The last night in London Robert Scoble and Hugh MacLeod organized a pub crawl. Pub #4 was Mulligans in Mayfair. A bit high tone. I had been told Mulligans was great, and when James Governor of Red Monk handed me a nice fresh Guinness, well… what more does one want? That’s James and me in the pic with Mr. Scoble at work videoing in the background.
It was a great to meet James and find a research firm trying a new approach: creating free, open research. Charging for consulting is fine, but the conflict of interest inherent in the approach of the traditional large research firms is questionnable.
There was no shortage of interesting London bloggers, techies, Guinness lovers on the crawl. Lloyd Davis who moderated the panel I spoke on at Onine Information joined for a while. I also met Mark McGuinness of Wishful Thinking.
The Online Information 2006 conference in London attracted hundreds of people working in content management and knowledge management from traditional sectors, yet the most popular track was Social Software. Old meets new. The interesting part is: old wants new.
Despite this social stuff being popular, there was a distinct concern about it working in traditional organizations. “Most of what people put on a wiki isn’t inaccurate, you know.”, “How do we police these blogs?”, “You are glossing over the problems of these technologies.” … were a few of the reactions.
When Ben Edwards who runs IBM’s New Media Communications group in Armonk, New York headquarters said, during his panel discussion, that most employees use common sense, nothing was more credible. Afterall, IBM has over 300K employees. Ben continually referred to IBM’s legacy and bureaucracy, but also vividly painted a picture of a company that stands for giving employees freedom and assuming employees are intelligent until proven otherwise. Huzzah. If you don’t know the historical values of IBM, this should come as no surprise. There is a principled heart inside the Giant.
On an Atlassian note, Ben stated that IBM has over 50,000 users on their intranet using our Confluence enterprise wiki. Again, nothing was more credible.
This traditional school ‘fear of flying’ was rather pervasive with many conference attendees. On one hand some of these worries like “the inaccuracy of wikipedia” are scary and a bit ignorant. Let’s remember that wikis in companies are private things and about doing work. When an employee creates a page on a wiki that documents some solution she has devised, why are we worrying about accuracy? She is doing the same work she might do in an email, or in a presentation to her boss, or in a phone call to a customer. The wiki has nothing to do with accuracy. It’s a tool for letting others collaborate with her and better the solution.
On the other hand, these fears are real and unless we really grasp them, we will fail in spreading the power of social software. Linda Stoddart from the United Nations told me you cold not bring any of this stuff to the Secretary General and be credible. Yet the next day, Linda presented and said the wiki word. Huzzah. I must email Linda and let her know the United Nations is already using Confluence. ☺
Here in London speaking at the Online Information 2006 conference for a few days. I am stunned at the strength of the social software intelligensia here. It is truly remarkable. Our friend Lee Bryant at Headshift has been thinking creatively and as long as anyone I know about how to really use wikis, blogs, social tagging, social bookmarking, podcasting, and RSS woven together properly. His work for the influential New Labour think tank Demos is one great example. Lee will be speaking at the upcoming Atlassian user group meeting in London December 12.
At the conference, there has been no shortage of local experts passionate about making a difference with social tools, and the audience which is a fairly traditional industry, academic, and government crowd is keenly interested. Adriana Cronin-Lukas from the Big Blog Company is a refreshingly blunt consultant not afraid to tell it like it is and who has moderated the best session at the conference.
Robert Scoble of PodTech and the ScobleShow has been great for this crowd to hear. Robert did an interview with Mike Cannon-Brookes recently if you missed it. Much of the crowd at the conference seem to enjoy listening to Silicon Valley guys like Robert or me, but they also think we gloss over some of the challenges big companies face with using these technologies. I think they are partially right. Also the European market just does accept new technology as readily as we Yanks.