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The Digital Jester


blue carnival mask credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/royblumenthal/

photo by Roy Blumenthal

Introducing the Phantom – a character created for the social network at LexisNexis UK  and  vividly described by Laurie Hibbs at the Melcrum Digital Workplace Summit this week.

The Phantom is an online avatar that joins their internal Yammer discussions and is able to say what many think but few would post. He tells people who post trivial comments to the whole organisation to go over to the “water cooler” group instead; he will post questions to the CEO on behalf of people who want to stay anonymous; he even chides the CEO if his remarks are too drab.

There’s a long tradition of comedy and guise being used as a way to speak the unspeakable. Mediaeval court jesters were one of the few who could get away with criticizing despotic kings. But they would also pick on others in court who went beyond the boundaries (probably a preferable fate to a beheading!). The Phantom seems to me to be a digital jester: tolerated for being more direct than anyone else, but also there to energise with a little friction sometimes. Nothing draws people to a social intranet like tasty subversion.

Hibbs observed that the Phantom was able to say things that someone like the HR Director  could never do, yet he also sets the tone for what is different about a microblogging tool at LexisNexis compared to their traditional intranet. By pushing the outer boundary, he moves everyone forward.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

  • Posted at 10:21 am, 29 March, 2012

    Thanks for writing about this Sam. I think this is a very interesting idea – giving people permission to be challenging and not always tow the line on the social intranet, while also making it clear where the boundaries are and what is appropriate. I’m assuming that the person or team behind the digital jester have effectively been given permission from the top to be rather subversive from behind the mask?

    This use of an avatar is also in my mind from the Gamification Knowledge Exchange we had at IBF a couple of days ago – one consumer gamification example was of an iphone app for runners that uses the idea of being chased by zombies/ needing to save the world from them to motivate runners in a different way. We can identify with avatars such as the jester or the zombie in very basic ways – where a policy or encouraging communication might fall flat.

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