A New Social Network Seeks to Sort Out the Data Deluge

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With an increasing number of profit-seeking publishers concluding that the unlimited free distribution of original web journalism won't be a sustainable business, it has cleared the path for more simplistic ways to relay stories, without the same demand on audience attention.

Infographics are increasingly being seen as a content genre all their own — while apparently riding the coattails of the movement to urge the public sector to open their data to the dabbling of developers. Naturally, media and marketing types have also seen the appeal, since any information capable of going viral beats the alternative.

With these developments has come an emerging sentiment that data visualizations created as social media bait are better off being ignored because the trend is going to fade.

For now, though, a slick user-generated infographic can still draw attention for its own sake — in the same way that chatrooms or blogs once turned heads on novelty value along. But an infographic slapped together out of self-interest isn't quite worth the scrutiny of a cave painting. Yet, some kind of filter could help draw attention to the data worth a look.

Bitcoin Validated by Quest to Track Down the Crypto-Currency Creator

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Bitcoin was in the spotlight of the October 10 issue of The New Yorker, as "The Crypto-Currency" was featured amongst other stories about money, even if it was the only article to consider digital alternatives to the system.

Some peripheral attention has been paid to Bitcoin in the context of Occupy Wall Street. The movement has accepted donations in BTC — which has given its proponents hope that the concept will now be seen as more than a short-lived summertime novelty.

And while it's a long way from the current fringe status of Bitcoin to any sort of mainstream acceptance, the issues surrounding its development and distribution might be more pertinent than ever, at least among those spurred by the sit-in to wonder how the financial system can ever be adequately disrupted. Can the end of cash help popularize a decentralized system that isn't based on borders?

For now, Bitcoins are still the stuff of outsider art, as writer Joshua Davis explored how far he could get with the crypto-currency in America.

Qwikster Backtrack Proves Netflix Canada Can Be Beat By Competition

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Netflix being forced to acknowledge the unpopularity of the decision to spin-off its mailing service in the U.S. as Qwikster is being seen as a victory for consumers who weren't as quick to dismiss the benefit of DVD distribution.

Part of the opposition to separate virtual from physical distribution surrounded the fact that not all rights are yet created equal. And the shortcomings of a stream-based service have been even more pronounced north of the border — as Netflix Canada never offered the option to begin with.

Yet the decision by CEO Reed Hastings to distance Netflix from sending discs through the mail was no doubt inspired by the realization that virtual viewers aren't as discriminating about what they watch.

While the company built its reputation on providing exposure to offbeat DVDs that were generally ignored by Blockbuster, this Netflix effect was also based on the process of ordering, anticipating and receiving a movie, rather than a random click.

Canada seemed willing to embrace a more populist approach, though, in part because of the novelty value of an American service that wasn't geo-blocked. Complaints about a limited selection didn't hinder a million people from signing up.

Gamification, Human Resource Management and the Next Generation

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I came across an interesting paper published by Deloitte called Fed Cloud; the idea of which was that the benefits of cloud computing (shared resources, cost effective, dynamically scalable) could also be realized if an organization managed it's human resources like it managed it's IT resources. It sparked a couple of things for me.

For starters the idea makes intuitive sense, but I recognize that it may never seen implementation in my life time (at least in the public sector where I earn my living). The reason it makes sense to me is that I am a gamer, and much of what underpins the idea of FedCloud is the gamification of the Human Resources system. The paper proposes a large pool of candidates to choose from, those candidates are ranked by a set of criteria and have a given set of skills. The idea would be that I would be assigned a project, assemble a team from available resources, execute, evaluate performance, release resources back to the pool and start over again. Managing a project in this way would be no different than managing my franchise in GM Mode in NHL 12 for my Xbox. Want to win the cup? Field a team, tweak it, perform (or don't) and face the consequences.

'Think Different' in the Age of Social Media Experts

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Steve Jobs was all about selling a vision of the future. But those seduced by Apple in its developmental days seemed most compelled to spend the hours following the announcement of his death waxing about the past.

"Think Different," the advertising slogan created upon Jobs' return to the company in 1997, was widely revived via social media — even though it hasn't been used in advertising campaigns since the launch of the iPod. Those print media and television promotions, especially those that featured a cast of cultural iconoclasts, resonated on a level that no credible company could get away with now.

Similarly, the Stanford University commencement address from 2005, in which Jobs articulated that no one should waste their limited time living someone else's life, has taken its place as his most enduring epitaph.

Social media subsequently matured to the point where everyone could self-actualize around the clock. We don't need to look to others for inspiration to "Think Different" if we're already doing it ourselves, right?

Given the recent indications that his passing was probably imminent, combined with the nature of his celebrity, Jobs inspired a predictable outpouring of status update emotion. The morbid mainstream media tradition of having an obit prepared in advance was accessible to everyone on Twitter.

Does Occupy Toronto Really Need to Have a 'Point' at This Point?

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"For the life of me," began one of several such recent posts to the Occupy Toronto page on Facebook, "I can't figure out what the purpose of the event is ... what the goal is .. or even what the issue is ... beyond a vague notion of 'life is unfair'."

And so, with a Bay Street answer to the Wall Street protests currently planned for October 15, even those in long-distance solidarity with the 99 percent of wealth-deprived Americans are left to wonder if such activism even needs to be mirrored in Toronto.

Maybe the build-up to a Canadian gathering against the tactics of big business can itself be a reminder that this is not the U.S.A.

The entertainment provided by media satirists a la Jon Stewart — heck, the Toronto Star just placed a bet on the cross-border popularity of The Onion to get young people to pick up a newspaper — is savoured to a greater extent because we can't take it personally.

Rage against the New York Stock Exchange for the collapse of the banking system and cratering of the labour market need not apply north of the border. Political corruption seems inevitable everywhere, but Canada has done a better job of cracking down on it, even if one elite just gets replaced with another.

Prisons and jet fighters might be questionable expenses, too, but they're not directly throwing anyone out of their job or house.

Gamification Loses Again as Provincial Politics Stick to Old Tricks

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Recent provincial elections seemed ripe to capitalize on the trend of gamification — particularly in Ontario, where the contest largely hinged on getting younger voters to notice there's a contest going on.

Despite some anticipation of enhanced social media strategies, though, there was no evident evolution in the use of online tools.

For example, the ChangeAhead application launched by the Ontario PC didn't seem to catch on with a critical mass, even if it boasted of awarding approximately 400,000 "action points" by Election Day.

Trying to get citizens to pay attention to public policy through games was nothing new, however. Persuasive Games, the company headed by designer Ian Bogost, has tooled with politically-minded projects for nearly a decade.

Proactive engagement doesn't mean much, of course, when the election narrative becomes about one party struggling to topple another instead of what the winners are capable of doing better for you.

The problem with gamification, as it applies to the Canadian political scene, is an extension of the overall shortcomings of the terminology. Games are generally about intrinsic rewards. Yet the gurus of the medium have emphasized the extrinsic.

McLuhan 100 Recap: The Future According to Those Who Know History

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Mortality seemed to be on the mind of many attendees at the third and final "Our City as Classroom" event, in honour of the 100th birthday of Marshall McLuhan, in the Appel Salon of the Toronto Reference Library.

The billing for this round, which was squarely focused on the future, ironically appealed most to those who have already experienced more yesterdays than they will tomorrows.

So, what does it say when those who are most conscious about the long-term future of communications won't even be around to see so much of it unfold?

With the intensity of each narrative that gets spun online — political tensions, financial district demonstrations, and a Facebook that offers to chronicle the entire experience of being human — comes craving for clarity on how technology can make our lives better.

A certain magic can only get lost, however, as real and virtual worlds become one and the same.

Considering the limitations of a screen-based society, of course, falls in line with the philosophical bent of McLuhan. The euphoric view that he anticipated the brainwave behaviour that drives social media a half-century before the fact often fails to consider that, in keeping with this Catholic faith, he saw this ticker as a potential time bomb from which salvation should also be sought.

Hunchworks Harnesses Social Networking with a Scientific Twist

Experts can share their hypotheses with their peers.

What happens when you take the philosophy behind social networking and use it for something other than catching up with old friends and sharing funny videos of your cat?

Hunchworks is an online tool that allows experts from a variety of fields to submit a hypothesis (or hunch) that they wish to examine further. This hypothesis can then be viewed and commented upon by other experts.

The goal is that when these experts get together, their experiential knowledge, gut feelings, and their expertise will coalesce and allow them to discover whether or not to accept or reject the posted hypotheses.

In addition to promoting a space in which researchers and their ideas can come together, Hunchworks also exists to make the exchange of knowledge and information both inside and outside the United Nations more effective.

Here’s how it works:

Antanas Mockus and Playing Politics

Last week I was in attendance of the biennial Digital Games Research Association's conference in Hilversum Netherlands. For three days games developers, academics, researchers and artists came together to talk about games, play and culture. One of the many highlights of the conference was the philosopher and mathematician Antanas Mockus' keynote, where he video-called in to talk about play and politics. His discussion was about the playful aspects of his administration while serving as the mayor of Bogota, Colombia.

Huffington Post Canada Swings To the Right in Search For Attention

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Arianna Huffington stopped in Montreal last week to tell a crowd that "Canadian Media Need To Focus Online."

Or so went the headline on the Canadian Press story, as it appeared on the Huffington Post, which launched north of the border four months ago.

A different take could be found on the front page of the Montreal Gazette, and other coverage throughout the Postmedia News chain, which picked up on her view that "newspapers will stay" if they "evolve to survive."

And she wasn't talking about how, just prior to the launch of HuffPost Canada on May 26, nearly all of them endorsed the triumph of Stephen Harper.

Won't you please give this poor woman something to aggregate?

Clearly, despite the promotional efforts, this new Canadian model hasn't had anywhere near the cultural impact anticipated by new owner AOL — at least compared to, say, a Toronto edition of The Onion.

Data Bodies to Real Bodies: the Aesthetics of Online Activism

Ricardo DominguezI’m sure it was intentional that Ricardo Dominguez wore a shirt emblazoned with the symbol of DC comics’ super-speedy hero The Flash to a seminar on the aesthetics of code and internet activism. His lecture touched on flashmobs and hyperspeed internet communication, and the swiftness and dexterity with which he moved from topic to topic suggested a mind that moves at super-speed as well. It was only appropriate that he had a symbolic graphical representation of the content of his discussion splashed right across his chest.

This Friday, co-founder of the Electronic Disturbance Theatre Ricardo Dominguez delivered his last lecture in a three-day long series of workshops on the intersection of art and code at Ryerson University. He jumped right in and seemed to begin his lecture in medias res, and I quickly realized the disadvantages of missing the previous seminars. As he seemed to be finishing off a topic that he had started in the previous day’s lecture, there were many fleeting references to concepts and terminology previously defined. What ended up being covered was a brief history of “browser-based aesthetics” followed by a response to an earlier demand for practical avenues that could be taken by aspiring cyber activists.

If Life is Like High School, Then Social Media is Like a Credit Mill

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Another school year has ushered in another season of stories about educators struggling to cope with the proliferation of technology that they didn't grow up with themselves.

The most recent such study in the U.S. revealed that students value their right to free speech online — while the majority of their teachers would rather have controls in place to prevent school-related issues from being aired.

So, could clashes created by social media end up raising the drop-out rate? Moreover, if user-generated criticism can sink a restaurant, it can also ruin a school that fails to inspire.

Credit mills, those for-profit services accredited by Ontario education ministry, don't have to worry about that dilemma. A recent investigation from the Toronto Star revealed how they have been doling out gratuitously higher grades in exchange for $500. Turns out a chemistry class taught in an "academy" above a strip mall doesn't maintain the same standards as the micromanaged public system.

No doubt, social media has played a role in the growth of these private operations. The mainstream media certainly wasn't reporting on the ease through which better grades could be bought.

Canadian Internet Policy — Do Any Letters Come After UBB?

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Canadians felt they scored a few points against big telecom when the decision regarding metered internet use was pushed back earlier this year.

"Usage-Based Billing" was a term that resonated with enough people who wanted to keep their telecom bills from spiralling any higher than they had to — whether or not they win in the long haul.

When it comes to other issues surrounding to the governance of new information technologies, though, getting people to pay attention has been more complicated. Can the public be motivated to care about corporate meddling in their actual online actions and interactions like they did with UBB?

Concern surrounding concepts like deep packet inspections, DNS hijacking and certificate authorities haven't clicked with the masses — no matter how loudly a few activists shout in their echo chamber.

The forthcoming election for the board of directors for the Canadian Internet Registry Association could theoretically provide a stage for addressing these concerns. Membership in CIRA is open to anyone with a dot-ca address. But it's unclear how wider interest would be roused.

Trending With the Tea Party in the Ontario Provincial Election

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A political movement whose members would cheer the death of an uninsured patient seems like something that Canadians can band together to dislike.

But what influence does the Tea Party actually have north of the border?

Those watching the Ontario provincial election unfold might be led to believe that it represents a colossal threat. Former premiers Bob Rae and Ernie Eves both recently evoked the movement in their criticism of the direction that right-of-centre politics have taken in Canada.

WIth their help, Conservative leader Tim Hudak has been branded by the Liberal war room as "Tea Party Tim." Of course, the only real menace to Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty is the notion that his constituents will express their displeasure at the ballot box.

Still, it's telling that the readiest shorthand to undermine Hudak with needs to be imported from another country. Vague allusions of bad spelling, casual racism and messianic faith in Sarah Palin are somehow enough to dissuade Ontario from voting in someone new.