Last week I had the pleasure to do a little ‘German tour’ speaking in Stuttgart and in Bonn. In Stuttgart I told a similar story as I did earlier this year in Vienna on the European Distance and E-learning Network conference (EDEN), about how our SME was introduced to social software (by me in early 2004) and how slowly the tools as well as the design notions behind them found their way into our working routines and into our professional vision towards dealing with the collecting, processing and sharing of information in an increasingly networked world of complex knowledge work.

The presentation seemed to go over pretty well, even though in the beginning I raced through it at too high speed. After me Karsten Ehms of Siemens recounted, as he did at EDEN, his story of how internal blogging has become available to all 450.000 Siemens employees world wide. It is always good to meet Karsten, and for the second time it proved very interesting to contrast my story from an SME background with his story from a large international corporate background.

After Stuttgart I made a bit of a detour towards Bonn, staying over in Nürnberg at Sebastian Fiedler‘s place, before travelling up north together. During the pleasant train ride, through the hills of Franconia, and on the fall foliage covered banks of the Rhine we prepared the ProWalk workshop we were to host at the 2nd International Media Informatics Symposium. There I also met up with Marc Smith again, of Microsoft Research.

We dubbed our workshop ProWalk because we wanted to more or less use the BlogWalk format, but then in a more professional setting, and as part of the ProLearn EU-project. The subtitle of the conference was CowPaths: Agency in Social Software, and was a good choice I think. It emphasizes the bottom-up nature of the effects Social Software has, and how it builds on our actual behaviour in stead of our planning.

Even though the workshop attracted only a small number of people, it was a very interesting session. With almost as much nationalities as participants and diverse backgrounds, the discussion stayed rich in perspectives. It also was a good opportunity to notice that Sebastian and I work very well together in such a setting. I already knew that from our BlogWalk series, but this of course was a bit different in context. Something to try and do more often. Rumour has it there might be a chance to do a next installment of the ProWalk in Spain. If that happens we will reintroduce the walk-part, which we left out in Bonn due to time constraints. Impressions and transcriptions of the session can be found in the BlogWalk wiki-space under ProWalk Bonn. There you will also find a few links to the other participants and their reflection on the session.

Windows wiki by Sebastian

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Marc Smith (Microsoft Research) on the word community, during the opening key-note at 2nd International Symposium in Media Informatics:

… let’s shelve the word ‘community’ and use and study the term collective action instead.
There are over 150 definitions of community by social scientists. If we (the social scientists) are not able to decide what it is, maybe everybody else should not be using the word either…

I like the focus on collective action. It echos the gist of my working definition of knowledge: the ability to act.

I like the subtitle of this conference: Cowpaths, agency in social software. Cowpaths has the right ring for me, it connects to my notion of how social software helps you create and follow traces that coalesce into patterns to help you navigate the information abundance we find ourselves in in this digital age.

[UPDATE] Interestingly enough Marc’s group is called the Microsoft ResearchCommunity Technology Group as Sebastian Fiedler just pointed out to me 🙂