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Hey Dude – where’s my (community) Data?

December 17th, 2007 by Graham Attwell

Last year the Bazaar project held a seminar called Hey Dude – Where’s my Data. The title, somewhat ironically was coined by Dave Tosh. In the run up to the seminar we posed the following issues and questions:

“With Web 2.0, more and more people have their documents, products, personal details and photos stashed all over the internet – what issues does this raise for education?

The rise of commercial services:

With the use of free, commercial, centrally hosted, social software services rising in education some important issues arise; Who controls this data? Do users care that commercial services are mining their usage patterns and selling this to marketing companies? Is the nature of these ‘free’ services understood – yes users can come in and use the base system for free but often, in return, they are bombarded with advertising and their details/usage habits sold. However, does anyone really care? Perhaps convenience of service outweighs the perceived downsides.

As Bill Fitzgerald points out: “This type of commercial activity is sneaky – it is not apparently obvious to the user what is happening to their data and usage patterns, so often they will not thing about this.”

Is it wise to build up learning environments around these free-to-use tools? While it is unlikely some of the bigger services, such as Flickr, will shutdown – the terms of usage could certainly change, what happens if learners suddenly have to pay to access their content?

As Graham Atwell points out: “Yes Web 2 is great for allowing mash ups and integrating services to produce rich and interactive web sites. But the reliance on external services from mostly commercial companies does raise a whole series of issues. Can we trust these people with our data? will we still have access to this data in the future.? What is to stop them data mining for their own purposes?”

Is there an alternative?

Open Standards

Surely the way to approach this is to build educational tools based on open standards, not specific, commercial, services? This will remove any reliance on services like flickr or del.icio.us. Then again, who would be responsible for building and maintaining these tools? Should institutions and perhaps government be responsible?

Open Source

The same issues arise – who is responsible for building, maintaining and paying for the service?

Where to store my data:

With the rise in popularity of ePortfolios many have asked what happens to an ePortfolio after the student has left the institution? What happens to this content – where are learners supposed to store it? Can they still access it?

At least one UK university is considering charging alumni for continued access to their ePortfolio – is this the correct approach?

Starting Points
To get you started here are some rough questions:

  • Data mining on commercial services, is this a problem?
  • Should institutions using commercial services worry about the user data being sold to advertising and marketing companies?
  • Is it not a risky strategy to rely on commercial services keeping their services ‘free’?
  • Does anyone really care? Some of these services are excellent so perhaps we should accept that their might be some downsides and instead concentrate on the pedagogical benefit they can offer?
  • Who would pay for something if it was not commercial service providers – the government? Would we trust that more? Would the services actually be as good?
  • What role should governments play, if any at all?
  • What is the role of institutions?
  • Security issues?
  • Ownership issues?”

The position papers and discussions from the seminar can be found on the project wiki. But whilst we saw the answers largeluy in individual ownership of data with backups etc and interoperability standards we missed teh issue of community. Individuals can transfer their data from Eduspaces with its impending closure. But at a technical level it is tricky to back up and restore comments. Moreover links to individual posts will be lost – as will the community context of the discussion. In other words communities may be more than a blog and whilst back ups and interoperability and standards may allow us to safeguard our individual data it does little for communities.

3 Responses to “Hey Dude – where’s my (community) Data?”

  1. The link to my blog post on elgg gives a dead page —

    When I wrote that piece, I cross-posted it to my personal blog at http://www.funnymonkey.com/free-service-open-api

    Your question about community (which is really a question about preserving context) is a great one.

    Cheers,

    Bill

  2. Graham Attwell says:

    Thanks Bill – have updated the link.

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