Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Rise and Rise of Social Computing

Power to the people

Social Computing is the name given to a slew of technologies that collectively allow people to pool their knowledge, keep in touch with and interact better with others who belong to their community. Two key principles of social computing (or social software) are that it is highly participatory, and it is evolutionary – which taken together mean content that constantly moves in such a direction as to better reflect the knowledge, beliefs, opinions and /or aspirations of a community. Wikis, blogs, sites that allow sharing such as, networking sites such as and, and sites that allow more complex social interactions, such as are increasingly being seen as the 'Killer-app' of Web 2.0, much as email - itself a key enabler of social computing - was to the original Web.

The stellar rise in the popularity of email in the 90s (the number of users skyrocketed from a few thousand at the beginning of that decade, to several hundred million at the end of it) clearly provides a pointer to the potential that social computing has - people are ever eager to take up technologies that will help them meet their social needs better.

Another sign of coming of age of a new technology bubbling up from the masses is large corporations taking note of that technology. And sure enough, Yahoo is doing its bit on the social computing front, having acquired sites such as del.ici.ous. Now, the real big 'un is weighing in. Says Business Week,

"Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server 2007, due in October, will include a new technology called Knowledge Network, designed to help co-workers find colleagues with the expertise they need. For workers who opt in, Knowledge Network automatically scans their contact lists, e-mails, and e-mail distribution lists to create a profile. That way, co-workers can search for expertise among their colleagues to gain specific knowledge that can help with business decision-making".

This of course, is nothing new to the Knowledge Management (KM) fraternity, which has always striven to support people-to-people sharing techologies. Sure enough, a lot of what has been learnt and practised by KM thinkers and practitioners over the past few years is finding expression now in the traction that social computing is getting. So, it's no surprise that the Economist Intelligence Unit, in its report, Foresight 2020: Economic, Industrial and Corporate Trends identifies Knowledge Management as one of the 5 trends that will shape the world of business and economy in the coming 15 years.

In sum, all of this goes to show that technology is making progress towards meeting its basic premise, which is more power to the people!