On the Roots of Social Computing

November 17, 2011

I recently received an invitation from Mads Soegaard, Editor-in-Chief at Interaction-Design.org to offer those who read this blog an early view of a new chapter on Social Computing in their encyclopedia. I’m a little late on this writing for you to get a pre-publication view of the chapter but I wanted to make sure and point it out for those who take topics like social computing seriously. Thomas Erickson wrote the chapter. To be candid, I didn’t really know much about Thomas until I read it. He seems like a very interesting person. Thomas’ chapter takes seriously the point of an early comment I made in a post here in 2008 on Social Software, Community, and Organization: Where Practice Meets Process, specifically my point that not enough of the influential discussion on the topic took seriously the roots of what it means to do social computing.

The distinctions involved are as old as the study of social interaction in organizations, especially the characteristics of routine work. However, we don’t need to go back to the 1950s when the distinction first emerged in the study of industrial organization to understand the significance of Ross’ point. Indeed, the early 1980s will do. Rob Kling discussed computing as social organization as early as 1982 in Marshall Yovits’ edited series on Advances In Computers. Drawing from the symbolic interactionist tradition, Rob distinguished between a line of work which, he contended, indicates what people actually do in computing work, compared to formal descriptions of that work, or what we might today refer to as business processes. Kling’s work was one precursor to the focus on computer supported collaborative work  (CSCW) in studies of group collaboration, most notably developed at Xerox PARC.

The social roots of social computing are important for influentials to keep in mind as they discuss current developments in Web 2.0 technologies, especially their use in the enterprise. The point is not a simple academic exercise of giving credit to what came before. Rather, it is to take note that the distinctions made explicit…regarding practice/process are as old as the modern, hierarchical organization and seem to survive regardless of the way communication technology is applied in it. Those who discuss tensions between social software and Enterprise 2.0, or learning management systems and eLearning 2.0, are pointing to persistent challenges in how organizations work.

Thomas’ chapter provides an excellent overview of the roots, history, and development of the concept of social computing as a concept that promises to stand the test of time regardless of the labels used to describe it, e.g. Web 2.0, Social Media, Social Business, Enterprise 2.0, etc. I recommend anyone involved in current discussions related to compound nouns like social media, social business, social “this” or “that” take a look at Thomas’ chapter as well as the Interaction-Design.org encyclopedia which offers in-depth analysis of such topics.

Social Media Robots, Personas, and Narrative Gaps in Qualitative Research

April 1, 2011

Back in 2006 Hugh Macleod offered the following point on Gapingvoid: “If people like buying your product, it’s because its story helps fill in the narrative gaps in their own lives.” At the time I thought it conveyed nicely the point made by Gerald Zaltman in How Customers Think that “companies should define customer segments on the basis of similarities in their reasoning or thinking processes” (p. 152) rather than constructs related to demographics. Hugh’s point made a lot of sense when I first read it and the point continues to gain in significance for me.

Hugh’s initial post sparked a range of interesting comments that I encourage anyone puzzled by the quote to read. The one point I’ll make about the topic is that nowhere in the post or the comments does anyone say what they mean by narrative gaps. I’ll attempt to clarify the concept below because it doesn’t simply mean stories. Stories that fill narrative gaps do so by purposively or accidentally creating personal curiosity, imagination, intrigue, or mystery for people experiencing them.

Narrative gaps in our personal stories are resolved through other stories about our own experience, perhaps with a product or service, that help us make sense of the feelings evoked. Specifically, Hugh noted in a later post that people fill in narrative gaps with meanings they construct from their own stories. It is on this point that the concept of personas becomes relevant to narrative gaps and to a recent conception of how to use social media robots, especially DigiViduals™, in qualitative research. Moreover, in this respect I suggest that the challenges involved are analogous to key ones faced by industrial robotics.

Read the rest of this entry »

Social Networking with Roto-Rooter

October 22, 2009

Chilling Tales from the Porcelain Seat

You know social networking is going mainstream when service companies like Roto-Rooter start using it. My sewer line backed up yesterday and I called Roto-Rooter to clean it. The guy came out like always, did the job, and I paid him. As he handed me the receipt he also gave me a flyer that asked me to go to either Google, Yahoo, Citysearch, or superpages.com and write a review of the service. Once a week Roto-Rooter selects a name from the reviews submitted on any of these search engines and refunds the cost of the service. It doesn’t say whether the selection process is random or related to the sentiment of the review.

I was a little surprised that such an old-world service like plumbing would encourage customers to review their work. I guess that impression comes from a recent review I wrote on Yelp about another  plumbing company in St. Louis. My review was far from flattering. Anyway, I thought Roto-Rooter’s engagement of social networking interesting enough to check out their activity. Sure enough, they have a blog that Paul Abrams, the Public Relations Manager, updates regularly, and Roto-Rooter maintains a presence on a range of social network channels. From their blog,

Follow us at Twitter under @RotoRooter and here’s our main page on Facebook. You’ll even find a Roto-RooterTV channel on YouTube where you can see pet rescues, old commercials and instructional videos for DIYers. Then check out our photos on Flickr.

And, just in case you are wondering, the service was excellent though it isn’t one I like needing to buy.

Posted by Larry R. Irons

Share this post…

add to del.icio.us : Add to Blinkslist : add to furl : Digg it : Stumble It! : add to simpy : seed the vine : : : TailRank : post to facebook

Empathy and Collaboration in Social Business Design

August 27, 2009

Source: David Armano "Social Business by Design"

My first corporate position carried the title Methods Analyst, working for a large billing center serving a telephone company. One of my main tasks in that role involved learning how other employees performed their work and documenting it. On each project I typically spent several hours observing people work (what some today call rapid ethnography or guerilla ethnography) and then did in-depth interviews of the people I observed. Usually, at the end of my observation, I took responsibility for doing the work for a brief time under their watchful eye. In some sense you could say my work required me to continuously cross train in other people’s work, analyze the process, and write it up in a technical document.  The main insight I took away from that experience was an appreciation for the importance played by empathy in effective collaboration.

First off, collaboration isn’t just about people sharing information to achieve common goals. Collaboration is about people working with other people to achieve common goals and create value. Advocates of Enterprise 2.0 sometimes make the fundamental mistake of arguing that collaboration is really only about achieving business goals, leaving the implication that incorporating social software into the work flow of organizations is sufficient. Even though goal-orientation is a big part of collaborating, collaboration requires more to achieve goals effectively. It requires shared experience. As Dev Patnaik and Evan Rosen recently noted, empathy and collaboration go hand in hand.

Read the rest of this entry »

Shaping Social Business Ecosystems as Learnscapes

August 18, 2009

shapeThe emergence of social media provides people inside and outside organizations with a way to actively speak about, speak to, and engage the product and service offerings of enterprises. Currently, 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content and 34% of bloggers post opinions about products & brands. Enterprises, on the other hand, listen to, engage, and act on insights gained from social media.

A recent study of social media engagement by Ben Elowitz and Charlene Li covered the 100 largest brands and, among other conclusions, noted that,

One recurring theme throughout these case studies is that engagement cannot remain the sole province of a few social media experts, but instead must be embraced by the entire organization.

Channels, policies, processes, touch points and transactions are increasingly viewed as parts of the social experience organizations use to encourage employees in collaboration (also known as — Enterprise 2.0), and engage customers in conversation (also known as — social media) for the purposes of innovation and transformation of the business. The common goal of the ongoing discussion involves transforming business practices to incorporate social relationships into the value proposition to customers and other stakeholders.

Integrating engagement into enterprises is crucial to strategic efforts to use social software throughout an ecosystem, inside and outside the formal organizational hierarchy, as social business design. My contention is that such integration is most likely to succeed with a focused approach to informal learning. In my last post, Scalable Learning and Learnscapes in Social Business Design, I offered the following point.

The concept of learnscape is a useful framework for thinking about the strategic challenge to the range of learning activities occurring as companies attempt to create feedback loops between their brand experience and the functional areas of their enterprise, especially in regard to the multidisciplinary collaboration needed to make these efforts successful.

The concept of a learnscape, initially outlined by Jay Cross, focuses our attention on designing ecosystems to heighten the innovation and performance of people. I lay out some thoughts about learnscapes and shaping ecosystems below, using key concepts from the Dachis Group’s framework, initially discussed in an earlier post on HP’s WaterCooler project. I don’t claim these insights provide proven techniques for shaping enterprise ecosystems. But, I do think they point in a useful direction for those thinking about Enterprise 2.0 and social media strategy to keep in mind. Read the rest of this entry »

CMR as a Precursor of VRM

May 28, 2009

Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is a term used by Doc Searls and other members of ProjectVRM to distinguish market relationships between vendors and consumers where the latter gain increased control over that commercial relationship. Building on the VRM concept, Jeremiah Owyang recently noted that VRM offers a potential future for public relations agencies in which the future of PR is in representing communities rather than brands. As Doc recently declared,

We therefore resolve to avoid all relationships in which the privileges of loyalty are determined entirely by the seller, and to construct new terms and means of engagement that will work in mutually constructive ways for both customers and sellers, for the good of all.

 So, in the spirit of the Declaration of Customer Independence recently outlined by Doc, I offer the following turn of the century anecdote for thinking about Customer Managed Relationships (CMR).

Read the rest of this entry »

Finding the Social Core of Facebook Friends: Revisiting the Dunbar Number

March 2, 2009

friends1A recent Economist article discusses the relevance of Dunbar’s Number to friending in Facebook, and its relation to the size of social networks, especially networks of close friends. The article addresses a similar issue outlined in an earlier post here on the influence of influentials on Twitter, which focused on findings of a recent study by members of the  Social Computing Lab of HP Laboratories .

Read the rest of this entry »