Archive Athabasca Landing

Back to the future of online communications

Originally published on December 8, 2008

What I look forward to in online communications is something that saves me from more carpal tunnel syndrome and is as easy to use as an Automatic Banking Machine crossed with a telephone and television. Before the late 1990′s such a user-friendly online system would have been known as a BBS (Bulletin Board System) which was collaborative, social networked, and fully automated.

Alas I have to put up with an over complicated mess of API’s, scripting engines, and clumsy servers to create simple communications such as teleconferences and forums. What made the Internet more attractive to the public than the BBS? Perhaps a change of protocol, more ubiquitous connectivity, and simplicity in convenience of one graphical user interface to view all sites.

Unfortunately the programmers of BBS software were blinded by the WWW wave and eventually let themselves be niched into history rather than take BBS to the next level. Hence, Content Management Systems (CMS) and their hybrids such as Learning Management Systems (LMS) have taken over the focus of online communications. No longer can I work with a centralize and cohesive suite of applications that seemed to do everything within an online environment; instead I have to employ different scripting languages and tools such as VOIP to provide a diverse collection of online communications applications. It gives me the feeling of moving from a microcomputer back to a terminal, which is an odd feeling considering that CMS/LMS open-source applications are more flexible than ever before.

I have been asked what makes a good CMS. The short answer is cross a BBS with the Internet and you have one. However, a BBS such as the famous Worldgroup is now dead due primarily because there wasn’t anybody who could replace the original programmer – thus no vision, sustainability, or future. Had Worldgroup been made open-source, it may have stood the chance of survival if integration with Net applications were successful.

Since there is no BBS to cross pollinate with Internet then what? The following answer is more philosophical due to the plethora of Net applications.

In my opinion a good CMS/LMS must have the following interrelated attributes:

  • Functionality – the right tool or set of tools for the job, easily upgraded
  • Connectivity and Interoperability – transparent to operating systems and other CMS/LMS
  • Sustainability – actively supported, stable, open non-proprietary file formats
  • Flexibility – portability and reuse of the data and learning objects
  • Diversity – openness to technologies that may be incorporated or supersede existing dogma
  • Virtuality – global perspective with an open-source freedom and multinational support

When any of the aforementioned attributes is ignored, the sustainability of the digital communications will be in danger of going the way of the BBS. Given the vast array of proprietary systems and file formats, the Internet may be the last hope of balancing homogeneous protocols with heterogeneous data.

This posting is a follow-up to my academic blog posting – Back to the Future of Push – Pull, on September 21, 2006.