Web 2.0 Fail: Back to the Tree at the Fork in the Road?

Chris P Jobling via Flickr

This is a story of failure. Not, at first, the good kind of failure, the kind that leads to growth. In this case, it’s the kind of failure that leads you to go back on the trail, to find that tree around which you tied the ribbon, and take the other fork in the road.

For many years, I did all my web stuff myself. This was before a whole lot of software or webware – it was all HTML, which I taught myself from a For Dummies book (Quick Reference, 1997). Oh, and we had Webboard 1 (they’re on 9 now) for threaded discussion. Geeks used IRC and other ways to talk in real time. The sound of the modem was music to my ears.

Then Web 2.0 happened, and it was so exciting and easy to use all the cool stuff. Flickr for photos! Blogger and WordPress.com for blogs! Twitter for microblogging! You could post all your stuff, even create stuff, and there it is, all for free. No need to know HTML!

I should have known better. I’m a historian.

Problems at Pedagogy First!

Most of our participants at Pedagogy First!, at our encouragement, have been using Edublogs or WordPress.com for their blogs. At first, these blogging services provided for free the means to upload the things our participants created as part of the class. But, as time has gone on, fewer features have been enabled for free accounts at these services.

The number of plugins that both services offer has also decreased. We have been exploring workarounds in response to the decline in services like embedding media. First it was Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo, where you could just by typing the URL into WordPress.com but Edublogs wasn’t so easy. Then we couldn’t get Edublogs to embed Jing or Slideshare (and WordPress.com could only if we used Vodpod).

Now our intrepid participants are posting audio and sure enough, WordPress.com won’t let them embed audio on the free account using an upload. So the trick here is to upload ones audio “somewhere on the web” and put in a shortcode like .

To upload “somewhere” means they really should have access to a web folder somewhere and know how to ftp to it, or try a service (I tried yourlisten.com, but it didn’t work). As they helped each other, they discovered Soundcloud could work. But this sort of thing is dicey and inconsistent, and it freaks out the newbies. Come on, everybody, let’s run all over the web looking for ways to do something simple!

Problems for Me

At the same time, I have been experiencing problems with my own free services. Posterous won’t convert my video to embed it, regardless of the codec used. I recorded the weekly message to my students in Eyejot, and it didn’t send it to me for four days. Flickr wants money to share my photos with others.

And then I look at ds106, harbinger of all things self-participatory. Jim Groom at UMW just raised money for a separate server, and they’re giving students domain names and web hosting so everyone can run their own blogs (not, you’ll note, using WordPress.com or Edublogs).

Going Backward

So is it time to go back to that tree? Back up (beep, beep, beep) the road of Web 2.0 “freemium” service providers, who (like insurance companies) are charging us more and delivering less, and get back to that DIY spirit? I always recommend some DIY anyway – keeping your files on your own computer to protect them from loss, never writing anything directly into a system. Now we may have to build learning units around it.

As we revise the syllabus for next year’s Pedagogy First! class, I’m asking my colleagues whether we should recommend some hosting, and teach everyone how purchase hosting space and create their own blog (as ds106 did last year). Our college’s super computer guy is happy to administer some WPMU blogs for MiraCosta participants,  which is wonderful, but every plugin will have to be approved and updated, and/or faculty will need to be taught how to use their web folder and upload things, a whole different level of web comprehension. They won’t know why they should make the choice between uploading to their web folder and uploading into WP — too many choices is bad for newbies. And, if this year is anything to go by, 75% of participants won’t be from MiraCosta, or won’t want a MiraCosta-controlled blog. We’ll need to  teach them how to not only set up a blog but get a hosting account (likely at Hippie Hosting for $12/year), install WordPress, and then set it up. It’s a year long class, but still…

This was the sort of thing we taught in 1998. Here’s some HTML. Here’s how to ftp. Now have fun. Blog platforms should make it easier, but in their current push toward monetization, they really are adding another layer, something else to be learned, instead of substituting for that back end knowledge. We didn’t whine in 1998 about learning the back end — you had to know some in order to teach online.

Walking away

As for me, I’m creating a new WordPress blog of my own and using Posterous Importer to transfer my ds106 blog. And I’m crawling through those php.ini files trying to fix problems, knowing I cannot expect novices to do that in the fall.

I also know, of course, that you can never really go back….

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