Thanks to Nancy White and Jo Murray, editor of The Knowledge Tree, the Australian e-journal of learning innovation, with colleagues Victoria Axelrod and Kiki Mulliner I've had the opportunity to co-author a piece on "Learning through participation and connecting intelligence: experimenting with a wiki to co-create".
The article documents some of our lessons learned through the process but remarkable for me was the excuse to look back at my 22 years online, beginning at the Australian Caption Centre in 1985. Thanks to farseeing Caption Center founders Adam Salzer and Alexandra Hynes I helped create "Edutel", an educational content service for the launch of Viatel, a U.K. Prestel standard videotex service. As this was pre-Web there are few remnants to tell the story. Peter Hosie's reflections on the potential of videotex for education capture the times.
Coming to the U.S. I was fortunate to find my way to the Trintex offices in White Plains, NY where a group of smart, dedicated people were working hard at pioneering the NAPLPS based online consumer service launched as "PRODIGY" in 1988. 6 years later, December 1994, with AOL nipping at our heels, PRODIGY became the first online service to integrate a Web browser.
In 2007, creating a Facebook 21st Century Organization Group with minimal effort and functionality I never imagined 20 plus years ago, I asked myself the question J. C. Spender uses to provoke discussion at New York Knowledge Cafe gatherings:
"So what's changed?".
Here are some reflections.
1. Today's Invisible Servers, Cables, Programmers and Code
I've heard Cliff Figallo tell wonderful stories about The WELL's early days and heroic efforts to keep the service up as new members joined, including tending the server dressed in formal attire. As PRODIGY grew each morning attention turned to the previous day's peformance levels. There was a scheduled downtime during pre-dawn hours for maintenance.
Today we just expect to be always connected wherever we are, and on the move without cable tethers. Failure to do so, like Skype's recent outage, becomes a news event. How many people ever consider the server network Google has around the world ensuring 24x7 access? Wikipedia cites 450,000 servers in data centers worldwide.
Similarly, where are the programmers? No doubt behind the sites I log into every day ranging from Earthlink, through Facebook, Google,Typepad, Technorati, etc are hundreds of programmers working to add functionality and service stability. But I don't know them, the programming languages they use, or where in the world they are. At PRODIGY programmers were highly visible, essential and valued colleagues with names, people whom I'm delighted to see when PRODIGY alum gather to mark another year.
And where is the CODE? I created our Facebook 21st Century Organization Group without seeing a line of code. I considered this while applying John Pederson's rule for making del.icio.us tags display in a Wikispace, to our ConnectedIntelligence wiki.
2. From Information Sparsity to Overload and Abundant Connections
Did anyone else notice the number of people admitting they were taking time away from being connected to reflect this summer? I sympathize with Stuart Henshall's frustration expressed in a Facebook wall post that as he contributes "to more and more "Streams" with twitter, facebook, social bookmarking, blog posts, wiki pages etc and I'd like to capture that all in one place." In 2007 with the exponential power of network laws at work, our skills are constantly being stretched to learn new tools and manage through this abundance.
3. TIME and ENERGY Become Increasingly Precious Resouces. Knowing when to say NO to Connectedness
Anders Hemre first focused me on the importance of allowing TIME for THINKING during a 2002 article interview. With "REFLECTION" the topic of article co-author Kiki Mulliner's dissertation, we spent time during our article writing considering the importance. In a highly connected world, as TIME becomes an increasingly precious resource, knowing when to say "NO" to connectedness to devote hours and ENERGY to creating value from available information and connections seems to me an essential skill.
4. The Technology is Catching Up to Support People Networking, Where the Real Value of Connectedness Lies
As PRODIGY yielded to AOL's mid 90's ascendancy on my office wall was a quote in a Jupiter Report citing Bob Smith from AOL saying:
"AOL understood people come for the content and stay when they get connected."
AOL's focus on chat and IM revealed that understanding. Reports from the recent Always On Stanford Summit point to what's ahead online. At minimum, as Facebook is revealing, the technology is catching up to support people connecting where early online services, from The WELL forward, suggested the real value of connectedness lies.
This post has grown long. I also pondered what HASN'T changed. Grist for another time.
Thank you for reading if you've persevered this far. Your reflections and experiences about the evolution of online, and implications of connectedness, invited and welcomed as comments.
~ Jenny Ambrozek