Community and social computing
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On returning from the recent Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, I had time to reflect on the scaling issues that come up in social software adoption across an enterprise. In watching Gentry Underwood's excellent presentation on how they designed the social computing environment in IDEO, I tweeted to him that new issues start to pop up when you move from an enterprise social environment for 500 people to 200,000--or in IBM, nearly 400,000 people in 170 countries. This is not a bragging point, rather a one of frustration.
There certainly are other large or technological-oriented companies deploying social environments, but from my experience in hearing from others, no one has hit some of the scale issues that we have in IBM. Obviously we are talking about an enterprise's deployment rather than a social site like Facebook; they're very different issues for each.
For one, while employee profiles and directories are starting to become commonplace in other enterprises, we have had one for well over a decade in one form or another. We've already gone through the issues and practices others have found: (a) include everyone; (b) prepopulate with relevant contact, work info, projects, etc; (c) popularize it as the place to look up data; (d) integrate into or make it THE basis for contact info for other existing internal and extranet Web apps; (e) invite partners,contractors and suppliers; (f) tie to enterprise-wide LDAP and single-sign on; (g) integrate into common work processes and behaviors. In fact, the last I looked, we had nearly 600,000 profiles in our Bluepages (including employees, supplementals, contractors, bots, some partners and suppliers).
While the Bluepages system certianly popular, it is but one of several dozen commonly used social software tools, some of which in themselves have hundreds of thousands of unique users. We have thousands of smaller communities and wikis some of which have tens of thousands of members. The multiple tools comes out of our laissez-faire attitude to allow many software ideas to emerge, and through our user base test and advocate the best ideas.
The population size of this system isn't quite the issue, but I put some thought into what enterprise 2.0 deployment issues might appear with scale and came up with the following chart. I hope this can help other maturing e2.0 environments consider some of the issues they may be coming up agains
A. distribution of people across time zones
B. distribution of people across cultures / countries
C. distribution of people across physical locations
D. distribution of people across job categories or dissimilar job roles
E. projects people work on are very different in nature
F. distribution across access devices (desktops, laptops, mobile)
G. many separate (non-integrated) social tools, or different interfaces
H. many separate databases as information sources
I. many separate or isolated social instances
J. number/reach of boundary-spanners
PS: Thanks dW folks for migrating my blog over!