Blackboard tries and fails to get a clue

Blackboard, the horrendous courseware behemoth, has heard about this Web 2.0 stuff and decided the right response is to clone — as a closed system inside Blackboard!

Survey about BlackBoard Scholar

I love the bit about how "limiting access to Blackboard users" is supposed to contribute to the goal of "a new way to find educationally valuable resources".

If only they’d put a little effort into opening Blackboard up, for starters by supporting e-mail and RSS subscriptions so students wouldn’t have to log into Bb’s nasty multi-click frames interface to keep up with their classes.

Ah — Googling a bit I see that Blackboard Scholar permits non-users to search its collected bookmarks, but only lets registered users create bookmarks.

It’s part of the Blackboard Beyond Initiative, which is at work on "e-Learning 2.0". Trying to read through the marketing murk, it sounds like the BbBI people themselves may actually have found that elusive clue; let us wish them success at revolution from within.

Social software du jour: Twitter and Virb

Recently I’ve been toying with Twitter, a viciously addictive little social networking/microblogging application intended to work on mobile devices. Twitter lets you post 143-character bursts of self-expression (where you’re going for lunch, what the cat ate for breakfast, what social networking app you’re moving to next) and broadcasts them to all your friends foolish enough to subscribe to your feed. You can both post and read through text messaging, IM, or a web interface. Twitter seems to have the attention of the early adopters — all the usual social networking cool kids are on it.

me at twitter

Oddly enough, Twitter isn’t location-sensitive, unlike its competitor Dodgeball. It seems to me that being able to filter by location would be a natural for both senders and subscribers. If I’m out for the evening or attending a conference I might want to be able to connect with only those of my friends currently in the area. Perhaps Twitter’s decision to be both mobile- and IM-friendly is a limiting factor: it has a minimalist set of controls suitable for texting from a keypad, and it can’t use location info from the mobile service provider because that would be unavailable from an IM client.

Another social app I was recently invited to is Virb, a wannabe MySpace killer. So far it seems pretty much like a feature-for-feature MySpace clone without the totally disgusting design. I’ve heard that Virb does a better job with music features but I haven’t investigated that yet.

If anybody would like a Twitter or Virb invitation, let me know. Virb is presently in stealth beta and I only have a few invitations left, so act fast.

Update: ValleyWag has reported (or manufactured?) a flap about Michael Harrington being embarrassed on a panel recently when he brought Twitter up on the screen and somebody in the audience twittered something flip. Surely that has happened whenever a brave presenter has tuned into the livebloggers and IRC. Of more interest to me is Twitter founder Evan Williams’ remark (mistakenly attributed to Stewart Butterfield) that “Every time I hear ‘UGC’, a little part of me — and everything I’ve ever believed in — dies.” What’s the gripe with user-generated content? Is it a question of marketing-centric terminology or really something he doesn’t like about the idea?

PlaceSite: social network with a sense of place

PlaceSite creates a local community site for coffeeshops and other physical locations frequented by WiFiers, with presence indicators to tell your friends when you’re in the house.

According to Wired News it’s a new project by Sean Savage of FlashMob fame. It’s currently being tested in some cafes in San Francisco. The intention is to have a free version for cafes and a more fully-featured commercial version for conferences.

It will be interesting to see whether there are characteristics of some cafe-based communities which make it catch on in some locations and not others. I would think that the size of the community, the prevalence of WiFi use, and perhaps the lifestyle habits and average travel time of community members would make a big difference. The cafes I frequent in Austin are small enough that a quick scan of a couple of rooms is enough to tell you whether your friends are there. On the other hand, if the presence indicators are visible from offsite and if the community is based on foot traffic, I could imagine popping over to the cafe if I was at home and noticed that a friend was there.

And then there’s the Lovegetty idea: let strangers tag their interests so you know when someone shows up who’d be up for a game of chess (or even something more, uh, strenuous).

I haven’t dug into it far enough to know which of these features it actually incorporates.

Social networking vs. just the apps, ma’am

A new baby was born in my extended family this weekend and I was asked to recommend an easy way for someone without a personal website to share photos. I of course suggested Flickr and the designated photographer started uploading baby pics. But then a few more requirements emerged and I realized that maybe Flickr, wonderful as it is, wasn’t the right choice for this application, so with a heavy heart I sent her on to Ofoto.

Why the change of course? Because despite the intrinsically social nature of photo trading, these people don’t really want a social network system. The requirement that they omitted from the initial conversation is that they want the baby pics to be private. Fine, Flickr can do that, you just have to mark your photos as visible only to friends and family — and then your friends and family have to join Flickr. Ofoto, if I understood their intro right, is perfectly happy just to host an album and let you send out a URL and a password for viewing it. Ofoto’s approach is asymmetrical and not especially social, but sometimes you don’t want to invite people to join with you in creating a beautiful virtual world. Sometimes all you want is a dumb app.

I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here, but it’s late and I still have homework to do so I’ll save them for another day.