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The Kumbaya hypothesis and social business software

I'm writing this from the roof of our office building. It is a great sunny day and there's a very nice breeze up here at the HP Software site in Yehud Israel. That's what I'm doing right now. I could update my status on my company's SBS system but would that add value to my organization? Probably not.

Right now, I have about thirty threads I'm running at various stages of progress, some broken into sub threads, each with a different collection of colleagues I'm working with. For example, one of the architects I'm working with is at a customer site validating a product we are developing and I want to ask him and his R&D manager how things are going. I could write a post asking the question but then again, do I want the entire world to see this conversation? I could create a group containing the two of them and post to that group only. However, usually when I correspond with these two I add their group manager as well. Never mind. I'll just send an email.

I am running nine threads in parallel with this particular architect. If he writes a post saying "okay. I'll do it" how much time will it take me to realize what he is talking about? I'll just email him.

I think the point is clear. My impression is that when people saw the overwhelming success of Facebook, Twitter and their clones the immediate thought was that by migrating this functionality to the workplace, we will cause walls to fall down, people will start holding hands and singing Kumbaya and thus, in some magical (and intangible) way productivity will be enhanced.

Since I'm not an expert in this field I can only attest to my personal experience and that of my teammates. This hypothesis is severely flawed. The social experience offered by the major SBS products out there today doesn't give me any value as an individual worker. Workplace collaboration in my experience is not about being social. It is about being productive through focused social means. When I want to start a new thread I want to pick the people, set clear goals and context, have the required data available and start running. I want to know what's on my desk quickly and efficiently and deal only with the most important stuff when I'm short on time. I want to have an accessible record of my past interactions and to be able to learn from that of my peers. My personal belief is that these requirements can only be addressed by changing the basic approach to what workplace collaboration is.

The beginning of Facebook's success was about addressing the hormonal needs of college students. The social experience it offers today addresses some of our most basic human needs and that's one of the main reasons for it's huge success. The workplace is not about the social experience I need as an individual. It is about my stronger need of getting things done. When I login in the morning and have this gut wrenching feeling of overwhelm due to the tidalwave of stuff I have to handle, at that point, I expect my collaboration tool of choice to hold my hand and guide me through the stuff that matters to me in a focused and effective way. Thus, I will have more time to spend having the social experiences I crave outside of the workplace.

The products that are currently out there don't do that. I don't know about you but I'm sticking to email for now.

Any ideas?

Louis Kim_1 | ‎08-09-2011 10:16 AM


I believe collaboration solutions like Jive Software attempt to address this. Also I believe HP once had an internal project (will not name:) ) that attempted to build this same solution. No? :)

Ahi Gvirtsman | ‎08-29-2011 05:38 AM

"When I want to start a new thread I want to pick the people, set clear goals and context, have the required data available and start running. I want to know what's on my desk quickly and efficiently and deal only with the most important stuff when I'm short on time".


None of the dominant SBS vendors offer this today to my understanding. Neither did the internal project you are referring to :)

The model they offer is post-reply where a person writes a post and at best can control the distribution list.

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About the Author
I'm a 20 year veteran in the software industry with experience ranging from control systems, communications systems, RAD systems and for the...

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