Friday, June 26, 2009

A misconception about web technologies

Again and again, I keep hearing that web technologies cannot build relationships. The misconception is that web technologies cannot contribute to the building of relationships--that Internet technologies are mechanisms only to provide information delivery systems.

Of course, I know that technology, itself, cannot build relationships. People build relationships.

The Internet today is much different than it was 10 years ago. Then, we mostly thought of Internet technologies as those that efficiently deliver information. We have thought of the Internet tools much like mass media (newspapers, radio, TV) one-to-many communication tools. Early in the Internet years, we learned to utilize searching capabilities, the ability to discover information. And, we learned to build on the capabilities of linking--tying information together.

However today, the Internet tools are more about flattening communications channels and enabling relationships among people who never would have been able to "meet" in the "old" Internet and certainly not pre-Internet.

Studies are showing that connections, such as social networking, enhance working and social relationships and build social capital, particularly in relationships that already have a physical presence. To name just 3 studies (I can find more) are:

  • Hampton, K. (2002). Place-based and IT mediated “community.” Planning Theory and Practice, 3(2), 228-23
  • Hampton, K. & Wellman, B. (2003) Neighboring in Netville: How the Internet supports community and social capital in a wired suburb. City and Community, 2(4), 277-311.
  • Ellison, N. B. Steinfield, C, and Lampe, C. (2007). The benefits of Facebook “friends”:  Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites. Journal of Computer Mediation Communication, 12(4), Article 1.

To discount online opportunities because we don't think that the technologies can be used to develop relationships is detrimental to our success, as an organization and as knowledge workers. 

Most of us (I suppose I am referring to "us" as those who have been in the workforce 15 years or more) have the tendency to think and learn linearly and that technology takes the place of some other method because of its efficiency.

Instead, information technology is an enablers, not only a replacement. Technology enhances whatever we are doing, provides innovation opportunities, and helps us grow or scale development, products, and services.

Many of those who have been studying and using social media for awhile often say

"It's not about the technology;"

"It's about people"
"It's about relationships
"It's about ideas"
"It's about the change that is created".

Though I am becoming known for "pushing" social media and as someone who is a Twitter nut, I can assure you that I do not think that technology is a sole answer--the answer is how people are using and building relationships and capitalizing on the work of many. But, technology is necessary.

Some ask "how does online engagement give an organization competitive advantage?" There are many answers. A survivalist answer is "where will you be if you don't engage?"

We must adapt not only to new technologies, but adjust and embrace changes in culture and expectations, such as work streaming, transparency, engagement, and participation. These expectations in culture are not dependent on technology, but have been driven by open, tremendous availability of information and access to people through technology.