Facebook and the enterprise: Part 3

A few days ago, I promised to share my thoughts about Facebook in the context of knowledge management in the enterprise. So here goes.

First off, some context. For many years people have not wanted to share their “little black books”, their contacts and addresses. For whatever reason, some people appeared to feel that they were defined by the raw data rather than the relationships. Sad but true. As a result, when the first Customer Exploitation Systems came to be implemented, there were salesmen in all walks of life who pushed back, who refused to share their contact network.

Similarly, for many years bosses have not wanted their staff to help out any of the boss’s peers. If you take a charitable view of this, you could call it a case of incentive misalignment. Sadder still, the commonest reason was pure selfishness, bordering on spite.

I could go on but won’t. The point I’m trying to make is that our generation has not always wanted to share, to collaborate. To learn and to teach.  This is not something I’m seeking to solve within this post. You can take a horse to water….

I am far more interested in environments full of people who want to share but can’t. I think that tools like Facebook can make an immense impact in such environments. Let me take three simple examples:

One, relationships. Facebook has a rich array of relationships, from Friend to Group Member to Network Member and even Cause Supporter, all the way to Event Participant. And they’re all non-hierarchical and nonexclusive. This is very powerful, since it mimics real-life relationships far better than organisation charts and hierarchies. Furthermore, it allows you to “subscribe” to your interests with reasonable precision.

Two, conversations. Facebook allows a wide range of conversation types, from Poke to Send Message to Write On Wall to Chuck Book to Hug to Give a Gift to Dedicate a Song. It also features a number of conversation styles, from text to video (and surely audio cannot be far behind) and a whole plethora of ways to attach stuff and comment on stuff, both bilaterally as well as multilaterally.  Again, this mimics organisational real life far more than the straitjackets of email-only deprivation zones.

Three, transactions. Every event in Facebook is a transaction, and every transaction you do in Facebook can be an event. A news feed is nothing more than a transaction ticker. You get status updates on a number of things as well. And notifications. The entire alert process is promising and more flexible than traditional enterprise approaches.

None of this is perfect, but there’s a good foundation. Relationship-Conversation-Transaction. Pretty much everything persistent. Pretty much everything archivable and retrievable. The beginnings of syndication and search functionality.

Now, before I meander into my next Facebook post (where I connect Facebook with Four Pillars) let me bring this Knowledge Management piece to a reasonably tidy end.

Facebook provides a good relationship-conversation-transaction base as foundation. It assists you in finding people and skill and expertise, in creating communities of interest, in subscribing to news and events, in supporting polls and questions and discussion boards. It also captures quite a lot of profiling and preference and behavioural information.

If I had something like Facebook functionality within an enterprise, I could do things like draw collaboratively-filtered lessons from watching the apps that people used. Why does person A have an app set that differs so widely from that of person B? What can I learn from that difference? What can person A and person B learn from that difference?

If I had something like Facebook functionality within an enterprise, I could do things like plot out the routes that real information took, subverting hierarchies and tunnelling under garden walls. I could see relationship maps and mash them up with, for example, age-in-firm, to help me select mentors and buddies and role models.

If I had something like Facebook functionality within an enterprise, I could do things like start with a view that all information is open, then begin to close some elements selectively for regulatory or confidentiality or safety reasons. Instead of today’s post EAI post DRM nightmare, where Sharing is a Miracle. Or a lie.

More later. Keep the comments flowing.

13 thoughts on “Facebook and the enterprise: Part 3”

  1. Once again JP, you have hit the nail on the head. The following sentence sums up my instinct:

    None of this is perfect, but there’s a good foundation. Relationship-Conversation-Transaction. Pretty much everything persistent. Pretty much everything archivable and retrievable. The beginnings of syndication and search functionality.

    What is needed next is for people to make the sub tle shift of defaults from CLOSED to OPEN, (or exclusive to inclusive, or hierarchical to messy mesh, etc)

    Keep the conversation going – it’s important!

    Fang – Mike Seyfang

  2. You are right when you push the idea that using a reasonable solution is much better than waiting for the perfect one.

    Regarding social networks in large organisations, or any other Web 2.0 services like Blogs & Wikis, there is a question coming, over and over again, from the ones I work with :

    – Should we use a specific version of these tools, within the Intranet ? They will, always, be behind in terms of functionnalities and value, but we feel more confortable, “protected” by a firewall.

    – Should we use, within the organization, the widely used solutions like Faceboook and add to it the minimum requirements for confidenciality and security?
    This way of working would make an organization nothing more than a specific “group” within the network.

    My feeling is that the second option is much more efficient and powerful, but I am not sure classical organizations are ready for it.

    Congratulations, one more time, for the quality of your posts.

    Louis Naugès
    Revevol ldt

  3. I could imagine ASP solutions from Facebook (or other communities) where companies wouldn’t buy a license or program a software and implement this in their intranet.

    I could imagine a company would rent a space of Facebook where only members of a group or a network are allowed to enter. And a reserved set of data and functions of those members would be available only to other members of this sub-community.

    I agree with Louis that this would be a very efficient solution. And I think too that only very few organizations are ready for it :-)

  4. Aye – when I first created a Facebook account I wasn’t really able to see the point above and beyond (say) LinkedIn, and it was only when a few of my friends (real ones!) invited be to share a beer, that it all clicked into place. It’s a transactional environment, that’s for sure – I would also postulate that it is a service-oriented environment in the original, activity-led sense of the phrase, i.e. with the client/server principle applied as much to humans as machines. I suppose my only query is whether Facebook is “it”, or just a precursor to “it” – but perhaps, in this increasingly open-platformed world, that doesn’t really matter.

  5. Hi JP,

    I’ve been reading your posts with interest.

    Regarding Louis’ comment above, I agree that this question comes up all the time, and will no doubt come up with Facebook; I would extend the two scenarios to three:
    – do we find something that looks like the Internet tool and deploy it behind the firewall?
    – do we try and build our own?
    – do we – shock horror – venture outside the firewall?

    There is a huge appeal in a company deciding to “build their own” – they can be first in the field, they can re-sell, etc. etc. This is not to be taken lightly though, as it is essentially a commitment to take on something as big as Facebook and keep running with it. There may be a middle ground in the form of a thin layer that works with the existing services and can aggregate from different sources, moving with the trends – after all, how long will it be before Facebook goes the way of MySpace and something else springs up? Given that Facebook is seriously not open in the sense of allowing you to get your information out, I probably wouldn’t want to lock all my business’ information in there too…

    I have a post on my blog that looks at how Facebook can help to solve a company’s Knowledge Management problems and I suggest the third approach:


  6. JP,

    I would (unsurprisingly) agree with Louis here in that it’s (currently) a question about the type of deployment: intranet vs Internet (or more generally, closed/walled garden vs open/networked), and that the full potential will only be reached in the latter case when the ‘conversation’ extends beyond the perimeter, from employees to customers, partners, suppliers and even competitors (aka potential collaborators and future employers) and spans the (increasingly blurred) line between work and play.

    There is no doubt amongst us that there is huge potential value in deployment of these new, flexible modes of communication so as to foster and leverage the myriad relationships (official and otherwise) that exist in any organisation and to improve the flow of information. Enterprises that deploy the technology early (in whatever form) will have a significant advantage over their competitors that should eclipse the cost of deployment. Products like Jive Software’s Clearspace are appearing to address this need and Facebook is certainly proving itself a killer app for consumer social networking now it’s reached critical mass.

    However just like with telephony, network effects play a critical role and if nothing else having to maintain multiple profiles with multiple providers (Facebook, LinkedIn, OpenBC, Viadeo, etc.) is inefficient. I think ultimately open standards like Atom and FOAF will be required to unleash the full potential in much the same way that SMTP enabled corporate messaging to break down the perimeters and SIP and XMPP are doing the same for voice and messaging respectively. Some clever people are calling this the ‘semantic web’.

    In the mean time though it’s our job to help enterprises with the task of ‘changing the way we work’ by adopting the best solutions available today in a fashion that maximises return while minimising risk.

    Sam Johnston

  7. Hey JP,

    There an issue that I don’t feel is teased out here. One of the great benefits of facebook is the ability for asynchronous “social stalking” With privacy settings in place, I like that my friends are checking up on me and I’m checking up on them. We don’t tell each other when we do it and we don’t care that it’s happening because the relationships reflect the level of privacy we desire.

    On facebook, I stay up-to-date on friends’ lives with whom I have only casual interaction. In many weak-tie cases, we know far more about each other than our real world relationship would suggest is possible. This affords us the opportunity to find new ways to build our relationship.

    From an enterprise setting, I wonder how this translates to “keeping everybody on the same page”. I think of the endless status update meetings and efforts to communicate formally across distances, functions, and hierarchies. Wiki’s and other collaborative software do well for combining on deliverables, but what about simple staying up to date on each other’s work lives. I find my consultant friends are always trying to find out what project everyone’s on. Again, with proper privacy settings in place, I would love to be able to browse my boss’s profile to see what he’s working on so that I could be better prepared to work with him. I’d love for him to be able to see mine and approach me about a recent project I completed that appeared in his ‘news feed’.

    The Wall-toWall feature is the most striking example of social stalking at it’s best–like a social RSS on steroids. Friend A writes on my wall. I write back. Now Friend B sees the conversation in his newsfeed or by viewing my profile and clicks on the Wall-to-Wall. Without me knowing, Friend B is viewing the full conversation between me and Friend A. That works because the conversation wasn’t private so I’m fine with others reading it. Now, for example, thinking about a product manager having a conversation with a marketing executive on their walls. An engineer on the same project can easily view the Wall-to-Wall to browse the conversation if he chooses to. It’s interesting because it’s asynchronous, opt-in, collaboration. The product manager didn’t have to try to include the engineer and didn’t have to use some clunky wiki. In the process of ‘normal’ (in this case posting on walls is normal…) conversation, the engineer got to opt-in and join if needed or simply follow along. Very cool.

  8. great post jp. I have been struggling with something related – once we decide on X app for within the enterprise – how do we make it easier to choose behind firewall and outside firewall by content instance. i.e. It is too cumbersome to bring the outside in and inside out. If we acknowledge that yes, we do still live in a world of firewalls – the existing IT infrastructure is still too cumbersome to deal with the current bits and bytes of data, sharing of knowledge and morphing of distinct lines of relationships between personal and professional and what is business related and what is not.

  9. JP, given my own background in knowledge management, I see this is an opportunity to do what I do best, which is to unpack the text and see whether the stable actually contains a pony or is just filled with the pony’s calling cards!

    First off (as you put it), however, I have to ask whether “Customer Exploitation Systems” is a sobriquet you have fashioned in the name of “truth in advertising” about Customer Relationship Management. I just did a Google phrase search, and yours was the only page indexed with the phrase! If it IS your invention, I love it and will delight in using it (appropriately cited) in my future writing! Now let us move to the three nouns behind your “simple examples.”

    If I AM to give you credit for your recognizing the linguistic poverty of the “R” in “CRM,” then I am surprised you do not see it in Facebook. A rich array of labels does not make for a rich array of relationships! Indeed, when you start to tease apart the nature of “real-life relationships” (as you call them) the way, for example, Erving Goffman has done, you quickly discover an amorphous mass that does not yield readily to perceptual categorization. This is not to say that “organization charts and hierarchies” are any closer to “real-life relationships.” Rather it is to say that, when the social subtleties of human relationship are at stake, there is little to be gained from arguing over the lesser of two evils!

    The same goes for conversations, which is another one of Goffman’s prime areas of study. As a matter of fact, one collection of his essays is entitled FORMS OF TALK. This is, by no means, an “easy read” (certainly not something to take on while reading nine other books!); but I cannot imagine having anything intelligent to say about “knowledge sharing” without first having taken a whack at the first essay in the collection, “Replies and Responses.” If nothing else, it is sure to change your thoughts about Google! Once again, it is not a matter of labeling things with type or attaching stuff. It IS about multilateral exchanges, but you will see that Goffman’s take on multilaterality goes way beyond that of Facebook.

    The reason I can state that last sentence so definitively is that the whole point of “Replies and Responses” is that the events of such talk are NOT transactions. Goffman weaves a rather elaborate argumentative web to make this point; and I am not going to reproduce it (because I still do not understand it well enough to synopsize it). However, where the argument leads is the Goffman analyzes a conversation in terms of MOVES (in the metaphor of a chess game, which is basically the operative metaphor behind Wittgenstein’s language-game concept); and moves are far more elaborate than the simpler give-and-take foundation of a transaction.

    Thus endeth my attempt to reveal the weakness of your “good foundation!” Needless to say, this analysis goes far beyond the limitations of Facebook. Rather, it is a wart-revealing lens that can be applied to examine just about anything out there that claims to be “social software.” The moral of the story is that, once again, we should be looking at “real life,” rather than at software. Every enterprise is rich with relationships and conversations. Rather than trying to impoverish it with a consumer toy like Facebook, we should be looking for software that recognizing the wealth that is already there, facilitates it, and ultimately enhances it.

  10. Putting a portal with photos and hobbies etc makes a portal that is intrinsically fun, i.e.. “I want to contribute”. Though, I’m deeply convinced that the principles behind collaborative community efforts, I’m worried by the term “facebook for the enterprise”. The toolset is just a part of the problem. Culture and attitude must be also addressed.

    In my opinion, facebook at the moment is riding on the crest of a wave of hype (which of course is powerful as if “proves” to the masses that social networking is “good”). My personal view is that knowledge management is all about supporting new, interesting conversations with people who can help. But. The problem will be extending the system, such that the facebook-esque system is part of the “way the company works” rather than a “neat adjunct”.

    What Facebook has is not new. The technology underneath the hood is simple. What has changed is attitude of people: a critical mass of active contributors has been reached. So, what are the buttons to need to be pressed to make a large scale active community within a company? (see “Wisdom of the Crowd” by Surowiecki and “Six Degrees” by Watts).

    Consider an online internal directory. Prior to the electronic directory, huge trees worth of paper were shipped but the entries were only updated once a quarter. By switching to an electronic system, the major impact was to show the employees that the “intranet” was useful (a killer app), and HR had to radically change the processes to manage and control the directory entries. The same could be said for the use of email.

    OK, with facebook, I can navigate “friends of friends”, have a flexible model of authority, and the ability to add new applications. However, that does not help a call centre operator or field technician. The power comes when “knowledge sharing” is embedded within the day to day steps of the way they work (see Brown and Duiguid’s description of the Eureka tool in “Social Life of Documents”).

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