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Management by Feed/Feed Managenet, Part 2: Getting Social Behind the Firewall

When it comes to using RSS behind the firewall, I agree with one of Marshall Kirkpatrick’s concern: I take a pessimistic view that most employees would add the rich meta-data (tags, for example), that a truly awesome “Web 2.0 Behind-the-firewall” instance would look like. Part of that rests on the fact that the data behind the firewall isn’t quite as thrilling as that on the public web. The latest revisions to the ethics policy aren’t going to get the equivalent of digg‘ed by 100’s of people. The other part is that people aren’t be paid to tag, they’re (usually) being paid to do workflow and be the human implementation of a node in a BPM diagram. Tragic, sure, but that often pays the bills and keeps the stock price up.

The Tailless Dog

The majority of great collaborative software features on the public web depend on a long-tail effect on meta-data: when there are millions of users out there, the chances that someone has entered meta-data relevent to me are higher than if there are just 1,000’s. As a side-note, people have used this as a knock against the Google Search Appliance and mini, but I didn’t find that to be too much of a problem: the set of data is so much smaller that you don’t need to worry about ranking too much, keywords are enough.

Behind the firewall we probably won’t be so lucky to have a long tail working for us. But, there are still ways meta-data could be used to increase the effectiveness of management by feed. The main constraint is that the data set is more controlled and that there is less of it (tags, ratings, incoming links) to work with. That said, that constraint can be a benefit.

Finally, a Use for Org-Charts!

The locked down nature of the formal hiarchy and roles assigned to people could be where social networking becomes much more valuable behind the firewall than in the public web. Behind the firewall, relationships are everything: who you know, who you trust, and those same relationship inwards to you, determines much of the success of getting stuff done in the enterprise. This thinking as it relates to collaboratie and social software is captured in The Black Hole Theory of Blogging and it’s a huge part of Getting “Stuff” Done With Blogs.

So, building on that, an important piece of meta-data to filter by are your relationships to people who have read items that are on your docet. What has my VP read today? What did the sales manager not read? What did the dude in the office next door that I despise read? What did they rate high? What have they linked to?

The great thing about this is that users don’t need to be troubled to enter data. Companies already have org charts, or, at least that meta-data could be put together by one person (or individually if someone cared). Keeping track of what people read doesn’t require input either. You could even use a simple metric like “top 5 people I send and receive email from.”

A Person-Proxy

Another point is that here, we’re trying to use the software to strengthen the social bond that you would otherwise build face to face. As I said early on, this is one of my key understandings/desires of social software: a proxy and amplifier for what you would do face-to-face.


The largest barrier to entry for adding context via social networks are privacy concerns: what if I don’t want people to know what I’ve read? There are three ways of addressing that:

  • Allow people to opt out, perhaps by default.
  • Aggregate people’s habits to group levels like “HR,” “Product X Group,” etc.
  • Allow people to toggle the social network mode. recently added this in by allow users to mark bookmarks as private.


The other desired end-result is to give all that data context. A stream of internal marketing posts carry with them a lot of implied context that often is captured: do you know the person who wrote this post? Do you know people who work in the product/service group the post is about? Is this a victory for one of your enemy groups? Or a weakness that you can “exploit”…or help them with, if you please?

Sure, there’s some knife-fighting use-cases there…but that’s the reality of working in organizations. It’s not all kumbaya, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be all RSS kool-aid.

(Management by Feed/Feed Management Series: part 1, part 2, part 3.)

Categories: Collaborative, Enterprise Software, Ideas, RSS, Social Software.

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