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Networked Imagination and Persistence

Networked Imagination and Persistence

The education keynote at the SLCC conference this morning was by Connie Yowell of the MacArthur Foundation. She brought up a range of interesting things, but one of the key ideas she presented relates to the idea of connectivism as key to teaching and learning. In this context, she called it networked imagination. Her general premise is that virtual worlds can be the result of a single person’s imagination, but it supports the possibility of people building upon the imagination of others.

This is true on a variety of levels in Second Life; you can copy, collect, and often modify objects originally created by others, but true sharing of builds is difficult. I had lunch with Ali Andrews from the University of Northern Illinois, who pointed out that co-construction is fraught with practical difficulties; each prim in the build needs to have its permissions switched by its original creator to allow co-editing, a process which is tedious and easy to forget on a single prim. In a build that shared, if a single prim isn’t jointly editable, and the collection of objects (making up, say, a single building, or other larger item made up of a collection of individual prims) is placed into someone’s inventory, the next time it comes out into the open, the entirety of it becomes uneditable by both builders. It’s easier to build alone and share your creation, but actually allowing multiple builders, actually doing what Connie suggested, is more complicated. Co-ownership is a difficult proposition.

But more seriously (in my mind) is the problem of ongoing shared space. There’s a wonderful video of a build from start to finish that replicates Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night”; the point of the build was to make the video, the point of the video is to demonstrate the build. In the build, you could stand in one particular spot and see the world exactly the way you see it in the painting. I think it’s amazing, and it saddens me deeply that I can’t go in world and see it. It’s gone. I don’t know how long it stuck around, but I’m told that the point of these videos (machinima) is not to create the builds for posterity, or even in order for others to experiences it in person (so to speak), but only to create the video. I used to bring everyone I knew onto Info Island to show them an audio art exhibit where you could run through sounds and make your own little a capella music, but one day it just vanished. It was a temporary build, and no one seemed to have offered to keep it around. So it’s just gone.

You can build on the creation of someone else’s imagination only as long as that construct exists in world; so much is so incredibly temporary. If you wanted to house something long term, you’d need to pay for the space to put it somewhere. And you’d need to pay regularly. If someone builds something marvelous and useful to the world, but then moves on to other worlds or other projects, you lose that build. Even if the creator of the build is supportive of others taking on custodial ownership of their build, there’s very little structure in place to hook up those creators with people who are prepared to house their creations; in fact, there are no resources around for long-term build storage. Small items, say, a dress or a shirt, are unlikely to disappear, but large builds (like, say, the recreation of the sistine chapel), most certainly will.

I’m a fan of ephemeria. I’m a very big advocate of it, in fact; I don’t feel great about generic blog archiving, for instance, because I believe strongly in the space between permanent record published material (like books), and unrecoraded/ephermal material (like ideas or dinner conversation). This is something I love about the internet, how it takes “publish” and makes it more fluid and flexible. I think there’s a huge place for public, “published”, ephemeral material whose existance depends entirely on the will of the author. But I have the luxury of feeling that way about blogs. There are tons of services that provide long-term storage for blogs, so its not as if the world of the blogosphere is likely to disappear any time soon. Holding on to a blog, or letting your blog just stay up dormant, costs little to nothing. What bothers me so much about the disappearing Second Life builds is that there really is no way to hold on to them. An abandoned blog (so very common) is still a blog, and is still readable; an abandoned build in Second Life just doesn’t exist at all. In fact, the system encourages you to destroy your builds if you lose interest in them; the land you built it on is valuable, and you can sell it for serious amounts of money. Second Life is the most ephemeral space I’ve ever seen.

Rather than set up more reference desks in Second Life, I wish the librarians in-world could instead start collecting builds. Lots of builders would love to either have their build on permanent (or semi-permanent?) display in a central location, or have it sunk into a catalogue where it can be recreated by others for short times. Borrow the sistine chapel or van gogh for a couple of weeks for a class, say. Networked imagination is a great idea, but Second Life without some means of archiving and sharing is not going to allow for that in the long term. The MacArthur folks seem interested in philanthropy in digital worlds;I have a hard time imagining much that’s more important than that.

Ping Me

Ping Me

My friend June figured this one out first, and it’s so rad I had to follow suit: meebo, the wonder tool that allows anyone to log into their AIM, Yahoo, MSN or Jabber accounts from any browser anywhere, came out with a widget you can stick on your site. And it does what I’ve always dreamed of such an app doing; it’s connected to a client, so I can launch the client and get IMs from guests who visit my website. And they don’t need to log in to do it.

You can test it out on me here.

You could do something like this with those floating chat windows (very cool, all of them), but this one really bridges the gap between proper IM and web-based chat. You don’t even need a meebo account (or any other) to talk to me!

One of the big advantages to the meebo widget is that it’s entirely private, only two-way communication. If two people land on the page at the same time, you just get two IM windows in your client, they aren’t aware of each other. There are other apps to allow people who are visiting the same site to natter at each other anyway. I’ve been wanting something like this.

I think this widget is a really nice step to move into v.ref. No accounts, no special software; and you coud stick it all over the place, including, say, in a course-specific web resource or pathfinder. And the thing tells you if the person on the other end isn’t available right now. Sweet!

Wikipedia as Community Service

Wikipedia as Community Service

If I were “You”: How Academics Can Stop Worrying and Learn to Love “the Encyclopedia that Anyone Can Edit”. I’ve spouted off about this a million times before, and I’m glad to see someone else finally saying it too:

This recognition of the extent to which the Wikipedia has engaged the imagination of the general public and turned it to the amateur practice of scholarship suggests what I think may prove to be the best way of incorporating it into the lives of professional academics: since the Wikipedia appears unable to serve as a route to professional advancement for intrinsic reasons, perhaps we should begin to see contributions to it by professional scholars as a different type of activity altogether—as a form of community service to be performed by academics in much the same way lawyers are often expected to give back to the public through their pro bono work. A glance at almost any discussion page on the Wikipedia will show that the Wikipedians themselves are aware of the dangers posed to the enterprise by the inclusion of fringe theories, poor research, and contributions by people with insufficient disciplinary expertise. As certified experts who work daily with the secondary and primary research required to construct good Wikipedia entries, we are in a position to contribute to the construction of individual articles in a uniquely positive way by taking the time to help clean up and provide balance to entries in our professional areas of interest. In doing so, we can both materially improve the quality of the Wikipedia and demonstrate the importance of professional scholars to a public whose hobby touches very closely on the work we are paid to do—and whose taxes, by and large, support us.

I’d like to insert a little more concern about access to information by the general public, and perhaps add just a glimmer of the serials crisis into this article, but I guess that’s for librarians to do, not academics. Though it will never cease to amaze me that academics don’t seem to realize that they give away their intellectual labour all the time to support a third party distribution system that takes money away from the universities, thus making academics the number one threat to library budgets and the number one reason why those with access to the internet but no access to university libraries can’t get a hold of scholarly works, but hey. It’s Monday morning, and this article is a start.

Via Jason.