30 November 2007
Employee blogging: Making most from what is already there
A bit of a follow-up on the microactions aggregate point from my post on 'Beyond blogging' lessons learnt, where I wrote:
Blogging is about microcontent - publishing small pieces of thought and commentary, anchored with permalinks and carried away by feeds. However, the real value is not at the post level - ecosystems between blog posts are more interesting and more important. Think of the fuzzy feeling of knowing someone from reading a weblog over time, implicit understanding of a new issue that emerges while following a conversation between bloggers or sense of belonging to a network of others - in all cases posts and links are only a tip of the iceberg.
Developing "fuzzy feeling", "implicit understanding" and "sense of belonging" takes time and effort. For those writing and reading weblogs in a real time that's an integral part of the process, but what about others - newcomers, who need to navigate implicitly constructed knowledge and relations, or those of a periphery of the particular topical community, who don't have lots of time to invest, but still want to know, or those searching for an answer to a specific question?
In this respect I would distinguish between the first degree and second degree of blogging effects:
- First degree effects - those that "happen" as part of the natural processes in a blogging ecosystem - conversations, networking, reputation building.
- Second degree effects - those possible since weblogs provide rich traces to learn from for non-participants.
For a non-participant the microcontent nature of blogging creates two problems (actually, those are also problems for the participants, but to a much lesser degree):
- There are a lot of weblog posts, that are difficult to navigate if you are not part of the ecosystem
- Posts are fragmented, so often to gain real insight on the issue or to judge the expertise of a blogger one have to follow multiple posts
Now think of a company where many employees blog about their work internally or externally. Next to creating conditions for blogging (and the first degree effects of it), ideally it would be also also interested in maximising the second degree effects - making most from what is already there.
So, what are the ways to make most from the weblog traces that are already there?
One thing to do is improving discoverability of interesting blog posts, blogs and bloggers with smart search, aggregation and providing pointers to good content (exteded discussion and specific "to do" ideas). However, those things do not help much with improving access to expertise fragmented in a number of posts that not only take time to read, but also require some "integration" effort. Similar problem exists, for example, with forum-based Q&A discussions, where one often have to read through the whole thread to get an idea of proposed solution(s).
Weblogs are a bit better than forums in respect to summaries (since bloggers could not rely on having previous messages visible in a thread they tend to summarise some of it, see paper on weblog conversations for more), but they are still far from providing densely packed information in a way a good article would do.
Weblogs are good for drafting and discussing ideas in progress, but it also makes a lot of sense to find ways to do more with those drafts. Some ideas:
- Making a list of "best of my posts" is a good practice anyway, but as a company you can provide an additional incentive by asking bloggers who work for you to make those lists. For example, to be promoted in a newsletter on a topic of their blog or as an input for their evaluation if they want to bring their work-related blogging as an extra point.
- Checking if weblog content could be reused as an input for web-pages, white papers, help files, training courses, books, etc. and asking bloggers to work on those. I guess many would be happy with an opportunity to rework bits and pieces of ideas into something more coherent and potentially more visible (and I think that asking "more professional" writers to rework someone else's weblog content only makes sense if bloggers themselves don't feel like doing it).
- Automatic summaries and visualisations. Those do not replace human summarisation, but could be useful to get an idea of interesting trends and to locate specific weblog posts and conversations.
29 November 2007
Madly letting go
While trying to find things related to my previous post I came across a few posts I forgot I wrote. While reading this one I became mesmerized by "madly letting go" in the quote from Donella Meadows:
I don't think there are cheap tickets to system change. You have to work at it, whether that means rigorously analyzing a system or rigorously casting off paradigms. In the end, it seems that leverage has less to do with pushing levers than it does with disciplined thinking combined with strategically, profoundly, madly letting go.
I'm getting more and more convinced that letting go is one of the key skills in whatever 2.0 - web, business, science, life...
Why storytelling works?
While working on my methodology chapter I realised that my interest in using alternative writing styles (e.g. authoethnography) in reporting research is also supported by knowing that storytelling is an effective way to share knowledge from my KM work. Now the problem is that I was never seriousely into storytelling research, so I don't have any research-based arguments for that. Any pointers are very welcome!
From what I can recall it was something about the power of contextual cues in the story that trigger all kinds of connections in our brain.
Some randomly related things that I thought about:
See also: a collection on how storytelling communicates complex ideas by Steve Denning
26 November 2007
16 November 2007
How 'individualistic' weblogs support community
I has been struggling for a while to figure out how comes that 'individualistic' weblogs support community formation. Paul Hodkinson provides an elegant answer to my question in his chapter on LJ goths in Uses of blogs:
Wellman and Gulia have distinguished between superficial "weak ties," which are confined to a narrow shared interest and take place within a single domain, and "strong ties," which involve extensive familiarity and are played out in a variety of domains. Through enabling individual goths to read about and comment upon a variety of aspects of one another's individual, everyday lives, rather than just those aspects directly related to the goth scene, online journals played an important part in the development of strong, intimate relationships between them, which nearly always extended to other forms of interpersonal communication, whether email, online chat, mobile phone, or, most importantly, face-to-face interaction. In turn, the development and/or reinforcement of such strong, multiplex ties between goths served to reinforce participants' general sense of investment in and attachment to the goth scene as a community. (pp.191-192)
Other interesting things in the chapter: moving from group spaces to weblogs, descriptions of online/offline dynamic around goth events, blogs as a way to reinforce culture. It's about goths, but lots of things apply to other blogging subcultures (KM blogging, for example :)
Hodkinson, P. (2006). Subcultural Blogging? Online Journals and Group Involvement among UK Goths, in A.Bruns & J. Jacobs (Eds.), Uses of blogs, pp. 187-197. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Wellman, B. and M. Gulia (1999) `Virtual Communities as Communities: Net Surfers Don't Ride Alone', in M. Smith and P. Kollock (Eds.), Communities in Cyberspace, pp. 163—90. London: Routledge.
14 November 2007
'Beyond blogging' lessons learnt
Things that I've learnt from blogging that are relevant for 'beyond blogging' contexts and cases. I'm looking mainly at an intersection between blogging and work, since this is where my research and personal blogging experiences are.
[I did a "KM-flavored" version of this in my presentation yesterday, but I guess it's relatively easy to draw organisational implications for most of the points.]
Personal passions have a (legitimate) place at work. Personal stories and personal voice turn into trusted relations. Passion drives expertise. People are more likely to believe another human being than an organisation or a computer. Showing emotions, telling personal stories, being passionate could be scary (especially in a hierarchical environments with power plays), but it is becoming an essential part of work.
Transparency is here to stay. Weblogs provide a visible, often public, trace of one expertise, actions and mistakes. There is no way to escape the past, one is always accountable. It's not easy to write knowing that it is stays 'out there' forever, that it will be searched, aggregated, transformed and then linked back to you. We have to learn to let go the fear of making mistakes in public and learn how to make mistakes gracefully.
Microactions aggregate. Blogging is about microcontent - publishing small pieces of thought and commentary, anchored with permalinks and carried away by feeds. However, the real value is not at the post level - ecosystems between blog posts are more interesting and more important. Think of the fuzzy feeling of knowing someone from reading a weblog over time, implicit understanding of a new issue that emerges while following a conversation between bloggers or sense of belonging to a network of others - in all cases posts and links are only a tip of the iceberg. Counting and measuring those visible traces is tempting, but knowledge, reputation, relations are likely to escape rankings.
You never know where new connections emerge, but you can create right conditions. And then be prepared to discover your own 'connectivity limits' :)
Information overload exists. There are millions of blog posts out there - some of them are relevant and reliable, but most extraneous, incomplete and not interesting anyway - so how do we find those to read, to trust, to connect? Information overload exists, but mainly inside our heads. The world have changed from information scarcity to information abundance, but our habits and information strategies still have to adjust to it.
Everyday routines matter. Unless you don't have anything else to do, blogging survives only if integrated into everyday world. Starting blogging is easy, staying blogging needs much more - embedding into one's own information routines, work processes and (inter)personal practices, as well as transforming blogging routines when life takes another turn (like becoming a parent ;).
Authority becomes fluid. Formal hierarchies are still there, but blogging provides alternative routes. However, new blogging authorities are only as good as posts on their homepages, networks constantly evolve and anyway the share of attention one gets is more and more mediated by search engines (that might drop your valuable archives from their index :)
At the end it's up to you. Making judgments, taking risks, taking responsibility. Crossing boundaries. Having fun.
Getting more by reading less blogs: some thoughts on 'Cost-Effective Outbreak Detection in Networks'
Matthew Hurst on the most important blogs for efficient readers:
A group of researchers at CMU have been considering a notion of blog importance based on how likely a set of blogs is to ensure that you will be informed of topics bursting in the blogosphere. By analogy, they consider a graph of water pipelines. Their paper - Cost-Effective Outbreak Detection in Networks Leskovec, Krause, Guestrin, Faloutsos, VanBriesen, Glance - poses the problem:
Given a water distribution network, where should we place sensors to quickly detect contaminants? Or, which blogs should we read to avoid missing important stories? These seemingly different problems share common structure: Outbreak detection can be modeled as selecting nodes (sensor locations, blogs) in a network, in order to detect the spreading of a virus or information as quickly as possible.
As a result of this work, the authors have published some blog lists which answer a fundamentally important question in terms of weblog reading habits: Which weblogs should I read to be most up to date? The lists answering this question - generated by the approach described in their paper - come in a number of varieties to be found on the project's page.
I scanned (skipped most of the math :) through the extended version of the paper and this is something I would love to see applied to niche blogging networks. For example, starting from a subset of weblogs that metion topic X or, better, those that participate in a discussion (cascade) that mentiones topic X.
A few points relevant from the practical perspective - having a tool that helps a blogreader to make a selection of blogs to read (my expectations in that respect are pretty high given that Natalie Glance is working for Google now :)
1. "Costs" of reading. The authors played with optimising the number of blogs and number of posts one reads. Assuming that reading less blog posts is more cost-effective, the algorithm shows that "the popular blogs might not be the most effective way to catch relevant information cascades" (p.23). Instead, it makes more sense to read "good summarizer blogs that may not be very popular, but which, by using few posts, catch most of the important stories propagating over the blogosphere" (p.15).
2. Predicting the future. From a reader perspective one would like to have a recommendation of blogs that will cover most interesting stories in the future. From what I understood the algorithm does not work that well for making those predictions. The authors optimised the performance by including only big blogs (= at least one post per day), but I wonder if there are some other alternatives.
Anyway, I guess I should go back to my PhD writing and wait patiently till people who read the paper without skipping the math do something with it. So far I'm happy that the paper promises lots of interesting developments and that it also makes me feeling less quilty with our alternative approach to vaccination by suggesting that "uniform ummunization strategy corresponds to randomly placing sensors in a water network" (p.22), which in not optimal :)))
13 November 2007