Good LORd

In General on 13/6/2007 at 1:56 pm

“A bunch of folks (myself included) took up the task of building software to let people easily publish, describe, share, find (and hopefully use) digital assets or learning objects (assets with a bunch of metadata tacked on the side). I think it’s fair to say that the experiments failed pretty dramatically. The only content that was added to CAREO was done under the auspices of Large Projects and/or Institutions. Individuals, by and large, didn’t spend much time with it, or its ilk. Why is that?”D’Arcy Norman

Well, how much time do you have… actually, D’Arcy comes up with three pretty good reasons around sharing, API and social aspects, but if I could pick one reason why these toppled (I got to watch some Uni ones topple up close, ’twas fun) it would be this: WHY WOULD I (OR ANYONE ELSE FOR THAT MATTER) BOTHER.

Honestly, forget the good of humanity, helping others and all that jazz, we’re essentially pretty selfish beings, and it’s important to respect that because this stuff isn’t really going to work as long as we ignore that or look for fanciful tech-based solutions.

Sure, we may have great tools and be a lot more advanced in our understanding of how we can socially create sites, but I don’t reckon we’re any closer – or really ever will be – to a crowd / tech driven solution – it’s just too hard.

And let’s remember that we tag spam in gmail not because we want to help the community, but because we don’t want spam.

We use social bookmarking services not because we want top be social, but because we want to access our links from anywhere, tag them ‘n stuff.

And we add content to sites like fOUnd it because… oh hang on, we don’t, because IT DOES NOTHING FOR US.

I reckon there are really only two solutions:

Institutionally you can look into providing employees (be they academics, teachers or so on) with tools which they really want to use to help them teach, research and so on (easy, huh!) which you can then aggregate in various ways. Alas, simply sucking up Word & PowerPoint docs might be the way to go. Incidentally, this one is tricky to a. get right & b. do without turning into a police state.

Globally I’m afraid that there might be a harsh truth here… you may, actually, shudder, need to employ a genuine human bean of sorts! Yes, that’s right, a real person, equipped of course with mucho understanding of how one finds appropriate stuff, but very real nonetheless who can tag, file, link to, archive and generally organise stuff. Heck, you might even need a few of them, put them in a building together and get them to…

… hang on, isn’t that called a, library :)

  1. Great point. I completely forgot about the most important reason: What’s in it for ME? An institutional repository certainly doesn’t scratch most people’s particular itches…

  2. I do a good line in thinking about what’s in it for me ;)

  3. James, I guess the institutional solution you point at is, actually, in the same line of thinking of PLEs and PRPs :)

  4. PARP!

  5. [...] touched about a similar lack of activity in institutional ePrints repositories. D’Arcy (and James in a follow-up post) come up with some valid arguments why this may be the case. My tuppence also [...]

  6. James, you are forgetting the counter-example that you yourself promoted through integration with Edublogs. Yacapaca (see http://demo.yacapaca.com ) now has 14,354 school teachers creating, sharing and using a repository of 18,941 quiz questions. 2,478 quizzes, and 1,467 free-text tasks all organised into 1,217 courses. This all serves the learning needs of 416,053 students (all data as of this morning). So it can be done.

    I certainly agree with D’Arcy Norman about the core dynamic. The biggest mistakes we have made have been when we have tried to appeal to the altruism, or even enlightened self-interest, of users. Wrong! Yacapaca has only grown by appealing to the _unenlightened_ self-interest of our target users. They just want to get their teaching job done, and they really don’t give a stuff about metadata, discovery, and all the rest that we thought was so important early on.

  7. [...] responds to my contention that we’re all selfish [...]

  8. In my experience there are other huge reasons. Every institution I have worked for has has a culture, either explicit or implicit, of keeping tight hold of anything produced by staff. Sharing is represented as not just having no benefit to ME, but being actively discouraged by the institution itself.

    As far as I can tell, this attitude partly comes from the assumption that any materials produced at or by the institution are valuable intellectual property, which would potentially be useful to competitors. On a personal level those competitors may be other departments or even other staff within the same department – the “why should I be the only one doing all the work” attitude. On an broader level any institution which is competing with others for income or funding based on number and success of students is therefore discouraged from making anything available outside its own walls.

    Add to this the continual emphasis on avoidance of plagiarism (which often seems to translate to “the only safe thing to do is produce everything yourself”) and heavy-handed management techniques such as discouragement of employee blogging just in case anyone in the power structure might be embarrassed and you get a big bundle of reasons not to share.

    I can’t see these forces changing significantly, however many well-intentioned repositories are constructed.