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.
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:
- Social Maturity and Scaling
- On Fire with Social Progressions
- Removing Trust
- A Conversation on Social Interaction Design with Adrian Chan
- Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success
- Explaining the Granular Social Network
- Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration
- Selective Sociality and Social Villages
- Getting to Know Collective and Collaborative
- The Elements in the Social Software Stack
- 5 Enterprise 2.0 Myth Mantras that Must Die
- Model of Attraction
- The Come to Me Web
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