We Self-Organize Around Groups

Group of people under umbrellas in the rainAt Socialtext, we roll out a new version of our software to customers’ appliances once a month, and always get some great feedback. But this month, the excitement and engagement I heard when talking with customers was unprecedented – because Socialtext now supports Groups.

Over the past seven years, the Socialtext platform has evolved to incorporate blogging, People directories, customizable Dashboards, widgets, and then last year, micro-blogging. (Socialtext Signals is a 140-character Twitter-like capability, but instead of being public, all your content is secure behind the corporate firewall.)

Now, customers can create groups based on whatever criteria they want, and Signal to just the people in those groups. Groups can be dynamically driven (from LDAP or other corporate directory systems), or user-defined on the fly to encompass a specific product team, a  time-bounded project, a shared social activity, or anything else. And a group’s membership can be dynamically associated with one or more shared workspaces (wikis).

We All Belong to Groups

Although it’s early in the process, I’ve already seen some interesting patterns:

— Groups self-organize around a domain of shared concerns, and limiting membership makes the content associated with a group more valuable. Appropriate sharing is better than over-sharing.

— Companies tend to create groups along three main vectors – functional units (whether a permanent department or an ad hoc team), roles (such as programmers and analysts), or geography (the London office).

— Groups make Signals far more valuable; not only because of the improved signal-to-noise ratio, but because people sharing more personal Signals in a small group helps foster a mood of community.

— I’m not an anthropologist, but I suspect that the Groups feature in software strikes a chord deep inside people, perhaps related to our innate need to be part of a family, a clan, a tribe.

Whatever the underlying reasons, it’s clear that customers gain significant organizational advantage through working in groups.