We are the People, lets work together….

September 19, 2014

Human nature has given us the great ability to work together and be adaptive to changes in our surrounding environment since the dawn of mankind. Nothing new to this set of capabilities. Also we have been able to form uses of our common tools, so that we together manage to change society.

Citizen Participation

The tools have, and will be the foundation for innovation, and each new tool kit raises new challenges. Where we see new practices emerge, and craftsmanship to master them. In most cases, we have been situated in co-located uses, to form groups. The effort to coordinate that group, using different means to reach the set goals. Have bearing in the way we as humans communicate. Usually with a combination of spoken language and body language. In some boundary object interactions where we don’t have a common lingo. Body language have been a simple way to bridge between different communities. The communication tools used when we can’t see or hear each other have emerged over the years.

Today, our work conditions differ quite, from previous generations dependencies on co-located collaborative work. Due to the immense use of digital communication tools, and shifting focus from bodywork, to knowledge work. We simply engage in endless conversations on all levels, to undertake our daily everyday practices together. Some of these conversations have become routines, where we codify, store and use the outcome. Codified knowledge have been one of the key elements to run a large organisation, since cuneiform. Other conversations are just social-glue, to connect us with peers in order to solve the issues at hand. The problem in all this, is that the focus is more on the tools and means, and less on why we communicate and the need to coordinate our efforts in a group of people.

Trilingual inscription of Xerxes, Van, 1973.JPG
Trilingual inscription of Xerxes, Van, 1973” by John Hill – I took this photo myself using a 300 mm lens with 2X extender on a Pentax camera. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The other issue, is to find other groups of individuals to form emerging networks. Where our social ties are not so tightly knitted. But where the small world group acts in cellular fashion. The organising of resources, as humans working in different groups. The sharing practices, professions, disciplines and processes, is what we commonly call an organisation. With clear boundaries. Hence there are two dimensions to collaboration: in-bound to make the team work together, regardless if they are co-located or not. And second the out-reaching theme, connecting to the ecology where the group work and outcome signals to other parties and herds of people.

Managing the tool-kit

In my daily work practice either as researcher or information strategist I mix these two modalities of collaboration seamlessly. And I juggle around and struggle with a pretty hefty and complex tapestry of digital communication tools, since each facet of group work and context have different agreed upon tools and organising principles of information and data. And topping this, I also chose prefered tools of my own liking, that might divert from the commonly stated platform. Using these means anywhere, anytime and on any device, as stated in most digital strategies I have written or come across.

When organisation fast forward into digitally enhanced collaboration (just separating this for now from traditional group work without digital means), the most common path is to buy what all others have in their garage. “My neighbor just bought a brand new Tesla Car, and he seems to be very happy with his rather expensive choice.” Or just go for what we already have parked inside our corporate walls. Sharepoint is such a simple choice to make. It is a very capable software suite of things, that promise to solve all collaboration themes out-of-the-box. Or any other software vendor’s suite in the same ballpark.

A collaboration framework

Michael Sampson, have in his writing (books, blogs and lectures), pinpointed seven pillars for collaboration:

  1. Shared access to team/group information and data
  2. Location independence
  3. Real-time authoring and editing
  4. Group/team aware calendaring
  5. Social engagement
  6. Group/team task management
  7. Collaboration auto-discovery

The first 6 pillars, rest upon the in-bound teamwork. How to make a tightly knit group of people coordinate, collaborate in a smooth manner, so that they are able to reach their targeted goal. The reason why they start to work together in the first place. Be it a project, organisational bound unit, or learning network as communities of practice.

In a group of people, regardless if they are co-located, distributed or a mix thereof, they share the same goals. Hopefully? The social ties are pretty strong, and in some spaces they know each other in and out. In others they have been pulled together for a specific task, and have to agree on the game rules to work together. In loosely coupled communities of practice or networks, the ties are more related to profession, discipline or shared interest. Hence they might not know each other at all, but still share a common ground why the meet-up and engage in online conversations. For each different facet of in-bound collaboration, there might be nuances to what capabilities they need to become fluent in the use of either digital platform. My fellow researchers have pulled together a very nice recipe book to what ingredients is needed for a sustainable digital habitat, so I do not intend to elaborate more on this here.

My ambition is to further develop some thinking and tinkering around the second theme (seventh pillar), the out-reaching collaboration.

Out-reaching collaboration – Serendipity!

The promise from all visionaries, evangelist within knowledge management. Have always been this Connected Enterprise state. Since T Davenport’s and  Larry Prusak’s book Working Knowledge from 1985.

Serendipity in life, sometimes connects dots between people. I happened to share a taxi to Milan’s airport for 2 hours with Larry Prusak 10 years ago. From a Knowledge Management research conference we both had attended and done talks at. And during this ride we both shared stories from the trenches, and connections to friends and peers. Building the social tapestry, that still unfolds. When I meet people with the same aspiration and passion for communities and networks of practice as myself.

In large organisations, it is difficult to know what is going on, on a daily basis across all places and contexts. And connecting teams and groups separated by organisational boundaries, profession, locations, processes or practices have been the promise and peril for knowledge management. Early on the focus was set on codified knowledge, as record keeping. But the more control put into the stew to get people to codify what they were up to, the less things were then added to the shared spaces. This was simply, because this extra task, diverted them from their everyday work practices. Still 20 years further down the road, this shared view of our tools and technologies persists.

The question then is: What design imperative can we build upon, so that connecting people and serendipity happens, without a steep threshold of manual work of codification?

Some consultancy firms have a culture of sharing and codifying, and this practice is also what they promise to their clients. The problem is that the lego pieces in the box, all artifacts developed by members of staff, reflecting on their observations from the trenches. Taxes lots of resources, and also the half life is pretty short. Storytelling and compelling narrative, is what sticks. This is what I remember from the personal conversation with Larry Prusak. And still after this long time, I am able to reflect on pretty detailed parts of that conversation. Not codified, or recorded.

My own reflection to the out-reaching capabilities using collaborative technologies are:

  1. Profiling
  2. Semantic Enhancements and Links
  3. Auto-suggestions in real-time

Profiling and Personal Data

As users of a multitude of digital communications platforms, we leave a digital trail. In less good circumstance this might be used against our will and intentions e.g. the NSA and other authorities’ surveillance of our digital lives. Or in online services like Facebook and Google, intrusion into our privacy online. We sign a contract with the Devil, without reading the fine print, selling our privacy as the currency for free services.

In the 90’s when I both started my internet consulting firm and research, I came across a fellow researcher at MIT Media Lab,Prof. Patti Maes. She and set of colleagues founded Firefly network inc. Using their agent technologies and collaborative filtering algorithms. They were later bought by Microsoft. One of the foundations of their technology was dynamic profiles and a standard (P3P) to people profiles and segments, and attributes to this. These technologies in different incarnations are now omnipresent, and widely used by Facebook, Linkedin, and Google to name but a few. The main idea, was that the end-user fed the agent his or her profile and preferences. Sometimes it could be a manually-intensive process of record keeping, while at other times the use of any service could add bits and parts of the users behaviour as part of a digital trail – uncovering the “tacit knowledge” of the user, and his or hers networks in doing so. The keeping of user records is sensitive as it was with P3P and the like. It failed to get traction to a larger audience due to conflicts arising from privacy and intrusion issues. It is always a matter of whom you trust. Other technology companies, have tried similar paths, to tap into the tacit knowledge, like Autonomy have with their agent-profiles and so forth. Regardless of the success or not, profiling is key in delivering anything valuable to the end user.

Finding peers and friends (FOAF) through profile records and catalogs, i.e. Active Directory (AD), is probably the most asserted requirement in any digital workplace development. Social and collaborative platforms like Sharepoint, mix both the more structured elements to a user-profile derived from AD, plus the users’ contributions, and digital-trails e.g. connected friends, groups, social-tags and so forth, NB. Office Graph (Oslo).

But in a world where everything is not hosted in one to serve them all platform, and where users depart outside into other shared spaces for their collaborative work. These single platform profiles, are pretty useless. Most organisations try to build compounds and user-profile mashups, using profile segments from a diversity of information systems (i.e HR), and services. The most ambitious efforts combine user-profile records from the inside environment, with external social media profiles,  i.e. the users Linkedin profile.

Users do like to improve their profiles, if the value in doing so is in a direct feedback loop to the use of the platform. Here LinkedIn is a good example. In other online networks, the settings for your profile have become so complex, that users just ignore configuring them at all, i.e. in Facebook.

As with the now forgotten P3P standard, the user needs to be in control of his or hers Personal Data stored in the profile. And the negotiations between the user and the service who want to manage profile-segments have to be dead-simple.

The user-profile is still one of the most underdeveloped data-sets, and the privacy issues are certainly not ironed out. But without a decent profile, all other things will fall apart. It should not be a laborious process for the end-user to keep their records in shape, and the backing set of informations systems must interoperate or else the building blocks won’t match. For online services, they rely upon browser cookies. Where all of them leave identifications and signals to the back-end services. Since the HTTP standard is decentralised and decoupled, contrasting older architectures like client-server. For each service this set-up works, but for a user with many things, devices and spaces. None of these low-level means, build a personal data record that they are able to manage and control. Or connect between services and profile segment. In a easy to use manner.

In a utopian world – profile matching gives us serendipitous experiences and connects us with other people, that we otherwise would never have met or interacted with.  For now we just hope that we are being helped to find the people we know about through FOAF and graph search. Fingers crossed, we will soon get interoperability and new emerging standards, governed by all providers… where the balance of privacy, control and open interop, just work!

Semantic Enhancements and links

In the in-bound conversations for teamwork, the sharing space for collaboration has several well-known patterns. But in many instances, failure is omnipresent, regardless of the supporting platform, be it old CSCW as IBM Lotus Notes in the 90’s and later IBM Connections, or Sharepoint. To a large extent it boils down to the  organising principles for information and data, that all participants will adhere to, and follow, with pragmatic governance, and lifecycle in mind – not forgetting the culture of caring for the users, through adaptation strategies in order to get them into a comfortable mode, actually using the given platform.

The simplest structure, is to answer a set of very obvious questions before starting a teamwork space.

  • Why are we going to participate?
  • Who will be participating and who is welcome to join, and finally, who runs the show? i.e. Information Ownership and stewardship
  • Who will be interested in the outcome from our joint effort? Audience and Coverage
  • What is the general theme for our work? Title, Topics, and brief Description
  • What kinds of artifacts and spaces are we going to use in our daily work? Type
  • For how long will we be hanging out in this collaborative space, and what will happened after we close down the room we share?
  • Relations to other domains (projects, programs or organisations). Linking!

If one uses the inverted pyramid for communications, all these questions will be pretty easy to answer. For those who fail to answer these questions, they shouldn’t be able to start the teamwork at all if there is no targeted goal for participation.

The answers to the questions above will be added as resource descriptions to the collection (metadata). That will be useful patterns for information architecture and search patterns when the amount of collaborative spaces grow. And for connecting the dots? If you also use common standards, like Dublin Core, interoperability will follow. You could have bits of your shared space in SharePoint, Archive and final Documents in a Document repository, tasks and more open collaborative space, as in a enterprise wikis (Atlassian) and jira. Using OneNote, Evernote or whatever you have. And you will still then be able to keep track of findability across spaces, and devices.

When users start to participate and contribute with digital artifacts, the supporting platform will guide them, and auto-suggest both administrative resource descriptions and narrow and targeted vocabularies. Hence the formation of a pragmatic and useful organising model to all data. Without killing the users in their pathway of adding semantics.

A final note, is that the cross-linking and auto-suggested links. Is what we get, supporting the last pillar of the seven pillars for collaboration mentioned above? We are able to add metadata and search driven user-experience and information architecture elements, that connect and link people, content and collections all together, without having to manage this complex task manually.

Auto suggestions in real-time

Finding things and navigating in real-time. Obviously to work together we need to find things to be able to act in our enacted environment, and be aware of triggers in our everyday pathway that relate to our practices. These information flows, do have to be calibrated and nurtured to not overwhelm us with data feeds. So filters! But in same breath, they not be too narrow, so we fail to connect the dots in the overarching picture to things.

There are many fancy smart devices and services, that add context and triggers to autosuggest for you on your pathway of doing your actual work. These means, should be in the background and infuse correlations that makes sense. And that it not disturb, like the well know MS Office Assistant (Paper Clip).

A connected company, is a place where people are able to work seamlessly without boundaries, in-side out, or outside in. In all this emerging internet trend like semantic web and linked-data might come handy.


on Commerce: a Rose is a Rose is a Rose is a Rose!

May 10, 2012

The wheels keep on turning, and we as world citizens do embark into consumerism ever so eagerly. What to do with all the stuff we get in our daily foraging?

Digital Infrastructures have set the prefix of e- in front of every possible term, to emphasize the reasoning of electronic or digital. Question, does this really make sense today? The picture is really blurred. Where does the real world and the digital world end, where does means met ends? When we Internet savvy folks, speak of Internet of things do this echo in the minds-sets of our less connected peer human beings?

On a philosophical angle we buy things either to survive or to boost our personas with stuff related to who we think we are in the social fabric of life. Leaving a signal to other humans that I consume and because of this I am ;-)

Hence, Commerce is a Commerce is a Commerce is a Commerce transformed from the simple but yet omnipresent poem by G. Stein 1913. When traditional retail, brick and mortar, meets e-commerce on the social battle field what is the outcome for the everyday consumer? Well one could name tag this x-channel commerce, where intertwingularity really starts to happen.

Anybody who either have undertaken some kind of business school or baseline marketing diploma knows for sure there are some elements that one just do not take away that easily to make an prosperous business. Same goes for us who have been engaged in entrepreneurship in a small retail or local grocery store. Know your customers! Engage with them on their grounds, invite them to a conversation so you as a provider are able to align your brick and mortar store front and shelves with goods (ends) that meet needs. Second to this, secure a feasible supply to have your store up and running.

The disruptive technology leap with the digital infrastructures, relates to information flows and the social life dealing with this information. Hence in a less open environment with constraints in the information supply, we just either had to comply with the options given, and trust the service provider. Or tinker to find pragmatic solutions to a broken system, as the folks in former eastern Europe had to do due to policy makers with twisted minds. Today in the modern big city life, we all have devices that gives us instant access to information when needed. An upper-hand for the consumer. Power relations have slightly changed the ballpark. Or maybe not? In a local setting with only one ‘Store’ the dealer had to know the demand and personally listen to all locals. We are rather getting back to business, as it emerged on the local marketplace or bazaar still omnipresent in many countries.

e-Commerce pains?
Well first and last… the churn rate to buy stuff when they have entered into the shop is between 2-4% on average. If they find the store in the first place that is! Many users do a quick search using either aggregation measure (Google, Pricerunner) where they get a decent overview, window shopping. All these aggregator services tries to tie some extra value with enhancements or schemas on-top of the unstructured world. Emerging ways of get semantics into this play have been in the loop for 15 years, and we are seeing this mashup economy growing daily and standards being put into action. Second how to curate a nice storefront that is compelling, easy to navigate and vibrant with goods and services to the users preferences and liking? When the information flow back-end with aggregation, integration more reflect staggering data mazes from all the suppliers? Topping this easy to pay! Here still many online stores have über-complex schemas. The x-commerce platform using Ebay/Paypal or Klarna from Sweden are some possible solutions to this threshold. And lastly the social interaction both in term of delivery, service provided and the show-off persona attribute ;-)  My mind started to remember the Internet bombastic e-commerce failures, like Boo. Where users hardly could enter the store due to UX from hell, and those who got to the cashier couldn’t pay. Lastly the few bespoken people who actually managed to buy  something had hard time getting their stuff!

Brick and mortar retail have not gone out of business, ask IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad. If they had the same churn rate for all people driving to their sites and entering the store as the eCommerce folks have. He wouldn’t been on the list of richest in the world. Even the times you visit their site only to get your moneys back for a broken or dysfunctional goods. You can’t resist to take a peek-view into the store and find yourself buying even more. The same goes for food-stores. No one enters them without buying stuff! That’s why we spend time and effort to go there in the first place.

The frontier of eCommerce have realised this, and done their utmost to lure us firstly into the store through SEO, banners and whathaveyous. Second have a curation process that makes their store sticky, mimic real world experience.  It is not as simple as copy the IKEA model, given that you are virtually not present in their store. Lack of sensory triggers! Might improve in 3D worlds with extra-embodied gadgets in near future. The most engaging experiences have basically a content factory with people infusing contextual data to the goods. Improve the appearance and findability across both their own site and in their value network. As the i.e. the fast growing Nelly.com from Sweden.

When you navigate in the store as in IKEA you follow a known path. Well designed so your sensory wayfinding skills don’t make you feel lost. Navigate any eCommerce site that lacks proper and sound Information Architecture and you instantly feel stressed and usually leave before even reaching for the cashier icon. Ask my dear wife who really loves to ‘shop’ compared to me who get the same mall-lost-in-shopping-hell-syndrome in any brick and mortar setting. She trashes many sites within seconds! or rather milliseconds!! Non functional!!! even if she knows that the store hold the searched for goods.

What amazes me, is how bad many eCommerce sites have settled pragmatic organising principles to their content? Maybe a better Content Choreograph assigned to this quest? Derived from this is the insufficient information supply chain. Data from their origin have so poor quality that not even the best automagic data-laundry helps. Why not crowdsource this obvious constraint to a viable and scalable business model? Shared responsibilities amongst all actors? Maybe a intermediary-data-laundry-model for data-flows could be of some help?

Without refined and enhanced raw-data, next step is basically impossible. Cross-channel commerce have to have sound organising principles, if not considering stove-pipes of different content factories in the back-end to a great cost! The improved digital assets needs to be smarter in all possible ways. When we talk about Internet of Things, as with RFID, NFC and other emerging standards within the UbiComp arena. Mobility First raises the bar for simplicity, cut the crap. Get to the point and deliver now.

The Social Creature
Living in a world of social means to capture our attention, it is no reason for a commerce provider to stay with a stale, stigmatised old school commerce model without the flavor of social intertwined all through. Some genres of products and services, do have better social flows, given that they are things people happily share. The travel and tourism industry is one of the business arenas, where user-generated-content really makes-sense. No one books a hotel without first checking out TripAdvisor, google maps/earth and many more sites to get a more nuanced picture of the planned trip. And both during your travel users annotate, share, curate and socialise around their experience, with a final reporting while being back home again. Same goes with fashion, and similar goods and services. Food chains have recepies.  Whereas other stuff never have had any social sharing either in brick-and-mortar or eCommerce realm.

A greenfield commerce project
The notion of greenfield gives us a fun journey when we develop the cues for future commerce. No strings attached and build from ground-up with the soil and plants. Cultivate and nurture this new space. New entrants in the retail business have done some remarkable assertions. A people centric view to shopping, make the online and store visit a compelling journey that is seamless. C. Wonder have developed a new experience, where there are only personal shopping assistants, no cash register lines. The staff are passionate about the goods served, use mobile devices and pervasive and ubicomp setting to get handy information and data while guiding their clients in the store. All items sold have been enhanced with RFID. In the background there is a back-bone ERP, Supply Chain, CRM and whathaveyou cloud instance. That serves up real-time data and do manage the data in a completely new fashion.

What runs the show? DATA! all over the place but with a pragmatic, agile, and make-do feeling. Tinker, try, build and engage, review and improve. With proper organising principles to information and data. Here cloud service delivery models interplay with the ubicomp and mobile devices to create an ambient data service.
How to engage, well obviously social have been built into the spines of all core processes for the commerce set-up. As other retailers in this scene do. Have your Customer Service with Facebook feeds, and so forth. Online stores in any relevant social space. Basically let the users share their love (or hate!?) for the services and products. Have talented staff members intersected into the different levels of conversations. Social Business by design if you will ;-)

Intelligence – pick my brain!
With the abundance of data flows in such a business design, big data. Tools and metrics to quickly align the practices on the floor have to be real-time. Consumer behaviour in all domains leave digital trails, combined with ‘smart things’ (RFID). But intelligence also implies tapping into the social conversations online pre- , during and post physical in store experience.

Intelligence also have to be the tuner to competitive outlook. Even if person centric service and human touch have a great impact on revenue, consumers still do have choices to make. So intelligent price-modelling and scanning will be key. These data backbone algorithms produce prices in constant flux ;-) Higher quality and experience taxes a bit more pricey level to things, but it still have to be on the same ballpark as the most low-cost option online. As with the Bazaar, where local store owners do mutual adjustment to prices, but then in the sales-pitch ‘haggle;-)


Festering lumps of postponed embarrasment: will Wave enlighten the CMS world?

October 18, 2009

The work practice amongst many Internet site-owners, intranet managers, content owners and communication’s professionals, tell the very same never ending story, that the prevailing CMS worldview is hampering their daily work practice. Why is this the fact still anno 2009? Independent of ‘brand of choice’ in the web content management sphere. Some better, some are less good, but the outstanding issues won’t go away that easy.

The work practice being a content editor cover three very simple steps: cope with the incoming business triggers that might become content or news [I,II,III], evaluate the story through social networking with peers and involved stakeholders [IV]; Second prepare the actual text, with good wordsmith practice including ‘clean up’ the incoming material from the providers. Usually through email conversations, using attachment and Word file, that needs to be run through the text formatting washing machine prior to entering it to the actual CMS editor environment. Topping this step comes the cumbersome process of putting the content into context with proper meta-data, tagging schemes and cross-linking before shooting it out into publishing mode [V]. Sometimes the techies have also added the workflow publishing purgatory before the editor actually will be able to view the content in context. Some less fortunate lost souls in the communicators/content editors network might even have to use user-unfriendly user-interface that stops them from actually ‘seeing/viewing’ the content before entering the workflow publisher purgatory. Not to mention, that cross-linking might be the content file share from hell quest, rather than easy link-in-context.  Linking is probably one of the most hot-topics to any site owner. Everybody loves a cross-linked web, internally or externally, or if you are a robot from a well know search engine. However, being content editor puts you in a conflict with your own backyard trying to finish your story timely and skip deep linking.

The three main problem domains, in any CMS relate to these steps

  1. Collaboration prior to publishing the content
  2. Putting content in context
  3. Findability, derived from poor information architecture and management practice

New ways/waves of collaboration/conversation

Given the in-built features to Google Wave there are several positive options (when Google Wave will finally will be released, I have only done early trials as all of us in this space). When you work within a large corporate setting the networking amongst your peers is really a problem, even if you work within one and the same CMS. Regardless of CMS backbone, the lack of easy collaboration prior to publishing is always done in environments outside the actual CMS (read email threads and attachments). From the editors position this co-ordination of entries to content and reviews of peers or stakeholders is time consuming to say the least, but the built-in ‘lock-in’ thinking with both the CMS world per se, and email and MS Office document increases the headache. In my research, with in-depth on-site work sitting co-located with editors in global large corporations the last 4-5yrs, this has become one of my main contribution to my forthcoming dissertation. Content or news provision will often be lost in transmission. Obviously there are times when content creation needs to address closed settings, given the sensitive nature of the actual information, but the bulk load of work do not fit into this space. Hence, there is a great opportunity to open up the collaborative environment using Google Wave/Docs tinkering, instead.

The two main contributions to the quality of the content provision relates to decrease of coordination work keeping track of versions of the text circulating in the process. Second, with proven poor deep-linking status to many intranet or Internet sites this will be enforced, since the contributors will be able to add links on the fly in the provision process. When all collaboration and work-in-progress development is set and the editors finally enter the content base into the CMS (preferable through simple integration from the Wave to CMS world).

Lastly the open collaborative environment will make this work more transparent to other peers in the network, which is one core problem. You do not always know who too invite into the provision process. Many stories uncovered in my own publications shows exactly this backdrop to the CMS world. If you have more than 2000+ editors on a global scale it will become impossible to keep social ties in all levels, even if you share the very same work practice. All clusters/networks of editors do serve different parts of the business. In stark contrast to other commentators into this debate, I think the Wave infused CMS world will showcase its best performance in large scale implementations. Not to say that we are going to see 2000+ edits into one and the same Wave, but the flat structure to document creation and the open structure will enforce an much more precise delivery. I dare to say, that if the CMS world don’t reformat the old file share, container document equivalent mind-set they will become obsolete.

Future post into this space will continue the last two hot topics, ‘put in context and my special interest in findability ;-)

I will report on on-site implementations of Wave and CMS integration forthcoming, since several of my clients and research domains do undertake early trials as we speak. Moving away from the traditional CMS space? Why give an ‘old school’ and outdated CMS to so many editors, when all they might actually need sits in simple tools like WordPress or Google Docs/Wave? What is the cost benefit analysis to this? I have worked with the counterpart of BIG brands in the CMS world, and they all fall into the very same snake pit, sadly!


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