Social Product Development

Friday, February 26, 2010

Breaking Down Gartner’s Social Software Predictions

In early February 2010, Gartner released its Five Social Software Predictions for 2010 and Beyond. You can read the entire press release via the link above. Below, I offer up my viewpoints and analysis on those.

Prediction 1: By 2014, social networking services will replace e-mail as the primary vehicle for interpersonal communications for 20 percent of business users.

Parsing this a bit, one understands that they aren’t claiming that e-mail will die, but just that it will no longer be the ‘primary’ tool for interpersonal communications. Add to that the caveat of one in five businesses will go this way. On the one hand, I see this coming true because this is a nimble move, and more small businesses are more apt to make this (or be able to make this). In addition, as more Gen Y-ers and Gen Z-ers enter the workforce, communication through social networks will be more the rule, rather than the exception. Case in point: In late 2008, Boston College ceased issuing e-mail addresses to incoming freshman – they found that they had digital identities elsewhere. The businesses I see least likely to adopt this are ones with much tighter security risks, and fear that a social network-managed e-mail solution may be more risky than one controlled on site. In any event, Project Titan from our blue-and-white-logo’ed friends in Palo Alto is poised to be one of the largest e-mail domains on the face of the earth. If Gen Y-ers and Gen Z-ers are going to be spending their time inside social networks, splitting time between working and networking, it makes sense to reach them there.

By purposely mixing business with social networking services, organizations have the ability to push the envelope and spur knowledge workers to seek answers from their network. Imagine a Gen Y-er catching up on her friend’s weekend by clicking through some pictures, and then next asking her personal, curated network of friends (many from engineering school) about solving a computational fluid dynamics problem.

Prediction 2: By 2012, over 50 percent of enterprises will use activity streams that include microblogging, but stand-alone enterprise microblogging will have less than 5 percent penetration.

I think microblogging has great applicability inside the enterprise, and Yammer is a great example. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either. However, I also agree that inside the workplace, adoption rates of microblogging are slower than outside the workplace. The challenge to convey is that, combined with other communication platforms, microblogging has the ability to let people collaborate and create together in real-time or asynchronously whether it’s a legal document or engineering calculations on a product design. Just as people in the early 90s communicated by means other than interoffice memos (hello, e-mail), knowledge workers today are communicating through e-mail, pictures, video, IM, and real-time, bite-sized edits of what they just did, learned, destroyed, created, or augmented. And those bit-sized shares are enabled by microblogging. Providing more tools to collaborate and work together will lead to better and faster designs and decisions, product-related or otherwise.

Prediction 3: Through 2012, over 70 percent of IT-dominated social media initiatives will fail.

The first word of social media is ‘social’. This isn’t to say that IT departments and workers are not social, but it should be an indicator that these kinds of initiatives shouldn’t be technology-driven, they should be people- (and objective/strategy-) driven. Forrester agrees. Instead, these initiatives should be cross-functionally led, with various stakeholders offering input. Just as we here at PTC espouse social product development, these initiatives in question, too, can be socially-collaborated efforts. The better organization to lead these efforts is the organization that is most in touch with the customer base as well as with what the organization is doing. Often times, that’s marketing, but it could be customer care or customer service, too. The take-away is that technology plays a huge role in this as an enabler of scale, but it shouldn’t be the driver of these kinds of initiatives.

Prediction 4: Within five years, 70 percent of collaboration and communications applications designed on PCs will be modeled after user experience lessons from smartphone collaboration applications.

I for one hope this does not come true. Making applications usable on smart phones is a challenge, since the entire ergonomic interaction, resolution, and media consumption rate is different than sitting at a PC. So, the challenge is in the hands of the mobile application industry’s product managers, developers, and customers to make this a great user experience. I support the push of a lite- or moderately-featured desktop application to the smart phone. But when my desktop experience begins to rival that of my smart phone experience, I think we’re collectively in a world of trouble. We’d be tacitly accepting degradation in service, usability, consumption, and resolution.

I think that the desktop application development ecosystem can take a page from the smart phone development and focus on ease of use and usability, but not limit the amount of work one can accomplish. Collaborating could mean something as simple as having a video chat, or a three-way call, or maybe even something as complex as asynchronous group editing. But I see collaboration as more like simultaneous editing, dragging and dropping, content creation, synch-ing changes, etc. – this is how it is played out in the product-development world. I suspect that this will be difficult to do, even with multi-touch devices. That, and the fragmentation of mobile phone OSs (arguably more so than the desktop market) makes the necessity of a Java-like platform for mobile smart phones all that much greater. And I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon.

Prediction 5: Through 2015, only 25 percent of enterprises will routinely utilize social network analysis to improve performance and productivity.

If you are unfamiliar with what social network analysis (it’s not an analysis of how many of your Facebook friends are also on Twitter), go here. I concur with this prediction. I think social network analysis is a diamond in the rough, in terms of business-tool applicability. Knowledge that’s recorded can be put into data silos, and smart tools can link them together, effectively breaking down the silos. People store knowledge in their brains, and the holy grail of social product development (inside a product-development organization) is to identify people, knowledge, skills, wisdom, and interests, and create a master ‘have/want’ list. Being able to pair up these people or groups, based on skill set, tenure, age, demographic, specialty, time spent on a project, etc. will shorten the time to find experts in an organization, and permit better collaboration on projects. Even better will be looking at how projects get completed over time after implementing such a method – the trend of the trend, so to speak.

Where do you fall with these predictions? With Gartner? Me? Both? Let us know in the comments.

image source: Nostradamus, on

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