Do group tools get more traction due to not requiring network effects, and being in the context of certainty
A while ago I posted that size doesn’t matter when it comes to effective communities. You don’t need a lot of members to make a community of practice successful, you just need quality participation.
Whereas in a blog/micro blog social network you need lots of people in order to gain the network effect. That is, a network (individual centric) system like a blogosphere becomes more valuable as the number of players increases. The more bloggers there are, the more we have to read and learn, the more comments and linking result, and as a whole we have a richer distributed conversation. If there were only 5 bloggers in the world I would have not much to read, comment and link to…5 million diverse opinions are going to generate more material, discussion, points of view.
To re-iterate a community of practice does not necessarily become more valuable when the number of people increases…see fictional example:
“Our community was great, there were originally 10 of us that were of the same calibre, we had lots in common, we all trusted and relied on each other…now the community has 40 people, and it’s lost is attraction for me, there’s too much off topic content, and the conversations are too noisy and of lower quality, I really don’t know all these people…I liked the dynamic I had before with our original group, I was more prone to participate and felt much more comfortable among peers I trusted and had confidence in, we are thinking of branching off”
The thing about groups is that it’s a shared choice as it’s a shared space, whereas in a network it’s your own space, you just choose to ignore people, you only add friends to your contact list that you like or trust. Therefore you always keep the quality, at any time you can drop someone you lose interest in.
NOTE: Communities and networks are not substitutes, they both have unique purposes.
Why wikis have more adoption?
What sparked today’s post is a post from Sameer, 2009 is the year of Enterprise 2.0? Hold your horses….
In his post we see that Wikis are gaining more traction. I think this is because they are more:
- group based tools
- based around a task (an environment of certainty)
- help with process failure, and
- don’t require network effects like blogs and social networks
…ie. wikis and forums don’t need lots of people to take off, all they require is a small group of people.
|“To get maximum potential is so much easier when you don’t need lots of players, and so much easier when the returns/benefits don’t take long to come.”|
I recently left a comment on Stewart Mader’s blog about how my boss and I (and a couple of others) are using a wiki for everything lately…it’s so much easier and less messy pointing to a URL than emailing an attachment.
This is a social tool we are getting great value from, and all it took was a group of under five people.
Another reason wikis are taking off is that so many people at work want to make topic, workaround, best of, to-do pages. The nature of knowledge work is that we deal with uncertainty and unique situations, we can only document so many official processes/procedures; often we need to bend these processes and use our thinking and conversation to respond or get things done on the fly. This is why we are the people for the job as we use our minds to get things done, we are not programmed robots in a factory, work these days cannot be programmed by management, we need to respond and act to all the different situations that face us.
OK, so after that long speel, I guess I wanted to say that sometimes we may like to communally create our own informal procedures or workaround lists that contain the ways we responded to situations. Or a list that contains the best documents on a topic; these documents may be scattered in different repositories, and a wiki can bring them together in a topic page…and of course everyone wants to make a wikipedia, or use it as a simple CRM type tool.
What’s happening is that wikis are actually replacing a process, they are becoming a new way to do group work. Just the same forums, as Sameer mentions have been round a long time, and are useful for discussions that would normally be done in email…we can often use a forum to discuss a task.
Both these group tools are about the nitty gritty work tasks that we do in email, whereas blogs and networks may not be seen as task oriented, they are more about learning, sharing, opportunities…something nice to have…and of course require network effects…and the returns of effectiveness, efficiency, productivity may take longer to reveal…in this light they may be considered an R&D thing, not something for Joe Bloggs (pardon the pun).
In saying this, our community/team blogs are also taking off because they are in a group space, and the postings are about a task, status, progress, tips (we also see posts about sharing links, and theory). But, if we were to have blogs out of a context, that is, social network profile blogs, then I think adoption would take much longer, people would feel more like they have their own publishing house (feels more serious and onus to regularly post compared to a group space like a forum), and the postings would not necessarily be in the context of a task. People would be free to publish what they know from their own individual context. Managers may see this as not contributing their time to achieving a deliverable, the question would be asked, what returns are you getting from this that you can feedback into your job.
Social tools can be used multiple ways
This comes to a fundamental question. New social tools can be used to achieve tasks, but they can also be used to be more effective, connected, tuned in, so your tasks can be more optimal, of better quality, quickly executed, of reduced cost… So if you want your tasks to be more effective, rather if you want your workers to be more effective and deliver quality and innovation, then workers need time away from their tasks to devote to informal learning. Actually, it’s not even necessarily time away from tasks, rather we need time to tap into co-workers in researching, finding, conversing, and learning. Some of this may be seeking stuff from people, some of this may be general talking about what we know so we become smarter people.
Either way social tools are here to stay, we can use them for tasks, and if allowed time, we can use them to become more effective and tuned in, which in turn make us more efficient and deliver quality tasks.
If the company devotes the time, social tools can be used in two ways, if they don’t allow the time, they can still be used to achieve tasks (what you are already doing with email and attachments and rigid process systems)
Jordan Frank says in the comments of Sameer’s post, that when the tools are more process centric they don’t seem so standalone, they are more in the flow of doing work, eg. beta bloggers vs alpha bloggers, and Directed/Volunteered.
I mentioned in my post, Conversations that revolve around task objects, certain social tools will get more adoption and credibility (acceptance) when they contribute in the flow of getting work done (more process-centric). Then later on when they become indispensable, there will be more acceptance in dedicating time to using these tools to become a learning organisation, ie. connecting and sharing what we know, more above-the-flow. James Dellow is also on this meme of social features to existing tools, rather than just having a blog or wiki, we can have blog-like and wiki-like features on existing products.
Do we face a catch 22?
I say we need to first use these tools in group spaces like communities or teams of practice, as you don’t need network effects, and they are based around doing existing work…the returns and usefulness are seen quicker.
Once people see the benefit and find the group spaces indispensable (eg. this is already happening at my work), then management may see the value in people having their own individual spaces in a profile based network.
Further to this I think a microblog profile network (like Socialcast) may get more traction than a regular blog profile network, as more people ask questions and have conversation, than having a publishing bent…lot’s of bloggers are also on Twitter, but lots of people on Twitter do not blog.
Now this is all OK when you have existing groups that want to use an online social space to work in, but what about when you want to find people with like interests in order to build a group.
There are two things happening, one is existing groups can work better in their online social space, but we also want to capitalise on unknown scattered experts…who are our people? what are they good at? let’s self organise to find this out! We need to capitalise on what we don’t know, we need to seize opportunities from our pool of talent. In this case it seems we need a social network in order to find each other, and then come together in a group.
I guess this is why most new social platforms (like Clearspace) have the social network and the group component.
Collaboration vs Participation
Olivier Amprimo has a really good point here, in relation to what I’ve mentioned above, organisations see more immediate value in collaboration spaces rather than participation systems.
“Collaborative tools are made to have people work together on common tasks. It is about team work. They are principally organized around emails and documents, detailed profiling, structured workflows (document approval or task management).”
“Participative tools are made to have people socialize their ideas and activity. It is about Flow and Networked Individualism (as Lee says). They are principally organized around blogs, social networks, social bookmarks…”
He also relates this to adoption:
“The adoption of a collaborative tool focuses on deployment. It is mostly technical, the rest is the job of the boss who will enforce its use and agree training sessions.”
“The adoption of a participative tool focuses on great user interfaces, quality people and quality content in the early days in order to create exemplary behaviors and interactions that will influence new joiners. No matter Free Will, Humans are rational herds : they copy early-adopters behaviors and reproduce it or modify it only on the fringe. It is mostly sociological, no one can be bossy to make that work. That’s OD work.”
From this we can see that participative networks are more bottom-up and don’t revolve around a task or a thing, they are instead nodes that collide together. This is more about a learning organisation, it’s related to know-how and work, but not directly (a deliverable)…it could be seen as replacing some training with informal learning.
Olivier Amprimo has another post related to this topic. In it he brings up a point related more to communities of practice rather than team spaces. He mentions that learning communities require dedication and work on borrowed/allowed time (our communities of practice at work have sponsors, which means they agree that’s is OK for these people to spend time in the community).
“Most people see online communities as communities of practices, which are known to be hard to implement because they require engagement of of members and managers. Immediately people associate engagement as costly (time consumption from the financial angle) if not dangerous for the corporate reputation (B2C). Communities of practices also have the reputation of being not successful, because most of them have low activity.”
Olivier compares these group spaces to participation networks which may generate value without needing to build group engagement.
“…my stake is that we can take advantage of the “crowd” without demanding any engagement from any of its members.
This is what I call a socialized service. A socialized service is a service where the activity of an individual is made visible to others, so that it creates awareness among service users.
It relates to concepts such as “social translucence” and “ambient awareness”. The concept of “social translucence (of technology)” is almost ten years old now. It suggests that communication systems can be designed in such a way that they support social processes. Social translucence proposes that three factors support social processes in computer-mediated work environments. Those factors are: visibility, awareness and accountability. “Ambient awareness” is similar, it actually surfaced in a NY times paper later.”
Activities and numbers
Which brings me round to Betrand Duperrin’s post, like me he see’s that numbers are essential in networks, but not for collaboration. Which means some tools are taken up much easier over others. He also relates this to activities; those that are more certain, target oriented and focused tend not to need critical mass to achieve success.
I’d like to simply say this the other way around: those activities or systems that are set up to tease out weak signals, deal with uncertainty, surface opportunities, find and learn; don’t have a focused purpose, rather they are a framework to naturally manifest into something, based on the level (critical mass) and quality of participation.
We know the aim is all the things I mentioned directly above, but we don’t explicitly work towards that aim, rather we just participate and value emerges that achieves these aims. ie we have a framework to surface innovation, but we aren’t trying to specifically innovate, it will just happen by default…the system creates the conditions for participation, and from there everything else may eventuate…we don’t directly knowledge share, it’s just a by product of participating.
“In the beginning, my idea was that is was depending on the kind of tool. It’s easy to understand that a 5 people team is enough to demonstrate the value of a wiki and that a social network, on the other hand, needs a critical mass of users. With hindsight I’s rather say that it depends on activities.”
Personally, I think the numbers and the activity goes hand in hand. If you want to tap into enterprise-wide diverse ideas and opportunities (which is not a focused task to achieve, like collaborating on an end product), you simply need critical mass.
“…social networks, being more flexibility-oriented and aiming at mobilizing expertises inside adhoc groups, need to be used by a lot of people to make sure the relevant resources (people and information) will be there when they’ll be needed.”
“That’s why wikis is often mentioned as the example of a tool that was easily adopter : defined human and functional scopes, defined goal. A contrario, tools which have a larger spectrum, more protean uses, such as blogs or social networks, need a deeper work to be a part of people’s day to day job.”
And this brilliant way of putting it:
|“If we try to generalize, a small team is enough if there’s an identified purpose and that a larger populaton is needed if the tool’s purpose is rather to make things possible while these “things” are not predictable”|
Again, some great insight:
|“So it seems that the more certainties we have on what has to be delivered, who have to work on that, and the more mandatory the goal is, the less size is critical“|
I can’t help these excerpts, I’ve nearly re-published Bertrand’s post here:
Size is not critical when a clear need exists about what people have to deliver so that people immediately understand what benefits they will get from using such or such tools. Here, the goal, what has to be delivered, who has to participate are known from the beginning. Use is led by work organization“.
I really like that Bertrand has included this middle space below eg. a team using a wiki to list workarounds, and using a blog for tips and tricks
“Size may be critical when social software is to overcome dysfunctions in the way the work is organized. Here the goal is defined, but the people who have to participate and the functional spectrum can’t be anticipated, nor when the software will be used. Use is led by circumstances“.
“Size is critical when social software is expected to help people to deliver their full potential. Which, said in other words, mean to allow their to use all their skills to make things the company may have never thought about. It’s typically the case in “innovation” projects, where it’s impossible to know who wll have ideas, who’ll be interested in joining the discussion to improve things….and what the idea will be used for. Use is lead by the will to participate“.
[ADDED 1/7/2010: Is your Company Creating Zombies 2.0?:
“…communities are inherently dynamic and have fuzzy boundaries. Networks, which may both encompass or be nested inside them, are often unpredictable, uncontrollable, activate and dissolve on purpose, instill passion and disruption into communities. In networks relies the real power of communities. Without purposely enabling them and fully fostering their capabilities, which means giving up control and deeply changing the way we think about work, online communities are, and ever will, only be technology assisted para-hierarchical structures. Communities are the bodies, while networks are the souls of the collaborative enterprise…”]