Taking ad-hoc connections for granted on the Internet

I’m off to Valencia soon where part of my trip will involve meeting up with friends and attending the annual tomato festival.

In build up to the trip I searched Flickr for both Valencia and the tomato festival and found a whole bunch of photo sets from people who have been there on holiday, stag parties, for work etc etc.  One set stood out as it looked like the people in the pictures were having a great time.  So I sent the owner of the set an email via the site asking for any recommendations on where to go and where to avoid based on my itinerary.  Within an hour I had the most comprehensive response containing recommendations and tips on what to do and places to visit.  Fantastic!  And I’m sure I could repeat the experience by doing something similar on Facebook or a number of other user generated content sites.

I take these sort of interactions for granted on the Internet, using the power of social platforms and the willingness of people to connect.  However could you do the same within a large company?  Say you are off to a conference in a few weeks and want to see if anyone else from your company is going, or you want to ask advice from people who may have attended a similar conference in the past.  How would you do it?  I imagine in most large companies you would struggle to connect with those people, and this is where you can start to identify the business case for social software behind the firewall.

I’ve already created a conference reports site on an open source platform for a large company.  From start to finish it took 2 days, and now anyone attending a conference or similar event can register on the site and blog about their experiences.  Anyone within the company can benefit from that person attending the  conference, and if they choose to connect with them.  However this is just the tip of the iceberg and was a quick win.  What I want to do is re-create the Flickr/Valencia experience and to be able to connect with anyone in a company based upon a shared interest/topic.  Enterprise 2.0 holds the key to this experience, but time will tell how easily the potential is realized.

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