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Stovepipes and how mine is better than yours

Ok, so now I’ve done some reading, and I have dusted some of the luster off the academia-business divide.  (It’s Friday; I wrote another proposal draft yesterday; I’ll be unpredictable today.)

I’m reading Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant for Team Collaboration and Social Software, 2007” report.  I got it from Socialtext, but I’m not sure how.  In fact, there were a few PHP errors when I submitted the form to get the document, so my path was broken anyway.  So, the ridiculous title aside, I thought maybe this document would be interesting and enlightening.  The summary at the beginning is nice – tells me social software is a priority in 2008, explains that the paper is going to talk about social software market players.  Fair enough.  I’ll leave the fuzzy definition of “social software” aside and read on.

The paper tries to describe products available in the market and lists strengths and weaknesses for each. No where in the whole thing does it say where Mr. Nikos Drakos (again, Gartner, with the boys’ club) got any of his information or whether he ever spoke to a person who uses any of these products.  I’m apparently supposed to assume that Mr. Drakos knows more than I do and that this oracle is authoritative and accurate.  Yeah, not so much.  If nothing else, I’ve learned to doubt in my 22 years of schooling.  I think I’m fired up because some of the products he mentions such as Twiki are miserable failures for users.  Those of us who do user-centered research involving social software found that out by, gasp!, watching users try to use them, analyzing log data about use and content, and trying other products.

I don’t know that I meant for this post to become quite so rant-y, but there you have it.  I see the difference in rigor that distinguishes academic research from at least some forms of business research.  I like rigor.  I wish I had more time to develop my own social software based on what academic research has shown (maybe I could even make money), but I have to write that pesky dissertation.  I wish I could find more organizations interested in studying the use and effectiveness of the social software tools they employ.  I wish we could afford to experiment a bit more with the tools we build and use.  That said, Gartner’s report is clearly more clearly written and probably more immediately useful than my work, so they get points for that.  But Twiki?  Seriously?  Come on.

So, what do you think ?

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