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Fish Where the Fish Are: Extend Your Blog’s Reach through LinkedIn

This is controversial, but here goes: I think if you’re remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a resume at all.

How about three extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows or respects?
Or a sophisticated project they can see or touch?
Or a reputation that precedes you?
Or a blog that is so compelling and insightful that they have no choice but to follow up?

Seth Godin, Why bother having a resume?

It appears LinkedIn has taken this advice to heart. LinkedIn already has recommendations. Now LinkedIn has opened up its site to let third parties build apps for users. There are nine apps to start with. There are two apps letting you add documents to your profile, which touches on Seth’s “projects” advice above.  And two of those apps allow you to add your blog to your profile: WordPress and SixApart.

Which is interesting…two blog apps in the initial nine? What’s that telling you?

In the professional world, blogs are a great way to:

  • Demonstrate your knowledge
  • Stay current on your field
  • Explore new ideas
  • Connect with others

Out in the wild, there are millions and millions of blogs. The smart advice for bloggers is to stick with it, seek out others and engage in conversations. That’s something that should regularly be part of the blogging life. You’ll learn a lot.

But, it’d be nice to know your professionally oriented blog was reaching others who might open career paths. Which is why LinkedIn’s move to add blogs is so exciting.

Here’s how I picture things as they are, and as they can become:

I know the long-term trends favor recruiting via the blogosphere. But for the next few years, I’m not expecting recruiters to get out there and find candidates based on their blogs. They’ll still go to places where there are concentrated areas of people with relevant experience. LinkedIn has become one of those go-to places.

That being said, recruiters, or more likely, the clients for which they are recruiting, can see a much better picture of you outside of the list of jobs you’ve had.

This adds a new dimension to the reasons for you to blog. Bloggers can get caught up in things like traffic, frequency of posts, comments and making sure their blogs are part of the big social media sites. It’s just human nature.

But now, your blog becomes something more. It becomes a record for how you think, what topics are your passion and opinions on events affecting your field. Even if no one reads your blog out in the blogosphere, you’re still making a case for your talents. And there’s no need to have a high frequency. Whatever you last posted shows on your profile, whenever that was.

A friend recently asked me about blogging. She’s in the non-profit world now, and wants to transition to the business world. I told her one thing blogging can do is get you out of the box that your past work experience and education put you in. Through blogging, you can demonstrate the aptitude to handle work in a new field.

Hats off to LinkedIn for adding these apps. Great addition, and something more people should take advantage of.

*****

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Enterprise 2.0 Vendors – An Implementation Lifecycle Model

On a phone call with a Connectbeam customer, I heard what seemed like a good description of the way in which Enterprise 2.0 – and perhaps other enterprise software – achieves enterprise-wide adoption. This particular customer started with an internal advocate who started with a departmental implementation, and is now rolling it out to thousands in the organization.

Now anyone following the space knows there are many, many factors in the process of gaining adoption. What I’m going to describe is a slice of those factors, but I think it’s a juicy slice.

The graphic below depicts the model:

Four stages in this simple model. Let’s break ‘em down a bit.

Implement

This is the initial toehold in the organization.  Where will the app makes the most sense? For many vendors, the place where it makes the most sense is the department where the most enthusiastic advocate resides.

Clearly, the vendor needs to consider where its app will have the highest impact, and where an office culture will be receptive to a new way to working.

Implement also includes any integration with other apps. Don’t underestimate this. It takes a bit of time to set things up, and often at the departmental level, employees aren’t as familiar with corporate apps.

But really, the Implement process revolves around the manager who has the most passion for your app.

Try It

Next, employees need to actually use your application. This is important (obviously). If you’re going to show ROI for your app, it starts with people actually using your app.

Measure usage stats. These are the early markers of whether the app will be successful inside the company.

The internal advocate needs to recruit fellow passionates into this process. Try out the service. Put some real live near-term projects and tasks up on the service, be it a wiki, microblogging, blogs, social bookmarking, RSS, etc.

The internal advocate and his/her fellow travellers should celebrate when other employees use the product. Give them a shout-out for their usage, recognize the useful stuff they create.

The Try It stage needs to run for a few weeks or even months. The app really needs to prove its utility in this stage.

Anecdotes

After sustained usage by a group for a while, there will be interesting Anecdotes that emerge. Let’s be clear on the value of these…

Anecdotes drive company-wide adoption

Dry stats such as entries per day, clicks per user, etc. are the stuff you need to measure whether people are Trying It. Anecdotes are what sell the app to other departments and locations inside the organization.

Anecdotes are tangible examples of value. Other employees can hear these examples, and imagine the app being used in their daily work.

Anecdotes that put real dollars behind the use of the app are incredibly value. “So-and-so did this with app, and ended up saving $XX,XXX” types of stories. Those get the attention of senior management, make heros of the internal passionates, and put the social software app on an equal footing with other apps inside the company.

The internal advocate is best-positioned to hear and solicit these Anecdotes. They are the key to company-wide rollout.

Adoption

Welcome to the world of big-time software. Once you break through the departmental and geographic barriers, you’re going to get a lot of feedback on your app. More use cases will emerge than you knew. And more feature requests will come in.

But, attention will still need to be paid to the Try It stage. These other departments may not have a dedicated passionate. The key here will be recurring communication about Anecdotes. The group of internal advocates from the original pilot will become ambassadors and trainers on the best ways to use the app. This continues their role as internal heros and stewards of the app, and leverages their energy and experience.

Wrapping Up

This is a simple model, with a few observations provided. If you’ve got others to share, feel free to weigh in with a comment below.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Enterprise 2.0: Considering the Effect of Information Usage on Companies’ Market Cap

I want to tackle the issue of Enterprise 2.0 and its ROI for companies from a different angle today.  I want to consider the effect of individual “information units” on a company’s growth, and hence its market cap.

“Information units”? Yup. In the information economy, success is guided by superior generation and use of data, with manufacturing as a commodity output of that information. In the manufacturing economy, companies’ success was predicated on their production lines, access to raw materials, and superior distribution channels. I don’t to overstate the case of information, as these manufacturing-based factors are still critical. But they have become commoditized, with easy global outsourcing and markets.

The differentiator for today’s companies is their ability to source and use information more effectively than competitors. And we now we return to what I mentioned before…”information units”. An information unit is a discrete piece of information. There are billions of these units inside companies. Examples of information units include:

  • A customer reporting a problem with a product
  • The contract for ordering office supplies
  • How many days’ supply of inventory
  • The agenda for an upcoming conference
  • A project dependency and its risk of missing deadline
  • Etc…

I’m taking the view that in the information economy, a company’s value is intrinsically wrapped in its ability to use the high value information generated everywhere in the enterprise. With a bit of mathematical license, here’s a simple equation for what I mean:

Let me break down the two parts of that equation.

Value of Information: Information Units Are Like Shares of Stock

Companies have billions of information units. The value of any single information unit varies, not unlike an individual stock. The variation is based on where a company is currently with regard to its markets, financial performance and product or service offerings. These factors change constantly for companies. What’s unimportant today rises in importance tomorrow, and vice versa.

This dynamic flows all the way down to the information unit level. There is no absolute value for any information unit. Rather, its value derives from how it helps companies at any given point in time in dynamic markets and circumstances.

I think this well describes a huge challenge for companies. There’s no shortage of information, of data. The question is figuring out what data is most relevant.

And this is a battlefield issue, not one that can be managed from army headquarters. The employees doing the daily work are the ones who have to execute on their part of the overall company objectives. They need to create and find the relevant information for where the company is right now.

There’s too much information, too many actions needed and markets are too dynamic to wait for senior  executives to decide which information is important. Employees are tasked with this responsibility.

A problem for companies is flowing information (I’m using Stowe Boyd’s formulation of data flow). It doesn’t really happen. As new information affecting a company and its market is learned, most corporate information channels are poorly designed to get this out to everyone. Thus, the employees, those soldiers on the information battlefield, are not well-equipped to identify information that is rising or declining in value.

Email? Portal? There is too much new, dynamic information that can affect employee perspectives on the value of information units to be presented well in those channels. In other words, the value of existing information (tacit or recorded) is affected by external information coming in to the company.

In the mathematical equation above, the goal is to have employees better identify the value of information. If this is accomplished, much of the declining value information is ignored, raising the average value of a company’s production information units.

Propensity To Be Accessed at the Right Time

Here’s the thing about information units. Their value can increase in response to external events. But that value is never realized if no one ever finds them.

Every company has these. Valuable information that would have been great to know previously. It’s just that the information was inaccessible. It was trapped in someone’s inbox under an avalanche of emails. Or it was in an application that is accessible across the organization, but no one thought to check there. Or someone checks on of these apps, but the rising value information unit is buried in a sea of search results.

The basis to improving an information unit’s propensity to be accessed at the right time will be a mix of technology and people factors.

Technology: I’ll go back to Stowe Boyd’s flow as one element. Improving the way employees can consume an ongoing flow of breaking news, information from the front line and activities of colleagues. The goal here is not to memorize everything, but to develop an ambient awareness of what’s happening inside and outside the company.

The second technology component is making information units more accessible everywhere. If an information unit is rising in value as company circumstances change, it needs to be located. Cracking open apps with limited usage becomes more important. Oliver Marks has a piece up today on ZDNet in which he notes:

It’s not a stretch to see that the ‘aerobic fitness’ of free information flow though a company to its employees, partners and in some case customers makes them stronger and a healthier place to be. (Ever worked somewhere managerially opaque and secretive and tried to build momentum?)

We are entering a game changing era with applications…which provide technology bridges to other applications and systems.

People: The people is aspect is equally important. Companies can have thousands of employees, each producing plenty of information units. Information accessibility is the first step, but that unleashes a lot more information on employees. How to filter through it to find the important information?

There will be the wisdom of crowds approach, in which useful information is highly rated, clicked, saved. This will be a common basis for finding out what’s valuable. But that can be somewhat dated information, and cannot sniff out the nuggets that apply to specific situations.

Individuals become important filters. We naturally develop trust relationships with colleagues based on their past performance as curators of useful information. This isn’t an Enterprise 2.0 phenomenon, it’s a reality of our daily work. Hopefully your manager is one of these people, but there are always colleagues laterally in the organization to whom you turn for information and opinions.

With enterprise 2.0, use of these personal information filters is accelerated. It’s what others wrote in the wiki. Or their own blogs. Or tweet. Or tag. Or the documents they upload to the portal.

Improving the ability to track what others generate and find valuable is an critical component to improving the propensity to access information at the right time. Because it means you’re not on own to figure this out.

Wrapping Up

The takeway here is that Enterprise 2.0 touches on a couple levers for maximizing the value of information. First, recognize that there is no way for senior management to be there for every decision an employee makes. In fact, they shouldn’t be, as that would limit the flow of new information and ideas. But it does put the onus on employees to judge what information unit is valuable in the context of a company’s circumstances at that moment in time. The goal is improve the overall average judgment of what’s important right now for a company.

The second point is that accessing the rising value information – and its corollary, ignoring the declining value information – is just as important as recognizing the value of an information unit. After all, if you can’t find the piece of information, it’s pretty hard to assess its value to the company.

Maximize the value of information, and you increase the market cap of a company.

*****

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Enterprises Don’t Care about Network Effects

Tim O’Reilly penned a great thought piece over the weekend, Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing. In the post, he examines cloud computing and its ramifications for software vendors:

I believe strongly that open source and open internet standards are doing the same to traditional software. And value is migrating to a new kind of layer, which we now call Web 2.0, which consists of applications driven not just by software but by network-effects databases driven by explicit or implicit user contribution.

So when Larry Ellison says that cloud computing and open source won’t produce many hugely profitable companies, he’s right, but only if you look at the pure software layer. This is a lot like saying that the PC wouldn’t produce many hugely profitable companies, and looking only at hardware vendors! First Microsoft, and now Google give the lie to Ellison’s analysis. The big winners are those who best grasp the rules of the new platform.

Two things stuck with me in the post. First, Tim does a great job delineating the different types of cloud computing. I put them together in a graph, rising in order of specialization and (generally) value-add.

And here’s a quick summary of Tim’s descriptions:

  • Utility Computing: this is pure computing plumbing stuff – “virtual machine instances, storage, and computation”
  • Platform as a Service: APIs are provided for the platform, such as on Google AppEngine and Salesforce’s force.com
  • Cloud-Based End-User Applications: web services are cloud-based, but people make a distinction between Google Search, and Google Docs. Same server farms, same cloud-based delivery. The difference is that Search doesn’t hold personal information, Docs does. So the holding of personal or company information is an important distinction here.

It’s that third, top level where Tim makes an interesting point. Larry Ellison holds that cloud computing is an interesting approach to delivering software, but not one that returns a lot of value to vendors. Tim argues that Ellison is right about the Utility Computing layer, but that he’s missing the bigger story with the Cloud-Based End-User Applications.

I’m not so sure Ellison is wrong.

Enterprises Thrive on Proprietary Advantage

The principle of Web 2.0 is powerful: “the user’s data becomes more valuable because it is in the same space as other users’ data.”It’s powerful, and continues to be a sea-change in thinking for Web applications (the idea itself isn’t new – it’s the whole premise of any market).

But here’s how Tim describes the opportunity that Oracle is overlooking:

If Oracle isn’t playing that game, they will one day be doomed to irrelevance. Perhaps, like hardware giants of the past – Compaq, say – they will be absorbed by a bigger company. Or perhaps, like Unisys, they will linger on in specialized markets, too big to go away but no longer on the cutting edge of anything. Or they will understand that it’s not the database software that matters, but the data that it holds, and the services that can be built against that data.

Oracle sells its software to big enterprises. The information in Oracle’s databases is a core strategic asset and basis of operations for companies. You don’t get to mess with that. At least not lightly.

Putting the database software in-the-cloud and enabling external network effects to occur against that data will be a hard sell for any vendor. I can think of two reasons off the top of my head.

Third party access to data: First, it requires that external parties have some level of access to a company’s data. Right there, the typical response from the CIO will be…why? Why would I let someone anywhere near my data? There is no way you’ll convince a company that parking its data in a cloud will increase its value because other companies’ data is also there.

There is an ecosystem argument that if many companies do park their data ijn the cloud, they’ll get the benefit of better third party apps who can leverage that cross-company data to deliver better applications. Which brings me to a second thought.

Ecosystem already exists: For a large installed base of software, like Oracle, a robust ecosystem already exists. Companies recieve plenty of pitches from vendors for add-ons to their Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, etc. software. Strictly speaking, having to go from company to company, looking at the installed software, does not address the “live web” potential of network effect advantage. I mean, you’re privy to usage stats and data content during the install, then you have no visibility as a third party software vendor.

But the experience of going company to company provides some knowledge to these ecosystem players, and the next dot release will incorporate some of the learnings. I don’t enterprises are suffering from a lack of new ideas with regard to their installed software.

Because the Network Effects Only Help the Competition

In the enterprise world, it’s so very dog-eat-dog. And here’s the problem with network effects, especially for large companies: Large companies see much more of what’s happening in the market than do smaller competitors. Their installed proprietary databases are gold.

If they put that in a database cloud, who really benefits? Smaller competitors who also participate in that cloud, and an ecosystem of software vendors. But the enterprises don’t gain nearly as much as the smaller players. Which from their perspective, actually makes the enterprise worse off.

I think Tim is onto something for the consumer and the small business markets. Cloud computing will give them access to information and an ecosystem that they currently do not enjoy. We see this all the time with Web 2.0 sites – eBay, Google Search, Facebook, etc.

But in the enterprise market, I’ll disagree with Tim, and his view on the faultiness of Oracle’s current position. Oracle’s dominant market position and corporations’ own motivations, proprietary knowledge and data sensitivities diminish the value of network effects for the enterprise market.

*****

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Today’s Social Media A-Listers: The Archetype of Tomorrow’s Company Leaders

Dennis Howlett had a post yesterday on Chris Brogan’s blog, Web 2.0- Was It Ever Alive? In the post, he takes the postion that much of the value of “social” is overstated, and will suffer from low internal adoption. He also believes the Gen Y/millennial fascination with social media will pass as workplace realities creep in.

Another post I read a couple days ago was on the New York Times Bits blog, Will Microblogging at Work Make You More Productive? This post and Dennis’s are nearly diametrically opposed. Included in the comments to the post was a very pro-social media point of view from a 22-year old named Emma.

Taking the two viewpoints together, I came up with this chart:

This certainly parallels the recurring generational differences on things like war, helping the poor, music and many other aspects of our lives. Use of social software in the workplace is actually one of those things that I believe will survive the inevitable changes in life perspective that will occur for Emma.

The ME in Social Media

Social media is a diverse pool of interests, motivations and relationships. It’s quite flexible for the uses you want.

Emma is very much in the learning mode. She’s engaging others on Twitter to diversify her knowledge network (see The Revenue Impact of Enterprise 2.0 to understand the value of this). There is no reason for her to discontinue this behavior, and indeed, she’s helping her career via social software.

Now as Emma progresses through her career, she’ll build up an external and internal network that provides sources of information, opinion and perspectives. These will be immensely valuable to her.

She also start to lead others. Inside her company, there will be applications that integrate collaboration and social networks natively with the apps where she does her work. Emma, and other talented young executives, will emerge as key players inside their companies by playing a couple roles:

Content producers and information filters. And this is where the A-Listers of today provide the examples.

Enterprise A-Listers

What does Robert Scoble do? Louis Gray? Chris Brogan? Brian Solis? Even Dennis Howlett? They are influencers, they have the power to bring high visibility to what they talk about and what they share.

What makes a company run? Employees with the judgment to see what’s needed and the ability to influence the organizational allocation of resources.

Currently, this influence is built only on the in-person encounters that occur in meetings and common project work. This won’t go away, but it is a very serendipitous sort ecology inside the organization.

The next generation of employee leaders will skillfully use social software inside their companies to influence the direction of the company and to build out highly visible profiles that will aid their career advancement. Over on the Connectbeam blog, I wrote a post called Five Moves of Power Users in Enterprise 2.0. The post examines how proficient users of social software would operate inside companies. Here are the five moves I described:

  1. SEO your social profile
  2. Build a good-sized social network base
  3. Comment, engage, discuss
  4. Celebrate and communicate the workstreams of others
  5. Share information with a vengeance

Of course, the power in all this only happens if the employee happens to be talented and have good judgment about the company and her peers. Mediocre people will be pretty quickly exposed if they attempt this.

But the point still stands – companies will benefit by having better collaboration and dissemination of colleagues’ perspectives and ideas, and employees will benefit from a higher awareness of the things that make the company. And the social software power users will emerge in prominent roles inside companies.

I’m curious what you think. Please take a second to vote on the future of social software in the workplace:

*****

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The Revenue Impact of Enterprise 2.0

I recently read a great study that looked at the impact of social networks inside companies. Information, Technology and Information Worker Productivity was written by academics at MIT, NYU and BU. The authors analyzed the social graph of employees for a 14-office midsize executive recruiting firm.

The firm didn’t actually have a social networking application in-house. It was all email. But what the authors did is look at the email connections of workers to extrapolate their social graphs. And what they found was enlightening.

I encourage you to read the study itself, as it has a wealth of good information in it. I’ll call out my favorite observations from the report:

A one standard deviation increase in betweenness centrality in the email network is associated with approximately $76,000 greater revenue output per year controlling for human capital, demographic variables and use of the ESS system.

A one standard deviation increase in network diversity is associated with approximately $83,000 greater annual revenue output.

Betweenness centrality: What’s the probability that an individual will fall on the shortest path between any two other individuals? This attribute measures the strength of an individual’s connections to other employees. Sort of a probability-based LinkedIn.

Network diversity: Measures the degree to which an individual’s contacts are connected to each other. If your social network consists of people who all know each other well, your network diversity is low. If your social network has a lot of connections that don’t know one another, your diversity is high.

Here’s what the network diversity impact looks like graphically:

The folks with the best access to a diverse set of opinions, knowledge and perspectives outperformed their peers.

How Do You Make These Findings Actionable Across the Organization

The author’s looked at the connections people had built on their own, and those who had the best, most diverse networks outperformed everyone else. What Enterprise 2.0 does is take these characteristics of the top performers and exposes them for everyone else in the organization.

If you force your employees to create these networks on their own with the existing offline relationships and siloed data, you’re not going to create opportunities for network improvements across the board. By making employees perspectives and work visible and searchable, you put every employee a step ahead of where they are now

I’ve got a fuller write-up over on the Connectbeam company blog. Check it out if you’re interested in developing an ROI of enterprise social software.

*****

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You Know, If Yahoo Could Actually Focus, They’d Be a Helluva Lifestreaming Service

Yahoo announced its latest effort around making itself more social.  And unlike previous efforts (Mash, Yahoo 360), this one has potential.

Yahoo beta released the “Universal Profile”. To be honest, the initial release is underwhelming. Here’s what mine looks like:

The profile includes the picture + bio + interests that we’ve come to expect. What else?

  • Status Update = Facebook status, Twitter
  • Guestbook = Facebook Wall
  • Connections = any social network
  • Updates = Facebook news feed, FriendFeed

A Compleat Social Profile. Well not really. But it has potential.

Interestingly, the Status Update is a 140-character field. Not 125 characters, not 150 characters. 140, like Twitter. That probably says something about future Twitter integration.

Lets focus on that Updates box there. Because that’s where maybe, maybe Yahoo can finally integrate its disparate Web 2.0 properties.

Facebook, FriendFeed Have Been Enjoying Yahoo’s Sites

FriendFeed nailed the idea of pulling updates from different services. 43 of them currently, including three Yahoo properties. Check ‘em out on FriendFeed:

Facebook, seeing the possibilities in lifestreaming, added feeds into the news feed. So now friends can see your activities on external sites as well, including Del.icio.us and Upcoming.

Currently, Yahoo’s beta release doesn’t include updates from those services. What is included? Yahoo 360, Yahoo Buzz, Yahoo Avatars (huh?), Yahoo Shine. I tested the update timing. Yahoo Buzz updated quickly onto my profile. I created blogs on Yahoo 360 and Yahoo Shine (yes, the women’s site). Neither blog post ever showed up on my profile.

So the initial profile is a bit underwhelming, the sites that feed into the profile are limited and activities don’t update from the sites that are available. Wow.

OK, not the biggest endorsement so far, but read on…

The Yahoo Advantage

Yahoo has three distinct advantages in the lifestreaming race:

  1. Traffic
  2. A set of sites that lend themselves well to lifestreaming
  3. Email/IM social graphs

Traffic

Yahoo draws the second highest traffic in the United States. For reference, here are traffic stats for Yahoo, Facebook and FriendFeed:

Critical to these lifetreaming social networks is having a sufficient number of users. Twitter has maintained its dominance in microblogging despite the emergence of competitors. Biggest reason? Everybody’s already there.

Yahoo ‘s lifestreaming starts with a critical mass of potential users.

Lifestreaming-Oriented Services

Yahoo has a number of sites that lend themselves well to lifestreaming, as mentioned above. The users of these sites are already putting things into the public domain, a psychological hurdle for many people in terms of social networks. While these sites aren’t available yet, Dan Farber reports that they will be soon.

Two services merit particular call-out here: Yahoo Buzz and Twitter.

Yahoo Buzz is Yahoo’s answer to Digg, Reddit, Mixx and other social news sites. Users submit stories, and other users can vote them up or down. Apparently, Yahoo Buzz delivers huge traffic. TechCrunch reported its single highest traffic day ever thanks to a link on Yahoo Buzz. And ReadWriteWeb reported that Yahoo Buzz had overtaken Digg in terms of visitors.

What I like about the integration of Yahoo Buzz into the Yahoo Universal Profile is that it becomes quite easy to see what users are interested in. It also becomes a great way to find stories via your social network.

Twitter is the best-known microblogging service, and competes quite well with Facebook’s status updates. Twitter is enjoying network effects allowing it to pull away from its competition. The 140-character Yahoo Universal Profile status updates are now available. I’d like to see how Yahoo either integrates Twitter into its experience, or creates a distinct microblogging experience built on Universal Profile status updates.

Email/IM Social Graphs

In the Yahoo Universal Profile, you are provided with a list of 10 connection recommendations. How are these recommendations generated? Check out what Yahoo says:

Now in a lot of ways, this is no different from uploading your email contacts to a social network and inviting people. The difference here is that these contacts are already using Yahoo. And Yahoo has the advantage of exposing lifestreaming via the email and IM that people use. Not as some third party social netowrk where a lot of people won’t bother to show up.

This goes back to the existing user base of Yahoo. If Yahoo can figure out how to put lifestreaming in-the-flow of its users’ daily interactions with the site’s properties, it’s got huge upside potential with this idea.

But Yahoo Is Always So Distracted

The latest distraction is the news that Yahoo will be laying off a lot of people. This follows the Microsoft acquisition attempt drama. And Yahoo has a history of acquiring sites, but not doing much with them. And many people question just what Yahoo is doing with this Universal Profile:

Don’t really see a point in setting up a profile on Yahoo!. I mean, I see the company’s goals here, but I do not see any user benefits. After all it’s just another Facebook, however tied to a dying Search Engine.

There is justifiable skepticism that Yahoo can actually pull off creating a vibrant, useful lifestreaming service. If Yahoo could pull it off, here’s what it gains:

  • Higher page views
  • Longer page views
  • Exposure and growth of its many sites via the lifestreams of a user’s social graph
  • A clear and distinct advantage over Google and Microsoft
  • An ability to lead the technology conversation again

I’m rooting for Yahoo from this corner. I would love to see Yahoo bring lifestreaming and social networks to the mainstream.

*****

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FriendFeed Real-Time: IM Now Means “Instant Microblogging”

FriendFeed released its Real-Time feature yesterday. This feature is very cool. With real-time, all new content entries and comments to those entries post automatically, in real-time. You get this amazing flow of content and conversation.

In its simplest form, it allows you to passively monitor the river of content. “Passively” might understate one aspect of it. This feature could pretty much kill off productivity if you passively watched the river all day. Here’s a representative exchange. Robert Scoble tweeted about the feature, which got a funny exchange going:

Robert: Now that Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed are giving us “real time” views, I find I’m “Media Snacking” much more. Watching the streams…

Mo Kargas: Robert, do you believe this will adversely affect your productivity ?

Robert: Mo: yes.

The time-suck element of the Real-Time feature is directly proportional to the number of people you follow. If you’re monitoring the activity of more than 100 active users, you’re going to drown in the river.

My sense is that this new feature works best in a couple scenarios:

  • Monitor activities for a limited group of active users, or a large group of relatively inactive users
  • Leverage the feature for group-based microsharing

It’s that second use that is of interest. In fact, that’s the use case that FriendFeeder Casey Muller described in his blog – following the conversation during last night’s Presidential debate.

Group-Based Instant Microblogging

A few weeks back, there was a post on TechCrunch titled Twittermoms Shows Why Twitter Needs Groups. The post described the emergence of Twittermoms, a site for moms who have met on Twitter. Here’s one quote:

At its core, Twittermoms is basically a group for mothers who Twitter. Because of that, it highlights an interesting point: why hasn’t Twitter addressed its need for groups?

The problem for a lot of folks is that the ability to converse with a specific set of users is tough on Twitter. The @replies help, but you can’t @reply to a large group. And tracking the tweets of a specific set of users is challenging.

Instant messaging is pervasive and quite useful. You can converse with others in real-time. As soon as you post, the recipients see the message. It fits quite nicely with the real-time nature of conversation.

But IM is NOT the same as microblogging. See the post I wrote earlier for a table outlining the differences between IM and microblogging. In many ways, microblogging is a superset of IM’s features.

So we’ve had this situation for a while:

  • IM is great for real-time conversations, but lacks many of the valuable features of microblogging
  • Twitter is great for microblogging, but lacks the real-time nature and the ability to focus on a smaller set of users

Enter FriendFeed Real-Time.

FriendFeed Real-Time works with both Rooms and Lists. What does that gain you? Rooms can be set up for people to participate around a specific subject. For instance, there could be a FriendFeedMoms Room. Moms join the room, and they can talk asynchronously (Standard view), or in real-time (Real-Time view). Rooms are searchable, so all the useful information and conversations are findable, and persistent.

Alternatively, one could set up her FriendFeedMoms List. Just tag a bunch of userrs into this list, and voila! You now have the ability to focus on a specific set of users and what they’re saying. Put the List in Real-Time mode and you’ve got Group IM.

In both cases, you can see Likes and threaded comments as well, giving context to the conversations.

Looking at these use cases, you can why FriendFeed Real-Time combines the best of instant messaging and micoblogging…

instant microblogging

The fact that FriendFeed Real-Time Rooms and Lists can be opened as mini-windows, and embedded on other sites makes them particularly useful.

They Built It…Will People Use it?

Personally, I think FriendFeed Real-Time puts even more emphasis on the value of Lists for day-to-day useage. Real-Time Rooms will be great for episodic uses, such as the debates or Apple events. But conversing with a group of friends will be a lot easier with a smaller List of users.

Since WordPress now has this cool poll function, I wanted to see what you think. Take a second to weigh in, and multiple answers are fine.

See you on FriendFeed.

*****

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Notes on Presenting to Gartner…and That Magic Quadrant Thing

I had the opportunity to create and lead a presentation to Gartner last week, on behalf of my company Connectbeam. Now if you don’t about Gartner, the one thing to know is that Gartner’s analyses are used by organizations as decision criteria for purchases. Gartner affects how a lot of IT money gets spent.

So naturally, enterprise vendors are quite interested in how they are viewed by the respective Gartner analysts covering their sector. In fact, here’s how analyst relations strategy firm SageCircle describes it:

Gartner’s Magic Quadrant is probably the iconic piece of analyst research. With its visibility and status, it also has enormous influence on vendor sales opportunities, especially when it comes time for IT buyers to draw up the all-important vendor short lists.

For an amazing review of the whole Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) phenomenon, make sure you read SageCircle’s 7-part series about the MQ.

And here’s what a Magic Quadrant looks like:

The MQ focuses on two dimensions. Here’s a description of them from CMS Wire:

  • Ability to execute: This criteria measures an organization’s success at selling and supporting both its products and services from a global perspective
  • Completeness of vision: This criteria deals with a company’s potential and helps to separate the vendors who are focused solely on the short-term from the vendors who have a more long-term view of their market

Yes, it’s a simple graph. But so much magic occurs to determine where companies fall on the X and Y axes of the MQ. For reference, Forrester Research has its own version of this, called the Wave.

Presenting Connectbeam to Gartner

In my previous jobs in technology, I’d only been exposed to one major analyst briefing. I had the good fortune to sit in on BEA Systems briefing to Forrester about our portals and enterprise 2.0 offerings. That particular session, which lasted several hours, was led by the head of marketing for the Business Interaction Division, Jay Simons. Jay did a wonderful job leading the Forrester guys through the BEA product and roadmap.

But now for Connectbeam, it was on me. What should we present to Gartner? I hadn’t read any good information on the specifics of what points to make to Gartner. But I did remember some points from the BEA presentation several months back.

After the usual iterations, dead ends and inspirations that characterize presentation building, I settled on three core points:

  1. Our latest release. Connectbeam recently GA’d Spotlight 3.0. Pretty important to talk about that.
  2. Our roadmap and vision. I didn’t think about the MQ as I did this, it just seemed a natural for talking with industry thought leaders. Where are we heading?
  3. Our customers. The idea here is that Gartner needs to know how you’re tracking. It turns out this was some of the most engaged conversation during our hour-long presentation.

The presentation seemed to go well. I personally enjoyed the chance to talk with these guys, because they’re smart and focused on the enterprise 2.0 sector. They just know stuff. Thanks to analyst Jeffrey Mann for tweeting about the meeting.

We originally anticipated two analysts from Gartner, ended up with four. It’s only now that I realize that the next enterprise social software Magic Quadrant is targeted for a 4th quarter release. Perhaps that’s why we had a larger attendance, but I’m not expecting Connectbeam to be in this MQ. We’re really just starting to maintain a dialogue with Gartner.

I know this is an area of focus for a lot of companies. Thought I’d share this experience, in case others are talking with Gartner or other firms. If you’re interested in talking more about it, feel free to connect with me through Twitter or LinkedIn (links are also on the right side of this blog).

*****

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Would Twitter Have Emerged If Current Pessimistic Attitudes Were Around Last Year?

Although well-used by many and even relied upon by some, Twitter has yet to turn on a revenue model. It’s not like the company would lose users, if it set up a minor advertising strategy as a test; people want to see the company make some money. Please, Twitter, turn on the revenue before it’s too late.

Rafe Needleman, 11 troubled Web companies: The next Kozmos?

We’re all watching, rather helplessly, what is happening to the global economy right now. It appears we’re in for a chilly period economically. Click here for a Twitter search on recession.

And there’s no shortage of advice on how to handle the upcoming winter. The most talked-about advice came from legendary venture capital firm Sequoia, who put their thoughts into a presentation. This slide describes their advice to their portfolio start-ups:

The above slide is the equivalent of a cold splash of water in the face. The general theme seems to be: cut back on experimentation and things that take a while to mature.

Later on slide 53, Sequoia includes this advice, which I have seen in many other pieces:

Become cash flow positive as soon as possible

Cash flow positive, cash flow positive…always good advice. And here are the two levers affecting cash flow position:

  1. Increase revenues
  2. Cut costs

But that advice seems to be for companies that have a specific profile. I think the approach for entrepreneurs is a little more nuanced.

What a Start-up Needs to Do Depends on Its Maturity

The graph below graphs the two levels affecting cash flow, and considers the distance between a company’s revenues and its costs.

I put this graph together because I think it’s too simplistic to say, “cut costs”. Cutting costs is advice that applies to companies along all levels of maturity in down economic times. But for many companies, that’s not enough. If the distance between sales and costs is too great, there’s no way to cut costs to preserve the company. The focus of the entrepreneurs needs to be on raising equity, not doing more with less. If there’s a good base of revenues and a decent post-financial crisis pipeline, the focus is on closing deals, not cutting costs. “Deals” meaning partner deals in a consumer web app, client deals for an enterprise app.

There are promising companies that do not yet have the topline revenue nailed down right now. Per the Sequoia note, these companies need to cut back on experimentation. Yet, we hear this sort of thing a lot:

The Great Tech Bust of Ought Two gave us 37Signals, Flickr, and del.icio.us

But…aren’t those examples of experimentation? For instance, Flickr didn’t start out life as a social photo sharing service. It was an experimental feature for an online gaming service called Game Neverending by Ludicorp. The “feature” of photo sharing didn’t have a revenue model, and I’m going to guess it wasn’t the core strategy discussed at Ludicorp board meetings.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of mixed messages out there: “Cut back and focus on what’s core!” “Great innovation emerges from economic downturns!”

Would We Have Twitter If the Economic Slowdown Was in 2007?

I put together a two graphs of Twitter’s traffic, as tracked by Google Trends. The top graph is Twitter’s traffic during 2007. The bottom graph is Twitter’s traffic overall from 2007 until today.

Assume today’s chilled economic outlook was in effect at this time last year. If a VC was making decisions about companies in its portfolio, how would Twitter fare? The 2007 numbers show a service without a real growth trend. And Twitter still doesn’t have a revenue model.

Using Sequoia’s advice…Twitter would be dead.

But look at Twitter’s numbers starting in April 2008. The network effects have kicked in, Twitter is getting press everywhere, CNN is even using it. Per Rafe’s post cited at the top, an ad revenue model certainly seems doable and promising based on its metrics.

However, I’m not convinced Twitter would survive under today’s dire outlook for start-ups. It’d be a  victim of the “throw the baby out with the bath water” mentality we’re seeing right now. And wouldn’t that have been a mistake.

Let’s hope some sense of proportionality and a longer term view kicks in soon.

*****

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Would You Apply a ‘Dislike’ to Your Co-Workers’ Content?

On Digg, you can apply the “bury” rating to stories. On Amazon.com, you can apply a single star to rate something negatively.

Would you ever do that to the work of your colleagues?

I’m not talking the annual HR exercise of 360 reviews. I’m talking Enterprise 2.0 apps, which incorporate the features we see out in Web 2.0. The ability of people to rate the content they see.

A few social media sites have taken a binary approach to ratings: (1) positive rating, or (2) abstain:

While some others are incorporating the notion of negative ratings:

Out on the Web, where you’re interacting on platforms with thousands of anonymous or unknown people, negative ratings make sense and help bring some order to the scrum of content and products.

See Louis Gray’s post for a good perspective on this whole rating thing in social media.

Inside companies, things are a little different. There’s a vetting of other Enterprise 2.0 users, in the form of the hiring and annual review process. This automatically raises the average quality of contributions.

And there’s this….Enterprise 2.0 apps are used by people you know and work with. People you’re going to see in meetings, on projects and who have common connections. A negative rating to someone’s Yammer or wiki entry or social bookmark is a big deal. You’re essentially saying:

“Dude, this is bad. I mean really bad. So bad that I had to ‘dis you and let the rest of the organization know how bad it is.”

Personally, I’d have a hard time with this. In the most egregious cases, I’d apply the negative rating. But I’d strongly prefer to “work it out” in the comments to the original content.

My concern is that a negative rating turns into a basis for internal feuding and chills open discussion about ideas, information and observations. But in a large organization with a heavy flow of content, maybe the negative rating is the most efficient way to handle the value if information.

Perhaps I’m in the minority here. How about you? Would you give a thumbs down to your co-workers’ content via Enterprise 2.0 apps?

*****

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Entrepreneurship as Signal: Quitting Facebook to Tackle Enterprise 2.0

In a recent post, Fred Wilson had this to say about Enterprise 2.0:

This is one of the reasons we’ve struggled so hard to invest in “enterprise 2.0″ at Union Square Ventures. We have tried pretty hard to find companies that we can invest in that bring the new web technologies to the enterprise, but often we’ve found what happens is that consumers (ie employees) bring the web technologies they use every day to work and they prefer that.

I understand the sentiment, but I’m not really agreeing with Fred on this one. Corporate employees don’t use their Gmail and Yahoo Mail in lieu of their company’s Microsoft Outlook application. It’s really a matter of making an application that solves some key issues and has an appropriate experience for what it needs to accomplish.

But Fred’s opinion is interesting in the context of Friday’s news that two key Facebook executives are leaving the company “to build an extensible enterprise productivity suite”. They plan to leverage many of the conventions of Facebook for this new company.

Enterprise 2.0? Are they crazy?

Enterprise Software Is So Boring

Robert Scoble set off a firestorm last December when he wrote Why enterprise software isn’t sexy. In that post, he observed a couple things:

  1. “Business software like that from Oracle, SAP, Microsoft etc makes a TON of money.”
  2. “I know that when I talk about enterprise software the numbers of viewers just don’t show up. So, tech bloggers quickly learn that if they talk about enterprise software they aren’t going to get many advertising impressions.”

Michael Arrington of Techcrunch said the same thing in this tweet in April:

“@dahowlett enterprise is boring. no way around it. people just don’t care.”

Nick O’Neill wrote this about the Facebook execs’ departure:

“Apparently Rosenstein and Moskovitz are leaving to create an enterprise level productivity software package. Sounds thrilling doesn’t it?”

Rosenstein and Moskovitz are deeply ingrained at Facebook. They’ve been there for a while, and have seen it blossom as the go-to social network. They’ve were there for the heady valuation of $15 billion. The pre-IPO company still has work in front of it, but surely it’s pretty interesting.

So what do they do? They quit to go start a BORING enterprise software company.

What could this possibly tell us?

Entrepreneurship As Signal

Here’s one clue for why the Facebook guys would quit to start their own Enterprise 2.0 company:

Via ReadWriteWeb

Via ReadWriteWeb

Social networking inside the enterprise is expected to dominate spending in the category. And what is Facebook? The most successful consumer social network.

The Enterprise 2.0 market is still quite nascent and fragmented. Combine that industry profile with projected spending in the category, and suddenly you understand why these guys are striking out on their own.

It’s not an easy market to crack, and working inside the enterprise is much different from working out on the Web. Looking forward to watching their progress.

*****

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