My post, km 2.0 enablers: blogs, wikis, and social networks gets into how networks are more versatile than CoPs, as well as the proliferation of informal networks.
Does this mean the CoPs and groups will soon lose traction to social networks?
Read this engaging comment from a post on the Dave Snowden’s blog:
“…with the advent of ‘web 2.0′ tools some people (eg Dave Snowden, Nancy White) are positing that perhaps people don’t need to engage in CoPs anymore to fulfill their knowledge needs - they can mash-up applications and have ‘knowledge nuggets’ delivered to their virtual doorstep without ever venturing out. I can’t remember where I read this but someone claimed that the more connected a person is, the less he/she is likely to engage in CoPs, in this new scenario.”
I agree that the new individual centric networked web has wooed people from communities and forums, as people like the freedom of their own soapbox, there are no restrictions or rules and you simply connect to the rest of the blogosphere.
Instead of a community hub page of resources and discussions, we have the individual enaging in a network, collecting their own links, publishing their own thoughts and having discussions in comments and trackbacks.
So we have a distributed way of connecting, instead of hanging out in one place…people create their own web or network.
This is exactly what has happened on the web, rather than searching the web for a page with lots of links, we instead just connect with others to find what we need.
If I’m after some KM info I just search my KM folder in my Reading List, or ask a KM expert in my social network (Facebook, Pownce)…I wish the blogosphere was my proper social network.
This enables informal networks to occur over a more formal community, it’s not as much about a destination as it is a flow of information that comes to you, plus there is the discovery factor.
Another thing is that being part of a network exposes you do a lot of different content, whereas a CoP is restricted to a topic…CoPs would do better in a network of communities.
The obvious feature of individual centric personal networks is that you always have a place to dump your tacit knowledge (blog), and this gets shared with others by default. Previously you would need to find a CoP to publish into, and if there wasn’t a topic, then the information continued to just reside in the person’s head.
Plus you can subscribe to information or people and bookmark or save all the stuff that comes your way, creating your own collection of information rather than a communal collection.
But wait, it’s a lot more dynamic than that, it’s kind of communal in a different way, your act of collecting may be the latest news to someone else. If you bookmark into a network you get to see others who have bookmarked the same page, used the same tags…never ending people and content discovery.
Sense of Purpose
I tend to agree that lots of community type content is dissolving into social networks, but not all.
This may be so for personal interest, but what if you have a group of members to discuss stuff that’s dedicated to a group purpose or goal, and one place to keep all this content. And if the group dissolves after achieving its objective, we need a place for this object to live, just like a book in a library.
My wife networks in Facebook, and came across a group about a famous share house she once lived in England. That group page has thriving discussions, photo’s, posted items, it’s amazing…everyone is sharing stuff into this one pool.
Some people used the Groups “Posted Items” feature to post a link to one of their photo albums that lives in their Facebook profile.
Some of the discussions topics are about finding people, reunions, etc…
You really need a group space for this type of purpose, this just wouldn’t work as a network, to fulfil these knowledge needs you need a communal place, a place to hang out.
The irony is that these people found each other via the social network.
Social tools like Ning are still communities, as they are based around a topic and have forums to discuss.
But within this community are network features where you can blog, add and message friends. All this means is we have our own identity, and knowledge flow, just like a network, but all the content is based around a topic…so it’s a network within a topic community.
What would be good is if all Ning communities were federated, meaning with your identity you could roam around and join several communities, and create a general friend list, etc…
This is possible with CollectiveX, this is a whole lot of federated communities (each community does not have blog nor networking features)…I guess Google Groups are similar.
Clearspace is similar again, but this time you only have one blog, where you can choose which community you would like the post to appear in, as well as appearing in your profile.
Ning communities are set up to scale for the individual; as a topic starts getting loaded with massive amounts of content, you have the benefit of adding/subscribing to just the blogs or content that interests you…you use the network features to make sense or filter what important to you from this community.
Considering all the benefits we get out of social networking (information comes to you), there is still a need for CoPs and groups sites.
I guess the defining factor is a place to engage in a group purpose and list the members who are going to achieve this goal, it’s more about the group than the individual. Most of the time it’s a website with a forum, ie. a place to store and make visible your materials, and to also discuss.
Communities are usually set up to achieve something, not just personal growth.
There was a case in my city of an independent pub (where lots of bands started) being taken over by mainstream interests, in a case like this a group is set up. Interested parties become members, you have a place to list documents and research, photo’s, a forum to discuss, a news blog to announce the latest, and perhaps even personal blogs.
This group has a purpose and it needs a destination (identity), when something like this happens a Facebook group is created, it can’t work in a distributed way, how do people know it exists.
For example how would the Data Portability group on Google Groups ever work in a social network or the distributed blogosphere…it would go nowhere. Instead as a group it has a place where people can visit, it has members (each with a role) come together to discuss and write documents, it has an agenda, you can announce events…people coming together in one place to achieve a group goal.
Google Groups was the solution, but others such as CollectiveX, Ning, Clearspace, Grou.ps, Groops are just as good, if not better.
Groups have members each with a role, whereas a social network is just you and the rest. You are a member of a group in order to help achieve a goal. Whereas the goal of social networks is to tune into relevant information, publish, discover, and connect all for your own needs, and no-one elses.
If the community goal is to gather information on a topic (like a communal clearinghouse), and that’s all, then I can see social networks or the blogosphere encroaching into this territory. Less people tend to join a plethora of communities when they can just join one social network and their distributed blog network to be in the know. But as mentioned a CoP is good to be able to distill all this information in a library (which could be a wiki) or a regular document library.
Even still some social networks have group features as a way to organise content into one channel, the content is not there because people happened to use the same tag, it’s been put there on purpose, as a member-based group or channel. This is relying on human curation to make the group content precise or exact, plus you may have discussions on this group page.
If the community has members with designated roles, and they are trying to achieve an objective, then a place to gather and distribute all this information is needed in a group environment. These specific reasons are why CoP’s or communities will always be needed, and will not totally be wiped out by social networks.
An example is the Ignite Realtime use of the Clearspace group service.
How else would you achieve a way for people to ask questions and support without a group page?
On the other hand networks are powerful
The publish/subscribe model in the blogosphere or social networks is where we read and interact with our social filter. Why do I have to be a member of various group pages when I can tune into this information elsewhere from the one spot. Groups are limited to people who know about them, whereas there’s so much more you can tap into in the blogosphere or a social network, and you can satisfy varied interests from the one spot.
I publish and subscribe to blogs (this is a type of network) this social filter satisfies my topical hunger, as well as the comments discussion. I bookmark great posts in my social bookmarks (where I can also discover posts).
All without needing to join various groups I am getting what I want, I’m engaging, publishing, sharing, discussing, and collecting…in the end I have an archive of what I have done.
There is the consideration that some people may not take part in the blogosphere or networks, they may just like to join groups, as this is less messy and simple approach, without having to ground your feed and propogate into a new world of networks.
Why would you join a group, if you can get all this information from the network anyway?
Why not just set a tag as a watchlist, as a way to accumulate topic based photo’s, you can also discover people this way and subscribe to their profiles, you can write on their blog posts, favourite to your photo collection,etc..?
In this network approach you are getting all the topic interest you want and are also discussing with author’s as well as discovering new people and content, and saving content.
You have just formed a network, there are no members yet you are still getting what you need from each other…this is exactly how the blogosphere works, only in the open web, not within one service.
But, what if…
What’s good about a group page is a visitor or new comer can land right into a topic, find people and content straight off the bat, it’s a very easy starting point, it’s all done for you, whereas with a network you have to grow it.
What if the network is so big that it would take a long long time to discover the right people and content, a group is a way to communally make a friend list and content archive, it’s a way to attract all the right people and content into the one pool.
What if the CEO asks can I see stuff our social capital has gathered on “sustainability”.
In a network there is no one-stop shop, there is no member based group where people are collecting and sharing information and having discussions.
He might ask, then how do I use this thing to find something out?
You basically have to take part to get the benefits, a network is not a topic hub webpage, it’s more scattered…slowly you add friends (blogs), and the content you are after comes to you, it’s like magic, only you create it by simply taking part.
It’s a very informal type of way to tap into a share information, it works perfectly, people get what they want, they can now make sense of the enterprise by connecting with people, instead of directly with content, they can now get things done.
But what if I want to know about “sustainability” without having to find these blogs and friends, I don’t want them as my social filter, I just want to drop in every now and again.
This brings me to aggregation…
Place vs Aggregation
Even though networks enable us to be connected to all sorts of information, authors, topics, interactions from the one great pool that you tune in and pull to yourself, what about distilling your information or collective information into a topic page, or a clearinghouse. Since social networks are of a distributed nature there is no actual place, whereas a CoP or group is a go-to place for topic information.
The other thing is you can only have conversations by trackbacks and inlinks, the good thing is the whole network can take part, whereas groups may also have blogs (to a closed set of people or perhaps not as much exposure), but they also have forums which are slightly different than blogs.
Not having a destination makes it hard for newbies to get started or to reveal where the topic information is located. Where do visitors go to see information on a topic? Do they need to engage in the network just to reveal what’s underneath?
But all is not lost…I mentioned groupings earlier which is slicing a field of data in a social network.
If the CEO wanted to drop in to see what the latest was on a topic called “sustainability”, we could search the network and it would ideally create a topic page on-the-fly. The results would show content by:
- blog source tags
- blog post tags
- bookmark tags
- expert people tags
- document tags
- photo tags
- podcast tags
- wiki tags
- video tags
- Q&A tags
NOTE: blog posts that link or trackback to each other within a topic could be shown as an assembled thread.
This way we have created a search based conceptual topic page, where we can find content, and then interact with the content by leaving comments, trackbacks or messaging an author…all this without a group and members existing.
The topic tag cloud would seem to resemble lots of communities, but really it’s just aggregation.
In the social network we are seeing patterns that emerge, whereas a community group is defined from the start…in fact the power of social aggregation enables like people to discover each other, which in turn may decided to create a formal community.
The essence of tag aggregation is the emergence of patterns, looking at a tag cloud can tell you what people are actually talking (what matters to them, their views and experiences in the world or enterprise), and what they are most/least talking about. This is really tuning into the collective tacit knowledge and being able to deal with what “really” matters.
Is aggregation enough?
I really like this idea of networks where individual participation in the pub/sub model gives great personal gains, but when you aggregate this there is even more personal gain in discovery. It is also a public gain as anyone can visit a tag topic page and see what the bee hive has achieved without even knowing they are doing it.
Let’s visit a topic tag page like “sustainability”:
I see blogs about “sustainability” as the authors have tagged there blogs with this term
- a self made blog directory, you would see the latest post from these blogs
- problem is that these author’s may write posts about other stuff as well, so some content may be off topic (spam)
I see blogs posts tagged with “sustainability”
- your blog may or may not be about this topic, but some of your posts may be, so you tag these posts with that term
Same goes with photo’s video’s, etc…
But is this enough?
What about stuff that’s about “sustainability”, but has not be tagged that way?
What about blogs or posts or photo’s tagged “climate change”, etc…?
Maybe this tag topic page could have related tags, and showcase a little of this stuff?
You could make this on-the-fly aggregation topic pages or destination pages more formal:
- you could add a forum and events
- you could have a gardener weeding out posts, and planting in posts missed by the aggregation
- you could have some related tags as a more more serious component
This ends up being a more serious topic page, as it has an owner or a curator, it’s also a place to gather and discuss on the forums…but it does not have members like a traditional community.
What if you want a group page called “Great Australian atheletes of the 90’s.”
Tag topic aggregation isn’t going to be able to do this, the title is too sophisticated for tags.
- you could make a page to aggregate multiple tags eg. athlete, sport, 1990, Australia
But what about those photo’s and blog posts that would fit here but haven’t been tagged with these tags, and what if this page collects the tag “sport” but it’s not about Australia, or it’s not in the 1990’s, etc…
Aggregation has limitations!
Whereas official groups explicitly choose to place stuff in a designated place, so the content is always on topic and precise.
Integrated networks and groups
Another approach is when you get the beauty of being in a network but you can also be part of a groups as well (Facebook doesn’t integrate these very well, they are almost like separate products).
That is, you have a profile page with your blog posts, photo’s, etc…and you are also a member of groups.
When you make a blog post or add a photo about “sustainability” this appears in your profile, but you can also choose to send it to the “sustainability” group…this is the best of both worlds.
Only thing is people that don’t know about the group may have potentially good content the group is missing out on, this is the innate drawback of more open groups, but if they are integrated with networks there is more chance for discovery of your group from people buzzing around the network.
These groups don’t really have an agenda or goal, it’s just about coming together to group like photo’s, blog posts and discuss in a forum.
The perfect example of this is the art network RedBubble, similar networks that let you post content from your profile to your group are Groops, Tumblr, Clearspace, etc…
Check out the Redbubble group Australian Landmarks and Icons, it has members, and the content these members have chosen to share from their profile page.
It would be good to not have to be a member, and just be able to send your content oa any group as well, but then it may get a bit wayward, and there is no-one to clean it up.
A more professional tools is Calais from Reuters, this will auto-tag content into facet pages.
Pownce is not quite a community, it’s still a individual centric network, so it would not be used as a CoP, but it’s great as an informal network.
I can publish: text, links, files, events, and the recipients can be: public, my friends, a set of friends, or an individual.
I think Pownce would thrive in the enterprise, this really relates to my informal network post.
Also see Plaxo Pulse which is kind of similar to Pownce (it also has status updates and profile aggregation).
Tangler is similar to Google Groups, only in a network environment, you become a member to a discussion forum, which is both chat and a regular forum…you can also have rich features like video embeds.
But it’s not only about topic discussion groups, since it’s a network you can also add friends and chat with them.
You can also embed a Tangler forum on any website. This is great as you don’t have to visit the group to participate, you could interact via another website where the forum is embedded, even better would be to do this from your startpage like Facebook.
Another way to look at it is that you could turn your website into a simple CoP by enabling a forum widget.
Zimbio is promoted as wiki magazines, where each magazine is a member-based community or group on a topic, here is the Barack Obama wikizine…also see Fanpop (check out The Office fan page), and Hubpages to a lesser extent.
I won’t go through the pros and cons again but I will say there are many different ways to make topic pages, from a formal member group to a by product of aggregation due to individuals participating in a network.
- Formal group
- Tag aggregation
- Formal aggregation
- Integrated networks and groups
- Auto tag
There are different reasons on choosing an approach, they are not quite alternatives or substitutes for each other. If you want a group or practice (achieve something together) that has an agenda, role structure, goal, directive then a formal group like a CoP is the tool of choice. If you want to see what is really going on in your enterprise, try a network approach, tag aggregation clouds speak volumes.
In the end I think Integrated networks and groups are the most well rounded solution where you can achieve a lot more. You get the beauty of networking from your individual perspective and also be able to have an organised member based group that has a a group goal (in contrast to self oriented), and they integrate where you can post content from your network profile to a group.
For a definite comparison on the workings of Communities and Social Networks, check out a post by Ed Mitchell.