Monday, August 16, 2010

The Problem with (Enterprise) Social Bookmarking?

standingout The Dachis Group recently shared a really nice overview of "The 2010 Social Business Landscape", written by Dion Hinchcliffe. One of the tools I missed in his overview is 'social tagging' or 'social bookmarking'.

Based the research being done by my student, Arzu Yucekaya, on social bookmarking, I've thinking about and discussing with her why social bookmarking adoption seems to be harder than, for instance, the adoption of enterprise microblogging. At least, in the company I work for...

I'd like to share a citation from a (preliminary) version of her literature research. This citation relates to the adoption of knowledge sharing tools in organizations in general. She writes:

In the context of knowledge sharing systems, public good nature of knowledge introduces two major challenges that organization face (Prasarnphanich & Wagner, 2008):

1. The start-up problems (achieving critical mass)

2. Discontinuity problem (sustainability of actively contributing user base)

Critical mass is a small core of people who are willing to contribute at the expense of low returns in order to overcome the start-up costs and to create conditions for more widespread contributions (Prasarnphanich & Wagner, 2008). Critical mass theory concerns the joint action of groups that provide “collective good” or “public good”. The success of communities or social networks depends on two parameters: the shape of the production function of collective good and the heterogeneity of resources and interests across the potential contributors (Prasarnphanich & Wagner, 2008). Communities which consist of individuals with different backgrounds, interests and resources will maintain the attractiveness and will likely produce more public goods (Arakji, Benbunan-Fich, & Koufaris, 2009). (Arakji, Benbunan-Fich, & Koufaris, 2009) argued that the nature and contribution mechanism of web 2.0 communities is different due to their “low-barrier” characteristics; consequently, achieving critical mass is easier. (Millen, Feinberg, & Kerr, 2006) confirmed that the ability to reach critical mass does not present a problem as the marginal cost of bookmarking an existing resources is low. Following these arguments, the focus is on the second challenge in this thesis.

So, Arzu will focus on the second problem, because the bookmarking tool is easy to use, we just have to promote it more.

I agree we have to promote the bookmarking tool more and explain to colleagues why it's so useful. But these two problems bug me a bit. Are these really the fundamental reasons why knowledge sharing systems are not adopted and used over time? Or is there a more fundamental reason. For instance, if you don't understand the concept of sharing and the value of sharing, you'll never use tools that support sharing. Maybe this is a bit far-fetched, but I see this in practice. Just remember the 'knowledge is power' paradigm, which is still very prevalent in many companies. Or does this group of 'non-sharers' have no influence on the critical mass and therefore the adoption of these tools?

To make things more complicated: I'd use a blog and/or a bookmarking tool even if I was the only one using them. There's no critical mass there; I'm the only user. (Of course I understand bookmarking and blogging is more valuable and interesting in a network of bloggers/bookmarkers.)

So, what is the deal here? What is the real problem we are addressing? This is food for my thoughts and hopefully yours as well. I'd love to hear your ideas/remarks on this topic. And we'll definitely get back to you when Arzu comes up with more interesting insights!

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