Mathew Lowry

Tackling corporate memory loss and innovation failure requires a different paradigm than that offered by social media.

My previous post (Plus ça change) was, I realise now, about more than just EC corporate memory loss, but it took a comment from a reader before I realised it. Which neatly demonstrates how sharing leads to innovation.

Of streams and intranets

 Age of Information Overload
image via Novell & Novell

The day after I published the rant post I met an EC intranet manager, as I was seeking insight for an intranet I’m building for a client. He’d read the post and confirmed what I’ve long thought about Yammer, the EC’s principal ‘social’ internal communication tool, also used by my client:

“Yammer is great for keeping in touch and wasting your time, but try finding something useful that passed through your stream last week, let alone 4 years ago. Fat chance!”

Yammer is a great example of ‘all stream, no memory’ – even if users tag their content, there’s damn-all chance you’ll ever be able to use those tags to find that content later, as taxonomy menus in Yammer (and Google+, and Facebook, and everything else) are basically impossible to find.

None of these systems want you looking through the back catalogue for useful content – the essence of the stream is nowness, as Allen Tan pointed out in 2013: The Year ‘the Stream’ Crested.

As a result, the stream is a lousy organising principle if you want people to actually use information more than an hour old:

“The stream—that great glut of ideas, opinions, updates, and ephemera that pours through us every day—is the dominant way we organize content…. Problem is, the stream’s emphasis on the new above all else imposes a short lifespan on content. … anything older than a day effectively disappears.

Solely relying on reverse-chronology turns our websites into graveyards, where things pile up atop each other until they fossilize. We need to start treating our websites as gardens, as places worthy of cultivation and renewal, where new things can bloom from the old.”

Gardens, Not Graves

As I commented at the time, it’s so nice to see someone else use gardening metaphors when discussing content strategy and information architecture (here’s mine).

Streaming into your library

Would you like to read more? Well, while the above two posts are the only ones tagged stream on my TumblrHub, some of the 15 or so posts tagged architecture probably should be as well.

They’re not because us humans are reasonably crap at classifying things consistently, and Tumblr doesn’t tag my content automatically.

But BloggingPortal will, as Christophe pointed out:

“Bloggingportal (& others like BlogActiv and soon EU Community / EurActory) could also be expert memories / Community knowledge management?”

– Christophe, commenting to Plus ça change.

Now the Bloggingportal reboot is designed to help open up and support the EU online public sphere – the idea of using it to tackle corporate memory failure was new to me. But the problems underlying both problems are basically the same: an over reliance on either the stream or on passive libraries to organise useful knowledge, as opposed to cat videos, listicles, clickbait and other Content Form Champions of Social Media.

Now Facebook has long tackled this problem through its Newsfeed algorithm, and Twitter is following suit. But wouldn’t t be nicer to have some sort of control over what you see and consume, rather than outsourcing that to a listed US company (TumblrHub: algorithm)?

Organisations need the best of all worlds – a stream of useful content flowing into a high-performance library which they control.

Which is, as Christophe pointed out, exactly what BloggingPortal does: by aggregating feeds together and processing them with automatic semantic analyses, it creates both a torrent of streams (global, one per category, one per tag) and a high-powered library, where users can quickly find useful, valuable content from yesterday and 5 years ago using faceted search (see the EuropCom slidecast). I might even include EU communications in the taxonomy if I ever get the chance.

A lesson in innovation

What this shows more than anything else is how sharing creates opportunities for innovation.

It’s well known that innovation happens when you take people with different perspectives, backgrounds, cultures and goals and bring then together around the same problem (TumblrHub: innovation) – each additional pair of eyes sees connections others won’t.

In this case, for example, a reader pointed out the (now) obvious connection between two blog posts written by the same person. How much more would happen if ideas flowed better between different people in different countries and economic sectors across Europe?

Guy in a hamster wheel with a mobile phone
Image via Terri Wingham, A Fresh Chapter

Perhaps this is one of the things we lost when the social web migrated into the clickbait-infested, advertising-driven walled gardens known as social media platforms. Like hamsters in a Stream-driven spinning wheel, we click and we share marketing-driven content more, and think, write and comment a lot less, haunted by Fomo and addicted to the dopamine rush.

Which makes my intranet project (social layer + bookmarklet-driven curation + old-fashioned blog posts + faceted search) even more pressing.

Further reading

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  1. Neat. It’s one of those tools which pops onto my radar now and then (28 posts here) but I’ve never had the opportunity to actually check it out.

    I hope to hear more about your experiments with Slack, particularly: is it a tool for a project, or a company? The intranet I’m aiming for will grab useful ideas and resources from all projects across the company, allowing them to circulate across siloes.

    As the article on ReCode which brought Slack to my attention puts it, “Tools have a critical yet subtle impact on how work gets done. Tools can come to define the work, as much as just making work more efficient.”

  2. Coincidentally, some colleagues installed it last week, so I took a quick look. At first glance I just don’t see the Library function I was looking for. Is there a useful plugin somewhere I missed?

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