My recent post on Ze Frank on Web 0.2 continues my exploration of the topic of information use with regard to web users and the conversational nature of technologies that support peer to peer discussion, collaboration, and multimedia publishing. As you may know, the ideas about society, culture and the impact of these supporting collaborative technologies are cemented for me in the cluetrain and validated when the blogosphere and social software universe are viewed as information ecologies But what is missing is the literature examining the culture and behavior of enterprise users in these new technology-supported, social network environments.
In response to my post about Web 0.2, a colleague asked,
Does anyone address the question of the distinction between the public user/consumer and the organizational user/consumer? Speifically I mean that users of the "Internet" have desires and they have nothing to lose by freely expressing those desires whiteand pushing for tools to fulfill them. Whereas in the corporate environment there are politics, secrecy/info hording issues, and other factors that may cause "Intranet" users to silence, suppress or censor their desires, leaving us unsure what is really wanted. Or am I making up this distinction?
No. To my knowledge, no one makes that distinction in the literature or blogs that I've read. When we talk about Internet users, we're talking about the public and for the majority of the time we're talking about young , middle to upper class consumers who are active users of ecommerce and social software sites. They are the ones playing with social networking, creating, editing and publishing multimedia -- having conversations using the traditional language of the designer. Consumers are becoming prosumers because they have the means and time. They take risks in breaking rules because they don't know them. They publicize their lives on Flickr, MySpace and YouTube, eschewing privacy because they're being raised in an era of blogs and reality TV. But the main point is they are conversing openly and without fear.
But the corporate environment is obviously different, especially with regard to large enterprises. We don't appear to have as consistent a picture of the corporate intranet user and their behaviors as we do of the prosumer. But my colleague's impression of Intranet users, while insular with regard to its picture of a large enterprise user, is most likely valid. The constraints of a cultural and political environment might affect this type of users' ability or desire to converse in these new media languages and engage in a culture of collaboration, open conversation and risk. I think the degree to which a corporate Intranet user will risk engaging in these behaviors is also dependent on the corporate cultural (e.g. an open culture like that implied at Google vs. that at an older, large enterprise) and on the influence of an employees participation in the more open, collaborative culture of the public Internet. A flickr and MySpace user who happens to work at a huge corporation might be more inclined to act against a cultural norm that's characterized by witholding knowledge rather than sharing it.
I haven't come across any references to published literature researching environmental influences of corporate users yet. But then, I don't spend any time searching deeply on that topic either, e.g. in journal databases. It's a good question. One that I hope to begin exploring. In the meantime, I'm going to ping a few colleagues to see if they can point to any research in this area which might be found, I think, in ethnographic study and incidental findings based on user surveys.
Update: Articles on this topic provided by colleagues
I received some great feedback from colleagues, which I've listed below. Also, see the references added in the comments at the bottom of the page. I will be skimming this literature in the coming days and report back on how they relate to my questions, most importantly this one:
When describing the difference in behavior between the risk taking and openness of the public Internet Prosumer vs. the corporate intranet user are methods discussed that make the evolution of the behavior of the business user more like the prosumer?
1) Lilia Effimova blogged the following.
- Stenmark, D. (2005). "How intranets differ from the web: organisational culture's effect on technology (PDF)". Proceedings of ECIS2005, Regensburg, Germany, 26-28 May 2005.
I could also imagine relevant things in the work of Jonathan Grudin - one of his interests is in corporate adoption of "internet technologies". This one should be on the topic:
- Messaging and Formality: Will IM Follow in the Footsteps of Email? (MS Word) T. Lovejoy and J. Grudin, 2003. Proc. INTERACT 2003, 817-820. (PDF)
2) Nick Kings provided an article about the Ben Schneiderman's model for trying to describe differences in behaviour. Schneiderman's book, "Leonardo's Laptop" is available on Amazon. Nick touches upon it in a paper he submitted to a workshop on semantic tagging.
3) Abe Crystal offered references from ASIS&T Digital Library.
- Informational environments: Organizational contexts of online information use. Roberta Lamb, John Leslie King, Rob Kling.
- Maintaining knowledge management systems: A strategic imperative. Kevin C. Desouza, Yukika Awazu.
- INTRANET USERS? INFORMATION-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR: AN ANALYSIS OF LONGITUDINAL SEARCH LOG DATA. Dick Stenmark and Taline Jadaan. ASIS&T Annual Meeting - 2006 (ASIS&T 2006). Austin, Texas, November 3-9, 2006
- A Perfect Storm for Intranet Search: How One Company Navigates. Moderator: J. Gregory Moxness, IT Fellow, CTO Missile Systems, Raytheon
4) Boris Mann offered a related link on the topic of incenting collaboration. The topic references game theory, karma and corporate communities.
- Komment Karma -- "Private and Small World is game proof as there is no benefit in gaming it. (Except inside corporate communities. Workaround there is to ration the Karma so that it gets spent wisely)."
5) Stacy Surla offered this paper:
6) James Robertson reminded me of their paper:
7) A colleague suggested that I look at the Sociology literature and work by Lee Sproul. He also told me to go back and re-read Shirky and Englebart on related topics.
- Social software as a term. Clay Shirky. Many 2 Many
- Social Software and the Politics of Groups. Clay Shirky.
- Re-Place-ing Space: The Roles of Place and Space in Collaborative Systems. Steve Harrison and Paul Dourish.
- Process, Work Practices & Social Software. Mike Gotta.