Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Google is all about information--finding it, organizing it, distributing.

Google is part of a worldwide shift that's been taking place for thirty or so years: transfering information is adding up to a lot more than just numbers and files.

Information is becoming networked knoweldge management. It stretches from the way numbers and letters, visual and auditory information are digitized and stored on computers to the way this information is distributed over networks, browsed and shaped for our eyes and ears, understood by users, created and organized collectively, flagged and tagged for usefulness.

By doing everything from making the internet searchable to helping people retouch and organize photos to combining maps with sattellite photos to publishing blogs (like this one) to spearheading an operation to scan public domain books and make them widely available, Google is arguably on the forefront of networked knowledge management today.

Google's focus on managing information opens the way for them to achieve the kind of project piloted by MIT and now being developed by Harvard: open source education.

Right now colleges and universities pay millions to companies like WebCT and Blackboard for prioprietary services that allow teachers to managing and organize their courses. The software is fairly simple--threaded discussion, writing and posting elementary web pages, allowing students to collaborate.

These companies offer nothing so special or so elegant.

And the class sites are doubly proprietary: the whole things are firewalled. It's like having a university surrounded by an electrified fence topped by razor wire. The border between expert knowledge and the public at large is rigidly guarded. (They might as well have barking dogs.)

Google could do it better--and expand the reach of knowledge world-wide in the process.

Google needs to bundle its relevant tools, as well as building others.

They could all live together under a learn.google.com url.

Accredited colleges and universities could use some of the services for free--depending on issues like enrollment, if they're public or private, etc.--esp. on the condition that some of the teaching materials were available to all users.

Yes, it's nice that MIT and Stanford and Berkeley have some course materials and podcasts online.

And yes there are open source software projects like Moodle and the like--but how many people use them? How robust are they? Right now they're all competing for a market largely given over to for-profit companies who could, let's admit it, do a better job.

Who has more computing power?

Who's more on the forefront of making the distribution of information into the actual management of knowledge--from your photos to your calendar to collaborating on documents to mapping the planet?

Who should get behind open source education on the internet?


--E. R. O'Neill

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