Too many talking shops, not enough action

Google+ communities is good technology, but adds to the problem of too many digital locations and fragmentation of information
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor
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It's turning out to be a big week for Google+, with users hitting a similar inflexion point to Facebook as discussed in Wired by Ryan Tate:

Google today announced that it has 135 million active users checking their Google+ streams each month, up from 100 million in mid-September. If you run the math, that means Google+ is now growing at the same pace as Facebook when it was similarly sized.

More significantly from my business collaboration perspective  Vic Gundotra, Google Senior Vice President wrote this blog post announcing Google+: Communities and photos yesterday - probably old news to you if you follow tech news in real time - and this was immediately followed by a deluge of email invites to new G+ 'professional' communities this morning.

Hacker News is lighting up with a new html5, CSS3 & JS G+ group as I write this, and last night a Ruby group was topping their charts. 

If you work in a large company you'll be familiar with email requests that took someone more powerful than you seconds to write but which will involve much complexity, time and effort to respond to successfully. Add in a couple of political agendas from rival execs and you can have a very busy time responding and conforming to their needs. 

This is all reactionary activity to satisfy requests - add in collaborative environments and you can quickly get into difficulties also being expected to contribute insights, intelligence and knowledge to wikis, forums, real time activity feeds, social business suites etc etc. 

The value proposition ideals for all this effort is the creation of a rich body of current and future looking knowledge, with information easy to find and people happy to help. This is a very attractive, powerful and laudable goal - and also a lot harder to achieve than it appears (particularly when technology marketing his involved). 

G+'s  Vic Gundotra announced these details of their new communities functionality

...permanent homes for all the stuff you love: the wonderful, the weird, and yes, even the things that are waaay out there. With Google+ Communities there’s now a gathering place for your passions, including:
• Public or private membership to support all kinds of groups—from topics and interests to local neighborhoods to regular poker nights
• Discussion categories to find the conversations you care about most
• The option to start hangouts and plan events with community members
• The ability to share with your community from any +1 button across the web

We are already overloaded with digital locations - it can be like a night out in Vegas online as we go from shiny place to shiny place, with seductive new places and old hang outs going wildly out of fashion overnight.

What's increasingly happening on the public web is similar to the challenges of organizing efficient collaboration and interactions inside, across and through companies and their constituents. Way too many easy to invoke and launch 'spaces' online to convene in, with a resulting fragmenting of information and worst case low quality, incomplete, conflicting, wrong or outdated conversations. It's much easier today to create a digital meeting space than it is to get people to show up and participate, and your time is a finite resource.

Keeping delicate intellectual property inside firms - where time is money - is an increasing challenge: peer groups on Linked In, Twitter showboating and the giant individual egosphere that is Facebook are increasingly more populated with fragments of valuable information than internal environments, but much of it adds up to little, isn't easily findable or refindable and worse case scenario leaks intelligence to your competitors, who may be paying more attention than your employees.

You are probably familiar with Meetup.com, which 'helps groups of people with shared interests plan meetings and form offline clubs in local communities around the world'. Offline means joining a group and then making the decision to travel on a wet Tuesday night to meet people - in real life! - and interact. It takes a bit of prep work and confidence, even a stiff drink, to go into a room full of new faces and communicate, and sometimes we chicken out and stay at home and noodle around on the web instead. 

It's valuable to think of digital communities requiring the same investment of time and effort to make them work, but the reality is that we can be in and out in thirty seconds. 

All too often we don't spend enough time in any place, grazing information online, like having a quick drink before moving on in Vegas to see more lightweight eye candy. As individuals we do what we want when we want,  but organizing people collectively to be focused and authentic is a whole different thing. From a corporate perspective we'e looking to invoke the passion of a sports team supporter - which often exists in individuals who have made major career decisions to join a company and chose to believe in its culture and goals - aligned with time efficient places to focus and contribute innovation and insight.

What frequently happens over time is a strong allegiance to a parochial group within a company, which is often competing with other communities and results in knowledge hoarding and technology reinforced competitive behavior - typically not the outcome senior management are seeking.

On the public web people who have invested lots of time and energy in informing communities on how to problem solve and innovate - automotive restoration is a great example - are disillusioned when someone comes and lifts their how-to write up and cut and pastes it to their new 'community' without any citation of where they got it from. The result is grumpy reactions and a dilution of desire to share with the outside world their busted knuckles experiences in the future. They retreat behind user names and passwords and become suspicious of 'outsiders'.

From a business perspective never underestimate the power of genuine core contributors - respect, reward and acknowledge  their efforts and its value over time…the twinkling lights of alternative places to convene in the outside world have never burned brighter, and there has never been a greater need to focus minds on where information should reside within business organizations, and to acknowledge valuable insights from its true sources.


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