Dave Snowden

This interview is part of the study of blogger networking practices: links to other interviews and some background, links to the results.

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Dave is a founder and a Chief Scientific Officer of Cognitive Edge, a consulting company focusing on complexity, sense-making, narratives that runs certification program for use of its methods and also sells software. He was formerly a director of IBM Institute of Knowledge Management and founder of the Cynefin Centre for organisational complexity. He was well-known in the KM world prior to blogging.

He started a weblog which is part of the company’s website in 2006 when starting to build his own business after leaving IBM, then it “made sense in terms of getting publicity”. He says that while blogging is successful in terms of marketing, he enjoys it for getting in touch “with lots of unexpected people”.

I asked what changed with blogging since he was well-known in the KM world prior to it (e.g. giving keynotes at conferences). “A keynote is a performance. […] a blog is more intimate”. Dave tells about being surprised with “the degree you reveal yourself on the weblog”, sharing “half-formed ideas” and starting to “chat with people as they were good friends”.

Dave admits being known when starting blogging was an advantage since many people linked straight away. He already knew some of the bloggers (some of them encouraged him to start), but he also connected with others, for example “science bloggers”. He has “about fifty science bloggers” in his reader – “they scan journals for me, so I don’t have myself”, “I’ve learnt to trust them over the years”, “it’s much better than summarisation surface”. Dave says that some of weblogs he reads “just to keep an eye on things”, without engaging at more personal level. Later he also tells about reading weblogs in parallel to other things. He doesn’t read everything and sometimes just deletes all unread items or skims through the headlines.

He describes finding other blogs by following comments and links. “The people who link to you are interesting, because they found your ideas interesting, they comment”. He engages with those that are interesting – “it’s what they say, doesn’t matter what level they are”. “People link to your weblog and you follow it through and you put comments on it. […] It’s just a normal courtesy of a conversation.”

When we discuss how blogging breaks hierarchical boundaries he suggests that with a weblog “you can’t live of your reputation, you live of what you say”. He also suggests that “good bloggers are eclectics, they do different things, they surprise you […] that is what keeps you going back”.

“If you read somebody’s paper you get to know their ideas, if you read their weblog, you get to know them as a person”. Dave talks about blogging as “fragmented frequent conversation” and draws parallels between blogging and the way human brains work. “We don’t tell stories to each other, we swap anecdotes and blogs are very similar to that”. He compares knowing others through blogging to knowing people “in a common room in a university”. I ask how it is similar to the “familiar stranger” concept. He says that “in a blog you know a lot how people think”, compared to just knowing how they look like.

He is not sure meeting in person is good or bad after getting to know each other online, as some people “create a different persona in their blog” and meeting in person might results in “identity structure shifts”. When I refer to other bloggers who are eager to meet in person, he tells it depends on a scale: “I can’t afford the time to meet everybody I track or listen to”.

We also talk about the participatory culture of blogging. “The secret is not to push your ideas, if you say interesting things or link to interesting stuff people will come and talk to you anyway”. He talks about “buying” from people who “contribute”, not those who “sell”. “Blogging creates a sort of ‘ethereal brand’, not the brand of an individual, but the brand of the network which people are part of”, “that gives you a sense of identity in the networks you belong to”.

“We see a lot of people who join the network or come to courses because of the weblog”. “Take any commercial benefit as a plus point, but don’t look for it”. “I’ve certainly used weblogs of some people to decide not to collaborate with them”.

Weblogs in relation to other tools

“Weblogs help to get to know people’s ideas”, to establish new relationships and to create trust. “Blogs remain the best way of keeping in touch with multiple people in different fields”. He says that he prefers to reply to others on weblog, not on Twitter, “which is for more casual stuff”. Weblog provides “the record” and the context; he often returns to old weblog posts and couldn’t imagine the same with Twitter.