Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Dark Side of Web 2.0

I recently attended a good environmental scan / overview presentation about what's happing "out there" in terms of information management, technology, and the internet. As I was listening to the speaker, my mind turned, somewhat uncharacteristically, to a "dark side" perspective. Many speakers / thought leaders extol the virtues/promise/potential about Web 2.0 and social technologies, but perhaps there really is a down side, or at least a few considerations for a more balanced view:

The rise of the opinionated - Emerging technologies gives a voice to all participants (yes, like me). But not every voice is worth hearing. And since these voices are manifested in an explosion of content in a wide variety of types and formats, determining best quality and value is a significant challenge.

The rise of aggregation vs. new and innovative thinking - We first heard about it in the context of students plagiarizing internet content for projects, but now it’s rampant. On the internet, content is so easy to find that there is a tendency to copy and re-use, often without citing sources, rather than create / innovate something new. Granted, re-use saves time and money, but not in all circumstances. Sometimes new and innovative approaches are required to solve problems created by status quo thinking.

The rise of aggregation and fall of awareness / access to original, authoritative sources - The technological capabilities to aggregate content, not to mention the broad re-purposing/re-use of content without attribution, makes it very difficult at times to identify the original, authoritative sources. True, content should be evaluated on its own merit, but often part of that evaluation requires context and source of origin.

Rise of the net evangelist - Over the last few years, the internet and Web 2.0 have been the new "cool thing" to talk about. As a result, there is no shortage of evangelists who are willing and able to take money and talk about the value of Web 2.0 and social technologies in a number of abstract, theoretical ways, or reflect retrospectively/summatively on experiences of organizations who've used some of these technologies to impact their business. Many of these evangelists miss an important point - social technologies are only useful if people use them. Crowd sourcing / wisdom of crowds only works if a crowd is participating. Most of the statistics I've seen around about participation in social technologies (e.g. How Do People Participate in Social Media), and my meagre personal experience online and with in-person groups, point to only a small percentage of any group actual participates. It's a little hard to get wisdom from a crowd when there is now crowd.

Rise (re-glorification) of the speaker not the listener – Early KM initiatives mistakenly focused on the information provider / creator and not the consumer / learner, evidenced in the many stories about unused “knowledge repositories.” Two camps seem to be emerging. I find much (thankfully not all) of the rhetoric around the promise and potential of emerging technologies seems to again focus on the provision / availability of content, and not the individual / group learning and collaboration that takes place, supported by the content. The underlying assumption is that people individually and groups will do the right / logical thing as a matter of course. A bit misguided perhaps?

I certainly agree with those who say that emerging social technologies for joint content authoring, networking, linking, sharing, commenting etc. present opportunities not previously possible in the organizational context. The real challenge from my view is how to deal with the many complexities associated with people – individuals or groups – in examining, choosing, and harnessing the opportunities to integrate social technologies to create productive work environments.


Anonymous said...

Clever thinking, and well put. I ran some 'KnowledgeManagement' projects about 10 years ago. We introduced a "Linkedin-kind-of-thing" and a "" on a corporate intranet in 1999.
Succesful at their point of introduction and two, three years onwards. Last month I learned they all went unused after that.
It isn't about ideas nor technology. It is about people using it.

C. Curmudgeon said...


. . . and ever was the dialectic. While I can't disagree with your analysis of how things can, and do, go wrong, I think we're at the very beginning of a revolution in connectivity and collaboration. I believe I have no choice, given my position at a large manufacturing corporation, to expect this revolution will result in increased innovation and productivity.

What you have pointed out are some of the speed bumps on the way. I don't believe they are indicative of the general trend.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comment Mr. "C." My post was just about a bit of "balencing" things a bit. I agree that we're at the beginning of something very interesting. What I am noticing is that when people / organizations talk about leveraging social technologies, there is more often that not at least some thought given to how people should/do work together - very encouraging.