Fantasy App …

Is it a pointer to me being a wierdo if i am fantasizing about an application? Well … maybe! But then, whatever …

I have been using both facebook and twitter for over a week now. And the way i see it, both of these applications actually complement each other. While facebook is about connecting with folks, and doing your own thing, twitter is about being yourself, and just penning down your thoughts from time to time. I am thinking of a facebook homepage where updates from twitter, from my network get reflected, and where i can not just keep in touch with what my friends are doing, with their statuses, photos, work, play, etc., i can also keep in touch with what they are thinking.

And, this is a pointer to a larger thought process … Right now, i am confused about which social network i want to log into. So, i log into twitter, because i want to share my “thoughts of the moment” with others, and i log into facebook to connect with friends. And, i log into ning for communities, and … What is required, to an extent, is an aggregator, which can give the functionality of the social networks i am a part of, in a single place. This way, i am sure a lot of folks would save a lot of time not having to update multiple social networks?

There is, of course, the argument of diversity which multiple social networks brings in, but i dont see too much logic in that, considering that most of the folks on my network in facebook overlap with those on twitter, and hence, the impact of diversity is only minimal.

About Twitter …

I have logged onto twitter … finally! OK … so i was trying out facebook all this while. And, for all the cool things that twitter gives, i somehow find the functionality at facebook way too cool. Actually, this is early days yet, but from what i am seeing, one thing which is really like about facebook, which i am missing at twitter is the way i can see all the applications my friends are installing, all the groups they are joining, etc., etc. … this, to my mind, is a wonderful way of easing the process of discovery. These were my thoughts when i had joined facebook. And not much which is changing here.

Though, the thing i really like about twitter is the way short, sweet, quick messages can just be shot out. This is an interesting thing to do, especially because this enables me to capture the “thought of the moment”. Rather than writing a long blog, i can write a series of short snippets, which could basically become the source for my blog. Its akin to something i have been thinking of doing for some time now (since i started writing my book … yes, more about that soon!), that is, carrying a dictaphone and just recording whatever thought occurs right at the moment when it occurs. Its this kind of functionality that i find quite interesting. More so, in the organizational context, this could be really nice, because with this, rather than asking folks to write their experiences in a blog which could be quite lengthy for people to write, or worse still, asking them to write documents, people can simple capture this “thought of the moment”, and share this with whoever wants to see what they are reading … especially with their social networks!

Application in Facebook …

I came across an interesting application on facebook … But, more than the application itself, the idea of the application is quite interesting. We all know that facebook, and similar social networking sites are a platform which enables us to get in touch with friends and family, as well as to come in touch with more people with whome we might share some interests.

Interestingly, more and more, there is the need for people to be able to categorize their friends. On social networking sites, we tend to have a large number of friends, and this brings up the requirement of categorizing them, maybe even colour-coding them. This, to my mind, is an interesting phenomenon. Outside these social networking sites, we dont need to colour-code our friends. This raises the question of why. And this is one of the most interesting things about social networking. When it comes to social networking, we are all creating ties which go way beyond the ties outside the circle of social networking. These ties which we end up creating include friends and family, for sure, but at the same time, we are in a position to discover … discover groups we might want to join, and more importantly, discover people we might want, or need to connect with, for shared interests. These could be people who are experts in a particular subject we are interested in, or they could be people who are also working on a particular topic, which is also of interest to us. And this idea of discovery is the essential value of social networking.

Lets take an example. One of my favourite bands is one by the name Junoon. Well, there is a nice group which is their fan club on facebook, and i was quick to join it. Interestingly, six of my friends from facebook also joined the group. In all probability, they also wanted to, but either they never came round to it, or they werent able to find it. This is the nature of discovery from social networking. And to my mind, this is one of the major issues knowledge managers need to work on, to make sure that we are able to bring about a similar nature of ease of discovery behind the firewall, as there is, outside the firewall.

There is an interesting application i came across the other day. This is a facebook-like application developed by Trampoline Systems. Or, the facebook-like application from Microsoft. The idea is to bring the idea of social networking into the firewall. However, having said that, there is a bit of euphoria which might be a little misplaced. For, the entire motivation for adoption of social networking behind the firewall is quite different from what it is outside the firewall. To that extent, there might need to be a few changes to the approach to social networking which might need to be brought in to bring about this change within the firewall. All ideas on how to do this invited …

Relevance of Communication

The other day i was asked a question … about the role communication skills might play in the realm of knowledge management. This got me thinking … interesting topics … this is not something i have read much about, nor have i written about it myself.

Let us try to look at it from two perspectives:

From the perspective of explicit knowledge, this is a no-brainer … if you are trying to write something, put something to paper, you are in the process of communicating with the world through the document which will result. So, there must be ample and proper articulation, which in turn requires sufficiently good writing skills. This is important because when you are doing so, you are trying to translate a picture which you are carrying in your head, to a set of words, and there is the very real possibility (something which happens more than one would like to see) of meaning being lost in the translation.

Moving now to the realm of collaboration … today, when we are talking about web 2.0, collaboration deals more and more with an ongoing conversation … through blogs, wikis, through social networks, etc. However, this is where my viewpoint begins to differ from the traditional one. the way they have been developed, and their essential philosophy, is totally opposed to any kind of structure. There is some, of course, which is in the interest of brevity (which is why we still divide posts into paragraphs which can be more easily digested), but apart from this, this paradigm of social computing has rather little to do with the sophisiticated techniques that one is taught during communication skills trainings. Apart from the basics … Keep it short, capture the interest of the audience, and make sense at what you are talking about.

The impact is interesting … while communications are becoming more and more informal, they are also becoming more and more vibrant (read twitter … which reminds me, i need to graduate to twitter one of these days, except that i am just too lazy to create my network all over again over there, when i have already done so over at facebook). Lots has been written about the way sms has changed the way people communicate. To my mind, a lot of this is applicable to the social computing space as well.

Training Scenario … Possibility?

Carrying on from the previous post, i am trying to build up a training scenario which leverages the emerging un-book concept, and social computing. First question … why? This question gets more or less answered in the last post i have written. Instead of a static handout (even more of an issue if you are doing technology training), the training material could be something which could offer the following benefits:

1. The training material is up-to-date. As people contribute to blogs and wikis (which could be maintained by a training organization, though preferably not!), there is content which is getting generated every day. This means that the latest thought processes on the topic are incorporated into the content.

2. The training material reflects all opinions. Usually, training material is written by one or two people, and reflects the ideas, thoughts, and opinions of these people. This is one of the things which restricts learning to only the specific things which are covered in the training material. Whereas with the un-book concept, the blogs and wikis students could refer to, are actually representative of a large cross-section of viewpoints.

The scenario could work out something like this …

When a student enrolls for a training program, the training team could email them a set of intro blogs. Links to these blogs, along with their ratings, and comments from previous students could be maintained as part of a wiki page, which could serve as an aggregator for contents on a particular topic, and could be maintained by the training team itself. The training team could also recommend the students to read the “Intro blogs” (these could be blogs which are classified based on user or training team tagging, as being introductory in nature). These recommendations could also come from the faculty who is conducting the training. This ensures that some amount of background resources are available to students before they come to the training.

During the training, there could be a set of blogs, “Training Material” (which represent the thoughts of a number of folks on the topic being taught), though in the interest of brevity, the list of blogs could be pre-selected by the faculty, or identified by the training team. I would recommend this, otherwise, a plethora of resources being available would only tend to confuse students.

What is most important (and this is an issue which most training organizations face), is that these resources are available to students even once they are through with the training, and back to their day-to-day jobs. This would enable the training team to provide resources to students which would enable them to engage with the topic taught in the training, even post-training. And, maybe … just maybe … one or two of the students from each batch might start writing their own blog on the topic, and this would only add to the resources which are available to subsequent resources.

I have tried to create a rough model of how the training organization could leverage social computing to deliver training in the organizational context. This might not work too well outside the organizational context (havent thought this through, to be honest), but could be worth a thought, at least?

Enterprise Apps and Web 2.0

Something i have been thinking about …

What is the basic difference between business applications the way they have been around for decades now, and the social computing tools which are developing today?

Not many folks are talking about the possibility of blending the two (the focus seems to be more on the usage of web 2.0 tools …). Which means that as of today, the two are being seen as two different independant entities. Which need not necessarily be the case as these evolve. Which is because, end of the day, they are both addressing two different aspects of the same thing.

The way i see it, the success of social networking has been essentially because they are built around people. In other words, users are central to social networking. On the other hand, the software, the apps, for example, that you see in facebook, are peripheral. And the relationship between the two is that the peripheral applications are pushing value to the central user.

On the other hand, enterprise software, or business applications are just that … they are not focussed on the user. As we must have seen, these are built keeping business processes as the central aspect of the enterprise, with people being the participants in the business process (who are essentially performing some pre-defined, well documented work, which might benefit from SOA, or some such other software tool …). However, as i have written about earlier, there is always some aspect of such straightforward computational processes which is not necessarily straightforward.

And this, to my mind, is the point … there has to be, over a period of time, the melting together of these two concepts. There has, to a large extent, come the understanding in organizations, that business processes shouldnt be seen as being isolated from people. What this should mean is that sometime soon, there should also be an evolution of software which combines the two? I have written about how SAP is already trying to do this.

Welcome all thoughts about what shape you think this could take?

Web 2.0 — Encouragement?

There is an interesting post that Andrew McAfee has written … What he is talking about is whether Is Management the Problem? based on interactions with early adopters in the web 2.0 space.

There is the fact that one would expect managers to actively oppose these tools. And this is where the findings which emerge from the discussion are quite surprising. However, in my experience, i have found that managers are not actively opposed to the emerging world of social computing. The key word probably is actively. Why i would say this is because at times, the resistance is more indirect, and couched more in terms which are nothing to do with social computing in the first place.

Having said this, there is much to be said about the busyness factor. The fact is that in organizations, adoption of a lot of the social computing tools is not what it is when you go outside the firewall. This again is not surprising. Reason? Simple … The way people operate on facebook, or any place outside the firewall, is not really the same as within the firewall. Something i have read about, and written about, too … While there are incentives to spend some time on facebook everyday, update my status, and catch up with folks, if not going through some fun apps. On the other hand, wheres the incentive to do things which are definitely not half as much fun, and that too, have something to do with work!

Given this background, there is the issue of adoption. And, the fact that social computing is as good or as lousy as its adoption is. Which is where the cookie crumbles. There is, on the one hand, the scenario where users have no reason to adopt some of the social computing tools (ya, some folks understand their value, but hey … why change the way things are done around here?), and on the other hand, there doesnt seem to be too much encouragement for changing them on the other hand.

Interesting thing is, it seems that a lot of us are being proved wrong when it comes to managers discouraging the idea of social computing. This is quite encouraging. Though, i am not sure whether it is too early to declare that spring is here. Like i have written before, things are changing. Question is, to what extent will they continue to change? The nature of boundaries is changing, decision making is shifting, and these together are having their own impact on the way work is being done. Question is … to what extent would such changes be welcomed? Especially when they could probably change the basic way in which work is done, decisions made, and maybe, just maybe, power reallocated. This is early days yet, so it might be an excellent idea to watch these trends.