Archive for December, 2009

Is content king?

I have really been wanting to write about this news article ever since I saw it some time back. The company, Demand Media moved to #24 in the comScore top 50 web properties in the US, owns eHow.com, Pluck and eNom, and has succeeded in attracting 31 million unique page views in July, 2009. Since then, the October 2009 report shows them climbing to #16 with 51mn unique visitors. Interestingly, Wikimedia group sites climbed to 69mn from 62mn across these two months. Looking at the lists, we can see Fox, Ask network, answers.com etc pretty much near the top with the leaders consistently being Google, Yahoo, MS, AOL and Facebook. Twitter was somewhere in the top 100 in July, perhaps still there in October.

Structured content based sites seem to be garnering the market share at least in terms of unique visitors, well above and beyond social media sites such as Twitter. (Disclaimer: comScore doesn’t provide too much intelligence on its methodology or definitions, though, and I am not able to search-verify its accuracy on these reports.)

What interested me about Demand Media was that it’s site eHow.com is a repository of how-to (and other types of) articles contributed by users who also get paid for their contribution. They back this up with editorial teams pumping in and reviewing content as well.  Seems to be over a million pieces of content already in there with claims of being the #1 contributor to You Tube.

So, there is a structured content enterprise that is, in terms of access, somewhere in between search and social tools such as Twitter (with the notable exception of Facebook), and has a working business model.

Is this the face of how learning could possibly look in the future? Content by the community, of the community and for the community – a marketplace not overtly one – powered by advertising (and enrolments?) rather than, or in addition to, by direct trade in/collaborative interaction in learning experiences – augmented by search, exploration and collaboration tools that we know today?

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2010 Predictions

It’s again the new year and time to review some of the predictions I had made for 2008 and 2009.

From my 2008 predictions:

  • PLEs will be sharable – tools shall arrive on the web that shall allow entire learning experiences to be sliced and shared between users. This shall be followed by ratings on which PLE slices are great. Any learner wanting to learn about a topic will take a PLE slice of a person who the community says has mastered it and follow the learning path.

2009 was slightly better in this regard, although I still did not see many meaningful attempts at conceptualizing this kind of experience. We seem to be meandering more around technology than learning. Once that finishes, that is everyone figures out the base technology behind concepts such as informal learning, it will perhaps be time to think about PLEs and slices. Not much luck here in 2009.

  • Hybrid VLE + PLE systems – LMS/VLE enterprise systems shall incorporate many social constructivism inspired features and organizations will pick up this trend.

I predicted that this will pick up in 2009 and it did. And how. Almost every major LMS vendor has integrated social collaborative learning features.

  • The first classification systems to manage and search the huge amount of tagging will start to surface. Folksonomies will start getting structured in some way.

Difficult for me to find much about the progress so far in 2009. Would welcome links where I could get abreast. Space to watch. Don’t miss the bit about Powerset.

  • The shift to rich Internet applications in e-learning using Flex and Silverlight among other tools, shall become a reality thus providing a boost to gaming and simulations for learning.

Silverlight, now in version 4 Beta, seems to be making solid progress. RIAStats shows a 45% hit ratio over 17mn unique browsers across 84 sites in the past 80 days which is pretty good. I have seen more and more websites start using SL.

  • Learning process outsourcing will get established as a business model for small and medium companies.

Expertus seems to have made substantial progress despite the downturn. The top companies seem to be Raytheon Professional Services, Lionbridge, GeoLearning, ACS Learning Service, Adayana, RWD Technologies, General Physics, Intrepid, Expertus and Global Knowledge.

From my 2009 predictions:

  • Silverlight (more so) and Flex for learning development and tools will see a significant rise

Yes, really can see that happening. In fact, I have been involved in multiple projects where this has been a requirement.

  • LMS mindshare shall start being significantly impacted by Learning 2.0 solutions such as Mzinga and ELGG. As the adoption starts, enterprise measures/metrics will also start falling into place. Adoption of Learning 2.0 approaches will start in earnest in the second half of the year

Yes, sure enough there is now great momentum here. Metrics, I am not too sure about – I don’t think they have gone beyond capturing hits and comments yet.

  • LPO or Learning Process Outsourcing will gain momentum in 2009

As I said, the position is not very clear on this one, atleast from my limited research so far.

  • The use of the mobile as a learning platform shall see renewed interest – the start of ubiquitous learning being made possible by technological developments in the handset, services and network space

This one is more interesting. I know Nokia Life Tools initiative is making a strong concerted effort in making this happen. I have seen more impact coming in from companies like foursquare.

  • The use of virtual worlds for learning will acquire more importance – if things are right, it should mark the beginning of the end for traditional virtual classrooms.

I don’t think this made much headway in 2009 from what I can see.

  • Games and simulations will see an increased adoption

I certainly see some increased interest in using games and simulations. See for examples the winners in gaming and simulations for this year’s BrandonHall Awards.

For 2010, I think the following would happen:

  1. Silverlight will come into prominence and we will see it taking out some, not insignificant, marketshare from Adobe Flash as a learning technology creation platform
  2. LMS vendors will start differentiating themselves by adding on focus for new Learning 2.0 features, maybe advanced PLEs.
  3. I am pretty sure this year we shall see some significant mobility-related advancement in learning technologies. Gaming and simulations will keep on picking up momentum, especially as companies are recovering from the downturn.

Will continue to trace LPO and Virtual Worlds, but I think they will make good sustained progress in 2010. That’s it for now. It is the start of another exciting year soon!

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Reverse Search

I have a special interest in reverse searches. It has been used in many forms such as reverse looking up IP from domain name , looking up a phone number using an address etc. But I have seen a couple of examples lately that go a step further.

Straight or forward search involves entering key words or phrases and then finding an assortment of different media results – get web pages, definitions, images, videos and other resources.

Reverse search, as implemented by Google Goggles and TinEye, uses the very result of a search as an input. While Goggles lets you use a photo as an input, TinEye lets you use an image as an input to your search. I have read about similar technology for videos too somewhere.

I am pretty sure things can get complex with patterned searches – say – find videos where a speaker is addressing a large crowd and there are more than a million tweets relevant to that event and bring up the associated communities – maybe do that temporally (like Zoetrope) to see how popular a leader is over time.

What I am also interested in is, for want of a better phrase, anti-search – a mechanism whereby information finds me rather than me having to painfully enter keywords or upload symbols and sort through a large number of results (by the way that method can be and is still  a very useful way in which I learn from diverse perspectives) to get the information I need.

I am still thinking how that can happen. It would be like some gigantic personalized database which could understand my digital context and provide intelligent inputs.

I am sure there are existing agent driven architectures (and semantic web agents?) that can contribute to this. Maybe then I should also be worried about getting information overload and thereby argue for effective (network trust based) filtering mechanisms.

But perhaps, this is still not what would I mean by anti-search.  What happens in a case where I need to solve a problem? Search has become central to my problem solving ability, sometimes bypassing in no small measure whatever necessity I had to think critically & apply commonsense. Further it has become one of the most time-consuming activities in my schedule.

Anti-search would probably start by promoting critical-thinking in problem solving situations suggesting views/dimensions that could be possibly related to solving my problem. Almost certainly, the inputs to such an engine would be complex. For example, when creating a website and looking for help, I could upload a flowchart of my home page instead of, or in addition to, some key – words/images/audio/video/webpage. That way, I would set context for an intelligent agent or community or network to “feed me” information that helps me create a really good website.

That’s a thought, really. How about if I upload a business document and it not only finds me information-about, but also templates, designs, best practices, seminars, training……

I am not sure how much of this makes sense right now. But definitely something that needs more articulation from my end.

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Am reading Neil Postman’s The End of Education. Was particularly struck by his separation of the engineering of learning from the metaphysics of learning. While the engineering of learning involves the how (the methods, techniques), the metaphysics of learning involves becoming a “different person because of something you have learned” (p. 3). The metaphysics of learning then acquires a narrative of its own.

Postman talks about gods we serve, not in the religious sense, but in the sense of images or figures that signify narratives. For example, the god of Economic Utility signifies a particular narrative – that “if you pay attention in school, and do your homework, and score well on tests, and behave yourself, you will be rewarded by a well-paying job when you are done” (p. 27). Or the god of Consumership (‘Whoever dies with the most toys, wins” (p. 33)) with the advertising on the television (and now also the social culture of the internet) becoming the biggest impact on young minds (italics: my addition). Or the god of Technology (p. 38) which we know takes on an almost all-pervasive function of a filter through which we view society and learning.

We have such gods emerging and fading out all the time. We now have the Facebook god and the Google god and the Microsoft god and the Web 2.0 /social networked learning god and the SCORM god and the WBT god and the Blended Learning god…

Postman contends that “the narratives that underlie our present conception of school do not serve us well” (p. 61) and goes only not only to present his gods but also ways to use them to provide a purpose (“end” (p. 63)) to schooling. I would generalize school to cover adult learning too in variety of contexts.

It’s wonderful reading so far. I was particularly struck by his point that “all gods are imperfect, even dangerous…a belief too strongly held, one that excludes the possibility of a tolerance for other gods, may result in psychopathic fanaticism.” (p. 11). He quotes Niels Bohr who said that “the opposite of a correct statement is an incorrect statement. But the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth”. We must have tolerance to accept sometimes contradictory narratives.

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