When in Doubt, Make it Public

Posted September 10, 2009

I recently (re)read a great post on Coding Horror which pointed me towards an article by Jason Kottke who noted that many successful web2.0 projects are a result of taking “something that everyone does with their friends and make it public and permanent. (Permanent as in permalinked.)”

Some examples:

Blogger = public email messages. (1999) Instead of “Dear Bob, Check out this movie.” it’s “Dear People I May or May Not Know Who Are Interested in Film Noir, check out this movie. If you like it, maybe we can be friends.”

Flickr = public photo sharing. (2004) Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake said in a recent interview: “When we started the company, there were dozens of other photosharing companies such as Shutterfly, but on those sites there was no such thing as a public photograph — it didn’t even exist as a concept — so the idea of something ‘public’ changed the whole idea of Flickr.”

YouTube = public home videos. (2005) Bob Saget was onto something.

Twitter = public IM. (2006) I don’t think it’s any coincidence that one of the people responsible for Blogger is also responsible for Twitter.

I love these examples because that’s exactly the same thing I’m trying to do with the social learning platform I’m building. Taking what was previously private (classroom discussions/instruction, hallway debate) and making it public, open, and permanent.

This is has many many powerful effects (all of which I won’t mention right now). But one quick recent example of this principle.

One of the classes at BYU using Island this semester is ISys 401 Systems Analysis. The teacher recently got an email from a student — and instead of answering the question through email, he decided to make his answer public and post it to the class group.

The student wrote:


Dr. Liddle,

I have read the scrum guide that is listed in the course schedule, and even looked up on wikipedia what a backlog is, but I still don’t understand what exactly you want us to do for homework 3. What do you mean by create a backlog of user stories from 401? If you could even point me in the direction of where to find a more precise definition on what a backlog, then that would be helpful as well.

Thank you

[Member of the ISys Core]

Then Dr. Liddle went on to answer the question.

Whether Dr. Liddle answered the student’s question through email or through posting it to the class group — the action had the same effect — the original student’s question was answered. But what else happened as a result of making it public?

Tagged with education | social learning

Subscribe to get updated on new posts!

Kyle's profile picKyle Mathews lives and works in Seattle building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter. Currently exploring what's next and open to consulting.