13 Apr

What’s plan B?

A week ago, Steve Wheeler was supposed to present on Edupunk in the Forth Online Round Table of educamp. Unfortunately, his tech equipment and the university servers left him in the lurch. While Steve was trying frantically to get back online, Graham Attwell rescued the situation with PowerPoint Karaoke over Steve’s title slide (you can watch the entire session in Elluminate) and brought along the discussion.

After his failed session, Steve wrote a blog post entitled “Can anybody hear me?” about is intended presentation and his frustration of attempting the humanly possible to get online.

That was the first time that I was in an online session and a presentation could not take place due to the fact that the presenter could not be heard / get back into the system despite previous checks. During CCK08 we had a problem once when slides could not be uploaded to Elluminate, but that was solved quickly by viewing the slides on Slideshare and giving the occassional reference in the chat window to the current slide for late comers.

This debacle led me to think about the question “What is the plan B for online sessions?” When we teach or present at conferences, we usually have a “Plan B”, an alternative, in case the technology we want to use is not available or does not work. I used to have a set of overhead transparencies for presentations and important training material in my luggage. I abandonded that because rooms are now generally well-equipped and sometimes do not have an overhead projector anymore. I still make screenshots of web pages in case the internet does not work and I want to point out something on a live site. Backup copies of the material I need are always stored on a USB stick, sent to my email account and / or uploaded somewhere online. I could even do without the visual support if needed as long as I do not loose my voice.

However, as I have never presented online, I had not thought about what to do when problems occur in the virtual space. Problems like the one we had in CCK08 are manageable when the slides are available online for viewing / downloading. But what can be done when the presenter cannot be heard? A presentation cannot be typed into a chat window. All possible scenarios I came up with always require the internet and another system that allows for synchronous audio discussions. Of course, that requires that the presenter as well as the audience have access to it. That requires a lot from the tech support for online sessions, and I dare say that it is not doable as there are so many factors that are in the dark. Would one have to test two or even three systems in advance to make sure that at least one works?

Less favorable alternatives are the re-scheduling of the session after the tech problem has been solved satisfactorily, a write-up of the presentation as Steve did, or the actual presentation as a post-recording done by the presenter alone at home. Although the latter two are better than not doing the presentation at all, they certainly lack the interactivity with the audience.

So, the question still remains: What’s plan B?

01 Apr

Chatting to strangers randomly

I have had a tab with Omegle open in my browser for a couple of days now (and thus forgot from where I got the link 🙁 ) until I got my nerves together to try the service. Leif K-Brooks, its founder describes it as following:

Omegle is a brand-new service for meeting new friends. When you use Omegle, we pick another user at random and let you have a one-on-one chat with each other. Chats are completely anonymous, although there is nothing to stop you from revealing personal details if you would like.

In our age of social media, profile pages, nick names, and avatars, in short: our digital identity, Omegle is a clever chat client that is not bothered with these at all. I write “clever” because the absence of these familiar things as well as the fact that the person with whom you chat is chosen randomly, make it novel and intriguing.

Before I clicked on the big “Start a chat” button, I raided my brain of how I could wittily start a conversation though Leif provides a good pointer: “Say Hi”. What would I write next? How would I react to the stranger. What topic would I choose? Would I chicken out at the last minute and abort the chat? Questions over questions. The only strategy that I could think of was: Just dive in and see what happens.

My first attempt to talk to a stranger among the 2600 something users online about an hour ago was rather ill-fated as my stranger who was chosen randomly got cold feet and left the chat just after my – admittedly rather ordinary – conversation opening.

Aborted conversation

Aborted conversation

@injenuity had more luck and created poetry with her stranger (the link to the Twitter status update does not work anymore).

Reading these conversations, I am reminded of the early days of the internet when people said one could talk to strangers not knowing anything about them and everybody could pretend to be anybody. Still, back then one always had a nickname / handle in IRC chats etc. that one was recognized by. Also today we have our usernames, we fill in more or less extensive online profile pages, and even provide avatars. These things help in conversations. We build up our digital identities and hopefully trust with them so that we are regocnized the next time we log on and converse with others.

Omegle leaves out all these conversation cues and connects total strangers without anything that may help to pinpoint their whereabouts, their (established) identity, and any chance of knowing if re-connected with them is possible there.

I wonder what the average time spent in the chat is, what other strangers talk about. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see a stream of these conversations (and analyze them if the heart desires)?

22 Nov

Lost in Technology

This past week was an online feast I had not experienced before. I tried to catch as many sessions of the conference Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations 2008 at which great minds shared their knowledge, experience, and thoughts. I will blog about that over the weekend a bit more trying to summarize important points for me before they get lost in next week’s travel excitement.

On top of that it was the 11th week of CCK08. Though I have not been an active participant in the course by way of writing blog posts, discussing in Moodle etc., I try to participate in the Wednesday Elluminate and Frida uStream sessions. I always look forward to them.

As we are nearing the end of the course next week and I will not be able to attend the last sessions (maybe next Friday if I am very lucky), I was happy that I would be able participate today during a break of the online conference. However, as our hosts Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, and George Siemens are very busy people, we did have to have one day when a session would have to be canceled. That was the case today. Nevertheless, and due to not reading “The Daily” earlier, three of us (Eduardo, Lisa and I) gathered in uStream and reached the decision to have our session anyway. Thus, we did get to have our revolution after all (if you don’t know what I am referring to, I point you to the beginning of the uStream session of Week 5). 😉

Lisa quickly pointed us to her uStream channel, but as all of us had never experimented with uStream before, we had difficulty to bring everybody in on the audio (and video). Andreas and Carmen joined us there after they got our Twitter messages. Soon, we realized that we couldn’t get onto the uStream audio and decided to try Skype because that would allow us – in theory – to audio chat together.

That meant to get all our Skype IDs together and start a conference call. We kept uStream open to be able to text chat while continuing the tech experiment in Skype to get everybody in there. After some bits of discussion in Skype in a smaller conference call with three of us and the other ones listening to Lisa filling them in and text chatting in uStream, we were all united: Eduardo in Uruguay, Lisa in Southern California, Carmen in Minnesota, Andreas in Germany and I in Luxembourg.

Unfortunately, the tech gods did not have their protective eye on me during that hour. I could only get sound through uStream although I was on Skype and could be heard through there. On top of that my audio lacked behind between 30 seconds and 1 minute thus making it difficult to contribute to the conversation in a timely fashion. I usually cut in while others were talking and I felt aweful about that because I interrupted the entire conversation. I resorted to text chat in the end but could hear everybody.

As Lisa rightly said, “And here, you know, the pipe really was more important than the content.” That was certainly true. We had to figure out how to connect and not just connect but bring everybody on the same tool and allow for participation (no willing CCK08 participant left behind). Due to the technical problems, we could not finish our discussion on the blog software we used for what reason, what we will do after CCK08 will be over, whether we will continue blogging, staying in contact etc. It would have been a really interesting discussion had we had more time and mastered our internet communication tools better.

Hosting a live session certainly takes preparation and even when you have all the technology available to you that does not mean that it will cooperate and do what you want. However, we managed to get connected and stay that way more or less using two tools (not in one environment) simultaneously.

A big THANK YOU to Jeff who usually manages our Friday sessions and stays on top of his tech game to connect Dave, George, and Stephen to us from wherever they are on the planet and with whatever internet connection they have to work with. He’s always in the background handling the difficult part of connecting everybody as smoothly as possible.

After our allotted time for our Friday class, everybody went back to their other tasks. I wondered what happened to the  intentions to have meetups as they were discussed at the beginning of the course. There are two Second Life group that meet / met regularly if I remember correctly: one English-speaking one and one Spanish-speaking one. Are there other groups? Maybe even face-to-face ones? How often do / did they meet? What are their experiences?

Our little group was a great experience today, we stayed in class, and learned together without our teachers / instructors / facilitators / moderators / curators / enablers…

Communicating online can be more difficult but still be fun

Communicating online can be more difficult but still be fun

10 Nov

Almost half the population

On November 3, 2008, the 3 billionth picture was uploaded to flickr generating 16,762 views for the photo until now. Had I not subscribed to Bryan Alexander’s blog this memorable moment would have passed unnoticed for me. Now I can pause for a second and contemplate a little bit.

  • If every person on earth had uploaded a picture to flickr, almost 45% of the population would have already done so. According to the CIA World Factbook there are 6,706,993,152 people (estimate of July 2008).
  • My flickr statistics show that I uploaded 373 photos. That is just 0.00001% of 3 billion.
  • However, my pictures have already been viewed 3,614 times as of now (excluding my views). That is much more exposure than they would have ever gotten in my paper photo albums.
  • One photo even made it into an online article.
  • How many flickr photos do not have the traditional copyright? Most of the pictures I post have a Creative Commons license and can be used freely.

I have many more pictures still sitting on a hard drive waiting to be uploaded, and then there are all those that are not yet digitized… Thus, I will continue to contribute photos to flickr.

almost the 3 billionth photo

almost the 3 billionth photo

26 Oct

Avatar by name

Philipp Lenssen wrote an application for the 24-Hours Application Challenge at Friendfeed that converts a name into an avatar. Depending on how I spell my name and whether or not I include my middle initials, I come up with different avatars.

Avatars for my name created with the String to Avatar Converter

Avatars for my name created with the String to Avatar Converter

They look all very male-centric to me. Was it easier to create male faces? Is the converter geared towards the male internet community?

I guess I won’t use any in a real profile, especially the mean-loooking ones, unless I want to pose as somebody else and hide my true self. 🙂