Monday, October 25, 2010

SharePoint 2010 Social Networking: Part 2 - Where does it fit in?

Are the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features what we have been missing all along to really do "knowledge networking" right in the corporate world?

(Note: This is the second post in this series. For the first post in this series and table of contents, go here).

I certainly wouldn't go that far. But, the features can play an important role in fostering better knowledge networking, due to some of their unique characteristics, as compared to the other vehicles (or approaches) we currently use for knowledge networking.

The purpose of this blog post is to highlight these unique knowledge networking characteristics so that I can make the benefits of each feature crystal clear in upcoming posts.

Below is a table I created that presents my view of some of the most commonly used "vehicles" for knowledge networking (first column) and their characteristics (columns 2 – 7). Before you dig into the table and see if you agree or disagree, take a minute to read the description for each column:
  • Availability of knowledge networking opportunity (column 2) – are opportunities to knowledge network using the vehicle available to everyone or is an invitation to the opportunity required?
  • Requirements to discover new knowledge (column 3) – does the individual have to seek and/or participate actively to discover new knowledge, or is the appropriate knowledge pushed automatically to the individual?
  • Velocity at which knowledge can be shared (column 4) – how rapidly or slowly does the vehicle allow participants to share knowledge? In general, any vehicle that utilizes the spoken word is going to allow for more rapid sharing than vehicles that utilize the written word. Why? Because people can talk and listen faster than they can type and read.
  • Relative volume of knowledge that can be shared (column 5) – there can be big differences in the volume of knowledge that can be shared due to the unique characteristics of one vehicle as compared to another.
  • Level of overhead required (column 6) – how much overhead (non-knowledge networking effort and time) is required to use the vehicle for knowledge networking purposes?
  • Level of disruption to other work tasks (column 7) – what level of disruption to other work tasks is required of an individual to participate in knowledge networking using the vehicle?

Commonly used vehicles for internal knowledge networking/sharingAvailability of knowledge networking opportunityRequirements to discover new knowledgeVelocity at which knowledge can be sharedRelative volume of knowledge that can be sharedLevel of overhead requiredLevel of disruption to other work tasks
Formal Face-to-Face MeetingsAvailable by invitation onlyYou must seek/participate FastMedium8High10High12
Phone/web conferencingAvailable by invitation onlyYou must seek/participateFastMedium8Medium10High12
Informal Face-to-Face Meetings (e.g. in the hall, at the water cooler)In many cases available to anyone who is around, but sometimes informally closedYou must seek/participateFastLow8LowMedium12
EmailAvailable by invitation only1You must seek/participate, with exception to "Reply All" conversations3Slow5LowLowLow13
Instant MessagingAvailable by invitation only1You must seek/participateMediumLowLowLow to Medium13
Search (Enterprise and/or web)Available to anyone2You must seek/participateSlow6High9LowMedium14
Social Computing Features in SharePoint 2010Available to anyone2Knowledge gets pushed to you based on your stated interests and organizational characteristics4Medium7High9Low11Low to Medium14

1 I consider Email and IM "available by invitation only", because most email conversations within organizations are initiated by one person with a closed group of one or more other people in mind. If someone sends an email to the entire organization requesting knowledge to be shared, in most cases the results are not very good (or appreciated J).

2 I consider Search and SP 2010 Social Computing to be knowledge networking vehicles that are generally available to anyone in the organization. Of course, both Search and Social Computing are security trimmed in SharePoint 2010, but for the things you have access to, no invitation is needed to discover them.

3 In the case where the "CC" and "Reply to All" features of email are used with the intent of sharing knowledge with people who need that knowledge, some knowledge is actually "pushed" to some recipients of the email who otherwise may not have known about the conversation. Unfortunately, the recipient does not get to choose when this occurs or doesn't occur.

4 One of the most unique characteristics of the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features is that new knowledge gets discovered and pushed automatically to you based on your stated interests and characteristics as a member of the organization. None of the other vehicles have this characteristic. I will go into the mechanics of how this is achieved in a future blog post in this series.

5 In my opinion, Email is definitely the slowest and most inefficient vehicle we use for sharing knowledge. Unfortunately, it is still the most prevalent vehicle in most organizations.

6 I rate Search as a relatively slow vehicle for sharing knowledge, because it can require a tremendous about of "search refinements" to find useful information. Also, because new knowledge must be obtained by reading, it is relatively slower than meetings and phone calls.

7 Social Computing in SP 2010 offers a nice sweet spot between the slower vehicles of Email and Search and the more rapid person-to-person vehicles of meetings and phone calls. In a future post, I will clearly explain why I believe this is true.

8 While the most rapid form of knowledge networking takes place in person-to-person meetings using the spoken word, the volume of knowledge networking that can take place is limited by the number of people who can effectively participate in the meeting.

9 Search and Social Computing in SP 2010 offer the possibility of high volume knowledge networking if they are implemented in a way that allows as many people in the organization to participate as possible.

10 Formal face-to-face meetings require the most overhead to set up and conduct. People have to be contacted and schedules checked before a final date/time can be set. Meeting rooms and other resources have to be reserved. Conference calls and web meetings can eliminate the need to reserve meeting rooms and allow attendees to avoid short or long travel to the meeting, but setting the date/time and scheduling it with all attendees is still time consuming overhead.

11 As you will learn in a later post, Microsoft has done an excellent job in designing the SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features to minimize the amount of overhead that individuals have to incur to participate and get the benefits.

12 There is no question about it, meetings and phone calls are the most disruptive vehicle when it comes to taking time out of a person's day and other work tasks. As long as the benefits of the meeting/phone call outweigh the costs, it can be worth it, but too often they don't.

13 Some people might say that Email and Instant Messaging are very disruptive vehicles for knowledge networking. I disagree, but am assuming the individual knows when to "say no" to email and IM. If you can never close out your email client or set your IM status to "do not disturb", then I agree that either of these vehicles can be extremely disruptive.

14 I rate Search as a medium-level disruptor because it is so easy to get lost in the search refining and reviewing process and realize minutes or hours later that more time has passed by than was originally intended. To a certain degree, the same can be true when using the Social Computing features of SP 2010, because a certain amount of "guided surfing" is required to absorb the knowledge networking opportunities it provides.

That's it for this post. If you read this far, thanks for sticking with it and I hope you found it valuable! From here on, the posts will be oriented towards explaining specific SharePoint 2010 Social Computing features in detail.

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