This feed feature is now fixed. Just one niggle after Google took over Feedburner and removed the Feedburner ID.
The RSS debate – enterprise disruptor?
I’ve just been dragged into the RSS debate. However, I must admit when I saw Marshall Kirkpatrick’s ReadWriteWeb (RWW) had written a lamentation on the death of corporate RSS R.I.P Enterprise RSS, that I simply didn’t bother reading it. However, a ‘Tweep’ from Dave Winer prompted me to read this post: Incredibly RSS is dead! Here, Phil Jones reckons RSS is a no-no not in my backyard technology for the enterprise:
We *imagined* that social-software would burst the enterprise. Instead, the enterprise resolutely rejects it. No senior manager (who has a certain amount of “between-ness centrality”) wants to legitimize the automated software streams that would route around him (or her), bypass the company’s official PR outputs, bypass the company’s official sales department’s inputs.
There’s a certain resonance with reality there, but I don’t buy the whole argument. RSS may have limited rollout in the enterprise, but I don’t think we can dismiss the whole bag of social media so easily. Yes for sure there are as Phil appears to know only too well, those who fear and loath the power of social media and its ability to transcend the normal corporate boundaries. What this misses is that the desire to control and batten down communications is a trait that can impact all communications and to my mind it’s a negative one. What such control can’t do is stop all communications and whilst many might fear the power of a blog to support an employee’s communications, they should equally fear the power of a one-to-one phone call. Or, put another way, social media create new channels but anyone can still send out a career-limiting e-mail…
I come to praise RSS, not to bury it
So back to our friend the feed that is RSS, why are RWW saying it’s no more? The quick answer is they’re not:
We love RSS and this makes us really sad. If much of the rest of the world wants to ignore this technology, though, it’s their loss. It’s our bread and butter. Neglecting RSS at work seems to us like pure insanity.
But they say, but, against all odds it hasn’t taken off. And this is completely against all logic, in fact given the competitive advantage RSS provides RWW think it’s nuts.
Any company that steps up to make serious strategic use of such software should be at an immediate advantage in terms of early and efficient access to information.
Marshall cites Forrester’s Oliver Young, who having wrongly predicted that 2008 would be the year of RSS, largely agrees and wonders if something has gone fundamentally wrong here. What has gone wrong though they ask – maybe it’s duff technology, maybe it’s too difficult, maybe it’s a fear of acronyms. I’m not convinced on the latter, acronyms go awol given a bit of tlc or even gbh.
The stakes are high here, massive competitive advantage and the chance of pundits like me getting rich quick here as Neville Hobson acknowledges:
What would make RSS grab attention within the enterprise? Heh, if I knew the exact answer, I’d be sitting back and picking up those royalties!
Well, I sure could do with some royalties, in fact as of today I could do with some regular income, but in the spirit of openness (if not humility) I’ll share what I think is going wrong here.
The acronym could easily be replaced, as e-mail did with SMTP, and I prefer the term ‘feeds’ or even ”webfeeds’. There is also the problem of explaining what RSS does and Neville describes well the penny-dropping moment when the advantage of RSS is understood:
You can see people getting their ‘light bulb moments’ when you illustrate the simple example of getting content from their ten favourite websites automatically delivered to them rather than having to visit those ten sites individually to see if there’s anything new.
What’s really gone wrong
So why oh why not use it? Is it the technology, there seems to be some large agreement that the RSS vendors haven’t quite got it right yet. I’ve tried both Attensa and Newsgator and both a OK, but neither really integrates into the electric working patterns of the average office bod. For sure Attensa has an Outlook plug-in but I don’t want RSS in Outlook, even if it’s in its own folder. And what I don’t want is a separate application, nor really do I want it in a web page though there are some very nice reasons for being able to make an enterprise Netvibes type thang, which I’ll talk about in a future post.
I don’t want these things and I know that a lot of other people in the enterprise don’t want them as I’ve actually gone out and talked to people about it and surveyed them. The feedback was a lot of confusion with some – ‘RSS what?’ etc but also, equally a lot of people asking why there wasn’t more use of RSS. This was despite the fact that I’d made sure that in my sphere of influence, almost every single web based news channel had RSS feeds available as standard. RSS was ubiquitous and it was still only being used by a small %. So some hadn’t a clue, others wanted more, but it still didn’t connect up.
And this to me is where the enterprise class readers and aggregators fall down – they don’t connect. For sure they might connect up backoffice, Attensa certainly does with Active Directory and auto-subscription and more metrics than you can shake a dirty stick at. What they don’t connect up with though is working patterns. RSS becomes another application to open up and use, it’s somewhere else to have to look to find information.
How to fix it
So what the vendors need to do is synch up the RSS readers with how people want to work. Attensa goes the right way with the Outlook plugin but it’s with the wrong app, it should be with the browser. I’ve written about this before Flock vs Chrome RSS and sung the praises of Flock’s built in RSS reader but not thought about it in enterprise terms.
The fact that Flock integrates RSS into the browser means it becomes part of the browser experience. The feeds I subscribe to become dynamic automatic bookmarks in my browser. This I like, it’s not another app to learn and I can use the Flock reader as a base while jumping from page to page (something that is lost in a pure web page experience.
Some may differ about Flock or prefer another way of reading their RSS, but I stand by the fact that what’s needed is a way of integrating RSS into working practices. Until that happens it won’t take off – it will be another chore rather than a helper. When RSS does become a true boon, the results will be immediate and of immediate benefit.
Web 2.0 has arrived and your company needs it, now. Who says so? Forbes’ Mike Schaffner does ‘Why Companies Need Web 2.0’. For Schaffner we’re in a web 2.0 world now that extends from his daughter’s vacation in Paris through to the next wave of new employees.
Schaffner lists out the whole sweet shop – RSS, Wiki, Blog, YouTube, FriendFeed, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. E-mail he says is so last decade, it’s an old hat. Thus use Twitter instread says Schaffner, who can can see collaborative communications research done in a tweet:
Imagine someone putting out a Twitter message (a “tweet”) that says, “I’m updating the marketing plan, does anyone have any info on X?” rather than sending out an e-mail that gets lost in everyone’s inbox. The tweet may have a wider reach and generate a better response.
And it’s not just convenience or the need to attract the best talent that’s at stake. It’s time to move forward or perish:
Like it or not, our employees and customers–not to mention our competitors–are using these technologies now and will soon be expecting you to provide them, too. Don’t do it and you may find yourself at a competitive disadvantage. What are you doing about using these technologies inside your company?
The eagle 2.0, has landed, well ok it’s still landing (07.07.08). But as soon as this is posted I’ll communicate it via Twitter and FriendFeed…as one does.
Go forth and prosper
If one wants to roll out even the most modest of web 2.0 internal comms initiative in the enterprise it can be very daunting. For every good idea there seems to be dozen doubters, for every champion a league of naysayers. In such circumstances it’s too easy to give up and stick to the traditional old ways – no one will be upset that way and you can always slowly advance your career in the tried and the trusted.
In our hearts many of us know this is a loss- a loss of opportunity and of a panorama of never to be seen horizons.
As with all potential great journeys, discovery and advance are only made by venturing from the straight and 1.0. How to move forward then when any approach seems beset by paths of treacle?
Nothing is softer than water
What I’d like to suggest is that the Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu might have some interesting advice for us here, so I’ve compiled some of his inspirational quotes to guide us here. With this in mind, I’d like to look at how Lao Tzu can help us with deploying internal communications 2.0. Let’s start by considering of his observations about the unstoppable nature of water:
Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.
simplicity, patience, compassion
Social Media is like water. It’s not hard, it’s not machines, yet no matter what we do, or others do to stop it happening, it will find a way into the enterprise. No firewall is hot enough to evaporate it, no working practice to severe enough to prevent it. Remember all of this as the tide is on your side.
I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.
Begin the journey
Keep your first 2.0 projects simple and above all have patience. Chances are it won’t happen immediately and don’t get fed up with people not accepting or using the tools. 2.0 like anything else will be used by people because it benefits them. If it goes wrong don’t blame them, look with compassion at why an application wasn’t used.
A tree that can fill the span of a man’s arms grows from a downy tip; A terrace nine stories high rises from hodfuls of earth; A journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath one’s feet.
Lead from behind
Start off modest – maybe some blogging software installed or a forum. While there’s a lot to be said for a joined up approach, far better to gain experience now, rather than waiting months for a large-scale complex solution. So start now, make those first baby steps.
To lead people walk behind them.
What is good
Look at what your audience do now, what benefits them, where they go to find information. Think how you can help them. Learn from what you audience wants and where they go. Lead and be lead at the same time.
Truthful words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not truthful. Good words are not persuasive; persuasive words are not good.
Tell no fibs
Be honest with your audience, don’t try and blind them with science or gobbledygook, no matter how well intentioned. Keep it simple and honest – they will see through duplicity eventually. So no BS, ever!
Without stirring abroad, One can know the whole world…
Where are you going?
Allow your audience to create their world by pulling in the information they want. Make sure that they can easily find and access the information they need. Use RSS webfeeds so they can get the information without having to surf the entire intranet. Make sure search in the enterprise is tip-top and can find social media info. (But also check it’s not swamping all other search…)
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
The reality check
Set objectives and have measurable aims. Review these regularly – look at your metrics and milestones. Be flexible and don’t be afraid of changing direction!
Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
How to make crooks
Accept and expect the unexpected and learn from where 2.0 takes us and evolves. Don’t try and force an outcome, even if your audience will let you, it won’t work. If media gets used in ways that you didn’t expect then learn from that rather than trying to stop it.
The more laws that are written, the more criminals are produced.
Of that which we cannot speak
Don’t over govern or over legislate web 2.0 in the enterprise. There will always be those who distrust your audience and fear what might get said in a blog or discussion. Trust them, we can all make career limiting moves by sending out an e-mail, social media is no different. So by all means create guidelines and best practice but try and avoid a big list of Don’ts.
He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.
Fishing on the net
Social media can often draw out the shy and bashful who have a lot to say and lots to share. Conversely, it can highlight the real value (or not) of the louder contributors too – empty vessels make the most noise etc. Make sure that you media allows the shy to be heard – you may find that they have the most value to add. Any lecturer will tell you this – the best essays can come in from the quietest student.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
An old favourite but still true. Provide training and help – many will learn the technology rapidly – that’s what 2.0 is all about, but make it as easy as you can and provide support, aids and training materials. Think of ways that your audience can teach others to fish – forums for newbies supported by the early adopters.
The wicked leader is he who the people despise. The good leader is he who the people revere. The great leader is he who the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’
Our job as 2.0 internal comms leaders is all about enabling our audience. Enabling them to find the information they want at the right time and place (or that information finding them), it’s about conversation, collaboration and sharing. And above all 2.0 is all about the ‘we’: us doing it for ourselves….
So far Flock beats Chrome hands down when it comes to RSS reader. In fact Flock beats all players when it comes to RSS. Not sure what it is about Flock’s built in reader but it just seems to work so well. It runs as a sidebar amongst all the other social media functionality that Flock provides and the integration with the actual feeds and their web pages is as seamless as any I’ve seen. For me it’s the number one reason for using Flock as I’m underwhelmed by the rest of the social media apps it hosts – sometimes they work and other times they don’t and I’ve never got the WordPress one to function correctly.
Chrome’s RSS reader is completely web based and while it looks a bit like Flock’s it’s way off on functionality. In fact it looks a bit like a beta. This is a shame as I like Chrome’s slickness. Adding a feed and then making sure it’s added to the right place is much more difficult that Flock. Navigation both between feeds and in the feeds themselves is also a bit flakey.
My vote is 8/10 for Flock and RSS with 4/10 for Chrome. A lot more work needed with Google’s offering.
Over in the FASTForward blog Bill Ives posted a neat and useful review of Forrester’s recent report on 2.0 uptake: Forrester TechRadar For Vendor Strategists: Enterprise Web 2.0 – How Product Strategists Should Approach A Maturing Web 2.0 Market, Q4 2008 by by G. Oliver Young et al. The report is aimed, as it says on the box, at vendor strategists and I thought it made interesting reading in light of the current economic climate.
My first thoughts on reading it, were if we’re stuck in the development of 2.0, but the more I think about this, the more I think the opposite. One of the key questions I keep seeing asked is if the Crunch will hinder or help the uptake of 2.0. Bill rightly distinguishes between Enterprise and Web 2.0 – but here for reasons of laziness conciseness I’ll mostly use them interchangeably. However, I am only talking about 2.0 use in the Enterprise and not so much in the domestic or play environment, even if that inevitable leaks into any work space. So back to the question, is 2.0 being Crunched?
If we look at the report it tells us that they looked at 11 2.0 technologies and found the following (I’ll paste from Bill here):
Significant success: social networks and wikis
Moderate success: blogs, forums, mashups, prediction markets, RSS, widgets
Minimal success: microblogs, podcasts, social bookmarks
Now what’s interesting here is that they’re looking at each technology one by one. Bill would move a couple of categories and I think we could all tweak it here or there. The real issue he says, is this:
“… my major concern is looking at these tools in isolation.”
Bill is absolutely right here and I think this highlights the Achilles’s Heel of the report and why some of the vendor strategists should listen to the alarm bells.
To succeed in an Enterprise environment 2.0 needs to be part of what Forrester dub the “2.0 ecosystem”. It’s no good simply adding a blog and a wiki to an existing corporate environment and expecting it to work. This is like trying to create another type of ecosystem and believing it will work, simply by introducing 2 new applications/organisms into it and expecting them not only to flourish, but to sustain and potentially transform the system too. (At the risk of ending up in Pseuds Corner I reckon that the metaphor of ecosystem in any Enterprise or non biological space is always a poor one and one ripe for Deconstruction.)
OK then, so unlike Web 2.0 tools, Enterprise 2.0 applications work best as an aggregation, as a social network of communication tools within the Enterprise being used by a base of employees, rather than as a set of standalone tools that may or may not be used. This can be best summed up by looking at what happens when say a Wiki is introduced and most people look at it as either so cool, or a complete waste of space, and both primarily for the same reason – it sits as an oddity within the flat plane of a developed 1.0 terrain. Make it seamless so that it doesn’t look like a Wiki but presents an environment that provides a range of wiki-type functions such as easy self-editing, blogs, self posting of desktop filmed video and all backed up by RSS then we’re looking at what becomes ubiquitous rather than an aberration. The transformational and productivity enhancing aspect of this can be seen if we look at say 2 departments, one using this sort of environment and one not and where one can post content immediately and one has to use slow and expensive channels to post content. One has definite and visible productivity advantages and the other only too real costs and delays.
The question for me here, is how do we achieve this and transform working patterns, how does the dragging Achilles Heel sprint into 2.0 business acceleration and transformation? For the record, I think that not only can this can be done, but that we’re seeing this being done in some organisations. The potential productivity gains here are enormous. And the rub is the word potential – currently no one can point to an existing transformation and provide the hard data. What public data we have is often piecemeal, anecdotal and fragmentary. Until this situation changes, rolling out 2.0 in an Enterprise will be incredibly difficult. Sure there will be plenty of instances of companies rolling out this or that 2.0 application, but with few exceptions most business leaders and their operational and technology teams will be very reluctant to take the risks involved. We’re not quite at the stage where one can say: “No one has ever lost their job by buying 2.0.”
So let’s recap, I’ve said that the vendors might be worried and that cracking the 2.0 nut is not going to be done with a ‘tap here’ and a ‘tap there’ from a selection of standalone hammers. For a long while the outlook was a lot rosier than at present and plenty of studies recommended (and could point to case studies of) the bit by bit approach to rollouts of 2.0. In the current economic climate this is not going to work – it’s either a luxury or both the risks and the costs are too high, thus – ‘IT won’t support it and the Business won’t pay for it…’
But, and it’s a big but, if we look at the bigger picture and more longer-term view, then these arguments start go increasingly out of focus. And this is where Forrester to my mind misses the point too. Forrester states that:
None of the technologies we examined are likely to be replaced in a wholesale manner in the next five to 10 years.
The productivity gains offered by 2.0 are such that they’ll all be replaced in the next 5 years. This sounds like a contradiction and it probably is- for sure the tools such as blogs for e.g, will still exist and many instances of current usages will remain, but we won’t see these technologies as isolated instances. Polishing my crystal ball and looking through a scanner darkly, I think we’ll see at first more and more instance of the Pownces of this world being eaten up by their larger competitors. This will leave a clearer battleground with fewer competing vendors. It’s then I think, that we’re going to see the real fun begin as the competition shifts from the technologies and the vendors; to the networks, the wares and the platforms. This is going to completely transform the game (and the vendors), mashing up the mashups and reallocating collaboration into areas we can only begin to imagine. The big frenemies who currently own the networks the softwares and the socialities; will have to simultaneously deal not only with competition and collaboration (as some do now), but that the fact to have survived in this brave new world will have meant inventing completely new social technologies that will further transform the way these businesses do business. It’s these ‘known unknowns‘ that intrigue me, all we can say with any certainty is that they’ll transform 2.0 in unforeseen ways, much like SMS did. The difference here will be scale, development and innovation- it’s 2.0 Jim, but not as we know it…
So, if I was a vendor what would I do? I’d hope to survive, hope to get through (or be bought-up at a retirement buyout) and I’d continue to innovate. More than anything I’d ‘widgetise’ as much as I could and make sure that what I supply could be both moved, slotted into and transformed by the next waves of change. One thing for sure… is it’s going to be different.