blackboard’s patent

9 08 2006

i’ve been reading through all of the coverage and commentary regarding blackboard’s being granted a patent for elearning processes and methods.   having been amongst the team that drove webct into leadership in the


what’s your opinion?

is blackboard evil?  or just doing good business?  is the patent office to blame?  or is it all just part of the capitalist game?   check out the instant survey at the top of the left sidebar and voice your opinion.  

higher education marketplace, i’ve never had much of a soft spot for
blackboard, nor their business tactics.  and their immediate lawsuit
against a competitor only hardens my heart towards them.

however, i also do believe in looking at issues from all perspectives.  a us corporation has one primary responsibility – to serve the best interests of the companies shareholders.  the only caveat to that prime directive is that they must do so while remaining within the bounds of what is legal.   as well as I know blackboard, they crossed every "t" and dotted every "i" to make sure their filing with the patent board was legal and above board.  cornering a sector of the elearning market with a patent, at least initially, can only be good for the shareholders of blackboard.

every american and every american corporation has the right to file for a patent for something they feel qualifies for protection under the patent laws.  so i have a hard time saying blackboard was wrong for filing.  there are a myiad of companies out there trying to patent pieces of the internet.  (aol granted patent on instant message technology in 2002balthasar online, inc. granted 180 patents in february 2006 related to rich media on the internet,  or landvoyage for mapping technology in july 2006.)  it’s an easy argument to make that if blackboard didn’t grab these patents, a competitor might beat them to the punch and leave their shareholders with a much less valuable company.

as tim o’reilly pointed out in june 2000,  the problem isn’t with the company’s who are filing and winning the patents.  while some may feel that these corporations have a moral or ethical duty to leave these supposed assets in the public domain, in a free economy like ours, that’s just hogwash.  someone is going to claim that patent if it’s claimable. 

the finger has been pointed at the patent office for a very long time now.   why hasn’t that agency moved to reform their standards to deal with the issue of granting nebulous patents that are clearly going to restrict competition?   why, in lieu of the patent office not acting as congress seen fit to stand by and let this continued land grab of technology go unabated over the past decade?  ultimately it is congress’ responsibility to assure that free markets are free, not slowly gobbled up by owners of assets that can’t be easily defined.  and as of a few days ago, orin hatch and patrick lahey have put forward an new proposal to be considered by the senate..

there are a few other potential venues for these patents to be rendered invalid or useless.  the first are the courts.  historically the courts have tended to rule against patents which were too broad in scope (lotus’ suit against microsoft for excel’s violating the "touch and feel" of lotus 123 is an example).  however the courts were indecisive on the blackberry case last year.  leaving their future role in limbo.

the final hope is in the creativity of programmers to out maneuver the patents and render them useless before they can do harm.   aol currently doesn’t have a monopoly on chat applications due to their patent granted in 2002.   this is likely due to new technologies displacing old technologies rendering the patented somewhat harmless.  but this puts a tremendous burden on our ability to invent then reinvent faster and faster.   let along consumers needing to adopt the new technologies, forking out more money each time.

so as much as i’d be happy to see blackboard take a swift pipe to the knees, i have to say, i don’t think their the bad guys this time.   what do you think.  check out the poll in my left sidebar and we’ll see how everyone’s opinions roll up!

the future of media

23 07 2006

this past tuesday i had the opportunity to join some of top media and content names in san francisco for a conference on the future of media that was held concurrently with a similar gathering in sydney, australia.  while troubles with the audio/video link  between the two sites showed why those media aren’t quite yet ready blow text out of the water,  the content of the meeting was tremendous.

in the room in san francisco were chris anderson (wired magazine), john hagel (author), moira gunn (technation), ray kotcher (global ceo of ketchum pr), craig newmark (craigslist), mike linksvayer (cto, creative commons), andy halliday (ceo, ourstory), and david sifry (ceo technorati)

because there was so much covered, I’ll share some in a couple of posts here and some in a couple of posts over at learning circuits blog

the organizing group, future exploration network, put together a rather interesting report on the current state of media and indicators of what the future may hold.  While some were of interest purely to media types (ie, advertising revenues) some were natural cross overs to learning and knowledge management concerns.

the report was published unders a creative commons attribution, share-alike license.  so please note that the following diagrams were created by the future exploration network.  this work is licensed under a creative commons attribution-sharealike 2.5 license.Creative Commons License

a chart from the report that i found interesting broke down the types of content created by americans and australians on the internet. Web Content Creation  about 1/3 of all adult  americans and australians have contributed content to the web in one or more ways.  i think it’s interesting to note that only 8% of american adults have created and posted a blog.  has the blogosphere, at least in america reached it’s peak?  if you analyze the statistics, this means that almost 1 in 10 americans are initiating the blogosphere, another 2 are commenting on blogs and another 2-4 are reading what the others are writing.  seems, if anything, it’s still author heavy.  the last bar seems low when you look at sites like flickr, photobucket, and youtube.  but then again, this data is a bit dated (at least last year)

another of the interesting sets of data was demographic data regarding the age of those who have created content on the web through blog, wikis, their own website or by posting music, photos, and video to sites like flickr or youtube. The common folklore is that the blogosphere is just teenage girls writing their diaries.  well, while 42% of people 18-29 have contributed content to the web, 18% of people 65+ have also contributed content!  With the US baby boomers getting older, you can imagine that number will go up.

finally here is a bit of a shocker. Language of blog posts if, a week ago, someone had asked me how much i would be willing to bet that my answer to the question of what was the dominant language in the blogosphere was correct, i would have put a large sum on my guess of english.  i’d be a much poorer man today if I had done that today.  turns out more blog posts (37%) are written in japanese than either english (31%) or chinese (17%).  with the almost assured explosion of chinese to come, how long will it be before english is in the number three position?

see also:

do you trust me? on Learning Circuits Blog for a summary of the theme regarding trust that arose in the conversations at the conference.

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a leader from around the world

20 07 2006

the headline caught my eye – elearning sector buzzing with activity.   it took me a few seconds to realize that it was from india’s and not a western source.  i found two things very interesting about this interview with vikas joshi, chairman and managing director of harbinger group.  harbinger was named to’s list of top 20 specialized learning process providers. (note: you need a free membership at to view the list.)

the first thing that struck me was that this seems to be pretty big news in india.  hearing the tone of mr. joshi’s comments would the indians are in the elearning business not as a second tier player.  rather they are gunning for world market leadership.  they are hungry and mobillizing!

second, while the following quote include a mangling of kirkpatrick’s name and a twisting of his theory, i found one bit to be quite insightful.  the quote

How do you think the success of e-learning should be measured?

Traditionallydropout or the completion rate has been the measurement tool. If thedrop out rate is close to zero one can measure people’s performance. AsKurk Patrick’s model suggests, one has to look at the following todetermine the success: 

a) Completion rate

b) ROI is an important factor

c) Impact on performance

(before you go giggle about the errors – quick – name, and spell, the full name of the person credited with founding the indian institutes of technology – arguably an equal to mit and oxford and the birthplace of india’s current scientific superiority.)  ok now that we have that silliness out of the way, let me point out mr. joshi’s comment that "if the dropout rate is close to zero one can measure people’s performance."  now it may just be me, but i’ve almost exclusively heard advocates of forgetting about dropout rates in favor of roi analyses or performance measures.  but mr. joshi is correct that unless dropout rates are significantly low, the validity of claiming a learning intervention had any impact on anything is non-existent. 

think about it.  if only 15 of 100 participants complete a learning intervention, but we want to know the impact the course had on the 100, you can see how quickly we’d be shown to be ineffectual in our effort.  if 100 people are targeted for an intervention designed to create the change needed to meet the company’s strategic goals, then we either better be retaining everyone one of those employees until the end of the program AND gaining the improvement required from nearly all  of them or we need to figure out a way to get a bigger pool of learners so that when everyone drops out we’re still left with 100 who have met our goals.

just like our colleagues in the supply chain, all of the slack is being removed from the chain of processes we work with to move the workforce forward.   you know the folks at harbinger group are examining the efficiencies of their processes.  as mr. joshi says,

one needs to understand the business processes for developing a world class product and solution for the industry.

he may not have kirkpatrick’s levels memorized correctly, but he seems to have an answer to winning the race to dominance in elearning dialed in!

(Oh, I almost forgot. The answer to the founder of IIT.  You may have known his last name – Nehru – but I bet there were few if any who knew or could spell his first name.  Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister of India when he called for the formation of universities which would rival MIT.  The seven campuses of IIT are considered to be that today.)


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and you think facilitating at 8am is tough!

30 06 2006

ran across this two part webcast recording at webcast academy – which was linking to them orginal files at   

conversation with albert, part 1 download mp3 ( 56:28, 25.8MB)

conversation with albert, part 2 download mp3 ( 40:58, 18.7MB)   

this astounding webcast features albert – a blind, sufi, self-labeled hippie teacher in a refugee camp in western sahara. the first 8-10 minutes are pretty slow as the show’s hosts help albert with some technical issues. but for the next 90+ minutes, albert paints a picture so stark and so genuine that you can almost feel the sand brushing against your cheek and the desert sun beating against your shoulders.

make no mistake, albert may have alot of things making life nearly horrific by developed world standards, but he is a teacher of the highest caliber. to hear him talk of a female student who overcame the oppression that comes with being born west saharan (10 out of 10 babies born today will be dead by this time next year, Albert tells us), the gender bias that comes from being born into a conservative muslim society, and an education system that usually, at best, teaches hygene and desert survival skills is to hear a teacher proud in the fact that he made a difference in at least one student’s life.

take the time to get to know albert through these webcasts.  It will be two hours you’ll remember for a very long time. 

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my 2006 predictions

6 01 2006

in learning circuits blog, clark aldrich proposes his top 11 trends in elearning. while i agree with many of his ideas, i do disagree on some.  here’s my top 10 list with biggest impact listed first.

1 web 2.0 gains enthusiastic acceptance in learning rss, web services, blogs, wikis and the other "web 2.0" technologies are going to inspire new models for the delivery of learning to more employees – and they’ll not only get it, but they’ll love it.

2 the googlization of learning continues – "googling" is the spearhead of a paradigm shift in the way we construct knowledge and deliver and find information.  this shift by shear nature will continue to impact learning.

3methodology and design are rediscovered – primarily because of the previous two factors, the ability to simply dump content into a technology platform won’t be so simple anymore.  to determine which of the myriad of options available to use will require a return to sold design and the development of new instructional and learning methodologies.   no longer will it suffice to just let the technology determine what we can do.

4the rampant adoption of podcast and like delivery technologies will finally be the tipping point for audio and video to over take text as primary delivery mode for content.

5  blogs and wikis disappear – the functionality and usage of blogs and wikis will begin to be subsummed into other more primary technologies.   socialtext and project management software incorporating wiki technology are two examples of the forward trend.

6open source tools take over lms market – the movement that has begun in higher education will spill over into the corporate marketplace providing one more front for the corporate lms vendors to shore up.

7simulations will continue to gain exceptance – the barriers to acceptance of simulations, and their generally higher price tag, are falling.  simulations will gather momentum at all levels of corporate training.

8 mobile technologies will continue to change delivery options – as personal data appliances become more dependable and extendable, learning professionals will find ways to fulfill the dream of learning any time, any where.

9workflow learning – new enterprise software will enable learning interventions to be placed into the workflow in ways only imagined til now.

10  talent hired for general aptitudes needs training – the war for talent will soon result in companies having to hire the person who demonstrate general aptitudes and then train them to specific job requirements.

creative people of the world unite

20 10 2005

i’ve been doing some work on my personal brand recently and, not surprising, one of the traits listed as a strength for me is creativity.  in the narrative on this strength i’m advised that:

the solutions, ideas, and initiatives that you offer will often be seen by others as unusual, unique, and unexpected. this will probably cause others to frame you as a creative person useful in addressing issues that do not have standard solutions.

it’s crazy, but even their description of this "strength" seems to beg off at the end almost apologizing for saying "you do understand this means you’re going to be seen as one of "those" – a creative person.  well, you do have your health."  bah!  stop the apologies.  ‘…addressing issues that do not have standard solutions?"  if that’s the limit of the domain i have to work in for the rest of my career, i’ll be one busy man.  because more and more of business is requiring non-standard solutions. 

so my fellow creatives out there, grab your copy of florida’s rise of the creative class, keep focused on those issues that do not have standard solutions, and I’ll meet you in the board room, soon.