Why Sun spent 5 years building a Facebook for engineers
I interviewed Peter H.Reiser back in March for GNTV. At that time, he was completing a five-year project as Chief Architect for a behind-the-firewall social network for Sun Engineers then called CE 2.0. Recently, it came out of beta and was renamed SunSpace.
When I first saw CE 2.0, I was pretty certain that the work of this 25-year veteran of IT would closely resemble a Rube Goldberg drawing, filled with complexity and confusing we of a nontechnical ilk.
I was wrong. More than anything, it looked like Facebook. It looked like it would be fun to play with. It had all sorts of "consumery" features. For example, you got ranked for your contribution and the ranking was public.
Recently, the project, after more than five years of effort, has left beta and has been renamed SunSpace. It's usage is growing exponentially month-over-month and it seems to me that there are lessons in SunSpace for any company who understands the power of sharing knowledge.
1. CE 2.0 has been a massive project, requiring years of effort. What did Sun see at the outset to make the effort worthwhile? How has it turned out?
About two years ago, we kicked off Sun's Customer Engineering 2.0 (CE 2.0) project. First, we created a shared vision based on four observations:
- The old fashioned intranet has evolved into a vibrant online social network, aligned with Sun's core business processes.
- Our employees actively participate in forums, wikis, blogs and share their best practices, experience in real time.
- Our employees usually find what they need in seconds even if they don't know exactly know what they are looking for.
- Our employees feel valued for their participation and contribution and have fun doing their job.
Based on that, our main objective was to consolidate technical web venues and knowledge repositories into a single, integrated Web 2.0 experience. Then we looked at all components we would need to build, drive and connect vibrant communities. We designed a community model which consisting of three building blocks:
1. Architecture. The new platform employs federated services architecture, which consolidates existing websites, but also enables new web content to be aggregated and used for highly personalized mashup services.
2. Methodology. Vibrant Communities are about people and we need to understand the physiological and social aspects on how to build and run virtual communities Members needed to understand the value they create as well as the value they get back. We integrated a community value system which dynamically calculates the values of each person, community and information based on contribution.
Over the last eight years we collected a lot of best practices on how to build and sustain communities. A good example is OneStop, our most valued and trusted field engineering community. We created a Community Cookbook, consolidating best practices. In addition, we created a Community Drivers community across all communities on SunSpace were we facilitate best practice sharing, common policies.
2. So, if we can boil it down, what's the key issue?
The key is telling the participants what's in it for them.
It took about two years to implement CE 2.0. We started our formal pilot in September 2007 and went into beta in February 2008. In July 2008, we formally launched SunSpace - the final site of the CE 2.0 project.
Today we have around 15,000 users, over 200 communities and SunSpace is growing at around 50% per month.
3. How has SunSpace changed Sun Micro?
One user wrote, "SunSpace is now at the center of our team operations as part of our collective team identity. It enables all virtual project teams and their members to function as systems interfacing with each other and other groups, including executive groups. It is effective and productive." Another added, " SunSpace helps crucial systems generate useful work without overheating!"
We also get a lot of interest from other Sun organizations like Marketing, Sales, IT, HR etc. who want to implement a similar model for their organizations.
4. How much time and energy goes into managing and refining SunSpace?
The most time we spend is educating the users because we have moved from a web-centric intranet portal to Facebooklike user centric model. We provide end-user support and coach the community drivers to build their communities and establish their community charter, policy etc.
5. What has surprised you about this project?
What is fascinating to watch is that more people want to start a community around a topic where we did not have a community before. We get around 5-10 new community requests per day. This is a great indicator that users want to share their knowledge if it is easy.
6. Why base a social network on search?
The old Knowledge Management model was about "know-how." The new model is about "know-who-knows-how." By adding individual social graphs to the community model, we can provide both the former and the latter
.One example: Based on the Tag Equity model, SunSpace automatically learns who the experts are in a given area by evaluating the social activities. To display the experts - the search engine just needs to display/rank people with the highest Tag Equity for a given subject matter. 7. What are some of the most frequent activities for the engineers? Is it more work than social?
A field engineer typically tries to find a solution for technical questions or problems very quickly and more important--finds results he/she can trust. Through the automated social evaluation of the content quality. we've added a new dimension to the "Socially enabled communities."
8. You've gone through considerable energy to make CE 2.0 fun. Explain how that works. Why bother to make it fun?
Fortunately, communities are all about people. If you want to build stickiness and attractiveness to a site like SunSpace, you should surprise people once daily and let them have some fun, as well. Some examples:
- When someone contributes, we show her/his picture and national flag.
- We've installed a "My Community Equity" widget, which shows a person's current ranking by contribution and participation A lot of users would like to gain a better ranking by .. more contribution or participation .. and the widget real time updates the ranking .
- People can browse trough the social network of a person and the system shows common contacts - users can add various widgets to their wiki pages, which show their contribution, ranking, etc. When a user adds a document, SunSpace automatically analyzes the content and proposes title, description and tags.
9. When we talked back in March, you told me that the ROI was in engineers sharing knowledge and not reinventing the wheel for each new project. Have you been able to put any measurement benchmarks on that?
We are able to measure the re-use of artifacts within projects. We have metrics in place for re-use of content versus win-rate and project margin. We are planning to integrate these measures into SunSpace in a future release.
10. What about anecdotal? Can you give me a case study on how a project was accelerated or improved because of CE 2.0?
Not really, but we've had a few people who try to hack into our rating service. Wow. Have you ever seen a hack on a website site which does not provide value?
11. Last time we talked, you said that eventually, Sun Micro might put CE 2.0 technology on an Open Source stack. Why would Sun go through all the time and expense to create something like this, then make it available to competitors?
We believe in innovation of the community. Open Office is a great example where a technology has been developed by a company and through open sourcing the technology, it became much more ubiquitous and richer in functionality.
In my opinion Community Equity is the next logical step of the Social networking evolution - specially within the enterprise, where we need to transform the mindset from "Knowledge is Power" to the "Sharing is Power."
12. Additional Comments?
We have a lot of interest from customers who want to pilot/implement social enabled communities - aka SunSpace. Based on various customer meetings I had over the last few months I have posted a summary presentation here.