Monday, July 30, 2007

You don't have to be an exhibitionist to work here but...

Yet again mX deviates from Brangelina/Britney disaster stories into the world of Engineerswithoutfears.

Are you "funky*"? If so, your recruitment company may be using Facebook or MySpace to find "cool and crazy" (i.e. nuts) job candidates for you. First using social media was supposed to be career-limiting and now it's good.

Surprisingly, photos of drunken nights out or people having fun with their mates make profiles stand out to headhunters.

I guess it all depends which industry you are in eh? "Yes, I think you'll find we're surprisingly open to nudity at this accounting firm".

*If you are James Brown or Sly Stone, you are funky. If you are an HR manager within an organisation, you are in no way (and never will be) funky. Are we clear about the distinction here folks? In fact, anyone who uses the word "funky" is by definition unfunky. Look I don't make the rules, so stop complaining. Remember kids: James Brown is dead.

Train in vain

Ratecityrail is a site where you as a customer can do just that. Presumably it would be possible to set up sites for more public services - rubbish collection, ambulance arrivals. But there are few public services that we exposed to as often - may be utilities such as water, electricity, telephony & TV but for many urban dwellers trains & buses are a critical (if painful) part of everyday life. I await with interest to see what this experiment will yield...

Source: For once MX proves it's good for more than sodoku and celebrity shagging stories.

Cure for pain

Servant of Chaos: But while the business world loves innovation and creativity, it is designed not to unleash innovation but to stifle it.

We say we want to improve ourselves and learn. But learning involves failure and change. And failure and change are painful. And we don't like pain very much (even you at the back with the leather paddle need a safe word). So we are trapped saying we like something that is ultimately good for us but gives us unpleasant short-term results. Far better to stay in the comfortable, cotton wool world of mediocrity & sameness.

Innovation also involves failure and change. If you can find a cure for pain then you can "normalise" innovation. Good luck.

Meanwhile Logic + Emotion gets told to "grow up". Never, ever remind adults that they are just children with more toys and a bigger vocabulary. That just makes everyone uncomfortable. We are very serious (and very important).

And what I remember about being a kid is being pre-genre. I didn't relate to music as rock, soul, jazz, etc. I didn't have the power to put things in boxes. To manage them. They overwhelmed me in an unsorted frenzy. And. And. And. And...

As noted in previous, creativity often emerges from saying "yes and" where others cannot see the (potential) join. "Don't be daft everyone knows that those two things don't go together".

If you want to make the future, how stupid are you prepared to be?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Missing the point with Flickr

So Steven notes that Virgin Mobile have pulled the Flickr campaign and Katie weighs in with some observations. Now I find the following rather depressing:

The general agency spot poll consensus is “Yeah Flickr is a great place to get free photos”.

But Flickr is not a stock photo agency. It's a tool that people use to share their experiences. Most Flickr users are not after the money - there's istockphoto for that (although few people would turn down scads of cash if offered) - they are after the lurve, the sharing good times with friends.

The issue Virgin Mobile hit was less one of intellectual property & remuneration (although their slackness left them vulnerable to retribution via this method) but rather that they took away people's fun. Which is ironic because Virgin Mobile's brand is all about young people sharing their fun (presumably regardless of whether they are "cool" or not).

The question Virgin Mobile should have asked (and hindsight is always 20-20) was: How can we use Flickr to help our customers have more fun with our product? And in doing both market ourselves AND drive usage of our data services (a critical emerging source of revenue for mobile providers). Presumably some phone carrier in the world is smart enough to have done something around this already?

Silence that tastes like "chicken"

Wonderful post of silence by Victoria Ward. The memories it triggers in me are related to silence as a weapon, silence as power.

The minion stands in front of the manager explaining/cajoling/selling and the manager sits in silence. The minion waits to be interrupted with praise or comment. Nothing does so. So the minion continues - overpromising, overplaying their hand until they trip up over their own eager words and the manager swoops in to take control. I have been that minion and suffered the consequences of the loquacious.

Once I didn't play that game. I was in the middle of a difficult phone conversation with a manager. I can't remember the exact exchange before the silence started but I think I had asked a question. There was a pause. The pause lengthened. I sat with the pause. It formed in my mind that we were playing "chicken". This might have been purely my interpretation (driven by biases and fears) but I felt the silence tempting me to break it, to dissolve the awkwardness and put me in the weaker position. It stretched out. I was outside on my mobile phone and can remember walking around looking at the trees and buildings. The pause must have lasted for a minute, maybe 90 seconds. A very long time. For once I resisted that temptation. Eventually he answered the question, somewhat unsatisfactorily. It was the best I was going to get.

In the end, I hadn't achieved anything really. But I hadn't been forced to speak against my will. A small (possibly pyrrhic) victory.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Trouble at the Rojo corral

So Rojo has suffered "a catastrophic failure". Which means I am suffering catastrophic RSS withdrawal symptoms. I'm hurting bad, mannnn. I just need one fix to keep me goin'.

I was sitting down for a coffee on Friday with a friend discussing examples of wikis & blogs (the usual) and the subject of RSS came up. He was a bit sniffy about it but for me RSS is critical to social media - inside & outside the firewall. An organisation can talk about blogs & wikis (B&W - the social media equivalent of T&A) but I know they're serious when they start talking about RSS.

Why? Because RSS holds this stuff together from a user perspective. News items, blogs, podcasts - all these can be delivered to my feedreader - assuming that its working. RSS will surely mutate but its promise is to shift one-to-many traffic away from email to a more manageable environment and leave what should be left for email: one-to-one or few-to-few.

N.B. Doing corporate comms, senior managers would often mistake sending an email for communicating with their staff.
"Look we've sent them an email, job done"
"And what do you do with emails you get from random people?"
"I delete them"

RSS could drive improved communications inside organisations if you measure how many people actually click through on feeds to the intranet page with your message then you get some idea of how many people have read it. And this sobering news might lead you to realise how few people do.

Of course it could also lead to a dog's breakfast. But the effectiveness of many corporate comms programs resembles the dog's breakfast post-digestion rather than beforehand - so that might be an improvement.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I had the great pleasure of attending a workshop run by the Anecdote crew yesterday with a few other people. I first met Shawn back when he was in the IBM Cynefin Centre and I was impressed by the extent to which they had simplified and refined many of the ideas and added from other sources - such as Most Significant Change.

Key takeaway: narrative management is all about managing with stories rather than the management of stories. You cannot control stories but you can use them to gain a rich-picture understanding of your environment.

One thought: Lauchlan discusses an HBR article on innovation. The overall framework of the authors is useful as a diagnostic - and presumably narrative techniques could be applied to this. Anecdotes around successes, failures & managerial attitudes could be matched to 6 categories: If you have mainly positive stories around a particular area then good! If you have mainly negative stories then something needs urgent attention. If you have few stories then you have an opportunity to create a capability you don't currently have...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Storytelling with Saul

Just come back from a lunchtime presentation from Saul Carliner on the power of storytelling as applied to training design. Saul gave us a whistle-stop tour of design ethnography (looking at what people actually do vs. what you think they do or they say they do), story elicitation in interviews, simulations, cognitive task analysis and a bunch of other stuff.

Saul is talking about more than just straight storytelling - it's narrative, baby, narrative in all its richness. And there will be more on narrative tomorrow...

Map of Findability

Patrick Lambe gave us a fact-packed talk on taxonomies last night with this The Map of Findability as one of the highlights.

Monday, July 23, 2007

No, not really, you bunch of hoons

So Virgin Mobile have launched a campaign called "Are You With Us Or What?"

It features photos of people from Flickr with taglines such as "Dump Your Pen Friend" or "People Who Talk In Lifts Have Bad Breath". I can just picture a 'creative' yelling at one of his cretinous mates across a crowded room:

"Hey, Troy, look at these people, they're such losers. Wouldn't it be really cool to mock them in public across the country?"

Interestingly enough, the Virgin Mobile site offers the following advice to creeps: "If you are really freaking people out, know that this can result in criminal prosecution".

Steve Lewis makes the point: don’t post in public what you don’t want to be seen, used or abused

I think this is sad but true. I also think there is all the difference in the world between some random idiot saying you are a loser and a multi-national investing thousands of dollars in humiliating you in public.

Steven also adds: Is it all right for a company to use your pictures like this?

So for the litmus test for me is: Would the Virgin Mobile marketing department be happy if someone flyposted their pictures around Australia's major capital cities with the legend "dickhead" beneath each one?

Corporate Blogging Strategies: Grass & Orchids

A few months ago I posted my version of a corporate blogging strategy - which basically says: "Open it up to as many people as possible, make it easy and see who's left standing".

You could call this the "grass" strategy - i.e. you seed the environment, give them a bit of encouragement and see what happens.

At the other extreme, you have one blog (possibly for the CEO). This is updated, cleaned and polished (probably with ghost-written articles). Comments may or may not be allowed and conversations are unlikely to emerge. You could call this the "orchid" strategy. It is important to note that the "orchid" strategy is not wrong - but it is a bit dull. However your organisation may like dull. In which case it should probably select this one.

However most organisations will end up with something that lies mid-way between grass and orchids. In fact, given what a blog is (a series of bite-sized chunks of content delivered at regular intervals with RSS alerts and reader comments), you will probably have a range of different bloggy "plants" (around departmental news or project updates or some persons fave links) in your organisational garden - some of which you will have cultivated yourself and some of which just got there. They will all be a bit different and require differing investments of time & energy. And recognising that these differences can be "OK" is an important first step.

Bloggers - where are you when your country needs you!

Ross Dawson laments the level of blogging in Australia. I'm half-and-half on this one. As an immigrant in a nation of immigrants, I want Australia to be connected to the world yet separate from it. As I will rant about regularly (generally after the 5 beer mark), Australia is an "edge culture" - the end of the world. If you can't experiment & explore at the end of the world, then where can you do that kind of thing?

And it needs to play this to its best advantage. As Thomas Barlow has indicated, we need to export Australians like they are going out of fashion. And then we need them to come back. And bring their virtual networks with them.

Also I think that some types of social software are more applicable to Australian culture than others - wikis & RSS rather than blogs. And BTW Facebook is hitting Sydney big time...

Anyways, I have a meat pie to put on the barbie...

Holding it in

So I read David DeLong's Lost Knowledge the other week. DDL's "Six Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing An Aging Workforce Strategy" are a pretty solid place to (not) start. A post on ACT-KM also generated some good responses from people (esp. Arthur Shelley, James Grey & Lindsay MacDonald) & some particularly useful material from TVA.

There was also a debate between those who wanted to pragmatically start somewhere (even if it's when those key personnel are about to retire next week) and those who advocated a particular approach which often identifying these people years beforehand. These kinds of debates seem to recur on ACT-KM and often seem to be between those who have to implement something within an organisation (however messy and flawed that might be) and the expert who wants to do it the "best" way.

In truth, the first time your organisation tries to consciously deal with a knowledge retention issue, it will probably screw it up. The key expert will be identified the week they are going to retire and a hasty interview may identify a couple of useful things. Everyone will say that this kind of thing is important and we should do it better. The critical thing will be: Can you use this experience to generate enthusiasm for a more sustainable approach?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Getting meta about metadata - creator vs. social tagging

Simon Carswell makes the following comment below:

Perhaps tagging/social bookmarking is the key to the context, though?

Tagging is an interesting phenomenom - as this survey by Pew indicates. And I would split taggers into two groups:
  1. Creators / Uploaders tagging their own content (blog posts, wiki pages, photos, videos, soundfiles, etc).
  2. Users tagging other people's content.

I suspect that the first kind of tagging is relatively common - esp. with photos. Photos are non-textual (unlike blog posts) and yet do not have a standard set of metadata lying around for them (such as the artist, title, album set for songs) so if you want to retrieve them then some form of tag is bloody handy (for both you & your users).

Why people tag the content of others is a little different. I may want to find something again (but if it's a file, I'd probably download it). But I might also want to share it with others. The "social" bit in social bookmarking is critical. These systems work when groups of people want to share things with each other. And yet sites like YouTube have "share this with a friend" buttons that obviates the need for that. So the tedious business of tagging is often unnecessary. If the purposeful social connections aren't there between people, I can't see it working on a large scale inside the enterprise.

Going back to Simon's comment, I think you need a common social context before you can engage in collaborative tagging activities.

Sunday link lurve - talking through another

Aidan Choles with the The Change House Cleaner - Lovely example of "how narrative allows people to displace accountability and responsibility for their stories". Clay or lego can do something similar.

Masks play a variety of roles in many cultures - one of which allows people to open themselves through hiding. This distancing can pose a risk - the mask allows me to falsely accuse you. But the use of masks is managed through ritual. The ideal that we only ever speak for ourselves and never through others is too heavy for us to bear so we develop ways of sneaking around it.

Last month I saw Ketut Yuliarsa don a mask during a poetry reading and masterfully spin an improvised patter. Ketut-in-the-mask told a tale about language and lies.

What is your favourite mask? I like to hide behind my glasses...

(Link thanks: Dave S)

N.B. This blog will remain a "Harry Potter"-free environment.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Do you want wikis with that?

Gartner have just come out with a research note entitled: "KM + Web 2.0 = Productivity and Innovation" - which explicitly links KM programs and Web 2.0 tools but doesn't do much else (keep up at the back there). Meanwhile Forrester have a survey that indicate Firms Use Wikis Mostly For Knowledge Management. The crowd split into three chunks of similar size: those with some wiki implementations, those with plans or pilots; and finally those with no interest at all. As the title suggests, "knowledge management" was the main use for these with collaborative content creation & project management down the scale. Good stuff but this survey highlights the paucity of data about the state of Enterprise 2.0 (or whatever we are calling it this week).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Second Life ROI Nil - so far...

FOM post by Stuart Henshall

"I cannot help thinking that the examples of big brands and Fortune 1000 companies jumping into Second Life are just applying a Brand 1.0 type of model"

So here's a thought. Rather than be a property, make your brand a character. How does your brand live? What choices does your brand make? How does it interact with other users? If your brand could be a person, what would it look like? And what would other people say about it?

Someone's probably doing this already...


Apparently Web 2.0 is all about "user-generated content". Now you can break that content down by media type: blogs, photostreams, videos, podcasts, etc.

There is, however, another distinction (although a somewhat hazy one) between creating content to specifically put on the web for others to view and just making available content that you have created for some other purpose. "Broadcasting" & "narrowingcasting" might terms you could use, but they don't seem to be quite right. Most narrowcasters aren't consciously casting anything. They are just sharing.

Photos are an example of this. Very few people take photos to specifically post on the web. We take photos because that's one of our primary ways of recording events. Compare istockphoto (with over a million photos for sale by professionals & hopefuls & 14,000 new images a week) and flickr (with what seems to be 378 million photos and 2,264 uploaded in the last minute). Some of those flickr folk might be aiming to earn cash but many just want their friends to see what they've been up to.

Blogs & podcasts are a bit different. Most of us are not in the habit of creating weekly radio shows about our lives or handing out photocopies of our personal journals.

Video is an interesting halfway house. The profusion of digital recording and editing technology and the tradition of the "home movie" make it more like photography. But these will be videos that most people will not want to watch (other people's home movies are boring).

In some ways this reminds me of my content-based knowledge management experiences. Asking people to create content specifically for a KM activity is very difficult. Asking them to make available what they already have is still hard but easier. The promise of modern content management systems is that files and documents are caught in context. But most of these will not be documents that other people will want to see - the business equivalents of other people's home movies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

It's NOT not not about the technology

James Robertson on Andrew McAfee

One difference I would highlight is that perhaps Andrew has only met with more enlightened organisations when he says: "I very rarely come across anyone these days who thinks that technologies are magic bullets." In my direct personal experience, I'm sadly still coming across plenty of organisations that are definitely still following the "magic bullet" approach...

"Magic bullet" thinking is a form of wish fulfillment found in two groups of people:
  • Business people with a pressing problem and a weak understanding of the technology in question. Like a terminal cancer patient going to a faith healer to ward off imminent death - and indeed like all of us to some extent or another - people believe what they want (or need) to believe.
  • Technology people with a wonderful tool and a weak understanding of the business in question. These people are like the faith healers - they have invested so much of themselves in their chosen path that it has to be miraculous. If only the lost could see that...
  • There is a third group - possibly the biggest - who don't believe any of this but benefit from the delusions of the first two. Why be a party pooper and say what you really think?

N.B.I deliberately chose a religious metaphor as we all need something to believe in and technology provides many in the supposedly hard-nosed world of business with a beacon for the future - an eschatology if you will.

Where AM original post's gets interesting is that INATT (nice acronym) is used as a rhetorical move. And it can be used in several ways:

  • To suggest that the best course of action is doing nothing as all this technology is the same and it didn't work the last time we tried it eh? (AM's comment)
  • It can also be used to show that the speaker is harder of nose and more business-focused than their opponent (and we all know that the person that proves they are the most business-focused wins as those are the rules).
  • It can be used to cover up ignorance on the part of the speaker - let's talk about something I actually understand rather than this technology malarky.

P.S. INATT reminds me of the "We just make music for ourselves and if anyone likes it, that's a bonus" line trotted out by bands (& universally loathed by music journos).

WebTrends 2.0?

So Web 2.0 got a big mention at the WebTrends roadshow although on reflection I'm not sure that much was said.
  • Rich Applications (built with AJAX & Flash) were there and RSS & broadcasting got props too.
  • It seems that web analytics have become very sophisticated in terms of the events they can track - you click, they know about it. And event-based metrics are very interesting to site designers - esp. if your site is transactional.
  • User-generated content got heads up (the critical events being "view", "share" & "submit"). As did the existence of a wider system of forums, blogs & wikis outside your site.

For all this, web analytics is still about the interaction between a user and a site. What seemed to be missing was the social dimension of interactions between people through and about the site (except for people clicking on a "email this cool video/graphic/virtual custard pie to a friend"). The WebTrends model seems to place web analytics firmly in the camp of analytical CRM tools that allow to segment & dissect your customers to the nth degree but don't acknowledge that they might interact with each other independently of you.

In other words, we have got more precise & accurate over the last decade (and this is no bad thing) but our users have yet to become people.

On the radar

  1. The Age of Conversation is now available from Lulu. I have paid for & downloaded my copy. You can do likewise.
  2. Miguel's second Visions of KM is out.
  3. Bruce Hoppe et al discuss Using SNA to enhance collective leadership.
  4. The Future of Media Summit is in full swing - and the report is available for free. Plus I don't think I've flagged Ross Dawson's Web 2.0 Framework.
  5. I somehow ended up at WebTrends annual roadshow where apart from scoffing the food & discussing the merits of Newcastle (or lack thereof) with some people in the row behind me, I listened to their EMEA Technical Director on Web 2.0 analytics - but more on that tomorrow...

Monday, July 16, 2007

More web analytics

When I was managing intranet sites, I began to get into web analytics. My employer had purchased SiteCatalyst from Omniture for use internally. Now intranet sites are different to internet sites in lots of ways I won't go into here but tracking this data was an interesting if frustrating experience. If you're interested in web analytics from a practical angle then Avinash Kaushik's blog is prett damn good.

However, it's social media metrics that we're interested in here. Judah Phillips has two posts on applying SNA to web analytics. Now Judah is treating content as nodes and clickstreams as ties - in effect looking at the linking behaviour of users between pages. That's an interesting approach to site modelling (and in some ways similar to the wiki-SNA example below). In effect, this is the linking of content by people. I think that I am interested in the reverse of this - the linking of people by content.

Marianina Chaplin also posts about social & value network analysis and web analytics - and has an interesting graphic from MIT on myspace networks. Like Marianina I think there will be a linking of social network analysis & web metrics, but I don't know in quite what form yet. VNA currently seems to be focusing on the ERP/CRM world however its application to websites interactions is probably not that far away.

SNA & wikis

On the subject of SNA, Laurie Lock-Lee & James Matheson have performed a mapping of Wikipatterns pages & authors.

Meanwhile, someone has attempted a network visualisation of Twitter.

And in a blast from the past (2003), Ross Mayfield provides network visualiations of the blog tribe at Ryze.

Metrics Redux

I slapped up a whole bunch of links and random posts about metrics yesterday - so I will now attempt to add some value.

Miguel's bumper book of measurements is a good place to start - and applicable to online community environments. How applicable it is to the tangle of blogs, wikis, RSS feeds and social networking tools that currently define social media is a more difficult question I have yet to work out a satisfactory answer for.

Going back to basics, stats fall into 2 bundles:
1. Those you obtain from observation (of which there are plenty in online environments due to the trails people leave).
2. Those you obtain by asking people what they do - i.e. surveys.

As noted earlier, I believe surveys have their limitations. The most serious limitation is that once the answers have been converted into pie charts & scatter graphs, they take on an air of scientific objectivity they may not actually merit. Sometimes these issues can be alleviated with a bloody big population sample. Also asking people whilst they are doing something (diary methods) rather than long afterward (recall methods) makes a big difference. However, while diary methods have been used by academics & "serious" researchers on KM, I have not seen them widely used in organisations - probably because the data collection is viewed as too invasive / labour-intensive and setting up one of these surveys requires significant forward planning. Maybe technologies such as instant messaging or blogging could make this easier? Surveys are often the only sources for obtaining direct effectiveness/value measures from participants.

Which brings us back to observation metrics - which are usually tied to a particular state (being a member) or action (joining, viewing, posting) of a participant. These are the most frequently collected metrics (no doubt because they are the easiest). However identifying an action and then ascribing meaning to it are two different things, as any ethnographer will tell you.

Taking this to the next level, both Miguel and Taule & Timbrell look at conversation metrics - questions posted & answers followed up. This is undoubtedly useful information (and goes some way to my Metrics 3.0 question) but these are difficult to catch on the fly. Plus it either requires you to assume that the thread structure accurately captures interactions or else you have to hand code each post for later analysis (which is laborious work). If the thread structure does capture the shape of conversations well enough, then it might yield some interesting insights. Interestingly, blogs capture this kind of data quite well (either through comments per post or examining links between blogs) because they are less "conversational" than bulletin boards.

Graham Durant-Law's SNA of ACT-KM takes things to the next level. There has been a tremendous proliferation of network visualisation tools (&, to a lesser extent, analytic tools) in the last few years. Real-time SNA may not be that far away (although I have some doubts) but key hurdle is that most SNAs tell you if people are connected in some way but are much less useful on the "how" or "why" front. And classic SNA metrics (e.g. centrality) still remain opaque to non-experts. We need to deploy some form of SNA-style measurement - but I am not sure what those are yet.

(As an aside, online communities, blogging networks & social media generally tend to follow power-law distributions rather than Gaussian ones. As John Hagel has noted, we don't necessarily understand these environments as well as we should and our traditional forms of measurement are not there yet)

Sexy Back?

A while ago, Kim asked if taxonomies were sexy? Now sexy is as sexy does (as my nanna might have said) and I am sure there are some people out there who find information structuring erotically charged. As a trained librarian, I find taxonomic structures interesting but I don't need a cold shower after getting busy with thesaurus terms.

Kim claims that Patrick Lambe has brought the sexy back to taxonomies. Now Patrick is one of the most thoughtful & balanced writers on KM around and a creator some very funny vodcasts, so I am prepared to give Kim the benefit of the doubt on this one. Patrick has written a book on taxonomies called Organising Knowledge. I am still waiting for my copy to arrive but initial hints look interesting. How taxonomies are used by employees, customers & other stakeholders is my primary interest here (although you obviously have to create something in the first place) and I think Patrick discusses that a fair bit.

If your blood pressure can stand it, Patrick will be in Sydney this month for an evening with the NSW KM Forum.

One of these men is a taxonomy expert - but which?

Sunday, July 15, 2007


This was also posted the ACT-KM board in April and generated a fair amount of debate.

So the last post dealt with those identities that don't post much. What about at the other end of the scale? During the 5 months with the highest levels of posting(Feb, Jun, Sept, Oct 06, Apr 07), there were 4 posters who stood out from the rest in posting volumes.

The profiles of these 4 high-intensity posters are strikingly similar: Male; Founded their own organisation (institute, company); American (or have worked for a US multinational); 40+ (this is a guess) - 3 are also bloggers.

So with these characteristics in mind, the next identity I want to talk about in the ACT-KM ecology is dubbed the "alpha". This primarily about posting volumes rather than the specific input into threads. Some observations (please note the first two):

1. No one poster exhibits the alpha identity consistently.

2. The alpha is a valid identity within this particular ecosystem and can play a positive or negative role.

3. I suspect that 3 active alphas are the maximum ACT-KM can accommodate at any one time without drastically changing the diversity mix of other posters.

4. A high Gini coefficient may be an indicator of alpha behaviour on ACT-KM. How the alpha fits in with the ACT-KM archetypes is a moot point.

As Miguel & Jack are discussing, bloggers tend to like expressing themselves in a range of media - so it's not surprise that heavy ACT-KM posters tended to be bloggers. In fact 7 of the top 10 posters on the spreadsheet have blogged at one time or another.

Light posting

I posted a version of this to the ACT-KM list after posting up my spreadsheet.

In any month 30 - 80 people will be posting. The total pool is 236 people for the period.The majority of people are light posters. So the majority of posters slip in & out of posting on ACT-KM. The line between the "light poster" & " lurker"identities is a fluid one that people cross. Lurkers get a bad press - which I think is caused by a poor understanding of the ecology of online groups. In much the same way that a stranger is friend you haven't met yet so a lurker is a potential (or past) poster. So the lurker/light poster identity pool is potentially a valuable source of diversity in an online group.

N.B. The median number of posts per participant for this period was 3 and 27% of registered list members posted at least once during this period. So the majority of those involved do not post and those that do post lightly.

I tend to view these infrequent posters as the "long tail" of most online forums (be they email or web-based). They have a valuable role to play and they need to be given space to play it. What about the other end of the spectrum?

Online Community Metrics - ACT-KM & Macuarium

The ACT-KM group has been around for the best part of a decade as both a F2F group in Canberra and a virtual group (despite getting caught in the internecine crossfire of certain KM certification organisations).

Several efforts have been made to understand its members.

1. Survey of users by Shawn Callahan & Trish Milne
2. Analysis of posting behaviour by Ørjan Taule & Greg Timbrell & paper here
3. A mapping of archetypes on the Forum by Patrick Lambe & Shawn Callahan.
4. A Social Network Analysis of ACT-KM posts by Graham Durant-Law
5. Some number crunching by myself a few months ago.

And to add to the mix, we have Miguel's Macuarium Book of Measurements which relate to a different set of communities.

There is lots of good stuff here and I will make a few general observations:
1. We are still fairly limited in what we can measure directly(& will remain so). As Shawn & Trish note from their survey, lots of activity between list members happens privately.
2. Every set of measures in unique to the group they originate from. How these measures change over time is important.
3. Understanding what metrics actually mean (& therefore what action if any needs to be taken) requires an understanding of the community & its members.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

David Vaine on Corporate Flogging

A KM expert almost as noted as myself, David Vaine describes a rigorous approach to forced corporate blogging - A.K.A. flogging.

Whilst I respect David's work (despite his wholesale theft from my superior research), I feel that he doesn't go far enough. Frankly this is the kind of namby-pamby, please-help-tie-my-shoelace-mummy approach I would expect from Apparently KM.

I would advise:
  • All blog posts must be approved by the CEO after a 3 month waiting period to make sure any risk of relevancy has been neutered.
  • Given the renowned user unfriendliness of Wordpress, Blogger, etc corporate blogging software is better off using tried-and-true "Green Screen" mainframe technology.
  • Employees must only blog on pre-approved topics found on page 73, para 5, line 24 of the corporate blogging policy.

Remember: your employees are out to destroy your business. They must be stopped.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Post comments or I will hunt you down like the dogs you are

OK, so you don't want to ask intelligent questions or make witty observations about weight-loss pills - what the hell's wrong with you? Go on, a few simple words will make some pharma marketing dude's week! No one's talked to them in such a long, long time. Soon they'll get desperate enough to resume that in-depth discussion on Iranian politics with the sofa in the lobby and it won't be fat-reducing medication the orderlies will be forcing down their throats.

Here at EngineersWithoutFears we heartily encourage visitors to post comments. Even the ones that go:

"Hi! Great blog! I can see from your posts that you like graphic pornography involving goldfish! Please visit my site at:! Thanks! Geraldo P!"

And those of you that visit this site secretively, your eyes greedily sucking my AAA grade intellectual capital off the screen - be afraid, be very afraid. I know where you live*.

*Well, I know approximately which city you live in. And that your numbers easily rise to the giddy heights of 23 or 24 a day. Thanks be to Google Analytics.

Online Facilitation & Tools

Nancy White has a great set of slides on technologies for/and/by community.

One observation I would make is that conversations around technology often go like this:
  • Someone will start enthusiastically talking about a the latest snazzy tool to build a community (blogs, wikis, radio-controlled lab rats).
  • Someone else will say we need to think about the users.
  • Someone else will opine that it's not about the tools, it's about the business outcome and we need to focus on that.
  • Yet another person will say that this new radio-controlled lab rat tool is just a fancy version of a bulletin board and they can't see what the fuss is all about.
This will carry on until everyone loses interest or someone actually does something.

Now the annoying thing is that everyone in the above debate is partly right. There is a circle of questions (broadly who, why, what, how, when & where) that you go round whenever talking about group collaboration. It doesn't really matter where you start on the question merry-go-round, so long as you stop at all the stations along the way.

I actually think that these 6 questions need to be asked of any knowledge sharing project. With the proviso that the bigger the changes revealed by the 6 answers for the practice of your participants as a result of your project, the harder it is going to be to implement.

N.B. As much as I like new collaboration tools, I would draw your attention to Ward Cunningham's comment on slide 12 - you want the simplest thing that could possibly work. And what is "simple" for a bunch of comp sci PhDs is different to what is "simple" for a bunch of care assistants. However discussions around tools do serve a useful purpose in surfacing assumptions about participants, goals, activities, etc. The "how" station is not a bad place to start but a rubbish place to stay.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Working the room

Late last year, a vociferous email exchange with John "Pinko Fluffy Bunny" Maloney led to his sending me a very interesting paper on Intensional NetWORKS by Bonnie Nardi, Steve Whittaker & Heinrich Schwarz which I have just got around to reading.

BN et al make the observation that many workers no longer ply their trade in stable, long term teams but must pull together individuals known to them in their personal networks to achieve their goals. These intensional networks are contrasted with less personalised knotworks & more sustained / shared Communities of Practice - enough exposition, read the paper already.

What is noteworthy is that such networks are both casual and maintained. They are radial wheels of weak ties that busy professionals occasionally nurture - more like a hardy houseplant than a needy puppy.

The paper predates much of the noise about social networking software but it makes an engaging interplay with this recent post on communities & networks by Dave Pollard. DP notes that most Communities of Practice are nothing of the sort. I see where he's going with this and partially agree. CoPs in many organisations do not offer the traditional emotional comforts of an authenic community (just like mamma used to make) and there doesn't seem to be much practicing going on in a lot of them. However, the entities badged as CoPs do offer learning (what, who & how) opportunities for participants outside "trad" training programs of classrooms & textbooks - and this is a good thing.

DP also holds that We should recognize networks as the fragile, opportunistic creations they are and that We need to be careful of how much time and energy we invest in our 'networks'. Again I agree. But as BN et al indicate, for many of us, they are part of how we get our jobs done.

As Jack Vinson notes about LinkedIn, if you go there hoping for a hectic social whirl, you'll be disappointed. But there are other places to go for a social life (even a Second Life if you really want that). All LinkedIn offers is a peek into someone else's Rolodex - you show me yours & I'll show you mine. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Web Metrics 3.0

Interesting discussion at ZestDigital on the value or otherwise of certain web metrics - which prompts the following:

Web Metrics 1.0 (1993-2001): "How many eyeballs you got dude?"

The hype about the internet boils up and then over:

The press is all about:
  • Internet penetration ("My nanna just surfed her first porn site!")
  • No. of web sites ("Look, I can trade in my Volkswagen for a JCB, all with the click of a mouse!")

Sites are all about:

  • Page impressions
  • No. of unique visitors
  • No. of clickthrus (half of business models being built on ad revenue)
  • Consumer $ spent (the other half being built on e-commerce)

N.B. We still use these metrics. They are useful. But they are no longer enough.

Web Metrics 2.0: (2003-2009): "Our users are sooo creative man"

The press is all about:

  • No. of blogs (and why they are full of rubbish)
  • No. of article on wikipedia (and why they are all full of rubbish)
  • No. of members of Friendster/MySpace/Facebook (delete depending on year)

Sites are all about:

  • User growth
  • % of users who generate their own content (not as many as we thought)
  • % of users who consume
  • % of users who comment

All this is good stuff and the research by Forrester & Pew is useful. But it seems like it's missing something.

These measures still treat people as individuals interacting with sites. What's missing is the "social" bit of social media. How do these people interact with each other around the media they create? We need to start getting a bit more imaginative about all this.

We may end up drawing more on social network analysis - which has some well-established metrics. But these don't intuitively grab people*.

Bearing in mind that the point of metrics is to allow comparisons (both between groups and across time) that underpin good decisions, what metrics should we be setting our sights on? Are numbers the answer?

*A similar problem afflicts the gini coefficient as a measure of diversity in virtual environments.

Blocking move

So we've had facilitation with clay. Now we have Lego's Serious Play. Reveal your deepest unconscious desires in brightly coloured plastic!

No registered partners in Australia or New Zealand as yet...

Source: The Economist

And another thing: more on social creativity

Miguel, Andy & Jack all come back with some good spins on the social nature of creativity.

In the spirit of improv let me start with a few "yes, and..."s

Miguel: I actually agree that "catalysts" are critically important. Your description of these catalysts reminds me of those that ran 18th century literary & artistic salons. Or the people that throw poetry slams here in Sydney without being poets themselves. In fact, catalyst is role I often find myself in as a knowledge manager - as I pointed out in this comments response to Annette.

There are also authors, contributors, commentators and just plain consumers. And they do play different roles. However it's also important to note that those occupying these roles don't stay the same. As Jack noted a couple of months ago we tend to shift between roles depending on the specifics of the situation. Some people are happier being catalysts as opposed to authors, etc but we are dynamic - aren't we?

Jack: "we shift back and forth between solo work and collaborative work" - we do indeed. And also depends on the nature of the work itself which brings me to...

Andy: Like Andy, I indulge in creative writing - and that can be a deeply private activity. And I listen to others perform & I also read their work (reading is a paradoxically private and social activity). As Linda Hartley notes in your comments, there are different kinds of creative acts. However"artistic" creative acts may be social (acting or music being 2 examples) as well as individual. Theatre writers often engage in a complex mix of solitary writing, discussions with directors & workshopping with actors to end up with a finished script for a play.

I do not want to proclaim the death of the author in the manner of Barthes or Foucualt. But I want us to understand these ecologies better...

Monday, July 09, 2007

Meditation for skeptics...

...was the title of a session by Susanne Rix at last night's Sydney Facilitators Network meeting. Susanne was somewhat constrained in the demonstration of her persuasive powers by the lack of skeptics in the group (pretty much everyone had some experience of meditation techniques).

The session was good - with a handy relaxation exercise included and some references to the work of Herbert Benson.

And no chanting...

Creative Ecologies (or why my genius is unimportant)

Miguel posts on Wordpress stats & Ed Mitchell on YouTube/flickr - the takeaway being that there really aren't that many users generating User-Generated Content.

Which in the wide world of the World Wide Web (1 billion with access and counting) isn't a problem. 1% of people create stuff? That's still 10 million people.

For comparison purposes, the IFJ estimate that the world has 1.5 million plus journalists. Technorati estimates that there 15 million active blogs out there (although the true number is certainly lower than that). Are all those blogs fact-based & well-written? Nope - there are plenty of people out there writing badly-spelled, incoherent junk like me. But are all those journalists turning out Pulitzer-ready reportage? Or are there a few articles about last Thursday's flower arranging festival slipping through the net?

Of course, this low level of user generation becomes important if your population of potential creators is less than 1 billion. In fact, probably if it's less than a few thousand (creation levels for a lot of these sites seems to float around the 0.1% - 0.5% mark). But let's not talk about Enterprise 2.0 for the moment.

However where I am going with all this is that the power of social media does not lie only in those we badge "creators" - the people uploading blog posts or photos or videos or podcasts. We have tended to view creativity as personal act. The creator sits in their garret (or mansion) & comes up with the goods. As the previous posts on work by Bob Sutton, Teresa Amabile et al indicate, I believe more and more that creativity is a social activity. The relationship between a creator (be they professional or amateur) and their audience is not one way. Comments, references, tags, bookmarks, private emails & words face-to-face can all feed into the outcomes (a post, a video). But we only see the tangible outcome not the intangible exchanges between participants in the creation conversation.

To understand the inputs into and impacts from social media, we have to see these invisible ecologies of creation that form & reform. These ecologies have long pre-dated the internet but now we see them more.

To repeat, co-creation is not an option, it is the default...

Xtreme Change Management (1): Brainwashing

We all have wishes - desires for the world to be a certain way. Reality may or may not accord to those wishes but that doesn't stop us from having them.

One wish that seems to be particularly persistent in the organisational world goes something like this: "What I want is best for this organisation. And yet everyone else is too short-sighted/lazy/dumb to see that and do what I want. If only there were some way to make people see that I am right."

A less high-minded version of this wish may be: "How do I milk these suckers for all they are worth and still get them to thank me for it?"

If these wishes come from someone relatively powerless, then all we tend to do is humour them whenever they start ranting, hide any sharp objects & keep a tight hold of wallets/jewellery/etc.

If that person has access to resources then expect a lucrative advice industry to grow up around catering to this particular wish. Especially if reality does not seem to accord with that wish.

As I read Dominic Streatfeild's book on brainwashing, I couldn't escape an eerie feeling of familiarity. During the Cold War, the CIA ran numerous programs (under titles such as BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE & the now-notorious MKULTRA) to investigate a range of brainwashing techniques. Truth drugs, hypnosis, stress positions, white noise, perceptual distortion, subliminal messages were all investigated. And were ultimately found to be ineffective. Streatfeild concludes that no 100% effective form of brainwashing exists.

Now it is possible to influence people in their decisions. But to install your view of the world wholesale & permanently in another? No. Human cognition is a bit too complex for that.

I haven't used hypnosis & truth drugs that often in my daily work but I have encountered people pushing techniques that they claim will change the minds of others - be it through storytelling, presentation, this form of selling, etc. What such techniques frequently downplay is the importance of listening. Here's the paradox: If you want to change others then you have to open up to being changed yourself. To exert influence, you have to give up control.

Lucy Kellaway (as referenced by Johnnie & Dave) points to Deloittes' Little Blue Book of Strategy as an example of "corporate brainwashing". Not as bad as spiking people with LSD without their consent or knowledge but probably as effective at changing their behaviour in the long run...

Sociability & Design

Crystal Metcalfe & Co of Motorola have done some fascinating ethnographic research (presentation here) around the use of mobile technologies by people within their social contexts.

Their findings caused them to shift focus in the following ways:


  • Focus on the sender
  • Support the task mechanics
  • Send more/all of the facts
  • Conversation and consumption

  • Recognize the receiver
  • Support the intent of the message
  • Provide the capability for storytelling
  • Design for creating shared activities/experiences

This presents a challenge for traditional usability lab testing. Labs typically take people out of their own lifeworlds* and dump them as isolated individuals. Which is fine provided you are 100% sure people do not socially interact with each in the course of using your technology.

If they do, the lab will probably give you a wrong picture of how your technology is used. Observing your tech "in the wild" is a much better option (frankly, I think ethnographic training should be mandatory for all designers) and bring groups/teams into the lab might be an acceptable (but not ideal) half-way house. Identifying who should be in those teams might require some form of SNA.

Not all technology is about enabling communication - but if it is used in a collective manner then understanding how that happens may make or break your implementation...

Source: Mark Earls & Josh Porter

*Yip, phenomenology is in da house.

Prediction Markets in Australia?

Andrew Leigh has a post on predictions markets as applied to the Australian election and a recent article outlining prediction markets with Justin Wolfers can be found on his ANU page.

As far as I know, prediction markets have been used in several multinationals (e.g. HP, Google, Corning, Siemens, Yahoo) but I am not aware of any deployments in Australia. Does anyone know of any examples where local organisations have dip their toe in this particular pool?

Source: Luke

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Following on from that last post, I remembered I had a printout of Electonic Engagement by Peter John Chen which deals in greater depth with some of the issues briefly discussed in the IBM report.

PJC discusses different forms of eDemocracy between governments & citizens as having cultivating, steering or listening roles.

One particular quote early on sticks out:

'...we often speak as if there is a completed project called "democracy" and there is another completed project called "the internet" and we ask "what will this thing called the internet do to this thing called democracy?". Both of these are in a state of evolution.We haven’t got a completed democracy; we haven’t got a completed internet. Both are up for grabs. So the question we need to ask is whether the internet is likely to reinforce traditional ways of doing politics, which has tended to be rather remote from the public. Or whether the internet, as an interactive medium, can enable the public to get into a more collaborative and conversational style of politics which makes it more meaningful to them.'

Professor Stephen Coleman, Oxford Internet Institute, 2004

Source: Luke Naismith & Martin Stewart-Weeks

Don't worry about the government

Some civil servants are just like my loved ones
They work so hard and they try to be strong*

The IBM Center for the Business of Government has a report on public sector blogging (with a heavy US focus). The "meat" (or for vegetarians, the "tofu") is in pages 10-40 (the rest being a summary of user-generated media in general and blogging in particular).

Here are 10 Tips for Blogging by Public Sector Executives from the report:
Tip 1: Define yourself and your purpose.
Tip 2: Do it yourself!
Tip 3: Make a time commitment.
Tip 4: Be regular.
Tip 5: Be generous.
Tip 6: Have a “hard hide.”
Tip 7: Spell-check.
Tip 8: Don’t give too much information.
Tip 9: Consider multimedia.
Tip 10: Be a student of blogging.

I like most of the tips - but I like the last one best. The author exhorts would-be political bloggers to read the blogs of others rather than just focus on what they want to say. I'd like to see the next report by IBM on social media & government push this point a bit further. What is the future of interactive government? And by this I mean more than on-line form completion (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Thanks: Nerida Hart, Jon Erickson & *David Byrne.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

So what do you do?

For the last decade I have dreaded this question at parties. If I was a doctor or a teacher, it would be easy. Teachers teach & doctors, er, doct. Instead I say "knowledge manager" and suddenly the drinks table exerts an irresistible attraction for my conversation partner.

Demos in the UK have written a report with an oddly familiar title on the Creative Industries in the UK. Among many interesting things here:

  • Justification. "If we struggle to explain our jobs, how can we expect governments to understand how to support them?" - How indeed? And not just governments but managers and employers.
  • The nature of creativity. The authors note that there are three big economic models for creative endeavour: Patronage (once them damn Medicis - again - and now the state); Cultural Consumerism (mass-market movies, music, books); & the neglected area of Social Production (which is the modern equivalent of folk culture). Important to note that for much of history, cultural activity was local, amateur & community-based. I'm not saying it was always good or that we should throw away our Joy Division CDs for a night with Crazy Eddie's Turnip Band at the local village hall but the Cult of the Amateur is not new.
  • The micro-capitalist nature of many "creative" businesses. They are small and rely on dense networks of personal relationships in a highly dynamic environment. Hmmm, I smell a complex system...

Source: Annette

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The pleasure of the txt

Tammy Erickson:

I recently had lunch with someone who mentioned that he had forbidden his teenage daughter from text messaging. I asked why. "Well, have you ever seen them? They don’t say anything. Text messages are content free. If she wants to communicate, she should call, or at least send a properly written email."

What this father seems to fail to understand is that not all communication is about information - content isn't king. Following his example, I have banned people from hugging me as such interaction is "content free". They should at least send a properly written email.

Not that I see txting as a replacement for physical contact - hugging is good (provided it's not some fetid hippy grabbing you - "I must share the love with you, my poor lost friend!!!"). But it's a handy augmentation. Lots of txting (& twittering & whatnot) is phatic. The human equivalent of monkeys grooming each other.

It's handy for co-ordination & timeshifting too - as this second post from TE notes.

However it also provides a fertile environment (or should that be abyss) for misunderstanding especially in emotionally-charged or high-context situations - as I know from recent experience. It's like trying to reproduce the Sistine Chapel with texta pens.

We need to be thoughtful when we key in txts & generous when we read them.

c u l8r

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Fish, bicycles & consultants

Patrick started off comparing consultants to nurses, doctors, pharmacists & psychiatrists. Dave then identifies them with butterflies. And now Annette says they are having to act as parents.

Many consultants I have met would relish the label 'chameleon' but this is starting to sound like one of those creative writing exercises ("now I want people to form groups of three and come up with six ways that love is like a cashmere cardigan").

As an exercise, please suggest ways in which a consultant is like the following (I have given you some help with the early suggestions):
  • Papaya (full of seeds? good mixed with other fruit? red flesh?)
  • Janitor (cleans up other people's messes? often found in a small room?)
  • Electric blanket (comforting? dangerous if shorted out?)
  • Imam
  • Dose of aspirin
  • Belly dancer

    Go wild, go crazy...
  • Open Publish Showdown

    So somehow I am a speaker at Open Publish. I will talking about Third-Generation KM, Web 2.0 (& there may be a partridge in a pear tree if the storm damage can be repaired). It will mostly be from a human-centred perspective so don't expect any handy hints on AJAX.

    I have been put on opposite (the wrong side fo the tracks indeed) Bahram Boutorabi - who also has Web 2.0 in their presentation title. This brings out the competitive streak in EngineersWithoutFears. I challenge the Founder & CEO of Creative Digital Technology to a Web 2.0 showdown/throwdown/smackdown/shakedown all over town. Or something.

    Actually I'm quite looking forward to some of the other presentations (on topics such as information architecture & collaborative indexing).

    Newsflash: happy people more creative!!!

    Teresa Amabile talks some sense on 6 creativity myths:
    1. Creativity Comes From Creative Types
    2. Money Is a Creativity Motivator
    3. Time Pressure Fuels Creativity*
    4. Fear Forces Breakthroughs
    5. Competition Beats Collaboration
    6. A Streamlined Organization Is a Creative Organization

    A major lesson here for those trying to foster creativity among their colleagues (or even themselves) is: Get rid of the rubbish, the barriers that prevent people from applying their naturally creative natures.

    *Apparently people feel more creative but actually aren't. The capacity for self-delusion is a wonderful thing.

    Imagination, Intuition & Intersections - why nothing succeeds like failure

    Guy Kawasaki interviews Scott Berkun about The Myths Of Innovation. The interview & site discuss improv, the imagination, experimentation & the importance of failure.

    A colleague lent me a copy of The Medici Effect by Frans Johanssen. Despite the name, it is not really about Renaissance Florence. Rather Johanssen writes about The Intersection - that notional place where disciplines intersect. He claims that a richer source of innovation can be found in using two or more disciplines (e.g. using ant behaviour to improve call routing in a telephone network) than sticking to one. He also discusses the role of experimentation (& therefore failure) in these highly unpredictable intersectional innovations. Don't expect to get it right first time if you venture into this area.

    Lauchlan MacKinnon writes about intuition. His first recommendation to improve your intuition is "Get involved in further activity and gain more experience". And I would suggest that some of this experience needs to be failure. Building intuition is a form of learning*. And we learn most when we get things wrong, rather than we succeed.

    In fact, innovation can be seen as a (highly applied) form of organisational learning - collective learning in action.

    *We are also doing it constantly whether we like it or not. The question is: how well we do it.