Saturday 29 November 2008

Control scales, but the nature of control changes

David Weinberger writes that with a few exceptions, control doesn’t scale and social media makes social control even harder – a point Clay Shirky also makes, although he highlights that its as much about the medium as it is the message.

In my mind the development and relationship of information and communication technology (ICT) to control is also a story about the span and speed of that control. Without ICT we would be stuck managing at the speed of the fastest horse, boat or semaphore message and adding up the payroll using an abacus or slide rule.

And like management, control in itself isn’t a bad thing – for example, look at the use of social media during disasters in recent years – just the motives behind it. If anything, social media shows that control *does* scale, but in a way that doesn’t require either the efficiencies that are part of a traditional organisational structure or centralised leadership. Sounds like something right out of complexity science don't you think?

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Day two at OSNBC 2008

I missed the morning of day two at Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration (I was attending a seminar on MySource Matrix) but ended up sharing lunch with two Government 2.0 innovators from the speakers line up, Phillip Bower from Centrelink and Dheeraj Chowdhury from the NSW Department of Education (see below).

Here is a summary of two sessions from the afternoon:

Paul Salvati, Smart Service Queensland

Due to the demographic profile of Queensland’s population, they need to engage with a sparse population across a large geographic area. They investigated the use of YouTube and MySpace as a way to engage with young people, but ended up picking Second Life. They built an island with a public landing area, but the majority of the space is private and accessible only by invitation. During 2007 the held a forum in Second Life to gather feedback on how they might use the space and in April 2008 they held a virtual youth forum to celebrate Youth Week.

Feedback from these forums showed that the vast majority of the young people involved found it easy to participate, most felt involved with the discussion and that they found it as good or better than a traditional workshop. The benefits from using Second Life were found to be:

  • Convenience;
  • It was a non-intimidating workshop experience;
  • The chat feature gave participants a history of the conversation taking place and the process of chatting provided the opportunity for considered input (but will the availability of voice in Second Life devalue this?);
  • People thought it was a fun and interactive experience, but they wondered if this might be reduced overtime once people get past the novelty factor;
  • The ease of supply of objects that assist meeting facilitation (since they are virtual!); and
  • Automatic capture of a transcripts from the event (for the organiser – however, see my point about voice support above).

However, they also identified some issues with using Second Life and these included reliability (I think this was a more general statement about using a hosted solution), ‘griefing’, lagging, legal implications, content moderation, system requirements (in terms of the user’s computer performance), maturity of user’s collaboration skills, and accessibility for people with disabilities.

Overall it sounds like there are some real opportunities to use immersive environments like Second Life, but Salvati thinks there are still some barriers to overcome before it becomes mainstream. It was also a reasonably low cost pilot – other than the time and effort of the people involved, they invested less than $1000 in building their island.

Dheeraj Chowdhury, NSW Department of Education

Dheeraj works in the department’s Centre for Learning Innovation. It provides teaching and educational resources for teachers, students and parents, with a key online presence at TaLe. They are very interested in providing interactive methods for engaging with their community of users – for example, the TaLe site hosts ‘Professional Learning Communities’. Murder under the Microscope is an example of a collaborative online educational game they developed.

He shared his ideas about implementing social networking – key points were:

  • Actively seek out the right open source tools;
  • Once you’ve selected a tool, move fast and be agile;
  • Focus on developing frameworks and platforms;
  • Engage quickly (a idea taken from Google);
  • Enable self expression;
  • Let them browse the social graph;
  • Proactively drive communication; and
  • Include buttons to ‘add this’ and ‘rate this’ everywhere.

But, don’t forget, “what’s the fuel? Engagement with the audience”.

I actually think Dheeraj has more ideas in his head than he could explain in such a short session – so I’m glad I had the chance to talk to him over lunch!

He also talked about his experience of implementing social bookmarking with Scuttle – using only a viral adoption approach,they deployed the solution in just 2 weeks and at a cost of less than $5,000.

Day one at OSNBC 2008

As promised, here are some notes on some selected sessions from day 1 of Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration:

Richard Kimber from Friendster and Rebekah Horne from MySpace

Deep within these two key note presentations (once you got past the promotion of the particular social networking sites that Richard Kimber and Rebekah Horne represented) I picked up a few ideas in respect to the role and application of social networking tools inside organisations:

  • On the Web, social networking site are becoming “social portals” – however, people probably only have a capacity for using 2-3 different social networks. Statistics on membership show that there is little overlap between different public social networking sites.
  • Different public social networking sites are successful in specific geographies. Also, different cultures use social networking sites in different ways – for example, in the west authentic social networking is the norm, but is less typical in north Asia.
  • Mobile access to public social networking is gradually growing in importance.

I think there are some interesting implications for people trying to deploy social networking tools inside organisations, particularly with the reference to portals – an area that continues to produce mixed results in the enterprise. Horne also discussed their success with the MySpace Road Tour and I think that this might also provide an interesting model for the success of social media and social networking inside organisations too – and that is you still need to link the online world back to the real world.

Horne also shared a list of Six Social Network user archetypes (based on research by MySpace in the UK):

  • Essentialists (38%) - People who use social networking sites to stay in touch with friends and family;
  • Transumers (28%) - People who follow the lead of others and join groups connected to their interests;
  • Connectors (10%) - People who revel in passing on information and links whenever they come across something they find interesting;
  • Collaborators (5%) - People who use social networking sites to create events;
  • Scene Breaking (5%) - People who hunt down media (bands, blogs, video) online and share that through the site; and
  • Netrepreneurs (4%) - People who accessed the sites for the sole purpose of making money.

I also learnt that MySpace is a well established and profitable company… (sorry, that’s a bit of an in-conference joke)

Paul Slakey from Google

This was a refreshing change of gear from the key note presentations on social networking sites, although the bulk of Paul Slakey’s presentation was really ‘Google Apps 101’. He described some of the business benefits of Google Apps as:

  • Low cost solution (e.g. $3,785 per user per year for implementing a traditional office suite versus $87 for Google Apps);
  • Scalability; and
  • Continuous product innovation.

I would also add to that list, accessibility where ever a Web-connection is available. Google Apps in particular is also revolutionary in the way it gives smaller organisations access to the types of integrated collaboration tools that in the past only larger companies have had access to.

Having said all that, Slakey doesn’t believe that hosted applications will replace all traditional applications – instead they will continue to co-exist. But looking at that idea more critically, I do wonder then if organisations will really save money with hosted apps – either they’ll end up with both or Microsoft Office will be evolve into a niche product that will be priced as a specialist ‘power tool’. Really to get the full cost saving you’ll also need to migrate all that macro programming in Microsoft Excel and Word into the cloud.

One other interesting point was that Slakey sees an emerging role for an ecosystem of providers that will help organisations both to migrate data to Google Apps (e.g. email accounts, calendars and data etc) and also help them to develop the new practices and skills needed for cloud-based collaboration.

Chris Knowles from Heinz Australia

I saw Chris Knowles present last year at the Intranets ‘07 conference, so this was a bit of an update for me really on what he has been doing more recently in this space. Heinz have implemented internal blogs and a wiki, an extranet blog and an external social networking site for customers. He explained that the internal tools used simple software options that didn’t need database infrastructure, while the extranet and external social network used cheap hosted solutions.

He is a very relaxed presenter and happy to share as much about what has worked at Heinz, as he was about what didn’t work. For example, internal blogging has been more successful than their wiki. However in the process of promoting their new blogging platform to Heinz’s mobile sales staff as an improvement to their intranet, Knowles found he couldn’t assume that people actually even knew what the intranet was! He also told us that he had been asked on a couple of occasions to remove comments.

Some of his tips include:

  • Start simple;
  • Remove any disincentives and make sure you have the right incentives to participate;
  • Expect to fail – label everything as a ‘beta’;
  • Use working groups to help guide future development of the tools; and
  • Don’t stop evangelising, encouraging and educating.

I also get the impression that in the process of rolling out these different social media tools, Knowles has been prepared to ‘eat his own dog food’ and use the same tools to support how they are used. However, overall I was left wondering if there was any deliberate strategy or plan behind the different initiatives. Also, how much of the long standing knowledge we have about managing Web-forums applies to the situation at Heinz?

Jeremy Mitchell from Telstra

The key point in Jeremy Mitchell’s story of Telstra’s Now We Are Talking site was the importance of getting high level support so you can be as transparent as possible.

Ok. That’s enough about day 1. I’ll blog another post about day 2 next.

The last few days

Phew! Well, the last couple of days have been a process of absorbing a lot of information and ideas from attending the Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration conference, a half-day seminar about the MySource Matrix commercial open source Web CMS and also the last formal NSW KM Forum meeting of the year.

I have some notes from the conference to share (day 1 and day 2) and also a write up about MySource Matrix in separate posts to come later….

In the meantime, just a quick mention about the NSW KM Forum meeting, which featured Matt Moore and Serena Joyner – I don’t have any notes to share, but Matt’s slide are already available online and Serena used this video from Step Two’s Intranet Innovation awards as part of her presentation.

Monday 24 November 2008

At Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration World 2008

I’m attending Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration World 2008 in Sydney today but unfortunately a lack of easy access to power and wifi at the venue is limiting my ability to blog and twitter (the hash tag is #osnbc). However, I know that there has been a lot of chatter on the back channel – so far we have had a lot of advertising and few insights. Of course I’m mixing with a crowd of marketers so I’m sure some people would find this interesting. I’m looking forward to the business stream sessions later this afternoon.

I’ll blog more when I can.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Elcom Technologies IntranetManager.NET launch

I had heard that Sydney-based content management software company, Elcom Technologies, were launching a new intranet package called IntranetManager.NET, but I’m not sure how I managed to miss the launch event.

Anyway, as Anthony Milner from Elcom Technologies explains, IntranetManager.NET is based on their Community Manager product:

For some time at Elcom we’ve deployed our Content Management product, Community Manager, as an Intranet. It has excellent content management, document management, forms, corporate phone book, blogs, wikis, workflow and enterprise search features making it an ideal intranet software choice for a mid-sized to enterprise level businesses. In fact it’s capability as an intranet search engine alone would make it a great choice for an enterprise federated search solution.

We’ve recently taken a close look at the marketing of our product offerings and came to a conclusion that companies that were looking for intranet software or intranet search engines had no idea that Community Manager provided this functionality out of the box. So we’ve been promoting the not so obvious and decided to make it a little more obvious. So what did we do, we launched a new product, it’s called, wait for it….drum roll….Intranet Manager (tada).

ITWire also have an interview with Orica, who were a case study for IntranetManager.NET at the launch and @trib has shared his presentation slides and notes. So there you go - with all this stuff online, its almost as good as being there! ;-)

Thursday 20 November 2008

Hacking my Acer Aspire One

OK. Now that I’ve had a bit of time to settle in with my new Acer Aspire One, I thought I might contribute back by sharing some of the major issues I’ve found (and beyond the fun tweaks, like installing the Zune theme because I find the colour scheme easier than the standard Windows theme and RocketDock to help with application switching and launching).

So far the key issues have been fan noise and the wifi device disappearing:

  • I started with AA1FanControl to reduce how much the fan was working, but about to try a1ctl.
  • For the moment, I’ve followed some advice to disable the Power Save Mode in the Atheros AR5007EG WLAN adaptor (via Device Manager) as this appears to be a common problem with this model ‘disappearing’ after it goes to sleep to save power, but I will have to wait and see if that makes a difference. The wifi connection comes back eventually, but I would prefer if it didn’t disappear at all! UPDATE: I’ve also installed the Atheros Client Utility to see if that helps.

UPDATE 23/11/08: On the Wifi front, neither the client utility made no difference or disabling power save mod so I’ve ditched them for the moment. The best way to fix at the moment appears to be a complete power off and start up again (rather than a simple restart from Windows)! :-(

BTW Overall this little laptop does run quite warm, but I don’t think any more than any other laptop I’ve used before. It does appear to to be cooler running off the battery, so maybe there is room for improvement. Then again it could just be my imagination. :-)

What I also haven’t done yet is attempt a BIOS update, which requires a spare USB thumb drive that you need to make bootable. I’m also a little unclear about the benefits and which version to try (still researching about version 3305 and 3307).

Ingredients for brainstorming in Second Life

Some practical tips from ThinkBalm for hosting a brainstorming session in an immersive environment – these are the ‘ingredients’ you’ll need:

    • A problem that can be moved toward resolution with brainstorming
    • A (virtual) room full of smart people
    • One hour minimum
    • A 3D mind mapping tool
    • Some mechanism for displaying participants’ real names with their avatars
    • Private 3D space in which to meet
    • Voice and text chat tools
    • An interactive polling tool (optional)

There is nothing unique in the brainstorming process itself, but there are some useful tips here about using Second Life (and similar environments) as the medium for your brainstorming meeting.

Social Hardware

I’ve been a bit quiet this week for a couple of reasons… and one of those reasons is the distraction of getting a new a bit of technology in the shape of an Acer Aspire One netbook.

Now, this post isn’t intended to be a review. But for those of you interested in that sort of thing, I picked the Aspire One over some of the alternatives, like the EEE, primarily because I think the keyboard is a little better (compared to the EEE 900 series). I’m running with the Windows XP (150) version, although I was very tempted to pick the hard drive-less Linux (110) version (there is something elegant about no moving parts). However, while overall I’m very happy with the Aspire One, it is by no means perfect so I’ve been busy tweaking it to my satisfaction.

Luckily to help me in my quest there is plenty of bottom up support from the global Aspire One community, found in blogs, forums and free software – none of it Acer sponsored of course, but all adding tremendous value. This kind of community support for a product is really quite typical now and in fact I would be worried to find a product like the Aspire One or even the EEE where it didn’t exist (a bit like eating at an empty restaurant). This very much reflects the dynamics of participation described by Clay Shirky in his book, Here Comes Everybody because on its own, Acer could never directly manage that level of engagement itself. All it has to do of course is get out of the way and let it happen.

However, another thought did occur to me. Is the hardware itself getting more “social” too? My new netbook doesn’t have built in 3G, but its coming and is already available in some of the higher end laptops. Webcams are almost a standard feature on laptops of all sizes too now. And I was able to add Bluetooth support easily to my Aspire One with a tiny Bluetooth USB dongle. Social hardware, maybe?

Ironically the biggest limitation I’ve found with this netbook is really with the software itself – in a way, this new generation of mini-computers is stuck in limbo – the power of full size computer, missing software that is optimised to a 9 inch screen. This isn’t just Windows either, it affects some Web-based apps too. Still, I’m sure with enough community support the software can only get better. Meanwhile the computer manufacturers can stick to what they are good at – making the hardware more and more social.

Sunday 16 November 2008

John Tropea: Are you really doing Enterprise 2.0?

John adds to the Enterprise 2.0 conversation, pulling in a number of different threads related to my Intranet 2.0 article – he says:

To spread and evolve know-how, percolate emergence, create autonomous behaviours, and social productivity, we need the conditions for these things to happen.

And lists five conditions:

  • Network Effects
  • Participation
  • Self Interest
  • Ease of Use
  • Transparency/Support/Bottom-up

Reflecting on BarCampSydney4

I went to BarCamp Sydney 4 yesterday (that’s me in the photo during a speed networking session) and had a great time meeting lots of people I know only through twitter and a whole bunch of other new people.

I really enjoyed all the presentations I attended. As this was my first barcamp, part of the fun for me was also simply soaking up the atmosphere. In the morning I stepped to the call for participation and talked a little about my ideas on Intranet 2.0, however now that I understand the format I’ll be a little better prepared next time!

There were three particular stand out presentations for me:

  • The discussion on what is a community manager, with Scott Drummond from Sports Hydrant;
  • The introduction by Pia Waugh to the OLPC, which is simply an amazing bit of industrial and computing design; and
  • Kevin Garber (from who shared his experiences with mixing in the San Francisco tech “ecosystem” (by sharing his story, Garber is helping other local startups).

Also, it was great to see people who are passionate about developing the local tech community and also campaigning against the proposed internet filter.

Finally, a hat tip to Phil Evans from Evanscorp for the lift and the company on the trip to and from Sydney.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Book Review: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

I must admit I was a little dubious about this book, worried that this would just be an another evangelical soapbox about Web 2.0. But I should have had more faith in ShirkyHere Comes Everybody turned out to be more and so much better than I expected.

(For those of you who don’t know him, Clay Shirky is a US-based consultant, educator, and writer on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He is recognised for coming up with the particular phrase, social software, back in 2002 to describe the software of participation we see in Web 2.0. So, he has all the right credentials to write about this subject.)

After starting with a story about a lost mobile phone, Shirky goes on to explain that while that’s a good example of social software at work:

This is not to say that corporations and government are going to wither away. Though some of the early utopianism around new communication tools suggested that we were heading into some sort of post hierarchical paradise, that’s not what’s happening now, and it’s not what’s going to happen… Instead, what has happened is that most of the relative advantages of those institutions have disappeared

In the next chapter he provides some grounding in that explanation with reference to the Coase theorem, social networks and the limits of traditional efficiencies that come out of organisational structures. This is where everything begins to fall into place. He explains the impact of social software this way:

Think of these activities as lying under a Coasean floor; they are valuable to someone but too expensive to be taken on in any institutional way, because the basic and unsheddable costs of being an institution in the first place make those activities not worth pursuing.

This alone has important implications for the whole debate about return on investment (ROI) and enterprise social computing. However there is more and Shirky is able to provide yet more convincing layers of argument and examples of how the impact of this plays out in real life, including our relationship to technology, the media and human behaviour. I won’t describe them here, as the fun part of the book is the observations he makes about these various examples.

One other interesting part of this book was a description about audience size and conversational patterns, with particular reference to blogs. Firstly, this model reminds me of Figallo’s model for online communities that I have been using for years. But secondly this describes the death of the blogosphere we have been discussing recently. Effectively Shirky says that some Weblogs have such a large audience that they can only operate in a broadcast mode, but as the audience size drops loose conversation and then tighter conversation is possible. Having said that, I would have liked to have seen more discussion about this in relation to the fractal nature of social networks in organisations as I believe that is a key issue in understanding where, how and why enterprise social computing can or doesn’t work. It also makes me curious about the long term success of enterprise social computing tools, like micro blogging, in large organisations if they attempt to retrofit usage back into the organisational structure.

Finally, Shirky does actually give us some rules, if not a recipe, for using social tools successfully:

Every story in this book relies on a successful fusion of a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users

On the tools side in particular he also says:

There is no such thing as a generically good tool; there are only tools good for particular jobs [but]when you improve the available tools, you expand the number of plausible promises in the world.


new tools are not always better. New tools, in fact, start with a huge social disadvantage, which is that most people don’t use them, and whenever you have a limited pool from which potential members can be drawn, you limit the social effects.

There are many interesting things to think about in this book, but my summary here really doesn’t do it justice as the stories and examples that go with these theories are equally important.

Overall, this book neither over hypes or provides (easy) answers to the opportunities that Web 2.0 and enterprise social computing (“Enterprise 2.0”) present. What it will do is provide you with some solid background knowledge on why social software is impacting society and the business that is grounded in ideas that, to me at least, make a lot of sense.

Here Comes Everybody comes with a definite buy recommendation from me.

Photograph courtesy of and copyright James Duncan Davidson.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Flattening The Information Landscape with Really Simply Services

In an interesting whitepaper, Flattening The Information Landscape [PDF], RSSBus explain how their products can help to provide “Really Simply Services”:

…in case you are thinking that RSSBus is nothing more than RSS feed generation, that’s definitely not the case.  RSSBus allows for input parameters and it can pipe the output of one connector as the input to the next, so it can be used to build advanced information processing systems.

In short, RSSBus combines the best features of SOAP web services and RSS Feeds to provide what we call ‘Really Simple Services’

RSSBus is providing a important tool to use in the Enterprise RSS Value Chain (I’ll explain more in an Image & Data Manager magazine article coming before the end of the year), but rather than focusing on news feed content it delivers one of the Ten Things I want from Enterprise RSS, a Yahoo! Pipes for the Enterprise.

This video highlights this:

I think this also highlights the dangers of reducing the Enterprise RSS concept to simply news feeds (which we know is an idea that is more palatable to the average user) when there is so much more potential, as the Wallem case study also demonstrates.

Hat tip to Lee White.

Communities of Practice at Rio Tinto

Watch this to understand the value of Communities in Practice in the mining industry:

See how involvement in communities of practice, is helping Rio Tinto people share expertise and collaborate across the group

Note: the original video is posted on the Rio Tinto Website, but the version above is from YouTube.

Monday 10 November 2008

Australasian Virtual Worlds Workshop 2008 - November 28/29

At the end of the month, Swinburne University is hosting the Australasian Virtual Worlds Workshop 2008:

The Australasian Virtual Worlds Workshop is an event for Australasian researchers, educators and business people involved in virtual worlds, to meet and discuss topics related to virtual worlds.

The aim of this workshop is to build local capacity and virtual world expertise that connects with global expertise.

The workshop discussions will be mixed reality events held both at Swinburne and in Second Life to facilitate local and international participation.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Blogging is about different viewpoints

More about the death of blogging.

When JP talks about the bigger picture of blogging, he manages to interweave a discussion about the US presidential elections, the social history of colonial cities, the quality of discourse in the 1960s and The Cluetrain Manifesto.

But Euan just says:

Over the seven plus years I have been blogging various people have declared the activity dead, defined it more ways than I can remember and made various pronouncements about how I should be doing it.

Me - I just ignore them all, keep doing something I love, in my own way, and am having as much fun with it as I ever did.

But I think the point is that both of them are right.

Saturday 8 November 2008

Books Reviews and Recommended Reading

This is a page linking to different books I’ve reviewed or simply recommend you take a look at, plus some other reading lists…

Books (most recent mentions first):

Other reading lists:


Using sociotechnical systems theory to help manage change

A lot of my thinking is informed by the sociotechnical systems theory perspective, including organisational theorists such as Karl Weick. I’ve used a simply model from Weick’s earlier work of ‘sociotechnical fit’ to understand the impact of a system change on people and systems.

In this model you break the change into two system aspects – the social and the technical. Then break each aspect into the job, work group and organisational view. By analysing the change from each of these components you can look for mismatch between the changes in the social and technical aspects. Obviously there is a little be more to understanding and applying the definitions of these components, but hopefully you get the basic idea.

For example, in one project I identified through this process that while most of the change was at an organisational level (across both the social and technical aspects), it presented the following opportunity and challenge at other levels:

  • At the workgroup level, it introduced the opportunity to improve the relationship between one business group and another through role clarity.
  • But at a job level, while one stakeholder’s job would be enriched by the new process (more knowledge work because of reduced effort to manage transactions), another previously unrecognised ancillary stakeholder group would need to learn new skills that might not directly enrich their roles (at least without further investigation to understand the pros and cons of the change).

I like the way a relatively simply model like this can help to reveal unforeseen issues by helping us to explore the different perspectives of a system change. Of course, the more complex the change, the more  important it is to inject a diverse range of viewpoints into a model like this to make sure nothing is missed (i.e. you don’t know what you don’t know).

Blogging isn’t dead, but the Blogosphere is

From Wired last month, they advise:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here's some friendly advice: Don't. And if you've already got one, pull the plug.

And from the The Economist more recently:

Gone, in other words, is any sense that blogging as a technology is revolutionary, subversive or otherwise exalted, and this upsets some of its pioneers. Confirmed, however, is the idea that blogging is useful and versatile.

Actually, the main point of both these articles is that blogging technology has changed the Web medium as a whole (by allowing greater participation on news sites and the like, we assume for the better) but meanwhile the A-list bloggers have themselves for the most part morphed into professional publishing and money making organisations, while other new Web communication mechanisms, like microblogging (e.g. Twitter) and activity streams (e.g. Facebook), have emerged to grab the blog author and blog reader’s attention.

But I think Nicholas Carr is the one that really fixes on what has really changed:

When we used to talk about blogging, the stress was on the style. Today, what blogs have in common is mainly just the underlying technology – the ‘publishing platform’ - and that makes it difficult to talk meaningfully about a ‘blogosphere.’

I’ve recently made similar arguments about blogging, that relate back to a theme I described a while a go as the grey area between using social software as social software and using them for achieving other information management objectives. I believe there is a lesson in the rise and fall of the Blogosphere across the whole of the social computing spectrum, not just blogging.

But getting back to the issue of the death of blogging, personally I’m with Tim Bray - while admitting he is blogging less because of Twitter, he says:

having to stop writing would hurt me terribly, and if the other contributors of essayists and remarks were to fall silent, that of course would hurt me infinitely more.

It would greatly impoverish the world. Fortunately, it won’t happen.

I agree. The Blogosphere might be dead, but blogging isn’t.

Friday 7 November 2008

The nature of intranets is changing

(Just to demonstrate that I haven’t lost the faith entirely, I decided to rework the introduction of The Intranet Imperative that I wrote back in 1995)

The Intranet 2.0 Imperative

The nature of intranets is changing.

Intranets and the World Wide Web may share a common heritage, but over time the application of the same Web technologies inside organisations have taken a divergent path. Some might argue that, quite rightly, intranets have ignored the bubble of hype and successfully weathered the information dangers that have plagued the Intranet. But with hindsight, the dot com boom and bust period can be seen not as a failure for the World Wide Web, but as part of a progressive wave of technology innovation that is slowly, but surely changing society and business.

Today that current wave of change is called Web 2.0 and through our own daily experience using this new World Wide Web it is influencing our expectations of what an intranet is and how an intranet should work. As a result, the safe traditionalist view of intranets, one that concentrates on perfecting static content built around fixed information architecture is becoming out of step with growing demand for more dynamic user-driven Web-spaces that connect users to useful people, places and things.

In time this demand for new capabilities and functionality will change intranets for the better. It will expand their scope beyond a narrow focus on publishing content into something that will play a pivotal role in defining the shape of our future information workplaces. But like all change, this transition from the traditional view of intranets to this new ‘Intranet 2.0’ will be hard for many organisations.

What is ideally needed is a roadmap to help guide the evolution of intranets safely through this change; but if we recognise that these are indeed waves of innovation and the outcome is hard to predict then what is really needed is a guide or set of patterns to build on, not a prescriptive set of steps.

And this is what this blog and the conversations around it represent – not concrete answers, but dialogue and ideas to inform our thinking as we embark on this exciting journey together.

Time to take a deep two-oh breath

I really enjoyed reading this interview with Tim O’Reilly. I was only saying recently that the predictions of the demise of Web 2.0 (and everything related) are coming from those who are looking at this wave of change from standing with in it, rather than looking back at what has happened before and to quote just one part from this interview:

‘Over time, people have come to equate Web 2.0 with a small, lightweight start-up funded by advertising,’ O'Reilly said. ‘That became the popular definition of Web 2.0, and people have taken potshots at it.’

If you think that's all there is to Web 2.0, if you think the game is really over, then you're going to miss out on the even bigger transformation that lies ahead.

Looking inside organisations I think the same can also be said about equating Enterprise 2.0 to blogs and wikis. If you think that this is all Enterprise 2.0 is about, how disappointing – you are going to miss on that bigger transformation O’Reilly is talking about, which will effect society and business.

So, it is indeed time to take a deep breath and look at the bigger picture. Personally I hope to refresh this blog a little and expand beyond the narrow focus it has had recently.

To be honest, I’m growing a little tired of social media peddlers with their diet plan strategies for transforming organisations – you know the kind of thing, those throw out your management theory and just follow our “seven steps to success” pieces. In practice the results vary and never last. Some of them I fear have never even seen inside a large enterprise, because for as many instant enterprise social computing success stories I hear about, I come across mediocre attempts of the build it and they will come strategy. Viral adoption can happen – I’ve been involved with it first hand, but the environment has to be right (both from a technology and an organisational perspective).

For example, I came across a global organisation this year where people had taken a ground up approach to installing a range of social media tools, many based on open source tools. They had an example of all the popular social media tools you can think of installed. Great, right? Unfortunately my impression of what I saw was that it lacked cohesion, the tools had poor usability (probably because people didn’t have formal funding to work on them) and to be honest most people didn’t even know they were there. This doesn’t mean there isn’t potential - I was excited about the possibilities but disappointed about the apparently random and misguided application.

I’m sorry if this sounds overly critical. I’m genuinely excited by the opportunities ahead of us, but my training and work experience is all about critical thinking that informs pragmatic implementation. So, I just can’t help myself ;-)

Thursday 6 November 2008

Some reports on microblogging

While I’ve seen some analysts are talking down microblogging (aka Twitter et al and the new army of enterprise solutions), I’ve also noticed a few reports appear recently looking specifically at this space:

I’m sure there are others. Of course, what’s equally important is stories from the field, such as Jeremy on Yammer and Nathan on his internal microblogging at Janssen-Cilag. There are more examples out there is you go looking, although many are focused on marketing with microblogging.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Seamless Teamwork using Microsoft SharePoint

Michael Sampson’s new book on Seamless Teamwork using Microsoft SharePoint is now available. What’s it all about?

“Seamless Teamwork helps people in collaborative teams envision how to accomplish their work using Microsoft SharePoint. The purpose of the book is to demonstrate how SharePoint can be used to support team collaboration, innovation and the carrying out of daily business activities.

The book is organized around the idea of someone getting a new project to lead at their place of work, and then examines how SharePoint supports the execution of that project. While the book focuses specifically on this fictional project, the main ideas and issues faced by the users will be experienced generally by all SharePoint users. Thus you can take the main ideas and apply them to your projects.

Seamless Teamwork is aimed at people in business teams who are using SharePoint. It is not a complex IT book, although IT people will benefit from its insight into how people can use SharePoint.”

I haven’t read it myself, but Michael has been writing some smart things about using SharePoint for collaboration for some time now, so I’m sure its worth a look.

Recommended reading for Next Generation KM, Collaboration and Intranet 2.0

This following is a combined list of recommended reading (in addition to mine own work!) related to the Next Generation Knowledge Management, Collaboration and Intranet 2.0. This is by no means intended to be a definitive list, instead it is based on reading lists I’ve handed out over the last four years or so at conferences:

Feel free to add your own suggestions below for other articles, papers and books you recommend.

Recommended reading for Knowledge Audits

Thinking of completing a Knowledge Audit? Here is a list of recommended reading – where possible I’ve provided links, however unfortunately quite a few are behind journal paywalls:

I put this list together back in 2004 for a conference workshop on Knowledge Audits, so feel free to suggest some more recent resources as comments.

Should you blow up your old intranet?

Nina Platt likes this alternative intranet 2.0 implementation advice from Chris McGrath, who is one of those smart guys at ThoughtFarmer, where he suggests the first step is to blow up your existing intranet – McGrath writes:

Step 1: Blow up the old intranet.

Why? It's irrelevant to employees' day-to-day job. The cumbersome updating process alienates people. It's out of date and usage is dismal.

How? Find the intranet server, get to a command prompt, and type >rm -rf * (that's a server admin joke...) Alternatively, unplug it. Seriously, it's not worth trying to fix; you've got to start over.

I think we all know where he is coming from - If you’ve ever been faced with a terrible intranet as an end-user, I’m sure you would love to see it blown up. However, while we might *think* about it, I’m not sure this is a good strategy in the long run. Blowing up your current intranet encourages that design once, fixed in stone mentality around intranets that got us into this mess in the first place. It could also be organisational political suicide. Also, which part of the intranet and its existing content are going to blow up?

I would prefer to see a transition and even co-existence, with the view of getting users and management stakeholders used to the idea of another Web 2.0 idea, the continuous beta.

BTW Along those lines, check out this article, The Search for the Perfect Intranet.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Erica Driver: Predicting the immersive internet

Ex-Forrester Analyst, Erica Driver, writes about the potential for the immersive Internet (or metaverses, if you like):

Today, it's hard to imagine being able to get our jobs done without the Web. Within five years, the same will be true of the immersive Internet.”

She includes a couple of examples from Accenture, Michelin Group and Microsoft to demonstrate the benefits of the immersive Internet (e.g. reduce travel and event costs) and some tips to get started with immersive Web-applications. However, I found her last bit of advice interesting:

It is not surprising that this short list of recommendations is similar to advice I've given to information and knowledge management professionals over the past decade regarding enterprise collaboration strategies. Tools like instant messaging, team collaboration and social networking have changed the way many of us work. Now the immersive Internet is coming from the fringes to become the newest wave of technology change to hit the workforce. Draw on lessons you've learned from introducing collaboration tools into your organization.”

This is probably true – an immersive environment enhances and augments how with interact with people and information, but does it change how we collaborate? Driver makes the point that there are some new skills to learn, but I wonder what other effects it might have, like the emergence of transitory leadership styles in the workplace?

BTW I’ve previously blogged about the potential for enterprise metaverses and also in the online version of my Intranet 2.0 article (they are an alternative Intranet 2.0 strategy).

Monday 3 November 2008

A brief guide to successful virtual teams

More from my personal archives… I’ve hinted at these ideas before, but here is more comprehensive overview.

While it might not be recognised, in many organisations collaborating together as part of a virtual project team or a remote workgroup (where the staff are not co-located with each other, including tele-workers) is a normal fact of working life.

For example, even in a large organisation people may find themselves working virtually even if they are based in the same place, because they have little or no face-to-face interaction with the people they are working with. Virtual teams and remote workgroups can also form between business partners or even with customers. If you spend the majority of your working day working closely with a group of people using technology for communication, then the chances are you are working virtually.

A note on terminology: Unfortunately, the terminology of virtual teams is a little clumsy – but for want of a better word that we can all agree on, I will stick with it here but feel free to use what ever term you feel most comfortable with.

I believe there are three key challenges for virtual teams and remote workgroups:

  1. Willingness - Getting the right balance between necessity and opportunity that creates a willingness to work this way;
  2. Technology - Having the right collaboration tools and technology available; and
  3. Skills - Ensuring people have the skills and capacity to work as a leader or part of a virtual team or remote workgroup.

Unfortunately, most organisations only ever focus on point 2 (the technology) and often use a stick approach with point 1 (creating willingness), so that people are forced to collaborate due to circumstance beyond their control. Incidentally, Web 2.0 technologies can help with point 2, but can’t fix points 1 or 3 alone.

There are a number of specific management issues with virtual teams that include:

  1. Communication;
  2. Time management;
  3. Oversight;
  4. Leadership and motivation;
  5. Dealing with conflict; and
  6. Performance management.

But hang on – doesn’t this all sound familiar? If you were thinking that these are the same issues that affect traditional co-located teams and workgroups, you are right! So, what’s the difference with virtual teams?

In co-located teams, work practices and business culture for how people are managed, how people communicate and how people work together are typically implicit and assumed. However, in a virtual team we must surface these practices and norms through explicit and deliberate management.

To explain further, in traditional teams and workgroups, the workspace is defined by the physical proximity with a shared physical environment. Virtual teams and workgroups are defined by how they environment they use to communicate and share information. But remember, technology is only important to virtual teams because it enables communication.

Of course, another issue is that many people may find themselves as part of both a physical and one or more virtual teams, adding to the management complexity of the situation.

In addition to the three key challenges I described above, I believe there are three remote workspace hygiene factors you need to consider to maintain a healthy virtual working environment – they are:

  1. Control – managers need to have some system of control and similarly staff need to have clear expectations, roles and responsibilities assigned;
  2. Physical resources – people need access to the physical resources they need to do their job (and not just technology resources either); and
  3. Communications – clear, regular and explicit communication systems need to be in place.

Fail to provide these minimum “hygiene” factors and your virtual team is likely to run into trouble fairly soon. Unfortunately in a virtual team, you may not be aware that things are failing until it is too late.

These are some specific workspace considerations to think about that relate to these “hygiene” factors:

  • What information and knowledge needs to be shared?
  • How would each person prefer to receive information and interact with other people?
  • How will people coordinate the work or outcomes that need to be achieved?
  • How will you deal with disagreements or conflict?
  • How will you reward success and recognise achievements?

Now that you understand some of the management issues of virtual teams and remote workgroups, what are the steps you should work through when starting a new virtual team or refreshing an existing remote workgroup?

  1. Identify all participants and stakeholders;
  2. Identify expected outputs (i.e. goals, objective, processes etc);
  3. Acquire infrastructure and resources;
  4. Socialise and establish a group communication plan, protocols, roles and responsibilities;
  5. Managing training and development needs; and
  6. Review and refresh periodically.

Lets focus on a couple of aspects of this process – technology selection and the group communication plan:

Some tips on selecting technology to support virtual teams:

  • No single technology is essential to the success of a remote team or workgroup – technology is only important because it enables communication in virtual workspaces;
  • Consider both where and how people work with their information and communication needs;
  • Know when and when not to use technology to communicate; and
  • Don’t forget to provide training and support on the tools you select.

And finally, some tips on the group communication plan:

  • Use a combination of communication models – pick the method and content that match the needs of your virtual workspace.
  • Allow opportunities for “socialisation” and trust building (the newer Web 2.0 social computing tools are excellent for this purpose);
  • Be practical and considerate of team members other work commitments and other personal issues; and
  • Don’t forget to build in time for informal 1-to-1 communication outside the group communication plan.

Follow this model and the tips provided here and you are long way to implementing and sustaining healthy and happy virtual teams and remote workgroups. However, feel free to give me a call if you need further assistance with managing virtual teams or setting up the supporting resources and infrastructure.