Can Enterprise Messaging Be Distilled to 140 Characters?

Watching out for information overload.

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One question I have been asking lately: is enterprise microblogging a necessary tool, or is it just more noise in the machine?

The question came up when I read a blog entry (http://tinyurl.com/yhsb63r) on StatusNet, the foundation supporting microblog site Identi.ca.

In it, Alex Williams detailed the launch of the StatusNet Enterprise Network, a microblog service for enterprise customers. It sounded good.

My question is, what's the business case for such a service?

Don't get me wrong: I like microblogging. I use Twitter often, and Identi.ca as well. But I don't get its use in the business world.

Ironically, the first time I saw tweeting was at a meeting where I saw Sun execs getting tweets from other Sun staffers on their handhelds.

This was right after the launch of Twitter, and even then recipients were treating it as a curious novelty on the way to becoming annoyance.

And status updates in the tech community are well established. Server down? CFO's got blue screen? Then admins get automatic SMS updates.

It seems to me that microblog updates in an enterprise setting might be one more channel of noise in an already loud cacophony.

We already have e-mail, calendaring, and IM, not to mention the venerable phone call or actually dropping by someone's desk and talking.

Is one more messaging channel really needed?

I question this. It's hard to communicate solid information in 140 characters or less. It's tricky to get true intent across in e-mails.

How many times have we seen emotional responses based on e-mails go off in unintended directions because their intent or content is misread?

Now imagine the problem in bursts of microblogging.

Communicating in bursts often is a one-way street, where the tweeter's statement carries context. But context is not accountable info.

Such as: when I started teasing @glynmoody this a.m. about filling up my Twitter feed every work-day a.m., I didn't have to provide context.

(Context being: he's in England, I'm in Indiana. His location affords him many hours of Twittering before I roll out of bed and get coffee.)

Granted, subtext and context are present in corporate/business environments, but not everyone is in the know. Errors can ensue very quickly.

For instance, "cake in lounge now for Linda's departure" may allude to her leaving on sabbatical, getting a promotion, or her resignation.

Or: "Big news in meeting room at 5 today." leads to rumors about division shutdown, leading to half the staff resigning by the end of day.

A bit contrived, but these are things you don't want to get wrong.

To be fair, StatusNet Enterprise does not limit users to 140 characters, so more information can be sent across. So why not just use e-mail?

Frankly, I worry about info overload. I use Yoono to monitor my social/Twitter/IM feeds, but even with one client, it can get overwhelming.

I can (and do) easily get behind on incoming messages. I would hate to have that happen for mission-critical status updates for work.

I will freely admit to potentially being a Luddite about this. I would love to hear about real business cases for this type of service.

After all, maybe you can effectively get ideas across in 140 characters or less. Stranger things have happened. Comment or send a tweet.

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