It's been called micro-blogging, micro-sharing and a variety of other phrases including the word ambient. But there's a significant attribute that's been less discussed and is critical to both business and social implications regarding how we live and work. Technology allows us to signal our every movement, thought, action and status in real time. It's pretty powerful stuff and why millions of people are addicted to telling their own social sytems what they are doing whether it be a status update on Facebook or a tweet.
But we're signaling in our everyday lives—in nearly everything we do. I used to work for someone who was very comfortable using e-mail as their primary form of communication. The problem is, signals often got mixed in e-mails. I couldn't decipher exactly if the tone of the e-mail was sincere, sarcastic or something else. Often times e-mails were irrelevant by the time they were sent—an issue had already been resolved only it wasn't communicated to the person sending the e-mail. The signal had become static. Then, an interesting thing happened. For nearly a year, I sat outside this person's office. All of a sudden, I had access to all types of signals that I had not seen before. I knew when the person was in a meeting, often times with who—when they were on the phone and could even decipher mood by the volume of voice, laughter, or an audible sight that might penetrate the office walls.
My proximity to the office also allowed me to bypass e-mail, often times stopping by to deliver a quick update. The quality of interactions was greatly improved and more efficient due to the proximity. Because I had access to signals happening in real time, I was able to modify my own communications and interactions. As the saying goes, there is no replacement for face to face interactions—that's because interpersonal interactions are filled with all kinds of dynamic signals that happen in real time and are processed by our brains in microseconds. Body language? Another form of dynamic signals. It's no wonder why people can get so much done when they actually sit down and roll up their sleeves. Bigger groups (meetings) can often lead to signal overload which needs to be filtered. More on that later.
As I reflect back to that experience and see the evidence of dynamic signals occurring in many facets of technology from Basecamp letting you know when a team member is logged in to editing documents in real time using Google docs, there's no doubt in my mind that this is bigger than blogging, or even sharing. The ambient nature of ecosystems such as Twitter mimic things I've just described in my office experience. When nodes on the network (people) are traveling, we see the signal—when there is work happening, the signal gets sent. When they are at play, the signal is there. Sometimes the signal is mixed all together, but still strong. And of something traumatic has happened—signals are often sent. All of these signals inform us, and provide something of infinite value.
Signals which provide context really gets me excited about all of this because with context everything gets better. Collaboration, work, communicaiton, and of course business. Good sales people know all about context—they are masters at reading signals and it's often why they will prefer to pursue interactions in the flesh. These are where dynamic signals are most rich and saturated. As a small group working remotely, we've come to depend on all types of technologies which attempt to mimic the level of dynamic signals we send off when we work together in person as a group. Sometimes somthing like Yammer can fill a gap, sometimes it doesn't. The technologies are still coming together—but the sociological driver has been building up slowly for years. More teams working remotely, work happening during all types of shifts vs. 9-5. And communications happening 24-7. These communications can be about your product, brand or service from all over the world. The signals are out there, they are real time and they need to be made sense of. When thinking about why all of this "social stuff" matters, consider this equation.
Signals + context = better.
Here's the opportunity dynamic signals provides. Or as colleague Jevon MacDonald puts it:
"For the first time we are seeing a complete set of ideas emerge which are applicable on both a strategic and implementation level. The four major archetypes of Social Business Design can be integrated to move past simple data interchange and in to a world of work in which end-users are in control and through which they can collaborate in real time."
Here's to business, like life—happening in real time. Real time means better, more efficient, streamlined and contextual. All things which can lead to improved productivity, and better quality. Stuff that can be measured. That's the value of dynamic signals.