Elsewhere

Today’s Jobs, Yesterday’s Tools

Madrigal thinks 2014 will be a major turning point for tech, and he says so in a tone that is at the same time both world-weary and hopeful, a postnormal weltschmerz with a cherry on top, where he juxtaposes the ‘forever drone wars’ with ‘I want to investigate what screens want.’ He’s a seething mass of contradictions, and a great read.

I pull one snippet out, because I am down with him on this one:

 Alexis C. MadrigalWhere Do We Go From Here? 8 Hypotheses About Tech in 2014

Job tech. When we look back on this year from 2030, I think it will become clear that the largest change in our daily lives came around the technology—and therefore quantification and control—that we allowed to creep into our work lives. For example, right now, cameras on some buses and trucks are constantly monitoring them on the road, and when they detect some sort of anomaly, the video is sent to a human-staffed control center, where the event is recorded and coded as the driver’s fault or not. That information will go into the driver’s record and perhaps be used to predict when accidents might occur and perhaps be used to hire and fire drivers. Let’s just say that such a system makes the roads safer, but it costs employees even more power vis a vis their employers. 

The big question is: Do we want to live in this world? Do you want this kind of technology applied to your job? What kinds of artifacts will be introduced by this kind of tracking? How will the stats be juked?

As Don Peck’s excellent feature on HR analytics shows, companies are pushing into this territory right now and if we want our society and politics to make the right adjustments, we need to start thinking this through now. 

The rise of AI and data analysis has the power to become a coercive tool in the hands of authoritarians, but I don’t think that the baseline prior to the use of such technologies is stellar. For example, hiring and promotion approaches at most companies are a joke, relying on informal, biased and unscientific approaches that are more folklore than rational. It’s not clear that people are any good at those tasks, and it might be better to develop completely new ways to do them: either by dismantling our preconceptions and starting over, or by building smarter tools to do it for us, using techniques human minds can’t achieve.

Like Madrigal, I think this year will be a turning point for work technologies. Aside from the examples he cites, I am closely following looser, cooperative tools that could be the start of a disruption of our aging, dominant collaborative tools. Today’s work management tools (so-called enterprise social networks) are based on design principles that go back to the groupware of over 20 years ago, and may be the best proof of Mcluhan’s saying:

Doing today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools. 

Yammer Pushes To Be The ‘Enterprise Graph’

At Yamjam 2012 today, Yammer has announced the next iteration of its enterprise platform plans, called the Enterprise Graph. Yammer is a leading work media player, and was acquired earlier this year by Microsoft for over $1B.

This new generation of Yammer’s API is designed to allow enterprise software vendors to embed Yammer functionality into their apps. This is a real parallel to the Facebook platform strategy, and the idea is similar, allowing others to embed specific bits of Yammer functionality — such as activity streams, follow and like buttons, and pages —within those third party apps.

This functionality reminds me of Socialcast Reach, but a few years after that pioneering approach (perhaps a few years too early).

Obviously, Yammer and Microsoft are pushing aggressively to become the platform of choice for enterprise apps to become social, trying to take the high ground in the new battlefield in the work media marketplace.

A Model For Open Work Media

Over at Work Talk Research, I’ve written a short introduction to a big idea that I call Open Work. I use the term ‘work media’ to refer to the enterprise social networking tools that are being rapidly adopted in business these days, but I think the basic premises for those tools are too limiting and limited.

Stowe Boyd, A Model For Open Work Media

I am deep into a number of writing projects, including a report on the state of work media tools (aka enterprise social networking), but a set of ideas keep coming forward in my thinking, so I decided to take a moment to capture them.

The short form of these ideas is this: the work media tools we are using today cover only a small part of the ambit of activities that make up our work.

The longer version? Work media tools are designed to handle a small set of use cases that are oriented toward collaborative activities, such as sharing documents, assigning tasks, and core business functions, like sales and customer support. These tools take a great deal for granted, and have built-in fundamental premises about the closed nature of today’s work, so that a broad range of activities that we are actually involved in every day are either managed only in part, or managed outside of these tools altogether.

A simple example has to do with project work. Today’s tools are geared toward managing a project once it has been defined, and once the various team members have been identified. A work context is defined, people are invited, and work commences. But these leaves aside all the work that preceded the project, such as cost estimates, negotiations with freelancers, proposals to the client, and so on.

Yes, it is true that these other activities could have been managed as independent and earlier projects themselves, and that is, in a sense, my point. But in general, much of that earlier coordinative effort — especially negotiation — is unmanaged, or managed via email or other interactions.

And the largest gap in the orientation of today’s work media tools is that they are almost completely closed: they are organized so that only people that are invited to participate in well-defined projects can gain access at all. With very few exceptions, nothing created or managed within these tools can be shared with the outside world, or even between other users of the various systems.

Go read the complete article at Work Talk Research.

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