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Lanyrd and designing applications to support Communities of Practice

November 5th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Last night I spent a hour or so playing with new social software startup, Lanyrd. And I love it. Why?

Well I logged in or rather pressed a button saying something like login with Twitter and there I was. No filling in forms or making up passwords. And there straight away was a message for me:

Hi there! we have had a look at conferences your friends on twitter are going to, perhaps you might like to go too.

And indeed, apart from the lack of time I might well want to go. So the site is already personalised for me based on the ideas and knowledge of my friends. Pretty good. But more important is the site is useful to me: it contains information and knowledge and links to people which will and already does form an integral and useful part of my work practice. In other words, it makes my work easier. That is because it is based on the artefacts and practice of my community of practice, of the people like me who work in technology enhanced learning, knowledge development and teaching and learning. This isn’t a friends site for everyone – of you do not go to conferences then Lanyrd offers little to you. But this surely has to be the future of social software.of niche sites based on the practices, concerns and artefacts of particular communities of practice.

Other things I liked. The site is very open. Anyone is free to add and edit on the wikipedia shared knowledge principle. And the FA (not a TOSS( says anyone is free to scrape the site and get information out in any way they wish.

Obviously on a roll, developers Simon Willison and Natalie Downe are rapidly adding more features allowing the use of the site to accumulate the outcomes of conferences, be they papers, videos, presentations or other artefacts. Once more they are building the site around the practices and artefacts of the research community.

And finally the site is simple and intuitive to use and attractively designed. A lot of thought (and code) has gone into making it easy to use – for instance the ability to cut and stick from Open Office (or Office)without inserting any horrible formatting code.

What are the drawbacks? The major weakness is base don its very strength. The site relies on your Twitter friends for its recommendations. And by no means all – or even a majority – of the research community are on Twitter, especially outside technology focused subject areas.  Even the Educa Online Berlin conference, for just the kind of people you would think would be attracted to Lanyrd, has only 16 attendees signed up, despite there being some 2000 delegates enrolled for the conference. But it is early days yet. Lanyrd was only launched in August. And I can see that in a few months it will become an essential tool in our community – especially when they launch the API to the site.

This has got me thinking about design – how can we capture the practices of other communities – particularly in relation to work and learning and design social applications around other aspects of their practice. I think one big lesson from Lanyrd is that more is not, always better. Lanyrd does not try to do everything for researchers bu8t takes am (important) part of their practice and does it better.

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