OCW, Pandora Radio, and the Myth of Web 4.0

Just as people I know have finally come round to using Pandora Radio I’ve grown sick of it.

I can’t remember when I started using Pandora, and as you will see in a minute, that’s part of my problem with it. The first song I bookmarked was in March of 2006, but I think I may have started even before that.

Kicking the Tires on Pandora...

I can remember how excited I was about Pandora at first. I had been crawling the MP3 blogs, sampling bands, burning CDs for local friends, and listening to web radio station KEXP for the next band to fall in love with. I ran a mailing list called culture whore, where friends and I traded recs.

It was a lot of work, frankly.

Then I turned on Pandora, and it did it all for me. No more of the inevitable Mars Volta song in my KEXP stream — I didn’t like it, bam! it was gone. It was a radio station built exactly around my tastes, always expanding, and requiring no effort from me. A dream come true.

And so I stopped trolling the blogs, stopped listening to normal Web radio, stopped making mix CDs for friends. I would just come in in the morning and turn on Pandora.

And about 2 years later (in March of this year) I quit using it, finding that the two years I had used it had been a bit of a musical wasteland for me, despite all the great bands I had discovered. And the only explanation I could give was that it had “Muzak-ed my music”.

While most people are flocking to it now, I expect that most music-lovers will follow a similar trajectory. In fact, I’ve talked in the past six months to quite a number of early adopters who are off Pandora now, and it’s interesting to compile some of the reasons they cite, with one or two issues of mine thrown in:

  • They don’t like the lack of authorship: A web radio show of the KEXP or WFMU type is put together by a person. And to listen to it is in some sense to engage in a dialogue with that person.  When John in the Morning — a DJ I have listened to since I lived in Seattle — when he plays a track off the new Pedro the Lion CD he’s making an assertion about that track, and when he follows one song with another song, moving from Sense to early Portishead, that’s something we can mentally give a thumbs up or thumbs down to — in a way that is just impossible with Pandora (sorry).
  • They don’t like the lack of an object: A radio show that occurs on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. is an object for discussion. So is a mix CD, or an album. People can listen to the exact same thing and discuss their different reactions to it. A canonical object is a shared cultural experience in a way that a randomly mixed personal playlist is not.  And while I can share my “station” in Pandora, it merely replicates my preferences — no person is hearing the same songs I am in the same order, never mind the same time.
  • The singles culture deadens you: The chunks of experience in Pandora are 3 to 4 minutes long, and delivered to you without effort. I remember the periods of my life before Pandora being marked by the albums I was listening to. I hear Superchunk’s Here’s to Shutting Up and I can remember the particular e-learning projects I was working on at the time. When Belle and Sebastian’s Boy wIth the Arab Strap plays, I’m transported to early days with my oldest daughter, a tiny peanut we rocked to sleep to the tones of “Sleep the Clock Around”. And so on. But honestly, around two years ago that association stops. My life has no soundtrack. I think that’s a combination of the things above — that resulted, as I said, in Pandora “Muzaking my Music.”

I’m back to albums and radio stations now, and it feels good. My daughter and I have been listening to the new Submarines album, and I have no doubt that she is creating memories too. I’ve re-engaged with my mailing list, and put the music blogs back into the RSS.

And it feels human. It feels like waking up after a long slumber.

That’s the problem with the Web 4.0 vision of intelligent agents — without intent and authorship and humanness — at least as part of the equation — having better music is somewhat meaningless. I’d rather have John in the Morning play stuff I don’t like 20% of the time and have that be a connection with authorship than Pandora play what I like a 100% of the time.

What does that have to do with OCW? I suppose this. There’s some talk about OERs fitting into some kind of humanless delivery system — the dynamically assembled dream of Web 3.0 or 4.0 or whatever it is. That’s good for some things.

But there is always going to be a hunger to connect with those larger authored enitities, big chunks of shareable cultural experience ordered sequentially and representing someone’s vision with which you’ll interact. Albums, Radio shows, Mix tapes, and yes, courses. If there’s a reason OCW matters in a world that wants to dynamically assemble OER it’s because the idea of authorship and voice is core to to our sense of humanness. OCW is like the album format — it’s not the only way to do authorship and voice, to humanize our efforts and allow us to share intentional experiences, but it’s one way. And that, ultimately, makes courseware worth doing, no matter what future technology may make possible.

[Or shorter version, I guess: OCW is album rock.]

Note to Chronicle: I can haz trendlines?

Chronicle today, in front page article:

Poll: Students Less Engaged Than Thought

In four key states, a poll sponsored by CBS News, UWIRE, and The Chronicle has found, undergraduates tend to favor Barack Obama. But not many are working for him.

The core of which is this statement:

Students taking active roles in the campaign seemed to prefer tried-and-true ways of participating, the battleground poll found. Just 2 percent had posted videos about a candidate on YouTube, while 11 percent had donated to a campaign, 13 percent had helped with a voter-registration drive, and 13 percent had volunteered with a campaign.

The article had this to say about how that compared to past years:

Yep, nothing on that. Nothing either on how that compared to the general population (and if one in seven of your adult friends is volunteering, I guarantee you’re an activist).

So here’s an attempt to add context, via studies of 1996 and 2000 participation:

Much smaller percentages of students reported participating in other political activities, including political protests (3.7% of the 1996 sample and 3.6% of the 2000 sample) and political rallies (4.0% of the 1996 sample and 4.5% of the 2000 sample). Only 10.3% of the 1996 sample and 7.9% of the 2000 sample reported any involvement in a political campaign. These figures were comparable to those reported by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERD during the latter half of the 1990s (Sax et al., 1995; HERI, 2000).

So if the surveys are comparable at all in methodology and definition of participation, you would see a headline here that student participation has nearly doubled since 2000.

Nearly doubled.

That, to any reasonable commentator, would be the salient fact.

Final note, the article says this about showing support:

Only 34% said they had displayed a campaign sign or worn campaign-related apparel or a button, and just 31% said they had recruited a friend to support a campaign.

Only one out of three is visibly supporting a candidate? That’s low?

I am always suspicious of self-reported political behavior surveys. But if we believe this survey means anything, it says there is a massive wave on the way.

A new blog name, and a recommitment

So, I’ve stopped hacking around on my blog, and settled on the new theme. And we’re sticking with it.

And for the first time since I launched this blog I’ve given it a title other than my name. The name, Tran|script, is meaningful to me, because it was the name of one of my first major OER projects. From 1997 until the birth of our first daughter in December 1998, my wife and I spent much of our free time scouring bookshops in Seattle for interesting books in the public domain, than scanning them in for free use by educators. We’d decide to get old pictures of famous buildings, and build an archive of pre-1928 photographs book by book. We built the front page to try and tie those resources to current events — we’d take old 9th, 10th, and 11th edition Encyclopedia Britannica articles on perjury and put them up to tie them to the devleoping Clinton story. We developed a mystery game that used the buildings, called “The Demolitionist” where students would have to sort through the photographs of buildings, and explanations of styles of architecure to figure out what building a fringe guerilla group had targeted for bombing.

As we said back in 1998:


If one accepts John Dewey’s definition of education, then tran|script is an educational site. The philosophy behind the site is simple: education is not a process of spoon-feeding students facts, but of empowering students to create. So, unlike the majority of educational sites, tran|script has made substantial effort to make available the resources students need to create compelling presentations and programs. The contents of the image and text archives are free for non-profit educational use. The contents of the feature archive demonstrate what students can do with the materials

I still think a lot about those days, and how Nicole put up with me, and actually even eagerly embraced my insane project — and how great the promise of the web seemed to be at that point. So part of the title is nostalgia, and a reminder to myself to never lose that idealism that propels you, when you see a gap, to fill it, to just get it done.

But the other part of the title relates to why I originally chose it. I felt what we were doing by putting these materials up was giving back the world the cultural transcript that rightfully belonged to everybody. And I think if you look at most of the stuff I write about, on this site and others, it’s about democratizing access to that transcript — both by critiquing the powers of the MSM, and by encouraging students to participate directly in the discussions that shape our world. So I think it’s still a decent title all these years later.

Thanks for dealing with my trip down memory lane — maybe it’s this election coming up, maybe it’s just my natural tendency to get nostalgic in the midst of a New England fall — but today, particularly, I’m really optimistic about the future, and so indebted to everybody out there that has moved it forward. Looking at my copyright statement on that site, I see now how I was stumbling around in the dark — unable to trust public domain, but having no idea how to cut a middle ground — problems that were being solved at that very time by David Wiley (though I wouldn’t know this for many years). And looking at the gallery concept is quaint in an age of decentralized weblog publishing — “Send us your projects, and we”l publish them for you”? Really? And it’s been accomplished, mostly, by people moving this forward in the interstices of other tasks, with what time they could scrounge….

I guess I’m saying — “I love you all, man…” and isn’t it great that we’re all here, all these years later…and even though I’m buried in my job right now, I’m going to get back to blogging here regularly, so please stay tuned.

Oh, and here’s to you Nicole, who really made all this possible, though I always forget to say that. I don’t think we’re all that separate from those days, despite the roller-coaster ride of kids and career. And that’s pretty amazing.


I’m not the first to say this, but as much as I hate polling culture, I think Insta-polls have done a surprising amount of good.

It used to be the pundits would spend the hour after the debate telling everybody who intelligent people thought won. Then the next day the pollsters would call everybody, and voila — a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now they sit there, knowing the polls are coming in that night, and that all the nonsense they are spouting is about to be disproved. And when the polls come in they say things like “Well, I still maintain McCain won on points, but clearly the campaign is solidifying because the polls show that independents believe that Obama won 53-22.”

Really, is that what they believe? What’s the definition of winning then?

It’s confusing times to be a pundit. They were originally supposed to be predicting what how voters would react — horse-race journalism, sure. But a wonderful sort of horse-race, where reporting could influence the results.

Now that they’ve started to lose that ability, via insta-polls and citizen journalism, it’s becoming clear to everyone how in the bubble they are. You can’t watch a bunch of pundits talking about how John McCain controlled the debate and made ground before the polls come in that night, and then see the polls show the biggest Obama spread yet without wondering what these people could possibly bring to the table in terms of insight.

Under Construction

I mucked my theme some time ago, then decided I was too sick of it to fix it. So I went through approximately 2 billion WordPress themes, before deciding I’d build a new one from the ground up based on the Sandbox theme.

I don’t have time to do it all at once though, so please be patient as the look of the site shifts over the next couple weeks.

Oh, and for the nostalgic among you, enjoy:

Oh, wow.

My five year old: “The Internet is the Computer”

I was playing KEXP on my computer over the weekend, and I say to my five year old “Hey isn’t it cool we can play a station from the Internet on the computer?”

She looks at me like I’m stupid.

On the computer?” she says, quizzically.

“Yes.” I say.

She laughs. She thinks I’m being funny. “Daddy,” she says, “the Internet is the computer”.

To a five year old the computer and the network are redundant terms.

Deadhead Sponsors Bill Creating Copyright Czar, Bush Signs

Jim Groom notes the creation of a Copyright Czar. The bill is here. I’m guessing since the “Drug Czar” idea worked out so well, the government just couldn’t help itself.

You want to know how screwed up the world is? The sponsor of this bill, Patrick Leahy, is a huge Grateful Dead fan. From Wikipedia:

Leahy is a fan of the Grateful Dead. He has not only attended concerts, but has taped them, and

{{w|Patrick Leahy}}, U.S. Senator from Vermont.

Image via Wikipedia

has a collection of the band’s tapes in his Senate Offices. Jerry Garcia visited him at his Senate offices, and Leahy gave a tie designed by Garcia to Senator Orrin Hatch (who responded by giving Leahy a Rush Limbaugh tie). Surviving band members Bob Weir and Mickey Hart have participated in fundraisers for Leahy and his Political Action Committee, the Green Mountain Victory Fund. Leahy also appeared in a videotaped tribute to the Dead when they received a lifetime achievement award at the 2002 Jammys. His Senate website notes this response to a question from seventh grade students from Vermont’s Thetford Academy who asked Leahy which Dead song was his favorite, he replied: “… my favorite is “Black Muddy River” but we always play “Truckin’” on election night at my headquarters.”

Peace, Love, and Selling Out.