Friday, January 25, 2008

Wikinomics, D2L, and Future Flights of Fancy

How many of you have picked up a copy of Wikinomics by Tapscott and Williams?


Ok, well for those of you addicted to Oprah's re-hashed classics (as if she was the first to read Love in the Time of Cholera), pick up a book that is relevant to your life. No, I am not suggesting that the classics do not have a place in our lives, but I am saying that the literary Canon should not be all you read. Besides, how else do we add to the Canon except by reading new works.

I digress.

For those of you in the business world or in education (not just online), Wikinomics is the definitive book on collaborative practices. It was intended as a primer for collaborative internet tools in business, but the same principles can be applied to education. If it can be applied to education, it can certainly be applied to the software we deliver online education through.

I had a meeting with a lovely gentleman from Desire to Learn this week concerning their multimedia object handlers and the currently non-XHTML (XML) compliant software. The good news is--they are working on it. The bad news for me is that it may be quite a while before I get to see the results.

I will not go into the upgrade horror that having 23 systems tied together brings, but it is a nice segway into how Wikinomics affects the development of products.

Open source products are to be cheered by most communities. According to Tapscott and Williams, it is a fast and inexpensive way to develop a tool for a focused group of users.

A great deal of companies start that way. They have an idea that groups of users work on together and then eventually they "lock it off" from outside editors to finish the development. They cover YEARS of development time in months because there are so many experts putting time in for FREE.

However good that principle is, there remains one problem. Many hands make light work, but can leave a worm trail of coding problems that may take several releases to fix. (Did someone say Vista?)

As more and more users find "bugs" they report them to the dedicated programmers, then the programmers make patches or hot fixes for the current version while fixing the new release. Sometimes a wiki or blog is used in conjunction with this process.

D2L relies on its ticket system and community site it seems to find and fix bugs. This is not necessarily a bad approach, but would be less frustrating for the users if they realized what was really happening.

The problem with ticketing systems is that you expect to submit a problem and get a solution. In 90% of the cases, that IS what happens. The other 10% however get answers like, "That will be in the next release." Another good one, "I will send that to the developers as a request."

Are they doing product testing? YES. Testing only helps work out ideas that have been realized.

Wikinomics does not talk about it, but from personal experience, you can lock off a product too soon.

The huge surge of schools, not just ours, into the D2L learning environment has enlivened their development again. Educators, the focus group for the software, are experiencing the software with their students. As they experience it, they find things that a programmer who does not teach online, may not have ever thought of.

Development should always have a team member that is a full time product user, and in some cases, more than one user.

Basic users need different things from advanced users. Biology teachers need different things from English teachers. Some things are common.

I do not envy the relatively infinite scope of developing a learning environment. Much like constructing a building, the software must accommidate different inhabitants with different needs.

I think what I saw showed me the "common spaces" are heading toward something more uniform and usable. A scalable system for "newbies" and for those of us in the point click generation.

Places I recommend going: Partnerships with other developers.

Open source does not mean open to the whole world, but you can certainly stay open by partnering with new creators. There is no rule that you have to develop everything yourself! is the web conferencing software of the future. I will be interested to see who snatches it up first. Breeze? Web Ex? Citrix? Wimba?

Or, will a smart learning managment system give instructors and students a really useful place to work collaboratively?

In the end, collaboration is the mode of the new business world. Ways to work globally using multiple machines to process and create together. After all 100,000 experts are much better than one.

Wikinomics. READ IT. Also, you can catch the paper that Samantha Penney and I published last year at: page 173


Mike Chapman said...

In case you missed it, Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics, has joined with nGenera to take the ideas of the book directly to the decision makers in the international corporate arena. He and Steve Papermaster, CEO of nGenera, are quoted in the attached.

Kathrine Bailey said...

Thanks for the heads up!!