External Social Networking Sites
Commercial Social Networking sites abound. These are not typically focused on the enterprise, but instead focus on end users or commercial activities themselves. However, they are important to the way that our user community views or expects to view and use technology. Some of these are discussed in the following sections.
For many people, Facebook is the central Social Networking tool in their Internet lives. Facebook enables you to connect with people in new ways and interact on levels that normally would not occur in the real world. Consider my situation with using Facebook. As a consultant, I do some hardcore travel at times throughout the year. Most of my colleagues do the same. When we are not traveling, we work from our home offices. Depending on which city they call home, some people do go into a local office. The point is that I am lucky if I see some of my coworkers or even my manager in person once a year.
Facebook helps to bridge that gap of not working in a traditional office. I can see when my colleague Julia is running another triathlon or where other coworkers happen to be traveling to this week. This perspective fills a gap in the social fabric of our workplace that many people didn't even know existed. It enables us to get a new perspective on the daily lives that traditional office workers take for granted. It's our version of chatting around the water cooler and provides an insight into the human side of our business colleagues. At the same time, I can keep up with what is going on with my two sons in college, other friends, family members, and previous coworkers from around the globe.
Although Facebook allows us to network and connect in an organizational context, it is not the place to conduct internal corporate business. One would not (or perhaps should not) use this application to try to move up the corporate ladder. Unless you are actually trying to interact with the general public, there should be limits to what your employees are discussing on a public site. Chapter 9, "Managing a Changing Social World," goes into more detail on this topic. You can try to re-create Facebook within the confines of your organizational firewall, but you probably do not want an exact duplicate. There are features of Facebook that can be emulated, and the building and collection of profiles has benefits within most business organizations; however, the lure of Facebook is not confined to those areas, and there are other approaches to building a social network that can add direct business value.
In addition, Facebook's status as an external application adds to its appeal. Having the people I enjoy connecting to within a single place provides me a direct benefit in terms of the time and effort that would normally be involved with maintaining contact with such a diverse group of people. Were I to have to choose between connecting internally or externally, or worse have to manage several different systems based on multiple sets of users, I would have to carefully consider how much effort I wanted to expand on each system. This is an important factor in deciding to build a Social Networking application within the enterprise. If you build it, will they really come?
Several months before writing this chapter, I was a presenter at a conference in Sydney, Australia. This was a small internal IBM conference that included participants from across the Asia Pacific (AP). Several of my U.S. colleagues and I had flown over for the event to help train our coworkers from Australia, Japan, Malaysia, India, and other countries. More important, it was an event designed to make connections with experts from all across the world that would enable us to communicate and collaborate better in the future.
As you might expect, everyone had a camera and was taking pictures (e.g., of event happenings and group photos with new friends). As the week progressed, it became apparent that everyone had photos that needed to be shared with the larger community. Thumb drives and SD cards were flying around between participants. However, the main issue was knowing what each person had and figuring out which photos we wanted.
Flickr to the rescue! By posting those photos on a shared community site, access to the greater community was easily provided, something that never could have been accomplished by this diverse of a team using other methods. The community was just too geographically dispersed, and trying to set up a custom site, communicating the information to access the site, and keeping it up and running would have been logistically problematic. Flickr is a well-known, easy-to-use, free service that met all those needs with minimal setup.