Notes in the Margin

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

Online Workspaces for Extended Teams

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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

The Importance of Usability in Social Business

When you think about it, the first and most important requirement of any social business platform is that people use it.

There’s a lot of discussion about metrics for measuring the effectiveness of social business apps, and adoption and activity are generally dismissed as superficial and not a good measure of value. And yet adoption is the required preliminary step before any other metrics can be considered. Though engagement may not be sufficient, in other words, it’s necessary.

The trouble in many organizations is that new social platforms are swept in on an initial wave of enthusiasm, but usage often quickly plateaus, and adoption doesn’t spread broadly throughout the organization. There are may reasons for this, of course – and our experience is that a strong social advocate with political clout in the organization helps immeasurably.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by tstaley

September 13, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Design

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

Private Social Networks and Intranets

A new wave of social applications has emerged, calling themselves private social networks. These apps have the social DNA of Facebook, where a group of people can share content, images, video and updates in a more limited enclave than with Facebook or other larger networks.

As an application category, private social networks have not sufficiently matured to easily allow functional comparisons. They range from robust online community platforms like Ning, to group text chat platforms such as GroupMe. Many target specific usage and groups, like Chattertree, which targets family interactions.

Mainstream private social networks (PSNs) like Socialcast, Chatter or CubeTree offer many of the engaging social features desired for modern Intranets but are not viable and sufficient platforms for a corporate Intranet which generally require more control over layout, user interface, hierarchy and navigation. The addition of a few key features, however, could make PSNs an interesting alternative. Here are two primary missing capabilities in most PSNs:

1. LDAP or Active Directory Integration

PSNs are generally hosted by the provider. Login is generally enabled by the provider, or by using common social sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn to authorize access. So for most people using a PSN behind their company firewall, this means a second login is required. And for most employees, that’s a nuisance and a deterrent to use.

2. Persistent Pages, Page Elements and Deep-Linking

Most PSNs these days have a stream-based user interface, where events are added to the top of the page and all previous events are pushed down in the ever-changing stack. In this context, an event could be an actual event, like a calendar entry, but can also include a photo or other file uploaded, a status update added, profile items changed, etc. If the PSN supports groups within the network, these generally have the same stream-based UI. This means that there is often no persistent page that can be bookmarked, the content of which can be controlled by the page (or group, or department) owner.

Even when there is a unique URL to a group page, most of these PSNs don’t enable layout control so that, for example, an administrator could post news and announcements at the top of the page to ensure they won’t get lost in the ever-flowing stream.

Integration with an Existing Intranet

Still, PSNs seem to be gaining significant traction within companies and across organizations. The lack of single sign-on has not deterred many people who see in these PSNs a way to boost communication and productivity beyond email. The easy way to retrofit an Intranet when many in the organization are using a PSN is to offer a prominent link to the PSN from the Intranet. You may also be able to embed content from the PSN directly into your Intranet:

  • A good old fashioned RSS feed, if supported by the PSN, would allow updates to your Intranet as well as a user’s feed reader. This approach would be easy to implement, and would have immediate appeal. One thing to test is what happens when someone doesn’t have an account on the PSN or is otherwise not logged in: will the RSS feed still render its content (if so, isn’t that a securoty concern?), or will it fail elegantly?
  • Going a step further, you could look for PSNs that enable embedding in an iframe, web part or widget. This is apparently what Yammer is about to deliver (article here). This would have the same effect as the RSS feed, but provide a richer display of the stream. The iframe approach is probably of limited utility, again because of the lack of control over the PSN layout: the entire page, including all the navigation links, would render within the embedded area.

This application area is evolving quickly, so there’s little doubt that before long PSNs will begin to challenge more full-featured social Intranet platforms such as Jive or SharePoint.

Written by tstaley

August 22, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Social Retrofit for an Intranet: More Twitter Options

The last post referenced a method for embedding tweets into a web page using one of Twitter’s widgets. It’s kind of interesting, and does liven up a site a bit. But the tweets in that example weren’t about or by your company, per se. In the example, the widget’s tweets are the result of a search for specific words.

But there are two ways (at least) you can make your Twitter integration more relevant to your organization and, in so doing, more social.

1. Use Hashtags That Are Unique To Your Organization

As described in Twitter help, “The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.” The primary thing they do is to help find or filter for specific topics or keywords. Of course, hashtagology has evolved to become an artform, a way to also add commentary on tweets. This usage is articulated really nicely in an article by Susan Orlean in the New Yorker, which is referenced on the Twitter help page.

But to make your embedded Twitter widget more relevant to your organization, you could choose a unique hashtag for your organization, presumably one that nobody else will use.

Say, for example, you work for Acme Explosives, and you want to use Twitter as a way to share tweets with employees. You wouldn ‘t use the hashtag #acmeexplosives, because that would probably be used more generally outside the company.  Instead, you might want to use a hashtag that might be meaningful internally, memorable to employees but not obvious to others. Maybe something like #acmecommunity or, depending on how arcane you want to be, you could name the hashtag after your favorite customer, in this case perhaps #overconfidentiivulgaris.

Once you have the hashtag in place, you can then create a Twitter Search Widget that returns all tweets that use that hashtag. In essence, these are public messages directed at a private audience, so not suitable for confidential messaging, but a reasonable way to share industry / public news and notices with a specific audience.

Note that there are no technical barriers that prevent others from using your unique tag, so mischief from non-employees or partners is possible in this approach.

2. Create a Twitter List of Employees

Another approach would be to create a public Twitter list of all employees and partners whose tweets you want to make available. There’s a good introduction to lists in the Twitter Help pages. In the complete version of this approach, you’d have every employee get a Twitter account.

Once you have that list in place, you can create a Twitter List Widget that is based on that public list. In this case, every tweet added by employees on that ist will appear in the widget. Of course, you may have employees who tweet in areas that aren’t relevant to your organization’s focus. In this case, those employees may want to create separate Twitter accounts, or you may want to use the hashtag approach.

Written by tstaley

August 15, 2011 at 11:38 am

Social Retrofit for an Intranet: Twitter Widget

This post looks at how to make a traditional – that is, static and impersonal – Intranet come to life and embody social engagement features without throwing the entire edifice out and starting over. (Not that there’s anything wrong with adopting a new platform: it’s a bigger project, and costlier, but the new generation of social Intranets are pretty compelling).

In the previous post, an external blog got hacked into a website through the use of iframes. “Hack” really is the operative word, and the approach is more evidence that a wholecoth solution is preferable when possible. However, there are many ways to season an old Intranet to enliven it a bit, and in this post we’ll look at the variations of Twitter widgets you can easily embed to make your site – internal or external – a little more social and dynamic.

Twitter itself does all the hard work in creating a Twitter widget. On the Twitter site, there’s a page that enables you to easily create four different kinds of dynamic feeds:

  • Profile Widget: Display your most recent Twitter updates on any webpage. The image at left is an example.
  • Search Widget: Displays search results in real time! Ideal for live events, broadcastings, conferences, TV Shows, or even just keeping up with the news.

  • Faves Widget: Show off your favorite tweets! Also in real time, this widget will pull in the tweets you’ve starred as favorites. It’s great for moderation.
  • List Widget: Put your favorite tweeps into a list! Then show ’em off in a widget. Also great for moderation.

Below is a “Search Widget” which provides a real time feed of tweets containing the words “social” and “intranet”. There’s also a “List Widget” on this site, which shows a feed of Softjoe members’ tweets, accessible at the Twitter Feed link in the menu or here.

To create your Twitter widget, go to twitter.com/about/resources/widgets, and choose the My Website link on the left. There you’ll see the four kinds of feed reiterated above; choose the feed type of your choice, and Twitter offers you a set of simple controls to set up things like color, size, title, etc. Each page can show you a real-time preview of the widget as it will appear on your site.

When you’re done, click the button that says “Finish & Grab Code”, and you’ll get an edit control that has about 33 lines of code that you can copy and paste into your web site.

You can see an example of a Twitter widget in action here.

Written by tstaley

August 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Posted in Intranet