Notes on #el30 web chat: Ben Werdmuller & Stephen Downes
This week’s hangout/web chat on the #el30 course happened to be at a time I could tune-in. It was a pleasure to listen as Stephen Downes talked with Ben Werdmuller about social networks, the concept of blockchain, information, the Indie web, websites, and entrepreneurship.
Below are the key points that jumped out for me. I wanted to find a clear way to separate their conversation from my thoughts without misattributing any of their discussion or making it look like I thought it up! So I’ve left the main text as my paraphrased notes of the conversation, and my commentary as labelled, indented in italics. I would love to hear what your takeaways were and what they made you think. And yes, I continue to mull over the idea from my earlier post for this week of the string and what we do with it. The images have been chosen to guide you through those thoughts.
The hangout: They jumped straight in.
(Stephen) I’d like to think of Blockchain as a graph.
(Ben) It’s a ‘ledger’ system. It removes the ability for the person to control what they reveal and who they reveal that to – as it is all open, so there are big privacy issues.
It’s important to understand how powerful metadata can be.
(Stephen) ‘Metadata doesn’t help me’
(my thoughts) The privacy concern isn’t how it helps you, though. It’s more about what it reveals and if you’re ok with that. See this example, presented by Bruce Schneier where one person revealed his metadata and amateurs were able to figure out nearly every aspect of his life. That’s not to say having your life be public is bad, but with each situation we need to be aware of and consider what the risks are.
Ben highlighted the imbalance in web users where big corporations and people with money can make data opaque, whereas others have their data all clear in the open. There are unintended consequences of making everything open.
Individuals who have less power need to have control over how they are represented.
He said that with a decentralised control system – important that all info shouldn’t be public. Web doesn’t have an access control in the same way that it doesn’t have a payment layer, and a cost of $5 per month might not seem like a lot for some people, but for others that is a significant amount and meaningful. Money shouldn’t be a barrier if the web is about learning and sharing life experiences.
Your site is yours – it is under your control, and it will outlast many of the other start-ups, venture capitol things are designed to have a short shelf life. You can still have and use these other sites and social networks and take advantage of that audience, but you will outlast the people who want to own your posts.
If you put your ‘other’ controlled account on a business account – you add value to them, trust that they are good stewards for you – but if you represent yourself, you create your own template to represent yourself.
Templates for discourse. Part of independence is breaking out of these – one barrier is the coding barrier…
I’m struck by the need for findability, or searchability, and network, and the human challenge of engagement. People present many factors that can be anticipated, but cannot be mitigated – in other words, when it is my responsibility to own, run, and project and connect with my blog means both a bit of knowledge and a bit of initiative to make that network.
I love when Ben talks about his experience of learning and development by giving people sharpies, letting them write/draw, and the key bit – ‘you need to shut up and listen’. It’s not meant as something rude. (I mention that only because if you’re only reading this and haven’t listened, there’s the possibility to misread the intention.) That’s exactly how to learn, by letting people to reveal to you what they know, and being aware of content and context. He said in the development process it’s ‘about meeting peoples unmet needs and knowing (understanding) them deeply’. –and to listen, we must create the opportunity to talk.
Connection is so important and it can start with handing someone a pen (or a URL or a comment box). In a decentralised web where we have the privilege and responsibility for our actions it is important to remember to lead by active example.
As an illustration, an industry friend spoke to some of my final year students today and one stayed after to ask an aspirational question. ‘How do you get from where I am to where you are?’ The student received this advice: Start now, with small steps. Be active. Listen. Learn. And do not wait for someone else to hand you opportunities; opportunities are already waiting for you to meet them.
This makes me think of Stephen’s task about graphs for this week.
- How can we change the map?
- How does it develop?
- What role do we as individuals in that process?
- How do we influence, build, and navigate our networks?
The #el30 discussion was rich, and Ben was indeed generous with his time. The last 20 minutes are golden. Both Ben and Stephen did very well to introduce and discuss hefty topics in a way that was inclusive, clear, and genuinely engaging. Oh, and Stephen brought his cat. 🙂
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