On the second day of the Online Information 2007 conference I attended the OCLC Symposium on Who’s Watching Your Space? The symposium provided OCLC an opportunity for OCLC to unveil their report on Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World which I’ve commented upon recently.

The session began with a talk by John Naughton, journalist and academic at the Open University. I enjoy reading John’s regular column in the Observer and many years ago I read his book on A Brief History of The Future. So I was looking forward to hearing him speak for the first time, but was very disappointed by what I felt were his cynical views on social networks. It’s over-hyped and journalists always love to joy in with the over-hyping of popular trends, John argued, and there are no sustainable business model. His comments reminded me of the various comments people were making about the Web in 1993 and 1994, and the scepticism people such as Jon Maber (original software developer of the Bodington VLE at Leeds University) faced when the idea of delivering teaching and learning services on the Web. It struck me that if journalists are guilty of over-hyping trends they also enjoy following this up with the doubts (“you build ’em up, you known ’em down”). I did raise this in the questions, but, as Tom Roper reported, John didn’t really answer me questions. But possibly, as Tony Hirst suggested to me during the drinks reception, I read too much into John’s critical remarks and as Tom described in his report on the symposium “He (John) thought there might be possibilities for harnessing social networking in education, in corporate organisations and in libraries“. (I suspect I was slightly annoyed that the explorations of the potential and best practices for making use of social networks in education context, which is being carried out by pioneers such as Tony Hirst and David White, and addressed in the recent UKOLN workshop on Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks seem to be invisible to John).

The second speaker was given by Matt Brown of Nature Network. Matt described the various services which Nature have developed, such as Connotea. Now I’d be the first to congratulate Nature on the pioneering work on such tools and their early commitment to RSS – but this talk provided nothing new for me, and I was beginning to wonder whether I should have stayed at the Online Information Conference, possibly attending the session on Folksonomies vs Ontologies or Service Innovation – Tools and Resources for Library Users.

However Cathy de Rosa’s highlights from the Sharing, Privacy and Trust in our online world report did make the session worth while, by providing much-needed evidence on the changing online environment, together with some surprises. The statistics that use of a wide range of online services (e.g. Web sites, social networks, instant messaging) has gown since their last survey was expected, but the decline in visits to library Web sites will, perhaps, have surprised people in the audience who might have expected a report commissioned by a library organisation to describe successes in the library domain. However if that statistic may have surprise some, the discrepancy between the (US) librarians’ views of their strengths and the users’ perceptions was probably shocking – librarians, it seems, place a high regard on their approaches to protecting the privacy of library users; the users, however, don’t feel that this is the case and also don’t feel that privacy is such an important issue.

As Tom Roper commented “There’s lots in the report” for people to digest. And there will be a need to explore the validity of the findings (Tom pointed out that “the samples used seem a little small“) and the relevance in a UK context (I suggested to Rosa that she should make use of the SCONUL organisation next time to try to get a representative sample from the UK academic library sector). But at least we now have data and interpretations of the data to forward the debate.