Thursday, October 21, 2010

Social Media is More Than Social

Since my speech on the 12th of October, I've seen a lot of discussion about the use of Social Media. I've met proponents and paranoids, and have come to a conclusion: that we basically agree with one another, but we are not all on the same page.

It's not that we don't agree on things like cost-effective use of technology, that knowledge management is important, security must be handled, or that we tend to spend too much time and money developing software. We're tripping over vocabulary.

There's a relevant Blog post written by Christopher Dorobek from Federal News Radio. I encourage interested readers to take a look at his Blog post here. In this Post, Mr. Dorobek suggests that the term "Social Media" is hurting proponent's ability to communicate the value of social media. I don't disagree.

In the last two weeks, I have enjoyed great support from the folks I met at FedTalks and from those who have read associated commentary. I have also encountered some resistance - and an almost eerie silence from a few people whom I would think would be jumping on this opportunity.

The resistance side is at least vocal, so to them I offer the following: Social Media or Web 2.0 is not about dating and social encounters. Dating and social encounters are one effect of the social media movement - like finding long lost friends on Facebook, or finally seeing photos of the grand kids - but we make a mistake if we stop there and don't explore other benefits associated with a Web 2.0 world.

Web 2.0 is about information exchange. Plain and simple. Sure, people can find one another and share details about their lives: including photos, videos, geography, interests, etc. But SYSTEMS can also find other SYSTEMS. PEOPLE can find DATA, combine data from different data sources, and we can share data and information with one another in ways that used to cost millions of dollars.

Consider the following example released on Twitter earlier today: a military member acting in a civilian capacity, Mr. Bob Sims, decided that he wanted to share a dizzying array of military acronyms with the world. For whatever reason (probably a test in this case), Mr. Sims thought that sharing military acronyms would add value to the world. Mr. Sims didn't put together a business case, knock on his Comptroller's door, beg for money, document the requirement, work for months to get it approved, hand it off to a Program office and wait 6-12 months for it to be put into a development queue and/or another 6 - 18 months to have his "application" created. He just found a data source for military acronyms, sucked the data into a spreadsheet, uploaded the spreadsheet to Google docs, and used Web 2.0 methodology to allow "end users" to pull data from that data source via a simple query. Read his story here.

He envisioned what he wanted. He found the data source. He exposed the data to the Web, and he created an app to make it easy for the world to consume it. Now anyone who grabs his app can look up military acronyms. Problem solved. Value created. How cool is that?!

There is nothing limiting our ability to share to tiny spreadsheets or other personal data sources. Many people have essentially done the same thing with much larger data sources located anywhere in the world. Reference,, or This is part of our reality now.

In the world of Defense Business Transformation, one major challenge is to gather data from many authoritative data sources and make it immediately available to decision makers during investment portfolio reviews. Members of the DoD community have pulled data from two of their most relevant data sources - one for project data and milestone and the second for budget data, mashed it together and now serve it up through apps to leadership - at the point of decision making - when it's needed most. Essentially, Web 2.0 or "social media" has allowed the DoD to significantly enhance the quality of decisions made about its IT portfolio.

By the way, it bears mentioning that when we first rolled out this social media "mashup" of relevant data, many of the folks who used it did not recognize it as social media. They knew the data, but they did not connect the fact that what they were seeing was a mashup of data in their Web browser. That lead to some interesting questions - like where did you get the money to build such a "system" and where was your obligation authority to spend it? The assumption was that we had spent an enormous amount of money to bring them the dashboards. From from it, of course. We knocked out each little app in a few hours using Web 2.0 "social media" techniques. Beyond labor, it really didn't cost us anything.

If we limit our understanding of "Social Media" to technologies that bring people closer together, we miss out on what promises to be perhaps the single largest cost saver / value creator in technology history.

Open source value creation is already here. Information exposure and sharing is inexpensive and customizable using "social media" techniques. It's just that we haven't socialized it yet.

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