Meta-digital art in

This is digital art in its purest form. Meta, even, in that I get to talk about digital art within digital art.

This is


Addictive, inspiring, and beautifully designed, it lets you “browse” art of practically any kind, from anywhere. You indicate your tastes on signing up, you choose a few artists, galleries and/or museums to follow, and then you happily click and/or “favourite” your way into aesthetic bliss.

artsy code 1

And, get this, they are currently displaying the first ever auction on the Art of Code. Now that’s digital. I won’t wax lyrical about this from a visual point of view (see what I did there? Visual, view? Sorry…), because there’s nothing that takes my breath away (although I quite like the tie with Perl code), but the idea is amazing. Code is an art form, after all. Certain strokes and sequences create images, sounds, experiences. So this auction and exhibition is hopefully the spark that will ignite public recognition and inspire even more creatives to take to the keyboard.

artsy code 3


Video goes social. Yes, more than before.

Yesterday I tried out Meerkat. While walking the dog. Big mistake. It was fun, easy to use, and it uploaded to Twitter right away with an attention-grabbing |LIVE NOW|. I loved it. But our dog is a bit rambunctious and I discovered that Meerkat is better with two hands. It’s just as well that no-one saw it.

This morning I tried out Periscope. I was standing at my bedroom window in front of a stunning sunrise, and I felt like sharing. Again, fun, and easy to use, and even though I didn’t realize that you need to activate the Twitter upload function (first time and all), I was suddenly accompanied by people from Greece, from Russia, from Italy, some even in Madrid, all of us enjoying the same sunrise. I loved it.

periscope 27-3-15

Periscope has been on general release for all of one day, and already it is flooded with inane but charming videos from all over the world. I don’t understand why it is so addictive, but it is. Checking in with someone having his breakfast in San Francisco, like I did last night… Tagging along on a live video tour of Yahoo’s offices in Madrid this morning… Chuckling at pet antics, watching the waves roll in, dodging taxis in downtown city traffic… Yes, a dangerous time waster, but one of the most perfect examples I’ve seen of the sheer scale of connectivity the Internet now allows.

Could live video streaming turn social media upside down?

Twitter seems to have seen this coming, as it bought Periscope in January, before it even launched, for $100 million. Others see the potential as well, since Meerkat has just announced successful completion of a $14 million funding round from GreyLock Partners and others. Meerkat seamlessly posts your feeds to Twitter, but can no longer integrate its API, which in techno-speak means that you can’t automatically follow all your Twitter followers, as you now can with Periscope.


Another advantage that Periscope has over Meerkat, for now, is the ability to easily save and upload your video, for non-live watching (Meerkat does allow you to save to your device and then upload to wherever, for example YouTube). Periscope allows for private broadcasts, and if Meerkat also does, I couldn’t figure out how. Oh, and the hearts. People can send you floaty colourful hearts if they like your broadcast by tapping on the screen.

In terms of traffic and market share, the volume of content and users on Periscope is surprising, but only until you take into account the amount of press coverage the service received yesterday. Is it an initial burst of curiosity? Will the traffic die off over the next few weeks as the early adopters move on to other things? Are we that fickle?

Yes, we are that fickle, but I think that with Periscope we’ll make an exception. I think that Periscope (and Meerkat) will change how we see social. The colour, layers and nuances of video make simple text look even more dry and efficient than it actually is.

Live-streaming video is nothing new (YouNow, Bambuser, Veetle), yet it has not really caught on before. As far as I know, no live social video app got anything like the buzz of Meerkat and Periscope over the past couple of weeks, and the corpses of failed initiatives (Viddy, Qik) add a sombre tone to the social timeline.

So why the sudden resurgence of interest? In many ways, we’re way more ready for this now than we were even as little as a year ago. On average, our phones are faster and the cameras are of better quality. We know a lot more about usability. And we’re a lot less afraid of the intrusiveness of social media. We’re less media-shy (at least, I know I am). We’re less interested in the perfection of a studio broadcast with perfect lighting and good makeup, and more drawn to authenticity, to honesty and to connections with people who look like us (terrible lighting, not-so-good makeup). We’re less afraid of looking silly or having people comment on our messy hair.

And, maybe we’re looking at better app marketing. The roll-out of Periscope was impressive, and curiously enough, the fact that Tyra Banks was recruited as the star-power for the beta testing is not what is grabbing headlines. They all seem to focus more on “live video” and “Twitter”. Live video app launched more or less the same time as Meerkat, but hasn’t managed to generate the same level of media attention. Vine led the way on video sharing, Twitter has trained us to broadcast, and it could well be that the live video apps that came before were simply ahead of their time.

Or, it could also be that they weren’t as fun to use.

I’ve never been remotely interested in live video. Until now. I think that Periscope is a lot of fun, and I love that you can comment and chat while the video is running. Tapping the screen to send coloured hearts to the broadcaster is strangely satisfying. And it is so easy to use. The social aspect is intriguing, what Ben Rubin, the founder of Meerkat, calls “spontaneous togetherness”, much like bumping into a bunch of friends on the street, but oh-so bigger. The random, serendipitous voyeurism that connects complete strangers is what Internet social is all about. With video it’s so much more alive and entertaining.

Interview of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Meerkat

Interview of White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Meerkat

But what I find really interesting are the potential effects on communication and culture, once we have mass adoption.

For brands, this could herald a new way to test interest and reaction: who opens the video (does the title work)? Who hearts it? How much interaction via comments? “Moment marketing” is already becoming a thing, with campaigns adapting to real-time events (game scores, contest outcomes, technical errors, etc.), but the immediacy of live video will bring it to the fore.

How will this affect sports games? For quality of broadcast and commentary, I imagine the paid cable or streaming channels don’t have too much to worry about for now.

Music? Live mini-concerts from budding musicians all over the world? Even known musicians might feel the need to give a promoted live concert over streaming video, just to generate buzz, or if a sponsor pays them to do so. Poetry? Literature? Scheduled readings? Watching an artist work? Could this affect the way we consume culture?

What about theatre, dance, concerts and other live performances? How are artistic rights affected if someone who paid for a ticket livestreams all or even just part of an event?

Conferences, trade fairs and industry gatherings? I love the idea of being able to “sample” events from all over the world. I’ve just spent a few minutes in Mashable’s #SocialGood conference in London. Interesting.

News? Live video on our news broadcasts is nothing new, but we have to go to their channels to see them, and except for the 24 hour stations and for major events, they’re limited to the news program schedule. Now, we can get live news video pushed to our mobile phones. We’re told when something is happening, and a simple tap will take us there. So much easier.

And as for how it will affect the porn industry, let’s not even go there. Within minutes of its release, Periscope was being used to transmit, well, you know… I assume that they’ll get the screening algorithms sorted out.

If I were going to invest a lot of money in a business right now, it would be in mobile phone tripods. Yes, I know that they already exist, but they are not yet mainstream. Very soon, every mobile phone user will need one, to film the party, the speech, the family meal or the tutorial that we will no doubt all soon be sharing with anyone and everyone. Content overload reaches the next level? We’re going to need to re-set our filters.

Goodbye “P2P”, hello “marketplace”

Rare is the day when there isn’t an article about P2P lending somewhere in the financial or even the mainstream press, usually on the front page. I’ve written before about the hype around the term, and I understand how labels can stick. But it is becoming increasingly clear that “P2P” just isn’t applicable anymore when it comes to alternative financing. It’s time we called it something different.

by Morgan Sessions via Unsplash

by Morgan Sessions via Unsplash

In case you’ve been living in a cave recently, a brief introduction: P2P lending became possible with the launch of platforms that bring together people and businesses that need money, and lenders who want a higher rate of return than the banks can currently offer, with less risk than the stock or bond markets. A very simple idea with far-reaching consequences, in that it is filling the void the banks left when they more-or-less pulled out of the small and medium business loan and the consumer loan markets. It is filling the void with such success that, in the UK and the US at least, it has financed well over $3 billion, and is encroaching on the bank’s market share. And, more importantly, it is increasing returns on savings, and facilitating spending by individuals and small businesses. Good for the economy, right?

Right. The UK Government is actively encouraging P2P lending, in a thinly-disguised dig at the banks’ reluctance to lend and the consequent dampening of the much-needed economic recovery. In 2012 it pledged over £100 million to alternative financing schemes, mainly through UK platforms Funding Circle (small business loans) and Zopa (consumer loans). And it is considering making the interest earned on these loans tax-exempt. Across the ocean, earlier this month the US Securities and Exchange Commission approved measures to make it easier for individuals to invest in loans.

The increased transparency, efficiency and returns are indeed attractive, and the risk is significantly lower than other high-return investments. Understandably, this has attracted the attention of the institutional investors. One of the “democratic” cornerstones of the P2P platforms, one of the advantages that appealed to individuals, was that they could invest small amounts (sometimes as low as £10) in a diversified range of loans. Businesses and people looking for financing would get it from several, sometimes hundreds of investors. In 2008, all of the loans on Lending Club and Prosper (the two main US platforms) were fractional, as in small lenders contributing small parts of borrowers’ needs. In 2014, only 35% were fractional, which implies that 65% of the more than $3bn loans were snapped up by individual entities. At those amounts, it’s almost certain that those entities are institutional investors.

That data comes from Orchard Platform, a startup founded in 2013 that links institutions to marketplace lending. If the existence of a platform such as Orchard weren’t enough of a give-away that the big financial institutions want to muscle in on the alternative lending market, the fact that two of its main backers are former CEOs of Citigroup and Morgan Stanley should clinch it.

And the evidence continues to mount. Earlier this year, the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock bought $330 million of consumer debt through Prosper, the world’s second largest lending platform. Last month Funding Circle announced that Victory Park Capital, a US-based asset manager, will finance up to $420m of small-business debt through its platform over the next three years. Nearly 50% of whole loans on Prosper are being snapped up in minutes by professional investors, with the highest-risk (and highest-yield) ones going the fastest.

by Breather via Unsplash

by Breather via Unsplash

Now, in no way can institutional investors be called “peers”. They’re not interested in the social statement of bypassing the established gatekeepers and of mutual community support. They’re in it for the profits. So, is this the end of the P2P lending model as we know it?

No, there’s no reason why it should be. Their money is just as good as anyone’s, and if their participation in the lending platforms increases funding in general, giving opportunities and helping money circulation, then everyone benefits. The nature of the platforms is unlikely to change because of the investment institutions’ involvement. But, we do need to stop calling it “P2P lending”. (In Spain we call it “crowdlending”, which can still hold, especially as the institutions have not yet gotten involved.)

As with Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, eBay, etsy and a long list of successful “new economy” businesses, the Internet facilitates connections. With lending platforms, it brings together borrowers and investors. It works by offering a selection of lending opportunities to the market in general. Interested investors sign up. It is, in all senses, a marketplace. Obviously one with rigorous controls and checks, since a lot of money is in play. But it is a marketplace, where sellers (those that have an investment opportunity to offer, ie. the borrowers) connect with buyers (those that are looking for a reasonable return on their money, ie. the lenders). “Marketplace lending” is perhaps less sexy, less hype-y, less “sharing economy”… But it is more inclusive, more flexible, and above all, more accurate. And surely we want our financial innovators to be accurate? We are talking about money, after all.


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For more on fintech, check out my Flipboard “Fintech: Technology and Financial Services”:

flipboard fintech

Smart luggage, finally

I hate luggage. My dream is to be able to get on an aeroplane without only my handbag or knapsack, and have what I need waiting for me when I get there. One day…

That said, I thought that this idea from yesterday’s batch of Y-Combinator startup presentations was interesting: a smart suitcase. Bluesmart has a GPS locator, so that if it gets lost (which happens, right?), you can track it. I’ve been very lucky, I’ve only twice had a suitcase mis-directed (both times at Christmas), and both times they were successfully recovered. Even if your suitcase doesn’t go missing, wouldn’t it be fun to know where it is within the airport? As in, how far away it is from the baggage retrieval? Actually, I’m not sure that the tracking gets that specific, but it would be cool.


And since technically it’s a carry-on bag, I’m not sure how useful a GPS tracker would be, since supposedly it’s with you at all times. Unless you walk away from it, of course. In which case, it will send you a plaintive message accusing you of abandonment.


The tracker keeps a record of every airport your suitcase has been to, and how many kilometres travelled, which could give you handsome bragging rights in the pub or the coffee bar.

Oh, and get this, you pick up the suitcase by the handle, and it sends a message to your phone with how much it weighs. And, it has a built-in battery with a USB port that you can use to recharge your phone while at the airport.

bluesmart 3

I love the idea, and just might get one when it hits the stores late this year. A practical Christmas present, perhaps? One that can help transport back home the not-so-practical presents received?

Impossible architecture and improbable beauty: Monument Valley

As I’ve said before, I’m not really into electronic games. But Monument Valley is definitely an exception. Easily the most beautiful game I’ve come across so far, its mind-blowing take on optical illusions and geometrical puzzles is not only pleasantly addictive, but also provokes frequent “Whoa!”s, much to the consertnation of all those around you.

monument valley 4

An adorable little princess (stick with me here) navigates her way through a fantasy land of staircases and doors, with the occasional black crow and waterfall blocking her way. If it sounds too childish for you, the brain-twisting puzzles and mind-bending shapes, not to mention the incredibly sophisticated programming, will dispel that notion right away. I’m sure children will love it, but it’s not designed with them in mind.

monument valley 2

And the art is stunning. Original, fascinating and utterly beautiful, if I ever saw a book with pictures like these in it, I would buy it and keep it. The creativity of the impossible architecture, the complex characterization of the simple protagonists and the surprising geometric designs provide pleasure for the eye, exercise for the mind, and suddenly you want to know where the afternoon has gone.

monument valley 3

The numbers are pretty stunning, too. It’s not a free game, it costs €3,99 in the iTunes store. And yet almost 3 million people have bought the game, giving the developers ustwo almost $6 million in revenue. Not bad for an app.

monument valley

Crowdfunding writing: a new page, or is it a new book?

Would you pay for something that hasn’t even been written yet? I would, definitely, especially if it was being written by an author I knew and liked. And possibly even if I had never heard of the author before. Because when we buy books by an author that’s new to us (and we all should, right?), we are taking a leap of faith based on the title (such as my purchase in an airport book shop of “One of our Thursdays is Missing” by Jasper Fforde, I mean, how could I resist?) or the cover or the blurb on the back. True, the pull of any of those elements is based on something tangible or visible, possibly even something that you’re holding in your hand. And, if you’re like me, you probably do peek inside the book, either by opening it and reading the first page, or using Amazon’s nifty “Look Inside” feature. And if the first sentence grabs you, and you like the tone, the balance of encouraging factors swings in favour of you reaching for your wallet.

by Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash

by Alejandro Escamilla via Unsplash

But paying up front for a writer you’ve never heard of, for work that you can’t yet flip through, and waiting months for delivery? That requires a much bigger leap of faith than we’re used to. Especially when we are spoiled for choice in the traditional or online bookshops.

However, it seems to be working. As with music crowdfunding, literary crowdfunding offers both new and experienced writers the tantalizing possibility of independence, support and feedback. Both are given the chance to finance their creation, without having to run on the cost-heavy treadmill of the publishing machine. Several specialized crowdfunding platforms already exist, and more are on the way, that allow writers to present their idea, and to ask us to help the project get off the ground.

literary crowdfunding: inkshares

screenshot from Inkshares

Publishizer, Pubslush and Inkshares allow authors set rewards in exchange for various levels of contributions, such as:

  • A copy of the ebook
  • A copy of the print book
  • A signed copy of the print book
  • A t-shirt
  • Several copies of the print book
  • Dinner with the author
  • A photograph session with the author
  • A story written just for you
  • A writing class
  • A speaking engagement
  • A case of wine…

With the funds and pre-sales guaranteed, the author can then self-publish, or try to find an established publisher (who is likely to be more interested given the book’s documented demand and probable success, than with an untested new author). Unbound offers, in addition to the crowdfunding, a publishing service, with 50% of the book’s profits going to the author (vs. 10-30% in traditional publishing houses). And, of course, both Kickstarter and Indiegogo have substantial book sections. In Spain, we have Verkami, Pentian, and, which in a forward-looking twist focusses on the number of backers rather than the funds raised. This approach emphasises the community an author can generate, and his or her future economic potential, rather than the money he or she can get for a specific book.

crowdfunding books

screenshot from

Are these new businesses going to replace the traditional publishing houses? No, not completely, and definitely not yet. We still enjoy our bestsellers and our beach reads, and the big name authors will not eagerly let go of their cushy contracts. But freedom and a higher share of the profits do have a strong pull, and more and more of them will be tempted, which will in turn bring even more traffic to these webs and apps. Crowdfunding isn’t for everyone, but more and more of us are realising just how much fun it can be.

One of the big selling points of crowdfunding as a concept is that it market tests products before their production, even if those products are cultural. For a book, movie or album to get produced, enough people have to like it to fund its costs. If the idea is not that popular, it doesn’t get off the ground. Market rules. But is that fair when it comes to creativity and cultural ideas? Is that what we want for our creative world, that only stuff that people want gets produced? Where would the innovation and the novelty and the cutting-edge infamy come from?

That kind of question underestimates our adventuresome spirit, and our willingness to try new things. Not everyone likes novelty at first. But enough of us do to make this form of financing efficient and easy. Furthermore, the nature of this form of production makes innovation almost inevitable. Crowdfunding platforms attract early adopters. They are becoming more and more popular, but they are not yet “mainstream”. The kind of people who fund projects on the crowdfunding platforms are, by nature and in general, open-minded, innovative individuals, and I think that we can be trusted to keep innovation alive through our pledges.  That’s one of the reasons we love crowdfunding, we get to actively participate in and support new ideas.

crowdfunding books with Publishizer

screenshot from Publishizer

Participating in crowdfunded books transforms us from passive consumers of print, to micro-patrons. And that’s a very good feeling. The act of participating, trusting, contributing creates an emotional connection with the project and its creators. Their triumph is your triumph, and to hold in your hand a book that you helped make possible generates something akin to pride.

The authors don’t have the big advances and the glamorous tours that the publishing houses used to provide. But they do have greater independence and creative freedom, and they get to keep more of the proceeds. The increasing number of crowdfunding platforms specializing in books, and the evident popularity of book ideas on the general platforms, is a refreshing response to the precarious state of the industry. Just as shrinking royalty payments and signing fees to musicians encouraged the development of music crowdfunding platforms, so the dwindling book advances from the publishing houses has incentivized the launch of book crowdfunding solutions. The market giveth what the market taketh away. Ok, not quite, but you have concede the beauty of the creative solutions that we come up with to save that which we love. We need writers. Writers need us. And the Internet connects us all in a mutually supportive relationship, in which we end up with a stronger, freer and even more creative industry model than the one it replaces.

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If you would like to read more about crowdfunding and/or books, check out my “crowdfunding” and/or “books” categories, or take a look at my Flipboards:

flipboard books

3d printing is in fashion, in more ways than one

And by that, obviously, I mean that it is starting to play a role in fashion design. This is not new, 3d-printed dresses have been around for, ooo, months now (the concept is that old, yes). But I haven’t seen examples like this before:


These are from Israeli designer Noa Raviv, who created these amazing shapes out of ribbed polymers, using a Stratasys 3d printer. This is not a fashion blog, nor will it ever even come close (so not my thing), but I thought that these designs were amazing. They’re not terribly practical, perhaps (you’d need a LOT of cupboard space), but surprising, and beautiful (I love the forms), and an example of how “new” technologies are unleashing a new form of creativity in the fashion world. It should be interesting…





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For more on 3d printing, check out my Flipboard magazine “3d printing”:

flipboard 3dprinting

Online higher education is growing up

Universities aren’t going anywhere. In spite of some predictions that MOOCs would make universities irrelevant, the fact that traditional higher education provides qualifications that employers still insist on basically guarantees their permanence on our education landscape. Aside from the “life experience” of living on campus and meeting other people and doing things you’ve never done before, the depth of inspiration provided by hallowed institutions cannot be completely replaced by “distance learning”, however technologically advanced and interactive it may become. Now, if only it weren’t so prohibitively expensive…

The cost is considerable, especially in the US (anywhere between $20,000 – $150,000 a year, while in the UK most undergraduate universities cost £9,000 a year plus lodging). And is it worth it? That is a key question in this tight job market: will I earn enough to make the cost a good investment? And that question is becoming more relevant, even urgent, as alternatives to higher education and to the concept of traditional degrees are becoming more accessible and more attractive.

by Ravi Cristian for Unsplash

by Ravi Cristian for Unsplash

The combination of increasing costs and online alternatives is forcing a re-think of what a degree is for. It serves as a filter, obviously, and as proof that someone has a certain level of education and intelligence. But is that totally necessary in this age of accessible data and new employment needs? What are employers looking for?

The general assumption that without a good degree you won’t get a decent job has led to a surfeit of qualified workers. The problem is, according to the employers, that these are not the workers they are looking for. According to the Manpower Group, almost 40% of employers in the US complain of a talent shortage. And by “talent”, they mean training, ability and applicable skills.

And it’s not just the employers who are frustrated. A report by the consultancy McKinsey found that 42% of recent graduates are in jobs that do not require a four-year college education. In 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 260,000 college graduates were earning the minimum wage (or less). True, a large number of these probably have degrees in a liberal arts subject such as Art History or French Renaissance Literature, which, with respect, are not as “needed” as more pragmatic degrees in business, media or science. But combine that frustrating statistic with the employer’s leaving positions unfilled because of lack of qualified candidates, and you find yourself wondering whether higher education is the societal solution it claims to be. Especially now and looking forward into the future.

Understandably, the need for official degrees is being questioned. Not by all, obviously, a good college degree is still very much in demand, and there always will be demand for that level of experience. But certain sectors have always preferred specialized qualifications. That preference is expanding. And universities are starting to offer accredited, specialized certifications that employers are taking into account in their selection criteria. These courses understandably cost a lot less than the expensive, all-inclusive experience, not only in money but also in time, or opportunity cost, or months of your life. Especially when they are online.

from Death to the Stock Photo

from Death to the Stock Photo

MOOC platform Udacity teamed up with Georgia Tech in 2013 to offer a $7000 Masters Degree in Computer Science, significantly cheaper than the $40,000 on-campus option, even though the duration of the course and the quality are similar. The courses are prepared by Georgia Tech faculty and follow the same material, although with fewer available specializations than in the residential program. They are tough, and a relatively high grade is required to graduate. What’s really interesting is that relative affordability and the fact that this Masters can be taken from almost anywhere in the world. We’re looking at a very important shift in graduate education.

edX offers Verified Certificates on some of its courses for a cost of about $90. To verify that it is you doing the work (and that you’re not outsourcing it to someone better qualified than you), a photograph of you holding an official ID is taken via your webcam at the beginning and at several stages during the course. The XSeries Certificate applies the same principal to a series of courses. Effectively, a “microdegree”, for between $100 and $500. Coursera offers a similar option with their Specializations, a series of Verified Certificates topped off with a project.

In case a “microdegree” sounds too grand, MOOC platform Udacity offers a Nanodegree program (“Industry credentials for today’s jobs in tech”). At the moment they seem to be focussed on would-be programmers and data analysts, but the list is bound to expand. The approach is somewhat original, very education 2.0 – instead of completing a series of courses, you create a series of projects for your portfolio. Udacity offers courses and advice on how to complete those projects, but the courses themselves are not obligatory.

udacity's nanodegree programs

A few weeks ago Coursera announced partnerships with Google, Instagram, Swiftkey, Shazam, iHeartMedia, SnapDeal and 500Startups to offer joint Specializations. Specializations have been around since early 2011, so they’re not exactly “new”. What is new is that corporate muscle expertise is joining the party. For instance, Instagram is supporting a University of California Specialization called “Interaction Design” (“Learn how to design great user experiences”), in which Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger collaborates in the development of portfolio projects and contributes to some of the evaluations. 500Startups has teamed up with the University of Maryland to offer an “Entrepreneurship” Specialization. This week edX announced that it was offering courses in conjunction with Microsoft. The courses are free, but you pay for the Verified Certificate, which could get you a job as a Microsoft developer.

So, we are increasingly looking at online college degrees that are “official”, as in, certified. Now, should they carry as much weight as a traditional, experiential degree? That these specializations are being offered does not mean that they will be accepted by employers. Yet. But with big names supporting this development, it is only a matter of time.

LinkedIn launched in 2013 the “Direct to Profile” option for courses taken at any one of the main MOOC platforms (and some paid online courses), in which you upload a badge to your LinkedIn profile by clicking on a link sent by the course provider. It is therefore easier for an employer to search for candidates with certain MOOC qualifications. And it is becoming easier and more acceptable, even expected, for MOOC students to include their courses on their curriculums.

It’s also worth looking at the data advantages. With an online course, you have a lot of work to show for the time invested. Assignments, quizzes, even exams and final projects – they’re online for anyone to see (with permission, of course). With online credentials it is so much easier for employers to see what you have done, and to understand what was included in the course. With an offline degree, all they get is the information that you worked hard enough to finish. If they choose to dig deep, they could perhaps find out your average grade, and you could always offer your final thesis, but the information is, relatively speaking, sparse. Online courses usually allow you to store your work in folders in the cloud, for potential employers to look at.

And as we’ve seen with Coursera and edX, employers who complain about the lack of qualified talent can do something about that. By sponsoring courses on MOOC platforms, not only are they adding an even higher level of credibility and expertise to the course providers, but they are also creating a pool of talent from which to pick future employees. The open access (or even “relatively” open access – financial aid is often offered to those who can’t afford the certificates) makes the proposition more cost-efficient than developing an in-house training program, and they have access to a much broader group of qualified people. The student can be relatively sure that the training that he or she is receiving is industry-friendly, as in, at least one employer (the one who helped to design the program) values those skills. And then can also be relatively sure that at least one employer will take a look at them, and possibly even hire them if their results are good.

So, while traditional universities will continue to exist, as the depth and breadth of the experience they provide are virtually impossible to replicate online, MOOC qualifications are gaining respectability amongst employers. The access and affordability of online courses allow employers to choose verifiably qualified workers from an ever wider pool of specialized applicants. Less expensive, more focussed mini-degrees are easier to complete for the student, and more useful for businesses. This is how MOOCs are going to shake up the traditional universities. It’s not through the open access and the low cost. It’s not through the community and the convenience. It’s through the certification of employable qualifications, at a fraction of the price. This affects not only young graduates, but also those wishing to change careers, or seasoned workers wishing to move up the ladder faster. With certified MOOCs, students have the freedom to take courses on their time and for relatively low cost, and they have the hope that specialization will make them more employable. As any student of history can tell you, the combination of freedom and hope is a powerful one.


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For more on online education, check out my Flipboard “Internet and Education”:

flipboard education

Human Tide: light, film and water and data

“Human Tide” is a hypnotic juxtaposition of light and film that creates a simple scene with vibrant action. Created by marketing agency SYZYGY, the short clip is inspired by Marcel DuChamp’s “3 Standard Stoppages”, a work of conceptual art that intended to question definitions such as “fixed” and “length”.

screenshot from Human Tide (click to see video)

screenshot from Human Tide (click to see video)

The film consists of moving sticks of light that paint an abstract motion along a beach in Kent. The walkers followed the edge of the tide, three times, capturing its shape over the course of a sunset.

screenshot from Digital Tide (click to go to video)

screenshot from Digital Tide (click to go to video)

But the effect does not stop there. Each participant, each holder of a light stick, was tracked via the GPS in his or her phone. The “digital tide” data was then used to create the soundtrack for the film. This data is available for download and use. Data as art?


A feature-length virtual-reality rock opera, on Kickstarter

I don’t, as a rule, talk about individual crowdfunding projects, as this will not become a promotion site. But I do feel compelled to show you a fascinating idea I came across while checking out Kickstarter’s music project section: a feature-length virtual-reality rock opera. The New Renaissance is part music score, part animated video, part VR experience… It sounds like a mind-bending, jaw-dropping trip, and while it is designed to work on desktops as well as headsets, it is a huge step towards turning virtual reality into a new kind of art form.

The New Renaissance

The New Renaissance

Now, I really hope that they reach their funding goal, they’re just over half way there and there’s only 11 days to go. I also really hope that even if they don’t reach it, they carry on with the project, and try the financing again, soon. This format could really surprise us, and add an entirely new genre to our entertainment playlists. With or without the Oculus Rift headset, it sounds like a trippy experience, and I very much look forward to seeing the end result, and this type of work’s evolution.