Disintegrated thoughts on content integration and remix

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suedzentrale – graffiti I, originally uploaded by NeonCoil.


The following points are somehow connected for me, though I can’t say exactly how.

Via Tony Hirst’s increasingly essential weblog, I learn that Nine Inch Nails will be releasing all tracks on their new album as GarageBand source files. I’ll mute my instinct to bitch about the proprietary format, or make catty remarks why it always seems to be acts in the twilight of their careers that embrace this sort of thing. My primary response is bemusement at how infrequently open content provides source materials alongside finished product, and how infrequently this requirement for sharing is even discussed. Is it less important than I think it is? Or is the point so obvious it doesn’t even merit discussion, just a doleful shake of the head (you know, death, taxes, and frozen content).

Which brings me to Scott Leslie’s post ostensibly about a tool that allows content extraction liberation from BlackBoard. But I’m more interested in the riff that follows [emphasis mine]:

I was willing to develop a powerlink that extracted the entire set of content modules at once in a format that could be used in other systems. Except, much to my chagrin, I learned that WebCT/Blackboard had systematically left out the module export functionality from their API, and there are no plans to ever include it. Meaning there is no programmatic access to export content packages out of WebCT CE6. If you want to move an entire course worth of content, do it one module at a time.

This is probably enough that they can claim to not be playing the content lock-in game, but if I were at an institution that had recently adopted WebCT CE6, I’d be asking what the exit strategy from the product was (you do have one, right? because it won’t be long before you’ll have to have one) and shudder to think it amounts to “we’ll wait until WebCT offers us a good solution.”

Which reminds me of Stephen Downes’s recent post on why the semantic web will fail. Read the post yourself, but my takeaway is that meaningful convergence depends on a set of attitudes that will eventually conflict with corporate imperatives. Maybe it’s in a business’s enlightened self-interest to play nice up to a certain point, but priorities are priorities. In an era where “we have an obligation to our shareholders” is a manager’s Nuremberg defense, I find it hard to disagree with Stephen’s depressing conclusion.

Then I am reminded of a conversation I had at the OER meeting last week with a developer of a very popular and very important open source application. He shared some promising plans for an upcoming overhaul of the code. As an aside, he mentioned that the issue of integration with systems such as Flickr and YouTube had come up, and that technically some cool things were possible, but they were off the table because the core developers did not want to support applications that were themselves not open source.

I’m sympathetic to the logic, but thinking narrowly within my own role I couldn’t help but feel dismayed by this stance. I’m trying to get people rolling using the best tools possible, I do not have the option of ideological purity. I wonder, for instance, how good the online learning video awards would have been had we banned clips hosted on proprietary services such as YouTube, blip.tv, et al

6 thoughts on “Disintegrated thoughts on content integration and remix

  1. Great post.

    Blackboard’s aggressive lock-in strategies are going to isolate it more and more. I hope. There’s room in this world for both open-source and proprietary tools. The ethical question, to my mind, is whether the product is designed to block perfectly reasonable user expectations and needs–such as exit strategies, or the ability to look at database structures to recover data after hardware meltdowns, or APIs that foster genuine sharing and innovation.

    Blackboard is trying very, very hard to achieve lock-in via their “vision” of the digital campus, where they’re your one-stop-shop for everything from meal card transactions to assessment and institutional metrics. A dismal vision indeed.

  2. At the risk of being written off as a pollyanna, I remain optimistic that some clever entrepreneur will recognize the value in open source tools and figure out a way to make money supporting open source. At least that’s what my fortune cookie suggested today.

  3. Steve — I hope you are right. But it seems all too common for companies to play nice at first, and then clamp down. Remember when Apple was all about “Rip Mix Burn” and thinking different? Then the iPod got dominant marketshare…

    I would LOVE to be wrong in my fears.

  4. Ridiculous logic re: the open source developers. To be useful, an application has to meet the needs of its users, not adhere to an abstract set of what are essentially political principles.

    We’ve commissioned a plugin for Elgg that will allow much easier import of videos from Youtube, Google Video etc – and more integrations like this should follow. People are using these sites, and although I agree that we shouldn’t tie into one or two specific providers, we need to address those needs.

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