Thought Shrapnel Weekly #335

Over the last few weeks, I've been running an experimental Slack-based book club. It's gone as you'd expect, and followed the trajectory I imagine is followed by most of these things: initial excitement coupled with a flurry of activity, followed by declining interest.

It might just be the facilitator (i.e. me) not being very good. Bryan Alexander, on the other hand, has been running a book club via his blog for years and they're starting The Age of Surveillance Capitalism soon, so you might want to check that out!
I'm not sure what constitutes the best environment for a book club. Although I've never been to an offline, face-to-face one, I should imagine they could descend quite quickly into some kind of intellectual contest. Our online one didn't, thankfully.

Picking the right tool for the job is tricky, and something about which everyone has opinions. That's why email and SMS messaging are still around: they're simple, they work, and they're the lowest common denominator.

Google's plan to spice up email is a bit unnerving, especially when they run such a popular service in GMail (over a billion users!) and they kill off services so often. The Verge reports:

A year after Google announced it would begin supporting AMP in Gmail, the company is now releasing a beta to the general G Suite audience. AMP for Gmail is designed to make emails feel more like an interactive webpage without punting users to a browser. Users can browse image carousels, RSVP to an event, or fill out a form without leaving their inbox. Google calls these “dynamic emails.”
We live in a world where you have to pretty much choose your technological walled garden, with email being one of the last vestiges of the "old internet" connecting things together.

While this looks really useful for GMail users (me included!) I'm concerned at the erosion of standards and can't help but think there should be a global non-profit advocating for interoperability. Mozilla seems to have bottled it.

This year my family has embraced the Google Assistant at home. As of this week, both our children have a Google Home Mini in their bedrooms - something I can't imagine me writing this time last year!

Smart assistants and other more natural ways of interacting with technology are not only useful to the able-bodied, but an absolute godsend to those with disabilities. I've been reading a Jisc report on how Bolton College have used a chatbot called 'Ada' to improve retention and make content more accessible:

The chatbot is credited with helping the college increase student retention in the first 42 days of the academic year by providing positive personalised answers to repeatedly asked questions such as: “What is my next class and in which classroom will that be?”
I remember thinking how ridiculous it sounded when people were predicting that we wouldn't be typing on keyboards any more. But here I am, using a swipe-based keyboard on my phone to compose this, while telling the Google Assistant to turn up the radio!


Some other things you may find of interest:

Until next time!