Knowledge Work: Conversations, Publishing and Search

I happen to stumble up on an interesting blog by JP Rangaswami, the chief scientist of – what caught my eye wasn’t a specific post, but rather the claim that there are only 4 application archetypes needed  in any enterprise:

  • publishing,
  • search,
  • fulfilment and
  • conversation

I tend to agree with JP Rangaswami and claim that for knowledge work all you need is: publishing (the creation and management of documents and content), conversation (sometimes structured conversations with systems or between people based on regulations, sometimes unstrutured conversations between people) and search (a way to link the two and use context to find information within that content and those conversations).

That leads me to Keith Swenson’s post on “Self-Organizing Business Networks”  where he listed three critical features of enterprise social software:

  • self forming relationships,
  • everything is relative, and
  • bring your own identity

which I think are a good list of basic features needed for social software, but there seemed to be an implicit assumption that social software isn’t just a nice to have, but rather solves a pressing need. I actually think that assumption is main barrier to the wide scale adoption of enterprise social software.

What companies really need is a way to increase the productivity of knowledge workers. Social software (at least at it stands for the most part today) is focused on facilitating conversation – but it seems more for conversation participants than for the organization as a whole, which means that is only a part of what is needed for wideapread adoption.  The benefit to the organization as a whole isn’t completely clear. It also isn’t clear that social software will actually improve productivity – management is worried that it will just give people another way to “goof off”. It is very difficult to provide value to A, but then try and charge B. B needs to know explicitly what is in it for them – in this case B is the organization.

For social software in the enterprise  to really take off it will need to expand to provide value to conversations both from the personal and enterprise perspective, link conversatons and publishing (and make those conversations available to the enterprise), and enable searching (but not just as a standard search on unstructured data, but rather as a context aware search on the information that relates conversations and content).


One Response to “Knowledge Work: Conversations, Publishing and Search”

  1. Keith Swenson Says:

    Jacob, agree. The telephone was first introduced to companies as a way for a boss to send orders to the workers — they never (explicitly) envisioned workers talking to each other, now of course it is obvious that a company would not survive without it. Same with Email: I remember one software company only 10 years ago that would only allow the email at lunch and after hours: during the working hours email was turned off because people were supposed to be head-down working, not chatting with others. Instant message is another example that was explicitly banned at many companies, until finally it was adopted officially. None of these technologies sold based on their computed business value, because to see the real value, you have to imagine how the world might be different when these are installed, and not just how someone today might use it.

    In the end, this is really just technology that “Helps People Get Things Done.” If upper management cares about their knowledge workers getting more things done, and if they believe the tech works, then they should buy into it regardless of whether it has social features or not.

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