Monday, March 20, 2006

[AoyW] Privacy Promotes Productivity

Why is it that the web wave has left the desktop dry? Technical factors have been a barrier, but they're a berm made of sand; they dissolve in time. Social factors are more subtle, and a lot sturdier. The common architecture of web software raises some real social concerns, which have hardly been examined, let alone remedied.

The founder of an enterprise IM startup recounted this anecdote: "While deploying our IM software at a hedge fund, I noticed the admins using AIM, and suggested to an admin that the new intra-office IM system for the traders would be helpful to the admins as well." Her response: "Will my boss be able to see what I've written?"

The answer was yes, of course. The firm bought the app to improve knowledge retention, among other reasons. The lesson here is that employees are averse to the vision of a manager peering over their shoulder when they're alone at the keyboard. If they know that it's merely possible, they will curtail their efforts, per the philosophy The Less Said the Better.

The PC, for all its deserved reputation as unmanageable, is a personal sandbox in which an employee doesn't feel constrained and watched. She is free to play with ideas and drafts, and chooses what to circulate to colleagues. That freedom is a boon to productivity.

That freedom doesn't exist in contemporary web software. Today, web applications are based on servers, so everything done with them is knowable by operators and managers. This has caused many web workgroup installations to meet resistance and even fail; employees are used to the virtual vanity erected by their PCs, and they prefer it to the open stage of a centralized environment.

Drawing the benefits of the web—easy navigation via hyperlinks, and a metaphor reminicent of the spiral-bound notebook with section tabs on the edge—out of the internet cloud requires a different architecture. Something more akin to the independent-peers arrangement realized by PCs and email.

That's the architecture of the Always-On-You Web: lightweight, personal web servers which run from mobile devices, and are accessed on any local screen device via a browser. Mobile web servers are peers, sync'ing any content designated as shared, and keeping private all else. The Always-On-You Web has no centralized servers.

PS: in an effort to energize the bland blogspot layout, I've added an evocative banner image. It's a little artsy and a little risque. I'd love to hear reader reactions...


At Monday, April 03, 2006 2:45:00 AM, Anonymous Dan O'Huiginn said...

How much of this behaviour do you think can be changed by changing corporate culture. If a manager says explicitly "I'll be recording what you write, but I don't mind you chatting about the weekend" - and means it, then will her employees be willing to open up?

There must be some business studies research that gives a more-or-less quantitative answer to this.

At Monday, April 03, 2006 2:27:00 PM, Blogger Liam said...

Will your manager's manager feel the same way? What about your manager's successor? Suppose I want to chat about my manager, to give some advice about getting along with him?

I think the market's rejection of centralized authoring tools offers some quantitative insight...


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