Technology has progressed so much that it has lost its power towards the users. Today users of Social Media and collaborative tools don’t have to follow the “rule” of a given technology. They can more and more decide what features they want and how they want them to work. This was already valid when mobile phone users decided that SMS was a key feature (telecom companies had not planned for SMS to be an important communication tool!). It is valid today when users of Twitters decide that retweeting is a major usage, etc. But there is more than these ways of using some existing features and making them a major pattern of usage. Today the users, especially in the corporate world, can dictate what they want or not and the technology has to follow. The dictatorship of the programmer’s thinking on how to use a tool is over.
WHICH NEXT MORPHING?
The SMS case and the retweet case mentioned above are just easy examples. The usage of many tools is morphing fast. Let’s mention a few. Calling someone on the phone for a simple question that could be solved by IM or SMS has become intrusive. Using mail inside Social Networks replaces the usage of “classic” mail tools (although not yet within corporations, will it come?). Blogs are progressively becoming an anchor point toward which microblogging is pointing (not yet within corporations). Physical meetings are switching to virtual meetings and it becomes slowly (organizationally) incorrect to convene physically a meeting that could have been hold virtually. A static profile becomes progressively unacceptable and “friends” want to be informed of the changes of profiles, preferences etc; of their “friends” via regular updates as on all Social Networks; will this soon apply within industrial organizations when the word “friend” is replaced by the word “colleague”? Tags are evolving from being tags used by the publisher to qualify documents to tags used by the users for searching not only relevant information but also communities. Etc. examples are plenty.
However, do the users really know that well what they want? (Many will recognize here a classic question for marketing people and a classic topic for those interested in the wisdom of crowds). Probably not yet but it is certainly something coming up.
It is not obvious that users can predict the next morphing, it is however certain that tools designers cannot. The question then becomes for the designers how to remain alert and ready to modify the tools according to the next morphing of social media usage within corporation?
Lets try to identify a few fields where questions are already arising for the usage of social media within corporations. Here are my two cents on the issue of“courtesy governance”, qualification of information and dashboard. This list is just indicative and a deeper one will be elaborated at the upcoming workshop of the Boostzone Institute on the new collaborative usages in corporations.
FOR A “COURTESY GOVERNANCE” of Push and Pull
One of the many issues with current social media is that the notions of Pull and Push are not clear for senders and for receivers. The tools are not clear. The usage could be ambiguous. Twitter is a good example of a push media (that can be at least a distraction, at worst a nuisance, at best a valuable source of information) that has become also a pull media and even a sort of search engine (the ultimate pull).
However the question is not only on the tool’s functionality but on the way it is used, on the power both receivers and senders have on choosing what they want to send and receive. It is probably impossible to create a formal governance (although a few organizations are trying) but it is certainly possible to develop a courtesy governance (remember the time where it was important to explain that capital letters in mail were shouting). A push media can become intrusive, and not only Twitter but even RSS are hard to monitor by the users. How can one receiver user select among the messages coming from a blog or a twitter user according to his priorities and interest as a receiver at a given point of time? Today most of tools are still on a O/1 format: either you get everything or you get nothing. Very few tools allow a confrontation of priorities and interest. Some do, like a phone call when the number is displayed: the caller says to the receiver that he wants to talk and considers it as urgent and important. But if the receiver has a different point of view he can just skip the call. The same happens with mail where one can open, or not, or delay the opening of a mail or even hide the sender definitively by pushing the spam button. But even these rudimentary measures do not exist easily on other social media and we all for example have to read the boring and uninteresting tweets of people, or their blogs on which we have put an RSS, just because we consider that from time to time they have interesting things to say. I personally subscribed to a number of people I am interested to follow because I consider them as having things to say, but I have recently cut the link because I discovered they also have many things to say on which I am not interested at all. My arbitrage was towards losing information rather than losing time.
One can expect future tools to help chose, in a simple way, how to configure and constantly reconfigure the alerts one gets. The simplicity is essential since the priorities one has on what one receives can change according to the moment, the sender and the topic.
The qualification of information/publication will become a must. But it is easier said than done. What is a qualification? One can say at least that a message can be urgent/ important/ urgent and important/ neutral i.e. informational only. And this is still very simplistic since it does not even include the topic to which the piece of information is related or the public/confidential dimension, the sender’s importance for the receiver, etc. But, anyway, the most important is that the sender’s choice does not necessarily correspond to the receiver’s choice for the same information (and the problem is compounded when an information goes to several receivers, like with a blog or a tweet where multiple receivers will have multiple opinions on the qualification of an information).
The risk of creating frustration is large, especially for time conscious people (what most working people are and what all supervisors are) as the diagram below shows. The difference of perception on the relevance of an information can lead to distrust, frustration, even anger because of the time loss, and at the end can often harm the credibility of the sender.
WHICH DASHBOARD FOR TOMORROW?
How to plan for tomorrow? Probably by starting to develop “relevance dashboards”. In other words, like what is done today with search engines, future dashboards of information will have to get intelligent and to filter information according to the receiver needs and not only to the sender’s indications.It will have to be a better combination of automatic pull (please Mr. aggregator search constantly for that very specific type of information and bring it up, this feature is quite advanced today but still lacks flexibility), of filters on received push (please Mr. Aggregator separate the wheat from the chaff; this feature is clearly in infancy), of an intelligent filtering system able to identify quickly my time available, my current priorities, my current interests… (This feature is not yet here, but is it that far?).
Other issues corporate as users may want to see included as soon as possible are elements of the interfaces between internal social media platforms and public social networks. For instance for importing data from LinkedIn of a new employee. Also, for checking on groups, opened on external platforms like LinkedIn but in a way limited to a number of employees (e.g. project group X of corporate Y) in order to make sure that, when an employee leaves the company, his access to the external group is cancelled (a tough challenge as one can predict, but an essential one if one wants to reduce the governance challenge of external groups of employees).
We will discuss these issues and others around the topic of corporate user’s choice within a round table of users and tool designers at our next Workshop of the Boostzone Institute on the new collaborative usages in Paris on September 18th. For those not having the opportunity to come, comments are welcome on this blog and a summary will be published here after the workshop.