Category Archives: Disruptive

An “Eat More Kale” problem all over again!

Corporate entities trying to silence the voice of their users is a story you’ve heard again and again.

I featured the “Eat More Kale” story, the story about Bo Mueller-Moore in Chat Republic. So this story of two students being told by their college, Yale, that they had no right to come up with a better website for their school, rang a bell. Mueller-Moore was considered a trespasser; a pest. Harry Yu and Peter Xu (who designed what amounts to a replacement of Yale’s course selection website) were just end-users.

These are the kinds of people who end up receiving “cease-and-desist” letters. Just Google the phrase and you’ll see.

It took an online following and petitions to get the college dean to respond to the incident. But if you read her explanation, it is hardly apologetic. This triggered an online petition, which called it a “non-apology.” It explained:

We must let the Yale administration know that these tactics are not okay. The university has broken students’ trust by acting in a hostile way towards students who were providing a beneficial service to fellow students free of charge.

Three days later, Mary Miller, the dean, responded once more. This time with a bit more humanity. She (somewhat grudgingly) granted that “In the end, students can and will decide for themselves how much effort to invest in selecting their courses.”

An interesting modern fable that keeps being updated all the time.

If only the Yale folk had read up the Eat More Kale story!

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 23, 2014 in Disruptive


Tags: , ,

Chat Apps could ignite true engagement

We know that Chat Apps are driving a lot of mobile service providers to rethink their once-lucrative profit center. But these apps are also disrupting traditional social networks, because providers know how important it is to keep the user engaged within the channel.

Consider our fragmented mobile experience. We toggle between Email, Facebook, Twitter (or Hootsuite), and SMS. They each have their distinctive experience. Status updates and informative mails are not the same thing; content sharing on a social network, with the ability to garner a small ‘mob’ around a cause or a pet peeve is not the same as firing off a text message to 20 people. International texts are expensive so we may tweet a message instead…

I’ve been intrigued by these so-called ‘conversations’ online, especially since many of them are not always in real-time. They are really partial dialogues, with one word (or one button) responses that are a proxy for people joining in.

That why we need to keep an eye on where Chat Apps are headed. They are simple –as in distraction free– formats that could garner true engagement.

At a recent event, I was asked where I though our social media lifestyles would be headed. My pat answer was that we might see a lot of social media fatigue. The media overload we are all facing might mean vast numbers of us will be quitting those social media channels that just don’t fit our personality. But that’s not to say that we will retreat to our caves, and get back to notebooks and pencils, or phone calls. We will seek out those experiences that help us stay connected. And that’s where I see Chat Apps gaining ground.

THE NEXT WhatsApp or Viber (the free phone app combines the chat feature– free even with people in other countries) could threaten Facebook and Twitter. It could combine elements of email and micro-blogging, so that we may never need to go to the other platforms to see what our friends are saying, and to chime in.

Multiple language chats. I fielded this question to a panel of international students at Scottsdale Community College last week:

  • How many of them spoke more than one language. All hands were up
  • How many spoke three languages. Eighty percent of the hands remained up
  • More than three? About fifty percent

What would happen if we could chat with people in different countries, in different languages, using the same app? Already WeChat, which is apparently a lot like Line, an app not known to many in the West, lets one do this.

Maybe ChatApps are where we may find the genie of true engagement. I admit I may be somewhat biased, because of the title of my recent book.

What do you think? Does social media fatigue drive you to give up on certain channels?


Tags: , , , , ,

Media Literacy, Sorely Needed (Don’t blame the Digital Natives!)

Is Tool Literacy overshadowing the need for Media literacy?

I’ve registered for one of those so-called MOOCs, and the topic of Media Literacy* is the subtext of a lot that is being discussed when it comes to technology in education.

In one of the forums, the question on ‘digital natives’ (a.k.a. students) comes up, and many educators are wondering how to best engage these tool-literate natives.

Because I teach a computer and technology class I see a large cross-section of tool literacy alongside media illiteracy. This is in no way meant to blame the digital natives as much as put the ball back into the court of educators. There are no Media classes in a typical elementary school because we always thought that Media was something people opted in to learn later.

Today the very concept of what Media constitutes has been muddied. We create lower-case ‘media’ (content) that happens to hitch a ride on upper-case Media (channels), but this gets complicated when we begin to also own some of these media channels.

No wonder the kids are confused.

Educators, too. When did someone update teachers with the new ‘rules’ of creation, curation, fair use etc? This cannot be done in a one-off professional Development seminar, but has to be something done on an ongoing basis.

If our students have mixed (or rigid, or even outdated) ideas of what they could do online, if our students think that all the information in an article on The Economist could be gleaned by a 140-character summary…we have ourselves to blame.

Before we address technology in Education, we need to take a deep breath, back up, and address media literacy. (Like we have time for all this – considering our super-busy lives that involve non-stop status updates.)

* The ‘Massive Open Online Course’ for Educators is held by the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University’s College of Education in collaboration with Project 24 –the Alliance for Excellent Education.
1 Comment

Posted by on October 1, 2013 in Disruptive, Education, Technology


Tags: , , ,

“Malala Day” by UN ups the ante for education access

Today has been declared “Malala Day” as the UNICEF celebrates the birthday of the 16-year old who took a bullet for education.

The message: “Every child needs to know more than to read, write and count, but to learn to be a global citizen.”

Note how she stresses that she is not against anyone, but that she is for something.

Powerful event video here:

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Disruptive, Education


Tags: , , , ,

“Sending a message,” in a post-Bansky era

In my book, Chat Republic,  I feature a few examples of how ‘street talk’ has been effective, even sans the Internet.

“Banksymus Maximus”

This old, classic tactic from guerilla artist Bansky could take us into a whole new discussion of how to create buzz, often without words.

Here’s the set-up: In 2005, Bansky managed to place a fake “rock painting” in the British Museum. As you could see, it shows a caveman as a different kind of hunter and gatherer. The rock was stuck onto a wall in a ‘Roman Britain’ section.

Just plain ‘art-jacking’ or is Bansky an ingenious, much-ignored communicator? In a world empowering us to ‘speak out of turn’ do tactics like this feel relevant? Or are they too edgy for you?

Before you come to a conclusion, take a look at the modern version of this phenomenon, known as Culture Jacking.

I would love to hear your comments.


Tags: , , ,

Social Media and innovation surge in Sri Lanka

(This post is being updated)

Today in Colombo the tech and business community attended Social Media Day, a Mashable-coordinated event, worldwide in which 511 cities participated

Two days ago, they held another parallel event known as Refresh Colombo.

One of the organizers noted that the hash-tag #SMDayCMB, which had begun trending regionally (as a ‘tailored trend’) validated the fact that there was a highly engaged community now. Speaking of the community, it’s got the right volatile mix for innovation. One newspaper reported, it was a confluence of “hackers, bloggers, coders, geeks and geek lovers, journalists, techies, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.” Note: the absence of one group here – politicians. In post-war Sri Lanka, steering clear of politics appears to be a well-honed skill.

One of the highlights was a video-link up with Jehan Ratnatunga in California. Jehan is the person behind the comic YouTube skits. Fittingly (for this social media savvy audience) he explained how he landed a job with YouTube because of his hobby.

Watch this presentation by two of the smartest young entrepreneurs who understand not just technology, but how grass-root change and politics works at a fundamental level.

Watch the whole thing (it’s 25 minutes) because the best discussion is toward the end.

More coverage of event


Tags: , , , , ,

Wikis to books worth experimenting

I often make the point that we spend too much time clicking on links, rather than spending time on the meaning of what we read.

So I thought of experimenting with PediaPress, a service that lets you convert Wikipedia pages into a book.

The book? On Clark University - for my son’s graduation today.

Knowing fully well that information on the university will change, did not bother me. In fact, that’s precisely why I wanted to do it. After all, Wikipedia content is not exactly writ in stone, could be considered as relevant for a moment in time.

(If you’ve been watching how pages get edited, and the edit wars that ensue over single words or phrases, you’ll know that this ‘moment’ sometimes changes several times an hour as a result of furious edit wars!) I want the book to be a sort of  time capsule that he could one day look back on.

PediaPress is basically offering a print on demand (POD) service, but the beauty of this is how simple they have made the steps. There’s very limited customization (the cover and title, plus a preface), but the layout of pages and sections are very clean.

I would have liked a bit more customization, such as:

  • The ability to move photographs and charts into separate pages
  • Uploading my own photograph for the cover, and a few others for other pages
  • An acknowledgment or title page
  • Adding text to back cover

But as this was an experiment, I was willing to take the risk.

Other risks. For a different project, say trying to compile a short compendium of knowledge on a breaking news event, or a current topic, using Wikipedia as the source of content is more risky. While the Creative Commons license gives anyone permission to use and re-purpose content, one has to me meticulous about accuracy.

I began to wonder of there are other similar services that let you blend knowledge from multiple sources, and let you add chapters to the book. I’ve looked at Blurb, which offers a Blog-to-Book option. Lulu also has a great service. a cookbook/ A book of poetry/ Wikipedia has a rich selection.

Give it a try!


Tags: , , , ,

Eat More Kale! (Just don’t brag about it)

If someone threatens to sue you for using a common word, whom would you go to for redress?

Well, if you’re a writer, or a mom-and-pop business owner, you may not be able to afford a team of lawyers. You may not think that a common word such as ‘think’, ‘eat,’ or ‘whisperer’ could get you into the cross-hairs of a team of copyright lawyers. But we live in such times.

Last week I spoke to Bo Mueller-Moore, someone who didn’t understand all of this. Bo is a Vermont-based folk artist who became an accidental T-shirt designer.

We grow kale (as you could see here) in our back yard. This story resonated with me. He comes across as a folksy, genial gentleman who might be the least likely chap to threaten a 1,615-restaurant business.

One of his shirts that he sells (he originally made three for farmer John down the street) read ‘Eat More Kale’. But a corporation began claiming the rights to the words ‘Eat’ and ‘More’ and thought that Eat More Kale would confuse its customers.
Bo has been imprinting t-shirts since 2000, and this is not the first time Chick Fil-A has come after him. (It dropped its earlier case after someone from his town sent them a polite letter saying they were going after the wrong kind of person who was no threat to them.).The company’s product? Chicken sandwiches. Sandwiches!

Last year the lawyers sent him the second cease-and-desist letter. This time Bo decided he was going to fight it another way, in another court –the court of public opinion. Which is located …in the realm of social media.

He took to Facebook, and YouTube, and has garnered thousands of fans.

Now I like Chick-Fil-A, and its sandwiches are one of my daughter’s favorites. But I can’t for the life of me imagine why they would think that a small T-shirt business, especially a short slogan promoting kale would ‘confuse’ me as a customer. Bo’s not a lawyer, but he summarizes his defense as plain and uncomplicated as a head of kale: “You can’t eat anything I sell.”

Oddly enough, while you hear of similar cases (Facebook, apparently tried to own the word ‘book,’ and Apple tried to make claims on the word ‘pod’) others who common English words don’t always get into this kind of trouble. Denny’s restaurant is currently using the word ‘whisperer’ to promote its fare.  The series of videos is called ‘Skillet Whisperer.’ (The word whisperer immediately conjures up the movie Horse Whisperer, doesn’t it?) Some folks in Wisconsin have a website called Eat More Cheese. Now they are definitely in the food category, even though a slice of cheese is a far cry from a piece of chicken.

If I were a PR agency advising Chick-Fil-A, I would tell them stop wasting their budget on expensive legal advice and allocate a tiny portion of that to a dude in the office who would listen to the awkward chicken-unfriendly conversations going out there in the blogosphere.

Better still, it could try to repair the relationship and channel the conversations away from anti-chicken talk. How?

How about a seasonal chicken sandwich with Kale instead of lettuce? That would be a nice gesture to the farmer John’s of this world. It may be wise to look back at how United Airlines got the ‘message’ when Dave Carrol took his story to YouTube, and did an admirable job of tuning in, and toning down the voice of an angry customer plus his millions of fans.

Gimme a grilled, spicy chicken-kale sandwich, Chick Fil-A. I’ll eat mo. I promise!

PS: My wife grows eggplant, parsley, and chilli peppers. On her behalf, eat more eggplant! Eat more chillies! Eat more kale, too!


Since students are digital, are classrooms too analog?

I just spoke to a parent of a student, frustrated that the standard in a so-called ‘high achievement’ school seems to be dropping. The unspoken question seems to be “why are schools still stuck in the Reading, Writing, “Rithmetic rut?” Or, as some wonder, why are schools not educating the whole child?

A reports earlier this month in TIME magazine, Why it’s time to Replace ‘No Child Left Behind’ is enough to make one agitated!

Many studies say that rut in question, is an obsessive exam mentality that needs an overhaul. School systems have become fixated with preparing children to pass exams, but don’t have the resources to prepare them for the other exam out there –the exam known as Life! Which is exactly what that parent was anxious about.

US policymakers have been alerted to this.recent Harvard study of student achievement on global perspective (EducationNext.Org) found that unless we fix math and reading skills, the outlook in the global economy looks grim.

Not that this is exclusively an US problem.

Europeans, too are worried. A recent study on how education and training is meeting the needs of the digital world and the European economy (‘The Future of Learning: Preparing For Change’) say that schools need to make a fundamental shift if Europe is to remain competitive.  Students will need to be competent in “problem solving, reflection, creativity, critical thinking, learning to learn, risk-taking, collaboration, entrepreneurship.”

Should we take our curriculum back to the drawing board?  Should we redesign the classroom?

Yes, but... If there are is one thing I am frustrated about, it is the rush to plunk computers in front of students, and think this will solve all our problems. The argument goes like this. Our kids are digital natives, so getting them to take down notes on ruled paper, and listen to a teacher is not the best way to engage them.

I work in digital and analog environments, and have been a big advocate of bridging the gap between these two realms. That does not mean replacing one with the other. A tablet will not automatically make a child collaborative and yearn for deeper knowledge, just as (to paraphrase an old saying) owning a library card will not automatically make a person well read. Preparing students for a 21st century workforce requires us to make them much more than just digital. The European JRC European Commission study calls for education to be more “personalized, collaborative, and informalized.” One could write an entire paper on these three areas.

Sure let’s redesign the classroom, but let’s not discount the importance of a value added teacher who brings extra-curricular knowledge into his/her material. In fact, the term ‘High Value Added Teacher’ is now being used by one Harvard study –see video below.

Also, on a more optimistic note, there’s a great experiment about  ‘Active Learning Classrooms’ worth watching. I like how it is not just the students, but the teacher who is adapting to the new learning classroom as well. Inspiring video!

1 Comment

Posted by on January 29, 2012 in Disruptive, Education, Technology


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2011 dominated by people rather than technology

It’s impossible to overstate how tumultuous a year 2011 has been.

Every year we seem to think that we have been shaken, twisted around, rudely awakened. Usually it’s about technology. But usually it’s about some life-changing technology, or a new ways of doing things. Refreshingly, this year there was a large human dimension to it, some of which I covered here on this blog.

It was as if we were looking through a camera and switching between two filters:  Pro-democracy and Anti-terrorism. But we also saw a share of media events, some even about the media!

  • The people’s revolutions in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Russia, Libya…
  • In a surprising move, the US captured and killed of Osama Bin Laden – ten years after he declared war on the US.
  • Then there was Occupy Wall Street, a movement pooh-poohed by many but seemed to catch on, franchise-like, sprouting  arms, posters, and megaphones…
  • The shooting (and amazing recovery) of congresswoman Gabby Giffords dominated the early part of the year. At least here in Arizona.
  • The media scandal in the UK rocking Rupert Murdock’s empire.
  • The Kate and William extravaganza in the media -a.k.a. the royal wedding.
  • The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan in April.
  • The passing away of Steve Jobs –perhaps slightly exaggerated as an ‘event’ (even on this blog!) But it made us consider how one man could have impacted so many.
  • Aung Su Kyi returned to the political arena, registering to run in upcoming elections

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,555 other followers