Just found an interesting article about “social objects” via Stephen Downes. Back when I was writing more actively about learning objects, and the desperate need for us to consider the importance of social interaction in learning, I recommended that the proper way to think about educational content was as a campfire. The campfire does, of course, have important nonsocial functions (like providing heat) just like educational content has important nonsocial functions (like conveying information), but the most important function of both the campfire and educational content is the manner in which it draws people together. A good campfire is a thing around which storytelling, singing, and other social interactions happen. The same is true for the best educational content – it draws people into arguments, explorations, discussions, relationships, and friendships.
- Social Networks are built around Social Objects, not vice versa. The latter act as “nodes”. The nodes appear before the network does.
- My overall marketing thesis invariably asks the question, “If your product is not a Social Object, why are you in business?”
Without a campfire all you have is a bunch of tents setup and people wandering around disconnectedly. The campfire provides a place for people to congregate and interact. The campfire appears before the singing starts. Likewise, the proper way to view online content is as a “place” for people to congregate around in order for social learning interactions to happen.
The second bullet is perhaps the most revealing, though. If your educational materials are not “social objects” – in other words, if you don’t already understand that their main purpose is to bring people together so that social learning interactions can happen – why are you producing and sharing them? A relevant follow-up question is, if you are not providing the functional space for these social learning interactions to happen in (or at least pointing to a space where they can), why are you producing and sharing them? This is the key question for all OER and OCW projects.