The Nest security system

Nest protect-1I just finished installing two Nest Protect devices. They are from the same company that designs and manufactures the Nest Learning Thermostat and they feature smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Interestingly, they also sport motion detectors.

Presently, the motion detectors are used for reading gestures whereby a false positive can be indicated so that the noisy alarm is cancelled. But it is interesting to think of the possibilities now that we effectively have four smart motion detectors in our house in addition to the ones wired to the security system (the two Nest Protect units and two Nest thermostats that are also equipped with motion sensors).

A thing I'm keen to have my Nest units do - and which can be done entirely via software - is for the house to "arm" itself when we leave it (as indicated by the absence of the smartphones we carry all the time). "Armed" is a state that follows some specific rules.. if motion is detected while the house is armed, I immediately get an alert on my phone. I can then see what triggered the alert and decide what to do. As a low tech option it could include calling the neighbour and have them check. Hi tech would be to start a webcam, and if I don't like what I see I could trigger the alarm sound in the house via the Protect units - and perhaps via the Sonos system too. There are plenty of options: It becomes a sort of If This Then That for the connected house.

Nest has hinted that it will be possible to have some of their devices work together with a house security system and that more will be published in 2014. That sounds like a natural step for Nest to take but I like the idea of using Nest's network of sensors as a complete parallel security system. For one thing, it provides redundancy. But it also strikes me as smarter. Just like the Nest smoke detector offers a pre-alarm warning when small quantities of smoke is detected, there could be a number of scenarios that don't quite call for the standard burglar alarm with high pitched alarm bells and the police being summoned as a standard response.

Smarter sensors and smart things on the network allow for smarter responses.

Five years after the Lehman Brothers collapse - a story of failure and opportunity

Several news outlets have marked the anniversary of the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers, an investment bank. (I'll link to Robert Peston's flash-back as his reporting was what I was following at the time.)

It reminded me of how I witnessed Lehman employees leaving the London office in Canary Wharf, private possessions in cardboard boxes or plastic bags the day after the firm filed for bankruptcy protection.

And it reminded me of how the Lehman's failure became a success story in one of the client projects I was running at the time. It became the catalyst by which our client realized the value of their social platform and came to respect the ability it represented to react swiftly and rally resources globally.

Our client was one of the world's largest law firms. We had been working on rolling out the social platform for a few months, liaising with three of the firm's practices. Steady progress was being made.

The day of the Lehman's collapse, a group of lawyers realized that the event would significantly shape the demand for the firm's services and they started gathering all the relevant information about what was to become known as the Credit Crunch. Some of the lawyers had been exposed to the firm's new social platform and found it a convenient place to publish insight, advice and links to resources. They shared links to their collection, asked for input from others and the effort soon became an international collaboration.

This effort resulted in our client probably having one of the most comprehensive and relevant collections about the Credit Crunch of any large law firm just 24 hours after the Lehman's event.

At this point, the collection could have gone viral internally and spread to many parts of the business but something else happened. The firm's global management had seen the collection, realized the value it represented and sent out a global email with a link to it, pointing everybody to the new resource and asking that any new insights be channeled that way.

Instead of a growing via a viral process, the collection had suddenly become the authoritative resource concerning the Credit Crunch - by management fiat.

What fascinated me was that it only took one email.

Once the link was communicated, everybody could include the Credit Crunch collection in their subscriptions to make sure they stayed up to date with developments.

The event triggered an acceleration of adoption. Where I would normally stress the importance of every individual's "aha moment" in realizing the value of a social platform, in this case the aha was expressed at an almost pan-organizational scale.

Even with a devastating event like the Lehman's collapse there lies opportunity. An opportunity to do something in new ways, in better ways. What energized me about the chain of events was that the firm's clients stood to gain from their lawyers having access to a shared resource of relevant research instead of having to fund duplication of effort across the firm. This outcome was exactly in line with the strategy that sparked the desire for a social platform in the first place.

Peer encouragement as subtle gamification

There is a beautiful stretch of off-road bicycle path between Austin's 34th Street and ten blocks south. It is part of my preferred route to downtown, most of it on paths without car traffic.

A bit of off-road | Flickr - Photo Sharing!When I am on my bicycle I track my route and speed with Endomondo, a GPS-enabled app on my smartphone, and share with my network of friends. Recently, I tried out another app, Strava, which reports on stages and compares to one's previous rides and everybody else who has been there. On this particular stretch of the bike path, Strava placed my performance as 700 out of 800-some. Seeing that it wasn't a leisurely ride, I checked the basis of that positioning by looking at Strava's data. It turned out that the fastest time for the stretch was 30 seconds against my 3:29. Ten blocks in 30 seconds - off road? Someone would have had to use the Strava app on a motorcycle and drive on the nearby boulevard instead of off-road.

Bad data like this could derive from mistakes (someone accidentally leaving Strava on while zipping by on a motorcycle) or from deliberate cheating. Either way, the app's gamification element is left severely hobbled. With no chance of making it near the top, the incentive to improve performance is reduced.

Where Strava employs gamification elements (and fails), Endomondo delivers encouragement in subtler ways. Sharing your results with your network and getting the odd 'like' or comment is something I like to refer to as peer encouragement (the much nicer sibling of peer pressure).

When you use a social network at work (an Enterprise Social Network, or ESN), peer encouragement is a powerful dynamic. The peer dynamic encourages us to share insights, build on ideas, answer questions to help out colleagues and express ourselves clearly and succinctly. But aren't these outcomes that we want to incentivize? Encourage them through gamification?

Yes, and a carefully considered and designed game mechanism will help achieve it, in part by codifying the elements of peer encouragement but also by relying on a host of other parameters.

The key word here is 'considered'. Coarse or inchoate game mechanisms risks creating two extreme factions in an ESN population: Some who exploit the gaming mechanism (because it is open to cheating) and some who stop using the system because they are appalled by the cheating. A professional services company I spoke with recently reported that a trial of an ESN platform with a simple point-per-interaction scheme had prompted a few individuals to become prolific posters of irrelevant material in order to stay on top of the league tables.

There is no doubt that gamification can make interactions in an ESN more fun, more rewarding and make it easier to spot patterns such as concentrations of expertise. Most organizations already gamify the employee relationship (bonuses, salary increases, promotions, perks etc.) so taking the extra step of applying game mechanics to knowledge processes doesn't seem like a big departure.

The traditional ways of incentivizing employees has a history that goes back to the industrial revolution if not before, so we have had plenty of time to hone those mechanisms and yet there are plenty of modern day examples of unintended consequences of designed incentives.

Plotting to boost the value of your enterprise social network via gamification? Invest in considered mechanism design, get expert help, interpret the analytics and adjust as you go along. And don't forget that peer encouragement is a strong basic force that you don't want to inhibit.

Recover from post-vacation adoption slump

A sign that it was a good vacation is when you return and are unable to remember the passwords for the systems you use at work.

Habits take time to buld. If you are in the process of accelerating adoption of your organization's enterprise social network, be mindful that the northern hemisphere summer poses a particular challenge. There should be no surprise that with people away, the activity level in the network is lower in July and August. The real challenge, however, is to reinforce those useful social habits amongst the crowds returning to work.

Redouble your communications efforts, energize your community managers, sync up with your use case representatives - and remind leadership that you expect them to lead by example.

(And prepare to repeat the exercise in December.)

Improve information flows by switching from a publisher model to a subscriber model

I originally published this article on the Dachis Group blog on 9 June 2011.

As a growing company we get calls from real estate types with space to sell or lease. One real estate company is especially eager to work with us, with three or four of their agents calling to check in with us ever so often.

Comms equipment in BWI airport, February 2011 135 years after the filing of Bell’s patent application for the telephone it is astonishing how little land-line telephony has changed. To be sure, manned switchboards have been abolished and digital technology has allowed capacity to flourish and prices to come down. But besides voicemail, very little has happened in terms of rethinking telephony from the user’s perspective.

With email we have replicated the main tenet of the telephone: Just like somebody who knows your phone number can make your phone ring at any time, once somebody knows your email address they control what appears in your inbox.

Both the telephone and email were designed in a time of information scarcity and it was important that the design allowed for every signal to get through. In our present age of information abundance, filtering the flow of information is key.

When we work with enterprise clients we frequently see how email is the de facto medium for many processes, both formal and informal. It is illuminating to dig a bit deeper and expose the costs that email imposes on the organization for each process, and that helps build the business case for a Social Business approach.

With Social Business Intelligence you can fish those processes out of email and redesign them, taking information abundance and human nature into account. What is really powerful about the approach is that, armed with the right tools, we see the business taking the initiative to improve their processes and move to new ways of working. As a side effect, valuable knowledge moves from people’s email inboxes and archives into a more transparent flow, increasing the potential for re-use and fostering improved awareness of what is currently going on.

A common theme is switching “publisher models” to “subscriber models.” Directing a stream of information into a specific context on a social business platform instead of circulating updates via email distribution groups. Not only does it avoid the hidden cost imposed on recipients of filing emails, it helps circulate more information because those who share information are acutely aware of that cost and practice a sort of self-censorship, broadcasting only the most significant insights.

Unlike our friends who transact in office-space, most people think twice before they call or email somebody because of the push nature of the interaction. Our processes and information sharing within the enterprise shouldn’t suffer by relying on mechanisms built for bygone times. It is time to improve the flow.

 

Adoption of new communications technology in the financial sector - an anecdote from 1911

Concerning adoption of new communication technology, there are often parallels between what we are experiencing today and what has happened with previous waves of transformative technology. The adoption of social business often gets compared to take-up of email a couple of decades ago but it gets more interesting when we see similarities that span a century.

From Herbert Newton Casson's The History of the Telephone (A.C. McClurg & Co, Chicago 1911):

'Next to public officials, bankers were perhaps the last to accept the facilities of the telephone.'

Casson goes on to describe an early adopter at JP Morgan:

'At the present time, the banker who works closest to his telephone is probably George W. Perkins of the J.P. Morgan group of bankers. "He is the only man," says Morgan, "who can raise twenty millions in twenty minutes."

and:

'Recently one of the other members of the Morgan bank proposed to enlarge its telephone equipment. "What will we gain by more wires?" asked the operator. "If we were to put in a six-hundred pair cable, Mr. Perkins would keep it busy." '

Who is the George Perkins of social business in the financial sector today?

Your social intranet is where work gets done

I originally published this article on the Dachis Group blog on 18 November 2010.

When an organization launches a social intranet, the changes and benefits reach far wider than freeing up resource in the central intranet team. The intranet undergoes a fundamental shift when focus changes from communication to employees to work.

The social intranet adds value to the organization through five mechanisms that traditional intranets do not embody:

1. Make sharing a by-product of work

The social intranet is a place where work happens. It is where you run projects, it is where you flag up process exceptions, it is where your innovation is reflected, where you develop new products and services, where you bring together intelligence about markets and customers.

You may already have systems in place for executing processes, for managing customer information, for storing documents in a compliant manner. And of course there is email. Despite the existing investment in control and communication the social intranet still has a strong business case.

A social intranet delivers a platform for a number of activities that aren’t fully supported by all those other systems. Notes, thoughts and links to useful information – lots of what knowledge workers juggle in the course of a day – don’t quite qualify as documents and they are not fit for email because they are inputs into a work process, not outputs. The social intranet addresses this gap in many organizations if it satisfies two criteria: It must be easy to use and it must cater for individual rationality.

Ease of use is key because with the social intranet (as with any new system or process) we are asking people to change established habits. In the year 2010 we still find work processes like (1) Write down your thoughts or spot something valuable online (2) print it out and store it in a binder (3) consult the binder when you need the information. It is a sobering reminder that as we implement new tools we are competing with the laser printer and the hole puncher; both are easy to use and require no training.

Catering for individual rationality makes sure that the tools you use, despite being referred to as “social”, deliver value when used by the individual. The information architecture and tagging convention should support individuals organizing their own knowledge collections on the social intranet. Even if the effort is undertaken to meet individual ends, the organization benefits from the information becoming searchable and discoverable; plus, what starts out as an individual collection can become a group effort as the content attracts (and ultimately connects) like-minded individuals.

Sharing can happen when we enjoy the luxury of having capacity for altruistic deeds but on the social intranet, sharing is switched on by default and happens as a by-product of individuals and groups going about their work. It is a very powerful proposition.

2. Enable a flow of signals

Every action in the social intranet – every document created, every blog post published, every comment, every status update – is a signal, and the flow of signals can be channeled to heighten awareness of what is happening in the organization as a whole or, which is more relevant, related to a particular department, interest group, topic or group of people. Integrate the social intranet with other systems (CRM, DMS, your transaction systems) and signals generated in other contexts can be channelled into the main activity stream (including flows from the internet). Each individual defines their own slice of the stream by filtering for relevance and some platforms elegantly lets you subscribe to signals reflecting what your colleagues are finding relevant.

The benefit of signals is in directing attention. Compared to staying up to date with what is happening across the organization by browsing for updates, signals require a modicum of attention to consume. Each signal is typically transmitted with a link to the content that triggered the signal, making it easy to react to a relevant signal.

Signals deliver something that search cannot: Real-time notifications about activities that you might previously not have known about. Search is good at surfacing content related to topics you want to know more about and expect to be represented in the platform. Together, signals and search are the ultimate silo-busters.

3. Move from push to pull

Your email inbox is a space in which other people have control of what you receive. On the social intranet, your home page reflects what is relevant to you. That is achieved by a combination of configuration (you tell the platform what you want to see), affiliation (highlighting what is happening in the groups you have joined) and inference (the platform brings stuff to your attention that you are statistically likely to be interested in, kind of like recommendations on Amazon).

The members of the social intranet enjoy a high degree of control of the information that flows their way. It is akin to a subscription model where the recipient decides what they want to receive. The best implementations provide a spectrum of options for how to consume the flow of information with respect to format (website, email, PDF, feed reader), frequency (daily, weekly, as-it-happens) and devices (small and medium screen mobile devices). Email should be represented as one of the delivery channels; this is key as it relies on established habits of content consumption. Email is typically also the one application that has the largest mobile installed base (read: Blackberry) internally in an organization, so enabling participation via responses to emails reaches beyond consumption and taps into participation via mobile devices.

4. Highlight the people

A knowledge management related requirement of yore was to “get information out of people’s heads and into a database”. Moving work patterns onto a shared platform attains part of that goal but it is not the central driver of value of social intranets. Even for heavily used social intranets the content stored on the platform represents a mere shadow of the valuable information flowing through the organization. To get a glimpse of the full depth of knowledge, you need to reach behind the information to the people. Information, in this context, can be seen as signals that reveal something about what people know.

Many modern platforms are good at highlighting people. Every contribution is typically attributed to the contributor and every action on the platform is analyzed by an algorithm in order to learn more about each participant. The information is used to fuel expertise location and to highlight people with similar interests. The latter aspect can be incorporated in a ‘People you should know’ view so that the platform helps forge connections between people regardless of departmental boundaries or geography.

Content on the platform can also be used directly to describe the people involved with it. We have had people profiles for more than a decade but it is only in recent years that people’s activity throughout the platform is being presented back on their profile page, providing a useful view of what they are involved in. Self-declared profiles are typically updated once, if at all, and tend to go stale. A colleague’s experience is often better represented by a stream of recent activity. Platforms with tags are able to aggregate the tags on content that somebody interacts with and reflect that back to display as a tag cloud on their profile page.

5. Build specific ‘apps’ that cater for defined needs

Today’s social intranet platforms allow for a plethora of interaction modes, enough that many work processes will find a natural fit with features offered by the platform out of the box. Plenty of value can be generated by ‘mopping up’ those processes, moving them out of email and making them visible and searchable in the process. That in itself will contribute to reducing silos in the organization.

Devolved responsibility for content introduces ‘the power of the hyperlink’ to the enterprise. We have seen plenty of emergent outcomes where standard out-of-the-box features of a social intranet platform are cobbled together by the business, often just by convention, in order to support specific processes. A global company in the energy sector used their new social intranet to broaden participation in their innovation pipeline by managing it openly on the intranet. A law firm used their social intranet to create a central resource center for recession related content on the eve of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. A client in marketing saw a group of users, frustrated with how difficult it was to find the right images, build a new interface to the image bank with thumbnails and links through to the centrally stored high resolution images.

Some processes, though, are either tricky to accomplish with standard functionality or require deeper integration to other systems. Or they have a value/risk profile that justifies investment in making them a seamless experience beyond what the platform offers natively. In those situations we see the grassroots initiatives described above supplemented by user-centered, albeit centrally driven, development projects to deliver specific applications (‘apps’) to provide established business processes with the benefits of the social intranet platform.

The Enterprise App Store is a trend very much related to the social intranet.

Together, these five mechanisms bring real value to an organization. The social intranet is about more than the features offered by social enterprise platforms. It is about work.

 

The Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone

News broke this month of a slowdown in Facebook's growth in the US.

The usual doubts arise in the wake of such an announcement. Are we past the peak? Are we getting tired of social networking? Was it all a fad?

Facebook is so prominent that news about the social network has a ripple effect. The news affect community building initiatives on Facebook itself but also elsewhere. Facebook has become the poster child for the power of social networking, so much so that all kinds of initiatives, even projects to introduce social business design into companies' internal processes, suffer when Facebook experiences a hiccup.

We have been here before: In 2007, doubts about social business initiatives flared up when Facebook experienced a drop in traffic. Growth swiftly resumed to propel the social network to more than 50 million users before the end of 2007. Today, the worldwide number of users is approaching 700 million.

As Facebook grows larger, continued growth is harder to attain and we may see the service settle into a steady state which could still be profitable. The possibility also exists that Facebook's popularity may be eclipsed by another service, just like MySpace before it.

We would do well to recall that "The Stone Age didn't end for lack of stone". Social Business is a far larger sea change than any single service no matter how popular and we will continue to see innovative new applications of social business principles leading to profound new ways of working and engaging with customers.

To be sure, Social Business as a term will start to decline one day, just as Enterprise 2.0 has probably peaked and is being subsumed into the former. But the principles and the dynamics will continue to develop and deliver personal and business value.

London, England, to Austin, Texas: The pursuit of happiness

London to austin A fifth of the circumference of the Earth. From an urban zone of some 13 million people to roughly two million. From not really needing a car to needing two cars. It took my bicycle (and everything else) eight weeks to get here; our stuff was delivered yesterday. From a cool job to a cool job. It doesn't get better than this.

Exploring the games-are-good-for-you point of view

As a parent, one of the decisions you have to make at some point is the degree to which you allow your child to play online games. Oops, let's rewind and try again: .. the degree to which you guide your child when it comes to playing online games. I suspect that the default stand-offish attitude to games prevalent in my generation is a left-over from earlier generations and I am not sure it is the best position from which to help our children develop a harmonious relationship with games.

The "default stand-offish attitude" usually promulgated by mass media goes something like this:

  • Playing outside with other children: Good
  • Reading books: Good
  • Watching television: Ok in limited doses
  • Playing online games: Bad (as in leading to anti-social behaviour, speech impediments and obesity)

I would like to see a bit more nuance in the latter three categories which are all about media experience, my point of view lumps the three types of media together to focus on the content:

  • Reading books, watching television and playing online games that are not appropriate for the child's age: Bad
  • Reading books, watching television and playing online games that are appropriate for the child's age: Good

A proper discussion of the topic would examine many more aspects of the argument: learning, impact on behaviour, content ratings and censorship etc. I don't yet know enough to form firm conclusions. As a parent I need to understand the topic better in order to be able to guide my child and increase the likelihood that they have good experiences with games.

That is why it is a pleasure to be able to dip into well-informed and inspiring viewpoints in order to inform my own. Two thought provoking pieces that I have enjoyed are:

I look forward to explore different viewpoints in future. I think a danger for the next generation is parents who don't understand games. If games can give our children meaningful experiences - or provide new ways for parents and children to interact - that would qualify as an epic win.

Five years of flickr

Today, it is five years ago that I started using flickr, the photo sharing service. Flickr has brought about a resurgence in my interest in photography, the site has provided a way to stay in touch with friends and family, it has allowed my photos to be seen around the world and used for purposes I would otherwise never have learned about. 

When I heard about flickr (launched in 2004), I was wondering why anybody would want to make their photos public. At the time, I was using Ofoto and other sites that allowed me to make albums available to people on an invitation-only basis. As people in my social network joined flickr in increasing numbers I decided to try it out. And I got hooked.

Zanzibar beach commutersThe user interface was simple and elegant. Tags were central to the way the site worked. The tone of voice playful and personal. The site stored photos without increasing compression to silly levels. Above all, the way it allowed people to interact and connect was meaningful. Simple but effective controls allayed privacy concerns. I soon discovered photo streams from which I could draw inspiration. People would leave helpful comments on my photos. This sparked a desire to become a better photographer, a journey I am still enjoying. 

A huge milestone was when flickr incorporated support for Creative Commons licenses. Realising that I am not going to make money off my photography, I decided to apply a liberal license (CC BY-SA) to my photographs. That has resulted in more than one hundred of my photos being used on other websites, in magazines and books, in Wikipedia, in print calendars even as an album cover. This kind of reach is something I could never have achieved as an amateur photographer without an agent. I use the tag ccpublished to track which photos have been used elsewhere. (I have actually sold one photo, it was discovered on flickr by an image agency; their client wanted to use it without attribution so they couldn't use it within the terms of the Creative Commons license.)

Life below the pavementWith more than 10,000 photos on flickr and a network of connections I am not going elsewhere for photo sharing anytime soon. I wish flickr made it easy to export statistics and comments for my photographs - in case Yahoo decided to call a stop to flickr. I am also concerned about falling foul of flickr's moderation policies which have reportedly resulted in people having their account cancelled with no prior warning. But most of all, I would like to sign up for an account that doesn't expire, even when I die. My father left behind a collection of wonderful photos; our generation has the ability to do the same, all neatly tagged and categorised and available on the web so that our children don't have to store it all in the attic.

From connection to transaction

The other evening I observed the following sequence of events.

My wife was using Facebook to introduce two people to each other. One of the people had in his timeline some messages from Shaun White of whom he is a fan. Having only heard about Shaun White because of the Wii game that carries his name I encouraged her to click through to Shaun White's facebook profile. Once there, we watched an impressive video with amazing slo-mo snowboarding stunts. The last ten seconds of the video featured a different song on the soundtrack than the rest of the video. Leilani thought she knew the song but couldn't quite place it. I got out my iPhone and we Shazam'ed the piece to learn that it was an 80s song, Pop goes the world by Men without hats. We looked up Men Without Hats on iTunes and learned that some of their songs were featured on an 80s compilation album: 60 songs for £4.49.

And she bought it.

Probably a pretty normal story, trivial really. From connection to transaction. After all, most of our purchases are the result of some influence or other. But the dynamics of the story are compelling in two ways:

  • The chain of events traverses social networking, video streaming, a smartphone app and an online music store. Multimedia in the original sense of the phrase with all the big players represented: Facebook, Google and Apple.
  • The underlying mechanics are large scale and complex in order to deliver a relatively simple experience: Server farms, pattern matching, payment processing, multi-party legal agreements.

How are you preparing for the boom?

The cycle of boom and bust is part of the market system. Bust follows boom, boom follows bust. (It is inevitable, but the timing varies and that's the tricky bit.) 

How are you and your organisation preparing for the boom?

What are you doing to make onboarding new colleagues efficient and effective? 
How are you preparing for increased demand for your products and services? 
Are you investing in innovating your products and your processes? 
Are you building capacity? Capacity for dialogue with your customers, for decision making, for internal and external collaboration, capacity for learning and adapting? 
Are you strengthening your network of suppliers and delivery partners so you can take on bigger jobs? 
How are you making sure that you can deliver more while improving quality? 
Who is going to take on new tasks? 
Have you developed useful skills or processes or habits during the recession that you want to stick to when economic growth accelerates? Which habits should be the first to be kicked? 
Which criteria are you going to employ when choosing projects that have been waiting for the go-ahead?
How are you going to respond to increased competition? 
How are you going to build flexibility into your plans with respect to timing? Which indicators are you going to monitor so that you know when it is time to set your boom plans in motion? 

Thinking longer term, how are you going to plan your preparations for the next recession? (It is inevitable, remember?)

How to impede progress, a simple three step guide

The world is moving ahead with breathtaking speed. Evolution. Innovation. Projects. Ideas. The difference between progress and status quo could very well be you.

Use this simple three step guide to halt progress in its tracks whenever it surfaces:
  1. First time you hear about a new initiative, ignore it.
  2. The second time you hear about it, ignore it but start thinking of reasons that it should be stopped. 
  3. Third time, fight it with well-prepared arguments; prove that it does not make sense or it is impossible (hint: it only has to be impossible in your organisation, not everywhere).
These steps are especially powerful if you have skills that would help the initiative along; the arguments you have prepared may even serve to boost your reputation in the field. Or if you are a manager. 

The process has proven successful in stopping 98.6% of innovation. I have heard suggestions on how to increase the success rate but I am ignoring them.

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Wikipedia as inspiration for enterprises

It has always been useful inside organisations to refer to Wikipedia as a successful example of a self-policed open community with an ex-post moderation policy. The proposed change to the Wikipedia moderation model is akin to allowing 'trusted' editors to continue with the ex-post moderation model while imposing stricter control for people who are not signed in or just created their account. (How, and if, Wikipedia may implement flagged revisions is still being discussed.)

In an organisation employees are, by default, trusted. They have been approved as part of their recruitment, they are given access to buildings and logins to systems, they are trusted to do work and make decisions, handle confidential information etc. Many are trusted to advise the clients of the organisation. In light of this, the proposed changes for the Wikipedia moderation policy have no impact on the parallels we like to draw.

Another angle that may enter the discussion when debating the openness of social tools inside organisations and the trustworthiness of information is that of transparency. If a false statement is made in an email, the process of correcting the error is more convoluted than in the wiki world where the "many eyes" effect is put to work. (The controversy resulting in the review of Wikipedia's moderation policy is about a false statement that was corrected a few minutes later.)

The current discussion does not detract from the usefulness of using wikis for process support or project collaboration inside organisations. But perhaps a bit of the magic surrounding Wikipedia as the flagship example will have worn off.

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Headshift on Madison Avenue

My Headshift colleague and friend Christoph Schmaltz is leaving London in the early morning to head for the United States while the election votes are still being counted.

Racing up Columbus Ave in a yellow cab - P1030535

Christoph will be opening the first North American Headshift office in New York City on 11 Nov 2008. From then on you can call him 'Chris'.

This adventure is the second time Christoph moves his work to Manhattan, having previously worked for the United Nations there.

I have had the pleasure to work with Christoph on a number of projects in London and I know he will bring a lot of insight and value to new and existing Headshift clients in New York.

You can contact Christoph via email christoph@headshift.com and follow him on twitter as @christoph.

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Local area World Wide Web

New York's 311 non-emergency hotline service struck me as a brilliant idea when I first heard about it. Imagine that on your way to work you spot a bollard that has been knocked over. Who do you call? The cost to the individual of researching where to direct the information is high and expectations of the call being handled efficiently are probably low. 311 introduces a single hotline where reports like the bollard example can be logged right away and routed to the proper authority.

An obvious expansion of the service, given that phones with GPS and cameras are becoming more widespread, would be sending a geotagged photo of, say, a nasty pothole or a broken swing at a playground to a 311-style email address. Often no explanation would be required, the picture would reveal the nature of the problem being reported.

While waiting for that service to become available in London it was a delight to learn about FixMyStreet. The site allows you to describe a local problem, which once it is logged on the site will get forwarded to the appropriate authority.

Looking at what had been reported in our local area of London I found this report detailing a problem that I had noticed but never really considered doing anything about:

Fixmystreet_2

The mix of mobile phone cameras, geotagging, easy reporting via the web and many eyes roaming the streets is promising.

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When social network fatigue sets in

Buzz and bandwagons usually lead to an oversaturation of a market before the bubble bursts and activity levels out at a sensible equilibrium. What happens when everything becomes a social network?

Plaxo_pulse_invitations

I have been getting frequent pings from Plaxo over the last six months or so, a service I stopped using a year or more ago. Looks like they are up to something new. Should I re-join before my invitations expire?

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Big companies use the cloud to innovate

Photo sharing service SmugMug received much attention when they published their business case for using Amazon's S3 storage service. The 2002 startup describes how the service saves them between half a million to a million USD per year.

At Headshift, we have made use of the S3 service too, most recently on a project where video is a part of the user experience.

But it is not just startups that benefit from Amazon's cloud computing services. Techcrunch asks who the biggest users of Amazon Web Services are and quotes an Amazon source who reveals that big companies make up a large proportion of the 60,000 customers.

In my view, the reason for large companies to use cloud computing is not just the potential cost advantage, it is the ability to do new and exciting stuff - such as introducing social software. Like many other FTSE100 companies, one of our client's IT operations are optimised for steady state stability. Provisioning a server for a project takes several months and costs tens of thousands of dollars. They now have a two day process to approve and set up a virtual server using a combination of Amazon's EC2 and S3 services, with user identity provision tied to existing systems.

Look to the cloud to help innovation along.

All join in

In December, I had a delightful conversation with the BBC's Peter Day and his producer Rosamund Jones at the Headshift office in front of a microphone. The In Business programme about social networking aired on Radio 4 this week.

The interview touched on a host of subjects, but featured in the programme are:

  • Negative feedback about a company's products and services on social network sites: Market signals are weak insofar that if demand dries up you don't necessarily know why. By listening to the discussions happening on blogs and groups on social networks you can get useful information about how your products and services are perceived and what aspects matter to your customers (I made the same point in August when I appeared on BBC News 24... well, I hope I did, it was aired live).
  • The rise of the consumer-advertiser: A recommendation from people you know and trust is the most effective route to transaction. Social networks offer a powerful transmission mechanism for recommendations. It happens by itself but advertisers and social network providers are keen to monetise it.
  • Declarative commerce: When you search for something on Google you are met with advertising linked to keywords because searching is one of the closest proxies to declared intention. But what if you could unequivocally declare your intention to buy a certain type of product or service? Imagine what companies would be willing to pay to offer you theirs. (The inspiration for this point is from Doc Searls and his thoughts on VRM and from John Battelle with his coining of the database of intentions.)
  • Collaborating on ideas: Organisations can boost their innovative capability by sharing their ideas and inviting contributions from a wider group. This can happen internally as well as externally.
  • Twitter in the enterprise: While a fair bit of traffic on Twitter could be considered mundane, I believe the use of ultra-short from-any-device-to-any-device no-action-required messaging inside the organisation has enormous potential to tie people together and spark relevant conversations. Let the stream of information flow by and engage when relevant. Low cost attention-wise. (Since the interview was recorded I have had the pleasure of reading similar thoughts much better phrased by JP Rangaswami.)

The programme also features Kara Swisher of All Things Digital, Peter Cunningham of Viadeo, Stephen Millard of Clearswift, Penny Davis of T-Mobile, Dan Black of Ernst & Young and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffmann. You can download an mp3 of the half hour broadcast from the BBC website.

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