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?