There’s no doubt that the possibilities are wonderful for using Enterprise Social Networks to enhance learning and development. There’s also a downside if these networks are not structured thoughtfully. Yes, the rules of behavior are truly important, and the learning (or sharing any sort of useful knowledge) is not a given. Knowledge can be lost on the Facebook wall, or otherwise misplaced, misunderstood, or warped in the world of Enterprise Social Media. Learning & Development professionals can mitigate these risks to some extent, and this should factor into any professional efforts in this arena.
Like many people my age, my earliest experiences on the web were used more to connect to my email, and only slowly did I realize the vast repository of information at my fingertips. As described in the 2001 Cross article on Web 2.0, I was aware of limitations in early search engines. As web surfing became more popular, I was teaching high school and exploring this technology with my students. As a history teacher, I was frustrated with the poor quality of web sources as I attempted to teach some understanding of historiography and use of primary or “good” secondary sources. I think the early lawlessness of the internet is not fundamentally in question here, so I won’t continue my grumbling. What’s also true is that it was an exciting place to explore. Everyone seemed to sense the potential.
As a teacher in the late 90’s, I remember one of my students who had set up his own web page. It was amazing that a teenager could publish information and have such a vast potential reach. Treem described the afforadance of visibility, and I think that aspect of web communications remains the most important to this day. I’ve had numerous happenings where some random friend or acquaintance on line shares some interesting insight into a world event – from tear gas blowing through the streets of Istanbul, to the Sunflower movement protesters in Taiwan’s legislature, and onward. My most recent “visibility” moment was much more mundane. I was scrolling through my Facebook wall on my phone and caught a reference to an NPR story about the presidential election. I was too busy to explore further at the time, but I made a mental note to perhaps read the article (or listen) a little later. This is a daily occurrence for me as I’m – like all of us – flooded with more information than I can possibly absorb in my available free time. It’s at this moment that the affordance of visibility could be seen in a negative light. You see, it’s just too easy to have poor quality information making it through.
Even if we accept that a lot of information gets through, I think most of would agree that this visibility is generally beneficial. In this case, the Facebook post provided me with a moment of thought. I considered this routine moment when deciding on a blog topic. Could I track down the NPR story? I returned to my Facebook wall and attempted to find the link to the NPR story. Mistake (and also the source of the title of this post). Through my own incompetence or the idiosyncrasies of the Facebook feed, I could no longer locate the post. Has that ever happened to you!? So much for persistence. I eventually went to NPR directly and found the article in question. The news story itself was attempting to summarize the candidate viewpoints for ease of information consumption. In our busy, busy world, news sources summarize frequently, all in an effort to save the reader time. Of course, I wondered what might be lost in their summation. I sought a more complete source of information. More searching. Visibility is good. Persistence is good (while it was frustrating to “lose” the link, it’s better than the days before past news stories were readily available). Editability is generally good provided there’s an audit trail of changes — perhaps a future topic of discussion. And I’m happy with association too. I appreciate and accept ESNs. I see the benefits, but also the risks. The risks are generally related to the quality of information.
Risks are not only in Facebook. In the Hive, it’s easy to get flooded with information, and there’s no guarantee the information is high value. If I’m truly exploring a topic, I would much rather approach a classmate offline, rather than enter into a complicated discussion thread. I see success stories, where the community is able to properly vet information sources and build good content. Wikipedia, as described by Cross, is such an example. It’s also true that it takes the right kind of management to make that positive interaction possible.
Generally, when setting up rules of engagement, the question of safety is particularly interesting to me. I’m referring to safety as described by Cross. The idea is that safety is necessary in social relations where the knowledge seeker is not judged too harshly by the knowledge giver. Basically, we feel free to make mistakes, to admit our misunderstandings, and approach a knowledge source without fear of rebuke. This feeling of safety is important as well when we connect virtually. It’s also difficult to recreate this feeling in a medium as public as an ESN. In the Hive, for example, posts are typically public to an extent. In our learning environment, that’s generally okay, but it’s not a perfect sanctuary. Certainly some fellow students withdraw from proposing more risky or controversial thoughts. Likewise, our typical community response to ideas is quite supportive – perhaps too supportive for proper vetting of ideas. I worry that the cream is not rising to the top, and we may not always be creating and sharing the best knowledge – even in the Hive.
Because I accept all of the good of Enterprise Social Networks, I’m interested in finding ways to avoid the pitfalls, and help individuals better create/share quality content. I’m expecting that the online community, though virtual, can have some of the benefits of face to face communication. I’m interested in exploring this topic in future posts, MSLOC classes, and beyond.