Our recent announcements about Socialtext People and Socialtext Dashboard have given me the fun opportunity to demo and discuss our new social networking initiatives with a large number of existing and potential customers. There’s some consistent themes that come up in these conversations, often unprompted by anything I say:
- Many companies have been thinking about the business potential of social networking at work. Several have even built out complete strategies and visions of what they would like to see working inside of their environment – not just in terms of a technology suite or stack, but also in terms of “fitting in” to their existing way of working. This is really exciting!
- At the same time many of them have a hard time explaining internally how the most commonly known and used public internet social networking tools show how this would really work “in the real world” of their environment. “Facebook is just for fun” or “How is that relevant to getting stuff done” or “what problems does that solve for me at work” are frequent questions that people either ask or get asked.
- One nerve that runs deep that our demo often touches comes to the fore when I talk about how we at Socialtext think really deeply and differently about the value proposition of social software in the workplace vs. on the Internet. We think that the point is to help people and organizations get stuff done, which is dramatically different from “staying in touch” or “showing off how big your network is” or “hooking up”.
What prompted me to write about this was a conversation I had yesterday with a new customer. I was humorously talking about how the explicit “friending” gesture that’s at the core of almost every public social networking site just doesn’t work as is in the enterprise – after all we work for the same company, and the political ramifications of publicly visible “friend connections” is just subject to too much useless gamesmanship (“look how many execs I’m friends with”). We think the real potential of social software in the work environment goes way beyond explict graphs of “who knows whom” (or really “who says they know whom”), and should address much more powerful things like “who works with whom” and “who knows what” and “who knows who knows what”.
My new customer told me I must watch a very funny video called “Facebook in the Real World” which is here for your enjoyment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs
Meanwhile all of this thinking was strongly influenced by one of my most favorite recent reads – David Weinberger‘s book “Everything is Miscellaneous”. I recommend this book to everyone – but in particular because of his chapter called “What Nothing Says”. My key takeaway is that the implicit is much more powerful than the explicit, and that what I do is more meaningful that what I say about myself. By extension, what others say about me is likely more relevant and trustworthy (usually) that what I say about me. These social patterns are much more useful and relevant than explicit links between people who know that the links are explicitly public.
Anyway, enjoy the video.