Enterprise 2.0 & KM

What are the immediate opportunites that Enterprise 2.0 systems present for KM? We are definitely better equipped with Enterprise 2.0 tools/services to support tacit interactions . The immediate opportunity for organizations that are experimenting with Enterprise 2.0 tools/services is to dramatically bring down the barriers to content creation and hopefully affect the shape of the Participation Inequality Curve positively. The SLATES (search, links, authoring, tags, extensions, signals) mnemonic by Prof.Andrew McAfee is useful in understanding the characteristics of Enterprise 2.0. However, getting employees to tag,link,author and extend(edit) content will be a huge challenge as debated here . In bringing the “Read/Write” web to the enterprise the “Write” part will remain challenging as ever. And this is one of the reasons for all the empty and/or static portals you may have seen within enterprises. Having blogs,wikis and social bookmarking systems by itself may not radically alter the number of employees generating content – though it would definitely get more people onboard. What else can be done to bring down barriers to content creation?

A Netvibes like platform for the enterprise could facilitate the “Read” piece of the puzzle. As JP Rangaswami discusses here, Netvibes supports Syndication, Search and to some extent, Fulfillment and Collaboration. Features to support the “Write” part in a typical read/write web is not woven into the platform as of today. However, used in conjunction with a set of browser add-ons these ecosystems become true read/write platforms. If enterprise users had the option to Right Click-Select-Blog (Blogger,Diigo Add-ons), Right Click-Tag-Bookmark(Delicious Add-on), Right Click-Select-Make Notes (Google Note Book Add-on) , Right Click-Select-Annotate(Diigo Add-on – Screenshot) and so on, there is a good chance of getting more people to make use of these services for personal productivity. While these extensions by themselves are straightforward, I believe that their value when used in conjunction with a Netvibes like platform within the enterprise will be tremendous.Quoting from Jakob Nielsen’s article:

The first step to dealing with participation inequality is to recognize that it will always be with us. It’s existed in every online community and multi-user service that has ever been studied.

Your only real choice here is in how you shape the inequality curve’s angle. Are you going to have the “usual” 90-9-1 distribution, or the more radical 99-1-0.1 distribution common in some social websites? Can you achieve a more equitable distribution of, say, 80-16-4? (That is, only 80% lurkers, with 16% contributing some and 4% contributing the most.) ” . I believe that to get to 80-16-4 we would need more than just Enterprise 2.0 tools. We would need some means of allowing users to carry these services in a virtual backpack. This backpack should be available at all points where users interact with information systems. ( Desktop, Intranet,Extranet and probably enterprise apps ). Browser and desktop extensions are one easy way of doing this. Perhaps smarter ways of doing this in a browser/platform agnostic way will emerge. The point is, usability and the interaction design of Enterprise 2.0 deployments has to be high on the agenda of enterprises trying to leverage them.

Secondly, if we were to get to a point where Enterprise 2.0 tools accelerate tacit interactions in organizations, there would be a need for a set of sensemaking tools/services to reconstruct context. Inevitably, these interactions would be distributed across mail,IM,blogs,wikis,discussion boards etc., To reuse the results of these interactions there needs to be some common thread that ties it all together – something that will help the individual and others to reconstruct the context and make sense. Hannover with its Activity Centric Computing may be one of the many ways of doing this.

Cultural and political issues are not going to go away easily – even if we were to fix these, the mathematical reality of the Participation Inequality Curve will remain. A very pragmatic question for enterprises to ask themselves would be: ” Will an Enterprise 2.0 initiative help us move from a 91-9-1 distribution to a 80-16-4 (Lurker-Occasional contributer-heavy contributer) distribution? If so, how do we get there?”. The Participation Inequality Curve is a nice tool for enterprises to set their expectations right before starting a Enterprise 2.0 journey.

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Stowe's Nerdvana Client – Revisited

I had bookmarked Stowe Boyd’s write up on a Nerdvana IM client sometime back. His idea is to consider the Buddy List as the center of one’s social universe. . Over the past week I have reading about Knowledge Networks in MOSS 2007, the opportunities that WPF and Apollo bring in and the UniveRSS client. All of these may have implications on the idea of a generic communications interface which has people at the center as opposed to impersonal information sources. With this in mind, I revisited Stowe’s article.

The buddy list on my IM client is linear – a one dimensional rendering of my complex social web. Social webs are not static. It gets reorganized based on things like how frequently I interact with people in my network. Stowe had initially envisioned a static classification of the social universe into the “Inner Circle”, “Outer Circle” and “The World”. The challenge is to manage movements across these zones. People may move from “The World” into “Inner Circle” and perhaps back into the “The World”. This is essentially about social distance and has to be dynamic based on my behavior. While my focus may be tilted towards the enterprise, this should be equally applicable to the consumer internet space as well – given that federation of Enterprise IM systems and public IM systems are becoming a reality. Building on Stowe’s ideas, here is what I would look for in a generic communications interface.

  1. The client should represent the richness and changing nature of my social web. For instance, enterprises standardizing on the Microsoft stack could use the Knowledge Network functionality in MOSS 2007 with a WPF interface . The interface should show social relationships and the strengths of those relationships based on my behavior (frequency of interaction for example) and an intuitive interaction mechanism.
  2. A YackPack or perhaps UniveRSS like interface. The nodes on the UniveRSS interface are impersonal information sources as of today. An ideal interface would be people centric and each node would have the photograph of the person pulled in from their public profiles.
  3. The client would morph into a generic notification interface. Whenever someone of interest in my social web does something that is relevant to me – I get notified (A node glows – YackPack style). It could be a new blog post, a comment on my blog post, a voice mail or perhaps an email. [A far more visual and interactive rendering of Stowe’s initial UI].
  4. The client should allow me to import my buddy list or address book to populate my social universe
  5. The position of various nodes in my social web should indicate the social distance of people from me – There could be some default to start with. This should implicitly reflect Stowe’s notions of Inner Circles, Outer Circles and The World.
  6. These nodes would get dynamically reorganized in 3D space based on my changing behavior in my social web. This will be as a result of people moving in and out of various zones.
  7. I also believe that the result of doing a people search should be a visual network indicating how far the person searched for is on my social network and how and through whom I can reach him. [A Visual Thesaurus like system to navigate my social web – This should be possible with the Knowledge Network feature in MOSS 2007 and WPF]. Visualization of social networks and an intuitive navigation mechanism would bring SNA to the rest of us.

Social Networking In India – 2007 & Beyond

There has been a lot of activity in the Social Networking space in India this year. With the kind of money being poured into this space, I have been trying to figure out how things may unfold in the coming year and beyond.
The landscape is already crowded with a number of players like Jhoom, MingleBox, Yaari, Humsubka, Yo4Ya and others. Orkut is a clear leader and will continue to be so. Where do we go from here? I see four broad categories of social networks emerging as we go forward. There could be a mish-mash of these options as well.

  1. Mobile Communities – With the rapid penetration of mobile devices both incumbent players and startups need to address all levels in the Indian Digital Pyramid [As outlined by Rajesh Jain in a Knowledge @ Wharton Interview – Requires registration] – PC First, Mobile First and Mobile Only. Social Networking players need to go beyond SMS notifications. We need the likes of ProtoMobl, Twitter, DodgeBall. I also believe that there is a huge opportunity for players who address the long tail of “mobile only” and “mobile first” users ( 100 million in all!!) by building out a primarily mobile centric social network that “also” has a web interface instead of focusing first on the web interface. And watch Google closely. It will use its first mover advantage in the social networking space to reach out to the large mobile communities in Brazil and India. My take is that if it gets the DodgeBall/Orkut integration right in India, it would trigger network effects that would bring more and more of the users at the bottom of the pyramid into the Orkut fold. This will be very much in line with what Tim O’Reilly had to say in his recent “Web 2.0 Compact Definition-Trying Again” entry : “Being first or best, you will attract the most users, and if your application truly harnesses network effects to get better the more people use it, you will eventually build barriers to entry based purely on the difficulty of building another such database from the ground up when there’s already so much value somewhere else. (This is why no one has yet succeeded in displacing eBay. Once someone is at critical mass, it’s really hard to get people to try something else, even if the software is better.)”. Expect to see Google entering into partnerships with mobile carriers in India, late 2007 or early 2008.
  2. Vertical Communities – These networks would allow individuals to leverage the connections they establish within the social network to achieve a broader objective like job search, making a real estate desicion,planning a trip etc., . This I believe, is going to be a real killer. We need the likes of Doostang, TripConnect and Boompa. My take is that there is a huge opportunity for social nets that can disintermediate the likes of Monster and Naukri – the word of mouth job referral space in India is pretty huge. Tourism and real estate are other areas where social nets can lead to richer user experiences. There are potentially hundreds of other niches that may work in the Indian context.
  3. Regional Social Networks – I’m increasingly getting the feeling that to get a critical mass of users in these social networks, we need to dramatically bring down barriers to content creation in local languages. Putting the cart in front of the horse is not going to help. I believe some of the following key technology trends will converge and become key enablers of content creation and catalyze social networks in India:
    a. Transliteration tools like QuillPad
    b. Regional language mobile text input software like the one from Tegic
    c. Mobile keypad layouts in regional languages
    d. All local language computing initiatives like this one
  4. Meta Social Networks – PeopleAggregator kind of ecosystems. We are not yet there.

Given the diversity in India in terms of language, culture and life style, it is inevitable that we would end up with a long tail of niche, vertical and mobile social networks. Many of these may be purely mobile or semi mobile – with web as a secondary interface. Startups need to keep these in mind:

  1. Understand changing user needs as this generation grows up. Can you create compelling value propositions for an existing Orkut user (passing out of college)? Can your vertical social network help him/her find a job, plan his/her finances etc.,? As social networks mature in India would user expectations in terms of privacy and real tangible value from the community change? Would users want to migrate to other spaces as their social needs change? ( Vox kind of a system as opposed to public scrap books on Orkut).Social networking for the sake of social networking is not sustainable. The key is to create the value layer on top of the connections you enable in the network.
  2. Monetizing nodes in a social network remains a challenge. On top of that monetizing a purely mobile, semi-mobile and vertical social networks would a bigger challenge. There is a need for some innovative business models in this space.
  3. Remember that this game is not about better software and more features – It is about creating a platform where there is a happy marriage between network effects and rich user experiences for the Indian consumer.
  4. Don’t take Google and Orkut for granted. DodgeBall integration could be the tipping point for Google and the last nail on the coffin for the rest unless they differentiate,verticalize and reach out to the long tail of users. Let me repeat – the game is not about more features, it is about network effects and Google understands that really well.

Enterprise 2.0 Tools Don't Address The Politics Of KM

I was reviewing an enterprise wiki implementation recently. This is a group that had impact across the organization on multiple divisions. The wiki was great. The customizations were great. But the people aspect had the 1.0 hangover. Only members of this group had access to the wiki while the implications of the knowledge that gets created was enterprise wide . This seems to be a common problem in many organizations experimenting with Enterprise 2.0. Its not about deploying tools; its about breaking silos and allowing a “true” read-write web to emerge. Groups that are primarily considered to be knowledge consumers need to be included in the new web of participation for true value to emerge. Enterprise 2.0 ecosystems , though bottom-up could still create silos of knowledge unless we proactively evangelize the fact that knowledge consumers are also knowledge producers. In a typical software company this could mean that a Wiki that the Quality group sets up needs to be open to the delivery teams for true knowldge churn to happen. Otherwise we have a new silo,accerlated by Enterprise 2.0 tools.