Now THAT’s What I’m Talking About!

by Andrew McAfee on November 18, 2006

I put out a call for case studies a while back.  I was looking for examples of deep Enterprise 2.0 penetration —  where freeform social software platforms had become so widely and deeply used that they were no-longer-exceptional parts of the company’s technology infrastructure, and its culture.

Susan Scrupski
and Jerry Bowles, two of my fellow Enterprise Irregulars, came across one such example and directed it my way.        

I met yesterday with David Deal, Ray Velez, and Amy Vickers from Avenue A | Razorfish, a 1000 person, $190 million interactive services firm headquartered in Seattle.  AARF helps clients with digital marketing and advertising, with their customer-facing websites, and also with their Intranets and Extranets.  

What I found most interesting about the company was its own Intranet.  To hear David, Ray, and Amy tell it, the company’s traditional static Intranet —  the place where an employee would go to look up benefits information or peruse the latest press releases —  still exists, but has been marginalized by a suite of Enterprise 2.0 tools.  Ray fired up his laptop and showed me the company’s de facto homepage:

AARF"s E2.0 Intranet

Let’s look at this page one section at a time.  The leftmost area of the screen, which is consistent across all of AARF’s E2.0 Intranet pages, is devoted to navigation.  Underneath the search box are two sets of pointers to other pages.  The contents of the top box are imposed, the bottom emergent.  The top box has links to many of the usual suspects:  individuals’ pages, projects, and company information.  Underneath this is a tag cloud.  Employees can tag documents they upload and pages on the Intranet and Internet with helpful words and phrases.  The most popular of these tags show up in the box in alphabetical order, with font size indicating relative popularity.

The middle column consists of two boxes.  The top one is devoted to Internet content, the bottom one to AARF Intranet content.   What Internet content shows up?  AARF has built interfaces to the bookmarking site del.icio.us, the photo sharing site Flickr, and Digg, a site where members vote on the importance of news stories.  All three use tags, or something close.  

AARF employees have learned to add the tag ‘AARF’ when they come across a web page (using del.icio.us), a photo (Flickr), or a news story (Digg) that they think will be of interest to their colleagues.  Shortly after they add this tag, the bookmark (look at the top of the box), thumbnail of the photo (middle) or headline and description of the story (bottom) show up within the AARF E2.0 Intranet.  So AARF has found a fast and low-overhead way to let its employees share Internet content with each other.  It’s also free; these interfaces with del.icio.us, Flickr, and Digg require no fees and no permissions.  I find this simply brilliant.

The bottom box in the middle of the page shows most recent documents uploaded to and pages created on the company’s Intranet.  Since the E2.0 Intranet is essentially a wiki, anyone can create a new page.  AARF uses the free, open source MediaWiki wiki software.  This software is not WYSIWYG, so users need to be comfortable with the MediaWiki markup language.  

The rightmost section of the page shows the most recent blog posts.  At AARF, these include emails to group mailing lists, which are automatically posted to a bloglike page.

Obviously, this is a highly dynamic page where most content doesn’t stick around long.  Only the leftmost part of the page remains at all constant over time; the rest of it churns constantly.  In other words, it’s definitely not the place to go to find any specific piece of Intranet content.  So how popular and useful can it be?  

Highly popular, and highly useful.  I find that the sites I visit most often these days are ones that give me ‘the latest.’  They help me stay on top of (or at least feel like I’m staying on top of) the world, the blogosphere, and my personal network of people and content.  This page does the same thing at the company level for AARF employees.  It gives them ‘the latest’ about their work environment.  And it does so in a bottom-up and egalitarian fashion.  This page doesn’t contain the latest information that the company’s senior managers, or its IT staffers, think employees should know about; it contains the latest information that employees think employees should know about.

But what about navigating all the rest of AARF’s Intranet content?  Shouldn’t the home page help with that?  If that search box in the upper left works well enough, it does.  I believe the Googlers when they say "search is the navigation paradigm."  I bet that most people at AARF can quickly get where they want on the Intranet if they start at this page and type a few words into the box.

Other pages on the company’s E2.0 Intranet display the same smart mixture of standardized and freeform content, and other intelligent uses of new tools for wading through lots of content.  Here’s Ray’s personal page:

An AARF personal page

The content at the top is imported from the company’s directory.  All the stuff underneath he added himself.

Here’s a wiki page.  The graphic in the upper right shows other pages that link to it:

An AARF wiki page

And here’s the page employees use to upload documents.  They can add tags by clicking or typing:

AARF document upload page

AARF prides itself on its knowledge of how people actually consume and navigate through online content.  As I look at their own E2.0 Intranet, I think this pride might not be misplaced.  This Intranet passed a test I often use to assess technology penetration.  I asked David, Ray, and Amy what would happen if the E2.0 tools were shut down at AARF.  They looked at each other for a second, then all started laughing.  Test passed.

David had the only grey hair in the group, so I asked him if it was difficult for the more senior people at AARF to understand the E2.0 Intranet and contribute effectively to it.  His answer was intriguing.  He said that he had a nephew at college, and the only way he would consent to communicate with David was via Facebook — no email, no IM.  Because of this, AARF’s Intranet was not unfamiliar territory.  His anecdote provided more evidence that newbies think very differently about IT and collaboration, as I wrote earlier.  It also showed me that we oldsters can learn the new modes of collaboration if the incentives are in place.

AARF, of course, is an atypical company in many ways.  It’s full of people who slap together mashups in their spare time (like the one that lets AARF employees enter the addresses of lunch places near their Manhattan office so that they display on a Google Maps).  So its ‘empty quarter‘ of non-adopters is going to be comparatively quite small.  

Still, though, their E2.0 Intranet is a really nice piece of work.  I’m relieved that we finally have a clear case study of deep penetration of Enterprise 2.0 technologies across a sizable company.  And I’m optimistic that this example is a harbinger of things to come.

  • http://www.customervision.com Brian keairns

    Andrew,

    Instead of profiling a Seattle based company full of technologists whose job is to be on the cutting edge of intranet technology why donÂ’t you try to find out how a wiki might be perceived and used at a company far from the Enterprise 2.0 echo chamber and full of people who just want to get their job done and who embrace technology only when it clearly provides them with some benefit or advantage?

    I’m sure this example takes advantage of every clichéd aspect of Enterprise 2.0 with its wiki script and cloud tags but I can tell you that Enterprise 2.0 has a place in actual mainstream companies and it won’t look like this geeky example.

    For example, Communications Data Services is a Des Moines based provider of customized fulfillment services to publishers and direct marketers and they have gradually embraced the Enterprise Wiki concept. CDS is a mainstream, conservative Midwestern company embracing Enterprise 2.0 technology and itÂ’s deployed to users we don’t know or care about Enterprise 2.0.

    You say “AARF, of course, is an atypical company in many ways” and you couldn’t be more right about that. AARF is a great company and this is a great example of the smart use of technology but itÂ’s so uncharacteristic of a typical mainstream company that itÂ’s totally irrelevant as an example or a harbinger of broad Enterprise 2.0 adoption.

    Of course IÂ’m just a guy in Iowa selling wiki technology to Midwestern financial services and publishing companies and funding my company based on nothing but the sales of our software. What would I know about how mainstream adopters perceive wikis and related Enterprise 2.0 technologies? I guess I would have lot more insight if I was in Boston, Seattle or Silicon Valley and spent my time talking to the Enterprise 2.0 echo chamber at various conferences rather than spending my time in the Midwest talking to customers about how they might realistically introduce Enterprise 2.0 technology to their employees, customers and partners.

    -Brian

  • http://mikeg.typepad.com/perceptions/2006/11/andrew_mcafee_i.html Collaborative Thinking
  • http://www.connectbeam.com Puneet Gupta

    Andrew:
    Based on the company you have showcased above, and what we are also given to understand when we talk with enterprises, we feel Enterprise Social Bookmarking is being considered for enterprise wide deployment at many companies.

    One of the Fortune 50 companies (50,000+ employees) that we are talking with, wrote to us – the following email –
    Excerpt:

    “To give you some background, what we’re really trying to do is enable four broad types of connections throughout the Intranet (which can be chained to result in specific interaction scenarios):

    People -> Content
    People -> People
    Content -> People
    Content -> Content

    When people are looking for information, it may be found on a web page, in a blog, on a wiki, in a news article, in a document, in a person’s head, or perhaps within a group of people. The delivery mechanism or medium often doesn’t matter. We want to get that information to people as fast as possible so they can perform their work.

    Sometimes this involves actually finding people (subject-matter experts, or “go to” people based on role or responsibility) that can help by either consulting on a problem, attending a customer visit, presenting to a customer, etc. In other words, you’re not looking for the information in a person’s head, but actual participation from that individual.

    We see tagging as a potential connecting mechanism that could enable these interactions seamlessly throughout the Intranet.”

    -Puneet Gupta, Connectbeam.com

  • http://doncqueurs.com Jochem Donkers

    Dear Andrew,

    Interesting case of adoption of Enterprise 2.0 in a company. I agree with Brian that it remains another company who’s job it is to stay on top of technological developments. However, I think case like this will be important to convince more traditional organizations to make the move.

    I have one question regarding the image on the AARF Wiki page. This image reminds me a bit of Grokker (www.grokker.com). Do you have more information about this ‘hack’? Is this a plug-in that is publicly avialable?

    Jochem Donkers

  • http://www.openparenthesis.org/2006/11/20/the-intranet-is-dead-long-live-the-intranet/ Open Parenthesis
  • http://www.ddmcd.com Dennis D. McDonald

    This is a great article. That the company is populated by technologists may not provide as much of a leg up on adoption of this technology as one might suppose. I say that based on having consulted with some corporate IT departments where, for a variety of reasons, adoption of software based management tools has lagged behind their use by the business units supported by IT. I call this the “shoemaker’s children” dilemma. That AARF has gone as far as they have definitely goes against this; it is a pleasure seeing someone “practice what they preach!”

  • http://www.alacrablog.com/alacrablog/2006/11/another_enterpr.html AlacraBlog
  • http://webdoscero.blogspot.com Richard Johnson

    I agree with Brian and Jochem. I’m trying to deply some Entrprise 2.0 tools in my firm, but the cultural issue is too powerful. People who is not too close to technology, and doesn’t have spare time to collaborate, simply doesn’t do that.

    As you said in your HBS’s paper, it’s very possible the real need to get techies people to encourage other non-tech people.

    However, this example is really useful. One question: how about the security issue, with use of these tools like del.icio.us. Is recommendable upload internal bookmarks, pictures on external servers??

  • http://avenuea-razorfish.com Ray Velez

    From an avenue a – razorfish perspective, technologists are not the only people using the wiki. The rest of the folks work within user experience, creative, media, strategy, and delivery communities. So, the second question would be whether or not the other disciplines actually use the wiki. According to Mediawiki analytics, there are actually more page views for the user experience topic page than there are for the technology topic page(admittedly, there’s more analysis behind this).

    The bottom line from the way we are using delicous is that anyone can use the aarf tag and associate it with a bookmark. This potentially lets us get information from a larger audience. Which may turn out to be a bigger spam issue more than anything else. The only information that can be gleaned from this is what we think is interesting in terms of websites out there. Check out Alex Barnett’s post for a good explanation and yes I do like Starbucks coffee:). If it’s a site we want to keep behind a firewall we can make it private. The tagging algorithm and keywords we use internally to add metadata to wiki content and documents is completely behind the firewall.

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  • http://www.radiowalker.com Jeffrey Walker

    Nice case study. Yeah they are technologists but you have to grade them:

    A for design
    A for overall implementation

    … because remember these guys are marketing and design people too and well, they aren’t all nerds. This means that they have no excuse for not doing a great design.

    However you missed the lessons learned David Strom blogged today at http://strom.wordpress.com/ because these show the practical implementation stuff necessary to make an open source wiki really enterprise ready.

    So is it deep penetration of E 2.0? Well sure but I think the promise of E 2.0 is not just lightweight software, but also useful software that is not expensive, and David Strom reveals the time and effort Razorfish invested. I tried to draw this distinction today at http://www.radiowalker.com But thanks for the case; we need more like this.

  • Nathan Hart

    What I have yet to hear about is quantified improvements in the productivity of the organisation or individual. The only cases where this is demonstrated is where the organisation had either missed the last wave of collaboration tools like groupware and content management, or those tools were simply not utilised.

    Wikis in particular are dangerous BECAUSE anyone can write anything. People can be made accountable for bad behaviour, but only after the damage has been done. Most information on wiki’s has no quality assurance, only popularity assurance. ‘Old’ collaboration tools like groupware, newsgroups, content/document management and even standard intranets provide information sharing and collaboration, yet with tighter controls and QA mechanisms. The only genuinely original capability that wiki’s provide is the creation of ‘community’ content, and I’m yet to be convinced that letting anyone publish or change any information on any topic will lead to better outcomes for the company.

    Technologies with tight management mechanisms have them for the same reason that companies have them. Companies pay for management types to reduce uncertainty and try to ENSURE positive outcomes. Other companies like Google are deliberately very flat and strucutre themselves to ENABLE positive outcomes, given that they’ve nothing to lose.

    I know my company would have a fit if I gave the green light to invest in a tool that helps employees recommend lunch places to eachother and lets finance and accounting staff spend all day contributing to SOA pages because they used sumbleupon and ended up at http://www.computerworld.com. It’s like guns, if it can be abused, it will be. Where’s the business case where abuses are acceptable and the benefits are quantifiable. More importantly, are the benefits even probable? I’m not interested merely in ‘possible’. Anything is possible, and I’m not about to spend money on just anything.

    I guess I’destined to be the ‘Nigel No-mates’ who believes that technology investments should be based on forethought, rather than coolness and modernity.

  • Geoff Ward

    Andrew,

    IÂ’m driving a “next generation collaboration” strategy at my organisation. To the point Brian makes @1, IÂ’m interested in understanding what the real business applications for Web 2.0 tech there are for non-IT companies.

    I recently came across the work Air France has done utilising enterprise 2.0 (http://insideairfrance.com/#repere) for recruitment. For non-French readers see http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://insideairfrance.com/#repere. I have been told by some folks who worked on the project that the results have so far been very positive. That is, by making the views of Air France employees transparent to the public there has been an improvement in recruitment. In my Air France research I found that in Mexico they have created an ideas management system see http://www.duperrin.com/english/2006/09/18/very-good-20-ideas-at-air-france-mexico/. At my organisation we are going through the process of establishing a similar capability.

  • http://blog.sam.nat Sam

    From an avenue a – razorfish perspective, technologists are not the only people using the wiki. The rest of the folks work within user experience, creative, media, strategy, and delivery communities. So, the second question would be whether or not the other disciplines actually use the wiki. According to Mediawiki analytics, there are actually more page views for the user experience topic page than there are for the technology topic page(admittedly, thereÂ’s more analysis behind this).
    http://blog.sam.nat

  • http://www.interactivelimited.com Dave Foreman

    The intranet looks great but what about the AARF forward facing site for potential clients? This site is barely usable, offers precious little information and has tiny text. Why they would provide such a elegant solution inside but project to the world such a limited vision outside is beyond me. The internet company that “eats its own cooking” should feed the same to its customers, no?

  • http://www.866mymajor.com/Masters_Business_Administration_Degree_z2_4_27_2_ MBA Programs

    Yes, you are right Andrew, this sort of Intranet in accordance with Enterprise 2.0 is great asset for companies. Although a company can set up their own intranet but making use of future technologies is a great example that how IT related technologies are penetrating our business world, though for good cause.

    However, I have a question, does this type of framework really work like Intranet or it is just a source of information exchange. I have seen the ‘projects’ heading in left column in first image, so does that mean that we can organize our company’s projects via this. If yes, then it will be quite good for the emerging companies. All in all, this sounds to be a great idea.

  • http://www.ezbusinessneeds.com Internet Marketing

    Hi Andrew,

    This example clearly states how a sizable company can actually adopt the power of E2.0 to promote social interaction within the company itself. However, we must understand that not many companies do wish to deploy such technologies within their intranet. To kick start such business technologies, firstly we must educate the business owners themselves.

    Rif Chia

  • http://www.dassnagar.com/ Shiva

    Thanks for giving the information about AARF and attaching Ray’s personal pages.

  • http://www.gentics.com Klaus-M. Schremser

    The bookmarkings in delicious (< 10) with AARF show not too much enthusiasmus …
    I'm interested in real success-stories. It's quite a nice approach, but no self-runner or?

    br, kms

  • http://www.gentics.com Klaus-M. Schremser

    Today I was NOT in facebook, I feel like being OFFLINE :)

  • pixbook

    This example clearly states how a sizable company can actually adopt the power of E2.0 to promote social interaction within the company itself.

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  • http://www.twitterappsworld.com/ ian

    Enterprise Social Bookmarking is being considered for enterprise wide deployment at many companies.

  • http://www.clicktrue.biz ginocarpio

    Good Resource! I want to be a Social Media Hardcore… wooot

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    Interesting post. I have stumbled this for my friends. Hope others find it as interesting as I did.

  • http://peninggi-badan.com Bill Andreas

    Obviously, this is a highly dynamic page where most content doesn’t stick around long. Only the leftmost part of the page remains at all constant over time; the rest of it churns constantly. In other words, it’s definitely not the place to go to find any specific piece of Intranet content. cara menambah tinggi badan

  • http://peninggi-badan.com Bill Andreas

    Still, though, their E2.0 Intranet is a really nice piece of work. I’m relieved that we finally have a clear case study of deep penetration of Enterprise 2.0 technologies across a sizable company. And I’m optimistic that this example is a harbinger of things to come.
    tinggi badan

  • http://peninggi-badan.com Bill Andreas

    Still, though, their E2.0 Intranet is a really nice piece of work. I’m relieved that we finally have a clear case study of deep penetration of Enterprise 2.0 technologies across a sizable company. And I’m optimistic that this example is a harbinger of things to come.
    tinggi badan

  • http://rss.icerocket.com/xmlfeed?id=98867 emmy

    we must understand that not many companies do wish to deploy such technologies within their intranet. To kick start such business technologies, firstly we must educate the business owners themselves.

  • http://www.fastfacebookfans.com Buy Facebook Fans

    Although we have a ways to go, I’m happy to at least see we are making some headway into the study of Enterprise 2.0. Excited to see what we learn in the future.

  • http://411waystomakemoney.com/ Lena

    E2.0 Intranet is a future at the glance.

  • http://www.42ndstreetoffices.com/42nd-st-offices www.42ndstreetoffices.com

    This is great for an insight to E2.0 so thank you for sharing.

  • http://www.moneyearnerblog.blogspot.com/ Maurice gardner

    I was not much familiar with AARF.Thanks for this read mate. Well, this is my first visit to your blog! But I admire the precious time and effort you put into it, especially into interesting articles you share here

  • http://www.websitereviews.co.cc Get Paid To Write

    From the looks of this, Enterprise 2.0 definitely looks to be a great asset for big and small businesses alike. It looks like it’ll keep the whole organization more organized and give some other employees a better chance to get their input into specific topics. Interesting stuff.

  • http://www.yourgoalbook.com Goal Setting

    Stoked to see what ent 2 looks like! Allegedly the firm I work at is getting upgraded, but we’ll see.

  • Isaac Choi

    You are right Andrew, this sort of Intranet in accordance with Enterprise 2.0 is great asset for companies.

  • http://www.paktelecom.net Bilal Sarwari

    I have less knowledge of it, but Although I have a ways to go, I’m happy to at least see we are making some headway into the study of Enterprise 2.0. Excited to see what we learn in the future.

  • http://tomaschavez.com Tomas Chavez

    This will definitely help small, medium and large companies to be more organized. I wonder if there’s any new information regarding this since the post is already a few years old..

  • Anonymous

    I agree with Tomas Chavez. This will definitely help us small business owners be more organized. Handling a group of employee is stressful especially if you have a 5 month old. It’s hard to find great help these days.
    Thanks!
    P.S. Would like to know if there’s any update?

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    It is vital for a business to get customers, and to get customers, business need to be organized.
    A intranet is always a godd idea for a company that want happy coworkers.

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  • http://www.tomaschavez.com/ Tomas Chavez

    Pretty amazing how we can obtain information these days.  Just a click of a button and there you are! in front of all the information you need.

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