Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Social Networking Sites as Silos

March 2, 2010
Learn button

Learn Buttons

I previously blogged about the distinction between open-to-all learning communities and restricted access communities. Beyond limits on participation, most software-based communities have a problem with the free flow of information between communities.

One of the popular tools for helping to prevent online communities from being information silos has been content syndication. The first “feed reader” that I used was Bloglines. Many social networking sites allow participants to aggregate feeds and share those aggregates with other participants. One of these that I recently started experimenting with is Tumblr. There now exists a confusing collection of makeshift solutions to the problem of sharing information and social contacts between online communities. Can there be widely-adopted open standards for social networking?

One attempt to create such standards is the DiSo project. Look at the slogans for the DiSo (dee soh) project (“creation of open, non-proprietary and interoperable building blocks for the decentralized social web”):

  • Open, Distributed, Social.
  • Silo free living.
  • Information, Identity, and Interaction.
  • I hope that a coherent set of software tools will become available for helping us organize our online social networking. There seems to be a large gap between the needs of online learners and the desire of internet social networking companies to make a profit. Even non-profit organizations that are dedicated to online education struggle to facilitate the social aspects of learning. It will be interesting to see how online social learning networks continue to develop. I suppose things were just as confused when the first bricks-and-mortar schools were created. Most building were used for other things besides facilitating learning. With time, people figured out how to make specialized buildings that were well-suited for learning. At this time, most social networking sites are very much oriented around entertainment and commerce.

    If we are going to have efficient social networking tools for learning we need more than “like” buttons. In particular, I want something along the lines of a “I don’t understand X” button. That would be the foundation for for getting help for navigating a learning path through a collection of linked online communities.

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    Emergence of what?

    March 1, 2010

    "Your social dynamics suck."

    “although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not” – Isaac Asimov

    In my last blog post I mentioned SpaceCollective as a learning community that did not adopt the “open to all” community structure that has been adopted by other learning communities such as Wikiversity. In Fiction and Learning, I mentioned Isaac Asimov’s imagined planet of the future, Solaria, where advanced technology and a global communications system did not result in people cooperating with others, rather, each individual pursued their individual creative endeavor. I asked, “Will the internet bring humanity together or will we all self-segregate into warring internet tribes?”

    In an essay called The Natural Asymmetry of Infocologies, there is discussion of the idea that within our expanding internet-driven infosphere the relationships between individual learners, “are fundamentally and increasingly becoming more and more asymmetrical.” These “asymmetries” among social learners take many forms including the fundamental fact that, “not all aspects of my infocology are of relevance and of interest to another mind”.

    Here is an analogy for the natural asymmetries of social interactions in the infosphere: Several tens of thousands of years ago modern humans spread outward from Africa. Human languages and other cultural features diverged and we are still reaping the “rewards” of cultural incompatibility and tribal warfare.

    In this analogy, I’m comparing the spread of human cultural groups over the surface of our planet to the proliferation of divergent information ecologies across the infosphere. My intuition suggests that the infosphere is vastly wider than the surface of Earth. The question becomes, will we find social networking tools that keep us all together as collaborators within the infosphere or will the distances between us grow, resulting in a new era of mutually incomprehensible tribes?

    I’m not happy with the idea that, with time, the infosphere will spontaneously develop the technologies that are needed to keep us unified. It seems a leap of faith to say, “the optimal distance is an emergent property of innovative infocologies“. Faith in emergence of a happy outcome sounds like saying we could have prevented tribal warfare if our ancestors had better used smoke signal technology to communicate about their common interests.

    Clubs and Scale

    February 26, 2010

    Chess Club

    In my last blog post I made a distinction between specialty learning communities and Wikiversity. Wikiversity uses the same community strategy as Wikipedia: everyone is invited to participate. At Wikiversity, the fundamental unit of social learning is the “learning project” and participants (editors) are free to create and participate in learning projects for any topic.

    In contrast to the “open to all” community structure of Wikiversity, many online learning communities have a narrow focus and some are like learning clubs where you need to either be invited or pay for your chance to participate. For example, participation at SpaceCollective requires an invitation and some of the projects are not even open to all SpaceCollective members.

    When a community of internet users forms and begins to explore shared learning goals and common interests, what are the natural limits to the size of the community? Does it make sense to impose artificial restrictions on participation or should our software tools allow for flexible modification of community structure according to the whims of each participant? Right now, the internet is being populated by many different types of learning communities. Since there is variation in learning styles and learning goals, I do not expect there to be a single “best” format for online learning communities. It will be interesting to watch and observe the “survival of the fittest”…which tools for building online learning communities will survive and which ones will fade away?

    Screenshot of the projects page for SpaceCollective:

    screenshot http://spacecollective.org/projects/

    Learning projects at SpaceCollective.

    Upper Image. Chess Club by AskJoanne

    Online social networks for learners

    February 26, 2010

    Learn by doing.

    In my last blog post I used a few of the major social networking websites as examples for the “state of the art” in social networking. In this post, I want to review some examples of social networking tools that have been used specifically for education.

    The major social networking websites are for-profit and in my experience they are heavily slanted towards entertainment and advertising. Elgg social networking software is open source and has been used by educators to create social networks for learners. For example, Eduspaces is a learning-oriented social network powered by the Elgg software and one of the content sharing features is blogging by members of the social network.

    An online learning-oriented community that I have personally experimented with is Wikiversity. Wikiversity is powered by the open source MediaWiki software platform that powers Wikipedia. The basic content format is the wiki page, a webpage that can be edited by anyone.

    Wikiversity traffic.

    Based on Alexa statistics (see the graph, above), Wikiversity gets a significant amount of traffic because of its association with Wikipedia. Many online educational sites are niche communities and seldom grow beyond a limited size. Like Wikipedia, Wikiversity aims to be comprehensive in its approach to providing online learning resources. Unlike Wikipedia which is oriented towards providing printed documents to readers, Wikiversity aims to functioning as an online destination for learners where they can participate in a community where “learn by doing” (mostly “learn by webpage editing”) projects provide “hands on” learning opportunities.

    Many computer-facilitated learning communities are closed and intended to serve one particular bricks and mortar educational institution. It remains to be seen to what extent Asimov’s dream of making all the world’s knowledge available via computer-mediated access can become a reality. Will our cultural momentum keep bricks and mortar educational institutions in control of some types of educational resources or will a new ethic come to dominate by which everything will be freely available by way of the internet to every learning of the world?

    Image. Learning by Doing by Brian C. Smith