Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Art Fry and Social Computing

I was reminded of the story of how the Post-Its were invented. Though this post is not about Post-Its. Or, you might find this an interesting read. Or, if you look closely at the story of the Post-Its ... From what i read ...

The marketing people did some surveys with potential customers, who said they didnt see the need for paper with a weak adhesive. Fry said, "Even though i felt that there would be demand for this product, i didnt know how to explain this in words. Even if i found the words to explain, no on would understand ..." Instead, Fry distributed samples within 3M and asked people to try them out.The rest was history.

The part about not being able to explain in words, and even if one found the words to explain, no one would understand, reminds me of social computing. Strange how one thing could lead to another? This, to my mind, is the beauty of human thought. One doesnt know what thought might lead where. The interesting part here is that, like Post-Its, senior management usually doesnt see the need for sticky web-pages where people can scribble their thoughts. However, just give these pages to them, and one could come up with quite interesting uses. And, the interesting thing is, it may not just be restricted to the usual things.

Why should a wiki be used only for maintaining project plans and communications, or for preparing presentations? Why cant a systems administrator create a wiki for maintaining help and FAQs for the new system? Or, a sales guy create a blog to keep track of the orders he has closed this quarter, so that, for reporting, he doesnt have to go back asking for reports, but rather, just go to his blog, and get the numbers from there? Or, why cant just about anybody write down their objectives or targets for the year on a wiki page, an track their achievements against their targets, in a wiki, so that come appraisal time, one could just send the link of the wiki to their boss (if one is feeling adventurous, that is ... otherwise, copy-paste and send it in an email!).

The point i am trying to make is that given the chance, people could come up with uses of social computing technology which were probably not even thought about. There are, of course, the usual, well-defined ways of using them, but these may just be one of the few.

Of course, if usage cannot be completely predicted, the next question that arises is whether anything like ROI can be predicted with any reasonable level of confidence? I dont think so. Of course, the question still remains whether one could tag ROI to something as intangible as social computing (simply because there is usually no causal relationship between the tools, and the outcome ... the tools are the software, and the outcome occurs in the heads of people!). Though, of course, somethng which keeps coming back to me is that if a senior manager is to make an investment, surely, they would need to make sure that it is worth it. And this, to my mind, is where the catch lies. This ROI is to be experienced, not necessarily calculated, to begin with!

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