Ning, Elluminate and what I know now…

Two events of the past week have brought some things sharply into focus for me. One is the discussion surrounding the monetisation of Ning, and the other is the problems I am having with my computer and Elluminate. Yes, they seem poles apart, but bear with me, I’ll explain the connection. (at least I hope I will!)

I surprised by all of the fuss surrounding Ning’s decision to begin the process of charging for what were previously free networks. I’ve seen tweets suggesting it will be the death of Ning. I just don’t think that will be the case. I think Jason Rosenthal and Marc Andreesson are making sound business decisions that will probably guarantee the continuation of Ning rather than its demise. In fact, if decisions like this aren’t made by providers of what are currently free open source software alternatives, then we may well see more applications we use in schools go the way of bubbleus or flowgram.

There’s no doubt in my mind that monetisation of services and content is the biggest issue facing the Web today. We’ve seen Rupert Murdoch make noises about charging for newspaper content and I’m sure we will see more moves in this direction from other providers. Darcy Norman, an Educational Technology Consultant from the University of Calgary, made the following observations about the impact of Ning’s decision;

WordPress/BuddyPress and Drupal and any of a long list of others can provide the functionality of Ning. But, in order to protect yourself from another potential service change/interruption, you really need to provide a server. At some point, you need a Dreamhost account or something similar. You need to copy files to the server. You need to configure a database and tweak things. This is where the people that use Ning in the first place are lost. They can’t/won’t do this. We can argue until we’re blue in the face, saying it’s easy, saying it’s cheap, saying it’s necessary, but the vast majority of people simply don’t want to manage the technical layers beneath what they see in the web browser. Ning is betting the company that these people will reach for their credit cards to prevent having to deal with technical stuff.

Darcy’s right. I won’t be doing this. I don’t want to manage the technical layers. What I want to do is help my students make connections and understand that this provides them with a new way of looking at how we can learn today. That requires a considerable effort in building a community of learners. An effort that means I don’t have time for the technical layers. So, if I want to use a platform that enables me to do this, then I guess I’ll be paying. And you know what, there’s a part of me that thinks I should. People invest time and money providing us with platforms that we are utilising and they deserve compensation for their efforts.

So where’s the connection with Elluminate, you may ask? Well, I spent close to five hours the other night trying, with the help of some wonderful people (Anne Mirtschin – you are one of life’s angels on earth – you truly are! So are you John Pearce!), to troubleshoot an error message that was stopping me from accessing Elluminate rooms. Was I any closer to an answer at the end of those five hours. No, I wasn’t. I had to postpone the start of lessons in Students 2.0 as a result of it all.

So what’s been brought into focus for me?

This.

I don’t have time to work through issues involving the technical layers and I certainly don’t have time to learn everything that people working the back end of computers know. I work the front end, and I don’t mind having to pay something to make sure it works smoothly for me.