Monday, April 14, 2008

Twitter usage in corporate settings

Note: This blog is based on a comment I made on Sam Lawrence's blog "Twitter: A Two-way social computer" . I felt that I hadn't said all that I wanted to say about the topic. I also read @shelisrael's blog about Laura Fitton where she talks about corporate use of twitter and found some other points on which I wanted to "dwell".

I'm a twitter addict like most and as one cog in a large corporate machine, I (and many others) have been imagining if and how this technology and/or metaphor (which in my opinion is more interesting) could be applied in a corporate context. I think the marketing aspects of twitter usage ("a great vehicle for a brand extension") has been discussed in various blogs but as Laura Fitton said " To leave social media in the marketing/publicity layer is a HUGE mistake -- akin to saying email is only a marketing tool". I agree completely and in my comment to Sam's blog I attempted to examine this issue.

The success of twitter-like systems in corporate settings (internal usage only) would depend a lot on the characteristics of the particular organization in which they are being used:
  • Corporate size would have a huge impact on the viability of such systems. Compare a start-up with 20 users and a corporation with 1000, 10,000 or more users. One comment refers to the productivity loss with a company of a few 100 users. Think of what the “public timeline” in a multi-national with multiple divisions would look like. The potential of twitter-like systems is that you can post a question or comment into the “flow” and get a response from someone in the corporate social network with whom you have had no previous contact. In order for this to work, these individuals must pick out your comment amongst the thousands of other questions, ideas, random thoughts. This is difficult to achieve without the users doing nothing else but watching the flow (as I have discovered with twitter).

  • The difficulty in creating one single social network that depicts the corporate reality: In reality, individuals in the corporate setting are also part of many smaller social networks that represent their actual situation - the unique set of attributes that are associated with them. They are in various projects, based in certain location, etc. Based on the particular question that a user may toss into the flow, the involved social network changes as well. Maybe, I want to combine social networks: projects in China with projects dealing with dam-building. The tool in question should be deal with such request. Ideally, other tools in the corporate arena would also be able to identify which social network is appropriate based on the context of the work in which I am currently performing. If I’m working on a project plan, then it would be great to be able to watch the “flow” from other project members.

The definition of social networks is another difficulty: The value of such twitter-like systems is largely based on a correct definition of the network involved. I’m assuming that in larger corporations that the definition of social networks will be a mixture of automatically created social networks based on the individual’s current characteristics (See my blog Talkin’ through the Machine: Thoughts on Indirect NetWeaver Participation in Social Computing Environments for more details) and an selection of followers / friends based on the individual’s own choices. The critical factor is in the creation of a network that enables you to perform your job as effectively as possible. This must be of course be counter-balanced by the innovation potential of having conversations with people who are outside of your “corporate-created” networks.

I think it also critical to see twitter not as an isolated tool but part of corporate IT infrastructure with other forms of collaboration. In this environment, the transition from the twitter-like system to a wiki or some other tool would be interesting to explore. The conversations that happen in the twitter-like systems are useful but what happens based on these conversations is more important. If you look at some of Laura's ideas - "Provide extensive personal and professional support" - how is this connected with other support tools). For example, I post a question into the “flow” in a bridge-building social network. Someone in another country sees my comment and responds. Based on this conversation, we decide to view the engineering drawing in question. The transition to some sort real-time collaboration environment should be easy and supported by the corporate infrastructure. Of course, you might consider the usage of such systems are akin to a spoken conversation between two employees but the technology adds a whole another angle to it.

Archiving is another issue that must be examined. In a large corporation (just as in twitter itself) flow is active at all times - weekends, middle of the night, etc. How do you assure that those great ideas that are added at inconvenient hours aren't lost forever.

The idea of separate social networks: I think that notion that there are two separate social networks (viewed at the meta level) - one based on my corporate experience and one based on my existence outside of the corporate arena - is still valid. An artificial attempt on the part of corporations to keep these areas apart is short-sighted and, in all likelihood, impossible to achieve. My current twitter network represents a combination of both worlds. - the corporate firewall make stop usage of twitter tools but an individual’s network itself exists outside corporate control.

From a corporate perspective, the power arises when these two networks start to merge - when I as an individual - if desired - can exploit their combined power to accomplish tasks. When I’m working on a large outsourcing project, there are individuals from different organizations - inside and outside the corporation - involved. To draw the line at firewall and say, “My social network can’t cross this line” no longer mirrors reality. It might be useful to distinguish between Intranet-, Extranet- and Internet-based social networks. From the corporate perspective (based as well on the tasks involved), a network that spans Intranet - Extranet might be more acceptable than Intranet-Internet (such an interaction is of course useful when talking to end-users / customers).

It would be interesting to discuss the various use cases - the processes involved - in the corporate arena where twitter might be useful and to examine the associated pain points that must be solved. Examining the ideas that Laura describes, I think the following ones have the most promise:

  • Summarize core ideas
  • Flatten the org chart to create feedback and mentoring
  • Fast sharing of ideas, news and information

I think these are also some of the reasons that makes twitter outside the corporate arena so fascinating. It's also curious to see that the topics are deal with improving communications between individuals in a network. Both environments are based on the successful creation and exploitation of a social network. The fact that the goals that motivate individuals in these two settings are usually different is also are reflected in the expectations regarding twitter and other similar systems.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Groups in twitter

As my twitter network increases in size, I am becoming more aware that the number of twitter messages increases accordingly. Duh. Initially, I just looked at the twitter archive when I arrived at work every morning to see what sort of conversations had occurred during the night. Lately, however, I have realized that this is slowly becoming impossible. There are so many messages in the archive that after a while I just give up. So, I usually look at few pages in the archive and then look at my "replies" and "directs". I have no idea how other twitter users with hundreds or thousands of users in their network work with this flow.

I'm actually a little bit saddened by this tendency, because there were probably great tweet streams that I would enjoy. When I think of twitter now, I am sort of reminded about the title sequence for the Matrix movies where you see this jungle of characters growing and intertwining like snakes.

What I'd like to see is the ability to group twitter users. I know there are some sites that already do this but I'd like to see a client that supports this. The characteristics of this feature would be
  • I can define my own groups of users and share this group with others (either privately or publicly). Sort of like Chris Brogan's twitterpacks . You often see new twitter users being introduced by well known users. What about the ability to "import" a group from one of these well-known users for example, important twitter users who talk about social networks from the perspective @shelisrael . You could then use this group and add members to it or delete it when necessary. You might also get messages when Shel adds or deletes users to this list.
  • The groups should be able to be hierarchical.
  • A client should be able to sort messages. For example, I come in the morning and I want to read tweets from those in my "friends" twitter group. Then I read the tweets from my group "technical gurus" and so forth.
  • If I'm feeling frisky, I can then take a look at the timeline that includes my entire network.

As twitter becomes more popular, such a feature would definitely make things easy for users.

Note: This feature isn't new. There are other blogs that describe the problem: Groups for Twitter; or A Proposal for Twitter Tag Channels and even a twitter user

Monday, March 31, 2008

What corporations should not do on twitter

Lately I’ve been seeing more and more corporations moving into the twitter arena:. @oracle, @capgemini, @accenture, etc. I’ve been thinking whether this is really an appropriate usage for this technology. Many of these corporations just use their tweets to either announce blogs or use the platform as a mechanism to make PR-like announcements. This usage is probably more useful in an RSS feed. Some might say that the misuse of twitter to publicize such events is an attempt to use twitter as an aggregator for social networks and RSS feeds. Personally, I use twitter for a more personal reason – I like to see what people are doing and thinking. As I follow Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang), I like to see what he is doing (who he is visiting, etc.). Based on his tweets, you can understand how his ideas develop and you can help influence his ideas.

Of course, behind many of these corporate accounts is one or more individuals impersonating the corporation. In my opinion, this really doesn’t make any sense. A corporate account can’t tweet about a few crazy ideas about Facebook or ask you where he/she should stay in San Francisco. For me, twitter is personal – as my followers grow I can interact with these individuals on a personal basis. Interaction with a corporation at the same level is impossible.

If I want to complain about Macy’s, then an exchange of tweets with @Macys twitter user is probably going to be unsatisfying. I can exchange tweets with others in my social network about a particular product or corporation. If I want to interact with a corporation, there are better environments such as GetSatisifaction. As James Governor (@monkchips) once said, twitter must be fun.

If you want to represent your corporation in twitter, then it is probably better to personalize your account @acme_marketing for the Marketing director of Acme widgets. Still better might be a real person with a profile that links with your company. When I check the profile for this user, I’d like to see a real name of someone and an twitter avatar with a picture of a person. If users are looking for your company, they will find you via other search-related means.

If you are planning to use twitter as a corporation, be aware of the expectations that accompany its usage. Twitter is not a blog – it is a lifestream whose usage is much more intensive. Followers expect multiple tweets per day and to see that those being followed respond to interaction request by followers. Thus, it would be unexpected to see a CEO to use twitter - although this would definitely be an interesting experience.

I just found the Editorial Policy Guidance Note from the BBS regarding their presence on social networks. In this policy, it emphasizes the importance of "conversations, participate online; don’t “broadcast” messages to users". I then checked out @bbc on twitter and discovered that it is just a news feed. I don't consider this a "conversation".

I obviously see a value in corporations joining twitter but such an association must be based on the environment’s unique characteristics and not the usual assumptions that accompany traditional marketing campaigns.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The effect of relationship type on social networks

If you look at social networks (Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), you will see that they are usually based on relationships between individuals and on occasion (corporations). These relationships are based on individuals with common characteristics and are purely voluntary. Individuals represent themselves. They can act as experts on various topics or provide advice.
Usually relationships in social networks are very loose. Involved users don't have to use their real name and may join and leave the network as they please without experiencing any real penalties. Although certain behavior is frowned upon, the worse that can happen is that their account for that network is deleted.

There are, however, a variety of other types of relationships in which we as individuals are involved. For example, a user may represent his corporation when collaborating with other individuals from other corporations. In such a relationship, there are certain legal requirements that must be met in order for such collaboration to even take place. There are governance issues. Before such individuals can interact, there must be legal agreements that must be present - or there must be some common agreement regarding which rules (moral, etc.) are valid and which must be followed. In a collaborative project environment in which individuals work together, there will be a big difference between environments in which individuals can come and go as they wish (such as open source development projects) and situations where individuals have a certain responsibility (regarding commitment of time and materials) that must be met.

This idea isn't just restricted to corporate cooperation. What about a social network from a clinic that is based on group therapy between an experienced therapist and a group of out-clinic patients. If the group understands that the therapist is obligated by his legal responsibility to not pass the discussed information on to others, the patients may be more willing to speak freely. Thus, such a "closed" group bounded by a legal document / responsibility might be much more effective than a normal chat room.

What effects can different relationship characteristics have on social network technology? One impact may be linked to admittance to the social network itself or to certain parts of the social network. For example, in order to join certain groups, users are required to provide certain legal documents that act as a "governance gate" and which spell out the restrictions and expectations of joining the network.

Thus, it can be expected that as social networks on the Internet expand in their popularity than such networks will expand to include other types of relationships. The technology involved must also change to meet these new restrictions. For example, interaction with other systems (for example archives from notary publics or attorneys) where the presence of documents may be checked. Another possible scenario involves the use of other authentication schemes (besides username/password) where the real identification of users (perhaps via PKI or other stronger methods of authentication) is known.

Currently, this necessary changes in existing social network software is usually the result of custom development work. There is definitely potential here for niche players to move into this area.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Tag clouds for active bloggers // Oracle vs SAP approaches to community blogging

I just checked out the Oracle's page for the community bloggers for the Oracle Technology Network .

What is interesting is to see that there is a clear division between Oracle employees and non- Oracle employees. There is also a mixture of blogs and external blogs. It is also tough to see if these are Oracle or OTN blogs.

What is very cool is the widget which allows you to see a tag cloud of the most active bloggers.

What is even better is that you can change the timeline to see who has been most active over a ceratin date range. I find this is bvery useful to get a quick impression of how active the community is.
Ideas for SDN might include tag clouds based on category (might be easy to implement since most blogs are associated with 1 or more categories) or what about tag clouds from blog comments.

Changing course on the SAP SDN Blogger Juggernaut

In a recent comment to a short blog on SDN, SDN evangelist Craig Cmehil commented on a new direction that SAP is currently pushing in its over 1 million member strong community. If I hadn’t been reading Craig’s tweets on twitter, I would never would have read his comment.
Welcome to the blogging world here on SDN and BPX, normally a post like this would never have been approved but it was Friday and I just rejected around 72 blogs this week due to content, lack of content or content better suited to a Wiki than a blog.

Welcome to the blogging world here on SDN and BPX, normally a post like this would never have been approved but it was Friday and I just rejected around 72 blogs this week due to content, lack of content or content better suited to a Wiki than a blog.

Sure many people here are not going ot be happy that this was posted, it's basically not what the community expects. But I felt the title and the timing was pretty good.
We are working together with the moderators to push more of the FAQ and "how to" content into the wiki and not have them here as blogs anymore.

This blog was a good start in the direction that many of the community has been asking for experiences of real life with a personal touch. So as I've welcomed your first blog don't let me down on your next one - we want substance, the good stuff from your personal experiences!

No more simple FAQ's, code samples, or How To's your blogs need to attract readers to them, you have to explain why it is that you are telling us what you are telling us!


Now why do I feel that this comment is important. If you look at majority of blogs on SDN, many contain a highly technical content that describe how the blogger has solved a particular problem. This tendency is present in bloggers from SAP (see the current highlighted series of blogsby Benny Schaich-Lebek - which I must say is excellent -) and non-SAP bloggers (including many blogs written by myself). However, as Craig suggests, the question arises if this content is really appropriate for community blogs. To answer this question it is important to look at how blogs are defined (of course, there are many definitions of what a blog should contain - perhaps as many different definitions as there are bloggers). A blog is usually more of an opinion piece - something personal.

I also agree that much of these To-Dos are better located in the wiki where other people can adapt them based on their own experiences. (Take a look at this intriguing new use on the wiki to deal with CE trouble-shooting to see some of potential of the wiki to deal with technical issues.)
There are however certain challenges associated with this shift from blogs to the wiki:
  • One reason blogs are written is that there are more points associated with a blog post rather than a forum post. This is of course correct based on the fact that blogs usually require more work. Points in the wiki are currently not so well understood - indeed, the very nature of the wiki makes giving points a real challenge. It is currently the case that users must currently request points for their work in the wiki. Furthermore, the ability to comment on content - one of the most important features in blogging - is difficult to use in the current wiki-based environment.
  • A shift to the wiki must also impact other areas of SDN. Selected blogs are always highlighted on the front page of SDN and BPX. I‘ve never seen a wiki entry with a picture of the author on the front page.
  • This shift of blog content to the wiki must impact all bloggers (irregardless of whether they are „Expert Bloggers“ or „beginner bloggers“. Maybe, there should be some way that users can vote on which blogs might be appropriate for the wiki.
  • There has to be a better description of what content is wiki content and which content is more appropriate for blogs. If I blog a story about a Visual Composer problem that I solved, is this a blog or a wiki entry. If this is a wiki entry where does it go in the wiki? Who decides that it is a wiki entry, the moderator for that topic? For example, I‘m unsure of where to publish this blog. So I‘ve decided to publish it on my personal blog and on SDN.
    Since BPX-related blogs usually don‘t have a „How to“ character will there soon be more BPX-related blogs in the community blogs?
  • We should remember that SDN is a „developer“ community as evidenced by its name. Any change regarding blogs shouldn‘t have the affect of intimidating any community members who wish to contribute - maybe for the first time - and are now uncertain. (Maybe, there should be blogger mentors??).

Irregardless of what happens, I think this editorial change reflects a shift from a community that is largely technical in nature to more of a social network where other aspects of our relationships with one another are also important. I welcome the change and I think it reflects the maturity of this community.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Finnegan's Wake in Twitter: New forms of fiction

If you try and define twitter and distinguish it from other types of communication, one thing that has always fascinated me that tweets could be seen as snippets from someone's thoughts. Sort of like James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake where you can read someone's thoughts. In twitter, you can act as a voyeur (as a casual follower) and just read what the others are saying / thinking: or you can also communicate with them and join in / effect their thought process.
The opportunity exists for a new type of fiction based on tweets. If you look at current attempts to use twitter to create fiction, the usual attempt is to create a work of fiction based on the individual tweets of interested participants . In my opinion, this really doesn't capture the true essence of twitter.
I am imagining a another type of fiction based on twitter where you jump into a story by reading the tweets that characters are writing - real time. Picture a story of a political campaign in which the two candidates create tweets that express their thoughts before certain events - a television debate or an election. Followers could just read and enjoy or they could contribute to the story with tweets of their own reflecting their role as campaign manager or television moderator or voter who is getting ready to cast his vote. Or another story might concern a murder mystery where the murderer and the detective each reflect on the "hunt" and "chase". Users could take over characters such as a television reporter covering story, etc. Of course, you might have sort of a War of the worlds effect where uninformed followers might think these were real thoughts. If you had too many people tweeting on the story line (maybe using #hashtags to coordinate things. Of course, the created story may get out of control if too may people start getting involved but hey life is complicated / chaotic as well.