Social learning, or is it learning socially?

Deepak asks the question in his latest post, Questions and information streams:

Will we ever be in a situation where we might be at our bench and need to look up something. Today we’d search. Tomorrow will we search, or will we ask, and the appropriate response would be delivered to you, whether it be a search query, or whether it be a response or two or three from people in the field.

He’s looking forward to the possibility. I think that possibility, as he intimates, is there. With Twitter, Friendfeed, Aardvark, Facebook, the new features on Google, and Google Wave it seems to be converging to that possibility.

There are some issues with this. I find Aardvark annoying. I signed up after a guest in our house just got a job there. Perhaps I didn’t give it enough time, or didn’t have enough questions, but for the most part the questions asked through the systems to me I didn’t have the time and/or expertise to answer. I answered a few, but even at 2-3 a day, it was just yet another text or email clogging up my in-stream (my new word… inbox, text, etc., that comes in). Perhaps it would be different with a very focused group, like bench scientists.

Or parents. I belong to a parenting group on an ‘old-fashioned’ internet bulletin board. I’ve belonged to this board since before our daughter was adopted, nearly 8 years. It has been a invaluable source of information, advice and discussion in raising our daughter. With 200 active parents (mainly mothers) on the boards, the questions are answered within minutes often. That’s been a boon when a 2-year old is in an hour long tantrum and you are at a loss of what to do.

Of course, these are just extensions of our real life social networks, the lab and department where we do our research are invaluable and necessary for learning from others, asking questions, finding the right technique or resource. Our family and friends in parenting. The internet, with past applications like bulletin boards and chat and more recent and future ones like twitters and waves, is really only an extension and a more rapid tempo of our real life learning networks.

And I can see where this extension are, and could be, very helpful in science, both benchwork and computer research. Often it could be a boon to have an answer quickly.

Or it could be annoying to get asked a lot.