2012 #1 - Sharing On The Internet
After a hiatus of about a year, the IT Skeptic's newsletter The Skeptical Informer is back again in a new format: a (roughly) weekly letter on one topic, either topical or mined from the IT skeptic's archives.
In this, the first newsletter in the new format, let's look at sharing on the internet.
The internet is supposedly the mechanism that provides limitless knowledge for free from the community to the community. Let's see how that is working out for ITSM.
There are a number of forums where people put in a lot of thankless unpaid work on a regular basis to help and advise others, for example on the itSMF's forum.
The most talked about example right now is of course Back2ITSM, whose discussion forum can be found on Facebook (which makes if devilish hard to search for discussions).
The original idea of BACK2ITSM was that practitioners could share material of value that they created. Having created my own public domain contribution, Tipu (service improvement methodology), I can tell you that there is quite a lot of work in packaging even the simplest thing up for public consumption. I can also tell you that people want "the answer in a pill": they don't have the time any more to think about anything, to deconstruct it and analyse it and then synthesise a solution for their own use. BACK2ITSM seems to me to be grinding to a halt: it is becoming just another chat forum.
I absolutely believe those who say the internet is destroying people's capacity for deep thought (e.g. see Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows. Except I bet almost none of you read books any more).
Attention spans are trending towards zero seconds. Intellectual laziness has reached such a level that some can't be bothered googling the answer any more and want to be spoon-fed everything.
If so many people cant be bothered to reason out their own answers or even to go find the raw materials for reasoning, very few of those who still have the power of thought are willing to pander to them with the answers. I take my hat off to those who keep answering the same basic questions over and over again, often by referring to the last time it was answered on the same site, a 5-second google away.
Forums, LinkedIn, Quora, BACK2ITSM.... each community hub starts with a hiss and a roar then slowly collapses under the weight of the banality, drivel, and petty squabbles of the great unwashed masses.
The next level up in commitment, to curate information and shape it into something useful, is even less attractive. Everyone drones on about Wikipedia, but it only works for subjects with a huge audience, and even then the data comes from a small number of people passionate and lunatic enough to work on it. The Wikipedia entries for ITSM and ITIL are rubbish, and sometimes captive of commercial interests pimping their own products.
There is a long trail of dead ITSM wikis and similar websites, and BACK2ITSM's site looks to be adding itself to the pile. This doesn't reflect badly on the guys who tried so hard to get BACK2ITSM in the air. On the contrary it was a grand effort. But the reality is that people don't join such a movement. They sit back and wait for the small committed core to hand them the results on a plate. [Update: see an unofficial Back2ITSM page here: http://www.back2itsm.org/ with a list of resources - very useful... for now]
Just like curating the work of others is thankless, those who have created something of value will hesitate to cast pearls before swine. As I said above, it takes a lot of work to package something originally intended for your own use, in order to make it useful in a wide range of contexts and sufficiently documented that others can modify and use it.
Those of us who have tried know that you will only generate an ongoing workload supporting the result, and that the reaction from 95% of those who look at it will be precisely nothing: having the IP, the artifact, is one tiny step on the journey to actually getting a result from it. Most people don't have the time or energy.
Over 50 people have had a beta copy of Tipu for months. The number of Tipu projects (outside my own) is exactly none. I have now suspended my own efforts on generalising Tipu (including writing a handbook) until others put in. I now use it solely for my consulting practice.
The only way to get a solid body of knowledge and to sustain it over time is to fund it, either (a) as a public good i.e. with government money (e.g. ISO, early ITIL) or (b) make it a commercial offering that is at least self-funding (e.g. COBIT, current ITIL).
So then we strike the issue that, along with intellectual laziness, the internet also promulgates an utter contempt for the value of intellectual property. We can talk about that another time.
There is lots of touchy-feely talk about sharing on the internet, the wisdom of the crowd, the creative commons etc. The reality is it doesn't work due to simple human laziness (and greed, which we'll also talk about later).