“My sites”: do they work?
“My sites” is a concept coming very much into vogue at present, driven by the adoption of SharePoint and a range of other intranet and enterprise 2.0 platforms. The idea is to give each person within the organisation a place to publish their identity, share their links and collect together their personal resources.
At their best, they provide a mix of private and public information, and act as the central point that connects together a range of personalisation and web 2.0 functionality. (Michael Sampson provides a very clear outline of what you should publish to a “my site”.)
This is clearly the kind of direction we want to go, but does it work today?
What is the purpose?
As ever, the question is: “what’s in it for me?” Is there a reason for most (ideally all) staff to update their “my sites”, and to actively use these features? If the motivations don’t exist, then “my sites” will fail, just like expertise directories did before them.
There are specific circumstances in which “my sites” will work. If you are a professional services firm, particularly in the technology industry, your odds might be quite good. This is certainly where many of the early success stories have come from, in some cases promoted by the firms’ own salesforce.
In many professional services firms, for example, staff need to “pitch” internally for jobs. Hoping to get on the highest-profile jobs, there is a strong reason to polish your CV and to promote it internally as widely as possible. This is a “what’s in it for me” factor directly tied to career progression.
In other, more normal organisations, these motivations are not in place. What is the reason for a staff person in a bank or government agency to use the “my site” functionality?
Anecdotally, only 5-10% of staff make use of personalisation features in portals and intranets. Our survey, while not showing such a clear figure, did not show widespread success.
The type of personalisation provided by portals is much simpler than most “my sites”, and requires a much smaller investment of time. While not directly comparable, it does question the likely uptake of this functionality in typical organisations.
While there is success in external platforms, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, it is naive to transfer this unchanged to an enterprise setting. What motivates users in a public setting does not automatically apply within our organisations.
The “my site” functionality is also not simple, and too-often not usable. It is also not a natural concept for many working in today’s organisations. These are all barriers that must be overcome.
Failure to be avoided
I would therefore argue that “my site” functionality implemented today is likely to fail in most organisations. While it may succeed in the future due to cultural or generational changes, this will not change the outcome in the short-term. More importantly, if it fails now, it may not get a second chance when the conditions are more favourable.
At the very least, don’t stake projects or strategies on the use of “my sites”, as this is a very risky option. As I’ve argued in an earlier post, perhaps this is aiming too high, and simpler tailoring may be more effective.