Future of FLOSSE: Interview with Stephen Downes – Part 2

"The greatest non-technical issue is the mindset. We have to view information as a flow rather than as a thing. Online learning is a flow. It’s like electricity or water. It’s there, it’s available and it flows. It’s not stuff you collect. I don’t see myself sitting in my home collecting jars of water. I use the water as it comes. If you think the internet as an environment that is moving and shaping all around you, then you will have a better attitude to be able to handle the flood of information that is coming at you"

Listen 2nd part (MP3) – 29min – 13,4Mb

This is the second part of the interview with Stephen Downes. It continues right from where the first part ended. You might want to start from there. This time Stephen brings us great insight in the importance of open content and Open Source in education.

Stephen talks about communities and what is actually a community and what kinds of communities people belong to. The internet allows people to pick very specific communities by topic out there. Communities are not anymore tied to a place but are more like networks, clusters and clouds.

Downes masterly compares the decline of traditional local news paper business to educational publishers and how educational institutions could turn their wave from buying content to creating content by taking a couple of radical steps. First of all they should make their resources freely available and secondly, stop paying for publishers of journals, books and online course packages. The resources freed by these actions could be channeled to teachers to help them create the same content and release their stuff  freely.

He argues that with FLOSS, the main benefit is not cost but customization and gives a couple of examples why. Customization could enable shared knowledge construction among students. The educational institutions should choose a simple Open Source core of content or software and start customizing it to their needs. Open Source is what makes it possible for a student to change the parameters of her/his own education.

The general concepts that will rule are things that are distributed, decentralized, open and serve the individual need.

Some questions asked in the interview:

  • Is community the primary unit of learning?
  • Open content?
  • Problems with adoption of open content?
  • What problems we have to overcome in open content in education?
  • Open source in education?
  • Winners and loosers?
  • Non-technical issues to solve?

"We have this picture of a community that’s comes from people like Edgian Wenger, John Hagel III and Arthur G. Armstrong, that community is some sort of discreet entity, like a pre-Wittgensteinian definition where you have clear boundaries and you know whether or not you are in a community. But the concept of community that evolves out the capacity to exercise choise in joining or not joining a community now becomes fuzzy, it becomes something like a family resemblence. A community just becomes a vaguely defined cloud of clustered interactions that emerge from the center of individual actions. We have folksonomies, so we’ll have folksmunities"

"Read more" to see the extracted future events and analysis.

Future events

Here is a list of
fictional future events extracted from the interview with Stephen Downes.
If you want to comment or have additional future events to present
based on the interview, please do so.

Disclaimer: The
future events were constructed from the ideas presented in the
interview and do not represent the ideas of the interviewee. No crystal
ball or time machines were used in the construction of these events.
Bear in mind, it’s the future and everything is possible.

Year 2005

People reach far for communities of interest

New kinds of communities form around rare topics of interest. This is
possible because the internet enables fragmented groups of individuals
to find each other online. More socially oriented people find each
other in chat rooms, dating services and social networking

Circulation rates for news papers are in free fall

The circulation rate is dropping dramatically in the 18-30 reader
group. This is because the same information is available online in more
polished and complete form through services like WikiNews. News papers
are loosing significant revenues in advertisement due to services like
Greg’s list and Google’s long tail targeted advertisement business.

Collaborative filtering and social reputation systems spread

Online communities that utilize community data improve business. For
example, collaborative filtering based on user recommendations enables
people to find products and information they might be interested in
based on their purchasing and community habits. Many of these products
reside in the so called Long Tail as users discover the Long Tail.
Social reputation systems are used to create a sense of trust between

Year 2006

Communities based on networks form

Traditionally a community was a place just like a neigbourhood or an
internet website. After the introduction of open architectures and
standards, people start to form communities that are evenly distributed
all around the world. The blogosphere is only one example of various
network based communities already out there.

Large university releases freely available educational content

Following the example of MIT OpenCourseWare, certain larger
universities has opened up their treasure chests. A couple of new
repositories of free educational material increase the availability of
free resources to educators. The release is also done as a marketing
act, resulting in buzz in the media who view these acts mainly as

Open content publishing gets harder

There are a lot of open content resources for educators available. The
problem is that most educational institutions require a certain book
when a course starts. The teachers based on old practices still require
something in printed form. Publishers of course refuse to publish your
open content unless they own it and in that case, they want a different
license. Only a couple of publishers of open content exist, not enough
to satisfy the demand.

Software customization reason for the switch to FLOSS

It’s not a question of cost but a question of what you can do with it.
Educators are tired of using LMS systems that do not provide everything
they want. Now they have realized that it’s impossible to find a
software that does everything out-of-the-box. Because of FLOSS like
Firefox they have noticed that there is only need for a simple core
that could be extended with small modules or software pieces. Students
and teachers can even program new features to satisfy their needs on
need basis.

Customer communities emerge

recent research article noticed that services like eBay and Amazon
thrive because they enable customer communities. In these communities
the product is not what is important but what people have to say about
them. Reviews and comments are considered by 80% as the reason for
their purchase of a certain item. Social reputation is built into these
system and customers are even sometimes integrated in the value chain
in role of service providers.

Year 2007

RIAA sues people who listen to free music

RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has gone after people
who listen to free music. They try to create an example that also open
content based music is bad. They lack proof and mainly refer to use of
commercial samples. This is a bloody mess, looking like the former case
about SCO accusing Linux for containing their unlicensed source code.

Divine between an open and a closed society fundamentally important

The advocates of open society rises as a result of FLOSS and open
content communities. Those who favour a more closed society where only a
few privileged people can say what they want clashes with the new
culture. The distribution varies from country to country. The problem
is hardest in countries like Iran, where people fight for their freedom
of speech with anonymous blogs and other tools.

Cost associated in publishing open content too high

It is really hard to publish a free resource. The cost associated with
publishing open content is high because publishers want to own the
copyright before they publish. Online learning object repositories
which are tightly connected to proprietary LMS systems also provide a
cost in releasing a free resource. The bar is set too high and as a
result teachers do not bother to develop open content.

Customer satisfaction linked to collaborative toolsets

as a key factor to their success several businesses have picked
customer facing collaborative toolsets, customer support and improved
interaction of their services. Those who have invested most in such
services have the largest user base, directly linked to more sales and
better customer satisfaction.

Year 2008

Publishers talk about piracy

Many publishers talk about piracy and how teachers are stealing their
content. Some teachers have releasing mixed versions of commercial
content under open content licenses and presenting the content as their
own. These are only a few cases but this scares off some of the
teachers and some try to avoid open content as suspicious.

Publishers fight open content and educators face no alternative

Institutions are having difficult time being able to afford things like
journal articles, course text books, online learning packages because
publishers are increasingly selling these in bundles or subscription
packages. The mechanism they use is to make it so difficult for an
individual to publish that the only selection that a college or
university has is from the commercial offerings of these publishers.

Customization companies and communities emerge

Previously customization information was only available from the
software vendors as sparse technical documentation. Now when we have
open interfaces, web services and multi purpose modules, people have
started companies and formed new kind of communities which exchange
ideas and show off their customized environments. Sites dedicated to
open LMS integration and customization have also emerged.

Year 2009

Smaller institutions stop paying for publishers

Some smaller and quicker educational institutions have been able to
switch from buying content to creating content. By cancelling journal,
book and online course package purchases, these institutions have freed
up a lot of money in their budget. This money is used to pay teachers
to create and publish open content. They now have the same amount of
material at the cost of a fraction.

FLOSS covers most platform implementations

FLOSS has been highly successful especially in platform technologies.
Several vendors have opened their core platforms and create commercial
value-added services on top of them. Platforms like Plone get better
and better, because more and more businesses and people rely on the
capabilities that enable them to skip the platform stack in software
development completely.

Year 2010

Publishers’ fortunes decline

The tipping point has been crossed as the capacity to produce and
distribute educational resources by individuals has increased. Some
publishers of educational content have gone bankrupt after open content
and less content-intensive teaching methods like collaborative learning
did the same for their business as what blogging and online content did
to local news papers.

Role of professional journalism changes

Professional journalists are not anymore the unique sole producers of
the information. Their role has changed. Those who have been able to
keep their job have become more like simulators, editors and organizers
who put this openly available information in context and evaluates it,
waves it and helps the general public to participate in.

Decentralization the key for business

Skype, blogosphere, Flickr, wikisphere and others have shown that
decentralization is key to scalable business and information systems.
Those that have taken a more decentralized approach where content is
not available only from a single place and those who benefit from open
P2P application networks have generally win over competitors with more
centralized approaches.

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