In a recent Sunday New York Times Magazine piece, Sociology professor Duncan Watts writes about his research on consumer markets. He reveals how people make decisions in a social way and how products and concepts become wildly successful through so-called cumulative advantage.
While not exactly an analogous scenario to an enterprise, the article got me thinking about RSS consumption and distribution. In particular, Duncan describes how surprise hits come to be through the cumulative advantage effect: "That if one object happens to be slightly more popular than another at just the right point, it will tend to become more popular still."
One of the challenges within an enterprise is truly grasping what information the individuals that make up the enterprise are consuming. If we pause for a moment and consider a top-down view of managing an enterprise, the ability to draw on analytics contained in email systems, CRM systems, workflow systems and so on, you have a generalized concept of a Business Intelligence system. But BI systems only provide top-down views -- to the few.
What's important in this case is a second portion of Duncan's insight, and he lured me in with the general assumption "that when people make decisions about what they like, they do so independently of one another." (Just look at those teenagers, who want to differentiate but all wear the same clothes.) Importantly, he concludes that "people almost never make decisions independently — in part because the world abounds with so many choices that we have little hope of ever finding what we want on our own; in part because we are never really sure what we want anyway; and in part because what we often want is not so much to experience the ‘best’ of everything as it is to experience the same things as other people and thereby also experience the benefits of sharing."
This is a significant factor in the growth of social computing in Web 2.0, and by extension, in Enterprise 2.0. Because individuals naturally are drawn to choices that others make in products or ideas, the enhancement of lateral relationships is a natural evolution of the way enterprises conduct internal business.
In his research on the popularity of hit songs, Duncan brings up how "introducing social influence into human decision-making, in other words, didn’t just make the hits bigger; it also made them more unpredictable." Tying in enterprise RSS into the picture, when new concepts, ideas, business processes or communications are exposed in RSS format -- through blogs, workflow tools, or wikis -- that information needs to be delivered to an employee. Some might come in email, some are only visible on a web page -- it's unpredictable. Over time, though, some of these internal communications will take off, and both managers and peers need to be aware, but also be influencers of the success of the gems floating around the enterprise.
In the end, the ability to provide a top-down view of what ideas are floating around in an enterprise, but also a bottom-up view of what concepts might be benefiting from (or not) cumulative advantage within an enterprise demonstrate the important role of an enterprise RSS server. Oh, and by the way, check out the exciting and innovative new features in NewsGator Enterprise Server 2.0, like social reporting and tag clouds, to help your enterprise discover those gems.
NGES Product Manager