Saying goodbye to Computer Weekly’s Social Enterprise blog

Last week, my discussions with Computer Weekly’s new editor ground to a halt and the decision was made to close the blog. This was my last blog post there.

I’m sad to say that this will be my last post here on Computer Weekly’s Social Enterprise. The sums, apparently, no longer add up, so I’m afraid I must bid you farewell. I don’t know what’s going to happen here, whether someone else will take over or whether the archives will be preserved in aspic. But I do know that I’m sad to see the blog go and will miss it.

It’s been a really great time writing here. I’ve read a lot, learnt a lot, written a lot, and met some lovely people. So thank you for reading, for being a part of this experience with me. If you want to carry on reading my stuff, I’ll now go back to writing regularly on my own blog, Strange Attractor so please do feel free to join myself and co-author Kevin Anderson over there. And if any of you fancy hiring me, feel free to get in touch.

There’s more to say about all this, particularly as it pertains to wider industry trends, but I’ll leave that for another blog post.

Luckily for you, oh Strange Attractor reader, this does now mean that I’ll be back blogging here much more often. Kev will be pleased! (I think he’s been feeling a little lonely here the last few months…!)

Life is not a marathon, it’s a series of sprints

If you can get past the slightly rambling intro, this conversation between Jonathan Fields and Tony Schwartz is a fascinating look at what’s wrong with the way we currently tend to work. It really starts to get interesting about 8 minutes in.

Although very focused on American business and culture, pretty much everything they say relates to British and European work culture.
One important idea they discuss, and something I’ve found essential myself, is the idea of pulsing or sprinting when working: to focus for a while and then relax for a bit. This idea is common in athletics, where it’s called the work-rest ratio: “It’s as important to renew energy as it is to spend energy if [you] want to be a consistently great [athletics] performer.”
We forget too easily that the brain is an organ that requires periods of replenishment as much as muscles do. If you work your muscles too hard, they ache, so we learn very early on not to overdo it. Yet we expect our brain to perform at maximum capacity, consistently, throughout our workday. It’s just not possible, yet we don’t allow for this fact in the way that we work.
Schwartz also says, “It’s not the number of hours people work that matters, it’s the value they produce during the hours they work, so stop worrying about how many hours that person spends at their desk, and start figuring out, What can I do to help this person design his life so that when he’s working or she’s working, she’s really working?”
To me this is the essence of what social media is in business is all about. We, as humans, work better when we are socially connected. It fulfils a fundamental human need to be part of a group whose whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. Social media also provides ways to communicate and collaborate more effectively and more easily, to benefit from the wisdom in the crowd. As we become more enmeshed in our community, so our ability to solve problems by drawing upon the resources of that community increases.
Social media is, at the moment, only doing a fraction of what it could for business. It’s an area full of potential and as we start to marry technology, psychology, business and human nature together, we are beginning to find ways to unlock our potential, not just as individuals but as members of a huge social gestalt.
Most businesses using social media at the moment are dabbling, going for the easy, obvious wins like marketing or some internal Wikipedia clone. We need more business executives to be brave, to think about their business as a multi-human organism that has its own needs and that isn’t being properly fed by current business practices and cultures.
When I look at what could be done, how we could use social media to really change our work environments in to something more effective, more enjoyable, I really do think we have a long, long road ahead of us. Change is often slow and incremental. We need some businesses to take a deep breath and leap, to remake their internal culture, to be more human, using social media as the agent of change.
But ultimately, I think what we’ll see is the old cultures dying off as new, nimble, socially aware businesses rise up in their stead. This new era of socially capable business is only just now dawning.

Conflict of interest: Success vs the user

I’m very wary of what sort of metrics and definitions of success are used to decide whether a project is working or not. To often, the wrong metrics and definitions are used, resulting in bad managerial decisions that are based on flawed assumptions.
A couple of good posts about how metrics and definitions of success (and, therefore, business models) can work against the user: OKCupid talks about why you should never pay for online dating, and Joshua Porter points out a paragraph in one of Mike Davidson’s posts which explains why companies’ iPhone/iPad apps are often better than their websites. In short, on a mobile app they don’t have the opportunity to finagle the user experience to artificially bump up their metrics.
In both cases, you have a situation where the metrics and definitions of success upon which the business model relies distort the user experience by forcing them to take actions which are not necessarily in their best interests. Indeed in these cases, a swift and satisfying experience for the user is damaging to the business providing it.
When you’re putting together a social media project, think first about what the most beneficial outcome for your users would be. Then figure out it can form the basis of a business model (hint: your income/ROI may be orthogonal to your desired user outcome) and then how that can be measured.
Do not start with a metric, build a business model on top of it, and then force the user to have a shoddy experience for the sake of your bottom line. And yes, this applies just as much to enterprise social media as any other sort. Don’t start thinking that ‘number of edits’ on a wiki is a definition of success, because that just means you’ll push people into more pointless editing and will take your focus of signs of real success, e.g. people being able to achieve their goals more quickly and more efficiently.

How offline social networking works

This is a great video explaining how the ‘Widower effect’ works, and how it applies to all offline social networks. In short, what you do and what happens to you is affected by more than just the people around you, but also the people around them… and the people around them.

This is essential information for anyone working on the adoption of social media in business.
Hat tip to Adam Tinworth.

Google to add Blogger to Google Apps

Google have announced that they are adding a raft of tools to Google Apps, including Blogger. Perhaps it’s a sign that Blogger is growing up, although they’ll need to develop it much further for it to really compete with WordPress, but it is certainly better than an awful lot of so-called enterprise blogging systems.

The addition of Blogger to the Google Apps infrastructure will make it trivially easy to create and maintain internal blogs for businesses who are not interested in running their own intranet servers. This makes the social media intranet much easier for all types of business and could be an important move for the wider adoption of blogs in business.

Event: Designing social interfaces workshop

With any luck, tomorrow will see the delivery of Christian Crumlish’s book, Designing Social Interfaces, co-written with Erin Malone. I’m really quite excited about getting my own copy and getting my teeth into the lessons it contains. For those who want a more personal learning experience, Christian is running a workshop in London on 9th June. I really wish I could go, but I’ll be in Sweden at the time.

Fun makes for passionate users

How much enterprise software is truly fun to use? Aarron Walter discusses the importance of fun in his article Emotional Interface Design: The Gateway to Passionate Users. It’s a very interesting read with some enlightening examples.

But to take the ball and run with it a bit, I think ‘fun’ is one reason that people who use social media can get so passionate about it. We engage much more with tasks that are fun and enjoyable, and we work better on projects where we are working with people who are fun. Just think about the tasks on your to-do list, and think about the ones that you find fun. I bet they’re the ones you actually want to do!

For me, blogging is fun. Working on a wiki is fun. Setting up a Kickstarter project is fun. Heaven forfend, but I even like playing with numbers in spreadsheets on Google Docs. (Don’t tell anyone, but I love setting up spreadsheets with formulas that suck data from one cell, transform it in some way and then spit out a number in another.)

Putting my numbergeekiness aside, the one thing those tools have in common is the presence of other people. The fun to be had in writing a blog increases the more other people engage with it. Wikis are both productive and fun when you’re working with other people on achieving a shared goal. Kickstarter is fun not just because it offers the opportunity to do cool projects, but because you’re doing that cool project with the support of other people. GoogleDocs allow me to collaborate with other people and even discuss the document in real time whilst we’re working on it.

Other people make things fun. Fun things are things we want to do, and keep on doing. The more we want to do something, the better we get at doing it. The more we enjoy a task, the better we get at doing it, the more efficient and productive we becomes.

Which begs the question: Can we make work more fun? Of course we can. And we should.

More Twitter research gives us an insight

Last week I blogged about research by Meeyoung Cha, from Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany, and her colleagues that showed on Twitter, the number of followers you have doesn’t correlate to the influence you have.

Corroborating that is research from Haewoon Kwak, Changhyun Lee, Hosung Park, and Sue Moon from the Department of Computer Science at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. According to Shiv Singh, in this second piece of research:

The researchers also analyzed the influence of Twitter users and found that there’s a discrepancy in the relationship between the number of followers and the popularity of someone’s tweets. This basically means that the number of followers is not the only measure of someone’s value.

Singh draw out seven points of interest from the research, some of which are interesting and some of which are blindingly obvious to anyone who’s spent any time on Twitter:

  1. Twitter users have 4.12 degrees of separation on average
  2. The reTweet is powerful
  3. 75% of reTweets happen within an hour of the original Tweet
  4. Followers != influence
  5. Trending topics are mainly news headlines or ‘persistent news’
  6. Only a minority of users have reciprocal relationships, and there are a lot of observers
  7. ReTweets spread quickly

Read the whole post for the Singh’s full analysis.

It’s good to see researchers digging into the nuts and bolts of social media. As I said about Cha’s work, those of us who’ve been in this area for a while have built up through experience and observation a set of instincts about how things work. We use heuristics to get a sense of how the whole system functions, but like any assumption built from personal experience there are risks that we are wrong. So it’s very valuable to have those assumptions tested by research which can then ground us in evidence rather than gut feeling.

Making time

Amber Naslund writes a good post about how important it is to make time to experiment with social media and to explore what it can do for you. It’s very easy, she points out, to say that we don’t have the time, but “Here’s what you have to face down. You make time for what matters.”

Spot on.

The comments are just as interesting as the post, as people come up with reasons why it’s not just a matter of making time. People are overloaded, too busy, scared to step out of their comfort zone, the skill set required is hard to acquire. It’s easy to come up with excuses why some people won’t take the time to learn social media, but they are just that: excuses.

Here’s the thing: We waste loads of time simply checking our email inboxes. What about if you reduced your time in email and gave that time to social media instead? What about if you went to one less meeting each week? What if you used your phone to check up on Twitter and blogs and such, and used some of that dead time when you’re waiting for other things to happen?

It’s actually very easy to learn about social media. A quick search on Google gives an awful lot of stuff to start reading, even before one starts dipping their toes in the tools themselves. How much can someone learn just by reading round for 10 minutes a day?

“I haven’t had time” is an excuse we all use, but it’s not a reason.