A few of the organisations that I work with have raised very similar queries with me recently. In each case, they’re public or voluntary sector bodies who don’t really have issues around proprietary information.
They believe that most of the information that they have should be made as widely available as possible.
Reading this article on enterprise social networks, it occurs to me that there’s a real quick-win to be had by an enterprising developer working with non-commercial organisations (where none of the drawbacks highlighted in that article are an issue).
Here’s an example; I’ve been helping someone in a leadership position wrestle with his in-box. He’s getting dozens of emails every day asking him for information. Often, he’s relaying the same – or similar information to lots of different people. It gets repetitive as well as laborious for him.
He’s the victim of his own success here – he’s very analytical, and he has the reputation for being a maven.
I suggested to him that he should just use an email-to-blog tool (posterous, tumblr etc) every time he gets an email requesting info, he should post his reply to a blog and then e-mail his correspondent with a link to his answer. Once he’s done this, he can institute a ‘don’t email me until you’ve looked at my blog’ rule.
Obviously, this only works where there isn’t information that would compromise any ethical rules around privacy or confidentiality etc.
I then suggested that he urge his staff to start using a single social bookmarking account (delicious or pinboard, for example) to give this information a taxonomy of sorts. Or, more accurately, a folksonomy.
This makes the information that he releases more findable. Being public information, it will open up lots of useful new conversations. If his colleagues start doing this as well, we end up with a rich growing knowledge-base.
Trebles all round!
But here’s the problem: there’s waaaay too much bootstapping involved there. Anyone who has ever designed a social application will confirm that this won’t work.
So what would? Here’s my first crack at a workflow using an imaginary Google app I’ll (annoyingly) call Mavenify:
- Enquirer emails maven asking for information.
- Maven has a Google Apps email account (this is important – it won’t work with a non-browser mail client)
- Maven writes a full reply that doesn’t include sensitive information and doesn’t rely on any context from the enquirer email
- Maven ticks a box in the email composing panel saying ‘mavenify this‘ (see what I mean about annoying?)
- Maven also gives their reply a few tags to help with the classification
- App then strips out the enquirer’s text and posts the answer on a blog-ish website
- App also sends the enquirer an email saying “thanks for your email – I’ve posted my answer on the blog – here [link]
- The blog has a social bookmarks pane at the bottom of each post that allows readers to apply their own taxonomy and tags – and these tags are then imported into the Maven’s social bookmarking system.
This means that every reply is on a blog (with comments enabled), has an RSS feed and is also in a structured knowledge base (similar to a public delicious account). He can even do some standard social media integration to help him publicise his replies more widely (to twitter, in particular).
I don’t think that this would be too hard to build – and I suspect it would be a very popular application.
Anyone care to develop this for me?