Where Social Networking succeeds ... and fails

Mat Newman  February 15 2010 21:52:08
Today, I felt compelled to write an article on Social Networking - specifically, where it succeeds and where it fails.

I read Ed Brill's post today about The ongoing challenge of striking balance.  I found it incredible that anyone would accuse Ed of NOT "... teach[ing] them about your products. Give tips, tricks, techniques, suggestions. Take questions. Give something away. Help people.".

The thing I found interesting about Ed's post was - in my opinion - his appropriate response to another commentators views on the "social" side of "Social Networking".  I follow Ed on twitter, I've connected with him on LinkedIn and I read his blog.  I have never spent any significant time with Ed Brill personally, beyond attending breakfasts and user group meetings during his occasional visit's down under, or a chance meeting during Lotusphere when he's not surrounded by others also wanting to chat with him.

As someone who feels the need to know what is going on in the Yellowverse, I find Ed's articles, posts, comments and Tweets informative and engaging.  That Ed takes the time to write (especially on Twitter) about the other events and happenings in his life - and that I can easily access that information - is a benefit provided by Social Networking that enables exposure to an identity that just 5 years ago would not have been possible.  What I have learnt about Ed while reading the "other" comments is that Ed is obviously a passionate person, whether it's about Lotus software, family, or his local community.  I actually find that information comforting and invaluable.  I LIKE that an obviously passionate person is in charge of the software that I have built my career and professional reputation upon.

Where Social Networking Succeeds

I use WildFire, it's a Lotus Notes side-bar plug in developed in-house that allows me to post to and consume feeds from Social Networks.  Early this afternoon I read a post that interested me from LotusEnergisers  and I followed the link in the post (I'm using the wildfire cache here to re-post into this blog entry)
Image:Where Social Networking succeeds ... and fails LotusEnergizers Working mum @momwhoworks1 laments her XBox 360 support experience and marvels at IBM Lotus [blog]
Feb 15, 2010 2:11:20 PM from

At the other end of the link was a blog post from a user praising her treatment after writing about her frustrations while "attempting" to use Lotus Notes.  Refer above, specifically "Help people.":

[Quote 1:]

I recently posted about how my new employer uses Lotus Notes and my frustration with the To Do function of Notes. Okay, I’m being kind to myself, I was pretty adamant about how much Lotus Notes sucks. And to my surprise and amazement (thank you Google!), I received a comment from Ed Brill, the person at IBM in charge of Lotus Notes. How cool is that?

Ed and I corresponded back and forth about the issues I was having with the To Do function, and how it couldn’t do what I wanted it to do. He engaged in conversation, he listened, he didn’t get defensive, he truly wanted to help and figure out why I was frustrated with his product. Needless to say, I was very, very impressed with Ed and a culture at IBM that would cultivate someone at that level to engage with a lowly little user like me and my little blog.    [
original link]

I don't know about you, but that looks like Ed taking the time to help someone.

Intrigued, I browsed the blog to find the post that prompted the entry.  No surprises there, another user writing of their frustration while using Notes - and most distressing; claims that basic functionality was missing from the Notes software.  In this case:

[Quote 2:]

"To give you just a small flavor for how much Lotus Notes SUCKS – it can’t print out a task list. I’m dead serious." [Link]


Ed "pinged" Twitter and got the following:
  • Just learned something new about my own product - even Notes 8.5 does not appear to have the ability to print a to-do list. Am I missing it? 10:03 AM Feb 11th from web
  • @graemehuttley @John_Lance aha, print- selected view, or print from calendar. 10:10 AM Feb 11th from web
  • Well that's good news, there is a way to print the to-do list view and also a calendar printing style just for to-do lists. 10:12 AM Feb 11th from web

The tweets from Ed's followers obviously helped him resolve momwhowork's problem, that's a community in action, and a great example of where Social Networking succeeds.  

Now the flip side:

Where Social Networking Fails

Ed is an example of someone I follow that I feel ads something to my knowledge of what is happening in the Yellowverse.  The list of people I follow includes many individuals that I have found who constantly Tweet or Blog about Lotus software and who's views and opinions I respect. The draw back to some social sites (and obviously one of the advantages from a personal perspective) is that you choose who you follow, are friends with, or are linked to.

In the last couple of weeks I had the opportunity to help someone I follow - as Ed used his network above - to answer a question.  So, Mat being Mat,  I did.

In the first instance, my advice obviously went unnoticed.  I didn't think much of it, until the second opportunity arose.  After taking the time to write a quick blog post with detailed steps to resolve the issue, and then tweeting the link to my advice,  I then realised that the person I was helping didn't follow me and would not have seen my post.  So after a quick investigation, I found an email address, and sent a summary and the previously mentioned link.

Now, if I hadn't have realised that the person I was helping wasn't following me - what potentially could have happened to my attempt at assistance?

How many people express frustrations, or post questions, not realising that they are being assisted?

Sure, there are tools available within social networks that you can click (eg: @matnewman on Twitter) that display those responses, but who knows that those tools are there, or even use them?

The direct equivalent is the user who didn't know you could print your To-do list from within Notes (yes, of course you CAN - you can print ANY list from Notes view!), do they also know they can ask a question and then click in the right place to see the answer?

So is Social Networking good, or bad?

Many of my colleagues, associates and friends don't understand what tools like Twitter and Facebook can allow you to do or why you would use them.  Obviously, from my examples above it's easy to site reasons why Social Networking tools might be viewed as a waste of time.  In addition, there is the extraneous stuff that is often viewed as irrelevant "washing my car now", or "getting on a plane".

But you know what!  It's often the little stuff that's interesting, and the opportunity to connect to, interact with and assist people is why I personally will continue to use Social Networking sites.

Oh - and if there is something you think Notes can't do, feel free to ask me.  We've just built in a feature that lets my Social Networking plug-in notify me directly any time someone mentions my handle ( @matnewman ), so I won't miss it.


1Ed Brill  02/16/2010 1:38:26  
Where Social Networking succeeds ... and fails

thanks for sharing the thoughtful analysis, Mat.

There's one other point that I often mention when a discussion like this comes up. Because we've now established a relative online "affinity", I know more about you, can size up that you are a good chap, and figure that the next time we are in the same city, it might be a good time to catch up over a beer. Whether that helps us socially, professionally, or both, either way it's made the world a little smaller and closer. I *love* that aspect of living life online.

2Mat Newman

02/16/2010 9:11:30  Where Social Networking succeeds ... and fails

@1 - Ed, you're spot on.

A few weeks ago you wrote about Family, it's a theme that's been ringing around in my head ever since Lotusphere.

You are completely correct, the ability for like-minded individuals - or those working in the same space - to be able to connect is THE tremendous benefit of Social Networking tools.

Alan also recently commented ( about the online:off-line balance, which reinforces your point. The fact that SN tools empower us with information beyond the corporate facade and provides insight into the personalities behind the professional is the thing I find addictive about them.

And yes, it does make the world a smaller place. I don't have to travel to the other side of the world to connect with people I identify with, but it's great to know that if I do there's potentially someone there I can relax with and have a 'quiet beer' with.

That's gotta be better than staring at a hotel wall at night.

Mat Newman IBM Champion

3Tony Hollingsworth  02/19/2010 13:59:16  
Where Social Networking succeeds ... and fails

Hello Matt

I just picked up this via your "mention" on Twitter (I handle @LotusEnergizers on Twitter down here in Sydney)

Thanks for linking back to my tweet - that was an inspiring story from @momwhoworks1 and glad to see I'm not he only one who thinks so.

I have only been operating in the IBM Lotus world for the last 15 months or so, and my respect for the people in that community continues to grow. The point about Ed Brill is he writes with passion and wisdom. I enjoy every post and tweet too - you may remember his blog post from 2008 when Ed was in Sydney, I was chuffed to be mentioned in his post in terms of the value of Twitter and relationships (one of my passions) Here is the link:

{ Link }

To your points about the importance of the "other stuff" that we write on social networks like personal, family, our interests etc. This was well documented in writer Clive Thompson (@pomeranian99) piece in the NY Times entitled "Brave New World of Digital Intimacy":

{ Link }

So popular was the response that Clive wrote another piece replying to the comments:

{ Link }

Thanks for getting me thinking about these topics again: another of my great passions!

Best regards,

Tony @Holllingsworth

4Mat Newman

02/20/2010 22:58:00  Where Social Networking succeeds ... and fails

@3 - Tony, they are great articles, thanks for bringing Clives article back from my periphery.

One of the things I love about Social Networking is the insight, and not to paraphrase Clive's article too much, it's the "ambient awareness" factor that in my opinion makes SN so valuable.

To pick up on what's happened to Ed in the last week, what would have it been like if he had not booked alternative travel arrangements for his trip to Germany, had - at the last minute - to jump through hoops to get there, and arrived at the last moment tired and frustrated from a long arduous journey.

Who in the audience would have recognised that they weren't getting a normal 100% effort from Ed (not to say that it wouldn't happen anyway), if they had no idea of the ordeal that he had been through to get there.

Flip side - I am travelling to the event, see Ed's post about potential travel difficulties, and make alternative arrangements myself.

Scenario 1 gives me an appreciation that the presenter has bent over backwards to get there, and that he has done so means so much more (ref: "glamorous business travel"). Scenario 2 provides me with information that assist me personally.

Either way - the VALUE of posting that information has been revealed, and I'm thankful that Ed is not restricting himself to just; "Lotus Notes 8.5.1 has a new spell checker".

Again - Social Networking has "Succeeded" and proven it's value.

That's proably why I love our WildFire Lotus Notes side-bar so much, it brings so many networks into one place,at one time.

I just wish there was a tool that would have let @momwhoworks1 find the guy from a small fishing village on the west coast of the island of Tasmania, who would have been able to answer her question immediately - before she blogged her frustrations about it.

Now wouldn't THAT be an outstanding network to be a part of.

Mat Newman IBM Champion

Mat Newman

THE Notes (formerly IBM/Lotus Notes) Guy. Productivity Guru. Evangelist. IBM Champion for IBM Collaboration Solutions, 2011/2012/2013. Former IBMer. HCLite. Views are my own.

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