Thursday, June 4, 2009

Opinions and Fragmentation Aplenty!

Last weekend we drove through Las Vegas on our way home to Boulder and I couldn’t help but think of this year’s upcoming HPTF event – now only two weeks away. And I couldn’t help thinking how quickly a year has passed. And the picture here is of the old town hall in Prague and its astronomical clock; a clock that has been keeping time since the early 15th century!

Yes, time “passes more quickly these days” is a cliché – but it seems only a short time ago when we first heard the news at last year’s event of NonStop supporting HP’s Blades. In the latest issue (May – June, ’09) of the Connection magazine Winston Prather, VP and GM of the NonStop Enterprise Division, reflects on the theme of Blades. Sounding very much like a NASCAR driver in the winner’s circle, Winston manages to thank all the parties contributing to the success of NonStop on Blades and admits “it’s hard to believe that it was just one year ago that we launched the Integrity NonStop BladeSystem, leveraging HP’s industry-leading blades portfolio and multi-core Intel Itanium processors.”

I have already posted a blog on the week spent in Prague, but as I was sitting in United’s lounge at Los Angeles airport, waiting for the flight to Europe, I saw a poster for the Intercontinental Hotel chain that asked "do you live an Intercontinental life?" And my first thought was of how I am an Australian, married to a US citizen, but of Polish origin, I’m a resident of Colorado but living in California, and I’m about to depart for Prague. Living an intercontinental life - oh yeah? Well dah!

For most of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and into the early part of this century, airline timetables governed many of my actions and swamped my calendar. Checking airline upgrade lists become a constant distraction. And for those of us who pursue careers in marketing, product management, or business development there had been little choice other than to embrace the intercontinental life. After all, networking and building ties with companies and individuals, is a very critical aspect of these jobs. Or so it used to be!

These days, and with time appearing to accelerate as each year passes, networking is fast moving to the electronic medium, and social networking is playing a greater role in how we continue to network. The picture here is of me taking in Prague with the old town hall and clock behind me, soaking up the late afternoon sun. These days I am spending my time on the road participating in user events where I get a chance to meet with many who read this blog, and to speak on the material I cover here. And that’s about it – I have cut way back on my travel and on my time away from the office.

Can social networking in the electronic world, whether blogs, online forums, e-“user groups”, and the like really substitute for time well spent on the road? Can I readily let go of living the intercontinental life? And can sitting at a screen and banging away at a keyboard, as I do regularly most nights, provide the same experience as face to face meetings? In most respects I am not yet at the point where I can say any of these communication channels completely eliminate the need to meet and to “network” in the real world, but they are certainly cutting down on any justifiable need to travel. Yet I am reminded that there are issues with social networking, and caution is still required. It’s far from being the perfect solution for all of us.

Perhaps the most obvious issue with social networking is that what we read is simply opinions. And what we also find is that there is a wealth of opinions on just about every topic. Back on April 21st, ’08 I posted “We all have opinions!” where I observed how “social networking has made enormous inroads to the way most of us maintain our awareness of what’s happening across the industry. There’s no shortage of writers willing to express their opinion on a wide variety of topics.”

I also remarked on an exchange that I had with an industry analyst from the Gartner Group, who I was travelling with, after suggesting that the explosion in social networking might have an impact on companies like Gartner. The analyst responded “companies like Gartner are not really in the opinion business as much as they are in the analysis business.” I then added in that post of how “I have to agree with him on this point – opinions can be pretty easy to provide but good analysis is always a premium commodity.” And then I followed with “but does that make the information exchanged in social networks any less important? Can the opinions expressed be discounted because they are made in a social setting?

For the past two months I have been actively engaged in a new user group I started on LinkedIn – the Real Time View user group. Readers with LinkedIn profiles may want to take a look at the discussions taking place on this site. In one discussion the exchanges between readers developed rapidly, and there was more than one reader who emailed me privately saying these were just opinions – and we know that everyone has one! However, I was reminded of the comments from the Gartner analyst who added that “there will always be a need for companies like Gartner when we need to see more detail analysis of a market segment or a developing technology … opinions can be pretty easy to provide but good analysis is always a premium commodity.”

And then there is the other problem – given that there are so many opinions, it’s not that easy to find them all. The ease with which a global audience can be addressed has lead to a rapid increase in the number of places you can turn to for opinions – and there’s no certainty that any of us has a handle on them all (for any specific topic). I was reminded of this when comments were posted to the Real Time View user group, as well as to the Connect online community that lamented, possibly out of frustration from it all, of how perhaps now “we need to do a moderate amount of consolidation of our discussion channels, so the discussions do not become so fragmented as to be useless.”

This last comment was provided in a discussion that followed me asking the question: “User Groups and Social Networking - too much of a good thing?” What followed from one community leader really struck home as he made the observation “the ease with which anyone can start anything - a blog for example - can be / is a direct cause of the fragmentation (it's not meeting my requirements, I can do it better by doing it this way). I guess I would argue that whilst I don't want to constrain anyone, I value the ability to network, the ability to meet face to face and explore the nuances (and go down rat-holes) of how products are used.”

So perhaps social networking is far from being the perfect channel for communication. Perhaps it does suffer from being “just opinions, not analysis” and is leading to fragmentation with no certainty that any of the opinions expressed are anything more than those of a vocal minority and far removed from the sentiments of the majority. But my own experience is suggesting that, for many of us, this is becoming a valuable tool for checking current information about the platforms and vendors we so depend on. It is also confirmation that, in the end, we vote with our keyboard and mouse – we simply do not return to those sites where there’s little activity and likewise, are drawn back to those that are frequently updated. After all, poor judgment and badly expressed opinions will not hold our attention for long, and there are always many other sites we can visit.

The community leader I referenced above went on to add “and with that, I accept that a user group is our best way of doing it to date. That means there will be some programs I use, some that I don't, and many that I will work to improve and evolve. I'll try new methods, dump them if they are not working, grab the good things from programs that have failed and put them into others etc.”

This I fully agree with – even as time flies past us, and continues to surprise us with the rapidity of its progress, there are a couple of times a year where getting together remains very valuable. But am I eager to get back on the plane? Am I eager to leave the keyboard and the access it provides to those in the community that do not have the same opportunities? I don’t think so …

Social networking may not completely eliminate our need to travel, and there will always be situations best handled face to face, but the paths between the real and electronic worlds are very much on a collision course and the only question that remains is when those paths will collide. As for me, I have already begun gravitating to the electronic world and anticipate seeing many more of you taking up residence.

For those of you making plans to participate in this year’s HPTF event in Las Vegas, I will be only too happy to find time to have coffee or to share a drink … unlike in previous years where my duties compelled me to be away from the exhibition floor, this year you should be able to easily find me in and around the GoldenGate booth. But in the meantime, there are a couple of new postings I need to respond to, a few more opinions to share, and I look forward to reading your comments, as always! See you soon!

1 comment:

NonStopMark said...

Quite recently, I have had 2 discussions about WebSphere MQ on the internet. One at an MQ forum and the other on LinkedIn on an MQ Series Group. On both occasions, the latter in terms of responses, proved more useful and insightful to the extent that I replied to the actual MQ forum with all the responses I received from LinkedIn. There is a lot more attitude and crass on some forums but responses and even knee-jerk responses on LinkedIn are usually good indicators to technical questions.... Cheers Richard....I think you will be challenging Whicker or Whicker's World fame if you attend anymore earthly locations....