Tag Archives: social software

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?

Filtering Microblogging and Activity Streams

The use of microblogging and activity streams is maturing in the enterprise. This was demonstrated by recent announcements of enhancements to those components in two well-regarded enterprise social software suites.

On February 18th, NewsGator announced a point release to its flagship Enterprise 2.0 offering, Social Sites 3.1. According to NewsGator, this release introduces the ability for individuals using Social Sites to direct specific microblogging posts and status updates to individuals, groups, and communities. Previously, all such messages were distributed to all followers of the individual poster and to the general activity stream of the organization. Social Sites 3.1 also introduced the ability for individuals to filter their activity streams using “standard and custom filters”.

Yesterday (March 3rd), Socialtext announced a major new version of its enterprise social software suite, Socialtext 4.0. Both the microblogging component of Socialtext’s suite and its stand-along microblogging appliance now allow individuals to broadcast short messages to one or more groups (as well as to the entire organization and self-selected followers.) Socialtext 4.0 also let individuals filter their incoming activity stream to see posts from groups to which they belong (in addition to filtering the flow with the people and event filters that were present in earlier versions of the offering.)

The incorporation of these filters for outbound and incoming micro-messages are an important addition to the offerings of NewsGator and Socialtext, but they are long overdue. Socialcast has offered similar functionality for nearly two years and Yammer has included these capabilities for some time as well (and extended them to community members outside of an organization’s firewall, as announced on February 25th.) Of course, both Socialcast and Yammer will need to rapidly add additional filters and features to stay one step ahead of NewsGator and Socialtext, but that represents normal market dynamics and is not the real issue. The important question is this:

What other filters do individuals within organizations need to better direct microblogging posts and status updates to others, and to mine their activity streams?

I can easily imagine use cases for location, time/date, and job title/role filters. What other filters would be useful to you in either targeting the dissemination of a micro-message or winnowing a rushing activity stream?

One other important question that arises as the number of potential micro-messaging filters increases is what should be the default setting for views of outgoing and incoming messages? Should short bits of information be sent to everyone and activity streams show all organizational activity by default, so as to increase ambient awareness? Perhaps a job title/role filter should be the default, in order to maximize the focus and productivity of individuals?

There is no single answer other than “it depends”, because each organization is different. What matters is that the decision is taken (and not overlooked) with specific corporate objectives in mind and that individuals are given the means to easily and intuitively change the default target of their social communications and the pre-set lens through which they view those of others.

UPDATE (03/04/2010, 5:10pm Eastern): A commenter on this post at the Gilbane Group Blog made a really great point about how updates from Social CRM systems change the nature of activity streams. Here is his comment and my reply:

FINRA Affirms Regulation of User-Generated and Social Content

In a Regulatory Notice released earlier today, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) opined that brokerage firms and their registered representatives must retain records of all communications related to the broker-dealer’s business that are made through public blogs and social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

“Every firm that intends to communicate, or permit its associated persons to communicate, through social media sites must first ensure that it can retain records of those communications as required by Rules 17a-3 and 17a-4 under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and NASD Rule 3110. SEC and FINRA rules require that for record retention purposes, the content of the communication is determinative and a broker-dealer must retain those electronic communications that relate to its “business as such.”

Brokerage firms will now be required to archive and make discoverable business-specific content produced by their employees. They will also have to establish and maintain procedures that ensure a supervisor has either approved an interactive electronic communication before it is posted, or that a “risk-based” method of post-communication review exists and is exercised.

“While prior principal approval is not required under Rule 2210 for interactive electronic forums, firms must supervise these interactive electronic communications under NASD Rule 3010 in a manner reasonably designed to ensure that they do not violate the content requirements of FINRA’s communications rules.

Firms may adopt supervisory procedures similar to those outlined for electronic correspondence in Regulatory Notice 07-59 (FINRA Guidance Regarding Review and Supervision of Electronic Communications). As set forth in that Notice, firms may employ risk-based principles to determine the extent to which the review of incoming, outgoing and internal electronic communications is necessary for the proper supervision of their business. “

In addition, FINRA’s guidance states that all organizations under its purview must establish and communicate social media usage guidelines for their employees, and that those individuals must also receive employer-provided training on those guidelines.

“Firms must adopt policies and procedures reasonably designed to ensure that their associated persons who participate in social media sites for business purposes are appropriately supervised, have the necessary training and background to engage in such activities, and do not present undue risks to investors. Firms must have a general policy prohibiting any associated person from engaging in business communications in a social media site that is not subject to the firm’s supervision. Firms also must require that only those associated persons who have received appropriate training on the firm’s policies and procedures regarding interactive electronic communications may engage in such communications.”

FINRA’s guidance marks the beginning of a new era for financial services companies and their use of external social media. However, the Financial Services sector is not the only one that will be subject to regulation of communications made via blogs and other types of social software. An IBM Senior Product Manager related last week at Lotusphere that IBM customers in the Healthcare and Utilities industries were also beginning to ask about the management of user-generated and social content.

If your organization is currently required to comply with regulations pertaining to the use of email and instant messaging for business communication, expect to see similar requirements placed on your management of external blog and social media site posts in the near future. At some point, it is likely that these regulations will also be applied to internal communications conducted via enterprise social software.

Receiving Recognition Also Provides Benchmarks for Improvement

I have been an industry analyst covering collaboration practices, software, and markets since 1999, with the exception of a four year stint as a collaboration consultant at IBM, during which my expertise and opinions were available only to teammates and clients. I returned to a more public analyst role in March 2009 and have been working diligently since then to re-establish the visibility of my thoughts on collaboration, as well as my personal reputation and client base.

In the last three weeks I have received two signs that the hard work is paying off and that I am on the right track. First, I was recognized as one of 21 influential bloggers in an Enterprise 2.0 All-Star Blogger Roster, compiled by Mark Fidelman, VP Sales at MindTouch. While there were several others that I would have suspected to be more influential than me, I was honored to see my name alongside those that were included. I am fortunate to find myself in good company and pleased to be recognized as a thought leader on the topic of Enterprise 2.0.

The second sign that I am making progress toward my personal goals was my inclusion in the Top 50 on the Technobabble 2.0 list of Top Analyst Tweeters. Technobabble 2.0 took the SageCircle Analyst Twitter Directory, which includes the names of over 750 registered analysts, and ran it through a ranking tool established by Edelman called TweetLevel. The tool’s underlying algorithm assigns scores for Influence, Popularity, Engagement, and Trust — all key ingredients for success as an industry analyst. I was ranked as the 48th most influential analyst and received a higher score for Engagement than nine out of the top ten analysts. What makes this so meaningful to me is the comprehensiveness of this list, not only in terms of the number of analysts covered, but also in the breadth of areas of specialization represented. To be ranked that highly among this broad set of peers is an accomplishment of which I am very proud.

I do not intend to rest on my laurels after receiving this recognition. Instead, I will use the inclusion on these lists as a benchmark from which I can set new goals and raise my performance as an industry analyst. There is definitely room for improvement in terms of Influence and, especially, Trust, which is the one attribute that matters most to me. If my readers and clients trust me, then I will be able to influence them in a positive manner. Trust is built by repeated engagement with readers and followers that provides them with valuable, unique insights about collaboration, enterprise social software, and content management. Some of my related goals for 2010 are to increase the number of people who regularly read my analysis and to more actively engage in open discussions with them. By doing that, I will earn their trust and the privilege of helping them.

I congratulate all my peers that were included in one or both of these lists. These analysts — mostly working at small firms, or as sole practitioners — have demonstrated that blogging, tweeting, and other Web-based forms of self expression can influence the producers and buyers that comprise software markets. The power of larger analyst firms that charge customers high prices for subscriptions to research, or purchases of individual reports, has been eroded by free (or low-cost), Web-based content channels. Market information should be available to everyone, not just those that can afford it. I am glad that my work, and that of my peers, is helping to make it so.

Enterprise 2.0 Adoption Interview

The holidays are a busy time, especially the last week of December. Many of us take vacation that week, so it highly possible that you missed an interview that was published on December 30th.

Mark Fidelman, VP of Sales at Mindtouch, asked me earlier in the month if I would be willing to be interviewed by him on the topic of Enterprise 2.0 adoption. I said ‘yes’, of course, and we proceeded to conduct the interview by email.

Mark asked a dozen questions, so he decided to publish the interview in two installments. Part 1 was published on Mark’s blog, Seek Omega, on December 30th. It has also been published on the MindTouch blog and on CloudAve. The second installment of the interview will also appear on those sites, most likely next week.

I am grateful to Mark for this opportunity to share my views on Enterprise 2.0. More importantly, I hope that these interviews provide you with the kind of insight that you need to make decisions and take action. Please leave questions an comments on any of the sites at which the interview was posted. Alternatively, you may contact me at by email or on Twitter for elaboration on, or clarification of, any of the statements that I made in the interview.

On a related note, I have proposed to present a session on the Emergent Adoption Model at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston this June. If you are interested in hearing more about Enterprise 2.0 adoption and plan to attend the event, please vote for my session proposal on the conference website (site registration required.) Thanks!

The Wiki Turns 14

14th-birthday-cakeYesterday was the 14th anniversary of the wiki’s inception.  The wiki format is a staple of the enterprise social software arsenal.  I wrote about why the wiki has been so successful and what that can teach us about designing collaboration systems over at the Gilbane Group Blog.  Please read the post there and leave a comment.

Echoing the Business Case for Enterprise Social Software

Socialtext’s Ross Mayfield blogged today about the ROI of Social Networking for TransUnion.  In spite of the title, the real news in the post is not the amount of ROI, which, in the case of TransUnion’s Socialtext deployment, has only been estimated, not proven.  Rather, the most powerful messages are echoes of two ideas that were expressed in my last post on this blog.

First, organizations are wary of employees using public social software to discuss business.  Companies are deploying enterprise social software to keep confidential information behind the firewall.  In Mayfield’s post, TransUnion CTO John Parkinson said he saw the need “to defend against too much of this [employee social networking] going on in public.”  Mayfield further underscores Parkinson’s mindset by writing,

“Since the company deals in credit reports, it wasn’t keen on employees gathering to talk shop on the public Web. So the IT team set up Socialtext inside the company firewall.”

Clearly, corporations view the use of public social software as a risk to the confidentiality of their business information.  I think we will see many more examples of this risk avoidance behavior in the future, and it may end up being the most compelling business case for deploying enterprise social software in the near term.

The second bit in Mayfield’s blog that echoes my previous post is the other reason TransUnion bought and deployed Socialtext software.  According to Mayfield, TransUnion’s ROI estimate is based on cost savings of avoided additional software purchases.  Fine, but what were those purchases (and the Socialtext investment as well) intended to do?  Provide new tools to help employees work around existing ones that didn’t allow them to perform productively!

“TransUnion knew it was time to provide an internal social networking tool when people started asking for permission to set up an employee group inside Facebook.”

Why did these employees want a Facebook group?  I do not know for sure, but I am confident that it was because Facebook would allow them to achieve a business objective that they could not meet using existing TransUnion applications and systems.  Bravo to Socialtext for providing a solution that will likely meet those employees’ needs in a more secure fashion.

This TransUnion example affirms what I stated in my previous post.  The real value employees gain by using enterprise social software is shown in their ability to get work done when other corporate systems fail them.