Guardian Activate 09

I went to Activate 09 today.

“an exclusive one-day summit providing a unique gathering for leaders working across all sectors to share, debate and create strategies for answering some of the world’s biggest questions.”

Activate 09

I was there for most of the day today, though I sadly had to miss a chunk of the afternoon. Here’s a taste of what I saw:

Werner Vogels, CTO, Amazon talked about Amazon Web Services:

  • Last century, all sorts of companies had to invest in generating their own electricity just to be able do business. Quickly re-fitted to take advantage of electricity as a utility when it become available.
  • The same is now becoming true for computation. Moving from capital expenditure to variable cost model.
  • Cloud computing: reduces risk, reduces startup time for new ideas, lets you pay for what you use.
  • [sales pitch for]

Clare Lockhart, co-founder and CEO, Institute for State Effectiveness, co-author with Ashraf Ghani of book ‘Fixing Failed States’, talked about government:

  • Re-rebuilding Afghanistan: the UN has no manual for building a government, and the World Bank has no manual for building an economy
  • An army and police force, paid for by tax, paid by a population who has security and justice, which requires… (it’s a circle)
  • Problems with Afghanistan: no money went to police (because it wasn’t ‘poverty-reducing’), railways (because the country was ‘too poor’) or higher education.
  • Many failed states are offline and off the grid. many won’t have electricity for > 50% of their population for 10 years
  • Citizen centered design. Citizens are interested in using the net for market pricing and the transparency of putting budgets online

Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief, The Huffington Post talked about business and politics.
Arianna Huffington at Activate 09

  • Raw data can’t be viral. You have to translate it into something that people will share, that will ‘catch fire’.
  • Were it not for the internet, ‘Obama would not be president’.
  • Mainstream media suffers from attention deficit disorder. New media suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • You consume old media sitting on your couch. You consume new media galloping on a horse.
  • The cost of launching a new business is now so low that sometimes it’s indistinguishable from starting a new hobby
  • The next interesting business to watch will be one which… ‘connects in order to disconnect in a hyper-connected society’ (e.g unplug and recharge, remember the value of sleep..)

Nick Bostrom, director, Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute and founder of the world transhumanist foundation, talked about post-humanity and existential events. i.e. being wiped out by extinction or being left behind by the singularity.
Nick Bostrom at Activate 09

  • Some options for humanity: extinction, plateau of development, recurrent development and collapse, or advancement to post-humanity
  • Most significant dents in human population have been caused by ‘bad germs or bad men’ all the biggest risks are anthopgenic (i.e. caused by humans) rather than natural
  • 99.99% of all species that ever lived are now extinct
  • The Toba eruption 75,000 years ago may have reduced the population to ~500 reproducing human females
  • A ‘rather arbitrary definition’ of post-humanity: population reaches > 1 trillion, life expectancy becomes > 500 years, near-total control over sensory input for majority of people most of the time, psychological suffering becomes rare, … or something comparably profound
  • Singularity: an artificial intelligence explosion which leaves mankind behind. Proposed by John Von Neuman in 1958, developed by IJ Good in 1965 and subsequently by Ray Kertviel et al

Ed Parson, Geospatial Technologist (‘in-house geographer’ at Google) talked about mapping.

  • Ambient location finding, “the choice to know where we are”.
  • Our children will probably never know what it’s like to be lost. They will take this for granted. It’s no longer a big deal to know where you are.

Jon Udell, evangelist at Microsoft talked about an aggregation tool he’s been building at which shares local communiy events from eventful, upcoming etc, with links back to source.

Tom Steinberg, founder and director of mySociety threw away his talk about MPs expenses last night, and instead talked about new media vs old media: “this new media revolution is not the reolvution you’re looking for”

  • Joke: do you know the difference between the fall of the berlin wall and the twitter revolution in iran? The wall fell.
  • Amazon didn’t change the publishing industry by writing in industry journals about how the publishing industry could be better. It just starting doing things better.
  • What could change politics and society? 1 – the next generation of public servants could refuse to comply with current norms and conventions. 2 – or, radical change in computing which makes it harder to keep secrets. 3 – some sort of law that smuggles new ways of distributing and allocating power
  • Highly usable and simple credit card forms. (how did I buy that book? that was so easy! More people donating to obama because it was easy)

William Perrin, founder, Talk About Local talked about local campaigning using simple (and ‘unfashionable’) publishing tools

  • gets 300 unique visitors per week, but considering it’s intended readership is one small part of london, it has the proportion as a national audience of 1M+. i.e. getting the same audience proportion as Newsnight in his community/ward.
  • Perfectly normal people publishing effectively using unfashionable technologies, which percolate out into wider society. More examples: Sheffield Forum,, Digbeth is Good, Pits ‘n Pots.
  • Funding from C4 to train and support local community networks

Thomas Gensemer, managing partner and founder, Blue State Digital talked about how his agency ran Obama’s digital campaign:

  • How do you know you were effective? Because 80% of donations were raised by the online campaign
  • simplicity of giving, simplicity of volunteering
  • Blue State Digital previously worked on Ken Livingston’s mayoral election, and have worked with various trade unions, but contrary to some press reports, isn’t currently under contract for Labour
  • Ask yourself: if you had 100 of your supporters in the room, what would you ask them to do for you today? If you can’t answer that, forget about twitter, facebook etc
  • faking it is much worse than not doing it. Ted Kennedy isn’t on Twitter but it doesn’t mean he’s absent from online spaces. He participates in ways that are authentic and comfortable for him

Adam Afriyie, shadow minister for science and innovation on the role of technology in democracy, [and was the only speaker to read from a prepared speech]
Adam Afriyie at Activate 09

  • internet empowers citizens, raises expectations and reveals secrets
  • it’s not about whether you’re from the left or right, it’s about whether you ‘get it’ or you don’t
  • we need to meet expectations of transparency and connectedness without compromising privacy and security
  • conservative party has more friends on Facebook than labour and lib dems combined [useful metric?]
  • social media won’t clean up politics on its own.

Tom Watson, former minister for transformation

    Tom Watson at Activate 09

  • only 60% of government statistics are published [I’m not sure if this is a fact, an estimate or a joke]
  • civil servants who want to be on Facebook, Twitter etc at work should be able to be. It’s useful, and it shouldn’t be up to an IT or HR manager.
  • it is ‘totally unacceptable’ for the Ordnance Survey not to provide maps suitable for the digital economy
  • agrees with Adam Arfiyie that adoption and acceptance is a ‘generational issue’

Matt Webb, CEO, Schulze and Webb, as part of a panel, talked about design of digital and physical objects. [I always find Matt to be consistently quotable]

  • when my phone rings, it’s like a baby crying. I want my technology to be gossiping with me. I don’t want my washing machine to be a shitty flat-mate
  • we need to think about inviting products into out lives like inviting friends into our lives. Maybe our digital cameras are nosey. Maybe I have an abusive relationship with my email.
  • our consumption is out of proportion to our creation. This can start with putting on plays for friends and family, and knowing when our friends are around us so we can talk to them. I try to reinforce relationships with friends rather than meet stranger.

Charlie Leadbeater, founder, Participle / author, We Think / fellow, Nesta talked about African education and ‘learning from extremes
Charlie Leadbeater at Activate 09

  • we’ll learn more about the future of education not by going to where schools are, but where they aren’t
  • the biggest challenges will be in developing world cities. Cities with > 1m people, 86 in 1950, 550 in 2015
  • developing world says that Education (+ Technology) = Hope

Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology, ECLS, Newcastle University talked about his hole in the wall experiments

  • children don’t need to be taught how to use it, or even the language: “you gave us a machine that worked in English, so we taught ourselves English”
  • clustering around a shared computer proves more effective than having a laptop each. Discussion and sharing key to learning. ‘self organised mediation environments’
  • “I’ve put some interesting information which is in English and very hard in the computer. Will you look at it?” 2 months later, they’d looked at it every day, and claimed to have “understood nothing”, but when pressed admitted “apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes genetic disease, we haven’t learnt anything”
  • children’s understanding of their own learning is different from our understanding of their learning

John Van Oudenaren, Director, World Digital Library Initiative, The Library of Congress talked about the World Digital Library though I failed to take more notes than that. The site looks interesting though.

Dr. R.K. Pachauri, chairman, IPCC & director general, TERI talked about the scary reality and significant risks of climate change. [and it turns out that it’s worse than we thought, thanks to James for the link]

  • internet is estimated to represent 5% of world’s total electricity consumption (more than half of which comes from computers). ICT sector contributes 2.5% of greenhouse gases
  • energy efficiency and changes in users’ behaviour can reduce these numbers significantly
  • but ICT can have positive impact: remote sensing, information dissemination, …
  • Ghandi: speed is irrelevant if you’re going in the wrong direction

Bradley Horowitz, vice president of products, Google talked about
Bradley Horowitz at Activate 09

  • Google Apps is ‘NSA’ (Google-speak for ‘not search or ads’)
  • There is no master plan for the internet. It’s made up of billions of contributions. It’s a gestalt. It’s more like an ant colony than anything else
  • Ideas (or ‘memes’) are being selected for in natural selection. Great number of web 2.0 startups have not survived [see Meg’s excellent post which illustrates this]
  • To double your success rate, double your failure rate” – Thomas Watson (IBM founder)
  • The importance of killing projects (the time wasn’t right for Google Lively) and protecting them (Wave team was ‘given free reign to develop a platypus’ outside the normal development constraints)

One of the interesting features of the day was having Twitter on-screen on the stage at various points during the day. Regular readers will know that I’ve long been fascinated by backchannels and how they’re used at live events. The tool the Guardian were using today (developed in-house?) and the way they were using it is probably the most mature and best example of using Twitter at a conference I’ve seen to date, for three reasons.

Firstly, it wasn’t using a totally automatic feed; it allowed for local moderation, i.e. the stream was curated, with spam, off-topic and overly negative or offensive content all weeded out. The aim was to publish everything that enhanced the conversation. Meg Pickard explained the approach: “Curation for public view applies a filter which helps signal v noise” because “open access publishing to public screen is a red rag to plenty of bull“.

Secondly, several Guardian staff were present in the room and on Twitter, informally ‘hosting’ the Twitter discussion by answering questions, re-tweeting key points and generally being interesting and interested participants.

Thirdly, the Twitter stream was not shown on-stage continuously, and was only switched to when the main screen wasn’t in use with another presentation. This worked very well, with the gaps between sessions and the during questions became the obvious and appropriate moments when the comments and observations from Twitter came to the fore for the people without open mobiles or laptops.

Twitter at Activate 09

This meant a totally open back-channel continued as normal on Twitter, while the appropriate stuff was also highlighted for the hallowed ground of the stage at the right times.

I didn’t ask which, if any, of the Guardian staff twitterers were doing it formally, and which were just volunteering and helping out because they were there and it felt like the right thing to do. Perhaps a bit of both? Either way, it all felt pretty natural and was very effective. Meg, Chris, Kevin, Simon (and probably others I’ve missed) were all able to answer questions and either provide or relay additional info from the room (nice example from Simon regarding when the video will be online).

Regardless of whether you think the culling of one particular negative comment was justified and sensible or just an overly knee-jerk and defensive moderation decision, the fact that Chris and Meg were willing and able to join the discussion undoubtedly stopped the issue from escalating and overtaking the backchannel, and I noticed that it was immediately appreciated too.

Overall, the use of Twitter was excellent, and has given me plenty of ideas. Most of all, I’d like their code. :-) Instant update: Chris says they’ll be open sourcing the Twitter code next week. Hurrah. Oh, and says it again in the comments below. Double hurrah.

More links:
Guardian Activate 09 [programme, speakers]
‘#activate09’ Twitter hashtag
‘activate09’ tag on Flickr
‘#activate09’ images via Twitcaps
my photos

Notes from C21 Social Media Forum

C21’s Social Media Forum said that the event would provide

a creative workshop that defines and develops how the producers channels and rights owners can work with social media platforms to develop business and extend creativity. And generate new revenue streams today!

Despite not being desperately bothered about generating new revenue streams,  I was sufficiently interested by the rest of the description to book a place. Of course, I wasn’t really expecting it to deliver on its promise of being a ‘creative workshop’, and it didn’t. The event was more of a traditional conference, with speakers and time-for-questions. Overall, it was quite useful though, especially the morning sessions. Here are selected notes from some of the more interesting slots:

Opening keynote: Building brands with social media, Ann Longley (Digital strategy director, Mediaedge:cia)

  • how do we use social media, and what it means.
  • “You’d have to be living under a rock not to notice Twitter these days”
  • “What’s happening in Iran shows the power of social media beyond entertainment|
  • “press coverage of Twitter signals the ‘mainstreaming’ of social media”
  • What is social media anyway? Quote from MEC Guide to Social Media – “all online activities, tools, platforms and practices that allow users to collaborate, create, …”
  • “Traditional broadcasting model is breaking down”
  • social media is dominated by UGC: creating, sharing and remixing content
  • campaigning – e.g. NUS vs HSCB, M&S bra size cost, 13k on FB. There’s no such thing as local news any more.
  • organising protests has never been easier
  • finding out what people are saying about your brands online: “Many brands have fans online, even without actively cultivating it. It happens naturally.”
  • “smart brands cultivate their fanbase”
  • “smart fans influence brands” (or at least, influence brands which listen)
  • (while brands can avert crises by listening (Sony Bravia defusing negative story around Paint advert by monitoring online before it turned into a problem)
  • “…and invite their customers to help them”
  • What makes a good social media strategy? At the heart of any campaign you need a good product or service. Examples: Obama – being everywhere, T-mobile – UGC, Skins – energising their fanbase, Sony Ericsson – pocketTV, Dell – going from Dell hell to Idea Storm
  • content, communities and conversations = conversion (to £ or eyeballs)
  • social entertainment: social media enriching experiences. creative industries engaging audiences across channels
  • some examples of Alternative Reality Games (“it’s kind of a geeky thing, seen as quite left-field and not compelling for a mainstream audience…”, but interesting anyway) – cited McDonalds’ The Lost Ring, Superstruct, Penguin’s We Tell Stories
    A Swarm of Angels….
  • earned media: word of mouth from friends and trusted people
  • Whuffie: in a post scarcity economy, reputation and social capital rule.

How to work with Joost to extend your entertainment brand, Henrik Werdelin (Chief creative officer, Joost)

  • people are increasingly consuming an audience online, but how do people find the stuff to watch?
  • social discovery is underdeveloped. The whole internet seems to be centered around Google and SEO
  • the web is bad at helping people find stuff they didn’t know they wanted to watch
  • new content discovery methods are algorithmic (amazon, joost, iplayer)
    and equivalent to zapping / channel-hopping (i.e stumbleupon)
  • “you should watch this show about pandas” vs “28 of your friends really love this show…” – Joost uses FB connect to help with this sort of social discovery
  • ‘ behaviour generated content’ AKA ‘social triggers’: generating user content without having to do anything. e.g. FB activity feeds from status changes. Going from single to married used to be just a metadata change is now an item of activity in a feed. And an important one.
  • personalisation: subscriptions & data visualisation
  • realtime-web: co-watching. what are your friends doing right now?
  • 2% creators, 8% particpators, 90% lurkers/passive viewers. How do you move the 90 into the 8 and 2?
  • Paradox of Choice
  • Joost design based on ‘freedom from choice’, i.e. preventing people feeling overwhelmed.

Using online narrative and social media to drive commercial value, Andrew Piller (Fremantle Media)

  • new media strategy: recycle, extend and create
  • era of self-expression & the rise of the prosumer
  • audience is broader than you think (not just 16-24 year olds) and niche communities are valuable
  • rules for content: personalised, participatory and narrative (if there’s no story, how will the audience engage?)
  • ingredients: linear narrative (lean back mode), non linear (lean forward / real-time), interactivity, community
  • “all of our experiences are underpinned by community”
  • Freak (goes live July 20th.) is a Freemantle co-production with MySpace currently in production (story from Broadcast Now) is the first UK online drama from MySpace. “We’d never let the audience decide the story but how they get there, the everyday decisions, can be affected and influenced by the audience”.
  • Lead character is a girl gamer. Brand partners include P&G (Tampax) and Red Bull. Brand opportunities for music, fashion, games, …
  • producer from Coronation St, director from Hollyoaks, creative prod from serial drama, AP is very young, we have a community manager.
  • Brands want new ways to talk to their customer
  • Brands (think they) want community “but don’t know how to create it”
  • Q: where did the idea come from? A: In house creative team for d
  • Q: how do you work with other social networks? A: YouTube platform where you can view the content too, but the experience is bespoke to MySpace. In the dream world you’d hyper-syndicate and use it to drive back to MySpace.
  • Q: do you need MySpace? A: Brands are nervous about the space, so it’s easier if you have a distributor on-board. Industry needs a gamechanger to prove the model. Kate Modern & Lonely Girl were good examples, but the scale and production values were not there.
  • Q: how does the international model work? A: Not geo-blocked. We’ve cleared the rights internationally, but we’re not going to promote internationally. We think we can take the format to US market or European territories later.
  • Q: who owns the content and format? A: Intellectual Property is owned by Freemantle, but the UK series is co-owned by MySpace.
  • Q: is a TV series on the agenda? A: It’s not the on the agenda, but it’s talked about.

How Xbox used the social media space at E3, Maurice Wheeler (co-founder and planning director, Digital Outlook)

  • Microsoft asked us if we’d go out there and create a social media explosion around Xbox at E3. With 3 weeks notice. Gave us a view of what they’re presenting and announcing at E3.
  • we wanted to get the interesting info to social media power users / mavens / connectors
  • aggregation: wanted to focus people on our conversations. Listening to what people are saying. Consolidating to a stream of content which comes out of the social media cloud. “Sucking out the interesting and exciting content”. Feedback loop
  • providing content to a social media savvy audience in a way that they’re happy with an comfortable with
  • flew 5 influential gamer bloggers and 5 social media power users (including Charlie, to E3).
  • primary platforms: twitter, youtube, audioboo, kyte, flickr
  • secondary platforms: qik, 12 seconds, facebook, seesmic, bambuser,, moblog, and many more
  • Q: how much of that would have happened without you? A: we can tell from the hashtag we used that we affected it [I’d agree. Just. Compare xboxe3 vs e3]
  • tips: create a #tag, have a distribution channel established, pick the right people, understand local technology constraints (e.g. make sure you’ve got wifi coverage), have a plan B, C and D

SXSW panel snippets – ‘EA Dead Space: A Deep Media Case Study’

Andrew Green (Online Marketing Manager, Electronic Arts)
Frank Rose (Contributing Editor, Wired Magazine)
Ian Schafer (CEO, Deep Focus)
Chuck Beaver (Senior Producer, Electronic Arts)
Ben Templesmith (Director, Singularity7)

Abstract: This in-depth case-study reveals the method and the madness behind Electronic Arts use of cross platform marketing to communicate separate, self-contained elements of the much anticipated release of their first survival horror game, Dead Space. For this release, EA packaged a comic book, a prequel DVD, and an online experience in order to build, create, and cultivate an audience around the Dead Space brand prior to the official ‘street date’ launch.

  • Rose: We’ve had a century of linear storytelling, now the internet makes a new kind of narrative possible. Not just watch, but participate. Entertainment can be immersive. e.g. Battlestar Gallactica tells its story through TV, online video, multiple blogs, etc. EA has a new strategy, IP cubed, rich storylines that can be extended into other media, not just as spin-offs but as a core way of telling the story. Dead Space was the prototype. It’s an example of Deep Media.
    1. Comic book
    2. Animated feature
    3. No known survivors‘ web experience
    4. The game itself
  • Green: Challenge – how do we build a community and build an audience around 500 years of back story? Content that also works as marketing. Each component should stand on its own. The marketing is the content.
  • Templesmith: 6 episodes make the comic valuable thing in its own right. It wasn’t perceived as pure marketing.
  • Q – Which element was most successful?
    A – (Green) The comic and the animated short. Website was deep and rewarding, but the comics made use of dissemination. easier to port & share content (youtube etc). Much wider viewership by creating value everywhere. Website, as linear narrative, is only going to give you so much benefit. Microsites are always inherently limited because they are a destination. If you have to drive people to a destination, it’s important that its coupled with content that allow it to be shared
  • “The content is the marketing” – someone in the audience thought that was ‘pretty insightful’. [Personally, it makes me concerned for people in marketing who don’t think this way already.]
  • Shafer: in this case, the story was art. In other cases we can listen to the community, understand what they want and be nimble enough to change based on their input.. that will drive success in the long haul.
  • Q – How much resource does each component take? Can you do it without all the components.
    A – (Green) I don’t think you need any budget. You need a community platform with a passionate, creative centre. Give it to the community and allow them to participate and create around it, and maybe even help write it. It’s all about starting. Start building a community.
  • Q – Would you do the website again?
    A – (Green) Yes. From ROI perspective it was high. Also useful to get the analytics, which you wouldn’t get from offsite services.
  • Q – for the website, what were the biggest sources of traffic?
    A – Editorial mentions creating organic traffic. Getting on Kotaku and the link from Wikipedia.
  • Q – Does the website still get traffic?
    A – (Green) Yes. We still get 100-200k visitors from main website. 10k new visitors a week
    A – (Schafer) One fifth of the traffic to site has come after launch of game.
  • Q – How important is having premium downloadable content
    A – it’s become a consumer expectation.
  • Q – How hard is it to break new IP in games industry?
    A – it’s risky. That’s why EA has (up to now) built a career on licensed IP. Budget levels for new games are hard. It’s also a sequel business.

Rose’s thoughts on Dead Space as Deep Media can also be found in this post on his Deep Media blog.

SXSW panel snippets – ‘HOWTO: 149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog With Credibility!’

Merlin Mann (43 Folders, You Look Nice Today)
John Gruber (Daring Fireball)

Abstract: John Gruber ( and Merlin Mann ( discuss the current state of blogging as a medium for creative expression, weighing the opportunities and challenges of building a thoughtful online presence in a world where everybody owns a printing press. They’ll consider the ascendance of Digg-friendly “problogs” and debate the subtler pleasures of careful writing that reaches smaller, but potentially less “profitable” audiences.

Acknowledging the silliness of their title, Merlin and John did a great job of being entertaining whilst also being interesting and useful. Well worth listening to the podcast of this one, whenever it comes out.


  • Mann: Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ talks about ‘the ideal reader’. Others call it ‘the first reader’. Have a picture in your head, the face in the monitor. Who are you writing for?
  • Mann: I think social media is important enough to take seriously. Social media is not about what you have to say, it’s about having the tolerance to cope with what people say to you. It’s a giant set of extremely sharp knives. You can use it for good or for ill.
  • Mann: How do you know you should start a blog? Because people keep telling you to shut up. You just won’t shut up about a subject. “You love the Cowboys so much? Either gay marry them, or start a blog”. It’s OK to have a strong voice about something. The opportunities are not through the ads, they’re through being awesome at what you do. Ancillary revenue streams and opportunities …
  • Gruber: human attention is valuable and limited. There’s nothing you can do to give yourself more attention in a day. “You can’t pay your rent with attention … but it has value. You’d be surprised at what you can do with it when it builds up.”
  • Mann: Don’t have a blog about star wars, have a blog about Jawas
    in fact, have a blog about that one Jawa who is only the scene for a minute. It’s going to be so much easier for you to dominate.
  • When writing, include not just what happened, but what does it mean, what do you think about it. There’s a ton of people who can tell you something happened.
  • Gruber: relating Mann’s tips for success:
    1. Give away more stuff than you think is sensible, and make it easy to get to.
    2. Focus on diverse rev streams and always be looking for new ones
    3. Don’t do stuff that seems profitable but potentially messes up the reasons people like you

Update: you can listen to the session on 43 Folders and read what John has to say about it too.

SXSW panel snippets – ‘Is Privacy Dead or Just Very Confused?’

danah boyd (Researcher, Microsoft Research)
Judith Donath (MIT Media Laboratory)
Alice Marwick (PhD Candidate, New York University)
Siva Vaidhyanathan (Assoc Professor, University of Virginia)

Abstract: While many assert that “privacy is dead,” the complex ways in which people try to control access and visibility suggest that it’s just very confused. Rather than throwing the baby out with the bath water, let’s discuss people’s understanding and experiences of privacy and find ways to 2.0-ify it.

Some snippets from the four speakers:

Siva Vaidhyanathan

  • Writing a book: The Googlization of Everything
  • Myth: privacy is the opposite of publicity
  • Putting information about yourself on websites doesn’t mean you don’t care about what you don’t share. ‘Over-sharers’ still want control over how they’re represented
  • Myth: privacy is a substance that can be traded away. He’d been frustrated by recent “people are willing to trade a little bit of privacy for a better user experience” quote from Google, but this assumes it’s something you can trade in little bits
  • But: personal information is a form of currency

Alice Marwick

  • Need to recognise the value of sharing, but also that it’s useful to data miners
  • Information can be aggregated into valuable profiles
  • Microcelebrities are different to real celebrities because they know who is reading their blog etc, but there’s still a power inequality.

Judith Donath

  • Your history is to online as your body is to the physical-world
  • We’re largely unaware of the information companies hold on us.
  • Need to design spaces in a way that makes it obvious how much is public, and what is seen by whom
  • If we saw it we’d make more intelligent choices.
  • Your data trail is invisible to you. We need an every day experience of our data selves, in the same way a mirror provides a reflection of our physical self
  • Children don’t regard their home as private, because they don’t have control there

danah boyd

  • Information is currency not just in economic sense, but in social sense
  • We’ve gained a lot by sharing information about ourselves and our thoughts, but current design is not allowing us to negotiate control of context
  • See Jane Jacobs on surveillance – we invite a level of surveillance that is useful to us.

At this point, with about 10 minutes to go, I was becoming frustrated that it had not opened up for questions. I don’t think I was alone, because while Vaidhyanathan complained about the way that Facebook can “unliaterally change its policies” without having to act in a way that was accountable to its users people in the audience were desperate to join in the discussion, literally shouting “but they did!” from their seats. Finally, when questions from the floor were invites, Jeff Jarvis was straight up. Voicing what Tom Coates was obviously also thinking, Jeff said

“we have to see the positive here. there is economic widsom in giving us visibility and control over our data.”

and you should read Jeff’s post about the panel too.

I love Donath’s digital mirror concept. Also, I need to read Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities.


It’s been a whole week since PaperCamp (a fringe event to Jeremy, Russell and JamesBookCamp) organised by Matt Jones.

Tagged: PaperCamp 09

I drifted between the two events (meaning I missed a couple of things, including Karsten Schmidt talking about fiducial marker generation and machine readable origami markers). I mostly stayed at PaperCamp though, so here’s a handful of what I did catch…

A very good time was had by all. I hear that a PaperCamp is happening in New York in a couple of weeks. Whatever you do, don’t miss it if you’re in NYC on 7th and 8th of February.

Social Telly – a roundup of social viewing stuff

Television has always been a social thing. Whether it’s because you’re watching it with family and friends at home, watching football in the pub, chatting at school or work with friends about that programme that you all love the night before, television is about much more than a broadcast.

During the recent US election, I was being rather traditional, tucked up in bed listening to Radio 4 (quite different from my approach in the 2005 UK general election, when Nick and I were even live-blogging the action). While I was being sleepy and passive this year, my friend Jo was being social online. Here’s what her screen looked like, complete with live-streaming BBC News, IM chat and Twitter.

I’ve been building this list for ages, but it’s finally time for a roundup of social viewing tools. Here are some examples of how the web is being used to make different sorts of conversations possible around television:

Curation and communities

  • There are a few blogs about television. Watchification is “selecting the really good stuff from the BBC iPlayer…” and other sources. (Disclaimer: I’m the tech geek behind the curtains at Watchification). Curation is interesting. By highlighting Twitter, Delicious and Flickr content, the tag pages are getting (IMHO) more useful too.


  • Smashing Telly is “a hand edited collection of the best free, instantly available TV on the web”. Like Watchification, it’s an example of comments around curated programmes rather than live chat.

Social recommendations

  • I keep hearing people asking ‘what’s the of television?’ Dan recently sent me an invite to Boxee, which apparently

    “gives you a true entertainment experience to enjoy your movies, TV shows, music and photos, as well as streaming content from websites like Hulu, CBS, Comedy Central,, and flickr.”

    I’ve only just started using it, and although it seems far from perfect it is only an alpha at this stage. The integration with other platforms, the desktop app and the scrobbling looks interesting.

  • TIOTI has been around for a bit longer than Boxee. It invites you to:

    Find your favorite TV shows and brand new ones you’ll love, Share shows you like with your friends and see what they are watching, Download or stream TV shows from dozens of places online, Get involved and post your thoughts, improve our guide or add pics and vids.


  • YouTube started offering video annotations after Google acquired Omnisio but only (so far) gives the video uploader a way to add annotations to the video, so it’s not (yet?) a social annotation tool.
  • Viddler, on the other hand, offer time-stamped comments and tagging, which are displayed along the video timeline and (by default) pop up at the appropriate time.


Playing the backchannel

  • CurrentTV recently partnered with Twitter to display relevant Twitter updates live on-screen. Discuss the presidential debates while watching it (using Twitter tags) and have your comment displayed on TV.


  • MTV’s Backchannel takes a different approach to annotating episodes of The Hills, turning the process of ‘tagging’ and ‘clicking’, to endorse a tag, into a game. Playing Backchannel won’t (as far as I can tell) stream the show to you, you just play in the browser while you’re watching the show at the same time.

Live chat

  • When I think of live chat around TV, I think of Joost. Joost’s ‘channel chat’ has been overhauled a couple of times since the early days (I seem to remember it being initially based on IRC, then in 2007 they announced a partnership with Meebo) and more recently it seems to have gone away completely since they moved to Flash (or am I missing it?).


  • BanterTV combines iPlayer simulcast embeds with real-time chat.


  • The Electric Sheep Company’s WebFlock provides features for social viewing including

    a visually immersive environment for social interaction, media consumption and game play

The Electric Sheep Company: Products: WebFlock

Of all of them, I find the asychronous chat using comments in the timeline on Viddler, and the game-playing elements of MTV’s Backchannel to be the most interesting. There must be lots of examples I’ve missed, but it’s an area I’ll continue to watch with interest.

ReLIVE08 Closing Keynote – When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up

Back from two days in Milton Keynes for ReLIVE08, the Open University’s conference on Researching and Living in Virtual Worlds.

The abstract said that

Roo Reynolds has offered to not pre-prepare any slides for his closing keynote, but instead create a short presentation on the fly during the other sessions. Drawing on the notes and photographs taken
during the conference, he’ll act as a virtual cheat-sheet for the event.
He’ll share his notes, including what he found most interesting and what he’ll take away from it, wrapping up the two days by distilling any key themes and considering what we’ve learned about learning. Perhaps he can pull the threads together into something which will make sense. It makes predicting what he’s going to say particularly tricky, but it could be fun.

The results from this afternoon are embedded below. I’ll let you decide how well I met my (scary, self-imposed) brief. I would say that I didn’t take as many photos as I planned (I either need a better camera or a portable lighting rig), and I ended up trawling my own back catalog of photos to illustrate certain points. Also, I was a smidgen more didactic than I’d intended. I was (and am) very tired. In fact, I was up at 2:30 am this morning pulling together my notes from yesterday. Four hours sleep is not enough for me and perhaps being tired made me more challenging – and less congratulatory – than I could have been.

More importantly, my apologies for only drawing on a very small selection of the papers presented at the conference. With 4 or 5 streams running at once (and especially with the rooms spread across the campus) it just wasn’t possible to see everything. Much of what I did see really impressed me and I really enjoyed the conference.

View SlideShare presentation

WebcastUpdate: a video of the presentation, with the slides nicely inter-cut, is now online.

Want more?

This could be heaven or this could be hell…

Roo Reynolds plays “Hotel California” from Tom Armitage on Vimeo.

Thanks to Tom for capturing this video. That was fun.


Here are my notes from Playful.

James Wallis James Wallis (Spaace) woke us all up by blowing our minds. He’s shared his slides (also embedded below) as well as publishing some notes on his blog.

  • Why are they called ‘plays’ when there is no play?
  • 2 types of entertainment: spectacle and narrative
  • OuLiPo
  • The story of Three Alert Peas, first interactive fiction [you can try it for yourself here]
  • OuLiPo treats both the writing and the reading as playful. La Disparition, written entirely without the letter ‘e’
  • Three Alert Peas -> Fighting Fantasy -> Warhammer -> Warcraft

Roo Reynolds was up next (that’s me!). I muttered some un-prepared and technical-hitch-ridden gubbins about my Rock Band MIDI guitar hack. Steve took the lovely photo on the right. Tom Armitage captured some lovely HD footage of what was (for me) the the highlight of the presentation, an attempt at playing Hotel California.

I’ve retro-engineered some slides (essentially some photos of the action and some screenshots of what I was doing at various points during the presentation) which I’ve uploaded to SlideShare along with the audio from my session to make this slidecast. The audience seemed to be genuinely warm and on my side, despite frequent technical glitches with audio and my general air of random ill-preparedness. Thanks for bearing with me, everyone.

Matthew Irvine Brown (

Adrian Hon Adrian Hon (Six To Start) decided not to talk about his specialist subject of ARGs, displayed a touching openness and honesty about a close shave with game-induced alcoholism.

  • Playing Team Fortress 2 between 1am and 3am every day makes you tired but jittery. Solution: alcohol
  • “I started drinking because I was playing Team Fortress 2 a lot”.
  • Then decided to stop
  • Playing really good games can have consequences which change peoples lives

Chris Delay (Introversion Software) talked about Procedural Generation (aka ‘how to make expensive game content when you can’t afford an art team’. He demonstrated some lovely work in his upcoming new game ‘Subversion’.

Eric Clough (212 Box) told us about his (incredible) ‘Mystery of Fifth Avenue‘ project.

Kars Alfrink (Leapfrog)

Kars has shared his slides and transcript on his blog, and his slides on SlideShare. My notes…

  • Design for play is like squeezing a bird. Too loose, it will fly off. Too tight, it will die
  • Film: Dogtown and Z-Boys – pools and skateboards are tools, used to play
  • Streetfighter 2 = “tool for having fun” according to its creator
  • Dourish – “Users, not designers, create and communicate meaning”
  • When designing for play, underspecify
  • Mitchel Resnick – Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams “What’s needed are microworld construction kits, so that you can create your own microworlds, focusing on the domains you find most interesting”

Alex FleetwoodAlex Fleetwood (Hide and Seek) talked about an interesting project but asked us not to blog about it. Since I (foolishly) stopped taking notes at that point, I have very little recollection of what he told us, so can’t decide if there’s anything I should mention here. Ah well.

Tom Armitage (Headshift) was, as always, both clever and thoughtful. Plus he made me want to play Fable 2.

  • Everything is multiplayer now
  • Social software. Software about people. More than one person.
  • “The important thing is not what I tell you, but what you do with it”
  • Raph Koster – ‘single player games are an historical aberration’ (even single player games are played in a multiplayer context of persistent profiles)
  • ‘The Spectacle’.
  • Jyri Engstom: social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object
  • Layers of metadata. ‘We leak data.’
  • Supercontext. Grant Morrison via Matt Jones.
  • Disproportionate feedback loops
  • Keep the spectacle spectacular
  • The myth of multiplayer. MicroMachines 2 – 8 people in a room around a 14 inch TV
  • The real world is asynchronous.
  • Geometry Wars 2 – Playing online vs sharing highscores.
  • Sync activity with shared context.
  • “I miss it [xbox live] when I turn on my PS2, because I realise that I’m really on my own. Totally alone.”
  • Everything is multiplayer now, but actually Everything always was multiplayer.
  • Sharing context, at least, if not location.
  • Multi play is a sliding scale.

Sandy Spangler (Sony) delivered a bit of a corporate sales pitch, but it ended up being quite interesting anyway. Especially the videos of the history and early prototypes. Sandy claims that Sony “created a new genre: Physical and social gaming” (may seem like a stretch, but remember this was 2003 – a long time pre-Wii)

  • Sandy is a game designer with Eye Toy team
  • 2003: Eye Toy Play for PS2 (collection of controller-free mini games + webcam). Won a Bafta
  • 10,500,000 Eye Toy cameras in Europe alone
  • Dr Richard Marks, ‘the father of Eye Toy’
  • Early research and demo work: Video effects, Augmented reality, Colour tracking for augmenting objects, Player augmentation
  • Design mechanics rather than games
  • Lots of prototypes and robustness testing. Does it break? Is it fun?
  • What’s next: colour tracking peripherals. Played with real toys
  • Pom Pom Party (pink and green physical pom poms). Cheerleading game.
  • Eye Toy Hero (sword). Story driven adventure. First-person gameplay (feedback from seeing floating object; no need to reflect the player on-screen)

Eric Zimmerman (Gamelab) talked about games as an emerging forms of literacy

  • Literacy: creating and understanding meaning
  • Games design is an interesting model for thinking about understanding the world. Not being addressed by education today, but will be dominant in the future
  • Three components of ‘game literacy’: Systems. Play. Design.
  • Play is the driver of innovation
  • Showed Gamestar Mechanic demo – launching early next year.

Matt Biddulph (Dopplr) talked about tinkering with games controllers and has already put his slides online:

I for one welcome our new Wiimote carrying overlords

  • Wii – cheap consumer electronics
  • Johnny Lee at TED. 5 months from lab to commercial game
  • Today, anyone can make something interesting without needing a fabrication lab
  • Arduino – handy way of joining the real world with your computer. Easy for software hackers to control hardware
  • MIDI – it’s about getting a flow of date from one point to another
  • Reading Oystercards – recent examples of Oystercards as unique key for voting
  • BBC DABagotchi
  • Laser Harp
  • ‘Giving the blind computer a view of what’s going on in the room’.
  • Nintendo DS – current generation of Nintendo is doing a lot more with a lot less
  • DS Brut – arduino-like hardware addon for homebrew DS
  • Book: Making Things Talk – emphasis on friendly, anthropomorphic interfaces

Iain Tait (Poke) talked about high-scores.

  • First game with hi scores, Seawolf – 1976
  • Star Fire – first time you could put your initials
  • Localised bragging rights within the realm of that machine
  • Twin Galaxies – International Scoreboard
  • Documentary: King of Kong – a fistful of quarters. “I wanted pretty girls to say “Hi. I see that you’re good at centipede”
  • 1982 – high scores are a metaphor for prowess
  • What do they mean in 2008?
  • Scoring as children: gold stars. Now: 5 a day. Alcohol units: That’s just counting, no ascribed value
  • Pay slip as score
  • Am I Hot or Not, Rate My Poo, eBay, LinkedIn,, …
  • Going from Abstract to Actual, from Metaphors to Measures, from Simple to Complex, from Designers to Everyone as scoreres, from In Game to In Life

Jolyon Webb (Blitz Games) talked about teeth in video games. I’d seen the (incredibly powerful) dying man tech demo video from TruSim before (last year, in Coventry) but it’s very very good, and still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This was a funny presentation, mainly about teeth.

  • A few facts to get started: 1: have face tracking working with webcam. 2: DS screens are pressure sensitive, a feature which a homebrew art app [Colors!] takes advantage of
  • TruSim demo video. Not aiming for photo realism but to provide a better connection
  • Teeth are difficult. Translucent, sometimes wet, sometimes dry. Rigid, but with flexible cover (lips)
  • Why are they so badly done? Because designers don’t care?
  • Perfect teeth (celebrity and model teeth) are often what’s used in CG and games
  • The body is made up of what’s internal (skeletal structure) and external (muscle)
  • A little bit of ‘snaggle’ adds realism

Kieraon Gillen is an editor at Rock Paper Shotgun, which I’m duty bound to like, because they linked to my ‘LEGO is full of WIN presentation earlier this year, which surprised me as it’s not in their usual field; PC games). Kieron seemed slightly flustered, but made some very astute (and very funny) points about games.

  • On speaking at a games conference: “Its like asking a teenager to present at a porn conference. I’ve seen it all, but I’m not equipped to talk about it”
  • Plagiarism and videogames aka ‘ripping stuff off is awesome’
  • EVE Online – no level structure. It’s flat, yet no-one else is learning from it
  • Why has nobody ripped off the Sims?
  • Learning from other people is good.

In short, Playful was a brilliant conference, and I had an amazing day.

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