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Communities and Communication: The Opening Keynote


How do humans get things done?  According to opening keynote speaker Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs, in biology or war, only the fiercest survive.  Businesses and nations try to destroy or dominate their competition, and in politics, one side wins at all costs.  But today, people flock like birds to the same place at the same time.  This is made possible by technologies like text messaging telling people when and where to gather.  Smart mobs emerge when media amplify cooperation.  Their history is like that of humans who survived because they figured out new food strategies and were able to bring back food to their communities. 

 Reingold thinks that most people on earth will be carrying or wearing communications devices in a few years, and this will enable new industries to emerge.  For example, commerce is ancient, but in the wake of increased literacy due to Gutenberg , corporation and insurance companies emerged. Banking spread because of the ability to print documents and enable people to create new instruments that let them trust each other. New forms of cooperation create new forms of wealth.

Companies are starting to open their proprietary software to open sources, but this is not done out of altruism.  Instead the trend is driven by a need to survive, and it has been successful; companies like HP, Sony, and IBM have found a new major revenue source.  Google has opened its "crown jewels", and Amazon has opened its API to let people use them in different ways.  The users make a little money, but Google and Amazon are making lots of money from this approach. 

Participatory media enable broad participation culture, power, community, and wealth.  It  has three common characteristics:
  • Everyone can broadcast to and from every other person.
  • The power and value of social media come from the participation of many people.
  • The media enable broader participation and collective action.
This has applications in education.  Educators must recognize a new way of looking at learning and teaching, and not just add subjects to the curriculum. The "Social media classroom", now under development, will allow students to switch from blogs to forms to wikis to chat to microblogs fluidly.  
Following the keynote, Jaap van de Geer conducted a brief interview with Rheingold.
Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and IL 2008 blog coordinator
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