Ontology, mentorship and web literacy

This week’s Web Literacy Map community call was fascinating. They’re usually pretty interesting, but today’s was particularly good. I’m always humbled by the brainpower that comes together and concentrates on something I spend a good chunk of my life thinking about!


I’ll post an overview of the entire call in on the Web Literacy blog tomorrow but I wanted to just quickly zoom out and focus on things that Marc Lesser and Jess Klein were discussing during the call. Others mentioned really useful stuff too, but I don’t want to turn this into an epic post!


Marc reminded us of Clay Shirky’s post entitled Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags. It’s a great read but the point Marc wanted to extract is that pre-defined ontologies (i.e. ways of classifying things) are kind of outdated now we have the Internet:

No filesystem

In the Web 2.0 era (only 10 years ago!) this was called a folksonomic approach. I remembered that I actually used Shirky’s post in one of my own for DMLcentral a couple of years ago. To quote myself:

The important thing here is that we – Mozilla and the community – are creating a map of the territory. There may be others and we don’t pretend we’re not making judgements. We hope it’s “useful in the way of belief” (as William James would put it) but realise that there are other ways to understand and represent the skills and competencies required to read, write and participate on the Web.

Given that we were gently chastised at the LRA conference for having an outdated approach to representing literacies, we should probably think more about this.


Meanwhile, Jess, was talking about the Web Literacy Map as an ‘API’ upon which other things could be built. I reminded her of the WebLitMapper, a prototype I suggested and Atul Varma built last year. The WebLitMapper allows users to tag resources they find around the web using competencies from the Web Literacy Map.

This, however, was only part of what Jess meant (if I understood her correctly). She was interested in multiple representations of the map, kind of like these examples she put together around learning pathways. This would allow for the kind of re-visualisations of the Web Literacy Map that came out of the MozFest Remotee Challenge:

Re-visualising the Web Literacy Map

Capturing the complexity of literacy skill acquisition and development is particularly difficult given the constraints of two dimensions. It doubly-difficult if the representation has to be static.

Finally from Jess (for the purposes of this post, at least) she reminded us of some work she’d done around matching mentors and learners:



The overwhelming feeling on the call was that we should retain the competency view of the Web Literacy Map for v1.5. It’s familiar, and helps with adoption:

Web Literacy Map v1.1

However, this decision doesn’t prevent us from exploring other avenues combining learning pathways, badges, and alternative ways to representing the overall skill/competency ecosystem. Perhaps diy.org/skills can teach us a thing or two?

Questions? Comments Tweet me (@dajbelshaw or email me (doug@mozillafoundation.org


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