The search for shared meaning

…was the title of the talk I was asked to give at the Central London Branch of the British Computer Society last Thursday. Here are my minimalist* slides:

The search for shared meaning

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: bcs)

What was great to see was the Twitter back channel in operation, with some great conversations going on in the audience. If I had thought about it, I should have incorporated this more into the session. Anyway, at least everyone can still see what was being said at the time.

I’m not sure if I ever got to the bottom of what the shared meaning might be that the social web helps to bring about, if any at all.

It was really useful taking the time to think about this though. I am starting to develop the notion that perhaps web technology actually allows us to pursue very niche, individual interests, what with the ability to filter and drill down into vast amounts of relevant information using freely available and simple to use tools.

But at the same time, the web allows us to easily find others who share these interests, however niche they might be. So as well as promoting individual interests, there is also the ability to do something with others about it. It’s kinda where The Long Tail meets Here Comes Everybody, I guess.

* minimalist because I’m crap at PowerPoint rather than any design decisions.

12 thoughts on “The search for shared meaning”

  1. The world will be a better place when everyone is crap at Powerpoint. And Keynote. Minimalist slides forever!

    Although I could do with a commentary for some of the more intriguing ones near the front. I must come and hear you speak again soon. You adapting these for Barcamp?

  2. Dave – that's a great set of slides and a manifesto for people who like dealing with a lot a content, and can create shared meaning amidst that. But is it a universal strategy for organisations who have to take account of people with many different skills and dispositions? Is here a danger that web 2.0 enthusiasts become elitist and disempowering if they say to organisations and individuals in effect "you have to get smart at dealing with all this stuff in order to collaborate"? I believe it is important to look at the new (and old) intermediaries who help create meaning from the mass of stuff, for different audiences. Librarians, editors, curators need to learn new ways, but they aren't redundant in my view. We can't all learn how to take on those roles.
    Just to get the conversation going:-)

  3. @Neil – I appreciate that some of the slides are less than illuminating! I guess that's the consultant in me trying to hold a little something back πŸ˜‰

    I hadn't thought of doing this at the Barcamp but I will float the idea on the network. Also, there were a couple of public sector folk at the BCS event who asked if I could come and perform at their places of work, which I'd be happy to do for you too, if you'd think it helpful.

    I'm also working on some sort of ebook, pamphlet thing which goes through some of these issues.

    @David – absolutely. My message really is that people have to change to accomodate the new ways in which people want to interact. Librarians are still needed, they just need to do things a little differently. I do think though that this is something that everyone is going to have to 'get' eventually, just as everyone has had to learn how to email, or text (and going further back, use a telephone, etc).

    'Roles' is definitely a slide that needs to be added to the slide deck, though πŸ˜‰

  4. I think this is where my idea of social individualism comes in. The web makes me free to be able to post whatever I want using the medium that I want. I can also find information about whatever I want, down to a really granular level, if I so choose. This can then be made social by the magic of bumping into other people on Google, or in comments, or on Facebook or wherever and enabling some collaboration.

    I agree with the filter failure idea because people use the infobesity argument as an excuse to do nothing. If people are, instead, shown how to use the tools to reduce the burden of information flow, and on techniques on how to scan and be ambiently aware of what is going on, then they can get involved and make the most of this. I don't think we should be encouraging people not to post stuff, certainly at this early stage.

  5. I think the information overload is a little bit of both – be thoughtful of what you create (give a hoot, don't data pollute – and be careful of how much you're consuming – and part of that is finding and using filtering tools. Of course, the filtering tools are not quite there yet but coming.

    Found this interesting post about food as information metaphor.
    http://www.network-centricadvocacy.net/2008/12/in

  6. What is within your control? The stuff you create, and the stuff you consume. Not the quality or value of the stuff everyone else creates. So digital filtering is surely one of the most important skills for the 21st century.

  7. @dave I see social individualism as a good personal approach for some people … but probably a small minority. So is it a strategy to recommend to organisations? Or should they cater for a range of customer/user preferences …particularly in the public sector?
    @beth nice metaphor! … but I'm find a problem around adoption, where most people who are faced with the big buffet just walk out of the door … and it is difficult to get them back.
    I don't have an answer … I agree it is a balance of crafting content creation, better filtering. Plus evolution of the intermediary roles so people who want to engage with everything can do, but those who don't can have lighter pre-prepared snacks. The issue then is who pays for the intermediaries, and/or can existing intermediaries upgrade their skills.
    What would you advise a chief exec who asks – where do I focus my resources on the spectrum of training all staff to be social individualists, and/or hiring some content curators who are also conversation officers? http://theobvious.typepad.com/blog/2009/01/chief-…don't have resources to do both.
    Anyway, thanks for this great social space:-)

  8. I don't agree with no "data polluting" at all – do you have to pass a quality test in order to contribute? I hate trawling through badly presented stuff as much as anyone else – academia in particular seems to almost take pride in how horrible it can present information! But to start suggesting that people who contribute shouldn't 'pollute' seems likely to place obstacles in front of people contributing – particularly those taking their first steps.

    Re. the social individualism/shared meaning – my thought on this is to recognise that most people first seek out information for their own interests. That isn't to say once they find it they aren't then willing to collaborate, or feel they wish to give something back, or find new opportunities towards taking their initial interest forward. I think the web is contributing towards a shift in values where sharing is more 'normal' – but there's a long way to go yet, and considerably further if you keep in mind how few people actually are fully engaged online.

    Agree with the points about filtering & scanning as important tools and skills. Maybe if more attention was given to these that could help balance the huge amount of stuff about social media which must have a heavy responsibility for much of that data pollution πŸ˜‰

  9. Thanks for a good talk, or at least what I saw of it before train engineering works last week forced my early departure. No thanks for the silly comment as I left πŸ˜‰

  10. I’d like to be more minimalist, but I’ve just submitted slides for my talk on Thursday (fully booked – sorry folks) and the early slides are dribblingly good (in my opinion), with a couple of keywords and sometimes a picture.

    But as I get into the detailed explanations, the slides start to fill up with information. One of them has eight or ten bullet points and I’m pretty unhappy about that. Anyone found good ways on how to break down such complex slides?

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