Thinking more about social objects in the enterprise

Note: This is a follow-up from yesterday’s post.

A quick recap of what I said yesterday.

Businesses are morphing from customer-product hierarchies to relationship-capability networks. This is placing intense pressure on enterprise systems bases, which have traditionally kept the Fort Knox-like “systems of record” distinct and separate from the somewhat more promiscuous “systems of engagement”.

Systems of record often dealt with private objects, hard to access, secure, confidential: unpublished trading figures from an accounting system, for example. Systems of engagement, on the other hand, often dealt with public objects, usually accessed via the web: a link to a blog post recommended by someone in your network, for example.

Systems of record were perceived to be secure and confidential in comparison to systems of engagement; however, as extracts from systems of record were usually embedded in documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and then sent as e-mail attachments, the true level of security is questionable. Witness what Bradley Manning did.

Systems of engagement are perceived to be open and “insecure”; yet, learning from the facebook model, it can be argued that the granular nature of the security of access is actually of a far higher order than that afforded to the systems-of-engagement-information-accessed-via-email-attachments.

So that was yesterday, in a tenth of the space. Today I thought I’d spend more time actually thinking about the social objects themselves rather than the systems environment inhabited by them. First, some principles:

  • An object becomes social only when it is shared; it is the sharing that makes the object social, not the object per se.
  • A social object creates value not for itself but for the community in which it is shared.
  • The process by which value is created is by the community interacting with the object, leaving comments, classifications, tags, notes, notations, corrections, observations, links, questions and even answers.
  • If a social object falls in a forest and there’s no one to record and comment on its passage, it doesn’t make a sound.
  • Social objects get cocooned in metadata, the who-what-when-how-much that describes frequency of access, the population doing the accessing, number of edits, when and how carried out and by whom, relative popularity, links, tags and so on.
  • By inspecting the metadata we learn about ourselves and about the organisation(s)

While we’ve spoken about collaboration and teamwork for decades, the truth is that most corporate cultures are still not really about sharing. Which makes the very concept of an enterprise social object had to imagine. This is exacerbated by the continuing existence of blame cultures, which contribute to the fear of transparency and the pushback against sharing. It goes against human nature to help arm those who would attack you.

The tools we’ve had in the past have also militated against sharing; if e-mail, attachments and repositories are all we could come up with, we should all pack up and go home.

One of the benefits of consumerisation is that the enterprise can watch and learn from the actions, behaviours and tools of the consumer prior to implementing equivalent systems in the enterprise.

Which is why we should keep looking at facebook, at twitter, at the iPhone, at iTunes, at YouTube, at Flickr, every time we want to learn about what to do in the enterprise.

If we do that, we will learn more about the nature of social objects in the enterprise than we would any other way.

Next post, I shall look at social object metadata, information flows and a little more closely at the objects themselves, all in an enterprise context.

In the meantime, please keep the comments coming; I hope you find what I write useful in return.


19 thoughts on “Thinking more about social objects in the enterprise”

  1. True, corporate cultures are not about sharing, but most really are about collaborating.

    The granularity of privacy controls in Google documents allows me to collaborate with a private group publicly, without sharing my collaboration publicly.

    [same reasons why ‘maker generation’ is collaborating on Tumblr with maker peers and not sharing on Facebook with parents]

  2. You are correct about corporate culture. I have though experienced sharing in a corporate environment and it engendered great creativity and teamwork. I am however now in an environment (a country/ region) where the blame culture you speak of is crippling the ability for innovation and invention. It is quite frustrating…the secrecy, and artistic secrecy. How do I begin changing a culture? Any advice?

  3. @clive agreed, facebook is now mainstream. and security/privacy is now all about granularity, the concept of enterprise perimeters is aging….

  4. @thinkinginsomniac I think it depends on the scale of organisation you’re in, where you fit in, what the culture currently is. Without knowing any of that any advice from me would sound trite. Of course you can alwatys start with the Gandhian approach of starting the change by changing yourself… that will work if you have the right respect/influence/following in the organisation.

Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.