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What does it mean that digital technologies are increasingly a part of...
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.
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.
Unison, the work media application, a competitor to Yammer and Podio, has adopted the ‘@mention’ convention so that updates can be directed to the attention of specific people. Ths is a part of the now-dominant open follower model, although I am unsure if Unison allows following of specific people. The norm with work media tools is following of projects you are invited too, a much more corporate variant.
The company has also released new clients for Mac and Windows.
- Hamish McKenzie, The Great Replacement: Microsoft, Yammer, and a New World in Enterprise Computing via PandoDaily
Hamish inteprets Microsoft’s eagerness to acquire the work media company, Yammer, as something greater than the value of the business — even given its solid team, momentum, and product — but instead as part of a strategic vision of a ‘great replacement’ of the current generation of enterprise software. This transition may take a decade or more, but we will witness the slow dismantling of server-based software running onsite, and the migration to cloud-based solutions, like Yammer.
Hamish also points out that Microsoft has deep expertise in running massive cloud solutions, like HotMail, which they acquired in 1997.
I agree that players like Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle are not going to let themselves be squeezed out of the market by upstarts: they will buy a seat at the table, and cut the cards.
Yammer has agreed to a $1.2B acquisition by Microsoft, as was rumored yesterday.
The work media, or enterprise social networks, marketplace is exploding. In December, Forester forecasted that work media will grow at a compound annual rate of 61% through 2016, reaching a market size of $6.4 billion, compared to $600 million in 2011. And with its current offerings — not withstanding the dominance of Sharepoint as a document repository, and the company’s numerous other enterprise software products — Microsoft did not have a horse in the race.
Yammer raised $85 million in February in a round valuing the company at more than $600 million, and has raised $142 million in all. So the investors would like to see a successful IPO, or a sale of $1B at sometime in the not too distant future. However, the recent Facebook IPO has somewhat dimmed the prospect of an IPO for tech companies in the near term.
My bet is that Microsoft has been dancing with Yammer for some time, trying to fill the empty spot in their enterprise jig saw puzzle, and all the while Yammer has been fending them off, biding their time. But the stars came into alignment: Yammer perhaps saw the IPO options fading somewhat and Microsoft finally piled enough cash on the table to sweeten the deal.
Yammer might have seen offers from a number of other companies in recent years, as other enterprise players were rolling up competitors, like the SalesForce buy of Socialcast, and the recent Citrix acquisition of Podio. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out that Oracle is on the hunt, and SAP has made a dramatic splash in this market in the past few months, albeit without making an acquisition, yet. Yammer might have looked at the rapid consolidation in the market by multibillion-sized competitors and deemed acquisition by Microsoft as one of the least-risky paths to potential market dominance. A Yammer/Sharepoint integration is a potential killer app for the market today, with hundreds of millions of seats to be sold.
And — incidentally — the Enterprise 2.0 conference is next week, which is the cornerstone event for the work media market, and someone mentioned to me (I haven’t substantiated it) that the Yammer and Microsoft booths are located side by side in the trade show hall. Is that coincidence?
Nick Bilton takes a fairly uncritical look at a new startup, tenXer, that asserts developer producitivity gains can come from monitoring lines of code produced, or other development tasks completed:
Former Card Counter’s New Start-Up Helps Measure Productivity - Nick Bolton via NYTimes.com
Once authorized by an employee, tenXer monitors the worker’s Gmail, Calendar, GitHub (an online service for software developers) and other programming services to determine how much work the employee produces. The idea isn’t to play Big Brother with employees, but to measure the work they create and then reward them with positive feedback when tasks are completed — just as in a game.
“The feedback loop at work is inherently broken. People want to get better at their jobs but have no idea how to do this,” explained Mr. Ma. ”There needs to be an instantaneous, objective, actionable feedback, which is what we’ve done with tenXer.”
I agree with these assertions in part: people feel happier and sense time passing more quickly when they explicitly share progress against a task list. Roger Meade showed this in the ’70s, and it’s a strong cognitive motivation for for the adoption of work media tools.
However, tracking productivity as a function of lines of code produced is a snare: sometimes the highest sort of programming productivity comes from taking code out of software. And I am skeptical of considering this as somehow related to big data. In fact, this is more a case of social data, or social metrics: exposing data relevant to social interaction around work.
Nonetheless, tenXer seems a natural fit for the developer community who are totally wired, using solutions like GitHub to manage code, and who are likely to buy into the somewhat Taylorist premise that underlies tenXer’s positioning.
At the same time, it seems like a set of features that should be implemented in a version of Yammer (or Podio, etc.) instrumented for developers, rather than a stand alone solution.
Ryan Holmes does not do a great job unthreading externally-focused social media tools from internal work media tools, but maybe that’s to be expected since it’s not a neat and tidy world, but a mess of interconnected messes. One thing is clear though, it’s growing very quickly:
Last year, 79 percent of 2,100 companies surveyed by Harvard Business Review reported that they use or plan to use social media. The average social media budget at enterprise-level businesses with more than 1,000 employees is $833,000, according to an already dated 2011 report from researcher Altimeter. In the next 5 years, marketers anticipate spending 19.5% of their budgets on social media, nearly three times the current level. And use of internal social networks [work media] in companies is up 50 percent from 2008, according to McKinsey and Co. After a slow start, big business has gone social in a big way.
Importantly, companies are using social media to do things that go way beyond just chatting up existing customers on Facebook. Sales departments use social to nurture leads and close sales. HR posts job openings and vets applicants. Community and support squads mine networks, blogs and forums with deep listening tools. Advertising departments get the word out on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And internal networks like Yammer let managers and employees engage in Facebook-like dialogue and collaboration behind the firewall.
Social media, in other words, has gone company-wide. It’s used not just to engage with customers but to connect employees, coordinate suppliers and streamline nearly every aspect of contemporary enterprise, writes USA Today's Tim Mullaney. Not using social media in the workplace, in fact, is starting to make about as much sense as not using the phone or email.
No surprise that as companies have adopted social media en masse, demand for software and applications to manage and monitor social use has exploded. Enterprises are clamoring for one-stop, social solutions, explains Forbes' Melissa Parrish: omnibus tools for pushing out content across multiple networks, listening, advertising, analyzing, managing customer relations and fostering internal dialogue.
And just as early Internet technologies slashed the cost of basic business tasks like mailing and filing, these social platforms promise to streamline more complex functions from R&D to design and project management. Take the example of SuperValu, the supermarket chain with thousands of stores around the world, which last year began using internal social network Yammer. So far, 11,000 of their executives and managers are on board, organized into 1,000 working groups. My favorite group: college town store managers, who recently came up with the brilliant idea of launching beer pong displays to draw in thirsty co-eds.
With such a clear use-case, social enterprise applications constitute one of tech’s fastest-growing sectors: expanding at a brisk clip of 61 percent per year and projected to become a $6.4 billion market by 2016. A recent industry report by Altimeter identified no fewer than 27 management systems targeted at big businesses. Plus, chief marketing officers — the main buyers of social enterprise apps — have seen their budgets expand dramatically in recent years. In fact, CMOs are expected to outspend CIOs on tech within five years, according to industry researcher Gartner.
Suddenly all those nine-digit acquisitions are starting to make a whole lot of sense.
It’s a social world, after all.
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.
Imagine the following scenario, in an open work media environment. A consulting company called AdjectiveNoun is planning a marketing project for a client, Consolidated Donuts. One aspect of the project is undertaking market research, and AdjectiveNoun’s research director, Jean Yang, would like to share a request for proposal with various candidates. In today’s world, she would likely email that to the various consultants or firms that she knows, and perhaps ask others for recommendations. But in a more open work media setting, she would simply publish the RFP as a fully public post from the project area that she would have created. This is similar to posting something on the exterior wall of a closed room, metaphorically.
Following the model of a more open work media world, others — including companies and consultants she’s worked with in the past, or people that follow AdjectiveNoun’s public postings — would be notified about the project and the RFP, and would then be able to respond to it.
We can also imagine that along with the capability of following each other, users of an open work media system would also be able to communicate in both structured and unstructured ways. For example, a consultant could message to Jean Yang asking for clarification, or respond to the hypothetical RFP’s form-like interface, filling in fields for qualifications, rates, and so on. Jean could review the various proposals within the more closed context of the project she’d created, sharing responses with her team and the client, perhaps, and negotiating with the best candidates in parallel private give-and-take negotiation spaces.
But in today’s world, all this sort of outreach and interaction happens — to a great extent — outside the work media tools, and its only after all the front-end work is done that the work media tools begin to help.
Certainly, to get to what I am waving my hand at will require a transition, and that will involve a blog-like publishing capability and email integration. Imagine that in any project or group work context there was an optional capacity to publish something like blog posts, so that Jean Yang could post her RFP, and it was supported by a Tumblr-like context for following companies’ public posts. These could also support RSS or other alerting techniques, like email subscriptions. Also imagine that every public facing project of the type I am describing had an email address, so that those that are not users of this Tumblrish open work media system could respond to any posts via email.
Note that such a context is open to the degree that the owner wants it to be. Jean Yang can certainly opt to have private documents, tasks, communications and other artifacts in her project context, and simply publish a small number of posts and documents that are externally available. But she can control the settings, and if she wanted to she could create a project context that would be completely open, although the use cases for such a project are fairly limited.
Just as in Tumblr, companies and individuals could have profiles, and these could provide business-centered information similar to LinkedIn, so that over time reputation and networks would be developed. And of course, over time, people would begin to sign up for accounts in the open work system, just as people do with Tumblr, because the experience is richer is you have an account, and no longer treat it like a plain-vanilla blog. And of course, they would then be able to cooperate with larger community of users and companies in that system.
Honestly, I am surprised that LinkedIn hasn’t built something of this sort to date, or why players like Yammer, Podio, IBM, or Salesforce haven’t moved from a closed and collaborative model, to a more open and cooperative one.
If any players are working on something of this sort, I am eager to learn of it, and of course, to add my two cents to the design and development involved.
I got an email from the people from Flow, the task management tool, announcing an integrated virtual assistant capability, here indicated by the green icon to the right. The use case is 1/ I create a task, 2/ delegate to the concierge service, and then 3/ magic happens.
Alas, I didn’t get to experience the magic part because the 14 day free trial does not support even a single concierge task.
I bet that this promotion is going to end up with a lot of drop out, because the whole point of responding to an email about the concierge capability is to try it out, especially because the email says
To get things rolling, we’re giving all Flow subscribers a free task each month as part of their subscription. After that, Concierge plans start at less than $1 a day.
I hadn’t parsed the ‘Flow subscribers’ carefully, and as a result didn’t see the pitfall: during the 14 day free trial I am not a subscriber, so I don’t get the free task.
But it might be an awesome service for subscribers, but I will never know.
I am a great fan of Dropbox, the file sharing service. I keep nearly all the files that I use within Dropbox, and I share them with others in many ways. I have a Dropbox Pro 100 account, with an additional 32G from referrals, and I have the setup where I can delete files on my hard drive, but they are still accessible in the cloud.
Recently, I have been experimenting with lightweight work media tools with Dropbox integration, hoping to get the combination of Dropbox as a shared (and private) repository and the capability of coordinating work with various partners, where any files being shared would be managed in Dropbox directly.
In this concise report, I am looking at Chatbox, PandaDesk, and Refinder.
Chatbox is perhaps the lightest weight work media tool possible. It is purpose-built to add an activity stream of chat-style updates to shared Dropbox folders. It was a weekend hack, and only runs on Mac OS X.
You download the app (Mac OS X only), and once it is running you have a new icon in the Mac toolbar:
This gives access to Dropbox shared folders (which might be worthwhile all by itself), as well as those which have been chatted up recently.
Once a Dropbox shared folder is selected, a Chatbox opens for that folder:
And there is control-click access to Chatbox through the finder, too. If you select your Dropbox folder and control click you’ll see ‘Chatbox’ as an option, and that leads to the top-most Chatbox, for the entire Dropbox folder, with all subordinate chat aggregated:
You can see that the nested folders’ chats are directly accessible by clicking on the chat icon, on the right, and the folders themselves can be opened by clicking on the folders’ names, to the left.
Free, easy to install and use, but limited to Mac OS X. The folks behind the app, Oursky Liimited, haven’t updated the app in a year, but they have moved ahead with the basic idea and created PandaDesk.
After their experience with the useful but minimal Chatbox, Oursky’s team developed PandaDesk, which is a browser-based solution with more functionality.
Dropbox integration is nearly automatic: once the pairing of the Dropbox and PandaDesk is completed, each PandaDesk project automatically creates a Dropbox subfolder within a top-level Dropbox folder. In my case the toplevel folder is ‘stoweboyd.com on PandaDesk’ and the subfolders are based on the project names.
This is a project called Work Media Reports. On the left is the activity stream, where I’ve done just about all that can be done in PandaDesk. At the bottom, you see what happens when I add a file to the associated Dropbox folder on my hard drive: it appears in the project, and can be commented on. I next created a task and assigned it to myself. At the top I created an update and attached a file from my desktop: note that the file was automatically added to the associated Dropbox folder, as well.
To the right there are a few project capabilities, like an announcement for the project (I didn’t add one), a list of team members (I am a solo on this one), an address for posting emails directly to the project, a control to change notifications, and a control to archive or delete the project.
PandaDesk supports messages (updates), tasks, and files: the minimal viable work media feature set, and has a truly seamless integration with Dropbox.
I am a bit concerned that Oursky still hasn’t implemented a search feature, which suggests that their momentum on the project may be slowing. However, it is a free, intuitive, and lightweight work media tool, well-suited to small teams or anyone who wants a work media layer residing on top of Dropbox.
I think if you left it up to Leo Sauermann, the innovator behind Refinder, he wouldn’t even classify the tool as being a work media solution. He is more interested in helping users manage and share complex collections of information, and as a result his Refinder app doesn’t have projects as its main contextual division, but collections.
To the left is a list of the most recent collections (or projects, the way I think of them), an my activity stream in the middle. At the top center is a field to create a ‘thing’ — such as adding a task — and placing it in one or more collections. These information objects — including tasks, updates, bookmarks, files, questions, locations, contacts, organizations, and topics — can also be created within the context of a collection.
Some aspects of the tool show how young it is. For example, you can create contacts (or ‘persons’) but you can’t associate email addresses or phone numbers with them. Topics are treated as if they are bits of information like tasks or updates, but they really are stand-ins for tags, so I have been told that topics are going to be totally reworked in a later version.
A Refinder collection has various controls in the top (as shown in the bottom in the image above), such as an email address for sending email to the project, and the ability to connect various apps to the collection. As you can see, I have connected Dropbox to this one. Other apps include Google Docs, RSS feeds, and Twitter streams, which I have not experiemented with, yet.
Each collection has its own activity stream, and controls to filter and sort the items in the collection and different displays. In this collection I have added a few files — either directly, by email, or via the Dropbox integration — and added notes and tasks.
The Dropbox integration works on a collection basis: you attach a specific Dropbox folder with a specific collection, and a background task periodically runs, adding any files to the collection. However, files added to the collection directly — by uploading from your desktop or by email attachment — are added to the private store of the collection, and NOT added to the Dropbox folder. My sense is that most people will want all files to be placed in the Dropbox folder if one is set up to be linked to a collection.
Because Refinder is more a semantic information management tool, a great deal of its functionality is oriented toward filtering and selecting multiple information items, and adding them to collections, or associating them to other ‘things’. Locations, for example, are managed as independent things, which can subsequently be associated with persons, or organizations. But this is harder for my head to get around than simply having location information in each person or organization item, without all the semantic networking.
Conside the example below, where I have selected two notes in my Ungrounded Research collection:
In the current implementation, I can related these items to any sort of object, like a file or a task. One obvious use case is to tag these things, and Refinder’s Topics can be used in that way, but they don’t feel like tags. For example, they aren’t displayed like tags at the foot of the items: you have to click on the refinder icon at the bottom, and then you are shown a list of all related things. I would rather have plain vanilla tags — which I would use all the time — rather than a totally general way to relate anything to anything.
Refinder is perhaps miscast as a work media tool in this analysis, but it would make a perfectly credible entrant in the market for light weight work media tools, given a few tweaks.
The Dropbox integration works as advertised, although I think that making it more uniform — so that all files added to a collection by whatever means would wind up in the associated Dropbox folder — but those wanting that model can simply add the files to the Dropbox folder, and all’s well. I haven’t explored the other integrations, but they are the one that many people would want, and shows a way that the tool could be extended to support other integrations, as well.
Some of the ‘things’ are at an immature level, or not well thought out for the work media context. Topics in particular need to be either simplifed into tags, or maybe tags could be added independently.
In the few weeks since I have been experimenting with Refinder, the team has implemented several new capabilities — such as the email posting feature — which suggests that the product has momentum, and is likely to become more mature very quickly, as new users start to recommend desired product features, as well.
Dropbox has developed a large ecosystem of developers building a broad range of solutions. In my personal use, I share folders with apps on my iPad (like Notability), my iPhone (like Nebulous), and tools like those reveiwed above on my Mac. The ability to get at the bits and pieces across all these devices and tools is extremely helpful to me, but basically means I have to operate at the file level with Dropbox.
I would like to see lightweight tools like these that integrate with the other critical information tangles in my work life, like Google Calendar. Just as I have a Dropbox folder associated with every project in my work media tool, why can’t I have a corresponding calendar for events? Or a Google calendar task list for tasks? Or capture bookmarks with a specific tag from my Pocket account (formerly Read It Later)?
My life is a collation of information in dozens of tools, instead of a single tool to capture and control all the information in my world. So tangled things, loosely coupled is the way to go (with apologies to David Weinberger).