How many times have you put on a new article of clothing and found one of those little 'Inspected by' tags in one of the pockets?
It isn't much, just a little slip of paper that reminds and assures you that someone had a final look-see at your new shirt before it was shipped out of the factory. Often these tags just have a number on them to make a kind of vague identification of the actual inspector. Once in a while you will find one signed with an actual name. Whether you believe that an 'Inspected by Marylou' tag was really placed in your shirt pocket by a real-life Marylou doesn't really matter that much. It still provides a kind of personal touch to what is, let's face it, a normally impersonal and detached kind of transaction. At least if you shop where I shop.
But for the clothing inspectors themselves, the inclusion of such a tag, especially if it is signed with their real name, provides a signature, a statement of the quality of the product, and a kind of mark or stamp of personal ownership of the overall manufacturing process (or at least their part of the process).
I was thinking about this when I came across an excellent and interesting set of resources called 'Design By Intent' , created by Dan Lockton with David Harrison and Neville Stanton. The Design with Intent cards present a series of concepts or design philosophies that 'can be used to help inspire brainstorming or idea generation, to explore design methods potentially relevant to a brief, to analyse existing systems, or as a reference.'
One of the cards (thumbnail to the right) mentions the idea of 'Watermarking', or in other words a mechanism for displaying or promoting a system user's ownership of something, be it a product, a service, or even a piece of data. Watermarking, or tagging with an indicator of creation, or ownership can have powerful effects - increased care and pride of workmanship, better exposure across and beyond the system of an individual user's contribution, and easier discovery of those possessing skill and ability throughout the system.
Built into most enterprise technologies is this concept of 'watermarking', or information ownership if you prefer. It comes in the form of a database field usually known as 'Created by', and its close cousin, 'Last Updated By'. These fields are usually attached to every piece of discrete data in the system, an employee record, a purchase order, or a ledger journal entry. Inspecting these fields can tell a user or an administrator which user performed the actions of record creation and, if applicable, revision.
But the thing is, in the enterprise system context these fields are not typically visible on the surface or to the casual consumer of the data, may require some super top-secret level security and access to even see, and are most typically only referenced when something goes wrong. Purchase Order #397 had a bad account code? Who the heck keyed that in to the system? Rarely, (pretty much never), are the creators of 'good' data recognized or acknowledged. I know what you are thinking, people responsible for entering data into enterprise systems are supposed to get it right, we don't need to tag or overtly identify the names (or numbers) of people simply for doing what they are supposed to do.
Well, 'Marylou' is supposed to inspect shirts, we don't need to slip a note in the pocket of each one she quality checks either.
It's funny, on the social web every tweet, every Facebook 'like', every blog comment is visible, searchable, trackable, but yet so much of the interactions that end users have with typical enterprise systems is effectively, (or at least on the surface) almost anonymous.
I wonder if that has something to do with how much more enjoyable social technologies are to enterprise ones.
Well there's Farmville too.