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Harnessing the Collective ‘We’
by
Posted On November 1, 2006
User-centric, communal, and participatory applications have clearly taken center stage with the advancement of Web 2.0 technologies—whether you even agree on the term or you think it's just a buzzword. We're talking about social networking sites (such as MySpace and Facebook), wikis, open source software, collaborative software tools, photo and video sharing sites, and more. Core components of the new tools include dynamic interaction, decentralized authority, content sharing, and the establishment of new social networks.

The recent Internet Librarian 2006 conference had numerous presentations about information professionals embracing these new technologies and strategies in their roles as information managers and librarians. One of the coolest collaborative projects I heard about was the Second Life Library 2.0, which offers library services to residents of the 3-D virtual reality space within Second Life. Lori Bell of the Alliance Library System in East Peoria, Ill., worked with a number of global partners on the project, including TechSoup, ICT Library, Worldbridges, and more. "Why reinvent the wheel?" she asked. "It's important to be collaborative in our efforts." Not only does this represent international cooperation among librarians, but the online library enables user participation in discussions, online events, learning activities, and more.

Since returning from the conference, I've been more aware of this type of news hitting my in box. A recent announcement from the MIT Collective Intelligence Laboratory said it is launching the first wiki project to publish a book. Fittingly, the new book, tentatively titled We Are Smarter Than Me, is designed to be a guide to the landscape of community knowledge and the identification of key principles to harness the power of communities (http://www.wearesmarter.org).

The central premise is that large groups of people (we) can, and should, take responsibility for traditional business functions that are currently performed by companies, industries, and experts (me). It's about tapping into the collective wisdom of a very large, diverse group. Organized initially around the major business functions and processes, the book will contain case studies of successes and failures and commentary on the lessons learned.

Key folks from the Wharton Business School and the MIT Sloan School of Management are leading the project, along with executives from Shared Insights US, LLC (a provider of social networking technology and communities). Students, faculty, and alumni from the two schools, as well as leaders, authors, and experts from the fields of management and technology have been invited to participate in this "network book"; more than 1 million invites were sent.

A draft of the book and the key findings will be presented in March 2007 at the Community 2.0 conference in Las Vegas. The book will be published by Pearson in fall 2007, and each contributor will be listed as an author of the book. And here's a nice touch: All authors will receive an equal vote on the distribution of book royalties to charity.

Another group working on the concept of the networked book is the Institute for the Future of the Book (http://www.futureofthebook.org). One author, McKenzie Wark, has shared a draft of his next book, GAM3R 7H30RY (Gamer Theory), a critical examination of video games, in an open Web-based environment designed to gather feedback and spark discussion.

Here are just a few of the social networking, community-enabling sites that made announcements recently.

A new social networking site for debating political issues made its debut. HOTSOUP.com is designed to serve the "millions of influencers" in the U.S. who are looking for a voice. It includes both famous personalities and grass-roots folks from our communities. HOTSOUP community members discuss and debate a wide range of topics from politics and business to religion and the media.

Expert Village, which claims to be the largest producer of how-to videos for the Internet, announced the launch of its new how-to video sharing Web site. The site has added support for Web 2.0 features that include video embedding, social networking, social bookmarking, and tagging. Webmasters and bloggers seeking how-to video footage of industry experts demonstrating everything from child safety to cooking to paragliding techniques can now embed video from Expert Village at no cost.

Newgie.com is a news site currently in beta that lets users view their news based on its "newsiness," as determined by their peers. It doesn't use a voting mechanism (or even user submission of news stories) as some social networking sites, but it uses actual user behavior, such as page views, recommendations, and favorites. And Newgie Communities let people recommend and discuss news with each other about specific subjects of common interest.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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