Notes from Andrew McAfee Speech

Here are my notes from the Andrew McAfee speech at the Mark Logic user conference. First reacted to web 2.0 term with skepticism. Wanted to walk away from the term as quickly as possible. Silicon valley over-reaching and arrogance. Wanted to get to studying what he’d done previously … studying large-scale implementation of IT projects and their business impact.

First time he visited Wikipedia, the term he typed was skinhead, hoping to see the failure of Wikipedia as (what he asserts as) the two completely different types of skinheads battled it out in flame war. What he saw instead was a fantastic article on the topic. And he thought: there’s something different here. Maybe the 2.0 stuff isn’t oversell or hype.

Definition: enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers. Different use-case for software. Not trying to automate tasks, eliminate people, enforce rules. Instead about helping people work better together with very few preconditions. Emergent means you’re not trying to dictate terms in advance.

Even though you’re not trying impose structure in advance, it emerges. Web 1.0: the Internet is the world’s largest library — the problem is the books are on the floor. No hands go up in response to “who finds their corporate intranet easier to use and navigate than the Internet.”

Enterprise 2.0 is a discontinuity. The technologies are novel. Not an incremental improvement: collaboration, knowledge sharing, collective intelligence, search and discovery. Used to think that the IQ of a group was half the IQ of group’s lowest member. No more. Collaboration can produce great results.

He was on a panel yesterday at the Enterprise 2.0 conference. Panelists were the CIA, Pfizer, Sony, and Wachovia. Last place he would have expected open, free-form collaboration was in the Intelligence Community — but they are big users and have great success with Intellipedia.

Facebook has business value. Why — think about it — do you go back and see your feed so many times per day? (Most audience members admitted that they do.) One of the landmark papers in organizational psychology was The Strength of Weak Ties by Mark Granovetter. He thinks go over to the HBS library and get it.

What have enterprise 1.0 business information providers provided? Completeness, precision (if you ask the perfect question, I’ll give you the perfect answer), security/access control, structure, and consistency. Gave long example of failed search using a library search product based primarily, I think, on the fact he was looking for a landmark paper that was over 30 years old. (And ergo de-prioritized by the search engine.)

Aside: a student asked him if he should invest in Google IPO. He explained search was the ultimately unsustainable competitive advantage market. As soon as better algorithm comes along, competition is one click away. Yeah, they’re red hot right now, but trust me, you don’t want to invest in the IPO. She calls him from time to time from the island she owns in the South Pacific.

The student tipped him off to Google Scholar. He did the same search that failed before (Granovetter weak ties.) Got a desired result set. Published in 1973, can see number of citations (>5000). Liked what he saw: reverse citation index, related articles, faceted list of other authors, import into endnote (“this is like crack for an academic”). There were also some junky citations in the middle of the list, with typos and such. And his key point is: he doesn’t care. He got so much of what he did want, that he didn’t about some garbage thrown in.

Now has a new view on information services. Used to be: if I don’t get what I want shame on me. Now, it’s shame on you.

What are enterprise 2.0 business information consumers learning to value? Forgiveness, sufficiency, convenience, serendipity, triangulation, dynamism. Pretty sure I’d get back a different page today than I did back then in response to my weak ties query. In a 1.0 mindset, that would be disturbing. In a 2.0 one, I expect.

Metadata is becoming emergent. If we think we know in advance what the right metadata is, we’re probably kidding ourselves. Preferences of business information consumers are shifting (his students start on the outside world and come into the library world only when they have to). Users / knowledge workers will vote with their feet. Only way to get them not to use Google would be to block it at the firewall.

If incumbent information providers lose volume, will they be able to maintain preferred status and pricing? Google Scholar was evidently built by one person working in his 20% time.

Jill O’Neil took him on with the first question — some of the things you’re praising Google for are information issues that librarians have been dealing with for over 100 years. Maybe good enough works for organizational psychology but in other areas, medicine, engineering, good enough isn’t what we need, good enough is inadequate.

He agrees that in some disciplines completeness and precision is essential — but are we in effect over-delivering and at what cost? “My own work is not a matter of life and death.”

Asked about authoritativeness. Said to remember that pagerank-style authority is very similar to (and in fact was based on) the notion of academic citation. Only difference is citers don’t have lots of letters after their name.

Our preferences are not the ones that matter here.

How to get 2.0 thinking in a 1.0 entrenched culture? He suggests (1) gathering hard data/evidence, and (2) engaging the millennials, the younger folks, in the company who will bring this different perspective. Make a task force of the youngest people around you to help drive this.

(It hadn’t occurred to me that as an academic that Andrew is actually a consumer of journals and searching services and that he’d take this angle on his speech. While it was rather provocative for publishers, my belief is that the people who attend this conference *are* the change agents within their organizations and have independently arrived at many of his conclusions. So hopefully it was seen as reinforcement as web 2.0 ideas both in the enterprise and in publishing.)

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