In ReadWriteWeb‘s report on microblogging at BestBuy, Laura Fitton (of Pistachio Consulting) writes about her conversation with Gary Koelling and Steve Bendt regarding their implementation of Mix. Mix (built on HeadMix) is described as an “enterprise microsharing application,” which is intended to faciliate networking, problem solving and idea sharing among Best Buy‘s 160,000 employees. According to this report, Best Buy’s deployment is the first of its kind at a large company.
In reading through the report, a couple of things struck me. First, Koelling and Bendt acknowledge the weird dynamic that gets going with microblogging: you’re having quasi-personal conversations in a forum where you can be overheard by the world. While it’s easy to forget that fact when you’re in the middle of some witty Twitter repartee, none of this is private. Interestingly, a quick check on Twitter indicates that there seems to be a wide range of responses to this fact of microblogging life. Some users are extremely circumspect or even cryptic. Others appear to damn the torpedoes and blab full speed ahead, with little regard for the consequences.
When you transplant this issue to the work environment, you find the problem compounded. Here’s how it’s described in the Best Buy context:
There are what, 160,000 employees at Best Buy? It’s like a few of you are thrown into a dark room together. You don’t really know who anyone is or who to trust. You’re told it’s okay, they’re all employees, go ahead, talk. But trust is an issue. Who are these people? How do we know them? What can we say?
This is a challenging context in which to try to foster the open exchange of information. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t explain how the system’s designers plan to increase the levels of trust. As I’ve noted earlier, trust is a critical element without which collaboration is virtually impossible. And, in our KM 2.0 world, collaboration is key. It will be interesting to see what the adoption rate is at Best Buy and whether the quality of the information exchanges meets expectations.
The other striking thing for me was the basis on which the designers chose HeadMix. Besides liking the developer team and the flexibility of the application, the other positive attribute in their estimation was the application’s ease of use:
We liked that it’s simple, but had the extra features when you wanted them. It sounds goofy, but we really liked the Outlook plugin — that’s where our employees live. That will make it easier to use.
Here, they clearly were trying to reduce the barriers to entry — to the point that they allowed easy access from Outlook. These folks are not microblogging purists who insist that if you want to use the tool you too must be a true believer who is willing to leave the Outlook cocoon in order to microblog. Instead, they made the boundary between the two applications permeable. There’s an important lesson here as we consider how best to integrate new knowledge management technology into existing work flow, calibrate it to user comfort levels, and thereby increase user adoption.
Koelling and Bendt established themselves with their implementation of Blue Shirt Nation, a social networking tool for Best Buy employees. It will be interesting to see how they overcome the trust issues to achieve a productive company-wide conversation via Mix.