ASTD Blog Week 2 – Feed the Web

This is the original transcript. To see the ASTD version click here

Last week I mentioned the principles of the web’s will. I want to spend some time talking about the first of those principles ‘The web wants to be fed’. What does that mean and why is it important? So lets go high level and let me ask you this. Do you like the web? Is the Internet useful for you? Is it as useful, less useful or more useful for finding information that you need, getting the news you need, exploring new topics, acquiring new knowledge, reacquainting yourself with old knowledge as the systems you find in your workplace? If you find that the web is as useful or more so (I assume many of us find this whole web thing pretty useful) how did the web become that useful? Is it because someone paid for it? Is it that its highly regulated by some all knowing presence who determines what you need to know and when? Or maybe its because the web is a self regulating platform that you can contribute to as you see fit and that others can do the same. Maybe its because the hierarchy of the enterprise is gone. And maybe its because the web grows and evolves everyday because people like you and me feed it content.

What does feeding the web content accomplish? When you feed the web or when you write content or when you upload videos or give away a service are you thinking about any particular individuals or are you contributing content to help the ‘network(s)’ that you belong to? If you need to send somebody something private, just for them, do you make it publicly available on the web? Probably not. If you do, lets not be friends ok? Feeding the web is about strengthening the network. Its about making the network(s) you belong to better, more robust and current. As a network of content, the web evolves and grows because it stagnates if you don’t feed it. The value in the web isn’t that there’s a hierarchy feeding it content, its in the self sustaining policy that everybody can feed it and through that it continues to grow and become stronger all the time.

Lets bring these ideas down a level and talk about instructional design. Before the web evolved into this really useful thing and we were designing courses for our enterprises, we were taught and our skills were honed to design a very specific thing handed down to us from some hierarchy targeted to a very specific group of people and targeted a very specific skill set. We took what we designed (often manuals, handbooks, videos and eventually CBT) and deployed it as it was designed to do. Our designs had no contribution to the business other than what they were intended to do. Sure, we were part of a system, part of a network, but we didn’t design for the network we designed for the individuals in the network. We designed for a very specific outcome. As designers we have taken this model, our role within the system and we’ve implemented these skills and our role into a connected web where the strength of the web is based on a self regulating policy and where the contribution of content feeds the entire network, not just one specific goal. Most importantly to note, is we didn’t and still don’t design content to grow or evolve, we design it to be stagnant and deliver singular messages without it being plugged into a rapidly evolving system of stuff.

Anyone remember ICQ by Mirabilis? The genius of ICQ was that its value was entirely dependent on whether you shared it. It was conceived from the outset to destroy the economics of value and could only be used if others had it. In a world where value was driven by scarcity, although not the only freebie on the web at the time, it certainly pioneered a new model for value where value was dictated by everybody having exactly the same thing, and everybody pays nothing for it. I remember very clearly having discussions with people about how was Mirabilis ever going to make money with something they gave away for free. Mirabilis sold ICQ to AOL in 1998 for 407 million dollars. How’s that for value?

What did ICQ do to create that value? It created a service that strengthened networks plain and simple. If you’re an instructional designer and your job is to create valuable content think about how you can ‘ICQ’ your content. In other words how can you design content that is going to help the network evolve and how can you design content that is part of the network. Before i get to that, let me side step a little bit and talk about creating ‘eLearning’ as a SCORM package sitting on an LMS. Up until very recently LMS systems were stand alone units and the courses loaded on to an LMS were standalone courses. Designing a ‘course’ to be loaded onto an LMS goes in the complete opposite direction of why the web is valuable to us. It creates a digital artifact, unplugged from the evolving network which is the organization and has no viable way of feeding the organization other than through a special doorway called your LMS login. At the same time, there is probably Intranets exploding with the same content found in the courses (just not ‘designed’ to generate learning – hogwash btw) with people unable to find anything because just like what we see on the web, content in organizations is exploding in volume and rate of change. (aside) So how is it we can find stuff on the web? At the end of the day, the course on the LMS is just another version of content captured in a moment of time that is probably out of date the moment its available if not sooner. What if we found a way to make the Intranet more like the web? What if our corporate Intranets, instead of being soulless file folders became a vibrant network that was self sustaining amidst what would appear to be complete chaos? What if that network plugged into the externally facing network our clients see and what if that network were plugged into THE network? Quite a vision eh? Well think about apps on the web that do well. They plug into each other, plug into the larger network and essentially have multiple doorways in and out. In other words facebook isn’t just facebook, its another window to the larger network, plugs into other apps and is valuable because people feed it, for free without any interference from a hierarchy.

So how can you ICQ your content? Here are my suggestions on where you can start. Create materials that not only help one audience at one time, but think about who else has content, needs content and how to leverage and contribute to the pools of information that already exist. Do you do product training for your sales force? Guess what, your marketing department trains your customers on your products all the time. I bet your web site has some pretty interesting materials. Create materials that have relationships with other resources and content. Let your content be a portal to other content and allow other content to a portal back to your content. In other words, network your content. Don’t end your content with a period or exclamation mark, end it with….and allow for contributions back into the content.

The web isn’t a file directory. Its a network of relationships. Thats why its valuable. Feed it that way……don’t you think?

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