Newest but not bestest?

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Content Copyright © 2011 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

I’ve just been persuaded to revisit CIX (now under new owners; the latest CIX Roadmap is here) by an old online friend I met F2F for the first time a day or so ago. For the many that won’t remember it, CIX was based on an old bulletin-board-style offline community with offline readers based on evolving collaboration technologies. CIX has adopted more modern technologies these days but the old offline readers are still around – as are some of the people that made CIX what it was.

I moved away because Flickr has more photographers per square inch than CIX and that’s where my social interests lie these days. Others moved away probably because instant messaging, Flickr and Facebook became more fashionable.

But instant messaging is disruptive. You interrupt me, the quality of what I’m working on suffers. I give you a top of the head answer, you think it is the best information I have (it isn’t, at best it is without context) and your work suffers. The signal to noise ratio on Twitter and Facebook is appalling – and I sometimes think they are as much the spiritual home of middle-aged ex-geeks trying to recapture a lost youth as they are the home of the next generation.

In contrast (despite the brave attempts to develop really interesting collaboration software) the technology on CIX was nothing very special (we’ll have to see how its new owners develop things). But the people, the community and the level of collaboration achieved is first rate. Partly, I think, this is because it was essentially off-line (although, as I said, there are more up-to-date paradigms available if you think you want them): you ask a question and the answer looks like a conversational reply. In fact, your corresponder picked it up off-line – when it was convenient to them to do so – and composed a carefully considered reply. As this is an offline process, he/she had a chance to stop, consult reference books etc. The answer is (usually) high quality….

Now, I’m looking at “people-centric process” – and parts of the CIX experience seem relevant. “People centric” seems to mean, in part, allowing people to interact with process on their own terms, using whatever interface (such as an iPhone or iPad), makes them feel comfortable. Many people will love this – early adopters, who like technology, and don’t see fighting its inefficiencies and shortcomings as any sort of problem – more, an exciting computer game, of sorts…

However, let’s not forget that some people may just want to achieve the business outcome they’re being paid to achieve, with as little fuss as possible, and maintain a reasonable work-life balance. These may be the people your business depends on.

Now, these people could, potentially, reap great benefits from “people centric process” and iPhone interfaces etc. Nevertheless, however great the underlying idea, using new technology to make people available for work 24×7 (as some managers seem to want to) just might be counter-productive. Giving them an interface which makes making mistakes easier and which then acts on those mistakes irrevocably and quickly might be counter-productive too. De-empowering people who have business skills you need just because they can’t type with their thumbs into an infeasibly small device might also be counterproductive.

It is, of course, all a matter of good people-centric design. But, when designing the interfaces to your people-centric processes, consider all of its stakeholders, not just the minority of early adopters who like new toys on principle and often shout loudest.

Back to CIX. I’m glad it’s still around and I was encouraged to return – because, despite technology fashions, I had richer collaborative experiences, found better information resources and enjoyed a better community on CIX than I’ve found since. Better than I’ve found on Flickr even, in many respects, and certainly better than I’ve found on Facebook and Twitter…