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How could we improve Cloudworks?

Deadline: 19 April 2011

Cloud created by:

Stefaan Vande Walle
6 April 2011

We created this cloud to extend our discussion on the use of Cloudworks beyond our H800 tutor forum.

Some positive elements mentioned in our group were:


  1. Its kind of like being told to go on a journey and being presented with 20 different routes that will all get you there just on a different track and perhaps at a different speed.
  2. The metaphor of clouds is very clear and powerful.
  3. There is a wealth of information on the site.



Some suggestions for areas of improvement were:



  1. Some clouds are empty and it costs time to check them all out to find which ones are worth exploring.
  2. It's yet another social network to share resources, links etc. Why wouldn't I make a summary of conference notes on my blog and send a link around with Twitter?
  3. The problem is that I just don't have the time to get involved in them at the level I'd like to.
What are your impressions of the site?  What suggestions do you have to improve it?


Extra content

Embedded Content


Clair Hattle
4:03am 6 April 2011

I like the fact that it's one site that educators can come to in order to discuss relevant topics with other like-minded individuals. A site for a Community of Practitioners, if you will.

One thing that I don't like so much is that when there is a very popular cloud, you have to scroll down and down to get all the info - that seems very linear and more 'traditional' of a blog.

Sukaina Walji
8:21am 6 April 2011 (Edited 9:54am 6 April 2011)

I've had problems getting my head around the concept of the 'cloud' as it just doesn't work for me as a metaphor. For a while, I couldn't work out what this site was about. Also, 'cloud' is associated more strongly with 'cloud computing' and 'being in the cloud'; when using this site, I have to actively dissassociate myself from that concept and think of a 'cloud' as something else.

So for me improving the site would be to look at the basic element of whether the word 'cloud' works as the 'product' or 'outcome'.

Over time, I'm getting used to the notion of a cloud, but it was a bit disorienting at first.


Gráinne Conole
8:43am 6 April 2011

Hi Sukaina

We wanted to use the notion of 'Clouds' to emphasise that cloudworks is different from other social networking sites. It is not ego-centric like fb but centred around 'social objects' Clouds, anyone can start a cloud and then others can add to it/improve it with more content, links or references or discussion points. We came up with the name before the rise of cloud computing! 

Stefaan Vande Walle
9:12am 6 April 2011

A main draw of the site to my opinion is that it is used actively by a wide range of users.  Improving the site should focus on maintaining and expanding the user base, and stimulate them to be active on the site.

I think the reputation system could be good to stimulate people to post materials, but I'm not quite sure how it works on the site.


keith taynton
10:17am 6 April 2011

Hi all,

While I applaud the reasons behind this project it just doesn't offer me anything that I can't get elsewhere, and while I'm sure that there is lots of useful stuff here I can't be bothered to navigate or search for something because it's just too frustrating to try and find anything.

Also, there seems to be a lack of tools to help teachers develop materials or make explicit their design process etc (on H800 we've been introduced to Compendium, but it involves an install on a local machine and java (ug). Why not start of will adding this as a server based resource that users can access through the browser (real cloud computing!). You could then get people interacting on a learning design in real time or asynchronously and get debates and feedback going on in a comments section. Not only is this interactive, but also may lead to expansive learning as described by Engstrom (2001).

In terms of usability I think that navigation needs to be carefully considered as there is no way into the content that is not frustrating. Perhaps outsource search to Google, and consider a Yahoo! directory style front page so users can drill down into content areas they are interested in.

One of the comments that came up in our H800 discussion of this resource was that there seemed to be a lack, or a need for, moderation - not only of content in terms of a summarising role, but also of content classification - a librarian role is needed to organise the stuff to make it easy to find for humans.

In summary, a great idea but offers nothing new in terms of form. I think that a fresh approach with custom programming is needed to bring all the elements together in a more unified and usable way. 

Engeström, Y. (2001) ‘Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualisation’, Journal of Education and Work, vol.14, no.1, pp.133–56.



Gráinne Conole
10:31am 6 April 2011

Hi Keith thanks for your comments, we feel that cloudworks is distinct from but complements other social networking sites, as it focuses around social objects ie Clouds rather than people. We have tried to ensure that it links with other sites hence for example the ability to embed a range of different types of content. Of course part of the aim of H800 is to let you critically explore a range of new media and make judgements as to whether they are relevant for you on not. Not everyone will like Cloudworks or find it useful - we understand that! Hope you find the process of exploring it useful at the least. 

Mark Adams
2:49pm 6 April 2011

I have to agree with Keith on several points. I think the navigation could be improved in some way. The cloudscapes is a way of combining clouds together on one topic but the topics are still too many to look through especially when just starting. Even answering "name one interesting cloud" was frustrating since it meant click and see. If it were possible to structure the cloudscapes further, at least one level higher, I think it would make navigation much easier.

Paul Connor
2:56pm 6 April 2011

If you are asking for an idea to improve it then I would submit that any empty clouds be removed. I have already stated that choice is a great thing but choosing empty vessels isn't. This would also make the site easrier to navigate as there would be less 'noise' from empty clouds.

Oksana Fedotova
6:28pm 6 April 2011 (Edited 8:09pm 6 April 2011)

Hi everyone - just visiting from another tutor group (as per invitation in General forum).  I also found the space disorienting and frustrating at first, and did my fair share of venting on the first day - but there is something about it that feels fresh  and ... well, a bit utopian. In a good way. 

Agree with Stefaan re: need for more users,  and with Keith re: need for further development.  Agree  with Paul that  regular pruning removing dead ends and empty or outdated clouds - would made the site less bloated and easier to navigate. 

An interesting question is, however, who would do the pruning?   Who gets to decide what to remove and when?  What for one person is empty or outdated, for another may be 'work in progress'.  How would disagreements be handled?  Administering a website is one thing, but this seems to be something else, both in terms of scale and ethos. 

So part of me is frustrated with all the dead ends -. but  another part  is asking if such a place should be managed in the first place?  Must we see it as a 'service' with someone else tidying up after us?  Or  maybe the users themselves should take on this responsibility?   

The latter of course would require that users have all the necessary options - not least the 'delete'  button - but also pruning, adding tabs, moving posts etc.  I have not spent enough time here so not sure what is possible, or how much is possible in principle but not open to users.  The problem is, will enough people get motivated to invest a lot of time into this place to reach the critical mass it requires? 

Hope people don't mind outsiders coming in and throwing some thoughts into the mix!  Please feel free to visit ours at  if you have the time and an interest in 'synch vs asynch' debate!

Andy Oakley
6:53pm 6 April 2011

Hi Stefaan,

Hating to sound negative but I would agree whole-heartedly with Kieth. I don't feel this site offers anything that can't aleady be found in other areas. The navigation leads to a lot of dead ends and the forums are extremely linear. I am unable to 'reply' to a previous contributor directly, instead I have to place my response at the bottom of a list when the comment may have been made many entries previously.  It might also be nice to 'collapse' some of these comments ratrher than being forced to scroll down.

I do like the idea of getting everyone together in one area but for me it just doesn't bring anything new ...... but who am I?


Antonio Palacios
10:07pm 6 April 2011

Andy, I agree: One improvement could be the introduction of threads so that conversations are not a disjointed sequence such as in Second Life.

A second improvement, this one related to Oksana's note on content maintenance, is the introduction of "aging" in clouds. Absence of visits and contributions are indicators of age. "Old" clouds should move lower in search results, and eventually become autotagged as "old". This provides the opportunity for manual maintenance of content, if desired, or for the automated removal or consolidation of old clouds. I do find the presence of empty clouds frustating.

Stefaan Vande Walle
1:05am 7 April 2011

I agree on the "empty clouds problem".  Perhaps one option could be that users could indicate empty or inactive clouds with a kind of voting system.  They could then be deleted by an administrator.


Christine Lampe
3:09am 7 April 2011

Like Clair (comment 1!) I think that Cloudworks does offer something that I haven't found elsewhere, an open teaching and learning space on neutral ground. This is a place I can invite educators from a variety of institutions to extend conference sessions (and hallway networking) into ongoing sharing and discourse, something that we often fail to follow up on for lack of a clear channel ("Are you Diigo or Delicious? Love/hate Google apps? Flash/HTML5? Skype blocked/unblocked...etc)." 

Christine Lampe
3:21am 7 April 2011

There are a number of things I'd like very much to see on Cloudworks to facilitate discourse:

Prioritythreaded comments (forum-esque) and more comment management options, such as collapsing previously-read comments (Moodle-esque), hiding comments (FB-esque), ... etc. Without these features I'd be inclined to attach a forum tool to Cloudworks, which introduces the channel problems mentioned above.

Link annotation. Try sharing a link called "My View on ..." without including the author's name, and all sorts of opinions will by attributed to the person who posts the link. Brief annotations add value to most links.

A sharing gadget--currently, sharing a new cloud with people involves copying/pasting/shortening urls and visiting several social networking sites. 

Targeted RSS feeds and tag clouds (Diggo-esque) for each cloud and cloudscape would really enhance integration of Cloudworks into other platforms. 

Finally, a feature I've seen that really helps make the development process transparent to the users is a feature-voting system like I've run across this on several developing sites, such as Crocodoc .

Neil Smith
9:08pm 7 April 2011

Several people have mentioned the problem of empty threads, but I have also looked through many threads which had the same handful of users making most of the comments.  It would seem that both issues would be resolved if there were more members, and a more diverse membership.  Connections to groups on Linked In and other networks may be useful, as Joseph states there is already good information available elsewhere.  Bringing this information into the "clouds" could bring both content and users.

Stefaan Vande Walle
2:38am 8 April 2011

I agree, Neil.  The site seems to be mainly used by OU people.  However, it's not up and running for that long, maybe it takes time to expand the user base.


Rebecca Galley
8:11am 8 April 2011

Cloudworks uservoice is here: Cloudworks UserVoice site . Looks like we could signpost this better :-/ Also, for those interested in the development side, following the release of the CloudEngine code in August, we started using Bitbucket. There is an open list of known issues and scheduled development etc.


Christine Lampe
11:12am 8 April 2011 (Edited 11:15am 8 April 2011)

Thanks Rebecca--I didn't see it! On other sites they've tucked it up on the 'Support' menu -- maybe Cloudworks could do the same? On my way to the polls... :-)

Rebecca Galley
12:49pm 8 April 2011

Thanks Christine! It is on the support page (blue support tab at the top then under feedback header) but I think that just the fact that you actively looked for it and couldn't find it shows that we need to do more...I'll give it some thought.


Christine Lampe
3:40pm 8 April 2011

Yes, it may be one of those features people have to literally trip over--having it actually pop up below the Support tab worked well on one site, while Diigo puts theirs directly on the top toolbar. Of course one of the features I like about Cloudworks is the clean design...

Sharon Emmett
9:48am 9 April 2011

I think this could be a great place for discussing ideas and finding resources although it did take me quite a time to get a mental picture of what was going on.  Before I had resolved this it just seemed like a jumbled mess and I wasn't able to make sense of it. 

Perhaps it might benefit from a more detailed site map to make navigation a bit clearer at the start as I think a lot of my colleagues would not have persisted with it in view of the difficulties.

I also agree with the comments about empty clouds.  I wonder whether it would benefit from having markers to indicate how busy a discussion is, how recently it was set up or how recently posts have been made to the cloud.  I am sure I have seen some ranking of some kind on other sites.

paul jonathan smithers
11:01am 10 April 2011

There is a lot of interesting content here, but reading through the various cloud titles, I get the impression that if a contributor wants to be noticed, they are going to need a catchy title.

I like the way that communities of interest can evolve with this system, but I am not yet proficient enough with cloudworks to comment further.

There are other sites out there doing similar things, might I suggest a visit to the Citroen Specials Club member’s forum.

As to suggestions for improvments:

  1. In order to check the currency of the cloud, would it be possible to post the date of the latest submission next to the topic?
  2. While the number of comments is indicated, why not show the number of visitors as well, this would give a better impression of the interest shown in the topic.

Shaun Harley
10:51am 11 April 2011

I am encouraged by some of the views expressed so far in this discussion. I do have concerns about working my towards learning another discussion tool.

As a tutor, however, I like the fact that the OU is working on its own tool. While I agree there is plenty of room for refinements, I would anticipate that Cloudworks will become more and more embedded into courses as the years go by.


Isabella Brown
8:07pm 16 April 2011

Coming very late to the party here so can comment based on everyone else's.

As people in my TGF will know as I witter on about it - I want practical application. There are so many tools around that there needs to be a genuine reason and benefit for spending the time using and learning another. CW has potential but I have been seriously put off by the empty or vestigial clouds and the relative lack of useful information in what I want. Science seems to have hardly anything, or maybe I can't find the right topics.

It does remind me of the national student VLE forums i moderate for the course I tutor. There are often lots of vestigial clouds (threads) which also often cover the same kind of thing. As moderator I try and tidy things up by merging (cloudscapes). Some threads generate useful discussion whereas some just present a bald fact / whinge / point / whatever.

I am heartened to come to this debate to find lots of discussion actually as it is both offputting and rather depressing to find a cloud (had to delete page then and retype cloud!) i am interested in and find no discussion or contribution.


Chris Kirkland
4:28pm 29 April 2012

I have found cloudworks very good for taking me in new directions. I used to miss the links when I first started but getting more used to how it works. I like the way it is the ideas that are the central feature and think that is the best site for developing ideas in education that I have come across.

Jonathan Vernon
6:10am 8 May 2013

I've been active online since 1996, blogging since 1999 and on Wordpress since 2007. All I look for in a platform is intuitive simplicity. All my efforts to get my head around Cloudworks have failed. I love the metaphor, but the platform is far too prescriptive. It simply doesn't work, If you want to bury content that neither you, nor anyone else can find, then stick in in Cloudworks. Far, far betters, as those on the recent H817 open MOOC will have discovered, is to use YOUR preferred Blogging platform (I recommend Wordpress) and aggregate this. For asynchronous conversastions then use Google + and for synchronous Google Hangouts. Don't got near Eluminate either - its a hideous construction from another century. 

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