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Seesmic’s Evolution Is the Latest Example of Innovation in Action

Seesmic logoSeesmic was started as a video conversation platform, a video twitter. The idea is that people interact via videos instead of the written word. Industry leader Loic Le Meur is the founder of Seesmic.

As I’ve written here before in one of my first blog posts, online video is a tough nut to crack. That apparently was hurting Seesmic’s video conversation efforts. As Allen Stern first noted, Seesmic is now de-emphasizing the video platfrom, putting its resources into its growing desktop client to manage Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Loic explains why:

Just because video is too narrow. Very few people do it the way you do. But I agree. I love it. The quality of friendship that were created by the site are just amazing. Just very few people do it. And so if I keep focusing only on that it’s a sure path to failure.

Loic’s honesty is great. It’s also a 180-degree shift for Seesmic. The Seesmic desktop client for managing social media is actually an acquisition the company made. When Seesmic bought Twitter desktop client Twhirl, the intention at the time was to leverage that for its video service. As Loic said at the time:

Twhirl will continue to support Twitter, and Le Meur has no plans to add text nanoblogging to Seesmic. His service is all about video, he says.

But the growth isn’t there for video, and now the company is competing to be the dominant application for managing the social media streams.

Parallels to Flickr and Twitter

As I’ve followed this change for Seesmic, I couldn’t help but notice its parallels to Flickr and Twitter. In the post Strategic Intuition: The Innovation of Flickr and Twitter, I noted that both of those services were actually outgrowths of earlier companies doing something completely different.

Here’s what I wrote for Flickr:

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.

And here’s the background on Twitter:

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.

Major shifts in strategy have actually been quite beneficial. In Flickr’s case, it was a case of going with “what’s working”. In Twitter’s case, it was something of a hail mary that has worked out beautifully.

For Seesmic, this is a case of the former. The desktop client is getting traction, and Loic is smartly pursuing that. Another innovation chapter continues.

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 062609

From the home office in Buenos Aires…

#1: Early criticism of veracity of MJ story was that it came from TMZ. Does TMZ misreport or lie? Or do people just not like what they cover?

#2: Reading – How to approach open innovation: With lessons from P&G http://bit.ly/EjcSp by @lindegaard #innovation

#3: “As strongly as you & a few like-minded people feel the impacts of info overload, a lot more people just don’t care.” http://bit.ly/9OnX4

#4: CLEAR, the service that used biometrics to fast-track you thru airport security, is no more http://bit.ly/cAxSY Another biometrics firm dies

#5: Reading these Dachis posts today http://bit.ly/13RFri I get the sense the firm is consultancy, not technology @peterkim @armano @jevon

#6: RT @VMaryAbraham McAfee/Lockheed: Top-down mandate needs to be done carefully. Otherwise it can hamper e20 rollout. #e2conf {How?}

#7: Reading: The secret sauce to successful Enterprise 2.0 adoption http://bit.ly/7oLP5 by @oscarberg

#8: Self-spam? Colleague CC’d himself on an Outlook email. Outlook put his email into its spam folder.

#9: Blind? :-p RT @hottweeters @bhc3 Are your legs tired? Cuz you’ve been running through someone’s mind at http://www.hottweeters.com/bhc3

#10: My 5 y.o. son asks: Is there infinite of anything. My answer? No, everything is finite. Right?

FriendFeed adds file attachments. Next up, Google Wave?

FriendFeed just took a fairly significant step forward. And in doing so, I wonder if they have an ultimate destiny as some sort of business platform.

FriendFeed now supports file attachments. When you post a new entry directly to FriendFeed, there is now an option to Add: Files. Here’s a test post I did:

FriendFeed entry with file attachment

You can see the PDF attachment, along with the file size. From an extended conversation by the community with the FriendFeed team about this release, here are some other details:

  • Documents are virus-scanned
  • The amount you upload will be governed by undisclosed limits per file, and in aggregate over a rolling 24-hour period, but most people won’t hit the limits
  • Videos aren’t supported with this release
  • Audio files are limited to 3 per day

Last December, I wrote If You Had to Choose One Form of Digital Communication, What Would It Be? In that post, I assessed six different technologies: email, IM, SMS text, Twitter, social networks, FriendFeed. At that time, I picked Twitter, because I could send directed messages to people. I also added this:

A word about FriendFeed. If they ever decide to support direct messaging and something similar to the @reply tab of Twitter, then they would become my communication mode of choice. There is so much more that can be done there via different media types, along with Rooms and Lists.

Communication Mode Poll 121608

Poll from the December 2008 blog post

Meanwhile, in response to that post many said ‘email’. Here are some who provided some explanation, on the blog and on FriendFeed:

For now, I had to choose e-mail, especially for exchange of attachments.

I hope and pray when FF becomes the one and all platform. It is so well thought out. But for now, I wouldn’t be able to function without email. That is my number one choice!

email – still the most versatile, and durable

Email. Free wins. Other things are free but not as full featured.

Email – for better or worse, literally everyone has an email account. Plus it’s essential in the workplace.

Since I wrote that post, FriendFeed has rolled out these three major advances:

  1. Direct messaging
  2. Real-time comments, added to the thread for an entry
  3. File attachments

You see those developments, and you start to realize that, “Hey! They’re building a communication and collaboration platform over there!” They’ve basically answered whatever shortfalls people expressed.

Now social networks are all fun and games, right? So what does this latest release say about FriendFeed’s direction? From their blog post:

We’ve certainly been using this feature internally and have found it extremely useful. We hope it’ll help make you and your collaborators even more productive, and a little more attached to FriendFeed.

FriendFeed is certainly touching on activities that define the work day. I mean, if you look at what Yammer or Socialcast does (e.g. microblogging, direct messages, file attachments, groups), you’ll see FriendFeed is overlapping much of that. FriendFeed, the business application? Certainly it has plenty of revenue opportunities there if the advertising model is not of interest. Well, maybe there are revenue opportunities in the small- to mid-sized business segment.

And a final point. Google Wave is an outstanding technology, with its real-time sharing and communication, server-based access and federated protocol. As I said in my post about Wave, it will be the young guns that incorporate it and advance it inside the enterprise. Since FriendFeed is pushing forward strongly on being a leading company in communication and collaboration, adoption of Google Wave seems like a natural. The federated protocol is a terrific opportunity to create collaborative ecosystems.

I’m sure the FriendFeed team is experimenting with Google Wave right now. We’ll see what they come up with.

Google Gets Serious about Innovation

Yeah, that’s funny to say, isn’t it? Google is getting serious about innovating. “Serious” as in determined not to miss out out good opportunities. From the Wall Street Journal last week:

Google has recently started internal “innovation reviews,” formal meetings where executives present product ideas bubbling up through their divisions to Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and other top executives.

“We were concerned that some of the biggest ideas were getting squashed,” said Schmidt.

Google Searches for Ways to Keep Big Ideas at Home, Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2009

BW 2009 Top 3 innovative companiesGoogle is renowned for its innovation chops. The company consistently ranks among the Top 2 most innovative companies in Business Week’s annual survey. It’s not surprising. The ability of engineers to devote 20% of their work time to any side project of their choosing is one of the strongest statements about the importance of innovation in the world (the new United States CTO recently praised it). Google has instilled innovation into its corporate DNA.

So when the company says it’s missing out on good ideas, this is both surprising, and perhaps somewhat expected. Surprising, because how does a company consistently ranked at the top of innovation surveys miss good ideas? Expected, because Google now employs 20,000. With that many people, how does a company stay on top of all those ideas?

What I’m seeing is a company that is is progressively systematizing its innovation practice. Google is following the path of its large enterprise brethren, adapting its internal processes to account for its size and its need to grow across multiple fronts. It really has to. It’s no longer the small company where ideas get tossed around on a white board, and everyone knows what’s going on. I mean, there are 20,000 people employed there.

Google is getting serious about innovation.

A Google’s Innovation Management Scorecard

The scorecard below is a simple one, which I’ll freely confess is based on what I’ve read about Google’s innovation. I don’t work there, but the assessment feels about right. See if you agree:

Google innovation scorecard

These are five elements of an innovation program, highly focused on the front end of innovation.

Strategic innovation focus areas: I rated the “strategic innovation focus areas” as average, because it’s not clear exactly what Google’s focus areas are. Google employees might dispute that assertion. But it’s also true that Googlers treasure the ability to work on off-topic, seemingly stupid ideas.

Employee ideas encouraged: Well, yeah! 20% time.

Visibility into ideas generated: I also rated “visibility into ideas generated” as average. Really, this rating is based on the Wall Street Journal article. It sounds like executives weren’t able to see all the good ideas they wanted to. I will note, that this Googler said:

In order for 20% time to work, anyone must be able to see what is out there

I’ll characterize “must be able to see it” as a wiki-like philosophy of easy accessibility. It also may have a local orientation, where you tell your colleagues to go look at your code. Making it easy to see the ideas and let the best one surface is a different issue. This becomes harder as companies get bigger. Eric Schmidt and Hal Varian wrote about the challenges growth brings:

A final issue is making sure that as Google grows, communication procedures keep pace with our increasing scale. The Friday meetings are great for the Mountain View team, but Google is now a global organization.

Select the best ideas: Go back to Eric Schmidt’s statement in the WSJ article. The biggest ideas were getting “squashed”. It may also be hard to define what exactly “the best” means. With a broad mandate to organize the world’s information, presumingly any idea could be considered among the best.

Google’s challenge of coming up with big ideas is something Om Malik wrote about a few months ago. Personally, I’m not insistent that innovation is only for game-changing ideas. But perhaps Om’s post can be an angle on the ability to identify the best ideas.

Operationalize ideas: Google is quite good at operationalizing its ideas. Search, AdWords, Gmail, Google Reader, Android, etc. It’s got the resources, market presence and experience to turn an idea into an innovation.

Prediction: Google Starts to Focus Employees’ Innovation Efforts

Google’s innovation strength draws from its employees’  willingness to spend 20% of time of new ideas. It is distinct among global companies with this regard. 20% time as a method of producing an immense number of ideas.

Which means these innovation reviews by top executives will be interesting. Already, Google Wave is the result of these. And a nice answer to whether Google can come up with big ideas.

It wouldn’t surprise me if these innovation reviews, and the projects that are selected, become a signaling effect to the troops. When they see what the top brass green-light and give resource priority to, it will likely have an impact on what they put their 20% time toward. Sure, some entrepreneurial types will do their own thing. And if they don’t get priority treatment, they’ll start their own companies. But I’d wager the majority would likely orient their research and creativity in the preferred areas.

Google’s growth is slowing, although much of that is due to the general economic climate. Still, expect for Eric Schmidt and team to look at areas where they want to see growth. And to let the troops know what those areas are.

Imagine that. All those 3.9 GPA-toting, know-why-a-manhole-cover-is-round brains putting their focus on specific growth areas. As Scott Anthony wrote about Google’s new discipline around innovation:

It doesn’t seem like Google is walking away from its ideals. Rather, it’s trying to couple its world-class approach to the “front end” of the innovation process with the world-class discipline exhibited by companies like Procter & Gamble. It might yet struggle to bring these two approaches together. But success could allow the company to create an innovation capability that actually lives up to the hype.

And hopefully the “stupid ideas” still get attention.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 061909

From the home office in Tehran…

#1: RT @Brioneja The Future of Energy: A Realist’s Roadmap to 2050. Which technology will finally free us from oil? http://bit.ly/FXg7A

#2: People’s interest in the real-time web is as much a social thing as it is a need to stay on top of events as they happen.

#3: In case you didn’t know…Atlassian’s new release of Confluence 3.0 includes status updates: http://bit.ly/yNZn4

#4: RT @rhappe the tight engagement you build with a small group will go viral… a big group with a lot of ‘extras’ won’t have the same

#5: RT @prwpmp Very insightful article in today’s WSJ about the power of daydreaming! http://bit.ly/2hJZMs {Daydreaming = AHA! moments}

#6: Which are most likely to survive in social media-driven news world? The mega global media (e.g. NYT), regional newspapers or local papers?

#7: New Spigit blog post: Kaiser Permanente Crosses the O-Gap in Innovation http://bit.ly/PNcom #innovation

#8: What is the magic number where the size of a group outstrips its ability to stay on top of everyone’s ideas? 25? 50? 100? #innovation

#9: Is there such a thing as the “avg distance” between a firm’s employees & its customers? SMBs’ avg distance < enterprises’ avg?

#10: ABC7 prediction market: Will the Dow Jones Industrial Average end 2009 below 2008′s year end close? http://bit.ly/1rjAt My vote = NO

What’s in your FriendFeed Fave 5?

My FriendFeed Fave 5When FriendFeed recently introduced limited bios for members, they included the option to display 5 different services on your profile page. If you don’t select 5, they’ll assign 5 of your feeds to the page (assuming you have at least 5 feeds).

I hadn’t yet updated my five on FriendFeed, until today. I’ve got 14 different services piped into my FriendFeed account, so I had to decide which of them to display. My FriendFeed Fave 5 are shown in the graphic to the right.

It occurred to me that this is a lot like posting badges on a site, or stickers on your laptop. You’re telling the world what’s important to you. You’re making something of a statement.

Here are why I picked my Fave 5:

  • LinkedIn: Professional network, quick read on my work and education
  • Twitter: I’m active there, it’s where my Enterprise 2.0 and Innovation peeps are
  • Blog: This is where it all springs from, I’m quite proud of this little blog
  • Diigo: I bookmark fairly regularly, and I like Diigo’s features
  • SlideShare: I have all of 4 documents up on SlideShare, but each of them took a lot of effort. One has over 3,000 views.

While I really enjoy my other feeds as well, I figured these were the 5 that best represented me. Out of curiosity, I checked several other folks on FriendFeed to see what was in their FriendFeed Fave 5. Here’s what I found:

Mark Trapp

Fave 5 - Mark Trapp

Mark’s Fave 5 are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, his blog and his Tumblr.

Anika Malone

Fave 5 - Anika Malone

Anika’s Fave 5 are Twitter, her blog, Flickr, Goodreads and Last.fm

Steve Rubel

Fave 5 - Steve Rubel

Steve’s Fave 5 are Facebook, Twitter, his blog, Flickr and Google Reader.

Mona Nomura

Fave 5 - Mona Nomura

Mona likes turtles…her Fave 5 are Twitter, her blog, her ffffound account, Identi.ca and Brightkite.

Daniel Pritchett

Fave 5 - Daniel Pritchett

Daniel’s Fave 5 are Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, his blog and his Twitter favorites.

Tina the FFing Enigma

Fave 5 - Tina

Tina’s Fave 5 are her drop.io blog, her blog, her Tumblr, her Google Reader and her Google Talk.

Thomas Hawk

Fave 5 - Thomas Hawk

Thomas Hawk’s Fave 5 are Twitter, his blog, Zooomr, Flickr and Netflix.

A Couple Observations

Observation #1: There’s a lot of commonality in this group, including me. We like Twitter and our blogs. Flickr, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google Reader also make appearances.

Observation #2: There’s something about the 5th position feed that really distinguishes each person. My 5th position feed is SlideShare. Thomas Hawk’s is Netflix. Tina’s is Google Talk. Daniel’s is his Twitter favorites. Mona’s is Brightkite. Steve is his Google Reader shares. Anika’s is Last.fm. Mark’s is his Tumblr account.

Perhaps we should pay attention to that 5th item to really understand a person.

Does Self-Censorship Help Innovation? The Enterprise 2.0 Approach

Credit: gerriet

Credit: gerriet

Came across this interesting perspective on the blog of Mark Turrell, CEO of idea management software company Imaginatik, in his post Myth #3: “We need lots of ideas”:

The next time someone tells you that you need lots of ideas, stop, think and work out the outcomes you want before you go collecting thousands, and thousands, and potentially more thousands of fluffy, non-relevant ideas that go nowhere.

The next time someone tells you that you need lots of ideas, stop, think and work out the outcomes you want before you go collecting thousands, and thousands, and potentially more thousands of fluffy, non-relevant ideas that go nowhere.

The gist of Mark’s post is that encouraging the contribution of ideas from all quarters is actually counterproductive. He prescribes the concept of an “appropriate” number of ideas.

Wow. Really?

The post makes some good points, but I’m not in agreement with its overall tone. As I read the post, it struck me that there are really only two ways to reduce the number of ideas:

  • Limit who gets to contribute ideas
  • Have everyone self-censor ideas that they “know” will be noise

This perspective is quite different from the tenets that are driving the Enterprise 2.0 movement. There are three elements of Enterprise 2.0 that are relevant here:

  1. Emergence
  2. Filters
  3. Culture

One disclaimer. My company is Spigit, which provides an enterprise innovation platform. We integrate social software heavily into our application, so naturally my take on Mark’s post will differ. But readers of this blog know I’ve been part of the Enterprise 2.0 field for a while. Perhaps my perspective isn’t so surprising.

On to it then!

Emergence

Credit: Dion Hinchcliffe

Credit: Dion Hinchcliffe

Are ideas the province of a privileged few?

Emergence is a cornerstone of Enterprise 2.0. The principle says that ideas and knowledge are found throughout an organization, not just in the executive suite. In the daily rhythms of their work, employees everywhere build up an immense trove of experience and learnings. They encounter the “why don’t we?” questions every day. It’s tapping these ideas and knowledge that drives the value proposition of Enterprise 2.0, and is reshaping the corporate workplace.

In the graphic to the right, Dion Hinchcliffe provides a basis for considering traditional software versus social software. There is, obviously, a need for both inside companies. For instance, financial accounting is not an emergent activity. The SEC and FASB have very specific standards for companies to follow. Auditors have a series of criteria they use to confirm the integrity of a company’s financial statements. Centralized control and access are important here.

Innovation, on the other hand, does not have similar constraints. There are really two limits for business innovation:

  1. Do ideas meet the strategic direction of the company?
  2. Does the company have the resources to turn an idea into an innovation?

The nature of innovation – what’s next? – means that tapping the full power of an organization is important. That doesn’t mean that everyone is constantly ideating. Things do need to be done. But as Stefan Lindegaard writes in his post Should everyone work with innovation?

On the other hand, every employee should be given the opportunity to work with innovation even at a certain radical level through a variety of initiatives setup by your innovation leaders. This could be idea generating campaigns, internal business plan competitions and innovation camps.

That strikes me as the right answer. No limits on employees’ opportunities to contribute ideas.

Filters

“It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.” Clay Shirky, Web 2.0 Expo.

The issue of how to handle an avalanche of contributions – ideas, requests, information – has emerged as an acute issue with the proliferation of online media. You’ll find people discussing issues of noise vs. signal, “email bankruptcy” and the need to pare down their social networks.

Clay Shirky gets it right in his philosophical positioning. The capacity of every individual to generate contributions is significant. That’s not going away, and as we’ve seen with the use of Twitter in the Iranian election protests, it shouldn’t.

Rather, the focus needs to be in refining the ways people manage information. Instinctively, you know when a piece of information is valuable. Have you stopped to consider why it was valuable? What were the contextual variables that made it so?

The application of filters is an ongoing effort by the industry, made more pertinent by the “roll-your-own” approach of many social media sites. But think about this: Google has been employing filters for a decade. The Google PageRank is an important filter for displaying search results. PageRank is a form of authority, based on a website’s inbound links.

Here in 2009, an array of tools are available for filtering contributions. A key tool is leveraging what a community finds valuable. Distributing the work of defining value to thousands of different people is proving to be a powerful way to identify signal. Take for example, the My Starbucks Idea site, there are currently 9,500 ideas there. Sure, it’s a lot. But the community has done a tremendous job of filtering those ideas. You can see that when you compare the top 20 to the bottom 20.

What are some other filters? For idea management, here are just a few:

  • Minimum community approval level
  • Tags and key words
  • Latest ideas
  • Ideas within specific categories
  • Ideas with minimum number of votes
  • Ideas with minimum number of views
  • Ideas with minimum number of comments
  • Ideas in a specified stage of evaluation

You get the gist of this. Social software is evolving to provide better and better ways to filter through contributions.

One other issue with following a hard-coded view of what’s signal and what’s noise: Your noise might be my signal. It depends on what you’re working on. As the graphic below shows, it’s really about stuff you’re seeking. And even the stuff you’re not seeking can be classified as discovery, fuel for innovation.

a-definition-of-noise

This is the value of a rich quantity of ideas. Signal and discovery can come from anywhere.

Culture

If you treat everyone like sheep, you’ll end up with employees who are sheep.

My view here is informed by working in several different companies, both large and small. I’ve been exposed to cultures where employees are assumed and expected to contribute fully and meaningfully, and to cultures where the attitude is “when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”

Changing the latter mindset is what Enterprise 2.0 is about. It taps a rich vein of contributions that have value in their own right. It also creates a work environment that most employee surveys show is highly desired and sought after.

Talk of there being an “appropriate” amount of ideas, and that most employee contributions constitute “noise” is antithetical to the direction companies are heading. For example, AT&T published a white paper several months ago, The Business Aspects of Social Networking. The paper looks at the opportunities that the rise of social networks is bringing, both externally with customers and internally with employees. Included in that paper is this table:

AT&T white paper - leadership styles

AT&T has 300,000 employees and a long history in the United States. The fact that they’re talking this way is a good indicator that the market is moving towards a more collaborative, participatory environment, away from the same old controls that have marked work for centuries.

If employees are expected to self-censor their noisy ideas, that will have a chilling effect on participation. After all, you might risk embarrassing yourself, and incurring the wrath of people who monitor for noise. Why bother?

Bring the Noise

Innovation is built on the contributions of many people, and many experiences. This is something stressed in both Scott Berkun’s Myths of Innovation and William Duggan’s Strategic Intuition. Incorporating these three elements of Enterprise 2.0 – emergence, filters, culture – are powerful drivers of innovation for companies.

So let a thousand ideas bloom!

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