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Think Companies Can Do More with Ideas? Me Too – I’m Joining Spigit

spigitlogo

I start a new job today, and I’m quite excited about it. I’ve joined Spigit as  the Director of Marketing and Online Communications.

Now it’s possible you might be saying…”Spigit? Never heard of them.” Well, let me help you there.

Spigit provides idea management software for the enterprise in three modules:

Anyone is free to add any idea that occurs to them, and others can view, rate, and suggest changes to an idea. Ideas are categorized. The platform includes blogs and discussion forums to refine and clarify ideas.

The Spigit platform incorporates game theory into the process of identifying promising ideas and individuals who are good at seeing them. People can “invest” in ideas they believe in. If the company picks up the idea, everyone who invested in the idea earns incentive rewards.

As one finds with enterprise requirements, it includes role-based stages through which an idea must be approved. This process of graduation allows the top ideas by category to emerge.

A recent write-up on TechCrunchIT noted that  Spigit has lined up a number of significant customers, including IBM, Sun Microsystems, Intel, WebEx, Walmart, Sam’s Club, and Southwest Airlines.

Market’s View

Gartner: This past December, Gartner’s Anthony Bradley wrote up his thoughts about Spigit. He noted five key points:

  1. Spigit is a great example of the evolution of the social software market from best of breed tools to social software suites to technologies addressing horizontal business needs (idea management and prediction markets in Spigit’s case).
  2. Spigit exemplifies the need for some technology structure to enable community emergence. Spigit is rich with functionality (e.g. structure)  specifically targeted at mining the community for innovative ideas and then empowering that community to advance those ideas.
  3. It is clear when examining Spigit that significant effort has gone into designing an experience tailored to idea management. It is quite detailed in the intricacies of facilitating an idea marketplace. This is not something the usual enterprise could or would want to build into a general purpose suite.
  4. Spigit heavily employs gaming theory to make the experience fun. I see more and more gaming theory applied to enterprise 2.0 implementations to enhance community participation. All enterprises implementing E2.0 should strive to make a participants experience as fun as possible.
  5. A focus on analytics is also a critical capability. Growing, nurturing, and guiding the productivity of a community is no trivial exercise and it is important to have the tools to know how the community is functioning and where it needs help.

BearingPoint: Nate Nash of consulting firm BearingPoint has written about Spigit. Nash noted that his “consulting tires have really been rotated by one of the sponsors, Spigit.” Here’s the one-sentence version of his view of Spigit

Simply put, Spigit allows you to tune the impending barrage of systematized social interactions toward the vetting and implementation of innovative ideas.

TechWeb: On its Internet Evolution site, TechWeb recently wrote a great article Can Enterprise Social Networking Pay Off? The post included this customer’s quote about Spigit:

Another [Spigit] event for store managers focused on cutting costs and improving customer service. One idea from that event will save the company $8 million. “IT and senior VPs ask how we measure ROI for Spigit,” the director says. With numbers like that, the answer is easy.

A Few Personal Thoughts

Everyone has ideas. Everyone. The hardest part for employees is finding an engaged venue to air those ideas, get feedback and see them catch on if they have merit. Think about your own work. How easy is it to float ideas and get discussions going on them? Providing a defined location where ideas are expected to be added, found and advanced strikes me as a great use of social software. Spigit starts with a clearly defined use case and value proposition.

Another thing I like about Spigit is that anyone can participate in this social software initiative. My previous work at BEA Systems and Connectbeam focused on the knowledge worker, which is a consistent theme in the industry. Note how Dion Hinchcliffe describes Enterprise 2.0 in a recent article:

The Enterprise 2.0 story is primarily aimed at knowledge workers engaged in complex, collaborative projects which have had few effective software tools until recently, in other words strategic business activities.

But with idea management, anybody can have flashes of insight or creative solutions to everyday problems. The R&D group. Field consultants. The facilities manager. An hourly employee working the floor.

I really like that the addressable market for Spigit includes not just knowledge workers, but employees from throughout the company.

I’m also finding that Spigit is relatively unknown in the Enterprise 2.0 world at large. Indeed, Spigit doesn’t really go up against IBM, Microsoft SharePoint, Jive Software, SocialText and other more well-known collaboration vendors. Instead, you’ll find it mentioned alongside Salesforce Ideas, Imaginatik and Brightidea. This informs some of my work ahead.

Commute

If you’re not familiar with the Bay Area, Pleasanton is a bit of a haul from my home in San Francisco. Here’s a map that shows the commute:

bart-map

The nice thing is that  I’ll be able to take BART to work. And I will use that hour-long commute to get things done. Now if only BART would hurry up with installing wifi throughout the system. In the meantime, I’ll look at an EVDO card or the iPhone 3G tether.

Feel free to reach out to me if you’re interested in hearing more about Spigit.

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 032709

From the home office in Fargo, North Dakota…

#1: My alma mater, UVa, to drop its computer labs since everyone has laptops. http://bit.ly/6YnAe I remember the labs well.

#2: MSNBC picks up the cisco fatty story: http://bit.ly/IJH5

#3: ABC News online picks up the cisco fatty story http://bit.ly/HodQ1

#4: The twitterer behind the cisco fatty incident, @theconnor , blogs her response: “Dear Internet Superheroes” http://bit.ly/tDx4k

#5: Connor Riley (@theconnor of cisco fatty fame) sits down with MSNBC online for an interview http://bit.ly/KDcPe

#6: “Business is a good game – lots of competition and a minimum of rules. You keep score with money.” Nolan Bushnell (Atari founder)

#7: A classic Business Week article from 2000 asks “But how will Google ever make money?” http://bit.ly/ovA6x #twitterbusinessmodel

#8: Catching up on this amazing e2.0 post by @dhinchcliffe “Sharepoint and Enterprise 2.0: The good, the bad, and the ugly” http://bit.ly/IAiDW

#9: Still wonder why we don’t have BART ringing around the SF Bay. Instead, we get BART + Caltrain. Why? Tracks is tracks.

#10: Utterly fascinated with the SF K Files blog where parents (i.e. moms) are posting info about the kindergarten arms race: http://bit.ly/sl5fU

Four Tools for Tracking Topics in Social Media

binoculars1

Photo credit: jlcwalker

I’ve written previously about the inadequacy of Google Alerts for tracking information and conversations around a given topic. Google has some algorithm for determining what content ends up in your daily email. Sometimes it’s good, many times there’s little value there.

Today, Telligent’s George Dearing tweeted this:

i’ve got a Google Alert set-up for enterprise 2.0..can you say diminishing returns? Paltry at best. #enterprise2.0

I’m currently using four different services for tracking information and conversations around ‘Enterprise 2.0′. With these four, I’ve got good coverage on the state of the sector and what people are buzzing about.

I wanted to share the four services I’m currently using. I follow  ‘Enterprise 2.0′, but you can use them for any topic you’re tracking. The four tools differ in how they use ‘authority’ as a basis for surfacing what’s new and relevant for a topic. Here they are:

four-info-tools-plotted-by-authority

I’ll describe the four below, starting from high use of authority and working backwards.

Google Alerts

Yeah, Google Alerts are imperfect. But they’re still pretty good for a quick read on potentially interesting topics. I don’t know exactly what Google uses, but I think it’s safe to assume it follows a similar path to search results.

Google Alerts do give a nice selection of news, website and blog updates around a topic. They limit the number of results, which makes them easy to scan quickly to see if there’s anything of interest.

One problem with these results is that they often contain links that really aren’t helpful in keeping up with a topic. I attribute this to the imperfections of computer algorithms in identifying what’s valuable.

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Sacha Chua, whose blog always manages to make it into Google Alerts for ‘Enterprise 2.0′. She may have cracked the Google Alerts algorithm.

Filtrbox

Filtrbox is a service that lets you track mentions of keywords you’re tracking across a variety of media types:

  • Mainstream media
  • Blogs
  • Social media

The service is great for digging up nuggets throughout the web. The daily email can be a little daunting, with many more results than what you see in your Google Alert.

You can create separate folders on Filtrbox. For instance, I have an ‘Enterprise 2.0′ folder. Inside that folder, I track mentions of ‘enterprise 2.0′ and ‘social software’ as sub-folders. My daily email includes both sub-folders. This sub-folder approach is a great way to tie different keywords into a common topic.

Filtrbox lets you decide what level of authority to use in filtering results for your topics. Called FiltrRank, the algorithm scores content on a 1 to 10 scale.  You simply “turn the dial” to require a higher level of authority in your results. I don’t know what the secret sauce for FiltrRank is.

Filtrbox also lets you block domains, so that you can avoid seeing results for specific websites. Pretty handy, actually.

MicroPlaza

MicroPlaza is a service, in beta, which tracks content based on tweets. The core idea is that the higher the number of tweets, the more interesting the tweeted content is.

MicroPlaza doesn’t just scan all tweets to deliver popular posts. Rather, it uses who you follow as the starting basis. If someone you follow tweets a link, MicroPlaza will rank the content based on all tweets of that link, not just who you follow.

But it starts by having someone you follow tweeting it. Otherwise you won’t see it in your list of popular content.

The really innovative thing that MicroPlaza has done is Tribes. A Tribe is a group of people you follow on Twitter, according to however you want to group them. For instance, I’ve created my own ‘Enterprise 2.0′ Tribe.

This is powerful stuff. Tribes narrows the range of content I see to be more closely linked to a topic I care about. It still leverages the total popularity of those tweeted links throughout Twitter, but only if someone from my Tribe tweeted it.

MicroPlaza is still in beta. I may be able to get you an invite, leave a comment if you’re interested.

FriendFeed Lists

FriendFeed is the uber information tracking service. With one subscription, you get a variety of a person’s activity streams: tweets, blog posts, bookmarks, Google Reader shares, etc. You can also track people that haven’t joined FriendFeed via the imaginary friends feature.

FriendFeed includes a feature called Lists. Lists are your own selected groups of people you follow on FriendFeed. I have an ‘Enterprise 2.0′ List with over 70 different people I follow in the industry.

I’ve also created a public Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. This Room tracks tweets and Del.icio.us bookmarks related to the Enterprise 2.0 world.

FriendFeed Lists can include not only people, but Rooms as well. So my Enterprise 2.0 Room is included in my Enterprise 2.0 List. The List becomes my one place to track the ongoing observations and relevant content for what I want to track.

I ranked this the lowest in terms of authority-based filtering. The filtering really happens by who you put in your List. You can select individuals who for you personally constitute authorities, and leverage what they’re finding interesting. The Del.icio.us bookmarks constitute another implicit basis for authority. Bookmarking is a fairly engaged activity of retention, meaning the associated content has value.

As I wrote before in Follow Everything by a Select Few, Select Content by Everyone, FriendFeed Lists are a great way to stay on top of a topic.

How About You?

Those are my current tools for tracking what’s happening on a topic. I’m sure there are others out there. What are your favorite tools?

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?q=%22Four+Tools+for+Tracking+Topics+in+Social+Media%22

Quick Hack for a Twitter Follow Bug

There is a bug in Twitter that causes you to be unable to follow specific, random people. What happens is you click the ‘Follow’ button on a person’s homepage, and you get a message telling you that you’re not allowed to. Or possibly the page just hangs up, without letting you follow.

Jeremy Schultz and I had this issue. We were following one another when one day we noticed that we…weren’t. We’d been involuntary unfollowed from one another.

So we each tried to follow each other again, only to be frustrated by our inability to do so. Neither of us had problems following others.

Then one day, I saw Shel Israel tweet this:

Amazingly, having @cheeky_geeky, block, then unblock me allows me to follow him. @biz please note. Thx, whoever made the recco.

I sent that tweet to Jeremy. He then blocked me on Twitter, then unblocked me. He then reported

@bhc3 It worked! Blocked, unblocked, follow, success. Thanks!

And I’m able to follow him as well.

So there’s your hack to deal with this problem should you encounter it.

Strategic Intuition: The Innovation of Flickr and Twitter

At the Defrag conference last November, all attendees received a copy of Strategic Intuition by Columbia professor William Duggan. It’s taken me a while to get around to it, but I am really enjoying this book.

So what is strategic intuition? It’s the process that leads to that flash of insight that hits you upside the head. Here’s how Duggan describes that:

It’s an open secret that good ideas come to you as flashes of insight, often when you don’t expect them. It’s probably happened to you – in the shower, or stepping onto a train, or stuck in traffic, falling asleep, swimming, or brushing your teeth in the morning.

Suddenly it hits you. It all comes together in your mind. You connect the dots. It can be one big “Aha!” or a series of smaller ones that together show you the way ahead. The fog clears and you see what to do. It seems so obvious. A moment before you had no idea. Now you do.

Professor Duggan’s work relates to the processes that lead up to that “aha!” moment. Yes, it turns out there’s a lot that happens before we’re struck with such blinding insights. And this research leads to some intriguing ways to think about pursuing innovation.

The book is chock full of perspectives from different fields that relate to his core premise of strategic intuition. If you read the book, you’ll get them all. Two that most interested me were:

  1. European military strategists: von Clausewitz vs. Jomini
  2. Ancient Asian philosophy: Dharma and Karma

I’m not passionate about either of those topics, yet when you read how Duggan relates them to the ways in which people innovate, they become quite compelling.

von Clausewitz vs. Jomini

I’m not going to bore you with details of the military strategy treatises of von Clausewitz and Jomini. Suffice to say that both are influential to this day in terms of their thinking about conducting military campaigns. Duggan distinguishes the two of them this way:

von Clausewitz focuses on considering the conditions at hand, having one’s mind open to new alternatives and pulling together disparate elements from previous experience to address battlefield situations. Jomini argues for establishing the objective clearly, setting a plan of attack and organizing everything centered around the plan of attack.

From Duggan’s perspective, von Clausewitz’s approach is more in-line with creativity and inspired ideas. This is the important part – that the best ideas cannot be willed into existence. Rather, they occur naturally as a result of combining previous experience and knowledge.

von Clausewitz’s work included four principles related to coup d’ oeil, French for a strike of the eye, a glance. Duggan relies heavily on these four principles throughout the book:

  1. Examples from history. The point here is that there is a wealth of relevant information from the past that is useful for the future. Our minds actually access this information subconsciously.
  2. Presence of mind. As Duggan writes, “You clear your mind of all expectations and previous ideas of what you might do or even what your goal is.” This mental state is important for developing new ideas.
  3. The flash of insight itself. This is something you’ll know. You “see” an idea clearly, one that wasn’t there minutes ago. It probably consumes you for a while. It’s a good thing.
  4. Resolution. It’s one thing to have a great idea. It’s another to execute on it. You have to be ready to follow through on what strategic intuition has given you.

Duggan relates these lessons to Napoleon’s success as a military commander. He later relates them to Bill Gates with Microsoft, and Sergei Brin and Larry Page with Google.

Let’s turn to the Asian philosophy.

Dharma and Karma

I’ve never really studied what karma is about. My level of understanding could be tied to a bumper sticker that says “My karma ran over your dogma” and karma points on Plurk.

Yet Duggan does a masterful job of taking the reader through some basic information about the Asian philosophies of Hindu, Buddhist and Tao. He ultimately settles on the philosophies of Dharma and Karma:

  • Dharma: Your own set of thoughts and actions. These are in your control.
  • Karma: The set of circumstances which you are presented. These are outside your control.

This is where Duggan has a bit of his own flash of insight. He relates the concepts of Dharma and Karma to von Clausewitz’s coup d’ oeil. He references this quote by Napoleon, who was more von Clausewitz than Jomini:

I never truly was my own master but was always ruled by circumstances.

In the Buddhist sense, you “go with the flow” instead of “get what you want”. In both Western and Eastern culture, there is a mysticism or religious aspect to this idea. I don’t think you need to to be particularly spiritual to understand this. We understand that there are circumstances every day that (i) affect us; and (ii)  are outside our control.

Putting This into Practice

In reading this, you can’t help but note the serendipity of the whole thing. There are a set of circumstances that will affect outcomes, and you can’t control them. You will experience flashes of insight, but only based on the prior experiences and knowledge that you happen to have.

It’s here where you really do need to be comfortable with this situation, where Eastern philosophy is useful.  The biggest lesson I take from Duggan’s book is the “presence of mind” principle. The willingness to consider a change in circumstances and see alternatives based on prior ideas that have worked.

The hard part is to drop the well-though out plans you may have for achieving some objective. If you’re seeing success with a plan, then by all means see it through. If you’re not, is it only a problem of poor execution? Or is there something else that should be tried, an idea that emerges from something that is working? Especially in a corporate environment, the ability to just drop a project plan is hard. But empowering employees to follow “what works” relative to a given set of circumstances can be particularly valuable.

Let’s see how this applies to two well-known companies in the sociasl media space, Flickr and Twitter.

Flickr: Leveraging What Works

How many people know that Flickr got its start in a massively multiplayer online game? A company called Ludicorp offered this game, which didn’t really take off in usage. But as a part of that game, a Ludicorp engineer created a tool to upload and share photos on a public page. That particular tool got more response than the game itself did. Ludicorp’s Caterina Fake knew she had something of interest on her hands. She scrapped the online game, and pursued the online photo sharing idea.

Here’s where you really need to consider von Clausewitz vs. Jomini. The Jomini style of strategy would have had Fake continue to push on the multiplayer online game. She had a defined objective, and she had to pursue it come hell or high water.

The von Clausewitz and Dharma/Karma perspectives argue that Fake was being given a great gift. Some small piece in all that Ludicorp work was resonating, it just wasn’t the part they had anticipated. Fake had the presence of mind to recognize this, and to pursue the new idea where it took her.

Twitter: Combining What Works

Interestingly, the roots of Twitter go all the way back to the year 2000. As Steve Parks documents, Jack Dorsey was starting a business at the tail end of the 1990s’ dot com boom. He started a company to dispatch couriers, taxis and emergency services through the web. At the same time, he was an early user of the new LiveJournal blogging service. You can also see that he was aware of AOL’s Instant Messenger application for chatting with friends.

As Dorsey tells it:

One night in July of that year I had an idea to make a more “live” LiveJournal. Real-time, up-to-date, from the road. Akin to updating your AIM status from wherever you are, and sharing it.

He carried this idea around for the next five years, until he had a chance to put it in place as the company for which he worked in 2006, Odeo, was flagging. His idea was coded by Odeo engineers, and Twitter was born.

Professor Duggan places a great emphasis in his book on combining ideas, experience and knowledge from different realms to create something new and compelling. These previous ideas, combined and applied to a new situation, are the fuel for the flash of insight. In von Clausewitz’s approach, these are the “examples from history”.

Look at the influences of Dorsey before he came up with the idea for Twitter in 2000:

  • The need to share statuses easily with multiple people for his dispatch service
  • The self-expression provided by LiveJournal
  • The real-time communication of IM

With these influences, he conceived of Twitter. And look how it came about: “one night in July”. He can remember the specific circumstances and timing when the flash of insight hit him.

What It Means for You and Me

It would be wrong to assume that setting an objective is not relevant in this process. In reading this blog post, it’s possible that one could come away with the thought that you just kind of wait until a flash of insight hits you.

It’s important to distinguish between having an objective, and being unyielding in pursuing the plan to achieve it. It’s another to have an objective, and to have the flexibility to change the plan or even the objective.

I also believe these flashes of insight only come when you’re focused on something. Focus is the catalyst for our minds to piece together different experiences and knowledge, and gives a channel for where insight can emerge.

Personally, I won’t stop establishing objectives and planning for them. But this book has been influential to me in having “presence of mind” in pursuit of these objectives.

*****

See this post on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/search?required=q&q=%22Strategic+Intuition%3A+The+Innovation+of+Flickr+and+Twitter%22

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 032009

From the home office in Manhattan…

#1: The unintended meme….cisco fatty http://tinyurl.com/d5dzdc

#2: RT @jenn bah. “cisco fatty” is no “I KISS YOU”, Kids on the Interwebs will meme anything these days. When I was young, we used 2 meme uphill

#3: “Twitter Most Popular Among Working Adults” Nielsen February stats http://bit.ly/CQRty

#4: Reading about WordPress’s new microblogging offering ‘P2′ http://bit.ly/zPf9B Looks great, perfect for internal company tweeting

#5: Reading – SXSW – Jumping Sharks, Hunting Snarks, Punting Sparks and Something Stark by @freecloud http://bit.ly/Ocm

#6: Wondering which will be cheaper for wireless…3G iPhone tether or an EVDO card?

#7: Reading: Spigit Launches New Version Of Idea Generation Innovation Software on @techcrunch http://bit.ly/1aoLVS

#8: The Schwab commercials with the people who have been turned into animation are oddly compelling. You just stare at these real-life cartoons.

#9: Grey’s Anatomy, finder of cool music at a level comparable to Apple commercials.

#10: I didn’t know there was certification for such a thing: The Life Coach Institute http://bit.ly/uhNzH

Breathe: Reflections on the Cisco Fatty Story

And I feel like I’m naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you’ll use them, however you want to

Anna Nalick, Breathe (2 AM)

Earlier this week, I wrote the post How to Tweet Your Way Out of a Job. As it seems like much of the online world now knows, it told the tale of how a young woman tweeted her reaction to a Cisco job offer.  If I get a post that pops 2,000 views, I’m ecstatic. What happened with this particular post defies anything I’ve ever experienced.

But that feeling is tempered by an awareness of what @theconnor must be feeling.

Things are returning to normal here on the blog, and I wanted to record a few thoughts for posterity.

Original Incident

I don’t catch every tweet of the people I follow on Twitter. But I happened to be on the Twitter home page when Cisco’s Tim Levad responded to the following tweet by @theconnor:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

Tim’s responded by calling her out for this message. She had just summarily dismissed the job, and by extension, Cisco. I’m sure Cisco employees take pride in their work, and here’s an outsider dismissing the prospect of working there. So Tim responded in kind, telling her that her hiring manager would be interested in knowing her attitude before she’d even started the job.

Right there, terrible move by @theconnor. And she was penalized for it.

If this had only been the tweet by @theconnor, I wouldn’t blog that. I don’t follow her anyway, and people can tweet what they want. It was Tim’s reaction that elevated this to newsworthy status. A parallel can be drawn with the case of the Ketchum PR guy who tweeted a disparaging remark about Memphis. That by itself wasn’t newsworthy. What made it newsworthy was the reaction of his Memphis-based client, FedEx.

It’s not the original tweet. It’s the reaction by an offended party.

Viral

As I mentioned, this post far exceeds anything I’ve even seen. It seemed to get early traction on Twitter. Then it got picked up on Reddit. Then, TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington tweeted about it, which spread on Twitter. Before you know, the post goes viral on both Reddit and Twitter. It then hit Techmeme.

As of the time I’m writing this, the post has been viewed 102,000 times. Here’s what the traffic graph of my blog for the last 30 weeks looks like:

im-not-actually-a-geek-weekly-trafficI doubt I’ll ever see a post go this viral again. It’s hard to describe your feelings as you watch this happen. Incredulous is a good word.

I learned the power of reddit.com. If you hit the front page of that site, the traffic is huge. I also ended up as the Hawt Post on wordpress.com, which also has a lot of traffic. Little things I didn’t know.

Cisco Fatty

This was really interesting. The story took on its own descriptive meme: cisco fatty. Where did that term come from?

In the post, I needed a reference to @theconnor’s tweet about the Cisco offer. But she had taken her account private, so I went to Twitter search. I figured a simple search query for cisco fatty would do the trick, and it did for a while. Her tweet was the only thing that was returned.

What happened though, is that as people clicked that search link to see her tweet for themselves, they saw a search page with the words cisco fatty. And some wags began to refer to it as the “cisco fatty” incident. Soon, that term was all over Twitter. There are also blog posts that refer to the cisco fatty.

I have to admit, I chuckled at some of the tweets where the term was used. This was one of my favorite meta tweets about the meme:

bah. “cisco fatty” is no “I KISS YOU”, Kids on the Interwebs will meme anything these days. When I was young, we used to meme uphill…

If you don’t know what I KISS YOU is, click here for info.

Opportunism

Some guy sensed the meme potential “cisco fatty”, and set up a site called ciscofatty.com, complete with Google ads. Little more than a splog initially, the dude didn’t have the courtesy to link back to my post. He then has been thoughtlessly adding details about @theconnor from her now-removed personal website.

The guy was clever enough to see the potential of the term. But then he blows it by going overboard. As one person tweeted:

The dude who put up the Cisco Fatty website, plastering personal info about the Twitterer at the center of this debacle is a total douche.

The unfortunate thing is that articles and posts have linked to his site, and folks are tweeting links to it.

False Privacy of Not Being Well-Known

I can see how one could slip into an overly comfortable feeling that Twitter is like email or IM. You tweet things and get positive reactions from those with whom you interact. Or more likely, a lot of what you tweet gets no reaction. You slowly get more comfortable with the medium, and notice the wide variety of personal information are sharing on Twitter.

I can very easily see someone developing a false sense of privacy in this realm. After all, there are millions of people tweeting, and nobody and watch all that they post.

But public tweets are not email. Twitter search and the retweet protocol make anyone’s tweet accessible everywhere. With Twitter, you have to keep your guard up. It’s unfortunate, but I look at it as a small price to pay for the self-expression, learning, interacting and connecting you can do via Twitter.

The thing is, I’m sure every few minutes someone somewhere tweets something that crosses the line of propriety. The vast majority of these are never known. But as this case shows, the potential is always there.

Thoughts on @theconnor

The young woman at the center of this is laying low, waiting for of this to pass. And it will. It’s already slowing down a lot here at the end of the week.

She has achieved something she didn’t want, a measure of Internet notoriety. I’m not expert in these matters. But I’ve seen how people handle these things, whether it’s Internet fame or incidents that occur in business, Hollywood, professional sports, etc. She can embrace or refute her notoriety.

If she wanted to, she could embrace this. Here’s how I mean. She’s part of Gen Y. This is the next generation coming into the workforce. Her tweet about “hating the work” may actually be a rallying cry for many of her peers looking at their future.

She could write a very persuasive article about the feelings of her generation. Not that she hates Cisco, or the job she was going to do there. Rather, she was expressing some of the frustration of her generation. My guess is that she could actually write her essay on a widely-read site of some type (e.g. TechCrunch, Time, etc.).

I can see why she might not want to do this. She may not want any more limelight, and have concern about what employers will think if she did write such a piece. There will be plenty of people that will be critical of her if she did write anything.

But she does have the opportunity to channel the interest in the story and her own notoriety into something she didn’t have at the start of this week. My sense is that she has a platform right now.

Regardless, I wish her the best.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

How to Tweet Your Way Out of a Job

oops

Photo credit: Victoria-Ann

I saw this exchange on Twitter, which is a painful lesson in how NOT to use Twitter in this tough economy.

A lucky job applicant tweeted the following:

Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.

This tweet caught the attention of Tim Levad, a channel partner advocate for Cisco. To which he responded:

Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.

Ouch! The person who dissed the Cisco offer quickly took their Twitter account private. But Twitter search retained the record.

Remember a couple months ago when the PR guy’s tweet about Memphis came back to bite him? This is another example of the need to be careful with what you post on Twitter, and social media in general.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Twitter Rolling Out House Ads

Just saw this on my Twitter home page:

twitter-house-ad

I’ve seen one for Twitter widgets and one for Twitter search. They’re “house ads” now – i.e. only for Twitter’s own services. But perhaps these are a precursor to future advertising.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 031309

From the home office in Austin, Texas…

#1: @defrag has been saying he thinks the economy is slowly coming around. To that end: http://bit.ly/pP5bd and http://bit.ly/nRkzv

#2: “I think the days of the traditional San Francisco startup approach are numbered.” http://bit.ly/jyw4H

#3: @petefields Companies should follow all who follow them. I’d bet companies’ tweet reading is more keyword & @reply based, not person based.

#4: Maybe it’s just me, but Techmeme has improved a lot recently in terms of the variety of interesting stories. Human editor + user tips = +1

#5: “Facebook is the SharePoint of the Internet” http://bit.ly/4fu73o

#6: This shouldn’t be too controversial…The Case Against Breast-Feeding in April’s Atlantic Magazine http://bit.ly/Xs4ZG

#7: If browsers were women http://bit.ly/kO1su (h/t @mona)

#8: I’ve been blissfully unaware of what Sophie’s Choice is about all these years. My wife told me about it last night. Never gonna watch that.

#9: Actively banishing artists showing up in my Last.fm recommendations: Peter Cetera, Richard Marx, John Parr.

#10: In an email f/ my son’s preschool: One kid: “We’ll take them home in the future”. My son Harrison: “But I’ve never been to the future.”

Microblogging Will Marginalize Corporate Email

In case you missed it last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt had this to say about the microblogging service Twitter:

Speaking as a computer scientist, I view all of these as sort of poor man’s email systems. In other words, they have aspects of an email system, but they don’t have a full offering. To me, the question about companies like Twitter is: Do they fundamentally evolve as sort of a note phenomenon, or do they fundamentally evolve to have storage, revocation, identity, and all the other aspects that traditional email systems have? Or do email systems themselves broaden what they do to take on some of that characteristic?

At first blush, this seemed like an example of Google not ‘getting it’ when it comes to Twitter (see the comments to the linked blog post above). But I think he’s actually on to something. It is a new way of posting notes about what you’re doing, but it also has a lot of communications usage via @replies and direct messages (DMs).

Reflecting both on Schmidt’s statement, and my own use of Yammer at my company, I’m seeing that microblogging is slowly replacing a lot of my email activity.

As more companies take up microblogging with services like Yammer, Socialcast, Present.ly and SocialText Signals, employee communications amongst employees will both increase and divert away from email. Something like this:

microblogging-marginalizes-email

Socialcast’s Tim Young said this about email:

Email is dead. If your company is relying on email for communication and collaboration, your company is walking dead in this new economy.

Being the CEO of Socialcast, that’s not a surprising statement. But I think he’s more right than wrong.

The shift I describe applies regardless of the microblogging application used. Since I’m actually familiar with Yammer as a user, I’ll talk about its features in the context of this shift.

Yammer Follows the Innovator’s Dilemma Path

A useful context for thinking about Yammer versus corporate email is Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma. Generally, the premise is that incumbent companies need to grow and increase the functionality of their products. This increases the products’ complexity and cost, but also increases margins. But as the incumbents are doing this, it opens an opportunity at the lower end of functionality for new companies to come in and attack the incumbents’ base. From Wikipedia, here’s a graphic that demonstrates the concept:

innovators-dilemma-disruption-graph

A useful way to think about the Innovator’s Dilemma in the enterprise software space comes from this blog post, Enterprise Software Innovator’s Dilemma. Existing vendors expand the functionality of their products, heavily relying on the requests of large customers. Over time, this has the effect of creating a robust, highly functional and more expensive offering. This trend is what opens the door for new vendors to come in.

Let’s consider Yammer in this context. Simple microblogging runs along the “low quality use” in some ways. At least in terms of the feature set. But it certainly takes “use case share” away from email.

If all you could do was make public notes, that’s the end of the story. Microblogging does not replace email. But these guys are advancing their product, and are rising up the performance axis.

Here is what Yammer now offers:

  • Behind the firewall installation
  • Public notes
  • @replies
  • DMs
  • Groups
  • Private groups
  • File attachments
  • Favorites (a form of bookmarking)
  • Tagging
  • Conversation threading
  • Unlimited character length (i.e. not limited to 140 characters)
  • Search

Look at that list. When you think about your own internal email usage, what ‘s missing? Folders or the Gmail equivalent of tags seem to be something for the down the road. I’m not an IT manager, so I’m sure there are some heavy duty infrastructure aspects of Microsoft Exchange/Outlook and Lotus Notes that are not there. Thus, Yammer still has the insurgent, disruptor profile relative to corporate email.

But don’t underestimate that. There’s what IT knows is needed behind the scenes. and then there’s what the users actually do when given the different applications.

Expanding Communications, Marginalizing Email

Microblogging’s premise is that public proclamations of what you’re doing and information that you find are a new activity for people, and they have value. Information is shared much more easily and in-the-flow of what we’re all doing anyway. In an office setting, I continue to find the way Dave Winer describes it quite useful: narrating your work.

This use case is what promises to dramatically increase communications among employees. As we’re seeing with Twitter’s explosive growth, it takes time for people to grok why they should microblog. But once they “get it”, it takes off.

So services like Yammer have your attention as you post updates and read what others post. In reaction to what someone posts, you hit the Reply button. You’re having a conversation that others can see, and join in if they want. You decide to have separate conversation with someone in this context. Do you open up your email? Or just click “Private Message” to someone? I’m willing to bet you’ll do the latter.

Which starts the marginalization of corporate email. Why? Because a lot of what’s going to generate interactions is occurring right on that microblogging app you’re looking at. It’s the most natural thing to act in-the-flow and use that application in lieu of email. Well-designed microblogging applications are also quite seductive in terms of ease-of-use.

As I’ve written before, email’s role changes in this scenario. The logical end use cases are:

  • Notifications
  • External communications

This isn’t something that’s imminent. Email is quite entrenched in daily workflow, older generations aren’t likely to stop using it and internal microblogging is still nascent.

But no one said the Innovator’s Dilemma plays out over the course of a couple years. It will take time. But watch the trends.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

How I Address the Question of Enterprise 2.0 ROI

Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg

Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg

Establishing a solid ROI for enterprise social software is an ongoing discussion for the sector. It is generally a requirement for most technology decisions made by companies. At a high level, there are two sides to this argument:

  1. Measuring Enterprise 2.0 ROI is like trying to measure the ROI of email, it can’t be done
  2. Inability to measure ROI is a cop-out or evidence of the lack of value for social software

Martin Koser has a really thoughtful piece along these lines.  It is something that I’ve met head-on in my work at Connectbeam. We have several large, blue chip enterprises with whom we’re engaging. And the need for some sort of ROI justification is a recurring request.

I want to share how I’m approaching this request. Before that, I want to describe my experience in providing ROI for enterprise software, of the non-social kind. It’s useful as a point of comparison.

The ROI of Re-engineering the Credit Approval Process

I worked for a company named eFinance from 2000  – 2005. eFinance provided a hosted application that let enterprises run automatic credit evaluations on their commercial customers. This is an activity in most large corporations badly in need of improvement. I had the privilege of designing the scorecards for Hertz Equipment Rental Corp., using basic statistical analysis of actual customer payments and defaults.

For purposes of understanding what’s important in the world of back-office credit, here’s all you need to know:

  • Businesses have credit records with D&B and Experian, which enterprises access for credit applicants
  • New credit applications are manually reviewed by a remote credit office
  • Initial credit decisions = Approved, Further Review, Declined
  • Further Reviews can be either Approved or Declined

Turns out, there are some inefficiencies in the process. Inefficiencies which enterprise credit software can solve. The table below shows them.

efinance-improvements-to-credit-process

For the “R” part of ROI, the benefits are clear. The data costs were reduced with our credit system. Easy to apply the cost differential against the number of credit reports to arrive at a dollar savings. The credit reviews were another easy area for which to calculate the benefits. Each Further Review takes an average amount of time, which for a given volume means you needed N people. Reduce the percentage of Further Reviews, and fewer people are needed for a given volume of credit applications. Meaning headcount reductions.

The third benefit was faster response time to contractors seeking to rent equipment. While they didn’t have stats for lost business due to delays in responding to customers, feedback from the field was that this was an issue.Indeed, this third benefit was considered the most valuable.

From the eFinance work with Hertz, what characteristics are of relevance in considering Enterprise 2.0 ROI?

  • Ability to measure ROI was directly related to the ability to measure the underlying activity
  • The tangible dollar savings justified the project costs, while the intangible benefit of customer response time was the most exciting
  • The software was applied to a very specific activity

With that in mind, let’s turn to the question of ROI for social software.

The ROI of Enterprise 2.0

The challenge with social software is that it addresses unpredictable, unmeasurable activities. And Enterprise 2.0 addresses a range of activities, not just a single process inside companies.

The graphic below is part of my ROI presentation for Connectbeam:

bases-of-roi-connectbeam

My X axis measures the predictability of the benefit. “Predictability” in this instance referring to the ability to know ahead of time how the benefits will manifest themselves. Reflect on this measure for the eFinance work for Hertz. Predictability was high for:

  • Usage of cheaper D&B data reports with less data
  • Reduction in FTE hours for processing Further Review applications

My Y axis measures the amount of value for the different benefits. “Value” defined in terms of revenue impact and dollar savings. In the eFinance example, the benefit of faster response time to customers, while not readily calculable based on existing data, was perceived to be a strong value proposition.

For Connectbeam, I put the benefits into three buckets:

  1. Time savings (see this IBM article for how much)
  2. Increased connections between need & knowledge (see this Connectbeam blog post for an example)
  3. Stronger more diverse employee social graphs (see my earlier post for an empirical study of this)

I plotted them as having increasing value, but decreasing predictability. I won’t go into detail on how I describe these buckets, but the links above touch on it.

Essentially, the time savings are real, but are the lowest return to the enterprise. I look at those as the easiest to predict, with defined dollar benefits. In the ROI presentation, I can show how these alone offer payback on Connectbeam.

It’s the higher-value benefits where the ROI story is harder to present. After considering my previous success in identifying and articulating an ROI story for non-social enterprise software,

The ability to have predictable ROI for software is directly correlated to the predictability of the underlying activity that uses the software

Think about that. With the credit software, there was a standard process with known unit volumes. Each step in the process could be measured in time. Frederick Winslow Taylor would have loved it for its predictability, standardization and amenity to quantification.

What underlying activities does social software address?

  • Collaboration
  • Better decisions through improved access to relevant knowledge and content
  • Tapping the little bits of knowledge employees have en masse to provide better direction
  • More agile enterprise through improved connections and ambient awareness

All of those activities include elements of being unplanned, ad hoc, and creative. In short, they’re unpredictable and unmeasurable. The benefits also apply across a wide range of activities within the organization. Maybe Finance as a better handle on a new accounting issue that’s cropping up. Sales is up-to-speed on a customer’s hot buttons faster. R&D connects with the right field person to talk through a new innovation.

Like the feeling that faster response time to customers will result in higher sales and more satisfied customers in the eFinance example, the activities and problems addressed by Enterprise 2.0 are known to anyone inside a company. But no existing measures for the problems associated to these activities exist. Nor is there a good way to systematically measure their improvement.

That’s why anecdotes from the front line are so important. They show that improvements are happening with social software, even though you couldn’t pinpoint where at the start of the project.

Dennis Howlett is one my personal favorites out there in the world of enterprise software. He has an accounting background, so he’s pretty hard on soft, fuzzy feelings about the value of Enterprise 2.0. I did find it interesting  that this was his perspective on where ROI comes from:

In my argument, breakthrough ROI comes from seeing these technology through the lens of collaboration, which in turn implies process and context. I am mindful that huge amounts of value continue to be locked up in supply chains. AMR quoted a number of $3 trillion in 2005. Has that materially changed? Simply being able to communicate across supply chains in a meaningful manner could do wonders to lubricate those rusty wheels.

Note what he’s saying there:

  • Apply social software to a specific area (supply chain management)
  • Lack of communication among various parties is causing enterprises to tie up too much cost, capital in the supply chain
  • Even here, the benefit is one step removed from a hard, tangible ROI. Improved communication begets the benfit, although how it does so is on the intangible side of things.

To wrap it up, my approach is to push forward with the ways in which Enterprise 2.0 delivers ROI. We cannot escape this duty in the industry. But I also am working to set expectations for how predictable this ROI will be going in to a project. After all…

Software ROI is only as predictable as the activity for which it is used

*****

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