James Mullan Creating an automatic social network
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Wednesday, 30th May 2012 Sign in to MyJinfo or create an account be able to star items Printable version Subscribe via RSS to get updates as soon as Blog items are added

By James Mullan

Abstract

We all know how well social networks work when individuals are sharing content with their friends and to some extent peers within the sector they work in. You only have to look at the success of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to see the evidence. However internal or enterprise social networks haven't had the same success, a new way of sharing content could be about to change that.

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We all know how well social networks work when individuals are sharing content with their friends and to some extent peers within the sector they work in. You only have to look at the success of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to see the evidence.

Internal or enterprise social networks haven't had the same success. But a new way of sharing content could be about to change that:

The reasons why people don't share content as frequently or as in as much detail as they do on external social networking sites are too numerous to list here. One of the biggest concerns raised by individuals is that they don't have time to post updates to an internal social network. Another concern is that, at least to some extent, they don't want to let their colleagues know what they're doing for fear of a backlash.

So how can organisations take advantage of the new breed of enterprise social networking tools whilst these challenges exist?

One concept that has been discussed recently is around "automatic social networks" or "data mining your desktop". The premise behind this concept is relatively simple and is discussed in more detail in "Data mining your desktop". 

In simple terms, an automatic social network tracks internal documents that have been created by employees, assign topics (keywords) to each of the documents and then creates "knowledge maps" and "family trees" around employees and subject areas. With an automatic social network, individuals don't have to create or update a profile. And according to Hewlett Packard, which has created a tool using this concept, users also don't have to search the network, as the "tool makes knowledge instantly accessible". 

When Individuals do keyword searches, however, their searches return both useful documents as well as the individuals connected to those documents who may be able to help further.

Given the challenges faced by organisations when encouraging individuals to share via internal collaboration tools, the idea of having a social network created automatically is certainly appealing.

For a law firm, having a social network in place that supports finding expertise could potentially be very useful. Like many professional service organisations, law firms are in the business of selling knowledge; therefore, having a tool that automatically surfaces knowledge as it is being created by fee-earners sounds appealing.

Perhaps one of the most important questions is how those same fee-earners would view this tool: Would find they it useful or would they see it as being a bit Big Brother?  

Another important consideration is how this tool might fit alongside an enterprise search tool, in which firms have invested a significant amount of money.

In addition to documents created by fee-earners, enterprise search tools may also include "experience" or "expertise" search functionality, which provides information not only about the individuals but about documents they've created and matters they might have worked on. When pulled together, this information can provide the answer to questions about "who knows [about this topic I'm working on]?"

The idea behind an automated social network certainly sounds appealing. But at the same time, something about it doesn't feel quite right: For it to be "social", surely it needs people engaged who want to be social, rather then just automatically create the network.

To get the benefits, I'm prepared to be persuaded differently, though!

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