Actually, this isn't fair to the eRoom product. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the product.
The same thing happens with Sharepoint, Notes, etc.
You put a tool in everyone's hands.
And, because they're human, they end up using it very differently than you intended.
Sometimes this is good, sometimes not-so-good.
A Bit Of Background
When EMC acquired Documentum, we found that they had made an acquisition of their own -- eRoom -- which was a web-based collaboration product.
After Documentum acquired eRoom, they took in a direction of collaborating-around-content, which is inherently cool, at least to me.
When EMC acquired Documentum, all of the sudden it was very Politically Correct to be putting up eRooms everywhere. If you had a team, or a project, or a function, you needed an eRoom.
Now, at other companies, this could be file shares, or Sharepoint, or Lotus, or whatever.
So, what do you think happened?
At first hundreds, then literally thousands of eRooms sprung up everywhere.
Each with its own little puddle of content.
Each with its own membership model -- no peeking in an eRoom where you weren't invited!
And each configured to spam you ruthlessly every night with the latest Automated eRoom Report about each and every document that was added or modified, or ...
Worse yet, these were just repositories. Think Web 1.0. Very rarely, if ever, did a true community spring up.
The IT guys tell me that we now have something like 20TB of eRoom content of questionable value hanging around in our infrastructure.
Now, to make matters worse, I've seen some eRooms that have been built and used by our Documentum brethren. Some of them are vibrant, participatory and interactive places in their own right. A few are excellent examples of SM and community principles at work.
But that same tool, in the hands of the rest of EMC, turned into a document dumping ground.
And there's a lesson here to be learned.
So, Here's What We've Learned .. And Are Going To Try And Put Into Practice
- Users of a tool have to be helped to learn to use the tool in the intended manner.
Unless we closely work with the first few community builders (and participants) on how to build, use, grow and manage a vibrant community, there's a significant chance that it will all turn to grey goo by itself.
Now, I am optimistic that once we get to a critical mass of proficient community developers, managers and participants, they in turn will provide community support to the new folks. So we probably will have to do less policing -- er, consulting -- over time.
But we'll still need to keep a vigilant eye on untoward behavior. In particular, we don't want this to turn into another place to post content at EMC, unless there's a community working with the content and collaborating to make it better.
I don't want another content dumping ground. We have plenty of those already, thanks.
- No private spaces.
The value of a community is in its openness. Anyone can look around, join in, participate, etc.
When we did eRoom, we did just the opposite. We assumed that, even if you were an EMC employee, you had no right whatsoever to know what other people were doing, let along contribute a bit if you felt so.
On a similar note, EMC has a fundamental issue with openness, trust and cross-functional collaboration. We're going to make sure that the community norms foster the behavior we'd like to have, rather than the behavior we used to have.
By extensions, small work-groups of people in the same org don't get semi-private spaces, either. You're either a community (crossing multiple boundaries) or you're not.
- No avatars or pseudonyms.
Part of openness, trust, transparency, etc. is knowing who you're talking to. As in using your real name, complete with badge number, email, etc.
I can see all sorts of untoward behavior arising from a decision that it's OK to be anonymous on a corporate platform. However, if you'd like something cool for your picture, that's OK with me (so far).
- No explicit guidelines regarding conduct.
Lots of concerns about vulgarity, inappropriate conduct, etc. on this platform we're putting up behind the firewall.
I think we need to trust people to behave as they would in a business setting. We've figured that out (mostly) for internal business meetings, email, concalls, etc. -- this should not be any different.
Inappropriate behavior is inappropriate behavior, regardless of the medium you are conducting yourself in. Enough said.
- Some communities are inherently temporary in nature.
One of the problems with eRooms is that they came into being very easily, but never ever went away. And they'd keep spamming, and spamming, and ...
I think we need to recognize that many communities will be temporal in nature, e.g. here's a big project we're working on, and now it's done and ready for archives. Or we tried to start a community, and it never got off the ground.
Still part of the community platform space, but clearly marked as "archived" rather than active.
- Not everyone will get to build a community just because they asked to.
We're going to create some guidelines, a lightweight review process, complete with hands-on help as people approach this.
Just saying "my boss said I could do this" won't cut it with me. I pull enough rank around here to make it stick as well -- at least, most of the time.
- Lurking is free.
We are mindful that the way that people evaluate as to whether they want to join a community is that they lurk (quietly nose around without identifying themselves) first.
We want to acknowledge that.
No need to register if you just want to nose around (albeit you're behind the firewall, and we know who you are).
Of course, if you want to post, contribute, you'll have to tell us a bit about you, but that's a fair trade, isn't it?
- Don't get heavy-handed on taxonomy and classification.
The Clearspace folks are pretty vocal on this, and I'm seeing their point.
Much effort and anxiety gets put into creating a heirarchical taxonomy up front, e.g. Marketing, HR, etc. that usually reflects the org chart.
We're not going to do that, for several reasons.
First, we think alternate navigation tools (e.g. taxonomy, search) will be better than strict heirarchy.
Second, we're hopeful that there will be a self-emergent structure that we can react to and shape, rather than try to define a-priori.
Third, we're trying to get people to cross functional boundaries. Setting up an org-chart-style taxomony defeats this purpose.
I am arguing for a VERY lightweight top-level taxonomy as follows:
-- Getting Started
-- Active Communities
-- New Communities
-- Archived Communities
.. and then, beneath that, maybe one more level of taxomony, but that's it!
On a tangential note, I think there might be a need for power users (such as myself) to have a personal space (beyond just a blog) but that's something we can come back to later, can't we?
So, there's probably a few more guiding principles we'll get to.
But that's enough to chew on for now.