Blog Authors: Valerie Skinner 060000VKGS is part of the IBM developerWorks team, getting to know the real developers who make up the My developerWorks community and exploring the world of social networking. I'm enjoying learning what makes developers tick! I'm very interested in exploring online communities and social media and understanding real world application - how they can help people solve problems and work together.
Interview with Rawn Shah, author of Social Networking for Business
vskinner 060000VKGS Tags:  mydw lotusphere social_networking social ls10 lotus interview my_developerworks social_media 3 Comments 5,543 Views
I'm not at Lotusphere 2010 this week, but the excitement is contagious! If you want to follow along, check out #ls10 on Twitter and My developerWorks blog posts and podcasts tagged with Lotusphere.
In honor of Lotusphere, I'm bringing you an interview with Rawn Shah, IBM social software practices lead. Rawn's moved on to new frontiers, but he was once part of the IBM developerWorks team and without Rawn's visionary ideas about social computing, My developerWorks wouldn't be where it is today. He is the author of a new book about to be published, Social Networking for Business, that I'm looking forward to reading and I hope you enjoy these insights from Rawn.
Connect with Rawn: My developerWorks profile - Twitter - Blog
You've worked in many different roles: network admin, systems programmer and author to name a few and you've gone from dotcom startup to Big Blue at IBM. What have been the most interesting transitions during your IT career?
It's hard for me to remember the feeling from the earlier ones years ago, and some roles I worked in parallel so there weren’t as many major changes. The last large software application I wrote was a TCP/IP network router in 2007, but I don’t program much anymore. I'd say the most interesting ones was either moving from being a startup to working for IBM, and another transition from being an technology editor to an online community program manager. These were very different job roles: from managing various independent writers to leading teams of folks working on social software. It truly helps you learn the differences between motivating individuals and teams. In the move to IBM, it took a few years just to appreciate the scale of difference in knowing people well, across the company, even more than trying to meet people across the industry. There was also a steep learning curve with social computing just starting to rev up in the 2000s.
Congratulations on your new book, Social Networking for Business! There's a lot of info out about social networking right now - what perspective does your book offer that makes it unique?
Thank you. The book focuses on how people work socially, the collaborative methods they use, how they experience it, how they subdivide or build up tasks, how they decide on governance and proper etiquette to working together, and how culture emerges in social groups. Unlike many other books which tend to focus on social media marketing and issues around using tools around the Web, this book reaches across both external scenarios, as well as within the enterprise. The focus is on understanding the dynamics of the social systems that these tools support. That is much more a study of human behavior, social collaboration, and business productivity, than trying to understand the technical aspects of the software.
Each chapter focuses on a different dynamic, for example various leadership models in social computing, different ways of accomplishing tasks socially, understanding elements of culture and behavior, encouraging members and participation, and more. Beyond theory, it provides examples of each of these dynamics in action. Like an architect, I hope this book helps people to look beyond the technical or physical structure and into the artistic design, human factors, social impact and practicalities of social computing ideas.
What did you learn in the process of writing Social Networking for Business?
This is the first book project I have taken on entirely by myself. My other books (a variety of other subjects) have all be co-authored with several folks. It really tested my resolve to work on a singular project several times a week for two years—this, on top of my day job of course. It was also very much a subject in constant motion, with new ideas and approaches to social computing emerging every few months. I’ve probably revised the book a dozen times. The final book itself, I trimmed down from about 400 pages to its current version of about 200 or so.
Writing for business readers rather than technical was also another big shift. My last work as co-author is intended for a deeply technical audience: SOA Compass (IBM Press 2005, and now in six languages worldwide). What’s more writing for Wharton School Press was also a little intimidating; the Wharton professor and the editorial staff were very pleasant and accommodating, but there is a different kind of rigor that goes into explaining in simple detail without expounding at length on a topic.
The topic itself is constantly reshaping itself, but I have found that adoption tends to be a top concern, once people get beyond the “What is it?” question. Companies want to know how to apply social computing across their employees, customers and partners, but they also want to know what the payback or gain of taking part may be. So far, there are many different scenarios where the rewards are real, but I have yet to find anyone who can claim a common set of methods, metrics and value that applies in every scenario. For CIOs and IT departments used to delivering very specific ROI measurements for their application installations, this lack of a systematic means of measuring ROI can make it difficult to justify the cost. On the other hand, as many will tell you, there is no question of “do you need a phone system for your business?” as a means of communication. My prediction is that social software and collaboration will eventually become a standard cost of doing any kind of business.
Your favorite and your least favorite thing about social networking?
Pros: It’s a brand new frontier of ideas especially when you become involved in trying to take this from an artistic to a scientific approach. There are lots of opportunities on an intellectual level which really drives me.
Cons: It’s a brand new frontier of ideas especially when you become involved in trying to take this from an artistic to a scientific approach. :)
It’s true both ways. On the con side, I end up talking with folks ingrained with the subject and those just entering it, and often find people rediscovering some of the same ideas over and again. There are still so many new things to be learned, but having to go in reverse sometimes can also readjust your perspective on what people need.
How has being a father changed how you use social networking?
I went dormant for a while, not posting online too often. This book writing project started when my first child was about a year old, and ended about two years later just before my second one was born. On a daily basis it was a flip-flop between deep intellectual discussions with many experts on the dynamics of social interactions, and then watching Curious George and Yo Gabba Gabba—“Don’t… bite your friends… Don’t… bite your friends”—with my son, and then back to work after he went to bed. Let me tell you, it changes the way you think. Both have their ups and downs. Since this book was dedicated to my son Ryhan, I will eventually have to write another one to dedicate to my daughter Zoe.
What advice would you give on being an active social networker but balancing it with the rest of your job and the rest of your life?
What I think many folks new to the subject find hardest is that it takes time (years, not weeks) to become involved in a social group. Much of it involves if you can, on a personal level, form and maintain relationships with people you don’t see or talk to except in brief bursts. Most folks don’t get to spend hours at a time working closely with other individuals in an online social environment. That’s okay. However, frequency and authenticity of interaction does matter. You need to connect with others just as you would with your in-person relationships.
But don’t lose your life to it. Talk about the subject in a relevant and useful manner. But, there is also nothing wrong with occasionally talking about what you do in your off-time, if that’s okay with the social environment you are in. What that does is bring up other concepts that perhaps the other members may be interested in and want to talk to you about. Therein lays serendipity.
What are some of your favorite websites/feeds/twitter accounts to follow?
What I read regularly has changed quite a bit over the years. It used to be fairly heavily technical and developer oriented, but these days, they are more around social systems, economics, employee behavior, and enterprise technology
Online, I read blogs like Crave.cnet.com (for my gadget news fix), CNN Money, BBC news, the Enteprise 2.0 Adoption Council (private community for enterprise social software). Most Web sites I tend to find per recommendation from others on Twitter or on internal social sites. There are a lot of IBM internal sites and communities I read too.
I tend to read a lot offline as much as online. Having been a writer and editor, I still regularly follow a number of publications like the Economist, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Strategy+Business and Harvard Business Review.
I see Twitter as a stream of info to dip into occasionally rather than to soak in for hours. I tend to be specific on who I follow and which followers I accept. I only track several hundred folks but will read posts by rhappe (Rachel Happe), jowyang (Jeremy Owyang), kdpaine (KD Paine), rotkapchen (Paula Thornton), turbotodd (Todd Watson), briansolis (Brian Solis), ITInsider (Susan Scrupski), horizonwatching (Bill Chamberlin), and eric_andersen (Eric Andersen).
Are there any technical experts or blogs you follow on My developerWorks?
I read Luis Benitez’s and Todd Watson’s blogs often because they are both in my field and interesting writers. I was reading the Extremeblue Internship Experience blog over the summer—I was mentoring an intern team working on social computing activity metrics. I’m starting to discover new folks on there too.
What do you think about My developerWorks so far?
It’s interesting and a third home online so I visit it occasionally. I like the fact that its open to allowing any developerWorks member to get involved in. There’s a lot to growing a new ecosystem like this; and it is new because the users have not been working in such an environment for very long, even if developerWorks itself has been around for over a decade. I’m really glad to see that content from My developerWorks now appears on the main developerWorks page.
Outside of the social networking universe, what hobbies or interests keep your flame burning?
My other passion is practicing and teaching Japanese swordfighting. It’s exhausting physically but nice and relaxing mentally from work. On http://battodo.ning.com, you’ll find photos and videos of my students and me over the years. I teach mostly middle-school and high-school now. That audience requires a whole other approach to trying to explain ideas and practices. For example, “Let’s not try to get anyone hurt in class by swinging your wooden sword wildly. Now, line up so you can practice how to cut in half this target about the density of a person.”
- Thanks Rawn!