online community


We’re kind of trapped (in a good way) in a social networking track here at bar camp day 2. I combined sessions with Sam Wallin — he wanted to discuss general social networks and how they relate to libraries. I wanted to talk about Facebook (and other apps) and what adoption of it (and related, heavily architected tools) means to info professionals.

SamWallin at InfoCamp Social Networking Session

Like Kathleen noted, lots of questions and few answers. I proposed that Facebook might become the killer app and that people will then use Facebook as kind of homebase or main tool (in some cases taking the place of other tools — email, IM, etc — at least in some contexts.), In such a situation, how does the “generic” or architected nature of the site impact the work that info pros can do to expidite the flow of information.

Again, not a lot of answers but a lot of disagreement with me. Many people felt that they don’t see facebook as the killer app — for that to happen there needs to be some way to separate personal and work lives (and separate the networks you belong to in those cases). And if you do separate those parts of your life, then the would shut down the ubiquitous nature of Facebook.

To some degree I can relate to that idea. I agree that you don’t want to do work networking on a site where you post photos of your drunken new years eve episode. I’m not sure if the answer is more social networks. Maybe it’s more thoughtful use of a main network where you limit what you share to make it appropriate for a broader group of users and then belong to special networks (or have a specialized blog or web page or usenetgroup or whatever) for your “fringe” activities.

I liked Justin’s philosophy — he doles out little “tidbits” of information on Facebook. People can learn a little bit more about him based on the groups he belongs to and how he interacts with those however they don’t get a lot of detail from his profile alone.

For what it’s worth, I’m willing to say I might be wrong on one count (at least). Facebook might not kill Linkedin (one of the many inflammatory things I said today). In fact, Linkedin may get stronger because it fills one of those fringe area needs I discuss above. For example you may say you are an interaction designer on your facebook profile, but may not want to throw in your resume or client list up there. Instead, you can let your Linked-in profile fill that need.

I’m not sure what all this means for me…I’ve got some more thinking to do. How about you?

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Nick Finck at Info Camp

That’s me blowing the dust off this blog after a summer hiatus (as well as time spent on my bike blog.

Today, Kathleen and I are at InfoCamp, a conference designed to “cross pollinate” the information ecosystem (think: Information architects, librarians, usability pros, and other UX minded folks). I’m sure we’ll have something to talk about.

Right now we’re getting a key note from Nick Finck from Blue Flavor talking (mostly) about the role info pros can play in the growing mobile space.

Stay tuned!

I just returned from the Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference in Denver. The SLA is an (inter-) national association for librarians working in less-traditional settings (think corporate, news, competitive intelligence, etc). I’ll blog more about in the next couple days, but for now …
The conference included some highlights, such as an Al Gore as keynote discussing our current inability to use information wisely in decision making, Michael Tiemann from redhat making some interesting points about a copyright and patent system gone awry, and some great information about microformats and how they’ll enable information sharing and searching for social networks.

With the good you sometimes have to take the bad. In the same session as the microformats (“Mining Social Neworking Sites: Rich Resources Lie in Wait for Those Who Dig”), I was disappointed to hear Regina Avila, assistant library director tell of the Denver Post library’s “innovative” mining of social network sites. They use these sites to dig up information on minors to help reporters who are researching news stories. The actually mining doesn’t bother me– I’m a former reporter myself and know you gotta get sources — it’s the idea that they are doing this and obviously haven’t considered the ramifications (and potential chilling effect) this practice could have at a time when lawmakers, educators, and parents are trying to limit access to these sites. This is one you’ll hear more about from me later.

By the way, we’re sorry for the posting lag. It’s graduation week (actually graduation day!) for Kathleen and I. The past couple weeks have flown by with little to show on the blog. I’m sure we’ll make up for that soon.

I’m sure you’ve all been following (at least heard of) the DRM/censorship/power of community story at Digg. For those who haven’t, here’s a quick overview:

Hackers, as hackers are wont to do, cracked the the DRM on the HD-DVD standard. This was pretty much inevitable. These nutty hackers have broken every other DRM scheme to date, so this one was probably doomed from the beginning. This crack in the DRM opens the door for people, in a best case scenario, to make back up copies of discs they own. Of course, the industry points of the wost-case scenario: That the sole purpose of these cracks is to steal intellectual property and pirate lots of movies. Personally I think it’s somewhere in the middle, but that’s a discussion for another post or 10.

Anyway, the Digg community got a hold of this code and kept bumping it to the top of Digg’s list of “dug” web pages. Digg, fearful of take down notices and lawsuits under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act DMCA, started deleting these links, but as fast as they could delete them, their community added more links. The battle escalated to the point where ALL the top links on Digg were about either the DRM code or Digg’s censorship of the story.

At that point, Digg capitulated to their user base and let the links stay. Rather than losing the sure-thing (their users) by continuing to remove links and tick off their user base, they chose to make a stand against potential DMCA notices. As Dig founder Kevin Rose noted in his blog (where he actually posted the code in question), “If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.”

Lots of issues here, but I’m interested in the aspect of the community revolt. Were the users successful here because the community is still small enough and homegeneous enough that everyone felt the same way? Is it because Digg founders realize that no matter how cool Digg is, there’s no barrier keeping their community intact. In an online environment these days, these communities have lots of options for their loyalty.

My guess if that the Digg founders realized this and also realized they certainly weren’t going to get rich if they gave into the DRM legal forces and lost their user base. Better to take a risk fighting the take-down notice than just watch your community disappear, I guess. I’m not sure if that’s quite as noble as Rose makes it out to be, but it’s an interesting angle nonetheless.

Some links worth checking out:

I commented on Plone in my “Open Source Social Software” post last week. I still think it’s a great CMS and a great way to go if you can put in the time to get it set up right. What a lot of people don’t know is that a Plone isn’t limited to a plain vanilla interface (like you see by default at Plone.org and with a default install.). I think the default is OK looking, but if people knew what it _could_ be, they might be a little more motivated to embrace a fresh design from the start.

Thankfully, the folks behind Plone have gathered the work of talented designers, coders, and the like, at a nice gallery on Plone.net The collection site itself is a is a step beyond the out-of-the box Plone look. Check it out. Maybe you’ll get some ideas to add a little zing to your vanilla.

I’m always looking for the mediating technology that Kathleen mentions (number 4). For a while I thought Plone was going to be my ticket to some kind of librarian-makes-good-via-content-organization consulting goodness. Heck, I even went the conference and got the t-shirt.

I’m still groovin’ on Plone, but you know what? It’s hard. It’s a great tool for managing all your content and maybe for building (and maintaining) a web presence from scratch. But what what about if you already have some stuff going on? You know…. you’ve got an intranet. and maybe some servers with files shares? Or some folks on your team have or want to start their own WordPress or other blog? To make Plone work in a situation like this you either some serious coding ju-ju or you gotta start from scratch.

Sure, a complete Plone site can be effective, cost-efficient, and easy-to-maintain, but starting over is not the answer for everyone. In my past content life I lived with terrible sites I wasn’t allowed to scrap. Many of these, though, these could have been dramatically improved with just the slightest bit of social software love. I suppose that’s why I’ve been thinking lately about ways to integrate some social features into such existing settings.

One potential I’m excited about is the open source tool Elgg. I still need to dig into it more deeply (perhaps in my post-graduation unemployment come June?), but this thing has some potential. According to the blurb at SourceForge, “Elgg is an open source social networking platform developed for LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) which encompasses weblogging, file storage, RSS aggregation, personal profiles, FOAF functionality and more.”

Simply put, it’s a tool that enables you to provide some of those fancy social features all the cool kids today are using — on your existing platform. Want to provide your users a blog? Wiki? Online IDs and messaging? It’s looking to me that Elgg could be your answer. A titillatingly titled Wired article on social software trends in education talks about Elgg is being used at the University of Brighton (UK), France Telecom, and others.

You can get Elgg in a whitebox, open source, customize-it-yourself platform, or you can purchase a ready-to-roll, supported enterprise version. We can talk later about the effective use OSS participation incentives (in this case, the open source developer also runs a company that sells an enterprise version), but that’s another post or two.

So far I’m really taken with the profile page functionality you can provide for users. In many cases that might be all you need (but come on, don’t stop there….). ‘ll dig around in this and report back in a while.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out where I heard about Elgg — the American Libraries Association! Imagine that…I’m on the web looking for cool stuff all the time and I find this cool software in an ALA email (well, it was actually just a link to the actually pretty poor Wired story, but I think ALA still gets props for sending me in the right direction). Dave Tosh of Elgg and CurveRider posts over at EduSpaces (yes, an Elgg platformed site) clears up some misinformation in the Wired story starts another conversation.

So, anyone out there used Elgg? Have another worthy tool I’ve missed?

Tim dutifully posted many, many months ago with his thoughts on Ranganathan. I can barely say the guy’s name, let alone contemplate further theorizing on and updating of his thoughts. I got so overwhelmed by the idea that I decided to wait to post until everyone was so desperate for more discussion on this blog that they didn’t care about whether I responded to Ranganathan or not. I think that time is here.

I’ve been taking an Online Communities class at school and a lot of what we’ve been discussing is what defines an online community. This is an interesting topic to me because I think communities are constantly shifting and its sometimes really difficult to determine who is in a community and who is not. And one person may think he or she is part of a community while another community member might not think so. This dynamic makes it hard to define an online community since it often means something different to everyone. So I’ve been trying to decide on the characteristics of a online community that need to be present in order for me to define it as an online community. Here’s what I think but I’d like to hear from others. An online community is a group of people:

1. with some notion of membership (possibly defined differently by different members)
2. with a shared purpose or goal
3. with communication among members
4. with a communication structure mediated by technology

What does the community think?