Socialtext is coming out with a Twitter-like tool for internal company use, prompting TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld to dub this "the year of the activity stream." There's a risk for companies here that CIOs can help manage: too much focus on process, not enough on the result.
Socialtext is coming out with a Twitter-like tool for internal company use, prompting TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld to dub this "the year of the activity stream." There's a risk for companies here that CIOs can help manage: too much focus on process, not enough on the result.The risk comes when collaboration becomes a job requirement itself, rather than job requirements dictating the extent of collaboration. An "activity stream" like Signals and others could be wildly helpful to our colleagues. Or it could be a crutch to assure us that we're all very busy.
Nicholas Carr's writing on how the Web is changing how we think is a must-read for CIOs thinking about how enterprise 2.0 tools like Signals will affect the workforce. In a recently posted interview, Carr credits the real power and efficiency of interactive media, but also warns against discounting other activities -- immersion in a great novel or movie or piece of music -- as "passive" and therefore less valuable. He's talking about more personal pursuits, but I find this concern very relevant to the workplace. Says Carr:
"… The danger with interactive media is that they draw us away from quieter and lonelier pursuits. Interactivity is compelling because its rewards are so easy and immediate, but they're often also superficial."
A lot of valuable work people do is quiet or lonely and anything but easy. The gift of some of the most productive people I know is the ability to do one thing very well, letting nothing distract them from that focus. I wish I were one of these people and hadn't stopped to answer 17 e-mails and read 48 others (I just counted) during the course of writing this post.
This doesn't mean something like Signals is a bad idea inside a company. If it lets that superproducer give a terse, results-oriented update -- Project done. Deal closed. -- even more efficiently, it could be a perfect tool. Socialtext founder Ross Mayfield says that part of the power is integrating messaging into its collaboration platform. TechCrunch's Schonfeld posts a helpful image of Signals in a post that notes:
Signals and the desktop app should go far towards increasing employee interaction with the service. Each update serves as a prompt to follow up on a project or keep it moving along, while Signals can also serve as the new watercooler.
Twitter co-founder Evan Williams gives a business technology exec more to chew on (here's the video) in a recent interview with Charlie Rose, where he suggests that in five years, people will be as comfortable with Twitter as they are with blogging and social networks:
People in general are learning that living a bit more publicly, a bit more transparently, can have actually really powerful positive effects. You meet people, you are provided with new opportunities, you have the ability to express yourself and what's going on. And it can be narcissistic and completely ego driven, but it also can be just an authentic, open way to live your life that people enjoy and that makes everyone richer.
CIOs need to lead the discussion here, to be seen as the guide to using enterprise 2.0 tools like this. Getting collaboration right -- among co-workers, with business partners, with customers -- will be an increasingly important part of a company's competitive advantage. Deciding whether to bring a tool such as Signals in is a small step. Shaping the culture around how it's used will be the much bigger factor in whether it delivers or drains productivity.
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