Principles 2.0

As part of the ‘BBC 2.0’ project, the BBC have come up with Fifteen Web Principles, according to Tom Loosemore’s blog. John Naughton observes that “Like all great ideas, they’re pretty obvious — once someone else has thought of them.”

They’re good stuff, and fairly obvious, but not, of course, out of the blue – it looks like a hybrid of previously-stated usability principles and Web 2.0 ones. Which is of course what you’d want.

There’s one I don’t entirely buy:

7. Any website is only as good as its worst page: Ensure best practice editorial processes are adopted and adhered to.

That looks much more old-school BBC than Web 2.0 to me. This is, of course, entirely true of content that centrally-managed and presented. But when you’re going for something more open and user-created, you have to live with the fact that some of the stuff there is going to be, frankly, rubbish. Indeed, I’d bet that you’ll have a power-law distribution of quality: a small number of outstanding items, and a very long tail of what looks like dross. Except, of course, a small number of people might find some value in a given individual item … and if your infrastructure works right, you multiply this small value by the much larger number of items and get greater value there than up the other end of the distribution.

One of my current projects is revamping the OU’s Knowledge Network. This is a knowledge-sharing site for expertise about teaching and learning. We invented it in 1999-2000, and if we’d done it later we’d just have picked up a lot of web 2.0 stuff. We pretty much re-invented social tagging before it was widespread, for instance, but our implementation was too crufty to catch on (and we didn’t start right). The reason we haven’t just dumped it in favour of open tools is that the ability to give fine-grained control over access to the information – integrated with the OU’s existing security infrastructure – is a key feature.

We’re going live with a facelifted version today, and then we get our teeth stuck in to a major change to produce ‘KN 2.0’. We have our own principles for this, which look similar:

  1. As open as possible
    The Web 2.0 philosophy of radical user empowerment is very much in tune with the direction of the original KN. Anyone can publish, and there are no gatekeepers.
  2. As secure as necessary
    Radical openness is not appropriate for some of the information in the KN. Fine control over access enables free discussion of information that needs to remain confidential.
  3. Expertise exists in people, not computers
    Try to enhance existing person-to-person links for knowledge exchange, not replace them.
  4. Don’t duplicate effort
    Take advantage of other systems wherever possible. Don’t try to do what other services do better (e.g. quality-assured document repositories and gold-standard archival).
  5. Play well with others
    Make it easy for the KN to work with other systems and processes, e.g. by open-sourcing (entire system or new components), creating/using open APIs and standards

It’ll be obvious to anyone that principle 2 is the ringer in Web 2.0 terms. Just like the BBC, we’ve got our own departure from the Web 2.0 philosophy. That doesn’t worry me. In fact, if we had no difference, we really should be just using what’s already out there – or, of course, joining in with developing it, like we’re doing with Moodle.


Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.