Wednesday 11 May 2005

Grey Area: Social Software or Information Management?

A recent contribution I made to an online forum and a later an e-mail conversation had me thinking about the grey area between social software and information management.

What I mean by "grey area" is the fuzzy line between using tools like blogging and RSS as genuine social software or simply for the purposes of information management. What's the difference? Well, that difference can be subtle but I think essentially for a blog to be used as social software we need to see evidence of hyperlinked dialogue (or polylogue perhaps?) taking place. In other words social or community blogging isn't a style of communication, its a form of electronic conversation. On the other hand, one-way communication isn't a conversation (no matter how you chunk up the content or style it) - but blogging and RSS technologies still provide a perfectly valid mechanism for helping audiences deal with information overload.

Of course, real life is never this black and white - we get a grey area because of the intent of the blogger, the reaction of the audience and their ability or willingness to engage in conversation, and the skills of the communicators to use this medium well. People, particularly knowledge workers, are also good at blending communication and a blogged conversation can shift between other channels and modes. For example, Podcasting - at least in its current and typical form - exists in the grey area. To move out of the grey area we need someone to come up with a popular way of tagging, slicing and hyperlinking multimedia content. (Any suggestions anyone, or should I patent this idea now?). Also within an organisation blogging and RSS could be used to support a mixture of conversation and information management. The question is would the use of this technology for information management help to diffuse the idea of social blogging into an organisation? That will depend more on the collaborative ecology in place at that organisation - i.e. technology, know-how and culture.

BTW Before you ask, yes by my own definition I would say this ChiefTech blog currently exists in the grey area. It could go either way, but that depends on the you my audience and your willingness to engage me in conversation ;-)

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