Monday 30 March 2009

Pictures from Barcamp Canberra

There is a stream of pics tagged with barcampcanberra2 on flickr, including a couple of me...


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Saturday 28 March 2009

Barcamp Canberra: A Gov 2.0 Postcard from Headshift, London

My slides from #barcampcanberra...

A Gov 2.0 Postcard from Headshift, London

View more presentations from James Dellow.

Lots of discussion today about running a Gov 2.0 barcamp in Canberra - so keep your ears open for details.

UPDATE: For those that want to dig a little deeper with the examples I used, here are some links to sites mentioned in my presentation:

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Friday 27 March 2009

Using Twitter as a benchmark for Australian local government use of social media

Tomorrow is #barcampcanberra and I’ll be getting up early to drive down from Wollongong for the day. I’m planning to talk about something Gov 2.0 flavoured and have been thinking about where Australia is compared to the rest of the world. For example, while at Barcamp in Canberra this week, over in the US a Government 2.0 Barcamp is taking place - they ended up capping this event at 500 people.

Now, I don’t believe Twitter is the beginning and end of social computing, but it does provide an interesting benchmark for comparison. Lets consider the UK and Australia:

Local authorities in the UK on Twitter = 90 out of 468 (approx. 20%)


Local councils in Australia on Twitter = 3 out of 677 (less than 1%).

Those 3 councils I’m aware of are the City of Sydney, Mosman and Wyong. There may be a few more, but let face it - we would need to pull a lot out the hat to match the UK's efforts to date.

Now, when you look at the combined 10,000 or so followers the UK councils have attracted so far in the context of the UK's total population, you might be tempted to argue that Twitter isn’t actually having much of an impact. However, two points need to be considered:

Firstly, Twitter isn’t a numbers game - considering the low barrier of entry for establishing a Twitter presence, it provides an excellent return on investment compared to other hit and miss broadcast communication approaches - its not a passive communication tool as information is getting specifically to those that want it. Some of those Twitter followers will be acting as information brokers, so news and other information will be passed on through other information channels, including both the traditional media and other social media.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it is a sign of UK councils have far greater willingness to experiment with social media as new ways of communicating and engaging with the communities they represent.

It would be unfair of me to bash Australian local government over the head with Twitter. There are lots of reasons why government as a whole in Australia isn’t experimenting with social computing to the same degree as the UK (and the US, Canada, etc). And, as I mentioned earlier, there is more to using social computing in government than Twitter. For example, look at HeadShift’s Commission for Rural Communities case study:

“The Commission for Rural Communities ensures that governmental policies reflect the real needs of people living and working in rural England... [they] faced the challenge of uniting groups and individuals based in very different places.”
Sounds like the kind of challenge we face in this wide brown land, right?

So, if at least four Aussie councils have now done it, what’s stopping the others from at least sticking a toe in the water and start investigating the possibilities? Well, to help on that front here are some Twitter focused tips:

  • Create a personal account to learn about the medium. There are a stack of local government related organisations already on Twitter you can follow;
  • Use a tool like TwitterLocal to find people twittering from your local area; and
  • Start working on getting an RSS feed on your council Website - there are tools that will make it easy to automagically post updates to Twitter (plus you’ll kill two birds with one stone by also providing your community with the option to follow news via your RSS feed).

If you work in local government in Australia I would love to know more about what’s stopping you from experimenting with social media and social computing.

BTW This wasn't a scientific survey of Twitter use! My rough calculation of the number of local authorities in the UK is based on data from and Wikipedia. For Australia, I used a figure from the Australian Local Government Association. I also used data for Twitter from the Local Government Engagement Online Research Blog and Also, if I’ve missed out an Aussie council on Twitter, please let me know.

UPDATE: Care of the Stap isi blog, here are examples of a few more Aussie local councils on Twitter - City of Bayswater (toe in the water, but not twittering as yet), Mitcham Council, and Toowoomba Council.

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Saturday 21 March 2009

SharePoint and Enterprise 2.0

Like anyone who works in the enterprise social computing space, Thomas Vander Wal's post about SharePoint was essential reading. He concludes:

"What is clear out of all of this is SharePoint has value, but it is not a viable platform to be considered for when thinking of enterprise 2.0. SharePoint only is viable as a cog of a much larger implementation with higher costs. It is also very clear Microsoft’s marketing is to be commended for seeding the enterprise world of the value of social software platform in the enterprise and the real value it can bring. Ironically, or maybe true to form, Microsoft’s product does not live up to their marketing, but it has helped to greatly enhance the marketplace for products that actually do live up to the hype and deliver even more value."
However, the responses have been just as interesting, like Mike Gotta, Michael Sampson, Oliver Marks, Dion Hinchcliffe, and Todd Stephens (Sharepoint versus the World, Sharepoint Bites Back and Another Sharepoint Myth Debunked).

And what about me? What do I think?

I have to say that there is certainly a ring of truth about Vander Wal's analysis, but... I'm not entirely convinced about the basis of his arguments.

The test for Enterprise 2.0 isn't cost or a list features, although we do expect it to be built using Web technologies and ease of use is important. However, even in those cases Web-based doesn't just mean Web browser based and I would claim 'ease of use' is in the eye of the beholder. No, the measure of SharePoint's Enterprise 2.0 worthiness is in how it is used and how users are allowed to use it. And there is where, from looking at the SharePoint product suite and my experiences in the field, that I have a problem with SharePoint.

Out of the box, there are trade offs in SharePoint that make it a passable document-collaboration tool, but in doing this it is structured in such a way that it also silos and constrains users and information. Beyond document-collaboration, other potentially interesting portal features, like the Business Data Catalogue, require the intervention of administrators and visionary IT management. So its a user-driven environment only within certain limits.

I'm also not convinced that SharePoint has heralded the era of Enterprise 2.0. What is has done is provided a low barrier of entry to a Collaboration capability that has been lacking in the majority of organisations and in that respect it has opened the door to Intranet 2.0, but in most cases SharePoint is deployed in a way that is very far removed from Enterprise 2.0. At this point we do start to find that the complexity in the SharePoint suite and its technical and information architecture become a barrier to using it as a platform for Enterprise 2.0 in the future - and its here Vander Wal's arguments start to play out. Unfortunately IT professionals only have themselves to blame if they deploy SharePoint haphazardly and get bitten by it later!

Still, there are off the shelf options that can help enrich SharePoint as a social computing tool - ReadWriteWeb covered a few of them last year - but even with these in place you will only have affected one part of your overall information workplace. That is, you've added some social features to your intranet (and they might have an impact), but you haven't really evolved into Enterprise 2.0.

So, being pragmatic, what can we do about SharePoint to make it as Enterprise 2.0 friendly as possible?

  1. Implement strong foundations for Enterprise 2.0'ness - Plan your infrastructure well and implement the right governance model so you have a platform where open information access is encouraged ('access' means you can also find information and know about it, not just have the rights to see it) and agile development practices can be used to help quickly meet new business requirements, but all under controlled conditions (because a wild SharePoint isn't good for anyone);
  2. Have a realistic budget - Accept the fact that you will need some additional Webparts and third-party extensions to achieve the first goal - and budget for it from the beginning; and
  3. Remember the big picture - In the process of doing all this, don't forget to also focus on people, process and content and not just the technology.

And if all this sound too hard, well perhaps SharePoint isn't the right choice for your organisation after all.

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Friday 20 March 2009

A simple trust mechanism for Twitter?

How do you know that a Twitter account represents the person or organisation that they say they are? Just a thought, and this might sound complicated, but I think this could be an easy, workable solution.

  1. In the Twitter account you provide a Web link.
  2. On that related Website you include some metadata or a specific page (a bit like the way browsers detect RSS or other embedded microformats) that includes the Twitter account ID.
  3. People can then add little authentication routines into their Twitter apps that check if the Website listed confirms ownership of the Twitter account back.

Obviously it wouldn’t have to be mandatory (I mean, we still want Twitter to be fun!).

What do you think - could this work?

Alternatively, a great business model for Twitter could be to offer premium accounts that are “validated” by Twitter as authentic.

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Alas, doesn't really exist but it is at least an idea in the US. Craig provides some commentary in the Australian context and explains that "In Australia we even go to the extent of copyrighting government data." That's not a good starting point but of course we have to accept that here in Australia, our history, geography and the origins of government are quite different from the US. Having said that, while we can't avoid what happened in the past, it doesn't mean things can't change. Craig goes on to draw comparisons to the Wikipedia story:

"As history has recorded, countries that remove barriers to the free flow of ideas and information develop faster, are economically more successful and their people enjoy higher standards of living. Fostering innovation directly leads to national success. So in a world where some countries make data freely available, how do other nations continue to compete? To draw an analogy from the publishing world, Wikipedia disrupted the business model for Encyclopedia Britannica. By providing free 'crowd-sourced' information of greater depth and about the same accuracy as a highly expensive product, Britannica has been struggling to survive for years... In other words, you cannot beat openness with secrecy - the only way to remain successful is to step towards openness yourself."
Like it not, change is coming to government around the world and Australia can't bury its head the sand.

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Tuesday 17 March 2009

2009 Intranet Innovation Awards

My, doesn't time fly. Alex Manchester nudged me the other day and asked if I could help get the word out about Step Two Design's 2009 Intranet Innovation Awards. Now in its third year, the aim of the awards are to:

"celebrate new ideas and innovative approaches to the design and delivery of intranets. The goal is to find these ideas (whether large or small), and to share them with the wider community."

Since this is an Aussie initiative, I'm more than happy to spread the word. You'll find more details on Alex's blog. To date I think the awards have thrown up some interesting winners that reflect great examples of the state of the art, but I'm still waiting for something really innovative in the intranet space - maybe this is the year?

Perhaps part of the challenge here is throwing off the baggage associated with the word "intranet"... what do you think? What does intranet innovation mean to you?

PS You'll find details of some of Headshift's own innovation with intranets on the Projects page.

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Wednesday 11 March 2009

Observations from E2EF 2009

I was busy busy twittering on the day, but realised I had neglected to post anything post-conference about Ross' Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum a few weeks ago.

So what did I learn? Firstly, my main take away was that I noticed a big change this year from people asking what is Enterprise 2.0 to how do I do Enterprise 2.0. My second take away was an observation that while the IT and Marketing communities have been sharing experiences with using social computing, there isn't enough sharing between those groups and the Learning and Development sector who are another significant group that are using the same tools.

I really enjoyed hearing JP's address, although I think some people were disappointed that it wasn't some kind of high energy key note motivational thing. Personally I admire him for his achievements, passion, ideals and his thoughtful and well written blog posts, not the buzz. Bear in mind also that JP joined us via videoconference and it was pretty late in the UK.

I also think Brad Howarth made a good attempt to integrate the background Twitter stream into his panel discussion :-)

I also ran a series of mini-workshop on implementing wikis... and the one common issue that came up time and time again that people wanted to discuss was how to encourage more participation. Luckily my mini-workshop actually addressed this in part by asking participants to think more critically about their objectives and how that matched to both how their use of their wiki software and their expectations of how staff would use it. In one instance it sounded like the wiki was really being used just as a simple Web Content Management System (WCMS), so you can't really expect high levels of collaboration, conversation and contribution. However, to highlight my earlier point, at least no one asked what is a wiki!

If you are interested I've uploaded the slides from my handout, however they are based on my original (and apparently popular) Intranet 2.0 slides:

Anyway, a big hat tip to Ross for pulling off another great event, including ensuring we all had power and wifi available. Other conference and event people, please take note!

Handover your brand, but empower staff at the same time

Kate has posted a summary of her panel session at AdTech about handing over your brand to consumers and writes:

"The consensus was that brands are out of our hands to a certain extent anyhow, so it is better to engage on your own terms and start a conversation with consumers. And listening was seen as a critical starting point to the dialogue."

In a similar conversation with Anne Bartlett-Bragg yesterday, I was reminded of an old business book from 1992 by Karl Albrecht called The Only Thing That Matters. Reflective of the time it was written, this is a book about adopting a Total Quality Service approach to business. However, it it prefaced with an attitude that resonates with Kate's comments:

"We're learning to understand what goes on in the minds of our customers, and not to substitute our own arrogant hypotheses about what the customer presumably want"

But what is even more interesting is that later in the book it introduces some ideas for aligning quality objectives, measurement approach and employee empowerment... think about that for a moment. At its most sophisticated level, Albrecht's approach calls for a combination of:

  • A business focus on managing customer perceptions;
  • Using customer sensing to listen to customers ("There is no way you can accurately gauge the mental, emotional, or subjective reactions of customers over a period of time without asking them to express themselves to you"); and
  • Employee empowerment through well-formed and well-oriented discretion to take action.

This suggests to me that it isn't enough just to listen to customers.

In fact you need to back up the listening process with employees who are empowered to respond - but this isn't just about being able to respond back into social networks when someone says something bad, it actually means empowering them to take action beyond just building relationships with customers that include:

  • Adding to the customer experience;
  • Breaking down communication silos;
  • Problem solving;
  • Continuous product and service improvement; and
  • Product and service innovation.

And this in my mind calls for engaging and empowering staff with social computing tools inside the firewall too, not just listening to social media chatter on the outside.

Some might suggest that you don't need to build that social computing infrastructure internally as this is the role for a community manager. But I suspect if a community manager represents the end of the line for engagement with customers then, well, we might see a lot of talk but not a lot of action from the rest of the organisation... which will ultimately bite you in that external social media space.

I wonder what Albrecht would think about applying new social computing technology to his old ideas? How about you?

Sunday 8 March 2009

Design considerations for a generic activity stream desktop tool

I was just reading fellow Headshift'er Jon Mel's overview of Social Text's new Signals and Desktop extensions (also cross posted on his own blog) - basically it provides support for microblogging (the "Signals" part) along with a nifty desktop widget ("Desktop") for monitoring them and the activity stream of things you are watching on the wiki.

This reminded me that I was only just reading about a similar desktop tool (in the sense its another Rich Internet Application-based widget) for Alfresco. Now, without getting under the hood of the thing myself, I'm assuming that its essentially just a customised RSS feed widget - a bit like Snackr - designed to work with a secure feed for a particular URL pattern suited to a single application. Of course this is a just a one-way view of activity.

In theory then, there should be no reason why any modern Web 2.0 influenced messaging, wiki, collaboration or Web content management system couldn't all offer the same style of desktop applications. So this morning I was thinking about what if we were to build a generic desktop activity stream application, what design considerations might we need to think about?

  • Do we support a single microblogging APIs, just RSS/ATOM or multiple methods?
  • Should it also help out as an email and calendaring notifier, and instant messaging widget (like the Google Talk Labs Edition)? Maybe also the ability to start a voice or video call with someone.
  • Should we provide support for multiple user or enterprise defined channels (like the way Social Text separate "Signals" messages and other activity) or a single combined activity feed?
  • Should you be able to taken action on the stream without opening the Web-browser interface? And should we be able to book mark and tag items from the stream for future reference?
  • Do you aggregate all the activity data in a central place or on the user's desktop?
  • Do we develop our activity widget as a traditional fat client application or build it as a Rich Internet Application (e.g. Adobe AIR)?

Personally, I think the first three points might depend on user and organisational requirements. However, for the last two I think it would make sense to provide a cross-platform tool and to centralise feed and activity data for users that use different devices to access their stream. Of course in attempting the design a generic tool the whole design starts to sound quite complicated, but it shouldn't if we keep to open standards and make it extendable (this deals with the first three points more elegantly). It would also be nice to perhaps think of this as the next generation messaging tool that has the potential to finally push the old email client into the background where it belongs.

What do you think? Would you like a desktop activity stream tool like this in your workplace or would you prefer a vendor specific widget? What other design considerations or user requirements can you think of?

Saturday 7 March 2009

Satisficing strategies and the impact of Web 2.0 on intranets

Dick Stenmark is an Associate Professor of Informatics at the IT University of Göteborg, Sweden. You might have seen him referenced in my Intranet 2.0 presentation and also in one of my lists of recommended reading.

I noticed a couple of new (dated 2008) conference papers from Stenmark:

In the email paper, this is the paragraph that initially jumped out at me:

"Previous  research has shown that employees are primarily concerned with accomplishing  their  tasks, and  therefore employ satisficing  strategies  when  using  information  systems,  rather  than  on  trying  to  become  proficient  with  the  tools  at  hand (Carroll and Rosson, 1987).  It has  therefore been suggested  that only when we stop studying  individual  tool  in great detail and  instead  look  at what  the user  is  trying  to  achieve  can we  begin  to  understand  the  bigger  picture  (Jones  et  al.,  2001)."

Nothing new here, but it articulates well a theme that is central to my own approach to the use of information technology in the workplace.

In the other paper, Stenmark reviews the discussion around what is Web 2.0 ("the  concept  is  not  about  technology  per  se,  but  about  a  shifting  understanding  of  the  user’s  role") and considers how organisations might respond to it. However, he observes that:

"corporate employees demand a frequently updated intranet, but the distributed nature that is inscribed in Web technology is partly put out of play by stiff editing policies. Web 2.0 technology can lower the threshold for participation but it will not affect the policies in place – these have to be replaced separately. The literature on intranet management almost unanimously and unreflectively  argues  in  favour of  aligned,  rigid,  and highly  standardised  information  infrastructures tightly administered by  top management. This  is at odds with  social media and Web 2.0 and a new generation of literature is needed to guide the manager 2.0."

There are no answers to this problem in this paper, but thinking about the points raised in the email paper, surely part of the solution is to realise that employees don't work in neat information silos and its time we gave them human centred information systems instead. And for once, thanks to Web 2.0 (what ever that might really mean) we actually have widely available technologies to do this with low barriers to entry. What do you think?

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Press Release: Headshift appoints James Dellow and ramps up Enterprise 2.0 capabilities

I know you all know this, but for the record here is the official press release about my new role at Headshift:


News Summary

3 March 2009

Headshift, a leading enterprise social computing consultancy has expanded its local team with the addition of Senior Business & Technical Consultant James Dellow.

Dellow is a well regarded information management consultant and influential Enterprise 2.0 blogger. He will support Headshift’s clients on the technical side of their social software implementations as well as provide expertise on the organisational aspects of these projects.

According to Anne Bartlett-Bragg, Managing Director of Headshift Australasia, Dellow brings extensive experience working with large organisations to implement web 2.0 technologies.

“There is significant interest from large organisations looking at ways to meet their business objectives by harnessing web 2.0 tools, in particular, the strategic integration of social networks both inside firewalls. Naturally, the larger the organisation, the more complex a social software implementation is without the right expertise.

James understands the often complex technical considerations that large organisations must take into account, plus the ‘people and process’ aspects to a project. He has a rare combination of skills and we’re exceptionally lucky to have him on board.”

Despite the current economic conditions, Headshift Australasia continues to see interest from organisations who want to capitalise on the rapidly emerging usability and benefits that enterprise social computing offers.

“Headshift are one of the few global organisations that truly understand web 2.0 and social technologies and how they can be best applied to meet business objectives. They have a wide range of both internationally and local case studies that highlight how the power of social software can add quantifiable value, said Dellow.

“My role is to work with organisations to help them find a balance between working with their current IT system and implementing new and powerful social computing tools which provides significant benefits to corporations their staff and/or clients. I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”

"Professional areas of focus for Dellow include enterprise social computing strategies, understanding the value of emerging Web 2.0 technologies like RSS, and the creation of user-centered information workplaces."

Dellow has worked in consulting roles with a wide range of government, professional services and blue chip companies such as AMP, ASIC, BHP Billiton, BlueScope Steel, CSC, Ernst & Young, and Rio Tinto. He also completed a Master of Business & Technology (MBT) at UNSW in 2005.

James Dellow’s blog can be found at

You read more about Headshift on their Website of course and if you want to contact me, while I do have a new Headshift email address, don't worry as my old contact details still work.