A design challenge update: Diversity (and quantity!) of working out loud posts

Last night I posted a bit about the design constraints of our enterprise social network system in trying to mimic some of the serendipitous interactions that you experience when working out loud on the web. Or participating in a cMOOC, which encourages learning and thinking out loud.

It was pretty clear at that point that my discussion thread approach would soon hit a wall. It did. Today.

That’s not a bad thing. To be honest, the community interest was way more than anticipated. And the diverse topics drew in a lot of commentary.

So here is where we are at, as of this evening.

I teach a 2 1/2 day class on enterprise social networks starting tomorrow (Thurs, May 7). Thanks to Keeley Sorokti (@sorokti on Twitter), we have a new option that we’ll experiment with. It still doesn’t quite mimic what I see happening (and useful) on the web – but it’s getting a lot closer.

It’s a combination of using our ESN’s status update, tagging and personal blog features. We can have individuals use their internal ESN blog space to do long-form working out loud (both for original posts and for comments/discussion). Status updates can almost substitute for Twitter – micro posts of just text or links that point to blog posts or other resources.

Tags give us some capability to aggregate streams of all the working out loud activity (status updates, new blog posts, etc). The streams get close to what you experience when reading Twitter streams by using a #wol hashtag. Or when you might scan a stream of aggregated blog post headlines. (The course Thought Vectors in Concept Space is a good example of blog aggregation that I find useful.)

At least two challenges exist. Twitter streams (and aggregated blog headline streams) give a viewer some idea of the topic or content the author is writing about. In our system, some stream activity may simply be a notification that user A replied to user B’s post – no new topical reference point. In addition, setting up good streams takes a bit of know-how on the part of individuals in our user community. As of yet, I am not sure we can really do it for them in a way that mimics what I am after. So stream setup may be a stretch for some users.

Why am I so focused on the steam component? It is important to me.

It’s probably how you found this blog post.

But more than that, there is something valuable about the ease with which an individual can scan items well outside of their normal network, and when that network is creating lots of content and having lots of discussions. Serendipity happens when you have scale and when individuals can choose to just dive in and read someone’s blog post because a snippet caught their eye.

One way to help people learn that skill is to get them involved with something like a working out loud week. Do it multiple times daily for a week – post, mico-post, scan, read, engage – and you get pretty good at dealing with the volume. Hoping our next design iteration gets us closer to making that a reality.