You’ll notice that the e-Literate web site has gotten a redesign and that we’ve switched URLs to http://eliterate.us. (Please update your bookmarks and RSS feeds.) You will also notice that there is a new “Get Help (Services)” menu item at the top of the page. While I had originally put a commercial services page on the Empirical Educator Project site, that was just a placeholder until I could complete the e-Literate site makeover. It has migrated here, where it belongs. In this post and the next, I’m going to provide some more details about how e-Literate is evolving, what’s changing, and what isn’t.
During the first half of e-Literate’s life, it was simply a personal blog that was a work of passion. I started writing it as a way of thinking out loud about my work and of experimenting with what was then a new form. As my readership unexpectedly grew, it became a way for me to find new colleagues, engage in productive conversation, and advocate for change. For the most part, I never really thought about it as something that benefited me professionally, except on the rare occasions when I looked to change jobs and discovered, to my surprise, that people I was interviewing with already knew who I was.
When Phil and I started MindWires together, we were still pretty naive about the relationship between the blog and the company. We thought that MindWires would be our day job that we would use to feed our blogging habit. As it turned out, most of our work came because people knew us through the blog.
But it wasn’t that simple. Phil and I naturally gravitate toward somewhat different kinds of analysis and different kinds of work. As writers working in the same publication, those differences worked beautifully together. We complemented each other well. As business partners, it was harder to build a coherent business. Phil is a natural market analyst and process consultant. He does those things extremely well and enjoys the work for its own sake. He also likes maintaining the kind of neutrality that one needs in order to do that work well. I, on the other hand, am more of a puzzle solver than a referee and have always thought of myself as an activist, which is not a word that Phil uses to describe his own vocation. So there was always a certain amount of parallel play in both e-Literate and MindWires. That worked for a while, but the more ambitious we got, the harder it became to reconcile our respective passions under one roof.
Hence, the split. Our time together taught us something important about what we each need to be doing. And, as we have also learned through our seven years working together, our work and our writing is tied together more intimately than we had realized. Splitting up the business while continuing to blog together wouldn’t take us to where we each need to go right now.
For me, after 14 years of trying to have an impact through e-Literate while earning my living in various ways that are only loosely connected to the passion expressed on these pages, I need to bring the two closer together. So that is what I am doing.
e-Literate the publication is now one piece of a larger e-Literate organization, although it remains the beating heart of it.
Think of the organization as having two parts. The first part is dedicated to spreading understanding. e-Literate has been doing this from the very beginning. The Empirical Educator Project (EEP) can be thought of as a social, IRL extension of e-Literate. I think of this as “spreading the gospel,” but the business-speak for this part would be “media and events.” There will be the blog, the summits (which may evolve into a conference as interest grows), a podcast, and other logical extensions. I will have more details to share on this, including a way to pay for the expense of expanding this work that I think will actually do net good rather than harm, in tomorrow’s post. One does not get rich from education media and events, but if they pay the mortgages of the people working on them, that’s just fine.
The other half of the business is to help organizations implement the knowledge and effective practices that are brought forward in the first half. Everything published through e-Literate and EEP will be contributed to the commons via a Creative Commons or open source license. But sometimes organizations need help implementing these ideas, or they want context-specific coaching. So the rest of the business will provide a combination of workshops and consulting that help apply and extend just about anything covered in e-Literate or EEP. I do have significant ambitions to grow this part of the organization, largely because I think it’s an important way to grow impact.
Moving forward, I intend to increase the high standard of transparency that we have always tried to maintain on the site. I will continue the practice of prominently disclosing any financial relationship in cases where I am writing about an organization with which my company has a financial relationship. And I will also continue to write critical posts of current clients if I think it important to fulfilling the function that e-Literate plays in the higher education ecosystem.
By moving the unpaid writing and the paid work under the same brand, I am further increasing the transparency. Maintaining separate brands for the two different kinds of work creates only an illusion of independence in small organizations, where both kinds of tasks are performed by the same people. There is no practical firewall. The only way to provide assurance of ethical standards in such situations is through transparency. Putting everything under the same brand makes the responsibility as clear as possible. As an editorial convention, I will continue to italicize e-Literate when I am referring to the publication but will not do so when I am referring to the eponymous umbrella organization. But in the big picture, e-Literate and e-Literate are one and the same.
My intention is to build something that is ultimately bigger than me and that will outlast me. But for now, I understand that I am the personification of e-Literate. To reflect that reality, and in keeping with the proud tradition of small company owners making up their own absurd titles, I am calling myself e-Literate’s Chief Accountability Officer.
The buck stops here.