Emergent Intelligence

Edging the enterprise forward

Thinking about schools, enterprises and intranets, I wanted to jot down here some things I've been reading in the last few days that make a lot of sense to me.

Headshift (1):

I am sure organisations will eventually be able to create, within their online spaces, the sort of interaction, collaboration and sharing that takes place in the "wild world" of the Internet. Until then, we just have to help them make the most of the tools they have (or get) and provide them ideas on how to, slowly, start rethinking their internal processes, culture and view of the world. 

That is one of the reasons developing the system is just one of the steps in the work we do. Engagement is the other big one.

Headshift (2 — Lee, 'Last week, a group of us at Headshift spent a day at the Blogging 4 Business 2007 conference'): 

In addition to the tools, success is also about: 

  1. concrete business use cases
  2. engagement & people support
  3. a connected infrastructure

This is why we focus primarily on use cases, and the mapping between a task and information analysis of these use cases and the behavioural characteristics of the tools, in order to find the right blend of social modes in each project we undertake. During the session, we announced that we are about to open source the use case library that we use internally to capture these examples, so hopefully this will help others get to grips with the many practical applications that currently exist for enterprise social tools.

Blogging 4 Business (via Lee's post and covering the same conference): 

Got to applaud Bryant for saying all this technology is really all about the people at the end of the keyboard. "With social tools, you get immediate payback because you use lightweight tools to organise information in a way that means something to you." Example - social tagging (picking your own keywords to identify and structure the information you post, not having to adhere to a hierarchy picked by those know-nothings in the IT department).

Representative of BT asks if all this new stuff means "the end of internal communications" as we know it (and I feel fine). Paraphrasing Lee Bryant: "Every generation of technologists see themselves as Luke Skywalker zooming in to destroy the Evil Empire" - but it's more about "layers".

Mike Butcher asks how the existing knowledge in company intranets can be adapted to new wikis. Fitch says we'll all move to "using the web to create communities of collaboration" - from a situation where companies have relied on static intranets for the last eight years.

Bryant says out-of-date material will simply naturally "fade in to the background".

Perfect Path (again, same conference): 

Q: MB: Lots of companies have huge intranets - should we just wipe them away?
DF: very familiar with this - there’s a huge wealth of material that’s useful but just couldn’t be found - so we did some work about improving search and findability but also looking at using lighter infrastructure to start again, which will involve some pain, people will have to go back and look at relevance for example, but that change is going to deliver the benefit that we’re moving towards creating communities and connecting people rather than just producing static content.

Q: GC: How do you deal with info that becomes out of date?
A:LB: different approaches - the most interesting is that in a mature implementation anything acquires its own context, tags etc so out of date stuff falls down as sediment in these systems. So then you need some sort of review system, but it’s more about letting more timely stuff come to the fore.
DF: it’s also so much easier to keep your stuff up to date, even for lawyers :), so just using lighter tools helps a lot.

Many things link to/flow from all this, but there's a core here — about people, concrete use cases and change-through-engagement — that I wanted to highlight and remember. 

And, to round off on the intranet theme, this from Read/WriteWeb

Finally I mentioned intranets - and how ContentExchange will integrate or complement them. Mark [Suster, Koral founder/CEO and now in charge of Salesforce ContentExchange] quoted me a stat from Forrester that only 44% of people can find what they want on a corporate intranet, whereas 87% can find what they want on the Internet. So ContentExchange will help raise that 44% figure, says Mark.

'Top down politics is no longer sustainable in a bottom-up age'

Thought-provoking and rather more valuable than the thing I just read — George Osborne's talk at the RSA last week, 'Recasting the political settlement for the digital age'. Paul Miller drew my attention to it with his post:

Normally, listening to politicians talking about technology is a bit embarrassing. They fall into lots of very obvious traps and sound very naive. But the shadow chancellor has met the people, read the books and obviously spends a fair amount of time online (using Firefox which earned him extra brownie points).

The speech begins:

We are all here this morning because we share a common belief: we believe in the power of technology - in its ability to help transform society for the better by giving individuals more freedom, more choice and ultimately more power. At heart we are technology optimists. Of course technological change isn't always easy to deal with because it so often disrupts the established way of doing things. … Last November, in a talk on politics in the internet age, I identified some of the key social changes that have been unleashed by this technological revolution. Today I want to go further …

You can read the speech in full here. It describes 'three pillars on which I believe this new political settlement should be built':

  • 'The first of these pillars is about equality - equality of information - or what Eric Schmidt, Chief Executive of Google, called "the democratisation of access to information" when he spoke to our Party Conference. For centuries access to the world's information - and the ability to communicate it - was controlled by a few: the powerful, the wealthy and the well educated. … No longer is there an asymmetry of information between the individual and the State, or between the layperson and the expert. This shift is changing the world. It is empowering individuals; raising expectations of government services; and increasing accountability for all of us who work in the public sector and in politics. …
  • The second pillar of a new political settlement will be founded on new social networks. … On-line political networks are springing up in the UK too now - and interestingly they are almost all Conservative ones. There are those networks actively set up by the Conservative Party. … But it is not the official Conservative websites that I find most exciting. It is the unofficial ones. Take Conservativehome.com. … Although I, and other Shadow Cabinet members, am frequently the target of Conservativehome.com, it is for me unambiguously a good thing that it exists. … Top down politics is no longer sustainable in a bottom-up age. … 
  • The final pillar of this new political settlement is open source. … Open source politics means rejecting the old monolithic top-down approach to decision-making. It means throwing open the doors and listening to new ideas and new contributors. It means harnessing the power of mass collaboration. And rather than relying on the input of a few trusted experts, it means drawing on the skills and expertise of millions. … Companies are now increasingly using "Wikis" to solve internal problems - because you can have lots of people working on them at once. Those people don't necessarily have to work for the company. This is a radical departure from our traditional understanding of the business model. … Similar collaborative approaches could be applied in government. … The direction of travel is clear. The government needs to get onboard. … Another way the government could harness an open source approach is through the procurement of open source software. … Ever since I visited the headquarters of Mozilla in Palo Alto I have become a user of their open source Firefox web-browser. … most central governments departments make use of no open source software whatsoever. What's going wrong? The problem is that the cultural change has not taken place in government. … Not a single open source company is included in Catalyst, the government's list of approved IT suppliers. … Another problem has been the lack of open standards in government IT procurement. All too often, a government IT system is incompatible with other types of software, which stifles competition and hampers innovation. Looking at the litany of IT projects that have collapsed or spiralled over budget, it's clear too that this has meant billions of pounds wasted and public service reform being hampered. The government's entire approach needs to be overhauled.'

Striking in itself — a speech about the changed and still changing world in which politicians now work, the challenges, the ways forward — every educator should be reading it:

… the internet is like the child pushing at boundaries of authority and challenging the established way of doing things - the business models from the last century, traditional media, long accepted notions of national jurisdiction and concepts of governmental control. The challenge is for the "pushed" - probably most of us here in this room - to resist the urge to push back: to regulate and legislate; to try to tame and to control.

… the most basic reaction to new technology: doing the old thing a new way. Instead … successful companies are harnessing this new technology to do things in a new way …

What's needed in government is as much a cultural shift as a technological change. A shift to a culture that welcomes criticism and comment - then reacts to it. A shift to a culture that seeks customers' views and ideas at every stage of developing a service. And a shift to a culture where every service can be improved, and no service is ever fully developed. That means more than constantly tinkering with public services for the sake of it. It means being open to fresh thinking and input from both users and deliverers.

How are we, educators and schools, adapting and changing to life in this world?  How are we preparing our students for this world where technology has rendered knowledge abundant; where innovation, creativity, entrepreneurial flair and initiative are prized skills and qualities; where teenagers are collaborating and networking and hacking yet little or none of this is informing and transforming the formal curriculum? (For an index of numerous previous posts to do with education, click here.) The direction of travel is, indeed, clear and schools, too, need to get onboard.

Jeff Jarvis on tagging

Well, I've had a geeky good time with the subject of tags. But this isn't just another valentine to just another cool online trend; we're so over that. No, tags have a larger lesson to teach to media. They present a clear demonstration that the web is not about flat content. The web is about connections and the value that arises from them if you enable people to collect and communicate. In the old, big, centralised, controlled world of media, a few people with a few tools - pencils, presses and Dewey decimals - thought they could organise the world and its content. But as it turns out, left to its own devices, the world is often better at organising itself. Jeff Jarvis, Media Guardian

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Uncoordinated acts

Seth Godin writes about 'A great phrase coined by Glenn Reynolds': Horizontal Knowledge.

If we had started planning in 1993, we probably wouldn't have gotten here by now. The Web, Wi-Fi, and Google didn't develop and spread because somebody at the Bureau of Central Knowledge Planning planned them. They developed, in large part, from the uncoordinated activities of individuals. … We didn't need a thousand librarians with scanners, because we had a billion non-librarians with computers and divergent interests. … what lots of smart people, loosely coordinating their actions with each other, are capable of accomplishing. It's the power of horizontal, as opposed to vertical knowledge. … As the world grows more interconnected, more and more people have access to knowledge and coordination. Yet we continue to underestimate the revolutionary potential of this simple fact. Heck, we underestimate the revolutionary reality of it, in the form of things we already take for granted, like Wi-Fi and Google. But I'm not a wild-eyed visionary. As a result, I'm going to make a very conservative prediction: that the next ten years will see revolutions that make Wi-Fi and Google look tame, and that in short order we'll take those for granted, too. It's a safe bet. Glenn Reynolds

Seth Godin continues:

It's best understood by thinking about its opposite: Vertical Knowledge. The stuff you get from the boss or the MSM or the person at the front of the room. Whenever I go to a conference, I learn more from the people in the lobby. And the web is one big big lobby. … Planning implies vertical, top down thinking. And in many areas, it's backfiring.

There's a lot rolling around in my head that says this kind of thing, too, and in education I have never let go of that remark I read years ago, 'regimentation and education are incompatible'. Let things shoot, grow up and develop. Be very careful with, be very wary of the top down.

Silicon Valley comes to Oxford

To the Saïd Business School last night, to catch the evening panel discussion of this year's Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, the fourth in the Saïd's annual series. These events bring together entrepreneurs, VCs and others involved in Silicon Valley, and this year the theme was 'Networks in the 21st Century'. Line-up: Allen Morgan (Keynote; MD, Mayfield), Charlie Leadbeater (Chair), Reid Hoffman (CEO and Founder, LinkedIn; on the Board of SixApart, investor in Last.fm), Craig Newmark (Chairman and Founder, Craigslist), Christopher Sacca (Principal, New Business Development, Google), Maria Sendra (Partner, Baker & McKenzie), Evan Williams (Co-creator of Blogger and Co-founder and CEO of Odeo), Robert Young (Co-founder and formerly CEO & Chairman of Red Hat; Founder and CEO Lulu).

Inspiring evening, not least because of Charlie Leadbeater's (CL) clever, skillful chairing and incisive remarks. Some rough notes follow.

CL began by rehearsing the history of Wikipedia: in just 4½ years it has established a web presence whose daily net traffic now exceeds that of the NYT, yet it has just one employee, hired in January of this year. This will be familiar to many, but the impact on the audience of businessmen last night struck me — "Hey! A new business model!". The leveraging of the power of the many, of the enthusiastic, in a shared enterprise with a marked social and intellectual idealism. (Allen Morgan had already mentioned, amongst others, del.icio.us and Flickr; Reid Hoffman praised Last.fm.)

The 1½ hours of panel discussion sustained a very high level of enthusiasm for what is happening through collaborative activities on the web (of which Wikipedia is an extraordinary example, of course). Craig Newmark wasn't less idealistic for expressing himself in homelier ways: social networking is 'just getting people together to improve their lives'; coffee houses are often the new (old! — Ben Hammersley's talk at Reboot 7) centres for such collaboration. Bob Young didn't see collaborative, social networking as a new phase in the history of capitalism: it's something that has always been present but obscured historically by an emphasis on private property rights. CL: surely Open Source is something new, the emergence of a new kind of collaboratively driven culture of innovation?

Chris Sacca: Google operates with no business plan but with ideals — ideals are resilient, much less likely to lead to rigidity than plans and likelier to resist going out of date; go to Wikipedia and look at the number of inspiring Open Source-derived Manifestos. Evan Williams spoke warmly of the social idealism that the democratisation of networks, media (etc) is bringing about.

From the audience: Mike Butcher asked if more value isn't being destroyed than created through disintermediation. (He also points out the really surprising lack of WiFi at the Saïd — something John Naughton mocked back in September:

When I arrived, I asked the pleasant young woman at the desk how to log onto the wireless network. She gave me a nice-but-puzzled look. Her voice said that there wasn’t such a thing; her look said “This is a business school, dumbo, not some technology college”. So I launched MacStumbler and — Lo! — it was So! The University of Oxford’s Business School doesn’t have a single wireless network.)

Chris Sacca (to no-one's surprise): Google is enabling many more new markets than it's "helping" to close. Long Tail and all that. Others on the panel spoke up for this.

CL's message was loud and clear — the times are changing. Examples and predictions: BT now has 20,000 engineers who are self-scheduling as they are better at organising their own time than is any centralised service; after the first London July bombing of this year, within 24 hours the BBC had received 20,000 emails with news, 360 still photos and 4 pieces of video (I think I caught these stats correctly); education will change fundamentally in this kind of new world.

CL: what's happening on and through the web doesn't match the standard models. It's not pyramidal, it's not valley chain … A 'bird's nest' is the best image/model for something like Wikipedia.

And, in a reference to the idea a number of the panel had supported, that online social networking is "just" there to assist in and feed back into offline social networking, CL made it clear that he thinks some things are now happening online that simply could not happen before: for example, what's achievable through ease of online scaling. (I would add: and what happens when digital and real worlds converge and become one?)

Footnote: as the panel session closed, I realised what question I'd have liked to have asked. It's what Anil Dash raised recently and Caterina Fake and others have taken up (Matthew Gertner, Thomas Hawk, Jason, Robert, Mike; BusinessWeek): if the end-users are doing the leveraging, and adding much/most of the value, will there come a point where it's perceived that the most interesting/committed/best contributing end-users should get paid for what they're doing? Or is love enough? My take: I hope the idealism continues, along with the normal stuff of human social life which requires no monetary incentive — or shouldn't do. The attention (keyword!) that good photos on Flickr (etc) receive should be "payment" enough.

Challenges for pupils … and teachers

Barb writes:

Answers that used to be difficult to find were disseminated by teachers and students were quizzed to see if they’d paid attention. Now the knowledge itself is no longer scarce — is there a sense in which we should be teaching our kids how to “pull” the information they need instead of “pushing” in advance what we think they might need to know? Is there a sense in which the always-on information field of the web may be shifting what we think of as education? What are your thoughts?

I think we are not just on the threshold of some fundamental alterations to the ways we teach, but already well down a road which will alter the very idea of what teaching is about. That this isn't necessarily clear to us, or even noticed by many, is hardly surprising. Pull, not push — we have a lot to do to show students (and colleagues) how this works and what differences it makes.

In an apparently unrelated posting, Folksonomy Definition and Wikipedia, Thomas writes:

The lack of understanding the medium of a Wiki, which is very fluid, but not forgetful, is astonishing. They have been around for three or four years, if not longer. It is usually one of the first lessons anybody I have known learns when dealing with a Wiki, they move and when quoting them one must get the version of the information. They are a jumping off point, not destinations. They are true conversations, which have very real ethereal qualities. Is there no sense of research quality? Quoting a Wiki entry without pointing to the revision is like pointing to Time magazine without a date or issue number. Why is there no remedial instruction for using information in a Wiki?

Personally, I love Wikis and they are incredible tools, but one has to understand the boundaries. Wikis are emergent information tools and they are social tools. They are one of the best collaboration tools around, they even work very well for personal uses. But, like anything else it takes understanding on how to use them and use the information in them.

Thomas' posting is important on a number of fronts — folksonomy (obviously), how to use Wikipedia — but just now these remarks about how to use wikis struck home as I was pondering the push/pull question. Yes, Barb, things are shifting in education, and amongst the pressing challenges for us and our pupils is to learn what revision means and how, in pulling knowledge, we must acquire research disciplines that have hitherto been fairly embryonic at the secondary level.

Conversation is different from talk

Theodore Zeldin (shamelessly lifted from The Obvious — it's just too good and I want to remember it):

Conversation is different from talk

Talk in the past was about rising up the social scale. Etiquette - not what you thought. You had your place in society and that was it.

Conversation is a new thing. Conversation means who you keep company with. Not just the exchange of words - a social activity. When society was hierarchical we had one kind of conversation - now we need to invent a new kind of conversation. An exploration and self revelation. You each reveal things about what are important to you in your lives. You have admitted each other into private worlds and created links - you create shared experiences.

Women in the public sphere represent the biggest revolution since agriculture. They have introduced the complete human being into conversation and not just the trappings of power. Things can never be the same again.

I am trying to put together some thoughts about teaching and how it has changed over the last 20 years (the length of time I've been teaching). Zeldin's words (the above being Euan Semple's rough notes of what he heard Zeldin say) resonate very much with what I've been thinking about, particularly that last paragraph: the complete human being, in conversation.

Zeldin's website is The Oxford Muse, A foundation to stimulate courage and invention in personal, professional and cultural life. There's a biography of Zeldin on the website.

Institutions of this new century

via Pasta and Vinegar:

« My ideal XXIst century institution would appear less like an “institution” as such, than as a constantly evolving and flexible organism, or a network connecting people on a “global” mode, people who have ideas and people who act. It should be able to respond to the most varied forms of thought and media, and more precisely, to face the challenge represented by the new complexity arising from the merging of new forms of social emergency and new technologies. And while it develops it should also take in account the emergence of this other fact : the collapse of the centre of the world. »

Hou Hanru : curator indépendant in "Qu’attendez vous d’une institution artistique du XXI° siècle ?" (What do you expect from a XXIst century art institution ?). Ed palais de Tokyo. Conteners

I've always had the greatest problems with institutions and institutional life. ('Regimentation and education are incompatible' — Gerald Vann, OP.) Hou Hanru's vision is something I can understand and respond to. Nicolas Nova (Pasta and Vinegar) comments (I'm selecting and, in this instance, changing his emphases):

… it seems that this kind of definition is more applied recently to private companies in our supercapitalist days … Will private companies be organized like art groups? interactive labs?

(My son, Tom, who's studying in Paris, showed us round the palais de Tokyo earlier this year.)

Nifty Web 2.0 definition

I enjoyed Tim O'Reilly's long piece about Web 2.0, but his summary has focused my mind:

Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an "architecture of participation," and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.


Tom Coates writes of FooCamp:

It's absolutely clear to me that the whole reason for the event is the people and therefore the opportunities for creative collision and friction. As such, it has a tremendously collegiate non-competitive feel to it, with everyone believing that the best way to make great things and change the world is to share ideas and learn from each other.

This is exactly what I felt and feel about Reboot. It sounds excessive to say so, but nothing that happened during my five years at University quite compares with the excitement and stimulation of Reboot — because of the collegiate opportunities for intense, 'creative collision and friction'. I would add, also, how essential to the experience was the inter-disciplinary nature of the event — another feature of Reboot where my university experience compares badly: I was reading widely for myself back then, but my courses of study were fundamentally self-contained and introspective, one or two inspiring influences apart.

Tom Coates goes on:

As Danah has said, it's incredibly depressing and conflicting that this kind of event just doesn't scale well enough to let in all the people who should be there. I'm more than aware that there are hundreds of people in the world who would have had more to contribute to this event than I, and I was surprised to be invited and was humbled by the stature of many of the other participants. I think Danah kind of hints at something interesting when she talks about the parallel BarCamp, and about the nature of competition and alternatives. Perhaps a competitive market in collaborative events could be a way to achieve fairness - or maybe that makes the divides wider. Maybe it's impractical to think about collapsing hierarchies, and we should instead be proliferating them wildly - cut in all kinds of different directions, removing a sense of one embedded power structure and replacing it with hundreds of parallel, orthogonal ones. I don't know - scarcity of time, attention and resource have always been problems and we all have a responsibility to try and work out ways to alleviate them. In the meantime, all I can say is that FooCamp was a hell of an experience, and one that I'd delighted to have been able to attend.

Cost is also an issue, Tom! I was amazed, and immensely grateful, that my school sent me and Ian to Copenhagen. It shows vision and institutional commitment of a kind I've simply never encountered before in secondary education. But it couldn't stretch to San Francisco!

He's right: we have to find ways of opening up these experiences to as many people and budgets as possible. I am convinced that the future lies in this kind of collaborative, inter-disciplinary approach to work, play and learning. Educators have got to be brought into this.