As much as I love Web 2.0 sites, I also recognize that there are some drawbacks. The biggest being the fact that the end user loses control of their content. Recently, Google became a good example of how that can affect education when it shut down the Lively virtual world program, despite the protests of educators that used the service in education.
Now Gcast is giving us another example of a different issue related to relying on a third party website for educational purposes. Gcast is a podcasting service at its core with many options. One of those options is that you can get a toll free number to call in a podcast. Nice for live podcasting from events or on the go. A recent letter to users notified us that this phone-in podcast service is no longer free, pretty much effective immediately. It now costs $99 a year. For most cases, this places the service out of range for most educational purposes. Are instructors really going to require their students to shell out nearly a hundred dollars to keep doing that podcast project? It’s doubtful.
This is doubly hard for those that are in the middle of semester, maybe even in the middle of projects that are using this service. There is talk of pro-rating the cost for the rest of the year. Also, I have to mention that you can still upload audio from your computer for free.
The cause of this change? All we are told is that it is based on “fees charged by Microsoft.” Nothing about the recession. So this is a problem that could really affect any service at any time.
How can educators avoid getting stuck with a problem like this? Well, there are a couple of things:
- Carefully choose your product in the first place. Even though you might love picking the underdog, they are the ones that tank the quickest. Make sure you go for a service that is fairly popular and even that is supported by advertising (these aren’t immune to financial problems, but at least they have thought about costs beforehand). And, FYI – just because something is run by Google, that is no guarantee that it will be around forever.
- Have a back up plan ready to go at any time. That plan should not just be “switch to the competitor.” But that plan can change over time. For example, Gabcast charges for phone in podcasts by the minute, but it is free using VOIP services. Skype is realsing apps for smartphones like the iPhone that lets you make VOIP calls from your smartphone (with some limitations).
- If possible, consider installing a do-it-yourself open-source program on a server you or your school controls. See #1 for which program to choose. Keeping something under your control means no sudden changes without warning. But it also means learning how to host stuff yourself (not that hard these days, but still something to consider).