Monday, March 23, 2009

"Emergence" at the Boston KM Forum

Last Thursday I attended a Boston KM Forum talk titled "Emergence—Get with it or fade away" by veteran social networker and knowledge worker Dan Keldsen (, blog at Dan is a good speaker as well as the only person I know of whose Twitter profile picture is skewed sideways.

He was also kind enough to share his interesting slides on Slideshare. Jack Vinson has also posted on the event, in a fashion that compliments what I do here.

What is Emergence?

Emergence is not a great term because people don’t necessarily know what it means. A better term might be “viral success.” The main focus of his talk was about social media applications that have enabled such success, and how you can either take advantage of those systems directly yourself, and perhaps even structure your next effort to try to make it "viral."

He mentioned at the outset Andrew McAfee's seminal article on Enterprise 2.0 titled "The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration." and its SLATES acronym of key features that allow knowledge workers to organize their work in the way that fits them best, i.e., that support and enable emergent behavior.

He recommends “Emergence” by Steven Johnson (reviewers on Amazon were not so kind, I have to point out).

One feature of "emergent" practice is, how easy is it people like customers, employees, and partners to understand what you’re doing and “spread the word.” Are you providing a path for community feedback?

Quantitative Analysis of Emergence

Dan explained the simple underpinnings of "viral loops" or other behavior that will multiply and spread over social networks. He drew on a presentation by "Arch Viral," .

First a user issues an invitation to participate to "friends" (in Facebook parlance) or others to whom that user is known. Some percentage of those friends accept (the "install flow"), and some percentage of those friends go on to issue additional invitations (as part of the "engagement flow"). If the average number of friends invited times the average percentage of acceptance with initial or later add-on activities is greater than 1, then you have a viral application.

(For the math-challenged, here's an example; if a new user asks 5 friends to join, and an average of 22% of them accept, then the "viral factor" is 1.1, and the application is viral. If only 18% accepted, the "viral factor would be less than 1, and the application would not be viral).

Multiple invites and “bites at the apple” will increase the rate of viral adoption. Small changes can have a big effect (like the wings of a butterfly).

This part of the presentation struck me as the most directly useful to my knowledge work. Correlating Facebook applications to the spread of Enterprise 2.0 is not at all intuitive.

But inside the enterprise, relatively small barriers to adoption of social adoption can potentially destroy the viral spread of potentially useful applications. It behooves us then to make the barriers that new groups and employees have to hurdle to get to the tools as low and as unbureaucratic as possible, and to find ways to get "second bites at the apple" that mimic the
continuous engagement and reward that the more successful social applications provide.

My other main takeaway was Jack Vinson's comment that one should be able to discover or uncover the networks and effects that could let power of emergence affect the enterprise.

Emergent Social Networks

In Dan’s last transition he was able to tap into a rich vibrant network because of his work with LinkedIn, his blog, etc. People could Google his name and find out a *lot* about him. He also leveraged his extensive LinkedIn connections in his last trip to Denmark.

Dan is another musician, albeit from the rock & roll side of the tracks. He showed as another social web application with excellent user feedbacks that enhance emergence. For instance, you get “props” for promoting things that people like. In turn you can give out “props" and you eventually get “badges” that show rank. You can also “reblipsomeone's "blip" and if they do the same to you, you get more credit.

Slideshare is another emergent social tool that shows how many times each presentation has been viewed. Dan’s slideshare on “Maps, Concepts, Process” has been seen 9,423 times (actually 9,485 as of this writing!) His presentation “Who’s The Boss, MOSS?” has been seen 5,917 times after an initial audience of "only" 100.

How to Enhance Emergence and Make it "Go Viral"

Blip taps into people's interest in game-like interactions with personal rankings, and also the social need to give and get respect. Other applications might tap into the competitive instincts by showing daily, weekly, or "all-time" rankings.

Slideshare similarly gives its users feedback about how many times their presentations have been viewed, with feedback allowed at the contributor or presentation levels.

The more detail you provide in your online interactions, the more likely you will be able to connect with people of like mind and similar interests.

Why tap into emergent platforms?

You may find something rich that you wouldn’t have found otherwise, along with new ways to learn information that you can share. Having more connections expands the potential of what you can accomplish.

Normally professional organizations would serve some of the functions that LinkedIn is now. These organizations represent professional contact networks and may be in trouble unless they adapt.

Participant-driven platforms are another communication revolution. What kind of meaningful mechanisms will make them more useful and avoid us getting swamped?

  • Enable easy sharing of posts, information, or whatever else your application addresses (Twitter, Facebook, "Add This" application)
  • Set up reward systems that will draw on competitive instincts and show progress (any online game,
  • Count hits, downloads, views, and such to show people how much of interest others have taken in a piece of news or application (Youtube, Amazon)
  • Enable a friend or follower system that will let people connect to each other, give them some idea of who else is around, and share their interests (Facebook, Youtube, etc.)
  • Tags to let people identify for you, rather than coming up with your own terms (Facebook, Delicious, #twitter)

The best social information applications combine all of these characteristics.

As Jack says, let people "Find, Share and Compare."

1 comment:

Dan Keldsen said...

David - Great to have you at the discussion last week, and thank you very much for this summary.

Emergence is definitely not a mainstream term - which is why I quickly (I hope) side-stepped into the viral, social media and social networking realms for purposes of discussions. Battling against mainstream adoption of words and phrases - emergence has not YET emerged as the term of choice, but such is life.

I'll have to run an experiment to see if renaming and posting a second edition of this presentation with "viral" rather than "emergence" in the title makes a difference on how widely it spreads.

Experimentation! A key to understanding whether emergence works, and how can the odds can be improved.

Much easier to understand these concepts with real examples rather than purely the scientific concept of emergence. My hope is that by uncovering personal uses of these ideas, it will be much easier to apply them in other arenas.

Thanks again - and for anyone who would be willing to share "enterprise-focused" emergence or viral experiences of their own, please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Have been running ongoing research for 6 years on this topic - and don't plan on stopping any time soon.

Dan Keldsen