Virtual collaboration tools, and their strength to make a difference to politics, economics and projects by enhancing knowledge transfer and innovation, are in the news.
Yesterday, The Observer reported Barack Obama’s internet strategy as being key to his winning of the election: I reported his own social network about 18 months ago, and since then, his campaign has used 3.1m “netroots” – people hooked into Obama’s facebook, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube channels, who effectively pump his messages back out to their own networks and discuss them. Obama has given politics back to the people and invited them into a discussion directly with him: the media sit outside that relationship as they can’t control it. Promising a big investment in the US’s broadband infrastructure, and a YouTube broadcast each week, lets hope we’ve finally got a President who will practice 21st century politics.
Which brings me onto 21st century economics – Google’s quarterly profits have risen 26% over a period of economic meltdown. The Guardian’s Jeff Jarvis reflects on this today saying:
“Google’s first advantage is being digital. Who wants to be in the business of stuff any more – building cars, printing newspapers, selling CDs, growing food? Owning and controlling stuff was the basis of most business. And the reflexive response to a collapse in finance and equities used to be to return to the real: buy property. No more. Now the best retreat is to the value of knowledge”..
Google is based on creating an abundance of data about data, and a platform for countless businesses to be created using that information for niche markets. Similarly Facebook is based on sharing data – with friends and family, but also and more importantly, with a wider network of contacts you wouldn’t normally share so much with. Sharing more has led to more connections, more knowledge transfer and more innovation. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook and this weekend interviewed in The Observer Magazine says: “Facebook [is] not such an amazing technological feat – it’s just a group of tools and platforms – an evolution of communication”.
Ed Mitchell and Clare Reddington of Watershed’s iShed have just launched a really interesting report called “Which Widget For What?” that explores – through measuring a real and virtual project – the different strengths and weaknesses of virtual and physical working as well as the effectiveness of digital web 2.0 widgets to support the knowledge sharing and innovation. The headlines are that physical meetings work best for encouraging people to share ideas and make connections; blogs work well to follow the development and ongoing analysis of a project (its a narrative form); and tools like MindMeister (online, editable, collaborative mindmapping) work well as virtual collaborative tools, pulling together the wisdom of the crowd after the physical event.
Collaboration and transparency – wikinomics – are clearly working as 21st C business tools for growth.