All the hubbub around the failure of The Daily reminds me of a thread I had going this past summer on tumblr about the possibility that content and technology can no longer be considered separately, and what that means for higher ed. I am going to try to collect all the relevant posts here.
First off, let’s look at this quote from Daring Fireball (emphasis mine):
The Daily launched with a tremendous amount of publicity, aided and abetted by Apple itself — Eddy Cue was on stage for the announcement. But the app sucked. Daily issues were almost mind-bogglingly slow to download, and even once downloaded, animations and page turning were slow, and navigation was confusing. The Daily garnered a lot of attention right out of the gate but had software that left a very poor first impression. That was a huge mistake and missed opportunity.
In the time since they launched, their software improved and download sizes shrunk, but it still wasn’t great. They never seemed to treat software engineering and design as a primary function of the publication. They were competing as much against Flipboard as they were The New York Times, but didn’t seem to realize it.
Most publishers build their site by stapling together products made by other companies. They get their CMS from one company, their analytics package from another, their ad tech from another, their related content widgets are powered by another, sometimes even their writers are contractors who don’t work for the company. This is why so many publisher sites look the same and also why they can be so amazingly complex and hard to navigate. They are Frankenstein products bolted together by a tech team that integrates other people’s products instead of building their own.
It is hard to build vertically integrated products because you have to get good at several things instead of just one. This is why for years Microsoft was seen as the smart company for focusing on just one layer and Apple was seen as dumb for trying to do everything. But now Apple is more than twice (!) as valuable as Microsoft and the industry is starting to accept that you need to control every layer to make a really excellent product.
If it is not just the content but also the platform that wins, I start to wonder if that is true for educational ventures as well.1
As soon as I read this I thought it was obvious in the vertical he is speaking about. What I wonder is why we are in a rush to abandon that idea in the higher education technology space — I mean I get that we are not a technology company, but if we are a content organization (or a media company as Brad suggests) then shouldn’t we work to construct the tools that support the creation, storage, management, and sharing of that content? We used to and then we realized we couldn’t do it better, but it seems to have put us in a very different kind of mess … LMS’s that don’t inspire, blogging platforms crippled by our own internal politics, classrooms tools that only work most of the time, websites that are confusing at best, and so much more. Is it time for a totally vertically integrated start up University?
Then there is this snippet from the verge on a story about Yahoo under Marissa Mayer:
Mat Ingram tries to make the case that media and technology are separate or at least separable. At Yahoo, Netflix, and The Verge, that simply hasn’t been true.
I can buy into the fact the media companies are now technology companies. Coursera and the other MOOC ventures are applying media company mindset to education. Even if they are serving fast food now, they are in a position to move beyond that and define and create a truly web-native experience for education. I am not saying they will, but their investment in technology and their scale could result in something much more game changing than we are seeing now.2
I have been arguing that news organizations should reimagine and rebuild themselves as platforms for their communities, enabling people to share what they know and adding journalistic value to that. As such, they should study technology companies.
Again, what is being discussed is primarily news media, but I think the same can apply to higher ed. Universities need to develop platforms and not just throw a bunch of technological odds and ends together to conduct education.3
In thinking about the need for institutions to provide their own platform, and not just use existing commercial tools for generating community, I am reminded of a post from Derek Powazek:
Every community-based site in the history of the web has essentially been a stab at creating a social network. Most of them fail as businesses, with the rare exception of small, lucky communities that become self-sufficient but not exactly prosperous. What if that’s just the way it is?
Makes me wonder if creating a small online community for something like, say, a university, actually does make sense – a funded “tumblr: campus edition” so to speak.4
Jim Groom picked up on this and lamented universities “aping the current zeitgeist of ‘innovative’ tech companies trying to build successful start-up platforms”:
Education needs to return to the space of teaching people how to conceptualize and build these things rather than get in the business of building and maintaining such a service. The struggle to make sense of this space and but it in some cultural context is the service we provide, we must not forget that!
And lastly, I think my final comment on that same post of Jim’s serves as a nice summary of my thoughts on this matter:
Where I think I was on the way to arriving to with my post is that digital platforms are going to be a much bigger differentiator for institutions going forward. They could be systems like those used for the new corporate MOOCs, centralized services for expression and discourse like UMWBlogs, or a complete build your own model like I hear Jim wondering about. The platform affects how education is conducted. The model of throwing up some open source tools for centralized services or asking people to build their own still needs tons of work. The tools need to get way better. What I wonder is if higher ed institutions need to invest in building them.
We can do a hell of a lot better than just distributing videos of lectures online — we have to. We know so much about now about how people learn, how they construct knowledge about their own world — how they create and synthesize and share and communicate. We can do better than where the MOOCs are right now, and I really think we’re right on the precipice of doing just that. But we’ve got to focus on making & sharing & discussing; on learners & doers. Not just the videos & quizzes.
That’s from John Lilly, a silicon valley venture capitalist. I am still not completely used to seeing the tech startup scene paying so much attention to education. For example, there is something education related on the front page of hacker news regularly.
For what it’s worth, I agree with what Lilly is saying above. It is easy for people in the education mindspace to throw stones at MOOCs, but that is focusing on the now, and not the potential of where we could go in a few years if we stay on this path.
Dan Frommer and Jon Gruber both talk about why Apple didn’t lead with an iPad mini two and half years ago. They both talk about the technical challenges in miniaturization and the conceptual need to release a product that was more distinct from the iPod touch and iPhone. This might be part of the story, but I think there is something else at play. Think back to the iPad unveiling. Apple showed off their iWork suite for iOS and a keyboard dock. They were imagining the iPad as a work machine. With the keyboard dock and emphasis on an office suite, it almost seems like they were thinking in the same direction Microsoft is now with the surface. By the the time the iPad 2 came around Apple was able to get a better sense of what these devices are best used for, and it wasn’t office. The keyboard dock was gone and the emphasis was placed more on on the iLife style apps. It is quite possible that Apple just didn’t know what size iPad was best as they didn’t have the use cases nailed down yet.
P.S. I am not sure if the miniaturization cost argument makes sense when Apple was already producing much smaller iOS devices (iPhones and iPods touch) for years when the first iPad was announced.
I’m podcasting again. I have joined forces with Adam Welch on a new podcast exploring The Big Lebowski. In each episode we discuss a single minute of the film, making our way minute by minute through the entire thing. We’ve posted three episodes so far and have recorded a few more that will be coming out soon. We’re shooting to have a new episode each week. This venture gives me an excuse to collaborate with Adam and work on my podcasting skills. And it’s fun. If you want to listen in, check out Gutterballs: The Lebowski Deepcast.
Education Parkour: Tracking The Open Web for Teaching and Learning.
Let’s start at the beginning of university tech: email. University email address defined him.
Then shared folder. Then personal URL (we still use that at Penn State.)
Don’t lock up the best work at the univ, like in an lms.
We’ve gone from preppies in the 8os to preppers in the 2010s
Dump email address – like Boston college planned to do. Why do we make a choice for student with outsourcing, you are on google or microsoft. Why not let people use whatever they want?
Parkour as a metaphor for education and technology.
Rebull – do parkour in this arena – no way! it goes against the whole notion of freedom.
We don’t need to be the gatekeeper Don’t imagine the web like this.
Eduglu was a McGuffin – it is was nothing, but it drove the plot forward.
Blogs define the web, but people still look at you cross-eyed when you say it – cats and politics.
UMW blog hosts student run research sites and there is a URL for each of them. Students are populating the web, and it is rising to the top.
All ed techs should want to do is control the flow into an aggregated space where it can be discovered. Students can use any space they want.
Virginia Wolfe, A room of ones own. For women to achieve equality, they would need a room of ones own. Independence defined in terms of space. Does this translate to the digital?
UMW bought web hosting and 400 domains for students. True ownership. True control.
Thomas Jefferson thought that each generation should be revolting against the previous one.
DS106 students submit storytelling assignments for the class. At first Jim made the assignments, but students said they could do better. Now it is. Fits perfectly into the “Why wasn’t I consulted?” model of the web. One of the ways ds106 is a true web-native course.
University website is Not a brochure – but a fishtank. Should provide a view into the activity of community.
Here are my hastily typed notes from Paul Roeland’s keynote that kicked off day two of the Plone Symposium East 2012. You can find his slides online. Emphasis is placed on points that sparked special reaction from me. Maybe that is because they support my already established worldview, or in some cases because they challenged me to re-examine my established worldview. They will be subjects for further reflections at another time.
To create a better world, we will need all the tools we can.
World didn’t end in 80s – nuclear fear – DIY culture born out of this.
Radio – pirate radio in the netherlands. Used to protest.
Modem – the bookpress of our age. Bulletin Board culture. Didn’t have to wait for someone to tell you news, you could contact people in other parts of the world directly. Internet is doing the same right now.
Internet arrived late in europe because they wanted to regulate it. A group of hackers set up the first ISP in netherlands. “We are not going to wait for anyone to say it is right, we are just going to do it”
They built their own noise meters and hooked up them to home to measure noise, when the goverment said the meters would be too expensive and the infrastructure to connect them would be too expensive.
Time is the new currency. People value facebook and instagram because they are based on mindshare. trying to make a formula to convert mindshare to money. Noprofits, for profits, ad agencies, they all are interested in mindshare.
Of course money still counts, but tech is an equalizer. Net and Mobile are DISRUPTIVE. NGO funding is directly related to attention. You can get around the “he who has the most money wins” problem.
we’re just having converstation – That’s all we do with technology and politcs. Same as cavemen around a fire.
kobotoolbox – create a form that also can include photos and gps coordinates. Save it on entry level android device. even if no coverage, it can store on device then be collected when returned to headquarters. Needs to be used for anthropological research. no one will suspect you for just having a form, too. Having piles of paper bring attention.
Not all open source software is centered in the western world anymore. Map Kibera project. Kibera is an area of Nairobi. They started creating job posting, and news. Made local online media source. Connect to SMS, send sms news to 100,000 people at once. People can send messages back for on-the-street reports as well. Ushahidi is name of mapping software. People can report voting rights abuses on election day and observers find this info right away.
Keep lines and tool open – it is essential. Walled gardens is an opportunity for censorship and a single point of failure.
Make tech personal and communal. Organize many mouths and many eyes. Avoid tunnel view. If you only follow best practices, you will never find a better practice.
Don’t create things that are just correct from a technical perspective, but from a literary perspective as well. Don’t stay in your safe tech hideout.
facts are not sufficient. Just because you are right, you will not get any attention, and we are in an attention economy. Story has to not just be right, it has to be good. It has to be beautiful. “The best way to get value from data is to give it away” (Neelie Smit-Kroes), but presentation is not optional!
Don’t design by committee. Every tweet shouldn’t have to be signed by three people, and be checked to confirm to policy, then conversation will move on without you.
open-washing: example: IATI standard is great. EITI standard – funded by BP, shell, exxon mobil, etc. Wrong way to go about transparency. Lot’s of open-washing. Like green-washing.
Tech is strategic, not an expense. Discussions are n-way conversations. Discussions are not people on top tell you what is right. practice what you preach.
for techies – don’t built a website – build an oeuvre. Think instruments, not tools. Delivering to specs is delivering the next legacyware. Not including mobiles? You’re elitists. You are excluding 4/5 of the population that will never own a computer other than the one they are holding right now.
Open source, data, and channels – we need all three.
I am only now discovering this post by Paul Ford, which describes the web as an answer to the question, “Why Wasn’t I Consulted?” It is now required reading for anyone participating in Brad’s web bootcamp. The ideas presented at first sound cynical or snarky – The Web is a place for people to complain! – but it really does cut deep into the fundamental nature of the web and the author does talk about how successful websites turn this need to feel consulted into a force for good. You should read the whole thing. If you are working the field of education, you can think about the questions the the author raises in the context of academia instead of the publishing industries.