Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What the Enterprise Can Learn From StackOverflow.com – Top 3 Lessons

Update (Nov 3, 2010): I stand corrected, the president of Fog Creek Software informed me on Twitter that ‘the Stack Overflow Product is actually available for enterprises and a few of the top banks are using it internally”. Hopefully we can get more details around this soon…

Stackoverflow has turned the antiquated concept of basic Q & A into a very successful modern franchise. Enterprises grappling with fostering engagement within their knowledge communities should take note. While this platform is not available to to an internal audience, there are key elements that can still help in shaping your unique strategy.

Without further ado, here are the Top 3 StackOverflow Lessons for creating an effective knowledge-base:

  1. Kill Person-to-Person Collaboration

    This is the kryptonite of effective knowledge sharing, especially in the Enterprise. Notice that Stackoverflow profiles don’t publish user emails – this is partially to protect the user from unsolicited contact and a flood of questions from newbies, but also to foster person-to-community collaboration. Enterprise Search solutions attempt to ‘open’ content that was previously sealed behind business silos after the fact – well, you can start by not allowing this content to be hidden in the first place. This is poorly done in most organizations, with most users shying away from public distribution lists to carry personal conversations under the fear of inconveniencing others!

  2. Make Participation Highly Addictive

    Community up-take is the make-it-or-break-it factor for these applications, meaning they must be highly intuitive (low-barrier to entry) and highly addictive. Stackoverflow achieves this delicate balance through a simple yet competitive reputation system that draws out best-of-breed developers simply to compete and to learn from one another.  A slightly refined version of this would work within the Enterprise as well; far too often, the incentive to participate just isn’t there. Before you can reward top participants, you have to start measuring. 

  3. Recognize Top Contributors Externally

    This one is somewhat controversial (like most new ideas are) but imagine a scenario where the ranking of the top contributors within your organization were opened up externally to prying eyes. Sure, this might be a frightening scenario if you’re worried about exposing (and losing) your top talent, but it’s also the strongest reward you can provide, too. Most traditional incentive/reward programs are completely hidden from the outside world, which misses the point, IMO. As nice of a gesture as a jacket or a $100 gift-certificate may be, the real value to heard-working professionals is recognition of their dedication and devotion within the broader community.  



    (Now, Stackoverflow promotes ‘flairs’ for different reasons, I think; for one, it’s a highly effective way to spread the word and drive in traffic through a hub-and-spoke model. But I think the implications for external recognition within the Enterprise community are far more profound.)

What’s your Enterprise doing to embrace the lessons from the Web’s top successes?

[1] – Finding Opportunity for Success in the Failure of Others
http://www.readwriteweb.com/start/2010/10/finding-opportunity-for-succes-in-failure-of-others.php

[2] – What is reputation?
http://stackoverflow.com/faq

27 comments:

Pete M. said...

Where does Quora fit into the analysis?

Quora is a question and answer site focused on getting really high quality, authoritative content on any topic that people are interested in. The big idea is to try to get every question page to be the best possible resource for anyone who wants to know about the answer. One way to think about it is as a cache for the research that people compile by searching the web or asking others. The feeling you get when you see a Wikipedia article and you think "Oh, that's going to have all the information I want about that" is the feeling we want to create across a much broader space.

Nariman Haghighi said...

Hey Pete; definitely, I think Quora is considered a leader in this space as well, though not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison with SO.

The SO guys are very open to incorporating aspects of Quora that are useful, if they haven't already done so:

http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/44618/what-can-we-learn-from-quora

For my time, I prefer to keep my focus on SO, recognizing that they're watching the field carefully.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading about publishing corporate info on stackoverflow... yes http://www.artifactconsulting.com/lapeira/2010/10/28/against-public-programming-and-server-issue-solving-chapter-one/

Nariman Haghighi said...

@Anyonymous: thanks for sharing the link, I read the article but my view is that you can discuss technical challenges publically without disclosing your competitive advantage - and you can learn a ton in the process, too. Also, I'm not proposing to share your corporate info on SO.com, merely suggesting that that the features that make it a success are desperately needed in the Enterprise (even if it’s a private deployment). I am suggesting that the *reputation* of top contributors be publically recognized.

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