Monday, January 26, 2009

Collaboration across divisions is unnatural

We're writing a booklet in Dutch about the possibilities of web2.0 tools to foster learning and collaboration in knowledge-intensive organisations. I'm struggling a little whether the tools are just helpful and nice, helping you to do your regular work. Or whether they hold the potential to turn over the way knowledge workers collaborate in organisations. On the one hand I don't think it is an automatic process- you introduce a wiki and hoops, the various departments that used to have such diferent attitudes start to collaborate. On the other hand it is true that fervent web2.0 workers are very open to share what they know and to respond to questions. Having lots of those people would make a different workplace, wouldn't it?

So I found a great article about boundaries in organisations. (Boundaries Need Not Be Barriers). I really liked it because it highlights the psychological difficulties to collaboration across groups within organisations. It's not natural to work across departments since we have an intergroup bias towards other groups, favouring our own group. This is complemented with a territorial need of groups. Territory includes physical space and other tangible and intangible objects. Groups may see themselves as possessors of certain knowledge and may restrict their information exchange to what they consider as 'their' members (the ingroup). The final barrier is that people are poor negotiators across groups or departments. We first think of how to get a large piece of the pie and don't think about enlarging the pie for the whole organisation.

What managers or leaders can do to stimulate collaboration across boundaries (often very needed!) is to emphasize group goals but at the same time organizational goals at a higher level. Furthermore showing that collaboration can yield a more secure place in the organisation instead of lead to insecurity. Lastly, people need to learn how to negotiate and identify win-win opportunities. It's a skill to look at the broader picture and see how we can all create a larger pie.

It's clear that collaboration is not as natural as it seems through the web2.0 tools. Possibly web2.0 tools can help to connect people across divisions, and help see the larger picture and identify opportunities to collaborate...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wikis as a repository for an online community

Via Nancy White I found his funny video talking about blogs versus wikis. It matches well with my previous post about an online community using a mailing list, with a wiki as a repository. Why? Because I have experiences with an online community using a mailing list, teleconferences and a weblog as a repository. It could have been a wiki too.

The choice between the two probably depends on personal preferences and experiences (do members have more experiences/habits of reading weblogs or working with wikis?). Stories are probably better for a blog, and frequently asked questions are more easily structured in a wiki. In the video, wikis are shown as more democratic. That might be a consideration too. Do you want a really large group to work the repository? Then a wiki might be easier than a teamblog.
Enjoy the video!

Wiki as repository for a virtual community

Through a comment on a blogpost by Nancy White I found this article about a virtual community using a discussion list (listserv) in combination with a wiki. The wiki serves as a collaborative repository. You can access the article here if you want to read it in full.

I've been advising a community where using an online discussion forum where few people had experience with a wiki. We started a wiki to put knowledge products together. Though it was hard to get people to work on the wiki, it was very attractive to some because of its structure as compared to the discussion forum that may look very chaotic. So I'm a little jealous that the community in this article has such an active wiki process. But it does provide a clear picture of what's possible!

The community is a help-based community discussing the applied use of CSS, hence a technical topic. The interesting part is the analysis of how the wiki helps with the social processes of keeping the conversation on-topic and avoiding holy wars. Because the email list is a push technology and the wiki more a pull technology, more off-topic discussions can be allowed on the wiki than on the mailing list, hence it provides a space to address wider needs. Holy wars are redirected to the wiki and because members are forced to summarize their arguments into an information product, the wars are used more constructively.

The wiki also has helped in the process of retaining the old members. It helps to introduce new people by having a place to redirect them when they pose 'old questions' that have been discussed before. As a result, the questions on the mailing list can remain focused on new problems. The wiki also worked to attract new members because people find the wiki and become interested in the mailing list.

By the way, CPsquare is organising a conference about wikis for communities. You can track the resources by following

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Web2.0 security risks: driving is dangerous too!

I interviewed Rolf Kleef of Nivocer for my Dutch blog and a booklet that we are writing about web2.0 for learning and collaboration. It really made me rethink my online sign up behaviour and see that I usually don't see any dangers.

I asked Rolf what the most important dangers are if you look at web2.0 from an IT/management perspective. He outlined the following 5 security issues.

  1. The risk of bringing virusses on board when you are working with pieces of software that you have to download (eg. skype)
  2. The risk of giving outsiders access to your company confidential information. All connections can potentially give access to everything that your office computer has access to.
  3. The use of your broadband capacity. Some applications like skype use the bandwidth of the whole network. In case you have a quotum, this may lead to higher costs.
  4. Loss of information. If crucial information is stored in web2.0 services online, you don't have a garantee that your data will be available when the services goes bankrupt.
  5. A non-technical risk is the risk posed by employees posting information about your company to web2.0 sites.

With regards to the fourth, we discussed the fact that conversational data like in twitter may not be crucial information, it is dynamic, so you may run the risk of loosing that information. However, the information about your twitter network may be important social capital, so you may want to make backup copies of your twitter network at times.

It all sounds super risky. But as Rolf said: "driving on the highway is dangerous too", the risks should not lead to the conclusion that web2.0 is too dangerous. So how to reduce those risks if you believe in the potential of working with web2.0? We discussed 3 major strategies an organisation may adopt:

  • Develop a living code of conduct for use of web2.0 site and above all what and how employees share.
  • Create awareness about these risks amongst employees, help them make good decisions and employ a good password strategy. Help them to be conscious about what they share in public on the web and what in password protected environments. And what not at all.
  • Work with software with web2.0 functionalities behind the firewall for optimum security. Ofcourse there is the downside that you may not be able to integrate with other professionals outside the organisation. So a two-prone strategie might work best (internal in-house software for confidential information and external services for networking).

Rolf also had some tips about passwords, which I will share in a separate blogpost.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

When NOT to use social network sites

At times, when I read too much web2.0 stuff, I get concerned about the positive cases and the hype. Is it really so revolutionary? Is being a good professional and reading a good book not more important than being able to produce a lot of crap online? In one of those moods I found the Techsoup article: Should your organisation use social network sites?

I liked the down-to-earth tone and the audacity to say that an organisation might decide not to use social network sites. Some of the situations your organisation might find itself in:
  1. You're still trying to get a handle on basic software infrastructure
  2. Your target audiences aren't using social network tools
  3. You don't have time to experiment with something that might not work
  4. You're not willing to deal with technologies that don't work as well as they could
  5. You're not ready to invest in gaining a real understanding of the medium
  6. You want clear editorial control over your brand and message

I think I would put number 5 as number 1. If you want to explore whether or not to invest your time, try understanding social networks and their cultures.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Visual thinkers in Sesamestreet

Via Sibrenne's blog (in Dutch) I found this great video illustrating what visual thinking is. I think I'm a visual thinker and that makes it hard for me to listen to podcasts without getting distracted. Videos work much better! After my months summer holiday I forgot one of my bankpass codes and I felt very stupid. Ofcourse I feel too young to start writing them down :). I then read about visualizing your code, for instance an eight as a snowman. Or visualizing it as a ladder; from 3 to 4 one step up. So this is what I did with two new codes. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Social media- changing the world from the edge?

Christina Merl, whom I know from CPsquare, interviewed me last year about my experiences with social media in the development sector. She wrote an article for the rural development news from Agridea with the title: social media- changing the world from the edge? If you are interested you can read it online here. The pictures look great in black and white! Let's see if I can a quote that is not too embarrassing....

How can social media support learning processes?
There are many ways in which social media can support learning processes. They can support individual learning, team learning, organisational learning and cross-organisational learning via networks and communities of practice. For example, my own learning process is supported by blogging. I blog about what interests me and read blogs of people in knowledge management. That keeps me thinking and developing my own ideas. An important mindset of people participating in the online exchange in social media is to be comfortable with having intimate conversations in public spaces. That means those conversations are opened up to be listened to. Likewise, listening into other circles helps you to understand the world, broaden your view and learn about your interests and unexpected things. I tend to believe that social media will change learning processes of professionals in organisations and allow for more cross-fertilization of ideas. Furthermore, it is much easier to network online through social media. I had two old friends from Ghana and Mali on a Skype chat this morning. If we didn’t have Skype, I would probably lose touch. One of them helped me to find a water expert in Mali for a friend working with OXFAM in the US. The barrier to ask questions and help each other is very low. However, the basis for such contact via social media is often still face-to-face contacts.

You might also prefer to read some of the other articles from rural development news, which you can find here.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Web2.0 as alternative to watching television

I'm trying to compile a short presentation on how to create structure in the web2.0 chaos for people who are not web2.0 adepts. It will probably start with the recognition that web2.0 offers a personalized experience, and that you can help people to filter and aggregate and navigate. I haven't found many relevant materials, but during my search I found this video.

I'm a big fan of Clay Shirky and I found another brilliant speech (roughly 15 minutes) through the boondoogle blog. Shirky start refering to the industrial revolution and the fact that gin was probably the most critical technology during that revolution. It took some (gin drinking) time before the revolution got crystallized. In the 20th century the big challenge is managing freetime, leisure. It takes some time to see freetime as an asset. Everyone started to watch television. But now web2.0 offers other ways to use the cognitive surplus created by the surplus of freetime. All over the world 1 trillion hours per year is spent on watching television. We are now just entering the early phases of the revolution with presentation of cases like wikipedia. The huge potential of carving the cognitive surplus through cheap tools is yet to be exploited. If you have the time, watch Shirky explain this!