Friday, July 29, 2011

Going Around in Circles

I, like several million other people, have recently been trying out Google+. G+ has received plenty of press in the past few weeks and I don't want to add to the noise. But when I started I noticed two things that I didn't see mentioned until recently:
  • All my G+ friends are KM types, or otherwise involved professionally in communication and social interaction. Few if  any of my "normal" friends are using G+ (or see why they should).
  • I don't like making circles. They require too much thinking.
The first observation were confirmed this week when the unofficial Google Plus Directory ( posted demographic information on G+ users based on their ascribed professions. Most of the top twenty are technology or information-focused professions. And many of those that are not explicitly "in the business" are questionably tied to technology (such as writers and designers).

My second issue is around circles. I understand they sound like a good idea. My personal (and professional) relationships are more complex than Facebook's simplistic friends / non-friends model.So being able to define your relationships in more detail sounds like a positive step.

The problem is, it's far more difficult than it sounds. I have friend friends and I have professional friends. I have professional friends and professional acquaintances. Some work for my old employer; some used to; some never did. Some know I am interested in poetry and video games (among other things); some don't. A few have met my wife; some may not even know I am married.

When I start to break it down, it is not only not binary, it is more complex than even I can describe. Which is what makes Google+'s circles so frustrating. They require too much thinking. This is not a technical issue, per se, but a failure to be able to turn an implicit organic process into an explicit concrete categorization.

In other words, my friends are analog and circles are digital.

Andrew McAfee confirmed my suspicions in a blog post. He goes into far more depth and argues that it is an issue of a priori vs. a posteriori decisions.I am sure he is right from a process perspective, but I am not even sure deciding after I find an item to share is going to help that much.

Part of the joy of Twitter is that there is no decision. You post or you don't. You open yourself to anyone who chooses to listen (essentially). Oh, it has its limitations as well (starting with the length of the messages). But the freedom from thinking about who a message is intended for can be quite liberating.

However, that freedom doesn't have much to do with friends; it has more to do with publishing (or proclaiming). But it can be a useful and easier process in the digital world than trying to sort out your friends.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Holy Crap, Batman! The Social Business Stack

    I just read D. Hinchcliffe's () Social Business Stack at the Dachis Group and all I can say is [explicative deleted]. Dang! That's one impressive and imposing architectural diagram!

    I'm not saying the diagram is architecturally incorrect. In fact, I suspect it is accurate from a corporate IT perspective. It looks like so many other all-inclusive architectures.

    The trouble is no normal human being in their right mind could look at it and do anything but shake in their boots. This is the sort of diagram that justifies five years of intense IT investment. It also presupposes (or pre-justifies) failure since there are so many moving parts.

    The stack is accurate in that it captures all of the possible interactions and interdependencies from a KM and IT perspective. (That is, the old people/processes/technology triumvirate.) But the fact is no one really cares about anything but the top layer. (The Social/People layer.)

    So why is this so complex and social networking "in the wild" so simple? Well, it isn't that simple in real life. But:
    • On the public web people are more than willing to do things manually to "make it work", such as putting in links to blogs, etc by hand.
    • If it does become difficult, there's an app for that. People are happy to juggle 5, 10, even 20 separate apps such as, twitpic,, etc to achieve their goals. What's more, it is cumulative: people learn new tricks from watching their friends' posts.
    • Ultimately, the public internet is an almost limitless (since it is always growing) source of additional material, support, inspiration, or target for discussion.
     In other words, all the other layers of Dion's stack exist in the public instance but no one cares about them. Not that they aren't necessary. The next four layers (Data, Delivery, Aggregation, and Discovery) are just assumed to be there. And the critical vertical integration "glue" is heavily biased towards manual effort and simple HTTP links, rather than some complicated automation.

    The last two layers (Security and Business Model) also exist. But people are amazingly carefree about security on the public web and the Business Model is the responsibility of the technology/service providers and people simply give a yea or nay vote on the instantiation by staying with the service or moving on.

    So, what does this mean? I think the first meaning is that, as usual, corporations are taking something simple (or deeply complex but with a simple surface layer) and getting caught up in the morass that underlies it. Secondly, what the stack doesn't show is the often terribly anaemic state of the lower stacks behind corporate firewalls. The oft-repeated aphorism "If only we knew what we know" can usually be expanded to its various corellaries:
    • "If only we knew who knew what we know"
    • "If only we knew where we stored what we know"
    • "If only we could find what we know"
    • "If only I had permission to know what we know"
    • etc.
    So, I think the social business stack as represented is correct. But I am terribly concerned about what such a diagram would be used for. Because, ultimately, it is people — not technology or processes — that are the deciding factor. And people have astonishing resilience and patience for "making things work" when they have an interest in the outcome.