Animoto creates very slick videos automatically

This was way too easy to do.

I finally had a minute to test out a new video creation service called Animoto, which promised to automagically create a very slick video with a few clicks of a button. So, to test out the service I choose some photos I took during the recent U20 World Cup here in Victoria. I uploaded the photos, picked one of their music tracks and hit create. All the photo transitions are done by the site. And you can see, it did automagically create a very slick video that I can easily embed into my site.

The service is still in beta. You have to sign up and wait a few days for your invite. And it is limited to 30 seconds for the free service. You can, for a fee, create longer videos. But this was about the easiest piece of multimedia I have ever created.


Do students want us in their space?

Got into an interesting discussion last week with a couple of faculty members who are just coming to Facebook for the first time. They have been receiving notifications from former students who have their email address in their address book when they upload them to Facebook. Usually the invitation to the faculty by the student is an inadvertent side effect of the Facebook bulk email address upload, and the students are often embarrased that the faculty person got a request from them. Which lead us into discussing whether or not students really want us in “their space”?

While there is a lot of excited clamoring in the edtech blogsphere about the potential of Facebook as a personal learning environment (me included), it seems to me there is a reluctance by students to have us that closely entwined in their life. I’m beginning to suspect that students see a real disconnect between their life and their education. Facebook is not where they go to learn. It’s where they go to socialize, relax and throw virtual food at each other.

Earlier today I was doing a Technorati search using my insitution as a search term to see if there were any incoming students blogging about the school and came across this posting on MySpace from an incoming student who is none too impressed that one of our faculty has sent her an invite to join a Facebook.

Granted, her frustration seems to be more of the “this Facebook thing has gone too far” as opposed to “this is an intrusion where I don’t want it”, but you still have to suspect that there will be students who see MySpace as just that- their space. And whether they throw the doors open and invite us educators in with open arms remains to be seen. But I won’t be surprised if some students balk at blurring the lines between “school life” and “personal life”.


Google releases new research API

Some new geeky goodness from Google aimed squarely at researchers. The University Research Program for Google Search is a new API that gives programmers the ability to tap into Google. In their words:

The University Research Program for Google Search is designed to give university faculty and their research teams high-volume programmatic access to Google Search, whose huge repository of data constitutes a valuable resource for understanding the structure and contents of the web.

Our aim is to help bootstrap web research by offering basic information about specific search queries. Since the program builds on top of Google’s search technology, you’ll no longer have to operate your own crawl and indexing systems. We hope this will help enable some useful research, and request only that you publish any work you produce through this program for the academic community’s general benefit.

The major restriction is that the program is open only to academic faculty members and their research teams at colleges and universities. However, the flip side of that restriction is that any research results obtained using the API must be made available to the public.

From Programmable Web.


Desire2Learn 1 Blackboard 0

A judge in Texas has ruled that 35 of the 44 patent claims Blackboard has filed against Desire2Learn are invalid.

In addition, the rules have been set down for the future court case. Specifically, the ruling spells out how key terms will be defined for the court case.

To illustrate how detailed these proceedings are, the terms that needed to be defined before the case could go to trial are “Hyperlink”, “Tool”, “Asynchronous communication” and “Synchronous communication”.

More details on this decision can be found on the D2L patent blog.


Warning for Facebook users using third party applications

VeriSign iDefense is warning Facebook users to beware when installing third party applications.

While no specific applications have been named, VeriSign says that the potential is there for third party applications to gain access to sensitive personal data.

On one hand, it’s nice to have security people issuing warnings like this to raise awareness that there are risks of having their personal data used in ways they don’t expect. On the other hand, why single out Facebook? This kind of blanket warning can apply to any web platform that allows access via API’s.

While there might be some technical hurdles to overcome before our information is safe online in applications like Facebook, the authors tend to think the problem has just as much to do with user attitutdes as it does with technical problems. Do all users go into using online applications like Facebook with their eyes wide open to the possibilities of how their personal data could be used? The authors don’t think they do.

However, Olson and Rick Howard, director of intelligence at VeriSign’s iDefense Labs, said a longer-term problem is users’ openness with personal information on public forums.

“They seem to have no sense of privacy,” Howard said. “We think it could go two ways. In the future, they’re either going to decide they’re embarrassed by all the information they’ve put out there, or they may decide it’s just the way it is and (that) it’s OK to put information out there.”

I wonder how many users are aware of how to fine tune their privacy settings in Facebook or of how Facebook controls personal information? Rather than rely on technical solutions from developers to solve the problem of keeping our information private, I think the better solution is to work on educating users about the nature of open and social networks.