Friday Five: media, social and dropping out

Some interesting articles from the past week:

Off the Grid – by Stephen Fry

British writer, actor and comedian Stephen Fry lets rip on his vision of an unplugged life for today’s young:

“Signing off and logging out may seem to some like a move back, a fatuous attempt to disinvent the wheel, a modern equivalent of The Good Life, digging up Wikipedia and planting cabbages over it or steampunking the new to create a simulacrum of the old, but what I am talking about is a move forward for those who have never known anything but the digital world. Generation Z (it brings vomit to the gorge even to type that) must invent their own reality, not replay mine. No, this is not about the retro chic of analogue, it is about forging a new reality outside the – for want of a better word – matrix.”

Whether you agree with him or not (and he doesn’t expect you to), this is a great read, full of wit and hope.

“But first, what would motivate any young person today to pull the plug?

Well maybe they should consider this for a moment. Who most wants you to stay on the grid? The advertisers. Your boss. Human Resources. The advertisers. Your parents (irony of ironies – once they distrusted it, now they need to tag you electronically, share your Facebook photos and message you to death). The advertisers. The government. Your local authority. Your school. Advertisers.”

— x —

No, this isn’t an oil painting by an abstract artist. It’s an image of Australia taken by a satellite for the US Geological Survey.

image via artnet

satellite image of Australia, via artnet

You can see a collection of some of the most beautiful ones at their website, and at Artnet News.

earthasart contrails

satellite image of California, via artnet

satellite image of Australia, via artnet

satellite image of Australia, via artnet

— x —

How Uber Conquered London – by Sam Knight, for The Guardian

A searing mix of personal struggle, entrepreneurial determination, history and philosophy gives us a gripping tale of how Uber launched in London and went on to change how the city moves. We meet the first London employee, the first driver, and, of course, Kalanick himself. And we get a glimpse of how a city’s transformation began, one driver at a time.

“Liquidity used to be something you associated with the stock market, he explained. But now sharing networks such as Uber and Airbnb are making assets and labour available to consumers in ways that were simply not possible before.”

A long read, but worth it.

“It takes a moment for this notion to sink in: that with more drivers competing for cheaper fares, everybody can still come out on top. (American drivers have begun to call this “Uber math”.)… The only trouble with “Uber math” is how it feels to be part of the labour force that delivers it.”

— x —

Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved – by Joshua Topolsky, via Medium

The problem with today’s media is that…. it’s different. Things that used to work don’t work anymore. And the media, the “old” media, doesn’t seem to know what to do about it.

“So over time, we built up scale in digital to replace user value. We thought we could solve with numbers (the new, seemingly infinite numbers the internet and social media provides) what we couldn’t solve with attention. And with every new set of eyeballs (or clicks, or views) we added, we diminished the merit of what we made. And advertisers asked for more, because those eyes were worth less. And we made more. And it was less valuable.”

— x —

Check out these stunning light portraits by Eric Paré.

by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda

by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda


by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda

by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda

by Eric Paré, via Bored Panda

There’s more on Bored Panda.

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How social entrepreneurship is making a difference in the world – by Bérénice Magistretti, for TechCrunch

Banish the do-gooder condescension that most Silicon Valley types bestow on third world problems (although usually with very good intentions). Here we have some examples of clever ideas that are actually making a difference in quality of life. Tackling sanitation, healthcare, waste recycling and education, good ideas and smart management can make local impacts that have the potential to scale.

I dislike the label “social entrepreneurship” – it’s too limiting and misleading. I mean, Facebook and Instagram can be considered cases of social entrepreneurship, right? “Constructive” entrepreneurship doesn’t work, either. The closest I can come up with is “make-the-world-a-better-place entrepreneurship”, which is just not going to catch on. Maybe just “better place entrepreneurship”?

— x —

Have a great weekend, wherever you are. I came to London this week expecting dire weather – the forecast said rain, sleet and even snow! The same forecast as the last time I was here. And yet again, beautiful sunny weather. Cold, though. But lovely.

Sunday Seven: search, podcasts and responsibility

Some interesting articles and ideas from the past few days:

Hacking the technology boys’ club – by Anna Wiener, for The New Republic

With her evocative and intriguing article about the tech scene in San Francisco, past and present, Anna Wiener opens up the possibilities of a more tolerant and open Internet ecosystem.

 “Code is not neutral. It can’t be; it’s a creation. “The engineer’s assumptions and presumptions are in the code,” the writer and programmer Ellen Ullman wrote in a 1995 essay published in Harper’s. “The system reproduces and re-enacts life as engineers know it: alone, out of time, disdainful of anyone far from the machine.””

The article is not so much a portrait of programmer and writer Ellen Ullman as a simultaneously affectionate and scathing description of the current boom.

According to Ullman:

““If the first boom was like a disobedient band of dreamers and hackers, the new boom is more like a well-drilled army on maneuvers…They want to change the world, but they work all the time. So what exactly do they know about the world except as it is presented inside the cloisters of VCs and startup culture?””

The limitations of the tech culture shape the opportunities it hands us. The real opportunity lies in opening it up, increasing diversity, toning down the hype and going back to the revolutionary roots of potential that making and breaking things implies.

“White men still dominate the industry, as do white interpretations of diversity. Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum, however, and it would look very different if it contained the “assumptions and presumptions” of multiple demographics. Software products would be more powerful, more accessible, and more democratic—Twitter, for example, would look a lot different today if it had been built by people for whom online harassment is a real-life concern.”

— x —

3d calligraphy, by Tolga Girgin. So very cool. Talk about words that jump out of the page at you! Via Colossal.

by Tolga Girgin, via Colossal

by Tolga Girgin, via Colossal

by Tolga Girgin, via Colossal

by Tolga Girgin, via Colossal

— x —

So, Like, Why Are We So Obsessed with Podcasts Right Now? – by James Wolcott, for Vanity Fair

You know that podcasts have gone mainstream when they’re featured in Vanity Fair, and by none other than James Wolcott. Funny, informative and insightful, he lays out the state of the sector by focussing on personal experience and tastes, and in so doing gets us eager to find our own. I’ve been a podcast addict for years now, but James showed me that my “expertise” is limited and not very relevant. For that I am grateful. Podcasting has broken out of the geeky subsegment (my speciality) and is now Culture-with-a-capital-c.

James has managed to increase my excitement and my sense of overwhelm at the explosion of this new art form, which isn’t actually new. The spoken word has held rapt attention for millennia. I suspect, though, that it has never been this varied. Or this good.

— x —

Lists are the new search – by Benedict Evans

Benedict turns is attention to the problem of lists, curation and search:

One of the things I love about Benedict’s articles is how he points out what we feel like we knew all along, only we didn’t know it. It’s obvious, but we didn’t see. He does it here with the conundrum of search vs. curation, which is really the age-old pull between massification and selectivity, volume and quality, fame and privacy.

“I wonder, as ecommerce matures, how much will be carved out into exactly the kind of spectrum of large and small retail beyond the big aggregators, and how far this removal of geographic constraint might make it easier rather than harder for them to take sales from the giants, in part by removing that density problem. That is, there might be a lot more lists, they might be hard to find, and not be part of some global aggregator, and that might be OK.”

We seem to be realizing more and more that we don’t want access to everything, just the good stuff. And search can let us down on that. Lists are much more efficient, interesting and educational. But how to find the lists?

“The problem with using a list instead of a searchable database is how you get to scale – or perhaps, what kind of scale you can have. … But if the list is shorter (that is, more aggressively curated as opposed to just compiled and catalogued), then who’s doing the curation, and more importantly, how do you find the list in the first place?”

Suggest something, please.

— x —

How Two Guys Built the Ultimate GIF Search Engine – by Adam Satariano, for BloombergBusiness

Like emojis on steroids, gifs distract, sure, but they also enhance communication, filling in the non-verbal cues and the virtual wink that text can’t convey.

The ability to find all of this in one place is partially the result, of course, of alcohol.

giphy dog

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So long social media: the kids are opting out of the online public square – by Felicity Duncan, for The Conversation

This gels with what my daughter’s friends tell me: Facebook is boring and not clique-y enough. It is much easier to keep up with friends on messaging platforms. Instagram and WhatsApp are their playgrounds of choice, and most have their Instagram profiles set to private (where they can choose who gets access to their updates). According to Felicity Duncan, more and more teens are relying on “narrow broadcast” platforms such as Messenger and WeChat to reach just the people they want to reach. “Public” broadcasting does not seem to be for them.

“Today, however, the newest data increasingly support the idea that young people are actually transitioning out of using what we might term broadcast social media – like Facebook and Twitter – and switching instead to using narrowcast tools – like Messenger or Snapchat. Instead of posting generic and sanitized updates for all to see, they are sharing their transient goofy selfies and blow-by-blow descriptions of class with only their closest friends.”

So, as Facebook’s demographic gets older, and Twitter’s reach gets narrower, what does that say about the breadth of connection and the extension of world awareness that public streaming media was going to open up for today’s youth? If most of their interaction is reduced to their narrow world, how will that shape their outlook on life? Is it a version of reverting to the familiar in times of stress? Or is it a normal part of growing up?

“As more and more political activity migrates online, and social media play a role in a number of important social movement activities, the exodus of the young could mean that they become less exposed to important social justice issues and political ideas. If college students spend most of their media time on group text and Snapchat, there is less opportunity for new ideas to enter their social networks.”

Social media has gone so far beyond connecting people, that it’s losing younger users. Which could well mean that the valuations – based on mass reach that looks like it isn’t so mass after all – are at risk. Could the younger generation’s messaging habits end up breaking the tech bubble?

“We may be seeing the next evolution in digital media. Just as young people were the first to migrate on to platforms like Facebook and Twitter, they may now be the first to leave and move on to something new. This exodus of young people from publicly accessible social media to messaging that is restricted to smaller groups has a number of implications, both for the big businesses behind social media and for the public sphere more generally.”

— x —

It’s not Cyberspace anymore – by danah boyd, via Medium

Another insightfully disconcerting (and disconcertingly insightful) article by danah boyd (no capitals), about shiny new toys and how all is not well in the tech world.

“Shifting from “big data,” because it’s become code for “big brother,” tech deployed the language of “artificial intelligence” to mean all things tech, knowing full well that decades of Hollywood hype would prompt critics to ask about killer robots. So, weirdly enough, it was usually the tech actors who brought up killer robots, if only to encourage attendees not to think about them. Don’t think of an elephant. Even as the demo robots at the venue revealed the limitations of humanoid robots, the conversation became frothy with concern, enabling many in tech to avoid talking about the complex and messy social dynamics that are underway, except to say that “ethics is important.” What about equality and fairness?

…We all imagined that the Internet would be the great equalizer, but it hasn’t panned out that way.”

It’s not so much that the current ecosystem fosters inequality (because that’s debatable). It’s that the power has shifted to the outsiders, who are losing track of what they started out believing in.

“There is a power shift underway and much of the tech sector is ill-equipped to understand its own actions and practices as part of the elite, the powerful. Worse, a collection of unicorns who see themselves as underdogs in a world where instability and inequality are rampant fail to realize that they have a moral responsibility.

They fight as though they are insurgents while they operate as though they are kings.”

— x —

Two things I really enjoyed this week:

  • An offsite meeting in beautiful Barcelona. Interesting people, breathtaking train ride, great cava, long post-meeting walks…

IMG_1654 Barcelona

  • My favourite cocktail at the moment is the Negroni: 1 part gin + 1 part red vermouth + 1 part Campari + a tiny bit of soda water + a slice of orange or a strip of orange peel. Not too sweet, not too bitter, and very soothing.


— x —

Enjoy your Sunday! There aren’t enough of them!

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.

Twitter in the classroom, or Participation in 140 characters or less

When I was a little girl at school learning history (never my best subject), we would sit in the classroom while the teacher talked at us, summarising and embellishing the subject we were supposed to have read up on in our text books. He or she often asked questions, to see who in the class had a) done the reading, b) was not asleep and c) wanted a good grade at the end of term. I generally spent most of the class doodling in my notebooks, usually historical characters in dramatic situations (you see, I actually like history, I just found the classes mind-numbingly boring).

If only I could sit in on a history course today. Enriched with videos, interactive maps, virtual visits to historic sites, the classes would be worth paying attention to. I imagine it would be like watching the History Channel, for credit.

Or actually, even better. One of the most fun aspects of online learning, be it media articles, MOOCS or videos, is the commentary. It’s like a cross between a fun university coffee room debate, and an intellectual chat room. Actual physical class participation, if I remember correctly, was boring and at the same time intimidating. Again, if I remember correctly (and I am probably being too harsh here), students would rarely raise their hand, and if they did, it was usually to ramble on about nothing much in particular. If no-one raised their hand and someone was called on, the usually-incorrect and often-incoherent mumble that passed for an answer was a waste of everyone’s time, including the teacher’s, who had no other way to provoke participation or to check if we were paying attention.

twitter in teaching

photo by Raffi Asdourian, via Spotlight (click for source)

Now, drumroll, the two worlds can converge. Welcome to the concept of Twitter in the classroom. Not as a distraction, as a learning tool. “How can you learn in 140 characters or less?”, I hear you ask. Right, so perhaps “learning tool” is stretching it a bit, but Twitter can enhance class participation to such a level that the students get more involved, pay more attention, and “own” their opinions and doubts. That makes the learning more meaningful, interesting and relevant.

Here’s a good example of how Twitter was used to foster class comment:

Bear in mind that this was back in 2009. Since then, more and more university and high school classrooms are incorporating this social network into the teaching platform. Students tweeting or messaging in class has always been a problem – are we looking at a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” strategy here? No, it’s much more than that, it’s simply realising that the way we communicate is different, especially with the younger generation. The mind-set is different, expectations are different. As we’re seeing with the shift in mainstream media, being talked at, transmitted at is no longer enough to hold the young’s attention. If indeed it ever was, teachers over the decades have struggled to find ways to engage a class, to get them interested enough to participate, to ask questions, to argue. (And if they’re tweeting about the class, it’s less likely that they’re tweeting about other things…)

As the protagonist of the above video says at the beginning, of her 90-student history class, Twitter emerged “as a way to pull more students into a class discussion that I ordinarily wouldn’t be able to do in 50 minutes with that many people.” Not everyone joined in, only about 30-40 students, but even that is a huge improvement on the 3-4 that usually dominated the conversation.

Students interviewed about the experiment pointed out that while before the thought of speaking up in front of a large group was embarrassing, with the screen as a shield it was so much easier. Normally shy people could put their views forth, the quiet ones could be “heard”. As one of the students in the video said, ““trying to pipe up and be heard over everyone else can be a little intimidating.” It seems that using social media removes the social factor of class participation, and relegates it to the realm of ideas and interpretation.

Social aspect aside, what about the learning? How can you learn and tap at the same time? How can you get a message across in 140 characters or less?

It’s not about learning through Twitter, although that certainly is possible. It’s about communication and connection. It’s about getting people to be interested enough to participate, because then the learning starts. It’s about mental stimulation, and creativity.

The big advantage of Twitter is its limitation. In 140 characters or less, there’s no room for waffle. Let’s face it, that’s attractive. Not only do you need to condense what you want to say, and take care with the words you choose. You also have to convey more with less. And, the brevity makes Twitter comments easily digestible. No actual “reading” involved, you can save that for the course assignments. You can skim, with as little effort as listening would cost you, and there’s less risk of time-wasting verbiage.  And, in doing so, you can get a good sense of what your students or classmates are thinking, what they understand, what they’re worried about. In the standard classroom, that’s very difficult to get.

And, it provides a convenient and even entertaining class record. The teachers can then use Storify or a similar platform to curate the most interesting tweets, and publish them on the class’ Facebook page or Pinterest board (more on Pinterest and Facebook in the classroom later). We all like to be singled out, selected for publication if you will, so there is another incentive to come up with quotable insight.

After the class, the teacher can easily reply to interesting comments, correct something, or even start a dialogue or a (concise) debate. This would get students excited about the next class. Engagement increases, the level of interest goes up.

Twitter makes it easy to share resources (yes, other sites do as well, but we’re talking about Twitter here, and it is one of the easiest). Students can tweet links to resources they think their peers would find useful, with the appropriate hashtag label to make it easy to search for later.

Twitter can also be used for class activities other than feedback and collaboration. It is ideal for condensing ideas and summarising concepts. Asking students to summarize a character, historical figure or scientist in 140 characters is stimulating and fun, as is asking them to submit tweets in that character’s voice. What would Queen Elizabeth I have tweeted the day of her coronation? What would Jane Eyre have tweeted on meeting Mr. Rochester? Students could be asked to tweet as witnesses to a historical event, such as the London Fire or the landing on the beach at Normandy. The resulting creativity creates a level of engagement, interest and even understanding that is very difficult to achieve in the typical classroom.

humorous history tweet

Rather than ask for a raising of hands, teachers can use Twitter for fun pop quizzes, to choose the next book, or to rate an aspect of the class. As anyone who has tried playing collaboration games online (or has kids who have) knows, anonymously competing or even collaborating is a lot of fun. With Twitter you can recreate that same atmosphere in the classroom, by tweeting an anagram and asking for responses, tweeting a word and asking for synonyms, or tweeting the first line of a story and asking the class to continue via tweets. As I mentioned before, even the shy ones can seriously get into this sort of participation.

Some critics say that Twitter distracts, that students are too busy tapping to listen. Now, I’m far from being the world’s best multitasker (as in, I’m a terrible multitasker), but a more stimulated brain can take in more information, even subliminally. And no, I’m not saying that it’s ok because we’ll learn subliminally, but I do think that tapping while listening and missing a bit of what’s going on is preferable to wondering what to wear tonight and missing out on big chunks of the lecture.

Critics also hate the writing style that Twitter is fostering. 140 characters does not leave much room for prose or even grammar, they claim. I don’t agree, the limitation can encourage considerable creativity. While brevity is not always appropriate, in general it’s not a bad thing. And no-one is suggesting that Twitter is the only form of communication. For expansion and detail, for exploration and depth, there are many other media available, and obviously they should be given an even more important role in the learning process. But that does not mean that Twitter cannot hold poetry. As we have seen, art tends to spill over into whatever platform is available, and Twitter is no exception.

poetry on Twitter

by poet Benjamin Zephaniah

As for the confusing symbology and syntax of Twitter-speak, doesn’t it distract from the intended message? Not once you get used to it, no. It’s like learning a few words of a new language, but that’s no big deal. Language development is good for our brains, no-one can argue that. And anyway, the young already know and speak this new language, it won’t hurt the rest of us to learn it, too. It’s not difficult, and it’s a lot of fun, #roflmaoysst*!

(* roflmaoysst = rolling on the floor laughing my ass off yet somehow still typing)

That right there is the main benefit of introducing Twitter into the classroom. It’s fun. And fun combined with learning does lead to smarter people, especially when those people end up being engaged, involved and eager to find out more. Twitter’s public face makes that easy, and the resulting sharing, comparing and discussing could lead to insights, discoveries and even friendships that could turn that particular class into one of the best we’ve ever had. More and more universities and even schools are taking notice of the potential. Twitter is ushering in a new model of learning: less rigid, more collaborative, and much more interesting.

— x —

For more information on Twitter, check out my Flipboard Twitter magazine:

flipboard twitter

A crowdfunding bubble?

Crowdfunding, where we all get to participate in the financing of worthwhile ventures, is a revolutionary concept which is opening doors of opportunity  to good ideas, creative innovations and interesting causes, and I will write about the exciting, constructive side of it very soon. But today I want to look at the silly side, the have-we-gone-off-the-rails side, because of not one but three items that appeared in the media yesterday.

First, I read in our Spanish online news source Voz Populi about the crowdfunded potato salad (more information in english here). It appears that people can really get behind potato salad. Not crazy about it myself, but maybe my taste buds are awaiting that sublime epiphany. Anyway, Zack Danger Brown, from Ohio, put up on Kickstarter (one of the principal crowdfunding platforms) his idea to raise funds to make a potato salad. If you donated $1 he would say your name while he made the salad. For $10 you could come to his kitchen to watch him make it. He hoped to raise $10 in a month, and as of right now, he is at $72,000, and looking for a new kitchen large enough to hold the 245 people that have donated $10 (and it will have to be long, slow salad for him to be able to say the names of the – so far – 5,000 people who donated a lower amount.) His latest published goal is that when the campaign reaches $3,000 (I imagine he’s having a hard time keeping up), he’ll rent a hall and invite the whole Internet to a potato salad party.

kickstarter potato salad campaign

Now this is crazy. Come on, there are so many more worthwhile causes out there than a potato salad! However, this will end up going down in the textbooks as a perfect example of “crowd” funding, and of social media engagement. And of how we love the kitsch, the unexpectedly charming, the simple… We can grasp the concept of a potato salad, and hey, $5 (the average contribution so far) isn’t really that much. (Tell that to a homeless person.)

Second, I was stunned by José Antonio Gabelas’ post about the Jeremy Meeks case. Charged with possession of a firearm, for some inexplicable reason the police decided to post his photo on Facebook. It was only a matter of time before comments on his “hotness” came pouring in, and a crowdfunding campaign was started to raise enough money to pay for his defence (ok, by his mother, but still…). So far they’ve only raised just under $6,000, and most of that because he’s handsome. I mean, really? You can invest your money in an interesting venture that creates employment, gives hope to a community, offers a service that can improve peoples’ lives… Or, you can try to get a convicted felon out on bail because of his dimples, which obviously means he’s a good person deep down.

Third, the Spanish press today also reported on our political party Podemos (“We can”… original?) launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise €10,000 to sue two leading political adversaries for “spreading lies”. They reached their target in three hours. Now, raising money for constructive political causes, I’m behind that. But where does a lawsuit leave us? What’s more constructive: investing in a campaign to investigate how to improve the school drop-out rate (for example), or contributing to a lawsuit in which only the lawyers win?

Crowdfunding has made many amazing things possible (such as the wedding list of a local hero who saved lives by disarming a shooter – a grateful community hoped to raise them $5,000, the campaign rapidly passed $50,000). And I imagine that, as with any young and growing concept, it needs its stupid somewhat irrational “puberty” phase. But let’s not turn thinking people against it and make it so much harder for entrepreneurs, dreamers and people who want to make a positive impact to raise the funds they need. Let’s avoid a crowdfunding bubble.

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If you’d like more on crowdfunding, check out my Flipboard:

flipboard crowdfunding