Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict



It’s a Movement!

I am surrounded by a fantastic community of innovative teachers. All are looking for ways to innovate, excite, do things differently, connect and share. It is the most active community I have participated in, and we’re not looking at a single Facebook group – but several.
Here are some interesting discussions randomly picked from today’s Facebook feed:

“I would like to open the new school year with an activity based on a song, video clip or fun presentation – for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) for 7th-8th grade students. Recommendations?”

“This is my first year as a teacher in high school. I will be teaching Math. I am so excited and need help – where do I start? Where can I find relevant materials?”

“Hi guys  Can anyone recommend apps or websites to do online tests ??”

“Hi all! I’m starting a new job in a couple of weeks and am looking for any ice-breaker strategies you may have for Year 10 and Year 11 students? They were very loyal to their last teacher so I think I might have a struggle! Thanks all.”

“Teachers, here’s a guide for printing a full size poster on your home printer!” (Link in Hebrew).

“metacognition of writing skills : Using…students compare each others’ work anonymously….some results are very surprising. All you do as a teacher is upload pieces of writing in the system. Students then judge 2 pieces of work at a time and choose which is the best one, and repeat for the next 2 pieces etc… you can add your own model text to ensure they are exposed to an excellent piece. The idea is they discuss what makes a good piece.. I used it with introductions when teaching essay writing, we were surprised to see that the best one didn’t come from our usual best can analyse results, collect data to instruct following teaching…try it! it’s free! and very user friendly 

“Is “drilling” good practice in class? Teacher gives correct answer, pupils repeat as group, individuals repeat, group reinforces whenever the non verbal signal Is given. It was standard practice in Wales, when I trained, but does it aid progress because it helps more naturally inhibited pupils or is it too Pavlovian a practice? I don’t use it much, but significantly some pupils do It automatically. Comments?”

“Hi all, wondering whether anyone has put together a levels grid which encapsulates all 4 core skills? Trying to create something that we can work with effectively in department to replace in part the old national curriculum levels.”

This could go on and on… My point:

This international, cross border communications, advice, sharing, exchanging views and experience is giving a HUGE push to the profession of teaching. Teachers who participate are exposed not only to their own questions or findings, but to infinite amounts of unexpected knowledge and information.

This is SO exciting!!

Still, the majority of teachers in our schools are still left behind when it concerned online communications and social networks. While the connected teachers leap forward and bring the whole concept of teaching into a new era, those who don’t share, who play their cards close to their chest cannot see beyond and into the horizon.

I often meet educators who say “why should I share something I worked on?” – and the answer is simply the whole is bigger and better than its parts – share one and you will gain access to shared works of thousands. It will help you create better materials, it will empower your work and fire your inspiration.

Be a part of this movement to hack education, make it into a new living breathing creature of society.



ADD – The Human Evolution

Are We All Acquiring ADD?

Last week I ran across a status update by a facebook friend who wrote “I think I won’t be able to complete this blog post without a dose of Ritalin”.
This floated at the same week I read some comments about the rising rates of ADD and ADHD among children and adults and how you can blame the web for everything wrong.
I don’t take Ritalin and it took me a lot longer then I had expected to finish this blog. My facebook friend had already completed and uploaded her great post titled -free translation from Hebrew: Attention Deficit Surprise. (Read it in Hebrew).

ADD is “Attention Deficit Disorder”. Ritalin is one of the more common drugs used to treat people who suffer from ADD. As one explained it to me once “Ritalin is like oiling the brain’s wheels so they won’t make a noise when they spin”. At the same time, if I use the same image, those Ritalin-oiled wheels slow down a lot, and go only straight, no sharp turns.

Which could be a problem.

But going back to the reality and the statistics – I won a “wow! You have serious ADD!” last week, as I was working with my partner on our startup’s verbal branding, while I gave him some advice regarding his wedding arrangements, took care of the kids’ lunch, schedule some doctor’s appointment and well, I don’t remember which other action items jumped in the list that morning.

His remark took me by surprise. I don’t think I have ADD. I think people often find it difficult to concentrate – that does not automatically award them with a disorder. I know I speak for many working mothers when I say we have many, many action items on our daily lists – and that also doesn’t amount to ADD or entitles us with a dose of Ritalin. It’s just a simple overload with no special order or dis.

I’ve been thinking about the ADD – the disorder, the definition and the perception – for a long time now. I have two boys diagnosed with ADD, who do not take Ritalin. And I have a brother and a sister diagnosed with it too. We assume that our parents have it, and science claims it’s hereditary. I still don’t think I have ADD.

But going back to the definition of ADD and recent statistics showing a rise in ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder) as a percentage of the general population, especially, but not only, among children:

Some might attack the actual statistics, some might argue that the rise is due to better knowledge and understanding of this phenomena, but often people blame the world we live in, specifically digital communications age. Because, really, think about it: life has gone from being simple 1-2 channel activity to being multi-channel activity all the time!

Consider only the communications channels that we have accumulated over the past 120 years. Started with face to face conversation added letter writing, telegraph, then phones, email, then mobile phones, then instant messaging, SMS, forums, chat rooms, social networks and twitter. Who knows what lies ahead!

This means that we’d better start thinking how to wean the world of Ritalin, because – yes: we are all acquiring ADD and it’s going to be the next generation’s normal.
Or is it?

I feel that sometimes ADD does not present itself as an attention DEFICIT but rather as an attention EXCESS (and let’s leave the disorder for now). Consider how we divided our time only 30 years ago between face to face conversations and phone conversations, each would be a single channel activity. Now think of today’s teenager’s time divided between face to face conversation, phone conversation, SMS, chat, email all together with web browsing and TV, all at the same time. The reality requires the Attention Excess – and the result could become “disorder”, a mess, a chaos.

But is it really a mess or is it a phase in evolution?
I read today that “according to Fortune Magazine people with ADD/ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own company”. I also found this simple explanation: “The ADD/ADHD gene affects the brain’s relationship with dopamine. This difference causes one to crave stimulation just to feel alive…” and “while only about 10% of the general population has this gene, most of self-made rich & famous have the ADD/ADHD gene. This group includes most entrepreneurs, artists, inventors, geniuses, rock stars and billionaires.”

The real problem with ADD is the labeling system that’s attempting to treat this evolution as a disease that needs a cure – drugs, to be specific.

Of course some ADD people, who may use Ritalin successfully might disagree with what I write here. And to be fair I must make it clear: there are various levels of ADD. In most cases ADD people do not see their problem as an attention “Excess” because even though they can split their attention between multiple stimulations, they never get to maximize their attention to any of those channels, leaving them with a feeling of “missed something”. But that’s not the same in all ADD cases. Not even in all ADD days.

In the meantime I’ve been watching this 2 year old who’s playing with her iPad, first encounter. Looks like she’s born into the digital age. She can instantly do stuff with her iPad that her grandparents might take hours to grasp. She’s born into a world where she can work around multi channels of stimulation and once accustomed to it at this early age, her brain is beginning to constantly crave stimulation, just like the brain of an ADD child.

In 4 years she’ll go to school and be asked to sit still in a classroom, listen to a teacher talking for 45 minutes at a time, write with a pencil in her notebook, a paper notebook. Before you know it she’ll be labeled ADD. It’s like sending a kid to the moon then dropping them down from there to earth – to a hundred years ago earth.

Time to make a reality check:
I am sick and tired of all those magazine articles warning humanity against the horrible things technology, especially the Internet – is doing to our brains. Technology is NOT JUST here to stay, it keeps EVOLVING. It’s not going to go away and I suspect the middle ages will never come back. The question is not “how to prevent humanity from changing” but rather how to get humanity to embrace the change, work with it and start to benefit from it.

Free Online Account? Trust No One.

Ning deciding to gradually terminate their free service came as a serious shock to many of their users, especially those who established various free social networks based on the its platform.

If you are not familiar with it – Ning is offering a platform for quick and easy creation of social networks.

It seemed like Ning’s free service should have lasted forever: you open a network, recruit between tens to the hundreds and sometimes even thousands of members to your network, Ning plant ads on the network’s pages. Revenue goes to Ning.

However, since it’s totally free to create, not all the networks could bear profits. Some networks were created and then forsaken. It’s been sitting there for 2-3 years. Some photos, some blogs, poems, personal pages of 84 members, generating no real income as there are no visitors. However, this network costs. Someone has to maintain the data. It is stored somewhere. It’s taking space, resources.

Less then an hour after Ning has made their announcement the net was flooded with offers for backups, migrations and alternatives to the Ning platform, for educators or for any one. But the Network is now tainted for ever.

Trust no one!

What was accepted and perceived as a Free For Ever service – is not free any more. And if Ning can do it, why not Facebook, or Twitter? Or Gmail?

Leaving the business consideration aside for a moment what really bothers me is the question -what made them do it and why now? Is it the beginning of the content explosion?

I know several people who opened more than a single Facebook account. The most common reason is losing the password, but I know kids who opened several accounts so they can send themselves Farmville gifts, or people who opened separate accounts for connecting with family and connecting with business associates. Each account consumes system resources. Abandoned accounts don’t generate income. And double accounts, sometimes hosting double feeds or photos, take up a lot more space then the revenue they can generate.

And in the meantime we are all reading and writing and referencing and cross referencing and I see how the volume of contents keeps growing infinitely. In a presentation I watched recently the speaker revered about how our grandchildren will be able to share details from our lives in a much more vivid way then we can share our parents’, because all of this information is going to be stored online forever.


For free??

Ready to step out of the box and into online reality?

It was a strange call from reality. The whole time I have been planning my startup and working on its development I felt a little protected from reality. That big wide world I will eventually embark on, in a quest to turn my plans into a real business. But that call last week was a much needed shake.

Sivan Biran, a young and vibrant entrepreneur and the founder of her own company – Sergata – told me about the Internet-startup reality-style competition they will be running – exit09. For 4 weeks the general public will choose their favorite startup idea. The public will eventually choose 4 finalists, and a team of judges will choose their 4 finalist, and 2 of the 8 finalist will win a week work on the development of whatever you can develop in a week. The two developments will compete on the final prize – 100,000 dollars plus hardware to start it up.

I must admit, I might be a competitive person, but I am not the competitions person. I am even less a reality shows fan than I am a competition person. I wish the daring competitors all the luck and success they deserve. Of course I can’t help wondering what would have come out of twitter, for example, if it had to go through a popularity competition to justify its launch. How many votes from the public would it have received? I am not even sure about the judges votes.

It’s pretty scary out of the box. There are things there which we do not completely comprehend. Not to mention expect. I mean Twitter, again. I’d expect all the contest’ judges to have an account there. How can they judge a competition of Internet ventures if they are not ON the Internet?

No names, but here is a quick research, excluding Sivan.  Judge 1 – cannot be found on either twitter or FaceBook. Too private? Judge no. 2 has a FaceBook account with a nice photo and exactly 4 friends, and no twitter presence. Judge 3 is a lot more web active, still couldn’t find a twitter reference. Judge 4 is on Twitter, yey! Private twittering though. FaceBook page doesn’t reveal number of friends. Judge 5 has a FaceBook account, with more friends than judge 2 but a lot less then judge 3 and no twitter. Judge 6 is a mystery. Judge 7 is probably the wildest web animal of them all.

Now to the general public. Do they even know what’s a browser?

Going back to my roots I am examining the communications strategies. Reality shows communications strategies are very simple: they work like the basic popularity contests, much like in high school. They are great when you want to be a pop star. I’d even go for it when you want to market a pop product. But is the general public ready to step out of the box and into the online reality?

Platform or a service? That is the question

Do you go to a barber or to a hairstylist? Do you get a haircut or a hair design? Trends and fashion surely impacted the use of terminology in many industries over the years. The hi-tech arena is not different. The only thing we can say to its defense is that in many cases the evolution in terminology is accompanied by real technological developments, not just perception changes.

Think of how the web, “just web”, left the prime stage for the sake of web 2.0. Or the distance from the original LinkedIn concept to Twits. It’s just an example, of course.

And now, is “platform” the new trend pushing “web services” aside?

I’ve asked this question around for the past couple of weeks. It looks like the “platform” concept is very popular. Many developers of web services have decided to dress their companies with the air of “platform”. Isn’t offering a platform for buying and selling a lot more impressive than suggesting an online shop?

Similarly, venture capitalists say, many developers of various software solutions present their software as “an engine”. Having a software that performs isn’t impressive enough. But offer an engine – now you’re talking!

The investors are not that impressed with the new terminology. Although some treat is as “semantics only” and ignore the choice of word, others prefer it if the entrepreneurs would call their child with its proper name. That would lead to the correct market strategy, from research to penetration and management of competition.

So what is really the difference between a web service and that glorified platform?


A web service usually offers an actual solution to end users.
A web platform, however, offers a basis for the creation, by others, of services or solutions, which are then offered to end users. A platform is a basis on which you can build new things.

“The web is a platform”, claimed Tim O’reilly in his article from 2005 “What Is Web 2.0”. But some ventures have taken this concept too far. For instance- “The Meretz USA weblog is a platform for discussion of issues related to Israel and the American Jewish community…” – why not simply a forum?

In many cases it’s simply a confusion, where the usage of the term “platform” is correct – language wise, even if not venture-wise. “ParagonEX Trader is an advanced online trading platform for the Forex market”. “Erayo is the world’s first online wholesale platform for boutiques and independent retailers.” “BlogTV is a well recognized platform that has won several awards”. Qoof widget is “The Most Advanced Video Platform on the World Wide Web”.

Qoof executive chairman and founder Richard Kligman explained: “I think we just started a few years ago with the term Platform and so that is what stuck. Even though SASS (Software as a Service) may be a better fit for us now, platform is still more understood when talking to clients and investors. If I remember correctly we looked at what Brightcove called themselves and since we are the best solution for video as a selling tool, as opposed to an entertainment tool like Brightcove, we decided to go with that. I think SAAS is on its way up and will be more common in the next 12-24 months, but for now Platform is the one you need to explain less.”

On the other side there are companies who could use the sexy term, but elegantly avoided the trend:
Fring™ is a mobile internet community and communication service that allows friends to connect…” but “Fring provides an Open API, providing 3rd party developers with the building blocks to create mobile web apps and leverage Fring community & hardware capabilities” which actually adds a platform to the service.

Things are very clear in the eyes of entrepreneur Yossi Taguri (Nuconomy). “A platform is something you build on, a service is something you give out of the box…For instance: Windows is a platform, hotmail is a service. Google app engine is a platform, Google apps for domains is a service.” Yet on the company’s web site “NuConomy helps companies better assess and understand website and social marketing performance with its free, next generation web analytics and optimization platform.” Taguri clarifies: “we have an analytics service and an advertising platform”.

You can get a hint on the perceived importance of ‘platform’ from a sentence Jeff Pulver wrote on one of his blog posts “…Facebook’s opening of it’s platform with the APIs … transformed FaceBook from a social networking application to a social networking operating system”.

So my guess is, we should be looking at the development of a lot more platforms in the next couple of years. And probably a process of separation between services or SAAS and platforms.

Beware the Social Networks!

About 12 hours ago “The Mail Online” has published an article titled: “Social websites harm children’s brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist“.

The top neuroscientist quoted is Lady Susan Greenfield. She is an amazing 59 year old woman and a specialist on the physiology of the brain, a professor at the department of pharmacology at Oxford university in the UK.  A serious, serious academic.

I am dedicating this post to her achievements and to the Ada Lovelace day, and to this pledge.

I had to read the article several times to try and understand what she is saying. After all, she is a top neuroscientist. You can’t simply dismiss what she says. Being a mother of 3 children – I want to know.

I am already poisoning my kids with un-organic food, we live in a polluted city, there are cellular antennas in the neighborhood, not to mention their personal mobile phones. Am I doing some more damage to their brains by letting them have a Facebook account??

Anxiously I was looking for scientific hints in the article. The research conducted… the methods and subjects… anything to learn a little more. But the most scientific reference I found was: she “believes repeated exposure could effectively ‘rewire’ the brain”.


The article quotes her saying “Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered” and then adds the quote “My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.”

Last month, the same lady, who is a member of the house of lords said “I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitized and easier screen dialogues…, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,” arguing that exposure to computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking sites “could leave a generation with poor attention spans”.

Well, hello and welcome to E V O L U T I O N.

Indeed not all evolutions do well for the specie. Think Mammoth for instance. Perhaps we are doomed.

But, does this mean we have to exclude all new media and stick with the old ways? Is preserving the current wiring of the brain more important than developing and arriving at new, yet unknown, places?

Here is something to think of. My 9th grader told me about her new History text book. Text books are rarely noted or gaining any sort of comment from a teenager. But she actually pointed out that this is a rather good book to study from. The book’s uniqueness is by adding several different fields of information into each page. Allowing the students to follow the main text while absorbing other types of information, some are minor others are accented.

When I encountered this fantastic presentation by Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins – things fit. I already wrote about it here.

I am not a scientist. But I believe that Lady Susan Greenfield is right. The young brains do go through some re-wiring. Sarah Robbins is right too. Students today are capable of handling a lot more information then students in the past. Call it “poor attention spans” if you like. I actually think it’s rich attention span.

I know that my Kids find it easier to absorb and process several sensory and information sources at once. They are certainly more successful at it than most adults I know and I believe they are better at it then I was as a student. Excuse me for not crediting social networking or penguin club with these achievements. I give most of the credit to the environment they are growing into and the future they are naturally preparing for.

Some of the many comments made to the article on “The Mail” try to dismiss everything as an oldie attacking the younger generation. Which makes you wonder really, about how society related to various media changes in the past century, or better yet – from print, through phones, to mass and digital media.

Still one question remains: can we really fight it, or should we find a way to use it to society’s advantage?

Quoting an entrepreneur…

Internet entrepreneurship is a tricky thing. You really can’s say what will work and why. All this talk about a bubble really isn’t relevant to the actual businesses. Some may flourish in spite of a bubble, and others may hang their failure on a so called bubble.bubble

Bubble or no bubble, here is an inspiring bubble: quotes!
My friend and colleague, and an inspiring serial entrepreneur, Maya Elhalal launched earlier this month. I think its potential might be unpredictable.

The site offers an endless number of quotes of famous people. Quotes are friendly, inspiring, amusing, easy entertainment. They can serve as a useful tool of expression and communications. Speech writers use quotes a lot. Students can use quotes in their papers. Quotes can be used as a reference; one can lean on a quote of a famous person or celebrity, while writing a letter, a message or request.

While searching the site you immediately run across a favorite quote. What will you do with it? Copy and paste? Where to? Obviously, the option of saving it under your user name on the web site is welcome. And so you register, an immediate simple registration, which assures the Quotesdaddy site that you are going to be a returning customer.

Researches may show that quotes appeal to older and wiser web users. Scholars will enjoy it and other people who do not find quotes intimidating or overshadowing. Let’s just say it is not the usual hang about for teens who are still searching for their own voice. But, here is a different prospective on the subject: teens enjoy quoting each other and their teachers. Tag it under fun or funny. These are not the same type of quotes, but what it you could save your own collection of quotes too? And choose who to share it with? Over the years you can enjoy the growth and maturing of your collection of quotes. Not to mention creating your own quotes, quoting yourself…

Getting younger by the minute

A funny realization came to me last week. I am getting younger by the minute. Professionally.

When I started my career, my working life, I was a 16 year old journalist among veterans 20-30 years older than myself. Had to prove I was worth something, had to work hard and grow fast.

When I left my journalistic career 15 years later and started my career on the web I worked with people who were about my age or older.

My path in the hi-tech avenue has lead me to meet new and exciting people. Gradually age has become insignificant. In this new world, everyone with a good idea has a respectable place. Which makes it even more exciting.

In the past several years I worked a lot with people younger than myself. I crossed the 40 barrier without hesitation, enjoying the shocked faces and went on to network with even younger audiences, from whom I learn constantly. The growing number of party invitations are the main hint to the age-environment I am now a part of.

In the past several months I have been getting deeper into networking and more and more into games and virtual worlds. I crossed the 16 and plunged into the 12 year olds. Now I am the hip mom, who discovers to her kids and their friends all the great news about the latest games and virtual worlds. My kids’ friends send me messages and emails and I am in a very young place. Exactly where I should be to design my startup. But really, very, very, young…

The school, the web and the ugly…prospects

Israel, the home for so many of the hi-tech innovations. One might imagine children are breastfed in front of the PC, or do their potty training while learning to program. They probably play with semiconductors at the nursery school and master all forms of online communications by the age of 6…


Isn’t it so?


Well, sadly, no. My children go to school with more than 650 other students, ages 6-14. The school has only 24 PCs, no wireless of course and no more than 2 academic hours per week for basic computer skills (sometimes only half of it), starting at the third grade.


This school, which hosts the city’s gifted children education program, uploaded a web site just last week. One which, to be fair, I planned and worked on for an incredibly long time and with unusual patience.


I just ran out of patience last night.


Got home, read this incredible post  by Connie Weber and wanted to cry.


It is possible to blame the national priority in Israel, the cuts in education budgets. Some would blame the teachers’ workers organizations. There are the local governments who are to blame for municipal budgets. But really, drilling down, you are facing the school’s priority and the single teacher’s ambition.


I honestly believe that most teachers chose this profession out of an urge to teach, lead, instill knowledge and positively affect younger generations. I try to dismiss common convention that most teachers in Israel chose this job either because they had no other choice or for simple convenience.


And that’s where last night’s meeting comes in.


After spending 18 months on the school’s web site project, and following its announcement and publishing of the URL last Friday, I had to face the fact that out of about 55 teachers, I could hope for no more than 10 that will agree to learn how to use the web site’s content management system.


Due to the school’s assumption that most of the teachers won’t be “in”, the work with the group of 40 students who have already learned the skills of using the system, is to be put on hold, or rather, “we cannot advance at this pace, this has to be slowed down to the school’s pace”.


How can you explain to a school, which launched its web site on March 2008, that this is not an acceptable pace in the current online world?


Our world is evolving so quickly that today’s teachers are preparing their current pupils to professions, which do not yet exist nor could we imagine they will exist. The children today are so knowledgeable and connected, a school that doesn’t flow with the current will remain a dry isolated island that does not communicate with its environment – meaning the kids, and their parents, most of which are online to some degree, sometimes a very high degree. Such a schooling system cannot serve a population that strives to learn, innovate and lead. It can only drive ambition and performance down.


Thinking of the school’s site I am sharing Connie Weber’s vision relating to the community building together its house. I envy the quality of learning she has achieved through a simple social networking site she has established with 4-5 graders. I just wonder how is it, that in Israel, the home of ICQ, Disk-On-Key, Windows XP, Intel inside,  SMS, voice mail, Firewall and so many other innovations, the school teachers can be so detached from, well not just hi-tech as a whole, but from the basis, the web.

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