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Knowledge Sharing Over Social Networking Systems: Architecture, Usage Patterns and Their Application

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Knowledge Sharing Over Social Networking Systems: Architecture, Usage Patterns and Their Application
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  R. Meersman, Z. Tari, P. Herrero et al. (Eds.): OTM Workshops 2006, LNCS 4277, pp. 189   –   198, 2006. © Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006 Knowledge Sharing over Social Networking Systems: Architecture, Usage Patterns and Their Application Tanguy Coenen, Dirk Kenis, Céline Van Damme, and Eiblin Matthys Vakgroep MOSI, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium {tanguy.coenen,dirk.kenis, celine.van.damme, eiblin.matthys}@vub.ac.be Abstract.  The recent success of social networking sites like mySpace, Friend-ster, Orkut, LinkedIn, Ecademy and openBC indicates that extending one's so-cial network through a virtual medium is a popular proposition. The social networking paradigm can be integrated with the knowledge management field, in which sharing knowledge with others is a central issue. This paper investi-gates how the social networking concept can be applied to support knowledge sharing between people. Together with common features in the architecture of social networking systems, a number of platform independent usage patterns are discussed that can support knowledge sharing between members. Finally, we present the open source KnoSoS system, which integrates the discussed archi-tecture and usage patterns. Keywords:  social networking, knowledge management. 1 Social Networking Systems New computer mediated technologies, like instant messaging, voice-over-ip and video telephony have significantly lowered the cost of communication and, when compared to email, have made computer-mediated communication much richer. It is now possi-ble to talk hours at a stretch to someone at the other side of the world at no cost be-yond the basic Internet connection fee. Yet these technologies still do not provide all the cues that are available in a face-to-face conversation. When meeting a person over the Internet and interacting with him, it is difficult to find out if you are really inter-acting with who the person claims to be. Furthermore, finding people on the Internet with whom you are likely to have interesting and useful conversations is not some-thing that is likely to occur by chance. To make sure that people can represent their identity and to allow people with mutual or compatible interests to find each other, social networking systems have been created. The first social networking systems were dating systems, to which people turned to find a partner. Yet dating systems are not the subject of this paper, as they offer little to support knowledge sharing. Through systems like Orkut, MySpace, LinkedIn, O’Reilly Connection, Ecademy and OpenBC, the social networking paradigm is spreading quickly on the Internet as a way for people to develop an online social life. Spearheading this change are Ameri-can social networking systems like Friendster, Orkut and MySpace. In May 2006, the latter had 76.524.752 members, which is roughly equivalent to the population of  190 T. Coenen et al. countries like France or Germany. On 19/06/2005, mySpace was sold to Rupert Mur-doch’s News Corp for 580 million $, indicating that social networking systems are very actual material and that, if they are not yet the business of today, they are proba-bly the business of the future. Considering the success of systems like MySpace, it is obvious that young people are currently spending a lot of their time online, using computer mediated communi-cation and social networking systems to express their personality and meet with friends. It is likely that, as these people grow older and enter the work force, they will be accustomed to these technologies and will expect to be able to use them in their work environment. By presenting the common architecture of social networking systems and a number of general usage patterns, this paper indicates how social networking systems can support knowledge sharing. This is relevant both within large organisations, between organisations or between individuals without organisational affiliation. Yet before in-dicating how social networking systems can benefit knowledge sharing, it is neces-sary to present an overview of some issues related to the sharing of knowledge. 2 Knowledge Sharing One of the central issues in the knowledge management field has always been the sharing of knowledge [12]. Knowledge sharing can occur in what we call the passive and the interactive mode. In the passive mode, the source, who owns the knowledge, externalises his knowledge and stores it as information. The receiver, who wishes to use the knowledge, assimilates the knowledge but has no way of formulating feed-back to the source. Unlike what is the case for passive knowledge sharing, interactive knowledge sharing involves a possibility for the receiver to provide the source with feedback. From a constructivist perspective, individuals are seen as possessing their own unique understanding of the world. As a consequence, communication is by definition complicated as it confronts different mental models. [7]. The possibility to produce feedback can thus be essential in situations where the receiver does not un-derstand the information, provided by the source. The source can then re-formulate his knowledge in a way that is more suited to the needs of the receiver 1  Passive knowledge sharing has the great benefit of being highly reusable. The source externalizes his knowledge once and the resulting information can be reused many times by different receivers. Yet the knowledge, which is made available through passive knowledge sharing, can go quickly out of date and there is a motiva-tional problem. Indeed, people find it hard to contribute their knowledge to a vague audience if they do not have a clear view on the "return on investment" which they will obtain from sharing their knowledge [11]. Therefore, knowledge sharing must not only focus on passive knowledge sharing, but should also support interactive knowledge sharing. Both modes are useful and should therefore be present in and between organisations or between independent 1  Also, complex knowledge, which is highly intertwined with other knowledge components, re-quires an interactive mode of knowledge sharing, as the receiver may need to obtain some context knowledge in order to correctly understand the knowledge of the source.   Knowledge Sharing over Social Networking Systems 191 individuals. Support for the passive mode has been around for over a decade in the form of information management approaches, focussing on storing information in da-tabases. We argue that a focus on the interactive mode of knowledge sharing is neces-sary and that applying concepts of social networking systems in addition to new rich computer-mediated communication technologies can support this. In the next section, the common architectural features of social networking systems are presented. 3 Common Features of Social Networking Systems A study of existing social networking systems (mySpace, Friendster, Orkut, LinkedIn, Ecademy and openBC) has revealed a common architecture, depicted in figure 1 [2][3]. In the individual space, the user is allowed to create a personal profile, con-taining structured and unstructured information. The structured information part of the profile contains information on different facets of the individual's personality. These facets vary between systems. Indeed, where some systems concentrate more on creat-ing friendship relationships (e.g. mySpace, Friendster and Orkut), others are focused on creating business relationships (e.g. LinkedIn, Ecademy and openBC). Information on for example one's musical taste would be interesting to have in a friendship-oriented system, but less interesting in a business-oriented system. In practice, each social networking system contains different fields in which structured information can be entered. The unstructured fields allow people to create a free and rich representa-tion of their own identity. Wysiwyg editors are provided to create webpages contain-ing text, images, movies and sound clips. In addition, some systems allow people to create blog entries, which further enrich a person's profile. In the dyadic 2  space, users create contacts with whom communication can be un-dertaken over the internal messaging system. This internal messaging system is very similar to an email system, but has the advantage of being able to shield a user's ex-ternal email address. The message, which is sent over the internal messaging system, is forwarded to the user's external email account, without the need for the sender of the contact to know the email address of the receiver. This is a necessary measure to prevent social networking systems from becoming vehicles for email spamming. Another element of the dyadic space is the possibility for both members of a dyad to create feedback on the other member of the dyad. In different analysed social networking systems, this can be done by rating certain characteristics of the other member of the dyad, or by writing testimonials on this person [2]. We call such sig-nals, "identity feedback" and have found it to be important in the creation of a sense of trust in social networking systems. Indeed, such systems create many relationships that are purely virtual in nature, which results in a need for the members of the system to evaluate the genuineness of the system’s users. Finally, the group space contains tools, which allow knowledge sharing between multiple people. This space constitutes the overlap between the areas of knowledge management, social networking systems and community informatics. In most sys-tems, the tools, which are available in the group space, are limited to a forum on 2  A dyad is a relationship which has been acknowledged by both members of a relationship.  192 T. Coenen et al. Fig. 1.  General structure of social networking systems which members can post and read messages. There is still much room for improve-ment in the group space, as it exists in current social networking systems, in order to better support knowledge sharing between multiple people. 4 Pattern Languages Patterns describe common ways of solving problems. A pattern language is an or-dered set of patterns that are tied together in a logical way. Problems arise in all do-mains of human activity, making pattern languages a useful way to structure problems and solutions in different disciplines. Whereas the term was first introduced in archi-tecture [1], pattern languages have been applied to many other fields, like education and object-oriented programming. In this paper, we do not claim to develop a pattern language , but present a number of loose patterns, which are the result of our analysis, development and usage of social networking systems for knowledge sharing. Each pattern has a name, a context, a system of forces and a solution. The context describes the conditions that must be taken into account to fully understand the prob-lem and its solution. The system of forces describes the problem at hand and the solu-tion describes how the problem is solved. An important point concerning patterns is that they are meant to be generic, applying to many different instances of the same problem. Translated to social networking systems for knowledge sharing, this means that we aim to formulate patterns that are applicable to social networking system in general, and should therefore be taken into account when designing such systems. The added value of a pattern does however not only lie in the solving of a problem. In-deed, many others, like [13], see messy situations, which are the characteristic of human activity, as also problematic in their definition of the  problem , besides the so-lution. In other words, identifying the right problem is a challenge in itself when deal-ing with human activity. The patterns which are presented next are the result of our experience with social networking systems (mySpace, Friendster, Orkut, LinkedIn, Ecademy and openBC)   Knowledge Sharing over Social Networking Systems 193 and our insight in the issue of knowledge sharing. Other patterns have been developed or are in development (e.g. identity representation, rating of content, project manage-ment), but cannot be discussed here due to a lack of space. 4.1 Pattern 1: Creating Group Boundaries Context  3   Previous research [2][3] has established that there is a statitistically significant differ-ence in the amount of exchanged messages between open and closed groups. The dif-ference lies in the boundaries that exist around these groups. In an open group, every-one can participate in the communications that are a part of the group's knowledge sharing activity. In a closed group, one needs to be a member 4  to participate in the group's knowledge sharing activity. In the 1196 open groups of the Ecademy social networking system, 3 times less messages where exchanged on average, compared to the 304 closed groups in the system. This is in line with [9] who proposes that knowledge sharing will be more common in groups with a stable membership, due to a lower expectation of free-rider behav-iour by other members of the group. Another point, which can support this higher knowledge sharing activity in closed groups, is the argument in [2] that the value of knowledge lies in the scarcity of the capacity to act that it produces. If one gives away one's knowledge to the whole world, as is the case in open groups, the scarcity of this capacity to act can seriously decrease, as others can readily assimilate the knowledge. Yet contributing knowledge to a group of people who share a certain interest can pro-duce reciprocation benefits, srcinating from generalized social exchange between the members of the group [9]. If this group is closed, the contributor will feel he may re-ceive these benefits, while only sharing his knowledge with a small subset of human-ity. Thus, the benefits in the case of knowledge sharing in a closed group are more likely to outweigh the costs, due to the targeted nature of the knowledge-sharing act. Still, not all knowledge is essential to the economic position of the holder of the knowledge. Thus, some knowledge can be easily donated without harming the posi-tion of the source. If this is the case, it can be in the interest of all the participants of the system and not only the members of a certain group to be able to access the posted content. In this case, posting to an open group seems opportune. In sum, both open and closed groups are necessary in social networking systems for knowledge sharing, making the creation of boundaries a central pattern in their functioning. The context, described in this paragraph, allows us to formulate 2 pat-terns: creating groups with or without boundaries and creating content in groups. These patterns are discussed next. Problem How to create groups with and without boundaries? Solution  Every user should be able to set up a group if he wishes to do so. At the time of crea-tion, the person who takes the initiative for the creation of the group decides if the group should have an open or closed membership. In a closed group, mechanisms 3  The context, described in this section, is relevant to the first two patterns which are presented. 4  Membership is often obtained by requesting it explicitly to one or more administrators.
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