Category Archives: Networking

Community, Content and Commodity

I remeber being nervous and stingy and naive when I first joined Flickr nearly five years ago on February 3rd 2007. I knew little about networks or online sharing or photography or copy right or Creative Commons, or much of anything. I was, believe it or not, more self-obsessed than I am even now, and I felt that my ideas and my work and my photos were more valuable than they were. I had at the time sold a few photos at some coffee shop, and I remeber thinking, if I post them online then anyone can take them and do whatever they want with them. I contemplated watermarks and other such silly things.

I am not sure what changed my thinking, but the shift was simple: I understood that the photos, like much of my work would be more valuable, would reach a wider audience, would have a richer life if they did not belong to me, and were set free–so to speak–to roam the Internet. Perhaps, through osmosis or early contact I began to understand and appreciate the concept of the commons.

I don’t think my work is anything special. I do not want to own it. I am not interested in commercial gains from what I share online. I have a salary. I am a teacher. Everything else is who I am online. I share my work, because it brings me in contact with amazing human beings and ideas. So since that day in 2007, I have posted nearly 2000 photos on Flickr. I have since learned about Creative Commons and licensing. It’s pretty straight forward:

You are free:
to Share — to copy, distribute and transmit the work
to Remix — to adapt the work

Under the following conditions:
Attribution — You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor
Noncommercial — You may not use this work for commercial purposes.
Share Alike — If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same or similar license to this one.

In short, it’s yours. Use it, do what you like with it, just don’t make money off of it, and please let people know where it came from. As simple as that sounds, Facebook and Instagram’s new terms of service are quite different. Sounds more like this:

We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

I have had a love/hate relationship (haven’t we all) for years now. I have written at length about the many times I have deleted my account. If reading pages and pages of ripes and excuses about Facebook is not your thing, here it is in short form:

I don’t like how sneaky Facebook is about the content I produce or what they might do with it. I don’t trust them. Who cares? You might be asking. Didn’t I just say that I am no longer attached to my work? The issue here is not the content per se, but the comodification of our communities, of our lives, of our experiences beyond our control.

I thought I had solved my Facebook problem. I decided to simply post updates to stay in touch with friends and family and never post any content. This was great especially when a young start-up names Instagram came to the neighborhood. Sure she was vague about ownership and licensing too, but she was sleek and sexy and look at all those filters! I could post my pics on Instagram and cross post to Facebook, without FB getting their hands on my content. Or so it seemed.

What was even better was the dynamic and organic community that was forming around photos on Instagram. It was perfect. I loved it. Until Facebook bought up my “favorite place online.” Like most people,  I knew they would ruin it, and it was only a matter of time. There are already countless articles about What Instagram’s New Terms of Service Mean for You and Facebook’s Extensive Network of Worldwide Affiliates, but here is the heart of the matter:

You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you.


We will use what we want, in order to make money for our selves and we won’t tell anyone where the images come from especially now you.

Now that doesn’t sound very nice. That doesn’t sound at all like the things I was saying at the top of this post. So… I am deleting my Instagram account, not because I am afraid the pictures I take of clouds and my dinner will end up in some commercial, but because I just don’t like how Facebook does business. I don’t want people doing business with what I love, with what I create and share openly. I invest a lot of time and energy and love into these communities. They are valuable to me and I hope to others, but it is clear that our communities are also valuable to companies like Facebook. They want to know where we eat, what we do, what we like etc… I for one am choosing not to give it to them for free.

The Internet and the communities we build on? In? Through it, belong to us, and we should be able to choose how and where they are shared and on what terms. For me, at this time Flickr and Creative Commons are the best choice. They have both been around, relatively unchanged for a while. I like that I pay for Flickr. When services are “free” they are most likely bleeding you dry from some place you might not see. I will pay my yearly $24.95 and I will use the beautiful new Flickr App to try and rebuild my community where I started.

As a tool it is not perfect. It is a bit slow and not as comfortable as Instgram, but isn’t change why we are all in this game? To be adaptable and fluid?

I know that it is scary to leave a community you have built and in which you feel comfortable. That is what Facebook is banking on. That you won’t leave, but if a community is valuable and truly connected, it should be connected beyond a single app or tool. Thee more time I spend online, the more I see that we cannot, should not invest too many of our eggs in single baskets. Especially the one basket that seems to be buying all the other baskets.

I know I will miss certain people and events and expereinces being away from Instagram, but hopefully the people I care about will find me and who knows I may meet someone new. What are you waiting for? Are you leaving too? Do you have similar reasons? Better ones? Are you staying? Am I over reacting? Let’s turn the comments into a dynamic conversation about community, content and commodity.


Over Sharing

I just read a post by a new blogger at our school, sharing this post by Charlie Booker about over-sharing. As a notorious over-sharer I felt obligated to respond in some way. To be fair, Booker does admit that as a writer he understands the value of sharing thoughts and ideas. How could he not as he makes his living writing a weekly column? His biggest qualm is with automatic sharing services on every app out there.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for sharing thoughts, no matter how banal (as every column I have ever written rather sadly proves). Humans will always babble. If someone wants to tweet that they can’t decide whether to wear blue socks or brown socks, then fair enough. But when sharing becomes automated, I get the heebie-jeebies.

He goes on to say

Online, you play at being yourself. Apply that pressure of public performance to private, inconsequential actions – such as listening to songs in the comfort of your own room – and what happens, exactly?

I am not sure I “play at being myself” any more online than I do in real life, but that is a different post. I also don’t feel that listening to songs in the comfort of my own room is an inconsequential action, but I am weird like that! I will assume, for the purpose of this post,  it is agreed and understood that Booker values and understands voluntary sharing of meaningful ideas and  thoughts. I will not share my thoughts on the value of blogging or sharing content in this post. This leaves me wondering if I even need to defend the sort of automated sharing that gives Booker the heebie-jeebies.

I am a sucker for meaningless lists of data I consume. I love my list of music on Last.Fm. I drool over the books I have read over at Library Thing, so I couldn’t help but blush when I read this:

It’ll only get worse. Here’s what I am listening to on Spotify. This is the page of the book I am reading. I am currently watching the 43rd minute of a Will Ferrell movie. And I’m not telling you this stuff. The software is. I am a character in The Sims. Hover the cursor over my head and watch that stat feed scroll.

I get what he is saying, that when these shared acts becoming automated, take away from their authenticity. In fact I agree, I do not like any automated Tweets or messages. I don’t need to know how far you ran, unless you are telling me in some kind of context. However, what I want to push back on a little is the idea that we are always sharing meaningless data to strangers who don’t care. The idea of a network or community is that you do know these people. They are not strangers. You hope that they share their lives with you in order to enrich your life. A network should be a reciprocal arrangement. It is a relationship. If this is not the case and you feel members are strangers than why are they there?  A network is only as meaningful as you allow it to be. If it is filled with noise from strangers, there is no one to blame but yourself. If members of your network are not enriching your life then you need to prune them out. Secondly, the things we share-what we listen to, what we read and/or watch, can only help strengthen ties with people who do care. These meaningless pieces of data, at last for me, are the glue that keep my network together.

I can’t count how many people I have met through conversations after I tweeted that I like this song or am reading that book. Media/art bring people together and binds them. I know I can trust a person if they are as obsessed with Elliott Smith as I am. You love HST or Charles Bukowsi? Let’s talk more. I like think of his last line:

You know how annoying it is when you’re sitting on the train with a magazine and the person sitting beside you starts reading over your shoulder? Welcome to every single moment of your future.

More like this: You know how amazing it is when you’re sitting on the train with a magazine and your friend sitting beside you starts talking about how they also love what you are read.

But what do I know, I am a compulsive over-sharer. Did I tell you, by the way, that I just started reading Columbine by David Cullen, or and I just discovered this band called Of Monster and Men through some friends on Facebook. What do you think? Have you read it? Heard of them? Can you share your thoughts and give me suggestions?

I never actually defended the automation of updates…oh yeah…now that I think about it, no! I don’t like it either. Share and share often, but do it with awareness.


Wagon Wheel

Last week, upon my return from an extended holiday in Thailand, I had an urge to sing a song that I had discovered while vacationing. Throughout my break, I had missed my guitar terribly, and the first thing I wanted to do was see if I could strum the chords and sing the lyrics in the same reckless and carefree manner as this amazing band called Old Crow Medicine Show.

Once home, I tuned my guitar and sang it to the best of my ability. It felt good. Natural. Raw, yes, but comfortable. At this point I know that Leslie (@onepercentyello) is always good for a little Ukulele and harmonies that can take my out-of-tune voice and make it sound presentable. I uploaded it to Soundcloud, sent a few tweets and linked it to Facebook, asking anyone to:

Download this file add some banjo, fiddle, harmonica, gazoo, whatever you want, then upload YOUR part to soundcloud and send me the link. The timing should be right, but DO NOT send me a file with your part on top of my part. It will get muddled. Send me your part only. I will layer and arrange what I get back into a song.

A few minutes later @bryanjack from Vancouver sent me a lead guitar track,  a few hours after that @joebire from Australia  sent me a Mandolin track, a day later @drgarcia from Monterey (Where are you now?) sent me some awesome Patti Smith style backing vocals,  Leslie had a crazy weekend, but she did not disappoint, finally @joelbirch from Paris sent me some wicked electric guitar tracks. Every morning I would wake up to a new thread for my sonic tapestry.

Tonight, I played with the sound levels and am ready to present the final piece. Maybe not final, but where it stands now:

Wagon Wheel Collab by intrepidflame

I have only ever met Leslie and only briefly. We have made music together several times in the past. Bryan and I have played together on a few projects too, but I have never met or worked with the others. We are a loose network of learners interested in seeing what these tools can do to bring people together.

image By giulia.forsythe

What does it mean that a group of people spanning the globe find the time to create music just for the sake of it? How are our relationships and connections strengthen by the bound of music, however, splintered and artificial? I understand that this is not a collaborative project, seeing that everything came through me and the others were not able to hear what anyone but me had recorded, but that is not the point. The point is that this was a spontaneous idea that had little to no planning. What could we produce if we explored other tools, planned together, exchanged ideas, or played live. Practiced. Edited. Well you get the idea.

I am a big fan of spontaneous, loose, free flowing projects. They open our ideas to what is possible. Not only for our own enjoyment, but they can help us consider the implications these sessions or ones like it can have for our students. I would love to hear from the participants of this project in the comments. Why is this important? Is it? What did you get out of this? Why did you participate?

I am hoping that the real beauty of what we have done will come out in the ideas we share in the subsequent conversations. Furthermore, I would like to invite anyone reading to help take this project a step further. How about if someone or a group of people created a video for it! I would love to be involved and take direction, but don’t want to lead the video. I love to see how far we can push ideas. The song is public, creative commons, and waiting for anyone to do more with it. Find another group and create something else with it. Please share what you do. I will send this post to the band and see what they think as well.

Thanks everyone for playing along.



The Art of Creation

I have written several post lately about how happy I am, and how the events of my life are fluidly flowing in some strange spiral direction, but for the last few days I have been weighed down by a nagging angst brought about Google +. I am pretty sure it is not this new social network that is causing me anxiety– that my apprehension is caused by this new digital social arena where we sometimes find ourselves battling for existence as unwilling gladiators.

Who am I? Where am I? What am I sharing? Likeablity versus authenticity. My brain has been buzzing for the last forty eight hours; I just need to shut it down and focus on what matters. For me the main thing has always been creating content I can be proud of. Writing post, creating videos, singing songs, taking photographs that touch people and make them think. Feel. I have only ever wanted to explore my sense of self; if a group of people find what I do, who I am, worthwhile than that is a plus. I cannot concern myself too much, however, with the splintering of this body of work. This self. I am who I am everywhere, all the time. The internet is just a reflection of that.

Networks will come and go, ebbing and flowing within various tools and online spaces. This is our modern consciousness. The trick is to learn how to construct a viable self within the flux. I know the connections that matter to me, and they will find me when I need to be found, the rest is grandstanding. I am trying not to concern myself with circles or groups or lists. I have set roots in these blogs. I have stretched my branches as far as my constitutions allows. I will now focus my energies on keeping my leaves as green as possible and producing fruits that others enjoy.  If nothing else fruits that will help me regenerate.

I find value in the act of sharing. The art of giving with no expectation for value returned is a holy act. In an age where commerce rules, I see sharing as an act of transgression, one I have to which I have committed my life. Even as I write this post, I see the paradox of my point: I want to share, but cannot be bothered with worrying about the avenues with which to do so.

One can advertise and use competing networks to connect with as wide an audience as possible, but at some point you have to have faith in your content. You have to believe that what you put out into the world will attract the necessary attention. In the past, artists simply created– unconcerned with feedback or connection; we have lost that somehow. So concern are we with statistics and comments that the art of creation has been replaced with likes, +1s and Re-Tweets.

There is no anxiety about sitting quietly and smearing your thoughts into the blank void. The fear is that no one is listening. No one cares. You don’t exist. I am here to say that I do exist. In the body of my work. In my ideas. In my art. In my body. In my life. If you are seeing this right now, than somehow what I am saying has worked. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or some other nameless avenue has brought you here. For that I am thankful, but what has rid me of my unease is the very act of creation itself.


The Cavalry Has Arrived

I woke up this morning to a shock. I was checking on this blog, when I was surprised to see a weird error message. I wasn’t alert enough to take a screen shot, but it said there was something wrong with this file, “home2/intrepj1/public_html/blog/wp-content/themes/vigilance/functions/comments.php” I panicked. My worst fears of weird WordPress shenanigans had come true. A few quick google searches showed me that I would be messing with this problem for hours. My wife had the kids out by the pool was already starting her, “Get off the computer!” mantra. I couldn’t just leave my blog dangling in limbo, something had to be done.

Enter Twitter. After a quick SOS call, @techsavvyed and @mburtis responded within seconds. The cavalry had arrived! Suddenly, I was no longer alone and lost. I was still in an agitated state, but now I had the help of two WordPress experts. They quickly calmed me down and led me to where I needed to be. I went into C Panel, found the corrupted file and began to diagnosis the problem. I sent a copy of the file in question to Marha and she informed me that the apostrophes had been changed to &#39, their HTML equivalent. After some back and forth, I was able to download the original theme, isolate the comment files which had been messed up and reload it. Voila. Problem solved.

Needless to say I was a bit shaken, but came out of the situation much more confident than when it had started. It was a learning experience for sure. It was not just the actual fixing of the problem- finding the correct files, understanding C Panel better or getting a basic understanding of php, which I still don’t have.  No, what was so important for me was that it put me in the place of most of the teachers I will be working with next year. It all felt so overwhelming at first. Google seemed too abstract and the time it would take to figure it out didn’t seem worth it. How many times do teachers feel this sense of isolation and confusion when dealing with basic technology issues? So often, I deride teachers for not understanding what I consider basic computer functions, but here I was just as lost. I needed someone to slow me down and explain where and how to fix what needed to be fix.

This was a textbook example of the power of the network. I knew that I had on hand several WordPress experts, that should I need, would walk me through this problem on Skype. We were able to solve it in  few Tweets, but I know that if I needed it they would have gotten to the bottom of this or any other problem. It is this sense of security that makes my network so valuable, and it is this feeling of support that I think many teachers are dying to gain. As tech facilitators we can help alleviate some of the angst teachers feel, but only when they have made these connections on their own, will teachers begin to feel comfortable enough to try new things, solve their own problems and venture beyond their comfort zones.

Expertise + Empowerment = Experience + Exposure. Next time around, I will know where to start and remind myself to stay calm. But I fear not, because I know I am not alone. If I find a problem I cannot solve, I know I can look to my network. Thank you Martha and Ben. But Ben raised  good question, “Now just have to find out what went wrong!”