Sunday, October 11, 2009

Posterous for the Enterprise? Leveraging e-mail for content sharing

Over the past week I have read, or been involved in, a number of articles and discussions about e-mail and knowledge management. As I have read these various articles I have been reminded to the recent rise in popularity of Posterous. I think that rise is in large part to people like Steve Rubel, who recently abandoned a long standing blog to begin working with Posterous.

For those you do not know, Posterous is a lifestreaming/blogging tool that does two things very well. First, it allows you to send e-mail messages containing text, pictures, and videos and they will be published, in a nicely formatted way, to your Posterous blog. When you include photos, it creates a nice photo album, and videos include a nice embedded player. The second thing that Posterous does well is to take the items that you have imported and send them to other sites. If you include pictures in your e-mail, Posterous can send them to your Flickr account. Why is this so cool? E-mail is everywhere, and e-mail is familiar. Everyone I know gets e-mail, only a few of my friends really get Twitter, and this makes e-mail a powerful choice for capturing and storing information.

This week a few things happened to make me think that the Posterous idea is something that could be useful for the enterprise. First, Andrew McAfee wrote an article entitled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Email". In the article, Andrew argues that e-mail is going to be with us for a long time, and that enterprise 2.0 proponents need to find a way to embrace it. The technology is not all bad, and has some strong benefits. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that it is used, especially by the decision/policy makers in the enterprise. It is the technology they know, and it is the technology that will be used. One key to getting enterprise 2.0 type solutions working is to get people to use them, is properly leveraging e-mail that key?

Earlier this week I had a short discussion on Twitter about capturing tacit knowledge with @LawyerKM, @jeffrey_brandt and @keithlipman where our discussion turned to the idea of capturing information for ourselves as a stepping stone to a shared KM environment. It was generally agreed that there is value in approaching knowledge management from a "what's in it for me" angle. In my opinion, what is lacking in the enterprise today is a consistent mechanism for the capture of content, regardless of it's type, that can be stored in a central location. While we are thinking "me" in the short term, we are hoping for "we" in the long term and centralized storage of all of this captured information is how we will turn these bits into the basis for an open KM system going forward. In our discussion Jeff asked, "But is personal KM (as U described) of value to the firm? If U cant share or promote collaboration, what is value?". I think there is value in the capture process for two reasons; it gets people into the mindset of capturing this information for later retrieval and, since it is captured centrally, it can be harvested by the firm.  Patrick mentioned on Twitter that capture was the easy part.  I think this is true to some extent, but the capture methodology needs to be consistent across all the software and devices you use.  We need to enable capture everywhere, everyday.

It would take a lot of work to design a system that was like Posterous behind the firewall.  Would need to design a way to parse the incoming messages in order to determine the sender and what to do with the message.  A method to allow people to register non-firm addresses so they can capture from home as well as work would need to be built.  Once we have the e-mail, and can parse it, we need a way to store the text content and any attachments.  I think that having a blog type area with nicely formatted pictures, videos and documents is a great start.  Having some sort of specific photo album function would also be nice.  I can envision offering image indexing in the future (this is a function of some enterprise search tools).  It is not beyond the realm of possibility to actually save e-mailed documents into the document management system for that person.  Like I said this is a lot of work, especially for a small IT group, but it is something that could be developed in stages and could show value even at the very early stages.

I do not think that e-mail is a good tool for collaboration and discussion, but it does have value in it's ability to help with content capture.  I am interested in this because I am getting a lot of requests for enterprise 2.0 type functionality at work.  We talk a lot about knowledge management, and I hear from people that one of the issues we have to over come is getting people to participate on a daily basis.  The comfort of e-mail might be a way to increase participation.  Once we start to regularly capture information, we can build collaboration and discussion on top of this pool of data.

A few links to check out on recent e-mail discussions.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love E-mail by Andrew McAfee
The Man Who Should Have Used Lotus Connections — Collaborating Effectively through Wikis by Luis Suarez
Email - No surrender? by Chieftech

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