Half-baked ideas

It's day two of my three-day speaking sprint. In Guadalajara yesterday, I talked to IT folks from 25 countries about ways social software can connect citizens and governments. And I found out a bit about the differing approaches they're taking to the rollout of digital IDs.

Today I met serially with a long list of faculty and grad students at the University of Michigan's School of Information, and gave a talk to which my sensors have so far detected two reactions.

Although I've written from time to time about the ways in which bloggers can be both like and unlike academic researchers, I haven't hung around in the university environment for a long while -- with one recent exception. So this visit is, among other things, a chance to compare these two largely distinct cultures.

One comment that came up several times, in response to my queries about why an academic would or wouldn't want to use a blog in the narrative style that I enjoy (and advocate) was: "I wouldn't want to publish a half-baked idea."

Ironically, I had included a half-baked idea in my talk: the notion that digital "learning objects" might wind up being units of barter. So, for example, you'd trade me a video of your guitar lesson in exchange for my screencast on animating scatterplots in Excel.

Even to me, this wasn't the most important part of the talk. I think my other theme of network-enabled apprenticeship -- for example, the way in which the transparency of work products and processes in open source development enables anyone to observe and join -- matters a lot more.

But I tossed out the barter idea anyway because, though it felt shaky to me, I wanted to know how this group, with roots in both economics and information science, would react to it.

The initial response was to shoot it down, for reasons that I don't disagree with. But it didn't completely crash and burn, as Todd Suomela's report notes:

The biggest conversation with the audience was about the economic incentives for people to share knowledge on the web. Jon initially proposed the idea of barter to explain the process, some people were skeptical that this would work, while others supported it.

That outcome left me wondering again about the tradeoffs between academia's longer cycles and the blogosphere's shorter ones. Granting that these are complementary modes, does blogging exemplify agile methods -- advance in small increments, test continuously, release early and often -- that academia could use more of? That's my half-baked thought for tomorrow.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2006/09/15.html#a1524