If you’re a fan of Star Trek the Next Generation or classical theater, you might recognize Patrick Stewart- he has an interesting take on Twitter, email and the Internet. What’s fascinating is that he embraces some, but not all technologies to communicate. Selection of those tools seems to be very much a function of age. While email has long been a staple for myself and the engineers/consultants, some time ago I had to expand my cell plan to include text support. We’re certainly not up late at night talking about the latest movies or fashion, but it is very effective at sending a short update on a server outage or a meeting update. What I have discovered is that depending on the age group and business we’re working with, you can see a wide variety of communication tools in use- and the effective leader has to learn what works best for their team. At the end of the day, a simple paper filing system that is flexible enough to handle the workload without error will outperform a brilliant ERP system that is either improperly implemented, or not endorsed by employees and management.
Pingdom has an interesting study on 19 of the popular social networking sites, and where they fall with each age group. As consultants, our job is to marry the technology with the business need. Sometimes we make suggestions on which technology implement- sometimes we just make it work. What I have noticed fairly consistently, both with businesses and individuals, is a lack of concern for basic security. By security, I’m talking not only about corporate proprietary information, but also personal information as well. Social sites can open up the company to malware, as well as other less obvious vulnerabilities. For example, I had one client who had an employee open up a Facebook page for the company- without its knowledge. Would you want your firm represented by the mail clerk publicly? Many of these types of problems can be avoided in the first place by good documentation- policies and procedures that specifically govern when and how electronic communications, be it email, twitter or Orkut, are to be used. Many people are surprised to learn that instant messages are discoverable in court cases- how would your company fare if some of what people believe is private communication got out? So the answer to the corporate question is to prepare for and educate the user base on official use of the technology. Best case scenario you avoid a problem to begin with, and if it gets to a point when the legal system is involved you at least have a foundation where you set out clear guidelines.
Personal use can also be a problem. The University of Maryland conducted an interesting study noting a druglike addiction social networking among students. How many of your colleagues can disconnect without some degree of anxiety? The fact that technology has enabled us to communicate and collaborate like never before is a great thing. What’s not so great is not everyone realizes that once you put information out there, not everyone who reads it is your friend. For example, Craig Lynch, an escaped fugitive, taunted police on Facebook. Of course he was later captured- perhaps not the smartest course of action. Stepping away from the criminals however, employers are now checking Facebook prior to hiring- as well for active employees. What might be a funny picture to friends and family may not cast you in the best light with your boss.
One of my junior engineers built a website on Mexican cooking. It was very well done- however he added a good deal of personal information about himself and his wife in the about section. Like when he was home, where she went to school, as well as pictures. That coupled with the whois information on the website, provided his home address, his schedule and his home phone number. Couple that with location awareness integration and you have a recipe for disaster. After I showed him what he was broadcasting he made a few changes, and now the website is all about delightful cuisine and not where to find him and his family.
Really at the end of the day it’s about common sense. Does your toddler need a Facebook page? Should you really share your spending habits and credit card information online? Be careful what you say in email, instant messages and texts. While most administrators don’t have the time read them- we can if have to. We will if required by law. The simplest way to stay out of trouble is something I learned a long time ago. It’s called the “Grandma Rule”. If you wouldn’t want your Grandma to read it- then don’t write it.