Big stadium events in a VR world

What will happen when headsets offer a better experience than being there?

For more than half a century, sporting events have been staged for an in-stadium audience of tens of thousands plus a tv audience of millions, watching on flat screens.

Screens (huge ones) also play a key role at the stadium, offering close-ups of the action and slow-motion replays. No need to bring your opera glasses.

Depending on the sport, watching the televised transmission may rival that of traveling to the venue to watch the event. With curated points-of-view, on-screen stats and expert narration, we are treated to finely honed performance.

With media consumption moving off flat screens, the advantage of experiencing an event on your personal device may soon offer even more than being there in person.

Imagine being able to pick which player you want to “be” in a football game. And being able to switch player in the middle of the action. This kind of experience would be facilitated by a 360 cam on every player, and algorithms that serve up nicely stabilized versions of their feeds. While technically possible, this kind of experience is likely to be introduced to motor racing events first where there is already a history of mounting cams on cars.

VR technology may increase the popularity of sports that have hitherto languished in obscurity to everyone except the players. I used to play the glorious game of underwater rugby — a sport that is mostly unknown, in part because the underwater action doesn’t lend itself well as a spectator sport. An audience seated around the pool would only be able to see the rough surface of the water and the occasional exhausted player struggling to get out of the pool to be replaced by someone with higher blood oxygenation. Plopping a camera crew into the pool is impractical as they risk getting in the way of the furious action. Instead, an array of cameras on the bottom and sides of the pool would give headset wearers a close view of the intricacies of one of the few games where players move in three dimensions.

Consumer VR kit still has to evolve further to improve the experience, especially widening the field of view and ditching the umbilical. And we are still early in the adoption cycle that investment in producing a VR feed from an event may not happen frequently in the immediate future. Fast forward a bit though, and there is no doubt this will be the new normal.

This leaves the question of what happens at the event venue, if the best experience is from afar, looped into “The Matrix”. If nothing else changes, market economics suggests we will see price drops on what today can be expensive tickets, even for the “cheap seats”.

Formula 1 offers a hint that the ceteris paribus assumption is too narrow. When the annual event descends on Austin, for example, the organizers try to fill the 120,000 person capacity by putting on a full weekend of shows, culminating in a concert with a top performer. The race itself may arguably be a better experience on television since any vantage point only covers a small section of track, and it can even be difficult to tell who is in the lead.

With any new technology, it is exciting to think about the wave of creativity it may unleash instead of just focusing on the impact to existing formats. If VR is nearly as good at being there, it can open up new experiences. “Riding along” with daredevils streaming 360 video through 5G places you right in the action as it happens. Parachuting, white water rafting, nature exploration. Perhaps robots and spacecraft too will have facilities to share their point of view.

Computer gaming, which has developed its own spectator sport, may be one of the types of events to go VR early on. Since they are not experiences of reality, are they virtual virtuality, then?

[This article was published in parallel on Medium.]

The best home wifi you can get

For many years, our family enjoyed a fairly standard internet setup: A wifi router located next to the cable modem and ethernet connections to our iMac and the tv. It worked well for years, but three trends were pushing the limits of this setup. Our internet provider kept making their affordable internet connections faster, with synchronous gigabit within sight. A growing number of IoT (internet of things) devices were being deployed in our home. And a network scan showed that our neighbourhood is riddled with 2.4 GHz networks; more than 50 of them overlapping with our property.

I work at home most of the time, so a fast, stable internet connection is an absolute priority, preferably on the 5 GHz band to minimize interference with the neighbours. We also wanted a setup where we could isolate IoT devices from computers on the network.

Research turned up promising mesh wifi options such as Eero, Google's wifi system, and Netgear Orbi. Not only do these options help distribute the wifi signal to every corner of the house, they also offer additional options for managing your wifi (such as shutting off your kids' wifi network at night).

However, the demands we put on our internet connection resembles that of a small business just a couple of years ago so I also investigated enterprise style solutions and that's what led me to Ubiquiti's Unifi, a range of network devices with enterprise specs and near-consumer pricing.

Given the layout of our house, three access points (wifi antennas) made sense: One in the home office, one at the other end of the house, and one mounted in the ceiling at the center of the upstairs level. I went with the UAP-AC-PRO model ($130). To connect the access points, the choice was the $190 8 Port 150W Unifi switch which also powers each access point through the ethernet cable. That meant freedom to place the access points anywhere I could run a length of ethernet cable, regardless of whether a power outlet was nearby. This was especially useful for the access point mounted in the ceiling. I added the $120 Unifi Security Gateway (often referred to as USG) which works as a router and firewall. While not strictly necessary, I bought the Unifi Cloud Key ($80) so that I could manage the network from any computer or my phone.

The components are fanless, and on most of them you can change the setting to switch off status lights once you are happy that everything is working. It took a day and a half over the new year's holiday to install everything, including running cables in our attic space. I had to learn a lot of new stuff, and to this end the YouTube channels by Crosstalk Solutions and Willie Howe were extremely useful.

This approach is not for everyone. The cost is only justified if you have a heavy dependence on wifi such as a work-from-home scenario or lots of IoT gear. It also requires getting familiar with basic networking concepts and spending time setting up your SSIDs and VLANs. If your cabling is not already in place, you'll have to break out the drill. And in my case, I had the pleasure of building a mini rack for the switch in our closet using Lego.

The new network keeps getting better, as many modern gadgets do when new firmware releases are made available. But the result speaks for itself: Our house is now blanketed in fast and robust 5 GHz wifi, benefitting both work and play.

Speed test

Passing on habits from one generation to the next

How to take a shower

The corporate email monster is personal too

In my work with moving work processes to social platorms, I sometimes come across clients who state their ambition to cut down on email by investing in one. It's a great intention but I admit to being a bit cynical about the goal. Do you want to cut down on email because of cost? Surely not email infrastructure cost as an extra 100,000 emails essentially costs you $0. Cost of dealing with emails? Well, what's your estimate of the current cost of dealing with an email? Nobody has done the analysis. How are you going to track the volume of email that is replaced by a social platform? Do you know your current email growth rate? Most don't

What I do respect is that using a social platform for work can be more efficient and effective. It can yield a much higher re-use factor of organizational knowledge. And by bringing people together in new ways, a social platform can radically increase the capability to innovate. That is where I like to focus when discussing use cases and benefits with clients.

This cartoon from The Oatmeal points to a personal factor: email stress. I especially love the comparison between the brevity of a text message and the cultural baggage of email. Cutting down on email results in a personal and organizational psychological benefit. We all know the email monster.

Fence as a service

We recently had a fence built in our back yard. The story is relevant to this blog because the gentleman who owns the fence building company, Gary, is turning out to be one of the most clued-up small business professional services people I have ever met.

Gary showed up one evening to look at the yard and discuss options. He had some great ideas about materials and designs that would make the fence durable and aesthetically pleasing.

Observation 1: Inspire your clients and prove that you know your stuff.

We subsequently had a conversation about being able to go look at a fence he had previously done so we could get a better impression of what our fence would look like. Gary explained that our fence was different from other fences he had previously built, but he shared some examples of close matches and offered to do a 3D rendering of our fence at a cost of $200.

Observation 2: If the sales process requires you to do actual work, charge for it.

Towards concluding the agreement we wanted to make sure all the relevant details were given proper attention. What kind of fasteners would be used and how would the wood be treated? Gary responded to our questions but also told us politely that our project was a small project which didn't justify further meetings. However, he would drop off some wood and fastener samples on his way past our house in the next few days.

Observation 3: Avoid getting caught up in long sales cycles, detach yourself from the conversation when you have provided your client with all the relevant information to support a decision.

I looked over the proposal one last time before making our decision. That's when I noticed that the proposal didn't say "Proposal" on it, it said "Invoice".

Observation 4: If you can skip the proposal and go straight to invoicing, do it.

We decided to start the project. The invoice detailed the payment schedule as 60% up front, 40% at completion. Gary explained that the larger up front payment was required because a significant part of his costs were materials.

Observation 5: Design the payment schedule so it reflects your cost structure.

When the work started, Gary showed up with a co-worker. They worked hard in the sun for three days. A few times, decisions had to be made and Gary involved us in the decision making.

Observation 6: Stick with the project and ensure continuity until the client is satisfied.

Taking a moment to take stock

I have everything

Carry on learning

The balance in life depends on a multitude of factors, and the weighting of factors vary for everyone. Over time, I have realized that learning is one of the most influential factors in maintaining balance in my life.

The opportunity to learn is one of the key factors I look for in a job, it becomes an essential part of my job satisfaction. I have noticed a pattern that if my job related learning slows down slightly, I tend to find new areas to explore. Consequently, ten years ago, I took a course in yacht navigation without any plans to become a skipper or a navigator - but the subject matter was fascinating.

There has never been a better time in terms of opportunity for learning. The main vector, of course, is the internet and its ability to reduce the costs of access to relevant content and building connections to the relevant people.

Recently, I have explored three different types of avenues to learning. All of them are dependent on the internet to achieve and accelerate the learning.

The most structured avenue was completing a university course that was taught via the internet. This is also known as a MOOC, a Massively Open Online Course. The MOOC i joined was a course in Gamification at Penn, channeled via Coursera, an internet education platform. The course was thought via lectures recorded on video, weekly tests or written assignments, and peer review of contributions. The peer review aspect was one of most powerful new learning approaches I have recently come across. For every paper I submitted, I had the opportunity to review five or more papers from my fellow students (of which there were some 78,000). Seeing how others had approached the problem gave me a high level of insight into alternative approaches and good opportunity for reflecting on my own work.

A completely different type of learning has come from my decision to buy and fly a small quadcopter drone. Given my interest in new technology and photography, buying a drone was the realization of a pressing dream. Starting a blog on my experiences with and ideas about civilian use of drones was a natural decision as a drive towards increased learning. (See elevation.2)

Getting into flying a drone has meant: Exploring aerial photography and videography, thinking about what the future of civiliain use of drones may bring (such as cars with drones, human organ transport, precision agriculture), learning how to rent computing capacity and set up WordPress, and of course learning to fly it and getting creative with photos/video in new ways.

The final learning vector I wanted to mention is more ad hoc: I installed an app on my phone to help me learn Spanish. (Sí, estoy aprendiendo a hablar español.) Duolingo is a free app offering a growing list of language courses. I find it very well designed and I love the business model. The app is free because an algorithm sneaks in sentences to be translated for clients that pay Duolingo for translation, a clever crowdsourcing business model. It is interesting to note that the app teaches you listening, speaking, reading and writing - all at the same time. I am progressing slowly (even though the app is nagging me politely to spend a bit of time every day), but detected some basic improvements on a recent trip to Mexico.

What's next? I am going to enroll in another MOOC, perhaps Financial Markets or an introduction to genetics. I find 3D printing fascinating and may start printing mods for my drone using this technology. And I am going to use Duolingo more often. ¡Vamos!

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

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."


'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

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?)