Nov. 8th 2016 – Nairobi, Kenya. I was done with the work for the day volunteering for Ushahidi US Election watch and had gone to bed… woke up to the news that Donald Trump was going to be the next president of the United States. In between messages with friends in the valley and reading through the many explanations of how and why this happened…. I had one exchange with Aza Raskin that has stayed with me since. As we talked of the filter bubbles, a broken attention economy and questionable incentives for valuing startups. Below are just a few questions that I think builders of platforms need to take a moment to contemplate.
1. What are the values that underpin your technology? Have a think through questions like how did your company come about? What non-techie words can be used to describe what your technology encourages? What are the unforeseen uses of your technology and how are you going to deal with that? The design and architecture choices; how do they complement those values?
I had the privilege of sharing some of the thoughts around this at the Internet Dagarna conference in Stockholm.
Summary: I think Ushahidi encouraged the following things to happen. Collaboration, Cooperation, Community, These are values that encourage participation, inclusion and feedback. iHub encouraged community, innovation and serendipity, BRCK encourages connection and opportunity (read more about the year at BRCK)
2. How does your company culture complement those values? Pauline Shamola was doing her work and unbeknownst to her, pictures of her service to a disabled customer of Safaricom’s made the rounds in social media. It was a fantastic story and one that I think shows that the values that Safaricom stand for are not just tag lines but something that is internalized and in line with Bob Collymore’s leadership.
3. Prediction model vs manipulation model – Sean Gourley was rather prescient in this 2013 post “Prediction is a parlor trick, manipulation is much more interesting”
What are the passive things that your company/org does? What are the levers you as a company are pushing on to reach your company goals? Are they just transactional? Transformational? What is the cycle? How are you listening to the pulse of what is going on on the ground? Do you have a mechanism for that? Bottom up flow of information… is it happening through certain filter bubbles? What is your filter bubble?
4. Who is your customer? Community? How closely do you understand them? How do they move you and how do you move them? How are you participating in the greater network? Could big data and analytics play a role?
Who do you serve?
These are just a few questions to think through as you build whatever you build. It is increasingly clear that we need to look at the consequences of our technologies and companies on society. We can do better, and indeed we must.
Resources: Look out for Stephane Eloise’ Gras’s paper on computational ethics… more on that conversation on a future blogpost.
A recent Mozilla report from Kenya brought to light the fact that web there are millions of people getting online who do know what the internet is, that the internet is theirs, that it is not one walled garden, and are not aware of the possibilities of creation and not just consumption. That
“The Internet and its potential are yet to be discovered by a substantial amount of people. Participants mainly considered the Internet as a way of interacting with others through social media, and are not aware of other resources the Internet has to offer.”
Consider that there is also an emerging problem of internet fragmentation; in various forms. The first type of fragmentation to highlight is commercial fragmentation, of which walled gardens is a particular issue. See Vint cerf paper on internet fragmentation.
Commercial Fragmentation A variety of critics have charged that certain commercial practices by technology companies also may contribute to Internet fragmentation. The nature of the alleged fragmentation often pertains to the organization of specific markets and digital spaces and the experiences of users that choose to participate in them, but sometimes it can impact the technical infrastructure and operational environments for everyone. Whether or not one considers commercial practices as meriting the same level of concern as, say, data localization is of course a matter of perspective. Certainly there are significant concerns from the perspectives of many Internet users, activists and competing providers in global markets. As such, the issues are on the table in the growing global dialogue about fragmentation, and they therefore merit consideration here. Accordingly, in this section we briefly survey five sets of issues: peering and standardization; network neutrality; walled gardens; geo-localization and geo-blocking; and infrastructure-related intellectual property protection.”
“zero rating ends up violating net neutrality and favouring the supplier and its selected partners in a manner that limits people’s’ access to and understanding of the Internet.
Why is this problem urgent? – The generativity of the internet is at risk. With the stated aspirations of African leaders to lead the digital revolution; it would be important to consider the risks to this digital revolution if key issues of net neutrality, internet freedom and most of all… access are not tackled head on with clear mandates, collaborations and projects to address these issues.
Consider this idea: A digital survival guide for the 21st century. What if we could educate current and future generations on what the internet is, its ethos, its culture, its history. What it is and what it could be? What if we included internet and web literacy as part and parcel of learning programs in Africa and the world?
What are the initial ideas to get started on right away?
1. Work with partners to have educational content about the Internet included in the curriculum deployed to the edges of society. For this, I am excited to announce that the Internet Society of Kenya agrees to join BRCK.org in this regard.
2. Work with partners to deploy educational content about the Internet to community centers (turned into digital community centers), alongside the online starter toolkit, digital job training materials, women and youth empowerment activities. Intel Foundation is looking at projects in Kenya for this.
There is more to do; and it is quite encouraging when we see governments, philanthropists, private sector and civil society engage on these matters from many angles.
If these ideas sound interesting to you, do get in touch email@example.com and let us figure out how we can do our part to ensure that we are rolling our sleeves and doing our part for the next generation of african technologists and yes, that we are contributing to the African digital revolution.
TLDR: The scope of impact in Africa for work is great and an inspiration for the work ahead in 2015. Similar problems exist in various African countries and similar opportunities and the incredible chance to participate in a bolder stake on the future of the continent. Local communities have a key role in shaping strategy and can teach us a lot about what works where. With Ushahidi’s interlocking role of creating software tools for empowerment with its innovation catalyst role, the sandbox for its impact can be expanded.
This is a picture of a market in Tanzania. To the right of this picture is a parking lot with cabs and trucks and as I was waiting for my colleague Mark to register SIM cards, I could hear lectures by Julius Nyerere blaring from a Volkswagen van. In addition, the cab driver was listening parliament proceedings. Coming from Kenya where engagement with government is not as robust as this, it was quite encouraging. (Later found out that there was a major scandal and many were following because of that, but still, the level of citizen engagement in Tanzania is inspiring). The potential to add technology to this engagement equation was inescapable and something we’ll be keen to explore with partners currently working there. The big take away was that because of this variability in citizen engagement, the strategies for implementation and adoption of technology (including Ushahidi’s tools) will need to be adjusted to keep this in mind. What is needed is more connection with the key local organizations and learning how best to serve them.
This is a picture of Co-founder of Bongohive Lukonga Lindunda speaking with entrepreneurs outside Bongohive space. Lukonga, his co-founders and team have been in touch with us at Ushahidi for several years now. It was an immense honor to meet them in their beautiful new space adorned with African art and filled with entrepreneurs,volunteers who I recognized from working together on Bantuwatch in 2011 (an implementation of Ushahidi to track the elections in Zambia) and women like Chisenga who’ve been part and parcel of growing Bongohive. This was the location of greatest connection and an important lesson that community is always important, and that with the expansiveness of the continent, it is important to keep connecting with the key drivers in each country who are building ecosystems of opportunity. Communities like iHub and Bongohive are important for building stable and equitable societies and key users of Ushahidi tools.
It is a long game/long road… but when you meet a startup/social enterprise that is less than 2 years and already creating jobs, it just adds more reason to Ushahidi’s role as a catalyst, assisting and supporting (without supplanting) wherever possible. To foster environments that protect and reinforce fundamental human rights, it is going to take engagement on many levels, with various initiatives and partners. In building on the discussions with board of Ushahidi, partners who spent time with Ushahidi in Nairobi this last quarter, it is exciting to envision scaling our work, moreso with communities in Lusaka, Zambia, Johannessburg, South Africa, Harare Zimbabwe, and Maputo in Mozambique. We have the pieces in place with the software development group, the solutions team and Gearbox, iHub, Making All Voices Count partnership on the catalyst end. One of Ushahidi’s spin outs – BRCK continues to provide the hardware that will be useful to expand our work to the edge of the network. That is where even more impact can happen.
Looking forward to the new year with current and new partners engaged in creating more opportunity.
Earlier this month I finally got a chance to go to Lagos, Nigeria. It left an indelible mark in my mind. Lagos is a gorgeous city, intoxicating and yes, a little gritty but all in all completely intriguing. Intriguing in its scale, its people, and its location. Free flow of thoughts below on what I learned and observed.
You can either experience the Lagos of possibility or of gridlock. It depends on your mental frame. One of the hosts told me that you can attract your own Lagos. You just need to bring an effortless and authentic personality.
You can either be an Afro-pessimist or an Afro-optimist. Either way, you’d better be hustling.Â I see several newcomers in Kenya putting down entrepreneurs and regurgitating old stereotypes, even referring to friends in co-working spaces like iHub as ‘monkeys’. (Whole other story that I won’t even get into right now.)
Being in Lagos, I was quite encouraged and happy to see the forward momentum in service provision, infrastructure and even waste management.
I was part of a small group that was given a tour of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system complete with NFC technology for easy payment. The BRT system moves Lagosians quickly through the city in a very efficient manner. The fleet I saw was impressive, not in the shiny super new kind of wayâ€¦more so in a functional, well maintained somewhat old fleet, yet orderly kind of way. The investment in infrastructure is continuing, with a new light rail system that is on course to be opened in 2016.
As you make your way around the city, there are people with orange coats emblazoned with LAWMA. This stands for Lagos Waste Management Authority, which is ensuring that the city is cleaned up and waste is processed. Clearly there is order from the chaos you thought Lagos was wrought and overrun with.
The infrastructure of the mind: This is a key idea that I encountered when Moji Rhodes gave an overview of the efforts by the state of Lagos to not only improve the lives of Lagosians, but to empower them. As is similar in most parts of Africa, there is no escaping the colonial baggage that saddles culture, inefficient legacy systems, land allocation problemsâ€¦the list can go on and on. The infrastructure of the mind alludes to the cultural renaissance that I think needs to be fostered even more. It is as essential as economic growth in the betterment of African cities. Lagos is ahead in this regard.
What remained in my mind most of all is the immense potential to leverage technology in the service of citizens. EIE – Enough is Enough Nigeria, Sahara Reporters, CCHub, Wennovation, and so many other examples of initiatives that will be integral to helping Lagos youth to engage, have a say and to give back.
I am reminded of the seminal quote for 2012 The role of citizen does not end with a vote – President Barack Obama during his acceptance speech.
How can we set up end to end systems that help citizens beyond elections?
In the case of Lagos, there is potential of impacting almost 8 million people with information services. I am awe struck by the immense opportunity and hats of to the people already investing their time and energy to doing this.
The larger question that I think many cities are trying to answer is how can cities provide services in order to draw the creative, maker, entrepreneurial class? Small and medium sized businesses still power many economies. In Africa, it becomes even more important to invest in growing this segment of the economy. I saw many MTN Mobile money ads, this is likely to be a major growth area for Lagos.
I am curious about culture based design in African cities. From architecture of technology systems that can provide utility and help tackle the unique problem sets of Lagos and Nairobi. Perhaps just effective design in a global sense needs to be applied to the many problems of a complex, growing, vibrant city like Lagos. There is lots to learn, but more so, I think there is so much more to do to connect innovators globally to the important problem sets on the ground. The hard work is of course the end to end workflow of making sure we do not just think of the tech, but the Technium and the ecosystems of the future. The most famous example of a truly unique, effective and Lagosian ecosystem is ofcourse Nollywood.
Through music and fashion I saw glimpses of even more ecosystems being redefined right now in Lagos.
me. We’re not living in 2008 anymore folks. Yes, governments and people use twitter and facebook [and others. Thanks for pointing it out… again. Every news story is about PEOPLE. Real people. Who are impacted by something that most of us can never really understand. We sit and go through a ton of unedited footage of the
direct impact a bomb blast has on community, on a family. It’s shocking. It’s horrific. It’s real. Stop talking about the technology. Talk about the people and the issues – this applies to every story, from war to protests to natural disasters. And I say this as someone who runs the Social Media for one of the largest news organisations in the world.
It is particularly apt for technologists and a very important thing to remember when we talk about the systems that we make. It is just as important to focus on the people behind the stories, the report behind the red dot. A reminder to empathize, and whenever possible to assist in the alleviation of suffering. As humans we seriously need to be reminded what it means to have your life suddenly turned upside down. Whatever form that might be. Be it from poverty, war or natural disaster. We’ve seen so many affected, from Haiti, Cuba, North Eastern America, to Palestine and Israel and in my current location – Kenya. We need to zoom in, care and assist someone. Start somewhereâ€¦and as Jen Pahlka of CodeforAmerica recently told me. Lets work on the hard stuff.
I am getting increasingly interested in Complex systems science, not just to understand our complex world, but also to learn what can be done in terms of collaborative problem solving. The pre-eminent organization NECSI that studies this makes a point that I think bears repeating, and points as to why we should exceedingly care about individuals when systems start breaking.
“Losing pieces indiscriminately from a highly complex system is very dangerous,” said Dr. Bar-Yam. “One of the most profound results of complex systems research is that when systems are highly complex, individuals matter.” According to Bar-Yam, understanding the weaknesses of civilization is critical to our ongoing existence. “Complexity leads to higher vulnerability in some ways,” he said. “This is not widely understood.”
There are many tomes, missives and observations on Innovation, that it demands freedom, that it is evenly distributed and should be fostered organizationally and even on a country level
Allow me to add one. To be innovative, you need a healthy modicum of humility. Many a conference has the theme of innovation as part of discussion in almost anything. Innovation in technological context, in development and most recently, innovation in philanthropy. Innovation is something many technologists, futurists and business leaders are in search of. It is like the modern day holy grail in the face of disruptive tech trends that usurp business models, not to mention Moore’s law being ever more apropos with every product launch cycle.
As part of the Co-Founding team of Ushahidi, I have the privilege of working with an incredible team that is globally dispersed, with our team call every week encompassing 7 timezones. I mention this because as we have built platforms and tools over the past 3 years, I am continually learning about what it means to innovate. I say continually, because it is a process that is ongoing and does not stop at having a cloud based service (Crowdmap) mobile applications and a semantic data collection curation tools in the pipeline (SwiftRiver). One of the key things I have learned about innovation is that it takes humility to get on the ground; sometimes quite literally, to appreciate the view of an issue or a problem or simply someone else’s story. This became quite clear to me when I was in Zambia last September for the elections, the Ushahidi platform was used to crowd source information about the electoral process. Problem: Being surrounded by rowdy youth, as we approached a polling station; this after checking with the police station and being told that all was well. I did not sign up for alerts from Bantuwatch.org. If I had done so, I would have realized that the reality on the ground was quite different. The view from the ground or the crowd is one you need when assessing any situation.
As part of the Ushahidi strategy we started an innovation hub in Nairobi. My colleagues and I agreed that we needed to give back to the tech community that helped us get to the global stage plus, we needed a base and office in Kenya. With generous support of The Omidyar Network and Hivos we set out to create a space for technologists, business leaders, developers, designers and the larger tech community. The space helps us convene, collaborate and celebrate this narrative of African tech. Each day, developers congregate, work through their vision of what utility they can provide, we hack, play foosball, have coffee and hack some more, get on Skype calls at odd times of the night, then yesâ€¦hack some more after that. Ushahidi is still largely virtual, it is in our DNA after all; the iHub is one of those nodes of communities that is a key part of our interactions. Other nodes are the offices of our partners in the bay area, Mozilla who let us organize meet ups and the countless coffee shops and co-working spaces that cater to the modern day location agnostic web worker, volunteer or simplyâ€¦geek.
Being on the ground, connecting with each node in our global interconnected community is something I can honestly term a gift. In September I travelled to Lusaka, Zambia on the eve of elections. There, I got to see first hand how our platform was being deployed on the ground, publicized over radio; to give citizens a voice during the elections there. While I was there, I met with a group of young developers, volunteers and journalists who were exploring how to grow the nascent tech community in Lusaka. It reminded me of the early days pre-Ushahidi, where Erik, myself, Jason Mule, Shashank Bengali, Brian Muita and others would meet at restaurants that had wifi, to connect. To share, and later, to collaborate. That network that exists in real life and virtually, is one that is without the brick and mortar of co-working spaces and set the foundation for what happened after. I think that is what I helped us innovate. A mix of on-the-ground reality, David Kobia’s coding jujitsu and most of all the open source community online. This is a mix that works for us and we learn together to build the global Ushahidi community. It is not easy. One thing is that when people are gathered based on passion for what they do that is when you see innovations. When there is a direct correlation between the problem and the possible solution, the promise of the tech entrepreneur or mobile developer is to architect the avenue. Pierre Omidyar observed this at ONEF 2011 and I see it in Africa’s techies. We have a long way to go, but we can imagine the world differently and go about building out our vision. Having the tools and the team to do this is like being handed Thor’s hammer.
I notice the growth of similar spaces like the iHub in Africa (with glee!) and I notice that countries and philanthropic organizations are setting up self styled tech cities. Some will work, some will not work. In Kenya there is the idea of Konza City. While it looks great on paper and I really would like to see it happen, but I am cautiously optimistic. Why? Partly because of what Roger Malina’s analysis, that most governments haven’t a clue how to innovate, much less foster it. He included much more than I can add here, if you have 21 minutes, definitely watch his talk.
For nations and Foundations; If the goal is to spur innovation, it takes humility to listen, to look around and participate with innovators wherever they may be first. To see potential where others see trash, to support and uplift without supplanting and dictating. To connect with others based on passion, that is where where the most influence happens. There is a need for acknowledgment that innovation is a culture with a thumbprint that can be unique, dynamic and most of all long range. One has to think about social Impact, philanthropy or investing. To see solutions where others see problems you have to get back on the ground and listen. This is something we are striving for as we grow Ushahidi around the world and invite others to join us in translating, localizing and Crowdmapping the issues you care about, build communities around the issues and explore solutions collaboratively.
PS: Currently heading to Davos from DLD2012 if you’d like to collaborate on Innovation, Tech, Africa, ping me using the contact form above or @afromusing on twitter.
Over the last year I have had the great fortune of mind melding with various people with incredible ideas. As some of you may know, I am involved in Ushahidi, an open source platform for data collection, visualization and interactive mapping. Ushahidi has gotten its notoriety in the crowdsourcing sphere, with growing adoption around the world. From Kenya to Russia, Poland, Mexico, South Africa, Italy and countless other countries; it is something I continue to marvel at while enjoying the ride of learning; with a global community of hackers from Ghana, Malawi, Netherlands, US, Kenya, Poland etc, I marvel even more.
The idea behind the platform is simple. That anyone, given a channel to say ‘This is what I see’ and send that information via SMS, email, web and twitter. With Ushahidi’s plethora of mobile apps, reporting via smartphones can also be done quite seamlessly. With the Android app SMSsync, you can be your own SMS gateway. What this means is you can run a hub from your Android phone, such that any sms’s sent to you get sync’ed with a call back URL which can be an Ushahidi deployment or another server based application. So with the channels of data collection sorted, you of course have the processing capability that is available on the cloud (Think SwiftRiver), and the visualization component which can help convey the data in a compelling way.Maps. Things are getting even more compelling with plugins such as Cloudmade (Think preety, preety maps), and bookmarklets that can overlay Ushahidi data with other data available in the open layers format. Point is, the tools to create a visual from the collected data is also sorted. Beautifully too.
Now to the Internet of things. My first encounter with this idea was from listening to Elder of the Internet Vint Cerf at Lift09. He mentioned how you can have sensors in your cellar that make sure the temperature of the wine stays constant, and does some automatic reporting via internet to you if there is an anomaly. Those sensors have IP addresses and are nodes in your network. I did not think of it in terms of ‘Internet of Things’ at the time, but looking back now, that is exactly what he was describing. Other sensors abound, from the innovative Enphase inverter for giving you information on your energy generation from solar panels to the trash tracking devices used in the MIT Senseable City lab projects. Another great way to grasp this concept is to check out the twitter account of London’s Tower Bridge, and read this account of how it was set to tweet.
Now take these two ideas and meld them in different ways. Allow me to use the word holistic. As in holistic near ‘real time sense-making‘, incorporating the internet of things, with crowdsourced data delivered through channels that encourage participation. There is an opportunity to see things dynamically and not just do after-the-fact post mortem. This could work for flash point events like the Haiti earthquake (taking data form Geiger counters etc + crowdsourced data like that available on the haiti deployment run by Noula.ht. It could also work for longer term events such as the BP Oil spill in Louisiana.
…the closer to real-time one can get the right answer and respond, the better. And milliseconds matter.
– Data from things/sensors can trigger a report online if a tracked value reaches a certain threshold or meets certain criteria. For example, the Copenhagen Wheel by MIT Senseable lab. The wheel contains sensors that monitor carbon monoxide levels in the air,NOx/Nitrogen Oxides, a measure of air pollution, noise, ambient temperature and relative humidity. The data is accessible on a mobile phone app and can be shared with friends or even the city.
– Data from people filling out a form, sending an email, SMS or twitter message. This can be qualitative in nature, and use of the Ushahidi platform provides a way for citizens to participate in data gathering, plus sign up for alerts that are relevant to their concerns. An example that can be useful to check out is the Where Are The Cuts map from The Open Knowledge Foundation in the UK.
Combining the various sources of data (Open layers can be used to distinguish various types of data/color coding points of data can help to differentiate between sensor data and crowdsourced data). A dynamic map of information can then emerge that is not so much a snapshot, but an animation.
Change is at times compelled by insight. The insight from using technologies/ideas outlined above could lead to behaviour change if we can make data relevant to an individual. Relevant to the decisions they have to make based on the information they have at the time. For an idea that mixes some of the above ideas and adds relevance, have a look at Mapnificent.
[Mapnificent] …allows you to set a point in your chosen city and a map will display the entire area over which you could travel by public transit in a given amount of time. It also allows you to see an area that is both 15 minutes away from yourself and 15 minutes away from a friend by transit, and since it is integrated with Google Maps, allows you to search destinations within that specified area.
The recent deployment of the Ushahidi platform by The South China Morning Post is one to watch. “CitizenMap starts with environmental issues, focusing on the destruction of natural beauty in Hong Kong – from illegal dumping to unauthorized development, from vegetation removal to columbarium construction.”
The reason why this could be interesting, is that it has the potential to give journalists leads that they can follow up on and gather more facts on issues such as toxic waste dumping. It is harnessing the power of the people to help make Hong Kong a better place. This feeds into the idea of changing behaviour. If individuals/corporations realize that the public is watching and able to report incidents, would they still engage in such activities?
Say we had near-real time crowdsourced data from the public, and data from sensors all in the public domain; what could we do? What kind of projects could we come up with?
During TEDxNairobi, Erik Kigada an architect with Planning Systems shocked many of us in the audience by revealing something we did not know about. The city of Nairobi does not have a coherent master plan. The city is using 1999 plans to build in 2010. This presents myriad problems for businesses and individuals who need to plan. His point was made stark by the road construction happening while the event was going on. If a master plan existed showing that a bypass was planned, the architect who built the auditorium would not have put it near the road. There is an opportunity for emerging economies, rapidly growing cities to become smart cities. They can do this by taking a cue from the Senseable city projects. Current, near-real time data can be gathered with the help of the crowd, to provide pertinent information to urban planners, academics and leaders. The hope here is that they can make well informed decisions that take into account the flowing reality of the city.
“Insight from data can be used to leapfrog.” -Assaf Biderman
There is also the opportunity for education and academia to use participatory systems to link science, data and student participation. Relating the exploration of built/urban environment to the scientific method of observation, data collection and analysis.
I am interested in your ideas on how we can use these technologies and ideas to address the many challenges facing our world in Health, Education and Environment. I am particularly interested in figuring out a joint project in Kenya, please leave a comment or contact me to explore and collaborate.
At Ars Electronica in Linz, I was struck by the amazing pieces exhibited, and more so by the Ars Electronica center. It is set very near to a bridge on the Danube river.The Exhibitions archive page uses a schematic of the center to give you an idea of what is curated where.
The outdoor space atop the main gallery and before the future lab space seems to tie the old architecture of the church to the futuristic style of the Ars Center. Click on the image below for a larger size, the church is to the left of the future lab stairs.
It is one of those buildings that people either love or hate…I loved it. At night, the LED lights that line the outer glass wall change color. Something like a nocturnal visual surprise every time you glance at it.
The festival itself is something to experience. Since its now over, i would highly recommend visiting the Ars Electronica center to see some of the pieces that formed a benchmark of the festival. Besides, I am convinced that Linz would make a perfect location for any techy, futuristic or even a good action movie. Be it Minority Report 2 or next Bond 007, I can totally vouch for the stunning imagery it would evoke if someone like Daniel Craig would rappel down the Ars Center and straight into a boat on the Danube. (Spielberg, Soderberg, Wachowski brothers and whoever produces 007 – you are welcome :-))
Ahem, pardon my digression. Back to nerds needing art.
This has admittedly been a very busy year for me, and I have to admit that I did not expect it to be. With time, I’ve realized that being in the tech space can sometimes sap your sense of wonder. Or maybe its just me. If you are one of those people who feel mired in tech and sometimes feel like the ‘wow’ factor is gone when you see new innovations…and it elicits a bland ‘hmmm’ reaction and god forbid ‘meh’ – Well you need a healthy dose of art. Attending Ars Electronica helped me marvel again at what artists, architects, performance artists and idea mongers have to share. Below I will share afew of the pieces i particularly enjoyed, and provide some links to blogposts by the other wonderful speakers and friends from the Cloud Symposium.
Quartet is a Web-interactive robotic music installation. The machine you see in the live video feed is housed at an innovative museum in Linz, Austria, ARS Electronic. Seeing the machine live, inches away is an visceral experience that shows the real power of live music… and that robots can be a part of that experience. Visitors at the museum are able to enter melodies from a laptop in the museum for immediate interactivity
You play a short melody on the site Quartet.cc then you see the music interpreted onto the machine. Try it…
Since I have a thing for mobile phones (Nokia) I greatly enjoyed the robot controlled by bluetooth.
This is a picture of the phone.
This is basically the livescribe pen on steroids. You can write and record audio which is digitized and transferable pdf docs or uploaded online. The steroids bit: The Anoto pen can be used to navigate a map, displaying relevant data on a big screen. For example, if you click on a specific point on the map of Linz, and would like to know the demographics of the region, you can tap on the legend provided on a page to give you stats on number of divorced people between the age of 21 and 45. This was preety cool because it combines maps, tactile input of using a pen and a digital display to add more data.
I got to play the loopscape game with the renowned tech journalist Cyrus Farivar. I really could claim victory, but really…it was a draw.
â€œloopScapeâ€ is an innovative video game for two players that blurs the conventional distinction between good and evil, between â€œmy sideâ€ and â€œthe opposition.â€
The action does not take place on a flat display but rather on a 360 degree band arrayed around the edge of a ceiling-suspended metal doughnut circumnavigated during play. The object is to shoot down the opponent. But be careful! If a fired missile misses its target, it continues on its trajectory and threatens to strike from behind the game figure that launched it.
This loopscape game is a form of interactive device art, and for some reason, it brought to mind the idea of participatory art. Something that Wambui, Sciculturist and I were discussing at RAMOMA gallery in Nairobi. Check out this ‘Watoto Wa Kwetu’ piece by Wambui. More pics are on this flickr set. I think the loopscape game has participatory qualities just like the Watoto wa kwetu paintings, because both pieces are best experienced with others. There are some observations that Wambui made on the Watoto wa kwetu paintings that I would not have noticed. Do note that the paintings are done by a group of children, and not one artist. So, there is that aspect too.
This is just but a sampling of what was in store at Linz. I havent even touched on the animations. I hope you enjoy the perspectives shared by the others on the Cloud Symposium blog, videos posted there and the following links too.
Kristen Taylor – Mosaics, food and the cloud If you are wondering about her cool dress, its vintage. I had to ask 🙂 I am not much of a beer drinker, so her suggestion to get some Secco (Austrian white sparkling wine) with our dinner was just invaluable.
I keep digressing from this nerds need art theme, but hopefully i can tie it all together.
In the quest to not lose your sense of wonder, sometimes you need to look inward, be quiet and just think about the bigger picture. To find the creative place. If you’ve ever used the words ‘code is poetry’ ‘Math is elegant’ or ‘no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should’. There is this need to look inward, to find that inner muse and embrace the imagination. I think whenever you need to go to such a place, art can provide that gateway.
Where does inanimate material end and where does life begin? Arthur Ganson lets his â€œThinking Chairâ€ straddle the boundary between those two states. Through its movementsâ€”which resemble the gait of a human being walking on two legsâ€”the chair exhibits animate traits. Arthur Ganson had the idea that led to this work while taking a walk. Near his studio, there is a small rock outcropping on a trail, which he likes to walk around in slow circles, deep in thought. During this walking meditation, each cycle finds him back in the same physical place but in a slightly different emotional place
It’s great to see Time magazine present some trends that are not obvious, well-worn, are already over. They take a chance in this list of ‘10 Ideas Changing The World Right Now.‘ The line up includes not your usual suspects. With any list like this, there is no telling which are likely, but they are at least plausible. Two extra points for a positive African scenario. The ten trends are featured in the pic below; details at the link.
In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder…what of the global economic crisis? Wouldn’t that put a dent in this positive outlook? Oz has a great run down of how the global crisis affects Africa.
1. A slump in external demand affects exports and remittances.
2. A slump in external demand lowers commodity prices. Oil producing nations such as Nigeria are particularly vulnerable.
3. Lack of credit is stifling capital inflows and trade finance in the more advanced markets like Nigeria, Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.
4 The region is not immune to financial problems of its own. Credit has ballooned in many countries. Banksâ€™ loan books are often concentrated in commodity-related industries.
5. Some retail investors borrowed heavily to punt on local stock markets.
For those in the African technology space, the challenges of gathering data from the field in areas that are not quite ‘on-the-grid’ are apparent. Let me just keep it short by saying ‘Houston, we have a power problem’. Charging laptops when you are off-grid is not easy, but if you have a Nokia E71 that can stay for 3 days without needing a re-charge…well, you get the idea.
Last October I excitedly proclaimed just how much I loved Nokia because they had a data gathering app for E71’s, which they were making available for NGO’s to test out. Please forgive me for not blogging about it. but you can find more info on the mobile active wiki, or watch this 2 minute you-tube clip on tracking the Dengue fever in Brazil.
This brings me to the latest news from FrontlineSMS. FrontlineSMS forms provides a killer functionality of basically using SMS as the data carrying pigeon. This is how it works. The person running the FrontlineSMS hub creates forms with questions for the person in the field to fill in with information. The field agent only needs to have downloaded the forms client from http://forms.frontlinesms.com/, this will work on any Java enabled phone, which is preety much a whole lotta phones. They can then receive a form from the hub via sms, fill it in and send it back again via SMS. Hmm I like my data-pigeon metaphor! This eliminates the need for a GPRS connection. If the person is entering the data at a place with no mobile signal, the information is still saved in ‘offline’ mode until the phone has a mobile signal. I do have to point out that with \o/ forms you do not require an E71 or high end PDA like with the Nokia data gathering tool. I still heart Nokia, and would highly recommend the E71 if you need a smartphone.
This functionality adds more fuel to the mobile => Cloud paradigm that I feel will redefine the participation and engagement with communities in rural areas. Once the information gets back to the hub, it can sync with a web app like Ushahidi or any other web enabled implementation that takes input from the Frontline SMS hub. The pretty graphs and visualizations are best presented on the web IMO. Personally, I am looking forward to using FrontlineSMS \o/ forms to plan a kick-ass tree planting party!
PS: For \o/ users in Kenya, do note that FrontlineSMS works with the Safaricom E220 modem. If it works with the new USB stick version E160? kindly leave a comment.
When I met Ken during the Plan International workshop in Kenya, he said something that I cant help but pass along. “Do not ask for permission, ask for forgiveness” Keep doing whatever it is you love to do, and do not be afraid to try something new. I think Tonee and I co-opted that for our new-years motto. Seriously though, if you have ideas for using \o/ in your work, check out www.frontlinesms.com. Ken and his team have built a very useful data gathering tool that could give your project even more reach. Plus, the folks in the forums are super-nice. Really.