Why Facebook (kinda) won

Mike Caulfield has a good post about how Facebook and siloed social media got traction in ways the blogosphere circa 2005-2008 never maintained. He has a good point about the user experience – people aren’t going to go look at 10, 100, 1000 different websites with different graphic designers, publishing models, and navigation structures. That’s where the simplified UX of Facebook comes in. A single stream, pulling stuff from everyone a person cares about. And that jerk from junior high.

But, if it was just about having a streamlined user experience and consistent email-like interface, RSS readers solved that a decade ago. Google Reader was that. Fever˚ still is that for me. I don’t think that’s why Facebook is where every non-geek hangs out. I think there are a few reasons why people are there:

  1. Because non-geeks don’t want to publish openly. They want to share things with their friends, and only their friends. I also see this with instructors and students – many just want to share with people in their class/section/group. That’s why the LMS is still so core on campus – it’s basically a clunky version of the Facebook UX pattern – share stuff with the people in a small context, and only those people. Ask non-HTML-syntax-nerds about how they share things. Many will say “share? Why would I do that? That’s so high school! Why would I want people to know that?” Or “OK. Maybe my friends would be interested in photos of my vacation. But I sure as hell ain’t posting them on the web!” Or some variant. Facebook soothes people into thinking they’re sharing only with people they’ve let into their groups. That’s something that the blogosphere never did, and it’s something that held back a lot of people from participating in the open blogoweb back in the olden days.

  2. Because normal people don’t want to think about stuff like domains, or backups, or updates and patches, or plugins and modules. They just want to see what their friends and family are up to, and maybe post some clever photos. And, although webstuff is way easier to manage than it was back in the dark ages, it’s still not as easy as it needs to be for dad to use it.

  3. Because that’s where everybody is. Facebook feels like a place. It’s tangible. That’s also something that the distributed blogothingy never achieved. It’s something different for every participant or observer. Facebook is Facebook. Everybody is there. Because there’s a “there” there.

So, we can either fight against Facebook and insist that everyone leave it and do things The Right Way™ – or come to terms that for the vast majority, Facebook (or the siloed design pattern represented by Facebook) is what they are comfortable with. And that’s OK. That doesn’t stop anyone from doing things more openly. The web is what we make of it. If we think there are better ways, and that openness is important, we need to continue modelling and exploring. But we can’t expect people to follow. Or to even be interested. Or to not think we’re freaks for doing things out in the wilderness.

And maybe, part of our explorations will involve finding ways to make the wilderness more approachable. Maybe we’re building trails and national parks so city folk can experience things they wouldn’t otherwise experience. I’ve got some ideas about that, and am hoping to get the chance to help build some stuff…

More on MOOCs and Being Awesome Instead | iterating toward openness

David Wiley nicely wraps up MOOCs, and why they’re important even if much of the hype is just marketing drivel spouted by elite institutions:

For a complex tangle of political reasons, “the people in power” are currently paying a tremendous amount of attention to issues relating to access to education, and the role of the cost of education in regulating that access. MOOCs have popularized and significantly advanced the conversation regarding both universal and free. The general public is beginning to believe that technology may have the near-term potential to provide a genuine solution to the problem of making education both universal and free. We can take advantage of the space MOOCs have created in the public conversation to introduce and advance the idea of truly open educational resources to people who are unfamiliar with it.

The comparison I made above between MOOCs and learning objects was a carefully chosen one. I believe that MOOCs will run – are already running – up against the reusability paradox. I believe people will eventually come to realize the pedagogical restrictions that are inseparably connected with the copyright and Terms of Use restrictions of MOOCs. As with the learning object mania of yesteryear, diehards will stick around but the rest of the world will move on as the experiment fails. If we message correctly before that happens, we can create a general understanding that much of what is frustrating about MOOCs to faculty, students, and others would be solved by the simple application of an open license (the same way an open license can resolve the reusability paradox).

MOOCs have carried the ball a significant way down the field toward universal access to free, high quality education. We should be grateful for the work they’ve done on behalf of that goal. The primary risk we have to guard against now is someone hanging out the “Mission Accomplished” banner. MOOCs are not openly licensed, and consequently will struggle with issues of quality and will never become part of the educational infrastructure that enables truly breakthrough advances. MOOCs get us one step closer to the goal, but we need to continue advocating for true openness in order to create the space in which those advances can happen.

via David Wiley: More on MOOCs and Being Awesome Instead | iterating toward openness.

Exactly. MOOCs themselves aren’t the answer. I’m not even sure what the question is. But, despite mis-steps and corporate branding red herrings, we are now more open than we were before. That’s the important part. MOOCs are just a MacGuffin, a device to keep the plot moving.

As David has been saying for years: iterating toward openness.

Openness and Corporate Paywalls

[George posted a quick note](http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2010/08/29/openness-but-only-if-its-closed/) about how an interview he gave for an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education was published. Behind a paywall. The Chronicle took an interview, freely given by everyone (except, I assume, for the paid interviewer and editor?), on the topic of openness in education, and decided to lock it behind a mechanism constructed to block access to it.

I’m not going to link to The Chronicle article (or, more accurately, anything on The Chronicle, ever), so here’s a screenshot of the short snippet of the article that they publish “openly” – I love how they cut it off in mid-sentence… Taking the **what**? I must know! Here’s my credit card number! Please! Take it!


on private “classblogs” vs. the wild, wide open

This post has been percolating for a while, but was finally pulled out by a post from [Stephen Downes](http://www.downes.ca/post/52942), linking to [a post from Lisa Nielsen](http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2010/07/just-say-yes-to-publishing-exposing-man.html).

Most of the blogs set up on UCalgaryBlogs aren’t fully public – many allow anyone to see the content, but block search engines. But, many others are restricted to only allowing members of that site to access the content.

Initially, this bothered me. People weren’t seeing the Power of Being Open. I tried arguing the whole “information wants to be free” and “going public with network effects” etc… yaddayadda.

But faculty and students just didn’t see it that way. They weren’t comfortable posting their work in the open. And instead of trying to convince them that they were wrong, I took the radical approach of actually listening them. Their points were pretty consistent, and boiled down to a few issues:

1. discomfort with publishing on the open web (identity issues, work being archived/indexed forever, etc…)
* the fact that this is mitigated through pseudonymous posting doesn’t negate this one entirely.
2. not wanting to use a blog-like environment for discussion/conversation
* some people are just uncomfortable with blogging platforms when they’re used to writing in discussion boards.
* they’re worried about politeness and civility and trolling and various other issues with various levels of validity
* yes, the software is essentially the same in the back end. yes, they can be convinced to use it. but it’s yet another hurdle to convince them to step over
3. fear of someone stealing their awesome content/idea
* initially, I shrugged this one off. *really? you’re so awesome that you’ve already come up with your first Big Idea?* but then, after hearing this from several different students (from undergrad to PhD), it started to make more sense. many students are working in fields where they are building frameworks to kickstart their working careers. they see it as a huge risk to publicize these frameworks before they’ve had a chance to do something with them. Is it entirely rational? maybe. maybe not.
* I tried outlining how posting your early work on a Big Idea could be used to combat anyone stealing the idea (you’d have documentation of when/what you were working on, so you’d be clearly staking a claim to intellectual property, etc…) but that didn’t get very far.

All of the points boil down further to a single core issue.

**What *right* do we, as educators, have to *compel* students to publish on the open web?**

As educators, we compel students to do things all the time. In the “safety” of the classroom. As assignments. But, not In The Open™, with permanent and public archives of their work. Yes, there are cases where we do this, too (drama classes may have public performances – but those aren’t often archived permanently and publicly).

The open web is an incredible force multiplier. Students (and faculty) can say something, and have it spread around the world and accessed by anyone. Which is great, unless that short circuits the kinds of risk taking behaviours that make for really meaningful learning experiences.

It comes down to what we’re really trying to do with our students. Is the goal to have them publish their content, or is it to take risks and learn from mistakes? I’d argue that it’s far more important to be taking risks as part of an educational experience than to be publishing content. As such, it’s far more important that students are engaging in productive discourse, than to be posting their term papers.

The concept of “[training wheels](http://andremalan.net/blog/2009/07/10/social-media-classroom-training-wheels-that-dont-come-off/)” – that having private sites is shortsighted because it treats students with kid gloves, telling them that they’re not worthy of publishing on the open web – isn’t completely capturing what happens in an effective classroom. A class isn’t an exercise in content production, it’s an active and engaged learning community. Some of the activities that occur with a class may involve content production, but that’s not the primary goal. Whether or not those content production activities are on the public and open web is an entirely different discussion.

As a result, I have absolutely no problem with faculty and students wanting to have private “classblogs” – if it gets them to a place where they’re able to use the blogging platform in a way that amplifies the effectiveness of their discourse, even (or especially) if the site isn’t public, then it’s absolutely worth doing. And I don’t see this practice as simply replicating the closed model of the LMS in yet another platform. It’s different because faculty and students are largely in control of the environment used for the classblog. They can configure it together. They can customize it. They can shape it to meet their needs. That’s the important reason for moving outside of an institutional LMS.

Jim Groom on individual control of data

The Reverend is back from another trip slaying the [Montauk Monster](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montauk_Monster). And he’s back in fine form.

>Point is, the open web is not a convenience we need to evolve, it is a public good we need to preserve and foster. You cannot do that when it’s all been accounted for and the gig is up— **if “open and free is an ideology” then isn’t “closed and expensive” just as ideological as well—and shouldn’t the two be in deep struggle on a larger stage**? Rather, what’s happening, is the one is trying to subsume the other under cloud of night and terminological uncertainty. The LIS standard that’s been announced makes systemwide integration easier perhaps, but **does it give people control over their identities and data**? Does it promote a sense of one’s space and value on the web in real time? Does it deliver on the idea of a Personal Learning Network on the open web undergirded by syndication and community? These things are integral to teaching and learning on the web right now, and they have little, if anything, to do with an LMS, or so it seems to me.

Standards and interoperability specs only serve institutional needs, unless individuals are in control of their own data.

But I gag at the need to draw the PLN into the picture. Why does this mythical PLN have to be invoked whenever digital media is discussed? I don’t recall the term used in a wider, anolog sense. The PLN doesn’t really exist – we all learn from various and organically shifting sources, and contribute likewise. Defining a PLN is overly simplistic.

from *[Summer of Love: Domain Mapping « bavatuesdays](http://bavatuesdays.com/summer-of-love-domain-mapping/)*

on the open education experience

The Open Education conference last week was easily one of the best conferences I’ve ever participated in. It was intense, incredibly run, thoughtfully planned, and brought together an extremely diverse and intelligent group of people. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so intimidated by the sheer number of scary-smart people in the same room.

The conference was awesome. Lots of people have already recapped the conference itself – I’m not going to even try to add to that. I’m also not going to write a post about how fracking awesome everyone is, listing them all by name. I had a blast talking to everyone. They all rock. I am honoured to have had the chance to meet so many great new people, and to hang out with so many old friends. Blah blah blah…

What I was struck by was the ways I found the conference changing how I was thinking about education, openness, and inclusion. I felt a similar shift at the first Open Education conference I attended back in 2007, but this was a much deeper, more pervasive feeling.

Open Education is not about Resources

Although many of the sessions touched on Open Education Resources (OER, Learning Objects, content, etc…) there was a strong consensus that education is about so much more than content, and is also so much more than the tools and technologies used to present the content and connect the learners. This was a refreshing stance, as we seem to be highly content- and technology-centric when thinking about education (and Open Education, specifically). How do we shift the focus from content to interaction? From publishing and/or consuming to interaction and engagement? There were some interesting conversations about this, and although I don’t think there can be any solid answers, the fact that we’re looking at this stuff as more than just content, at education as more than just broadcast/receive, is a good sign.


Scott Leslie talks about “planning to share” vs. “just going ahead and sharing” – and the most interesting projects (and non-projects) all shared this theme. There were no RFPs, no committees, no Advisory Boards. People just started sharing. And that’s the only part of Openness that matters. It’s not about licenses, copyright, or anything other than just sharing what you’re doing.

And, there is also some hypocrisy in “open” projects – for example, the showing of a very short clip of RIP: A Remix Manifesto, at an education conference, in an art gallery, apparently cost over $100. And the distributors wanted over $300 to let us watch the entire movie. A movie that ends by saying “Download this movie” – and is not legally downloadable within Canada, even though it was produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Openness is not about licensing, it’s about sharing. And locking a movie that is inherently about sharing behind a paywall is breaking the spirit of openness. Hypocrisy.


At an evening session on copyright, Sonny Assu presented some of his work – where he appropriated many of the commercial symbols that have been pushed on us and have become part of our cultural heritage. He talked about how we now use these symbols as parts of our selected tribal identities. The tribe of the $5 coffee cup. The tribe of the white earbuds. This got me thinking about everything I saw in terms of tribalism and identity – which tribes or shared cultural groups do I broadcast membership in? What does that mean, for how other people perceive me? Do they see the symbols of the group identity? How does my perception of others’ group identities affect my interactions with them? How does this affect the relationships that are crucial in education? Lots of stuff to think about, and no answers to come.


Following on the thoughts of inclusion, and on the strong sense of male dominance at the conference (which was a veritable sausage party), I started thinking much more about inclusion. If the open education conference was so strongly over-represented by white males who shared similar backgrounds, why is that? If it’s not through active exclusion (there is no club to join, no registry to sign, no approval process), it may be through a sense of inclusion or non-inclusion. Why are women, people of colour, people of various other backgrounds, not as strongly represented here? Are they missing because they don’t feel welcome? Do they perceive a risk in joining the community? Do they see a barrier to entry? The middle-aged white dudes may not see barriers and risks, but are they tangible for others?

If so, what can be done to encourage others to actively participate in the community? Is that even something that is desirable for everyone? Does everyone’s participation need to be visible to be valid?

But… I said at the top of this post that the participants were extremely diverse. WTF? well, they were, compared to some other edu- and tech- conference. But were hardly diverse, when put into a global perspective. Yes, people were there from a long list of countries, and from a long list of institutions, but almost all shared a similar privileged western background.

Photo by Diego Leal

scott leslie on how sharing works

Scott Leslie just published a fantastic description of how sharing really works – and how institutions/organizations/etc… miss the real value of sharing. You can’t plan to share, you can’t define parameters, you can’t write specifications and requirements and interoperability guidelines.

All you can do is share what you do. Share what you create. Share what you care about. And, possibly, some time, someone else will benefit.

But if you plan/specify/define the parameters of sharing (what is shared? with whom? for how long? in which contexts? etc…) then the value of the thing is lost.

I agree with Scott. I’ve been involved in a few projects that had fantastic intentions, and lofty goals. But they got hung up on words and plans, rather than on just doing stuff and casting it to the wind. CAREO. EduSource. Pachyderm. APOLLO. ALOHA. etc…

I’ve lost track of the number of times someone has found a new use for something I’ve done. Photographs have found their ways into books, games, magazines, TV shows, etc… None of that would have happened if I’d focused on planning who would get to see the photos, and for how long, and at what resolutions, and what they’d be allowed to do with them, and what the cost should be, etc… Or, if I’d worried that nobody would even want the photos in the first place.

Sharing works because you do it. That’s all there is to it.