The old Victorian book with a bit of modern web markup ;-)

The old Victorian book with a bit of modern web markup ;-)

Yesterday I had fun with a keynote presentation for the eLearning Consortium of Colorado 2014 Conference. This was the 25th annual conference for this rather impressive, under-the-radar collaborative organization, that has been networking and sharing for 25 years.

You can find all the presentation resources at

and my own audio recording (thanks Audacity!)

When asked to speak by colleague Alice Bedard-Vorhees my first neural association was that this organizations first conference was held a month after Tim Berners Lee submitted a proposal to CERN to develop was we call “da web”.

I began with the throwback to 1989, starting with of course myself, a mop-headed geology graduate student at Arizona State University who had no clue about instructional technology, or really the internet.

That is not quite true. I had used some email on a mainframe in my days as an un-inspired computer science major at the University of Delaware. And as a grad student at ASU, I had a BITNET email address AGAHL@ASU. Some of my colleagues did research for NASA, and they were on a different network. I remember the fascination of doing my work on Landsat satellite data on a VAX terminal in the basement of F-Wing, and being able to converse with my pal David on the 6th floor, who was on the NASA network. And for a while I helped professor Jon Fink as admin to a listserv for Volcano researchers. The commands for LISTSERV then have not changed at all.

US and Russia,s tills eeking that elusive peace

US and Russia,s tills eeking that elusive peace

I alluded to other events, had some fun with the Dec 1989 Malta Summit between Bush Sr and Gorbachev, and them declaration that the Cold War was over. Yeah, here we are in 2014 with peace brewing between the US and Russia. Other references included the Bay Area Loma Prieta Earthquake, and in sports that the Forty Niners won the Super Bowl (I accidentally said Giants and got properly corrected), and the Giants made it to the World Series, losing to Oakland. There was mention of pop culture- the publication of Joy Luck Club, Don’t Worry be Happy as the Grammy award winning song, and Rain Man taking the Oscar.

Then it was on to the fragments I could find on the web (that is important, that I can find them now) for the original organization called TELECOOP, including a blog for their 2005 conference started not by the conference organizers, but an attendee on known as Kathy. This to is significant that an individual did something to leave tracks in the web, and as it turns out, Kathy was in the front row. I shook her hand.

I harkened back to story I have used before, lifted from Steven L Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From, was how a bow growing up in England, the child of academics, was fascinated by a Victorian era book of factual information, Enquire Within Upon Everything, described as a “magic portal to the world of information”

I noted the structure of every paragraph having a unique identifier (In Enquire it was a number) that you found in the index — so it was an 19th century version of hypertext. And then there was some fun scanning the entries in the D section for Apparent, from Drink, Treatment for:

1336. Apparent Death from Drunkenness
Raise the head, loosen the clothes, maintain warmth of surface, and give a mustard emetic as soon as the person can swallow.

and how the adjacency of other entries might lead one to explore 1335. Death from Hanging (which involved leeches) or 1337. Apoplexy and Fits Generally.

The index of possible topics reminded me a bit of what we can find now in YouTube


“Whether You Wish to Model a Flower in Wax;
to Study the Rules of Etiquette;
to Serve a Relish for Breakfast or Supper;
to Plan a Dinner for a Large Party or a Small One;
to Cure a Headache;
to Make a Will;
to Get Married;
to Bury a Relative;
Whatever You May Wish to Do, Make, or to Enjoy,
Provided Your Desire has Relation to the Necessities of Domestic Life,
I Hope You will not Fail to ‘Enquire Within.'”””Editor.

(the only thing I had trouble finding videos for was How to Bury a Relative)

Lee’s first effort to organize what was a disparate, unconnected realm of information at the research lab CERN led him to build a system in the 1980s he did call “Enquire” — this quote from The Design Museum

He set about developing a software programme to address this by enabling computers to make ““ and to store ““ random associations between disparate pieces of information. Berners-Lee wrote the first such programme, Enquire ““ full name Enquire-Within-Upon-Everything ““ in 1980 while working at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva. Intended only for his private use, he never published Enquire, but continued to develop similar programmes throughout the 1980s.

After returning to CERN in 1984, Berners-Lee was encouraged to continue his experiments by his manager Mike Sendall, who ordered the software and hardware he needed to do so. CERN was then the largest internet node in Europe, and Berners-Lee worked on ways of combining the internet and hypertext. In 1989 he published a paper entitled Information Management: A Proposal and started work on the development of the first web browser and editor. Named the WorlDwidEweb, the result of his research was a global hypertext project designed to enable people to work together by exchanging and combining knowledge in a web of hypertext documents.

There is a huge bit of significance in that at the copy of this proposal you can still find online (Ahem, this is important), the scanned copy of the original paper with the commentary of Berners-Lee’s boss:

Note the comment from Berners-Lee's boss, Mike Sendall "Vague, but Exciting"

Note the comment from Berners-Lee’s boss, Mike Sendall “Vague, but Exciting”

Can you imagine a world where the review was “Vague and not worth pursuing”?? The internet left to the realm of AOL and CompuServe?

The idea for the web was:

The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information

A “space in which we communicate by sharing information” is core to me. That is foreshadowing of what I get to later.

The important ideas the Berners-Lee frames as part of his original vision of the web (written in 1998) were also worth highlighting (emphasis mine).

Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished.

That is all links are created equal (Network Neutrality aside). More than that, web links could be just connect our own information internally, or from someones else we worked/studied with, but also a stranger from around the world.

This is huge. It still is. This might have not happened.

But also important is that information on the web could be “draft or highly polished” — this gets to what I also cite as important that in many fields, especially education, we put so much emphasis on the final highly polished product and not the draft, or the ideas that came first.

The next part of Berners-Lee’s vision I would argue is mostly true now (access to the web aside)

There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize.

A “realistic” mirror is not an exact one, not a perfect one. But that the web might be more than a way to connect scientific information, and all the ways we use the web know he may have never foreseen, was truly a vision.

And finally, this is the question of when or if we will every get to:

That was that once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyse it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together.

Having this sharing of information online could be used to make sense of what we are doing (oh THATS what the NSA is doing, snicker) but also see how the vision is based on the role of individuals, and a very Engelbartian goal of “how we can better work together.”

Just to use one of many examples, I pulled one I got from Alec Couros Reddit makes a picture for Dexter.

Then was a shift to talking about my early days at Maricopa, using resources like the Info-Mac, starting to share resources within Maricopa via the local Apple file server, extending to using Gopher for PCs, and the sky opening moment of discovering Mosaic


I then told three of my own Stories of Open Sharing- I wont detail them again, but there are some key things I noted at the end:

The web can be ephemeral, if you leave it others to manage for you.

I then did snippets of four Stories of Open Sharing:

And the seed sharing story from Jason was the setup- I offered a packet of seeds to anyone who would stand up and tell a story.

creative commons licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

I did get some new stories (not added yet) and just gave the rest away.

This audience was super participatory! And people came up all afternoon, telling me even more stories.

And yet, there is a reluctance, and it is one I remembered capturing from the time I did this talk for ETMOOC, and I asked people to put on the screen the barriers


It is the shut down of sharing language of “I am not worthy” that keeps people from doing this. And thus keeps us from

a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. I am not crying on my cereal because you did not share my story…

    I plan to build my own presentation around your barrier slide, if I may. One I am doing later in the year for the Higher Education Academy. The reluctance you mention is definitely there and making changes is about changing deep psychological patters as much as about learning about the technology and changing an educational system that rewards academics for individual ownership rather than open sharing.

    It is complicated.

    Your stories of open are a huge contribution to this domain – if we can point to these when trying to convince colleagues to engage, at least they cannot say ‘it will never happen’. It becomes clear, that it is not happening for them, the organisation, because of their fears – but it is happening for those who are willing to live with the uncertainty of open.

    Once again the joy you find on ‘da web’ comes through in each word. It is really heartening to read.

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