At the NSF Information Seeking workshop this morning, some one (all names and affiliations must be hidden) briefly mentioned that collaboration and being social were not the same. This got me to thinking.

Collaboration is, and I do my best to recall help me if you were there and took notes, several people working together on the same predefined problem or set of problems each depending on each other and each contributing in some specific way.

Social however is much looser and more ad hoc. The intention is less predetermined or predefined, more haphazard perhaps. In fact, social has more to do with Dunbar-ian stroking and grooming than with getting any specific job done. Social interactions may give rise to incidental help and even to collaboration, but that’s not the main intent.

Collaboration can be mandated, but social cannot. You can pick your friends — as the saying goes — but picking your co-workers and collaborators may be done by others — your boss, manager or the dreaded human resources department.

An ideal work environment for some people would have a very strong overlap between social and collaboration — all kinds of team building tries to shade us over to this overlap. But we still resist. Some people we accept for their talents, respect for their contributions, etc, but we’d rather not spend a week at the beach with them.

And we have great friends who we could never work with for very long. Whose friendship we cherish, but whose skills we’d rather not have to depend on.

This points out the weaknesses of social networks versus networks for collaboration. When using say, I want collaborators for much of my research and teaching and work. But when it comes to say, I want my friends who share and enlighten me about music. People using FaceBook for work can see right away what I’m getting at. I do feel close to many of my coworkers and they keep me in touch with a lot of things I’d otherwise miss, but I don’t use FaceBook as a work resource — except for those times I need incidental or ad hoc help. I think that LinkedIn is defining itself less of a social space and more of a collaboration space. Not so much for active collaboration in any constant way but in a kind of punctuated temporary way that is slightly ad hoc but more about information exchange — I see Bill is in your network and he seems to have the skills we need in my office. Could you recommend him?

Both ends of a spectrum between the purely social and the purely collaborative build and activate social capital, but each seems to me to be of a different type. Types which are not exactly the same valence say.

Still thinking on this.