Community and social computing
with Tags: blogging X
I keep running into Chris Anderson's activities lately. First, I'm listening to his dW podcast interview on our site this week, and next we had an internal meeting for book authors that Chris came to talk to us about. The main discussion in the call was more about how to approach book writing and some ideas that he found successful for his own bestseller, The Long Tail (see my book list). Some of it rang so true but is still missed by so many authors.
For one, he talked about blogging from the very beginning on the book as he did on his research, and carrying the conversation on regularly and for a long time. Chris started blogging from the beginning. It helped in shape his ideas, but also helped quite a bit when it came time to launch the book; he gave away a thousand copies of the book to all the bloggers who interacted with him on his blog. This, I think, really helped to spread the popularity of his book.
Blogging is certainly popular but to many book authors it is still a new phenomenon, even in the tech industry. With that in mind, many authors think that they should start blogging when their book is nearer completion that from the beginning. I think there are two parts to this: a) in general, for a blog to become even barely known takes a long-time of ongoing and active effort; b) blogging about your book helps to build awareness. In other words, if you already have (a) going for you, then (b) should be easier. However, back to my point on blogging still being new with many authors points to the fact that many of them don't even have (a) going for them.
To give my example, I am working on a book and many of the ideas that I have talked about are spread all around this blog of mine. However, I don't think I ever stated that intention. For me, the ideas are more significant--and even more than that discussion of the ideas--than the point that its for a book. But perhaps I should state that intention right away and define the premise more openly. I'll save it for a different post so as not to distract from Chris' point here.
Another interesting point and one that is dear to his heart apparently--he just launched a new startup BookTour.com on it--is about authors engaging others in live events, book tours, presentations, speaking engagements, etc. I think it's a great idea and fits my philosophy: most people need help on learning how to generate a community around an idea or even themselves. What live or virtual appearances and activities do is help to build that community and reinforce the significance of the work. By Chris' own admission speaking engagements can have a better ROI than book sales, even if they go hand in hand; and I don't disagree with that in terms of getting paid for day-long appearnaces versus spending months on a book. This means that as an author you need to spend the time and effort to actively promote your book and not just rely on the publisher's marketing team. The argument I always hear on this is that most people have full time jobs and do not have the time to do so. This is where I think an idea like BookTour can come in really helpful.
Let's take an online parallel: we at developerWorks are about to launch a new aspect called Expert spaces amongst other features. This allows a person to create a community around their own activities using different social software tools not unlike what groups of folks are doing with our community topic spaces now. Like our spaces now, you can start a blog of your own to talk about your project, link in resources your find useful. If you want to go a step beyond, you could even write parts of your book in a wiki online and ellicit comments about the contents you share.
For our own team, this means that we will now need to help these experts get going on communicating in this new way. BookTour focuses on the specific activity of bookwriting; we have a much wider focus on building awareness about any technical expert. We do that now to some degree, but there is a lot more that we could learn.
We had a call today posing the question of how to work with Influencersin your community. I compared community influencers similar to how theindustry works with Analysts. Many organizations have Analyst Relationsteams whose sole job is to interact and communicate with analysts thatcover their products or services. Analysts come from many origins, butare usually recognized as experts in their topic, and hold a primaryjob function to cover the topic, or consult and interact with manycompanies, the press or other customers about the topic.
It's not a far stretch to say that leading bloggers, forum members, andothers who interact in a community are starting to gain (or evenbecome) the same status. The primary difference for most is the"amateur" status: rather than "being an expert" as their official job(the professional analyst), they are experts because of an existingjob, function or coverage they have. However, my point is that weshouldn't disregard them because of their amateur status. In fact,quite the opposite: this represents an opportunity to work with otherwho can help spread the word.
For the converted, this is not news, but in general this is still a newnotion. In fact, many organizations haven't even considered how toaddress this new population of amateur-analysts. They are looking for anew generation of PR/AR people who do get it. Businessweek's July 24th issue raises this issue.
On the other hand, some have (see the Nike examplein that article). Or on the other hand, there's the current debate onblogging-for-pay, where some bloggers are looking to get paid for theiractivities when in relation to product mentions, etc. I find thisdebate not very surprising when you consider this is already exists inthe field of professional-analysts. What is happening is that they aretrying to make a transition from amateur to professional status.
That is a bigger leap than a lot of people may think.
It's more than a matter of showing that you have X number of people whoread your blog, hence you should be paid $Y. In fact, what it points tois the somewhat mysterious/mystical reputationfactor. Anyone who tells you they have an equation for fame is talkinghorse's eggs (it's one my mom's favorite Bengali sayings: ghorar-dim).
This circles back to our Influencers and trying to figure out who theyare, and how to support them. With the social networking software oftoday, however, it is possible to learn some general behaviors like howmany people read something you've written, how often they may come backto it, what they think of your posting, etc. (Obviously, this onlyenters the picture when the influencer in questionwants to actually participate in this. Otherwise, you'd be running intosome heavy privacy invasions.) You need a number of different softwareelements to find that out, including a good metrics collection andanalysis system, a ratings system, per-user histories, peer networks,etc. This is more than a few separate pieces of social software we aretalking about, which means a lot of investment in developing the righttools. It's already going on in the industry as apparent by the growingnumber of social software sites and products that many new startups aretrying to capitalize on. So, there is and will be many different waysfor companies to start leveraging social systems.
But what is the value to the company? How do you even value somethinglike that, especially when they are so widespread across many differentsocial networking sites, tools, all of which provide different types offeatures, metrics, etc.
Many web sites in the industry have generally agreed upon the UniqueVisitor metric as a common measurement for people coming to sites, buthow do you measure reputation.Just because you have a lot of people reading the post, does notnecessarily mean you have any kind of influence over them. In fact, thepopulation may actively dislike an influencers views. Amusingly enough,this reminds of how Howard Stern became a big hit: not just his fansbut also those anti-fans listened to his show. Because of how thetraditional Wanamaker advertising model works (see my earlier post),it is considered a success. Is this still true in the evolvingpin-point targetted marketing model available on the Internet? (I'msure Mr Stern's producers certainly hope so: can he deliver on his$500M salary).
Do we need an industry-wide reputation metric? Is that even possible?Would this have any impact on what people use now: the traditional CPMadvertising/marketing metric model?
Well to get off the pontification of where it may go, I'll step into what we are thinking in terms of a reputation model next...
Ian pointed this out that you can now Blog from within SecondLife using BlogHud. (connecting back from Virtual me to Real me, or is it? Who am I again?)
Also, the Eightbar bloggers went to a baseball game, complete with afull diamond & stadium, foam fingers, and fun.You have to see theirpics before and during the game. Even MLB.com likes it.
Davenport in his book Thinking for a Living points out that the are essentially four basic types of activities carried out by Knowledge Workers in a line starting from :
For example, developerWorks is involved primarily in the activities ofPackaging and Distribution. We rely on authors, contributors, bloggers,and other experts to create the knowledge. We then package thatknowledge in various forms: articles, tutorials, blogs, briefings etc.We then offer a distribution mechanism for these pacakged knowledgethrough our web sites, our live events, etc. This is made available toour readership so that they may try to apply it each to their own uses.
The packaging part is the difficult proposition now in the light of unstructured knowledge.The dW web sites has typically been a e-zine in the past with manyZones each reflecting a magazine along some topic that appeals to someaudience. The knowledge comes from many sources, both within andoutside IBM to attempt to get the best coverage on a topic we can.These are structured into the semblance of an article or a tutorial.
Unstructured or less-structured knowledge, however, is where dWCommunity comes in. It's less structured because it does necessarilyfollow some kind of content format that people are familiar with: thereisn't necessarily an order to how the information is formatted, wherethe answers lie, where to look for more resources, or sometimes evenwho wrote the information or what their reputation/skill level in thesubject is. There is also usually little formal or standardized editinginvolved.
On the other hand, unstructured knowledge is where there is a hugeamount of growth, everywhere on the Internet. Take our blogs forexample: every blogger has their unique style on how they post theirknowledge, or even what kind of info they provide; while it isstructured according to the goals of that person, every visitor has totry to figure out each post or each blogger in context of others. Thisis both good and bad; it invokes style and personality to a greaterlevel. However, not everyone is a born-writer or blogger. Lots ofpeople go to school and study journalism just to learn how to do it;others, I will daresay like myself, have a natural apptitude for it.
To become more useful to those Knowledge Appliers, it helps to know howto better package your knowledge. While blog systems provide a tool forpresenting the knowledge, they don't automatically make you a betterwriter or a better blogger. With unstructured knowledge like blogs, fordW for example, we now share the workload of knowledge packaging withour experts, in exchange for greater freedom for them to carry oncreating knowledge about their activities. We also carry out anotherpart of the Packaging aspect through the blog tool itself.
What we (dW) need to provide is guidance. We collect the ideas,information, practices and success stories on what makes for goodhabits, techniques and practices for more successful blogs. We sharethat information with our bloggers as much as we can. In addition, wecontinue to workon ways to better distribute this knowledge across the site and the net.
Take the example of our blogs and multiply it for each other type ofcommunity tool (wikis, forums, podcasts, etc.) and you can see the rolewe provide in this Knowledge activity line in terms of unstructuredknowledge. When you consider that much of this is still fairly new orbleeding edge, we sometimes have to do the bleeding in the process offinding out what works and doesn't to better support our unstructured knowledge creators.
Unless of course someone else wants to handle that function ;)
Michelle Conlin's Businessweek article You are what you post,talks about the troubles of growing up in the Net generation. With theadvent of search engines being so "efficient" that it can find any kindof information that is associated with your name, people are startingto find that others including their bosses, potential employers, orclients can find out all kinds of information from your past. Anythingthat you might post online can show up including embarrassing orprivate facts about yourself, even things others might saw about you,whether true or not. How can you possibly know what is harmful to yourcharacter or can be misunderstood by others, tomorrow or even ten yearsfrom now?
This is causing fear and panic amongst individuals, companies and PRagencies worldwide. The idea that you image is always at risk on thenet. In fact, the rule of thumb is usually to always assume that "ifyou post it, they will find it." To some that means, "don't use theInternet". However, the right reaction is not to stick your head in thesand and assume that it will simply go away. It is to be proactive.
Michelle actually points out an important fact that is missed by many:there are two "yous", the physical real-world you, and the online imageof you (or what others learn about you from info online). Because yourphysical person is always with you (duh!) it's usually possible to knowwhat's happening around it. However, it usually not possible to knoweverything going on around the online you. The Businessweek articlepoints to five ways to manage your online doppelganger, which aredefinitely helpful hints.
My thought on this line however, is that companies and people may eventually realize that the online you isjust as important as person to maintain. The best way to do this is tohave an online tool to keep track of that you and what happens. What'smore, it becomes the basis of how others can communicate with theonline you. It's not only nice to have that tool but imperative, if youwant to have a proactive say around what the "online you" really does.Otherwise, you are at risk of leaving it in the hands of what anyoneelse may say about you.
In terms of philosophy (in the classical Greek sense), this is mind-bending in terms of what that persona is becoming: all that is online you is what others see around you. You don't have strict control of it, but you can contribute to it.
Aside from a tool, the other idea this points to is that it's unlikelya single individual will be able to know what the best ways ofpresenting themselves is. It's a brand new online world, and most ofthe social rules are still being figured out. The best way is to havesomeone who watches and understands the behavior across the net toprovide advice on how to use the tools according to the properfunction, and more so, in the most effective manner. In the physicalworld, these people are often called image consultants, PR agencies,etc., although that's really the extreme end of a business that isgeared specifically to your own needs.
Another way to look at this is in terms of getting people to understandor even share your views. If you're interesting enough, you might evengain a fan club of your own (the goal of many bloggers). Yourreputation helps build an implicit or even an explicit community aroundwhat you are or what you're doing. I, for one, don't believe anyone cantruly force others to agree with them wholeheartedly; therefore toconvince others on your view, you need to be persuasive and use theright tools and right means of persuasion. Thus, you should take a lookat this from the perspective of how to develop this community aroundyou.
The root of all this is your reputation online and how others see it.Take charge of your online reputation because, whether you like it ornot, it has or eventually will have a direct impact on your future.
In summary, the online you is already being "created" on the Web bywhat you and what others post about you online. You should considertaking an active part of owning and operating this "online you", andhandle this from the perspective of trying to build a community aroundyou.
Continuing my thread on knowledge workers, and how to get them to share their knowledge...
Davenport indicates that knowledge workers value their knowledge skills, but often do not share it easily.
The former part indicates that knowledge workers are proud of the ideas and knowledge they produce, and of the fact that they were able to come up with it. They see value in them. Therefore, one idea to increase productivity of knowledge workers is to give visibility or accolade to their ideas.
Unfortunately, the latter part is oh so true: if a knowledge worker does not feel secure in their environment or community, they are unlikely to share it, especially if it means that by sharing that knowledge, they may even be helping someone else take over their job.
Im an optimist in this area, and with the rise of open source and a more open worldwide environment (especially in our industry), we may be able to trust others enough to break down this barrier.
Take a look at this earlier post on a sort of universal meme about communities. This suggests that to get towards innovative ideas, you need to progress your community of people from the earliest stages of first getting them to interact to create a level of understanding and familiarity between the people in the organization. With a level of understanding you then have a platform that allows people to build trust between the community-members, and with that trust, some can explore and experiment on ideas and thereby develop a greater entrepreneurial spirit. Finally, once you get that level of mentality, you can finally succeed in innovation through your community.
Obviously, with Davenports statement, the sharing of knowledge lies in the very first few stages. If you cant get people to trust each other--even in a contained environment--you wont get knowledge sharing in action.
If you have a strongly-connected employee base, you have developed that level of trust or at least a level of understanding amongst the people in your organization. You still need to encourage others to experiment, as in our Think Fridays in IBM. For a small organization it is easier to distribute new ideas, but to achieve knowledge sharing of those ideas in anything beyond a few hundred people, you really need to consider a common tool to collect, rank, sort and share all those ideas.
That kind of tool is exactly what we have in IBM right now in the form of our ThinkPlace tool and system. The IBM Innovation team offers this tool whereby any of the 300,000+ people in IBM could share their ideas; these ideas are then sorted or ranked by popularity (by software and also by hand). Not only does this do great justice to enabling knowledge workers in our organization but it is also leading a lot of our own innovation, not just for new product ideas, but also for company-internal improvement.
In its simplest form, it is a sort of open discussion group with many threads that anyone can start up around their idea. This is more than a 21st century version of the old "Suggestions Box" found in many companies yesteryear which was a closed box only viewed and analyzed and action taken on by management.
Thinkplace is a more open process whereby your peers can look over the ideas and weigh in on its merits, rather than someone in management dealing out commandments. In fact, it is also a way for employees in other divisions to mine this idea database for things that might relate to their work. The managers from the Innovation team, in this respect do exactly as their titles suggest: they manage the flow of this output in useful channels to find the best ideas.
We have ThinkPlace in operation already, but now consider the next step towards integrating community.
As I mentioned in a previous post, you can use your blog to implement free-thinking time (e.g., Think Fridays in IBM), since many bloggers use this tool to share their ideas and knowledge. This certainly provides a useful business case to retaining and supporting knowledge workers.
Now consider how to export some of those ideas from your own blog into a community tool like ThinkPlace. Each blog post which is specifically is an idea should probably be tagged and then "pushed" (through software preferrably, or via manual copy) to the ideas database.
The reason to do this is because blogs are part of the new Web 2.0 mentality of a model of participation. In other words, people who are bloggers are starting to embrace a more open and willing stance on sharing their knowledge.
An experienced blogger is used to the idea of posting to their blog on a regular basis. All we are talking about here is categorizing particular posts and make it easier to export that into a public space like the ThinkPlace tool. This reduces the tool-usage time to transfer knowledge into a tool where that can be considered by a wider audience. In fact, for bloggers thats also a good thing: more exposure to your ideas on your blog, and possibly even showing some real outcome of your ideas.
Thus, the knowledge workers can create their ideas and contribute for a mass audience to consider and analyze; the organization behind that audience can create an idea pool that is self-defining and self-directed to produce new innovations; and both the members and the organization can benefit from discovering and implementing these innovations.
For the knowledge worker, this suggests not only building a regular practice for participating in communities but also offers a reward mechanism in seeing some of their ideas appreciated and maybe even implemented by the overall organization.
So, unless you think you dont really need innovation out of your organization, this suggests a useful business case for different kinds of community tools, for the growth of the organization as well as the happiness of your knowledge workers. And, oh by the way, in doing this, youve just created a knowledge sharing and capturing process.
On the last two points that Davenport made in his book: to get commitment from a knowledge worker, it is important give freedom to experiment and work on ideas rather than to always dictate or direct them to work on specific things. Also, just as it is difficult to describe the job, it is also often hard to describe the knowledge output; for that matter, knowledge workers may not even seemto be in their best interest to share their knowledge.
The concern is that if you do not provide the correct supportive environment for your knowledge worker, they are quite likely to move to another organization that does (i.e., jump ship to a potential competitor who does offer the right environment).
This has direct relevance to a number of activities in IBM. For one, we now have Think Fridays. Basically, Fridays of every week should be freed up so that you have some peace of mind to consider, experiment, or talk about new ideas. Each person should apply that to their job as they see fit. I hear that 3M has something similar in that engineers should put aside 15% of their time to this kind of free-thinking.
For me, this tends to free up my regular weekday packed with phone calls with different groups, and sit back and think of the issues and changes to our project, or new ideas that have emerged. Others in our division use this time to experiment with new technology. C.J. and Peter on our team have even extended this to Think Friday-Build Saturday-Test Sunday, which I agree is certainly going beyond the call of duty, and very applaudable.
Now, consider Think Fridays on a different level across all IBMers. In particular, think of what people do in blogs and different community areas: discuss, digest, or produce new ideas. In fact, if youre an avid bloggers, you probably have Think-Mondays, Think-Tuesdays, etc., but in less than a full days time. Thus by blogging, as a knowledge worker, you are very likely and effectively using that free-thinking time.
So my advice to bloggers in IBM (and even beyond): Consider using a portion of your Friday to blog, because by blogging you are in effect implementing the spirit of Think Fridays.
Obviously, not all the ideas that you have are something you would want to discuss on a public blog. In that light, for IBMers we have an global intranet system called BlogCentral, which is a safe environment to discuss ideas with other IBMers. This quickly points to the necessity of having a blog system not just for an external audience but also one for a company-internal audience. Therefore, for knowledge workers within an organization, it is important to have an organization-wide blogging platform.
So for those looking for a business case for why you need a blogging system inside an organization, this is one good example. Blogs allow an expression of Think Fridays (or your organizations equivalent) which many companies think is an important aspect of encouraging, supporting and keeping happy their knowledge workers. I would generalize that to any number of other community tools, not just blogs.
Okay, you may have heard that we're also upgrading to Roller for our blog engine. We're in the process of migrating all our existing blogs, blog entries, comments, categories, links, etc. all into Roller. Even with less than a hundred blogs, this is time-consuming.
I can't wait to get at the new features. One of our bloggers, Todd Watson is already using a Blog publishing tool called w.bloggar to create and post to their blog. Others are experimenting with what their blog presents, such as James Snell's tag cloud.
Me, I'm still handcoding HTML. :< (even my smiley's aren't graphical yet)
I guess I have to wait my turn.
And hopefully it's not like that time in Logan's Run to "Renew" (and never be heard from again).
James Governor of RedMonk has a point in his blog
Wake up IBM: come out from behind developerworks!!!
If it isn't obvious already, developerWorks focuses on a mixed audience of programmers, sysadmins, architects, testors, etc. all those directly involved in the software development lifecycle. Hence, our blogs fall in the same cloud too.
IBMers do have other blogs both on the site and outside, but there isn't an area for "all IBM blogs" externally from the global IBM site yet. Honestly, that falls beyond dW's scope.
I'm finally on vacation this year. It's been a very busy season since I started to get our dW Community program on a strategic course. As a reward to myself, I got a CD of Brazilian music ranging from samba to funk.
We are having a gathering of bloggers (GoB) at our next IBM Software University event in January. SWU is primarily an IBMer event and is held every year to gather the expertise from the many thousands of IBMers (FYI: IBM has about 300,000+ employees worldwide) who attend.
[I'll admit I made up the GoB word as a recursive definition of a group of bloggers. It's my Unix heritage.]
The GoB is at SWU because most of our bloggers on dW are currently IBMers. That's not to say we don't have non-IBMer bloggers. In fact, I really want to encourage many non-IBMer technical experts to consider joining our ranks.
However, we do like to make a distinction with our bloggers. We're not really an anyone-who-wants-to-blog site. There are plenty of blogs on all sorts of topics, but here at dW we'd like to focus primarily on technical and developer-oriented topics.
That means that we want to try to keep things on topic that developers would be interested in. This is a non-trivial exercise most of the time. How can you really tell what a blogger wants to talk about? In fact, there is often a lot of interesting information that seems less relevant to a bloggers main topic on occassion.
Bloggers need freedom to express themselves but at the same time, the blogspace is full of many blogs with random thoughts that wander aimlessly, and those that die because it is not an easy task to stay on topic.
Our idea of blogging is actually to find experts that really know their topic and can write about regularly. In print publishing, this is similar to finding a regular columnist; the difference being that columns tend to be much more limited in length, content type and stringent on topic. You can't really go off-topic for an issue with a column.
There could be a wide variety of topics that our bloggers can cover but the key goal is to have a blog that, on a regular basis, is of interest to our audience of programmers, testors, sysadmins, architects, and other technical folk. You can see from the wide range of topics and technologies that IBM is involved in, from our product base to the projects we are researching, to walk across the topic-horizon, learning as you go, could take more than what any single person could do in one lifetime.
I recently heard about the Problogger site dedicated to those who want to become bloggers on a professional level (i.e., full-time job earning money). As part of their current 31 days project they have a great collection of hints and tips on all facets of blogging including writing entries, building a blog brand name, marketing your blog, indexing in search engines, responding to commentors, interface design, traffic behavior, etc.
I find that we ourselves learned some of these best practices on blogging (by trial & error), and there are still many other things to learn from. We are sharing these practices with our different teams in applications development, design, marketing, and community relations.
If you are a blogger--even if you're not in it for the money--read this site.