Social business tools are relatively closed, even though they derive most of their intuitive power from the pull model of communication, as more openly typified by Twitter and other ‘consumer’ or personal social networks. But they simply aren’t designed to create an open social context for businesses to coordinate work across corporate boundaries.
However, I think that we will see people trying to bridge that gap. I call that area Open Work, and I believe it represents opportunities for innovation and productivity improvements equivalent from what we are likely to get from today’s work media (enterprise social networks).
Here’s a chart (one that I am developing for a research report) that might indicate what I am getting at.
This chart breaks things up along two axes: open v closed communications and push v push communication. The upper right quadrant is open/pull communications, also called the open follower model, with Twitter as perhaps the best example. Today’s work media solutions attempt to leverage the power of pull communication, where the recipient decides what information is valuable, and information sources simply post, relying on streams to carry information to the appropriate recipients. However, work media is totally closed: the only people that can receive work media messages have been invited: they are known and authorized.
Open Work will play at the boundary, so that companies can have the safety and security of work media solutions for much of their communications and coordination of work. But there will be an added element: the ability to publish some information to the wider community, including unknown potential contributors and partners, and to receive messages back as well.
For this to happen, the work media model must be extended to include capabilities of content management systems, like WordPress, and perhaps something like form-based interfaces.
What I envision is the ability for an individual, Bette, who works for a consulting company called AdjectiveNoun, to publish messages freely to the entire community of other users of a next-gen work media solution, more like a Twitter model. However, unlike Twitter’s text messages, Bette’s messages could be more structured, including open-ended tasks (for crowdsourcing), calls for proposals, or polls, for example. The responses from anyone following her in the community would be streamed back into whatever project she had defined for publishing those messages from, and results could be aggregated, calculated, analyzed, and routed using whatever capabilities her next gen work media tool might support.
Podio is one company that seemed to be headed in this direction a few years ago when they launched, but in the year leading up to and since the acquisition by Citrix they have been pouring their energies into other activities. But just because the leading work media tools seem to be ignoring this market niche doesn’t mean that it won’t be an area of innovation in the near future. I am betting on it.