The Web vs. Mobile Apps: How iOS and Android Are Disrupting The Open Internet

The battle is well under way but I find that most people barely notice it. As Shelly Freierman of the New York Times observed earlier this week, as developers put the finishing touches on the millionth mobile app (yes, millionth, as with an ‘M’), other channels are now outmatched:

The pace of new app development dwarfs the release of other kinds of media. [my emphasis] “Every week about 100 movies get released worldwide, along with about 250 books,” said Anindya Datta, the founder and chairman of Mobilewalla, which helps users navigate the mobile app market. “That compares to the release of around 15,000 apps per week.”

The Web can’t keep up either. Mobile has mindshare now. While classical Web pages made purely of static content still easily beat apps, that’s also not where the value or the action is today. As with any distribution curve, it’s true that much of what is being produced in mobile apps isn’t very interesting or even useful. But that’s not the point; it’s the sheer volume of investment that apps are attracting which means that the high side of the curve is aggregating some of the best talent, and results.

Moreover, there may be no easy way to catch up. A new generation of apps is appearing that takes advantage of the unique abilities that next-generation mobile devices alone usually possess. This includes location (GPS), orientation, images, video, audio, and increasingly, new capabilities like near field communication (NFC). Innovative apps like RunKeeper, StarWalk, and WordLens are only possible because of their deep integration with the rich sensors located in today’s mobile devices. HTML5 is going to address some of this disparity, but not quickly enough to address the tide of defections — and venture capital — from Web apps to mobile apps.

Mobile Apps versus The Web: How iOS and Android are disrupting the Web

The genie won’t go back in the bottle

The sometimes-blind rush towards mobile apps has begun to concern me. For one, there’s little question that the proprietary element of apps — including their developer APIs, associated app stores, and underlying run-time platform and ecosystem — represents a very slippery slope back to the old days before the broad adoption of open standards (which includes virtually all of the Internet, even today.) That was back when industry giants like Microsoft and IBM called the shots and practically everyone was at their mercy, with independent developers at a distinct disadvantage with the platform owners themselves. There was often little choice and lots of lock-in. The arrival of the Web — and to an almost as large an extent open source — broke the stranglehold on proprietary platforms and put everyone on roughly the same playing field.

Then there is the model of the Web itself, something which has intrinsic properties that make it very, very special indeed. This especially includes deep link structure, which makes search work and provides link addressability to just about every element of information in the world (if it’s Web enabled that is.) After many long years of struggle, we are now finally seeing large companies starting to get the message that Web-orientation is a fundamentally powerful concept, perhaps more important than any computing idea since von Neumann architecture. The Web of pages, data, and even apps creates possibilities for ecosystems, integration, and synergy that’s more profound each and every day after nearly 20 years of continuous co-creation by everyone that uses and contributes to the Internet. All of this is now potentially threatened by the return of platform and app silos, proprietary mobile technology, and the seduction of new single-source forms of monetization of software, combined with a perception that app stores provide consumer safety that just doesn’t exist in the wild environs of the Web (which indeed they can.)

Related: Why The Next App You Use Might Be In A Social Network

To be clear, I’m actually a genuine fan of mobile apps and have hundreds of them on my iPhone and iPad. They are sometimes well-integrated with the Web, but I’m constantly battling the “lock-up” they introduce: 1) I can’t easily copy and paste data in many apps, 2) you frequently can’t link to information, 3) it’s not searchable from one place, and so on. Worse, it’s usually stuck on one platform or even for a single device (I have plenty of iPad apps that won’t run on the iPhone for example.) In comparison, the Web gave us real choice in browsers, search engines, servers, services, apps and much more as well as an revolutionary data architecture that has unleashed the knowledge of humanity along with the social media revolution, which has ultimately given us (everyday people) leadership over the production and sharing of global information. We give this up at great peril.

Can we still get to a good place? Yes, but it’s up to you.

There is a distinct and sharp inclination today towards mobile apps. They are convenient, fast, fun, and always with us. I’m actually mostly for mobility in all its form — especially apps — but it now looks like we may have to re-fight the long and arduous wars of open standardization that got us to the right place with the Web. Like it was before, it will be hard going but worth it in spades.

I should also note that the evolution of the Internet did fall down in a few key places that originally led to the rise of native mobile apps — namely not keeping up with the capabilities of mobile devices and by not introducing a way to make apps as safe, easily distributed, and monetized as say, iOS has. For that, we might pay a very high price indeed; our autonomy, competitiveness, and freedom to choose. Unfortunately, it’s often a zero sum game in terms of the shift in investment: Most Web apps simply must have a native mobile front-end now. That means it costs more to produce or the app collectively does less. Worse, while most mobile apps also have a Web experience, I notice that a growing number of them are using them primarily for support and brochure-ware instead of providing an integrated Web experience. That’s the slippery slope defined.

Where all of this is headed is unclear and there are certainly many people working on unifying today’s Web and mobile devices. However, none have yet hit upon a solution that will be broadly adopted. I’ll explore this topic in more detail throughout 2012, but increasingly it is looking like a very large yet largely silent struggle is brewing between these two vitally important worlds. The upshot: The Web could potentially — in the long-term — become a second-class citizen and I’m very sure that’s not a good thing. Fortunately, in the end, I’m not overly worried about this yet, as the network effect of the Web is just so large. Then again though, so is the growing network effect of mobile devices. I’m certainly not alone in tracking this closely, a good piece by Gigaom’s Matthew Ingram this week discusses how folks like Dave Winer and John Battelle are thinking about the consequences. We all must do the same.

Mobile is just one of the Big Five IT trends that we must grapple with in order to make the transition to next-gen enterprises.

Consumerization: Why the Workplace of Tomorrow Looks Like The Internet

The title of this post is almost right. The workplace of tomorrow will look like a lot of things actually, including the Internet; just not a whole lot like the way our organizations look today. For one, the workplace itself has steadily begun to disappear as teleworking becomes more and more prevalent, though the latest data shows this will take longer than other more imminent changes. These other disruptive forces, such as next-gen mobility, social networking, cloud computing, and big data, are so close at hand that most organizations are already extensively affected by them. It’s not a stretch to say they are eclipsing how IT is applied to business in many ways, even as IT shops are significantly underestimating their current impact, according to brand new research from Unisys.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been following this set of closely interrelated trends, each one that began “out there” on the Internet or in the consumer world, and have little or no roots in the enterprise world. It’s this singular fact that induces in so many IT executives and business leaders a profound feeling of disquiet. Yet the ones I’ve spoken to this year realize that they have to respond to these changes. Why? Because technology innovation today is driven mostly by the Internet or the consumer world, yet technology is one of the leading ways we use to automate and drive productivity improvements in business. High technology — and particularly the fundamental architecture of the Internet — also has an innate tendency to dislocate the old ways of working. It tends to tear down the traditional — yet less effective — means of operation, along with their associated cultures, norms, and expectations. However, it’s fair to say that no one being held to a quarterly earnings cycle or holding a market leading position vulnerable to technology change (media, software, travel, education, etc.) likes to experience dislocation. So it’s up to organizations to get (much) better at realizing an effective digital strategy, just as innovation and change is happening much faster than any other time in human history.

Recently, the phenomenon of “CoIT” has been growing. It’s a new concept that says that the adoption of IT is now proceeding rapidly outside of the CIO budget, often in entirely unsanctioned initiatives by lines of business. In its more mature form, CoIT also stands for a much closer yet decentralized notion of IT where innovation and technology leadership is driven on the ground by the business, yet supported by IT. The business — as well as IT — brings in the latest new cloud services, mobile apps, APIs, data sources, and mobile devices. IT then makes it safe, secure, and manageable, or provides guidelines for doing so. It’s a smart, efficient, scalable new partnership. The former is the “Consumerization of IT” while the latter model is the “Cooperation of IT”. Both are represented by the moniker, CoIT, which was originally coined by Computerworld Editor-in-Chief Scot Finnie a little while back.

Clearly there’s widespread interest in the topic, as one of my most popular writings this year was the exploration of the “Big Five” IT trends of the next half decade, one of which is consumerization, for which it could be argued it’s actually an encompassing supertrend. All of this ultimately culminated in a gracious invitation by Eric Norlin to come and present my research at Defrag 2011, which I did last week.

Below is the deck itself, which I gave as a keynote last Thursday morning:

If you don’t have time to review the deck, the key points to take away are the following:

5 Strategic Points about CoIT

  • Evidence is growing that current productivity gains aren’t coming from traditional IT investments. They are coming from somewhere else, or the cost of IT is collapsing radically. Almost certainly both are true by comparing slides 3 and 4.
  • There is far too much new tech for any centralized process (like IT) to absorb. New types of processes must be created that can unleash and scale the application of powerful new technologies (next-gen mobile, social business, cloud computing, big data, etc.) to the business..
  • If the only real constant is change, change must be in our DNA. But these ‘genes’ are usually not present in large enough quantities in the enterprise. This is the concept of moving from fixed processes to dynamic relationships embodied by the Big Shift in order to transform the enterprise as we know it.
  • Some changes will be more transformative than others. While mobility is the hot topic right now, social business and big data will have the largest long-term impact and especially the former will have truly game-changing and transformative consequences.
  • Ten to hundreds of times more apps and data are coming soon, get ready for it. Cultivate the skills, create enterprise app stores, build social layers into the organization, define decentralized enterprise architectures (really, business architectures), and create a new CoIT playbook. Or this will all route around you. 30% of IT is already outside the purview of the CIO and growing fast.

I’ll be exploring this more soon with new data and examples. In the meantime, I’d love your thoughts on where you are seeing IT going in a rampantly mobile, social, big data world. In addition, here are 10 strategies for coping in the CoIT era.

Transforming the Enterprise As We Know It

As I was reading David F. Carr’s latest piece on The Brainyard today, it drove home again for me some of the practically insurmountable challenges that many organizations have in avoiding the growing forces of digital disruption. David’s piece talked about Don Tapscott‘s proposition that we have to fundamentally remake the way our organizations engage with the world and produce useful work. The very-near future of business consists of new methods that are effective in today’s world, not for the era they were created in:

“When most people think of Enterprise 2.0, they think of the use of collaborative tools,” Tapscott said. “I’m arguing that something much bigger is happening than the application collaborative tools within the enterprise–it’s a profound transformation of the enterprise as we know it.” Basic principles of organization that have been established over the last 100 years are being upended, leading to “huge changes in how we orchestrate capabilities to create goods and services,” Tapscott said.

Like Tapscott, I’ve long been a proponent, along with thought leaders like John Hagel, that there’s a deep and profound Big Shift taking place as we get deeper into the 21st century. To survive, we must think in deeply networked, decentralized terms now, not in the rapidly receding business concepts of an age bygone. This means platforms instead of products, ecosystems instead of businesses, peer production instead of central production, and networks instead of hierarchies, to name just a few of the more significant aspects of the shift.

Emergent Business Processes and Enterprise Transformation: CoIT and Social Business Implications of the Big Shift

But how can traditional organizations get there? Web companies have a hard enough time getting there themselves, as digital natives. Most of them certainly don’t become the next Amazon or Facebook, two companies that virtually embody much of the changes taking place. Instead, I see many traditional firms engaging in the cargo cult mentality, hoping that by adding window dressing like social media, a few APIs, and perhaps some user-generated content, that they too will suddenly have a healthy, sustainable future.

Well, it’s not going to happen that way. The changes required are deep and sometimes painful. In fact, the more I examine the issue, successful transformation to a new mode of existence that naturally avoids the disruption inherent in these shifts boils down to a surprisingly few number of key changes. But those changes, though not generally that complex in and of themselves, are almost impossible to drive deeply into many organizations by virtue of their existing structures and processes. As they say, culture eats strategy for lunch.

Many of you know that I’ve been exploring how to foster social business approaches in large organizations for a number of years. When I see successes, they seem to have much in common with what made things like social media so successful. Yes, that’s network effects but also, and more to the point, about enabling an environment where emergent change can actually take root and thrive. A network effect can’t take hold if everything about the traditional way a business operates is to lock everything down into fixed transactional processes. That just doesn’t work in a fast changing new era where the value is in sustaining dynamic relationships and not fixed transactions.

As JP Rangaswami recenty wrote, it’s now all about “The capacity to change. Designed as an integral function. Native.

How then can businesses “fundamentally remake” themselves? What critical changes are at the heart of moving from regular business to things like social business? I’ve been exploring the answers to that question recently in quite some detail, but I’d start with these three things:

  • Local autonomy. Effective, resilient response to business change can’t only be driven by top-down, hierachies. It’s far too slow, low in innovation, and far from problems on the ground. Restructure the organization so that change along the edge is not only possible, but well-resourced, common, and effective.
  • Freeform collaboration. Going beyond Enterprise 2.0 to reinventing the way business models scale and provide value. I’ve previously written about the orders of magnitude cost reductions that are possible and the things they enable, plus how to get there.
  • A culture of experimentation. Of the three, this is the hardest. The first two are different; it’s always possible to create a startup culture at the edge of organizations and it’s also possible to drive mass collaboration. We increasingly see it done all the time in large companies, though it takes time to really establish itself in a transformational way. But to get an organization to be fundamentally more accepting of innovation is very difficult to instill when it does not already exist. Some of it is a skill problem, but a lot of it is more systemic. Solving this is going to be one of the great generational challenges of the social business era.

There’s a lot to consider when undergoing the large-scale transformations that businesses must undertake today, but a focus on these core issue will go way towards getting started.

Social Business Moves to Workflow, Manufacturing, and Money

I receive e-mail frequently from PR people promoting the latest IT tools and new Web applications. These days a common thread I see is the addition of social features to software to make it easier for users to share information and collaborate with others. Personally, I believe it’s largely beneficial to 1) find ways to take advantage of the social graphs that users have been building in recent years, and 2) add the techniques and channels of the social world to make traditional software more effective and usable in general.

However, in reality these relatively minor tweaks are just the proverbial paving of the cowpath through the addition of limited social features such as collaborative sharing, persistent chat, and perhaps some deeper integration with activity streams. Unfortunately, these actions easily fail the imagination test, which is essentially this:

If you could completely rethink your work in a social business world, what would it look like? How would it be better?

To me, this is the fundamental question that organizations must be asking themselves today. Yet, I also think they should do this while going about the aforementioned incremental improvements such as adding basic social layers to their IT landscape. One reason is that this will happen inevitably as more and more enterprise applications and platforms add social computing features and companies proceed along that vendor’s upgrade path. So, while social impinging around the edges of enterprise applications is worth dealing with from a strategic perspective, it’s going to happen largely whether organizations plan for it or not. As such, it’s not likely to make a huge competitive or qualitative difference in the way most businesses perform. That is, unless they start the process of deliberate and strategic social business transformation, such as what IBM and a few other large organizations have begun.

This process of social business transformation will require both advances in social technology — such as the innovations below — as well as changes to the way we do business. Fortunately, one of the great attributes of the larger social business community is that it generally focuses as much on the business and cultural changes as it does the enabling technology. Some of the best discussions I’ve seen on the people aspect of the transition to the social enterprise are from folks like Luis Suarez, Sameer Patel, Stowe Boyd, and JP Rangaswami, who are just part of a much larger conversation about how we remake our organizations for the 21st century.

The Value Dimensions of Social Capital

So, while there are certainly some companies not tracking the sea changes in the world right now in terms of the way we are globally transforming the way we live and work, we’re also continuing to see fascinating next-generation innovations in social business. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Rethinking Workflow, Manufacturing, and Money in Social Business Terms

In just the last week I’ve encountered several fascinating offshoots of the mainstream social business thread. Social business frequently focuses either on social engagement externally or internally on collaboration and social interaction between workers. This is a limiting view, but it’s also where most of the activity and uptake is today. However, as more and more business leaders and entrepreneurs become digital natives, I’ve theorized that the power laws and principles of social business will encourage them to rethink their traditional modes of business. At the same time, Web startups and large software vendors often put themselves out 2-3 years ahead of the market by predicting where their customers will arrive once current trends reach a mainstream tipping point. Then they adjust their product roadmaps to align with this schedule. The combination of these two trends is starting to give us some interesting new possibilities.

I say possibilities, because unlike social collaboration or Social CRM, the outlook and growth potential for these innovation is still unknown. However, it does give us a sense of what’s coming next in social business.

Social BPM

Last week while I was speaking at Sibos, I had the pleasure of speaking on the phone with Sandra Moran from OpenText Metastorm, a leading workflow/BPM product that recently announced the addition of social computing features to its capabilities. Metastorm now enables workers to engage in real collaborative process design, takes advantage of social profiles to locate needed expertise to plug workers into processes in essentially real-time, and has matching dashboards to provide BPM and social analytics. OpenText had this to say about the new social capabilities, which Sandra told me is now available to over a thousand major customers as a standard part of the Metastorm suite:

These new product enhancements help organizations successfully implement business process improvement initiatives by empowering users to become more engaged and productive. Metastorm’s social collaboration tools provide businesses with a highly personalized workspace and unparalleled access to top contributors, enabling them to drive innovation and increase collaboration and improve efficiency among employees. These tools help employees find other people within their organization with specific skill sets required to help them complete their work. Companies can also route work to the most appropriate employee based on individual skills and workload – ensuring the most cost-effective strategy for work allocation.

I think this is significant for a few reasons. For one, I find that there’s often not enough focus in social tools in collapsing the walls between business processes and social conversations. They often run in parallel, side-by-side, even when they are being used simultaneously for the same piece of work. Putting social in the flow of work in highly process-intensive environments should lead to some interesting outcomes. I pressed Sandra on if there was leverage in Metastorm of existing social graphs and networks, and she indicated there was. What remains to be seen is how easy it will be to integrate the resulting BPM environment with an enterprise’s other social business efforts.

I’ll be exploring the social features of Metastorm in more detail soon on ZDNet, but I think the combination of social computing and BPM has genuine potential. This isn’t the first time social and workflow have been connected but I think it’ll be impactful given their large customer base and how central and useful the features are to the product. I’m hoping to revisit how their customers are faring in a year or so to see what the result has been. I currently believe social BPM technology, combined with the right business and cultural changes, will help companies attain a higher than average level of social business transformation.

Social On The Shop Floor

Earlier this month Derek Singleton over at the Software Advice blog wrote about social manufacturing, what you could call a new subfield of social business that’s focused on improving how companies turn raw materials into finished goods. Discussing Kenandy’s new announcement for improving the efficiency and productivity of supply chain manufacturing, Derek wrote:

Creating accessible and actionable inter-shop floor communication can only work if an entire supply chain and other manufacturers are members of, and logged into, Chatter. In short, it requires organizational change for effective use. While manufacturers using Kenandy wait for that changeover, Chatter can be a useful tool for project management. For instance, the engineer of an aerospace job shop could notify shop labor that they’ve just finished designing the wing component of an aircraft. The job shop could then begin building the wing while the engineer finishes designing the other components they’ve been contracted to build. This has great implications for just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing – as it frees up labor to work on more value-added activities rather than waiting for the completion of another phase of the production.

In my workshops at Enterprise 2.0 Conference in years past, I’ve had manufacturers and assembly line managers come up to me to say that social tools have been moving into their area of the business, but it’s mostly been horizontal tools or very focused niche solutions. We’re now seeing broader and more strategic use of social tools with the arrival of solutions such as the Kenandy social manufacturing platform, which has garnered attention in the New York Times. I’ll be exploring this further in coming months to see whether social manufacturing leads to tactical or substantive social business transformation.

The Rise of Social Currency

An Example of Social Currency: The Reputone From InnotribeFinally, at Sibos itself last week, I participated in Innotribe, a social media event inside the main financial services conference that explored various aspects of social media in financial services. For a more in-depth look, I wrote up a detailed exploration of the event on ZDNet on Friday. One of the more interesting and visionary topics at the conference was the subject of social currency, the transformation of the very concept of money in social world where reputation, trust, and openness are prized much more than information control, the latter which is how the financial industry is mostly structured to leverage for gain today.

As an experiment, a social currency called Reputone was actually in use at Innotribe, see picture right. In fact, peer-to-peer monetary systems such as Bitcoin were a hot topic at Innotribe and for good reason, it represents a major shift of control in how banking, money transfer, and investment will work in the future. If Paypal was the first generation of digital money, then Bitcoin is the Web 2.0 version. From their Web site:

Bitcoin is a new digital currency that enables instant payments to anyone, anywhere in the world. Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority: managing transactions and issuing money are carried out collectively by the network.

Mark Shead recently provided a good overview to Bitcoin concepts and is worth taking a look at. In the final analysis, Bitcoin falls a bit short of being a true social currency, in that it doesn’t have an explicit capital mechanism based on social graphs or other means that leverages the intrinsic worth of social status and reputation. That doesn’t mean it should be watched closely as money and social reputation appear ready to get deeply intertwined and Bitcoin is at the leading edge of digital currency at the moment. This is a subject that warrants a lot more exploration as companies such as Facebook look at making their global platforms far more relevant from an economic perspective. For additional insight, David Armano posted some useful insights on social currency recently on his Harvard Business blog.

I’ll be exploring all of these concepts in more detail in coming months as social business continues to evolve. I would love your questions and feedback on this emerging social business topics below.

Exceeding the Benefits of Complexity? A Fractal Model for the Social Business Era

Over the weekend my friend and industry colleague JP Rangaswami wrote an insightful post that pondered how we have gone about delivering on customer experiences as connected to our back-end capabilities. Specifically, he explored an issue that is increasingly challenging many of the large-company CIOs I speak with these days: That the present rates of change demanded of the accumulation of 20-30 years of legacy business systems is greatly exceeding the ability of our enterprises and associated software “stacks” to deliver on them, particularly as cloud, social, and mobile dramatically transform computing today.

The problem lies in our classical views of enterprise architecture and business architecture both. But JP puts it more poetically:

Development backlogs are endemic, as the sheer complexity of the grown-like-Topsy stack slows the process of change and makes it considerably more expensive to change. The stack has begun to fossilise, just at the time when businesses are hungrier for growth, when the need to deliver customer-facing, often customer-touching, applications is an imperative.

Which makes me wonder. What Tainter wrote about societies, what Shirky wrote about companies, are we about to witness something analogous in the systems world? A collapse of a monolith, consumed by its own growth and complexity? As against the simpler, fractal approach of ecosystems?

This fractal aspect of user systems, Web 2.0, and SOA is one that I deeply explored in the 2005-2007 timeframe, and my ideas on this even made the cover story of the SOA/Web Services Journal at one point. This is when we began to see successful, composite systems sprouting up “in the wild” that were eminently natural and highly successful, such as Amazon’s, Flickr’s, and many others. Innovative new open API-based businesses had definitively emerged and shown us — in fact, virtually proved to anyone willing to observe — that business/technology ecosystems could be routinely produced that were far more successful than the ones virtually any traditional business had managed to produce for itself internally with methods like SOA. It was clear something important and new was happening and we tried to learn from it.

Traditional Closed Business Stack vs. Open Networked Supply Chain API

The signature lesson in this time period was that being “in the business” of ecosystems, at multiple levels, was the key to resilience, growth, and sustainability. It’s still a far cry from how most organizations are structured today, but I do see the first hints that this is starting to change. Companies like Best Buy and Sears have been getting the message among the old guard firms and looking at integration, partnership, and engagement as an open network activity.

The Web has also shown us that complexity, as important as it is to address and resolve the many inherent vagaries of dealing with the real world, is largely the enemy, whenever it exists needlessly. Our assumptions of where the complexity should be, in the transports for example, was wrong. It was in the ecosystem itself and we paid dearly for half a decade (and running) based on that misapprehension. But we’ve learned. SOAP usage has almost completely shifted to REST, complex WS-* stacks have largely moved on to simple standards and methods like Web-Oriented Architecture.

But technical discussions obscure the very important truths about what we’ve learned in the interim between the “aha” moment when we realized that what was happening so successfully “out there” was something that would make us just as successful inside our organizations, for internal and customer-facing needs both. After all, this holistic ‘integratedness’ — usually triggered via our connections to the Internet — was a part of our businesses increasingly and we simply had to realize this and engage as Internet natives. But back then, Andrew McAfee worried that focusing on the plumbing was the wrong emphasis to have on the exciting changes taking place, and he was largely right from a communication perspective.

However, building fractal architectures that addresses the old and the new isn’t as easy as just deciding to cast off the old, less effecive ways, as JP notes:

What I’d established in my own mind was a growing belief that the issue was to do with rates of change and costs of change. Vertical integration paid off when the rate of change was low. Networked small-pieces approaches paid off when the rate of change was high.

We are clearly living in times of much greater rates of change. Unfortunately, the old systems, the old architectures, the old business “stack” is often running the core of the business. It’s usually deeply vertically integrated, and not made of small networked pieces, loosely joined that are truly agile, deeply harness innovation on the edge, and turn IT into a profit center instead of a cost center.

So, while I have a lot more to say about this, because I believe that social business context will be at the root of the future of our how we design our products, services, processes, and workplaces, below are a few basic rules you can take away that if you stay true to, can indeed help you make the transition to the future. Note that customer and worker experiences are outside the scope of this, this has more to do with the new business stack below the social layer:

4 Ways to Create Sustainable Business Ecosystems

If resilient, networked, recomposable, open business capabilities are the future of business and IT architecture, getting there then requires a substantial change in stance:

  • Open Your Business Stack. To everyone, internally and externally, generally in the order of the systems and data that are most often requested for integration. Make it easy for anyone to onboard themselves and use the simplest and most egalitarian technology possible to deeply connect the world to your business. Self-onboarding is crucial because it enables the killer asymmetric business advantage of systems that respond to external engagement best: Export most of the change effort to outside your organization and impose it on those that wish to participate and integrate with you. Enterprises that close the “clue gap” with Big Data will have an enormous advantage.
  • Go Into the Business of Ecosystems. Stand behind your open supply chain: Invest in it for the long term, market it, evangelize it, support it, and stand behind it like your customers — again, internally or externally — will be building world changing products and services from them (if you do this, the track record is that they will.) Be fair and generous with your IP and enterprise data; you are under-utilizing it by several orders of magnitude until you do this, leaving much or even most of the potential of your business on the floor. Worse, until you treat it like a business, you won’t get external contributions to enrich your ecosystem that will drive down the cost of change while greatly increasing the velocity of new solutions and local adaptations.
  • Begin Fractal Reconciliation of Your Classical Systems. While hanging a trendy Web API off an ancient COBOL accounting system might be a step in the right direction, long-term success will mean going well behind the API. The existing business/IT landscape must be converged and rationalized so they themselves are made of “networked small pieces” that are faster to change as well as more resilient and responsive to being so much more connected (and therefore useful and valuable) to the world.
  • Spin Up New 21st Century Business Models. All new possibilities, many of which will be foreign to non-digital native firms, are reachable once you have created a fractal enterprise stack. Dominating classes of data, metered business knowledge, all new monetization methods, and more become possible once the three transformations above have started.

Unfortunately, after having advised and directly assisted many large companies in doing much of what I’m describing here over the years, it’s clear that most organizations are at a major disadvantage in making this transformation. The organizational will required is actually quite low, since most of this is fairly easy to do now with cloud technologies, increasingly capable technology partners, and the latest development stacks. Instead, it’s the understanding of how important it is to kill excessive complexity and focus on ways of thinking about business and technical architecture that will propel companies into bright futures.

We must leave behind vertical integration and radically collapse the size of our seams (APIs) in our businesses, while radically increasing the number of useful endpoints such that we look at them as the very fundament of our enterprises. The benchmark for success is how many others are depending on your ecosystem for their own success. Starting now, the activity in your organization must be focused on optimizing for growth of this number. That is the only way we’ll ensure we’re building businesses that are the most relevant, meaningful, and valuable to us going forward. The enterprises that don’t simply won’t survive in their present form. I believe that much is at stake here. Unfortunately, the “cultural gap” John Hagel wrote of back when this conversation started between the enterprise crowd and the Internet crowd is still much too large and is still hindering the move forward for many organizations.

I look forward to continuing this discussion and exploring just how much we’ve recently learned about the future of business and enterprise architecture.

Sunday Musings: Google’s Identity Struggles, Plus Social Media Bans Around the World

The Web’s missing features for built-in user identity have become a real headache for the industry, and for its users too. It certainly took its toll on market leader Google this week as its “Identity Theater” continued (Source: Kevin Marks.) The issue? It’s turning out that making every single user comply with the Common Names policy isn’t workable for a variety of reasons. Reports of Google deleting accounts en masse are driving a lot of the discussion. Robert Scoble has his own recommendations for Google and while they’re probably the least that would be acceptable to the majority of people, it doesn’t go far enough I think.

It certainly doesn’t have to be this way. Twitter allows companies, bots, and just about every other type of social account and it works quite well in the end. Twitter ran into a similar identity issue in a big way a couple of years back after facing lawsuits and widespread complaints. They managed to muddle through with Verified Accounts.

A growing consensus is that Google should allow user-defined accounts as well, with verified identity for those that want or need it. Personally, I’m not sure I see Google coming around with a response fast enough to prevent some damage to services and impacting Google Plus‘s runaway adoption. But in my analysis, it’s most likely to only hurt the commercialization of the service, not regular usage for most for now.

Social Identity Ownership - Google or Facebook?

Worse, the problem may actually be core to the way Google’s stack is conceived and architected. It may not be easy for them to change course in the short-term without ripples through the way global Google’s services fundamentally operate from a security and identity perspective. It also may not be good for their business model which is almost certainly based on the fact they know who people really are. This issue is one to watch given Google’s pervasiveness. It also has some significant implications for business users of its products, especially now that they seem to be gaining some much needed traction in the social networking wars.

For now, I’d recommend that businesses use Google Plus with an eye towards experimentation while the Web giant gets its philosophy and policies around identity sorted out. Frankly, the bigger industry issue is social Web identity itself. Users and companies increasingly depend on commercial providers like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to provide everything identity-related, from login access to storage and maintenance of their social graph. This is causing key elements of power and control to start to swing away from the open standards that made the Web so successful and essentially fair.

Will the W3C step in and resolve what’s appearing to be an increasingly glaring absence in the Web stack? So far it seems unlikely given the failure of many years of open standard Web identity efforts. The culprit? You have only to look in the mirror. Apathy by users and lack of consensus on the part of Web developers. There’s also a lot at stake financially for those that end up owning a big chunk of Web identity. Consequently, online — and especially social — identity is likely to grow into a full blown brouhaha in the next couple of years as issues, missteps, and abuses inevitably surface. However, we could also decide to put our own house in order before governments step in, the least desirable of all outcomes in most imaginable scenarios. The worst probably being governments owning, issuing, and centrally managing verified Web identity credentials for everyone.

Which brings us to the next subject…

Government Bans Chipping Away At Social Media Freedoms?

A couple of interesting things happened this week with governments aiming their considerable might at social media. While knee-jerk responses to this space were common enough a few years ago, with the U.S. Marines banning social media access for a while for example, these are now generally understood to be counterproductive and unworkable for a long list of reasons.

However, that didn’t stop the German government from banning the Facebook ‘Like’ button on Friday, sure to ignite a small firestorm in that country given that it seems to apply to any site accessible from inside its borders and the fine is a stiff €50,000. The Like button, used on millions of sites around the world to enlist users to leverage their Facebook social network to share content from 3rd party sites (see: k-factor), is significant enough on its own to put German Web businesses at some competitive disadvantage on the global stage. The concern is over privacy and that “all the information was sent to the US company even if someone was not a Facebook member.

In another similar situation, the Missouri state government’s new law preventing teachers from using social media to communicate privately with students, the former who just announced that they are fighting back, is another case in point. There are obvious free speech issues with the law despite the good intent on its face to protect students. The real issue is that the law is that violations are almost impossible to detect and enforce, until its too late, and that it ensures teachers, one of the most collaborative and interaction driven professions with far reaching impact, can’t have much of a social media presence of any kind until the implications are sorted out. It also presumably doesn’t prevent teachers from privately communicating with their students in any number of other digital channels. All of this means the law won’t accomplish a whole lot other than sowing confusion and promoting the use of increasingly obsolete methods in an increasingly fast-changing economic and societal landscape.

The real issue with both of these laws is that they are 1) essentially short-sighted, 2) exhibit such poor understanding of social media as to be essentially useless, and 3) are therefore unlikely to be meaningfully carried out. Worse, they chip away at the edges by introducing step-by-step, largely ineffective government oversight and control over social media, one of the largest economic, cultural, and societal changes of our time. This will become an even hotter topic as the Middle East’s social media coordinated model for uprising spills out of the developing world. In fact, this has already happened in Britain and there are already cries to ban social media in cases of civil unrest.

I should be careful to note here: I’m not by and large suggesting there’s any overarching government scheme to interfere with and control social media. Instead, I’m suggesting we keep a close eye on these developments as social media legislation increasingly (and inevitably) accumulates in bits and pieces on the base of knee-jerk responses to individual situations. This will have a great many unintended and unwanted consequences. The continued growth of laws and regulations in a vital new industry that thrives on inherent openness and trust has the potential to limit it so profoundly that we could lose much of the great promise that social media can provide.

While we must find ways that work to protect our citizens, we must also provide them access to one of the most open, free, and powerful means of interacting that has been invented. Let’s push back on unreasonable measures while also proactively being responsible for solving them. It’s up to us to start finding globally acceptable solutions to privacy, security, and misuse in social media and getting them into the hands of those who don’t understand this space well enough yet to govern it. The options for making this happen are something I’ll explore as soon as I can.

Connecting Agile Business with Social Business

When Jim Highsmith graciously invited me to give the opening keynote at the inaugural Agile Executive Forum in Salt Lake City this week, I had to really sit down and think about what I’ve been working on the last few years, namely social business, as compared the conference theme, agility and business. While agile methods have had many separate and distinct threads within the business and technical worlds over the last 20 years, one of the most active areas has been in software development. For its part, social business is a much newer phenomenon that’s become a top priority for many business leaders in the last couple of years. So, while I’ll cover the details of my presentation — in which I connected agility and social business as drivers of innovation, in another post — I will attempt to more formally to capture the specific similarities here.

In recent years, as agile development has been increasingly borne out as a fundamentally better, more efficient, lower risk, and more cost effective way of doing things, there has been significant and growing effort apply agile lessons to business in general. And, as it turns out, agility and social business, as two major new ways of connecting and organizing people in directed activity, have plenty in common. Perhaps even more importantly, they have key things to learn from each other.

I’ve had quite bit of experience with agile methods personally, having led extreme programming project teams and been closely involved in large, distributed SCRUM projects in years past. I’ve seen agile methods work significantly better than classical processes. This is probably why it’s now the most common development process in software that developers identify with in my experience. Consequently, I’m in a position to see some of the connections between business agility and social business, in all their many flavors. The connection isn’t trivial either. There are hard won lessons learned from agility that social business initiatives could certainly benefit from. Just as there are innovative new approaches to scale, transparency, process, and tooling that social business brings to the table, as extreme and radical as they may appear to agile folks, who are more used to being the harbingers of change.

Comparing Agile Business and Social Business

What’s the point of connecting these two approaches? Because they can learn a great deal from each other. Agile methods can be updated and modernized from what social business brings to the table, and social business can apply some maturity and rigor to what it does, as appropriate. This I believe is a fruitful exercise for both disciplines and is one I summarize below.

Agile Business and Social Business: Side-by-Side

Keeping in mind that some agile process purists are still on the fence about applying the methods more broadly, the focus here is on agile processes of any kind as applied to general people-based business activities. Some processes are more amenable to agility, just as some are more amenable to social business. In general, however, the less collaborative, more rigid, and user-isolated a business activity is, the less applicable either agile or social media methods will be to it. However, if you have a complex, open-ended, and outcome-oriented business process involving many people, especially including those that it most directly affected (typically, the customer, internal or external), then both approaches represent the very best ways that we know of today to deliver successfully on them.

As you’ll see, agility and social have much more in common than they have differences. Here’s my take on how they break down:

  • Coordination Instead of Control. Both agility and social eschew using centralized hierarchies to achieve control. Instead, as Brad Appleton has long recommended, they both work best with autonomous, adaptive, and accountable actors. The first two are something that applies very much to social business, while the latter is something inherent in any social environment that has a strong identity system (which, unfortunately, not all do.) The lesson here is that emergence (an important and prized aspect of Enterprise 2.0) and self-organization are very similar and are shared as core values in both disciplines.
  • Designing for Change/Loss of Control. This is something in which agile is inherently stronger than nascent social business methods, which are just wrapping their heads around this. Not killing emergence requires the acceptance that external change is a desired constant and should be responded to productively to get the right results with the resources at hand. Ignoring that requirements aren’t what the customers need, that the planned outcome of a business process won’t be very useful, and other denying of reality is anathema to both disciplines, but is more formal and well-defined in agile methods. Social business does recognize that the majority of productive output is on the edge of the network and largely outside of formal control, but other than measuring community sentiment, that’s often as far as it goes in terms of responding to new ground truths. The best results in both approaches are when there are tight feedback loops to all stakeholders and that a planned response to that feedback is the central factor in re-engagement with the project or online community in the next cycle. For additional insight, read Tim Leberecht’s great overview of this issue, titled Openness or How Do You Design For the Loss Of Control.
  • Frequent Work Cycles. Agilists call work cycles iterations. Social business doesn’t have as strong a notion of discrete work cycles because it’s essentially continuous and itself emergent, a more extreme version of agile when you look at collaborative work in social media environments such as crowdsourcing efforts or Social CRM. In either case, the project and/or community must assess and respond to change at the end of each iteration, or do it continuously which is more common in the case of social business processes.
  • Open Contribution. Social business works best when the broadest possible invitation is made for stakeholders to get involved and contribute. Agile processes tend to define valid contributors to a smaller audience, though it’s entirely up to the project and varies widely. Social business realizes that the “anyone can contribute” default stance is one of the most powerful concepts in recent business history (as only those that care about the outcome will get involved, yet that’s almost always many more people than you thought.) Agile methods could learn from the extreme openness and fewer contribution boundaries and barriers in social media. I made the point in my speech that open source software has proven this in the real-world better than any a priori speculation about what works best ever could.
  • Working Results. It’s long been the mantra that agile processes value working software as soon and often as possible at any given time in the project. When the requirements are right and/or the budget runs out, you have the best possible output, ready to use. Social business is not yet so disciplined in its directed outcomes, yet by its very nature is always up-to-date with the latest revisions, contributions, or updates.
  • Continuous Processes. While agile business typically recommends iterations, milestones, review steps, and other processes to happen as often as they provide useful course corrections (typically every few days, or weeks at most), social business is even higher velocity and larger scale. Consider real-time processes that run around the clock globally involving tens of thousands and sometimes a million or more simultaneous contributors. This means the scale and velocity of social business often outpaces agile by two to four orders of magnitude. Social business could learn a lot about continuous in the small (builds, releases, work product iterations, etc) while agile can perhaps learn to scale and go even faster in a way it never could before.

This comparison just scratches the surface but is a useful start. I’m happy to be called out on any details anyone feels like I may have gotten wrong. I do believe that agility and social business go hand-in-hand and that we can cross pollinate the two to create far stronger results that either can by themselves today. Put simply, agile business and social business are two sides of the same coin. That may be a controversial statement to some but I believe that as far along as these two disciplines have come in parallel, they will do better with more explicit and effective connection. Our organizations (businesses, organizations, government, etc.) will almost certainly benefit.

What do you see as the commonalities and differences between agility and social?

The K-factor Lesson: How Social Ecosystems Grow (Or Not)

Recently for some work that I'm doing I had to revisit the techniques for creating successful online social environments.  This is a surprisingly deep and nuanced topic that we as Web application architects or enterprise social computing practitioners are just now fully beginning to grasp.  The subject matter itself runs the gamut from key conceptual underpinnings — esoteric topics like systems theory and network effects — to the daily grind of understanding and managing the needs/expectations of an often difficult-to-control community of actual, live people.

In general, I've found that the ideas behind social systems themselves are clean and elegant while dealing with their practical realities can definitely be messier and many find them annoyingly unpredictable as well.  In the end, online social ecosystems are invariably a fascinating mix of the classic vagaries of technology and people.  However, despite the apparent science, making them grow into something undeniably successful is still very much an art form. 

Social Surface Area and K-Factor PotentialInterestingly, there's no real name for this skill yet and it's an important — even vitally strategic one — for any organization that has to engage with a lot of people over a network. And that's increasingly most of us in these days of the ever-present Facebook news feed, Twitter microblog, and workplace Enterprise 2.0 environment.  It also means that creating a workable online community requires a good dose of hard-nosed engineering as well as highly effective "soft" skills in UX design, social architecture, and community management. For it to really work — to have a vibrant and growing community — you have to seamlessly connect both of these worlds: a well-crafted social environment together with the people that will use it. The rewards for doing it successfully speak for themselves: Ultimately, businesses and communities are groups of people, and if they produce more value for each other together than they can individually, then there is something in it for everyone. And the online world lets us create these entities far easier, more quickly, and with larger populations than ever before in history.

Related: Network effects are just one of several dozen "power laws" that social architects must know today.

We used to call this process "founding a business" or "creating an organization".  We would call the people that did this entrepreneurs or occasionally philanthropists if their goal was non-commercial. But this terminology doesn't seem to apply as much to what's happening now.  For one thing, communities are organized differently and frequently have other motivations for participation than the usual one for traditional businesses: the worker/employer relationship.  Second, the output of large distributed online communities — especially when focused on discrete outcomes — can greatly exceed the results produced by densely concentrated single institutions.  While we are certainly in the very early days of this phenomenon, I've frequently pointed to numerous examples of these new models for creating shared value. 

So putting aside the socialism vs. capitalism arguments for now (they are increasingly brought up in this discussion, though why they don't seem to apply here is the subject of a future post) the 21st century networked economy — powered by people and knowledge connected together globally at virtually no cost — has set free fundamentally new ways of innovating and collaborating for mutual benefit.  Specifically, it's the rules for how these new mechanisms thrive and create value that is the object of discussion here.

Viral Growth of Social Systems: The K-Factor Lesson

For my own part, I've been fortunate to encounter ways to reduce the concepts for creating growing social ecosystems to a short list, the key ones which I'll present here. Please be warned, some jargon is necessary, but I will explain it along the way.

How To Create Self-Sustaining Social Ecosystems: The K-factor Lesson

Like my 50 Essential Strategies for Web 2.0 Products, this overview cannot possibly be exhaustive.  It does however highlight the central idea behind all successful communities: They are either busy growing or they're busy dying.  Gaining critical mass early on is another important lesson that we've garnered from the early Web 2.0 pioneers.  Finally, the aforementioned and mysterious K-factor is introduced and explained below.  

  • Fiat and network effects are the two primary ways that social ecosystems grow.  The first is based on an explicit or implicit mandate of some kind.  An example of a fiat is when an organization requires participation in a particular social group, perhaps a committee or online community.  The second, a network effect, is when a social group has more value the more that other people are involved in it too (which is usually, but not always the case.) Keep in mind that the degree of value in each new member, or their contributions, is based on the structure or design of the social system and will vary greatly.  Also note that the fiat approach that is common in business today is a top down effort to "push" participation, while network effects are a "pull" method and tend to be more bottom-up and organic.  Background: Read more about push vs. pull systems. Critically, the degree to which a network effect is realized can be influenced by many factors not the least including the intrinsic nature of the social ecosystem itself and how it is connected to the rest of the network (the Web or your intranet.)  In general, network effects will ultimately be more successful than fiat for most purposes, especially since the use of social systems are so often made optional, even in business environments.
  • Network effects can be encouraged by promoting self-sustaining growth via feedback loops (aka virality).  One of the myths of the online world is that viral growth can't be engineered. While it's sometimes not straightforward, it can indeed be created intentionally. While cynical uses of virtuous growth cycles won't produce results for long, the basics work best: letting any user improve the community by contributing knowledge, often to a lightly structured data set or encouraging them to invite their friends and colleagues.  In fact, any good social ecosystem will make it easy and rewarding to do so, such as allowing users to discuss, converse, jointly edit, or otherwise work together on common goals.  Stated another way, the future of software applications that don't provide more value when more people are present in an interaction is probably going to be fairly short. A good place for more background on the lifecycles of systems (social or otherwise) is William Varey's Unlimited Growth.
  • Measure your K-factor and keep it above 1.  The K-factor of an ecosystem is a statement of whether your network effect is self-sustaining or not.  A K-factor of less than one means that your organic growth level is falling (exponentially) and a K-factor of greater than one means that it's growing naturally and again, exponentially.  How to increase your community's K-factor? There are literally countless ways but allowing users to contribute to hard-to-recreate data set, adding user distributable widgets that provide useful offsite functionality, as well as integrating meaningfully with 3rd party social networks through their application model are a few of the more popular and effective ones.  I explored some of these distribution approaches in more detail a while back in my overview of the new distribution models of the Web.
  • The higher the social feedback loop intensity, the higher the breakthrough factor.  Feedback loops are created for example when a user invites another user to the community and then that user invites their friends and so on.  However, the quality of the feedback loop is a measure of how often it reaches outside of the community and how effective that outreach is (often stated as  k = e * i, where “e” is the efficiency of the feedback loop and “i” is the average number of invites per user.)  An individual user's ability to affect the quality and intensity of the feedback loop is usually a measure of their social surface area, which I generally consider to be the size of their social graph x the number of online channels they use x the frequency of participation x the amount of influence they exert. If you have a social ecosystem with a lot of influencers or users that are very active online, they will clearly fuel the response to your feedback loops more effectively. The design of the social environment itself also has a major effect depending on whether it makes it easy to invite others or otherwise create feedback loops.  A breakthrough factor is achieved when the feedback loops rise above a certain threshold of attention, such as when multiple invites come from multiple persons over a short interval of time.  When this threshold is crossed for a prolonged period, the K-factor increases much more rapidly.  This rise can be self-sustaining (the so-called virtuous cycle) and can lead to a permanent and dramatic growth climb as evidenced by many of the popular social networks early on, such as MySpace and Facebook.
  • External "high impulse events" can be used in the short term as a catalyst to reach the breakthrough factor.  This was famously the case with MySpace which used a database of 50 million e-mail addresses to drive initial users to the site, whereupon their feedback loops soon created a particulary strong breakthrough factor.  Traditional marketing is often used as the seed to drive the initial population of communities, but unless the K-factor soon rises above 1, the long-term cost of this approach is usually prohibitive.  It's worth noting that it all my research, I've never encountered a community that was successful long-term without naturally self-sustaining growth.  This is the K-factor lesson of this post's title: You can grow any community in the short term using artificial means but it will only last and continue to grow on its own because of the inherent quality of the people and the knowledge that has accumulated.  That said, you must get your community growth primed in some way.  High impulse events can include (by no means exhaustive) traditional marketing, paid incentives (expensive but Paypal was very successful with this model in its early days), and — particularly for business communities — seeding initial high value content.
  • Growth in a social ecosystem is not endlessly exponential and eventually hits a ceiling. Plan for it.  Typically described by the S-curve, it is encountered when you either fight an existing network effect or when resources are exhausted on the network.  While hitting the upper bound of the S-curve is desirable and denotes a successful system (Facebook is just hitting this now), it can also be an indicator of a failure or a bottle-neck in the feedback loop design.  A false S-curve is most often evident in my research when a community undergoes a major UX redesign and users have to find their way again, often unable to find and use the features that drive growth and sustain the commuity. Be aware of this and guard against the potential causes of premature S-curves.

I've written in the past about deliberately creating emergent phenomenon and then capturing some kind of value from it.  Like most efforts on a fixed scale of zero to the maximum possible result, there is a reverse bell curve effect, meaning that most people will get middling results, some will get very poor, and some will hit it out of the park.  From the projects I've been involved in, I find that the most successful social efforts are ones that are highly agile and willing to capture lessons learned early and often and then make changes quickly and do it all over again the next week.  The Web favors those who experiment, adapt, and evolve and thus should go your social ecosystems.

Good luck with your social media and Enterprise 2.0 efforts.  Please don't hesitate to ask questions below or contribute your own wisdom.

 

The Social Graph: Issues and Strategies in 2008

One of the hottest topics in the online world in the last couple of years has been the growth of social networking services such as Facebook and MySpace, as well as the addition of a social element to existing user experiences.  Despite riding several waves of hype, it's now clear that the social networking space will only get hotter in 2008 according to most watchers.  Social software has come fully into its own as of 2008 — for all appearances permanently — and understanding the reasons for this rapid rise as well as figuring out how to leverage it best is the job of everyone who wants to make the most of the Web 2.0 era.

Gaining a deeper insight to the social networking phenomenon, now exhibited by the tens of millions of users employing them globally on a daily basis for both personal and businesses uses, currently means understanding the fundamental unit of the social network, also one of the biggest new buzzphrases of the year: the social graph.  Fortunately, that's simple enough despite the term's oblique reference to graph theory, which it is heavily based upon.

Social Graphs - The pattern of social relationships between people

Simply put, a social graph is a set of people, referred to as nodes, that are connected together by vertices — better known as links or connections — that reflect their social relationships.  You can see a conceptual social graph above, showing the typical distinction of social networks to reflect whether a connection with another person is direct or indirect.  For example, the popular business social networking service LinkedIn, uses this model and sorts a member's social graph into different degrees of separation, which you can see a typical example of below and taken from my LinkedIn profile:

 

Organizing Social Graphs - Degress of separation is popular

Also becoming popular is the burgeoning field of social analytics, such as the Socalistics application in Facebook and the Interactive Friends Graph, though there are also commercial standalone products here or on the way for the enterprise and open Web spaces from companies like KnowNow and Bravadosoft.  The Interactive Friends Graph is a nice, simple example anyone can try on their own and you can see mine from Facebook below.  Hovering over nodes in the live version in your Facebook profile allows you to see who is connected to others in your network and begin to gain insight and understanding of the relationships in your network.

 Social Graph Example - One of many way to depict a social graph

But what are the top issues one must understand about the social graph in 2008?  As I've seen social networks become common on corporate intranets and in daily use on the Web, some of the issues are rapidly becoming clear.  However, the full story will certainly continue to unfold for the next several years at least.  Here's what we're seeing at the moment:

Strategies and Issues for the Social Graph – Circa 2008

  • The social graph is poised to replace the address book and contact list as the preferred organizing structure for personal and business relationships. This was one of my Web 2.0 predictions for 2008 and it won't fully come true for the majority of users for at least several years since there's such an installed base of traditional tools for managing relationship information.  What's the difference?  Social networks are usually opt-in, two-ways for one.  And they are social for another, meaning they tend to encourage communication and collaboration, such as through user profile event streams and status messages.  They also offer up and actively make use of the deeper insight into the full graph's social surface area beyond direct contacts, such as LinkedIn's introduction service.
  • Ownership of the social graph is going to be a ground zero issue in 2008.  Robert Scoble's widely covered attempt recently to use Plaxo Pulse to export his 5,000 Facebook contacts recently got him banned temporarily from the service.  But as users begin to realize that the contact lists they are building using online Web tools might not be portable, this will become a growing concern, particularly since two-way opt-in makes a social graph more valuable (and accurate) but significantly harder to recreate on demand elsewhere. This takes us to our next subject…
  • Many social networking services will adopt open data initiatives.  Both Google and Facebook recently showed support for DataPortability.org and Google has an interesting play in their OpenSocial initiative.  This is welcome news that will resolve some of the concerns around who owns the graph but interestingly, traditional corporations will be the slowest get this and will rarely let workers take their hard won social graphs and user profiles with them elsewhere as they move to new jobs.  Public social networking sites Web sites are leading the way here and this will only drive more business users to the open Web, where they at least have some control over their social graph.  Smart organizations will provide their workers with some form of open social graph support, lest they lose control completely as workers keep more and more of their graph in Facebook, LinkedIn, and Plaxo and not in prescribed relationship management tools.
  • Attempts to monetize social graphs will drive interest in regulation and legislation.  Social networking is now a global Internet phenomenon and that the information contained within them is highly central to everyone's lives.  This will make everything from protecting children to individual privacy of social graphs a hot issue for some local and federal governments.  All it will take is one or two widely covered exploits to make this happen.  Expect the European Union and the U.S. government to begin seriously examining the issue this year with many other governments following suite.  Good citizenship of sites that manage social graphs will be essential to prevent excessive government involvement.
  • The line is blurring between personal and business use of social graphs.  We're all rapidly getting one large social graph each already, with everyone we know in them.  Most public social networking sites do a poor job of separating different subgroups of our social networks, such as allowing pictures and status messages to only go to a specific subgroups (work messages to business, family message to family, friends messages to friend, etc.)  This actually works a little bit better in enterprise social networks, but not much, since it largely consists of a Contact Type field.  Segmentation of social graphs will be an increasingly requested feature by users struggling with their use.  The social graph management services that make this distinction and enable its leverage may do very well indeed.
  • Open Web identity, which will ultimately form the global "primary key" for social graph nodes, will not get anywhere soon.  This despite it being needed badly but the users of the Web have not yet felt compelled to demand it.  Data portability of social graphs will begin to drive adoption of user controlled Web identity, and hopefully government regulation will not.  See Dare Obasanjo's deep exploration of using openid to enable social graph interoperability as an example of what will need to happen, despite there being little incentive currently for sites to use other site's openids.
  • Making social networking "gardening" and administration easier will drive new innovations.  Most individual social graphs are primarily tended by hand today, although a growing number of products, such as Visible Path, do all the tedious work for you by watching your social interaction online such as through tight integration through e-mail and instant messaging, building a rich graph for you (even sending invitations) as you go about your daily social activities.  New innovations like these will make social graphs easier to maintain and richer in overall information while also driving adoption through ease of use.
  • The optional two-way confirmation of a social graph link becoming standard.  Many social graph management platforms (Facebook and Linked for example) require confirmation from the other side of the connection before adding a person to your graph.  Sites like Spock, which make it optional, will ultimately be more practical for managing a social graph while still allowing discernment of two way confirmations, which tend to be more valuable and convey key information about the trust and real extent of a social relationship.
  • Social networking fatigue will not set in as perceived constraints such as Dunbar's limit do not prove to be universal.  While there are many theories on how big a social graph can get before it become unmanageable and sees diminishing returns on growth (note that both Facebook and LinkedIn encourage ceilings), the fact is that the are many different purposes for a social graph, from data mining and historical research, to marketing and customer relationship management.  

What else is going to be key to dealing with the social graph in 2008?  Please leave in comments below and I'll update this post with any good submissions.

Ten Aspects of Web 2.0 Strategy That Every CTO and CIO Should Know

Over the last year I've worked with organizations around the world that are attempting to grapple with Web 2.0 and the growing external marketplace pressure being exerted for the change and transformation of their businesses. Along the way, I've been fortunate enough to be able to identify and assemble a working list of some consistent recurring issues and themes around Web 2.0 strategy.  I've provided them below at a high level. Your comments and additions are very welcome as we try to frame up a consistent picture of what's happening in the marketplace.

It used to be a little surprising how long it's taken for Web 2.0 to begin to have serious impact on or even high-level interest in the business world.  However, the ideas have had staying power and have also largely been validated; there are now fundamentally different and very powerful new models for engaging with customers, designing our products, and applying technology in general to our business that are proven and have growing bodies of knowledge.  The Web has become the single most important driving force in many fields of endeavor as well as the leading source of both innovation and potent new modes for communicating, collaborating, socializing, and working together. It's taken a few years but businesses are now feeling the change in the air.

 

The Web 2.0 Transformation and Change Management Process for Business and Enterprises

 

However, as I've said a number of times in my various discussions of Web 2.0, the power of the network has deep roots in some profound shifts in society and culture, particularly the singular move from push-based systems (the 1.0 era going way, way back until right around now) to pull-based systems (the 2.0 era from roughly a few years into this century and going forward).  That this shift is well under way is clear if you look at the sudden explosion of the blogosphere, social networking, social media, open source software, online communities, and peer production in virtually all things.  The good news (or bad news, depending on how you look at it) is that despite the remaking of more than a few industries already — including media, software, advertising — this shift is only just beginning.

This all raises the question of how to make the transition from 1.0 to 2.0 safely and non-disruptively with your business largely intact, perhaps even with a superior competitive position.  That this transition can actually be accomplished by most businesses is still far from clear though some early transitions have met with varying degrees of success.  This list represents some of what we've learned so far  about 2.0 transformation but it's something that strikes at the very heart of most businesses today: The rules for success are not-so-gradually changing and the marketplace is driving it in an often-subversive grassroots, bottom-up way.  The question now is no longer about "if" but increasingly about thriving long-term, period: What are you willing to do to adapt to a new business world?

This list is aimed primarily at CTOs and CIOs since they are mostly likely to be located at the convergence of traditional business thinking and the wave of 2.0 change coming in off the network. However these ideas apply to anyone looking at how to embrace 2.0 transformation in their organization and take advantage of it.  This is one of the most exciting eras to be in businesses since so many directions are in flux and the outcomes, players, and market leaders of the near future are far from certain.  Those who can see the new opportunities clearly through the lens of 2.0 transformation not only have a fighting chance, but are able to seize them with once-in-a-generation ease.

Note: I've dropped the "Web" in Web 2.0 for this discussion because one of the big lessons is that many traditional business thinkers turn off when they hear the word, even though Web 2.0 design patterns and business models have truly profound implications across any business today.  Consequently, hat the Web is driving most of these changes is being considered incidental for this discussion (though it's absolutely the opposite when actually executing on these new models.) Instead, this is targeted a discussion about the transformative models themselves (such as who creates the products and where, how they are used, who supports them, how are they remixed, syndicated, franchised, licensed, IP protected, etc) in a strategic businesses sense. At the core of this discussion is how 1.0 business models of the 20th century are very much being eroded, transformed, and frequently dethroned by the immense motive forces that lie in the pervasive, open networked systems we have today, which are taking us deeply into a very new place: the 2.0 era.

Ten Key Aspects of Web 2.0 Strategy

  1. It's not about technology, it's about the changes it enables.  While technology is a close second (and ultimately makes 2.0 business models possible), the real discussion is about the disruptive new opportunities it creates.  Instead the discussion should be focused more around strategies such as harnessing millions of customers over the network to co-create products through peer production, engaging in mass customer self-service, customer communities, and open supply chains to thousands of ad hoc partners with open APIs. These are just some of the examples of using the network to create far richer and more profound results than could be created in the 1.0 era.  Don't get caught up in the technology of 2.0 at first other than to understand the business possibilities it affords.  Avoid technology-first discussions like the plague.  Premature monetization discussions around 2.0 are also to be avoided, they tend to have a negative impact on process if done too early.
  2. The implications of 2.0 stands many traditional views on their head and so change takes more time than usual.  In the 2.0 world customers and partners have a much closer, more sustained relationship because of social interaction and tightly integrated online supply chains, to name just two reasons.  The shift of control from institutions to communities of users takes a lot of getting used to.  Just understanding how and why intellectual property is better covered by Creative Commons instead of copyright will take the legal department years (if not decades).  Each part of the organization will have its miniature 2.0 revolution.  These take time to happen and sort themselves out.  This means getting these new ideas into people's heads is one of the first steps…
  3. Get the ideas, concepts, and vocabulary out into the organization and circulating.  If you're trying to affect 2.0 change in an organization, there's no better solution that exposing people to it.  Demographics can be a problem in this situation depending on the industry.  Younger workers tend to live and breath 2.0 while older workers may be aware of it but don't think it applies to them.  I use point education where change needs to happen either first or quickly and then internal communities that bring the discussion of change, innovation, and transformation to the entire organization.  Either way, learning and education around 2.0 are a vital trigger to begin change and should be started early and non-disruptively.
  4. Existing management methods and conventional wisdom are a hard barrier to 2.0 strategy and transformation.  You don't have to get far into discussions about the Perpetual Beta or Product Development 2.0 before existing management methods seem outdated, inflexible, and ineffective.  This is one of the more difficult aspects of adopting 2.0 models and the implications is that we'll have to do a lot of rethinking how we manage businesses driven by 2.0 models, where the boundaries of organizations are less clear, the ownership is much more community-based, and the outcomes are far more diverse and spread out, making them less trackable, controllable, and directed.  Overhauling management practices and techniques will be a core activity in a 2.0 transformation and will be hard to achieve quickly enough due to the Innovator's Dilemma.
  5. Avoiding external disruption is hard but managing self-imposed risk caused by 2.0 is easier.  The great fear than many businesses have is facing a fast-growth competitor that takes these ideas and either wrests away market share rapidly and aggressively or cuts them off at the pass with entirely new products.  YouTube did this to the broadcast and cable industry, which responded with Hulu.  Apple did this with iTunes to the recording industry and the blogosphere did the same to the newspaper industry.  Other industries are next likely including the financial services industry, real estate, and others.  Internally, however, risk management is still a challenge but is much more manageable.  The big implication for this is that starting internally first with things like Enterprise 2.0 initiatives and prediction markets to learn the ropes on how to deal with unexpected outcomes and results can help organizations climb the maturity curve.
  6. Incubators and pilots projects can help create initial environments for success with 2.0 efforts.  Too much contact with the traditional support environment of an existing, primarily 1.0 organization makes it hard for 2.0 efforts to succeed; everything gets done in the traditional way instead of the new ways that are required.  The traditional tools, processes, and skills just aren't there or are just too slow and burdened with unnecessary overhead.  Creating dedicated incubators that are designed to use the strengths of the organization while being isolated from its weaknesses can help.  Incubators are at risk of becoming too isolated however, and won't inform or change the greater organization unless care is taken to roll the lessons and capability back in.
  7. Irreversible decisions around 2.0 around topics such as brand, reputation, and corporate strategy can be delayed quite a while, and sometime forever. Most organizations get paralysis around change and transformation because of concerns around decisions that can't be reversed.  Concern over damaging the company's brand is one of the top issues I run into and it's a valid concern.  The good news is that many organizations are discovering they can safely leverage the advantages of their organization (such as their extensive customer base to drive initial growth of 2.0 engagement and adoption of new products and services) without dragging their brand into it whatsoever.  New 2.0 products from major companies are now often released under new brands entirely. This enables serious experimentation with 2.0 while taking little risk to the organization.
  8. The technology competence organizations have today are inadequate for moving to 2.0.  This is key if you're a CTO or CIO today; your organization is almost certainly not ready to handle the development, management, scalability, identity, governance, and openness issues around 2.0.  If you're not sure, just ask your IT staff.  Examples include cloud computing, open APIs, mashups, rich user experiences, Web-Oriented-Architecture, community platforms, Enterprise 2.0, 2.0-era computing stacks like Rails and Django, are all disciplines that are considerable in their own right, of rapidly growing importance to organizations in the 2.0 era.  These are all likely to be things your staff needs to come up the learning curve on in significant ways and with the rate of change on the network what it is presently, falling behind is too easy to do.  Note: The existing technology landscape of most organizations will have to change as well which is where Web-Oriented Architecture (WOA) is getting quite a bit of attention today.  And the Web products themselves have moved far beyond the model of the Web page and most enterprises are very far behind.
  9. The business side requires 2.0 competence as well.  This includes how to design, build, launch, market, support, and maintain 2.0 products and services as well as the ways that workers should use the tools and concepts to work together.  I recently suggested that learning how to be effective in working within and directing communities of workers/users/partners to accomplish large-scale outcomes will be a vital skill in the very near future.  All of this requires both a new perspective as well as a hard-headed effort at skill building and a re-orientation of existing work habits and processes.
  10. Start small, think big.  We have discovered that the leverage the network can give us is almost unlimited.  It's ability to scale ideas, products, and communities of users as fast as they are able to is one of the aspects that makes it so attractive to business.  2.0 products tends to be very simple at heart, and though there is certainly challenges and complications growing, small ideas can become big very, very quickly.  Getting to the right solutions, not-overinvesting (which leads to complication and heavyweight management and processes) and letting customers and partners take the seeds of great ideas and run with them is what makes sudden success turn into a large-scale success.  On the Web, starting small, and thinking big can take you a long, long way.  Read more about network effects driven by architectures of participation .

Please share your ideas around what else is essential in a Web 2.0 strategy below.

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