E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Is Social Business Ready to Face Internet Traffic Jams?

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringIf you have been following this blog for a long while now, you would know how, over the course of time, there has been one of those so-called pet peeves of yours truly that keeps re-surfacing every so often, time and time again, specially, when I am on the road, away from my home office. Indeed, I am talking about Internet connectivity, or, rather, the lack of.

Over the course of the last few months I have been doing a rather interesting mental exercise of taming myself, with plenty of education, patience and understanding, to confront all of that rage and irate opinions that keep coming up whenever I just can’t keep up with my knowledge Web work, just because the connectivity is very poor, if non existent altogether, while on the road. Thinking that it is ok to be disconnected every now and then. It’s good for the body, it’s good for the mind. It allows you to do plenty of good critical thinking on things around you. You know, there will always be a time, when you head back home, for you to catch up with everything in your social streams. Your ADSL home connection will do the trick and show you how you are still ok, despite that long period of disconnectedness when traveling around.

Well, what happens when back at home that, once trusted, reliable, scalable, relatively speedy, consistent, reasonably priced Internet connection ceases to exist? How does a remote knowledge Web worker keep up then? Not too well, apparently. In fact, struggling would probably be a much better word describing the growing pain mobile home workers are going to continue experiencing with their home connectivity over the course of time. 

At least, that’s what has just happened to myself, upon my return from my recent business trip to Boston for the Enterprise 2.0 event, when I found out that my local ADSL Internet provider, my good old friend Movistar, downgraded my Internet speeds for download and upload without further notice, without even a confirmation of the deterioration of the Internet connection itself.  It just happened and I have got to get used to it, whether I like it or not, because that’s what monopolies are all about. Or are they? 

Plenty of people out there keep raving about how interconnected, and glued, to the Internet we have all become in recent times. The level of broadband penetration is at highest levels ever possible to the point where hardly anyone would claim they still don’t have a decent Internet connection. Even on mobile devices, whatever those may well be. It’s just not happening any more. But the reality is that things are different, much different, specially, if you live in a country where the entire network bandwidth is governed and managed by a single provider which consistently uses their monopolistic tactics to keep degrading end-users’ Internet experiences while raising the prices. That’s essentially what Movistar has been doing using as an excuse that they cannot longer keep up with the demand because their infrastructure is just not ready. Really? I mean, when fiber optic is providing speeds of 50 mbps to 100 mbps download? Really?

Here is a crude example of what I mean: I used to have a half decent 10 mbps download – 0.69 kbps upload with Movistar as my home ADSL connection. Not my 3G or USB modem, but my regular home Internet connection. About 2 weeks ago that changed drastically and deteriorated to a rather unbearable level: 5 mbps download and 0.58 kbps upload. While price is still pretty much the same. Around 70€ per month. Now, under normal circumstances, it would not have bothered me that much, that is, for personal, private use is probably good enough. Although expensive. However, as a remote knowledge Web worker, and I think there are two key important aspects to this, i.e. remoteness at the home office and Web work, it’s proved to be not very convenient, nor helpful. In fact, I’m starting to struggle with it all. 

Not because of trying to keep up with the Social Web, whether internal or external, although it’s been a bit of a painful experience so far, but mostly because when trying to do a good number of different things, interactions I cannot longer feel that sense of being productive, nor effective. Specially, when handling rich media. In my role as a social computing evangelist focusing on enabling, facilitating, helping and coaching fellow colleagues on living social, I rely quite heavily on conducting remote workshops through emeetings, for instance, where both screen sharing and video conferencing are involved. And so far I have forced myself to rather reschedule the education sessions or cancel them altogether, because we haven’t been capable of making it work without the usual hiccups, temporary glitches coming from a rather poor connection. And here I am, musing on the irony of things and witnessing how Movistar takes a toll on my own productivity as a social knowledge Web worker not allowing me any longer to do my job properly. And getting away with it big time, since apparently there isn’t much more than I can do about it. 

Yes, I know what you are all probably thinking at this stage, as I write this blog entry, the easiest solution would be for me to move, i.e. take my things and move to a new place, closer to the switches where my regular Internet connection could be reestablished and problem solved. Unfortunately, it’s not an option at the moment. In fact, I don’t think it would be fair for my private, personal environment to sacrifice what I have now just because of a monopolistic ISP can’t cope with the demand on what they offer, because of how poorly they have implemented their current infrastructure. Switching to another provider would not be very helpful either, since they all have to go through the same wired network, their own!, so even if I would change ISPs I would still have the same speeds as I have got now. Not good enough!

So it really hit me when I bumped into one very powerful tweet shared by my good friend Alan Lepofsky on the real impact of Social Business for that new kind of remote knowledge Web workforce that seems to become more of the norm, than an exception nowadays: 

 

Goodness! That’s just so spot on, from Alan! I mean, we surely keep taking the Social Web and our connectivity for granted, yet, as soon as that Internet connection gets interrupted, or deteriorated, there goes our Social Web experience suffering just as much as a result of it, with the end-goal of us, knowledge workers, no longer being capable of working effectively. Thus how much of a dependency would we have on our social technologies providing offline / local access, so that we could do our work, even if connectivity would be poor to then replicate or sync back to the server(s) with our data. It’s an old concept, I know, coming from groupware, (Lotus Notes anyone?) but do we feel that social networking tools would also need to be available offline for us to be productive? I am not sure what you would think, but I am starting to think that we would better prepare for it, because something tells me ISPs would try to cling to their power position and try to make business off that new remote workforce by providing poor service for big bucks till you eventually give in! 

Being a remote knowledge Web worker as I am, and on the road on a regular basis, I have learned to tame myself and keep calm when connectivity is not there, thinking that when getting back home I can do proper catch-ups, and get up to speed relatively fast, so I can go ahead and do other things, but now the challenge that comes up is that if when coming back to my home office I can’t be productive enough because of the poor performance of the ADSL connection, it bears to question whether we, knowledge workers, should start pushing for offline access to our social networking tools for business. Or not. Somehow, and experiencing how tough it’s become to carry out certain social tasks with the downgrade I have experienced for a few days already, I am starting to ponder whether Social Business would be ready to face Internet traffic jams, because somehow it doesn’t look like it would be able to. And at what costs then for businesses out there? 

How fragile is the business world at the moment, now that it is becoming more social and Web dependent than ever and how more and more third party agents are diminishing our ability to carry out business effectively? Is that something that the corporate world could afford? Seeing how their remote knowledge workers cannot keep up with the pace from their fellow colleagues while at an office location? Somehow, I am starting to find it rather worrying. And although we do have a good number of social networking platforms that embrace and support offline interactions there aren’t too many though. At least, not yet. In fact, most of the major social software vendors do not provide local access to social networking tools. 

Thus what could we do about it? How can we keep justifying our lack of productivity while working remotely, if foreign circumstances keep getting on the way, like ISPs capping, or crippling, whatever your preferred term may well be, your network connectivity because they just can’t cope with it anymore? Yet the prices remain the same, if not higher. I am not sure what you would think, but I’m starting to sense that if we would want to address this issue with local governments, or, even better, in our case over here in Europe, with the European Union, we would need to have, at least, a proposal for a decent Internet connection that would allow us to do our knowledge work effectively by guaranteeing certain speeds that would allow us to remain productive. That, or social networking tools need to start supporting offline access. To be honest, I doubt the first scenario would be taking place any time soon, although I would think it would be the desired outcome from this growing pain to be dealt and done with, so I’m hoping that those Enterprise Social Software vendors start paying attention to the growing needs and demands from remote workers with poor connectivity to stay connected and start accommodating to those needs, or very very soon the corporate world as we know it will keep hitting huge losses of individual, network and group productivity that I doubt we would be capable of recovering from. 

So, what do you think? Do you feel that Social Business is ready today to face Internet traffic jams? Do you feel that offline / local access, like Alan mentioned on that tweet, is something needed for us, remote workers, to keep getting work done effectively? Or would we eventually need to migrate to large, crowded cities to remain connected just because we just can’t fight ISPs monopolies strongly enough to shift their ill-behaviours of abuse, left and right, of our Internet rights. What would the European Union, because I guess local governments won’t be able to do much about it, nor that they would want to, need to do in order to change this growing, and rather worrying, trend where knowledge Web workers keep getting crippled right there where it hurts us all the most: our Social Web experience? Is there anything that we can do to get things back on track? I am surely hoping so, but right now I run out of ideas, alternatives, or good enough solutions. And that is a very sad thing for a remote knowledge Web worker, don’t you think? A pity, even. 

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