Monday, March 07, 2011

Identities 2.0 - The Human Face for Enterprise Social Software

Image credit: Faithful Chant
People have identities. Whether we like it or not, these identities exist regardless of whether someone works at your company or not. People create and share content already. Whether we like it or not, they do a lot of this outside of your company. I'm a big believer of the notion that enterprise social software needs porous walls. The fact is that in real life your organisation's walls are quite porous. Most knowledge workers are fairly active on Twitter, some of them write blogs. Some speak at conferences and some use services like Tripit to manage their life and to stay connected with other people. Their connections include but are not limited to other people in your organisation. The eventual success of our social business implementations will come when we can actually facilitate information exchange across these porous walls. Can we use our social business platforms to build a composite brand for people using their activity from across the web? The technology to do this is commonplace, but to actually execute this we need to think human. How can we make corporate identities on social business platforms intermesh with people's existing brands on the public internet? Here are some ideas I've been pondering over:
  • Twitter Integration: Can we design people's profiles in such a way that it automatically shows their Twitter stream, if they've added the Twitter ID to the system. Yammer already does smart things like integrating selective tweets with the Yammer activity stream. How frictionless is it for people to post to the enterprise social network directly from Twitter! As a corollary how tough can it be to send selective status updates from the enterprise social network to Twitter?
  • Facebook Integration: Can people who are my friends on Facebook automatically be my friends on a social business platform? Could we at least get a way to scan our Facebook friends list and find corresponding friends on enterprise network? Just as in Twitter, can we have a 'lifestream' that allows people to see what we're upto in our daily lives? Can the integration of workstreams and lifestreams help build a connected enterprise?
  • Blogs: While internal blogging is cool, most people are unlikely to retire their own blogs and they'll still continue to post great, useful stuff in there. How can we integrate people's blogposts from the external world into the enterprise activity stream? This could be a big win from an enterprise knowledge standpoint. It's also a recognition for people's personal brand - a small gesture that leads to great personal satisfaction.
  • A Rational Approach to Privacy : There's always a certain amount of risk averseness towards storing personal data on SaaS platforms. This being said, most great social business platforms are SaaS solutions, where data isn't on your private servers. I understand there are some concerns particularly in Europe, around mandating storage of personal information on the cloud. I still believe that there are a few things to be mindful of. Most people already put this kind of information on services like Facebook, where they have no ownership of data. This indicates a certain level of comfort with storing personal information on third-party systems. With most SaaS providers we're protected by an NDA. As long as you can determine a practical exit strategy, should storing personal data be really such a huge risk? Frankly, the constant status updates that people will post are far more personal than a company phone number. And if push comes to shove, can we offer a choice to individuals about storing what they consider personal data on a SaaS solution? Until we ask, we'll never know who has an objection. It's always a bad idea to base design decisions around the outliers in your organisation - it only means that your system wil suck for the vast majority.
  • Composite Profiles: People already have profiles all across the web. Can we find ways to integrate profile data from established services like Facebook and Twitter? In fact, as a step to that, do our profiles need a 2.0 twist to them? Social business implementations still capture only old-school contact information on profiles. Can we start to capture modern, context information such as Facebook and Twitter IDs, blog urls, etc on profiles? Eventually, these could be data sources to help you establish a strong social media presence on the web. Imagine how easy it'll be to have a constantly up-to-date list of your employees on Twitter. Or for that matter, a constantly up-to-date employee group on Facebook. Collecting context information is only a first step to this.
Of course some of this can require significant heavy lifting in terms of customising your platform or building custom functionality. That said, I believe there's tremendous value in doing such stuff and all of us should at least place innovation of this nature on our social business roadmaps. Do you need to partner with your social business platform providers for some of this stuff and help them build it out as experimental functionality? Should we select platforms that allow us to create mobile apps that could actually bring these worlds together, much like a FriendFeed for the enterprise? There are several ideas that we can think of - the key is to ensure that we don't separate corporate identities from public identities. People are people and the corporate identity is no mask for who they really are.
This article is an adaptation of an article I wrote on our internal blogging platform at ThoughtWorks. That in itself is an example of the separation between the real world and the enterprise. I had plans to write a completely different article this week, but the thought of composite identities was too compelling not to socialise on this blog. What's your view on the topic? Feel free to drop in your thoughts into the comments section of this post.

By the way, I'm speaking at the Learning Solutions conference this month. I'll be at Orlando for the entire week, and am doing the following sessions:
I also want to use this opportunity to connect with as many of my tweeps and industry colleagues as possible. So if you want to catch up for a few drinks or do an evening trip to Disney World, count me in. Sahana Chattopadhyay of ThoughtWorks is also going to be at this conference, so if you wanted the India story of learning technologies, we'll be happy to catch you up. See you there!

13 comments:

Kelly said...

This is something I've been thinking about a lot lately - our internal-work personas, our outward-facing work personas and our personal footprints in the interconnected world. It's particularly important at conferences - I might want to make a personal connection with you, with my personal Facebook account, as well as an OpenSesame-based connection with you using my @opensesamenow Twitter account.

I realize I'm basically reiterating your main point, but I certainly agree that it would be great to integrate all of these communication streams and still be able to pick and choose what goes where.

Jeffrey Davidson said...

After thinking about personal branding for years, and actively coaching people on the concept for the last six+ months, this idea should have come as no surprise, but it was. I am in love with the concept of a porous wall, allowing me to bring and grow my personal brand within a firm. This is huge, and brilliant.

And for companies still restricting internal blogs and scare of micropostings, incredibly scary.

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