Blogger: Craig Roth
In all this talk about aiding social interactions through instant messaging, community posting boards, blogs, and social networking there is one technology that I see missing from the list: a use of technology I'll call (with tongue firmly planted in cheek) "Notification through Automated Governance" or NAG systems. These are the automated reminders that are sent out when a system has detected you haven't done something you're supposed to, usually via e-mail although IM, SMS, RSS, and voice are options. NAGging is actually a good example of the use of communication technology to improve social interactions.
Let me explain where I'm coming from. When I was a project manager, my most dreaded task was going around weekly to programmers and business clients to get their updates on percentage completion and dates. They were supposed to e-mail this to me each week, but of course they often didn't. So I became a nag, which soured my relations with people and turned me into a human focus point for their frustrations with the project. If I had the ability to automate the tracking of the weekly entry of this information and have notifications come from a system rather than me, a nasty part of my interaction would be eliminated and I could focus on qualitative discussions about the project. This is now easily possible with many different products or a little scripting.
Nowadays there are systems I work with that send out automated nags about not getting information entered and I appreciate them. They are fair and sent to everyone that forgot without singling me out. I can't take them personally, since they are not sent by a person. Accordingly, they don't impact my opinion of anyone ("geez, I'm only one day late and you're bugging me? How about when you were late with xxx ..."), and they act as a handy reminder of something I may have forgotten.
NAGging has to be done with caution. Sometimes the interaction that occurs when it's done personally is valuable and forces a discussion that should take place - one that may be improperly avoided if left to a computer. Also, we've all had the experience of being NAGged by systems that think we didn't do something that we did.
But done properly, I think they are well worthwhile and easy to implement. And in these times when it's difficult to get funding for new software, it acts as a good example of using technology you already own to improve productivity by greasing the gears of communication between enterprise information workers.