Iran, Social Networking and the CIO Conundrum
By Tony Kontzer
Maybe the Iranian government is on to something with its ban of Gmail, Friendster and Facebook.
Normally, this would be considered oppression, nothing surprising considering the state of today's Iran. But given the social-networking landscape, one might also call it an effective coping methodology. You need a decoder booklet and about seven free hours a day to keep up with the social media cacophony of late. And that represents a threat.
In Iran, it's a threat to an oppressive regime that wants to keep people in the dark. Elsewhere, it's a threat to productivity, and a large one at that.
No doubt, IT executives grapple with this issue daily. For all the wonderful communication capabilities Facebook and Twitter have brought to the business world, they also represent a monumental distraction, and one that's getting larger. Consider a recent report from the U.K. that non-business use of social networks in the workplace is costing British businesses more than $2 billion a year and you get a small sense of what the impact must be in the U.S.
And that number was computed before Google launched its controversial new Buzz service this week, bringing what many are dubbing an unwelcome new level of social networking chaos, and possibly privacy violations, into our lives.
From all accounts, it sounds like Buzz is the result of some Google engineer dumping Facebook and Twitter into a blender and adding a double shot of espresso for good measure. (Lucky me, I've barely used my Gmail account since starting it in 2007, so I've been spared the deafening noise Buzz has created in millions of inboxes.)
It's probably safe to say that IT workers all over the country have been splitting their time this week between struggling to figure out how to shut off Buzz and trying to get the new Facebook-AIM integration to work. Not exactly the recipe for an efficient IT operation. (Then again, they might not have to think about MySpace much longer now that the struggling social networking pioneer has lost a highly thought-of CEO at just the wrong moment.)
I'm not suggesting that business and IT leaders take a page from the Iranian government's handbook. Social media have evolved into an integral part of our lives now, whether at home or at work, and any efforts to snuff that out in the workplace are likely to meet with loud protest, if not out-and-out violence.
But there's little question that as the social networking landscape grows more complex and invasive, workplace projects take a hit. Progress slows as key players whittle away valuable hours reading about their friends' weekend activities, uploading pictures of their kids' soccer games, or setting personal bests playing Mafia Wars.
All of which presents CIOs with a conundrum: Does the evolving business use case for social networking outweigh the growing price in terms of lost productivity?
The increased volume in the social media space figures to shine a brighter light on this issue. Stay tuned.