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April 09, 2008

Groundswell: The tumescent trend called social technology

Groundswell_sm"Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies" is the new book by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, of Forrester Research. I found out about it from a press release for a presentation by Josh sponsored by the MIT Enterprise Forum.

While I mostly write about wireless technology, I think it's just as important to talk about the wetware: the social forces that influence how people decide to use technology. The book does cover case studies where health care companies have implemented Web-based methods of surveying their customers.

Groundswell? I guess this metaphor for expansion is safer than Web 1.0 bubble imagery. I mean, you wouldn't think of a groundswell bursting. I can't picture a groundswell, and it's not the most mellifluous word, but I guess works as a unique term you can position high in Google's Page rank.

Starting with the introduction, the reader finds out that this book came out of the report produced by Forrester Research in 2006 called "Social Computing," which was prompted by their clients' questions. The authors cite the reason they wrote this book:

We wanted to give our clients, and the world, a clear perspective on the whole trend, not just pieces of it, with a clear set of strategic recommendations.

The book begins with the story of Kevin Rose, the creator of Digg, specifically one day just under a year ago when a blogger posted the secret encryption key for HD-DVDs.

It started to gain importance on Digg, but the lawyers coaxed Kevin to remove the link to this blog. However, by the end of the next day, 3,172 blogs had mentioned that number. Point: you don't have an undo button for the Web.

The book goes on to talk about the importance of relationships. It's mostly about how folks decide to buy things through word of mouth rather than caring about the company's grand branding efforts. They explain blogs and RSS. I would think that if you didn't know about these you're hopelessly behind the learning curve, and should spend my time on the Web instead of reading this book.

Next, we come to the Social Technographics Ladder (STL). These are the Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners, Spectators and Inactives who comprise the social networking food chain in order of decreasing involvement with online forums.

The authors then look at the online support groups for cancer and obesity patients. They appear to play an important role even though these patients don't populate the higher end of the STL. They state that health care companies are hampered by a heavily regulated industry that in a way that "put[s] the brakes on the kind of free innovation in marketing that most ordinary manufacturers can employ."

Another reference to health care is made in discussing who determines a company's reputation. M.D. Anderson is rated number one by US News & World Report annual listing of cancer treatment centers, and they pride themselves in upgrading their technology to include the latests in cancer treatments, but in reality patients have decided to go to other centers because of the up to 4 hour wait during treatment sessions. This cancer center finally decided to hire a company to produce and manage a private community of cancer patients to discover the real issues these patients are concerned about.

In another section Memorial Sloan Kettering is used as a case study where they similarly wanted to find out what their patients where thinking. They couldn't justify the expense of hiring Communispace which charges $180,000 for the first six months, and $20,000 per month after that, but they were able to convince the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, of which they are a part, to pick up the tab and use it for the entire network.

Another case study is Masschusetts General Hospital which offers something called CarePages. It's a blogging tool that can be read by invitation only, and meant for patients or their close family members to post updates on their hospital course so that relatives can keep informed and respond.

This book isn't an exhaustive review of social networking. It's mostly a how-to guide for businesses either to blog or to create forums so that they can keep tabs on their brand. Facebook is given a few pages, and Twitter ever fewer.

I think the biggest flaw is that the authors don't look beyond Web 2.0 to future trends that will bring us closer to the much vaunted semantic Web.

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