Universities are open environments

November 18, 2009

One of the things that's led to the university Internet environment changing (per an earlier entry) is that universities are open environments in general and especially in terms of services. In this they are fundamentally different from companies, which can be much more closed and closeted environments.

I think that there's three reasons for this. First, there is a much different relationship between many people at the university and the university. In a company, everyone 'at' or 'in' the company is working for the company, but in a university the majority of the user base is effectively customers, and this creates significantly different expectations.

Second, one way that these expectations manifest is that a company has much more scope to plead security and secrecy in order to keep services inside its walls. In a company you can assert with a straight face that you have privacy concerns in putting company email on some outside provider. In a university, the students will say 'so what? I don't care'. And in general I think that there is more acceptance of secrecy and security as valid concerns at a company than at a university; at a company they are defaults, while at a university there is at least a theory of transparency and operating in the open.

Finally and I think significantly, universities are open in good part because people are flowing through them all the time. Every year N people show up and N people leave, more or less, and at least in theory these people should be significant users of your services. This constant and significant flow works to destroy any insularity and ignorance about the outside world's progress that might build up in general, and when combined with the relation between students and university creates an environment where you are constantly justifying your services to the next generation of arrivals (whether or not you realize it).

(This degree of turnover is also another strike against claims of secrecy and security. As I've said before, at a university you have to assume that there are plenty of evil people already inside your organization.)

Or in short: the university is open because people keep walking through, bringing in knowledge of the outside (and leaving with knowledge of the university).

Written on 18 November 2009.
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Last modified: Wed Nov 18 00:44:42 2009
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