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October 2006

A remembered future

Sometimes, posts just seem … right. This is (3 Quarks Daily):

The twentieth century was insane. We forget to remember that. … Through it all, the challenge to the coherence and sustainability of human experience was relentless. If tradition was disrupted and broken down here and there in the 19th century, it was upended completely, remade from the insight (inside ?) out, and sometimes obliterated during the 20th. …

Czeslaw Milosz was as sensitive to these issues as anyone. This is a man who picked his way through the rubble of Warsaw when its ruins were still steaming, when the place was just an open wound. That experience, and the knowledge gained from it, is shot through everything that Milosz ever wrote. For Milosz, man is guaranteed nothing. That’s it. Nothing. And man can be reduced, or reduce himself, to nothing, at any moment. …

Gombrowicz too experienced such things. … But Gombrowicz chose flight, literally and metaphorically. … That is his particular freedom. It is the freedom of Socrates as Kierkegaard describes him in The Concept of Irony, the freedom that escapes from every possible determination.

Truth be told, this version of freedom annoys Milosz. Because for Milosz, the possibility of meaning in human affairs is dependent on commitment. If nothing else, it is founded on the capacity for human beings to hold experience together even as forces from within and without work to tear it apart. How one does this is not entirely clear but Milosz’s entire oeuvre is the sustained attempt to do so even as he lacks a blueprint. That is a pretty brave literary task to set in front of oneself. From Milosz’s standpoint, Gombrowicz has retreated into his own consciousness instead of forcing himself constantly to confront the problems of the world as it is encountered. …

But then the two come together again, in Milosz’s mind, because Gombrowicz never falls into the trap of those intellectuals who have lost track of the root problems of experience, actual experience, that have been thrown up by the 20th century. Milosz writes that, “A comparison of Gombrowicz with western writers, with Sartre, for example, would reveal, in the case of the latter, a deficiency of a certain type of experience connected with history and specific cultural traditions, a deficiency that is compensated for by theory.”

I think we’re still working this stuff through. And I’ll make one more rash claim. The future right now is in the past. Sometimes it is in the past, the immediate past, where things get clear again. For those of us whose lives stretch from the era of the 20th century into the next one, the most important thing for taking the future seriously is doing work on the things that have recently past. Only now is it becoming even vaguely possible to understand how important are the tentative thoughts put forward by people like Milosz and Gombrowicz. And there are others, back there, waiting for us. We simply have to take seriously the idea that turning our backs on the future is a way of renewing it.

We are, beyond question, 'still working this stuff through'. Spot on.

'A remembered future'? In July of last year, I :

In 1984, Harold Fisch published A Remembered Future and wrote of how art can give us 'the unappeased memory of a future still to be fulfilled'. More recently, Heaney has written of how 'We go to poetry, we go to literature in general, to be forwarded within ourselves. The best it can do is to give us an experience that is like foreknowledge of certain things which we already seem to be remembering. What is at work … is the mind's capacity to conceive a new plane of regard for itself, a new scope for its own activity' ('Joy or Night', 1990, in The Redress of Poetry, 1995).

For me, reading Milosz is to remember the future.

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Sharon Olds

Getting ready to leave one job and to start another seems inevitably to mean you're caught up in strong currents, old and new, working hard to finish the present job properly and to extend and ready yourself for the new. Anyway, that's my excuse for a few days of silence. Plus, I've been reading a lot.

Tomorrow, Sharon Olds comes to Radley to run a couple of workshops and read her poetry. Then it's in the evening for her only Oxford reading of this UK tour. From the QI events calendar for October:

Tuesday 31 October - SHARON OLDS Poetry Night Club Rooms 7.30pm
John Mitchinson writes: ’Hot on the heels of another American legend, Richard Ford, we are thrilled to introduce our second QI exclusive. Sharon Olds is one of America’s most powerful, courageous and controversial poets, a Californian but until recently the Poet Laureate of New York State. She writes about sex, domesticity, family disharmony and violence with a directness and an intensity that shock and move simultaneously. Like Richard Ford, she does so in a way that is never squeamish or obscure. All you need is a pair of ears and an open mind. She is a brilliant reader of her own work. Expect to be changed by the evening. She visits the UK very rarely. This is her only Oxford gig. PLEASE DON’T MISS HER.' Tickets will be allocated on a first come first served basis, so to reserve seats please contact Victoria on either or 01865 261 501. Tickets £5 members and £7 non members.

Links …

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.

And one poem:

I Go Back to May 1937 (from The Gold Cell)

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it—she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

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The future of e-learning

On Monday of last week, I went to the for the . I'd wanted to post a few thoughts about this session before now, but in some ways I might be drawing more from the discussion for having left it this long.

Monday 16 October 2006 16:00 - 17:30

  • Andrew Pinder, Chairman of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta)

Location: Oxford Internet Institute, 1 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3JS.

Andrew Pinder will discuss his vision of the future of e-learning. What are the key challenges for building a technological and institutional infrastructure for education in the 21st century?

spoke first, giving some context for the discussion. She remarked on how, over a number of years, education has become preoccupied with the development of skills over the transmission of information (from 'didactic' to 'conductive'). Andrew Pinder then took the floor. The webcast will be available soon from the OII (at this site). He was candid about not being an educationalist and the tension some of his words created springs, I am sure, from this difference of background, knowledge and experience: 

Between October 2000 and August 2004, Andrew was the UK's E-Envoy, responsible directly to the Prime Minister for co-ordinating the development of the knowledge economy in the UK. … During that time Andrew had significant involvement with the education sector, especially in relation to the large investment that has been made over the last few years in technology. Before becoming E-envoy, Andrew had a long career in both the public and private sector. He was a civil servant in the Inland Revenue for 18 years, working in a wide range of senior jobs, including Director of IT. He then moved to Prudential, where he ran operations and technology for almost five years, before having a stint at Citibank, initially as European Director of Operations and technology, before moving to the US to take up a global role with the Bank. He left Citibank in 1999, and became involved with venture capital, as well as carrying out some consultancy assignments within Government, including leading the first ever 'Gateway Review'. During this period, he was also Chairman of the Shropshire Learning and Skills Council, during its set up period.

Andrew left the E-Envoy role in August 2004. He now runs a small management consultancy, and has advised a number of other Governments in Asia, North America and Eastern Europe on how to develop the use of technology in their countries. Becta Board

Earlier this year, Becta published its annual report which has been summed up as saying that much money has been spent on IT in UK education with little discernible return. The report itself puts it somewhat more optimistically:   

There is a growing body of evidence that the use of ICT in education has a positive, if small, impact on learner attainment as measured in national tests.

Andrew told us Becta research concludes that about 15% of the UK's 25,000 schools have shown some gains in performance as a result of the technology that's been poured into them. Faced with such modest benefit, one has to ask, he said, was the technology wrong or was it just not used well? The core of his answer is that schools have lacked a business model, a comprehension of themselves as businesses — something that is required if they are to be able to discern how to put the technology to effective use. With respect to technological investment in particular, 'what is not happening is the industrialisation of education'. 

Andrew was, as he said, trying to be provocative in his choice of language. I'd noted back in May that he was linking industry and education, talking directly of the 'education industry'. Here's a BBC piece from then that I quoted when I spoke at Reboot 8 (see here): 

As Andrew Pinder, chair of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), told a conference this week schools are "one of a relatively small number of industries that do not look as if they have changed much over the past 30 years".

'The education industry': it is, I believe, an unfortunate turn of phrase. Amongst my notes from what Andrew said during last Monday's OII session: the education industry doesn't see itself as an industry; teaching is still a cottage industry, whereas in the wider world processes have been devised to implement technology and effect change; teaching is still conducted as something that works from the ground up (professionals often pride themselves on their own, separate expertise) — 'what's not happening is the industrialisation of education'; the supply side is 'hopelessly disorganised — tens of thousands of little "garage software" firms'; schools are rigid in nature, not exposed to dynamic pressures or to consumer demand … (That last took my breath away. My experience in the private sector doesn't square with that, but I was really thinking of a good friend who teaches in a state primary school and who faces, daily, 'dynamic pressures' and 'consumer demand' — ceaselessly revised demands made via management and LEA and DfES, a very large number of statemented children, with all that that means, and parents who are not slow in coming forward with their take on things.) 

Unsurprisingly, Andrew faced some strong reaction from the floor. I was impressed with how quickly he read the mood and came to feel that some of his language had not helped him advance his case. I was heartened by this because there is a great deal that we agree on and in the work that's to be done to implement technology in schools we don't want to be side-tracked by fighting each other. (I quite agree that schools are resistant to change — schools are, almost always, it seems, inherently conservative institutions — and I know from my own experience that collaborative work on projects with business teaches teachers to open their eyes much more, to consider both their own institution's development/business plan, or lack of it, and how organisations in general think of and organise themselves.) 

Professor John Furlong, Director of , did a great job, I thought, in responding to some of the issues raised by Andrew. Homing in on things he mentioned which really interest me here: the great gap between the confident, skilful ways in which children handle technology at home and out of school — and the ways schools then expect them to handle it; how school authorities still often see themselves as owners of the knowledge they impart; how IT is profoundly disruptive to schools, teaching and teachers — so schools find IT very hard to work with. (Tony Hart, Commercial Director, , later remarked that the real challenge of the new technologies in schools is to the role and nature of the teacher.) Andrew, John said, is asking the right questions but starts from the wrong place in his attempt to find the answers. 

I'm with Andrew when he came back after these points to say that, in order to change things, you need to change the whole institution. Agreed — but this certainly doesn't mean that we need an imposed, top-down solution. What we need (and we could also agree on this!) is two kinds of pioneer: the inspiring, individual teacher (Andrew was fulsome in his praise of such) and the organisational pioneer. 

I was struck that no-one used the term 'digital divide' — Prensky's digital natives and digital immigrants — but it is precisely this that makes for a significant, added difficulty in the use of the new technologies in schools. I read this in yesterday's

This week Schmidt warned an audience in Washington of the struggle Google faced with politicians. "The average person in government is not of the age of people who are using all this stuff," he told a public symposium hosted by the National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. "There is a generational gap, and it's very, very real."

Just so.

Ondes Martenot update!

In March last year I wrote about the Ether 2005 Festival and the evening with Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke. In that posting:

Ondes Martenot: what a world is here! Much information on the web, so for starters only: (the Keyboard Museum); Wikipedia; Claude-Samuel Levine's ondes Martenot site; Christine Ott (contemporary ondes Martenot artist); (interesting article about the instrument, the Cornish company, Analogue Systems, and their 'French Connection' "version" of the ondes Martenot, as commissioned by Jonny Greenwood).

Now, via , I've come across ('explores - mostly through archival photos - the simultaneous development and presentation of the ondes Martenot and the theremin by their respective inventors: Maurice Martenot and Leon Theremin'):

The theremin has a "sister instrument" whose construction was based on the same electronic, "heterodyne" principles as those used by Leon Theremin. Conceived and designed by the French cellist and inventor, Maurice Martenot 1898 - 1980 … he built his first instrument at roughly the same time as Leon Theremin was working on his own prototypes. He called his invention the "ondes Martenot" … There was no contact whatever between Maurice Martenot and Leon Theremin until they were introduced in New York City in 1930. Their inventions were totally independent of one another and, by 1930, both men had already introduced their respective instruments to the world.

There are, indeed, some wonderful photographs ('I am indebted to Maurice Martenot's biographer, Jean Laurendeau') on the three pages Peter Pringle has put together, one of his own favourites being this one (click through to visit this, page 3 of his ondes Martenot entry) — 'taken at the World's Fair in Paris, 1937 (at which Maurice Martenot was awarded "Le Grand Prix de l'Exposition Mondiale"). The ensemble consists of eight ondes Martenots, a percussionist and a pianist, and is conducted by Ginette Martenot, sister of Maurice':


There's 'a short mp3 sample of ondes virtuoso, Jean Laurendeau, playing the Concerto for Ondes Martenot and Orchestra by Jacques Hétu' (mp3).

Peter Pringle also has , 'one of the five musical instruments invented in the early 20th century by Leon Theremin (the other four being the theremin, the theremin keyboard, the rhythmicon and the terpsitone)'.

Subscribe to Take a look at (as of 20 October). Events System (something of Sonic Living comes to!):

See your friends’ events, and pick a location to create your recommendation calendar. Know an event not shown here? You can add it. 

Currently showing recommended events within 155 miles of London. (change)

Taste-o-meter ('Visiting other user pages now shows the tastometer box, which tells you, at a glance, how musically compatible you are with the profile you are viewing'):

More on these developments and on the new Flash player ('You can choose exactly how to play your music – flash or software'), the reintroduction of free downloads and the redesigned music pages.

If all goes to plan, the update will be rolled out to everyone 'towards the end of next week'. continues to surprise, delight and impress.

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1984 revisited: 'the future, eventually, will find you out'

Fine piece by William Gibson in the :

Today, on Henrietta Street, one sees the rectangular housings of closed-circuit television cameras, angled watchfully down from shop fronts. Orwell might have seen these as something out of Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian philosopher, penal theorist and spiritual father of the panoptic project of surveillance. But for me they posed stranger possibilities, the street itself seeming to have evolved sensory apparatus in the service of some metaproject beyond any imagining of the closed-circuit system's designers. …

The media of "1984" are broadcast technology imagined in the service of a totalitarian state, and no different from the media of Saddam Hussein's Iraq or of North Korea today — technologically backward societies in which information is still mostly broadcast. Indeed, today, reliance on broadcasting is the very definition of a technologically backward society. …

… driven by the acceleration of computing power and connectivity and the simultaneous development of surveillance systems and tracking technologies, we are approaching a theoretical state of absolute informational transparency, one in which "Orwellian" scrutiny is no longer a strictly hierarchical, top-down activity, but to some extent a democratized one. As individuals steadily lose degrees of privacy, so, too, do corporations and states. Loss of traditional privacies may seem in the short term to be driven by issues of national security, but this may prove in time to have been intrinsic to the nature of ubiquitous information. …

Orwell's projections come from the era of information broadcasting, and are not applicable to our own. Had Orwell been able to equip Big Brother with all the tools of artificial intelligence, he would still have been writing from an older paradigm, and the result could never have described our situation today, nor suggested where we might be heading.

That our own biggish brothers, in the name of national security, draw from ever wider and increasingly transparent fields of data may disturb us, but this is something that corporations, nongovernmental organizations and individuals do as well, with greater and greater frequency. The collection and management of information, at every level, is exponentially empowered by the global nature of the system itself, a system unfettered by national boundaries or, increasingly, government control.

It is becoming unprecedentedly difficult for anyone, anyone at all, to keep a secret. … 

… truths will either out or be outed … I say "truths" … A world of informational transparency will necessarily be one of deliriously multiple viewpoints, shot through with misinformation, disinformation, conspiracy theories and a quotidian degree of madness. We may be able to see what's going on more quickly, but that doesn't mean we'll agree about it any more readily. … 

Orwell did the job he set out to do, did it forcefully and brilliantly, in the painstaking creation of our best-known dystopia. … But the ground of history has a way of shifting the most basic of assumptions from beneath the most scrupulously imagined situations. … "1984" remains one of the quickest and most succinct routes to the core realities of 1948. If you wish to know an era, study its most lucid nightmares. In the mirrors of our darkest fears, much will be revealed. But don't mistake those mirrors for road maps to the future, or even to the present. We've missed the train to Oceania, and live today with stranger problems.

Date of publication? 25 June, 2003 …

Article found via 's .

Customer consciousness

After Guy Jackson, Electronic Publishing Manager at Macmillan Dictionaries, left a comment on my about the OED/KB917422 issue, I was thinking how we've come to accept that a blog posting about a product, made in some corner of the net, can be easily found by a conscientious company — or rival — and commented on … and how in this way we have a new customer/business relationship.

This was flagged up months ago by Robert Scoble when he spoke at Reboot 7 (I wrote up something about this and there's a bit more ) and, of course, there's Robert's and Shel Israel's book, Naked Conversations — sub-title, 'How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers'.

Then, earlier today, I read Alex Barnett on 'support tagging'. Read his whole for the background to this idea. This struck me:

Naturally, there will be those who scoff and respond to the support tagging idea along the lines of "Why? Customers should come to our support site, and open a ticket there". And that's how it's done today - make your customers come to you.

But why not reverse this completely? In one sense, this already happens today: customer conscious companies are trawling the RSS search engines and blogs looking for customer feedback / gripes / issues and post comments on those blogs (or post a blog and pingback). This is how these companies win the hearts, minds and loyalty of their customer. It's amazing customer service - a true differentiator. 

By providing a support tag, it could allow for further structuring around this 'listening to the blogs customer support' approach.

I'd given my post a number of specific Technorati tags, including KB924867 (the hotfix MS has now issued). I noticed a Technorati search was run for yesterday morning — and there's only the one post tagged with KB924867. I don't know if this was how Guy found my post, but one reason I tagged it like this is because I know the KB917422 issue will have affected a lot of users out there — and this tag might be a way to spread the word that a hotfix has arrived. 

Whatever the route, Macmillan has got itself into my consciousness because Guy bothered to find and then comment on my post. And because he did that, I discovered that any student having a copy of the Macmillan English Dictionary has free access to the Macmillan English Dictionary Online. When a student next asks my advice about buying a dictionary, I'm likely to pass this news on to him, too. 

I really like Alex's idea of extending this much further: a company issuing a support tag for a product would get my attention if they picked up on my blog post (tagged with the support tag), commented there and acted to help. The come-to-me web, indeed.

Shooting ratio

A colleague today, reviewing a video made by some of our students, opened my eyes somewhat:

Even the occasional slightly jarring cut is forgivable when the ratio of footage shot to that used is only about 5:1. (The average feature film is 20:1 while Apocalypse Now was 95:1.)

Wikipedia on shooting ratio.

Wikipedia on Documentary Film — Cinéma vérité and Direct Cinema:

… the shooting ratio (the amount of film shot to the finished product) is very high, often reaching 80:1.

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OED: cold turkey … and abundance

Back on 12 August, I reported to OUP a problem with loading the OED (on CD-ROM). This followed a Microsoft security update. OUP got back to me a few days later:

There is a known problem between the OED and the Microsoft Security Update KB917422. It causes the OED to close as soon as it is loaded, without showing any error messages. The developers are currently working on this problem and a solution will be posted on our Support website as soon as it is available.

The OED website subsequently confirmed this position and also made it clear that it was Microsoft who were now sorting this out ('Microsoft are currently working on this problem'):

In the mean time, to enable the OED to open successfully, it is necessary to uninstall the Microsoft update …

Huh? Spend two months (see below) with this security fix uninstalled? No thanks.

Late last week, I checked back at the OUP website: still no news of a fix. A search, though, revealed that other software had been affected by KB917422 and some sites certainly did now know of a fix. This from eLearnAid:

On 8 August 2006, Microsoft published an automatic Windows Update KB917422. This update has installed on your computer and conflicts with a wide range of software, including OED Macmillan CD-ROMs. Computers running Windows 2000 and Windows XP are likely to be affected. Microsoft has now made a hotfix called KB924867 which solves this problem.

At the moment, KB924867 can only be obtained by calling your local Microsoft office or +1 800-936-3100. On 26 September, we expect to be able to publish a link on this page to Microsoft's Download Center where this hotfix can be downloaded directly.

Macmillan had this hotfix news, too, went some way to apologise for a problem not of their making and also had some practical help to offer their customers:

My CD-ROM has stopped working after a Windows Update. What can I do?

LATEST INFORMATION published on 27 September 2006

… At the moment, KB924867 can only be obtained by calling your local Microsoft office or +1 800-936-3100. In October we expect to be able to publish a link on this page to Microsoft's Download Center where this hotfix can be downloaded directly.

If you are unable to contact Microsoft, Macmillan recommends that you register for the free online edition of the Macmillan English Dictionary so that you have an alternative to the CD-ROM.

The Macmillan dictionary team and our software partner apologise for the inconvenience caused by KB917422, which is beyond our control, and we thank you for your understanding and patience.

It would have been good to have had a similar OED offer from OUP. Instead, users just had to sit this out. Or so it seemed. 

Happily, I remembered (but not until several weeks of OED-deprivation had passed) that in England you can access the OED through your local library's Online Services portal — here's Wiltshire's. So this was one very good thing to come out of all this — discovering the amazing resources available online in England through local libraries. From the OUP (ironically! — no-one at OUP had had the bright idea of directing users-in-England to this, their own page): 

"It's hard to imagine a better excuse for the recent rises in the council tax … a recent remarkable deal between Oxford University Press and the Museums Libraries and Archives Council means that many of the world's most prestigious and authoritative reference works are now available free online [to members of public libraries in England] The list of works is astonishing: the entire Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, and 170 other dictionaries, companions and atlases on a myriad of subjects including law, medicine, zoology, statistics, space exploration, world literature, saints, history, theatre, opera, politics, biology, the ancient world, mythology, football, and many languages. The magisterial Grove Dictionary of Music and the Grove Dictionary of Art are also available Most English libraries have joined, but if yours hasn't, or you live in Scotland, I would start lobbying now." The Independent, 15 April 2006 

As part of the MLA's new Reference Online initiative, OUP is delighted to announce that 144 public library authorities in England have joined together for the first time to share the cost of a 2-year national licence for a range of OUP's online resources. 

129 library authorities have subscribed to the following resources: 

15 library authorities have subscribed to the following resources: 

Access is available until 31 March 2008. Members of subscribing libraries can access the resources from any computer at any time - as well as within the library! Check with your local library for details.

To find out more, go to . (That's for England; there's no mention there of Wales or Scotland or Northern Ireland.) Cornucopia! To access any of the above, you visit your local library's Online Services portal page, click the link to the OED (etc) from there, enter your library membership number … and away you go. 

Meanwhile, back at the hard drive coalface … Contacting Microsoft UK (0870 6010100) earlier this week got me the hotfix — but, again, no thanks to the OED website which continues to report that 'Microsoft are currently working on this problem'. 

Sometimes, one just has to wonder how user-friendly software manufacturers think they're being. When the OED on CD-ROM first came out (which is when I bought it — at full price, and me having beta-tested it ’n’ all), it cost an arm and a leg. That kind of money ought to buy you something better than the experience of the last two months. And as for Microsoft — well, it's worth reading Bruce Schneier's posting, , and drawing appropriate conclusions for the little episode of KB917422. Having said which, I can't fault the way Microsoft have handled my case this week.


Met up last night with and , the guys behind , at the first Elgg user group meeting, held in the Eagle and Child (Oxford). Looking forward to the promise of a workshop some time soon.

Meantime, there's an interview in . Two excerpts:

Can you explain the difference between Elgg, Curverider and Elgg Spaces?

Elgg is the social networking software. It's open source, so anyone can download it, and it's been designed to be easily modified. We're giving that away to the community under a GPL licence.

Curverider Ltd is the company we set up to provide Elgg support, development and consultancy services. If you want to use Elgg and have access to the level of  commercial support you'd expect with a commercial partner, we provide that. These’s also Elgg Spaces and a series of commercial blogs, and planning and preparation going on around a bunch of additional services that will be emerging in the near future in the future.

Elgg Spaces is a service provided by Curverider that allows anyone to run an Elgg installation without installing it on their own servers. You sign up to the site, fill in some information, and your installation is automatically set up. We maintain the server and keep Elgg updated to the latest stable version. It's subscription based, with options to add extra plugins in the future.

It's perfect for people who don't want the hassle of their own installation and maintenance. …

What do the Elgg Team see themselves doing over the next couple of years?

Ben: By this time next year, Elgg will have hit version 1, and I genuinely believe it will have become one of the most influential e-learning software platforms in the world. We have a whole set of ideas we haven't implemented yet, and I think distributed authentication - the ability to participate in all kinds of different communities all over the web but still retain your single login and profile - is going to be revolutionary. We're also hard at work developing a full open API to make it easier for people to build awesome plugins to stick on top of Elgg; we've already got some neat ones from people like Orange, but it's important to us that the barrier for extending Elgg is as low as it can possibly be.

When you put those things together with existing features like multiple languages, site-wide tagging, granular RSS and access restrictions on individual items on data, this is going to change the way people look at collaborative environments.

And to think we give it away for free ...

I think over the next couple of years the landscape of e-learning will change significantly, at least in terms of what people want out of the tools they use.  I think we will be an integral part of that.

Dave: That is a hard question to answer as you never know what twists and turns life throws at you; this equally applies to software development. Elgg is shaping up well and we are noticing a considerable change in the way people look at learner centered environments.

We don’t learn, or work or live in isolation or in silos: Elgg recognizes and facilitates the connections that people want to make and the ways people want to learn and interact.

If nothing else, I hope it gets more people talking about the potential of what is out there and how it can be used.

In discussion round the table, I was intrigued to learn that the Open University, having decided to use , is spending £5 million over two to three years adapting it. Speculation was that this is because the back end of Moodle is messy (so integrating it with other packages isn't straightforward) and scalability is an issue. If the OU then releases the code as open source …