Like many shifts in development infrastructure the introduction of social media tools was led by the grass roots of the organization. And, like open source before it, management were a long time understanding the implications and even longer bringing control to this new feature of the development landscape. One might say that we still do not fully understand the implications of it.
First came instant messaging (IM) with developers interacting real-time with one another across the office and across the globe. IM was fast and easy and immediate and quickly pushed email out. Developers loved the sense of being in the same location as their remote colleague and the informality of the IM style. The chat abbreviations (like BIW – boss is watching) were a secret code for secret geek society. And there is no doubt that productivity, quality and clarity improved because the tool was there.
As IM systems proliferated IT organizations became increasingly concerned about the holes in the firewall that were opening up for the chat systems. The company lawyers became concerned about the content that was travelling over open and public services with no audit trail. They also became concerned about the potential for inappropriate commentary. And managers were concerned about the novelty of the technology causing a drop in productivity.
Fortunately wise heads prevailed and we see corporate IM systems now on every desktop both inside IT and in the non-IT business units. These IM systems are integrated with email, calendaring and presence detection systems. The progress of chat has been so strong that we even see B2C chat systems built into many ecommerce sites.
Wikis were the next technology to be introduced and this was led by the business wanting a searchable place to store business information, and a place where individuals could contribute without the bureaucracy of the business having to approve and verify and grammar correct. Again immediacy and ease were the key.
As IT started to implement the wikis they too saw the huge advantage and began to deploy their own sites. With the advent of agile wikis have become a key element for the self-organizing of the development team. Wikis provide a repository of all the insights and experience the team is having so that other team members can keep abreast of the project activities no matter where they are located in the world. A little structure to the wiki goes a long way in speeding their adoption.
Of course the content of the wikis rarely verified but errors are soon corrected using the “wisdom of crowds” model where each person takes responsibility to update the data as they find it. Attempts by corporations to mandate the content of the wiki have largely failed because they miss the point of the a wiki’s organic nature, that it grows on its own to meet the needs of the situation.
On balance social media technologies have improved the lives of the software development team. The business is finding ways to exploit them too and IT is helping drive that now. Executives are rightly cautious that this might be a huge productivity hit but so far are letting the technology evolve and thrive while maintaining a cautious oversight. Whatever technology comes next, you can be sure some developer will find a way to use it.