Correspondence

Today I have been checking HootSuite in between gardening in the intense heat of a Mongarlowe Summer.

By good fortune I came across a link to Tim Kastelle, John Steen and Mark Dodgson‘s Innovation Leadership Network Blog and their post about Networks and the Information Glut. In a discussion of the Republic of Letters project at Stanford University they observe that:

The fundamentals of innovative thought haven’t changed since the 18th Century – it’s always been aggregate, filter and connect. The great thinkers of earlier times corresponded extensively because it helped them aggregate information from a wide variety of disciplines and sources. Once they did this, they had to be skilled at filtering the data to figure out what was useful, and then they had to connect up the filtered data to create innovative ideas.

And, of course, once they had the great ideas, they had to execute them, and then get them to spread. Even though the media that transmits the data to us are different now, aside from that, not much has changed.

Their post is illustrated with Stanford’s video of Tracking 18th century social network through letters. They acknowledge Mitch Joel and he in turn thanks Hugh McGuire (“I can’t recall where I found this, but it’s very very cool”) for the link to the video

I am fascinated by correspondence and pursued the Stanford Project details (CCK08 instilled in me an inveterate interest in networks).

There is a wonderful visualisation tool for the Republic of Letters project. For 1629-30, the database has this information:

Over 196 years, the correspondence network looked like this:

The Mapping of the Republic of Letters project at Stanford observes on its home page:

Before research universities and disciplinary colloquia, scholars depended largely on correspondence networks for the dissemination and exchange of ideas. These informal communities, collectively known as the Republic of Letters, pose considerable challenges to the modern historian, as their contours blur and shift over time. With the help of advanced visualization techniques, this project is literally “mapping” the Republic of Letters, by plotting the geographic data for the senders and receivers of correspondences. These maps will allow researchers to perceive the larger patterns of intellectual exchange in the early-modern world and raise new questions about the importance of places, nations, and cities, in the circulation of knowledge.

Tim, John and Mark point out that:

Even though we often feel like we’re overwhelmed with information and data to be absorbed, the information glut is nothing new. Think about the volume of connections shown in the video. Or think about Charles Darwin – over the course of scientific career he sent over 15,000 letters. It’s safe to assume that he received just as many. Think about how much time he would have spent reading & writing letters, and how much new information and ideas would have been included in that – it’s probably more than we’re spending writing our blogs, updating our statuses and twittering.

The blog post and the Stanford project reminded me of the role cartographers played before the time of the Republic of Letters. They aggregated stories of travels and visualised them. The Fra Mauro map is a wonderful example of the role trusted sources played in aggregating a global sense of place.

I note that the Stanford project is exploring larger patterns of intellectual exchange. The digital exchange of ideas is amenable to mapping too and I have been very interested in Valdis Krebs‘ work in this regard. I liked his discussion of Paul Erdos’s work.

Paul Erdõs … was an expert in the mathematics of networks. Erdõs practiced what he preached — he was a weaver of social networks and thus a builder of social capital. Erdõs was known for traveling the world and collaborating with mathematicians on problems and proofs he found interesting. He would actually live with his collaborators for a week or two while they worked out the proofs. Then he would travel on to the next collaboration. Many scientific papers resulted from these intense face-to-face collaborations. Erdõs had 507 co-authors, some of whom collaborated with each other.

I think the sociology of knowledge has a great deal to add to this debate too. A personal learning environment has profound social connections and embodies the classical sociological juxtaposition of private troubles and public issues. Whenever I check HootSuite or the Nourishment section of my blog I am staggered by the productivity of the new age of correspondents but thanks to Tim Kastelle, John Steen and Mark Dodgson understand that busy people work hard to communicate.

This thought took me back to 1629 and Thomas Hobbes’ letter to a European correspondent. I wonder if the letter started:

Please excuse me writing to you but I have an idea for a book

The reply came back in 1630!

I think 1651 would be a good year to publish … Can you send me a chapter a year … but remember to back up your work!

Photo Credit

Funtik.cat Message in the Bottle

Listening Pleasure: Thinking About Performance

This week on my journeys into Canberra I have had an opportunity to catch up with ABC Classic FM and Radio National. Three items in particular helped me think more about performance. Two were symphonies played on Classic FM and one was a discussion about writing on Late Night Live.

The two symphonies were:

1. Aaron Copland conducting Appalachian Spring (1979)

2. Henryk Górecki‘s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Symfonia pieśni żałosnych)

Aaron Copland’s performance as a conductor composer encouraged me to think about how tacit knowledge is made available and confirmed my fascination with performances of understanding. Goriecki’s symphony was so beautiful (it was the first time I heard it) it prompted me to think about performance beyond words and how resonance is a fundamental relationship we have we each other and the world.

The Late Night Live conversation was between Phillip Adams and Mark McGinness. This is the web site trail for the interview “The obituary has had a relatively short life, becoming a regular fixture in Australian newspapers in the early 1990s. However, obituaries have become almost mandatory reading, offering up a celebration of life amid the usual gloom. But how do obituary writers get such an insight into the dearly departed?”

It was a delightful interview and I was left with a very clear sense of the precision required to share a life. It made me think about how coaches communicate and how writing whilst going beyond the 140 characters of Twitter can have an intensity that celebrates lives through thick description. This obituary of Michael Romanoff encapsulates the themes of the interview.

Photo Credits

Simon Ilic Leaning Tree

Michael Sarver Appalacian Trail

Janusz L River Sings

GROU.PS: Exploring Learning and Sharing Links

In the last week I have been glued to Twitter! On 21 December I wrote a post about Vicarious Learning and Reciprocal Altruism and after Christmas I thought I would explore Twitter at what might be a quiet time of the year. It proved a fascinating time to be sampling tweets. Not only were there end of year items there were end of decade items too. I discovered GROU.PS (an open source social operating system) during this process and liked their approach.

I decided to aggregate all the Twitter feeds into a GROU.PS site and use the wiki function the social operating system provides.  GROU.PS has “a bunch of modules that you choose from and mash up very easily! You can enrich your site with blocks”.  Although I could choose from twelve GROU.PS basic modules I wanted a cleanskin look as my starting point.

Between 29 December and this evening I read each tweet of the 286 people I have been following and ended up reading many more retweets too. I used an ongoing inclusion approach to the themes that were emerging in the tweets and to date have forty-six themes.

I found it fascinating to aggregate articles about Twitter. I was led to twenty-three posts in a week:

  • Horton Hears A Tweet In this article we share some of the insights gained using Twitter as an instructional tool and explain why we think Twitter, despite its drawbacks (and really the drawbacks of social networking in general), can add value to online and face-to-face university courses.”
  • Do You Tweet? (100104) “Turns out I was.  There are thousands of other educators, professors, administrators, and Technology Integration Specialists on Twitter.  There are groups on twitter that are important to follow.  In less then a month I went from following 3 Twitter accounts, to over 50 (so far).  I went from being followed by my brother to over 50 (so far).”
  • Twitter U (100104) “This wikispace was inspired by a blog post of @darahbonham on Twitter. Check out his post and then feel free to join in the fun. Think about all the links you miss during the school day. Imagine if those links were accompanied by a hashtag that would make it easier to search by topic. The first Hashtag: #PBL was created last week. Check it out!”
  • Twitter as a PLN (100104) “One of the most interesting things I learned about Twitter before I even tried it was that it is like Marmite. It polarises.”
  • 10 Things You Need To Stop Tweeting About (100104)
  • 48 Ways to Explain Twitter to Skeptics (100104) “On Christmas Eve with my family, my brother Peter brought up Twitter and expressed skepticism. Rather than try to explain Twitter myself, I tweeted to see what others had to say. I just love the answers that came back! I’m still laughing at some and others are simply profound. Isn’t it amazing how nearly 50 people can answer something, each in 140 characters or less, and in just a few minutes you have a better explanation than any one person could possibly think of in a lifetime! And people jumped in from all over (Coogee, Australia and Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic to name two).”
  • Twitter Search Widget (100104)
  • Priceless (100104) “Hello World” is a simple game I often play with my 4 year old son (‘Mr 4’). We fire up Twitter, say ‘hello’ from Fremantle, Western Australia, get a globe or an atlas (old school, I know, but it is wonderfully tactile) and wait to see where people are saying hello to us from.”
  • Share places and events on Twitter (100104)
  • Select Your Widget (100104) “Widgets let you display Twitter updates on your website or social network page
  • Our widgets are compatible with any website and most social networks. Simply choose one where you would like to include it.”
  • Twimages (beta) (100103) “Revealing who talks to you on Twitter”
  • Why Twitter Will Endure (100103) “Like many newbies on Twitter, I vastly overestimated the importance of broadcasting on Twitter and after a while, I realized that I was not Moses and neither Twitter nor its users were wondering what I thought. Nearly a year in, I’ve come to understand that the real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice.”
  • Why My Research is on Twitter (100103) “Twitter represents a new way of communication. After lifestreaming on Twitter for over two years and researching it for over 12 months,  I understand the nuances of the communities on it, and have watched it morph as it has moved from being a geek tool to a plaything of the mainstream.”
  • Tweeting with Change Agents (100103) “I suspect that many edubloggers can relate to Will Richardson’s admission in What’s Changed?, that he’s done less blogging and more tweeting in the past 12 months. Though microblogging may be shallow, it has proven to be very accessible to educators, with Twitter being leveraged on both mobile devices, and school computers.”
  • The Listorious 140 Twitterers (100102) “Who’s Been on Twitter the Longest? We only include people who are active on Twitter and that someone’s added to a list.”
  • Twitter’s Most Influential Topics of 2009 (100102) “Klout today released its Top 2009 list of the topics that captured the attention of the most influential voices and their communities on Twitter.”
  • Obsessively manage your Twitter relationships with Tweepi (091231) “If you’re an aficionado of data then you’re going to love Tweepi.”
  • Best Job Application Ever: Twitter Genius “if this application is more than 600 characters or so, you’re done. And you better be damn well ready to talk briefly about how you can best self-promote, or you’re done. Also, it’s probably better if you don’t want too much money. But don’t say why, keep it short.” (091230)
  • 5 Reasons Why Twitter is my Dream Machine (091230)
  • Twiducate “is a free resource for educators. Developed in 2009, our goal is to create a medium for teachers and students to continue their learning outside the classroom. We attempt to fill a need for a more educationally focused, safe venue for teachers, schools, and home learners in a social networking environment. We understand that many social networking sites exist, however the control of content is limited for teachers. Also, many of these social networking sites are continuously being blocked by school firewalls and administrators. Our service proudly differs in that only teachers and students may view classroom posts, thus creating a private network for you and your students and a safer online learning environment.” (091230)
  • Finding your number 1 Twitter Fan (091230)
  • Historical Tweets (091230)
  • Twitter 2009 Retrospective (091230) “For me 2009 goes down as the year other people discovered Twitter. It went from a small and fairly intimate place to hangout to a busy bustling intersection of information, commerce and conversations. It felt almost like moving from a small town to a big and somewhat impersonal city.”
I really enjoyed David Carr’s post in the New York Times and noted that he was “in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible, and instead of spending a half-hour surfing in search of illumination, I get a sense of the day’s news and how people are reacting to it in the time that it takes to wait for coffee at Starbucks. Yes, I worry about my ability to think long thoughts — where was I, anyway? — but the tradeoff has been worth it.” He observed that “On Twitter, anyone may follow anyone, but there is very little expectation of reciprocity. By carefully curating the people you follow, Twitter becomes an always-on data stream from really bright people in their respective fields, whose tweets are often full of links to incredibly vital, timely information.”
David’s advice about tweeting struck a chord with me “Like many newbies on Twitter, I vastly overestimated the importance of broadcasting on Twitter and after a while, I realized that I was not Moses and neither Twitter nor its users were wondering what I thought. Nearly a year in, I’ve come to understand that the real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice. (My emphasis)” A day later The Oatmeal Comic made it very clear what I must not tweet about.
I am very conscious that this post has broken Rule #4:
Notwithstanding Oatmeal’s exhortation I was fascinated to look at the Listorious information about people on Twitter since 21 March 2006 and wondered what the 10 who signed up that day talked about. I wondered too what kind of narrative Ashton Kutcher has with 4.2 million followers and the 284 people he is following.
From my perspective a week of holiday Twitter has left me with some thick description to review and develop.
After a week of sharing people’s insights and links I found Mark Szakowski’s review of Digital habitats: stewarding technology for communities. His review concludes with these observations:
social software technology is in an unusual phase of rapid evolutionary development, where great opportunities arise, but not everything succeeds, and no one tool does it all. This book is not about the specifics of such tools – there are many books and resources for that. Instead, it is about the patterns and best practices for how to bring community and online forms together in appropriate mosaics, how to look at a community’s orientations and intentions, and be able to speak to and for that community in a tech-savvy way. This job did not exist a decade ago. Every community is realizing it needs someone(s) to fill that job.
Over the course of a week I found 200+ nuggets of information and a vast amount of personal story telling. I think it is very appropriate that I have been able to fossick in Twitter this week. My home village of Mongarlowe was a turn of the century gold mining town.
Photo Credits

Subway, 1934: Lily Furedi.
Radio Broadcast, 1934: Julia Eckel