Microsoft and the Plan for Yammer?

by Thomas Vander Wal in ,


So, mid-day Friday the Wall Street Journal confirmed that Yammer agrees to sell to Microsoft. This doesn’t mean the deal is announced nor done, and even if that happens it isn’t over until it is over (as Yogi Berra says).

There have been a lot of people asking why all of this is important and why so many people are abuzz about Microsoft and Yammer. This is big, as one of the big four business software vendors (Microsoft, IBM, SAP, and Oracle, a.k.a. MISO) is taking a big step to take social seriously (IBM has already been incredibly serious about this for years with its Lotus Connections platform and has long lead with innovation to move to the next level). Microsoft has done a great job marketing capabilities for social in the enterprise with Sharepoint. But the delivery and execution on that with Sharepoint by itself has left many customers frustrated and looking to augment or replace it with other solutions. The Yammer focus means Microsoft knows it needs deeper understanding and breath of its social offerings.

Social means many things and they all must be held together at once to do things really well. Social is collective, conversational, and collaborative (as in real collaboration not the meaning-drained buzzword use). Social needs to flow into processes, tasks and teams, sales and marketing support, organization wide communication, innovation, and nearly a hundred or more valuable uses inside organizations. Businesses need much better human to human interactions, workspaces, and forums for doing work than email or other solutions have afforded in the past.

Some items of interest have surfaced by some tech journalists as they look at the Microsoft and Yammer potential deal. Many learning of the rumor and news of Yammer and Microsoft assumed Sharepoint (I certainly did), which makes some sense as it is a big gap. In the TechCrunch interview, Nitin Bharia leaves Microsoft and talks about Sharepoint and Yammer, there is a lot of potential insight from the perspective of someone who “may” have deep understanding of what is going on and the intentions of Microsoft with what they will do with Yammer.

First, Nitin provides the statement, “Microsoft didn’t do a very good job of building enterprise social networking. Sharepoint has built-in capabilities no where near Facebook quality.” This is not the first disclosure publicly that Microsoft still has a lot of work to do if it wants to provide a great social offering in its swiss army knife toolkit that is Sharepoint.

The ReadWriteWeb article about Microsoft and Yammer brings up the John Barrett admission,

“SharePoint began adding social media capabilities with the release of SharePoint 2010, but in April Jon Barrett, Microsoft Australia’s solution specialist of business productivity, told Australia’s Image and Data Manager that “the improved new social media features in Wave 15 would not match the richness of solutions such as Newsgator Social Sites.” (Wave 15 is the internal Microsoft code name for the SharePoint 2013 release.)”

What Will Microsoft Do with Yammer?

Nitin has hunches with what Microsoft may do with Yammer, which include leaving Yammer as a stand alone product as it has done with Skype, which could be really interesting and be good for Microsoft and Yammer as they intertwingle over time. Matt Weinberger of Services Angle has his different angle, “Combine [Yammer] with Microsoft infrastructure, Microsoft Office 365 cloud productivity, and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and the synergies start to become apparent.”

These are different viable takes on what may be of value for Microsoft and its road map. But, one thing is clear Microsoft is signaling the understanding how broad and difficult social is when trying to bring it to mainstream people which are the 80% of enterprise employees and customers. Social software is difficult and it seems like Microsoft is getting beyond the idea that it is much more than bolt together features and functionality done by engineers.

Holistic Social Software for Organizations


If you spend time inside organizations as the person responsible for managing social platforms you realize there are a lot of facets to social and how it is woven into the organization. This focus is a really helpful view as it quickly leads to the reality there are many pieces needed to give a good platform for social. There is no one vendor winning, as flexibility and adaptability are needed to meet these varied needs for tools and interactive components across many different personality types, roles, and tactical needs in the organization.

Many of these people have also lived through the increasing frustration with content management systems (CMS) that tried to win by building one solution that in the end was a muddled mediocre unusable pile of bloat. Many organizations have been moving off these CMS to social platforms to replace their intranets and having much more success with that than any CMS has been able to muster in the last 10 to 15 years.

Social software for the organization must take the other path in the fork in the road.

Related:


Microsoft and Yammer?

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , ,


Yesterday's news of the rumor that Microsoft is about to purchase Yammer surfaced and Bloomberg was able to get confirmations there were talks happening. This one seemed a little odd last evening as the rumor broke, but then the ambient signals that myself and others had been seeing with Yammer made sense in that light. Companies start acting differently, often quite off the norm, and don’t really explain why. Yammer has had that in spades lately. The other reasons besides being bought are: IPO; workforce needs (turn over, need to hire, massive wave of new hires, etc.); or large new customer(s) taking a lot of focus.

Does the Purchase Makes Sense

Talking with others who live and breath in this space, Microsoft buying Yammer wasn’t the first company many of us had on our potentials list. Microsoft has had a difficult time with Sharepoint social components (a similar problem to Oracle’s social offerings) in that the bolt together social elements take a lot of understanding and depth to get right and there is much more than bolting things together. Any company purchasing Sharepoint in the last 18 months to 2 years that has done their due diligence knows they need to find something better for the social software components than what Sharepoint offers. Too many dead ends, too much of it isn’t used.

For inside the organization there are many great options that are much easier to put into place than the social Sharepoint components, and they all plug into Sharepoint nicely. Sorting out which of the options takes a lot of understanding and depth, much of it missing from the consulting and analyst space as it is the nuances that make huge differences.

Vendors the past 4 to 5 years in the social business / Enterprise 2.0 space have had a relatively easy time selling against Sharepoint. In the last couple years social business service/platform vendors saw a shift. Sharepoint was not whom they were competing against, as it wasn’t being taken seriously by buyers who did their homework. The platform they were hands down pitching their services against and most often winning agianst was Yammer.

Yammer with its freemium model has made huge inroads, mostly through the back door. Most companies were slow to provide a good offerings and are still not providing authorized services for internal uses to their employees. This slow approach is easy to fix, just set up Yammer and you are off and running, which is great for employees, but a huge liability if it isn’t owned by the organization.

Yammer has serious traction with its claimed 200,000 companies using it (well, people in those companies using it). Yammer claims 3 million paid customers, which while a great sum for revenues, when measured against 200,000 and estimating 100 people in each company (a conservative average) you get 20 million people and only 3 million have licenses. Not an impressive conversion rate, and the multiplier is conservative. This is tough to take to Wall Street to go IPO with.

How on target is the conversion rate? When the competing vendors, nearly hands down, mention Yammer as their top competitor and they can win most of the head-to-head customers in that match-up, there is a conversion problem. Yammer shows the need, sells the value, but there are gaps in their offerings that cause them to not convert. In talking to customers who have been through that process the reasons are diverse, which make it difficult to close those gaps. The common two reasons mentioned are: 1) The value of what is paid for and what is given away for free; and 2) Some of the components are a bit buggy or don’t perfectly fit the needs.

Yammer use educates the customers for free and helped them identify needs and gaps they need to focus on when getting down to purchasing. This is a downside of large freemium models. The customers gain understanding and think, “Yes, this is good, but we want better in these areas.”

So, Microsoft and Yammer?

Microsoft has a large problematic gap to fill with Sharepoint in the social slice of their offering (Sharepoint does many things well, social is not something that fits that description other than Team Sites, but groupware for teams has been honed and iterated for 20 years, they should get that right). Yammer does the social software slice rather well, but has issues with conversion to paid customers. Microsoft is a selling machine, particularly with Sharepoint.

This sounds like a match that makes more sense. I still don’t think Yammer is the optimal fit for Sharepoint. Services like Newsgator for inside the firewall is usually a first stop for organizations needing social that works and can be deployed far more easily. I hear customers often say Microsoft suggested they use Newsgator or give it a shot.

What Impact to Other Vendors?

Many vendors should be just fine with this Yammer and Microsoft marriage if it happens. The ones with trouble would be the one’s who focus on the Sharepoint ecosystem and live off it, like Newsgator and Telligent (a more outside the org social platform strength than inside).

Other vendors that don’t rely on Sharepoint but integrate still will likely keep winning business and have very happy customers. Social is very broad and while most analysts and consultants look at features and checking them off, that is only a small slice of what to look for to get success with a service or tool. The interaction design, how it works with mobile, how easily does it integrate with other services, and many other considerations are where the key differentiation comes from.

I know many organizations with very successful social software offerings for their employees with relatively high use rates of the services, but they are using 2 or 3 different platforms that various segments of their organization use. Different cultures and personality types in the organization drift to certain offerings and not others. Organizations who are moving to the “one solution” model really struggle. Yes, there are downsides like getting everybody talking, but there are ways around that as well.

The common story I’ve heard the last couple years is the organization is going to standardize their social offering to employees on Sharepoint. The organization also had 5 to 15% of their people using an unauthorized Yammer instance. Once Sharepoint social components were rolled out they weren’t that usable and employees pointed to the much more usable Yammer and in 2 months the Yammer use doubled. Nearly all the companies know at this point they need to find a better option than Sharepoint. Now we may have Yammer and Sharepoint under one roof, or maybe not (still in talks).

Related:


Beyond Simple Social Presentation

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,


We have been here before.

Where we are with social tools in organizations has been done before and not overly well. But, where we are today is a place we have been twice before in my working career. We had groupware and knowledge management tools in this same spot. Similar promise and similar success both right here.

Where are we?

We are at the inflection point in social software where we need to get beyond the simple social mindset. The groupware and knowledge management waves of social software were damaged at this same point and lost. There are many reasons for this, but one of the biggest issues and one we are facing now is the ever difficult task of designing tools that embrace how complicated and complex social interactions are with humans as social beings and how that gets more complicated and complex as it scales.

On May 30th (2012) I gave an updated version of my Beyond Simple Social talk at a Salesforce.com sponsored UX Lecture Series (slides down below and Uday Gajendar's great live blog of the talk). The talk sold out quickly and was filled with not only Salesforce.com UX people, but people from other vendors and companies and it was user experience people, product managers, engineers, and customers managing various platforms and services. One thing that seems to have been the common thread is the how do we build social tools to broader user base and that meet that easy to use interface on top of ever increasing complicated and complex systems and services.

This simplicity in the interface is the great advantage the current wave of social software has had, the tools mostly get out of the way, or far more so than in the past. The tools are usable and relatively easy to use, up to a point.

What the talk focusses on is seeing the breadth, depth, and interwoven complexities of the social elements that each have depth and their own focal points as distinct items or lenses. The talk uses the getting beyond simple social as a gateway to the 40+ social lenses I have been building upon and use in my work with customers of social tools as well as vendors to help optimize the use and experience of the tools to meet needs and help remove hinderances to use.

The last six to nine months the group of people in roles I see most often running into the short falls of social tools in organizations are those in UX roles (interaction design, information architecture, usability, user interface design, and the rare social interaction designers). Why? They are the ones that get called upon to fix the tools or service as there are many complaints it is unusable. They are the ones whose pants catch on fire when things do not go as expected. They are the ones who get called in to “make it work”, but often they can only do so much with a tool or service that was not a good match or was bolt together solution bought under the premise it can be assembled to do everything. If you want to find the reality of how things work, find the UX people to see how gamification is working (or most often has made a mess of formerly functional communities in organizations), various tools are capable of being made usable, which services are easy to optimize for use, and how adaptable a service is across an organization with a broad collection of user types.

But, it is also the UX folks and those whom they report to that are finding what is needed to think through social software problems is not robust enough nor flexible enough to help them see the problems and work through them. The social understandings and complexities are often missing from their toolsets and rarely exist anywhere else in the organization, unless it is a firm with social science chops in-house for some reason.

As a whole the industry around these social tools needs to understand it is at a precipice (some organizations and vendors grasp this really well) of this first stage of social that previous waves have not been able to get beyond. But, once understanding where we are the real work, the freaking hard work begins and we need to be able to see differently, more focussed than we have in the past, and be able to intermix these focussed views to understand what we are really dealing with so we can make it to stage two, three, four, and beyond.

This is the reasoning I have been focusing on the social lenses and those using some of them has been able to see differently and beyond the problems to solutions to try and iterate or more to others. Seeing Dave Gray’s Connected Company book progress helps me know there is value, as he is the only person to have gone through the full set of social lenses, to which the connected company was part of the outcome.

Dave Gray’s writing around Connected Company and JP Rangaswami’s writings on this blog (particularly lately again) about the new collaboration are fantastic and are on their way to happening. Yet, we need to ensure the tools and services that enable them are there and usable for all.


Presenting "Beyond Simple Social" In SF May 30th

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,


I am presenting "Beyond Simple Social" at Salesforce in San Francisco on Wednesday, May 30. Please join us - Eventbright free ticket.

Interfaces for social software are simple. But designing, developing and managing social platforms is not.

I will present some of the lenses he uses to help companies increase user adoption and engagement by better understanding the complexities around social software.


Urban Planning to Social Business: Social that Scales

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


Overview


In November of 2011 Gordon Ross and I presented What Urban Planning Can Teach Us About Social Business Design at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara (the presentation is loaded at the end of this post). I was excited about the presentation as it was a great opportunity to place the foundations of understanding social at scale into the Enterprise 2.0 / social business community (Stewart Mader and I have done this in the past as part of the One Year Club presentations).

A background of a masters in public policy 16 plus years ago gave me a great foundation for understanding social at scale through analytics and analysis, but also it primed me for all the “for fun” reading I did after graduation in urban planning and taking it to nice depths that professional tomes offered to get solid understandings. In 2004 I met up with a small group of designers and developers who were swimming in the flow of social software and found one of the very common traits across the group was many years of reading the same urban planning, urban theory, and and architecture books, which gave them a leg up on understanding how humans interact at scale. Until that point I hadn’t drawn the line connecting urban planning and the designing, developing and managing collaboration and social software services beginning in 1996. The presentation begins to tap into that understanding and where has grown to.

Gordon's did a great job with a write-up of his portion of the presentation, in his ThoughtFarmer blog post E2Conf Santa Clara 2011 – What Urban Planning Can Teach Social Business Design. This is my portion of the write-up, or the a part of the slides from 53 to 72. I’ve written before about Social Scaling and Maturity as well as Dave Snowden's Complexity Framework Cynefin, so I am starting beyond those related portions I haven't written about before.

Social Scaling

When considering social systems of any type it is important to understand what scale of social system you are dealing with. There are many decades of studying human social interactions at various scales and most of this focus has been using the lens of the city. Social software scaling and maturity captures a high level view of how it progresses, but this was influenced in part by how human settlements grow and their traits. The progression takes from small settlements with a few people, families, and businesses or farms labelled hamlets, up through villages, towns, and to cities.

Hamlets

Hamlets are small clusters of people in a location. The order of interactions between people is driven by need for protection, human social interactions, sharing or pooling resources, and common connections to the world that is farther away. There is little central infrastructure to begin with other than some paths that have emerged through use, likely a common natural resource that is shared (water, food source, etc.), and often a central place to meet (even if it is somebody's barn or other shelter large enough to have this collection of people to gather. The leaderships is most often ad hoc and is a person whom is comfortable gathering people, asking questions, and resolving issues.

In hamlets everybody knows everybody else very well. There is no hiding and what one person does may impact others directly. Social interactions are all rather simple.

Villages

The village is a larger collection of people gathered in a place. Villages have some infrastructure developing for roads, sanitation, distribution of resources (water, food, etc.), and often have a designated meeting place that is set aside for that purpose. There is a more formalized leadership framework, sometimes just by name but often by roles performed as well, whom people turn to for protection, resolving differences, and helping with making decisions about infrastructure related needs. Most people know of each other, but may not know everybody well.

This familiarity often keeps the common social model focussed on cooperation to get things done at the village wide scale. Often things can still be serendipitous as word of mouth networks still function well. Often the social interactions are still simple, but they are moving to being complicated.

Towns

Towns are the next step up in scale for human settlements. Towns have grown far beyond the first hamlet and have infrastructure needs that have become formalized and have the need for people to have roles related to servicing those infrastructure needs. Infrastructure for the town’s own needs may include: Roads; Sanitation; Health; Schooling; Protective services (fire and policing); Communication; Zoning and planning; etc. There is a formal central leadership role that has its own support system as well as responsibility to ensure the other infrastructure and support roles are functioning well.

The human social interactions have grown beyond the ability to know everybody. There is often a common central communication function that is central to the town for news. The ability to find others who can provide services or help is more difficult and word of networks do not work optimally to find resources and often do not work reliably at all. The ideal of cooperation is not longer the only social interaction model as competition and variations between cooperation and competition are in existence as commerce and friendly rivalries are used to optimize services and goods provided. These variations of governance, civic interaction, and social philosophies all move beyond the ability to function on the simple cooperation model.

The social model is complicated in that it takes a mix of cooperation and coordination for changes, but also to keep things running well.

Cities

Cities are the largest scale for local human settlements (there are megacities and other variations of scale beyond, but the differences are not as large as these and start getting into massive complexity and interdependencies). Cities require common infrastructure that is rather well maintained (well-maintained varies wildly depending where you are in the globe). Not only do cities have all of the central infrastructure resources and role, but they often have their own infrastructures and internally growing support roles. For example there is a fire department with many fire houses and their own jurisdictions with a central office and many roles there to fill in the gaps to ensure things get done and work as they should.

The human social interactions often scale to where people believe they may not be seen (well seen by those whom they know or know them) and are not familiar to many others around them. More granular distinctions are used to help people connect and have belonging and familiar social interactions. Cities require coordination for many social interactions at scale to take place and see things happen. Cooperation happens at the very small social scale, but often runs up against competition for resources and access from neighboring subsections of the city that drive it to coordination as the scaled social interaction model.

Cities function in complex social models. Gone is the regular ease of change with no impact on others. The ideal of cooperation is lost as there many different influences and pressures of the needs of other individuals and more often the needs and movement of groups that inhabit as well as run the city collide as their goals collide and conflict, even when trying to service the same purpose or goal.

Urban Planning at Scale

Differing urban scales have very different needs and realities around infrastructure, roles, social interaction design patterns and models that work or are needed. The small hamlet is often a focus, but the hamlet and its rather simple elements starts to become a limited model from which to view things with just a few hundred people. In cities this starts breaking at the one to two block boundaries. The village stage of growth and density, which kicks in with a few hundred people up to a the low thousands is often a good model to consider as a starting place (when considering social scaling for organizations the few hundred bounds hold up, if people are all in one location, but as soon as one or more additional locations are introduced the model looks a lot like the next step up to village with the complications that are introduced with the non-unified culture, multiple experiences and needs.

Urban Planning at Village Scale: Santana Row

Jumping in to the village perspective on social scaling, a good neat and clean view is that of Santana Row in San Jose, California. Santana Row is a 3 by 5 block grid of new urbanism mixed use and walkable planning (one of many of efforts by Federated Realty). It is a highly designed community that is an oasis or aberrant outlier in the whole of San Jose city, depending on one’s perspective. As stated by Gordon Ross' wife, “it is a great place to walk around if you drive there”.

Santana Row heavily proscribed design of space and use focusses the ground floors of the 3 to 5 story building to stores and restaurants and the upper floors for office and living space. It could be viewed as quasi-self supporting (lacking industrial and agricultural elements) for the roughly 1,000 people who live/work there. This village has a strong central management that proscribes use, design, and development of what happens in the bounds of the 3 by 5 grid bounds. It is not designed for emergence other than varying occupants of the spaces, which can be somewhat flexible, but it is largely held with in the already defined bounds.

As more natural social environs can grow, morph, and be emergent at, within, and beyond its initial bounds this planned village is less emergent and flexible. Use is constrained, for good or bad, by the heavily designed space. It is a social space that has set infrastructure, use, and size constraints that keep the development functioning with the same of similar vibe and experience across time.

Urban Planning at City Scale: San Francisco

If we take a quick drive up North of San Jose to San Francisco we can see social at a very different scale. San Francisco is home to 750 to 800 Santana Row by size and population. The map of San Francisco neighborhoods
C747bc65a85b7a2994df13f9fd2608bd (found at Justinsomina site) allows for some comparison with Santana Row. But, in a city the bounds between neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods are drastically emergent and flexible over time. Even neighborhoods change drastically over time, just as the Hayes Valley neighborhood (a sub-neighborhood of the Haight) did after the 1989 earthquake and particularly after the freeway that bisected the neighborhood came down.

But, lets look at the center of this map and still at the Haight as a focus. The Haight as it is framed in this map is likely to contain 8 to 10 distinct neighborhoods with in it. Each of these neighborhood has its own feel and vibe as well as its own norms of acceptable business and behavior. The cultures of these neighborhoods can be vastly different, even as they abut other bounding neighborhoods.

The Haight contains the relatively famous Upper Haight, also known as the Haight Ashbury neighborhood that tries to keep its hippy culture mixed with the gentrified “painted lady” Victorian homes (some converted to multi-unit properties). Tie-dye and 60s hippy values are still at the forefront of this neighborhood’s feel and ethos.

Just down the hill from the Haight Ashbury is Lower Haight which is a mix of counter culture shops and establishments that mix with housing developments and through the 90s was known as the anarchist section of the Haight. There are no chain stores and there is a edge that is nearly tangible.

Heading up toward the Sutro Tower from the Haight Ashbury on Cole Street we are in Cole Valley, which is more family focussed than the Haight Ashbury and Cole Street has a mix of artisanal shops, restaurants, and bars. The family feel and more upscale offerings and comfortable places to hang out give it a different culture and values that what is found on Haight Street that it abuts just a few blocks away.

From Cole Valley we can head up Parnassus to the edge of the Inner Sunset neighborhood that houses UCSF Medical Center and a family and professional resident focussed neighborhood. The storefronts, restaurants, and living spaces all reflect this need and environment.

Small Neighborhoods Interwingled

What all of this gets to is a neighborhood framed in San Francisco with 15,000 to 100,000 people can have many smaller very divergent neighborhoods with in it. These neighborhoods have distinct culture, feel, and norms from what is proper activity and commerce for the sub-classification that may only be a few blocks by a few blocks. There are no firm borders and the boundaries are very fluid and intermix and intertwingle with ease. We know Cole Valley and the Haight Ashbury and Lower Haight are very different neighborhoods with interleaving boundaries and often with sub-neighborhoods emerging between them our of nothing.

All of this is emergent and at least complicated, but very much is a vivid description of complexity expressed and at play in the real world. The emergent and adaptive nature of cities, often with a very light hand of guidance (but in cases of Detroit and its massive contraction of population a more heavy hand can be a benefit). But, this reality helps us greatly understand the need for better understanding of human social environments at scale. We know that what works in one neighborhood will often not work in another neighborhood with out adapting it. Some neighborhoods in cities have strong neighborhood associations (some of these small active forces can change the whole of a city - see Harvey Milk (if you have time watch Milk) to get a better grasp of this at work).

As seen in the framing of physical spaces and the needs of the scaling social organization and infrastructure needed to support social scaling there are a wide variety of roles, support systems, different tools and disciplines (police, sanitation/waste, fire, health, property, finance, etc.), and central management roles for understanding as well as providing sane growth and adapting. In the time since 1996 when I started managing digital communities professionally, I started realizing and framing different social roles that were needed or at play and now have 20 I have framed and consider when dealing with social platforms and environments (see slide #64 in the presentation for the list of 20).

Social Business Software is Stuck at Simple

Given this realization that we have a variety of social scaling realities from out frame of looking at cities and other scale of human aggregation and organization in physical space, we can use the same lens to look at our own digital social environments. Most of our tools for social interaction and collaboration at best have two social roles, user and admin/community manager. The tools and ease of capabilities just are not there in many tools to help organizations using the tools beyond these simple roles.

Our tools are stuck at the Santana Row stage and are not easily emergent, adoptive, nor scale easily to more expansive realities. If the tool fits for one segment of the organization it is rolled out for more, whether or not their interest, needs, culture, or personality fits with in the designed constraints of a digital Santana Row. Our tools and services need to take the next step up to moving beyond the hamlet and village mentality of small, single focussed considerations.

A question that is always asked of me is what is the magic number for where these tools break and there is a need. The answer lies in understanding the essential variables: Cultural deviation, size, and location. If your organization has tight cultural norms and is rather unified in its view a simple social model can go rather far. Along this front how your organization handles when things do not go optimally (also state when things fail). The tighter the organization the greater a single or limited variance platform will take you. If you organization is rather accepting of things not going right and can turn problems into powerful lessons learned a single platform can scale. If the organization broadly doesn’t have good failure tolerance the scale of the service will be more limited, unless there are small comfortable spaces where ideas can be shared, vetted and honed before taking them broader. If the organization has no consistent way for dealing with failure or less than optimal outcomes a single simple platform will not go very far at all.

The size of your organization is another important variable. The larger the organization the greater the need for an adaptive multi-role and use services or collection of services. Few organizations can get away with a single approach with more than 3,000 to 5,000 people. There are some organizations that over time can get a very simple service to work across 15,000 or more. But, most often the tools start showing difficulty in the mid to upper 100s.

The last element is location. If your organization is all in one location or in very close proximity the ability for a simple tool to work at higher numbers of people using it is better, if the culture is consistent. Once you have more than one location things get more difficult as culture, norms, constraints, and other elements that impact use and consistency get strained. Think if a 400 unit high rise apartment building and the relative cohesion of community within that building, but another building next to it of the same or similar size can be quite different.

Social Scale Models

Another framing to think about this is simple social is two simple blocks resting next to each other sharing a side. The interaction point is just one common boundary and this simple difference is rather easy to maintain and interact along.

The complicated social model is a grid. The grid is working to balance the needs of needs around four different sides and how to balance the needs all around. The grid can be broken down in to rather straight forward interactions at the intersections of on the various sides, as long as those with whom they are interacting are staying relatively consistent.

Lastly, the complex is a fractal model that is always moving and the interactions are constantly shifting and each of the bounds are heading in a different direction and putting pressure and influence on those boundary elements it touches and interacts.

Next Steps

Where we often get with social tools and services inside organizations are a need for something beyond what we have. For a very long time social software has been framed through the lenses of understanding of social at scale. The common metaphors and framing echo some of the human social interactions used in the world around us that do not have mediated interfaces and services as the means of interacting.

Our tools and services need take the next step to getting beyond the simple social models were working in and around. The understanding of these next steps and there real existence can and will help shape how are tools can grow to meet our needs of social at scale and understand what is missing and needed to help people interact and be more efficient in their worklife. The individuals can get more out of this, but so with the organizations.

We have had 20 years or more of social software and collaborative tools now in its 3rd generation of services (KM, groupware, and now Enterprise 2.0/social business based on Web 2.0 principles) that we have dealt with and are living with. We have abandoned previous attempts as far less than optimal because the tools got in the way of how humans are social and did not allow for social scaling well. This current cycle has one hell of a lot of hope tied into is as the tools do a much better job of getting out of the way. Our next step is to start getting this still hopeful practice to embrace the understandings of social scaling.

Are you up for it? I am.


Getting Beyond Simple Social

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


“Social is hard!” is something I hear repeatedly by most of my clients and those I talk to. It is one of the issues I continually run across in my work with organizations trying to better understand social software and collaboration tools for their organization as well as helping vendors better understand their gaps and how to close them as social scales.

I have my “40 Plus Social Lenses” that I use to set foundations and understandings to better see issues, gaps, and understand the potential ways forward. Everything requires testing and rarely does the good solution work everywhere as there are no best practices, because what we are working with is humans and how they are social. Humans and how we interact is not simple, we are not simple social creatures.

In January I quickly cobbled together a presentation for the UX Camp DC (a Washington DC User Experience community BarCamp) that I quickly titled “Getting Beyond Simple Social”, which I used as a frame for why most organizations are stuck with social (it is embedded at the end of this). Most organizations are stuck as they came to social thinking there are just a handful of things to understand and this social stuff is simple. I had a meeting with the senior partner at a huge global consulting firm who only wanted to know the best tool and if I could just boil down the 40+ Social Lenses to 2 or 3 as 40 is a bit tough (not only did the meeting end in my head at that point, but so did much of my respect for that firm), I explained to the end users and customers social needs to be simple, but in reality it is very complicated and complex and somebody has to work through that, which is what people hire consultants to work through for them and guide them through.

So, I cobbled together a few items from the 40 social lenses that I have presented prior, but included 2 new slides of things. The first is “Getting to Mainstream” (slides 4 through 8) and “5 Beginning Social Questions”.

Getting to Mainstream

Much of my work is helping organizations with social inside their firewall, which means bringing it to mainstream. In my years of working with social and collaboration services and platforms (since 1996) the tools haven't really changed much, other than now the tools get out of the way much more (in the 90s the answer to improving the tools was adding form fields, which is rarely ever the right answer, our technology has moved beyond that, we should too). But, the following are the reality setting steps I take with organizations and that took me years to grasp.

Inside the firewall the goal for social is ultimately 100 percent of the employees and/or partners. The measuring stick is often email, which is ubiquitous and a very familiar tool for everybody in the organization. Email is social and is something that everybody understands and has their face in at some point during the day. Many look at what is happening in social web services and seeing ease of communication and interaction, often in the open, which solves some of the pain points that are tied to email and email is everywhere.

What is lacking in the 100 percent goal is the understanding that email often took 5 years in most organizations to reach roughly 100 percent adoption and use. Having lived through the inception of email in a few organizations and then talking with friends about their organizations where they worked or consulted, the 5 year threshold was fairly normal. I don't know anybody who was actually measuring this broadly in their organization (Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked Organization is a great book that will get you close to this as it walks through adoption and use patterns of email in companies).

Focus on Social

The focus is often on social by those looking for a solution uses the viewpoint of social web. But, much of what they see and have explained is not mainstream usage, but usage by early adopters and innovators (in the framing terms of Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm which uses a modified version of the Technology Adoption Lifecycle). The downside of much of the understanding around social through the view of early adopters or innovations, from their own perspective or others watching, is that is far from mainstream. The personality types and traits of this roughly 5 to 10 percent of the population are quite different from the norms of more mainstream users who follow later. Much of the understandings of the clicksperts who followed the trends and tried to make sense of things (often labeling themselves “social media gurus”) failed to grasp they were trying to explain the edges as the norm.

One of the most telling examples of this is from Twitter who explained 40 percent of our active users simply sign in to listen to what's happening in their world..

Understanding How the 90 Percent are Social

If we are going to focus on social for everybody we need to understand how the 90 percent who are not innovators and early adopters are social. Most people do not interact the way social is described by the clicksperts, social media gurus, or most of what is written up in Mashable (I spend so much time undoing what is written in Mashable as “understanding” - this was the impetus for my coming to grips with Popular - Thinking about it, which also applies to so many other things).

As we saw with email in the 1990s, social tools can reach the 100 percent. The BBCs wiki usage passed 100 percent adoption after 5 years of use. It takes time for adoption to happen, but it also takes guidance and modifying tools for use by mainstream. Euan Semple, who started and guided the BBC initiative as their head of knowledge management as a fantastic book out now, Organizations Don't Tweet, People Do: A Manager's Guide to the Social Web, if you want a good understanding from somebody else who has been living this.

5 Beginning Social Questions

Where I started getting to the reality of social and collaboration in 1996 I was managing a private Compuserve forum for 3,000 lawyers for a legal trade organization. I was continually running into issues pertaining to social problems. Having a solid academic background in social sciences with organizational communication and communication theory undergrad and public policy for grad school looking at human social interactions, particularly at social scale scale was something I had training for and experience with. But, having a mediated interface through a whole new perspective to think through.

I quickly realized there were a high level set of 5 questions I was continually coming back to so to try and solve some of the issues I was seeing with use and non-use of the service (I also spent a lot of time with the Compuserve product people talking about issues and means to resolve them). The 5 questions I asked started with trying to resolve, “Is it:…”

  • The person
  • How humans are social
  • Cultural influences - or cross cultural issues
  • Organizational constraints
  • Problems with the tools / service

Never was the problem just one of these elements, but it was a mix of two or more of the elements. On very rare occasions it was just the person, but like many things where there is one instance there will often be more. These 5 simple beginning social questions get intermingled and tangled very quickly and are just the tip of the iceberg for all things social software that would follow for me.

The Person

The person is often the most common place to point with there is a problem or issue with social software. If it is seemingly a one-off problem keep good track of what it is, as quite often you are looking at social software's equivalent “patient zero” (also known in epidemiology as the index case) and understanding that one person's problems and issues as much as possible will help sorting out the real issues then if and what could or should be done to resolve the issues.

The downside with focussing on just the individual is everybody is different with their make up is different and has different experiences, has different cultural inflections, is a different personality type, has a different social role, as a different work role, and many other variables that influence who they are and their social interaction needs. Many of these variable or elements can be clustered with others with similar traits so that we are not dealing with an “every snowflake is different” syndrome, but need to at the core of it understand why every person (snowflake is different).

How Humans are Social

Understanding with some broad and unfocussed grasp of human sociality we need to look at if the problem at hand or the need in front of us is viewed from how humans are social. When we think in this perspective it is best not to use an innovator or early adopter perspective as they do things that are out of the norm (think of Mark Zuckerbergs egregious claim that people want to be openly social and nothing can be farther from the truth for most of human social experience, most humans normally are not wired to share everything openly and looking at those of us who are broken should not be mistaken for the norm). Thinking of how humans at scale or broadly generalized are social can help is a helpful perspective, but knowing what the real norm is, or the norm is for the relative cultures is helpful.

Cultural Influences - Cross Cultural Clash

How humans are social is often problematic as the norms we consider do not really translate well across cultures and particularly inside organizations. We do know that people with interact with others in smaller more comfortable venues, but who is included nor not included in the conversation or even simple sharing of things doesn't universally translate. I have twice run across people who have been working to solve lack of use of collaborative platforms that are shared between US/UK portion of the company and their Japanese counterpart. The core problem is in the forum groups the US and UK employees will share more openly and freely if their managers are not part of the discussion and do not have access to the group, but in Japan not having your manager in the discussion is seen as highly disrespectful and is something that employees should never do.

Not only does culture come from global cultural differences, but understanding an organizations culture is also essential as many times the organization has its own ingrained ways of handling things and its culture is broadly adopted through learning or other less formal enculturation patterns. Understanding what happens in the organization when something goes wrong is often a really good pulse point. Having the depth of understanding from change management professionals is helpful for sorting through an organization's baseline culture and the possibilities for modification to that existing perspective.

How and organization is managed and controlled is really helpful to understand as it often is echoed in how social software and collaboration tools are used and adopted. How malleable that corporate culture is will be very important to grasp at the stage of tool selection, because each tool and platform has its unspoken social interaction model that it echoes. Getting the wrong interaction model mapped to an organization's culture that runs counter to that organizations broad culture you will have issues. It is also important to keep in mind most organizations have many subcultures, which often makes one social interaction model difficult for adoption and optimal use.

Organization Constraints

Every organization not only has its own cultural fingerprint, but it is often constrained by external pressures, particularly if it is a publicly traded company, an organization in a heavily regulated industry, or has a lot of oversight as governmental and NGOs have with their public view and those that gave and review their charter. The external oversight along with rules and regulations as to what can be said, who can see it, who shouldn't see it, and formal record keeping all play an important role in use, as well as tool selection and its implementation.

This is also often intermingles with cross-cultural issues of roles in organizations as some, by their role (legal, HR, mergers and acquisitions, etc.) are far more restrictive and not prone to sharing or cooperation outside the bounds of their small trusted and approved collaborators working within their known bounds of permissions and sharing. Where as those in marketing roles are often far more comfortable interacting more openly and broadly and are willing to cooperate, but you take the sales slice of that marketing and you hit people who are heavily competitive and often have personality types prone not to share and are also rewarded and encouraged to be competitive (often with the mindset, you share with me as much as you want, but I'm am still competing heavily and sharing is not in my best interest at all - yes, heavily stereotypical and often for a reason).

Is it the Tool or Service

The medium that all of this social interaction takes place to get the work down plays a tremendous role in what works and doesn't work. As I pointed out recently in Social Reticence of a Click things as simple as a star to favorite things (as the only option for one of three different social intentions) can lead to serious problems (serious if getting fired is serious)). Most (I have yet to find one that actually grasps this, but I am open to being surprised) of the analyst firms out there have simple check boxes that do a tremendous dis-service to social software and collaboration services as the things that actually matter and are needed to be understood are not included in any of the check box mindset understandings of the world. The magic quadrant and other farcical measures don't help understand what is needed to make good choices and this often leads organizations to purchase the wrong tools for their needs.

Often the tools get in the way from our optimal interactions as many of the elements that are important to grasp as put forward above (as simply and thinly as they have been conveyed) were not grasped in the consideration, selection, purchasing, nor implementation and honing of the service. Far too often the tools have been created outside of the depth of understanding of human social interactions and implemented by IT whom, as was brilliantly broad brush stated by Maciej Ceglowski of Pinboard, is as relevant to do the work as having a Mormon bartender (having spent much of my professional life within IT and dealing with social this is as apt a metaphor as any).

The tool is often one of the pain points, as most do not embrace human social needs as they run counter to how humans are social. But, the tools is not always the part to blame.

It is A Mix

As it is with many things, it is not the individual pieces of this 5 part question looking to find a simple answer, but it is almost always a mix of some, if not all of these five elements. Our poorly thought through understanding that social is simple quickly hits reality that we must get beyond simple social understandings to understand how it is complicate and complex to we can move beyond. Looking at these five elements knowing which ones play what roles as part of the foundation of the problem set is essential, but having good data and understanding is needed, but also a solid understanding in of this panoply of intertwingled elements and how to best make an adaptive service that meets the needs of the people who have been waiting for a long time for a good social and collaborative service that meets their needs of business as it takes a larger step to better interactions in the work environment. Yes, most don't know they have been waiting, but most know the tools they have been strapped to in the past and often currently are not anything that they should be and often the tools and services are not really usable and IT spent money to create a problem rather than taking large strides to solve it. It is time to get beyond that, but doing so takes moving beyond the model of simple social.


On the Way to the Next Big Thing

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


This was written in April 2011 and a publication had interest in publishing it, but it didn't fit their editorial cycle so it sat. I have annotated this with an endnote to bring it current.

A funny thing happened on the way to the next big thing, the big thing was little. Many people are looking to build the next Facebook or Twitter, but those that are gaining traction and actually being used don’t focus on collection and aggregation of the masses, they focus on the small groups of people who know each other and really aren’t connecting or interacting in or for the public eye.

At SXSW this past year, 2011, the next big thing wasn't one thing, it was many things. It was these same smaller group interaction platforms that let people who know each other already interact. The funny thing is this really shouldn't be a surprise to anybody who has actually been following or connecting to the mainstream in the crowd using Facebook or any other large service. Most people are are connected to a small group friends or other label for the people they share information, status, and possibly location with. When Facebook took its service beyond the walls of the university and let any old Joe and Jane in many of the students had fear and cut back their usage of the service. They wanted a service to have more regular communication and more private interactions with out of the eye of the hoards. This isn't because they are doing things they are ashamed of or would cause them consternation if others found out, it is because that is how most people in mainstream interact and consider normal. Many of these students kept their Facebook accounts and use them occasionally, but this is not their social home, this is not where they check the pulse of the group of people they want to connect with.

When you consider how this plays out you see it really clearly inside organizations that have openly social communication and collaboration platforms up and running. Much of the interaction is often not out in the open, but in the more focussed less travelled (or even semi-closed) groups and forums. These are the comfortable spaces with permeable walls. But, this is often where much of the sharing and interacting happens in organizations.

For many who drank the Kool Aide of people want to be openly social, this is an odd trend. But, it isn't really a trend it is the norm and for most of time going back this has been the norm. There is something to Robin Dunbar's postulation of “theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships”, which is commonly known as “The Dunbar Number” and is approximately 150 (with bounds of 100 to 230 as reasonable lower and upper reaches for most people). But, for small very close knit groupings of friends you often see from a a few teens in groups up to 40 to 50. But, about 40 to 75 the dynamics shift and is repeatedly comes up when talking to people in digital services with the number of people where the service shifted from being fun and easy to use to being more work.

At SXSW this year the proffering of small social services, many for smart mobile devices only, like Beluga, Ditto, GroupMe, etc. were the talk of the event in Twitter and from the remote conversations I was picking up on. The question was, “which service are you on?” for those you deemed viable enough to connect with outside of the masses in Facebook and Twitter. These services are where people look for who wants to meet up for dinner, where is the good place to hang, or most importantly “where are my peeps?”

Invisible Communities

This past week I caught Chris Heathcote's presentation on “Invisible Communities” from February 2011 at Lift Conference. Chris talks about all of the unseen communities on the internet and web, which have nearly always been there and keep growing. These are the web forums where the “good” information is shared. These are the handled application based services, some with web presence, but very few are searchable or open to the public. Chris' talk echoed most everything I hear when I talk to the famed “millennials” in organizations who are claimed to be “openly social” and heavy users of these huge web social tools, but when I sit with them in organizations regarding social tools inside the organization (they are included as they are supposed to be the heavy users and the ones that really know this stuff well), but dang if I have ever run across one that has claimed this. Very few use Facebook or Twitter (the “Twitter is for old people” (over 25) is commonly stated) and they all state some different small social tool where they keep in touch with their good friends with.

Personal InfoCloud

Doc Searls wrote a real gem of a post, “The Sense of Bewronging”. Doc's post is about the need for personalization and putting things in context that “I” care about, or as talked about here in this site the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud. A post that triggered Doc was a presentation and post by Louis Gray “The Third Wave of the Web Will Be Uniquely Personal”. Both of these posts talk about aggregating all that we have inbound and as well share out (our digital exhaust) so to filter and hone what it is we care about so to serve it up more to our actual interests and with out information overload.

Many of us have been aggregating our own information for quite a while in various tools and services, or on just pulling and archiving feeds. Phil Gyford talks about a new kind of front page, Steven Berlin Johnson talks about the need for a Commonplace Book, Drummond Reed discusses the Personal Data Store, Jon Udell has his Hosted Lifebits, and Kim Cameron says my Personal InfoCloud “I think a framework like the one he proposes - based on attraction - is probably an early harbinger of the identity big bang.”

Why Does this Matter?

All of this matters because for as much as we use ThinkUp, My6sense, Momento app, Summify, etc. for our aggregation of personal exhaust data and to filter to ease our attention focus as well as use and most importantly reuse what flows through this at some point. In using these services most are focussing on the big social stops like Facebook and Twitter, just like malls have big box stores, but most people are not going to the mall for the big box they are hitting the smaller stores or skipping the mall altogether for more personal customer service and supporting businesses of people whom they know. If the social aggregation and information filtering tools are keeping their focus on the mall’s big boxes of social web, they are missing where many people are actually spending their valued attention. Having a wonderful service like ThinkUp to provide a history of what I have shared and was shared with me (or the more impersonal fact, shared to many and my friend hooks, nabbed a digital copy of that sucker) so that I can search and pull things together later is missing some key valued elements.

While it is worth the time these services are spending (all pulling the same big sites and services and missing the less broadly known services) on the big box social web services, so we can pay a bit less attention on them but for some digests and pay attention to our more valued services. But, what looses out is the use and reuse of across all those services. You have a friend share a book she just finished she thinks you and your group would like, but shared it in your tight friend space you won’t have easy recall from a central place. A real personal aggregation and attention management tool needs to capture all streams we consider to have value. Being able to build a Granular Social Network that really works and that keeps our attention from being over taxed is where much of this really should head. We have been stating what this third wave of the web should be for a long time as a personal web, we now have the tools start getting there, but we need to ensure our focus fits our needs and our actual interactions.

Yes, for those of you that have made it this far and have been waiting to state all this is walling ourselves off from the rest of the world, well I think this aggregation, archiving, and filtering to keep our attention from hitting overload is needed so we can take a much broader look at what is outside our bounds. If we enable keeping what is valuable in front of us we can explore and interact even more.

Some things have changed a little bit in the past year, but largely not much has changed. Facebook has its Timeline, which has thin value for being able to scan the real volume of our activities and then be able to aggregate and reuse that information in more usable and valuable (for one's self and others) format. It is an interesting visualization, but the value of making deeper sense just isn't there and understanding things never seems to fit in Facebook's plans.


Cooperation, Coordination, and Competition

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


There has been a lot of discussion of late in the social media circles about cooperation and how all social tools and services and their managers need to embrace that model. What is really clear is they have never run or tried to run social environments at any scale that have a broad representation of a population.

In reality there are at least three interactive community types that show up in representative populations, like those you get in a town or a city, or an organization’s internal social platforms. The three interactive community types are: 1) Cooperation; 2) Coordination, and 3) Competition. These three all work in tension with each other. In smaller social settings you will likely run into cooperation and it can work swimmingly. But, the reason that it works so well is there are likely not differences of opinion, different, motivations, and counter purposed goals.

As any social setting grows in size the cohesion and common interests (homogeneity) are diluted with other inters and motivations, just as a hamlet grows into a village, they ease of cooperation moves into the dire need for coordination. As we move to towns or cities, or larger organizations with more than a few hundred people or across more than one location coordination is needed. Cooperation is often quite easy with small groups, but even getting more than two or three small groups to work easily coordination is needed as the ease, and often the pure ability, of cooperation is gone and there needs to be concerted effort and guidance applied through coordination. There can be coordination through agreement as much as their can be coordination through difference. The skills needed for those polar realities are different, but the ability to listen, negotiate, mitigate, and coerce is needed.

The underlying tension is related to competition, which run very strong in certain personality types, but also in various industries. The social interaction designs for competitive personalities are very different from cooperative or those who are comfortable in coordinated models. But, nearly all populations have some representation (small or large) of people (or organizations) who are highly competitive. Thinking that in a social environment, unless it is small and focussed, our community or social interactions are going to be purely cooperative is a bit naive and crazy (or a great way to go crazy quickly).

It really takes understanding humans social interactions at scale and working in them for a few years to see the realities. Humans are as diverse as they are similar and there is no generalizing how humans behave with out understanding the variety of social types (personality, social interactions, social roles, organizational types, and work role types among others). Talk with any organization of any size (above a few hundred people or even one hundred people with more than one location) and you see the difficulties of finding one solution and one way forward.


Social Reticence of a Click

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,


A few years back I was talking about problems many people having problems with social interaction elements in their work social platforms (where it really clicked were many early adopter types who have used social web tools for many many years running into issues). The problems related to activities they thought were private were showing up in the public stream. People were finding that their own understanding of many social interaction patterns and use of features had many, and often unknowable, variations that made their intent for an action often broadly misunderstood.

As I have talked about this over the past four years or so at in client projects, presentations, and workshops there seems to continually be problems of interpretation. This isn’t really surprising that problems of misinterpretation occur as most understanding around activity and actions have meaning constructed by and within the culture the actions take place.

Problems of Favorites

One of the design elements from social web services that made its way into many social work platforms is the simple star for favorites. It is simple and innocuous it means the person favorites something. But, in many social web platforms it isn’t or was not easy to see these actions publicly. The act of clicking the star on Twitter often only was seen by the person who clicked on it and it put the favorited item in their collection.

The Twitter favorite star is now more problematic as it is now broadcasted and the person who has had an item favorited gets notification (if they so choose, and it is on by default). Looking at other people’s favorites has for years been public and likely has been from the day it was added. The reality is it required RSS or using a service that notified you when somebody (and who it was) favorited an item. Not having the favorites be easily found nor broadcasted created an easy environment for people to create their own social meaning of what the favorite does and means, much like the over all broadly correctly answerable questions, “what is Twitter and how are you supposed to use it”.

Meaning of actions is often a social construction by the community that uses a service. But, it also can have many sub-communities creating alternate and conflicting meanings and understandings. Where it really gets fun is when the service’s desired or stated meaning, “Clicking the star means you like it and put it in your favorites” directly next to the star or as a tool tip (hover notice), often is the second social understanding and the communities using the service opt for their own explanations and understanding of meaning.

Since Twitter made the notifications of favorites public, it has caused considerable concern and problems for many who had never considered their favorites to be public. The act and collection of their favorite items was theirs, not the domain of others.

Source of the Reticence of a Click

The problem isn’t germane to Twitter or any other service it is rather broad. It is one of the big reasons why use of social platforms inside organizations can take a while to get adoption going. Why things are stuck is unclear meaning. People are getting easily stuck with the lack of clarity around:

  • What a interactive element on any of the pages does
  • How broadly is the action shared (public or private or something between)
  • What does the action mean
  • Who is the action really interpreted

Three of these four need to be clarified much more clearly in services. Sadly, many services are people who do not understand the limited adoption and even more limited use of the services they are echoing the interactions from. All of this keeps people guessing, and not wanting to get it wrong they opt not to try seemingly simple features and functionality.

Why is Something So Simple So Hard to Grasp?

The action of clicking a star to favorite something is easy. Just as easy as clicking a “Like” button, which also has the same problems.

What happens after that simple click is where things get really goofy. These simple social services have stayed simple, but how people use them and how people think of the actions they take is far more diverse and complicated. There are four meanings that can be individually be construed by the clicking of the favorite star:

  • One can favorite something so others can see it is one of their favorite items
  • A person can click the star to note they have seen this and approve
  • One can mean I have read this and is sharing that publicly
  • A person can hold on to some thing for later review and doesn’t mean like or dislike nor approve

This variety of meaning is very common. The problem is that one button is used for many purposes as the service is simple with a simple uncluttered interface that doesn’t have options for alternate meanings, say an anchor to hold on to something, and a “+1” for things that are approved of or liked, which the star for a personal favorite for one’s own purposes can stand on its own.

What Could Go Wrong?

This is all just simple silly social software, what could possibly go wrong. For some of us it was clear that things could get muddled and muddy from the beginning. But, what could go wrong rather often has gone wrong, some with more problematic consequences than anticipated. Often these community and sub-community derived understandings lead to poor understanding and miscommunication through assumption. But, lacking functionality or means to account for the variety of meaning people intend socially or personally this will continue (see clearly labelled and hinted meanings above for reality of how social meaning works with only one option available).

In the past couple years the stories I would hear from my work or speaking engagements grew more dire. Until I talked with one company that had an employee fired things got so confused. But, not long after that first story another company had nearly the same thing happen, while other organizations have similar issues with out the dire outcomes.

In both cases a person saw something float through their internal microblogging service and it piqued their interest. They looked at what had been shared and saw problems, but were swamped with existing tasks and heavy workload so they added the favorite star to put it in their own collection and come back to it in a couple weeks to provide the needed insight and feedback. In both instances their companies rarely moved quickly on anything, as ideas would floated and draft white papers go around, with about a month or more for feedback. But, the social platforms had made the floating of ideas and getting feedback go much more quickly. Those who had floated the idea saw the person has put a “star of approval” on the idea and since many of the people who they wanted feedback from or approval from has responded with feedback or approval they started acting on the plans within weeks not the month plus that things normally took.

In both cases the people who had critical feedback related to gaps or large problems they saw in the proposal or white paper responded when they saw or heard actions were taking place based on those ideas. Both spoke up that they had critical information to provide, but people had been hired or received notification their job was changing and contracts for resources has started to be signed. Upper management was furious as the change had already started to happen in days with commitments behind them. Upper management liked the idea of being more nimble and agile so to move more quickly. But, this was not an “oops” situation it was one that somebody needed to be let go and somebody was let go in both instances.

Resolution?

The problem is not the the tools were use nor how quickly things happened and commitments made. The problem is the clarity of meaning and intent was lost because the actions and activities that have divergent meanings were packed into one design element. Understanding from a design and engineering perspective what people not only want to do, but actually do and mean by that action is essential. Our work tool have long been over due for cleaning up and focus on use so that they become more simple. But, good design and understanding that goes into it, or needs to go into it, can be short cut. Copying a service and its interactions without understanding the social interaction design and meaning of actions, be it intent or by social construct is essential.

It is best to start with a solid platform, which may require bringing in somebody to help frame what that is in context to the needs as well as the social and technical environments you have.


40 Plus Social Lenses

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


Lately, I've been getting asked what I am working on beyond client work, as there have been things popping up here and there that hint something is brewing. Well, there is and there isn’t something new, but something (one of my things has been drawing my attention). It started in Summer or early Fall 2010 with a blow off comment from me to someone else who was stating how difficult working with 3D was, and I blurted something like “try social software, which is 6D or 7D or more”. That was tweeted as an overheard (OH) and people started asking what the 6D or 7D were. At the time I blurted it I could roughly name six of seven different dimensions of social interaction that needed to be considered and design for. But, with each stating of the six or seven, the list started growing. This list of six of seven dimensions were coming from the frameworks, models, and lessons learned I have picked up since 1996 working with social software inside organizations and out on the web. By late October I was finally putting these social elements I used into a list, which quickly was into 20 high-level items and by November was about 40 items. I was also fleshing out the list for each item. I started calling the list my “40 Plus Social Elements”, but recently I have changed it to “40 Plus Social Lenses” as that is a much better term for how I have been using them over the past 15 years to see the “it depends” inflection points and enable thinking through them.

This is Needed?

Nearly every organization I talk to (or even web start-up working for on social interactions) I talk to is getting stuck or is hitting things they hadn’t expected a few months into their use with these tools. It does not matter if it is a platform improve internal communications and collaboration, a social CRM program, and/or a social media (marketing) effort everybody seems to be running into issues they did not see coming. Often I will start by asking how they are dealing with something (based on program type and tools) and I hear, “How did you know we had this problem? Who did you talk to?” They affirm they have these issues, some are manageable and at times they are really problematic. But, the big question is why did they not know these issues could arrive or would potentially arise. I have kept these lenses separate for years, rather than building into one big approach as each organization or services is different enough and has different enough influences that it is really tough to have one big singular approach. Taking small steps, monitoring, and then adapting or iterating is a really helpful approach, but so are mixing and matching lenses to get an improved perspective. Building solutions that address needs and having an overall big vision are helpful. Most often with social tools is it a more connected and free flowing means of doing things.

Lessons Learned

The continual problem for anybody who has been responsible for long-term management of social systems and/or communities who use them, development, design, and/or iteration of social software solutions is painfully confronted with, “is what I am seeing happen (often framed as a problem or issue to be solved) an issue with individual people, how humans are social, the culture(s) where the system is being used, the organization's needs and requirements or structure, or the tools themselves that are being used?” Often the answer is “yes”. These personal, social, organizational, and tools issues all interweave and quickly create a complicated, if not complex system where isolation of individual elements is really difficult. There is also a counterweight to this, which is we know that for use and adoption of these tools and services they need to be simple to use and get started (it doesn't mean they need to stay that way, Lithium's Community Platform is wonderful proof of this model and a I really need to devote a piece to why as it isn't plainly seen by most).

This thinking really started jelling in 2004 at Design Engaged with Mike Kuniavsky's lead-off monologue on complexity, which in his 10 minutes he focussed on the complexity in interaction design and urged us to “run toward the light of complexity”. This is an essential understanding for interaction design as the designer is working to make things that are rather complicated yet rather simple to use, which requires the designer to embrace the complicated and complex to master it so to work to make it simple. Where interaction design hits the individuals and their interaction with systems, social interaction design adds more layers with people interacting with others through the tools, which can be rather complicated just on its own and now you are throwing software in the middle. In 2007 or so I hit another big wake up call. I was working on the folksonomy book (no, it didn't get published, nor finished being written) and a couple months in I hit a sticking point. What I found was many of the common social models and foundations for Web 2.0 couldn’t explain the strong value that people were finding in places where Web 2.0 thinking would not lead one to believe it existed, nor could it explain the problems that I was repeatedly seeing. It took 12 or more months of deconstructing and reassembling the Web 2.0 models, the lessons I learned from years working with and building social software, as well as my formal education (in communication theory, organizational communication, grad school with economics, and social analytics) to identify the variables and components that had value and then build frameworks for thinking how this worked and why. I have blogged many of these as well have been presenting them publicly as well as using them in workshops and client engagements. They have proven to be really valuable, with feedback from many that is has saved them tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost avoidance and value derived from improved decisions.

What is This List of Lenses?

The list is essentially what I have been using and building upon for 15 years dealing with social software and the hurdles and headaches that can come from it. These 40 plus lenses (sometimes nearly 50) are questions, models, and frameworks I use when working with clients or in workshops. I hadn’t realized there were as many elements in the list as I often work conversationally and one answer from a client will trigger 2 or 5 more questions that are relevant based on that answer or insight. This progression gives better understanding not only to me, but also to them to see potential options, the possible benefits as well as possible detractors, and then think through them sanely. Knowing potential problems or issues, helps keep an eye out for them and be prepared, all while using lenses to know that these decisions may bring.

I have shared the list with some others with quite long backgrounds in social software on production, management, or research sides and all (well not the researchers) have the first response of, “Thomas, you are over thinking this there is no way there are that many.” But, as they go through the list they often find all of it is very familiar and things they think through and consider as well so to help their organizations, services, or clients. Many of us have built up this trove of tacit knowledge and I'm working on making it more explicit.

Where I am finding the list is having value is using the components as lenses to see the “it depends” inflection points and be able to think through them to solid results that match each organization as best as possible. Often there isn’t an optimal solution, but knowing a gap exists and to keep an eye on it has made a huge difference for organizations as well as those building products.

The list is still in flux a little but, but it is firming up and getting it organized in to a nice flow will help. Once that is done it is writing time. I have been presenting many of the items on the list in workshops and in client engagements and honing the understanding and getting solid feedback from real experience and use over the years.

I have been having many discussions around the list and thinking that is behind them, which has surfaced in Dave Gray's Connected Company and a Gordon Ross’ post on Connected companies, complex systems, and social intranets. There is good thinking and understanding that is needed so we can get more value and better understanding out of social software used in organization and on the web, but importantly it can help the products and services improve as well.

There are quite a few posts around here that are included in the lenses as part of them or the whole of a lens:

What am I Doing with This List?

What I am doing with this list of lenses has been a big question. The list very quickly started looking like a book outline, so I am taking steps in that direction. Presenting on this, I have been using a lot of these lenses in presentations for the last 8 years and mix and match them based on subject of the presentation. Dave Gray has put together a really good presentation on the Connected Company that I have helped with and will be presenting that puts a nice wrapper around the ideas. But, being able to get the full list of lenses in front of people and help them use them practically, I think may be best done in a workshop model. I have done internal workshops using many of these lenses (I get very positive feedback about how much this has benefitted organizations and has saved them from selecting tools that didn't fit their needs and/or helped them realize they had a gap in their approach they had not foreseen), but I have yet to put one on that are open to the public. If there is interest in public workshops I have the material and they would likely be a two day for a full view and use, but also could be a one day intensive seminar approach. Please contact


Social Relevance in KM

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,


Last week Luis Suarez posted a fantastic piece KM, Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business: One and The Same, which was not only dead on, but also brought to the forefront many discussions I have been having over the past  few years. The discussions revolve around depth of understanding the social tools inside organizations and the troubles many organizations run into about 6 months to 18 months in (I’ve had many long discussions with Stewart Mader about this, which he calls the One Year Club). This One Year Club continually triggers organizations to consider what tools and practices around them and deeply question if they made the correct choices. Often they selected tools based on initial interaction patterns with the tools and how the tools and services are considered in popular circles and memes.

Luis piece triggers these discussions as I have been coming back to some of my knowledge management (KM) foundations laid in the late 90s. By then I had a few years dealing with social software in organizations running into the usual headaches and questions around, “is it people, humans being social, the organization, and/or the tools interwoven into all of this that are the crux of the problem” needed to be asked with every bump and hurdle. When touching on KM I was finding solid thinking on not only information management issues (that echoed under graduate work in my major of organizational communication and communication theory, but also social networking and social interactions that were the underpinnings of my masters degree in public policy), but the intersection of how humans are social and how they communicate.

In 2007 I had the fortune to speak at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference on the subject of folksonomy and I found a good connection with people in organizations trying social software deployments and running into the same issues I had in the mid-90s. Those who were speaking and presenting who were laying out solid methods for thinking through the issues and the potential path(s) forward had one similarity, they had a KM background. I also was finding similar with some vendors who grasped the complexity of the issues around information, people, social interactions, and organizations. Here too, many of them had backgrounds in KM either having built KM tools that didn’t work optimally (KM tools in the late 90s to mid-00s were miserable piles of technology that rarely enabled people to easily get what they knew out of their wonderful minds and into a system to share it with others - having been responsible for more than a few flavors of these beasts they all were far from easy and kept people from sharing easily - it wasn't KM that was bad it was the tools). But, finding this pocket of people I who grasped the difficulties around tools, humans being social, and business felt like home, a little bit more like home than the pure Web 2.0 slice of social tools, as it required dealing with mainstream as well as early adopters (who comprised much of the Web 2.0 fan base then).

You may notice I didn't mention consultants in that mix for Enterprise 2.0 in 2007, I didn't as most (a rare few exceptions) really didn't have deep understanding, nor seems to want it, as they were trying to figure out how to get a jump on this new term and potential pond of money around a buzzword. In 2007 the people in companies trying to do things had the best understanding of needs, problems, and potential way forward with the vendors following rather close behind.

KM, Really?

The core of this understanding and seeing potential and problems at hand was a foundation in KM. You ask, “Why is that important?” One of the things happening in the mid to late 90s in organizations along with this increasing buzz around KM as another buzz around the promise of e-groups and e-collaboration. These “e” tools (far from being an “E ticket” to anything) were often put under the purview of KM people as these tools not only were aimed helping people work together in a digital environment, but they were key to a key aim of KM, getting the tacit knowledge people have out of their minds and in shared making it explicit so it can be found and used by others. This core tenet of KM was one of the key gems that was going to solve the organization’s problems, but the problem was the tools were not up to the task. This gap around the tools (which got increasingly worse as the tech solution was not to ease use and map to how people were social and interact, but was to make more complex and structured interfaces (more form fields and hurdles)) lead nearly everybody working with this social tools to have the common headache around is it the people, how people are social (culture), business, and/or tools that are the problem.

This became an valuable experience of trying to sort out what is and where are the problems that are holding the social and KM solutions back from achieving their potential. One of the things that came out of it was a rather robust understanding of how people in organizations are social (or are not) and how important the existing culture is to tool selection and development of practices. Not only is culture valuable, but the need for different interfaces for different uses of the tools as well as breaking down the wide variety of different social interaction needs for different phases and stages of information sharing, use, and reuse.

KM World 2009

In 2009 I was asked if I would be one of the keynote presenters for KM World 2009, I was honored and felt a bit out of my depth at first as this was KM, which I still held a deep regard for the practices and foundations that were put in place more than a decade back. I was humbled as the two other keynote presenters were Andrew McCaffe and Charlene Li. Much of my presentation focussed on lessons learned from the One Year Club and problems that seem common from social software use in organizations, which I was fearing a bit would dampen the hope and promise and way forward presentations that McCaffee and Li provided. But, having spent a fair amount of time talking and listening to attendees, I was realizing that there are many in the KM community running into these issues today, but many that have been dealing with these issues going back to the 90s. There is depth in the KM community that has long been there and many in the KM community are still sharing their incredible depth and experience bringing the whole community forward that wishes to come a long. As I presented many of the stumbling blocks I have seen companies hit and try to work through, as well as “did we choose the right tool for our organization, needs, and culture?” I saw near ubiquitous waves of head nods across the whole of the conference. The attendees are not just new to social tools, but know enough about the hype memes to have been bitten by them or run across them enough to look for ways forward.

This last year I was back at KMWorld, which also co-hosts the Taxonomy Bootcamp (which I keynoted this past 2010), Enterprise Search Summit" (I did a workshop on Enterprise Social Search this past year and will be keynoting the conference in May in NYC this year(2011)), and SharePoint Symposium where I found the offerings for organizations considering and using social tools inside the organization to be incredibly robust, with presenters and workshops by some of the best and most experienced in the industry (oddly they have never been at Enterprise 2.0 Conference, that really must get fixed). The sessions I sat in on were getting to the heart of real problems and people were sharing years of experience and pointing out the “it depends” questions and how to work through them (in my opinion there is no better aid than that). But, also heard people talking in depth about tools, their gaps, and where good fits for them may be. I also spent time talking with vendors who were finding the attendees to be incredibly well informed and asking solid questions that showed they understood not only their organizations well, but the type of tools that would fit their organization’s culture and needs. A couple of the vendors said this is a rare occurrence at other conferences.

There is a There There in KM

What KM World highlighted for me was there is and long has been a core and deep value that exists in KM. The depth of understanding that has been building and iterating over 15 or more years of experience learned (often the hard way), deep long research, and tackling the hard problems by going deep has incredible value. This value is deeply needed in other communities. As I pointed out in my last post, Social Scaling and Maturity social software in the organization starts out simple and relatively easy, but that changes quite a bit as it gets used.

There isn't a KM 2.0 as there is no need for it. The practices of KM have iterated and matured deeply and wonderfully and not that social software for organizations have started getting out of the way to allow people to get what they know out of their minds and share it more broadly, as has always been the aim of KM, we could start seeing real progress. Understanding the needs around the organization, culture, practice needs, and the tools that can best map to these needs, as well as more easily enable people to be social as humans are social can only give a nice spark to that promise and long vibrant vision.

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Social Scaling and Maturity

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


Social scaling and functionality

In 2006 I started using this graphic to explain social scaling and functionality around social tagging systems (then the x-axis was “times an object tagged”), as it helped bring to light the reality of what was to come from use. But increasingly I also used it to explain general social software maturation that echoed social software development work I was doing in 2002 and even patterns seen many years earlier in my work with social software.

As the number of people using a service increases over time and the number of activities in the system increases over time the system changes drastically. The needs, frameworks, and interactions (both social and services) change drastically. Not understanding what is coming has so many organizations making tool and service choices that have them quite stuck as they try to progress past the second stage. Not only did they not see this coming nor did those whom they paid handsomely to guide them through.

Lack of Understanding Begins Where?

“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” ~Albert Einstein

Much of the lack of understanding with social software today is mistaking what seem like simple Web 2.0 tools and not understanding the depth of thinking and understanding from a technical, interaction design, and deeper understanding from a social science perspective of what is needed. Many Web 2.0 services rarely get into the 3rd stage of “Mature Social Tools”. When you bring this understanding into organizations and their needs for vastly improved communications, social interactions, collaboration, and efficiency needed the Web 2.0 model doesn't really get you far, nor help you prepare for what will come. (It is not that Web 2.0 offerings are not capable, it is that if they are even moderately successful they are dealing with many millions of users and keeping their offerings running with more simple social interactions and needs has them completely occupied).

Claiming your tools and services are like Web 2.0 tools and having them actually be rather equal to the lack of depth Web 2.0 products like Facebook have, becomes a pill filled with poison that once swallowed will release over time. The problem is less with to do with Web 2.0, but how things progress within fixed populations beyond the capabilities and needs (limited by volume and scale of resources needed to handle the volume of Web 2.0 services). Think of the fishing industry and the practices needed for fishing at massive industrial scale and optimizing skill of fly fishing and sustainability.

The Axis of This Model

Along the y-axis is the number of people participating in the service. As this increases the need for individuals to manage relationships and interactions increases. Along the x-axis are the number activities, which can be: Conversations, media shared, ratings, documents, short and long writings, annotations, organizing (curating) what exists in the system, etc.

Optimally the service will have growth that progresses in a relative balance between people participating and activities over time. If the balance has many people and few activities (or range or activities around subjects or tool types, see the differentiation between collective and collaboration, which doesn't include community/group distinct needs) the system will be really narrow and seem like their is little activity or action and perceived value dissipates and the usual result is decreasing visits and use. If the services has a relatively low number of people participating and a lot of activity the outcome is usually a very narrow view and lack of breadth of understandings, which limits the perception of what subject matter or activities types happen there.

What Are The Scaling Stages?

Personal

This stage is firmly set in the simple (a passing or deeper knowledge of Dave Snowden's Cynefin framework will understand the framing help). All social tools and services start their useful existence with personal value. They are offering where people place what they know or see where they can come back to it easily, as well as share with others, who will / may eventually find it. This clarity of understanding the personal impact was really clear when Delicious started. Joshua Porter actually called this the “Delicious Lesson”. The personal also helps initially frame what you have interest in and captures it, provides seeing others to connect with to initial share with and follow, provides a means to hold onto connecting with people, and hopefully allow people to see this in their own contextual lens. There is very little social interaction as things start out. It takes work of planning, engaging, and managing the initial social interactions. Community managers (instigator and evangelists) are essential for helping people into this first stage and get the whole moving toward the next stage. Problematically many services under provide for the needs and capabilities of the personal needs, not only for enabling initial uses, but for more valuable needs as the services mature. Seeing and managing who a person connects with and why along with actions taken in the system (accounting for time, cycles, and patterns) is a real need which helps people not only use the services but see the value they get from it.

Serendipity

This second stage still has most of its focus on the simple, but toward the edges of the next stage that shifts. Once the service gets more people using it and the activities increase things move from a heavily personal focus to one that is more social. The social interactions are more serendipitous than planned interactions as people aggregate and interact mostly through stumbling onto are being guided to subject mater areas of interests, groups or areas where conversations and objects related to the subject are shared and conversations around them happen (social objects).

In this stage the interactions between people are often echo their connections to people and interests that exist prior to using the services. The information flows are still rather manageable, but start edging into flows with some serious volume and velocity at times, which creates and information density to me dealt with. As the activities increase, particularly across groups and subject matter affinities and needs the need for tools to help with various roles people have (either roles that emerged, take on out or need or adeptness, or are have been assigned) is needed. The roles, other than admin and guide, are still mostly light. The managing of information and connecting it to where it is needed is what surfaces here as activities grow.

As time increases and the people participating and activities increase (as expected) things shift to being simple to more complicated given the number and variance of people interacting with each other. Managing connection and what is shared with whom starts to be seen, as does the reality that open social platforms can greatly hinder social interactions (no matter the culture) as the realization that there is something to Robin Dunbar%s [magical] number. As this happens the impact of the organizations overarching culture starts to have an impact and the selection of the tools and services for the social interactions comes in to clarity, whether the right choices were made and implemented to easily integrate with it or clash.

Mature Social Tool

The mature social tool stage the complicated realities of human social interactions comes into play, as well as the need for managing and filtering information flows. Most often organizations hit this stage in 6 months to 2 years. The lovely “if information is important it will find you” theory falls from a working practice to myth here as does they never valid 1/9/90 rule. Information and connections with people get lost and fuzzy. Keeping what is needed and valuable near is essential. It is here most often that people managing the services and tools in organizations state, “What they hell did we do? Do we have the right tools and services?” Many times the answer is no they don't have what they need as they didn't see this part of the picture and reality coming. Also they didn't plan budget and resources for this (it was supposed to just work, right).

It is also in this stage that it is really clear different parts of the service have matured at vastly different rates. Some of it is individual people maturing at faster rates. The accelerated maturity is not only with individuals but groups, subjects, use patterns, roles, etc. This inconsistency of growth is normal, yet it continually seems to surprise people. The reality is there are various types of people, whom these tools hit a need and map tightly to their activities and perceived way forward. Rarely does accelerated maturity of use have much to do with age (the myth that it is young people who take to these tools really becomes clear here as well). Matching lack of resources and pain because that with other solutions is a much stronger driver when the services ease those pains.

The mature social stage is also where the “best practices” considered and possibly used earlier surface as possibly not the best way forward and may have lead to things more problematic than not optimal outcomes. Each organization not only has its own culture, but sub-cultures, but its own ways of doing business on top of the social environment and cultural behaviors. Understanding what the levers and myriad of potential options the possible outcomes that come from their use is an incredibly valuable approach. Combining approaches and methods from these many options will enhance the complications, which needs the ability to have people who can understand and see the components and break down what influences can be attributed to where. It is very much an iterate, test, monitor, and iterate practice all while realizing what doesn't work in one scenario may be brilliant in others.

The value from much of the social web understandings derived from what people thought they saw in Web 2.0 offerings runs out and the practice of copying features and functionality from that realm has run its course due to limitations mentioned above. The practices and services are similar, but the massive scale that Web 2.0 services handle has them focussing on volume and quantity of interactions, not the honed qualitative needs in organizations. Facebook doesn't care that people are sharing important knowledge for other to benefit from as long as people are interacting and using their service. Sharing and honing those understandings and being able to refind them as needed in an organization is an essential and has deep value over time.

The mature social tool stage is where search is needed to find things and social search (in theory) should work well (that often isn't the case as search for the most part hasn't caught up yet). There is enough content and enough people interacting to see a rich ecosystem ready to see the benefit of these service become really valuable. This can happen, but it becomes difficult. There are no best practices that work here, there are guides and series of “it depends” scenarios and lenses to work through to good (if not hopefully better) outcomes. The number or roles and tools matching those role's needs are needed for many using the service, but at the same time keeping the interfaces easy to use as they were in the earlier stages (think of most role playing games that start with simple interfaces that are easy to use to accomplish what is needed, but over time and proven adeptness at using them more complicated tools and interfaces slowly evolve that match the mastery, roles, and skills needed (Lithium community platform (for outside the firewall) does this amazingly well, but doing this is something that takes incredibly deep skill and understanding).

It is also in this stage that information overload really can kick in. Connecting the information and knowledge to people and areas in the system that need it can become a challenge. What seemed to be a reality of a single culture in the organization is seen as more complicated with the multitude of sub-cultures with their own understandings, contexts, terms/vocabularies, and expectations. Not only do non-emergent taxonomies have problems here, but search does if it doesn't account for the social implications and influences underlying the content and needs.

By this point the realization that an open social platform didn't work there are now many smaller groups that are fully or partly closed off. The key is to embrace this understanding and work to build synonym repositories and bridges of understanding between the sub-cultures and divergent practice areas. The collective whole that is emerging becomes difficult to work with, but it can be done. The scale and needs that emerge out of this can begin to look like enterprise resource management services, but the components are not as stable and as predictable, they are human and social.

Focussing on the complicated components in all of this is a task. It can be done and taking the multitude of complicated steps, conditions, and interactions (software and social, as well as social software interactions) into account and breaking them down into smaller more manageable components through depth of understanding and experience can be done. Having not only a good understanding of broader social network interactions helps greatly, but understandings at the social interaction design level for the much smaller scale interaction needs is essential as well. The interfaces and needs of the service will be drastically different than what is needed earlier in the stages.

Even with some mastery of this stage the growth of people and actions over time will shift from being complicated to complex. Hopefully, the complicated needs are being identified and needs relating to the complicated needs are helping to address the issues at hand. Longitudinal understandings of use and patterns is needed to help iterate and meet needs.

Complex Social System

The complex social system is where things move toward emulating actual social systems in the world around us. Understandings that are central to urban planning and understanding healthy societies at scale, as well as using well worn research and theories for how the complex organisms known as societies interact. (Dave Gray has picked up on this and included it in the Connected Company post, which is worth your time to read.) There are few universal understandings of what people do that will consistently apply. The use and emergent uses of the services that happen in this stage will be quite different and the tools and patterns for managing things that worked in earlier stages will not work as well. External influences (influences outside of the cultures or are emergent and not planned) will impact use and value. Often it is these emergent uses that have the highest value, but they can also be problematic. It is also essential to understand how modifying the whole of the system and service to embrace these emergent patterns will impact.

There are no best practices and never will be. It takes identifying and understanding the individual influences (there are often many) and their place in what is occurring in small samples (rarely do large emergent patterns behave or happen consistently across the organization (although it can)) to get better clarity.

Knowing this stage is coming and being aware of the patterns indicate this emergent and divergent stage is really helpful as early as the initial planning stages. Indications where and how these patterns are emerging can be seen very early and they can be confused for mainstream use, which changes the whole of the system and skews it against easy considered use in the earlier stages. This isn't something to understand and worry about later, it needs to be something that is firmly in mind with people who not only grasp it, but can ascertain its existence and work through the myriad of considerations that will be needed to work through to best prepare and adapt for it.

Tools and services are not exactly here just yet. There are some that could be close, but it all is dependent on need, problems, and the underlying complications that lead to the complexity. There are also many examples for services identifying emergent patterns and behaviors and adapting for them or just letting them be. Things like hashtags in Twitter are an example of embracing the emergent patterns, but it was and is an edge user pattern. This past week Socialcast took the steps to further adapt their system to take hashtag and enable design patterns that helped it be far more usable and understandable to mainstream core users (I think I may know some people who worked on that and bravo all around).