Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hosting communities and trust

Further to Stephen Downe's discussion on trust and communities. Eduspaces, a free elgg powered community space managed and hosted by two entrepreneurs (Ben and Dave), fostered an active environment of educators discussing the use of and demonstrating the use of educational technologies. Eduspaces is being used by faculty, individuals and institutions for a variety of purposes - learning delivery, research space and respository, personal blogging, community creation, resource sharing, touchstone for learning, community of practice.

Now, seemingly out of the blue, the site is going down in mid January and folks are being advised to port their data elsewhere. Understandably, criticism has followed the surprise of this announcemnt. It is untimely. It is abrupt. It is unexpected. But is it a callous disregard for those who have invested data and time into developing their own spaces in Eduspaces? Have Ben and Dave, as Graham Attwell suggests, broken a bond of trust - a necessary component for community building - and impacted on the future acceptance and adoption of social software environments?

But it is always risky to have your activities housed on an external host. Eduspaces was a free service, hosted and moderated (without compensation) by two individuals interested in the advancement of free, open source software for use by the educational community, we should be a little thankful.

Many schools and faculty are making use of proprietary web services - like Facebook. If it should shut down I doubt there would be much chance of retrieving data. Were Dave and Ben great communicators? That's debatable. Were they funded and supported by those who benefitied from the use of Elgg and eduspaces? Hmm? No. And Elgg isn't suffering as an environment simply because Eduspaces is shutting down. Heck, even if Elgg shuts down we will continue to use the elgg installations we have on our server, and we will continue to add functions as required. Dave and Ben have established a platform, and made it available for personal customization. They have also left a legacy by contributing to the demise of proprietary learning and content mgmt systems and adding social components to authentic, reflective learning, and the creation and development of learning communities that thrive within and without and beyond the confines of program length and institutional membership. Lifelong, lifewide learning and the integration of formal and informal learning is now a true possibility thanks to advances like Elgg.

I agree that their actions are rushed, and they didn't 'discuss" with the community. And the optics aren't good - especially since eduspaces was a demonstration site of Elgg - Elgg may suffer as a result.

But the real question, as Graham rightly points out is that there was no organization to the comunity. We talk about organic development of free and open learning space like elgg, (eg. eduspaces) yet we often don't put an organizational framework around it (not management framework). What are the roles and responsibilities of site managment, moderation and of community members?

What the actions of Dave and Ben have demonstrated is that organic growth should not mean a hands off laissez-faire approach to community development. Organic Communities need cultivation. Trust must be earned , but it cannot be assumed. We trusted that Eduspaces would always be there for us, even if we as part of that community never contributed to its management. perhaps dave and Ben never saw eduspaces as their community - it was ours. maybe we are the ones who never established trust. Inevitably, all things come to an end. Even free, open, organic spaces.

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