Notes from the Social Media and UGC Panel at the Mark Logic User Conference

(Not typed in real-time but summarized from hand-written notes after the event, so this is less verbatim than my other user conference posts.)

Panelists

The twin pillars of publishing used to be authority and control. The Internet wiped out control. So now publishers are clinging to authority. That’s one thing that interferes with openness to user-generated content (UGC).

(One panelist hates the term UGC, preferring participatory media.)

It’s all about balancing authority and control. Particularly in the top-down organizations on the panel how do you do that? Leadership has to recognize that it’s not really about a loss of control, it’s about engaging participation to solve shared problems and attain shared goals. Leadership also has to realize that the fastest way to kill a discussion forum is for a senior leader to weigh in with a strong opinion.

(At LDS) not all our content needs to authoritative. We have (literally) a mountain full of genealogical data on microfiche, on roll film in Utah — it’s like 2B names. We realized that we need to capture that content and started a large-scale collaboration process to do so. In doing this process, we realized there was a huge amount of redundancy and inconsistency in the data. It’s simply too big a problem to be authoritative right now, so instead we’ve put up collaboration tools so the members can work together to resolve problems and conflicts in the data. Basically, we need to let the audience sort it out.

It’s odd that people hate taxonomy but like tagging. (Cool seemingly paradoxical observation; probably relates to psychology and our desire to self-express but not in a constrained framework.)

(At BCKS) it’s all about socializing and transferring knowledge. A reservist may work at a publisher, be trained in logistics, and find him or herself serving as project manager for the construction of a school. Because people need to be able to wear different hats, we need a way for the last person who had a job to share information with the next one. Yes, we have training programs, but we want to enable direct knowledge sharing as well. Anyone can file an after-action report after they’ve learned something and share it.

We have a similar problem at LDS — we have a lay ministry (i.e., not career professionals) so the job of “bishop” (local pastor) will move though a community through various members with each serving maybe a 3 to 5 year term. And while we also have training for new bishops, it certain can and does happen that a new bishop who’s two months on the job suddenly finds himself having to perform a funeral. We want to be able to get him all the information he needs to be able to perform that duty. Training is part of it. Sharing and collaboration is another.

Another problem the panelists agreed on was the catch-22 in profiles and personalization. Simply put: until you tell me something about yourself, I can’t get you useful information — but until I’ve given you useful information you don’t want to tell me about yourself.

Another interesting idea: sometimes, less is more when it comes to search results. (At LDS) we’re trying to get down to 10 results per query. Not because we want to limit information, but because we know our content so well and because (through your profile) we can know the member so well, that we should be able to deliver pinpoint results.

In this vein, one panelist expressed that they were impressed with the precise results delivered in the United demonstration at the conference. (Where again the intent is not to drown the pilot in possibly useful information but instead to find *the* useful information in a given situation and provide it.)

Everyone agreed experimentation is important, but how — asked an audience member — do you do it?

“Uh, we use Mark Logic,” said one panelist (I loved that one)

The basic idea is to start small but there are two ways to do that — build trivial new functionality into an existing system (e.g., enable comments on news stories). The other, arguably better, way is to take a narrow slice of your content and then build out something really cool. One panelist noted that they were very impressed with the demonstration by Platts at the conference in this vein; take one deep slice and build something impressive.

Also it’s important to draw correct conclusions from experiments: “just because no one clicks on the advanced search tab doesn’t mean they don’t have rich information needs.” Maybe you just have a bad advanced search tab. Or an advanced search tab isn’t the right way to solve the problem. (Where, e.g., I’d argue that iterative query refinement and faceted navigation beats the advanced tab most every time.)

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