Thursday, December 23, 2004

A great collaborative story

This is a great story about a spontaneous collaborative effort. There are a lot of laugh-out-loud gems in here. Highly recommended.

Updated to fix link. Bizarrely, Safari doesn't properly show the Blogger edit box. There's no hyperlink macro button, for instance, so I entered the anchor tag manually and obviously fat fingered it. I guess I'll have to start using Firefox on the Mac, just like I do on my Windows boxes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

An isolated blog is only an enigma

Reading this piece by Jon Udell sent me back
to my days on the high school chess team. Some members of the team got together to write an allegorical spoof of the high school chess league and called it An Isolated Pawn Is Only An Enigma. Pawns only really have value when they are connected to the other pieces on board. I think it's safe to say that Jon's telephone example resonates with a broader audience, though. :-)

Just yesterday, Ari and I were discussing how to move our internal blog proof-of-concept forward from the preliminary evaluation stage to a real project with detailed plan and appropriate priority. As we talked about the scope, players, and roles, it became clear to us that a group blog wouldn't prove anything and would likely fail. Ari even used the phrase "network of nodes." We also talked about the need for diverse voices with points of intersection.

In short, we need to develop an internal blogosphere, with folks with diverse interests finding and filtering relevant information. Why read all the raw material, when someone you trust can point you to the most relevant information and provide analysis? This sort of communication is inadequately performed via group email today.

Maybe we can eventually invert Churchill's description of the isolated, enigmatic Soviet sphere of influence into a richly connected corporate blogosphere of influence.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Akamai v. BitTorrent

I asked Akamai's Chief Scientist why someone shouldn't just use
BitTorrent, especially for things like software downloads. He completely
whiffed the answer. It was apparent from his answer that he had
absolutely no idea what I was talking about. How could someone in his
position be completely ignorant of BitTorrent. I am shocked, stunned,
and dismayed.

ETS: Leading and bleeding edge technovista

This technovista was a mish-mash of cool stuff that didn't really fit anywhere else. The format was a bit different too, as we had speakers from Intel Labs and Microsoft Labs who presented stuff that wasn't productized, so there was no voting on them.

Rick Benoit of Intel spoke on the universal 3D project, or U3D, which I briefly posted about earlier via my Blackberry. The goal is to share 3D data in any app. U3D is a JPEG for 3D graphics. The group faced many challenges: bandwidth, skills, no repurpose path, and a fragmented industry. Last week Adobe announced that Acrobat 7.0 would integrate U3D. As I indicated previously, this was a truly impressive demo. The creator controls exactly what information and features from their 3D design gets transferred to U3D, so you can limit people's ability to reverse engineer your work. Rick sees 3D being as common as 2D in 3-5 years. It should be an ECMA standard shortly, and an ISO standard in the first half of 2006.

Ed Simnett from Microsoft talked about Microsoft's collaboration vision and Istanbul, which has integrated IM and telephony. The four big areas are integrated communications, collaborative work spaces, access to information and people, and people driven processes. He threw up an infrastructure slide that showed a shared collaboration layer containing presence, rights management, workflow, and personalization. He also had a bullseye slide with identity in the middle, surrounded by presence and context, surrounded by data, voice, video, email, and IM, surrounded by information agents, processes, and workspaces. MS is very interested in information agents, but they have a long way to go. He then demo'd Istanbul, which is kind of cool, but not that much different some products from other vendors I've seen.

OpTier -- transaction QoS. This is an interesting product. The inability to assure SLA's leads to overprovisioning. Transaction visibility is obscured, and all transactions are treated the same. OpTier enables you to track, classify, and prioritize workloads. It consists of a profiler, a policy manager, and a workload monitor. The profiler is basically a transaction sniffer. Just being able to map all your transactions and then tie them back to business processes would be very beneficial, I think. I=3.4, B=3.8, P=3.3

Virtual Mirrors -- They easily won this technovista, and I think they are a shoo-in for best in show. One of the security vendors would have to be just tremendous this morning to knock them off their perch. Virtual Mirrors' goal is to enable retailers to offer custom clothes at the same price as off the rack. They define the 3D tailoring relationship between body points and clothing points. It is a learning system that exhibits continual improvement. Their goal is to flop the clothes market from make then sell to sell then make, which is the Dell model. They will sell the outputs, not the technology. The retailer handles all the physical stuff. Virtual Mirrors takes the 3D model and generates the pattern pieces, which it passes back to the retailer. You can see how clothes will look on you before you buy. They demonstrated this with a Forrester staffer, who was scanned in London. They handed her her new suit during lunch, and it fit her beautifully, looking just like the virtual clothes did on the virtual staffer. I=4.5, B=4.4, P=3.9

N-site -- is designed to handle the dynamically changing processes that ERP can't handle. It has a predictive workflow engine that learns over time and enables anyone at any part of the process to change the workflow on the fly. So, you don't have to spend a ton of time building workflows initially, because you create and modify them as you go. It's a hosted service, and the presenter implied that it cost $1.25/day, which I find hard to believe. Maybe that's per person or something. I=4, B=4, P=4

N-tara -- nPowered is their presentation tool. This is a way cool way to assemble non-linear presentations using all sorts of multimedia, office apps, etc. I=3.8, B=3.8, P=4.2

Panel: OpTier was asked why not on demand infrastructure instead. He said it wasn't really ready today, that it required rip & replace. The N-site guy says it is real now, but that's because he's using a hosted environment. OpTier is talking about within the corporation. Virtual Mirrors emphasized the security of the body models. You control your model. Nsite said that he got less pushback about critical information in a hosted environment when he talked about ADP and payroll information.

ETS: Innovative communications technology technovista

Elizabeth Harrell of Forrester hosted. She separated presence (can track you) from availability (control access). Delayed communication yields lost revenue, and a lot of rehash of stuff that is in our collaboration strategy. Connectivity is old hat. It's about devices. The point is human connections.

Citrix GoToMeeting - This was a very impressive demo. Dead simple to use, tied to IM and Outlook, a free audio conferencing bridge, and end to end encryption. And a very creative demonstration to boot. We'll be adding them to our web conferencing RFP. They use a named user model, but only the host has to be a named user. I=3.4, B=4.2, P=4.5

Humanizing Technology - I really didn't get the point of this from the demo. It kind of looked like a news portal. Search results looked clustered by subject, so maybe there were some semantics going on under the hood. I=1.8, B=2.2, P=2.0

InterTel - unified communicator. In a nutshell, send all your calls to whatever device you choose, wherever you are. All you need to handout is a single number. You can automatically screen calls by caller ID and send to voice mail or disconnect (the presenter called it the "ex-husband feature"). You get a log of all calls, and can automatically call when someone gets back into the office, i.e. "camp on" on steroids. I=3.2, B=3.9, P=3.5

Kaidara - markets itself as a KM company dealing with corporate memory. Demo related to issues with a $75,000 Toro precision lawn mower with 1/100th of an inch tolerance. Who knew such a thing existed? I guess it's obvious I don't golf. The product did semantic matching of a free text query to an answer tree. Pretty cool. It's supposed to be designed for easy authoring and maintenance, but I'm not sure I'm buying his numbers. I=3.3, B=3.8, P=3.1

Notiva -- inter-enterprise collaboration looking to fill the ERP gap by synchronizing cross company transactions. The product provides a view into disputed transactions. You can look at bad data and get the right data. This could be useful for us. I=3.1, B=3.5, P=3.0

Panel: Working together is too complex today. Boeing applies the Mom test, which sounds a lot like Aunt Tillie. Someone asked the inevitable multiple identity question: what if I want more than one identity? Elizabeth reiterated one device, one identity. I don't see it that way. Why not multiple identities that map to your one device?

Erica Rugullies of Forrester headed the panel, and I submitted a question about how all of these point solutions from small vendors fit into the collaboration platform idea that she has been pushing. My thought was maybe that model wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Erica turned it around, and asked the vendors how they fit into collaboration platforms. This resulted in much squirming up on the stage. A typical answer was we're not worried about platform; we work with anything; all you need is a browser. Some had trouble with this one, though.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

ETS: Work goes mobile

This keynote is being given by Petteri Bergius of Nokia. He's not a very dynamic speaker.

There are a couple different models for enterprise mobility. One is a single solution that fits all, featuring mostly office related connectivity, office apps, etc.

Nokia's view is broader. Supports several solution providers, different back office systems and multiple device platforms. Choice is powerful. He then talked about the N-Gage, which is a dedicated gaming device. The phone is the most criticized part of it, ironically. How do you leverage this sort of device or technology in the corporate space? Petteri asked it, but he didn't answer it.

Nokia has created developer platforms with a just a few development targets to deal with an array of devices, which minimizes the impact of the diversity.

Petteri had a pretty cool example using DHL. A digital pen connected via Bluetooth to a mobile phone which connected via GPRS/EDGE to backend systems. Saved 20 minutes/day/driver, needed two fewer back office folks, and had delivery information immediately available to customers.

When asked about presence in phones, he said that most phones have SIP and presence capability, but that the carriers don't use it. Nokia is looking at IP in non-carrier networks such as WiFi. It works, but the issue is seamless transfer between WiFi and wireless. Olin and I also speculate that Nokia has no interest in hacking off the carriers, their biggest customers.

There really wasn't much new here. Kinda disappointing.

ETS: Sensory networks

The two BP guys who work in a small technology organization working for the CTO are delivering this keynote. This organization is separate from IT, which as centralized operations but is otherwise decentralized. One described their job as being "shit disturbers," because their job is all about change.

There role includes:
  • Technology Transfer
  • External Relations and Events - "bluechalk" events - inform 40-50 executives out of around 400 about a technology topic that's applicable to them over two days. The cost runs $50-100K, including travel and expenses for externals. No vendors.
  • Technology Integration
  • Game Changers - $150 million or more impact
When you talk about technology, ask "what if" you had the specific capability to gather certain information. Don't talk about the details of the technology, because no executive cares. They use RFID, motes, and other things, but the focus is on the benefit, not the technology.

BP gets the worst return in this space on open supply chain stuff, like the Walmart initiatives. They get a much better return on closed supply chain, like LPG cylinder tracking. Asset condition management is a good use of read/write RFID tags. It eliminated the problem of folks photocopying the bar codes from their route, and then sitting at their desk and scanning them. Remote tank monitoring has improved the efficiency of supply chain by a third, because you know when you have to send a truck instead of guessing. They also now track over 16,000 rail cars - where they are and their status. Finally, the use a wireless mote mesh network for rotating equipment vibration monitoring.

The next evolution of this pushes decision making to the edge. Motes on their 16,000 miles of aging pipeline infrastructure provide geo-fencing - situational awareness at the site. Alerts are only sent upstream when certain threshold events occur.

Looking ahead, they are working on the CoBIs "smart item" initiative. The focus is on safe storage of chemicals - what quantities, proximity to reagents, etc. Motes on these storage barrels should know what they contain and what their storage requirements are and then talk to one another to ensure that they are in compliance and provide alerts and durations when they are not.

They see sensory networks as similar to the Internet as a major driver of change in the years ahead. Combining handhelds with sensor networks is very powerful. They provided a great example of how these were used during a plant maintenance shutdown, what they referred to as a "turnaround."

Looking ahead, they are trying to move from reactive to proactive. One thing they are trying to do is to move predictive maintenance to the end device. Various BU's are actively engaged in the following, although they are not as far along:
  • advanced predictive maintenance - tied to risk
  • ship movement optimization - when to you divert?
  • well relationship model - can you understand how different wells in the same field effect one another?

This talk has me pondering our organization...

ETS: U3D

We saw a demo of 3D objects in U3D format embedded in Acrobat with
animation, exploded views, rotation, zoom, and overlays. The coolest
thing by far so far! More later...

ETS: Customer and product integration technovista

This technovista was simply not very applicable to us. A lot of the issues in this space are the same old same old data integration issues that you'd find anywhere - lack of authoritative sources, who owns the data, what sharing guidelines, etc. The whole time I was thinking about GIS.

Full Tilt Systems -- product info mgt -- bad data is the root of all evil. Good quote, but the rest was unimpressive. I=2.2, B=3, P=1.9

i2 Technologies -- supply chain velocity -- dynamic business reconfiguration -- retail replenishment example. I=2.9, B=3.2, P=2.9

n-Tara -- a configurator. I=3.8, B=3.9, P=4.3

Panel: rise of the data czars

ETS: RFID and X Internet Technovista

The Extended Internet is a set of technologies around identity, location, and status. Competition, customers and compliance are driving companies to adopt X Internet technologies, particularly RFID, which provides identity and location. However, you need additional technology for the comprehensive picture.

Tags are only a small part of the total system cost. Big factors are process change, system architecture, and back-end integration. There was also some stuff on hype v. reality that was nothing new to us.

There is an audience eval of all presenters afterwords on the innovativeness of the product, the business value, and the presentation itself. I'll indicate those scores with an I, B and P, respectively.

The first company up was Brooks Software. Their gig is real-time business analytics based on RFID gathered info. They focus on temporal data. Their goal is to enable pro-active action. The improvement value of RFID is in the process change it can enable. They just had slides -- no demo -- which is pretty lame. I=3, B=4, P=2

RF Code is an RFID management framework that runs on MS and Unix. There goal is to push intelligence to the edge so you have less, but more meaningful, data heading upstream. They have an appliance which is a data router and a network profiler. The showed an amusement park tracking system that was pretty cool - here's the shortest path to your missing family member. I=4, B=4.5, P=4.

Savi Networks was somewhat similar to RF Code. They demo'd an application for helping soldier's find a needed good on pallets in a deployment area. They also showed ticket and order matching -- you are trying to leave the warehouse, but you don't have everything on your order. The military application looked somewhat similar to storm restoration. I=3.6, B=4.1, P=3.5

Panel discussion: RF interference was a big problem throughout the demos, as it is in the real world. Be smart about what you store. Active tags are $10-20, passive tags $0.20 or so. The market expectations are misplaced. You have to deal with the physics. Standards are desperately needed. Greater value comes from feeding real time information to real time BI, and by adding higher order sensors like temperature to the mix.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

ETS: Wednesday keynote

Mike Gilpin of Forrester talked about SOA as a "platform for organic business." Everyone's desired buy online, pick up off line is supposedly hard to do. He also talked about interaction platforms, which is front-end integration (instead of back-office) and software innovation networks. In short, most successful new companies will be part of the ecosystem of a major player.

The keynote speaker was Andy Mulholland of Capgemini. There is no killer app, but lots of near lethal new technologies. People now assume that everything is connected. People have discovered that standardization is more important than customization. This leads to SOA. We now have vertical industry standards, not just IT standards.

Compliance is an issue. Auditors care about process, not function. He then says the killer app is process, after starting off saying there was no killer app. The bust was about content. Companies that were about changing the process are thriving today.

Another interesting point he had was that the browser is a mobile client. This was part of great slide that is way too complicated to duplicate here, so you'll have to visualize. Concentric squares containing enabling standards: semantic stds, URI, WS-RF, and WS-Eventing, infrastructure: mobility, web services, grid computing, and the web itself, networks, and finally agents.

An IT project needs to either have a really big business impact, lower costs while providing a business impact, or lower costs with the same impact. Obviously, the second choice is the best. He also showed a progression from license cost savings to internal cost reductions by shared resources to internal value created through process redesign to, finally, externally created value through more efficient market interaction.

Miscellaneous points:
  • A goal should be to turn application data into content.
  • Data mining is not BI. BI is a look into what is happening now.
  • Most of the grid computing payoff he's seen has been is BI. Capgemini harvests the MIPS of 6500 PC's in their grid. It's difficult to get people to accept that they don't need a server; they simply need MIPS.
  • Most of the opportunities for startups are in verticals. There is a trend to simplicity, so take something that is big, complex, and hard and make it simple. My colleague Olin, who's attending with me, immediately thought of Asterisk, the open source PBX.


Battery woes

Well, this conference blogging will be a little less real time, as my battery life leaves a lot to be desired and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of power. Why don't facilities do a better job of arranging for power to attendee's seats?

Blogging Forrester's ETS

I am at Forrester's Emerging Technology Showcase this week, and I'll be blogging my trip report in near real time. Dan Mahoney is doing the welcome now, covering macro trends. Eight year cycles of innovation and growth followed by refinement and digestion. We are in refinement and digestion phase now.

There will be five key evolutions:
  • innovation
  • next generation IT architecture
  • next generation internet
  • democratization and socialization of computing
  • the changing buyer
Customers drive innovation. Innovation networks raise the bar. How do you spread innovation through your company? People play different roles in the network: inventor, transformer, broker, etc.

Next generation IT architecture: SOA, intelligent devices, real time data analysis, continued HW advancement. This affects all aspects of IT.

Next generation internet. 38 million movile Internet users today. Dan just lost his slides. We'll see how well he does. :-) Actually, pretty well. Machines talking to machines, things talking to things. Ubiquitous computing and connectivity. Well, nothing new here. :-)

Social computing. The direct chain of authority doesn't exist anymore. Individuals take cues from one another. Blogs, open source, search, and IM provide the infrastructure. Have to accept the idea of people talking to people and making decisions. There is new power in this movement; you need to learn to use it. This is a new message from Forrester. Not what I've been hearing before. This will be interesting.

Changing buyer. Tech liberates them from place, time and channel. Consumers want control. Actively control presence and channel. 2020 connected, nomadic, persistently, asynchronous, and in control.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Blogs v. message boards

In the course of our internal blog proof-of-concept, the issue of blogs v. message boards has arisen. Ari, who is leading the blog POC, simply views them as two different tools used for the same purpose. This may be due to his experience with XOOPS, which he turned to after our disappointment with the lack of WYSIWYG editing in WordPress. XOOPS has both a blog and a message board, and users in the very small test group have been gravitating towards the message board.

As someone who has spent far too much time on message boards for far too little return, I don't really understand this perspective, although I've heard it before. The affordances of the tools are so obviously different to me that I haven't spent a lot of time trying to articulate what those differences are.

Obviously, I'm not the first one to attempt to define the differences. I really like this analyis of discussion and citation in the blogosphere by Tom Coates, and in particular this illustration:

Tom uses the following weblog posting typology, originally from a Microdoc News article that now 404's:
  1. Lengthy opinion and molding of a topic around between three to fifteen links with one of those links the instigator of the story;
  2. Vote post where the blogger agrees or disagrees with a post on another site;
  3. Reaction post where a blogger provide her/his personal reaction to a single post on another site;
  4. Summation post where the blogger provide a summary of various blogs and perspectives of where a blog story has got to by now.
As Ross Mayfield observes,

Odds are, types 2 & 3 have less value to most readers. If posts of these types were made on a discussion board, readers of the thread would be obliged to consume them. Amounting to spam. Most people have enough spam in their lives. Tom notes that with discussion boards, either the thread is good or not.

Exactly. The signal-to-noise ratio is so much better on blogs than on message boards. You don't have to slog through the garbage to find the good. Instead, you are handed a map that gets you their directly. You don't have to read everything to find the good stuff.

This analysis by Common Craft is provides a different perspective. Rather than focusing on information filtering and mapping, it describes differences between blogs and message boards on nine different areas. I disagree with two of these: intent and tools.

Viewing the intent of blogs as "personal accounts, news, reflection" isn't that far off, although I do bristle a bit at personal accounts, which sounds a bit too much like the diary meme. What it misses is that most bloggers aren't (intentionally) posting into a vacuum. They are hoping for a thoughtful response, a give-and-take, an expansion of their understanding. On the other side, I haven't seen much use of message boards as decision making tools. I would also add that the lack of reflection is a detriment. Most message boards read like IM conversation logs. Posts are short, links are few, substance uncertain, and the level of discouse is low. As Adriana Cronin-Lukas says, forums are like a collective drawing, while a blog post are like a piece of art on which others comment.

While adding RSS and similar tools eliminates the need to visit the board to see what is going on, notification doesn't solve the signal/noise ratio problems of message boards. You still have to read through the "voting" posts in a thread, deal with multiple threads on the same topic, etc. You don't control the channel; anybody can post, and it shows up in your reader.

And that channel control is desperately needed, as The Forager points out in Comics Bloggery vs. Message Boarding Actions. While I have never been to a comics board, this experience echoes mine on sports boards:
The key to the problem is that message boards seem to encourage ever-escalating arguments, while bloggers tend to engage in more reasonable discourse. This is primarily because blogs are both more permanent and more personal than message board threads: bloggers (generally) don't write things about other bloggers that they wouldn't also say face-to-face.
Now, in a corporate environment, the shouting match effect shouldn't directly be an issue, but you still may end up with more in the way of voting posts than real discussion. The bigger deal may be the perceived ephemerality of message boards, resulting more in reaction than reflection. More thought, more reflection, and more analysis go into a blog post because you know that it is permanently associated with you.

So, don't be confused. Blogs and message boards are very different beasts.

CSCW wrapup

I was hoping to post this a while back, but a lot has been happening at work the last couple of weeks with a minor reorg and a move up of our planning cycle. While this has taken some time, I think it makes more sense to plan now than in January. With vacation schedules, it is difficult to finish up much work of a collaborative effort (which is virtually all of mine) in December. Planning is a better use of that time.

I met a lot of interesting people at CSCW, even without being a blog stalker. For me, at least, it would be far too weird to do that. Conversely, I ended up adding several people who were there to my aggregator, even though I hadn't met them. Luckily, I was able to meet Liz Lawley in a more natural fashion. We were hanging in the back corner, looking for juice to power our backchannel contributions. I asked Liz if she was Mamamusings, having no idea that her backchannel ID was her personal blog too. I told her that I knew her from her Many2Many contributions. She said that she hadn't posted there in a while, and that she really should post something there about the parallel worlds she was noticing. We then chatted about a lot of the things that ended up in this excellent post on the academic/technical divide.

It really was like being in an alternate universe some times. The general blogging cluelessness among cooperative work researchers was amazing to me -- maybe twelve or so attendees had blogs (that Jack was able to uncover). I've been trying to follow up with some attendees and their faculty advisors about the possibility of working together on future research, but I haven't had any luck so far. You'd think that studying how collaborative tools are used in a large corporation, barriers to their use, testing of new tools and concepts on corporate users, etc. would be ripe grounds for study. Hopefully, something will work out.

This highlights what may be another dimension to this divide: what happens in the corporate world often seems far removed from the academic and the technical. Universities often respond to corporate inquiries with a hand out. Could we at least have an intelligent conversation about possibilities before we worry about finances? We aren't cash machines, nor are we looking to take advantage of you. We would like to find something that was mutually beneficial.

On the other side, a colleague of mine (from Engineering, not Architecture) went to the O'Reilly Emerging Tech conference a couple of years back and returned shaking his head about some of what he saw and experienced. Many of the folks there seemed out of touch with corporate reality to him. Certainly, this condition isn't universal, but the perception is there. In a large corporate environment, identifying and implementing new technologies that drive real business benefit is a lot more difficult and complicated than you might think.

I'm attending a conference with a perhaps more corporate take on emerging technology this week: Forrester's Emerging Technology Showcase. I went to this two years ago, when it was a Giga conference (before the Forrester takeover). That was a great conference. I'm viewing this one as a last chance for Forrester. The usefulness of their research has really plummeted for me over the last year or so. We'll see if this is still a high value conference, or if the downward spiral continues. Will Forrester bridge the gap?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

RSS and corporate web content management

Apparently, the title is oxymoronic, at least for us. I just checked Interwoven's site today. Nothing on the TeamSite product page. A whole-site search for RSS: zippo. A search for Atom: zilch. A search for syndication gets results referencing another Interwoven product and revealing Interwoven's apparent cluelessness on this matter.