I work in quite a diverse set of communities with rather different concerns, and so when they all seem to simultaneously hit on the same solution its work taking notice.
This week I was at the PLE conference in Southampton, and attended a talk by Sylvana Kroop and colleagues from the EU-funded ROLE project where they presented their idea of a personal portal environment made out of widgets, which users assembled by locating widgets that helped them with specific goals. If users come up with an arrangement of widgets that help them meet their objective they can then share it. You can get a good idea of it from this video.
This was followed by Wolfgang Reinhardt who presented the results of paper prototyping a system consisting of dashboards of widgets organised to help users reach specific goals for research. There is the paper here, and you can get a good idea of it by looking at the pictures in there of the paper prototype, and also in Wolfgang’s slides on slideshare which have some additional wireframes.
Now, I work on an EU project called OMELETTE (along with SAP, Logica, T-Systems and lots of other organisations that aren’t really connected with PLEs and eLearning) and in that project we’re developing technologies for creating and sharing workspaces consisting of widgets that help a user reach their goals. (The main differences here being it also involves telecommunications service mashups, so there is lot more sophisticated work going on for the services that widgets interact with, and that its aimed at a range of industries and applications rather than education).
And finally I’m also involved in an EU project called ITEC (along with SMART, Promethean and European Schoolnet amongst many others) that involves bringing assemblies of widgets into a range of “shells” (portals, interactive whiteboards, tabletop systems, tablets etc) that fulfil specific goals.
OK, there is a clear genesis for this idea, coming from earlier work in portals and things like iGoogle (or even stretching back to Xerox PARC). But still, the goal-seeking and solution-sharing aspects are relatively novel.
As a committer in an Apache incubator project that develops a W3C Widget rendering engine (Apache Wookie) and also in another one that develops a Widget-based portal solution (Apache Rave) I can see a lot of opportunities here for collaboration and creating a sustainable technology platform and application ecosystem that outlives any individual project. (Rave itself represents an open collaboration involving three formerly separate widget-based dashboards from different organisations: COIN, OGCE and OSEC).
The question is – can funded projects change their working practices to do this effectively? I was impressed with the EU project officer for OMELETTE at our recent review who was very enthusiastic about the project contributing directly to open development communities like Apache from the outset rather than working in private. She really seemed to grasp the importance of open innovation and sustainability, which gives me hope that perhaps these diverse projects can find a way of collaborating – if the will is there.
(PS: even spookier, Wolfgang’s group named their prototype “AWESOME”. The original codename for Apache Rave was also “AWESOME”)