I started my LinkedIn network not too long ago. I started conservatively, just to get comfortable. In a few weeks, with minimal work, I now have several hundred thousand people within three degrees of connection to me. Theoretically, I now have, via the LinkedIn network, good access to all the knowledge, observations and judgments of all those people. Given the massive amount of information those people possess, I have made a significant leap in terms of my 'information gravity' - the amount of information I can bring into the information systems around me (my mind, my contacts, my address book). And I am still just a neophyte.
Social networking, to me, represented a quantum jump in the ability of information to connect to context, and therefore to do work (see previous posting Information, Context and Your Mom's Birthday for a bit more on the concept of information and work. Economists talk about a frictionless economy, where everyone has perfect access to information on costs, current prices, supply levels and other attributes of anything they intend to buy, sell or barter. The result would be the ability to achieve perfect pricing, and eliminate the imbalances caused by lack of information. Those imbalances are a huge impediment to commerce-- how many times have you not bought something because you were afraid it was on sale for less at another store..?
What applies to money applies also to information. Imagine a frictionless economy of information, where every unit of information and every available context for that information (meaning all the ways those units of information could fit together to do work) is available to everyone on the planet. Imagine the innovation and invention that could occur if every conceivable scenario of information use could be exposed in every possible context, view and analyzed, and the more energy-rich combinations carried forward into the world.
But this concept does not just apply to invention, or 'best practice sharing' or ideal prices on big-screen TV's. It applies to how we manage our lives in far more personal ways.
I write this blog on TypePad. Yesterday TypePad featured a blog with an intriguing title ("All Downhill from Here", I think was the title). Turns out the blog was by a young twenties woman discussing (in rather great detail) her emotional and relationship struggles and musing around men, her apartment (or lack of one) and other topics.
At first glance, you might think that the information itself (her situation, her observations) was not of value to me. But I have a daughter, younger than this blogger, who will in a few years be confronting those same situations. The facts about life as a 20-something woman were not meaningful to me. But the context she was willing to provide around those facts-- her observations, her reactions, her feelings, showed me in many ways what my own daughter may face in a few years. And hopefully, when presented with information about my daughter's struggles at that time, 'All Downhill from Here' has given me far greater context to hopefully help make better decisions on how I respond-- how much work i can accomplish to help my daughter through those situations.
So those two scenarios to me are what will make social networking dwarf classic IT in eventual value to society. First; the ability to expose the world's entire shared information store --and the ability to marry it to nearly every possible context for those zillions of units of information-- will unleash torrents of innovation and discovery. And second; the willingness of 'All Downhill from Here" to expose such personal contexts around the facts of her life will empower millions of semi-lame dads to, hopefully, be a little better prepared to do the work of helping their daughters through the travails of life.
Thanks, 'All Downhill from Here.' And I hope you do get that apartment you were looking for.