Removing Trust

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,


About two years ago I made a conscious effort not to use the term “trust” and encouraged those I was engaging for work and social interactions not to use the term. The problem is not the concept of trust, but the use of the term trust, or more accurately the overuse of the term trust. Trust gets used quite often as it is a word that has high value in our society. There are roughly seven definitions or contextual uses of the term trust, which is problematic when trying to design, develop, or evaluate ways forward from understandings gaps and potential problems.

Initially, I started a deep dive into reading everything I could on trust to get a better grasp of the term and underlying foundations. I thought this may provide better understanding and bring me back to using the term and with more clarity of understanding. While, this helped increase my understanding of the use of trust as a term it also confirmed the broad fuzzy use of the term, even within attempts to clarify it.

Why the Use of the Term Trust is Problematic

When I was working with people to help improve their social software deployments or use of social sites, as well as engagements in B2B and B2C arena the term trust was used a lot. I would ask people to define “trust” as they were using it, and they would describe what they meant by trust, but with in a sentence or two they had moved onto a different contextual definition. Sometimes I would point this out and ask them to redefine what they meant, pointing out the shift in usage. When I asked one group I was talking with to use other words as proxy for the term trust things started moving forward with much more clarity and understanding. Also gone were the disagreements (often heated) between people whose disagreement was based on different use of the term.

Once I started regularly asking people to not use trust, but proxies for the term I started keeping rough track of the other words and concepts that were underlying trust. The rough list includes: Respected, comfort, dependable, valued, honest, reliable, treasured, loved, believable, consistent, etc. Many found the terms they used to replace trust were more on target for what they actually meant than when using the word trust. There are some sets terms that nicely overlap (dependable, reliable, consistent and valued, treasured), but one term that came up a lot and generated a lot of agreement in group discussions is comfort.

Social Comfort Emerges

Within a few months of stopping use of the term trust, comfort was the one concept that was often used that seamed to be a good descriptor for social software environments. It was a social comfort with three underlying elements that helped clarify things. Social comfort for interacting in social software environments was required for: 1) People; 2) Tools; and 3) Content (subject matter). I will explain these briefly, but really need to come back to each one in more depth in later posts.

(A presentation to eXention last year turned what was publicly one slide on the subject into a full 60 minute plus presentation.)

Social Comfort with People

Social comfort with people is one essential for people interacting with others. Some of the key questions people bring up with regard to social comfort with people are: Knowing who someone is, how they will interact with you, what they will do with information shared, reliability of information shared, are they safe, can I have reasonable interaction with them, and why would I interact with this person. One of the biggest issues is, “Who is this person and why would I connect or interact with them?” But, most social software tools, particularly for internal organization use provide that contextual information or depth needed to answer that question in their profiles (even in the organizations where most people have relatively “complete” profiles, the information in the profiles is rarely information that helps answer the “Who is this person and why should I listen or interact with them?” question.

Social Comfort with Tools

Social comfort with tools is often hindered by not only ease of use, but ease of understanding what social features and functionalities do, as well as with whom this information is shared. There is an incredible amount of ambiguity in the contextual meaning (direct or conveyed) of many interface elements (ratings, stars, flags, etc.) fall deeply into this area. This leads to the social reticence of a click, where people do not star, flag, rate, or annotate as the meanings of these actions are not clear in meaning (to the system or to other people) as well as who sees these actions and what the actions mean to them. Nearly every organization has a handful if not many examples of misunderstanding of these interactions in actual use. The problems are often compounded as sub-groups in organizations often establish their own contextual understandings of these elements for their use, but that may have the opposite meaning elsewhere (a star may mean items a person is storing to come back to later in one group and another it means a person likes the item starred and can be construed as a light approval). Even services where this is well defined and conveyed in the interface this conflict in understandings occurs. (This is not to ward people off use, but the to understand lack of consistency of understanding that occurs, although the 5 star (or other variations) are really universally problematic and needs a long explanation as to why.)

Social Comfort with Content

Social comfort with content or subject matter can hold people back from using social software. People may have constructive input, but their lack of their own perceived expertise may be (and often is) what inhibits them from sharing that information. The means for gathering this constructive feedback is needed along with the ability for others to ask questions and interact, which usually rules out anonymous contributions (additionally anonymous contributions rarely help mitigate this problem as that doesn’t really provide comfort, as well inside most organizations it is quite easy to resolve who is behind any anonymous contribution, so it is false anonymity). People often have contributions they believe are helpful, but may not be fully fleshed out, or are need to have the information vetted for internal political reasons or put in context (terminology and constructs that are most easily understood and usable) through vetting of others (whom there is social comfort with).

Improving Outcomes with Focal Shift

One of the outcomes of this shift from the term trust to others, including social comfort is areas that need to be addressed are more easily seen, discussed, considered, and potential solutions identified. The end results are often improved adoption through improved community management, improved interfaces and interactions in the services, better tools through iteration, and improved adoption.


Thanks to Yi Tan Podcast on Dave Snowden's Cynefin

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , ,


Last week Jerry Mikcalsky’s Yi Tan Technology Community podcast was a discussion with Dave Snowden regarding his Complexity Framework Cynefin may have been the epiphany of the year for me. Jerry’s e-mail announcement provided background information so the conversation would have some depth of understanding needed to frame a good understanding (the email content is on the podcast page).

I can not begin to explain the incredible value I derived from this session (oh, but I'll try). I have been a tangential fan of Dave Snowden’s blog and shared work at Cognitive Edge for quite a few years. A lot of my understandings for how people share information and interact with each other in face-to-face environments as well as in digital environments have reached conclusions that are quite near Dave Snowden’s frameworks. When I present, write about, or talk to others about my understandings formed around social and interactions (based on 22 years of working in tech environment, 16 years working with social software and services, and the education foundations set in liberal arts with a heavy focus on communication theory and organizational communications as well public policy in grad school with its social analytics and economic frames) I often get asked if I am familiar with Dave Snowden’s work. I have tried jumping in mid-stream reading many blog posts and articles pointed to, as well as following him on many social fronts. I have met him briefly at KM World events, but had never been able to sit in on one of his sessions.

The Yi Tan mailing and podcast finally gave me the foundation and understanding that made the last 6 to 8 years of my work click together. I understood why people asked if I was familiar with Snowden’s work. Much of where I have ended up seems like it is a perfect riff on Cynefin, but I was not fully familiar with it. But, the part I love the most is the framing of the visual model with unordered elements of chaos and complexity; ordered elements of simplicity and complicated; and disorder.

In 2005 I stumbled my way into an intellectual affair with complexity and agent based models as much of what I was seeing evolve in social tools and seemed wildly beyond the bounds of emergent fell neatly into complexity model thinking. But, I knew the world did not all fall into complexity modeling as and when including complexity (high level introduction to it) in presentations and workshops I used a social software example (see Social Software Design for One - slide 70) that progressed from a personal use service, a simple but not fully functional social tool that worked for serendipitous finding of things, to a mature social tool where search and social interactions would lead to finding and sharing of useful information and work optimally, and finally to a complex social system with edge models that were valuable, but outside of the core focus, functionality and use. With this in mind and at the core of my thinking I was predisposed to Cynefin.

Having seen Snowden’s YouTube introduction and having read the Harvard Business Review article “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making” the podcast was the perfect thing to tip my understanding to bring not only Dave Snowden’s understanding into clear understanding, but also I could see my own understandings and what were fuzzy interconnections between things with razor sharp clarity of understanding. For the last 5 years or longer I have been working around the intersection of businesses and social software and social interaction design as my main focus. One frustration has been all the years of experience managing, building, maintaining, iterating, and living with the problems and pain of social tools built up over 16 years or so was it was very clear social software is anything but simple. For social software to work well it needs to be complicated to manage the complexity of not only human social interactions, but where it intersects with business it must embrace the multitudes of overlapping social interactions and cultures in an organization, all while keeping the interface as simple and easy to use as possible.

The last 5 years I’ve run across organization after organization looking at Web 2.0 services and wanting to bring that type of service in house, but most who come to this from a Web 2.0 understanding are thinking in terms of simplicity and have the impression that this stuff is relatively easy and any tool will suffice (vendors early into their offerings also commonly make the same mistake and don’t quite get around to doing the really hard work for 2 or 3 years to start getting their products closer to what is needed by social realities and business realities). Most organizations end up six months to one year in really baffled and concerned as the tools do not perform as they expected and how people are using them (or not) is drastically different and this is often when I get potential customers from a year prior coming to me for help (often very short on budget and short on tolerance). Stewart Mader calls this the “one year club” (this is turning into a podcast with Stewart, myself, Euan Semple, and Megan Murray) as this realization is very common as very few people grasp how complicated and complex this endeavor is as well as how important the tools are and need to map to filling in for an organizations needs. Yes, the tools do matter a lot and they are not all equals as they are all quite different.

Having had Dave Snowden’s work gel and has made all of this much clearer and more valuable. Thank you Jerry and Dave for the Yi Tan podcast!


Closing Delicious? Lessons to be Learned

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,


There was a kerfuffle a couple weeks back around Delicious when the social bookmarking service Delicious was marked for end of life by Yahoo, which caused a rather large number I know to go rather nuts. Yahoo, has made the claim that they are not shutting the service down, which only seems like a stall tactic, but perhaps they may actually sell it (many accounts from former Yahoo and Delicious teams have pointed out the difficulties in that, as it was ported to Yahoo’s own services and with their own peculiarities).

Redundancy

Never the less, this brings-up an important point: Redundancy. One lesson I learned many years ago related to the web (heck, related to any thing digital) is it will fail at some point. Cloud based services are not immune and the network connection to those services is often even more problematic. But, one of the tenants of the Personal InfoCloud is it is where you keep your information across trusted services and devices so you have continual and easy access to that information. Part of ensuring that continual access is ensuring redundancy and backing up. Optimally the redundancy or back-up is a usable service that permits ease of continuing use if one resource is not reachable (those sunny days where there's not a cloud to be seen). Performing regular back-ups of your blog posts and other places you post information is valuable. Another option is a central aggregation point (these are long dreamt of and yet to be really implemented well, this is a long brewing interest with many potential resources and conversations).

With regard to Delicious I’ve used redundant services and manually or automatically fed them. I was doing this with Ma.gnol.ia as it was (in part) my redundant social bookmarking service, but I also really liked a lot of its features and functionality (there were great social interaction design elements that were deployed there that were quite brilliant and made the service a real gem). I also used Diigo for a short while, but too many things there drove me crazy and continually broke. A few months back I started using Pinboard, as the private reincarnation of Ma.gnol.ia shut down. I have also used ZooTool, which has more of a visual design community (the community that self-aggregates to a service is an important characteristic to take into account after the viability of the service).

Pinboard has been a real gem as it uses the commonly implemented Delicious API (version 1) as its core API, which means most tools and services built on top of Delicious can be relatively easily ported over with just a change to the URL for source. This was similar for Ma.gnol.ia and other services. But, Pinboard also will continually pull in Delicious postings, so works very well for redundancy sake.

There are some things I quite like about Pinboard (some things I don’t and will get to them) such as the easy integration from Instapaper (anything you star in Instapaper gets sucked into your Pinboard). Pinboard has a rather good mobile web interface (something I loved about Ma.gnol.ia too). Pinboard was started by co-founders of Delicious and so has solid depth of understanding. Pinboard is also a pay service (based on an incremental one time fee and full archive of pages bookmarked (saves a copy of pages), which is great for its longevity as it has some sort of business model (I don’t have faith in the “underpants - something - profit” model) and it works brilliantly for keeping out spammer (another pain point for me with Diigo).

My biggest nit with Pinboard is the space delimited tag terms, which means multi-word tag terms (San Francisco, recent discovery, etc.) are not possible (use of non-alphabetic word delimiters (like underscores, hyphens, and dots) are a really problematic for clarity, easy aggregation with out scripting to disambiguate and assemble relevant related terms, and lack of mainstream user understanding). The lack of easily seeing who is following my shared items, so to find others to potentially follow is something from Delicious I miss.

For now I am still feeding Delicious as my primary source, which is naturally pulled into Pinboard with no extra effort (as it should be with many things), but I'm already looking for a redundancy for Pinboard given the questionable state of Delicious.

The Value of Delicious

Another thing that surfaced with the Delicious end of life (non-official) announcement from Yahoo was the incredible value it has across the web. Not only do people use it and deeply rely on it for storing, contextualizing links/bookmarks with tags and annotations, refinding their own aggregation, and sharing this out easily for others, but use Delicious in a wide variety of different ways. People use Delicious to surface relevant information of interest related to their affinities or work needs, as it is easy to get a feed for not only a person, a tag, but also a person and tag pairing. The immediate responses that sounded serious alarm with news of Delicious demise were those that had built valuable services on top of Delicious. There were many stories about well known publications and services not only programmatically aggregating potentially relevant and tangential information for research in ad hoc and relatively real time, but also sharing out of links for others. Some use Delicious to easily build “related information” resources for their web publications and offerings. One example is emoted by Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb wonderfully describing their reliance on Delicious

It was clear very quickly that Yahoo is sitting on a real backbone of many things on the web, not the toy product some in Yahoo management seemed to think it was. The value of Delicious to Yahoo seemingly diminished greatly after they themselves were no longer in the search marketplace. Silently confirmed hunches that Delicious was used as fodder to greatly influence search algorithms for highly potential synonyms and related web content that is stored by explicit interest (a much higher value than inferred interest) made Delicious a quite valued property while it ran its own search property.

For ease of finding me (should you wish) on Pinboard I am http://pinboard.in/u:vanderwal

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Good relevant posts from others:


The Tragedy of the Clickspert

by Thomas Vander Wal in ,


The crowd of gurus and experts, particularly in the social media field, is more than annoying, it is troubling. Most have little understanding how things actually work, be it unmediated human social interactions (face-to-face) or people using tools and services to communicate and interact. The mediated interactions not only add complexity to a more pure flow, but they add complexities. Understanding these complexities and the many gaps and complexities that exist and lay ahead takes some rather in depth understanding. I don't know of anybody there yet and there are some insanely smart people working on it and even better there are groups of insanely smart people working on it.

What pains me are the clicksperts, those who think they understand it all because they are adept at clicking the interfaces in social tools and service and thinking they grasp it all. They are playing with the surface level symptoms above the complexities that are masked by the interface and thinking they have solved (the equivalent of) the mystery of cancer and are providing a cure and share it in their "10 steps to..." or "The future of..." blog posts. These are not resolutions nor future thinking (they are just stating what was commonly known 2 to 4 years ago, if not much longer and now often moved beyond).

These clicksperts sometimes have "thought leader conferences" where they talk about discoveries and secrets of what the future (the past for many of us) holds. The clicksperts make problems for those that listen and deploy into their ecosystems, where progress could have been made and people are ready for next smart steps. But, the people get the opposite of what they need, they get really poor advice based on thin thinking and lack of understanding.

Why does this matter? One favorite tools that clicksperts recommend is Yammer and nearly every organization I talk to realizes they have walked into a serious set of problems with the use of Yammer. The lack of the very basics of social and information life cycles get exposed by Yammer. In tools like Yammer smart things get said, but they get lost, not easily searched and found, not easily aggregated, nor not easily tied to anything they are relating to. Compounding the problem are the many complaints of poor customer service (irony fully noted) and down time - things broken that limit or keep people from accessing the service.

Once you get beyond the clicksperts you find people people who see the gaps and problems in tools like Yammer in a day or two of use, or 15 to 30 minutes. Sometimes these problems will not have consequences, but working with people who know the problems, know how they will impact you and your organization, as well as help identify better suited options is a much better approach than leaving the thinking (or lack of it) up to the clicksperts.


Bing Likes Like, But Does it Mean We Do

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,


Last week Microsoft Bing and Facebook announced Facebook is now part of Bing search. The part that has been touted the most is Bing's inclusion of Facebook Likes.

For me this is really surprising as Like has very little value, what little value is has is confounded by it lacks any explicit understanding of intent. Search is about finding what is being sought, which is much harder than it sounds, particularly with massive amounts of information, or when searching across contexts and influences. Like really doesn't add much of anything of value to this. Why somebody likes something is really important to understand, or more importantly even if a person actually likes what they placed a like on, or if they were using it as a proxy for a bookmark to hold on to something so to return later, or even if the Like is a social statement.

One of my trips to California I was with friends and we were trying to sort out where to grab something to eat. One friend suggested In-N-Out, she figured it was well liked and even the guy who is vegetarian would be in on it as he liked it on Facebook (she remembered). The vegetarian in the group strongly preferred not to go there and wanted an option with better vegetarian offerings. When he was asked why he put a Facebook Like on it he said, "I like hanging out with my friends there as it makes them happy, but I usually have eaten before, or will after. Now I am hungry and wish to eat, so I really prefer something other than In-N-Out." This triggered everybody talking about their doing similar things with Like in Facebook, which really didn't mean they liked what they clicked "Like" on.

Facebook Like, much like the often problematic star ratings, adds more ambiguity (or another value point that has no clear meaning that can be reliably used for search or predictors). My favorite recommendations from Facebook are those similar to "Those who like food also like sleep.", which gives me the option to like sleep. (We can cure cancer if we keep this intelligent thinking up.)

What is Next? The Past!

So, if this augmented ambiguity from using Facebook Like in search is problematic leads you to think, "What is better?" Well, a look back to 2005 or 2006 at Yahoo! is a very good place to start. Somewhere in this timeframe Yahoo Search did something smart, no freakishly smart (actually connecting two things together that made a giant difference for search). Yahoo! had its own social bookmarking service "My Web", which was somewhat similar to Delicious (which Yahoo acquired). The second version of MyWeb (MyWeb2) made it easy to see one's own bookmarks that you yourself tagged in your own context, your friends bookmarks they had tagged with their tag terms in their context, and everybody's. Yahoo! incorporated the tags and social connections from MyWeb2 into their search. This dramatically improved the search, if you were using MyWeb2 and particularly if you had stated people you were connected to.

At this point Yahoo! not only caught up to Google but passed it by a large margin for me. Why? Google was very good at finding good results, often good enough. Yahoo! with MyWeb2 built in and using my 60 to 70 people I was connected to started surfacing exactly what I was looking for. This was happening regularly. This was search Nirvana. Let's step back slightly to understand why.

Proper Social Understandings Improve Search Precision

One of the interesting things about people tagging content to store it in services like MyWeb2 or Delicious (or any other folksonomy tagging service) is people almost alway only tag things they have interest in. Based on the assumption (which holds up well) that people hold on to thing they like, but when they drift from that they usually will add tags that state that deference.

Search is difficult because of contextual influences and ambiguity. Having tagging done by people whom you know can help with that contextualization. People whom you know having tagged things around what you are seeking and use the terms in similar manner to the way you do has value. Well, no not really, it has insanely great value. The key is sorting out similar affinities (as close as possible) and similar term use helps to further remove ambiguity, which becomes clearer when you can parse things through the lens of a granular social network. With just 60 to 70 people my world of search was turned upside down in a very positive way. All search results that had been bookmarked and tagged by people I was connected to were annotated with their their name and often tags.

This giant step forward for Yahoo! did not last long as after a few months the experiment was over and Yahoo search returned to being not as helpful as Google search, which is just good enough.

The Yahoo experiment was not perfect, but it was much closer than most anything else to that point. Holding it back was the lack of people you were connected to. The more people you were connected to, to some degree, was helpful. Also, very few people knew about this experiment (it didn't seem like an experiment at the time, as it seemed it could only grow, but Yahoo really didn't seem to know how to get the word out or talk about this value, it was an information geek thing (yes, I could fall into that grouping). But, the piece missing that would have been most helpful, was the ability to garden and craft your relationships to those with whom you connected.

The gardening and contextualizing those with whom you are connected is really powerful. It doesn't need to be publicly exposed but the tools and service can make giant leaps forward if we have this. Most of this contextualization is assumed by tools and services, but having explicit crafting takes the guessing out. Being able to add fuzzy (roughly defined) semantic terms to attract what you value from that person closer while keeping the things of less of value at bey, can be helpful. This is core to the model of attraction (draft) idea that has been my frame for much around me for years. Being able to tag or annotate "Jim" with cycling, food, social search, design, and baseball will help search bring things roughly related to those topics or terms close to me, but may not give as high of relevance for his passion for early 1990s dot matrix printers nor Hobbits.

Next Step?

The next step for this as in terms of products and services also has happened. An enterprise social bookmarking service, Connectbeam (now gone) took the next step (Lotus Dogear, now Lotus Bookmarks in their Connections tools is somewhat similar) by bringing this same social tagging into the work environment and then surfacing that added value into search results. What set Connectbeam apart from others doing similar efforts was it helped people understand the social components better than most. They had some really good social interaction designs around the connecting people, that really started to get at some of the tough nuances that are really hard to crack outside the early adopter types using service (only 5 to 15% of most orgs will fall into that early adopter mindset, the rest are really lost with this). This crafting and understanding social interactions allowed Connectbeam to have the potential to drastically improve search, (search is a very expensive and painful proposition at every organization I have run across). The social interactions needed for comfort, familiarity, and producing value is central to getting any service right, but the hurdle is big but there is a large positive value if you get that right for social tagging. Sadly, Scuttle and thin not well thought through attempts at social tagging really do not add to much either.

Spending time to understand the keys to getting it right and selecting tools that do it well or working with vendors to get there will pay off.


On Fire with Social Progressions

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,


When talking with organizations about social tools and logical social flows for information from ideas all the way to formal outcomes (white papers, process docs, product enhancement requirement documents, etc.) there have always been stated steps. Some of these steps have different incarnations and labels, depending on how things are done conventionally. But, there is a usual natural progression of how these flow that is rather common and universal across organization types (formal or not).

To these progression points there are classes/types of tools or services that map well to these, but very rarely is it one tool/service set crosses these, but whether it is all tools/services under one umbrella application or distinctly different instances, they really should be linked and integrated as seamlessly as possible.

The steps in the social progression are as follow:

Personal

The first step or home base, is more of a state for beginning, is the the personal space and repository. Sadly, this is the ugly step child that is very often missed in many tools/service offerings. The place were a person has a view of their resources, which is mapped in their context and needed representations to make sense with the least effort. This is the view with things they need to see surface (from their perspective and from others) and from where they jump to interacting with information, objects, tasks, and others.

Sparks (Ideas Shared)

Match spark photo by Flickr user SeRVe61 The first step often comes from asking questions simply and easily and quick easy responses, or sharing quick notes and ideas that get feedback and interest. Many times this is done efficiently in micro sharing services like similar to Twitter but with a grasp of needs organizations have (Socialtext Signals or Socialcast are solid options to consider). But, other options, including blogs and discussion forums have the capability of doing this as well.

With sparks of ideas they need to have the ability to be found so to be responded to, aggregated, or even shared to ensure the right people see them and can interact. There is a wide breadth of types of things that flow through micro sharing services, but many will resonate, inform, or inspire others. But, quite often they get solid conversations flowing across a broad cross section of people and locations.

Campfire (Gathering of Others with Interest)

Campfire From the spark of inspiration many others with interest or affinity gather to discuss and the spark turns into a campfire. Stories are told and fuel is added to the fire. Honing of the ideas and gather inspiration, information, and content from broad sources and view is then curated and honed to some degree.

The tools needed for the campfire stage must allow from much broader conversation than the limited spark stage. Limiting the room around the campfire to those with strong interest and affinity helps keep the focus, but also these people will likely have the deepest reserves of fodder for the conversation and a wide variety of perspectives and resources they can tap ready at hand. Longer conversation and curating all that is gathers are the prime focus. Curation through tagging is often incredibly helpful (being able to tag so to aggregate and curate ideas from the sparks stage is highly important).

Bonfire (Broader Interest Gathering)

Bonfire Once the ideas have been fleshed out and framed to some degree and curated to control scope the discussion turns into a bonfire. Bonfires, while much larger still need to be controlled and maintained or they get out of control and things get dangerous. At this stage broad viewing for healthy feedback and discussion, including highlighting things that have been missed, what works well, what doesn't work well, etc. are the key focus. This is the time to get understanding and direction that hones and shapes everything that is possible. It is also used to add to what has been gathered and curated in the campfire stage so to iterate on it.

Torch (Honing for Broad Use & Replication)

Olympic torch photo taken by Flickr user bakanoodle Lastly, is the torch stage. This is easy to handle, easy to replicate, and is safe. This requires Real Collaboration to work through the conflicting ideas and negotiate as well as intelligently work toward one final output. These final outputs can be white papers, new processes, new guidelines, new products, etc. But, the point is there is one (just like artists collaborating on a statue there is only one statue, not many and all through differences have been worked through to one salient solution).


5 Enterprise 2.0 Myth Mantras that Must Die

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,


This week's Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston was quite good. It is one of the few conference I still won't miss. The conference is a good mix of vendors, implementers, and those who live with those results while working hard to improve upon this. This conference is a great place to talk with people who working through the gaps in Enterprise 2.0 tools and services, but still finding great improvements in their company from these tools and services.

Enterprise 2.0 tools and services comprise many different types of offerings that help groups of people share, communicate, interact, and even get to real collaboration. One big question in the halls outside the sessions was "Why is this all lacking standards? Why can't we choose best tools for our needs and get them in integrate?" This question is straight of of the content management system early days as well, but that ended up a rather huge mess with no picking and choosing of the best solutions for your needs from various vendors and easily assembling them together. The customers lost their bid to get best of breed for to solve their problems and have had to settle for mediocre components all from one vendor (nobody is happy with their CMS and never has been, we really must not repeat this bad pattern again). Right now Enterprise 2.0 has a variety of choices with some really good options depending on what a customer's need is (sadly too few educate the customer on what is really needed before they purchase).

On of the frustrating things at Enterprise 2.0 Conference this go around was there are still myth mantras that echo the podiums and halls. They really need to stop as they have never been proven to be right and are often proven to be incorrect (many times shown to be wildly incorrect). The last two years at Enterprise 2.0 Conferences (as well as other conferneces) I was presenting these myths and getting the whole room giving giant nods in agreement and standing up after in Q&A why people still make these statements. Part of the problem is the statements have been said so often they must be true (mantra), but as presenters we really must check these things not just repeat. Quite often this leads to disgruntled customers who make up, what Stewart Mader calls the "one year club", which are organizations that hit the 6 month to one year mark and have giant lessons learned from their tools and services, but wish somebody let them know this stuff up front.

So here are the mantra myths that bug me the most that have no foundation and when presented with any real world examples or research they are quickly (and always) disproven:

Millennials Needing and Leading the Way

Myth: It is believed that it is the Millennials (those recently out of university and roughly 22 to 27 years old) that are expecting or demanding these social tools.

Reality: Every year at Enterprise 2.0 Conference, since 2007, there are one or more sessions where this myth gets debunked. In the last 5 years or so I have never been in or talked to an organization what had actually ever had this request from Millennials (over 50 organizations at this point). In fact any Millennial that has been in any meeting I have been part of in an organization has stated very strongly, they can't find any reason for using the tools in the organization and they don't know anybody their age who thinks that either. They do think the existing tools (ECM, Portals, e-mail, etc. are absolutely horrid and nearly impossible to use). Often it is people in their late 30s to late 50s who see the solid value in these social tools inside the organization as solutions for the painful and unproductive tools they are forced to use.

In 2007 it was a lesson's learned panel that the panelist from Motorola claimed very few of their younger employees used the tools they put in place and challenged the other panelist to state differently and they could not do so. In 2008 it the same thing came up in a couple panels, one of which was Oracle's User Experience session which was heavy on the research they put into building their own tools and services. Oracle researchers were initially surprised that there were very few young workers who could understand why they would have these tools at work, but they found those older knew the need to more easily share, aggregate, curate, and collaborate with others. Most of these older workers found that their existing tools were keeping them from getting their work done efficiently, and some times keeping them from getting it done at all.

Another perspective that I found insanely helpful in thinking through this is talking with university professors who use social tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, etc.) as part of their class participation. Most professors (not in computer sciences or information sciences) have a common experience in that their students fall get graded on in-class participation, homework, and digital tool participation and nearly all do well in one or two of the three, but almost none do well in all three. Different people have different comfort zones and strengths, so the teachers have been learning to grade accordingly to balance for this.

Web 2.0 as a Guide

Myth: Often people make the link from Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0 stating we must follow this path which is successful.

Reality: This myth is problematic as organization look at Web 2.0 services and want exactly what is on the web. The problem with this is they often see the Web 2.0 tools as successful because they have a few million people using them. To most people 20 million people looks like a lot, or 50 million, or even 500 million. But with well over 1 billion people on the web around the globe, these numbers get put in to rather small percentages. Even with Facebook's 500 million or so, we still don't have 100% adoption.

When I have been dealing with Enterprise 2.0 "one year club" customers (and potential customers) they are often very disappointed with their low adoption (they were some how dreaming of millions of users inside the firewall of their 30k employee organization). Nearly every time they had out performed the Web 2.0 tools with percentage adoption, but that is not comforting.

What Web 2.0 does is provide a glimpse of much easier to use services and tools to get the job done. Sadly most Web 2.0 sites have been honed and incrementally improved on early adopters, who are not representative of the remaining 90% to 95% of the population. The reality of Enterprise 2.0 is that organizations are comprised of everybody (the mainstream and the ear) and they are a fixed population (for the most part) and great strides have been made with many vendor's tools that enable their offerings to be used by much higher percentages of the population. We all still need to work with vendors to get this ease of use and mapping to the wide variety of needs and depths of use.

No Training is Needed

Myth: Often you hear no training is needed because the tools are so easy, or its related mantra "if you build it they will come".

Reality: Similar the ease of use mentions in the Web 2.0 myth above, the enterprise 2.0 tools are much easier to use than the really complex and human unfriendly tools many organizations have through out. While the older tools usually require days of training, 500 page binders, and a lot of bullet point ridden presentations. The Enterprise 2.0 tools still require training, but the training is much much lighter. The training is hours (usually if it is more than 2 or 3 hours you may have the wrong tools or the wrong training) not days.

Many organizations are now complaining that they have spent incredible amounts of information for a enterprise wide portal or enterprise content management (ECM) tool. But the tools are so complex that they have an insanely small number of people in their organization that are trained well enough to add or manage content. Many organizations are looking to Enterprise 2.0 tools to get information out of people's heads easily and shared with others (as one of many uses and valuable solutions the tools and services provide).

90-9-1

Myth: Many people believe that one percent create content, nine percent modify and interact with that content, and 90 percent just consume that information and are passive.

Reality: Sometimes this myth gets attributed to Bradley Horowitz presentations while he was at Yahoo! that used these percentages as estimates inside a pyramid. He often has said he wished he never put numbers in it as they numbers are not accurate and the percentages can be flipped and still be correct.

Any organization that deploys social tools, iterates them to improve to people's needs, and has community leadership almost always finds these adoption rates grow over time. Some organizations many organizations get 5% to 20% adoption and active use in the first year. Over two years this grows to be much more. E-mail saw nearly similar patterns and took 5 to 7 years to reach about 99% adoption. But, the best example is the BBC's greater than 110 percent adoption over 7 years, but as Euan Semple explains part of this is the employee base of BBC shrunk durning that time, but it still makes the 90-9-1 myth look horribly foolish (I know many companies grade their potential consultants on use of this myth and if stated they are immediately dropped a few ranking points).

In 1996 I was working for a legal professional organization and one of my roles was running their private professional Compuserve forums. They had been using Compuserve 2 years or so by the time I worked there, but they were already above 40 percent of the 3,000 members were on the service. Of those using Compuserve more than 50% were actively participating. We were finding those with 6 to 18 months of were actively contributing at a 60% or higher rate. Every intranet forum or groupware service I have run, built, managed, or iterated in jobs since has followed similar patterns, so that is 14 years of living with the reality that the 90-9-1 is a myth and all the lessons learned during that time as well.

People are Becoming Openly Social

Myth: People are moving to being more openly social as years go by. This is also tied to the youth myth (this combination myth really doesn't hold up at all either).

Reality: In every organization the adoption and broad use of social tools is almost always tied to closed groups, but we know those are problematic as information is shared but is can be nearly impossible to access and use. Right up there is the nearly global understanding that services that are openly shared to all in the organization by default (or only option) have very low adoption. There is no better way to hinder adoption than to opt for all interactions to be openly shared.

This follows the understanding had pounded into me over the last 14 years and lead to the rethinking of all of the social interaction models I used and knew of (particularly from Web 2.0) and started from scratch, with one of the results being Elements of the social software stack. I used stack because there is a distinct order to how people progress through sharing information and one of the most important parts is having action (blogging, annotating, tagging, notes, etc.) followed by the decision how broadly you want to share it. Most tools have this backwards by choosing the tool or action you have set how broadly it will be shared. Community managers who have pushed to have this switched or to have the capability to not share everything by default have seen the adoption rates jump drastically. These same community managers are usually rather angry that nobody put them onto this basic understanding earlier.

Many who use this myth mantra point to Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook as their proof. But, Facebook data doesn't seem to support Zuckerberg's assumptions, in fact it is quite the opposite. Many of the social computing researchers who work with this and similar data (danah boyd and Fred Stuzman among others) find there are no trends at all toward opening up social and in fact there are solid trends in the opposite direction in the past 3 to 5 years.

Fixing the Myth Mantras

We really need to stop using these myths and start surfacing all of the evidence that runs counter to all of these myths. I keep thinking these myths have died as there are so many people sharing their research, experiences, and evidence to these myths. But, some it seems many don't have experiences of their own and are still finding it viable to surface these myths as they sound good.

The reality of all of this is people use the Enterprise 2.0 tools when they are well understood, the social realities and complexities are understood to help form solutions that fill the gaps in the problems that organizations face, and we all more forward faster. We need to focus on the realities not the false myth mantras so we all get smarter and can all start addressing the real hurdles while embracing real advances that are out there.


Understanding the Cost of We Can't Find Anything

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , ,


One problem I often hear when talking with any organization about new solutions is understanding the cost and inefficiency of their existing way solutions, processes, or general way of doing things. In the past year or two I have used various general measurements around search to help focus the need for improvement not only on search, but the needed information and metadata needed to improve search.

We Can't Find Anything

There is nothing more common that I hear from an organization about their intranet and internal information services than, "We can't find anything." (Some days I swear this is the mantra that must be intoned for an organization to become real.)

There are many reasons and potential solutions for improving the situation. Some of these involve improved search technologies, some improved search interfaces, or But, understanding the cost of this inefficiency is where I find it is valuable to start.

The first step after understanding you have this problem is to measure it, but most organizations don't want to pay for that they are just looking for solutions (we all know how this turns out). The best method I find is walking through the broad understandings of the cost of inefficiencies.

The Numbers...

At Interop 2009 I presented "Next Generation Search: Social Bookmarking and Tagging". This presentation started off with a look at the rough numbers behind the cost of search in the enterprise (see the first 16 slides). [I presented a similar presentation at the SharePoint Saturday DC event this past week, but evaluated SharePoint 2010's new social tagging as the analysis focus.]

Most of the numbers come from Google white papers on search, which gets some of their numbers from an IDC white paper. I also have a white paper that was never published and is not public that has slightly more optimistic numbers, based on the percentage of time knowledge workers search (16% rather than the Google stated ~25% of a knowledge workers time is spent searching). There are a few Google white papers, but the Return on Information: adding to your ROI with Google Enterprise Search from 2009 is good (I do not endorse the Google Search Appliance, but am just using the numbers used to state the problem).

I focus on being optimistic and have I yet to run into an organization that claims to live up to the optimistic numbers or total cost of inefficiency.

  • Few organization claim they have 80 percent of or better success with employees finding what they need through search
  • That is 80 percent success rate
  • Or, 1 in 5 searches do not find what is they were seeking
  • A sample organization with 500 searches per day has 100 failures
  • An average knowledge worker spends 16% of their time searching
  • 16% of a 40 hour work week is 1.25 hours spent searching
  • 20% (spent with unsuccessful searches) of 1.25 hours a week is 15 minutes of inefficient productivity
  • At an average salary of $60,000 per year that leads to $375 per person of inefficient productivity
  • Now take that $375 per knowledge worker and multiply it by how many knowledge workers you have in an organization and the costs mount quickly
  • An organization with 4,500 knowledge workers is looking at a inefficiency cost of $1,687,500 per year.
  • Now keep in mind your knowledge workers are you most efficient at search
  • Many organizations as a whole are running at 40% to 70% success rate for search

We Know We Have a Costly Problem

This usually is enough to illustrate there is a problem and gap with spending time resolving. The first step is to set a baseline inside your organization. Examine search patterns, look at existing taxonomies (you have them and use them to some degree, yes?) and work to identify gaps, look at solutions like tagging (folksonomy) to validate the taxonomy and identify gaps (which also gives you the terms that will likely close that gap). But get a good understanding of what you have before you take steps. Also understand the easy solutions are never easy without solid understanding.

Evaluating what, if any taxonomy you have is essential. Understand who is driving the taxonomy development and up keep. Look at how to get what people in the organization are seeking in the words (terms) they use intend to find things (this is often far broader than any taxonomy provides).


Facebook Makes it Hard to Like Them

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,


This past week Facebook made a load of changes to how it works at their F8 conference. Very little of it is new or innovative, other than it is taking the ideas mainstream (and the ideas are poorly executed in usual Facebook style).

There are a lot of things that are problematic and troublesome. This is not directly about "the world is becoming openly social", which is a tiresome untrue meme if you talk to most people who are outside the tech industry. There is no quicker sanity check on this than watching use and more importantly non-use (more importantly why it is not used) of social tools inside the firewall of organizations. Being openly social is something that is very counter to most human cultures as we are not wired nor raised that way.

This is a listing of the personal problems Facebook has put me through. None of them were my decision or had my approval. (Also an overheard conversation included here toward the end that was pure gold.)

Reason I Use Facebook

First off, I have used Facebook to interact and keep up with friends and contacts I have met across life's travels. People are really amazing and Facebook is one place many of those who are not in design or technical industries hang out (exactly like AOL was in the 90s). Many of these people I have no idea of their views, beliefs or values, I am just connecting to them because I knew them at one point in life and I valued that relationship then for some large or small reason.

I joined Facebook just as it was opened to the non-academic crowd for the sole reason of connecting with and following the social software researchers who were (and still are much more) on top of what is good, missing, mis-understood, and wrong (still) in these social tools than most of the developers, designers, owners of the services, and pundits/gurus in this genre of tools and services. Ironically, these researchers really are not using Facebook as much and more ironically are finding, using Facebook data, that Facebook claims that people want op it to open up is far from the case (roughly 16,000 to 60,000 of Facebook's 400 million plus users requested things to be more open).

Opening Profile and Getting it Horribly Wrong

The first instance I ran into Facebook's mis-steps was with their Profile. Facebook turned all of the statements about one's self into links and made all of those open to the world. All of these statements had permissions closed to what I was comfortable with prior.

The big problem, as it always does with name and subject resolution is disambiguation (what is meant by a word, e.g. what is "apple", etc.). Any Profile likes or interests that I did not want to use the Facebook auto link would be removed from my profile (what challenged developer thought that one up?). The first look at my Facebook account it asked for me to give a blanket approval, to approve the creation of links one by one, or do it later. With 70 some links and I could see a few were not right and I was in Facebook check on a work contact so I was coming back later. I came back later that same day and still was focussing on work and Facebook asked the same and I replied the same.

The following day I looked at Facebook with a little time (10 minutes or so) and opened the select the links I want to make. The screen allowed me to approve all links with a check box and save. There was no, cancel option or come back later. I realized a couple of the links were horribly wrong (disambiguation problems) and I needed to sort out how to get them right. Since there was no cancel button I closed the page in the browser. I came when I had more time and found Facebook approved all of the links, even the wrong ones with out my permission.

The problems with this are it linked one of my favorite movies Blue of the French three colors trilogy to a porn movie (there are 3 it seems with this same name, according to various web searches). It created a fake page for my company, keep in mind Facebook doesn't care about pointing to actual pages or canonical (the source) source on the web (the web matters little to Facebook just like it did to AOL in the 90s). I don't nor will not have access to edit that fake Facebook page it created. The company I worked for prior also had a fake representation made up in Facebook and aggregated people from the four different companies with a similar name that none of these companies can fix either.

Cleaning Up Profile is Intentionally Hard

The only option to clean up the porn link and the remove other things while trying to sort out how to fix my own company link. In trying to remove the porn link first I found removing the link on the profile page by hiding it and then deleting it does nothing. The link was still there when I refreshed my profile page (as expected Facebook has either has no clue what it is doing or makes things intentionally difficult, and it is really hard to find designers and developers this incompetent). I went through my privacy pages and stumbled on something related and removed that, which did nothing to the profile link. An hour later I found a third place (I have no clue where) that had a remove option for that link, which finally worked for it and the other links I was removing.

At this time I also was locking down permissions by making all Facebook shared interactions with the service only available to 'Friends'. This lead to going through screen after screen and repeating the same changes for the same apps and services, because Facebook management is made intentionally hard and cumbersome. The global changes are not global, there are many more steps to getting things and keeping things locked down.

Why Tighten Permissions?

I had most of my Facebook permissions set to 'Friend of Friend' as I am rather cautious about what I share into the service. In February and early March I sat through 3 demonstrations from different marketers showing the great trove of personal data that Facebook offers up when you use Facebook Connect as a login to your site or service. But, not only is it the person's own personal information they are getting access to but anybody's information who has 'Friend of Friend' selected, as companies, advertisers, marketers, and any organization is your 'Friend' right? Many in the room realized how egregious this is, as most mainstream people (non-tech industry) using Facebook do not think about how widely this information is being shared and it is far from their intention to share the information with marketing or ad services (in many instances talking with mainstream people they are appalled and would not share that info or change what they say had they any idea). All three people demoing Facebook Connect clearly understood the ease to do evil with what was being surfaced and blatantly said "we will never do anything like that as we are an ethical marketing firm" (nice sentiment, but most in the room were not worried about these people presenting).

Where it became really clear to all in the room at one demo, was when the marketing analyst brought in live data they had collected (all three of the demonstrations did this, "to show the power" of their tools and ideas). The marketer selected one of the guys whose information was just added to their database and looked at all of the info that was shared. We all saw is name, his work, his home address, his phone numbers, he was married, his wife's name, and link to his profile, and many many other pieces of data, including people he friended. The marketer used the profile link to show this guy's page, which showed he had not linked to his wife's profile if she had one. But, it was clear most of his current interactions on Facebook were all with gay men and attending various "coming out parties". The marketer became very nervous and uttered, "I guess this guy's wife doesn't know he is gay". This statement may be completely incorrect, but having only partial context (perhaps not knowing his brother died of AIDS and he actively raises money for that community, while not being gay himself, or many other possibilities, even he is actually a gay man).

Transference of Reputation

The point is most of what is shared in Facebook is done with the understanding it is more of a closed private system than it is. But, also our friends and connections information is also part of who we are perceived to be. If we are connected to someone who turns out to be a member of the Klu Klux Klan, there is very quickly questions and assumptions of the similar is likely for us.

Facebook also opened their open social graph, which shows that people are connected and people are connected to things. There is no context in the social graph other than connections. These connections are built by friending someone or using Facebook's new Like feature. [Adina has a really good post on this The problem with Facebook Like]. The problem with an open social graph is it lacks context, it just shows who is connected to who or what. This is a problem with the unknown connections like Klan member, but also it opens up great trove of understanding for people to social engineer information and relationships to gain false trust for crimes or other deviant reasons.

I have stated over the years "The social graph is dangerous without context and much more dangerous w/ partial context", which is this social graph with no context is the just raw connections can be harvested and used in ways people never dreamed of when they made these connections. There is some trust that the organizations capturing this information will look out for us, but in this case Facebook is openly selling access to just that information. Facebook doesn't have your back, it has their own wallet. But, these partial context issues like the friend from years ago who is a Klan member and the usual human transference of reputation is more problematic and dangerous. The claims (assertions) people make about who and what they are connected to need context and it needs to be as robust as possible.

A Facebook "Like" has very little value to the person who clicked that link and has very little value to their connections. If you "Like" a restaurant, is it because of the food? Staff? Close to your work? The pies? Not knowing any of this makes that Like rather pointless. Services like Yelp allow for reviews and ratings. That level of context can start to have more value. But, solid value is when you get down to the level of Foodspotting, which gets to the real context of why somebody likes something, such as what at Shake Shack you liked. The ambiguity is removed and the understanding is clear. With this kind of information Facebook's Like is pointless and meaningless to people, but it does have big value to Facebook as it creates inbound links for Facebook.

External Opt-ins and Data Retention

Saturday I spent a few hours trying to clean-up Facebook while deciding to close my account there or if I could close access to account the few hundred people I am connected to there and make it harder to keep up with them there. After doing this I went to the Washington Post to check to see what activity was going on that had contacts on Twitter commenting about police activity in Washington, DC. The Washington Post greeted me with a large Facebook widget showing my Facebook connections and articles they like in the Post. This was something that the Washington Post opted me into with out my permission. Knowing that Facebook opened data retention from their partners from requiring them from having to dump data they get about its members after 24 hours to allowing them to keep it as long as they wish, also combined with Facebook opening access to parties open access to this new public information Facebook created with out asking permission (and making wrong open statements about the information in my profile).

Facebook is completely overstepping the bounds of anything right and decent by allowing opt-ins without permission from members. But, the Washington Post showed they have little understanding of the reality by opting me in with out my permission as well. All of the valued relationship I have with the Washington Post over the years, particularly after advising Post employees in my workshops more directly about social interactions, the fragility in keeping good relations, and getting social interactions right showed they have very little grasp.

Where to Now?

I still have not closed my Facebook account as it is the people I care about deeply who are there. But, it is those same people who are also realizing they are being thrown under the heap thanks to Facebook.

The other day Marshall Kirkpatrick asked me for comments on Facebook's steps and the need for a more distributed social network and that more distributed open network is where I think the next step will be. I think there will some really interesting discussions at the Internet Identity Workshop next month along these lines as many in the identity community are amazed at the lack of basic understanding of identity, privacy, and related social interactions Facebook has shown in these latest steps. Who widely people in the mainstream grasp what has been done to them (stereotypically people in the United States of America give very little concern to privacy, as they expect it is there and do not think it would be eroded or even the consequences of that). The distributed model where your identity and profile is housed in a place where people have deep trust and access to that can be accessed through permissions (think along the lines of Mine.org) is where we are headed next. When your provider is not as trustworthy as you wished or were lead to believe you can move to another and keep the relationships across all the services you already have as well as the permissions for who has access to what that you are comfortable with get moved as well.

Who Feels this Pain?

I don't know how widely this pain is felt, but one conversation I overheard gave me insight into one place where this pain is felt.

This weekend I was leaving an activity as the next group was arriving. One guy was particularly irritated and was complaining about Facebook and his profile links:

Irritated guy: I just went to check my Facebook account to see if my friend was coming this morning and I found my profile page was now all links. I didn't give them permission to do that.

Guy's friend: Mine did too, but I didn't have much there, just school and work.

Irritated guy: It is the work link they screwed up. The linked law firm Facebook now claims I worked at is not where I worked, but it is some ambulance chaser firm with a similar name. That is the last thing I need is that crappy of a reputation. I did not give Facebook permission to do that. They rather need to get to my permission by law, as it is they are making up lies about me.

Guy's friend: You moved on from your old firm? Where are you now?

Irritated guy: I am now a lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission. I left my old info as current as I haven't had time to change it.

Related Links

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The S Word - A Repsonse

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , ,


Inspired by Andrew McAfee's post, The S Word about the use of "social" when talking to enterprise businesses, I am sharing my response I posted in the comments.

I have run into the connotation of social as a term that has associative connotations to the hippy movement (the slide image Andrew uses with his presentations), socialist (non-capatalist or anti-capitalist tendencies), redundant term to use with business, and more. While most of the people who I engage with inside organizations do not have the negative connotations of social, there is normally a senior manager with ability to veto a project or put it under great scrutiny who has such connotations. I hear many people say that it may be easier to get these individuals to change their definition, but that is as naive as saying they can get a Boston Red Sox fan to believe the New York Yankees are a lovable baseball team. This transformation is rarely possible, thanks to the Cold War, 60s anti-establishment, and years of reinforcing the associations of the term social to strongly negative connotations.

The response to Andrew's post (edited and slightly tweaked):

-----

The Problem with Social (the Term)

I deeply agree with the core problem of the use of the term social and its resonance inside businesses. The problem with social has a few facets to it, but using collaboration is just as if not more problematic.

The pairing of Social with enterprise or business is a bit redundant, as business by its nature is social with meetings, interactions, and communications at the core of what a company does to provide its products and/or services. Business is also social in how it interacts with its customers and potential customers. What has been problematic over the years (many tens of years) is technology has been less than optimal in mapping to how humans are social into technologies, which inhibits optimal social interactions inside and outside an organization. Communication and the efficiency of around this focal point is essential to understand and optimize around.

This often leads me to use social software, social tools, or social computing as a means to distinguish the tools that better map to how humans, in their life and work, need to interact with others. These optimized tools and services with lower levels of friction most often lead to greater efficiency. Distinguishing between tools and services that get in the way of eking out tacit knowledge to ones that ease this activity is essential, particularly in how it is shared, found, and used in the practice of an organization.

Having done this mapping, I usually find leaving social out of the rest of the conversation. Focusing on technology pain points and the inefficiencies inherent in many of the normal enterprise tools for communications and group interactions is where the focus belongs and how these newer classes of tools and services help resolve these problems.

Putting business (or enterprise) and social in close proximity is not only redundant, but rather lacking in insight into how businesses think of the term social at their core (normally the upper management and finance areas). The term social business is used within some circles of economics and finance as a euphemism for those industry segments often related with escorts and prostitution. Other understanding of the pairing of social enterprise, is in Europe with ethical and green policies as in the Social Enterprise Alliance, As well, the definition of social business in Wikipedia, as of 14 December 2009 states, "A social business is a non-loss, non-dividend company designed to address a social objective." All of these reinforce the use of social known connotations of social in business, which have very different intent than the discussion within the context of enterprise 2.0.

The solutions all of these energy is being put toward is not solving problems with business being social, but business tools and services they use as inhibiting the social interactions that are needed to most efficiently exist and survive. While not optimal, social software and social computing are rarely put into the contexts that just social or social business/enterprise conger up. Keeping understanding on a straight path and communications flowing as intended it is good to be clear and understand what what terms bring up. Many if not most organizations are currently looking into or deploying social business and/or social enterprise initiative along the lines of the Grameen Bank and reducing carbon footprint connotations these terms have been connected to in many recent years.

Collaboration as a Fuzzy Term

The second large problem is collaboration, which is equally if not more problematic. Collaboration is often a used a broad lazy term for any things were people work, interact, or share information. Denning and Yaholkovsky in regularly point out the severe problems with the broad use of the term collaboration and often focus on the term "real collaboration" to bring the focus of collaboration back to the original concept of people working together to accomplish a common goal and for a unified result, as in artist collaborating on creating a statue (not many versions, but one). I know you, Andrew, grasp this really well.

Over and over I see many organizations buying "collaboration" tools with out sorting out what sort of group or shared activity problem they are trying to solve or the type of services/tools that are needed to fill the gap. Often the collaboration tool is not matched to the problem space and need, which then needs framing the various types of interactions, collections, sharing, curating, co-creation, etc. that are there. The types of tools, interaction design, and solutions are different for each type of activity and one size does not fit all (I am continually amazed how foreign this is to many).

What do we call it? That is a tough problem as many of the terms are not precise and/or come with much baggage. Currently, we do not have a term with currency that fits the need perfectly.

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Why I Do...

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,


One question I continually get from many in the web design and dev community is, “Why do you spend so much time focusing on things inside the firewall? You know all the cool stuff is happening out on the open web.”

At times I get tired of answering that, but most who know me most of my 20 years doing dev and design work around tech tools and services has been on tools and services inside the firewall. While I love the web and the innovations that happen there and things get worked out early there, inside is where I see the real value.

Real Value

Having a fascination with economics and the “pure flow of information...” mantra I highly value information and the tools and services that provide the value chain of data, information, and knowledge. These digital tools were not the easiest things to work with for many people and it has always been a passion to have the tools and services work better. More optimally, so people could have better access to information so to help them make smarter decisions around things that matter(should we find a new supplier, do we have a problem, do I need a coat, does our packaging need to be weather resistant, etc.).

What matters and what is work and what is personal is a very blurry line, but having the information and ease to access it so we are smarter in making decisions it the key. It comes down to efficiency, which is highly related to ease of use.

Real Populations

What fascinates me most with inside the firewall and always has is the need to understand how people use (can’t use) the tools that have been built or deployed for their use. Things that are seemingly logical and intuitive from the developer and designer’s viewpoints are not on target with those in the organizations. When I started working managing, maintaining, building, and improving the tools and services people use it was inside the firewall as the web did not exist yet and the internet was still in its nascent stages, even if it had been around for 20 years already.

The groups of people I working with needed to use these tools and services to perform their job as the paper and non-technical means of performing their tasks were replaced by computers or were never possible with out the power of digital computations. What was true then with dealing with the populations of co-workers and others inside an organization using the the tools and services is still true now, success of a product is measured by its percentage of use from those who must use it, efficiencies gained, lack of bugs, and improved time to complete tasks.

Web projects seemed to lose these values as it was easy (relatively) to get a few thousand, hundred thousand, or few million (over time) using a product or service. But, those services were only a small slice of the population, even a small slice of the population who needed a service like the one being offered.

Real Social

In the last five to eight years or so that truth around small slices of the populations using tools and services is never more relevant than around the flood of interest in social web sites and tools. Having built, managed, and iterated on intranet groupware and community tools for tens of thousands of distributed employees and business partners, I had great interest in seeing what happened with social sites on the web.

It was no surprise to me when variants of the web’s social tools and services started coming inside the firewall that adoption was less than optimal, because these social tools were being honed and iterated on early adopters and assumptions that are very counter to the majority of the population (some 90% are outside of this early adopter trend using the tools).

Early on I learned the easiest means of getting adoption with tools and services is to emulate who things are done by people without technology mediating the tasks or flows. Regarding social interactions these is never more true.

Most of the social tools are not very social in the way that the majority of people are social. This is very problematic inside an organization because businesses and organizations are social by nature and must be to have any success. People must be social and interact with each other inside the organization (meetings, reviews, research, sharing findings, etc.) as well as to the outside with their customers and clients.

What many of these social tools, and business tools in general, have done is add friction to social interactions that are required by businesses to survive. These newer class of tools are moving towards emulating true human social interactions more closely, but we still have a long long way to go. Where the social web tools have fallen down is focussing on the early adopters, but in reality that is core group of people who come to these sites and services (services like AOL, Yahoo, and Facebook have over the years broken into more mainstream customer bases, but the customers are most often not using the really new “cool” stuff).  The lessons learned from most web social services often don’t work well inside organizations as they are not lessons learned from a full broad population, like the ones inside an organization.

Real Needs

Businesses and organizations have real needs for these social tools, as their organizations are quite inefficient and they know it. They know the value that these tools can bring and many have experimented with these tools in the past year or few, but have been stumped by lack of use and adoption.

Organizations are forever trying to optimally capture what they know (hence knowledge management interest), get information out easily to those who need it (portals), connect employees to each other (groupware), connect to customers and business partners more easily (B2B tools), and better connect the company to its employees (HR tools). All of these have received incredible funding and effort over the years. Some have decent payoffs to the organization (return on investment (ROI)), but rarely are they the large successes that had been promised or hoped for.  One of the big reasons is the tools got in the way.

Real Solutions

Getting the tools out of the way and allowing for people to interact as needed and as is comfortable is where success lies for tools and services in organizations. This is why I am passionate about this area and why I like focusing inside as not only do I see real solutions lurking in what has been done in what is called Web 2.0, but business and organizations see that same.

What is needed is using the understanding of organizations, the new tools, and marrying that to how real people are social and interact so to get to real optimal solutions.


Pieces of Time, Place, Things, and Personal Connections Loosly Joined

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,


There are a lot of people wondering what to do with all the data that is being generated by social tools/sites around the web and the social tools/services inside organization. Well, the answer is to watch the flows, but the pay off value is not in the flow it is in contextualizing the data into usable information. Sadly, few systems have had the metadata available to provide context for location, conversation flow, relevant objects (nouns), or the ability to deal with the granular social network.

How many times have you walked bast a book store and thought, “Hmm, what was that book I was told I should check out?” Or, “my favorite restaurant is book filled, what was the name of the one recommended near here a month or so ago?” When the conversations are digitized in services like Twitter, in Facebook, or the hundreds of other shared services it should be able to come back to you easily. Add in Skype, or IM, which are often captured by the tools and could be pulled into a global context around you, your social connections, the contexts of interest the for the relationships, and the context around the object/subject discussed you should have capability to search to get to this within relatively easy reach.

Latency from Heavy Computational Requirements

What? I am hearing screaming from the engineers about the computational power needed to do this as well as the latency in this system. Design Engaged 2005 I brought up a similar scenario, within context of my Personal InfoCloud and Local InfoCloud frameworks called Clouds, Space & Black Boxes (a 500kb PDF). The key then as it is still is using location and people to build potential context and preprocess likely queries.

When my phone is sharing my location with the social contextual memory parser service that see I am quite near a book store (queue the parsing for shared books, favorited conversations with books, recent wish list additions (as well as older additions), etc. But, it is also at the time I usually eat or pick up food for a meal, so restaurant and food conversations parsed, food blogs favorited (delicious, rated on the blogs, copied into Evernote, or stored in Together or DevonThink on my desktop, etc.) to bring new options or remind of forgotten favorites.

Now, if we pull this contextual relevance into play with augmented reality applications we get something that starts bringing Amazon type recommendations and suggestions to play into our life as well as surfacing information “we knew” at some point to our finger tips when we want it and need it.

Inside the Firewall

I have been helping many companies think through this inside the firewall to have, “have what we collectively know brought before us to help us work smarter and more efficiently”, as one client said recently. The biggest problem is poor metadata and lack of even semi-structured data from RDFa or microformats. One of the most important metadata pieces is identity, who said what, who shared it, who annotated it, who commented on it, who pointed to it, and what is that person’s relationship to me. Most organizations have not thought to ensure that tiny slice of information is available or captured in their tools or service. Once this tiny bit of information is captured and contextualized the results are dramatic. Services like Connectbeam did this years ago with tags in their social bookmarking tool, but kept it when they extended the ability to add tagging in any service and add context.

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