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.

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.

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).

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.

Enterprise 2.0 Wrap-up

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

Each year the Enterprise 2.0 Conference has been different for me, this was my third year in a row attending. Two years ago there were a organizations trying these tools (other than on a server under somebody’s desk), tool makers were trying to catch-up to potential customer desires, and most consultants were trying to apply old models of thinking to Enterprise 2.0 (which broke most of their models). Last year the tools started to catch-up with offerings that were much closer to customer desires, a much broader set of businesses were interested and looking for understanding, and the big consulting firms were touting their successes with out understanding what they did.

This year at Enterprise 2.0 had a very different feel. There is getting to be good depth of understanding of the potential capabilities from customers. The tool makers are really hitting stride and solving some of the tricky problems that come with a six months to a year of use inside an organization (see sub-head below "Open Source Tools as First Step") to understand what the tool makers are doing is valuable. Consultants are getting it, but the big consulting firms continue to have value in individuals and not the firms. The most impressive consultants (and analysts) are the solo players and small firms.

Twitter and Microsharing for Enterprise

There were a handful of very well attended sessions on Twitter and similar microsharing tools for the enterprise this year (last year only one). The sessions were largely love-fests of "isn’t this great" and "here is the value", which is good. But, there are some downsides that need addressing and sticking my head in a few sessions (too packed to get a seat) and talking with others who attended the sessions, the downsides (they have solutions, but not quite built yet) were not highlighted nor were the potential solutions.

I am skipping the positives of these tools as they are can be found quite readily. The cautions and lessons learned relate to two points the volume & velocity of information and use/reuse of the snippets.

Nearly every organization that has successful adoption with microsharing tools quickly believes there can be too much of a good thing. Like my presentation last year at Enterprise 2.0 (After Noah: Making sense of the flood (of information) microsharing has great content flowing through it, but it needs filters (on who and what) as well as as attractors for grabbing things that are valuable that pass through when the user is not looking (the "if it is valuable it will find you" is not something that you want your organization to depend upon).

The second issue is use and reuse of that information. The information snippets running through the microsharing tools are often valuable, some have future value and are received out of the context of need, while others have current value. Most of the tools only focus on sharing the snippets not holding on to them or easily turning them into other valuable information forms (documents, blogs, aggregation of related items for discussion, etc.). Without thinking of what comes next with information flows in the organization’s ecosystem problems get created quickly from the cool adoption. That is not to say that the solutions are difficult or around the corner, but they are not in most products yet.

One service that I saw in the exhibit hall that used the organization’s ecosystem well was Brainpark. Brainpark is a mix of microsharing, aggregation of information and objects, and builds off of experience across the organization. It is a hosted solution that is a fully open space and transparent across the organization (depending on your organization that is good or less than optimal (Sarbanes Oxley peeks in).

Case Studies Predominantly from Government and Government Contractors

This year, just like the past two a majority of the case studies were government or government contractors. Susan Scrupski asked in a Tweet why this was so. One reason (having worked inside government as a contractor doing this things nearly a decade ago) is freedom to talk about what is going on. Many businesses look at these tools as competitive advantage and will talk about the their success on a high level, but lessons learned (downsides) start running into SEC regulations and admissions of less than optimal results (a downside for stocks). Also many of the companies using the new breed of social tools are technology related companies and often they are considering how to turn what they have deployed into a product they can sell in the future or at least a service offering. This sharing can run a foul of SEC restrictions. The government organizations and government contracting companies are freer to discuss their implementation of these tools and the contracting companies see this as a means to pitch their capabilities.

Last year Lockheed Martin generated a lot of buzz with their discussion of the platform they assembled and built. This year they discussed it in more depth, but the point that the only two infringements on their service were one person selling their car (no commerce is allowed) and one person criticizing a decision by the CEO (nobody is allow to criticize the CEO) were good for demonstrating how well people use the social tools with little concern (although the buzz from LM’s presentation to a person this year was "I will never work for LM because you can’t criticize the CEO").

Booz Allen Hamilton was the Open Enterprise winner and discussed in-depth their tool deployment and their use of open source tools and low cost for deploying. This was quite a different perspective from Lockheed Martin’s deployment last year that was incredibly costly.

Open Source Tools as First Step

One thing that I have seen across the years, not only at Enterprise 2.0 but prior, is that many organizations start their social tool endeavors with open source tools. While I am a big proponent of open source tools, one has to be mindful of the disadvantages as well as the advantages (just like every other tool). Open source tools are a good first step to see how tools could be used in an organization, but many of the tools need extensive customization to scale and to meet the the user experience and social needs of those who are not an organization’s early adopters.

In my presentation last year "After Noah…" most of the downsides and lessons learned came from people deploying Scuttle as their social bookmarking tool. Scuttle is a decent tool for small deployments in-house that do not need to scale, but the management of the tools and the lack of intelligence in Scuttle that is needed to deliver solid knowledge and understanding around the organization are not in it. There are many elements in Scuttle that limit adoption, unless in a very tech savvy environment, and require moving to a real social bookmarking and tagging solution after six month or a year. Not only is adoption hindered, but easily surfacing information, knowledge, and intelligence captured in the tool is really difficult. Scuttle lacks the algorithms, social understanding, contextual engine, and user experience to be a long term (more than one year) solution for anything more than a small division.

The other open source tool that is widely deployed and equally as problematic as Scuttle is MediaWiki. I continually see MediaWiki deployed because it is “what is under Wikipedia”. While that is well and good to get started, MediaWiki falls into the same problems as Scuttle with adoption, scale, lack of the essentials, and missing intelligence engines. MediaWiki requires heavy modifications to work around these problems. One of the problems that is most problematic are those around human social interactions, which nearly every organization I talk with lacks in their resources as they development and design teams that build, implement, and incrementally improve their products.

Both of these tool types (social bookmarking and wikis) have great commercial products that provide much better overall adoption opportunities as well as have full-time staff who understand what is needed to get the most value out of what is contributed and how to include the difficult pieces around sociality, which greatly increase adoption and long term use.

More Than Just Tools

This year there was quite a bit of discussion at Enterprise 2.0 around tools are good, but there is much much more than just tools as as a solution. Adoption practices were discussed broadly, but some of the best snippets that echo my experience were in the video clips captured by and used by Stowe Boyd and Oliver Marks in their Open Enterprise session (the full collection of unedited video interviews are available at Enterprise 2.0 - Open Enterprise []). One snippet that rang very true was from Charlene Li where she talked about a large hindrance to adoption was people lacking the understanding of what openness is in the enterprise and that it is a possibility. I often find most organizations need to have the conceptual model (understanding of what the tools are and freedom and control put in the people’s hands as well as it is their organization allowing them to do this) into people’s head is the first step and not talking "carrots and sticks", which often lead to less than optimal long term outcomes and often are counter productive.

It was great to hear other people discussing this in sessions as well as the hallway conversations. If this is of interest the full videos have been made available to the community to listen to and use as an open resource. Please go take advantage of it and use them to help get informed.

Gaps in Sociality

Much of my discussions with my clients and potential clients as well as my 13 years of experience building, maintaining, and improving social tools for use involves focusing on what holds back adoption and use of tools. There are four elements that need to be in balance: Tools, user experience (ease of use), sociality, and adoption/engagement resources. Much of that was discussed in sessions at Enterprise 2.0 this year was tools and adoption/engagement strategies (as just stated there were some large holes in adoption and engagement strategies). On the exhibit hall floor the vendors were touting their ease of use and user experience that is built into their products.

The big gap that was really weak was sociality. As those who have deployed tools and worked to improve them have found how people interact with other people in these digital social tools is a large area that needs addressing. This is one area that really needs to be addressed within the tools as the depth of understanding needed inside organizations to add this is rarely there. There is a large education effort needed to explain what all of this is, how to think about it, how to evaluate tools/solutions around it, how to assess existing deployments, and how to then improve them. When I have IT shops or developers in my workshops this is an area that is really not familiar to most of them. Some of the user experience designers have an understanding of the need, but lack the skills to get the back end development in place to feed the front end components. Most decision makers do not have this on their radar (unless they have had tools and services running for 6 months to a year and are looking for that next step up), but even when they do they only understand something there is broken and lack enough understanding to know how to understand the problems and then address it.

As I talked with people in the hallways and late at night and mentioned scenarios that are indicators of problems in tools around sociality, nearly everybody said yes we see a lot. To a person not one of them had thought of sociality as a problem or even knew of anybody who could help understand it and address it.

This is the next hurdle to start getting over. Hopefully next year and at this Fall’s Enterprise 2.0 in San Francisco, this will be subject matter that is covered so to highlight where the problems lay and how to start working with vendors and developers on ways to improve on what is there.

[If you are looking to get a grounding in this I am finally offering workshops on Social Design for Enterprise, which is described in more depth in the Rock Stars of Social CRM. The real stories, experience, value to organizations, tethering CRM and interaction in social tools not only was great from a showing the power of use of tools in a manner that had deep business value, but the stories of real use and lack of tools and services around optimized use of the tools. This session really should have been not only in the main tracks, but could have stood out enough to have been a main session. It added credibility and depth of understanding social tools from a business perspective in a manner that makes the usual social media discussions look incredibly thin. Radian6, Chris Brogan, Paul Greenberg, Brent Leary, Frank Eliason, and Michael Thomas (National President of the CRM Association) did a killer job with this session and totally rocked the house.


Lastly, tagging. While there was not tagging focussed session and tagging has become the sleeping giant (nearly every social software consultant with deep background asked why there was not a session on tagging as they are finding it is one of the most valuable resources in their tool belt for driving value to their customers). Connectbeam and Lotus Connections Dogear were on the Exhibition floor and were getting attention, I heard nearly every other vendor touting they have tagging in their offerings. This is a good thing and something that is also problematic.

About four years ago I prognosticated tagging would be in most tools, but that reality was going to be problematic unless tagging was done well (at a minimum object being tagged, tag, and cross tool identity of the person tagging). Well this last year I had one large client hit that problem and since I have heard of it five or six more times. While some commercial tools have done tagging well most home grown or open source solutions (see the WikiMedia mention above) do not.

My presentation from last year is even more relevant this year and there is a dire need for aggregation and disambiguation across tagging in various tools. At the Enterprise 2.0 conference I heard this echoed many times when I started asking about tagging in deployments. There is much more to write on this and to share (yes the book is still coming and much of this will be addressed there as well as in future posts).


Enterprise 2.0 has become my favorite conference as the problems I have been seeing for years and working on resolutions are echoed here. The reality of Web 2.0 and social interaction hits home here, particularly the lack of depth and problems in the Web 2.0 tools (which also need to be addressed, but with millions of users it looks like success not a really small percentage of adoption).

I am looking forward to next year as well as the Enterprise 2.0 San Francisco conference in the Fall.

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

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


The last couple of years I have had many conversations with a broad selection of mid-sized to large organizations. Some of these are customers of mine or potential customers while others are conversations I have had, but all having the similar discussion about social tools in the enterprise. What follows is a collection of snippets from those conversations regarding Microsoft SharePoint 2007, most are not publicly attributed as they were not intended to be “on the record”.

One common element from all of the discussions is the frustration nearly all of these organization have with their experience with Microsoft SharePoint 2007. The comments are based on those spending one month to a year with the tool (the six month to one year club with tools offer best insight).

SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies and are focussed on strict processes and defined sign-offs. Most organization have a need for a tool that does what SharePoint does well.

This older, prescribed category of enterprise tool needs is where we have been in the past, but this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization. These new approaches are filling gaps that have long existed and need resolution.

Broad Footprint

What SharePoint 2007 Does Well

Microsoft SharePoint 2007 seems to be in every enterprise I talk to, at least somewhere. It is used if a variety of different ways. When SharePoint is included with addition of Microsoft Office Online (MOSS) is a helpful addition for simple use of these older prescribed methods. MOSS is also good at finalizing documents that are the result of a collective, to group, to collaboration knowledge work process. MOSS and SharePoint are not great at anything but the last step of formalizing the document for distribution in another workflow.

A recent report from AIIM that was written-up by CMS Wire in “Study Finds SharePoint Primarily Used for File Sharing” states “47% use it primarily for file sharing (and/or as an internal Portal 47%)”.

How Did We Get Here?

There is one common point I have heard with nearly every company I have talked with over the last couple years, MS SharePoint 2007 is nearly ubiquitous in deployment. Nearly every organization has deployed SharePoint in some form or another. Many organization have tested it or have only deployed pieces of it. The AIIM survey reported by CMS Wire states: “83% currently use, or planning to use, SharePoint”.

Organizations either sent their IT out for training on SharePoint 2007 and/or brought in consultants to help build an implementation that fit their requirements. Most of the requirements IT departments started with were rather thinly informed, as they have nearly all stated after using SharePoint for a month, most realize after six months or so, their requirements are vastly different than what their initial requirements were, as they have learned more deeply about social tools in the enterprise.

Many who deployed SharePoint, thought it was going to be the bridge that delivered Enterprise 2.0 and a solid platform for social tools in the enterprise is summed up statement, “We went from 5 silos in our organization to hundreds in a month after deploying SharePoint”. They continue, “There is great information being shared and flowing into the system, but we don’t know it exists, nor can we easily share it, nor do much of anything with that information.” I heard this from an organization about 2 years ago in a private meeting and have been hearing near similar statements since. This is completely counter to the Enterprise 2.0 hopes and wishes they had for SharePoint. They were of the mindset that open sharing & having the organization and individuals benefit from a social platform.

MS Marketing’s Promise

The Microsoft marketing people seem to have performed their usual, extend what the product can do to the edges of its capabilities (and occasionally beyond) to map to customer stated desires. In 2006 and 2007 the advent of social computing on the web (Web 2.0) had entered the hormone raging stage gathering attention in boardrooms and IT departments who had been playing around with the ideas of bringing these tools inside the firewall in an official manner. The desire for social software to be part of the enterprise was an interest and desire.

The Microsoft marketing materials they focus on “collaboration and social computing”, which is more of a document management and workflow process tool that they put the more fashionable moniker on. But, it is this Microsoft marketing that engendered many organizations to the idea of the value and promise of social computing inside the firewall and Enterprise 2.0. Microsoft’s marketing legitimized the marketplace, but in typical Microsoft form did not exactly deliver on the promise of marketing.

Part of the promise of SharePoint is a malleable platform, which many developers who work across platforms complain is one of the least malleable and easy to develop on platforms. There are many constraints built into SharePoint and developers for SharePoint are not cheap. Development cycles for SharePoint as said to be about one third to half longer than most other options. At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this past Summer in Boston, Lockheed Martin had a session demonstrating what they had built on top of SharePoint and it was quite impressive. But when asked about costs and resources, they said: “It took about one year, 40 FTE, and 1 to 5 million U. S. dollars. Very few organizations have those type of resources with availability to take on that task.

What Microsoft marketing did well was sell the value that social tools bring into the enterprise. They put the ideas in the minds of those building requirements (at a minimum to be included in pilot programs) as well as the values derived from using this new generation of social software inside an organization.

Multiple Micro-silos

At various conferences, across many industries, I have spoken at I have been asked to sit in on the SharePoint sessions, which turn into something like group therapy sessions (akin to group therapy in the first Bob Newhart show). There is much frustration and anger being shared as people try to resolve how to share information between groups and easily merge and openly share information once it has been vetted. These groups consistently talk about going directly to their Microsoft support & SharePoint Experts with these problems only to be told it is doable, but far from easy and may break some other things. Finding relevant information or even the inkling that something is happening in some group is nearly impossible. The promise of setting up ad hoc open groups by employees across silos is nearly impossible with out getting authorization.

Information Locked

One of the largest complaints is the information is locked in SharePoint micro-silos and it is nearly impossible to easily reuse that information and share it. Not only is the information difficult to get at by people desiring to collaborate outside the group or across groups, but it is not easily unlocked so that it can benefit from found in search. The Microsoft SharePoint model is one that starts with things locked down (focussed on hierarchies) then opens up, but unlocking is nowhere near as easy a task as it should be.

SharePoint Roadmap Marginalized Over Time

Where do people turn that have gone down the SharePoint route? Well most start by adding solid functionality they had thought SharePoint was going to provide or wished it had. SharePoint has acknowledged some of this weaknesses and has embraced outside vendors that make far superior products to plugin as components.

Some common social tool plug-ins to SharePoint are Socialtext, Atlassian Confluence, and Connectbeam (among with many others). Then there are those who build on top of Sharepoint, like Telligent and News Gator Social Sites. While others are more prone to full platforms that deliver much of the functionality out of the box, like Jive Clearspace.

Plug-ins Extending Functionality to SharePoint

Microsoft makes great promises, or hints at them in its marketing materials for SharePoint along the lines of social software in the enterprise. The first step many organizations take with SharePoint after realizing it does not easily, or even with an abundance of effort, do the expected social software components is to start getting solid proven services and start plugging them in. Many tool makers have taken their great products an made it quite easy to plug them into the SharePoint platform. Want a great wiki tool, not the horrible wiki “template”, then Confluence or Socialtext is added. Need a great social tagging/bookmarking tool that ties into search (this starts enabling finding the good information in SharePoint’s micro-silos), then Connectbeam is added.

This list goes on with what can be plugged-in to Sharepoint to extend it into being something it hints strongly it is quite capable of doing. What one ends up with is a quite capable solution, but built on top of one of the more pricy enterprise platforms. In most cases the cost of all the plug-ins together is less than the cost of SharePoint. It is from this point that many organizations realize all of these add-ins work wonderfully with out SharePoint (however, getting all of them to work together as easy plug-ins to each other is not always easy).

Full-Suites On Top of SharePoint

Another option that organizations take is to move in the direction of putting a fully functional social platform on top of SharePoint. Tools like Telligent and NewsGator Social Sites. These are options for those who find value in what SharePoint offers and does well (but and therefore getting rid of it is not an option), but want ease of development and a lower cost of development than is the norm for SharePoint. These full-suites also provide the ease of not having to deal with working through plugging together various different best of bread solutions (this really reminds me of the path content management systems went down, which was less than optimal).

Not only is the Lockheed Martin example of building on top of SharePoint an example of expense of that platform, but the recent AIIM survey surfaces high cost of development as a rather common understanding:

“Another area of interest is the required effort to customize SharePoint and integration other third-party solutions. In this case, 50% of survey respondents indicated custom solutions required more effort than expected (33% “somewhat more” and 17% “much more”). The integration challenges focused on a lack of training/documentation and integration with non-Microsoft based repositories and existing applications.” From CMS Wire: Study Finds SharePoint Primarily Used for File Sharing.

Fully Replacing SharePoint

There is a third option I have been running into the last year or less, which is removing SharePoint from the organization completely. I know of two extremely large organizations that are removing SharePoint from their organization this year (once these organizations are public with this I can be). The reasoning is cost and under performing as a social platform and what is does well is easily replaced with other solutions as well. In one instance I know the people who brought in SharePoint are being let go as well as the whole team of developers supporting it. I am hearing business operations looking into having their IT department find something that is meets their needs and were promised by IT that SharePoint was that solution. This was echoed by Lee Bryant via Twitter []: “[…]problem is many IT depts just don’t care - it is a simple ‘solution’ for them, not their users”

When removing SharePoint some organizations are going the piece by piece approach and stitching together best of breed or are going the route of full-service social platform, like Jive Clearspace. The cost per users of such solutions is less, the time to install to up-and-running fully is reportedly a about a third and maintenance staffing is also reportedly lower.

SharePoint is not Enterprise 2.0

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.

Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0

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

Yesterday I made a few comments in Twitter that prompted a fair amount of questions and requests for more information. The quips I made were about the differences between Web 2.0 (yes, an ambiguous term) and Enterprise 2.0 (equally ambiguous term both for the definition of enterprise and the 2.0 bit). My comments were in response to Bruce Stewart's comment The whole "Enterprise 2.0" schtick is wearing thin, unless you've been monitoring real results. Otherwise you're just pumping technology.. In part I agree, but I am really seeing things still are really early in the emergence cycle and there is still much need for understanding of the social tools and the need for them, as well as how they fit in. There are many that are selling the tools as technologies with great promise. We have seen the magic pill continually pitched and bought through out the history of business tools. (For those new to the game or only been paying attention for the last 15 years, a huge hint, THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL).

Tale of 2 Tunnels

One comment I made yesterday is, "the difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 is like the difference building a tunnel through rock and tunnel under water".

That this is getting at is Web 2.0 takes work to build to get through the earth, but once built it can suffer from imperfections and still work well. The tunnel can crack and crumble a little, but still get used with diminished capacity. We can look at Facebook, which has a rather poor interface and still gets used. Twitter is another example of a Web 2.0 solution that has its structural deficiencies and outages, but it still used as well as still loved (their Fail Whale is on a t-shirt now and a badge of pride worn by loyal users).

The Enterprise 2.0 tunnel is built under water. This takes more engineering understanding, but it also requires more fault testing and assurances. A crack or crumbling of a tool inside an organization is not seen kindly and raises doubts around the viability of the tool. The shear volume of users inside an organization using these tools is orders of magnitude less than in the open consumer web world, but faults are more deadly.

The other important factor is perceived fear of the environment. Fewer people (by pure numbers - as the percentages are likely the same, more on this later) are fearful of tunnels through land, they may not have full faith in them, but they know that they will likely make it safely on all of their journeys. The tunnels under water have greater fears as one little crack can cause flooding and drowning quickly. Fears of use of social tools inside an organization is often quite similar, there may be many that are not fearful, but if you spend time talking to people in organizations not using tools (it is the majority at this point) they are fearful of open sharing as that could lead to trouble. People are not comfortable with the concept as they are foreign to it as they are lacking the conceptual models to let them think through it.

Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0

Another statement yesterday that garnered a lot of feedback was, "Web 2.0 does not work well in enterprise, but the approaches and understandings of Web 2.0 modified for enterprise work really well." The web is not enterprise or smaller organizations for that matter. The open consumer web has different scale and needs than inside organizations and through their firewalls. A small percentage of people using the web can get an account on a tool have have appear to be wildly successful correctly claiming 70 million or 100 million people are or have used their tool. But, even 100 million people is a small percentage of people using the web. Looking at real usage and needs for those tools the numbers are really smaller. Most darlings of the Web 2.0 phase have fewer than 10 million users, which is about 5% of the open consumer web users in the United States. On the web a start-up is seen as successful with 500,000 users after a year or two and is likely to have the capability to be self sufficient at that level too. Granted there are many players in the same market niches on the web and the overall usage for link sharing and recommending for Digg, Mixx, or Reddit is much higher across the sum of these tools than in just one of these tools (obviously).

These percentages of adoption and use inside organizations can make executives nervous that their money is not reaching as many employees as they wish. The percentages that can be similar to the web's percentages of high single digit adoption rates to the teens is seen as something that really needs more thinking and consideration.

Enterprise 2.0 is more than just tools (see my Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success for better understanding) as it also includes interface/interaction design for ease of use, sociality, and encouragement of use. The two biggest factors that are needed inside an organization that can receive less attention on the web are the sociality and encouragement of use.

Understanding sociality is incredibly important inside an organization as people are used to working in groups (often vertical in their hierarchy) that have been dictated to them for use. When the walls are broken down and people are self-finding others with similar interests and working horizontally and diagonally connecting and sharing with others and consuming the collective flows of information their comfortable walls of understanding are gone. A presentation in Copenhagen at Reboot on Freely Seeping Through the Walls of the Garden focussed just on this issue. This fear inside the enterprise is real. Much of the fear is driven by lacking conceptual models and understanding the value they will derive from using the tools and services. People need to know who the other people are that they are sharing with and what their motivations are (to some degree) before they have comfort in sharing themselves.

Encouraging use is also central to increased adoption inside organizations. Many organizations initial believe that Web 2.0 tools will take off and have great adoption inside an organization. But, this is not a "build it and they will come" scenario, even for the younger workers who are believed to love these tools and services and will not stay in a company that does not have them. The reality is the tools need selling their use, value derived from them, the conceptual models around what they do, and easing fears. Adoption rates grow far beyond the teen percentages in organizations that take time guiding people about the use of the tools and services. Those organizations that take the opportunity to continually sell the value and use for these tools they have in place get much higher adoption and continued engagement with the tools than those who do nothing and see what happens.

Gaps in Enterprise Tools

The last related statement was around the gaps in current and traditional enterprise tools. At the fantastic Jive Enterprise UI Summit in Aspen a few weeks ago there was a lot of discussion about enterprise tools, their UI, and ease of use for employees by the incredible collection of people at the event. One of the things that was shown was a killer path of use through a wide encompassing enterprise toolset that was well designed and presented by SAP's Dan Rosenberg who has done an incredible job of putting user experience and thinking through the needed workflows and uses of enterprise tools at the forefront of enterprise software planning. Given the excellent design and incredible amount of user experience thought that went into the tools behind the SAP toolset in the scenario (one of the best I have seen - functioning or blue sky demoed) there are still gaps. Part of this is identifying of gaps comes from traditional business thinking around formal processes and the tools ensure process adherence. But, the reality is the tools are quite often inflexible (I am not talking about SAP tools, but traditional enterprise tools in general), the cost of time and effort is beyond the gain for individuals to document and annotate all decisions and steps along the way. The hurdles to capture information and share it are often too large for capturing one to 10 quick sentences of information that can be retained for one's own benefit or shared with other where it is relevant.

There is another gap in business around the collective intelligence that is needed, which can lead to collaboration. Most businesses and their tools focus on collaboration and set groups, but at the same time wonder why they do not know what their company knows and knowledge is not all being captured. First there is a difference between collective and collaborative activities and the tools and design around and for those different activities is more than a nuance of semantics it is a huge barrier to capturing, sharing, and learning from information that leads to knowledge if it is not understood well. Enterprise has gone through its phases of knowledge management tools, from forms for capturing information, forums for sharing, and up to enterprise content management systems (ECM) that encompass document management, content management, knowledge management, and information harvesting. But, the gaps still exist.

These existing gaps are around conversations not being captured (the walls of the halls have no memory (well today they do not)) and increasingly the ubiquitous communication channel in organizations, e-mail, is being worked around. Quick decisions are not being documented as it is not enough for a document or worth completing a form. As the iterative processes of development, design, and solution engineering are happening at quicker and smaller increments the intelligence behind the decisions is not being captured or shared. This is largely because of the tools.

As has always been the case large enterprise systems are worked around through the use of smaller and more nimble solutions that augment the existing tools. Even in Dan's incredible demo I saw gaps for these tools. The quick tools that can fill these gaps are blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, tagging, Twitter type sharing, Veodia type video sharing, instant messaging, etc. There are many avenues to quickly capture information and understanding and share it. These tools get out of the way and allow what is in someone's head to get digitized and later structured by the individual themselves or other people whom have had the information shared with them in a community space. This turns into flows through streams that can be put into many contexts and needs as well as reused as needed.

Another point Dan stated at the Enterprise UI Summit that is dead on, is organizations are moving out of the vertical structures and moving to the horizontal. This is having a profound effect on the next generation of business tools and processes. This is also an area for Enterprise 2.0 tools as they easily open up the horizontal and diagonal prospects and tie into it the capability for easily understanding who these newly found people are in an organization through looking at their profiles, which eases their fears around sharing and unfamiliar environments as well as their related tasks.

Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success

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

One of the things I continually run across talking with organizations deploying social tools inside their organization is the difficultly getting all the components to mesh. Nearly everybody is having or had a tough time with getting employees and partners to engage with the services, but everybody is finding out it is much more than just the tools that are needed to consider. The tools provide the foundation, but once service types and features are sorted out, it get much tougher. I get frustrated (as do many organizations whom I talk with lately) that social tools and services that make up enterprise 2.0, or whatever people want to call it, are far from the end of the need for getting it right. There is great value in these tools and the cost of the tools is much less than previous generations of enterprise (large organization) offerings.

Social tools require much more than just the tools for their implementation to be successful. Tool selection is tough as no tool is doing everything well and they all are focussing on niche areas. But, as difficult as the tool selection can be, there are three more elements that make up what the a successful deployment of the tools and can be considered part of the tools.

Four Rings of Enterprise Social Tools

Enterprise Social Tool: Components for Success The four elements really have to work together to make for a successful services that people will use and continue to use over time. Yes, I am using a venn diagram for the four rings as it helps point out the overlaps and gaps where the implementations can fall short. The overlaps in the diagram is where the interesting things are happening. A year ago I was running into organizations with self proclaimed success with deployments of social tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, forums, etc.), but as the desire for more than a simple set of blogs (or whichever tool or set of tools was selected) in-house there is a desire for greater use beyond some internal early adopters. This requires paying close attention to the four rings.


The first ring is rather obvious, it is the tools. The tools come down to functionality and features that are offered, how they are run (OS, rack mount, other software needed, skills needed to keep them running, etc.), how the tools are integrated into the organization (authentication, back-up, etc.), external data services, and the rest of the the usual IT department checklist. The tools get a lot of attention from many analysts and tech evangelists. There is an incredible amount of attention on widgets, feeds, APIs, and elements for user generated contribution. But, the tools do not get you all of the way to a successful implementation. The tools are not a mix and match proposition.

Interface & Ease of Use

One thing that the social software tools from the consumer web have brought is ease of use and simple to understand interfaces. The tools basically get out of the way and bring in more advanced features and functionality as needed. The interface also needs to conform to expectations and understandings inside an organization to handle the flow of interaction. What works for one organization may be difficult for another organization, largely due to the tools and training, and exposure to services outside their organization. Many traditional enterprise tools have been trying to improve the usability and ease of use for their tools over the last 4 to 5 years or so, but those efforts still require massive training and large binders that walk people through the tools. If the people using the tools (not administering the tools need massive amounts of training or large binders for social software the wrong tool has been purchased).


Sociality is the area where people manage their sharing of information and their connections to others. Many people make the assumption that social tools focus on everything being shared with everybody, but that is not the reality in organizations. Most organizations have tight boundaries on who can share what with whom, but most of those boundaries get in the way. One of the things I do to help organizations is help them realize what really needs to be private and not shared is often much less than what they regulate. Most people are not really comfortable sharing information with people they do not know, so having comfortable spaces for people to share things is important, but these spaces need to have permeable walls that encourage sharing and opening up when people are sure they are correct with their findings.

Sociality also includes the selective groups people belong to in organizations for project work, research, support, etc. that are normal inside organizations to optimize efficiency. But, where things get really difficult is when groups are working on similar tasks that will benefit from horizontal connections and sharing of information. This horizontal sharing (as well as diagonal sharing) is where the real power of social tools come into play as the vertical channels of traditional organization structures largely serve to make organizations inefficient and lacking intelligence. The real challenge for the tools is the capability to surface the information of relevance from selective groups to other selective groups (or share information more easily out) along the way. Most tools are not to this point yet, largely because customers have not been asking for this (it is a need that comes from use over time) and it can be a difficult problem to solve.

One prime ingredient for social tool use by people is providing a focus on the people using the tools and their needs for managing the information they share and the information from others that flow through the tool. Far too often the tools focus on the value the user generated content has on the system and information, which lacks the focus of why people use the tools over time. People use tools that provide value to them. The personal sociality elements of whom are they following and sharing things with, managing all contributions and activities they personally made in a tool, ease of tracking information they have interest in, and making modifications are all valuable elements for the tools to incorporate. The social tools are not in place just to serve the organization, they must also serve the people using the tools if adoption and long term use important.

Encouraging Use

Encouraging use and engagement with the tools is an area that all organizations find they have a need for at some point and time. Use of these tools and engagement by people in an organization often does not happen easily. Why? Normally, most of the people in the organization do not have a conceptual framework for what the tools do and the value the individuals will derive. The value they people using the tools will derive needs to be brought to the forefront. People also usually need to have it explained that the tools are as simple as they seem. People also need to be reassured that their voice matters and they are encouraged to share what they know (problems, solutions, and observations).

While the egregious actions that happen out on the open web are very rare inside an organization (transparency of who a person is keeps this from happening) there is a need for a community manager and social tool leader. This role highlights how the tools can be used. They are there to help people find value in the tools and provide comfort around understanding how the information is used and how sharing with others is beneficial. Encouraging use takes understanding the tools, interface, sociality, and the organization with its traditions and ways of working.

The Overlaps

The overlaps in the graphic are where things really start to surface with the value and the need for a holistic view. Where two rings over lap the value is easy to see, but where three rings overlap the missing element or element that is deficient is easier to understand its value.

Tools and Interface

Traditional enterprise offerings have focussed on the tools and interface through usability and personalization. But the tools have always been cumbersome and the interfaces are not easy to use. The combination of the tools and interface are the core capabilities that traditionally get considered. The interface is often quite flexible for modification to meet an organizations needs and desires, but the capabilities for the interface need to be there to be flexible. The interface design and interaction needs people who have depth in understanding the broad social and information needs the new tools require, which is going to be different than the consumer web offerings (many of them are not well thought through and do not warrant copying).

Tools and Sociality

Intelligence and business needs are what surface out of the tools capabilities and sociality. Having proper sociality that provides personal tools for managing information flows and sharing with groups as well as everybody as it makes sense to an individual is important. Opening up the sharing as early as possible will help an organization get smarter about itself and within itself. Sociality also include personal use and information management, which far few tools consider. This overlap of tools and sociality is where many tools are needing improvement today.

Interface and Encouraging Use

Good interfaces with easy interaction and general ease of use as well as support for encouraging use are where expanding use of the tools takes place, which in turn improves the return on investment. The ease of use and simple interfaces on combined with guidance that provides conceptual understanding of what these tools do as well as providing understanding that eases fears around using the tools (often people are fearful that what they share will be used against them or their job will go away because they shared what they know, rather than they become more valuable to an organization by sharing as they exhibit expertise). Many people are also unsure of tools that are not overly cumbersome and that get out of the way of putting information in to the tools. This needs explanation and encouragement, which is different than in-depth training sessions.

Sociality and Encouraging Use

The real advantages of social tools come from the combination of getting sociality and encouraging use correct. The sociality component provides the means to interact (or not) as needed. This is provided by the capabilities of the product or products used. This coupled with a person or persons encouraging use that show the value, take away the fears, and provide a common framework for people to think about and use the tools is where social comfort is created. From social comfort people come to rely on the tools and services more as a means to share, connect, and engage with the organization as a whole. The richness of the tools is enabled when these two elements are done well.

The Missing Piece in Overlaps

This section focusses on the graphic and the three-way overlaps (listed by letter: A; B; C; and D). The element missing in the overlap or where that element is deficient is the focus.

Overlap A

This overlap has sociality missing. When the tool, interface, and engagement are solid, but sociality is not done well for an organization there may be strong initial use, but use will often stagnate. This happens because the sharing is not done in a manner that provides comfort or the services are missing a personal management space to hold on to a person's own actions. Tracking one's own actions and the relevant activities of others around the personal actions is essential to engaging socially with the tools, people, and organization. Providing comfortable spaces to work with others is essential. One element of comfort is built from know who the others are whom people are working with, see Elements of Social Software and Selective Sociality and Social Villages (particularly the build order of social software elements) to understand the importance.

Overlap B

This overlap has tools missing, but has sociality, interface, and encouraging use done well. The tools can be deficient as they may not provide needed functionality, features, or may not scale as needed. Often organizations can grow out of a tool as their needs expand or change as people use the tools need more functionality. I have talked with a few organizations that have used tools that provide simple functionality as blogs, wikis, or social bookmarking tools find that as the use of the tools grows the tools do not keep up with the needs. At times the tools have to be heavily modified to provide functionality or additional elements are needed from a different type of tool.

Overlap C

Interface and ease of use is missing, while sociality, tool, and encouraging use are covered well. This is an area where traditional enterprise tools have problems or tools that are built internally often stumble. This scenario often leads to a lot more training or encouraging use. Another downfall is enterprise tools are focussed on having their tools look and interact like consumer social web tools, which often are lacking in solid interaction design and user testing. The use of social tools in-house will often not have broad use of these consumer services so the normal conventions are not understood or are not comfortable. Often the interfaces inside organizations will need to be tested and there many need to be more than one interface and feature set provided for depth of use and match to use perceptions.

Also, what works for one organization, subset of an organization, or reviewer/analyst will not work for others. The understanding of an organization along with user testing and evaluation with a cross section of real people will provide the best understanding of compatibility with interface. Interfaces can also take time to take hold and makes sense. Interfaces that focus on ease of use with more advanced capabilities with in reach, as well as being easily modified for look and interactions that are familiar to an organization can help resolve this.

Overlap D

Encouraging use and providing people to help ease people's engagement is missing in many organizations. This is a task that is often overlooked. The tools, interface, and proper sociality can all be in place, but not having people to help provide a framework to show the value people get from using the tools, easing concerns, giving examples of uses for different roles and needs, and continually showing people success others in an organization have with the social tool offerings is where many organization find they get stuck. The early adopters in an organization may use the tools as will those with some familiarity with the consumer web social services, but that is often a small percentage of an organization.


All of this is still emergent and early, but these trends and highlights are things I am finding common. The two areas that are toughest to get things right are sociality and encouraging use. Sociality is largely dependent on the tools, finding the limitations in the tools takes a fair amount of testing often to find limitations. Encouraging use is more difficult at the moment as there are relatively few people who understand the tools and the context that organizations bring to the tools, which is quite different from the context of the consumer social web tools. I personally only know of a handful or so of people who really grasp this well enough to be hired. Knowing the "it depends moments" is essential and knowing that use is granular as are the needs of the people in the organization. Often there are more than 10 different use personas if not more that are needed for evaluating tools, interface, sociality, and encouraging use (in some organizations it can be over 20). The tools can be simple, but getting this mix right is not simple, yet.

Getting Info into the Field with Extension

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

This week I was down in Raleigh, North Carolina to speak at National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) 2008, which is for the people running the web and technology components for what used to be the agricultural extension of state universities, but now includes much more. This was a great conference to connect with people trying to bring education, information, and knowledge services to all communities, including those in rural areas where only have dial-up connectivity to get internet access. The subject matter presented is very familiar to many other conferences I attend and present at, but with a slightly different twist, they focus on ease of use and access to information for everybody and not just the relatively early adopters. The real values of light easy to use interfaces that are clear to understand, well structured, easy to load, and include affordance in the initial design consideration is essential.

I sat in on a few sessions, so to help tie my presentation to the audience, but also listen to interest and problems as they compare to the organizations I normally talk to and work with (mid-size member organizations up to very large global enterprise). I sat in on a MOSS discussion. This discussion about Sharepoint was indiscernible from any other type of organization around getting it to work well, licensing, and really clumsy as well as restrictive sociality. The discussion about the templates for different types of interface (blogs and wikis) were the same as they they do not really do or act like the template names. The group seemed to have less frustration with the wiki template, although admitted it was far less than perfect, it did work to some degree with the blog template was a failure (I normally hear both are less than useful and only resemble the tools in name not use). [This still has me thinking Sharepoint is like the entry drug for social software in organizations, it looks and sounds right and cool, but is lacking the desired kick.]

I also sat down with the project leads and developers of an eXtension wide tool that is really interesting to me. It serves the eXtension community and they are really uncoupling the guts of the web tools to ease greater access to relevant information. This flattening of the structures and new ways of accessing information is already proving beneficial to them, but it also has brought up the potential to improve ease some of the transition for those new to the tools. I was able to provide feedback that should provide a good next step. I am looking forward to see that tool and the feedback in the next three to six months as it has incredible potential to ease information use into the hands that really need it. It will also be a good example for how other organizations can benefit from similar approaches.

Social Tools for Mergers and Acquisitions

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

The announcement yesterday of Delta and Northwest airlines merging triggered a couple thoughts. One of the thoughts was sadness as I love the unusually wonderful customer service I get with Northwest, and loathe the now expected poor and often nasty treatment by Delta staff. Northwest does not have all the perks of in seat entertainment, but I will go with great customer service and bags that once in nearly 50 flights did not arrive with me.

But, there is a second thing. It is something that all mergers and large organization changes trigger...

Social Tools Are Great Aids for Change

Stewart Mader brought this to mind again in his post Onboarding: getting your new employees cleared for takeoff, which focusses on using wikis (he works for Atlassian and has been a strong proponent of wikis for years and has a great book on Wiki Patterns) as a means to share and update the information that is needed for transitions and the joining of two organizations.

I really like his write-up and have been pushing the social tools approach for a few years. The wiki is one means of gathering and sharing information. It is a good match with social bookmarking, which allows organizations that are coming together have their people find and tag things in their own context and perspective. This provides finding common objects that exist, but also sharing and learning what things are called from the different perspectives.

Communication Build Common Ground

Communication is a key cornerstone to any organization working with, merging with, or becoming a part of another. Communication needs common ground and social bookmarking that allows for all context and perspectives to be captured is essential to making this a success.

This is something I have presented on and provided advice in the past and really think and have seen that social tools are essentials in these times of transition. It is really rewarding when I see this working as I have been through organization mergers, going public, and major transitions in the days before these tools existed. I can not imaging thinking of transitioning with out these tools and service today. I have talked to many organizations after the fact that wished they had social bookmarking, blogs, and wikis to find and annotate items, provide the means to get messages out efficiently (e-mail is becoming a poor means of sharing valuable information), and working toward common understanding.

One large pain point in mergers and other transitions is the cultural change that brings new terms, new processes, new workflow, and disruption to patterns of understanding that became natural to the people in the organization. The ability to map what something was called and the way it was done to what it is now called and the new processes and flows is essential to success. This is exactly what the social tools provide. Social bookmarking is great for capturing terms, context, and perspectives and providing the ability to refind these new items using prior understanding with low cognitive costs. Blogs help communicate people's understanding as they are going through the process as well as explain the way forward. Wikis help map these individual elements that have been collectively provided and pull them together in one central understanding (while still pointing out to the various individual contributions to hold on to that context) in a collaborative (working together with one common goal) environment.

Increasing Speed and Lowering Cost of Transition

Another attribute of the social tools is the speed and cost at which the information is shared, identified, and aggregated. In the past the large consulting firms and the slow and expensive models for working were have been the common way forward for these times of change. Seeing social tools along with a few smart and nimble experts on solid deployments and social engagement will see similar results in days and a handful of weeks compared to many weeks and months of expensive change management plodding. The key is the people in the organizations know their concerns and needs, while providing them the tools to map their understanding and finding information and objects empowers the individuals while giving them knowledge and the means to share with others. This also helps the individuals grasp that are essential to the success and speed to the change. Most people resent being pushed and prodded into change and new environments, giving them the tools to understand and guide their own change management is incredibly helpful. This decreases the time for transition (for processes and emotionally) while also keeping the costs lower.

Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration

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

The latest edition of the Communications of the ACM (Volume 51, Issue 4 - April 2008) includes an article on Getting to "we", which starts off by pointing out the misuse and mis-understanding of the term collaboration as well as the over use of the practice of collaboration when it is not proper for the need. The authors Peter Denning and Peter Yaholkovsky break down the tools needed for various knowledge needs into four categories: 1) Information sharing; 2) Coordination; 3) Cooperation; and Collaboration. The authors define collaboration as:

Collaboration generally means working together synergistically. If your work requires support and agreement of others before you can take action, you are collaborating.

The article continues on to point out that collaboration is often not the first choice of tools we should reach for, as gathering information, understanding, and working through options is really needed in order to get to the stages of agreement. Their article digs deeply into the resolving "messy problems" through proper collaboration methods. To note, the wiki - the usual darling of collaboration - is included in their "cooperation" examples and not Collaboration. Most of the tools many businesses consider in collaboration tools are in the lowest level, which is "information sharing". But, workflow managment falls into the coordination bucket.

This is one of the better breakdowns of tool sets I have seen. The groupings make a lot of sense and their framing of collaboration to take care of the messiest problems is rather good, but most of the tools and services that are considered to be collaborations tools do not even come close to that description or to the capabilities required.

Selective Sociality and Social Villages

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

The web provides wonderful serindipity on many fronts, but in this case it brought together two ideas I have been thinking about, working around, and writing about quite a bit lately. The ideas intersect at the junction of the pattern of building social bonds with people and comfort of know interactions that selective sociality brings.

The piece that struck me regarding building and identifying a common bond with another person came out of Robert Paterson's "Mystery of Attraction" post (it is a real gem). Robert describes his introduction and phases of getting to know and appreciate Luis Suarez (who I am a huge fan of and deeply appreciate the conversations I have with him). What Robert lays out in his introduction (through a common friend on-line) is a following of each other's posts and digital trail that is shared out with others. This builds an understanding of each others reputation in their own minds and the shared interest. Upon this listening to the other and joint following they built a relationship of friendship and mutual appreciation (it is not always mutual) and they began to converse and realized they had a lot more in common.

Elements of Social Software Build OrderWhat Robert echos is the Elements in Social Software and its build order. This build order is common in human relationships, but quite often social software leaves out steps or expects conversations, groups, and collaboration to happen with out accounting for the human elements needed to get to this stage. Quite often the interest, ideas, and object (all social objects) are the stimulus for social interaction as they are the hooks that connect us. This is what makes the web so valuable as it brings together those who are near in thought and provides a means to connect, share, and listen to each other. I really like Robert's analogy of the web being like university.

Selective Sociality of Villages

The piece that resonated along similar threads to Robert's post is Susan Mernit's "Twitter & Friend Feed: The Pleasure of Permissions". Susan's post brings to light the value of knowing who you are sharing information with and likes the private or permission-based options that both Twitter and FriendFeed offer. This selective sociality as known Local InfoCloud of people and resources that are trusted and known, which we use as resources. In this case it is not only those with whom we listen to and query, but those with whom we share. This knowing who somebody is (to some degree) adds comfort, which is very much like Robert Patterson and Luis Suarez#039; villages where people know each other and there is a lot of transparency. Having pockets where our social armor is down and we can be free to share and participate in our lives with others we know and are familiar to us is valuable.

I am found these two pieces quite comforting as they reflect much of what I see in the physical community around me as well as the work environments I interact with of clients and collaborators. The one social web service I have kept rather private is Twitter and I really want to know who someone is before I will accept them as a connection. This has given me much freedom to share silly (down right stupid - in a humorous way) observations and statements. This is something I hear from other adults around kids playgrounds and practices of having more select social interactions on line in the services and really wanting to connect with people whom they share interests and most often have known (or followed/listened to) for sometime before formally connecting. Most often these people want to connect with the same people on various services they are trying out, based on recommendation (and often are leaving a service as their friends are no longer there or the service does not meet their needs) of people whom they trust. This is the core of the masses who have access and are not early adopters, but have some comfort with the web and computers and likely make up 80 to 90 percent of web users.