Are contents social by nature or by need ?

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Web 2.0, aka “social web” and its corporate avatar known as enterprise 2.0 were built upon the following assumption : within a given groupe, information should be shared and discussions should be public because no one knows who may improve the work of another person, to bring a solution. So it’s more effieient letting people  take a stand where and when they find they may bring some added value rather than pushing information to many people, flooding those who are not concerned and often forgetting those who may help. Moreover, pushing informations means that the right person is a part of our contacts, someone we know. An assumption that is often wrong.

The concept of “group” or “perimeter” is very important : it’s not about sharing every information with everybody, but within a defined area, depending on the situation. For example, one can publish on a blog (public), a group of friends on facebook, a business community on linkedin….and it should be the same with corporate tools : team members, everybody, department members…

We are forced to admit that not everybody is comfortable with this approach. First, because many of us have been taught to retain information for years and consider colleagues and information sharing as a threat and not as an opportunity. Second because it’s humain to fear the others’ look one one’s work, above all when it’s still in progress. That brings a strange paradox because that’s when we need the most other people’s opinion and help (work in progress, need to solve a problem) that we dare to share our concerns and work the less.

This may be partly solved on an organizational side. It can be decides that such kind of information has to be shared, it’s in the workflow and that’s the way everybody has to do. Of course, it would start with non-sensitive infomations that’s not hard to share for anyone, and the scope of the shared information will be widened step by step as people realize that’s not that hard or armful. Even if not everything is possible with a carrot and stick policy, it may help to start the initial move.

But that does not solve everything : a part of the problem is linked to individual (and collective) beliefs that can’t be changed just because one decided. Waiting for the Gen Y wave to come with its ultraconnectivity and its inborn knowledge of sharing best practices, we have to deal with the old habits of all the people that are more than…30 yo.

This is important for many resaons : it impacts both the human side of the change project and the design of the tools that will be used to share information.

Do we have to think we must align with a logic that implies that nearly everything is supposed to be shared out by nature ? Or with a logic that implies that everything has to be seen from an individual point of view (all I do is for me, for my own purpose), with the ability, when one feels the need, to make a private information become public, within a defined group of people, what is surely more reassuring for many people ? If, at the end, the result should be the same, the logic that leads to it is quite different.

In brief, is it simpler to start with an individual approach and make people slowly push the walls of their walled garden or to start by throwing them in a world where everything is shared by nature. Obvioulsy neither change management nor the design of the tools will be the same in each case.