Subjective Content Infrastructure

I created my first blog about 7 years ago because I thought it was cool that I could publish what I wanted without a lot of hassel and overhead. I didn’t think much about the implications at the time. Since then thinking about the implications of “social media” is about the only thing I have done.

I created this presentation in 2007. It was part of my process for understanding what this stuff was all about. With over 77,000 views, I guess I was on the right track.

Social Media Is…

View more presentations from Lee White
Throughout this time I have wrestled with defining the underlying fundamentals of what it is that defines Social Media. What I have come to believe is that social media, and it’s enterprise cousin: collaboration, are simply the infrastructure necessary to support the exchange of subjective content.
Traditional IT systems deal strictly with objective content. Financial data, sales data, HR data, etc. Just the facts. These systems cannot deal with opinion. Social software can.
What has to happen now is to figure out an effective way to integrate the subjective content with the objective content. Currently social systems tend to be in a silo with respect to the rest of an organization’s operations. This is one reason that it has been so hard to quantify the “business value” of social content. When we can integrate the subjective social content with the objective process content we can begin to more effectively demonstrate the value social systems bring to the enterprise.

The RSS Organization

Lisa Haneberg refers to it as a BKE (Breakthrough Experience) in her essay in More Space. All the pieces seem to fall into place. The picture is unclear, and it is hard to articulate, much less coherently explain it to someone else, but you know it is a significant transition point.

This particular BKE started a week or so when I read People Subscriptions on 43 People, by  Lee Lefever. Something clicked, the idea of creating an on-line identity by aggregating all the feeds from all of your activities. I realize that this is not a fundamentally new idea, mainly just newly synthesized in my head. But the part that has me really excited is applying this concept to  communications  within organizations.

Look at how most organizations communicate internally now:

  • Hierarchical cascade through the chain of command
  • email to anyone and everyone you thinks needs to know  in order to CYA, not that they really care
  • newsletters, virtual and hardcopy
  • townhall meetings and other big venue presentations

…you get the picture. This is all "push". The content producers try to control the message by pushing it to everyone whom they hope to influence. Unfortunately only a small percentage of the information ever makes it through the filters. And oddly enough there are usually people that want the information that never see it. All in all not very efficient, but a world we all know and unfortunately accept.

What if we change the paradigm. What if organizations operated primarily on an information pull approach? Control shifts to the seekers of information. Let every project, every department, every process (basically any and every entity) that exists within an organization manifest as a virtual on-line entity with tags and RSS. (Let’s ignore for a minute the fear and chaos this is likely to cause and assume the necessary skill sets broadly exist.) As a project leader or a department head, I stop focusing on who I need to influence and start focusing on delivering an excellent outcome. Every bit of content the project/department produces gets tagged and syndicated. If my project has value it will be found. Those that want to contribute will be able to do so, Open Source Operations.

I realize that this is worlds away from operations in most (shall we say all) organizations today, but just think of the gains in productivity that could be made with this type of approach. Transparency and integrity are inherently incorporated into the system. Central control, and with it bureaucracy, goes out the window. The best ideas move to the forefront effortlessly. Bad ideas, no matter what power structure conceived of them, quietly drift away.

OK, maybe I am a bit of a dreamer and an idealist, but hey, isn’t that what blogs are all about, the freedom to put your two cents on the table…more to come!

Creating the Corporate Blog

A few days ago I wrote Starting the Corporate Blog. Today I read a post at e-mediators about a corporate blogging survey just released by Guidewire and iUpload. (The survey is free but you have to register.) I quickly downloaded it and sent it off to the team lead of our blogging effort. I won’t repeat all the stats here, but my takeaway was that the results seemed to reinforce many of my own thoughts about the current blogging environment:

  • Smaller organizations are adopting faster than bigger companies
  • Bigger companies are mainly concerned about "losing control of the message"
  • Many are hearing the buzz about blogs, but still do not understand the benefits of blogging

I work for a BIG company, so you can guess where we are on the adoption curve. There absolutely is a fear of losing control! Figuring out the benefits is fundamentally what this blog is all about.

In my mind blogs, done well, are a tool to facilitate transparency within and into an organization. Transparency begets trust, trust begets loyal stakeholders, etc. It is all about the conversation!

Shared Language

The longer I work the more I am convinced that poor communication is the root of all problems. And conversely, all jobs are fundamentally about communication. Most of the time spent in meetings, on the phone, composing email, etc. is about the creation of a common set of symbols to be used to share knowledge. What I have found is that most concepts are commonly understood between different disciplines, the difference is the language. "…oh, I know what you are talking about, we call that…". This leads to huge ineffiencies, because quite often, two parties spend a lot of time trying to convince each other of the "correctness" of their concept, when in fact they are arguing the same point, just using different language.

Always define the shared lexicon first then begin the debate. You might be amazed at how much time you will save and how much better your outcomes will be.

Collaboration: Tools and Culture

Like many people, I have spent much of my adult life wondering what I was going to be when I grew up. I think the answer to that question may finally be coming into focus.

I just read Regina Miller’s post "Creating a Culture for Collaboration". I was really excited when I read it, not only because I fundamentally agree with her points, but because the day before she put up her post I updated my resume to target the type of role she is talking about. The introduction to my resume now reads:

Goal: To integrate new techology with social dynamics in order to improve organizational effectiveness by creating organizational transparency through conversations

Areas of Interest: Web 2.0, primarily regarding the use of social network applications to support conversations within organizations, and between organizations and stakeholders.

…I am open to editing suggestions…

I followed her links to Nancy White’s "Challenging the myths of distributed collaboration"; and Steven Coats "The Conundrum of Collabration" . All of this reinforces my own belief that technology is a great and powerful tool, yet it is only a tool. People must use tools effectively to produce results.

I really believe that the new web apps coming out now have the capacity to change the face of organizations, but it will only happen when people understand and embrace the tools. Sounds like the job for me.

Now I know what I want to be when I grow up! …Anyone hiring?   ;-}