No more Ning

April 15, 2010

No more Ning

Well that’s not factually correct, what the title should be is “No more free Ning”.

It would appear that Ning are phasing out the free service to allow them to focus on those customers who pay for the premium service.

So, we are going to change our strategy to devote 100% of our resources to building the winning product to capture this big opportunity.  We will phase out our free service.  Existing free networks will have the opportunity to either convert to paying for premium services, or transition off of Ning.  We will judge ourselves by our ability to enable and power Premium Ning Networks at huge scale.  And all of our product development capability will be devoted to making paying Network Creators extremely happy.

A mistake I think on Ning’s part.

Now I am not opposed to paying for premium services, if I like a free service and the Pro or premium version offers more and I perceive it as value for money I will pay.

On this blog for example I pay for the VideoPress and extra storage. I have a Flickr Pro account. I pay for the premium version of Remember the Milk. If I reached the limits I would probably pay for the premium version of Evernote.

If there are limitations on the free account or added features on the premium account then I will happily pay out money. It would appear that many others do the same.

However in all the examples I have given, as well as the paid Pro version there is also a free version. People will try out free services, if they like them and want the added functionality they will upgrade.

As Ning have decided to phase out the free version, I think this is where they are making a mistake. With no free version, you will find that key individuals won’t try the service and upgrade later… Well maybe Ning is already well known enough that this won’t be an issue. Hmmm I am not so sure. Anyone remember Gabcast? Originally a free service, went paid for only and now having checked recently it is hardly used compared to services such as Audioboo or iPadio.

Without a free version that can be upgraded I wonder if people will start using Ning or even continue using Ning if other services offer more for the same sort of cost.

So now I need to think about what to do about the Ning sites I have created. If there is a demand (and I can get funding) I may upgrade to the premium version, but I know this won’t be the case for all of the sites I have.

So what alternatives are there?

One that is been talked about on Twitter is Elgg.

Elgg is open source social networking software that provides individuals and organizations with the components needed to create an online social environment. It offers blogging, microblogging, file creation and sharing, networking, groups, news collection using feeds aggregation and a number of other features.

Wikipedia

Though of course though the software is free (open source) you will need a hosting service and the sort required for Elgg isn’t going to be free. If you are lucky your institution may have the capacity to host an Elgg service for you.

I have mentioned Crowdvine before on the blog, it was one of my top ten tools in 2008. I have used it at conferences like JISC and ALT-C.

As well as their premium services Crowdvine also have a free version.

CrowdVine builds simple and powerful social networks for events and groups to help people connect and meet. Use us for your conference, event, or organization.

Interesting though that JISC moved from Crowdvine to Ning for JISC 2010. Wonder what JISC will use for JISC 2011?

Another one that I have found, but not used is SocialGO.

SocialGO allows you to build a custom social network, whether you are a beginner or a seasoned developer.  No software, hosting or coding required, as our team offers full support for your social networking site.

As with Crowdvine there are cost plans and a free plan.

So Ning is no more, well the free Ning is no more.

Does it really matter that much?

I have  talked before about inappropriate advertising on services and why sometimes a paid for service may be better.

One of the issues with using any free Web 2.0 service is that they may not be here forever. Gabcast is no longer free, but Audioboo is. Jaiku is pretty much dead, but Twitter is alive and well. Etherpad has gone, but iEtherpad is up and running.

At the end of the day this is not about a service disappearing or now charging, it’s much more about how when using these services you don’t think about long term, but have the capability and the technical knowledge to move between different services as and when they become available.

Use what is now and in the future use what is then.

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So what of the future?

March 1, 2010

Can you predict the future?

Do you know what life will be like next year, in five years, in ten years?

Over the last year or so I have been doing a few keynotes and presentations entitled the future of learning. I do start with a caveat that I don’t know the future for sure and that no one can really predict the future…

Though as a reflective person I do look back at the work I have been doing on mobile learning and I think there are lessons to be learned about the journey I have travelled.

This is me in 2006 based on work I was doing in 2004 and 2005.

This work came from mobile stuff I was doing back in the late 1990s. Back then I worked for an organisation called at-Bristol, a hands-on science centre in the middle of Bristol.

One of the projects we started working on was with HP looking at how we could use an HP Jornada on our then fledgingly wireless network to allow visitors additional and enhanced information on webpages about the exhibits. One of the key questions at the time was how we got the URLs into the devices at the right place. Then we decided to use HP’s Jetsend IR technology to “squirt” the URL to the Jornada. Of course since then the technologies have moved on and importantly so have the public. Today you would probably let the visitors use their own devices and smartphones. You would use QR codes, Bluetooth or more probably in the future RFID to find out where the visitor was before sending them the information (or letting them access the information via QR codes). If the attraction was outside then GPS could be used. The key though was not the technology but the concept of enhancing a visitor’s experience with additional content through a mobile device.

After leaving at-Bristol and joining the Western Colleges Consortium, I continued to work on mobile learning; at that time there was no funding available.

When I was working on mobile learning all those years ago, the reason was that mobile phones and mobile devices were becoming more sophisticated and more useful to consumers and business. I knew then it would only be a matter of time before they become useful to education and importantly a focus for policy and funding.

And in 2007 along came MoLeNET, millions of pounds of capital funding with a focus on mobile learning in FE.

There is no way that I would call myself a futureologist, but from an FE perspective I am looking at how new technologies can enhance and enrich everyday life, as before long these technologies will enter education.

So the big question is what am I working on now? What do I think will have a real impact in education, not just for learners, but also for funding and projects.

Well I am not working on Second Life or MUVEs. These do have some great application to learning, however until consumers start to use these technologies a lot more, than we won’t see a big change in their use in education.

Social networking and Web 2.0 are very big in the consumer field at the moment, Facebook is everywhere and corporate and entertainment use of these tools is now much more widespread than it was just a year or two ago.

As a result policymakers will start to think about how these tools and services can be used in education. And where thinking starts, funding usually follows…

So what about next year or the year after?

Well for me the “next big thing” is e-Books and e-Book Readers. These will hit the consumer market big time over the next three years. We will see many more people reading books, magazines and newspapers via devices such as the Apple iPad, Microsoft Courier and other devices not yet on the market. More publishers and broadcasters will start to think about how they are going to use these devices and start offering content on them, think of BBC iPlayer and its availability on the iPhone.

As a result policymakers will start to think about how these new technologies can be used in education. And where thinking starts, funding usually follows…

You see at the end of the day, it will be how these products are used by educators, it’s how they are taken up and used by consumers and business. Whether that is right or wrong, is not really the case, as more often this is how it happens and has happened over the last twenty to thirty years with most technologies.


Windows Phone 7 Series

February 15, 2010

Lots of news coming out of the Mobile World Congress.

Big news from Microsoft is the Windows Phone 7 Series announcement.

Throwing everything that has gone before, everything is brand new, and from first impressions this appears to be a good move from Microsoft and a response to the iPhone (and possibly Google’s Android too).

No more Start button, no more replicating the Windows desktop on a mobile device. I never thought that replicating the desktop on a mobile device was ever a sustainable idea. Yes those familiar with the desktop interface *may* find it comforting, but as I did with previous versions of Windows Mobile, once you get going with the mobile device the limitations of a desktop interface start to annoy you.

Apple decided with their iPhone (and with the new iPad) to specifically not replicate the OS X desktop interface, but use a new interface, one that works well and for most people is pretty intuitive.

So what else does Windows Phone 7 Series offer. It’s interface has many similarities with the Zune (the Microsoft music player that isn’t available in the UK). It’s been kept very simple, no gloss here, no shine, though transitions are smooth and elegant.

The world hasn’t passed Microsoft by, they have realised that the Xbox is popular with gamers and that social networking is quite a big thing. As a result both these features are embedded into the phone.

So how will this fare in the competitive marketplace for modern smartphones? We’ll have to wait and see…


#140conf

November 21, 2009

I recently spoke at the European 140 Characters Conference (#140conf) in London at the O2 Arena on November 17th 2009.

I was on the educational panel at 4pm alongside Sue Black, Shirley Williams , Dave White and Drew Buddie. It was a fun event and a last minute decision we decided to stir things up a bit.

By the way in case you are wondering, I don’t appear in the video…


Using Facebook

April 25, 2009

Unlike a lot of FE Colleges using Facebook is not blocked in my college. Why do we do this, well we don’t block social interaction in physical environments, actually we actively encourage it in the FE sectors which cafe and coffee places, dining rooms, student social areas, common rooms, etc…

I had an interesting conversation with students using Facebook in our Library recently which I would like to share with you.

I asked them if they were using Facebook to support their learning (well what I actually asked if they were using Facebook to communicate and collaborate on their assignments). Their answer was quite interesting, not only did they use the Facebook communication tools (the messaging and live chat) to talk about their learning, but they used them (in the Library) so they wouldn’t disturb others in the Library through talking and discussing.

Now we don’t ban talking and discussing in the Library, but we do like to create a quiet learning environment. So the learrners are using online communication tools to support their learning. The fact that the learners want to use the tools in Facebook rather than the tools we provide is not surprising to me, but may be surprising to others. Learners will often choose their own tools over the provided tools from the institution.


e-Learning Stuff Podcast #015: Social networking rots your brains

March 1, 2009

James, Lilian, Lisa and Ron discuss the recent publicity over Susan Greenfield’s comments in the Daily Mail on the “dangers” of social networking and young people’s brains. Does using social networking sites lead to loneliness and isolation? Do users of Facebook and Twitter feel excluded from society. In this podcast we discuss the furore and the issues.

This is the fifteenth e-Learning Stuff Podcast, Social networking rots your brains.

Download the podcast in mp3 format: Social networking rots your brains

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

James is joined by Lilian Soon, Lisa Valentine and Ron Mitchell.

e-Learning Stuff Podcast #015: Social networking rots your brains

Shownotes

Finally the photo above of zombies meeting in the real world was organised on Facebook. So you could argue that Facebook has turned them into zombies, however I don’t think these kinds of social gatherings was what Susan Greenfield meant.


Social networking rots your brain

February 25, 2009

One of the reasons I am not a great fan of Facebook was the pelthora of zombies being thrown around. It would seem that according to a briefing from Susan Greenfield to the House of Lords that using social networking sites such as Facebook rots your brain. Does that that she thinks if you use Facebook you become a zombie?

Social networking rots your brain

Well what she said was and this quote was taken from the BBC News site:

Real-life conversations “require a sensitivity to voice tone, body language and perhaps even to pheromones – those sneaky molecules that we release and which others smell subconsciously.

“Moreover, according to the context and, indeed, the person with whom we are conversing, our own delivery will need to adapt. None of these skills are required when chatting on a social networking site,” she said.

“It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations.”

The story then ran in the Daily Mail and Susan was was interviewed and said

“We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist … My fear is that these technologies are infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.”

Okay, let’s take a step back.

Any one who does one thing for a long amount of time is going to have potential health problems. However that one thing doesn’t have to be social networking, it could be television, sports, dancing, piano playing, even reading books.

The thing is that for some social networking is a way of expanding their social non-online life, a way of enhancing and enriching their outside life.

If you spend your entire life on Facebook then yes, in my opinion you have a problem. However everyone I know on Facebook has a life outside Facebook, and Facebook has enhanced their social life and improved (and increased) interation in the real world.

Personally I have found that using this blog, using Twitter and Jaiku, has made my working life easier and better.

The web and social networking has enabled me to make new and better friendships in the real world. Now when I go to conferences I know people and they know me, we can focus on the conference and the content of the conference without having to go through the process of building relationships (as we have done that already online).

This was readily apparent at the recent LSIS eCPD event, where lots of people came to chat to me who I knew via my blog, mailing lists, Twitter, Jaiku and even Facebook. Without social networking those conversations probably wouldn’t have taken place.

It would seem I am not alone in thinking that what Susan is saying is bunk.

Dr Ben Goldacre who was on Newsnight on Tuesday night has published his reaction to the article on the Bad Science blog.

It is my view that Professor Greenfield has been abusing her position as a professor, and head of the Royal Institution, for many years now, using these roles to give weight to her speculations and prejudices in a way that is entirely inappropriate.

he goes on…

We are all free to have fanciful ideas. Professor Greenfield’s stated aim, however, is to improve the public’s understanding of science: and yet repeatedly she appears in the media making wild headline-grabbing claims, without evidence, all the while telling us repeatedly that she is a scientist. By doing this, the head of the RI grossly misrepresents what it is that scientists do, and indeed the whole notion of what it means to have empirical evidence for a claim.

Another good blog post on this is from Sue Thomas, she says:

The danger of scientists untempered by Humanities knowledge of history, anthropology, sociology and culture is once again rearing its head. Baroness, it’s not enough to measure brain activity, we must understand it in the wider context of human culture. Please, get some experts with a wider range of viewpoints on your team, including some who really know about education and social networking. You are in urgent need of a transliterate perspective. Without it you are a danger to society.

So what do I think apart from agreeing with Sue and Ben that Susan’s theories are a little bit cracked and bunk?

The main problem is that parents (and some learners) will only read the headlines, the scary articles in the newspapers. They won’t watch Newsnight, they won’t read the blog articles hitting back. No they will remember the headlines and certainly won’t check the science.

As a result educational institutions which want to enhance and enrich face to face learning experiences with Web 2.0 and social web tools may find they receive complaints and anger from concerned parents and students.

Finally the photo above of zombies meeting in the real world was organised on Facebook. So you could argue that Facebook has turned them into zombies, however I don’t think these kinds of social gatherings was what Susan Greenfield meant.