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Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy is the founder and President of BinaryWave, a leading provider of operational intelligence solutions for Microsoft SharePoint. Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy has worked with SharePoint Products and Technologies since 2001 as a consultant, administrator, architect, developer and trainer. he is an advisory committee member of the Dallas/Ft. Worth SharePoint Community group and participating member of user groups throughout the United Kingdom. Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy has authored numerous articles on SharePoint, speaks at user group meetings and conferences around the world, and publishes a popular SharePoint blog at http://www.sharepointcowboy.com. Presentations by Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy Webinar - Migrating Legacy On Premise Solutions to SharePoint Online and Windows Azure featuring Eric Shupps Who are you and what do you want - Working with OAuth in SharePoint 2013 SharePoint is Talking Are You Listening? Eric Shupps SharePoint 2013 Performance Enhancements Taking Advantage of the SharePoint 2013 REST API Eric Shupps on Improving Performance with New Features in SharePoint 2013 SharePoint 2013 New and Improved Migrating Legacy On Premise Solutions to SharePoint Online and Windows Azure Eric Shupps Presents SharePoint 2013 Real World Help Desk App End to End Windows Azure Apps for SharePoint 2013 Eric Shupps Demonstrates Customizing the Visual Studio 2010 SharePoint Deployment Process Introduction to SharePoint Development SharePoint 2010 Unit and Integration Testing with Eric Shupps Building Enterprise Records Management Solutions for SharePoint 2010 Taming Information Chaos in SharePoint 2010 SharePoint 2010 Performance and Capacity Planning Best Practices Building Dynamic Applications with the SharePoint Client Object Model Articles by Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy Eric Shupps' Ten Steps to Optimize SharePoint Performance Webcasts by Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy Secrets of SharePoint Part 5: Configuring Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 for Optimal Performance Creating End User SharePoint Solutions for Performance and Scalability SharePoint 2010 Performance Enhancements for Administrators by Eric Shupps Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 for the ASP.NET Developer Eric Shupps on Following Best Practices and Avoiding Common Errors with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Development Eric Shupps - SharePoint Performance and Capacity Planning Essentials Troubleshooting Common Performance Problems in SharePoint 2010 Videos by Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy Channel 9 Interview with Eric Shupps SharePoint TechTalk with Eric Shupps - Different Views on Social Computing SharePoint Post-Deployment Planning and Management with Eric Shupps SmartTrack for SharePoint Feature Overview SmartTrack for SharePoint Podcasts by Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy SharePoint Pod Show - Design for Performance (Eric Shupps) SharePoint Pod Show - Test Driven Development with Andrew Woodward and Eric Shupps eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy Run As Radio - Eric Shupps Improves SharePoint Performance
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May 08
Welcome to the Un-Social

Whenever a new platform, technology, or computing paradigm comes along there is the inevitable rush to proclaim it the greatest thing since sliced bread, the cure to all of mankind's ills, the savior of civilization. What usually starts out as a worthwhile experiment in solving a particular problem with some out-of-the-box thinking quickly mushrooms into a hodgepodge of nonsensical concepts and reality-stretching terminology once the marketing types take over. Sadly, this usually leads to a good idea dying a slow death due to excessive hype and overexposure.

The current hot topic on every blogger's fingertips is "Social Computing". As if to prove the point that once an idea gets going it quickly outgrows itself, everybody has an opinion on Social Computing but nobody agrees on exactly what it is. Loosely speaking, it's about (or *should* be about) connecting people and information in a social context. This means that the rigid IT-dominated structures built upon information system concepts such as Domain -> Context -> User -> Information give way to more organic methods of information organization and dissemination, where Context and Domain are defined as much by content and context as they are by other people's remarks or views on the content (think tagging, comments, trackbacks, and linking).

There are a number of examples of Social Computing concepts flourishing on the Internet – Flickr, Del.icio.us, Technorati, Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, Orkut, and the list goes on. Some of these examples fall into distinct categories, such as Social Awareness (Del.icio.us, Twitter), Social Networking (MySpace, Facebook) and Social Media (Flickr, YouTube), but the foundational concepts are the same – enhance the value of content by applying human social interactivity. There is also another, often overlooked, segment of the Social Computing space that goes largely unnoticed because it is focused on business instead of entertainment – Collaborative Computing. This is where SharePoint comes into play. SharePoint is an inherently social platform that extends interactivity into our daily work-related activities – we set up MySites to share documents with co-workers, establish Meeting Workspaces to communicate on shared objectives, post documents and list items with specific metadata to improve findability, disseminate corporate information via portal sites, consume list-based information via RSS, and perform a host of other business activities that we've always done one way or another, perhaps not as effectively or efficiently as SharePoint does it.

Collaborative computing in general – and SharePoint in specific – has gained tremendous traction within the enterprise because it has inherent business value. It improves communication and enhances productivity by making information easier to access, categorize, and locate. There are no complicated ROI models or convoluted diagrams necessary for CxO's to understand the value proposition; they "get it", almost instinctively. It doesn't take a flashy interface or whiz-bang application they can run on their mobile devices to demonstrate the bottom-line impact of workers getting more work done in less time and with less frustration.

Many people, both within the SharePoint community and the greater technology echo chamber, have tried to meld collaborative computing into the social computing context by rebranding it "Social Computing for Business". Their fundamental argument is that collaboration is simply one aspect of the overall social computing continuum and that its true value can only be realized when combined with other, more socially aware, aspects like tagging, tweets, friend-finding and so forth. The first part of this argument is sound. Collaboration *is* an aspect of social computing; but the second half of the argument – that its value is reduced when disconnected from other social aspects – is a classic red herring.

First and foremost, collaborative computing is already delivering proven business value to organizations regardless of industry, size or type. Social computing, on the other hand, has yet to demonstrate any real, quantitative business value. There is no single application that anyone can point to upon which a financial model of cost reduction, revenue increase, productivity enhancement or shareholder value (some of the key metrics by which CxO's measure the value of new systems and processes) can be built. In fact, of all the examples which do exist, all are in the entertainment space and none have any business focus whatsoever. Most people who use these applications would readily admit that, far from increasing productivity, they actually decrease productivity due to the amount of interaction required to deliver any positive results in the social-feedback loop (think friend-finding in MySpace, tagging in Flickr or following people in Twitter).

Secondly, the socially aware applications that do exist within the enterprise, such as the organization and project participation web parts within SharePoint MySites, require business users to completely rethink their notions of relational value. Enterprise structures are built mostly upon methods of segmenting information according to defined levels of stratification – line workers can access only limited sets of data, managers additional data within a particular departmental silo, officers data within business segments (such as sales, finance or human resources) and executives small snippets of summarized data across all segments. As a consequence, people perceive their intrinsic value based on where they fall in the corporate caste system and employ numerous methods to try and enhance that value by inflating their own accomplishments, participation and relationships over their peers. Relational mapping lays bare a person's actual position within the structure with no regard for "soft" factors such as participation in voluntary committees, continuing education or community contributions. Furthermore, detailing the various projects and content areas a person participates in runs the risk of exposing busybodies and those who are constantly reaching beyond their position to try and enhance their perceived value. In some cases, it can also lay bare the activities of people competing for the same position by detailing what projects they are involved with and what communities they are part of.

Whether all this methodology, process and posturing is of actual value is beside the point; asking businesses to change decades of common practice in order to adopt a new computing paradigm is an uphill battle without quantitative metrics to back it up. On the reverse side of the value enhancement coin, where adopting a new system is justified by some sort of revenue gain or cost avoidance, the risk of exposing waste and productivity drain, especially to the people most guilty of engaging in these activities within the organization, results in an overall value reduction. The equation is quite simple – blatantly expose corporate "social" waste without overwhelming value metrics and resistance will be fierce. True, this has nothing to do with the actual merits of the proposed system, it's a cultural issue; but since social computing is inherently a cultural change agent, it will naturally take the brunt of the opposing forces.

Finally, collaborative computing, which SharePoint already does quite well, has turned out to be a relatively safe investment; it provides immediate payback without all the risks that broader social interactivity brings. The benefits of social computing are still largely unknown and exist mostly as unproven theories. There is no paradigm-shifting application a la Amazon, EBay or Google that can be held up as an example of why businesses must rush to invest scarce resources in a new platform. In fact, quite the opposite is true; the most recognizable poster children of the social computing revolution are seen as a complete waste of time – not only by executives but also by many of the Generation X and Y employees that proponents insist must have these technologies in their working life in order to feel productive and enriched. These employees by and large also carry portable media devices with them wherever they go, and often use them at work to enhance their focus and drown out background distractions, but they're not asking employers to supply them with iPods and unlimited subscriptions to iTunes. They know the difference between work and play and, despite prognostications to the contrary, seem to have found a reasonably ambitious work ethic somewhere amidst all the HD video, text messages and mobile web surfing that dominate their life. Surprise, surprise – Gen Y doesn't want to be distracted by endless streams of chatter while they're trying to work any more than the rest of us do and they're the ones who invented this stuff!

What it all boils down to from an enterprise perspective is that social computing has yet to provide any real bottom-line benefits. Will this change? Probably. But not until someone figures out how to harness all this tagging, awareness, and contextuality into something that helps Joe Working Stiff get more work done in same amount of already compressed time. At present, decision makers would rather not have any social features at all in their enterprise, thank you very much, so turn off those MySites and get back to work. There are big challenges to overcome if the proponents of business socialization expect to reap any rewards from all the blinking lights and flashing chrome they've created. After all, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are free; sooner or later, somebody has to make a buck or those applications are going to suffer the same fate as Push providers and online grocers. And since very few commercial enterprises that start off free ever find a way to convert the masses to pay-by-the-drink model, their only other outlet is the business sector. In that case, they better hope they've got the next Post-It Note up their sleeve or the tweet and the trackback will go down in history with the sock puppet dog as something that "could have been, if only…".

 

Comments

Comment to Welcome to the Un-Social

It is interesting that you look for ROI and supporting facts for Social Computing yet you make a statement like this "In fact, quite the opposite is true; the most recognizable poster children of the social computing revolution are seen as a complete waste of time – not only by executives but also by many of the Generation X and Y employees that proponents insist must have these technologies in their working life in order to feel productive and enriched. " without any facts to back it up.

Do you have an metrics or stats to validate this statement?
System Account on 5/9/2008 12:09 AM

Gen Y Metrics

In point of fact, I do have metrics to back that up, but the post was already 1,500 words long and in danger of becoming a treatise.  In 65% of our deployments, customers who enabled MySite functionality report after a year of use that they either a) do not use it at all, b) use it very little, or c) have disabled it altogether.  Recently, several high-profile customers have decided not to use MySites specifically because of the Colleague, In Common and Memberships web parts. 

Furthermore, one large enterprise customer conducted an internal survey prior to implementing a new MOSS portal and found that 89% of respondents found "little or no value" in social components such as blogs, wikis, tagging, communities and general social awareness (I'm paraphrasing; the actual survey questions were more detailed).  Interestingly, the response from respondents under 30 was statistically insignificant from those over 30; neither group found value in these tools.  What was also interesting to note was that nearly 100% of all resopndents under 30 did report that they used some sort of social tools in their non-working hours (broadly defined as including blogs, rss, social networking, auctions, photo sharing and the like).  Focus groups at this same client revealed the same attitudes (even when managers weren't present), which was quite a shock as part of the customer's justification for investing in SharePoint was to increase participation in knowledge sharing by Gen Y'ers.

I don't just shoot this stuff from the hip y'know - I really do try to do my homework before I post!
Eric Shupps on 5/9/2008 8:10 AM

I Speak from Experience...

I guess I would be considered part of Generation Y...I was at an event and John Alexander was there talking about how all these tools waste a devs time.  I sort of agree.  They are great after hours community tools to get you more connected with people, but you don't want to waste any extra time than necessary.  Same goes for blogging.  He actually brought up a good point about how messengers, e-mail, social networking, blogging, etc. wastes about 4 minutes of the developers time.  Because it takes about 4 minutes to get back into that logical coding mindset.  I love social networking, because if I don't know something I can use twitter or my blog or Facebook or messenger to get help or talk to friends.  Although, nothing beats seeing a person in real life...
I agree that MySites can be a huge waste of time.  It all depends on what a person is doing with them.
System Account on 5/9/2008 8:37 AM

Agree and Disagree

I agree with much of the premise of Eric's post, as I think collaborative computing holds most of the quasi-tangible value potential for the enterprise of the 4 (+?) main categories of social computing he's identified. I wouldn't take such a hard line on My Sites though - I've piloted My Sites with two very large organizations and both found it to have very high potential value in its OOB implementation, which is really about the value of people information more than anything.

The main issue people had was really around accessing another person's My Site, which is party technological (hard to get to unless you have Office 2007 on the client) and partly related to training.

I do believe, however, that certain aspects of "social networking" can have significant specific benefits when applied to a specific customer use case - here's an example.

Business problem: (global energy company) engineers and scientists working in different parts of the world on a technical problem each spend a lot of time researching the same literature, with a lot of inherent overlap, inherent cost, and slower time to market for new technologies – new capabilities to enable technical staff to improve their productivity are needed to lower R&D costs”.

Social computing solution with business benefits: content bookmarking, tagging, automated discovery and subscription can be useful when many people are accessing large amounts of content from multiple sites that may be of use to other people in their group or organization. Productivity benefits are realized when a person is able to leverage a respected colleague's  listing based on tagging or bookmarking, sort through a large corpus of information based on reads or rankings, or have a conversation in the context of a piece of content that gives it more meaning or relevance.

Enhanced meta-information about a person (what they've tagged, what they've read, what they've posted) provides productivity benefits in areas like improved information access time, improved team formation time, and effectiveness of contact.

My view is that this sort of specific thinking is needed for the value of social networking to be realized in the enterprise. Without it, value and benefits will be lost in the abstract, and never invested in.

Again, I'd say I'm a supporter of much of what Eric says, but organizations that can figure out creative ways to use these technologies to their advantage (and justify them in the process) may reap significant rewards.
System Account on 5/12/2008 4:36 PM

Optimistic skeptic

I agree with much of the premise of Eric's post, as I think collaborative computing holds most of the quasi-tangible value potential for the enterprise of the 4 (+?) main categories of social computing he's identified. I wouldn't take such a hard line on My Sites though - I've piloted My Sites with two very large organizations and both found it to have very high potential value in its OOB implementation, which is really about the value of people information more than anything.

The main issue people had was really around accessing another person's My Site, which is party technological (hard to get to unless you have Office 2007 on the client) and partly related to training.

I do believe, however, that certain aspects of "social networking" can have significant specific benefits when applied to a specific customer use case - here's an example.

Business problem: (global energy company) engineers and scientists working in different parts of the world on a technical problem each spend a lot of time researching the same literature, with a lot of inherent overlap, inherent cost, and slower time to market for new technologies – new capabilities to enable technical staff to improve their productivity are needed to lower R&D costs”.

Social computing solution with business benefits: content bookmarking, tagging, automated discovery and subscription can be useful when many people are accessing large amounts of content from multiple sites that may be of use to other people in their group or organization. Productivity benefits are realized when a person is able to leverage a respected colleague's  listing based on tagging or bookmarking, sort through a large corpus of information based on reads or rankings, or have a conversation in the context of a piece of content that gives it more meaning or relevance.

Enhanced meta-information about a person (what they've tagged, what they've read, what they've posted) provides productivity benefits in areas like improved information access time, improved team formation time, and effectiveness of contact.

My view is that this sort of specific thinking is needed for the value of social networking to be realized in the enterprise. Without it, value and benefits will be lost in the abstract, and never invested in.

Again, I'd say I'm a supporter of much of what Eric says, but organizations that can figure out creative ways to use these technologies to their advantage (and justify them in the process) may reap significant rewards.
System Account on 5/12/2008 4:39 PM

Optimistic skeptic

I agree with much of the premise of Eric's post, as I think collaborative computing holds most of the quasi-tangible value potential for the enterprise of the 4 (+?) main categories of social computing he's identified. I wouldn't take such a hard line on My Sites though - I've piloted My Sites with two very large organizations and both found it to have very high potential value in its OOB implementation, which is really about the value of people information and solid integration with the rest of the Office platform more than anything.

The main issue people had was really around accessing another person's My Site, which is party technological (hard to get to unless you have Office 2007 on the client) and partly related to training.

I do believe, however, that certain aspects of "social networking" can have significant specific benefits when applied to a specific customer use case - here's an example.

Business problem: (global energy company) engineers and scientists working in different parts of the world on a technical problem each spend a lot of time researching the same literature, with a lot of inherent overlap, inherent cost, and slower time to market for new technologies – new capabilities to enable technical staff to improve their productivity are needed to lower R&D costs.

Social computing solution with business benefits: content bookmarking, tagging, automated discovery and subscription can be useful when many people are accessing large amounts of content from multiple sites that may be of use to other people in their group or organization. Productivity benefits are realized when a person is able to leverage a respected colleague's  listing based on tagging or bookmarking, sort through a large corpus of information based on reads or rankings, or have a conversation in the context of a piece of content that gives it more meaning or relevance.

Enhanced meta-information about a person (what they've tagged, what they've read, what they've posted) provides productivity benefits in areas like improved information access time, improved team formation time, and effectiveness of contact.

My view is that this sort of specific thinking is needed in order to for the value of social networking to be considered seriously in the enterprise. Without it, value and benefits will be lost in the abstract, and never invested in.

Again, I'd say I'm a supporter of much of what Eric says, but organizations that can figure out creative ways to use these technologies to their advantage (and justify them in the process) may reap significant rewards.
System Account on 5/12/2008 8:04 PM

I'm Glad Someone Has Said It

I agree with your post, and can confirm your experience with mySites in practice in at least 7 enterprise SharePoint implementations (including Fortune 500, State government, and smaller enterprise).

Also, if you look at the success and failure of the top social networking platforms few CIO's would invest capital on the premise that something will "catch on" in popularity, which is in fact how they are measured.
System Account on 5/13/2008 10:55 AM

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This site is brought to you by BinaryWave in cooperation with Eric Shupps Eric Alan Shupps eshupps @eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy. We hope you enjoy the SharePoint-related content on topics such as performance, monitoring, administration, operations, support, business intelligence and more for SharePoint 2010, SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 created by Eric Shupps The SharePoint Cowboy. We also hope you will visit our product pages to learn more about SmartTrack, Operational Analytics for SharePoint, SharePoint monitoring, and SharePoint administration, while also discovering great offers from our partners. Please visit the blog of Eric Alan Shupps, Twitter handle @eshupps, for more information on application development, the SharePoint community, SharePoint performance, and general technology topics. Eric Shupps Eric Alan Shupps eshupps @eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy is the founder and President of BinaryWave, a leading provider of operational support solutions for SharePoint. Eric Shupps Eric Alan Shupps eshupps @eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy has worked with SharePoint Products and Technologies since 2001 as a consultant, administrator, architect, developer and trainer. He is an advisory committee member of the Dallas/Ft. Worth SharePoint Community group and participating member of user groups throughout the United Kingdom. Eric Shupps Eric Alan Shupps eshupps @eshupps The SharePoint Cowboy has authored numerous articles on SharePoint, speaks at user group meetings and conferences around the world, and publishes a popular SharePoint blog at http://www.binarywave.com/blogs/eshupps.