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    Care to share?

    In thinking on the conditions necessary for a vibrant and valuable online knowledge sharing platform or enterprise social network, it seems that the following three components all need to exist for sustainable, meaningful, and reproducible success:

    One - Contributors

    People have to want to contribute, and they have to be given all the needed time, resourFlickr- clappstarces, technical training necessary to that end.  Some of the top barriers to individual team members from contributing have to be assessed, and strategies implemented to better enable contribution.

    Some of the most common barriers are technical ('I do not understand how this software works'), cultural ('Why would I want to share this information with anyone else?'), and fear-based, ('I am not comfortable posting content for the entire company to see').

    Two - Consumers

    Two - People have to be willing to ask the questions, usually in a public manner.  This is very different than the way they typically have sought information in the past, a face-to-face discussion,  a private phone call, or a personal email.  Publicly posting a question on a company forum or wiki page potentially exposes the employee to embarrassment, and some studies have suggested that the desire to avoid looking uninformed or incompetent to be a powerful inhibitor of both asking questions as well as providing content.

    But clearly if there are not enough 'seekers' of knowledge and information in the community, the platform becomes more a stagnant content repository and less an active community.  The simple asking of questions should generate helpful answers, and once people have seen that the community members do indeed provide

    Three - Comments (and ratings)

    People have to be willing to rate and evaluate contributions, and to have their own contributions also evaluated.  Great content needs a way to get 'surfaced'.  Users must have the ability to provide comments, vote up or down, and give ratings to the content that is contributed by the other members of the community.  The best content then becomes easier to find and those contributors get recognized by the community as experts, and sources of insight.

    When any of these are missing

    Think about what happens in absence of any of these requirements.  Obviously without a significant number of employees participating in generating content and sharing their expertise, the community will stagnate quickly, people seeking information and answer will quickly give up, and the entire project will be dispatched to the dustbin of IT or HR failures.

    If not enough employees go to the community to seek answers, then contributors will quickly lose interest and enthusiasm for creating content, and eventually the community will simply house some basic, static type information, and not much else.  The process of users asking questions of the community serves two purposes. One, to get the user the anwser he or she needs to their issue, and two, to serve to generate more discussion and collaboration that often leads users to actually create new sources of knowledge.

    Lastly, if consumers and contributors are not comfortable or honest about evaluating content on the community, then as the volume of contributions grows, it becomes difficult for information seekers to find the 'right' answers, the 'best' contributions, and the 'experts' in the community. Not all contributions and contributors provide equal value to the overall community. The community becomes a much more effective tool when the best content and expert members can be easily identified.

    In some future posts I will go into some detail on how some of the barriers and enablers for all three areas describes above.  It is important for organizations to think about these three requirements as they consider and deploy software for community building and collaboration.


    HR and the Mini

    Am I crazy or does it seems that there are way more Mini drivers (no not her)

    Minnie Driver

    I am talking about this Mini:

    Mini Cooper S

    among Human Resources professionals that anywhere else you look?

    From a series of Tweets last week, and from some talk on last Friday's HR Happy Hour, I'd say the percentage of Mini owners in HR to be way higher than the general public.

    Does this mean anything at all?  Why do you think Human Resources types seem to gravitate to this car?

    Do other discipines have their own preferred car?

    Was I out of ideas for a blog post?

    Let me know, do you drive a Mini and have you noticed that many of your HR colleagues do as well?




    HR Happy Hour - Episode 6 - Viva la Revolution!

    Shauna Moerke, the HR Minion and I are back with the latest Episode of the HR Happy Hour show on Blog Talk Radio, tonight, Friday July 31 at 8PM EDT, 5PM PDT.

    Here is what is coming up on the the HR Happy Hour:

    Episode 6 - July 31, 2009 - 8 PM EDT, 5 PM PDT  'The HRevolution' - An open forum to chat about ideas for the very first HR Blog Conference.  Where should the conference be held?  What topics and sessions are you interested in?  Would you actually attend?  Set to appear are conference founders Trish McFarlane, Ben Eubanks and more.

    A reminder, you can listen to the show live at the Blog Talk Radio page, you can use the widget embedded here, or you can use the listener line, 646-378-1086, to hear the show via the phone, and you can come on the air by calling in to that number and pressing '1' on your phone and I will get you on the air.

    I hope you can join Shauna and I for the show!


    Shareflow - A new tool for collaboration

    So by now unless you have been under a rock for the last two months you have heard about Google Wave, the upcoming tool from Google that promises to radically change the way people collaborate by merging or mashing up content (web pages, images, documents, social networking, etc.).

    But Google Wave is several months away from launch, and if you are anxious to get a feel for a Wave-like experience, perhaps you should give Shareflow a try.

    What is it?

    Shareflow is a tool for collecting updates from team members and organizing them in a live stream, called a 'Flow' that similar to a Twitter stream or a Facebook page. Short updates, links, or attached files most typically sent via email are the types of updates that will be captured in a Flow.

    These Flows can be shared to unlimited participants by using a simple 'Invite' link, and once the new user follows the extremely simple registration process they can get straight to collaborating on the Flow.

    Also, since offering an alternative to email collaboration is a prime use case of Shareflow, each flow has a unique email address that Flow participants can use to forward or copy emails right in to the Flow.


    What's so cool about it?

    But where the tool shows its strength, and earns is comparisons with Wave, is when multiple participants in the Flow are collaborating in real-time. Keeping the flow open and 'live' so to speak lets you share information and comments with the other members of the flow in a neat, seamless manner.

    Folks can scroll down the Flow to see how information or concepts were developed.  While it does not offer the dynamic 'replay' capability that is promised in Google Wave, this ability to collect and make available the history of a stream is far superior to a typical email centric work process.


    The embedded Google Maps capability is really neat, simply type in an address, an the Flow auto-generates a Google Map on the spot.  Additionally, Sharefow provides RSS feeds of each flow, enabling easy subscription to flow changes and additions in a feed reader and sends an optional daily e-mail digest to Flow participants. Finally, in a really cool feature, Shareflow enables drag and drop from your computer right into the Flow, simply highlight some content with your mouse, and drag it into the Flow and it automatically creates a new 'item' in the Flow.

    Who can use this

    I see a few obvious use cases for Shareflow; a group of students collaborating on a research project could set up a Flow for all members to share articles, links, and other content as part of the data gathering process.  People trying to organize or plan an event could leverage the platform in this manner as well. Since the Flow 'owner' can invite anyone to participate in the flow, project teams can easily collaborate with customers, prospects, or contractors on projects, without having to grant access to all of their flows to external users. Even an individual gathering ideas for a blog post or article could easily set up a flow to capture notes, ideas, etc in a really easy, lightweight manner. Really any time a give and take, or a simple exchange of ideas and comments needs to happen, a Flow might be a great solution.

    How do I get started?

    Go to www.getshareflow.com and register. Shareflow offers a free plan that allows 5 active flows and up to 25MB of storage, and from there you can upgrade to paid plans ranging from $20-$80 monthly that both increase the number of flows you can create and upgrade the file storage limits.

    I encourage you to give Shareflow a try, if nothing else to get yourself just a taste of what working with Google Wave might be like in the future.

    Note : Thanks to Ben Eubanks from the UpstartHR blog who helped me do some testing and provided some good feedback on Shareflow.



    What's old is new again

    Over the past weekend I caught up on some reading I had been meaning to get to for some time, mostly research papers and some Academy of Human Resource Development journals for an upcoming article I am helping to write.  After making my way though an article or two, and checking some citations to dig deeper into some areas I found myself really amazed on the dates of publication on some of the most seminal works in the areas of what today would be considered 'social networking'.

    Some examples:

    The Strength of Weak Ties - Mark Granovetter's theory of how 'weak' or more casual relationships in a network are more effective at diffusing or spreading information across the entire organization, enterprise or society, the theory that essentially underpins much of the design philosophies of community building, corporate social networking, and social network analysis today was originally published in 1973.

    In that work, while asserting that in making important personal decisions most people do not rely on or act on recommendations delivered via forms of mass communication, unless these 'mass-media' recommendations are also reinforced by personal contacts, Granovetter cites the title Personal Influence by Katz and Lazarsfeld, published in 1955.

    Some of the positions advanced first in by Katz and Lazarsfeld in 1955 are often echoed in current articles and thinking around social media and social networking.  Engage customers on their terms, build a community for your fans and supporters, stop broadcasting your message in an impersonal format, people don't trust corporate marketing speak, etc. all have some basis in theory from Personal Influence.

    Lastly, in the past few weeks I noticed several excellent blog posts discussing 'Trust'. A few bloggers explored trust in the workplace and the importance of fostering trusting environments. See HR Bartender, the Compensation Cafe, and HR Observations, for some recent examinations on Trust in the workplace.

    After reading those posts, I thought about offering my take on how trust might impact knowledge sharing; particularly in the context of online collaboration and knowledge management tools. As more organizations seek to adopt these platforms, to take advantage of and to try to enhance the organizational social network, the idea of trust is critically important. 

    In this research, I stumbled upon an incredible source for better understanding of social networks and social capital formation, a title from 1983 called Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy by Robert D. Putnam.

    What does a text on the political structure and institutions in Italy have to do with corporate social networking, collaboration, or workplace trust? Actually quite a bit. Chapter 6 of Making Democracy Work titled 'Social Capital and Institutional Success' focuses on the essential elements necessary for the development of social capital in organizations, trust, norms, and networks. On the idea of trust, Putnam strongly asserts the link between trust and the end goals of many of these new technology-based initiatives, 'Trust lubricates collaboration'. Putnam further explores the fundamental conditions needed to build trust in networks, like reciprocity and the virtuous cycle effect.

    The point of all of this?

    I think that at times many of us that participate, advocate, and attempt to implement tools and technologies for social networking, collaboration, and knowledge management think that we are truly in uncharted waters.  We can at times, get beguiled by the notion of 'newness'.  Since Twitter, Facebook, wikis, blogs, etc. are all relatively recent inventions, it is easy to think that the scholars and researchers of the past don't have much to offer us today. My experience with just the three works I mentioned above (three out of potentially thousands) tells me that ignoring or dismissing these works as irrelevant just because the 'tools' are new would be a mistake.

    My recommendation to you - take the half hour you may have spent reading more 'How to be more effective on Twitter' posts and read the Strength of Weak Ties this week. Press the pause button on 'Personal Branding' for an evening and read Chapter 6 of Putnam. I guarantee you will find something in there that will help you today, tomorrow, next week, next year.

    I would love your comments and recommendations on other 'classic' works that you swear by.