You’d think the CEO of a public company would have better things to do with his time than to blog anonymously about his company’s performance and trash the competition. But this seems not to be the case with John Mackey, chief executive of Whole Foods Market, whose “sock puppeting” behavior, “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company” has now landed him in hot water with the Feds and competitors in the natural foods grocery business. Probably a gaggle of lawyers will figure out a way to solve the Mackey issue . . . at least for now.
Yet, this latest escapade got me thinking (once again) about the double-edge sword of social computing. Sometimes we can be too social – not just speaking out of turn but also crossing important organizational boundaries. In our era of instant communications, it is possible to communicate too freely.
What we need are a few good models for how we’re going to “collaborate” with one another over the Net—figuring out the boundaries without building walls. (By enterprise collaboration I mean exchanging and sharing both information and insights, to do our jobs better.) Behind all the Web 2.0 hype, I suspect there are a few pointers towards new models.
One of my current favorites for a new model is Lotus Connections, an integrated suite of five services for social software (IBM’s moniker for the market). These services are (a) communities, (b) social book marking, (c) enterprise profiles, (d) activities, and (e) blogs. Not surprisingly, these services are based on the ways that IBM typically does business. In fact, Connections productizes several internally developed IBM technologies.
I realize that I have the same feelings for Connections that I had with Lotus Notes in the early days of the groupware revolution – a terrific concept for a new computing paradigm, yet where the devil’s in the details. With a $110 per user price tag, IBM is focusing (for now) on the large enterprise marketplace. Designed to run inside an enterprise, Connections bundles restricted versions of WebSphere Application Server, DB2 Enterprise Database, and Tivoli Directory Integrator. To be sure, large organizations have large internal collaboration problems – such as quickly assembling ad hoc task teams of company experts who do not necessarily know one another to solve a pressing problem, or coordinating constantly changing schedules and deliverables.
But I am still bothered by the boundary problem of social computing – which Connections (despite all its promise) does little to address. Yes, as soon as we are authorized and authenticated by our networked environment, we can collaborate and share information. With current technologies, we’re living in a binary world. Either we’re inside the firewall/enterprise or we’re public on the Net. Either things are “private” or “public.”
In real life though, we’re dealing not with just black or white. Social computing’s going to have to do better, and be able to deal with many shades of gray. This means being able to manage content, schedules, and relationships across an “extended” enterprise – and being able to adjust the degree of connectedness we want to have with colleagues across different organizations.