I spent my Tuesday in downtown Boston at the E2.0 conference. The place was abuzz with social and collaboration chatter. We at Nuxeo are definitely part of this crowd, as a provider of collaborative document management, so we decided to go as visitors.

E20logoHere are a few snippets from discussions & talks:

  • Social/collab stuff is mostly for the under-25 crowd. They don't use email.

  • The over-25 crowd tends to spend too much time with email, and a lot of content/knowledge is lost in the inbox. There is some talk of capturing that in a platform.

  • I talked to several different IT project managers, from different verticals (pharma, insurance, financial). Across the board, their biggest challenges are:

    • making solutions that are relevant to their users

    • user adoption / user experience.

This is very interesting, in light of a recent discussion with one of our customers. For her project,  they had a group of users involved from the start, at every iteration, offering usability feedback. The solution is widely adopted by the users, and they have already surpassed expected productivity gains. She considers that to be the single most important factor in the project's success.

I can’t help but wear my product marketing hat as I think, hmm... problems with user adoption, user experience, aligning requirements with solutions … and E2.0, social, and collaboration. Is there a disconnect between what the end user needs / wants, and what is delivered? The question goes beyond change management. It’s about usability, and delivering a product that solves a real problem.

And it ties in with my own experience, a lifetime ago, with a certain dominant platform... well OK, SharePoint (pre-2010, btw). I was supposed to manage the functional rollout for my team. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out all the things SP does. We were using it for document management, replacing another system. Fair enough. Then there were the FB-like sites, the “friends” and such, and I could post photos and blog posts and statuses for all of my colleagues to see. Very social, very collaborative. But none of that helped me do my job.

There are some specific, relevant, and immediate use cases for social / collaborative software. If, for example, I could replace some aspects of email with a platform, it would make sense to me. If I could save time searching through 1000s of emails for keywords and content and documents, because the platform helped me manage a project, I would get the value. It would help me do my job. But if you just tell me, here’s a platform, now you have a social collaborative work environment! Then I’m left wondering, umm, so what?

Having a wall with a stream of social information in your work platform may be cool, but if it is disconnected from a relevant context -- such as business processes or document lifecycles or customer acquisition -- it's just adding more noise. Going social and collaborative might be nice, but only if connected to a real world business use case that the platform addresses.

The hype gets in the way. Software that touts popular buzzwords, and appeals to a love of Facebook, Twitter, and the like, well, maybe it’s great software. I don’t know. In Product Marketing 101, we learn the Golden Rule of PM: products should solve buyers’ problems. Otherwise, puzzled users will not understand why they should put the effort into adoption.   

What’s really cool about open source is the community and the feedback. At Nuxeo, when we say we {heart} feedback, we really mean it. That feedback helps us make products that solve our users' problems. It really is that simple.

-- @JaneZupan