Thursday, June 03, 2004

Two very cool ideas

1. SmallPiecesLooselyJoined at New Media Consortium (NMC 2004) conference

How can new social software tools be used in learning; how can educators "deploy, connect, de-connect them in useful and interesting ways"?

The SmallPiecesLooselyJoined presentation by Brian Lamb, Alan Levine, and D'Arcy Norman on June 17th at the University of British Columbia will include an activity done not only by the people at the NMC conference, but also by online contributors around the world.

Before, during, and after the conference, there will be three groups of people taking three different stances on educational technologies for the sake of discussion and learning. The groups are decentralist, centralist, and fence-sitter. Each group will have its own Weblog with RSS feed as well as a wiki.

Read this article to understand the how and why of the experiment--they can explain it a lot better than I can. It sounds fascinating; these three guys always seem to be on the cutting edge. I referenced their presentation on RSS, learning objects, and Trackback in my Learning Circuits RSS article.

2. Learning from your customers: Microsoft's Channel 9

Thanks to Bev Ferrell who pointed out on the trdev listserv a new offering by Microsoft, Channel 9. It's not a new software suite; rather it's a portal that combines online and new social software tools to open up conversation and learning between a group of Microsoft employees and customers.

Using tools like a blog, a discussion forum, a wiki, RSS feeds, video clips, and more, the site is a way for software developers to listen in to the creative process of five Microsoft workers. Their "Who We Are" page says:

"Welcome to Channel 9. We are five guys at Microsoft who want a new level of communication between Microsoft and developers. We believe that we will all benefit from a little dialogue these days. This is our first attempt to move beyond the newsgroup, the blog, and the press release to talk with each other, human to human."

The response has been very positive, judging from the comments on the site.

This is a daring move for any company. Making its processes transparent and its employees constantly accessible? Many organizations, especially large corporations, would run away from that idea. But I think a free exchange of information and learning, going both ways between employees and customers, can only be good.

What is it that the Cluetrain Manifesto says? "Markets are nothing more than conversations...We are key to the subject, but we're missing in action after working in secret for years. Our only hope is to talk. Starting now."

and, "...listen to these conversations coming from inside, outside, over, and above even the hardest-shelled companies that still think marketing means lobbing messages into crowds. Here is the sound our ancestors heard in those ancient marketplaces, where people spoke for themselves about what mattered to them."

The five Microsoft employees are putting those words into practice--using new online tools to make a huge company relate one a one-to-one level. Would your company or department benefit from doing something similar? What could your employees learn from your customers? What improvements could be made in your products or sales strategies or workers' productivity with an open conversation like this?

(NOTE: Apparently Channel 9 is run with the blessings of Bill Gates. He just endorsed blogs as business tools in his CEO Summit, says the BBC News. More than 700 Microsoft employees use blogs to update people on their projects, although it's not clear whether the readers are co-workers or customers or a combination of the two.)

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