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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!

My Take on Crowdsourcing Published on Business Week’s Website

Business Week’s Editor for Innovation and Design, Helen Walters, recently asked the crowd for their opinions on crowdsourcing, via Twitter:

thoughts on crowdsourcing? @jtwinsor has written a bw op-ed but we want to publish the crowd’s take, too. (pls RT!)

I replied with a couple tweets, which I then coalesced into a single thought via email. Business Week recently published ten of these opinions. Here’s mine:

BusinessWeek quote on crowdsourcingYou can see all of the opinions, and the a link to John Winsor’s op-ed here. Another contributor, Braden Kelley, also wrote up his Business Week crowdsourcing comment on his blog Blogging Innovation.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 061209

From the home office in Palo Alto, CA…

#1: RT @palafo Facebook URL rush should have been hashtagged #nerdolympics. “Just sayin’. “

#2: Enjoyed the Building43 launch at TechCrunch’s offices tonight. Knock ‘em dead @scobleizer Looking forward to following and participating.

#3: Reading: Why SaaS Has Better Functionality than Enterprise Software http://bit.ly/ZPLlF

#4: Left comment on New York Times post, The Stalled Promise of Innovation http://bit.ly/BlgNT Really, it’s not bleak, we’re doing fine.

#5: New Spigit blog post: Medplus Built Its Innovation Program with 12 Moose-on-the-Table Questions http://bit.ly/11UOMZ #innovation

#6: RT @innovate Knowledge Management is more about “How do I?” while Innovation is more about “Why don’t we?” – #yam #innochat

#7: Participating in an ABC7 prediction mkt: Will Dianne Feinstein run for governor of California in 2010? http://bit.ly/1bJL1w I’m betting ‘no’

#8: RT @Hammarstrand Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions. http://is.gd/W7Uc #innovation #tech #future

#9: TV news story here in SF about the CA education budget cuts, shows a teacher out of a job as “layed off”. Guess the cuts are hurting already

#10: Kinda sad…took down the crib tonight. Our 2 1/2 y.o. is sleeping in her own big girl bed, our 5 y.o. long ago left the crib.

Google Wave and the Enterprise: Beautiful Potential, Faraway Dream

google_wave_logoGoogle Wave…Google Wave…

Google Wave.

I’ve spent some time the past few days reading up on Google Wave. The Google I/O 2009 presentation by the Wave team was a smashing success. Quickly summarizing what it is, borrowing from Google’s own categorizations:

Product: Free-form page onto which multiple people can contribute and interact. Every wave in which you are a participant shows up in an inbox. The modes of communication are both email and IM. Email, because you can write something anywhere in a wave, and all wave participants see that the wave is updated in their inbox. Like Gmail.  IM, because updates post instantly, and anyone on the wave at the same time can see them. There’s more there, watch the I/O presentation demo to see it all.

Platform: Wave is to be an API playland. APIs to leverage the functionality of Wave, and embedding functions in Waves. The I/O demo includes functions for maps embedded easily into a Wave, and the ability to create a simple event tracker where Wave participants simply click whether they are attending or not (Evite for dummies). Very cool stuff. Another use of APIs…Wave as your Twitter client. With real-time search results served up into your Wave inbox.

Protocol: Waves are to follow an open federation, which means they all can interact with one another. Wave servers can be set up behind the firewall.

As they said in the demo, they though in terms of “what would email look like if we invented it today?” How long before Gmail converts over to Google Wave? Maybe in a year or two.

It’s quite early, and we have limited information so far on Wave. But I thought it’d be interesting to consider Wave from the perspective of an enterprise software company. It’s a starting point for me to get a handle on Wave and where it might have an impact. A few notes:

  • I’ll make educated assumptions about what Google Wave can do
  • I may be re-hashing old concepts here, such as portals
  • Google Wave would need significant penetration of the enterprise market, potentially displacing Outlook email

Enterprise software is a broad area, too broad to analyze well in a post. Rather, I’m going to focus on the enterprise software I know well (my company’s), and make some points that will apply to all enterprise applications.

OK, with that out of the way, and Dion Hinchcliffe’s post about the enterprise and Google Wave as inspiration, let’s dive in. I’m going to lay out some initial thoughts of how enterprise software could integrate Google Wave. And then I’ll explain why I think it’s going to be a long time coming before it impacts the enterprise.

What Job Does Your Software Do?

Clayton Christensen talked about the “job” your product does. In other words, think less about your product’s features, and more on what needs your product fills for customers. From that perspective, innovations are more likely to emerge.

This notion struck me as a good way for enterprise software companies to think about how Wave might relate to their products. In other words, less focus on features, more focus on specific use cases.

Spigit provides enterprise idea management software. Its “job” is as follows:

  • Easy place to enter your ideas
  • Interact with people over your idea or ideas of others
  • Help identify the best ideas
  • Make it easy to track ideas during their progression into full-blown initiatives

I’m going to use these four tasks as the basis for thinking about Google Wave. Where will Google Wave have an impact?

Easy place to enter your ideas

With Spigit, we have a simple basis for entering your idea – a basic web form. And Google Wave supports forms, as shown below:

Example of a web form in Google Wave

Example of a web form in Google Wave

The ability to use forms makes me think there’s an even better way for employees to enter ideas. A principle that I really like is that information and activities need to be in-the-flow of daily work. The more you can put things at the finger tips of where someone is engaged, the better it is for awareness.

In the demo, different types of waves were available via the New Wave dropdown menu to allow access to separate apps. Here’s what I can see happening:

  • A menu option for New Idea is displayed inside an employee’s work Google Wave UI
  • Selecting it launches a new Wave, with the idea template displayed
  • Enter the info, click submit
  • It’s now on the employee’s personal Wave page, as well as becoming a new Idea in the Spigit platform

The Idea is now part of the Wave inbox. It’s also accessible on the Spigit platform, for others to see. That would be great. It’s a level of interconnectedness that is difficult to put in place today. It wouldn’t just apply to ideas either. Why not do this for expense forms? Wiki pages?

Key here is leveraging the open federation protocol. A person’s individual Wave becomes a new object in another Wave-based application. The Idea would be considered a Wavelet in Spigit. From the demo, here’s an example of two separate Wave servers (i.e. two separate apps), where a Wave is shared between them:

Wave created on one server displays on a second server

Wave created on one server displays on a second server

Interact with people over your idea or ideas of others

The parallels between Google Wave and Gmail make Google Wave great for knowing when there are changes to a Wave. In Gmail, when a reply to a message hits your inbox, the original message becomes bold, and moves to the top. It’s a clear, easy way to see when someone has responded, while keeping the entire thread intact.

Google Wave applies this characteristic even more broadly. If someone replies to your wave, it returns to the top of your inbox, bolded. If someone edits your wave, same thing happens. Basically, any updated to a Wave will display as a changed item in the Wave inbox. The screen shot below shows this functionality:

Google Wave inbox - changed items at top, bolded

Google Wave inbox - changed items at top, bolded

On the Spigit platform, a number of actions can be performed with regard to an idea: vote it up or down, comments on it, review it, post/edit a wiki page for it, become a team member. Now all of these actions are supported with email notifications currently.

Any of these actions will cause your Idea to return to the top of your inbox, bolded. Where an email notification is good, a Wave notification would be great. Everything can be seen in context, and you can respond right from your Wave inbox. Comment, IM or just see the latest changes to your idea.

Another great innovation is the ability to easily add others to a Wave. With this functionality, you can let others know about your idea, and they can see changes as they occur as well. If the idea isn’t interesting to someone, they just remove themselves from the Wave.

Really, really powerful feature.

These easy interaction hooks for objects and activities are something that many enterprise applications would benefit from.

Help identify the best ideas

The Spigit platform tracks many activities and included unique features to help surface the best ideas. And this where Google Wave doesn’t change things really. A lot of that is the secret sauce of the Spigit platform.

Which brings me to an important point: Google Wave won’t replace enterprise software applications. The logic and features of the individual apps – ERP, CRM, wikis, HR, etc. – continue to be the primary reason companies buy them.

Assuming Google successfully brings Wave into the enterprise, either replacing Outlook or standing beside it, I’m sure there will be companies that create Wave-based apps to compete with the big enterprise systems. But such competition happens today anyway.

Make it easy to track ideas during their progression into full-blown initiatives

In Spigit, ideas that make it go through a series of stages. Each stage has different criteria for evaluating whther it’s ready to be prototyped and operationalized. Along the way, aspects of the idea will be addressed in other enterprise applications:

  • Company wiki
  • Product development software
  • Engineering issue tracker
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Accounting
  • Project management
  • Blogs
  • etc.

This is where a couple of features might make sense. Google Wave includes robots. Robots are “automated elements” that perform tasks as part of a Google Wave. Let’s assume the original Idea wave is copied to other enterprise apps. Now, there is a connection from the original idea to these objects in other systems.

The robot can look for updates on those other Waves which tie back to my Idea. When there’s a change in status, My Idea wave gets the update. I’m now on top of what’s happening with my initiative, from anywhere in the company.

Yes, that would cool.

The Impossible Dream?

You may have heard the phrase “working the wiki way“. Well I’d like to work the “wave way”. The possibilities with Google Wave are tantalizing. A much more seamless experience for using software. A common protocol around which applications communicate.

Not likely to happen for a while, if ever.

For companies like Spigit, with a web 2.0 orientation and SaaS delivery, Google Wave is something we can do, and as an enterprise social software company, it makes sense. But to fully realize the benefit of Google Wave inside the enterprise, a lot of applications will need to leverage the Google Wave platform. It’s hard to imagine SAP, Microsoft, Oracle and the like doing much with Google Wave.

As Dion Hinchcliffe notes:

New protocols, servers, data formats, and client applications are required to use wave. Unfortunately, Google Wave brings a lot of baggage with it, though it’s mostly straightforward. You will require new software, though not on the client since that all runs in a zero-footprint browser client. This means more integration code, management, and monitoring.

You look at that, and contemplate all the installed software already in place. And I don’t imagine MISO thinks of Google Wave as being in their interests. Google Wave directly overlaps Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, for instance.

So it will be up to the young bucks to push for the new way to deliver end-user simplicity and in-the-flow accessibility to employees. It will take time.

I’ll be watching developments around Google Wave. How about you?

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 060509

From the home office in Cairo, Egypt…

#1: Could Google Wave be the holy grail for internal integration of enterprise apps, with two-way real-time updating?

#2: @calmo Yes, that’s a great way to frame it! Yes, Google Wave as an enterprise collaboration SOA protocol.

#3: The enterprise implications of Google Wave http://bit.ly/53tvI by @dhinchcliffe #e20

#4: ReadWriteWeb: Drinking From The Firehose With InnovationSpigit 2.0 http://bit.ly/103rZX #innovation

#5: The Atlantic magazine: Mitt Romney Should Run GM http://bit.ly/BkagH

#6: @jmcdermott2 A pared-down GM, that can cut the cord with its past legacy of dominance, would be an interesting opportunity for a CEO.

#7: BusinessWeek bloggers are being evaluated by how many comments they elicit: http://bit.ly/ee5UU

#8: RT @futurescape The Essential DNA of a Chief Marketing Officer http://tinyurl.com/dzeucu

#9: Just executed my first-ever “reply-DM” to an auto-DM from someone I just followed. As I said I would: http://bit.ly/d6Tn1

#10: Getting ready to head down to Maker Faire with my 5 y.o. boy. http://bit.ly/110Pwc An HP CTO, @philmckinney is speaking there.

U.S. Innovation Is Failing, or It’s Never Been Better

BusinessWeek TimeTwo stories came out this week from Business Week and Time, with polar opposite views of what’s happening with U.S. innovation. Here’s the glass-is-half-empty version from Business Week, The Failed Promise of Innovation in the U.S.:

“We live in an era of rapid innovation.” I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase, or some variant, over and over again. The evidence appears to be all around us: Google (GOOG), Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, flat-screen televisions, the Internet itself.

But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if outside of a few high-profile areas, the past decade has seen far too few commercial innovations that can transform lives and move the economy forward? What if, rather than being an era of rapid innovation, this has been an era of innovation interrupted? And if that’s true, is there any reason to expect the next decade to be any better?

There’s no government-constructed “innovation index” that would allow us to conclude unambiguously that we’ve been experiencing an innovation shortfall. Still, plenty of clues point in that direction. Start with the stock market. If an innovation boom were truly happening, it would likely push up stock prices for companies in such leading-edge sectors as pharmaceuticals and information technology.

—-

Instead, the stock index that tracks the pharmaceutical, biotech, and life sciences companies in the Standard & Poor’s (MHP) 500-stock index dropped 32% from the end of 1998 to the end of 2007, after adjusting for inflation. The information technology index fell 29%. To pick out two major companies: The stock price of Merck declined 35% between the end of 1998 and the end of 2007, after adjusting for inflation, while the stock price of Cisco Systems (CSCO) was down 9%.

Consider another indicator of commercially important innovation: the trade balance in advanced technology products. The Census Bureau tracks imports and exports of goods in 10 high-tech areas, including life sciences, biotech, advanced materials, and aerospace. In 1998 the U.S. had a $30 billion trade surplus in these advanced technology products; by 2007 that had flipped to a $53 billion deficit. Surprisingly, the U.S. was running a trade deficit in life sciences, an area where it is supposed to be a leader.

A more indirect indication of the lack of innovation lies in the wages of college-educated workers. These are the people we would expect to prosper in growing, innovative industries that need smart, creative employees. But the numbers tell a different story. From 1998 to 2007, earnings for a U.S. worker with a bachelor’s degree rose only 0.4%, adjusted for inflation. And young college graduates—who should be able to take advantage of opportunities in hot new industries—were hit by a 2.8% real decline in wages.

The final clue: the agonizingly slow improvement in death rates by age, despite all the money thrown into health-care research. Yes, advances in health care can affect the quality of life, but one would expect any big innovation in medical care to result in a faster decline in the death rate as well.

Now here’s what Time Magazine says in How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live:

When we talk about innovation and global competitiveness, we tend to fall back on the easy metric of patents and Ph.D.s. It turns out the U.S. share of both has been in steady decline since peaking in the early ’70s. (In 1970, more than 50% of the world’s graduate degrees in science and engineering were issued by U.S. universities.) Since the mid-’80s, a long progression of doomsayers have warned that our declining market share in the patents-and-Ph.D.s business augurs dark times for American innovation. The specific threats have changed. It was the Japanese who would destroy us in the ’80s; now it’s China and India.

But what actually happened to American innovation during that period? We came up with America Online, Netscape, Amazon, Google, Blogger, Wikipedia, Craigslist, TiVo, Netflix, eBay, the iPod and iPhone, Xbox, Facebook and Twitter itself. Sure, we didn’t build the Prius or the Wii, but if you measure global innovation in terms of actual lifestyle-changing hit products and not just grad students, the U.S. has been lapping the field for the past 20 years.

How could the forecasts have been so wrong? The answer is that we’ve been tracking only part of the innovation story. If I go to grad school and invent a better mousetrap, I’ve created value, which I can protect with a patent and capitalize on by selling my invention to consumers. But if someone else figures out a way to use my mousetrap to replace his much more expensive washing machine, he’s created value as well. We tend to put the emphasis on the first kind of value creation because there are a small number of inventors who earn giant paydays from their mousetraps and thus become celebrities. But there are hundreds of millions of consumers and small businesses that find value in these innovations by figuring out new ways to put them to use.

There are several varieties of this kind of innovation, and they go by different technical names. MIT professor Eric von Hippel calls one “end-user innovation,” in which consumers actively modify a product to adapt it to their needs. In its short life, Twitter has been a hothouse of end-user innovation: the hashtag; searching; its 11,000 third-party applications; all those creative new uses of Twitter — some of them banal, some of them spam and some of them sublime. Think about the community invention of the @ reply. It took a service that was essentially a series of isolated microbroadcasts, each individual tweet an island, and turned Twitter into a truly conversational medium. All of these adoptions create new kinds of value in the wider economy, and none of them actually originated at Twitter HQ. You don’t need patents or Ph.D.s to build on this kind of platform.

Hogwash

My own opinion is that Time is right, Business Week is off here.  Business Week’s article makes a tough-to-sell argument based on the stock market and stagnating wages. It looks at trade deficits, and death rates. These macro factors certainly reflect innovations, but they’re affected by too many factors to lay it all at innovation’s feet.

While I don’t have a decade-by-decade list of innovations to back up my view, I in no way think we’re living in a period of failing innovation.

We, as people, are just as creative as we’ve always been. There’s been no mass mutation of our genetics to cause a decline there. The same spirit that compelled our great-grandparents is alive and well inside us. If there was a drop in innovation, it would need an identifiable systemic cause. Business Week doesn’t provide that.

We’re living in an era where entrepreneurship has never been more accessible. Capital, outside of dips in the economic cycle, is readily accessible. Technology is cheaper than ever. The ability to leverage the web for marketing and information is unprecedented.

The Time article gets it right. The innovations continue apace, many of which are more distributed than before. I saw this firsthand at Maker Faire, where average folks are turning out all sorts of cool things.

When you distribute the innovatin’ to the people, it’s only a matter of time before a wave of new ideas will emerge for all of us to enjoy.

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