Friday, May 23, 2008

Keeping tabs

I see there's a new service for social networking fans. It's called FriendFeed and the idea seems to be to enable you to keep track of what your friends are doing on all the other social networks (ie if they add an entry in Facebook, a new video on YouTube etc). I've been looking at all sorts of Web 2.0 services in the past months and have an enormous collection of bookmarks as a result. You can be a member of a handful but you can bet your friends will be involved in networks that you haven't even heard of yet. So now you need a sort of broker service to keep tabs on what's going on everywhere else! Fascinating phenomenon.

This leads me to wonder how this will affect the orderly world of university IT. At present we have relatively secure networks offering students and staff selection of applications including the learning management system. Our firewalls and anti-virus programs protect us from the big wide world and we have a certain amount of freedom to customize and personalize. Now as more and more people start using the myriad of free tools for networking, video production, publication etc. there seems less and less point in IT departments investing in expensive commercial products. The LMS seems to be more and more of a walled garden; safe but cut-off from the outside world. Students and a number of teachers are already using the new tools and this is going to lead to friction. How can we exploit the potential of Web 2.0 in a university setting without abdicating a certain level of control? A great deal of coursework and communication between teachers and students should not be open for public view and needs to be protected. Can you run a course on , say, Facebook? Of course you can but should you? Who owns it all in that case? If you have all your material on Google Apps doesn't Google own it? The university certainly doesn't.

Can we combine the security of campus IT with the innovative potential of Web 2.0? If I knew the answer to that one I wouldn't be sitting writing this little blog.

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