Friday, October 30, 2009

Internal micro-blogging can be intimidating

Browsing is a complementary method to searching which can be used when you have av vague idea about what you are looking for, or when you just cannot describe it. Just as browsing is a complementary method to searching, micro-blogging can be seen as a complementary method to targeted communication methods; phone, e-mail, chat, sms and so on. You micro-blog when you don't know specifically who to address with something. With micro-blogging, you simply turn to your followers, your groups and the entire community instead of targeting specific individuals.

As the adoption of internal micro-blogging grows at my own company, I am constantly discovering new use cases for internal micro-blogging. Here are a few of the things people use it for:

  • Asking collegues to help them find information about something, such as a report, method or customer
  • Asking collegues to help them with a problem they have with a specific software, their computer, or something else
  • Finding collegues with a specific skill, experience or knowledge
  • Building intelligence about something, such about what is currently happening at a customer or what we have previously done for that customer
  • Sharing ideas and finding collegues willing and able to help them develop them further
  • Getting help to find the right translation of a term that they use within their profession

The benefits of internal micro-blogging becomes quite clear as soon as you start to use it. But, I have also learnt that, for some people, internal micro-blogging can be intimidating. Why is that?

I believe it has to do with the fact that positions and titles matter also online. Some people are simply very afraid of making mistakes, such as saying the wrong thing, when their boss could be listening. So they see it as a much safer strategy to not say anything at all and just listen in on other conversations without joining them.

It all has to do with our fear of transparency. Micro-blogging is a transparent way to communicate, way more transparent than targetet communication methods like email. When micro-blogging, you just have to be a little more careful about what you say and how you say it than when you email people. Email is perceived as "safer" in this respect because it is much less transparent. It allows you to say more sensitive things, assuming that you trust the people that you communicate with (so they don't forward your conversation to other people). The point is that a lot of people will do anything to hold on to email and continue to use it for conversations which are not senstive and which could be very valuable to others who are not on the list of recipients to join or access.

Comparing micro-blogging to email also highlights another potential benefit of internal micro-blogging. The lack of transparency with email also means that you can use your work email for communicating and discussing highly sensitive things, even very private things. Or just bullshit and complete nonsense. This highly contributes to the email mess that most of us have to deal with on a daily basis. Internal micro-blogging is, just as blogging, a way to keep the important stuff than can be important to others as well from being buried and lost in your email inbox.

To me, one of the greatest promises of Enterprise 2.0 and tools such as micro-blogs is that we can use them to tap into the hidden talent of a large organization. The people who don't get to travel a lot, or who have the time needed to develop a strong informal internal network, can start to make start building a network of their own. The people who don’t have access to established forums other than their project and department meetings can share their ideas, opinions, experiences and knowledge with other collegues across organizational and geographical borders.

The sad part, from my experience, is that most of the people who don’t speak up at an internal meeting won’t do it online either. Although I am sure that some of them will speak up as time goes by and they get more used to this new communication arena, it will take time. And they won’t change their behavior voluntary. It will take peer pressure.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A New Age of Enlightenment

We are currently experiencing the dawn of a new Age of Enlightenment. The social media revolution (yes, it is a revolution since it shakes and changes existing rules, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors and also threatens the existence of old institutions) shows very similar characteristics as the Age of Enlightenment that started in the 18th century. Here are some excepts from Wikipedia:
  • The Enlightenment is held to be the source of critical ideas, such as the centrality of freedom, democracy, and reason as primary values of society.
  • In his famous essay "What is Enlightenment?" (1784), Immanuel Kant described it simply as freedom to use one's own intelligence.
  • One of the primary elements of the cultural interpretation of the Enlightenment is the rise of the public sphere in Europe...a “realm of communication marked by new arenas of debate, more open and accessible forms of urban public space and sociability, and an explosion of print culture"...its members held reason to be supreme; everything was open to criticism (the public sphere is critical); and its participants opposed secrecy of all sorts
  • ...those areas of political/social knowledge and discussion that were previously the exclusive territory of the state and religious authorities, now open to critical examination by the public sphere
I think it is pretty easy to draw parallels between the Age of Enlightment and the current period in human history.
  • We continue to value freedom, democracy, and reason, but we also emphasize additional values such as trust, sharing, openness and transparency.
  • The availability, usability and reach of today's web-based communication tools have given us the freedom not only to use your own intelligence, but also to more easily make use of the intelligence of others as well as to contribute to a collective intelligence.
  • The public sphere that has been created with the web as platforms knows no borders and have almost no barriers to entry. The blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook are examples of new arenas of debate and exchange which are more open, accessible, interactive and scalable than any public spheres previously existing. We have seen an explosion of user-generated digital content which is shared in these arenas where everything is open to criticism and can be commented on, rated, reviewed and recommended to others. We also oppose secrecy of all sorts, with transparency being a key value.
  • The discussions that were previously initiated, hosted and moderated by the media can now be critically examined and commented on by anyone. Anyone can also initiate, host and moderate discussions. We are no dependant on the platforms for debate offered by media institutions.

Monday, October 26, 2009

This week in links - week 43, 2009

"Ten ways how leadership can influence and promote interpersonal trust in knowledge management behavior and processes", weknowmore.org
1. Act with discretion
2. Be consistent between word and deed
3. Ensure frequent and rich communication
4. Engage in collaborative communication
5. Ensure that decisions are fair and transparent
6. Establish and ensure shared vision and language
7. Hold people accountable for trust
8. Create personal connections
9. Give away something of value
10. Disclose your expertise and limitations
"The Business Case for Social Computing #SPC09" by Brett Young:
Session notes from SharePoint Conference 2009:
  • Knowledge Management Issues within the enterprise are still looking for a solution, and social computing might be part of it: Rapid response to problems, capturing knowledge to ensure business continuity, and reducing transition costs. Although social computing may be part of the solution, it is not THE solution to knowledge management.
  • If we manage by commitment, and employees meet their commitments, do we really care when, where, and how they do it?
  • When all of your economics come from the industrial age, everything is measured like a factory.
  • Social computing increases the frequency of "knowledge accidents" within a company – which is a good thing.
  • If you don't build it they will go somewhere else.
  • Social computing is really just a shift in communication channels. It is not something to justify, but something to navigate through, embrace, and leverage as a new capability and manage as a new risk.
  • "The anti-social organization is ultimately non-productive." – Chris Howard, Burton Group.
"Grassroots Social Media is a Risky Necessity" by Anthony Bradley:
Enterprise IT organizations must determine when a grassroots movement has a high chance of success or when a more top-down approach is required. This involves building a decision model as part of the social media governance program that enables the enterprise (all levels) to understand the nature of the social media purpose in terms of its ability to succeed as a grassroots driven effort or where top-down involvement is required. Done correctly this can empower grassroots social media movements without undue risk.

Understanding and capitalizing on the grassroots is critical for both bottom-up- and top-down-driven social media efforts. Generally, the enterprise leadership forms a team to lead a top-down social media effort, while members of a potential social-media-based community drive a bottom-up approach.
"The Problem of the Intranet" by Gordon Ross:
We’ve seen several frames or lenses through which to view the “problem” of the intranet:
  • intranet as technical problem (issues of performance, content management technology, search engine technology);
  • intranet as information design problem (content structure, navigation, IA, usability);
  • intranet as productivity problem (measurement of gains made through self-service applications and access to information, ROI, enhanced efficiencies); and
  • intranet as social capital problem (employee engagement, culture, job satisfaction).
Our hypothesis is that while intranets are traditionally seen and framed as a visual design and material object design problem, they in fact have more in common with complex systems than printed brochures, especially when it comes to social intranets and Enterprise 2.0.

Challenging the assumption of “intranet as object” and reframing it as “intranet as complex system” is the first of a few key assumptions that need to be recognized and understood to ensure social intranet success. Framing the intranet as an object leads to trying to design an object and expecting it to behave like one, subject to standard cause and effect type statements. Framing the intranet as a complex system changes our perception of it: no longer is it a static thing, but a dynamic environment, one which responds to different attempts to control and shape it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The rebirth of Email (was it dead?)

Let's get the obvious clear first. Email is a great communication tool that can be used benefitially for many different purposes. But not for any purpose.

The current wave of new communication and collaboration tools that hit the shore will not kill Email (sunbathing on the beach). In fact, it will only make Email stronger. In addition, only the tools that integrate nicely and purposefully with Email will thrive.

How is that? Well, by introducing new tools which are more suited for the purposes where Email is ill suited, chances are that Email will be used for the things it is good at and not for the other things.

The Akilles heel of Email is that it can be used for any kind of communication. The simplicity and availability of Email encourages people to use it by default when communicating with other people. Email has become the primary choice for people. But if we don't reflect on how we use it and use alternative tools for purposes where email is less suited (which we obviously don't), it quickly leads to inbox hell, occupational spam, information overload...call it whatever you like. Work-related information is mixed with information which is not work-related, private discussions are mixed with official one-way broadcasting, small notifications are mixed with emails containing large attachments, fragments of discussions are fragmented and scattered around in the inbox, information in emails tend to multiply like a virus when you get involved in or start a reply circus act...I think you get the picture.

Above all other things, there are two factors which must stand accountable for these consequences:

1. THE TOOLS
The lack of easy to use and readily available tools that are better suited for uses where Email performs bad (such as collaborating on documents)

2. US
The existing attitudes and behavior of people, coupled with the tendencies that people tend to act without thinking and always choose the most convenient solution in sight, not the one which is most suited for the specific purpose.

These two things are what we have to work at to change.

Obviously, this reasoning does not only apply to the Email paradigm, but also to other paradigms as the Document Management paradigm. Why is collaborating on business content still equivalent to putting the content into a container called "document" and shuffling it back and forth?

You already know the answer to that last question; because there have not been any good alternative tools for along time (although now there are) and because it is such a big thing for us to change how we think and behave.

Email is dead. Long live Email.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This week in links - week 41, 2009

“Time management is the central skill of success. Your ability to manage your time, to focus and channel your energies on your highest value tasks, will determine your rewards and your level of accomplishment in life more than any other factor.” (Brian Tracy)
...we continue to have a narrow view of the 'intranet' concept - it is not treated like the Web inside the firewall, rather we continue to think of portals and Web-content management systems. Secondly, intranet managers need to stop benchmarking each other - if all you do is copy, what competitive advantage does your intranet provide (and so it it follows, you are treated like an overhead)? Finally, like any organisational change, introducing new work practices needs to be supported in a sustainable way - there is far too much emphasis on the wrong aspects of self-service and adopting technology without any assistance (self-service should empower users, not simply shift effort from above the line in one department to below the line by shifting it to individual employees).
Social media is significantly changing the role of marketing, Knox says [Dave Knox, corporate marketing brand manager for Digital Business Strategy at P&G]. The convergence of technology, marketing and social interaction is becoming more important every day, “but at the same time, it is a new skill set for many marketers to learn.” Only 10 years ago, the marketing toolkit for a brand manager was limited to four choices (TV, print, out of home and radio). “But today, new technology is emerging every day, offering new ways to serve and engage people more effectively. At work we aim to use these new digital tools to continue to be a leader and innovator in marketing and digital business.”

While Knox is immersed within one of the world’s largest companies, he finds that social media is a valuable tool for bringing in outside points of view as well.

“When working for a big corporation, you have an amazing amount of resources at your fingertips. And you are surrounded by incredibly smart people,” he points out. “But most of these people have a similar background to you and are trained to approach problems in the same way. My blog [hardknoxlife.com] has helped me by giving me access to people with different backgrounds and views on the business world. It is a way to connect with these people outside of my day to day work and really get a set of different viewpoints on what is going on with marketing.”

Knox says by staying active in social media through his blog and Twitter, he has been able to do his job better. “My external network has emerged as my business filter, allowing me to sort through the noise and keep on top of what is really important. While it might save time in the short-term to slow down in social media, I think it would hurt me in the long term in terms of personal growth and knowledge.”
We all get caught up in working hard and in the same way. On the other end of the spectrum, we often try implementing new tools or processes with lots of hoopla and effort. Changing habits is really difficult. By following this simple plan of changing one thing, you can achieve a positive result collaborating with your team or partners.

Here are some ideas:
  • Use a wiki page for all team status reports or meetings moving forward
  • Assign one note taker for all meetings and rotate so that every meeting is documented with discussion points, decisions, and next steps – no exceptions
  • Don’t ask any questions through emails – use a forum or other mechanism
  • Use file-based documents as a last resort or only if you have to send them out externally. Otherwise, use a sharable web document of some kind
If you do any of these things, you WILL see a positive result in productivity. The point is it doesn’t really matter as long as it is one thing and meaningful. What is the one thing you would change?
Deloitte LLP’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) practice has recently released the results of the 2009 Tribalization of Business Study, which evaluates the perceived potential of online communities* and identifies how enterprises believe they may better leverage them.

Survey results indicate that while enterprises are effectively using online tools to engage with customers, partners, and employees for brand discussion and idea generation, organizations are continuing to struggle with harnessing social media’s full potential.

"While we are seeing signs of maturation in this year's study, there are still plenty of companies who do not realize the power of communities, and others who have not yet figured out the proper approach for leveraging communities as part of their business," said Francois Gossieaux, partner with Beeline Labs and a senior fellow with the Society of New Communications Research. Businesses are truly become social again, and companies should look to leverage the collective wisdom of their employees, customers and partners in order to innovate faster, reduce costs, and bolster their bottom lines."

Friday, October 2, 2009

This week in links - week 40, 2009

"The Importance of Online Workplaces" by Larry Cannell:
When working online we need places to to gather information, to communicate with colleagues, to learn from others who have encountered similar situations, and to work within teams or organizations with shared goals. As a result, we gather information in files on our computers, organize folders of messages in our e-mail client, or maintain binders full of printed reports from business applications on our desks (because they take so long to retrieve otherwise).

Online workplaces are involved in virtually all information- or knowledge-based activities within an enterprise. By improving online workplaces, an enterprise can significantly increase the performance of these activities. However, the goals of an online workplace need to go beyond automation. When aligned with supporting culture and business practices, online workplaces can provide the basis for sustainable competitive advantage. The source of this advantage comes from the intellectual capital that can be captured and reused. This is illustrated in the following conceptual model.



The efficiency of completing repeatable processes and transactions is the focus of workflow systems and transactional systems
. In the interest of decreasing cycle time, both of these system types optimize how individuals and groups serve business processes: The process comes first and the worker is subservient to the process (cue Pink Floyd music). However, this “process first, user second” design does not work well for the many ad hoc activities that make up a typical workday, in which the user juggles multiple variables and gathers information as needed. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid call these two different modes “process” and “practice.”
"The Real Business Value of Social Networking" by Luis Suarez:
Seth Godin...once again...nails it, as far as I can tell, on what the real challenge is for social networking to flourish in the enterprise world.

In over the course of a little bit over two minutes, he gets to share some really good insights on what the real business value of social networking is all about. And guess what? He doesn’t do it through a definition, nor through stating hard facts none of us can (nor will!) relate to! Ever. Instead, he shares it through stories. Stories we can all relate to.




Speaking of stories, I found this video with excellent advice on how to tell stories via Tom Graves (@tetradian) on Twitter:



"The Social Media Fear Factor" By Rachel Happe:
There is plenty to be anxious about in considering using social media for business.

Many look at all their valid fears - whether they are as simple as having un-edited content in the public eye or whether they are concerned with law suits - and decide it is too much to take on. On the other side, I hear a lot of social media enthusiasts recommend a 'Just Do It' approach. Like many things, the reality for people concerned about the ramifications of using these new communication mechanisms is somewhere in the middle.

Things you can do to practice:
  • Use Yammer internally
  • Train and encourage people within your company to have personal blogs. Run competitions.
  • Introduce smaller work groups to wikis
  • Implement an enterprise-wide social network (emphasis on social)
  • Create group blogs to comment on industry news and events that are only accessible internally.
  • Pretend to blog for an external audience before you deploy an external blog.
  • Form communities of practice internally and learn how to 'manage' them
You get the idea. Practice is critical.

My first day with Google Wave

”Google Wave feels a bit regressive. Email paradigm on steroids? - Jevon MacDonald (@jevon), Dachis group.

I got the same feeling as Jevon when I saw the first screenshots and read about Google Wave at ReadWriteWeb and elsewhere. I am not sure if that feeling has completely gone after having used it for an impressive whole day, or if it has just changed a little.

I usually try to stay away from reviewing products and tools, but this time I have made an exception. The exception spells Google Wave. I shared some of my early reactions yesterday on Twitter. Here are a few of my tweets, in chronological order with the first on top:

  1. Checking out Google Wave
  2. The best thing with Google Wave is the empty inbox
  3. It's hard to really test Google Wave without someone to communicate with - invitations aren't sent immediately
  4. Reflection from my first wave in Google Wave: how to end a real-time conversation in a wave?
  5. Does Google Wave provide a searchable directory of all users? I haven't seen one
  6. If Google Wave usage is going to take off, we need to be able to find each other

Google Wave IS Email 2.0. And I mean that in a good way.

How? Well, Google Wave builds on the strengths of Email 1.0 and adds 2.0 qualities and features to it to compensate for the weaknesses of Email 1.0. But it does not just add these things on top of Email 1.0. The Google Wave team has come up with a new architecture and applied some fresh new design principles. Google Wave has apparently been designed to take advantage of the simplicity of email and our familiarity and (sometimes bad) habit with using email for virtually any kind of communication and even collaboration. But in areas where email performs really bad, such as when it comes to providing structure, versioning, history and context to conversations and integration of various forms of content, Google Wave stands tall.

Despite what some analysts have said, I have a hard time seeing how Google Wave can be compared to a social networking platform like Facebook or even Twitter. At least not until there are a lot of people using it and some way to discover and connect with people and become aware of their activities. Today, I can communicate with people I know or who provide me with their Google Wave address outside of Google Wave so I can add them as contacts. But there currently is no way to discover and get to know people from inside of Google Wave, unless they happen to be part of a wave into which you are invited.

In a way, Google Wave is like email on steroids. The part that is missing now is the infrastructure for social conversations - the social network. I can see Google Wave being integrated into services such as LinkedIn and FaceBook or even Twitter, but I can't see how it will replace it. And I don't think that is what Google is aiming for with Google Wave. Google Wave is just not social in the same sense as Facebook and definately not in the same way as Twitter.

What I can see however is a huge potential of Google Wave becoming a collaboration infrastructure for small groups of people. A wave in Google Wave ties all conversations and content that is somehow related to a task or project together - and it keeps them together. That is essential in virtual collaboration. The wave provides a context that grows organically from the first single message. You can build upon it almost indefinately and the history of all conversations is readily available via the really amazing ”Playback” function where you can walk yourself though the history of a wave. This is how Google explains what a wave is:

  • A wave is equal parts conversation and document. People can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.
  • A wave is shared. Any participant can reply anywhere in the message, edit the content and add participants at any point in the process. Then playback lets anyone rewind the wave to see who said what and when.
  • A wave is live. With live transmission as you type, participants on a wave can have faster conversations, see edits and interact with extensions in real-time.

As waves are not tied to peoples' inboxes, the email inbox lock-in problem does not apply for Google Wave. A wave can be accessed and interacted with from virtually any context, be it a blog, an intranet, or a mashup. Although a wave is logically tied to persons, it is not tied to their inboxes. The inbox is just a view where you are notified about new waves or changes to an existing wave. The wave is not physically ”in” your inbox. The wave exists in one version only and everybody see and interact with the same wave. So there we have the potential death of email management and putting space limits to inboxes. The chinese whispers game that you can play with email, with the message changing as it moves moves from one person to another, can't be played in Google Wave. Any attempt to distort the message or filter out things will be recorded, and the original message can be found.

I personally think that Google Wave will hit like a bomb on the enterprise market for collaboration and communication tools. I am quite sure that the news about Google Wave hit like a bomb at the Microsoft Corp Headquarters in Redmond when it was announced at the Google IO conference in May earlier this year. I also think that the chance - or risk depending how you see it - that the guys at Microsoft have managed to think outside the box with the upcoming new 2010 versions of Exchange and SharePoint is minimal. I am convinced that these dinosaur products are stilled based on the good old email and document paradigm, but now with more social features and characteristics, a clould offering, RIA and other 2.0ish stuff as icing on the cake. Google, on the other hand, came up with a new recipe and invented a new cake.

As always, Google will start with letting consumers try out their new tool. But the fact that ”select business and university customers of Google Apps” have invited to this first beta trial indicates that Google Wave will be a corner-stone in Googles enterprise offering. Google Wave can be the first real threat to Microsoft in the enterprise software arena.

Finally, here are some insignificant short notes that I wrote down yesterday as I tried out Google Wave:

  • As I can see every character that other people write in real time, at the same moment as I write something myself, I tend to change my message as I write based on what other persons write. The end result is a message that hardly can be understood by other users who did not participate in the wave at the time.
  • It took a while until I understood that I had to click messages to mark them as read. I expected it to work like Google Reader, where just scrolling by (reading) messages would mark them as read. Now I have to do a lot of unnecessary interaction.
  • The green dot indicating if a user is online or not is really ugly and almost annoying.

Well, Google Wave really has to do something about the ugly green dot if Google Wave is to become a smashing success ;-)

UPDATE: The green dot is now mysteriously gone! (yesterday, my own profile picture had the green dot and now it hasn't)

Companies need help in understanding and taking advantage of social media

The Swedish IT industry newspaper Computer Sweden has a piece on companies being stressed by social media- they know they need to do something but now what and how (read the full article translated with Google Translate here, in Swedish here):
Social media creates frustration out on business. Everyone knows that they can be used in a smart way - but it is difficult to know how.

- Just yesterday I thought about how we could use it, "says Per Olofsson, CEO of environmental engineering company ClimateWell.

He thinks that social networks in particular, could be used in a robust manner internally in the company.

- We are growing and growing and are in many countries and it could be an effective knowledge platform, "he says.
I had the opportunity to make a comment in another related article in the same newspaper (read the full article translated with Google Translate here, in Swedish here). Although it is not entirely clear in the article, I am saying that increasing transparency within and across the firewalls of an organization, in a managed way, is one of the great business opportunities:
The trend is continuing in social media. "Certainly one can understand that it is difficult for companies to keep up, but there are great risks if we do not do it," says Oscar Berg, an expert on Web 2.0 at Acando.

Some companies are mostly included in the value of using social media externally, for marketing and sales.

Others also see an internal use to create a more effective communication.

- It's either or. Few have really seen how to combine these elements. I myself have no track of everyone who works here at Acando and sometimes it happens that I have colleagues who work with the same type of assignments for other clients and that I could benefit from having an exchange with.

- If you could create the forms in which it is possible to see what others are doing and then marry it to see what customers and partners are doing - it strikes me as a great opportunity for businesses in the use of social media, "says Oscar Berg.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Suggested ways to use Google Wave

Here are a few examples from the Google Wave team about how to Google Wave:

UPDATE: Lars Rasmussen at Google also links to a number of examples on how to use Google Wave in a recent post on the Official Google blog.

Organizing events
Keep a single copy of ideas, suggested itinerary, menu and RSVPs, rather than using many different tools. Use gadgets to add weather, maps and more to the event.

Meeting notes
Prepare a meeting agenda together, share the burden of taking notes and record decisions so you all leave on the same page (we call it being on the same wave). Team members can follow the minutes in real time, or review the history using Playback. The conversation can continue in the wave long after the meeting is over.

Group reports and writing projects
Collaboratively work in real time to draft content, discuss and solicit feedback all in one place rather than sending email attachments and creating multiple copies that get out of sync.

Brainstorming
Bring lots of people into a wave to brainstorm - live concurrent editing makes the quantity of ideas grow quickly! It is easy to add rich content like videos, images, URLs or even links to other waves. Discussion ensues. Etiquettes form. Then work together to distill down to the good ideas.

Photo sharing
Drag and drop photos from your desktop into a wave. Share with others. Use the slideshow viewer. Everyone on the wave can add their photos, too. It is easy to make a group photo album in Google Wave.