Monday, September 29, 2008

The domino effect - what's that?

Here are some nice illustrations for the republicans in the US Congress.



Too complex? Try this one instead:


Or maybe this one?

Designing a successful online directory service - Part I

"In 2004 Teleadress designed and launched our own online directory service. Thanks to its Google-like simplicity, fast search engine and reliable data, hitta.se has rapidly become one of the most popular and repeatedly visited online directory services in Sweden." (Teleadress homepage)

I was asked by Teleadress to design the first version of hitta.se, now the leading online directory with contact information in Sweden. This was in late March 2004 and I was told that the service was to be launched in June, just a couple of months later. Not much time to think, but that just made the assignment so much more exciting.

So, time was a critical factor. The reason was that the former and by far largest customer of Teleadress, Eniro, had decided not to buy data from Teleadress anymore. They had previously bought all the data for their online and offline directory services from Teleadress. Now they wanted to aggregate and own the data themselves. It was quite a blow for Teleadress and the company that owned Teleadress at the time realized that they needed to do something fast if their investment would not become worthless. They simply decided to take up competition with their former customer.

I teamed up with my colleague Anders Bännstrand and we quickly declared that we could not compete with number of features, brand or credibility as it would take years to catch up on these things. To compete with the quantity and quality of the data would be hard even if we had more and better data since users typically distrust a new service. So the obvious way to go was to focus on designing an outstanding user experience. But we did not define "outstanding" in the same way as a traditional web agency would have (with a lot of focus on the visual design). We just wanted the service to be as lean and simple as possible and these were the characteristics we wanted in the user experience:

  • Simple

  • Fast

  • Clear

  • Accessible

  • Friendly

  • Flexible

  • Complete

When presenting the first design concept a week later, we started by showing the customer the following quote made by Sue Dumais, Microsoft in 2000 :

"The improvements in performance gained through usable interface design are 3 or 4 times larger than those gained through designing better search algorithms."

To be continued...(below is an early visual showing the search result)


Sunday, September 28, 2008

This week in links - week 39, 2008



"What is the value of formal organisational structures?" by Dr. Laurence Lock Lee:

JB Quinn in his book on the Intelligent Enterprise talks about the inverted organisation, more suited to today's services economy, as opposed to the traditional industrial model. In the inverted model it is the front line customer facing staff that are seen to hold the power for impacting the organisation's fortunes, with the management providing support more so than control.

So how about this.....We accept that formal structures are best used for efficiency reasons...//...We are just building the 'machine' and all the parts are just undifferentiated machine parts...//...So having browsed the formal hierarchy now we want to know how things really get done around here! Where are the informal networks? Who do I need to influence to get stuff done? This is where the real "effectiveness" lies. The hidden structure can form an impenetrable 'immune system' for change or alternatively a 'happy virus' where positive change rapidly pervades the organisation. You just have to know how to work the network.
In most organizations there is this horrible disconnect between the hoopla about “working collaboratively” with “social networking tools” and the management practices, reporting relationships and performance expectations.

Organizations can talk the talk about “collaboration”, but to effectively implement collaborative tools and work behaviours they have to walk the walk of new organization structures, management practices and employment expectations
and compensation.The hierarchical structure has been based on the belief that knowledge is arranged vertically. But this is no longer the case — now knowledge flows horizontally and chaotically.
"It's About The People, Stupid" by Peter Burris, Principal Analyst & Research Director at Forrester:
So, if you were given an opportunity to talk about day two of a technology conference attended by hundreds of technology, business, and vendor folk discussing how they're going to work together to solve really interesting problems over the next few years, what would you say?

How about, "Wow!"

While I heard plenty of talk about technology and tools, each of the couple dozen conversations I had quickly moved to a discussion of people and relationships and how to get things done.
"Adding Connections Between the Three Levels of Information Management" by Michael Sampson:

The concept of "What's changed that may impact me?" is a key question that drives a lot of our information-related activities. We read the newspaper to see "what's changed?" We watch the TV news, read blogs, follow Twitter, etc. for this same purpose. And it's my contention that this same fundamental idea needs to apply in our Intranet environments. There is a whole discussion that can be held about search and findability, but I see this as different. The main system interface that someone uses on a day-to-day basis should be the place where they receive alerts and notifications about "what's changed".

Friday, September 26, 2008

Scary, scary software

When talking about the potential benefits of social software in an enterprise context as Henrik and I do in our awareness seminars, we often need to stress the importance of looking at both value and risk, and to first look at value and then risk. The reason is that many people automatically only see risk when they are confronted with something that is new to them (and might require them to change in one way or another).

I found this excellent post, "Keep Your Scary Software Out of the Workplace!" by Laurie Buczek at the IT at Intel Blog via Bertrand Duperrin that gives us a glimpse into the history of communication:

If you answered "yes" to blocking social sites and not finding business value in social software, then this is a MUST read! It shows that sometimes reactions to change are more out of fear, than logic. We are taking it as food for thought as Intel attempts to take our investment and usage of social software to the next level. Below are the article's key takeaways (re-published):

Email has no place at work (1994)
It’s clearly used for goofing off. The last thing I want are my employees wasting my money emailing each other. What’s the use case for email at work? What’s the ROI?Who else is doing it? See industry article

Internet access has no place at work (1996)
Giving employees access to the internet would be a massive productivity problem. Not to mention there are huge security concerns. What’s the reason employees should be allowed to cybersurf? See industry article

eCommerce is too high a risk for our company (1998)
Our company can’t afford the risk associated with opening ourselves up to new, unproven channels or even hacking. There are a lot of thieves online. Why would someone buy our products on the World Wide Web? See industry article

Instant Messaging has no place at work (2002)
It’s a massive distraction. Interruptions cost billions each year. Employees shouldn’t be allowed to spend time chatting all day work. Instant messaging has massive productivity loss implications. See industry article

Social Software has no place at work (2005)
It’s clearly used for goofing off. The last thing I want are my employees wasting my money blogging or networking with each other. What’s the use case for social software at work? See industry article

Obviously, many people and organizations seem to be stuck in the late 90ies, having adopted e-mail as the primary communication tool at work. But they have not yet understood the value of real-time text-based communication as a complement to communication via phone or e-mail, or realized that social software is really about supporting, strenghtening and managing the ever so important informal networks that we all rely on to be successful.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Find, Meet and Share

The lunch restaurant where I eat most of my lunches has a motto that says "Eat, Meet and Share". I often tend to read it as if it says "Eat, Meat and Share", but that is probably just because I'm usually hungry when I go there. Anyway, I think this motto could just as well - with a little tweaking - be the motto of Web 2.0 and social media; "Find, Meet and Share".

I personally like making the analogy with a lunch restaurant when thinking about Web 2.0. At a lunch restaurant, you socialize with other people at the same time as you are serving your own "functional" need (well, eating). It is a place where you are likely to run into other people and make new acquaintances. It is a place where titles do not matter that much and where it is easy to start a conversation with virtually anyone. Suddenly you might be talking with someone from HR, a customer, the CIO, or a colleague working on a project that shows to have some dependencies to your own. All of these things have happened to me at that lunch restaurant, but they seldom happen at the office space where I am usually working, even though it is an open office environment. Isn't that pretty much what web 2.0 and the whole social media thing are about? That is, an environment where you can get things done and socialize with other people to learn new things at the same time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The presentation from our "Web 2.0 At Work" awareness seminar

Here is the presentation from the Acando seminar "Web 2.0 at work" held by me and Henrik Gustafsson in Gothenburg and Stockholm approximately a week ago.

Please note that the presentation was originally developed to be presented verbally, but we hope that it can give you something even without this dimension.

The "Web 2.0 at work" seminar is an "awareness seminar", intended to create an awareness for organizations about the challenges and possibilities in the area of collaboration and knowledge exchange today, with a special focus on Social Media and Web 2.0 principles and technologies.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

True consultancy firms demonstrate how they generate additional value from social networks

There is an incredible amount of value in social networks in most consultancy firms. I know that for sure and most customers know that as well. But what customers do not know if whether or not they will be able to access it.

Small consultancy firms consisting of one or a few units located at the same location might be able to make use of it since the social density is high. This is typically the case for highly specialized consultancy firms. But larger firms typically have a problem in capitalizing on this value by offering it to customers with a higher price tag. In essence, it is about offering access to a firm’s collective intelligence instead of just offering the skills and competencies of individual consultants.

I believe that we will soon be able to make a much clearer distinction between true consultancy firms and those who are merely consultant brokers. This distinction will be reflected in pricing as brokers or self-employed consultants who cannot demonstrate how they collaborate in social networks will be forced to compete much more on the price tag. A consultancy firm needs to be able to demonstrate to customers how they generate additional value from internal and external social networks instead of just saying they can do it.

I will elaborate on this subject in coming posts, specifically how consultancy firms can and need to make use of social technologies to generate additional value from their internal and external social networks and thus motivate a higher price tag, but also how they need to adjust their business models accordingly. Customers will be able to position a consultancy firm as either a true consultancy firm or as a consultancy broker by looking at their business model and asking form evidence on how the firm capitalizes on their employees’ social networks.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This week in links – week 38, 2008

The theme for this week is cloud computing.

The growing impact of free webmail on enterprise e-mail” By Larry Cannell:

A recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project entitled "Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services" found, not surprisingly, that the most popular cloud computing service is webmail. What I found the most interesting is:

How popular webmail is compared to other cloud services. There’s a significant gap between webmail and the second most popular service (online photo storage).

The differing levels of use across age groups. The survey reported that 77% of respondents age 18-29 use webmail services but only 44% of those age 50-64.fs

These findings indicate an accelerating swing in attitudes toward e-mail that enterprises are surely starting to see.


What is missing here are real-time collaboration services. Cisco obviously wants to dominate that market.

"In 10 Years, Will Cisco Dominate the Desktop?" by Melanie Turek:

With its announced acquistion of Jabber, and recent acquistions of WebEx, IronPort and PostPath, as well as its own telephony, networking and VoIP applications, one has to wonder: Is it possible that Cisco will be the new go-to provider for all communications in the enterprise? (Remember, no one thought they’d own VoIP.)

All that’s missing are productivity apps–what acquisition is next, do you think? And will it set Cisco up to be THE dominant desktop player in the enterprise?

Maybe Zoho's got what Cisco is missing?

"Zoho: The Little Engine That Could (Take on Both Microsoft and Google)" by Bernard Lunn:

We all love the David and Goliath story. What about David vs two Goliaths? That is the improbable story of Zoho, the Web Office startup competing head on with both Microsoft and Google. On top of that, Zoho is from India and who ever heard of a product company from India?

Do you still think that Zoho cannot possibly be a serious contender? GE, after a vigorous evaluation including Google and Microsoft, selected Zoho. That is 400,000 desktops up for grabs worldwide. GE is a master at taking costs out of established processes, they do it relentlessly and continuously and they know how to evaluate and manage the risk of working with start-ups. Where GE break a trail, others are likely to follow.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Information overload and how to solve it

This quote by David Weinberger is one of my personal favorites:

"The solution to information overload is more information...so long as that more information is metadata."
I would like to share two excellent posts about information overload that I have come across this week. The first one is a post by Nicole Ferraro where she reports from the keynote session by Clay Shirky at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York:

With the introduction of social media tools, and our abundance of blogs, vlogs, and clogs galore, Web users often find themselves struggling to remain productive in what's been called the "information overload" culture. But in a keynote session here today, Clay Shirkey, author of Here Comes Everybody, said that so-called overload is actually little more than "filter failure".

Instead of blaming the abundance of information available in the connected age, he says, it's consumers' duty to continue to evolve with the systems -- and to reconfigure their information filters, both culturally and technologically.

"When you feel yourself getting too much information, it's not to say to yourself 'What's happened to the information?' It's to say, 'What filter just broke?' " he says. "When you start asking that question, we're going to get some clue as to where to put the design effort."
Robin Good's MasterNewMedia features an excellent paper about information overload by Mikkel called "Information Overload: What It Is And You Can Avoid It". Here are some excerpts:

Information overload is a two-sided problem:

  • The sender does not communicate her message efficiently
  • The receiver is unable to filter the information and evaluate which is the one she really needs

The history of media is thus a single continuous expansion of access to information, now available in enormous quantities - the key word here is quantity. The new is the opposing movement that is awakening: de-selecting quantity and passive reception, to the advantage of quality and active selection. We see it in avoidance of advertisements, traditional media loses readers/viewers, growing numbers even stop watching TV, internet technologies allows customized information channels, etc.

The key word here is quality. For on the one hand, technology increased the availability, but at the same time it has lowered the ”cost of access / entry” and increased individuality. ”Ordinary people” have regained control in a form of technological democratization. The individual can avoid information overload and increase the amount of relevance in her life.

I have not much to add, really. Not now anyway.

How to use consultants in a Web 2.0 world

I have now used MOSS 2007 for roughly a year and during that time I have set up, maintained and used a number of "collaboration spaces". I now realize that I have invested so much time and effort in learning how to find my way around and spotting the possibilities and limitations of MOSS 2007 that I now consider myself having enough knowledge to provide this knowledge as services to customers. But this is not something I want to do and definately not something I had in my mind when I first started using MOSS 2007 - I just wanted to USE it. This leads me to the following conclusion:

In a web 1.0 world, you need a consultant to educate you in how an application works. You need to understand the inner workings of the application to be able to use it.

In a web 2.0 world, you need a consultant to tell you that you no longer need a consultant to educate you in how an application works. You need the consultant to tell you how to change your own behaviour - why, for what and how to use different applications to maximize productivity and efficiency.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How organizations will invest in IT in times of economic recession

To be well prepared for the upcoming economic recession, I believe that many organizations will rapidly revise their IT strategies so that they focus on maximizing efficiency while keeping financial cost and risk to a minimum. This will speed up a lot of the current trends we are seeing:
  • There will be an increasing pressure to use online collaboration tools for collaborating across organizational units and locations. The main drivers will be the need for cutting costs related to traveling and the opportunity to reduce "redundant" competencies.
  • SaaS will be rapidly adopted as it enables an organization to share financial costs and risks with other organizations. Development of custom IT solutions will decrease dramatically.
  • There will be no major upgrades of operating systems, enterprise applications or productivity applications such as Microsoft Office unless absolutely necessary.
  • Open source will be considered as an attractive alternative to expensive commercial software for productivity apps (Open Office vs Microsoft Office).
  • All bread-and-butter IT services will be outsourced.
Organizations with strong finances (typically organizations outside of the stock exchange) and in pursuit of long term business objectives will use to similar strategies, but they will do it with much more care and discrimination. They will also invest in initiatives aiming to innovate their core business with IT since this will make them much stronger than their competitors at the next economic upswing.

Considering that marketing investments will probably be aimed at online communication channels rather than offline communication channels due to cost-efficiency reasons, it seems as companies such as Google might actually face more stable future during the coming 2-3 years than companies such as Microsoft or IBM.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The problem of introducing social networks in hierarchical organizations

Information is power and communication is about distributing that power. This is why people in middle-management are more likely than others to feel intimidated and threatened by corporate social networks.

In a hierarchical organization, most of the information that answers key questions about the management and operation of the enterprise (what, why, how and when) is typically produced and aggregated at the top and then distributed downwards throughout the different levels and branches of the hierarchical organization. The information must often pass each level of management on its way down until it reaches the intended receivers. These are "information tollgates" which have the responsibility and mandate to communicate this information to relevant receivers further down in the structure. In doing so, they can often select which persons they think should receive the information, how they should receive it, when they should receive it, and what they should receive. A major drawback of this way of distributing information is that the probability is quite high that information needed by a coworker further down in the pyramid does not reach her:
  • Management might be unaware of her need, which means that she does not receive the information she needs at all.
  • They might have misunderstood her need, which means that she receices the wrong (insufficient, incomplete, inaccurate...) information.
  • For some reason they might not want her to receive the information she needs, which means that important information is filtered out, or that information gets distorted along the way.
  • It is also quite obvious that this is not the shortest or most efficient way for information to travel and that even if the coworker receives the information she needs, it is likely that it is not received in time.

All these things can be avoided if there is a direct communication and interaction between the sender and the receiver. Obviously this is not possible in very large organizations. Or maybe it is?

Informal networks have traditionally been treated as threats to organizations by the management. This is probably because informal networks do not follow the communication structure based on the hierarchical organization chart. Informal networks bypass this structure. Furthermore, they do this in a hidden way that cannot be controlled by management. Still, without those informal networks most organizations would not function.

If you search for "informal networks" on Google, you will find an article called "The Power of Informal Networks" that pretty well sums up the importance of informal networks (You will also find the MIT SMR article "Six Myths About Informal Networks - and How to Overcome Them" and the article "Harnessing the power of informal employee networks" from The McKinsey Quarterly):

It is imprudent for the meeting professional to underestimate the power of informal networks by saying they are merely "nice-to-have." These types of networks are increasingly having a major impact on organizational effectiveness. More importantly, these types of networks provide major business advantages for the participants and thus are known to advance many careers.

The main difference between informal and formal networks is the effort of the individuals to create and maintain them.

The formal network often has an organizational culture attached to it, such as a formal philosophy, mission, structure, leadership, membership, eligibility, and funding.

Informal networks are based on the objective of achieving a reciprocal exchange of information and favors—with no rules—share advice freely, expand the network at will, inspire each other, achieve personal goals, and help each other obtain business and career advantages. The "old boys network" is based on the informal network system, hence the phrase, "It's a man's world." Again, the emphasis is on a one-to-one networking effort, as opposed to an organizational system that characterizes the formal network.

In Wikipedia you can read the following about social networks:

"...power within organizations often comes more from the degree to which an individual within a network is at the center of many relationships than actual job title...//... Networks provide ways for companies to gather information, deter competition, and collude in setting prices or policies"

Social networks can be seen as digital representations of informal networks. The key word here is “representations” since social networks make otherwise hidden informal networks visible. And by making them explicit, they can in a sense be “managed” and used to their full potential for gathering and sharing information.

Social networks are also flat. They have no hierarchy and everyone in a social network is typically presented as being on the same level, even though there is often a reference to an individual’s position in a hierarchical organization. But these titles are less important in a social network than IRL. What is more important in a social network is the person behind the title and who that person is related to. This, together with the fact that people often are more comfortable with contacting people they do not know virtually than IRL, makes the barriers to contacting someone higher up in the hierarchy of an organization much lower. It enables important information to be communicated from grass-root level to top management and vice versa in a fast, undistorted, frequent and in a timely manner.

This is also the "threat" of social networks to hierarchical organizations. Well, it is not a threat to the business itself (rather an opportunity). It is threat to those in the middle of the pyramid who build their positions on their formal right to distribute information from the top and down, and vice versa. This is pretty much the primary function of a lot of people in the middle of the pyramid. But as this function is becoming less important and sometimes obsolete, it poses a threat to those managers who are not really good coaches, mentors, visionaries, sales people, networkers and so on.

Top management on the other hand can really benefit from social networks. By bypassing the cumbersome hierarchical communication structure and communicating directly with individual coworkers, they can practice a much more agile and proactive leadership. They can get access to vast amounts of uncensored information from any corner of the enterprise and interact directly with coworkers from which you need additional information. But this requires that they equip themself and their collegues with efficient tools and technologies for sharing information, such as a corporate social network, syndication (RSS), blogs, wikis and mashups. With these and other tools and technologies, management can access and filter out important information that is flowing through the informal networks and spot trends, capture important signals and increase their awareness about the health of the business.

In a sense, the emergence of social networks and the means to distribute and aggregate information within those networks can be seen as "Social Business Intelligence". Social networks put content in context of other content, but what is even more important is that they put content in context of people. And it happens in real-time. This is what is missing with traditional business intelligence solutions.

There are definitely opportunities for enterprises to capitalize on social networks. But you have to find out a way to deal with those individuals in the middle of the pyramid that do not like being flattened out.

Friday, September 12, 2008

This week in links - week 37, 2008

"Microblogging In The Enterprise" by Mike Gotta:

It was inevitable that Twitter-like services would emerge targeting a business audience. While the term “microblogging” is frequently used to describe these platforms, they could also be considered as a derivative of group chat and instant messaging platforms as well. Within the enterprise, it is highly probable that IT organizations will classify these tools as messaging platforms (I would BTW). As a messaging platform, these tools would have to support security, logging, audit and archival functions to satisfy regulatory, compliance and records management demands.

These requirements might “ruin the party” about how people foresee microblogging taking off within the enterprise – but better to plan for such features now, and push vendors to deliver those functions, than ignore some basic blocking-and-tackling issues that inhibited rollout of enterprise instant messaging.

Microsoft acquired Parlano some time ago which could be extended to be a “Twitter for the enterprise”. IBM’s Sametime already has large-scale broadcast and group chat capabilities as well.

"Achieving effective Enterprise 2.0" by Martin White:

Try this test developed by Morten Hansen, Professor of Entrepreneurship at
the INSEAD Business School. How many of the statements reflect the situation
throughout your business?

  1. Employees are willing to seek help from outside of their organisational unit, even if this might suggest that they are not performing well.
  2. Employees are able to locate colleagues with information and expertise with the minimum of effort.
  3. Employees feel that they have a duty and a freedom to help others even if there is no immediate benefit, and indeed even a short-term impact on their own work performance.
  4. Employees promptly acknowledge telephone calls and e-mails requesting information.
  5. Employees willingly work together with colleagues from other units to solve specific problems.
  6. The organisation has clearly stated principles related to the value of teamwork and cooperation.
  7. An important element of induction programmes is to give new staff experience of working together in teams from different units, and with staff who have a range of expertise.
  8. Recruitment, development and evaluation procedures provide an opportunity to review and reward collaborative working and knowledge exchange.
  9. Examples of good practice and success in knowledge exchange are given wide publicity and recognition.
  10. Managers who do not support and participate in collaborative working do not gain promotion to senior management positions.

Unless you can score at least six then your business is going to have to work very hard to get the best out of Enterprise 2.0 applications.

"Why and How to SaaS – Jeff Kaplan at Serena Tag" by Bill Ives:

Jeff [Kaplan of THINKstrategies] asked, why SaaS?...//...People have now been exposed to simple and effective SaaS experiences through the consumer web with Amazon, Google, etc. At the same time there is a record of failure of large scale on-premise applications with cost over-runs and high maintenance costs, as well as delayed schedules that make the apps obsolete when they come out.

Jeff said his research shows that about a third of companies are using SaaS, and a third are considering it. The early adopters moved in 2006. Now the mainstream buyers are moving in. The move is not simply for cost reduction but also about adding new functionality that cannot occur in an on-premise application. One new function is benchmarking, another is anytime, anywhere access, and a third is the ability to easily move up and down in service
levels.

This SaaS trend is creating headaches for traditional companies. They have to restructure architecture, business models, sales models, etc. The resellers and implementers are troubled also as their role is changing.

Ambient awareness and collaboration

There is a lot of buzz (and has been for a while) in the blogosphere about using micro-blogging such as Twitter within in an enterprise context. For example, there is currently a buzz about Yammer which is a service for sharing status updates with coworkers.

I came across an interesting article about Facebook in New York Times by Clive Thompson via a post by Betsy Carrol at Leading Virtually:
By 2006, students were posting heaps of personal details onto their Facebook pages...//...Facebook became the de facto public commons — the way students found out what everyone around them was like and what he or she was doing. But Zuckerberg knew Facebook had one major problem: It required a lot of active surfing on the part of its users...//...Browsing Facebook was like constantly poking your head into someone’s room to see how she was doing.

"It was very primitive," Zuckerberg told me when I asked him about it last month. And so he decided to modernize. He developed something he called News Feed, a built-in service that would actively broadcast changes in a user’s page to every one of his or her friends. Facebook had lost its vestigial bit of privacy. For students, it was now like being at a giant, open party filled with everyone you know, able to eavesdrop on what everyone else was saying, all the time.

Zuckerberg, surprised by the outcry, quickly made two decisions. The first was to add a privacy feature to News Feed, letting users decide what kind of information went out. But the second decision was to leave News Feed otherwise intact. He suspected that once people tried it and got over their shock, they’d like it.

Psychologists and sociologists spent years wondering how humanity would adjust to the anonymity of life in the city, the wrenching upheavals of mobile immigrant labor — a world of lonely people ripped from their social ties. We now have precisely the opposite problem. Indeed, our modern awareness tools reverse the original conceit of the Internet. When cyberspace came along in the early ’90s, it was celebrated as a place where you could reinvent your identity — become someone new....//..."If anything, it’s identity-constraining now," Tufekci told me. "You can’t
play with your identity if your audience is always checking up on you
".

In the post "Fostering Ambient Awareness in Virtual Teams" Betsy Carroll discusses the article and how the "ambient awareness" which the news feeds feature on Facebook but also services such as Twitter has brought to us can be used in virtual teams:


Primarily, we learn from this article that numerous small electronic contacts with others can build relationships when people are away from one another.

Since virtual team members are typically dispersed, awareness tools might be very useful for leaders to help team members grow closer, building cohesion and trust.

If you want to get your virtual team in the habit of frequent small contact, role modeling from you as team leader will be much more successful than trying to require contact.

Betsy Carroll also provides "some basic guidelines for a virtual team leader to incorporate the use of frequent short contacts for team building" in the same post that you should check out.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Will this become a classic quote?

Google’s Marissa Mayer says in an interview in Los Angeles Times that search is “90 to 95%” solved:

I think there will be a continued focus on innovation, particularly in search. Search is an unsolved problem. We have a good 90 to 95% of the solution, but there is a lot to go in the remaining 10%. How do we monetize new forms of content as they come online such as video, maps and books. How do we help content providers transition their businesses online and build healthy businesses.

To say that search is 90-95% solved makes me wonder about how Google defines the problem of search. It seems as the problem Marissa Mayer and Google is trying to solve is how to index all kinds of content to make it searchable in the same way as textual content is today. Or maybe the problem is how to monetize on all kinds of searches, which is really an internal problem at Google?

I personally believe that the problem that search (or something else) needs solve is that people do not find the information and experiences they are looking for. Search has a loooong way to go before it will be able to do that. One part of the problem of search is that a search engine needs to be able to understand the semantics of a user's query and deliver results that semantically match the query. Another part is how to compensate for our inability to express in words what we are thinking. There is often a gap between the mind and the word, between the true need and the expressed need.

I think search might have solved a good 1-2% of this problem. If Google really thinks they have solved 90-95% of the problem of search, it is a clear sign that we will see some new actor(s) innovating search quite soon.

As a collegue of mine said "Search is solved when my need for information is immediately satisfied as I become aware of my need." So when I do not have to express my need and try to tell a search engine about it, search is solved. Search becomes obsolete.

"We don't understand openness"

David Weinberger blogged live from a seminar about the nature of openness by James Boyle, chairman of Creative Commons and teaches law at Duke:
We have patterns of behavior that economic theory does not predict. We are risk averse. For example, it makes no sense to buy a warranty; we buy them out of an absurd sense that buying the warranty affects the device’s outcome. There is another kind of bias that we wouldn’t predict from economic theory: A systematic bias against openness. We don’t expect openness and collaboration to generate what they do. We overestimate the risks. We underestimate the risks of closed systems and overestimate closed systems’ benefits.

Suppose in 1990 I came to you with two proposals: Build an open system. Or, build something like Minitel, Compuserv or AOL; it’s controlled and permission-based. Which would you pick? If you pick the first, you’ll have piracy, spam, massive amounts of crap, flame wars, massive violations of IP, use for immoral purposes. “I think you’d pick network #2″ because those risks are foreseeable, but you couldn’t imagine wikis, blogs, Google maps, etc. It’s hard for us to imagine the benefits of open systems. It’s not intuitive.

Again, in 1990 you are asked to assemble the greatest encyclopedia, in most
languages, updated in real time, adopt a neutral point of view. In 1990, you’d say that you need maybe a billion dollars, a hierarchical corporation, lots of editors, vet the writers you’re hiring, peer reviewers, copyright it all to recoup the money we’ve invested, trademark it. And someone else says, “We’ll have a web site, and people will like put stuff up and people will edit it.” How many of us would have picked #2. We don’t understand openness.

Free software is the same story.

Friday, September 5, 2008

This week in links - week 36, 2008

"Google Chrome seems to be shining for SOA" by David Linthicum:
Just to be clear. Chrome is not a savior for SOA/WOA. Its value is that it considers the use of Web delivered applications, and Web-delivered services, within the architecture of the browser. It's not an afterthought. This is a huge shift in thinking, and something that is desperately needed as we drive toward the use of services for applications and composites where the browser plays a key role. In essence, Chrome will become a valuable piece of the architectural puzzle, perhaps a missing piece.

"The psychology of bloggers" by Daryl Pereira:
Can you figure out who in your organization should be blogging?

Research released by the Computers in Human Behavior journal may help you identify these folk upfront. What are the most important traits? According to the
extract:

“The results of two studies indicate that people who are high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers.”

"Why is it so hard to get smart people to share?" by Gia Lyons:
Because human beings typically share their precious knowledge only with people they trust. Not a software application.

The whole point of social software, from the perspective of retaining corporate wisdom, is to make a wisdom holder’s surface knowledge available to a general population, so that other people can do the following:
  1. Be aware that this knowledge exists in the organization, and who has it.
  2. Determine with whom they should collaborate, if they even need to.
  3. Begin a trusted relationship with someone.

"Master Data Management: Whaddya Mean It’s Not About the Data?" by Loraine Lawson

Fisher [president and CEO of DataFlux] replied that MDM is about business processes and improving those processes – data is just the setting for the discussion. So, as with all major IT initiatives, your starting place should be identifying what business problems you’re trying to solve. Then, the next step should be to ask what business processes are part of the problem. It’s like tracing water — it’s more efficient to start at the source and work your way to the streams.

If you start with the data, you’re starting at the wrong end – and most likely, you’ll just wind up building another data silo, this time called “MDM.”

"Breaking the email compulsion" by Suw Charman-Anderson, The Guardian:

Back in the early 1990s, email was a privilege granted only to those who could prove they needed it. Now, it has turned into a nuisance that's costing companies millions. We may feel that we have it under control, but not only do we check email more often than we realise, but the interruptions caused are more detrimental than was previously thought.

We may think email is simple, but its ease of use is deceptive...//...If you find your mouse straying towards the "check email" button far too often, try these tactics:

  • Turn of intrusive alerts. Anything that pops up, flashes, or goes "ding!" will interrupt you when you're trying to focus and will trigger a response to check your email.
  • Set your email client to display just the title and first few lines of the email, so you can easily decide if it really is important enough to deal with right now.
  • Use other tools. Twitter and instant messaging (IM) are both better for asking short questions of chosen groups. Wikis are better for collaborating on documents. Blogs are better for publishing information and having informal conversations.
  • Send fewer emails. Do you need to hit "reply to all"?
  • Schedule your email. Set aside time each day to deal with your inbox and ignore it for the rest of the day. Most people check first thing in the morning and late afternoon.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

GMDesk - the best application Google has not yet launched

Much can be said about Google Chrome, but my old college Robert Nyman (I have to mention that since I am quite proud of him) recently launched the best application Google has not yet launched. GMDesk makes it possible to run Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Maps as a standalone application!

GMDesk requires Adobe Air and is still in beta version. I find it to be excellent! Think about not having to bother about a browser at all and to get access to Google's easy-to-use applications in desktop format. Just look how easy you can switch between applications:



It is a perfect application to install on your regular computer. You will have access to the apps via any web browser if you are using another computer.

The desktop is dead, long live the desktop!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

First impressions of Google Chrome

I have now tried Google Chrome for a couple of hours and I like it. I do not know whether or not it is because it is fast, clean and easy to use or if it is because it is something fresh and will shake things up like Apple has done with the IPhone. Probably it is a combination of both.

My only bad experience is that I cannot access my apps at Google. I get stuck when I try to log on to my Google account. Maybe it has to do with the internal network and proxys and stuff. I hope so. I have no problem logging on to other (non-Google) services.

Update: Innovation happens in the tail of social crossroads

Craig McEldowney posted an insightful comment to my previous post "Innovation happen at social crossroads" that I would like to share with you:

Hi there--
Good post. One point that I'd like to add is that I think these kinds of meetings have a longer tail than just the time spent in the actual collaboration. There's always that thought that sparks a day or two later and it's really those "ah ha" moments that happen offline that add value to initiatives, projects, what have you... So the point I'd add to your list of things we need is not just a mechanism for efficiently capturing the content of the meeting itself, but a platform that can support and facilitate capturing those additional insights/thoughts that happen afterwards and store them in a useful, searchable and repurposeable way.

Many online or virtual meeting places do a decent job of capturing the former, but ignore the latter. Meetings then degrade into emails, conversations, texts and IMs that don't get brought back into the general pool and there is a real missed opportunity. Who knows how many parallel and redundant conversations are happening after a given meeting? The clarification points that start to diverge? Once those can be integrated back into the fold, then we can start creating some real momentum on projects and initiatives, and not spin our wheels.

I very much agree with Craig. The new ideas and innovations that might come out of one or a number of meetings or interactions with other people do not necessarily happen at the actual meetings. But I am sure that these meetings bring a lot of the fuel that is needed to make innovation happen and that they might ignite ideas that later on will develop into something new.

I personally get most of my "a-ha" experiences at times when I am not working and when I am alone. On the exercise bike at the gym, while taking a shower, in the car while stuck in a traffic jam...But I am sure that I get most of the sparks from online and offline meetings with other people, such as this one with Craig on my blog.

Craig also writes about the importance of have a platform for capturing the additional insights/thoughts after the meetings. This is definately where blogs and wikis can be usable as they let people continue the conversations started in meetings. My own platform is actually this blog. It serves both as a notebook where I can capture and share my own thoughts and ideas and as scrapbook where I collect and share interesting things I've found on the web and elsewhere. I write the thoughts and ideas down on my smart-phone and either develop them later or publish them directly on the blog. I also read my feeds and mark the ones I find interesting so that I can read them later on and share those that I find valuable with the readers of this blog and the subscribers of the RSS feed.

By the way, I also have an internal blog that I share with my team for internal conversations and we use a wiki for capturing and referencing to value information. Unfortunately I cannot publish posts from my smart-phone on the internal blog, but this is a feature I hope will be added soon.

To sum up - a spontaneous meeting with a new person might suddenly ignite a spark and make me rethink things or expand the ideas and thoughts that I have shared. The conversion with Craig is a perfect example of this. I am sure that Craigs analogy with the Long Tail will spawn some new thoughts and ideas.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Innovation happens at social crossroads

Innovation often happen at social crossroads, places where people and ideas coming from different directions might meet, exchange ideas and collaborate to produce something new. Nothing might happen – but, more importantly, also anything. The most fruitful meetings are often those that are spontaneous and unplanned, almost non-voluntary and where people with new ideas or other perspectives on things show up with.


Innovation is also more often a bi-product of a process or something that occurs ad hoc than the result of a pre-defined process. Coffee breaks are usually a great opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences, input that might be needed to spawn an innovation.

If the only crossroads would be face-to-face meetings, exchange of information and knowledge, collaboration and innovation is less likely to happen. These meetings usually have to be scheduled way in advance so that the people you want showing up will be able to attend. The meetings also needs to take place in a physical room or space somewhere, which means that you need to be restrictive about who you invite. Besides, it is often hard to motivate the time and traveling costs as the number of participants increase. You simply cannot afford having people listening in to the meeting without contributing, even if it is just a matter of minutes that might be relevant for them to participate. That just isn't feasible with face-to-face meetings. You need to see value in attending at least half an hour; otherwise you should not go to the meeting.

Still - we need to meet more people, more frequently and more spontaneously to increase the chance of information and knowledge exchange, collaboration and innovation happening. These are some of the things we need less and more of:

  • Less scheduled meetings

  • Less waiting for the part of the meeting which is relevant for you

  • Less traveling

  • Less lead-time caused by going to or leaving meetings

  • Less irrelevant information exchanged

  • Less overbooked schedules

  • More flexible schedules

  • More people to get to know

  • More frequent interactions with other people

  • More spontaneous and on-demand meetings

  • More information exchanged

There is obviously a really big gap to fill where people need to meet but simply cannot do it in person in real life. Virtual meeting places have the potential to fill this gap. An organization that has stuck on repeat and do not innovate anymore should focus on creating more crossroads and increase the density of its people to make meetings. This can be done both physically and virtually, but it is usually not an option in a large organization to co-locate its entire people in one location. Anyway, it would be a huge office and there would still be physical barriers for people to meet spontaneously, efficiently and on-demand.

I personally like the crossroads analogy better than the silo or stovepipe analogy when explaining why collaboration does not happen. The silo and stovepipe analogies are negative and destructive, implying that you can solve things by reorganizing the organization scheme. Well, you might get temporary effects, but after a while everybody will most likely be stuck again in their new and shining silos or stove-pipes. That is, unless you enable a lot of virtual social crossroads to be created.