Enterprise Social Networks

Don Park paints a picture of blog and wiki convergence in the following quote:

“Imagine posts and comments flowing from blogs to wikis like the way streams feed into lakes. Got the picture yet? Now think of a blog category as a wiki page. The picture changes so that the blog becomes a mountain and categories become the streams running down the side of the mountain in all directions toward wikis into which streams from other mountains also feed into.”

I certainly would enjoy seeing the reality of Don’s picture. However, I would also like to expand on his canvas (and borrow his metaphor too ;-)

In my picture I would like to see the integration of blog and wiki-style features in enterprise software such as Document Management Systems, Content Management Systems, and of course Collaboration and Knowledge Management Systems.

For example, take the new Microsoft Office 2003 System…

Imagine if the Office System supported trackbacks, pingbacks, blogrolls and wiki style page creation that was orchestrated by SharePoint Services or even a scaled-down version of BizTalk Server.

Combine this with a version of Outlook that comes with a built-in aggregator like NewsGator and supports an auto-discovery social networking feature based on FOAF.

Ok, maybe I’m turning Don’s picture into a Jackson Pollock, but I do feel there is great potential in providing a distributed collaboration and social networking aware framework that seamlessly fits into the enterprise and does not take users out of the applications they use on a daily basis.

Collaboration and Process

Clay Shirky writes the following in his piece about, “Wikis, Grafitti, and Process:”

“A wiki in the hands of a healthy community works. A wiki in the hands of an indifferent community fails. The software makes no attempt to add ‘process’ in order to keep people from doing stupid things. Instead, it provides more flexibility, a crazy amount of flexibility, and intoxicating amount of flexibility, allowing massive amounts of stupidity and intentional damage to be done, at will, by roving and anonymous posters. And it provides rollback.”

Indeed, a healthy community doesn’t need a formalize process or a highly specialized set of tools to successfully collaborate. Like water or electricity, they will find a way through the muck; it may not be the most efficient or elegant, but it will certainly get from point-to-point.

HyperText File System

Beau Lebens’ Dented Reality has some interesting projects, like this one…

“HTFS is a complete, database-driven “file-system” on the concept of hyper-text … The basic idea of this system is …[that]… files, emails, notes and links can be stored as unique items – ONCE, managed by a database.” [more]

Hmm, sounds a bit like Ted Nelson’s Xanadu.

I’d love to see some demos of it, maybe sample code too.

Focus on the Process not the Feature

I alluded to this the other day, but the following from Jupiter Research sums up MSFTÂ’s marketing positioning strategy for the new Office System, which will also include Longhorn and I suspect enterprise search.

Basically, they are not selling features or services, but “solutions” to very specific business processes.

“Microsoft is putting less emphasis on individual applications and product features and more emphasis on what people can do with Office System. The strategy also synchs with other products, such as development of Windows Longhorn. Earlier, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates discussed “scenarios” the company is using to develop Longhorn. One scenario might be a teenager interested in listening to music. Microsoft has taken a similar approach to Office System, looking at information scenarios Office users confront daily.”

“The distinction between features and scenarios seems subtle, but is actually more complex. The scenario focus means that Microsoft is shifting away from adding new features simply for the sake of adding new features to looking more seriously at how people use or would want to use the products.”

Enterprise User Experience

Building on the ubiquity of Office in the enterprise, I think Microsoft
is promoting a very compelling trend
and something to seriously consider in
regard to delivering an enterprise user experience that feels
seamless or natural.

 

Essentially, it’s
an obvious goal: Give users an interface that they already know and use daily.

 

Specifically the key to
providing this enterprise utopia is with Microsoft’s soon-to-be released "Office
2003 System". IMHO and if all goes well, Microsoft will finally deliver a
malleable front-end framework that lets developers tap into the specific work-flow
processes that people accomplish everyday in each of the main Office
applications (Word, Excel, Outlook and perhaps PowerPoint and Access)

 

Long block-quote from
an article on CNET: Microsoft
buddies up with new Office

 

"…
back-end software makers want to buddy up to Microsoft. Partnering with the
software giant means they get to tap into those proprietary add-ons, which
means they can offer Office applications as a way to view and manipulate
back-end data. Given that no enterprise software maker can offer a user
interface as familiar as Microsoft Word
, that’s a compelling advantage.

 

"It’s
a very usable user interface, and people spend a lot of time there," said
Susan Funke, an analyst for research firm IDC. "I think that’s a big part
of why–if you look at somebody like a J.D. Edwards–(enterprise software
companies are) definitely looking at Office 2003 in their strategy."

 

By giving workers a familiar interface, Office 2003 can
help remove a roadblock that has helped prevent wider adoption of CRM software

and other enterprise
technology, Microsoft’s Leach said. "One of the biggest challenges with
these back-end systems is the tremendous ramp-up people have to go through, to
get proficient at using it," he said.

 

Microsoft’s integration of XML offers even more benefits
for companies involved in the nascent Web services field, as it allows them to
insert those services into Office applications. Microsoft gets to promote new
whiz-bang services that make Office more useful, and service providers can
offer their wares in the environment where office workers spend most of their
day.

 

Factiva signed a partnership agreement with Microsoft last
year to enable its research and information services to be folded into Office
2003 applications. Customers could click on a company name in a Word
document, for instance, and quickly get basic corporate data from Factiva
sources
.

 

"It slows people down if they have to open a browser
and start a search engine or launch some new application to get a piece of
information,"
Leach said. "If I can do that from within Word, I’m much more likely to
build that into my day-to-day routine. That’s a tremendous business advantage
for companies offering these kinds of services."

Also, this goes without saying, but I think this applies to Open Source solutions that are looking for better enterprise penetration. Personally I feel they would find a better footing with Office integration points that facilitate a specific pain, work-flow, or need within a business.

Discovery Systems on the Road to Business Intelligence

Today must be research Wednesday for me, because here’s another great article on search. This one, from the latest issue of DM Review,
is specifically talking about “Discovery Systems” in relation to BI:

“Leading enterprise search and classification vendors, including IBM, Verity, Inxight and Stratify, have recently introduced “discovery systems” designed to automatically identify important relationships and trends within documents and document collections.”

Nullsoft’s Waste Dumped?

This sounds like a barebones version of Groove:

“WASTE is a software product and protocol that enables secure distributed communication for small (on the order of 10-50 nodes) trusted groups of users.”

However, it looks like perhaps AOL made Nullsoft dump WASTE from their site because the link went 404 yesterday afternoon.

Of course there’s already a mirror, which I found @ blueyonder.co.uk via the Slashdot Thread:

As a fan of Groove, I’ll need to set aside some time to check this out.

Encouraging richer social connections

According to researchers at the University of Washington which was referenced in this NY Times article

“…companies would benefit from encouraging richer social connections,”

The Times article also mentions …

“Google may be great, but people are greater. Paraphrased roughly, that is what researchers at the University of Washington found in a study released last week. People are more likely to seek information from other people than to search the Internet or an intranet, and they are three times more likely to go to people they know than to outside experts…”

[Listening to: The National Anthem – Radiohead – Kid A (05:50)]

Grassroots knowledge management

Well said from McGee’s Musings about blogs and KM:

“Knowledge work, on the other hand, depends on extracting maximum advantage out of the unique characteristics and experiences of each knowledge worker. Knowledge management, from this perspective, has to be a decentralized, grassroots, activity. If you accept that premise, the promise of weblogs in knowledge management becomes clearer. Weblogs operate on grassroots assumptions by design.”