook helped me to solve a design problem on a website project titled swipe. My initial design was of a bar code that was composed of images sliced into a table and then JavaScript was used to do roll overs and change words. My approach could only be described as very 1997, as despite my awareness of the accessibility issues, I could not think of another solution except for Flash. After Tim looked at the website he sent through a small piece of CSS which gave me the roll over. This was enough to get me thinking and playing with CSS as a design tool and I was very happy with the result.

The idea of play was a big theme in Dan’s workshop, which was a very practical tour of websites and tools that are utilising CSS3. The two things that were the most inspiring was media queries (new and easy ways of including multi device support in one style sheet) and the availability of a range of fonts that you can access and download.

The range of tools and the browser support for CSS has been exponential and Dan’s survey of CSS3 was very helpful. I will certainly be downloading tools such as CSS Edit (Mac), Modernizr, Selectivizr and accessing the quirksmode, hard boiled web design by Andy Clark and realworldcss3 by Dan Rubin websites as resources.

Some useful links from Dan’s workshop:

I am definitely inspired to experiment and remember the fun of play and of creative problem solving with CSS design. I have started a sandbox section of my blog to document my experiments and will share this play with readers.