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.

Faceted tagging in the wild

Sara Brumfield and I were talking about tagging as a possible feature in her web-based wardrobe management system Dressr. I suggested she look into faceted tagging a la mefeedia and she pointed out that another fashion site, etsy, already has it. Etsy has one bucket of general tags and a separate bucket specifically for materials. Nice!

Looking around, I see that Emanuele Quintarelli has written about etsy’s other innovative features in the context of faceted classification.

So — how many other web 2.0 apps out there use faceted tagging? By which I mean separate categories of tags for distinct aspects of the items being classified.

Shadows coming to light

At last the place I’ve been working this summer is ready for its product to be blogged about. It’s called Shadows and you could say it’s another entry in the social bookmarking arena, but with some important additional features. Shadows not only supports tagging bookmarks for recall and discovery, but also creates a discussion space for every URL on the web. In a way it’s a bit reminiscent of the old Third Voice idea, but instead of an overlay of graffiti, Shadows adds a blog-like comments feature to any page on demand.

Shadows is in an early beta stage and there are a bunch of additional features in the pipeline — UI improvements, RSS feeds, tag clouds, a Flickr-like “friends” feature, an API. But the core functionality is up if you’d like to take a look:


My role includes some things I can’t blog about but I can say I’ve been doing interesting IA-ish work on helping define the feature set. I’ve also been recruiting and supporting a crew of beta testers. If you try it out and have comments or suggestions, by all means let me know. gets tastier

Why didn’t I install this ages ago? Yoz Grahame’s search plugin for Firefox. Now I’m just two clicks, the typing of a search term, and one retrieval away from my bookmarks. Sweet. My outboard brain just got 100% more efficient.

Perhaps more significantly, has a new tagging interface. In the past, Joshua Schachter had expressed a reluctance to taint users’ immediate intuition of the best tags for an item by giving them too much guidance from their own or others’ past tagging behavior. He seems to have backed off from that position some: the new tagging form gives you tag recommendations, then shows you a low-fi heatmap of your complete tag list with the recommendations highlighted, as well as the most popular tags used by others. The form is nicely dynamic with a whiff of RIA and ajax about it, too. A great improvement in functionality next to the multi-step process that used to be necesssary to tag an item then look back and see how your usage compared with that of others. Although as with the rest of, it’s unlikely to be clear to naive users quite what’s going on. tagging form

I feel gratified because this is just the direction I was hoping to see tagging interfaces move in in the not particularly earth-shaking paper I wrote for a class this spring (“Tags: What are They Good For?“). Now let’s see whether Schachter or others find ways to make tagging easier still.