Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Brainify? What is that?
This is a question that is difficult to answer in a posting of appropriate length for a blog. So let me lay out the basics here. I will make further postings to try and provide additional details for each of Brainify’s ideas and components.
The premise is this: the web is an amazingly rich academic resource for higher education. Most students mine that resource using Google (and we all love Google – who wouldn’t)? But looking for academic resources using Google is a little like looking for videos using Google. While it is pretty good, it could be better. YouTube (now owned by Google) is a better place to look for videos. In the same way, Brainify is meant to be a better place to look for web sites that apply to the courses you are taking.
Social Bookmarking of Academic Sites:
So the heart of Brainify is all about social bookmarking of web sites useful in an academic setting. All the applicable web 2.0 things are there – bookmarking, rating, tagging, commenting, etc. Imagine coming to the site and being able to find, for example, what the community feels are the best web sites to help you understand recursive descent compilers at the intermediate level (or anything else). I would love to have that kind of information at my fingertips.
Organizational Hierarchy of all Academic Web Sites?
But we also do something a bit more novel. We have built a community-generated taxonomy engine. That simply means that when someone collects (bookmarks) a web site for their own collection, they are also asked to place that site in an academic hierarchy. For example, they may say it is in Science/Physics/Kinetics/… Not everyone might agree that this is the right place – but that is OK – everyone gets their own say. We hope the result ultimately is a complete, community-generated hierarchy of all publicly available web based academic resources. What an amazing resource that would be for students.
Questions, Groups, Watching, Friends …
We learn from each other, and Brainify helps us make the connections to make this possible. For example, we are able to view the collections of other people. Being able to see what other students are doing, saying and collecting is important - we can learn a lot from those peers who we respect. There is also the ability to ask (and answer) questions about any particular topic. There is the ability to create groups of common academic interest – and those groups can also collect web sites, discuss, etc. We have the ability to “watch” things like groups, discussions, academic categories, questions, and even other users so we are alerted when something of interest transpires. And of course we have friends lists – people who we connect with regularly. So Brainify is a very social site (in an academic way) as we are meant to learn from one another.
Seems Odd But – Maybe You Can Own Brainify Too?
Well – not exactly. But kind of. It has always seemed odd to me that when social sites like YouTube sell, the only people who benefit are the ones that founded it or invested in it (no offense meant to Google or the founders of YouTube). Not that they shouldn't benefit – they took huge risks and dedicated some portion of their lives to making it a success. But what about the small individual contributions to the site made by the community members? The sum of those contributions can be huge and it is critical for success.
I have thought about this a lot. The outcome is that if Brainify ever succeeds and sells, we intend to share 30% of the proceeds with those members of the community who have helped build Brainify by bookmarking useful new web sites, recommending other users, answering questions, making useful comments – etc. Anything that the community finds to be of value. And we intend to divide that 30% among the members according to their reputation in Brainify. This topic alone could (and I hope will) be discussed a lot, but that is the general idea. You can read more about it at Brainify's Pseudo-Community Ownership (PCO).
When that idea first occurred to me, it bothered me a bit. It seemed a little too overtly commercial for an academic site. But the more I considered it, the more I fell in love with the idea. First – it just seemed like the right thing to do. Some might argue that 30% should be 50%, 75% or 100% - and they may be right or wrong. But 30% is where I got to – and am happy to talk about that in another posting if people want to hear it.
In addition to being “right” (in my opinion – maybe not yours), it also directly increases the chances of the community taking off – which is good for everyone. You know – communities like this are never interesting until there are a lot of people in them, and people don’t bother to come until they are interesting. We have a bit of a chicken and egg problem. But asking the community to become pseudo-partners gives some people a reason to come here while the site is still bootstrapping. If I am the first person to bookmark a really useful site, it will greatly increase my reputation (making me more of a pseudo-partner), and at the same time provide a resource of value to future visitors. It is an experiment, but one I have come to believe is worth trying.
Wrapping it up …
In fact, Brainify itself is an experiment. It is one I believe in. I can’t help but think that if we manage to build a large community here, it will be an incredible resource for students. That is what I want. There are so many things that could stop it from succeeding, but I feel in my heart it is worth a try. The chances of a big success might be small, but the value of a vibrant academic site to the world population of students could be huge. So I am working on it, investing my time and money, and lying awake at night getting excited about it.
I hope you love it.
Thanks and take care - Murray
P.S. - We launched our beta on January 20, 2009!! It is ready to go for you to collect bookmarks. Please join up and give us your feedback.