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Of dinosaurs, birds, and Enterprise Social Platforms

As the Facebook IPO story developed over the last few weeks, people started wondering what was real and what was just smoke and mirrors. Being very active in this “social business” world for over six years now, several people came to me asking about what I thought it was going to happen with Zuckerberg’s creation and other popular social websites:

  • Is Facebook here to stay?
  • Is Twitter going to be a ghost town of 150 million users?
  • Will Google+ ever going to take over the social networking crown?
  • Is Pinterest a fad?

My sincere answer is “I have no idea”, and so should be yours. I remember back in 2006 people asking very similar questions about MySpace, Del.icio.us, and Flickr. My least favorite question was a popular one: “What Web 3.0 will look like?”

Comparison of the air sac system of birds and ...
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Trying to predict how a market as dynamic as social technologies is going to play out is like trying to predict if Tiger Woods will ever surpass Jack Nicklaus in majors wins, or if Kobe Bryant will get his 6th or 7th NBA championship. Everybody has an opinion, but nobody can know for sure.

An example closer to the technology world is the decades old clash of titans between Microsoft and Apple. Over the years, I got tired of hearing why Apple’s designers were so much better than Microsoft’s engineers, then how Microsoft’s strategy brought Apple to a near death situation and finally the tale of Microsoft’s stock being as good as a $3 bill but Apple certainly going to be the first one trillion dollar company. Sometimes I wonder if the business page in the paper is really more reliable than the daily horoscope.

However, this is not to say that the whole exercise of predicting the future is a total waste of time. While knowing who will succeed is pretty much a hit-or-miss proposition, we can definitely observe patterns of enduring success. The same way that dinosaurs are now extinct, but some evolutionary traits that were apparently first manifested in their lineage still survive in modern birds–such as feathers, hollow bones and warm blood–we can expect that, regardless of whether Facebook, Pinterest, or Google+ will be around in 2050, some of the elements they popularized will be there.

Another aspect that is commonly neglected in this exercise of telling how tomorrow will look like is that multiple future scenarios can perfectly coexist. Marsupials have been wildly successful in Australia and South America, but not as much in places like North America and Europe. There will be “social” services and capabilities that won’t last long in the consumer Internet that will be extremely successful in internal Enterprise Social Platforms. The opposite is also true.

Services like Delicious.com may be on life support after experimenting some success during the peak of the Web 2.0 hype, but there’s an undeniable value of social bookmarking within the enterprise, where cross-links are very rare, search is typically bad, and personal bookmarks are one of the few indicators of content relevance. Twitter may some day degenerate to a very uninteresting gathering of self-promoters, but the concepts of micro-updates, direct messaging, and mentioning will likely remain as a staple in enterprise collaboration systems. Pinterest may fade away a few years down the road, but the curation patterns it introduced may be more powerful and persistent than the company itself.

Thus, for those of you building careers or financial portfolios betting on social media or social business, don’t lose your sleep over the long-term viability of Facebook or Twitter alone. You need to see the forest for the trees: make sure that you keep your eye not on individual websites, but on the social patterns being introduced, shaped or retired in the whole ecosystem, and place your bets on the players who adjust the fastest to those moving targets.

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Aaron Kim

Aaron Kim is the Head of Digital Social Collaboration at the Royal Bank of Canada, and led the efforts to bring social business and social collaboration to an organization of 79,000 employees. He’s also been a public speaker at several events across the globe, from the Web 2.0 Expo to JiveWorld, from Singapore to Barcelona. He has a passion for innovation and for making work smarter, more meaningful and rewarding to all. Born and raised in Brazil, to a Korean father and Japanese mother, he also volunteers in several diversity initiatives, inside and outside RBC. In the past, he worked as a consultant both at IBM Canada and Unisys Brazil, having played the roles of solutions architect, Basel II analyst, performance engineer, Java programmer, Unix administrator and environmental biologist. He holds an MBA from the University of Toronto, and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the Universidade de São Paulo. He lives in Toronto, Canada, is married to Tania and have a son, Lucas.

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