Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap” | EL PAÍS

Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called “armchair activism,” and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it’s so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn’t about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don’t teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap.

Source: Zygmunt Bauman interview: Zygmunt Bauman: “Social media are a trap” | In English | EL PAÍS

Community Detection on Twitter

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to visualize online presence and community. There are lots of great tools to do post-hoc analysis, but I’m thinking about something more realtime. It doesn’t exist yet, though. In the meantime, I’m playing around with the current tools to get a feel for what stories they can pull from the social graph data.

Yesterday, I followed the howto from Caleb Jones, to pull the social graph data from my Twitter account. The process took about 15 hours, because of Twitter’s helpful throttling of API calls. Thankfully, the twecoll python tool takes that into account and gracefully pauses when Twitter API tells it to cool it.

Once twecoll pulled out the raw data, I fed it into Gephi, and then followed Caleb’s howto for community detection.

I tweaked the layout a bit, played with the rendering settings, and came up with this:

dlnorman Twitter Graph 2015-01-05 v2
Community detection on @dlnorman, showing clusters of “edtech”, “LMS”, UCalgary” and “Calgary” network members.

There are a few main concentrations of people. The blue-ish one on the right is loosely “edtech folks” – but it’s strongly biased by “BC Edtech Folks”. The red patch at the top is “LMS-ish folks”, strongly represented by D2Lers. The far left is “UCalgary” – and it was able to pull out a cluster of official-ish accounts, student union accounts, and various other subclusters from UCalgary. The bottom left is loosely “Calgary” – and includes subclusters for politics, media, design, and cycling. Lots of overlap between design and cycling subclusters. Go figure.

Lessons learned from this exercise:

  1. It takes waaaay too long to do anything with this kind of community analysis on the fly. Post-hoc after-the-fact analysis is where things are now.
  2. Even with super-helpful scripts, the process is not something most people will do. And the new Gephi 0.9 is fantastic – but, again,It’s an excellent tool for researchers, and most people aren’t going to use it. The user experience for personal-social-network-analysis needs to come a long way before it can be used by everyone.
  3. Even with the pretty picture and community detection – so what? What can you actually do with this information. I have some ideas about that, but need to do some exploration first.

Update: I tweaked the layout. Here’s a better version of my twitter network graph with community detection:

dlnorman 2

EFF on online harassment

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is taking on online harassment as a serious barrier to freedom of speech:

Just because the law sometimes allows a person to be a jerk (or worse) doesn’t mean that others in the community are required to be silent or to just stand by and let people be harassed. We can and should stand up against harassment. Doing so is not censorship—it’s being part of the fight for an inclusive and speech-supporting Internet.


Trolls and online mobs, almost by definition, are groups that are skilled in efficiently directing concentrated fire against others. That means that voices that are facing harassment can be the ones ejected from online discussion, as the weight of the mob makes it look like they are the ones who are radical and outside the mainstream. To find examples of this, one need only look to the governments—such as China, Israel and Bahrain—that employ paid commenters to sway online opinion in their favor. And of course, there are plenty of trolls willing to do it for free.

and some concrete recommendations:

  • More powerful, user-controlled filtering of harassing messages. There are plenty of ideas already for how sites could allow more configurable blocking. If platforms aren’t willing to provide these solutions, they should open up their platforms so that others can.
  • Better ways for communities to collectively monitor for harassing behavior and respond to it— rather than, as now, placing the burden on individuals policing their own social media streams.
  • Automated tools that let people track and limit the availability of personal information about them online (including public sources of data), to better allow themselves to defend themselves against threats of doxxing.
  • Tools that allow targets of harassment to preserve evidence in a way that law enforcement can understand and use. Abuse reports are currently designed for Internet companies’ internal processes, not the legal system.
  • Improved usability for anonymity and pseudonymity-protecting tools. When speakers choose to be anonymous to protect themselves from offline harassment, they should be able to do so easily and without deep technical knowledge.

I’m hopeful that things are starting to shift away from trolls holding all of the power. That’s already poisoned online discourse for many, and done far worse for some.

Brightspace nee Desire2Learn

I’ve been trying to get my head around the reasoning for the corporate rebranding to Brightspace12, and I’m coming up short. I like the name, but it feels like everything they’ve described here at Fusion could have been done under the previous banner of Desire2Learn. I’m more concerned about signs that the company is shifting to a more corporate Big Technology Company stance.

When we adopted D2L, they felt like a teaching-and-learning company. What made them interesting to us is that they did feel like a company that really got teaching and learning. They were in the trenches. They used the language. They weren’t a BigTechCo. But, they were on a trajectory aspiring toward BigTechCo.

Fusion 2013 was held at almost the exact same time that we had our D2L environment initially deployed to start configuration for our migration process. We were able to send a few people to the conference last year, and we all came away saying that it definitely felt more like a teaching-and-learning conference than a vendor conference. Which was awesome.

We’ve been working hard with our account manager and technical account team, and have made huge strides in the last year. We’ve developed a really great working relationship with the company, and I think we’re all benefiting from it. The company is full of really great people who care and work hard to make sure everyone succeeds. That’s fantastic. Lots of great people working together.

But it feels like things are shifting. The company now talks about “enablement” – which is good, but that’s corporate-speak, not teaching-and-learning speak. That’s data.

Fusion 2014 definitely feels more like a vendor conference. I don’t know if we’re just more sensitive to it this year, but every attendee I’ve talked to about it has noticed the same thing. This year is different. That’s data.

As part of the rebranding, Desire2Learn/Brightspace just rebooted their community site – which was previously run within an instance of the D2L Learning Environment (which was a great example of “eating your own dog food”), and now it’s a shiny new Igloo-powered intranet site. They also removed access to the product suggestion platform, which was full of carefully crafted suggestions for improving the products, provided by their most hardcore users.

The rebranded community site looks great, but the years worth of user-provided discussions and suggestions didn’t make the journey to the new home. So, the community now feels like a corporate marketing and communication platform, rather than an actual community because it’s empty. I’m hopeful that there is a plan to bring the content from the actual community forward. The content wasn’t there at launch, and it was about the branding of the site rather than the community. That’s data.

And there are other signs. The relaunched community site is listed under “Community” on the new Brightspace website, broken into “Communities of Practice”:

Screen Shot 2014 07 16 at 8 51 49 AM

The problem is, those aren’t “communities of practice” – they are corporate-speak categories for management of customer engagement. Communities of Practice are something else entirely. I don’t even know what an “Enablement” community is. That’s data.

It feels like the company is trying to do everything, simultaneously. They’re building an LMS / Learning Environment / Integrated Learning Platform, a big data Analytics platform, media streaming platform, mobile applications, and growing in all directions at once. It feels like the corporate vision is “DO EVERYTHING” rather than something more focused. I’m hoping that’s just a communication issue, rather than anything deeper. Which is also data.

They’re working hard to be seen as a Real Company. They’re using Real Company language. They’re walking and talking like a Real Company. Data.

The thing is – they’ve been working on the rebranding for awhile now, and launched it at the conference. The attendees here are likely the primary target of the rebranding, and everyone I talk to (attendees and staff) are confused by it. It feels like a marketing push, and a BigTechCo RealCo milestone. It feels like the company is moving through an uncanny valley – it doesn’t feel like the previous teaching-and-learning company, and it’s not quite hitting full stride as a BigTechRealCo yet.

I really hope that Brightspace steps back from the brink and returns to thinking like a teaching-and-learning company.

  1. this isn’t about the name – personally, I like the new name, and wish they’d used it all along. But the company had built an identity around the previous name for 15 years, and it looks like they decided to throw that all away []
  2. and there’s the unfortunate acronym. 30 seconds after the announcement, our team had already planned to reserve bs.ucalgary.ca []

Notes: Clarke & Kinne (2012). Asynchronous discussions as threaded discussions or blogs

Clarke, L, & Kinne, L. (2012). Asynchronous discussions as threaded discussions or blogs. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 29, 4-13.

The article looked at students publishing online discussions using Blackboard and WordPress, and their reported sense of community, etc…

Kinda perfect for use in my thesis.

But the article is embargoed from our library collection, and the ISTE website for the journal locks it behind a broken paywall. I’ve tried several times to buy the article, but can’t get near it.

Open access, people. Don’t lock your awesomeness behind a paywall. This article is perfect for my thesis, but won’t be used because I can’t get to it.

Ramping up the Co-op in Hippie Hosting Co-op

The Hippie Hosting Co-op was started by the idea of friends and colleagues pitching in to share resources to run a server together. It kind of took off from there. In the months since the launch, it’s grown to over 80 members1, most of whom were attracted by the idea2. And it’s continued to grow.

But, we’re reaching a point where we need to make some decisions as a co-op. For this to work, it has to be more than just a discount web hosting provider3. We need to be in this together. For the server to handle the number of users it has now, the costs to the co-op are $186/month45 . We’ve been lucky enough to have a bucket of cash to kick things off, but we’re going to burn through what’s left of that in a couple of months.

The system administration and design work has all been done by the awesome Tim Owens. I’ve tried to pitch in where I can, but it’s easily been 99% Tim (including the actual setup, management of the Plesk interface, and configuration of the server itself). That’s not going to be sustainable. Tim has a job, a life, etc… and tweaking the co-op server is placing a growing demand on him.

We just had a kind of major server outage, caused by some server upgrades that went kerblooey. Luckily, Tim was able to fit some debugging and recovery into his day job, but he also volunteered many hours, working into the wee hours of the night to get the co-op back online. We need more people who can help shoulder the load. I’m just a google jockey, so wasn’t much use in this case.

So, what can we do as members of the HHC? Well, I’m glad you asked. There’s 2 main ways:

  1. Fat stacks of Benjamins, yo. The co-op needs cash to stay afloat. The $1/month plans are great, but we need to figure out a more sustainable financial model. What should that be? I don’t know. Annual telethons? Kickstarter campaigns? Bake sales? Higher membership fees? Something else? Some combination of models? Not all members use the same level of resources – there are a few (myself included) who use significantly more resources (bandwidth and disk space) than the typical “let’s set up a new site to see what this is about” type of member.

  2. Hippies pitching in. Barns need raising. Hamsters need feeding. There’s stuff that needs to get done if the co-op is going to stay on the air. You have some skills. We need them. Not sure what skills, or how they’re needed yet, but we’ll all need to pitch in. Maybe you can write documentation. Maybe you can mess around with MySQL and server packages. Maybe you have some other awesomeness. Cool. Roll up your sleeves and dig in.

The goal of the HHC is to provide a place for people to come together to work on stuff – to build their online spaces in a community. We can’t just be a discount webserver provider – there’s more to the co-op idea than just a server. It’s about the members, working together.

Have an idea for how to make the co-op more sustainable? Let the hippies know.



p style=”text-align: center;”>everybody on the bus!

  1. that’s a pretty big co-op! []
  2. and, really, we’ve never heard of many of the members, so the co-op feel needs some cultivation []
  3. there are lots of those around, although our insanely cheap minimum membership fees make the HHC pretty attractive []
  4. that gets us a MediaTemple dv virtual server, with 2GB of RAM, 100GB of disk space, and 2TB of bandwidth per month. we’re not hitting the limits on those, but need to have room to grow as the hippies start using their websites more []
  5. we started with a much cheaper dv server option, but that was quickly outgrown by the number of members that joined so quickly at the beginning []

WPMU Post and Comment Growth

The group of WPMU rockstars at UBC’s OLT just whipped up a fantastic new plugin for administrators of a WPMU site to get a feel for the growth of the community. It generates a graph to display growth in numbers of blog posts and comments over time, and uses the Google Data Visualization API to let you interactively define data ranges to be graphed.

Here’s the growth of UCalgaryBlogs.ca graphed for the last 2 semesters:


Another fantastic job by the OLT blogging platform crew. Now, to just add users and pages, and it’ll be perfect… 😉

content is not enough

Brian wrote a great post about the focus on content creation in the open education movement. There were some great comments on that post – some arguing (correctly, IMO) that there isn’t enough great content available.

But even that misses the point, I fear.

Content is the least important part of education. What is far more important is what takes place between and among the students. The activities of the community of learners. What they actually DO with the content and with each other.

Great content IS important, but only if there is also a functioning and active community working together to learn, create and share. Otherwise, all that takes place is content dissemination. And that’s not education, open or otherwise.

Content Dissemination
ST 148

or active community of learners
Discussions - 5

my edupunk heroes

On thinking about edupunk, it strikes me that I’ve been drawn to a group of people that have embodied it for years. People that are open. That prefer to DIY. People who share, remix, mashup, and generally operate in the spirit of what is now being called edupunk. Here are my edupunk heroes, who inspire me every day (in no particular order). There are lots of other people that inspire me constantly, but when I think EDUPUNK, these are the people that really push me.

Jim Groom

rev. devilhornsReverend Jim. The poster boy for edupunk. Jim’s been kicking out the jams on this stuff for years, running completely against the traditional establishment. He teaches courses without an LMS. He mashes up wikis and blogs. He incites radical DIYism in everyone he meets. Jim’s hardcore exploration of DIY and individual publishing have made me rethink the nature and value of enterprise systems (they still have a very important role, but not in the way I used to think they did…)

Brian Lamb

DJ Wiki, Mashup SuperstarDJ Wiki. The man who lives in a realtime mashup. His work with the OLT interns is absolutely amazing. He’s taken a group of students as interns, and has essentially pushed them into the role of professional edtech developers, conference facilitators, and so much more. He provides guidance, and lets them explore. And the stuff they come up with as a team is mindboggling. Brian’s mastery of media and depth of literary knowledge are simply stunning, and only matched by his openness and willingness to share.

Jennifer Dalby

every picture tells a storyViral professional development. Jennifer has been working to help instructors at BTC to adopt pragmatic openness – starting by sharing as much of her professional development activities as possible. She set up an Elluminate play session today for several of the BTC instructors, and invited people from outside (via Twitter) to participate. As a result, we had an interesting discussion while playing and exploring a new tool. It was a casual way to safely learn a piece of technology, while modeling the power of the Network. Very cool stuff. Jen is brave, open, and able to connect people in a way I’ve never seen before.

Alan Levine

Northern Voice - 1550 ways to tell a story? Serious edupunk. Inspiring hundreds (thousands?) of people literally around the world to take DIY storytelling into their own hands and craft, publish and share their own stories. Alan’s been living edupunk for as long as I’ve known him (and that goes way back to the early 90’s when he ran the Director Web community website!) Alan has always been a trailblazer, an experimenter, and a pioneer of community based collaboration.

Alec Couros

@courosabotAlec’s ego is big enough. I’ll just link to my previous post on Alec.

Stephen Downes

stephen downes with the backchannelAnarchy and individual empowerment, modeled by a person employed by the federal government of a G8 nation. Stephen’s been pushing toward personal publishing and DIY for years – long before most of his colleagues (including myself) understood where he was going. I first met him several years ago while working on the EDUSOURCE national learning object repository project. He was talking about stuff back then that we’re only now starting to see come true, most notably the use of RSS as the syndication format. Stephen is one of the few people whom I trust to see through rhetoric and hype, to break something down to the simplest components, and to see how things relate to an individual’s ability to control their own destiny. OLDaily. gRSSHopper. hardcore edupunk.

Cole Camplese

ETSTalk #16The director of an edtech unit at a huge university, who hacks WordPress themes for fun and publishes to blogs, wikis, podcasts, and various other community sites with impressive frequency and depth. Cole constantly pushes the people he works with, and the people in his Network, by encouraging people to collaborate and contribute. He’s the one who first saw the value in Twitter, when I initially dismissed it as silly and banal. He gets community in every sense of the word.

I am humbled by what these incredible people do. And am trying to figure out if and how I contribute back to the edupunk culture. I suppose 366photos is pretty edupunk (but not particularly strong on the edu- side of things). I suppose helping push Drupal, Moodle, Mediawiki, etc… on campus is a bit edupunk. And eduglu could definitely be called edupunk – but it’s still just a McGuffin, so likely doesn’t count for much at the moment.

Still, when I consider the work that these people do on a regular basis, my head spins.