No doubt in recent years web application has been improving significantly in terms of usability. Particularly, the beta mode approach often involves users to bring in their feedback. But still, unfortunately, I have not heard from any beta mode website in an corporate or organizational setting yet. In this blog post I want to argue that the engagement through social software often happens because of a lack of usability.
When do wikis become mature? Let me start with the harshest examples: Wikis. To be provocative, I would say there is hardly any wiki solution in the web, which entails the basic rules of usability. Navigation is somewhere, extra features fly around and orientation within a wiki is often a catastrophe. Yes, sure, Wikipedia is successful and many people participate, but the software behind it, mediawiki, is rather confusing. But also hosting models such as pbwiki and wetpaint lack usability. I've myself trained people to use it and realised that many of them (of all ages) struggle.
Good Usability = Higher Motivation If you want normal internet or intranet users to engage in social software, it has to be dead simple. If you do not give enough orientation it will be hard and you can only overcome that because your content is so thrilling. But in which cases is it a content so thrilling in an organizational setting? That is one reason why in private people engage much more in the social web - because it isabout topics that matter to them; to make it more interesting. So in an organizational context the barrier to engage is even higher.
The easiness of blogs Contrary to that are blogs, where applications such as Moveabletype or Wordpress can be downsized to the limit. Login, click for post, write a post and publish. That is easy. The difference is then also the wayit is published. Frontpage first post. I have done a blog post! In my experience blogs versus wikis have a much more intuitive approach. Contrary to this is for example Ning - a nice social network application.
Pick up the users We have to understand that the majority of internet users focus in email and google search. All the fancy web2.0 tools are just at the beginning. Stories and experiences about the difficulty to implement content management systems say a lot about that. Most websites in my opinion are still overloaded for the average user and give too many offers and too little orientation. Not without a reason critics saythat these tools are a waste of time. In terms of efficiency, social software has to go a long way.
Small is beautiful Social software in an organization can also simply mean that I can rate content or leave a comment on every intranet page. Not common in most organizational systems. A classical structured website with options to edit here and there might be easier to understand and to engage than a whole new wiki. Small gradual steps might be often abetter choice then to come with something completely new. This way one can experiment with options to interact and to offer what thecommunity really wants.
Do not underestimate complexity of social software One last example is delicious, a social bookmarking platform, which I really like. I presented this form of knowledge sharing many times and gave trainings. I thought it is so clear and easy. But although the design is quite simple, I had to realize how long it took me to understand this application yet alone tagging and all the features. So in essence we seem to expect too much from users and easily overwhelm them with new tools and features. Although the motivation to participate is anyway low. If we want to achieve and end through social software we have to focus on its users first of all.
This is a blog post series about my experiences on web2.0 in an organization, consisting of at least 26 different blog posts highlighting potentials and challenges and focusing on success factors. Please feel free to comment, contact me for further information and/or let me know which other topics within this context you would be interested on.