Dinner in Charleston

By John Mancini posted 04-08-2010 16:48


Last week my wife and I spent a few days in Charleston, SC.

(A side note to readers -- beautiful city and great food -- go there.)

When it came to the most important part of our trip (i.e., selecting where to eat), my wife was armed with the handy Paperback 1.0 Frommer Pocket guide to Charleston. I was armed with Web 2.0 technologies via my iPhone and Yelp and Google.

We initially considered Hank's for dinner and made a reservation after looking it up in the Frommer guide: "…this has been called the quintessential Low Country Seafood restaurant and saloon."

At that point, we (or perhaps more accurately, I) sought to validate our analog expert choice with digital crowd-sourced insights. Enter Yelp.

Many of the reviews were quite good. However, the overall rating (3.5 out of 5, based on 32 reviews) raised an eyebrow. Ditto a few of the comments. "I was so disappointed with Hank's." "Food was pretty good - nothing too memorable." "A tourist trap. The food is good but not great."

Which led me to a broader search on Google out of concern that 32 reviews was perhaps not a sufficient sample upon which to make a decision.

Hank's            Hank's

Based on all of this, we decided to re-open the search and begin with Web 2.0 sources rather than sources as our guide. We found a place called Cypress (http://www.magnolias-blossom-cypress.com/) on Yelp that had a 4.5 out of 5, and validated it with the broader Google review (below).

CypressThe Web 2.0 decision-making process worked like a charm; we ultimately had a great meal. (In truth, I can't say that wouldn't have also been the case at Hank's -- but we never got there.)

The experience made me think a bit about some of the issues we encounter when we apply web 2.0 technologies to our organizations and when we port them inside the firewall and use them for business decision-making and knowledge aggregation (i.e., "E2.0" -- I know experts will scoff at such a simplistic definition).

What are some of the issues we need to consider as we introduce socially driven knowledge networks to our organizations?

How do we use the vast amounts of informal and ad hoc information we encounter to actually make decisions -- decisions that are far more important than the selection of a restaurant?


A couple of thoughts.

1 -- Immediacy and mobility matter. One of things that killed the first incarnation of knowledge management was that the tools were not of sufficient maturity and flexibility and attractiveness to drive widespread engagement.

Overly elaborate structures accompanied by "mandates" for participation created initiatives that had little staying power in the long run and eventually withered on the vine. E2.0 initiatives need robust and mobile (and frankly fun) interfaces to thrive. That's the only way to build the critical mass of involvement that is needed to create snowballing E2.0 initiatives. The wisdom of the crowds requires a crowd.

2 -- Information curation matters. A key factor in our restaurant search was the kind of elegant information curation that created the charts listed above. The ability to distill and present information in a digestible format (as in this case, taking qualitative reviews and presenting a summary rating, with the detailed reviews also available) will be increasingly important as the volume of user generated information grows. Socially generated information dramatically increases in value as its "consumability" by individual knowledge workers improves.

3 -- Good collective intelligence ultimately modifies behavior. Think about how unlikely it would have been five years ago to pass up the advice of an expert (Frommer) and instead act on suggestions gleaned from a gang of unconnected regular people about whom you knew nothing. And yet in the small case of our $100 dinner, that is exactly what we did. In the larger organizational context, the collection, curation, and presentation of collaboratively generated information will erode the importance of isolated experts (either self or organizationally appointed) in our organizations.

4 -- Trust is a gradually acquired asset. Successful E2.0 initiatives do not just magically start that way; the Big Bang approach does not work with social media projects. Trust builds over time as the application of socially generated information generates better decision-making. Trusting socially generated information for our restaurant decision-making was a lot easier the second night.

5 -- Make it easy to migrate from content consumer to content creator. All E2.0 initiatives wrestle with how to encourage active content creation as well as passive content consumption. In my case, our experience on night one led me to post my own review (for my wife, a further signal of my descent into some sort of nerd black hole).

Key to my posting a Yelp review was: a) how helpful the information contributed by others was our decision making; and b) how idiot simple it was to do so. Our internal social systems need to be as easy to use as those in the consumer sector.

#crowdwisdom #collectiveintelligence #web2.0 #socialnetworks #trust