Observations from Nancy Garman on Blogs, Collaboration & Community

The topic of collaboration permeated this week’s conference. But it’s not yet changed the shape of much of anything, despite David Weinberger’s entertaining and passionate keynote that submitted that collective (collaborative) conversation is knowledge. I think there is a difference between conversations and collaboration, and that one doesn’t necessarily lead to the other.

• Are blogs (to pick a popular conference topic) collaborative? I see the blogosphere as more of a self-publishing phenomena, and less a collaborative environment. Even with comments and links and aggregation by NewsGator and others, or with tagging, blogs remain primarily individual platforms. Sure, they are read by and shared with many, enhancing communication, but that doesn’t make them collaborative. Yet, blogs have become synonymous with collaboration when what we usually are talking about is individually generated content.

• How about wikis? Wikis by definition are collaborative platforms; everyone can edit their web pages. And as the interfaces become less intimidating, wikis will become more collaborative. The mother of all wikis, the Wikipedia (whose founder Jimmy Wales spoke at the conference this week) is unique in that it is a major content repository and resource, created collaboratively.

• The Wikipedia leads me to my next point, which is that most people, even info pros, are not often using blogs or wikis (except the Wikipedia) as content resources. We read them, we syndicate them using RSS, we use FURL and Delicious and Flickr as sharing and finding tools, but rarely is a blog, or a blog search engine like Technorati, our first or even second click when we are seeking information (knowledge). We use blogs for background or current awareness, but not as a major information resource or archive. A big question: Will blogs remain a tool, but not a resource? If anyone is monitoring blogs or other user-generated content as real and credible sources of information about your industry, I’d like to hear from you.

• Thinking further about blogs and collaboration, the Online Information conference organizers took a stab this year at using a collaborative blog to build community. In early October they invited speakers to participate. I saw a few interesting pre-conference posts by speakers, but not many. And there were only 4 posts during the conference: one was a video clip of David Weinberger and another had a link you should not open in front of your children. It was only a first effort, but illustrated that “a blog does not a community make,” nor conversely does a community ensure a successful collaborative blog.

• The blog you are now reading, Live from London III, is Information Today’s third blog covering Online Information conferences, and our seventh conference blog. As a publisher, we adopted the blog format way back in 2003 as an innovative way to provide near-real-time conference coverage, and our blog team is drawn from our staff of writers and editors. It is a collaborative blog, written by more than one voice, and our journalistic tradition moves the blog content beyond the usual stream-of-consciousness blog style.

• A unique collaborative blog community formed earlier this fall at Internet Librarian 2005 in Monterey. The result was hundreds of blog and Flickr photo posts from about 20 or 30 blogs about the conference and an inspiring and widespread online conversation. For several days the IL2005/IL05 tags were listed at the top of Flickr’s “hot tags” list, and Technorati aggregated over 200 posts about the conference.

What created this unique collaborative community? There were some basics, like ubiquitous wifi access, a “press room” with electrical outlets, Blogger ribbons for bloggers’ badges (prestige, anyone?), but the young and enthusiastic gathering of experienced, tech-savvy librarian bloggers was the X factor that really made things happen.

Collaboration and community are not just people talking. It’s the texture, quality, nature, and structure of how we communicate that makes some conversations collaborative and others just chatter. If the new shape of knowledge IS the conversation, then we have to learn how to communicate.

Nancy Garman
Information Today, Inc.
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