NEWS11 January 2012

Collaborative platform goes public with Unilever-backed project

North America Technology UK

UK/US— Unilever is lending its support to an open-access research project that aims to get people talking about the barriers organisations face in adopting social media practices and how to overcome them.


The Social Media Garden marks the first major outing for the Collaborative Discovery platform, an online environment where people can share their thoughts on topics, while rating and adding to contributions made by others.

Research got a peek of the Social Media Garden before it went public. On signing up, each participant is presented with five statements relating to the use of social media in the workplace. Sliding scales are used to express the level of agreement or disagreement with the statements, which in turn determines the position of an individual’s node or ‘bloom’ on a visual map (see picture).

The blooms of other users are also shown – limited to a sample of 20 each time – allowing each individual to understand where their position lies in relation to others. Meanwhile, the blooms are coloured and scaled depending on how agreeable and insightful each idea is.

Michael Silverman, a psychologist and organisational research specialist who worked on the development of Collaborative Discovery, thinks the visual aspects of the platform lend it an advantage over text-driven discussion boards as it makes it easier for participants to find and engage with people who share similar views, as well as those who might fall at the other end of the opinion scale.

By limiting each map to 20 nodes, Silverman says the platform also ensures that each idea that is shared has an equal chance of being seen and rated by other users, avoiding the tendency of people to focus their attentions on only the most popular or most extreme points of view.

He said: “We are on the cusp of a real paradigm shift in the way organisations do research – it’s becoming more social. The whole premise of people plodding through surveys in isolation is starting to look outdated. Clever organisations are learning to harness the wisdom of crowds and then distill the essence of that wisdom.”

Silverman was head of employee insight at Unilever until last year when he left to form Silverman Research and start working with Hybrid Wisdom Labs – a company made up of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley – on the development of Collaborative Discovery.

The Social Media Garden project runs from 23 January to 29 February. Click here to get involved.