Friday, November 30, 2007

The Social Web is Cool, But Who's Doing the Real Work?

In between reading and sending emails, researching and analyzing data, and writing and editing reports, I try to make the time to keep abreast of happenings in the blogosphere by browsing through my RSS feeds and reading my favorite blogs, current news and events websites, or social networking websites.

But, honestly, I barely have the time to read these blogs and websites even after trimming the excess and reducing my reading list down to the most essential. The fact is, I have very little time at work to engage in, let alone cyber socialize with, the social Web that so many are hyping constantly.

This morning, I followed the pathway to The Irreverent Archivist whose post "Is This the 21st Century," which is actually quite good, links to the OCLC CAPCON conference website where I found several PowerPoint presentations on social networking, including one presentation by Roy Tennant. Being familiar with Roy Tennant's name through the blogosphere, I downloaded his presentation and was impressed by what he had pulled together in terms of social networking in libraries and the various web technologies offered (Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Last.FM, LibraryThing, Second Life, etc).

But as the presentation pages passed me by, I became overwhelmed by the number of social networking websites out there and wondered who has the time at work to both set-up and maintain an account on all these social networking websites? Who has the time to travel around Second Life when a report is due? Who has the time to update their Facebook account with the latest applications, or produce a YouTube video, or catalog books on LibraryThing when a boss or supervisor wants that report ASAP?

I think we should be very cautious when we collectively--librarians, archivists, fence-sitters, don't know how I got here people--promote the Social Web because the Social Web requires time and that means time away from work. Maybe for some lucky souls work is the Social Web. But there are many, many more souls whose work is predominantly defined by daily outputs and servicing real people in the real world.

While I agree these social networking websites are wonderful tools when used efficiently in various information-centric environments, they are clearly aimed at those who have the time or have been given the time at work to use them.

Even on the Social Web, there are haves and have-nots. So while there are those whose time is spent in Second Life, there are many more in real life getting the real work done.


Robin said...

One thing our Director has done is to offer one hour a week to any staff member who wants to "play" in the social web. This has opened up a whole new set of people who are now interested in contributing to the official library blog, as well as people who are willing to help upload pics to Flickr and do other social networking type work. We are lucky - we do have a person on staff whose job it is to work with our social networking tools - even though Bobbi still has other duties to perform as well. Because of our training program, however, and our Director's willingness to give up an hour a week of staff time per staff member, we have a very rich pool of folks willing to help with the time-consuming parts of social networking - the content!

myVision said...

I am fortunate to have my career relate to social networking in some ways. While I am a designer by choice and a manager by profession a part of my job is to keep up with the latest trends and news of the web. There is no better way of doing it than through social networking. Twitter is my network of choice. It's non committal and gives me a ton of very useful info with a 140 character limit.

I do find myself spending a third of my day networking but outside of the fact that it is a part of my job it also gives me a peace of mind. I take my breaks in cyberspace which is much healthier than going out for coffee or a smoke.

Next week my big task is to create a speech to sell social networking and how/why it can/should impact our business to the president and chairman of the company. Now these guys are in their 60s so it will be a challenge but what I plan to use as selling points are (1)it's free and (2)there is no better way to spread the message than a "word of mouth".

The bottom line is that social networking is a part of life, mine for sure and it gives me knowledge, comfort and entertainment.

ArchivesNext said...

Hey -
I cited your post over on my blog and asked for people to share their thoughts on the utility of social networking. We'll see if anyone comments--it's late on a Friday afternoon, so I don't expect much.

I'll look for you on Facebook!


Seth said...

To avoid answering the question posed by the title I have to respond that it depends on your definition of "real" and "work."

I believe that what you state in your first two paragraphs are exactly what most of us in the Social Web do. We pick the tools that we need, we use them, and leave the rest to others.

I have a few blogs that I check occasionally to see if anything peaks my interest. I have a LibraryThing account to track my books and a account for my bookmarks although I use neither of them to socialize. I do use blogging software to make notes about projects I am working on, put down my thoughts after a meeting, and to draft documents and reports. But this blog is not visible to anyone else (even if you know the URL you need a password before you can even see the page to log into site.)

I look at my LinkedIn account less than once a month, if that. I created a MySpace account because some old friends insisted although I never check it. (So these activities total around 5-10 minutes of lunch time a month tops.)

I have used SecondLife, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube enough so that I understand what they do and how they do it and occasionally check back to see the new features.

Simply put, you don't need to spend your life or even a significant amount of time over the long run to understand the Social Web.

I think one of the keys is well put by a quote from Farkas in the Tennant presentation:
"Social software offers unprecedented possibilities for communicating, collaborating, and building community with your patrons online, but these technologies are only tools. Your primary focus should always be on your patrons and how to provide them with the best services possible."

Know the tools that are available, pick the best one for the job (the Real Work), and save the rest for later.

One of the things many people don't realize is that many of the ways we can integrate archives into the Social Web has a decent investment up front but with relatively low maintenance thereafter. While it is good to have user to archivist interaction through the Social Web one of the promises of the Social Web is the ability to allow users to talk to each other!

Ease of user to archivist communication has been around for a while. Email, chat rooms, and instant messaging have been around for a while. Reference staff have begun to integrate those technologies into their Real Work. But that is not the Social Web. The Social Web may allow us to make our content easily available to users, but that has been the Real Work of EAD and digitization for a while now.

The Social Web gets users to help users. The Social Web takes user activity and transforms it into something useful for another user. That, aside from system maintenance and additional development, is essentially hands off after the system to do it is built (Real Work).

If SecondLife helps archivists provide reference to users it will become part of the Real Work. The same thing applies to all other Social Web tools. Again, these are tools. Pick the right one for the job.

What is "Real Work"? That depends on your goals and your task.

Roy Tennant said...

For my money, Seth hit the nail on the head. We're not saying you need to do all these things, but you likely should do some, and simply know what the rest offers. I've used a number of social networking technologies over time that I no longer use, but I certainly know what they're about, and can have a knowledgeable conversation with a library user about them. The key is to be aware of the world around you so you can pick the right tools for the job.

french panic said...

Dave – excellent post that has generated some interesting comments, too!

I am fascinated with the social networking phenomena, in particular how people are putting so much out there online. One person I know of is a librarian at a local university, who lists her academic and professional background in great detail on her Facebook account – as well as a link to her shopping list and her drunken holiday bikini pictures on flickr. I find this especially alarming as her account is open for all of her “networks” to see (she hasn’t shut off any privacy levels as far as I can tell) – her students can basically see her completely shitfaced in her bikini if they take the time to look for it. I wonder what future professional ramifications are in store (or not!) for her.

I recently reactivated my facebook account as I am forced to adapt to how many of my friends communicate now – since I reactivated it on Friday, I have heard from at least 8 people who couldn’t be bothered to return regular emails from me since I “deactivated” my account 3 months ago.

dkemper said...

Thank you all for your wonderful and insightful comments. I'll respond in greater detail later, either here in comment mode or in a new blog post.

Once again, thanks for reading and for your feedback.

about the author

I am an information professional, researcher, and writer with over eight years experience in the information services field with experience in information and communication technology.

I have a B.A. in History and a Master's in Library and Information Studies and working on a Web and Multimedia Design certificate.

I believe that empowering people with information can enrich lives and transform the world.