Tag Archives: instant messaging

Seven must-have attributes for collaboration tech

Over the past 20 years, “collaboration” has been used to categorise a wide variety of products: instant messaging, email, chat, calendaring, document management, content management, learning management, publishing, discovery, crowdsourcing, and many others.

Even with a range of products this broad, I have repeatedly found seven attributes that separate winning collaboration products (i.e., products people choose – or even demand – to use) from also-rans:

1. Intuitive: Pass the “no instructions needed” test

To foster collaboration a product needs to be truly intuitive. The best way to measure this is with the “no instructions needed” test: if you can put the product in front of any intended user (i.e., your target market) and they can understand enough to explore and use it on your own, you have passed. If not, you have failed: over time people will say your product is too hard to use (and will use it only when forced to do so).

2. Easy: Complete key activities in three clicks or fewer

Collaboration and convenience go “hand in hand.” If your product takes too much effort to use, people will not use it to collaborate. Based on lots of user feedback the hurdle for convenience is three clicks. If something takes more than three clicks to do, it is too complicated. If you can get to what you need in three clicks or less, you have a winner. If your product cannot, one of your competitors will find a way to do and take your market.

3. Convenient: Eliminate work; do not add to it

This is one I am seeing many people forget lately. To make work easier, and drive organic demand, your product needs to eliminate work. It needs to align with the work activities people do as part of their everyday job and remove time, activities and/or systems. If it just “adds another system people have to use (and cut-and-paste from)” it is adding work and will (at best) be a passing fad that will fall out of use.

4. Fast: Pass the “Two x 95-p” test

One of the things that the Internet and broadband have done is raise expectations for speed and response. Watch a person click a button (a browser, a smart phone, a TV electronic programming guide, etc): if response does not take less than two seconds (95% of the time or more), the product will be considered slow and exasperating. This is even truer for enterprise systems that people are required to use to perform their job. You need to be fast—and consistently fast.

5. Ubiquitous: Operate everywhere and anywhere

The whole reason to use a collaboration product is to let people who are not sitting right next to each other collaborate with ease. This means your product must work everywhere and anywhere—passing both the “no instructions needed” and “two by 95p” tests. This is not a trivial demand. However, it is essential. If you do not believe me go to one your international offices or mobile team members and try to collaborate using main office-oriented products.

6. Timely: Collaborate from the same data, at the same point in time

There is an old joke about asking six blindfolded people to touch different parts of an elephant and tell you what it is: one thinks it is a tree trunk, one a fire hose, etc. The same is true for collaboration products: if you are working from out-of-date data you are wasting your time. (If you don’t believe me, think about the last time you responded to an email in a chain only to find out minutes later that your response was out-of-date or irrelevant). Winning collaboration products let everyone work from the same data, at the same point in time.

7. Trusted: Provide utility-class reliability

Collaboration occurs all the time (often at unpredictable times). Collaboration is not “down for maintenance.” If people cannot count on a collaboration product to be there, they will not use it (because they cannot trust it). They will find other tools: saving documents to local disk, writing things down on paper to enter them later, sending them via email, etc. Winning collaboration products are “always-on.” Always-on does not equal 99% reliability; it requires 99.99% reliability or more (Would you use your credit card in public if it failed one percent of the time?)

Why did I pick seven attributes (and not ten)? Ten would be artificial. These truly are the attributes I have seen over and over trip up otherwise good collaboration products and set the winners apart from others (regardless of market or industry).

Gartner’s 2009 “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies”: Reflections and prognostications

The 2009 Gartner Hype Cycle Special Report evaluates the maturity of 1,650 technologies and trends in 79 technology, topic and industry areas. I applied the Gartner Hype Cycle Concept to the Web 1.0 Internet Boom and (current) Web 2.0 Slope and found Search to be a key Web 1.0 winner and an overlay of Meritocracy to Search Results to be a big bet for Web 2.0…

Gartner’s Hype Cycle Special Report for 2009

The Gartner Group just published their annual Hype Cycle Report for 2009. You can find the report here.

In an approach similar to that used by the Chasm Group, this report combines Schumpeter’s concepts of Creative Destruction for innovation with the ADKAR model for individual and organization change management. It proposes that new innovations and technologies traverse five stages:

  1. Technology Trigger. When some event or product triggers rapid growth in the use of the technology
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations. When the “bubble of hype” (vs. the achieved results) regarding use of the technology reaches its peak
  3. Trough of Disillusionment. When the bubble bursts and people say, “I told you that was just a fad.”
  4. Slope of Enlightenment. When the technology becomes sufficiently mature, standardized and adopted to start generating mainstream market results
  5. Plateau of Productivity. When these results begin to flatten out and reengineer of use of the technology (or a new technology) is needed to create big productivity changes

The diagram below captures a snapshot of Gartner’s view of “what technologies are where” on the current lifecycle. What has captured the attention of most is that Micro-blogging (e.g., Twitter) is now entering the trough.

gartner_hype_cycle

A Reflection on The Internet (Web 1.0) Boom

Reports like this always serve as a good trigger for reflection on the past. My experience is not broad enough to look at the entire technology world of the last 10 years. However, I have been lucky enough to have broad experience in the Internet “Web 1.0” boom. Here are my reflections on how three technologies of the Web 1.0 Internet Boom weather Gartner’s Hype Curve:

Big Winner: Consumer-based Search Traversed the Curve Most Successfully

Search radically changed how we live. We no longer spend lots of time looking though reference materials (from newspaper stock prices to encyclopedias) to find information we need. We now use search, enabling us to find information much more successfully.

Companies like Google have shown this can be a moneymaking industry. However the flatting of competition shows the curve on innovation is also flattening. Clearly something new is needed to create the next spike

Work In-Progress: Enterprise-based Search Is Still Stuck in the Slope of Enlightenment

We still do not have equally powerful search techniques inside the enterprise. Imagine how productive we could be if we simple search for answers to basic questions at work (instead of looking for the internal expert with tribal knowledge.)

Today, most enterprise search engines do not use good algorithms, generating results based primary on document titles. This is still an industry where someone could make a killing if they made it easy both to index a wide range of knowledge sources and search on them effectively.

Left Behind: Instant Messaging

Instant Messaging (IM) was incredibly powerful. I still remember the recorded phone call at AOL where a Customer Service agent showed a retired grandmother how to IM her grandchildren, reducing her long distance telephone fees (and making her cry with happiness when she initiated an IM session with her grandson). IM could have been used in so many places to transform how we communicate. However, it devolved into a service supported only by advertising of private network licensing.

This one makes me particularly sad given my years at AOL (especially my work trying to use IM to transform customer service). Imaging how much better it would be if we did not have to wait on hold (and if customer service agents could IM us links to answers). This does exist, but only in niche areas. The big transformation never came.

A Look to the Future of Web 2.0

Reports like this always serve as a good trigger for prognostication on the future (a scary topic that tests our wisdom.) What will be the biggest winner of the current hype cycle? Again, I am not going to try to boil the ocean of all technologies (groups like Gartner can do this much more effectively). However, I will go out on a limb and make a prediction for what will be a big winner in the Web 2.0 world.

I believe Online Meritocracy will be one of the biggest winners. Why? Because it is useful and it is a natural extension of what we do today:

Today we can search for information easily. In our personal life, if we want to find a gardener in zip code 91362 we can do this in seconds. In our work environment, we can also look up a list of approved vendors that we can purchase consulting services from. However, which of these groups are good? Simple Search does not answer that.

Kim Kobza, CEO of Neighborhood America, often shares a statistic that we are 9x as likely to act on recommendations from a friend or colleague than information found in impersonal references. If we can create technologies that enable us to overlay easily searchable feedback with search results, we can really find the information we are seeking. Imagine a world where I can find gardeners that my neighbors in zip code 91362 or consultants that colleagues in my corporate function have had good results from…

This requires combinations of search technology, social networking, content moderation, survey design, location-based searches and other technologies. We have niche versions of this technology today, mostly in the form of destinations (e.g., Angie’s List, Epinions or Amazon Customer Reviews). However, we don’t have the ability to easily stand this up anywhere we need it (e.g., a B2B, vendor or specialist network for my enterprise or integration of meritocracy into Google or Bing results). There is a lot of market share (and money) for the group who make this clear, easy to use and scalable.

Special Follow-up (January 2011)

The last 12 months have shown how social media, recommendations based on what your friends are doing and commerce have all come together in examples like the rise of Groupon and FourSquare.