Tag Archives: conversations

More on Microblogging: Evolution of the Enterprise Market

Following my post last week on the need for additional filters in enterprise microblogging tools and activity streams, I participated in an interesting Twitter conversation on the subject of microblogging and complexity. The spontaneous conversation began when Greg Lowe, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 evangelist at Alcatel-Lucent, asked:

“Can stand alone micro-blogging solutions survive when platform plays introduce the feature?”

I immediately replied:

“Yes, if they innovate faster”

Greg shot back:

“is microblogging autonomy about innovation, or simple elegance? More features usually leads to lower usability?”

And, later, he asked a complementary question:

“is there a risk of Microblogging becoming “too complicated”?”

Is Greg on to something here? Do more features usually lead to lower usability? Will functional innovation be the downfall of stand-alone microblogging solutions, or will it help them stay ahead of platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging into their offerings?

One of the commonly heard complaints about software in general, and enterprise software in particular, is that it is too complicated. There are too many features and functions, and how to make use of them is not intuitive. On the other hand, usability is a hallmark of Web 2.0 software, and, if we make it too complex, it is likely that some people will abandon it in favor of simpler tools, whatever those may be.

But that dichotomy does not tell the entire story. Based on anecdotal evidence (there is no published quantitative research available), early adopters of Web 2.0 software in the enterprise appear to value simplicity in software they use. However, as a colleague, Thomas Vander Wal, pointed out to me yesterday, that may not be true for later, mainstream adopters. Ease-of-use may be desirable in microblogging (or any other) software, but having adequate features to enable effective, efficient usage is also necessary to achieve significant adoption. Later adopters need to see that a tool can help them in a significant way before they will begin to use it; marginal utility does not sway them, even if the tool is highly usable.

Simple may not be sustainable. As I wrote last week in this post, as enterprise use of microblogging and activity streams has increased and matured, so has the need for filters. Individuals, workgroups, and communities want to direct micro-messages to specific recipients, and they need to filter their activity streams to increase their ability to make sense out of the raging river of incoming information. Those needs will only increase as more workers microblog and more information sources are integrated into activity streams.

In the public microblogging sphere, Twitter provides a solid example of the need to add functionality to a simple service as adoption grows in terms of registered users and use cases. As more individuals used Twitter, in ways that were never envisioned by its creators, the service responded by adding functionality such as search, re-tweeting, and lists. Each of these features added some degree of complexity to the service, but also improved its usability and value.

In the evolution of any software, there is a trade-off between simplicity and functionality that must be carefully managed. How does one do that? One way is to continuously solicit and accept user feedback. That allows the software provider and organizations deploying it to sense when they are nearing the point where functionality begins to overwhelm ease of use in a harmful manner. Another technique is to roll out new features in small doses at reasonable intervals. Some even advocate slipping new features in unannounced and letting users discover them for themselves. Hosted deployment of software (whether on-premise or off-site) makes this easier to do, since new features are automatically switched on for people using the software.

So back to the original question; can stand-alone microblogging solutions fend off the collaboration suite and platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging and activity streams in their offerings? My definitive answer is “yes”, because there is still room for functionality to be added to microblogging before it becomes over-complicated.

Based on the historical evolution of other software types and categories, it is likely that the smaller vendors, who are  intensely focused on microblogging, will be the innovators, rather than the platform players. As long as vendors of stand-alone microblogging offerings continue to innovate quickly without confusing their customers, they will thrive. That said, a platform vendor could drive microblogging feature innovation if they so desired; think about what IBM has done with its Sametime instant messaging platform. However, I see no evidence of that happening in the microblogging sphere at this time.

The most plausible scenario is that at some point, small, focused vendors driving microblogging innovation (e.g. Socialcast, Yammer) will be acquired by larger vendors, who will integrate the acquired features into their collaboration suite or platform. My sense is that we are still 2-3 years away from that happening, because there is still room for value-producing innovation in microblogging.

What do you think?

My Wish for the Enterprise 2.0 Community in 2010

The holidays are precious for the time that we spend with family and friends. At this time of the year, we remember what is most important to us — the people who make our lives better by loving and supporting us — and focus on interacting with them for some (but not enough) time.

In 2010, let us the focus on interactive relationships past the holidays and make it our most important work throughout the year. Not only in our personal lives, but in our professional activities as well. If we want Enterprise 2.0 to positively effect the way that business is done and make social business the new norm, it must begin with each of us. As individuals we need to:

  • reaffirm existing close relationships, strengthen weak ties, and make connections with new individuals inside and outside of the organizations in which we work
  • have more conversations that will build trust in and from our co-workers, business partners, and customers
  • listen better and be more aware of others’ needs, so we can help fulfill them whenever possible
  • be more open to the possibilities offered by working with others to create emergent solutions that meet the needs of the majority and create meaningful change

So here is my wish for next year. That the social interaction inherent in the holiday season becomes the norm for all of us in 2010. That we walk, talk, and breath the principles of community, openness, collaboration, emergence, trust, and mutual respect that embody successful social interaction every day of the new year. It is up to us to be the change in which we so firmly believe. Happy New Year!

Thought of the Day: November 20, 2009

A business enterprise is really nothing more than a large community. The organization, like any healthy community, is formed around a clear, common purpose and actively works to create specific outcomes. If that purpose is forgotten or becomes irrelevant, the company will slowly decay and, ultimately, fail.

The implication of this observation is that corporate managers must function like community managers — connecting people and facilitating conversations — if the organization is to successfully address its mission.

The Seven “C”s of Social Interaction

letter-cWith all the hoopla around social media and software these days, I thought it might be useful to remember that there are some basic tenets that apply to social interaction, whether it occurs online or in a face-to-face setting. I’ll label those principles “The Seven “C”s of Social Interaction. They include:

Conversations: All social interaction is a conversation between two or more individuals. One person may dominate the conversation by speaking more than listening, but the most useful conversations generally occur between participants that are engaged in both modes. The conversation can be a one-to-one or one-to-many exchange.

Continuum: Social interaction takes place at a specific point along a continuum of time and information flow. Some conversations occur over an extended period of time, while others are brief, isolated exchanges. We are not part of all conversations in the continuum; we move in and out of specific conversations and the flow in general.

Container: Social interaction happens within a container. That may be a physical place such as a convention hall or a friend’s house. The conversation might take place in a digital space such as a threaded discussion area or an instant messaging application. The container might even digitize elements of physical interaction in a digital realm, such as in a virtual world.

Community: Social interaction most often takes place in context of a specific community. That might be a community of interest (e.g skiers, nuclear physicists) or one of purpose (i.e. project team, supporters of a charity). Communities may be pre-defined or self-forming. Communities may host scheduled events that serve as the locus of conversation or the dialog may be distributed over time but within a specific space (see Continuum and Container above.)

Currency: Most social interaction takes place because one participant desires something that another has. In order to obtain the desired object, information, feeling, or whatever, the participant that wants it has to trade some form of currency with its holder. That currency may be actual or promised information, action, recognition, or money. The type and amount of currency traded is negotiated during one or more conversations.

Credibility: The ability to get what one wants as a result of a conversation depends, in part, on the level of credibility previously established with the other participants (as well as the currency offered.) The more successful social interactions one has, in which promises are fulfilled and the other participants’ expectations are met, the more credible one becomes. Greater credibility leads to improved capability to achieve desired outcomes in future interactions.

Connectivity: One of the results of social interaction is that new contacts are made and existing relationships are refreshed. The more interactions in which we participate, the more connections we form, and the larger and stronger our network becomes. Being well-connected leads to an increased ability to deliver what someone else wants, improved currency with which to barter, and enhanced credibility. There is also an additional meaning in the context of online interactions; one must have access to a good physical communication network in order to participate in the conversation.

This list is my first attempt at codifying what I believe are the most important elements of social interaction — online or physical — into a simple framework. The ideas presented here are synthesized from many sources, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on any of the individual components. However, I can attest to the power of each based on the number and quality of the physical and online social interactions that I have participated in over the course of my life.

I will continue to refine and expand the framework, but wanted to publish it now to generate discussion and feedback. Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment. I will be grateful for your constructive criticism and suggestions for refinements.