Is social networking learning?

Great post by Shannon Turlington on the question of whether social networking is learning.  A point often missed in this debate is the serendipity inherent in social networking that enables you to discover new knowledge – i.e. we don’t know what you don’t know until we uncover it. Shannon writes:

What I like most about using social networking tools this way is how serendipitous it can be. Sure, I can ask questions or search for knowledge on a subject I know I want to learn about, but more often, it seems, I learn things I didn’t know I needed to learn. This happens when people in my network share what they are learning or thinking about or reading or writing about. That, for me, is where the real learning potential of social networking tools kicks in. I don’t think you can reproduce that quality with formal learning tools, because it is so ephemeral and unplanned.

Here are some other good points made in the conversation:

  • “I learn far more about what’s news and relevant to my work from my ‘network of trust and interest’ than I do from common denominator mass media.”
  • “Between spontaneous learning and network-of-trust filtering, you get a new level of just-in-time (JIT) learning: ‘before I knew I needed it’ learning.”
  • “Not everyone is going to succeed using social learning.  Many of those that can already use it.  Some of the rest just need permission.  But if you aren’t really interested in your work, if you don’t think it is cool, how much is unstructured, social learning going to work for you. “

Someone also made this point: “There seems to be a tension … among the openness of informal learning, risk management and message control.” I think that tension is always there when there is also fear over loss of control. I have found, though, that in successful learning networks, people tend to police themselves. The organization must let go and trust its people, or people just won’t use the network sanctioned by the organization. If they are really passionate about learning and connecting with peers, they will find ways to do so outside of the organization’s control and without the organization’s blessing. So why not extend that trust and see what happens? The organization can only benefit from engaged employees actively learning about their fields.

And this I think is the essence of what social networking is all about; trust, freedom to act and taking responsibility for personal development. Organisations that don’t support these basic tenets, or erect barriers and conditions that inhibit their development, are going to find it increasingly difficult to survive in a 21st century economy.

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Enterprise 2.0 – It’s more than just technology

Interesting commentary from Dion Hinchliffe about the changing business landscape being heralded on the back of the Enterprise 2.0 space, which Forrestor predicts will be a $4.6 billion (£2.3 billion) within 5 years.

Dion goes on to reference the two major methods by which these new applications take hold. The first is the traditional model where the IT department or some part of the business decides at a high level to adopt these new tools and begins the process of evaluation, acquisition, deployment, training and adoption. This being the traditional model that most IT large-scale software acquisitions still use today.

The other model is where individuals take it upon themselves to find the best solutions to a given problem at hand and solve them creatively and collaboratively at a grassroots level. This model is becoming increasingly more common, particularly in organisations that are less strongly hierarchical.

Push-Pull model

I should note that I’m witnessing this ‘push’ model at first hand through the rapid take-up of social networking and social media applications across the local government sector as part of the development of communities of practice across the sector. The conundrum here is that this is happening across almost exclusively hierarchical organisations.

I fully concur on Dion’s conclusion that:

“The challenge will be learning how to apply these new models effectively to business while not strangling them with the traditional aspects of enterprise software that can greatly limit their potential and have led to poor outcomes and excessive structure in the past. The good news: Most likely they will be hard to stop as Web 2.0 applications become increasingly commonplace in our organizations over the next few years. The bad news: Most organizations will take years learning how to create environments that fully allow the leverage of these tools.”

This latter point resonates with my own experience in promoting Web 2.0 technologies and processes for facilitating more effective collaboration and knowledge sharing across the traditionally silo’d mentality of public sector organisations. There’s a tendency for some people to get mesmerised by the technology at the expense of investing time and effort in creating a collaborative workplace.

I believe it’s a classic case of applying the ’80:20′ rule, i.e. for every £20 (or $20) spent on the technology, organisations should be investing £80 (or $80) on ensuring its being used effectively. In other words, don’t assume that everyone in the workplace has the skills to collaborate effectively, and recognise that sometimes the culture may be working against open collaboration.

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Civil Serf Cornered

For anyone following the story in the UK press, and the churn in the blogosphere, it would seem the internet blogger who published accounts of life as a civil servant at the heart of the Brown Government has been identified and suspended, as reported in the Daily Mail.

Known by the pseudonym Civil Serf, she is a middle manager in the Department for Work and Pensions.

All a bit sad really; it was certainly one of the more entertaining blogs to emanate from the public sector, and I’m not sure she said anything that we don’t already know about the workings in Gov. It will be interesting to see precisely which rules she is deemed to have broken.

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Social Media User’s Bill of Rights

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Came across this today, which seems to be gathering a body of support. I like the sentiments; pity it’s not enforceable!

Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington have authored a bill of rights for users of the social web. The bill states:

We publicly assert that all users of the social web are entitled to certain fundamental rights, specifically:

  • Ownership of their own personal information, including:
    • their own profile data
    • the list of people they are connected to
    • the activity stream of content they create;
  • Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and
  • Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.

Sites supporting these rights shall:

  • Allow their users to syndicate their own profile data, their
    friends list, and the data that’s shared with them via the service,
    using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats;
  • Allow their users to syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site;
  • Allow their users to link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way; and
  • Allow their users to discover who else they know is also on their
    site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup
    within the service.
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Robert Scoble interview: How to read 622 RSS feeds each day

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Uberblogger Robert Scoble is truly one-of-a-kind. For those who don’t know, he became famous as a technical evangelist at Microsoft and quickly became their most outspoken and influential blogger. He now interviews people like Bill Gates, and the worldwide media reports on his every move. One of his most mindboggling skills is information management. He currently reads 622 RSS feeds a day — it used to be 1,400 feeds a day!

How the hell does he do it? Tim Ferris dropped by the Podtech offices and hung out with Robert to find out. How does he avoid overload and process so much information? Find out in this in 11-minute interview, where you can find out:

  • Which RSS reader does he use and why?
  • How does he configure it to save time?
  • What are simple keyboard shortcuts anyone can use?
  • How does he find and pick feeds?
  • How can you catch his eye with your posts?
  • How does he use RSS feeds for building relationships?
  • How does he use sites like Techmeme/DIGG vs. niche blogs?

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New Facebook application – Blog Friends

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 Blog_friends_2_3

Just picked this up from Euan Semple’s blog – a new Facebook application called Blog
Friends
  lets you track blog posts by your Facebook friends on topics that interest you, and displays those posts on your Facebook profile while they help you grow your blog readership for you in return.  Cool.

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Blogging Policy

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I’ve recently seen a number of conversations in the blogosphere from people asking about corporate blogging policies, since I assume their companies are getting nervous about what their employees might  be saying via the cyber medium. Sun met this issues head on about 3 years ago, and actively encouraged their employees to blog by providing them with dedicated server space. Their blogging policy is as good as any I’ve seen.  Pity that all companies don’t encourage this level of transparency (I’m not a Sun employee by the way!). 

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Asking the wrong questions about colaboration

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Reading David Wilcox’s blog this morning entitled ‘Asking the wrong questions about collaboration’. The following question resonated
with me:-

"Effective collaboration requires trust, relationships and
understanding that take time to develop. Why are so many on-line systems
still developed on the basis of "build it and they will come and work
together" … ending up with empty Forums and a lot of money wasted?
"

I was determined to avoid this problem when I set up the IDeA
communities
by de-emphasising the
technology and promoting the fact that there was a central team of
people who were there to support project and programme managers in
setting up their communities of practice. This extended to facilitating
face-to-face launch events which were used to build trust and introduce
users to the social media tools they could use. Given this now has over 2000 members and more than 60 CoPs working across local government, I think the approach was reasonably successful.

This is the model I’m also going to use for the contract I’m working
on for the DfES, where a network of CoP’s will be established across
the Further Education Sector as part of a business change management process. The first priority is recruiting community
managers who will be out there meeting with various stakeholder groups (e.g. LSC, LLUK, OfSTED, MIAP, QIA and many others) and
encouraging greater collaboration within and across these groups as a precursor to developing a purpose-design on-line community (social media) environment. I’ve never believed in just providing the technology and waiting for people to use it.

Thus, I think my approach is about as far as you can get from what they’ve done with GovXchange!

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