Social Software Behind The Firewall

Earlier this week I participated in a general workshop for the Future Workspace research consortium that I have been contributing to in the past months. The consortium is otherwise made up of the Telematica Institute, IBM, Rabobank, Royal Haskoning, CETIM, Free University of Amsterdam and Delft University of Technology.

This week’s workshop was an open invitation workshop around the use of social media in enterprise, organized by the Telematica Institute and hosted by IBM in Amsterdam. Questions around adoption, governance, selection of tools, and integration in existing ICT architecture, were discussed in a Knowledge Café format.

Before the actual discussions and conversations, a short presentation was given Erik Krischan on how social media are currently used within the IBM intranet. (Showing us the intranet in Firefox btw) A short list of things that caught my eye:

– RSS and tags are used throughout
– There seemed to be a bit of confusion between the terms tag and bookmark, which were used in part as synonyms
– It all looked very ‘portal’ like and text based
– By choice there is no single sign-on (to prevent all kinds of global architectural/integration questions)
– They link to communities of practice and people wherever that is helpful, adding human context to information
– There are rating systems
– People are shown to you in degrees of separation, and there is a recommended ‘social path‘ to people
– There are experiments with visualizing social network analysis results (with opt-in crawling of your e-mail)
– New applications are only seeded with starting money, then fend for themselves to get adoption from colleagues
BlueTwit, is IBM’s behind the firewall Twitter-like application (next to regular IM of course) (no surprise to see Luis Suarez/@elsua in that stream 🙂 )
– ‘IBM Whisper’ automatically suggests people and pieces of information to you based on your use of the intranet

Erik Krischan explaining
Erik Krischan showing IBM web 20 enabled intranet

It is clear that IBM does a lot of ‘safe-fail’ experimenting with social media style functionality and applications in their intranet environment. It is less clear to me how consolidation is organized, as that was not part of the presentation and following discussion. It seems to me to already be a real patchwork of apps (mind you, I am no stranger to patchwork), although there are also signs of integration and consolidation. But what stood out most for me is how the ‘new stuff’  is often still presented as ‘seperate’.

A good example of that were how search results were presented. It had the usual search results with % of relevance. (The search term was portal, and yielded documents from 2004 and 2006 as most relevant results) And next to it people relevant to the search term. But then other results were not presented in terms of content or context, but in terms of channel/applications. There were boxes with ‘rss results’ and ‘bookmarks found’. That is like having seperate boxes for stuff that you heard on the telephone, or received through fax, or over a coffee in the hallway. For me as a person working on my tasks the information source is important, not channel of delivery. That does not help me filter, authenticate, or validate. It would be helpful if all those search results were in the same list (with a hint to channel displayed next to it: external blog, bookmarked by colleague) and subject to the same type of rating system.

So while IBM certainly has a lot of very very cool stuff on their intranet, making quite a number of participants drool and speak of ‘information nirvana’, I think there is one fundamental barrier in the overall approach and design however, and that is the focus on individual information items. Only then would you end up with a seperate box for rss search results, and bookmark search results, or search results tagged with your search term. That information focus is a legacy notion from earlier days. People don’t need ‘information nirvana’, they need more ‘flow nirvana’, that will help them do their work to the best of their professional standards. That is more likely to be achieved when you take the tasks people are trying to do, the context and complex characteristics of their work, more as a starting point than the distribution of ‘information items’.  In that sense the mentioned ‘Whisper’ functionality is significant, and could serve as starting point for more. Being able to create your own starting page with widgets and applets is a good start too as is possible on IBM’s intranet, if those widgets and apps are more functional building blocks, and less seperated along the lines of channels or ‘technology used under the hood to get this to you’. Because the latter seems to signify that somehow different channels are less valuable/trustworthy, whereas that has/should have nothing to do with value of information.

Knowledge cafe roundup
General conversation round

After Erik’s presentation it was Mireille Jansma who guided us through the Knowledge Café format (and told us a little something on how she and her colleagues see the possible role of social media in ING) Good to see Mireille and Jurgen Egges again, whom I both recently met in the context of a Cognitive Edge course and meeting with Dave Snowden. All in all a good session. Photos on Flickr.

Samuel Driessen also blogged his impressions, and spends a bit more time reflecting on the conversations in the Knowledge Café.

Benoit, Olga, Robert, Thijs
Continued conversations during lunch

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3 thoughts on “Social Software Behind The Firewall

  1. Irmeli Aro

    Hi Ton, just for info – I’m getting reorganized (re. CCK08) at Due to a bug (or there’s not an “official” explanation avail. yet – just messages by confused Blogger users in a Google group..) in Blogger service a number of blog accounts were deleted yesterday (!!). This WordPress should be a more reliable appl. See you online 🙂 Irmeli

  2. Martin Koser

    Ton, thanks a lot for the insight into IBMs approach. I too am having mixed feelings towards this mixed bag of things with no evident structure (well, rearranging widgets on my personal Notes portal site doesn’t count) and suspect that this is just an intermittent stage they’re in. We need more integration not less, so I really dig the “flow nirvana” meme.
    And as next week I’ll be at an IBM event on Social Software inside the Enterprise, I will be looking out for clues (and give them some nifty questions if there aren’t any).

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