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The problem with free social software

May 7th, 2014 by Graham Attwell

Over the last few years, we have been doing some great things with free social software. All too often teachers and trainers do not have a budget for buying software or online services. Secondly, free social software allows users to experiment with different applications without having to commit limited funds.

Bur there is no such thing as a free lunch. And that is becoming ever more problematic. Firstly many services are maintained through advertising revenue. These adverts are not necessarily appropriate in an educational setting! Of course ad blockers will deal with many of those (but not all – for instance where the advert is superimposed on a video clip). And companies like Facebook and Google provide free services and applications because they want our data.Ignoring ethical consideration around data mining and the use of our data, there is a further problem with free social software.

If enterprises decide services are not generating enough income, or if business models change, software providers can just close services down. And they do often. In the last year three applications that we have used frequently in Pontydysgu have disappeared. the first, which most people will know about, was Google Reader. At least because of all the fuss, we were alerted to its coming demise and able to download our feeds. The second which caused us serious grief was Blip TV which we had been using at one time for hosting videos. At the time YouTube quality was poor and Vimeo was yet to be launched. Therefore when we produced a number of commissioned videos for the European Conference for Educational Research we put them up on Blip, using embed codes to play them in the ECER web site. A month ago we had an emeail from ECER saying the videos had disappeared. We went to Blip and sure enough there was a notice saying they had changed policy (and I guess business model) and were no longer hosting videos. They had sent me an email going me notice but this was lost in the deluge of emails from social software providers. Fortunetely we had kept copies of the videos and were able to restore the embeds, this time using Youtube.

The latest service to disappear is Slidecasts. Slidecasts were built on top of Slideshare, using a night online tool to sync audio to slides.We spent quite a lot of time making a series of slide casts. OK Slideshare gave us notice and allowed us to download the audio and slide files. But now of course they will have to be synced agin using I guess something like iMovie.

I am getting to the point of not trusting anything to free social software services. Or certainly nothing which I do no0t have a local backup for. But this leaves a big gap in creative tools and services for education.

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