Debating ‘Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again’

Back in August, Larry Hawes wrote a post entitled Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again‘, and I suggested to him at the time that we should have a debate on the topic. We did, but did not do so in public. In the future, I will try to have these debates in a more public way, like the obvious option of recording us in Skype or Hangouts, arguing away.
However, Larry and I did wrangle over the subject, and here’s the thread:

Stowe: Larry, I read your piece ‘Real-time Messaging in the Enterprise: Here We Go Again’, and I agree with some of your assertions, but I disagree with your central conclusion, which is that work chat is a fad that will fade away fairly quickly.
You make the case — which I agree with in part — that we are witnessing an explosion of chat tools, and these are creating silos of fragmented information. You wrote,

These applications are largely siloed from each other, so employees have to remember in which one a certain conversation occurred or know in which application they have the highest probability of gaining a specific coworker’s attention. Second, some can interoperate with other enterprise applications via RESTful APIs, while others require more costly, time-consuming integration efforts. Third, some messaging applications support information governance initiatives such as records retention and disposal whereas other offerings essentially assume that chats are throw-away conversations that do not need to be archived and managed.

The core idea — that these tools are silos — is true. However, I think that the mobile experience has shifted expectations so that people are tolerant — and perhaps even biased toward — a fragmented world of deep-and-narrow apps.
I also think that your second and third points above are actually characteristics for apps to compete around. Slack, for example, has become the poster child for integration with other apps.
Larry: Thanks for engaging in this conversation, Stowe! It’s very refreshing that Gigaom Research not only tolerates, but actively exposes differences of opinion amongst its analysts, rather than forcing everyone to conform to the ‘company viewpoint’, like most research firms.
Let me begin to address your opening comments by adding some clarification around my central conclusion. Yes, I very much believe that work chat will be a short-lived fad. It will be overhyped by vendors, analysts and other market makers. Then it will fall out of favor as the next, new form of messaging in the enterprise comes along. More on that below.
What I did not mean to imply, is that work chat will completely disappear or cease to be used. There will be key use cases, as well as individual and team workstyle preferences, which demand that IT keeps the technology in the corporate tool set. Despite that, I firmly believe that, long-term, work chat will see limited uptake and make a minimal impact on overall organizational performance.
The current mobile experience made up of numerous, functionally-focused applications that you cite works well for consumers. In some cases, it can also be highly beneficial to workers who want to quickly accomplish a well-defined task in isolation. The challenge in the work environment (that makes it different from consumer computing) is in getting information to flow between applications.
We typically use workflow technology to accomplish that, but haven’t applied it to work chat (or to older forms of enterprise messaging, including social status updates, instant messaging and email). Yes, Slack can use IFTTT to push information between integrated applications, but IFTTT isn’t considered an enterprise-ready technology by most IT professionals. Unfortunately, there is not an equivalent, lightweight enterprise workflow tool, so the IFTTT style of rules-based information flow can’t be easily replicated, with added enterprise features, in organizations today.
Organizations will struggle mightily to get information in and out of any work chat applications they deploy. That includes getting the multiple chat tools that have been self-selected by employees to interoperate, absent consistent inclusion and use of a standard communication protocol like XMPP. Also, organizations still need to manage their communications, including seemingly ephemeral chat conversations, in a way that accommodates corporate information governance policies. The throw-away chat paradigm of Snapchat and Confide simply isn’t viable in most businesses, so work chat tool providers will either have to build or partner for governance and compliance functionality.
Stowe: You say the big problem for these apps is that they are not necessary: they only duplicate functionality that other tools already can provide. My counter is empirical: if that statement is true, why are users and organizations adopting these new tools, and dropping the old? The answer has to be that they are organized around different principles. The fact that you don’t know what they are, or that they are hard to discern, doesn’t really matter.
And, oh, by the way, your argument was identical to what people said about instant messaging and email. ‘Why do we need IM,’ they’d say, ‘When we already have email?’ We know how that went. IM and email are very different, and are used very differently.
Larry: The story that users and organizations are dropping older forms of messaging in favor of real-time work chat is just that – a story. I haven’t seen any quantified evidence to support that assertion. That is a problem that I want you and others at Gigaom Research to address through primary research in the next few months.
The work chat case studies I have seen largely involve small businesses, mostly startups or relatively young organizations, in the technology sector. It makes sense that they would be the early adopters of work chat technology and the work future principles it supports. However, I have yet to see compelling anecdotal (much less quantified) evidence that larger, established organizations are adopting work chat technology, even at the team level.
Many will question why we need technology Y when we already have technology X that works. Most people do not embrace change; they resist it. My point was exactly that: the few that actively and eagerly adopt work chat technology will be overshadowed by those who have little or no interest in using a new tool or working in a different way. The limited success of enterprise social software demonstrated that, and I believe we will see a repeat with work chat.
Stowe: I guess we will have to see what happens over the near-term with these tools, so let’s plan to revisit that in a few months.
Finally, you conclude that these tools will be dropped, just as soon as people come to their senses, writing

Enterprise real-time chat is destined to quickly fail as a market segment and technology with significant, positive business impact. Just like the combination of status update and activity stream features in enterprise social software failed to displace email, instant messaging and other, well-established forms of business communication.

Your rationale?

Insufficient technology is not the cause of poor communication within organizations. We have had at our disposal more-than-adequate messaging technologies for decades now. The real reason that employees and their organizations continue to communicate poorly is human behavior. People generally don’t communicate unless they have something to gain by doing so. Power, influence, prestige, monetary value, etc.

My counterargument is this: people are moving away from earlier ‘social collaboration’ solutions because those were geared to large social groups where much of the communication was infrequent (see There’s a quiet revolution pulling some numbers down, written about a year ago on this topic). These new work chat tools are geared to small workgroups that communicate frequently. They are designed for people to get work done, and not for companies to do ‘business’.  So, I don’t think this is a fad, and the trend will continue on.
Larry: You and I are actually more aligned in our thinking here than you may realize. For sure, the facilitation of frequent communication among a small, well-defined group of colleagues is where work chat technology excels. This is clearly in opposition to the way social technologies have been successfully used to find, query and communicate with formerly unknown coworkers swimming in the larger employee pool. Or as a communication channel between the company and its market.
Where I do disagree with you is in your assertion that “people are moving away from earlier ‘social collaboration’ solutions”. In fact, those solutions have seen very limited adoption in most organizations, so there is not much of a base to move away from. Those who have found that style of communication to be useful will continue to use social tools, just as those who have had success with instant messaging and email will stick with those communication methods.
As I stated above, work chat technology will be a very useful tool for some employees, particularly those working in a defined group that needs to communicate frequently. As long as it is working for those people, their company will continue to support work chat.
However, I’m nearly certain that work chat adoption will follow the pattern previously established by instant messaging and social status updates. Individuals (and, eventually, entire organizations) will excitedly rush to begin using work chat without understanding which use cases it best supports and what benefits it produces. As a result, disillusionment will grow with the technology and it will largely be abandoned, except by those who understood it in the first place. So, yes, work chat is a fad, and it will play out itself out in the coming months and years.

We will pick the thread of this discussion up again, in the months ahead. Gigaom Research will also be pursuing new research on this topic in the near-term, as well, to try to determine what people are doing out there with SLack and alternative work chat tools.

What’s My Agenda: the Future of Work and Work Technologies, or Work Futures

People tend to think of not knowing as something to be wiped out or overcome, as if ignorance were simply the absence of knowledge. But answers don’t merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones. – Jamie Holmes, The Case for Teaching Ignorance

The central line of inquiry for my work as an analyst and researcher over the next year and beyond will be the future of work and work technologies, or ‘work futures’, for short. Before breaking that down, let me try to clarify what those terms mean. I will do so by asking a few questions, with Jamie Holmes’ observation, above, in mind.
On one hand, the intent of the phrase ‘the future of work’ is obvious, just like any other ‘future of’, such as ‘the future of dentistry’ or ‘the future of the European Union’. But the reality is that the meme of ‘the future of work’ has developed a strong connotation related to a specific set of progressive ideals about work, and an underlying implicit criticism of the state of work today, and the preceding era, as well.
‘The future of work’ is an academically-oriented domain of discourse, with a strong lean into new theories of humanist business management, and with closely related ideas of economics and organizational development.As a simplification, I have been using work futures as a shorthand or synonym for ‘the future of work and work technologies’, and will do so for the rest of this post and going forward in general. [In fact, work futures was the name of the consulting company that I created when the old Gigaom shut down in March 2015.]
The growing interest in work futures has arisen as a central area of discussion about organization, management, and adaptation to new technologies, especially those which are based on the form and function of social networks and social media. This is an expansion and absorption of the discipline called social business, that started in the early ‘00s and had been drained of emotive force by 2010, principally due to the blur caused by vendor marketing that has drifted back into the ‘right information to the right people at the right time’ vein, and lost the thread of a more humane workplace and the aspiration for people to find meaning and purpose in work.
The first wave of social business was principally an adoption of technologies like blogging, wikis, forums, intranets, community software, and various sorts of messaging. This was an early phase, much of which predated social networks like Twitter and Facebook.
The second phase of social business tech was more of an aspect of Web 2.0 era technologies, transitioning to software-as-a-service, and increasingly mobile. However, it was principally a desktop-based era, and newer solutions and practices have emerged which are much more mobile at their core, and less likely to be deployed behind the firewall on company servers.
Enterprise 2.0 was a school of thought that was strongly technology centered, based on the parallelism with the term Web 2.0.  It was a school of thought that took the ‘tech’ side in the perennial debate about ‘which is more important, the technology or the people side of social business?’ Andrew McAfee of MIT is perhaps the leading advocate for the term, but it has been displaced first by ‘social business’ and now by ‘the future of work’ and ‘digital transformation’.
Digital transformation can be thought of as an industrialization of the thinking behind the research and practice of work futures, building around the growing popularity of customer experience as a unifying metaphor for customer-centered business thinking in an increasingly digital world.Just as fast as social business has been eclipsed by work futures, in turn work futures is rapidly being crowded out in entrepreneurial and existential management and tech circles by digital transformation. Digital transformation can be thought of as an industrialization of the thinking behind the research and practice of work futures, building around the growing popularity of customer experience as a unifying metaphor for customer-centered business thinking in an increasingly digital world.
Here’s a definition I used in a recent presentation:

Digital Transformation: A new operating model of business – based on continuous innovation – by the application of digital technologies and the restructuring of operations around customer experience to better engage with customers, the company ecosystem, and the greater marketplace.

Note that the work futures content is buried mostly in the ‘restructuring of operations’ phrase, and the shape and tenor of those changes is in service to the need to get onto a digital footing in relation to customers. The focus on humanization and democratization of work in work futures discourse is shifted to customers at the center of the digital transformation weltanschauung.
I threw out the terms ‘entrepreneurial and existential management’ above, and they warrant some unpacking.

Entrepreneurial management is the branch or thread of management thinking and writing that extols entrepreneurialism above other approaches, venerates start-up culture, and which advocates for the application of practices that have come from that quarter for other, and older, companies. This includes lean and agile practice, data-centered management, and valuing experimentation and learning over tradition and institutional knowledge. There is much to admire in entrepreneurial thought, but there are aspects of this body of thought that carry forward questionable practices from the past, such as the central role of consensus building which can lead to group think and the suppression of innovation and diversity.

Existential management takes entrepreneurialism and macro-economic ideas–like Christensen’s disruption theories–and casts the challenges of business into a zero sum landscape shaped by arguments to induce management to operate through a sense of  impending doom, that without new principles of business their companies will crash and burn. To the good, there are times when raising the spectre of a dangerous future can help focus attention, but this is easily overused.

I am not making light of the core truths of some of these ideas, such as the potential for companies to disrupt established industries or markets, as Apple, Google, and Uber have done, or the vast potential of lean and agile practices for business. However, the tendency toward hyperbole, and a deeply sententious, and sensationalist writing style by many in these threads often obscures the foundational value of the core ideas being expressed.I am not making light of the core truths of some of these ideas, such as the potential for companies to disrupt established industries or markets, as Apple, Google, and Uber have done, or the vast potential of lean and agile practices for business. However, the tendency toward hyperbole, and a deeply sententious, and sensationalist writing style by many in these threads often obscures the foundational value of the core ideas being expressed.
At the highest level, those exploring work futures blend cultural and economic criticism, advocacy for a more humanistic set of principles for the management and operation of business, and the scientific insights coming from fields like complexity theory, cognitive science, behavioral economics, and social psychology. As I said in a recent keynote, the shared premise of those investigating work futures is the application of new understanding about human interaction, motivation, and drive, and to embody that understanding in a new way of work.
In the months and years to come I will continue to explore and research the threads that make up the fabric of work futures, including these:

  • Tools for Work Communications: ‘Social Collaboration’, Work Management, Work Chat, Working Out Loud, and Workforce Communications — I will be closely observing the shifting landscape of the tools being applied for work communications, and the many diverging and competing theories of management that are buried in their architectures.
  • Culture Management — The tools and techniques being used to create an organization climate where higher levels of feedback and greater degrees of quantitative assessment of engagement lead to a better understanding of the sentiment and orientation of all involved in the workplace.
  • The New Social Contract — I’ve started a new series on Gigaom Research focused on the changing social contract: the operating premises that underlie the relationships between employees, management and the extended workforce of part-timers, freelancers, and independent and dependent contractors. The new social contract is also influenced by issues like diversity, economics, regulation, and the role of government and other non-corporate actors, like unions.
  • AI, Robots, and The Ephemeralization of Work — The rising power of  robots, artificial intelligence, and algorithmic processing of data is leading to many occupations being taken over in whole or part, with humans having to find work elsewhere. This is one of the most critical trends in work futures. wrote in the Pew Research report AI, Robots, and the Future of Jobs,

    The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy’?

  • Fast-and-Loose Organization and Culture — A great deal of the smoke and heat in ‘the future of work’ is about new forms of organizations relying on different cultural foundations. This includes the democratization of work in general, and the adoption of new approaches — like Holacracy — that rework the notions of business management. The emerging consensus is that organizations are moving toward lateral and bottom-up networks and away from top-down hierarchies. (Note that hierarchies are networks, too, but ones with slow-and-tight forms of communications and control.) Today’s companies are becoming fast — agile, flexible, resilient — as opposed to slow — stable, rigid, unchanging. To become fast, you have to become loose: relaxing the strong ties of hierarchic controls. I will be tracking the advances made in this area closely.
  • Leadership and Management — Even management gurus have been suggesting that management has to be rethought in light of the changing conditions for organizations, today. Gary Hamel described the need to move away from bureaucracy in The Beyond Bureaucracy Challenge: Creating Inspired, Open, and Free Organizations, and asking the questions that will shape my investigations in this area:

    Managing is largely about controlling and coordinating — the question is, can the work of managing be pushed out to the periphery of our organizations? Can it be automated? Can it be dispensed with entirely? Is it possible for an organization to be highly decentralized and precisely synchronized? Can you get discipline without disciplinarians? Are there ways of combining the freedom and flexibility advantages of markets with the control and coordination advantages of traditional hierarchies? Can we reduce the performance drag of our top-heavy management structures without giving anything up in terms of focus and efficiency? To what extent can “self-management” or “peer-management” substitute for “manager-management?”

    Lamentably, bureaucracy lives on, where the few rule the many, and hierarchic management is still accepted as the norm. Entrepreneurial management is becoming the norm, but that may not be going far enough.

  • Innovation, Creativity, and Learning — Central to many discussions about work futures is the premise that increasing innovation in established companies is problematic, but unleashing the creativity of employees is essential for companies to compete and survive in times of rapid change. As a result we see a great deal written about practices to increase innovation, such as continuous learning, and the selection of people with certain psychological traits — like curiosity — as a precondition of increased innovation.
  • Cognitive Science —It’s interesting to see that cognitive science has recently shed light on common fallacies about learning, such as the notion that we learn better by focusing on a single skill at a time (see Cognitive Science Upends Conventional Wisdom About Studying). Like that example, there’s a long list of new findings from cognitive science that should have major impacts on business, management, and how we perceive behaviors at work: others and our own. However, much of these findings haven’t found their way into the workplace.
  • Work/Life Balance and the Costs of High Performance — Recent discussions about the costs of high pressure work environments — including the buzzfest about the New York Times exposé of Amazon — have brought the tension between ‘high performance’ workplaces and work/life balance to the forefront. I will be at the forefront of those discussions.
  • Open offices, remote work, and the mobile workforce — A revolution has taken place in business in just the past five years, driven by the rise of mobile devices and ubiquitous connectivity, we’ve witnessed wholesale changes in the physical layout of offices and the diaspora of workers from the old notion of working nine-to-five at the same desk for twenty years to a way of work that would have been unimaginable ten years ago.
  • Incentives, Meaning and Purpose — Moving past the extrinsic motivations of money and benefits, one of the major themes in work futures is interleaving intrinsic motivations — like meaning and purpose — into a larger mesh, in which human striving can be better understood.
  • Digital Transformation — Digital transformation is gaining greater weight as a result of growing awareness regarding the ‘digital customer’ (which might be better considered the ‘connected customer’). The premise is that businesses have to basically turn themselves inside out to engage customers who are migrating away from traditional forms of media consumption, and are now connected at nearly all times through mobile and other digital devices. This is associated with the growing role of new marketing thinking — based on reaching the customer at all ‘touch points’ along the ‘customer journey’ — and the declining power of the CIO and IT. Companies undergoing a digital transformation often appoint or hire someone to act as chief digital officer, which may be a stint while the company is being transformed, or may be a replacement for the CIO.

You can be sure that I will be trying — over the course of the next year — to create new questions, not just answer the ones I am starting with.It is, I realize, a broad palette, and I am sure that I am setting myself a stretch goal to included all of these topics. On the other hand, considering how these topics inevitably influence each other — or better said, are inherently tightly linked to each other — it would be pointless to enumerate only a few of these and to pretend that the others can be ignored.
I will be crafting a series of surveys in the coming months, working to get at the hopes and fears of the workforce, management, and the individual worker in these areas. If you are interested in shaping the direction of my line of inquiry — or simply would like to remain informed of our efforts — please sign up here.
You can be sure that I will be trying — over the course of the next year — to create new questions, not just answer the ones I am starting with.

Understanding the failed promise of ‘social collaboration’

I’ve been using a phrase in my work with clients recently — the failed promise of social collaboration — and I thought I would take a few minutes to write down the thinking behind it, because I think we are at an inflection point in the market for work technologies.

Work tech is the spectrum of digital tools we use to get our work done, ranging from hardware like our mobile devices, wearables, tablets, and laptops, but more specifically the software tools that mediate our work communications and form the shared repositories that serve as the content and context of our work. These tools shape our work and our work relationships, because their affordances prioritize and polarize what we do, say, and think.

The generation of work tech that was sparked in the Web 2.0 era, based on a common set of work premises, are characterized by a number of design features that are now commonplace. These I call social collaboration tools. Note that I am hesitant to use the term ‘collaboration’ these days, since it has become so tied up with the basic premises of these tools — and the management approach that underlies them — so I generally use the term ‘working together’ or ‘cooperating’ to denote the most general idea of various people working together toward largely common goals.

What do these social collaboration tools have as shared design principles:

  • Project- and group-centric — rather than starting with the individual, social collaboration tools are based on projects and groups. Someone — presumably a manager or project lead — creates a project or group context, and invites others to join. That creator has the right to limit various sorts of capabilities for the other participants, such as the right to create or edit documents, create or modify tasks, and so on.
  • Work assignment and status updates — in general, social collaboration tools are focused on updating others, tracking status, and being assigned things to do. This is all overhead, not the work itself.
  • Large social scale — social collaboration tools are based on the communication patterns of large groups: it is just as easy to post some update in a group or project involving hundreds or thousands of people as it is to send a message to one other person. And in fact, features like broadcasting to all in a group or project — ‘@all’ — are designed to make this easy. This is communication at the social ‘scene’ (dozens or hundreds of people) or ‘sphere’ (involving thousands or more).

This is not exhaustive, but these are some of the features that I think set the backdrop for my argument that the idealized company supported by social collaboration tools is not where we work today, if ever.

Work — in the basic sense of getting things done, not the place we go to do it — is a combination of focused individual activity, focused joint activity (working together with others in real time), and cooperative and coordinative activities (working asynchronously with others on framing and planning of work, like chatting online about deadlines and features in a product development cycle). Social collaboration tools overemphasize the last of these three categories of work, and de-emphasize — or ignore — the first two. The reason? Perhaps one reason is that the last category is the province of old school managers: those who were charged with managing others.

My sincere belief is that we are seeing a shift from social collaboration tools toward alternatives — like work chat — where the first two categories of work are supported and the last category — overseeing others’ progress and managing what others do — is significantly de-emphasized. We are moving to smaller social scale, starting with the individual, and then on to small cooperative groups, or sets.

Many years ago I made the following statement —

The individual is the new group

— and the tools that we see arising today start there, focusing on what Cal Newport, the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, calls ‘deep work’:

Deep Work: Cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve.

He contrasts that with ‘shallow work’:

Shallow Work: Tasks that almost anyone, with a minimum of training, could accomplish (e-mail replies, logistical planning, tinkering with social media, and so on)

I maintain that much of what social collaboration tools are designed to support is shallow work, and the stuff of managerial oversight.

And to return to the failed promise of social collaboration, the idea driving it was that it would increase productivity. But deep productivity comes from supporting deep work, while trying to support shallow work doesn’t necessarily even lead to shallow productivity increases. Instead, that causes productivity shortfalls since the demands of responding to others’ shallow work takes us away from our own deep work, and steals productivity.

Jive breaks out of the ‘social collaboration’ platform model with new ‘workstyle’ apps

Jive Software has taken a revolutionary move toward delivering what the company is calling ‘workstyle’ products, and starting a migration away from the conventional ‘social collaboration’ paradigm. The company has announced three new products — Jive Daily, Jive Chime, and Jive People — that represent a fracturing of the monolithic platform approach that underlies the company’ flagship products, Jive Platform (for internal communications and collaboration), and JiveX (for customer communities).

Jive Daily will be available on 18 February at the iOS app store and Google Play. Jive Daily is a workforce communications tool that allows corporate communications teams to serve relevant information in a Facebookish news feed, and supports curation and two-way communication among staff and management.

I had some prior discussion with members of the Jive product team about this direction, and I applauded it, in the abstract, and now, again, in the specific. And I like the characterization of these mobile-first, deep-and-narrow apps as ‘workstyle’ tools, in contrast with PC-first, wide-and-shallow social collaboration platforms.

Elissa Steele, Jive President, characterized the apps in this way:

Jive Daily, Jive Chime and Jive People provide intuitive, frictionless mobile experiences that help companies embrace employees’ various workstyles and drive strategic alignment as a competitive differentiator.

We’ll have to see about the strategic alignment, but going deep-and-narrow can certainly shift employee communications onto a smaller social scale, as I have written about a great deal (see The twelve posts of Christmas, part 1Social third quarter 2014: analysis and outlookContextual conversation: Work chat will dominate collaboration).

Still, the description about Daily suggests that the app is still not organized solely around the work graph, but is still reflecting a more traditional hierarchical and corporate view of how work communications are supposed to flow. Here’s how the press release describes it:

  • Improve strategic alignment: Jive Daily cascades news to all levels of an organization, with newsfeeds tailored to each user’s specific interests, team and function, allowing people to receive just the information they need.
  • Increase employee engagement: Employees can see who’s posting, and respond by commenting, liking and following from anywhere. By putting faces to names, Jive Daily makes company news personal and transparent, and establishes familiarity and trust between executives and employees.
  • Understand communications impact: Jive Daily provides actionable metrics on who’s reading and participating so company leaders can identify ways to improve communications for even greater impact.

‘Cascading news to all levels of the organization’ does not reflect an egalitarian, social-network-oriented business, but the other features seem more forward-minded.

Jive Daily costs $2/user/month according to the company’s web site.

Jive Chime — a workforce messaging app — and Jive People — a new corporate directory — will be rolled out in the coming months. The overlap between the apps — all provide means to communicate across the workforce — is fine so long as there isn’t any cognitive dissonance in how the tools work. For example, I would expect that a recent communication with a coworker initiated in Daily would show up subsequently in Chime.

More to follow.

Related: November 5 2014, Elissa Steele promoted to president of Jive, Tony Zingale retires by Stowe Boyd

Samepage wants to get us on the same page: very 2010

Samepage is an emerging work-media tool based on the design metaphor of shared “pages” that are made up of widget-like elements: text regions, files, images, maps, events, tables, tasks, maps, videos, links, and HTML. There are associated comments for each of the objects. Its parent company, Kerio, has developed the product as a way to help cooperating teams see eye to eye, but it’s unclear that we need this in the workplace. In reality, we need to get our work done, and that requires a great deal of integration with existing tools rather than the approach Kerio has taken.

In a way, the tool reminds me of a better-structured wiki, partly because each page can have many sub-pages and the fact that pages are composed of structured elements.

Here’s the basic view of a Samepage page:

Screenshot 2014-11-30 14.32.04

As you see, the various widgets can be added to the region on the left while comments are shared in the right margin.

Here’s sharing options:

Screenshot 2014-11-30 14.33.41

Users can invite people by adding email addresses or by making the page public, allowinganyone with the URL to view the information shown.

Here’s a more elaborate page showing a calendar, images, and table:

Screenshot 2014-11-30 14.33.11

The Bottom Line

I understand that some contingent of social-collaboration users may want the flexibility that Samepage offers — namely the ability to integrate information elements of various types into a shared page. This is much like the desire to build custom websites or to tinker with presentation formats.

However, I am convinced that there is a social cost that comes from using solutions where each new page can have a unique layout: The invited participants must learn the layout of each one in order to effectively use them.

Just as important, each of these widgets is a simplified version of their counterparts in other tools. The table widget is something like a Google or Excel spreadsheet but much less feature-rich. Likewise, the task features are less rich than counterparts like Asana, Todoist, or Trello, and Samepage doesn’t support their integration as it does with cloud-file solutions.

And there is no way to convert a Samepage page to a Word document, which is a widely used format convertible to Apple Pages and Google Docs, and something that is easily distributed. Yes, you can publish to the web, but that’s not the same experience.

The fundamental question is this: Do people want all their shared information in a single, proprietary silo or do they want to distribute and integrate information in a collection of best-of-breed tools? The all-rolled-up-in one mantra seems very five-years-ago. In 2014, my bet is on the best-of-breed approach. Witness the rise of Slack as an exemplar of this.

Slack is largely a collection of chat rooms with a great search and user experience, built on the notion of being a central integration point with a network of cooperating applications. In this way, the user can converse with coworkers in the context of what is being discussed, like design documents, trouble tickets, customer support reports, and sales stats. However, that content is created and managed in best-of-breed applications that play nice with Slack. So Slack doesn’t have to manage all that content itself but simply presents it in context and provides deep indexing so everything can be found again.

So, the The San Francisco Hiking Club example page above might wind up being the sweet spot for Samepage: loosely connected groups that interact infrequently and that do not rely on a battery of mission-critical enterprise apps. But tightly connected coworkers communicating frequently about information produced by mission-critical enterprise apps will be unlikely to gravitate to Samepage.

Why I know Google+ isn’t doing well: It’s not part of Google for Work

Google’s lead for the social mess called Google+ is David Besbris, who took over when Vic Gundotra was pushed out in April (see Surprise resignation of VP Vic Gundotra raises questions about the future of Google+). Since that time, the company has relaxed the systematic effort to require Google+ identities to log into various Google properties, and perhaps a cooling on the company’s plans for Google+ in general.

But in a vacuous interview by Recode’s Kurt Wagner, Besbris seems to be continuing the company’s assertions that the product is beloved, although Besbris won’t quantify anything:

Where are you at right now in terms of users?

I don’t want to talk about numbers.

I bet he doesn’t. In a searing review of the interview, The Verge’s Casey Newman wasn’t having any of it, saying

[…] almost since the day it launched, Google+ has struggled to overcome the perception that it was dead on arrival. Nearly three and a half years after opening its doors the public, you would be hard pressed to name a single person who ever became famous because of a following they built on Google+; to name a news story that broke there first; or to identify a way that it meaningfully differentiated itself from the glut of social products on the market. I think there are lots of people who use Google+, if only in passing; I think there are vanishingly few of them who love it.

I will add one obvious note to Casey’s list: Google+ has not been packaged as a part of Google for Work (the former Google for Enterprise, and earlier called Google Apps for Business).

Screenshot 2014-10-08 09.03.00

Note that Hangouts — originally part of Google+ — has been pried free. And the other workhorses — Gmail, Drive, and Docs — were always independent.

My hope is that Google will steer clear of a Google+ integration in Google for Work, and will instead just beef up the activity stream in Docs, so that it’s something like the new Microsoft Groups (see Microsoft rolling out Groups in Office 365: the end of Yammer?). I wonder if internal competition is the reason that Google hasn’t rolled something like that out already?

What does the Cisco/Jive partnership mean?

Earlier this month, Cisco announced that it was shutting down internal work management platform Webex Social, and at the same time announced a partnership with Jive. Let’s break this down.

First, Cisco has been getting nowhere with Webex Social. As I wrote back in November in Cisco sees a decline, and collaboration is flat:
Cisco 1st Quarter Revenue %

Digging into the enterprise software side of things, “collaboration” — which includes WebEx, Jabber, and the former Quad enterprise collaboration tool, now renamed WebEx Social — only grew 1% in the period, which is really flat, and is only 8% of the companies revenues.

I don’t think we can expect much innovation coming out of a “collaboration” product that is based firmly on the WebEx brand and now long-in-the-tooth notions of ‘enterprise collaboration’ based on video-conferencing rooms instead of lightweight, real-time chat that is cropping up everywhere (see Real time isn’t what it used to be: It’s really real time, now).

The Data Center line item grew 44% in the same period, which shows the direction the company’s revenue  is headed.

Cisco’s Quad — er, Webex Social — was actually a pretty good work management solution: activity streams, projects-based work interactions, tasks, files, etc. — but Cisco couldn’t sell it, or at least couldn’t grow it into being a serious competitor.

In December, Cisco bought (see Cisco acquires, but not a peep about Webex Social) without even mentioning Webex Social. It was clear that buying was all about mobile, and tellingly, the announcement made about shutting down Webex Social made no mention of

Peter Ulander, VP of collaboration marketing at Cisco, wrote the company’s blog post on the news:

We’re also announcing the end-of-sale of WebEx Social today. As the market for enterprise social software continues to develop, we’re seeing the market consolidate around key vendors. To provide the best flexibility and outcomes for our customers, we’re expanding our focus to work with these vendors’ products and to provide native integration with products in our collaboration portfolio. Rather than emphasize social within one product, we’re making sure it’s an integral part of all our products.

And the Jive partnership? The two companies had already integrated the solutions for more than 60,000 users at Thomson Reuters, so that deal might have been the final nail in the coffin for Webex Social. And of course Jive — who has been struggling in recent quarters — wants to blow the trumpet about this deal as loudly as possible. The stock market has responded with a 10% jump since the announcement in early May.

So this is a strategic retreat from collaboration for Cisco, and otherwise they would have acquired the struggling Jive. Let’s face it: Cisco has its own problems. Cisco has laid off 12,300 over the last two years, and sales declined 5.7% in the last fiscal year. The CEO, John Chambers, is in the news today, urging President Obama to end the NSA’s widespread surveillance because of the erosion of trust and confidence in US technology — and Cisco — that it is causing. This included the mention of photos that circulated on the web of NSA agents opening Cisco component boxes, as reported by the Financial Times:

There have been allegations that the NSA has intercepted IT equipment in transit from manufacturers to customers to help monitor and gain information on surveillance targets.

Jive has momentarily slowed its stock’s precipitous nosedive with this news, perhaps, but not the structural problems at the firm (see Jive posts $146M in 2013 sales, with losses of $75M), and the firm is being shopped for a sale, but has gotten no bites (Jive is apparently up for sale, but no one seems interested).

So, in the final analysis, this is what the news means:

  • Cisco was getting nowhere with Webex Social, and decided to end its strategic push into collaboration. Going forward, Cisco will likely partner with a variety of firms, based on tactical reasons. This means that is also a likely candidate for sunsetting, too.
  • Jive has tried to make this sound like a new dawn, but it’s not. Cisco is using the announcement to muffle the news about Webex Social, and to allow the company to say that collaboration is critical and important to Cisco, while the meaning of this is exactly the opposite.
  • Jive’s real situation is unchanged. Cisco is unlikely to do very much for Jive, aside from some low-hanging fruit. So, Jive is still on the verge of running out of cash, and options.