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This chapter is from the book

Social Networking

The lines between Web 2.0 and Social Networking are easy to blur here in the real world. We make a distinction, however, because much of the technology can be categorized within one of the two, although the end result is often due to a combination of both. For example, many of the Web 2.0 technologies that we have discussed so far assist in the delivery of Social Networking capability.

Social Networking involves the creation of a virtual community where users can share, discuss, collaborate, and even argue about topics of common interest. Within your organization the topics and nature of these communities can vary widely, providing the ability to collaborate on items such as technology, industry, or even product- or service-based topics. For the most part, communities are also self-establishing because the enterprise cannot always predict what will be important to their users. Allowing communities to be self-forming ensures greater acceptance by users and helps ad-hoc communities grow to critical mass.

File Sharing and Content Collaboration

File-sharing activities can be distinctly different depending on whether you focus within the boundaries of the enterprise or focus on public collaboration and access. Often, the two spheres utilize different types of files and information. The popular video-sharing site YouTube is a perfect example. A repository in an enterprise might not be able to reach critical mass when limited only to an employee base, but then again, it just might. In IBM, a system has been launched called BlueTube, which is designed to allow for the upload and sharing of internal video material. Although as of this writing, BlueTube is still in the trial stages of development and has not reached critical mass, IBM is uniquely situated to benefit from this type of repository. With more than 300,000 IBMers worldwide, many of whom are engaged in creating and sharing videos that illustrate new technologies, product demos, or video recordings of the dozens or hundreds of presentations that happen every day, there is a likely chance for overwhelming success.

Document-based content is probably a more common type of collateral that should be contributed to content repositories as much as possible. Every company struggles with the idea of reusability of assets and the sharing of expertise (e.g., proposals, estimates, presentations, design items, price lists, and offerings of services or products). In addition to the actual content is the meta information that comes along with this content. Such meta information includes categorization of content as formal or informal, and the tagging of content with specific keywords defined by end users.

Bookmarking and Tagging

A key benefit to gaining critical mass is to obtain large numbers of contributors to your site or application. A knowledge repository or application becomes more useful as it gains new information, and it is exactly this accumulation of information or knowledge that you are looking for. Of course, knowledge itself doesn't always have to be new content. It can also consist of identifying and tagging existing content to help separate the most useful information in the site. This is why it is important to enable users to add value in seemingly small ways, such as tagging, bookmarking, ranking, and leaving comments.

Tagging enables users to define content. People like to share, and they are opinionated about what they think is important and how content should be categorized. Making it easy for them to identify and categorize content can be a powerful way for others to better understand where things might fit or what other users consider important. This is a powerful for organizations that can then start to understand and react to tagged content in meaningful ways.

Tagging is a simple, yet extremely powerful concept. Tagging an item on the Web means to simply categorize that item with one or more category names. Ideally, people use similar names so that as more items are tagged, patterns can emerge based on these categories. Figure 1.7 shows one such pattern, commonly known as a tag cloud.

Figure 1.7

Figure 1.7 Sample tag cloud

A tag cloud is a list of categories that show variation on the tags based on popularity. The most popular tags become larger and darker in the list. Most tag clouds follow the power law curve, which results in the proportional scaling of a few large tags and many small ones. Other clouds follow a more linear scaling approach that smoothes out the power law curve. This type of list is often called a folksonomy. This is a true taxonomy of the content in the repository; however, instead of being defined by the knowledge management librarian, the structure is defined by common folks in the community.

The idea of knowledge management (KM) has taken some hard knocks during the past ten or so years. During the rise of the Internet in the mid-1990s, KM became a popular and important topic as sharing documents and organization knowledge became cheaper and easier to manage. With this increase, interest in document and content management within organizations and across the Web, identifying, tagging, and managing that content fell into the domain of KM. It made a lot of sense for organizations and industry domains to build what we call a taxonomy; within which documents and content can be stored to enable easier search and retrieval of that content.

Blogging and Wikis

Some of the more popular patterns in the Web 2.0 space are the blog and the wiki. This has been seen in the explosion of blogs and wikis (both internal- and external-facing) across the Internet. A blog, short for web log, is a personal log or journal shared with readers on the Web (see the Figure 1.8). Blogs typically focus on a certain area (e.g., technology, political, social).

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8 Author's WebSphere Portal blog

A blog can be a one-way mechanism to simply distribute information to an audience. However, the more powerful and popular blogs are those that elicit interaction between the blogger (the person posting the blog entries) and the readers. Reader feedback helps bloggers understand what readers really want from a blog author.

In many cases, internal blogging can be just as valuable to an organization as externally facing blogs. Internal blogging can help to drive innovation within the organization. At IBM, hundreds of ongoing blogs have been created for the technical force to share their knowledge and experiences. Many managers have blogs to post topics that interest them.

Whereas a blog is mostly a way for one person or a small group of people to share information, a wiki is much more collaborative. A wiki is a website designed for users to add, remove, or change content directly. In fact, most wikis are generally text-based content that is continually being added to or changed by the community of users who manage and use that wiki. This content is made directly available to end users who have the ability to update or add their own content to the site (see Figure 1.9).

Figure 1.9

Figure 1.9 PortalPatterns wiki

Wikis are based on the concept that is should be easy to collaborate on content in real time and participate in the ongoing evolution of the material. Usually, you become a registered user of the site, and then you can add or edit content directly. Sometimes this content is reviewed by a moderator, which helps to ensure some continuity to the site; however, care should be taken to ensure that the moderators do not stifle the creativity and input from the field. I can think of at least one popular wiki where the moderators do sometimes take things a little too seriously. Wikis can be one of the most cost-effective ways for a community to collaborate, with the main requirement being people's time and willingness to participate in the effort.

Expert Location and Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) has been around for awhile, both inside and outside the enterprise. Popular IM sites include AOL Instant Messaging (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, and Microsoft® Windows® Live Messenger. For use within the enterprise, IBM's Lotus Sametime® provides full-featured IM and collaboration capability on the desktop. Figure 1.10 shows IM in action on the author's desktop.

Figure 1.10

Figure 1.10 IBM Lotus Sametime in action

The ability to reach out and talk to other employees within your organization directly and instantly can certainly encourage and facilitate real-time collaboration within the enterprise. Instant Messaging has been around for several years and continues to grow in use as the technology gains wider adoption. Just as it is important to talk in real time with other colleagues, it is important to find the right person when you need to ask a question. Who are the experts for the particular question that I want to ask? This need to find an expert goes beyond the business and can reach into IT or even human resources questions as employees who need answers quickly, try to reach out and resolve problems. Recent advances in Instant Messaging, at least in the IBM realm, include the ability to embed IM awareness into web pages themselves. This ability extends the concept of expert location, or finding who the experts are, into the daily activities of end users. Consider, for example, the utility of a list of documents that contains an IM link to the author of each document. That same concept can be integrated into web page content to bring links within the web page to life, allowing you to trigger an IM to a content author directly from within a web page.

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