L1: In the Spotlight

Lagrange Point 1 (L1): Technologies and issues in the current spotlight

Evolving ideation into social collaboration

Note: This post was written before this concept evolved into what is now known as crowdsourcing (or crowdsourced software for content development). It was also written before the evolution of private social production platforms like HipChat and Slack

What Web 2.0 brings to the table

Often I am asked, “What the heck is Web 2.0?” by my non-technology friends (most of my friends are not technologists).

Here is the answer I give:

Web 1.0 let organizations publish information that could be accessed easily by all of us when we needed it, at our convenience. This changed entirely how we read the news, looked up movie times and checked stock quotes or the weather. The problem with Web 1.0 was that it was biased towards making it easy for large organizations to share information. CNN could easily setup a web site to share news and opinion. However, if *I* wanted to share information with many other people in this fashion, I had to setup my own web site, publish content, figure out how to control access to it, etc. This was too hard for the everyday person (who had “more important” things to worry about in his or her life).

Web 2.0 changed this by making it easy to share my views and information–and to control how I share it. Now I can use Facebook to share my vacation pictures with my friends (but limit my contact information to my professional colleagues). I do not have to build a web site, administer it, share the URL with my friends and get them to bookmark and visit it. Instead, I can rely on the fact they will visit facebook as part of their normal life and see my updates there (the network effect). It makes it much easier for me.

Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 do the same — but directly in support of the missions of public and private enterprises. They let stakeholders share information and views regarding how industry and government should work (instead of simply proclaiming, “I feel blue today.”)

I have had pretty good success with this definition. It is short and relevant enough not to bore them and detailed enough to not insult their intelligence.

If you keep this in mind, it does not take a large leap in logic to see that the Web 2.0 communications medium can be used to create new services to help manage businesses and public organizations. These types of services will be ones that leverage the network effect, i.e., interaction with members of the community to find information, measure opinions, foster collaboration or share ideas…

How Web 2.0 an evolve ideation into social collaboration

Ideation is a defined as the process of forming or creating ideas (hence the terrible portmanteau). People have been using various ideation techniques for years to design more compelling products, processes and campaigns. The problem is that ideation has been limited by how much input you could manage in a collaborative efficient manner. This typically limits you to working face-to-face (ideation over conference phones — even tele-presence units — is not efficient) in groups no larger than 8-12 people. To get the input of many, you have to incur travel costs and hold many workshops or focus groups. This is slow and expensive. Here is where Web 2.0 comes to play.

Using Web 2.0 technologies and communications practices you can manage ideation in a way to lets people from all over the world participate in the ideation process — with far more speed efficiency:

  • People can participate when they the are ready
  • They can do so remotely, looking at content you have made accessible on line
  • They can interact with each asynchronously, e.g., I can make an idea at 2pm in Florida and someone else can comment on it twelve hours later in during normal business hours in Tokyo

About five months ago I began using the name “Social Collaboration” for a social networking business service to manage this:

Social Collaboration |ˈsō sh əl kəˌlabəˈrā sh ən| (noun)
A Business Service that enables—

  1. Enterprises (business and public sector) to call their stakeholders (customers, employees, and citizens) to action to solicit their input and ideas
  2. Stakeholders to respond collaborate with each other to build on each others ideas and drive preferred ideas to high level visibility
  3. Enterprises to gain understanding and insight into their stakeholders’ ideas and demonstrate that these ideas have been heard and acted upon

Abbreviation: So•Co |ˈ’sō kō |

SoCo can be used in many arenas to improve product research, service delivery, customer loyalty, business change management and public policy outreach.

What makes a good social collaboration business service

Several companies are working on building ideation-related SoCo services. The ideal SoCo service will have the following characteristics:

  • Be easy to use — from anywhere, by anyone
  • Support multimedia-based ideation (so people can collaborate using videos, pod casts, documents and pictures)
  • Enforce structured ideation, i.e., automatically organizes collaborative input, content and preference (without this you will not be able to manage large-scale collaboration)
  • Based on the network effect: if it does not work in a manner that leverages the power of the network you will gain no benefit from going beyond small working groups
  • Require attribution (to reinforce the natural process of person-to-person collaboration and enable direct follow-up)
  • Enable multiple levels of moderation (to make the ideation safe and ensure it remains focused on the problem or challenge on hand)
  • Readily support analysis (to enable you to find the most popular, most unpopular and most controversial input so you can take informed action and ultimately realize your business benefit)

Two-thousand-nine, the year of Change (political, economic, business and technology) may ideal time and place for Social Collaboration. Using it, we can figure out how best to be more efficient, develop our infrastructure, work globally and recover from our current recession.

Follow-on Note (January 2010):

By the end of 2010 this line products coalesced around the category name of crowdsourcing. At Neighborhood America we combined both our ideation (e.g., Microsoft Public Sector On-Demand) and YouTube-like UGC contest products (e.g., Kodak Idea Center–now ShutterFly) into a category set of crowdsourcing products.

What is the difference between Simple ASP and True SaaS?

What is an ASP?

asp-200pxWhat an ASP does for you can vary widely:

  • They can simply providing hosting services
  • They can build and host an application on your behalf
  • They can build, host and manage an application on your behalf (what management includes can also widely vary)

It is really important to check what you are getting when you purchase ASP services. If not, you will have to perform many services yourself. At a minimum, this will be costly. In the worst case, this may leave you in an impossible-to-manage situation (especially if you are not at IT company).

What is a SaaS provider?

Of course, SaaS means “software a service,” What does this really mean? It means the provider enables you to acquire, setup and manage your software as a something you simply pay for like a utility. As a result, you do not have to allocate any more resources to manage your software than you do for other high-feature utilities, such as conference services or your benefits program. This is incredibly useful (especially if you are not a technology company) as it lets you focus on your core business (instead of managing software)

So what is the difference between SaaS and ASP?

SaaS and ASP are not mutually exclusive from each other. SaaS-based solutions are those that fall into the upper-range of the continuum of ASP-based services:


Service Continuum: From Hosting Only to Full Software-as-a-Service

Everything is included in a true SaaS model:

  • Building (or Configuring) and installing your application
  • Hosting it in a secure, high-availability environment
  • Proactively managing it in terms of monitoring, performance tuning, conducting preventative maintenance and adding or removing capacity as needed
  • Performing updates as they become available (anyone who has ever managed an upgrade of their enterprise application or infrastructure can appreciate how valuable this is)

How do I know if I am getting SaaS or ASP?

Here is a basic “truth table” that will let you roughly gauge what you will get from your provider and what you will need to perform (on contract on your own)

A. Do I need a hosting provider?

Will the Provider host the purchased software for you? If not, you are dealing with an on-premises solution. See my last post for the costs associated with this type of solution. It may seem obvious to ask this, but I encounter situations every few months in which an associate of mine has been told by a vendor they are getting an ASP or “ASP-like” solutions — they only need to hire the hosting provider recommended by the vendor (at extra charge, of course)

B. Do I need an implementation vendor?

If the answer to any of the questions is “No” (actually if the answer is anything but a clear, unequivocal “Yes”), you will need to hire an Implementation Vendor. In many cases, the vendor will be certified by the application provider (to ensure a minimum level of consistency and quality). In all cases, this will require extra money (usually on a time-and-materials basis, usually under the nomenclature of “Professional Services”:

  • Will you capture all of my configuration needs from my business and technology stakeholders?
  • Will you configure and integrate the software to implement these?
  • Will you test these configurations and certify their correctness?
  • Will you project manage this whole process for me?

C. Do I need a systems administrator or systems admin services?

If the answer to any of the questions is “No,” you will need to acquire systems administration resources. Again, these can be additional services provided by a “partner” of the ASP vendor. They are often lumped into: Professional Services, Setup Services, or Systems Integration

  • Will you analyze my proposed transaction volume and determine my hardware needs?
  • Will you configure these servers (application and database) with the correct operating system, applications, and patches?
  • Will you install the software for me?
  • Will you verify correct operation of the software?

D. Do I need support services?

If the answer to any of the questions is “No,” you will need to acquire systems administration resources. Again, these can be additional services provided by a “partner” of the ASP vendor. They are often lumped into: Maintenance Services or Level 2 Support

  • Will you monitor the software’s operation to address problems that emerge pro-actively?
  • Will you monitor load to determine when you need to change the hardware footprint (up or down)?
  • Will you add or remove capacity in response to load changes?
  • Will you provide upgrades (on your own) as they become available (without requiring time and attention from me)?

E. Do I need help desk services?

If the answer to any of the questions is “No,” you will need to aquire a Help Desk or Customer Support service. Again, these can be additional services provided by a “partner” of the ASP vendor. They are often lumped into: Customer Support, Training, Level 1 Support or Help Desk services

  • Will you train my primary users?
  • Will you setup a help desk that they can contact to report issues, problems or questions?
  • If so, when will be open and how many ways can I contact them?
  • Will you provide a knowledge base to help my users based on my configuration?

Why SaaS is different?

When you have a full SaaS solution, you get “Yes” answers to all of the above. This makes it much easier to focus on your business (instead of building, setting up and (perpetually) managing an lower-tier ASP solution.