Connecting People or Connecting Content

aaahhhhh……I sit here in the open air lounge of the Magellan Resort, a soft breeze is blowing off the ocean as I over look the pool below and out across the bay to three islands. It’s gonna be a wonderful sunset tonight. I’m telling you overseas conferences are really hard….I mean it. :)

I’m continuing to think about the Web and how we use it to connect. Maybe this is all for nothing…but I can’t stop thinking about it.

When it comes to building social networks or online communities I think it’s clear to understand what you are and who you are trying to build the site for and what you want them to do.

For example I helped to build the community site for the EARCOS Teacher’s Conference I am now at. I choose to use a wiki for a couple of reasons.

1. Not everyone here is tech savvy….the tool of least resistance.
2. The conference doesn’t need all of the features of say a Ning or full social network.
3. Less is more.

The wiki is meant to serve only one purpose really; to create an easy way for presenters to upload handouts, documents, and such to participants of their sessions. Before this year presenters would forward their handouts to EARCOS who dedicated a person to upload the documents to the conference website. The issue became of course that people would send multiple updates of their handouts creating work for someone else to manage those documents.

My work around….put presenters in control of their own handouts. Using a wiki was the easier way to do this. Create a page for each presenter, give them accounts that allow them to upload, and get out of the way.

So far the website is growing with over 120 members of 1100 conference goers joining the site before the conference even begins tomorrow. Not bad for something that is brand new to this conference.

Of course the wiki can do much more than just hold documents….it allows people to connect to each other…or is that connect to content?

In this case I believe the wiki serves the purpose to connect people to content. It is a network of users looking for, sharing, and using content created by others. Through this common content they will (hopefully) connect to people who have the same interests as them. Whether it be someone in the same session, or just someone they happen to meet within this community.

My hope: They came for the content and will find people to connect to.

That’s different than how some networks are created. Some networks are about the content and through that shared content you find people. Other social networks start with connecting people and through those connections you find content.

Of course there are no clear cut lines here and it’s all one big ball of grey.

It’s almost:

What came first the person or the content?

When you create a Personal Learning Network it’s about both. You follow content you are passionate about but also people you know or want to connect with.

When people start using Twitter they get stuck in not knowing who to follow…not what. Twitter is about people at its roots, not about the CNNs or the BKK News. You don’t follow “The President” you follow Barack Obama.

RSS Readers are different, they allow you to follow content. A Google News search for a current topic. A specific RSS feed for a sports team, or a blog with relevant information. Through these feeds we get to know people, what they are like, their voice online, and over time we consider them friends as if we know them.

When I started my RSS reader I followed David Warlick, Will Richardson, Clarence Fisher, Dean Shareski, Tim Lauer, and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach not because I knew who they were but because I liked their content and what they had to say….over time they have become friends, people I know and now, I follow them because of who they are.

When we are creating social networks I think it’s worth taking some time to reflect on what you hope to do with it. Classroom 2.0 is about connecting people. The content there is great, but it’s the connecting of people that makes that social network so powerful.

In the end I agree with Christopher….maybe I’m over thinking this and really what it’s about is learning to filter information, whether that is a person or content. The skill of understanding how data flows on the Internet and how you can make it work for you is a powerful tool.

Example: I created the Twitter hash tag #ETC09 for the conference I’m at. I then went into Tweetdeck and started a new search for #ETC09. Now I have the latest tweets just for this conference. I did the same for #gr8t as a way to mind the data of that network as well. Those are two of my columns in my tweetdeck…all the rest are based on people.

How do you connect: People first or Content first?

7 Comments

  1. Great post, Jeff! It seems to me that the content should come first, and the connections should follow. Example: I love to bike and I live in Brooklyn, so I go out on search.twitter.com or Google Blog Search and look for blogs or tweets about bike rides in Brooklyn. Then I follow them on Twitter or add their RSS feed to my reader. The connection is a result of content, or shared interests.

    In an offline world, it might go the other way. I meet someone at a BBQ, making the connection first, then a discussion about what we do/what we like/who we know follows. Connection before content.

    Just my initial thoughts! Looking forward to hearing what others say!

  2. Great post Jeff. I hadn’t thought about the differences between RSS and Twitter in this way before. I, like you, started with RSS following many of the same people quite a few years ago. The hard part for me is balancing my time between the two at this point. I’ve been better with RSS lately. This has decreased my time on Twitter. I think it starts with the content for me as well. I have subscribed to #gr8t on Google Reader as well as Tweetdeck (although I tend to catch more of it on GR).

  3. Good post. Just to add to the RSS discussion…check out “Media RSS”. It is used to broadcast media content as well extending RSS technology. The beauty is the applications that can use this content and download it directly to the user.

    iTunes uses an RSS format for podcasts, and there are many other web 2.0 sites that use RSS for more than just text content using what’s called an “enclosure”. You can link to media files, photo slideshows and videos.

    Here’s an example of a video served using rss on a web 2.0 site IgniteCAST.com. There are many more examples.

    Speaking of RSS, I’m adding this blog to my reader now.

  4. Great post, very informative.
    I tried tweetdeck and loved it :)

  5. Hey! Jeff, hope you enjoy the conference! It is very satisfying to read this post! I love it very much! It is deep thought. Meanwhile it clearly points out the difference between RSS and twitter, content and connection, which is very informative to someone like me who is just a beginning learner in Info Lit.
    Indeed, we are impressed by what is interesting and valuable content put there first, then the connection follows. Again, I start to think about the say of the revolutionary change of teacher’s role as a content owner to a connector. Teachers must be qualified content owner first in order to become good connector.

  6. Your post was very helpful! I plan on tryin tweetdeck!

  7. Jeff I thoroughly enjoyed this winter’s Teaching and Learning in the Connected Classroom. I have spent a lot of time thinking and planning for the tools you exposed me to.
    I believe that in connecting online content comes first and then people. As I plan to use a wiki to help teach writing process, I hope to connect with a English LA teacher in another location to help my students distance themselves from the content of their writing for a more critical review by a student they don’t know. Within the classroom it is difficult to focus on content when the peer you’re reviewing is feet away. Students don’t take criticism well from others. Doing this work in a wiki will allow content to take priority over preconceived notions of the people they belong to.

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