E L S U A ~ A KM Blog Thinking Outside The Inbox by Luis Suarez

Knowledge Tools

Is Twitter Where Connections Go to Die? – The Unfollowing Experiment

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the Winter

Over three years ago I wrote a blog entry over here about Twitter under the provocative heading: ‘Twitter is where conversations go to die’. It was a cathartic article I needed to get out of my system in order to re-find my love with that social networking tool. I wasn’t enjoying it much back in those days. Three years later, here I am again, writing about it, once more, but this time around with a different twist. I still love Twitter, as I wrote just recently. I use it every single day of the week, it’s my favourite personal learning network by far, but I am starting to question the value of connections over there. Why? Well, no-one seems to care anymore, apparently.

I have been on Twitter since early 2007 and I keep remembering fondly the time when people would eagerly connect with one another; when they would share lots of interesting tidbits just for the sake of adding further value into the network(s) and the overall conversation; when they would converse with one another and learn from each other (even from total strangers); when people didn’t have double agendas nor were just they tooting their own horn by blasting out marketing messages whole day long repeatedly. Over and over again, all over the place and time, because, you know, you need to get your message out, or so we are told. Essentially, yes, I am still missing the days when Twitter was The Pulse of the Planet: The Global Conversation. The place to be.

Still is today, in my opinion, but all of the things we cherished and loved about Twitter seemed to have been long gone and lost, and, probably, not returning back any time soon. Unless we do something about it. Twitter, on its own, it’s just one of the many hundreds of different digital tools within the Social Web. It’s our smart use of the tool that makes the difference, like in pretty much anything technology related. Always. So when you know it is no longer working out for you there are a few things you can do:

  1. Let inertia run its course and stick around just because everyone else is still in there anyway and continue on the path to get bored to death over time.
  2. Move on to the next shiny object where you think everyone else is hanging out usually (Nowadays, it’s Facebook, apparently #Meh)
  3. Or do something about it, break the chain, challenge the status quo and redefine a completely new user experience. See if it works and, if it does, stick around with it. Move on. 

About a month and a half ago I decided to go for #3 and see whether it would work or not. Indeed, over 6 weeks ago I decided to run #elsuahackstwitter. An experiment where I’d be challenging not only how I make good use of Twitter, but those around me as well. I decided to unfollow everyone. Yes, everyone. No exceptions. From one day to another. And instead of relying on a combination of Twitter Lists and my home timeline, which is what I have been doing for years already, I decided to be brave enough and see whether I could survive just with Twitter Lists and following zero people and witness, first hand, whether the conversations moved elsewhere. Or not. Eventually, I wanted to see how disruptive such bold move would be like on how we use Twitter today.

Why Did I Do It Then?

Essentially, I wanted to challenge our basic perception of how we use Twitter nowadays and whether it would make sense without it or not. Everyone has got followers and their own following, but what happens when your following is no longer there? When you decide to stop following everyone and question the purpose of that connection in the first place? Is it still worth it, is it just a vanity metric, is it an influence metric you can make good use of? Why do we follow people on Twitter in the first place? To show off anticipating reciprocation, perhaps because of what they share across or maybe because of the conversations they host? I had to run the experiment and see what the fuss was all about.

What if Twitter decided to drop off the count of both followers and following? Would you still make use of it, like you are doing today? Imagine if Twitter decided get rid of that vanity metric, so that we would focus more on the conversations themselves, i.e. on topics, hashtags, events, etc., etc., do you think you would still be making use of Twitter and enjoy the overall experience as much as you are doing nowadays? Or maybe not much really. That’s exactly what I wanted to try out, whether I could live without that ego centric metric we all seem to be very keen on nurturing to prove and validate our own so-called influence and take my Twitter experience on to a different level. That’s how #elsuahackstwitter got started over a month and a half ago and I must confess, after a few weeks have gone by, I am quite enjoying the results and the overall experience. Although not too sure about what everyone else would think for that matter!

What Has Actually Happened?

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride, I can tell you. An emotional journey of sorts, testing how far I could tame my own ego, that one of others, my reactions, their reactions, our two-way conversations and see whether after all that I would still be able to survive and not want to come back to the old model of following and be followed.

Six weeks later things are back to normal. In fact, after the initial frenzy of interactions with a bunch of folks who wanted to know why I was doing such thing the craze started to fade away to the point where I am back to where I was before, but with zero following. Perhaps vast majority of people who still follow me on Twitter didn’t even notice a single bit the crack I tried to provoke in the system 😉 as plenty of people keep saying, you know, that no-one reads Twitter anymore anyway. It’s just the place where we go to broadcast our messages and toot our very own horn without hearing others’ opinions, thoughts and experiences, so why bother, right?

The thing is that, on its own, it’s transformed entirely the way not only I see Twitter as my own personal learning network, but also how I use it on a regular basis and, although I can’t tell for others, it’s helped me find a new way of making it more personal, more conversational, more topic driven (while still keeping in touch with people), in short, overall more engaging and much less stressful altogether. And that’s exactly what I wanted to achieve with this experiment of #elsuahackstwitter.

In order for me to be able to conduct this experiment successfully though I had to continue running a parallel one I eventually got started with a while ago already and with some very good results altogether. I had to open my Twitter Direct Messages to everyone. Yes, that is right, if I was going to stop following everyone sending a direct message without opening them up first would have been a challenge. So before I got things started with that I opened DMs to everyone and played with it over the course of a few weeks to see whether I would be constantly abused by this new capability with lots of spam from whoever.

And the results from that other bold move have been, if anything, rather surprising, because contrary to the perception from everyone else out there, I haven’t been spammed to the point where I’d be needing to turn it off. Currently, I am getting about 1 DM per week unsolicited from anyone whom I typically don’t even know. Very doable, if you ask me. And now that we no longer have the 140 character limitation for those DMs even all the better! I can now send DMs to folks without having to use multiple 1/N messages to get the overall message across. And it’s also working very well. Oh, don’t worry, I haven’t even come close to the 10k character we are allowed to share across in a direct message on Twitter so far, and I doubt I’d ever come close to it. 

What Have I Learned?

So, with all of that said, let’s do a quick recap of the overall experiment I have been running with #elsuahackstwitter:

  1. I decided to unfollow everyone on Twitter and instead rely on three Public Twitter Lists (I will blog about them in a follow-up entry to explain what they are and why I picked up the names for them that I did)
  2. I opened up my Twitter Direct Messages, so everyone of the potential 300+ million Twitter users could send me a DM, if they so wish to.
  3. I love the now expanded 10k limit for direct messages and for a good simple reason: I am still doing #noemail every single day, I deleted my Facebook account over 5 years ago, I deleted my LinkedIn profile nearly 18 months ago, I am currently going through a hate relationship with Google Plus (As I have recently talked about), so I was running out of options to exchange messages longer than 140 characters. Yes, I know, I am weird, but who isn’t, right? heh

Anyway, over the course of the first few weeks, I took plenty of copious notes (on the side) about what I was learning along the way with this experiment. I have shared a good number of them already under the hashtag #elsuahackstwitter on Twitter itself. 45 in total, as of the last count, and there may well be some more coming up to round up on 50. We shall see. Since I am not too sure how long they would be there anyway, that is, on Twitter, I thought I would add them all to this blog entry as well. Each and everyone of them, why not? More than anything else to remind me of not only what I learned about it, but also how I (and others) felt about it as well.

I will probably just share a single one-liner, or two, hopefully, not too long, for each of them and, where needed, and for very specific reasons, I may be able to pick up some of them and expand them further in upcoming blog posts over the course of time to explain some more about them and why I wrote what I wrote in the moment.

So without much further ado, here is what I learned, over six weeks ago, from having unfollowed the 1220 people I was following on Twitter back in the day:

  1. People I used to follow back in the day started to follow me back again once I unfollowed them. I haven’t followed them back again, of course, so they are still in one of the three public lists I put together. I guess it highlights the power of sending signals across as social gestures :-)
  2. Number of reciprocal unfollows was rather significant in the first three weeks (About 10% of those 1220 folks). Ouch! My ego hurt and a lot! Oh, yes!, it was also part of the experiment to figure out how my own ego will react from being brutally unfollowed the moment I did as well. Very emotional at first, but, lucky enough, it’s now dead, for good.
  3. Originally, I decided to create a Public List with all of those 1220 folks. In doing so I knew it would be sending out a notification (another social gesture), where I’d be pointing to a tweet which explained what I was doing. The unexpected result: A few folks (about 25) subscribed to the Public List itself. It felt weird.
  4. I knew I could unfollow everyone with a single click using a Chrome plugin, but, instead, I decided to unfollow everyone manually, one by one. Soon enough I was immersed on a superb trip down the memory lane of the folks I used to follow from over the years (I can highly recommend it, for sure!), and whom I am still in touch with, but also others where the contact was no more. I guess it was time to unfollow for good, I suppose. Life goes on, for all of us :-)
  5. As mentioned above in #3, by creating that public list of those folks I used to follow, I was exposing my own timeline and making it public to everyone for the first time. Before, it was just too cumbersome to do so. Now people could take a sneak peek into what I am getting exposed to myself daily. And that is still happening today with the three public lists I created and that I will be talking about in a new blog entry.
  6. Ever since I started with this experiment, lots of reactions & intriguing conversations have come through. Plenty of folks seem to be rather interested in the experiment itself, what I may have learned and whether it will work, or not. That’s why during the first three weeks the engagement in Twitter was just phenomenal, till things settled back in on the fourth week and we are now, once more, back to normal.
  7. Apparently, adding people to Public Lists allows them to automate a response back to you. Who knew? Oh, yes, that deserves an Unfollow for good! That was my first reaction AND action. Pretty much like when you generate an auto DM response if I would start following someone. No, thanks! Not interested in interacting with bots, but with humans.
  8. Was it something I said? :)’ eventually came about with a smiley at the end. I knew, from other folks doing similar experiments that this reaction would come along. I was ready for it :) Like I said, folks, it’s never been personal. At least, from me. It’s about finding a way to redefine how I use certain social tools. Nothing more, nothing less. And this time around Twitter was the chosen one. Not you, as individuals. 
  9. This is perhaps one of my favourite highlights from the whole experiment, the fact that I got exposed to a whole bunch of great memories while going through each unfollow manually. Remembering the when, the how, the why, the what for, the good fun. It’s amazing what 8 years of building your networks through Twitter can do to your brain. A highly recommended exercise for real!
  10. Apart from the initial rush of reactions from different people, there were a whole bunch of other folks who decided to use other social gestures to acknowledge what I was doing. Indeed, lots of those additional responses came by as Favourites from the original tweet to share a gesture of awareness, perhaps, even consent to the experiment. I surely loved the succinct method of engagement, as it confirmed the signal ‘Hi there, I know what you are doing, go ahead and enjoy it. It sounds interesting…’
  11. The word ‘friend’ also came up. And it was coming from a good friend of mine, too! ‘Yeah, you know, but we were friends all along, right? Right?’ Oh dear. No exceptions! 😀 (Yes, we will still be friends, as I know plenty of other places, whether offline and online, where I can find you, don’t worry!)
  12. First issue I bumped into, I still haven’t figured out just yet, is how to handle Private Twitter handles as Lists can’t follow their tweets :-( Apparently, you need to follow them, they need to approve your request and off you go, but with lists following people with private accounts is a dead end. So long, folks! Sad. Very sad, indeed. But, like I said, this was an exercise of no exceptions. Unfollow everyone.
  13. Something interesting I learned about setting up the right expectations, so things wouldn’t come up as a surprise: Creating a Public List to alert folks was a hit! A keeper! People were informed ahead of time of what I was about to start and became aware what was going on, without having to get asked multiple times what was going on …
  14. Some folks indicated they didn’t like being ‘an experiment’, after all. This was probably triggered by the name of the initial Public List I used: ‘Unfollowing Experiment‘. Lesson learned for next time around: avoid using the word ‘experiment‘ at all costs!
  15. Another favourite highlight and key learning is how, all along, it’s been a rather emotional experience for me, but also for some of the folks I used to follow. Somehow it feels like detaching one self from something, or someone. Will it come back after a while? I don’t know, but, originally, this was part of the experiment in terms of finding out for myself how much of my own ego was driving those Twitter interactions in the first place vs. everything else. It felt like being an orphan at first, for real! But then again you get to shake off that ego and move on to better things, i.e. the conversations. And I can now confirm that six weeks later, that emotional detach is no longer there. 
  16. Your Twitter home timeline becomes, all of a sudden, a weird thing on its own where only your own tweets will show along with recommendations to follow people who are already following you to entice you to build the network, again. One sided, really. Twitter needs to start getting their act together on Lists as it’s perhaps its most powerful, yet often ignored, capability. There is just so much potential that we haven’t discovered just yet about Lists…
  17. To my surprise and pure delight, there are already a number of people who are already doing exactly this very same thing of working with Twitter lists and zero following: Stephen Downes, a.k.a. @downes (See https://twitter.com/Downes/status/628575174309318656), Simon Calder, a.k.a. @simoncalder, as examples, etc., confirming that nowadays it’s very hard to be the very first one at doing something you think it’s new. There will always be someone way ahead of you, no matter what. And you know what is the best part? Well, it looks like for those folks it’s working out really well. Who knew?
  18. At the beginning, I was worried that several other systems I use on a regular basis to make the most out of Twitter would break, but so far I haven’t noticed any real impact from Nuzzle, Twitter’s email digest and bunch of other Twitter Tools, as they are based on my followers and not my following, apparently. Good news! Phew!
  19. If you are wondering about the number of new followers and whether it has started to decrease a little bit or not, I can definitely confirm your new followers count will drop off dramatically. As an example, overall, in the last six weeks I have had 236 new followers and 269 unfollows. It looks like if people notice you are not following anyone, you are not interested in conversing with anyone anymore and therefore only care about tooting your horn. Beep, wrong assumption. A quick check of the timeline, the Mentions and conversation threads will confirm whether you’re there for the broadcast or the engaging dialogue and overall conversation. I am much more interested in the latter, even if I decide not to follow anyone for that matter. The conversations will still flow along, if you care to dive in, that is… It just requires nowadays a bit more effort. That’s all. 
  20. An unintended (social) gesture I am re-discovering due to the experiment: using Favourites much more discretionarily as an opportunity to highlight ‘I’m here, listening, I haven’t gone away that far’. Eventually, showing I still care about what you tweet, no matter whether I’m following you or not. See where breaking off the mold was coming from? Who knew that Favourites could be used for that?
  21. Interestingly enough, plenty of people view Following as a personal touch, as a ‘connection’, even if they have never exchanged a single tweet with you! How weird is that? Seriously. When did it happen we all became just numbers in a counter?!?! Really sorry, but that’s not what, to me, makes up for a ‘connection’, if we have never exchanged a single tweet! Conversations are the new connections, I am afraid. That simple.
  22. Here is something that I wasn’t expecting either, and that I am finding fascinating to no end: those folks I know & have followed for a long long time haven’t said a single thing throughout all of these weeks about this experiment. Silence = consent? I don’t know. We are still conversing as much as we used to, although they all probably think I’m weirder than originally thought! Bless them for sticking around all along! :)
  23. Oh, and the so-called ‘Celebrities’ (those people with thousands of followers and following), as usual, will still keep ignoring you, just as ever, whether you follow them or not. It’s not their game. Their game is to keep bloating away their followers and following numbers even if they cannot longer even grasp what’s going on around them. But here is a little secret: they will never admit to it, but, they, too, make heavy use of Twitter Lists. It’s how they keep ignoring vast majority of what goes around while they focus on rather small niches. Off they go … Pretending is their currency, apparently. Not ours. 
  24. In case you are wondering what Twitter tools I am using to handle my Lists, so far the one that rules them all, at least, for me, is Tweetbot (On the Mac) or Tweetbot v2 & v3 (on my iPad & iPhone, respectively). You can make a single list your new home timeline and then work with the others as additional ‘sections / columns’ with the overall UI and quite like that approach, specially, when travelling on my iPhone. It’s like, all of a sudden, I have gone from a single timeline to three of them: one for each public list. I have said this many many times in the past, but it’s worth repeating: I love fragmentation. Helps me make better sense of the world around me, including Twitter, for that matter.
  25. It’s probably hard to believe, but using Public Lists makes conversations more organised and focused, therefore much more productive, and effective and overall much more engaging. To the point where two or three weeks into the experiment I started to question why go back then? One of the biggest issues with Twitter’s Following timeline is that it’s got a limit, imposed by the system, whereas with lists I am the one who sets the limit, helping me decide what goes and what doesn’t, what I read and what I don’t. Finally, the Personal Learning Network is defined by the end-user, not by the system.
  26. Roughly on the 4th day, after a few hectic days of full throttle, non stop, conversations, peace and quiet, finally, came back. Very much needed and appreciated, so I could catch up my breath and come back to business as usual :) Here is the thing though, if you are going to start doing something similar, set aside plenty of time, because you will be spending that time having plenty of conversations to explain, and somehow justify, why you are doing that and what you expect to get out of it. Get ready! Be prepared for the adrenaline rush and constant beeps.
  27. Oh, remember the good old days when we used to blog on a more or less regular basis and we didn’t care much about vanity metrics, but about conversations and ideas we shared across? That’s what I want back. After all, Twitter is all about microblogging, right? It was never framed as micro-following (or be followed), so why keep bothering with it eventually?
  28. By focusing so much more on conversations nowadays, it means I have to get my own act together and become more effective in terms of what content I get to share. It’s no longer oversharing for the sake of oversharing, but sharing with intent, with a purpose, that one of starting a conversation, of sparking an idea through dialogue, not just sharing across to demonstrate my presence. It’s the main reason why I never cared about being on Twitter constantly, or automating my interactions, or just simply pretending I was constantly living there. Back then, I wasn’t, and I am not going to start now either!
  29. Another intriguing highlight from this experiment so far is how it is making me question more and more by the day whether I’m valued because of what I know and share across through conversations and interesting links or who I am: one more number in a follower / following list? Somehow, I keep wanting to fight the notion I am just another number. No, I am not. I am a human being with an eagerness to learn through dialogue, through conversation. Curiosity will never be replaced by a number. Not today, not ever.
  30. For the record, and perhaps I’m writing this down once and for all, emotional blackmail will never work on yours truly. Ever. The ‘Why did you unfollow me after all of this time we have been together? I would have never done that to you’ is never going to work, specially, if a couple of days later you end up being the one unfollowing me as punishment. I’d rather prefer to quit Twitter altogether (or whatever other social tool) and move on. Please, please, don’t play that game. It never ends well. That is not how you should build your social capital and your networks, regardless of the digital tool you make use of. 
  31. Moving on to the next highlight, but still, perhaps, somewhat related: What’s more valuable eventually from our ‘relationship’? A conversation where we both learn something new, or, at least, give it try, or my following you? If the latter, really? I mean, seriously? Convince me otherwise, please. Again, we are not numbers, we are people, human beings, thriving in dialogue and always keen on wanting to learn more and more by the day. 
  32. It’s been, if anything, a liberating experience altogether, because of tweets like this one:
  33. Or this other one: 

  34. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have realised I am now much more conscious and aware of my own use of social gestures, like Likes / Favourites, Add to Lists, Mentions, etc. etc. More engaging altogether. It helps me bring forward, time and time again, a specific purpose of what I want to get out of Twitter by not being in there just for the sake of it, but always try to add some additional value others may as well benefit from, not just myself. That, to me, is where the magic happens.
  35. This is definitely one of my favourite highlights from the whole lot. By having moved my interactions into Lists, Twitter has turned itself to be pretty much like Slack where a List becomes a channel. No vanity metrics, just conversations, just learning, just work. How many people do you follow, or follow you, in Slack? Exactly what I mean! Just perfect!
  36. Earlier on in this blog entry I mentioned what an emotional experience it has been altogether. One other thing I can add though is that it helped me learn, probably the hard way, how to let go of my ego from the vanity metric and think of Twitter as just another collaboration, conversation and learning tool, pretty much like Slack, blogs, face to face, etc. where vanity metrics are just non-existent. After letting my ego go, and be torn down to pieces, I feel I’m, finally, getting the better of me out there as I keep using Twitter more purposefully and with plenty more intent, that one of adding value to the overall dialogue without expecting anything in between. If it comes, it comes, if it doesn’t, that’s fine, too. Time for me to work harder on it. 
  37. Six weeks have now passed and after having adjusted to that new flow of timelines, to having let go of my ego forgetting about the vanity metrics and, frankly, after enjoying the overall Twitter user experience ever so much more, my initial gut feeling is there is a great chance I’m going to stick around with the exclusive use of Lists, although next step would be to create 3 different public lists and group people in there, so they can see how I see them based on perceptions of our interactions. Six weeks later, those public lists are already up and running, even though it was quite a challenge to come up with names that would be both relevant and non offending at the same time and, judging from the reactions from people, it looks like the choice of words was just right: Collaborators, Cooperators and People I Learn From (In an upcoming blog post I will detail further how each of them is positioned against one another to build up my new Twitter timeline(s)) from scratch.
  38. I am getting close to the end of highlights and key things learned with this experiment and I think I am starting to come to terms with the fact that perhaps what I really wanted to do, all along, was to, eventually, disrupt not just my use of Twitter, but also everyone else’s of those whom I followed and see how we would all react collectively about something we might have never experienced ourselves, and see if it would have something to bring forward on to the table. For instance, a big question that keeps coming up in my mind is the following: imagine if Twitter would not have followers / following and not even show it, would you still use it daily? And if so, what’s stopping us from jumping forward and destroy Twitter’s elitism of super power users that keeps deterring new comers from jumping in and participating further along? We must make an effort in helping democratise the tool again by engaging in conversations and topics of interest vs. being purely driven pretty much by our very own bloated egos than anything else. 
  39. There have been tons of different reactions from folks over the course of last few weeks, so it’d be difficult to try to summarise them all. However, there is one in particular that pretty much nails it for me in terms of what I am trying to do. It comes from my very good friend Anne Marie McEwan (a.k.a. @smartco) who tweeted back in the day: ‘You are just paying attention to people in a different way’. And that is exactly right! Now, how many people can, actually, say that? When was the last time you read your entire timeline of wonderful tweets, insights, thoughts and ideas coming through? Yes, I know, I know, it’s just the river of news and we dip in and out as we may see fit, but, seriously, when was the last time you did that vs. just tooting your own horn and move on to the next thing;-)? And then we still wonder as to why people don’t read our tweets any more. Probably if we would make the effort to read theirs and engage accordingly, we may get some of that back as well… Who knows … 
  40. Here is another key learning that took me a while to digest and make some sense out of it: using Lists forces me to be more human, more conversational, focusing on people and what they share rather than just interactions, transactions, even, of tweets flying by. Somehow, the world of Twitter has stopped for me from pouring away like a firehose, to then re-gain a certain pause where I’m enjoying much more what people share across and have a better way of reacting accordingly adding my two cents worth of value, where I possibly can. Boy, I can assure you, if anything, how the massive quality of the conversation has hit a higher notch of awesomeness. Food for the brain and for the soul altogether! Just brilliant!
  41. Here’s another key insight shared across that describes pretty much the shift some of us have gone through while embarking on this new exciting journey: 

  42. Ohhh, and did I tell you how much people do appreciate being put in Lists whose names AND descriptions mean a whole lot more than just vague concepts, or over hyped buzzwords and lots of mumbo jumbo (i.e. gurus, ninjas, #socbiz, experts, etc. etc. )? Show them how you care and there is a great chance that they will be caring back in return. Just saying … :)
  43. Moving to Lists, if anything, has resulted in helping me focus so much more on Learning by Topic & than Learning by Following XYZ. Learning becomes more intentional and resourceful, as one idea sparks another, then another, and another one, and, before you know it, you are down a wonderfully spiral of no return that may help you achieve something you just didn’t expect all along from the beginning. Oh, yes, the magic wonders of serendipity, in case you are wondering out loud, are still pretty much intact, or, if anything, enhanced tremendously.
  44. Now, with all of this said, there is a bit of uncertainty, a rather mysterious one, but one of wonder and edginess. Why? Well, you no longer know for certain who is following you or not, who adds you into Lists or who isn’t, because people can very well add you to their public lists, or, to their private ones, which makes it even more interesting, as it results in embracing uncertainty by which the focus is the overall learning experience itself: Can I learn something from what you share when we both hit the conversation without knowing each other who is who and how we might be connected? I quite like that unexpected effect of conversations you never know where they will take you till you bump into them and dive right in. 
  45. And, finally, one final insight, which is perhaps the most rewarding so far, from what I can tell. In that exercise of becoming more observant of how people get to use Twitter around you, one can’t but notice, how, with learning by doing, after a short while, people start doing their own thing with lists, sort their following, conference speakers, attendees, folks they usually hang out with, etc. into lists. Proving, if anything, that walking the talk when trying to influence a change of sorts in other folks, actually, works! Each and every single time. How cool is that?!?

And here we are, coming close to the end of a rather long blog post that pretty much tries to explain what I have been up to last 6 weeks of running an experiment on Twitter that has certainly helped me gain new perspectives in terms of how I view certain social networking tools. Perhaps there is just one last question waiting for an answer at this point in time, I bet, from all of you: Will I go back and start following people on Twitter or will I stick around in this brave new world of human relationships and conversations rather than pure metrics and numbers? 

Well, if I judge by how much my own perception of Twitter, and how I make use of it on a daily basis (Remember, it’s still my number #1 social networking tool out there on the Social Web), has shifted for the better since I first got started with this experiment, I guess I can now conclude with these few words to try to answer that question: Yes, the Unfollowing Experiment is no longer an experiment. It’s my new reality. It’s how I plan to continue making use of Twitter from here onwards, more than anything because it helps me, tremendously, to up the game in working out loud, and therefore become more effective at what I do, and even more so than ever before (I will explain what I mean with this in a follow-up post) and, essentially, because it’s helped me understand how social networking is a whole lot more profound and soul feeding than just a meagre, worthless vanity metric. Twitter may well be the place where connections go to die. To me, Twitter is where a bloody good conversation (or two) just begins … 

Want to join me? 

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How Do I Make Sense of Social Networking Tools

Gran Canaria - Maspalomas Sunset

In one of my earlier blog posts from last week, I got asked the following question: “So, what we all want to know is what have you been doing and what/where can we find you in the future?” and while I will be answering the first part over the course of time with the various blog entries I’m currently drafting along, I thought for today I’d focus on trying to answer the second part: how do I make sense of social networking tools today? More than anything else because I realise that my heavy use of social tools has shifted over the course of the years, and I guess I’m not the only one having gone through pretty much the same, and even more so since I went independent nearly two years ago. So it’s probably a good time now to revisit where do I get most of my learning nowadays and what digital tools do I rely on, or not, to get my daily work done. 

Every year Jane Hart does this absolutely wonderful exercise of putting together the Top 100 Tools for Learning (here’s the list for 2015 as a highly recommended read), and while I won’t be listing my Top 100 I will definitely try to put together some thoughts as to where I usually hang out nowadays, what I stopped using and why, and what I’m currently working on, specially, a very specific experiment that’s caused quite a stir over a month and a half ago, although that would be the story of the next blog post… 

So, here are my Top Learning Tools (for now), where ‘work is learning, learning is the work’, that my good friend Harold Jarche would say and that he wrote back in the day in a beautiful article. Mind you, it’s not a full list, since, to me, context is what defines what I will use at one point or another, so that very same context is what will define a whole bunch of other digital tools I make use of, often enough, but for very specific reasons. There may well be a time where I’ll write about them, specially, in the mobility scenario when both my iPhone and iPad Air have become my not so new anymore workplace. 

  • IBM Connections: Even though I left IBM nearly 2 years ago IBM Connections still remains my #1 business tool for work with my clients, specially, when they ask me their data to remain within the European Union borders. And IBM Connections Cloud does that beautifully. You know what some folks say, you need to be able to walk the talk, so if the vast majority of my clients are on IBM Connections at the moment, I better make good use of it as well so we can co-create together some really cool stuff along the way to help out with their own Digital Transformation journey(s).
  • Slack:  For all of the work I get to do with other clients, work groups, project teams, small niche networks on a given topic where I usually hang out on a daily basis, etc. Slack does the trick. And very much so! I truly heart it. In fact, any business tool that aims to improve both the way we communicate AND collaborate AND kill email in the process will always have my full attention. Slack has it. I use it for everything, as a personal knowledge sharing hub, as my operating system, and a whole lot more than just chat. In an upcoming blog entry I will explain plenty more how I make use of it on a daily basis, but for those of you who may be new to it, check out this stunning article put together by my good friend Thomas van der Wal that pretty much explains the nuts and bolts of what it is, what it does and why you would need to pay attention to it pretty soon, if not today already.
  • Twitter: From the Social Web, Twitter still remains my #1 tool for networking, for socialising, for (personal) learning, for getting a good sense of the pulse of the planet and, eventually, my preferred method of meeting up new people (whether online or after face to face conversations) and for social selling. Mostly accessed through Tweetbot (whether on iOS or Mac), is where I spend most of my online time on social networks today, even more so nowadays after nearly 6 weeks of running a rather fascinating experiment that’s certainly helped me challenge the status quo of how we all use it. Next blog post will talk about it in more detail, but here’s the gist of it: imagine no-one follows you on Twitter; now imagine if *you* don’t follow anyone on Twitter either, would you still use it? [Hint: Yes, I surely do!]
  • Google Plus: I wasn’t really sure whether to include G+ on this blog post, or not, initially, even though it’s one of the most powerful social networking tools out there that I have been exposed to in the last few years. However, lately, I am having a bit of a hate relationship with it witnessing, first hand, how it’s started cannibalising itself removing what once were really helpful and nifty features or splitting itself up in multiple parts (Hangouts, Photos, etc.). Some people call it re-focus. I call it, not knowing what to do with it when there isn’t a company directive in place showcasing commitment to it while listening and engaging with the community of practitioners who make it what it is today. So I continue to question its purpose and my overall use of it. I wouldn’t like it, at all, if, after 4 years of regular use, it would fall apart for good. I have gone through that path far too many times with other social tools and it’s never been pretty. One gets to learn, mostly, the hard way and, in this case, I want to do a bit of damage control this time around till things clear themselves a bit more.
  • Instagram: Ok, I confess. I still make use of some Apps from the darker side of the Social Web. In this case, Instagram. I’m totally hooked up with it and while I know and I fully understand I’m playing with the evil Facebook I don’t think I can escape from it any time soon. More than anything else because of something that Jason Fried also described quite nicely on this particularly interesting and refreshing blog post of what the original Open Social Web was supposed to be: ‘The important feel is how it makes *you* feel’… Oh, yes, using IG makes me feel good! Read Jason’s article and you will understand fully what I mean. 
  • Flickr: Despite being described as Zombie Land, it still is the main repository for the vast majority of my pictures shared across online through multiple other venues, including the source of imagery for this very same blog. And the almost daily reminder of what the Social Web was all about back in the day. Openness. Earlier on this year, it marked my 10th year anniversary as a very happy Flickr user, which means it’s the longest running social networking tool I have been using on the Internet and I don’t think I will be abandoning it any time soon. Even if just for nostalgic purposes.
  • WordPress Blog: Yes, I know, it’s not the first time we hear about the death of blogging mostly due to social networking tools, and it probably won’t be the last either, but even then, 21 years on, blogging still is a thing. More alive and kicking than ever before and perhaps still one of the most delightful self-empowering tools to help you build your digital brand over the course of the years that’s available out there, as I have been blogging about for a good while now. Later on, in October, I’ll be celebrating the 10th year anniversary of this blog and towards early December my 13th year overall of blogging since I first started my corporate blog back in 2002. 13 years of self-publishing online can give you tons of opportunities to build your own voice and writing style and eventually the perfect opportunity to keep demonstrating your thought leadership, expertise and abilities day in day out, year after year. That’s the reason why I came back to blogging after this year’s long hiatus. And why I am still in love with this medium.
  • WhatsApp and Telegram (Messaging Apps): Ok, confession #2: I still make use of some Apps from the darker side of the Social Web. In this case, WhatsApp for messaging purposes. I keep using it both for work and for personal use as it helps me keep in touch with some of my clients, business partners, family and loved ones. And when folks don’t want to make use of WhatsApp, because, you know, after all, it’s still Facebook, I basically switch to Telegram, which is an extremely decent substitute doing a really good job at it! If you already have my business mobile number, and don’t want to give me a call, but still get in touch for whatever reason, using either of those Apps will guarantee you a very speedy response from yours truly.
  • Skype / Hangouts (Instant Messaging): These are, currently, the main two options I still keep using, mostly on my desktop, for real-time, online communications. Good old Instant Messaging, and although I still rely somewhat on Skype, slowly, but, steadily, I am moving, mostly, into Hangouts, specially, for audio and video conversations where both quality and performance seem to be way better than Skype’s. So, if you need to get hold of me to check something quickly, and you may not have Twitter readily available to do so, reaching out through Hangouts IM is probably the best option to get hold of me, as I am also starting to use it much more often while I’m on the road on my phone. 
  • YouTube: No, don’t worry, I’m not one of those very talented YouTubers who earns their living making YouTube videos, although you never know. I have been known to do even way crazier things than that! But I still make use of it every now and then. Mostly through Google Hangouts on Air for the #noemail vodcasting series I’m currently co-hosting with the wonderful and rather smart Claire Burge). At the time I’m writing this we already have got 16 different episodes now in the books that we host every two weeks where we are trying to change the world to transition from #toomuchemail to #lessemail to #noemail altogether. Thus if you want to learn further more how to break free from the email yoke, or learn, at the same time, how other 2.0 practitioners (guest speakers), businesses and organisations have finally broken free, go and have a watch. I bet you will enjoy it.
  • Haiku Deck: I know, I know, while most folks are perhaps making heavy use of Slideshare to share their presentations online for whatever the speaking or customer engagement, I’m a rebel at heart, an outlier, so, instead, I use Haiku Deck. And I quite like it! You know, when putting together a presentation, most of the times the words are already there, somewhere inside one’s head, but not necessarily the imagery, so having such a superb tool as Haiku Deck to put images to your words and build your story line makes it a whole lot easier. So, if you want to check out some of the recent public presentations I have done at various events, that’s where you will find them. Not in Slideshare anymore, I am afraid.
  • Reeder: Of course, I still use RSS feeds. Daily. Remember them? Everyone thought that when Google terminated Google Reader that RSS newsfeeds would die a slow and painful death. Not likely! Quite the opposite, most probably. Gosh, while putting together this article, I realise I’m being very nostalgic by making use of social software tools that, in most cases, are considered pretty much dead, but, then again, there they are alive and kicking. RSS newsfeeds is another one to add into that pile. Yet, they are so critically and fundamentally important to curate content stored all over the Web that not only would you want to read, but also re-share over the course of time. That’s how I use my RSS feeds at the moment: for curation purposes. The reading part is mostly done when I’m disconnected, specially, when travelling for a good number of hours on plains, trains, etc. etc. That’s where Reeder kicks in as my preferred Mac App as newsfeed reader.

    Ohhh, and when I am online Twitter becomes my living, rather dynamic, and collaboratively filtered RSS newsfeed.

  • Pocket: And talking about reading content offline, curating it accordingly, and overall enjoy a superb user experience, that’s why I use Pocket and why I’m such a huge fan of it. In an upcoming blog post I will share a productivity tip of how I make use of Twitter (Through Tweetbot) and Pocket to curate an outstanding list of links I then re-share here and there into my Twitter stream over the course of time, once I have processed them. Pocket is like your extended urge to want to read all of the really cool tidbits shared across with you but not have the time right there, right then to do it. Will read it later takes a completely new meaning: Pocket.
  • Trello / Asana: For task management purposes, and where work items don’t usually take place elsewhere there are two options out there, out of perhaps far too many!, that keep dragging me back. Both Trello and Asana are the main social tools I use when I need to get work done with multiple people who may not have chosen a particular tool to keep track of those tasks. Whenever I ask if folks are familiar with either of them, the answer I get back, time and time again, is they are familiar with one or the other, or both, which makes it really easy. Mind you, they are not the only task management tools that I use, but they are definitely the ones I keep using the most in a collaborative manner. Effective Group Task Management, if you wish to call it that way.
  • Spotify: And, finally, one of my all time favourite productivity tools, which I know is going to sound very weird, pun intended, but, hey, you will know what I mean with that after you read this bunch of rather suggestive and thought-provoking articles on the power of music for getting work done, and not just to listen to it leisurely. And, yes, from all of the online / streaming services available out there, Spotify Premium is the one that does the trick for me, whether on my Mac, my iPad Air or my phone (usually, when I’m travelling or working out). 

After having gone through that list, I am pretty certain you may have noticed how there are number of different social software tools out there, some of the bit hitters, to some extent, that I haven’t mentioned above on my list of Top Learning Tools and there is a good reason for that. In fact, multiple reasons, so I thought I would mention a few usual suspects to close off this blog entry with a single liner, or two, as to why I’m no longer using them anymore or why they haven’t had enough traction to make me want to use them in the first place. Hopefully, that will help folks understand why they can’t, and won’t, find me there any time soon… So here we go: 

  • eMail: Yes, for those of you who have known me over the years, this one still is a no brainer. I’m still the #noemail guy. The think #outsidetheinbox lad who nearly 8 years ago decided to ditch email for work once and for all and still going strong at it. I know, it’s been over 18 months since the last blog post I shared across over here on the topic with some updates, but, over time, I’ll be sharing some more details, not to worry. For now, suffice to say that ever since I left my former employer, IBM, where I was averaging 16 emails received per week, and went independent, as a freelance adviser on Social Business and Digital Transformation, I’m now down to 5, yes!, I know, FIVE emails received per week, which, to me, that’s pretty much just that: #noemail.
  • Facebook: Apparently, everyone seems to be flocking away from Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, and what not, and return back to the borg: Facebook, in this case, because, apparently, that’s where everyone is getting the most engagement at the moment. I’m sorry to disappoint those of you who are eagerly waiting for me to come back to it. It won’t happen. It’s not the kind of Social Web I want to live in and spend my time on and after having deleted my account in there over 5 years ago, it’s one of those decisions I don’t regret a single day. Even if it were the last and only social networking tool out there I still wouldn’t come back to it. Some times, you need to make a stand for what you believe in and somehow both Facebook and myself have got different beliefs at this point in time that are irreconcilable. If you are a frequent user, I’m pretty sure you know which ones at this stage. 
  • LinkedIn: Pretty much the very same thing as what I mentioned for Facebook above. Although it’s been nearly 18 months since I deleted my LinkedIn account, there isn’t a chance I will be coming back to it any time soon. Like I said, some times you need to make a stand in terms of the kind of Social Web you would want to live and thrive in and LI isn’t one of those places for me. And the same would apply to Slideshare, Pulse, and everything else that LI may contaminate over time.
  • Medium: No, thanks! I already have a lovely online publishing home where most of my articles will continue to become available over time, and that’s my personal business blog. No matter how beautiful someone else’s home may well be, your own home will always be special. It’s yours, no one else’s. Whatever happens, it will always remain your unadulterated, open window, your voice, to the world and that matters. A lot.
  • Tumblr: Same thing as for Medium. Just because you have pretty good looks and a good, decent user experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll grant you the pleasure of hosting my own content, just in case, after a while, you decide to shut down, like Posterous did back in the day, for instance. Remember? I think I learned my lessons here.  
  • Ello: I tried it and I failed, for the very same reasons as Medium and Tumblr. 
  • Meerkat & Periscope: Unfortunately, I live in a part of the world where free wifi is everything but pervasive and widely available and my mobile data has got a monthly cap of a ridiculous 2GB at a rather pricey tag, so as long as Europe doesn’t enter the 21st century in terms of pervasive, inexpensive connectivity across the entire region, I’ll be staying away from those two. For my own sanity and wallet. 
  • Snapchat: I am not enough hipster to have an account in there, I have been told, so I am staying away and probably for a good while, since I have never bought into the idea of content disappearing just like that into oblivion for no apparent reason.

I am pretty sure there are tons of other social software tools, apps and services out there I’m missing from including in this blog entry that you think I should have a presence in. Well, I might as well have it already, since I have a tendency to claim my brand name in them early in the game, but perhaps I don’t regularly use it, because I haven’t found a specific reason for it, which was the main purpose of writing this article in the first place: to give you all a glimpse of where I spend most of my online time nowadays when making heavy use of social / digital tools not just to get work done, but also to keep learning, with plenty of sensemaking, along the way. #PKMastery, as Harold Jarche himself blogged about a while ago, as one of the must-have 21st century digital skills.

If you feel there is a social software tool I should be aware of to start making use of it, feel free to comment below your suggestion and perhaps share with us the why as well. Somehow one thing I have learned over time is that I have stopped making use of social tools without having a clear purpose about what to get out of them. Because just using them for the sake of using them not only is it boring, but it won’t take you / us anywhere.

Finding the right purpose (for each!) is where the magic happens. For the rest, life is just too short!

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Enterprise 2.0, Where Art Thou?

Gran Canaria - Risco Blanco in the Winter

While I was putting together yesterday’s blog post I kept thinking about something that’s been on my mind for a while and which I think is also going to help redefine, or reassure, depends on how you look into it, the next stage of my blogging mojo over here. Essentially, what will I continue to blog about? Over the course of the years, if you have been a long time reader, you may remember how there were a number of themes I kept coming back to from Knowledge Management, to Collaboration, (Social) Learning, Online Communities and, specially, Social / Open Business. Somehow I don’t think any of those would go away any time soon, but thinking it may well be as well a good time to up the game and introduce other topics like Org. Design, Change Management, Social Network Analysis, Wirearchy, and, specially, Employee Engagement, which I realise won’t be a new subject per se, since I have blogged about it for a good while already, but I still feel there is a lot more to share across and talk about. Pretty much like for Enterprise 2.0, since I still feel we are only now just getting started with it and its role in transforming organisations from the inside out. 

Almost 10 years ago, Andy McAfee coined the term Enterprise 2.0, as most of you folks out there would probably still remember. However, nearly 10 years later, no-one, or hardly anyone, seems to be talking, writing, tweeting, blogging, etc. anymore about that topic, as if it was left behind and gone with the wind. Remember Web 2.0 as well? 

Well, not exactly, perhaps. Let’s have a look into Andy’s original definition for Enterprise 2.0 to see what I mean: 

Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.

A key word, to me, from that short, but rather thoughtful definition is no other than within. You would probably agree with me that there are tons of articles, publications, video clips and what not, about the so-called Enterprise 2.0 between companies and their partners or customers. Social Business has been in full swing for a good while as well and while the former focuses pretty much on a new kind of digital, more collaborative and social tools that have been made available for a good while (as far back as 1994, for example, for the first instances of either blogs or wikis), the latter probably just focuses on the overall transformation of how businesses operate as a whole. Pretty much like the so-called notion of Digital Transformation. But what keeps bugging me is how, despite the abundance of content around the external impact of both Enterprise 2.0 and Social Business, never mind Digital Transformation, there is very very little information available about what’s happening on the inside. Of organisations, that is.

If you notice, even when you get to attend conference events around these topics, we always pretty much bump into the very same case studies from companies, vendors and so forth that we keep talking about over and over again for a good few years. Yet, there is hardly any information about newcomers, about their own internal digital transformation through a combination of both Enterprise 2.0 (Tools) and Social Business (Processes AND People). There aren’t just enough new examples of digital transformation journeys, from the inside, available out there. And, I must confess, that nearly 10 years later, it bugs me. And big time. 

My good friend Euan Semple quoted, at one point, and I’m paraphrasing, I am sure, something along these lines: 

“You just can’t be 2.0 on the outside, if you are still operating 1.0 on the inside”

Well, I would probably even go one step further and add that in most cases most businesses out there are still, pretty much, operating as 0.5 organisations, yet, while pretending to be 2.0 on the outside when interacting with their customers and business partners, or even their competitors. I am really sorry, but it just doesn’t work like that. There needs to be first an internal (r)evolution before you can even start thinking about what’s going to happen on the outside. And for multiple reasons that I’m hoping to unpack over the course of time in this renewed vow to resume my blogging mojo.

Almost a year ago Andy himself was also questioning (Over at ‘Enterprise 2.0, Finally?’) whether we were starting to see glimpses of that so-called digital (r)evolution through Enterprise 2.0 and while there are tons of signs out there that confirm we have gotten started with that journey I sense we are not even there just yet. Just few glimpses. In fact, we are, only now, just getting things started, more than anything else because almost every single 2.0 practitioner out there who keeps advocating for Social Business and Digital Transformation (yes, there is a new buzzword in town and it’s been there for a good while now!) is realising that the magic needs to happen internally first, before you may venture out there on the open Social Web. Yet, there isn’t enough information, nor content, nor idea exchange, about those internal experiences. 

I think I know why that’s happening, and it would probably be a topic for another blog post coming up soon, although my good friend, Thomas van der Wal had a go at it, a while ago, and he pretty much nailed it with this absolutely stunning article titled ‘Getting Good Case Studies in Today’s Competitive World’.

Either way, I suspect that resuming my blogging mojo will give me an excellent opportunity to talk plenty more about that internal transformation that I have been working on with several of my clients after I went independent, now almost two years ago, as I have been accumulating tops of additional insights, experiences, know-how, methodologies, and what not, not only from when I used to work at IBM, but also as a freelance adviser. Both diversity and variety of clients over time have given me, probably, a unique opportunity in terms of what’s happening with multiple industries in their so-called digital transformation journeys. It’s now a good time to start sharing them across, don’t you think?  It’s now a good time as well to reconcile Enterprise 2.0 not just with the extenuating external focus we seem to have been enjoying last few years, but perhaps also focus on the inside, which, to me, is where the real magic happens as we get a wonderful opportunity to transform the business world as we know it right from inside the core: the employee experience. Because, you know, after all, ‘happy employees produce happy customers’.

Always, no exceptions.

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Google Plus – Who Owns the Filter Bubble?

Gran Canaria - Degollada de las Yeguas in the SpringFor a good couple of years I have been a huge fan, and big advocate, of what I think is one of the most empowering and refreshing social networking tools out there: Google Plus. Yes, I know I may have well been one of the very few, but all along I have always felt that in terms of features, capabilities, blending of online and offline interactions and, above all, the deeper level of engagement in conversations is what made G+ special. Very special. Till a couple of days ago, where I discovered, by pure chance, which is how these things happen usually, I suppose, how it has been hiding away the best part of that social networking tool: the conversations themselves. Remember the filter bubble?

From the very beginning, I read in one of the review blog posts around Google Plus how the Home Stream (All) doesn’t really display all of the various different posts that your networks get to share. It only displays a fraction that the system itself identifies based on whatever the algorithm. Now, I can imagine how plenty of people may not feel very comfortable with the fire hose of updates coming through, so they may actually appreciate, quite a bit, having Google figuring it all out how it would work for most people. Alas, not for me. I would want to see every single post that comes my way, so I can then decide whether I would want to read it or not. I have always felt that’s the ultimate choice from social networkers in terms of defining the amount of signal / noise they would get exposed to without having that social networking tool calculating automatically what may matter to you or not.

I am sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way. So a few months back I started relying more and more on Google Plus Circles to the point where I became rather dependent on them. I created a bunch of them, that I check on a rather regular basis, but there are four of them that I consider critical food for my brain. You know, the One50, Two50,  and TheRest and a new one I created which is a combination of all three of those coming up to nearly 500 people in total, which is what I am checking out nowadays the most as my new timeline. Essentially, the one circle of those folks who I would want to receive whatever updates they share. 

Thus a little while ago I decided to try out an experiment, which was, essentially, keeping an open tab in Chrome throughout the day for Google Plus and, in particular, for that specific G+ Circle (That I called Everyone), and which would allow me to jump in every now and then and check what people may be saying, talking about or sharing across. You know, in between work tasks, coffee breaks, those spare idle moments in between meetings and so forth. The idea was to be able to catch up with everything that may have been shared across with an opportunity to do it at my own pace, and without any restrictions.

However, over the course of time, I started noticing how after a short period of time, without checking things out, the lovely blue box would show up indicating the number of new posts that I had catch up with since I last refreshed, and I started to notice how if I would have, say, 74 new posts, when clicking on refresh it would just display (I counted them!) about 36, which means that half of the content is gone. Just like that! WOW!!! 

And here I was thinking that G+ algorithm was only in place for the Home Stream (All) page. Well, apparently, not. I have actually raised this very same issue on my Plus Profile, on this post, where I talked about it more extensively, and a bunch of other folks have been very helpful sharing their insights, including reference blog entries like this one on that very same topic with the flair that it’s working as designed. Well, no, it’s not. At least, it is not my design. 

See? If I create a new Circle in Google Plus because there is a list of contacts / networks that I would want to keep up with and get exposed to everything they share in G+ that’s what I expect the circle to handle graciously, not just show to me what it thinks is better for me. Never mind how much data you have about me. No, sorry, systems should not be making that choice for people. At least, people should be given the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of that model, which in this case it’s just not happening. And I am finding that incredibly frustrating and perhaps somewhat disturbing as well for that matter.

Why? Mainly, of course, because of that filter bubble. I would want to be the person in charge of what I get exposed to, how I would want to get exposed to, and, most importantly, how I would want to consume that content shared across. And let it be down to me to decide if I would want to mitigate, or not, the fire hose effect of content I get exposed to. It should be my decision, not the system’s. That’s actually one of the reasons why I have never been a fan of Facebook, Twitter and various other social networking tools that do pretty much the same thing: putting constraints in place by the system, within the streams, thinking it knows better than their end-users. Well, maybe not. 

Yes, I realise that I am perhaps making a big fuss out of anything. I mean, I am sure that you folks would be able to identify a whole bunch of various different areas of improvement for Google Plus in terms of missing features and capabilities, but, to me, it’s all down to this: can I use it for work? Yes, I know I can use it for personal use, which I have already for a long while, just like any other social networking tool, but, to me, Google Plus was special, because I could also use it for work. Or, at least, that’s what I thought, because, after finding out about that behaviour, I am just not sure anymore. I mean, think of this very same scenario happening with work email…

Yes, that’s exactly what I meant. There is no way that you just can’t miss work related emails, specially, from a customer, or business partner, or from an urgent request from your boss or your fellow colleagues, only to find out the system thought about dropping it out, because it was not that important. Goodness! That would never happen with email. Period. It’s out of the question, even. So why should social networking tools be different? Why can’t we have that opt-in / opt-out option where we, the end-users, the social networkers, get to decide how we would want to process, consume and digest those streams? That’s a fair request, don’t you think? 

So what’s going to happen next then, you may be wondering, right? Well, for now, and while I am awaiting for an official answer from Google Plus Help and some other folks, G+ has dropped out to the same level of attention, engagement, involvement and relevancy as plenty of other social networking tools, because no matter how hard you would try it looks like with Google Plus, just like with plenty of others, you will always  be missing stuff and, to be frank, if that’s going to happen, I rather prefer to focus my attention elsewhere. It’s not even worth the effort anymore. Does that mean I will be ditching Google Plus for good? No, not yet. Like I said, I like it quite a bit. I am not going to give up on it that easy or that soon, even though I fully realise I will never get an answer from the Help & Support team(s), which is also another one of those issues with all of these public social networking tools on the Open Web. I will continue to make use of it. It’s just that instead of spending a substantial amount of time in it every day, the level of attention has dropped quite a bit, to the point where it no longer has the priority on my external social networking activities as it used to have. That focus is now gone. 

And that’s a pity. I know and I fully realise about that. But I guess that’s what happens when you, Google Plus, in this case, make the assumption you can own the filter bubble of those who have given you the mere existence of your own being, ignoring their voices and opinions, thinking you know better than them. Perhaps you don’t, perhaps you shouldn’t have. Perhaps you need to address the issue before I will be coming back. Why? Well, because, amongst several other things, I still want to own the filter bubble. My filter bubble.

Thank you very much. 

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Open Business – From Adoption into Adaptation

Gran Canaria - Ayagaures in the SpringAs I have mentioned in a recent blog post, you would remember how I have now moved into a new job role within IBM, as Lead Social Business Enabler for IBM Connections (both internal and external), where I am much more heavily involved with IBM’s knowledge workers’ own adoption efforts of social business and social technologies. So far, the journey has been incredibly fascinating, if anything, because we are just about to enter the last stage of Social Business Adoption and Enablement: Adaptation. And this is the best part, frankly, I am not really too sure we are ready for it just yet.

If you have been reading this blog for a while now, you would know how I have been involved with social networking tools since early 2000 to 2001 when I was first exposed to instances of wikis and people aggregators. And throughout all of that time I have seen a good number of different tipping points and different phases of adoption that have marked a rather interesting evolution into helping social networking for business become the new fabric, the new DNA, of the company in terms of how we collaborate and share our knowledge. There have been plenty of interesting and relevant challenges, and yet, the toughest is still awaiting us.

Having been involved with social networks inside the company from right at the beginning has given me the opportunity to witness how different waves of adopters have been able to embrace social technologies, at their own pace, in order to help themselves become more collaborative and effective by ways of opening up their knowledge sharing processes. At the same time, it has allowed me to witness how over the course of time those waves of adopters are getting narrower and narrower. Early adopters, first, second, third waves of adopters have all gone through that transformation of how they work and everything. And while there have been some good challenges, I feel the most pressing ones are yet to come. And for two different reasons:

The Laggards, The Critics and The Skeptics

The first one is that the one or two waves of adopters who still have got to make it across are probably the most intriguing, because they are the ones whom in another blog post I have called The Laggards, The Critics and The Skeptics. Yes, these are those knowledge workers who have already tried and played with social networking tools in some form or shape, and who have definitely heard and have been exposed to social networking and they weren’t very convinced. In fact, quite the opposite. It just didn’t click for them. They saw it, they dived in, it didn’t meet their needs and wants and they moved on back to where they were. 

Slowly, but steadily, they turned themselves into skeptics with the earned right to voice out their concerns, issues and what not, in order to make the point across that they are not going to make the change over, no matter what. At least, for now, or till the point where things have changed and shifted so radically they won’t have a choice anymore.

And while I think you folks may highlight that as a potential issue in terms of the overall social business adoption strategy, it’s perhaps the one group left we should not try to keep convincing of what lies ahead, but let them re-discover it at their own pace and everything, over and over again till it hits, if needed be, at their own time, at their own pace. Indeed, there will always be different waves of adopters and each and everyone of us, social software evangelists, should be ok with that. The sooner we are, the much better of we will all be eventually. If not, we are the ones who have got an issue, because we are just not working hard enough to understand their context and different working styles and adjust accordingly. 

Social Business Mandates

The second reason, which is the one that has got me extremely worried at the moment, is that one where we have failed in inspiring to transform our very own knowledge workforce and switched gears thinking that Social Business Transformation can be accelerated by mandating its adoption, whether you, the knowledge worker, like it or not. Yes, I know we are all excited and rather committed to provoke the change, no matter what, even if we decide to go ahead and mandate such shift. But it is just so flawed, it’s scary. Very scary altogether, because it just shows how we haven’t learned much in the last decade. 

Social Business transformation is not a project team, it’s not something that you start by date X and you finish it off in a year or two. And then you are done and time for you to move elsewhere. It’s not something that you put together with a group of folks picked up by you to force it down to the rest of the employee workforce, just because you are in one part of the organisation that feels it’s entitled to push down those corporate mandates. Specially, onto those who still haven’t made the switch-over. Gran Canaria - Risco Blanco in the Spring

It just doesn’t work like that, I am afraid. Even more so when those corporate mandates are pushed down into people’s throats by that executive hierarchical structure understanding they are entitled to do so, just because of who they are and the position they hold. No, I am really sorry, but it just doesn’t work like that. Today’s corporate environment is a whole lot different than what it was 10 to 15 years ago.

In the world of social networking for business it’s never been about mandating and forcing certain behaviours or a specific mindset (That one of Openness, for instance). It has always been a personal, individual choice of the knowledge worker him/herself to have a play, to try things out, to find new ways of working where openness, transparency, trust, etc. become the norm in terms of how we share our knowledge and collaborate effectively together. And it will always be that: *a* personal choice.

So I cringe, and I die a little bit inside as well for that matter, whenever I bump into a group of fellow colleagues who have been mandated by their corporate executive(s) to use social software tools, or, else! Or, even worse, when knowledge workers are expecting to be told / mandated by their management teams that they must do it, or else. Yes, I admit it, it drives me a little bit crazy as well, because it sounds as if they have failed to inspire to transform and, instead, use their position, power and entitlement to enforce it, so that they could put a little checkmark, right next to their yearly performance evaluation, that they have been social and time to move on. 

And if there is anything wrong with that is that they have enforced the very same kind of mentality and behaviours that social business has been trying to fight all along: corporate politics, bullying, power struggles and hierarchical clashes. And it gets even worse when they have mandating their team(s) to become social and yet they haven’t even explored it themselves, can’t be bothered arguing all of this social networking stuff was not meant for them or whatever other lame excuse. Whoahhh? Really? Is that what *you* really think?

See? To me, that’s the main key difference between a manager, ruling by command and control using their position of power and entitlement, and a true leader, inspiring a new behaviour, a new mindset, walking the talk, taking the lead, while learning by doing, on what all of these social networking behaviours are all about and which this snapshot shared below (Courtesy of 9GAG) captures it very nicely: 

The biggest challenge with all of that is not that senior leadership, no longer believing in the power to transform through being a living example of the shift, but it is actually the folks, right underneath those executives, who execute those orders, because they want to please the command from the ranks above. Never mind thinking about questioning the validity of such assertions, or challenging the status quo of something they know it’s wrong, or even rebelling against it since they know very well it just won’t work. It’s just as if they have drunk so much kook-aid from the whole thing that they are still drunk with it and can’t see anything around them anymore. 

And this is where the corporate rebel side of me, the hippie 2.0, the heretic, the outrageous and optimist free radical me is coming back and in full force to fight it back as much as I possibly can, because I feel that if I don’t do it, no-one will question it, and everyone will just basically conform with it. No, we shouldn’t.

We should keep up the fight and help out our leadership, regardless of the company (As I am sure there are plenty of businesses out there going through the very same thing as I get to write these few thoughts), understand their new leadership role, that one of being servant leaders, that one of provoking that social business transformation by themselves and for themselves first, as a personal experience, so that they can comprehend better the new dynamics of engagement, those where “knowledge is power” transforms itself into “knowledge SHARED is power”, where traditional command and control management progresses through into doing is believing leadership.

And this is exactly what excites me about my job, that, 12 years later, I still feel like I am just getting started with my social networking evangelism efforts, that there is just so much more to explore, discover, play with, learn and experience that we are just starting to scratch the surface of the tip of the iceberg. The difference between today and those many years back though, is that I have now got all of those years of additional experience, skills, knowhow, pragmatic way of 2.0 thinking and so forth that I can apply further along that I have finally decided to make the switch from Adoption and move on…

Earlier on this year, you would remember that blog post I put together on me making the move away from Social Business into Open Business, well, a mere 5 months later, I am making the move from Adoption into Adaptation, which I think is much more appropriate for what all of the business world is trying to do with Social Business. We are not doing Adoption per se anymore, specially, driving adoption. Instead, we open up the door to adaptation, where we help knowledge workers adapt to a new way of working, where we become more open by nature, more transparent, more trustworthy, hyperconnected, networked, engaged, participative and so on by doing something we, human beings, have always been very good at: sharing our knowledge.

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringThe Industrial Age neglected our ability to adapt. Instead we became machines; robots and drones capable of putting together a massive amount of silly hours working really hard, without applying too much (critical) thinking, or even questioning the status quo, so that we could just get a pay check at the end of the month, hoping that one of those years we might potentially become part of the executive chain that everyone aspires to because we feel things would be much better. No, they were’t.

Indeed, things never got better for the vast majority, only for the very very few. In fact, they got worse, because with the current work pressures people are behaving even more like corporate drones understanding that if they don’t put enough hours during the work week (7 days a week!) they may get fired altogether together for not being productive enough. How flawed is that? I mean, how can we keep ignoring over 150 years of research on what’s obvious?

Perhaps we should get fired. Maybe we need to go through that massively rude awakening to understand how we need to go back to basics: our very own human nature. They say that we are one of the very few species in this world that can adapt adequately to any given environment, no matter how harsh it may well be. Well, perhaps we may not have adapted well enough to a corporate environment where we have been eaten up alive by the status quo, because we just haven’t challenged it well enough like we have done with other environments.

The difference between last 50 years and now is that for the first time ever, we have got the tools, the social technologies, to help us provoke that transformation of how we do business and how we should behave in the new business world that aims at sustainable growth, equity, parity, earned merit, digital reputation, etc. and how the sooner we may be switch from adoption to adaptation, from corporate mandates to servant leadership, from corporate drones into human beings with an ability to think and make beautiful things, the much better our societies would become as a result of it. Not just for each and everyone of us, but for many future generations to come.

It’s the least we can all do. Adapt for our mere survival as a species. The race has already started a while ago. The clock is ticking and faster than ever… Think, inspire and execute. Don’t waste any more time trying to conform with a status quo that was never meant to be. Challenge it by helping people understand and fully embrace how they can adapt to a new reality. Their own reality.

Remember that life is just too short to have to conform with a status quo you never believed in, nor adapted to, in the first place. It’s now a good time to level up the game and demonstrate what we are all capable of in terms of adapting social business gestures to how we work.

Indeed, doing is believing!

Adaptation: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”

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How Social Networking Can Improve Work Meetings

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringI am not too sure whether meetings lower our IQ or whether they make us all more stupid, as my good friend Stowe Boyd reflected on a recent blog post, but I can certainly confirm they do take a toll on your own productivity. Specially, when those meetings are not set up by you, but by everyone else, and therefore making you lose the control, once again, in terms of one of the most precious things all of us, knowledge workers, have that we don’t seem to treasure well enough: Time. Attention management, indeed, is the new currency and it looks like meetings want to keep having that special place in our day to day workload in terms of grabbing most of it: our attention, that is. But perhaps enough is enough. Just like 5 years ago I started challenging the status quo of corporate email with the “A World Without eMail” movement, I think this week it’s a good time to start its follow-up: Life Without Meetings. 

I still haven’t settled up on picking up the hashtag I will be using from here onwards to identify the movement (More than happy to read suggestions in the comments, please!), but I am certainly more than willing to getting started with this new initiative, in terms of wanting to improve my own productivity by what appears to be, right now, my biggest time sink while at work: meetings, specially remote meetings. And here is the funny thing. You may be thinking that one of the disadvantages of having moved into this new job as Lead Social Business Enabler at IBM is that I basically spend far too much time meeting up with my new team. Well, that’s not really accurate. 

I do meet up with my team, don’t take me wrong, and I enjoy those meetings since they only happen a couple of times here and there per week. In fact, if I were to count the hours I spend on those team meetings it would be probably about 5 to 7 hours per week, which doesn’t sound too bad if I consider the 40 hours of work. Indeed, the issue is not the meetings I have with my immediate team colleagues, but the meetings provoked by everyone else. Specially, from other teams, in other organisations and business units, in other projects with their own agenda, never minding your own. And in this case that is when I do have an issue, because, amongst several other things, they are inconsiderate enough to not be aware of your own work, your own agenda, time, availability and willingness to participate in their projects. 

My good friend Euan Semple pretty much nailed it on what the main issue is in a recent tweet that he shared across


If you notice, there are plenty of similarities with some of the various different issues that I have highlighted over the last few years in terms of how we keep abusing email through our bad habits and behaviours in a successful effort to try to kill each other’s productivity. Well, apparently, the same thing happens with meetings. Or, perhaps not. 

When I was in my previous project I used to average about 10 to 15 hours of meetings per week. Nowadays I am doing between 25 to 30 hours of meetings. About 5 to 7 hours of those are dedicated to team meetings and the rest are remote ones solicited by other teams that want to abuse and take advantage of my reduced attention management span to sneak in. And over the last couple of weeks I am starting to think that the main reason why knowledge workers seem to have an obsession with hosting meetings (Specially, back to back, or what I have learned to call very descriptively as meetings galore) is not that necessarily down to work, but perhaps to a couple of other reasons: 

  • If you are in the office, meetings are usually put together because you want to see people face to face and play the corresponding political, empowerment and bullying games that you have been taught about really well over the course of time. 
  • If you are working remotely, like from your home office, or at a customer site, or while travelling, the main reason why people host those remote meetings is because (I know I am going to be very blunt and rather bold on this one, so bear with me) people feel lonely at work, isolated, disengaged with what happens “at the office”, distrusted, disempowered because they are just not there and therefore they provoke those meetings so they can have a good chance at disrupting that and show that they, too, count!

Of course, they do. We all do. But there are different ways of showing and demonstrating that. And perhaps meetings are not the best option anymore. We, human beings, have been stuck in meetings for thousands of years I would think and if you come to consider the huge amount of time we have wasted over the course of time for those meetings, think now about the possibilities and the potential of what we would have done with all of that extra time. 

There have been several attempts to try and fix the way we host and conduct meetings in an effort to make them effective. I am sure you, too, may have got your own hints and tips on how to make them work, and I would love to read some more about it in the comments, so feel free to share your best tips. Lately, I am playing myself with a couple of options: creating buffers, participate in meetings no longer than 30 minutes and be ruthless in terms of how many meetings I can participate in during the course of a working day. In my case I set that threshold in 4 hours of meetings per day. Maximum (with the odd exception here and there, of course). La Palma - Roque Los Muchachos

But, apparently, that doesn’t seem to work very well, because I still spend between 25 to 30 hours of meetings per week. Last week, for instance, 26.75 hours were just spent on conference calls participating and hosting meetings. Not good enough, I am afraid. And not good enough not because the meetings may have been rather helpful and useful overall, which they were, but more from the perspective that vast majority of them did *not* need to take place, since we could carry out the work offline and rather effectively. 

And this is where I am going to jump in and kick off that movement of “Life Without Meetings“. Because all along I have felt that the vast majority of meetings wouldn’t need to take place if knowledge workers would make a much more effective use of social networking tools for business. You know, All Hands Meetings, Cadence Calls, Weekly Team Meetings, Status Project Reports, Monthly Calls and what not can eventually be conducted and rather effectively through various different social technologies. 

Never mind as well how by shifting gears and moving the interactions of those meetings into social networking tools we would have the opportunity to get rid of the two main reasons I mentioned above as to why we are so obsessed with hosting meetings at the moment. You see? We don’t need so show up at meetings to play those political, empowerment and bullying games. We have got work to do. By relying (heavily) on social software tools, if anything, we would never have that strong feeling of being isolated, or ignored, or neglected, as remote employees. Quite the opposite. If there is anything that social networking shines and thrives at is helping us all stay connected, regardless of where we may well be in the world.

And that’s the main reason why I am now ready to kick off this particular initiative where over the course of time I have decided to strive for that goal of seeing the number of meetings I participate in go down to those levels of 10 to 15 hours per week. If I can hit 10 or less, even better. But we have got to get started somewhere, don’t you think? And that’s why from here onwards, and every now and then, depending on the frequency, I will be blogging about different techniques knowledge workers can put in practice to reduce the amount of time they spend in meetings, so that they can carry on with their work. And perhaps I’ll kick things off with a bold statement in terms of sharing with everyone what meetings, to me, should be all about, whether face to face or remote ones: decision making. Anything else, it’s just a waste of time, resources and precious talent that could be working on something much more interesting, relevant, purposeful and meaningful altogether. 

Gran Canaria - Pozo de las Nieves in the SpringSo, there! I said it. If you come to think about it, we have spent already a huge amount of time on theorising how we could improve the way we host, both online remote meetings and face to face ones. Everyone seems to have an opinion, or an infographic, as to how to make them better. And that’s just a wonderful thing. I guess what we would need to do next, eventually, is acknowledge that it’s a good time now for action to start re-thinking how we would want to keep hosting and conducting meetings in an effective manner, instead of thinking they are one of most poignant productivity drains within the corporate world. We already know that. Let’s move on. It’s time to roll up our sleeves, get down to work and change the way we get work done through meetings by realising that work does *not* happen when we meet. So how much time do we want to keep wasting away drifting our attention to them instead of figuring out perhaps different ways, methods, techniques of how social / open business tools can help us re-gain our productivity back. 

In the recent past, we have already done it for email, so there is no reason, perhaps not even an excuse anymore, why we couldn’t do the same thing for meetings and shape them up the way we would want them to by asking perhaps the first initial key question: What’s the purpose of the meeting? How are you planning on achieving that purpose, and, most importantly, can social technologies help achieve the same goals? Because if they do, there is no need to conduct that meeting any longer. We would then have to redefine again the true meaning of meetings, because the current one is already obsolete, and utterly broken, to match today’s complex collaborative and open knowledge sharing working environment. So, we better get our hands dirty and get down to business. It’s time for us all, knowledge workers, to take back responsibility, buckle up and own them again, as Seth Godin brilliantly quoted not long ago: 

“Somewhere along the way, meetings changed into events where we wait for someone to take responsibility (while everyone else dives for cover).

How would you do it differently if the building were burning down? Because it is.”

That’s it!

Finally, an Open Business without meetings.

I am game! … And you?

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