I recently read an article by de Souza & Preece (2004) about online communities. Specifically, they point out two components by which an online community can be assessed: sociability (people, purposes, and policies) and usability (software). In their framework, these two components have to be aligned to produce success. Any community (whether online, offline, or a hybrid) will have sociability factors that change as the people (or purposes or policies) in the community change. For any online community, the software has to work with those people, purposes, and policies. They continue on to discuss Semiotics and HCI and how communication takes place among users and designers. The important part, I thought, was that everyone is communicating all the time, but the message doesn't always get across how we expect it.
In the Learning Objects community, Wiley points out that since much of the work with implementing learning objects, defined by some as reusable (purpose) resources, was done by software engineers (people), who wanted to ensure that content systems were technically interoperable (policy). How usable are the software and standards we ended up with? Well to give you a hint, people don't use them. They use tagging and RSS, which are simple and friendly for all the non-engineers that are actually trying to develop and share content for teaching, rather than IEEE's LOM and other complex metadata implementations that the software engineering community designed. With two distinct communities, it is no wonder that tools developed by one were not usable for the other.
Since Learning Objects have been respawned as Open Educational Resources (OER), the usability side of de Souza's framework has changed to match the needs of educators and learners without software engineering degrees. OER are simply placed online so they can be easily found and licensed to allow reuse and localization.
How well do sociability and usability match now? It's better. When I google a term, whether related to statistics, learning theory, etc., I often find myself looking for the Wikipedia entry, and it often shows up right at or near the top of the results. Why do I look for it? The articles are consistently formatted, generally well-written, and I can use the material I find because of its GFDL license. The fact that Wikipedia shows up at the top of so many search results means that a lot of other people are using that content as well. There are still licensing compatibility issues and a need for more content to be contributed, but both are happening. It just takes time; learning objects haven't been dead that long.
deSouza, C. S., & Preece, J. (2004). A framework for analyzing and understanding online communities. Interacting with Computers, 16(3), 579-610.