Don’t pooh-pooh social networking

A while back, I wrote about the concept of social networking. The upshot: Although the wisdom of crowds may be overhyped, the phenomenon of social networking isn’t.

Interestingly enough, though, IT executives aren’t particularly enthusiastic about this particular trend. It could be that many of us are too old. According to the generational “digital divide” theory, those younger than 25 (sometimes called “digital natives”) are so fluent in technology that using it to communicate with friends is as natural as breathing. (Except for e-mail, which I’ve heard described as “a good way to send thank-you notes to your friends’ parents.” Ouch!)

But I don’t think that’s the real issue. Aside from the fact that many IT folks actually do fall into the digital natives demographic, we have a bit of a love-hate relationship with technology. For one thing, we can simply overdose: As a youngish IT exec put it recently, “If I’m not working, I don’t want to be staring at my computer screen.”

And we’re not exactly great with socializing in general. There’s the 25-year old guy I overheard at a recent tech conference: “I’m not a big fan of social networking, because frankly I don’t really care what other people think.” (He gets points for honesty, if not diplomacy.) Then there’s me: Around my (highly technical) workplace, my nickname is Spock — for my complete tone-deafness to emotional nuances during conversations. Or maybe it’s the haircut … I’m not asking. At any rate, social stuff isn’t necessarily our forte.

But here’s why we need to pay attention to social networking: It’s about to hit our organizations in a major way.

Unless you work at a university, you probably don’t think wikis, blogs, Facebook and the like apply to you. You couldn’t be more wrong.

Look at what’s going on inside Cisco: As CEO John Chambers recently noted, Cisco’s seen an exponential explosion in the use of collaborative technology in the past six months. Blogging doubled in usage in four months; the number of wiki pages increased sevenfold in six months, and the number of video blogging files increased fourfold in the space of six months, while users grew eightfold.

OK, the guy makes a lot of this gear (Cisco’s a major supplier of telepresence technology) so there’s room for a bit of hyperbole. And Cisco employees aren’t exactly your typical technophobic luddites. But in many respects Cisco is a bellwether company in its internal use of technology, even excluding the gear it makes. (The company had leading-edge data centre practices long before it introduced data centre products.)

And guess what? The impact on the network has been staggering. Last year, Chambers stated publicly that his network traffic has grown 100 per cent year over year. This year, he’s saying it was 200 per cent.

There are a lot of good reasons for the rise in social networking. But one thing’s for sure: it’s going to have a major impact on your organization within the next few years.

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