Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wikispaces being fattened for market like Mendeley?

I've been using Wikispaces for years. I have a number of free wikis and pay for a few others. Over the years I have been recommending to the teachers and graduate students who I teach in a variety of settings, online and face-to-face. I always liked Wikispaces because of the WISIWIG editor and the simple process of getting set up. I feel that it is important that professional educators have a web presence, an e-portfolio or personal encyclopedia that allows them to explore and develop in their own web- based multimedia applications, their own website. I hope that they model the process to the students that they will soon be teaching. This is the essence of education for me, encouraging independent learning. When I say I want people to take ownership of their learning I mean it figuratively AND literally. Do your work in your own space and not in some institution's Learning Management System (LMS).

 I am currently teaching a group of pre-service teachers how to use ICT and social media as part of the Literacy with ICT across the Curriculum initiative mandated by the Manitoba department of education a few years ago. People learn how to use the Googleverse of Maps, Blogger, YouTube, Gmail, Calendar etc. Skype, Mindmeister, Brainshark, Audacity, Vocaroo and any number of web applications. They are encouraged to set up their own instances of all of these things (using their own anonymous accounts while they are learning) and to use a central web-space as a display/demonstration/reflection/personal learning environment. Mostly, I have recommended Wikispaces as this central space  because of their policy of support for educators and because of the excellent education community that has emerged around Wikispaces and for the excellent support that I have always received when ever I have had occasion to need help directly from Wikispaces. The current group is the ICT class for the Brandon University PENT program. Things have been going well and people have been putting their work in a Wikispaces wiki. We are at the point where I want to start demonstrating the collaborative and communication dimension of wikis but when the students try to make their Wikispaces wiki public they are asked to pay a $1.00 fee.

While the cost is not onerous, the problem is that the Wikispaces subscription requires a credit card or Paypal account that students don't necessarily have. Wikispaces says they are trying to eliminate spammers who have been setting up wikis for unspecified and undocumented nefarious purposes. What it looks more like to me is that Wikispaces is trying to build up a customer base who have provided a billing option. I don't begrudge them wanting to be compensated but it seems a little suspect to me that they are doing this. I would happily cough up the $15.00 to set every class member with a Wikispaces account. I can set them up as members of my Wikispaces Classroom but that doesn't support the principle of personal ownership. I don't want people to work in my learning environments, I want them to work in their own personal learning environments.

One of the reasons that I am a bit suspicious is the recent example of Mendeley. Mendeley is a wonderful web-based bibliographic tool that has a social networking dimension. You can set up Mendeley groups to share bibliographic resources and to establish scholarly communities of interest. I have established a number of Mendeley groups on a range of topics with significant numbers of followers. I started doing this with Zotero many years ago and when Mendeley came up with something similar, thought I would try it out. The groups have been working and sharing and building up a huge repository of user generated content in an open platform. Recently, Mendeley announced that it had been purchased by Elsevier publishing. Reactions have been predictably unfavorable because Elsevier is not known for its support of open scholarship. So now all of the user-generated content is owned by Elsevier and it seems likely that they will be selling that data as part of their regular business practices.

When I first signed up for Mendeley I was a little concerned about putting my eggs in a commercial basket and I feel vindicated in that hesitation. I have continued to develop my Zotero collection and groups so that I am not worried about losing data. Zotero is a different type of enterprise, established with a Carnegie Mellon Grant and maintained by George Mason University. Although anything can happen, I feel more confident that Zotero is not going to sell me and my content and connections to a publishing company or to a learning management corporation.

 Another similar situation is Moodlerooms where the CMS behemoth Blackboard has been acquiring some of the partners of the open source Moodle platform. Blackboard is hardly an open source or open access proponent and is not likely to hesitate to capitalize on the BS and T that educators have been freely helping develop over the years. No question the corporatization of education is well underway.

I have no illusions about the motives of corporations -- more profit each quarter. Is Wikispaces planning to do the same thing? I will be putting my eggs in another basket although it is hard to figure out exactly where to go. Likely Google Sites for the meantime.


Sean FitzGerald said...

I hear your pain, Glen.

Back in the day when I was introducing web tools to teachers I too recommended a wiki as the core of an online presence, for both individuals and projects, Wikispaces was my go-to for wikis as it was simple to use and very edu-friendly.

I've heard rumours from ex-colleagues (still friends) over the years that Wikispaces are moving towards registered accounts to deal the the onslaught of spam (aparently they are getting hammered).

I don't think there is anything nefarious in their motivation, but I agree it's not a good solution for the reasons you outline.

Doesn't this raise the whole issue of free web services though? There is always a downside. That's why I'd be wary of relying too heavy on Google Sites. Can we trust Google after the Google Reader debacle?

I have other colleagues still using Wikispaces with their students. I'll check in with them to see how they are fairing with this issue.

Mr. Gunn said...

Spam sucks, that's all there is to it. I don't think there's anything nefarious going on at Wikispaces, and FWIW, there's nothing nefarious going on at Mendeley, either:

Glen said...

Thanks for the comments. Sean I'd be curious to know how your colleagues using Wikispaces feel about the changes.
Thanks for the Mendeley company line, Mr Gunn. I guess what Mendeley did was legal but shame on me for freely adding value to a product that Mendeley is now going to try to sell back to me.

Editor B said...

For what it's worth I just verified my wiki and was given multiple options for verification. The first option was to get a six-digit code via robocall which worked and was free.

Glen said...

I had a very nice email from Adam at Wikispaces who explained what is going on. Renewed my confidence in Wikispaces and inspired me to renew my accounts.