The Org Chart is not the Network

Who are the effective people you know? They’re not just smart and good at what they do. They know how to get things done. In an organization, they know how the system works in ways that aren’t written down. They know who really knows what (and that may not be the person with the title). They may not know everything, but they know who knows what. They don’t have all the skills and contacts themselves, but they know how to find the key people. In an organization, functional relationships and functional skills are only a part of what makes people successful.

Being successful takes network skills. The org chart is not the network.

This principle is bolstered by classic studies of social networks. Healthy social networks are characterized by “strong ties” in the core of groups, and a set of “weaker ties” to individuals in other groups. The strong ties enable groups to get things done with social cohesion and skill. The weaker ties enable the organization to be responsive to new information and changes to processes. See: weak ties and diversity in social networks and weak ties for social problem solving in enterprise 2.0

Traditional enterprise software is about making the org chart more efficient, by automating the functions and processes within org chart. Sales automation, support automation, marketing automation, finance automation. Access control is a primary concept – the pattern is to restrict information to the smallest number of people of have permission to see the information. These patterns are important and continue to be important. Strong processes are critical for organizations to work effectively and cost-effectively. There are legitimate needs for confidentiality in HR, finance, and other areas.

A good part of the magic of enterprise social software is that it’s a network overlay on top of the org chart. What does this mean?

  • it means that you can see people in your org chart group and outside
  • it means that you can make connections to people in other groups and see their activity
  • it means that you can work collaboratively in org chart groups and cross-functional groups
  • it means that you can build “strong ties” with people in your group and “weak ties” with people in other groups

People who design and configure enterprise social software need to be aware of the org chart and the network.

  • you want to enable information sharing by the org chart, but not constrain it to the org chart
  • you want to enable the creation of groups by the org chart, but not constrain it to the org chart
  • you want cross-functional contribution, without confusion and chaos

Successful design and implementation of enterprise social software requires taking into account the benefits of the org chart and the benefits of the network, and design a system that takes the best advantage of both.

What’s different about Enterprise Twitter

Twitter has taken off on the public web, and there are a variety of vendors who are offering “Twitter for the Enterprise.” As with social networking, it’s not enough to simply clone Twitter and deploy it for business users. Here are some of the key ways that enterprise microblogging is different.  This is part two of a series on what’s different about enterprise software. Part 1 is crossposted here and here.

With public Twitter, people use nicknames. Many people add a profile link that identifies who they are in the real world. Many do not, and tweet pseudonymously. In a business setting, the signal is tied to the user’s real-world identity, derived from their company directory entry and business activities. You can navigate from a signal to a profile, and discover a lot about the person in their work context.   A significant part of the value the people get from enterprise social software is finding the smart and plugged-in people in their organization.  Microblogging helps discover the interesting people, and the links to rich work-context profiles reveal more about what the person does and what they know.

With public twitter, one of the common usage patterns is to share links. Well-informed, insightful people scan the news, and share interesting tidbits with their followers. This valuable pattern on the public net gains power inside an organization. People can share links and commentary about to documents they are working on, for example, a marketing plan or a budget. And they can share private commentary about public links. For example, there can be a company-private discussion about a move by a competitor. Enterprise microblogging allows users to share links to private content, and to share private discussion about public content.


The main difference between Twitter and enterprise microblogging is confidentiality. You’re not sharing information with the big wide world, only with your colleagues.  As in personal life, confidentiality frees people to share more openly about nonpublic topics.    Of course, people need to be still cognizant about what they share, as they do in meeting rooms or around water coolers.

Inside an enterprise, microblogging has a different balance of transparency and privacy than email. With email, your message is visible only to the people you choose to send it to.  With enterprise microblogging, the recipient chooses who to follow, and whose messages to see. This provides useful “ambient transparency” in an organization, for example spreading useful knowledge about products in development and customer relationships.  Enterprise microblogging is more private than public Twitter, and more transparent than email.

The Art of Enterprise Social Software

As you can see, it’s not enough to take an existing piece of social software and run it behind the firewall. Adapting social software to the enterprise requires consideration about how business and social environments are different, and how social software can be used to provide business value.

Government 2.0 in early beta

Last week I went to the “government 2.0” session sponsored by the Social Media Club. One sign that the space is in a very early stage is that the panelists were very different:

The story that moved me the most was David Canepa. A thirty-ish former staffer for Leland Yee, Canepa keeps a blog and a facebook profile. A local tv campaign interview was posted to YouTube.  David isn’t following a playbook, he’s just trying to reach out to consitituents.

Recently, David got into hot water when he invited Facebook friends to a local African-American community event.  Apparently the event had a fee, and some people were concerned about impropriety.  He’s working to get the policy clarified so he can continue posting to Facebook.  David would love to get more comments on his blog, and to figure out how to use the net to get feedback on local development issues.

Interestingly, David is getting stuck in a different place than local officials in Menlo Park, where I live.  Local folk don’t seem to have a problem with Facebook. My favorite local Facebook status update: Heyward Robinson is the mayor.   However, the local government in my town have gotten legal advice that they can’t host public discussions online because of an interpretation of the Public Records Act.   Another local elected official, Terry Nagel, helped build her reputation by hosting a site to report frequent power outages in her city.

David was a bit nervous about being on the panel. Individual local elected officials are breaking ground on their own. David wished that the session would have more interactive advice. I think there’s an unmet need to get some of the early champions of social media in local government in the same room to build on what each is doing well, and overcome the obstacles people are finding.

Where David Canepa’s concerns in Daly City are about building a local constituency, NASA PR folk are doing outreach to a national and global community of people fascinated by space. Instead of fielding the same two simple questions from mass media interviewers with soundbite answers, Veronica McGregor is finding an audience of educated, passionate fans, eager to understand the details of NASA technology and science.  Her staff wonders how long they’ll need to continue parallel efforts to feed the traditional media and the growing community of fans.  One of the key signs of an early market is the same case study used again and again – NASA is the poster child for social media in government.

Even NASA gets stuck. Ariel Waldman’s story is funny and sad. She was hired by NASA to help with social media, through a government contractor whose contract has a firm policy against employees using social software on the job. Oops.  Undaunted, she’s now doing SpaceHack, and indie site for space science hackers.

Evan Ratliff was the quietest panelist. His article on Wired describes the hurdles in opening the federal government for online communication.  Efforts to provide access to citizens are slowed by well-meaning policies like the Paperwork Reduction Act, which requires a laborious approval process for gathering information from more than 10 citizens.  Bev Godwin, one of Obama’s egovernment staffers, comments in Ratliff’s article that “Agencies tend to avoid doing these kind of surveys… Would having users submit information to a social network or wiki count as a survey? Nobody knows.”  Ratliff reports that some federal government sites are forbidden to link to nongovernmental sites, because a link is seen as a government endorsement.  One Wired article barely scratches the surface.

The takeaway from the panel – “government 2.0” is in very early beta. The most advanced people are learning every day.  There is plenty of opportunity to adapt lessons from the public internet and the private sector to improve democratic governance.

What’s different about enterprise social software?

When people talk about “enterprise social software”, they envision “Facebook for the enterprise” or “Twitter for the enterprise. But creating enterprise social software is a matter of adapting patterns from the public web, not copying identically.

What is “Enterprise Social Networking”

In the public web, social networking software has become embedded in people’s lives, as a way to stay in touch and to coordinate. Similar patterns will bolster collegial connections, expertise discovery, and collaboration. However, there are some significant differences between a social network on the web and a network behind the enterprise firewall.

What is Friending?

In a public web social network, the primary gesture is identifying others as “friends”. The graph of friends delineates the boundaries in which each individual shares information. Contact information is assumed to be private unless shared with a friend.

But in a business social network, the lines of visibility are defined differently. In a plain-vanilla corporate directory, the assumption is that every employee has the right to see contact information for everyone else. You don’t need to mark “Dale” in marketing as a friend in order to see his phone number.

More than that, what on earth is a “friend”? Will people simply go around “friending” high-ranking executives? Should I need to have to specifically mark my colleagues in the product group as “friends”? What does it mean if someone is not my “friend.” The gesture of explicit friending doesn’t have much value, and has plenty of potential annoyance and harm.

In Socialtext, we use the “following” gesture common to Twitter and Friendfeed, and don’t support “friending.”

Where does Profile data come from?

In public web social software, people type in their contact information, alma mater, significant others, pets. In an organization, there is often already a repository of basic contact information in the corporate directory. HR and IT departments share responsiblity for keeping that information up to date.

Therefore, a business social network needs to draw on corporate systems of record for basic contact information. Admins need to decide what information comes from the corporate directory, and what information users should add themselves.

What are the Activities in an Activity Feed

One of the features that’s most compelling about Facebook is the ability for people to see updates on their friends activities. Talia is dating / no longer dating / once again dating Jeremy. Bob just watched xyz movie. Scott is reading xyz book.

This activity stream is compelling inside the firewall, for a different set of activities. People will be interested in updates on what their colleagues are working on, what documents they have edited, what key events have happened in enterprise systems. For example, “Shawn closed the support escalation ticket for Major Customer Q.” It would be nice, and foster adoption, to have some “small talk” applications that enable people to stay in touch regarding ordinary life. It can be highly valuable for the business to be able to be notified of important work-related updates.

In social networks, the context of the activity feed is one’s social life. In an enterprise social network, the content is one’s work activities in enterprise systems, documents, and processes.

What does an admin do?
In private label social public social networks, administrators do things like configure the available features and the fields in a profile. In business social networks, administrators integrate the social network with existing directories and applications. They play a greater role in defining communities and creating social boundaries.

In a consumer social network, the individual assumes that she has control over privacy and disclosure and there is controversy if those assumptions are violated by service providers. In a business social network, the administrator has more control. In some cases, this level of control is good and appropriate. Competing customers shouldn’t see each others information, and the activities of the M&A groups should be secret. An appropriate level of business confidentiality, like an appropriate level of personal confidentiality, increases sharing and honesty.

In some cases, admins are familiar with applications deployed on a “need to know” basis, and want use these familiar practices to set up applications designed to gain value by increased sharing. There are gray areas that will need to be worked out in software design, effective practice, and cultural evolution.

Next in the series: What’s different about enterprise Twitter

Imagine decentralized community organizing as a DISO app

In several different contexts (climate change organizing, local political blogging, marriage equality organizing), I keep coming across situations where individuals participate in multiple social networks, and want to organize across social networks.   Distributed organizing feels like a potential use case for distributed social networks. Here’s how it might work…

I have an OpenProfile someplace. Perhaps it is on my blog. Perhaps it is on my local group blog or environmental club.  I can “friend” people who belong to this site.  I attend a “creek cleanup” and that is visible in my activity stream.  This OpenProfile may be hosted along with my OpenID. (If not, my OpenID registration at the site asked me for an OpenProfile link)

When I join a new cycling site, and log in with my OpenID, it asks me if I want to share my OpenProfile with the site.   It gives me a couple of coarse-grained options, or it allows me to share my profile, item by item on this site.  I can see my profile in this cycling site, too. The cycling site lets me add a type of bicycle to my profile. It asks if I want to share this information with other communities. I say no because I don’t think it would be interesting to my other friends. Several of my environmental friends are on this site and also chose to share their profiles.  I can see they are here too.

The cycling club is sponsoring a “bike to work day”. I join. It asks if it’s ok to let my other communities know. I say yes. The information appears in my activity feeds on my blog and other communities.  I can see who is already participating in the bike to work day.  I want to tell more of my friends, including friends in the environmental club.  An invitation form lets me choose which people to invite. I can choose from all my friends, including those I know from this site and the environmental club.

Elements of this system:

* I have a core profile.  I can chose whether to share this profile with other communities
* When I share a profile with another community, my relationships are visible there to others who have chosen to share
*  Additional profile elements can be added by other sites. I can choose whether to share these elements offsite.
*  Activities are part of my activity feed.  Activites are shared by default with the local community. I can choose whether to share them with other communities (all communities, or some communities)

I can’t see Facebook connect meeting this need.  Groups like the environmental club and the cycling club want more control over member contact than Facebook gives them.  But atomized social networks keep the environmental group and the cycling club from easily spreading the word and inviting new people. Distributed social networks could help people connect, while preserving local privacy and reducing social spam.

Using for OpenID via WordPress plugin

One of the benefits of yesterday’s move to WordPress was a handy plugin to use your blog url as an OpenID server. This lets you use the login info for your blog on a good number of other sites around the web. Highly recommended for fellow earlyish adopters; if you can maintain a WordPress blog you’ll find this easy.

I had used MyOpenID as training wheels. But its method of using your domain as openid server involves DNS settings, and dealing with domain registrars is typically a hellish process. The plugin from Will Norris and Chris Messina lets you provide OpenID login for the blog owner and any other blog authors, in addition to enabling OpenID for blog comments. It was quite easy, for an only modestly geeky definition of easy. Using as the OpenID greatly reduces the microsecond time barrier to using OpenID when busy and multi-tasking.

The MyOpenID feature that it’s missing is a history of the sites you’ve visited. That’s a handy reminder of apps you’ve used, and a good OpenID adoption feature. Thanks, FactoryJoe.

BookBlog now on WordPress

After a moderate amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth, I’ve successfully migrated BookBlog over to WordPress.   And comments are working again!

The short version of the saga — my hosting provider had disabled comments on the old version of MT because of the server suck.  I needed to either upgrade or move.  The upgrade failed, so I moved.  The MovableType content export/import worked swimmingly, so the old posts are here, with pictures and comments.

The WordPress install was a pleasure, and I’m happy to be using a tool with a lively community. MovableType is making a reasonable decision focusing on its business customer base, while WordPress focuses on personal use, small business, and the technically savvy folk who help others.

Spiffing up the blog feels emotionally like a good-sized home improvement project. Like a house, it’s a space that I share with others and is a mode of self-expression. Having a creaky blog with broken comments and obsolete sidebars feels badly wrong and anti-social – it’s like having broken chairs and cracked windows. Fixing things up feels like a good spring cleaning and repair.

The long version saga, for the very few of you who’ve been wondering why comments have been out of commission for a while (the rest of you feel free to move on)…

In 2006, I disabled comments because of the epidemic of blog spam. In 2007 I was working too much to look into the problem. Last year, when I tried to re-enable comments, I found that my hosting provider had disabled MT comments for version 3 because of server load. In order to re-enable comments I needed to upgrade to MT4 (or move to WordPress). Before I did anything, the hosting provider needed to upgrade the MySQL servers. MT editing barely worked, 500 errors were chronic, and WordPress wouldn’t have worked at all (because views hit the database). Last weekend, the db server was upgraded. So this weekend was blog upgrade weekend. Thanks to those of you who’ve been patient enough to email comments in the meantime 🙂

Social network for voter education

Deborah Bowen tweeted the other day about the use of social media for voter education. Here’s an idea. Thing is, people get voting recommendations through their social networks. I don’t know about you, but when I’m looking at initiatives, downballot races, and other nonobvious choices, I look to maven friends who have some knowledge and perspective. The standard voters guides are somewhat useful, but they lack the perspective of a knowledgeable friend.

So, the opportunity is to have a social network application that enables mavens to fill out sample ballots (in full or in part). For each choice, the maven can add a comment and links to provide explanation and reference about their choice. Anyone can be a maven by filling out part of a ballot and explaining their choice.
Voters can choose to follow one or more “mavens”. Mavens who are connected and well-respected will gain more followers. The maven’s activities can be visible in an existing social network (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), so people can discover mavens in their social network. A maven can choose to have their profile and ballot be “public” (anyone can follow them), “private” – they need to approve new followers before followers can see their choices, or “networked” – your friends friends can see your ballot.

The system can display top “public” mavens, so followers can discover new sources of recommendations. Voters should be able to see the public and networked mavens followed by their friends.

This system would build on the existing social networks people use to make voter decisions, and would expose people to a wider range of information and opinion through the social network. Experts and influential people would rise to visibility. The ability to share comments and links will drive education around the ballot. And the roots of the system in the social network ought to encourage civil behavior, which could be severely problematic in a public opinion-oriented system.

What do you think?

Transit and the digital divide – the best as the enemy of the good

Aaron Antrim wrote a sensible Facebook note downplaying the concept of the digital divide as it relates to giving digital access to transit information. In the world of public transit, there’s a common argument that it is unfair and wrong to provide excellent digital access to transit information, since some elderly and low-income riders do not have access to digital information.
These days, a lot of people have internet access. Aaron points out recent statistics showing that overall, 75% of U.S. adults use the internet, and 56% of people who make less than $30,000/year use the internet. In the Bay Area, the overall numbers are higher, and the low-income numbers are similar: 79% had internet access in 2008, including 59% of households with income under $40,000.
It’s fair to be concerned with the digital divide. But the everybody or nobody approach is poor business judgment. What company would reject a service that broadened their market, because only 60-80% of their customer base would use it?