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    Tuesday
    Apr172012

    Could Facebook become 'Facebook for the enterprise?'

    Last week and sort of quietly, Facebook announced the introduction of Groups for Schools, a collection of new features aimed at its original user base - colleges and college students. The Groups for Schools feature allows easier creation and joining of Facebook groups for those users with an active .edu email address, the domain most commonly associated with US-based colleges and universities. Updates posted in the Groups for Schools groups section for a given college will only be visible to other students who’ve also authenticated through their .edu email address. The Groups for Schools capability is a bit of a return to the original intent and use of Facebook, a platform for students to connect, share information about classes and other events, all in a more low-key and not-so-public way. Source - Facebook. Click for larger image.

    But a more interesting development than the organization and security aspects of Groups for Schools, is that in these groups Facebook will also support uploading and sharing of files up to 25 MB in size with other group members. Groups For Schools users can click an “Upload File” button above the news feed. Notable, Facebook will not permit .EXE files to be uploaded to prevent malicious programs from going viral. Other groups members will be able to download the files directly from the news feed. To avoid legal issues, Facebook plans to monitor for and to disallow the upload of copyrighted files, so college students can't try to use the platform as a source for MP3s and other protected files.

    Facebook originally started on its remarkable growth trajectory beyond Harvard by rolling out to other colleges, and then the network eventually opened up to the general public. Similarly, if Groups for Schools is successful, and Facebook sees increased engagement levels as a result of the file sharing capability, then it is not at all unlikely that Facebook Groups For Businesses or Organizations could follow. The ability to create a private, company-based group, (validated by company email addresses), with the added ability to upload and share files to group members, and to engage in an ongoing conversation about the files and the comments about those files, heck that sounds like the use case for about 90% of email-based enterprise collaboration today.

    If Facebook were to launch more advanced enterprise-like collaborative features right inside the network, it could mean interesting times ahead for solutions like Yammer and perhaps even Jive. Sure, you can argue with me and claim that these more advanced, enterprise solutions have lots more capability than a simple news feed and the ability to upload files, and while that is true, there is also something they don't have.

    They're not called Facebook. And I would bet that there would be some advantage to the potential adoption rates of a new collaborative tool at work if that tool was already used by 95% of the staff before the project even started.

    What do you think - do you see Facebook even being interested in more 'internal' enterprise networking?

    Would you use Facebook at work to collaborate with your team?


    Monday
    Apr162012

    Titanic : Or, I'm comfortable not knowing

    Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, which accounts for the recent upsurge in news and events surrounding the ship's tragic fate, as well as the return of the incredibly popular 1997 movie, (now in 3D!) titled, aptly, Titanic.It's not just a movie!!!

    For a combination of reasons - the scale and luxury of the incredible ship itself, the many pronouncements of its 'unsinkability' prior to it well, sinking, the presence onboard of many of the time's super rich and elite, and finally the sheer scope and sadness of the tragedy that saw over 1,500 perish in the freezing sea; the Titanic story seems even more popular and in the societal conscious than ever before. The 1997 film played a significant role of course in cementing the Titanic story in our collective minds, it was for many years following its release the highest grossing film ever, and even now is still second in Worldwide box office receipts. With close to $2B in worldwide ticket sales and about 178,294 additional showings in the last 15 years on cable TV, chances are really, really high that everyone has seen this movie, or at least is familiar with it. It remains a legendary achievement in pop culture history.

    The popularity and ubiquity of the 1997 movie has also had some unexpected effects on the understanding and interpretation of the actual events of the Titanic in the minds of some observers. Namely, it turns out that lots of people, (mostly young people), did not realize that Titanic was not just a movie, but an actual historical event. There have been loads of articles posted about this, this one from the Gothamist is a good example, and they (mostly), take the same kind of condescending slant of 'Can you believe these dumb kids?' and 'Our culture is doomed once these numbskulls are in charge.'. After all, the reasoning goes, how can you not know the Titanic story, it has been told, re-told, revised, re-revised, told some more, dramatized, and finally re-dramatized pretty much endlessly for the last 100 years.

    So here's where I disagree with that kind of reasoning, particularly when it comes to 'adults' passing judgment on say the average 15 or 16 year-old that might not have realized that there was an actual Titanic, and not just the boat that Leo DiCaprio sailed on in 1997. The history of the Titanic is at best marginally interesting, and 100 years later the continued fascination with the tale is to me, kind of baffling. Yes, it was an amazing story; yes, there is some historical significance; yes, subsequent efforts to analyze, understand, and interpret the events have yielded some important insights; but the level to which this singular event has been elevated is in my view way out of rational proportion.  

    If the 1997 movie was the first and only introduction and experience to the story for say anyone under 25 years of age, I am perfectly fine with that. And I'd submit that there are likely about a thousand other subjects that we as a society should be concerned that our next generation of workers and leaders need to know more about, the details of an ocean liner sinking in 1912 fall really low on that list.

    Recently Naomi Bloom ran an excellent piece on the difficulty of keeping up with everything, and the importance of applying perspective, choice, and reasoning in the battle against an endless and unyielding stream of information.  The main point - you have to pick your spots, you can't know everything, and you have to decide what is truly relevant and meaningful. 

    If keeping up with every nuance in the 100-year old Titanic story seems valuable to you, then that is fantastic, but don't crack down on some 17 year-old that doesn't see it the same way, or even never gave the entire episode a second thought once the movie ended. There are likely about a million things I'd rather have that kid be familiar with, (cruise control is not the same as auto-pilot would be one), than knowing if John Jacob Astor made it to the lifeboat in 1912.

    Friday
    Apr132012

    Spring Break #4 - The Art of Video Games

    This is the final Spring Break 2012 dispatch and I wanted to share what I thought was one of the coolest things I saw this week in Washington, DC, the Art of Video Games exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

    As the exhibit's website describes -

    Video games are a prevalent and increasingly expressive medium within modern society. In the forty years since the introduction of the first home video game, the field has attracted exceptional artistic talent. An amalgam of traditional art forms—painting, writing, sculpture, music, storytelling, cinematography—video games offer artists a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences.

    The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3.

    And thinking beyond the artistic and technological breakthroughs in video game design and development, it probably is also worth considering the medium's impact on a generation (or two), of gamers. We have already seen several elements of video gaming work their way into more corporate or mainstream practices - interactive candidate assessments, sophisticated video game-like training programs that are commonly used in military or other technical arenas, and of course the entire 'gamification' industry that if you believe the hype, might turn almost every workplace action into some kind of contest with badges, leaderboards, or prizes.

    Some reports claim that worldwide as many as half a billion people a day spend time playing video games, and that 99% of boys under 18 and 94% of girls under 18 report playing video games regularly. Whether or not those statistics are precise doesn't really matter, the larger point worth considering for those of us interested in creating great workplaces and attracting great talent is that chances are quite high that the talent you will be recruiting and working with today and in the future has grown up in the video game culture.

    Does that matter at all? Do you care as a HR or Talent pro? Should you?

    I guess it is hard to say, I'd love for you to offer your take if you have thought about some of these larger trends in your work in HR and Talent Management.

    Regardless, the Art of Video Games exhibit was quite cool and I do recommend stopping in the next time you find yourself in Washington.

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday
    Apr122012

    Spring Break #3 - Should all applications be mobile?

    Note: It is Spring Break week here in Western New York, (for the school-age kids anyway), and while I will still be working and traveling to Washington D.C. for a conference, this week will be busier than most. So this week on the blog I'll be mostly sharing some quick hits and short takes on things I spotted or found interesting. Actually, come to think of it, that is pretty much every week.  Anyway, if you are on Spring Break this week, I hope you have a great little vacation!

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Earlier this week I offered a quick (and not really orginal or novel) take on the Facebook-Instagram deal, where I pointed out that the really interesting part of the purchase was not the extraordinary purchase price, ($1B), for a company with no revenue and no real plans to create revenue, but rather that Instagram was able to build a user base of over 30 million with only about a dozen employees.  Sure, Instagram is a really simple, single-function type application, but to have that many users that quickly with an incredibly small team is really remarkable.

    So today's Spring Break series take is the second interesting angle on the deal, and that is the question of the diminishing importance of 'traditional', (i.e. sit down at a desktop or laptop, fire up an application or browser to use), type applications at all? If Instagram could build a $1B business completely on the iPhone, (I know they have an Android app now, but that was a very recent development), why would aspiring developeneurs think that building for anything but the iOS/Android platforms was a solid decision? 

    At least on the consumer side certainly, mobile platforms seem to increasingly be all that matters, Facebook itself acknowledged their risk and exposure to mobile by both their admission that they have not been able to monetize mobile access to Facebook, as well as with their Instagram buy. Recently Facebook head of mobile developer relations James Pearce said "Mobile is the epitome" of social. If Facebook were built today, it would be a mobile app."The numbers? Facebook currently has 425 million mobile users (compared to 825 million total users).

    So in a climate where the most popular social applications and networks are predominantly mobile-based, and in a time where these consumer-oriented applications continue to become tools used for business and enterprise purposes, I think it might be time to wonder if the next big breakthrough in enterprise or workforce technology won't be from creating fancy iPhone versions of the same old tools that employees are tired of using, but rather from the creation of something entirely new, built as a mobile application, with not one shred of concern about 'users working in the office on PCs', and none of the baggage that often accompanies creating 'mobile-friendly' versions of what we have always known.

    We have talked for years about the next 'Facebook for the enterprise', is it time to start talking about the next 'Instagram for the enterprise?'

    Happy Thursday!

    Tuesday
    Apr102012

    Spring Break #2 - I don't know anything about Instagram

    Of course by now you've heard, read, or more likely seen a Facebook status update from someone with the news that social networking colossus Facebook has announced their intention to buy social photo-sharing service Instagram for a cool $1 Billion. That's with a 'B'. I have never used Instagram and don't know much more than what I picked up from the few pieces I read about the acquisition. But since this is a blog, I won't let that stop me from commenting.Artsy, right?

    Most of the reaction to this announcement has fallen into three distinct buckets:

    1. Wow, $1B for a new(ish) company with no revenue and no plan to actually earn any revenue? The DotCom bubble is back!

    2. (from loyal Instagram users) - Wow, I hope big, bad Facebook doesn't screw up Instagram. I may have to delete my account. Editor's Note: No one cares, you big crybabies.

    3. Smart move by Facebook. Photo sharing is the most popular feature on Facebook, and Instagram was becoming a real threat to Facebook's dominance in the space. Their mobile solution is miles ahead of Facebook's, and making the acquisition just killed their main competitor in the space.

    All reasonable takes and fairly expected I suppose. But I'd like to offer a fourth take, one not about what a $1B valuation says for a company with $0 revenue - the revenue or lack thereof was not important to Facebook, the 30 million users were.  But rather what the $1B valuation for a company of a grand total of 14 employees says about technology, the labor market, and the new rules of the digital economy.

    In some not-too-distant past, building a billion-dollar company would take years of toil, pain, sacrifice, risk, and ingenuity no doubt, but it would also typically take people, usually hundreds, maybe even thousands.  Instagram (and others like them, just not quite as valuable), are showing that not only is the need to build up and sustain a revenue and profit model not necessarily important in achieving a massive payday, but also that the traditional process of slowly building and growing a larger and larger staff of employees to manage and drive that growth may not be needed as well. In these digital businesses, plugging in to additional outsourced computing resources and programmatically rolling out a new feature or change to many thousands of servers and many millions of users is a job that can often be managed by just a couple of staff.  

    The interesting metric to me in the Instagram deal isn't $1B for $0 revenue, it's 30 million users for 14 employees.

    And that's a lot of sepia-wash pictures of your dog.

    Happy Tuesday!