Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Two Sides to Social Networks in Business

The role of social networks within businesses continues to be a topic of discussion. Just today, I read about both sides of the argument.

In the latest issue of Information Week, the cover story is about the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies within enterprises. With respect to social networks...
Of all Web 2.0 technologies, social networking is the one that gets vendors and venture capitalists most excited. At least 17 startups are pitching social networking technology to business customers, while countless social networking Web sites are chasing individual users. But it's also the one about which our readers are most skeptical: When asked to rate the value of technologies, 68% say that public social networking sites are of no use at all. Only 5% rate any kind of social networking as very useful.
I'm not surprised by the 5% response to social networking. As I have said in the past, within businesses, I don't think there is a lot of business utility when it comes to "social" networking. I do believe, however, that is an opportunity in what I call "knowledge" networking.

The flip side of this argument is found in Dan Farber's interview with JP Rangaswami of BT. Rangaswami, former global CIO of BT and now managing director of BT Design, has been a pioneer in the use of Web 2.0 technologies within businesses. In this interview, he talks about the use of Facebook within BT as a way to break the "assembly line mindset"...
In fact if you look at what I’m doing with Facebook, what I’m really achieving, what any of us who wants to use it in an enterprise environment achieves, is to say that you’ve taken what happened at the water cooler or at the coffee shop and made it persistent, made it shareable, made it teachable, made it learnable. That’s a huge win because we’ve spent years talking about the value of the water cooler conversations, of the coffee shops, of the more amorphous softer discussions. Now we have the ability to actually understand what these relationships are, how information and decision making migrates horizontally, laterally through an organization, rather than through the published hierarchies, how people really work, and what people do as part of that work.
As I said in an earlier post, I don't see the business utility of Facebook. Next week, Rangaswami will be speaking at Defrag. I will be there and I hope to have the opportunity to speak to with him about this. I will post an update if I do.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Radar Networks, Twine, and Knowledge Networking

In one of my recent posts on knowledge networking, I mentioned that I have been consulting to a start-up that could become a player in that space. That start-up is Radar Networks, known as one of the leaders in the Semantic Web movement (also referred to as Web 3.0). Today, at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, the CEO of Radar Networks, Nova Spivack, is previewing the company's first offering, Twine. Twine is a knowledge networking service for sharing, organizing, and finding information with people you trust. Think of it as an organic form of knowledge management that leverages social networking concepts.

Earlier this week, Nova conducted pre-briefings with many of the industry's influencers and the blogosphere is being filled with their perspectives. Some of the early perspectives are very consistent with many of my beliefs on knowledge networking and the role of Facebook within businesses.

One of my beliefs is that classic knowledge management systems have had limited success because they take a top-down approach to leveraging information among people and that there is a need for a bottoms-up approach to the problem, what I call "knowledge networking".

From John Markoff of the NY Times...
In the past such “knowledge management” services have been restricted to large corporations and to world of government intelligence organizations. Now the falling cost of computing and networking will make it available to everyday consumers and in theory support it with advertising.
And Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Radar...
Knowledge management is certainly a thorny problem. We all have vast collections of data, usually in various silos: our email, our del.icio.us bookmarks, our flickr photos, our address book. Navigating among related items is hard. And when you have a group of people working on a shared project, it becomes even harder. Who knows what? Where is it? This is the knot that Radar Networks hopes to untangle.
I also believe that Facebook is not the solution for this type of problem.

From Nicholas Carr of Rough Type...
Spivack says that Twine is not intended to compete with Facebook and other social networks. But while it’s true that Twine is a different sort of thing, it’s also true that it promises some compelling information-management benefits for business users that Facebook can’t match. If one of the assumptions behind Facebook’s rich current valuation is that it will become a popular business platform for sharing ideas and information, then Twine poses a clear and imminent threat.
Twine is a promising first step for knowledge networking. I encourage all of you to keep an eye on its progress.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Carly Fiorina on Change, Google, and Al-Qaeda

Last night, I saw a lecture by Carly Fiorina as part of a speaker series my wife and I attend. I didn't know what to expect going in to the lecture. The primary theme of her lecture was "change" -- how difficult it is for people to make changes due to their fear of doing something different; what needs to happen in order for businesses and organizations to make changes effectively; etc.

Coming out of the lecture, my initial response was that Fiorina's speech was "okay" (it wasn't as inspirational as many lectures we have seen) but I was very impressed with her. She is extremely polished and has a good understanding of a broad range of issues.

Upon further reflection, some of the points Fiorina made is resonating with me a bit more. In particular, when asked why she feels Google has become so successful, she presented an analogy that she often gives to people she consults to in our federal government. She feels that Google is to Microsoft as Al-Qaeda is to the U.S. Government. To her, this is not an issue of "good vs. bad" or "winner vs. loser" but it is about organizations who do things the old way (Microsoft and the U.S. Government) versus those that are doing things a different way (Google and Al-Qaeda).

Fiorina feels that organizations like Microsoft and the U.S. Government manage their "businesses" based on their legacy; they use a top-down, "command and control" style of management; and they are made up of a bunch of functional silos. All of this makes them organizationally inflexible and, therefore, they are unable to react quickly to market dynamics or competitive threats.

Organizations like Google and Al-Qaeda on the other hand are managing their "businesses" based on being innovative, and they have flatter organizational structures that give people autonomy to do things and foster a collaborative style of management. All of this gives them flexible organizations that can react quickly to market dynamics or competitive threats.

Fiorina feels that organizations in the 21st century, largely in part due to the effect that technology and globalization is having on our society, cannot run their businesses "the old way" anymore and have to change. The leading organizations of this century, in her mind, are going to be those that have leaders who foster a culture of collaboration, not one of "command and control". Interesting food for thought.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Knowledge Networking and the Implicit Web

As I continue to think about knowledge networking, I came across a post, "The Implicit Web", I originally read when it first came out late last year. In it, Fred Wilson talks about a lunch he had with Josh Kopelman where Josh said, "web 2.0 is the explicit web and web 3.0 is the implicit web". This got Fred thinking about the Implicit Web.
Enough about jargon, the implicit web is all about the value that will accrue to an Internet user when their every action is tracked, recorded, and used to provide value back to that user. There is also a second order play when that clickstream activity is shared with the user's permission with everyone else.
Fred goes on to give examples of how this is, and can be, applied to many Web-based activities -- the tracking of iTunes by last.fm being his favorite. All of his examples, however, are driven by the behavior a user exhibits on the Web.

Why not extend the notion of the Implicit Web beyond user behavior to a person's knowledge? What if a service kept track of the different "knowledge" you created via emails, documents, bookmarks, etc., and then used that information to point you in the direction of other knowledge or services that might be of interest to you. To me, this is the heart of knowledge networking; the ability for a person to leverage the knowledge of others, as well as content/services on the Web. This could be done in an explicit manner when a user proactively searches for knowledge within their network, or it might be done in an implicit manner when a user is automatically recommended content/services based on their knowledge being tracked. That would be powerful.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

More on Knowledge Networking

Over the last few days, I have done a few posts (here, here, and here) on what I am calling knowledge networking. In my posts thus far, I have talked about knowledge networking at a conceptual level. In this post, I will provide more details on my take on knowledge networking.

As I have described before, I define knowledge networking as the ability for people to connect with the purpose of leveraging each other's knowledge. This is different than social networking where people connect with the purpose of communicating with each other.

In business, the notion of leveraging knowledge is not a new thing. Traditionally, organizations have implemented knowledge management systems in order to address this need. I argue, however, that in today's environment, classic knowledge management systems are no longer effective for the following reasons:
  • Much knowledge today is found in emails and on web pages. Classic knowledge management systems only support documents as a source of knowledge and they don't support email or web pages.
  • People want to share different levels of knowledge with others based on their relationship with them. Classic knowledge management systems don't support this notion.
  • With the vast amount of knowledge available today, users should be able to "stumble upon" knowledge that might be of interest to them. Classic knowledge management systems only respond to explicit requests made by users.
For today's environment, I feel there is a need for an organic form of knowledge management that optimizes the leveraging of knowledge among people. This organic form is what I call knowledge networking and it has the following characteristics:
  • Knowledge networking services should support email and web pages, as well as documents, as sources of knowledge.
  • Knowledge networking services should understand that a user has different types of relationships among people and needs to share knowledge differently based on those relationships.
  • Knowledge networking services should not only address explicit requests made by users, but should also automatically locate relevant knowledge for a user based on their interests (i.e., "stumble upon" knowledge).
Now, if you were reading the above characteristics carefully, you should have noticed that I consistently said, "Knowledge networking services should..."; the word "should" being the important word. Yes, this implies I am laying out my requirements for a knowledge networking service and one currently does not exist. Based on the research I have conducted thus far, I have not seen such a solution yet. However, I have been doing some consulting recently for a start-up and they have the potential to be a player in this area. They will be making some announcements in a couple weeks so stay tuned.

Knowledge Age vs. Connected Age

Anne Zelenka of GigaOM just did an interesting post contrasting the Knowledge Age and the Connected Age. She identifies the Knowledge Age with Knowledge Work and the Connected Age with Web Work. Her table to the left summarizes the characteristics of each type of work.

I think her framework is a good one and is in line with my current thoughts about the leveraging of knowledge among people. I feel that the effective leverage of knowledge is one of the top challenges businesses face today.

In the spirit of the Knowledge Age, many organizations deploy traditional knowledge management systems and employ a top-down approach to collect and disseminate knowledge to their employees.

In the spirit of the Connected Age, I believe leading edge organizations must employ a bottoms-up approach to knowledge management that is based on leveraging relationships between people and their respective knowledge. This is what I call knowledge networking.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Should Theater Be a Part of Work?

In today's NY Times, Alice Mathias has an article entitled, "The Fakebook Generation". In it, Alice, who is a recent college graduate, talks about Facebook being closer to theater than a functional tool...
Facebook did not become popular because it was a functional tool — after all, most college students live in close quarters with the majority of their Facebook friends and have no need for social networking. Instead, we log into the Web site because it’s entertaining to watch a constantly evolving narrative starring the other people in the library.
For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines. Make believe is not part of the postgraduate Facebook user’s agenda. As more and more older users try to turn Facebook into a legitimate social reference guide, younger people may follow suit and stop treating it as a circus ring. But let’s hope not.
I'm with Alice. I have been in many conversations with colleagues where we ask, "what's up with all of this Facebook stuff?", especially when it comes to its use in business. I agree that Facebook does some things well -- it gives you a better feel for an individual over other people-related services like LinkedIn, it fulfills our needs to be voyeurs, etc. I don't see, however, how it provides functionality that lends itself to be a serious business tool; unless, you happen to work in theater production.

A Use Case for Knowledge Networking

In my last post, I talked about Knowledge Networking and how I feel that it is the business equivalent to social networking. Whereas social networks enable people to connect to communicate with each other, I believe that the purpose of knowledge networks is for people to connect in order to leverage knowledge among each other.

To that end, Jay Cross recently did a post on Making the Business Case for Informal Learning. He gave examples of use cases for informal learning. One of them had to do with eliminating bureaucracy...
Eliminate bureaucracy. Knowledge workers waste a third of their time looking for information and identifying the right people to talk with. They often spend more time recreating information hidden in someone else’s file cabinet than creating original material. I just heard about a company where the workers think doing their email is the work; that’s how they spend almost all of their time. Expert locators, bottom-up knowledge management, instant messaging, organization-wide wikis, and organizational network analysis all attack this plaque in the organizational arteries.

Benefits: speed flow of information, cut time wasted searching for answers, streamline organizational process, cut email by half, cease re-inventing the wheel, increase worker throughput 20% to 30%.
I think this is one of the use cases for knowledge networking. It is, in essence, an organic form of knowledge management.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Web 2.0 in Business, Knowledge Networking, and a Cool New Conference

When I was at JotSpot last year, I got a taste for how businesses -- large, medium, and small -- are using Web 2.0 services, like wikis and blogs. Since leaving JotSpot (when they got acquired by Google last year), I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the next wave of Web 2.0 services that will make their way into businesses. Earlier this year, I spent about six months incubating an idea along this vein with a couple others but I eventually decided to bow out of that venture.

For the last few months, I have been focused on what I loosely call the "Facebook for business" opportunity. I say, "loosely", because I don't think the opportunity has to do with "social" networking. I think the opportunity is all about "knowledge" networking. It's about people connecting for the purpose of leveraging each other's knowledge, not just communicating with each other. Nova Spivak of Radar Networks has his own take on "knowledge networking".

Along these lines, I recently came across a new conference, The Defrag Conference. The organizers describe their conference in the following manner:
Defrag is the first conference focused solely on the internet-based tools that transform loads of information into layers of knowledge, and accelerate the “aha” moment. Defrag is about the space that lives in between knowledge management, “social” networking, collaboration and business intelligence. Defrag is not a version number. Rather it’s a gathering place for the growing community of implementers, users, builders and thinkers that are working on the next wave of software innovation.
I think they are framing the problem in the right way. Knowledge networking, in my mind, is at the nexus of knowledge management, social networking, collaboration, and business intelligence. I hope to attend the conference and to be a part of the conversation.

Great Minds Think Alike

Alex Iskold of Read/WriteWeb just did a nice piece on The New Rules of Technology VC. I think it is a REALLY nice piece because it echoes some of the points I made in a post about a year ago.