Wikipedia and Education

world in a web

Earlier this year, the Thinking Digital conference took place in the UK. I wasn’t there in person this year but lucky for me and others, the great Thinking Digital team live streamed some of the keynotes and are now publishing them online for viewing on-demand.

One fabulous and inspiring talk was by Jack Andraka who, at just 16 years old, has invented a dramatic advancement in the testing process for pancreatic cancer.

Was he a child scholar completing his nth doctorate at an Ivy League or Russell group university, having finished high school at the age of 5. No. Clearly from just listening to his talk, he is very very bright. But his invention didn’t come from being a studious genius ‘ahead of his time’ pharmacology graduate. It came from a personal story and desire to figure something out. And it started with Google and Wikipedia.

So many authorities in education dismiss the Internet and tools like Wikipedia as dumbing down education. They so miss the point. We have tools now that enable anybody with an Internet connection to embark on an intellectual and/or emotional journey of their choosing. Our schools need to foster that desire, not squish it out because it doesn’t conform to the text books of old.

And for anyone who is thinking ‘well he’s a one-off, a genius’. Consider the following quote from his talk

I decided to go online and found 200 professors that had anything to do with pancreatic cancer… so I sent off 200 emails… I got 199 rejections… However, eventually, one person finally said yes. Well it was more of a maybe…

Success is never just about talent. It’s never just about hard work either. It is crucial to have the persistence to get others involved.  I admire Jack because that last aspect is one of my own weaknesses. And this is not something being taught well enough in schools. That needs to change. The world has become so much more connected, success or failure is going to have a lot more to do with relationships than ever before. Yes, that has always been true to some degree. And yes, some people are lucky to be born into circles that come with ready made connections that give them a significant advantage or head start. Just as there are still too many people born into conflicted areas of the world with more pressing needs than an iPhone. But for those of us privileged enough to be living in stable societies that are connected to the Internet, we can become part of any social network if we really want to. It’s not that long ago such an opportunity simply didn’t exist for those born outside of elite circles.

A closing quote from Jack and the video is embedded after. Take a break and enjoy. It’s worth 12 minutes out of your day to listen to his story.

I’m a 15 year old. What degree do I have? High school biology – Woot! … I was able to develop a sensor that can detect pancreatic cancer without even knowing what a pancreas was. Using just Google and Wikipedia.

Just imagine what you could do.

[ba-vimeoflex videoid=”70024587″]

Source: Thinking Digital on Vimeo and you can follow Jack Andraka on Twitter

Evolving web business models

There is an outstanding presentation on Slideshare explaining why all web-based businesses need to be evolving their business models to leverage APIs more than their own web sites. Found via Twitter but I can’t find who originally shared as Tweetville is amok with a ‘0 followers’ discussion at the moment. And this presentation is too good to get lost in the stream.

To summarise the presentation:

  • Darwin identified that finches lived in a very remote location meaning the variations had to compete with each other to survive. The finches you see today are the winners
  • At the start of the 20th Century, retail business was primarily local within villages, towns and cities, selling direct to people. With the evolution of suburbia, we saw the shift from the corner shop to the shopping mall with each mall containing mostly the same retail brands – business went from direct to indirect. The big brands at the end of the 20th Century were the winners
  • At the start of the 21st Century, web-based business was ‘local’ to the web site, selling direct to visitors. With the evolution of social networks and mobile devices, we are seeing a shift from visiting the corner-shop equivalent web site to the mall equivalent – lots of businesses hosted on the same web platform, be it micro-applications on your mobile phone or applications in widgets on a social networking site. To be one of those applications means using APIs (application programming interfaces). How important is it?:

80% of web-based traffic will be coming from beyond the browser…

If you are doing business online, you need developers who understand APIs

State of the Internet in 2009

Found via Flowing DataJesse Thomas has created a neat presentation covering Internet statistics for 2009. I think this format of presenting big numbers is beginning to get a little tired, but maybe because so many have jumped on the bandwagon. Not all numbers are equal. I’m waiting for the one announcing how many millions of people fart every minute. (Please don’t share the link if it already exists… 🙂 ) Jesse’s is definitely one of the better presentations. Perfect for opening an event session, for which it was intended.

Got to chuckle that one of the comments noticed the planet is rotating in the wrong direction at the start of the video. Sample statistic:

Facebook recorded 260 billion page views per month, more than 10 times it’s nearest rival (MySpace at 24 billion page views per month). Facebook needs as many as 30,000 servers to run and is still growing…

That’s a big electricity bill, small wonder the advertising is getting more aggressive.

Related post:

BBC’s Virtual Revolution

During February 2010, the BBC broadcast a 4-part series titled The Virtual Revolution.

I have mixed views about the series. I do think it focused a little too much on sterotypes rather than depth given the emphasis placed on the presenter’s Ph.D in the subject. But maybe it just conformed to the way TV documentaries want to be made these days: headlines set to a booming soundtrack with bias towards shock stories to hold your attention. Regardless of my gripes, it covered some good content and I’d recommend watching.

As I tweeted at the time the programme was first broadcast, for all the academics and ‘expert’ authors quoted on the programme, the two I found to have the most thoughtful views (i.e. some balance between sweeping generalisations) were Stephen Fry and Tim Berners-Lee. The BBC have shared some of the interviews online, along with transcripts. Links at the end of the post.

Given the subject matter, full marks to the programme makers for practicing what they preached and integrating as much social media into the series as possible. Each programme included the Twitter hashtag #bbcrevolution in the opening titles and closed with follow-up activities taking place on the web site. The presenter Aleks Krotoski was usually tweeting along too.

Here’s Stephen Fry’s interview, made available on the Virtual Revolutions web site. Quite honestly, I’d have been happy to listen to an entire programme, if not series, of just Stephen Fry talking based on these 10 minutes:

One great quote towards the end:

It used to be that if you were a politician or celebrity wanting to set the record straight or sell something, you had to court the newspaper. Now you don’t have to. If you’re a big star you’ve got over a million followers. No newspaper can provide you with the kind of coverage you can provide yourself and you’re in control. Newspapers hate that. It takes away their power…

It’s a shame that the entire interview isn’t published. Some great quotes about Wikipedia were included in the series but are not in the interview published online. Hey-ho.


Our connected future

When you reach the giga, peta, and exa orders of quantities, strange new powers emerge. You can do things at these scales that would have been impossible before…

Kevin Kelly has talked about the coming age of data, oodles of the stuff thanks to the Internet and what we’re doing with it. Here’s a nice video visualising how all this data and the devices connecting to it will define the future, albeit at the scale of trillions rather than zillions…

…and the makers of the video have more details on their web site – MAYA Design – including a research paper for download (PDF).

Related posts: Tim O’Reilly’s talk about The Internet Paradigm and Kevin Kelly’s Zillionics Change Perspective

Did You Know? 2009 Edition

For the past few years now, we have seen various videos uploaded to YouTube visualising the trends that have emerged thanks to the Internet and mobile devices. You can find older versions by searching YouTube for ‘Did you know’ or ‘Shift happens’. Here’s the latest one, updated with 2009 news stories:

Hat tip to friend and former colleague Steve Clayton, I spotted this one through his excellent blog. Normally I try to tag videos onto newsletters unless I’m putting a commentary around them. But I’ve already got a queue and this one deserves to stand on its own 🙂

The Internet Paradigm

Am in the process of sorting through and tidying up the library (which means broken links galore in old blog posts but will try and fix those). In the past, some items have gone straight into the library without a blog post. To fix, I’ll be posting those which are still relevant over the next month. Here’s the first…

The Internet Paradigm: Talk by Tim O’Reilly in July 2003, at Microsoft UK

Tim O’Reilly visited Microsoft UK in July 2003. Here’s a short summary of his talk. The talk was based on a theme that was to later become known as Web 2.0. Links to additional information included at the end:

Paradigm shift #1: Hardware

Prior to 1982, hardware ruled. Then IBM released specs for building PC computers. Didn’t seem that important to the industry at the time, they were ‘toys’. Took a decade to really take off, but along cam Dell, Compaq bought DEC…

Paradigm shift #2: Software

Software was now decoupled from hardware. Lock-in and competitive advantage moved to software. IBM had given away the future… to Microsoft. Hardware became a commodity.

Paradigm shift #3: The Internet

Applications and information decouple from both hardware and software. Lock-in and competitive advantage moves to the data and customer relationships. Software becomes the commodity,.. Think Amazon and eBay – the application will stop working without people. It’s the participation age.

Where is Linux really successful? Not as a traditional operating system. It’s Google, Amazon, Yahoo. (and you don’t get access to their source code, only the APIs, sound familiar?)

3 trends that matter:

1, Software as a commodity:

  • Amazon switched from Unix to Intel to save costs (10x saving running Linux on Intel)
  • Apache means web serving is not a revenue opportunity
  • MySQL threatens to do the same to databases

2. Customisability:

  • Software is built for use in delivering services
  • Internet-era apps are updated daily, not yearly (e.g. = 12 updates
    between 1999 and 2003)
  • ‘Info-ware’ – interfaces built with dynamic data, scripting rules

3. Network-enabled collaboration

  • ‘Ad-hocracy’ – people just get together to fix things, distributed internationally (skills, costs, timezones), like-minded devs find each other
  • Power shifts from companies to individuals
  • Users help build the application

More people have contributed to Amazon than have contributed to Linux…

Small pieces loosely joined:

  • An architecture of participation means that your users help extend your platform
  • Interoperability means that one component or service can easily be
    swapped if a better one comes along (e.g. Google data centre)
  • Lock-in occurs because others depend on the benefits from your service, but you are not in control.

What does this mean for Microsoft?

Got to change at some point, not going to see the same margins as in the past (IBM had to get used to this one). Could MSN be a big part of the future? Currently focused on consumer, but what about business?

Related Links:

Filed in the library under Talks

You’ll melt your brain

Another re:post worth sharing. Cultural Offering covers yet another article claiming computers and the Internet are ruining our brains – You’ll melt your brain.

The post includes a couple of great quotes:

“Will Twitter make us communicate in 140 characters or less? Not a bad idea, now that I ponder it”

I’ve written about these concerns before. Baroness Susan Greenfield is particularly vocal about how terrible the Internet is for our brains. See Do Books Matter? and Misleading Analogies. What frustrates me the most is that she is supposed to be a professional academic. Instead of predicting doom and gloom for our brains and spouting off opinions about people who use technology (in a recent interview, she dismissed people who use Twitter as the sort of person who likes to tell their mommy they’ve changed their socks, in an old interview she assumed teenagers flirting over the Internet are averse to human contact “eewww fluids”), come up with some unbiased evidence and fact-based research. In Do Books Matter? I questioned how someone like Baroness Susan Greenfield would have reacted to the invention of writing. Cultural Offering goes one better and comes up with a quote to show this is not the first time in history experts have reacted negatively to new technology:

“…he [Plato] says that if we depend on writing, we will lose the ability to remember”

Click Here to read the full post.