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Web 2.0 In Action

IBM's Pass It Along: Mapping Memes Toward A Learning Organization

A couple of weeks ago I talked with Jamie Alexander, IBM's Chief Designer of Pass It Along. As Campus Technology reported at that time  (, Pass It Along had just been announced. Jamie was eager to show me how it worked. I was taken aback when he said at the outset that 12,000 employees at IBM were already using Pass It Along. Web 2.0 technologies, and thinking, have indeed invaded the corporate workspace.

Pass It Along confronts head-on the challenge humanity has faced ever since the first mechanical computing machines were built: How can we replicate, in a machine, human expert systems? How do we make explicit the tacit understandings humans have of any situation or interaction? From AI systems, to natural language processing, to intelligent tutors, and now to social software, we have been humbled. What computer scientists and engineers thought would take a year or two ended up taking decades to come close to minimal standards of performance, and, of course, R&D continues.

Humans are, surprise, surprise, thousands of times more complicated than any of us suspected. The latest phase in the world of information technology is about human cooperation and collaboration and how computers can augment these critical human capabilities. (Computer Supported Cooperative Work [CSCW] became a research domain in the 1980s and 1990s as one legacy thread feeding social software development today).

We have, therefore, been working in various ways over the past 6 decades to create a digital partner that can help us perform complicated tasks. In the Web 2.0 era, we are getting serious about understanding the social and emotional webs we live within. We are now trying to map memes (critical, defining ideas in culture) within an organization.

We want to know how memes are communicated, how they are organized around other memes and information, and how they are preserved and passed on to others. How do we make organizational knowledge explicit--in written, not spoken words--and in data structures, and then make it accessible to others? How does an organization learn?

IBM must deal with a large number or retirees and the need to educate the new hires replacing them. According to IBM, "Nearly 22 million workers are set to retire this year in the United States alone, posing a significant challenge for businesses as they look to retain industry expertise and skills. As a result, organizations of all sizes are now looking for new ways to help their workforce more easily share and gain knowledge for competitive advantage."

Pass It Along offers a very interesting feature: visual maps, including photos of individuals, of a person's collaborations around ideas or people. You can quickly bring up a visual map within Pass It Along by searching for ideas or projects or people. This way, you can more easily keep track of who's working on what, the status of projects, and how you fit into various projects. The system also includes a feature to show the self-reported expertise level of people involved in projects.

Pass It Along is available in beta within IBM developerWorks at:

A very helpful tutorial, with much more information about Pass It Along, is available at

Pass It Along is hosted remotely and is intended to complement existing platforms on your campus. Already, the Sakai Foundation has a Pass It Along link in test. This Web 2.0 application may provide a significant new academic and organizational tool to improve learning and organization memory. Is the Memex upon us?

About the Author

Trent Batson is the president and CEO of AAEEBL (, serving on behalf of the global electronic portfolio community. He was a tenured English professor before moving to information technology administration in the mid-1980s. Batson has been among the leaders in the field of educational technology for 25 years, the last 10 as an electronic portfolio expert and leader. He has worked at 7 universities but is now full-time president and CEO of AAEEBL. Batson’s ePortfolio: E-mail: [email protected]

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