The social web and the challenge of finding expertise

1/29/2010 | Christian Kreutz

Wouldn't it be great if you had a question, you could find an answer in your network right away? Most of us are members of many communities – many people with a lot of expertise. Why is it not easier then to tap on that potential to get answers from peers? A main question of knowledge management is often note sufficiently solved through the social web.

Photo by splorp

The false promise of Linkedin and Xing Take a look at Linkedin or Xing. Could you exploit the expertise found in there to use it, let's say, on a daily basis? I have to accept that, unfortunately, for me the professional working networks Linkedin and Xing have been so far not so usefull. Of course, for recruting they play a role, but for other means they have little to offer. And this is the key goal for knowledge management. Yes, I have heard from people, who have gained a lot out of it, but these cases do not fall on the category of exchanging experiences or sharing knowledge on a daily basis.

Yellow pages have failed So far, the most usual procedures are a quick search on Google, a request on a mailing list or a simple call. Those often work fine, but so many potential answers of your wider network are not tapped. And to get right away the person, who could deal with the specific issues is not easy. One attempt to improve this situation are yellow pages, often used in Intranets. The results are profile of colleagues delivering some information.  But the key challenge is that these profiles are mostly very specific and not rarely complex, which is not enough to describe the potential expertise of a person.

Twitter set a path for low barrier informal knowledge sharing In some cases a sufficient answer might be written, but best is if you get in contact with a person directly to exchange and learn from each other. That is why Twitter is so strong. You can question your audience, might be lucky to get one or more answers and then can continue talking with a person directly.

Google Social Search a hint in the right direction? Another challenge is that your networks are widely distributed and you do not have time to search or request an answer. You want to get it now. What a difference if you can tap into the potential of your wider network on a daily basis during your work. One interesting new approach to help you find the right person is introduced by Google's new social search. If you join the project, which is currently in beta, you will see additional search results to your query from people in your network (twitter, google connect, friendfeed etc.) Here you can start it.

This is a new attempt to find information from your peers across your network. After the failure of Open Social, this now looks like a good alternative, which indexes blog posts, tweets and other tracks of your activities in the Internet. So, if one of your peers has already written about a topic, you will find it between your usual Google results. That is another interesting approach to make you aware of the expertise from friends and colleagues, you might not know of. If it works good, you suddenly can get connected directly to the person who might have an answer for you.

But, as usual there is a downside. The search works the better, the more information you give to Google, so the more stuff we publish the better results we get. Of course we do not want to publish everything, but I guess for the working context it is an interesting approach also acknowledging that most either automated semantic solutions, nor classical database, have succeeded so far in providing you the information you need at a certain point.