What our social tools don’t do. Yet.

A casual investigation of social technologies in the workplace reveals a disconcerting truth: there is a great deal going on that social business tools don’t support. Now, on one hand, that might be unsurprising, since people operate at many levels and in some we may not even be aware of what we are up to, like unconscious flirtation, or the ways that our pupils dilate and contract based on what is being seen. But on the other hand, some of the missing use cases suggest that our social tools just are too primitive to usher in the social millennium just yet.

Take just one example: negotiation. We have many tools organized around projects and tasks, where others invite us to participate, but there is almost no way provided to negotiate about the proposed participation. For example, imagine that we are coworkers and I want to assign a task to you. In all my exploration into task management tools, I haven’t found a single tool that would allow you the opportunity to say, ‘Maybe, but let’s make a deal’. Now the deal might be purely financial if you are a freelancer or consultant working with me on a time and materials basis, for example (a sector of the workforce that is growing rapidly). Or the discussion could be about other deadlines shifting, or ‘timeframing’ the new task for a later date. Or a dozen other reasons to negotiate the terms of the work involved.

I’ve been told by tool vendors that their tools do allow such negotiation. Users can exploit direct messaging, or comment threads, or attach documents to the tasks, and so on. But this is often problematic, since the tasks and projects may be shared with others, and the negotiators may want the discussion to be private. And in some cases, it’s just not possible: if you invite me to join a project supported in Yammer or Podio, and I want to negotiate first, where do we negotiate? I haven’t joined the project yet, after all.

The implicit answer is that social tool makers — at least of the tools we have today — have opted to a very narrowly defined subset of work-related use cases. And then they define ‘success’ as making those use cases work. I bet they actually don’t even ‘see’ the negotiation going on, because people opt to use other means to get it done, like email, phone, or face-to-face talking. But this is a mistake, because a reasonable implementation that would support negotiation would add a rich social dimension currently lacking, and it would be managed in an integrated way.

For example, imagine that you could respond to my task invitation by clicking one of three buttons on the task — yes, no, maybe — and in each case the task tool would allow a private but contextually-linked discussion thread. Perhaps you would click on maybe, and add ‘I have some tight deadlines this week, but could get to it by middle of next week’. Perhaps that’s good for me, and I would reply ‘That works’ and change the deadline on the task accordingly. Or if you are a freelancer, you might say, ‘I can do that webinar for $1500’, and the task tool would allow me to accept the fee, decline it, or counteroffer.

Ok, a longwinded example. But one that supports my core point. No task management tool does this, but people do. We are constantly negotiating, and we wind up doing it in email, or by other means, but outside of our immature social tools. And this stands as a confirmation of why we are seeing serious adoption reluctance for social business tools: 57% of companies in a Dachis Group study suggests 20% or less or less engagement in social tools when available. Who wants to use a work media application if you constantly have to step back into email every time a task gets assigned?

But I have hopes that things can change. For example, in the research for a report on team task management tools (now in production), I reviewed the Action Method tool from Behance, and it supports task rejection — with comment — although not an extended negotiation:

The value of keeping users in the social tools and not wandering back to email in order to get things done is significant, but it will take a real analysis of communication pathways in work for tool makers to build more compelling and comprehensive tools.

Consider the investigation into basketball dynamics led by researchers at Arizona State University, Jenifer Fewell and Dieter Armbruster, looking into the results of the 2010 NBA playoffs.

Brian Mossop, Basketball Isn’t A Sport. It’s A Statistical Network.

To analyze basketball plays, Fewell and Armbruster used a technique called network analysis, which turns teammates into nodes and exchanges — passes — into paths. From there, they created a flowchart of sorts that showed ball movement, mapping game progression pass by pass: Every time one player sent the ball to another, the flowchart lines accumulated, creating larger and larger and arrows.

Using data from the 2010 playoffs, Fewell and Armbruster’s team mapped the ball movement of every play. Using the most frequent transactions — the inbound pass to shot-on-basket — they analyzed the typical paths the ball took around the court.

Network analysis of the Chicago Bulls, showing the majority of ball interaction remained with the point guard. Image: Jennifer Fewell and Dieter Armbruster

Network analysis of the Los Angeles Lakers shows the team is far more likely to distribute the ball among more players, using the “triangle offense.” Image: Jennifer Fewell and Dieter Armbruster

As you may recall, the Laker’s ‘triangle offense’ led to more variability in passing, which made defense harder and — voilá — the Lakers did better. Or as Armbruster told Mossop, ‘Entropy wins games.’

My point is not basketball, though. My point is that this sort of network analysis is revolutionizing sports, just like the statistical analysis of Moneyball led to a break with old school approaches to evaluating players’ value.

And a similar breakthrough is possible in the workforce, if the large software companies now trying to dominate social business would expend some research money there. I’m sure that a deep social network analysis of the work going on today’s world of work would quickly yield insights into how much time is spent negotiating around work requests, for example. And a hundred other commonplace social interactions that fall outside the lines painted in today’s social tools. And then we would see a new generation of more capable social tools, designed to support our connections at a much deeper level.

How Content Bundles Could Make Cord Cutting Mainstream

While over-the-top video has made huge strides over the past few years, those cutting the pay-TV cord are still, by and large, early adopters.

With the high-prices of cable and the rapidly expanding choice of content available online, why exactly hasn’t the mass market started to cut the cord? Because for all the talk about the cost of pay TV, most people really like the content they get on their set-top box. It’s reliable and easy, much if it’s exclusive and there’s a whole lot of it bundled together.

And it’s that bundle that really matters, both in the world of pay TV and, believe it not, over-the-top.

In fact, it’s the bundle that’s responsible for Netflix’s success. What consumers get with a Netflix Watch Instantly subscription is a whole lotta perceived value by having access to tens of thousands of titles, all bundled together, for a low subscription fee. Hulu is built on a similar concept.

When I predicted last December that 2011 would be the year of the virtual video operator, what I was really talking about the bundle. In other words, 2011 is the year someone — Apple, Microsoft, Google or another company — finally brings a bundle of channels to over-the-top that looks, smells, and even tastes like a pay-TV subscription.

Judging by the news this week, the race to bring that bundled content over-the-top to the TV screen is on. Apple scored a big win, bringing perhaps the second most successful OTT paid service to the Apple TV in MLB.tv and NBA subscription services.

There was also talk this week of Microsoft’s renewed efforts to bring IPTV services to the Xbox, and also a possible new bundled content service platform. This follows up last year’s rumor that Microsoft had been in discussions with media companies to create a virtual service offering of video channels in a subscription package.

For both, it’s all about the bundle.

While economists have long touted the benefits of bundled goods and services and cited the Internet in particular as the perfect distribution channel for  bundled content, many cord cutters have pointed to the expensive bundled cost of pay TV as the reason for their cutting the cord.

But what both Apple and Microsoft understand is that the bundled-goods theory still applies in the world of over-the-top video, because an irrefutable law of consumer behavior dictates that they will gravitate towards perceived value. Sure, content-bundles in OTT may be narrower than the huge array of linear content channels providers in the world of pay TV (such as, say, a subscription to a season of live baseball games), and cheaper, but they are, in fact, still bundled content goods.

So don’t think OTT is going backwards as it begins to resemble, in some small ways, pay TV over the next few years. What’s happening is that the big-players want to push beyond early adopters, and they understand the content-bundle is the linchpin in making cord cutting a mass-market phenomenon.

Question of the week

How important are content bundles for OTT?

Today in Connected Consumer

Twitter may be in no great hurry to figure out a business model but it has obviously studied the success of Google’s AdWords and AdSense systems closely. Rather than simply amassing an audience and selling impressions, most of its experiments in revenue-generation have focused on monetizing what users actually do on the Internet, like searching for stuff or discussing particular topics. And there are growing signs that they’re onto something, if the NBA’s experience with LeBron James is any indication.

March Madness Scores 7.52M Uniques

CBS (s CBS) has released the final tallies for its web broadcast of the recently concluded March Madness tournament, and it’s a big win all around for the network. The audience rose to 7.52 million unique visitors, the number of total hours streamed was up, and ad revenues came in higher as well. From the press announcement:

Final 2009 NCAA March Madness on Demand traffic figures

  • 7.52 million unique visitors to the NCAA March Madness on Demand video player (2008 figure was 4.76 million – 58% growth)
  • 8.6 million total hours of live streaming video and audio consumed – (2008 figure was 4.92 million – 75% growth)
  • 515 thousand total hours of video and audio were consumed during the semifinal and championship games of the 2009 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship, a 51% increase over 2008 figures.

As expected, total ad revenues generated by March Madness online grew 30 percent over last year, bringing the network roughly $30 million for the tournament.
CBS also said that just under half of those viewers tuning in online watched the games in the new high-quality player. The network didn’t provide any further details on where the traffic came from, so we don’t know yet how many eyeballs YouTube (s GOOG) or any of the other partners drove.

Where to Watch the Final Four Online

Even though my March Madness bracket is busted (stupid losing Louisville), I’ll still be checking out the Final Four this weekend. You can catch all the action online at mmod.ncaa.com through the March Madness On Demand video player for free, or if you’re on the go, watch the games on your iPhone with the March Madness app ($4.99) or through a MediaFLO subscription. Check out our comprehensive list of where to watch March Madness for on-demand versions of the games. Tip-off starts Saturday at 6:07 p.m. ET.

March Madness Scores with 5.6M Visitors in First 4 Days

Traffic to the March Madness On Demand player during the first four days of the tournament already surpassed the traffic of the entire tournament last year, CBS Sports announced today. Here are the stats from the press announcement:

NCAA March Madness on Demand traffic figures through Sunday, March 22

  • 5.6 million unique visitors to the NCAA March Madness on Demand video player (2008 figure was 3.5 million – 60% growth)
  • 6.5 million total hours of live streaming video and audio consumed – (2008 figure was 3.8 million – 71% growth)
  • 2.5 million clicks of the “Boss Button” (2008 figure was 2.5 million for entire tournament)

Nearly half (2.7 million) of MMOD’s 5.6 million unique visitors came on the very first of the tournament when most people were at work and more games are played during the day. CBS has said before that 4.8 million users tuned into MMOD over the course of the 2008 tournament.

March Madness Hits 2.7M Uniques In First Day

CBS’s (s cbs) coverage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is off to a strong start as the network announced today that more than 2.8 2.7 million unique visitors used the March Madness On Demand player during the first day of play yesterday.
mmod_ca
That 2.8 2.7 million is up 56 percent over 2008’s 1.75 million opening day draw. Additionally, users spent 2.8 million total hours streaming audio and video (65 percent growth over last year). Having a big audience at the start of the tournament is important for CBS because online audiences are the inverse of television, tuning in online for early games that are shown during the workday, and then tapering off as there are fewer games.
CBS also reported that March Madness television ratings were up 9 percent for day one as well.
We asked how much of the the MMOD watchers were viewing in high-quality, and where most of the traffic was coming from (would love to know how many iPhone users tuned in, and how much traffic YouTube generated), but CBS didn’t have those details ready yet.

Where to Watch March Madness Online (and on Mobile and On-Demand)

2009mmodlogoUPDATE: To find out where to watch the 2010 NCAA tournament, go here.

Let’s be honest. This is the most wonderful time of the year. March Madness, baby! The NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament is back!

Once you’ve filled out your bracket and given $5 to the office pool, all that’s left to do is watch the games. We can’t do anything about them airing during office hours, but between online, on mobile, on demand and on TV, you have more options than ever to catch all the action. There’s a lot out there, so we’ve rounded them all up into one helpful guide.

ONLINE
Your main source of March Madness online will be through NCAA.com (CBSSports.com is also a good starting point). From there you’ll be able to watch all 63 games for free in the brand new high-quality video player. Bonus, the player will have Facebook functionality built in, so you can send out status updates live while you’re watching the game.

Read More about Where to Watch March Madness Online (and on Mobile and On-Demand)

CBS: March Madness Online Ad Revenue Nearing $30M

CBSSports.com says that its ad inventory for the upcoming March Madness On Demand (MMOD) is nearly sold out and that revenues generated by the web video product are approaching $30 million. CBSSports.com Senior VP and General Manager Jason Kint told MediaWeek that ad revenue would be up more than 20 percent from last year’s $23 million.

2009_mmod_hq_player

But if past is prologue, CBS is going to need that extra cash. This year MMOD will feature a high-quality video player using Silverlight that will stream video at speeds up to 1.5 Mbps. Those extra bits for a sharper picture aren’t free, and a lot of people will be tuning in online. Kint expects this year’s MMOD’s audience to surpass 2008’s 4.8 million unique viewers, especially since CBS has expanded MMOD distribution to CNET and GameSpot.

Plus, MMOD’s biggest audience is at the beginning of the tournament when most of the games are on during the day, and people are at work. But sports fans are growing more accustomed to watching games online that they would ordinarily miss because of scheduling. Tiger Woods drew millions of streams during the U.S. Open finals playoff that happened on a Monday last year and again this year when his return to golf generated 2.5 million streams on a Wednesday.

We’ll be watching — for work, of course, and not at all to check in and see how we’re doing in the March Madness office pool.