We increasingly live in social spaces online. For organising nights out with friends, to share photos of weddings, to connect with other people with an interest in gardening and to complain about the washing machine going wrong. We inhabit these spaces in the informal worlds of our social lives and the formal world of work, and sometimes in the grey space in the middle, where we work at home or Tweet from work. We use these spaces to learn and to play. But we don’t own them. In the news today, Facebook is being floated, meaning that it will have shareholders. New owners.
Who owns the spaces, the content and the relationships? How accountable are you for what you say? How can you be sure that i am who i say i am and, for that matter, how can i be sure who you are? Questions of ownership, trust and integrity operate in different ways online.
Facebook has a noble goal, to make the world a more connected place, but when push comes to shove, it’s there to make money. Whilst most successful social spaces are free to inhabit, there is nothing to say that they will be in the future. We all invest significant time and emotional energy into building these communities, but there is no guarantee that the doors won’t be slammed in our faces.
Learning solutions increasingly are surrounded by social learning spaces. These are spaces for discussion, for sharing best practice, for challenging peers and being challenged, and for being mentored, coached and performance managed over time. Acceptance and integration into these communities involves personal disclosure, the building of trust and forming relationships. You can’t participate in a social space without behaving in socially acceptable ways, even if what is ‘acceptable’ differs between different spaces. For example, people will behave differently in a mentoring space online than they will in a dating site. It’s the difference between formal and informal spaces.
Within the formal space of work, we need to understand who owns the space and what the information is being used for. It’s all very well engaging in an online learning community and disclosing ideas and concerns within a coaching context, but how will you feel if you’re presented with a printout at a disciplinary meeting? Or during a conversation about your pay rise? Online spaces have a level of permanence that is not present in conversations. What you say stays ‘said’ for a long time. So who owns that space, and the associated conversations, is a matter of concern to us all, in both our social and work lives.