Developing trust in the digital workplace

Here’s a little something I wrote for CMS Wire, as part of their series on intranets and the digital workplace this month.

In offices the world over, a quiet revolution is underway. The costs of technology have fallen, the quality of social platforms vastly improved, and senior management attitudes have changed; after many years when it was simply an aspiration, or a buzzword, the digital workplace is fast becoming a reality.

Using social and collaborative tools, more and more of us are breaking free of the office and working flexibly for all or part of the time – so that work is an activity, not a place.

While secure, reliable and usable tools are an important element of a successful digital workplace, technology is not itself a panacea; to make it work you need the right policies and processes in place too – and the people involved need to trust one another.

A recent survey by Microsoft found 82% of businesses now support flexible working. But while seven in ten managers say they trust their employees to be productive when working from home, employees are far more cynical about one another: only 52% trust their colleagues to be productive when working away from the office.

This presents a barrier to continued growth in online working; teams cannot deliver unless they trust each other. But to build trust in virtual teams – when often the members have never even met each other – employers need to ensure the right factors are in place to enable it.

So just how can organisations develop employee trust in their digital workplace?

First, realise that trust doesn’t just happen. Too many organisations introduce collaboration technologies, and simply expect silos to disappear, with productive, cross-functional teams emerging in their place. Often, silos exist for reason – because the people in them know each other, and understand their own role. Successful digital workplaces recognise that virtual teams need time, space and tools to develop solid working relationships.

Conversely, virtual teams often have a honeymoon period, a brief time when people are willing to give them a shot. Under pressure to perform, groups quickly develop what’s termed swift trust – a kind of benefit of the doubt. This tends to decay quickly, but it can provide the glue that keeps teams together until more lasting trust has developed.

Developing deeper bonds in the digital workplace requires us to use our tools in less obvious ways. Often digital workplace strategy focuses on facilitating work tasks, but not on how to reproduce the experience of a being a member of a workforce in order to reduce feelings of isolation and increase engagement.

Ambient awareness

Lee Bryant of Dachis Group champions the importance of ambient awareness – the office chatter which gives people a greater understanding of their organisation’s work – as something which “oils the wheels” of digital workforces. While some argue social activity streams are an unwelcome distraction from ‘real work’, in replicating those overheard office conversations they keep people in the loop and can ultimately lead to improved productivity.

Successful digital workplace launches have found tools have had wider adoption – and achieved greater success – when they can be used for social as well as more obviously work-related activity, for instance by including interest-based social communities. Allowing people to talk about both their personal and professional lives builds empathy and interpersonal trust between people who may not have met face-to-face.

Provide tools, not rules

This connective tissue is stronger when it’s able to develop organically, with employers providing the tools but not prescribing precisely how and when they can be used. There are parallels here between physical and online spaces; when a business creates a meeting room, it defines the rules for the room (how you book it, when it’s available), and sets up the space, but never defines precisely how the room must be used. Social spaces are like meeting rooms.

In German there’s even a word for this: Nutzungoffenheit, which – loosely translated – means the potential of technologies only manifests itself when people have made sense of them and incorporated them into their own routines.

This phenomenon means it’s difficult to predict precisely what impact digital workplace tools will have on the workforce until they have been introduced. Corporate culture also impacts heavily on the degree to which collaboration will be embraced.

Lead from the middle

However, in all but the smallest organisations the introduction of enterprise social marks a significant shift from top-down to peer-to-peer communication. While a move away from old ‘command and control’ management contributes to networked productivity, it moves the balance of power away from managers and leaders as gatekeepers of information.

One unintended consequence is that this – combined with the decreased visibility that comes with flexible working – can further undermine trust in leadership. Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer found trust in CEOs fell by 12% in the last year alone. With teams increasingly working virtually, senior execs need to find new ways to connect with their workforces to gain and maintain trust in their leadership.

Senior leaders need to ‘walk the talk’, using enterprise social tools and blogs just as others might ‘walk the floor’ in a more traditional organisation, while recognising that in a digital workplace a command and control style of leadership is often less effective than modelling desired behaviours.

Jonathan Phillips suggests leaders should be highly visible on the intranet, and not just in news stories and CEO blogs: “They should ask questions, participate in online debate, solicit personal feedback, seek input to key initiatives. They should comment on other employee blogs.”

Leaders must demonstrate that they believe enterprise social is work and not work avoidance; by using social tools themselves, leaders give employees permission to do the same, and in turn let employees know they are trusted to deliver.

Successful organisations will trust their own employees to work effectively without command and control, and provide them with tools and time to establish social bonds with their peers in order to work effectively in virtual teams. Such organisations recognise that trust is a reciprocal relationship between employer and employee, where trust is repaid with greater flexibility, engagement and performance on both sides.

Declining trust defines new role for intranets

Trust

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, published last week, finds a deepening sense of distrust in governments, businesses and institutions. The annual global study, which questioned 30,000 people in 25 countries, reveals a dramatic shift in the value people place in information sources – which, in turn, has some interesting implications for communicators and intranet managers.

Across the globe, blame for the financial and political chaos of 2011 landed at the doorstep of government, as trust in that institution fell nine points to 43 per cent. In seventeen of the 25 countries surveyed, government is now trusted by less than half to do what is right. In twelve, it trails business, media and non-governmental organizations as the least trusted institution.

The private sector fared slightly better: trust in business fell from 56 percent to 53 percent, with countries like France and Germany, in the heart of the Eurozone economic crisis, experiencing double-digit decreases.

“Business is now better placed than government to lead the way out of the trust crisis,” said CEO Richard Edelman. “But the balance must change so that business is seen both as a force for good and an engine for profit.”

One of the biggest changes over the past year is the decline in trust in CEOs, which fell by 12 points. Faith in government officials fell like a stone too this year, down 14 points to just 29 per cent. It’s not unreasonable to assume this is reflected inside organisations too, so many will want to look again at CEO blogs as a means of increasing visability and trust in senior leadership. Over on Intranetizen, Jonathan gives some sterling advice on making executive blogs work.

Employee advocacy could be one way out of the mire. The survey found that credibility in average employees rose dramatically this year, so they are now the most trusted resource within an organisation. To capitalise on this, organisations must work harder to ensure their employees are informed and engaged – and then trust them to talk on the company’s behalf. This approach – what Edelman call radical transparancy – empowers employees to drive the conversation amongst their peers.

But to do this, organisations and leaders need to trust their employees first; companies which block access to social networks are preventing their employees from advocating on their behalf, and so missing a huge opportunity to engage with customers.

The barometer found people need to hear the same information about a company three to five times before they will believe it. This emphasises the importance of a proper communciations strategy which mixes on and offline channels to ensure the message gets out there. 

At the same time, trust in social networks as sources of information grew  by 75 per cent over the past year. Smart companies, then, will take advantage of this and embrace the value of conversations (by employees and the public) as a means of establishing identity and trust.

One corollary of this is that the growth in use of social networks, both internally and externally, means news travels fast. Employees can easily find information about their own company online, and all too often will hear (and believe) news from external sources before they do from their own manager.

This has huge implications for company transparency; corporate communciations structures need to keep pace with the changes. A good, social intranet – and improved access to these from a range of devices – gives organisations the means by which they can get their message to staff before they hear it from elsewhere. But this isn’t just a case of building it – leadership buy-in, and changes to the way corporate comms work with social intranets are essential to make it work.

Edelman’s report sets out long- and short-term approaches to rebuilding trust. In the short term, trust in a business is firmly tied to the bottom line. But future trust is more strongly linked to softer, societally-focused factors such as business ethics, placing customers ahead of profits and treating employees well. In the current environment, informed, engaged employees are best placed to communicate that message to the public – and intranets have a vital role to play in building that engagement.

Photo credit: Thorinside on Flickr

Will 2012 be the end of email?

end of email

2012 begins with a slew of predictions that this year will see the back of email. Back in November, multibillionaire foetus Mark Zuckerberg declared “email is dead”.

It must be true, I read it on Twitter. However, Zuckerberg is hardly an impartial observer; he’s got his Facebook Messenger to flog (a system which, ironically, has a user experience akin to using Yahoo webmail in the late 90s).

ATOS boss Thierry Breton is taking the whole business more seriously; he’s making it his personal mission to end the use of internal email by 2014, arguing that 85% of his staff’s time spent on email is unproductive.

Breton noted that his new graduate hires didn’t use email; they’d grown up on social tools such as Facebook. It was only on starting work, he claims, that this cohort were introduced to mail – and found it wanting.

Research by ComScore reckons younger people don’t use email, eschewing it in favour of IM and social networks which provide “instant gratification”. This is precisely the kind of meaningless statistic regularly used to prop up claims that email is on the way out (usually peddled by people with a messaging system of their own to promote). Until I joined the workforce I’d never participated in a meeting, made a round of tea, or heard the word Action used as a verb. Yet all of these things are still going strong in the most digital of workplaces. That people don’t adopt common workplace practices until they join the workforce should hardly come as a surprise.

Let’s get this straight right now: Facebook messenger, Twitter and Yammer aren’t about to see off a communication medium which has been going strong since 1972. Not now, and probably not for a long time.

Claims that one type of new technology will swiftly usurp established practice are nothing new; Plato claimed that the spread of writing would destroy humans’ ability to remember.

The ComScore research found visits to mail sites such as Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo fell by 6% in the past year. Crucially, however, it doesn’t find that that volume of email received and sent has actually fallen. And as more and more if us are using smartphone and tablet clients to manage our personal emails, it kind of follows that this should impact on the number of visits to webmail sites.

In the workplace, things are different. People are attached to their Outlook. This has long been a source of bafflement to intranet managers and others working in enterprise tech. Outlook, as we all know, is rubbish.

Well, it is; it’s particularly rubbish at the things it wasn’t supposed to be used for, like collaboration and archiving. But this is like moaning that a hammer is crap at cutting a piece of wood in two.

What Outlook is mostly quite good for is emailing. As a program for reading and writing emails, facilitating communication between two or more people, it’s really not bad at all. It integrates with Office. It has folders and a calendar, and if you’re very clever you can add voting buttons, which at least half of the recipients will miss.

And the fact is, people like email. They know what to do with it. They can attach stuff to it. Crucially, at some future date they can retrieve their email from the bowels of their Personal Folders in order to cover their own back. Granted, it does mean that disk space is optimally used, or that versions aren’t ordered, or that they’ll definitely be able to find what they’re looking for, but for most this is a small price to pay.

The times, however, are a-changin’. Attached though users are to Outlook, the fact is that IT teams are not. If 2012 is anything, it looks set to be the year of the cloud. Usability and functionality of cloud-based office apps has now improved to the point where they present a genuine alternative, while at the same time budgets are being squeezed. For many IT departments, switching to cloud based email is fast becoming a no-brainer.

It’s this, together with the increasing use of smartphones as the primary means of reading emails, which may finally break the office’s addiction to Outlook.

And that, my intranet-loving friends, is an opportunity. If people are – for other reasons – going to change their workplace tech habits, then for the first time ever they might be genuinely interested in your collaboration platforms and document management solutions.

If your organisation is aiming to move to cloud-based mail this year, then now is the time to get planning.  While we know the benefits of a social, collaborative intranet, in most organisations they haven’t yet taken off; 72% of employees use internal social functionality less than once a month.

This isn’t because they don’t know how. The same group of users will happily update Facebook daily. No: it’s because they haven’t figured out the point yet, and find your collaboration platform fiddly.

So what can you do about this?

First, make your internal social network better. Find out what people want and need and give it to them. What do they want to communicate about, and with who? What features do they need? File sharing, task management? These are all things people do (badly) in Outlook. For your internal social network to take off, it needs to be genuinely useful and help people to do their jobs better.

User experience is a vital component of this. Facebook has the traction it does because it’s intuitive and easy to use. Internal networks need to watch and learn. People won’t put up with a clunky interface simply because they’re being paid to be there.

Many will claim to have already cracked step 1. Good. Then why aren’t people using it? Perhaps they don’t know it’s there, or don’t understand the benefits of using it.

Employees need to understand how internal social can improve their productivity, or they won’t see the point in using it. Make sure the benefits of using the system are clearly spelled out. As well as marketing the product, you need to cultivate the network.  Like any social network, internal ones need to reach a tipping point – a critical mass of users and a decent range of content – before they really become interesting and useful.

Here, 2012 provides another opportunity; with many being asked to work from home during the Olympics to reduce demand on the transport network, people are actively looking for solutions to support home and flexible working.  These newly homeworking employees could provide a valuable case study, demonstrating how intranet 2.0 can improve communication and collaboration, leading to more innovation, better knowledge-sharing and ultimately increased revenue.

Start talking to these people now and ensure they have the right tools in place by the time the Games come around. If the tools work for them, they’ll have an incentive to keep on using them after the Olympic flame is extinguished.

Email isn’t dying. If anything, it’s suffering from growing pains. But with the changes to workplace technology in the pipeline for 2012, this is the time to develop and promote the alternatives in order to make your organisation work more effectively. Your workforce needs you.

Internal Comms Teacamp returns!

Tomorrow is Internal Comms Teacamp! This time around we’re talking about intranets, social media and the digital side of internal comms – so it’s right up my street.

When: 16 November, 4-6pm

Where: Cafe Zest, House of Fraser, Victoria Street, London SW1E 6QX (it’s on the second floor at House of Fraser)

It’s open to all internal communications practioners, in any sector. No need to book or RSVP – just turn up.

If you can’t make it, follow the action on the #iceteacamp hashtag.

Internal Comms Teacamp 2 – Evaluation

For this second Internal Comms Teacamp we settled on the thorny topic of evaluation. With budgets being squeezed, we’re all under increasing pressure to demostrate the value of what we do, so this was a popular subject and we all had plenty to say.

With the summer holidays in full swing this was a smaller group than the first time around, but included a mix of internal communications professionals from the public, private and voluntary sectors keen to share ideas on the challenges we all face in our line of work.

Camilla West from Royal Bank of Scotland kicked things off with a short presentation on the work she’s doing to develop measurable KPIs for internal comms which link to wider business objectives. This turned out to be a common theme in the ensuing discussion; how we move away from simplistic measurement of click-throughs and measuring outputs towards a more meaningful evaluation of the impact comms has on achieving outcomes for the business.

The discussion moved on to KPIs. We all need to report our performance regularly to our management boards, but all too often this focuses on outputs (such as numbers of intranet visits) rather than outcomes (such as numbers staff who signed up to a training course). The difficulty we all seem to have is demonstrating what impact comms had on any single outcome; generally success or otherwise is determined by a number of organisational functions and variables, of which communications is just one.

While staff surveys can be useful in measuring staff engagement and objective satisfaction with communications channels, they’re far from a perfect means of measuring the performance of an organisation’s communications function. The group strongly felt these were often given far more attention than they deserve, so surveys should be followed up with additional research such as focus groups to gain a better understanding of communications effectiveness and identify points of failure.

This led nicely on to a discussion about the extent to which internal comms can be responsible for organisational objectives around staff engagement and morale. Many public sector organisations are noticing a dip in engagement scores at the moment, which is unsurprising given the headcount reductions and budget cuts so many are going through. This means that even where communications is working well, it performs badly in surveys as staff are cheesed off for myriad reasons beyond the control of comms.

Everyone in attendance emphasised the need to evaluate the effectiveness of campaigns and specific communications activities as well as employee satisfaction with communications. This needs to be an honest review of what works and what didn’t work as well, rather than simply trumpeting success stories.

In summary, it’s clear that evaluation is essential, but it’s not easy. Different methods of evaluation will be needed for different activities, and we need to combine this with regular reporting on our own performance to demonstrate the value of internal communications spend –  linked to financial performance where possible.

The next Internal Comms Teacamp will be on 21 September from 4pm-6pm. We’ll be discussing Internal Comms and Hard to Reach Audiences, so I’ll be talking about the work I’ve been doing to bring intranet content to smartphones and iPads for Members of Parliament. For more information contact me and I’ll add you to our email list.

Not sure what Internal Comms Teacamp is? Here’s an introductory blogpost.

Internal communications teacamp

Contrary to popular belief, webbies aren’t always glued to their screens and hidden away in dank basements. They love to get out and about and network with their peers.

It all began with UKGovCamp, a one-day event for public sector digital types. These events – now in their third year – have no set agenda; people come with their ideas and problems and pitch sessions to the other attendees. The agenda is cobbled together on the day using post-it notes and flipchart paper. The result is an unconference far more interesting, informative and relevant than any event you’ve ever paid big bucks to attend.

This span off into Teacamp, the monthly informal get-together of Whitehall digital communicators and social media specialists. Each month 20 to 30 Whitehall webbies meet at a cafe in Westminster to share ideas, solve problems, learn something new and drink some tea. Usually someone volunteers to do a ten-minute talk on something cool they’re doing, or to gather feedback on a specific topic or project, and then it opens up to the group to ask questions, say what they think or seek solutions to their own work challenges.

It’s a fantastic model for professional networking and knowledge-sharing. One which it would be a shame to resign to the digital sector alone. If there’s one thing Internal Communicators are good at, it’s nicking good ideas from elsewhere and applying them in our own work contexts.

So with that in mind, myself and two other internal communicators are plotting the very first Internal Comms Teacamp.

We’re inviting internal communications specialists to come along to share ideas, natter about comms, and drink some tea.  It’s open to anyone who works in employee communications, not just digital types, from the public and private sectors.

We’re kicking off at Apostrophe in Market Place (near Oxford Circus) from 4-6pm on May 25th. Come along! Or give me a shout via the Contact Me form or on Twitter if you want to know more.

Silly season

We’re all familiar with the concept of silly season in the media. With the World Cup well and truly over, politicians on recess, schools on holiday and the courts shut for a few weeks, the papers are left scratching around for something to fill what the Germans call sommerloch – the summer [news] hole.

And so, too for internal communicators. With so many colleagues away, decisions aren’t being made and there’s a dearth of campaigns, updates or announcements. This means publications are unfilled and intranet pages reek of last week.

But while the papers have an endless supply of celebrity trivia and the annual parade of attractive a-level students picking up their results, corporate communicators have no such luxury. So how do we deal with slow news days?

Catch up with old news. With some space and time to spare, have a look back at the past few months and think about projects or initiatives which didn’t get as much attention as they deserved at the time. Are there any updates? Can you report on progress? You might earn a few brownie points by giving them some publicity now.

Recognition. Hertzberg’s work on motivation found a significant proportion of people are motivated to work because of the recognition they get for it. With budgets tightening and under-inflation payrises talked about for many, now’s the time to focus on those non-financial rewards and motivations. By taking the opportunity to recognise the hard work our colleagues have been putting in, we can better motivate them to say, stay and strive.

Admit defeat. Silly season is an international phenomenon – one familiar in offices around the globe. With so many colleagues – especially those with children – away, making significant changes or announcements is always going to prove difficult; any important communications made now might be missed by those colleagues who are away.

Why not take some time to focus on some housekeeping tasks, to make sure your intranet is running smoothly, ready to hit the ground running in September (I’m tidying up our A-Z, which is proving more interesting than it sounds!)

How do you deal with slow news days on your intranet? Does it even bother you? Post your comments.

Organisational communication 2020

This was the 50th meeting of the London Communicators and Engagement Group, an informal monthly meetup of (mostly internal) communicators. After 50 meetings you’d think organiser Matt O’Neill would be out of topics to cover – but you’d be wrong.

This time, Matt invited David Galipeau (from eighty20.org /United Nations/Academia) to deliver a mini exposition into the future of communications. In a futuristic spirit he delivered his talk – on where he sees communications of the future heading – using a Skype video link from Geneva.

David Galipeau off Red Dwarf

In practice, this gave him the disjoined, disbodied appearance of Holly from Red Dwarf. But it worked surprisingly well – so that’s another nail in the coffin for international business travel, perhaps.

As Matt said in his introduction to the event, communicators are focussing on how we can use social media tools to improve organisational communication now and in the immediate future. But are the implications for the future? ‘Is this just the start of an emerging pattern that will fundamentally change the way organisations talk internally and externally?’ asked Matt.

He’d also suggested we take a look at some of Galipeau’s work ahead of the event. Alas, I was in a rush, and when I took a look at this, I thought ‘arrgh!’ and closed my browser tab.

Galipeau’s talk was almost as difficult to digest. I know he’s an academic, but I suspect I was one of the more geeky communicators in the room, and still quite a lot of what he said went right over my head. I’m not sure whether those who weren’t digital natives really knew what he was talking about for much of the time.

For example, Galipeau talked about the implementation of IPV6. For the lay reader – that’s most of you, I suspect – our IP addresses are currently based on IPV4, but we are fast running out of numbers. IPV6, Adrian Short told me via the Twitter back channel, will give us gives 6.5 x 1023 addresses for every square metre on Earth.

The arrival IPV6 will enable an ‘Internet of Things’ in which everything down to your slippers will have its own IP address. Your TV will speak to your fridge, and your supermarket trolley to your bank.

This, he contended, means the interweb is entering a new and much darker phase, quite different to the hippy free-for-all we’ve come to know. The internet is already slowing down thanks to tens of thousands of DOS attacks taking place daily. This, he said, is an early sign totalitarian nutjobs are engaged in cyber attacks and counter hacks, and the threat of industrial and political espionage is growing.

He gave groups that protested against Scientology as an example of this – yet didn’t really elaborate what was new about this threat other than giving people the ability to self-organise.

What was odd about the talk was that the speaker achieved the rare feat of going right over people’s heads while at the same time getting some real basics completely wrong. For instance, he talked about ‘crowdsourcing’, giving the example of “bringing people together to all dance in the station at the same time”.

This isn’t crowdsourcing, it’s flashmobbing. Crowdsourcing means drawing on the wisdom of the crowd in order to inform your own decision-making. It has a purpose, and increasingly it has real value for individuals and corporations. It can be as simple as putting a shout out on Twitter to gather some lazy reasearch, or as complex as wiki-style policy formation.

Simply framing it in terms of simply bringing people together for no discernable purpose really undermined Galipeau’s credibility, and this was reflected in the Twitter stream.

Galipeau went on to argue strongly what organisations are becoming more centralised, and in particular decision-making is becoming more centralised within organisations. But as he didn’t elaborate on why he believed this to be so, or what evidence pointed in this direction, I wasn’t convinced (particualrly as it doesn’t chime with what so many of us internal communicators are working towards).

I was glad, then, of the surprise appearance of engagement guru John Smythe. His excellent book – CEO: Chief Engagement Officer – focuses on how organisations can deliver increased engagement, and improved productivity, by opening up and moving towards a culture of co-creation.

When Smythe asked the speaker to give examples of research that proved the opposite, Galipeau muttered something about unpublished research commissioned by the US military, which didn’t convince me at all.

I am far more convinced by Smythe’s thesis than Galipeau’s, not least because the latter appears to run contrary to so much of what I see going on in government and business. There are already countless examples of companies successfully democratising decision making both with employees and customers.

Smythe has challenged Galipeau to a debate on this, which he very grudgingly accepted. I really hope this happens.

My objections to Galipeau’s thesis are, I admit, partly emotional. He presented a remarkably gloomy vision of the future, in which the individual is powerless and the corporate centre is an omniscient Orwellian beast.

Nonetheless, it provided an interesting counterbalance to the the highly positive future envisaged by theorists like Clay Shirky and Charles Leadbeater. Shirky, as I’ve blogged about before, sketches out future in which technology enables public participation on a scale never before seen. He says that ‘for the first time, we have the tools to make group action truly a reality. And they’re going to change our whole world.’

So there’s a concensus that techology will radically change our relationship with organisations and the state. For me, at least, the balance of evidence would suggest Smythe and Shirky’s culture of co-creation is on the rise.

If Galipeau’s talk got you reaching for the anti-depressants, check out Us Now, a film project about the power of mass collaboration, government and the internet. It’s a rather more cheerful view of the digital future.

UKGC10 session three: Google Wave

Shane Dillon led the post-lunch session on Google Wave. I’ve blogged about Wave a couple of times before, one a general overview and another looking specifically at what application it might have in internal communications. That being the case, I’m not going to repeat my comments here, but instead on my notes from the session itself.

Shane had set up a reasonably successful UKGovCamp wave ahead of the event, so those who attended the session had some practical experience of using Wave beforehand. It was perhaps telling that a few of us remarked this was the first time we’d logged on to Wave in weeks.

Shane is clearly a fan of Wave, and in many ways I can see why. It has some top notch features, enabling users to embed documents, maps, pictures and so on, and to play the conversation back.

In the context of the FCO it has particular relevance as it combines collaborative features with the asynchronicity of email – making it especially good for working across a number of time zones. In my earlier blog I made the same comment about its potential for use in the global charity where I previously worked.

Collaboration is good, and anything which makes collaboration easier should be applauded. But Wave doesn’t make collaboration easier, because the user experience is appalling, as everyone in the room agreed.

As one Tweeter remarked: if even geeks like us struggle to get to grips with Wave, what hope does anyone else have? Motivation is everything, and the effort vs. reward ratio is too low for Wave to make it worthwhile.

Part of Twitter’s appeal is that you can be up and running in seconds, and it’s so intuitive you can get to grips with it right away. Wave on the other hand, had a hour-long instruction video.

Wave also has heavy demands on technology, requiring an up to date browser and broadband connection. This could prove a barrier to adoption in the public sector, many of whom are still running IE6. Our customers and residents may find connection speed a barrier to adoption too, as broadband connections are unavailable in many rural areas, for instance.

One participant asked if Wave was something young people would be interested in. Whilst there’s evidence young people use the internet in different ways from older ones – eschewing email in favour of instant messenger and social networks, for example – I’m not sure this is something that would appeal to Generation Y, not least because it doesn’t (yet) work on mobile.

Wave’s apparent lack of success is seen by many to be a sign Google has lost it. The success of Google Search and Gmail – which totally changed the game in the respective sectors – means we forget that Google do fail occasionally, and should be allowed to if it encourages innovation. Who remembers Google Lively?

Perhaps we shouldn’t see Wave as it currently exists as a finished product, but rather a sandbox for potential features to be used elsewhere. If these are adopted on other platforms, they could become altogether more useful and user-friendly. Similarly, Waves could become more attractive once they can be embedded within other web content.

Wave is undoubtedly a powerful tool, and one Shane would argue is worth spending some time getting to grips with. Get you head around the clunky interface and strange public wave search, he contends, and you’ll find thousands of debates and discussions on subjects from climate change to Pakistani politics.

But while I can’t say I have such a yearning to relive early 90s ICQ chatrooms, I can see Wave functionality having some useful business applications – for online meetings, document sharing, newsgathering or planning, perhaps – if the user experience improves considerably.

So while Wave isn’t a roaring success, it may be too early to write it off as complete a failure either.