Category Archives: Knowledge Management

The evolving online identity

I am

Identity is an issue users struggle with across all online communities. Perhaps one reason for this is because more often than not, online identities are a crafted attempt to attract others.  While not always the case, often an online identity is an attempt to create some form of community or personal learning network rather than stand as a individualistic expression of our own identities.  For example, Twitter allows us 140 characters to define ourselves and identify the community we are trying to reach. Those few characters, the avatar picture we choose and the tweets we send out are strong determinants not only of who we are, but also of how we hope others to see us.  However, they are identities that may or may not be completely representative of our “real life” selves.

We create online identities with a purpose, yet virtual online communities provide the inherent flexibility and space for these identities to evolve and change. In regards to the identities employees choose in corporate online communities (such as a company intranet) Brown & Dugiud (2001) present an interesting and forgiving insight. “Work identities . . . are less something mandated by structure or dictated through culture, and more something that participation actually helps create” (p. 202).  In other words, it’s the act of participating and engaging that actually verifies the integrity of an online identity, rather than the credibility of the 140 characters next to your photo.

In my first post, I wrote, “I love that I am a constant work of progress.” While online virtual communities make erasing the past impossible, they provide us with the flexibility to explore. We can change our minds, shift our focus and mingle with different networks, altering our identity with every interaction should we choose. We must acknowledge that identities are shaped by our present interactions more so than the documented accomplishments of the past.  We are supposed  to be changing, evolving – that’s how we move forward. In order for individuals to be willing to embrace the vulnerability of online communities and establish virtual identities, communities must present a psychologically safe space that recognizes that the integrity of one’s opinion first and foremost lies in the act of participating, rather than being “right”.

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Discovering the link between your internet connection and your emotional connection

Mead 2

I have a picture framing the famous Margaret Mead quote “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world . . . Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has” hanging in my apartment. This quote serves as a constant reminder of the influence each individual holds in shaping their environments. When we think of how movements have historically evolved over time, the enormous amount of energy dedicated to creating results is all too clear. Martin Luther King, being an obvious (and relevant) example, faced an undertaking that ultimately cost him his life. The process of collaboration and influence in our society can be extremely daunting as one contemplates the countless hierarchies, rules, resource planning, emotional energy and other implications that make action so difficult.  However, the first and foremost problem in inspiring action is finding the support, the first follower, the human support base, to even attempt to do so.

If you watch this video, you will see the transformation that takes place from one individual expressing himself (literally and physically) to recruiting his first follower to establishing a small social movement. What you will notice is that so much of this process is physical. It’s emotional. It spreads because of place and presence and face-to-face interaction. The leader and his followers have created an environment that is contagious, a space that is hard not to engage with.

It is fairly easy to identify the point in this video where this event almost instantly transforms from a couple of dance enthusiasts to a full out dance party (social movement).  Malcom Gladwell calls this the Tipping Point, or the critical turning point, “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” wherein an idea, behavior, product or message effectively goes viral.  Gladwell even reiterates Mead’s message, “There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them.”

So how easy is it to find these exceptional individuals across technology channels? And furthermore . . . how do we begin to trust them without a shared physical space and face-to-face interaction to build off of?

At first, finding and connecting with people  across technology channels doesn’t seem to be so daunting. After all, we all have hundreds of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook connections that we interact with almost daily. In addition, there are online communities of practice for just about every hobby or interest imaginable.  However, what leads to the identification of an “exceptional” leader and the dedicated support or buy in from others – and ultimately real time team collaboration?  John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid comment on the complexity of identity and recognition in social environments. “Learning, in all, involves acquiring identities that reflect both how a learner sees the world and how the world sees the learner.” In other words, you are only a leader if other people decide to recognize you as one.

So how does this process take place?  Where is the emotion? How do individuals establish interpersonal relationships of trust through a computer screen?

My Creating and Sharing Knowledge course this term tasks me with diving deep into a specific element of knowledge management of my choosing to explore and blog about in depth throughout the term (which I will be conducting here over the next couple of weeks).  My curiosity lies in this concept of buy-in, or what triggers individuals to first of all participate in foreign technological communities (Twitter chats, discussion forums, Personal Learning Networks, corporate intranets) and more importantly, what fosters individuals to act on these experiences to develop actual professional and personal relationships? Specifically:

  • What is the tipping point that drives not just participation but also ongoing collaboration?

  • Are there specific technological environments that foster increased engagement  between a small group of individuals who share a passion to take the leap towards real time collaboration in a start-up?

  • What transforms a divided corporate culture into one that reaches out through technology to connect, share best practices and knowledge and invest in fellow employees?

  • How do individuals develop trust over technological platforms?

  • What causes two people to fall in love over an exchange of written messages having never interacted face-to-face?

In effect, what factors lead to the humanization of these technology portals?  More to come!