It looks like manufacturers of business apps are taking cues from social engineering sites for a way to unite geographically disparate workforces. As usual, there is the distinct chance that they'll take it too far.
I've been able to ignore Facebook and social engineering sites of that ilk for the most part. I know they're out there, and more power to the folks who use them, but they're just not for me. I just don't get it.
So you can imagine my puzzlement when I came across a story today in The Washington Post by Brian Bergstein about how manufacturers of business software are looking to incorporate into their products the social "goodness" that make these sites (and video games) so popular. Or, as the article quotes Reuben Steiger, CEO of Millions of Us, a virtual-world creator, "We can make work suck less."
I can agree with the article's assertion that:
As big companies parcel Information Age work to people in widely dispersed locations, it's getting harder for colleagues to develop the camaraderie that comes from being in the same place. Beyond making work less fun, feeling disconnected from comrades might be a drag on productivity.
And I can even applaud the efforts of some companies who are easing into the goal of employee connections a little more soberly and realistically. IBM, for example, is developing an online portal to help their employees -- who are located everywhere from the United States to Beijing -- get to know each other. Employees can post pictures, video, and one-sentence updates about each other.
Intel has tested a "visual business card" system where employees can list their location, job title, and brief biographies. That's cool, but the system lost my vote when, as the article says, users could post "things they like." Do I really need to know that?
But here's where I draw the line (and where research is actually being done):
- Virtual worlds for certain events, allowing people to maneuver graphical representations of themselves, known as "avatars," through online trade shows and product demos.
- Online versions of company outings like golf scrambles
- Meetings that use images from Web cameras to capture nonverbal gestures and facial expressions of the attendees. (Hello! You're going to take away the last great benefit of an online meeting -- the ability to roll your eyes and make gagging gestures in complete anonymity?!)
I just really want to know one thing: Why?