Facebook, MySpace and reinventing the wheel

Social without structure is chaos. The most popular social tool in history, Facebook, appealed to a large audience and decisively crushed MySpace by giving people what they wanted: A familiar framework for expressing who they are, what they like, and viral games and apps that involved their friends, all without paralyzing them with choices. The structure made for a level playing field that allowed the most creative and the least to both participate together.

MySpace, on the other hand, by allowing nearly unlimited creativity, became a mishmash of often colorful and too-often annoying personal expression. It became chaotic because it was lacked any cohesion or familiarity. Eyes and brain become tired when half the work is just to get to the information, let alone assimilate it. Creativity, taken to the extreme, begins to feel like chaos.

Apply intelligent structure

It needs to be good out of the gate. As each customer of social technology rolls out, they invariably create a hierarchy to express their business. Independently, each creates their unique form of structure that suits their model and culture. While this isn’t a bad thing in itself, it can also be a painful process that leads to false starts, restructuring, and worst of all, user fatigue and cynicism. Look no further than the uproar each time Facebook makes an interface change. Getting social patterns right at an early point has a positive impact on adoption, and adoption is critical to making a social platform effective.

Searching for information can be frustrating. A ‘starter structure’ can mitigate that by organizing information in a way that is intuitive, creating easy navigation and faster discovery. The benefits accelerate when capabilities are added like auto-suggest which leads to faster and more appropriate classification, a better user experience, and more adoption…a virtuous cycle.

It has to be better than each workplace reinventing the wheel. Sure, you can argue that social platforms need to advance corporate uniqueness, but that same argument could be made for IT standards, HR practices, and many things that that clearly benefit from some level of standardization. Standards also reflect the bringing together of experience and the advice of many diverse voices.  To be fair, it could also be argued that this is group think that runs counter to the benefits of being out-of-the-box and innovative, but starting somewhere is better than rolling the dice on getting it started well. Besides, a structure as a starting point is just that…a place to begin.

Allow a folksonomy

A great start carries the organization to the point where culture and innovation take over. Rather than a burdensome taxonomy that restricts conversation and ideas, a social structure needs to morph over time to bring in the best that the whole organization has to offer. Rigid structures won’t work any better than a lack of structure. A great social technology implementation has to allow people to creatively change the structure in a way that makes sense. Owners of a line of business, for example, would be able to add to or change the framework for their line of business.

In keeping with the democratic nature of the social revolution, everyone should be able to create new business topics a level below what exists and alongside what is missing. They should also be able to create personal topics, even at work, rather than having them leave the social platform as they seek alternative ways to communicate their passions.

Adapt a framework

If you agree that giving social structure is a good thing, the only remaining question is where to find such a thing. A great social framework would need to be as inclusive as possible and have mutually exclusive categories. It would need to be an enterprise model at the highest level and would need to cover all of the functional areas that make up the modern corporation’s value chain.

There are many models out there that fit these descriptions, but there are extra benefits to using a framework that is widely known and well vetted. The wider the better, as the future will likely bring ‘social benchmarking’ as organizations look outside to compare what is happening in a broader market, geography, other industries, etc. Just as classic benchmarking today looks at the effectiveness and cost of process, social benchmarking provides the opportunity to accelerate through the comparison of ideas, thought patterns, arguments and external collaboration. Choose once and choose wisely.

The APQC Process Classification Framework (PCF) is a great example of a structure that can be easily used as a social classification framework, tailored as a practical matter and to accommodate the proliferation of mobile devices as a way to get work done:

In this example the conversation around Managing Reporting Procedures would be expressed as either <6.6.1ManageReportProc> or as <DevelopManageHumanCap.ManageEmpInfo.ManageReportProc>. Level 1 category <SocialConversation> would be an example of an adaptation for this new paradigm.

The point of structure is to determine the best place for the conversation so that the intellectual capital of conversations and collaboration can be preserved. Without thoughtful organization, you’re just as likely to see <NHLPlayoffs> at the same level as <ManageSalesForecast> and <PartyShoppingList>. Don’t laugh…it is already out there in spades.

Keep it flexible

While advocating for a social framework, there’s no reason to limit the conversation to what can be defined through a hierarchy. Just as in Twitter, tagging is an excellent way to mark content that has a useful theme or cuts across functional boundaries (and thus isn’t well-suited to a hierarchical model).

But it goes beyond the end user’s ease of use…every organization should be using hashtagging to mine important information and answer questions like, “Which organizations are talking about a particular topic?” and,  “Who’s talking about a topic within a given organization?”

Make it inclusive

There’s no reason for a social network to be bound by the firewall or physical building. Our suppliers and customers are equally valuable as a source of collaboration and communication. Make sure that you’ve chosen a structure that works with your broader community and isn’t acronym heavy and only sensible to an ‘insider’. This point makes another argument for the use of a widely accepted social framework to aid understanding and adoption.

For a similar take, see Chris Lynch’s website and the article Rethinking Social Architecture in the Enterprise.


Categories: Featured, Frameworks, Social / Collaboration

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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9 Comments on “Facebook, MySpace and reinventing the wheel”

  1. John G Tesmer
    March 26, 2012 at 9:50 am #

    Great perspective Chris. I agree with the concepts and look forward to the feedback.

  2. March 27, 2012 at 3:00 am #

    This is probably one of the most succinct views of social media I’ve read. Sadly the frothy exuberance of social media overflows into the articles and books about using and benefiting from social media, rending them close to useless.

    Clear thinking like this should be rewarded….

    • March 27, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

      Thanks, Ian. I’ve watched too many social media plans go south for the lack of strategy and structure.

  3. rwebbapqc
    March 27, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Interesting article. I, obviously, agree with your points. This is a balance that we always consider and discuss with our members; structure vs. flexibility. But, i isn’t an either/or question in most instances.

    A process framework is just that. A framework or list of categories, process groups, processes, and activities that are generally agreed upon across organizations as pertinent to executing work within a given “function” or “area”. The real value that an organization gets from using a framework is how they assemble those different processes and activities to model their specific value chain. What I mean by value chain is how a company needs to assemble processes and activities to execute work in the manner they’ve chosen for their market and customers. Some may be more “high-touch”, some more “low cost”, while some may shift their approach based on the customer segment. Each of these approaches might require assembling processes and activities differently.

    The bottom line is that having the ability to assemble, reassemble, and gather input from a larger group (folksonomy), yet maintaining comparability with other areas, or even with outside organizations is extremely powerful. Their process becomes their service, and how they improve that and assemble it to meet their business goals make them very agile (and successful we’ve found).

    • March 27, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

      Well put, Ron. Doing it any other way is the hubris of “we know our business better and we’re unique.”

  4. salt
    April 6, 2012 at 1:55 am #

    hi chris – I read all your blog this evening – i am really new to the entire blog thing…. as only reentering work field(s) after 5 years away.

    2 points
    1) this post, VERY insightful. a framework creates a “boundary”. Not boundary as to close in, squash, constrain. But you need a boundary to “be creative” to push against. else its called infinity.

    it took me personally, years to love boundaries and not feel my freedom squashed.
    i have observed this very similar experience by majority front office/front end knowledge workers. even if they have no idea had what is going on.

    the key distinction for me is, like portfolio management.
    balancing framework and expression/creativity/innovation

    2) rest of your blog, I am very sorry to say
    I experienced as perhaps coming from a “control and command” lense. If it is isnt, I apologise upfront.

    I read many blogs this evening, and it likes most dialogue is defense mode. protect my industry. protect my future. protect my software. not overt. subtle. but there non-the-less.

    social bpm – an alternate view
    I have been bpm for 15+ years
    and many concepts I have thrown out door as too often I started a gig where prior consultants “BPM” work was collecting dust. I have littel tolerance for FLUFF.

    so bpm has since I remember been inficted by the same pains as client server implementations of ERP/CRM – issue of adoption – usefulness – realness.

    lots of talking.
    lots of documenting
    not many shouting in delight “YIPEE” in pure delight
    at making a difference (M.A.D) that day

    I did observe a lack of paper collecting dust (beautifully graphically depicted BPMN), where there was an individual (s) within the team/organisation that “felt more comfortable” with control. of the company’s culture was one of “command and control”. liked it. so alignment on agenda.

    The authors often of this paper collecting dust were some of the best consultants in there field. Committed. Yes. Work extremely hard. Yes. Doing their best. Yes.

    making a difference in the LONG term….

    So my question I am throwing out… on your blog…
    “is the industry of BPM professionals, predominantly previewing / reflecting / considering the entire social bPM conversation from a mindset of “control”.??”

    Sure business’s need transparency visibility.
    Especially if SOX reporting.
    And until SOX adapts, we need to deliver on SOX reporting requirements.

    but does that necessarily mean “BPM” as we think of it in command and control. I say no.

    As originally an accountant, I am comfortable the general ledger will provide the necessary transparency. As a long time ERP implementor, I am confident off the shelf ERP system has the checks and balances, whether it be telco, healthcare, bank, FMCG industry etc.. . Workflows provide controls etc.. blah blah. The CRM/ERP solutions I work with in Cloud land, have all these long tested processes sorted.

    So do we reinvent the wheel? No i say.

    Like front office, BPM could be = take standard/vanilla + your rules
    e.g. 20 days for annual leave
    e.g. expense reimbursement approval level x yz

    and REFOCUS BPM activities to risk activites, to conversations around results rather than linkage….

    In Social BPM
    1 start with metric rather than end with it
    2 think pods. not multi-divisional functional units.

    1) start with the metric. if no data, get the gut read. and test it.
    what is the metric of this service (aka the linear steps)?
    how do I know when something in the pipe is stagnating? lost? going pear shape?
    does this step help me meet my customer?
    e.g. does approving expense <1K time spent really help me meet my service my customer. e.g. does x step ensure when product arrives at our dock it meets QA inspection first time, all the time

    2) Use of pods (aka self directed work teams) to resolve operational issues has shown that linear processes is not a dependency.
    Operational isseus are "conversations" to be had
    Where someone will be served and someone serves.
    Full social media can be used as will involve inner/outer players.

    I have helped several orgs shift to pods in the last 2 years
    amazing results

    like birds in a flock, or the beautiful fishes… in a complex adaptive system, the people self organise.

    linear process out the door, from traditional standpoint, of step by step
    basic process Input = problem to solve and Output – solved
    how = up to the pod

    the pod's culture is they are running a business
    they are each owners.
    so that stopped any silly behaviours e.g lets just buy stock so we can have max availability. It meant the members of the pod all had to manage the natural "tension" in the business of function to collective.

    so for me,

    Social BPM could focus on "conversations" around:

    1) illuminate the inconsistencies in policies e.g. we track annual leave by days per year, but we dont track work hours by day. In Dave Gray;s blog called Connected Company that includes a presentation from a company where as a result they abolished this policy.

    2) capture the "repeat conversations". These would likely mostly get flicked over to the "pods" to resolve. repeat is boring.

    3) illuminate the early warning signals and very early warning signals (e.g the business gauges). Covey calls these lead signals. Most organisations still run on lag indicators, even after BPM/Six Sigma (lost in the trees to the forest)

    4) test, retest reiterative refinement of the early warning signals. So the pod is really portfolio managing e.g. balancing opportunity and risk

    so you see for me, Social BPM is nothing about the tool, the bp mapping. The cloud has been enabler. APIs, Cloud Applications, Mobile, TRUELLY for the first time in my 20+ years consulting allow REAL TIME service.

    real time interaction where one is served and one serves

    so my test
    would the corner shop man do this activity
    if no, then why does this "big business" need to do it?

    as corner shop man is an owner.
    balancing responsiblity and freedom
    (aka self leadership)

  5. salt
    April 6, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    the real life case I have been using to test my own thinking is

    a work community
    self formed
    self directed

    what processes? = updates, wiki, communication
    bpmn = zero
    Result = Linux
    some say, Linux is one of the most amazing products of our time
    built by community members “contributing” their granule(s) of knowledge/script/component

    In the recent book, Unleash the Force
    Linux case is mentioned and others too.


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