No, I Don’t Want To Use Your Portal


Not every employee is the same: Companies must build many paths to useful knowledge

A few years ago I joined an online community of E20 practitioners. This community used  Jive,  an all-in-one platform that merged blogs, forums, and wikis into a single space. I found the conversations were delightful, but the interface got in the way. I wanted to engage but I kept bumping into UI walls. I couldn’t make it work. I couldn’t find the right groups. So, I wasn’t very active.

Then the community manager added a new Twitter-like platform, SocialCast. Happy day! I saw conversations. It came with a mobile version:  I could add pictures and it buzzed in my pocket when someone mentioned my name. The community came alive. I was checking in multiple times a day. I became an active contributor.

Later, under new ownership, the community discarded the streaming platform in a consolidation effort. Engagement was difficult for me again. I withdrew.

This happens often. Efforts to control and consolidate — to “simplify” — are a good way to disconnect audiences. Social software vendors must acknowledge there are many kinds of people, each with preferred way to discover things. Optimize for one kind of person at your peril, dear community managers. In these times of customization and impatience, your audience is likely to walk away.


There are four ways Homo sapiens enterprensus finds useful knowledge:

  • Librarians are organizers. They invented bookshelves and can remember ISBN codes. Librarians are natural organizers. They sort the stacks, tag the articles and create the file hierarchies. Lists send them into rapture.  Librarian taxonomies are clean and precise. When they go to find something, they know exactly where to go. Efficient retrieval is achieved – for them. But what happens if you’re not the librarian? How do you know where to start looking?
  • Homesteaders thrive in online forums. They live in community discussion groups. If they have a question, they ask it in the community. Homesteaders read every thread. Sounds good, but who has the time to read everything?
  • Streamers are the attention-deficit searchers. They organize “feeds,” awareness-based subscriptions, to gather newsy bits. E-robots gather headlines into lists they can read later. Find something interesting? Then click on the link to read the entire thing.
  • And there are the Searchers, the People of Google, the yahoos of Yahoo. They reverently approach the little white text box with words and phrases. Searchers scan the first page of results. If they don’t find what they seek, then they change the question and ask again. Searchers iterate many times until they settle on something they like.

Have an inert SharePoint site? Is it a document coffin? How about your division portal? All the care you put into the design, but no one visits it. Why? Perhaps it was designed with a faulty assumption: everybody thinks like you. Thank goodness they don’t!

How to solve this? Most organizations have half the problem solved: they have great content. But they must deploy multiple ways to find it.

The Consumerization of IT has changed employees: no longer are they willing to settle for soviet, one-size-fits-all, interfaces. They’re spoiled by all the consumer goodness outside the company. And they have learned how to find knowledge in many ways. They expect the same from their employer.

My millennial son lives in Reddit, my wife in Wikipedia and Pinterest, and I in Twitter, Feedly and Google. He’s a Homesteader, she’s a Librarian and me? I’m a Streamer with Searcher tendencies. The funny thing is, we often hear about new memes at about the same time. My wife will send me a link she found that I read the day before.

So, if your 2007 intranet portal is link sarcophagus, perhaps you should also inject its knowledge goodness into an internal wiki, maybe post updates in your corporate online forums, and if you’re lucky to have one, your enterprise streaming tool.

Special note to social software  vendors: I know you’re in a hard place trying to appease many customers. Many voices, many “votes” on what  new features you should deploy in Release Next. Listen to them to your detriment. You risk releasing a mishmash compromise if you try to squeeze everything into one place. My idea: focus on humans. Allow each person to define what they want to see, and how. Eschew “common look and feel.” Avoid “embedded experience.” Let the Librarians navigate, the Homesteaders browse, the Streamers scan and the Searchers seek.


Photo: Lynnette Fortin



Growing The Legacy of Knowledge



How Social Business platforms extend the reach and value of document-centric knowledge


Knowledge is not just approved and categorized documents, but it’s also the ‘little knowledge’ that flows about us during the workday. I call this “knowledge in motion,” the kinetic information that flows by and nearly always disappears. Online collaboration persists this kind of knowledge. It’s really ‘wisdom:’ knowledge enhanced with context (value, when, who) . Via links and tags, all knowledge can be more findable — exploitable — across the boundaries of time, team and culture.

Allow me illustrate via a story in Prezi. I introduce Thomas, now a senior scientist, who has a legacy of documented knowledge and profitable accomplishment for his company. Younger scientists from other countries find his documents and they release this content-centric knowledge into the company’s social business environment. Furthermore, they augment it with what they know, what they find outside and even things Thomas doesn’t know. Thus his ‘legacy’ grows. Eventually, Thomas is drawn into the emergent social network. I also show how Thomas attempts to collaborate with himself over time, and fails because he can’t find his own ‘little knowledge.’



Happy zooming! I hope you don’t need a Dramamine.


Use Social Business to Connect with Your Future Self

Social business tools augment your memory with facts and context



Can you remember the great ideas of your career?

I had lunch with a scientist last year. We were talking about our multi-decade careers and our accomplishments. My companion put down his fork and said “I had this great idea in 1997 and I wrote it down somewhere. The idea was entirely impossible, but I jotted a few notes about it, anyway. Last month I read about a machine that might make my idea possible. I was excited! I looked through all my notes, online and in paper, but I couldn’t find them. I gave up. A shame, really.”

My companion is a polymath, a Leonardo da Vinci, who is as wide as he is deep in knowledge. He devours news. He’s a cauldron of ideas. Like most people, he can remember only so much. He’s relied on email, files and notebooks to manage his notes. But such storage is ephemera; over time these sources shifted away from him. His knowledge ‘migrated’ or someone else ‘archived’ them. An idea, a million dollar hunch, is lost.

Steven Johnson writes in his his book, ‘Where Good Ideas Come From. The Natural History of Innovation,‘ about the power of the “slow hunch.” His example is Charles Darwin, a geologist by training, who developed the theory of natural selection. Darwin didn’t have a ‘eureka!’ moment. A prodigious man, Darwin took a volumes of notes in his commonplace book over the decades of career. Each time Darwin observed something, he wrote notes to his future self. He indexed them. Darwin re-read them from time to time. Although he was blessed with strong intuition, Darwin was a man with a normal memory. He needed devices like his commonplace book to give it a leg up. Darwin didn’t just happen on his theory; it was his good notes, his intuition and several years of re-reads before it revealed itself.



A 17th Century English Commonplace book (Courtesy Yale)

Johnson says the slow hunch is one of the essentials for innovation. As creative people progress through their careers, their intuition tells them when an obsevation may be important. Even if it is unsolvable at the moment, they will store it in the back of the mind. When a related piece of information later appears, intuition links the hunch with the new fact. Tenacity, intellect and creativity is the personal engine for innovation.

In today’s world of information torrents, it is easy for the mind to lose track of its valuable hunches. This is worsened in the enterprise. Employees are exposed to too much trivial information. Email dissipates knowledge. Most corporate systems, with their need for conformity and categorization, also destroy hunches. Personal knowledge is lost year by year.

Imagine if you are a creative person in the enterprise [scientist, engineer,  IT professional… ]. There are knowledge-destroying forces arrayed against you: corporate automation that obliterates creativity; workflows insisting on conformity; and legal missives mandating knowledge sarcophagi — or destruction!

And sometimes profitable ideas just disappear on their own …

Perhaps creative employees could benefit by using social business software to annotate their present selves for later discovery by their future selves. Keeping a personal wiki, bookmarks and tags are great ways to assemble a virtual commonplace book. Not only is knowledge kept, but context is preserved this way. Employees are their own best curators.

But annotation for the future won’t be enough. Like Darwin, they must make a point of re-reading their material. As we age, our perspective changes. A re-read of our notes is the final trigger for creativity to happen.







Quora is here. Stay away!

A new knowledge site blends collaboration and knowledge sharing





A  very promising world resource is emerging right now. It’s called Quora and it’s white-hot. It is a chimera of sorts, a blend of wiki, discussion and crowdsourcing. Presentation is simple. You can subscribe to topics and follow people. Quora is a place to ask — and answer — anything. I see it as a powerful technical research tool.

The corporate Who’s Who are showing up. CEOs are engaging with mortals. Geeks are answering normals.

Quora also looks like productivity black hole. If you’re interested in the world, then Quora will suck you in.

You have been warned! Stay away! At least when you are in the office.

Warning: Quora has problems on IE8. Works great on Firefox and Chrome browsers.