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09 Nov

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Drumbeat: The Future of Education (and Video)

November 9, 2010 | By |

Drumbeat “Future of Education” Demo from David Humphrey on Vimeo.

The Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona is over, but my head is still buzzing. It was fantastic to see what happens when you drop a whole bunch of enthusiastic educators and geeks in one location and let them go crazy.

While I’m still processing all the things I saw and heard (Graffiti Research! Hackbus! Massively Multiplayer Thumbwrestling! Robots! Hastac! Peer-to-peer learning! Badges!), Gabriel Shalom and Brett Gaylor interviewed me, along with some others, for WebMadeMovies. I was asked about the future of education. (Funny thing – I was supposed to answer in German, but my brain kind of refused to. I felt –and sound– like I was reading out a Google Translation of myself. Aaanyway.)

What you see above is of course just a video of the demo. It’s much, much cooler out in the wild, when the Open aspect kicks in and the video can interact with the HTML outside. (Like here.)

09 May

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Drumbeat Berlin

May 9, 2010 | By |

drumbeat

Yesterday Mozilla held an event in Berlin to build ground support for their new open web initiative Drumbeat. For the super-brief version of what Drumbeat is all about, let me quote Mark Surman from the first Drumbeat blog post:

At its simplest, Mozilla Drumbeat is about everyday internet users using technology to make and do things that will keep the web open for the long haul. Diversity will be a critical to this. Drumbeat needs to engage the huge diversity of people who use the web in their work and play. Teachers. Artists. Lawyers. Filmmakers. Children. Everyone. It also needs to reflect — and be shaped by — the diversity of cultures that make up the web. Drumbeat needs to be truly global right from the start.

So with Mark, Henrik Moltke (Drumbeat Project Producer), Allen Gunn and a whole bunch of other crew members, Mozilla brought in the big guns, so to speak. And showed that they’re serious about Drumbeat. This is support building as it should be. The level of enthusiasm and energy was contagious. (And made me feel even worse for coming in way late.) It was a room full of folks from all walks of the web that share a mission: to keep & make the web as open as possible. And in this mission, I guess, is the key to what makes Drumbeat special: rather than an initiative, it felt more like there’s a movement building up.

I’m curious to see how to best get involved, and where this will take me. But trust me, this is going to be big.

Thanks a lot to Mark, Henrik, Allen and all the others for putting all of this together. You guys rock!

15 Nov

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Mozilla Festival 2011

November 15, 2011 | By |

Fox, girl, squirrel by Peter Bihr #mozfest
_Image by Peter Bihr, Creative Commons (by-nc-sa)_

Mozilla Festival (aka #Mozfest) is over, and it was intense. Throw a mix of 500 journalists, hackers, web devs and activists in a room and shake it up, and interesting things are going to happen. As well they did.

There’s plenty of good reviews out there, so I’m just going to highlight a few points that stood out for me.

Education for the open web

Ben Hammersley, who among many other things advises the EU in digital matters, made a point about the importance of education: Those who decide upon the future don’t understand the present.

We have several digital gaps in education – education in all things digital, about all things digital, across all things digital. One, there’s a gap along education lines. Two, there’s a global divide. Three, there’s a gap along income (and education) of parents that prevents kids in poorer neighborhoods the same chances to participate online (which might enable them to bootstrap knowledge).

And then we have – four! – a gap between those who by belonging to the group that really gets the web and how it works and those who don’t, where politicians are mostly on the wrong side of the gap. It’s a structural divide more than anything – give it a few years and things might work out fine, but as it stands (repeat!) Those who decide upon the future don’t understand the present. And this is something we need to work on. Luckily, it’s easier to educate some smart folks than change whole strata of society. (At least in theory.)

This is where we all can come in and help out. If you find yourself talking to a politician, help them out. Take the time to explain stuff. Don’t be snobby about it. It’s politics where we can leverage power, and it’s politics where the foundation is laid for how our most important infrastructure will work (or be broken) for years.

Let’s all work on some truly relevant things.

Mozfest from above, image by Pierros Papadeas Image by Pierros Papadeas, some rights reserved

Data Journalism Handbook

Just a brief shout out: A large group of journalists and data diggers gathered and wrote a Data Journalism Handbook. It’s not finished, but it’s an impressive draft and a great basis to extend over time. They just dug in, and built something cool over the weekend, then took it from there. This is the way to go, really.

Popcorn – making your videos talk to the web (and the web talk back)

The real killer – a real eye opener! – for me was certainly Popcorn.js, or rather the Popcorn Maker. Popcorn.js is a framework to make video on the web more interactive – more of the web – an event framework, or in other words: a little toolkit that helps you make your videos interact with the websites around them and vice versa. For example, you can pull maps or Flickr images or a live Twitter search into your video, or into an adjacent box (or pretty much wherever you like, really).

It’s harder to explain than to understand, so here’s a Popcorn demo.

And the Popcorn Maker, launched last Friday, is a web-based authoring tool to make all this more accessibel to non-developers – you need only the most basic understanding of HTML etc to use a video you uploaded to Youtube or Vimeo and enrich it with web data.

It’s super impressive, and it’s great how this has come about since last year‘s Mozilla Festival in Barcelona.

It’s also very clearly alpha software at the time, so try at your own risk – in a first test, I wasn’t able to save a project, but could pull a Youtube video and add map data, photos and tweets within less than 5 minutes – it’s really quite something.

Standards for space, time and the web

Every morning, I went for a run. Since my hotel was close by, my run would take me around the Royal Observatory. At the Observatory there are a number of mindboggingly interesting things on display: The Prime Meridian, the original kilogram, a measurement of feet and inches (to compare with your local merchant), as well as the (probably) first clock to display Greenwich Mean Time to the public (since 1852). There’s also a red ball on one of the rooftops that every day would be pulled up slowly, then drop at exactly 13:00h every day. The ball was visible from the river Thames, allowing the ships to reset (and thus synchronize) their clocks.

The Royal Observatory was by and large the center of standardization for most of the world. From here, standards of space and time would ripple and spread throughout the Commonwealth.

It’s a bit like what the W3C is for the internet today. And like we needed to agree on standards for space and time 150 years ago, we need to agree on standards for the web today. The more open they are – the more they allow us to look inside the box, and tinker, and exchange data, and the more anybody can use and contribute to them – the better off all of us will be.

01 Nov

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In London for Mozfest and Internet Week Europe

November 1, 2011 | By |

Mozilla Festival London

Mozilla’s big open/free culture festival, aptly called Mozilla Festival, is on this coming weekend. I’ll be headed over to London and stay for the full festival as well as the beginning of Internet Week Europe. (Sadly I won’t be able to stick around for the full thing.)

Can’t wait for the festival that I’ve seen come together up close, so I trust it’ll be fantastic. (It’s organized by the good folks of the Mozilla Foundation, notably by the lovely Michelle Thorne & Alexandra Deschamps-Sansino, so I’m clearly biased.) Last year’s Mozilla Festival in Barcelona – called Drumbeat at the time (my blogposts) – was basically a geeky love fest, which I say with respect and admiration. This time around it’ll be great, too, and it focuses on a topic that hits even closer to home for me – it’s all about the open web and media.

As someone who for a long time wanted to (and occasionally did) work as a journalist, seeing these two cultures of journalists and geeks (or hacks & hackers in Mozfest speak) merge is great. There’s so much both can learn from each other.

Beyond purely personal interest, I’m also interested in how these spheres can learn from another. After all, I’ve been advising media companies for years, first as a freelancer then through my company Third Wave. So I love geeking out about these things and learn from some of the smartest folks in the industry (and beyond).

Long story short: If you haven’t yet, join us at the festival > sign up here; and I’ll be in London for a few days, so ping me to meet up.

Disclosure: I was on the jury for the Lovie Awards, which are part of Internet Week.

25 Dec

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Thanks & Happy Holidays: 2010 Wrap-Up

December 25, 2010 | By |

??? - Maneki Neko

“Two is a trend, three is a tradition”, I once heard. If this post makes my annual (#2008, #2009) round-up of the closing year a tradition, then so be it.

As round-ups go, they tend to be more interesting for the author than the readers. Like every year I say:

The longer version below will be more interesting for me than you, probably. If you skip this post I won’t be disappointed. I promise ;)

So bear with me, and feel free to skip this one. Or comment away, whichever you prefer. I always enjoy hearing from you.

So here’s my 2010, a year that turned out to be a nodal point for many vectors going on in my life, and that I certainly won’t forget. Also, a year that felt like it set the course for a whole lot of awesome stuff over the coming years. Onwards, in bullet points!

Biz! Business-wise, it was a year that had a (surprising, for me) focus on broadcaster clients. As opposed to 2009, which was all about politics and political campaigning, 2010 brought plenty of work for public broadcasters, and a few publishers. You could think I turned into a media guy. (Fear not!) Super interesting to learn more about the ways large broadcasters work, and learn about the challenges and opportunities they face adapting to the social web. That was the first half of the year, as a freelancer. The second half was dedicated to starting a new company – see below.

Learnings! Early 2010 also brought some insights into long-term planning (diversify!), as well as the notion that good tax advice is totally worth it (ouch). Note to self: read this, every year. Some mistakes are too dumb to repeat.

SXSW! Early 2010 also brought me to Austin, Texas, for SXSW, and before to NYC for a few days. My close friend Igor Schwarzmann joined in on that trip, and of course we had a blast both in New York and in Austin. What none of us were expecting at that point is that our conversations there would eventually lead to Igor, Johannes and me founding a company just a half-year later. (More on that later.) Also, until about 48h before the conference kicked off I had no idea I’d be hosting a panel at SXSW. Phew. Good stuff, but phew.

Trips & travel! According to Dopplr, 28 trips lead me to 15 cities in 6 countries. Roughly the same as the year before (and likely much less then next year), but what a time I had.

Conferences & conventions! I had planned for a while to cut down on conferences and only attend the ones I definitely wouldn’t miss. This year, the conferences & conventions I attended were SXSW, republica, reboot/Ersatz, Picnic and Mozilla Drumbeat – not a single one I would’ve wanted to miss! In addition I co-organized Ignite Berlin and TEDxKreuzberg, both of which I enjoyed a lot, too, thanks to our great speakers and audience.

Punditry! Just kidding. I’m not a pundit (haven’t ever been one). However, I was psyched when my friend and long-time collaborator Dr. Max Senges invited me to be a member of the Google Collaboratory on Internet & Society. Also, much more media attention for all my pet projects than expected.

Research! Somewhat missing the kind of in-depth digging you can do in an academic context while studying, Christoph Fahle and I did a mini study on the social situation of coworkers at Betahaus Berlin. This wasn’t just one (of many!) collaborations with the fantastic Betahaus crew, it also shows that the good folks working at Betahaus and in coworking spaces across the city are advancing the city’s creative industry against some pretty messy circumstances (in terms of support by the government). Keep it up folks! The same goes for Betahaus – these folks have established themselves so firmly in the city’s landscape, and become such a focal point for all kinds of awesome activities: Thank you guys!

Third Wave Berlin! Before heading over to SXSW in March, Igor, Johannes and I had joked about collaborating at some point, but I believe that none of us had ever considered it for real, or anytime soon. (I certainly hadn’t.) But energized at Austin, and after a quick round of emails and conversations, it dawned on all of us that we all were at a point where we knew it was time to move on to the next level. And not just that, but also that we were at a perfect point in time, and pretty darn great position to start our own thing. And after some brainstorming and hand-wringing, and a lot of laughing, we found a name for this gig (Third Wave) and founded the company as quickly as our planning and our ongoing contracts allowed. From the very first idea (mid-March 2010) to launch (4 Oct 2010) it was hardly half a year. (Not bad, given that most work contracts in Germany won’t allow you to quit in less than 3 months.) And after the first (almost) three months I have no doubt that this was the absolutely right decision. There isn’t a day where I’m not happy about how things are evolving. (Thanks, guys!)

Thanks! So 2010 has been quite a ride, and I learned plenty. It was an intense year, and a fast one, and for next year I’ll probably change gears again and turn it up another notch (“to eleven!“). But what really blew my mind was the incredible support I got throughout the year from a whole bunch of people (none of who owed me anything), who just shared so many things, including the insights, experiences and nerves of steel, with me, and also with my co-founders. I really hope I can pay all this back, or forward, at some point. (Thank you so much – you know who you are.)

Awesome Foundation! One of the small ways I found of paying it forward is the Awesome Foundation, of which we set up a Berlin chapter. We already gave out our very first grant, so watch out for more! Also, I hear that the chapter is about to grow by quite a bit – and it makes me really happy to see so many people in Berlin (!) are willing to pitch in with their private cash (and with absolutely no business interest whatsoever) to foster awesome projects that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Go Awesome Foundation!

Next year! Next year will bring next steps on all these axes lined out above. One I’d like to point out (besides of course going back to NYC and Austin for SXSW) is an event I’m co-organizing: Cognitive Cities Conference (#CoCities), a conference focusing on the future of cities and technology, that we’ll hold at the end of February 2011. It’s kind of a nodal point (in Gibson speak) for me, the manifestation of both a group interest (emerging from Cognitive Cities blog), the topic cluster around smart cities, tech, data and urban planning, and a stress test for our company’s multi-tasking abilities ;) I’d love to get more involved, both privately and through work, in this field, and running this non-profit conference through our company allows me to do just that. Also, it’s a proof of concept, so to speak, insofar as the way CoCities came about might also work as a template for future emerging interests and ways to apply these interests, or rather to transfer them into actions.

Private! While I share plenty online, I’ve always felt that some aspects of personal life should stay largely off the web, and I’m standing by that rule of thumb. So let’s just say I’m very happy. (Again, thanks to all my friends and M. – You all rock!)

Off the grid! All that said, as of next week I’ll be off the grid for a few weeks, on a serious vacation with no (ok, maybe a little) connectivity. Thanks for the ride, and talk soon!

Photo by mr.beaver (some rights reserved)

28 Oct

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Interview: Mark Surman (Mozilla Foundation)

October 28, 2010 | By |

Mark pic by Kate

Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation and program chair of Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival, kindly gave me an interview about Drumbeat and why the Open Web is so relevant.

In three sentences: What is Drumbeat?

Mozilla DrumbeatOk. Three sentences. I’ll try 1. Mozilla exists to make sure the internet stays open and awesome. 2. With Drumbeat, we’re moving beyond Firefox to build more things that make the web better — not just software. 3. We’re doing this by reaching out new kinds of people — teachers, filmmakers, lawyers, journalists.

Why is that important?

It’s important because these people — in fact all of us — will have an impact on the future of the web, on what the web becomes.

If we care about the internet for the long run, that means getting people like educators involved in shaping the web in their world. Especially educators who are trying to disrupt and innovate. We can give them open web tools and thinking to help do this, which in turn helps the education web move in the right direction — towards something open, free and hackable.

This same scenario plays out with journalists, artists, filmmakers and so on. We want to help the innovators in these spaces take best advantage of the web, get them on board as our allies.

Which fields is Drumbeat focusing on?

Education and cinema are the two places we’ve put the most attention on in the first year. You can look at:

P2PU School of Webcraft, where we’re helping to build a free online school where web developers teach each other.

And Web Made Movies, a lab where filmmakers and engineers work together invent new kinds of web films.

These are examples of the kinds of things we want to do with Drumbeat. There are dozens more small projects brewing. I think you’ll see some the ones in journalism and art grow bigger next year.

In November you’re planning the Drumbeat Festival. What’s that?

It’s a crazy event where 400 people come to talk about the connections between learning, freedom and the web. And make things. And have fun.

More concretely: we have working on everything from web developer education to open text books to hackerspaces coming. And alot of tech and open source people. The ideas for them to find ways to shape the future of learning together.

It’s meant to be the first of many events like this, where we invite the the kind of people we’d like to bring into Drumbeat, find ways to work together and to work with each other.

Next year, we’ll likely have a different theme. Maybe ‘media, freedom and the web’?

How can the rest of us get involved?

It really depends what your interested in. If you are an educator or filmmaker, the projects I’ve mentioned above are easy entry points. And there will be more entry points in places like journalism, art, etc. coming very soon. Same goes if you’re a web developer or engineer who wants to help on projects like these.

More broadly than this, there want to do local Drumbeat events and a online activities and challenges that almost anyone can get involved in. We toyed with this in 2010, but really plan to go bigger with them next year.


Drumbeat Festival is from Nov 3-5 at Barcelona. The (already pretty sweet) program is further developed in the Wiki. Register for Drumbeat Festival here.

The interview was first published on netzpiloten.de under a CC by-nc-sa license. Photo by Mark Surman (some rights reserved).

26 Sep

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Brief updates & announcements (too much going on)

September 26, 2010 | By |

space invaders - under attack

There’s so much going on at the moment that I’d love to write about at length, and so little time. So here’s the super-brief version, aka bullet points.

  • Was at Picnic 2010. Picnic is one of those conferences that I wanted to attend for a long time, and just had the chance. On super short notice I went to Amsterdam and covered the conference for berlinblase.de, if only via Twitter. I had a great day there (or two half-days, rather). Hope to be back next year to cover it more extensively.
  • The program for Drumbeat Festival (3-5 November, Barcelona) is snapping into focus. Drumbeat is Mozilla’s recent open web initiative, the festival in Barcelona will focus on the intersection of open web and education, so it should be cool. Make sure to say hi if you’re around.
  • We’re bringing the Awesome Foundation to Berlin. More updates soon!
  • We announced our company name,Third Wave Berlin, and it took hardly a couple of days till someone (not doing his homework and not warranting a link) invoked Godwin. Was impressed by the accuracy of Godwin’s Law. Also, amused. And since haters gonna hate and playas gonna play, we’ll have a cup of great coffee and focus on a great start by officially kicking off Monday in a week.
  • Free Culture Research Conference 2010 is going to happen 8-9 October in Berlin. I’m not involved here, but if you have any academic interest in free culture, you might want to attend the conference or talk to Michelle.
  • If you know of great apartments in Berlin, preferably in Kreuzberg or around so-called Kreuzkölln, please let me know. Right now a whole bunch of friends is about to move to Berlin and any hints are much appreciated. Thanks!

Hope to blog more detailed again soon; for now I wish you a relaxed Sunday and a great start into the week. Or like David recently said: “It’s Monday. Let’s change the world.”

Image by gnackgnackgnack (Some Rights Reserved)