Starting a New Collaborative Space for Small Groups

I fielded a question last week about what factors are the most important in launching a wiki to support a small working group, such as a committee, task force or team. I’ve decided to address it a bit more broadly by looking those factors for online collaboration in general.

In my experience designing and facilitating collaborative spaces online for large and small association, volunteer groups, alumni and others, you need the following to maximize successful outcomes:

  • Have a very clear and focused goal for using the space that all participants understand and support. The narrower the better;
  • Provide ample handholding and individual training for those who need it;
  • Leadership of the group MUST be avid champions for using the technology;
  • Start with one group that is excited to use the tool as a pilot test and early exemplars. Their success will draw others to adopt the tool;
  • Make sure the technology you use is very user friendly and provides the functionality your group will need to achieve their desired outcomes. Bad tech is the kiss of death.

Tools like a wiki can be greatly valuable for group collaboration but people who are new to it must have the value for THEM explained and heavily emphasized. A really strong WIIFM value proposition will get late adopters over the hump.

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The Bozo Filter

The Well, one of the oldest still running online communities, has a feature called the bozo filter. The bozo filter lets you block comments from specific people so you would not have to read them in the discussion threads. In a self-contained system such as The Well, this could save a lot of aggravation from having to read the postings of someone you had decided was no longer worth the aggravation. It also helped prevent rehashing the same fights over and over again.

The broader online community, dispersed across innumerable blogs, twitter, FaceBook and other sites, has no universal bozo filter. However, you can control who you choose to follow and read.

Review all the sources of information and commentary that you continue to listen to and read. Are they all still providing value to you? Are any worthy of being bozoed and removed from your subscription and alert lists? It’s healthy communication practice to prune your subscription lists periodically. Otherwise, you’ll end up spending most of your time marking things as read and getting little value from it.

Twitter Misplaces Their Network

Twitter gets a well deserved rap for downtime and other hiccups related to their exponential growth. However, their most recent tribulation is really bad for a social networking service.

Yesterday they lost a bunch of the data in their system about who follows whom on the site. These connections are the core conduits for the value of the system. It’s as if your address book erased half your entries and your phone no longer accepts their calls to boot.

They are still trying to reclaim the lost data but it appears to be slow going. My connections are not back to what they were just yesterday.

And, yes, I’ve gone active on Twitter after a long hiatus and now with a new account. You can follow me @davidgammel.

Campaigns and Loyalists

Ever wondered what happens when your marketing campaign generates a loyal following? Case in point: Closing a Disney community from Church of the Customer Blog.

This new online world trips up marketers from the big to the little, the for- to the non-profit. A key lesson in this story: building community into a by-design time-limited campaign is counter productive. Established communities want to continue even if the budget for their platform has run out.

Building Community and Collaboration with Global Customers

I am appearing on a panel discussion next month where I will be sharing my views on how to build community and collaboration with global customers. The entire event looks pretty interesting so I have posted the information below. Use the promo code SPEAKER to get a $100 discount on registration.

The event is BDI’s Global Communications: Connecting Across Borders and Understanding Cultural Differences conference in New York City on May 13. It is being held The Graduate Center of CUNY. Here is the conference description:

It has been reported that a substantial number of U.S. based multinational companies’ primary source of growth and profits are linked to global markets. New generations of consumers are growing at a rapid pace in China, India and many other emerging markets. However, it’s not business as usual when communicating, connecting and branding on world-wide basis. During this full day conference, we will examine case studies from leading multinational companies who will share their lessons learned from a communications and branding perspective. 350 communications and marketing professionals from both the corporate and agency communities are expected to attend the conference.

Let me know if you’ll be there!

Podcast: Interview with Jeremiah Owyang on Measuring Social Media

I am working on an article for Associations Now about how to measure social media success. The questions I am exploring: How can you measure success with these tools? How do you know you are creating value with a blog, podcast, wiki, RSS, etc.? What’s beyond the page view?

I interviewed Jeremiah Owyang, about this issue last week. Jeremiah is with PodTech, an online video network. Jeremiah has been writing about social media, and metrics in particular, quite a bit this year. He even started a Facebook group on social media measurement.

In the recording attached to this post we discuss the idea of measuring engagement, subjective vs. objective measures and what the near term future might look like. Jeremiah shares several tips on getting started with measuring social media (follow the link for a write-up of these). Thanks Jeremiah!

Drop me a line if you are using social media at your association and would like to share your experience for the article. You don’t have to have solved the problem (if you have you can write the article!) but I am very interested in talking about the value you think your efforts are providing and issues related to measuring that value.

Update: Jeremiah has posted a few additional comments and links related to what we discussed in the interview.

World Bank 2.0: The BuzzMonitor

I just heard about a new open source application for tracking discussion of specific issues in social media (blogs, tags, podcasts, wikis, etc.) online: The BuzzMonitor. This was developed by the World Bank for their own purposes and then released as an open source application. From the about page:

Like many organizations, we started listening to blogs and other forms of social media by subscribing to a blog search engine RSS feed but quickly understood it was not enough. The World Bank is a global institution and we needed to listen in multiple languages, across multiple plaforms. We needed something that would aggregate all this content, help us make sense of it and allow us to collaborate around it. At the time, no solution (either commercial or open source) met those requirements so we decided to build our own.

We were playing with Drupal, a solid, open-source content and community platform for different pilots. Drupal being so flexible and module oriented, we decided to write the specifications for a “super aggregator” that would help us people understand, follow and collaborate around mentions of the organization online.

I asked Pierre Guillaume, who announced it on the Social Media Measurement Group on Facebook, how they are using it internally at the World Bank. His response:

Thanks David. We are rolling it out to communicators across the bank with a guide on how to use tagging, voting, rss feeds etc…there is, not surprisingly, a bit of a learning curve both in terms of “getting” social media and using the tool but some champions are emerging, embedding findings obtained through the buzzmonitor in their regular comm and web reports, adding relevant bloggers to their contacts etc.. We also feature the most recently voted on items on a page available two clicks down from the intranet home page, for all staff to see.

Sounds like a great tool for raising awareness of how issues important to the Bank are evolving online. I recommend listening to the online conversation as a key activity for any organization and this looks like a great tool for assisting in that. I have downloaded the application and will give it a try this week.

Marc Andreeson on Facebook's API

Marc Andreeson, founder of the original Netscape, has posted his thoughts on Facebook’s new API, which has created quite the storm of attention since it launched. This observation is quite interesting:

Analyzing the Facebook Platform, three weeks in

The implication is, in my view, quite clear — the Facebook Platform is primarily for use by either big companies, or venture-backed startups with the funding and capability to handle the slightly insane scale requirements. Individual developers are going to have a very hard time taking advantage of it in useful ways.

In short, creating a Facebook application with the API requires that you provide your own server resources to power the application. Facebook’s super-viral distribution of popular apps leads to crushing load on your web servers in a very short amount of time if you are (un)lucky enough to create a popular application.

The capacity to rapidly scale up server capacity is probably beyond even some large corporation’s ability unless they have specifically prepared themselves to do so. Your web application needs to be designed for scaling up the number of servers as well.

Microsoft's Hammer

Is it just me or has Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) mania taken over the IT world?

I have heard lots of buzz about this package, especially in the association industry, but I’ve yet to see the overwhelming value in MOSS’s interfaces and services over previous versions of SharePoint. MOSS is nice for collaboratively managing documents and searching but beyond that basic project work I think its interface gets in the way. It is a horrible community platform compared to many of the open source and low-cost solutions already available.

Not to mention the organizations that are diving in head first and planning on using MOSS (with MS CMS rolled in) as the total solution for their intranet and public web sites. There is a good reason that different classes of solutions have evolved for public and intranet sites: they have vastly differing requirements for most organizations.

My advice is to bide your time and carefully consider which nails you ultimately decide to whack with the MOSS hammer.

Engaging with Facebook

Rick Klau’s report on the Obama campaign’s Facebook application:

It’s smart for Facebook, because it reinforces their role as facilitator of the community… no doubt many people already go to My Barack Obama, but there’s a non-trivial number of people who want to hang out on Facebook and show their friends what matters to them. (Keep in mind, these people are not all college students, not by a long shot.) By embracing this, the campaign ensures that they’re where their supporters want to be, and aren’t forcing them to come to the campaign’s website in order to engage with the campaign.

If you have an interest in social networking applications, you should read the rest of the post from Rick. I think it is a good example of how to engage in an existing community in a somewhat structured way. Much better effort than the hash they made of their campaign effort in MySpace.