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.