Actions speak much more clearly than definitions. It was D’Arcy at the UBC Social Software Salon who described it something like being removing or downplaying the “software” portion of online social interaction.

Whatever your way of describing what “social software” is how, submitted below is a nice example of the informal way the web, blogs, maybe even RSS play a role in collectively building something in a way not previously possible.

At the 2006 Northern Voice Conference, I got an early seat for Nancy White’s session on Seven Competencies of Online Interaction (I very much liked the discussion approach she had organized for the Mossecamp session the day before).

Brian Lamb convened the session with a quick intro, and someone asked if it was being recorded, and there was no answer. Since I had in my bag my handy little iRiver MP3 recorded, I quickly fished it out, and started recording. Placement was tricky as the internal mike tends to pick up noise, at first it was on the floor under Brian’s chair, and then we moved it to the table edge near where Nancy was speaking, hoping there would not be too much fan noise from the projector.

It was a fabulous session if you were there. Typically at a conference, the session ends when it is over, and if you were not there, at best you may get someone’s blogged notes or perhaps a fat PowerPoint to download. I have yet to download a presentation file from a session I did not attend and get more than maybe a URL from the download. A presentation file is not a presentation experience.

Since the next sessions were of lesser interest, I decided to get the audio quickly posted- doing a bit of quick and dirty Audacity editing (fade in and fade out, plus a bit of levels adjustment), uploaded the 24 Mb MP3, and posted it to my blog. (see Nancy “Snow” White: Seven Competencies of Online Interaction).

The day after my audio was blogged, Beverly Trayner writing from Setubal, Portugal, posted her own “selective” notes and commentary from the audio file, providing a concise set of highlights from the session.

In less than 36 hours, from Seattle (?) Nancy herself posted the images form her slides, not as the big old fat PPT, but cleverly by creating a photo set on flickr.

In the next 24 hours, Nick Noakes, likely following the blog activity via RSS from Hong Kong, grabbed the images, downloaded the audio, and combined them into a synchonized Windows Media file (112 Mb!) he posted on the Internet Archive (see

Doesn’t this set of unplanned, network-enabled collaborations add so much more valuable context to the experience? Let’s follow the geographic trail- starting from a session presented and recorded in Vancouver BC, audio loaded to a blog in Arizona, images uploaded from Seattle, a movie produced from Hong Kong, and a distilled session summary from Portugal!

None of this was done via any snazzy, über-cool-logo IPO seeking Web 2.0 software. It would not happen inside a singular, expensive, closed wall enterprise-ware application. None of it was designed, planned, or directed. It just happened, almost in its own?, as do many meaningful social interactions. ‘Social Software’ has less to do with software than the internet protocols that allow it, and everything to do with the “social” end of it.

Featured Image:

Spontaneous Connections flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

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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. Pingback: Abject Learning
  2. A minor correction Alan … the wmv file is 122MB, not 1112MB – 122 is scary enough for me. I need to learn to use the smaller size images of flickr so this can be a lot smaller. I was wondering how to mash in Bev’s notes too – any ideas?

    I guess really there is some software involved though … RSS, blogs, flickr, MovieMaker/iMovie, Audacity (?)

  3. My bad typing Nick. Sorry.

    In QuickTime you can add a caption track, not sure if that would get what you are after. I’ve not been in a place with bandwidth to download, so my first thoughts would be reducing the dimensions of the movie.

    But I would think pure dgitial video is a bit wasterful as nothing changes between frames. What you need is a tool to create a slide show synchronized with audio. It’s likely the new version of Garage Band might be able to render it as an ehanced podcast, or maybe something like Camtasia… I did one of these a few years back when I had access to Macromedia Breeze, and it came out at a respectably svelte size. And streams as flash.

  4. No doubt exciting stuff, Alan. Such an unplanned cooperative work clearly shows the power and potential in the connected world that is quickly expanding into every corner of the globe. However, I have to wonder how do we convince the average professor who hasn’t moved much beyond powerpoint being a glorified outlining tool that such feats of internet wizardry really are as difficult as they might at first seem? How do we get a corporate line manager who has never built a chart based on an excel speradsheet into a Word document to grasp the concept of small pieces loosely joined?

    As much as I enjoy playing with all the new toys from the daily Web 2.0 assembly belt, we need to figure out how to bring the “normal” people along so that they can share the giddiness we geeks and semi-geeks get at seeing a new mash-up come out of private beta.

  5. If I had the answer, Dave, I think I’d be retired and living on my recently purchased South Pacific Island, sipping umbrella drinks on my private beach front.

    It’s the epic problem that defies singular or simple solutions. Some things we tend to do wrong (myself included) is:

    * assume the technology itself is exciting enough to bring them over the barrier
    * try and persuade them with a firehouse of stuff, when a smaller concentrated dose is better (I wrote of this recently (
    * despite the volume of information on differences between innovators and main stream teachnology users, we use the approaches that appeal to the innovators.
    * approach the task via a workshop mentality- it ends up being a short intensive burst of learning that has little stick. We do not do as much scaffolding, follow-up, creating mentorships, etc to make it more as on going learning.

    Above all where we miss the mark is making this stuff immediately relevant and important to the people you describe. We cloud them with “coolness” and un-necessary details. Let me repeat– the stuff we share needs to have immediate use and applicability in the work they do (or subjects they teach) not in its entirety, but enough to help them make their own leap to adoption.

    That is why I am most in favor of using flickr as a platform for Social Software / web 2.0 stuff. I have yet to see an audience not grasp their own interest and need to do interesting things with photos. That is the hook. If you throw a blog or wiki at them, there is little they can draw on to relate and make it personal, but pictures of cute puppies, sports cars, the Grand Canyon… it’s a hit.

    Now where is my mai tai?

  6. Alan,

    This is a great summary–thanks for posting it. I’m not sure most faculty will grasp the possibilities here, but I could see a group of students using similar tools to remix a lecture or series of lectures. If the students in a big lecture class had access to a sound track, their personal photos, maybe some video, their personal notes and the instructor’s PowerPoint, they could go way beyond the current state of the art in CourseCasting. They’d learn a tremendous amount from an evolutionary process like the one you describe and their product could come much closer to capturing the “presentation experience” that goes beyond a MP3 or set of PowerPoint slides, and this demonstrates how quickly it can happen.

    Incoproating this into a traditional class wouldn’t exactly mirror the unplanned, spontaneous process that is so exhilarating here, but it could enhance the lectures which are still such a significant part of most of our curricula.

  7. but, if students are able to collaboratively remix materials together into a compelling experience, they won’t come to class! Who’s going to sit through a 50-minute lecture if they can do this?

  8. Alan … thanks for the summary and I’m as excited as you about how it all happened!

    In addition to your descriptions of it as “unplanned, network-enabled collaborations” and what you say here:

    “None of it was designed, planned, or directed. It just happened, almost in its own?, as do many meaningful social interactions. ‘Social Software’ has less to do with software than the internet protocols that allow it, and everything to do with the “social” end of it.”

    It ALSO happened as a result of the reputation Nancy has built up over the years and the network and modeling she has done. It didn’t just happen “por acaso” (as they say in Portuguese) it has a social history too.

  9. D’Arcy- Not me, I’d skip class… this speaks to the issue of how those 50 minutes of face to face time are used. If it is primarily teacher generated solo transmissions then it ought to be offloaded to another media. This strategy need not be only for lectures, but maybe projects, research, service learning…

    Beverly- Excellent point. The social network fabric is also built upon a layer of trust and reputation, all things which are socially earned thorugh action, again which ahs nothing to do with software or technobabble acronyms.

  10. Now that I have no job, I’ve decided I want your job. Isn’t a shame that more people aren’t open to serendipty? I really like when you remind me of that, and this post is a great example. And, btw, this is my first comment using co-comment, if I remember to click the button, of course…

  11. I want to add to what Bev said about relationship. This ended up being an intersection between two creative and energetic communities – Alan, your edublogging community (which has influenced me but till recently I had not publicly stated it!) and the community Bev, Nick and I are in that focuses a lot on communities of practice and situated learning outside of formal learning organizations.

    In our community, we have developed this sort of social note taking practice on telephone calls and in F2F. Bev extended it thanks to your recording. Nick has been helping our community see more possibilities around sound and video and has been experimenting there in ways we haven’t caught up. So he added that practice into the mix. I didn’t know how to effectively offer the slides, but asked for ideas on my blog and gotten the suggestion to do the jpgs, plus I had recently seen some of the cool flickr stuff y’all had been doing.

    This is the community and the wider network at play. I know I would never had found and learned all the tools to put it all together. But I could bring a piece.

    Do you think professors would be more willing to play here in this sandbox if they knew they didn’t have to do it all? Would they be comfortable letting others contribute? Would they take a community perspective?

  12. Thanks to you Alan and Bev, Nick – and of course, Nancy – this is the first time I actually got so much from not being at a conference. I wonder if anyone would attend conferences anymore if this social notetaking approach was the standard — And, I wonder about the answer to Alan’s question about the issue of how those 50 minutes of face to face time would be used differently?

    P.S. Alan, thanks for the pointer to GreaseMonkey –

  13. Nancy,

    I am not even sure if I could name the specific community I reside in- many of it is educators, but I swirl in and out of others. In, at a discussion at the meeting I was at tonight, we had a rich discussion of the notion of the various online places we participate iin as providing a multitude of “presences” that are virtual, and the practice of moving from the real to the virtual and back.

    The only way I can characterize my community is it is a place I can both give and take in terms of knowledge, skills, expertise, and where I can move in and out of as time allows w/o reprecussion.

    That said, I am rather impressed, jealous, envious, if your normal communtiy of practice regularly engages in such rich constructive exchanges. On the other hand, my sets of skills are always evolving (or decaying) as I learn more by tapping into my remote network, a rather startling shift of embracing my own ignorance (expertise is over-rated) and bathing in what others share.

    I cannot claim to speak of instructors (I avoid the word “professors” as it implies only University level). I think it is a huge monumental leap to move from the standard position of being the transmissive source of all knowledge, and giving up that mantle of expertise. This is a gross generalization, as there are plenty I know first hand at Maricopa that can do this and do truly take a community perespective. But over-all there is alot of F-E-A-R out there, fear of being obsolete, fear of not being in control, free of not mastering- hence all the talk and fuss about the “Net Generation” and polarizing people by classifying them as “digital natives” vs “digital immigrants” (it counds cute but creates a false dichotomy).

    I don’t know if I have really answered anything, just more out loud thinking. I like the reach, extent of this loosely joined thngs that might be communities, but misght also be more ephemeral microcommunities (You, Nick, Bev and i may never collaborate again, but that’s okay).

    See you “out there”.

  14. Beth,

    Thanks for sharing your experience, and how we’ve crossed paths in the comment space of perhaps 4 different blogs since Northern Voice– I am fascinated by the development of such informal networks.

    As far as the future of conferences, I might just say that the face to face time for most events needs major reconfiguration away from the lecture mode– and move more into the discussion type exchanges that were there for maybe 15=20% of Northern Voice. There is a lot of value in that as well as the build-ons that you witnessed.

  15. Ditto on the empheral microcommunities.

    I’d like to throw in a bit about this. There are people that are the catalysts to these micro communities. People like Nick, Bev, Beth, you — who take the time to reach out and lightly connect the dots.

    So while the technologies are making some paths for us, or breadcrumb trails, it is the practice of pursuing them that creates the magic.

    From an educational institutional perspective, that is not an attitude I run in to all the time. But when I do, it is always associated with a magical learning experience.

    Are we cultivating the right talents?

  16. Perhaps there is a Malcolm Gladwell Tipping Point term for them (connectors? augmenters?). While they see and live in the magic of the bread cumb spreading, we still hear of those who desire it all to be neatly stacked in some fixed organized threaded discussion, more like the attitude you typically hear more about.

    Talents may only be cultivated via experience and tasting examples. Or just by trying. I would not suggest everyone needs to be adding to the mix, or recasting things written elsewhere– there are small ways to chip in merely by a comment, a question, or just the effort of seeking the crumb path.

    What was descibed here as somewhat remarkable and strange may mutate more to a norm (?). It sure fits in the pocket of what experts know about brain science, engagement, and active learning.

    Then again, maybe bread is bad for crumbs- how about chocolate?

  17. Chocolate will only ensure I’ll follow whomever is making the trail…

    BTW, I guess I should confess, I also like neatly stacked discussion tools! Does that make me a freak? (No no no, don’t answer that! We know the answer.)


  18. No freak at all.. I tried to avoid dichotomies.

    I favor both neatly stacked and horribly disheveled discussions, as long as the conversation is good (I spent fomrative internet years in the earyl 1990s on many listservs). There are times and places for both.

    PS- I am diabetic, so please need some sugar free goodies

  19. Sugar free virtual chocolate, coming your way.

    I’m happy to read you favor both the ordered and the unordered. Me too. What I’m still trying to figure out is now to negotiate this with individuals and groups so that the most useful option is applied in any given situation. Or emerges. Or something like that.

    It is like the evolution of practices and software… bumping along with each other, sometimes dancing in synch. Other times… well, you know what kind of hell that is!

  20. I’m joining this conversation a little late. But, I can’t resist an opportunity to air my observation. While the process of collaboration described above is interesting and very creative, I don’t know if it’s for everyone. Not everyone shares this level of understanding of the tools available, or the ability to implement them successfully. As Alan said: “None of this was done via any snazzy, über-cool-logo IPO seeking Web 2.0 software.”
    While I appreciate the guerilla perspective (no offense intended), I also think there is much benefit in online collaboration that expands on the capabilities the group seems so excited about.
    My guess: the future of collaboration and mutual development of multimedia content for educational purposes is in the early stages of all out revolution. The results will make all who work collaboratively at a distance much more efficient and more successful in bringing their thoughts into a tangible form. I suggest a visit to to understand this new capability for collaboration, communication and connectivism.

  21. Thanks for stopping by, Chas.

    While the process of collaboration described above is interesting and very creative, I don’t know if it’s for everyone.

    I fail to see where this claim was made. In fact, it is pure folly and closer to a lie for anyone to claim there is “one best” way to do X via the net, or for that matter anything.

    I’ve heard about this so-called revolution in collaboration ever since I started in this field, and to be honest, have really failed to see any single trechnology or product be truly revolutionary iin collaboration ** on its own **. To me, the true revolution has been the open, and informal collaboration that happens at all sizes and scales and obscure niches across web-space, that is not tied to any one thing, but is driven by the people.

    I’m all for new tools and enablers, but for way way way way too long in this field we have put too much focus on the tools an not the craft.

    What I described is available to anyone, anyplace, without any cost or having to provide contact information to learn more about it.

    Again, it is high time to promote the practive, the art, the craft of collaboration, not the hammers and power tools.

    But that’s just my opinion which is just that.

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