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Sometimes all of us and, I suspect, those of who directly work with Internet technologies, are bound to forget just how transformational the Internet and the web are.
When we can pretty much anywhere obtain mega bandwidth we forget how far we have come and just how much things have changed in less than a decade ago. I certainly am guilty of this but several minor ‘epiphanies’ recently reminded me of the progress that has been made.
Ever wondered just how fast your net connection is? Tag along to www.speedtest.net and find out. This funky tool has delivered over 657million internet speed tests in the last few years. Just last week I rated our new office wi-fi connection at 23Mb/s download and 13Mb/s upload. I remember, just in 1999 getting a 128 Kb/s ISDN line and marvelling at how much faster it was than the analogue models we had used up to that point.
Bandwidth seems to be accelerating at a rate not unlike Moore’s law (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore’s_law). We used to be obsessed about bandwidth. It was all about speed. How fast can we consume this content? Now the focus is not upon how fast you can access online content; it is about ‘what can you do on web applications?’, which leads me to…
#2 Web 2.0 widgets and tools
Just how many ‘web 2.0’ sites are there out there now?
This is obviously a rhetorical question as there are more than any of us will or could ever uncover. I don’t mean prominent sites like Facebook and Linkedin either. Check out the following links on the 4IP web site:
These and sites like them have been built to cater for a very specific need or, at most, a few specific needs. Have a look at, in particular, www.evernote.com (“Easy to use information capture system for storing, filing, retrieving and sharing all the little things in life”), www.etsy.com (“A place to buy and sell handmade things”) and www.squirl.info (“Squirl is the best way to catalog, organize and share your records, movies, books, comic books, stamps, coins, or practically anything else”).
I fear that with ever-increasing inbox overload, tiny marketing/business development budgets and sometimes annoyingly web-trendy names many of these terrific applications will never gain the audiences that they deserve. Never the less, I am certain that in true Darwinian fashion that (most) of the best will thrive.
There are so many undiscovered nuggets of gold out there. Many are directly, or indirectly, intended to inform, build communities, share knowledge/ideas/expertise or enable direct collaboration. Very often this is between people that do not know each other (and probably will not ever get to know each other).
Compare that to the difficulties we have trying to get captured audiences (our employees) to use tools like Webex and the internal Intranet or LMS effectively (if such a thing is indeed possible!).
Thought: Perhaps every large organisation should have a Chief Web2.0 Applications Officer whose role is to keep abreast of what sites are out there that can be used to support L&D or as productivity tools and to go about effectively implementing them enterprise-wide?
#3 Online paint tools
A ‘twitter’ from Ben Saywer last week alerted me to Sumo Paint (http://www.sumopaint.com/web/), which is basically a (not basic) browser-based Flash/Flex-based version of Photoshop (albeit the Photoshop of several years ago).
It won’t satisfy the needs of the graphical power users (it only deals with a few web-friendly file formats for instance) but for the 99% of us that cannot fathom out where to start with the latest versions of Adobe’s finest picky creation tool, Sumo is more than we need. “But it is just a PC paint package isn’t it?” – well yes, but the amazing thing about this is that it is totally browser-based. It loads quicker than my staple 1998 copy of Paint Shop Pro (which is on day ‘several thousand’ of my 30 day trial!), support layers, imports from your PC (or the web) and loads more. You don’t need to install it. It doesn’t take up hard drive space, doesn’t bugger up your Windows registry and…it’s totally free for Pete’s sake!!!
Sumo Paint isn’t unique either. Matt Novak, one of my artists, discovered several other similar packages:
Of all of these, the work being undertaken by the guys at Aviary (www.aviary.com) is, perhaps, the most impressive. They are on a mission (apparently) to “make creation accessible to artists of all genres, from graphic design to audio editing”. If that doesn’t impress you then consider that alongside the tools currently available: Phoenix (an image editor); Peacock (a ‘Visual laboratory’!); and, Toucan (a colour swatches and palettes tool), they also have in production the following:
- Raven (Vector editor)
- Myna (Audio editor)
- Eagle (Pixel pattern recognition)
- Owl (Desktop publishing)
- Penguin (Word processor)
- Pigeon (Painting simulator)
- Hummingbird (3D modeller)
- Ibis (Font creator)
- Roc (Music generator)
- Starling (Video editor)
- Tern (Terrain generator)
- Woodpecker (Smart image resize)
The basic plan to join up is FREE. The pro license only costs $9.99/month. Compare that to the costs of acquiring MS Office, Adobe CS4, 3DS Max and/or Soundforge. Yes you always need an Internet connection to use them but compared to the need install and update applications (and then add more memory, constantly defrag your PC and manage numerous serial codes etc etc) plus the fact that the Aviary apps will always be the very latest versions…..well, the world is a-changing my friends.
Microsoft, Adobe and their ilk face some rather irksome challengers here who are reinventing the way that we acquire and consume software. These brave, spirited and determined web freedom fighters are poised to topple the age-old empires that have been built up over the last decade or two. This war isn’t about brand image, excising massive marketing budgets or sewing up the supply chain. I watch with interest.
www.instructables.com is, IMHO, nothing less than a major social experiment aimed at turning the world onto informal learning (note! – not the official ‘about us’ definition). I’ve blogged about the joys of School Of Everything (http://www.schoolofeverything.com and, more recently, about my successful journey around XBOX 360 repairs ‘training’ sites as sites that encourage self-guided and informal learning.
Instructables is, simply put, an already massive and rapidly growing collection of ‘how to’ guides provided by people whose experience and skills range from complete novice to master. Examples from today, as featured on the home page include, for example:
- How to program in C++
- How to make an easy fleece beanie
- Best meat sauce
- Making a lamp from a wine bottle
- How to make a Van de Graaff generator (!!!)
For sure, much of what you will uncover you will consider inane or insane but what you value and what I value may differ significantly and believe you me, there is already plenty on this site to appeal to anybody.
This site will scare many at first but it and others like it are doing more to encourage creativity, knowledge sharing, remote collaboration, skills development and confidence building than any corporate-controlled knowledge management of learning management system will ever do.
This is an application that you download and install (so not entirely ‘web 2.0’) but a software tool that is poised to change the sheer range of music that is being played in offices and homes the world over very quickly.
Spotivity (which you can download from www.spotivity.com) after signing up (note! You may need an invite from another Beta account holder). Once installed it allows you to find and play any song or album you could possibly want.
Think about that. ANY song!
How many times have you caught a snippet of a song that brought back memories from your youth? How many times have you thought “I wish I had bought that album” (or ripped it to MP3???).
Spotivity will, I venture, find just about any song that has been published. I’ve tested this. The guys in our office have tested it. We haven’t yet found a song it couldn’t find. What is really amazing is the sheer speed of the search. It is truly incredible how quickly a list of songs appears. The music itself starts within 2 to 3 seconds and mostly appears to be streaming at 256 Kb/s or higher. There is an occasional, short audio advert in-between tracks (hey, they have to pay for the licensing rights somehow!) but it doesn’t detract from the fact that I can play whatever songs I want whenever I want them now.
What does this mean? Well, I for one can free up several dozen gigabytes on my home PC and put the CD collection in the loft. More importantly, it means that we can all discover new musicand rediscover old music. Music you haven’t listened to for many years. Music that is similar to songs you already like.
Discovery; a word that doesn’t figure very often in formal learning tomes but one that should do. Learning Theories (www.learning-theories.com) attributes ‘discovery learning’ to Jerome Bruner and defines it as follows:
“Discovery learning is an inquiry-based, constructivist learning theory that takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his or her own past experience and existing knowledge to discover facts and relationships and new truths to be learned. Students interact with the world by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments.”
‘Discovery learning’ is a theory that aligns very well with the concept of informal learning. In the 21st century world where one must find facts, solve problems, find resources, master new concepts and acquire new skills almost hourly in order to perform and to progress, informal learning is a must.
Right…..I’m off to build that Van de Graaff generator!
I’ve been stressing the importance of informal learning for some years now. It’s not an original thought by any means but as an entrepreneur who does practically zero formal ‘training’ (as most organisations recognise it at least) it holds particular resonance.
I started a ‘serious games company’ before such a term existed (2002) and certainly before 99.99% of people in learning & development had come across the term. My colleagues and I had to invent ourselves. We had to identify that what we needed to know….and work out what we didn’t know we needed to know (Oops…a worryingly ‘Donald Rumsfeldesque statement that one!). There were no courses in ‘selling serious games’, ‘good instructional techniques using gaming’ or ‘creating a serious games design document’…we sought out answers from all manner of sources – both ‘real’ and virtual and assembled the knowledge ourselves in a very self-directed manner.
I guess I work, on average, 65+ hours a week. I’ve taken about 25 days off in three years. Performing as CEO, Chief Learning Architect, project manager, game designer, salesman and many other roles (it is all hands to the deck in a small firm guys!) I don’t have time for training. A somewhat dangerous statement from someone who heads up a learning technologies firm and who passionately believes in the power of gaming and simulation for learning? I don’t believe so.
I attend dozens of conferences and exhibitions. I very often come away with pages of notes. I read a lot of non-fiction books and industry publications. I spend a lot of time on directly and loosely relevant web sites. I network with a lot of people both in the real world and in web 2.0/virtual spaces. I work with/for a lot of very clever and impressive people. When I need information – be that a quick definition or conversely to immerse myself in a new complex concept – Google and Wikipedia are my first port of call and are usually followed by many web sites, forums, email/forum/IM conversations and PDF documents.
My point is this. If one has a certain media savvy – you are ‘webwise’ – and your have a genuine thirst for information and knowledge, then you, as a 21st century denizen, don’t just make use of informal learning…..you live it.
This was brought sharply to my awareness again this weekend. Like many owners of an XBOX 360 (35% of the 28million allegedly!) I suffered the incredibly frustrating ‘Red Ring of Death’. It happened on Boxing Day just as I inserted my fresh copy of Fallout 3. For those of you that are not aware of this issue, the ‘Red Ring of Death’ is the phenomenon that occurs when your shiny white XBOX 360 suffers a terminal fault (related to overheating of the CPU and/or GPU). Microsoft, to their credit, extended the standard one-year warranty to a full three years in recognition of this issue. My XBOX, however, decided to die 2 weeks after the expiry of the three year term.
Not to be thwarted I turned to the Interweb for ideas about what to do – instead of paying several hundred copies of the Queen’s head to some backstreet electronics butcher – and was glad that I did.
There were simply thousands of references to the problem in sources as prominent as major media company web sites down to miniscule forums. That wasn’t what impressed me however. With that many XBOX failures there was bound to be a lot of online activity. What blew me away were the many passionately authored ‘How to’ guides, graphical repair manuals and professionally assembled video tutorials.
Examples are listed at http://www.xbox3redlightservices.com/ a site that reviews some of the most prominent repair guides and rates each on several criteria. I reviewed this and several sites I found independently and then ended up paying £15 or so to subscribe to http://www.xbox360redlightfix.com.
This is a pretty slick site that, once you are signed up, provides you access to a 44-page PDF repair guide (including lots of clear photographs and concise instructions) and, more powerfully, a series of online tutorial videos. These literally walk users through the process of taking the console apart, carrying out the repair and then putting it all back together again.
A sample is viewable at http://www.xbox360redlightfix.com/example.php
Furthermore, the author provides email support (within 48 hours) and provides links for you to buy the odd parts and tools you will need. It is a very blended use of approaches to best help users (learners) master the totally alien skill needed to solve the problem at hand.
There are no centrally-organised, publisher-provided ‘courses’ to help people with this issue. Instead, hundreds of people from all over the globe have taken the initiative to provide learning resources of their own volition. Some are awful it has to be admitted. Some, like xbox360redlightfix.com are superb.
My seeking out a solution will (hopefully) provide my kids and I with many more hours of gaming enjoyment without spending hard-earned cash and I have learned something about the inner works of a current generation computer games console.
My point is this; there are an endless range of things that employees need to know and things that they need to be able to do well that can be satisfied though informal methods. This was probably always true to some extent but Web 2.0 has made this brilliantly accessible to practically anybody. Employers do not, however, have any inclination about how to enable and encourage this activity in the workplace, how to track it and accredit it?
Until they do, then the world of work will remain disconnected from the true way that most of their employees actually choose to learn.
What do you think?