The design challenge of pervasive computing (Doors of Perception 7 on Flow, Amsterdam, 2002)

Trillions of embedded systems are being unleashed into the world. What are the implications of a world filled with all these sensors and actuators? Some of the world’s most insightful designers, thinkers and entrepreneurs addressed these questions at Doors of Perception 7 in Amsterdam in November 2002. The theme was Flow.
This new wave of pervasive computing technology confronts us with a design dilemma. We are filling our world with complex technical systems – on top of the natural systems that were already here, and social/cultural ones that evolved over thousands of years – without thinking much, if at all, about the consequences. We organised Doors 7: to think about the design consequences now – not later.
Our speakers included design specialists like Ezio Manzini (service design), Marco Susani (who develops advanced concepts at Motorola), and Janine Benyus, author of “Biomimicry: innovations inspired by nature”. They looked at the transition from designing things, to designing systems and services – from a variety of perspectives.

Read More »

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

Why is interaction design important?

I was on the launch team that helped develop teaching and research programmes for Interaction Design Institute Ivrea. One outcome was the following statement, which was written collaboratively with Gillian Crampton Smith’s team in Ivrea.
* Interaction design determines how people interact with computers and communications. This is an issue of profound economic and cultural importance.
* Interaction design determines the value of a communication service to its users, and the quality of experience they have when using it.
* Computers and networks are transforming every aspect of our lives. As networks converge, almost everything we use, or do, involves some kind of interaction. There are interactions between us and the system, or between one object and another. Interaction design shapes the kind of experience we have when this takes place.
* The world is already filled with twelve computer chips for every man, woman and child on the planet. By the time today’s five-year-olds leave school, their world will contain thousands of chips for every human being alive. In a world of such complexity, interaction design will influence the kind of life she lives.
* Compared to physical products, communication services are experiences, not things. Interaction design deals with immaterial processes, and with services that adapt to an individual’s needs and preferences. This is a completely new kind of design.
* Interaction design also reveals the new business models that are needed to deliver these services and experiences.
* Very few universities and design schools in the whole world specialise in this vital subject. Interaction Ivrea is in a position to drive innovation, and shape the agenda, for this key question of our age.

Read More »

Posted in [no topic] | 1 Response

Life in the learning economy (conference for 1,000 professors, Amsterdam, 2001)

How will we learn when knowledge changes so fast? Will there still be a role for teachers, when students can learn for themselves? These questions faced 1,000 university teachers at OrO|OrO Teacherslab, a unique event organised in 2001 by the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (Amsterdam University of Professional Education). As a key element of OroOro, Doors of Perception organised a three-day conference which featured 36 Dutch and international speakers from inside and outside education. The idea of our client, Caroline Nevejan, was to help them all get online and up-to-speed on new learning processes by the end of the event.
Oro-Oro had a simple structure: information plus inspiration in the morning, hands-on practice in the afternoon – in a software environment designed by our partners in OroOro, Mediamatic. Each of the three days had a theme: ‘Seeking and Finding’; ‘Editing and Interacting’; ‘Teaching and Earning’. It’s in Dutch only, but here is the formal evaluation of Teacherslab

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

File sharing the future

Infodrome, a one-day conference for the top civil servants of The Netherlands held in The Hague this month (April 2001).
Infodrome is a think-tank set up by the Dutch cabinet to analyse the consequences of information and communications technologies (ICTs) for government and its agencies. Its task is to expose policy makers to possible future scenarios, and thereby to enrich the policy-making – and public money-spending – process.

Charles Leadbeater, an advisor to Tony Blair and a keynote speaker at the Infodrome conference – pronounced it an ‘incredibly grown-up process’. For his part, Leadbeater made an incisive case for the need to focus on institutional innovation – and not just on technology – if governments are to succeed in their role as joint stewards (with citizens) of the public domain, physical and informational infrastructure, learning, health care and so on. The consensus at Infodrome seemed to be that, although governments have to re-think what they do, and how, they are needed more than ever in a world changing profoundly and at increasing speed. Yes, we could listen to the propagandists of the new economy, and leave it all to the market and to corporations – but that would be the gloomier of the futures among the utopian and distopian visions discussed at Infodrome.

The story below is the text of John Thackara’s presentation at Infodrome, on 11 April 2001.
You often hear talk, at this kind of meeting, about ‘cultural barriers to innovation’. Innovation is not just about technology, experts like to say: innovation also means changing the way people think, and behave.
This argument is used frequently about learning. We know that everyone has to become a lifelong learner. The way to achieve this, it is said, is by making the Internet a gigantic distribution system for knowledge. Knowledge for all – a bit like water. The only obstacle to this rosy scenario, goes the argument, is that people are not ready, or able, to be filled up with knowledge in this way, like a bucket under a tap. Therefore, people have got to change.
This is the wrong way to think about learning and the Internet. People are not a ‘problem’ to be solved. The real barriers to innovation are institutional: our teaching concepts, our professional associations, the business models of publishers and media companies, and countless incompatible technical standards.
My talk this morning is about a key aspect of this picture: file-sharing, and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange over the net. File-sharing is a good example of the people being ready, and the technology being available and working well – but where institutional barriers are holding us back.
Now, file-sharing is one of those subjects that far more people talk about, than actually do. So first, a quick check: hands up who has heard of Napster? Now, who actually uses Napster – or Freenet, or Gnutella – on a regular basis?
As I would have expected: for every 100 people who have heard about the subject, five per cent, at most, have had direct experience! I include myself as a non-user, by the way – but I have friends who show me around!
(The following section accompanies a demo of Napster). So let’s look at what this file sharing story is about. Once you start the programme, it connects automatically to the Napster server, which maintains an index of everybody’s collection – or at least, everybody who is connected at that moment.
You type in your search keyword. You can limit your search by choosing line speed, in this case a minimum of ‘T1’: this means you are looking for this music only on computers that have a fast connection, so that your download time will be shorter. You hit the search key, and out pops the window with the results. You can sort this list in various ways, as with response time.
Then you pick your song. You double click it – and up pops a box called transfer manager. At this moment, a song on somebody else’s computer is being copied onto the hard disk of your own computer. Whilst the transfer is under way, you can already go to your download folder and listen to the file, even before it has fully arrived. By the time this song is safely parked on your hard disk, it is automatically made available for other people to copy from you.
But the exchange of music files is just one aspect of the file-sharing phenomenon. Just as important: the system connects you with other people out there – not just with a catalogue of songs of the kind you might find on a publisher’s website.
If you search among the so-called ‘channels’, the window lists different genres: pop, oldies, rap, jazz, techno, rave, hiphop. You name it – there can be a hundred or more on a busy day when a lot of people are connected (to Napster). Each channel – or folder – is inhabited by a particular interest group. When you open one of these folders, you find a list of nicknames representing real people who have put their own music collections online, ready for you to copy.
You can check their line speed, which is important if you care about the speed of downloading. I usually go straight for the T3 group. Today, I’m lucky because “Mr Guggenheimer” is here, whose collection intrigues me; it happens to be on a speedy T3 line. I am interested in what he has to offer, so I peek into his library, his personal collection of songs and . . . oh wow . . . great stuff! Now I decide to bookmark him into my hotlist so I can find him again, so I hit the ‘add to hotlist’ button. My hotlist is the list of people that have interesting songs and that I might want to look up again. I check if he indeed has ended up in my hotlist, and there he is. I can check his speed again, in case I forgot.
Now I decide to send him a message. At his end, my message to him will pop up in a little window. And he might decide to reply. I should warn you that, content-wise, it can be a bit adolescent out there. File-sharing is a marvel of communication – but the contents can be less than marvellous!
I decide to download one of his songs now, and will proceed as with a normal download, like I showed you before. The transfer manager will pop up and you can listen to the song while you download.
Systems such as Napster enable you to communicate not only with a machine but, if you so wish, with another human being who seems interesting because their tastes overlap with yours.
This is where the cultural energy of file-sharing comes from. It’s the essence of peer-to-peer – or “P2P”. You search indirectly, by comparing tastes – but then you connect with that person directly. You learn from and with each other.
There are various kinds of P2P systems. Napster is just one. But in its very short life – less than two years of existence – Napster alone has attracted nearly 40 million committed and enthusiastic users. That’s far more people than watch most so-called ‘mass’ media.
Just like email, and just like the mobile phone, the ‘killer application’ here is connectivity and sharing among people. That is the cultural driver ofP2P.
Most recent attention has focused on the implications of file-sharing for music. And music is a 40 billion dollar business. But recorded music is only one kind of intellectual property. Words are another – there’s an ‘open content’ movement on the Internet.
Images are IP, too. I met some artists in Montpellier two days ago, who are building an open artwork network (Domaine Public, an idea of Eric Watier, info:
And you may well have heard about the Free Software movement and the concept of ‘Open Source’ and open standards. With Linux, thousands of people work on each others’ code, continuously – massive testing and peer review that private companies, however huge, cannot afford. Linux is never finished. Its response time to change is incredibly short, thanks to countless people working on it on a daily basis.
Open Source is not just a regulatory issue: it lies at the the heart of the relationship between ICT and organisational structure.
Let me remind you how we shared intellectual property up until now. In the beginning was the Word – and it was free. Language enabled us to tell each other stories, an effective way to share knowledge and experience that has worked well for 20,000 years – and still does. Then came writing and, with it, the possibility to transfer knowledge from one person to another indirectly. Four hundred years ago, with printing, we industrialized writing, learned out how to embody knowledge in an object, and, with the invention of copyright, created the publishing industry. First came books; a bit later, with sound and image recording, we added records and CDs; more recently still, we added software to the list.
So file sharing raises fundamental questions about the distribution methods – and the business models that underpin them – for all kinds of intellectual property. The old model was simple: the publisher packages knowledge, and we buy the packages – books, CDs, whatever. This model worked perfectly for 400 years or so. It was only with the rise of file sharing that this cosy system came into question. File sharing disrupts this simple and deeply rooted model of publishing. This is why we have the law suits and rhetoric surrounding Napster.
It’s terribly important to filter out the screams of anguish from vested interests, as they contemplate extinction, from the potential of file sharing in a learning-based society. We confront a world whose complexity is growing at an exponential rate. As you will hear repeatedly today, computing and connectivity are pervading products, buildings, our bodies, nature.
You’re probably sick of hearing all those e-words: e-learning, e-health, e-governance. But if you thought nothing was changing, thenyou would not be here today. We are in the middle of a profound transformation in which everything around us, and in us, is being networked. The way we will cope is by learning from each other – continuously, collaboratively, and without friction.
During the Iron Age, it took one hundred years for knowledge about smelting to cross the world. But we simply don’t have 100 years to learn how to live in a world of infinite connectivity. We have to learn in ways that are direct, collaborative, continuous. The good news is that two of three necessary conditions for this kind of learning have been met.
Condition one is cultural. We have the will. Human beings have an innate desire to learn, to connect with others, and to share. I already told you about the 38 million Napster users. Did you know, too, that more people take part in voluntary continuing education each year than the combined number of people who go to sports events, and take air flights? ‘Peer-to-peer’ file sharing is not an algorithm, it’s human nature.
Condition two is technological: We have the technological means to support radical, ubiquitous file sharing in the form of the Internet, peer-to-peer networking, and the file-sharing techniques of the kind I just showed you. Ian Clark, the 25-year-old Irishman who designed Freenet, said: “It’s a way to de-commercialise information, period”. File sharing, which fosters continuity and collaboration in learning, combines technical and cultural forces.
Condition three is institutional – and that’s where we do face obstacles. This is also where you, as policymakers come in: there’s plenty of work for you to do!
The first institutional barrier is the variety of attempts to privatise information – people who try to privatise algorithms, genetic data, or natural organisms. This one is a real snake: we have to kill it.
A related obstacle is the commodity model of publishing I mentioned just now. We need to be firm, but perhaps more humane than with the privatisers of discoveries, in helping publishing change its business model from the commodification, to the facilitation, of learning.
A third institutional barrier: technical standards that make it harder for systems to operate together – rather than easier, as we need.
These are the ‘cultural barriers’ to a learning society that need to be removed. I do not know how to get rid of them. I have no blueprint for a transition from a culture of learning that is corporate, to one that is collaborative. I do not know how to foster a culture of learning based on free exchange of knowledge, Open Source software, and its learning equivalents.
What I do know – and here I will conclude – is two things. First, learning is not a ‘problem’ that will be solved by technology. Neither is learning a problem of human nature, which we somehow have to change. On the contrary, we want to learn, and we have the technical means to do so in new ways. The only obstacles are institutional.
And that brings me to the second thing I know: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

Posted in social innovation & design | 2 Responses

The design challenge of pervasive computing (vision development for European Union research consortiumConvivio 2001-2003)

Doors was responsible for vision building during the first research cycle of Convivio – the European Union network for social computing; its early members included Xerox, King’s College London, Philips, Deutsche Forschunhzentrum fur Kuenstliche Intelligenz, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Consorzio Roma Ricerche.

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

The new medicis

Those were the days. This text, which was written for Japan’s Hakuhodo advertising agency, is a reflection on the changing nature of sponsorship. At the time (1990) I was convinced I had invented a killer business concept – ‘cultural engineering’. Unfortunately, when Japan’s bubble economy abruptly collapsed in 1992, so, too, did my concept: it turned out that the ‘cultural imperative’ lauded in my text was not an imperative after all – it was an easily dispensed-with luxury. Japanese companies cancelled all such activities (which included 70 per cent of my then company, Design Analysis) in a matter of weeks when the economy went bad.
1 The cultural imperative
Passive, hands-off patronage of the arts is a modern invention. And a short-lived one, if you believe the signs. Profound changes to the nature of modern business – some of them dating back 40 years, some unfolding within the last five – have created a ‘cultural imperative’ for advanced organisations. For them, culture can so dramatically enrich business performance that cultural policy is moving to the centre stage in discussions of strategy; it is no longer segregated from other marketing or communications tactics.
It is a dramatic change. After all, the notion that ‘culture’ should operate in a privileged, protected realm, free from interference by state or business, is deeply rooted in 20th century industrial culture. A few years ago, imagine the outrage if John D Rockerfeller had commanded Jean Dubuffet to paint ‘The Glorification of Standard Oil’: such things simply are not done by modern patrons who claim to be motivated by notions of disinterested civic duty and public service. All mention of marketing, or corporate identity, is rigorously excluded from the traditional scenario.
But things were not always so clear-cut as the American critic Joseph Alsop recalls: “During the 17th century Cardinal Barberini, whose uncle was Pope Urban VIII, commissioned Pietro de Cortona to paint the ceiling of his new palazzo – a space the size of an (American) football field – with a vast narrative glorifying…Pope Urban VIII! ‘Cortona did not flinch, nor hanker to paint something more relevant; instead, he cheerfully produced one of the most marvellous works of decorative art of the seventeenth century’. From the first Babylonian, Chinese, Greek and Roman civilisations, through to the Middle Ages and the industrial revolution, bankers, politicians and potentates have employed culture overtly as a weapon of policy: the arts were always involved intimately in the articulation and exercise of power.
It is in this context that the time has come to look critically at the contemporary myth of ‘passive’ patronage. We would argue that it is only with the modern concept of ‘artistic license’, and the growth of a market which derives value from the idea of artistic autonomy, that art entered its privileged realm, supposedly protected from the venal ambitions of the less enlightened patrons in earlier historical periods.
Various factors sustained the myth of passive patronage for much of the twentieth century: the decline of religion; the rise of the merchant classes; changes in the techniques and tools of artistic production; new patterns of consumption; the emergence of a museum culture; the rise of the curator, the dealer and the critic. Above all, the art marketing system has moved from the margins to the centre of society, and has successfully given artefacts the status of financial instruments, like banknotes, or gold bars. Critics have already noted that this superheated financial context questions the freedom of the artist: what price artistic autonomy when paintings sell for $40 million?
This much, many have observed already; the past 30 years have been punctuated by a number of important critiques of the ‘art system.’ Today, however, things are changing once again. Profound changes to the nature of competition in world markets, combined with the steady ‘dematerialisation’ of business, is changing, fundamentally, the relationship between patrons and artistic production. Cultural patronage has become a powerful weapon in competition between firms, cities, even states – and it is this business imperative, rather than the brickbats of critics, that, in our judgement, will destroy the myth of passive patronage.
Culture and commerce have been on convergent paths throughout the past 40 years, as a change in emphasis occured in the advanced economies – from production to information.
During the 1950s and 1960s, advertising emerged as a potent means of modifying consumer behaviour. With the growing sophistication of mass production systems, differences between products of functional performance diminished; even as cars, appliances, even washing powders became more technically sophisticated, the emphasis in marketing on their function decreased. In this sense, it was advertising that began the so-called ‘softening’ of the Western economies, as companies realised that managing perception, not just improved product performance, was the key to competitive success.
Then, during the 1970s, the development of marketing provided business with new tools – research and statistical skills by which it could analyse the composition and behaviour of consumer groups in ever greater detail, and with more subtlety. Marketing soon altered the parameters of discussions about business strategy: the convergence of information about the profile of consumer markets, with the growing flexibility and responsiveness of production, and the new tools of global communications, rapidly increased the ‘dematerialization’ of business. With marketing, information – in the form of data about consumers, or programmed production, or communications – became more important than matter.
After advertising and marketing, a third transformation occurred in business during the 1980s when design – which had, until then, been a specialised, technical activity, moved to centre stage as the new agent of perception management. In particular, one offshoot of old-style design, corporate identity, boomed: by 1990, it had become a $30 billion communications niche sector by itself. The explosion of interest in – and spending on – CI, reflected a move away from the marketing of individual products to a more global concept of ‘branding’ in which fashioning a company’s image became as important as fine-tuning its products, or its product advertising.
During the late 1980s, the process of corporate identity management became steadily more sophisticated. For many years, corporate identity remained essentially a matter of visual identity – and in particular a company’s logo or letterhead.
But steadily, our understanding of identity has broadened.
It is no longer enough to introduce a new visual identity – a complete combination of strategic, organisational and behavioural change is required. For example, management structures need to become less hierarchical and more ‘horizontal’ to improve the dissemination of know-how. ‘Identity’ also involves innovativeness, both within a company and between the company and outsiders. And ‘identity’ does not just influence a company’s staff – it is also a powerful element in the attraction of new recruits, an important issue as labour shortages increase. For all these reasons , changes in accounting procedures in Europe and the USA led to the formal valuation of brand identities: thanks to the tax inspectors, and M&A boom, intangible concepts like the name of Coca Cola, or Sony, are now ranked on a world scale. With this objectification of their value has followed, inevitably, a further increase in investment.
Just as the value of a company’s intangible assets, and in particular its corporate identity, has been reassessed, so, too, the tools and tactics available to manage and improve such intangible assets have multiplied. For two reasons – both technological. First, information technology has provided business with an ever more detailed and up-to-date picture about consumer behaviour – its the audience has become fragmented, but business has a clearer understanding of the fragments. With new database segmentation, for example, it is now possible to predict the performance of certain kinds of direct mail before it goes out. Secondly, the mediums of communication have become fragmented – with the result that mass communications, such as television advertising, are proving steadily less and less cost effective.
The phenomenon of ‘niche markets’ will be familiar to readers of this book, and does not require further detail here; but a note about the decline of mass communications is warranted. In the UK, for example, the total amount of television viewing declined by 6.5% between 1985-1990; among wealthier consumers, the decline was more pronounced – socio-economic AB consumers watched 9.3% less television during this period. In the words of The Independent, a London newspaper, ‘television is simply becoming more peripheral to more people’.
The irony is that many business strategists thought the spread of mass communications would create a new class of ‘global consumer’, and the 1980s concept of the ‘global product’ was a direct result of this expectation. Unfortunately for this theory cost savings from economies of scale in manufacturing global products, even where they have been achieved, tend to be offset by the increased costs of the specialised marketing communications that have to be employed in different markets
Now, the trend is towards what I have called elsewhere (*) ‘deep marketing’ – a complex, multi-faceted, constantly changing strategy in which a wide variety of communications tactics are combined with a growing integration of research, design management, production and marketing processes.
Deep marketing addresses not only the outside world of consumers, but also the inside world of a company’s own people. And the range of tactics to be used (see Table XX) grows longer by the day. Today, specialised marketing and communications are a $650 billion industry world-wide.
Deep marketing is a response to a shift from products to services which has transformed the nature of competition in the following way: firms now compete for the attention of consumers who are more visually literate, more sophisticated, more culturally aware, than at any time in history. In buying a car, a pension plan, a computer, or a box of muesli, consumers have come to assume that competing products will probably perform more or less equally well – where they discriminate is in the value added to a product, and a product’s firm, by intangible factors such as its image and style, service, or perceived sophistication.
But if the 1980s were dominated by the sophisticated use of visual imagery to enhance the brand identity of whole companies, the 1990s and beyond will witness a new industrial culture based on learning and creativity within, and between, companies and their customers – the ‘aestheticisation of business’.
As the business theorist Charles Hampden Turner explains, ‘we are all, now, in an economic race to learn. The wealth-creating capacities of a nation are no longer contained in their physical resources, nor even in their comparative economic advantages, but in the innovativeness and learning of their culture…the more knowledge that is organised into a product, the less the likelihood of competition’.
Hence the cultural imperative. Companies – and the argument holds just as well for cities, or indeed states – can no longer compete only with products, or with their image: they must find another way to express their intelligence, their individuality, their sophistication. And their new tactic? It is cultural engineering, as this following sections explain.
2: Cultural strategy
A great deal of confusion has been caused by the failure to distinguish between three quite different uses of the words ‘corporate’ and ‘culture’: ONE: among management theorists during the mid-1980s, ‘corporate culture’ became a fashionable term to describe aspects of a company’s socio-technical psychology; ‘corporate culture’ was a way of describing a whole company’s ‘state of mind’. Although an imprecise discussion at best, the content was important; the way in which managers related to each other, their ability to innovate, and the ability of a company’s structure to support innovation, was seen to be as important as technological or marketing prowess in the battle for competitive advantage;
TWO: a second use of the word culture referred to sponsorship of arts events; as we described earlier, the concept of business funding artistic enterprise dates back centuries, but in the USA, in particular, the notion of strategic philanthropy was strong during the 1970s and 1980s. The traditional disinterested patron of grand cultural events still existed, with the great foundations – Carnegie, Mellon, Ford, Rockefeller, Getty – continuing to dominate the arts funding scene; but they were joined by hundreds of other corporate patrons, many of them operating at a local level, who helped expand the ‘cultural economy’ dramatically: in the USA, corporate donations to the arts broke the $1 billion a year mark in 1988. In recent years, the more savvy players (IBM, Mobil) have repackaged their philanthropy and patronage as social policy, creating quite detailed criteria for the distribution of funds not just to artists, but also to community groups, educational bodies and health. Strategic philanthropy produced a new breed of sponsorship consultant who matchmakes the Big Culture producers (opera, theatre, art shows) and corporate or private sponsors. Various techniques are employed to make sure the sponsor gets his or her money’s worth – from the selection of appropriate events to minutiae of the opening night party. THREE: Now, a third interpretation of ‘culture’ and corporate strategy is emerging in which the internal ‘state of mind’ of the company is perceived to have entered a new, synergistic relationship with the ‘outside’ world of consumers, technological change and exploding communications. A new industrial culture of continuous innovation has been identified in which cultural projects are transformed into a medium for communication between the company and the external environment. In other words, because the concept of a learning organisation, described by Charles Hampden Turner, entails a constant relationship between staff, consumers, consultants, scientists, and so on, a new communications medium is needed to support that relationship. The medium is culture in both senses – internal behaviour, and external cultural event – but the combination is entirely new. Managing the creation of this new medium is a process we call cultural engineering.
In most business literature, the parameters of cultural engineering are drawn rather tightly around sponsorship of traditional categories of ‘culture’ – fine art, opera, theatre, music, and so on. Even within these traditional categories, spending on cultural projects has exploded. In Europe, for example, it is estimated that arts sponsorship in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands has reached $400 million; this level of growth is attributed to the growth of arts sponsorship associations, and the introduction of fiscal incentives by national governments. But these figures tell only part of the story; the emphasis on financial contributions, donations in kind, and specialist advice, varies from country to country, with UK businesses giving mainly money, and West German companies concentrating on goods and advice. Given that professional sponsors usually spend up to three times as much on marketing support, as they spend on the art event itself, then the total sponsorship economy in these five European countries alone is probably nearer $2 billion.
Although reliable world-wide figures are not available, the world-wide sponsorship economy – the sum of cash grants, help in kind, and back-up marketing budgets – is probably $5-8 billion. Add in capital grants to infrastructure projects, such as museums, art galleries and theatres – many of which receive free land, or low-rent premises in otherwise commercial developments, and the figure rises to nearer $20 billion.
New categories of cultural engineering
Restricting the category of ‘culture’ to traditional art events – even when it produces a $5-8 billion niche marketing activity – grossly underestimates the real size of the investment by business in culturally-related programmes. For, if one accepts the lessons of the corporate identity movement that all a company’s activities contribute to its image – from the state of the office interior, to the quality of its advertising – then the size of the cultural economy explodes.
Consider the advertising industry. According to the British marketing services conglomerate WPP, the world-wide fee income for the advertising sector is over $100bn – and according to many cultural critics of the ‘post-modern world’, advertising and mass communications have become so pervasive that they must be judged in part at least as cultural activity. In the UK, for example, more than 75% of art school graduates go on to work in advertising or the media. The most effective advertising not only exploits existing cultural references in its contents (pop songs, artists, famous designers, fashion concepts, are all regular subject matter for advertising).The best advertising creates new cultural forms of its own: one thinks of computer graphics wherein artists have created a whole new experimental aesthetic in the course of their work in advertising.
Of course, the theory that business is becoming more ‘aesthetic’, in the broadest sense, does not mean that these billions of dollars are perceived by the corporate business people who spend them as cultural expenditure. On the contrary, the great majority of companies still make a big effort to segregate sponsorship from other marketing activities – and in the whole world, there are probably no more than 30-40 companies that consciously integrate all these aspects of their business into a unified strategy. But this is not the point. In our view, these 30-40 companies are the most advanced in the world, and in many respects are useful models for the future.
Interestingly, the concept of a new industrial culture, in which producers, consumers and experts are united by a continuos process of innovation, is understood by meta-industrial organisations rather better than ordinary companies. One thinks, for example, of city governments which, in recent years, have found themselves forced into intense rivalry and competition with other cities around the world. Some of the ways in which these non-traditional cultural activities are managed are introduced in the following sections.
The Cultured Company
In this brief survey, we described a progression from advertising (1960s) , through marketing (1970s), to Corporate Identity (1980s) and ‘Deep Marketing’ (1990s); in Deep Marketing, wherein companies employ a constantly changing mixture of communication techniques, Cultural Engineering plays a central role as the medium for communication between the company and its external environment. We also explained the important way in which this definition of Cultural Engineering combines the two earlier uses of the words ‘corporate’ and ‘culture’: 1] corporate culture as ‘corporate state-of-mind’ or ‘the way we do things around here’; 2] the hands-off, philanthropic of arts events by corporations. By combining the two ideas in Cultural Engineering, we proposed that a company’s involvement in external cultural activities would, in itself, change the company’s internal culture.
Despite our argument that ‘hands-off’ sponsorship is in decline, this model remains highly influential, particularly in Japan and in Europe; (in the USA, there are some indications that the recession is causing some big sponsors to question the value of these activities). But in Japan, in particular, the concept of disinterested philanthropy is strongly reinforced by a tradition of civic duty. Long before arts sponsorship was discovered in Japan, the owners and leaders of companies felt a collective responsibility to repay to the community some of the profits gained in their business lives – a concept more-or-less completely absent from most Western industries, in the 20th century at least.
Our argument is not that civic duty or social responsibility is wrong – but that, when applied to sponsorship of the arts, it cannot be ‘hands-off’. The sheer scale and importance of corporate funding for the arts will influence culture, whether the donors wish it or not. In the 1990s, corporate leaders will have cultural responsibility forced upon them; they cannot escape it.
Some corporations solve this problem by refusing ever to donate large sums to a single cultural activity: in Britain, for example, companies like Shell, or the Midland Bank, donate large sums each year – but in small quantities to large numbers of recipients. This process requires considerable in-house management: selecting from among many thousands of applications each year takes a lot of expert work.
In the USA, corporations have solved the ‘responsibility problem’ by devolving the sponsorship to local branches, which often choose to concentrate on social or educational activities, such as schools, parks, and public amenities. This policy can be highly effective in helping a multi-national company integrate itself into local communities (and markets). This policy of distributed sponsorship’, with a strong social emphasis, will certainly appeal to companies for whom the Cultural Engineering concept is unattractive.
But for many sophisticated, knowledge-based enterprises, the use of culture to create an innovative, creative and learning organism – the company of the future – offers tremendous opportunities. The question for them is this: how to manage the transition?
One must distinguish, here, between the American concept of Strategic Philanthropy – or the slightly different French concept of mecenat – and cultural engineering in the sense we have described it.
In the former situations, external cultural projects are selected on the basis that they meet clearly defined objectives set by the sponsoring company. So, a company may wish to develop its image as an intelligent company, in which case the choice or selection of event is crucial. So is the mechanism by which the identity of the sponsor is conveyed. In sports sponsorship, and increasingly in arts sponsorship, sponsors typically devote 300% more than the cash subsidy to promotion of their own role as sponsors. Increasingly, the French mecenat model emphasises the development of in-house expertise in cultural management, so that companies need not just react passively to proposals from outside producers, but may proactively develop projects, jointly with museums or theatres. Shiseido’s new Culture Division offers an advanced model of this kind, with a Senior Manager reporting directly to the President. But in Europe, the opposite phenomenon may also be observed – the management of arts sponsorship drifting down the management hierarchy, away from the President and towards the Brand Managers who are better placed to target arts events at specific consumer groups. This phenomenon is paralleled by a decrease in the influence of the CEO on the choice of events: the President’s personal preference for opera is giving way to the Brand Manager’s more intimate knowledge of what turns on his customers.!
But there are two new challenges for top management: first, how to integrate external cultural events with the internal development of its own people – using external sponsorship to change inerenal ‘state-of-mind’; and second, how to extend the management of culture from traditional arts events to the various components of Deep Marketing: architecture, design, advertising, corporate communications, training, and so on.
There are no simple answers to these two questions. Managing cultural policy is like managing change (another business buzzword of the 1990s): a complex process operating at different levels and changing through time. That said, certain components of a Cultural Engineering strategy may be listed:
A] Involve all levels of management: For an organisation to change its state-of-mind, it is not enough simply for the CEO or President to issue edicts: junior and middle managers need to be involved in commissioning, organising, and exploiting cultural projects – in collaboration with artists and cultural producers. This is not to say that managers should interfere with the artist’s independence – but he should be intelligently involved as a partner in the creative process.
B] Develop in-house expertise: It follows that companies should not rely on sponsorship consultants to tell them what to do; consultants have a crucial role to play as ‘brokers’ or contact-points – but they should be used as support services for work rooted inside the organisation. Cultural training will be needed to help managers; at the moment, such training is almost non-existent (*) – companies will need to work with museums, universities and art schools to create the training systems needed.
C] Integrate traditional culture with other mediums: many of the managers who will be required to get involved in cultural work (art exhibitions, concerts, theatre and so on) will also be involved in design management, advertising campaigns, research policy, corporate communications, and so on. The whole essence of a ‘learning company’ is that these different subjects are connected. Practically, this means a company’s management structure must promote interaction: * when a building is commissioned, the most culturally advanced managers should be involved in briefing the architect; * when an advertising campaign is developed, the company’s involvement in an art exhibition should be included as part of the research phase * in new product development, designers would benefit from exposure to craftsmen, sculptors, or other artists; * when a company is developing training policies, it should include contact with cultural institutions, as well as universities and management schools, in the mix * art and technology can interact with each other in surprising and profitable ways – but such interactions need to be organised, and not left to chance, or to the initiative of artists. Research managers, in particular, will need to begin using artists as a new breed of researcher D] Treat cultural programmes as an investment, not an optional extra: The concept of ‘1% for art’, in which companies promise to spend 1% of their gross profits on arts sponsorship – is good for artists and cultural producers – but it is not, in our opinion, a valid policy for business. The reason: if cultural engineering is to be taken seriously, some companies may need to spend more than 1% – and others might validly spend less. The problem with ‘1% for art’ policies is such budgets are separated from central research, training or marketing programmes: ‘1% budgets’, by their nature, tend not to be monitored, managed or evaluated. Cultural budgets should be included with research, marketing, training, or corporate identity, and not segregated as a special case. Cultural programmes create new knowledge, and new values – therefore they should be treated as an important investment.
E] Cultural engineering is only one of the answers: To repeat: in future, companies will develop Deep Marketing expertise, in which many skills and tactics will be used simultaneously. Cultural Engineering is a key element, but it is not the only one.
F] Every company’s culture policy will be different. In today’s most advanced companies, there is already considerable integration between Cultural Engineering, Design Management, Corporate Identity and so on. For companies such as Seibu Department Stores (retailing) Olivetti (information products) or Armani (fashion and merchandising), these different functions are already deeply ‘cultural’. These companies possess a culturally advanced ‘state of mind’; they are the prototypes of ‘the cultured company’. But each one is also different: none of these companies has adopted an abstract model of cultural policy, but has exploited its history, and its existing skills, as well as new external opportunities, such as changing consumer tastes, new technologies, and so on.

Posted in perception | Leave a comment

Design and Innovation Research Centre (DIEC) (Planning a new design and innovation centre. Newcastle upon Tyne. 2001)

Doors of Perception was in a consortium that developed the initial specification and blueprint of an important new institution to be based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England. Our client was the UK regional development agency, One North East. Its title, at the time of our contribution, was Design and Innovation Research Centre. The project is now known as The Northern Design Centre – and here is a pic of its proposed new building:

Posted in [no topic] | Leave a comment

Rules of engagement between design and new technology

These principles were formulated for my keynote at the Computer Human Interaction (CHI) conference, The Hague, 2000:

1] We cherish the fact that people are innately curious, playful, and creative. This is one reason technology is not going to go away: it’s too much fun.

2] We will deliver value to people – not deliver people to systems. We will give priority to human agency, and will not treat humans as a ‘factor’ in some bigger picture.

3] We will not presume to design your experiences for you – but we will do so with you, if asked.

4] We do not believe in ‘idiot-proof’ technology – because we are not idiots, and neither are you. We will use language with care, and will look for less patronising words than ‘user’ and ‘consumer’.

5] We will focus on services, not on things. We will not flood the world with pointless devices.

6] We believe that ‘content’ is something you do – not something you are given.

7] We will consider material end energy flows in all the systems we design. We will think about the consequences of technology before we act, not after.

8] We will not pretend things are simple, when they are complex. We value the fact that by acting inside a system, you will probably improve it.

9] We believe that place matters, and we will look after it.

10] We believe that speed and time matter, too – but that sometimes you need more, and sometimes you need less. We will not fill up all time with content.

Posted in most read, rules & unsolicited advice | Leave a comment

New geographies of learning

How technology is altering the terrain of teaching. I rashly agreed to give a lecture to several hundred university teachers in Amsterdam….(This is the text of a speech given on September 6th, 2000, at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam).

I am most grateful – and not a little intimidated – by your invitation to give this talk to you today. I say intimidated because I am an outsider speaking to a room full of experts. At a rough guess, I’d say that you probably have about 5,000 years of educational experience between you in this room! If we add in your time as childhood learners, then your aggregate experience doubles to probably 10,000 years!

Now this may surprise you, but I am not here promote the internet as the answer to every educational question we face. On the contrary. I am sceptical about the claims being made for web-based learning. Most of it strikes me as ‘old wine in new bottles’. The potential of the internet is not understood – let alone exploited – by much of the ‘virtual’, ‘distant’ or ‘online’ education that’s out there now.

But I am not a technophobe. I do not criticise today’s e-learning products because they use the internet, but because they don’t use it enough. The internet contains amazing examples of what I call ‘net effects’ that can enhance learning in spectacular ways. But these net effects are being developed in different contexts, and for different activities, than for education and learning.

The main point of my story today is this: we should use these ‘net effect’ tools for learning, whether or not they were intended for that. My talk today has three parts. First, I will explain why I don’t much like or trust most of the internet-based learning that’s on offer now. Secondly, I’ll show you some of the ‘net effects’ that we should hijack for our own purposes. In the final part of my talk, I’ll tell you about a forthcoming event – OroOro: teacherslab – which has been designed to help us take this kind of initiative.

My critique of today’s e-learning is this: it focusses on just one aspect of the learning process – the delivery of text or media from one place to another. This scenario is often accompanied by fantasy images of privileged individuals surrounded by all the world’s knowledge. ‘Streaming learning’ for the hi-tech elite.

There are two problems with this picture. First, it is technically not yet feasible. The tools and infrastructure for multi-channel broadband communications on a large scale are simply not there yet. The second much bigger problem: any service that restricts itself to the delivery of pre-packaged content, ignores the social and collaborative nature of learning, and cultural qualities of time and place that add depth and texture to the process. I call these key ingredients the geographies of learning.

I am sure nobody here would seriously aspire to replace schools and universities with websites or cable channels. But there are powerful interests out there who do. A couple of years ago, a former Dutch economic affairs minister told me that, with the internet, “we can stream lectures from the best ten per cent of teachers to classrooms, and do without the other 90 per cent “. I also visited Japan with a European delegation; there, we were proudly shown vast halls filled with hundreds of personal omputers – facing forward to the teacher, in neat rows. This, we were told, was a school of the future. To use the language of my childhood comic Dandy: “Yikes!”

Fantasies of a technological fix for education are highly attractive to some politicians. Faced with large-scale skill shortages, they are receptive to scenarios that ‘penetrate the schools’ with new technology and thus, as if by magic, multiply the production of well-trained students. This rosy vision is clouded only by the possibility that grown-ups might stand in the way; I have read in several policy documents that ‘teachers are the main impediment’ to technological modernisation. Some developers are just as bad, boasting of their ‘teacher-proof technology’.

As Gore Vidal once said, even paranoids have enemies. So if any of you have been suspicious about the motives of people promoting new technology in education – you were right! At least in part. Such visions of a vast, semi-automated learning machine remind me of the joke about the factory of the future: It will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog – the dog will be there to stop the man touching the equipment. Technology push is not a new feature of the learning world.

Throughout the 100 year history of distance education, which began with the correspondence course, ambitious claims have been made for the capacity of technology to improve the way we learn. First there was radio, then television, then video – a whole series of ‘Next Big Things’ even before the internet came along. None of those earlier technologies lived up to the claims made for them. Neither will the internet – unless we change the things we are asking it to do.

We need to be vigilant, creative and proactive – right now – because technology push is intensifying. The internet is only one aspect of this. My picture of a cityscape (borrowed from Autodesk) neatly suggests that almost everything man-made, and quite a lot made by nature, will soon combine hardware and software.

So-called pervasive computing spreads intelligence and connnectivity to everything around us: ships, aircraft, cars, bridges, tunnels, machines, refrigerators, door handles, walls, lighting fixtures, shoes, hats, packaging. You name it and somone, rather soon, will put a chip in it. The world is already filled with between eight and thirty computer chips for every man, woman and child on the planet. (The number depends on who you ask). Within a few years – say, the amount of time a child who is four years old today will spend in junior school – that number will rise to thousands of chips per person. A majority of these chips will communicate with networks. Many will sense their environment in rudimentary but effective ways.
(PICT)003 “here’s looking at you, too”

The way things are going, as the science fiction writer Bruce Sterling so memorably put it, “you will look at the garden, and the garden will look at you”. Mind you: what the sunflower will see may not be very interesting. By 2005, nearly 100 million Europeans will be using wireless data services connected to the internet. But so far, only one service seems to have caught our imagination: paying the parking metre via mobile phone. I do not imagine our sunflower will be impressed by that!

Technology push confronts us with an innovation dilemma. It is simply stated: our industries know how to make amazing things, technically. That’s the top line in my chart: it heads heading manfully upwards. The line could just as easily apply to the sale of mobile devices, internet traffic, processor speeds, websites, or e-commerce. That blue line is a combination of Moore’s Law (which states that processor speeds double and costs halve every 18 months or so) and Metcalfe’s Law (which states that the value of a network rises in proportion to the number of people attached to it). But a new law – I have modestly named it Thackara’s law – is that if you put smart technology into a pointless product, the result will be a stupid product.

We’ve created an industrial system that is brilliant on means, but pretty hopeless when it comes to ends. The result is a divergence – which you see on my chart – between technological intensification – the high-tech blue line heading upwards -and perceived value, the green line heading downwards.The spheroid blob in the middle is us: we are hovering uneasily between our undiminshed infatuation with technology, on the one hand, and our unease about its actual value, and possible rebound effects, on the other.

Much of today’s e-learning reflects this tension between what we can do, and what we ought to do. Much of it is an answer to the wrong question. The wrong question is: “hey, we have a new communication medium called the internet! what shall we do with it?”. The right questions are these: “what is it about the learning process that needs to be improved? in what ways might the internet enable those improvements?”.
Our dilemma is that, although the internet and new media technologies can do some amazing things, they cannot support the soft and ‘wet’ aspects of learning that I believe we cannot do without. Besides, even if the technology could cope, no business model has emerged to pay for these more complex forms of learning.

Right now, these questions are not heard amid fevered talk of an ’emerging electronic university’, a ‘unified global marketplace for ideas’ and ‘worldwide web-based knowledge exchanges’. This kind of rhetoric has started a feeding frenzy among investors. One example: the world’s first trade fair for education – World Education Market – took place in Vancouver in 2000. Thousands of new players were attracted to an event which promised that education would soon be a $90 billion business – one of the biggest in the world, along with financial services and health.

E-learning entrepreneurs calculate that, in a knowledge-driven society, investors will place a higher value on people, than on plants and equipment. Proponents of the ‘intellectual capital’ concept assert that 70 per cent of a nation’s wealth today is in the form of human capital, rather than physical capital. Whether or not this theory is true, hardly matters: the markets perceive it to be true – and have decided it is worth a bet. To be fair, the high priest of the intellectual capital movement, Tom Stewart, says repeatedly in his book that “smart individuals do not add up to a smart enterprise: for that, you need knowledge to flow. Sharing and transporting knowledge are what counts”.

In the breathless words of one new education ‘portal’, UNext, “the vast imbalance between the supply and demand for quality education provides an enormous, untapped global market. Countries, companies, and individuals that don’t invest in knowledge are destined to fall behind”. The internet, gushes Unext, “has created an unprecedented opportunity to create a global education business”.

Some new projects are so-called ‘pure play’ initiatives – start-up companies which aspire to be a ‘learning portal’ through which all types of knowledge and learning will be exchanged. One such, Hungry Minds ( is – I quote – “continually combing the net to feed our growing database of 37,000 online courses”. The fact that Hungry Minds is only a couple of years old may explain its preference for quantity over quality.
Another pure-play site,, has enlisted the world’s leading management guru, Peter Drucker, to make a series of five hour-long management programmes – “leading business strategists delivered direct to your computer”. Corpedia’s demo includes a wonderful demonstration in which a fictitious (I hope) employee types onto an electronic schoolbook’, “I resolve to become a batter employee”. The power of computing and ‘learning process re-engineering’ is wondrous to behold.

Another new entrant, Fathom (, has spent many millions of dollars building an alpha version of its portal, which has not even been launched as I speak. Fathom has partnered with an impressive roster of blue-chip universities and institutions, including the London School of Economics, Columbia and Chicago Universities, Rand Corporation, and New York Public Library. The Nobel Prize-winning professors and heads of state who studied at these august institutions take pride of place on the home pages of sites like UNext and Fathom.

Other institutions are going it alone. Harvard Business School has invested millions of dollars a year in its website since the mid-1990s; the site features sophisticated interactive software that adds zest to the tonnage of business case studies. Penn State University has thrown all modesty to the winds with its so-called “World Campus”. And at the Wharton Business School, its private-sector neighbour, you can spend $50,000 on a four month e-business course. There are more than 1,600 accredited distant learning courses, many of them web-enabled, in California alone. So there’s a lot happening out there, and big money is flying around.

But I suspect some of these projects miss the point. In many of these ventures learning is understood – if it is understood at all – as a one-way, ‘point-to-mass’ distribution system. My line is this: even if there are ten Nobel Prize-wimnning professors sitting at that ‘point’, delivering content down a pipe, like water, this is not teaching. And ‘receiving’ content – like an empty bucket under a tap – is not learning. Put another way: I’d be very surprised indeed if these Nobel Prize-winning eminences would have made such a big contribution of they’d done all their teaching and research on net.
The English writer Charles Hapmden Turner has put it better than I can: “knowledge is becoming too complex to be carried in the individual heads of itinerant experts. Knowledge as it grows and grows is necessarily social, the shared property of extended groups and networks”.
(PICT)009 geographies of learning

The ‘distribute-then-learn’ model cannot embrace the more complex geographies of learning that I mentioned earlier. I like the way David Hargraves put it in a Demos pamphlet: “schools” he wrote, “are still modelled on a curious mixture of the factory, the asylum, and the prison”. Unless we think about learning as a process that depends on place, time, and context – the internet will not enhance learning. It will probably make it worse. I will briefly take you through these ‘geographical’ qualities to explain what I mean.

Learning is social, learning is asynchronous, learning is local, learning is organisational, learning is sharing, learning is searching, learning is play, learning is social.

An important new book, The Social Life of Information, by Paul Duguid and John Seely Brown, reminds us that we learn not only by the acquisition of facts and rules, but also through participation in collaborative human activities. The most valuable learning takes place among social networks, not at the end of a pipe filled with pre-packaged ‘content’. (The fact that one author of this book, Seely Brown, is Chief Scientist of Xerox, suggests that big companies companies may be changing the way they innovate away from a technology-led approach).

Learning is asynchronous. New technology has worked best when helping people interact across time, rather than across space. When students and teachers can access web documents at different times, they can escape the temporal confines of the classroom, say experts like John Seely Brown. The best of such internet tools are usually an extension of – not a replacement for – face to face exchanges.

The concept of a ‘death of distance’ made great headlines a couple of years ago. Its grandchild is the concept of ‘anytime, anywhere learning’.The idea sounds attractive and uncontroversial. But when based on a point-to-mass distribution model, it overlooks the significance of place and local knowledge. A lot of what we learn is remarkably local: History. Agriculture. Politics. Art. Geology. Viticulture. Forestry. Conservation. And local does not just mean local nature. The city of Paris, (shown here on a photograph) is also replete with ‘local’ knowledge. Cities are unique learning ecologies. The danger we face is a combination of ‘death of distance’ideology and the sheer pressure of money and technology behind ‘global’ e-learning scenarios that could marginalise local forms of knowledge, regardless of their importance.

A lot of learning takes place in offices, research labs, hospitals, design offices, web studios – anywhere, indeed, that people gather together to work. The way we organise education – or for that matter work – hinders integration between the two communities. The Internet makes it easier to connect parts together in a technical sense – but breaking down the walls between ‘school’ and ‘work’ and ‘home’ will involve cultural and institutional connections that will be harder to achieve.

The prominence given to the presence of Nobel Laureates in the rhetoric of portal sites like UNext and Fathom suggests that they are wedded to a Great Minds theory of learning. But teacher-to-student education is only one side of the story. Student-to-student learning (or peer-to-peer learning outside formal educational contexts) is just as important. And let us not forget student-to-elder teaching! At a time of rapid technical change, so-called ‘upward mentoring’ is coming into play because ‘students’ often have a fresher understanding of specialised technical domains. The founder of MediaLab, Nicholas Negroponte, tells a great story about upward mentoring. “I never used to understand why people had difficulty with their video recorder remote control ” he says. “Until, that is, my own remote control – my son – went off to college. From that moment on, I’ve been unable to use my video at all.”
(PICT)015 learning is networking

The concept of local knowledge ecologies summons up the image of education as a kind of mythical journey. A student would no longer expect her or his university career to take place in a particular place, for a pre-set period, among a pre-selected body of academics. Instead, tomorrow’s student will travel, Chaucer-like, among a a network principally of his or her own making – staying at home, travelling, mixing online and off-line education, work in classes, or alone, or with mentors – and above all continuing the journey long after talking a degree.

It takes a lifetime to become the child that you should be, said Jean-Luc Godard. But vast projects to wire up classrooms to the Internet seem to be going in the opposite direction. Rather than make space for children and teachers to learn in new and playful ways, most ‘wired classrooms’ are more like cages filled with experimental rats. Only the rats are our children. But in The Netherlands, origin of Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, we should know better. We learn by playing and by doing – not by being filled up with knowledge like a bucket. Or a hungry rat. We need playmates, too.

In the first part of my talk, I complained that a lot of Internet-based education is based on an industrial, ‘distribute-then-learn’ model at the expense of other qualities which are just as important – social, local, organisational, sharing, networking, and play. But I do not blame the Internet for e-learning’s lack of ambition! On the contrary: away from “Learning” with a capital “L”, astonishing new tools and environments are being developed. They are called “customer service technologies” or “application services.” These are the focus of part two of my talk.
(PICT)018 customer service applications

Many of the buzzwords used to label these new tools will mean nothing to you. Many of them mean nothing to me, and I’m supposed to be an expert:
[Words on screen] Search Engines, Wizzards, Filters, Bots, and Agents. File Sharing, File Transfer, Intelligent Routing. Auctions and Clearing Houses. Portals, Vertical Nets, and Vortals. Games Opinion Sites; Feedback, Rating, Comparison and Recommender Systems. Groupware, Community Ware, List Servers, Moderation Support Tools. Live Voice, Real Person, Chat Spaces. Keywords: Peer-To-Peer and Open Source.

But before we explore what these words mean, I’d like to draw your attention to the amazing speed and scale of the innovation taking place. These technical innovations receive far less attention than e-commerce – partly because it is often hard to grasp what these applications are for. But, albeit obscurely, dozens of new applications emerge every month. For a flavour of this strange new world, read new economy magazines like Red Herring, Business 2.0, Fast Company, or Industry Standard. These new economy bibles are filled with advertisments for these obscure new applications. As a sample, only, of what I mean, allow me now to show you just four examples – from the hundreds out there – of applications that I think we can use in learning.

The first is file sharing. The subject has been in the news as the conflict between Napster and the global music industry (plus a ton of lawyers). What happens is this. People who want to obtain an music file (which may have been copied from a CD and compressed into something called an ‘MP3’ file) can do it in one of two ways. They can download it directly from a server linked to the worldwide web. Or they can use a file-sharing service like Napster to grab the track directly from another user’s computer. Listeners running Napster software use it to request a song; the programme searches the hard drives of all other Napster users who are online, and generates a list of the hard drives where the song can be found. Listeners can then download the file directly from the selected location. Sometimes this transaction can involve email exchange between the two users.

Online music sharing services like Napster provide access to millions of song files. Access, that is, to anyone with a computer, a sound card, and an Internet connection. 20 million users and rising fast. Whether or not Napster survives the legal onslaught of the music industry, other file-sharing platforms like Gnutella or Freenet are emerging too. Due to the de-centralised way they work, litigation is difficult, if not impossible. They do not use central servers that can be shut down: there is no ‘there’ there. Besides, these free programmes are developed by a loose coalition of young software developers who are guided by a strong sharing concept known as the Open Source movement. Open Source adds cultural energy and legitimacy to what is already a super-smart technological onslaught on centralised knowledge distribution.

The next ‘net effect’ I find intriguing is so-called live person technology. You might consider it an irony that contact between real people should be trumpeted as an innovation. After all, we enjoyed unlimited personal contact before the communications revolution that began with the telephone in 1876! Tant pis: retro-fitting real people into websites is now a big trend. Channels such as CNN and BBC Online are steadily expanding services that allow viewers to interact. Live contact is a bigger priority in the business world. A lot of effort is going into customer service technologies that help companies interact with their customers in real-time with varying degrees of directness.

Such systems as LivePerson allow companies to build a shared knowledge base for ‘pre-formatted responses’. (PFRs they are called in the trade). The aim is to provide at least the perception of so-called ’24/7 Customer Assistance’ – ultimately increasing the sites’ “stickiness” and value. A live person scenario for learning is not hard to imagine. Teachers all over the world complain when students ask them the ‘same old questions’ over and over again. By putting answers to students’ old chestnuts into a database, teachers could free up their time for direct input about new and original points of discussion.

Teachers may have more mixed views about my next net effect: application, opinion sites and ‘recommender systems’. A well-known example is One million reviews have been posted on epinions since its launch a year ago – about 4,000 a day. 10,000 of the reviews posted have been reviews of the site itself – a rich source of feedback for the company’s designers and managers. Such environments can dramatically increases a buyer’s spectrum of available, high-quality and efficient suppliers.

Another buzzword – ‘Supplier Performance Ratings’ – refers to other tools that help one buy services in new ways. Open Ratings’ ( services includes the display of real-time ratings during the decision-making process. After a transaction, Open Ratings collects ‘satisfaction surveys’ from the buyer and supplier, then crunches the data in a way that weeds out fraudulent and retaliatory feedback. Participants can track their ‘reputation performance’ online. When it comes to education, caveat emptor indeed!

Finally, the net effect called games. I said earlier that play is sorely absent from most learning sites. The good news is, that away from the earnest attentions of learning entrepreneurs, children (and adults) are playing online like crazy. They spend hours on computer games which demand extraordinary feats of skill, intelligence, prediction, and motor co-ordination. All of these are aspects of high-quality learning, too. Sales of games software in America hit $3.3 billion last year, accounting for 15 per cent of all software sales. The Japanese spent $9 billion on games in 1998!
Many parents – and possibly spouses, too – worry about the shoot-and-slash storylines of games, nervous that that their loved ones’ minds are being turned to mush. Seasoned experts are more optimistic, and believe that children are learning to learn in new ways. According to Douglas Rushkoff, author of Children of Chaos, the youth of today have mutated into “screenagers”. The television remote-control, the videogame joystick, and the computer mouse, have irrevocably changed young people’s relationship to media. In any case, the worlds of game-obsessed children, and of sophisticated business, have started to overlap.

Gaming theory in general, and visual simulation in particular, are hot topics now in business. Banks, oil companies, city planners and environmental agencies, are all using game techniques to enrich their understanding of future scenarios. So, if someone in your family appears to be zapping monsters, do not despair: the skills they are acquiring can also help them explore scenarios about the future of ecosystems.


Let me recap on my story so far. In part one, I argued that delivering content down a pipe is not teaching. New models of learning are needed that connect people to people – not people to machines. In part two, I showed you examples of ‘net effects’ that involve sharing, live contact, opinion giving and rating, and play. I suggested that this kind of application – and many more on the way – should be plumbed into the learning process. Now, whether we want to change or not, technology will come. Entrepreneurs will continue to innovate. Student values will carry on evolving, and their media behaviours will continue to perplex us. But we have choice: to be be passengers, as they drive a transformation of the ways we teach and the ways we learn. Or we can join them in the drivers seat – and wrest the wheel from interlopers who don’t know how to drive.

Will we be the innovators in leveraging the value of what – and who – we know? Oro Oro has been organised for those of us who – yes – want to take the initiative. This unique three-day experience – part symposium, part hands-on workshop – is about new ways to teach, and to learn, in practice. The philosophy behind it is that you do not have to be under 25, and you do not have to be a nerd, to succeed in these hybrid learning situations. The objective is this: by the end of OroOro, every participant will be online, and on the net. We will acquainted with new concepts, skills and tools for the future. And we will have sampled learning interactions on the web that have their own rules, rhythms and speed.

The focus of Oro Oro is not just about technology, or online channels and tools. Its focus is on people, and on new ways to organise relationships between what – and who – we know. We are being asked to think about teaching and learning as a market. But what kind of market is it? An ‘agora’ in which everyone sells knowledge – and time – to everyone else? What are the different ways to be paid for what you know? The answer is that nobody knows. But if we do not like the answers being given now, it’s up to us to propose alternatives. Thankyou for your attention. And I’ll see you again at Oro Oro in January.

Posted in learning & design, most read | Leave a comment