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  • Posts tagged ‘groups’

    Transparency, Access and Focus: Getting the Most From Enterprise Social Software

    I recently had a series of conversations with customers to get their input on some upcoming capabilities. The conversations included a variety of stakeholders and participants in each organization. Each conversation triggered thoughtful reflection and lively debate among participants about how their organization should use social software for the right mix of transparency, focus, and security.

    I’ll tell the story, do some analysis, and talk about what it means for how your organization can get the most out of Enterprise 2.0.

    South Australia Office of the Premier

    At the South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet, the discussion was about whether to hold conversations among a larger group, or within smaller enclaves. They use Socialtext Signals heavily for Q&A to tap into the expertise of a broad range of employees and to share resources that are valuable across the organization.

    Several managers advocated in favor of holding and keeping the conversations in smaller groups, while others pushed for more enterprise wide discussions. A member of the risk management group raised concerns about security. A project manager gave a counter-example, talking about value she sees in asking questions and getting answers from the larger group.

    Eventually, the manager weighed in. He said that the goal they were striving for in their use of social software was increased transparency. Part of the goal was to move the culture toward greater openness and transparency. Sure, there is the possibility that someone might make a mistake. But people use email every day and make decisions about what information to share with whom. It’s better to share the goals and trust people’s judgement.

    Getty Images

    At Getty Images, the conversation took the opposite direction. Getty Images is a major distributor of digital images and stock photography. They are using Socialtext broadly among their sales, marketing and service professionals.

    At Getty Images, people are using Signals to ask questions about the broad range of products and services the company offers. They are also using it to promote new campaigns, share reports and good news. A sales manager boasted that “we rocked the Emmies last night.” But people were starting to feel like the discussion in the larger group was too much information. At Getty Images, they are starting to steer people to hold some discussions in smaller groups. The reason is not security, but to improve signal to noise.

    Also, the Getty Images team is finding that brand new users sometimes share things that other people find to be irrelevant and trivial right when they get started. But then they see what others do, and learn from others’ practices, and adapt to the norms of sharing what people feel is relevant.

    GT Nexus

    GT Nexus is a company that makes software for the shipping and transportation industry. At GT Nexus, there was a lively debate among representatives of IT, engineering, product management, design and customer support about the need to share enterprise wide versus in smaller groups. On one hand, some product management and design team members were collaborating in private groups. Meanwhile, an engineering manager was encouraging them to post more publicly across groups.

    The debate didn’t conclude during that meeting. But GT Nexus will be able to use self-join groups and workspaces where they can collaborate in smaller groups without disturbing others, while valuable information is still being to others via browsing and search.

    Analysis and recommendations

    In all of these situations, the ability to share both broadly and narrowly, more publicly and more privately, set up a lively internal discussion about how broadly and narrowly to share different sorts of things. Each organization needed to think through its own culture and information needs, and come up with guidelines and heuristics about what to share with whom. Also in all of these cases, adoption timeline comes into play. People’s initial impulse is to share “too much” or “too little”, and the adoption process is about settling on the norms and accommodating people’s behavior to these norms.

    Overall, the value of enterprise social software comes from increasing transparency, so that more people in the organization have access to the people and information they need. Transparency is tempered by two different factors – the need for security, and the need for focus. If too much information broadly shared, and too much is said out loud, everyone drowns in the noise.

    Enterprise social software needs to enable organizations to manage, focus, and access along both of these axes:

    1. Security is provided through private groups that are visible to members only
    2. Focus is provided by small groups where activity can be easily discovered, and interested parties can join

    It is business decisions and cultures, not features, that enable organizations to gain the benefits of appropriate transparency and access. People need to decide, and develop shared culture, about when to share and ask publicly, and when to refrain from distracting their colleagues. Employees need to understand what information must be kept confidential, and what problems would benefit from increased insight and collaboration from a broader audience.

    The implementation of social software catalyzes important conversations and requires important decisions about transparency, access, and focus in your organization. There is no one right answer, and getting it right takes key decisions about what’s right for your organization, and tools that let you tune for your company’s goals.

    Why Groups Matter

    Today Socialtext launched Socialtext 4.0, a significant step forward for our enterprise social software platform. One of the most important new capabilities we’ve introduced is Collaborative Groups, and I thought I would take a breather from press and analyst briefings to jot some thoughts down on why we think they are important.

    Groups in the enterprise are different from groups in public social networks

    Keep in mind that our goal is to help organizations become more effective – by releasing trapped knowledge, connecting people, and helping them collaborate to get work done. So our goal with groups is different from how a lot of group-type functionality shows up in places like Facebook or LinkedIn. A few of the key differences are:

    Some groups are related to org structure. Many larger organizations have groups that are formed from nodes on their directory tree. Socialtext People can be connected to corporate directories via LDAP or Active Directory, and our new Groups functionality leverages that capability.

    There’s a wide range of privacy needs for groups at work. There are two dimensions of privacy as they relate to groups in the enterprise – Discoverability and Membership. It’s just fine for many groups to be discoverable by any employee in the company – the golf club, a group of people with expertise in a certain discipline, or a task force working on a cross-functional initiative. Some of these may have open membership, while some may need approval. On the other hand, some groups need to not be publicly visible – for example a task force evaluating an acquisition target – in which case it needs to be completely private. We’ve always worked hard to design privacy into the foundation of our architecture; as a result our new Groups and related functionality preserves and leverages that multidimensional privacy spectrum. And remember that Socialtext has a uniquely flexible deployment option – a SaaS appliance that can be installed behind the firewall.

    Groups want to get work done. We’re enabling people not only create and form groups, but to provide and “personalize” the full range of Socialtext’s collaboration features (Signals, wiki workspaces, Dashboards, etc.) for the specific usage and goals of the group.

    Making it easy to form groups, but with appropriate administration

    Ross Mayfield wrote a great blog post talking about how “We’ve made group-forming ridiculously easy”. We’ve incorporated a lot of customer feedback into balancing the needs of IT Administrators to have some control while at the same time removing friction that makes it difficult for business people to create and form groups.

    Groups provide context

    Ever since we introduced Socialtext Signals, our secure enterprise microblogging capability, the deployment, adoption, and usage of it has grown rapidly. As Signals has been deployed enterprise-wide with great success, we immediately saw the opportunity to deepen the value by provide Signals Channels in conjunction with Groups. This makes it really easy for groups to take their discussions out of the fully public stream through a simple pull-down menu pick – note that people have been hacking this for awhile on Twitter using hashtags – except that everyone still sees them (remember the really annoying tweet flood last year during SXSW – oh no is that coming up again soon?) In Socialtext’s Signals Channels, the context is preserved for the people in those channels, and the signal-to-noise ration is improved for those who aren’t. Adina Levin wrote a great post expanding on this “The revival of groups in the age of the network”.

    Groups across the company boundary

    We’ve been supporting customers in B2B secure extranet use cases for years, and as we’ve added Signals and now Groups we’ve been thoughtful and careful to deal with the privacy and sharing issues that multiple extranets create. Maximizing sharing and transparency within the company while separating what is visible across and between different business partners is a hard problem, and I’m proud of some of the hard thinking and elegant solutions our team has come up with. If I’m a law firm, I clearly can’t have any leakage of information going on between my clients, or between what one team in my firm is doing with Client A and another team is doing with Client B – and moreover I probably don’t want either client to know the identity of my other clients. We’ve tackled some pretty complex situations throughout our company evolution and we’re lucky to be able to build on our past experience and the architecture has evolved through that experience. Some highly visible privacy mis-steps by some other vendors recently just highlight the importance and difficulty of these problems.

    Groups are all about people

    My “Business is Conducted by People, not Users” post described how important People are to our way of thinking. Socialtext 4.0 is just another major step forward in putting people front and center – making it easy for them to find each other, create groups and teams, and then marshall the collaborative resources to help them get stuff done. I’m super proud of the Socialtext team in delivering this milestone, and we’re blessed to have great customers who’ve helped us design, refine, and deliver this major release.

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    Socialtext 4.0 – Using groups and networks together

    In a recent blog post, internet thought leader David Weinberger writes about how networks have surpassed groups in recent years, as ways of defining social connections online. “In the past decade, we’ve gone from talking about social circles to social network. A circle draws lines around us. Networks draw lines among us.” Social network messaging, where communication centers around the individual user (such Facebook and Twitter), have rocketed to prominence, far ahead of group-based tools (such as found in Yahoo Groups and Google Groups, other age-old forums, and special-purpose tools such as MeetUp).

    Weinberger implies that groups are obsolescent: “(Yet more evidence — as if we needed it — that networks are the new paradigm. Bye bye, Information Age!)” Networks are more visible and addressible now, but I don’t see groups becoming obsolete. As networks grow, groups are poised for a major comeback, as a way of expressing context within networks.

    Scale and context

    One of the reasons that social messaging networks have surpassed group forums is that networks scale around the individual. When you join a group, the level of noise depends mostly on other people – when the place gets too popular, the experience degrades for individuals. In a network, each person controls who they friend and follow, and this puts the limit under the control of the individual.

    But network traffic eventually gets overwhelming too. The number of people to friend and follow is under your control, but subject to social pressure and information greed – like chocolate you can get too much of a good thing. Keep adding friends, followers, and eventually there is too much information and not enough context.

    The solution to too much information is more context. As Clay Shirky says, there is no such thing as information overload, only filter failure. One of the most important ways of filtering is adding context. Context helps people focus on who and what they care about it, when they care about.

    Groups and shared identity

    Groups help people express shared identity. Now a social context doesn’t require a defined group. Social context is shaped by people’s interactions and mutually recognized signs of affiliation, not by defined membership. In an open network such Twitter, social ties can be inferred from patterns of tag use and replies; networks of replies and posters to a common tag become familiar faces. For example, on Twitter, I’ve recently stumbled upon an informal network of Icelandic musicians and their fans. But people often seek persistent affiliation, recognition, and communication in groups. In the workplace, people gather around shared interests, such as guitar playing, cycling, and kite sailing, to name three examples among Socialtext’s customers.

    Groups and action

    Groups are handy for affiliation and shared identity; they are necessary for sustained action. Networks can be very effective for ad hoc action. Think about the way that the call for donations to help with Haiti emergency response spread rapidly on Facebook and Twitter. But to coordinate action over time, you need ongoing communication and longer sequences of actions. In open source software development, the classic model of self-organized coordinated action in the internet age, a new project sets up a code repository, mailing list/forum, a wiki, and an IRC channel for ad hoc synchronous communication. The basic toolset for coordination includes group collaboration. The best practices in internet self-organization allow for increasing levels of organization, starting at a very lightweight level, where participants can read information, start to ask questions, and make small contributions, on to very high levels of dedicated contributions. By enabling groups to form within larger networks, people get the benefits of a larger network, with more manageable, lightweight communication, while also being able to communicate and collaborate more deeply with a set of people with shared interests and goals.

    Focus, not privacy

    Often people consider the topic of social sharing in terms of “privacy”. The information overload symptom of “oversharing” is seen as a privacy problem. As Stowe Boyd and others observe, the issue of oversharing not primarily about information should be kept hidden, and much more about who to share with in what context. Even if you don’t care who knows who else knows your workout routine, fellow fans of rowing or weight-lifting might care more than other friends and colleagues. Groups frequently aren’t private – in fact, they are more useful for many purposes if potential participants can easily find them, look around to see what’s going on, and join if they are interested. FriendFeed groups were quite popular among scientists and journalists online. Most of these groups were publically listed. Users could choose to join them. Another convenient setup is groups where a member can request to join, and a moderator needs to approve applications. In most cases, the goal of a group isn’t to keep information secret – it’s to allow people to affiliate, to collaborate. And to focus their attention and communication within these defined social contexts.

    Groups and networks – summary

    In summary, I don’t think it’s true that the rise of networks is going to wash away groups. Groups and networks are complementary. Networks help people get to know other individuals, and to manage attention by constraining the number of people to follow. Groups help people focus attention, share identity, and collaborate more deeply within networks. As ReadWriteWeb describes, a big part of the solution to information overload is increased context. And groups are key to re-establishing context in the network era. As Stowe Boyd and Adrian Chan remind us, identity is socially constructed in social context.

    About This Blog

    Weblog on gaining business results from social software.

    On this blog, Socialtext staffers and customers explore how companies can gain the most business value from their use of enterprise social software, including microblogging, social networking, filtered activity streams, widget-based dashboards, blogs and wikis.


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