Stephen's Web

By Stephen Downes
February 11, 2003

Weblogs at Harvard Some time this evening (Tuesday), a new initiative, Weblogs at Harvard, will be officially launched. It might be at this page (which so far contains only some demo links and a template). More here and maybe here, including possibly a live blog of the launch. The hubris about how we finally "have a bona fide initiative afoot to explore how weblogs can serve the aims of education" is a bit much (what do they think we've been doing here for the last few years?) but the initiative is worthwhile and interesting: " I'm personally interested in seeing weblogs not only wake Harvard up but also provide the tools to pry it open. True education benefits from as few barriers as possible between the learner and the raw ingredients of learning: access to a generous and diverse library of information and opportunity for the novice to converse meaningfully with the expert." By Various Authors, Weblogs at Harvard, February 11, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Optimizing Flash for Search Engines Macromedia won't like it, but I have to agree with this advice from Shari Thurow: don't use Flash if you can do the same thing in HTML. This article lingers (naturally, given its source) on the failure of most search engines to index Flash sites. "I believe the Macromedia Flash SDK... does very little to help Flash sites be found for any keywords base outside the site title tags." I also have other issues: I have yet to be able to cut and paste text from a Flash site, which is really annoying for an indexer like me. Flash sites do not resize well either, which has more than once left me squinting at the upper left corner of my 1400 pixel screen. Flash does a lot of things brilliantly. But as the author writes, think flash movie, not Flash sites. By Shari Thurow, SearchDay, February 11, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

E-learning Manifesto I think just about every educational weblogger got spammed today with this announcement, along with who knows how many other people. "The International Journal on E-Learning (IJEL) has completed publication of its premiere year of articles." Well fine. But check out the manefesto from volume 1, number 1 (to which I link here). "With the commercialization of the Internet, the on-line learning community is being threatened. This environment, originally developed to support the knowledge and growth of individuals and communities, is being diverted by marketing interests. The user who is in search of information is bombarded with extraneous screens and messages designed to lure them to this site or that product. Private user information is captured without notice and used for a variety of commercial purposes." This makes sense to me, so I clicked on the link to read more. After collecting my personal information, the site then demanded money. So with Volume 1, Number 1, article 1, the IJEL violated my trust. It's pretty bad when the ideas and opinions of those of us working for a free and open internet are packaged, sold and spammed as just so much more marketing drivel. Sheesh. By Melodee Landis,, International Journal on E-Learning, February, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Unraveling the Mysteries of the Connected Age The point of this article is to show how organized and progressive behaviour can emerge from disorganized and uncontrolled networks. It's a great read, and I wish the lessons would be taken to heart by the people who think that centralized, authoritative or structured solutions are the best approach to this or that enterprise on the net. Almost invariably, they are not. By Duncan J. Watts, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 14, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Publishers Give Classics a Makeove Interesting. The extension of cooyright terms has hurt the publishers of classic literature. This article looks at publishers such as Penguin who have made a name for themselves in this competitive business. It just goes to show that you can make a buck selling public domain content. Or could, until the rules changed. By Bill Goldstein, New York Times, February 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Elsevier Announces New Procedures for Retracting Online Articles After some stinging criticism, Elsevier Science has had a change of heart and will now do the right thing when it comes to retracting journal articles. As this article describes, " an article may be marked for 'retraction' if it has been submitted to multiple journals, if it was plagiarized, if it was based on fraudulent data, or if a scholar's claim to authorship was bogus. In such cases, a retraction notice, linked to the original article, will explain why it has been retracted. The digital version of the article will have a watermark indicating it has been retracted." An articles will still be purged "if it is defamatory, infringes on others' legal rights, is likely to be the subject of a court order, or might pose serious health risks..." - I urge Elsevier not to jump the gun on this. Wait for the court order. The law, not the publisher, should determine the range of illegality. Oh, and I really want to know how an online article might "pose serious health risks..." E-thrombosis, perhaps? By Andrea L. Foster, Chronicle of Higher Education, February 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

CIPD: E-learning 'Shows Potential not Performance' People have been saying this for a while, but now it has been officially discovered. A report released by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) asserts that "Organisations thinking of implementing e-learning for a quick fix, cost-cutting exercise should think again, claims new research released today, as it may deliver training budget savings but does not progress learning in an organisation.... unless ... key elements of design and implementation are followed then e-learning will not deliver." No link to the report, though. *sigh* By Editorial, HR Gateway, February 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

.Net Patent Could Stifle Standards Effort Just as .Net was generating steam as a platform for web services, it has emerged that Mocrosoft holds some key patents and may use them to "dictate how, or whether, developers of software and devices can link to the .Net initiative." It's no surprise that Microsoft holds patents, but it is a surprise that the company would not release them to the standards initiatives building up around web services. Unless, of course, it intends to own the web services infrastructure. Watch for developers jumping ship in hordes. By Lisa M. Bowman, CNet, February 10, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

Computers Take Over the Classroom "We learnt the inner workings of a computer. In fact it's an electronic machine, through which we can send and receive letters," said student Kamar Kumar. Well in fact they're learning a lot more than that in Indian schools as the country works hard to teach computing in its schools. It's a way to catch up, but even after graduating, students may have a lot of catching up to do, since so many of their computers use obsolete technology. By Unknown, BBC News, February 9, 2003 [Refer][Research][Reflect]

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Copyright 2003 Stephen Downes
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