Enabling Knowledge Communities
Social Networking Services
Recently, Richard Millwood has been drawing the attention of I&DeAs colleagues to phenomena such as Del.icio.us, Flikr, Frappr, Twitter and Facebook.
Flickr lets you share your photographs, Del.icio.us your bookmarks, Frappr your location, and Twitter what you are doing at the moment. Those are things about you as an individual, shared with other people. Facebook is more significant: it pulls those services together in one space, and adds what Richard calls 'automated gossip'. People join groups, add applications, ask questions and have them answered, become friends with each other - no one person writes all the happenings you can observe on your Facebook page. It is generated by the actions of users on the system, and it helps to maintain community.
The I&DeA team is paying particular attention to Facebook, as situations arise like the one at Kent County Council, which in August 2007 banned its 32,000 employees from using Facebook at work. The Council explained its motivation as being about keeping its systems secure, which is clearly nonsense. Managers fear that employees will waste a lot of time online, and they are prepared to disrupt access to social networking services, discipline staff using them, and ultimately dismiss them for it. Facebook use is also banned in the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London. It was blocked for a while at I&DeA, until their own workers persuaded the agency that they needed it for their professional purposes. There are many frivolous groups on Facebook. But the RSA London group to which Richard belongs has significant discussions going on, supplemented by face-to-face meetings. This is an example of how Facebook is seriously useful in Richard's professional life.
As for the chitter-chatter aspects of Facebook, it helps to keep the people in Richard's life present when he is at the computer. Facebook has good profiling tools, good support for interpersonal relationships, and great integration with email, used for notification.
Beyond the technology focus, Richard wanted to look more broadly at human facilitation online. Many Web 2.0 tools such as MySpace are about online personality - it's Me, telling Me to the world. But the interpersonal has now developed, especially on Facebook. Maybe the communal will soon emerge - where there is shared purpose, an intention to form proper relationships of trust and productivity, around something we aim to achieve together.
Richard had been reflecting during the day that the problems with things (data and information management) seem to be the same ones he faced 20 years ago. Progress may have been made on the theoretical front - how much change has their been practically? Perhaps that is because theoreticians haven't focused enough on people. People are central to knowledge creation, knowledge management and knowledge relationships. Richard also commented that we will not get away from diversity; we will not get away from neologisms; and we will not get away from dissent. We need systems that allow us to accept and deal with that, mash up the various inputs, and put things together.
Richard quickly showed us a mash-up experiment he had made during the day: a spreadsheet made in Google Docs that references information on the Web about the population of cities. For London, it is stated to be 7.5 million; that data retrieved by entering a formula that goes off and gets the data. He then filled in the same formula for other cities, and it pulled back results before our very eyes in the same way. Shall we add another location? 'Swindon', was proposed, and back came the answer '161,000'. Whether that is true or not he could not tell. What he did know was that without much thought or effort, in five minutes, he had created an information retrieval tool.
'It makes plagiarism look stupid. Wouldn't you want your secondary school children to be able to use these tools effectively, to build knowledge for themselves, aand for others in their class, for the community they work in, for the companies they go to do work experience in. Wouldn't you want that? How is that going to happen in the climate we've got now?'