Brynn Evans pointed me to an intriguing piece of future gazing from Chris Messina and Jyri Engeström – The Web at a New crossroads. In it, they describe the evolution of the internet from a document-centric content sharing mechanism, through to the way we see it today – with the emergence of people-centric media solutions like Facebook and Twitter increasingly taking a prominent role.
It’s a well thought out and innately resonant concept – we are currently at a stage in the web’s development where people are sufficiently acclimatized to the technology, and the technologists are realizing what personal elements are required to bring people into the web – offering elements that are innately social and vital to the way that humans behave. As Clay Shirky puts it, “Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring.” Hence the dawn of what Messina and Engeström are calling “The people-centric Web”.
Among my circle of friends, there are few who aren’t on Facebook. And those few who aren’t, are missing out on the conversations, the lame jokes, the cat pictures, and all the stuff that goes on in social circles– for whatever reason, they’re not at the party. If there’s one thing that people fear, it’s being left out – solitary confinement is the single worst kind of punishment dealt out by the human race. As the web becomes more and more socially interesting, it seems likely that the kinds of pressures that we impose on ourselves as a society – pressure to be seen, to contribute value, and to achieve will continue to manifest more and more as part of the social web.
Work is different from play. In recreational social circles, the social objects –the things we’re talking about – often take a back seat to the fact that people are talking about them. A Facebook conversation about, say, Keyboard Cat, provides a mechanism for the conversation participants to engage and jest – the content itself is not of particular importance. Social systems grow based on the actions of the contributors, not on the artifacts or information that catalyzes their existence.
In a work setting, the conversation happens exactly the same way – it is, after all, the only way people know how to interact, but the social object tends to have a lot more value. In fact, in days of old, content management systems placed all the value on the content – often not providing any way to allow social interaction or discussion about the important documents, plans and policies that are the artifacts produced by people in work environments. With the dawn of Enterprise 2.0 (the people-centric web for work), we realize that we need to bring more social approaches to the way people work, and to design workflows that mirror the ways people interact with their friends.
Say Messina and Engeström: “We want a web where people are as important to the architecture of the system as documents.”
While I applaud the sentiment, I think it’s more than just a case of bringing people up to the level of documents in terms of importance. They way we manage content has to change in order to allow these conversations to take place. There needs to be more accessibility, more transparency, and clear ownership of content. With the current web, people are clearly indicating to systems architects exactly how they want to work with social objects. We need to take the Content Management tools of old and ensure that they meet these social needs first.
“Ask not what you can do for your Content, but what your Content can do for you”
A little over two years ago, Dean and I were two overworked ECM Consultants. We were flying all over North America every week in suits and ties, helping customers with their information management and technology problems, staying up late writing large and complex reports, drinking in random airport bars, and generally getting more and more frustrated.
The reasons for our frustration were that we felt that the customers we spoke to weren’t getting a very good deal. That the products that were being offered to them were expensive, complex, time-consuming, and in many cases, didn’t meet their actual needs. The very first post I ever wrote on this blog explains it all pretty clearly. Social systems are emergent in nature, and the systems that we have at work aren’t social enough.
One Labor day, we had an idea. We drew what came to be called “The Spiderweb Diagram” — a 7-page scrawled mindmap that detailed what we thought Enterprise Software should be delivering to its customers.
I’ve always said that the idea of a lifetime comes along once every two weeks. Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.
Man, ain’t that the truth.
Today, two years later, the first fragment of that spiderweb diagram made the enormous leap from idea to reality.
Infovark Personal Edition 1.0 is complete, and ready for the world. You can try a copy for free, and if you like it, you can buy one.
It’s taken a lot of hard work — long hours, more than 150 blog posts — and has been the single most frightening, exciting and perilous thing I have ever done.
But at the end of this release, as the build machine finally turned off its super-loud CPU fan for the last time compiling pre-release code, I felt proud of us.
Anyone can complain about things, and most people, when pressed, can think of a way to fix a problem.
We actually did it though. We built and shipped something.
I want to thank everyone who helped us get this far.
Warren Thrasher, Infovark’s primary investor. Warren has helped us keep the lights on, and keep everyone fed, as well as providing sage counsel and advice to both of us.
Amy Hoy, who helped us turn our horrible looking Windows application into a much more user friendly and fresh solution worthy of the illustrious ”2.0″ moniker.
Alison and Paula, who not only put up with having their spouses absent for so long, but also managed to offer support and advice.
You, for taking the time from your day to read our blog! Our blog readers and Twitter friends and the awesome people we’ve met in the Enterprise 2.0 community have been instrumental in helping us get this far. We couldn’t have possibly done it without you.
I asked a customer the other day why they were running an Information Management project. Her answer was refreshingly honest:
“I’m not exactly sure,” she said, “It just seems like the responsible thing to do.”
It was a great answer, and it got me thinking about The Promise of Information Management. Why are people doing this stuff? What is it that IM tools and technologies are really designed for? In my experience, the hierarchy of needs for Information Management looks something like this, with each need requiring fulfillment from the bottom up:
At the bottom, there’s the mitigation of risk. Effectively managed information lowers the likelihood of bad things happening to your information, and as a consequence, to your organization. Compliance is still the most common driver for people to invest in Information Management. That’s hardly a surprise since it’s the responsible thing to do. Any organization that faces public scrutiny needs to classify and control its information and implement consistent retention policies.
Higher up the pyramid, we encounter the reduction of cost. If we store our information effectively, we can spend less money storing things we don’t need. We can also recoup time spent on re-creating things we didn’t know existed. There are many ways that effective information management can reduce costs. (These are inevitably the things that end up in all the business cases, under the ROI section.)
Finally, at the pinnacle, there’s the incentive to innovate and to improve the way the organization functions — the ability to meet and exceed performance metrics and offer better solutions to customers, internal and external. Improved awareness, and greater access to knowledge. The benefits of efficient management of information result in people doing better business.
While these three tiers constitute the promise of information management, the reality is that the needs of knowledge workers are not being met by current IM solutions. Nearly all of the tools designed to manage information will be sold based on the benefits of improved productivity or designing better business process — but in fact are designed primarily to fulfill risk mitigation and/or cost savings. As an ECM consultant, I had to reconcile this bait-and-switch on a daily basis.
With Infovark Personal Edition now perilously close to its first public release, I find myself trying to determine how our new product fits into this information management promise. We’ve turned the pyramid upside down. We put innovation and knowledge awareness right at the bottom, as the platform that everything else is built on. Infovark contributes to cost saving only incidentally (our peer architecture doesn’t require any new servers or centralized storage) and we’ve actively removed a lot of the control, security and access barriers that compliance-oriented solutions offer.
We feel this aligns better with what the vast majority of business people actually need. Most knowledge workers don’t seem to care much about compliance or retention. That’s a management concern. They also seem largely uninterested in cost control. What we hear from people working with information daily is that they want an authoritative source of reliable information, the answers when they need them, and a way to learn what they don’t yet know. They focus on the revenue side of the equation, on pursuing opportunities, on delivering value.
What IM has traditionally seen as base level needs — retention, security and control — we at Infovark see as advanced needs that can be addressed only once we have first fulfilled the more pressing needs of the individuals within the organization. You have to increase transparency and information awareness first, then optimize the way information flows, and only afterward can we look at what risk mitigation policies makes sense.
Yeah, the management team might not buy this approach. But we think everyone else will.