Core groups work

core by David Prior

Supply and demand 2.0:
[Via Transparent Office]

A primary reason why I’ve started an external blog is to share and elicit insights about how organizations are using social software to improve the way they work. I do that by telling stories with morals.

I was talking the other day with the head of a Research department in a Fortune 100 company. His group had created a wiki which had gotten a little usage early on, but quickly turned into a dumping ground for a lot of traditional, published reports which were already being written. Somewhat useful, but not user-friendly, not collaborative, and not generating new insights or connections between people.

The wiki became a duping ground, where people just shoveled material off of their desk, with little or no structure to it. There was no rhyme nor reason for how it was put together, so everyone had a hard time finding anything.

The extreme use of hyperlinking that really makes a wiki useful (i.e. putting in links to pages that do not exist) was not really seen. But, here is a nice idea to get around that problem:

  • Get a small group of core community members to whiteboard a high-level information architecture in the form of a few categories (not more than 4-8) and subcategories (not more than 1-2 levels deep)
  • Create a series of blank pages or “stubs” hyperlinked to reflect the category structure
  • Assign each category to an individual member of the group to flesh out
  • Reconvene in 1-2 weeks to review what everyone has done, share learnings, and revise the category structure

Once those steps have been followed, you’ll have a structured wiki which people will want to read. You’ll have a core group of champions personally committed to the wiki’s success. And you’ll have a structure that encourages organized, thoughtful participation in line with the wiki’s strategic business objectives.

Wikis without any structure become extremely difficult to navigate. People become lost and confused.

By having a ready team of people who get it because they helped put it together then becomes critical. We did a similar thing when we started the Immunex intranet almost 10 years ago.

EarlyA group of about eight of us sat down and figured out what was going to be on the intranet and who was responsible for each part. It all went up on a sheet of paper that I still have.

That structure lasted for over 3 years as the number of pages went from about 20 that I made over a Christmas holiday to over 3000 a few years later.

That core group became very important.

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Some important ideas

jet trail by kevindooley

Can Software Make You Smarter?:
[Via A Journey In Social Media]

No, but I think it can make you more successful.

Yesterday, I was talking to our HR group — an “all-hands” type of thing — and I wandered into a few interesting areas that I thought important.

One of the things we’re noticing on our platform is that people are becoming, well, better people.

You’ve Probably Never Heard Me Present

When I’m comfortable with the topic and the situation, one of the things I do well is “channel” — I can dynamically improvise presentations. Much like a musician who improvises (BTW, I do that too), sometimes you end up in a very fascinating place — if you’re lucky.


During one of his recent talks, Chuck Hollis, a Vice President at EMC, channeled this – online conversations appear to generate leaders faster than normal approaches.

It may be that those people with leadership capabilities were already there but that many businesses have developed processes that shut them down (i.e. Not Invented Here or We have always done it this way).

Online conversations do not seem to shut off these ideas; the natural human feelings of helping the group overcome hierarchical dominance. Just as the old Internet saw states that “On the Internet, no one knows you are a dog”, they also do not know that you are a very important person whose ideas MUST be listened to and whose opinions REALLY matter.

The ability to stop discussion by appealing to position is much, much harder online. Thus we have things like this appear:

As everyone knows, one of the fastest ways to shut down an original thought is for someone to say “we’ve always done it this way”, or “we tried that before”, or “it’ll never happen”.EMC is not immune to this kind of thinking. But, for some strange reason, it has essentially disappeared from the discussions online.

The thread is more “how could we do this differently”, or “here’s what we learned the last time we tried this”, or “maybe, just maybe, this could happen”. A spirit of positive optimism has emerged, which has in turn infected most (but not all of the participants).

The more people use the platform, the more this behavior emerges. I’ve gone back and looked at early conversations from the same people, and I can see a definite positive, optimistic bias in people’s mindsets.

Conflicts arise faster but get resolved quicker, with much greater buy-in from all the stakeholders. People understand why a decision was made.

They may not agree but understanding goes a long way. Knowing that your opinion has had a proper examination or seeing how your input altered the path chosen make people feel better. Chuck ends his post with this:

I told our HR team that our social environment is like a very interesting piece of audio equipment. It tends to filter out all the “bad noise”, and encourage the “good sounds”.

In terms of interaction, it minimizes negative behavioral tendencies, and encourages and rewards positive group behaviors.

I can see how people are essentially becoming better people the more they use the software, myself included.

Strange, isn’t it?

So much software is sold on the basis of improving productivity, or solving specific business problems.

How about making people better people?

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Paper in the service of social media

paper cranes by Shereen M

The CommonCraft Show:
[Via Common Craft]
I posted Common Craft’s video about Twitter earlier. Here are many more describing Web 2.0, and other, technologies. Their medium, Paperworks, is very unique and it is fun watching and hearing how the production values improve as they get a better understanding of this medium. Some of my favorites are:

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Why km 1.0 failed in a nutshell

ladder by degreezero2000
Why km 1.0 failed in a nutshell:
[Via Library clips]

CIO magazine has an interview article on enterprise wikis with Ross Mayfield from Socialtext, but don’t think you will just come away with wiki knowledge, this article has some of the best quotes on why KM 1.0 has failed.

This is explained so perfectly from the workers point of view…before you get into KM 2.0, if you want to begin to explain to someone what’s wrong with KM 1.0, these quotes will do the job:

“The way organizations adapt, survive and be productive is through the social interaction that happens outside the lines that we draw by hierarchy, process and organizational structure. The first form of social software to really take off to facilitate these discussions was email.”
“Most employees don’t spend their time executing business process. That’s a myth. They spend most of their time handling exceptions to business process. That’s what they’re doing in their [e-mail] inbox for four hours a day. Email has become the great exception handler.”
“Unfortunately, what it means is all the learning disappears because it’s hidden away in people’s inbox. It’s not searchable and discoverable…”
“So at the edge of your organization, there are all kinds of exceptions that are happening. If you handle them appropriately, you can adapt to where the market is going. You can adapt to the problems you have in your existing structures.”
“…the greatest source of sustainable innovation is how you’re handling these exceptions to business process.”

I met Ross back in 2002 or so, at a meeting in Palo Alto. He has been ahead of the curve on this. Wikis help move tacit information from inside people’s heads and in their inboxes OUT, so that others can see, interact and innovate this into new knowledge. Blogs can do something similar. Wiikis are good for many-to-many conversations. Blogs are good for one-to-many dialogs. But both require more than software. They require an understanding of what people actually do each day. Something many businesses do not have a clue about.

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Working Transparently

lake louise by jurvetson
Working Transparently:
[Via Gurteen Knowledge-Log]
By David Gurteen

I am including almost all of the post bt David Gurteen for a reason. It brings together in one post the ideas espoused by several other people. So, I quote David, who quotes John who quotes Michael. Every step in the transfer of information is stated and linked, providing the very openness and transparency discussed in the post. David then brings in his personal experience and ands another wrapper with the article on Science 2.0.

All of this to weave his view on openness into the other views. I hope my small addition provides some more insight into the need for openness and transparency for Science 2.0 aproaches to be useful.

I wrote a Gurteen Perspectives article for Inside Knowledge Magazine recently titled Open and transparent? where I talked about the concept and need for openness and transparency in the way we work today. So I have been delighted to see others say similar things:

In this post KM 2.0 is about showing your workings out by John Tropea, John quotes from Michael Idinopulos:

“The real paradigm shift in Web 2.0, I believe, is the blurring the line between publication and collaboration. In the old days, people collaborated in private. They talked to their friends and colleagues, wrote letters. Later they sent emails. All the real thinking happened in those private conversations. Eventually, once the key insights had been extracted, refined, and clarified, they published: books, articles, speeches, blast memos, etc.”

“…the really exciting thing that’s happening in Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 is that more and more of those private “pre-publication” interactions are happening in public (or at least semi-public). I think of this as the dawn of the “Work in Progress” culture. We no longer think that something has to be finished before we let strangers into the conversation.”

And then Gerry McKiernan in this post on Science 2.0.

A small but growing number of researchers–and not just the younger ones–have begun to carry out their work via the wide-open blogs, wikis and social networks of Web 2.0. And although their efforts are still too scattered to be called a movement–yet–their experiences to date suggest that this kind of Web-based “Science 2.0” is not only more collegial than the traditional variety, but considerably more productive.

Take a look. How might you work more transparently?

Transparency and openness are the lubrications that allow human social networks to create knowledge rapidly. If any one person prevents the flow by holding onto critical information, the power of the network can be degraded.

This can be a problem in hierarchies, where information flows through a few chokepoints. A well connected, diverse social network can deal with this problem.

In fact, small groups of humans have always been able to identify who these people are and often use social norms to either make them comply or to shun them, particularly if other sources of the information can be found. If these chokepoints no longer are getting any information, the power they hold is greatly reduced.

Now, this may not always happen because of someone’s unique position in a small group. But the huge scaling properties of the Internet, the Long Tail and its enormous potential, means that it becomes much less likely that a single point of failure will damage the network.

The Internet was designed to route around ‘damage’ and so can diverse, connected human social networks. The Web makes it much less likely that one person will hold unique information. Thus it weakens their advantages.

Power comes from weaving information into unique knowledge – knowledge to make decisions.

The positive effects of openness and transparency can very rapidly overcome any small advantage of an individual holding information close. They lose any advantage they might have because very little information is that unique.

If these information hoarders gain little advantage by being closed, and if the social network uses peer pressure to identify free riders and to deal with them, then it would appear that behavior would rapidly converge towards openness and transparency.

In fact, the groups that can more rapidly create knowledge using human social networks will be the first to solve many of the complex problems we face today. Groups with choke points will be much slower and, in the type of natural selection we see all around, will become extinct. At least where the need is to understand complex processes.

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Wikis in college

classroomby dcJohn
Using Wikipedia to Reenvision the Term Paper
[Via EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative]

At the just held online EDUCAUSE Online Spring focus conference, Andreas Brockhaus and Martha Groom, both at UW-Bothell, just around the corner so to speak, discussed unusual aspects to classes taught by Groom. She required the students to either create a new page on Wikipedia or to substantially add to a previous page. No term paper. It was going up on Wikipedia.

Befitting a discussion about using new technologies in the classroom, you can see the Powerpoint presentation and hear the talk online. Almost like being there.

While there were some barriers to break through, the effect on the students and their writing was almost electric. Normally, only the teacher and a few other students might see what was written.

In this example, the entire Web could see what they wrote. To ameliorate this somewhat, she had the students work in groups.

Martha Groom has been using this approach for the last few years. There are still a few things to work on. Writing for an encyclopedia is different than working on an essay.

She has added a recursive approach to the project, with proposals and peer review before it hits the Web. The community nature of Wikipedia required the students to really give up proprietary feelings about the essays. Sometimes the give and take of online discussions could be a little harsh.

But Martha has continued to tweak the approach. Generally, the students were very happy with the results. The quality of writing was very high also. With such transparency, the possibility of plagiarism is infinitesimal. It really highlights the need for proper sourcing of the work. All very good things.

And, if a really good job is done, the student can point out the page to others as evidence of their scholarship. All in all, much better than a one-off term paper.

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More examples of tacit to explicit transformations

dragonfly wingsby tanakawho

KM 2.0 is about “showing your workings out”:
[Via Library clips]

Two of my posts have linked and quoted blog posts that are bringing to light the difference that the renewed push in KM brings, in a shift to a “work in progress” mentality.

I have mentioned several times that km 2.0 is a social way of doing work, it’s not a separate task, instead it’s blended in our work routine.

Firstly people are working this way on the open web, and they are also using social computing tools in the enterprise, these people are sometimes referred to as IT rogues. The second difference is the fact that the new interest in KM (by early adopters), is being initiated by the workers…social productivity. Whereas the first wave of KM was more a mandate by management, KM 2.0 is coming about by workers saying to management, “I’m really productive in a social way, it’s how I get things done, can we use these social computing tools”…and management would say, “Is this the new KM way to share tacit knowledge”, and the workers would say, “I’m not too sure what KM is, but I get things done by collaborating and connecting with my network.”

Anyway I want to once again point to the Transparent Office blog (this is becoming one of my favourites), Michael Idinopulos posts about the real essence of the new KM. It’s about thinking out loud, more open collaboration, your workings out are visible (less private). People get to share, engage and nuture, insights and works in early stages or in the thought stages…before all the cream is sorted, and formalised into a final product.

Perhaps KM 2.0 is like showing all the workings out of your maths solution…we get to see how you got there. It’s this “how you got there” that we are trying to tease out, actually as you are sharing, others can help shape your path, and bring you to perhaps a better place…the social capital at work. Also, others can read about the stages in your path, and utilise that know-how for a totally different work at hand, eg. an approach, experiences and insights a blogger shares about her workings towards a “engineering” deliverable, could very well be usable by an HR person.

A HR person is not going to read an “engineering” deliverable, but if they happened to come across a post (a fragment) about a research method the engineer discovered and applied in the “engineering” deliverable, the HR person may be able to use that info in their research task.


KM 1.0 was usually a top down approach where the transformation of tacit knowledge into explicit form was non-obvious. It often did not fit the way many people actually work. But Web 2.0 approaches allow people to use low level technologies to make this transition (tacit to explicit transformation) themselves, using the path they find useful.

And in doing this, they often make much clearer the path they took. This makes it easier for others the learn (explicit to tacit transformation) as well as help (explicit to explicit).

Web 2.0 approaches greatly accelerate the creation of knowledge by easing these transformations. The easier tacit and explicit knowledge can be moved and changed, the faster knowledge can be created, permitting a wider range of problems to be attacked and solved.

So, Web 2.0 approaches are firstly important and useful for the individual user. They have to be or no one will use them. But, an almost emergent property of these approaches is that normal human social networks can vastly leverage these individual actions to create a large storehouse of knowledge.

Of course, the organization really likes the fact that tacit information, hitherto only found in someone’s head, is now in a location that the organization can access and use. At least some organizations. The ones where the creation of knowledge is a core value.

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The Flickr of Slideshows

palms by muha…
Have you discovered SlideShare?:
[Via Gurteen Knowledge-Log]
By David Gurteen

Have you discovered SlideShare yet? I post all my public powerpoint presentations to it and there is even a Knowledge Management group on the site with 130 slideshows.

You can see my slideshows here.

Better still you can embed people’s slideshows in your blog or personal website just as you can with YouTube. Here is an example:

Until we get Flash working correctly, you have to view this directly at David’s Slideshare site.

Just as the ability to post photos online, and share them with others, so Slideshare allows people to share their presentations. While not a wonderful as being there, it is a very good way to see how others are presenting information. I expect that scientific conferences will begin to use something similar. At the moment, you can go to some, such a the Pacific Symposia on Biocomputing, and see the written materials for each of the last several years. Having slides would be very nice also.

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Social network analysis

by jurvetson
Six degrees of messaging : Nature News:
[Via Nature]

I’m not sure if anyone can see this or if you need a subscription. But, this being the Information Age, you can read the abstract of the paper itself and download a PDF of the paper. It discusses work done at Microsoft examining the connections used by its IM customers. The researchers examined the data from one month. this worked out to “255 billion messages sent in the course of 30 billion conversations among 240 million people during June 2006.” A lot of data.

After crunching the data they found some interesting numbers regarding this network – the average number of connections between people on the network, its width, was 6.6. This is very similar to what others have reported, even though the approaches were quite different.

Interestingly, these other reports used much smaller groups of people. One, in the 1960s, used only 64 people. Another in 2003 used 61,000. All three, using very different methodologies arrived a similar numbers for the width of the human social network. This is not too surprising since human social networks adopt a scale-free configuration. The hallmark of a scale-free network is that the average number of links connecting any two nodes, or people, does not increase substantially as the size of the network increases. Here the scale increases almost 4 million-fold, yet the average width of the network is still about 6.

Information in a well connected social network can percolate very rapidly. Using Web 2.0 approaches can harness the power of the Internet (another scale-free network) to disburse the information into an even larger social network much more rapidly than by utilizing face-to-face approaches.

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An Open Science Approach

waves by Airton kieling

[Via One Big Lab]

First draft of PSB proposal
PSB proposal up on Google Docs
PSB Open Science session proposal submitted!
PSB proposal up on Nature Precedings
PSB proposal accepted for a workshop

A very interesting progression from first draft to final approval. Exactly what one would expect for an Open Science advocate. While not all Science 2.0 approaches may be suitable for exposure on the open web, this was certainly a wonderful exercise to follow. And I learned something about the process they went though, just in case I ever want to do something similar.

I may have to find myself in Hawaii early next year, at the Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing. It’s the Big Island.

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