Spring semester seminars

The first full version of this semester’s seminar schedule has now been finalized. One or two more seminars will probably be added later. We have a range a very interesting people visit this semester. All seminars will also be streamed live as well as archived and mp3:ed. Most of the seminars are joint ventures with departments, programmes etc. This information has not been included here but can be found on the Swedish seminar page (or the relevant sub pages).

Most of the seminar speakers will be introduced individually here later.

[February 14, 1.15 pm CET]
Träd-baserad musikgenerering [In Swedish, Tree-based music generation]
Johanna Högberg, Department of Computer Science, Umeå University

[February 19, 1.15 pm]
Designing Culture: A Work of the Technological Imagination
Anne Balsamo, University of Southern California

[April 3, 1.15 pm]
Located media and the Question of Manifestation in Archaeology
Christopher Witmore, Brown University

[April 18, 3.15 pm]
Visuella vändningar i Kerstin Ekmans författarskap: skönlitteratur, film, hypertexter och datorspel [in Swedish, Visual turns in Kerstin Ekman’s authorship: fiction, literature, hypertexts and computer games]
Cecilia Lindhé, Blekinge Institute of Technology and Uppsala University

[May 4, 1.15 pm]
Burning Man:  Participatory Rituals, Dangerous Beauty, Public Grieving, Dust and Celebration, Co-Creating the Present
Galen Brandt, DigitalSpace

[May 7, 1.15 pm]
Will Bona Fide Life Evolve from within Human Technology (and what are the consequences of this happening)?
Bruce Damer, DigitalSpace

[May 15, 1.15 pm]
Beyond the Desktop Metaphor
Victor Kaptelinin, Department of Informatics, Umeå University

[May 22, 1.15 pm]
Robot Ethics
Peter Asaro, (Ph.D. from) University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

[May 29, 1.15 pm]
Nya media – från papyrus till cyberspace [in Swedish, New media – from papyrus to cyberspace]
Mikael Hörnqvist, Uppsala University and Uppsala universitet and Gotland University College

The Del.icio.us Life Part 1.

I have been using the online bookmarking tool del.icio.us since 2 January 2005. I have spent considerable time in the continual organization of my del.icio.us bookmarks. I search the bookmarks of others. I ‘steal’ ideas from other users as well as bookmarking the sites they also link to. I have 19 users in my network (i.e. I follow their bookmarks on the ‘Your Network’ page of my del.icio.us site) and I have 21 fans who watch what I save in my bookmarks. I have not yet taken advantage of the RSS feed that I could subscribe to (I use Bloglines at the moment) so I get the latest bookmarks of others in my RSS feed (already a busy read and I am hesitant on making it busier). What does all this mean? Well I believe I have a method to my use of del.icio.us. So here is my own manifesto on del.icio.us: 

There is already an extensive help section on del.icio.us.This is something that everyone should read who uses del.icio.us. But at the same time it is a very flat and general description of what can be done using the tool and how it can be adapted to what is required by each individual. I began (of course) by opening an account. It lay dormant for a long time until a hard drive crash lost me a lot of links (for the pros and cons of public versus private links and much more on social tagging practices see danah. I decided to put as much online as I could, so then came the collecting. I put a del.icio.us button on my toolbars (saved in my log in settings on 3 computers: office, home and HUMlab…God, I need a laptop) and just clicked on sites that were relevant to my professional and personal life.  

Soon it got crowded and difficult to find things. I started organising them into what the del.icio.us Help site calls “bundles”: 

Bundles are a way to arrange previously-used tags into groups. For example, if you have the tags “design”, “painting”, and “moma”, you may want to group these together into a bundle called “art”. To create a new bundle, type the name of the bundle and click create. You can then start entering tags by clicking on the tag cloud below, or by typing tags directly into the text box. To remove a tag, click on the tag in the cloud or delete it from the text box. When you are finished, you must remember to hit the save changes button, or your changes will be lost.

 This is a bare bones description of Metatagging. In my experience, to organise tags as subgroups it has been necessary to prioritize the features of the tagged site. For example, I just bookmarked Wikibooks – a wiki that archives free text books online. Such a resource serves several functions; it could be classified under the tag ‘Books’, the tag ‘Wikis’, ‘Archives’ and ‘OpenEducation’. In del.icio.us a tag will be broken up if it is more than one word, so ‘Book’ and ‘Wikis’ are one tag each. ‘OpenEducation’ is my way of making a two word tag into one (there are other ways. It can also be done using underscore _ between words). This helps for clarity but it does get confusing after a while as many joined two word tags come very close to each other in the general tags.  I prioritize the order of the tags from most relevant (in the case of wikibooks for me it is ‘Books’ then ‘Wikis’ then ‘OpenEducation’) and this becomes relevant when tags are ‘bundled’ into meta-classes.  

I have bundled over 4000 tags into 20 Metatags and I use an interim Metatag of Unbundled as a sort of Triage or assessment. Like everything in a good folksonomy these classes are always being updated, divided into new classes, deleted, recycled and mutated. This is one of the strengths of del.icio.us; it teaches self-reflection by doing. The Metatags need to be general but specific enough not to overlap. They must be accommodating and relevant in that they allow for a broad range of subjects but clearly signify the connections between those subjects. Metatags need to be consistent and thematic. An example is my use of the Metatags; ‘Wikis’, ‘Archives’ and ‘OpenEducation’. There is some overlap between these but I have here made distinctions such as the importance of form (Wiki), the functional aspects of ‘Archives’ and the contextualisation of ‘OpenEducation’. The example of Wikibooks appears under the Metatags of ‘Media’ (Wikis), ‘Literature/Language’ (Books) and ‘University’ (OpenEducation). By my rational an entry made under multiple tags should not appear more than once under a Metatag as this lessens the need for multiple tags. If it needs a second tag it is because it has crossed over into a separate field in the metatags. 

Once the tags have begun to multiply then it is a matter of being attentive to your delicious site; spend time with it, watch your network grow, visit the ‘Popular’ and ‘Recent’ pages of del.icio.us, link your page to your other websites (your blog/s especially) using the button scripts offered by del.icio.us (there are some cool unofficial add-ons and tools as well). But the most important thing is using your bookmarks and that’s what I will write about in my next blog entry on del.icio.us.  


meetings in practice

HUMlab is about the meeting between the Humanities and Information Technology. This meeting takes many forms and, often, what is the humanities and what is information technology is not that easy to identify. You find much humanities in technology and a fair bit of technology in the humanities (talking about people as well as ideas).

I think this is a nice illustration of the meeting that we are about:

These are the offices of the relatively new HUMlab team members: Annika Westergren from Computing Science and Stefan Gelfgren from History of Ideas. They both work part-time for HUMlab. Annika’s Licenciate Thesis is on “Hu)man computer interaction : a feminine perspective” and Stefan’s Ph.D. thesis is on “A chosen people : revivalism and secularisation : Evangeliska fosterlands-stiftelsen 1856-1910”.

Annika moved in a few weeks ago and when I glanced into her office for the first time – trying to get a sense of the books there – the first book that I noticed was George Lakoff’s Women, Fire and Dangerous Things. A well-known title for many linguists. Of course there is a quite a bit of hard-core cs literature there as well. Have a look:


This is what Stefan’s main bookcase looks like:

We are very excited about having both Stefan and Annika work for us and there is no doubt that they will bring important competence, sentiment and trandisciplinary curiosity to the lab!

The influence of narrative

I am under the impression that there is quite a bit of research being carried out in Second Life, and so I was surprised not to find one single abstract mentioning this platform at the 40th HICSS conference which I recently attended. I visited a couple of presentations on World of Warcraft, but also this platform was surprisingly scarcely represented.

One good quality presentation on WoW was Bonnie Nardi’s “Learning conversations in World of Warcraft”. During a one-year ethnographic study, Nardi and her colleagues investigated how new-comers learnt how to play the game through interaction with other players. They conclude that learning takes place in the areas of fact-finding, tactics and strategy, as well as game ethos, and argue that the emotive aspects of the conversations seem to have an important effect. After the presentation there was a discussion concerning the compelling qualities of WoW, and a question was raised about what might make a game such as WoW more attractive than SL. Nardi argued that an explanation could be the narrative driven game engine in WoW where social interaction is complemented by a general story-line exemplified in quests. On the negative side, as one participant pointed out, it is more difficult to design specific learning experiences in a narrative driven game, and platforms such as SL might be better suited for this.

In the educational projects we have conducted in graphical virtual environments here in HUMlab, we have focused on social worlds, allowing for construction of objects and learning spaces (as in Active Worlds) and focus on communicative interaction (as in Traveler). It would be interesting to learn about educational projects in narrative driven games not designed specifically for educational purposes, and to think about how we might take advantage of the compelling aspects of these games also in a learning context.

You can read more reflections from the conference in my blog.

A new HUMlab year

The new semester has just started and we will soon post information about upcoming events and developments here. Among other things, it seems as if we will have an excellent seminar series this spring. In the latter part of the semester, we will have some new postdoc researchers in the lab. Hopefully, they will contribute to this blog. And, after the summer, the new expansion will be ready if everything works out. Exciting times! More about all this later.

About hardware: We have just installed a new scanner computer (with a new slide scanner – and we will possible get a new large-format scanner later) and a new game computer with a blazing graphics card and some new games. We will also get a Nintendo Wii of course.

Virtual Worlds Timeline

HUMlab is getting involved in a very interesting project on the origins and evolution of social virtual worlds together with Bruce Damer and others. Project title: Virtual Worlds Timeline: The Origins and Evolution of Social Virtual Worlds. I have reported on the project briefly before, but here I provide a more elaborate description and some reflections. In a way, this blog post corresponds to Bruce’s position piece on the newly established website.

In August 2006, Bruce mentioned his idea of a project of this kind in September based on his experience and a very rich historical material (truly unique) and connections, the idea of using a wiki, and inviting anyone interested to participate and contribute content. HUMlab expressed interest in being involved (as kind of “home” for the project) as we have done a fair bit of work in different kinds of social worlds and have a strong research interest in this area. One of the things that have interested me for a long time is the history of these worlds in relation to both our own projects and more generally. For instance, I am happy for the screenshots and filmclips we collected over the years from the Virtual Weddings Project (started in 1999). Here is a screenshot:

We are also working on several projects which involve concept-based, collaborative interfaces. Relative and thematic maps for instance.

Since August last year Bruce and I have talked a fair bit and we have a better sense of the project now. Of course, this is a good time to start a project like this since virtual worlds have become very topical lately. One national indication is two articles published in Sweden’s largest morning newspaper a few days ago (Dagens Nyheter, article 1 and 2 in Swedish).

Goals of the project? Well here are some:

  • Provide historical context to current developments in the realm of social virtual worlds
  • Collect and archive rich and diverse material and make it easily available
  • Give thematic and chronological entry points and structures for understanding the origin and evolution of social virtual worlds
  • Create an innovative interface with a high degree of playability and pliability
  • Invite intense collaborative creating through the use of wikis and other participatory media and through interconnecting these with fluid graphical representations

Any project of this kind will have to deal with thinking about what kind of history to present: what to include and not, general delimitations, thematic foci, taxonomies, ontologies, curational strategies etc. For instance, there has often been a split (it seems to me) between virtual world research and research into massively multiplayer games. Looking at the material and what is already out there, it seems to me that it makes sense to focus on social virtual worlds and not on computer games. This does not mean that we should not relate to games, of course, but that is not the focus of the project.

Personally, I would also be interested in relating to some of the critical discourse surrounding these worlds, and maybe a timeline or wiki could include information about relevant discussions or key points – may they relate to creating virtual worlds or analyzing them critically. It would also be great to invite HUMlab visitors and prolific thinkers such as Bryan Alexander, TL Taylor, Lesley Shield, Constance Steinkuehler and others to reflect and contribute.

The project is really promising and, in a way, it is a perfect case study for doing important historical, curatorial and critical work in relation to a rich domain of native digital media and experience. The project also presents a challenge to digital humanities not only relating to the above points but also including issues of media managment and buidling a scalable and sustainable distributed cyberinfrastructure.

And fortunately there is quite a bit of source material available. A considerable part of it (I imagine) can be found in this plastic box.

About 3,000 hours of digitalized virtual world video among other things!. I am really looking forward to working on this project and to working with excellent people like the inimitable and excellent Bruce, his vast network and everyone interested in contributing.

Added note: There is an interesting discussion on the history of virtual worlds going on at Terra Nova.