Social Networks & Corporate Learning

February 25, 2004, brought the most severe winter storm the Bay Area has seen since 1989 and the first full session of the newly named Emergent Learning Forum. We say we’re emergent because we’re more interested in what comes next than in what’s already established.

Our topic, the impact of social networks on corporate learning, perfectly fit the bill. Social network software is a relatively recent phenomenon, pundits and investors feel it is ready to take off, and very little consideration has been given to how it can improve the quality of learning.

Alex Gault, a director of Emergent Learning Forum, the founder of Small World Ventures, and proprietor of Collaboration Café, conceived and moderated the Emergent Learning session in Menlo Park.

Alex’s introduction to social networking, coupled with presentations by Spoke’s Andy Halliday and Tacit’s David Gilmour, provided a wonderful introduction to what’s going on in social networking and gave us a foundation for discussing how it can impact learning.

Since Alex is too busy to do so, I’ve extracted his introductory material below. (All the presentations from the meeting will be available, with sound and video, shortly at

Recent History of Social Networking

q     Expertise Management

q     A dozen or so researchers/consultants doing applied work, notably:

§         Eric Lesser (IBM Institute of Business Value)

§         Andrew Parker (Stanford Phd Candidate; former colleague of Lesser’s)

§         Karen Stephenson (Netform; Graduate School of Design, Harvard)

§         Andrew Hargadon (Technology Management Program, UC Davis)

§         Rob Cross (Darden School of Business, U of Virginia)

Key Historical Moments

q     1967: Small World Phenomenon (Stanley Milgram)

§         6 Degrees of Separation Experiment

q     1974: The Strength of Weak Ties (Mark Granovetter)

q     2000: The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell)

§         The Connector archetype enters vernacular

q     2003: Friendster

§         Online social networking goes viral

Strength of Weak Ties

Very close friends might have more motivation to give you information about available jobs, but they are often getting the same information you are.

While acquaintances culled from a wide circle may not be as motivated as close friends to share information about jobs, they will do so because often it is not very costly for them.

Because the friends of friends can be distant, their sources of information are different, producing new and sometimes unexpected leads.

Consumer Market: Models

q     Friend of a Friend (FOAF)

§         Ryze, Tribe, Friendster, Orkut

q     Matching

§, Yahoo Personals

q     Referrals

§         Linkedin, Spoke

q     Harvesting contacts from address books & emails

§         Spoke, Tacit, Visible Path

Enterprise Solutions: Expertise Locator Systems

q     Tacit

q     Kamoon

q     AskMe

q     Xpert Universe

§         Integrates with Lotus collaboration suite

q     vConsult

§         For Physicians & Hospitals

Trust & Privacy

Respect individual relationships

q     Don't force workers to share what they wish to keep private.

Enable users to retain control over their relationships

q     ie. opt out; opt in anonymously; opt in, but not share everything about a relationship; or opt in, but share information with only a select group of people.

Provide mechanisms to ensure relationships are not abused

Resources: Papers

q     Knowing What We Know: supporting knowledge creation and sharing in social networks. Rob Cross, Andrew Parker, Laurence Prusak, and Stephen Borgatti. Organizational Dynamics 30.

q     A Bird’s-eye View: Using Social Network Analysis to improve knowledge creation and sharing. Rob Cross, Andrew Parker, and Stephen Borgatti. IBM Institute for Business Value.

q     Knowledge Brokering. David Gilmour. Harvard Business Review.

q     Karen Stephenson’s Quantum Theory of Trust. Art Kleiner. Strategy + Business.

q     What Knowledge Tears Apart, Networks Make Whole. Karen Stephenson. Internal Communication Focus.

q     Trust and Knowledge Sharing: a critical combination. Daniel Z. Levin, Rob Cross, Lisa C. Abrams, Eric L. Lesser. IBM Institute for Knowledge-based Organizations.


Collaboration Café: Tools, Trends & Know-how


Many-to-Many: A Group Weblog on Social Software


Ross Mayfield’s Weblog: Markets, Technology & Musings



q     Trust. Francis Fukuyama

q     Tipping Point. Malcolm Gladwell

q     Linked: The New Science of Networks. Albert-László Barabási

q     Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. Duncan Watts

q     Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Science of Networks. Mark Buchanan

q     How Breakthroughs Happen. Andrew Hargadon

At the conclusion of the meeting, Alex announced the Emergent Learning Forum social network which will debut in April.

Posted by Jay Cross at February 27, 2004 09:52 PM | TrackBack

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