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Apple have made a particular effort to simplify the handling of certain kinds of data like photos, sound, music and video with their iTUNES, iPHOTO and iMOVIE software. Their approach has been to bring multimedia within the reach of everyone. It is an excellent ideas.

What we now need is iIDEAS. A programme that allows anyone to record, organise, structure and share their ideas. I'm using the word "idea" as a sort of black box in which you can find a number of things including what European paralance calls "best practices". Imagine you have a particular problem you are trying to think through. What if you were able to find your way through related ideas that you or others had written down at some time, bringing them together in appropriate families and linking them like with hypertext, possibly creating several perspectives on the same set of ideas.

The concept of iIDEAS is not an idea out of the blue. It was born from a concrete need related to innovation and education (although it could clearly have applications elsewhere). In seeking to encourage innovation in education, in particular in the use of ICTs, what is required is that the actors (teachers in particular) can formulate their experience in such a way that they can share it with others and build on it. Innovation, which has to do with developing new ways of working and new forms of communication, is mainly propogated by exchange between peers. In a drive to extend and accelerate that process, you need to facilitate the exchange of experience. If the work of formulating experience and sharing it becomes too burdensome or time consuming it defeats your aim. To use an image to make my point, rather than essays, what are required are notes. You get the essential down in words (pictures or sound) such as to communicate it to others.

The challenge of iIDEAS is not an easy one. In the case of handling pictures, sound and video, we already have physical ways of doing things which can work as metaphors for computer counterparts. In the case of ideas, there is no real physical counterpart (other than our brains) less it be bits of sticky papers and note recorders. But they do not provide a model for oragnising the ideas. How can you cater for a visual representation of the structure between a series of ideas? Mind-map software like Inspiration, provides a two dimensional modelling for the connection between ideas but is insufficient for what would be required for iIDEAS.

Creating the software is only part of the problem. There is also the syntax of such communication that needs to be elaborated and learnt. What minimum information is required so that others can understand? According to what criteria do we select what is worth communicating? This necessary coupling of developing software with changing ways of working is not an easy task for a commercial company that would no doubt prefer people to buy its products without having to change the world in the process.

Alan McCluskey, London.

See also "iIDEAS 2.0 for those who really want to think differently".

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Created: January 9th, 2002 - Last up-dated: January 9th, 2002