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Shiny Happy Tools


A blog post that I put up on Digital Passports has kind of boomaranged and struck me a second time around.

Basically the post described a few of the many many many websites that I check out on a daily basis that don’t quite make the cut. It really got me thinking about how much time I have spent trying to find sites that would really be valuable for educators and students. I don’t consider it to be time wasted, it’s kind of fun and somebody has to do it, but it really emphasized just how much the software landscape is changing.

Step back about 3 or 4 years and there were about 5 choices for blog engines, 2 choices for podcatchers, a ton of wiki platforms (but you had to install them all yourself), and if you wanted to edit photos, you had to do it offline.

Now, not only do we have video and photo editors online, we have tons of them. I dare say we may have too many.

Who can count how many sites we have for free photo hosting? How about photo editors online? Or sites where you can get a free blog? There’s too many to count, and certainly too many to survive. While a few die off with a rebel yell and wind up in TechCrunch’s deadpool, most die off with a whimper and are just never seen again.

The strong survive, get bought up by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, and start driving traffic and ad-revenue for the big boys, who thankfully are content to keep them free or cheap for now.

So what does this mean for educators? Simply this: Don’t get married to the tools in your toolbox. A hammer is a hammer is a hammer. So what if you really like the steel one with the yellow handle? At some point that one might disappear and you better be ready to pick up a new one. Need to cut a board but can’t find a saw? Time to get creative my friend. If you are willing to concentrate on what your actual needs are, you’ll find plenty of tools at hand for about every project.

To me, that’s been the real value of the 2.0 world. When I have a need, I don’t look to see what I can buy to solve it. Rather I start flipping through the pages in my head of all the 2.0 sites I’ve seen, and read Twits on, or blog posts about. I ask friends for suggestions and 9 times out of 10, the right tool is just a registration form away.

Shiny happy tools, free and easy.

  • Steve–
    I totally agree–but what do you do about the guy who has NEVER picked up the hammer to begin with. How overwhelming it must be to open a toolbox FULL of hammers and not know which one to pick up. This is where I think the web and especially Web2.0 becomes a challenge for many educators–when they can’t use what is on their desktop let alone what is out in the world of the web. I LOVE the shiny tools, but sometimes it is best to focus on the plain handled hammer if you know what i am saying 😉

    Kristin Hokanson


  • Great post, Steve… this is why it’s important — for on-line and off-line tools — that we teach concepts, not specific apps. It’s why, when we developed our tech plan at Beacon, we taught Digital Imagery and Film Making, not Photoshop and FinalCutPro. When we teach concepts and apply a tool to that concept, the mindset we create is one that is adaptable rather than wed to one specific tool.

    Great post.

    Chris Lehmann


  • Steve,
    This is way too glib, because we’re not just using these sites as application, we’re also using them as storage. If the site goes away, so does your content. In education, we have a responsibility to our students to put their content in places it will be accessible in the future. It isn’t like just learning a new version of an application, or switching from Office to

    Tom Hoffman


  • I beg to differ. I do hear what your saying about content storage, but if somebody showed me a better place to store my bookmarks, I’d move them out from in a heartbeat. Same thing goes for photos, docs, blogs I aggregate and just about anything else. Heck, I’d even switch my blog engine if a better option came along.

    The storage argument only holds water if you’re stuck in an application with no exit strategy.

    Steve Dembo


  • Yes, but “free and with a migration strategy” is a lot more complicated than “free and easy.” Also, I’m sure you’d argue that much of the value of is its collaborative network, which you can’t take with you.

    Tom Hoffman


  • I beg to differ. Many people who were committed to Slashdot jumped over to Digg, finding it superior for their needs despite it being a MUCH smaller network initially. While yes, the value of is in the community that’s risen around it, but in today’s internet I think those networks can shift location in little to no time at all. If a site comes along that suits peoples’ needs better, they’ll shift locations, leaving behind the people who are married to the tool itself, versus what it allows you to do.

    Those networks can and frequently do pick up and move elsewhere. Look at Friendster. Look at any number of photosharing sites.

    Regardless of storage issues, regardless of the size of the current network, people flock to the tool that best suits their needs.

    Steve Dembo


  • Are we talking about institutional use of these tools, personal, or both?

    Tom Hoffman


  • I just stumbled across a good list of free fat and thin applications here:

    Tom Hoffman


  • Hey Steve, My comment posted as Tom Hoffman. That’s odd.
    Anyway, the above post was for Free fat and thin software, this list is Web 2.0 software (just web):

    Andy Allen