What social Media Lack ? Intelligence

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Summary : the increasing quantity of information generated by social media and the need for dealing with all this information regardless to its source is a barrier to an effective use that relies on users ability to priorize, classify and organize things into a hierarchy. Because of that, only a little minority is not scared by the flows that flow on their screens. To make future information systems usable we need to embed a kind of intelligence in the product rather than relying on the ability of a few people to use the tools in order to channel the flows and  highlight what matters to each user, the ultimate step being to build conversing tools. After having tried to use the 2.0 logic to improve BI, now it’s time to use BI to improve 2.0 tools.

One of the main barriers to the use of social media in the workplace and to the transformation of work is that users feel lost. Two points are hidden behind this vague concept :

lack of context. I won’t elaborate this point because Sameer Patel wrote an excellent post about this issue. Originally about Google Wave it can, in fact, apply to a wide range of things.

– fear of the mass of information that’s generated, of not being able to deal with it and manage it.

I think most people agree on the first point (now just wait to see how it will be turned into actual features), so let’s talk about the second.

If you are familiar with these tools, would it be at home or at work, you know that quantity is not a problem and is rather an opportunity once you know how to filter and prioritize. It can be done technically with the right functiunalities or tools, humanly by relying on the social filter made of your network. Information is like water, what matters is not to have less but to regulate the flow.

Now try to imagine the average user (what means 90% of users), facing any kind of stream (twitter, friendfeed or Facebool) and how his face’s going pale. Of course, these users can be trained, of ourse as time goes by more and more users will be comfortable with information flows. But what matters is today, and today it’s rather complicated. Missing the latest hilarious video shared by one’s uncle is not prejudial but things are not the same in the workplace. Add to that the the fear of admitting in front of colleagues that one didn’t see such or such important information, and you understand why there is a real problem.

The value of social media in the workplace relies on intelligence on two aspects :

– the intelligence people share with the tools

– the intelligence they use to survive in the flow and separate the wheat from the chaff.

Today the more active users on enterprise social platforms are those who meet the second criteria, sometimes because they already do it in their personal use of the web, sometimes because they learn quickly. That poses two problems :

– while value depends on a critical level of use, organizations need to have more active users than this small group of users what means making things easier for any kind of user.

– time matters : it’s logical that businesses prefer to see employees use their time to share and use information for business purpose rather that sorting and classifying it to make it usable.

Conclusion : on this precise point we’d better stop relying on user’s intelligence only but try to embed some in the product. Said differently ; after having explored the way to make social media help BI, let’s try to make BI help social media.

We have to keep in mind that we’re not only addressing a social media issue : that’s only one more source, a source that brings a lot of information, but it must not make us forget the traditional sources : business applications, email etc.. Information is business or is not, regardless to its source, and is subject to be the starting point of any kind of social interaction :so it’s important to gather all these signals in one place where users will read, process, and deal with them without having to jump from one tool to another, what makes the need for making this place intelligent even more vital.

This can be done in two ways :

– let the user tell the tool what matters to him

– make the tool able to understant each user’s priorities by learning from their usage, what’s a BI work.

In a perfect system both will happen at the same time. And, reusing the brilliant word used here by Oscar Berg, relevant information will be “automagically” brought to employees.

There’s another reason with this issue of software intelligence matters. We exchange hand converse with human being who can, spontaneously, decide to give us an information we did not know they had. On the other hand we don’t exchange nor converse with a business tool, we don’t expect a business tool to anticipate one of our need and jump into a conversation. That’s somethind desirable that will end up happening.

II already wrote things about the intelligent and conversing business application months ago but Bill Ives recently reminds me of this issue with a recent post about the information system learning layer that’s really worth reading. The more the system will become intelligent, the more employees will be able to focus on tasks about which their added value is unique, where he can’t be replaced. Before being able to interact with users, business applications will need to be able to learn from users. (NB : note the difference between a conversational business application that can host discussions and conversing business applications that behave as a player in the discussion).

One more thing to tell how such an evolution is unavoidable. When me have  look at the enterprise 2.0 solution market two things are obvious :

– tha value of such solutions resides on people’s intelligence

– anyone can, with enough funding, develop a platform with blogs wikis, boomarking, microblogs, community spaces and activity stream. Evidence : new competitors come every day and nearly all the products look exactly the same

It’s a market with very low barriers at the entry and on which any vendor can come with a competitive product in a few month. Evidence : some companies are internally developping their own solutions with some success. That was seldom the case in the past with traditional business tools (in fact..not so quickly with this level of achievement).

The be sustainable on this market, any vendor will have to bring a unique added value that’s proprer to the product. So there will be a shift from tools that do nothing and take their value from users activities to tools that do and bring an added value to the users. Only these intelligent mechanosm will be able to build a competitive advantage and be a part of the IP that will justify the vendor’s valuation.

QED

activity stream, application métier, BI, business intelligence, email, Entreprise 2.0, ERP, hiérarchisation, ibm, Information / Connaissances, Intelligence, logiciel d’entreprise, management-de-linformation, poste de travail, priorisation, propriété intellectuelle, réseaux-sociaux, social-media.