Can social software “work” in Germany?

Or France, or Japan, or Brazil? Or, indeed, anywhere that is not an “Anglo/Saxon” culture? Now, wait, wait — before you flame on! (or worse), hear me out. It’s hard to talk about the issue I want to raise here without raising some emotional reactions as well — often rather heated ones. That’s understandable, but it may also hinder us from having a conversation about a very interesting topic.

Important caveat number one, therefore, is the one I raised in my very first sentence — despite my (deliberately) provocative headline, I think that what I’m about to speculate about applies to some degree in any society that that is not a progeny of England (and even that formulation will be fighting words for some in the USA, Canada, Oz, New Zealand and particularly Ireland or Scotland — but I am thinking in almost biological terms, here. You may well dislike your parents, but you can’t change who they are). I will use Germany as the basis for my speculation, because it’s the non-Anglo/Saxon culture I know best, and not because I want to pick on Germany or Germans in particular. I love Germany — it is my home; my wife, daughter, large parts of my family, and many close friends are all German. But I do believe that certain aspects of German culture, and their implications with respect to social software, can be used to illustrate points about a broader theme, and so I will use them to try to do so. OK?

This is slippery, and dangerous terrain, and it is essentially impossible to venture out onto it without falling, and making a fool of oneself. I will surely be no exception here. But I am convinced that there is something important lurking out on those dangerous plains, and I think we would all be well served by finding some way to call attention to it. What is Anglo/Saxon culture? What is German culture? How do they differ? Frankly, I’m no expert in such matters, and not really qualified to voice an opinion on them, in many people’s eyes. But I will now proceed to forthrightly go ahead and do so anyway.

And therein lies a fascinating difference between the two cultures: Anglo/Saxon culture encourages — even lionises — such acts. German culture does not.

Now, having said that, here comes important caveat number two: there is no such thing as absolute truth, and there are certainly no absolute truths with regard to sociology or politics or cultural differences. These are not binary states, of which I speak, but points near the median of a very analogue — Gaussian — distribution. For every rule, there is an exception, and indeed, the exceptions sometimes make the rule. Etc. I understand and acknowledge that. However, there is nevertheless value to be found in examining the median in such distributions, and when I say “German culture does not”, that’s what I am aspiring to do. OK?

It may be impossible to ever come up with “the” definition of something as amorphous as a human society or culture, but any fool can see immediately, upon leaving the one she was born into, and visiting another, that they exist. And that they have differences. These differences are typically expressed as stereotypes and prejudices, many of which are the product of nothing more than ignorance (and often, its correlate, fear). But some of these stereotypes will have a kernel of something approximating truth at their core.

Thus, for example, in 1758, the Württembergischer publisher Karl Friedrich Moser wrote: “Every nation has its principal motive. In Germany, it is obedience; in England, freedom; in Holland, trade; in France, the honour of the King”. This is an absurd exaggeration, verging on hyperbole, and particularly in the modern world, one which many Germans would vigourously object to — and rightly so. To the latter point, and despite that, I might respond by doing the following: let us fast forward the lens of our attention to the early 1970s. And turn that lens on the anarchist and terrorist elements that surrounded people like Baader and Meinhof. Even before violence became a tragic element of the student protests in the late 1960’s, there was an element of distrust and frustration with the established order that took the form of an outright contempt of reason — a disdain for Wissenschaft, and a belief in the instincts of the Basis (the collective) as a useful guide to behaviour, as opposed to reason. These sorts of ideas are the clear and unmistakable descendants of German Romanticism of the late 18th and early 19th century. And the contrast between these stereotypes — the idea of an extreme affinity for obedience versus the inchoate Sehnsucht and open contempt for reason embodied by Romanticism — is profoundly illustrative of the complexity of German culture. This is a culture that produced both the Prussian hierarchies of Bismarck’s Ämte, and the theories of Karl Marx. It has a long, complex and unique history, of which one quite prominent thread is an ongoing, recurring struggle between the needs and desires of the individual, and those of the group in which that individual resides.

The history of Anglo/Saxon culture contains such a thread as well. It is not necessary — or even useful — to engage in a conversation about the merits of these two contrasting threads. All that I wish to do is make the following point: in each of the two cultures, the thread exists, and they are different from one another. The history of the the struggle between the individual and his society is a different story in Anglo/Saxon culture than it is in German culture. And the product of these respective threads — the day to day realities in which we now find ourselves — are also different.

To what extent, then, can we expect that practices regarding social software, as developed and espoused by an English-speaking, Anglo/Saxon culture, to be a seamless fit in a German-speaking culture? I think it must be obvious by now that I think the answer is: to no extent at all. Indeed, to the extent that software of any kind embodies social and cultural norms, to what extent is it reasonable to expect that the design of a software artefact produced in an Anglo/Saxon culture will be optimal in a German one? Again, I think the answer is clear: it is not at all reasonable to expect such a thing.

On the other hand, we live in a “globalised” age, one where every culture is exposed to many of the same influences, to an extent never before known in the history of our species. Communication technologies — particularly television and the Internet — are the enablers of this. No culture now exists, on the planet, that has not been exposed, to some degree, to Baywatch. Many cultures — and certainly all of the more affluent cultures — have their own version of Big Brother — in Germany, this past month, the local version of the British reality show “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!” was watched by an extraordinary number of people.

And lurking within that observation, I think, is the essence of a problem currently confronted — and as far as I can tell, largely unacknowledged — by social software systems in general, and certainly Enterprise 2.0 punditry in particular. Most of the social software currently “in play” in the market, and certainly virtually all of the commentary on the themes it provokes (like Enterprise 2.0) are products of Anglo/Saxon cultures — representative of Anglo/Saxon thinking. This is an understandable consequence of their provenance, perhaps, but it is nonetheless insufficient. Just as “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!” can only be successful in Germany in a version that is German in nature (and then it can be very successful indeed), we are in need of an articulation of Enterprise 2.0 that is German in nature. And one that is Spanish, one that is Japanese, Russian, Chinese and so forth. Lacking such an articulation, we are likely to find ourselves lost in the quagmire of discussions that purport to be about “das Ding an sich”, but which are (also) about differences between two cultures. We need to tease those two thing apart from one another — such that, hopefully, we can concentrate solely on talking about “das Ding an sich”.

And to those Germans reading this who are now shaking their heads, perhaps annoyed, perhaps merely perplexed (and perhaps both), and thinking, “Why? Why do we need such a thing? What value is there in the Anglo/Saxon definition of ‘Enterprise 2.0’ that could possibly prompt me to want a German version of it?”, I would say the following. As someone who is in the rare position of being able to read something like Andrew McAfee’s definition of Enterprise 2.0, and “see” it with both the eyes of a native Anglo/Saxon, and (to some debatable but undeniable extent) the eyes of a German, I say to you: if there is a concept that is more uniquely, perfectly German than the one of “emergent structure”, implied by McAfee’s theory, then I would like to hear about it. ;D

So what would a German version of Enterprise 2.0 look like? What would it entail? Well, I’m not sure. But this forum is as good a place as any to debate and define it. Certainly, there are some obvious characteristics — German social software will need to have a slightly different relationship to hierarchies, authority and expertise than Anglo/Saxon software will. And German social software will have to take into explicit account both such “soft” factors, as well as the “hard” realities of everyday existence — such as German laws, customs and norms regarding things like privacy. But I am sure of one thing — without it, social software will not “work” in Germany. Or anywhere else.

What do you think?

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Mark Masterson

Mark Masterson


  • Mark Masterson

    What? No flames? No comments at all? I’m disappointed — did I gird my loins for naught? 😉

  • Mark Masterson

    What? No flames? No comments at all? I’m disappointed — did I gird my loins for naught? 😉

  • Christoph Schmaltz

    Mark, people need to digest this very long post first ;). ‘Hut ab’ for bringing this topic to the table. Culture is a very sensitive one, where people get offended very easily.

    I think you are hitting on a very interesting point! I have a degree in International Information Management. It covers a broad range of topics from IM/KM management, human computer interaction, languages and intercultural communication. One of the classes I took was ‘International GUI Design’. We were discussing if culture had an effect on the design of webpages. For example, does Toyota need to change the design and structure depending on the origin of the viewer of its website? Obviously, certain aspects of a website need to be localized like the language and tone. Also, color can be a very important aspect and may need to be modified. But what about navigation? Do Asians reject flat hierarchy and feel more comfortable with a 3, 4, 5 level navigation? Do Westerners prefer a less cluttered website than Asians?
    As a basis for our discussion we used Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity and Long Term Orientation. He came up with these dimensions after having done research with IBM. Even though his theory has been criticized widely, it still remains one of the most prominent works in that field.
    And guess what, there were no clear answers to our questions. There are some academic papers on international GUI design, but the results are rather vague. It is very difficult to prove that there is indeed a correlation between website design and cultural aspects.

    Obviously, a static website (as the ones that were widely available four years ago) cannot be simply compared with social tools. Actually, they are completely different, because there are human processes and social interaction at play, which makes it all the more complex and interesting.

    This link compares Germany and US regarding the 5 dimensions I mentioned above: http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_dimensions.php?culture1=34&culture2=95#compare

    Both countries have fairly similar scores for Power Distance, Masculinity, Long Term Orientation. However, USA scores much higher on Individualism and much less so on Uncertainty Avoidance compared to Germany.

    Power Distance indicates how easily people at the bottom accept inequality and obey the higher-ranked. In Asia you will hardly find anyone criticizing his boss in public. That would mean a huge affront. Germans might not cross a red light late at night, even if they are totally alone, but they do speak up and are comfortable disagreeing with superiors even in public. I believe Germans are obedient when it comes to laws, but that’s not necessarily the case in an employer-employee relationship. Thus, I believe that channels that facilitate communication between management and people on the ground can fly in German organizations, too. When it comes to collaboration I am sure that we see similar effects as we are seeing in the Anglo/Saxon world…At first, people that see a mistake on a wiki page will email the author. After a while, people may leave a comment pointing out the error. And after some time, people will be confident enough to change someone else’s error. It’s not going to happen overnight, but will do so eventually. Now, the question is whether such tools would work in countries with higher power distance, like Asian countries?

    Masculinity: the higher a culture scores on this index the more assertive and competitive the people. Slovakia (110) and Japan (95) seem to score highest here, whereas Sweden (5) is very low. Germany scores 66 and USA 62. Not sure what this can tell us about the adoption and usage of social tools. Maybe that Swedes would be more willing to share and thrive with each other, rather than living on the ‘knowledge is power’ meme.

    Uncertainty Avoidance: to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Well, this one is very interesting, as Germans score relatively high and Americans relatively low. And it very much reflects your point regarding ’emergent structure’ if I understood it correctly. If we think of a wiki where structure emerges with the usage of it, then, keeping Uncertainty Avoidance in mind we would have to argue that Germans feel uncomfortable using a wiki. But I am sure so do many other people in different cultures. In his latest blog post McAfee points out the mechanisms of online emergence: ‘they include linking, tagging, friending (as on Facebook and LinkedIn), and following (as on Twitter).’ StudiVZ and XING are huge successes in Germany. On StudiVZ people tag pictures, link to other interesting sites or topics. Point take, these tools are not Enterprise 2.0, but the users are either already working or will enter organizations soon. They will eventually demand similar tools at their workplace.

    Individualism: “is the degree to which individuals are inte-grated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” The US scores highest with 91, and UK with 89 second highest. Germany scores 67. Does this have an effect on the way we communicate, collaborate and connect with each other?

    Wrapping up this very long comment I would question your hypothesis that we need a localized version of social software for Germany. Neither the current lack of adoption of social tools in German organizations nor the somewhat amusing discussion between strong believers in ECM that you linked to, are very strong arguments. Anglo/Saxon and German culture are different, but they are not significantly different to the extent that we need a different feature set or will see completely different usage patterns.

    I may be biased, since I am German, have worked most of the time in the UK and US and I am an avid user of social tools and thus can hardly accept that we Germans would need an ‘Extrawurst’ :).

  • Christoph Schmaltz

    Mark, people need to digest this very long post first ;). ‘Hut ab’ for bringing this topic to the table. Culture is a very sensitive one, where people get offended very easily.

    I think you are hitting on a very interesting point! I have a degree in International Information Management. It covers a broad range of topics from IM/KM management, human computer interaction, languages and intercultural communication. One of the classes I took was ‘International GUI Design’. We were discussing if culture had an effect on the design of webpages. For example, does Toyota need to change the design and structure depending on the origin of the viewer of its website? Obviously, certain aspects of a website need to be localized like the language and tone. Also, color can be a very important aspect and may need to be modified. But what about navigation? Do Asians reject flat hierarchy and feel more comfortable with a 3, 4, 5 level navigation? Do Westerners prefer a less cluttered website than Asians?
    As a basis for our discussion we used Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions Power Distance, Individualism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity and Long Term Orientation. He came up with these dimensions after having done research with IBM. Even though his theory has been criticized widely, it still remains one of the most prominent works in that field.
    And guess what, there were no clear answers to our questions. There are some academic papers on international GUI design, but the results are rather vague. It is very difficult to prove that there is indeed a correlation between website design and cultural aspects.

    Obviously, a static website (as the ones that were widely available four years ago) cannot be simply compared with social tools. Actually, they are completely different, because there are human processes and social interaction at play, which makes it all the more complex and interesting.

    This link compares Germany and US regarding the 5 dimensions I mentioned above: http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_dimensions.php?culture1=34&culture2=95#compare

    Both countries have fairly similar scores for Power Distance, Masculinity, Long Term Orientation. However, USA scores much higher on Individualism and much less so on Uncertainty Avoidance compared to Germany.

    Power Distance indicates how easily people at the bottom accept inequality and obey the higher-ranked. In Asia you will hardly find anyone criticizing his boss in public. That would mean a huge affront. Germans might not cross a red light late at night, even if they are totally alone, but they do speak up and are comfortable disagreeing with superiors even in public. I believe Germans are obedient when it comes to laws, but that’s not necessarily the case in an employer-employee relationship. Thus, I believe that channels that facilitate communication between management and people on the ground can fly in German organizations, too. When it comes to collaboration I am sure that we see similar effects as we are seeing in the Anglo/Saxon world…At first, people that see a mistake on a wiki page will email the author. After a while, people may leave a comment pointing out the error. And after some time, people will be confident enough to change someone else’s error. It’s not going to happen overnight, but will do so eventually. Now, the question is whether such tools would work in countries with higher power distance, like Asian countries?

    Masculinity: the higher a culture scores on this index the more assertive and competitive the people. Slovakia (110) and Japan (95) seem to score highest here, whereas Sweden (5) is very low. Germany scores 66 and USA 62. Not sure what this can tell us about the adoption and usage of social tools. Maybe that Swedes would be more willing to share and thrive with each other, rather than living on the ‘knowledge is power’ meme.

    Uncertainty Avoidance: to what extent a culture programs its members to feel either uncomfortable or comfortable in unstructured situations. Well, this one is very interesting, as Germans score relatively high and Americans relatively low. And it very much reflects your point regarding ’emergent structure’ if I understood it correctly. If we think of a wiki where structure emerges with the usage of it, then, keeping Uncertainty Avoidance in mind we would have to argue that Germans feel uncomfortable using a wiki. But I am sure so do many other people in different cultures. In his latest blog post McAfee points out the mechanisms of online emergence: ‘they include linking, tagging, friending (as on Facebook and LinkedIn), and following (as on Twitter).’ StudiVZ and XING are huge successes in Germany. On StudiVZ people tag pictures, link to other interesting sites or topics. Point take, these tools are not Enterprise 2.0, but the users are either already working or will enter organizations soon. They will eventually demand similar tools at their workplace.

    Individualism: “is the degree to which individuals are inte-grated into groups. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” The US scores highest with 91, and UK with 89 second highest. Germany scores 67. Does this have an effect on the way we communicate, collaborate and connect with each other?

    Wrapping up this very long comment I would question your hypothesis that we need a localized version of social software for Germany. Neither the current lack of adoption of social tools in German organizations nor the somewhat amusing discussion between strong believers in ECM that you linked to, are very strong arguments. Anglo/Saxon and German culture are different, but they are not significantly different to the extent that we need a different feature set or will see completely different usage patterns.

    I may be biased, since I am German, have worked most of the time in the UK and US and I am an avid user of social tools and thus can hardly accept that we Germans would need an ‘Extrawurst’ :).

  • Mark Masterson

    Christoph! I appreciate you taking time from your “Bright Lights, Big City” adventures in Manhattan to write this extraordinary comment. If this is the only comment this post ever gets, it will more than suffice! 😉 Thanks.

    You make some excellent points, but I don’t entirely agree with you.

    First off, as I was reading your comment, it struck me that I had failed to distinguish clearly enough between two things: the ADOPTION of E.20 tools in a particular culture, and the USAGE of those tools in a particular culture. I mix and mash those two things together in my post, but we would probably have a more useful discussion if we talked about them separately (as you, by and large, have). Perhaps those are two completely different (but related) conversations? What are the cultural factors in the process of *adoption*? And what are the cultural factors that affect *usage* (and which we, therefore, need to address in software design)?

    It’s certainly true that there are all kinds of examples of cultures like Germany using social tools — you list XING and StudiVZ, and there’s also the wildly popular Wer Kennt Wem. So it is clearly not the case that German culture and social software are fundamentally incompatible.

    But I do think that you are underestimating both some of the more subtle differences, and the degree of their importance in big *German* companies (where I suspect that, as strange as it may be, I may have spent more time working than you have ;)).

    Consider: I lived for nearly ten years next to an older couple, who both my wife and I quite liked, and with whom we often spoke. We watched their apartment when they were on holiday, took care of their dog, and they watched ours, and took care of our cats, in turn. When the man died, and the woman moved away, we were still addressing one another as “Frau So-and-So” and “Herr Masterson”, and were still using the formal you — “Sie”. I knew her first name (’twas a lovely name, in fact — “Freya”), and she certainly knew mine. But we chose to never, ever use them. There are two things worth remarking on about that. One, this is not an uncommon experience, in German culture. And two, it is *inconceivable* — literally verging on the impossible — in any Anglo/Saxon culture.

    By the same token, I cannot tell you how often, after a business conference call between German and Anglo/Saxon colleagues, we have ended the call, and the Germans have, amongst themselves, made small, passing remarks about how irritating it is to be compelled to address everyone by their first names.

    I find German television fascinating — especially the dubbed versions of American and British shows. I particularly like what I call “the budding romance scenario”, especially if it takes place in a work setting. In such cases, the German translations of the original English dialogue will very often have the two nascent lovers speaking to each other in the formal “you”. There are very few things about German culture more bizarre, Christoph, than to watch people simultaneously flirt with each other, and “Sie-zen” each other. The rules for how this work are equally fascinating — such people can passionately kiss, grope, and fondle one another, and STILL address one another with the formal “you”, even in private. But the MOMENT they actually have sex with each other, they switch to “per Du”.

    By the same token, it’s a cliché that Germans like to complain about how “superficial” Anglo/Saxons (particularly, Americans) are. “They call you ‘friend’ ten minutes after they meet you! Bah. Americans don’t even know what the word ‘friendship’ MEANS.” And so on. You will know what I am talking about. ;D

    This sort of thing is subtle (to a German) — it’s so deeply a part of the weave of the Alltag that you, as a native, may often forget it’s there? Overlook it, to an extent? I know that my wife often doesn’t NOTICE the shift that two lovers make from “per Sie” to “per Du” in a television show — it’s such an automagic thing for her, that it’s only when *I* mention it that she shakes her head, frowns, and then laughs.

    Consider Internet forums — “Foren”. These are wildly popular in Germany, and have been for as long as I can recall. But they are also characterised by a) a degree of anonymity, and b) a (more or less enforced, albeit implicitly ) culture of “per Du”. Are “a” and “b” casually related? I don’t know, but I suspect they are. Examples like StudiVZ and WKM are also, in my view, examples of environments where an almost “künstliches” (artificial) “per Du” climate exists.

    Now, perhaps, all of those observations only apply to the issue of ADOPTION of social software tools. Perhaps, once they’re in place, folks raised in a German culture will use them in the same way that folks raised in an Anglo/Saxon culture would. Perhaps.

    I’m now thinking of Wer Kennt Wem again. This is a community that lies somewhere between MySpace and Facebook, in it’s overall “flavour”, I find. Yet, interestingly enough (and this is just my completely subjective, unscientific, personal observation — it may well be completely wrong), it seems to me that WKM tolerates significantly more sexually explicit content than an Anglo/Saxon service would…

    That sort of a cultural difference won’t apply to an E2.0 tool used at work, of course, but I still think you are underestimating the cultural differences in the workplace. I am thinking about the way English and American colleagues “network” (including the old fashioned way, with handshakes and Rolodexes), as compared to behaviour I have observed amongst German colleagues. There are differences.

    I am thinking about Stowe Boyd, arguing that SNS will bring about the end of hierarchical organisations, and that we will all just be a free floating mass of free agents, in the future, freed from the bonds imposed on us by the consequences of Coase’s theory of transaction costs. And I am, at the same time, thinking of a German colleague I know, who was taken onboard by CSC in an outsourcing deal.

    CSC’s culture is very Anglo/Saxon. Among other things, this includes a healthy portion of assumptions about how an individual within the company is meant to behave as a “mini-entrepreneur”. In particular, individuals are responsible for their own career development, their own training plans, and whatnot. In the German company culture that this colleague came from, this was very much NOT the case. Workers did not develop their own career plans, and certainly not training plans — those were things that their supervisors did FOR them. In a yearly appraisal “Gespräch”, the supervisor would explain what the company’s plans and goals for the coming year were going to be, and derived from them, what the employee would need to know in order to succeed. There was an opportunity for input and feedback, in such a conversation — the employee was not entirely passive. But, by and large, the hard work of deciding the path forward was done for him by someone else. The colleague I am thinking of had spent 20 years — his entire adult life — working for this one company, immersed in that sort of a culture, and had never been exposed to any other. He was OVERWHELMED by the changes brought on by the switch to CSC, and at one point, was literally in tears over the newfound “pressures” that he was now being asked to cope with. “I don’t know what the company’s plans and goals are,” he said to me, crying, “How can I decide what to do?”

    I assure you — that employee has a different kind of a relationship to his “superiors” than a typical Anglo/Saxon does. Now, you may say (indeed, you *do* say, in your response here, more or less) that my German friend in this example is not the norm, not typical. I agree — he’s at one end of a spectrum. But — and this is where I suspect we disagree — I do think that he is *closer* to the mean of a “German worker” (whatever that means) than the typical “Anglo/Saxon worker” (whatever that means) is.

    I believe that we can put Anglo/Saxon social software into the hands of German workers, and they will be able to use it, even gain significant value from it — we agree on that. But I ALSO think that those same German workers would get even MORE value out of software that had been designed with their culture in mind. And I suspect the same is true of every non-Anglo/Saxon culture.

  • Mark Masterson

    Christoph! I appreciate you taking time from your “Bright Lights, Big City” adventures in Manhattan to write this extraordinary comment. If this is the only comment this post ever gets, it will more than suffice! 😉 Thanks.

    You make some excellent points, but I don’t entirely agree with you.

    First off, as I was reading your comment, it struck me that I had failed to distinguish clearly enough between two things: the ADOPTION of E.20 tools in a particular culture, and the USAGE of those tools in a particular culture. I mix and mash those two things together in my post, but we would probably have a more useful discussion if we talked about them separately (as you, by and large, have). Perhaps those are two completely different (but related) conversations? What are the cultural factors in the process of *adoption*? And what are the cultural factors that affect *usage* (and which we, therefore, need to address in software design)?

    It’s certainly true that there are all kinds of examples of cultures like Germany using social tools — you list XING and StudiVZ, and there’s also the wildly popular Wer Kennt Wem. So it is clearly not the case that German culture and social software are fundamentally incompatible.

    But I do think that you are underestimating both some of the more subtle differences, and the degree of their importance in big *German* companies (where I suspect that, as strange as it may be, I may have spent more time working than you have ;)).

    Consider: I lived for nearly ten years next to an older couple, who both my wife and I quite liked, and with whom we often spoke. We watched their apartment when they were on holiday, took care of their dog, and they watched ours, and took care of our cats, in turn. When the man died, and the woman moved away, we were still addressing one another as “Frau So-and-So” and “Herr Masterson”, and were still using the formal you — “Sie”. I knew her first name (’twas a lovely name, in fact — “Freya”), and she certainly knew mine. But we chose to never, ever use them. There are two things worth remarking on about that. One, this is not an uncommon experience, in German culture. And two, it is *inconceivable* — literally verging on the impossible — in any Anglo/Saxon culture.

    By the same token, I cannot tell you how often, after a business conference call between German and Anglo/Saxon colleagues, we have ended the call, and the Germans have, amongst themselves, made small, passing remarks about how irritating it is to be compelled to address everyone by their first names.

    I find German television fascinating — especially the dubbed versions of American and British shows. I particularly like what I call “the budding romance scenario”, especially if it takes place in a work setting. In such cases, the German translations of the original English dialogue will very often have the two nascent lovers speaking to each other in the formal “you”. There are very few things about German culture more bizarre, Christoph, than to watch people simultaneously flirt with each other, and “Sie-zen” each other. The rules for how this work are equally fascinating — such people can passionately kiss, grope, and fondle one another, and STILL address one another with the formal “you”, even in private. But the MOMENT they actually have sex with each other, they switch to “per Du”.

    By the same token, it’s a cliché that Germans like to complain about how “superficial” Anglo/Saxons (particularly, Americans) are. “They call you ‘friend’ ten minutes after they meet you! Bah. Americans don’t even know what the word ‘friendship’ MEANS.” And so on. You will know what I am talking about. ;D

    This sort of thing is subtle (to a German) — it’s so deeply a part of the weave of the Alltag that you, as a native, may often forget it’s there? Overlook it, to an extent? I know that my wife often doesn’t NOTICE the shift that two lovers make from “per Sie” to “per Du” in a television show — it’s such an automagic thing for her, that it’s only when *I* mention it that she shakes her head, frowns, and then laughs.

    Consider Internet forums — “Foren”. These are wildly popular in Germany, and have been for as long as I can recall. But they are also characterised by a) a degree of anonymity, and b) a (more or less enforced, albeit implicitly ) culture of “per Du”. Are “a” and “b” casually related? I don’t know, but I suspect they are. Examples like StudiVZ and WKM are also, in my view, examples of environments where an almost “künstliches” (artificial) “per Du” climate exists.

    Now, perhaps, all of those observations only apply to the issue of ADOPTION of social software tools. Perhaps, once they’re in place, folks raised in a German culture will use them in the same way that folks raised in an Anglo/Saxon culture would. Perhaps.

    I’m now thinking of Wer Kennt Wem again. This is a community that lies somewhere between MySpace and Facebook, in it’s overall “flavour”, I find. Yet, interestingly enough (and this is just my completely subjective, unscientific, personal observation — it may well be completely wrong), it seems to me that WKM tolerates significantly more sexually explicit content than an Anglo/Saxon service would…

    That sort of a cultural difference won’t apply to an E2.0 tool used at work, of course, but I still think you are underestimating the cultural differences in the workplace. I am thinking about the way English and American colleagues “network” (including the old fashioned way, with handshakes and Rolodexes), as compared to behaviour I have observed amongst German colleagues. There are differences.

    I am thinking about Stowe Boyd, arguing that SNS will bring about the end of hierarchical organisations, and that we will all just be a free floating mass of free agents, in the future, freed from the bonds imposed on us by the consequences of Coase’s theory of transaction costs. And I am, at the same time, thinking of a German colleague I know, who was taken onboard by CSC in an outsourcing deal.

    CSC’s culture is very Anglo/Saxon. Among other things, this includes a healthy portion of assumptions about how an individual within the company is meant to behave as a “mini-entrepreneur”. In particular, individuals are responsible for their own career development, their own training plans, and whatnot. In the German company culture that this colleague came from, this was very much NOT the case. Workers did not develop their own career plans, and certainly not training plans — those were things that their supervisors did FOR them. In a yearly appraisal “Gespräch”, the supervisor would explain what the company’s plans and goals for the coming year were going to be, and derived from them, what the employee would need to know in order to succeed. There was an opportunity for input and feedback, in such a conversation — the employee was not entirely passive. But, by and large, the hard work of deciding the path forward was done for him by someone else. The colleague I am thinking of had spent 20 years — his entire adult life — working for this one company, immersed in that sort of a culture, and had never been exposed to any other. He was OVERWHELMED by the changes brought on by the switch to CSC, and at one point, was literally in tears over the newfound “pressures” that he was now being asked to cope with. “I don’t know what the company’s plans and goals are,” he said to me, crying, “How can I decide what to do?”

    I assure you — that employee has a different kind of a relationship to his “superiors” than a typical Anglo/Saxon does. Now, you may say (indeed, you *do* say, in your response here, more or less) that my German friend in this example is not the norm, not typical. I agree — he’s at one end of a spectrum. But — and this is where I suspect we disagree — I do think that he is *closer* to the mean of a “German worker” (whatever that means) than the typical “Anglo/Saxon worker” (whatever that means) is.

    I believe that we can put Anglo/Saxon social software into the hands of German workers, and they will be able to use it, even gain significant value from it — we agree on that. But I ALSO think that those same German workers would get even MORE value out of software that had been designed with their culture in mind. And I suspect the same is true of every non-Anglo/Saxon culture.

  • Stuart French

    Hi Mark,

    I would love to jump in here, but am crushed for time these next two days.

    Have a look at my post about this at http://www.deltaknowledge.net/2008/11/enterprise-20-its-effect-on.html and I will come and join in on Sunday.

    Great to see people reasoning about this important topic!

    Stuart French
    Melbourne, Australia

  • Stuart French

    Hi Mark,

    I would love to jump in here, but am crushed for time these next two days.

    Have a look at my post about this at http://www.deltaknowledge.net/2008/11/enterprise-20-its-effect-on.html and I will come and join in on Sunday.

    Great to see people reasoning about this important topic!

    Stuart French
    Melbourne, Australia

  • Barthox

    Mark,

    very interesting question, even if a bugger one! ;o)

    I have spent a year in the US as an exchange student, worked for 20 months in Germany, then worked for a US company here in Belgium for 6 years, and I can clearly see your points even if I can’t really fathom what a German, or Belgian, or whatever, specific SNS should be.

    But I do have a question; what should happen in an international company?

    Take an organization like the major consulting companies, who have people working, sometimes together, in various countries …. They do have some kind of social network helping them finding expertise where it lies. And are probably more and more using blogs and wikis, etc. However I can’t imagine them having a specific system per country …

    This being said, I’d be curious to see if the way the people use these tools vary from one country to another ….

  • Barthox

    Mark,

    very interesting question, even if a bugger one! ;o)

    I have spent a year in the US as an exchange student, worked for 20 months in Germany, then worked for a US company here in Belgium for 6 years, and I can clearly see your points even if I can’t really fathom what a German, or Belgian, or whatever, specific SNS should be.

    But I do have a question; what should happen in an international company?

    Take an organization like the major consulting companies, who have people working, sometimes together, in various countries …. They do have some kind of social network helping them finding expertise where it lies. And are probably more and more using blogs and wikis, etc. However I can’t imagine them having a specific system per country …

    This being said, I’d be curious to see if the way the people use these tools vary from one country to another ….

  • Mark Masterson

    Woot! Now we’re cookin’ with Crisco. Stuart, what a fascinating post. I knew this conversation would harbour the possibility of veering off into debates about models of cognition, but honestly didn’t expect it happen in the 3rd comment (not counting my own, first one). I can only encourage anyone reading this to follow the link that Stuart provides (as well as the various things that his piece, in turn, links to). It’s a rabbit hole, and you’ll be gone for a while, but it’s definitely worth it. Stuart, frankly, if I had known you had written this piece — or, more broadly, the conversation you had with Matt — mine would have been much briefer: a paragraph, and a link to you.

    For the record, I come down firmly in your camp wrt. things like emergence, etc., in the aforementioned dialogue with Matt. Further, I think the thing that I find most frustrating with Matt’s (very, very Anglo/Saxon) assumptions is the one that cultures can ever be “known”. Matt says “And, lastly, if you know enough about the psychology of culture, when things are not aligned, you can create a change strategy that will be able to introduce technology successfully in just about any organisation.” (http://magia3e.wordpress.com/2008/11/02/on-culture-group-dynamics-and-adption-of-web-20-tools/)

    But that assumes that you can ever know something as amorphous as a “culture” with enough precision to effect such changes. I’m uncertain that this is a reasonable goal.

    @Barthox: great question, as always. I can always count on you for a good comment! 😉

    However, I don’t know the answer to it. I can only respond with some (statistically inadequate but) empirical observations. There’s an old joke that “CSC” stands for “Collection of Small Companies”, and like most such jokes, it’s got a reasonable portion of truth in it. What I can see, within CSC’s growing use of a corporate wide wiki (Confluence), is a certain amount of language-barrier based Balkanization. German-speaking users (and French-speaking users) have some “spaces” in the Wiki that are written in their language. The behaviour that I see there is German — right down to people “Sie-zing” one another, and addressing each other as “Herr und Frau So-und-So”. That’s not the case in the English-language portions of the wiki. By the same token, that ultimate expression of narcissism, the personal blog, is possible in Confluence, but it is (almost) exclusively used by Anglo/Saxons.

    In other words, yes, you’re right, CSC rolled the same wiki (tool) out to all of it’s cultures, but they are using them differently. I don’t pretend to understand why. But I suspect that the non-English speakers might be even MORE empowered by a tool that had been designed for them.

    Having said that, I completely share your befuddlement about what, precisely, that would mean. What, precisely, would be the things that a German tool would need to address, to achieve what I’m suggesting here? I don’t know. That’s why I wrote this post. 😉

  • Mark Masterson

    Woot! Now we’re cookin’ with Crisco. Stuart, what a fascinating post. I knew this conversation would harbour the possibility of veering off into debates about models of cognition, but honestly didn’t expect it happen in the 3rd comment (not counting my own, first one). I can only encourage anyone reading this to follow the link that Stuart provides (as well as the various things that his piece, in turn, links to). It’s a rabbit hole, and you’ll be gone for a while, but it’s definitely worth it. Stuart, frankly, if I had known you had written this piece — or, more broadly, the conversation you had with Matt — mine would have been much briefer: a paragraph, and a link to you.

    For the record, I come down firmly in your camp wrt. things like emergence, etc., in the aforementioned dialogue with Matt. Further, I think the thing that I find most frustrating with Matt’s (very, very Anglo/Saxon) assumptions is the one that cultures can ever be “known”. Matt says “And, lastly, if you know enough about the psychology of culture, when things are not aligned, you can create a change strategy that will be able to introduce technology successfully in just about any organisation.” (http://magia3e.wordpress.com/2008/11/02/on-culture-group-dynamics-and-adption-of-web-20-tools/)

    But that assumes that you can ever know something as amorphous as a “culture” with enough precision to effect such changes. I’m uncertain that this is a reasonable goal.

    @Barthox: great question, as always. I can always count on you for a good comment! 😉

    However, I don’t know the answer to it. I can only respond with some (statistically inadequate but) empirical observations. There’s an old joke that “CSC” stands for “Collection of Small Companies”, and like most such jokes, it’s got a reasonable portion of truth in it. What I can see, within CSC’s growing use of a corporate wide wiki (Confluence), is a certain amount of language-barrier based Balkanization. German-speaking users (and French-speaking users) have some “spaces” in the Wiki that are written in their language. The behaviour that I see there is German — right down to people “Sie-zing” one another, and addressing each other as “Herr und Frau So-und-So”. That’s not the case in the English-language portions of the wiki. By the same token, that ultimate expression of narcissism, the personal blog, is possible in Confluence, but it is (almost) exclusively used by Anglo/Saxons.

    In other words, yes, you’re right, CSC rolled the same wiki (tool) out to all of it’s cultures, but they are using them differently. I don’t pretend to understand why. But I suspect that the non-English speakers might be even MORE empowered by a tool that had been designed for them.

    Having said that, I completely share your befuddlement about what, precisely, that would mean. What, precisely, would be the things that a German tool would need to address, to achieve what I’m suggesting here? I don’t know. That’s why I wrote this post. 😉

  • Barthox

    Mark,

    in your opinion, is it right to let people create spaces in their native language on a company wide platform?

    I mean, for some stuff, it’s ok (like a regional blog that serves as a local billboard for company announcements), but since the whole idea is about sharing and collaborating it ought to be in one language.

    Let’s say a German programmer found a way to handle some kind of a bug, and documents it in German in the German-speaking hub. Then later on, a programmer in, say Spain, comes up with the same bug and looks on the company’s platform to see if this problem is known. Since his query will most likely be formulated in English, he won’t find the German solution and will lose time reinventing the wheel ….

    I know this isn’t directly linked to your original question, but I still can’t come up with a scratch of an idea about that one … ;(

    I’m even starting to believe that what you’re looking for is not possible … If a country’s culture does not foster ‘openness’ and ‘voluntary sharing’, I don’t see what you could do about it.

    I mean, in my last two jobs, I often needed local colleagues from various European countries to send me information. The Germans never sent anything on their own, ‘just in case it would be helpful’, but whenever I was asking for something specifically , they were the first to answer and the quality of the answer was generally excellent. So a wiki or a blog would probably not be the best tool for them.

    One point though, I believe that in many non anglo-saxon cultures, there is a tendency to not put oneself too much in the light. It is not seen as something ‘correct’ to bragg about one-self. So blogging, and to a lesser extend wikiying (?!?), might not be seen as something really positive.

    However, when I see the popularity that Facebook is starting to have with non-geeks/non early-adopters around me (I’m finding people whom I would have sworn did not even own a PC at home!). I believe that this culture of staying low-profiled might change a lot in the next few years.

    Now this is my (probably distorted) view, and I’m not sure if it’s a correct one …

  • Barthox

    Mark,

    in your opinion, is it right to let people create spaces in their native language on a company wide platform?

    I mean, for some stuff, it’s ok (like a regional blog that serves as a local billboard for company announcements), but since the whole idea is about sharing and collaborating it ought to be in one language.

    Let’s say a German programmer found a way to handle some kind of a bug, and documents it in German in the German-speaking hub. Then later on, a programmer in, say Spain, comes up with the same bug and looks on the company’s platform to see if this problem is known. Since his query will most likely be formulated in English, he won’t find the German solution and will lose time reinventing the wheel ….

    I know this isn’t directly linked to your original question, but I still can’t come up with a scratch of an idea about that one … ;(

    I’m even starting to believe that what you’re looking for is not possible … If a country’s culture does not foster ‘openness’ and ‘voluntary sharing’, I don’t see what you could do about it.

    I mean, in my last two jobs, I often needed local colleagues from various European countries to send me information. The Germans never sent anything on their own, ‘just in case it would be helpful’, but whenever I was asking for something specifically , they were the first to answer and the quality of the answer was generally excellent. So a wiki or a blog would probably not be the best tool for them.

    One point though, I believe that in many non anglo-saxon cultures, there is a tendency to not put oneself too much in the light. It is not seen as something ‘correct’ to bragg about one-self. So blogging, and to a lesser extend wikiying (?!?), might not be seen as something really positive.

    However, when I see the popularity that Facebook is starting to have with non-geeks/non early-adopters around me (I’m finding people whom I would have sworn did not even own a PC at home!). I believe that this culture of staying low-profiled might change a lot in the next few years.

    Now this is my (probably distorted) view, and I’m not sure if it’s a correct one …

  • Mark Masterson

    Well, to your question about English vs. other languages… I actually think that the path CSC has chosen (a linguistic free-for-all) is the optimal one. But optimal in the sense of that famous remark about democracy (from whom? Churchill? I can’t recall…) — it’s the least bad of all of the available alternatives.

    What I mean is this: if CSC chose to mandate an English-only policy (based, no doubt, on reasoning about sharing and redundancy not unlike what you speak of here), then I am certain that the result would be that the non-English speakers would simply cease to participate. I’m sympathetic to that — writing in a second language is hard, and that establishes a barrier to participation that most people will not choose to climb over.

    Thus, if it’s a choice between people participating, and collaborating with *someone*, but in a redundant, inefficient way, and those same people not participating at all, I would choose the former.

    Does that make sense?

  • Mark Masterson

    Well, to your question about English vs. other languages… I actually think that the path CSC has chosen (a linguistic free-for-all) is the optimal one. But optimal in the sense of that famous remark about democracy (from whom? Churchill? I can’t recall…) — it’s the least bad of all of the available alternatives.

    What I mean is this: if CSC chose to mandate an English-only policy (based, no doubt, on reasoning about sharing and redundancy not unlike what you speak of here), then I am certain that the result would be that the non-English speakers would simply cease to participate. I’m sympathetic to that — writing in a second language is hard, and that establishes a barrier to participation that most people will not choose to climb over.

    Thus, if it’s a choice between people participating, and collaborating with *someone*, but in a redundant, inefficient way, and those same people not participating at all, I would choose the former.

    Does that make sense?

  • mastermark

    BTW, and FWIW, those who found this post useful and / or interesting may also enjoy the following (with a nod to the fact that, as Stuart’s post makes plain, there are dragons lurking here that are much, much larger than even the “cultural” one that I framed this post in):

    “The poet Fernando Pessoa created the literary concept of the heteronym. A heteronym possesses distinct temperaments, philosophies, appearances and writing styles– Pessoa had more than 70. Would the words I write here be the same ones I’d exchange with you over coffee at a little cafe on the other side of town? I really couldn’t say…” http://blog.echovar.com/?p=616

  • mastermark

    BTW, and FWIW, those who found this post useful and / or interesting may also enjoy the following (with a nod to the fact that, as Stuart’s post makes plain, there are dragons lurking here that are much, much larger than even the “cultural” one that I framed this post in):

    “The poet Fernando Pessoa created the literary concept of the heteronym. A heteronym possesses distinct temperaments, philosophies, appearances and writing styles– Pessoa had more than 70. Would the words I write here be the same ones I’d exchange with you over coffee at a little cafe on the other side of town? I really couldn’t say…” http://blog.echovar.com/?p=616

  • Barthox

    Mark,

    what you say does make sense … unfortunately … and yes it is the least bad of all of the available alternatives …

  • Barthox

    Mark,

    what you say does make sense … unfortunately … and yes it is the least bad of all of the available alternatives …

  • Michael Hafner

    I had a few thought on this topic which I think is very interesting and there are some good points in this post.
    But now I know what I don’t like about it: I don’t want to tie cultural diversity to the notion of a nation. I don’t care if the people I’m talking to are italian, english, ukrainian, romanian – I don’t think that this makes a big difference that is worth talking about. If there is one, you can’t change it anyhow.
    What I’m interested in are the experiences, thoughts, visions and knowledge people share or don’t share. this is in part caused by their country of origin, but there are many other factors:
    what do they want to be?
    where do they want to go?
    how do they see themselves?

    maybe this is an austrian/central european/balcanic perspective – but don’t you also think that are different criteria for assuming common perspectives than the same nationality?

    what nationality, after all. think of romania – turkish, german, hungarian, roman influences with a communist history. or take ukraine: ukrainians hardly think of ukranian without adding something – some feel polish, others czech, russian, some austrian.

    the point I want to make is that there are far more criteria for cultural diversity than nationality. nationality does have some influence, but especially in fast changing environments like we have them here in Central and Eastern Europe, the nationality is just a small part; in our daily work, we have to be prepared for many more different thoughts and understandings.

    So I doubt that a difference like anglo saxon vs german will help; maybe it does work for this specific case, but it won’t be reproduceable in other markets.

    I started some research on this including field studies and conferences; I’m very curious where this will lead to…

    My answer to the question ist definitely Zes, it can work – because thanks to the diversity I see, social software will always find it’s users, that’s what it has been design for…

  • Michael Hafner

    I had a few thought on this topic which I think is very interesting and there are some good points in this post.
    But now I know what I don’t like about it: I don’t want to tie cultural diversity to the notion of a nation. I don’t care if the people I’m talking to are italian, english, ukrainian, romanian – I don’t think that this makes a big difference that is worth talking about. If there is one, you can’t change it anyhow.
    What I’m interested in are the experiences, thoughts, visions and knowledge people share or don’t share. this is in part caused by their country of origin, but there are many other factors:
    what do they want to be?
    where do they want to go?
    how do they see themselves?

    maybe this is an austrian/central european/balcanic perspective – but don’t you also think that are different criteria for assuming common perspectives than the same nationality?

    what nationality, after all. think of romania – turkish, german, hungarian, roman influences with a communist history. or take ukraine: ukrainians hardly think of ukranian without adding something – some feel polish, others czech, russian, some austrian.

    the point I want to make is that there are far more criteria for cultural diversity than nationality. nationality does have some influence, but especially in fast changing environments like we have them here in Central and Eastern Europe, the nationality is just a small part; in our daily work, we have to be prepared for many more different thoughts and understandings.

    So I doubt that a difference like anglo saxon vs german will help; maybe it does work for this specific case, but it won’t be reproduceable in other markets.

    I started some research on this including field studies and conferences; I’m very curious where this will lead to…

    My answer to the question ist definitely Zes, it can work – because thanks to the diversity I see, social software will always find it’s users, that’s what it has been design for…

  • Mark Masterson

    Excellent point. I agree completely. In recent years, when asked the common question “Where are you from?”, I have often answered with “None of the above”. This is framed as a joke, when I do it, but my intention is really deadly serious. I agree with you that nationlaity (and association with one) is a clumsy and imprecise way of answering that question. I certainly don’t feel like either an “American” or a “German” — hence my jokey answer.

    I also acknowledge that I’ve done a bit of strawman slaughter here — the question that I pose in the headline of this post is a rhetorical one.

    As I mentioned above, clearly, social software IS “working” outside of the English-speaking locations that invented it. So from that perspective, the answer is obviously “yes”. Thus, the question that I’m really asking (and which I guess I still haven’t made plain enough) is: is it working well enough? What is the optimum? Is that the same as the defaults provided to us by English speaking developers / designers? Are there things we could / should do differently in cultures that speak other languages?

    In other words, while I agree with you that nation states are a poor vehicle for talking about cultural differences, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist! And to the degree they do exist, I think it’s interesting to wonder what their impact is on styles and methods of collaborating. To the extent that *those* differ, software that is intended to enable collaboration might work *better* if it reflected them.

    The key word in that last sentence is “might”. It might. I frankly don’t know. That’s why I wrote this post. 😉

  • Mark Masterson

    Excellent point. I agree completely. In recent years, when asked the common question “Where are you from?”, I have often answered with “None of the above”. This is framed as a joke, when I do it, but my intention is really deadly serious. I agree with you that nationlaity (and association with one) is a clumsy and imprecise way of answering that question. I certainly don’t feel like either an “American” or a “German” — hence my jokey answer.

    I also acknowledge that I’ve done a bit of strawman slaughter here — the question that I pose in the headline of this post is a rhetorical one.

    As I mentioned above, clearly, social software IS “working” outside of the English-speaking locations that invented it. So from that perspective, the answer is obviously “yes”. Thus, the question that I’m really asking (and which I guess I still haven’t made plain enough) is: is it working well enough? What is the optimum? Is that the same as the defaults provided to us by English speaking developers / designers? Are there things we could / should do differently in cultures that speak other languages?

    In other words, while I agree with you that nation states are a poor vehicle for talking about cultural differences, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist! And to the degree they do exist, I think it’s interesting to wonder what their impact is on styles and methods of collaborating. To the extent that *those* differ, software that is intended to enable collaboration might work *better* if it reflected them.

    The key word in that last sentence is “might”. It might. I frankly don’t know. That’s why I wrote this post. 😉

  • thoughtfarmer

    “can social software work in germany?” excellent article on social software in other countries by @mastermark: http://bit.ly/3if8i

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Michael Hafner

    if there are working clichees, it’s always hard not to use them… and nationalities work very well, even if there is less and less “reality” they can be tied to.

    the experience I made is: the less I know about a group, the more stupid I feel saying “they” and connecting it to some clichees. the bigger the distance and the smaller the knowledge, the more we are likely to use big terms (like nationality), and the higher the chances of misunderstandings and misunderstanding
    that’s why I try to avoid that and to stick to what is here now
    that’s quite a reduction in scope an vision, but I feel it’s actually more productive…

  • Michael Hafner

    if there are working clichees, it’s always hard not to use them… and nationalities work very well, even if there is less and less “reality” they can be tied to.

    the experience I made is: the less I know about a group, the more stupid I feel saying “they” and connecting it to some clichees. the bigger the distance and the smaller the knowledge, the more we are likely to use big terms (like nationality), and the higher the chances of misunderstandings and misunderstanding
    that’s why I try to avoid that and to stick to what is here now
    that’s quite a reduction in scope an vision, but I feel it’s actually more productive…

  • Mark Masterson

    We are in violent agreement with one another. But…

    The question I’m asking is: is it “good enough”, given all that, to just ignore cultural differences (whatever their true granularity or source)? Or is there a way to design software that explicitly acknowledges and exploits them? Where “design software” is meant to be understood as an activity in the “here and now”, as you put it?

    What if, similar to the way you can switch languages in most software, you could switch cultural factors as well? Would that be useful? Is such a thing even possible?

    I don’t think the problem was / is even worth considering for things like word processors, or spreadsheets — more trouble than it’s worth. But is that also true for social software? Software meant to enable collaboration? I’m not so sure we can continue to ignore this issue for that class of software…

  • Mark Masterson

    We are in violent agreement with one another. But…

    The question I’m asking is: is it “good enough”, given all that, to just ignore cultural differences (whatever their true granularity or source)? Or is there a way to design software that explicitly acknowledges and exploits them? Where “design software” is meant to be understood as an activity in the “here and now”, as you put it?

    What if, similar to the way you can switch languages in most software, you could switch cultural factors as well? Would that be useful? Is such a thing even possible?

    I don’t think the problem was / is even worth considering for things like word processors, or spreadsheets — more trouble than it’s worth. But is that also true for social software? Software meant to enable collaboration? I’m not so sure we can continue to ignore this issue for that class of software…

  • Odegard

    ..in England, freedom; in Holland, trade; in France, the honour of the King”. Very insightful in many ways: http://tinyurl.com/d5uxua

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Emanuele Quintarelli

    Mark,
    I swear I’ve read all the post and comments. Very long but also very interesting to those of us working in a not english speaking country.

    I can easily admit I’ve no clear idea as well about how to frame the discussion. Most people in Italy say that our hierarchical ‘culture’ is not the best for Enterprise 2.0 adoption or that people are not willing to share to protect their position or that most people are not engaged enough for being happy to put their brain at the disposal of the company they work for.

    There’s surely some truth into this and social software should probably care much about the peculiarities between different countries but to me another point is clear.

    To me we should care a bit less about the tools. Social software could create or avoid to create usage barriers and these barriers could depend on the historical and economical background of a nation but to me what we should be thinking about is how to impact culture, people motivation, engagement, readiness, openness and not how to change the software. Connecting social software to clear business benefits and embedding it into the flow of everyday work (as opposed to above-the-flow) while proving the quick wins people can get from it is the real goal. The fact that most companies in Italy have an evident top-down management structure doesn’t mean you cannot show that other ways are viable and helpful, working both on the culture and the management approach. Putting this work (and so people needs and behaviors) at the center of every project, to me is more important than changing tools that are every day more usable, flexible, freeform anyway.

  • Emanuele Quintarelli

    Mark,
    I swear I’ve read all the post and comments. Very long but also very interesting to those of us working in a not english speaking country.

    I can easily admit I’ve no clear idea as well about how to frame the discussion. Most people in Italy say that our hierarchical ‘culture’ is not the best for Enterprise 2.0 adoption or that people are not willing to share to protect their position or that most people are not engaged enough for being happy to put their brain at the disposal of the company they work for.

    There’s surely some truth into this and social software should probably care much about the peculiarities between different countries but to me another point is clear.

    To me we should care a bit less about the tools. Social software could create or avoid to create usage barriers and these barriers could depend on the historical and economical background of a nation but to me what we should be thinking about is how to impact culture, people motivation, engagement, readiness, openness and not how to change the software. Connecting social software to clear business benefits and embedding it into the flow of everyday work (as opposed to above-the-flow) while proving the quick wins people can get from it is the real goal. The fact that most companies in Italy have an evident top-down management structure doesn’t mean you cannot show that other ways are viable and helpful, working both on the culture and the management approach. Putting this work (and so people needs and behaviors) at the center of every project, to me is more important than changing tools that are every day more usable, flexible, freeform anyway.