Invited: 320,000 of your closest friends.
Over the past few weeks, I was one of the very few outsiders to be briefed on – and view in action – WorldJam, a 72-hour-long online community event hosted by IBM to which all of its 320,000 employees were invited. Although I will be writing about this in greater depth in an upcoming research report, I wanted to share some initial observations and insights with you.
WorldJam is a set of tools and an environment that were integrated to support a 72-hour online community brainstorming session. The goals were threefold:
1.) To tackle ten “thorny” business problems
2.) To report to colleagues on best practices
3.) To “jam” with friends and colleagues
For the past nine months, IBM, under the direction of Mike Wing, IBM’s Director, Worldwide Intranet Strategy and Programs, has been planning and rehearsing this marathon community event. Wing’s Corporate Intranet Team worked in conjunction with several other areas of IBM, namely Corporate Marketing, IBM Research, and Strategic Web Application and Technology (SWAT).
There are several levels at which one can view WorldJam. First, the technology itself. Second, the issues which were at the heart of the WorldJam discussions. Third, the collective knowledge and wisdom of the company which WorldJam brings together for 72 hours. And fourth, as an extraordinary scientific experiment in online collaboration, and the ramifications which it raises. Today I concentrate largely on the first.
At the core of WorldJam were ten asynchronous discussion databases, or forums, each led by a moderator/expert in the field, assisted by trained staffers. Each forum had a topic and a question, e.g. “Supplying the Glue: More than 25% of IBMers are ‘mobile’ – telecommuting, working on customer premises, teaming with geographically dispersed colleagues. What do you do to avoid ‘IBM’ = ‘I’m By Myself’?”.
The next logical issue to tackle was how people might participate in WorldJam. By the end of WorldJam, over individual 50,000 employees had stopped by; it will take a while to study the statistics in greater detail, but, even in a group of 50,000 people, participation runs along the lines which one might expect. Some IBMers would stop by and mine a few nuggets. Others came to impart and share their knowledge. Others hunkered down and jammed, and still others formed breakout groups which launched real-time (synchronous) discussions relating to one of the ten topics.
The WorldJam project can be viewed in four phases:
- Preparatory/planning (9 months)
- Live (72 hours)
- Immediate Follow-up (several weeks)
- Long-term resource (infinite going forward)
WorldJam also offered diversions, including “branded” music, and games, which were two applets in the Thinking Tools section called “Words” (a kind of online refrigerator magnet game) and “Music” (a nod to WorldJam’s musical heritage?).
One of my favorites pieces of technology was the WorldJam Activity Map, which uses IBM Gryphon Server technology [which is based on Java Messaging service (JMS)]. IBM describes Gryphon as a publish/subscribe message broker system, the type which could be used for real-time online sports score distribution. Here Gryphon tracked visitors on the WorldJam site. The Activity Map also used a custom-statistics server and a JDBC Data Access API. The statistics themselves were stored in DB2. Activity Map created a geographic record (i.e., a real-time view of the world) of participants’ activities, and a forum-by-forum record (created by connecting to the Gryphon server and subscribing to the statistics channel) which fed real-time activity, then displayed a geographic record of participants’ activity and a forum-by-forum participant record.
Another personal favorite was a tool developed for WorldJam, the “JamBroker,” which uses XML and XML Parser to create and match groups of people for a random jam.
The discussion forums used Lotus Notes and servlets, which integrated Notes content together with HTML all on one Web page. The discussion functionality (comments, replies, voting, etc.) was all managed through Notes, which stored the information in a Notes database. Servlets generated and managed the moderator’s comments which appeared on each of the ten forums. Every discussion forum page contained an applet referred to as a “digital heartbeat,” which tracked user activity in real time. This sent its information back to Gryphon.
Although time will tell how WorldJam and its wealth of intellectual activity and knowledge will be both viewed and utilized in future, the WorldJam team was already making notes for WorldJam’s progeny. A few ideas I would add would be to add foreign language support (after all, it’s WORLDJam), and to consider having a specific opening and closing activity, both to warm participants up, and to give an appropriate ending to such a landmark event.
The scope and magnitude of a WorldJam-like event is an investment that very few companies could undertake. Of those that are in fact able, none except for IBM has undertaken an online community/knowledge management event on this scale. IBM effectively invited all of its 320,000+ employees to not only participate in pragmatic discussions with the possibility of immediate impact, but opened the door for all to partake in embarking upon significant cultural change, with all IBMers taking an active role in their own destinies.
Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.