Jakob Nielsen, Intranet Social Features report

Jakob Nielsen, the renown user experience consultant, has posted a report on Intranet Social Features.

Below are a few excerpts that I found especially relevant to Ponzu, together with my comments;

Similarly, there’s now no doubt that social features are even more useful inside the enterprise for supporting employee collaboration and knowledge management. We used the slightly hokey term “Enterprise 2.0” to summarize our early research, and the new research confirms that the real effect of social features on intranets is to change how organizations function by making communication more open.

We also believe that social networking features in a conference program system (Ponzu) has a real positive effect on scientific research.

Little training is required. Users take to social tools easily when they’re given them for the right reasons and in the right work context. It takes little training, transition time, or urging to get people on board. In general, you should design social tools that employees can easily use without special training. In addition to following usability guidelines, you can achieve this goal by emulating popular Internet designs, such as the 5-star rating system known from Amazon and Netflix.

Avoid advertising the new tools as “new tools.” Instead, simply integrate them into the existing intranet, so that users encounter them naturally. For example, you could turn an existing bookmarking (or “quick links”) feature into a socially shared bookmarking feature without great fanfare.

It is essential that Ponzu’s features are modeled after popular Internet designs. That is why our “like” system is modeled after Facebook. We should resist making features complex. In fact, the example that Jakob Nielsen mentions, “turning an existing bookmark into a shared bookmarking feature” is essentially what we did. In Ponzu, we turned an existing bookmark (my schedule) into a “like” feature.

Despite companies’ concerns about employees using social tools with impropriety, infractions remain rare.

As long as attribution is built in and required, communities police themselves.

As with Intranets, the users of Ponzu will also be professionally accountable for the comments that they make. There should be no concern about impropriety.

In user testing of intranet search, we’ve found that it’s essential to provide a single, unified search across all intranet resources. This finding was replicated for social intranet features: they should be searched as part of the overall intranet search, rather than having individual siloed search engines for each social tool. Depending on the implementation, the need for integrated search can be a strong argument against outsourced or hosted social software, because many SaaS services don’t support federated search.

This is a strong argument for integrating all the social features inside Ponzu, instead of relying on third-party SNS or commenting solutions. Using Facebook or Twitter badges to provide social features is not a good idea. Neither is using DISQUS for the commenting system. Everything should be within the same system so that we can provide integrated search.

The most important conclusion from both research rounds is that social intranet projects must be driven by business needs — that is, the problem or pain point you’re trying to solve.

The reverse process is common, but deadly. Don’t start by saying, “Twitter and microblogging are cool, and I’ve heard good things about Yammer.” Our report says good things about Yammer, too, but that’s no reason to throw it onto your intranet. Maybe your business needs something completely different.

The difficulty here is to understand what the “business needs” of scientific conferences actually are. If you think that the needs are only to learn about research, then you don’t need social features in the first place. Only by perceiving scientific conferences as a social event can we understand which social features we need, and how we should implement them.

Today, many companies see intranet information sharing and other social features as offering true competitive advantages. It’s not something to build because it’s fun — it’s a workday utility. Social tools are an expected part of a knowledge worker’s standard toolkit, and many executives recognize this.

Widespread use of internal social media breaks down communication barriers. Although that sounds good, it can threaten people accustomed to having a monopoly on information and communication.

So, before implementing intranet collaboration tools, you must consider your company culture. If people are strongly committed to the “knowledge is power” tenet and don’t want to share, then sharing technologies will obviously fail.

Also, there’s still concern that, given social tools in the workplace, workers will fritter away their days and not get any work done. What we actually find — in companies with vibrant social platforms — is that employees are no more inclined to fritter away their work hours on non work-related communication with social tools than they were likely to do before these tools existed.

Social sharing is not for all scientific conferences. The medical community tends to be more rigid then the scientific community, with a stronger hierarchy and more formality. Hence it might be less suited than the relaxed molecular biology scientific society.

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