[Note: This is a follow-up to my earlier post on Curation in the Enterprise, and seeks to develop some of the themes introduced there.]
First, a quick recap.
Machines can filter. Only humans can curate.
When a human curates, she does three things. She selects something (or things) from a larger group. She organises those selections cohesively. And she arranges to present those things in such a way that people find it easy to engage with those things.
What I thought I’d do in this post is to look at all this a little more closely, all in the context of the social enterprise.
First, let’s look at selection.
The simplest and commonest form of selection in social networks is the asymmetric follow (a phrase I first heard used by James Governor). You follow someone or something, you subscribe to that someone or something. Elect to receive updates, alerts, reports. That doesn’t mean they follow you.
This can be permanent or temporary, you can undo this relationship at will. Unfollow the person or thing. Even block the person or thing. Stop receiving updates.
The social enterprise comes into its own because you’re not restricted to subscribing to alerts and messages from people alone, you can also follow things. Projects (you receive a status update whenever there’s a change, perhaps even at data element level) bills (you get told when it’s paid) complaints (you’re informed as to where it is in the process) orders (has that order closed yet?), companies (you receive news about competitor product releases, market activity, stock price movements, the lot).
If you find that someone or something is too noisy, just turn it off. Your call.
This is social 101, since you’re able to communicate with a real community, consisting of your staff, your partners, your customers, your products and services. But that’s only the beginning.
Once you’ve selected the publisher nodes you want to subscribe to, you start getting into second gear. Of course you receive direct messages from your network, but you could argue that it’s just email fit for purpose, made to work a little more sensibly. From people you trust, from people you’d like to hear from.
But that’s only the start. You have many more powerful selection tools, based on the network, its participants and the tools and techniques available to assess the information. You can check on what’s popular…. What are your customers talking to you about? What about your partners? Your staff? Separate views, yet compressed into a single whole if you want.
An order, a blog post, a presentation, a complaint, a bill, a sales success story, a promotion, a really clever way to solve a problem, a thank you note…. Each of these in turn becomes a social object, gathering the moss of comments from all and sundry. The rich interaction is captured in one place and congregated around the object in question, simply and conveniently. Threaded mail solved some of this, but only for the contents of the mail itself. In the social enterprise, you don’t have to worry about versioning either (which presentation are you looking at? That’s not what I have on slide 3?) since the “attachment” is always the same one, held centrally.
Selection is not a one-time administrative process redolent of the desktop productivity tools of the ’80s and ’90s. Instead, it is dynamic and responsive, driven by you and your network of choice.
The social enterprise is able to vote up the importance of a topic in a number of ways: direct messages, “hotline alerts”; “re-tweeting” the update, link or post so that more people see it and can engage with it, rather than the linear paths of the past; voting or just “liking” or “thumbs-upping” something; rating it; reviewing it; just by talking about it, making the topic “trend” so that it rises to the top of the pile; raising the frequency of the words used so that they appear in relevant tag clouds; driving engagement through the use of collaborative filtering techniques (people who read this link also read…. People who tracked this complaint also did… And so on).
So the linearity of past communications styles is no longer there; non-linear, non-hierarchical, pattern-based rather than process-based communications take place instead. The likelihood that you see what is important is increased in quantum leaps because people you trust have true 21st century tools.
Just over a decade ago, I had to ensure that the bank I worked for was prepared for the euro. We’d made all the changes, tested them, run them ad nauseum. Soon we were in dress rehearsals, simulating the triple-witch of month-end, quarter-end and year-end as part of going live with the euro. [I wonder which genius chose to make the go-live at such a time...] as the cutover drew near, one of the year-end reporting suites blew up. To cut a long story short, the program causing the problem was reporting on client turnover for a company that had been shut down seven years earlier. But the reports chugged on.
Getting information in an enterprise has never been a problem. More reports than you can shake a stick at, more enquiries than the average sports ticket desk. At least nowadays the outputs are emailed rather than printed, but the emails carry the same curse. Too many of them, with haystacks of information rather than needles.
So the first job of curation is selection, and you should (by now) have some idea as to how that is made more effective.
Let’s move on to the “organisation” aspect of curation in the social enterprise. I’ve already spent a little time talking about the value of tag clouds, of collaborative filtering, of social objects gathering moss via comments and observations, about voting processes, like buttons, thumbs up and down, rating mechanisms…. All these are ways to make the selection process easier, to make the curated information more valuable, more timely, more relevant. So we need mechanisms and conventions to assist us. Not everyone likes hashtags, but some more generally accessible equivalent is likely to be needed. Simple ways of getting collaboratively filtered information have to be built in, still bearing in mind that the filter may be automated, but not the curation.
When it comes to presentation, the world of the social enterprise is replete with mobile devices, multiple devices, mobile apps and native HTML5. So the minimum requirement is that the curated information is made available to the device of choice, and in the form requested. SMS alerts where required, email alerts only when absolutely necessary (why add to the waking nightmare of too much email?) Where and when the information is persisted, archived, retrievable and searchable matters.
I’m still on vacation, sharing these “provisional” thoughts as the rest of the family sleeps. Your comments are welcome, they help me figure out whether I’m making sense or not.
My next post is going to concentrate more on the topic of how to make the curated information actionable, how to learn from what people like Esther Dyson have been saying about search.