Author Archives: Alberto

Edgesense_comparison.001

Making Edgesense: two online communities at a glance

During the summer, the Wikitalia group worked hard to improve Edgesense, the tool for real-time network analysis we are building as a part of the CATALYST project. As we worked on out “official” test bed community, that of Matera 2019, I happened to tell about it to Salvatore Marras. He proposed to deploy Edgesense on Innovatori PA. Edgesense is a very raw alpha, but the curiosity of trying it on a much larger community han the one in Matera (over ten thousand registered users) made us try anyway.

Surprise:despite using the same software as Matera 2019 (Drupal 7), Innovatori PA is not just bigger: it is really different. Even greater surprise: Edgesense allows you to literally see the difference with the naked eye (click here for a larger image with an English caption).

Metrics confirm what the eye sees. Innovatori PA, with over 700 active nodes (active means they wrote at least one post or one comment), gives rise to a rather sparse network with only 1127 relationships. Average distance is quite high, 3.76 degrees of separation (Facebook, with a billion-plus users has only 4.74 – source); modularity, the simplicity with which the networks partitions into subcommunities, is very high.

Conversely, the Matera 2019 community gives rise to a quite dense network: 872 relationships, so 80% of those in Innovatori PA, but with fewer than a third of its active users. Degrees of separation are 2.50, and modularity much lower.

If you want to play with Edgesense – among other things it helps to see the growth of the network over time – go here for Matera2019. No need to install anything, you access it with your browser. I recommend the tutorial we prepared to teach basic network analysis for online communities (click on the “tutorial” link top right in the page. The Innovatori PA installation is still being tweaked; I will update this post as it becomes available.

Meal at the unMonastery

Reinventing the family: co-living as a system attractor

Thanks to Vinay Gupta I have come across The Embassy in San Francisco, a co-living space that, judging from its website, feels like some of the cool co-working spaces like The Hub – or is it the other way around? Unfortunately, there is no house map, which would be really helpful in trying to imagine your life in an honest-to-God, Californian style co-living space – how many people to a bathroom, for example? But it is clear that these guys, like many others (myself included), are trying to reinvent inhabiting.

Two things seemed particularly interesting in The Embassy: the franchise model and the groupware.

The franchise model means this: The Embassy wants to be a network of spaces, just like our very own unMonastery. “One rent, many homes”: you can be nomadic while still staying inside of your tribe – in fact nomadism is a necessity, because your tribe now inhabits a cultural space instead of a physical one, and is smeared all across the globe. This is exactly Neal Stephenson’s idea of phyle. Some edgeryders have started mesoscale social arrangements that they call phyles (for example Indianos and Aesir in Spain). This kind of arrangement seems to be an attractor for a highly connected society: Edgeryders itself has some of the characteristics of a phyle.

The groupware is simply a web platform called Modernomad that functions as the hub and janitor of the whole arrangement. For now it does mainly reservations, guest management etc., but the idea is to be a sort of close community management tool. Another attractor: most co-living experiences with over 4-5 people have some kind of groupware, even just a mailing list.

I am personally uncomfortable with the way The Embassy portrays itself as an infrastructure for startup capitalism.

From the ground up, the coliving movement is designed to offer stability, inspiration and opportunity to independent, ambitious young professionals — the backbone of tech startups, who are often expected to live on peanuts and take huge risks with little chance of reward – (source)

These are places that have mission statements. Do I want my home to have a mission statement? Maybe not. But then again, the unMonastery certainly has a mission statement, and I am willing to consider it at this point (and I have briefly tried it). Maybe most people born in the late 90s and 2000s will live in places like The Embassy in ten years. I am thinking I might live like that myself – in fact I live in a small co-living arrangement already. Is this where we are going? What do you think?

Photo: Marco Giacomassi

Setting the agenda: how the open data community entered the radar of European political leadership

On July 17th 2014, addressing the Open Knowledge Fest crowd in Berlin, EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes made the following statement:

We want to work with you, and see you work together across borders and languages. We have set up Erasmus for Open Data to support this. Starting with an event in Nantes, France, in September. But if you have an idea for what more we could do – then let us know! – source

I normally don’t pay too much attention to announcements, but hey: this was fast. To the best of my knowledge, the idea of an Erasmus for open data did not even exist before April this year. For a concept to go from first-time appearance in a private blog to candidate policy of the first economy in the world in three months is unprecedented. Just what is going on?

A short recap:

  1. Back in April, in the wake of the Spaghetti Open Data gathering, I wrote a post that argued for a proposal for an Erasmus-like program for open data. The idea was to build those all-important horizontal ties that can connect today’s open data communities, largely national, into a European-level one. The post sparked a small debate with some of my fellow activists in other European countries, notably some that are or have been involved with EPSI (the European initiative on public sector information), like Ton Zijlstra in the Netherlands and Martìn Alvarez in Spain.
  2. In early July I got an email from French NGO LiberTIC: they have gotten the city of Nantes to get behind a conference seen as the launchpad of a future Erasmus Open Data initiative. EPSI platform is fully involved. The European Commission is going to show up, probably represented by EPSI platform’s project officer. To show they mean business, LiberTIC have even allocated a small budget for funding at least some data geeks to fly to Nantes. With the usual generosity, Spaghetti Open Data are rising up to the challenge – Italy will be well represented in Nantes, I can promise you that.
  3. Now, the Commissioner has joined the front line. That she even knows about this means somebody in DG CNECT (the EPSI team?) must have done a really good job of getting the idea up through the hierarchy.

We might get our Erasmus for open data. Or not. Whatever the outcome, one thing is clear to me: if a random guy like me can spawn an idea on his personal blog in April and hear a European Commissioner throwing her full support behind it in July, it means the open data community is setting the agenda. We are on the ground, we are doing interesting things with data, and everybody acknowledges that. We are talking to government agencies who are supposed to set the standards and write the guidelines, and at times doing quite a bit of the work for them – and who else can those guys talk to? We can mobilize quickly and effectively – just look at how LiberTIC threw together an international conference in two months. And everyone knows you just can’t do open data without a strong open data grassroots community.

So Europe is listening; and the signs are there that the Italian state, amidst the usual drama, handwaving and short-termism, is listening too. It would be a shame to waste this opportunity to build some data-powered transparency and knowledge sharing into our societies. But I think the community is ready, and the opportunity will not be wasted.

Meanwhile, Ms. Kroes, thanks for your support. There is a small factual mistake in that part of your speech (“we have set up…”): Erasmus open data, as of now, is a community initiative, not a EU one. No big deal; we are not territorial, now the idea is out for everyone to improve on. You are welcome to Nantes, just like any other data geek, within or without your official capacity. If you come as a private person, drop us a line: there will be code to write, and datasets to cleanup, and pizza and war stories about data to trade. We’ll sit down together and scrape some EU website. It will be fun.

Join us in Nantes for the Erasmus Open Data conference