November 4, 2007

Thanks to Simon Deane-Johns, SCL added another string to its bow recently with the creation of a new Group on Facebook. Andrew Sharpe has since created a very popular LinkedIn group for SCL too. One consequence is that, for the first time since the old LINK days (when every contributor to online discussions seemed to be an SCL member), we have ongoing discussions online (via Facebook) and an increased profile via LinkedIn. Details are available on the SCL site (search the old news items).

It is not the creation of the Groups that interests me. I joined Facebook because it was so often mentioned in the SCL Conference discussions, was free and enabled me to look at what my daughter was doing. I joined LinkedIn because somebody asked me to, I thought that I might be offered a highly paid job as a result (one of my more reportable fantasies) and because it seemed rude to refuse (an attitude to invitations which has got me into serious trouble before). It was not until Simon Deane-Johns initiated the first discussion on Facebook that I began to think about the significance of what was happening. I am not going to pretend that the ether is white-hot because of the friction caused by the lively debates that have ensued but the capacity is there. So what was designed to be a contact board for college kids is hosting quite high level discussion that would not be out of place at an academics’ dinner. It struck me that the same sort of thing is happening elsewhere. Blogging began as personal, quirky and/or opinionated; now many blogs are simply information sources and many others are discussion groups (the comments overwhelming the posting). E-newsletters lead to online postings that seek comment. Really quite straightforward Web sites with content management systems (which is most of them now surely) are able to post new material with such regularity that they often put regular bloggers to shame. Larry Lessig revised his latest book with the help of a wiki that included discussion and information on relevant developments. Podcasts aren’t what they were – they can be lectures on patent law rather than Ricky Gervais. I could go on.

Those who like putting labels on things will wonder where it is all going to end. I am pretty sure that it isn’t. The divisions and classifications in this area hold little meaning if they focus on the package in which the data sits. The data is the driver. The medium is no longer the message.