Friday, May 20, 2005

Social Capital: The "Disruptive Value" of Blogging

One of the values of disruptive inventions is the way they force a re-examination of past practice. Blogging stimulated more fundamental debates about social practice. What is the best way to build social capital? What are the best ways for group or team communication to take place? How should the different tools of the communication sandwich be balanced and used?

Communities and institutions stand on their shared history. From classrooms to professional teams, shared history leads to the shared intelligence that becomes useable knowledge (Geoff, 2005; Vygotsky 1978; Wenger et al, 2002). There are many practical aspects to keeping knowledge used and useable. Much of the social intelligence of an organization is now flushed down the bit drain minute by minute with the tap of the Delete key or buried beyond community searches in email archives. A given email idea often nourishes just a few individuals who may soon leave the group or organization. The greater the turnover of individuals in a group, the lower the value of email. An email quickly becomes buried forever in institutional email archives, not searchable unless retrieved by the occasional subpoena in legal wrangling. Blogs are far more effective than email in keeping the emerging intelligence of an organization visible and useable for long periods of time.

Because so many now blog instead of email, the capacity to listen to this largely public discourse, to do online anthropology, has been greatly magnified. The major blog search engines provide key word searching and cross-link counts for free. Other more specialized tools are being honed to also listen for and provide analysis on subgroups or demigraphic subsets. This can potentially impact composers at all levels who are inspired and motivated by the expressed concerns of others, whether song writers or marketers. The vice president of a public relations firm noted that "we look at the blogosphere as a focus group with 15 million people going on 24/7 that you can tap into without going behind a one-way mirror" (Bulkeley, 2005).

A distinction should be made between emerging intelligence (real news for the team) and the formation of considered social conclusions. The process of creating and updating reflected policy, guiding philosophy, position statements and encyclopedic facts need something a bit different than blogs. These constructs require collaborative writing. The concept of the Wiki emerged as a powerful complement to blogs (Goodwin-Jones, 2003). Emerging in the same era as blogs, a Wiki site or application allow potentially anyone to edit a web page, keeping an elaborate history of developments and fast reversion when necessary. Access to a Wiki document can be as public or as controlled as needed. More in-depth consideration is beyond the scope of this writing, but voluminous explanation of the wiki concept awaits in cyberspace. Both have their advantages which has led to experiments weighing the best features of blogs and wiki sites (Tonkin, 2005), and led to a new design, a bliki.

The concepts of formative and summative communication can further serve as a useful lens through which to position different kinds of thinking and communication. Blogs, wikis and email systems have special value for collaborative formative activity. They gain most of their value through use of the computer networks' unique capacity for interactive communication. More static and stable concepts and policies may best appear in web pages and other media more devoted to one-way communication, including print, radio, theater and television/film. The eventual major role of a web page could be to serve as a hub to all forms of formative and summative media.

Stayed tuned to this page for new design examples of the merger of blogs, wikis, multimedia and standard web pages.

Those interested in best practices in institutional and organizational development should build functional knowledge of blogs and wikis into professional development so that they begin to take priority in professional practice over email. Experiments in the partnership of blogs, wikis, email, standard web sites and the necessary level of privacy should be underway to find the right balance. Each has a role to play, but for the good of the social group, revising the cultural emphasis on email is overdue. Is email the last place a good idea should go?


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11/21/2005 06:32:00 PM  

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