I just watched the quite excellent documentary by Kate Ray on Web 3.0. While I went into the video expecting a celebration of the awesomeness of a smarter web, what i found was a nicely balanced review of the upsides and downsides of the conversation and some quite dissenting viewpoints from the people she interviews. In the context of our discussions in PLENK2010 (personal learning environments, networks and knowledge MOOC) I think there are a couple of relevant points that impact the possibilities for education.
The internet is VERY NEW
In the beginning of the video a variety of the subjects (and they are all quite good subject btw) talk about how people get confused by the massive amount of information on the internet. How people get confused when they are confronted with too many options when they search for the word ‘camera’. This was from Chris Dixon, who described how research says that people are less likely to purchase a camera, and less likely to be happy with that purchase, if they reach that point of confusion.
I don’t see this as very surprising. Every week now, a cagillion people log on to the internet to shop for the first time, to surf for the first time, to tweet for the first time. I think of the feeling I had the first time I walked onto a camera STREET in South Korea. Every shop had cameras… the whole street. How was I to choose between stores… let alone picking out the camera I wanted? How would I know who to trust?
Right now the internet is still very new for most people. People will get better at using things that are scattered
This is where we are with the internet. It is still very, very new to 97% (made up stat) of the population. This is directly related to the ways in which we look at PLEs. People are unfamiliar with technologies, with this kind of social connection… this will come. In time. The drive that I see in development from the technological side of PLEs is to make it easier, more transparent, less work for the student. In doing so we disempower. We separate them from the means of their own production. Give them time. They may adjust.
The scary thing about the web 3.0 semantic extended next web.
I think the scariest part of the video for me was when John Hebeler said “Semantics merely adds extra information to help you with the Meaning of the information”. That’s all. It adds the meaning to connections. “How could you filter the internet so you could get the answers you wanted to get… ” But who is to decide what you ‘want’ from most of the things we ask. What is the best place to vacation on a beach? The best movie for a Friday night?
This is the root of what has always concerned me about the semantic web. If someone is to design a system that is to speak to how meaning is made, then that person controls what things ‘can’ mean. Clay shirky brings up this point near the end of the video, the history of at least western philosophy is replete with people trying to figure out what ‘meaning’ means.
I don’t mind PLEs being messy.
For the PLE, I would rather the connections between people be messy, and force students to take responsibility for their work, than create a system that makes decisions for how things ARE connected based on a method that then allows us to reassemble data later.
Everything need not be for everyone
Another comment by Chris Dixon – “If its indexed in a really unaccessible form, then it might as well not be out there.” One of the premises underlying this is that everyone needs to be able to find every bit of information put on the web. That somehow if an algorithm doesn’t index your material in a way that google can find it, it doesn’t exist. I can understand this position from someone who is in the business of selling things on the internet, but for the majority of people, the algorithms will never find them.
PLEs need not be ‘easily accessible’ (in a searching sense) for them to be hugely important to a learning community
The sharing part of an learning community is exactly like this. The things that people are sharing need not be ‘indexed in an accessible form’ to be useful to the people that they are working with. They could, I suppose, gain sufficient traction to be that someday, but learners on the internet need not see wide accessibility and attention as the measure of success.
The ‘semantic’ web impact, then, would be on the resources that people are looking to use that are outside of their defined social learning community. They would help in the finding of web resources… And sure, it would be very nice if there was a way to get through the chaff to the wheat when it comes to resources on the web.
I highly doubt, however, that the free/open resources that currently exist and are findable will be able to compete with a corporate learning space that suddenly has very accurate and powerful tools in its hands to promote its content.
Two more quotes to comment on
If I would start a news business today it would be designed to produce not one new bit of news. Clay Shirky. While I really saw Shirky as the voice of reason in the video this line struck me oddly. I don’t think that he is suggesting, in this case, that the media ‘manufactures’ news… but if he isn’t, than i would say that there is no ‘producing’ of news anymore anyway. All anyone is doing is popularizing news. The idea that a super-class of people is responsible for finding the news and sharing it is really something that is pre-internet.
John Hebeler “There should be enough information out there that you should be able to ask for something extraordinarily specific” This in some ways feeds into the ideas from earlier about there being a ‘right’ place for a beach vacation, but the idea that that most people are looking for ‘very specific’ things and that they could ask for it strikes me wrong. I would argue that most people only have a vague idea of what they are looking for when they start searching… and that figuring out what they are exactly searching for is part of the knowledge process.