Sunday, August 29, 2004

Spurling will take (re)search to another level

You know me, ever on the hunt for outrageously useful tools. Eric's recent bookmarking post (gee, has it just been 5 minutes?) struck a chord like - 'hey, you've got to be using this now.' It has proven a HUGE organizational and collaborative aid in my work.

Furl was developed first IIRC but spurl is superior because it's designed to accomodate teams, too, not just individuals. There's going to be a dozen more like this soon. For intranet usage, too! (Uh-oh, who's got a flawed trust model ?!)

This is the booster that will take search to the next level. What makes Google indispensible now is not so much their architectural prowess, and management that really walks the talk when it comes to innovation ... No, it's you and me, and the millions of us that use it everyday. We make it and find it, they just serve it.

To employ a political metaphor: it's been polling on a grand scale. But up until now, that grandeur was in numbers alone. Powerful to be sure, but add spurling sites to the mix and it's a qualitative quantum leap forward.

Blocking webmail

Our company, like many others, tries to block all web-based email, which really diminishes the value of Gmail and the other biggies. While the company's worthy objective is to eliminate virus entry points, webmail blocking is definitely an inconvenience to employees who are trying to balance their home and work life.

For example, my Gmail account loses a lot of its value when I can only get to it at certain times, so it gets used less and less. I do check it, but not as often as I would otherwise. I end up using my company email for most personal communication, even if it all ends up as company property. Not an ideal solution, but it is the most workable for me.

The key word in the first paragraph, though, is "tries." The company can't block all webmail, because it doesn't know all webmail providers. Is taking out the biggies good enough? It probably is. But when people try to route around IT, you may end up with bigger problems than the ones you were originally addressing.

Forrester whiffs on knowledge management

Forrester used to be my favorite research advisory service, by far. But recently, I have been unimpressed, and I'm not alone. David and Guy feel the same way, I know. This article (you have to be a Forrester client to see the details) gets a few things right, but generally misses the mark.

I suspect that the advisory services, much like the CIA, have failed to adapt to the new world order. Much as the CIA relies too much on "old-fashioned" spies, the advisory services rely too much on the old methods of vendor meetings and the like. Neither fully leverages the tremendous amount of freely available public information on the Internet to build a rounded, nuanced view of the world.

Otherwise, how do you miss that knowledge management is bottom up instead of top down? Do they not read Jon Udell talking about tagging and many other lower case semantic web arguments and explorations? Do they not read Clay Shirky? Maybe the fact that they don't mention blogs as a natural knowledge repositories indicates that they don't spend any time with an RSS reader and are therefore clueless.

Of course, all of my suspicions could be wrong. More importantly, though, is that much of what is in the Forrester article is wrong.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Reading articles at "controlled" sites...

One of my personal pet peeves is when a site insists that you "register" with them before letting you view an article. I often click links on news sites that lead to other news sites and find I have to sign in or up or something to see the article I wanted to see. I'm not interested in having my movement on their site tracked or my e-mail address spammed even worse, I want to read the article and never come back again.

IIRC, geeks used to set up "default" accounts at some of these early "registration only" sites using the account "cypherpunk" or "cyberpunk" with the same password. I think most of these site now know not to let that account be created or maintained.

Yesterday I discovered Bugmenot (though I can't remember if Eric's mentioned this yet). What a great "collaboration" tool. People have set up bogus accounts for log-ins on these kinds of sites and then provided them to Bugmenot for use by anyone that doesn't want to sign up.

What a neat idea. The site's had to move around a couple of times recently and some of the sign-in sites are trying to find ways to eliminate the bogus accounts, but it sounds like the site operator has every intention of keeping at it. Props to him!

Monday, August 23, 2004

The importance of innovation

Ross Mayfield references Tim Wu questioning the importance of innovation. Tim and Ross seem to be missing the boat just a bit on this one. Innovation isn't solely creating new; it's aslo about making sure that new stuff gets applied. If diseases that have essentially been eradicated in the West are still killing people in developing countries, figuring out new and effective ways to distribute and administer vaccines in those nations is innovation.

As an IT architect, my job isn't solely to find and implement new technologies that address business needs more effectively than the old, it is to make sure that they are appropriately adopted. If the business doesn't effectively leverage the investments we've made in technology, what good have we done? If I don't help reshape business processes to be more effective, have I done anything innovative?

In short, innovation isn't just about creating new technology, it's also about adapting or creating processes to really use that technology. So while we disagree about what innovation is, we seem to agree on that leveraging what we have already created fully is a worthy and often overlooked area.

The Up/Downside of RSS Feeds

I'm gradually warming to RSS, though the jury is still out on Blogs in general. One of the more interesting RSS Feeds I've been using is the FARK feed. FARK is a site with links to "interesting" stories on other sites. People then provide their own comments on FARK. What I like about the feed is that each link in the list goes directly to the reference article, as opposed to FARK. Saves me a click and I don't even have to go to the FARK site on a daily basis. Kind of an aggregator within an aggregator.

On the downside, it's a bit challenging to know whether the link goes to a site that is "approved" for viewing from work. FARK goes out of their way to label things as SFW (Safe for Work) or NSFW but I've noticed that even some supposedly safe articles must be published on "unsafe" sites causing them to be blocked. I'm having to be more careful to keep an eye on my OOPS page count.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Bookmark blogging

Jeff Potts' site looks like it might be interesting. I haven't had time to dig much, so this is really just a bookmark.

Group decision making and the wisdom of crowds

Ross Mayfield's latest post provides lots of great linkage on the subject. In short, groups make better decisions than even the best individuals. I particularly liked this bit from "Perplexing Problem? Borrow Some Brains":
The recommendation here isn’t to employ vote taking or nose counting when making hard business determinations. In fact, the recommendation here isn’t for joint decisions at all in such instances. The final decision is properly the leader’s alone to make. That’s one thing leaders are paid for, typically because they’ve given evidence of being able to make such choices better than the people who haven’t achieved leader status.

However, the key to decision-making success is for the leader to avoid engaging alone in the processes that lead up to the final verdict. It is these predecisional processes that, when jointly undertaken, will benefit the sole decision maker so richly.

Ross also links to an in-depth review of The Wisdom of Crowds, which addresses, among other things, the issue of groupthink:
The book describes at length the phenomenon of groupthink and how it biases groups' decisions and gives collective wisdom a bad name. In fact there are four phenomena at work: The tendency of groups to excessively rationalize away minority views as improbable, the shyness of individuals to voice the first opposing view in the face of an apparent consensus, the tendency to accept consensus of a small number as inherent 'proof' of that consensus' validity, and the bandwagon tendency of groups to be infected by what Gladwell in The Tipping Point called an 'epidemic'. These are all subtly different phenomena, and they're natural behaviours, but they're irrational, and have led to great skepticism about collective wisdom.
Guy had pointed me to this book earlier. Now I am compelled to add it to my already deep reading list and to acknowledge that, as usual, Guy was spot-on in his recommendation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Differentiated availability

Finally, an IM service that allows differentiated availablity:
In InterComm, a user organizes the people in his IM list by different groups, based on the work relationship he has with them..."Everything in InterComm is built and organized around groups," Englar said.

This architecture allows a user, for example, to only make himself available via the InterComm IM system to some groups and to appear offline to other groups at any given point, based on his work priorities at the time. "I think this feature is very valuable because a key issue that has made IM not as appealing in the workplace is that it's interruption-driven," Radicati's Hung said.

I doubt that you can really define your relationships to the proper level of granularity, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. It would also be nice if you could keep internal traffic off the internet, but they are working on that.

CSCW 2004

This looks to be a good conference. CSCW stands for computer supported cooperative work. Hopefully, I will be able to attend. Any other suggestions for a good conference on collaborative technology if I can't make this one?

RSS to speech and vice versa

I stumbled across this little gem as a result of the joys of hypertext. Chad Dickerson mentioned Kevin Railsback in one of his blog posts, so I clicked on that link, liked what I read, and subscribed. Eventually, I got around to clicking his feed in Bloglines, and found this item. The delight in discovering the unexpected is what makes the web and RSS so addictive. Serendipity is good.

Anything that extends the reach of these technologies in a simple way is good, because it drives adoption. If you have a long commute, this might be a really helpful way to scan your backlog of feeds. I'm not sure how you simplify going back and following up on relevant links in the items that got your interest though.

I also really like the speech to text idea. Audioblogging is okay, but it would be nice to be able to simply post the transcript, for search if nothing else.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Seeing is believing

I have come to the conclusion that people must see feed readers in action in order to understand their value. A description alone or slideware won't cut it. My tech savvy boss went from mildly supportive to a real advocate only after a hands-on session. Similarly, when I presented our collaboration strategy to a group of IT operations managers, they asked for a follow up demo of RSS. Those that weren't familiar with it wanted to understand why we were excited about it. I know that I'm not the only one who has struggled with conveying the wonders of RSS. So, a word to the wise, demo and conquer!

Feed link finally added

I was in no big hurry to make this happen, since the best feed readers autodiscover feeds. However, I figured that I should add the link so people knew that we had the feed enabled. Of course, I wonder why anyone using Blogger wouldn't turn on their feed. I thought about adding a "Subscribe with Bloglines" button, but that seemed kind of limiting and I didn't like how it looked on the template. So, a plain text "Atom feed" link it is.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Why people share passwords

People often collaborate in ways we don't necessarily expect, such as sharing passwords. I still think most people prefer to do the right thing, but not enough to go out of their way to make it happen. Convenience rules, and people use systems in ways that their designers never intended. As Jon Udell points out, we need to understand why people do what they do. Is it for something nefarious like an alibi? Or does it perhaps serve a legitimate purpose?

Once again, the fundamental issue is trust. Computer trust models do a very poor job of mapping people's trust models. Let's look at a typically complicated trust model in the physical world. You are going on a trip. You give a neighbor a key to bring in your mail. You trust this neighbor with the run of your house more than you trust the world not to break in to your house or steal your mail as they see it piling up in your box.

Now add the fact that your daughter is at camp and can write you snail mail, but can not email you. Postal mail will not reach you in time on your journey, so your daughter sends the mail to the house. If you want to know that your daughter is okay and having a good time, you may authorize that neighbor to open letters from your daughter and call or email you the contents of her letters, since you have no other way of knowing how she's doing. This is a different level of trust than simply bringing in the mail.

How does this sharing of your physical mail "password" differ from sharing of your email password? Conceptually, I don't think it does. How do we facilitate the end of sharing information without the potentially dangerous means? We need to develop and implement complicated and nuanced trust models that can be used easily and simply. A big task, but a necessary one.

Sunday, August 08, 2004


I've been experimenting with some wannabe next gen retrieval tools recently. Lookahead got me started, but evidently it had not had enough early adopters to work very well on its own yet. One I like better is BlinkX. It's farther along the path towards giving users context aware search capabilities, including local and intranet sourcing as well. Nice, but you know the big industry players are not far behind and will probably eclipse them with their first releases, having hooks into proprietary messaging and office productivity suites etc ...

I can imagine community affinity groups springing up to take advantage of the new data formations - as well as the usual privacy bogeys and security cons, of course.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Red Hat and Fedora

Jon Udell has posted a partial transcription of Michael Tiemann's talk at OSCON. From this corporate perspective, it looks like the strategy is dead-on. They had to slow the release cycle so that they could provide a common target for the key application providers. In a big corporation, there's always pressure to look for complete platforms rather than a niche ones. The attitude is, "Who wants to support yet another OS?" In fact, our first non-appliance production implementation of Linux will be an Oracle database. Without this sort of application support, we still wouldn't be doing anything "official" with Linux.

As for Fedora, it sounds like a logical response to the (probably necessary) overcorrection that Red Hat made to a corporate focus. It sounds like they are aligning their resources with their markets -- 80% on enterprise and 20% on early adopters.

Expanding our purview

If you look at our description, we've broadened our scope a bit. While our focus is still on collaborative technology in the corporate environment, we will also comment on other information technology topics in the corporate environment. Guy in particular has been looking for me to loosen the reigns a bit, so we may see more posting from him. (nudge, nudge)