Delicious and the risks to a distributed ePortfolio

The future of Delicious, the social bookmarking site, is uncertain at the moment. There are conflicting reports as to whether it’s being “sunsetted” by its owner Yahoo, sold off, released as open source etc. Whatever its future, there are implications for people using a range of web 2.0 tools to collate a “distributed” eportfolio.

A distributed ePortfolio would use a selection of tools hosted across a number of services. It might include WordPress for reflective blogging, LinkedIn for a CV, Flickr for a photojournal, Slideshare, Issuu or Scribd for key pieces of written work etc.

It’s not a perfect solution by any means with many pros and cons (which I think I might cover in a future post) but the fate of Delicious points to a major risk.

If an ePortfolio is hosted by an institution on something like Mahara or PebblePad this will be backed up by personnel and infrastructure to ensure a certain level of stability and access.

If you are using extra-institutional services you are at the whim of market forces and fashion amongst other things.

I was a big fan of a service called Fliggo, which allowed you to create your own personal YouTube-like site, controlling access, publication etc – great for eportfolios. Unfortunately the company behind it decided in early 2010 that they couldn’t monetise it sufficiently so channelled their efforts into a Twitter video sharing service. First I found I couldn’t upload any new content to Fliggo, then I eventually lost access to all the videos I’d uploaded.

The other problem is that through embedding and RSS feeds, the tools in a distributed eportfolio may be closely interlinked. If one service goes down it may require updating dozens or hundreds of links or autoposting features on other sites.

At the very least it’s an annoyance when web 2.0 tools change or disappear. At worst, when they host assessment-critical materials, it can be a disaster.

So, if you considering building a distributed ePortfolio using publicly available web 2.0 tools:

  • Plan ahead. Think about your own disaster recovery and have risk mitigation in mind.
  • Choose services that are already established. Some new startups can be innovative and exciting but if the market isn’t ready for them then they’re vulnerable. (Even so, Delicious is an example of an established site and even that’s not assured now.)
  • Be wary of services still in beta testing. They may not be stable, are subject to major change and you may find that they start charging when they go to version 1.0.
  • Look for services that have export functions. You should be able to get your content out quickly in case of emergency, as well as putting it in. Delicious and WordPress have these.
  • If possible, keep copies of important work stored locally. Keep original video files after uploading to YouTube for example.
  • Investigate self-hosting. You can create your own installation of WordPress, for example. This gives you more control over it but does require more effort to keep it updated and secure. (It also means you can create you own eye-catching URL!)
  • Keep an eye open for news about these sites. Following their official Twitter accounts and glancing at their hashtags from time to time is a good start.
  • Be agile. Make the assumption that at some time you will need to move some elements to other services.

I’m not saying that using these sorts of tools for an eportfolio is a bad idea, just that there are certain risks to go with the benefits.