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

Using Peoplicious to create an "ad hoc" expert group

By Dennis D. McDonald

Professor David Wolber has used a social networking tool for people-tagging called Peoplicious to create an "expert systems" group -- "those interested in tools for locating experts" -- from the links included in John Tropea's survey article called The different ways of finding experts.

One of my recent blog postings is included in the Tropea article, so I'm included in Wolber's "expert systems" group. (I'm also included by the good professor in his Web 2.0 Peoplicious group.)

Here is one of the descriptive paragraphs supplied by Peoplicious:

RSS-Reader. Peoplicious is a blog reader organized by people. Researchers create lists of people. When the page for that list is displayed, all of the blog entries and posts of those people are aggregated and displayed together (generally sorted by date). So, for example, the researcher can view the recent posts of all members of their research group, or select a particular colleague and view only her posts.

There's also this included in the Peoplicious description:

Multi-Expert System. Peoplicious displays data filtered by:

  • Everyone
  • Me (the researcher)
  • Her (another researcher)
  • Them (a list of other researchers)

The 'Everyone' view follows the Wikipedia model and allows for the ultimate in sharing. With all the data in the world, however, filtered views are a necessity.

The 'Me' view displays only the data that the researcher herself has input. In this way, Peoplicious serves as a remembrance agent.

The 'Her' view is where things get really interesting. Here, a researcher can choose to 'browse as' any peoplicious user. Imagine being able to navigate through the research notes of an expert in a field, taking advantage of the 'selection' and 'annotation' work they've conducted in the past!

The 'Them' view extends this idea to lists of researchers, allowing one to view the aggregation of the data input by those people. Imagine sitting in with a research group of experts on a topic, and note that  that such a 'research group' can be a real one, or a virtual one created by, well, you!

Ignoring for the moment that I don't really use,  the Peoplicious system demonstrates both the strengths and weaknesses of applying basic social networking technology to the challenges of expertise management.

Strengths include sharing and multiple views. Yes, it is interesting to see what others are doing whose interests have been judged to be similar to yours; I've already located an article I want to read and have added it to my RawSugar directory.

Weaknesses include possible deficiencies in tagging the content of individual entries that are read into Peoplicious via the RSS feed that supplies the source blog's information. For example, all my recent blog postings are included in the entries under "expert systems," even those that have nothing to do with expert location or expertise management.

The flip side of the above is that the reader is exposed to things he or she might not otherwise be exposed to; making "people tagging" the basis for the grouping of items is a valuable approach.

I discovered something similar many years ago when researching the information seeking behavior of academic research scientists. Whenever I asked them the question, "Why do you still browse the tables of contents of recent scientific journals when you can have individual articles delivered to you that exactly match your specific interests?" I was invariably told something like,  "Browsing makes it more likely that I'll come across something useful and interesting that might actually stimulate some new thinking on my part. If I only stick to reading the things I know about, that might not happen!"

Extending this to the current day, systems like Peoplicious increase the likelihood that we will be exposed to useful information. While I would still like the ability to "fine tune" when necessary to increase or decrease focus on a particular topic, we are definitely moving in the right direction towards sharing access to expertise -- as long as people and the institutions they are associated with are willing to share the underlying information that makes this all possible.

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