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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Web 2.0 Workshops, Enterprise Social Software

From the Web 2.0 attendee wiki:

This workshop will provide an introduction to the best features of "wikis" and "weblogs" and how to bring them inside your enterprise to create a collaboration and knowledge tool that works the way people do. Traditional groupware and knowledge management tools use top-down constraints: pre-defined roles, workflows, and categories. Socialtext takes a bottom-up approach to collaborating and empowers people to develop their own solutions. With Socialtext, people form groups flexibly, and build lightweight structure on the fly, as part of getting their job done -- without needing design or coding skills. Michael Pusateri will share his experience deploying bottom-up IT within Disney, including Socialtext, Moveable Type and Newsgator. This ecosystem of simple tools based on open standards is not only cost-effective, but may change the way we think about enterprise IT.

Ross Mayfield (SocialText) and Michael Pusateri (Disney) are discussing using SocialText (and blogs and wikis in general) in business. Michael works for the television/ABC arm of Disney, and they're using SocialText. He has a great point: how do you get users to accept the new methodologies? Simple. Don't tell them. Don't make a big deal about trying some revolutionary new tool. Just train them and let them discover things like why email doesn't make a great file system, but a weblog is another story. They're also using Newsgator with Outlook to help people aggregate and survey what's going on on all the Disney weblogs. Told the users: "We're going to put some stuff into Outlook so you don't have to go check the Web pages anymore. Response: cool! No discussion needed about the joys/promise of RSS, etc. Finally, they're using the wiki part of SocialText, and putting the "recent changes" RSS feed in the aggregator. Let's people see if there's anything new on the wiki they need to be checking out

Why do this? 1) It's orders of magnitude cheaper than other alternatives. 2) You can hack at this stuff, it's eminently tweakable to fit your needs. Their wishlist includes RSS aggregation in Exchange, remote administration. There also needs to be more RSS/Atom code like Rome APIs, and authentication and authorization standards for RSS that makes it easy to specify user permissions, who sees what.

Ross: you get a sense of the kind of workflow that this combination of tools permits. Ross demonstrates user control of information flow. The things that are being pushed and rammed down peoples throats are the the things that wind up costing way too much time. Shows the ease of setting up a new project blog, which automatically starts generating an RSS feed (they're also supporting Atom, not just feeds but the API). To create a new workspace using SocialText, all you need to do is give it a name, and suddenly it's there. Then you just invite people in. An email with login information gets sent. Rapid, easy group forming, almost as easy as using the cc line on an email. What did we have before? "groupware, "collaboration." SocialText's philosophy is the Web as a laboratory, watch how things work on the 'Net to see how they scale. What's beautiful with Wikipedia is you have strangers trusting each other, toward a common good. Lots of people have been using the Internet socially for a long time. What the early users have given birth to are open source, blogging, disruption of the media industry and publishing. All this is way too high level and has nothing to do with the enterprise, except this: the motives for participation are much the same.

Ross discusses portals and the problems of a top-down approach. Portals aren't updated enough because they're not group editable. Shows example of client Informative and the categories they've set up for their own use. Talks about how one user posting an answer to a problem can, across boundaries of time and geography in the organizataion, provide the answer to a different issue the poster didn't think of. Wiki pages document the process. There's no barrier to getting work done (unlike a document management system, where you have to check in and check out a document).

So what you have is a great, living site that never gets out of date and documents everything.

Change of behavior: once people are there, everyone knows how to navigate a Web site, that's easy. But how do you get people to contribute? One way is to give them options, like contributing by email. Each space has its own email address. You can also do fantastic things by assigning a tiny bit of metadata to any post. You can cross-post to multiple locations. If you post by email, making an existing category the subject line, the send goes to the right place and becomes the next entry on the wiki. Ross is now on a gaming site client's space, 1up. People are adding metadata and structure without even knowing it yet. The group used to have 100 emails per day, occupational spam. How do you get people to change that behavior? First, invite people to route information through the work space. It's moving from a point-to-point architecture to a hub and spoke architecture, like the airlines use. There are some things that each individual is going to subscribe to. Occupational spam happens for two reasons: people want to cover their ass, and people want to be informed. SocialText solves both problems, and eliminates the occupational spam.

Import/export to Word is in the works. (Imagine drafting/editing a legal brief on a Wiki, exporting the finished product to Word, and having it actually look right...)

Strong user community developing among the SocialText clients, including Best Practices info bank.

Photowiki is in beta right now. Lets you upload any photo. Click "add a note." and you can assign metadata to the image in a very specific place. Puts notes on the photo that are stores as part of the .jpg. There's lots of this experimental, weird stuff on the SocialText Customer Exchange.

SocialText could, in a heartbeat, support Audblog, Podcasting. Disney's RSS aggregator uses enclosures to distribute video. The simple plug-in architecture of these open interfaces lets people mix tools in interesting ways. Users in reality straddle tools. Users use the tools of their own choice. If IT doesn't provide it, users will go out and get a hosted service, then push for adoption by their company. Ross discusses Pierre Omidyar, who started off as a user, became an investor. He started a group, invited 3 people in, started to have a little bit of a conversation about the future of the company. Started getting angry emails, "why aren't you letting me in?" That's when he knew he had them hooked."

You see this happening all the time with blogs. Users gravitate to the software because it's effective and cheap to free. Let's them get the job at hand done without jumping through hoops.

We're not doing as good a job as we could at making this as easy as possible. Should you have to learn wiki punctuation? There's now a wysiwyg interface that inserts the wiki punctuation, you use it enough, it teaches you the punctuation. (reminds me of "reveal codes" in WP). Mike says the wiki punctuation has been tough for Disney's users to learn, the wysiwyg editor has helped considerably.

Ross has never had a customer say, I want RSS/Atom/fill in the blank. But support of all these standards winds up improving the customer experience overall.

Last question is about permissioning: it's on a per-space basis, not on a per-page basis. Thus, everyone in a workspace can see the whole thing. But not everyone can see every space. Mike comments that nteresting things happen when you can see what other groups are doing. "There's no more dirty laundry, it's just laundry."

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