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Social Networking program at London Online

Getting to a conference doesn’t require social networking (SN) particularly, but it does require on-the-ground knowledge management (KM), and the organizers of London Online are clearly not expert in KM: I’ve never had such a hard time finding a conference location. The security people knew how to swipe my badge but not where the much-advertised keynotes were taking place, and to get to the conference, which is an expensive adjunct to the exhibition, one has to follow signs through a series of dark hallways lined by empty coffee bars, then take an elevator (no sign there) two floors up. But I arrived in time to hear David Pollard’s presentation, in a sparsely filled auditorium. Perhaps a quarter of the seats are filled, which is a bit strange, given the profile of the speakers Online manages to attract.

Pollard is a well-known blogger and I have long appreciated his diligence in trying to map social networking software. Fortunately there is wifi in the auditorium, so I was able to look up his presentation notes, at “Social Networking: Still Not Meeting its Critical Promise.” Here’s an extract:

If these apps are to achieve use and value beyond fun and novelty, however, they need to become more effective, and they need to address real, urgent, important needs and problems. I would suggest there are at least four urgent needs/problems that SNAs could, and hopefully will, fulfil:

1. Finding people to love and live with
2. Finding people to make a living with
3. Finding people who share important or urgent affinities (and then enabling them to organize, activate, and exchange context-rich information peer-to-peer with those people, such as health counsel and ‘epinions’)
4. Enabling powerful virtual collaboration when face-to-face is, for economic or logistic reasons, impossible

I’m able to write this up because the speakers who followed him were not especially engaging–or perhaps just not as much on target for me personally as Pollard was, with his overview of SN tools from Flickr to meme-diggers. The weird thing was that he talked about these fascinating interactive experiments using the world’s least interactive and most over-used software: PowerPoint. It wasn’t until he got to the subject of mind-mapping did he stop reading the slides–though there’s no question he did this engagingly!–and start talking from the heart about software he uses and clearly loves for the ability it gives him to organize complex and evolving ideas, and also to work out agreement with others at the end of meetings.

This is helpful to me in work I’m doing, and it was worth the trek and the frustrating conversations with security people–one of whom tried to convince me that the program must be wrong, because he was sure nothing started till 10am. Here are a couple ideas that I was intrigued by.

First, people are starting to use Flickr to share visual representations, not just photos. This is intriguing, because as we all know images can be fantastic ways to share information, and new ways to incorporate them into KM systems is important. (Of course the real issue is not putting them in, but getting them out.)

Second, Pollard recommends FreeMind as a good way to get used to mindmaps, and suggested using this method to document meetings right as they happen. That’s something I might just try out, and that might also be helpful in the business planning I’m doing. But I need to get his advice on virtual collaboration tools, too, because the people I will need to turn to once I’ve done the first stage are scattered around the world.

(BTW, actuality has some disadvantages. A man is sitting near me who smells like a homeless person. The question now is what he is doing here. Badges are scanned as you come into the auditorium (no sneaking), so he must have some position with somebody.)

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