return to stephen's archive of his ancient digital histories see also the (not posted quite yet) short history of online communities at Ultralab

Spinalot: an online community authoring and participation tool

Facebook launched in February 2004. But back in the 1990s Spinalot was providing the engine for a number of ground breaking online communities of practice and its details were widely circulated - and much read. This page tracks the history of Spinalot, posts some documents and loinks back to the "short history of online communities at Ultralab" pages elsewhere in this archive.

If you care about understanding what is / might be possible with online communities of practice, this is a good place to pause, read and learn.

There is so much to say about Ultralab's history with early online learning communities, which goes back to Prestel and "electronic mail" based systems in the 1980s, but this page is about one part of that history, Spinalot - a development project led at Ultralab by Tom Smith in the 1990s, although everyone at the 'lab chipped in of course, as usual.

Tom Smith wrote this really helpful, and very widely circulated, paper for Apple's Learning Technology Review. It contains a host of really insightful reflections from past Ultralab projects (for example, our experiences with Schools OnLine (SoL) in 1995 taught us a lot about the dynamics of online learning communities) and of course Tom's reflections about Spinalot itself.

If you have any interest at all in online communities of practice, you'd be neglectful to ignore this paper; so much in it remains directly relevant today. Helpfully, in this pdf Tom lists 12 of the most important lessons we learned from past projects and much more besides. Spinalot really was well ahead of anything else around. Tom mentions how:

"it's possible to have more than one design, so that completely different layouts of the same content can be delivered to your members. In addition to the "look and feel," the actual content can be displayed differently to suit different needs, such as textually for text-to-speech audio browsers or summarized content for PDAs such as the PalmPilot"...

You'll see from the early screen-shot (left, below) that there was some debate about a title intitially. And Winalot was a Dog Food at about that time... Anyway Spinalot was anything but a dog's dinner! Read the paper yourself:

spinalot prototype screen spinalot paper cover

An interesting little cameo memory:


page last revised, by Stephen Heppel, on Friday, November 16, 2012 7:35 PM

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