Demoting Social Silos to Syndication Endpoints: Known and the Future of Ownership, Publishing, and Educational Technology

The ideas expressed in the Reclaim Your Domain and IndieWebCamp work continue to inform my thinking about the 5th R (retain) and the notion that students should be able to “Own Your Content, Own Your Data” when it comes to online learning.

A few weeks ago I ran across Known which fascinated me but looked to be too immature to use yet. Then Jim described Tim Owens’ experiments with Known. That gave me enough confidence to dig into the code myself and see if I couldn’t get it running.

But what is Known and why is it so interesting? Known is a publication platform that uses the “POSSE” publication model, where POSSE stands for “Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere”. You can post photos, status updates, checkins, etc., to your own site and have them syndicated out to other sites if you like (e.g., push your checkins to Foursquare or you status updates to Twitter of Facebook.)

The POSSE model is just beautiful. It represents everything empowering about the Reclaim and Retain work. In fact, the more I wrapped my head around it, the more excited I got.

As a first step, I took a computer here at the house and put a clean Ubuntu install on it and set it up on the home network. Then I configured dyndns to point a new domain – at the box. Finally, I installed Known on the box together with the plugins for Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare (haven’t got the Flickr plugin working yet.) Now I’m publishing all my photos, status updates, checkins, etc. to an open source system, on my own domain, running on an open source OS, on my own hardware, on my own network, and pushing some of that content out to the silos where my friends are probably expecting to find it. “Own your content, own your data” indeed.

There’s something unspeakably gratifying about owning every link in the chain of publication of your own content. The feeling of demoting the social silos like Facebook to the role of syndication endpoints may be even more gratifying. And did I mention – (friends with Known installs + RSS + Feedly) = (decentralized Facebook replacement)? What is that bell I hear tolling?

It puts the old joke about Blackboard and Facebook in a new context:

Q: What would happen if Facebook worked like Blackboard?

A: Every 15 weeks Facebook would delete all your photos and status updates and unfriend all your friends.

The question immediately arises – when will we be able to POSSE into our formal learning environments? Could it be done today? For example, could we write a Known plugin that would let us POSSE into Canvas? Knowing what I do of their API, I think we could.

How would that change students’ relationships with their courses and institutions? Maybe this is already where the Reclaim folks are going, and I’m only just catching up, but give each student (1) their own domain, (2) a Known install, and (3) the ability to POSSE into the LMS – and just think about the implications. What does “submitting” homework mean now? What does an e-portfolio mean now? How do assessments need to change when there are worked examples of assignments everywhere? And where was I ever going to point the Evidence metadata in an open badge before students had this?

And why ignore faculty? Just make each faculty member’s Known installation speak LTI (that’s your Blackboard plugin) and what happens to faculty ownership, licensing, and control of their content? Hmmm… Known speaking LTI… To paraphrase Elton John, “Goodbye, xpLOR, though I never really knew you at all.”

Perhaps I’m overly excited. But I don’t think so. Empowering people to truly own their content and own their data, on their own domain, with POSSE capabilities, will change things. Perhaps we will finally reach the point where people quit using jailbreak as a verb. I haven’t really addressed it here, but I’ll explore the relationship between POSSE and “open” more in a future blog post. I just have to unexplode my brain first.