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Systems of Engagement – A bridge too near?

September 29, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s now about a year since AIIM first introduced their study “Systems of Engagement and the future if Enterprise IT” (led by Geoffrey Moore). In this last year I’ve heard this study presented several times and it always resonates with the audience.

However, I believe that the study does not go far enough.

I agree totally that in the last few years we have seen a dramatic shift in the way people interact and communicate and it’s primarily driven through the adoption of social networking and collaboration tools. So the principle of moving to “Systems of Engagement” is sound.

Where I disagree with the study though, is the concept that “Systems of engagement begin with a focus on communications”. That we have moved from managing content to managing interactions. Yes, the new mediums are a lot more interactive and as a result we have more transient content and a higher volume to manage. But fundamentally, this is still describing a system of records, with records encompassing this new type of content.

In my view, what has fundamentally and irrevocably changed is the perception of value. Systems of Engagement no longer derive value from managing information. The focus is on managing Relationships.

  • Relationships between individuals
  • Relationships between people and knowledge domains or communities
  • Relationships between people and information
  • Relationships between information sources – i.e. context
  • Relationships between groups, businesses, communities

What was the primary driver for adoption of tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? connecting people into networks. What will determine the success or failure of Google+? The transition of communities of users from other networks.

In Systems of Engagement, we no longer bookmark the information. We connect with individuals: Friends, Circles, Connections, Followers. We trust the information, because we trust the source. We seek expertise first, and information second. My value, as an individual, is not defined by the documents I’ve written but by my network, my presence and my contribution to the communities I belong.

This applies just as much inside the firewall, as it does outside. Collaborative tools, crowdsourcing, open Q&A, etc. are not driven by sets of captured information, they are driven by connecting the right people to the right tasks and the right communities. By developing relationships.

Yes, as Geoffrey Moore describes in the study, new information is generated through the interaction between individuals. But the new currency in the world of Systems of Engagement is not the snippet of interaction between individuals and the knowledge contained within it. That knowledge is transient and most often obsolete as soon as it is captured.

The new currency today in Systems of Engagement is the Relationship, the connection, the network: Who knows whom? Who knows what? Who do I know? Who knows and follows me?

Lawyers are from Mars, Technology is from Venus

September 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I spent two excellent days last week at the Legal Week’s Corporate Counsel Forum, where I’ve met several new and interesting people and learned an awful lot of things I didn’t know.

But I left the conference very frustrated.

The forum audience comprises primarily senior lawyers: General Counsel and Heads of Legal departments. The topics covered were as wide as crisis management, ‘moral’ compass, employment, Bribery Act, ‘Tesco’ law, cross-border teams, intellectual property, competition, etc., etc. Fascinating subjects, some of which admittedly I knew nothing about and learned a lot. It gave me a small insight into “a day in the life of a General Counsel” and the sheer volume of diversity that they have to be knowledgeable about, deal with and protect themselves (and their company) from.

And in 8 out of 10 conference sessions I wanted to shout: “There is a solution that can help here!”.

It amazes me (and frustrates me!) how much of the technology that other parts of the organisation take for granted seems to be absent from the legal department. As if they are the poor relatives in the organisation. I am not talking about highly specialised legal technologies such as eDiscovery, Content Analytics or even Information Risk & Compliance Governance (although these too are available and seem to be missing from many legal officers’ armoury, but that’s another conversation…). I am talking about basic capabilities that make the daily office operation significantly more efficient:

  • Digitising paper – avoiding the costs, avoiding delays of shifting piles of paper around and the risk of losing them by accident or in a crisis
  • Electronic document repositories – managing security and access controls, reducing duplication, managing versions, allowing online access from anywhere and simple searching
  • Case management – allowing lawyers to organise their work, negotiate with third parties, monitor progress, apply rules and generate reports automatically instead of using spreadsheets
  • Email management – capturing, filtering, organising and routing emails, ensuring compliance
  • Collaboration software – communicating amongst large teams, dispersed in different geographies and timezones

The list goes on… This isn’t trailblazing, these are automation tools and capabilities that have proven their value and have been helping organisations remove basic inefficiencies, for the last 10-20 years.

I am not advocating that technology is the answer to everything. Some business problems can be improved with some common sense and a bit of reorganising. Others are far too complex to be tackled by technology alone. But there is certainly enough basic technology to make a General Counsel’s life much simpler.

One of the key messages coming out of the conference was the resource constraints that legal departments are facing. Too much to do, too little time, too few people, too much information to process, too much knowledge to upkeep, too many risks to avoid, too many departments to coordinate, too many regulations to adhere to and too many stakeholders to appease.

So why are you wasting time on menial tasks that can be simplified, automated, or eliminated by use of simple tools, instead of using that time effectively to add value to the elements of the process where technology can’t  help.

Whenever I asked that question, the answer is typically “We don’t control the budget” or “We have other priorities” or “We don’t have the time to look at new tools”, etc.

Excuses! The question here is not “have I got time to worry about technology?”. The question is “Can I afford the luxury of NOT using it?”.  If these technologies can improve the productivity and reduce costs in the operations department, the marketing department, the sales department, the procurement department, why not use them to improve the efficiency of the legal department too?

(I would love to hear your views on this, especially if you are and in-house lawyer or work in a legal department)

Social Amnesia – What’s your social identity worth to you?

I had the unfortunate experience of losing one of my Social Media accounts recently. And as per the popular song… You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone!

I like Social Networking: Even if I haven’t quite eschewed email and my C: drive, I rely heavily on my social network for information, for feedback and for personal communications. My 350 carefully vetted Twitter followers, my 150 Facebook family and friends, my 100 LinkedIn business contacts and University alumni, my 50 RedBubble artist friends and the dozen subscribers to my WordPress blog, make up most of my social network.

It’s not a huge network, but it’s mine, it is personal, it is relevant and it is important to me. Whether I like it or not, it also defines my public identity, to a certain extent.

So what happens when disaster strikes? What if all that was wiped away?

Louis Richardson very eloquently describes a new Information/Knowledge Management environment that centres around the individual and his social network rather than information collected in documents. (“People-centric vs. Content-centric” http://bit.ly/gU5Skf). AIIM (by voice of Geoffrey Moore) similarly describe the transition from “Systems of Record” to “Systems of Engagement”. (http://www.aiim.org/Research/AIIM-White-Papers/Systems-of-Engagement)

Both of these highlight the fact that my social identity is now a more important asset than the collection of knowledge artefacts that live on my hard disk and get backed up regularly.

I have no backup of my social identity!

Within my work environment, people will look to my social community profile, to understand who I am, where I come from and what my interest and expertise is, based on my profile, my tags, my network contacts, my blogs, the communities I belong to, the bookmarks I shared, etc

One day my public profiles (through a weird upgrade bug) got wiped clean. My profile was blank, my identity was gone! I was no longer an opinionated thought leader and social media zealot, or helpful ECM advocate with answers to questions. I was another blank profile with just a name.

Rebuilding that identity is not easy. Not only it takes time and effort, but trying to remember what was there to start with, is a nightmare. Who was I connected to? Which communities did I belong to? What tags did people assign to me? More importantly, how long will it take for my profile to “mature” to the same level of trust and credibility that it carried before?

Thinking about this, I realised how much I’ve come to rely on social media. Facebook and LinkedIn are my address & phone lists and birthday calendars for friends, family and work colleagues.  My on-line calendar is also my diary and meetings history log.  My blog site contains most of my innovative thoughts & nuggets from the last 3 years. The people I follow on twitter are my market intelligence engine. The people that follow me, are my influence sphere.

If these accounts were to suddenly disappear, I will have lost not only years of investment, but my social identity and my social memory. And that would cost me time, it would cost me operational efficiency, it would cost me credibility, it would cost me competitiveness, and it would cost me personal angst. It will ultimately have an impact to both my work and to my private life.

How do I protect this identity? Some tools, like Facebook, have their own mechanisms for taking a backup copy of your profile data. Did you know that? When was the last time you took a backup of your Facebook account? Other third-party tools (e.g. http://www.backupify.com) will backup and restore multiple public profiles from different tools. They are commendable, but not complete. And how many of us actually use them?

Take a step back: Imagine for a moment that your Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts are wiped clean. Imagine that your blog has no entries. In the people-centric world of social networking, what impact will this Social Amnesia have to your business and your personal life?

Crossing the Chasm – Backwards!

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you can’t have missed the “Future of ECM” project that AIIM has been working on with Geoffery Moore, author of the famous “Crossing the Chasm” book, documenting the shift from Systems of Record to Systems of Engagement, as the main driver for the future of ECM.

First of all let me say that I’m 100% behind this principle. Although not necessarily agreeing with all the points in the report, I wholeheartedly believe that the fundamental behaviour shifts that underlie Enterprise 2.0 and Social Networking, are defining a new type of “content” that is not constrained by the same parameters that we manage in ECM systems today, and will therefore need an altogether new approach to managing and governing it. And as that content is still fundamentally text-based (I don’t like using the term unstructured), the ECM industry is the right place for that transition to happen.

Anyone following my (sparse) blogs, will know that I’ve written about this the same topic before:

What I find fascinating however, is that the current market dynamic described in AIIM’s study, in some ways contradicts the original “Crossing the chasm” model that Geoffrey Moore developed. Instead of the adoption curve lagging behind software innovation, we now have the bizarre scenario where the market is ahead of the software. The ubiquitous presence of social networking tools, connect-everywhere-24×7 smart mobiles and online-presence-savvy Gen-Y “I want it in an App” teenagers, means that the market adoption is dragging the software industry, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Software vendors are playing catch-up with the market demand and new information management models (e.g. Systems of Engagement) are being invented to reconcile the IT industry status, with the market that is already defined out there, demanding these new capabilities.

So we’re crossing the  chasm backwards! We’re no longer educating the luddite users of the amazing benefits of the the latest and greatest IT innovation, waiting for the end-user market to mature. Instead,  the market demand is dragging the luddite software vendors into producing real customer-driven, agile, adaptive, consumable enterprise software that has to keep up with the snazzy, clever, sexy and dynamic capabilities that consumer users are already enjoying on their mobile phones in their personal lives.

Today, there is a fundamental difference between the speed that the market develops, versus the speed that software is being produced.  So, while the Information Management principles explored in AIIM’s study are absolutely valid and relevant, they need to be developed in tandem with new, better, faster, cheaper, more focused software development & marketing methods. Otherwise the chasm will only become bigger.

OMG! ECM is OCD for LOB!

We are obsessed! It dawned on me the other day, when I was trying to write up a requirements questionnaire for a client who is implementing an archiving system.

When I say “we”, I mean the ECM professionals. You need to have a good deal of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) to be in the ECM business. Whether we are records managers, archivists, consultants, document managers or process designers.

We love things being neat. We love organising information. We obsess about making sure that everything is captured and has a place to go. We love our folders and hierarchies and fileplans. We put labels on everything: We tag and categorise, and add metadata. And then we make lists, and lists of lists, to be able to find stuff. We need rules to abide by, and ideally we like to make the rules ourselves. And we like things that repeat and work the same way every time. We want to know who is who and we are paranoid about security, in case someone sees something they shouldn’t. We need things to be predictable and under control and we don’t like exceptions.

Doesn’t that sound like OCD to you? Come on, admit it. I dare you to try and convince me otherwise…

Now, is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. The business and to a certain degree the law, needs this kind of rigour and precision. Vast amounts of information would be forever lost at the bottom of the sock drawer, if we didn’t organise things properly. Decisions would take a lot longer and any kind of auditability and transparency would be questionable. The get-on-your-bike-and-see-where-it-takes-you approach does not work in business. Correct? Well, maybe…

ECM is on a collision course. The world of tight controls and neat labels fundamentally contradicts the free Enterprise 2.0 spirit of collaboration and social media. Blogs, wikis, Twitter and Googlewave are there to allow everyone to jump in and do their bit. In real-time. There are very few imposed rules. The blending of personal opinion and work interaction is encouraged. Traditional barriers and organisational structures (from the department to the whole corporation or even across industries) are torn down in favour of exchanging ideas and learning from each other. We don’t have to preserve everything. It’s OK for information to end up in a heap, where analytics can find insights that traditional ECM discipline couldn’t. It’s OK for large communities of common interest – very much like Open Source software – to contribute, correct, expand and share knowledge for the benefit of the common good. It’s OK to have ad-hoc processes that define themselves reactively, based on contextual priorities instead of prescribed recipe.

All of this seemingly anarchic chaos, is revolutionising information management and knowledge sharing. But it has also created a lot of anxiety for most of us OCD types, who still think in terms of folders and hierarchies, and metadata and labels and disposition dates. Will there be a new generation of “free-style” ECM to cater for this? Will we end up with two Information management disciplines – “tightly managed” and “freeflow”? Will the legal and regulatory systems move with the times or shut their eyes pretending the change is not happening? Only time will tell…

But next time you are thinking of architecting an ECM environment, don’t assume that your neat little boxes and clearly labelled compartments will be there forever. They will not!

What to wear to a Social Media party

Repost – Many thanks to John Mancini (AIIM President, aka @jmancini77) for originally publishing my little Social Media etiquette piece “8 things to wear to a Social Media party” as part of his ever popular 8 things series 🙂

Have a read and enjoy the party!

—–

I was watching my two teenage daughters going to extraordinary lengths preparing themselves for a friend’s birthday party. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea if we also spent some effort preparing ourselves, before joining the virtual party that is Social Media interaction.

So, imagine the scenario: You have been invited for the first time to a Social Media party. It may be a TweetJam on Twitter, a collaborative wiki, your first blog or a group chat on Microsoft Live! Messenger. How do you dress up for the occasion? What do you put in your pockets or your handbag before you leave the house?

8 things to wear to a Social Media party

1 — Loose clothes and comfortable shoes.

The Social Media scene is fast paced place. You need to be flexible and fast. You need to sense and respond quickly. You need to be following several conversations at the same time. You have to be precise and concise. You can’t develop a thesis on 140 character chunks and, even if you do, nobody has the time and patience to hang around waiting for it. Respond now, while people are listening, otherwise your salient gem will be out of context and go unnoticed tomorrow.

2 — Your business card.

There is nothing more irritating than trying to strike a conversation with someone that does not introduce themselves. Let me know who you are, and I’ll talk to you about something we both care about. Otherwise, one of us is likely to bore the other to tears, or walk away. Spend a little time filling your profile in your favorite SM tools. I don’t follow people on Twitter, whose profile is blank! Tell me who you work for, tell me what matters to you, tell me if you have kids or not. Just don’t keep me guessing, because I just won’t bother.

3 — Sunglasses.

Be prepared to be confused, excited, thrilled, interested, dazzled and emotive. This is the value of Social Media. Keep an open mind and leave the blinkers at home. If you come into this party with pre-conceived ideas, you are likely to get no value from your experience. And you will annoy several people on the way too. You don’t have to agree with everything, but be prepared to at least consider other people’s view. If you disagree, explain why. It’s not a game of right and wrong, it’s a game of learning from each other.

4 — Your hearing aid.

Before you speak, listen! Not only out of courtesy but with interest. Some people will inevitably get to the party before you. They have been talking. Take in the atmosphere and don’t dive into the pool straight away. Don’t hog the conversation and don’t be a fly on the wall. You may feel very strongly about your point, but the more you go on about it, the less attention people will pay. Pace yourself and make fewer comments, where they are relevant. There is no rule that says you must blog once-a-day or you must tweet every 10 minutes. And if you do, at least add some value. Add your own views. If all you do is repeat other people’s comments, you are not adding much value. People notice very quickly who adds value to the conversation and who is there just to fill the gaps.

5 — GSOH.

Bring plenty of that… “Good Sense Of Humour”. Don’t forget the “Social” in social media. It’s fun, it’s personal and it’s important. People will quip and joke. People will make mistakes and make fools of themselves. We’ve all done it. Don’t berate people for honest mistakes or hang them just because you took personal offense. If you have a problem, take them on the side and sort it out (that’s what DM and email are for…), don’t pick a fight in the middle of the room. Remember, you never know who is watching and you never know when you will be in their shoes!

6 — Your iPhone, Wikipedia and the Guinness Book of Records.

In other words, knowledge. This is a place to share knowledge and insight. Not to show off, but to add value. Did you hear a good joke? Did you hear an excellent comment? Did you take something away from so-and-so’s presentation? Did your kids make you laugh? Was he ever-so-helpful? Can you take a wild guess on what will happen next? Did you wake up with an amazing idea? People will trade knowledge with you. Interesting info and references. Share what you know and they’ll share back.

7 — Bring a Friend, or Two.

The more the merrier! Seriously though, this is a great opportunity to introduce a colleague or a friend or a relative to the social media scene. Especially if they are introvert or shy, show them what it’s all about. Show them how much they can learn on a topic that interests them. Introduce them to some new friends. To your friends. Give them some ideas what to say. Be an example they can follow. It’s always easier to go to a party with a friend.

8 — A long drink.

This party is a hoot. Social Media is addictive and compulsive. You may need a quick drink to remove your inhibitions when getting into it, and you will definitely need a drink later on, when the party is in full swing, you are totally dehydrated, you’ve been staring at your screen for four hours and you realize it’s 2am and you have a customer presentation in the morning. Please drink responsibly! 🙂

Social Media is not about technology. It’s not even about each of us individually. Each of us contributes and complements the whole community, and the value is in the community as a whole. It’s about a new way of social interaction, as much as it is about gate-crashing the party or eaves-dropping on a cool brainstorming session. It’s about connecting with people you may never meet, who live on the other side of the planet and who have never heard of you before. But they are genuinely interested to hear what you have to say. And it’s about listening, learning and understanding.

So it’s totally worth putting the extra effort to dress up for the party. Enjoy!

—–

George

Categories: E2.0 Tags: ,

What is a #TweetJam? Can I join? What do I do?

What is a TweetJam?

Musicians “Jam” by getting together and playing unscripted music, constantly working off each other, around a general theme. A TweetJam is the same concept, but using Twitter to have a fast-paced conversation around a particular topic. The idea is that a panel of people who are knowledgeable on a theme, are available to answer questions. Anyone can pose a question and anyone can answer.

What is the ECM TweetJam?

IBM, in the context of IOD EMEA (their primary Information Management conference in Europe http://bit.ly/iodemea), is running the first ever TweetJam on the topic of Enterprise Content Management (ECM). The official timing of the Jam is between 15:00 and 17:00 Central European Time on Thursday May 6, 2010. Of course we can’t control what is posted on Twitter so the TweetJam is effectively on all the time. But that’s the time that the panel will be monitoring and answering questions.

What do I do to follow the TweetJam?

Very simple: Sign on to twitter.com and do a search for the terms #IOD2010 #ECM (both need to be there). Anything related to the Jam will have these two hash tags in the message so it will appear in the search.. Alternatively, you can use one of the other Twitter tools (e.d. TweetDeck) and monitor the search terms from there.

How do I join in?

Also very simple: You can post anything on twitter – a question to the panel, a response to a previous question, a comment. As long as you add the hashtags #IOD2010 #ECM to your message, you are participating in the TweetJam. That’s all! No need to register, or sign up, or anything else. Just join in!

Where can I find more info about the ECM TweetJam?

Look at: http://bit.ly/iodecm

When is it again?

Between 15:00 and 17:00 Central European Time on Thursday May 6, 2010. But you can even start posting questions now if you want!

See you there!!!  🙂

Google Wave killed the ECM star…

November 26, 2009 33 comments

I don’t get excited by technology much these days. I tend to have a rather cynical view about it – Typically it’s either been done before, or it’s a solution looking for a problem. But occasionally something comes along which makes me sit back and take notice.  I’ve known about Google Wave for a while now. It’s been heralded as an “email killer” or a “wiki on steroids” or a “collaboration on the fly” and various other profound marketing statements. So it’s been sitting in the “wait and see…” corner of my mind for a while. I’m particularly skeptical about products which are declared “game changing” before they are even released…

Yesterday however, I indulged myself in watching the 1:20′ demo video of Google Wave. If you have not seen it, get yourself a cup of coffee and some biscuits, lock yourself in a room, stick the headphones on and be prepared to watch a good movie. You’ll laugh out loud too! This isn’t your typical PowerPoint presentation or even product demo. It’s good fun and it’s important.

However, beyond the functionality that you see demonstrated, pay attention to the personalities of the presenters, the people behind the product. You will begin to understand why Google Wave is significant.  It’s not the technology, it’s the attitude that’s different.

“What’s this got to do with ECM?” you may ask… It has everything to do with ECM. If Google Wave succeeds as a corporate platform (and I see absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t), it will fundamentally change the ECM industry.  Why? because the ECM industry, and Document Management before it, was invented as a workaround to compensate for NOT being able to do what Google Wave does. Let me explain… let’s look at some of the fundamental capabilities of ECM and how they might change in Google Wave world:

1. Check-In / Check – Out: This was invented primarily to overcome the issues of multiple authors trying to edit the same document at the same time and then having to synchronise the edits. Google Wave’s real time authoring synchronisation, removes the need for asynchronous editing and document locking.

2. Version history: Each Wave contains a complete version history of its lifecycle. The “Playback” function allows users to go back in time and trace the lineage of any edit in the document. A much more detailed and granular approach.

3. Lifecycle workflow management: Author, review, comment, modify, authorise edits – all native to the authoring interface and contained within the Wave. With the development of agent/robots I can imagine adding a “Review-y” (when you see the video you’ll understand what I mean…) to the wave, which will make sure that the right people are invited/uninvited to wave at various stages, based on the type of discussion or queries raised. All with complete audit trail information contained in the wave itself.

4. Security: Here we have another paradigm shift: Forget for a moment the traditional Access Control Lists (ACL) that we are all familiar with in the ECM world. Although not explicitly demonstrated in the video, the fact that the protocol supports federation and has the intelligence to allow/disallow the relevant people in and outside the firewall to see parts of the wave, means that it supports contextual security. The Wave’s security model is (appears to be…) contextually adaptive. That means that it will define its access behaviour based on the context/domain that it appears in. So not only you can implement implicit access security, but effectively it comes with Rights Management already built in.

5. Search & retrieval: The search capabilities demonstrated on the video were impressive, and given that this is Google, I don’t think it will have scalability issues, somehow…

6. Publishing: Of course you can take a snapshot of the wave and create a traditional document or another wave, much like we do today. But here’s another shift… (If any of you have seen the Harry Potter movies, you will remember the newspapers with the moving video clips on the page?) Rather than publishing content to websites, blogs, etc. you “embed” the wave on the site. Which means real-time dynamic web-publishing rather than static. The same way that Google Wave obviates the check-in/out, review cycled of traditional ECM, it also eliminates the need for elaborate web content publishing cycles. If you need to use staged publishing (remember, the approval itself is embedded in the wave), it’s easy to have an embedding function that checks for approval and only presents the wave up to the previously approved point!

7. Process / BPM: Process engines can attach Waves as documents, so that’s not an issue. Forms are not an issue either as they are included in the Wave.  Where things are different, is that a Wave is the ultimate “active content”. It is an entirely even-driven engine, which adopts its behaviour to external events. So, by introducing “agents” into the Wave audience, you are effectively embedding both rules processing and predefined behaviours into the wave. Think of this simple example: you added a third party to your wave, asking them to complete a part of a form inside the wave. Since the wave is jointly monitored by both internal and external wave environments, as soon as the information is completed, your process agent (who is a participant to the wave and therefore also monitoring the wave live) immediately recognises this, removes the third party from the wave and continues the process. Remember, the whole audit trail is “recorded” inside the Wave itself!

8. email management: Redundant. The purpose of email management was to convert emails to document objects in order to apply document management rules and controls. As the wave replaces email but is a document in its own right, you get both functions effectively rolled in one

9. Imaging: Imagine embedding both a scanned image and it’s OCR’ed text rendition in a wave, where you have created overlay-ed documents – much like the Satellite/map views of Google maps. Remember, it’s the same people that invented both…

I can go on and on… Yes there are holes in all the above and there will be some niche scenarios where this will not work quite the same way. But for 90% of standard office communications and documents, I can see Google Wave turning the whole ECM industry on its head: My colleagues have heard me rant repeatedly about the need of a new ECM strategy that is no longer bound to the file / folder paradigm.  From what I’ve seen so far, a Wave is exactly that: a self-contained, self-governing multiple-content object, which includes both content and its associated behaviours.

As an ECM practitioner, am I scared? No, I’m excited – very excited! The ECM software, as we know it today, may change dramatically in the next 5 years because of Google Wave.  But the ECM practices and principles are still required. We just need to make sure that we adapt them to the 21st century. So ECM guys, roll your sleeves up, there is A LOT of work to be done here…

The Twitter experiment…

(Originally published on IBM.com by George Parapadakis on 20 August 2009)

I have been using Twitter for a couple of months now, trying to assess its value as a business tool (I’m not too good with broadcasting what I had for breakfast or where I go for a walk in the evening, I’m afraid…). So I’m trying several things out and in a pseudo-scientific fashion trying to analyze the outcome. So here is my first batch of observations, from my experiments so far:

1. Twitter is time consuming. Whether you are a regular contributor or a lurker, it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with everything that interests you in Twitter. Even with dashboards like TwitterDeck and Seesmic, it takes a great effort to keep up once you go beyond 30-50 people that you follow. Add to that regular searches on specific topics and you are swamped! So from that perspective it’s interesting, but unreliable as a definitive source of information.2. While there is no definitive protocol that distinguishes personal from business use on Twitter, the signal-to-noise ratio is very high on the noise side. I can see that over time either there will be a Twitter for business and Twitter for personal, or some sort of classification system where you can tag a tweet as personal, business, local interest, hobby, etc. People will get eventually get tired of trying to spot the useful needle in the drivel haystack. In the meantime, I set myself up as three different accounts and have three different communities of following/followers: Work, Hobbies, Other

3. Pay attention to what people are tweeting and re-tweeting. You will soon spot the ones that add value! People who retweet everything – OUT; people who only write marketing /advertising/self promoting tweets – OUT; people who selectively re-tweet and tag things relevant to you, great filters – IN; people who provide insight and genuine thoughtful tweets – IN. I just wish there was a way of grouping the people I follow by stars out of 5, based on how interested I am in what they have to say!

4. Twitter is a pyramid networking system! Unless you are a celebrity comedian, you will only ever have a limited number of followers. But your followers’ followers are your real network. They people that follow you and pay attention, will retweet your posts to their followers. And they to theirs, because they trust the source. Here’s an example: I recently posted a humorous blog on: “10 questions to spot an ECM expert”. I have less than 100 followers on Twitter, and only a handful of them actually pay attention to anything I post. Six (6) people retweeted my tweet. From their followers, I got another 9 retweets. From these 16 tweets in all (and thanks to using relevant hashtags of course) , my blog ranked up to 550 hits within 24 hours. Similar blogs before twitter would have had 5 to 6 hits over a couple of weeks. Very powerful!

5. Don’t believe everything you read. There is a lot of scope in Twitter for distorting (deliberately or accidentally) information, because people implicitly trust the sources they signed up to. A re-tweet does not necessarily come from whoever it says it comes from, nor did it have the same text necessarily, when it started its journey!

So here is my conclusion so far, and I would love to hear your views on it: In the next 6 months Twitter will either collapse under its own weight (people getting tired of trying to find the relevant amongst the irrelevant) or it will transform radically into a set of different and more refined tools. Marketers who already abuse the system will be marginalized, while marketers that understand (and respect!) how powerful this tool can be, will use it to disseminate valuable information, faster than ever was possible before. Personal tweeting will either be segmented out, or it will move back to other networks like facebook, linkedin, etc.

What if Orson Welles used Twitter?

(Originally posted on InformationZen by George Parapadakis on July 10, 2009 )

A scary Friday thought, but with a hint or reality thrown in…

A lot of people will be familiar with the famous War of the Worlds radio hoax story: In 1938, Orson Welles presented a Halloween spoof alien invasion story on CBS radio. The story was so believable that widespread panic ensued.

“The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that an actual Martian invasion was in progress […] The program’s news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast” (Wikipedia)

In 1938, pre-TV era, radio was the most immediate medium for communicating information to people. People trusted the radio and in particular they trusted the News bulletins. In a way, Welles hijacked (abused, if you like) that trust. People reacted to snippets of unconfirmed information, because they implicitly trusted its source. The resulting panic was not the only effect. The trustworthiness of real news sources was questioned. A host of conspiracy theories followed. The same play was adapted and reused in other geographies, causing similar panic and even resulting in deaths.

Roll forward 70 years or so… The most immediate broadcast medium today, is Twitter. Based on 140-character snippets of unconfirmed information. Delivered straight to your mobile/cell phone, wherever you are. What if the BBC or Time or CNN (or anyone spoofing as them) were to broadcast an Orson Welles equivalent hoax. And the world re-tweets, seconds later…. What would today’s reaction be?

Would people panic? That means that people are trusting their social media sources as much as they trusted the radio in 1938. And twitter is a dangerous place to be!

Would they wait and double check their sources? If so, it means we are inherently NOT trusting the information we get from twitter. Which then questions the value of the medium.

Are we any more savvy today than people were in 1938? We would like to think so. But the thousands of people that daily fall victim to email and phone and get-rich-fast scams (and the proliferation of these scams) does not substantiate that belief… Fortunately or unfortunately, people are generally more naive than paranoid.

Have a good weekend! – George

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