Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

By Dennis D. McDonald

The most interesting statement Forrester’s Charlene Li makes in Google OpenSocial will (hopefully) make social apps more relevant is this:

Lastly, I think OpenSocial will re-energize social networks as they broaden the activities their members can do on their sites. In particular, I’m looking forward to moving beyond the typical fun yet frivolous apps like food throwing developed by 20-something developers. I’m going to closely watch LinkedIn, as collaboration and expertise location applications built on top of its professional business networking social graph will make the site more relevant to me.

I agree that the days of Facebook’s “walled garden” approach to social networking and application platform support are  numbered. As portable systems such as OpenSocial proliferate, proprietary architectures will crumble. Linkedin is only one of many networks that will be impacted.

More importantly, while selling more widgets is a noble goal — or selling more blenders, as suggested by Jeremiah Owyang in his excellent review piece — the sharing of knowledge and expertise via systems that facilitate person-to-person collaboration is what has me most excited about the OpenSocial opportunity.

Using social networking techniques to make it easier to locate and share knowledge and expertise has long interested me as shown in this slide presentation. Actual adoption of such systems so far has been spotty. Relatively “closed” systems such as Linkedin, the AMA’s Sermo, and the U.S. intelligence community are the rule rather than the exception. Add to this Microsoft’s lack of commercial support for its own Knowledge Network tools and you realize that we still have a way to go.

Potentially, a system that makes it easier for members of different social networks to publish details of their knowledge and expertise should be able to support applications that promote significantly expanded collaboration and problem solving. This is a major opportunity for people to engage in social and intellectual activities that could generate significant social, educational, and economic benefit.

What might such applications look like? Here are some possible functions:

  • Enable network member to decide which information about professional or personal expertise and experience will be “published” and which should remain “within the network.”
  • Support cross network searching for information about specific types of knowledge, experience, and expertise.
  • Support communications  between seekers and suppliers of expertise.
  • Support financial transactions associated with the commercial sharing of expertise.
  • Support auction or bidding approaches to pricing access to certain types of professional expertise of consulting services.
  • Support feedback and rating of expertise suppliers by expertise users.
  • Allow for a variety of expertise sharing transactions ranging from one-time question-and-answer transactions to more extended collaboration or projects that require recurring communications or collaborative file creation.

There will be challenges to address related to privacy, monetization, law enforcement, credentialing, licensing, and legal liability. But the potential is enormous for a system such as OpenSocial to support improved — and economical — expertise sharing that bypasses traditional professional, geographic, and organizational controls and boundaries.


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