Why The Big Fuss Over Microblogs?

I microblog.Why? The truth is, I learn by doing and by speaking with others who do.

I microblog.Why? The truth is, I learn by doing and by speaking with others who do. So I dabble with Twitter, Plurk, Pownce, Spoink, Rakawa, Tumblr, Utterli, Yammer, FriendFeed, 12seconds, and probably a few others that I signed up for and forgot to use. I have found a nice collection of people that I like to follow, and some people follow me too. So microblogging appeals to the extrovert in me, and I'm strangely fascinated reading what other people are doing (or what they say they are doing). Narcissism and voyeurism are at play.

The current pattern of Web 2.0 innovation starts with the incubation and socialization of a concept in the consumer space. For many vendors, this is just baiting the hook. Once these behaviors are socialized, maybe the most devoted users will want to take those behaviors to work too. And then someone with budget to burn might be willing to pay to support the habit. All the devotees have to do is convince the person with the purse that there is a real business need to satisfy. Addiction and justification are at play.

Microblogging now appears on stage. Smart people spend many coffee-infused hours thinking of reasons that real employees might need to microblog. Some of the use cases may even make sense. If people (and automated systems, sensors, and applications) are willing to emit bits of insight, these info-bit streams eventually compile into some form of valuable information. The idea of short message communication is chic and appealing. But microblogging requires patience on the part of the reader to learn the patterns emitted from the stream. Elegance and tediousness are at play.

But why the appeal? Why the fuss? I believe two factors are at play:

  1. Mobility makes us omnipresent, but short on time. Microblogging appeals to those who use mobile devices. It provides a channel that honors our thumbs and encourages us to say just a few words. And we can connect to the intranet from anywhere. For some, this is true power.
  2. The list of people I "follow" may be interesting to you. Although Web 2.0 tools present information, their use becomes increasingly more interesting when we look at the network of people who generate and care about the information. In the case of the microblog: my "follow -list" may be more interesting to you than my micro-posts.

As enterprises become more mobile, when we break out of the cube farms and conduct our primary work from our mobile devices, then we'll see more miniaturization of communications. I expect enterprise microblogging to serve as a place where mobile workers check in. Maybe a few conversations take off, but then employees will revert to email the moment the conversation becomes something not sharable with everyone. And we'll need some good filtering tools to help us organize and manage microblog streams. Right now, there's just too much out there to be useful to the already-overworked information worker. We barely handle the volume of corporate emails now. So microblogs will have to provide evidence they are an improvement, or they will not thrive in the enterprise.

The more interesting behavior emerges when network-graphing tools surf through the people whom you follow and identify the influential people they follow. This is where human context makes information more valuable. Social connection farming is a bit creepy, especially in the enterprise. But if it catches on, then we'll see a wave of new tools that harvest "follow-lists." So if you think I'm interesting to follow, then you might be more interested in the people I follow. Maybe you follow me because you found someone else who does. All this will be followed by tools that protect the "follow lists" from prying eyes too. So these little blogs are creating a big fuss.

Will the Information & Knowledge Management professional see microblogs as narcissistic, voyeuristic, and addictive toys that have no place at work? Or will mobile workforces find real use for a technology that keeps messages short and visible?

What do you think?


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