The fulcrum of my talk last week at the Open Education Conference was observable work. I first started thinking about this back in 2002, when I included this Dave Winer excerpt in my review of Radio UserLand:

We’ve been using this tool since November, internally at UserLand. We shipped Radio 8 with it. When we switched over our workgroup productivity soared. All of a sudden people could narrate their work. Watch Jake as he reports his progress on the next project he does. We’ve gotten very formal about how we use it. I can’t imagine an engineering project without this tool.

Since then I’ve spoken a few times about the idea that by narrating our work, we can perhaps restore some of what was lost when factories and then offices made work opaque and not easily observable. Software developers are in the vanguard of this reintegration, because our work processes as well as our work processes are fully mediated by digital networks. But it can happen in other lines of work too, and I’m sure it will.

My favorite example, from a very different domain, is the historic home preservationist John Leeke. In our interview he eloquently explains how and why he works observably.

This week’s Innovators show, with Charlie O’Donnell and Hilary Mason of Path101, expands on the same theme from a different perspective. Path101′s tagline is community-powered career discovery, and the approach is more data-driven than narrative.

When we narrate our work, we enable others to ask and answer the critical question:

What is it like to be a __________?

Path101′s aggregation of resumes and personality tests aims for different kinds of questions:

What personality traits do other _______s like me tend to have?

What careers do other _______s like me transition into?

Path101 is still a very young service, but I love the concept and will be interested to see how it evolves.