Why WhatsApp is Red Flag for PLM Collaboration

Why WhatsApp is Red Flag for PLM Collaboration


I think Facebook buying WhatsApp for $19B was a refreshing experience for everybody. For the last week, I’ve got tsunami of blog posts, tweets and other messages talking about Facebook, WhatsApp, founders, VCs and investments, influence of Soviet Union past on WhatsApp collaboration ideas and many others. Funny enough, I even found my own post – What Social PLM can learn from Facebook decline just few months ago. Did I predict the deal? I don’t think it matters… Two important points from my previous post I want to repeat again – (1) the relevancy of Facebook social stream is questionable and I can hardly rely on this to follow important information; (2) to communication in small group is sometimes much more efficient than broadcasting messages in wide audience of confused listeners.

Another WhatsApp related post on Medium caught my attention yesterday – A Brief Primer on Human Social Networks, or How to Keep $16 Billion In Your Pocket. Have a read – I found it insightful. This post reiterated the same point of small number of friend we actually have in real life opposite the number of “friends” we decide to stalker on Facebook. I liked this passage:

“In buying WhatsApp this week, Facebook is betting that the future of social networking will depend not just on broadcasting to the masses but also the ability to quickly and efficiently communicate with your family and closest confidants — those people you care enough about to have their numbers saved on your smartphone. … Facebook has long defined the digital social network, and the average adult Facebook user has more than 300 friends. But the average adult has far fewer friends — perhaps just a couple in many cases, researchers say — whom they talk to regularly in their real-world social network…”

Facebook bets on co-existence of these two social networks. It made me think about people collaboration, which is a part of every engineering and manufacturing organization. PLM vendors were building application for PLM, design and project collaboration for years. Collaboration was and still is one of the most overused words in PLM and probably in enterprise software too. For the last few years, CAD and PLM vendors are trying to bring new concepts into the world of collaboration. Some of them called “social”. However, it is less important how to call them. What is important is that some of them are repeating the same mistake of broadcasting messages in a wide group of people.

I think CAD/PLM vendors must learn a lesson of inefficient collaboration in large broadcasting tools. Having even department group of 50-100 people posting messages in activity stream can be an annoying behavior. I experienced it by myself in some social collaboration experiments. I’d prefer to have a search for more efficient information navigation (actually Facebook Graph Search is a good example of improving efficiency). However, I’d like also to have the ability to collaborate in small groups of people focusing on a specific problem or design issue. Another example of close collaboration is small team working together on a specific project.

What is my conclusion? I think WhatsApp and Facebook story should be red alert for all enterprise vendors mimicking “social collaboration” into enterprise. It finally confirms to me inefficiency of large group message broadcasting and need to find more efficient collaboration principles and user experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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  • I cannot say my crystal ball was as clear as yours but with the latest analytics on peoples behaviors as well as my own, it did seem that a pure broadcasting communication framework did not satisfy our communication needs, personally and professionally.

    I however do not think this type of communication is that bad or any less important than a purely focused strategy. The ideal solution is a combination of both, plus more. In some cases I know I want to send a message, picture, link, information, to a group of close friends and sometimes I want to go outside my close friends to find others which share a common interest…like PLM:)

    Without promoting a specific social network, I actually like the
    way Google+ has developed the concept of circles. I have created several type
    of circles which I share different content and I always feel I am sharing the
    right content with the right people. My wife definitely does not want to see my
    updates on technology and everyone does not want to see the thousands of pictures
    I take of my son.

    I think any enterprise social collaboration solution has to support a flexible way to communicate with the right people without disrupting (by causing noise) to everyone else and allow users to discover topics, subjects or even other users. The combination of the broadcast to everyone and specifically specifying who to broadcast too is not all that is needed. For example a person should be able to inject themselves in a communication about a subject (if they have permissions to do so), similarly as subscribing.

    Thanks for your insights.

  • beyondplm

    Denis, thanks for your comment! Google circles is a good idea. Facebook has similar way to organizing friends, but Google+ use experience is probably more appealing. The problem of all design/engineering (PLM) collaboration models is extremely complex context, which makes existing products complicated.

  • Steve Bodnar

    I agree that a generic social stream is generally useless in a business context. However, contextual discussions connected to documents, tasks, and other individual data items (such as an inspection report or a contractor information form, for example) can be highly valuable – which is exactly how we do it in http://www.kenesto.com

  • Steve

    I made a completely valid, pertinent, and agreeing comment to this blog post and in it mentioned how a specific company in this space is using social constructs in a way that makes sense with regard to concepts like PLM. For some reason, Oleg deleted my comment. I’m not sure why, since he has always maintained that his blog is 100% unbiased. Oleg mentions specific companies all the time, pointing out how they are addressing the topic of interest. I’ve scanned other comments on many past posts to see if perhaps he doesn’t allow people to mention company names in their comments. However, such comments have been allowed. This begs the question of why certain completely relevant and positively stated comments would be discriminated against.

  • beyondplm

    Steve, when you published a comment? I will check spam folder. thanks, Oleg

  • beyondplm

    Steve, to manage contexts is a tricky job. I’d be interested to see how you manage contexts in Kenesto. Do you have any video to demonstrated that? Thanks, oleg

  • Steve

    Thanks Oleg. Maybe delete the one above?

  • beyondplm

    I’m fine with that, otherwise you want me to delete that. Just to reconfirm – I’m not blocking any comments, company names included. I hardly remember if I ever deleted comment from live person on beyondplm.com. Sometimes, links or long comments caught by spam filter and I’m checking spam filter periodically. But looks like DISQUS anti-spam was tuned recently. I cannot explain why few comments went to spam.

  • Steve

    Here’s an example of a discussion connected to a data item (picture attached). We have a discussion connected to every item in our system, but can also create stand-alone discussions for other topics as well (Issue tracking, for example).

  • beyondplm

    Steve, thanks for this sample! It makes sense. This type of chats are getting popular (eg. Google Docs, etc.). However, it assumes I know how to come to “context”, which is not obvious sometimes. I need to find a “Field Inspection Record” to see chat. Usually, the best context is something I can get automatically – e.g. date, location, etc. To search for discussion can be valid solution, but it can be complicated. E.g. search for “cost” can bring tons of results. Best, Oleg

  • Steve

    Yes – confirm deletion of this particular thread – not the other one. 🙂

  • Steve

    There are many roads to this destination in this example. Through the discussions tab, through field inspections, through notifications stream, emails, and yes always using search – either in specific areas or global. Hopefully the user has something more than just “cost” to go by.

  • beyondplm

    Got it. thanks!

  • There’s perhaps another lesson to learn here – one of the reasons WhatsApp is more attractive to the younger generation is their parents aren’t on it. It’s not about technology necessarily, just natural separation and self-identity. Facebook would be wise to keep the two brands as far apart as possible, or the exodus will repeat.

    This has a parallel in the enterprise – what’s the equivalent of parents? It’s a certain distance up the management chain, depending on the corporate culture of course. So how is user behavior affected when using the same system that the “parents” use, or worse still – that the “parents” aggregate data about them? You can imagine the additional need to curate and self-censor in the enterprise equivalent becomes a crushing blow to sustained engagement.

    This can be overcome with positive culture – and the companies with the best culture use the social tools most. Without the right culture though, the technology is pretty much irrelevant.

  • beyondplm

    Ed, you are right – identity played the game in the success of whatsapp. However, I’d associate it (for enterprise) with the trend of removing organizational hierarchies. Modern organization is quicker and more flat, which requires different communication and collaboration tools. Just a thought… Oleg

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