Web 2.0: Euan Semple

I’m here at the Unicom conference, Web 2.0: Practical Applications for Business Benefit. This is the fifth social tools conference that Unicom has run in the last few years, and the third one that I’ve been to, I think.

Euan Semple: What’s “social” got to do with work anyway?
Interesting how many people aren’t allowed to access Facebook from work. Wary even of using the word “social” because it’s a loaded word. Has been given grief about using the word. But business employees people, and that means social. If you look at what’s going on now, it’s about relationships in business, and the juxtaposition of social vs. business is a false one.

A few quotes.

Peter Drucker, said10 years ago, that businesses have evolved to manage conscripts, not volunteers. and it’s so much more apparent now. the relationship we have with our organisations, and the relationship we have with our network. Was interviewed recently by a journalist and put up the interview tape himself in case he was misquoted.

Gets frustrated when people talk about the web as if it’s just technology, and with people talking about techies as if they are different and weird. The distinction is getting more and more blurred. It’s about “globally distributed, near instant, person to person conversations” (The Cluetrain Manifesto).

David Weinberger has a quote about hyperlinks. Innocuous thing that people take for granted by it’s very disruptive. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchies, the collective ability to point to stuff, “That’s interesting, go and look at it”. If you look at Wikipedia or anything else, it’s all about the hyperlinks, we can refer to and attribute value to things. In the past, it was people like the BBC who attributed value, but now we can do it ourselves.

Leo La Porte talks about how, when you grew up in a village, you knew people and you could use that info to attribute value to their comments. When we got bigger than villages we handed that over to the media, and we lost something in that process. We are getting back that village-y feel, we can start to make those judgements.

When [someone whose name I didn’t catch] was asked about whether they were worried about kids having access to Wikipedia, the response was that we need to teach them critical thinking so that they can assess their sources.

What is “Real work”? At a workshop, a manager was getting grumpy, and he said “I couldn’t trust my staff to use these tools, they’d all waste their time”. If you can’t trust people to make small minute-to-minute decisions, how can you trust them to do anything else? But, if they are wasting time, we can tell you from these tools, you can tell how long someone’s spending using them, and then you can manage that. But he still wasn’t happy. Yet he spent all his time going to meetings. Protestant work ethic creeps in, the assumption about what is real work – that it’s meetings, writing reports that no one will read etc.

First part of anyone’s job is responding to threats and opportunities. Knowing that something is happening is important. In old world, someone higher up tells you what to do, or internal comms tells you the things that matter. That’s very slow moving, very filtered, may not related to your daily job.

Discussion forums at BBC, got very noisy, all sorts of stuff, everything under the sun. Wanted noise because out of noise you get some signal. Don’t want clinical and managed and ‘safe’, because need everyone to engage and access to that collective.

Start to notice more, because you have somewhere to express your thoughts about the things you’ve noticed. And if you introduce that thing into the forum, others may think it’s interesting, and the best stuff starts to surface. Can look at which people are writing about it which provides with context. Very messy, but you can see people talking about stuff, and you get lots of signs about people as a person, their priorities, and that gives you context for the documents people produce. Helps you make judgements about information.

The reaction many people have to Twitter. You condition behaviour just by having the question “What are you doing?”, which steers the conversation. Now there is Yammer, which is a Twitter-like app for internal use. A whole bunch of useful, interesting things can come out of using Twitter. You need to be a part of it, though, for it to be interesting and useful – you can’t just ask Twitter for help and expect it if you don’t take part. It’s hard work putting effort into these sorts of networks. Network can be quite extensive, and feeding it allows you to do stuff. Did a seminar and broadcast a screencast showing how he works, and many people were shocked by it.

Increasing number of tools that help us to take all this noise and figure out what’s important to us.

Collecting data. Once you’ve decided to do something, how do you get the data to do it? One way is to put up a wiki and start to gather information in it. NYK, a shipping company, they started a wiki and all the boat nerds came out of the woodwork and started putting lots of interesting and valuable data on to the wiki about ship types, berths etc. One of the most enthusiastic guys left, but his knowledge was all left behind.

Metadata. Don’t throw out your taxonomies, but using tags helps breath life into them. Tagging is distributed, collective process. Using things like Delicious gives you an ability to gather information. Cogenz, is like Delicious for business, and it’s interesting to see what people feel is interesting to them in a business context. Can kick off useful conversation.

Running projects. Always wary of using the word ‘collaboration’, not sure what it looks like. There are lots of things to do to help work with other people, and many of them are helped along with the tools. But the important thing is the people and finding the right people to work with is a non-trivial problem. The part of ourselves that we show to others is what helps people navigate to you.

Example, used the wiki at BBC to come up with blogging policy, and about 200 bloggers helped work out and decide what the policy document should contain. Not a single meeting took place to achieve that. At the moment, you usually have recursive meetings that struggle to capture what’s really said.

Capturing knowledge. The trivial thing of having a blog. Richard Sambrook, head of Global News and World Service. Very senior. Spends time regularly writing about the stuff that he thinks is interesting. Silly things, personal things, serious things, whatever he thinks is interesting. Gives us access to the fabric of his life. Consequences: he now has a political platform that some of this colleagues don’t [because they choose not to], also has a way to discuss things that he has problems with or wants more information about.

Collaboration comes up in unlikely places. Met a washing machine repair man on holiday, and washing machines are really complex, and the manufacturers don’t give freelance repair men much support. So they started a forum online to collaborate and work out how things work.

Wikipedia. This business that anyone can go and change stuff and this is quite intimidating. Specially for journalists brought up with editorial standards etc. Inside BBC, people who produce formal docs are unnerved by prospect of people having free-rein. But What was interesting was that having created the blogging policy on the wiki, it was then moved to the more formal places. But invariably people checked the wiki first, because documents do die over time.

Trust. People trust live documents more – wikis feel more alive, more trustworthy, than some published, glossy document. Wiki feels more real.

Engaging people in using these tools involves an enormous amount of trust. Worry about an organisation that didn’t trust people enough to use Facebook to work. Some clients don’t receive emails that have the word “blog” in it because it’s blocked by their firewall.

People who engage in these tools find they have more influence. No one ever really has control, you have the appearance of control, but with these tools you can explain what matters, why, give people context and information, and that gives people more opportunity to be an adult and work in an informed manner.

Serena Software found that everyone was on Facebook, and they turned that into their intranet. There are some dodgy things about Facebook, but the instinct to be pragmatic is important.

But most workspace internet use remains rudimentary. Lots of people that we take for granted some people still struggle with. People talk about the digital divide as if it’s about class, or money, or 1st/3rd world. There is a digital divide, between those who get it and those who don’t. Some people in Surrey, for example, don’t have a clue, and someone in India with a mobile phone and a clue can be more powerful than someone in Surrey.

93% of Americans want companies to have a present on social sites. Good or bad, we’re going to have to work out how to do it.

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