Lee Lefever at CommonCraft has re-linked to a series of three posts that he made last year on stock and flow in online communication. There’s a neat graphic at the main link, summarized as:
Flows = Timely & Engaging (e.g. radio, speeches, e-mail, blogs)
Stocks = Archived, Organized for Reference (e.g. web site, database, book, voice mail)
Lee discusses the changes that are happening within television, as TiVo (TV on demand) changes the medium from one of flow (and therefore engaging) to one of stock (and therefore of less value). He also says that blogs are so engaging because they allow flow.
This got me to thinking about the whole notion of digital content in education. Fewer people are willing to pay for content which is just stock, such as self-paced online courses. Stock is like product – over time, price tends to zero. You need flow to provide value (context), enabled through social interaction. For instance, MIT’s open courseware initiative makes the stock available for free, but you have to pay to participate in the flow (class membership). On the other hand, flow without any stock could become noise; everyone talking but no one taking notes or referring to previous knowledge. I think that you need both stock and flow, especially in education. It’s just becoming harder to offer one of these alone for a fee.
On this blog, it’s the flow that keeps the conversation fresh, and the stock that gradually builds in value over time. To keep this valuable, you need to have steady flow and an easy way to access the stock that you may need. I’m going to work on a site redesign in the near future and see how I can improve both stock and flow.