I’ve spent an interesting 3 days in London at this annual conference on information management - see more on conference website. My own contribution was to present some results from the Kamimo project, higher education in Second Life, that is now nearing completion (see more on the Kamimo Island blog). But the main theme for the conference was showing how social software is being used in education, libraries, business and government to facilitate greater levels of interaction than ever before. There was an impressive range of imaginative projects on show.
The keynote speaker, Clay Shirky, gave an excellent presentation called Every piece of information is a latent community showing that people can form vibrant communities round just about anything; from sharing similar bookmarks to enjoying the same TV show. In the past we filtered first and then published (the traditional role of book publishers and record companies) whereas now we publish first and filter later. Everyone can now publish but then we need filters to find what we want from the vast resources. Could libraries help to fill the role of filtering this information overflow? We see an overwhelming range of services and technologies and hope that things will eventually stabilise but instead we can only expect increasing diversity and experimentation.
Shirky’s recent book Here comes everybody deals with these themes and he has, of course, a useful blog built around the ideas in the book if you feel like participating in the debate. You can also watch a pre-conference interview with him on YouTube.
It struck me that so much of what is going on on the net today is non-commercial and voluntary and goes completely against the commercial norms of the market. People are connecting with each other to solve problems and create new solutions without any financial rewards at all. On-line reputation is however hard currency. Imagine if a company or team of experts had planned to write Wikipedia and planned it as a traditional project, no doubt asking for external funding. How much would Wikipedia have cost? Would anyone have backed it? But it happened and is expanding daily through a vast network of passionate enthusiasts whose reward is being part of something new and exciting.
One speaker introduced the idea of perpetual beta for the development of Web 2.0 and that seems a very fitting description. Many are hesitant about trying out new web tools because they can’t see the return on investment but it’s impossible to know what will pay off in the long run. Some at first insignificant efforts have later resulted in major breakthroughs. We need to foster a climate where people are encouraged to try out new ideas on a small scale without strict demands on ROI. The advantage of Web 2.0 is that the tools are inexpensive and the only major investment is time. Only by constantly experimenting can we learn to use all these new tools effectively.
I'll post more from this conference in a day or two!