OK, here’s the solution upfront. You can read the rest of this post to know why this needs to happen.
These requests are necessary to catch posts and comments that stream by that are important to you.
Microblogging in the enterprise is a different context from the consumer web; people are doing real work and need to be able to catch important posts in the stream. It’s not about just dipping into the stream and having a swim, it’s not just about following interests, it’s more about my boss, or people from a task I’m on, have posted a few things and I can’t afford to let them stream by unnoticed, I need the notification/subscription/follow mechanisms set up so I don’t miss anything essential.
This doesn’t happen in email, you don’t have difficulty sorting out the spam and the friendly email from the task type email…you don’t really miss seeing an email from your boss. This needs to be the same in enterprise microblogging; but it’s not as easy as email as the stream is much more a firehose than the email inbox.
Mary Abraham has talked about TMI (Too Much Information), and how do I differentiate the "good to know" stuff (it’s great to be aware of what’s happening in the organisation), from the "essential to know" (what’s the latest update I have to action today).
This brings up the need for enterprise microblogging to get a facelift by including a way to catch information that is essential to you…basically it needs a couple of simple features and functions.
Not long ago I posted on how we do knowledge work via email because it’s easy, but we suffer later as it’s messy…and we miss out on these conversations living in a central place where others can be aware (and for possible diverse input), and later can be searched.
I explained the alternative in using a blog or forum. Which is OK, but it’s simply not in our flow to jump to a group space to communicate, especially when some of the people you want to communicate to are not subscribed to your blog.
At the moment if I need to have a conversation with a random group of people I use email (this is my ad-hoc tool)…I may even add an attachment if we need to do more than just converse. I’m not about to set up a group space for a conversation that may last a week or even a moment…it’s way too much effort.
Hence, no adoption of social computing tools for ad-hoc work. If we do get this design right, then not only will we get adoption for activity based work, but also for learning and sharing sites like online communities, online team spaces, etc..
It’s not just email; if I need to grab some relevant parties or have a discussion about a task we email or phone each other, and then get a room, or go to someone’s desk and have that chat. I want to be able to assemble this way using social tools, where there is not so much a group space, but a conversation space…kind of like a Twitter hashtag conversation, or a Yammer threaded post.
Group spaces (like CoPs) require facilitation to keep them active and you have to shift context to use them depending on the topic of your conversation, whereas network interactions are more transient, and only exist as long as they need to (just like email conversations).
Keith Swenson shares his pain:
|"The solution is to make a shared “room” where all the toys can be shared equally within a group. That is the solution that many approaches have taken, and it is not difficult. But someone still has to set up the room in advance, in anticipation of the need to share, and most people will not take this step. It is just easier to send the documents as an attachment and force the work onto everyone else. In groups that I work with, even making the room available to people, they rarely get used."|
What I’m alluding to here is the need not for a group space, but simply an ad-hoc conversation space…and networks, not groups is the answer.
In comes microblogging…
Here’s a fictional example…
@bob @sarah @jason @neil @brad @sally @jeff @denali @arielle @peter as you know the development of our new DMS has been on hold due to low resources. Well now there is an initiative happening that needs the use of a new DMS to store its documents, so they will sponsor it’s development…blah blah blah…please tell your people
Bob - do you have a new roadmap?
Sally - what’s the deadline?
John - the deadline is August 31st, and a roadmap will be shared soon
Neil - what is the initiative you are alluding to, and how far will they sponsor it’s development
Jim - hey guys just came across this conversation as I follow John. We are running a global Quality initiative and need somewhere to keep our output, so we are sponsoring the new DMS
John - apologies Jim, I forgot to @mention you in the original, come to think of it I forgot to add in our IT representative, hey @abby join in the conversation.
Jody - Neil told me about this resurrection, congrats guys
Abby - Hey guys, we ordered the new servers yesterday
John - Thx Jody, yes we are indeed very happy about this
Samantha - Hey guys, I’m from the DMS team, we are looking for some work for our intern, could they possibly get involved
But the issue we have here is with notifications (which I will tackle further down in this post)
What new capabilities does microblogging bring to the table
Others can read this open conversation in the stream and be aware and get involved (diverse input…possible clashes with other tasks or what other teams are doing can be revealed as conversations are in the open to be found):
- whereas in email it’s just the recipients and people who have been forwarded the email
- microblogging makes for more chance of collaboration and awareness to better align and cooperate with other units
The recipients in the original post can re-post (retweet) the post including an @mention to other people so they are aware of it, or to get involved…or alternatively can leave a comment that includes @mention to others.
The recipients can re-post (retweet) the post to their group space (eg. as happens in Yammer group or Socialtext Signals) so their team can see the raw conversation, if they have not already seen it stream by anyway in the public stream
- what I like about this is that people down the hierarchy can see the raw conversation, not some filtered re-interpreted conversation. And of course if the post has failed to reach them via their manager, there is a chance they will still see it as it’s online in the stream for anyone to see
The conversation is in one location and not messy like email, no-one is left out of the loop, new comers can join and see the past conversation…it’s searchable
And of course it’s essential that posts have a comments thread, and more than 140 characters to post content.
But what’s missing here…
If we follow the Facebook model…
John is getting notifications that people are commenting on his post
Bob, Sally, Neil, Jim, Jody, Abby and Samantha are also getting notifications as they have left a comment…
BUT, they are only being notified of comments that have come after their comment. So they have to catch up reading on the earlier comments, unless they have already seen them stream by (remember comments are threaded, but are also a post in their own right)
Sarah, Jason, Brad, Denali, Arielle, and Peter ARE NOT being notified of any comments
Until microblogging can duplicate this uniqueness of email, it will not be as useful to do actual back and forth work
When we have this typical conversation in email; people will individually file this conversation in a folder. This way they can find it later.
In microblogging we can favourite/like the post of this conversation so we can come back to it later, but we also need to be able to tag these favourites so there is more context to help us find them later.
And we need these tagged favourites browsable in a tagcloud/or a list on the left of our microblogging app, just like we have our email folders in the left-hand pane.
But we also need to be able to list some posts from within our favourites so we can see them right there in our left-hand pane.
Maybe they are not called favourite/like, perhaps Watchlist is better.
Ok, I think I just solved our notification issue…
What’s required is a Watchlist feature.
The recipients of the original post can click the Watchlist link on the footer of the post (it will also ask them to tag it ).
This will put the post in a tag in their tagcloud, and also list it under the tagcloud so at a glance they can see the current important conversations they are following.
When a new comment is added to a post that they have in their Watchlist it will become bold with the number of new comments.
See what’s happening here, a Watchlist is catching something for you that you may miss streaming by. Kind of like an RSS reader, but at the post level.
If the conversation becomes old, they can then remove it from their Watchlist and later find it in their tagcloud if they need it
An important aspect is that the microblogging app becomes the new email…so there is a battle here.
Similar to the screenshot I linked to in my previous post, perhaps microblogging can be integrated into the email client, and perhaps it’s no longer an email client, perhaps email is just a feature of Inbox 2.0.
The microblogging private message feature can perhaps replace email.
So why do we still need email?
We still need to email with people that don’t have access to the microblogging system. Our clients, vendors, friends, family, local shops, etc don’t have access. What I’m saying is different microblogging platforms don’t connect via a protocol like email does.
What about groups?
Earlier I mentioned microblogging groups, all this means is that you are not posting in the public stream, instead that post just appears in the group stream. And to catch these posts you just have a group tab to see them.
This is a great way to filter the firehose to see stuff that’s important to you…but often a task I’m in doesn’t really involve my whole team, instead it’s me and a handful of others from various teams, so the group stream doesn’t help here, instead we ad-hoc groups need a hashtag stream to filter the firehose (which I will tackle further down in this post)
Tag based forum
So what’s happening here? What is Twitter or Yammer? It’s conversations, but not confined to groups, instead it’s one massive group, but moreso a crowd as not everyone knows each other, just like you don’t know everyone in your workplace or suburb you live in.
So really it’s not a group, it’s a network.
Which kind of makes it like a giant forum, or a giant blog.
At work we have groups (CoPs) and each one has forums and blogs.
So to have conversations about a topic you need to visit the right forum/blog in the right group, and further to this you need to be a member, and you have to be a subscriber.
What if the appropriate topic doesn’t exist yet; I’m not about to create a forum and get people to subscribe…further to this they also have to become a member of the group space that they may not want to do.
For the sake of being open, this is way more difficult than email.
And if all we are having is one conversation I don’t want to subscribe to a forum and get further content that I don’t want to read.
And as mentioned earlier I want an ad-hoc conversation that doesn’t warrant the setting up of a space…you don’t have to do this in email.
Over 4 years ago I posted on Tag-based forum networks (I wonder if the idea for Twitter came from these sites)
It’s basically the idea of microblogging where a question about any topic can be asked, and the question is tagged, and further similar questions can be tagged the same so these questions can be collected into a browseable space.
Which brings us back to our fiactional example…
Collecting posts in the stream that are about the same task
The fictional example in this post is perfect for one off conversations, more appropriate than email and more designed to how we behave over having to go to a group space. This is not about groups, it’s about ad-hoc conversations.
Now what happens, is that the conversation stream on that post can get really long and cover lots of questions, which really should be their own posts.
What I mean is; what if this one-off ad-hoc conversation is part of a bigger task that requires many conversations on various items pertaining to the task. You’d hope that you could collect all these conversations into one browseable space.
To follow our example John needs to ask a question or give an update about the task. So again he has to @mention various people in a new post. This time he might @mention only a couple of people as the question or update is more contextual.
But what results is that unless all the recipients from the 1st question see this new post in the public stream they won’t be aware of progress…it’s not essential they see it otherwise John would have @mentioned them, but still the same they may want to be aware as they are part of the greater task. And for all John knows maybe it turns out it is essential for someone else to see it…that’s the beauty of these tools in that the it circumvents the sender having the power as they cannot always know who needs to know what.
Again people who see this post can tag it in their inbox and also add it to their watchlist so they can follow the conversation…keeping all the items about the task in a bucket.
The issue increases…
If people that are not @mentioned want to be in the loop about this task they have to catch these posts coming through the stream, there’s a good chance they are gonna miss them. What if you go on vacation for a few days. Are you gonna go through thousands of posts, add to your watchlist and tag them. How are you gonna differentiate the posts in the stream that are important to you.
So everyone will be doing the same thing, picking out these posts and personally tagging them to their collection.
See what’s happening here, we end up using microblogging just like email. Sure it’s open so you may catch these items race through the stream, but we need a way for the system to keep everyone in the loop on every conversation about the task, even if you it’s not your part of the task, it’s still good to be in the know of the greater picture.
And further to this, in the future we want to look back at all the conversations about that particular task.
In come hashtags…
In our example the 2nd post could have a hashtag #DMS_dev, and then perhaps the 1st post could be re-edited to add this tag as well.
Then anyone can follow this hashtag, which is listed in your microblogging app sidebar
When there is a new post within this hashtag, the hashtag in your left-hand pane would go bold and display the number of new posts. The same would happen if there was a comment on an existing post. Just click the hastag to access the new content.
In this scenario what you could do is remove the 1st question off your Watchlist and remove it from your personal tag cloud. As now you are following the hashtag stream which is accessible via your hashtag list or cloud.
A hashtag stream would actually be similar in a way to a group stream, but it’s post-created rather than pre-created.
NOTE: When you think of it following a hashtag would be similar to saving a Twitter search query in your sidebar, but more like an RSS Reader subscribing to a tag
So there you have it…
- a way to follow ad-hoc conversations (using a Watchlist)
- a way to follow many conversations about the same task (following a Hashtag)
This design has the uniqueness and ease of email in ad-hoc conversations, but the benefits of the awareness and emergence of microblogging
I haven’t played much with Google Wave or Socialwok (I guess 9cays can be included), but these may be the closest tools to my thinking…it’s not about groups, it’s about the conversation, and similar conversations can be channeled into a unique tag that becomes a type of group space (or channel) on-the-fly.
Perhaps ActionBase is worth a mention:
|"A task oriented email client will behave like a wiki document in the sense that once you send it out, any response, question or comment made by recipients or yourself, will all happen on the same email entry… all the relevant information under a single line item - THIS IS COLLABORATIVE EMAIL. In ActionBase we call this email - ActionMail. ActionMail is the next generation of work email which is task oriented rather than message oriented."|
Oh yeah, where is all the output, where is the documentation for the task kept.
This could be kept anywhere it doesn’t matter. But somehow the Hashtag page needs to be able to store links to where stuff is kept.
But there still is one big difference to email, this is mostly still a "pull" system where you add posts to your Watchlist, or follow Hashtags in order to be updated about new content.
Sure it starts off as "push" for some by way of @mentions, but then it becomes "pull" if you need or want to be further updated of new content without having to constantly @mention.
For others unrelated to the conversation it’s all "pull" for them as they were not @mentioned in the original post.
In saying this:
|…if you publish the post or have left a comment then you will be pushed notifications by the system, but if you haven’t done one of these things and it’s pertinent that you are aware, then you better add it to your Watchlist, or follow the Hashtag.|
Yeah, but no…
In the first part of the fictional example I mentioned that the lack of notifications means some people that were @mentioned in the original post won’t receive further comments unless they make a comment…hence my idea to pull it to yourself via a Watchlist.
Facebook have a private message feature where you can have a group conversation and all involved received comments by default (you don’t have to leave a comment to be notified of new ones). This is less messy than email but is still closed like email
I can only imagine so much, but without using such a system I won’t know if it’s too complicated. At the moment there are all these possible streams/filters:
- My network (people I follow)
- Various group streams
- Hash tags I follow
- Watchlist (comments in a post I follow)
- Notifications (comments on my posts, and on posts I have commented on)