Sunday, 29 June 2008

Is this Facebook's answer to LinkedIn?

So the new app on the Facebook block is the Visa Business Network. It's interesting because it isn't in fact a direct analogue of LinkedIn. Rather than being a tool for presenting our "business personas" it appears more geared to being an organisational persona for smaller businesses.

It's only in Beta, so the networking features are rather rudimentary and until the number of participants increases it's not clear how useful they will be. And personally, I'm not sure that this will be enough for Facebook to take on LinkedIn. I think they are going to have to take on board the fact that we all have more than one persona (the usual example is business vs personal) and if they want to be a site that contains both, they have to give people a way to present both sides. This seems to do so, a little bit, for those of us who own smaller organisations, but I'm not sure quite what it does for those who work, say, for IBM. By contrast, LinkedIn at least has some potential there (along with a growing userbase.)

Of course, this could be an example of one of those "enabling technologies" that helps smaller businesses create "virtual organisations" or "network businesses" to cover market requirements that are normally served by much larger organisations. However, there doesn't seem to be enough interactivity to really be better than a phone directory so far. Also, the address form assumes you are in the USA.

This is a pet peeve of mine, but so many "Web 2.0" sites hobble their functionality by not considering non-US users when they first start up. If you're looking for early adopters, it's best to cast the net wider. Ignoring the world outside the US might save 10 minutes coding up the HTML for location, phone and address handling, but you lose half the advantage (geo-location neutrality) of a Web App in the first place.


Sunday, 22 June 2008

On new channels

Over at Black Belt Dojo, guest poster Jeffery McMillan posts some musings about podcasts and their place in his new assignment in Russia. He makes some interesting points about how the different medium elicits different responses from interviewees and how it can build a more intimate connection with the audience.

However, what got me thinking was this:

Let's return to the paradox with which I began this blog post. It seems the better I get at producing podcasts the lower the number of listeners tuning in.


It could be a cultural thing. Perhaps podcasting is as of yet a western phenomenon. PwC Russia is a solid 93% Russian in its staff composition and, let's face it, maybe you can't blame my Russian colleagues for having an instinctive skepticism toward the media—corporate media included. I wonder what the experiences of my colleagues around the world have been. Do podcasts resonate further in some necks of the woods than in others?

Now I'm no techno-slouch, per se. I have 2 iPods (car and general use) and I'm rarely without my laptop. And yet... I barely listen to podcasts. It's true that I don't work for an organisation that puts out vital information in this format, but plenty of high quality blogs in the IC space and others produce a podcast. But the only podcast I generally make an effort to listen to each year is the Guardian's Tour de France daily report. And I usually end up listening to that in the evening on my laptop.

Now there are a variety of reasons for this, from the fact that I don't drive on a regular basis, to the miserable quality of bandwidth on the train and in various hotels for streaming.

I must also admit that once I get the new iPhone, I might be more likely to find it easy to organise such that podcasts are with me all the time.

I think that these sort of infrastructure issues are a big part of Jeffrey's situation. It's often not that convenient/appropriate to sit in an open plan office listening to a podcast. But elsewhere, bandwidth can be a bit scanty. And (guessing) perhaps the Russia office has a lower iPod ownership.

And this is a problem which a lot of new media channels face. The main reason every "social networking" conversation eventually turns to Facebook (and occasionally LinkedIn) is that they are the main ones with any kind of serious user density.

For myself, I can see lots of interesting possibilities for mixing my virtual life with my physical one. Examples include things as diverse as Facebook's status update, Twitter and Dopplr. The problem is, candidly, very few of the people in my physical world are on any of these services.

Interestingly, email was easy, because everyone got it with internet access. I wonder which other channels will turn out to be "basic" in the same way.


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Wednesday, 11 June 2008

How much knowledge work do you actually do?

Or perhaps, more importantly, how much knowledge work does your organisation actually do? There's a whole host of recent posts that touch on the collision of innovation, knowledge work and systematisation in business. (e.g. Victoria Axelrod, Dave Snowden.)

One thing I am still struggling to understand and (roughly) quantify is how much "knowledge work" is actually going on. Over the years, many commentators have taken the "Gold Collar Worker" as a starting point and believed that the future of work for many (if not most) will be more flexible, more satisfying and more knowledge-based than before. This leads of course both to a view of education as a tool for income improvement (not to mention as the source of increased value-added for businesses.)

However, my own observation of various "knowledge industries" is that many firms may be large, but many of the people inside are doing rather routine work (which might be termed "mental labour") which is not particularly creative or flexible, but for various reasons is not cheap to automate at this time. So, I'll put the question to knowledge workers reading this, how much of what you do is really "creative knowledge work" and how much will be outsourced to lower-skilled subordinates using a computerised system in the next few years?


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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Social Media case study

It seems that the first real case study of social media in a corporate setting is leaking out of IBM. Those who remember earlier incarnations of the company can't help but be a little surprised at that fact, but it's a fascinating test case.

Business Week has a short article on developments. Key points include:

Social networks in the corporate world involve very different dynamics, and scientists at IBM (IBM) Research's Collaborative User Div. in Cambridge, Mass., are learning all about them. Over the past two years, IBM has been busily launching in-house versions of Web 2.0 hits.


So far, IBM has Dogear, a community-tagging system based on, Blue Twit, and a rendition of the microblogging sensation, Twitter. It also has a Web page called Many Eyes that permits anyone (including outsiders, at to upload any kind of data, visualize it, and then launch discussions about it on blogs and social networks. The biggest success is the nine-month-old social network, Beehive, which is based on the premise of Facebook. It has already attracted 30,000 users, including top executives.

Of course, IBM is so large (400,000 employees) that it's easy to build something and get the user density to replicate internet applications quite directly (; Facebook). And equally, the benefits are of  more value in a larger, more disparate organisation:

Already, social scientists are studying the benefits IBMers are getting from the network. They see that it strengthens what are called "weak ties." These are the people employees might know only casually, some in a different division or down a distant corridor. Getting to know these people, even if it starts out with a Top Five list, widens employees' range of contacts and knowledge within the company.

Employees also use Beehive for self-branding. It's a way to strut their stuff for colleagues and managers at the company—whether it's for a promotion or funding for a pet project.

However, it's a case study of the kind we've all been waiting for. I'm going to have to watch the IBM Research pages for more detailed information.


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Two-Way Communication is not enough

Mike Klein has an interesting post up about how "tw0-way" communication just isn't enough to be "progressive" any more. He says it's better than the old "one-way" directive style of pure order-giving, but:

organisational decisions have wider impacts than on managers and staff.  They impact customers, perhaps alter supply chains, and reflect on the organisation's credibility with a wide range of stakeholders.  And, in many respects, finding out what a staff member's opinion is could be much more valuable when it becomes known how and with whom he or she shares it.

He goes on to suggest that we're still only just developing the tools to understand "intensity of opinion" and what I might quickly summarise as the social path and impact of opinion.

[As always, go read the full article, it's not long and it's worth it.]

Naturally, I agree with Mike, but it also reminded me of something I have on my company pages, but don't blog about that much. I really believe that lateral communications is a much ignored topic, both in internal communications practice as it stands (which is Mike's focus) and in the understanding of how the totality of communication works in companies.

The totality is a viewpoint that tries to think about "functional communication" (the passing of information to get "work" done), "corporate communication" (the passing of information to support the objectives of those who hold power in an organisation) and "social communication" (the passing of information for the purposes of the people doing the communication) in a more holistic manner.

[I accept that "passing of information" is an incomplete definition of "communication" but you perhaps get the gist of the idea.]

The purpose of the holistic view is to suggest that real advances in corporate performance can accrue from working to analyse, improve and facilitate communication. Right now this responsibility is split over numerous parts of the business (IT, IC, Marketing, Procurement, etc.)  and thus, despite local "wins" few companies really advance in this aspect.

Once this holistic view is taken up, it becomes clear that the vast majority of communications in the organisation are "lateral," between people who (at least for that communication) are largely operating as peers. Thus we need to put much more effort into facilitating and improving this lateral communication.

A quick note: Mike's newest project EMELI is scheduled for 18-19 July in Amsterdam. I'm certainly trying to fit it into my schedule, if you're interested in internal comms, you should investigate whether it would suit you too.