Playing Word Games in Blog Comments


I just noticed a whole series of word-association and other games going on in the comments of Fail Blog posts. I have no idea if this is a new phenomenon, but I haven’t seen it before. Nor is it clear if any of these people know each other from elsewhere, but there is a whole little community gameplay scene that appears to spontaneously twist and turn.

I always find it fascinating how people will bend almost any activity towards play and communication. Blog comments are of course already set up for communication, but it’s the ability to have them nested on Fail Blog that seems to create a the boundaries for the playfulness.

Is this something new or have I just been in a cave or something? Anyone know of other examples of this happening?

The Network Generation is in The White House


Photo: barackobamadotcom on Flickr

It is hard to overstate just how different these US elections were and what a shift in thinking Obama and his campaign signify. Is this the dawn of a fourth republic, whose cycles are “linked indirectly to stages of technological and economic development,” as Michael Lind argues? Or is this the rise of a kind of new informality or informalism, to bastardise a perfectly decent word into another -ism?

Just four years ago, at the time of the previous US election, the blogosphere consisted of around four million blogs, now it’s difficult to even count, but it’s possibly 133 million. In those four years we have, of course, seen blogging become and integral part of mainstream media culture. As The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss noted, this was a truly cross-platform election, with TV woefully slow to catch up with calling the election win for Obama compared to those online.

But what was impressive and very different about the Obama camp approach was how much they clearly get these new media forms.

Twitter’s election feed was – and still is – a torrent of posts and opinions, but during the voting we got to hear people’s accounts of waiting in line, the excitement the atmosphere. I’m not American, what should I care? And yet. And yet, it was hard not to be drawn into the sense of shared experience.

Obama has (or had – it’s been a bit quiet since the elections) a Twitter stream and being on Twitter during the vote was a shared experience. The Obama camp made great use of Twitter to push for support, to spread the message. The exit poll stats show just how much the 18-29 year old turnout had increased from 2000.

What is essential to remember here is that Twitter isn’t just a computer-based chat space, it is completely integrated into mobile devices too. That means Obama’s tweets, and those of his supporters, reached people on the way to or in the waiting lines of polling booths. It’s direct and intimate.

The world has become cynical of politicians who have long since appeared to ignore the protest and voices of the people who elected them. Whether Obama himself wrote his Twitter tweets we will probably never know, but the fact a presidential candidate is aware of it shows a much more direct connection with people – and not just US citizens. Even if there’s a lowly paid intern tweeting on his behalf, there is a sense that it might filter up. And, of course, there’s always the secret hope that Obama himself is doing the tweeting.

The Flickr photo set above show’s Obama with his family and aides watching the results of the election, watching McCain’s concession speech and being congratulated by his family. They’re intimate, often off-guard and in many he looks quite nervous as if he’s thinking “Oh God, now I actually have to be president”. It’s like looking at post-ceremony, pre-reception drunkenness photos of a freshly minted bride and groom.

The most striking thing about these pictures, though, is that they’re covered by a non-commercial Creative Commons licence. These photos (by David Katz) that picture editors all over the world would love to use to sell their papers remain out of their reach. But they remain usable by the millions of bloggers around the world.

The difference in approach is striking – these aren’t polished, selected, vetted images, tightly controlled by a PR office. They’re informal and out there for the world to see and use. It’s unthinkable that Bush – or any other major politician – would have done anything remotely similar on the “internets“. (The cynic in the back of my mind wonders if they maybe are vetted – there are no photos of Obama shotgunning a beer and flicking the Vs at McCain on TV, after all. But that doesn’t seem like his style.)

A day after the election, Obama’s campaign set up with, naturally, a blog. (Compare it to the stiffness of

So, now we have a US President who blogs and twitters – or whose staff do at least – and appears to be open to opinions and voices from all over the world. In an age of increased surveillance and control, of clipped civil liberties, of an attempt by the previous generation to hang onto control at all costs, this different attitude and use of technology signifies a much bigger, generational shift. It is a shift to a mindset in which collaboration, conversation and the network mind are much more powerful than spin and top-down control ever can be.

It’s what anyone using Twitter, Facebook or writing a blog has known for some time, but now it’s as mainstream as it gets. The network has grown up. The network generation is in The White House.

Playpen Broke. Now Fixed. Sorry.


Apparently Playpen has been broken since yesterday and I didn’t notice (I was on a train from Hamburg most of yesterday). The robot running it got all lonely in his little grey cell.

Something went screwy with the WP-Cache plug-in and it was spewing error pages. If you’re reading this, it’s fixed now.

At some point I’ll be upgrading Playpen too, so get ready for it to break all over again.

Thanks to Joel for pointing it out.

Photo: DonSolo on Flickr.

OLPC – I take it all back

Some will argue that I’m weak-willed, but I have made a 180-degree change of opinion on the merits of the One Laptop Per Child project thanks to Tom Coates’s article.

I’ve been pretty cynical about the OLPC previously because I found the rhetoric not really matching what I had seen (limited as that was). The main issues being whether children need laptops versus food (of course, both would be possible), the environmental arguments and also the accusations of utopianism. Tom’s piece neatly kicks those issues into touch from the outset:

For me, it comes down to the way we want to operate in the world. It’s extremely easy to adopt a pose of scepticism and cynicism about any attempt to change things or push them forwards. I’ve said before about a particularly aggravating tech commentator that naysaying is a sure-fire way to look sensible and intelligent without any of the effort of actually having to think. I stand by that, and I think the OLPC project has had its fair share of this kind of thinking.

Fair cop. I think I’m probably guilty of this.

Personally though, I believe that it’s possible to work for the good of all and improve the world. I think it’s a decent and honourable thing to apply whatever means you have at your disposal to raising the aspirations and possibilities of one of the planet’s most squandered resources–its residents. And I do buy the geek rhetoric that access to information, communication and education cannot but help people. As such, I’m prepared to give this project and others like it, the benefit of the doubt.

I still have some issues about the educational theory behind it, but they’re not huge and I think Tom is absolutely right here. Perfectionism is another form of utopianism after all.

It’s always good to read something that turns your opinions upside down. I think it’s important to admit it too.

[tags]OLPC, Tom Coates[/tags]

Sorry Goodby, Silverstein & Partners!

Thanks to Jim Coudal (I love the giant ‘Finally’ on at the moment too) and Sidney Bosley from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners for commenting and correcting me on who developed that interactive Adobe banner ad that I just posted below. It was Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco.

It’s nice when the interweb works properly and conversations (and corrections) happen. It reminds me of how lame print media can be in this regard sometimes (even though I write for a magazine. Google alerts really are handy (I assume that’s how you guys found it?).

So, for my penance, please go and take a look at the very lovely work on GS & P’s site and, of course, ‘watch’ Layer Tennis. It all kicks off (wrong sport, I know) on September 28th.

Tom Coates on Andrew Keen

If you don’t know who Andrew Keen is, Google him, I’m not linking because I find him and his views on the internet and the changing face of the professional/amateur divide simultaneously calculating and idiotic.

If you do know who he is, you’ll understand why Tom Coates’s drubbing of him is so spot on.

Creative Collaboration & The Future of Education

Slime Mould

I presented my seminar on Creative Collaboration and The Future of Education at Urban Learning Space yesterday and very much enjoyed the Glaswegian hospitality of all the folks at ULS.

Although it would have been nice if I had managed to leave a little more time for discussion, I was really encouraged by many of the responses and questions afterwards. I gave me a sense that there are plenty of like minds out there wanting to try make some real changes in the system and philosophy of education that align better with the creative/knowledge economy and the Play Ethic.

Ewan McIntosh, in an amazing feat of very fast typing and live blogging, has some thoughts on the first part of the talk here, in which I went through Omnium’s projects and Creative Waves 2007 in particular. He also added some great links and thoughts about the second, Future of Education, part in a separate post.

The slime mould you can see above is a metaphor I used for lots of small trends that are developing in parallel suddenly connecting up and coagulating into what appears to be a complete, coherent organism (which is essentially what ‘Web 2.0’ is a case of).

It can happen suddenly and there is the potential for this to happen in education and completely upend things. I think the likelihood is probably that it won’t be as upended as it could be because of the established mechanisms for controlling that status quo. (I also talked about outlying villages and towns coagulating into suburbs and finally being absorbed into major cities as a similar, slower, example).

However, the change will happen in any case and the real challenge is to be asking the right questions far enough in advance to work out how to deal with these rapid changes. At present I haven’t seen much evidence of this from within institutions themselves.

Incidentally, I owe the use of the slime mould metaphor to Steven Johnson and his excellent book Emergence.

ULS will be putting up a podcast and the presentation material on their website soon, I’ll post a link when it’s up.

UPDATE: It’s not on the website yet but you can find the podcast by subscribing to ULS’s iTunes feed.

Break-time at Playpen

Chocolate Milk Fight by imnotpolish

I’m going to take a few days off for a break, so I probably won’t be blogging for a couple of weeks. But stay tuned, there is much more to come as well as some more podcasts.

I’ll also be doing an online presentation for the AWARD Craft Interactive programme on the 27th August. It’ll be recorded and posted somewhere on Operator 11 for your amusement.

So, go play on a swing, drink some milk, have a chocolate milk fight (above) or do something educational like watching a cow milking demonstrations.

(Thanks to imnotpolish for the photo and amusing Flickr name).

Postful ripped off

[UPDATE: There are several updates to this post, which has made it a bit confusing to read. I don’t like deleting posts, so it’s mostly persevered here as it played out. But please read the updates at the bottom of this post to see how this all got resolved.]

A few days ago I posted about a great e-mail to snail mail idea called Postful.

The only misgiving I had was that it was a US-based service, so posting within Europe was a bit pricey (if you already live in Europe of course).

So I was initially thrilled when I got an e-mail from a service called ImailU until I realised it was a complete very near rip-off of Postful. Here’s the mail:

[UPDATE 2: I’m not in the habit of editing posts after I’ve written them, but after a long exchange with Michiel, the owner of ImailU I’ve agreed to remove his mail. I’ve left in but struck through various parts of this post to keep some authenticity to the post as well as show the shifts in the circumstances.]

I’m not going to link to their site, but I feel I should at least write about it so people know not to use it.

I have no problem with someone seeing a good idea and seeing ways to improve on it. But the ImailU site also rips off the exact design of the Postful site and the content. The Terms of Service even have references to Postful in it.

Needless to say, I wouldn’t trust the Privacy Policy nor the fact that my money is going to result in a letter sent anywhere at all.

It’s sad to see the rip-off (without even acknowledgement) (images here on Flickr) as well as it being a classic example of how not to get your idea out there in the blogosphere.

[UPDATE: After posting this I entered into a bit of an e-mail discussion with Michiel, who is understandably angry, and points to L-Mail who already offer a similar service but with more postal outlets. Even though I appreciate his reaction to my post and it seems like a case of a (dis)honest mistake and a misunderstanding of what constitutes borrowing versus ripping-off it still is not the most brilliant idea to steal a competitors idea and the design of their site]

[UPDATE 2 Continued: I still stick by all the points in the original post, but Michiel has made the best of a bad situation and written to Postful to apologise for what is arguably a naive mistake and plans to remedy everything – i.e. re-design his site, etc. – as soon as possible. I think that’s a smart move and it takes some real courage to own up to and deal with those kinds of mistakes, for which I applaud him. So, I hope for everyone’s sake this turns out well and that his business thrives having got off on the wrong foot.]

[UPDATE 3: Since this whole episode, Michiel from IMailU has done the right thing and re-worked the design and the content on his site. So, again, although I’m not deleting the post, I think it’s probably safe to say that IMailU is a legitimate service and will hopefully help add to the market for e-mail to snail-mail services. Decent competition is good for everybody.]