Three microblogging services have come to my attention recently. Here they are, with some observations. Rather than just listing a few new sites (new to me, that is), I've tried to consider how they might be useful in an educational context.
This is a business-oriented microblogging service. So, it's like Twitter, except that it's intended for use within a single organisation. It has a few neat features, such as a Reply button for individual messages, and the facility to see the messages thread for a particular topic.
Somewhat disconcertingly, it told me that I was the first person to sign up for the service. I think it must have said, or meant, the first person in my organisation. After all, according to an article on the Marketing Monster website, Yammer has over 2,000 companies and 10,000 users registered with it.
I have to say that it does have appeal, but I think the way I would use it is not so much as a company (there's only two of us!) but for collaborative project work. That would entail a bit of admin and some hassle, because to add people to your organisation you have to give them an appropriate email address. I could do that, up to a point, but I'm not convinced it would be worth the work involved.
But I can see the potential for, say, a school. Certainly in the UK, pupils already have a school email address automatically (as far as I'm aware) in the form: email@example.com, so it would be really easy to set up a Yammer account for students and staff to collaborate with each other in a closed-off environment. So, if Twitter seems somewhat too open for comfort, perhaps Yammer is the answer.
I came across Yonkly through an item in Stephen Downes' OL Daily newsletter. He describes it thus:
"Yonkly is to Twitter what Ning is to Facebook."
I had a look at it, but decided not to sign up. It seems to me to offer similar functionality to Yammer, but at a cost (after a 60 day free trial). I don't object to paying for services over the internet, but I'm not convinced it would represent good value for money for me, despite some nice features like being able to upload several images at a time and being able to view images, and being able to set the character limit for messages.
It could have some usefulness for a school. For example, you can change the number of characters allowed, and you can change the prompt. However, arguably the most appropriate service plan for a school, the one that gives you full control over the on-site adverts, costs $100 a month, which is actually quite hard to justify.
The lowest cost one, at $10 a month, is affordable, but suffers from the disadvantages of no control over ads, which may or may not be a big issue for you, and a limit of 100 users. Even that limitation is fine if you can get away with having a number of generic sign-ups that could be used by different students at different times. In that case, though, be sure to make sure you know exactly who is actually posting at any one time because of the draconian terms of service (well, they're reasonable, actually, but would not be pleasant if you fell foul of them!). These make it clear that you're responsible for the content that anyone in your network posts (see below).
I think a big issue with all these sorts of things is that the owner of the network is responsible for whatever is posted to it, as already stated. I'm happy to delete forum postings that look a bit "iffy", but I don't fancy the idea of trying to moderate lots of short messages all the time.
Are they really needed?
Yes and no. They do offer more functionality than you get from Twitter, although I suspect that if you looked hard enough you could find add-ons that would give you what you're looking for in Twitter. I'm thinking especially of threaded discussions and groups. On the other hand, you would need to ask yourself if the marginal benefits outweigh the extra costs (of time, effort and money). However, there is a service which may be worth exploring...
This is a Romanian service which I discovered in a recent paper by Gabriella Grosseck and Carmen Holotescu:
Using Microblogging in Education.
The authors say:
"Besides the facilities that Twitter offers, Cirip.ro comes with the following:
Users have the possibility to specify the domain about which they will write the notes; this makes finding microblogs from a specific domain easier, particularly the educational ones;
Creating user groups; pupils, students, teachers can create public or private groups(in the private ones the notes are visible only for members);
The possibility to embed images, audio and (live) video files, presentations, documents in notes;
The possibility to subscribe to search feeds or to feeds offered by sites / blogs / social networks -- the same as users and groups, the feeds can be monitored, online, by IM, or by SMS. The interface is in Romanian and in English, facilitating an international collaboration. Many statistics and visual representations offered by platform are useful for quantitative and qualitative evaluation. The platform has a few thousands users, an important percentage being pupils, students and teachers."
That all sounds pretty good, and so I've signed up in order to see what it's like from the inside. I'll try and report back in the not-too-distant future. So far, I haven't been able to log in. I presume I'm awaiting approval or an opt-in email.
Related article: Six microblogging services that may be of interest to educators.