Jon Udell on Apprenticeship and Barter in the New Economy

Jon Udell the lead analyst at InfoWorld came to Michigan today to share some of his ideas about online learning and exchange in the new economy. Jon runs a consistently worthwhile weblog at Infoworld that combines a number of my interests: using the web for mashing technology together (Library Lookup may be one of the first examples of a mashup before the term got common), groupware or social software, and online identity.

Today he spoke to the STIET seminar about a number of examples of knowledge sharing through the medium of the internet. Jon argued that the newer technologies of blogging, screencasting, and video sharing are ushering in a new era in which tacit experience can be shared through the web. To support this idea he shared a couple of stories about guitar playing, fixing reel lawnmowers and laser printers. Describing how to accomplish these tasks might be difficult in words but a short video might be all that’s needed to show a novice how to perform a task.

Udell described this in terms that sounded a lot like learning objects from the online education world. If the correct metadata is attached to such items it might be possible to share multimedia content much more widely than we can at present.

I thought Jon’s point about the visibility of work in the new world of the web was much more interesting. People are now able to see into the professional activities of other people much more than they were in the past. This may be recapitulating the old order of work in which family members lived on the farm and learned the trade through apprenticeship or by working with their families. The industrial revolution moved the work process into the factory, making it disappear from everyday life.

The biggest conversation with the audience was about the economic incentives for people to share knowledge on the web. Jon initially proposed the idea of barter to explain the process, some people were skeptical that this would work, while others supported it.

He concluded with some words about the use of weblogs to create public personas for ourselves. A lot of recent news stories have warned people about how much information they reveal online through social networking sites, such as Facebook, or the threat of weblogging to finding a career. This part of the talk directly mirrored a conversation from my recommender systems class earlier this morning. In class the context was why someone would use their real name to write product reviews. For Udell it was writing a weblog. The answer in both cases was the same. The opportunity to manage your own presentation to the online world.