Daily Archives: April 14, 2008

Supply Chain Social Networks: Useful Resource or Productivity Killer?

In full disclosure, maybe I’m not the most neutral individual to be writing this post, as you already know my views on social networks and my intent to stay faceless and spaceless, but the invites to the new kids on the supply chain block, specifically, the Ning based SCM Professionals and iProcurement.org, have started to come fast and furious, as well as request to comment on them and their functionality. So, for better or for worse, here’s my take on the new “communities”.

In an effort to be optimistic, we’ll start with the positives.

  • They both have blog capabilities, and not only are blogs great sources of information, but there’s a few blogs out there that are better than most, if not all, of the publications in the space.
  • They both have news headlines from in-bound RSS feeds, however, the fact that they don’t list the article source or time is very annoying – and productivity draining. If you know a source consistently has poor articles or poor information – do you really want to waste time clicking through to it? And if you regularly click through to articles from poor sources, you’re going to quickly give upon the feature and deem it worthless.
  • They allow you share relevant presentation materials, as photos, and instructional videos from other sites. Of course, the search feature is only on the free-form video description text, which, if not carefully constructed by the uploader, can be pretty useless.
  • They allow for the constructions of “groups” within the community, so that like minded individuals can easily find each other, and with appropriate e-mail settings, geographically local groups can easily organize events and keep each other informed. Of course, the lack of a digest feature (or at least the lack of a locatable one) could lead to a very annoying amount of e-mail to the point where you feel like you are being spammed, turn off all e-mail, and negate most of the benefits the groups were designed to provide.
  • One of the sites has an expanded news amalgamation service with headlines, source, time, and the first 100 words – but the box organization that is used wastes so much real estate that you get three articles on the sidebar, which takes up a third of the screen. Not useful.

And that’s the good stuff, as not-so-good as it is. Now on to the negatives.

  • Latest activity tracker – with the exception of big brother (with his dreams come true at the sheer amount of personal data available on today’s social networks), who the hell cares who the last 10 people to log on were, or what they looked at, or when they signed out, etc.
  • Comment wall – graffiti for the virtual world. Need I say more?
  • Photo free for all – upload anything, any time, with any description, or lack thereof; how are you supposed to find anything useful?
  • Video free for all – anything, anytime, any header; think the latest Bugs Bunny cartoon has a good supply chain lesson? upload it … watch it randomly make the “featured videos” selection. Real professional.
  • “Featured” – members, groups, etc. – unless these are personally selected by real experts who have personally confirmed solid content, I don’t care; right now, most social networks are set up so that everyone gets an equal, random, shot at the rotation
  • “New” – members, groups, etc. – if a network is successful, you’ll have thousands of new members, photos, etc. a day – who has time to wade through all that? Plus, I don’t know about you, but a bunch of empty grey heads doesn’t look that attractive to me. Most new members, groups, etc. don’t have / upload pictures / logos right away. The selection logic should at least be intelligent enough not to select those profiles without images when trying to make an image montage. A single “if” statement. Junior high programming skill. Or at least I thought it was!
  • Very amateur look and layout – I’m sorry, but I don’t want to scroll down an average of four screens on the average page to see what’s going on, a header doesn’t need to take up over a third of the screen, thumbnails don’t need to be three times the average size, and an “Uncle Sam Wants You” ad-campaign rip-off isn’t going to inspire professionals from around the world to sign up. I could go on, but you get the point.

The verdict? Given the relative lack of useful content, the difficulty of identifying the sources and / or finding the content, and the over-abundance of purely social network features, for the time being, I’m definitely classifying these in the “Productivity Killer” category. When it comes to finding the relatively small amount of fresh, new, useful, and innovative content out there that is actually worth reading, I don’t see them being of any help in their current form, and actually see them as being more trouble than they’re worth. Connecting with people? Conferences, e-mail, and the good old fashioned telephone work just fine!

Maybe it’s just me, but I have no interest in ending up like the jacked in, strange talking cyberteens in love in Dowler’s bleak picture of the future or the on-liners in the “Net Worth” Sliders episode where they can’t talk to each other without going through a computer. And I guess that’s just where I see today’s social networks taking us if we continue on this road.

In summary, supply chain community: good. Social network: bad. And maybe the two should never meet.