Archive for April, 2008

Are behind-the-firewall social networks doomed?

April 30th, 2008

Just read how adoption of corporate social networks remain sluggish.

Let’s say you implement an online social networking system in your organization, and adoption happens. Over time, does it become a giant echo chamber of groupthink? Does everyone eventually become connected to the point that no original thought occurs? I believe so. On the other hand, the potential massive increase in productivity that comes from knowing what others know (call it “network awareness”) is nothing to sneeze at.

Bubble_insideBut, to remain healthy, a person’s network must continually expand (and maybe even atrophy – new cells form, old cells die). My friend, Kathryn Everest, explains it this way: I meet someone new, we have a burst of energetic collaboration and breakthrough thinking, but our relationship normalizes over time, and our differing points of view begin to become similar. To get that new thinking fix again, that jazz factor, I need to make a connection with someone new. Social network science calls this extending your reach, and it’s critical to innovative thinking.

This makes me think of The Truman Show. If your network can only expand to the edge of your corporate bubble, then what’s the life expectancy of a corporation’s ability to innovate?

Right. That’s why there are books like Wikinomics.

Oh. And Twitter.

Those who start from the outside first probably benefit more than those who try to start from the inside first. Also, it’s WAY easier to justify the cost of setting up an external online social environment with your business partners and customers than it is with just employees alone. Of course, you must have an “inside out” culture to support it.

More about user adoption

April 30th, 2008

I once read Mean Genes (loved it), and somewhere in that book the authors talk about how society’s evolution has greatly outpaced biological adaptation. This has caused, among other things, a human being’s inability to instinctually behave as if there are more than a few hundred other souls on the planet. Our biology is still stuck back in the day when we only thought those in our immediate community were the only other humans around.

So, you know how hard it is to get people to consistently reduce, reuse and recycle? It’s the same for online social participation behind the firewall. “So I tossed a plastic bag. What difference will it really make?”… “Who is going to even care about what I have to say in a blog or forum?”… There’s no immediate gratification in either of those actions. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the butterfly and/or cumulative effect our social efforts, online or otherwise, can have.

It takes effort to think globally.

Enterprise 2.0′s greatest hits, greatest concerns

April 29th, 2008

My “gig” last week was in front of about 70 folks from the Canadian government. We were in a smaller version of the United Nations auditorium, and I felt very diplomatic. Themes encountered during that meeting are turning into a tune that I just can’t get out of my head. I haven’t kept meticulous track, but while speaking to this customer, plus about 30 large Americas-based enterprise customers over the past few months, and over 100 since February 2007, I’ve noticed the following tune:

  • Sheetmusic_flyAbility to search using a Blackberry for profiles, not just for phone or email, but for skills, affinities and networks, is perceived as very valuable (nobody has mentioned an iPhone yet)
  • Easy access to people’s profiles and social content from existing collaboration tools (email, IM, teamsites) is perceived as valuable
  • Ease of deployment and/or hosting is a must
  • Ability to start small, but grow big quickly is the preferred route
  • Legal discovery concerns are unresolved
  • Lack of brisk user adoption is foremost on everyone’s mind
  • Potential unprofessional behavior on company-sponsored sites is a concern

Most large enterprises feel more comfortable when they have an inkling of how they’re going to get people to use social software, and how they’re going to govern that use, before they sign a purchase order. I’m hoping Oliver Marks can help shed detailed light on the governance part (to see entire Twitter conversation, click “View Conversation” here).

There are emerging professional services from large and small consulting companies, emerging communities, and scads of blog posts about how to refine this melody for the enterprise. I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony on this one, but it’s going to take some serious organizational cultural shifts before we can strike up the band (ok, done with the music metaphors).

My Neal Stephenson Tour

April 28th, 2008

I read Cryptonomicon in 2006. That was my introduction to Mr. Stephenson’s brain. I then tried to read Quicksilver, no go. Just finished Snow Crash (loved it), and I’m in the middle of The Diamond Age, at the part where Hackworth has just been arrested by Constable Chang. The whole nanotechnological-Victorian thing reminds me so much of the Wild Wild West TV show (yes, I know it wasn’t set in the Victorian period).

In the book, a woman gets a nanosite tattoo known as the “Jodie.” And the protagonist is a little girl named Nell. This book was published in 1995, a year after the movie Nell, starring Jodie Foster, was released (“T’ee in the wayah!”).

Coinky-dink? Maybe.

Social Media is a Triathalon

April 26th, 2008

Clay Shirky’s session at the recent Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco caused a wave of wow throughout TwitterLand, which was the only way I was able to participate in the conference.

He has blogged an edited transcription of his infectious discourse, Gin, Television, and Social Surplus. And now I am wowing.

Shirky explains that at each major shift in society – from the ages of agrarian to industrial, to information, to Web – it’s too much to handle, so we self-anesthetize (with gin, sitcoms, what have you) for awhile before we’re able to figure out what to do.

He goes on to explain that our kiddos are growing up expecting all media to include the ability to not just consume, but to produce and share. What a beautiful definition of that phrase I hate, “Web 2.0.”

I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she’s going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn’t what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, “What you doing?” And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, “Looking for the mouse.”

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

Has anyone read his book? Did you enjoy it?

Incidentally, I’ve been reading Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age, in which he describes a future media world that includes (inte)ractives and (inte)ractors. Payors buy the ractive they want to participate in, and ractors play some of the parts in the story. This book was published in 1995.

Tagging is the reverse of “foldering”, Part III

April 25th, 2008

(Read Parts I and II for context)

Tagging’s yuck factor for the traditional worker

T.W. says, “Urgh. Tagging. Look, I just want my dang folders. It’s what I’m comfy with. Piles of papers all over my desk. More papers in filing cabinets underneath it. Documents in folders on my computer. Like the little rooms I imagine are in my head, where I store all the crap I’ll forget when I’m older.”

Ah yes, Grasshopper, but you can usually only put something in one folder at a time, right? Wow, that’s a lot of cognitive pressure to come up with THE magic folder label for that thing on the spot, and then somehow remember what you called it later. I take it you enjoy doing mental gymnastics every time you need to find something again.

Tagging is the reverse of foldering: instead of putting something into one folder, you put lots of “folder labels” onto the thing.

After T.W. clicks “Bookmark This!”, and before she clicks “Save”, she can put some “folder labels” on that bookmark. TIP: use tags that you would normally type into Google to find that thing again.

R2_Dogear_BookmarkletForm_withTags

So now, T.W. can categorize something in many ways, not just one. She can find it again later by remembering any of those tags, then either searching for it, or clicking on it in her tag cloud in Dogear. And, she can use Dogear to bookmark anything she can browse to, inside or outside the firewall.

And then…

T.W. will eventually find loads more stuff from other people who’ve used the same tags, and then, “wow! look at that! I was just looking for that last week! Heyyyy, this bookmark/tag thingy is cool! Hey, T.C.W. (Traditional Co-Worker)… c’mere and look at this…”

Back to my customer discussion.

We talked about the value of using a tagging service to let people type tags directly onto intranet web pages themselves, like this:

In-place_tagging

But, since traditional workers are not used to typing directly onto a web page (that’s not Web 1.0!), and since this method doesn’t really place that page into their own personal bookmark stash, they skip it.

Maybe you’ll find those who’ll tag pages directly for the needs of the many, since they outweigh the needs of the few, or the one, (unless you’re the one). But those folks are going to be a minority for now.

I say, address the “What’s in it for me?” thing first, before guilting them into helping out the rest of the company.

Tagging is the reverse of “foldering”, Part II

April 24th, 2008

(Read Part I for context)

T.W. (Traditional Worker) says, “Whuh?”

Ok, let’s walk through this, nice and simple. IT wants to make intranet search better, so they deployed an internal social bookmarking service, like Lotus Connections Dogear. They’re trying to get people to use it. By the way, here’s a secret to getting people to use new software faster: try to take advantage of people’s existing behaviors. For example, most folks already have the brain-dead motor skill of bookmarking a website in their browser. So, it’s a minor physical change to get people to start clicking Dogear’s “Bookmark This!” button in their toolbar instead.

Anyway. Somebody sits down with T.W. to teach her how to use Dogear. T.W. is an influential “node” in the organizational network, because she seems to know everyone, and everyone tends to go to her to learn stuff. The hope is that if she “gets” it, she’ll tell hundreds more. (Insert your social network science terms for what T.W. is here. But remember, T.W. doesn’t give a ratfart about social network science. She just wants to churn out those TPS reports and go home.)

T.W. finds a website she wants to remember. She clicks “Bookmark This!” in her toolbar, then clicks “Save” in the resulting pop-up window. Done.

R2_Dogear_BookmarkletForm2

The URL, page title, her name, and the date are stored in the Dogear database, listed in her “My Bookmarks” page, searchable by others, and ready to influence relevancy rankings in intranet search results (batteries not included).

MyBookmarks

She could stop here, but something’s missing. T.W.’s a foldery kind of gal, who likes to place her bookmarks into folders so that her brain categorizes it up there in her grey matter – this is the reason many of us physically put stuff in folders, so that it’s easier to do so mentally – she’s got a new thing to learn: tagging.

Tomorrow, Part III: Tagging’s yuck factor for the traditional worker

P.S. Here’s a 2005 high-brow version of that last paragraph for all you cognitive science geeks.

Tagging is the reverse of “foldering”, Part I

April 23rd, 2008

Program Note: This mini-series is for those of you who “get” social software, and have the task of helping your more traditional co-workers “get” it. It’s in many parts so that you don’t glaze over after three minutes.

I spoke with a large telecom customer yesterday. One interesting idea resonated well, especially in light of the all-out push to slurp knowledge out of an organization’s “wisdom holders” before they exit, stage left. Um, good luck with that, by the way. My advice? Get them to trust/mentor/repeatedly talk to a new hire who likes to blog. People typically only share their precious information with people they trust, either in person, over the phone, in email, or instant messaging.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Tabling the whole social-software-as-neo-KM discussion, let’s get simple. Let’s talk about where it hurts every day.

Traditional Worker (T.W.) says, “Why can I find more information about our company using Google on the Internet than I can searching our intranet?”

Well, finding intranet content is vastly different than finding Internet content, and even deploying Google’s search appliance internally won’t magically give you Google-like search results. Why?

Google makes use of the vast and growing user participation on the web to find the good stuff based on reputation through a secret and ever changing formula.

The FASTForward Blog » Internet vs Intranet vs. Enterprise 2.0 Search

Andrew MacAfee said it best back in 2006:

[The Web's emergent nature] is a key difference between the public Internet and private Intranets. Public Web sites are built by millions of people, while most Intranets are built and maintained by a small group. Emergence requires large numbers of actors and interactions, but Intranets are produced by only a few people (even though they are passively consumed by many). In addition, most Intranet pages aren’t as heavily interlinked as pages on the Internet.

Another important difference is that Web 2.0 has accelerated the rate of emergence on the public Internet. I think of Web 2.0 tools and technologies as accomplishing two important goals: increasing the number of people who are contributing content (and the ease with which they can do it), and increasing the number of ways to let content creators (and consumers) interact with each other. These new interactions are the further mechanisms, beyond linking, for emergence – for letting patterns and structure emerge from low-level behavior.

Tagging, as implemented on del.icio.us, Flickr, YouTube, Yahoo’s My Web, etc., is a new and clearly powerful way to let structure emerge.

Andrew gives us something to shoot for, later in his entry. To paraphrase, corporate intranets could stand a large dose of user participation in order to make search better, but it’s hard to get people to participate, because these new tools are not intuitive for a Web 1.0 mindset. But, once they start using them, it’s hard to stop them.

Tomorrow, Part II: T.W. says, “Whuh?”

What does “social software” mean to you?

April 17th, 2008

During a spirited Twitter discussion today with the venerable Mike Gotta, he advised me to define what “social software” means in my previous post in order to provide context, and to come to “agreement on concepts, methods, practices” between vendors and customers so as to avoid a dead end discussion (by the way, Mike will be publishing a report about social software on April 22, which perhaps will aid we confused vendors and customers in defining same ;).

When I’ve asked my customers, spread across the Americas, what “social software” means, here’s the most common answer I get:

It’s wikis, blogs, and something like Facebook. Oh, and we need it to integrate with Windows SharePoint Services.

I get the same answer when I occasionally ask them to define “Web 2.0”, incidentally.

For me, social software is anything that makes user-generated content open to all by default, limited only by firewalls and the manual setting of access control by the participants. It allows for folks to add to that content, whether as comments, ratings, or edits. It should also make it easy to share that content with others, via notifications.

Here’s what Wikipedia contributors think it is.

So I ask you: how do YOU define “social software”? It’ll be interesting to compare our responses to Mike’s report next week.

What’s ailin’ ya?

April 17th, 2008

The doctor is in. Tell me: what pains do you encounter – and please, don’t hold anything back, I’m here to listen – in trying to get your organization to use social software? I don’t care what tool you’re deploying. Just tell me where it hurts.