Saturday, 14 November 2009

Social Computing in Business

The talk seemed to go down well. It turned into more of a workshop, really, which is what I really wanted. I tried to cover a very broad field in one hour, which was a challenge. I began by checking knowledge levels, and by asking who was more interested in the tools and who in the business-related issues. I got a strong vote for the latter. Nevertheless I did a run-through of the tools, and dwelt a bit on the concept of 'small pieces loosely joined', and the 'glue' of tagging, folksonomy, RSS and so on. There were some ah-ha moments with Delicious, when I explained how the social tags provided an alternative way into the web to Googling.

I covered adoption barriers such as security, 'fear of The Cloud', Chinese Walls and corporate politics, and emphasised that these were important issues but that they aren't insuperable. Towards the end we looked at the idea of companies becoming perhaps more human places as a result of the adoption of social computing / Enterpise 2.0'. That struck a chord with quite a few people. Given that many of them were in jobseeking mode, this did not surprise me. We also talked about the potential value of loose ties when it come to networking in general.

One of the most interesting things for me was to be reminded how broad this topic is, and how it touches on some quite deep issues such as personal identity, organisational behaviour, the role of management and the nature of work.

Here's a link to my talk outline on Mind42.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Social Computing in Business

I'm giving a talk this evening at TfpL on the subject of Social Computing in Business. This is, of course, a very broad field, and it will be a challenge to cover even parts of it in the hour available. But I'm sure it will be interesting. I'm looking forward at least as much to hearing what the audience has to say on the subject as I am to saying my piece.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Corporate Knowledge-sharing: a glimmer of hope

Recent experience in a large professional services firm has confirmed a number of my expectations about difficulties in facilitating knowledge-sharing in such an environment. In no particular order:
- Dear old Sharepoint both enables and inhibits, in roughly equal measure. Yes it's got lots of features, but many of them are mediocre and it's a clunky, unintuitive piece of kit to build anything with.
- Security concerns, standardisation of builds, etc inevitably mean what's available to the staff behind the firewall is disappointing compared with the burgeoning Web 2.0 world at large on the Web.
- The email habit runs very deep, and won't be shifted easily.

I'm still optimistic that we can make a go of this KM initiative, though. Why? Because there is strong business need and because senior people are behind it. Essential, though often lacking in KM-related work. What's more, there's an understanding that there needs to be a move from email silos to open, web-based discussion and document sharing. It's 'just' a question of changing habits. And on that note I've discovered than those of us who've been using the web for years need to remember that not everyone understands how to copy a URL and paste it into an email. In fact, 'basic training' might be one of the key requirements for success.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Could URL shorteners break the Web?

Many of us use URL shorteners like and For Twitter they are well-nigh essential, if you're not to use up your whole 140 character quota with a single URL.

I think it was Euan Semple in his Twitter incarnation @euan, who originally alerted me to the idea that these shortener sites might be a risk to the architecture of the web. As every schoolboy knows, the Internet was designed to continue functioning after major structural damage, such as that which might follow a nuclear war. It does this by virtue of its addressing system, which allows messages, in the form of 'packets', to be routed through many possible pathways, so that they always get through even if some pathways are blocked. Unfortunately URL shortening might be able to jeopardise this welcome redundancy. Shortening works (I think - correct me if wrong) by the storage on the shortener's server of a match between the shortened URL and the original one. Someone who clicks on the short URL gets redirected to the original (long) one. In theory, if a shortener's server went offline, because for example the shortener went bust, all the links would be lost.

What's to be done? There are a number of shorteners, so using a range of them reduces the consequences of failure of any one of them. But the impact could still be significant, especially if the most popular one failed. And the more paranoid might even see possibilities of duress here, should a shortener fall under the control of an ill-intentioned person. Admittedly the consequences of failure of any 'cloud' service, including good old webmail, could have serious consequences, but those are arguably less systemic than shortener failure would be.

Should there be some sort of process for putting URL shortener databases into escrow, or is there another answer, perhaps?

Saturday, 14 March 2009

World Wide Web is twenty

'Twenty years ago this month, something happened at CERN that would change the world forever: Tim Berners-Lee handed a document to his supervisor Mike Sendall entitled "Information Management : a Proposal". "Vague, but exciting" is how Mike described it, and he gave Tim the nod to take his proposal forward. The following year, the World Wide Web was born.'

"Information Management : a Proposal": understatement of the century?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Transport Chaos

Thanks to Euan Semple for pointing me to this one. (Before you ask the relevance to this blog, it's a mashup):

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Clever old Twitter

When I first came across Twitter, I thought, "What the heck is the point of that?". Later, I came to see the value of it for at least one specific purpose: following the movements of my preferred candidate for mayor of London. Recently, I've found myself using it more and more. Why is this?

I think there are are a number of reasons why Twitter hits the spot in a way that no other social software tool does. Firstly, it is simple. You post, you follow people, and people follow you. Not difficult, that. Secondly, despite this simplicity, it succeeds in blending together the features of a number of other types of tool. This makes it either the best of a number of worlds or a decent compromise, depending on your point of view. The first of these features is the 'friends' concept of Facebook and LinkedIn, but with a twist. Whereas in the former social networks a relationship cannot exist unless it is reciprocated, on Twitter it can be one way. This, for me, 'lowers the bar' when it comes to deciding whom to follow, whom (if anyone) to block, and if/when to de-follow somebody. None of this feels as personal and therefore possibly hurtful as it would on Facebook or LinkedIn. And the consequence is better 'liquidity' of contacts. There need be no stale ones.

The way contacts work on Twitter also makes it easy to select the people you want to follow - by seeing who the people that you follow, or might wish to follow, follow. This is possible on Facebook and LinkedIn, at least to some extent, too. But that reciprocation thing gets in the way.

The second feature is the threads concept of forums. However, whereas in forums, threads are very central to the way a forum works, in Twitter they are very weak. The only way a thread manifests itself is as an @ reply, which links a response to an original comment. At least I think this is the case - any Twitterers reading this who know otherwise, please correct me. De-emphasising threads is arguably no bad thing. At least it prevents the sort of rambles/flames/rants that can spoil the debate on forums.

The third feature is the blogging concept. Or, in Twitter's case microblogging. It's blogging because it's relatively standalone - the blogger on his or her soapbox. But it's different because of the limitation in length of post - 140 characters or 15-20 words. Despite the fact that it's possible to cheat by breaking up a long post into 140 character chunks, this length limitation in practice works to make authors be concise and be interesting - particularly as they would not wish their adoring followers to desert them.

And now for Twitter's pièce de résistance: intimacy with celebrities (as it were). I do not know if this is merely a function of Twitter's newness, or if it will endure. But at the moment it really does feel that if you follow a celebrity Twitterer you are getting a more intimate view of their life than you ever would through other media. Personally, at the moment I'm following Lance Armstrong, John Cleese and Stephen Fry. There are many aspects of celebrity, and the way the broadcast media handle it, that I usually hate. Somehow Twitter turns celebrities back into normal people again. The posts I've seen seem totally authentic, you know they aren't getting paid to do it, and there's always the tantalising thought that you might get an @ reply to one of your comments.

Finally, I think Twitter would be a very good tool for the enterprise. It could either be within the firewall (I think Yammer is an enterprise Twitter-like product for this) or Twitter itself could be used, probably with certain precautions. It could be used to let colleagues know where each other is and what they are doing, but also to create the 'loose ties' of people in different departments or locations that have so much potential for mutual help.

I have converted from Twitter sceptic to Twitter fan. How about you?

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Web 2.0 tools for the recession

In what way can the read-write Web help in a recession? You can, of course, flog all your belongings on eBay, or you can go to your favourite social networking site and have a good gripe about the state of the economy. Perhaps more usefully, there are a number of sites that facilitate pooling of resources that might be worth a look. Sites such as Liftshare and TfL's London Liftshare could help reduce the cost of running a car, as well as helping the environment a little. Instead of buying or selling services - both difficult when times are hard - maybe try exchanging or bartering skills with others, through Teamuphere or Skillsexchange (read that one carefully...), for example. Then there's the old concept of home exchange (Home Base Holidays - again, read carefully ;-) ) or Home Exchange. There are no doubt many more ways in which pooling or sharing can take place, and Web 2.0 sites are tailor-made for facilitating them.

I found these during a short Google. Disclaimer: I haven't tried any of them - but may well do so soon.

Does anyone have any other ideas and links along similar lines?