Prepare for local event ‘Crowd and the Cloud’

Today, Fed Cloud Blog is please to talk with Mike Nelson, a visiting professor of Internet studies in the Communications, Culture and Technology Program at Georgetown University.

He gives us a preview of the upcoming event, Crowd and the Cloud, which will be held on April 20 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. at Copely Hall on Georgetown’s main campus.

Nelson starts by explaining the impetus behind the event.

MN: The idea is to look at how new technologies, particularly the Internet and the cloud, are allowing people to work together in new ways, and to actually change the way they work in a rather fundamental way.

When I talk to my 12-year-old, she talks about hanging out online. This isn’t a tool for her, it’s a place — and more and more companies are creating virtual team rooms in cyberspace where people from 15 or 50 different locations can all gather, share information, participate in simulations, play with data and pull people in from other sites. It’s a really dynamic, interesting way to do work that wasn’t possible just five or 10 years ago.

FCB: What’s the advantage of bringing all of these people together. . . . This sort of thought process was just getting started [10 years ago]. Then, you had people in chat rooms or what have you and the conversation kind of got garbled. How have things evolved since then?

MN: I think that’s the difference now. We used to have these very simple chat rooms where people were just typing away and lots of different comments on lots of different topics were coming up at the same time.

Now, we have the ability to thread different conversations with virtual worlds, like Second Life [where] you can go in and actually gather around images and three dimensional simulations. You can really focus the conversation and do more useful things. In some cases, you can actually work more effectively online than you could if you were all in the room together in one place.

FCB: We understand that this is new, and new things are often scary things. In terms of security — in the federal space, there’s a lot of information that needs to be shared and discussed, but some people are still kind of worried about [putting information] online. Talk a little bit about some of the security issues that may or may not exist.

MN: A number of agencies are playing with these technologies inside their own firewalls, and we have classified versions of some of these collaboration spaces at intelligence agencies, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security.

One of our speakers is going to be from the State Department and he’ll be talking about how they’re using a very interesting social media tools to reach foreign populations to communicate about America to citizens in hundreds of countries.

So, it’s something that’s not just happening at the research agencies.

We also have somebody from DARPA — Norman Whittaker, who was the fellow behind the Network Challenge — the press called it the ‘red balloon’ challenge.

[Read coverage of the challenge on Federal News Radio’s The Daily Debrief.]

DARPA put about 10 large, red balloons in the sky and challenged groups of online collaboration teams to go find those balloons and tell [DARPA] where they were. People were able to use social media to mobilize thousands of people in a single group and gather all of this information so that together they could track down these balloons in just a few hours.

It was an experiment. It wasn’t going to make anybody any money, but it really showed the dynamics of these groups and how they could organize very quickly, how information flowed, how misinformation flowed.

We’re also going to have Jeannette Wing, who’s the head of computer research at the National Science Foundation, speaking about some of the new research that’s being done on next generation cyber infrastructure — tools [such as] cloud computing, visualization, video conferencing — that will be out there in the . . . commercial sector in three to five years.

FCB: Tell us a little bit about the afternoon sessions — these breakout sessions. If we’re attending, what should we be looking for? What should I be expecting?

MN: Well, the morning is going to be panels. The first panel is about the ‘excitement’, the second panel is about the ‘problem’, and then in the afternoon, there will be specific, table discussions around the key technologies and key barriers to developing these technologies. So, we’ll talk about what people are doing in online games. We’ll look at some of the policy issues relating to privacy and security. We’ll look at technologies, like the Symantec Web and wireless media. We’ll look at crowdsourcing. There are some incredible examples in that area.

In the research community, we have astronomers getting average people to get online and classify galaxies — thousands of people analyzing hundreds of thousands of images in a way that could never be done by just skilled professionals because there aren’t enough, and can’t be done by computers because it’s a complicated process that requires a human eye and a human brain.

So, these are some of the things we’re going to be talking about and at the very end of the breakout sessions, each table will have a chance to share their findings and their key concerns. I think that will actually be the most exciting half hour of the whole day, as we highlight those topics that need more attention and share some of the most exciting applications that are going on.

FCB: Any plans to put lessons learned or data online after this event?

MN: We’re certainly going to summarize it. We’ll have people tweeting throughout the day, and some of the key talks will be made available by video from the CCT Web site at Georgetown University.

Register hereNote: Nelson assures us that the event is open to the public!

On Facebook: The Crowd and the Cloud

On Twitter: During the event, follow #ISOCDC

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