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Hello world!


Hi folks, I’ve migrated all of my old posts from the Berkman Center Manila server to this new WordPress server.  I haven’t yet gotten around to reformatting and organizing everything, so apologies for the mess.  But, many thanks to Hal Roberts, who maintains both servers, for his fast and friendly help, even on a Sunday.

Marketspace Advisor


If you’re curious to learn more about what I’m up to at Marketspace Advisory (new gig) these days, check out our new blog, Marketspace Advisor (  Please subscribe and tell your friends if interested.

I’ll continue to post on software, e-learning, etc. at

My new blog site: Octavianworld


Please update your RSS subscriptions accordingly.  Also, some news on me there.

Party On


You’d have to live under a rock not to have noticed that poker fever
has swept the country in the last couple of years.  Last week I
got an interesting glimpse into the business end, and it prompted me to
think a little bit about where online marketing might be headed.

First, my friend Mike Contrada, co-founder and EVP of the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative (now part of Palladium Group), invited me to a conference last Thursday in Cambridge where I met Jonathan Halkyard, VP and Treasurer of Harrah’s Entertainment
Over drinks after his talk (he is a polished and articulate speaker) I
asked him about online gaming and its impact on the industry. Among
other interesting observations, Jonathan related that the business
is now clicking along at more than $400 million in annual profits on
~$600 million in revenue, based on a $4/pot “rake” from an average of
60,000 players online 24/7.  I nearly choked on my wine. 
(Jonathan explained that Harrah’s, which runs the World Series of Poker
tournaments, and its US-based peers cannot get into online gaming under
current laws.)

Coincidentally,  I was at my business school reunion this past weekend and had a chance to catch up with my classmate Audrey Kania, who is one of the founders and a senior executive at WPT Enterprises, producers of World Poker Tour
Audrey, who successfully extended the Winnie The Pooh brand at Disney
earlier in her career, has been leading a whirlwind existence these
past few years (and become a pretty fair — no, intimidating — poker
player in the process).  WPT started by developing television programming
based on poker tournaments (they invented the hole cards spycam) for
the Travel Channel.  They’ve certainly popularized the game, and
in the process have built a $15M business based on the programming, as
well as tournaments, books, and other extensions.  WPT went
public last year and sports a $330 million market cap, too, placing
Audrey in the current pantheon of our class’s heroes.  How can
that P/S multiple be?  Investors peeking at PartyGaming’s projected $6 billion
market cap are betting that WPT Online can also get at least a sliver of the same market as it continues to boom.

While I haven’t yet tried out PartyPoker, I did visit and downloaded Poker Superstars, for research
purposes of course.  Interestingly, while it’s an extremely
popular download, I didn’t see any product “placements”, or ads in the
game (they are supposedly free of spyware).  I’m thinking this
won’t last.  My guess is that advertisers won’t miss the chances
for “this playing tip brought to you by GM”, or more subtly to have TJ
or Phil or Johnny sip a Coke, or bet with Harrah’s branded chips, or
“the Fedex river card” (it’s not clear though who might sponsor the

Just as Google and Yahoo have made major inroads into traditional
media’s share of ad dollars, it’s conceivable that with computer game
revenues now eclipsing those of the global movie business we will see
ads show up here as well, following the eyeballs/ share of mind now invested in this medium. 
What’s interesting is that ads in this medium have the potential to be
even more effective.  Rather than annoying me, anyone whose
sponsorship pays for tips that help me improve my game gets my
gratitude.  Hmmm.  E-commerce meets e-learning?  A sure
sign of the apocalypse!

This story also is a powerful reminder of the notion that ultimately
collaboration is the source of the Web’s greatest value.  Playing
poker online is just another highly structured form of collaboration, meeting
all of the requirements for its success (something valuable to
exchange, tight group affinity, ease of participation).  Compare
for proof the economics described above with Amazon’s recent results
(~$200M net income on ~$8B in revenue annually).

(Side note:  Jonathan described some very creative uses of RFID at
Harrah’s, including putting them into servers’ nametags to be able to
track, for example, turnaround times at drink stations.  Jonathan
also taught me new term:  “bevertainment”.  This is when
waiters and waitresses are also actors and singers who will
spontaneously break out into song or dance while serving the
patrons.  Rather than separating their jobs as food service
workers from their vocations as performers, bevertainment allows them
to earn tips while they audition for the passing producer or
agent.  Genius!  Who knew?)

A Compelling World View


While listening to the IT Conversations podcasts, I came upon a reference to this talk Thomas P. M. Barnett gave at PopTech last fall.  It’s very insightful and well-delivered.  It drove me to his book, “The Pentagon’s New Map
which I also found very interesting.  I understand it has been
extremely influential in the Pentagon over the past several years. I
don’t post about politics here, but I’m making an exception because
this talk helps frame one of the reasons I spend time on .LRN

Ten Ideas for Making E-Learning Work


At the .LRN Foro Hispanico in Madrid last week, Rafael Calvo
presented some thoughts on how to evaluate, holistically, whether a
course that includes an online component is being delivered
pedagogically and logistically in ways that will be successful.

That got me thinking, and I scribbled down the following list:

1. Subscribe and reply to bulletin boards and forums by email. 
OpenACS / .LRN support this.  It’s extremely cool and useful to be
able to participate but never have to actually visit the website. 
People live in email. So smart developers and admins will go to where
they live.

2. “Structured Collaboration” (based on the story of the binge-o-matic). 
Most people freeze up when presented by blank space and asked to write
into it.  They need prompts.  If you want a group of people
to discuss a book online, give them a form that structures what you’d
like them to cover.  When they see how their thoughts and ratings
compare with others, they will be stimulated  to comment. 
“Did I miss something?  why am I the only person who thought this
book sucked/ was great?”  Side benefit: structured data from many
people is much easier to analyze.

3. Seed content.  People react better than they act.  So put
the ball in play.  This is in fact how blogs work, and why they
work better than bboards — someone writes a post, and people react to
that post.  In theory these reactions could be threaded, which
might combine useful features of both.

4. Auto-tag content contributions by context.  If I upload
document X into folder Y, Document X should be presumed to inherit
whatever metadata is used to describe folder Y for search purposes.

5. Optimize user group size and structure to maximize affinity; take
advantage of user profiling to validate affinity.  This is a fancy
way of saying that people will interact within groups they feel
comfortable in, and much less beyond the scope of such groups.  So
get the group size and structure right, and then provide enough
information on group members so people can feel comfortable they’re in
the right group.

6. In-line benchmarking.  The idea here is instant feedback. 
When you take an online survey, you’re much more likely to be engaged
if the results are presented back to you immediately comparing how you
answered questions with how others did.  We’ve deployed this for
the .LRN-based Compass application run by the 3E Project at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government with great success.

7. User portraits. With each contribution of content, whether a bboard
post or a document upload, or whatever, when there is attribution to a
user the user’s name could be accompanied by a thumbnail
portrait.  To manage page size, this might be restricted to the
first post a user makes in a thread.  But I think this little tip
(which I haven’t tried yet, but have seen proxies for) would do a lot
to warm up what can be a sterile experience, and help keep the flaming

8. Personalized syllabi.  Again, another innovation we’ve deployed
in the 3E Project’s Compass application.  Based on how you answer
certain surveys/ diagnostics, you get a personalized syllabus before
you come to a 3E exec ed program.  Saves you time and you’re much
more likely to read the material if you know it will be relevant not
only to the course, but to you.

9. Class Notes Blog.  For each class in which there is a
discussion as part of the learning experience, someone should be
assigned to “blog” what was said.  Again, we’ve done this with
success at 3E with the Compass application, where each class instance
is set up as a subsite with multiple associated application modules
(surveys, forums, but in this instance also a weblog module, which
OpenACS/ .LRN provides natively)

10. Active moderation.  Don’t bother putting any technical means
of online collaboration unless someone is assigned to stimulate,
moderate, and maintain it. 

What do you think?

Radio Free Brea


My friend Andrew Grumet is one of the principal authors of iPodder, a
popular RSS aggregator/ client for subscribing to podcasts. 
Extending things further, Andrew also built Gigadial (using OpenACS
of course).  Gigadial is a service that allows anyone to set up
what amounts to their own radio station on the web.  People “tune
in” by either visiting the site and listening to the audio feeds by
clicking on them (the old way), or by pointing their podcast
aggregators like iPodder at “stations” they like, so new recordings get
downloaded automatically and they can then listen to them on their PC’s
or on their iPods and the like (I believe the generic term is “personal
media player”).

So to figure out how all of this works, I’ve set up Radio Free Brea
on Gigadial and have published or further syndicated a couple of
programming items.  One is an interview given a couple of weeks
ago by Jeffrey Rayport, whom I’ve gotten to know recently.  The other is a recording of the talk I gave in Madrid last week.

Setting all of this up was extremely easy and cheap.  I recorded my talk on my laptop using a software utility from XAudio Tools.  I published my audio file for free on the Internet Archive’s audio collection using CC Publisher,
a small pc-based program that walks you through the process in an
idiot-proof way.  I set up my station on Gigadial, then manually
added the recording by providing the talk’s mp3 url on Internet
archive  and, as a feed, the url of the blog post where I link to
this mp3’s url.

What is the significance of all of this?  Just as blogs
democratize publishing for good and otherwise, all this does the same
for audio content of any kind.  And video blogging isn’t just
coming, it’s already here
Telco’s have to be cheering, since all of this rich media flowing over
the web begins to use up the vast quantities of dark fiber they have in
the ground right now.  (I read recently that BitTorrent accounts
for 40% of the traffic — measured in volume — flowing over the
Internet right now.)

As they say, supply sometimes creates its own demand.  I think the
existence of all of this content will create demand for intermediaries
that help us filter it for what we need.  In the past, I’ve
described the possibility of optional RSS extensions that would give
authors the option of tagging their content to classify it.  Of
course, rather than allowing free-form, user-driven categorization, the
popular blogging services like Typepad could extend their current
categorization capabilities with ones that use not user-driven schemes,
but canonical ones like SIC code classification.  Typepad could
provide drop-down list categorization, off a table that itself could be
kept updated via web services/ XML-based integration from a canonical
source.  Then I could tell my iPodder client to aggregate all
podcasts about “software”.  Still too general I know, but you get
the point.

Now what I really want, but haven’t figured out yet, is a way to get my
XAudio mp3 recorder to record my Skype calls via my laptop.  It’s
possible today because my laptop’s microphone picks up my voice and the
voice of the other party(ies) coming out of the laptop’s speakers into
the microphone, but that’s pretty lame.  If anyone can help me
figure that out, I’d really appreciate it.

Madrid Trip Report


I was in Madrid last week for the annual .LRN global user conference
and for the first annual “Foro hispano de .LRN y software libre
educativo”, or Hispanic Forum on .LRN and open-source educational

I had never been to Madrid before.  It’s an absolutely beautiful
city.  The architecture is spectacular.  I could have spent
weeks in the museums.  The parks are lovely, and the people were
very friendly.  Everything works well (metro, buses, etc.). 
Carlos Delgado Kloos arranged a memorable evening for us at the Corral
de la Moreira, where we saw some of the finest flamenco dancers and
musicians in the world perform.  One caveat:  you need
stamina to take advantage of all this!

Short version:  lots of progress since last year in Heidelberg on
all fronts: development, adoption, support.  (I’m sure I have left
important stuff out, I’m sure; please comment/ supplement this post
with your own descriptions.  In particular, I missed the
OpenACS/.LRN presentations on Tuesday while I was at the Foro

Development Highlights:

SII and Solution Grove have further extended Ernie Gighlione’s LORS
(Learning Object Repository System) module for aggregating and
syndicating SCORM/IMS-compliant content.  This is a big
deal.  If you have content that complies with these standards in a
Blackboard- or WebCT-based system today, you can move it to .LRN at the
push of a button.

DotFolio.  If you’re familiar with OSPI, the project to develop a
platform through which a student can compile and communicate a
portfolio of his/her work at an institution, DotFolio is the
OpenACS/.LRN-based functional equivalent.  Working with the
support of Rafael Calvo at the University of Sydney, Nick Carroll
developed this in about the tenth the time and cost invested in OSPI
thus far, illustrating the leverage provided by OpenACS/.LRN.  See

DotTeach.  Essentially an interface through which instructors can
plan curriculum and then automate the logistics associated with
implementing the curriculum, such as managing dependencies among
courses and making sure the right materials are stocked in the
bookstore.  Also from the University of Sydney, see

A new assessment (testing) module, developed by Universidad Carlos III and presented by Malte Sussdorf.

Adoption Highlights:

While the scope of use at institutions like Vienna, Bergen, and
Valencia continues to expand, major new adoptions were also featured at
this year’s conference.  Among them:  UNED, or Universidad
Nacional de Educacion a la Distancia, the Spanish-speaking world’s
equivalent of the UK’s Open University and an extremely prestigious
organization, is currently running an older version of OpenACS/.LRN as
part of its overall platform and will be migrating to .LRN 2.x shortly
to serve over 200,000 (not a typo) users in Spain and Latin
America.  At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the
E-Government Executive Education Project is using a .LRN-based
application called the e-Compass (you can register at to
subscribe to Dr. Jerry Mechling’s weblog, running on the .LRN weblog
module) to support its executive education programs at Harvard and
globally as well in such places as Dubai, Singapore, and Mexico. 
3E reaches very senior politicians, administrators, and information
technology managers in the public sector.  Customization of
OpenACS/.LRN for this project was funded by IBM.  Also of
interest: Universidad de Cauca in Colombia has deployed .LRN, and has
added Guambiano to the list of languages .LRN’s internationalization
capability supports to serve e-learning needs of a mostly rural and
indigenous segment in that country.

Support Highlights:

Coming out of this year’s conference, several major universities have
agreed to join the .LRN Consortium to further support the development
and promotion of OpenACS/.LRN.  Support from major corporations is
also in the works, and we’ll have a couple of new, high-profile board
members to announce shortly as well.  (Formal announcements to
follow shortly, subscribe to


While not as widely publicized as other projects, this year’s
conference confirms OpenACS/.LRN’s position as the world’s most
advanced and widely adopted enterprise-class open-source application
software for learning and research communities.  The combination
of efficient and flexible support for pedagogical innovation with the
underlying architecture to support deployment to tens and now hundreds
of thousands of users makes the case for this project very
compelling.  But much more so is the actual adoption and use for
these things.  This year’s conference pushed the estimate of
OpenACS/.LRN usage to close to half a million users worldwide. 
All of the activity around OpenACS/.LRN increases the coordination
challenge (getting everyone onto the latest release, making sure we can
take advantage of everyone’s innovations and don’t duplicate
efforts).  This will be the primary focus for the Consortium in
the coming year, but on balance is a challenge we are happy to have and
others surely envy.

Many many thanks to Telefonica I+D (Investigacion y Desarollo, or
Research and Development) for hosting us so generously, and to Dr.
Carlos Delgado Kloos of Universidad Carlos III for organizing the

A recording of my talk (MP3, variable bit rate format) on the morning of May 10 is available at

June 7, 2005 Talk on Blogs for Business


Bill Ives ( and Amanda Watlington (, who have just published a new book called “Business Blogs:  A Practical Guide”  ( have graciously invited me to speak at the June 7, 2005 meeting of the New England KM Cluster
( in Waltham at
Novell’s headquarters.  My lunchtime talk (title TBD) will be
drawn from my own experience and from that of organizations like the 3E Project
at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government
( and from MIT’s Sloan School of
Management, both also covered in Bill and Amanda’s new book.

See Bill’s blog for an abstract of the talk.

Abstract of my talk in Madrid on May 10


OpenACS/.LRN is the world’s most widely adopted open-source enterprise
class application suite and development framework for learning
communities, with over 250,000 users in more than two dozen major
universities on five continents.  Cesar Brea, who participates in
this project as a board member of the recently-formed .LRN Consortium,
will speak on the origins of the project, its current situation, its
objectives for the future, and its plans for achieving them as well as
obstacles it must overcome.  Beyond the descriptive aspects of his
presentation, Mr. Brea will also discuss what he and his peers have
learned about emerging functional and technical requirements of
learning communities in secondary and higher education, as well as
corporate and non-traditional settings.  Also, Mr. Brea will
suggest lessons about the promotion of open-source software development
projects learned over the course of the past six years.

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