Making friends with Twitter, forums and blogs

Social networks are infiltrating your corporate network and distracting your employees. Analyst Curt Monash offers advice on turning the situation from nuisance to competitive advantage.

Social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogs and forums are infiltrating your corporate network and distracting your employees. Analyst Curt Monash offers advice on turning the situation from nuisance to competitive advantage.

Curt Monash is a leading analyst of, and strategic advisor to, the software industry. He is also the author of the popular blogs DBMS, Text Technologies, Strategic Messaging and Network World's A World of Bytes. He joined us for a live Network World Chat where attendees asked him a wide range of questions on the software industry. He covered why social networks are not just an employee distraction but also an untapped marketing tool. He also talked about the best tools for enterprise data warehouses, corporate blogging strategies and text mining.

Moderator-Julie: Welcome everyone and welcome to our guest today, Curt Monash.

Curt_Monash: Hi everybody! Fire when ready! Anything from social networking or blog SEO strategy to hardcore database bits and bytes.

Moderator-Julie: While Curt is typing answers to questions, here's a pre-submitted one: What products are best for enterprise data warehouses?

Curt_Monash: For many enterprises, their main OLTP DBMS will do just fine. That's less likely for bigger enterprises. But the reason to have a separate data warehouse at all is performance, response time, and so on. If your database is small enough, the best answer might be to throw hardware at the problem and not split out a data warehouse at all. Or you could do what many enterprises do, and have a second instance of the OLTP DBMS, configured as a warehouse.

Beyond that, it depends on what you mean by EDW. If you mean exactly what Teradata does -- which is high volumes each of multiple kinds of analytic processing -- Teradata could be a great choice. Netezza is ever more mature and ever better at concurrency, so it can handle an EDW for many enterprises. Generally, if you're going to look up or update single rows a lot, row-based systems are better than columnar, but columnar vendors insist they do OK too. And more mature products usually handle more concurrent users than newer ones can. I have a new white paper up at http://www.monash.com/whitepapers.html. It's called "The Explosion in DBMS Choice" and it lays out when one should use something other than Oracle, SQL Server, or other marketing leading OLTP DBMS. I'll also post the intro to that white paper to my blog at http://www.networkworld.com/community/monash.

JeffCaruso: Aren't sites like Facebook and Twitter just a part of life now, work or otherwise? It seems pointless to try to block them. Would be like whac-a-mole - smack one, and another site pops up.

Curt_Monash: Absolutely. Blocking the whole site is silly. One can monitor usage to cut out the worst of work slacking, but that's about it.

JeffCaruso: How do you recommend users monitor usage and act on it?

Curt_Monash: Good question. If they have Websense or the like, that would seem to be the ticket. Websense is better for watching than for outright blocking.

Mike: Can you site some examples where Web 2.0 was used to build business?

Curt_Monash: It's built O'Reilly's conference business really well!

Mike: Can you site some examples where Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites were used to build business? I'm just looking for some examples that I could present to management.

Curt_Monash: Mike, I'm not sure I can help you with that. Blogs are IMO much more important than Facebook/MySpace. And if the latter are useful at all, they're for faddish things like rock bands.

CuriousCat: What's the most interesting social networking tool you use and why do you like it?

Curt_Monash: WordPress. As far as I'm concerned, blogging is by far the most important aspect of social networking. It lets me communicate however I want, on whatever schedule I want. It rocks. It's pretty much the only way I market, so I can say that a huge fraction of my revenue is derived from blogging.

JeffCaruso: You blogged a few weeks ago about Microsoft's purchase of DATAllegro. Could explain why that's a big deal, and if you have any further thoughts on what we can expect to happen as a result?

Curt_Monash: Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle are simply obsolete technologies in the area of very-large-scale data warehousing. If you have 100 terabytes of data to manage, it is supremely painful to use those DBMS, if you can get it done at all. But Teradata et al. can get it done a lot better, and et al. includes DATAllegro. MPP (Massively Multiparallel Processing) is simply the way to go. More, cheaper parts is MUCH more cost effective than fewer more expensive ones. And even more to the point, disk rotation speeds and hence the hard limit on seek times have improved 12 1/2 fold since IBM introduced the Winchester Disk Drive during Dwight Eisenhower's first term as President.

CINDY: How can a company incorporate social networks into lead gen activities - has anyone done this successfully?

Curt_Monash: Hmm. Again, on an organized business-like scheme of fake personal friendship, you're bound to run into difficulties. E.g., you spam and seem insincere. One can build a consulting business with the help of LinkedIn, but I'm not sure one can build a widget manufacturing business. I'm a huge believer in marketing that's a conversation and all that. But you can't necessarily measure results by how many conversations quickly turn into sales. It's more in the way of softer benefits -- building reputation, listening to the market, etc. And by the way, if you want to automate listening to the market, you can. That isn't social networking software; it's "Voice of the Market" text mining. Here's more about that from my Text Technologies blog.

Moderator-Julie: Pre-submitted question: Most of the companies I have worked for allow us to use IM such as Yahoo IM or Trillian. I have not used Facebook or Twitter that much, but I found IM can be distracting. And in typical small IT department, I don't have time to chat since we have tight deadlines. If I have technical questions, I usually go to the forum to search for answers. I never thought about using the Facebook or Twitter as a technical resource but now I'm wondering if it would be useful for that. My question is: Is Twitter or Facebook being used as technical resource by lots of software developer? Thanks, Oliver.

Curt_Monash: I don't know about "lots," but I see certain kinds of technical questions asked and answered fairly often. For example, if you're building web apps or especially online media apps, you can get a lot of help. By the way, I'm a huge fan of IM for internal enterprise use. It can cut down both on phone interruptions and on CYA e-mail excesses. Some kind of enterprise Twitter would be even better, but that doesn't exist yet.

Cate: I'm still not clear about the difference between a forum and a blog. When would using a forum be better than using a blog? I'm in a higher educational setting and I'm thinking about tools for student collaboration (discussions about course work, not social life).

Curt_Monash: A forum is better when you want all the participants to be equally able to open discussions. A blog is better when there's a stronger leader. It sounds as if a forum is a better fit for your needs. Also, the built-in time sequencing of a blog isn't really relevant to your case.

CuriousCat: Do you think sites like Twitter or other "friend" sites will replace e-mail one day?

Curt_Monash: I think they'll replace SOME of what e-mail is used for, just as e-mail replaced some of what the telephone does.

slowerre: How do you think Web 2.0 and social networking will effect big businesses who have spent years building their brands? Doesn't this change marketing as we know it?

Curt_Monash: Absolutely. Brand marketing via "shouting" is no longer as successful as it used to be. The era of cynicism is strengthened by all these technologies that let people communicate their skepticism to each other. There are many kinds of influencers now. Early this year there was a lot of discussion of just that point. I wrote my take on my Strategic Messaging blog.

CuriousCat: What would an enterprise Twitter be used for and why would people need that if they already have IM?

Curt_Monash: Enterprise Twitter lets you ask questions of whoever might have the answer, rather than picking your victim in advance.

Mike: Regarding the social sites, I hear what you are saying. And I probably agree with you. However, you can't open a trade publication these days without finding an article on why Facebook-like apps should be infiltrating the enterprise. I guess my question is, "Why?"

Curt_Monash: There are multiple reasons, some overstated, some not. First, as Jeff alluded to in an earlier question, you can't shut down access even if you wanted to. You'll just annoy your employees. What's more, you'll interfere with one of their preferred technologies for the kind of networking that, with some technology or other, has been central to business for thousands of years. Also, even if the benefits of using these technologies to talk to consumers are often overstated, they do have genuine value. Listening is even more to the point. And as I noted in that link earlier, you can automate the listening part. When you do, what you're listening to is blogs and forums. If that didn't answer your question, please hit me again. (But please don't expect me to defend and agree with everything you've ever read hyping the subject. :D )

Moderator-Julie: Pre-submitted question: How do blogs fit into a typical enterprise's online strategy and how *should* they fit in?

Curt_Monash: Unfortunately, that's a very apt distinction. Blogs serve at least two -- only somewhat overlapping -- purposes:Enterprises constantly overlook B, because they're too intimidated by what they've been told about the "right" and "wrong" ways to blog. In particular, the way IT vendors and many other kinds of companies tell customer stories is stilted and broken, and blogs offer a way out that almost nobody seizes. Dennis Moore, by common consensus, was one of the first good marketers ever at Oracle. Now he's in the quasi-consumer hardware biz, and has one of the best CEO blogs, for a little company called OQO. Check it out at http://dbmoore.blogspot.com/. Dave Kellogg has a great blog for Mark Logic, but I'm not sure his style would be good to emulate for as many kinds of business as Dennis's would. Check Dave's blog out at http://marklogic.blogspot.com/. They do share one mistake -- they don't control their own URL or blog software. That's silly. Dennis has less excuse than Dave; his blog is a lot newer.

A. The constantly-hyped one of "participating in the conversation."

B. As a simple flexible platform for publishing what you want, when you want, in the tone you want.

Mike: I think you raise a good point with the value of "listening" regarding the social sites – to what could be customers and prospects. What do you think would be the best way to capture that feedback?

Curt_Monash: That depends a LOT on the size of your company, your market, etc. Do you do it through humans or through automation? Do the humans go out and cause the feedback, or do you listen passively? If it's a big market and you're doing passive listening, text mining software helps a lot. "Competitive intelligence," "Voice of the Customer," "Voice of the Market," and "customer experience management" are the big buzzwords. Attensity and Clarabridge head the list of vendors to consider and SaaS is available from both. Here is the URL where I write about that stuff: http://www.texttechnologies.com/category/text-mining/. Wade through and you'll find SOME elementary posts -- I promise!

Mike: Thanks. I appreciate the input.

Curt_Monash: You're most welcome.

CuriousCat: Why is it a mistake for companies not to own their own blog software? Doesn't it make more sense to use the many blogging options already available?

Curt_Monash: WordPress is a fine choice of software. Indeed, it's better software than you'll find on any general site, including Wordpress.com itself. More to the point, you brand your URL. So you should own and control the URL. Look at the links I put up to my various blogs and to Dennis's and Dave's. Except in Dennis's great use of photographs, mine have multiple advantages in how they look, how they promote my other sites, etc. That's because I control the WordPress theme. And, of course, because I have the excellent Melissa Bradshaw as a designer. ;) But she's available for hire by other folks too ...

Moderator-Julie: Pre-submitted question: What is your definition of the "semantic Web" and 1) will it really alter the search landscape as predicted and 2) what progress has been made toward this future?

Curt_Monash: I try not to define or think about phrases like semantic Web, because they've been so drastically over hyped. The missing piece that I see very rarely discussed is the integration of human tagging and automatic tagging. (Or for "tagging" you can read "information structuring.") Until those play much more nicely together, most of the futures will remain -- well, they'll remain in the future.

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