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February 29, 2004 » 11:02 am

Emergent Learning Forum Gathering on Social Networks

I’ve been following Alex Gault‘s blog for several months now. It is an outstanding source of articles and information on collaboration and Knowledge Management. Earlier this past week, I learned that Alex had organized the program for last Tuesday’s Emergent Learning Forum meeting, “Social Networking, Relationship Capital and Expertise Management.” Both the speaker list (Spoke Software‘s Andy Halliday, Intel’s Anita Lo, and Tacit Knowledge SystemsDavid Gilmour) and the opportunity to meet yet another blogger in person were too much for me to resist.    (140)

Alex kicked off the meeting with an excellent introduction to Social Networks, providing some background material (see Social Networks) and a concise overview of the current marketplace.    (141)

Andy Halliday followed by talking a bit about Spoke Software, although the scope of his talk was much more general. Spoke’s tool identifies social networks within the company (including people’s contacts outside of the company) by analyzing outbound email, and then acts as a referral broker. Andy emphasized individuals’ abilities to control their profile and protect their data. Afterwards, I asked Andy whether they had identified a threshold for how large an organization usually is before it can benefit from such a tool. He answered 1,000 people, but added that Spoke’s extended search capabilities (for contacts outside of the company) increased the tool’s utility for smaller companies.    (142)

Spoke is marketing the tool to salespeople, but it is clearly cognizant of the wider opportunities. Andy cited a few, including search results based on your social network (essentially Brian Lincoln‘s Collab:GrassRootsPeerReview idea) and a tool for sorting your inbox (including spam filtering). Spoke hosts a free online version of its tool called the Spoke Network.    (143)

Anita Lo, Intel’s Productivity Program Manager, gave a remote presentation on Intel’s recently deployed expert locator service. There were some technical difficulties and the talk was cut short before Anita could talk in-depth about the system, but a few points caught my ear. Intel conducted an internal survey to identify its most salient knowledge management need, and expert location was the top priority. The result was a system called People Yellow Pages, based on a tool that they purchased but that Anita did not identify. The system seemed to depend on people keeping their profiles updated as well as an overall taxonomy for categorization, which was managed by a librarian and validated periodically via surveys. This approach is in stark contrast with Spoke Software‘s and Tacit Knowledge Systems‘s, so it would have been nice to discuss how well it worked and whether Intel had evaluated any tools that automatically built and maintained people’s profiles.    (144)

(Seb Paquet posted some comments on Anita’s talk as well. Interestingly, Seb watched the talk remotely from his perch in Canada, and he may have been able to follow the talk more clearly than those in attendance!)    (145)

David Gilmour closed out the morning’s talks. I wrote about David’s excellent Harvard Business Review article before. His talk mirrored that article in some ways — an impassioned belief in the knowledge brokering model, coordinating collaboration rather than trying to force people to work together — but he provided much more detail in several areas. In particular, he spent much time discussing his company’s emphasis on individual privacy (as had Andy earlier) and noted that Tacit Knowledge Systems had several patents on ways to protect privacy, one indication of the value the company places on it.    (146)

David observed that individuals liked to use the tool to see their own profiles, which are automatically constructed based on their behavior (email, documents, Web, etc.). On the business end, he noted that pharmaceutical companies (which make up many of his clients) needed no persuasion regarding the ROI of his approach; the only question was whether or not the tool worked as advertised.    (147)

Jay Cross, the CEO of Emergent Learning Forum, posted some notes on the day’s talks as well. He also mentioned Alex’s other blog, the Collaboration Cafe, which I have added to my aggregator as well.    (148)

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