• Social Studies Blog. How to succeed in social business.
  • The Power of Conversation in a Hyperconnected World

    Like others, we envision an increasingly connected future — an Internet of Things, an Internet of Customers. Connectivity extends beyond what happens on our desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Digital life converges with analog life as seamlessly as our professional lives converge with our personal lives. Even as the rate of technological change steadily grows, human behavior is still rooted in certain primal needs. We believe conversations between humans will continue to play a significant role in a hyperconnected digital world, and businesses will need to capitalize on and embrace this very human trait to successfully improve the experience of customers.  We also believe these conversations become enriched with broader contextual knowledge about the people who participate, so that a business’s left hand knows what the right hand is doing, and we create a more holistic picture of the customer’s journey.  The role of a conversation engine as an integral part of this customer-centric view is clear to us, and our platform strategy is driven by this positioning.

     

    Our Platform Vision

    A little over a year ago, we embarked on a product initiative that impacted every aspect of our capabilities. This effort wasn’t motivated by a gratuitous desire for software refactoring or the need to address acute performance or scalability problems in our infrastructure. It was driven by our vision of Get Satisfaction as a central component in the systems that businesses will employ to improve the experience of their customers. A conversation engine that will not only promote engagement, discourse, discovery, resolution and insight, but one that brings those conversations into the center of the organization — both technically and operationally. To pursue this grand vision, we needed a platform with shoulders broad enough to support it. That’s what drove this initiative, and what continues to drive our innovation efforts.

     

    Platform First, API First

    As we were reimagining our product, one thing was certain. We would build the platform independent of our human-facing applications (the Community Application and Management Console), and expose a rich set of APIs these applications would use to perform the functions they required. We did this for a couple of reasons:

    • We want our platform to be flexible, extensible and powerful — not just for the applications we were developing, but for applications we might build in the future, as well as applications our partners and customers will build.
    • We want our APIs to be comprehensive enough for interesting and complex applications. By forcing ourselves to use our own APIs in the development of our primary applications, those APIs will be sufficiently powerful to do sophisticated things, and this will allow others to build complex applications too.

    The platform is responsible for the entities in our system — conversation elements, categories, communities, users — the nouns. It embodies the business logic that governs their relationships and the actions that can be performed on them — the verbs. It implements the background processing, data persistence, and event messaging that connects the federated services that make up the system. By centralizing these business rules in the platform, rather than making each of the client applications responsible for enforcing them, we can better ensure consistency across all aspects of the product. It also allows third party developers to build applications connected to the platform without having to worry about enforcing rules that maintain system integrity.

     

    Mobile First, Multi-Device Enabled

    Concurrent with the development of our new platform, we began the process of building a new Community Application. We didn’t simply want to re-implement what had come before, we wanted to reimagine the sort of interaction and functionality we would offer in our product. Rather than designing for the desktop, we started by designing for the smartphone, applying responsive design principles so that everyone could access the community on any device, at any time. Our previous implementation of a mobile web app provided the user limited functionality relative to our full-blown desktop experience. We wanted to enhance what was possible from the phone, and make this the basis of our next generation community interface for all devices.

    Our mobile-first approach to the development of our new community application was less about optimizing for the smartphone, and more about optimizing for the multi-device reality of today’s consumer. It is important for our customers to provide their users a consistent experience across all the modalities of web access they enjoy. This is particularly true in online conversations that extend beyond a transactional “find what you’re looking for and you’re done” interaction. When conversations continue across multiple sessions, with participants coming back to ask further questions and offer subsequent responses, it’s important that the conversation is presented in a consistent and seamless way even when the method of access changes from phone to desktop to tablet.

     

    An Ecosystem of Social Business Components

    Beyond our internal architectural goals of a service-oriented back-end, separation of concerns between business users and consumers, and multi-device web applications, our platform focus is designed to enable a more connected multi-vendor business environment. We believe in the power of a conversation engine independent of any single way these conversations are presented to users. The ways in which they will be presented are many and varied, and we can’t even conceive of all the possibilities at this time. We want to create an accessible and extensible platform that will accommodate as many of these future possibilities as we can. And we want to establish a process that lets us continue to iterate on the platform as the market and these usage scenarios evolve.

    We know online conversations don’t occur in a vacuum — quite the opposite. We observe conversations fueled by what happens in the broader social web, influenced by the opinions of connections in the social graph, anchored in physical and digital interactions between consumers and brands. To bring this all together in a meaningful way for businesses requires more than a single solution, or even a suite of solutions, by a single vendor. Rather than attempting to meet all these disparate and growing needs ourselves, we’d rather invest in an extensible architecture that allows customers and partners to connect to, extend and infuse conversations with context and data from a wide variety of endpoints. We want to leverage the social ecosystem to attract, persist, curate, synthesize, and measure the effectiveness of community content and the people who create it.

    An important cornerstone for our 2014 roadmap is a marketplace of community extensions. We’re building our platform and applications with this pluggability in mind. We want partners and customers to develop with ease powerful interactive components that appear in the consumer’s view of the community. We want to extend the information and functionality we present to business users too, using the same sort of plug-in extensions in our management console. It’s exciting to imagine the creative ways in which our platform will enable innovation from the broader developer community.

     

    Value through Conversations

    Even as we complete significant milestones in the development of our new platform, our work on the next generation of Get Satisfaction has just begun. Our platform architecture, our extensive APIs, our multi-device community application, and our new management console give us fresh legs to carry us into the new year. Our vision for a powerful conversation engine, connected to the myriad systems and external endpoints that together enable an informed and uniform customer experience, will be built upon our pluggable, extensible framework.

    As we build the foundation that will enable an open ecosystem of cooperating components and applications, we are working with consumers and customer-focused business leaders to better understand the trends and drivers that will shape this future. And all the while, we are grounded in the philosophy that relationships are built between people, not corporations or applications or technologies. People express ideas and gain knowledge through conversations, and we have built a platform that maximizes the value these meaningful, long-lasting, and discoverable conversations can bring to customers and companies alike.

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    David Rowley

    About David Rowley

    As CTO of Get Satisfaction, David is responsible for the technical and product direction and manages the teams that define, build, test and operate the company's family of highly scalable SaaS products.

    10 Comments

    1. First of all, bravo.

      It takes great courage to re-architect (as much as it is necessary) and even more so to do it before it is a critical need (Twitter? Facebook? SFDC?). No vendor ever was able to plan long-term when running as a startup and just trying to survive – any application that starts on bailing wires and duct tape must re-architect at some point in their lives if they want to remain viable for the long run. Takes a lot of courage to recognize it, even more to do it.

      Second, i concur with everything you wrote – almost. But, before we get to the disagreements – let me tell you what i think it brilliant:

      1) the focus on the conversation, no one else out there has such an understanding of the value it could potentially bring the organizations that get it.
      2) the role of the ecosystem, this is the most critical aspect of launching a platform – bar none. Without an ecosystem a platform is a waste of time and resources. Focus on what you do best, conversations in your case, and create a flexible platform so your customers and partners can complete the rest of the necessary work. The old concept of a complete-suite of solutions is way gone; it never worked well and none of the vendors the espoused it is around now – coincidence? by contrast, vendors that grow do so on a marketplace and ecosystem model.
      3) the idea of drinking your own dog food (or however that goes). I wish more vendors would do this to show their product works, and to make sure it works.

      now for the two things i don’t fully agree on.

      1) mobile-first. I think you explanation is better than the moniker you use to describe it. mobile first is a marketing concept to sell more — i don’t know what. a proper platform does not worry about the clients and interfaces it serves, it worries about execution, security, scalability, and integration. if you spend too much time worrying about the latest-and-greatest fad (read mobile) today you will be chasing the next shiny toy in 9-12 months or less. focus on a platform that can deliver outcomes the customer expects, the interface (mobile) does not matter. you do a good job explaining it, not so good naming it :-)

      forget mobile first, my new world is OfMaCaDa — outcomes first, mobile also, cloud also, data also. focus on what matters, not on the shiny objects.

      2) pet-peeve, don’t call them APIs anymore :-) they are service calls and service providers, not applications. i know, am the only one in the world that cares about this – but you will see in 24+ months why it matters (or i will be wrong in public, someone where you can point to and let me know how wrong i was… erhm, not sure this is good idea… too late?)

      thanks for pointing this to me, great job writing and explaining the process. I could’ve nod done it better myself…

      • David Rowley

        Thank you, Esteban. Regarding Mobile First, I don’t see it as a marketing concept at all, but rather a design philosophy based on the demands of a multi-device reality. Here’s an interesting article by @secondfret that talks about the pros and cons of this approach quite well. But I agree that you must be agnostic and open to whatever client technology works best–even those you can’t imagine today. That’s certainly an important part of our platform vision.

        I suppose I agree with you on the term “API”. You’re right, application is a loaded and limiting word. In this case, I’m simply using a word that most people understand. I’ll let you lead the way on the next acronym around programmatic service interfaces. :-)

        • you did a good job explaining the concept for mobile first, and i agree with that. i will give you the use of it as long as the concept and term don’t go separate ways in the future :-)

          i don’t get into definition debates anymore, but i agree (and even Marc Benioff does) that you have to write to the lowest common denominator your audience will “get”. API is the one, which is why i said it was a pet peeve more than anything…

          well done, my friend – great post and explanation.

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