Ambiant tools to catch your company’s social signals

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I know that many of my readers are more “enterprise” than “2.0”, but it’s important to have a look at what’s happining to the general public in order to understand what will happen to businesses tomorrow. First because the behaviors being developped always impact in one or anoter way the way people behave at work, second because (and that’s really new) because general public tools are now more advanced than those companies provide to their employees.

Let’s talk about twitter.

Although I’ve always been sceptical about it, I’ve been using it when I’ve nothing better to do, when I feel like joking with whoever wants to read. Of course, sometimes you get good surprises, as when I twitted my vacation route and find myself having breakfast in Boston with a very interesting enterprise 2.0 specialist I’ve never known about before. But how much noise is needed to find a small signal. So twitter is something like my trivialities’s garbage but, as you can throw valuable things out by mistake, perhaps one day you’ll find in my tweets something that may be interest you, since what’s mud for some may be gold for others. The problem with twitter is that it has a so large range of use, of audience, that it mixes everything and, as a consequence, often lacks some focus. I often tell myself that, limited to a given domain and audience it must make sense and bridge the wap that exist between existing tools, blog, IM and email for example. Of course you can have x private twitter accounts but it’s really makes things more complicated.

So there’s something behind twitter that goes far beyond the current poverty of this tool and what we (me included) to with it. But what ?

For the above mentioned reasons, when an epiphenomenon(because at the web’s scale and, even more at the general public public twitter is nothing more) deserves an article in the New York Times Magazine, that’s the proof we have to understand what’s the underlying trend. By the way the idea of writing this note came to me when I read the NYT magazine last week end (NYT Magazine – 7 sept 08), and the paper called “I’m digitally close to you“, byr Clive Thompson, available online here.

From Facebook to twitter, including Dopplr, he wonders about the lifestream’s trend, the ability to make everybody know what we do or feel at a given time. When this feature was implemented in Facebook people were scared about the way their life was exposed, but very soon they got addicted, seeing the possibility of “breathing their network’s air”, harnessing weak signals.

Specialists say we can’t manage more than a given number of people in a network. On the other hand, we can have a look at weak signals, superficially, know more or less what’s happening to who, and digg further when we want.

This is called, and I really like this term, “ambiant awareness”, which can be defined by the ability to be close to other and follow their life’s thread by picking up some moments or moods.

I can’t refrain from making a comparison with what’s happening within companies, where everyone relies more than ever on the others and where knowing what they are doing / feeling / experiencing, what are their issues may be ver useful. I’m not talking about being overwhelmed whith infortion, only the ability to have a look, to open a door and see what’s inside. What would also be a good way to strenghten membership within large businesses, making it possible to have news, to receive a kind a social signal from others.

As Thompson says, this new kind of behaviors may seem unthinkable for orld 30 yo people like some of us. But it’s natural for the younger that know how to both send a social signal and protect their privacy. The workplace is obviously what can give twitter-like tools the focus that doesn’t exist outside.

Thompson talks about “awareness tools” about twitter and its clones. I find the word quite relevant.

Two years ago I wrote about blogs as self development tools, a side of social computing that is too often neglected by HR depts or managers. Because their less formal and more concise, awareness tools can help with this purpose. I quote Thompson one more time : he wrotes that having an audience would make our reflections more accute when saying “what am I doing /feeling / working on”. And that, at the end, the people those tools may help us to know the best is…ourselves. To be meditated on in a business context where we should obviously take more time to ask ourselves what we are doing, how to say it in &40 chars. This may help us, not only to harness other’s social signas, but also ask the right questions about ouserlves.

In brief, we are only at the beginning but it’s clear that after the twitter shambles, we’ll find more evolves pratices in a business context.

Since I had the idea of this note, Business Week wrote about CEOs who use twitter. A few days later, Yammer, a private twitter for corporate within employees won the Techcrunchs 50 prize.A sign ? Anyway, it’s free, yu just have to try it with you colleagues.

I’m far from pretending I really know what’s going to happen tommorow. But what is certain is that businesses must anticipate in order not to be overwhelmed when the tide will come. There’s a social reality what will blow into the workspace, so I as always say, it’s better to be prepared in order to harness it rather than wasting time and energy to build walls that always collapse at the end.