Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
I’ve taken a new role at GigaOM this week, writing regularly for the Pro service in the Social topic area. It’s not a great departure since my work at GigaOM upt o the present has been social tools and the future of work, but I am now a regular contributor — a Curator, in their terminology — as well as writing a number of reports this coming year.
It’s a great group, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the collaboration of working with David Card, the VP of Research.
I have recently written a report on team task management tools (in production), and earlier this year I wrote the Work Media Roadmap (subscription required), tracking a number of leading work media tools — enterprise social networks — and most importantly, the forces that are causing companies to adopt them:
The old architecture of work was based on process-centric, collaborative work. That is, all the people involved in a business process — for example, new customer acquisition for a consumer-products company — would work exclusively on that process, and the process defined everyone’s work. In principle, each member of the consumer acquisition team would spend 100 percent of their time on that process, and all the members would be co-located (in cubicles or offices) so that the process could be as efficient as possible. Considerations of what would be best for the individual would be deemed irrelevant. Collaboration was the byword, and web tools were designed around symmetrical projects, where members derived their rights by being ‘invited’ — in other words, assigned — to process-based project groups.
A new architecture of work is now emerging. “White collar” work first became “knowledge” work. Now it is known as “creative work.” The transition from process to networks is not just a recasting and not just a different style of communication. Work is increasingly being styled as information sharing through social relationships, where following takes the place of being invited. People coordinate efforts but work on a wide variety of independent projects with different co-workers. A new degree of privacy and autonomy animates cooperative work, in comparison to collaborative work.
Individuals cooperating hand off information or take on tasks in a fashion that is like businesses cooperating: They understand the benefit in cooperating but don’t have to share a common core set of strategic goals to do so. They don’t need the complete alignment of goals with everyone they work with that defines old-style business employment.
We are moving into a world of work where individuals will act increasingly independently but still need to work closely and intensely with many others, in various forms of asymmetric and intransitive relationships. Business software will need to provide a much greater degree of fluidity in this new era than ever before.
I’m looking forward to continued investigation into the business of social business, and the future of work.
A great overview of how online, communitarian, open science sites are transforming the wold of science journals, and research.
Thomas Lin via NYTimes.com
The system is hidebound, expensive and elitist, they say. Peer review can take months, journal subscriptions can be prohibitively costly, and a handful of gatekeepers limit the flow of information. It is an ideal system for sharing knowledge, said the quantum physicist Michael Nielsen, only “if you’re stuck with 17th-century technology.”
Dr. Nielsen and other advocates for “open science” say science can accomplish much more, much faster, in an environment of friction-free collaboration over the Internet. And despite a host of obstacles, including the skepticism of many established scientists, their ideas are gaining traction.
Open-access archives and journals like arXiv and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) have sprung up in recent years. GalaxyZoo, a citizen-science site, has classified millions of objects in space, discovering characteristics that have led to a raft of scientific papers.
On the collaborative blog MathOverflow, mathematicians earn reputation points for contributing to solutions; in another math experiment dubbed the Polymath Project, mathematicians commenting on the Fields medalist Timothy Gower’s blog in 2009 found a new proof for a particularly complicated theorem in just six weeks.
And a social networking site called ResearchGate — where scientists can answer one another’s questions, share papers and find collaborators — is rapidly gaining popularity.
The web is subversive and corrosive to established power configurations, and now is the time for the scientific journal oligopoly to crash.
Jim Collins, Best New Year’s Resolution?
Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?
I had a subarachnoid aneurysm a few years ago, and at one point I was informed — erroneously — that my brain injury was inoperable. I had some time to reflect on that, and even after it was clear that surgery was, in fact, an option, the mortality stats on my condition were pretty harrowing, with at least 50% mortality, and given the severity of my situation, significantly higher.
I have changed a great deal since then. I started playing the guitar again, after about 20 years hiatus, for example. I’ve started writing music and poetry again. I drink a lot more champagne, too. Have to smell those roses.
But I still need to stop once in a while and ask: what should I stop doing?
This year, I intend to raise even greater barriers to long-distance travel, which is so costly in time and often so meager in payback.
I am involved in a foundational transition in my work, started last year. I am transitioning from a modality of acting as an advisor to companies (usually software start-ups), and investing more of my my work-related efforts into various, well-defined research initiatives, often working cooperatively with other researchers. I will be saying more about these initiatives later this week, with more specific announcements.
The book that I have been talking about for the past few months (formerly called Liquid City) will be sewn into the new research agenda, and will be rolling out in pieces this year, in a slightly reconsidered form, and a new title (in process).
I have recommitted myself to connecting with the community here, in Beacon NY, my adopted home, and I am working to get a food cooperative off the ground. Most critically, my family is buying and moving into a new place here in the next week, and in the next few months we will be putting in a garden, fixing up the place, and settling in. Going to dedicate a lot to that.
I am working in NYC from the Grind coworking space, and I hope to be an active and involved member of that community, and the tech and innovation community of NYC, as well. This will all be keeping me relatively close to NYC, more local than I have been in decades.
I still plan to do 12-15 conferences in distant places, but I intend to keep to that number as a max, and the rewards — on some level or another — have to be pretty high to get me to go.
Say yes to some things, and no to most others. But I am open to discuss new ideas with people. I will be starting open office hours in February, after the move is over.
Using millions of Twitter subscribers as living “sensors,” engineers from Rice University and Motorola Mobility have developed a way to monitor fans’ levels of excitement while keeping track of the action in NFL games — without ever switching on a TV.
Another example of how Twitter is helping researcher to tap into people’s emotions.
Where Scientists Fail, Gamers Succeed
For 15 years, scientists struggled to figure out the molecular structure of an enzyme of an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys. Deciphering the structure, they believed, could lead to an HIV/AIDS cure.
As they hit dead ends, a few began to think differently, crowdsource the issue and created a multiplayer game within Foldit, a science-based gaming engine.
Ten days later, non-scientist gamers discovered the key researchers had long been looking for.
Via MSNBC’s Cosmiclog:
The problem is that enzymes are far tougher to crack than your typical lock. There are millions of ways that the bonds between the atoms in the enzyme’s molecules could twist and turn. To design the right chemical key, you have to figure out the most efficient, llowest-energy configuration for the molecule — the one that Mother Nature herself came up with.
That’s where Foldit plays a role. The game is designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower.
Writes Firas Khatib, a biochemist at the University of Washington, and his colleagues in a paper published in Nature Structual & Molecular Biology (PDF):
Although much attention has recently been given to the potential of crowdsourcing and game playing, this is the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem.
It’s interesting to read analysts writing about the changing world of analysts firms, especially the ones with apocalyptic pronouncements. As a soloist focused on a relatively narrow and young niche — social tools — I really don’t come into contact with large companies interested in conventional analysis like Gartner and Forrester provide.
Short-term attention-span theater has taken over, and some analyst firms are oblivious. Very few people have the patience, or inclination, to read detailed reports any more. Even just five years’ ago, many people only checked email two or three times a day, allowing them to focus on tasks that required a lot of deep-thinking, reading and writing. Nowadays, most people are checking email constantly, scanning tweets, Facebook status updates, LinkedIn invitations and contributing to whatever social group or network with which they like to spend time. Research needs to be served up in bite-sized chunks to stand any chance of being read. The analyst firms are slowly becoming aware that few people read their stuff anymore, but persist in “checking the boxes”, forcing their analysts to meet their report quotas each year. Their problem is that their product and revenue model is based on numbers of reports and hours of enquiry time – they are serving up expensive macro services, where their clients now want the micro.
There’s too much “research” being produced that’s not telling us anything new. I am actually hearing major IT/BPO providers and C-suite buyside executives declaring that today’s “traditional” research “isn’t relevant to them anymore”. They just don’t see the point in a lot of it. They’ve figured out how to sell/buy their products and services, and dont need some primadonna in their ivory towers telling them what they already know, using big words such as “ecosystem” and “agility”. They view analysts as useful sounding boards and occasionally get some competitive intel out of them, but that’s really all the value they currently get, beyond favorable positions in scatterplot charts and after-dinner awards.
Buyers don’t read research. Fact. I can tell you from years of experience that buyers will only read a research report if their job depended on it and it’s forced down their throats. However, buyers love learning things that help them do their job better – they like listening to real experts and learning from each other. Analysts need to spend as much time as they can talking with buyers and becoming a focal point for idea-sharing, knowledge, data and validation of their strategies. While some analyst firms know this, many of their analysts rarely have more than two or three buyers in their Rolodex.
The large analyst firms lack rock-star visionaries. In years gone by, there were countless big personalities emanating from the Gartners, IDCs, Forresters at al. Sadly, that number has dwindled as these firms felt the need to control and scale their corporate brands and keep their payroll under control. Moreover, the last thing they want are clients calling up demanding to talk with Bill, not Ben. Innovation is bred from people with vision and personality – and the more analysts are “standardized”, the more the personality is drained from the product. Analyst firms need to create new visionaries for clients – and maybe even dust off a few of the old ones knocking around somewhere in the blogosphere. Hell – the retirement age is 70 now, so let’s bring some of the old egos back!
I agree that analyst firms have a morbid fascination with writing fat reports, perhaps because they have contrived a great deal of their operations around their production.
To the extent that conventional analysis firms persist in the near future, they will have to shift gears, or better yet, shift their gearing: they will have to adopt social media tempo and form factors, and craft interactive relationships with their clients based on a dramatically more open research approach than they have traditionally employed.
I also agree about the rock stars comment, in part. The very best minds with most distinctive voices are unlikely to accept being homogenized by a corporate machine, or being forced to paint neatly within the lines.
James Surowiecki, Dropbox, a Model of Innovative Consumption : The New Yorker
As part of the Microstreams In Business project, I want to evaluate the leading 12 or 15 products that provide either a dedicated or integrated microstreaming (microblogging) solution for business use.
You can imagine a wide variety of approaches to doing this sort of analysis. In my case, however, I have rapidly down-selected to a three part approach to evaluating each of the tools:
There is a limit to the level of effort that we can expect the participating vendors to invest in this research, but I have devised a few scenarios with the hope that they will provide enough sunlight to grasp the capabilities of a very large and diverse group of participating vendor companies.
The scenarios are all centered on a fictitious international consulting company called AdjectiveNoun. I have sketched out three scenarios, and some capabilities that I am hoping to see in each.
AdjectiveNoun is involved in a consulting project for a client, Conglomerated Donuts, and needs to coordinate the project with internal and external developers, as well as the client’s various groups, such as marketing and engineering. As a project-within-the-project, the developers — both AdjectiveNoun staff and consultants — are building and managing software for CG.
¿ How are tasks, events, and deadlines supported in the tool ?
¿ How is a project represented ? Can there be sub projects ?
¿ What sort of visibility controls are provided ? What is the granularity of access?
¿ How are ‘external’ members of the project invited in ?
¿ What can be passed through the microstreams to project members ? Files ? Events ? Tasks ?
¿ How are ‘help desk’ and code development activities supported, if at all ? Native support, or integration with external tools, or just general coordination ?
¿ Is there some sort of ‘federation of identity’ supported ? How are AdjectiveNoun and Conglomerated Donuts implemented in the platform ?
AdjectiveNoun has an ongoing marketing and sales program, involving community outreach, networking, and webinars, involving a national marketing team and a regional sales force. The community outreach involves crowdsourcing activities — getting current customers and partners to help with AdjectiveNoun’s goals to improve their services and brainstorm new services as well.
¿ What support does the tool provided for step-by-step, status-based workflows like marketing campaigns and sales ?
¿ Is there any integration with email, such as invitations to non-users and activities like webinars ?
¿ What support is there for outreach marketing, like surveys or users forums ?
¿ How can crowdsourcing be supported, like a program with existing customers to help improve AdjectiveNoun’s outsourced help desk line of business ?
¿ How can results be rolled up, like predictions about quarterly sales results ? Are there tables, charts, or other displays ?
¿ Can external information streams — like RSS feeds and alerts — be integrated into the microstream, and associated with business activities like sales calls or client follow-up ?
¿ Are sales tools like presentations and white papers accessible in the stream ?
AdjectiveNoun’s HR department has very aggressive staffing and training goals, and coordinates this with managers and project leads across the US and European operations. The company is committed to working to make sure that staff are presented with a variety of opportunities for growth, including international assignments, management training, and specific technical training courses. The company has developed an extensive suite of online video and text training resources.
¿ What capabilities are their to support recruiting ? Can specific email addresses be connected with an HR thread, so that candidates can send in resumes to an HR stream ?
¿ How would posting of job and training opportunities be handled ?
¿ Do users have extensive profiles, including options for a portfolio of skills, including company certifications ?
¿ How would the end-to-end handling of a candidate for a specific job run ? Likewise, the formation of a new marketing group in Europe, and posting the various jobs for that ?
These scenarios are provisional at the moment, although I have discussed them with four or five companies to date. I would expect to gather additional feedback in the next few weeks, and to solidify the scenarios after the upcoming Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston in early June. Companies would then have as long as a month to develop mock-ups indicating how such scenarios might be supported. (I expect that this will involve dummy accounts, and scenario-driven play-acting of the sort most vendors undertake for their marketing efforts anyway. In fact, existing sandbox examples could be used and modified to suit.)
My goal is to have a face-to-face or remote meeting with all the vendors by the end of July at the latest, so that in late July and August I can complete the analysis and write the report. This would lead to a late August or early September availability of the final report.
I have been testing out various email tools to get folks involved in the research we’re doing this summer, and one of the tools has a survey capability. So I asked a handful of questions to a group of about 150 contacts, and getting about 35 responses. I intend a more rigorous survey in the coming weeks — with a larger base of contacts once I have settled on the tools to do that — but in the meantime, here’s some stats.
1. Is your organization using microstreaming tools as a part of everyday business?
89% say yes, and 6% plan to. Obviously heading toward ubiquity (cum grano salis, since this is an early adopter group).
2. If you are using or have used microstream tools in your organization, were they general purpose tools (like Twitter and Facebook) or tools designed for business (like Yammer, Socialtext, etc.)?
Only a quarter are using tools designed specifically for business; I wager that will change as the business tools mature.
3. What microstreaming tools have you personally used?
Mostly its the general, ‘consumer’ tools; Yammer seems to have the jump on the others in the survey, although I omitted IBM Connections (d’uh).
4. What features do you want to have supported in a microstreaming solution for business?
Every feature was desired by at least half of the respondents, so a better survey technique would have them order or weigh their choices, I think. It does demonstrate a hunger for more sophisticated streaming applications for business, since no product has all of these at this point.
5. How large is your organization?
Skews toward smaller companies, so results with large companies would like vary significantly.
6. Where is your company headquartered?
Cross tabulating the earlier answers by country and company size would be nice, but I don’t think I can with this survey tool. I need a more sophisticated tool, or raw data that I can dump into excel and cross tab.
I was surprised by the numbers of people trying to use these tools in everyday business; again, I think that is a function of the set of people and the size of the companies. The most important observation to take away might be the desire for a broad range of functionality — CRM, file sharing, calendar integration, and so on — which is way in advance of today’s tools.
I am likely to undertake subsequent surveys using Squarespace forms, since then I can get access to the individual entries, which will allow complete cross tabulations.