Wednesday, 28 February 2007

What are the catches with Enterprise 2.0?

I outlined in the previous post how an Enterprise 2.0 approach to knowledge sharing might work, and acknowledged there could be catches. So what might these catches be?

I can think of a number of disadvantages, but before I list them I think it's important to point out what the baseline is. In many organisations the knowledge-sharing environment is badly dysfunctional at the moment. A large organisation in which almost every written communication is by email has so little ability to exploit the knowledge base that is in its employees' heads that almost any alternative approach that increases the ability to do so is worthwhile. So it's not sensible to be too critical of whatever alternative is suggested.

That said, I think the main weaknesses of the approach I outlined in my previous post are these:
  • We're introducing more places to look for and/or place information. A lot of people find it hard to keep up with email and the intranet and maybe something else like Sharepoint. They aren't going to thank you for suggesting they should use more software in their day-to-day activities, perhaps
  • The niceties of what you can say and to whom online are managed in a very fine-grained way on email at the moment - even forwarding tends to be done judiciously by experienced users (and that's most employees). The approach on a blog or wiki would need to be different. The change of habit could be a barrier to use
  • RSS (and aggregators) and tag clouds might seem intuitive to a geek, but may be less so to the average user. Again, we are talking about a small extra effort being enough to put many people off switching from what they know and (sort of) love now.
If the potential benefits are so great it is important to overcome these barriers. Thoughts welcome!

Monday, 19 February 2007

So why might Enterprise 2.0 be better?

Let's assume that in practical terms Enterprise 2.0 means the use by employees of these technologies within an organisation:
  • blogs (weblogs)
  • one or more wikis
  • tagging and the resultant folksonomy
  • RSS feeds and aggregators
  • a social bookmarking site like
  • quality free-text search of the type you get with an Internet search engine like Google.
Assume also that all of these would use a web platform and be inside the firewall.

Imagine this possible scenario. Everyone has a blog of their own, and they have access to a team wiki and an enterprise-wide wiki. They've had a small amount of training - just familiarisation, really - and know how to use both of these applications. They also know that they can (and it would be really helpful if they did!) add tags to their posts. They have been encouraged to pause before they write an email and think, "Would this be better on the wiki or the blog?" They have also been encouraged to save all bookmarks/favourites - whether internal or external to the organisation - to the social bookmark site.

What might happen over time? If things went well, more and more useful content would accumulate on the blogs and wikis. This information (knowledge, perhaps) would be accessible to many other people, through:
  • search
  • RSS feeds
  • the folksonomy that has been created through the tagging by users of their own posts
  • browsing the folksonomy for bookmarks of other people on the social bookmarking site
In other words, there would be a number of routes in to information that was previously only in people's heads, or locked away in email silos. The originators would not need to decide who might find that information useful and 'push' it to them. Equally, someone wanting to know about something would not need to work too hard to find it. And there would be no need for anyone to maintain the structure in the form of a taxonomy, for example.

Magic, eh? Surely there must be a catch? Of course, but that's for the next post.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Summary and looking forward

I'll quickly summarise my last few posts. I've said this blog is an enquiry into whether relatively recent developments on the Web, known collectively as Web 2.0 or Social Software, can help address knowledge-sharing challenges within organisations that have proved intractable in the past. I've examined various tools that have traditionally been used and explained why I think none of them are really up to the job. And I've particularly homed in on email as being something that has reached the point where it creates as many problems as it solves.

So why do I see Web 2.0 tools as different and better for knowledge sharing than its predecessors? First of all I must emphasise that I do not see them as a cure-all. They don't need completely to replace other tools. And making them available is not the same as getting them to be used. And getting them used is not necessarily the same as creating a knowledge-sharing culture.

Putting those caveats to one side for the moment, these technologies are, I think, sufficiently enabling of collaboration and knowledge-sharing for me to be optimistic that they can be used as a lever to create a knowledge-sharing culture.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Email: a victim of its own success

I said I'd lay the boot into email, but actually I'm still rather fond of it. It's rather like an old friend - in my case the relationship goes back two decades - who doesn't really have as much as common with you as he used to, but you still like to spend time with him. But then some friends force us to spend a little more time with them than we really want, don't they? And email is a bit like that.

Long gone are the days when an email system existed but was little-used. Long gone also is the time when it was used my most, or all, employees but selectively. Other methods of communication were used in preference to it where they seemed more suitable. (Or is it my memory that is selective here?) Nowadays email is used for pretty-much every kind of unstructured communication.

Infrastructure departments will complain about the bandwidth and storage used. It's increased exponentially, and not just because of spam. It's because email gets used a LOT, and not just for text but for the transmision of attachments - often addressed to multiple recipients, and of course saved by the sender, too. But bandwidth and storage aren't the most important issues. Far more important are information overload, on the one hand; and information retrieval, on the other. (There's also a pretty hefty records management issue, too, which whilst closely allied to information retrieval, is a little off topic, at least for now.)

In my view, the significant problems of email now are:

  • because it's used for everything from arranging lunch to setting out an important business proposal, the important things get lost in the overall volume of material
  • it's hard to find these important things later, because most email software doesn't allow easy categorisation or free text search and most users don't find it easy to get organised using the few facilities that there are
  • we're all so hooked on it that we can't see the enormous inefficiencies involved in trying to collaborate on documents by emailing them around to each other as attachments
  • important information is trapped in email 'silos' which cannot be seen by those who weren't copied in.

I don't believe email is no longer useful - far from it - but for many purposes there are better tools. But - as Andrew McAfee says in his post "The 9X email problem",

"Email is virtually everyone's current endowment of collaboration software. Gourville's research suggests that the average person will underweight the prospective benefits of a replacement technology for it by about a factor of three, and overweight by the same factor everything they're being asked to give up by not using email. This is the 9X problem developers of new collaboration technologies will have to overcome. "

So that suggests there'll be considerable inertia or passive resistance involved in trying to get people to use Enterprise 2.0 technologies in preference to email. And email has to be one of the prime targets.