The end of aggregation?

The last 8 (or 800 arguably) years of media consumption for me have been marked by aggregation. In 2001, before RSS was in any sort of wide use, I had built an aggregator called Blocktrack.com. Because of the unstructured nature of the data (individual web pages), I had to create a learning algorithm that would, over time (2 to 5 page loads) identify relevant new content vs irrelevant new content (rotating banner ads, text ads, etc). This wasn’t foolproof, but it worked well enough. It was a lot of work though. The blogosphere was also small enough back then that you could try to capture its current state through some fun experiments.

A few years later, Weblogs.com emerged as a ping server. Now, instead of going out and actively scraping and looking for new content, blogs were proactively sending out signals that they had new content. Combine this with the now well established use of RSS and content movement was coming out of the stone ages. You still had to scrape Weblogs.com however, and eventually the model did not scale well.

That was over 6 years ago, and here we still sit today, scraping for content. Sure Google Reader does a beautiful job of making everything seem realtime, and people are now often tweeting their content updates, but it is questionable if the model we have developed is one that will stand the test of time.

Aggregation as a model is destructive, but we have chosen to ignore that fact, and it continues to be the dominant model today.

The News Feed

In September 2006 Facebook launched the News Feed and changed a lot about the way we view content on the web. Twitter’s launch soon followed and services like FriendFeed continued to launch and gain visibility. The News Feed was coming in to it’s own and it had obvious advantages over straight aggregation for information management.

News Feeds have been especially useful in helping users understand the flow when multiple types of information are being presented. Calendar Dates, Photos, Comments, Wall Postings and Profile Updates were all pieces of information that were essentially impossible to communicate before the News Feed Model. There was no way to “aggregate” profiles and understand how they were changing.

One thing we have struggled with at my new company is to understand how to connect existing enterprise systems to new tools. I wrote about this in June on the FastForward Blog.

The end of Aggregation

The question that sticks out in my mind is: Will streams of pushed signals replace aggregated feeds? And if they do: will we even notice?

We could very well be seeing the end of almost a decade of innovation. Aggregation has brought us an incredibly rich set of experiences and concepts, both inside the enterprise and in the world of public Social Media. It has helped people go from being unknowns to celebrities is no time and it has enabled the creations of an astonishing amount of content in the blogosphere.

The streams of data we are now creating have a lot to live up to, and I believe that it will. We are now moving beyond simply blogging content and hoping people find it to now creating smaller but more manageable pieces of information which may be much more naturally shared and repurposed.

What we need to move forward?

Streams are currently walled gardens. Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed and others are all a single point of failure. It is imperative that we develop distributed feed models that leverage an existing messaging protocol such as XMPP (thinking has been going on in this area for some time) and we need personal feed builders which can subscribe to, and listen for, these updates. NoseRub is currently developing a really interesting distributed feed service, and it is all open source.

Inside the enterprise we need to re-factor existing information systems to contribute to the enterprise Dynamic Signal and we need to provide users with the tools to build their own customized feeds of that data. This means that ERP systems will exist at the same level of priority in the stream as status updates by your co-workers. Designing and developing these feeds is a strategic job that will require insight in to the data sets and systems that are creating value behind the firewall.

So, say goodbye to aggregation. You may not even notice when it is gone, but the same technology that has taken us this far and has given us so much will be done for, and that is something worth paying attention to.

Taking the leap: Social Business Design

Back in January I wrote that it was time for Social Media to grow up, and just a few months ago I reflected on the need to think bigger when talking Enterprise 2.0. The problem this presents however is the need for larger framework that not only supersedes these concepts, but leverages and helps to grow them.

Finally my colleagues and I are starting to talk publicly about what we think the next step for social+business is and why it is going to be a critical advantage to organizations who make the leap. I have joined a company currently known as the Dachis Group (name TBD) as a Senior Partner.

Working with Peter Kim, Kate Niederhoffer, David Armano and Jeff Dachis we have started to engage with clients (and our own business) on what we call Social Business Design. Social Business Design is the first (as far as I can tell) effort to completely unite both the strategic and implementation components of a new kind of business. Social Businesses are those which are designed from top to bottom as a reflection of the world we all live in online today. A business were everyone is connected and able to contribute but also where the right tools are available to them to do all of this with a business intent from the beginning.

Because it is never as simple as “re designing a business”, we have developed four major archetypes which act as lenses and frameworks for understanding the current organization and to evaluate what components are missing in order to become a social business. This means that we can start at either the tactical or the strategic, but no matter where it begins we are always contributing to the long term vision of a new kind of organization.

Social Businesses are fundamentally different from those we know today, and they benefit from a new kind of output: Emergent outcomes. In developing our approach to Social Business Design, we have made measurement and monitoring a major priority and that has meant that we will finally be able to quantify and understand the benefit of emergent and unanticipated outcomes. We will also be able to identify and track them extremely early on.

Through the Ecosystem archetype, we can understand who the constituents of the business are and where they can find value individually and together as a whole. The Hiveminded archetype allows us to evaluate the tendency for those in the organization to work together, and it helps us design software and tools which are predisposed to collaboration. Metafilter helps us understand how and when people use the resources available to them and how we can help them make smarter decisions in real time.

The final archetype of Social Business Design is the Dynamic Signal, and it is what I have been thinking about the most lately. The concept that every activity and action is recorded and made available, that every piece of data goes from being a database entry and is instead an event. An event which can be managed, shared and collaborated on by all of those in the organization. This got me thinking about a concept from decades past: The Real Time Enterprise.

I have posted some thoughts on the impact of the Dyanmic Signal over on the FastForwardBlog and I will be posting more dives in to the impact of each archetype as we move forward. For more thinking on Social Business Design and what it means, read more of what the rest of the team has been thinking:

And you can visit our temporary company site here where we will continue to add links to Social Business Design thinking.

No predictions here: riffing on the future of Enterprise Social Software

I can’t bear to make any predictions of what is going to happen in the coming year in the world of Enterprise Social Software. Things aren’t pretty and they are going to take a long time to get better. That said, some interesting things are bound to happen this year, so I thought I would do a brain dump.

I will say this: There is going to be a lot more failure than anyone expected, and successes in places that we don’t expect or even want.

I also think that VOIP (one of those things a lot of us don’t want to have to think about) is going to be at the sharp end of change in the enterprise, possibly this year, but perhaps not, and it is going to open up a lot of opportunities for social tools. I have been using VOIP exclusively for the last 4 years, but I am just now starting to realize why it is such a big deal, and I am starting to see how software platforms need to stop ignoring it.

Video conferencing, which a lot of us continue to laugh off, is going to continue to grow at a faster rate than any other collaboration technology. Cheap displays and other hardware required will help drive this.

This all puts some of the bigger guys like CISCO in a much better position that we all might have realized before. They have the Trojan Pony.

Thinking about VOIP also gets me thinking about presence in general and Instant Messaging by extension. IM is now deeply embedded in most organizations. Blackberry Messenger, Samtime, Microsoft Messenger, Gtalk, etc,. it is all over the place, yet almost every new enterprise social application I see completely ignores IM. It doesn’t make sense to keep ignoring IM and we need to start thinking about using IM as a starting point for interactions.

IM is the grandaddy of micromessaging. Twitter in the Enterprise is a trend that I was looking at this time last year, and I am still trying to get my mind wrapped around it. Rypple has been getting an insane amount of well deserved attention, and for me it proves that there is a place for micro messaging in the enterprise. It also demonstrates something I have been saying: smart social tools need to break out of the do-everything malaise and build intention-specific applications.

We are going to see a lot of vendors going down this path. Focused micro messaging applications. Who knows what people will come up with.

Hey, what if my latest Twitter message could be read to anyone who calls if I am not available? “Sorry, Jevon cannot come to the phone right now, his latest status message said: ‘I am going to the beach.’, you may leave a message or call back later.”. That would be great.

One thing we need to do in 2009 is to stop trying to create new behaviors and we need to start building on existing behavior. That behavior could be business data, a process or a workflow, but we need to use those starting points to kick off more social actions. This is a place where IM related services could be very powerful. I will be writing a lot about this in the coming year.

The solution is not as simple as too-cool-for-you applications or misaligned tools that try to elevate things like social bookmarking to god-like status. I wish it were that simple, but it isn’t. You are all going to need to get more creative.

Existing vendors need to start seeing themselves as platforms that can conform to business needs, rather than something that the business must change to suit. They need to be able to serve specific business needs and intentions directly. Those who resist this path will be shotgunned in to it by their customers and they will do a terrible job. Those who plan to go down this path will be much better off.

I see Enterprise Social Software now the way I saw the web in 1997. We had to stop trying to shoehorn a businesses on to the web, and instead we figured out that customers needed the web shoehorned IN to their business in the right place. That is why we stopped being brochure web developers and CMS providers and instead built platforms that could zig and zag with the customer, inside and outside. That doesn’t exist yet behind the firewall, but it is coming.

2009 is a year to grow, get strong and to learn as much as possible from our mistakes. It is a year to take stock, get feedback and to examine our path carefully. The years of blindly forging ahead are over and those who tread carefully, but surely, will be rewarded. Those who are creating value are going to get bigger and stronger, those who are sexy, but useless, are going to die more quickly. That is the effect of a down period, and something to be grateful for.

The Age of Spiritual Machines

In the year 2009 . . . “The United States continues to be the world’s dominant military power, which is largely accepted by the rest of the world, as most countries concentrate on economic competition.

Military conflicts between nations are rare, and most conflicts are between nations and smaller bands of terrorists.”

Ray Kurzweil wrote that in 1999, two years before September 11th and at a time when terrorism was not on the world’s radar the way it is today.

I’m not sure what it means, but the nature of so many of our systems is changing so rapidly, I am not sure what to depend on anymore.

Old models of warfare are truly broken, old models of communication are gone, media and music distribution has been gutted and left as a shadow of itself, and now we are seeing the destruction of our corporate model. I am not some poor soul hanging on to an old model, I am at the sharp end and moving forward, but so much of what I depend on is rooted in the old model, I hope it can hold on just long enough.

If a model fails at its large scale, is it worth saving on a smaller scale? If GM fails, is it a commentary on the very nature of how we do business? Most will argue no, because we have to, but the question can’t really be answered can it?

We often see things in the context that suits us best. We look at problems in ways that address our own problems, and we frame accomplishment in the light of our own needs. More than ever though, we need to step back and evaluate the the foundations of this house we put so much faith in. Is the floor rotting out from under us, or is there just a draft we need to cover up?

It is a task of biblical proportions (in the most literal sense) and I wonder if we are up to it. The one thing I am sure of however, is that no matter how many times we paint the siding, it’s still the same damn house.

In uncertain times, Enterprise 2.0 takes the stage

For many people the positioning of Enterprise 2.0 as a cost reduction engine is not new. Complexity reduction, efficiency increases and fast response times have been the cornerstone of many Enterprise Social Software pitches in the last 5 years.

Enterprise software spending has recently crashed. Companies such as SAP, headquartered in Waldorf Germany, have recently issued earnings warnings, which illustrate how dramatically enterprise application spending has dipped in just a few weeks. These organizations can no doubt weather this storm, but with this shift, opportunity is found.

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