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Searching for “ode” on Google brings back the following:

“Results 110 of about 27,700,000 for ode”

27 million results. At about 10 results per page that’s about 2.7 million pages. I don’t even want to think where we come on that scale because at this point, who cares? Even so that’s a whole stack of links.

By the time I had clicked through to the 1,789,345th page I gave up. Plus at 2 secs a page load that works out at 3,578,690 seconds of time in total looking at those pages which is 59,644 hours which is 2485 days which is just over 6 years.

So either I’m travelling back in time to write this blog post from my 50 foot schooner moored of the coast of Monaco whilst working on my tan or it means I’m lying. Because for most people beyond a point numbers cease to have any meaning or function beyond curiosity. Or maybe Google is lying and hoping no one EVER clicks through to see the last page when there’s more than a 100 results. Or maybe they’re showing off.

This is why I think numbers of results/results pages are a poor guide to content selection.

A major component of ode is it’s search ability – you type in “Counting to 10” or “Climate change” or “Spanish MP3” you get a list of results back. That’s a concept we’re all familiar with. But what if you have hundreds or thousands or results to show?

And this isn’t good enough for a casual knowledge browse – we want people to buy content. Our users told us showing lots of pages or telling them there were hundreds of results actually turned them off.

So we continue to debate whether to show page numbers at all and even how many results have turned up. Even back in 2001 Jakob Neilson said:

“Users almost never look beyond the second page of search results. It is thus essential that your search prioritize results in a useful way and that all the most important hits appear on the first page.”

One argument suggests that announcing these figures is good way for the user to gauge how useful their keyword is – do they need to add further keywords e.g. “Counting to 10 + Key Stage 2 + Animals” or that an advanced search is called for?

Personally I’d be a happier customer if what I wanted turned up on the first or second page, or that sorting and filtering were set on my profile (“only show me results from Key Stage 2” or “Only show me results that are tagged video”).

Is it sometimes better to be reductive than expansive? What if we said “The search term you entered was far too broad – have another go and this time be more specific” (with a link to carry on anyway of course)?

Caroline Horn reports in the Children’s Bookseller this month on the rise of digital books and content in education in an article entitled “On the crest of a digital wave” (pages 9+10 – seems to only be available in the off line magazine, sorry).

Whilst the majority of the article concerns e-books she looks beyond that at different media types:

“The introduction of whiteboards and broadband to schools makes the education market a significant potential user of digital resources…the education market is one of the least exploited markets in terms of digital content and resources

Hey, this sounds like my sort of thinking.

Her thread opens up the necessary debate that we shouldn’t attempt to replicate in ICT how we used to be taught before the internet and the rise of technology, but that we should embrace a new way of thinking about how we use content.

A book by necessity of it’s physical structure places certain constraints on the educator and learner.

What we are seeing is a move away from pre built and ‘closed’ material to a provision of ‘atomised assets’ that can be manipulated, reused and published in an online environment”.

Dr Martyn Farrows, Simulacra

Dr Farrow has commercial interests in pushing this point of view (and so do we, therefore I’m all for this particular debate) but that doesn’t invalidate the premise that more and more ICT thinking is looking at the manipulation of content as the end goal as opposed to simply the delivery of that content under a structure.

For example “As a Teacher I have X numbers of digital assets – I want to farm a set of MFL MP3s out to my class’s mobile phones, upload my lesson plans to my PDA and display my video clips inside PowerPoints I have built…” and so on.

“Schools will become more confident in exploring internet-based resources beyond their defined VLE…making more use of “device-independent, browser-based, Web 2.0 style interactivity”, including social networks, self publishing and browser based toolkits.”

ode will provide a massive amount of VLE content from many publishers portfolios but we will not restrict them to VLE display only – each asset will be playable within ODE itself as and when they need to by constructing playlists. Some of our users (and I won’t name names) rarely use their VLE due to it’s complexity and heavy handed nature.

“Prior to having this Kaleidos installed, we have also had Moodle installation. I set this up, primarily for a single online A-level ICT course, so we could be as flexible with our students as possible. This hosted externally on a dedicated server. In essence, give or take 4-5 months, both were installed at the same time. This was 18 months ago.

At present in a staff of 80, 2 occasionally use Kaleidos. No others do…(Moodle) is used by 80% of our staff regulary and by about 90% of our 1100 students.” (you may have to log in as guest).

So it may depend on how the VLE is perceived in the school as to how well it’s used.

Ultimately it may be the publishers job to give educators access to content and platforms to allow them to personalise the learners experience using that content and stand well back.

“…the business model is more about transaction-based micropayments or licensing of individual digital assets on demand, rather than consumption of pre-built resources.”

Dr Martyn Farrows

Talking to our beta users has raised an interesting point when we ask them about Peer review in ode: when shopping online many of them look for bad reviews first as a quick assessment of whether to continue to be interested in purchasing a product or service. They don’t look for the good, at least to start with.

And I thought: Hmm, I do too. In fact I realised take a perverse delight in reading 1/10 rated reviews. In a newspaper weekend review section it’s the plays/gigs/bands that get slammed that I go out of my way to read.

I like the vitriol, the scathing tones, the imaginative put downs. I always want to know “Why did that album/hotel/book get 2 stars out of 5?”

When clicking an Ebay users feedback profile is anyone else’s eye drawn to any single bad comment amongst hundreds of positive “A++++++ awesome!!!!” comments before anything else? And then you think “well, they might have 98% positive feedback but that guy thought delivery was slow“. Modern paranoia dictates that my next thought will be: “And will that happen to me?”

I would rather read “The 100 worst reviewed movies of all time” than the “The 100 best reviewed movies of all time” any day of the week.

Thanks to the explosion of opinion making all over the web do we now need to see 100% positive commentary before we’re prepared to offer our trust (and money)?

I tend to skim the positive comments. Illogically I think “how can I trust them?”, “how do I know what their standards are?” and focus on the review that found the “sea view” was actually only viewable just beyond a septic tank, or that “close to beach” was correct if you don’t mind their definition of beach being “local builders sand pit” and so on. Of course some people think this is nitpicking.

Perhaps this mistrust of positive spin is also driven by the ease with which the internet gives product owners the ability to review their own products favourably. But not for much longer it seems.

Although if someone scores something extremely highly e.g 9.7 out of 10, I will read that too. So maybe it’s the alpha and omega scoring that is attractive. Who’s interested that something is “quite good” or “satisfactory”? Who cares, Fence Sitter!

I guess I hunger for the truth in my purchasing decisions and negativity seems more honest somehow. Even if I know logically it shouldn’t make much difference at all. Maybe this is why Ebayers are so defensive about their feedback ratings it’s spawned an industry.

We all use products or services that seem specifically designed to annoy us with their uselessness (you must see Seth Godin’s “This is broken” presentation) . But I’m guessing we don’t all leave reviews everytime this happens (we’d be writing forever).

So to leave negative comments against something, even behind the neutrality that the web provides us, is a serious statement of intent. Perhaps this is why they seem so much more real then a happy, positive review.

A single bad review, even up against many good reviews, will more often than not cause me to pause before making a purchase (perhaps mitigated by cost). Or let me put it like this – if there are two balanced, well written reviews against a product/service you are are considering buying, one negative and one positive, are you more or less likely to buy it?

Certainly it will make me look for commentary on the product elsewhere. All this consumer info has made me into an arch procrastinator, a flip flopper, a weakling who can’t make an immediate purchasing decision online. I can delay a purchase for weeks as I mull the reviews over and over, trying to find a cohesive overarching argument for or against, that I put together in my head, cribbed from many different resources.

Logically I know that one bad review doesn’t mean all X company’s deliveries will be late, that all X brand stereos will arrive without that lead, that X hotel’s broken air con won’t be fixed by the time I arrive. But it might do.

After all, no one ever learnt anything from a compliment, right?

In every project there is a bit where the productivity line goes sharply upwards, leaving you in no doubt that all cylinders are firing. We’re hitting that point now.

It feels like a very dramatic time for ode. We:

  1. …have our first round investment! Yay! That took a lot of blood, sweat and weekend working but we’re finally primed. I’m sure I’ll blog about the experience of how we did it later on. For now I’m still tip toeing around it in case I wake up like Bobby Ewing and it was all dream.
  2. …are recruiting an excitable private beta group of teachers to help us build this thing (we love you all for the time you’re taking to help us – it’s really appreciated). If you want to contribute (at any level we can find to fit you in) please email us and we’ll give you the details.
  3. ….have begun the great content gathering push. We are sourcing content from the most astonishing places. Everything from market leading literacy and numeracy schemes to small niche content types such as interactive posters for a whiteboard display. And everything in between. I’d tell you who/what they were but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Yet.
  4. …have a new beta logo:

ODE beta logo

Nice, huh? OK, it’s not a stretch design wise but in keeping with our simplicity drive I think it works.

I’ll update more in a couple of weeks.

What is ODE?

ODE will be a webstore where educators can buy little bits of digital educational content and put them back together any way they like. Simple.