I was on a panel with Luis Suarez, Jeannette Browning, and Bill Chamberlin about choosing the right social networking tools. The panel was particularly awesome because we had a lot of interaction both on the phone and in the text chat, and the questions drew out all sorts of interesting insights.
A large part of the text chat was about how other social networking tools are supplementing or even replacing e-mail as the way people work. We talked about the etiquette of instant messaging and how near-real-time communication fits into the workplace without being disruptive. Thinking about the shift away from e-mail, though, I realized that there are actually several changes at play.
First, there’s the shift from asynchronous to near-real-time, which is what you get when you go from e-mail buried in people’s inboxes to instant messages that show up on their screen. People worry that they’ll interrupt others or that they’ll always be interrupted, but that can be addressed by managing your presence indicators (“do not disturb” is handy!). They also worry that information will be lost or things will be forgotten, because many people use their e-mail inboxes as their to-do list, and that can be addressed by better task management and better follow-up.
The more interesting shift for me, however, is the shift from private to public. This is what many people struggle with, because writing for an unknown audience is scary. It’s also one of the most powerful way social software shifts the way we work. By moving as much information as you can from e-mail, instant messaging, and other private channels, to public channels such as blogs, communities, and forums, you make it possible for other people to learn from what you’re doing and connect with you. You reach beyond your known area of influence.
It’s almost impossible to read a newspaper or watch a news show without being reminded of the dangers of sharing information online, but these warnings scare people away from the tremendous upside that they can gain by sharing knowledge and exercising a little common sense. There’s probably another good blog post in here somewhere. Food for thought.