Social software at work: ties and tools

Andrew McAfee gave a great talk at Defrag about Enterprise 2.0, the meat of which appears on his blog as How to Hit the Enterprise 2.0 Bullseye. (His nutshell definition of Enterprise 2.0: “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.”) He provided a concise framework mapping protypical tools to levels of connectedness.

In his version this looked like (you guessed it) a bullseye, moving from strong ties to weak ties, potential ties, and finally including folks for whom you have no ties at all. I think this is an interesting way to think about the tools, and you should really go read his thoughtful post, but of course I wanted to make it fuzzy and mess it up. Because we’re people and our connections are often fuzzy and messy. (Not that he was saying otherwise — he was going for the cleanest way to get his point across. I’m poking around for complications.) So while keeping his mapping, I shifted the bullseye and so far I’ve come up with this:

social software at work: ties and tools

I think tying the “none” circle — people you are really never going to connect with because there is just no reason — to prediction markets is brilliant. You don’t need to connect on any level with other people for prediction markets to work. (In fact, if you are too closely connected, it might not work.) It’s the rest of the circles I want to quibble with and complicate. Notice the + in brackets? Those are things I want to add to each circle.

I don’t disagree with blogging representing potential ties, but I do think it covers more types of ties than that. Social bookmarking — and you know is my favorite here — represents a great way to identify potential ties. I subscribe to both tag streams and people I don’t know (as well as people I do, because I’m obsessive that way) from because I think those feeds are valuable sources of information.

Blogs represent weak ties as much as potential ties (and, if I’m being honest, pretty strong ties, too) in my experience. Some of the folks in my feed reader could as easily be contacts on Linked In or showing up in my facebook feed or part of the twitter stream I follow. Some show up in all four places, even though we’ve technically never met. Weak ties are the messiest category. How would you classify someone whose blog you’ve been reading and commenting on for two years? How do you sort your flickr contacts into “just” contacts, friends, or family? What kind of relationship do you have with the people on twitter you follow? What does ambient intimacy feel like?

Strong ties in a work context generally mean people you are working and actively collaborating with, so in that regard wiki as the prototypical tool makes sense. I just don’t tend to work that way. I think wikis are great tools but they still aren’t that friendly to non-geeks, and not everyone I work with embraces the idea of markup. My work is often about conversations and analysis, and I’d rather do that on a blog. Other people I know would rather do that in QuickBase, or email, or… The one thing we all seem to have in common is using instant message to be in touch when we need to be, and even then, we don’t all use it the same way. I think one of the biggest challenges in this space isn’t which tool to use for what — though that is a significant challenge — it is how we can accommodate different work styles and combine tools into intelligent workstreams.

Defrag day two: an awful lot of us

Okay, so my brain still needs to reflect, analyze, and (I hope) synthesize after day two at Defrag. So I’m just going to share some quotes from folks speaking at Defrag. These are from my notes, so mistakes and possible ‘hey that’s taken out of context’ problems are all mine.

“If you can state everything explicitly about a character, the character is a failure.”
David Weinberger

“We’re in the model T phase of these tools. You have to turn the crank and know where the carburator is and how to adjust it.”
Jerry Michalski

“I don’t know what your rights are, I know what you can demand as a consumer to be pleased.”
Esther Dyson

“Search sucks relative to its potential.”
Jeremie Miller

“Friends is surreal in the enterprise.”
Kevin Marks

“Stories are patterns of events in time.”
JC Herz

“Libraries are the last great noncommercial third spaces in our culture.”
Karen Schneider

“I’m more worried about information underload — how do we make sure people get the information they need?”
Paul Kedrosky

“It’s not a tools problem. It’s a what do you care about problem.”
Chris Shipley

“One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.”
Douglas Adams in 1999, quoted by Kevin Marks

Defragging my brain, day one

So much to say about the first day of Defrag, I’m not sure where to start. You know those sponges that start off dry, compacted, almost crispy, then zoom out into their fully three dimensional shape when they get wet? Day one of Defrag was sort of like that for my brain.

So here are a few as yet still undigested highlights of the day for me:

David Weinberger gave a new talk, The Rise of the Implicit Web. The reason I love hearing him give a presentation is he can talk about things like ensouling computers, people understanding things through their potentiality, links revealing the way the world matters to us, and read a snippet of poetry and people take him seriously. We should. He is serious (though, charmingly, without taking himself too seriously) and how we human beings use the web should be taken seriously in ways that have nothing to do with measuring ROI or serving up ads.

The panel conversation about social intelligence (with Jerry Michalski, JP Rangaswami, Joshua Schachter, and J.B. Holston) was really interesting. I wish all c-level executives could be as fearless as Rangaswami when it comes to transparency and openness. I also loved J.B.’s point that “the challenge in enterprise is how do you make it as easy as poking someone on facebook.”

For the open space session, I participated in the discussion on getting traction in organizations. Andrew McAfee asked what I thought was a great question about security as a red herring in these discussions. I think (with few exceptions — say, health care, because of HIPAA concerns) it is, and that people are often afraid of new things, so they fall back on the bogeyman of security in order not to have to deal with something scary and new and different. Corporate bloggers behind the firewall are not inherently more dangerous than employees with email accounts. Deal with it.

The so-called “hallway conversations” were also most excellent. I talked to a wide range of peeps from big company folks to start uppers, folks with decades of experience in the tech industry and someone who recently graduated from college, and yes even other folks who come from library science land. I feel like I’m at the right place, at the right time, having conversations with the right people. I haven’t felt this way since I stopped going to Museums and the Web, the first work-related conference and community I felt at home in. (I was working at Jewish Women’s Archive at the time, and it was easily the best event to go to for my field. Sadly, now that I work for a big public company instead of a small virtual archive, sending me to Museums and the Web really would make far less sense to my manager, and I can’t really blame her.)

Which is why I had to laugh at the bathroom line at this morning’s break. I walked right in to the women’s room, no waiting, but saw that the men’s room line was out the door. That might be number one on the top ten list of ways to tell you are at a tech conference. The women here are speaking up (and yes, there women on the agenda) so I’m just a bit baffled as to why there are still so few of us here.