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Online Resources: Dead wood or conversation starters?

January 4, 2010

Photo: B. Navez. CC BY

Fireside Chanting by Gurumustuk Singh. CC By NC SA

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .I like to illustrate my posts with images. Usually, I use Google’s Advanced Image Search tool to find photos that are labelled for reuse with a Creative Commons license. When I looked for an image for a post on Internet Filtering recently, I searched for “speak no evil” and found a photo by Bei Shu Lan, which I thought would work well. I downloaded a copy of the photo and pasted it into my post. I included a reference to the author in the caption, and I hot-linked the image to the Flickr site where I found the “original”. Since she had attached a CC-By (Attribution 2.0 Generic) license to the work, I didn’t need to ask her for permission to use it. She had, in effect, granted permission in advance to anyone who wanted to use the photo, for whatever purpose, provided that she was given credit as the author. I noticed that this photo had attracted quite a few comments where it was displayed on her Flickr site. I decided to add a comment thanking her for the use of her photo with a link back to my post so she could see how I had used it. “Thanks for letting me use this photo. I added it to a post on my blog:,” I wrote. “[Y]our welcome”, she replied.

“Thank you” and “you’re welcome” are two of the three social expressions most commonly used offline. The other is “please”. We don’t have to say, “Please” when something has been offered to us, but we usually say “thank you” and, when someone thanks us, “you’re welcome”. However, we rarely waste our time with these social niceties when downloading resources that we find on the Internet. When accessing things in the absence of people, it just doesn’t seem necessary. The uploading and downloading (or copying) of free content, or Open Educational Resources (OER), usually involves a lonely visit to a warehouse of artefacts where we are unlikely to come across any people. Unlike personal repositories (like Flickr or YouTube), most institutional archives don’t make it easy for us to make contact with the person who uploaded the resource that we take and reuse. Discussion forums, if they exist, are often located in an area separated from the place where the resources are stored. Data about the original author or uploader may be attached to individual artefacts, but following the links back to that person is not likely to be a quick and easy process. This is a shame and a lost opportunity. Even the shortest, most superficial social exchange between two people creates the potential for a conversation. And once a conversation starts, there is no knowing where it will go. If the capability for easy, informal, casual communication between uploaders and downloaders (writers/readers) was built into to all digital artefacts, then every search, every viewing, and every download would be an opportunity for person-to-person contact. We could make a new acquaintance with every acquisition. And every acquaintance is a potential collaborator and friend.

Online resources are like firewood — their greatest value is released when they are used in the presence of others.

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