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Category: desire

Real-Time Collaboration, Serious Play and the Enterprise


With the advent of Windows 7 and the upgrades to the MS Office franchise, the talk is that there’ll be a big round of corporate upgrades. Many corporations are still running Windows XP, Internet Explorer 6.x and Office 2003 (or lower). Vista didn’t tempt them, but the good press for Windows 7 is supposed to do the trick. After all, they have to upgrade at some point, right?

If corporate America takes the plunge, one has to wonder if this will be the last upgrade cycle of this kind. The distribution and installation of software on to desktop and laptop computers is a messy business. Businesses require a very compelling reason to upgrade given the current model.

Google has put forward the model of the browser as operating system by working backwards from the Chrome browser to the Chrome OS. The integration of the Office Suite into the hardware starts in the cloud and moves to the local machine. When Microsoft tried a similar move in the other direction, the government stepped in.

Both Google and Microsoft have developed cloud-based Office Suite offerings moving from opposite directions. Looking down the road a bit, we can see that the next upgrade cycle will be “software + services” for Microsoft, and “services + software” for Google. The obvious motivation will be cloud-based software’s cost savings over the current model of distribution, installation, compatibility, upgrade and service of software installed on a local system. The sheer cost and pain of a firm-wide software upgrade is so frightening that most corporations defer it as long as possible. It’s entirely possible that some firms will skip the last installation and jump directly to the cloud.

Collaboration within the enterprise takes place via email, attached documents and shared network drives. The productivity software footprint defines the boundaries of the modes of collaboration. The big real-time innovation was the introduction of mobile push email via the Blackberry. This innovation reduced latency in the work process by detaching email from the desktop and allowing it to accompany a person wherever she might go. The introduction of Sharepoint and network-stored group editable documents is slowly seeping into the work process. But most corporate workers don’t know how to collaborate outside of the existing models of Microsoft’s Office products. Generally, this just an acceleration of the switch from production of hard copies to soft copies (typewriters to word processors). When confronted with Sharepoint, they view it as a new front-end to shared network drives, a different kind of filing cabinet.

Meanwhile in the so-called consumer space, Facebook, Twitter and a host of real-time social media services have radically reduced the latency of group communication and collaboration. In addition to text– photos, audio and video have begun to play an important role in this collaboration stream. For the most part the corporate computing environment has been left behind. This is due to two factors, the desire to maintain a certain kind of command and control of information construction and distribution within the walls of the corporation; and the desire of IT departments to avoid risk by maintaining a legacy architecture. The real-time productivity of the Blackberry has been working its way down from the top of organizations; but the tool set remains the word processor, powerpoint and excel. The only accelerant in the mix is faster mobile email of soft copies of documents.

Ray Ozzie discusses the “3 screens and a cloud” model as the pattern for the development of human-computer interactions across both the consumer and enterprise computing spaces. The missing element from this model is the input device, screens are no longer simply an interface for reading. Bits are moving in both directions, and email is being de-centered as the primary message carrier.

As we look at innovations like Yammer and Google Wave, the question becomes how will the corporate worker learn how to collaborate in real time? Accelerating network-stored documents and their transmittal via email moves the current model to near maximum efficiency. Further productivity gains will need to expand and change the model. Generally these kinds of innovations enter through the back door, or through a skunk works project, within small autonomous teams. But at some point, the bottom up innovation needs top down acceptance and support.

Luke Hohman of Enthiosys works with the concept of serious games in the management and development of software products. The collaboration processes he describes in his presentation to BayCHI may be the foundation for real-time collaboration throughout the enterprise.

The lessons that we can take from Twitter and Facebook are that the leap to real-time collaboration is not one that requires a 4-year college degree and specialized training. It’s not an elite mode of interaction that needs to work its way down from the executive leadership team. It’s an increasingly ordinary mode of interaction that simply needs to be unleashed within the enterprise. But for that to happen, the enterprise will need to learn how to incorporate self-organizing activity. (Oh, and let employees use the video camera and microphone built in to their hardware) This will be a difficult move because the very foundation of the corporation itself is the creation and optimization of managed hierarchical organizational structures. It’s only when the activity of serious play can be reconciled with return on investment that the enterprise will come to terms with real-time collaboration.

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Curation, Collections & Cabinets of Curiosity


As we tread water in the flood of information being written into the Network through real-time interfaces, we see the word ‘curation‘ on the lips the VCs and the entrepreneurial classes. The problem was succinctly stated by Clay Shirky as: not one of information overload, but rather of filter failure. The filter of the moment is some form of curation. The firehose of information will be reduced to a rational and manageable collection through a semantic algorithm or a collaborative group filter. The search for the perfect curatorial tool is on– we want the thing that turns our infinite reading list into a prioritized, relevant, manageable collection of consumables.

butterfly collection

Collections can take a number of forms. For instance, varieties of butterflies can be put into a frame. Here we don’t look for a rational taxonomy, instead we desire beauty, rarity and narrative in each member of the collection.


Collections can be healthy or neurotic, the Collyer brothers obsessively collected the ordinary detritus of our culture and stacked it in their house. In the end, they accumulated 130 tons of stuff.


The cabinet of curiosity was an encyclopedic collection of items on the boundary of scientific classification systems. The criteria for inclusion included the rarity, the utterly foreign, and especially the example that broke the rules of classification.


Joseph Cornell made an art form of creating collections that embodied contradiction and the irrational. Where scientists worked diligently in creating a rational taxonomy of the natural world, Cornell created an organized presentation of the unconscious.


That filtering tool that we’re searching for seems to produce a rational collection of items based on relevance and similarity. A firehose of items is categorized and prioritized, similar items are reduced to their exemplars, placed on a tray, and made ready for consumption as a collection of hors d’oeuvrers. The items in a cabinet of curiosity, as they are not easily categorized, would probably slip through the cracks of these collections.

The most common filtering tool is popularity. The best tools of this kind attempt to find popularity before it is too popular. Malcolm Gladwell exposed this pattern of meme acceleration through taste-making nodes of a social network. The tools currently available in online social networks, the retweet and the like are the most common accelerants. Discovery of early signs of velocity is the bread and butter of the news business. Once something is truly popular, we become like Yogi Berra, and quip that “nobody goes there anymore, because it’s too crowded.” In the financial world, this might be called selling on valuation. A stock that reaches its potential and now lacks upside, is sold in favor of a new stock showing signs of velocity to the upside.

Sometimes what you want to locate isn’t what’s the most popular, but rather the edge of the debate. The point where the categories break down and the subject of the discussion hasn’t been decided one way or the other. The purpose here isn’t to read what other people disagree about, it’s to be given an interface into the fray itself. Here we aren’t looking for content about some topic, instead we’re looking for a bi-directional connection to the organic thing itself.

The topology of the Network can be expressed in a variety of lexicons. Popularity follows a focused reading model. But as we begin to think of a real-time, read/write, two-way interface on to the Network, we look for a map of argument, the swarm of attention around an undecided direction, the political discourse of everyday life.

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The Context of the Search: Public and Private Identities

The widget is beginning to supercede the hyperlink as a proper response to a search query. You can start to see this with the deals Google and Bing are making, the search engine results page (SERP) can no longer satisfy as just a prioritized page of hyperlinks.

Search returns public social gestures in real time. But clicking a link isn’t necessarily what’s needed in this context, perhaps it’s a ‘like’ or a ‘retweet.’ Maybe it’s a reply. The SERP interface will extend the requisite affordances to enable these gestures.

Search returns videos that are playable inline. Perhaps they can be directed to a playlist which can be shared. Perhaps it finds the news clips and streams that relate to the healthcare debate or the Web conference that’s going on in real time or the public video streams from the protest march. Search returns that quote from a movie and cues the video up to exactly the right spot

Search returns music (Google’s deal with with an option to buy a web-only version or a file download. And, of course, you can listen to it one time for free just to get a sense of whether you really like it or not. Or perhaps it reminds you that you own a copy already and you can play it from your cloud-based record collection. Perhaps you want to add it to a playlist, or see what kind of genius list it generates. Perhaps you want to see who in your directed social graph also has this song in her playlist.

Search finds the debate around the news of the day. The journalism is pulled apart and acted out by the participants in the discussion. The discovery is not separated from the debate.

Search is becoming two-way, social and contextual. It’s not just a connector to a page— it is the connection itself, and it’s exposed through the response to the query. Search is no longer search. It’s a browsing activity, zig-zagging across the Network, it’s berry picking, it’s a bullshit session over a cup coffee, it’s researching and working through a problem, it’s finding out if anything worthwhile is going on right now. It’s not about the efficiency of the link, but the pleasure of the journey and the company we keep. It’s asking a question anonymously, but it’s also shifting modes and filtering the response based on personal identity and social graph. It’s asking in public, but it’s also asking in private.

We sometimes search for context among the things we index. But it’s not things that are semantic, it’s the people. As Wittgenstein notes, the meaning of a word is in its use. And the use of a word is in its social exchange, search begins to search for the real-time moment of exchange– and in that instant search is transformed.

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Fragments to Multitask by…


Some short fragments on the idea of multitasking. In the frame of the task, the thing to be done owns the attention of the doer. The doer’s attention is released when the task is done. The idea of multitasking is to engage with a portfolio of tasks, rapidly switching attention among tasks, or initiating actions that affect more than one task. The critique of multitasking states that the energy expended on switching and re-engaging among tasks lowers overall productivity. The comparative case is a set of tasks done sequentially with a singular focus. The design of the comparison begs the question about the value of what is learned in process. If the strategy, goal and tasks are static and nothing learned in process will change them, then there may be an optimal sequence to complete tasks. On the other hand, if the information released through engagement with the portfolio of tasks dynamically affects strategy and goals, then the early uncovering of both known and unknown unknowns provides better overall visibility. However, generally, in a corporate setting, strategy and goals are not responsive to the task. The pecking order doesn’t allow information transfer in that direction, especially with top down management styles that neutralize the bottom-up approach by championing it.

The other frame in which multitasking finds itself is in the behavior of rapid switching among electronic media inputs. The critique here is that our attention spans have been shortened and by virtue of the new media environment. Reading a long novel, or some other activity, that requires sustained attention over a long period is thought to be on the way out. We’re only interested in the highlights.

The operational assumption is that consumption of narratives is a process in which an individual starts at the beginning, goes to the end and then stops. Deviation from that model provides evidence of dysfunction, an inability to concentrate attention. Empirical observations show individuals engaging for short bursts and then moving on to the next thing. The short engagement is thought to be a response to the flood of information. Nothing can be fully engaged, so everything is engaged at its most shallow, in a summary form. The depth of the narrative product is untouched. Imagine a person ordering 12 completely different dinners and only having a taste of each course. The equivalent of 1 dinner is consumed, and 11 dinners wasted.

It was in listening to a recording of Tyler Cowen in conversation with Russ Roberts that the bit was flipped for me. By simply looking from the reverse angle, the pieces fall into place. The narrative is also on the side of the individual. Cowen posits that individuals have long running narratives for which they collect fragments of information. Perhaps you’re a fan of a baseball team, a particular musician or a kind of dog. The ocean of information and the multiplication of sources is a welcome addition to the environment. Tracking a favorite musician through the ocean of information on the Network creates an efficient filter. Tracking other people who track this musician creates a  micro-community of interest and extends the reach and focus of an individual.

What looks like multitasking turns out to be a single task executed across multiple media sources. What might look like a lack of focus and a short attention span is simply a relentless filter throwing out fragments that don’t enhance the internal narrative. The new media environment affords the possibility, and significantly reduces the cost of, productive research. The connections formed among these diverse sources loop back into the Network as a new node in a virtuous circle.

In an environment of scarcity, narratives might be savored— the story eagerly consumed from the ‘once upon a time’ to the ‘they lived happily every after.’ In an environment of abundance, the rare narrative is the one you’re building for yourself. The one built from the abundance of material uncovered through the Network.

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