Posted on Dec 4, 2009

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Supernova E0102, NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory

I had the pleasure of being invited back to attend Supernova this year. Supernova is “the only forum to examine all of the opportunities and challenges created in the Network Age”. The conference is a solid event to attend for a few reasons: quality networking with well accomplished people, hearing reflections on the state of everything from people who have been in the computing/web industry since the 80’s and 90’s, oh, and, power cords and wifi that works from every seat.

Diving into my notes/musings from day 1 of the conference:

The Changing World
(danah boyd, Adam Greenfield)

Looking into how the world around us (both offline and online) is changing as a result of social technology, danah boyd and Adam Greenfield shared incredibly fascinating research and concrete examples of the relationship between people, things, data and connectivity.

danah’s presentation focused intensely around the topic of visibility – that digitally “only when we choose to look, do we see”. You only get a sense of what certain spaces are online based on what you choose to consume. On Twitter, you set your norms based off who you follow, not who follows you. As a result, danah states that there are divergent understandings of what digital norms are based on where you are in the network. Not surprisingly, there are huge differences in how people use the same services. A big example is Twitter’s trending topics, which has forced a lot of users to see spaces they didn’t choose to see (e.g. domination of different ethnicities than the ones they follow, obsession with pop culture, using Twitter for different purposes, etc.).

She then discussed real world challenges and opportunities that exist from choosing to look. While kids may post things online that make adults uncomfortable, the posts can also be used as an opportunity to have an open discussion about how to decide what to put online, etc. There are also a lot of kids who are expressing their need for help to their social networks. Often times their peers aren’t equipped with resources to help and the parents and counselors aren’t choosing to participate or look in these social networks, so they’re missing chances to help those who are emotionally troubled and don’t know what to do/where to go.

Changing from people to public objects, Adam took the stage and kicked off with the fact that 50% of the world’s population now live in urban environments. In the near future, sensors will be embedded all around us, conditioning the possibilities of urban space. With IPv6, everything in our world can become addressable. This would create an entirely new way of reading cities and spaces. Adam explained that the data for these objects has always been here, but we haven’t had access to it before: “entire existences are retrievable in ways they never were before … the public has the right to benefit from this open data”. Adam also was sure to make the point that it’s not just about consuming data, but also contributing to it. As Usman Haque once said (and I find this quote to be very relevant to my efforts in Spacehack.org), “I don’t care so much about making the data public. I care about the public making the data.”

(Note: if I come across a link to the deck Adam presented, I’ll put it here, as it contained a lot of concrete project examples that clarified some of his main points)

Changing Networks
(Jonathan Zittrain)

As always, Zittrain’s presentations (rants?) are filled with energy. His words to Amazon and Apple about their control-freak-ways were to the point (and tangentially reminded me of Tim O’Reilly‘s War For the Web.

“You can’t code to your Kindle – you can’t open it and spread [your stuff] to other Kindles,” exclaimed Zittrain. A statement that reminds me of a quote that often pops up in Matt Biddulph‘s talks from the Maker’s Bill of Rights: “if you can’t open it, you don’t own it”.

Zittrain went on to talk about how Steve Jobs doesn’t want to give you the freedom to screw up the iPhone experience like you can screw up a Windows box. Apple then saw everyone jail-breaking their phones, so they created a software development kit, but even then everything has to be funneled through the app store – which is known for denying things as silly as an Android-eye app from its store. This is incredibly frustrating as a developer – you have a piece of software that you wrote and you want to give it to your friends, but you can’t unless Apple identifies and approves you.

The presentation then pulled up a quote from Steve Jobs saying “what’s the point?” in reply to why he denied a funny political app from the store. Zittrain argued that most technological advancements come from someone who would originally say “what’s the point” – like people did with Twitter and Wikipedia – and that the app store stops ‘whats’ the point’ creations from happening/spreading.

Social Networks in the Workplace
(Denise Howell, Alex Macgillivray, Kerry Krzynowek, Gabe Ramsey)

I started the morning off with this session (part of the legal track for the conference). The panel discussed how obviously social networks in the workplace has still not reached a comfortable point. The informality and immediacy of communications makes people uncomfortable. As a result, companies often react off of fear and create policies and expected social norms that are short-sighted and misguided. This topic is obviously near and dear to me after I was banned from using social networks at my job at NASA last year.

“If we could duct tape everyone’s mouth there would be no risks, but you take these risks all the time – this is nothing new,” stated one of the legal panelists.

Alex Macgillivray, the General Counsel of Twitter, explained that he really appreciated Google’s policy approach to the subject by just telling the employees “don’t be dumb”. Throughout the panel, this was brought up as a good solution. I have to agree. While the panel was lacking the viewpoint of an employee’s perspective on all of this (most just focusing on the employer’s point-of-view), the “don’t be dumb” policy is groundbreaking in this time of fear culture in that it respectfully treats employees like adults rather than untrustworthy liabilities.

1 Comment

  1. Lavelle Bruckman
    January 18, 2010

    Between me and my sister we’ve owned more hi-tech toys over the years than I can count, including GPS units, iPods (classic & touch), etc. I love Amazon’s kindel, it’s by far the coolest toy I got.  Why? Because I was very happy to discover how well-designed and fun it is and how simple it is to use . Make sure you buy the cover though as it will get scratched pretty easily.