One of the commonest criticisms levelled at social software is that of wasting time. Wikis were whined at, blogs were barracked and now we have social networking sites (particularly Facebook) getting slammed.
Now I can understand the arguments about “too closed”. I can even understand the arguments about “too open”. What fascinates me is the number of people that take a different tack altogether….Facebook wastes time.
This takes me back a very long time, to the days when Visicalc and Wordstar and Storyboard were coming through, and corporate e-mail was just settling down. To the days before Microsoft Office, and the days soon after.
There were people playing with Visicalc, and they were followed by people who played with Excel. Digging around to find out how it worked, using it for all kinds of purposes. And all around them, people stood accusing. Accusing them of wasting time. Spreadsheets weren’t real work. they said.
Many years later, I had reason to audit many servers worth of Excel files at one particular institution. To my surprise, most of the files had nothing to do with “business”. Fantasy football and cricket teams. Tea and coffee rounds. Stock portfolios. Expense claims. Shopping lists. Lists and lists and lists and lists.
The spreadsheets per head ratio was in the region of 3000:1. Yes, you read that right. And over 80% of the spreadsheets had absolutely nothing to do with “work”.
But hey, it was Excel. So it must be legitimate. After all, whole businesses are run today on Excel, aren’t they?
I’ve seen the same thing happen with other so-called “productivity tools” or “end-user computing tools” or, more recently, “collaboration tools”. And the patterns are the same.
Phase 1: Bunch of people start playing with software. Nobody cares.
Phase 2: Large bunch of people start playing with software. Now everybody cares, and the Wasting Time card is played.
Phase 3: Slowly, more and more business uses emerge. But still no enterprise adoption. People get more proficient at using it, though.
Phase 4: Proficiency gets higher, enterprises begin adoption. Site licences emerge.
Phase 5: Users break up into three groups: SuperPower, Effective and Don’t Care.
Phase 6: New tools emerge. Play begins again.
or something like that anyway……