Social computing, capitalism and the intranet

February 24
Originally uploaded by hazelmottram

In the early 1980s, a Russian governmental delegation came to London to talk to their counterparts and understand more about the capitalist system. One asked “Which minister is in charge of making sure there’s enough bread for the people?” and was dumbfounded with the response that no-one was. The opportunity to make a little dough (pun intended) was the mechanism for ensuring there was sufficient bread with 1000s of unrelated but interconnected parts bringing fertiliser to field, wheat to mill, flour to baker, bread to shop. It’s remarkable that it all works really, given the lack of orchestration.

Step forward 30 years. Who is it that ensures that the right wiki pages exist, or that they are accurate? Who regulates the blogs to ensure fairness in all aspects or that each youTube video has a reply? I sincerely hope the answer is no one individual — the answer is the collective community of users.

The free market world of social computing has already created marvellous resources such as wikipedia, youTube, millions of blogs and billions of tweets – countless petabytes of information of various levels of worthiness. All this we can pass on to others. All this knowledge nucleating from the provision of social computing tools. Like the scientists at the coffee break, all that was needed was the forums and then the creativity flowed.

But what I’m really excited about is the power of social computing behind the firewall on the corporate intranet. Here, we have the same community already used to interacting digitally (after all, employees are real people too!) But added to the collaborative confusion on the internet, is a genuine common purpose and a little orchestration from management. This could give the fledging knowledge sources some direction and speed up creation and usage.

Does a little orchestration of social computing outputs kill or strengthen it’s power? Is the free and open approach to knowledge creation the best way or does it need some rules.