Crowd Wise 2: Online Community Platforms

 I think it's fair to say that personal computers have become the most empowering tool 
we've ever created. They're tools of communication, they're tools of creativity, 
and they can be shaped by their user.Bill Gates

 Do you run, co-moderate or belong to a community of like-minded educators or learners online? 

Which platform(s) do you use?

Yahoo!Group, Moodle, Ning, Drupal, Elgg, Wiki, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Jamendo, Slideshare, LinkedIn, Xing, Flickr, Diigo..?

Which do you think is the best one?

How'd you rate it for things like the

- ease of use
- cost
- ability to find and communicate with other participants
- ability to share documents
- ability to share photos, media
- ability to gather opinions
- ability to collaborate on projects
- keep track of and follow threaded conversations

- things which really irritate you
- things you really miss from a different platform
- anything else?


This posting is part of the Crowd Wise series and is in part my preparation for the swap-shop I will be hosting on web-based communities at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate, April 8th 2010.  Your answers, as brief or as in-depth as you'd like to be, is very much appreciated!

To subscribe to all the posts within this specific series, copy and paste this url:  into your reader.  

Note: if you would like to participate in this conversation anonymously, please do feel free to do so.  Alternatively, if you would like to specifically mention an online educational community when making reference to your experiences, adding your group's name and/or its URL, you are most welcome to!

25 Responses to “Crowd Wise 2: Online Community Platforms”

  • Gavin Dudeney says:
    February 04, 2010


    Tried a few in my time - to me it's not so much the platform, but how it's used, the content and the interaction. I've seen very successful social groups in Moodle (which many would tell you is 'too structured' for that kind of thing) and I've seen disasters in Ning (which is, or so they tell me, the bee's knees).

    I like Moodle, Elgg, Drupal (though Elgg and Drupal require knowledge and patience to turn them into decent social networks).

    What do I want? A platform I can install, customise and have full control over, one that allows me to add the tools I want...

    Not very helpful, this comment...


    February 04, 2010

    Au contraire

    This was very helpful:

    What do I want? A platform I can install, customise and have full control over, one that allows me to add the tools I want...

    Ta, Gavin!


  • Tamas Lorincz says:
    February 04, 2010

    Dear Karenne
    This is a very exciting initiative. I'm looking forward tom watching the development and the final outcome at the conference.
    I see why Gavin's frustrated with most of the new Social Networking platforms. They are designed for newbies like myself who are happy to be told what they are allowed to do because even that seems to be far too much. It's actually a great stage when you start realising the limitations of a tool.
    I'm far from there. I am still at the "sponge" stage, I just try to soak up as much as possible. For this, Twitter, and my overgrown Google Reader seem to be the best resources. The links, ideas, experiences and information shared openly and freely by thousands of people truly amazes me.
    I love the idea of Nings and wikis. My 2010 resolution (2010 hasn't started yet, right?) is to engage more on these platforms.
    I'm not sure this is much help either. I just wanted to say what a great idea for a series this was.
    I'm looking forward to the next installment.

    February 04, 2010


    I get to meet you in REAL LIFE??? Whooohoooo!!! Now there's a thing we'll have to discuss: the excitement of meeting the people with whom we communicate on these platforms, sometimes daily, sometimes for months, as real life human beings!

    Golly! See you in a couple of months -


    February 05, 2010


    When I got up this morning I realized, though, that I don't really agree with you: sometimes when I hit a new platform and find it difficult to navigate then I don't even manage to stick around long enough for the content!

    Has anyone else found that?

  • Alicia Barbitta - Wonderalica in SL says:
    February 05, 2010

    Hi Kalingao and Gavin,

    I do agree with both, with Gavin when he says he wants a platform to install customize have full control over, etc, and with Kalingao when she says that if the platform is too hard to deal I surely do not continue trying. I guess the difference is how much you master technology or not to be able to continue with the platform.

    The clue is : platforms should be friendly enough to let people get part of it with ease and as complete as possible to provide what we want.

    I like moodle just for courses. I'm a newbie in NING and as far as I've seen I find it complete for developing interaction.


  • Maureen Mcgarvey says:
    February 05, 2010

    I only really have experience of Moodle and Ning. I use Moodle for online training courses, and Ning more for post-course 'continuation' and as a way of extending learning beyond the end of a course [whether that course if face to face or online]. That's the division I make in my head, and it works for me! I have found a couple of things, though:
    1. As Karenne says, if the platform is not straightforward we often give up. The platform may be straightforwad to us as administrators / creators, but our students / course participants may not find it straightforward. So, I have found that I need to provide some guidance / tutorials on how to use the platforms before they start, or many just give up.
    2. Many learners are enthusiastic about the idea of some online 'continuation', but in practice may not use it at all. If the function of the platform is not made clear, and if we don't design it appropriately, participation can just drop off completely. So, we have to be clear in our own heads if using something like Ning is a course requirement [and if so, what the expectations are of learners] or whether it's an optional extra [and what happens if no-one uses it except for 1 or 2 eager learners?]
    3. For organisations there is a cost to factor in when providing online support and we need to agree when this type of provision become uneconomic in organisational terms.
    Just my initial thoughts - I'm looking forward to reading what those of you with more experience of this topic have to say!

  • Tom says:
    February 05, 2010

    Think you might also consider including blogs (shared, for example, between all the learners in a class) as being "communities".

    Full control, Gavin suggests. Hm, not sure that that's possible in any of the ones I've seen and used.

    Rather than me having full control over it, I'd say that the vital thing is that's it's easy for the non-techie user (not me, the learners) and that it's familiar to them.

    For that reason, despite their limitations, two of the best bets in my experience have been Yahoo and Google groups.

  • Tara Benwell says:
    February 05, 2010

    Hi Karenne,
    As you know I help moderate the Ning, MyEC. From my point of view this dynamic social network side of EnglishClub has been a great addition to the club. I love being able to link between the two so that learners have a platform to practise what they learn on the main site. It's great to get instant feedback and it really feels more like a "club" now. We currently moderate membership to cut down on spam. It's time consuming but we're learning tricks as we go and it seems worth it right now. Ning Help always answers my questions within a day or so. I can't answer any questions about the fees, but you could contact Josef on that one via his MyEC page. We have been trying to encourage learners to use Twitter, and now that the Ning allows members to connect their status updates to Twitter I think that might bridge the gap for some. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  • Tara Benwell says:
    February 05, 2010

    One more thing: We recently did a survey about the ease of navigation on EnglishClub and the members seemed quite satisfied. Your feedback on the navigation of MyEC would be valuable, Karenne! I too give up on platforms that seem difficult to navigate. On the other hand, sometimes there just seem to be too many choices in this Web 2.0 world. :)

  • Mike Harrison says:
    February 05, 2010

    Hi Karenne,

    I'm still a relative newcomer to all of this social networking and fitting it into my ESOL teaching, etc.

    The most useful thing I feel I've done recently is join Twitter and start following people with an interest in ELT and tech (like your good self). I think I've learnt loads from it (forgive the conversational tone there!)

    BUUUUUT, if you're not on it all the time - running in the background or whatever - then you can miss out (on links, ideas, jokes!) People who retweet are invaluable to me.

    Another downside is how social networking websites and apps are currently viewed iin a very negative way by certain institutions - here thay are all blocked!! Very handy.

    February 06, 2010

    Hi Alicia,

    Thanks so much for dropping by - Yes: platforms really need to be very friendly right from the get-go.

    I've been using a PBwiki platform with my learners but then I needed to create a new one for the group of bloggers I work with - decided to experiment with wikispaces and oh, what joy, it's so braindead easy that I can't wait to work with it with them(in the setting up stage).

    Hi Maureen,

    Thanks so much for commenting on my blog :-), I'm really glad to have you here.

    I agree with you totally in that sometimes what we think is straightforward may not be others.

    It's something we should always keep in mind.

    Tom mentions yahoo!groups and oddily enough their invitation protocol (if you run a closed group) proved to be very daunting for my learners (years ago)!

    I've also found, Maureen, that continuation after a course has ended can be a big issue - I think really, with all groups, there has to be some kind of running task that the users can take on or constant updates and discussions and that certain members are elected (volunteered) for moderation type activities.

    Probably it's not so much a platform issue though - although, come to think of it, for all I whinge about yahoo, the daily emails (if an active group) do really persuade one to come back repetitively, something Ning definitely doesn't offer unless you subscribe to the activity in a Reader.

    Going back to wikis, which I raised with Alicia, PBwiki can be terribly annoying with their constant messages every time a micro-change occurs! Drives me nuts!

    Hi Tara,

    I think what you guys have done at EC is fantastic and am in awe of how you and Josef run that thing!

    The navigation of your site is very comfortable and straightforward, no worries on that front! I pay $25 pcm for my Ning with students - to be ad free - but I've nowhere near the space facilities that you guys have.

    Spam is one of those big horrible issues and I'm glad you mentioned it, I've seen it running away on a number of groups -am thinking of LinkedIn in particular at the moment.

    When I do the post on protocols, it'd be really great to get some tips from you guys on how you moderate out this issue.

    February 06, 2010


    Without realizing it you put forward another important topic - tone!

    I'm a pretty relaxed kind of person (most of the time except when I'm running around like a headless chicken) but don't you ever worry about what you say on this blog - I love hearing people's opinions, whatever they are, whether you agree or disagree, always feel free to add your thoughts!

    Anyhoo, tone.

    The type of platform - does this have any affect on the type of tone used for communication purposes?

    It's a good question and I wonder what others think.. ease of use is related to how relaxed one feels and how relaxed one feels is related to the way in which one communicates in RL (Real Life) - how do we figure out the way that people refer to each other, what sort of questions they raise if we can't see what they're talking about in an easy way?


    And the issue of certain sites being blocked within companies or schools - I guess the most important thing I've found to get over this stumbling block is clear communication that I have needed certain. I have access to everything at the main company I work at (told them I had to) and at one investment bank wanted to show a youtube video and we gave the url to the IT people and then they made sure that that one specific url could be opened.

    It's a faff, but there are ways and means :-)

    Hi Tom

    Most definitely including blogs :-))) thanks for the nod on these as community platforms!

    I didn't have much success with google groups - they were too much like the old style forums and I got fed up.

    Have you tried the wave?

    Our local teaching committee has decided that we're moving our online discussions on to one, as of next week, so I'll be surfing it but no idea what it's like.

    Rather exciting!


  • Attilio says:
    February 06, 2010

    Hi, everybody!

    My favourite Web 2.0 applications are wikis. I "fell in love" with them about three years ago, because I experienced that running a wiki is just like having a huge folder in which you can create and store tons of activities, suitable for different levels and for each student or groups of students. So far I have used wikis for these aims:

    1. provide my EFL classes (divided into levels, from 1 to 5) with additional material and exercises (to be done online at home, in the school language lab or in the computer lab)
    2. collect, store and classify dozens of links to the tons of free online EFL and ESL activities, sorted according the four language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing
    3. select appropriate websites and exercises for European certifications (PET and FCE)
    4. 'scavenge' more challenging activities for students of Business English and English for Tourism
    5. set up online language exchanges and intercultural projects with other schools.

    This is what you can save by implementing a class or a school wiki:

    - save hundreds of paper sheets for your students (they get used to downloading text files for specific lessons at home and print them at home, using their home printers). In this way, my principal no more complains about the huge number of copies done at school!
    - upoload lessons or presentations you might prepare using PowerPoint or similar tools
    - run e-mail exchanges and other collaborative projects between your students and those of other schools, so that each pair has their own page/s to edit
    - keep memories of real class exchanges, in which students report back their class exchange with another school and write texts in more languages
    - use and embed audio and video tools to have your students record their voice and speak
    - have students 'play' with wiki pages and edit them with their most favourite universal language: music! It's fun to see students sing and read lyrics when watching their favourite songs!
    - start a forum among the students in your classes, using the wiki function 'Discussion'.

    All these steps can be seen in my wikis. I know there are no "special effects", but they should look quite effective and practical:

    These weeks I'm taking part in an online workshop (Webheads in Action), a nine-year-old community of practice of language teachers worldwide, where Web communication tools are explorend and shared in a collaborative way and teachers can participate in conferences as audience and presenters. A great way to share knowledge and experience, to learn from others and to make friends as well!
    For those interested, this is the link:

    ATTILIO (from Italy)

  • Gavin Dudeney says:
    February 07, 2010


    When I spoke of 'control' I was really referring to platforms I can install on a server and manage and customise myself. Not an option for everyone, granted, but it does mean you can build your community wrapper to match your community aims, rather than having to bend the community aims to the chosen platform.

    In that respect Elgg, Drupal, et al are preferable (for me) because I do get to control how they look, how they function, what features they have, etc.

    And being almost infinitely expandable and customisable, you can also involve the community itself in the direction it takes and the features it has. So the community can have a say in the very basic aspects. I like that idea a lot.

    Some of this may, of course, come at the expense of ease-of-use or familiarity - and certainly something like Ning is easy to get into. But what happens when the community gets to the stage when the familiarity turns to contempt, or frustration?

    I think any of these platforms is fairly east to operate, when mitigated by things like video tours of the features, etc.

    This is a very interesting debate - thanks for kicking it off.


    February 07, 2010

    Hi Gavin,

    Unfortunately I think that the threats to community that you mentioned are, I guess, human-nature (or they wouldn't occur) but probably have not so much to do with the software... unless, of course, it's the frustration at the platforms limitations. More on threats like trolls and ego-bashing in later posts.

    Still, I really liked what you said about involving a community in the "Say" of the direction of very basic aspects.

    However while I like it, have you had a lot of that happening? I ask because I had hoped to get more of a collaborative community vision on the wiki for one of the communities I run (am hoping to create a massive e-library of all of our blogposts) but haven't got many suggestions on style or format or platform... so have ended up making lots of the decisions myself.

    I'm not sure if it's just me though, the way, I've been asking.

    I so think you are completely right about the video tours. That's something I have been really thinking about a lot recently.

    February 07, 2010

    Hi Attilo,

    Thanks so much for coming by and adding your thoughts, they're very useful and I'm becoming quite a big fan of wikis.

    One of the things I do is keep all the administrative stuff in one (for my students wiki) that's been a great time saver and wonderful for clear communication back to the HR department because you can just send them a link.

    I very much appreciate the tree-saving too!

    btw, popped over to your wikis - they're very nice, thanks for sharing and the link to webheads too.

  • monika hardy says:
    February 07, 2010

    This is lovely dear...I do wish I made it here more often..

    I have used Moodle, Ning, Wiki Wetpaints, and Netvibes the most.

    Moodle is great - some teachers love it - for the managerial and safety features. Some don't - for the same reason many kids don't - the difficulty of getting in and then getting around, communicating within etc.
    I think Moodle has transformed quite a bit, and with experts like Tomaz Lasic always improving it... if one were to embrace it - it might be the ticket for most in public school.

    Along the lines of a public-safe feel and a managerial aspect (ability to do grades, check hits, etc) I'm very curious about Brainhoney. It's intriguing me just now - I haven't seen it in play and would love to if anyone has used it.

    We use wiki wetpaints to house any kind of work. This may be a mental block - that we haven't sought elsewhere.. but the wetpaints have done us well. Ease to use, and we love the organization of the pages, etc.

    I use Netvibes to house everything, and have recently had a couple kids and teachers choose to do the same..

    Our absolute fav.... Ning. I'm thinking because it's so much like facebook. This year I've given my kids the option of our class site on Moodle - which is packed with great resources - and forums - and the opportunity to get credit for others' hits on your additions, but everyone has shifted to the Ning. I think a main reason... you go where the crowd goes.. and the greated headed there - as did I. Maybe I've flavored that decision more than them.

    I think the two things Ning is providing for us... is ease and authenticity. Ease only because it's similar to what kids are used to on facebook, and because our Ning is open - so we the world joining us, reading us, teaching us..etc.

    What I want, because I think it's what kids want, is a place that has learning as it's focus, and a social aspect closest to their actual social environments. Learning with others is key and the best way (no matter how messy it can become because it's real) to model and deal with ethics.

    February 07, 2010

    Thanks Monika for stopping by, am always glad to see you - I know we don't spend so much time on each others blogs being in different fields, but always happy to share with you. Appreciate your contribution to this discussion: especially on the Ning having the feel of Facebook.

    This is so. It actually got me into trouble quite early on! My Ning is aimed at adult English language learners of whom all are over the age of 40.

    Quite early on, one of the participants dropped out of both our f2f classes and our BL platform because he didn't want to be a personality on the internet. Despite stressing that we were private and nonsearchable by Google he was very adamant about his privacy.

    I was quite terrified, thinking that it would be the beginning of a mass exodus... but in the end, it was only him who left us.

    Still, this really is something we need to take into consideration on the platforms we work on.

    Anyhoo, Brainhoney does sound intriguing. I've also heard good stuff about Piki friends.

  • Anne says:
    February 07, 2010

    This comment originally appeared on The Island Weekly.

    Dear Karenne,

    Thank you so much for your comment. Rings very true. You shared your insight into the privacy issue some time back and had me thinking about this problem long before I read the PEW findings yesterday.

    The study just nailed it.

    I’m recognizing that any connections and wider publicity my students and clients have been seeking, and that certainly does include the blowing of trumpets, is the type that fits most neatly into Xing and other social networking sites. By contrast, the more complex English texts they want to produce need to be revised in privacy.

    Yes, I think a lot of the online (blog) sharing is to promote the concept and the teachers promoting the concept, and if the students profit from the publicity it’s through the back door of awards and grants. But that’s the way our profession works, the way ideas get spun and policies made.

    I’m looking forward to your Ning workshop. I’ll be trying to figure out whether what you do there is any different from what I’ve done on Moodle. I got slightly turned off by Moodle after I ran a Moodle course with 25 people and also used Moodle as a repository for my regular classes. In both setups I’ve found that there is hardly any conversation going on at all between the participants despite my impulse questions and Gilly Salmon style e-tivities. I’m into students using any platform for more than just shovelling content to me and picking up feedback and doing the tests for points. Mark Stoneman (who lectures in history) pointed out yesterday on Twitter that in his experience, an educational forum needs a critical mass of participants before it really takes off and conversations start to develop. He said in his case it was about 110 people. 110!!

    The only student blog that I see with a real living community is Markus’ – writing in German, and with the forum going.

  • elizabeth_anne says:
    February 08, 2010

    Hi Karenne - I am soooo sad not to be coming to Harrogate - but Brighton here I come :-)
    I use pbwikis with my ESP classes (as easy to make blogs basically) but for sharing I'm a total Ning fan.
    Sharing documents photos and media is really very easy. I particulary like the one click option to see the thread in any conversations - either from a comment on the wall, a comment on the integrated blog (if the owner included the blog option) and in the private messages.
    The "recent activity" on the front page makes it easy to keep up with the group as a whole - and after years of being lost in Yahoo groups - the facebooklike potential of adding links to "friends" on one's own page makes it possible to get a handle on the whole thing when you don't know the people in the group beforehand.
    I don't know why Gavin thinks it's not customisable - in fact you can choose up to 20 features when setting it up - but I wholeheartedly agree with his remark that it's not the platform but how it's used ... (and who is in the group). My 2 experiences of EVO nings is that they have greatly favoured the interaction between members (rather than the top down Moodle type control-useful for teaching :-) In fact the group took over in both. Have a skeg at to see what I mean ... from which I found this fantasticaly interesting whole 90 min documetary by Bouglas Rushkoff - t90 minutes well spent for all educators online !
    I'm very sad not to attend your workshop - give my love to Caroline who's at your end of the world.

  • elizabeth_anne says:
    February 08, 2010

    You said
    Going back to wikis, which I raised with Alicia, PBwiki can be terribly annoying with their constant messages every time a micro-change occurs! Drives me nuts!
    Go back to your profile and change your email alerts setting :-) easy peasy (I have 85 students on pbwikis and got that one sorted quick)

  • Daily Alchemist says:
    February 13, 2010

    I've used pbwiki on and off (mostly off!) for the past few years. But after reading the comments, I may use them again with my business English students.

    February 13, 2010

    Neil, if you come back in time: NNNNNNOOOOOO - move over to wikispaces. I'm disappointed in my PBwiki to be honest, find it a bit clunky but bought the thing...(upgraded) so na ja. But Elizabeth does rave about it... maybe do a poll on twitter! :-)

    Elizabeth, wow - thanks so much for your great comment on all those fantastic links. You also really put the finger on it, when comparing Moodle and Ning. I very much did not like Moodle when I was on it, two different times, though.

    Both with experienced moderators (Scott Thornbury and Ana of the Consultants-e) - the quality of their training was unquestionably excellent both, but I was found moving through the threads uncomfortable /opening up assignments that you couldn't print annoying...and... given that I'm dogme in my heart of hearts, like you said - if I can paraphrase, not terribly community wise.


  • YourLocalGP says:
    February 16, 2010

    Hi Karenne

    I'm loving following this project of yours.

    Personally, I can't get enough of LinkedIn. For me the quality of insight is terrific; it seems that the mindset people are in when surrounded by a pseudo-professional online envirvonment as opposed to a social one means that contributions and knowledge sharing is fantastic. I'm unimpressed by the premium features when I tried them (no complaints as quite happy to use it for free) as they seem to be little more than dressed-up information sharing useful mostly for the recruitment industry.

    I would like to see more widgets and greater customisation of profiles. In a blogging arena where Wordpess is the base for entire corporate sites (but then again, so is Sharepoint!) it would be great if company pages on LinkedIn could be what 'fan' pages are on Facebook.

    Continuing to read your posts on this anyway, enjoying following it.



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