Intra social networking

There is a story that I have told a few times about a conversation I had soon after I started at Microsoft with one of my colleagues in the marketing team here. I was reminiscing (as one does as one gets to a certain age) about my first few years of work and how email was available to me, but I could only send emails to other employees of the company (a fairly big one, admittedly – KPMG).

Charlene was dumbfounded. She just couldn’t understand why you would have intra-company email without access to send messages to people outside of the organisation. At the time, mostly if I remember on the grounds of security, it was deemed that only special people should have the privilege of sending outside of the organisational domain.

Fast forward a decade, and at my time in Reuters having conversations with colleagues where the prevailing view was that we needed to develop something like LinkedIn, but that could only be accessed by people within the organisation. “Why?”, I argued “when we’ve got LinkedIn?”.

My view was based on two things: firstly that “teams” these days often span organisational boundaries so that if I need to find out about someone it’s just as likely to be someone outside rather than inside; and secondly that on a third-party service like LinkedIn the data is owned by the individual and they are more likely to be motivated to keep it up to date because there is personal incentive (job offers, networking opportunities and so on) from using an external service that aren’t necessarily going to be there on an internal service, by dint of scale alone.

When people talk about “social in the enterprise”, and in particular, the idea of intra-organisational social networking, my hunch is that in 10 years time we’ll see this is a similar way to email today: that its function only really makes sense when it is available on an inter-organisational basis.

With email today, love it or loathe it, the we generally are able to make value decisions about whether something is sent within or outside of our organisation. Mistakes happen, sure. And it’s not the most secure thing in the world – although I’ve never quite bought that analogy of email “only being as secure as a postcard”; more like only as secure as “being able to intercept a postcard in transit”.

With social and collaboration services, if they aren’t designed to be able to easily traverse organisational boundaries then they won’t support the real needs of people working in today’s complex, inter-company teams. If they don’t meet those needs, people will go elsewhere and end up using public services to get their work done.


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