Social Media’s Slow Cooker No More

Have you discovered the wonders of a slow cooker? It works in a deceptively simple way: you toss the raw ingredients in the pot in the morning, turn the pot on and then, when you return at the end of the day, you’ll find delicious food in that pot — all ready to eat.  As you can imagine, this is a great help when you’re at the office all day and cannot be home to tend a pot on the stove.

Social media used to have a kind of slow cooker called LinkedIn.  You could open an account, create a profile, toss in a few facts about your work experience or a status update and then walk away.  That information could be left largely untended.  Over time, you might get invitations to connect or, better still, a fantastic job offer.  It worked like magic — just like a slow cooker.

However, LinkedIn has decided it doesn’t want to be quite so passive any longer.  In fact, LinkedIn is set to become an even more critical source of information for the business world.  How are they doing this? By turning a new search engine on all those bits of information we’ve been tossing in the LinkedIn pot.  And, to make the search worthwhile, LinkedIn will be exposing information not just from your contacts, but from any status update created by its more than 70 million users. Here’s how David Kirkpatrick described this new LinkedIn functionality called Signal:

Signal appears, for now, as a separate page inside LinkedIn. In the center is a list of posts—links to articles, statements of opinions about current business or other developments, or whatever else someone posts on their profile. On the left hand column is a set of filters. You can pick your direct connections, second-degree connections (friends of friends), third degree, or anyone on LinkedIn. Other filters are for specific industries, companies, the time something was posted, or where the poster is located. All of these functions are customizable.

So now, if you want to see all the posts over the last day by Facebook employees who work in New York which reference the new movie The Social Network, you can do it. Or all posts by General Motors employees in the past month referencing Ford cars. Or everything said by people in the Internet industry who live in Columbus, Ohio about the book The Facebook Effect (a search I tried, since I’m the author—there were four posts). Your imagination is the only constraint.

With this new search engine in place, it will become doubly important to keep your LinkedIn profile in good shape.  Check it frequently to ensure the information is accurate, current and compelling.  And, above all, make sure that your status updates represent you well.  After all, many more people will now have access to all of it.  Why take a chance?


In you’d like to participate in LinkedIn’s Signal Beta, you can request an invitation.

Further Reading:

Some Slow Cooker Recipes:

[Hat tip to Euan Semple for pointing me to the David Kirkpatrick piece.]

[Photo Credit: Food Thinkers]


What Clients Want

Today I was fortunate to listen in on a series of fascinating conversations held by in-house counsel gathered at the Practising Law Institute’s Corporate Counsel Institute 2010. The conversations ranged from the risks of social media to the impact of the recession on corporate America. (If you’d like to see my notes on these PLI sessions, take a look at my Twitter stream or search for the Twitter hashtag #PLI on September 22.) As one of a small handful of law firm attorneys present, it felt a bit like being a fly on the wall.  In fact, it was a golden opportunity to learn more about what clients want.

Of all the sessions, one of the liveliest concerned “Innovative Law Department Billing Arrangements.” The moderator, Susan Hackett of the Association of Corporate Counsel, did a superb job of framing the discussion and ensuring high value content. The panelists, Kerry Kotouc from Wal-Mart and Lynn Easterling of Cisco, provided many examples of how focused, savvy in-house lawyers can create a productive new working relationship and better fee arrangements with their outside counsel.

There has been some recent commentary on the perceived failure of alternative fee arrangements to gain traction. Susan Hackett unambiguously exhorted in-house counsel to step up and take leadership in this area. She acknowledged that many in-house lawyers opt for discounts because they don’t know where to begin to create a better alternative fee structure. Another complicating factor in her view was that in-house counsel waited for law firms to take the lead and then, because many were treating this as a zero-sum game, assumed that if the law firm proposed the arrangement it must improperly favor the firm and be to the client’s disadvantage. She encouraged everyone in the room to find ways to structure their interactions with outside counsel as a win-win game based on a long-term relationship rather than the “speed dating” encouraged by the currently popular request for proposal approach.

During the course of the alternative fee arrangements session, the audience answered several survey questions.  The answers revealed that while many are aware of alternative billing and alternative staffing structures, not enough considered themselves to be entirely comfortable with these concepts in practice.  Clearly we all need further education and experience.  Another of the questions asked the extent to which in-house counsel were looking to knowledge management and collaboration to improve performance.  For the purposes of this question, KM meant more than having a brief bank or collection of model documents. To the surprise of the moderator, approximately half of the respondents said they were focused on this issue. (Apparently other  groups of in-house counsel report a much smaller focus on KM and collaboration.) Finally, one of the most interesting survey questions asked what the audience thought was most important to in-house clients with respect to billing practices.  55% of the participants said that the most important issue was predictable, controlled costs.

That’s what clients want.

[Photo Credit: Tracy Olson]


Got the T-Shirt

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

I’m sure you’ve heard this expression before — usually from the mouth of someone who has made a fine art of boredom.  However, the person with the t-shirt is rarely looking for the thrill of adventure or the excitement of discovery. Rather, they are most likely trying to shut down someone else’s effort to innovate.

The reality is that it is a rare instance when history repeats itself exactly. So chances are that the t-shirt person has not actually experienced this particular set of circumstances before. There may be variation around the edges that a person fixated on their prior experience has failed to notice.  Of course, it is in that variation that opportunity lurks. Yet there are none so blind as those who will not see.  Is it any wonder that innovation is so challenging?

So tell me:  how big is your t-shirt collection?


Social Media’s Double-Edged Sword

On Monday, I’ll be talking to a gathering of law firm general counsel about some of the risk management challenges posed by new media and new technology. The session is part of the 9th Annual General Counsel Forum sponsored by Hildebrandt Baker Robbins and Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, and my co-presenter will be Michael Downey, a litigation partner at Hinshaw whose practice focuses on advising law firms and accounting firms on ethics and risk management issues. Mike and I have an educational (and entertaining) session planned that is intended to enlighten and equip attendees to deal with the challenges we’ll be discussing.  Nonetheless, I won’t be surprised if a few folks find themselves a little anxious (but hopefully not downright terrified) about the scope of what we’re facing as a profession whose ethical responsibilities require us to handle new media and technology with care.

In preparing for the General Counsel Forum, I found my own anxiety levels rising as I contemplated the many ways lawyers can inadvertently run afoul of our ethical obligations.  I know that it is very tempting to say “just say no” to social media, but that really isn’t terribly practical. Social media has already had an enormous impact on how we live and interact with each other outside the office.  Do you really think you can stop this from entering your office?

Caught in this quandry, I was reminded this weekend that social media is a double-edged sword.  While it can give rise to material risk, it also can provide extraordinary benefits. One particular benefit is that it allows one-to-many communication in a manner that can be managed and non-intrusive.  Some dear friends of ours are discovering this the hard way. Their child has just been diagnosed with cancer and they are using CaringBridge to keep their friends and family informed through this critical time.

For those of you not familiar with CaringBridge, it is a nonprofit that provides free websites to help family and friends stay in touch during a health crisis. Here is how they describe their services:

A CaringBridge website is personal, private and available 24/7. It helps ease the burden of keeping family and friends informed. The websites are easy to create and use. Authors add health updates and photos to share their story while visitors leave messages of love and support in the guestbook.

    • Each day, over half-a-million people connect through CaringBridge.
    • More than 1 billion visits have been made to personal CaringBridge websites.
    • The CaringBridge community includes authors, visitors and/or donors in all 50 states and more than 225 countries/territories around the world.

The beauty of this tool is that is allows our friends to post their news at their convenience, and then share it in a controlled manner with the people they choose.  Without a tool like this, they would be at the mercy of well-intentioned people who might otherwise ask for updates at a time and place not of our friends’ choosing. Anyone who has been through a serious health challenge will know that sometimes you are willing to talk about it and at other times you simply want to get on with life.  A tool like this can help you with the latter.  Above all, this social media tool will allow our friends to stay focused on what’s important — their children and the medical challenges their family faces.

I’ve referred to CaringBridge as a tool throughout this post, just as I would describe Facebook, Twitter, Ning, Foursquare and Flickr as tools.  Like a double-edged sword, each has an enormous potential for good and for harm.  The key lies with the person wielding the tool.

At the end of the day, that’s the message I need to leave with the law firm general counsel I’ll be meeting on Monday.

[Photo Credit: ideacreamanuelapps]


A Google Instant Experiment

Sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me. That happened this morning, when I wondered what Google Instant would do to some typical searches of mine. The results were thought-provoking:

  • When I typed “law” >> Google Instant served up information on Law via Wikipedia and then information on the television show “Law and Order” first.
  • When I typed “law firm” >> the first law firm name Google Instant showed me was the New York firm, Paul Weiss. Kudos to the Paul Weiss marketing department. (I hope the marketing department of every NYC law firm is paying attention to this!)
  • When I typed “law firm kn” >> Google Instant provided a link to an old blog post of mine on Personality and Law Firm Knowledge Management.  The best part (for me) is that this post appears on the first page of results. (Whew!) Better still, Google Instant helpfully provides on that first results page a link to all my blog posts that have been tagged to the topic “law firm knowledge management.”
  • When I chose the “law firm knowledge management” search query provided by Google  >>  Google Instant offered on the first page of search results links to knowledge management materials from Lexis, the American Bar Association,, and …

Since Google tailors search results to the user, I asked a friend living in a different part of the state to run a parallel search using Old Google.  Here’s what we found:

  • When she typed “law” and clicked search >> Old Google gave her  the Wikipedia Law article, then, and then
  • When she typed “law firm” and clicked search >> Old Google gave her “Philadelphia Law Firm,” then another personal injury lawyer’s web site, then web design for lawyers, and then the Wikipedia Law Firm article.
  • When she typed “law firm kn” and clicked search >> Old Google gave her the Martindale & Hubell link for  “KN Hyde and Associates” — which appears to be a commercial law firm with offices in several parts of the former Yugoslavia — and then gave her a direct link to that firm’s website as her second search result. The third result is to a law firm in Bangalore, India.
  • When she typed “law firm knowledge management” and clicked search >> Old Google offered exactly the same results to her as Google Instant offered to  me — complete with the link to this blog.  Very nice!

What this test with an unscientifically small sample suggests is that Google Instant knows a fair amount about who I am.  (Although it hasn’t figured out that I’m not a Law and Order devotee.)  That said, I was delighted to discover that this blog ranks well in the search results of an interested party like me, as well as in the search results of my friend who does not work in the law firm world and has never searched for my blog via Google.

Out of sheer vanity (or perhaps prudence), I tried a new search — for my name.  I had to type “Mary Abrah” before I turned up in the search results.  But that’s not too bad.  After all, I do have a fairly common name. When I typed “V Mary A” one of my social media activity streams and my blog appeared on the first page.  I had to type “V Mary Abrah” before Google Instant figured out that I was looking for myself.  Interestingly, when I tried these searches again a few minutes later, I got slightly different results.  However, I don’t know what prompted Google to change the results order.

At the end of the day, it appears that keywords still matter.  However, if your keyword or phrase is too long, users may never get to it if they are offered other options by Google Instant.  Accordingly, it may well be time for you to reconsider your keyword strategy.  If your website gets a fair amount of traffic thanks to Google searches, you may want to think harder about the implications of Google Instant.  I know I will be.

[Photo Credit: dullhunk]


Google Blink Not Google Instant

Google Money (Enterprise Irregulars)

Google unveiled Google Instant on September 8. By most accounts, it’s an impressive step forward in search technology that brings us closer to immediate gratification.

Until now, most of the time related to searching was spent typing a query and then evaluating the answers.  Typically, one would type a query, hit enter, review the results and then click through to see if an item on the results page was responsive.  And then, rinse and repeat until you found what you wanted or gave up trying. With Google Instant, Google offers search results to you before you finish typing your query.  With every character you type, Google attempts to predict your query and serves up search results that it thinks will meet your need. In other words, Google plays a version of Name that Tune with you — trying to identify the song you have in mind using the fewest notes possible.

So how much time will Google Instant save?  Google estimates that a typical search takes approximately 25 seconds.  With Google Instant, you can shave 2-5 seconds off every search.  What does this mean in aggregate terms?  According to Google, “If everyone uses Google Instant globally, we estimate this will save more than 3.5 billion seconds a day. That’s 11 hours saved every second.”

Even still, I couldn’t help thinking “close but no cigar.”  To be honest, while it’s awfully nice that Google can make accurate predictions based on just a few letters in a search box, what I really want is for Google to predict my query and serve up helpful results … before my fingers even touch the keyboard!  This is what I call Google Blink (i.e., getting results in a blink of an eye).  As it turns out, Google’s engineers have already considered this possibility, but called it MentalPlex.  With MentalPlex, all you have to do is stare at the Google MentalPlex page, “project a mental image of what you want to find” and then that action alone will trigger the display of responsive search results.  Now that’s more like it!  Although this may be my fondest wish for search technology, as far as I know, it’s not yet more than an April Fool’s joke for Google.

All joking aside, why should we care about Google Instant or, better still, what I’m calling Google Blink? To quote Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, “Never underestimate the importance of fast…speed matters cuz your time matters.”


If you’ve got 90 minutes to spare and would like to learn more about Google Instant, here’s the video of the launch announcement:

Alternatively, here’s a quick overview that will take less than two minutes of your time:

Finally, here’s Google Instant served up with a side of Bob Dylan:


Do You Really Know?

Do you really know how your colleagues work? Do you really know what they need? Are you sure? If you don’t truly understand them, how can you provide the right knowledge management and technology support to help them?

Every time I hear someone in law firm knowledge management or IT say “Our lawyers would never…,” I’m tempted to ask them to produce the evidence for their assertion.  All too often the person declaiming about the “lawyers” has never actually worked beside them for any meaningful period of time. However, this doesn’t stop them from making overly broad statements about “those lawyers” based on incomplete or misconstrued information.

How do they get themselves in this mess?  There are any number of ways:  collecting anecdotal information in an unsystematic way, failing to grasp the context for what they are being told, not understanding the business processes in which the lawyers are engaged, not discerning what motivates those lawyers, refusing to consider evidence that contradicts their preconceptions, etc. Regardless of how they found themselves in this mess, the consequences are not trivial.  Their approach can prevent these knowledge management or IT personnel from offering services and resources that could materially improve the work life and work product of their lawyer colleagues.  Further, it can be an enormous barrier to innovation when a service provide in KM or IT hides behind misguided impressions, rather than relying on facts.

So what’s the solution?  At the recent ILTA 2010 Conference, we heard of several more fruitful approaches to understanding better how your internal clients work.  Connie Hoffman (CIO at Bryan Cave) recommended engaging in active listening, as well as creating a close development partnership with the lawyers.  Sandy Owen (Operations Director, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Intel Corporation) and Jessica Shawl (Operations Program Manager, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Intel Corporation) told us how Intel used flip cameras to document in video exactly how their in-house lawyers worked and ways in which technology made their lives easier or more challenging.  They also conducted “web jams” to gather information on user needs from their internal clients.

Moving beyond the world of lawyers, Ted Schadler at Forrester recently recounted how Peter Hambling (CIO of Lloyd’s of London) set about to change the way the IT department interacted with the end-users at Lloyd’s:

They’ve … embedded IT staff directly into the cubicle farms of business employees; they’ve built innovative solutions with teams comprised of business and IT employees; they’ve created applications that empower employees to understand global risk through a familiar interactive map. They created a new contract with business managers and employees that gives IT professionals a place in the business.

So now you’ve seen some examples of ways to get closer to your internal clients and understand better how you can improve their work lives. If you’re tempted to try video, take a look at Life in a Day: the story of a single day on earth.  It’s a rather extreme example of documenting how people work and live. Perhaps it will inspire you.

[Photo Credit: dsb nola]


Personalized Service

We marked a major milestone in the life of our family by having dinner at an extraordinary restaurant this evening. The restaurant was Blue Hill at Stone Barns. This restaurant is exceptional in many ways: it’s located in Pocantico Hills, in the beautifully renovated old barns of the Rockefeller estate outside New York City; it acquires many of its delicious ingredients from the organic farm on the estate; and it is blessed with a truly gifted chef and staff.

Now, you might reasonably expect a memorable meal in a restaurant like this, and you would be right. However, it was the menu that made this restaurant unusual. What was so special about the menu? There is no menu. Every night is culinary improvisation. Instead of a menu, the restaurant provides you with a list of some of the fantastic ingredients available in the kitchen and then asks you if you have any food allergies or aversions.  Once you’ve provided the necessary information, the chef tailor makes a menu for you based on the best available ingredients.  Your only decision concerns the number of courses you’d like in your meal. That’s it.

Having given the chef our minimal requirements, we sat back and enjoyed the meal as it unfolded.  Every dish was a work of art, every mouthful a revelation. But beyond the food, much of the fun was in watching the delight on the faces of all around as various courses were presented and tasted.  No two tables received the same dinner, but every diner was patently happy.

On the way home from dinner, I found myself wondering what it would be like if we approached law firm technology and law firm knowledge management in the same way as the chef at Blue Hill? What would we need in place in order to offer this level of personalized service?  What would be required to provide a comparable level of user delight? As we move towards user-selected tools and user-defined services, law firm IT and KM departments will be pushed to provide customized work environments and support.  In fact, we may well be approaching the end of a one-size-fits-all approach to law firm IT and KM. If this is so, the challenge will be to stretch beyond the bare minimums to a level of personalized service, care, consideration and user delight comparable to that of Blue Hill. Are you ready?

[Photo Credit: Alexandra Moss]