Tuesday 17 January 2012

Social Software and the information event horizon

I have been following the goings on at Lotusphere with the usual envious interest of the non-attendee and once again I find myself deeply irritated by the prefix "Social" that is plugged onto things that really do not need "Social" added to them. However that is just me being grumpy and a general detestation for marketing hyperbole.

That aside I have been thinking of late of what I call the IEH (Information Event Horizon). Social networks only work when those in the networks feel obligated to participate within that network. This obligation generates the "gravity" drawing in the members of that network to spend time and resource making that network work.  The more data that is fed in the greater the gravity it generates and this leads to more people joining the network and so on.

There comes a point where this exponential growth in "obligation gravity" is so great that the people in the network pass the IEH and the time taken for the participants to consume the data exceeds the time available for the worker(s) to adequately process it.  Recently the IEH has shifted backwards somewhat by the enabling mobile connections to the networks so that the user can now participate in the data longer and enable the network to stay on the good side of the IEH. Which to a certain extent is what I am seeing in the announcements at LS12. We are enabling better ways to get at the data we are asked to participate in. I have the gravest reservation that all that is happening is a postponement of the inevitable descent into the chaos of the data black hole.

This is not to say Social Software (Euuuu hate that term) is a bad thing, it isn't. IBM Connections, Domino, Quickr, Sharepoint and ... dare I say it .. the Google tool set etc etc all have great worth to the enterprise and they are all maturing into tool sets that should enable disparate people in business to communicate in an effective and efficient manner.

So what's to be done to prevent the IEH being passed in our own organisations? I don't think there is a software fix for this, it all boils down to the aforementioned social obligation the users feel when presented with information that is passed to them. Therefore I think we have to look very closely at why we form business social networks and the way we use them to best advantage.

There are significant challenges in that last sentence, do we :

(a) know what an efficient professional social network is?
(b) know how best to form that network?

(c) know what metrics to use to measure the worth of that network?
(d) know what tools we need to enable maximum benefit

I don't think that we are meeting these challenges particularly well. We have great software to enable us to interact socially but do we have the expertise and knowledge to manage them?

I do not know so I will leave that question hanging for now ...

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