Friday, March 25, 2011

Patterns of Cocreation: 1. Intentcasting

Each post in the 'Patterns of Cocreation' series will describe a capability that is necessary for open, creative collaboration and give examples of tools that instantiate that capability. The patterns are free for anyone to pick up, use or reuse. 
The first capability we will look at is intentcasting.

What is intentcasting?
Interest brings groups together, but intent is what brings teams together to actually get things done.   
Intentcasting is deceptively simple to describe. It consists in broadcasting your intent to make something happen. That something could be anything: 
  • "I want to have a party at my house!"
  • "We want to raise $1,000 for Japan!"
  • "I want this piece of software to exist!"
  • "We want this work of art to exist!"
There is a capability that is the essential complement to intentcasting: intentcatchingIntentcatching means connecting to an intent that has already been cast, in effect signaling, "I want this to happen too" or "We want this to happen too" and moving from a passive to an active stance towards the intent. 
At its core, intentcasting is invitation into a possible future. It is a statement of possibility, and will. Although the intentcast does not have to spell out how the intent is to materialize, it does contain the germ of an architecture of participation.
In order for intent to catch on, it has to meet a few conditions:
  • It must describe a promise - a future state of affairs that could conceivably happen, explained in a way that people understand.
  • It must open participation in one or more well-defined ways.
  • It must be expressed in a way that enables it to travel and spread over the communications infrastructure.
  • There must be other people or groups out there who resonate with the intent and can get excited enough to connect.
Once enough people have caught the intent, so that it has become shared intent, things can get moving pretty swiftly.

The state of the art of intentcasting
The social web offers a vast, quickly evolving landscape of new possibilities for intentcasting. Social tools that directly support intentcasting can be classified according to the modalities of participation that are offered to intent catchers (as we'll call those who respond to the intent):
  • Crowdfunding services, where catchers are invited to support the intent by donating money. Kickstarter is probably the most famous crowdfunding website right now.
  • Event platforms, where catchers are invited to announce their intent to attend the event. Plancast and Facebook Events fall in this category.
  • Challenge markets / prize systems, where catchers is invited to submit a solution of their own to a challenge. ChallengePost is an example of a challenge market.
  • Action platforms, where catchers is invited to support the intent by joining the effort and a collaboration framework is offered. IfWeRanTheWorldSuperfluid, fall in this category.
  • Goal-centered platforms, where the focus is squarely on the intent and catchers are simply invited to show support. A grandfather example of this is 43things. Facebook pages like this one do a similar job.
  • Task managers / Project trackers, where intent is usually expressed as a task or issue that needs to be taken care of. Pivotal Tracker is an example of this.

Related features
Tools that support intentcasting typically:
  • Provide a description of the intent.
  • Identify the intent's originator.
  • Provide a call to action - a way of overtly catching the intent.
  • Identify the intent's catchers, and their form of involvement.
They may also:
  • Point to related intents. For instance, some intents may be stepping stones to a more ambitious intent.
  • Make the intent into a shareable social object.
  • Express the intent in a machine-readable form, following a standard.
The latter feature opens the way to Intent Maps.

    The vision of the Intent Map
    Imagine having access to a comprehensive map of intents, being able to navigate your way towards those intents that most speak to you and your skills and talents, and being offered an array of means of connecting meaningfully to them. That is the vision of the Intent Map.
    The Intent Map could exist in a specific context (a group, an enterprise), but if you think about it for a minute, I believe you will agree that a global map of all intents that have been made public would be seven shades of awesome.
    One way this could happen is using the federation approach, if the various tools that support intentcasting agreed on a microformat to represent intent. A crawler/aggregator could index these intents, and a filtering and visualization tool could be built on top of that to let us navigate the map.
    Such a tool could catalyze self-organization on a large scale and help everyone shorten the path between wish and realization.

    Acknowledgement: This blueprint was inspired by conversations with Fred Mir (who wrote "ideas for developing a semantic web for the people and by the people"), Vincent ChapdelaineMark FrazierJarno KoponenIshan MarkandeyaFlemming FunchGeorge Por and Lion Kimbro.
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    Tuesday, February 15, 2011

    Mapping Montréal's Emerging Networked Culture Scene

    In case you haven't been looking closely, in the past few years, Montréal has seen a pretty amazing new scene unfold. Many worthwhile and lively initiatives that all connect in one way or another to what I would call networked culture have sprung up on my radar. Each of them has an exciting, self-organizing vibe to it. These are network-literate, emergent ventures.

    However, they are not all well-known and connected. Last week I decided to try to play social curator and map them, to try to give a visual picture of what's happening and hopefully increase awareness of and among those valuable projects.

    The ideal tool for doing this doesn't yet exist, as far as I know. For the purposes of the exercise, I tried my hand at using two tools: Prezi and Pearltrees. Each has advantages and disadvantages

    First, here's the Prezi map. You need to go in fullscreen and use the triangle buttons to have a good navigation experience. Although Prezi allows for more creativity in the visual department, one big downside is that you can't make links.

    And here's the Pearltrees map. Though it provides less flexibility design-wise, I believe it provides a better experience overall. Hovering your mouse over each 'pearl' shows you a capture of the linked site. I wish it were possible to expand all the branches to show the big picture, but I haven't found a way to do it.

    If anybody knows of better ways to do this, please tell me about it. And let me know in the comments or via twitter (@sebpaquet) if I've missed any relevant, lively initiatives!

    Tuesday, June 1, 2010

    Lists I'm On

    A lazy but efficient method of self-representation: compile what others think you're about.

    montreal (11) . collaboration (3) . collective intelligence (2) . a-listers . abundant open & free . academic researchers . academics . academy . algorithms . amis_du_mur . anarcho-fellowtravelers . assetmap twitter crew . blogueurs . blogueurs et techies fr . bud-branch . caned . changeagents . changer le monde . cities . clair2011 .collab . collabor8/innov8/sociolog . collaboration#2 . collective consciousness . colorful tweeps . community .comp-intelligence . complexity & sensemaking . coop-collab . council46 . creative thinkers . curation . currency money . dasexperiment . data and technology . data-mining . dev . digital humanities . digital scholar .digitalmediaandlearning . diseno . disrupting-education . doacracy & thinkocrats . durabilisme .economic/economy/consumer . edtech-global . edtechfaculty . edu_mes_#1 . edu_qc_et/ou_can . edu_quebec . educamp - enseignants . education et universite . education-resources . education/tic . education2 .education_qc . educausedtechcloud . elearning . en personne . experts . filter-my-following . find the others .first-circle . followfriday . forward thinkers . francophones . friends of e180 . friends of twylah . ftw .futureofmoney . futurist-knowledge manage . futurists & trendwatchers . geeks . general favorites . great-web-community . group1 . heads up! . heart of the commutiny . hors_europe_connection . i-inspiring . ideas . ideas for a better world . ignite 1 speakers . infoesthetique . information & person[ne]s, etc. . inner circle .inspiration_motivation . inspirational . intellectual health . intelligence collective . ir/tech . kindred spirits .knowledge . knowledge management . knowledge management #km . lecturers and profs . linkedin connections . listed . listed-me . local . ma_liste . main . marketing advertising . marketing-media sociaux .medias_sociaux . metalife . monde de leducation . montreal emerging . montreal entrepreneurship . montreal tech community . montreal-québec . montreal-tech . mtl . mtlgeekaction . music-related info . my followers .my-twitlets . myfollowers . myinspiration . networks study . new paradigm . new-reality-people . new-world-energies . nitle . notman house . oldskoolnet . open intelligence . open scholarship . open science . open science & open ed . open-knowledge . openmoney . organic systems thinkers . pattern seekers . paxis . people . people who inspire me . people-i-retweet . people-like-me . peopletofollow . personal learning network . persons i met . photography . physicists-ex-physicists . plan0004 . qc . qc-twitter-starz . quebec . quebec-geek . quickread .quora users . quorae . reallymostimportant . rel-met . rencontré à clair . research . reseau_universitaire_qc .retweeters-ff-3 . rococo 2010 . savoirs . science . semweb . sheer interest! . shs . signal . simulacrums . sm . sm-web-it . smartpeople . social change transform . social innovation list . social media thinkers . social networks .social news . social strategy . social-media-samurai . sociotech . sotsiaalmeedia . startup-leader .startupcause2010 . sw . tamiseurs . tech . techno-pedagogie . techno/web . techno_hum . teluq . tendances médias web . theme 04 intellectual . tice . trustnet . tweriffic tweep watchlist . twittercity . uber-robin .universitaire . university bookmen . uq . uqnum . various-contacts . veille techno/recherche . visionaries . web .web-creation-marketing . web2 . web_big_heads . webdinnerinvites . wiki . wikis . wikiway . world20 . yul .yulacademics . yulbloggers . yulmob . yulsparks . éducation - chercheurs . éducation - innovation

    Friday, May 28, 2010

    Building Notman House: Evolving an Architecture of Participation

    En français: Maison Notman: cultiver une architecture de participation - Partie I - Partie II

    On Friday, May 21, some fifty-odd people gathered on the terrace of Hotel Opus in Montreal to witness the public birth of a very peculiar project by the name of Maison Notman - Notman House.

    Instigators Philippe Telio and Daniel Drouet kicked things off by giving a short speech explaining the project. Here's the backstory, as I understood it, in super-short bullet form:
    • 2007-. Telio, Drouet and others repeatedly meet with government officials, academics and businesspeople to raise awareness of the importance of supporting the grassroots Web start-up community.
    • July 2009. The OSMO Foundation, a non-profit entity, is established "to fund, by way of grants, grassroots initiatives that support community building and networking."
    • 2010. Funding is secured from municipal, provincial, and federal sources towards the purchase of Notman House, a heritage home sitting just off the corner of Sherbrooke and St-Laurent. The Foundation makes an offer on Notman House, which is accepted by the current owners. (Additional fundraising will, however, be required to complete the purchase.)
    The main stated aim of the Notman House project is to foster technology entrepreneurship in the area of Web technology. Meaning, in a bare-bones way, that if we get this right, people will come in, and fully-formed Web startups will come out. (But lots of other good things can happen, too; more on that later.)

    "By The Community, For The Community"

    The first surprise for me was to witness how self-effacing the instigators were at the meeting. They made it clear that this is very explicitly a community project. To paraphrase what Philippe said, there are a few initial elements of vision, but nothing is fully formed, and pretty much everything is open for discussion by the community. The initial elements are: office space for entrepreneurs and investors, coworking spaces, a café that should act as a turbo-Laïka, and a large open space for community events, seminars and the like.

    I've been into the house. It is unmistakably HUGE. Roughly speaking, the front building has 10,000 square feet and the back one, which (perhaps fittingly) used to be an asylum, has 20,000 more. (There are a few floor plans on the site.)

    After the kickoff speech, the people present were invited to share their visions, and discussion subgroups were formed around issues like fundraising, governance, physical organization and projected activities. Volunteer notetakers captured ideas as they flew around. I assume we'll soon get to see what's in those reports.

    Notman House is an ambitious and exciting project. In my wildest imaginings, I see it as a potential catalyst for a much-overdue renewal of Montreal's culture and business, something that could help move the whole city into the 21st century. (Yes. I remain convinced that this Interwebs is kind of a big deal.) And the vibe I got from the kickoff meeting gives me confidence that the Montreal Web community is up to the challenge.

    This is the right city to get something like this started.

    A Vision for the House

    As a long-time researcher with a passion for the social web and as someone who resonates a lot with startup culture, when I first heard about this project my mind started racing, envisioning possibilities for the House and foreseeing all the good that could come out of it. Honestly, at this point I'm still in between belief and disbelief, but I want to believe. Throw in the fact that the House is right across from my office, and this looks too good to be true. But it could still be true!

    As I pondered what my ideal Notman House looked like, I basically came up with a list of qualities I feel it should have. Here they are, in the present tense:

    1. Open and Social. Outsiders feel welcome and pathways towards belonging are in sight. You can come in even if you don't know anyone; you will find actual people and make friends inside. People from outside Montreal who have a connection to web culture can drop by and feel like they're at a friend's house.

    2. Connected. The House has cordial (and ideally symbiotic) relationships with fellow entities that have similar DNA, for instance:
    This hubness is extremely valuable because, much like a well-connected mutual friend, it accelerates the reciprocal awareness of various initiatives in the city and helps see the forest for the trees.

    As well, the House recognizes its fellowship in the wider Creative Class by opening itself to connection and exchange with students, academics, artists, and social innovators, all of whom are also in the business of thinking up and enacting new ideas that advance culture and society. These peeps need the Web, and the Web needs them. Lots of cross-fertilization can happen in such interactions.

    3. Lively, fun, thriving, messy, vibrant, ever-evolving. The place is a hotbed of innovation and original thinking. Something's always happening there. People walk out more inspired and knowledgeable than they went in. Nerf guns are never far away. There's food and drink and music - maybe not everywhere, all the time, but it's there. People go there to have a beer after work. It's a truly living space.

    4. Diverse. Interests overlap, but not completely. Everyone has their own personality and goals. In true Boulevard Saint-Laurent spirit, there are French-speaking and English-speaking and multilingual peeps. WOMEN like Maj and M-C and Christine and Tara and Stephanie and Christina and Natalie and Tanya and Christine and Sandrine and Girl Geeks like to hang around. You regularly get exposed to people who will challenge your assumptions.

    5. Conducive to talent discovery. When someone does awe-inspiring work, the House knows about it pretty quickly.

    We get this one right and the talent will flock to the place, with all the great things that it entails.

    6. A good citizen. The House makes significant contributions that serve the city and the society that supports it. These could take many forms, of which new enterprises is just one. Using the Web to help the city know itself is another one, on which I'll be happy to elaborate if enough people bug me about it. :)

    Process Design: A Playbook

    Sylvain Carle made an important statement on Friday: "Notman House already exists.", by which he meant that the web culture is already thriving in Montreal. In a way, we're just helping it find a body that is a bit less ethereal and that can amplify its capabilities.

    So it can be said that a few cards are on the table, but the rules of the game have yet to be defined. Even before we answer the question, "What is Notman House?", we have to answer the question, "How will we build Notman House?"

    The challenge at this stage, then, is to define the process, not the product. In my view, at this point there are two critical questions to ask. The way in which we answer them will make or break the project:
    1. How do we make the process as inclusive as possible, so that many people have a sense of ownership?
    2. How do we structure the governance so that there's as much life in Notman House as possible (by which I mean: just enough chaos)?
    These two questions are intimately connected. I believe they can be encompassed as follows: "How do we evolve a good architecture of participation for the Notman House project?"

    It is important to recognize from the get-go that while it's by no means completely mature, there is already a bottom-up architecture of participation in the Montreal web community - hashtags get tossed around, camps are getting organized aplenty, etc. How can we build upon this?

    Basically this is a problem of institution design. There is a tension here. Make no rules and you get chaos - things go nowhere fast. Make the rules too strict or dictatorial, and potential participants feel too constrained, and you don't get that juicy emergence we're all pining for.

    I'd like to make a few suggestions that I think can help things move along in a way that strikes a good compromise between chaos and structure.

    1. Let's use the Web to make community needs manifest and explicit.

    This one is a no-brainer. We're a community of Web buffs. A critical unknown in the project is the exact nature of the community's needs. It would only be natural, then, to use the Web to surface what people hope to get out of Notman House. A web-based idea sharing platform should be found (or cooked up) and intelligently exploited.

    I have a lot of ideas about this, but I'll just give one for now: the system should enable a continuum of degrees of involvement, ranging from a simple "Like-button" modality to full-out "I Have a Dream" soapbox activity.

    Now, this attention to the Web side doesn't mean that there shouldn't be face-to-face meetings - on the contrary, these will help tremendously - but things should be conducted in such a way that a fair representation of the community's visions can be found online.

    2. Let's relentlessly encourage do-ocracy.

    Again, this is a natural fit with the startupness of the whole thing. People who care about something that connects to the community's interests, and are prepared to do something about it, should by all means be encouraged to go ahead with their initiatives. This ensures the presence of passion in the way things are done around the House, which is nearly always a Good Thing.

    3. Let's make the process as transparent as possible.

    For a prospective participant, it's always a big turn-off when you don't know how the decisions are made. On what basis can you trust the process and get involved?

    In order to be compelled to invest their good ideas into the wider project, people who have them should be able to plainly see that there is indeed a way for such ideas to work their way into fruition at the House. Though it is probably not sufficient in itself, transparency goes a long way towards ensuring that.

    4. Let the functions of the House be organized relatively independently wherever possible.

    I'm thinking further down the line here, about concrete operations. In computer science, separation of concerns helps ensure that that "failure of one function does not cause other functions to fail, and in general makes it easier to understand, design and manage complex interdependent systems".

    The functions of Notman House are not set in stone at this point, but say there is a Café to run, a physical building to maintain, a technical infrastructure to evolve, a coworking space to run, offices to rent, and meeting spaces to use. Then, insofar as this separation is workable, each of these should probably be managed pretty autonomously. Of course it is best if some people are involved in at least two different functions, because communication will be needed between them.

    5. For each function, let's pick a governance model based on our collective degree of competence and political maturity.

    To pick an easy example, our community presumably knows less about heating system maintenance than it does about network infrastructure. Therefore it makes sense to pick a simplified governance model like outsourcing for the first, and a sophisticated one for the latter.

    The same reasoning holds for each one of the functions of the House. I think management-by-community in all areas is a nice ideal to aspire to, but it likely can only happen in stages as the House progressively gets smarter in various areas (politics included). Nevertheless, individuals in charge should be ready (and perhaps relieved) to surrender power when it becomes clear that "all of us" thinks it's time to replace them with some other mode of decision.

    Of course there will be cross-functional or top-level issues that will need to be resolved. A set of (hopefully) enlightened and benevolent dictators will probably be needed to cut the Gordian knots that will undoubtedly form along the way. How should we pick them? The best we can probably do as a community is to put people there in whom we have a large amount of trust, and who are interested in performing this kind of service in a way that listens to the community.

    6. Let's strive to make things as simple as possible (but no simpler).

    If I'm relatively new to the community and I want to, say, organize a Camp in the House, I shouldn't have to jump through many hoops in order to do so. Maybe there are very simple instructions somewhere on the site. Maybe the community finds someone to lend me a hand and help me learn the ropes.

    Similarly, if I'm getting involved in the inner workings of the House, there shouldn't be a whole book of Rules of the House for me to digest before I can do anything.

    Did you know that Open Space meetings get by very well on a mere four principles and one law (obviously complemented by the usual social norms)? If we could achieve this kind of simplicity it would be pretty awesome.

    7. Let's assume abundance and good faith (unless there is evidence to the contrary).

    If someone comes in and wants to use the big room for something, and the big room is available, then they should get it. If someone wants to launch a project and there isn't any hard reason why they can't do it, then they should be able to do it.

    The idea here is (at least in the initial stages) to maintain a culture of experimentation that lets many flowers bloom and not to worry too much about "running out of space" or "spreading ourselves too thinly". In the event that these should become actual problems, the community will find ways to deal with them.

    Looking ahead

    I certainly hope many in our community are as tickled by the promise of Notman house as I am. At this stage in the game, everyone needs to think both about "what Notman House can do for us" and "what we can do for Notman House". Imagination and will are not optional here.

    Practically speaking, my instinct tells me that getting the right Web toolkit to let individual visions emerge and become visible, so they can coalesce and we can make sense of them, is a pretty critical next step.

    What do you think?

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    How to Become a Culture Hacker (in 5 min.)

    I gave a talk at Ignite Montreal last week. The slides in Ignite talks are set to auto-advance every 15 seconds, no more, no less, and every talk must last exactly five minutes.

    For the occasion, I challenged myself to pack a high-level view of everything I've learned so far about how our actions make culture evolve into that constrained 5-minute format.

    Let's just say there was a lot of meat to remove, but I think I've kept the essence intact, and I'm pretty sure the culture hackers in the room recognized themselves. At any rate, the talk landed me a memorable lunch with avant-garde composer (and programmer) Andrew Culver, a fascinating man who now lives in Montreal and was also speaking that night.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    How to Deal With Your Weirdness

    I was invited to give a short talk at the Montreal IdentityCamp this week.

    I basically started from the business-y idea that, these days, if you're standard, you are bound to get commodified. Then I moved into the identity realm with the good news is that each of us, to borrow Walt Whitman's words, "contains multitudes" - our personality has multiple facets.

    When we move into any social space we have to choose which of our faces to show. At any given moment, a few of them are visible. The others are hidden, often because we think they are somehow "weird". What I tried to do was to pack up my current thinking about the advantages and drawbacks of showing lesser-known aspects of ourselves, and outline a few strategies to go about it.

    I believe the influence of a few bright lights showed in the talk, notably Lilia Efimova, Alexandre Enkerli, Sylvain Carle, Karl Dubost, and danah boyd.

    For the occasion, I decided to give presentation tool Prezi a spin. I was blown away. The interface totally rocks, and the end result is, in my opinion, much more entertaining than a pile of slides - without sacrificing understandability.

    I think one of the strong points about Prezi is the intelligent use of motion. In the PowerPoint context, you can incorporate animation elements, but in my experience it usually distracts more than it helps. By contrast, I believe that motion in Prezi can really help tell a story. Now I'm a total noob, still really improvising with it. I'm pretty sure I'm not using it 100% correctly, but it certainly feels exciting to work with that tool.

    Anyhow, here's the Prezi: (click More > Fullscreen to get the best experience)

    And here are the live notes from Alexandre Enkerli:
    @sebpaquet Montreal-style (English slides, French speech).

    @sebpaquet Finding the specificity from own skills which are unique in aggregate.

    @sebpaquet Contrary to high school, context allowing personal weirdness. Not pleasing everyone but finding like-minded peeps.

    @sebpaquet thought-provokes through appropriate use of imagery and shared references. Adapted to crowd.

    @sebpaquet primacy of personal context and move toward relative open-mindedness and rapport-induced weirdness-tolerance.

    @sebpaquet Non-judgmental approach to diversity of strategies. Insight on potential issues including context-collapse.

    @sebpaquet uses a large but manageable number of concrete examples in discussion of rather abstract points.

    Federating identities through standardized tools.

    pubwich on aggregating identities through feeds as php libraries.

    @dianebourque on but Pubwich as Quebec-developed tool.

    on intrapersonal process for stiff-intolerant/weird-tolerant interpersonal dynamic. Agency?

    Black hole of open culture, forcing transparency.

    Advantages of multiple-specialization in potentially faddish reality. Flexibility, learning how to learn, interdisciplinarity.

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    The Fate of the Incompetent Teacher in the YouTube Era

    Up until recently, learners have had little freedom of choice as far as teachers went. If you were stuck with a bad teacher, you pretty much had to suck it up. You simply didn't have access to alternatives.

    I remember being taught thermodynamics by a completely incapable teacher. I'm convinced everyone who sat in that class still has mental scars from the experience.

    Not even the best students understood what he was saying. Whenever someone asked him a question, he would just go back one page in his notes and repeat himself word-for-word.

    We quickly learned not to bother inquiring.

    But what could we do? It wasn't like there were a half-dozen other teachers laying around, standing ready to provide a perfectly comprehensible explanation of the law of entropy at the snap of a finger.

    Fast-forward to today, and that dream scenario is exactly what we're getting incredibly close to. Look at Salman Khan. He's the real deal. For a few years, the guy has been delivering a steady stream of clear explanations on hundreds of topics relating to mathematics, physics, finance and a few other fields.

    His YouTube channel has more than a thousand videos. Each is about 10 minutes in length, which translates to a pretty thick stack of DVDs. Do you need to learn about the ideal gas equation? Khan's got it. The law of cosines? No problem. Moving pulleys? Check. Collateralized debt obligations? Sure. You name the topic, chances are it's already available, or will be soon. For free.

    At this very moment, students all over the planet have just discovered Khan's treasure trove, and they are dancing around in their rooms, feeling blessed to have found someone who explains the subject they have to study this year in a way that they can understand.

    Think about it. Even assuming, conservatively, that Khan's calculus videos are only slightly above average, roughly half the students taking calculus this semester would save time and pain by watching his lessons instead of paying attention to the mediocre teaching happening in front of them.

    And I'm not talking about students who don't have a teacher, or eager minds who are stuck in a class below their ability level. The latent demand for this kind of stuff is huge.

    "But these are just videos, not a real flesh-and-blood person you can interact with!" True. But I maintain that a great video compares favorably with a live, but bad, teacher in a classroom setting. You can't interact productively with a bad teacher anyway.

    The Snowball Effect

    Now, one of the great things about clarity of explanation is that most people tend to recognize it pretty quickly when they see it. Students who stumble upon Khan's videos remember him. They will go back to him; they will recommend him to their friends.

    It is important to note that, thanks to YouTube's bandwidth, Khan's teaching scales very well. He has nearly 25,000 subscribers as I write this.

    At some point, he will be helping a quarter million people learn.

    Expect a similar dynamic to play out in every blackboard-teachable field with a standardized curriculum.

    How fast is this going to happen? Well, Khan is already becoming famous. Last year CNN gave him airtime to explain the financial crisis. Why him, and not an economics Ph.D. type, you ask? Because he is understandable, and because some genius at CNN figured out that at least some of their viewers were able and willing to learn a little bit in order to understand what is going on.

    So, for a change, instead of viewers being fed stodgy, professional-sounding but indigestible prose from a self-important expert, for several minutes there was a guy on TV with a pink tie and amateurish-looking drawings finally giving a simplified, but clueful explanation of the financial crisis and possible ways to get out of it.

    In a fast-changing world, people are beginning to recognize the value of explanation.

    Teacher Fame Goes Global

    Good teachers have always had some measure of fame at the local level. Let's not kid ourselves: within a school, the students know who is a good teacher and who is no more illuminating than a wet pack of matches.

    The net takes that to a whole different level. Eventually everyone will know who the good teachers are, and will be able to tune into them. They will be rock stars.

    But what will happen to the bad teachers then?

    There's a quote by Warren Buffett that I like to bring up from time to time: "It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked."

    Well, the incompetent teachers have indeed been swimming naked, and in a world where learners are free to tune into many other, competent teachers, it will inevitably show.
    When you have something to compare to, bad becomes tangibly bad.

    Very well then. There can't be so many bad teachers anyway, right? Well... It only takes one extremely talented biology 101 teacher to raise the bar for all biology 101 teachers. In effect, the top 5% of teachers stand to make the other 95% look bad, if they put themselves to it.

    Some of the poor teachers will look so bad that their students will simply laugh and walk out if they can, or tune out if they can't. They will only show up in class to get evaluated.

    Of course, this kind of behavior will bring some questions into sharp focus, among them: "What good is it to pay an incompetent teacher to come in and give lessons that nobody actually listens to?"

    Education systems typically move very slowly, so I don't expect incompetence to be magically chased all of a sudden because of the sudden availability of zero-cost, high-quality explanation.

    Thus, it will be interesting to see exactly in what way the pressure coming from students (and their paying parents) will collide with institutional inertia.

    Who knows? It could be that quite a few bottom-of-the-barrel teachers will have to find a new line of work.

    I won't miss them.