Most large companies distribute deadly-dull in-house newsletters. Deloitte Consulting is an exception. Their in-house newsletter, Cappuccino, is informative, witty, and fun to read. Here's a self-serving excerpt.

Social Software: Get Affiliated

Jon Warshawsky

If you wake up in the middle of the night thinking that your company code and employee number aren't helping you, it's because they weren't supposed to. But the rise of online communities based on self-affiliation may be putting technology on your side. Knowledge management and corporate learning may never be the same. So rest easy. Your editor gets affiliated with some experts to bring you the real story.


Social Software: Get Affiliated

by Jon Warshawsky

Hi, what's your company code?

Want to understand the emerging world of social software? Step one: forget everything you know about "business areas," "company codes" and all of those System-defined clusters of people designed by System engineers for the benefit of the System.

Forget top down. Think bottom up. While you may be part of sales organization 60 and training district 12, that turns out to have not much to do with how you learn or affiliate.

"Social software is based on supporting the desire of individuals to affiliate, their desire to be pulled into groups to achieve their personal goals," Stowe Boyd wrote in a recent article (Darwin magazine, May 2003). "Contrast that with the groupware approach to things where people are placed into groups defined organizationally or functionally."

When it comes to knowledge management and learning, "we may be witnessing the death throes of the command and control organization," according to Berkeley, California-based author and researcher Jay Cross. "The pendulum seems to be swinging from an institutional, top-down model to an individual, or bottom-up, model," he said.

While the technology is nothing spectacular, social software is one of the catalysts of the change. For those interested in how companies learn and share their smarts, it has begun already.

What is social software?

You've already determined that everyone who's proficient with software is a socially inept recluse who spends Friday nights at Frye's or Circuit City playing with fourth generation PDAs and cell phone cameras, so how did these words come together? While your conclusion has lost currency in the past decade - even arch-geek Bill Gates is married, and he's lost billions in the past few years - it's a fair question. The focus is on how software is used.

The cc: line in email, according to Boyd, could be considered the lowest form of using software for social networking. By definition, you've created a small community of recipients who are part of the communication stream. This is a basic level of affiliation. Significant? Consider whether you read the cc: line in email messages you received. Odds are that you do. While we tend to cc: more people than we ought to, this is a conscious decision to define a group of people for whom the topic is relevant.

Boyd defines social software more broadly as the sum of these categories:

  • Support for conversation online: Instant messaging, e-room, etc.

  • Support for social feedback: Think eBay, where buyers rate sellers for honesty, helpfulness and service level.

  • Support for social networks: Friendster is a recent example, but to some degree (for books and music, and probably doilies and leaf blowers) and (for auto enthusiasts) are popular examples within this category.

None of these are startling or expensive technical achievements, but they connect and enroll users remarkably well. In many cases, it is easier to keep in communication with relevant business or other special interest contacts in these virtual communities than it is in real life.

The potential effect on learning and knowledge management is huge. If you accept that CD-ROMs and classrooms are poor substitutes for mentoring and real-time advice, social software starts to look more impressive. It's a way to gather all of the "go-to" people in one place, and to contact them fast. It's your network.

Learning, according to Cross, can be defined as optimizing the performance of your social network. You want to find information faster and cut out the less useful, or underperforming parts of your network. Social software makes this happen.

"Reputation has to factor into it," he added. The eBay model for feedback may be relevant beyond the online auction business.

A new attitude, or lack thereof

The technical bits of social software have been around for years, although new functions have made it more satisfactory for the average Web user. But the grim business climate of the past few years may have removed some of the obstacles to the bottom-up community-building process.

According to Cross, much of the "cowboy" attitude of the technology world has waned in the past few years. A happy side effect is that tech people may be more likely to value these communities now that they're not so keen on being millionaires next week through their own startup.

Posted by Jay Cross at July 29, 2003 05:05 PM

nice site

Posted by: Paris hilton jason shaw at June 29, 2004 01:27 AM

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