CPHC home page

I have been following a number of Healthcare sites in and around the internet, looking for examples or case studies of how social media are used.  In particular I wanted to find examples of social collaboration or communities that are focused on helping other members of society to better understand and contribute to the public wealth and health.

I attend #CPHC- Carpool Health Community, which has already garnered a strong and eager following, that meets weekly on a Tweetchat and has recently established a Google+ community to progress their ideas into actions and achievable care.  Furthering their mission they are about to launch their own web community site, where Communities of Practice (CoP) can focus around specific conditions, diseases, traumas and behaviors.  The biggest attraction of these CoPs is that community comprises more than just patients, it also contains experts from the medical side as well as members of families that have knowledge and experience of the specific topic.

Dr Steven Eisenberg is an Oncologist and he is one of the principal contributors on the Cancer Community of Practice.  His contributions to the Tweetchat are listed below.  Please feel free to engage with Dr Eisenberg through these embedded tweets, whether you need clarfication or simply want to extend the conversation or contribute to the value of his content.

He starts by defining is community of practice (CoP)

He believes that it is this comprehensive family that holds the key to increased knowledge, understanding, improved care even to the point of opening up new areas of research and discovery. When asked how this would be effected, Dr Eisenberg provided a 12 step guide to engagement, including a prologue for the journey that needs to be taken.

Please feel free to seek clarification on any of these steps directly with Dr Eisenberg, I am sure he will be more than delighted to help extend the discussion and bring further clarity to his vision and goals.

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data graphic

First published in Internet Media Labs Blog – 27th October 2012

We are amassing data at an unprecedented rate.  In the course of a day the internet handles more than 1,000 Petabytes of data (2011 figures) and is projected to double in less than three years.  That’s a million terabytes or a billion gigabytes  just on the public internet alone.   Granted there is a lot of duplication and the amount of image and video content is greatly contributing to the accelerated growth. Furthermore our growing dependency on mobility demands even greater participation and production that further magnifies digital traffic.

That is a lot of data and a very large amount of noise carrying a decreasing ratio of signal.  How do we operate in such an environment and meet our objectives for education, career, parenting, healthcare, community participation, consumerism and entertainment? How do we locate and recognize the availability and qualities of resources that will help us live our lives productively and successfully?

A complex question no doubt, but one that highlights the current capabilities and shortcomings of the network today.

The short and most common answer would be search engines.  To a degree that is a reasonable response, but given the immensity of available data it is woefully short of satisfying anything but the last two on my list of objectives (consumerism and entertainment).

The issue starts with search engines and the demands of commercialism.  Commerce sustains our civilization and provides the impetus for innovation and discovery.  But it also dominates the way we create and prepare content, and the way we search for information.  We are also largely dependent on a single search engine, which is still evolving though firmly rooted in textual analysis. Yes there are other search options but the majority of us use Google.

Search technology is beginning to branch out as witnessed by Google’s goal of producing a knowledge graph. Currently it has the ability to determine sentiment which is the first step in semantic analysis.  Yet there is a long way to go before search can provide an accurate return on how, what and who we are searching for.

Google spends a lot of capital on developing and improving search algorithms, which are obscured to prevent gaming the system. Those algorithms perform a large number of calculations that include the analysis and synthesis of web content, structure and performance.

Providers of content and information are aware that they can improve the ranking of their published material by optimizing their web site  through Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) or improving the quality and attractiveness of their content. In addition the search engine vendor(s) provide consulting services to assist content providers in achieving approved “white hat” SEO status as opposed to “black hat” SEO which is risky, unapproved, and has the potential to be banned.

Any search results in an index of entries ranked by how well they have been produced and optimized.  The more content humankind produces the more commercial entities will spend in order to ensure high ranking so that we consume their products or services, after all few consumers go beyond the first page of search results.  Hence my assertion above that consumerism and entertainment (which for sake of argument includes news and events) are the principal beneficiaries of the current solutions. And that’s great if you are catching up on news, wish to be entertained or shopping either actively or casually.  The ranking system will give you the most up to date, the most popular and the most advertised consumables.

However the ranking system doesn’t scale down for the individual, the community or small businesses or enterprises, unless predetermined keywords are used in the content and search.  A small voice cannot be heard where shouting is encouraged even demanded.  The more we use search engines the louder that shouting becomes.  Furthermore the ranking system doesn’t really scale economically for SEO content as globalization will introduce more competition for the coveted top ranked entries, demanding increased effort and optimization.

But this post is not about search engines and optimization of content.  It’s about locating resource and identifying quality and relevancy that will help in collaboration; finding people, ideas, material, skills and availability so the other objectives on my list can be fulfilled.

We need something more than simple signposts or lists, valuable as they are.  We need a capability that will not only locate a resource, but one that will also provide us with much needed information about the resource, its properties, location, status, history and relationships to other resources. In short we need directories, repositories of resources and their attributes that are easily accessible and extensible.

Directory databases have been around for a long time and are currently in operation in most large enterprises,  most commonly behind corporate firewalls.  They meet many of the requirements outlined above, although their use has been necessarily constrained to a management and security function. In most implementations they perform that function well.  That style of directory is also appropriate beyond the firewall, especially when authentication amongst diverse communities and populations needs to be supported.

Yet we can do so much more with directories, especially if we liberate their extensibility and open them up to collaborative contributions and housekeeping.  Today we keep our own lists and collaborate on those in communities of interest. There are several listing applications on Social Media such as list.ly, Twitchimp or the late lamented Formulists.  These are great applications and no social media maven can exist without one.  But they are only lists and they only carry a small number of entries and attributes.

Open collaborative directories will be able to scale to support large numbers of entries and attributes, including attributes that are determined by the participants and their communities. In other words directories will carry the hard facts about a resource as well as attributes that are determined by those who use and collaborate with those resources.

This is very similar to Facebook’s like, (and imaginary don’t like), but applied to the performance or quality of resource as experienced in collaboration.  Such peer review and measurement lies at the heart of Open Source development, a meritocracy where your contributions are evaluated by peers to determine your value and position within the group.  Such information will prove invaluable to those seeking knowledge and the resources to get things done.

And why stop at people? Open Collaborative Directories can support any resource be it curated knowledge bases, dictionaries, almanacs and compendiums.

As long as they are open and accessible they will serve and be served by the communities that need them. Because directory searches have little need for ranking they will be the first port of call for those who want more than the latest news or consumable.

Data image via Tom Woodward in Flickr Creative Commons

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ellis-island-arrival

New arrivals at Ellis Island. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Changing social platforms is like moving to live in a new country.

How do I know?  Because I have done the latter three times and met the same hurdles to a settled existence as I now detect in moving to a new platform on social media.

The largest of those hurdles is collateral.  When I came to live in the US, for example, I had no credit rating, because there was no record stateside of my economic conduct.  I had no guarantors other than my employer because friends and family lived in Europe.  Slowly I established myself, connecting with the economy and communities until my rating facilitated the more desirable loan rates.

The second of the major hurdles is equity or net worth.  Equity comprises assets, liquid and fixed.  Liquidity or cash is necessary for every day living, the small transactions that allow us to commute, feed ourselves and be entertained. Fixed assets are a little more problematic, because they are usually hard to convert to liquid status.  Furthermore they tend to be anchored in the environment from which you have departed, and have little value in the new environment.  Owning a house in Europe has no weight when trying to buy a house in the US, and vice versa.

The same holds true when one considers investing effort in an additional or alternate social platform.  While you may have a generic social score aggregated across active platforms, your credit rating on a new, or seldom used platform is non-existent.  Collateral in this case is not about your financial credit rating, it is your trustworthiness as a social participant.  Just as in immigration that rating has to be built gradually  and cannot be transferred from the old to the new.

The analogy is consistent for equity as well.  Equity in social terms is the value of contributions.  These most commonly are the status updates, messages, tweets, replies, mentions that make up the social media conversations of each second, hour and day of our lives.  It is also the knowledge base and territorial familiarity of that platform, knowing who does or knows what, where expertise lies, or when particular events occur, or what time is best to capture the attention of your networking collaborators.

All this is platform equity.  Not surprisingly very little, if any, of that equity is transferable.  Those contacts, the followers and those followed, like the friends and relations in the old world, belong and remain on that platform.  Those contributions and the manner in which you supplied them is also tied to the platform.  Unlike property or disposable assets these cannot be liquidated into cash.

The new platform requires new equity and collateral, it cannot easily be bought, at least not without compromising trustworthiness. The only alternative is to invest a similar amount of time and effort in building equity on the new platform, thus forcing a decision on whether to build and then maintain multiple platform equity and collateral.  That factorial investment might be too high a price to pay, especially for those individuals whose roles do not include 100%  social engagement.

There is one positive to this situation and it is somewhat paradoxical in the fact that the fixed social equity  is more versatile than the liquid.  I refer to blogs.  The platform that best supports communicating complexity, rationale and clarification.  Blog posts like this one allow ideas and insights to be expanded, formatted and packaged for distribution through any social media platform.   However they do only offer the foundational piece; the interactions, connections and short communications still have to be performed.

There are several implications of the above, especially as we consider scale:

Consistency: Equity and collateral are both affected by inconsistency.  And we all know that consistency is more than desirable in social media, it is almost obligatory.  However context can vary and what might be considered consistent in one platform could be seen as inconsistent even contradictory in another.  Furthermore maintaining dialogues and connections across multiple platforms can easily foster miscommunications, especially if the connections themselves participate on multiple platforms.  Since we cannot easily store our contributions, we cannot easily reference our interlocutors’ or our own previous conversations.  The more platforms we engage with the higher the likelihood of miscommunication and inconsistency.

Social Marketing Investment: It would be fair to assume that few social-media active consumers will engage heavily on a large number of platforms and will more likely inhabit and contribute on a manageable handful (2-4).  It is also unlikely that consumers of specific brands will inhabit the same platforms.   This is not dissimilar to the position industry faced with the proliferation of television channels in the latter part of last century.  The answer then as now is to promote on the most popular channels or platforms. Unlike television however marketing organizations would be cautioned against abandoning platforms that drop in popularity, since their collateral and equity will remain, albeit diminished over time.  The danger is of course that the least attended platform then becomes the greatest liability.  Such platforms are more prone to negative activity that could fester unaddressed.

Social Collaboration:  Perhaps the biggest challenge for industry will be in the requirements for and selection of collaborative services, especially if the components and resources have preferred social platforms of participation that are different. Ideally a common platform solves this problem, one where context integrity is assured.  Multiple platforms dilute that integrity unless all contributors and contributions are consistent across all platforms, though such purity would inevitably be  strained by diversity of geography and culture.  This suggests that established collaborative groups and activities will be more conservative and less exploratory of new platforms.  It also suggests that new collaborative groups and activities can explore new platforms, especially those that offer better functionality or efficiencies.  But these organizations also warrant caution in deciding for a new platform, for it may well exclude them from collaborating  with resources and communities on the older platforms.

I am sure there are many other points to consider, but one thing is certain: adding or moving to a new social platform is a non-trivial event, and one that demands a lot of adjustment and effort.  This post is my attempt to bridge the increasing number of platforms to which I contribute as I will distribute it on all. Hopefully it will spark further discussions on the challenges as well as progress on removing the walled garden barriers to the preferred open environment.

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One of the things I like about the social media is electronic serendipity, especially when it comes to finding new books and articles to read.

Before the rise of Twitter, Google+ and Facebook I was a frequent visitor to bookstores where I could browse the titles, pick them up and read a few paragraphs or pages according to the patience or generosity of the shop staff.

I would also take recommendations from book reviews and frequently from colleagues and friends.  Finding a hidden treasure was both rare and pleasurable.  Which is why I have to thank the social network for introducing me to The New Instability by Peter Evans-Greenwood.

New Instability Book Cover

Evans-Greenwood

One day I just happened to catch a conversation on Twitter between two enterprise architecture mavens, one I knew and admired and the other a complete unknown who had recently published his first book.  The discussion was about whether enterprise architecture would be needed in the evolving world of virtual services, globalization and crowd sourcing. I was unable refrain from entering the conversation.  One week later Amazon delivered Peter’s book.

“The New Instability” is an important contribution to our embryonic understanding of the challenges to industry and the changes necessary to compete in the new world of ubiquitous connectivity, virtual services and social activity.

It is unlike books like Nicholas Carr ‘s “The Shallows” and Thomas Friedman & Michael Mandelbaum‘s  “That Used to Be Us” which have gently and persuasively indicated the path on which we are traveling, where we have come from, our current position, the perils that surround us, and our likely destination.  Such tomes have identified the challenges and behaviors that this new world order evokes.

Evans-Greenwood goes much further.  His book challenges the scalability and structure of the current industrial model, based as it is on an imbalanced focus on asset ownership and process improvement through extreme measurement (the current though Victorian approach to manufacturing efficiency devised by Frederick W. Taylor). In order to survive and grow these concepts have to be more than just revised, they have to be rejected. Businesses will have to be deconstructed with many of the functions distributed and externally resourced.  “The New Instability” provides grist for the mill, it forces the reader to think as the author confronts established wisdom and illustrates its redundancy.

But the author is more than just a detractor of modern practices,  he also suggests the nature of successful navigation in the developing new business environment.  This is not a silver bullet, they simply don’t exist, or even a recipe that can be easily followed.  It is a paradigm that is evocative and immediately understandable, based on the experiences and keen insight of an American pilot by the name of  John Boyd.

Boyd offered a bet  that he could beat any other pilot in a dogfight in less than 40 seconds, even with the other pilot sitting close on his tail.  He never lost that bet.  According to Boyd “…success in a rapidly changing environment depends on your ability to orient yourself and decide on and execute a course of action, faster than the environment (or your competition) is changing.”

“The New Instability” explains what this means and what it infers for both individuals and organizations.  Evans-Greenwood devotes a chapter to the topic of Labor, starting with how technology has enable workers to address and execute greater complexity.  His model is equally applicable to knowledge and knowledge working, since the ability to manage information complexity may well provide the greatest competitive advantage.  Equally importantly he understands the nature of the new work environment with its close similarities to Massive Player Online Role-Playing Games (MPORG) such as the World of Warcraft.

“The New Instability” is a challenging book, not in the sense that it is hard to read or comprehend, but challenging to one’s preconceptions and understanding of structure and stability.

It is a book that should be read slowly, because its value lies beyond the page within the mind and cogitations of the reader.  There are many points that cry out for discussion and progression and some that prompt resistance, all commendable especially if they compel others to online debate.  It is a brave book and one that deserves an appreciative and responsive audience.  May serendipity lead you there too.

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Image from Beth Zimmerman - Pain

Image from Beth Zimmerman – Pain

Are Niche Social Media networks the future?  This was a question in a recent #SWChat that I attended.  Niche networks, it was explained, meant either private or bespoke networks using twitter or yammer-like platforms, although niche could be applied to any functional clone of current social platforms.  While the chat concluded that this is not the face of the future, most participants expected niche alternatives to be part of it.

The reasons for this were twofold.  Firstly the general preference across all industries is to maintain corporate privacy in communications other than PR and Marketing.  Most companies today are gradually enabling social communications within their firewalls and seeing the benefits.  However they are also reluctant to extend that capability outside the firewall unless a Virtual Private Network (VPN) has been established for connecting external parties.  VPNs have overheads and rapidly become difficult to scale when the number of parties being serviced reaches into the 10,000′s.

Mass connectivity means public connectivity and so limiting exposure can only be achieved by either no connectivity or by using smaller community platforms or niche solutions.

The second reason has more to do with application access to large social platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and especially Twitter.  In August Twitter announced significant changes in their Application Programmable Interface (API V1.1) through which other applications like Hootsuite, Kred.ly and Sees.aw access the twitter stream.  In the view of many the changes were restrictive to the point where they considered alternatives such as app.net, which originally offered Twitter-like capabilities for a flat annual fee of $50.

Both arguments drive fragmentation, one for reasons of security and the other to avoid control and restriction by the third party platform. Fragmentation will meet some of these perceived expectations but it is also likely that many of the offshoots will encounter similar challenges of scale and security, possibly even invoking similar or harsher constraints on usage.  Any communication with a member of the public can find its way onto any one of the social platforms. That is the magic of digitization; scanning, OCD, cut and paste allows any thing said, signed or written to be copied.  And any social platform, niche or otherwise, that offers an API will provide rules and constraints.

The biggest detriment, however, is not the fact that niche alternatives can’t fully satisfy the needs of either group.  Fragmentation separates and dilutes the social stream.  Additional fragmentation, possibly caused by further experimentation with security and flexibility options amongst others, further separates and dilutes the stream.  Instead of access to large and global communities niche solutions will restrict social participation to those communities in which we are most comfortable.  The value of the social network is diversity, immediacy and the pulse on our collective thoughts and actions.  Niches can only provide a window onto the communities they serve, and these become increasingly homogenized as membership and contribution is limited to a smaller set of like-minded or similarly cultured participants.

There are alternative approaches that may reach a higher level of satisfaction for the disaffected parties.

On the enterprise side: a more comprehensive and informative set of policies around information and communication.  An education program that will help internal and external participants understand the appropriate tone, content and behavior; not just the do’s and don’ts but the rationale and reasons why certain information is private and should remain so, or why good standards of behavior improve the quality and value of interactions.  Establish guidelines for how to conduct research, collaboration and networking.  Technology may be able to check any dialogue against policy, which is a boon for regulated industries, but for others it is far better to have employed resources aware and well-practiced at good social interaction.

Eventually enterprises might learn that applying control and security to every asset is not scalable. As digital information increases exponentially it is more effective to identify core private information and ensure security for that domain. For everything else publish in the cloud according to the comprehensive policies mentioned earlier.

On the unconstrained platform, and in particular Twitter, consider a proactive dialogue with your peers and Twitter representatives.  The August announcements could have been phrased differently, they certainly did not evoke a sense of synergy between the platform and the development community.  However there is little in the new requirements that isn’t reasonable other than the style in which it was delivered.  Polishing the guidelines and making them requirements ensures quality and consistency.  Authentication is a valid requirement to prevent easy abuse.  Endpoint rate limits and user counts are reasonable statistics to conduct dialogue between Twitter and application development businesses, even though the communication did not phrase it that way, providing instead hard limits with an inference of future discussion but not necessarily expansion.

Support those requirements you agree with, and for those you have concerns about find a way to modify the requirements to something more acceptable to both parties.  This is public innovation and one of the main charms and promises of Twitter.  Find others who agree and can further modify the requirements.  With community support and a viable approach you could engage Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO, to encourage progress and improvement. We could even call it the API spring.

I want Twitter to continue providing the simplest and best social media dialogue platform.  It is not in my interest for niche platforms to dilute and detract from the stream that Twitter offers. Do what you can to educate, promote and support what is good about open communications, help build a set of policies and standards that improve communications and the API requirements for the platform that hosts them.  If you don’t Twitter will be well and truly forked.

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“Who wants yesterday’s papers?

Who wants yesterday’s girl?

Who wants yesterday’s paper ?

Nobody in the world” 

- Rolling Stones 1967

We are besieged by information, knee deep and beyond.  If you have a smart mobile device it comes at you from all directions, in almost all circumstances.  Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice we are drowning in a flood of communications freed by the spell of inexpensive ubiquitous technology, and try as we might we know of no counter spell to stem the tide.

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Farsi Wikipedia for the 13th week, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The consequences of this growing tsunami are multifold, many as yet unsuspected or undetected, but the only sure thing is that life now is very different from what is was before.

The Shallows – What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr provides an insightful examination of some of the effects. One of his most important points is that we are becoming increasingly distracted.  Our attention span is decreasing, as is our ability to digest information and commit  information to long term memory.  Since the well of known information, the internet, is always available, recovering information that we have consumed but not digested is only a simple search string away.

There is an argument that suggests that this frees up our brains for different and possibly more productive activities, and there is some evidence that this may be the case.

But the issue remains that we are constantly encouraged to deal more and more with the present and less and less with the future and past.  Brevity is key, as any person on Twitter will attest; yet it seems to apply to all of our communications.  Short, pithy soundbites or images, moving or otherwise, are the order of the day. Content is king, or so I am told; and those that excel at amplifying these messages, whether their own or others, are quickly harnessed by marketeers to prime the pump for their brand(s) content.

Over the last year there has been a sea change in this approach, and while content seemingly remains supreme, some are beginning to recognize the value of context.  Now it’s not just content, but related content that brings value.  Sites that “curate” content,  that is collecting and displaying additional content that augments the value of the original content, are seeing factorial increases in year on year traffic, see Greg Bardwell’s post on Content Curation Sweetspot.  Content remains king, and though context is queen, curation has become a pawn close to being promoted to queen as well.

But that is not exactly the way I see it.  I have a slightly different perspective:

Firstly information has value beyond the present, depending on its relevancy.  Over time that value can and will change according to the quality of the information; the lower the quality the lower the value. Information created in the past can be critical to knowledge and understanding in both the present and future.  At the same time ephemeral information will only have transient value, usually its 15 seconds in the spotlight.

Secondly the role of curation is not just to assemble topical and stylish content.  While that may be the purpose and goals of stimulating appetites for fashion and consumables, greater depth is required by those in search of deeper knowledge, usually provided by a context made wider with the dimension of time.  My definition of curation more closely resembles the profession as practiced in museums and galleries.  It requires a knowledge of history and an understanding of influences, qualities and intentions that produced the thoughts and artifacts under custody.

We have a duty to future generations to ensure that quality content is preserved, including the context that contributed to and proceeded from its publication.  In the face of the rising flood we need to curate responsibly, identifying the quality contributions and marking the relationships to authors and content that define their contexts.  And we have to do this is a uniform and open manner so that we have common access to riches of the past that help navigate our present and future.

Open Linked Data might be one of the more viable approaches afforded by technology, however it is in our interests to collaborate on the framework and standards that will enables us to preserve contextual relationships in content. Making curated content consistent and optimally shareable helps us all.

Nobody wants yesterday’s papers, but yesterday’s girls grew up to become Joan of Arc, Hidlegard of Bingen, Marie Curie and Marie Stopes, and the world would be a poorer place without them.

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Originally posted on Internet Media Labs Blog – September 6th, 2012

Sometimes  it is the little things that are the most useful in life: using a paperclip to retrieve a disc locked in a computer or as emergency back up when the hems on your clothing are in disrepair.

One virtual paperclip that has huge potential for Social Media is versioning.

Versioning, or more accurately, Version Control System (VCS),  is the secret sauce that keeps agile development agile and multi-threaded tasks in synch.  Versioning maintains content and context for any given artifact and is most commonly used in software development – in particular maintaining code bases or code trees.

Versioning is much more than a way to ensure edits and changes are not lost and can be tracked.

Version Control Systems have evolved to enable a protected, searchable environment, allowing individuals to create separate branches and then merge their modifications or augmentations back into the base.  Each version can be searched and reconstructed, providing both stability and maintainability.

The quality of code is improved as bugs can be traced back to the time of their introduction.  Quality can be further improved by including relevant comments and logs, all of which help provide richer history and valuable context when revisions or replacements for the code base are being considered.

While this is all very useful – I would suggest essential – for application development, versioning has even greater potential to support and improve the quality of most, if not all, collaborative projects.

Like the paperclip, VCS can be applied to any creative activity where content changes frequently,  particularly where multiple contributors are involved.  VCS allow contributors to create and evolve their own branches which can then be merged back to become the latest version.  Using a VCS is so much simpler than using “track changes” in an office productivity document, which does not support multiple branches nor keep each saved change.

Reconstruction of office productivity documents case tempts the patience of even the most tolerant of individuals.

Let’s look at a few cases  where the approach would be integral to effective effort and overall success of a collaboration.

Case 1: Collaboration Dictionary:

Standard Definitions and Terms are easy to establish when co-workers are part of a specific group.   Common vocabularies usually develop in most communities, but writing down the words and their definitions is critical to ensuring that there are no ambiguities or misinterpretations.

When co-workers belong to different groups with their own vocabularies, the challenge becomes larger and the value of a dictionary rises.

As the group’s reach continues to expand, so too does the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding.  Authoring and maintaining the dictionary can  be onerous, especially where it is approached from within a hierarchy, where one group or individual controls the content and holds the sole authority to augment, modify and publish.

Opening up the effort to joint collaboration is both expedient and efficient, providing there is sufficient control to ensure integrity and maintainability.  A version control system will allow co-workers to define their respective  areas of the dictionary, treating each term or collection of terms as a branch of the information base.

The VCS will facilitate the merging of the branches, as well as the ability to roll back to any version should it be required.
Case 2: Risk Assessment

Risk assessment is another key part of planning and demands copious amounts of input, discussion, review and revision.  Similar to the Dictionary case above, risk assessment is relatively easy when performed in a small discrete group.  Again when the scope of the project extends to other groups the complexity and effort required increases factorally.

Collaboration can ameliorate these difficulties,  dependent on good governance and control.  In this case VCS offers a bonus benefit, which is a full context of the discussions and determinations made during the lifetime of the risk that is being assessed.

Before VCS Risk Assessment documents were static and usually represented the final summary of assessment.  But VCS allows that assessment to continue as a living artifact, providing historical context when new events and conditions demand a fresh analysis of the solution and its environment.

Case 3: Curation

I have often stressed the need to treat curation, and especially organizational curation, as a form of Information Lifecycle Management.

Organizational curation means that information is not just a publication, with fresh content for every issue.  Information needs to be cultivated, nurtured, refreshed and made available when and where it may be needed.

Old information never dies, it awaits to inform future consumers of ideas and knowledge.  So content is more than the data presented either visually or verbally, it is augmented by meaning and context, both of which can be accommodated in a versioning approach.

External Collaboration

The cases above are fairly common, but are usually contained within a particular organization or enterprise -  in other words behind the corporate firewall.

Generally. in these cases the individuals, are part of the same organization (at least for the project at hand) and in efficient companies experience a common purpose, culture, and set of standards and policies.

The ever-increasing possibility of external collaboration on projects makes the value of a Version Control System reach the level within Software Development – i.e. Essential.

Moving Version Control to the cloud and enabling a distributed model makes the “essential” desirable.  DVCS (Distributed Version Control System) removes the need for centralized management and the dilemma of either supporting every known platform and stack, or limiting the number of contributors to those that comply with corporate standards.

Distributed Version Control opens the door to wider communities, unrestricted by culture, location or time.

It proves the paperclip that keeps collaborative efforts organized, manageable and crowdsourced.

Photo by Tyler Howarth via Flickr Creative Commons
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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An enterprise dilemma – who deserves the social media golden apple: Marketing, IT, Business Development?

Who should own Social? I have heard this question asked many times, and though the answers given are nearly always the same “CMO, CIO or COO“, the fact that the question continues to be asked suggests that such responses are not satisfactory.  Most certainly the question is not the right question, after all who can own an adjective?  As soon as you add the noun the dilemma is not as  muddy but it is still far from clear.   Whether its social media, content, information, stream or network we still don’t have obvious answers although some of those nouns give us clues.

The fact is that we do not know what the golden apple of social media really is.  We do know that it is current, topical and massively popular.  Additionally the more we engage the more we realize that “social” is a mindset, a behavior and like the big data that is produced – extreme.  That last word should send a frisson of caution through any CEO or Board of Directors, enough to suggest careful consideration before any “engagement” let alone appointment of “social” responsibility.

“Social”  means different things to different organizations and communities, so before  delineating any bailiwick, the CEO or board must determine what “social” means to their business, their business culture and above all their customers. Customers are most important because the world of social is public, visible, and can act like litmus paper in highlighting public opinion, good or bad.  Like it or not customers are going to be influenced by an enterprise’s “social” reputation.  In turn customers and even the general public are going to influence business strategies and objectives to some degree.  Understanding the risks, opportunities and attendant costs over time is critical input for any plan, and social engagement is no different. However with “social” any implementation is more visible, and feedback is much more immediate and amplified.

The best way to get to grips with the issues is through experience.  The best way to get early experience is to perform Proof of Concepts (PoC).  Notice the plurality, which is extremely relevant to “social”, because it is a behavior and an operational style, not a function or a process.  PoCs allow you to apply “social” behaviors and styles to specific functions or processes within organizations.  At the detailed level that might be Customer Service Problem Management, Sales Force Automation Management or it could be Asset Control Process Improvement.  While these functions might not be the first in line for examination, they do illustrate that there is no division or department that presides over all the possible functions.  Of course Marketing, Finance and IT are going to be involved, as they should,  but the purpose of the PoC is to determine whether “social” behavior is a fit for specific parts of the business.  Further analysis and possibly additional PoCs can then determine the scope and reach of “social” adoption.  Some organizations will be better suited to “social” behavior, others may have to consider major organizational and or cultural changes.  However the decision to adopt, in part or in totality, depends on business need and business commitment at the highest level if anything other than discrete projects are being considered.

The Judgement of Paris is the myth of impossible choices.  In the story Paris, a Trojan prince, was asked to present a prize of great value, a golden apple, to one of three goddesses, Aphrodite/Venus, Minerva/Athena and Hera/Juno.  Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, the most alluring and beautiful of the three, securing her appreciation and support in the future war with the Greek states.  Alas he also incurred the disdain and wrath of the other two goddesses, who supported the Greek kings and princes, Agamemnon, Ulyses and Achiles in the conflict.  The apple didn’t cause the war, that was Paris committing another poor judgement call by absconding with Helen, Agamemnon’s daughter, and carrying her off to be his bride in Troy.  But the apple did establish  which godly powers belonged in which camp during and immediately after the hostilities.

“Social Media” is a golden apple.  Marketing, Finance, Business Development, Audit, Operations and IT are all potential recipients.  Giving the responsibility or ownership of “social” to one of these functions is fine if the business only wants to operate “social” exclusively within that function.  But here lies the dilemma in which Paris found himself, the business gains on one side but not on others.  For example allowing Marketing to direct and control “social” could require the subordination of IT (I have heard that said many times) which also provides service to all other functions, their processes and their data. Is that a responsibility that Marketing really wants to be accountable for?

Paris didn’t have the option, but he could have approached Zeus, the CEO of Olympus and either given him the apple or asked him to decide.  Social business is larger than any one department, it is likely that most businesses that depend on consumerism will become fully “social” both internally and externally.  It therefor makes sense, once the analysis of early trials has been conducted, to create a change agent at the most senior level, reporting to the CEO or Board of Directors who is charged with developing the “Social” strategic plan and the transformation, if necessary, of the enterprise culture.  Once the transformation is complete the change agent can withdraw and  the functions will run themselves as they did before, they will just do so in a “social” style.   In the “social” business, everyone should have a slice of the apple.

The illustration above is from an 1848 publication of the UK periodical “Punch”.  The cartoon refers to the famous myth and depicts the political dilemma faced by French voters in the 1848 French General Election.  It is easier to compare business departments to politicians than it is to enchanting immortals.

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In a very short time curation has evolved from a minor supporting role to a major or even leading role in Social Media engagement.  It is no longer sufficient to just share items of interest, breaking news and opinion, not if you want to be regarded as authentic and taken seriously.

Information Filter

Knowledge Condenser

Curation has many definitions, including my own: “Curation is the acquisition, evaluation, augmentation, exhibition, disposition and maintenance of digital information, usually centered around a specific topic or theme”.  The Digital Curation Center (DCC) in the United Kingdom puts it more succinctly

Digital curation, broadly interpreted, is about maintaining and adding value to a trusted body of digital information for current and future use. (DCC)

Both definitions infer an information lifecyle process, that manages the digital objects from creation to deletion. Both suggest that capturing and adding value, whether by commentary or related material, is vital to the end product which is knowledge or information that can be referenced now and in the future.

Message Amplification

However the evolution of digital curation is experiencing some fragmentation.  Not that this is bad, but it does suggest the differences should be understood  as curation tools will differ in features and capabilities as each tries to satisfy its target customer base.  So far I have  identified 3 major distinctions in curation:

  1. Marketing Content: comes in several forms as marketeers move away from landing pages on Facebook and web sites, and seek to amplify brand presence through curated content.
  2. Information (or Knowledge Content): More focused on collecting and condensing information to support a topic or subject. Most commonly a reference site usually set up for either internal or external collaboration
  3. Personal Content – less dependent on content management features and capabilites: can either be used for amplification (self-branding) or condensing (information).

The question I would like to pose is who visits these curated sites and what are their preferences.  The following poll offers choices in the style and content of  curated sites.  Please let me know which sites you prefer to access for either information or shareable content.  I have made a further distinction for sites that are the result of either employee or community collaboration as they possibly differ from information sites in the degree of social participation (ie more social).

Radar identifying objects of interestIn a previous post I presented the challenges involved in deriving value from Big Data and in particular unstructured Big Data, which increasingly dominates the Social sphere.  The tools that will enable us to make sense of the plethora of conversations, contributions and observations are still in their infancy and the likelihood that we will have to rely on human scanning and analysis for the short to mid term appears inevitable.

In his book, “The Shallows“, about the effect of the internet on our brains, author Nicholas Carr  discusses the demands on our working memory or, as he puts it, “our mind’s scratch pad”.  Working memory is our CPU and the agent that identifies and transfers information to our long term memory, which is our data store.  It is therefore a pivotal component in our ability to seek out and retain knowledge.

The information flowing into our working memory at any given moment is called our “cognitive load“.  When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to store and process the information… we are unable to retain the information or to draw connections with the information already stored in our long-term memory”

The internet and particularly the social web is constantly bombarding our working memory with stimuli that are intentionally distracting (this post is a representational example with multiple hypertext links in the first two paragraphs).  The pervasiveness of mobile connectivity means that we are always on-line, and never at rest from the interrupting nature of the medium. This suggests we need assistance in processing the social media stream, firstly in being able to recognize important and relevant information, and secondly to earmark that information for further analysis, refinement or augmentation.  The first requirement is for a social media radar, the second for a social information refinery.

Search remains our favorite tool that we use to seek out information.  Google dominates with 4.7 billion searches a day, but Twitter is not far behind (considering its size) at 1.6 billion, and both services are growing fast (Google at 30% increase per year – Twitter at 50% per year). However there are certain limitations in both search functions evidenced by the changes announced by both companies in the past 12 months. Google has recognized the effects of Search Engine Optimization and the fact that we demand results that are more contemporary.  Both companies have added semantic search elements to their  armory, an acknowledgement that searches need to be relevant to time, location, context and searcher’s intent.  However such elements are far from comprehensive. Furthermore because the definitions, rules and algorithms are unpublished the searcher is dependent on Google’s and Twitter’s interpretation of what was intended.  We are still a code generation or two away from being able to parametrize semantic search using our personal or group definitions and meanings.

Turning now to the need for refinement, which is the ability to analyze what we have found, understand its value and relationship to other captured information, and to provide single or collaborative commentary on the discovery itself.  Once again the technology has provided some rudimentary tools, commonly called curation tools.  Related to museum curation, these tools capture and display information of interest.  There are over 40 such applications and each provides a web page in which curators can display their captured content.  In many cases the tools allow for comments to be added as separate components, listed in historic order with the most recent first.  Some curation tools, such as Pearltrees,  support content linking, allowing curators to provide insight into relationships between islands of information.  Many tools provide a browser add-on that will enable the curator to save browsed/searched content to the curated web site.  The tools are improving but there is still a small disconnect between the radar and the refinery functions.

Until now.  SeeSaw is still a fledgling product yet it offers to bridge that gap between scanning and curation, and holds great promise in being able to map  content relevancy  and provide a lens on both active streams and refined content.  What is particularly appealing about SeeSaw is that it is built for visual scanning. as opposed to lexical scanning.  “See”, the radar component of the tool, filters live social media streams and displays the visual content of links and embedded graphics.  For Twitter this is a vast improvement on current viewing dashboards such as Hootsuite and Tweetchat. where speed reading is essential in keeping up with fast moving activities and events such as chatrooms.  SeeSaw not only displays the images but can also stream the video links within individual messages.

This visual facility has three immediate advantages.  Firstly the participant can remain in the chat stream without having to hyperlink to a new page, which has been a major distraction and an extended opportunity for further interruptions and distractions.  Staying in the same window enables continuous contact with the flow of active conversations.   Secondly it enables the viewer to see trends within the stream, connections (ie who is talking to whom) and tangential conversations.  Thirdly, and most importantly, it enables the participant to save active content in the stream to the Saw side of the product, and the bridge to the product’s curation functionality.  A simple toggle button allows the reader to change between the active stream (See Board) and the curated site (Saw Board). In practice this allows the participant to remain in contact and context with the conversation, as opposed to the multi-windowed, heavy interrupt laden environment to which we have been constrained.  Reflection and analysis can now occur after the scan or chat, ensuring that focus and attention can be appropriately applied to both.

SeeSaw is more than welcome to my active toolkit, it allows me to “Embrace, Extend and Expand” (via EMC, via Microsoft) my social media environment.  It is more than a helpmate – it has the potential to be my primary Social Media Assistant.

The See part of Saw – watching the Social Stream for relevant information

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