The “FaceBook Generation”

The final day began with a fascinating look at “The Facebook Generation” in an overview by Roo Reynolds from one of IBM’s UK research laboratories, who began with the observation that social networking has become a big way for people to spend their time on the Web. It’s where people can meet others and make relationships as well as a way to communicate with thousands of people whom you don’t know even exist. In fact, he wondered if systems like World of Warfare are beginning to take the place of golf. (Golf is well known as an activity in which business relationships are formed and deals are made.) 
Some social networking sites are modeled after MySpace and are being used for training in situations that might be difficult or dangerous to do in the real world. For example, a system called Olive is used to train emergency personnel how to respond to a traffic accident. 
Social networking is moving into the corporate world. People must talk to each other. Some organizations are banning Facebook use. Reynolds raised the challenge of trust and whether such companies trust their employees to behave responsibly. Security and confidentiality are valid concerns, however, and hosted applications cannot be used to discuss sensitive topics. The solution to this problem is to host the social networking application behind the firewall, and IBM has developed Metaverse for this purpose.
Reynolds was followed by Ewan McIntosh from Learning and Teaching Scotland (click here to see his blog). He works with children from about ages 3-12 (the “Bebo generation”) and studies how they interact with social systems. The old ways of doing one thing at a time and receiving an education linearly from a teacher is giving way to multitasking and social networking, which has a potential audience of over 1 billion. For example, a video on the sport of cup stacking, which is becoming very popular in this age group was put on YouTube and received over 450,000 hits in its first week. McIntosh observed that any CEO would be delighted to have that kind of an audience. In the conservative corporate world, an executive might ask how a blog would help their business. McIntosh’s opinion is that because of the huge potential audience of social platforms like blogs, the correct concern should be how the business could feed a blog.
How does all this social networking apply to information centers and how should they respond to it? These questions were addressed by Mary Ellen Bates, an independent information professional. Information professionals must learn how to interact with digital natives (the “Millennial” generation which does know the world before the Web). Digital natives thrive on ambiguity. They have learned that failure doesn’t hurt, risk is real and natural, leaders are irrelevant, and coaches are unnecessary. They pride themselves on their ability to figure out things for themselves, which is a very different attitude from when the real work world.   Millennials demand easily navigable web sites, have less interest in “authoritative” sources, and trust their ability to evaluate information. 
In response to Millennials, information professionals must adapt to their attitudes and acknowledge their expertise. They know how to search in ways that we do not. Learning must be made intuitive, and self-learning must be enabled. Personal networks are the key. Mary Ellen predicted that social networking searches will soon emerge and the PageRank algorithm to rank search results will be replaced by “FriendRank” (or perhaps “InfoProRank” for us). She challenged us to remember the first time we saw a web page; do we have the same sense of wonder and awe now when we are introduced to the new resources now available?
Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

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