Archive for the ‘Social Networking’ Category

Challenges of Social Computing in the Enterprise

I read this report from GigaOM and it got me thinking about the challenges of trying to create a successful Facebook-like environment in the enterprise.

Challenge #1: Smaller community. Facebook has over 400 million active users. Your company will have thousands. You can assume that only a portion of those will be active contributors, and that within that smaller group, those people will be split into smaller communities of interest. This leads to a trickle of information flow, which isn’t going to keep people coming back. Even within Facebook, I wonder how many users are just playing games, versus having interactions with friends. The Facebook statistics page does not provide this information. This is important because…

Challenge #2: Enterprise apps do not exist as part of the social platform, and there will be a long migration for existing companies before that changes. If anything, the trend today is to put social networking features into the app, rather than building the app within a social networking platform. That’s not a surprise, as what platform would you choose?

Challenge #3: The browser dominates the deployment model. I try not to generalize my personal preferences, but if I am going to interact with something on a regular basis, it needs real estate on my desktop. That’s why I use Seesmic Desktop for Twitter/Facebook messaging. It’s always open. A browser takes up too much real estate, so eventually that page is out of sight, and out of mind. I think a push model is the only way to go to be successful.

Challenge #4: The enterprise does not have a culture of sharing. I don’t know the root cause of this, but in general, I have found that most enterprises only share information when it is required to get a task done. Rather than seeking out interested parties, information owners sit back and wait for information seekers to come to them. This results in a lot of wasted time and effort in finding out those information owners. In general, I think there are way too many barriers that prevent information sharing, whether due to corporate culture, legal and regulatory environments, internal politics, or many other reasons.

So what do we do? You’ll have to read my next post where I will try to ofer some suggestions for addressing each of these.

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Choose Your Social Computing Strategy Wisely

This article had an interesting interview with Tim Walters, an Information and Knowledge Management analyst with Forrester. In it, he emphasizes the role of Social Computing. He’s certainly not the first one to do this, but his comments caused me to think a little harder about this. I like Social Computing, and I have certainly been an active participant in the technology area via this blog and Twitter. I have also leveraged my web site, Facebook, and other resources for more personal community sharing. At the same time, i consider myself the exception rather than the norm. So, when analysts are talking about the need for companies to leverage social computing technologies more prominently, I wonder whether this is playing to a very small market segment.

If you are an information management company/content provider, how many of your customers want to participate in a community around your information/content, and how many just want to continue to be consumers? I think the tools have enabled people who wanted to participate all along to be able to do so, but have the tools converted people who otherwise would not have participated? I don’t know. What I have tended to see are a few people (like me) who love to be an active participant, a few people who love to comment/critique, but never offer original content of their own, and then the other 80% of the people who passively consume, if even at all. If we start forcing content into a more conversational, interactive setting, especially when that content needs to used for business purposes, are we going to make it more difficult to use for the 80% mass market?

The end result is that online communities and social computing technology, like anything else, must make business sense. They can’t be approached blindly. It can be a very powerful tool, but it can also be a very distracting one if it takes away from your core focus.

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Is Facebook The Consumer Cloud?

With the announcement of docs.com on Wednesday from Microsoft, it got me thinking about what I’ll call the consumer cloud. As my iPhone has become a critical device for me, and I expect my iPad 3G to do the same when it arrives on 4/30, I find myself longing for better use of the cloud for my information. The simplest example is the iTunes tether. I listen to quite a few podcasts, and I have a script set up every night on my MacBook Pro to download the latest podcasts and then sync my iPhone, so they’re ready for my drive in to work in the morning. It’s a big problem when I travel, though, because the iPhone only knows about the podcasts that have episodes, and for feeds that don’t exist in iTunes, like my personal playlist for IT Conversations, I have no way of downloading new episodes without the tether to my MacBook. With my iPad on the way, I expect that the need for a cloud repository will grow even more. Some tools provide their own cloud-based storage, like Evernote. There are cloud repositories or syncing utilities like DropBox, MobileMe, and Box.Net, but so far, the integration with the content editing or viewing tools isn’t there, in my opinion. That’s especially surprising with MobileMe, at least for the iPhone.

These needs are what makes Microsoft’s announcement so interesting. Ironically, even Apple showed a hint of recognizing the power of Facebook in the recent “dog” iPhone ad. When they discussed sharing pictures in the commercial, they weren’t shared via MobileMe, they were shared via Facebook. If Facebook becomes the de facto place for sharing, does that make it the de facto cloud storage solution for the consumer segment? It arguably is already doing that for photos. My brief visit to docs.com emphasized Facebook’s role in access control more so than actually storing the documents, but at that point, Facebook is still the gatekeeper. With the enormous community that Facebook has, it will be interesting to see what happens to things like MobileMe. What is clear is that Facebook is in the driver’s seat, and everyone else is either chasing them or hopping aboard the Facebook bus.

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Socially enabled BPM

All content written by and copyrighted by Todd Biske. If you are reading this on a site other than my “Outside the Box” blog, it’s probably being republished without my permission. Please consider reading it at the source.

A succession of tweets between Forrester’s Gene Leganza and Clay Richardson along with Brenda Michelson of Elemental Links caught my attention this morning. At Forrester’s Enterprise Architecture Forum next week, Clay will be reviewing a few case studies for Social BPM. It’s too bad that I won’t be there, because this sounds very interesting.

I haven’t seen any definitions yet of what socially-enabled BPM is, so I thought I’d throw together my own thoughts. First off, let’s take two dominant social technology platforms, Facebook and Twitter. I’ve previously posted that an internal Facebook for the enterprise could be revolutionary for inter-company communication. I’ve also previously posted on the role of Twitter as an information bus. So, now combine the human-facing communication of either platform’s news/event stream, the application platform of Facebook, and toss in some process modeling, orchestration, and universal task management capabilities on top of it, and I do think you have socially-enabled BPM. What could be most compelling is if there’s a way to combine the communication features of the social technology platform for “ad hoc” processes with the more formally modeled and managed processes that are the strong suite of BPM platforms to get a better view (and hopefully better management) of the processes in the enterprise as a whole.

I look forward to hearing what others think about the case studies Clay will be presenting. This is definitely an emerging area where there are opportunities to lead the back and be revolutionary.

Update: Here’s two posts from Clay on the subject that he forwarded to me. It looks like my thinking is consistent with what he had previously written on the subject. The first is titled “Social Technologies Will Drive The Next Wave Of BPM Suites” and the second is titled “BPM Promises ‘Simplicity’ In 2010. Is This ‘Hope We Can Believe In’ Or Still A Pipe Dream?”.

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Tibbr and Information in the Enterprise

Back in March of this year, I asked “Is Twitter the cloud bus?” While we haven’t quite gone there yet, Tibco has run with the idea of Twitter as an enterprise messaging bus and announced Tibbr. This is a positive step toward the enterprise figuring out how to leverage social computing technologies in the enterprise. While I think Tibco is on the right track with this, my pragmatist nature also sees that there’s a long way to go before these technologies achieve mainstream adoption.

The biggest challenge is creating the robust information pool. Today, the biggest complaint of newcomers to Twitter is finding information of value. It’s like walking into the largest social gathering you’ve ever seen and not knowing anyone. You can walk around and see if you overhear someone discussing something interesting, but that can be a daunting task. Luckily, however, there are millions of topics being discussed at any given time, so with the help of a search engine or some trusted parties, you can easily begin to build the network. In the enterprise, it’s not quite so easy.

When looking at information sharing, here are two key questions to consider:

  • Are new people receiving information that they would not otherwise have seen, and are they contributing back to the conversation?
  • Are the conversation groups the same, but the information content improved in either its relevance, timeliness, quality, preservation, or robustness?

If the answer to both of those is “no”, then all you’ve done is create a new channel for an existing audience containing information that was already being shared between them. Your goals must be to enable one or more of the following:

  • Getting existing information to/from new parties
  • Getting new information to/from existing parties
  • Delivering more robust/higher quality information to/from existing parties
  • Delivering information in a more timely/appropriate manner to existing parties
  • Making information more accessible (e.g. search friendly)

The challenge in achieving these goals via social networking tools begins with information sources. If you are an organization with 10,000 employees, only a small percentage of those employees will be early adopters. Strictly for illustrative purposes, let’s use IT department size as a reasonable guess to the number of early adopters. In reality, a lot of people IT will jump on it, as will a smaller percentage of employees outside of IT. A large IT department for a 10,000 person company would be 5%, so we’re looking at 500 people participating on the social network. Can you see the challenge? Are these 500 people merely going to extend the conversations they’re having with the same old people, or is the content going to meet the above goals?

Now comes along Tibbr, but does the inclusion of applications as sources of information improve anything? If anything, the way we’ve approached application architecture is even worse than dealing with people! Applications typically only share information when explicitly required by some other application. How many applications in your enterprise routinely post general events, without concern for who may be listening for them? Putting Tibbr or any other message bus in place is only going to be as valuable as the information that’s placed on the bus and most applications have been designed to keep information within its boundaries unless required.

So, to be successful, there’s really one key thing that has to happen:

Both people and applications must move from a “share when asked” mentality to a “share by default” mentality.

When I began this blog, I wasn’t directing the conversation at anyone in particular. Rather, I made the information available to anyone who may find it valuable. That’s the mentality we need in our organizations and the architecture we need in our applications. Events and messages can direct people to the appropriate gateway, with either direct access to the information, or instructions on how to obtain it if security is a concern. Today, all of that information is obscured at a minimum, and more likely locked down. Change your thinking and your architecture, and the stage is set for getting value from tools like Tibbr.

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Facebook for the Enterprise

In this blog on IT Business Edge, Dennis Byron discussed Facebook as an enterprise software company. His thoughts were based on a keynote address from Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, given at the 2009 annual National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications conference. Dennis stated that Chris indicated that Facebook is much more business friendly than what may have been the perception just two or three years ago. After reading it, it was my opinion that the position being advocated was the use of Facebook, as is, for corporate purposes. That already occurs today, but primarily as another B2C channel, used by marketing types. There are some pioneers out there doing more, but of the ones I’ve seen, it’s all about the customer/potential customer community.

In my opinion, viewing Facebook solely as a marketing/customer support channel is seriously limiting its use to an enterprise. The conversation should begin with an analysis of the communities that can be supported. Guess what? There’s a looming community with a very complicated social structure that exists within the walls of the company. Why can’t tools that are designed for enhancing communication and interaction between the social structures of society be applied within the walls of the enterprise?

Personally, I see this as having potential for a revolutionary change, rather than evolutionary change, in the way inter-company communication goes on and there’s a simple analogy to the world of SOA. Today, and even before the days of email, groupware, collaboration portals, etc., the primary model is still directed conversation. You’re either in the loop, or you’re not. To compare this to SOA, it’s a world where our focus is still on application A calling application B. What’s missing is support for undirected conversation. Combine SOA with EDA, and you have a much more powerful environment. The actions taken by application A and application B are events, and those events may be valuable to other applications. If those other applications have no visibility into those events, that value is left on the table. The same goes for our social interactions. If that information is kept private, there is value left on the table. You may counter, “It’s all out there in my SharePoint site,” but that doesn’t constitute an event-based system. While the information is there, it’s not conducive to searching, filtering, reading, etc. This is where an environment like Facebook has the potential to add much more than an email/IM/portal-based environment that is the norm today. The key is the news feed. It consists of messages from people (friends), but also from applications, coupled with more of the traditional collaboration tools of messaging, chat, file sharing, etc. While the Facebook news feed may not be quite as flexible as Twitter feeds, it’s clear that it’s headed in that direction. The key to success, however, is getting those events published. If applications don’t publish events, it’s hard to achieve the full potential of SOA and BPM. Add employees to that sentence, and it’s hard to achieve the full potential of the organization.

Unfortunately, asking a corporate enterprise to simply start using the public Facebook for these purposes is asking for too large of a leap. While I do think we will get to the point where the technology must allow the corporate communications to extend to parties outside the company, today, it’s still largely a private conversation. Requiring companies to fit their needs into the current consumer-driven, public environments is a big leap for old established companies. The right first step is an environment that packages up all the features of Facebook that are appropriate for a corporate environment and make that available initially as it’s own private world, but with a clear path to integration with the broader, public Facebook. This doesn’t mean that they’re installing it in their own data center, although that could be an option, it just means that it’s a walled garden for that company. It’s like the difference between Yammer and Twitter.

I’m looking forward to seeing more stories of companies leveraging social networking platforms inside their walls and then taking the next step of extending that to external communities as appropriate. I hope that we’ll see some case studies out of some large, established enterprises and not see adoption limited to the world of the new startups that begin with a culture built around these tools.

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We need a CIO and CTO of the USA

In a soon-to-be-released podcast I did with Dana Gardner, Tony Baer, and Jim Kobielus, we briefly discussed the topic of President-Elect Obama’s desire to create a federal CTO position. Some articles are now coming out about this topic, including this one on ZDNet’s Between The Lines blog, this one from Business Week, and this one from the Wall Street Journal. Unlike these articels, I’m not going to pontificate on who might make a good CTO of the USA. Rather, I’m interested in what a CTO of the USA must do, and whether one person is enough.

One of the very early decisions that will help determine the right person for this role is whether the whole take on technology will be inwardly focused or externally focused. Compare this to SOA adoption in an enterprise. Two common questions that must be addressed are, “how do I build services the right way?” and “how do I build the right services?” Both of these questions are important. The first is more inwardly focused, the second is more externally focused. What is the more pressing question for the CTO of the USA? Is more about fixing the way we leverage information technology within the federal government and its multitude of agencies? Or, is this more about how the government makes information technology services available to the constituents?

Interestingly, if we look at President-Elect Obama’s policies in this space, he actually addresses both sides of this, but only one of them references the creation of a CTO position. Both of them are under the header of “Create a Transparent and Connected Democracy.” The first bullet item in this section is “Open Up Government to its Citizens.” Specific actions (not all are listed here) he calls out include:

  • Making government data available online in universally accessible formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities.
  • Establishing pilot programs to open up government decision-making and involve the public in the work of agencies …
  • Lifting the veil from secret deals in Washington with a web site, a search engine, and other web tools…
  • Employing technologies, including blogs, wikis and social networking tools, to modernize internal, cross-agency, and public communication and information sharing to improve government decision-making.

Clearly, this seems all about the external view of the federal government and its interaction with the constituents. Note, however, that there is no mention of the CTO position in this bullet point. Where the CTO is mentioned is in the next bullet point, “Bring Government into the 21st Century.” Here, he calls out:

  • Appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies and services for the 21st century.
  • The CTO will have a specific focus on transparency… The CTO will also focus on using new technologies to solicit and receive information back from citizens to improve the functioning of democratic government
  • The CTO will … ensure technological interoperability of key government functions.

The bullet items here are much more inwardly focused, with the exception of the “also focus” portion of the second one.

I think these two areas actually each require their own dedicated attention. Interesting, the two articles I mentioned earlier that call out people for the CTO role are all tapping the private sector for people that would seemingly be more appropriate for handling the portions of President-Elect Obama’s policies on opening up government to its citizens, the externally-focused portion. For the role where the CTO position is called out, the important factor here seems to be an ability to implement consistent technologies and interoperable messaging across all of the federal agencies. While you can argue that an outsider may be required to actually get these legacy agencies to change, I would think that someone with strong familiarity with the operation of these federal agencies is going to be critical.

What I think would be the perfect situation would be to have both a federal CIO and a federal CTO. The CIO would likely come from the private sector and be focused on opening up the government to its citizens through the use of information technology. The CTO, on the other hand, would have more experience in the public sector and would be focused on fixing things on the inside to ensure the goals of the CIO and the administration can be met.

One final comment on this. In this blog, Jim Kobelius calls out the need for an “online presidential scorecard.” The fourth process of governance that I define is “measure and feedback,” so I think a scorecard makes great sense, although I also think that this could be a very difficult scorecard to create and make consumable for the average citizen. That sounds like a great task for a federal CIO tasked with opening up government to its citizens. What better way to show transparency than to present a scorecard that shows how the administration is viewing its own efforts toward its goals.

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Corporate Facebook Apps

CNet ran this story yesterday on Pizza Hut’s new Facebook application. They generally panned the application, but I, for one, was glad to see a corporation trying to leverage this platform. Think about it. Pizza and college students go hand-in-hand. Facebook was originally designed for college students, so if a pizza company wants to target a key demographic, why not build a Facebook application? If it is simply an embedded version of their web page, as long as it makes it even easier for those college students to order pizza, they’ve accomplished their goal. Don’t get me wrong, if it has poor usability it will fail. But the fact that it simply allowed Facebook users to order pizza and did not include “additional social features … to enhance the experience” isn’t a problem, in my opinion. I do agree that the forced friend notification is bad, but an optional one could be good. Once again, if the target demographic is college students, the intent is to tell friends that “pizza is available at my place, head on over!” All in all, however, it is the goal of Pizza Hut to sell pizza. Let Facebook provide the social aspects, let Pizza Hut provide the pizza.

What really interests me, however, is the notion of Facebook as a platform for reaching desired demographics. Previously, companies tried to “build communities” via their Internet presence. This is problematic because the company’s primary goal is to sell product, not build community. It simply makes sense to leverage these web properties whose primary purpose is to build communities and augment them with apps/widgets/whatever that can fulfill the primary purpose of your company, like selling more pizza. As a result, if you have a demographic that is likely to leverage these online communities, you need to be thinking about your architecture and how you can easily support the new “channel” of online communities like Facebook.

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Social Networking and the Enterprise

One of the things I recently started thinking about was the relevance of social networking sites like Facebook, Myspace, Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc. have to enterprises. While there are certainly individual usage of these sites, is there a play for the enterprise? Ann All of IT Business Edge, had a post about two weeks ago titled, “Facebook Not So Useful as a Business Tool,” quoting a study from Flowing Data that “just a tiny percentage of Facebook’s 23,160 applications are business-oriented.” In the comments that followed, one reader named Peter stated “businesses should take a serious look at integrating social media in their marketing strategy.”

The more I thought about this, the more I agree with Peter. If your company has individuals as either direct or indirect customers, I’m sure that the marketing department has segmented them into different groups each with their own strategy for how they will be marketed. I don’t know of any enterprise of significant size in the U.S. that doesn’t have an internet presence, and I’m willing to bet that nearly all of their marketing departments see their web sites as more than just a place to get electronic versions of paper documentation or marketing materials. In other words, the web site has gone through three phases.

  1. The Information Web: In this phase, everything revolved around pushing information out to the visitor.
  2. The Transaction Web: In this phase, the communication is bi-directional, predominantly focused on information from the enterprise, and business (i.e. money) coming from the visitor.
  3. The Participatory Web: Here, the emphasis shifts from the individual to the community. It’s not just the enterprise pushing information out, it’s the full ecosystem all of the site visitors and all of the enterprise’s partners.

The big challenge with this third phase comes down to community. When an enterprise tries to own the community, it will probably work very well for established customers, but it may have a hard time bringing in new members. In contrast, a site focused on enabling communities of all sorts, like Facebook or MySpace, is better positioned for community growth. If this is the case, why wouldn’t an enterprise try to involve these sites in their marketing strategies as a growth tool. The point would not be to own the community, but to attract new members to its community. This is no different than the physical world where a company establishes a branch office or a retail location in a community. It has to compete with others, but at the same time, if it is perceived as valuable and meeting the needs of the community, it will survive and thrive. The time is ripe is to think about how your company can build applications and content for these sites to attract new interest.

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Beaming into Social Networks

I’m listening to Jon Udell’s latest innovator conversation, this time with Valdis Krebs, courtesy of IT Conversations. Valdis is a researcher in the area of social networks and he and Jon are discussing sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, MySpace, etc. One of the interesting points that Valdis makes is that social networking has always been a peer-to-peer process. Two people engage in some form of personal, direct communication to form a “connection.” This is predominant form of building a network, rather than joining a club. The model of virtually all the social networking sites is one of “joining”.

The discussion brought me back to the late 90′s when I had purchased a PalmPilot. I actually owned one that had the U.S. Robotics logo on it versus the 3Com or Palm logos that came later. One of the features that came along later (I think it was when I upgraded to a Handspring device) was the ability to “beam” contact information to other Palm owners. The goal was to do away with business cards and instead “beam” information electronically. While I thought the technology was pretty cool, it didn’t survive because the PDA didn’t survive. It all got morphed into mobile device technology, and with the multitude of devices out there now, the ability to quickly share information between two devices disappeared.

I think this would be a great technology to bring back. I attended a conference back in December, and of course walked away with a number of business cards. I then had to take the time to put those contacts into my address book. Thankfully, as an iPhone owner, I only had to put them in one place for my personal devices, but I also had to enter them into my contacts on my work PC. Then became the step of adding all of these people to my networks on LinkedIn (at a minimum). I actually didn’t do this, most of the people actually had already sent me requests for the various social networks.

In thinking about this, I have to admit that this was way too difficult. What we need is the ability to share contact information electronically with our handheld devices via some short range networking technology like Bluetooth, and have that electronic information be “social network aware” so that as a result of the exchange, contacts are automatically added to friends/contact lists on all social networks that the two parties in common. It should be an automatic add, rather than a trigger of email to each party of “do you want to add this person to your network?” An option would be to ask that question on the device at the time of the interchange, which would allow people to be added to appropriate networks as is supported by sites like Plaxo Pulse.

So, for all of you involved with social networking technology, here’s your idea to go run with and make it happen. I’ll be a happy consumer when it becomes a reality.

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This blog represents my own personal views, and not those of my employer or any third party. Any use of the material in articles, whitepapers, blogs, etc. must be attributed to me alone without any reference to my employer. Use of my employers name is NOT authorized.