Saturday 17 March 2007

Social software in organisations: Nature or nurture?

One of the messages coming through about using social software inside organisations (what many of us are calling Enterprise 2.0) is that it is easy to use, and therefore easy to adopt. I recently commented on Dave Snowden's blog in response to his post about "social computing" that while I thought his theory was sound he had made some assumptions about the technology, in particular this issue of ease of use. Dave in turn responded that:

"I have yet to find a social computing tool I could not pick up and use. Learning is experimentation, on line help, web sites. The includes learning how to blog and use a whole range of tools. If you have counter experience or cases please let me know as it would surprise me to find them."

Well, if you want broader evidence than my own experiences of information technology in organisations, all you have to do is look a little harder at the case studies - for instance in the recent BusinessWeek special report on wikis, they mention this:

"The experience of Nokia and Dresdner Kleinwort offer insight into how to nurture the use of a radically new technology to change the way organizations work. Clearly, not everyone recognizes the value of wikis right way. The initial efforts at Dresdner, for example, confused employees and had to be refined to make the technology easier to use. More important than tweaking the technology was a simple edict from one of the proponents: Don't send e-mails, use the wiki. Gradually, employees embraced the use of the wiki, seeing how it increased collaboration and reduced time-consuming e-mail traffic."

Confused employees... I thought this stuff was so easy that everyone could just pick it up and use? Actually, I don't see this as a negative comment against social software, but I do think we have become a little confused between the simplicity of social software and the concept of ease of use. Wikipedia's definition of ease of use is this:

"Ease of use refers to the property of a product or thing that a user can operate without having to overcome a steep learning curve. Things with high ease of use will be intuitive to the average user in the target market for the product. The term is often used as a goal during the design of a product, as well as being used for marketing purposes. Put simply, things with "high ease of use" are easy to use.

However, some experts distinguish ease of use from ease of learning, especially when the design of a product involves a tradeoff between the two goals, or between ease of use and other goals such as security."

I believe what makes social software easy to use is its simplicity. But this doesn't make them universally easy to learn without some help to get over that initial inertia. This is something I've blogged about before and I don't see anything different in the pattern of innovation with enterprise social software, except that the inherent simplicity of the tools and the prior experience of some users using social software on the Web all aid the rate of adoption.

It is also important to note that adoption of social software on the Web is different from the adoption of social software in organisations - there are different motivators and barriers to use at play. In this respect both "social software" and (worst still) "social computing" are poor terms in this context. I grant you that Enterprise 2.0 has some problems, so if you prefer a less loaded term then I would suggest "enterprise social software". But the positive thing about the term Enterprise 2.0 is that does hint at a broader change that needs to take place for social software to be successful inside the firewall, and its not just having easy to use software... so a bit of both nature and nurture is required.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:41 pm

    I think you may be confusing "ease of use" with adoption. So if we take Wiki's, within a small group of CE people we managed to use a Wiki with ease. Newbe's come into the Wikipedia all the time. However saying "use the Wiki, stop sending email" is the sort of top down corporate statement that Euan and I were objecting to in the original thread. That is bound to cause problems.


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