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Grasping the potential of online social networks for foresight

Author: Romina Cachia, Ramón Compañó, Olivier Da Costa
Organisation: Elsevier Inc.
Publish Date: 2007
Country: Global
Sector: Technology
Method: Foresight
Theme: General
Type: Other publication
Language: English
Tags: Online Social Networks; Foresight; Emerging change; Weak signals; Collective intelligence

Online Social Networks (OSNs) have gained unprecedented popularity in recent years. OSNs facilitate the interaction among members by providing a dynamic/multimodal platform which enables discussions, sharing of multimedia content, organisation of events, etc. These networks comprise millions of members from all continents and from all age groups — although the younger generation is more prominent. OSN dynamics and inherent patterns of operation are being investigated by academia as a means of studying, for instance, ICT-enhanced social change. Industry uses them to detect new commercial trends and establish marketing strategies.

We believe that the huge size of OSNs, the broad and versatile thematic topics and the fact that most users are youngsters made these new modalities of large-scale interaction also worth investigating in regard to the study of the future or foresight. In this paper, we discuss the relevance of OSNs for three objectives of foresight methods, namely creativity, expertise and collective intelligence.

First, we argue that OSNs can be regarded as a tool to enhance creativity through the unprecedented modalities of communication and interaction they offer.

Second, we propose OSNs as an expert tool to detect emerging changes in social behaviour. We assume that the recorded exchanges of information and thoughts between participants in forums offers an under-exploited source of information for detecting new social trends. The value of this information may be amplified by evaluating it in conjunction with other OSN data, such as member profiles, behavioural patterns or list of contacts or friends. In this way, emerging social trends could be detected. Similar approaches are already used in market research and could be transferred to foresight.

Third, we consider OSNs to be a means of aligning individual thinking and fostering collective or “collaborative” intelligence for a whole range of possible goals in the future.

For each of these three objectives, the theoretical foundations are complemented with some case studies. Given the novelty of the OSN phenomenon and its unexplored potential in many fields, the authors aim to trigger thinking and discussion on the potential application of this emerging phenomenon within foresight, rather than to offer a vademecum on the use of OSNs for foresight activities.
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