I was feeling really restless early last week about our ability to run and manage new and emerging services in a World where change happens at a pace that is nearly out of control. I thought my post, Why Run a Service would be a signal that I’ve come to a conclusion that there are real reasons to try and keep up. I didn’t honestly expect it to strike the chord it did, but when you ask people interesting questions you sometimes get more interesting questions in return that demand to be explored. Lots of killer conversation going on in the comments of that post … one particular thread emerged about how encouraging open writing and blogging can generate greater depth of connections within our community. That last word is the really important piece to us — how we work to engage our community to embrace these emergent trends is what we think will ultimately make what we do more interesting and important. The more they participate, the more we can contribute opportunities to change teaching and learning.
So back to the Blogs at Penn State … as Brad and I sat there we realized we are sitting on a river of data that is built entirely on people right here at PSU. Now that we are reaching the 10,000 user milestone with the service we are seeing an explosion in the understanding and use of tags for filtering content. Courses are using them to aggregate student posts together, students are using them to mark portfolio entries, departments are using them to pull information/knowledge about initiatives into focus, and so on. Once we realized that we started to realize that we could begin to act a little bit like Twitter and use our data to see trends and ultimately predict the future as it unfolds. With this in mind we’re working on a few new and interesting ways to not only tap into the community but also ways to let them move the state of the University around a bit.
So, as Brad Kozlek wrote yesterday about the birth of PSU Voices and our friend The Reverend, Jim Groom linked to today is now in the wild. Is it done? No, but it has huge potential to draw in community engagement and connect academic use to real world context. The Voices project is really just taking advantage of a mashup of our own tag aggregation for blog posts and collections of related items from across the social web. So, if I use Brad’s example, one were to do a tag search for democracy they’d see all the posts from across the public side of the Blogs at PSU mashed up with items tagged with democracy from YouTube, Flickr, and Delicious … they’d also see a running Twitter stream that uses that same term. What it means to me is if I am a Political Science student in a class using a shared tag, in this case democracy, I get to not only instantly see everything my classmates are writing about, but I get to be exposed to an explosion of opportunities from across the social web. I might see an amazing photo that challenges my notions of the concepts associated with democracy, or a grassroots documentary that makes me want to grab a Flip HD and create a response, or it may open my eyes to a whole series of sites that people from all over the World have tagged. To me, it is the opportunity to be engaged beyond the walls of the classroom that is the primary thing here. Exposure to open resources and the thinking of my peers is a powerful mixture that has me really excited.
So the vlaue in running a service like the Blogs at PSU means we can leverage our investment in the platform and reinvent opportunities within the framework of our local environment. It means that our primary audiences can trust the identity of the local content and be exposed to the massive contributions from across the Internet. It means we can invent … and that rocks.