The Social Life of Information John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid

[Image of book cover]

Other Publications

About the book

(with links to chapters available on line)

About the authors


Besides The Social Life of Information, John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid have together and individually published numerous articles on related topics, including those listed below.

The Social Life of Learning: How Can Continuing Education Be Reconfigured in the Future? [1.4 Mb pdf file]
In this essay for Continuing Higher Education Review, John looks at the challenges that the combination of Moore's Law and Metcalfe' Law present to education. He argues for the need to look beyond information to such things as knowledge, judgement, and context, and he considers how to build environments to cultivate the sort of learning needed today. .
Continuing Higher Education Review 2002 66: 50-69.

Flexible IT, Better Strategy
In this essay for the McKinsey Quarterly, written with with John Hagel III, John examines the current misalignment between IT and organizational strategy. .
McKinsey Quarterly 2003 4: 51-59.

The Social Life of Legal Information: First Impressions
This essay questions the assumption that, as they are both assumed to be information based, libraries and schools will be transformed with equal ease by digital technologies. The essay points to the apparent paradox that, while digital technology has transformed the law library, legal education remains remarkably unchanged, and it attempts to explain why in terms of scholarly communities rather than scholarly information. The essay speculates that it is in part the very conservatism of legal education that has allowed the library to innovate: the law school develops the social understanding that makes the library usable.
First Monday 2002 7(9).

Mind the Gap
Reviewing Social Thinking-Software Practice (MIT Press, 2002) for the ACM's online magazine Ubiquity, Paul discusses the relationship between social thought and software design and suggests that the rise of Open Source software presents new challenges to both.
Ubiquity 2002 25 (August).

Local Knowledge: Innovation in the Networked Age
This article in Management Learning considers the local character of knowledge, suggesting that regions attempting to develop a hi-tech sector should neither strive to become another Silicon Valley, nor leave to others do do their hi-tech development for them, but rather attempt to form a path between these two extremes and develop hi-tech to address indigenous problems.
Management Learning 2002 33(4): 427-438.

Knowledge and Organization:
A Social Practice Perspective
This article for Organization Science reflects on the paradox that from certain perspectives knowledge appears "sticky" and difficult to move, while from others it appears "leaky" and difficult to prevent from moving. The article suggests that the perspective of practice offers the most coherent way to resolve this paradox.
Organization Science 2001 12(2): 198-213.

Creativity Versus Structure: A Useful Tension
This article for MIT's Sloan Management Review further examines the need for a critical balance between spontaneity and structure in innovative organizations.
Sloan Management Review 2001 42 (4): 93.

Knowledge Flow, Innovation, and Deep Craft - A Recombinant View of Practice
On April 19, 2001, John gave this talk as the Harvard Business School Leatherbee Lecture.
An account of the lecture, entitled Going Deeper with Brain power, can be found on the CNet website.

Storytelling: The Scientist's Perspective
John spoke on this topic at a symposium called Storytelling: Passport to the 21st century, arranged by the Smithsonian.
The powerpoint slides can be reached by clicking here.

Ecological Computing
In The Industry Standard , John and David Rejeski, a resident scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, argued that high technology and environmentalism, though often seen as natural enemies, can work together to produce a cleaner enviroment.
The Industry Standard 2000 Dec. 18.

Where Have All the Computers Gone?
In this piece for Technology Review, John reflects on the likely development of computers, suggesting that in fifteen years or so we will enter an age of "ecological or symbiotic computing."
Technology Review 2001 1.

Risken der Information: Eine Gesellschaftskritik des informationszeitalters.
Paul wrote (but did not translate) these reflections on themes from the Social Life for a German management periodical.
GDI-Impuls 4, 2000 (November), 22-29.

Mysteries of the Region
This essay appeared in a collection of reflections on Silicon Valley by insiders. collection. It notes that for more than a century, commentators have predicted that industrial "clusters" would disappear with improvements in communications technology. Yet still clusters form, most noticeably in Silicon Valley, at the heart of the latest revolution in information technology, the Internet. How can such clusters be explained? To answer this question, we suggest the importance of understanding how knowledge flows, both within firms and between them. To understand regions, we argue, you have to look beyond information to the social networks that can both support and inhibit the flow of knowledge.
The Silicon Valley Edge: A Habitat for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, eds., William F. Millar, Chong-Moon Lee, Marguerite Gong Hancock, and Henry S. Rowen. Stanford University Press, 2000: 16-39.

Understanding Silicon Valley: Foreword
John wrote the foreword for another book on Silicon Valley. The essay reflects his personal odyssey from East Coast to West, ending in the Valley, as well as his reading of this series of essays about a place where he has lived, worked, and been a formative influence for twenty years.
Understanding Silicon Valley: The Anatomy of an Entrepreneurial Region, ed. Martin Kenney. Stanford University Press, 2000: 1-15.

In the lead piece in Forbes ASAP, John reflects on the issue of trust on the Internet. The piece discusses net-based stock-market scams, their historical precedents, and their implications for truth and trust in online environments.
Forbes ASAP 2000 October 2.

After All the Shouting, a Napster Compromise Seems Likely
Under this not entirely prescient title, Paul joined Hank Barry, CEO of Napster, and Hilary Rosen, CEO of the Recording Industry, in a discussion of peer-to-peer sharing on the editorial page of the San Jose Mercury. Paul's contribution looked at the question from a "social life" perspective, trying to trace not just the technology, but the conflicting social forces at play.
San José Mercury 2000 July 24

Don't Count Society Out (A reply to Bill Joy)
The April 2000 issue of Wired carried an article by Bill Joy, cofounder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, called "Why the Future Doesn't Need us". The article argued that "our most powerful 21st-century technologies—robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology—are threatening to make humans an endangered species." We replied.
A short version of the article appeared in The Industry Standard , underneath the title," Re-engineering the Future." An extended version appeared in The Invisible Future, ed. Peter Denning, McGraw Hill,2001: 117-144.

Balancing Act:
How to Capture Knowledge Without Killing It

This article appeared in Harvard Business Review. It further explores the process-practice relationship laid out in chapter 4 of The Social Life of Information. The article concludes that:
"Dot-com companies are a hotbed of innovative practices. But as they mature, they find that they need seasoned managers who can harness those practices through the judicious application of constructive processes."
Harvard Business Review 2000 May-June: 73-80.

Net or Spider's Web
Paul reviewed Lawrence Lessig's important book, Code and Other Law's of Cyberspace.
Times Literary Supplement 2000 March 24.

Practice Makes Process
This critique of Business Process Re-engineering was edited from chapter 4 of The Social Life and was followed by a response from Mike Hammer.
CIO 2000 March 1.

Practice vs Process: The Tension That Won't Go Away
This article appeared in Knowledge Directions. It argues that while both firms and management theories lurch back and forth between practice and process, these two live in tension and managers must learn to live with both rather than favour one over the other.
Knowledge Directions, 2000 1: 86-96. Available as a 232K pdf file by clicking here.

Growing Up Digital
At the 1999 annual conference of the American Association for Higher Education, John gave a talk called "Growing up Digital." Change 2000 March/April; available in pdf format from the AAHE website.

Organizing Knowledge
Transaction cost economics suggest that the firm is held together by transaction costs—the costs of using the marketplace—and that as costs are driven down by improvements in communications technology, firms will shrink. In this paper, we argued that, while conventional transaction costs may contribute significantly to the bulk and shape of firms, the demands of organizing knowledge are a critical but easily overlooked factor in explaining why firms exist, what they do, and how innovation occurs.
California Management Review 1998 40(1): 90-111.
Republished in Reflections 1999 (1)2: 28-44, with commentaries by Wanda J. Orlikowski and Etienne Wenger.

The University in the Digital Age
This article argued that some of those who foresee radical changes in the university overlook the complex relationship a university establishes between knowledge, communities, and credentials. We layed out our view of this complex relationship before offering some hypothetical institutional arrangements that might enable the universities of the future to honor their "core competencies" while taking the fullest advantage of emerging technological possibilities.
Times Higher Education Supplement 1996 (May 10): iv-vi [renamed "Space for the Chattering Classes"]; The version presented here appeared in Change 1996 (July-August): 10-19.

The Social Life of Documents
The remarkable appeal of new browsers for the World Wide Web suggests that the document may have a significant future in cyberspace. Documents, however, are not mere delivery mechanisms. They are, we suggested, both a powerful means for structuring and navigating information space and a powerful resource for constructing and negotiating social space. A broader understanding of documents and their uses will open new directions for developing document media and allow new social practices and social groups to emerge.
Release 1.0, Esther Dyson's Monthly Report 1995, October;
First Monday 1996, May 1.

Stolen Knowledge
"Stolen Knowledge" was written in response to the assumption that successful learning occurs when learners take what teachers offer. In this chapter, we argued that, in fact, learners tend to take what they want. Borrowing a phrase from the great Indian poet and Nobel laureate Rabindrath Tagore, we describe what learners do as "stealing" knowledge.
Situated Learning Perspectives, ed. Hilary McLellan, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications, 1996: 47-56.

Material Matters
In this paper, subtitled "the past and the futurology of the book," and written for The Future of the Book, edited by Geoffrey Nunberg with an afterword by Umberto Eco, Paul discussed the future of the book in the context of technological predictions more generally and the curious alliance between poststructuralism and futurism. He examined distinctive claims of "supersession" and "liberation," which revealed common threads and contradictions in this alliance. He also discussed bookkeeping as a form of proto-hypertext.
The Future of the Book, ed. Geoffrey Nunberg, Berkeley: CA: University of California Press, 1996: 63-102.

Keeping it Simple
"Keeping it Simple" was written for the book Bringing Design to Software. The chapter argued that good designers "keep things simple" by relying on resources that are provided by context. Those who use designs these designs then act rather like detectives, reading context as if it were a set of clues providing useful background information. Designers who try to work free of context are, from this point of view, working against simplicity and unwittingly adding to "information overload."
Bringing Design to Software, ed. Terry Winograd, New York: ACM Press/Addison-Wesley 1996: 129-145.

Borderline Issues: Social and Material Aspects of Design
This article opened a special issue of Human-Computer Interaction. The succeeding articles then discussed the argument it put forward. That argument addresses the unnoticed resources provided by the embedding context of communicative artifacts--the paper in a newspaper, the binding of a book, etc. It suggests that this context plays an important, though often neglected, role in communication (and was an important resource for designers). It argued that more attention consequently needs to be paid to the likely affects on communication when new media change the embedding context.
Human-Computer Interaction 1994 9: 3-36.

Organizational Learning and Communities of Practice
Organizational studies tend to take a "top down" approach. In this paper, we suggested that by looking away from the "canonical," management-approved practices and investigating instead the informal, improvisational work that holds organizations together, it's possible to develop a better understanding of the relationship between work, learning, and innovation.
Organization Science 1991 2(1): 40-57; republished several times.

Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning
Written with Allan Collins of Bolt Beranek and Newman and published in Education Researcher this paper explored the idea that learning is not a process of delivering information to individuals. Rather, the paper proposed, all learning has apprentice-like properties. Understood this way, both learning and teaching look significantly different.
Educational Researcher 1989 18(1): 32-42.

Top Home About the book About the authors