The Value of True Openness

People sometimes ask me why I make a big deal about the difference between open and free. Or even “easy access” and free, for that matter. Well, I thought I would open up a bit about the reasons why it is such a big deal to me. It has to deal with my bitterness towards Google for the whole Jaiku debacle.

You see, I remember when this really cool podcasting company called Odeo started discussing this idea they had for a new service that eventually became know as Twitter. Most people can look that up online. What you can’t quite find written anywhere is that a few days before Twitter went public on July 15, 2006, another microblogging company jumped the gun and launched first.

Jaiku was the cooler, more easy to understand version of Twitter. In addition to your avatar, you could add these cool symbols (icons) to each post that were basically Wing Dings to add a dash of an emotional cue to your short bursts. Comments on a jaiku were threaded. You could also use it as an RSS feed aggregator (your feeds showed up as jaikus). They had several other features that many of us liked more than Twitter, also. Time has erased those memories. But at one point, Jaiku gave Twitter a serious run for their money (although that article seriously gets the launch dates for both services wrong – Twitter was used internally until July 15, 2006).

Another cool feature was that Jaiku had channels – you could create a few of your own and then if you posted your jaiku to a channel it would only appear there. Man, I miss that feature when conference season comes around. And guess what Jaiku used to visually separate these channels from the main flow? A pound sign (#). Look familiar? Yep – Twitter users wanted that feature and didn’t get it so they created the hashtag idea (and technically, this happened well before Chris Messina rallied the Titter community around the idea in August 2007). Back in 2007, the competition between Jaiku and Twitter was intense – a common question at Ed Tech conferences was “do you jaiku or tweet?” The wrong answer – depending on the service the person asking the question was using – could earn you a disappointed “Ohhhhhh…..” (although tech savy people knew how to use both)

So, the hashtag phenomenon we have now? Started at Jaiku. Of course, the pound sign had been used for a long time before that – but the current hashtag as we know it started at Jaiku.

Then Google came along, bought Jaiku, and neglected it. Try as I might, I could not get my jaikus to export to all the tools that claimed they could. I loved those early messages on Jaiku because they were unhindered by all the “rules” that we are supposed to follow on social media today. All of them are just gone forever now.

That is the difference between free or easily accessible and open. Jaiku was free and easy to use, but it was not very open in that I couldn’t take my stuff and save it easily where I wanted it, or use it again anywhere. To be open means that I control my stuff, my words, my identity – including to the point that I can take it off the original site with ease. Without that feature, I have a hard time calling something open.

That is why the new wave of open is so important. If your service is not open in this way, I would suggest using another (more accurate) term. Open should refer to power –  not cost, not access, not certification. Because you see, the things is – if  you get the power thing right, the cost, access, certification, and other issues will probably also follow suit.

Well, unless The Suits get in the way…. which is a whole other issue….

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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