More on Microblogging: Evolution of the Enterprise Market

Following my post last week on the need for additional filters in enterprise microblogging tools and activity streams, I participated in an interesting Twitter conversation on the subject of microblogging and complexity. The spontaneous conversation began when Greg Lowe, a well-respected Enterprise 2.0 evangelist at Alcatel-Lucent, asked:

"Can stand alone micro-blogging solutions survive when platform plays introduce the feature?"

I immediately replied:

"Yes, if they innovate faster"

Greg shot back:

"is microblogging autonomy about innovation, or simple elegance? More features usually leads to lower usability?"

And, later, he asked a complementary question:

"is there a risk of Microblogging becoming "too complicated"?"

Is Greg on to something here? Do more features usually lead to lower usability? Will functional innovation be the downfall of stand-alone microblogging solutions, or will it help them stay ahead of platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging into their offerings?

One of the commonly heard complaints about software in general, and enterprise software in particular, is that it is too complicated. There are too many features and functions, and how to make use of them is not intuitive. On the other hand, usability is a hallmark of Web 2.0 software, and, if we make it too complex, it is likely that some people will abandon it in favor of simpler tools, whatever those may be.

But that dichotomy does not tell the entire story. Based on anecdotal evidence (there is no published quantitative research available), early adopters of Web 2.0 software in the enterprise appear to value simplicity in software they use. However, as a colleague, Thomas Vander Wal, pointed out to me yesterday, that may not be true for later, mainstream adopters. Ease-of-use may be desirable in microblogging (or any other) software, but having adequate features to enable effective, efficient usage is also necessary to achieve significant adoption. Later adopters need to see that a tool can help them in a significant way before they will begin to use it; marginal utility does not sway them, even if the tool is highly usable.

Simple may not be sustainable. As I wrote last week in this post, as enterprise use of microblogging and activity streams has increased and matured, so has the need for filters. Individuals, workgroups, and communities want to direct micro-messages to specific recipients, and they need to filter their activity streams to increase their ability to make sense out of the raging river of incoming information. Those needs will only increase as more workers microblog and more information sources are integrated into activity streams.

In the public microblogging sphere, Twitter provides a solid example of the need to add functionality to a simple service as adoption grows in terms of registered users and use cases. As more individuals used Twitter, in ways that were never envisioned by its creators, the service responded by adding functionality such as search, re-tweeting, and lists. Each of these features added some degree of complexity to the service, but also improved its usability and value.

In the evolution of any software, there is a trade-off between simplicity and functionality that must be carefully managed. How does one do that? One way is to continuously solicit and accept user feedback. That allows the software provider and organizations deploying it to sense when they are nearing the point where functionality begins to overwhelm ease of use in a harmful manner. Another technique is to roll out new features in small doses at reasonable intervals. Some even advocate slipping new features in unannounced and letting users discover them for themselves. Hosted deployment of software (whether on-premise or off-site) makes this easier to do, since new features are automatically switched on for people using the software.

So back to the original question; can stand-alone microblogging solutions fend off the collaboration suite and platform vendors as they incorporate microblogging and activity streams in their offerings? My definitive answer is "yes", because there is still room for functionality to be added to microblogging before it becomes over-complicated.

Based on the historical evolution of other software types and categories, it is likely that the smaller vendors, who are  intensely focused on microblogging, will be the innovators, rather than the platform players. As long as vendors of stand-alone microblogging offerings continue to innovate quickly without confusing their customers, they will thrive. That said, a platform vendor could drive microblogging feature innovation if they so desired; think about what IBM has done with its Sametime instant messaging platform. However, I see no evidence of that happening in the microblogging sphere at this time.

The most plausible scenario is that at some point, small, focused vendors driving microblogging innovation (e.g. Socialcast, Yammer) will be acquired by larger vendors, who will integrate the acquired features into their collaboration suite or platform. My sense is that we are still 2-3 years away from that happening, because there is still room for value-producing innovation in microblogging.

What do you think?

Planning your agenda for the upcoming Gilbane conference

We are very pleased to have Jeremiah Owyang and Daniel W. Rasmus in our opening keynote session this year as we announced yesterday. Both have been very popular with our audiences is the past: Jeremiah, on last year’s analyst panel in San Francisco, and Dan as an opening keynote a few years ago in Paris at our (since sold) Documation event. If you can join us this year in SF you won’t want to miss them (8:30-10:00am, Wednesday, May 19th).

The conference program is mostly complete with just a few more speaker confirmations to go, so you can start planning your agenda anytime. The conference program tracks this year are largely role based, rather than technology based. This is a result of input from our attendees, as well as from our exhibitors. In both cases, this is a reflection of the ubiquity and maturity of many web and content technologies – attendees want to know which of these apply to their own specific requirements, and vendors continue to specialize to differentiate themselves in a very crowded market. One result, of our approach is that technology topics can be sprinkled across mutiple tracks – social software, for example. In order to build a relevant customized agenda, you will want to read about all of the conference sessions, but here is some role-based advice to get you started quickly:

If you are in marketing, or responsible for a public website, start with the Customers & Engagement track, and then fill in with sessions from the Content Technology and Content Publishing tracks.

If you are an Information Manager, Knowledge Manager, line of business manager or Project Manager, start with the Collaboration & Colleagues track and then fill in with sessions from the Customers & Engagement, Content Technology and Content Publishing tracks.

If you are a Technologist or in IT, focus on the Content Technology track, and then add sessions from the other three tracks to see what your customers are trying to accomplish with the technology.

If you’re in corporate or commercial publishing, check out the Publishing track and build a program around the Content Technology and Customers & Engagement track.

And don’t forget the in-depth pre-conference workshops.

Filtering Microblogging and Activity Streams

The use of microblogging and activity streams is maturing in the enterprise. This was demonstrated by recent announcements of enhancements to those components in two well-regarded enterprise social software suites.

On February 18th, NewsGator announced a point release to its flagship Enterprise 2.0 offering, Social Sites 3.1. According to NewsGator, this release introduces the ability for individuals using Social Sites to direct specific microblogging posts and status updates to individuals, groups, and communities. Previously, all such messages were distributed to all followers of the individual poster and to the general activity stream of the organization. Social Sites 3.1 also introduced the ability for individuals to filter their activity streams using "standard and custom filters".

Yesterday (March 3rd), Socialtext announced a major new version of its enterprise social software suite, Socialtext 4.0. Both the microblogging component of Socialtext’s suite and its stand-along microblogging appliance now allow individuals to broadcast short messages to one or more groups (as well as to the entire organization and self-selected followers.) Socialtext 4.0 also let individuals filter their incoming activity stream to see posts from groups to which they belong (in addition to filtering the flow with the people and event filters that were present in earlier versions of the offering.)

The incorporation of these filters for outbound and incoming micro-messages are an important addition to the offerings of NewsGator and Socialtext, but they are long overdue. Socialcast has offered similar functionality for nearly two years and Yammer has included these capabilities for some time as well (and extended them to community members outside of an organization’s firewall, as announced on February 25th.) Of course, both Socialcast and Yammer will need to rapidly add additional filters and features to stay one step ahead of NewsGator and Socialtext, but that represents normal market dynamics and is not the real issue. The important question is this:

What other filters do individuals within organizations need to better direct microblogging posts and status updates to others, and to mine their activity streams?

I can easily imagine use cases for location, time/date, and job title/role filters. What other filters would be useful to you in either targeting the dissemination of a micro-message or winnowing a rushing activity stream?

One other important question that arises as the number of potential micro-messaging filters increases is what should be the default setting for views of outgoing and incoming messages? Should short bits of information be sent to everyone and activity streams show all organizational activity by default, so as to increase ambient awareness? Perhaps a job title/role filter should be the default, in order to maximize the focus and productivity of individuals?

There is no single answer other than "it depends", because each organization is different. What matters is that the decision is taken (and not overlooked) with specific corporate objectives in mind and that individuals are given the means to easily and intuitively change the default target of their social communications and the pre-set lens through which they view those of others.

New Gilbane Beacon on High-Volume Data Challenges

We’ve published a new paper on addressing large-scale integration, storage, and access of complex information. As Dale mentions in his entry over on our main blog, the paper frames the discussion in terms of challenges to Open Government initiatives. We note, though, that the exploration of obstacles to effective, efficient processing of high volumes of data and content is relevant across many industries.

We’re cross-posting here on the XML blog because the paper deals wtih XML content and the XML family of standards, including XQuery and XPath.

The Gilbane Beacon is available as a free download from Gilbane and from Mark Logic, sponsor of the paper.

Survey on MT Adoption and Usage within Global Content Value Chains

Last year as we pursued our research for the Multilingual Product Content study we saw an opportunity for further study of the role of machine translation (MT) as an element in the global content value chain (GCVC).  To this end, Gilbane Group is now conducting an online survey on MT adoption and buyer / user expectations.  The survey covers domains using MT, target applications, integration, benefits and business drivers, as well as obstacles to adoption.

Adoption of MT in some form or another is gaining acceptance and use (we anticipate) will soon be prevalent, especially as a strategy for managing user-generated content in multiple languages.  We are seeking input from IT, content, and language professionals within global enterprises as well as service providers.  Current adoption of MT is not a requirement for taking the survey.

The survey is online and will take less than 10 minutes to complete.  In exchange for participation, respondents will receive aggregated survey results and the executive summary of the analysis. Take the survey nowContact us if you have any questions about the research.

Paper on Open Government Data Initiatives Available

Updated March 3, 2010

Government agencies produce a lot of information. Making it accessible to the public, which essentially paid for it, can be quite challenging. The volume is high. The formats are varied. Much of it remains locked in information silos.

Support is growing to take steps to make as much government information available to the public as possible. President Obama issued a directive describing the official policy for Transparency and Open Government that mandates an unprecedented level of accessibility to government information. At the same time, technical advances have improved the feasibility of increasing access to the data.

I recently completed a Gilbane paper on this topic and how some agencies are improving access to public data. It is now available for free on our Web site at The paper’s sponsor, Mark Logic, has provided interesting case studies that illustrate the challenges and approaches to overcoming them. I also explore some of the major hurdles that need to be crossed to achieve this goal, including:

  1. Extremely high volumes of content and data
  2. Highly diverse, heterogeneous data formats and data models
  3. Complex content integration and delivery requirements
  4. Time-sensitivity of content
  5. Changing information environments

The approaches described have enabled that users of this technology to implement high-volume, disparate-data applications that not only overcome old technical barriers but also deliver new value to their organizations. This is, after all, the essence of open data – be it for open government, open publishing, or open enterprise.

I encourage you to read this paper to get a better understanding of what works to make government data more open.

Update: the Beacon is also available from Mark Logic.

Content Globalization: Hot Topics at Gilbane San Francisco

We’re featuring multlingual content strategies, practices, and technologies in four sessions on the San Franciso program:

  • Reaching Global Audiences: Case Studies in Multilingual Multisite Web Content Management
  • Breaking Out of the Silo: Improving Global Content Value Chains by Collaborating Across Departments
  • Content Metrics: Tools for Measuring ROI in Global Content Infrastructures
  • Eliminating the Multilingual Multiplier: Addressing the Cost of Producing Formatted Content in Multiple Languages

These topics are among the hot spots on Gilbane’s 2010 Content Globalization Heat Map, which identifies a set of key investments that companies can make today to advance their content globalization practices and overcome language afterthought syndrome. (See this presentation for more information on these concepts.)

We’re in the process of populating the sessions with top-notch speakers. Check the Gilbane San Francisco conference site for updates. Twitter is #gilbanesf.