Summary of tasks: Week 4

Blog Post

Last week I asked you to read Yochai Benkler’s article Distributed Innovation and Creativity, Peer Production, and Commons in Networked Economy. I know some of you may have found it difficult, largely because you may have not encountered the kind of language he uses or the concepts he introduces.

To help you to extract some of the key ideas from the paper and gain ownership of those ideas, I’d like you to write a post in your blog using the following questions as a framework:

Re-read the article taking notes on the questions below and then write them up into a post.

  1. Why does Benkler argue that Wikipedia is an example of a radically distributed model of social production, fundamentally different to what came before it? What are the characteristics of Wikipedia that enable him to argue this?
  2. What are some of the examples of commons-based social production that Benkler refers to?
  3. What is peer production and how does it work? Have a look at the Open Prosthetics Project and the Openwear Project. How do both reflect the values that Benkler is describing in the article?
  4. Benkler talks of three models for the organisation of material production: a market model, a managerial model, and a social transactional model. Summarise his discussion of these. Do you think the distinction could apply to education, now and/or in the future? How might initiatives such as I describe in this post influence present educational contexts?
  5. How might you use open collaborative innovation in re-thinking social care services in the future?


I introduced you briefly to Tweetdeck this week. Install the programme (it’s free … and if you really don’t like it you can un-install it) and try to set up some hashtag # columns exploring the kinds of conversations that you would want to be a part of (they could be about your passions [dance, travel in Argentina, vintage bicycles etc.] or about your research topic for the Independent Study project). As you follow the conversations choose to follow people who you think could be good ‘informants’.

This week try to follow at least 5 people. Again, you may want to unfollow them in the future which is fine. What I want you to do is develop your own, personal information network that begins to give you useful information and to which you can begin to contribute.

Tweet at least two articles that you have found in the news this week that you think would be of interest to the group.


If your photos are still not appearing in the Flickr feed on the hub, don’t worry. Keep taking pictures, uploading them to Flickr and tagging them commactivism. It will work, believe me. In the next few weeks we will be using Flickr to share some images that we will create closer to the kinds of campaign activism that we are building towards.

For now, just keep using it, browsing around on it and working our what kind of copyright licence you would like to attach to your photographs. Once you have decided how to licence your work, write a blog post explaining your decision.


We have now divided up the poem for different people. Please think of how you would visualise your line. What image, moving or still, would be the most effective accompaniment to the line? Don’t worry if you don’t actually have the image. It’s the idea that we need now. We can always find or create the image at a later stage.

Next week is a directed study week. Expect a post on the Hub on Monday 27th detailing the case study I would like you to follow during the week. Yes, more reading and writing and a wee bit more fiddling around with technology. But I think you are all doing great – making good progress on all fronts.

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Errol Morris: Extending Sympathy

What’s making? How valuable is it? What does it tell us about the world we live in? What does it tell us about truth?

‘Creating a story where there really is no story’ are the words of , one of my favourite documentary film makers. What does he mean? There’s a clue to what he’s getting at here in his book Believing is Seeing (the title is a nod to Marshall McLuhan’s oft-quoted ‘if I hadn’t believed it I wouldn’t have seen it’) which examines the truth behind a series of iconic photographs. These are photographs which have been understood as testimonies to the truth. In that sense the photographs he examines have no story. We know what we are looking at and it makes sense. Morris digs around though, challenges what we think we are looking at, and from behind the frame discovers webs of meaning and doubt. He discovers the story. It’s an epistemological inquiry which links Morris’ previous experiences as a private detective, PhD student of philosophy and director of TV ads. It’s an inquiry which runs through his award-winning documentaries (The Thin Blue Line and Gates of Heaven) and seems to be central to his latest film, Tabloid which tells the tale of Joyce McKinney a US beauty queen embroiled in a sex scandal in the UK in 1977. It’s the truth behind the iconic events – creating the story where there is no story.

Errol Morris also makes commercials for TV and short video Op-ed pieces which are often published by the New York Times. Here’s a beautiful one published in 2011 called the Umbrella Man. It’s a powerful telling of the story of manipulation, of the involvement of the ‘umbrella man’ in the assassination of JF Kennedy in 1963 and the narrative which lies beyond. We may think there’s nothing stranger than fiction but Morris might convince you that, actually, there might be nothing stranger than fact.

Morris’ latest offering for the New York Times, Three Short Films about Peace, looks at the unexpected contexts from which two winners of the Nobel Peace prize, Leymah Gbowee and Lech Walesa, and one nominee, Bob Geldof, emerged.

In a short piece about the films which appears on the New York Times site Morris says:

I sometimes think of myself as being as cynical as one can be. The world is bad and can’t be better. But even so, I believe that one goal for humanity should be to extend sympathy where it has never been extended before. To stand up, even in some small way, against injustice. Maybe it all comes down to annoyance. Does the world really have to be this way? Why can’t it be just a little bit better?

‘[to] extend sympathy where it has never been extended before’. That’s a great manifesto for documentary film making and much else besides.

You can find more about Errol Morris on his website.

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On Making the Header

I said I would write up the process of creating the header for the hub so that you might be able to do something similar in your own blogs if you so wished. Here goes.

Once we had the photos taken on the iPad I wanted them available to me on my laptop for editing. I did this by enabling automatic uploads from an iPad App called Dropbox. Everytime I take a photo or video on the iPad it’s automatically uploaded to my Dropbox account. Dropbox also allows me to have special folders on each computer I use and synchronizes each folder every time a new file is uploaded.


[the dropbox icon which sits in my systems tray at the bottom right of my screen]


Once a file is in a Dropbox folder I can also access it by signing in to the Dropbox website. So, not only is this a great way of getting photos off the iPad and onto my laptop without hooking them together with a cable, it’s also a great way of automatically backing up my files. Every time I work on a piece of writing that I’ve taken from my Dropbox folder (no matter which computer I’m using) I know I am working on the latest version.

Next stage was to edit each photo. I used a great online photo editor that doesn’t even ask you to register before you can use it. Simply go to the site, upload a photo from a folder on your computer and start editing. My edits were simple: I cropped most of the photos to improve the composition and added a text box with a # phrase.

The idea of a collage had been discussed in class so a quick Google search for ‘ headers photo collage’ led me to a YouTube video that explained how to use Picassa 3 to do it:

I decided to use the suggestion because I know how time-consuming it can be to try and compose photos using complicated photo-editing software. Even a relatively simple, free and very good photo editing platform like pixlr takes time to use well. So I decide to try Picassa. It’s a quick, free to download and easy to set up. Once I’d installed it I imported the pictures we’d taken and which I’d edited.

Picassa shares many functions with Flickr – you can use it to share and organise photos over the web. However, it also has more sophisticated editing functions including the possibility of creating collages. Here’s a short screencast showing how I used a folder of photos (these were some landscape photos I did in Cheshire a couple of years ago) to create a collage in Picassa. It’s 4-click simple.

[The screencast was created with Screencastify, an add-on to the Chrome browser]

Once I had created the collage for the header in Picasso I exported it onto the desktop. Now I needed to get it into WordPress as a header.

Normally this process is very easy because WordPress themes generally have the option to change the header image in the dashboard under Appearance:


If you’re using for your blogs this is what you’ll see together with the option of choosing a new image from your computer which you will be able to crop to the correct size in the dashboard itself.

Unfortunately, the theme which we use in Communication Activism, Fashionista doesn’t enable the easy inclusion of a header image without hard coding, and I didn’t want to get into that with all the problems it can cause with the site being viewed on different screen sizes. So instead I used WYSIWYG Widgets a plugin that allows you to create widgets with images just as you would create posts or pages. The widget I created included the image I’d made with Picassa re-sized to 980 x 141 pixels – the size of the header container in the theme. Once placed in the header, the widget showed the image I wanted and I was done.

I’m not great at graphics. I’m pretty hopeless at colours, but I think the header, as it stands, does represent a little of what we’re about on the course.

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Musical DNA

Here’s an interesting experiment by the guy who made a video using 2,000 still images and 300 fans. Jonathan Dagan, producer, writer, remixer and visual artist who works under the name j.viewz made a fairly straight music video for his album with him messing about in the winter countryside wearing a cat suit. Then he printed out every frame of that video and handed the images to fans during a tour he did in Israel. From those images he assembled a stop-motion video and made it available on a special player where the fans who took part could tag themselves on the frame in which they appeared. The idea is to explore the ways in which the ‘artist’ can collaborate with the ‘fans’ to create something that is unpredictably co-produced.

Dagan is not the first to do this kind of thing. A much more sophisticated exemplar of the genre is the beautiful Johnny Cash Project, a global collaborative art project which creates a music video for Johnny Cash’s final studio recording ‘Aint No Grave’ from hundreds of use-submitted portraits of the artist. It’s stunningly beautiful.

But back to Dagan. His new project is to document the making of an album as it happens on an interactive website funded through crowd-sourced money of his fans. The website promises to allow fans to contribute to tracks and listen to each song as it’s completed rather than waiting until the album is finished. Dagan calls the initiative the DNA Project because the idea is to show the workings of creativity at every point in the making of the music. It’s an interesting concept and I wonder how much insight we’ll get about the creative process from following it.

See Kickstarter for more detail.


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Connected worlds

have become a vital part of our lives in the past few years with the spread of digital technologies and particularly social media. We use them to find jobs, friends and even life-long partners. We mine them for information to help us fix the car or plan a lesson. But what are networks? What do we know about them?

Simply put, networks are things that tie other things together. The planet itself is a network of interconnected fault lines and weather patterns. Networks of roots and capillaries transport food to plants enabling them to live and grow. Cities are tied together through road networks routed through junctions and intersections. Humans form networks in order to tie people together. We tie together because we are social and that’s how we nourish our humanity. It’s not just spies or old boys who join together in networks. Bonds between families, communities, villages and nations are created and nurtured through networks. In fact, the writing of this blog post, my checking of emails, receiving of phone calls and bills paid, all make use of networks. Networks remind us of the responsibility of the individual to the community, and even to the propagation of the species. No-thing and no-one operates in isolation. We can be autonomous but because of the ties that bind we are always providing support for those to whom we are connected. When the individual thrives, the community thrives. When communities lose support through a withdrawing of connections, those communities wither.

With the emergence of the Internet, our networks have expanded. In the twenty years since the web has been mainstream our communications landscape has been radically changed. We are, nearly, all networked now. What we have been trying to understand in this new world is how this expansion of the network (as metaphor and reality) has changed our world. We began by reading chapter two or Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody which argues that expanded networks increase complexity exponentially. More than three and a half billion people connected on the digital network, greater density of interactions between them, faster change than we have ever experienced as a species …

This complexity is just how it is and we are slowly getting used to it – some more quickly than others. But it is a challenge. We like to be able to predict what’s going to happen but who could have predicted that a service like Twitter would be sending nearly 350,00 tweets a minute or that over 4 million searches a minute would be made on Google?

This is the complexity that Shirky is at pains to describe. One of the things about complex systems is that they are difficult to understand and hard to predict. Traditional organisations don’t thrive amid such complexity – companies, governments, industries – have in the past always tried to reduce or control complexity by standardising things and services, integrating competition and controlling their customers. That’s becoming more difficult as people discover new strategies to exploit their networks and challenge the hegemony of the powerful. That’s a story that is beginning to emerge and one that we are exploring in the communication activism unit. It’s also one that has important implications for education and for how each one of us develops the skills and understandings necessary to thrive in a networked world.


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Tasks for Commactivism: Week 3

Here’s a summary of the tasks I’d like you to complete this week. You could spend a lot of time on the blog posts. However, at this stage, give yourself some limits (a word-limit or a time limit) in order to complete all of the tasks. I’m not going to set those for you. It’s your learning and you need to manage it yourself.

A. Write at least two tweets which include links to readings that you have found useful, either about the concepts we explored this week or the tools that we have been using.

B. Use the following questions to write a post on your blog summarising your understandings of and reactions to Clay Shirky’s chapter from Here Comes Everybody (a .pdf of the chapter is available on our Moodle area). Instead of simply answering the questions, think of them as a framework for two or three paragraphs in which you explain and respond to Shirky’s arguments.

  1. What does Shirky mean when he says that a group’s complexity grows faster than its size?
  2. What is the inherent problem in coordinating large groups?
  3. Explain why Flickr is an example of the ways in which coordination in large groups is changing?
  4. How was Flickr used during the London bombings in 2007?
  5. What is a latent group and how can it be harnessed?
  6. Shirky argues that: ‘Our electronic networks are enabling novel forms of collective action, enabling the creation of collaborative groups that are larger and more distributed than at any other time in history. The scope of work that can be done by noninstitutional groups is a profound challenge to the status quo’ (p. 48). Explain how and are examples of such novel forms.
    What are the differences, according to Shirky, between sharing, cooperation & collaboration production, and collective action? Give examples of each.

C. Blog post: Return to one of the slides from the lecture today and summarise the notes you took from the information I gave you. Follow up some of the key themes/events by looking for relevant information on the web, adding it to your notes where appropriate.

D. Add at least one photograph to your Flickr account and tag it commactivism. Then add that photo to a blog post and explain the process you used to take the photograph, add it to flickr and then to your blog. If you get stuck, this video will help you.

How does the process illustrate some of the points that Shirky was making in Here Comes Everybody?


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Job Opportunity

In a world where automated processes are inexorably replacing decent human work here’s a reminder that ‘employability’ is more than a series of ‘skill-sets’.

Japanese scissors (called nigiri basami) have been made by hand for over 1,200 years. They’re are made to a standard design but small modifications requested by their users can be accommodated because they are handmade.

Osami Mizuike, the last person to make these scissors is now looking for an apprentice. Here’s his ‘person specification':

Mizuike wants someone who has the heart to do it. That person will have to commit for a lifetime. The doors are open to anyone in the world – regardless of age, gender and nationality – to learn Mizuike’s wonderful skills.” The reward for that lifetime commitment? A craft that only you know.

Via Alto Magazine where there’s a wonderful video of Mizuike making nigiri basami.

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