Saturday, December 18, 2004

Google Suggest makes JavaScript acceptable

Some time ago I checked out Google Suggest, a search engine that does suggestions for you as you type.

Originally I have always thought that using Javascript or any other client-side scripting language is evil and the root of several problems (not just security, but compatibility as well).

Lately I have started to shift towards thinking that JavaScript is acceptable if it makes the experience richer or enables some shortcuts not otherwise possible. Especially I find Javascript useful for usability purposes. The key is that the application should work without JavaScript at the same time, so that client-side scripting is not required. Google Suggest takes things a step forward in usability and speed by involving server-side processing by using XMLHttp objects for transmission.. Awesome.

Google has restored my faith in client-side scripting, first with their great invite-only Gmail service and now this. Our usability guy Tony has also made some really nice tricks with JavaScript in our Dicole product and there is more to come..

For a technical description of how the Google Suggest works, check out this great analysis of the code.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Earning as in learning

I couldn't get any sleep so I just had to write this down. eLearning is not ePublishing. If we think about the word eLearning, it's fundamentally wrong, because it makes people compare it to traditional learning as an alternative - that is understandable, because it's a new thing in a sense. This is also where the problem starts.

People tend to build on old paradigms. The old paradigm of learning is content. The business in learning is content. We now have this new transmission channel, the internet and we put e in Learning as in the old paradigm. We emulate the traditional class room. We end up mixing, replacing and burning content (where the money is) with electronic substitutes. This is all about making the old paradigm more efficient in a way - we can reach people with content without caring about physical presence. We are replacing schools with online libraries. We build online repositories of learning objects which are not visible in popular search engines. Thanks: we have now a lot of digital material, but I ask you, how the learning is improved, made richer and expanded as in methods of learning? We have to drop the e and go back to the basics, Learning.

There are many different learners. It's not a new thing that some methods of learning work better for some than others. We still mostly start a class room by buying a book - the content - and the teacher goes through it according to a preset plan. This works very well for some but not for others. Learning is situated. Building dynamic expertise which is able to adapt in new settings out of the class room context is difficult. Some learners end up learning how to pass an exam, not how to adapt the knowledge in settings they are supposed to. This is why we have to mix different methods to make learning fair for various types of learners.

If we drop the l from learning, we get Earning. The question is, what is earning as in learning in the technology we call the internet?

To unleash the full potential of internet we have to go back to the roots. What is internet build on? What stuff is it especially good at? What are the fundamental key issues it improves?

My educated guess is that the keyword is networks.

Internet builds on a web of information and social networks. It's a small world network, with several interesting hubs inside it. It's not totally random or totally organized, it's somewhere in between. Six degrees of separation.

Now if we look at some successful internet based businesses, we see that all those go back to the roots: LinkedIn, Friendster, Meetup, Google, Wikipedia, Blogger, Livejournal, Flickr, Technorati, eBay, Yahoo and, to name a few. All of them are based on exploiting the key enablers of the established strong network - the internet.

It's all about how the information and people are connected in a network, not the content itself.

Take for example weblogs - the first website ever was a weblog. Now there is a myriad of opportunities in the weblog business, as people have discovered it's in fact a social network where collective knowledge is not in small units of ready-made content, but as thoughts in people's minds, evolving all the time as conversations. It's a social platform for information to mutate. The markets are conversations. You can recognize the footsteps in the sand.

The new technology could improve learning by building above the already established strong network. A network above network, a second stack over the existing one. That's where the potential is as in learning.

We have to...

  • use the internet in learning for what it's good for

  • start sharing methods instead of content

  • fundamentally change the online learning environments to connect with each other, to build small world networks

  • tap into conversations and transform that into learning

  • facilitate the formation of new Pro-Am communities (like the Open Source community) out of learners, to support their life-long learning

  • use the technology of networks to build a framework with embedded social structure - enabling communities of practice in learning

A fellow who still can't get any sleep.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Educational weblogs

The Edublog Weblog Awards is a great source to expand your source of educational and academic information.

Off-topic: I've tried to grow my own Shiitake mushrooms in chopped wood beds and so for I've been successful and have gathered a few caps. I'm now starting my second growth period, expect some pictures in a couple of weeks. They grow nicely in room temparature if you remember to spray some water several times a day.