Knowledge Sharing & Ambient Intimacy

Philanthropy has for some time been enamored with the idea that the internet will allow us to create a huge database of philanthropic knowledge that will be universally available to everyone. My own posts on the subject of the Googlization of Philanthropy could certainly be read this way. But I’d like to propose that the shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 (the shift from automating transactions to enabling collaboration and participation) means that knowledge sharing projects should focus on leveraging human relationships rather than aggregating data.

Earlier this week when I was in DC, I had a limited amount of time to meet with people. So I used LinkedIn to identify who I knew in the DC area and on Monday night ended up having cocktails with people from Guidestar, the Gates Foundation, Network for Good, Association of Small Foundations, Independent Sector, Hudson Institute, DC Central Kitchen and a few other organizations. What was intriguing to me about the meeting was that I used web technology to facilitate offline engagement.

One of the ways writing this blog is useful to me is that it regularly facilitates offline interactions with people whose knowledge is beneficial to me. When people who do not understand the value of the web express why they don’t think it is important, they generally point to the sometimes superficial commentary that is common online (Twitter in particular is open to this criticism with its 140 character limit to comments). But the web allows for loose ties to form and be maintained more easily. Since humans can only successfully manage strong relationships with 150 people, managing loose ties is important to allowing us to benefit from the larger collective wisdom.

Picture 885

Credit: Logic + Emotion

The chart and quote above make the point well. Pre-Web 2.0, “well connected” people where those who had strong ties with all the right people. Today, “well connected” people are those who have extensive loose ties with all the right people. The power of social media is that it allows us to break Dunbar’s 150 relationship limit and enter the green section in the chart above. It allows us to maintain loose ties at strong enough levels that we’re able to call up those connections and deepen them when needed.

The web is not impersonal, it is not superficial. At its best it creates ambient intimacy that allows us to greatly expand our access to collective human wisdom.

One Comment

  1. Dan Bassill says:

    Hi Sean. Good comments. I think the web not only enables us to expand the number of people we’re connected to, but to build networks of purpose, or people focused on common goals. I’d be curious to know how many example you see of what I’m going to describe.

    I am a knowledge aggregator. I collect links a wide range of information related to big-city poverty, and to actions people might take to help kids through school and into careers. I’ve been hosting that information, and a database of Chicago area tutor/mentor programs on my web site for many years. Thus, the site is a source of information for anyone in Chicago interested in tutoring/mentoring. It’s also a resource for people in other parts of the world.

    However, the site in itself is only useful if I can increase the number of “the right people” who use it. My mission is to help tutor/mentor programs grow in poverty areas. To do that I need to influence the decisions of philanthropists, business and faith leaders, elected leaders, etc. and people who don’t live in poverty.

    All of the web2.0 tools enable me to broadcast widely, sort of like retail advertising, to reach customers who might be interested in the information on my sites. However, they also enable me to use tools like Linked in to try to make connections with people of greater influence who might create a greater impact.

    Do you find many “cause focused sites” working in this way, like an intermediary, to connect one side with the other?

    If you’ve not visited my site recently I encourage you to view the use of maps to focus a distribution of programs and resources in all poverty areas of the region, instead of just on a few high profile programs.