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April 30, 2012


Social Media Facilitates Broader Change

by AlanSBPerkins

Thanks to Cloud concepts, we are discovering that using computers in interconnected ways is much more powerful because it is much more natural to the way people have always worked.

Social media facilitates interactions between people with common interests who would otherwise not be able to find each other, amplifying each others’ messages and providing opportunities to synergize, collaborate, share, compare etc.

When we started talking about the semantic web quite a few years ago now, I don’t think we quite envisaged that the ontology would evolve naturally as a result of the interactions between people based on them voting with their feet. Yes, the academic community continues to move inexorably towards intelligently classified and centrally categorized data, but the real momentum is coming from dynamic ontological discoveries, crowdsourced and crowdwitnessed. People are gravitating to concepts in Twitter through hash tags, lists. They are coming together in groups in LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+, and sharing video channels in YouTube and applications in all sorts of platforms.

What has been accomplished with these tools is phenomenal, yet I have a sense that we are only just beginning to get a glimpse of the possibilities inherent in this phenomenon, possibilities largely based on publish-subscribe metaphors.

Currently, with a few exceptions, publishing-subscribing is limited to following, joining groups, liking, commenting adding to lists, inviting others, subscribing to RSS feeds etc – very concrete, deliberate actions on everybody’s part to enter a defined relationship with each other or with some content.

The potential in this model will not be fulfilled until we are able to make publishing and subscribing decisions at a metadata level in a much more fundamental way.

Examples at a personal level include being asked by eBay if you would like to receive notices of any reviews or product recalls for any product you buy. Online retailers could add value by figuring out what your interests are from your purchases and browsing, and offering to introduce you to groups of like minded people, forums, blogs, YouTube channels, Tweeters talking about topics related to those products. Naturally all of this would be subject to the permission of all parties.

What I find particularly exciting is the potential for enterprise systems in allowing publishing and subscribing to their business objects – invoices, opportunities, contacts, vacation incidents etc. This provides visibility when anything happens to any object you are following, for example a certain contact logs a case, an opportunity close date moves, an invoice gets paid.

Salesforce has done some interesting work here with Chatter, but what we see today is very nascent. Currently you have to subscribe to individual records. True, there are some add-on tools that help with automatically choosing records, but they don’t go nearly far enough.

In the future we will be able to automatically subscribe to events and non-events in our data based on whatever individual criteria we establish, here are some examples:

  • Follow for one month any contact in my database who tweets using a certain hash tag. (automatically Follow them in Twitter, add as Friend in Google+ and LinkedIn, and SMS me whenever they post on our company forum.
  • (from an earlier post of mine) Add to my Salesforce Chatter feed details of any opportunity that is owned by anyone in my team, is more than one standard deviation above last quarter’s median and relates to a specific product line.
  • Notify me when any contact posts in our company forum if they are listed on any open opportunity in my team.
  • Email me when an invoice has gone past its due date for any customer whose previous invoice was paid late, over a certain dollar amount.
  • SMS me when one of our product codes is mentioned in a tweet more than fifty times in an hour for the first time in three months.
  • SMS me when a case is logged by a VIP contact, or anyone with a high-value open opportunity where the case is marked as high priority and nothing has been done for more than four hours on that case ticket. And send me the results of the survey when the contact completes it at the end of the process.
  • Forward me emails  sent to a generic account, but only if the sender relates to an outstanding invoice over a certain dollar amount.
  • Notify me when the average quoted price for any product drops more than 10% in a week.

Obviously there are an unlimited number of examples and one of the challenges will be in providing a common user interface design across multiple platforms and security protocols and in the context of customized metadata. Another challenge will be in getting people to think holistically to see the possibilities outside the constraints of the box presented in front of them. Kind of like a brilliant clothes sales person who can see the tie or scarf that makes the suit and shirt just right for you.

A number of steps have already been taken towards this vision, but so far they are primitive. Examples that come to mind are Salesforce Chatter, Google GMail filters and the daily newspaper concept that creates a newspaper from articles linked from twitter posts they follow in a list. One very interesting tool that is directly aimed at the concepts I am articulating here can be found at (if this then that) . This is a tool where you can define a number of actions possible across platform based on events triggered in another platform (or the same one). Well worth a look – lots of potential, but it has a long way to go yet.

ifttt offers crossplatform triggered business rules

People are voting with their feet to break down the barriers artificially built by competitive interests in the new global IT world. Companies are slow in responding to this and there are enormous opportunities for businesses who truly understand how to connect all the dots.

Read more from Innovation, Social Media
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. marco
    Apr 30 2012

    Yep, I remember a discussion I had a decade ago about building software ‘agents’ that know your interests and then monitor ‘the internet’ and notify you if they find anything that matches your criteria (and we were not talking about mere search-keywords).
    The internet has grown considerably since then, but somehow this concept of agents (which I still believe is a valid model) has not yet materialised to the level that you can ‘sit back and let the interesting stuff come to your screen without all the noise’…. Today it is still a very hands-on task to subscribe to channels and in many cases still requires sifting through lots of not-so-interesting data to find the really interesting bits.
    But, those guys at ifttt are indeed on to something at least. Signed up immediately (now I’ll have to figure out what to make it do that will really add something of value to me). BTW, also a really scary privacy issue to have this one company have access to most of my accounts and build a seriously comprehensive profile of my online persona (google and facebook will probably LOVE to get their hands on that data).

    • May 1 2012

      Thanks for the comment Marco. Interesting perspective on the privacy side of things. I will have to write something about that at some point too.


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