Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

2 April 2009

Social Media Goals

Clark @ 9:25 AM

I spent yesterday touring the Web 2.0 expo (part of the time with fellow miscreant Jay Cross), and it led me to think a bit more about social media tools and approaches.  After touring the floor, having lunch, and touring the floor some more before the keynotes, my reflections have to do with hybrids and implementation.

We were prompted to visit Blue Kiwi, which is probably the leading European social media platform.  Talking to them, and the others there (Vignette & Lithium) has me reflecting more broadly.  Mzinga is clearly targeted at the learning space, being integrated with an LMS.  Vignette, on the other hand, started as a CMS for KM, but then added social media around it.  Drupal is an open source CMS that’s been used for social media, and Elgg similarly started as an open source portfolio tool but has expanded.

It’s an interesting question about whether to keep your social media separate from your other tools, or to couple them with some other core functionality. Vignette’s story about building on their core content management system supporting knowledge management makes sense from the point of view of mining value out of the discussions. Yet, for a learning group, Mzinga’s integration of formal and informal learning is also plausible.  And, of course, there’s now Sharepoint’s integration of social tools around resources.

On the other hand, a pure focus on social networking may be the more natural framework, but how do you get power to leverage the content generated?  Coupling them makes sense if you’re coming from one direction or another, but I’m trying to integrate formal, content management, knowledge management and more into a seamless ecosystem.  Do you integrate, or do you have APIs to couple capabilities?  On one hand, an integrated solution is less work than an integration exercise, but on the other hand, I don’t expect there to be one all-singing-all-dancing solution.  Tony Karrer, riffing off of BJ Schone’s post which emphasizes making things work and play well together, looks to LMS vendors partnering more, and I reckon that loose coupling makes sense.  However, I don’t know if having a separate app for blogs, wikis, and all works, as you want profiles and discussions to be integrated, so reckon you do want a social media environment, or you’ll have to use a lot of glue.  I’m still wrestling with this.

What definitely makes sense is having an implementation strategy for success. Lithium was advertising ‘successful’ communities, and so I naturally inquired about their approach.  They said that they don’t start small, because to succeed you need critical mass.  I asked about incenting the connectors and content producers, and they indicated that was part of their strategy as well.  They indicated that there was a VIP room exclusively for big contributors where they could hobnob with the C-suite.  Getting the C-suite to actually play struck me as a success factor, but hard to guarantee a priori.  They almost seemed more a services firm though they did claim to have a solution as well.  (I have to admit that their firm’s title, however, makes me think of chemical psychotherapy, not a great mental image.)

As a contrasting approach to success, Blue Kiwi’s pricing model is based around the activity in the system: if you’re not using it, you’re not getting value, and consequently you shouldn’t pay. Their threshold seems low: 2 accesses a month constitutes chargeable activity, whereas I would say 2 a week would be more indicative, but the cost for that activity is relatively low.  What excites me, however, is the notion of measuring and trying to charge for the activity as an indirect measure of value.  A more direct measure, the knowledge grown, seems to be a really exciting opportunity.

I’m realizing that what’s really important is the knowledge shared, and grown.  I reckon that optimizing performance is going to be just the cost of entry, and the competitive advantage will be the generation of new opportunities.  The key, then, is accelerating the growth of accessible actionable knowledge.  So that’s what I’m focusing on. How about you?


  1. Charges for access is not a viable business model in the long-term. Similarly, something like the current approach Blackboard takes to nickel and diming their customers, trying to lock them in, making their data non-portable … well, it’s a case study in how to put yourself out of business. Even D2L, which seems to treat their customers far better, has a horrible looking template system and the data is still closed off.

    Taking some of these LMS or CMS tools and building in ‘2.0’ features is also wrong-headed. I’ve seen some experiments where things like discussion forum exercises were taken out of Moodle or D2L and moved into something like a Facebook group or page for that course. It’s worked remarkably well because it’s a little piece of customizing something learners are already doing. While this may be more appropriate for college or high school students, it’s probably workable in the enterprise too.

    I think what starts to really make sense is to think of social networks in terms of simply that – social networks. They can be leveraged for learning or any other activity, and that’s where building connections through APIs may make some sense. It’s far more logical to give people useful tools in a network framework and build upon things they’re already using for learning purposes.

    As for knowledge grown and shared? I think you can look at that in a lot of different ways, but make sure that the data created remains the IP of the person or people who created it. In my mind the LMS of the future will allow learners to publish and share what they want.

    Comment by James — 2 April 2009 @ 3:50 PM

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful comments here Clark. This bit is particularly spot on: “However, I don’t know if having a separate app for blogs, wikis, and all works, as you want profiles and discussions to be integrated, so reckon you do want a social media environment, or you’ll have to use a lot of glue. I’m still wrestling with this.” I think the required glue would be overwhelming — both in terms of complexity and how much you would need.

    Here are some of the less obvious gluey parts to consider around this question: do you want to have multiple moderation models? If your profiles are shared (as they should be), shouldn’t you also recognize that contributions across multiple media might be coming from the same person and therefore moderate their posts and them in a unified way? In other words, if I post inaccurate or inappropriate content in one media like discussion forums, wouldn’t we want to be able to quickly see other posts and contributions by this same person across other media like blogs, wikis, comments etc… to see if there is a pattern, or if other related content has been posted but not reported? I think the answer to this is a resounding yes. Unfortunately, this is pretty much impossible to do across multiple loosely coupled systems. On the other hand, with a common platform in a shared database with shared profiles, this is reasonably easy. We do some of this kind of stuff already.

    We might want to do all of the above for positive reasons too, like showing someone’s full activity feed so that I when I see a post by Clark and decide to visit Clark’s profile, I easily see all the other posts, contributions, and comments Clark has made, thereby strengthening social networking, expertise location, and knowledge discovery.

    I also see a future where we have a unified view of the formal and informal learning that a customer, partner, or employee has consumed or shared, and related analytics that show their contributions, their network, their influence, and their mentors. This gets to reputation management, recommendation engines, and analytics. Someday, I want to be able to see key contributors, key influencers, and key connectors in my community. This future isn’t all that far away in a unified world; we’re on the verge of some of this today (and I’m sure our competitors are too ; ). I can’t even imagine how we get there in a loosely coupled world.

    I just don’t see “loosely coupled” as an enterprise-grade strategy either now or in the future. I could be wrong. What I do see are enterprise-grade platforms that manage all the stuff I mentioned, but still enable blogs, comments, discussions etc… to be disintermediated and embedded in various other platforms like intranets, extranets, web-sites, portals etc… That has a ton of value in my mind and is something we do today but are looking to extend.

    One final brief point, in a couple places you noted, “Mzinga is clearly targeted at the learning space, being integrated with an LMS.” While I understand why you might have this perspective, Clark, it’s not entirely accurate. We have some very significant social media and community customers as well like Disney, Fox, ABC News, Ford, All State – some pretty big names. Some of these are marketing oriented, some are support, some are about innovation, and obviously some are about employee development and customer training. In any given month, over 1 billion social media interactions are handled by our site.

    We’re also one of the largest moderation companies around today, providing moderation-only services even for competitors’ communities. In terms of strategy, what we’re driving toward is the integration of the formal learning and performance technologies with the social media and community technologies to provide a true Social Enterprise Solution. The Social Learning Suite we released in February was really just phase one of this overall effort. You will see more from us on this front over the Summer. Stay tuned.

    Comment by Dave Wilkins — 3 April 2009 @ 7:58 AM

  3. James, I believe we’re in agreement: social networks are social networks, and trying to hybridize them doesn’t make sense. Interesting issue about the IP. I think that if you’re employed, maybe you own the idea, but if it was generated on their time and system, they have perpetual license to it, and the rights to commercialize, no?

    Dave, thanks for the thoughtful response. I agree with pretty much all you say. I definitely support the notion of moderating across social media, and recognizing what people contribute.

    I agree that I don’t want my social media tools disaggregated, but not sure I want it completely integrated with my LMS, and not my CMS, vice versa, or anything else I want to have. And I’m not sure I want an LCMS versus an industrial strength CMS, an industrial strength LMS, and an industrial strength social media environment, or where to do the tight and where to do the loose. I’m leery of the all-singing all-dancing too (a Swiss Army knife is handy, but it can’t do everything, and I have a tool box in the garage).

    Don’t get me wrong about Mzinga in the learning space, I don’t mean targeting the learning market exclusively, I do mean learning in the broad sense, formal and informal, which includes innovation (in my mind) and support. I hadn’t considered marketing, I confess, but conversations with the customer are social learning. So the social media side of Mzinga is fully implemented, I just don’t see the reason for the LMS to be critical, as opposed to say a CMS, or whether they should be disaggregated and coupled along task roles: one system for social, one for managing the formal, and another for managing content. Or whatever. Just as you make the case that seeing an individual from a whole picture, so does Vignette’s point about seeing all content, whether formally produced or informal as a unified whole from the point of view of knowledge management and generation.

    It gets back to your diagram: the community or Amazon model, what’s at the center? I like something BJ Schone said, about having it focus on the task/goal/objective. What do people need to do?

    And I could be wrong, this is thinking out loud :). Thanks again.

    Comment by Clark — 3 April 2009 @ 8:24 AM

  4. You think out loud good… ; ) I get you on the container question. My hope is that we quickly get to a point where the community is the center because then maybe the community can self-organize around task/goal/objective, pulling in resources and expertise as necessary. Both Cisco and Best Buy seem to be moving toward this sort of management model, and both have strong community technology in place. I’m not sure if one is leading the other, but the more control we give people to organize themselves and their content in ways that help them succeed, the better.

    On a side note, I like how you framed the innovation, support, and marketing as other kinds of learning. A few of us within Mzinga have been arguing the same thing for about 18 months internally, and people finally started seeing the light about six months ago, which is what is leading us toward a unified future. (Which I guess goes to show that sometimes “Wisdom of the Crowds” means “Tenacity of a Few to Say the Same Thing A Lot…” ; )

    Anyway, good thought as always. It will be interesting to see what new models and best practices emerge from this period of transition.

    Comment by Dave Wilkins — 3 April 2009 @ 10:46 AM

  5. Hi Clark,
    I am relatively new to your blog, I just recently saw it linked on Twitter and started reading. Some of your posts I find extremely useful but with some, like this one, I have almost no idea what you are talking about. I am clicking on the company websites trying to get some context for your comments. If you intend these thoughts for people already in the game then I guess that is fine, but for outsiders like me a few sentences of explanation and context would be really helpful.

    Hopefully, that was constructive,

    Comment by @GregoryJRader — 4 April 2009 @ 12:48 PM

  6. Greg, I value feedback, and yours was constructive. I didn’t realize it was so opaque, but I guess I do expect readers to have some background, e.g. knowing what a CMS & LMS is. Not quite sure what I could have provided as more context, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind.

    Comment by Clark — 4 April 2009 @ 1:10 PM

  7. […] and discusses how each approach is different. Decoupled vs coupled, or distributed or centralized? Clark then poses some questions on which direction you think these vendors should […]

    Pingback by Weekly Digest of the Social Networking Space: April 5, 2009 « Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang | Social Media, Web Marketing — 14 April 2009 @ 11:52 AM

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