January 27, 2008

Kollaborative Klassroom : A Web 2.0 Platform

Web 2.0 means different things to different people but perhaps the most authentic -- and original -- definition is given by Tim O'Reilly in his now classic articulation of What is Web 2.0.

One of the key aspects of his articulation was the premise that Web 2.0 is less of technology and more of a platform -- or if you use the analogy of "Hindu" sanatan dharma, less of a dogma and more of way of life !

The word platform -- like the word architechure -- is widely used and abused in the world of computers. So to make things easier for us, let us first look at a more traditional platform : the ERP as implemented in SAP or Oracle. An ERP consists of a collection of applications developed using a one or more technologies. At the core there would be a database management software and on top of this would reside application, integration and presentation software. Woven into this is a set of business logic which in a sense should be common to or at least relevent to a vast number of business entities.

This platform is now used to support a wide range of business requirements : finanancial accounting, human resource management, sales and distribution, material management etc., for companies ranging from steel plants to retail stores. The magic lies in the fact that the platform is flexibile enough to meet the requirements of almost any company. All that is needed is some customisation of the platform and some flexibility of the client company to adapt itself to the platform.

What are the components of a Web 2.0 platform
  1. A network of trust -- or as they say, a social network best exemplified by Orkut or Facebook and others of the same genre. Web 2.0 needs the wisdom of the crowd and a social network is perhaps the best way to create one.
  2. User generated content. A network cannot be built by one or a restricted group of people. That is why company sponsored networks -- like AOL or MSN could never keep up with the Internet. The content in the network must be generated by the users. The best example of this is of course Wikipedia where legions of users generated tons of content to overwhelm established brands like Brittanica or Encarta.
  3. Rich content. Human beings are accustomed to the audio-visual experience -- certainly not text. Hence the content in the network must consists of images, music and video. This is why image networks like Flickr and video networks like YouTube are essential icons of the Web 2.0 platform. Of late, 3D virtual worlds like Second Life offer a whole new experience in terms of rich content
  4. Web 2.0 is ever evolving and it is impossible to state that the platform is NOW ready for use. It will never be ready .. it will always be under construction and so the technology that will drive it has to compatible to what is loosely referred to as "mashup"s. There will never be a SAP for Web 2.0. There will be hundreds of small components -- and widgets are a good analogy -- which will be assembled and made to work together to deliver results.
  5. Finally -- and perhaps axiomatically -- Web 2.0 cannot run either on isolated machines or on restricted networks. By its very nature it must run on the internet : it is a living example of Sun's tagline "The network is the computer"
So to qualify for a Web 2.0 tag, a platform must
  • be based around a social network
  • encourage user generated content
  • support rich media
  • extend through mashups
The Kollaborative Klassroom is an experiment to develop a Web 2.0 platform to support management education at the Praxis Business School, Calcutta. It is based on
  • A social network based on technology from Ning that is used to support the community of students and faculty
  • A wiki created with Zoho that is used to create teaching material in a collaborative manner
  • Rich multimedia that is supported on FlickR, YouTube and the virtual world of Second Life
  • Extensions like widgets, calendars that can be integrated to the main platform.
In an earlier post I had discussed how the corporation may be change under the impact of Web 2.0. With the development of platform like the Kollaborative Klassroom the day when this will happen has just come closer !

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