Tonight's meeting on Selling Social Software was even better than I expected with excellent presentations and networking beyond the wine supply. The consensus seemed to be that big and expensive IT-driven knowledge management systems weren't working well; the future lay (partly) with more bottom-up systems of blogs and email; and the place to start was with people's motivation (or not) to share; the dynamics of groups, and the culture of organisations. Unfortunately - for the commercially minded - you couldn't make any money out of the software (mostly free or low-cost), though probably lots of consultancy for organisational development folk, if they can get to grips with the DIY tech. I probably misinterpret, but confidently expect the blogging presenters (linked from here) to post their slides and more**.... so I don't need to go into the business-related applications. However, it did set me thinking about blog clusters.
As I understand it, the hope of social software enthusiasts in the business field (for new readers here's a Social Software Reader) is that the under-used tech-driven one-size-fits-all internal corporate systems will be at least complemented by linked self-publishing initiatives.
The logic is that individuals and groups link their systems to form clusters that mirror the day-to-day face-to-face and phone conversations they have, so forming a rich, organic, communication ecology rather than the well-manicured garden their senior managers would no doubt prefer.
Others better-versed than me in the corporate world can do the reality checks on this vision - but I think it happens a lot already among work teams and communities of practice. Lee Bryant of Headshift certainly convinced me of the possibilities. You can read the excellent iSociety report Getting by, not getting on: Technology in UK workplaces
What struck me is that this clustering could also be a model for local geographic communities. A few years back there was great enthusiasm (from me too) for local community networks, and Communities Online continues to fly that flag. There's an excellent Scottish Connecting Communities site.
The model is often a community web site, frequently maintained by volunteers, with sections for different community interests. The problem is that - like the corporate knowledge management systems - it can be difficult to get people to commit to the shared system. Volunteers burn out, and initial three-year funding dries up.
I'm currently working with a project in just that situation, that wants to know where to go next.
I suspect that the answer in some cases may not be 'try harder', or make another grant application. It may be to see whether some of the volunteers would - with help - start their own blogs covering their field of interest, and then cross link. In a locality they could easily meet to work out who does what, and share ideas and expertise. Can we mix the new networked individualism with older-style community development?
The same philosophy could also, of course, apply to non-geographic communities of interest. As speakers tonight acknowledged, much UK blogging is geek-driven.... that is, technology enthusiasts talking about the potential of the technology. In the US - as Louise Ferguson pointed out - lawyers and other professionals are running their own sites.
Louise did also provide some historical perspective on computer mediated communication back to the 1970s and 80s, showing there's seldom much new except the wax and wane of fashions and enthusiasms.
Since much of tonight's message was about 'back to basics', rather than big system, will it work this time around? Is there critical mass? Don't know, but it was a fun meeting. What's this technology for, if you don't get to meet interesting people?
Will's presentation available via the iSociety blog
Louise's presentation available on her site
Lee has linked them all, with his
Lee also offered earlier a useful corrective to the wilder enthusiasms for social software Social software tools: a bubble in the making?
Paul Squires has covered the meeting on the Opportunity Wales blog
Article by Christian Crumlish on Weblog strategies for nonprofits
Thanks to John Robb for reference to presentation by Lucent Technologies' Information Specialist, Michael Angeles
Abstract: Michael Angeles believes blogging has evolved beyond "cool" and is moving quickly into the corporate world. In this presentation, Angeles will discuss who blogs, how and why.
He will also discuss how Lucent is supporting bloggers and at the same time keeping close watch over the resulting growth of information on the Intranet. Lucent's objective is to determine how the increased content that will result from blogging can evolve into a plan for making that information useful and usable for the enterprise.
Paper PDF download
Notes to the presentation
Here's a bloggy vision of the corporate future from Dave Pollard.