Friday, October 26, 2007

Creating a C|Net for Education

Dean Millot:

On October 4, 1105 Media (among other things publisher of T.H.E. Journal) announced its acquisition of Education Plaza.

The site is still a shell and the new buyers have a choice. They can look to C|NET for inspiration, or they can move the k-12 print publication model to the web.

Most k-12 magazines are written not to upset advertisers. There's nothing wrong with the stories, and the ads bring firms to the attention of buyers, but the reader would hardly rely on the magazine to make a buying decision.

Judging from the site, I fear Education Plaza's new owners will be inclined to do what they know. Sites that are essentially a database of providers linked to product and service categories are no great technical feat, and not much of a barrier to entry to rivals. (1105 Media already owns EduHound.)

Education Plaza's competitive advantage is supposed to be exclusive ties to state education agencies and boards of education, and I think it's helpful, but absent something really useful to buyers, its just not a compelling "must visit" destination. It might make some money, but 1105 Media will miss out on the much bigger business possibility of dominating k-12's online marketplace.

K-12 education needs its own C|NET, and 1105 Media could build it with Education Plaza.

I can't say I've ever thought much of C|Net, but the general point is well taken, probably even moreso in ed-tech. Our market is just completely broken. It is vendor driven and vendor controlled (and this, unfortunately even extends to Web 2.0, where it is all about repurposing whatever falls from the sky). I've never seen such unilaterally disempowered customers. This is, to a certain extent, due to legal concerns about handling RFP's and bidding, but it really goes beyond that. People literally seem afraid that Microsoft will retailiate against them if they talk to loudly about alternatives. It is weird.

I agree with Dean that there continues to be a huge opportunity for someone, anyone, to create an honest and open source for reviews, customer experiences, price comparisons and other information on the marketplace.


Barry Dahl said...

Hello Tom,
I enjoy your blog although this is the first time that I've felt the urge to comment.

This is one of my biggest concerns - vendor lock-in for higher ed (or all ed) institutions. We really need to collaborate more to provide more of our own solutions - open source, shareable, and mindful of our missions of serving students and communities. I had great hopes for Sakai as an example that could lead us out of the fog, although I think those hopes have been effectively dashed by their lack of progress and success.

I agree with the need for open avenues for communications (reviews, etc.), but especially wish that we would start providing more of our own solutions.

Tim said...

THE Journal, like CNET, frequently approaches being a reproduction service for the press releases of tech advertisers. eSchool News is already there.

It would be nice if we had some kind of objective source for edtech news and criticism but I haven't seen anything like that. And I doubt Education Plaza will be such as vehicle in the hands of 1105.

Harold Jarche said...

I'm not sure that customers really want vendor-neutral advice. I'm on my second business model offering third-party, objective advice on educational technologies, and few are pounding a path to my door. Nor are there a lot of competitors to this service offering of mine.

No one in the market? Perhaps there's no market. Maybe educational customers get the vendors they deserve.

Tom Hoffman said...

Just to be clear, I don't really think there is much hope the Education Plaza will end up being what we need, and I don't think I'd come up with C|Net as a prototype myself (perhaps Amazon). Dean's statement of the problem is right though.