Sakai 3’s Commonplace Destiny

I’ve recently been enjoying some (possibly) healthy, irreverent debate with colleagues at Blackboard and beyond about some of the differences between such proprietary regimes and the open-source community of Sakai. While the Twitter channel we’ve been using generates plenty of pithy ripostes, at times a tweet calls out for more sustained thought and response.

A recent tweet from @georgekroner—one of my favorite Blackboarders—set me thinking and led to some longer—if not deeper—reflections, likely to be far less entertaining than the short salvos in our ongoing snarkument on Twitter.

The tweet that set me off was George sharing his concern that Sakai 3’s planned capabilities might be “commonplace” by the time it is ready for widespread use.

I’m not entirely convinced George’s concern is for real, given that Sakai is one of the most significant challenges to Blackboard’s market dominance in learning technologies and it would seem any failure on Sakai’s part would be cause for celebration rather concern over at Blackboard. But maybe George is just the kind of guy who wishes the best for everyone. Or maybe it’s part of Blackboard’s continued posture that having a near monopoly in the proprietary market is fine as long as there is at least one viable open-source alternative like Sakai, even while Blackboard itself acts like open source can’t really compete.

But I’m not inspired here just to wipe away Blackboard’s crocodile tears. George’s tweet started me thinking: if he is right, and the kind of experience Sakai 3 will offer becomes commonplace, we should all celebrate rather than wring our hands.

If Sakai 3 ends up fitting within the broader scope of contemporary online experience, that means Sakai 3’s open, social, user-centered, integrative paradigm shares in broader understandings of what online experience should be—both within education and beyond. It wouldn’t just mean Sakai 3 “guessed right,” it would also mean a very healthy, widespread vision of what the web can and should be has won out. Far from a concern, I would count Sakai 3’s capabilities becoming “commonplace” as a major success, not only for Sakai, but for the web in general.

George was so kind as to provide some examples that illustrate his observation that technology is headed in the same general direction as Sakai 3. Here’s George’s short list:

The question I asked myself after reading George’s list is whether the widespread use of any of these tools (or others like them) would really make Sakai—or other integrated learning platforms—obsolete or unnecessary or uninteresting—in other words, “commonplace.” I and others have taken up this point before and in the end, I still land in the same place. I think educational institutions will want and need to supply a local platform that enables things like a common user experience, integration, authentication, identity management, and more. I would assume Blackboard also holds this view. At the same time, I agree with George’s thinking (but not his concern) that the best of these local platforms will follow Sakai 3’s model, and often integrate other tools, enable collaboration and social networking, open their APIs, be delivered via devices not yet invented, and so on. Last but not least, I still think the educational community itself is the best engine for the development of the tools specific to its core mission, like teaching, learning, and research.

In the first category from George’s list, Google’s Sidewiki stands alone as an example of what we might call an independent, “web 2.0” tool that provides some specific functionality that might be used in conjunction with a variety of other tools. There are way too many great examples of such tools to list here, from social bookmarking tools like Delicious to web conferencing tools like DimDim. I don’t think any of these tools alone could stand in for a full learning platform, but any might be used to extend a learning platform, or be cobbled together with a number of complementary tools to approximate an integrated learning platform (earlier, I attempted an instructive, but ultimately unsatisfying, experiment of this nature using Ning at EDU Next).

Sakai 3 will provide the perfect platform to integrate these kinds of tools, from user treats like Sidewiki all the way down the stack to important glue like Apache Jackrabbit. The community designing Sakai 3 is highly conscious of where the boundaries should be drawn: where Sakai should provide native functionality, where it should leverage already existing tools, and where it should leave things open for integration (ie, pretty much everywhere).

The second category in George’s list includes Atlassian’s Confluence wiki and Jive’s social business suite (headquartered right here in our own PDX!). Both are examples of more fulsome systems designed primarily for business that one might see as approximating the capabilities of a learning platform (along with similar examples like Microsoft Sharepoint). Yet one crucial difference separates these business systems from learning platforms like Sakai, Moodle, Desire2Learn, a host of others, and—one would hope, Blackboard itself: namely, none of these systems is designed primarily for education.

One could argue (and I would agree) that education is a lifelong process and that all these systems are tending toward worthy common practices to support it that incorporate capabilities such as user-centered experience, collaboration, integrative mash-ups, and social networking. However in the Sakai community, we believe strongly that our work benefits from our clear, primary focus on education. It may be that from Blackboard’s proprietary, corporate viewpoint, it is harder to tell the difference between their products and these systems designed primarily for business use. We don’t have that concern about our work within Sakai.

The last category in George’s examples is represented by OpenSocial. Not just a tool or platform, OpenSocial represents a more general technology, standard or protocol which any or all of the other examples above might incorporate. We expect to see Sakai 3 integrate OpenSocial along with other such standards and protocols that make sense, just as we have seen in Sakai 2. Examples would include other parts of the open stack (eg, OpenID, OAuth, PoCo, etc), JSR, IMS, and others too. The existence of something like OpenSocial doesn’t obviate the value of an integrated, open source learning platform like Sakai, built by education, for education, any more than it suggests the obsolescence of a proprietary system like Blackboard. Quite the opposite: Sakai’s open platform and community provide an ideal use case for technologies like OpenSocial that cut across systems, opening up, rather than closing down possibilities for integration and creative use.

I thank George for the inspiring tweet and thoughtful list. It helped me turn concern into even greater assurance that Sakai 3 is headed in the right direction.

Addendum: for the full context of the tweets that inspired this post, see below:

@nicolamj tweeted:
@georgekroner I think the idea is that Sakai 3 will be a generation beyond *any* LMS…

@georgekroner tweeted:
@nicolamj Sakai 3 looks great, but my concern is that by the time it is launched what now seems beyond will then be commonplace

@xolotl (that’s me) tweeted:
@georgekroner you suggest planned Sakai 3 capabilities will soon be commonplace. Examples? (cc @nicolamj)

@georgekroner tweeted:
@xolotl @nicolamj re: Sakai 3 concepts http://bit.ly/2LVDnf http://bit.ly/19vzgi http://bit.ly/xwlY http://bit.ly/DE98 http://bit.ly/1HQW5u

OpenID Goes to Washington

OpenID Sites & ProvidersToday we learned from RWW’s Marshal Kirkpatrick that the US federal government is considering the adoption of OpenID and other related open identity technologoies and practices for citizen identification on government websites.

This is big news for several reasons. First, by adopting OpenID, the governement would be putting the ownership and control of digital identity exactly where it should be: with the citizen. Second, a very large and conservative player—the US federal government—is taking OpenID seriously, which will do much to support OpenID’s continued adoption and evolution. Third, the government will work to establish criteria for OpenID provision that may help us all select credible and worthy identity providers. I’m sure there are more implications as well that will start to surface as government support for OpenID becomes better defined.

OIDF’s New Suit

Also today, we were able to learn more about this big news with the simultaneous launch of a newly redesigned OpenID Foundation (OIDF) website, a joint project with many collaborators including folks from Portland’s own Cloud Four, Janrain, and Richardson Consulting. as well as OIDF board members and executive director Don Thibeau.

The new OIDF website is a substantially improved on many different levels, from basic usability, to the breadth and depth of information it already delivers and promises to provide going forward. The new site design does a good job with the difficult task of meeting the different needs of diverse audiences, including the OpenID community, developers, government, and most importantly, individuals who are seeking to learn more about and start using OpenID.

Average users should find the site much more useful than the old one, and yet there is at least one area where I think it could be improved sooner rather than later. In a single page, the site tries to introduce users to the wide range of OpenID providers, including all the existing websites and services that provide de facto OpenIDs for their users. What this page does not do is give people a simple framework for thinking about how to choose an OpenID provider, or why to use one of their existing OpenIDs rather than establishing a new one. As it is, this page provides a richer version of what others have described as the NASCAR effect: a bunch of logos, without a lot of direction about why we might pick one over the other. I realize the OIDF must remain neutral about the different OpenID providers, but there is no better entity to provide uesrs with a guide to selecting and using an OpenID.

Speechifying the OIDF

I’m also especially happy to see a new interview with OIDF ED Don Thibeau by board member Chris Messina posted on the new site, which goes a long way to answering my earlier call for more information about what the OIDF has been up to since Don took the helm earlier this year.

And while I applaud the new site—it was obviously a lot of work, done well in a short time by some really dedicated people who will probably get less praise and credit than they deserve—I can’t shake the same nagging desire for a different paradigm of communication from the OIDF that prompted my earlier post. The new site could be the best design ever, but unless a new engine of communication stands behind it, it is likely to end up becoming little different than its predecessor, which lay mostly fallow for months.

Someone wiser than I explained that the OIDF will never become the communication engine I’m hoping for because of its nature as a standards setting body. That may well be the case, but it will be a significant failure in my eyes if the OIDF falls into that brittle mould. I believe the “open” in “OpenID” should fulfill its promise, leading us to remagine and rearticulate the OIDF’s purpose as something more than a machine to hash out standards for widget inputs and outputs. It is a key organization leading the way in the fundamental paradigm shift to a user-centric web. Now that the large beast of the US federal government is slouching toward the right goal, it is even more important that the OIDF become not just an open standards body, but an open standards bearer, alive, vibrant, leading the way.

Or do we have to form yet another open web organization to stimulate, educate, advocate for and communicate with the broadest communities who will benefit from these increasingly successful, open standards? I hope not. Aren’t we all getting spread a little thin as it is?

OpenID, wherefore art thou?

I’m a strong supporter of OpenID, the personal identity management technology that let’s you take charge of your own online identity, usernames, and passwords instead of farming yourself out willy-nilly to every site on the web. I don’t support OpenID for the technology itself—OpenID is just a collection of tools that are part of the machine that will enable something way more important: the user-centered, open web.

What’s the user-centered, open web? It’s the web you already know and love (and hate), made better with extra you, right at the center of it all. I could go on about its advantages for people, business, government and communities of all shapes and sizes, but others have done a much better job and I’m really trying to get to a different point here.

Lately I’ve started to worry a bit about OpenID. We’ve seen some recent promise realized to be sure, like Facebook’s progress toward adoption, logging in to Sears with OpenID, and local Portland OpenID pioneers Janrain hiring @peat. Progress like that balances the sad demise of Vidoop, Portland’s other OpenID darling, which I’ve commented on elsewhere.

Yet something else has been gnawing at me for a while. Back in February, 2009, the OpenID Foundation (OIDF) that coordinates and supports OpenID development and adoption hired a new Executive Director (ED), Don Thibeau. I don’t know Don and I’m sure he’s a fine and capable person, but I was expecting someone more, well, open, and webby. Don’s background didn’t seem to match OpenID’s open, webby provenance, community, or future.

At the time, I figured that maybe the OIDF board of directors picked Don specifically for his background in business and government to help legitimize OpenID with the businessy, government types that we need on board to support widespread adoption and to help build the OIDF into a sustainable organization. That strategy made a certain amount of sense to me. The OIDF ED should be able to garner the attention and respect of the more buttoned-down communities that have substantial power over the practices and technologies where we want OpenID to intervene AND be able to help the OIDF grow and prosper.

But it’s been almost half a year now and I have yet to hear anything from Don. I have not seen a single post to the OIDF mailing lists, nor any blog posts, or even mere website announcements or old-school press releases. Don, where are you? Even my simple inquiries about the apparently broken credit card payment process for OpenID membership have gone unanswered.

If the OIDF is immersed in ensuring its own sustainability and important behind-the-scenes evangelizing and deal-making, that’s great. But the open, webby community that has been evangelizing, building and adopting OpenID heretofore and meanwhile needs to know what is going on. The ED reports to the OIDF board, but the position’s real constituency is the broader OpenID community. Inform us, involve us, respect us. If deep, sustained, open community engagement isn’t possible as the primary function of the OIDF, then something is seriously broken.

I want to stress that I’m not leveling any personal criticism at Don himself. I imagine he’s very busy with work that benefits the OIDF and OpenID. In fact, I have so little information about Don and what he’s doing that there’s really nothing to laud or criticize, and that’s exactly my point. Open up, often, as your first impulse, and make community engagement your first priority.

The Fall of Vidoop

Chris Messina just posted a long, thoughtful and informative blog on the rise and fall of his erstwhile employer, local Portland identity provider Vidoop.

For those of us in the Portland tech community who welcomed Vidoop, saw our friends and colleagues go to work for them, and—in my case at least—starting using their OpenID provider service myVidoop—the whole series of events is mostly sad. I truly liked everyone I met from Vidoop and really appreciated their work and contributions to our community, like their hosting of the CyborgCamp 2009 pre-party.

I strongly agree with Chris that the fall of Vidoop can not be read as a failure of OpenID or other open web technologies, standards, or practices.

It is in fact the strength of OpenID that I was able to switch my OpenID delegation to our other local Portland identity provider, Janrain’s MyOpenID, in a matter of minutes and have no interruption in my identity services. What happened with Vidoop proves the value of controlling my own identity via OpenID and merely using providers and other services as I need them.

Vidoop: I’m truly sorry. For those of you who needed to learn lessons, I hope you did. For all the Vidoopers and their customers, I hope what happens next is a good thing.

For OpenID: I’m with you even more than before.

Chat Dérive: I Ran in to Someone on the Web

Something odd happened to me today. I ran into a complete stranger on the Internet.

I signed into chat, and almost immediately had the conversation below with someone I didn’t know, going by the handle “toweringcoho”. I was at a largish gathering and had bonjour turned on as usual, so assumed it was someone in the room—even though I didn’t bother to look to see what chat connection toweringcoho was using.

A quick Google search suggested that “toweringcoho” is the name of one of a series of IM bots that randomly connect to otherwise unconnected chat users.

And that’s how I met Sunil Khiatani from Hong Kong. It took a while for both of us to figure out that we were NOT talking to robots, and a bit longer to introduce ourselves. In the end, we had a worthy conversation, got to know each other a bit, and went on our ways.

I’m not sure if these IM bots are supposed to be malicious, but I liked what happened. It was like going on a kind of unintentional dérive in text only.

6:45:55 PM toweringcoho: Hi, Billy Mays here with another fantastic coho.
6:46:40 PM Nate Angell: wish I knew what that meant…
6:46:52 PM toweringcoho: hmmm
6:46:59 PM toweringcoho: take a wild guess
6:47:04 PM Nate Angell: salmon?
6:47:23 PM toweringcoho: you definitely aren’t turing complete
6:47:39 PM Nate Angell: human error
6:48:06 PM toweringcoho: are you related to skynet?
6:48:51 PM Nate Angell: maybe on the distaff side
6:49:14 PM toweringcoho: ahh
6:50:01 PM toweringcoho: here’s the thing though, will skynet be porgrammed with the 3 robot laws and if so would it still be able to nuke us?
6:50:28 PM Nate Angell: did the 3 robot laws really work out? have to refer to the text
6:50:54 PM toweringcoho: dunno about the text, but in the movies they didn’t
6:51:55 PM Nate Angell: isn’t the book always better than the movie?
6:52:21 PM toweringcoho: naw
6:52:28 PM toweringcoho: fight club is better movie wise :D
6:53:22 PM Nate Angell: didn’t read fight club
6:55:24 PM toweringcoho: so who are you? :P
6:55:41 PM Nate Angell: @xolotl
6:55:56 PM toweringcoho: huh?
6:56:11 PM Nate Angell: you definitely aren’t turing complete
6:56:30 PM toweringcoho: yeah yeah
6:56:57 PM Nate Angell: that should be enough to go on
6:57:20 PM toweringcoho: naw it isn’t
6:57:45 PM Nate Angell: there’s this thing called google…
6:58:15 PM toweringcoho: nad what should I be searching for
7:01:19 PM Nate Angell: @xolotl
7:01:34 PM Nate Angell: it’s a pretty unique character string
7:02:31 PM toweringcoho: you’re nate angel?
7:03:23 PM Nate Angell: no, I’m Nate Angell
7:04:05 PM toweringcoho: ah close enough
7:04:08 PM Nate Angell: or, perhaps A dog-like deity, Double of Quetzalcoatl
7:04:10 PM toweringcoho: how come you’re contacting me :P
7:04:25 PM Nate Angell: you contacted me
7:04:48 PM toweringcoho: I did???
7:05:10 PM Nate Angell: I think there’s an AIM chat robot that connects random users
7:05:14 PM Nate Angell: and we are victims
7:05:30 PM toweringcoho: ahhh
7:05:36 PM toweringcoho: strange
7:05:58 PM toweringcoho: thi is my yahoo account though
7:07:41 PM Nate Angell: i think they are all connected
7:07:52 PM Nate Angell: so you know me, want to iintroduce your self?
7:08:16 PM toweringcoho: alright
7:08:27 PM toweringcoho: I’m Sunil Khiatani, I’m a coder in Hong Kong :D
7:08:37 PM Nate Angell: very cool
7:08:40 PM Nate Angell: what do you code?
7:08:56 PM Nate Angell: Sunil Khiatani doesn’t sound very HK ;)
7:09:21 PM toweringcoho: at the moment, stuff for work. Web Services in ASP.NET and C# :\
7:09:30 PM Nate Angell: sorry
7:09:33 PM toweringcoho: been trying to do OSS coding but I’ve been lazy
7:09:41 PM Nate Angell: that would be better!
7:09:53 PM Nate Angell: as you may have learned, I’m a bit of an OSS zealot
7:10:22 PM toweringcoho: haha yeah a lot of people freak out when I tell them that I’m an indian born in Hong Kong that has a fairly american accent
7:10:31 PM toweringcoho: yeah I think I did, what do you code ?
7:10:34 PM Nate Angell: i guess HK has all types
7:10:36 PM toweringcoho: bbs.. loo
7:10:50 PM Nate Angell: I’m not much of a coder
7:11:13 PM Nate Angell: but I usually evangelize around http://sakaiproject.org http://drupal.org and http://openid.net
7:11:35 PM Nate Angell: there are many worthy projects, depending on your interests
7:11:50 PM Nate Angell: I encourage you to broaden your skills/interests with OSS
7:16:25 PM toweringcoho: I have a few interests
7:16:46 PM toweringcoho: but i think I should focus on the KDE desktop, it’s waht i like and use the most
7:19:26 PM Nate Angell: that’s a worthy project

Creativity Inverged: InVerge & Cre8Con 2008

Experiencing three days of purposefully and accidentally thought-provoking speakers at Portland’s recent Inverge and Cre8Con conferences leaves me feeling, well, thoughtful and provoked. Some of the presentations were predictable, some were compelling, but nearly all of them generated further reflection on what is and what will be.

Engagement

Engagement was the theme I drew from the wide variety of media and marketing professionals and researchers at Inverge. From the giddy meditations on the media engagement that is from presenters like Widen+Kennedy’s Renny Gleeson, Vidoop/OpenID’s Scott Kveton, raven.me’s Raven Zachary, and cyborg anthropologist Amber Case, to the descriptions of what media engagement is beginning to become from USC ICT’s William Swartout‘s descriptions of the building blocks of holodeck technologies and Vortex/Harmony Channel’s Ed Lantz‘s tour of immersive media environments. Then the good news/bad news of engagement brought to us by MIT’s Joshua Green, who got us thinking about the value the agents formerly known as “consumers” bring to brands and products and what they should get for their work, and Andy Mooney and Chris Heatherly, who openly described Disney’s very clear and strategic systems to engage children as “desiring machines.” I hand it to Disney for understanding how to architect experiences like the techno-charm bracelets that talk to each other and jack in to Tinkerbell’s Pixie Hollow website…but thankfully, Disney’s poor art direction and music selection may keep them from owning the entire brains and allowances of every child on earth.

Creativity

Despite drawing on only local Oregon talent, Cre8Con certainly delivered a day-load of eye-poppingly great work and thoughts on how to make it, including Michael Curry‘s amazing puppetry, damali ayo of Crow Clothing’s must-have clothing and laudable business practices, and Brian Van’t Hul of LAIKA’s tantalizing previews of the upcoming Coraline animated feature.

When it came to creative practices, I was left waffling between the incredible focus required to produce Jay Meschter of Nike’s nearly-invisible shoes and Adam Gallardo of Dark Horse Comic’s advice to absorb as much as you can from the widest variety of sources. I’m left feeling like both practices fuel my creative engine.

On Your Feet ‘s closing 10-min summary of the entire Cre8Con conference should be required at any and all conferences of any type from now on for both laughs and material retention. And finally, let’s not forget that neither of these worthy events would’ve happened without the dedication of Steve Gehlen and a host of other hardy volunteers.