Friday, May 18, 2007

The Internet is growing, but the number of major sources is shrinking

Guardian Technology posted an article on the shrinking number of sources that most of use in using the web. Richard McManus commissioned some research in the number of Internet sited we use. The data showed that the Internet itself has grown by 77%, but that this does not mean that we use more sources on the Internet. The data actually showed that we use less sites, but the top 10 domains we use are proportionally increasing in seize. According to Mc Manus, the 'Top 10 domains account for 40% of the total pageviews on the internet - a 29% increase over the last five years'.
Social Networking sites as MySpace and YouTube have been important here. Carr in the Guardian also mentioned how many searches now bring up a Wikipedia entries.

Is this a good or a bad development? I would say it is good and bad. All of the top 10 domains are now owned by large corporations, who can influence what and how the sites develop. The changes of Flickr are an example of this, but comments by users show that people will most likely stay with their initial social networking site, as most of their peers are users as well and it seems people don't like to move en-block. On the other hand, the content generated on social networks still seems to be fairly uncensored, even on these corporately owned sites, and their filtering function is important for the management of the huge amounts of information out on the Net. Thinking of my own practice, where would I be without Stephen Downes OlDaily ? The amount of my time saved by following his daily dose of 'learning technology', rather than finding all information myself is considerable. Of course our filters have to be trusted and what we read has to be valuable.

The one problem I can see is that the smaller the number of sources, the less reliable the information will be. The lack of diversity could mean that the information on networks is not critically assessed and linked to a variety of positions and becomes too one-sided and self-serving.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Social networking sites for education

I am back from holidays in Italy and not quite back in the swing of things yet. My mind keeps wondering of to other places....... Stephen Downes OlDaily sent me a link this morning to Ewan Macintosh's blog post on Bebo. He mentioned that the average Bebo user spends 41 minutes online a day on their Bebo musings. He feels educators should harness the potential of these sites, and the skills people pick up while using them for educational purposes.
Although I can see the networking potential of the tools and their ease of use, in addition to their business potential, I wonder what makes that Macintosh is attracted to sites like Bebo for educational purposes. Young people use these sites for gossiping and talking with their friends, showing off their music, and exposing themselves to the world in order to grab some attention. And yes, ok they learn how to press buttons and to use templates, but there are in my view major issues with their use in education.
Research by Neil Selwyn, and one of his papers 'Digital Inequality and New Spaces of Informal Education for Young People' shows that the majority of young people use technology for very mundane purposes: finding information, sharing music and messages, writing about their everyday life. Selwyn, sees the potential of technology to move young people to a deeper engagement with issues of citizenship and other issues related to wider society, but he believes the best way to go about this would be facilitating an organic growth of engagement, rather than for it to be imposed by adults in the informal online spaces that young people have created for themselves. 'In practice, what are essentially fluid, organic, and chaotic virtual practices will be flourishing precisely because they are free from external control, restraints or official adult intervention'. Perhaps invading Bebo and MySpace with our message is not such a good idea. The medium needs to 'fit' the message. Why would young people, who are on Bebo and Myspace to communicate with their friends, engage with a site put up by adults about citizenship? Authenticity of the communication is at the heart of this. If people's expectations are not aligned, the message won't come across, in a similar fashion that this would happen in a face to face environment, where people would not discuss subjects such as 'democracy' with people sitting at other tables in a coffee-shop. What has already shown to work is communication on networks of interest, or on spaces such as Elgg, in which networks are formed, but with a different purpose than Bebo. Where a higher level of thinking and reflection might be part of the expected package for the participant.