My Interest in Organisations and how Social Media Fits in [en]

[fr] Ce qui m'intéresse dans ces histoires d'organisations, et le lien avec les médias sociaux (du coup, aussi des infos sur mon intérêt pour ceux-ci).

I found these thoughts about organisations at the beginning of Here Comes Everybody fascinating: organisations and how they disfunction are a long-standing interest of mine, dating back to when I was a student with a part-time job at Orange. My initial interest was of course function rather than dysfunction. How does one make things happen in an organisation? What are the processes? Who knows what? It was the organisation as system that I found interesting.

Quickly, though, I bumped my head against things like processes that nobody knew of and nobody was following. Or processes that were so cumbersome that people took shortcuts. Already at the time, it seems I displayed a “user-oriented” streak, because my first impulse was to try to figure out what was so broken about those processes that people found it more costly to follow them than come up with workarounds. Or try to understand how we could tweak the processes so that they were usable. In reaction to which one manager answered “no, people must follow the processes”. I didn’t know it then, but I guess that was when I took my first step towards the door that would lead me out of the corporate world.

More recently, and I think I haven’t yet got around to blogging this, I have remembered that my initial very “cluetrainy” interest for the internet and blogging and social media really has to do with improving how people can relate to each other, access information, and communicate. The revelation I had at Lift’06 (yes, the very first Lift conference!) while listening to Robert Scoble and Hugh McLeod about how this blogging thing I loved so much was relevant to business was that it pushed business to change and humanised it. Blogging and corpepeak don’t mix well, blogging is about putting people in contact, and about listening to what is being said to you. As the Cluetrain Manifesto can be summarised: it’s about how the internet changes the way organisations interact with people, both outside and inside the organisation.

That is what rocks my boat. Not marketing on Facebook or earning revenue from your blog.

Again and again, when I talk to clients who are trying to understand what social media does and how to introduce it in their organisation, we realise that social media is the little piece of string you start pulling which unravels everything, from corporate culture to sometimes even the business model of the organisation. You cannot show the human faces of a company that treats its employees like robots. You cannot be “authentic” if you’re out there to screw people. You cannot say you’re listening if you’re not willing to actually listen.

Of course, there is the question of scale. I’ll get back to that. Personal doesn’t scale. Radical transparency or authenticity doesn’t scale. But your average organisation is so far off in the other direction…

I’ve realised that my interest lies more with organisations and forms of collaboration and group effort than with social media per se, which I see first and foremost as a tool, a means to an end, something which has changed our culture and society. I find ROWE and Agile super interesting and want to learn more about them. I have a long-standing interest in freelancing and people who “do things differently”. I’m interested in understanding how we can work and be happy, both. I’m also realising that I have more community management skills than I take credit for.

In the pile of books I brought up with me to the chalet, next to “Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do” by my friend Euan Semple and books around freelancing there is “Delivering Happiness“, the story of Zappos, and “One From Many“, the story of VISA, the “chaordic organisation” — and “Rework” (37signals) has now joined the ranks of the “have read” books in my bookshelves.

Lift11: Chris Heathcote, The invisible communities [en]

[fr] Notes de la conférence Lift11 à Genève.

Live and India-lagged notes from the Lift11 Conference in Geneva. Might contain errors and personal opinions. Use the comments if you spot nasty errors.

Communities that aren’t Facebook!

History of the internet is a history of community.

Usenet, for example. Let people talk about stuff they were interested in with anybody in the world. Very well-designed.

Mailing-lists. Used in academia a lot to collaborate for the first time.

As usenet slowly died and turned into a place where you can download pirated movies, web forums took up. Vbulletin, phpBB & discuz. Huge part of the internet, way bigger than Tumblr etc. But nobody talks about them anymore.

On the web, but often invisible. Sometimes Google can’t see them, so they don’t exist to us.

Chris is seeing a lot more communities like this, for example community game-playing in Japan. 22 mio users (2 communities) — maybe the reason Facebook isn’t taking off in Japan. Pseudonyms and important life/persona separation, stark contrast with the over-sharing identified user that Facebook wants.

Korean messaging apps. Hugely popular, but the community is completely in-app.

Image-sharing: Instagram for example — you see the pics on the web, but all the rest is only in-app, and it feels private because it’s on your phone. Other example: Path.

All of these things are of the Internet, but not of the Web.

Unexpected communities: Grindr.

Gay dating application. No login, your physical phone is your identity. You just see the photos of the 100 nearest people. Works well, compare to Gaydar where you probably never get past the first screen because you’ve forgotten your password. Grindr is very limited!

A community despite its original intentions. People are using it just to chat. Designed to minimize the time between seeing the person on Grindr and actual physical meetup, but people just use it to chat. Excellent: map of gathered weight of people on Grindr one Saturday night per London tube station. Interesting: in Grindr profiles, lots of Ping! identities.

Even dating becomes a community.

Gaydar: started as a web dating site but is now much more. Has its own radio station. Website larger than Tesco’s in the UK!

How do you get people to come back? We’re lucky, people love talking about everything and anything. Go where the people are.

If you have people doing something, you might want to add community features so they can talk.

And in many cases, don’t use Facebook Connect or Twitter login, people don’t necessarily want to tie their identity to everything they do. Don’t connect identities.

Let people to talk both in private and in public.

Moderate with personality. Moderation is really key. Passionate and interested moderators that are real people and not Google Groups moderators.

Watch what’s happening. Not every site has sociologist going through their data.

“Get them to like each other” (Rushkoff) Don’t look to monetize. Look to foster connexions between people, and let them go about their business. *steph-note: hmm, this is kind of how I roll*

  • people like to talk
  • whatever you build will be used to communicate
  • more than one identity
  • public, semi-public and private conversations
  • watch what’s happening
  • let people like each other

4chan tries to rule the world by taking down whole countries, etc — they need somewhere to organize…

One of the cool things about usenet was that there was a master list of groups. That doesn’t exist anymore. Google Groups is a great chance to try and make sense of all this, but Google dropped the ball.

Could we imagine a Facebook competitor based on the fact you have a fake identity, asks Laurent? *steph-note: connexions are limited with a fake identity — if you connect to too many people who know you it breaks down*

Lift11: Tiffany St James, How to encourage involvement in online communities [en]

[fr] Notes de la conférence Lift11 à Genève.

Live and India-lagged notes from the Lift11 Conference in Geneva. Might contain errors and personal opinions. Use the comments if you spot nasty errors.

Community engagement benefits: connecting with like-minded individuals, p2p recommendations, resources, stimulation, engagement with people in their spaces…

Gardening community. Craigslist. Communities of practice. Communities of circumstance (people drawn together by events).

Types of online community:

  • led by individuals vs. organisations
  • conversation-oriented vs. content-oriented

[photo coming]

But there are also risks in online engagement. Also, the engagement has changed over the last five years. “UM Social media Wave 5”.

OK, we know all these things, so what?

Trust in communications has changed. More powerful than professional sources: good contact on social network (3rd most powerful recommendation source, just after family member and close friend), author of a blog you read regularly, main contacts on Twitter.

Smart mobs, democracy in action? People are using social media on a lobbying level. Use of #cnnfail hashtag to get more coverage on CNN about Iran.

Last year: BP and pollution.

The truth will out: gagging order on the Guardian about Trafigura.

What can we learn from wikileaks? Tiffany threw away her notes to follow Tapscott: we are going to be naked in this age of hyper-transparency. So we better be fit.

Using social media for good: microloans, green stuff, human rights.

Individuals can have enormous power (cf. Beth Kanter — she’s just one person!)

Turning online action into offline action. Big businesses are also using it for good: promoting local endeavours that they want to champion. Voting causes up and down.

Connecting like-minded individuals: nike

All very well, but what does this mean for me? Should I throw a party or join one? Create a community or join an existing one?

You need to first identify relevant communities. Search google with relevant keywords.

Criteria: number of posts and topics, their date, the member list, structure and management, contact details of moderator…

Never underestimate the ressources needed to simply host a community and manage it.

Set an objective:

  • listening?
  • stimulating a discussion?
  • looking for feedback on a particular issue?
  • co-producing something?

Rule of participation inequality: 90% of people in the community are lurkers, 9% intermittent contributors, 1% heavy contributors.

Need to change strangers into lurkers. Change lurkers into commentators. Turn the commentators into creators.

Another way of manifesting a community is to develop a partnership.

Continual optimisation: not that many metrics we can use, but there are some. Some KPIs (what are we trying to achieve that we can measure?)

There isn’t enough work on exit strategies for a community. Change of government: how do you stop maintaining some of the communities set in place? If no strategy, hurt and disgruntled participants. You can’t just shut things down. Be transparent about your exit strategy: what will happen when it’s over?

5 things to look out for:

  • myth: build it and they will come
  • don’t be too too strict
  • conflict: moderator/participants (not too much ego in moderators)
  • not too complex
  • don’t neglect the community and the moderator interaction

Code of conduct: credible, consistent, transparent, etc.

Are you ready for this?

BlogCamp: Multilingual Blogging Session [en]

[fr] Mise par écrit des notes de préparation pour ma présentation hier au sujet des blogs multilingues, lors du BlogCamp à Zürich. En deux mots: il faut des gens pour faire le pont entre les îles linguistiques sur internet, et la façon dont sont conçus nos outils n'encourage pas les gens à être multingues sur leurs blogs. C'est pourtant à mon avis la formule la plus viable pour avoir de bons ponts.

I presented a session about multilingual blogging at BlogCamp yesterday in Zürich. Thanks to all of you who attended (particularly as I was competing with Xing’s Nicolas Berg!) and wrote about the session (Bruno of course, Sarah, Sandra, Maira, Jens-Rainer, Waltraut, Jokerine, Antoine…let me know if I need to add you here), and to Greg in particular for filming the session.

Although I’m rather used to giving talks, this was the first time my audience was a bloggy-geek crowd, so it was particularly exciting for me. I prepared my talk on the train between Lausanne and Bern, and unfortunately prepared way too many notes (I’m used to talking with next to no notes), so I got a bit confused at times during my presentation — and, of course, left stuff out. Here’s a rough transcript of what I prepared. Oh, and don’t forget to look at this photo of my cat Bagha from time to time to get the whole “experience”.

Steph giving her talk.
Photo by Henning

Talk notes

In the beginning there was the Big Bang. Space, time and matter came to exist. (Physicists in the audience, please forgive me for this.) We know it might end with a Big Crunch. Internet looks a bit like this Big Crunch, because it gets rid of space. With the right link to click on, the right URI, anybody can be anywhere at any time.

However, we often perceive the internet as a kind of “space”, or at least as having some sort of organisation or structure that we tend to translate into spatial terms or sensations. One way in which the internet is organised (and if you’re a good 2.0 person you’re acutely aware of this) is communities.

Communities are like gravity wells: people tend to stay “in” them. It very easy to be completely oblivious to what is going on in other communities. Barrier to entry: culture. Language is part of a culture, and even worse, it’s the vehicle for communication.

What is going on in the other languageospheres? I know almost nothing of what’s going on in the German-speaking blogosphere. The borders on the internet are linguistic. How do we travel? There is no digital equivalent of walking around town in a foreign country without understanding a word people say. Note: cultural divides are a general problem — I’m trying to focus here on one of the components of the cultural divide: language.

Who speaks more than one language? In the audience, (almost) everyone. This is doubly not surprising:

  • Switzerland is a multilingual country
  • this is the “online” crowd (cosmopolitan, highly educated, English-speaking — though English is not a national language here)

Two episodes that made me aware of how strong language barriers can be online, and how important it is to encourage people to bridge the language barriers:

  • launching because at the time of the browser upgrade initiative I realised that many French-speaking people didn’t have access to all the material that was available in Anglophonia, because they just didn’t understand English well enough;
  • the very different feelings bloggers had about Loïc Le Meur when he first started being active in the blogosphere, depending on if they were French- or English-speaking, particularly around the time of the Ublog story.

A few questions I asked the audience (mini-survey):

  • who reads blogs in more than one language? (nearly everyone)
  • who blogs in more than one language?
  • who has different blogs for different languages?
  • who has one blog with translated content in both languages? (two courageous people)
  • who has one blog with posts in various languages, mixed? (half a dozen people if my memory serves me right)
  • who feels they act as a bridge between languages?

So, let’s have a look at a few multilingual blogging issues (from the perspective of a biased bilingual person). Despite the large number of people out there who are comfortable writing in more than one language (and the even larger number who are more or less comfortable reading in more than one language), and the importance of bridging cultural/linguistic gaps, blogging tools still assume you are going to be blogging in one language (even though it is now accepted that this language may not be English).

What strategies are there for using more than one language on a blog, or being a good bridge? Concentrate first on strategy and then worry about technical issues. Usage is our best hope to make tool development evolve, here.

A. Two (or more) separate blogs

  • not truly “multilingual blogging”, it’s “monolingual blogging” twice
  • caters well to monolingual audiences
  • not so hot for multilingual audiences: must follow multiple blogs, with unpredictable duplication of content

B. Total translation

  • a lot of work! goes against the “low activation energy for publiction” thing that makes blogging work (=> less blogging)
  • good for multilingual and monolingual audiences
  • technical issues with non-monolingual page (a web page is assumed to be in a single language…)

C. Machine translation!

  • getting rid of the “effort” that makes B. fail as a large-scale solution, but retaining the benefiits!
  • problem: machine translation sucks
  • too imprecise, we don’t want more misunderstanding

D. A single blog, more than one language (my solution)

  • easy for the blogger, who just chooses the language to blog in depending on mood, bridge requirements, etc.
  • good for the right multilingual audience
  • technical issues with non-monolingual pages
  • how do you take care of monolingual audiences? provide a summary in the non-post language

“Monolingual” audiences are often not 100% monolingual. If the number of people who are perfectly comfortable writing in more than one language is indeed rather small, many people have some “understanding” skills in languages other than their mother tongue. Important to reach out to these skills.

For example, I’ve studied German at school, but I’m not comfortable enough with it to read German-language blogs. However, if I know that a particular post is going to be really interesting to me, I might go through the trouble of reading it, maybe with the help of some machine translation, or by asking a German-speaking friend.

A summary of the post in the language it is not written in can help the reader decide if it’s worth the trouble. Writing in a simple language will help non-native speakers understand. Making sure the number of typos and grammar mistakes are minimal will help machine translation be helpful. And machine translation, though it is often comical, can help one get the gist of what the post is about.

Even if the reader is totally helpless with the language at hand, the summary will help him know what he’s missing. Less frustrating. And if it’s too frustrating, then might give motivation to hunt down a native speaker or do what’s required to understand what the post is about.

Other bridging ideas:

  • translation networks (translate a post or two a month from other bloggers in the network, into your native language)
  • translation portal (“news of the world” with editorial and translation work done) — check out Blogamundo

Problem I see: bloggers aren’t translators. Bloggers like writing about their own ideas, they’re creative people. Translating is boring — and a difficult task.

Some more techy thoughts:

  • use the lang= attribute, particularly when mixing languages on a web page (and maybe someday tools will start parsing that)
  • CSS selectors to make different languages look different (FR=pink, EN=blue for example)
  • language needs to be a post (or even post element) attribute in blogging tools
  • WordPress plugins: language picker Polyglot and Basic Bilingual
  • excerpt in another language: what status in RSS/atom? Part of the post content or not? Can RSS/atom deal with more than one language in a feed, or do they assume “monolingualism”?
  • indicating the language of the destination page a link points to

Extra reading

The nice thing about having a blog is that you can dive back into time and watch your thinking evolve or take place. Here is a collection of posts which gravitate around language issues (in a “multilingual” sense). The Languages/Linguistics category is a bit wider than that, however.

Blogging in more than one language:

About the importance of language, etc.: