I like to think that sometimes my posts are pithy and clever, but I know that sometimes they are a bit abstract. This is usuallly cause I’m using this blog as a way to work through what i’m thinking about. This is one of those posts.
Back in the late 90’s, i spent a few years studying, designing and implementing “agent based simulations of complex systems “. I was studying emergent behavior. These were somewhere between “boids” and The Sims in their depth.
I was doing an incredible amount of online research, and realized that if I ever wanted to do related research it would be very difficult to re-trace my steps, bookmarks not withstanding. If I wanted OTHER people to be able to retrace my steps, it would be very difficult to share HOW I’d found what I’d found, in addition to the what.
These two issues put me on a tear to understand tacit knowledge.
So – I wrote a whitepaper that I titled the Self-Organizing Knowledge Manager. The idea was this. People are not very good at tracking things, but computers are. we could get a computer to track where we go and how we get there and what we do when we’re there, and amek it so we can retrace our own steps and share our pathways with others. You wouldn’t have to be explicit about what the relationships between the linked items were, just the fact that there were links at all. People are really good at divining meaning – unlike computers. So leverage what each does best to capture and share tacit knowledge. Simple, right?
Then I asked smart people how to build software that would track click paths, what files were open at the same time, cuts and pastes, etc. They told me I’d need a database as an operating system and it didn’t work that way. hmph.
So the punchline here of course is that Social Media tools are the perfect substrate for capturing this information. Micropublishing, in the form of wikis, blogs, tweets, etc, are capturing the little bits of insight and information, connecting them together – along with the people who contributed – to achieve a self-organizing knowledge system.
So – now people can
a) track the links between people, objects (content) and each other, capturing a ton of tacit knowledge in the process
b) enable people to participate, much like the “agents” in my old simulations, to create emergent behavior.
Unbelievable. I was reminded about all this stuff, and how (perhaps surprisingly) relevant it is in understanding social media. David Armano’s engaging and relevant talk about how his effort to help a homeless family connects the dots.
So – what do we know about tacit knowledge, and what do we know about emergent behavior.
1. We know that most people think those terms are inscrutable.
2. We know that neither are easily tangible or predictable
But – if we apply the study of complexity theory, emergent systems, and what Stephen Wolfram calls “A New Kind of Science” (the first couple hundred pages of which are fascinating, but while I love Stephen (i know him from way back) he could use an aggressive editor, the book weighs about 10 lbs (and thanks to Salinger for teaching me the art of the multiply embedded flourish of parens – there’s a quote somewhere)) and the study of communities and collaboration, then, I think we can help enterprise, government and society develop a language for expressing ideas in this area, and start to really pursue the possible.
I promise my next post will make more sense.
Oh – the title – “The Sims” is a very popular computer game which is, in essence a sophisticated agent based simulation. It is unpredictable in its behaviors and outcomes, and yet elucidates cause and effect very well. Try it and you’ll see. My obscure point here, is that the read-write web has turned its participants into real-live actor agents in a giant simulation game. We can’t predict its outcomes, but we can learn a great deal about cause, effect and the important drivers of various outcomes.