Another excellent post from Confused of Calcutta on 16th Sept. So many things he says resonate with my own experiences. For example, in a previous post he noticed that the kind of people who get involved in blog/wiki projects are not the “usual suspects”, i.e. the members of staff who are always up for another IT project! My experience is that the tech-friendly users tend to lack interest in blogs/wikis, whereas non-techie users will embrace it enthusiastically. I’ve never before worked on a project where that happened.

Anyway, the more recent post to which I referred above is titled “Musing about signals”. Here is an excerpt:

Responding to pokes. Accepting things, ignoring things. Changing settings for what appears in a news feed. Choosing the groups to join or leave. Using publish and subscribe models to access information, using tools like Seriosity to encourage and discourage flows on a very granular basis. Watching what people do in order to learn from them, in order to be able to point them out to others as good role models.

That’s a nice summary.

All I am doing is wondering about the possibilities, the possibilities of using social software to fix things that are fundamentally broken.

There are a lot of things which are indeed “fundamentally broken”, and the current use of email as the primary information conduit contributes to that broken-ness in a big way. One of the first things I say when doing a talk is “email is fundamentally broken”, but I guess what I should really say is “email is breaking things”: email works, it does what it says on the tin, it’s our use of it as a primary means of disseminating information and recording our work which is breaking things.

There’s something non-threatening, something non-invasive about the way we can signal to people using social software. When speaking of Instant Messaging, Stu Berwick, an erstwhile colleague of mine, used to say “It’s polite to be silent.” I found that profound.

Wonderful quote. I often prefer to discuss something with my colleagues via IM because it makes for a better quality discussion: you get plenty of time to consider your response without losing the opportunity to say something, etiquette controls the proceedings rather than a (potentially ineffective) chair-person, and it is indeed less threatening (at least for a techie). Using IM also means that you have a record of the conversation to which you can refer later, an essential feature if your memory is as poor as mine! I use Google Talk, partly because it looks professional (i.e. no frilly nonsense like MS Messenger etc), and partly because I can easily search my email and IM conversations from the Gmail interface.

Incidentally, Gmail is a great example of just how effective tags can be as an interface. I use it for all my non-NHS email, and have never for a moment regretted moving from a folder-based email system to a tag-based one. I can categorise emails far quicker and more effectively, and finding stuff later is a doddle. Highly recommended!