51 posts categorized "Business"

June 29, 2010

Why I Have A Problem With So Much Education Software

Bad day salesman Seth Godin proclaims:

A sad truth about most traditional b2b marketing

"People who don't care, selling products to people who care less."

He's arguing that companies who sell to other companies all too often don't have the end user at the heart of their product. All business to business (b2b) companies would say that this would never apply to them, but the sad truth is indeed that they have little inherent motivation to make a product that the end user wants. Their customer is the middleman.

Transfer this to education markets and you have a catastrophic truth to face up to: few virtual learning environment providers, education software as a service makers, or education publishers can - statistically, at least - get away with saying that they always have the end user in mind. They have the purchaser (Local Authorities, Schools or teachers, but not children) in mind first and foremost, with their best effort to balance the needs of the end user (the child) running alongside at best, second place at worst.

What examples have you seen in education where the b2b company, selling to Local Authorities, Schools or teachers, but not to children, has first and foremost an unbending loyalty to what the end user - the child - wants, over and above any competing demands of the middleman buying the product?

I'll start with the only one that comes to my mind: Moshi Monsters, which in 15 months has gone from 1m learners to 22m, nearly all of them 7-11 years old and making the choice to turn up there to learn.

Adendum: I say it's the only example that comes to mind given that any efforts to market directly to parents have failed completely for Moshi - direct referral through word of mouth, one kid to another, is what makes it spin. I wish VLEs worked on the same principles :-)

Pic of salesman having a bad day by Kenyee

January 06, 2010

Where is education's "Recovery.gov"?

Recovery.gov
I believe every citizen should be able to track how every one of their dollars, euros or pounds is spent. Nowhere is this desire to know the destination of our tax dollars more heightened than in education, where we can sometimes feel, as teachers and as parents, very little creeps through into our classrooms and professional development.

Obama's administration is leading the way in showing how this could happen soon.

Last year, within days of becoming President of the USA, Barack Obama announced his intention to create a more open, collaborative and participative form of Government. Soon after, as he pushed through his response to the economic crisis, the Recovery Bill, he was keen that this $98.2bn spend was also monitorable by the people paying for it. Thus at the end of last year launched Recovery.com, a portal to keep an eye on how every dollar is spent, where it is spent and what the recipients of it manage to do with it: creating or safeguarding jobs, gaining new contracts for services.

Recovery.gov Example It's not just agency bureaucracy figures, but also user-generated reports from the people and companies who have benefited from grants or investments. Heck, they even make the data available as a KML file or as text so you can have a play with it, too.

But where is Recovery.com/education? Indeed, why does such a detailed tracker not exist outside the period of crisis, for all of our public services?

Education budgets are admittedly, if we believe our politicians, often saved from cuts (just don't tell the guys in California); it's the one area alongside health that voters don't like to see shaved. Yet, in Scotland as elsewhere, 2011 will see a real cut in the amount spent in classrooms, with Local Authorities and individual school head teachers having to make tricky choices, or learn how to save money in the areas where, in the period of boom, inefficiencies had crept in unnoticed.

Therefore, as we head towards an even more "every penny counts" era than before, having meaningful access to education spend data would mean

  • better decision-making;
  • more transparency before those whose money is being spent
  • more transparency before those who are receiving the service.
Many a costly decision in quangos, local authorities and schools would be questioned by those closest to the delivery of the service - today they're often the last to know.

Better still, Recovery.com is not just a pretty-fied spreadsheet of what money headed out according to the agencies - it's a two-way service, allowing recipients of money to demonstrate what they've done with it, show the true effect of investment and grants in their local area. If £4m is spent in my High School annually and I, as a classroom teacher, am being told that my entire professional development allocation for the year will be only £50, then having access to that data would allow me to either understand a savvy management decision or question its validity.

So, would this appeal to school leaders, Local Administrators, Heads of Education, Superintendents? The data's there already, from their petrol expenses to their Xerox accounts. I, for one, would be generous in my time to show them that Flashmeeting and Google Docs could save them... well, I don't (yet) know how much.

January 02, 2010

I'm a Professor of Risk. I've come to the conclusion that one of the biggest risks is being too cautious


From Cambridge University's iTunes U:

"I'm a Professor of Risk... and I've come to the conclusion that one of the biggest risks is being too cautious."

David Spiegelhalter

That definition of cautious includes anyone who uses the words "within reason" when it comes to innovation.

Tip of the hat to Andrew Gelman at Columbia and Mr Downes.

January 01, 2010

2010: The system's not changing fast enough and it no longer matters

Will Richardson publishes his hopes and expectations of how much actual change will happen in schools over the next decade. He feels, along with many others I'm sure, that things have moved too slowly this past ten years, and that by 2020 we shouldn't hold our breaths too much: the political system is broken, the education system not ready to prepare our youngsters, contriving against innovation even. He may have a point, but I'm more hopeful, more optimistic. Something is true in 2010 that was not true in 2000. As Seth Godin puts it:

The problem is no longer budget. The problem is no longer access to tools.

The problem is the will to get good at it.

October 07, 2009

16 Ways To Win £25k And Change Informal Learning In The UK: TeachUsABetterWay

Circles
British education and technology agency Becta has emulated The Cabinet Office's style for accessing the best ideas our citizens have to offer, by opening a national competition for ideas on how we can best help people access information on informal learning opportunities, with TeachUsALesson:

You might have a vision of an amazing design for a learning portal website, or a concept of an awesome live data feed which other sites and services could use. Or, maybe, you could help design a Facebook widget, or an iPhone app which could make finding learning opportunities a doddle.

There are £25,000 packages of dosh available for the best ideas to come forward, presenting a timely and enviable opportunity for those with visions of how simple uses of existing technologies could be harnessed to help 'regular' learners outside the schooling system discover the learning moments on their doorstep.

It's great to such an innovative approach to seeking ideas. I only hope the Great British Learning Public can come up with ideas to match.

Through my work as Digital Commissioner with Channel 4's 4iP I've gone through a Himalayan-like learning curve in assessing the hundreds of ideas we receive each quarter. Throughout the year I've been blogging much of these learnings over on the digital media industry community I founded at 38minutes. Here are some of the main posts which will hopefully be of some use in stimulating creative ideas (and knocking on the head those puppies that might be worth killing):

  1. Has Google Done It? Check the Goollery
  2. Do It First: Find Your Zag
  3. An Idea Shared is Worth Something - stop worrying about intellectual property
  4. Barack's Social Media Pulpit: models for social media spreading
  5. Asking yourself the "what happens if..." questions
  6. Business Models: A Starter for 10
  7. "Users will sign in". Will They? Identity, Trust and Your Idea
  8. Designing sites no-one has to visit
  9. Commissioning for attention must-reads
  10. T&RED of R&D? How developed should a pitch be?
  11. Brevity is a blessing: how to pitch
  12. We're from the internet and we're here to help
  13. Mark Earls: Why are good ideas important?
  14. How to help people better use the net: go to them, open up, let them copy
  15. danah boyd on handheld social networking
  16. Remixing Cities, Remixing Learning: Charlie Leadbeater
Photo by Guille

September 28, 2009

Size does matter

I get sent a lot of ideas for web services that will "appeal to a niche" and, thanks to that book, we're all expected to bow at the Alter of The Long Tail and drink the nectar of the microbrand. I've never been so sure. If you ask me to make the call between a half-empty macrobiotic boutique restaurant and a packed, noisy French bistrot with music that's just a tad too loud, you know which one I'd go for. For ideas to come into existence you only need two. To thrive and survive towards a sustainable future it needs more than village.

The size of the communities around us does matter. That's why more and more of us head to the city, for sure. The more people, the more opportunity to interact, the more opportunity to make good things happen. Or so we'd like to hope, anyway.

I like this WSJ colour piece by former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, who features in the video above, as he describes what makes the perfect city. His opinion on size is revealing in the physical world, and sends a reminder to those designing communities in the virtual one: size does matter:

A city can't be too small. Size guarantees anonymity—if you make an embarrassing mistake in a large city, and it's not on the cover of the Post, you can probably try again. The generous attitude towards failure that big cities afford is invaluable—it's how things get created. In a small town everyone knows about your failures, so you are more careful about what you might attempt. Every time I visit San Francisco I ask out loud "Why don't I live here? Why do I choose to live in a place that is harder, tougher and, well, not as beautiful?" The locals often reply, "You don't want to live here. It looks like a city, but it's really a small village. Everyone knows what you're doing" Oh, OK. If you say so. It's still beautiful.

There's a lesson in here for lots of online initiatives in education: the attempt to encourage rather than lead by mandate the use of Scotland's national intranet Glow, the desire to evolve the TeachMeet form of unconference professional development towards something that 'makes change happen', the desire to shake the often unnecessary constraint of national testing in the US and elsewhere.

I still stand with my gut firmly in place: the niche is useful for getting a new trend or fad started, but to move beyond the fad and into the mainstream, for general acceptance to occur and change to follow, you need size. You need the distractions and noise of the city, the niches you don't appreciate, to make your own ideas fly.

Read more of David's piece on the WSJ site.

April 29, 2009

Guy Kawasaki: The Art Of The Start in Scotland

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki came to Edinburgh to help 100s of students, startups and investors understand better how to make the world a better place through startups.

1. Make meaning
The great tech companies did much more than make money. They made the world a better place, they brought meaning to people. If you want to make a great startup make sure that you are and that you surround yourself with people who want to make changes to the world - this is why an MBA is the worst possible member of your startup management team.

Efficacy, power and liberation is the message we get from cotton, leather and rubber, via Nike. What's the message we get from you about your startup or big idea?

Ice 1.0
Ice harvesters of the 1900s ran an explosive business gathering ice. Later, ice factories produced mass quantities of ice for people. Then refrigerator companies destroyed both businesses. The ice factories were not started by the ice gatherers; the refrigerator companies were not started by the ice factory people. Most people, most startups, fail to jump the curve - they think they'll just carry on without change. They think of the product they make, rather than what they provide (and then coming up with different, ever-changing products to achieve that provision better).

2. Make mantra
Find meaning for your mission, but don't make a mission statement. Delete anything that would qualify for a bullshit bingo competition: partnership, collaboration, cooperation. These are givens. A mantra should be repeatable by everyone in the company, and everyone in the company should be able to make decisions based on that: Do It First, Inspire Change, Make Trouble.

3. Get going
Think different - don't be another ice harvester
Polarise people - have the courage to create the product or service that you would want to use. Some people will hate it and some people will love it. If you try to make something that makes everyone happy then you'll make something mediocre.
Find a few soul mates - genius does not happen alone. You need someone to bounce ideas around with.

4. Define a business

Keep it simple
- paradigm-shifting, patent-pending technologies are not going to tempt most people. Most folk want something that can be made, sold and collect money. Keep your business model simple.
Ask women what they think of your business model - Guy believes that men, deep in their DNA, have a deep disposition to kill things: people, animals, plants... the competition. Killing the competition is a bad business model in and of itself. Don't count on that to convince people.

5. Milestones, Assumptions, Tasks - Weave a MAT
Milestones are things you would brag about to your friends: "we finished the design", "we produced our product"; "we shipped today". It's not "we made a logo".
Assumptions are based on, say, getting a tiny percentage out of a huge market: there are 1.2bn on the net, and we only need 0.1% on our service to become zilloinnaires.
Define the tasks required to open up your potential: hire a sales person.

6. Work out your ability to provide a unique product or service
Unique product or service

What is unique and valuable about your idea?

7. Follow the 10/20/30 rule
Every pitch a VC (or Commissioner) hears is unique, paradigm-shifting, patent-pending, with a proven management team who are experts in what they do, who only need a small part of a huge market to make loads of money (conservatively speaking). Less is more. Tell us:

  • The title
  • The Problem
  • The Solution
  • The Business Model
  • The Underlying Magic
  • The Marketing and Sales
  • The Competition
  • The Team
  • The Projections and Milestones
  • The Status and Timeline
  • The Call To Action

More on what goes in these over on Guy's blog.

8. Hire infected people
If you get a great horse then any idiot can ride it to the finish line. But were they responsible for getting it there?
Ignore the irrelevant, the lack of their 'perfect' background for the job and, instead, concentrate on those who "get it".
Hire people, surround yourself with people who are passionate about changing the world with your stuff. Hire people who are better than you - the hardest part of the startup is not the engineering. Marketing and sales, CEO-ing, community-building are just as hard and you need to work out what you're not good at, and get in people are are good at it.

9. Lower the barriers to adoption
The learning curve for startups' products is often too complex. People need to be able to fire up and go for it. If they need a manual or training for your stuff, then it's too complex. Lower the barriers to adoption. In Edinburgh, the one o'clock gun goes off at precisely one o'clock so that you can set your watch. It doesn't go off at noon because they'd have to fire twelve times and the users wouldn't know whether to set at the beginning or the end of the 12 chimes.
Don't ask people to do something that you wouldn't.
Embrace your evangelists. Those customers or users who love what you do need to be thanked, embraced, give them information, give them the ability to help new people into the fold.

10. Seed the clouds
Sales fixes everything. Your investors are probably facing 90% of their portfolio not making money, so if you're in that successful (even vaguely successful) 10% they'll not bother you.
Let a hundred flowers blossom. When "the wrong people" are using your service don't freak out, don't tell them how it's not their service to use - take their money and embrace them. Apple made spreadsheets, but Aldus Pagemaker was the "wrong product" but turned Apple into a media-making-enabler company.
Enable people to test drive your product. People need to be able to be playing before paying. Find the key influencers in your community and give them the product for free.

11. Don't let the Bozos grind you down
Get yourself immunised against Bozosity:

  • This "telephone" has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.
    Western Union internal memo, 1876

  • Everything that can be invented has been invented.
    Charles H Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

  • I think there is a world market for about five computers.
    Remark attributed to Thomas Watson, chairman of the board of IBM, 1943

  • There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.
    Ken Olsen, President of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

On the flip side, it's not the case that we should be writing off anyone who says no. People who say no can sometimes be right - take on their advice and work out if you can ignore it.

Pic: From Alex. Thanks ;-)

April 12, 2009

Mark Earls: Why are good ideas important?

Many people think that those who like change are diseased with neophilia, instead of concentrating on the things that matter in the here and now. On the face of it they're right. Most new ideas fail. But Mark Earls' PSFK presentation last month puts forward a very good case for why ever-seeking change is a Good Thing.

Earlier, I blogged a short talk from John Cleese outlining the physical and emotional conditions of coming up with great ideas. Here, Mark concentrates more on processes you can employ all the time, strategies even for your organisation or yourself.

Even small changes end up normally taking generations to happen. Heinz took 123 years to turn the label on their bottle around to the 'right' way - because we need to store our bottle on its lid to get any out [compare the old bottle with the current one]. They had spent many creative conversations debating it, but had never turned that into action.

New ideas help us test our old ideas
The lesson here for me is that we need to test out our own ideas first, before convincing people that they might be worth trying. Just do it, rather than think about stuff in the abstract. Mark picks up on an interaction between Lloyds' innovation blokey and the peer-to-peer lending bank, Zopa. The Lloyds man asked: "Would my market be changed by peer-to-peer banking?" This wasn't the first thought of the guys creating Zopa, who saw banking as about people, money as a means to be entertained and live better, money as a social experience. The man from Lloyds, when thinking about Zopa, saw it as a bottom-line business. He missed the point and as a result missed an opportunity to see the real threat to their business: not understanding how people relate to each other around money, as well as how they relate with money itself.

Explore the future
Ogilvy's website runs with a tagline from their founder:

"Encourage innovation. Change is our lifeblood, stagnation our deathknell."


They run Ogilvy Labs where they can play with unknown stuff and let their clients see what could happen. This is all done on the basis that you won't know what they future might hold until you play. It's the concept I've battled to get across with naysayers of new technologies (and pedagogies) in the education world: "You don't know what you don't know you don't know."

Everything's hacked
It is now rare or unlikely altogether that there is such a thing as an original. 90% of products fail in their first year in the UK and given that most new products are modeled on old ones, this will not change any time soon. There are two main things to bear in mind when hacking someone else's stuff:

  • Improve or adapt (read the history of the board game Monopoly, and how the serious Quaker version of Monopoly which was designed to teach the shortcomings of desiring too much property was made better and more entertaining by the Parker Brothers). Nearly everything out there is a hack, something that's been broken up and made better.
  • Reapply from the outside - take something from one market and apply it to your own. Notice everything and ask yourself "what's the offer here to solve a problem?"


Embrace opportunities when they come up
We sit on opportunities, keep them secret instead of doing something to get it out there. One of the hardest things to do is make quick decisions when subject to an overwhelming (and often limitless) choice. Delve into 20 minutes of Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice to understand this one. Yet, when a photographer is faced with 20-50 versions of the 'same shot', they are uncannily quick at ascertaining which shot is 'the' shot. Try it yourself - lots. Like a photographer, quick innovative thought takes practice (and occasionally getting it wrong) before being a creative bone you can rely on.

Entrepreneurs in this way have "memories of the future" - things feel familiar the first time you see them because you're constantly thinking about change.

Make your company more interesting
Change is fascinating, challenging, interesting. Making your workplace interesting will make people want to work there more and better. Logical, really.

Creative next steps
When you're faced with a challenge, a potential outside change, a new idea, ask yourself the following questions, and ask those around you, too:

  1. What does this challenge?
  2. How can I participate/play?
  3. What's the offer in this thought for me? (not if they're right or wrong)
  4. Where do these things suggest things are going? and what can I do now?
  5. How might engaging with this make people's jobs more interesting?

March 21, 2009

European Newspaper lobby: "Google News are thieves". Jings

Newspapers Closing speeches are an opportunity to look forward to what we do next, and at the EU Commission's conference on media literacy and copyright I, for one, was relieved that our Chairman and film legend Lord Puttnam reiterated, albeit far more eloquently, what I had been proposing yesterday: that copyright in a digital age is worth less than ever before. Content producers had to be prepared to look at fresh ways of getting their stuff to as many people as possible, but finding new ways to pay for it. It was all going so well.

Then the European Newspaper Publishers' Association's Vice-Chairwoman Margaret Boribon took the stage. No wonder Europe's newspaper industry is screwed.

Three points stood out as showing that the European's press's stewards are stuck well behind the digital divide, Boribon neither being prepared to look at fresh models of publishing and content production, nor having any understanding of what opportunity digital media has opened up since the Cluetrain Manifesto.

Firstly she proclaimed that the press only have a window of a few hours a day to maximise monetisation. This reveals that at a systemic level within the European press lobby, "online" is something you add on because you feel you have to, not the core of your news operations. It's worrying if such a lobby is squeezing any cash or time out of taxpayer's money through an entangled and complex EU bureaucracy, as they're quite clearly spending it on the wrong part of the newspaper business: paper. Newspapers now should be about providing wholly free-to-the-user, full feed content on the web, not stuck behind a subscription service (one exception could be the FT and WSJ's financial news subscriptions, paid for out of expense accounts rather than individuals' pockets). More than that, though, they're about providing web-first news - don't make me wait to see your stuff when you finally get around to publishing on paper. It doesn't matter if you don't want to do it that way - your competitor(s) already are and your stubbornness will simply destroy what little chance you have to catch up. When you're producing paper, it's increasingly for those of us who want the colour features, the photography and for those who aren't on the web (yet).

Google News and aggregators are 'thieves'?
She also branded Google News as 'thieves'. Extraordinary. They "steal" her newspapers' content and surround it with their own Google Adsense ads (she made a point of highlighting this evildoing). European newspapers should be thanking Google and sending them an annual Christmas card for the traffic they shove their way. They should also be using Google's unbeatably personalised ads on their own sites, paying a small cut to Google for managing their ad sales department (allowing you to get rid of a few of those employees in the process) and, along with bloggers who cite your stories and link back, you might want to thank them for taking on part of the cost of distributing as well as marketing your content.

The final element of her tirade of falsehoods was that EU structures could and perhaps should be used to reinforce (i.e. give subsidies to support) the trade of journalism and its broken business models, for journalists she represents and who I can only presume agree with her view that the craft they were happily doing last century hasn't changed, and that the public still want their 'expertise' more than some phony blogger or community site. She clearly didn't understand that increasingly we don't trust journalists (or politicians, or bankers) half as much as we trust our friends and long-term relationships with our favourite bloggers. She also hadn't picked up that not only the final product is under threat from regular Joe producers, but the processes of journalism are opening up, too. It's not just Google search that allows us to factcheck the factcheckers. With the Guardian's release last week of the Open Platform we can have access to all the data sources that, traditionally, made up the secretive black book of contacts and information of the old hack.

Until today I had never heard of the ENPA. If its spokespeople and lobbyists continue to peddle such chuff in the future then I will be head of the queue (well, just after Jarvis, McIntosh, Loosemore, Locke, Shirky and most of the people I'm lucky enough to work with)  to watch yet another swift redundancy in the newspaper business: the ENPA.

Pic: Newsprint

March 19, 2009

How to help people better use the net - go to them, let them copy, open up

Smoking and texting Tanya Byron reckons we're guilty of Ephebiphobia, the fear of young people, as we incarcerate our young people in their bedroom prisons and replace the dangers of the street corner with risk-taking on unbridled access to the net. Worse still, the challenges raised by the continued lack of interest we take in our children's use of the net are coming back fast to create broader challenges for society.

The reaction to this might be 'teach the kids and teach the parents'. But we're now in an era where it's not so much about signposting where to go on the web, but teaching society how to navigate the net without even a map.

For years now, parents (and by default most educators and decision-makers) underestimate what young people do online. While most adults think youngsters spend somewhere in the region of 18.8 hours per month online, the reality is that UK kids are averaging 43.5 hours a month. Only four of those hours are spent using the net in schools, the rest is mostly unaccounted for on mobile phones and at home in those bedroom prisons. What's going on in those remaining 24.7 hours each month is unknown. The people with the media literacy challenge are not just young people - it's adults, too, who lack the basic alphabet of understanding that's needed to bottom out responsible, creative, enjoyable and engaging use of the web by us all.

Gen-Y doesn't exist
We know from research, anecdote and a cursory glance across Bebo or Facebook profiles (I've probably viewed close to 15,000 in my previous work with Learning and Teaching Scotland) that we are wrong to annoint youngsters with some sort of technological superiority through lables such as the "Google Generation", "Gen Y" or, my pet armageddon, "Digital Natives".

Firstly, we know that while young people are taught how to swim in the safe goldfish bowl of school and private intranets, often by educators who themselves have a filmsy idea of how to operate in that arena, they are completely incapable of operating safely and responsibly in the oceans of the web. If young people are to learn how to upload and download information responsibly then they must be allowed to play with their technologies with the lifeguard of the educator to drag them back to safety when they start to falter. Filtering these technologies serves only to compound the ability of the educator to work with the youngster on media literacy, and harms us all in a wider sense.

Secondly, we romanticise the technological creativity of our youngsters online. While large numbers now upload material online (close to 78% of teens according to most recent research) most of this material is photographic - i.e. mobile snaps from nights out. Creating and publishing original narrative, original code or Facebook apps or even mashed up video or code is not currently a regular pass-time of you average British kid, though we are beginning to see valiant efforts to make this process of creation-publication the norm in our schooling.

2929411771_690e0352b8_m However, most don't come close to the kind of creativity illustrated by a young Mark Zuckerberg, pictured, who avoided his near flunk at Harvard art class with some online creativity, a story recounted by Jeff in WWGD. With a few days to go until his final exam, for which he hadn't done any work (well, he was creating his $15b company), he created a site with copies of the artwork that was likely to appear in the final exam, put in some comment boxes under each one, and let his fellow students know that he had created a collaborative study guide. All they had to do was fill in the blanks. Not only did a cheeky Zuckerberg pass with flying colours, but his classmates also did better than normal thanks to their formative assessment that Zuckerberg offered them.

But here's the tough question Jarvis doesn't ask: how many youngsters actually do that, or even think of it as a possibility? Today's literacy benchmark is copy and paste. A media literacy strategy, instead of talking about how we block copying and pasting, and enforce filtering, rating, copyright and IPR restrictions, could begin the hard work of illustrating how copy, paste, open sourcing and creative commons-ing can lead to much better content and information for all.

The challenges of attracting attention to these challenges with a public that's hard to get

The biggest challenge for a 'strategy' like this is that it's incredibly hard to a) attract young audiences b) keep them and c) turn that into some form of value. Channel 4's arguably one of the best broadcasters in the world at doing this, and with 4iP and Channel 4 Education's work online, we're attempting to work out how we replicate television's success at 'reach' to this group online, on mobile and in socially connected games.

Matt Locke and I have been playing around with Dave McClure's Metrics for Pirates in our work with independent companies to push them to think about those questions: how are you going to attract people, how are you going to keep them, and how are you going to turn that into some sort of value? Matt came up with a strong reduction of this, and I made it look less pretty but more utilitarian by insisting on a timescale for each metric. Take those three questions and apply them to what we know about online community uptake (that 90% lurk, 9% will follow regularly and 1% might contribute something) and we end up with a roll-your-own site metrics table:

One Page Metrics.018

To help see it in action I made one up for YouTube, had they approached 4iP a few years back for funding. It shows how a site that "gets people to upload videos" has added a lot of small ingredients to the recipe to take people on that more-complex-than-it-looks journey to uploading a vid. It still takes great ideas and a strong awareness of the potential of different technologies and techniques (RSS, Ajax, email, marketing, business development, cloud computing) to be able to fill it in and act on it, and this is where we might just see some problems in our institutions and schools. The knowledge and understanding just isn't there in enough quantities to high enough a level.

Our well-meaning institutions are another obstacle in the process
One could even go as far as saying that it would be counter-intuitive, professionally suicidal even, for institutions to seize this opportunity to engage with young people - any people - in this kind of open, copiable, distributable, redistributable, changeable, alterable way. Jeff Jarvis is right:


"Industries and institutions, in their most messianic moments, tend to view the internet in their own image: Retailers thin of the internet as a store... Marketers see it as their means to deliver a brand message. Media companies see it as a medium, assuming that online is about content and distribution...
"The internet explodes [this notion that industries and institutions have some point of control over people]. It abhors centralization. It loves sea level and tears down barriers to entry. It despises secrecy and rewards openness. It favors collaboration over ownership. The once-powerful approach the internet with dread when they realize they cannot control it."


As a starting point, therefore, media literacy begins with much more communication between young people and adults when we're taking decisions on how we proceed. There are three main areas that need tackled first:

1. Filtering needs to be a joint-decision activity
Who defines 'safe' in the large grey area where user's own discrepency is accepted as the main tool of judgement? Who decides what 'Bad Content' might be (a phrase used in the context of a presentation at the EU Media Literacy conference)? Who decides if content is culturally acceptable or not within a geographical area, and why should I as a Brit have to have an internet that is culturally adapted to the country in which I find myself, while I and my judgements remain coloured by being British? Filtering is the poor cousin of film classification, something invented as a solution for atoms crossing borders, not digits.

While filtering illegal content is a no-brainer, we need to assume the rest is whitelisted and have conversations about those where we're less sure. Blocking the unpopular but legitimately published free speech of bloggers, for example, is plainly wrong and not an option any more.

Neither is it an option to create 'safe havens' where we expect people to come along and get 'safe' stuff. Glow, a national intranet for schools, thus far comes over as this, although the desire for it to 'leak' out onto the web is becoming clearer. But I feel it needs to take a leaf out of the book of, say,

Battlefront, an education project designed to encourage more young people to campaign on important issues. It consists of broadcast and social media 'authored' elements on the web, rooted in getting people to think about campaigning, but gets huge amounts of traffic from being distributed around the web, in as many parts of it as possible. Traditional education would have you "Come to school", broadcaster's to "their channel" - it's got to be the opposite, modeling good online behaviour by providing different contexts for the same material, different discussions, setting off new trails amongst users.

2. Parents need to understand better what's going on
I'd disagree with some speakers' assertion that "most learning goes on in schools", at least in relation to learning about internet use. On average only 60 minutes per week per pupil is spent on the net in school, compared to 1340 minutes per week at home.

Yet, only a third of parents in UK befriend their offspring (and what about the 'real' profiles where youngsters go and live their 'real' lives away from the old folks?). While 80% of parents feel sure they know what their offspring are doing online, only 30% of the offspring think so. We see a gross lack of communication between students and teachers, even when they are fighting the same cause. British parents in particular are poor at understanding what they're children do online - this means parents and educators need to speak more with the youngsters in their lives.

We also need to make sure that we don't demonise anonymity on the web. For public service media, the type that makes people's lives better and draws them from one-way web to the read-write web, anonymity is often the prerequisite for stimulating and sincere discussions.

Take a look, for example, at Embarrassing Teenage Bodies where anonymity offers the chance to discuss those 'embarrassing' but pervasive issues of growing up. Or Sexperience, where people of all ages, shapes, sizes and cultures are able to anonymously tackle the myriad of issues around seual health, wellbeing and enjoyment.

On the flip-side, anonymity doesn't work for Landshare, where we want people to trade their unused land with people who can cultivate it - we need to know who people are and if they're bona fide for the safety of those involved: anonymity needs handled with due diligence.

3. Talking helps you know, but using helps you understand
We all need to get more involved in not just the theory of how these things work but in the practice too - being in and creating media opportunities in the places where we seek participation from the public or our students.

One of the biggest media literacy and digital divide challenges, now that most of the UK is online or can get online, is making enough interesting stuff for non-net-users to want to get online. That means content that empowers them more than not using it, maybe in the form of some of MySociety's projects (TheyWorkForYou or the travel maps)

To take that point of empowerment further, and to conclude, there has to be a realisation that while artists and creators of content used to have value in owning their IPR in a world of atoms, in a world of digits this ownership if IPR comes only with costs. In a digital world if you own the only version of something then, for a while, your IPR has value but, eventually, will be commodotised as me-toos appear - not direct copies, but similar and maybe even better.

If you let people copy and distribute your stuff then you're able, eventually, to reduce your overhead on marketing and distribution - your fans and copiers are doing this for you. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is twofold:

1. Get over the idea that your creation is the last stop of the creative bus:
People will change your message, distort it, make it worse, make it better, create something you hadn't intended - your original will always be your original, their altered version always their altered version. The important thing here is that it's as easy as clicking a link or running a Google search to find the original source and to let the user/participant make their own mind up as to which message they are more engaged with.

2. Find alternative means of being recompensed for your initial efforts
Have your original stuff carry ads or sponsorship, give away poor versions for free but top quality versions for money as eBook fans and TV companies on YouTube and social networks already do, find the George Lucas approach to making your stuff, and make your money on something else.

Pic 1: Smoking and texting

Pic 2: Zuckerberg

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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