Prof. Andrew McAfee has a great post about where he finds enterprise 2.0 tools are of most use. In short he says these tools are be used to reach out and connect to people we have weak ties with, potential ties or no ties at all. He's not saying they can't be used to support strong ties. They simply do and can. But when asked what gap e2.0 tools fill, it's firstly not the support of those strong ties.
This is very interesting. And I agree with his conclusion. We're seeing this in practice too in the company I work for. The surprise it gives people when they connect to people inside or outside the organization they've never met before!
McAfee's conclusions also relates to work done knowledge mapping and expertise location. And to a book I read some time ago: Cross & Parker, 'The hidden power of social networks'. It would be interesting to see if we could extend Dunbar's number. Then Dunbar relates to the number of strong ties we can maintain, <fill in name of number> number relates to the number of weak ties, etc. I'll get back to Dunbar below in this post.
Then the Wall Street Journal had an interesting post titled 'Who knows what?' It also addressed how companies can improve expert finding. The authors of the article point solely to social computing tools to help employees find experts in the organization in a quicker, more effective way.
This is definitely a way to go. But it also requires employees to use social computing tools and make their knowledge explicit. We know how hard this is, and it's sometimes not feasible at all. I blogged about this topic and the different strategies to expert finding several times in the past. Ross Dawson points to the WSJ post as well, and has written quite a bit about this topic.
Now back to Dunbar. Seth Godin had a nice (short - as always!) post about Dunbar's number. Stowe Boyd replied back that Godin doesn't get Dunbar's number. Godin says: Dunbar's number is the law. Our social networks are limited to around 150 people. We can only know about 150 people very well and maintain strong ties with them. This was the fact before the Internet and it still is. Boyd says: Not true. This is not what Dunbar meant and the Internet is proving that Dunbar's number needs to be updated. Mike Speiser over at GigaOM also thinks along this line.
I'm not really sure if the difference between Godin and Boyd is that big. Godin is not saying we can't have 'weak' or 'possible' ties. But the limitation to 'strong ties' is around 150. I agree with Godin this is something we need to keep in mind when we work for large companies, but also when we populate our social tools with way more than 150 friends. Keeping ties strong with more than 150 people is hard. Some can do it, but most can't.
I'd love to hear what you thing about expert finding in organizations. And do you think Dunbar's number needs to be updated or is not applicable to the Internet?