Sunday, May 17, 2009

NEJM sets up shop on Facebook

The rush to set up shop on Facebook continues with the New England Journal of Medicine being the latest entrant. Facebook has become a sort of Second Life for many organizations and institutions, the idea being to go where people are. Second Life, Facebook and other such 'social apps' are the beach, the city square, the village commons, and the mall of the World Wide Web; it's where people hang out to engage, explore, build relationships. The terms Web 1.0, Web 2.0 and now, even Web 3.0 are defined quite arbitrarily and idiosyncratically. Nevertheless, Web 1.0 was largely about placing information out there on the web, Web 2.0 about dynamic information and having a two-way conversation with visitors to a website while Web 3.0 seems to be about building communities and having ubiquitous web access from all sorts of mobile and other devices. So while people now wish to be connected to the web -- and hence to each other -- at all times and from all places, organizations now wish to engage them wherever they are and follow them wherever they go.

It's funny how things go around only to return to the place they started. Sort of. America Online was known in its early days for setting up a 'walled garden' with content exclusively available to its members in easily digestible form, thereby protecting them from the uncharted and potentially dangerous wilderness of the web. The web proved to be far richer and dynamic in its content, and so the walls finally crumbled and the garden itself was swallowed up by the wilderness. Facebook -- and the land rush to this frontier -- seems like a return to a walled garden; except, the garden offers memberships to all for no fee, although you need to play by the rules of the garden.

The formal entrance of Stanford University and now the NEJM into Facebook heralds a new era for institutional education and learning where they interact with students and scholars (not necessarily paying ones) using alternative methods. It's an acknowledgement that not only is the traditional classroom of limited effectiveness but also that there is much opportunity in discovering the benefits of social applications for providing a suitable ambience for an ongoing, socially-embedded learning process.

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