I‘ve been waiting for Google, which has already provided a definitive ‘know-what’ information finder and ‘know-where’ place finder, to follow up with the definitive ‘know-who’ people-finder. My initial thought was that only Google and one or two other giants could get enough profile with this to get everyone to participate and accept it as the standard, and hence achieve the critical mass to succeed where so many Social Networking tools that have tried to do this have failed.
But then it occurred to me that there is a profound difference between ‘know-what’ and ‘know-where’ on the one hand, and ‘know-who’ on the other: Finding the former are complicated search problems; finding the latter is a complex problem. Google can write an algorithm to point you to the documents most likely to be useful to you on subject x, and they can create maps to point you to location y. You don’t have to do anything but ask. And although the numbers are vast, there are only a finite number of documents and places on the planet.
By contrast, any meaningful people-finder would require active and regular participation of many people. Assessments of expertise are too subjective and change too quickly over time for any kind of algorithm to ‘interpret’ from data that are already ‘out there’.
But any kind of top-down, managed expertise-finder will inevitably fall victim to the same problems that have afflicted Linked-In and other social networking apps: Not broad enough participation, data that is stale and which no one is motivated to keep current, and the tendency of people to try to ‘game’ the system to portray themselves as more popular and expert than they really are.
The only thing that will work, I believe, is a Peer-to-Peer solution, one that works with existing ubiquitous tools and which makes it easy for anyone, regardless of what platform they are working on, to participate with little or no incremental effort. When addressing any complex problem, we need to give the solution the opportunity to evolve as the result of the collective intelligence of everyone.
That is an imposing challenge but not an impossible one. What we need to do first is develop a high-level spec for a system that no one will build. The spec will be merely the initial set of principles and guidelines that will influence how we participate. The ‘crowd’ will tell us if some of those principles and guidelines are wrong, and what’s missing, and we’ll change them to reflect that wisdom and imagination.
Here’s my first cut at some of those principles and guidelines. We need the people who know the Internet best, both as a technical and social phenomenon, to add to this list — we won’t get it ‘right’ the first time, but the closer we get the list in the early stages (or, to use complexity terminology, the more valuable our initial set of attractors and barriers), the faster something useful will start to emerge from it.
I can see this evolving in interesting ways. Corporations will initially want to use this within their Intranet firewalls to find experts within their own organizations, and won’t want that data accessible outside the firewall. But information is always trying to be free, and once smaller organizations ‘let it out’, and buyers start looking for and expecting to see their preferred suppliers’ experts’ names showing up on ‘know-who’ search results, the big professional firms will have no choice but to open up the data to the world and let buyers start putting together their own cross-organizational teams of experts.
I also think that being acknowledged as an expert is a double-edged sword, and such a system will start to create genuine ‘markets’ for expertise. People acknowledged as experts who are bombarded with requests for their expertise, and who cannot afford (or do not want) to spend their whole life sharing what they know free, will naturally start to put in personal, market-driven hourly rates for their expertise, and hence filter out most of the requests.
Who knows, some of us might find that we’re acknowledged as experts by more people than we think, and we might even be able to make a living simply on the strength of this system’s ‘word of mouth’.
It sounds very complex and unmanageable, I know, and it is, which is probably why it hasn’t happened already. But there is a clear need for a viable, simple, reliable, easy-to-maintain expertise finder, and once a few million people agree to start maintaining the information that would drive it, I think it could explode quite quickly, and evolve just as quickly to meet this need extremely well. The key is not to try to design a centrally-managed app for it, but rather to let it grow and become what it will become, virally and organically.
I’m going to pass my thoughts along to Doc and David W. for a start (since I recognize their expertise in this area as ‘H’). If you think this is a useful avenue for exploration, please talk it up and tell me what you, and others youtalk to, think.
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