Why P2PU should be a platform and not a product

by P

I’ve had a lot on my mind with regards to P2PU recently. Bear with me for a bit of a meander …

As Executive Director, one of my responsibilities is to figure out a way to make this thing sustainable, and I’m working on a sustainability plan for discussion with the board. Lots of people have been suggesting opportunities for earned income (charging for something) and I am excited by some of them. But when users pay for services they become customers, and customers are different from community members. Nadeem deserves credit for really pushing on the importance of tying sustainability to the value we create for our community and I think he is right.

I’ve also been wondering about the applicability of the “challenges” model to other areas besides the Mozilla School of Webcraft. I think it’s a really awesome model to scale social learning for some users and communities. But Jessy’s post about looking at learning as heterogenous vs. homogeneous systems reminded me of the passion I’ve always felt for the diversity and serendipity of stuff at P2PU, and how we need to balance the desire to create an amazing polished experience with the possibility for experimental, messy, and unexpected things to evolve.

We are in the middle of planning our third P2PU workshop and I’ve been thinking a lot about the first P2PU workshop two years ago. Berlin 09/09/09 forged an amazing spirit of possibility and community that has carried us a long way. Berlin 11/11/11 will be much more focused on concrete work, but the important questions remain the same. What role should P2PU play (in an open education world that looks very different from two years ago)? What makes us different? One of Jessica’s emails to the development list reminded me. She described P2PU as a friendly place for learning and ended her message with “I love P2PU” – Reading those word stopped me in my tracks. Because there is simply nothing nicer or more important someone could say about us.

So, reading an article about products vs platforms today (link) brought a lot of this stuff together for me. If we look at P2PU as a platform, we can have all of our cakes and eat them too (something worth trying): We can have polished experiences and foster experimentation, we can build opportunities for earned income and continue to care more about community than customers, and we can be a friendly place for learning. The platform idea is not completely new (both Karen and John deserve credit for pushing the concept of an API) but I hadn’t realized that there is a really important connection between platform and community before.

Here are four bold suggestions that feel in line with the spirit of Berlin 09 and provide some direction for Berlin 11. What do you think?

  1. P2PU is a platform – There is no right product for “everyone”, the right product for everyone simply doesn’t exist. That’s particularly true for learning and that’s why shouldn’t try to build one right product, but rather build a platform that many people can turn into many right products for many different users.
  2. A platform with at least one great product – In order to make P2PU work as a platform, we need at least one amazing product that lots of users love. That amazing product could be one model for learning that appeals to a large group of users, or it could be a clever way for developing reputations within the community, or it could be a great way to keep track of all the cool things that are happening in P2PU …
  3. Everyone can help build P2PU – We should encourage and support experimentation, so that the whole community can innovate (yes Dan, I’m thinking of you). We need to make sure that the UX is clean and simple, but that there is room for experimentation. Maybe we move experiments into a LAB space, but P2PU needs to be extendable, hackable, malleable …
  4. We eat our own dogfood – Why are we having insightful / engaged conversations on this mailing list, but very seldom on the site? We should feel frustrated by UX details that are frustrating. And we should be happy about features that are beautiful and clever.

Cheerio – have a great day!