Tag Archives: Twitter

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?

Why I Am Ignoring Google Buzz

Note: This post is purely personal opinion based on my preferences and work style. If your are looking for an analysis of Google Buzz based on methodical primary research, abort now.

I have heard many people say that their email inbox is the mother of all social networks. For me, however, email is  the antithesis of a well-built, functioning social network, because it is a communication channel, not a collaboration enabler.

I value my social networks because I can work with members of those communities to get things done. When I worked at IBM, a very large company, my email inbox was more of a proxy for the organizational hierarchy than an instantiation of my social graph. Too much of my email activity was about low value (or value-less) communications and interactions imposed by command and control culture and systems. When I needed to communicate something up or down IBM’s or a project’s chain of command, I used email. When I needed to get something done, I contacted collaborators on Sametime (IBM’s instant messaging product), the phone, or BlueTwit (IBM’s internal-only, experimental microblogging system). In short, the contacts in my large corporation email address book were more reflective of the organizational structure than of my collaborative networks.

That is precisely why Google Buzz is a non-starter for me. The Google Contact list on which it is based does not represent my collaborative network, on which I rely to get work done. Very few of the people with whom I collaborate are represented, because I don’t interact with them via email. At least not often. A quick analysis of my Google Contacts list shows that Google Voice usage contributes more actionable, valuable additions to the list than does Gmail. My Gmail inbox is filled with communications, not action items, and most of them are low-value messages from application and service vendors whose tools I have downloaded or use online.

Google’s design of Buzz demonstrates ignorance of (or disregard for?) the reality that many social interactions happen outside of email. Had I wanted to use my Google Contacts list as a social network, I would have imported it into FriendFeed months ago. Strike One.

I just mentioned FriendFeed, which was my primary social network aggregator for several months. One of the reasons I backed away from heavy usage of FriendFeed was because it became little more than another interface to the Twitter stream. Yes, it is easy to inject updates from other sources into the FriendFeed flow, but, in reality, the vast majority of updates cam from Twitter (and still do.)

I see the same thing happening with Buzz. Too many people have linked their Twitter accounts, so that everything they tweet is duplicated in Buzz. And Buzz doesn’t allow for integration of the vast number of information resources that FriendFeed does. Talk about low-value. Strike Two.

I have not taken enough swings at Google Buzz yet to have recorded Strike Three. So, for now, I have not turned Buzz off. However, I am ignoring it and will not experiment again until Google provides integration with more external social networks.

In the meanwhile, I am still looking for a social tool that blends contacts and information streams from many sources, but lets me filter the flow by one or more sources, as desired. That would allow me to work both formal organizational and informal social networks from the same tool. Gist is promising in that regard, but needs to be able to capture information from more sources with corresponding filters. Hopefully, someone will read this post and either point me to an existing solution or build it. Until then, I will have to continue using multiple tools to communicate and collaborate.

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!

Observations from Gilbane Boston 2009

The 2009 version of the Gilbane Boston conference was held last week. It was the second one I have attended and my first as a track coordinator (I designed the Collaboration and Social Software track and made it happen.) The event was well attended (c. 1100 people) and the number of sponsors and exhibitors was up significantly from last year’s Boston conference. Many of the sessions I attended offered valuable insights from speakers and audience members. All in all, I would label the conference a success.

The Collaboration and Social Software track sessions were designed to minimize formal presentation time and encourage open discussion between panelists and audience members instead. Each session focused on either a common collaboration challenge (collaborative content authoring, content sharing, fostering discussions, managing innovation) or on a specific technology offering (Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Google Wave.) The sessions that dealt with specific technologies produced more active discussion than those that probed general collaboration issues. I am not sure why that was the case, but the SharePoint and Wave sessions spawned the level of interactivity that I had hoped for in all the panels. The audience seemed a bit reticent to join in the others. Perhaps it took them a while to warm up (the SharePoint and Wave sessions were at the end of the track.)

Here are some other, high level observations from the entire Gilbane Boston 2009 conference:

Twitter: Last year (and at Gilbane San Francisco in June 2009) attendees were buzzing about Twitter, wondering what it was and how it could be used in a corporate setting. This year the word “Twitter” was hardly uttered at all, by presenters or attendees. Most audience members seemed to be fixated on their laptop or smartphone during the conference sessions, but the related tweet stream flow was light compared to other events I’ve attended this quarter. The online participation level of folks interested in content management seems to mirror their carbon form patterns. Most are content to listen and watch, while only a few ask questions or make comments. That is true across all audiences, of course, but it seemed especially pronounced at Gilbane Boston.

SharePoint 2010: This topic replaced Twitter as the ubiquitous term at Gilbane Boston. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “SharePoint” at the conference, I would be able to buy a significant stake in Microsoft! Every company I consulted with during the event was seeking to make SharePoint either their primary content management and collaboration platform, or a more important element in their technology mix. Expectations for what will be possible with SharePoint 2010 are very high. If Microsoft can deliver on their vision, they will gain tremendous share in the market; if not, SharePoint may well have seen its zenith. Everything that I have heard and seen suggests the former will occur.

Google Wave: This fledgling technology also generated substantial buzz at Gilbane Boston. The session on Wave was very well attended, especially considering that it was the next-to-last breakout of the conference. An informal poll of the session audience indicated that nearly half have established a Wave account. However, when asked if they used Wave regularly, only about 20% of the registered users responded affirmatively;. Actual participation in the Wave that I created for attendees to take notes and discuss the Collaboration track online underscored the poll results. Most session attendees said they see the potential to collaborate differently, and more effectively and efficiently, in Wave, but cited many obstacles that were preventing them from doing so at this time. Audience members agree that the Wave user experience has a long way to go; functionality is missing and the user interface and features that are there are not easy to use. Most attendees thought Wave’s current shortcomings would be improved or eliminated entirely as they product matures. However, many also noted that collaboration norms within their organization would have to change before Wave is heavily adopted.

Open Source: This was the hot topic of the conference. Everyone was discussing open source content management and collaboration software. An informal poll of the audience at the opening keynote panel suggested that about 40% were using open source content management software. Many of the other attendees wanted to learn more about open source alternatives to the proprietary software they have been using. Clients that I met with asked questions about feature availability, ease of use, cost benefits, and financial viability of providers of open source content management and collaboration software. It was clear that open source is now considered a viable, and perhaps desirable, option by most organizations purchasing enterprise software.

My big take-away from Gilbane Boston 2009 is that we are experiencing an inflection point in the markets for enterprise content management and collaboration software. Monolithic, rigid, proprietary solutions are falling out of favor and interest in more lightweight, flexible, social, open source offerings is rapidly growing. I expect that this trend will continue to manifest itself at Gilbane San Francisco in June 2010, and beyond.

The Migration of (Social) Species

MigratingWildebeestHerd

There has been much interest in, and discussion of, a report written by a 15 year old Morgan Stanley intern regarding the perceived lack of Twitter usage by teens. I saw a link on Twitter to an article about this topic first thing Monday morning, and it grabbed my attention for three reasons:

  1. I have a 15 year old son who doesn’t twitter (nor do his friends)
  2. the topic came up and was discussed in an unconference session at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference last month
  3. I had a discussion on this topic even more recently with some peers from the knowledge management community

After casually researching and thinking more about the topic, it is clear that there is evidence supporting the notion that teens have not embraced Twitter. To wit:

However, there is other evidence that suggests that teens are beginning to use Twitter, but, perhaps, more slowly and differently than older users. Here are a couple of examples:

Either way, too many pundits are making sweeping generalizations about age and technology usage. I am not a firm believer in generational technology usage patterns, such as Gen Y is more likely to use social software than Baby Boomers, because I do not fit neatly into the pattern associated with my generation by advocates of those demographic patterns. I am a Boomer, but my online behavior is much more in sync with the Gen Y profile, if you buy into the common wisdom regarding generational differences.

So rather than continuing to look for root causes of generational differences in Twitter uptake, I decided to seek a common theme that cuts across the age demographic.  Here is what I found:

People register for, and use, the social networking service on which the most members of the their community/tribe/clique are located. They will continue to use that service, and disregard others, until the privacy of their group is compromised or the tribal signal begins to be drowned out by irrelevant noise. When either of those disruptions occurs, leaders of the group will migrate to a smaller (and usually newer) social networking service and the other members will eventually follow, abandoning the previously used service.

Evidence suggests that teens have lost the privacy that they enjoyed for so long on Facebook, now that their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents of close friends, teachers, coaches, and so on have begun to dominate the service:

  • “Then Facebook became necessary for university life and keeping in touch with high school friends, which eventually progressed to my siblings, some aunts, cousins, girls from my soccer team, and random people I met at a party.” (Source: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2009/06/11/twitter_is_for.html)
  • “Just when all the grown ups started figuring out Facebook, college and high school users have declined in absolute number by 20% and 15% respectively in a mere six months, according to estimates Facebook provides to advertisers that were archived for tracking by an outside firm. Facebook users aged 55 and over have skyrocketed from under 1 million to nearly six million in the same time period. There are more Facebook users over 55 years old today than there are high school students using the site.” (Source: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebooks_own_estimates_show_youth_flight_from_sit.php)

Other evidence indicates that the signal to noise ratio has deteriorated to the point where teens can no longer use Facebook for focused communication:

However, the migratory behavior displayed by teens leaving Facebook and moving to Twitter is not exclusive to their age group:

Others see a parallel between this migratory behavior and the way terrorists and other activist groups use collaboration and communication tools:

  • “Twitter has also become a social activism tool for socialists, human rights groups, communists, vegetarians, anarchists, religious communities, atheists, political enthusiasts, hacktivists and others to communicate with each other and to send messages to broader audiences.” (Source: Page 8 of http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/mobile.pdf)
  • “Oddly enough, this is quite similar to the way many (self-described) jihadists use Twitter. They make protected accounts & sub-accounts in mini-circles. Many don’t trust Twitter that much, and still use IM heavily, changing accounts frequently.” (Source: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2009/06/11/twitter_is_for.html).

In nature, herds of animals, flocks of birds, and schools of fish migrate from one habitat to another when certain specific conditions signal that it is time to move on. People appear to be no different, at least when it comes to social networking services. Age has little, if anything at all, to do with migratory behavior, whether the moving species is human, animal, bird, or fish.

Photo Credit: Angelo Juan Ramos (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wandering_angel/)

Assessment of My Enterprise 2.0 Conference Predictions

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference was held last week, in Boston. Prior to the event, I made some predictions as to expected learnings and outcomes from the conference. Today, I will revisit those prognostications to determine their accuracy.

Here is the original list of things that I anticipated encountering at the E2.0 Conference this year. Each prediction is followed by an assessment of the statement’s validity and some explanatory comments:

A few more case studies from end user organizations, but not enough to indicate that we’ve reached a tipping point in the E2.0 market: TRUE The number of case studies presented this year seemed to be roughly the same as last year. That is to say very few. The best one that I heard was a presentation by Lockheed Martin employees, which was an update to their case study presented last year at E2.0 Conference. It was great to hear the progress they had made and the issues with which they have dealt in the last year. However, I was genuinely disappointed by the absence of fresh case studies. Indeed, the lack of new case studies was the number one conference content complaint heard during the event wrap-up session (indeed, throughout the show.)

An acknowledgement that there are still not enough data and case studies to allow us to identify best practices in social software usage:
TRUE This turned out to be a huge understatement. There are not even enough publicly available data points and stories to allow us to form a sense of where the Enterprise 2.0 market is in terms of adoption, much less of best practices or common success factors. At this rate, it will be another 12-18 months before we can begin to understand which companies have deployed social software and at what scale, as well as what works and what doesn’t when implementing an E2.0 project.

That entrenched organizational culture remains the single largest obstacle to businesses trying to deploy social software:
TRUE The “C” word popped up in every session I attended and usually was heard multiple times per session. The question debated at the conference was a chicken and egg one; must culture change to support adoption of E2.0 practices and tools, or is E2.0 a transformational force capable of reshaping an organization’s culture and behaviors? That question remains unanswered, in part because of the lack of E2.0 case studies. However, historical data and observations on enterprise adoption of previous generations of collaboration technologies tell us that leadership must be willing to change the fundamental values, attitudes, and behaviors of the organization in order to improve collaboration. Grassroots evangelism for, and usage of, collaboration tools is not powerful enough to drive lasting cultural change in the face of resistance from leadership.

A nascent understanding that E2.0 projects must touch specific, cross-organizational business processes in order to drive transformation and provide benefit: TRUE I was very pleased to hear users, vendors, and analysts/consultants singing from the same page in this regard. Everyone I heard at E2.0 Conference understood that it would be difficult to realize and demonstrate benefits from E2.0 initiatives that did not address specific business processes spanning organizational boundaries. The E2.0 movement seems to have moved from speaking about benefits in general, soft terms to groping for how to demonstrate process-based ROI (more on this below.)

A growing realization that the E2.0 adoption will not accelerate meaningfully until more conservative organizations hear and see how other companies have achieved specific business results and return on investment: TRUE Conference attendees were confounded by two related issues; the lack of demonstrative case studies and the absence of a clear, currency-based business case for E2.0 initiatives. More conservative organizations won’t move ahead with E2.0 initiatives until they can see at least one of those things and some will demand both. People from end user organizations attending the conference admitted as much both publicly and privately.

A new awareness that social software and its implementations must include user, process, and tool analytics if we are ever to build a ROI case that is stated in terms of currency, not anecdotes:
TRUE Interestingly, the E2.0 software vendors are leading this charge, not their customers. A surprising number of vendors were talking about analytics in meetings and briefings I had at the conference, and many were announcing the current or future addition of those capabilities to their offerings at the show. E2.0 software is increasingly enabling organizations to measure the kinds of metrics that will allow them to build a currency-based business case following a pilot implementation. Even better, some vendors are mining their products’ new analytics capabilities to recommend relevant people and content to system users!

That more software vendors that have entered the E2.0 market, attracted by the size of the business opportunity around social software:
TRUE I haven’t counted and compared the number of vendors in Gartner’s E2.0 Magic Quadrant from last year and this year, but I can definitely tell you that the number of vendors in this market has increased. This could be the subject of another blog post, and I won’t go into great detail here. There are a few new entrants that are offering E2.0 suites or platforms (most notably Open Text). Additionally, the entrenchment of SharePoint 2007 in the market has spawned many small startup vendors adding social capabilities on top of SharePoint. The proliferation of these vendors underscores the current state of dissatisfaction with SharePoint 2007 as an E2.0 platform. It also foreshadows a large market shakeout that will likely occur when Microsoft releases SharePoint 2010.

A poor opinion of, and potentially some backlash against, Microsoft SharePoint as the foundation of an E2.0 solution; this will be tempered, however, by a belief that SharePoint 2010 will be a game changer and upset the current dynamics of the social software market:
TRUE Yes, there are many SharePoint critics out there and they tend to be more vocal than those who are satisfied with their SharePoint deployment. The anti-SharePoint t-shirts given away by Box.net at the conference sum up the attitude very well. Yet most critics seem to realize that the next release of SharePoint will address many of their current complaints. I heard more than one E2.0 conference attendee speculate on the ability of the startup vendors in the SharePoint ecosystem to survive when Microsoft releases SharePoint 2010.

An absence of understanding that social interactions are content-centric and, therefore, that user generated content must be managed in much the same manner as more formal documents:
FALSE Happily, I was wrong on this one. There was much discussion about user generated content at the conference, as well as talk about potential compliance issues surrounding E2.0 software. It seems that awareness of the importance of content in social systems is quite high among vendors and early adopters. The next step will be to translate that awareness into content management features and processes. That work has begun and should accelerate, judging by what I heard and saw at the conference.

So there are the results. I batted .888! If you attended the conference, I’d appreciate your comments on my perceptions of the event. Did you hear and see the same things, or did the intense after hours drinking and major sleep deficit of last week cause me to hallucinate? I’d appreciate your comments even if you weren’t able to be at E2.0 Conference, but have been following the market with some regularity.

I hope this post has given you a decent sense of the current state of the Enterprise 2.0 market. More importantly, I believe that this information can help us focus our efforts to drive the E2.0 movement forward in the coming year. We can and should work together to best these challenges and make the most of these opportunities.