Friday, December 21, 2007

The game design attitude

The workshop about Learning from Games that Marinka Copier and I organized took place this past Wednesday. It was quite an accomplishment to have this very diverse group of people around the table in this busy week before Christmas. We had representatives from IBM, the Dutch Innovation Platform, the Utrecht School of the Arts (Game Design program) and Nyenrode Business Universiteit. So a combination of views from game design, education as well as business. And this was exactly what we were aiming for.

The basic rationale behind the workshop was that there are things to be learned from game design principles that can be applied in other settings, such as education or management. At the end of the day, everybody agreed that this is an idea that has immense potential. We arrived at some common understanding of the challenges and exchanged ideas for potential projects in 2008. More about that as soon as these ideas are more concrete.

One of the most important insights I took away from the workshop has to do with the attitude of the game designer. Game design is about building a solution on a small scale (with a focus on the things you can control), letting people play with it, observing and evaluating what happens and then adjusting the solution. Because what you are designing is not an end product but a dynamic process (basically, you are designing behavior) you need an iterative approach and constant monitoring.

The second thing that stuck with me is the different view on the world that playing, studying and designing games can give you. This view has to do with not taking rigid, old structures as a given (such as bureaucracies or hierarchies in organizations) but deliberately organizing things in a different way. Studying games can give you these insights. Once you realize there are other ways of organizing, new doors will open in many areas. Right now, gaming is the only arena where the network society is truly taking shape. What if we could expand this to other fields such as education and organizational life?

This design attitude combined with a view on the world inspired by games could be a very powerful instrument for managers. Especially when you consider that these tools may be essential if they want to use the full potential of the new generation entering the labor market.

However, my attempts to pry open the black box of the game design process during this workshop were unsuccessful. There are a few design principles that you could make explicit (such as giving meaning to meaningless actions, mystification of the rules and direct feedback) but these principles are always connected to the design practice of the individual designer. It is hard to make them explicit as clear-cut rules that a manager could use.

So more work is needed before we can start helping managers adopt a gaming mindset. I have the impression we can work on that from the platform we created with this workshop.

How to co-produce an article the E2.0 way

This week Robbert, Melior and I created an article on "Internet consultation", in little more than a day. It was co-produced entirely with the aid of Google Docs and Skype. The article turned out quite nicely, but, the process of creating it was very captivating in itself as well. I dare to say that this article couldn't have been co-produced at this speed and quality without using the above mentioned "E2.0 tool set".

What was so captivating en what value was added by the tool set, I hear you say?

To get the context clear
First of all, Robbert was working in Groningen, Melior in Amersfoort and I at my project in The Hague. So, getting together wasn't an option.
Secondly, we were very busy and had overlapping meetings at our projects. So, claiming a time-frame to do a conference call was neither an option
Third, we all read the press-release independently, all had ideas, but how to put those ideas on the same page (meaning this literally and figurative) quickly and coherently?
Last but not least, the article had to be ready within a short time frame. A press-release doesn't stay there for the taking very long.

Google docs
We needed an environment wherein we could "dump" our initial statements (very mind-mapping) on the canvas, during the scarce moments between meetings, but in sight for the others to see. We needed real-time collaboration, with which the story could unfold organically, separately, but together. Sounds paradoxical? Not so. With GoolgeDocs such a canvas is created with ease. Each statement, word, sentence written by an editor, gets pushed in real-time to the other editors (even when he's not there, the canvas just gets refreshed). So there's no asynchronous "checking out" of documents, "locked" documents or "read-only" documents that have to be stitched together afterwards. The synergy is there for the taking! And it was. Adding statements, enriching each others, editing, using the growing canvas as input for your mindmap. Very energetic.
Furthermore, real-time collaboration also deals with another bottleneck in asynchronous writing. I call this the "Ping-Pong effect": getting the different pieces of text of the editors aligned and making it one coherent story. With real-time collaboration, each sharing the same canvas, this aligning was self originating: quickly using the same definitions, labels, picking up on a metaphor, referring to a piece of material just produced 5 seconds ago by your co-producer, keeping the thread of the story while it unfolds.. It comes naturally and stays that way.

What we also needed was a medium which we could use to establish a "working method" for co-producing the article: I'll take paragraph one, you'll take two. Stay out of that part, Could you look at that sentence, What's your opinion on the last paragraph, Could you pick op on my metaphor, et cetera. The phone wasn't the way to go here, since our time-frames weren't overlapping. Skype was perfect: I could suggest a working method to the co-production group (being the three of us) at once (and visa verse), it would stay blinking until read. So, the main rules of editing established itself just as organically as the article!

In result
It was quite exhilarating putting the puzzle together in this way. The result, and I say this totally unambiguous, a very interesting article! So, the next time you want to create co-produce an article, think of using the "E2.0-tool set" of doing it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Can twitter support social structure in organizations

The basic idea of twittering is sharing social information with your friends. An example is hyves where you can let know what is on your mind by 140 characters (this is called 'wat doe je'). All your friends can read and react to your short social/emotional message. This is more or less the same on twitter. But will this also work in our organisations? Will a worker ever put his social message in a Tweet and share it with the whole company? Does the rest of the company care about the Tweet of the salesmanager?

Maybe you have some doubts, but realise that the mental model in the organisation is that employees every day have their CCC ‘coffee-corner-chat’. And as we all know if you are seeking for the right information or you are preparing a decision in a meeting, the first thing to do is triple C. And because employees are known with sharing things with each other in their mental model. We expect that supporting this habit by Twitter, people will use twitter from day one. Maybe you should rename it to coffee-chat, so everybody know what twitter is.

For example:

I went on a biking trip this weekend and hit a tree. Monday morning in my coffee-chat I put the words ‘I’am hurt by a three’. Later that day Robbert sees me in the restaurant and asked me how I’am doing.

One of the best things about twitter is the possibility to twitter by more features then internet but also SMS of txt!

This very simple example shows how the social structure in your company can grow.
And yes we hear you thinking: will my people still work and are they going to socialize allday long. Maybe the first two days people are using it like mad. But they will start to be smart about it and only twitter useful stuff. Then your social structure will get stronger. And the positive impact on performance will happen.

So our advise, don’t wait, start today with introducing the digital coffee-chat. This is a great way to enhance the social structure of you company at no cost!

A nice video is here from MIT about twitter and ambient intimacy

this post is written by hendri and robbert

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Internet consultation the next step to eGovernment in the Netherlands?

Last friday the Dutch government raised the green flag on "internet consultation". In short, "internet consultation" means people are able to get involved in making new regulations and legislation. From the beginning of 2008 a pilot will be launched, which will last for a period of two years. In our opinion, there's something special about this inititiave.

What makes this a (very) good initiative
In 2007, the dutch government spent 100 days talking with the public and discussing forthcoming regulations (amongst other subjects). It's goal: getting back in touch with its citizens, listening to what they have to say, and therebye "closing the gap". Taking the dialogue online is a logic next step. Actually, to put things in perspective, we think this is a great start and a big step towards embrasing the viable concepts of "Enterprise 2.0" and to put them to good use. Explicitly: "internet consultation on legislation" means a shift from "Invented behind closed doors" to "A transparant co-production between Government and it's Citizens". The potential outcome: higher quality of legislation, within a shorter timeframe, which is more accepted and embedded within the country.
Of course, the legislationproces already has it's formal plannend public moments wherin citizens can make a stand. But these moments are scarce, few and scatered in time. This initiative takes making regulations to another level. It makes the designproces transparant, the citizens are consulted, get involved, are asked for there opinion en can actively give there input. It's a brave step in letting go of the orchestrated designproces into the unknown. This initiative fits perfectly in the strategy of becomming a more effective, flexible and decisive (e)Government.

What will make or brake it, from our opinion
A brave step, but not an easy one. From our opinion, several aspects could make our brake the initiative.

It's about a higher quality of legislation in a shorter timeframe. Not about doing "Enterprise 2.0", or being "eGov"
We've stated that internet consultation is a form of embrasing Enterprise 2.0. That's a nice statement, but it's just a label. The real goal and the consequented paradigmshift, should not be forgotten: a higher quality of legislation! produced bij citizens and the governement side by side! In a shorter timeframe! With a higher degree of acceptance!
The initiative shouldn't be something that's fits nicely on the currenct political agenda, but can fall off when the agenda shifts: politicians come and go. It shouldn't be going for the hype either. Hypes will pass, and so will their labels. But each hype has it's tendensies, it's possibilities and it consequences. The potential of this initiative is huge, but stay focussed on the goal, not the hype, nor the political agenda.

Carefully identify and select the subjects that are prone to "co-production", don't just "put them all out there for everybody"
Not every piece of legislation fits in the co-production pie. Nor does every citizen have the potential to become a co-producer on all (forthcoming) legislation. Think carefully about which legislation should be adressed in this new innovative form. For instance, pick the ones that are interesting for the masses, on which te public opinion doesn't vary too much, that aren't too heavy politically, that aren't too complex and won't take for ever to reach completion. Furthermore, think about you co-producergroup. Who can adress the matter and how do they get selected?

Actually listen to your co-producers. And when you listen, you have to give a real response
The much heard critisism in sight of the "100-day walk 'n' talk with the citizens", was that, while the walking and talking part worked out nicely, the "doing something with it and giving feedback on it"-part didn't get top scores. This is a big pitfall that should be adressed. The government has to be prepared and has to have employees on board which can make the paradigmshift and act accordingly. The citizens are co-producers: "Protizens". Treat them that way. We had the innovationplatform, it wasn't a success.
Big companies, like Procter & Gamble, Boeing and Dell made this paradigmshift a while ago and have given some important lessons. They listenend a great deal, but what to do with the opinions, discussions, reactions and new proposals? Dell started gathering ideas online from their customers. The biggest mistake was doing nothing with the top priority ideas. The public could give priority to ideas and clearly made other choices than Dell. Even more reactions started to come in, customers started to complain big time. Eventually Dell started to adopt these ideas and learned the power they unleashed. The Dutch government has to make sure they use the ideas and opinions. Not only it's employees, but also the internal processes and procedures have to be ready to cope with the output of the public and these processes have to be flexible to scale when it gets succesfull. This is partly the same lessons that should have been learned after the 100-day walk 'n' talk critizism. A real eGovernment walks the talk!

Anonymity is a great thing, but creating a secure environment for progressive discussion another
A big concern for most companies is security in starting with Web 2.0 initiatives. Spam and misconduct are the worst nightmare of every online initiative. Spam protection is big business nowadays and very nice initiatives are around to keep spam out! Misconduct can only be managed if people are not anonymous. Getting people to logon and use their real names will make a secure environment to give your opinion. In most companies this is fairly easy, but the bigger you are the harder it gets. Now think about getting a userdatabase for a whole country. We have this in The Netherlands and it is called DigiD. This will be a good test to see wether this service is truely open and reusable!

The tool has to fit the pupose! Not just an IT implementation
Making regulation is about giving opinion and not erasing opinions of others, so no wiki for this project! Giving opinion is more about blogging. But blogposts is more one to many. Discussions between readers is not very well supported by blogs. For the government it has to be important to get some data on whether people aggree or not. This is not supported by blogs but is more like Rating regulations, giving comments, discussing sounds nice for a start and not very hard to set up!

This is just one approach to selecting a tool, but it all depends on whats the purpose and being creative.

Don't just start but think in phases
The chances are you will not be able to get all possible legislation or regulation on the net, target the right people to join in, handle the sitetraffic and (maybe most important) use all the discussions in new legislation! Start simple with one question and a simple site. Form the start choose an emergent strategy on the content side. Use statistics to make choices about the road to follow not just do stuff. On the functionality side start simple and add features. Again use statistics and feedback (i.e. use internet consultation on the topic of the site!) to add features. When the internal operations seems fit to take on more topics, add more topics! Start one department at a time. And for every departement take it slow. Maybe there will be differences on usage and relevance for every departement. The people that join in may be different as well but neither will be representative for The Netherlands in total.
16 milion people will be able to use the site and will have high expectations. 11.000 people will have to work with the consultations. If you do not start small you will have a lot of mad people!
Don't be scared if the number of active contributors is small. Wikipedia only has a small number of contributors and manages to make the most valuable encyclopedia around. Somewhere between 1 in 30 or 1 in 100 people will contribute. And not all 16 milion people will join in. Lets say 3 milion people will come to the site. Then 30.000 people will contribute! You only have to stay relaxed and spread the word in the right places.

(This Blogentry was co-produced bij Robbert, Vincent and Melior using Googledocs realtime and Skype)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

From Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0

Yesterday I was at the first Enterprise 2.0 conference in Holland. One day people from a wide range of enterprises got together and talked about web 2.0 inside the enterprise. Vincent Everts talked us through the day and lively introduced the speakers.

The first speaker was René Jansen who talked about his research with the University of Amsterdam and his company Winkwaves. Web 2.0 according to René is all about connecting people on a common theme. This insight is very meaningful, we should take those theme's as a starting point for collaboration. While most companies will start with their hierarchy. The important measurement for success being the true interest of people. You should find out whether the passion of my coworkers is in the hierarchy or common theme's.

IB'M showed us Connections, a Lotus Notes based application that allows the employees to have profile pages, community pages, blogs and dogear. It looked quite nice and this product is for sale right now! The people of IBM are using this product now on the intranet and the usage stats looked very impressive.

An interesting case was made by Frank Smilda on police investigations using web 2.0 tactics. They are giving away information on cold an hot cases, letting civilian investigators join in cracking the case. The results looked very good. They were talking about adding a lot of standard web 2.0 tools to the service. This was actually driven by bloggers who were already using general public to solve crimes.

Off course Micorsoft told us a lot about Sharepoint and their vision about software. It will be on your machine and as a service (SaaS). The question will be if this is true. Today we are more offline than online but this will change and there will come a time that we will always be online! Then SaaS will be the only option, I think.

Wim Scheper talked to us about the repeating facts of history and why enterprise 2.0 is here to stay. When standardization and interchangeability get into play the competition between firms gets going. Enterprise 2.0 is about these two things so they will stay!

The keynote was by Rod Beckstrom, the author of the starfish and the spider. He talked about the decentralization taking place in companies right now to get more flexible and competitive. Enterprise 2.0 is actually a decentralisation thing in IT, no hierarchies should apply in Enterprise 2.0. The power of wiki's in this movement will be very big. The structured wiki being the top species in wiki-nation (according to wikimatrix) and thus prevailing over other species. Decentralization actually encourages the forming of small world networks in organizations.

So a great day came to end. The thought that stuck the most was the power of communities and the (small world) networks way of organizing your company. I am looking forward to the next enterprise 2.0 conference in Holland!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Twitter for ideasharing

Should you use Twitter in your company to share ideas? Twitter is about what are you doing today, but what if you are brainstroming and getting ideas? The beginning of a new idea should be short and shared amoung people inside and outside the company. So far Twitter seems to be a good idea. People will react to your ideas or get their own new ideas. This is possible with twitter, you can send messages to people and they can post their own ideas. Ideas occur in all sorts of places, now only form behind a computer. Twitter can do this, allowing you to send text messages! But, what if I want to read all about one idea, or want to rate an idea of follow up on an idea. This cannot be done with twitter.

The thing is for the start of an idea twitter is fantastic, for the second phase of an idea twitter is to simple. But here is the great part, Twitter is open as all apps should be. Why not combine the simple but great Twitter funcionality and the functions of a site like IdeaFactory or IdeaExchange. Both being based of sites like digg. And start the discussion and rating of an idea over there. All the content about the idea is together and still online.

Start an idea on twitter, pass it on to another site when the idea seems good, react to it, rate it and make it! If you make this business idea happen think of me ;-). This is a great way to start an idea, collaborate on the idea online and share it with people around the globe.

this blogpost was made in collaboration with hendri van 't ende

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Workshop Learning From Games

I am organizing a workshop together with Marinka Copier on December 19, which we have entitled Learning From Games. You can find the call for participation here.

What we would like to do in this workshop is explore this new field and investigate what organisations can learn from the design of virtual gaming worlds and the emerging types of behavior in and around these games. It will be an exchange of ideas as well as setting some goals for research in 2008.

With participants coming from the game design field (Utrecht School of the Arts) as well as business (IBM, Ordina and Nyenrode Business Universiteit), it promises to be an interesting exchange. More about this later.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Virtual Worlds and Communities of Practice

A couple of weeks ago I presented in a teleconference organized by CPsquare, a network of people involved in building communities of practice in both public and private organizations*. Etienne Wenger, who first coined the phrase "communities of practice" along with Jean Lave, is also involved in CPsquare. You can find the presentation I used over here. The discussion focused on the relevance of virtual worlds for knowledge-based organizations. The discussion with this group was interesting, but it is also evident that further research and a deeper understanding is necessary to turn these ideas into practice.

Some interesting points from the discussion:
The misfit between the new networking skills (especially prominent in the new generation) and the old organizational structures was acknowledged. Examples were given of young people leaving an organization because of this, which further stresses the need for organizations to better accomodate these new skills.

The possibility of transferring skills that you acquire while playing a game like World of Warcraft to an organizational setting was met with some skepticism. This of course depends on how you view World of Warcraft: is it a "just a game", completely separated from your "real life", or is it one of the many networks in which you participate. Following the lead of people like Marinka Copier, I tend to take the latter approach.

*Thanks, John Smith, for organizing the discussion.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

YNNO on Twitter!

You can read about what YNNO is doing on

Twitter in the enterprise?

A recent trend on the internet is Twitter. Twitter enables you to stay up to date with your friends/colleagues with short messages the ‘tweets’. To read more about twitter go to wikipedia (in english or dutch). On twitter you can search for people you know or navigate through profiles and followers. Links are shared in mini format so they don't take up much characters. More and more attention is given to this service. You can follow Barack Obama on twitter or Frankwatching. But also some politicians in the Netherlands have twitter profiles. Beside the politicians, the marketing people and de techies we see the first companies and magazines are on twitter using it as an RSS feed or to give twitterers discounts.

In our upcoming items we will give some ideas and inspiration if the twitter trend can have value in an enterprise.

This post is a co-production with hendri van 't ende

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What managers can learn from virtual worlds

I gave a presentation last week at a conference in Amsterdam. The conference was about Business Process Management in the financial sector. My presentation was about "What we can learn from virtual worlds, games and the gamer generation". And although the subject of my talk did not exactly fit the theme of the conference, the questions and feedback I got from the audience were very positive and encouraging. You can find the presentation here. It is in Dutch and doesn't contain much text, so it may be of limited use without my talk to accompany it.

In my talk, I argue that many organizations are still bothered by old, bureaucratic structures that limit their ability to function in our network society. I then give a brief introduction about virtual (gaming) worlds, using examples from my recent fieldwork in World of Warcraft. My main point is that enterprises should mimic certain aspects of virtual worlds to make new ways of working possible. It's important not to be distracted by the monsters and dwarfs you see on the screen. That is just a content layer. The social layer above it is where these tens of millions of players are collaborating on complex tasks and new ways of working are emerging.

I gave two specific examples. The first is the mechanism of what I call informed trial-and-error, which enables faster decision making. It is made possible in World of Warcraft by a combination of detailed information about your own performance and abilities, immediate feedback about your actions and the possibility to recover from mistakes. The second is the principle of meritocracy that arises in World of Warcraft: assembling teams based on the skills of participants and to a much lesser extent based on (irrelevant) aspects like age, gender or location.

Let me be the first to point out that all this is not new. My own fieldwork in World of Warcraft only confirmed earlier insights by authors like Constance Steinkuehler. The recent Seriosity study by Reeves & Malone also contains ideas along these lines. The new element is trying to isolate some of the mechanisms we see occurring in virtual worlds and to apply them in another context (i.e., an organizational setting).

What was interesting about the audience response was that they, for the most part, shared my view that these virtual worlds offer a lot for managers to learn from. Especially combined with challenges they face such as accommodating a new (gamer) generation of workers and working across distances with outsourcing partners. The big unanswered question of course is: which interventions are necessary in an organization to actually apply these lessons? That will be the subject of our research the coming year, when we will be testing some of our ideas.
Letting a meritocracy be reflected in your office environment? Embedding informed trial-and-error into your business processes? Exciting times ahead!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Continuous Improvement not a fad, but the way forward

Last week I organized a meeting concerning "The Business Case for Digital Working". Quite interesting it was, I might say. The striking thing of the meeting was that the outcome of this session wasn't a shortlist of Business Cases, translated into marketing products. Because we approached the Digital Working Environment from an entirely different angle, being "the business" instead of "IT", the outcome was quite different.

After intensive discussion (which is, fortunately, quite normal within YNNO) we realized that implementing and "running" a Digital Working Environment is never finished. It doesn't end with "working with Documentum, Hummingbird, LiveLink, or any other ECM application".

This, of course, isn't mindboggling, I hear you say. True, IT always has its fair share of bug fixes, add-ons, new releases, et cetera. No, the striking thing was that, because we addressed it from the Business Point of View, we realized that the business never stands still, continuous improvement and adaptation. My colleague Guus appointed that quite nicely from his earlier posts in the realm of BPM. Also, I read a very interesting article on that in MIT Sloan as well.

So what does this mean for the realm of ECM and the related operations within the organization, keeping it aligned with the business? What does it mean for governance? How do these processes have to be managed? Furthermore, if you read posts about Enterprise 2.0, as my other colleague Robbert does, the "golden release" of the IT doesn’t exist anymore (or did it ever?); it's perpetual beta.

More questions than answers, as it should be after an intensive session. It's quite interesting to take these outcomes and put them to good use.... Continuous Improvement isn't a fad, but the way forward; I'm convinced. The result: a digital working environment constantly tailored and suited for the business.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

everything is miscellaneous

I have made a bookreview about the latest book by David Weinberger.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Procesmanagement, Just creating a community

In our studies for finding the link between BPM and Social Networks, we found a simple, but interesting conclusion in an article of Armistead (Business Process Management, exploring social capital within processes). A process is just a community with a common goal. So a community is a group of people exchanging ideas. If one thinks about this and projects it on BPM, then this opens new doors. So why is it not standard practice in the BPM field to make sure everybody in the process knows each other. May be we sometimes don't need structure, but just time to get to know eachother and refind the common goal, results for the customer.

But this leads to some new questions, do we need to know all the people in the process to be more effective. Probably not. So what is the most effective social structure. I think this depends heavily on two things, 1. the exceptions in the process 2. variety of the output. If we need to solve exceptions quickly, we better know the people in the process. Then we can find the right person fast to solve it. On the other hand, in BPM we don't want too much exceptions, becasu this is ineffective and inefficient. So traditionally we first would get the maturity of the process up, and reduce the exceptions. And then if 99 procents of the work is standardised and stable, then we just have to do our thing and we don't need to know the others. This leads to my second believe, variaty of the output. In more and more processes the variaty of the output is not standard. Why? Because the processes are more knowledge intensive and can be not be standardised fully. For example think about creating policies in a government agency, or a case of lawyer. So in processes where exception (or better collaborating and exchanging knowledge) is more a standard practice, we need to focus more on the people in the processcommunity. And this is of course, where it gets interesting.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

embedding in enterprise 2.0

One big trend in Web 2.0 is embedding. Embedding means showing a piece of content from another site. An example is showing your librarything items or your delicious tags on your blog. Every web 2.0 site is offering badges, embedding HTML, icons and other stuff to put somewhere else, or at least they should! Most people use them on their blogs but of course they can be used on all sorts of places as long it is HTML. A nice example is the blog of euan semple, showing all kinds of stuff from other sites!
Embedding is not entirely new and looks a lot like portalfunctionality. Portals have been around for sometime. Embedding, I think, has more future because of its simple nature. Embedding does not require the showing site to have any functionality at all. Portals and portlets do require functionality on the showing site.
In enterprise 2.0 people will want to embed functionality and content from inside the firewall and outside the firewall on one spot. This is consistent with the vague-ing border between personal- and worklife. The other thing is that is useless to develop some functionality inside the enterprise that is for free on the outside! Unless there are some security issues of course. Why develop your one video sharing functionality while you can embed a youtube video on your internal wiki? 
Embedding is a perfect example of innovation in assembly. A concept introduced by Dion Hinchcliff. Another example is open API what facebook is dooing right now.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Youth & Digital Technology

Last week the results came out of an extensive study by Microsoft, MTV and Nickelodeon about the use of technology by kids. They surveyed 18,000 kids (age 8 to 24) in 16 countries (including Holland). You can find an extensive press release about the results here (I haven't been able to track down the full report yet).

The results of the study challenge some of the commonly held beliefs about kids and technology. I will not repeat all the findings here, but the quote that sums it all up for me is: young people are not geeks. They don't use iPods, camera phones and MySpace because they're gadget freaks, but because all their friends use it. It is an integral part of their lives. Globally, only 20% is interested in "technology". That number is even lower in countries like Holland and Denmark.

Friday, July 13, 2007

adding metadata, the difference between personal and corporate life

During my vacation I read the book everything is miscellaneous by david weinberger. I think the book is great in describing the third order of order and giving 4 new principles in ordering information. If your interested please read the book, it is excellent. In personal life some people tag a lot and the tools doing so are very good. But in corporate life tagging is not very wide spread. At the moment tagging is one of the best ways to show the miscellaneousness of information. In, lets say, delicious the use of tagging gets clear fast and results are instant. Because tagging and search go hand in hand. In corporate applications this is not the case. Workers mostly hate to add metadata because it is of no use to them and the benefits are unclear (i.e. search is not working properly). Tagging and search have to be synchronised in order for workers to instantly see the benefits. Why do sites like delicious got this working and a document repository not?

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Looking back on Communities & Technologies 2007

photo by Ed Schipul

The Communities & Technologies conference ended today, so it is time to share some of my personal highlights with you. It was certainly a very worthwhile conference with Charles (Chip) Steinfeld (pictured above) as an excellent host.

The first keynote on Thursday night was by Marc Smith of Microsoft Research, who shared some of his insights based on the analysis of newsgroups. What I found most striking was the fact that only 2% of that community supplies all the answers (what he calls the "answer persons") and 66% only posts once. So a very small group of people actually defines such a community.

The keynote on Friday was a hilarious presentation by Rob Malda and Jeff Bates, the founders of Slashdot. The quote I take away from their story is: give people a number, and they will try to maximize it. In their case, this relates to a reputation score, but this principle was a recurring theme in many of the other presentations: a lot of things can (and will) be treated as a game.

Another thread that ran through the conference was that of social network analysis. One impressive visualization followed the other, often involving enormous data sets. A much needed word of caution was presented by Marleen Huysman and her colleagues. We have left a period behind us where we thought we could store and transfer knowledge by means of information technology. The danger is that we will now use that same instrumental approach for social networks: managers trying to create and optimize networks for knowledge sharing that are not properly embedded in the work practices.

The keynote this morning was by Judith Donath of MIT Media Lab, who gave an interesting talk about signaling. In biology, signals are a way to indicate qualities that are not directly observable. However, humans are able to manipulate these signals. I can rent an expensive sports car for a day to signal that I am rich, even though in reality I am not. In a computer-mediated context, this becomes an even bigger issue. I can create a very desirable avatar in Second Life that has very little to do with what I really look like. One of the keys here seems to be cost: an avatar in Second Life takes maybe fifteen minutes to create, a level-70 character in World of Warcraft takes months. The latter signal is therefore much more reliable.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Presentation at Conference on Communities & Technologies

Here is the presentation I gave yesterday during the workshop on Communities of Practice in Highly Computerized Work Settings, as part of the Third International Conference on Communities & Technologies at Michigan State University. Volker Wulf and Aditya Johri were able to assemble a diverse group of people for the workshop, which led to many interesting avenues of discussion throughout the day.

With regards to my presentation, I was happy to receive a lot of positive feedback on my research perspective. The timeliness and relevance of studying virtual worlds as a test bed for possible new ways of working in organizations was acknowledged. The theoretical foundation seems to be fairly solid, as well. But as before in Finland, the group struggled with the tension between work and play (as do I).

The most interesting element of that discussion was a contribution by Karsten Wolf (who also presented a paper on his own World of Warcraft research during this conference). He argued that perhaps the tasks that are being performed in a virtual world (he used "killing a dragon" as an example) are much simpler than the tasks performed in a work context. Maybe simpler is not the right word, but at least they are not ambiguous or polluted by politics, which makes collaboration easier.

We also discussed possible reasons for the fact that these virtual world communities thrive without face-to-face contact (as do many open source communities) and came up with a "technology expectancy" theory: if you expect to be able to communicate face to face at some point, you will see computer-mediated communication as a hindrance. If you do not anticipate to communicate face-to-face, you will see the same technology as an enabler.

I will post some more comments about the conference tomorrow.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Leadership in virtual worlds

The results of a very interesting study came out this past week. Led by Byron Reeves of Stanford (and Seriosity) and Thomas Malone of MIT (with important contributions from Nick Yee and others), the study looked at how leadership in virtual worlds relates to traditional leadership models. You can find the full report here.

I was very encouraged by this study, since it starts from a perspective that I wholeheartedly support: there are practices taking place in virtual worlds that foreshadow new ways of working in enterprises. Reeves and Malone focus on leadership, applying the Sloan Leadership Model to online games, but they acknowledge that it applies more broadly to the areas of collaboration, innovation and business processes.

The most interesting conclusion from the study is that it is the environment that makes leadership easier in virtual worlds. Specifically, they say it’s the virtual economies, the transparency of metrics, and the connection methods for inter-group communication. The implication may be that changing the “game” may be as important as selecting and training the players. What they are basically saying is that enterprises should try to mimic certain aspects of virtual worlds, so as to make new ways of leadership (and collaboration, and knowledge sharing, etc.) possible. That is a very encouraging perspective, as far as I'm concerned. Let's see what I can contribute to the discussion.

This coming week, I’ll be off to Michigan State University to participate in the Communities & Technologies Conference. I’m looking forward to a stimulating discussion in the workshop I’ll be part of, and to interesting exchanges with other researchers in the field. I’ll post the presentation I’ll be giving and some impressions of the conference in the course of next week.

Friday, June 22, 2007

davenport vs mcafee: the movie

In an earlier post I mentioned the enterprise 2.0 conference. I was particularly interested in the discussion between both gentlemen. This link is the video registration of the discussion! Have fun! I will come back on this later and on the new book of David Weinberger. I am going to read it during my vacation.

Monday, June 18, 2007

being someone

A key factor in Enterprise 2.0 is being someone in the online community, inside and outside the firewall. An important lesson can be learned from Esmee Denters. Last week we had an interesting discussion at the office how this should work. And not suprisingly a dutch newspaper wrote an article on this subject. I will try to integrate these two discussions in one post.

step one generate relevant content online and get found

when you want to be someone you have to have an opinion, just like normal life. Having an opinion and writing about it gets you an online fingerprint. People do not know you but do have questions. The trick is to associate their questions with your name. This is not something that is easy. A large number of publications in a number of online channels are needed to get found on your topic. The part where you are found by google is something you can only partially influence. Writing a blog, resonding to relevant other blogs, getting published by online magazines are some ways of getting found.

step two create a network of people in a number of communities

After you get found by people you want to connect and have a direct relationship. Most people are in one or two communities but your network may expand over many networking sites. Since most network sites are free it is easy to get in these networks. Of course depending on your subject some network sites are more relevant then others.

step three care for your relationships and share ideas

Like normal life you have to interact with your relationships in order to stay in touch. The goal is not to have a network but to gain mutual knowledge by interacting and sharing with your peers. Creating new business opportunities, new insights in existing and new problems and new knowledge will be the result of sharing ideas with your peers. These peers can be inside the enterprise but also on the outside. The last one causes some concerns about IP. Giving and taking will take these concerns away.

step four integrate this in normal life

The hardest part of them all is to do this as a normal part of life. For youngsters it is already normal. For the most of us this is a big change in our working pattern. Your boss might not like it at first when you use office time to do this stuff. At the end your boss will get something in return like described in step four. You have to invest a lot of time. The return will take some time but it will get there!

What do you think of there steps? Is this the first step to take in enterprise 2.0 inside and outside the firewall?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

enterprise 2.0 conference

In a week the enterpise 2.0 conference will begin in Boston. All the big minds on the subject will be together. They will tell eachother their ideas and together discuss about this topic (real knowledge sharing in action!). I guess that from the start of the conference and when it is finished there will be an explosion of postings on a big number of blogs. All will be sharing their new insights and starting new discussions on the way business will work in the future. I am particularly interested on a discussion between Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport. They have discussed enterprise 2.0 for sometime online and during the conference they will be discussing in person.

This is my maidenpost on this blog and means I will not be posting on my old blog anymore. But for the archive it will remain. On this spot I want to share my thoughts and insights on the topic of enterprise 2.0.

Friday, May 25, 2007

More conference news

My paper about knowledge transfer in virtual worlds was not accepted for the ECSCW 2007 conference. On the positive side, I received extensive review comments which gives me some more insight into the position of the CSCW (Computer Supported Cooperative Work) community on this subject.

Positive elements in the comments where the acknowledgement that this is a timely topic and that the paper did a good job of explaining what drives the popularity of virtual worlds. The paper was also credited with giving insight into the way virtual worlds might encourage new ways of information transfer and trust building that are lacking in other forms of computer mediated communication. The motivational attributes that are identified in the paper (see my recent presentation in Finland for more on that) offer a good basis for further research.

The biggest problem with the paper is of course that it is a purely intellectual exercise and not a report on new research. In that sense it was considered premature by the reviewers, who would have liked to see some ethnographic evidence of the practices described in the paper. No argument there, but that will be something I will be working on in the coming months.

On the whole, I am encouraged by the comments. I guess a rejection for this particular conference was inevitable because of the lack of empirical evidence I supply.

On a further note, my contribution has been accepted to the workshop on Communities of Practice in Highly Computerized Work Settings, which is organized as part of the 3rd International Conference on Communities and Technologies at Michigan State University. That promises to be an interesting exchange of ideas.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

DiGRA conference

I received an invitation today to present at the poster session of this year's DiGRA conference to be held in Tokyo this September, based on a paper I submitted in February (about virtual worlds as a tool for knowledge transfer). I'll receive additional reviewer feedback shortly, so I don't know exactly what they liked and didn't like about my submission. More about that later.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Virtual teams and virtual worlds

In 2001 we did some research about work in virtual teams, i.e. teams that are not co-located. We interviewed members of virtual teams in twelve multinational organizations and came up with a "pyramid of virtual team success" which included (from bottom to top): technology, setting objectives, competences, leadership, communication and establishing a team culture. You can find more details in the presentation below.

It's 2007 now, but I think much of what we found at the time is still relevant today. The available technology has evolved (somewhat), but most of the challenges that virtual teams face have not disappeared. However, with Wikinomics and Synthetic Worlds penetrating deeper and deeper into our culture, the time has come to take a fresh look at the subject. Some encouraging signs are an interesting post this week by Lisa Galarneau on the Terra Nova blog about the subject of virtual teams and some thoughts on using virtual worlds as a collaboration tool on the Virtual Cultures blog. Maybe the gap is slowly being bridged.

For myself, the next step for the coming months will be a mini-study of a team operating in a virtual world. I want to get a sense of how they are able to overcome the boundaries of space, time and culture. How do the elements of our good old "pyramid of virtual team success" translate to a virtual world environment? I'll keep you posted on the results.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

What’s BPM? And what is new about it?

These two questions are often raised at our clients, even sometimes my own colleagues wonder about this. (imagine how this is on the board level of companies). I will this by using the explanation (and model) of Johan Nelis, one of the two authors of the highly valued book ‘Business Process Management: Practical Guidelines to Successful Implementations’ , who visited our company and shared his insights last month. (see also for a good summary BPtrends)

BPM combines two different expertise field, namely Business Process Improvement (BPI) and management of business processes. In short BPI focuses on designing and implementing new business processes. This field has been around for many years and has increased highly in professionalism. Unfortunately the effect of a great process design has it’s limits. For example we all know many examples where new processes were designed, but even if these were implemented (which is often not the case), were not improved during the years to come.

This is where the management of business processes fits in. One of the aspects is of this is creating an organization which continuously improves it’s processes. This is where the term governance is an essential (with roles such as process owners/stewards and process administrators), but also changing the attitudes of people towards process thinking. And of course the management of business processes also focus on measuring and acting on process information.
So BPM combines management of business processes and BPI to increase and embed the impact of the process on the performance of the organisation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Presentation at Gamers in Society

Here is the presentation I gave today at the Gamers in Society seminar in Tampere, Finland. To summarize it briefly: I state that the intrinsic motivation that virtual worlds supply leads to more room for social aspects (as opposed to the task-oriented nature of "traditional" ICT), which in turn leads to more knowledge transfer. Let me talk a little bit here about the feedback I got.

First of all, my presentation apparently struck a cord with many of the people present because it sparked quite a bit of debate. Many different aspects entered the discussion, all very useful to further my thinking. And even though a lot of elements of my presentation were challenged, it was done in a very positive and constructive way.

One of the biggest problems that the audience had with my perspective was this: while you could argue that intrinsic motivation is an important aspect of virtual worlds (which makes them an enjoyable experience), wouldn't the fun stop as soon as you use virtual worlds in a work context? One commentator stated that "you cannot force people to have fun", which is true of course. In this round of discussion, the divide between the world of managers and the world of gamers came somewhat to the forefront. I was in the latter arena here, which meant some skepticism here and there about things having to do with the corporate world.

There was also some criticism about my (admittedly fairly blunt) statement that the use of "traditional ICT" (embodied in my perspective by the field of Computer Supported Cooperative Work) is always extrinsically motivated whereas virtual worlds are always intrinsically motivated. It is of course not that black and white. Examples were given of extrinsically motivated activities in games. Also, the possible difference in motivation was pointed out between what draws you into a virtual world initially and what keeps you there. In the discussion about this point, the exclusivity of virtual worlds as supplying the five elements of intrinsic motivation that I mention was challenged. Examples were given of social networking sites like LinkedIn or MySpace that also can be said to show most of these elements.

So where do I go from here with this project? One adjustment that I think I'll make to my approach of the subject is this: I will not focus so much on virtual worlds as a tool for knowledge transfer, but rather on virtual worlds as a way to create the preconditions for knowledge transfer. And one of the most important preconditions is trust, which (as one commentator pointed out) I have to decompose a bit further. Another aspect I want to consider incorporating is the development of managerial skills inside a virtual world (for example, by leading a raiding guild in World of Warcraft).

The most valuable comments were made by the two invited commentators (T.L. Taylor and Daniel Pargman). They focused on the next steps in my project and on how to go about actually investigating the managerial relevance of virtual worlds. Their contributions supplied me with some solid ideas that will be very useful in the coming weeks and months when I go about designing my research methodology.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Off to Finland

I am off to Finland next week to present a paper at the Gamers in Society seminar, organized by the University of Tampere Hypermedia Laboratory's Game Research Lab. I submitted a paper about the possibilities I see for virtual worlds as a tool for knowledge transfer (more or less along the lines of an earlier post here, but a bit more refined). It will be interesting to get feedback on my ideas from some of the bright minds in the digital games research community, such as T.L. Taylor, Daniel Pargman and Frans Mäyrä. A bit intimidating as well, I must admit.

I will post my presentation and some impressions of the seminar in the course of next week.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Promising developments

I came across another company this weekend that offers virtual world solutions for corporate use: ProtonMedia. And unlike Qwaq (see earlier post), this one seems to have the right approach. They approach the use of virtual worlds from a learning perspective: using virtual worlds to foster networks and communities of practice in organizations. One of their advisors is Jay Cross, who has written a book about what he calls Informal Learning. This concept is related to the approach to knowledge management of people like Larry Prusak and Rob Cross. Our research on virtual worlds is very much inspired by those people and is also trying to uncover the value of this technology in the area of knowledge transfer. It is encouraging to see some products already being positioned in that field.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Space and Place

As I mentioned in an earlier post, virtual worlds such as Second Life are not new. As a matter of fact, around the turn of the century there was a blossoming field of research called CVE or Collaborative Virtual Environments (I even put in my two cents' worth [in Dutch] at the time). With its roots in Virtual Reality, CVE research introduced a new and important aspect to ICT: that of shared virtual spaces populated by avatars. That period also saw virtual worlds on the internet, with ActiveWorlds as the Second Life of that time, albeit with nowhere near the current media exposure. For more on that period, check out Bruce Damer's excellent history lesson over at Terra Nova.

And although most of the products, worlds and research projects from that period didn't last, it is important to take some of the lessons we learned with us. I see a tendency in current virtual world research to not be informed by important CVE discussions of the past. One of the most important discussions of the time focused on the concepts of space and place.

The obvious difference between using a virtual world such as Second Life and a normal website is the 3D aspect. A virtual world tries to create a sense of physical space. This space allows us to see ourselves (our avatars) in relation to others (their avatars), which means we can stand close or far away from somebody, face them when they speak or use rudimentary body language. This shared space also allows us to work together on or talk about objects that we can all see. This aspect of using " shared artifacts" was an important drive in CVE research. It is also presented as an important selling point for current virtual world tools such as Qwaq (see previous post and a discussion I had on Raph's website).

The lesson I draw from the CVE period is that too big a focus on space can make us forget the creation of a place. A place is a space invested with meaning. The easiest example is the home (as a place) compared to the house (as a space). How interesting is it for a company to have a space in Second Life when nobody visits it. Wouldn't it be more useful to create a Web 2.0 style website that actually draws visitors and creates a place to promote your brand?

The biggest impact a virtual world can have is when place and space are combined. A sense of community (a place that I like to go back to) combined with a shared space that makes it possible to " bump into" people and strike up opportunistic conversations [1]. That is were the true power of virtual worlds lies.

[1] Remy Evard, Elizabeth F. Churchill and Sara Bly, "Waterfall Glen: Social Virtual Reality at Work" , in: Elizabeth F. Churchill, David N. Snowdon and Alan J. Munro (Eds), Collaborative Virtual Environments: Digital Places and Spaces for Interaction, Springer-Verlag, London, 2001.

Friday, March 23, 2007

BPM and knowledge workers

In our practice and research one of the areas we focus on, is Business Process Management (BPM) in knowledge intensive organization. We think that there are different approaches for BPM needed for tackling the complex issues of increasing the productivity of knowledge workers, than the ‘normal’ BPM approach.

One of the challenges for improving the work of knowledge workers, is that the high level of flexibility and freedom needed in their work. In some cases every customer request is handled and approached differently every time, but in most cases the case is different, but the basic steps are the same. So one way of using BPM in knowledge intensive environments is defining processes on a high level. Within each part the process the knowledge worker is free to approach the case as he/she wants. We used this approach successfully at the Dutch Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. Here we defined policy making in process of 4 steps. This helped the organization to standardize the work of policy making throughout the organization and manage the process more efficiently. But we think that there is more to be gained, because in this example inefficient and ineffective ways of approaching the work within one of the basic steps is not handled.

A second approach we use is defining the interaction between the primary process between different departments and other processes. In some cases these interactions are widely spread within and outside the organization. In this we don’t only look within the primary process, but also to the links with supporting processes. Currently we are using this approach at the Dutch Province of South Holland, were we define the most important links to the many internal and external actors. This creates an overview of the most important actors of which knowledge worker is depended. In this case we can help the knowledge worker, with creating an overview but also making agreements with the other actors. For example on the quality delivered and time period. Also here we think there is more to be gained, because sometimes the actors to be involved differ on the case. Especially as the complexity of the cases increases, different expertises (often from different departments) are needed. So here the social networks of a knowledge workers becomes a very important influencing factor.

In this log I will discuss the topic of increasing the productivity of the knowledge worker from a BPM perspective, and share our experiences and progress in research on this field.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Framework that works

The last month I've been so busy with my consulting work, that I didn’t have time to do my posts. Off course, there isn’t such a thing as “no time”, just “not taking the time”. Having realized that, here’s a short update.

I’ve made my first yards in the development of the framework. These yards include making a selection of the main pillars on which, we at YNNO believe, a digitization project must rest, such as: Taxonomies, Metadata structures, Authorization schemas, Document Lifecycle, Registration and Inheritance, Search and Retrieval, Archival and Durability, Processes and Workflow, Conversion and Migration, Interfaces, Social Network Analysis (SNA), User interfaces.

Furthermore, I’m also trying to incorporate aspects of Enterprise 2.0 into the framework, with pillars the likes of: Ease of Use and the Rich User Experience, Perpetual Beta, Innovation in Assembly, Freeform versus Control, Emergent, Social and Collaborative.

And last but not least, the first “main beliefs” of the pillar “taxonomies” are already made explicit from tacit knowledge and experience . Mine, to be exact.

If you’re an ECM consultant and have just read the summary of pillars, you’re probably thinking: “so what, that’s nothing special?” Correct. The framework in it self is nothing special. I’ve become conscious of the fact that making the framework work what’s special.

I realized this during a meeting I had with a colleague of mine in which we discussed a project approach he was writing. We discussed the contents, approach, scope and ambitions and I realized that I was already using the framework as a common vocabulary to talk from and to distill my assumptions from. The result was not “well, you could do this and that, probably”, but instead it was “you should this and not do that, because past experience has shown that it works like that", and so forth. And that’s the result only after walking a couple of yards! I’m being optimistic, as always, but the potential of filling the “hollow framework” with working knowledge (made explicit) was suddenly crystal clear to me.

At present I’m busy organizing and preparing an interactive session with my colleagues operating in the field of digitization projects at knowledge intensive organizations. In this session we’ll present our main beliefs and use them the lighten up a discussion and to, ultimately, fill the hollow framework and make it work.

I’m being too optimistic when I say that one session will be enough. Maybe enough for the next couple of yards. That’s not a problem. The other thing I realized during the discussion with my colleague was that the value is not just in the destination, the journey is just as important.

In the next post I'll give some examples of "main beliefs".

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

Shortly after Sun showed their MPK20 workspace (see previous post) another company came out of stealth this week with a virtual world collaboration space: Qwaq. With the venerable Alan Kay as one of their advisors, I will not doubt they've given their business model a lot of thought. However, my gut feeling is that they are too soon and have chosen the wrong approach.
I feel Qwaq is making a translation of virtual worlds to a business collaboration context that is too literal. A literal translation of a virtual world to a business collaboration context has been attempted before. Around the turn of the century a virtual world called Alphaworld was a bit of a hype (although nowhere near what we're seeing with Second Life at the moment). This coincided with the popularity of a research field called Collaborative Virtual Environments (virtual reality based collaboration spaces). We then also saw companies trying to capitalize on this popularity with a business-oriented virtual world collaboration space. The one that springs to mind is Blaxxun. The company still exists but we have not seen a large-scale adoption of these kinds of collaboration spaces in the past five years. One of the reasons is off course that there was never a consumer pull for virtual worlds like there is now. It was more or less the hobby of a small number of researchers. The context has changed tremendously, with tens of millions of people using virtual worlds now.
However, I personally don't think that just because there is now a big consumer market for virtual worlds, applications in business like Qwaq will suddenly be succesful. We are just beginning to understand what is behind the current success of virtual worlds like Second Life. It will take a bit more study to understand which aspects of virtual worlds can have a relevance in a business collaboration and knowledge sharing sense. And that is exactly what our research project is trying to uncover.
For now, I would put my money on companies like Raph Koster's Areae which is much more in touch with the gamer community and related aspects of fun, enjoyment and motivation. As described in a previous post, this is the direction that we are currently taking in our project.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Beyond Second Life

The Game Developers Conference that is currently taking place in San Francisco has some interesting announcements that hopefully open the eyes of the world to the fact that there is more to virtual worlds than Second Life.

The most spectacular announcement was Sony's Home: a free virtual world for Playstation 3 users, to be launched this fall. The 3pointD blog posted a video that makes Second Life look like something from the 1990s.

The other announcement was by Sun, which is making its game development platform (Darkstar) open source and showed a virtual workspace based on this platform: MPK20. It is basically a virtual world that Sun employees use to collaborate in teams. It is the first environment I've seen of this kind, other than some experiments in Second Life by the likes of IBM. It is important to keep an eye on virtual world developments at Sun (and others, like Multiverse and Areae) amidst all the Second Life hype.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

A voice you can trust

Linden Lab is reportedly close to including voice in the Second Life interface. Nate Combs makes some interesting comments about the use of voice in virtual worlds over at the Terra Nova blog. Most interesting from the perspective of the knowledge worker is the relationship he discusses between the use of voice and trust. Voice should increase trust, which makes the transfer of knowledge easier. But will the use of voice disturb other aspects of the virtual worlds experience? The issue merits some further investigation.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Virtual worlds, motivation and knowledge transfer

There is a considerable difference in approach between virtual worlds (such as Second Life) and 'traditional' ICT to support communication and collaboration (the latter is known as computer supported cooperative work or CSCW). Virtual worlds are about entertainment and play while CSCW is connected to work. It is this distinction that provides an interesting tension and a basis for our virtual worlds research project.

The aim of many current CSCW projects is to try to support all aspects of the work patterns of a group in a situation where the group is not in one location. However, it is a well-established fact that ambiguous and informal information is not easily communicated by means of ICT. We often revert to face-to-face contact for these situations. Prominent scholars of CSCW have concluded that this poses a fundamental problem, described by Mark Ackerman as the social-technical gap: ICT cannot support all social aspects of the work patterns of a group. Others have argued that trying to imitate a face-to-face situation with ICT is essentially a dead-end road.

What this means is that CSCW falls short in the area of effective knowledge transfer, because this depends on opportunities for informal communication (as put forward by the likes of Davenport and Prusak). The field of knowledge management has shown that effective knowledge transfer is key in achieving sustained competitive advantage.

When looking at the human-computer interaction taking place, the focus of CSCW as described above can be characterized as a focus on extrinsic motivation. It is not the human-computer interaction itself that is motivating, but it is the outcome of the activity that should supply the motivation. We are motivated by accomplishing a work-related task. The ICT we use seems to be more of an irritating intrusion that is best avoided by meeting in person.

What is missing, then, from a typical CSCW situation is an intrinsic motivation: the human-computer interaction itself supplying the reward. This is what happens in virtual worlds, where the experience of using this technology becomes enjoyable in itself. A review of research on virtual worlds and related subjects gives some indications of the ways in which this intrinsic motivation is created:

  • by giving the user appropriate challenges and rewards
  • by taking the user out of everyday existence
  • by giving the user a first-person perspective with direct feedback (important early work in this field was done by Brenda Laurel)
  • by creating an opportunity for shared activity
  • by allowing the user to see himself within the context of the group.
If organizations do not solely want to rely on face-to-face communication for the effective transfer of knowledge, a new set of ICT tools is needed. In numerous situations, face-to-face contact is expensive in terms of time and money. An effective way to transfer knowledge while avoiding these costs can be very attractive to many organizations.

The current state of the art in CSCW does not supply these ICT tools. The theory presented here suggests that virtual worlds may offer better opportunities for knowledge transfer based on their elements of intrinsic motivation. Following from the discussion above, we aim to answer the following research question:

Does interaction by means of virtual worlds generate higher levels of knowledge transfer than interaction by means of e-mail, chat and online team rooms in groups of knowledge workers with similar features?

We are currently refining this research question in discussions with fellow researchers and clients. We welcome your input. To design a suitable research method, the next step will be to define the elements of the research question and hypotheses in a way such that they can be observed and measured.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Realising a true digital working environment

Another research area we at YNNO are interested in is identifying the critical success factors for realizing and embedding a successful true digital working environment within an organization.

The research focuses on organizations that are knowledge intensive, with mainly unstructured processes, with high specific information exchanges and a workforce for the most part existing of knowledge workers.

For the last couple of years projects have been started within these organizations with the ambition tot transform the status quo of the unstructured and unregulated digital work (working on fileshares and sharing documents through “anarchy digital communication channels” like e-mail) into a true digital working environment:

  • using regulated repositories for information storage en retrieval
  • incorporating and digitizing the (incoming, internal and outgoing) paper information streams,
  • and transferring information and decision processes through predefined, but flexible, workflows

Alas, the track record of these digitization projects isn’t anything to write home about. Many have failed, or have delivered suboptimal successes. In our opinion this past performance is mainly due to the fact that during the course of the project too many pillars on which the digital working environment must rest, have crumbled.

We at YNNO manage, consult and operate succesfully in this field and for these type of organizations. Our experience is that there are key factors to identify which are critical for achieving the desired results. The research we are conducting has the ambition to:

  • clarify and make explicit these main pillars on which a digitization project must rest and, more importantly,
  • our main belief of how these pillars must be designed, build and maintained to be able to realize and embed a successful digital working environment for the portrayed type of organization.

YNNO consultants use these pillars and main beliefs individually from experience and gained tacit knowledge. An example thereof: the metadata structures (pillar) used in the organization, embedded within the ECM application (main belief):

  1. must serve the archival regulations for structuring and maintaining information,
  2. must be effectively and efficiently updated trough optimalization and maintenance processes
  3. but may not in any way “cripple” the day to day business processes of the organization.

This accumulation forms a nice paradox which has to be balanced during the entire project. The daily practice, unfortunately, is al to frequently a shift in to one specific direction: archival, business or IT. If it does, the pillar is made of the “wrong cement” and will not last long enough for the digital environment to “flourish” within the organization. The more pillars crumble, the higher the change the aspired goals will not be met.

In the current state, the total overview of the pillars and used main beliefs only exist within the separate minds of the YNNO consultants operating in the field (or operating near to it). The goal of the research is to bring these minds together and to extract and build an explicit framework from these available cumulative tacit knowledge and experiences.

This framework will (of course) never replace the tacit knowledge present within YNNO, this is not the aspiration of the research. The aim is to built a strong tool, a common paradigm and vocabulary for YNNO to speak from, to communicate about, to fall back on and to have readily available for the projects at hand.

During my research activities I’ll post my findings within our YNNO blog.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Knowledge workers in Second Life

One of the areas of research that we are focusing on at YNNO is the managerial relevance of virtual worlds. Second Life is of course the most well-known example at the moment. It has become a victim of media hype in the last few months. Because of this media attention it has also become a popular vehicle for product marketing, with companies like Toyota, Nike, Philips and ABN AMRO announcing their presence.

Virtual worlds have been with us since the beginning of the 1980s. They started out with communication in text only and since the end of the 1990s we also have graphical virtual worlds with a 3D, first-person perspective. Increasing computing power and available bandwidth fueled a growth of these virtual worlds from the beginning of this century, primarily in gaming environments. Only very recently have non-gaming worlds like Second Life and There gained a critical mass of users. It is important to note, however, that the gaming virtual worlds like World of Warcraft are still several orders of magnitude bigger than Second Life. In total, there are some 15 to 20 million people worldwide (accurate figures are hard to find, but the best available data is here) that regularly spend a considerable amount of time in a virtual world (Nick Yee has reliable data about the amount of time spent in these worlds).

What makes these virtual worlds interesting from our perspective is that new ways of communicating and collaborating seem to be emerging in these environments. Users of these virtual worlds pay no attention to the physical location of the person they are speaking to and will collaborate just as easily with someone from the same town as with someone from the other side of the world.

Many organisations would love to have this flexibility. Especially in this day and age, when the success of an organisation increasingly depends on knowledge workers being able to find each other quickly to reach the best solution, independent of their location. Something seems to be happening in virtual worlds on the internet that might very well be a fit with new organisational forms in our knowledge-based economy.

One of our research projects is aimed at investigating what makes these virtual collaborations successful and at finding out what managers can learn from this. This project started started in August of last year and some of the first results are taking shape.

Watch this space for updates.


This new research blog replaces our Technology Watch blog (in Dutch).