That PowerPoint culture includes you

Australian researchers have discovered information is best processed either orally or in writing, but not both ways simultaneously. Thus, PowerPoint presentations can backfire when what’s on the screen is the same as what the speaker is saying, because audience attention is automatically divided. One British journalist compared trying to follow what someone is saying while watching the same words on a screen, to the act of riding a bicycle down the aisle of a moving train – you feel like you’re making extra progress, but you’re not really going anywhere. Professor John Sweller of the University of New South Wales, Australia concluded simply: “The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched”. He did not find it necessary to use colour slides to make this point.

This is in line with the current PowerPoint culture. PowerPoint can leave an audience persuaded, but not necessarily better-informed…

Ultimately, the danger of PowerPoint is not the inefficient or imprecise transfer of information but that, more than ever, style is replacing substance. Hard information, once transmitted through speeches and reports that demanded interpersonal interaction, can now be drowned out by slick graphics and oversimplified images. The ill-informed novice, with a polished presentation can trump the presenter with valuable information who lacks technical sophistication.

PowerPoint (or rather slide presentations in general – e.g. Keynote, Open Office, etc) isn’t intrinsically bad, its how we use and abuse it. But on the other hand, isn’t the audience also complicit in this process to an extent? When did you last ask someone to present sans deck of slides? Even worse, did you ask for that report in PowerPoint format?

NYC as a Platform


In her role as Chief Digital Officer for the City of New York, Rachel Sterne is tasked with strengthening the City’s digital media presence and streamlining internal digital communications. In her talk, Sterne demonstrated recent innovations that are shaping the city’s future. Mentioning how city resident participation is crucial with a real-time approach, attendees were shown “The Daily Pothole,” a Tumblr that tracks the D.O.T.’s progress in filling potholes in the five boroughs and its companion app, the roll-out of QR code technology on building permits, the NYC 311 app, as well as fielding service requests via Twitter.


Microblogging as a Discussion Tool

The problem is that Twitter fails miserably at actually providing a way to get the full picture of the conversations that I want to follow or participate in.

Everyday I see a several messages (either main posts or replies/retweets) that interest me, but each time I’m frustrated by the inability to see all the responses that make up the complete conversation. Imagine being at a party where a dozen people are standing in a circle discussing something. Now what if each person could only hear a fraction of what’s being said?

I’d really like to be able to see all the responses to these questions. I think I’d both benefit from, as well as be able to contribute to each conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I love microblogging. I understand security concerns, privacy, trust, etc. I just highly prefer the parent/child threaded model where all responses to a post are visible under the main topic. For example, in Facebook I can read responses from everyone, even if I’m not friends with them.

Alan is right, it can take a lot of effort on the part of a user to pull together a complete discussion thread on Twitter. However, I’m not entirely convinced a threaded model would work for Twitter, beyond the most simplistic reply thread view in the Twitter Web interface.

Twitter works slightly differently from Facebook and most of the enterprise microblogging tools I’ve come across, which do support the threaded model. For example, baked-in support for likes, group and other filters. Still, Twitter is open enough that someone could create a threaded interface – and in fact many have tried. Other than the 140 character limit, this minimal structuring is probably a critical difference between Twitter and other tools.

I do also wonder if we are expecting too much from microblogging concept. Because of the structure they offer, I sometimes feel that non-Twitter microblogging tools turn into discussion forums that simply have a desktop widget and real-time notifications. When this happens, they lose the utility of microblogging. Rather than a criticism of the tools, I think this perhaps suggests that:

  • There are times when we want a less transient discussion but lack access to an appropriate place to do it; and 
  • The way we integrate and link social objects across different social media channels still isn’t good enough.

BTW Alan – I found your post via good old RSS.

Lean Thinking, Social Business Design & Government

Despite government departments continuously striving to be more innovative and efficient in their operations, they do not have a consistent approach to process improvement and making better use of public funds to deliver more frontline services to communities.

Increasingly, local, state and federal government agencies across Australia are now embracing the multi-faceted benefits of adopting a ‘Lean Thinking’ approach to process improvement and process waste minimisation.

The correct application of Lean Thinking methods, tools and techniques will empower organisations to achieve a number of objectives, including efficiencies, effectiveness, optimisation or service delivery and contribution to savings targets proactively rather than reactively

Great timing with this article, as I’ve mentioned before that ‘Lean Thinking’ is one value stream that a social workplace supports. This applies to for- and not-for-profit organisations alike.

The Intranet is Dead! Long live the Human Centred Intranet!


I’ve been trying to dig into the Digital Workplace intranet meme a little more.

For some context, at the beginning of the year Jane McConnell noted:

I’ve tested the term “digital workplace”  at two intranet conferences recently, one in Stockholm and one in Paris, and with several of my clients. The term has had an impact on management decisions in two recent client cases.

However, McConnell also reflects on the fact that the phrase itself isn’t new and points to the use of the “digital workplace” back in 2000 and 2001. I actually found an even earlier reference, from HP back in 1997, who described its aim as:

to facilitate information sharing and to bring information closer to people

…by putting printers in offices. 🙂

I’m also reminded of Negroponte’s book, Being Digital – published in 1995. He wrote the following in a preview piece in Wired magazine about the future digital society he imagined:

I do believe that being digital is positive. It can flatten organizations, globalize society, decentralize control, and help harmonize people in ways beyond not knowing whether you are a dog. In fact, there is a parallel, which I failed to describe in the book, between open and closed systems and open and closed societies. In the same way that proprietary systems were the downfall of once great companies like Data General, Wang, and Prime, overly hierarchical and status-conscious societies will erode. The nation-state may go away. And the world benefits when people are able to compete with imagination rather than rank.

Taking on board some comments from Twitter about this I can fully appreciate the need to coin simple phrases that intranet managers can use to influence and get the attention of their internal sponsors. But lets be clear: the digital workplace isn’t coming, it was already here from the moment the first desktop PC clone appeared in offices. Think about the impact of the humble spreadsheet.

In another blast from the past, consider Davenport’s insightful 1994 HBR article, Saving IT’s Soul: Human-Centered Information Management. I wrote this reflection on Enterprise 2.0 and Davenport in 1997 and summarised the following from Davenport’s original article:

  • Focus on broad information types;
  • Emphasize information use and sharing;
  • Assume transience of solutions;
  • Assume multiple meanings of terms;
  • Continue until desired behaviour is achieved enterprisewide;
  • Build point-specific structures;
  • Assume compliance is gained over time through influence; and
  • Let individuals design their own information environments.

Not only does this advice still hold true today, but we finally have the tools to do it. Yet this was written over a decade and a half ago!

We could go back even further of course… Vannevar Bush, Douglas Engelbart, etc.

Clay Shirky on the other hand first started talking about ‘social software’ in 2002.

So where does this leave the Digital Workplace? I just can’t help feeling that the intranet community – and I mean those who are currently focused on the narrow domain of publishing or communicating digital information to staff – are at a tipping point. I hope as many as possible make the right choice and engage with current perspectives, rather than holding on to the past remade.

In any case, the Human Centred Intranet doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it?

Image Credit: Flip Clock 5.05 CC NC-ND

Do we need the “digital” in digital workplace?

do we need the “digital” in digital workplace? Surely, many workplaces are significantly digital, and very few of the most analogue wouldn’t still benefit from greater digital integration.

In this comment, someone beat me to this question about the “Digital Workplace” meme starting to do the rounds of the intranet community. Personally, I think that if after more than a decade intranet managers are only now rallying around this concept, then they have missed the boat. Still, better late than never I suppose.

2 in 5 SharePoint sites are inactive

92% of enterprise organisations using collaboration software use SharePoint and for over three-quarters of organisations (78%) SharePoint is the only collaboration technology that they use. But on average only 60% (3 in 5) of SharePoint sites are active; many organisations are clearly failing to maximise their SharePoint investment.

Research commissioned by Fujitsu. This is just the IT manager’s perspective. I wonder what the users think too?

Hat tip to Michael.