Micro-blogging for organizational usage

Sharif Tanvir Rahman Matr. no. 298791 Department of Computer Science RWTH Aachen University, Germany August 9, 2010
Abstract Organizations started to bring some concepts of micro-blogging to improve internal and external communications. It is interesting as a broad range of collaboration tools for organizations are already available for this purpose. This paper justifies some considerable potentiality for microblogging tools to improve intra-organization transparency and knowledge sharing. This work may also be viewed as a state of art of organizational micro-blogging in various perspective, i.e. related research, existing platforms, possible benefits as well as design and implementation issues.

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Introduction

Effective communication is one of the key factors for effectiveness for any type of organizations. Organizational leaders are in a dilemma over the nature of communications. Some argues for paperwork or bureaucracy and so they’re averse to a high degree of communications. Whereas the other angle of thinking is to effectively convey and receive information which suggests both internal and external communications to increase substantially. Micro-blogging is a relatively new phenomenon comparing to other communication channels. It is the process of sending short text updates that describes ’what you are doing and/or thinking’. This messages are available to whomever has subscribed to view these. Micro-blogging platforms allow tracking messages easily, i.e., all of the information is saved and can be searched intelligently. Micro-blogging supports people to broadcast information that they not-likely to share otherwise, using existing services, e.g., email, instant messaging, weblog or phone. The population of micro-bloggers has grown explosively and huge amount of data have been generated. Lots of bloggers are office workers and they post a significant amount of data for work purpose as well. This is obviously a ground for research whether this data could be classified properly and can lead to serving organizations purpose better. This paper would discuss its potential for serving as a new informal communication medium at organizations. However, micro-blogging adoption within an organizational setting is still in research phase, although there are some platforms already available solely for this purpose. Moreover, organizations are concerned about some issues, e.g. privacy and performance. So, there is a need to discuss the state of art from

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various corners and close the gaps so that organizations get proper rationale to adopt micro-blogging in a workspace environment. Outline As said, this paper surveys the state-of-the-art of using micro-blogging in organization setting. The remainder of this paper is organized as follows. Section 2 discusses whether and how an organization can take benefit. Section 3 relates some research findings whereas section 4 introduces the reader with some of the popular enterprise micro-blogging tools. Section 5 highlights about some issues to consider while tuning the concept for organization and finally concluding remarks are given in section 6.

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Organization benefit justification

IBM provides some valuable questions, an organization owner should ask himself for affirmation, to justify whether an organization can profit from a social software [19]; • Do you need a more efficient, yet informal way for small groups and teams within your organization and supply chain to collaborate and problem solve (outside of e-mail)? • Do you spend too much time trying to track down the current experts on certain topics within your organization? • Do you want to do more to promote creativity and the sharing of knowledge and key information resources within your organization? • Do you have a sense for the critical pockets of knowledge and expertise within your organization? • Is there much opportunity for people to communicate and connect across organizational boundaries, such as departments or locations, to solve problems in an interdisciplinary way? • Are you worried about losing critical expertise and tacit knowledge as key staff retires or move on to other opportunities? • Are you looking for way to attract and retain younger talent? Socialtext discusses how the concept can boost-up organization productivity, ”Chances are you only know whats going on in your company when someone else decides you should. You probably spend 1/3 of your day in your e-mail client, and 500 hours a year hunting for stuff. You can’t find someone with a particular expertise, leadership and employees are out of touch, and people re-create work. Socialtext 4.0 addresses these problems. With Socialtext, everyone knows whats going on. People and teams are synchronized, engaged and informed.” [7] It is the design and constraints of micro-blogging that is the key for supporting efficient communications inside or outside workplace [14]. For most, micro-blogging is considered a reply-optional medium. It offers messaging in near real-time while messages are kept to 140 characters, the length of an SMS message, which encourages brevity, summary and linking [14].

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A common social pattern on micro-blogs, for instance on twitter1 , is to ask questions to find information or people. The results are surprisingly effective as well as efficient. Firstly, A colleague can view all messages as well as follow people to create custom filters to view the people important to him. This is how, besides searching for answers, a worker is “tapping into the collective intelligence of participants” [19]. Secondly, this benefit is achieved rapidly and without the costs associated with other communication mediums for asking people questions. Jeanne C Meister and Karie Willyerd points out a typical daily experience in their Harvard Business Review [23] which could be replicated inside the organization, ”Are you using Twitter to reach your customers and followers? Do you update your status on Facebook several times a day? Maybe you daily ask questions of one of your specialized LinkedIn groups?” They commented that organizations can expect a jump productivity if these sort of informal communication take place with a specialized internal tool like Yammer [16] or Socialtext [14].

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Adoption for organization

There has been extensive research about the use of micro-blogging. The popular use is to update family, friends and colleagues about their whereabouts, activities, and interesting thoughts [22] [11]. Micro-blogging offers a quick and easy way to send a short text message from computer or mobile device, this contrasts with traditional blogging activities. IBM discusses [19] how social software, consisting of collaborative tools built on Web 2.0 design principles, enable participants to actively share knowledge and build relationships across their network. It also points out how elements of social software are already finding their way into a growing number of companies. It remarks about the increase in productivity by filling the information gap, ”Social software can make broadly visible information and relationships previously hidden or tacit within an organization”. Management gradually thinking that introducing informal interactions between colleagues instead of bureaucratic paper work leads to effective management [3]. Zhao and Rosson [27] discusses how micro-blogging could be a new informal communication medium at work. It points out a variety of possible impacts of on collaboration work, e.g. enhancing information sharing, building common ground, and sustaining a feeling of connectedness among colleagues. Zhao et al. [27] conducted research aimed at gaining an in-depth understanding of how and why people use the popular micro-blogging tool, Twitter and explored microblog’s potential impacts on informal communication at work. G¨nther et al. [21] conducted focus group sessions and based on the findings, u a model is formulated to predict the adoption of a micro-blogging system in the workspace. Java, Song, Finin, and Tseng [22] analyze why and how Twitter is used for private purposes. Ehrlich and Shami [20] examined micro-blogging in the workplace by conducting a content analysis comparing posts from individuals who were using an internal proprietary tool and Twitter simultaneously. Zhang, Qu, Cody and Wu [26] conducted a case study about the early adoption and use of micro-blogging in a Fortune 500 company. The study used
1 www.twitter.com

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several independent data sources: five months of empirical micro-blogging data, user demographic information from corporate HR records, a web based survey, and targeted interviews.

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Enterprise micro-blogging : Existing platforms

Organizations can choose either an internally-hosted micro-blogging platform, or using a solution hosted by a vendor. Organization structure or type of information to share may play a major role in selecting the platform, for example, if the employees are likely to share confidential or proprietary information, security and privacy would be a major concern. Some most popular platforms are discussed below. Only the organization related features are highlighted here.

4.1

Yammer

Commonly mentioned as an ’Enterprise Twitter’ that allows co-workers to share what they are working on. Privacy to each company’s Yammer network is assured by limiting access to those with a company email address. People at Cisco Systems, Xerox, and Hewlett Packard are using it. ”Yammer is the private social network for your company” slogans Yammer in their website. ”Yammer is an enterprise version of Twitter. If Twitter asks: ”What Are You Doing?”, Yammer asks: ”What Are You Working On?”” [25] Yammer’s business model is interesting, because it spreads virally in a sense. Anyone with a company email address can sign up and start using Yammer for free. But when a company ”officially” joins Yammer, giving an administrator more control over security and how employees use the service - it pays 1 dollar a month for each user. And unlike Twitter, that limits to a 140 characters in a message, Yammer offers typing as much as the user need to. In Yammer’s first six weeks, it had 10,000 companies with more than 60,000 users sign up, although only 200 companies with 4,000 users are paying so far [13]. Upto today’s date, yammer is used at over 80,000 businesses worldwide [16]. It supports the following features as detailed in their product page [17] Enterprise micro-blogging by exchanging frequent short messages with people at work. ”You ask a question, share news, ideas, documents, and post status updates, and other people within your private network can reply. Unlike email, you choose whose messages you’ll receive by ’following’ specific people and joining groups - creating a custom feed tailored to you”. Company social network as members can share their yammer profile, which consists their photo, title, contact info, expertise and background. Securely collaborate with internal and external groups Knowledge Base of a complete archive of messages, profiles and tags. ”If you’re new to your company, Yammer also helps you get up to speed faster because it’s likely that your questions have already been answered on Yammer and are therefore searchable”. 4

Figure 1: Yammer: A simple real-time communication tool for organizations (Mobile) Productivity Tool like other micro-blogging tools, supporting the feelings of ’connected and informed’.

4.2

Socialtext Signals

Socialtext Signals provides micro-blogging integrated with Socialtext’s enterprise collaboration platform. In addition with basic features of micro-blogging, it provides many additional benefits for organization as colleagues in a company can use it to work towards common goals. Improving signal-to-noise ratio. ”Someone may edit several wiki pages as part of accomplishing a business task. Activity notifications that are part of the collaboration platform, seen by those who subscribe to the person, the page, or the workspace, can then be amplified by a Signal which summarizes the outcome of the business task, and which may be received by a broader or different group” [14] Metadata provision. It shares micro-blog metadata that provides meaning at a glance. ”As people work in the Socialtext platform, context about their changes get shared as Signals. Much like the activity feeds of Socialtext People, these types of Signals give colleagues real-time context about what others are up to.” [14]

4.3

Present.ly

Present.ly is a enterprise collaboration solution. Unlike Twitter, Present.ly provides a secure and private way to share updates among members of a company, without them being visible to the outside world. Feature highlights as follows, Groups to Keep Conversations Organized Support for groups for each project or topic of discussion. Users receive messages that are relevant to the topic at hand and are free to move between conversations as desired. This way the conversations could be maintained focused. 5

(a) Present.ly in Android

(b) Socialtext in mobile

Figure 2: Mobile platforms dealing ’What are you working on’ Share Documents and Media with Co-Workers Rapid share is supported when there is a necessity of quick share of images, documents, video, and audioclips with colleagues.

4.4

Indenti.ca

Identi.ca is a micro-blogging service based on the Free Software StatusNet tool. It provides many features not currently implemented by other services, for instance, Twitter. These special services are listed below, Personal tag clouds. Identi.ca supports tags to help you organize your activities here. Tags could be used for people and for notices.The most popular current tags on the site can be found in the public tag cloud. Their size shows their popularity and recency. Group support via ’Notice’. It can be used to send a notice to the attention of everyone marked with a particular tag. For example, ’@#family hello’ will send a notice to everyone the user marked with the tag ’family’. FOAF standard. Allows free export and exchange of personal and ”friend” data based on the FOAF standard; therefore, notices can be fed in to a Twitter account or other service, and also ported in to a private system similar to Yammer.

4.5

Jaiku

Jaiku is a part of Google. The service is maintained by volunteer Google engineers on their spare time [1]. Vic Gundotra, Vice President, Engineering 6

mentioned about their process of porting Jaiku over to Google App Engine [18], after declaring they would no longer develop Jaiku codebase, “With the open source Jaiku Engine project, organizations, groups and individuals will be able to roll-their-own micro-blogging services and deploy them on Google App Engine. The new Jaiku Engine will include support for OAuth, and we’re excited about developers using this proven code as a starting point in creating a freely available and federated, open source micro-blogging platform”. In other words, it sounds like Google is working on a competitor to the host of enterprise-focused micro-blogging tools that have sprung up in the wake of Twitters success, or at least a service that will lure some paying users to Google App Engine [8]. Open sourcing the code is an interesting target Google made, as it means core of Jaiku could be extended and organizations would use their own, unique, custom micro-blogging tool.

4.6

status.net (formerly Laconica)

StatusNet is the open source micro-blogging platform that helps sharing and connecting in real-time within user’s own domain. Businesses, Media & Consumer Brands and Online Communities are using StatusNet for their internal communications [15]. StatusNet provides the following key features, Groups. Individuals can follow notices relating to specific topics and connect with others who share common interests. Popular Notices. Keep track in real-time of whats popular within user’s network. File Sharing. Enable file uploads, such as photos, videos, and other files. Social Network Interface. Status updates propagates to other social network accounts, such as Twitter and FaceBook. Plug-ins. Find or build own custom plug-ins to make a unique micro messaging environment. Customizable Interface. Through themes and clients, you can maintain your brand identity and provide a unique user experience. The above features facilitates StatusNet providing other solutions than maintaining an online community, for instance, Solutions for Enterprise : Effective employee collaboration Real-time messaging enables employees to communicate more efficiently and become more productive. Incorporating micro messaging into organization’s Intranet reduces complications associated with employees adopting their own tools and ensures that all employees and teams are connected. ”By maintaining the platform behind your firewall, you minimize risk and maintain governance over the social network itself”. [6]

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Solutions for Media and Consumer brands: Manage communication strategy centrally By having own micro messaging platform, media and consumer brands can efficiently manage their social media messaging and communication. ”Enable divisions, departments, regional or local outlets to communicate relevant and timely information out through one channel to multiple social networks (like Twitter and Facebook). Empower your audience to engage with you and others through social networking within your own domain. Build communities of interest and provide a richer online experience for your audience”. [12]

4.7

Cubetree

CubeTree differs slightly from the pack by offering some cool features like the collaboration tools of wikis and polls. Carlin Wiegner, chief executive officer and co-founder of CubeTree, believes that what’s keeping employees from connecting effectively is the current condition of most companies’ intranets [4]. Cubetree has an extensive list of features [10]. However, as said, collaboration tools like wikis and polls are unique for a micro-blog but definitely helpful for organizations. Wiki CubeTree includes a full-featured, built-in wiki. Wikis are a great way to share written content with the co-workers. Other than being easy to edit, one of the most important capabilities of a wiki is making it easy for someone to track changes to a wiki page. CubeTree has several options for change tracking. It also provides visual tracking of page views and revisions for every wiki page (fig 3(b)), complete with links to view the change. Another cool feature is, it supports partner widgets, e.g. google calendar2 , a Scribd document or a SlideShare presentation to add rich media content to shared wiki pages. Polls CubeTree supports polling and in an easy and flexible way. The users see when other people vote, a poll can gather momentum and increase its response rate and reach new people. Trip Itinerary Sharing It supports easy broadcasting travels by synching with systems like Google Calendar or TripIt3 . This feature seems useful, as by sharing upcoming meetings or trips with the co-workers, a worker can dramatically improve the visibility of her activities as well as their productivity. The user has control over which trips are to broadcast and which should remain private.

4.8

Rypple

Rypple is social software, built for work environment but focusing especially on feedback and coaching. It supports different kind of feedbacks [5], Feedback on goals Staying aligned with clear visibility into goals and actions. The team gets an easy way to collaborate.
2 http://www.google.com/calendar/ 3 http://www.tripit.com/

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(a) version history

(b) visual tracking of page views and revisions

Figure 3: Cubetree wiki support Feedback on achievements Motivating the team with public recognition. Helping them learning with a safe way to get honest insights. Face-to-face feedback Keeping focused, accelerate learning and making work fulfilling with frequent, effective 1:1 coaching conversations. Meaningful feedback Tracking personal and team progress.

4.9

Applying Twitter for Organization

Although Twitter is not developed for this purpose, there are a number of ways Twitter could be used for the benefit of an organization. First of all, Twitter provides a free alternative to communicating via SMS and the coworkers can take the benefit. However, this feature comes with all the above mentioned platforms. Intra-group communication is tricky while using Twitter as it does not currently support group functionality. However, free third party services exist to

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Figure 4: Rypple: Sharing meaningful feedback support this power, for example, GroupTweet [9] helps groups communicate privately via Twitter. There are other limitations of Twitter, which makes the other above-mentioned platforms popular for organizations. For example, only text and links can be posted by twitter. No other resources like maps , photos or videos could be shared. Even the text and link posting doesn’t support intra-communication well for the 140 character limit. Moreover, It has post per hour limit as well. Additionally, it imposes limits [2] on the number of follow requests, updates and direct messages a user can make in a single day.

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Design and Implementation principles

Zhang, Qu, Cody and Wu [26] points out several issues that can help both practitioners and scholars build an initial understanding of how knowledge workers are likely to use micro-blogging in the enterprise. As an initial effort to gain a systematic understanding of the adoption and usage of micro-blogging in corporations, they examined how people used Yammer [16]. B.J. Schone [24] mentions ’Involving the right people’ as a high recommendation, while implementing micro-blogging at work, i.e., bringing in people from right departments and help them understand micro-blogging and how it helps achieving company’s interest. Corporate Communications, HR, IT, Legal could be possible prior departments. Schone [24] also suggests to consider running a pilot program for a small group of users, may be with the training department. This would give a feelings how the concept works and whether it has the potential to serve organization’s purpose. G¨nther et al. [21] marked the following issues as key concerns, while impleu 10

menting microblog systems for an organization; Privacy concerns, Communication benefits, Perceptions regarding signal-to-noise ratio, Codification effort. They discussed how micro-blogging like other social software provides others with a whole set of user-related information such as personal interests and/or working routines. It mentions several participant’s worry; ”I don’t want my work tracked, I don’t want to report every step I make”; another answer ”It’s like a Big Brother... like everybody sees what everybody is doing...” [21]. Jeanne C Meister and Karie Willyerd [23] suggest the following three lessons to consider while thinking implementing micro-blogging inside organization; • Start small and monitor results. Build an audience first and then uncover how it can lead to increased employee productivity or faster time to competence. Since micro-blogging is a modest expense, (often as low as $1.00 per user per month) there need not be elaborate ROl studies prior to piloting the service. • Provide training to employees. The training is for using microblogging effectively. They suggest webinars, online training programs, or face-to-face Lunch & Learns. • Integrate Micro-blogging into organizations workflow. It needs to be used as a productivity tool rather than another thing to do during busy days.

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Conclusion

Being a tool to facilitate informal communication, micro-blogging can improve intra-organization transparency and knowledge sharing, hence increase productivity. Popular tools like Twitter4 and Facebook5 are lacking for organization settings as they don’t offer a complement of collaborative tools including threaded replies, RSS feeds, photo, wiki and file sharing as well as typical workplace concerns like privacy and perceptions regarding signal-to-noise ratio. We already see enterprise micro-blogging platforms in the evolutionary process of social networking. It appears that more collaboration suites are to emerge and serve organization purpose more conveniently.

4 www.twitter.com 5 www.facebook.com

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