I’ve just finished reading Andrew McAfee’s book Enterprise 2.0: new collaborative tools for your organization’s toughest challenges. While reading it, I made some notes on how accurately the ideas fit my own experience of deploying Traction Teampage in my NHS board, along with some of the ideas which I think might help us do better. I hope Mr McAfee doesn’t mind my sharing those notes here, including a few short quotes, just in case they prove useful to other people. I highly recommend reading the book if you’re at all interested in this subject. One of the most positive effects it had was to make me feel that neither I, nor my fellow staff, are in some sense to blame for the slow progress we’re making towards more “Web 2.0”-style working. As the book explains, it’s a pretty difficult thing to achieve.

Folksonomy – The following sentence jumped out at me while reading about Delicious folksonomy: “My Delicious tags help me navigate my own bookmarks. The fact that they help reveal the Web’s structure to everyone else is peripheral tome, but central to the value of Delicious for everyone else.” I’ve heard it said time and again that we have to develop systems which allow our clinical staff to get on with the work that’s important to them, while generating documentation and reporting information as a by-product of that work – i.e. a similar sort of emergent structure.

Norms – Wikipedia encourages cooperation and discourages vandalism partly by making it very easy to delete stuff. Perhaps I’ve made a mistake with our Traction implementation by having restricted editing permissions on most of the community spaces. At the moment, the quality of content is relatively poor because the feedback from readers to authors doesn’t happen – readers blame the technology for the failings of the authors.

Wiki – Here’s a nice quote: “He found that people were almost always willing to take the couple of minutes required to put the information on the wiki, and in many cases even added to it.” My experience has been exactly the opposite: people are (generally speaking) not willing to spend *any* time either contributing or reading. Information has to be spoon-fed to readers, and extracted from contributors with a great deal of effort and nagging. I did almost exactly the same thing as the Vistaprint guy when we first started up our wiki (4 or 5 years ago now, I think) – I replied to “broadcast” emails asking the authors to contribute to the wiki instead. Although this has had some success in building up a body of content on the site, it doesn’t seem to have instilled any sense of ownership in the authors, something which seems crucial to long-term success of a wiki. Clearly the Vistaprint experiment was more successful!

Replace existing processes – One of McAfee’s pre-requisites for building a working wikipedia-type system is to replace existing processes with the new ones. This is something I have fundamentally failed to achieve. People are still making Word and PDF documents and sending them round, as well as posting them on our Traction server. They are still trying to use email for version control with contributors, then asking for comments via Traction. Just today, I saw 4 emails sent to all staff on a subject which was irrelevant to all but a few people – 3 of those emails were corrections to the original! Sending an email might save effort for the sender, but it sure wastes a lot of time for the recipients. But as Jim McGee said at the Traction User Group, “One of the reasons that email continues to be the system of choice is that it’s the only system which crosses firewalls with any predictability.”

Broadcast Search – It is crucial that pages link to each other. It provides context, makes it easier to read and allows the search engine to work better (pagerank). Our staff almost never link anything, so the search engine tends to work quite poorly. However, here’s an interesting quote from Euan Semple of the BBC on their adoption of similar technology: “With a few rare exceptions, once you found a document it was likely to be badly written, barely relevant and out of date… I came to believe that what people really wanted was to find someone who knew what they were talking about. Even if that “knew what they were talking about” meant knowing which document to read, why and where it was to be found. So what we did was start building online social spaces like forums, blogs and wikis…”

Implementation problems – The book has a great section on why social software platforms are not adopted rapidly in corporate environments, I highly recommend reading it. The main message is to accept you’re in it for the long haul; it takes a long time to make significant inroads on email as a collaboration mechanism. I really needed to hear this because I’ve been finding it difficult to stick to my guns – I’m fatigued by the constant evangelical effort I have to make, with only gradual visible improvements. We’ve done a lot of the things which McAfee suggests to encourage uptake, but there are two things we haven’t done which would make the biggest difference: make Traction a mandatory part of (at least some) people’s jobs; have senior managers who visibly use Traction to communicate (in both directions) with staff.

Incentives – I like the idea of creating incentives for using Traction to do work. Perhaps doing wiki-style collaborative work could be part of staff personal development plans. Perhaps we could just give away prizes. I feel certain that some sort of formal acknowledgement of such work from managers would be effective, because McAfee is right – the important thing is to make people feel their efforts are valued.

Wikileaks – One of the “red herring” problems McAfee describes is theft, i.e. outsiders getting hold of valuable information from internal social software platforms. McAfee’s dismissal of this issue is rather off-hand, basically amounting to this – if the CIA et al approve of social software platforms then they must be OK. Which looks a little dubious in the light of recent new stories! I don’t think McAfee is wrong, but like everything else it’s a trade-off: excellent, connected information with higher risk of theft; or less effective information with much less risk of theft.

Conclusion – Enterprise social software platforms “are long hauls, requiring a great deal of attention, leadership and patience. Not all organizations will have enough of these resources to succeed.” Yep.