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The Perfect Storm – Social, Mobile and User Experience

I returned from a terrific conference - Confab – the brainchild of Kristina Halverson of Braintraffic. There were over 600 attendees and the event was completely sold out.  We were sponsors of the event and I delivered a full day workshop on taxonomy, metadata and search to about 65 attendees.


What is amazing about the event is that it is in its second year.  The conference was started last year and had 400 attendees – and was sold out.  This is practically unheard of for a first time conference.  What was the secret?  I think there were a number of things.  Certainly the topic – Content Strategy - was timely and there was an enormous need for this kind of event.  But a key ingredient was the marketing vehicle was the use of social media. 

The event was marketed extensively through a network developed by Halverson over the years.  She is an author and speaker who understands the power of tools like Twitter.

What is also interesting is that we sponsored another conference that was taking place during the same two days as Confab.  This conference was declining in traffic and had few attendees and sponsors though the topic is very important and the speaker line up was excellent.

What was the difference? I can’t say for sure but there was something interesting that a colleague overheard.  She was listening to one of the event organizers talk about the fact that they did not see any value in Twitter and that they did not have time for it.

This is what is referred to as a “concordance”.  These things are not necessarily linked by cause and effect.  Who is to say if that was the reason, but I am sure that it did not hurt for Kristina to publicize the event to her 16,000 plus followers.

The point is that social media is changing marketing and in interesting ways.  I am always looking to Twitter to find interesting events and Articless and I do enjoy the bite sized ideas and links to more extensive treatment of ideas and approaches. 

Social computing is changing other aspects of collaboration and knowledge sharing.  It is allowing for a faster ‘clock speed’ of information management and recombination.  Consider tagging.  Tagging is generally meant to be the act of placing metadata on content.  Tagging can be controlled through formal processes or uncontrolled in the form of social tagging – letting anyone tag anything as they please.  Twitter “hash tags” are uncontrolled.  They are terms that people add to their tweet in order to tie them to an idea or event.

The problem with social tagging has been twofold:  variability of tags (misspellings, number, repetition of synonyms) and findability of tagged content.  Though appropriate for personal organizing systems, tags typically did not contribute to findability of information.

SharePoint makes elegant use of tags that addresses these issues. First, the system pulls up existing terminology from the term store ( a controlled vocabulary repository) and second it is possible to browse one’s own tags or look for content based on a so called ‘tag profile’.  Tags in effect get home pages that tell you who else used the tag and where it was used.  So it is possible to see what other experts tagged with that term and what content they found of interest. 

This is akin to seeing a post in Twitter based on a hash tag, then seeing what other posts used that tag.  Then following the people who made those posts, then looking at their posts.

This is a way to traverse content and find new relationships and new knowledge serendipitously.  It is a way of revealing what is important and what people are looking at and who is collaborating about specific topics.

Much of this is accomplished on mobile devices – there are many compelling statistics on how processes are moving from the desk top to tablets and iPhone like devices.  Organizations need to consider mobile design first according to many user experience experts.  This forces prioritization of what is most important and focuses functionality through constraint-based design.  My colleague Jeff Carr, now with Microsoft, demonstrated to me the capabilities that he has on his mobile phone.  The integration of capabilities and the user experience was elegant, seamless, simple.  He was able to accomplish tasks that I would need access to my laptop for – attending meetings including video, notifying people that he was running late with a touch of a button, launching screen sharing and presentations from his phone, instant messaging simply and easily.

Jeff’s illustration of his day to day work tasks on this device that were simple, fast and intuitive exemplified the evolution of technology from tools to features to experience. The functions and features were no different – I could send a message from my blackberry that I was running late for a meeting.  But I would have to open the email, reply to the organizer, type a message, send, etc.  He did it with one touch on an easy to use screen.

Our world is running at a faster clock speed.  This is due to the ongoing evolution of technology and increasing efficiencies and effectiveness of the design of technology into the fabric of our lives.  The trend is toward decreasing visibility of the technology and easier achievement of objectives. 

What does all of this have to do with intranets and internal systems?  Everything. 

  1. Organizations need to be increasingly aware of the “consumerization” of IT – users are experiencing greater utility of their personal information services and increasingly expect the same of their organizational information.
  2. Mobile is here and growing at an astounding pace – intranets need to function as well or better on mobile devices and designers need to think of mobile first and let those constraints inspire effective and efficient design.
  3. Social computing is for the enterprise- there are many examples of tools beyond SharePoint but SharePoint us ubiquitous and therefore enterprises need to understand how to harness the power without letting it go out of control.

There you have it.  The job of the IT organization has gotten a few orders of magnitude more complex, challenging and interesting.  The bar has been raised.  Just when we thought we understood where to go and what needed to happen around things like information architecture and search.  Now we need to contend with three massive new trends that are conspiring to transform organizations yet again. 


This Article was originally published in the July/August 2012 issue of Intranets: Enterprise Strategies and Solutions.                                                                  

Seth Earley
Seth Earley
Seth Earley is the Founder & CEO of Earley Information Science and the author of the award winning book The AI-Powered Enterprise: Harness the Power of Ontologies to Make Your Business Smarter, Faster, and More Profitable. An expert with 20+ years experience in Knowledge Strategy, Data and Information Architecture, Search-based Applications and Information Findability solutions. He has worked with a diverse roster of Fortune 1000 companies helping them to achieve higher levels of operating performance.

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