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At a recent DWG members meeting I listened to several Intranet managers
express concerns about how this social computing thing was going to affect
their employees. One Intranet Manager explained that senior leaders in his organization
thought that social computing meant that employees would waste time making trivial connections, not valuable work-producing ones.
It seems that some leaders are hearing the word “social” and seeing employees
hanging out in some kind of online happy hour, all on company time. It kind of makes sense, because for most, the word social still basically means “not work.” And the celebrity of social computing phenoms such as Facebook and MySpace doesn’t really help the problem.
I’m wondering if others have felt this response from their organizations
when considering implementing social computing technologies?
I was struck by how similar this discussion was to early fears about
introducing chat clients for employee use. Back in the mid-90’s, managers feared
that employees would fritter time away chatting about anything but work. That’s because years ago, a “chat” really was nothing more than light, frivolous conversation. Yet today, chat clients are ubiquitous and powerful productivity tools. It’s interesting, however, that the original and popular term “chat” (remember chat rooms?) has been largely replaced by “instant message,” and eventually winnowed to just “IM” to describe this type of communication.
The term social computing does seem like a good way to describe the phenomenon
of using technology and online services to connect people, ideas and work in a
very natural, human way. But what if the term itself becomes an impediment to
The correct term for these technologies as applied to the workplace really
would be Enterprise social software, but that doesn’t really improve the
problem with “social.” Or, Enterprise 2.0 might fit the bill. I don’t think I’m alone in finding the 2.0
label to be ambiguous and over-applied, however. More traditional terminology for
this type of behavior might be online collaboration, or the even dustier Knowledge
Management (sorry, KM folks). While these words do carry a more workaday feel, they just don’t have the same cool-factor as social computing does.
I can think of at least one innovative social computing tool which is labeled in a very
inviting, yet work-minded kind of way; IBM’s well-known Jams. The word alone conjures up just the right mix of working effort and innovative creation. A Jam feels like you’re making
something new and exciting, in a totally unscripted way. This is what’s missing from social, chat,
2.0, collaboration and knowledge management.
Maybe the label will evolve as these technologies become more and more mainstream parts of working life. The “social” in social computing could become less worrisome to managers as they witness the value of leveraging the collective voice of their employees. Or, maybe social computing will evolve into collective computing, as adoption increases, and individual actions and connections accumulate to define the collective voice and spirit of an organization.