Category Archives: Digital Society

Everything 1984 and Brave New World-ish.

Mental Bandwidth

The Battle for Attention and Mental Bandwidth

Time. The scarcest and most valued resource we have in a society that quickly shifts into an always on, always connected stage of existence. Yet, a growing group of services is trying to get our attention, may it be for just a couple of minutes or even seconds.

Time. The one thing we cannot scale or elongate. Sure, we can try to getup earlier and go later to bed. We can stay connected on our commute, at the dinner table or at the party. But there is still a natural limit. 24 hours are the maximum of time we can allocate.

And every minute you allocate to a task won’t be available for another one. Sure, you can “multitask” and catch up with the latest news via radio while taking a shower, brushing your teeth or having breakfast. But there is only so much you can do in a minute.

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Digital Language Death

Digital Language Death: How the Internet is killing Languages

I’m guilty. Guilty because I contribute to the digital death of languages through blogging and interviewing solely in English. As you might know, English is neither my native language, my mother tongue is German, nor is it the language of the country I currently live in, that would be French.

The decision to publish everything in English wasn’t really a question I had to answer for myself, it was rather corollary. Think about it, when you want to get in front of as many eyeballs as possible and you work a lot with English native speakers it’s hard to justify any choice other than English.

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Education Week Paywall

Education Week Paywall: 10 Free Articles for your Data – No Thank You

Education Week, one of the leading publications in the education space, announced that it will implement a so called metered paywall to its website. A metered paywall is currently the most widely used model as it still leaves the possibility for parts of the content to be open and accessible to the general public and therefore does not interfere with the concept of social sharing.

The potential flaw with Education Week’s model is that you will need to create a user account to get access to your 10 free articles per month as Frank Catalano points out in the comments.

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Value of Privacy

What is the Value of Privacy? Study finds it is about $5

I came across an interesting study about the value of privacy via The Atlantic. Scott Savage and Donald M. Waldman of the University of Colorado at Boulder found that consumers are willing to pay some money for a mobile application when in return their privacy is respected or they are not forced to consume advertisements. In a post Snowden world always worth a read.

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Kirsten Winkler Language & Business Forum 2013

Why Language Learning is looked down upon – or is it?

As some of you might already know, I was invited to give short presentation and act as “agent provocateur” at the Languages and Business Forum 2013 in Berlin two weeks ago. I spoke of trends I see happening at the intersection of technology and learning that make an impact on how we learn languages these days and in the near(er) future.

During a chat around the event the discussion came to the point as to why language learning as a business, so both more established companies and startups alike as well as individual tutors, seem to be faced with more problems around making money off of their teaching/service than service providers in other verticals of the learning market tend to experience.

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Apple iPad event October 22nd 2013

How Apple is going to rip off Microsoft on October 22nd

Art was one of my favorite subjects in school, especially the part where we had to interpret masterpieces and what the artist wanted to tell us through his/her art. Though I won’t call Apple invites artistic masterpieces, I have to admit that it’s quite some fun to decode their message prior to an event.

The latest invite is for the upcoming Apple iPad event on October 22nd. As far as I can tell this is going to be a shot aimed directly at Microsoft.

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iphone 5s fingerprint sensor

Apple iPhone 5S Event Invitation clearly indicates Fingerprint Sensor

Normally I don’t join the rumor mill before “major” tech events but interpreting art has always fascinated me. Pundits were quick to point out that the colors on the invitation indicated the new line of cheaper iPhone 5Cs. But none of the folks I follow apparently thought about why Apple chose “bubbles” as pattern.

To me it became obvious immediately that the bubbles represent the iPhone’s (and iPad’s) signature home button. And what is so important about it that you need to put it on the invite? The rumored iPhone 5S fingerprint sensor, of course.

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how do i

How do I – Just do it!

The web makes us lazy, at least that’s what you often hear, especially from educators. Students these days wouldn’t research anymore, they just type in a question on Google and take the next best result as answer.

Interestingly, I found that educators are often even lazier than the students they complain about when it comes to discussions on social media. There are tons of threads starting with “How do I …” and I am not talking about complex problems to solve here. You find questions like “How do I sign up for this service?” or “How much do I need to charge for my services?”.

As I get crankier with age I now often advise to visit But why is this phenomenon fostering in the educator scene?

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Telephone Marketing

Don’t call me

Before I got annoyed with Skype I was annoyed with telephones. Especially after moving to France where cold calls and other forms of telephone marketing really get out of hand. That’s why I decided pretty quickly to unplug my land line phone at least at certain times during the day . A ringing phone is a killer when you are working on a blog post or are in the middle of a Skype interview.

To me those calls are on the same scale of annoyance as people who turn up on your doorstep trying to talk you into buying stuff. They know that they will catch you off guard, making it easier for them to get your attention and hopefully money.

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personal health education

Personal Health Education and the Death of the Tech Guy Stereotype

Below you find a post that I originally wrote for edcetera, but itt did not make it on the blog. It was intended to be part of my 2013 prediction series and the recent news and events around fitness and health startups reminded me of this draft.

Hence, I thought why not publish it here as I just wrote about the topic the other day. I think it’s still as relevant and should give you some ideas on what personal health education and tracking might impact down the road.

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Skype Dating

A Broken Relationship or How Skype is Degenerating into a Cheap Dating Service

My relationship with Skype has been a long one, and for some years it was good. Unfortunately for me, these days are over.

I’m not naive, so I’m aware that now is actually a great time for Skype or I should probably say Microsoft as they’re the owner of the service and Skype is not an independent company anymore. I have acknowledged this at various occasions and written several posts about my ambiguous feelings toward the service.

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engineers jamming

Spoiler: Just Knowing how to Code won’t get Kids anywhere

Today a video of is making the rounds on social media and various tech blogs. You see a lot of high profile tech and pop culture leaders talking about their experiences of learning how to code and how it changed their careers.

The conclusion of the video is that we need to teach coding in schools and everything is going to be peachy for our kids in the future. They will work for awesome companies like Facebook, Valve, Dropbox etc have amazing offices, get free and healthy lunches and extra possibilities to spend their free time. Heck, even their clothes will be washed for them!

Though I agree that we need to teach more coding in schools, I think the message of this video (and others that went down the same road) is misleading. I am probably going to write a longer post about that on Big Think, but here are some initial thoughts.

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Put Your Money Where Your Comment Is

Put Your Money Where Your Comment Is

Put Your Money Where Your Comment Is

By popular vote in our Edupreneurs Club, here is my take on the
Edulang / ETS kerfuffle. I am shocked. Shocked that people in the comments were shocked that something like this had happened.

In today’s publishing world the big players are pretty much known for their race to the bottom what payments for writers concerns. The story inside the company probably went like this: ETS says to subcontractor “We need a new textbook. This one from Edulang we still have lying around from contract talks is pretty good. We want a similar one.” Subcontractor has too much on his / her plate, gets late with the delivery and starts to copy and paste to meet the deadline. End of story. That does not mean that someone at ETS should not have double checked the book but it also does not mean it was a deliberate act from ETS.

But I am probably even more shocked that the commenters did not know what to say or do – just offering their best wishes.

OK, I understand that if you are under shock you are most likely not able to react, hence the word “shock” has been chosen wisely as it does not implement action from the commenter. Why aren’t they upset, enraged, infuriated or on the barricades instead?

There is a huge difference, especially for the Edulang team, between words and action. Now, I don’t mean that the commenters should sharpen their pitchforks, light up the torches and gather around the ETS Global headquarter but there are things that can be done that have some more impact than that.

The problem are the totally different company cultures. From my visit at Edulang I know that there is a great, personal spirit in the team, and their CEO Michel Nizon really cares about the quality of Edulang’s products and their clients’ success. Something you can only find in small to medium sized businesses. ETS, like other big publishers, is simply too big to care anymore. Caring takes time, resources and effort. If people are buying your products anyway (because they have to) you automatically scale back the caring to maximize the profit.

Which brings us to the solution. If you as an ESL teacher really care about Edulang, or any other small publisher, then you have to vote with your dollars (or Euros). It’s the same like complaining about caging chickens but still buying eggs from battery chickens instead of free range. If you want to change this, buy free range. If you want to crack the monopoly of big publishers, buy from small ones like Edulang. And then tell your colleagues, recommend it to your students, even better, use the material in your classes. If you have a blog, write about it, sell it on your website as affiliate and so on and so forth.

As people say, talk is cheap. Same applies for commenting. My friend Jason Calacanis once said that when one of your friends is publishing a book, it is your duty to buy as many as you can afford and give them to your family, friends and employees. If you want to support small publishers like Edulang, the same rule applies. Letting off steam in the comment section won’t hurt the big publishers. And yes, even buying a book from Edulang won’t change much (if anything at all) for ETS but it will make a huge difference for Edulang. And that’s what counts. So, put your money where your comment is.

16th century teaching

The Phonograph killed Sheet Music – and Piano Makers

HausmusikThere was an interesting discussion on the last The Verge Show. Joshua Topolsky, editor in chief of The Verge talked with Tim Wu who coined the term Net Neutrality. During this talk he made an interesting point about industries getting disrupted all the time and that the companies that disrupt those industries will eventually turn into what they once fought.

The music industry we know today once was the disrupting force. As Tim Wu points out during the talk, the phonograph and record music killed sheet music and in some way music instrument makers. And the argument was no different from today. Sheet music makers said that record makers were pirates, taking their notes and turning them into playable music.

Before recorded music you would need to make your own music at home, hence buy sheet music of “the latest hit”, learn to play it and, of course, own some kind of an instrument may it be a violin, flute or piano.

Let’s think about this for a minute. If sheet music makers were suffering as well as music instrument makers who else was affected by this? I guess, in some way furniture makers who built seats for pianos and music stands. And of course music teachers. If more and more potential clients bought a gramophone instead of learning an instrument this also must have had an effect on their business. And I imagine, music shops also felt the pinch sooner or later as well as street musicians like the hurdy-gurdy man.

On the other hand, records brought the joy of music to far more people than sheet music, especially with another disruptive technology: the radio. But then again, radio brought us an universal music taste that has slowly but surely killed local music styles and folk music.

This really made me think of the parallels we are seeing today in the tutoring and life long education space. Online learning platforms and applications replace lots of tasks and topics learners once needed a tutor for. Online universities and learning platforms like Coursera bring quality education to far more people, but as Jason Calacanis in his interview with Sebastian Thrun of Udacity pointed out, this will also probably lay off the bottom 20% teachers who do not perform for whatever reason.

The question is: what will those startups be replaced with in twenty years as everyone becomes what he despise? My best guess are brain implants similar to what we know from the Matrix movies. You simply load what you want to learn directly into your brain. No social interaction or effort needed whatsoever.

Jump the Shark

Did Skype Jump the Shark with In-Call Ads?

Jump the SharkAbout two weeks ago Skype introduced in-call advertisements in voice calls or “conversation ads” as they call it. Well, we can’t say that we did not see this one coming as Skype has talked about plans to monetize the platform through ads for a while now. And you know that I am probably the last one to blame a company when it wants to make money, in fact the question “What is your business model?” is probably the one I use in every talk I have.

And let’s be honest. If you were really annoyed by the ads there is a pretty simple fix. Just add some credit to your account. When it’s short to expire just call yourself on your land line number for a couple of seconds and your credit will be good for the next six months or so.

Still, I have never been a fan of advertisements to monetize a service or platform, especially when this revenue model is added at a later stage like in this case. Yes, I know that my Deutsch Happen project is pretty much plastered with ads but hey, it’s free. Skype has been my tool of choice when it comes to online teaching and content creation for a long time now and I have to admit that it is still the best VoIP client out there. Nevertheless, I feel an increasing personal need to find a new service that has the potential to replace Skype as I ran into a lot of minor problems with Skype and the tools I use that are based on Skype lately. I am just not 100% happy using it, anymore.

For example, Chris and I gave it a shot and we tried out ooVoo, a VoIP client that I had used in the early days of EDUKWEST to record my interviews. And though the advertisements are even more intrusive than on Skype in the free version, the advantage is the integrated call recording that works like a charm. Downside however are the smaller videos you get from the callers and the audio also cannot compete with Skype.

The second option I am currently playing around with is Google+ Hangouts, and it might be a potential Skype replacement for some of our shows like ENT. The platform seems to be pretty robust, similar to Skype and there are advantages like live streaming on your Google+ profile and your YouTube channel. The recording will automatically be added to YouTube, as well.

But still, Skype is on nearly everyone’s desktop, mobile phone or tablet these days. At least I have this impression when I am talking to interviewees for our shows. It has become the VoIP client that people use on a regular basis – at least here in the western world. We should keep in mind though that Skype is banned in UAE and the recent articles around a new law in Ethiopia which might put people in jail for using VoIP services, though it seems that it was a misunderstanding. Talking about internationalization in education this is definitely something we have to take into account.

I believe, reactions to ban Skype are largely due to the fact that governments cannot control what’s being talked about on the service. And I assume as long as Skype and other VoIP services are not willing to open a back door (and I hope that they remain firm here), those services will remain unavailable. On the other hand, these reactions also show the increasing popularity of VoIP as an alternative to telephones all over the world.

But back to my search for Skype alternatives. Asking people in advance if they are on Google+ to add them to a Hangout or sending them a link to join an ooVoo call via the web feels unprofessional and looking back at my early interviewing days it also did not work in 50% of the cases.

One thing is clear though. In the coming weeks and months you will see more live events from me and probably our EDUKWEST team. The experiences I had using Google+ Hangouts were pretty positive, especially from the viewers’ side the reaction was very positive. There is definitely a need for live content and, probably more importantly, live interaction with the audience. The interview Benjamin Stewart did with me on WizIQ lately was another reminder for me to get back in the trenches and talk with people in real time.


Skype has become boring and why that’s a good thing

boringI quoted Clay Shirky on that quite a bit already, but I think his idea that tech first needs to become boring in order to make a real impact on society is straight on, still.

It seems that Skype finally reached that point of being a boring commodity as it has made its way into mainstream news coverage for a couple of months now. Even the most conservative news shows on TV invite guests via Skype these days and the verb “skypen – to skype” has also found its place in the German language when someone talks about making video calls.

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Guide Michelin

It was the better Idea, it was the worst Idea

Guide MichelinBased loosely on “A Tale of two Cities” let’s talk a bit about books today. To be precise about the two different business decisions two of most renown brands in the book sector took recently.

Encyclopedia Britannica decided to go entirely digital – bookshelf makers across the world went probably nuts. Did you know that Ikea changed the measurements of the Billy book case? Nevertheless, I think this is the better idea of the two as the second one comes from the Guide Michelin.

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The End

The End is Nigh: Ads in Skype Calls and Teens rather ask a Search Engine

The EndWell, I suppose this had to happen sooner or later. Today, I saw my first ad during a Skype call. Though I was able to minimize it, there was still a constant little message reading “show ad” on the right side next to the picture of the person I called .

At least the call was not interrupted with a video or audio sponsor message, still it feels not right, at least not in Skype. Yahoo! Messenger, sure. MSN, yeah, go for it. But Skype… Next time I’ll make a screenshot or if you experience these new ads (I think you need to upgrade Skype to the latest version) post one in the comments.

Looks as if I have to bite the bullet and finally upgrade to a business account. Well played, Microsoft.

Otherwise, I wrote a new post over at Disrupt Education. Apparently, teens don’t bother to ask parents or teachers anymore when they have a question. They rather google it or look it up on Wikipedia. Oh, they also think their parents are not smart enough to actually help them with their homework. Brave new world!

Picture: By NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

segmented sleep

Segmented Sleep or How Society invents Social Patterns

Sometimes I find posts that I feel are written for me. The BBC article about the myth of the 8 hour sleep is one of them and there are multiple interesting points to find in it besides the finding that sleeping eight hours straight is a pure invention of the modern society and has nothing to do with actual health improvement and recharging your batteries.

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KWestions #28 IndieGoGo

KWestions #28 What is Crowd-Funding? With Slava Rubin of IndieGoGo

KWestions #28 IndieGoGoIt was about time for a new KWestions talk, and what better way to start into 2012 than with one of my key issues this year: crowd-funding and its opportunities for education.
As some of you might have noticed, we have started a new series around crowd-funding in education just a few weeks ago, and you can watch the first episodes over at EDUKWEST.

I feel honored that I now had the chance to ask Slava Rubin, co-founder of crowd-funding platform IndieGoGo, a few questions.

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