When Teaching Becomes an Interaction Design Task: Networking the Classroom with Collaborative Blogs

p>I wish I was in NYC these days for Mobility Shifts, an international future of learning summit. My recent parenthood along other commitments prevented me from joining but I was happy to contribute to the Learning Through Digital Media reader where I published an essay about my experience teaching with collaborative blogs. The peer-review process was interesting, and we were all invited to review and comment on each others works paragraph by paragraph. This definitely improved my paper and was generally an enjoyable and educating process.

Like the rest of the essays in the book, mine titled: “When Teaching Becomes an Interaction Design Task: Networking the Classroom with Collaborative Blogs” is published on the site and is available for download in multiple formats. My “Topics in Digital Media” graduate students at NYU’s Media Culture & Communication program have created a video response to the paper, which is possibly one of the most exciting memories I take with me from my NYC teaching years.

I am embedding an online version of the book here and would cross post the full article below it. I hope you would enjoy the essay, and hopefully find it useful for your own teaching. Let me know what you think.

Learning Through Digital Media Continue reading When Teaching Becomes an Interaction Design Task: Networking the Classroom with Collaborative Blogs

Tel Aviv is on fire, what’s cooking?

Israel’s greatest political uprising in recent years is fighting to “not be political”. Why? And would that hurt it’s chances of social change?

The first morning in Tel Aviv's tent city (by Gal Kedem)

In the last week we’ve seen the rise of a popular revolt against the housing bubble. It started as a simple Facebook event in Tel Aviv but within days multiple tent cities sprung all around the country. Between these tents citizens meet, spend the night, argue about the right way to go and enjoy some free music and a unique mix of a festive & revolutionary atmosphere.

The NYTimes writes: Spirit of Middle East Protests Doesn’t Spare Israel. But while the international community might imagine these protests calling for democracy for everyone between the river and the sea, the end of the occupation or at least the reversal of the Netanyahu/Liberman government’s series of anti-democratic laws, this is not exactly the case.

What are we fighting for?

You see, while Netanyahu brags about a stable economy, the high GDP and the low unemployment rates, it might impress the NYTimes, but it doesn’t impress the residents of Tel Aviv. We are not that stupid, we drill deeper into the statistics to find that while employment rates might be low (~6%), families with both parents working can rarely make it through the month. We work hard and yet we stay poor. In fact every 4th family is poor, and 2 out of every 5 children is poor.

But this is not an uprising of the poor. It is an uprising of the middle class, especially the younger generations the 20+ and 30+ who are working their asses off and are trying to not slip into the widening margins of the statistics I just mentioned. In a very enraged and damning column published on Ynet today Shlomo Kraus writes:

You, who received the state on a silver plate, are calling us ‘spoiled’. The joke will be on you when in old age you would need the warm hug of the welfare state. We will explain to you then that geriatric care depends on supply and demand.

Shlomo Kraus, Ynet (Hebrew)

The ‘you’ are our parents (and leaders) generation. The ones who have grown in a welfare state and enjoyed its fruits in the form of affordable housing, social rights, workers rights and so on, and then adopted Neo-Liberalism wholeheartedly to make some extra bucks on our backs. In the tent city today a man in his 50s approached me and asked: “Are you with the organizers?” (he didn’t wait for an answer) “Tell them to go to the mayor and demand what we got 20 years ago. Back then the municipality payed half our rent for two years.”

Just don’t say the ‘P’ word

From outside Israeli politics is complex. What most see from afar is the dangerous game it plays between its democratic and Jewish identities (constantly pitted against each other by 44 years of occupation and by the policies and legislation of the current government).

But it’s also complex from inside. The thousands who are camping in the cities boulevards and squares, marching on the luxury towers with signs and torches, and chanting anti-capitalism slogans calling for affordable housing are also asking to not make this struggle “political”. The government is the key target here, but the protestors still do not want to call it “politics”. 18 years after the Oslo accords the “Peace Process” is so dead that most Israelis would rather die and not be called “lefties” (quite literally when you think about it). The Israeli public is disenchanted with the classic division of Israeli politics in which the left was pro-peace and a 2 state solution and the right was pro-security and less eager to compromise. The dominant narrative is that the left has not only lost that argument but also betrayed Israel (by compromising its security and aligning with the enemy’s interests). In Israel 2011, thanks to the failures of the peace process, the anti-democratic efforts of forces on the right and Israel’s growing diplomatic isolation, left = treason.

So the people marching in the streets are labeling their struggle as economic, social, civic, urban, democratic, revolutionary, anything… just not leftist and not “political”. And indeed the Tent Protest makes for strange sleeping bag fellows: hipsters and homeless, far left anarchists and far right reactionary nationalists, pot heads and bourgeoisie families with children… They all fear that this rare alliance that for once alleviated the public sphere from the Right/Left deadlock will vanish if we dare confront our political sub-conscience and label ourselves politically.

Even hardcore anti-occupation activists are biting their tongues and agree to not talk about the red elephant in the room. They do try to connect this to the struggle of Palestinian families being evacuated from their homes in Jaffa, Ramla and Jerusalem but are careful to keep it within the so-called a-political housing discourse.

And what about some goals?

One of the most common arguments against the uprising is that it does not have clear goals. There are a lot of different factions under the protest tent. They can’t decide whether the struggle should focus on housing (the original plight of the protest) or expand to the wider social policy of the state. They do not know whether to join hands with some politicians or to deny them the photo-op and kick them out of the camp. They don’t know whether to decide on a list on demands or how to really defend against the government spin doctors.

My own take is quite different. Right now I’m not that interested in conclusions. There are some amazing things happening in and around the tents. And the longer they persist the more amazed would the government be at this powerful and passionate uprising. Let the economists and the politicians suggest plans and let the academics, journalists and social activists analyze them. A housing crisis is not an easy or immediate problem to solve, let alone the whole economic policy of the last two decades. This will not be solved in the next days, weeks or months.

But right now we are achieving a different parallel and possibly even more important byproduct. We should learn from what our Arab neighbors taught us: find a common target, work together, stop being afraid, rediscover people power. Neither our neighbors nor we would enjoy the fruits of a dramatic overnight economic justice. But like our neighbors we are fighting against a dictatorship. The dictatorship of despair and political determinism. The one that led Israel to a paranoiac passive aggressive policy and have put its public sphere on sleeping pills.

The residents of these tents are not sleeping, this civic engagement thing is just too cool to let it slip. Just don’t call it “politics”, yet…

Reclaim the Street Map!

Rather than doing unpaid corporate cartography,
join us in mapping the world together as a publicly shared resource.

In April 19th 2011 Google announced its new Google Mapmaker expedition to send its users to map the US. This would seem like a great innovative platform for mapping our streets together for those who don’t know that a service like this have actually existed since 2004. Open Street Map is a great collaborative project which Google chose to compete against rather than collaborate with.

In Google Mapmaker, all of your edits would belong to Google. In Open Street Map all of our edits belong to everybody who agrees to equally share them. Google preferred to keep its map proprietary and to prevent equal access to it from those who created it, which it ironically calls “citizen cartographers”. It is sad to say that even Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL are working in collaboration with the public through Open Street Map rather than create a proprietary competitor. Think about it, it’s like undermining Wikipedia by editing a Googipedia instead…

A year of edits in Open Street Maps

You probably understand this conflict of interests and would choose to draw your streets in our map. But Google, being Google has a much wider outreach and can easily mislead people about “The Meaning of Open”. Therefore I made a very small browser plugin to install on your mom’s browser to protect her from cartographic exploitation by a corporate entity.

The plugin in action: An opportunity to rethink which map to draft

What Reclaim the Street Map! does is simply send an alert when opening Google Mapmaker and suggests using Open Street Map instead. If approved, it would redirect to OpenStreetMap.org if not, it would stay on the page. Simple.

So until Google chooses to do less evil, to be a good citizen and to not exploit your mom, please…

install the plugin
plugins available for 3 different browsers

For transparency’s sake this is the Javascript code that the plugin would run on google.com/mapmaker:

var r=confirm(
  'Reclaim the street Map!' + '\n' +
  'Rather than doing unpaid corporate cartography, join us in mapping the world together as a publicly shared resource.'
if (r==true) {
  alert('Great choice! Redirecting to OpenStreetMap.org');
else {
  alert('Interesting choice, good luck!');

Inspired by Brain Off

Crossrider - Build Cross Browser Apps with Javascript and jQueryPowered by Crossrider.

Lost in the Open

As a part of our (Galia Offri & mine) involvement in this year’s Transmediale Festival in Berlin we participated in a panel discussion titled “Lost in The Open”. The focus of the discussion which I moderated was to hash out some of the challenges for Free Culture beyond its epic battles against centralized institutions, record companies, major film studios, copyright regimes…

I am including here the videos for the full panel beginning with introductions by the 5 panelists and continuing with the full discussion and audience Q&A.

“We prepare every year the biggest Free Culture show ever” (Simona Levy)

“We are basically doing illustrations for Wikipedia… it’s not so simple” (Galia Offri)

“…I would interpret the whole thing as a bit broader than just about copyrights. ” (Andrea Goetzke)

“We made a beer that was free…” (Henrik Moltke)

“Are we prepared for the day after the revolution?” (Mushon Zer-Aviv)

“You know babies… we’re all born assholes, we don’t want to share nothing… we want to keep the mother with us and the toys with us…” (Open Discussion)

We only care for Tunisians if they validate our techno-fetish

Some rights reserved by gwenflickr

It’s not a Twitter, Facebook or YouTube revolution. It’s a revolution of hungry oppressed people who had enough. They didn’t need Wikileaks to tell them how corrupt their government is. It was a burning man, burnt by his misery and oppression that got people out to the streets.

Through the past three weeks the coverage of the popular uprising in Tunisia was completely neglected by western media and was far from being a “Twitter trend”. Why? Because it wasn’t a Western interest. Some papers argue the fall of the Ben Ali regime is actually contradicting Western interests, claiming Arabs cannot be trusted with democracy, as they cannot be trusted to choose “the right leaders”.


But now it has happened, despite our lack of attention, sympathy or solidarity. Without the West noticing, the Ben Ali regime has fallen and the self-centered new media elite has awoken to the news—a totalitarian regime has fallen. So how can we digest it? How can we be made to even care? Oh… right, there was something about Tunisia on one of the cables released by Wikileaks. Oh and a bunch of these activists are using Twitter and Facebook, oh and I think I saw something on YouTube too. Let the appropriation begin!

Beyond being very disrespectful of the people in the streets putting their lives on the line. This narcissistic reading of global events does not help us understand the true meaning and affect these tools hold over global events. We tweet the latest political blog post we read or update the status with our cleverly articulated social critique. How nice would it be to believe these are the butterfly wings that bring down regimes somewhere in some remote country we could not even find on the map.


Activists in Tunis and Iran are risking their lives. Sometimes they use networked communication tools, but their sacrifice is still very physical and is not something we can just easily retweet.

Introducing Forks vs. Knives

Format note: Written as a grant proposal.

Forks vs. Knives – Developing the code that governs us

Describe your project

Reaching consensus is never easy and when it gets really tough some reach for their knives. We say, drop the knives and pick up the forks.

Imagine a site – fvsk.org – where each community can store its social pact – be it legal, ethical or religious code – and share it with its members and the world. Much like the social coding sites – Github and Bitbucket – the site will let each community member create her own version, a “fork”, and then share and discuss it with others. Forking becomes an opportunity to reflect, explore and innovate.

But we will not stop at that, communities need a way to agree on a mutual social pact. FvsK will support a well-defined enactment process for accepting forks and updating a pact. Using the power of distributed version control systems (DVCS) such as Git and Mercurial we will create a system that keeps the entire history of changes to the social pact and allows each member to propose changes. We will use the key processes of DVCS – forking and merging – to encourage free flow of ideas and to formulate agreement. On top of the DVCS system we will use tested organizational workflow solutions (such as BPM) to model the current process of pact revision approval and create simple tools to improve that process.

Our long-term vision is to create a system that can serve any size of community – from the manifest of a small ad-hoc activist group to a country’s statutory law – providing a way to keep their pact dynamic and encourage members’ participation.

This project will launch in Israel, one of the most challenging political environments today, where opposing communities are torn over national, religious, economic, racial and cultural differences. The future of our region is dependent on gaining the permission to read, write, and enact the codes that govern us, and to dare innovate, engage and affect them.

During the first year of this project we will build a system to serve two Kibbutz communities to be elected from the 256 “Kibbutzim” in Israel. Being a communal village of a few hundred people, the bylaws of the Kibbutz are critical to its members. The issues of private vs. communal property are hotly debated as kibbutzim adapt to economic changes and the evolving needs and wants of their members. Continue reading Introducing Forks vs. Knives

Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences

Invisible audiences drive the success and failures of mediated social life. But before we rush to further network our private and public spaces we should consider this radical cultural shift. Some lessons can be learned from a recent ambiguous website and an old ambiguous book.

[Hebrew translation available]

Mushon Zer-Aviv (il) about getting intimate with invisible audiences from transmediale.

work by Liu Bolin

Binary Relationships

The privacy debate has been dominated by the cultural leaders of our time – software engineers. Therefore we should not be surprised that the tones of this debate have been often quite binary. Private or public, 0 or 1, all or nothing… these binary dichotomies make sense for packet switching and network protocols, but they are very different from the way we lead our social lives.

Privacy has become a selfish demand, and publicness—a public good. A public demanding the civil rights of information: “information wants to be free”. But this highly celebrated “free” information does not necessarily stand for “freedom”. Thinking that free information would necessarily lead to free societies is as misguided as the similar sentiment about free markets. Yes, technologically it is easier to set something public, “to set it free”, than to define a more limited context for it. But what does it mean for the way we’ve been communicating and contextualizing social relations since the dawn of civilization?

Continue reading Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences

Urban Rhythm / קצב עירוני

On the day after I land back in Israel, I will participate in a very interesting event taking place in the context of the Bat-Yam Biennial of Landscape Urbanism. I have written a new essay for this biennial’s publication and for this event titled Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences. In this essay I am using both Chat Roulette & the bible as two critical case studies through which to reorient the “privacy debate” and focus it on the invisible audiences that have been penetrating our social life online and recently on the street as well.

This would also be a great opportunity to reconnect in Israel after 5 years in NY.

Urban Rhythm

An interdisciplinary discussion in the context of the Bat-Yam Biennale of Landscape Urbanism

The discussion focuses on the urban rhythm heard in endless sounds, which can also be seen and felt through the density and height of construction and the pause offered by parks and playgrounds. During the discussion, we will examine how the designers, curators, and artists who are inspired and stimulated by this urban rhythm offer lasting or temporary interventions.

קצב עירוני
דיון בינתחומי (באנגלית)

יום שני, 27.9.2010, 16:00-19:00
רחוב אורט ישראל 33

כשחושבים על עיר כמושג ועל עירוניות כדפוס חיים, עולים במחשבה המושגים קצב, דופק, רעש, ריבוי קולות וקקופוניה, בהיפוך לשקט, לרחש ולהעדר התנועה המתקשרים בתודעתנו אל הכפר והטבע. קצב עירוני מתבטא בצלילים ללא הרף , אולם ניתן לראותו גם בעין, בצפיפות הבניה ובגובהה, באתנחתא שמספקים גינה ציבורית או מגרש משחקים, בזרימת התנועה מן הרחובות הקטנים אל צירי התנועה המרכזיים, בעצירת כלי הרכב בצמתים וברמזורים, בתנועת הולכי הרגל, בשילוט המסחרי ובתמרורים. לקווי המתאר של כל עיר יש קצב משלהם, כשם שיש לרחובות המתפתלים, או הישרים. העין והאוזן חוות את הקצב העירוני בעת ובעונה אחת וללא ספק, גם שלושת החושים האחרים שותפים לחוויה. מתכננים ואמנים סופגים גירויים והשראה מן הקצב העירוני ושואפים לא אחת, להתערב בו בצורות שונות, שיגלו אותו מחדש באופן רענן, או שישנו בו משהו באופן ארעי או קבוע. בדיון נשמע כיווני מחשבה והתנסות שונים בתחומים אלה, נחליף דעות וננסה להציע רעיונות חדשים.

הדיון יתקיים באנגלית.

Wikipedians look to the past, coders looks to the future(s)

Anil Dash just published an interesting post looking at the social implications of the code fork, and how it has changed from a huge contested point to a feature of the collaborated process:

“While Linus Torvalds is best known as the creator of Linux, it’s one of his more geeky creations, and the social implications of its design, that may well end up being his greatest legacy. Because Linus has, in just a few short years, changed the social dynamic around forking, turning the idea of multiple versions of a work from a cultural weakness into a cultural strength. Perhaps the technologies that let us easily collaborate together online have finally matured enough to let our work reflect the reality that some problems are better solved with lots of different efforts instead of one committee-built compromise.”

ShiftSpace's network graph on Github.com

This is something we touched upon in the Collaborative Futures book, both in the Multiplicity and Social Coding and the Forks vs. Knives chapters. Anil goes on to suggest a distributed collaborative model that encourages forking might reinvigorate Wikipedia, which follows the more traditional centralized collaborative model:

“Most importantly, the new culture of ubiquitous forking can have profound impacts on lots of other categories of software. There have been recent rumblings that participation in Wikipedia editing has plateaued, or even begun to decline. Aside from the (frankly, absurd) idea that “everything’s already been documented!” one of the best ways for Wikipedia to reinvigorate itself, and to break away from the stultifying and arcane editing discussions that are its worst feature, could be to embrace the idea that there’s not One True Version of every Wikipedia article.”

Extending the distributed model beyond code and leveraging forking in other collaborative processes have interested me for quite some time. In commenting on Anil’s post, I realized something  about the inherent difference between Wikipedia and software. Instead of rewriting it, I’ll just quote my comment in its entirety:

I’m happy that both the merging and the network view issues were addressed on the previous comments. I have been interested in extending the git&github models beyond software myself. I understand the interest in considering Wikipedia as the next logical step for networked collaboration right after code, but I think there is a fundamental difference between the two. While software code contains a set of rules that would operate a system, Wikipedia’s model is almost opposite – it documents a system that is already happening or has happened. Wikipedia attempts to document a monolithic past while software attempts to imagine the multiplicity of the future(s). Read the rest of this comment→

Can Design By Committee Work? [@SmashingMag & C-F]

I’ve been teaching a class on the subject for 3 years, I’ve been giving talks on the subject for almost a year. Finally I set down and wrote the essay for the second edition of the Collaborative Futures book. On Sunday (Aug 1st 2010) I gave a talk based on this essay at DebConf the Debian community conference. The title of the talk is “Beyond Sharing: Open Source Design”. The (high-pitch audio) presentation is available on the Debian site (requires Firefox or another OGV playing browser).

I am using a purely browser based presentation, which you can check here, and fork on Github :)

The article is now published at Smashing Magazine, please read and discuss it there (closing the comments).

Open Source Design at Smashing Magazine

Can Design By Committee Work?

The Case for Open Source Design

In celebrating the merits of Free Software and the excitement of this radical networked production method, an important truth is left unspoken. Networked collaboration shines in the low levels of network protocols, server software and memory allocation, but user interface has consistently been a point of failure. How come the networked collaboration that transformed code production and encyclopedia writing fails to transcend into graphic and interface design?

The following is an investigation into the difficulties in extending the Open Source collaboration model from coding to its next logical step, namely interface design. While it dives deep into the practical difference between these two professional fields, it might also serve as a cautious note to consider before rushing to declare the rise of “Open Source Architecture”, “Open Source University”, “Open Source Democracy”…

The Open Source process

Read on at Smashing Magazine