Tuesday, August 18, 2009

User-Friendly Wikipedia, Encourages Enterprise Wiki Adoption

It's been some time ago I told Wikipedia is working on its usability. Now we can see the first steps. As I said before: this is very significant for enterprise wiki adoption. The platform underlying Wikipedia is Mediawiki. Mediawiki is a much-used platform in companies. Lots of people find Mediawiki hard to use. Now the interface has improve, adoption by a broader group of employees is near!

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Monday, August 17, 2009

What is Web Squared?

If you've been reading my blog for some time you'll know I'm very interested in 'web 3.0' or 'the semantic web'. We'll it seems this will not be the name for the new web. It will be: Web Squared.

Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle recently published a report telling us what 'Web Squared' will look like. It's a fascinating report with great examples and ideas.

Some nice quotes:

Web 2.0 is all about harnessing collective intelligence. (...)

The web is the world - everything and everyone in the world casts an "information shadow", an aura of data which, when captured and processed intelligently, offers extraordinary opportunity and mindbending implications. (...)

What we see in practice is that meaning is learned "inferentially" from a body of data. Meaning is taught to the computer. (...)

The real world objects have information shadows in cyberspace. (...)

A person has information shadows in a host of emails, instant messages, phone calls, tweets, blog postings, etc. (...)

Our devices extend us, and we extend them. (...)

Data analysis, visualization, and other techniques for seeing patterns in data are going to be an increasingly valuable skillset. Employers take notice. (...)

Evidence shows that formal systems for adding a priori meaning to digital data are actually less powerful than informal systems that extract that meaning by feature recognition.
Mapping from unstructured data to structured data sets will be a key web squared competency. (...)

Even without sensor-driven purchasing, real-time information is having a huge impact on business. When your customers are declaring their intent all over the web (and on Twitter) - either through their actions or their words, companies must both listen and join the conversation. (...)

The web is no longer an industry unto itself - the web is now the world. (...)

Web meets World - that's Web Squared.

Love the concept 'information shadows'. And how unstructured and structured information is being approached integrally.

Now, go ahead and read it for yourself!

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fused with IT

network I've been wanting to post this for some time, but was hesitant to do it. I didn't want it to be 'yet another post on 'Obama and social media'. I hope it isn't, you may be the judge.

Much has been written about how president Obama used social media to connect with (potential) voters. For instance:

  • The Global Human Capital Journal: "Social Media is its O/S (Operating system)." This report drills down to the underlying concepts of Obama's campaign, how this fits with the Web 2.0 tools that his team and voters used and what businesses can learn from this.
  • Infonomics had a comparable piece but also stressed the content management side of the campaign.
  • Wired has a slightly different and more critical approach: "Obama's campaign was never a bottom-up endeavor. The incoming president didn't crowdsource his view on the Iraq war or use Digg to determine how to allocate campaign dollars. He ran one of the most tightly controlled, top-down campaigns in modern history...". The big question this article asked is: Will Obama keep on using Web 2.0 concepts and tools.
  • Don Tapscott in his book Grown up digital stresses that Obama's campaign showed he understands the Net Gen and meets their norms (freedom, customization, scrutiny, etc.).

Obama's use of Web 2.0 and more importantly, they way he used the underlying concepts/philosophy of Web 2.0 is truly remarkable. And lots has rightly so been written about it.

But I'm wondering if this is all there is to be said. I'm triggered to think about this because of a remark made by Tim O'Reilly's some time ago. And he - together with John Battelle - repeated this in their great report 'Web Squared'. This is what got me thinking:

Infused with IT

Relating to this remark they point to the Obama campaign. But also to WalMart. It's about "the real-time enterprise". Not 'just' about using blogs and wiki's.

But what does this mean? Doesn't this mean that the Obama campaign was much more than web 2.0 concepts and tools? Of course they were new and used effectively. But to use them effectively blogs, wiki's, etc. are not enough. Yes, it was also about culture. Wasn't it even more so about the underlying ICT? The Obama campaign and real-time enterprises in general like Walmart are 'infused with IT'. I'd really like to learn more about what this means. Does it relate to what I've been writing about? That structured and unstructured information need to be managed under one architecture? That unstructured information is easily collected and generated by web 2.0 tools (sensors), for instance, and is subsequently piped into more formal systems, like product data management and enterprise resource tools? It would be really nice to see an overview of all the IT Obama used, not 'just' the new media tools.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Wonder and Fascination, It Keeps Me Going

IMG_9379 Chris Brogan had a fascinating post some time ago, called 'The value of wonder'. 'Wonder' is a great concept. It's basically a way of life. He says:

...let’s think about those moments when we see or experience something that makes us breathe in deeply, and then causes us to pause and just be there.

And he wonders: Do we experience this enough in our work as we do when we look at our kids for instance? Very good question. Do we look around us, at the people we work with, the technology we use, the things we see happening, a colleague's great idea, and step back in wonder. Do we voice this 'wonder' to each other regularly?

'Fascination' is a comparable powerful concept. It also relates to kids and the way they do things. Blocking out all else, fully concentrated.

'Wonder' and 'fascination' are concepts that keep me going. It helps me look at things in a new ways. Do it with your mouth open, because you forgot to close your mouth, you're so fascinated. It makes my life wonder-ful, hopefully your too.

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Picking Up Weak Signals

listeningHow do you pick up weak signals and make sense of them? In some cases we'd rather not pick them up at all. This goes for us personally ('what is being said about you?') and for companies ('who's talking about us and why?')

MIT Sloan Review ran a very interesting article on this topic: "How to make Sense of Weak Signals" by Paul Schoemaker and George Day (Spring 2009).

What is a weak signal anyway? Shoemaker and Day define it as:

A seemingly random or disconnected piece of information that at first appears to be background noise but can be recognized as part of a significant pattern by viewing it through a different frame or connecting it with other pieces or information.

I was surprised to read that "fewer than 20% of global companies have sufficient capacity to spot, interpret and act on the weak signals of forthcoming threats and opportunities." It would be nice to read some best-practices in this area. A general framework to make sense of weak signals is given in this article.

Shoemaker and Day say:

There are various individual biases that may cause managers to be taken unaware. In addition, there are organizational biases - such as groupthink or polarization - that may keep much of the periphery-dwelling enemy in the shadows, even in organizations with an active scanning process.

People and companies have difficulties coping with multiple pieces of evidence pointing in opposite directions. Or when crucial information is missing, "our minds naturally shape the facts to fit our preconceptions".

A very interesting remark made by the authors with respect to information and knowledge management is:

The organizational problems caused by dispersed memory and varying perceptions can only be overcome when information flows freely across departmental boundaries.

And sense making is rightly marked as a social process:

Organizational sense making occurs in a complex social environment in which people are not just sensitive to what is being said, but also to who is speaking. We judge both the signal and the source.

The authors gives nine proven approaches to reveal, amplify and clarify potential important weak signals. These approaches should be used in combined:

  1. Tap local intelligence. Relates well to "When Information is not the answer".
  2. Leverage extended networks. Ask questions!
  3. Mobilize search parties
  4. Test multiple hypotheses. "Managers often have limited tolerance for ambiguity and may be reluctant to devote additional time to develop alternative hypotheses to escape the trap of getting stuck on a simple, single view that is wrong."
  5. Canvass the wisdom of crowds
  6. Develop diverse scenarios
  7. Seek new information to "confront reality"
  8. Encourage constructive conflict. "There was no dissent. So, information never really traveled."
  9. Trust seasoned intuition

Good stuff! And very helpful. However, I was surprised this article did not point to several other sources, that also address weak signals. For instance:

  1. Jim Collins, Good to great. Collins says great companies continually confront themselves with the 'brutal facts'.
  2. Chris Argyris, Overcoming organizational defenses. Argyris talks about how corporate defense mechanisms work, also leading them to 'close their ears'.
  3. Dave Snowden's work on the Cognitive Edge/Cynefin framework and coping with complexity. It provides ways to make sense of complex, chaotic, knowable and known contexts.
  4. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink. Relating to the good and bad of trusting "seasoned intuition".

Anyway, how do you pick up and act upon weak signals?

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Product Development is Social

tinkering_alsion Thanks to one of Dion Hinchcliffe's tweets I found an interesting post about 'Social Network and Product Development' on the Cadalyst blog. It was written by Tom Shoemaker.

To me product development is a deeply social activity. People develop product. They have ideas, write them down, share them, design what has been specified, model it, build it, sell and service it.

What I see in the IT world in general and specifically in the world of tools for product development and resource planning, is a big abstraction from reality. There seems to be no 'social' in their stories. Product development, to stay with that topic, is a mechanical process you can automate in big, formal, heavy and expensive tools and you're all set.

I find, the whole Web 2.0 movement is teaching us this is wrong. People are (usually...) social. Information is social. Processes are social. To me that's the big reason why blogs, wiki's, etc are so popular: they connect with reality, with the way people work and think. And there's hardly a technical barrier to get started. No big investments, no long training before you can get to work.

For this reason, the above-mentioned post surprised me. It gave me the idea that you have product development supported by the old, formal tools. This is non-social product development. On the other hand you can 'reach out to the broader network' by socializing these old tools. You just add 'Web 2.0 tools' to it, in a smart way.

But isn't this the wrong way around? If the old tools aren't supporting the social process of product development, they're not supporting much... Product development is not supported by 'a social network organization' as the post says. Product development is the social network, the community, so you will.

And 'Web 2.0 tools' are not just 'forums', 'votes' and managing 'documents. It's much more. Let me turn things around: why do the old tools only support part of the product development process? And therefore see 'web 2.0 tools' as an add-on? (I know vendors that support document management.) Why aren't the old tools 'fun', as the post says? Doesn't this have everything to do with the fact that these tools lost their sense of reality?

So, I don't see a 'risk' in adding 'social' to product development, as is mentioned in the post. (This could lead to less control...) The product development process is social. Taking social from it basically kills it.

Indeed, 'the train has left the station', as the post says. Web 2.0 tools in product development are here to stay. These new tools may even make the old, formal tools obsolete. What would happen, for instance, if Mediawiki (a much used wiki platform in R&D's) would add baselining? (Allowing versioning of a collection of wiki-pages instead of one page.) What then would the real added-value of a Product Data Management System be?

I hope this makes sense. Comments are very welcome.

By the way, talking about social: no commenting on the above-mentioned post is possible...

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Facebook acquires FriendFeed: Also Relevant for Company Information

nano-logo The big news in the Web 2.0 world is, of course: Facebook is taking over Friendfeed.

Lately there has been lots of buzz about the war between Twitter and Friendfeed, between Twitter and Google, and between Google and Facebook. Oh yeah, Microsoft is also playing along, by taking over Yahoo en starting Bing.

For starters, I'm happy with Facebook's move. The Web 2.0 will converge (or is it already?) and still is a step in that direction. As a user of Facebook and Friendfeed I hoped they were merge in time. Although current plans don't seem to point in that direction.

Secondly, we all see the 'real-time web' as the future. Friendfeed contributed to this movement. Friendfeed also nicely merges all my and that of my friend's/follower's information streams in one neat stream. Facebook has been copying this FF feature, but is now basically paying for it.

Finally, and this is what I wanted to get at, these movements are interesting for companies as well. Not because their employees are using these tools to get things done. And not just because these tools help you harness network effects making you more competitive as a company, as opposed to companies not using them. But because it helps you understand how employees are consuming information externally and internally. Compare Friedfeed or Twitter with your corporate news on the intranet. Is new bi-directional at the company you work for? Is it 'real-time'? And, one step further: Can you as an employee merge all the streams of information into one personal stream? Information coming from SAP, Sharepoint, network shares, feeds, etc. In most companies this is not the case. But it is the future. Time to get to work!

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Disruptive Projects

Read this nice interview with Clayton Christensen in MIT Sloan Management Review (Spring 2009). The article, 'Good days for Disruptors', has some really interesting quotes. I was thinking, what they imply for instance for product lifecycle management, knowledge management or enterprise 2.0 projects in the company I work for.

  • "The breakthrough innovations come when the tension is greatest and the resources are most limited."
  • "The model of disruption say that a company's direction of innovation is always driven by where the margins are ..."
  • "Every disruption has three components to it: a technological enabler, a business model innovation and a new commercial ecosystem."
  • "In general, cost is driven by overhead, which is driven by complexity."
  • "While cost is driven by complexity, quality is driven by integration. It's when we don't integrate things correctly that problems fall through the cracks."

Now not all projects have to be disruptive of course. But look at the last quote. This fits well on e2.0, KM en PLM projects, doesn't. PLM projects are about defining (product development) processes, accompanying working methods, content and systems. Indeed, if you don't integrate things correctly, you basically don't have anything. Or you have very busy (stressed) people filling the holes.

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Re: When Information is Not the Answer

a3-52_control_tower Andrew McAfee has another really nice post: 'When Information is NOT the Answer'. I advise you to go and read it, definitely if you are in IT. And for Knowledge and Information Management experts this post summarizes what you've been trying to tell IT all along.

McAfee basically shows that not all information can be processed using IT systems. Even though many think so and heavily depend on these systems for decision making. And he gives an example of a company, Zara, that acknowledges this and works with it in practice.

In a comment on his post I pointed to two books that underline the point McAfee's making. One is 'Blink' by Gladwell. (And I'll write a review of this book soon.) And the other is 'The Social Life of Information' by Seely Brown & Duguid. (The last book is one of my all time favorites.) If you haven't read them, please do so. It's very worth your time.

In 'The social life' they have that nice example of a control tower. The tower is fused with IT. But when they really tried to understand the PEOPLE that work in the tower and how they make decisions, they arrived at interesting results. These people used sticky notes, easily processed loads of data, make decisions based on intuition and experience - not on what's on the screen, etc.

And 'Blink' is loaded with examples of 'split-second decisions'. He shows that these decision can be good when they're (implicitly) based on processing lots of information in the past and becoming expert at something. Gladwell shows that some can make good decisions even though all the (objective/general) information in the world seems to be against them.

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Too Many Ideas?

Can you have too many ideas? I've been musing about this question lately. And can the amount of ideas you have be stalled by the context you work in? With 'context' I mean: your colleagues, your work tools, the culture of the company, etc.

I'm curious what your answer would be to these questions. I'll share my experience after you share yours!

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Yammer Widget? Adopting Internal Microblogging

Yammer widget example You may still remember we're experimenting with internal microblogging. We're using Yammer for this goal. And it's still working out nicely.
But I've been thinking how can we encourage further adoption? There are lots of ways as I've written before. But couldn't it be even easier?

I was thinking: Wouldn't it be nice if we had a Yammer widget? (I made a quick mock-up on the right-hand side of this post.) Then we could integrate it in the homepage of our intranet.

What I find is that our Yammer page is too 'far away' for lots of people. They have to be explicitly pointed to Yammer. My question was: how can we point them to it in a much easier way?

The company I work for get millions of hits on intranet homepage, containing corporate news. With the widget on the intranet homepage, eyeballs will be attracted to something that's moving on the page. What's going on there? What is this? Are 'regular' employees posting news in real-time here? They can then click-through and go see for themselves and hopefully dive in.

What do you think: is this a good idea? Do you think this helps drive enterprise microblogging adoption?

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