Recent management changes in Google+ attracted lots of conversations about social products experience as well as speculations about Google+ social future. It is also made a reflection on how “social theme” will be developed in enterprise companies. In the past few years we’ve seen few examples of social products for enterprise – eg. ExoPlatform, Jive, SAP Streamwork, Socialcast, Yammer, etc.
CAD / PLM vendors made their experiments and products to bring social theme in designers, engineering and manufacturing communities. The fundamental idea was to leverage all social experience from Web 2.0, social networks and online communication and change the way people communicate in business. We’ve seen few successful product. Few companies got acquired. However, speaking about CAD/PLM specifically, most of products got declined. The adoption level of PLM social initiatives was very low. I wrote about it last year in my post – Why Social PLM 1.0 Failed? In my view, the idea of structured enterprise discussion made a promise to lead re-thinking of social collaboration. However, as we learned from Facebook decline, social communication is getting noisy. Signal to noise ratio is declining and, as a result of that, the attempts of companies to make collaboration easier adopting social networks techniques requires some re-evaluation.
I’ve been reading TheNextWeb blog – Product Lessons We Can Learn from Google+ by Paul Adams. Even the article is very focused on specific Google+ related topics, I found some of them resonating well with what CAD/PLM companies are trying to do in the space of design and product collaboration. I summarized some of my thoughts about that as following 4 major lessons: 1/social collaboration & product silos; 2/ease of use; 3/life is messy; 4/network effect.
1. Social collaboration won’t solve product silos problem.
Design groups, engineering departments and manufacturing companies are running into the same problem of applications and data silos. It is natural to people in different departments and even in the same group to store data differently and use different applications. Application and data interoperability is well known problem. Social tools won’t solve this problem magically. The main goal of social application is to make communication easy. Social design collaboration should provide something beyond traditional data-message-comment user experience from Facebook. To build product focusing on how to improve communication scenario is a key to for social apps to success.
2. Ease of use vs. effort required.
The effort needed to make social design collaboration work is a critical element to success. Significant effort leads to slow adoption and decline in usage. Facebook and other social tools drove the adoption by capturing data (photo, videos) via mobile devices and exposing them directly to people. People stalked photos and videos of close friends, co-workers, ex-girlfriends and other people they barely know. It is fine. And it drove adoption. Designers and engineers is another story. To capture design data is not a simple task. People want to re-use free stuff, but in general protective about IP and work they do. To capture organization structure with all dependencies, groups and authorization is even more complicated. Without these two elements, social design collaboration won’t ramp up.
3. Accept the fact “life is messy”
People don’t like to be organized. If social design collaboration requires formal work organization and getting data under the control, it will hit the wall or rejections. The reality is that data and communication are messy. To accept that and help people to communicate on top of data mess can be a possible approach to start without changing the way people work. By trying to force people and data to order system can get rejected in the same way many other “data management” initiatives got rejected for the last 10-15 years. .
4. Build for network effect
Adoption. Adoption. Adoption. Social tools success is heavily built on network effect. Low adoption is a red flag. The use of social design collaboration should be skyrocketing. If it happens, you are on the right path. If not, check your fundamental assumptions and look for a problem to fix.
What is my conclusion? Technology made a significant impact on the way we communicate. Mobile email, internet, web and cloud file sharing – these are examples of successful technological applications. However, technological changes cannot be applied automatically to all fields. Design and product collaboration is a tricky. It requires deep understanding of data and innovative communication techniques. In my view, simple Facebook copycat won’t work. Innovation will happen - lots of opportunities are still open. Developers need to crack the magic of social design collaboration. Just my thoughts…