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Month: May 2013

Thinking the value of social data

I have been thinking a lot lately about the underlying dynamics of big data, and how most discussions around online privacy and surveillance are functions of absent or simplistic taxonomies for social data. This is a lecture I gave last week to a 100-level convergent media class, where I tried to synthesize these ideas in a more or less coherent package illustrating the dynamics. I start with a list of Pompeii graffiti, which look surprisingly similar to tweets, illustrating two features of social data: we generate a lot of it on the go, and it tends to outlast the context for which it was generated. I then move through artifacts such as Raytheon’s RIOT software, the numbers on big data and and the way they bring forward the notion of flow management, the FinFisher spy software, and the Camover anti-surveillance game. I end with Bruce Schneier’s proposal for a working social data taxonomy.

On hyperinflation in Diablo 3

The Mises Institute has a great article by Pete Earle analyzing the reasons behind the hyperinflationary collapse in Diablo 3. Key bit – this:

Considering the level of planning that goes into designing and maintaining virtual gaming environments, if a small, straightforward economy generating detailed, timely economic data for its managers can careen so completely aslant in a matter of months, should anyone be surprised when the performance of central banks consistently breeds results which are either ineffective or destabilizing?

On tangling with heteroclite objects

Here is a prezi from a lecture I gave at a postgraduate seminar on Actor Network Theory (ANT) and the Internet of Things (iot). The central concept of the talk was however the notion of the heteroclite and why ANT methodologies for world-encountering are useful when tangling with heteroclite objects. I use the heteroclite in the Baconian sense of a monstrous deviation, which by its very entry on stage creates collective entanglements demanding the mobilization of all sorts of dormant or obfuscated networks. For an example of a heteroclite currently being performed think of the Google car and how it deviates from the driver as an actor. I find the heteroclite a fascinating metaphor for dealing with hybrid objects.

Gabe Newell on the future of content

I mentioned Gabe Newell’s keynote in an earlier post today but now think it deserves a full post of its own. If you have any interest in the future trajectory of digital media in general, and gaming in particular, this keynote is simply required viewing. It’s full of fascinating off-the-cuff insights about where content platforms are heading that you should just watch it in its entirety. Here’s a few paraphrased choice bits:

The PC ecosystem is expanding and will continue to do so – because it’s open. Open hardware + open software development beats everything else, and particularly the console model.

Linux is a get out of jail free card for the industry [he talks about the gaming industry but I think it equally applies to everyone with a finger in digital media content distribution]. Why? Because it ensures content platform independence.

With virtual goods you have to think what scarcity actually means, and in the process re-imagine what is a game, and what is digital service.

Free to play should be, and will be, the standard for digital content [at least it seams Valve is betting on that big time]. The idea is that users enter the world on their own terms and the developer leverages in-world interactions.

Cloud games are a losing proposition because functionality is centered rather than distributed. How do you distribute functionality around a network? You want to push intelligence towards the ends of the network, not in the middle. Putting functionality in the center of the network is latency inefficient. [This is fascinating and seems to go directly against the trajectory of app stores and the like]

The big value is in open auction houses, free to play worlds, and user generated content.  Why? Because ‘customers will always defeat us at generating cool content’.

The future Valve is betting on is one where user generated content means customer-made and operated stores, auction houses, mods, games, quests.  [In Valve’s future you should be able to generate your own unique quests and sell them to other players, create your own currency, manage your own auction houses and run your own stores – all in the world]

The goal is to avoid curation and focus instead on aggregation. ‘Curation is pre-internet’.

Finally, Valve is working on prediction markets – they call them information discovery mechanisms, and apparently this is where Gabe Newell is personally involved. [This is such a cool implementation of the price discovery concept from Austrian economics].

Disruptive Media

This is a Prezi from a guest lecture on Disruptive Media I gave last week. The argument is organized around four concept provocations – artificial scarcity, big data, iFeudals, and hive-mind. Each provocation in turn is centered around a digital artifact, where my artifact zero is raw footage from the war in Syria, featuring a tank column dash-cam and a blurry recording from a rebel group attacking the same tank column. I then disassemble this artifact into the four conceptual threads structuring the provocations – the deluge of raw data, the absence/irrelevance of gatekeepers, the inability of content farms [legacy media] to deal with raw data, the power of the hivemind [reddit/4chan] to aggregate and process raw data. These being provocations I don’t provide any summary or an encapsulating framework; instead my coda is a quote from Gabe Newell that really resonated with me. It is from his keynote at the D.I.C.E. summit this year in which he charted a future for gaming built around open auction houses, free-to-play, and user generated content [watch it here], but it equally applies to the scenarios I describe: ‘We can’t compete with our own customers. Our customers have defeated us, not by a little, but by a lot [and that’s a good thing].’