Process: How to ask communities for help

Reaching out to communities can be a powerful way to find talent or resources. Your personal network may take a while to find the right person or file, especially if key people are unavailable. If you ask the right community, though, you might be able to get answers right away.

Here are some tips on asking communities for help:

  • Providing as much information as you can in the subject and message body.
    • Show urgency. Does your request have a deadline? Mention the date in the subject.
    • Be specific. Instead of using “Please help” as your subject, give details and write like an ad: “Deadline Nov ___, Web 2.0 intranet strategy expert needed for 5-week engagement in France” .
  • Whenever possible, create a discussion forum topic where people can check for updates and reply publicly. This will save you time and effort you’d otherwise spend answering the same questions again and again. It also allows other people to learn from the ongoing discussion. If you’re broadcasting your request to multiple communities, you can use a single discussion forum topic to collect all the answers, or you can create multiple discussion topics and monitor each of them.
  • If your request is urgent, send e-mail to the community. Most people do not regularly check the discussion forum, so send e-mail if you feel it’s necessary. You may want to ask one of the community leaders to send the e-mail on your behalf. This allows leaders to make sure their members aren’t overwhelmed with mail. Using a community leader’s name can give your message greater weight as well.
  • Plan for your e-mail to be forwarded. Because your e-mail may be forwarded to others, include all the details people will need to evaluate your request and pass it on to others who can help. Omit confidential details and ask people to limit distribution if necessary. Include a link to your discussion forum topic so that people can read updates.
  • Promise to summarize and share the results, and follow through. This encourages people to respond to you because they know they’ll learn something, and it helps you build goodwill in the community.

Good luck!

Lotus Connections Communities topics+replies feeds to OPML

Keeping track of discussions in Lotus Connections Communities can be difficult, so I thought I’d use a feed reader to read new forum topics and replies. Instead of subscribing to each community by hand, I wrote a Ruby script that generated an OPML file, which I then imported into FeedDemon. Win!

Here’s the script:

#!/usr/bin/ruby

email = ARGV[0]
password = ARGV[1]

require 'rubygems'
require 'rexml/document'
require 'open-uri'
require 'cgi'
require 'net/https'
base_url = 'https://w3.ibm.com/connections/communities/service/atom/'
url = base_url + 'communities/my'
opml = REXML::Document.new('<opml version="1.0"><head></head><body></body></opml>')
body = opml.elements['opml/body']
while url
  # Fetch the page
  $stderr.puts "Fetching " + url
  begin
    my_communities = REXML::Document.new open(url)
  rescue OpenURI::HTTPError
    begin
      my_communities = REXML::Document.new open(url, 
                                                {:http_basic_authentication => [email, password]})

    rescue OpenURI::HTTPError
      url = nil
    end
  end  
  my_communities.elements.each('*/entry') { |x|
    # Add it to the OPML
    $stderr.puts "Found " + x.elements['title'].text
    if x.elements['id'].text =~ /communityUuid=([^&]+)/
      uuid = Regexp.last_match(1)
    end
    body.add_element 'outline', {'title' => x.elements['title'].text,
      'xmlUrl' => 'https://w3.ibm.com/connections/news/atom/stories/public?source=communities&container=' + uuid
    }
  }
  # Set the URL to the next one
  url = nil
  if my_communities.elements['feed/link[@rel="next"]']
    url = my_communities.elements['feed/link[@rel="next"]'].attributes['href']
  end
  sleep 5
end
puts opml.to_s

If you want just discussion topics and replies, use this instead of the xmlUrl line above:

'xmlUrl' => base_url + 'community/forum?communityUuid=' + uuid

Process: Using Activities to organize workshop-related information

We regularly organize Innovation Discovery workshops that bring together experts across IBM and client decisionmakers to explore emerging topics. In the past, this involved a flurry of e-mail, particularly if we had last-minute substitutions. The flurry could get confusing, as we usually plan several workshops simultaneously. I refuse to keep all this information in my inbox. I’ve been setting up Activities for each of the workshops I keep an eye on, and we’re getting better at using the Activities to organize information.

Here’s what the workshop Activity needs to do:

  • Store planning information: agenda, logistics, etc.
  • Store workshop and output files: bios, presentations, and so on.
  • Store links to relevant resources, such as the associated Idea Lab
  • Share background information (both general and client-specific) with experts
  • Keep a record of correspondence related to the workshop, so that people who join the workshop late can see the context

In addition to storing information, the Activity can also help:

  • Organize bookmarked profiles and e-mail correspondence during the search for experts, so that organizers can see which potential speakers have already been contacted and what the status is
  • Remind people of the steps to take in organizing sub-activities such as the Idea Lab
  • Organize related resources for those sub-activities
  • Collect all final documents and share them with the group without filling people’s mail files

It’s easier to set up and add people to an Activity than it is to set up and add people to a TeamRoom, and with Lotus Notes 8.5, you can sync Activities for offline use.

NOTE: Although it works best when lots of people use it, the Activity works well even with just one person updating it (me). I keep others in the loop by using the e-mail notification features. This is good to know if the lack of adoption among your team members has been holding you back from using Activities or other nifty tools. They don’t need to use it if they don’t want to. It works even better when other people use it, of course, and someday it may even reach the point of mainstream acceptance. We’ll see. =)

Here are the ingredients we’ve been working with, and some improvements I’d like to try the next time we organize one:

  • README: How to use this activity – This entry is essential. This should be the first item on the list. It should describe the structure of the Activity, what’s in the different sections, and what to do when.
  • Planning: This section should contain the latest agenda. When logistics are sorted out (including which hotels people are staying at), include them here as well.
  • Output: Final presentations and output documents go in this section. We put this near the top for easy reference.
  • Client information: All the account-related information goes here.
  • Background information: Industry-related notes, and so on.
  • Finding experts: Any bookmarked profiles for experts under consideration. Also, e-mail correspondence for referrals, confirmation, etc. This helps us do the search for speakers even if a team member is suddenly unavailable.
  • Idea Lab: Checklist and related resources for the idea lab, if we’re running one for this workshop.
  • Discovery Lab: Draft presentations, more planning documents, related resources (such as the link for visitor wireless accounts), and correspondence. This is a work area that people can use to coordinate with each other.
  • Post-lab checklist: Post-engagement checklist that reminds us to do our lessons learned, case study, etc.
  • Minutes and archive: Meeting minutes, meeting invitations, other correspondence, and other files.

I love refining these tools!

Microblogging talk

I’ve promised to give a short talk on microblogging for the knowledge and collaboration community (KCBlue) at work. Might be a good time to practice animation, too. =)

5 minutes: 750 words, 20 minutes: 3,000 words (throw pauses in there too)

Creativity loves constraints. I want to fit the core of my message into 5 minutes (approximately 750 words), with each “part” being 140 characters or less.

This will be a launching pad for discussion, which will take up most of the allotted time. I’ll switch to Q&A with a summary slide that includes Why and Beyond the Basics so that it’s easy for people to remember what they want to ask questions about. I’ll use five minutes at the end to wrap up, and I’ll post links and follow-up material in a blog post. I’ll collect e-mail addresses so that I can notify people when I’ve posted an update.

I plan to make hand-drawn slides for each of the sections, and maybe even animation if I get around to it. =)

—-

The Whys and Hows of Microblogging

Why use Twitter? Why update your status on Facebook or Lotus Connections? Let’s talk about why people microblog and how you can get more value out of these tools.

Don’t know whom to e-mail? Don’t have the time to write a blog post? Post a short, quick update that people can read if they’re there.

What can you fit in 140 or so characters? A single thought. A question. Maybe a link.

What can you get? Broad, rapid, almost real-time conversations, if you’ve got a good network.

Here’s what you can do to build that network, and why you’d want to.

  • Learning: Follow role models and learn from what they’re doing. Build the relationship by thanking them for tips and ideas.
  • Updates: Do your favourite stores post updates? Find out what’s on sale and when the cookies have come out of the oven.
  • Customer service: Good experience? Bad experience? Post an update and you might be surprised by who’s listening.
  • Events: Interested in an event? Find out who’s going and what people think. Going there in person? Meet up at tweetups and get to know more people.
  • Awareness: Miss those watercooler chats? Microblogging’s better. You can keep in touch with way more people, and you don’t even have to stand up.
  • Passing things along: Like what someone shared? Share the good stuff by re-posting with credit. Look at how people do it, and follow their example.
  • Sharing: Want to build your network? Make people happy and help them grow by sharing tips and answering questions.
  • Questions: Need a quick answer but don’t know whom to ask? Post your question and you just might get a tip. You’ll need a good network for this.

NOTE: No one expects you to read everything. Don’t get addicted. It’s okay if you miss people’s updates.

How to get started:

Twitter: Sign up on twitter.com. Look for people. Follow them. Reply when you have something to say. Share what you’re doing and learning.

Lotus Connections Profiles: Log in. Look for people. Invite them to your network. Reply when you have something to say. Share what you’re doing and learning.

There are more microblogging services out there. Explore. Find out what works for you.

Beyond the basics:

  • Apps: Use a microblogging client like Tweetdeck to make reading and posting easier. Explore and find out which tool fits you.
  • Cross-posting: Synchronize automatically, or use a tool to post on multiple services. MicroBlogCentral can handle Twitter and Lotus Connections Profiles.
  • Personas: Don’t want to mix work and life? Don’t want to overwhelm people with too many updates? Use multiple accounts to give people choices.
  • Group posting: Corporate brand? Team account? You can use tools to make it easy for many people to post to the same account.
  • Strategy: Where does microblogging fit into your strategy? Post quick updates and interact with people. Link to your main site in your profile.

Next steps:

Pick a reason why you want to microblog, and go for it. How can I help you make the most of these tools?

Dogear and Delicious: Cross-posting your enterprise bookmarks (xpost)

I love sharing my bookmarks. Tagging helps me find things again, and other people tell me they occasionally find useful websites in my collection. Here’s a bookmarklet that makes it easy for me to share on our internal Lotus Connections Dogear bookmarking service at work as well as on the del.icio.us bookmarking service outside the firewall. In order to avoid bookmarking internal sites publicly, I check the domain name for the presence of ibm.com. This results in false positives on the external IBM.com domain, but that’s okay. It works most of the time.

To use, drag “tag this” to your bookmark bar.

tag this

I’ve modified the Lotus Connections Dogear script so that it wouldn’t show a lot of pop-up warnings on Chrome, which is my default browser.

Enjoy!

Keeping track of multiple projects

How do you keep sane when juggling multiple projects? For me, a to-do list and a way to organize project-related information make life so much better.

I’m planning two Idea Labs and an expertise location pilot, supporting a training course, assisting with a proposal, helping with two workshops, answering questions related to four potential Idea Labs, and adding to my community toolkit.

The key challenges are:

  • keeping track of all the actions I need to take and by when, so that I can estimate my workload and give people more accurate feedback
  • organizing information so that I can find and share it
  • following up on what I’ve asked other people to do

Toodledo helps me stay focused on what I need to do at work and at home. Capturing all the different things I need to do and making sure that due dates are written down means I don’t have to stress out about things falling through the cracks.

The Lotus Notes Activities sidebar lets me organize project information and refer to past discussions. Activities also makes it easy for me to add other people and share resources with them.

For following up, I’m getting used to creating tasks representing things I’m waiting for, and regularly reviewing this.

How do you eat an elephant sandwich?

One bite at a time.