Gilbane SF: Social Computing and Collaboration

4 minute read
Maria M. Diaz avatar
Yesterday I attended a panel on everyone's favorite topic: how to bring Social Computing concepts into the enterprise moderated by Geoffrey Bock, a lead analyst for the Gilbane Group. Panelists includedRoss Mayfield, Founder, SocialText; David Hersh, CEO, Jive Software, Ed Cuoco, Co-founder, Spathe and Rusty Williams, SVP Product Planning, Mzinga. In the spirit of the event, Geoffrey Bock encouraged panel attendees to continue to use social media (post to their blog or Twitter, for example) while the panel was happening, which was a nice, relevant touch. What followed was a thought provoking, interesting discussion, but not one that someone who was not already somewhat familiar with these concepts could necessarily grasp. The talk started with each panelist describing where they were from, and what their experiences were with introducing social computing to business users. Rusty Williams of Mzinga introduced the concept of "pervasive community", using his media clients such as abcnews.com and ESPN as examples of companies implementing community features onto their site while still maintaining control over the content. The point, of course, is that content isn't one directional, but flows in both directions.David Hersh, who's Clearspace, aka a"Facebook for the enterprise" product has been covered here before, described the evolution of the market, and how tools such as wikis, forums, blogs, etc have been used in the enterprise for a long time, but always by a very specific, geeky group of people and never in a coherent, centralized way. Everyone else continued to use an inefficient stream of endless Word documents and email, until better solutions started popping up. Hersh describes the drive to use social computing in business as being either internal or external: a website with an active customer community forum vs an internal site where it's easy to find information about the company. Our next panelist took us on a more abstract journey: Ed Cuoco from Spathe, a "pre-new" company that sounds like a think tank and exists to answer this question -- how can users more effectively collect and synthesize information? Cuuco theorized that in just two years, user generated content will be the number one source of information on the Internet, a prospect that is not only slightly scary but also, I thought was a bit inflated, as the majority of Internet users lurk, they don't participate. Finally, Ross Mayfield of Socialtext brought us back to the topic at hand by pointing out that CMS is driven by rules and social software is people driven. This was a point made earlier by Dave Hersh, who made the apt analogy of Google as an algorithm driven company vs Facebook or Yahoo, as one that is driven by people. Continuing on this, Mayfield says that the structure of social software emerges as people begin to use it and adapt it for their needs. It's not enough to simply install these tools, the real value of them will start to emerge as people start to use them. Getting users to actually use the product is as always, a concern. An audience member posed this question to the panel, with Ross Mayfield taking an optimistic approach and pointing out that with but with "some training and some coaching, you can get everyone on".Dave Hersh used examples from his own company's clients, and how adoption differs based on the culture of each organization. A company more concerned with being cool may want to attract younger workers, who expect to be this kind of technology to be available and will likely be quicker to adopt. Rusty Williams however, had a response more in tune with Ross Mayfield: if the motivation is right, people will want to use it. The bottom line is, does the person feel that using this tool will enhance their life? What value does it have? I would say this maxim applies to social media across the board, not just in a business setting.