Notes in the Margin

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

Archive for the ‘Social Web’ Category

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

Segmenting Communications: Facebook vs. Google Plus

There’s been a lot of interest in Google Plus’s “Circles” feature over the past month. It seems to present a more sophisticated and nuanced ability to manage communications and relationships.

In Google Plus, you don’t just “friend” someone like you do in Facebook (a relationship that, like a LinkedIn connection, must be reciprocal), nor do you exactly “follow” them like you do in Twitter (which is not necessarily reciprocal).

Instead, in Google Plus you find someone and put them in a Circle. This has the same effect as following them on Twitter: that person’s posts will appear in your general stream, as well as the stream of posts for that circle.

And, like Twitter, the connection need not be reciprocal: if the other person does not add you to one of his/her circles, then your posts will not be included in their general stream. There is a place they can go, however, that will include posts from people who have encircled them: “Incoming”.

It seemed that this “Circles” approach uniquely enabled better segmentation of one’s connections and relationships, so that for example if you have something technically-oriented to post, you don’t need to intrude upon the notice of, say, your family. You just post it to a circle you may have create called, “Geeks”, and members of the circle called “Family” will not see the post (unless you have family members who are also geeks).

It turns out that the Circles capability in Google Plus isn’t new, it’s just promoted and designed better than the corresponding capability in Facebook. In fact, you could argue that Facebook allows better segmentation than Google Plus – if you can find it.

In Facebook there are two ways to segment your posts, and similarly filter the posts you receive:

  • You can create groups in Facebook and invite friends to join. You can also just add friends to a group without their consent (though they can leave the group). In this case, posts to the group appear on the wall of group members only. You can even make private or secret groups to prevent non group members from finding those posts.
  • Lists are actually pretty powerful in Facebook, and I suspect underused. You can create your own list of friends (lists aren’t shared, nor are they visible to your friends).

To filter your wall feed to show only updates from a particular list, click on the “Most Recent” dropdown at the top of the News Feed, and you’ll see the ability to choose from one of your lists.

You can also filter your posts so they’re visible only to specific lists. To do this, click on the status update box (“What’s on your mind”), and you’ll see the image of a lock, which is a drop down where you can select who sees the post. To select a particular friend, or a list of friends, click the “Customize” option.

So using lists ends up working very much like Google Circles, it just requires a little more effort. In fact, Facebook goes one step further: when you customize who will see your posts, you can also explicitly exclude friends or lists of friends.  A perfect approach for college students whose parents have friended them.

Written by tstaley

August 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Posted in Platforms, Social Web

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

Changing Instinct, Changing Behavior

As a new social Intranet program moves ahead, I’ve been been thinking increasingly about how employees will respond to the sharing behavior enabled by a new social collaboration Intranet. Effective use of this kind of communication environment is no small change for an organization. It requires new instincts and new priorities, which result in new behavior.

For generations – maybe forever – people have been accustomed to sequestering information, and meting it out judiciously, often for some kind of personal gain. Even the simple act of sharing news or gossip can be done to position oneself as a valued source of information. In the extreme, and often in political organizations, jealously safeguarding information can feel like a survival strategy.

This instinct may vary from company to company, but I suspect that information hoarding is a natural human instinct.

The Social Web frames the information hoarding model in a more dubious position. The remarkable uprisings in the Middle East, enabled in large part by open access to information, are a stark reminder of this. When populist information is scarce, or the channels are mediated or occluded, it’s easier for regimes to wield power. The same is true for large organizations.

But once those communication channels are open and unencumbered, and information is no longer a scarce resource, what becomes of our information hoarding instinct? There are surely times where it’s still valuable, as when doing strategic planning or employee assessments, but for many other situations there is a need to develop or enhance the opposite instinct for sharing, generously.

This new instinct is more than a need, it’s an imperative. It leads to deeper engagement and ultimately greater job satisfaction. From the business perspective, information sharing leads to higher productivity, better alignment, as well as greater market awareness and responsiveness.

In a recent post called Change Is Good, But It’s Also Really Hard, Om Malik wrote:

Large companies are somewhat like me — once they get used to a certain behavior, they develop a certain culture and a set of procedures, processes and a work environment that defines them and their future. These define their corporate DNA. It is hard to change. You can’t buy new DNA, and companies can’t acquire their way into new corporate cultures. Furthermore, companies that lack that self-awareness of their DNA and behaviors, in the end, find themselves extinct.

Later in that article, Malik makes it clear that the required change is not about changing the DNA – the essence of a company, which is virtually impossible to change – it’s about changing behaviors that aren’t useful or constructive. Information hoarding can be one of those unhelpful behaviors.

As mentioned above, a vital element of the new information sharing instinct is engagement. With an online sharing environment, this can be seen as participation in the constructive, creative and enabling conversations that move the business forward. In a post called, Is Innovation Possible in Communications?, Valeria Maltoni frames engagement this way:

The difference between a motivated and energized group and one that sleep-walks through the day is engagement. And isnt that the very thing so many organizations are seeking from teams? What is engagement if not awareness, seeing whats going on around you, and responding appropriately and accordingly?

Information hoarding is the stuff of previous centuries and outdated regimes. But how do you change organizational instincts, which collectively is about changing corporate culture? Perhaps an infusion of new blood, though Om Malik was understandably not sanguine about those prospects. A populist uprising, though compelling on the world political stage, seems unlikely in a corporate environment, especially during a down economy when job security is paramount to most. Execs, comfortable in their relative isolation and unconvinced about the value, are unlikely to lead the charge.

Our approach is to tap high-value and catalytic people in the middle and upper levels of the organization, individuals we’ve dubbed Social Network Champions. These are people who are moving fast and generally making things happen in the organization. Not rooted in tradition, they can see the value of a new platform that will help drive, even accelerate, their agenda. We’ve also seen that if the platform is cumbersome, or the UI is ineffective, these people won’t waste time and will find other ways to get their work done.

These highly engaged individuals, we’re just beginning to see, don’t see information as something to wield selectively, but they instead distribute it freely – spewed out as a kind of collateral value, a by-product of their main activity.

So the hope is that the social platform will highlight the high-value sharing behavior of these Social Network Champions, and provide a clear example to others in the organization. This is the hope for changing behavior and, ultimately, instincts.

Written by tstaley

February 18, 2011 at 12:05 pm

94% don’t use social media to collect customer feedback

Here’s a stat that will change dramatically in the coming year:

According to a new study from market research firm MarketTools, 94% of companies do not yet use social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to gather customer feedback.

via Most companies don’t use social media to collect customer feedback :: BtoB Magazine.

Written by tstaley

January 25, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Social Web

Reading Habits and Processes

In an article called How Online Reading Habits Have Changed Over 2010, ReadWriteWeb posted a good summary of some important trends in how we read – especially, how we consume news and long-form journalism.

One of the more subtle trends of 2010 has been the way that our reading habits have changed, due to a convergence of other Web trends: mobile apps, real-time Web (mostly Twitter), and social networking as a way to track news (mostly Facebook). In the previous era of the Web, the so-called Web 2.0, RSS Readers and start pages were all the rage. Over 2010, though, more people used tools like Twitter, Facebook, Instapaper, Flipboard, LazyWeb, Feedly and TweetDeck, to track news.

Nowadays I’m more likely to find stories to read via a vertical aggregator (the media-focused Mediagazer is my current favorite) and save them to Instapaper for later reading via my iPhone or iPad. I still use Google Reader, but in all honesty I now use it more to scan than to read.

Of particular interest is the implied process by which we scan, select and then consume content. Scanning content happens either manually – visually poring over a feed in Twitter, Facebook or RSS – or algorithmically, ala My6Sense (with which you then visually scan). Selecting content, for me, involves when and where to read:

  • Short news items – the weather, the Patriots score, factoids, etc. – can be read in place, in the feed.
  • I’ll often bookmark on Delicious items of potential interest, just for the record. How many times have I thought to myself, “Didn’t I see something about that somewhere?”
  • But for articles and longer thought pieces of interest, as suggested in this article, Instapaper is great. With an iPad or iPhone it’s very useful – for reading on a train, for example, but it’s also often a more useful context to read articles anyway, because it strips the distracting ads and cruft around the edges.

Content I/O

One thing not discussed, which seems like the very key to social media in 2010, is how we respond and share these items with others. For this I have my own personal algorithm, as I’m sure everyone does, implicitly or explicitly.

  1. For articles of general interest, there is shared bookmarks with an app like, again, Delicious or Digg.
  2. For Facebook users, The Like button is also a really easy way to share an item. You may want to think about pressing “Like” for news items or personal posts, but not products and services, for which the service is there to capture your profile and friends for subsequent spamming.
  3. For news items you more actively want to share, there is Facebook and Twitter. We may have slightly different social graphs in each environment, so what you share on Twitter will differ from that on Facebook. I suppose this is a good use of the Facebook app, Selective Tweets. And of course, many sites offer the convenience of posting to Facebook or Twitter.
  4. Finally, a blog is useful when you discover a piece of content like the one referenced here, that makes you think more broadly about it’s application and relevance. Here you can add a blog post that also includes additional reflections (as is the case here).

Socializing Content

What if you wanted to take a news item and post it for further discussion with a discrete group? Facebook certainly provides this in the ability to “Like” and comment on posts there, though the Facebook discussion UI is flat and limiting. The same is true with blog comments, with the additional challenge that it requires readers to actually navigate to your blog.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a tool where you could comment in place? There is an emerging set of tools in the “Social Commenting” space, such as Disqus, Fytch, IntenseDebate and Backtype. These seem to be preliminary offerings, but perhaps harbingers of further reading and sharing evolution.

via How Online Reading Habits Have Changed Over 2010.

Written by tstaley

December 7, 2010 at 7:25 am

Social Reading

There are social networks organized on all kinds of topics. For reading, two popular current sites are Goodreads and Shelfari. In each case, you add books you have read, are reading, or want to read. These titles are then visible to the book-related network of people you define and maintain on that platform. Each platform looks fun and useful – a way to get to know your friends better through the books they read, and to get recommendations on reading material of interest.

There is also a faint social element to reading on the Kindle platform, where you have the option to see passages that are highlighted by others. Amazon describes the feature this way on their web site:

Amazon displays Popular Highlights by combining the highlights of all Kindle customers and identifying the passages with the most highlights. The resulting Popular Highlights help readers focus on passages that are meaningful to the greatest number of people. Some books don’t have enough highlighting in them to have Popular Highlights. Popular highlights are marked with a gray dashed underline in your reading. You can see Popular Highlights for all books that have them at

Though intriguing, it’s a very modest social feature, through which you can learn which passages of your current book most people find interesting, a form of crowd-sourcing. It’s easy to imagine someone skimming an entire book by jumping from one popular highlight to the next (which is the very kind of superficial reading the Nicholas Carr bemoans in The Shallows).

But last week a new social reading tool was introduced that seems to be a significant step forward in this arena. Copia was introduced last week referring to itself as “part online bookstore, part social network,” and “the world’s first truly social e-reading platform.” In fact, it promises characteristics of both Goodreads and shared highlights in Kindle, but goes one important step farther. It allows you to create and share with specified friends annotations about specific passages in the book; and of course, you can read the notes of your friends as well.

Reviews of the new platform can be found on Mashable and ReadWriteWeb.

The result is a truly social reading experience which, short of book groups or re-aloud sessions, is more or less unprecedented. It may also be exactly tuned to the “participatory culture” of today’s younger readers, who create meaning socially more than any previous generation. In fact, social reading might be an antidote to the situation observed by Nicholas Carr, cited by college English professors, that students are increasingly having a hard time getting through a novel.

A cautionary note: Copia is riddled with bugs, and the user interface is unintuitive and overly busy. Unless these are addressed, the platform won’t get much attention. But simply as a lead example of an important and emerging social platform for education, it’s worth taking note.

Written by tstaley

November 29, 2010 at 2:54 pm