Archive for August, 2008

ROI for Social Computing


I made a presentation recently in Sydney to local government on intranets and how I think they’re dead.

Around 10 years ago, we held great hopes for our intranets. For our investment [1] we expected the technology would deliver cost savings, working efficiencies, collaboration and best-practice knowledge management. By 1998, we’d spent about $10.9 billion USD [2] on corporate intranets, yet our ideals about collaboration remained relatively unrealised with COIs ignoring the strategic value and assuming that an intranet’s only purpose was to serve as an information repository. After spending billions of dollars we’d received little more than an electronic filing cabinet.

Part of the failure to realise the value of intranets was our misplaced trust that the newly emerging web technology would somehow deliver something that is essentially a people process, because collaboration and knowledge management is about people, not technology. The other failure is in our management practices and a missunderstanding about how people work — that information is somehow a product, a Word document for example, that, like an engine in a car factory, is produced by the end of a hard days work.


There’s no return on investment to be had in this paradigm. As my AppGap colleague Jon Husband writes in his article The Design of Knowledge Work, it reflects a very Tayloristic view of the world, where efficiency is to be had by motivating workers to behave in more efficient ways, rather than to think smarter. Certainly, you can offer better tools like large intranet repositories with a wealth of information inside, but the synthesis of information into knowledge is a difficult task when the person who created a piece of information, or a similarly empowered individual, is not there to help you know where to look, understand what you find, and then assimilate it.

The truth of most modern work is that we analyse data and information and reach out to our networks in order to gain access to knowledge. We collaborate on ideas and then have a burst of work that reflects the sharing of ideas. And, of course, once we have produced something, we then tend to socialise it again within our networks in order to refine the ideas we’ve produced. This is knowledge work in action and people are at the centre of it.


Of course, when I say collaborate I mean individuals engage in a range of activities, from using the telephone or meeting face-to-face, to using Twitter or engaging others through blogs, in order to reach out to people (not technology like traditional intranets), in order to socialise ideas, create new thinking, help refine old ideas and make them better.


This is where modern organisations find their investment in social computing tools is paying off. Tools, like Twitter, give employees instant access to their trusted network of colleagues, friends and experts. Blogs allow people to have access to other people’s thoughts in a storytelling style that communicates in a much more personal and effective way than a clinical report ever can. And then, of course, individuals can comment and ask the author a direct question and have a discussion that leads into the use of other social computing tools.

Its this access to people that the investment in social computing tools brings. When considering closing down the walls to applications like Facebook or Twitter, consider the impact on workers inability to access the experts in their professional networks. When considering bringing social computing tools into the organisation look at how they will support and strengthen communication within your internal communities of practice. This is the ROI for social computing and when used as part of an array of tools that help connect people, facilitate communication and collaboration, then it can rejuvenate your intranet and make it live!


- – - -

1. Melcrum Internet Survey (2001)

2. Computerworld (1999) $10.9 billion spent on intranets. International Data Corp Briefs, 42, 26 July.

Notable + Quotable: Enterprise 2.0, Cloud services unreliability, Politicians on technology


Enterprise 2.0 as part of a larger theme
In light of the McKinsey report which showed that many companies were dissatisfied with Enterprise 2.0 implementations, Eric Norlin of Defrag gives his view on the role of technology in solving persistent issues: “So, let me answer the question: Is enterprise 2.0 b*llsh*t? In a word: ‘no.’ However, I do get the sense (and this is all just gut) that the ‘enterprise 2.0 movement’ is about to enter the often hard and trudging ‘trough of disillusionment’ that Gartner made famous… Why then, am I so ready to say that enterprise 2.0 is *not* just bunk? Because I believe that it is actually just one piece of a much, much, much larger puzzle.”

Prof tweets about course, ends up moving whole class online
On Ars Technica, John Timmer talks about Professor Dave Parry’s successful experiment using Twitter for the class discussions of his graduate students: “As more of the student population gets access to broadband connections, faculty at major universities are exploring how rich media and online interactivity can enhance, supplement, and even replace the classroom experience.”

You Call That Broadband? Group Decries Plodding Pace of US Net Speed
The latest data show the US lagging behind other industrialized nations in terms of broadband growth. TechNewsWorld’s Walaika Haskins reports on one of its most vocal critics, the Communications Workers of America labor union: “Broadband speeds have barely nudged over the past year, and they remain a mere fraction of those found in other developed countries. The group says slow Internet connections hinder the growth of new technologies like telemedicine.”

Study: Fastest Growing US Companies Rapidly Adopting Social Media
Marshall Kirkpatrick presents new research, this time from the University of Massachusetts, that affirms social media is on the rise. “A one year follow up on a study of social media adoption at 500 of the fastest growing companies in the US has found that familiarity with and use of blogs, podcasting, wikis, online video and social networking has skyrocketed in 2008 to nearly double what it was in 2007.”

Storms in the cloud leave users up creek without a paddle
After numerous cloud services crashed in the last few weeks, Peter Bright of Ars Technica mulled their impact on customer perception: “The appeal of these services is obvious—they should be a reliable, scalable, cost-effective resource you can access from anywhere. But the recent disruptions show some of the risks of online services. What do you do when they go down?”

If You Love Your Data, Set It Free
In this podcast on TechNewsWorld, Dana Gardner interviews several leading players in the data services industry. “In the past, data was structured, secure and tightly controlled. The bad news is that the data was limited by the firewall of personnel, technologies and process rigidity. Today, however, the demand is for just-in-time and inclusive data, moving away from a monolithic data system mentality to multiple sources of data that provide real-time inferences on consumers, activities, events, and transactions.”

What happens when a Web 2.0 site dies?
Vongo’s dead. Now, John Brandon of Computer World ponders about consumer rights when companies holding their data go bust. “If you read the terms of service closely at most sites, you’ll find that – in most cases – your data is protected in terms of privacy but not necessarily from loss or damage. There is no service level agreement, and no contract that says the company must retain your data if they close up shop. In fact, as it relates to data protection, there is really no guarantee whatsoever, and you are on your own for back-ups.”

Barack Obama Overtakes Kevin Rose On Twitter
Just how important is social media in public relations today? TechCrunch’s Erick Scholfeld tracks Obama’s tech-savvy campaign strategy. “Up until last night, the person with the most followers on the micro-messaging service was Digg founder and Web celeb Kevin Rose, with 56,482 other people following his every public mind burp. It took none other than Barack Obama (or, rather, Obama’s campaign machine) to take the Twitter crown away from Rose. Obama can now finally stand tall knowing that 56,791 people subscribe to his campaign Tweets.”

McCain tech policy: crack down on piracy, fix patent mess
He may be candid about his aversion to computers, but if he becomes president, he still needs to craft a credible technology policy. Can McCain do it? Ryan Paul from Ars Technica examines the Republican senator’s position on various issues. “Presidential candidate John McCain has issued a policy statement that provides details of his position on a wide range of issues that relate to technology. Like most political statements from members of both major parties, it is heavy on promises and light on specific solutions.”

WordPress Being Used by U.S. Government Agencies


WordPressWordPress, the open-source publishing application, has become a tour de force in the world of small businesses.

With 11 million downloads of the software in 2008 alone, it has enabled millions (probably) of small businesses and entrepreneurs to set up blogs. Beyond that, it now is even being used to build small business websites.

Not only that, but WordPress has spawned a cottage industry of Web developers, template designers, content mavens, SEO specialists and others who specialize in helping companies set up and operate their WordPress sites.

If you were to compile a list of Web-based applications that have empowered small businesses and changed the way entrepreneurs reach out to the world, WordPress would rank right up there in the top 10.

But let’s not forget that large corporations and organizations are using WordPress.

So in a way, it didn’t come as much of a surprise to see the list of U.S. government agencies using WordPress, as revealed at the recent WordCamp 2008 event.

The list of government agencies includes the U.S. Army, the Marines, and even the CIA.

The CIA????

Yep, that’s what the list reported by Mark Jaquith says. Oh, and the FBI and the NSA are on there too.

Be sure, also, to read the comments on Mark’s post where one person suggests a few marketing slogans, including:

“WordPress, secure enough for the NSA”


“WordPress, intelligent enough for the CIA”

Future Prospects: Web 3.0, Part 2


Last week I touched on the topic of the future of the Web – today, a few more prognostications from prominent players in the field. In a recent guest post over at TechCrunch,’s CEO Marc Benioff talked about his vision of Web 3.0. In a nutshell, it’s a vote of confidence for a paradigm shift from Software-as-a-Service to Platform-as-a-Service.

“The new rallying cry of Web 3.0 is that anyone can innovate, anywhere. Code is written, collaborated on, debugged, tested, deployed, and run in the cloud. When innovation is untethered from the time and capital constraints of infrastructure, it can truly flourish.”

Sounds good, especially for developers. However, to put it all in perspective, platform-as-a-service is exactly where his company,, is heading. There’s a fine line between prediction and self-promotion, so it’s best to take his views with a few grains of salt. Tim O’Reilly left his own comment on Marc’s post:

“Hmm — if web 1.0 was the web as content, and web 2.0 was the web as platform, how exactly does web as platform count as web 3.0? When people ask me what might qualify for the 3.0 monicker (assuming you want to go there – Web 2.0 was a moment in time, a way of saying “the web ain’t dead” after the dot com bust, not a version number), I say the one thing that might qualify is the rise of cloud applications that are primarily experienced on (and driven by) mobile interfaces.”

Lastly, Jason Calacanis of Mahalo came up with his own take:

“Web 3.0 is defined as the creation of high-quality content and services produced by gifted individuals using Web 2.0 technology as an enabling platform.”

Think Digg or YouTube with censors to snuff out “low-quality” content – a clash of values and aesthetics. It’s not surprising that the founder of a human-powered search engine would look at Web 3.0 as people-driven instead of technology-driven. What we see is often what we want to see. As with Bill Gates, history will either vindicate him, or…

After O’Reilly’s vision of “Web 2.0″ spread like wild fire, I suppose it’s inevitable that people would begin to speculate about what would come next: Web 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, and so on, ad infinitum (or ad nauseam?). Whether you view it as a purely marketing term or as a useful label for the zeitgeist, it seems these catchphrases are here to stay, for better or for worse. That is, until we can improve on the terminology (and please let it be sooner rather than later). Ideas, anyone?

eXpresso Takes Excel to the Web and Provides Collaboration Capabilities


Here is an application to take a desktop productivity tool to the web for increased access and to facilitate collaboration. eXpresso allows users of Microsoft Excel® to upload, distribute and collaborate in real-time on Excel files via the Internet. They have won awards from PCWorld and InforWorld. eXpresso users can not only access their Excel spreadsheets from any PC with an Internet Explorer Web browser, but also authorize others to view or edit the same spreadsheets as needed.

They now have an eXpresso Pro version that contains the following additional features on top of the regular free eXpresso. The free version will remain available for those who only need the current features. This Pro version has more enterprise friendly features is available on a subscription basis if you do not want ads.

Unlimited Spreadsheet Hosting: Users can maintain any number of spreadsheet files online (eXpresso Basic users are limited to five online spreadsheets).

Cell Tracking and Audits: Using the “Track Cells” feature, spreadsheet owners are notified when changes are made, who made the changes, when they were made, and what the pre- and post-change data values are. A complete, auditable history of changes is also maintained for compliance purposes.

Rollback to Previous Versions: Enables fast recovery or reference to prior iterations.

eXpresso Plug-in for Excel: Gives users offline access to their online spreadsheets from within Excel, including eXpresso’s collaborative and sharing benefits.

Real-time and Archived Chat: eXpresso’s chat feature allows users to chat in real time from within eXpresso, with all messages archived and associated to the spreadsheet.

Assign Editable Cell Regions: Spreadsheet owners can assign specific “rights” to designated users including “view only”, “edit”, “copy” and “download”, and change rights at any time.

I like the addition of collaboration features such as chat to the application. Here is a way to continue using your current tool and have some web and collaboration capabilities. It is an alternative to those enterprise 2.0 applications that offer spreadsheet capabilities or integrate with Excel.

NY Times Article: $650B loss in productivity due to social tools


In June, the New York Times reported on the emergence of a new organization dedicated to understanding information overload, the Information Overload Research Group (IORG)*. The context of the article referenced Basex research indicating an annual loss to in the United States of $650B per year in lowered productivity and hampered innovation. Colleague Celine Roque referenced an article that referenced this article. ) More highlights from the research and IORG’s conference last month, are posted at Technotherapy, including:

  • 28% of a worker’s time is spent dealing with interruptions that are neither urgent nor important
  • 12% of the average worker’s time is spent thinking or reflecting

Lately as I have talked with non-techie family about my work, I’ve described Twitter and FB and how they work. The typical reaction is, “sounds like you can waste a lot of time doing that.” Yes, I say, but … and list all the benefits of keeping in touch, peripheral awareness, etc. (via Valdis Krebs: a great list of benefits and resources in Twitter for Librarians: The Ultimate Guide), but they remain mostly unconvinced.

What I find interesting is that the Basex study (released last December) and information currently available on the IORG website primarily address the email and instant messaging problem. As we past the digital divide represented by the emergence of Gen Y, we will want to understand better whether Facebook/MySpace, Twitter, and reading RSS feeds are performance enhancers or inhibitors. And of course the world has changed since last year.

This upcoming, social, generation may be more relational and capable of leveraging the knowledge, talent, and context of others than any before (but I often wonder whether they will even be capable of reflective thinking, even for 12% of their time, and also whether it matters). Look for a future blog post on this.

One of the Basex survey’s findings was that a significant source of time loss was the time that takes people to recover from an interruption and get back to work. Google Labs has reputably been working on the Email Addict application that lets Gmail users remind themselves to take a break. For MAC users, there is the more profoundly named Freedom, which shuts down your system completely so that you have to go to extra trouble to reboot and satisfy those cravings for connectivity. (Thanks to Dave Weinberger for the tip about Freedom.)

While writing this entry, I let myself be distracted by emails about seven times. I also checked Twitter, Facebook, and Bloglines (wherein I found that Valdis has shared a nice free for listening album by Brian Eno and David Byrne, which made a nice soundtrack for my attention deficit), made a doctor’s appointment, checked snail mail, and listened in on my husband’s call to wish our niece a happy birthday. Sigh.

*on 8/20, Jonathan Spira posted notes from the IORG’s first conference. There is much good detail.

If Your App Were an Employee


Kathy Sierra, author of the Head First books through O’Reilly, used to write a blog until something bad happened (a stalker?).

Anyway, her blog is still up and I happened upon it recently. One of her posts from 2007 is simply fabulous for any company that designs software apps — or for any company choosing software apps to use.

Through a series of funny graphics she compares software apps to employee types. In other words, if your app were an employee, what type would it be?

Here is a sample of one of the 8 “app types”:

If your app were an employee

In the comments to her post other people join in and suggest additional app, er… employee, types.

It’s a fun and memorable way to take a look at an app to see how well — or poorly — designed it is and how it appears to the user. Her post should be required reading for product managers, software programmers, QA staff — and project managers evaluating new software purchases.  (And maybe for some employees you know.)

Read Kathy Sierra’s post about if apps were employees — warning: some of the language and graphics are “irreverent”.

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