How should institutions response in their uses of Web 2.0 services at a time of a global recession? In response to a recent post CodeGorilla pointed out that at a number of participants at the Repository Fringe event had felt that use of services such as Flickr and Google should be avoided because such companies were not as well-established as many Universities.
I feel the views that were reported were rather disingenuous, not so much because not all Universities have been in existence for several centuries (BCU is very new University) but because the services Universities provide will change and evolve over time (when I worked at the University of technology, Loughborough – as it was known at the time – the Computer Centre provided a data preparation service which was shut down many years ago). And as I pointed out last year, “Universities, Not Facebook, May Be Facing Collapse” – indeed when I attended a JISC CETIS conference a couple of years ago doubts were expressed by senior academics as to whether high educational institutions in their current form will exist in 20 years time.
This is, of course, just speculation, as was my post in which I pointed out that standards-making organisations, such as W3C, which are funded by memberships fees, with significant contributions being paid by commercial IT vendors and user organisations, may similarly be affected by the recession.
But what scenarios might we envisage happening? And what plans should our institutions be developing in case the worst case scenarios occur? Let me give my thoughts:
Externally-hosted Web 2.0 providers: What if the services buy antibiotics online provided by Google, Yahoo, etc. prove uneconomic and the services are shut down or the terms and conditions changed, with perhaps free-to-use services becoming subscription services?
Our institutions: What if the economic downturn affects the sustainability of the IT services provided within our institutions?
Our national services: What if the national services provided for our communities are similarly adversely affected, with users preferring the services provided by the global services?
Our information providers: What if the services provided by individuals within our institution, who use Slideshare, Flickr, del.icio.us, etc. aren’t sustainable because the individuals may face redundancy, early retirement, etc.?
Our funding organisations: What if our funding bodies have less funds available, and are forced to stop or reduce the level of funding provided to national or institutional services?
Our user communities: What if our users expectations or interests change?
How should we respond to such dangers, given that we can’t predict which dangers, if any, will materialise? My suggestion is that we should be embracing diversity, rather than searching for a single solution which we hope will be resilient to an economic downturn. So we should avoid any exclusive deals (some time ago I heard that one institution had signed an exclusive deal with a VoIP provider which seems to mean that the institution had to ban use of Skye). And we should ensure that our data can be easily reused by other services. And we should ensure that we have data migration strategies – and that we test the data migration to ensure that it works in the way we might expect. And finally we should ensure that we have new media literacy strategy in place so that members of our organisation, including senior managers and not just the users of our services, have an understanding of the risks associated with the services we may be using – with an understanding that the risks will also apply to the in-house and licensed services and applications and not just the services provided on the ‘cloud’.