Notes in the Margin

On the intersection of web apps, digital content and social media

Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

Clay Shirky via Joho: Why do comments suck?

Clay Shirky gave a presentation last week at Social Computing Symposium 2013, a small invitation-only conference run by Microsoft Research.

The exclusive event may have been inaccessible to most of us, but David Weinberger was there and captured some raw notes, live blogging the Clay Shirky session, which asked the pithy and relevant question “Why do comments suck?” The raw notes are available on David’s Joho site: Joho the Blog » Clay Shirky: Why do comments suck?. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by tstaley

January 20, 2013 at 3:53 am

Posted in Collaboration

Collaboration Groups: Where It All Happens

The place where work generally gets done in a social collaboration environment is in a group. Groups are places where you invite specific participants, collect content, hold discussions, get focused on a particular task or topic.

There are many kinds of groups, depending on the collboration environment. Groups can be open, moderated, or private; groups can also be internal-only (only network members can participate), or they may be made accessible to invited guests. The image below shows the options available when you create a group within Jive: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by tstaley

September 29, 2012 at 4:03 am

Posted in Collaboration

Online Workspaces for Extended Teams


It’s not uncommon for a workgroup to include team members that are outside the originating organization. This can happen when you’re dealing with external content providers, clients, partners, consultants or sub-contractors. Oftentimes, these kind of extended team projects pop up quickly, and you need to find a reasonable place to share files and other project content: graphics, documents, links, bios, schedules, etc.

Most internal systems present some difficult hurdles in these cases. If your organization is running SharePoint, it’s difficult to authenticate people who aren’t in the company directory. You can ask your IT department to add external people to the directory for the sake of the project but the request, if it’s granted, might take weeks to be delivered. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by tstaley

September 28, 2012 at 9:28 pm

Posted in Collaboration, Networks

Social Networks and the Evolution of Collaboration

I’ve recently signed on to a new assignment as head of Business Development for Scrybe, a startup in the social networking space. The application is called Convofy, which at first blush it appears to be very much like a wave of other popular private social networks such as Yammer, Socialcast and Chatter.

source: Geek and Poke

If Enterprise 2.0, like Web 2.0, is centered around people, and relationships, and communities, and being connected, then it’s no wonder these apps have gotten significant attention. Private Social Networks are like Facebook, except that the population of users is limited to everyone with the same email domain, which usually means people within the same organization. Of course, most of these PSNs (including Convofy) now enable people outside your email domain to have limited access if invited.

Purely from a social perspective, these apps are interesting and engaging, like Facebook can be. They become a switchboard of activity associated with the people and groups you work with. This activity can include things like shared links, updates, images and files. On a human level, PSNs can animate and narrate the social side of your organizational work; they can make you feel connected, and add a sense of meaning.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by tstaley

September 16, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Social Media Apps Make Digital Work Visible

I just came across a post from last summer by Jim McGee called Managing the visibility of knowledge work. It seems like a relatively old meme: he references it in a post dating back to 2002 and a post called Knowledge Work as Craft Work.

The idea of “observable work,” as applied to the challenges of working digitally, may have first been created by Jon Udell in a 2009 post. A related meme, Narrate Your Work, was described by Dave Winer later that same year.

There are a few obvious ways I’ve typically quantified, or made visible, my work in the past – say, when creating a consulting invoice:

  1. Search for documents created in a client folder for the designated time period
  2. Trawl through the Sent Items folder in email
  3. Scan through one’s calendar to identify meetings held and attended

There may be cases when archiving these artifacts into a zip or PDF file would be appropriate for making one’s work visible.

These days, the context in which work happens is evolving beyond documents stored on a hard drive or email. Online productivity apps like Google Docs, and scores of cloud-based tools now automatically log your activity, whether you’re planning, authoring, commenting or otherwise collaborating. Of course, few of these tools in my experience offer convenient ways to filter and view – make visible – the work you’ve executed. So, as before, you may be forced to create your own journal entries, perhaps with hyperlinks to your work artifacts.

It will be interesting to see the way in which working in online social environments might make work more visible. Of course, the signal-to-noise ratio will inevitably go down in such environments as items unrelated to work will be included, but increasingly important morsels will be shared in short fragments, as little as 140 characters or less. Sharing links, or answering technical questions, or reviewing text are all lightweight ways of adding value to a project, and often go unnoticed or unmeasured.

But if you conducted your projects within a group on a social platform like Jive, Yammer or Convofy, there would be stored in that location a record of all interactions, digital work and value added. This seems like a positive development in the process of making digital work visible – and valued. As teams look to the accrued value in these social platform, it might also push participants to be more conscious of their digital work as craft – that is, worthy of being observed and valued, and therefore worthy of taking greater care to deliver quality.

Like older sharing platforms, I don’t know that any of the newer social platforms offer a convenient way to capture, quantify and make the digital work of the team and its individuals visible. Furthermore, the hard part – identifying value in the stream of updates – remains as an exercise to the interested user. But all the data is there, and it seems like only a matter of time before digital work becomes more visible, its value better quantified and its quality more conducive to the elevated form of craft.

Written by tstaley

September 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Convofy: Collaboration Gets Social

From its earliest days, perhaps back to Lotus Notes in the early 90s, collaboration has always promised a compelling value proposition. Working together online brought minds together, expedited the ideation and review process, and enabled others to more immediately benefit from the fruits of that joint effort.

But collaboration has never fully lived up to it’s promise, except for academics and pundits who can wax at length about it’s (theoretical) virtues. The problem is that collaboration, as conceived in this context, is a purposeful and deliberate act. As if you would consciously allocate a certain percentage of your day to collaborative activities.

We saw this in observing the use of Buzzword, which was one of the finer collaboration tools of recent experience. The problem was that you had to think to go to Buzzword to encounter changes or comments from your collaborators; there was no effective notification. Even if there were, Buzzword (and all of remained a place apart, separate from your ongoing work and attention.

As a result, collaboration environments, as separate, discrete places disconnected from the flow of work, have remained somewhat stilted and their promise not fully realized. This is ironic when you think about it, and the opposite of the fluid and creative process evoked when you think of collaboration as experienced in jazz, improv or even flash mobs. Alas, online collaboration just hasn’t had flow.

Until now…

The sneaky thing about Convofy is that it looks familiar and innocent enough, something like Socialcast, Yammer or Chatter. It has a clean and orderly layout, a nice design, unique only that it is delivered in its own client application, not a browser, using Adobe AIR.

The UI paradigm is now very recognizable, a social feed with an input control at the top. When you click in the input control, as with Facebook, a variety of options are available besides simple updates, including the ability to add files, links, notes, task lists, and milestones.

So as you begin working in Convofy, you recognize it as a social networking environment, where you can add updates of various sorts, follow and be followed by friends and colleagues. You can also create groups, where you can segment your friends and colleagues. Oh, and you can also direct updates to colleagues and/or groups. So the social functionality is good, actually quite good, but the genre is well-understood by this time. Does the world need yet another one of these tools?

Well, maybe, because Convofy goes beyond being merely social. The cross-over nature of this application becomes apparent when you share a file or even a simple note with a group or with specific colleagues. For many common file types, including Office docs, PDFs and most image formats, the document is uploaded and converted into a preview form for viewing in context. Followers with access can also download the file, but if you leave it in Convofy you will be able to witness the integration of social networking and collaboration.

Convofy comes with an array of visual markup and annotation tools, the kind you will find in high-end tools like Acrobat and even Jive. These tools enable you to comment, highlight, underline, draw a circle around elements – all good collaboration capabilities when you want to work with others to create and refine content.

Remarkably, you can even comment or markup web pages added as links. Yes, the link you add leads to a replica of the actual web page. The advantage of delivering the application in Adobe AIR is that Convofy can render the web page and make it available for collaboration. Marking up and collaborating on web pages seems like a potentially very useful capability – especially for web designers and developers – and a capability I haven’t seen since Equill was acquired by Microsoft.

Finally, what makes this collaboration social is the fact that all comments and markups are surfaced in the relevant feed. In other words, the act of collaborative has become part of the social stream. Here’s an item snagged from a feed – a comment I made on a sentence taken from a Word document. The comment is above, and the snippet is a clickable link that takes you to the marked up version of the document.

When you click on the new comment or markup, you get taken right to the referenced location in the document or image. The comments appear on the right (like Buzzword).

Convofy goes where did not go, but should have, applying Buzzword’s commenting ability to a broader range of documents, including PDFs.

So, is Convofy revolutionary? Possibly, though time will tell whether social networking and collaboration blend well this way. I have some reservations about the feed being the primary means by which users engage with collaborative content, though it’s a UI metaphor that seems to work for Facebook and Twitter. Convofy does offer some useful filtering options that allow you to look for files, or even specific file types. You can also filter on the other supported
content types.

So maybe this app will scale after all. It certainly is a fascinating attempt at uniting two related but heretofore only partially integrated application realms. With Convofy, the social element makes collaboration more immediate and relevant, while the collaboration capability makes social more substantive and valuable. This is an app worth watching.

Written by tstaley

April 22, 2011 at 10:56 pm

6 Keys to Launching Successful Collaborative Intranet Groups

For a social and collaborative Intranet, bootstrapping the newfound sharing behavior may be challenging. Here are some ideas on how to focus and orient groups getting started on a connected internal platform.

Contrary to the popular expression from Field of Dreams, simply building an online capability for your group’s collaboration does not by any means guarantee that your teammates will come. There are a few keys to attend to when planning your collaboration site and some up-front planning along these lines will go a long way to making the online facility a success for your team.

This post goes through the keys to success in creating and managing a social collaboration community. But because this is a collaborative environment, please weigh in with insights from your experience. You can add comments at the bottom of this entry, or add your feedback to the discussion forum.

The keys to collaborative Intranet success include the following:

  1. Clarity of Purpose
  2. Setting Expectations
  3. Familiar and Useful Content
  4. Easy Navigation
  5. Kicking Off
  6. Encouraging Usage / Celebrating Success

1. Clarity of Purpose

You can expect that all your prospective online cohorts are already busy, so much so that each will have little or no extra time for a gratuitous online experiment. The most important first message to deliver to prospective participants is that, although this is a pilot project, you expect significant value from the ability to share files and other content, engage in online discussions, coordinate activities and distribute information.

Yes, a collaborative Intranet is intended to help the culture and level of engagement within a company. But your colleagues should know that you expect to achieve significant value directly from participation in the online environment. These benefits can include some of the following:

  • Knowledge sharing. By participating in the online environment, your group’s knowledge, decisions, questions and plans will all accrue in one central, shared location. This represents not only time saving, as people will more easily be able to find key content, but it also means a clearer and more widely shared understanding of the group’s mission.
  • Strengthened Relationships. Especially for teams that are spread across multiple locations, it’s difficult to develop a sense of team identity. It’s similarly difficult to get to know the individuals on your team with sparse real-time interactions and ill-focused email threads. An online environment enables teammates to engage more deeply, and asynchronously, than other methods.
  • Improved efficiency. Meetings and email have come to define how collaboration occurs within organizations. Yet these are increasingly exposed as inefficient ways to work: meetings often wade through information that could have been shared online; emails push content out to individual Inboxes through successive (often endless) messages. An online sharing environment won’t replace meetings or email but, by providing a place to capture background content and discussions, it will make meetings more productive, and email easier to digest.
  • New Idea Generation. By collecting content in a single, well-organized environment, your Intranet will enable team members to better engage with the content and purpose of the group’s activities, and will likely stir new ideas, discussions and directions. This might currently happen, by luck, in the context of a meeting or a long email thread, but in the shared Intranet environment idea generation and sharing is not constrained by fleeting moments or messages that difficult to parse.

Your declared purpose can be declared during a kick-off event for the space (more on this below), but it’s also useful to add it prominently to your collaboration environment as a reference document.

2. Setting Expectations, Gaining Commitment

Even if your teammates have seen and understand the value inherent in a collaborative environment, they are likely to remain rooted in their old behavior patterns. Sharing information online and engaging in the team space is new behavior for most people. Expectations are generally pretty clear when it comes to meetings and email. Our calendars and Inboxes fill up with content and commitments, and we respond accordingly.

But the online collaboration environment is a new destination, not accessible through Outlook or other usual business applications or locations. Most collaboration environments will notify participants of new content via email, but even this remains a passive, reactive mode of engaging in your group’s interactions.

Start by asking your teammates to visit the shared workspace at least once a day. Encourage them to add information that might be useful to the group. This could be something as mundane as a Facebook-like update on their state of mind that day. This simple update goes a long way to building relationships and humanizing the work environment.

Once your group is in full swing, you may still need to encourage participation, but that will be covered below in the “Encouraging Usage” section. To start, just get your colleagues to commit to a daily check-in.

3. Familiar and Useful Content

The value of a collaborative environment comes from the content shared. A good way to start a community is to collect documents, images, reports, etc. that have been shared among the team – often in the form of email attachments or links to web pages. A useful way to prime the content for your team start is to take a little time and mine the emails sent to your group for attachments and references you can collect and add to the shared space.

Some of this content may be fixed and final, and can be added simply as reference material. Other content might be the potential subject of additional commentary or discussion. When you add this content to your site, consider what kind of reactions it might generate: if people will want to comment, make sure you enable and encourage comments. If the content would lead to discussion, you might want to add it as the lead topic in a discussion forum.

Most importantly, just make sure there is content on the site before people join. It’s the first impression thing: you want newcomers to see potential value right from the beginning. When starting a new group, here are some typical things you might want to add before people arrive:

  • A welcome notice (probably as a blog), setting the context for work on the space. This would include things like your hope that everyone will participate, either by adding original content, or by commenting on other participant’s content.
  • Add one or more discussion forums that are pre-populated with issues, ideas or questions with which the group is engaged. This would provide an easy way for new members to add their two cents and see some value.
  • Create a simple calendar of group events, milestones, deliverables, etc.
  • As mentioned above, if you have documents, images or other files that the group has shared, upload them to the shared space.

4. Easy Navigation

Nothing discourages users more than frustration of a web environment that isn’t easily comprehensible. Your users may buy into the purpose, and they make a commitment to participate regularly, but if they are thwarted in their attempts to understand the environment, those best-laid plans will be set aside.

As the Community Manager for your team, take some time regularly to make sure that the site remains comprehensible and hospitable. You may have some control over the layout if important content isn’t being displayed effectively. And you may want to re-post items that have dropped too low in a the sequential display, but remain important.

A key to making a site accessible and comprehensible is the use of hyperlinks. Some environments allow your team to create saved bookmarks, which acts as an informal table of contents. Also, encourage your participants to use hyperlinks in the content they create. For example, in the midst of a forum discussion, someone might refer back to a document or other information item stored on the site. If so, encourage this person to add a hyperlink to the document – it only takes a minute, but the connectivity is what helps build the corpus of knowledge for the group.

5. Kicking off

Once you have primed the site with content, and you have readied a welcome document and are ready to discuss expectations for your team’s use of its shared environment, it’s time to formally kick off the platform. Ideally, your users should see the site for the first time when you can introduce and guide them through it. If users go to the site before all of the foregoing – purpose, expectations and content especially – they will easily get discouraged and leave unimpressed.

A kick-off doesn’t have to be a huge affair – it can be done as part of a regular team conference call, for example, and could even be done in 20 – 30 minutes. The key again is that you do the work up front, so their first impression is positive and they will know how to engage with the site.

6. Encouraging Usage, Celebrating Success

Finally, once the site is up and running and your teammates have been introduced, it’s likely that the community will need ongoing encouragement. Whenever possible, you can politely ask a colleague whether the excellent document they have just shared with you via email has also been uploaded to the shared environment.

Or, when you find yourself in the midst of a long and intractable email or thread, move the discussion to an online forum and notify the group of its new home.

When people add great content to the site, or when you observe a meaty discussion happening online, call it out! This can be done by email, as contradictory as that sounds, in meetings or on the site itself. When and if appropriate, share the success outside your group and show off!

This will be an ongoing process as your teammates get acclimated to sharing online. However, if you believe the initial purpose statement, you and your team will get great results from your efforts.

Written by tstaley

January 28, 2011 at 7:04 am