Friday, September 29, 2006

When the Laws of Networks Break Down

OK, this is my last set of notes about Dion Hinchcliffe's presentation to the Winnipeg chapter of CIPS.

After an interesting presentation, I had the chance to listen to Dion speak with some members one-on-one. After standing by listening for a while, I got the chance to ask him the question that had been bothering me: The obvious corollary to the power of networks is that small networks are not very powerful at all!

I work in a small office, and often the circle of people impacted directly by a project or initiative is 5 or so. Are there any network effects to be had here? When does "Social Computing" devolve back into just having a morning cup of coffee with the team to all stay on the same page?

To be honest, I thought Dion's answer skirted the issue a little bit. His first response was to look for ways to expand the community involved. That's kind of negating the premise of the question, but it is a challenge to think about things differently. I'm trying to look in my work for ways to widen the circle and bring more brains to bear on the problems and opportunities we see.

However, another part of his answer was important. In small teams, the lessons of social computing to make everything permanent and searchable and discoverable are absolutely critical. When one member quitting can erase 20% of the knowledge in the system, having everything based on the 9am bull-session over a cup of coffee is a very expensive mistake to make.

I mentioned that in my work we were experimenting with MS Sharepoint Services. Dion said that it was an excellent tool, and I'm inclined to agree. It makes setting up blogs and quizzes and wikis and document repositories quick and easy. I'm looking forward to setting up more team sites, project sites and meeting sites in it to see how much it can help the smooth and efficient operation of our small department.

SO, I think that's all I'm going to be writing about September's CIPS event. I'm looking forward to a light-hearted and interesting topic for October's lunch: It's Possible to Have a Career in IT and Still Have a Life.