Host Your Own Interconnected Learning Social Network: MoodleNet Federated Play 101

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Well into its user testing stage, MoodleNet is readying what is perhaps its boldest proposition: The Federated social network. If successful, it has the potential to disrupt the standard in social media today, by tackling issues including censorship, algorithmic bias, privacy, and centralization in particular.

The latest announcement offers details into the rules through which anyone can host instances of MoodleNet that can connect to the others.

Despite steering away from Open Source with the highly anticipated Moodle Workplace, it seems MoodleNet wild remain free and open. So while anyone would be able to use the software and host its own server, only those who agree and comply with the rules will be allowed to remain within the network.

The ‘Moodlian’ Federation

Moodle has always put a high value on both openness and social learning. In a way, MoodleNet is a way to respond to a problem that’s been around for years: How to make the LMS socially relevant for those who inhabit it the most. Namely teachers, educators.

Technically speaking, MoodleNet uses a decentralized protocol where different content and and service providers can interact and exchange. The core architecture comes from ActivityPub, an “decentralized social networking protocol” which, among other things, allows participants to

  • Provide resource repositories, accessible to anyone else on the network
  • Upload and access resources available from any repository in the network
  • “Curate” or otherwise take advantage of available resources to generate new ones. In the example of MoodleNet, the first kinds of elements in this sense include communities, collections and followers
  • Be able to define global (network-wide) or “local” rules of access, participation, collaboration and interaction.

Despite not yet having a direct value in the Moodle product ecosystem, it would seem the organization is commited to its development for the long term. Chief Product Officer, Gry Stene, more or less confirmed it was the case in her social introduction to the MoodleMoot Australia audience this summer. She seems keen to continue supporting MoodleNet’s experimental and iterative roadmap, which it alone sets it apart from the rest of the portfolio. It is unclear if it remain as an added value or will eventually figure out how to become a revenue-generating unit, directly or indirectly.

MoodleNet’s “federated” architecture is without a doubt its most interesting feature. The beta versions and the landing page still remain vague about its potential, but fully realized it could key have implications:

  • It would integrate direct teacher interaction into their regular Moodle workflow, enabling real-time collaboration and support.
  • It could speed up the course creation process by allowing teachers to source Open Educational Resources efficiently. Social ratings could help the discovery process.
  • Large-scale content creators could coordinate the development of quality materials.
  • Quality content and creators could find recognition and new audiences.

MoodleNet rules of engagement

These are listed on two initial documents: the MoodleNet User Agreement and the MoodleNet Covenant for Instance Administrators. Given that, as professionals involved in digital technologies, we regularly agree to similar documents after careful and thorough reading, let’s focus on the parts that stand out compared to other agreements.

MoodleNet User Agreement

  • As a social network, there is a responsibility to monitor and respond to illegal and immoral behavior. Under current U.S. regulation, similar to other countries, MoodleNet is not liable for illegal content it is used to spread. Instead, each federation is responsible to assign moderators and content review procedures as a condition to remain in the network.
  • The open source license (AGPL) in which MoodleNet is distributed is considered ‘as is’ and its users should not have any expectation of warranty, reliability or ‘fitness’ of the software, especially for commercial purposes.
  • In addition to the global MNUA, users might also need to agree to additional conditions for specific instances. Those will never override the global ones.
  • Read more in the latest version of the draft: MoodleNet User Agreement

MoodleNet Covenant for Instance Administrators

The word “Covenant” escapes strict modern legal definitions, which is partly a reason why it was chosen. You could think of the MNCIA as the guide for the human element in MoodleNet’s User Experience. As a social network, fostering a healthy, friendly and safe community requires some ground rules from participants, starting with the instance administrators.

  • Moderators should play a catalyzing, dynamic and proactive role to spread positive and inclusive values.
  • They must strive for a proper maintenance of the system, preventing common instances of failure. Timely upgrades, backups and general system optimization are examples of it.
  • They should have protocols in place to address risks and emergencies that could compromise the network.
  • They should keep clear and up-to-date information for users, both in general ground rules and eventualities, including the definite service shutdown.
  • Any customization of the code must be publicly available. This is actually a condition in MoodleNet’s license.
  • Read more in the latest version of the Draft: MoodleNet Covenant for Instance Administrators

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