This reminds me of 9/11 which was the starting shot for blogs, as Hugh wisely compares that Katrina is for wikis what 9/11 was for blogs.
When 9/11 came, people were not able to get all the news they needed from the mass media. People got online to search for more intriguing information while leaving the sensation-oriented media behind. This is when people discovered blogs and also started their own. It might be a coincidence that the rise of blogs begun right after 9/11, but the event might have had partial effect to push the blog snowball forward.
This history reminds me of 9/11, because now I’m doing the same, looking online for more interesting and detailed first-hand experiences rather than following the mass media. This is what I did during the last two disasters, 9/11 and the Tsunami.
While blogs came to rescue for people who had a desire to look for more information online, now wikis come to people who actually need the help. No television channel has changed to broadcast news for the people who need help. They broadcast news for the more profitable mass audience, throwing some sensational powder in the mix. It was a category 4 storm that hit me – oh that’s nice to know – but I need to know if my house is still standing and how to find my relatives. Unfortunately the ones with the largerst resources in communication and capability to spread help for people in need have other interests.
This might be a turning point for wikis that sets the wiki revolution free. There are many free tools and many of these tools are so easy to use that anyone can use them. Wiki is one of them. The method of Open Source is the enabler and useful applications like collective distributed disaster help are cases that push it forward.
But as much as these easy-to-use and cheap social tools are useful for large disasters, so are they scalable for a single organization and their own little catastrophies, be it a community of schools, a medium-sized company or a multi-national organization.
One of my customers switched to IP telephony and unfortunately the system is not working rock-solid. Usually when people in this large organization have problems, they will use phones to call to neighboring units to look for help from people who might know what to do. Now if telephones are not working, the problem will escalate and accumulate as more work on the top, i.e. management.
Ross Mayfield writes that if a software-driven business process fails to serve ones activities, one will adapt using the informal network of resources to get things done. In other words, when business process fails, business practice takes its place. Now if you don’t have capabilities to support informal networking among the organization on an event when a business process fails, you are in trouble. This is exactly what is needed in the case of my customer: capabilities for the people in the organization to know each other. A dating system for their own people.
To support a business practice in events of failure, we need a bottom-up collective distributed social system to help people to get things done with peer-help instead of straining those who hold the strings. Social tools like wikis, blogs and social networking might as well be the partial bottom-up answer to these communication problems, not a top-down intranet.
This applies to learning as well. If you don’t have a formal way to solve a problem, you will use your informal network of peers to find a way to overcome what you have in front of you. Your knowledge is not necessarily anymore in your head, it’s distributed in your social network and you are beginning to scratch those digital tools that will help you to use it as an extension to your own thinking.