Last week, I mentioned the principles of the web’s will. I want to spend some time talking about the first of those principles: The web wants to be fed.
What does that principle mean and why is it important? Let’s go high level:
- Do you like the web?
- Is the Internet useful for you?
- Is it as useful, less useful, or more useful for finding information that you want, getting the news you need, exploring new topics, acquiring the latest knowledge, reacquainting yourself with old knowledge as the systems you find in your workplace?
If you find the web as useful as other tools (or more so), how did the web become that way? (BTW: I assume many of us find this whole web thing pretty useful.) Is it because someone paid for it? Is it that it’s highly regulated by some all-knowing presence who determines what you need to know and when? No. It’s useful because the web is a self-regulating platform that everyone can contribute to as they see fit. It eliminates the hierarchy of the enterprise. Bottom line: The web grows and evolves every day because people like you and me feed it.
What does feeding the web content accomplish?
If you need to send somebody something private, just for them, do you make it publicly available on the web? Probably not. But when you write content, upload videos, or give away a service are you thinking about particular individuals or are you contributing content to help your “network(s)” at large?
Feeding the web is about strengthening the network. It’s about making the networks you belong to better, more robust, and current. As a network of content, the web evolves and grows because it stagnates if users fail to feed it. The value in the web isn’t that there’s a hierarchy feeding it content, it is the web’s self-sustaining nature. Everybody can feed it, and through that feeding, it continues to grow and become stronger.
How can we apply these ideas to instructional design?
Before the web evolved into a tool most of us use every day, we were taught to design a very specific item for a very specific group of people, targeted to a very specific skill set. We took what we designed (manuals, handbooks, videos, and eventually CBT) and deployed it as it was designed to do. Our designs rarely had any contribution to the business other than what they were intended. We were part of a network, but we designed for the individual with a specific outcome in mind.
This model is difficult to sustain when people are accustomed to interacting with the evolving web—contributing information and finding content on demand. Our goal should be to design for the connected web, in which its strength lies in its ability to self-regulate and where content contribution feeds an entire network, not just a single specific goal. We need to design content to grow and evolve; otherwise, our singular messages will stagnate.
How can we use the web to create value?
Anyone remember ICQ by Mirabilis? If not, ICQ was an instant messaging program that rose in popularity in the mid-90s. The genius of ICQ was that its value was entirely dependent on whether you shared it. ICQ was conceived from the outset to destroy the economics of value and could only be used if others had it. In a world where value was driven by scarcity, it certainly pioneered a new model where value was dictated by everybody having exactly the same thing. I remember very clearly having discussions with people about how Mirabilis was ever going to make money with something they gave away for free. Mirabilis sold ICQ to AOL in 1998 for 407 million dollars. How’s that for value?
What did ICQ do to create that value? It created a service that strengthened networks—plain and simple. If you're an instructional designer and your job is to create valuable content, think about how you can “ICQ” your content. In other words, how can you design content that is going to help the network evolve? How can you design content that is part of the network?
Before I get to that, let me side step a little bit and talk about creating “e-learning” as a SCORM package sitting on an LMS. Up until very recently LMS systems were standalone units and the courses loaded on to an LMS were standalone courses. Designing a “course” to be loaded onto an LMS goes in the complete opposite direction of why the web is valuable to us. It creates a digital artifact, unplugged from the evolving network (in this case, your organization) and has no viable way of feeding the organization other than through a special doorway called the LMS login. Simultaneously, there are probably intranets exploding with the same content found in those courses where people are unable to find anything—because just like the web, content in organizations is exploding in volume.
What if we found a way to make the company intranet more like the web? What if our corporate intranets, instead of being soulless file folders, became a vibrant, self-sustaining network? What if that network (the intranet) plugged into the externally facing network our clients see (company website), and what if that network were plugged into THE network (the web)? Quite a vision isn’t it?
Now, think about successful apps on the web. They plug into each other and the web. They are able to share and communicate data with one another. Facebook isn’t just Facebook, it’s another window into the larger network and plugs into other apps. Facebook is valuable because people feed it—for free without any interference from a hierarchy.
So how can you ICQ your content? Here are my suggestions on where to start.
- Create materials that help multiple audiences. Who else has content, needs content, or can contribute to the pools of information that already exist. Does your salesforce need product training? Guess what, your marketing department trains your customers on your products all the time. I bet your website has some pretty interesting materials.
- Create materials that have relationships with other resources and content. Let your content be a portal to other content, and allow other content to a portal back to your content. In other words, network your content.
- Allow for contributions back into the content. Content may change or become out of date. In most cases, the first people to know about it will be the people who use those resources. Allowing them to make updates and contributions keeps information current and relevant.
The web isn’t a file directory; the web is a network of relationships. That’s why it’s valuable.