Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

On July 4, I mentioned here that I thought it would be cool if we made a hecklebot and I started a wiki page about it. Many people from #joiito contributed. Then on July 12, David Beckemeyer aka twostop actually built one. I received it yesterday and got it running. The same day, the hecklebot project was mentioned in the New York Times.

New York Times
In the Lecture Hall, a Geek Chorus
July 24, 2003
Meanwhile, Mr. Ito is already creating a new riff on the concept. He said he was working with a group on designing a "hecklebot," a light-emitting diode screen that displays heckling messages that are typed during online chats at conferences. "I want to make something that I can put in a suitcase and take to conferences," he said. He describes it as a subversive device that will get people thinking about the significance of the back channel. From the chat room, he said, "you could send something like, 'Stop pontificating.'
What's so great about all this is that it's like the good old days of TCP/IP and HTML when most projects are small enough that one person can hack together really useful tools and everything moves quickly without proposals, flowcharts and approvals. The idea to working demo time cycle is SO short right now. With weblogs, wikis and IRC, feedback, support and testing is extremely efficient.

Ross blogged about the article first and Liz has some thoughtful comments about the article and the idea of the back channel.

Dan also blogs about the article.


Wow that officially makes you to cool for school. I wish that the New York Times was reading my website.

About 4 years ago a startup called Caliber was trying to do some distance learning where they'd broadcast some famous professor from their satellite center in Baltimore to a bunch of classrooms/video conferencing centers.

Each student had a PC where they'd see the powerpoints and they had chat software with multiple rooms for the students (they had hope for about 500 students watching around the country).

The interesting thing though was the use of 'teaching assistants.' These were basically moderators for the different chat rooms and resources for the students to IM questions to. You could also IM the professor to ask a question.

Even with 1 moderator for every 60 or so students, conversations tended to stray from the subject. They also failed to keep the trolls out who chose obscene usernames and would send out disturbing messages to the classes (and this was super expensive 'executive' education!).

Caliber's representatives claimed that because we were watching and participating in a 'free' session that in their real classes nobody trolls because they're (or their company is) paying a lot of money for it...yah right.

While a live conference is a little different in that everyone's in the same room, I bet the phenomenon are similar.

I wonder if in the future speakers at conferences will try to bring along a colleague or assistant to moderate the hecklebot/IMming, etc. With WiFi discovery (i.e. your buddy list becomes who's in the room with you on the same access point) starting to appear, these side discussions are only going to get louder.

I wonder if that's the professor/student relationship that causes the trolling? I think that if there is some trust/respect for the people on the panel or giving the talk, it wouldn't happen as much. I know that when I was a student, I had to listen to a lot of professors I thought were quite stupid and would been a "troll" too. ;-p

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