tin can and ex api

Recently, a colleague and I attended D-Conf in Milan. Hosted by our partners at Docebo, the event focused on cloud apps and eLearning. As usual at conferences the agenda documentation was teasingly thin. You have little more than the session title to guess exactly what the speaker will cover.

Day 2 had interesting sounding back-to-back sessions. One was on ‘Tin Can API’  by Mike Rustici and one was on ‘Experience API’ (or just ‘xAPI’) by Aaron Silvers. Both were engaging speakers worth listening too. Both spoke of a new API in an infant state. They evangelised about how with a little momentum they will be on the cusp of the beginnings of something that will eventually change everything. Good.  SCORM sucks.

For me, the really interesting insight was clocking my colleague’s reaction to these talks. She is a bright, switched-on, graduate, eLearning professional. She is no mug. She’d been looking forward to the Tin Can presentation having followed some of the buzz about it over the last year. She hadn’t previously heard of the Experience API. She listened to both forty-minute presentations in full. Yet when I spoke to her about it afterwards it dawned on me that she hadn’t connected that both presentations were talking about exactly the same thing.

Neither script referenced that there was any debate about the name. Yes, there were aggressive questions alluding to it after Mike’s talk, but these had a level of assumed knowledge in the way they were asked and answered that went over the audience’s heads. For those who live and breathe working on delivery of the post-SCORM standard, any vibrant debate about the name and any trademark issues may be boring and done to death. However, outsiders being introduced to the topic for the first time will not be aware there has even been a discussion.

My colleague is the target audience that these pioneers want to convert into the first wave of early adopters and sales-people. They diluted their message to her. Not because she is stupid, far from it, but because they didn’t explain themselves properly. She cares about this stuff. If they confuse her, they’ll certainly confuse more generalist HR professionals.

The dual branding is plain confusing. Having folk going on road-shows and calling it two different things in the same meeting is simply nuts. The confusion will delay that last bit of momentum they crave to get vendors like us to tell our clients they have to jump on this wave. Only when we’re pushing compatibility as an essential feature in any buying decision will it truly take off.

If I had a vote, and I don’t, nor do I deserve one, I’d say Experience API is a far better, more obviously relevant name. I’d go for that. I appreciate that there has been a chunk of work put into pushing the ‘Tin Can’ brand out there over the last few years, but let’s face it, it does sound like the code-word for a product in beta. You’d also struggle to sell something with such a whimsical name as an essential upgrade to a typical knee-jerk finance director. Worse, it does sound ‘suspect’ having a private company trademark the name of an open standard. I say that no matter how honourable or benign their actual intent.

Whichever name they settle on, they need to settle on it quick and stop the road show confusion. The benefits of this new standard, whatever it is called, means promoting this stuff to eLearning professionals should be pushing on an open door. Adding this confusion pulls the door back. Guys, sort it out.

Guy McEvoy is Managing Director of GuyKat, he’s looking forward to Tin Can or Experience or whatever it’s called freeing up eLearning content from the restraints of SCORM compliance. He hopes if you take nothing else from this article it’s that, for now, Tin Can API and Experience xAPI are exactly the same thing.  Oh, and that whatever it is called Docebo LMS  already supports it!