As the concept of web 2.0 takes hold and Google buys YouTube for $1.8bn there is a renewed sense of excitement in the web world.
Charles Leadbetter is writing a new book in a characteristically unusual way. At its core is the concept of “We Think.”
The introduction to Charles Leadbetter's website is thought provoking as you would expect from the author of 'Living on Thin Air'.
"Google is buying YouTube, a business little more than a year old. Wikipedia continues to draw more traffic than much more established media brands, employing hundreds more people. Wikipedia is about to face competition from a rival free online encyclopaedia dubbed Citizendium. Open source programmes such as Linux insistently chip away at corporate providers of proprietary software. Immersive multi user computer games, such as Second Life, which depend on high levels of user participation and creativity are booming. Craigslist a self help approach to searching for jobs and other useful stuff is eating into the ad revenues of newspapers. Youth magazines such as Smash Hits have been overwhelmed by the rise of social networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo. What is going on?"
Welcome to the world of We-Think
The main thrust of his argument is that "We are developing new ways to innovate and be creative en masse. We can be organised without an organisation. People can combine ideas and skills without a hierarchy." In short – we’re in a new world of mass contribution and mass creativity.
Charles points to a number of key developments in the world of We Think.
"Most of the internet would be unthinkable without collaboratives, mostly made up of volunteers, who have created free, open-source software. If you send and receive e-mail you are probably doing so thanks to a free, open-source programme called Sendmail, which powers perhaps 80 per cent of the world’s mail servers. The system that keeps internet addresses in order depends on another open-source programme called BIND. If you saw The Lord of the Rings, you watched computer graphics made on machines that run Linux. A Google inquiry is answered by thousands of computers all running Linux."
Linux, a computer operating system developed almost entirely by unpaid volunteers, is now the main challenger to the operating system created by Microsoft. elearning has benefited too: Kineo’s open source love affair continues with our adoption of Moodle as a delivery platform.
Charles argues that what the internet is creating is collective intelligence, for example:
"Google’s software comes up with answers to your queries by ranking web pages by the number of links that people have made to them — each link is counted like another vote that the page is significant. Google’s software mines this collective intelligence."
The current generation of web users are not happy to read or watch. They want to contribute - whether it is videos to YouTube, or articles to Wikipedia or blogs or comments. People have contributed over 250m words of text to Wikipedia. Anyone can edit it, take away the information and use it. The videos that people contribute to YouTube attract over 100 million viewers a day. Not only do people contribute, people contribute material that others want to see and read. This takes control from established producers of content and puts the masses in charge, with the tools of production cheap and in many cases, entirely free.
What does it mean for learning?
The internet is already the greatest learning resource on the planet. It is also growing more rapidly now than it ever has with an explosion of blogs, wikis, podcasts and other forms of contribution. Its impact on learning cannot be underestimated.
Looking to the future is difficult. However, looking at the three areas Charles draws attention to might help structure some ideas and perspectives:
Open Source – what developments are changing learning from free content to free open source LMS systems such as Moodle, now used by over 100,000 organisations, including several big hitters. This would not be a good time to start an LMS company. Proprietary software is very last century. In Kineo’s report on 50 ideas for free elearning we identified a wide range of open source tools that you can use to create elearning. Obviously we charge for the report. Just kidding!
Collective Intelligence – how will collective intelligence change the way people learn in organisations. What opportunities does it create? Whose content will you turn to first and trust the most – The ‘party line’, or the blog of the guy who seems to have the inside knowledge? How can you bring the collective intelligence of the organisation to bear on your problem?
Will we see the first open source elearning modules, where learners can get in and add directly to the content? What would that mean for established elearning content providers? Or is the idea of a ‘module’ dead in a world where 3 minutes on YouTube can seem like a long time…
Contribution –. How can contribution systems like blogs, wikis and podcasts capture and spread good practice across an organisation? Will the contribution approaches of the tech team in India be the same as those of the research lab in Tokyo? Or will different models of contribution emerge based on organizational, cultural and technical factors?
(Finally: Google, if you are reading, and still in shopping mode: Kineo has been going for one year now. We have both revenues and profits to show for it. We will seriously consider any offers north of £1bn. We’re more than happy to do videos of ourselves miming to eighties power ballads, if that will swing the deal….)