Reflections from 2011 – Focused and Purposeful Social Networking

Tenerife - Mount Teide in the WinterIn a rather thought-provoking blog post shared a few days back, my good friend, the always insightful, Alan Lepofsky ventured to put together what could well be some very interesting predictions for 2012 with a slight twist that I am sure is going to provoke lots of healthy dialogue as we start moving into the new year. Of particular and relevant interest to this article I am putting together over here in this blog would be item #1 on “The Social Buzz Wears Off” where Alan comes to share this rather shocking, perhaps, too harsh statement: “2012 will be the year employees start hating social software“. Goodness! So soon?!?! I mean, we have only been having social software tools for merely 15 years and we are already starting to hate them, as end-users? Boy, look at email, it’s taken nearly 40 years to reach that kind of negative sentiment altogether and we are already claiming the Social Web will be reaching that same status that soon? Really? Well, I am afraid Alan is right, although I wouldn’t call it a prediction for 2012, but more a reality of today, 2011: the current state with all things social. Welcome to the Age of Effectiveness!

I am not sure what you folks would think about Alan’s thoughts in this area, but I think he pretty much nails it with a growing sentiment that plenty of us, knowledge Web workers, have been pondering about for a long while now and which another good friend of mine, Greg Lowe, put together beautifully in a rather inspiring tweet earlier on in the week:

Effectiveness, that’s all the rage coming along for 2012, and beyond, with regards to our overall user experience with social networking tools, whether inside, or outside of the firewall. Long gone are the days and the times when wasting time getting the Social Web to work for us was all what we were busy with during our working hours, as well as plenty of our private time. As we move into 2012 it looks like most of us are now ready to claim that we, knowledge workers, should no longer go around social software, but, instead, the latter should work around us, or, more specifically, what we would want to achieve, whether internally, or externally.

Why effectiveness? Well, for several reasons, but I would probably think that one of the strongest cases is to look for ways to fine tune our overall user experience with social at a time where we are now getting exposed to more data, information and knowledge than ever before, and we would want to get a grasp of what’s happening around us without having to focus much more on technology. We are already starting to see how technology is perceived as a means, as a tool, to achieve a goal, no longer an end on its own and we are probably owing that shift of focus of our attention to smartphones and tablets (Specially, Android, iPhone & iPad devices) where technology does no longer take as much preeminence, but instead, our overall user experience does. So, over time, we are becoming more and more demanding with our over social experiences and, as such, that’s where we are realising that we still have got a long long way ahead of us to make it work around & for us, instead of against us, which, funny enough, seems to have been my own experience in the last 12 months.

Greg mentions on that succinct tweet how he will be looking forward to potentially settle down on a single social networking site for 2012 and beyond to stay focused, which seems to be, and rightly so, the focus of attention nowadays for plenty of people, if I may add so myself. And that’s a good thing! Because right along with focus we have another concept I have grown rather fond of during the course of this year: purpose (Or purposeful). And whether most of those social networking sites and enterprise social software solutions would admit and acknowledge or realise about it or not, next year we, social software end-users, are going to become a whole lot more demanding with where our focus will be going (Or should be going), as well as for what purpose.

That shift has already started with yours truly, as I have come to ponder and muse about in this “Reflections from 2011” series of blog posts, where if I was previously blogging about how technology in general was one of my major disappointments from the year, the Social Web is not far behind. And that’s something that I find very worrying. Not because of what’s happened in this past year, but for what’s continuing to happen in the new year and that we seem to be doing very little about to avoid making the same mistakes. But perhaps we should see it with a couple of examples, so that you folks can see what I mean …

Earlier on this year, I put together a blog post where I talked about “The Big Three – How to Handle Your Fragmented Social Life“. In it, I mentioned how I may not be capable of settling down into a single social networking site to allow me get the most out of the Social Web, whether internal or external. So, instead, I decided to stick around with what I still call nowadays “The Big Three“: the three major social networking solutions I have learned to treasure and nurture over the course of time to reach the stage where I can no longer live without them, both on a personal and work levels. You know how it goes. Social software grows on you the more you use it, not because of the social technologies in place themselves, but more because of how they keep helping you manage to stay connected with those people who you care the most for and have learned to trust over the course of time a great deal thanks to that continuous social friction. Yes, the main purpose, if you want to call it that way, for social software, still today: connecting people to people and connecting people to content.

Yet, that overall user experience for myself with those big three (IBM Connections, Twitter and Google Plus) has been less than ideal to the point where I have been struggling more than succeeding on adjusting their ways of working to my ways of working and getting things done. Whether it may be related to their native features, or, better said, the lack of them, or whether the deployment has been everything but smooth, one has come to realise that in order to care for those social tools you love and heart quite a bit, there are some growing pains to put up with along the way. However, that doesn’t mean that those growing pains should be there for good. Quite the opposite. As we are about to enter a new year, we are all probably going to become a lot more demanding, like I was mentioning before, not just to kill off and terminate those pain points, but participate actively in helping re-design that overall user experience to the point where I’m starting to believe that those social networking sites that listen to their end-users the most and learn from them would be the ones that will be succeeding eventually. And big time!

One thing that we should not forget, and this is something that I kept telling the customers I have visited during 2011, is that, as a vendor of both your products and services, the group of people who would always know your own products much much better than you will always ever do, or dream of, would be your customers. Not only because they are using your solutions out of the box with the intended purpose you decided upon from the beginning, but also because those very same customers are the ones who are taking to the extreme your products, hacking away new behaviours, new ways of doing things, pushing the limits of how far they can go with your solutions to help them achieve what they want and not what you want. So those vendors that get to understand that and fully embrace it are the ones that are going to win us back all the way and for a long long while!

Take, for instance, Twitter. If you have been following this blog for a long while now, you would acknowledge the kind of love / hate relationship I have been having with that social networking site for years. I have loved it quite a few times, but I have also loathed many many more. Over the course of time, the user experience has deteriorated so bad, including its third party, or even their own, Twitter Apps that I have been on the brink of giving up on it altogether and never walk back several times. Yet, I’m still there. Why? Because of the connections I have nurtured and cultivated over the course of time, of course, because of the continuous and rampant learning curve one gets exposed to, because of the wonderful and magical serendipity it provides, but, above all, because after a long wait, there is finally a Twitter App that has helped me recover back the user experience I once had with Nambu. And that is Janetter. Perhaps the best Twitter desktop client out there at the moment. At least, for me, the one that has helped me love Twitter again. Why? Because it provides me with a purpose to shape up my focus on where I want it to be. Not where Twitter wants it to be, regardless of what they say or do. Something that before wasn’t happening.

Take another example: Google Plus. The social networking site that plenty of people want to see dead, but that just recently reached the 62 million users mark, which I guess is not too shabby for a walking dead social networking platform, don’t you think? Anyway, like I was saying, to me Plus has become the favourite place to host lengthier conversations that perhaps have got a better place than in Twitter or your own blog. It’s become for me my favourite deep thinking learning place on the stuff I am really passionate about. The overall Web browser experience is amazing; the amount of features put together where Google is bringing Google to Plus at a rather rampant pace is unprecedented. The reach it’s starting to have is one to none (i.e. In the last several months I have been having plenty of customers finding my Plus Profile before anything else… including my own blog!!). Yet the mobile experience has got a lot to be desired for. Yes, I know, there are Android as well as iPhone Apps and they are pretty nifty, but still somehow I think we all know and realise we could do a whole lot more with them. Most of the times they feel like we are just scratching the surface of what we could do with them.

We need to have a better mobile user experience for Google Plus. We need to have better options and feature sets that allow us to bring back that focus and purpose with this social software tool. And to make things even better we finally need a good iPad App that provides that unique experience we all know we can have. And should have, if they would want us to keep using it in the next few months…

You see? This is what I mean with the state of the Social Web. I am sure plenty of you folks could share lots of similar experiences with other social networking tools, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Slideshare, and whatever other mobile social tools, etc. etc. Both focus and purpose are back in the game for the new year. They are the new black! To the point, where seeing how hectic and incredibly busy 2012 looks ahead of its starting time so far, I fear that I would be having very very little time to waste trying to adjust, for the zillionth time, to their needs and wants, versus them trying to adjust to my / our own. If The Big Three, at least, for me, don’t step up and move forward to improve my overall user experience the way I would want to, I guess it will be a good time for me to focus back on where the real social networking activities will be happening from here onwards; that special place we all know we can always shape up to meet our needs and wants and achieve most of what we want: real life.

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