What’s the point of Jelly?

Jelly fish

I have to admit I’m attracted to anything new and shiny, and particularly products and services that aim to create or propagate value through networks and networking. I was therefore intrigued by the recent launch of Jelly, which has the gravitas and experience of Biz Stone (of Twitter fame) behind it. It certainly meets the “new” criterion, but I’m not so sure about the “shiny”.

The principle behind Jelly is summarised in a short blog post by Biz Stone himself:

“Using Jelly is kinda like using a conventional search engine in that you ask it stuff and it returns answers……Jelly changes how we find answers because it uses pictures and people in our social networks….getting answers from  people is very different from retrieving information with algorithms….it has the benefit of being fun”

Mmm, well I’d question whether this is anything like using a conventional search engine. I’d agree that getting answers from people is very different to getting answers (search results) from algorithms, and whilst this might be fun for some, it opens up the system to the mad and the bad, so you can forget about getting consistently serious or factual answers to your questions.

The concept behind the Android/iOS app is simple: take a picture of something and ask a question, and wait for the folks on your social networks (and their connections) to provide answers. This immediately limits the reach of who is likely to respond, since the question will only be seen by your followers and their networks, compared to, say, Quora, which has a global reach.

Answering questions about a picture is not exactly unique, and I believe I’d get a lot more relevant answers by using Google Goggles. But maybe the “fun” bit comes from the unpredictability of the answers you get by using Jelly?

When questions from your network come up, you can either answer them or swipe them away if you don’t have the answer; essentially, you’re being forced to make an instant judgment on whether you can answer the question, and once you’ve swiped it away, you won’t see it again unless you’ve starred it – which is a request to follow the answers.

The questions come up seemingly at random, with no ability to filter by subject matter, to avoid questions by nuisance users, or to go back to previous questions you may have dismissed by mistake.

I think it’s rather hopeful that the network-effect is going to create value from the questions and answers that get submitted, not least because of the problems in filtering out the trivia. I appreciate it’s early days, and maybe once the trolls and idiots have had their fun it might settle down into a more useful visual crowdsourcing environment.  However, I remain sceptical, and find myself swipe, swipe, swiping away those endless trivialities such as “what should I pick from this menu?”, or “what am I drinking?”, or “do you like my iPhone cover?”. I noted that one Jelly user went out of his way to answer every question he could find with “feta cheese”, an endeavour which was either epic trolling, an attempt to make a point about the lack of junk filtering on Jelly, or possibly both.

So, having tried it, albeit for a limited period, I have to admit I can’t see the point of Jelly. If I want a question answered I’ll stick with Google+, Twitter, Facebook or Quora, and if I’m out and about I’ll use Google Goggles. But, don’t take my word for it, try it yourself and see what you think. Maybe I’m the wrong demographic and that there is a latent network of people who thrive on trivia out there. If so, it should do well, but it’s not a network that I want to belong to!

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Social Collaboration: it’s the people not the technology, stupid!

Regardless of what labels we give to collaboration technology, the one constant feature is the people, i.e. the staff, the workers, the users. The continuing paradox is that, despite all the evidence of poor adoption rates; the accepted wisdom that “build it and they will come” doesn’t really work, and the oft’ repeated mantra that “it’s not the technology, it’s the people that count”, most collaboration strategies are treated as technology projects and not organisational change management projects.

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The workers production lineI was recently reflecting on my personal experience as a knowledge management consultant in deploying enterprise and business collaborations solutions over the past several years. I’ve seen various buzz-words and labels come and go, and witnessed the morphing of Enterprise Content, Document and Records Management Systems (ECM’s, EDM’s, ERM’s) into varieties of Enterprise 2.0, social CRM, Social Intranets and – more recently – Enterprise Social Media and Social Business solutions.

But regardless of what labels we give to the technology, the one constant feature is the people, i.e. the staff, the workers, the users. The continuing paradox is that, despite all the evidence of poor adoption rates; the accepted wisdom that “build it and they will come” doesn’t really work, and the oft’ repeated mantra that “it’s not the technology, it’s the people that count”, most collaboration strategies are treated as technology projects and not organisational development (OD) projects.  Putting in a shiny new enterprise collaboration system is unlikely to change behaviours that have been conditioned by corporate culture, and less likely to be successful if it’s not integrated with the business processes – and yes, that includes email! Becoming “social” and sharing knowledge is not something that is solved by technology; it’s something that is solved by addressing behaviours. Sure, technology can be an enabler, but it has to be part of a wider and more holistic change programme.

This was certainly the case when I was asked to deliver a strategy for more effective learning and sharing across local government in 2005, which resulted in the delivery of an award-winning community of practice platform that ultimately supported over 120,000 users and more than 1000 communities by 2011. The technology was only one (fairly small) component of the project. Most of the effort went into winning hearts and minds in local authorities that this was the right thing to do, and encouraging staff to narrate their work and share good practice. It was also underpinned by training, coaching and mentoring on how to manage and facilitate on-line communities – activities that don’t often feature in technology-driven projects.

So, with the benefit of some hindsight and experience, coupled with a more contemporary view of emerging trends, the following sums up what I think are the key factors in the emergent social collaboration ecosystem:

  1. Collaboration is about people and behaviours; technology is an enabler, not a solution.
  2. Engagement with and adoption of social collaboration technologies should be part of a wider organisational change programme. HR should be as much involved as IT.
  3. Seek out, support and encourage your ‘network weavers’ and collaboration advocates as part of your social collaboration strategy. Every organisation has them but, dependent on culture, they may be considered disruptive (but social technology is, by its very nature, disruptive). These are your “Trojan mice” who will stimulate those parts of the organisation that you can’t reach.
  4. Knowledge repositories are places where knowledge goes to die. They may still be relevant to researchers but are places of last resort for knowledge workers. Knowledge workers want instant access to expertise, information and knowledge, and increasingly rely on social networks and search engines to find it.
  5. It’s never been easier to connect with people with same/similar interests, or to find answers from “experts”. Anyone who is not yet fully engaged with the social web is at a distinct disadvantage.
  6. ‘Buy’ is trumping ‘build’, but systems integrators are key. Collaboration technology is increasingly powerful and flexible and can be adapted to all but the most specialised needs. However, integration with legacy systems and business processes still requires specialist knowledge.
  7. There is a growing call for products and services that help us manage the information torrent. All of the leading collaboration technology vendors now provide aggregation, filtering, trending, and personalisation capabilities. Look for features available in web products/services such as Bottlenose, Strawberryj.am, Prismatic, Twylah etc. in Enterprise solutions.
  8. There’s no such thing as privacy on the web – get over it!
  9. The web has been with us for almost 20 years, social media and social networks for over 10 years. Any workers (managers, supervisors, staff) who still claim to be digital technophobes in 2012 are a lost cause. Focus effort on those who see the benefits of on-line interaction.
  10. The future is mobile and ‘appified’. More and more work is being done on the move; the growth of BYOD and COPE initiatives are weakening the ties and dependencies on the ‘lobotomised’ corporate PC in the corporate workplace. Any enterprise collaboration solution must support agile and mobile working.

If I were a CEO deploying a social collaboration strategy, I would be looking for something far more expansive than a technology solution.  The 80:20 rule would seem to be appropriate; if the technology accounts for 20% of budget, 80% should be devoted to organisational development. I wonder how many more failed collaboration projects it will take before this philosophy takes hold?

What do you think?

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Google+ answers the Facebook challenge


Google has announced details of it’s latest foray into social networking with Google+. The core components appear to consist of :

  • Circles (equivalent to groups) – where information can be shared privately. With Circles you can put your friends from Saturday night in one circle, your parents in another and your boss in a circle all on his own!
  • Hangouts – lets friends know that you’re free for a video chat or impromptu virtual meet-up.
  • Sparks – a sort of activity stream subscription feature, It looks for videos and articles that it thinks you’ll like, based on what your interests.

There’s also a Google+ mobile app available in the Android Market, which will no doubt soon come to Apple’s App Store.

It seems that Google have put a lot of thought into making all of this hang together in a seamless and natural way, and this is clearly laying the foundations for Google’s future presence in the social web. It will certainly make Facebook sit up and take notice, but I’m not sure whether it will pull many users away from Facebook. However, I do believe there is room for more than one social media behemoth in the market, and for the significant many who dislike Facebook or find it overly complex, Google+ offers a compelling alternative.

Google+ is currently in an invitation- only “Field Trial” period, so only a select few can access the service at this time. Google+ will be going live to the general public soon, the company says.

More details of the release are contained in the following article, sourced from Digital Trends:

Google turned the world of social media on its head today with the much-anticipated unveiling of the “top-secret” Google+ project, a massive new type of service that essentially turns all of Google into one giant social network.

While Facebook, with its 700 million users, is a vast social network, made for connecting with as many people as you can get to accept a friend request, Google+  aims to redefine the way people connect online by letting users create a variety of smaller groups, called “Circles,” which allows people to share information and content with only the friends or colleagues they choose.

gplus_circle editor

“We believe online sharing is broken. And even awkward,” said Google’s President of Social Vic Gandora in an interview with TechCrunch. “We think connecting with other people is a basic human need. We do it all the time in real life, but our online tools are rigid. They force us into buckets — or into being completely public.” By comparison, he says, “[r]eal life sharing is nuanced and rich.” With Google+, Google has tried to adapt the richness of real life interactions into an online software.


Like Facebook’s News Feed, Google+ gives users a dashboard with a flow of updates from their friends. Shared content, comments, photos etc are divided into “Streams,” one for each Circle of friends. Users can customize their security settings to allow some contacts to view personal information while hiding it from others.

Google+ can also be controlled through a newly redesigned navigation bar, which will appear at the top of the page of any Google product. Through this, Google+ users can access their profile, check notifications, and instantly share content to their various Circles.


Google has also built in a friend-finding feature called “Sparks,” which acts as a kind of search engine for hobbies. So if, say, you’re interested in single malt Scotch whisky, simply enter in “single malt Scotch” into the Sparks search bar, and Google will deliver content it thinks you might enjoy. (Google’s recently-launched +1 Button plays a role in what makes it to the top of these lists.) Find something you like, and simply click on it to add it to your list of interests. You can also connect with fellow enthusiasts in the “featured interests” area, and see what they are chatting about.

Next on the staggering list of Google+ features is what Google calls “Hangouts,” which is a group video chat feature. A Google+ user can simply launch a new Hangout session. Friends are alerted, and are free to join in. Up to 10 users can be in a single Hangout at a time. Any more, and they’re placed on the waiting list.

The final major feature to Google+ is its mobile functionality. The Google+ mobile app is currently available in the Android Market, and will soon come to Apple’s App Store. The Google+ mobile features include “Huddle” for group messaging, as well as an auto-upload feature that automatically adds any photo or video taken on your smartphone through Google+ to a private folder in the cloud. These files are then accessible the next time you log on to Google+ on a computer, and can be shared for up to eight hours after upload.

Google is currently in an invite-only “Field Trial” period, so only a select lucky few can access the service at this time. Google+ will be going live to the general public soon, the company says.

From what we’ve seen so far, Google+ seems like a giant leap in the right direction for Google — and far more robust than Buzz or Orkut. Obviously, there’s a lot here to sort through, so check back soon for more on Google+

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Discovering the value of Social Networks and Communities of Practice

There has been much written about measuring the value of online communities such as Social Networks or Communities of Practice.  However, most pundits tend to think of measuring value from a purely financial perspective, i.e. the Return on Investment (ROI).  Clearly this is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor that should be considered. Surprisingly few organisations consider the value that is being created by having better informed and more knowledgeable staff, or the potential value of getting closer to customers and local communities. These latter factors are quite difficult to measure in terms of ROI, and will normally take more than one business cycle (e.g. a financial year) before any meaningful financial measures can be made. Unfortunately – and especially in today’s financial climate – organisations plan around 1 or 2 year business years, whereas online communities will not usually be time-limited, and very rarely be driven by finance and budgets. Allowing for the relatively small cost of bandwidth and technology, conversations are – for the most part – deemed to be free.

I was pleased to see that Matt Rhodes over at Freshnetworks did refer to non-financial ROI, though I would have liked to have seen more emphasis on the value that is generated for the members of these online communities, rather than the usual social media impact measures (numbers of page hits, numbers of conversations etc.) – important as these are, and adequately illustrated in the accompanying presentation.

I have taken a slightly different approach to the issue of how the value of online communities is measured, giving more emphasis to the discovery of value rather than the dispassionate assembly of a series of metrics – financial or otherwise. I should also add that the perspective is on public sector communities since this is where I’ve been primarily engaged over the past few years. The main points are covered in a presentation I gave to the Public Health Information Network Conference earlier this year and reproduced below:

1. We need to distinguish between cost and value.

I used the humble nutmeg to illustrate this point. Weight for weight more valuable than gold in 17th century Europe. The spice was held to have powerful medicinal properties. It rocketed in price when physicians in Elizabethan London claimed that their nutmeg pomanders were the only certain cure for the plague. So, cost was very high, but the value? Well, despite the assertions of the medical experts of the day, it certainly didn’t cure the plague!

The point is reinforced by the following quotations:

I conceive that the great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by false estimates they have made of the value of things.
Benjamin Franklin 1706-1790.

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900.

2.  We are more likely to find and create value from the communities we choose for ourselves than the communities we are compelled to join.

I have argued that one of the key characteristics of a Community of Practice is the fact that the members are self-selected, i.e. they are there because they want to be there and not because they have to be there. They may select to become members because they share the same interests, passions and goals as the other members. A successful CoP will create value for the members – either collectively in terms of working towards a common goal or objective, or personally, e.g. through self-development or sharing knowledge.

3. We are re-discovering networks and communities and through them, re-learning how to have conversations.

It’s sad fact that 20th century working practices and pressures of modern life have led to a sense of personal isolation. Mass production, prescriptive and repetitive tasks and limited social opportunities in the workplace have created a workforce conditioned to think and act as a corporate entity, limiting individual aspirations and creative thought.  The opportunities for sharing information and knowledge have been gradually eroded over the past 50 years; social clubs have closed; people don’t have the time (or money) to regularly socialise after work; we are increasingly driven by task-oriented emails.

What is sometimes forgotten is that professional communities, where good and notable practice is shared amongst fellow artisans, are still flourishing today in the form of Worshipful Companies (over 800 in London alone), with most having existed for many hundreds of years. Communities of Practice are not new; they’ve just discovered they can exist in a virtual world. The key issue for many people though, is learning how to have on-line conversations.  The following points from one of the slides are worth re-iterating:

  • We don’t know what we don’t know
  • People don’t learn from content – they learn from other people.
  • We don’t know the value of knowledge until it is shared
  • We need to find where the conversations are happening….and join in!


Dialogue is NOT:

  • Discussion, deliberation, negotiation
  • Committee, team, task or working group
  • Majority wins, minority dominance, groupthink

Dialogue IS:

  • Free-flowing exchange of ideas among equals
  • All ideas are solicited and are considered
  • Best ideas rise to the top

4. ROI doesn’t just mean ‘Return on Investment’

I’ve taken the liberty of using something I once heard Euan Semple say: “Keep the I small and the R will look after itself”. I think this is a good mantra because anyone worth their salt in the Social Media/Social Web world knows that implementing a social media strategy doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The days of multi-million pound corporate websites is fast diminishing, and anyone with this amount of money to spend is going to be quite rightly questioned on ROI – and they better make sure they have the answers.

I’ve given some alternative definitions for ROI, such as:

  • Return on Influence
  • Return on Interaction
  • Return on Impact

These are the things which should be measured for value, and add a different dimension to the traditional financial measures.

5. Recognise that value to the organisation is different from value to the individual.

There is an over-emphasis on measuring value of online communities from the organisational perspective. I’ve given a (financial) example in the slides, using cost savings of online conferences as an example.  However, it is important to remember that there is also a value to the individual in being a member of an online community, and this aspect often goes unrecognised (and unmeasured). The value or benefit to a community member is quite difficult to measure (the member may not be able to articulate or recognise what knowledge they have gained from the community) and any outcomes may not be easily aligned with corporate goals (e.g. job satisfaction). It is nevertheless important to consider this dimension in any overall value measurement. Qualitative metrics can provide some answers, but it’s also useful to examine quantitative data to gain a better understanding of the community itself, e.g.:

  • Number of community members
  • Number of contributions
  • Number of contributors
  • Number of inactive users

Having a Social Network Analysis (SNA) application is even better, since this can reveal who the key ‘nodes’ are in the community chatter. It’s a useful discipline to consider what would happen to the online community if these community members decided to leave the community. Dependency on one or two ‘power’ contributors should be recognised as a risk.

The presentation concludes with a number of lessons learnt from the IDeA CoP platform , which has now been active (and by all measures, successful) for over 3 years. It’s always useful to have a distilled list of “do’s” and “don’ts”, herewith reproduced:


  • ..identify and look after your facilitators – they are quite often the difference between successful and unsuccessful communities
  • ..let users drive their own experimentation and use of tools.
  • ..target and support areas that have a clear desire and need.
  • ..build trust and relationships face to face where possible.
  • ..condition your managers for failure – not every CoP is going to be successful.
  • ..use online conferences and ‘Hot Seats’ to build membership growth and encourage conversations.


  • ..think you can force people to collaborate
  • ..assume everyone understands how to use  Web2.0/social media tools.
  • ..assume everyone knows how to contribute.
  • ..worry about the ‘lurkers’.
  • ..let command, control or hierarchy hamper or kill your community
  • ..set unrealistic targets

I hope this has been helpful to anyone involved with social networks or communities of practice, and particularly those who need to show that their online communities are delivering value. Just remember there is more to ROI than finance!

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