Link Portal


Posted to WWWDEV, 3 February, 2000.

I'd like to think it's the next generation of online learning, but it might also be a horrible failure. All I know is, you never know until you try.

I said in a post a few days ago:

What we want is a symbiosis between our online and our offline lives. What we want is for the steady - almost uninterrupted - stream of work and play related information available to us through emerging wireless and wearable (or even implanted) access to merge in a constructive way with our lives at home, at work and in the pub.

We need to:

  • design a global system in which context-specific and personalized information and learning is available on-demand no matter who the person is and no matter where they are

    but also to

  • design an cultural and social environment in which access and interaction with online information and community becomes part of and merges with traditional activities of working and playing.

This is that plan.

I would like to invite list members to contribute to my Link Portal (sorry about the name - I have no imagination). And I know you're saying - another portal? Who needs it?

Fair enough.

Here's what I'm up to:

Phase I: set up a system through which users may submit links and resources such that:

  • 'Today's Links' are displayed on their own page
  • Links are automatically categorized according to content
  • Categories of links are displayed, newest first

Phase II: invite contributions to the system from a specific target group or sector. Incorporate a mechanism for refining autocategorization and defining new categories.

Phase III: produce an email letter from contributed links. Devise the newsletter so that individuals may customize the content, receiving new links only from their chosen categories.

Phase IV: expand the category descriptions to include definitions and background description. Rank submitted links according to freshness and frequency of access. Enable autodeleting of expired links.

Phase V: develop a mechanism which incorporates category- specific information into other documents, such as essays or articles, in a variety of formats, such as embedded or popup links lists or definitions.

Phase VI: develop a mechanism whereby a network of link portals may 'poll' each other for new submissions, drawing into the system only links which fit appropriate categories.

Phase VII: develop discussion list software which feeds into the link portal, thus incorporating posts into the link lists. Enable users to filter displays by type (link, discussion, article) and by source.

Phase I has been in operation for about five months now, give or take. I have already launched Phase II in another context (the municipal sector in Alberta). And I would like to invite list members to be a part of the Phase II launch in the field of online learning.

The Link Portal is located on my home page (and hence branded "Stephen's Web"), though I may give it its own identify if it flourishes. The portal itself is a set of CGI (perl) scripts running on the MuniMall server (home page for the server is - from there you can see the municipal sector version of the same tool).

OK - why do I think this is the next generation of online learning?

I have commented before that I think that the idea of a 'class' is on the way out. Classes are too rigid in content and in pacing for effective individual instruction. This is especially the case for people already in the workforce or for some reason unable to take four months (or four years) in classes.

But the intuitive appeal of classes is their *timely* delivery of learning materials. What people like about classes is that they are paced. Students get a little bit each day, all of it relevant (in theory), all of it in context (in theory).

The pacing of learning materials is also especially important for people in the workforce, particularly those who cannot devote entire blocks of time to online learning. But fed a steady stream of highly relevant and useful information, and moreover, information they can incorporate right into their work, they can make learning a regular part of their routine.

But where to generate such information? Who has the time and the resources? We could let Microsoft or Disney do it - and given time, they will enter into the marketplace in much this way. Or we could draw on a community of professionals with an interest in keeping each other informed and up to date.

The latter mechanism is valuable not only for experienced professionals, who remain right on top of their discipline, it is also a mechanism for students to be drawn into the learning stream. Students - more so than professionals - are likely to use such background information as definitions of terms, etc.

The idea here is to have people involved in the discipline add links to the portal. By that, what I mean is that they submit worthy URLs along with a short commentary or description. The description is key - it is (as Terry comments) the 'value add' which makes the portal worth while and which aids in the categorization.

It is important to keep in mind that the contents of such a system will - over time - not consist merely of links to web pages. It is better to think of them as URIs and not URLs, that is, links to any resource on the internet. It is certainly my intent to XML-enable the link system (it's not there yet). See my paper 'Resource Descriptions'

Finally - a note about content:

I am not looking for links to online courses or to universities and colleges. There are good portals for these.

I am looking for links to essays and articles, new products and resources, theory and pedagogy - in short, the knowledge base of the community.

What community? Well - specifically, the online learning community. This is defined by the domains of internet client and server software, technology and programming, internet culture, issues and ideas, education and distance learning, the web and web design.

And yes, I will edit content as appropriate. Items contributed by spammers, etc., will be deleted immediately. Items containing too much flowery prose will have their adjectives and adverbs deleted. The purpose here is content, not promotion.

To get a better idea, take a look at the links and resources already used to seed the system.

Front Page

Today's Links

List of all categories

And finally - when you're ready - Add a Link


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