Thursday, January 8, 2009

Coolhunting Web 2.0

I've been busy preparing for and facilitating an intersession course here at IMSA called "coolhunting." Essentially, this is a trendy term for "trend prediction." The basis of coolhunting is that you can use Web 2.0 tools to locate creative swarms of individuals who are developing new ideas before they reach a tipping point. Web 2.0 forums, chat, bulletin boards, etc. (even emails) afford a window into the communication patterns of people who are engaged in creative swarms.

My purpose in blogging about this is related to searching and evaluation. There are two ways to search for coolfarmers (those creative swarms). You can do what everyone on Web 1.0 does: lurk. I suppose browse is a better term for this, but lurking is really what the majority is doing when they are searching a Web 2.0 world. A fraction of the people who view blogs, conversations and other posts actually participate--something less than 1 in 5 get involved.

That means when searching Web 2.0 for information, at least 80% of people are at a distinct disadvantage. Without being involved in a conversation, they don't earn the trust of the individuals who are involved. The opposite is also true: you don't know if you can trust the people you are reading. That's the main obstacle to determining credibility in Web 2.0 circles.

Here's an example I used in the workshop this week. In Twitter, at present, I am following only 2 people. One of them is Scott Swanson, a colleague at IMSA who has leadership responsibilities for Second Life and One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). Let's say I wanted to find out about new developments in the OLPC movement. If I didn't know Scott, I could search Twitter for OLPC and I would find Scott along with a host of other people I didn't know. How can I tell if what they are talking about is worth following? Besides from reading their posts and becoming really familiar with OLPC, as a lurker, I am at a real disadvantage.

With my own Twitter account (it's free) I can see who Scott is following and who is following Scott. But I can't tell who in this crowd knows anything about OLPC without lurking for hours, reading posts from hundreds of individuals. I can see from posts that Scott is attending an OLPC conference in MA with students from IMSA. If I didn't already know him, this would make him appear somewhat trustworthy--the institution let him take students on a cross-country field trip to learn more about this subject.

I think it would save a lot of time to take a chance on writing to Scott and ask him about OLPC, explain my interest and see what happens. If he responds and it seems like a trust relationship develops, I have made a huge leap forward. Scott can introduce me to people with high opinion leadership in OLPC that he's already vetted. Now I'm using Web 2.0 as it was intended: to build networks, in this case, my own personal learning network in OLPC.

Try it yourself. The next time you have to use Web 2.0 for searching--a really good place to find creative projects, by the way--find a 'prospective expert' and get to know him or her. Then use this relationship as a springboard into their networks that you can trust.

I highly recommend reading the book Coolhunting by Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper if you want to know more about social network analysis, swarm creativity, collaborative innovation networks and so on. There are some very powerful search tools in this field that are like Google on steroids. I'll blog about that later.

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