LearnHub: Social View of Learning

learnhubSaw on TechCrunch this week that John, Gosia and team had redeisgned the home page of LearnHub. Congratulations!

LearnHub is the evolution of Nuvvo. It’s a set of online tools designed to make learning fun and engaging for students, and easy and effective for teachers. It’s built on new technology, Nuvvo was built on a Java stack using Hibernate and Struts. LearnHub is build on the Ruby stack using Rails. It also represents an evolution in understanding of how important communities and interaction are in the learning process.

“We participate, therefore we are”

What is the social view of learning? Joshua Porter summaries very nicely,

The mere threat of social interaction changes our behavior…if you know your work is going to be put on public display, you’ll be much more motivated to make it good.

John Seely Brown presents Learn 2.0 as a shift from a view where knowledge is something that can be transferred to students. To a view where it is the social interactions and activities that help support the learning of content.

“This perspective shifts the focus of our attention from the content of a subject to the learning activities and human interactions around which that content is situated. This perspective also helps to explain the effectiveness of study groups. Students in these groups can ask questions to clarify areas of uncertainty or confusion, can improve their grasp of the material by hearing the answers to questions from fellow students, and perhaps most powerfully, can take on the role of teacher to help other group members benefit from their understanding (one of the best ways to learn something is, after all, to teach it to others).” – John Seely Brown [Minds on Fire – PDF]

LearnHub supports a set of social activities. Including blogging, comments, quizzes, tutoring, testing, and a reputation system. The reputation system provides a mechanism for students to evaluate teachers, the input and tutoring advice of other students, and generally create a public mechanism for building trust amongst the participants. The combination of using a socially motivated reward system, i.e., reputation, along with participatory social tools seems like a fantastic start for successful social learning communities. Coupled with the lessons from Nuvvo about how to build efficient course management tools, it sets LearnHub up to be a competitive player.

Quick Analysis

Management Team

The management team consists of Malgosia Green, John Green and Michelle Caers. The team is relatively inexperienced, but looks like a strong young team. Recent experiences building a succesful acquisition in Silicon Valley and lessons learned from a failed attempt at Nuvvo, should provide a strong basis for keeping LearnHub’s product development and business development on track.

Market

Bersin & Associates estimates the LMS market in 2006 at approximately $480 million/year and growing at 26% per year. March 2008 post shows the market at over $700 million with a strong focus on Web 2.0 and participatory tools as a important focus for vendors. There is a strong market for LMS solutions in India where there is a good mix of public and private sector adoption of learning management tools, there is a strong educational market with a strong group of private universities that account for 90% of the educational spend.

Product

The LearnHub product offering shows the experience of having build Nuvvo. The learning management tools included for teachers are comparable to those included with Moodle and Blackboard: courses, lessons, polls, quizzes, tests, student management, multimedia instruction, etc. The advantage for LearnHub is the participatory nature of the product is not bolted on after the fact. The LearnHub tools appear to be built around social learning. The integration of a reputation system that leverages many of the standard social design patterns, allows LearnHub to build tools for educators around a participatory community that supports individual learners improving the learning experience. The reputation system combined with the focus on easy-to-use instructor and participant experiences really set LearnHub apart from their enterprise competitors.

Business Model

There are still some open questions about the business model. The current model appears on the surface to be advertising based, there are Google Adsense on each pages, and larger educational institution brand advertising. With an investor like Educomp, there is bound to be additional business models brewing.

Strategic Relationships

The investment and strategic relationship with Educomp places LearnHub in a very good spot. Educomp is a large Indian educational technology provider with a strong presence the K-12 market in India. This is a strength for Savvica.

Competition

There are 2 leaders in the LMS space with the closed source Blackboard/WebCT offering, and the open-sourced Moodle. Moodle offers individual professors and instructors a great course management system, but it is missing many of the features and functionality necessary to run an institution. Blackboard is the 800 pound gorilla in North America and has recently added managed hosting and community features.

Barriers to Entry

Much of the barriers to entry analysis requires looking at information dependent on details of the business model, marketing plan, and a better understanding of the relationship with LearnHub’s investor Educomp. The barriers to entry in the LMS market appear to be related to existing vertical integration and key agreements in the educational market.

  • Globalisation
    My thought here is that the partnership with Educomp provides rapid access into the larger local Indian educational market. And that the size of this market will allow LearnHub to be able to adjust the tools for use in other English speaking markets.
  • Customer loyalty
    LearnHub is building tools that people enjoy using. And is trying to build a community around learning that allows students to eventually become teachers. Customer loyalty and community liveliness are metrics that can be track as LearnHub develops. First steps include their agile, human-centered design and development process.
  • Network effect
    There are strong network effects that are dependent on finding the right instructors, institutions and courses. Content is still king, and with the right participatory model surrounding the content LearnHub is set to build a vibrant community that replenishes the content but also improves the learning experience.
  • Sunk costs
    It’s pretty easy, once you get your courses and material entered into the system there is a huge cost to move them to another provider. Getting the right content and instructors is key to leverage the learning tools and community tools.
  • Research and development
    Let’s just assume that LearnHub continues to be out in front of the R&F curve. Leveraging an existing community and layering in new tools and techniques as they are discovered, invented or evaluated for effectiveness.

One key barrier that is difficult to assess from the outside is the one of intellectual property. Much of the LearnHub system is public, and many of the social design patterns are freely available an published by others (see Yahoo’s Reputation Design Patterns). It will be interesting to see how quickly existing LMS providers adopt social tools, Blackboard has a Community System but appears to be offering this as enterprise software to educational institutions to deploy. Missing the internal insight it’s very difficult to assess the intellectual property protections. In my search of the US Patent Office, I could not find any filings related to Savvica or LearnHub.

Summary

The experience in Silicon Valley appears to have prepared John & Gosia in building a solid business plan around an existing problem with key differentiators in the community tools for elearning. There are a few open questions around a business model that allows LearnHub to generate significant revenues, and the barrirers to entry for a competitor. However, the investment by Educomp and the existing Educomp salesforce and business development efforts lends significant credibility to the LearnHub efforts. LearnHub is building tools that are leading the social learning trend and have strong investment and business development relationships in India.

Savvica, the company that makes LearnHub, is hiring.

TinEye

I am impressed with the progress that Leila, Paul and gang at Idée Inc. are making on TinEye. Yesterday, they released an IE browser plugin for TinEye. This follows their Firefox plugin and nicely rounds out the offering.

tineye-plugin

TinEye is a visual search solution. It allows you to find the web pages where an image appears.

tineye-ieOne example is you’re looking at purchasing a stock image to use on your homepage, and iStockPhoto.com says the image has been download 11,337 times, but you want to know where it appears online. You can use TinEye to find where the image has appeared. Check out what Rick has to say about the power of TinEye.

Lessons for you? Suck up to Leila and Paul. Check out the software they are building and run a check on the stock photography you are using; you never know who else is doing the same voodoo as you.

Voodoo! TinEye is like speculative fiction, that is, it meets Clarke’s Third Law.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Idee has built a great base technology for doing visual search in very large image collections. They have built a strong business around image and video monitoring. You can think of this services as a compliance and monitoring service. They help clients by providing right management and tracking. The monitoring reports provide clients a snapshot of where their images have appeared. The reports are used to automate editorial photo sales, perform competitive analysis, and copyright monitoring of collections.

Idée monitors and actively tracks millions of clients images and can identify where their clients images have been used in both print publications and the internet. They are the only company in the world to do this. Their image recognition system analyzes each client’s images and creates a digital fingerprint for each image and compares it to images scanned from publications and crawled from the Internet. The image matches found for their clients can be partial image matches as well. This means that a person appearing in one image, and then reappearing in another image but with a different background, will be found by Idée. – Jevon MacDonald on StarupNorth

TinEye is a diversification of the existing Idée technologies. Leila and Paul are trying to figure out the power of visual search.

Links for 2008-06-11

This is posted from ecto, which is a perfectly fine editor, but it’s no Live Writer, looks like I need to auto-run Parallels.

  • Bumptop beta invite
    I received my Bumptop invitation last night. And it looks like I’m not alone, Connor Turner published his experiences running it under XP. I haven’t read the requirements yet, assuming it will install on my Dell m1330, it will be going on later today after a backup. I’ll publish screenshots later.
  • Angel, VC, or Bootstrap?
    Anand Rajaraman from Cambrian Ventures (not associated with Cambrian House) talks about the risks and benefits of bootstrapping versus raising angel money. In particular, he discusses Greg Linden’s post-mortem of Findory, and the risks some entrepreneurs may experience when bootstrapping. It’s interesting model for angels that relies on personal relationships and technology expertise in the area of the company. This makes sense when looking for an individual investor, but I’m having a hard time understanding how this advice impacts organized angel groups, like National Angel Organization, maybe Dan or Bryan can help clarify.
  • The business that are now dead
    Ever since I heard Albert Lai say “How many of you work in traditional media, well, you’re f@&%ed!” at Mesh 2006, I’ve been trying to figure this out. It’s a great article challenging the death of traditional media. These are huge advertising markets, TV, radio, print are still big parts of the ad spend. They may not be growing markets. There may be greater opportunity and less capital risk on the Interwebs, i.e., it takes less money to start a blog network than a newspaper. But NY Times, BBC, World Online (never heard of them, well Django started there), News Corp and other traditional media folks are doing interesting business online. That said, bloggers and online media are not something you can ignore (even though you may think i said something else last week).
  • 9 Companies building on top of SharePoint
    ReadWriteWeb has a story from Enterprise 2.0 about 9 companies launching integrations with SharePoint. I wrote about nForm’s Midori which offers project management on top of SharePoint. There are 9 other companies including: Awareness; NewsGator Social Sites; Atlassian Confluence; WorkLight for SharePoint; Spotlight Connect for SharePoint; Telligent’s Community Sever Evolution; Tomoye’s Ecco and others. Tomoye is based in Gatineau, QC and has been building communities of practice tools.
  • Patterns for Designing a Reputation System
    Yahoo! User Interface Blog has published Reputation Design Patterns. Great work by the Yahoo team including Randy Farmer, it’s a great understanding of the social-design related UI elements for communitys and social networks.
  • The realities of life and startups
    James Robertson responds to Aaron Swartz about what keeps people from joining startups. For the first time since I started doing the startup thing in 1998, I deeply related to James’ comments. I have a new baby, I had a failed startup, and I’ve joined Microsoft. Time is the most important thing. Followed very closely by money. I try to spend as much time with my daughter as possible. Even at Nakama, I had a different viewpoint on work than my 20-something coworkers, I work a lot, but I don’t expect to spend 65+ hours a week in the office. For me, being able to have a pay cheque to pay my mortgage, to put food on the table, to provide the best possibilities for my child (hopefully children), these are the things that require either a well funded company or a job that I define at a company like Microsoft. The long and short of it, if you’re a student or a recent graduate, you should think about programs like YCombinator, even Canadians get accepted.

9 days until Founders & Funders

It’s only 9 days until Founders & Funders Toronto. The challenge is to find a group of companies, in Toronto in the software and media spaces that are high growth, and high potential to raise venture capital. We have an excellent group of attendees. Think you should be attending? Nominate your company, we’re looking to bring together the people that start high-potential-growth companies and the people that fund them.

What set’s these companies apart? Their ability to explain their business in 140 characters. Maybe. Are they connected to the power players in this industry? Calling Jevon and I power players is flattering, but untrue. The Founders & Funders event is not a training event, it is not a sales event, t is not a recruiting event. It is not for service providers looking to sell services to these ventures.

Lots of folks didn’t really understand the venture capitalist are in the business of making money and that means investing into an idea that will turn itself into a pile of money with a 5-7 year timeframe; sooner would be better.  Lots of questions about how to buy us out causes me to make the point here  I made in meetings: If you aren’t into taking an idea, giving up some equity and getting to a liquidity event, we shouldn’t be an option for your funding.” – Rick Segal

It is a networking event focused on the people that start high-potential-growth companies and those people that fund them.

VC’s and entrepreneurs need to talk early.  I made the case that the early you speak with me the better which apparently was counter to everything others are saying.

Founders & Funders is designed to provide a social forum to help the money and the talent talk. As I used to say to Sutha at Ambient Vector, “it’s not that I don’t think there will be a YouTube for mobile, just convince me why you’re going to win”. Don’t tell me that your exit strategies are one of the following:

  • IPO
  • Acquisition
  • Diversification
  • Failure (please don’t let it be failure)

Help me understand why you’d be a candidate for IPO or acquisition. Is a would be acquirer buying your team? Your technology? Your customers? What business development are you doing to get acquired? Have you talked to the M&A folks at RIM? Or Yahoo? Your job is to get people excited about your company and your product offering(s). These aren’t questions that I ask because I like to hear myself talk, I want to know that you’re building a high-potential-growth business. I want to understand your business, market, product, business model, customers, strategic relationships, competition, barriers to entry, etc.

Nominate your company to attend Founders & Funders.

How to Demo like a Demon

David Crow + Leila Boujnane W00t! Leila and I are part of the MeshU schedule. We are co-presenting a session titled “How to Demo Like a Demon“. The original title was Raise Money, Win Friends and Get Laid (aka How to Demo and Pitch for Fun and Profit). The idea, we need to teach entrepreneurs how to present and communicate their ideas. We’re really trying to help improve the quality of pitches, demos and presentations.

Raise Money, Win Friends and Get Laid  (aka How to Demo and Pitch for Fun and Profit)
Co-presented with Leila Boujnane, Idee, Inc.
Boring! Get off the stage!
How many times have you wished you could say this to a presenter at a conference? Or a demoer at DemoCamp? This workshop will help developers understand that doing demos is a marketing task because it generates demand for the software.
Technologists and designers need to be able to create demand for their ideas. They need to be able to tell compelling stories that convince audiences that there is ‘wow’ in what they are doing. Successful demoers are more likely to raise money, have friends, and get laid.

I’ve talked about my awe of the MeshU line up previously, and now that the line up includes me, no serious, the rest of the lineup is fantastic. The rest of the MeshU lineup includes a fantastic program. If you’re looking for a meaningful conference in Toronto, MeshU is only $239.

Wild Apricot – Biz Analyst/Web Application UI Designer

Full time position in downtown Toronto (near Union)

Requirements

  • Analytical skills: Top-notch experience and skills in user-centered need analysis and design.
  • Usability skills: Hand-ons in-depth understanding of user experience and usability principles and heuristics.
  • Interface design/prototyping for web applications:
    • On paper and using software tools like MS Visio
    • Note: graphic design skills are not required/important
    • Good understanding of design constraints for web apps
    • Great communication skills.
  • Knowledge of Russian language would be an extra bonus – making it easier to communicate with our colleagues in Moscow office.

Responsibilities

Working with product manager, you will interact with marketing, support and development team to translate user feedback into detailed requirements – and then will be involved in actual implementation and quality assurance. More specifically, you will be:

  • Developing in-depth understanding of our market segments and users
  • Analyzing, structuring and prioritizing user needs/feedback. Documenting it from user’s point of view (what users want to do).
  • Coming up with proposed solution (new/changed product functionality) to meet users needs (how to do it).
  • Prototyping User Interface.
  • Coordinating and collaborating with representative clients and other team members (marketing, support, development, QA) to see designs implemented and rolled out.
  • Working on User Documentation, demos and tutorials. What’s in it for you:
  • Pride and excitement working on a world-class product used by hundreds of thousands
  • Fun and friendly environment, where your contributions are valued and respected
  • Quick growth environment to advance your career faster and learn a lot quickly
  • Competitive salary plus bonus linked to company results and meeting your professional goals
  • Full-time on-site job, minimal or no travel
  • Flex hours possible
  • Work from very nice downtown office (by Union station)
  • A cool title like “Interactive Apricot”

About us

  • Wild Apricot: young and quickly growing software company – see http://www.wildapricot.com. Our membership website platform is already used by thousands of associations, clubs, groups and communities, – and we are on our way to become a leader in this sector.
  • Ease of use/usability is key cornerstone of our product philosophy – it has to work out of the box for non-technical people.
  • We take results seriously – while making work fun and enjoyable.

Are you passionate about great user experience?

There is a lot of software out there. And most of it is very cumbersome and painful to use. For us, delivering exceptional user experience is our key marketing and business strategy. Furthermore, our agile software development means that we release updates every few weeks so that you can see your ideas taken from concept to implementation in a month instead of in a year. We already have thousands of users and only with truly great product we can meet our expansion goals and make Wild Apricot the world’s leading software for millions of groups, clubs, associations and non-profits.

Apply

Send your resume to jobs@wildapricot.com.

Radiant Core acquired

Cross posted on StartupNorth

Radiant CoreRadiant Core has been acquired by Zerofootprint Software. Radiant Core was a Toronto-based web design and development shop led by Jay Goldman and Mike GlennZerofootprint is a Toronto-based company that “provides information, products and services for the global network of consumers and businesses who wish to reduce their environmental impact”. Radiant Core is best known for the visual design of Firefox 2, and has been recognized by Taschen as a leading web design agency. Jay and I have presented together at Web2Expo, FSOSS and Ignite. We’re also co-conspirators in this whole DemoCamp thing.

zerofootprintsoftwareZerofootprint has been a client of Radiant Core. Radiant Core designed, built and launched the Zerofootprint Calculator Facebook application (add the application). Zerofootprint has a laudable goal to empower people and change their collective footprint.

Our goal is to mobilize and empower large groups of individuals and organizations worldwide, to reduce their collective carbon and ecological footprint. We do this by harnessing the power of social networking, the Internet and software.

Why acquire a consulting firm? It’s a great acquisition method, Ron and the Zerofootprint team really managed their risk by engaging Radiant Core to evaluate capabilities, working styles, and the quality of team deliverables. In Radiant Core they get a world-class design firm with strong experience designing and building accessible web and social media applications. Radiant Core also has deep roots in participating and building vibrant, open creative communities. Jay and Mike have been involved with TorCamp, DemoCamp, TransitCamp, FacebookCamp/Facebook Developer Garage and other activities here in Toronto. The Zerofootprint team had the opportunity to evaluate the Radiant Core team and their ability to deliver on the design and development of the Zerofootprint Calculator Facebook application.  Zerofootprint and Radiant Core have worked together and can begin to have informed conversations about cultural compatibility and employee integration based on real experiences.

No financial details have been released.

What does this mean for Toronto?

  • One less world-class web design shop.
  • One more awesome software startup, now with world-class web development team!

It means that Zerofootprint just acquired one of the best web development shops in Canada to be their product team. Running a consulting business is a tough slog. It’s a linear growth business, i.e., you grow revenues by increasing the number of billable hours, increasing the billable rate, or increasing the number of people. It hopefully gives Jay and Mike an exit. It gives Zerofootprint a huge accelerator to continue to build products and services that will help to change the world.

Interested in what it really means, try calculating your footprint at http://toronto.zerofootprint.net/ and see how Zerofootprint is working with the City of Toronto to create a greener city.

FreshBooks – Agile Web Development Manager

FreshBooks is a company that really believes in great customer service. We want our product to reflect that by shipping frequently, staying bug-free, and building exactly what our customers want and need.

The magic of web development is that you can do a lot with a few dedicated developers and designers. Do you really know how to do more with less? Have you been in the trenches? Have you learned first hand how to invest in your development team to keep delivering the highest quality code? Are you a proven manager who has led a team of web developers and is looking to step into an important leadership role here at FreshBooks?

You will:

Be a leader and manager of our product and our development team. You will work together with other business groups to drive product enhancements and new products to help grow the FreshBooks service and online community. You will be unafraid to ask the tough questions of both other managers as well as product developers. You know how to get the most out of people and have a keen sense of “what counts” when it comes to product and business decisions.

We need you to have:

  • Real-life experience developing web applications in the trenches
  • A strong desire to build a development team and optimize their performance
  • Technology, product, and market vision.
  • Zeal for agile development
  • Experience listening to users, translating their needs to the business owners, and helping the developers build the right thing.
  • A developer’s heart
  • An ability to teach, mentor, coach other people in the Tao of Development

How to apply

If you are a proven web development manager who is ready to lead the FreshBooks product into the future, and you’d like to work with a great team in our bright Toronto office, get your resume and cover letter in to us at careers@freshbooks.com today!

Discovery08

theblackswan OCE is hosting it’s Discovery conference again. I’m looking forward to hearing Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. The rest of the schedule looks entertaining and includes Michael Raynor, author of The Strategy Paradox: Why committing to success leads to failure (and what to do about it) and The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.

List on the Discovery08 web is:

New for 2008: Experience Discovery like never before. Test your pitch on venture capitalists and other business experts. Participate in exciting team challenges that pit your innovation skills against real-world problems. Take advantage of our expanded networking environment. See and hear what’s hot in Ontario’s critical sectors like Cleantech, Energy, Life Sciences, Digital Media and Manufacturing. And connect with some of the world’s best selling authors and pundits at keynote sessions.

The one thing I’m finding strange these days is the number of people mostly from government that are talking about an “innovation sector” and pitting your “innovation skills against real-world problems”. What the hell is the innovation sector? Aren’t companies typically innovative in the previously mentioned sectors (Cleantech, Energy, Life Sciences, Digital Media and Manufacturing)?

What is innovation? Dictionary.com has 6 definitions including “something new or different introduced; the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods”. I just confused by the marketing speak used by the OCE team in promoting Discovery08. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised when I read the gibberish on the Ministry of Research & Innovation web site:

Places that invest in innovation, that stroke the creativity of people, that market their ideas most effectively will become the home to the most rewarding jobs, to the strongest economies and to the best quality of life. We want Ontario to be that place where innovation is inevitable.

While government involvement in my life is a series of tradeoffs, it’s great to know that at a provincial level there is support for the creation and commercialization of new technologies and business models. MRI supports MaRS, OCE and other organizations that support entrepreneurs, researchers and students with awareness, funding and policy.

What: Discovery08
How do you ride a curve that is yet to emerge? Or prepare for risks that have no name? Or create the next big thing when nothing is certain? Find out at OCE’s Discovery 2008, Canada’s premiere innovation and commercialization event. Be inspired, challenged and emboldened by influential thought leaders, daring visionaries, and over 1,500 delegates from every aspect of the innovation sector.
When: Monday, May 12, 2008 5:00 PM to Tuesday, May 13, 2008 4:00 PM
Where: Metro Toronto Convention Centre

255 Front Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5V 2W6 Canada

Community Platforms

Apparently I’m not alone in thinking about community platforms. Chris Prillo is talking about the tools available for community owners, operators, moderators and members. Adam Kalsey talks about the work on IMified, SacStarts and ActivityStream. Both are building on top of Drupal, which has generated support from Boris Mann of Raincity Studios. I haven’t done a lot of work on Drupal in recent years, I last evaluated it for a project in 2005. But the superb work of the Raincity Studios and Lullabot continues to blow me away.

But I started to wonder what other software platforms were available for building communities. Here is the list that I was able to come up with:

There are other tools like the Community Platform that powers http://expression.microsoft.com/ and TechNet and MSDN, that are not commercially available.

I’m starting to think about the tools that we’re missing to enable the Toronto community. The discussion has focused around the technical details of the platform:

  • OpenSocial
  • OpenID
  • OAuth

But it’s when Chris talks about the functionality and participation and discovery that I start to think about the potential and needs.

I don’t want a social network, I want a socially *RELEVANT* network (both on-site and beyond). I don’t want a community platform, I want a participation platform where members are rewarded and ranked appropriately. I don’t want a place where people can just blog, because I’m going well beyond the blog. It’s not just about hosting videos, audio files, or any piece of random media – it’s the discovery mechanisms between them that make them more relevant.

It’s discovery – no matter the community, no matter the type of content. Imagine coming to a site and not just reading about what other people are interested in, but what interests they SHARE with you! Imagine coming to a site and seeing how someone ranks in answers pertaining to your own questions! Oh, I’m confident you may have seen these features elsewhere – but what about for your own site, what about for your own community, what about for your own ideas?

It’s about the connections, the participation, and the discovery of relevant details. Time to think about this a little more.