Off the Top: Web Services Entries

December 3, 2016

Diffen for Comparisons

I stumbled across Diffen the other day thanks to Macdrifter’s Diffen mention. I have found it a great service for comparing things. But keep thinking of all the things I really want it to compare, but since it has two fields that allow you to compare any two things you can do it. I may keep the Diffen compares Holland vs Netherlands close at hand as it is a pet peeve and explaining it isn’t quite as easy as pointing to the link (particularly when people say, “well everybody calls it Holland”, the answer is everybody doesn’t and understanding what is correct is easy).

April 6, 2014

Changing Hosts and Server Locations

I’ve been in the midst of thinking through a web host / server move for for a while. I started running a personal site in 1995 and was running it under since 1997. During this time it has gone through six of 7 different hosts. The blog has been on three different hosts and on the same host since January 2006.

I’ve been wanting better email hosting, I want SSH access back, more current updates to: OS; scripting for PHP, Ruby, and Python; MySQL; and other smaller elements. A lot has changed in the last two to three years in web and server hosting.

The current shift is the 4th generation that started with simple web page hosting with limited scripting options, but often had some SSH and command line access to run cron jobs. The second was usually had a few scripting options and database to run light CMS or other dynamic pages, but the hosting didn’t give you access to anything below the web directory (problematic when trying to set your credentials for login out of the web directory, running more than one version of a site (dev, production, etc.), and essential includes that for security are best left out of the web directory). The second generation we often lost SSH and command line as those coming in lacked skills to work at the command line and could cripple a server with ease with a minor accident. The third has been more robust hosting with proper web directory set up and access to sub directories, having multiple scripting resources, having SSH and command line back (usually after proven competence), having control of setting up your own databases at will, setting up your own subdomains at will, and more. The third generation was often still hosting many sites on one server and a run away script or site getting hammered with traffic impacted the whole server. These hosts also often didn’t have the RAM to run current generations of tools (such as Drupal which can be a resource hog if not using command line tools like drush that thankfully made Drupal easier to configure in tight constraints from 2006 forward).

Today’s Options

Today we have a fourth generation of web host that replicates upgraded services like your own private server or virtual private server, but at lighter web hosting prices. I’ve been watching Digital Ocean for a few months and a couple months back I figured for $5 per month it was worth giving it a shot for some experiments and quick modeling of ideas. Digital Ocean starts with 512 MB or RAM, 20GB of SSD space (yes, your read that right, SSD hard drive), and 1TB of transfer. The setup is essentially a virtual private server, which makes experimentation easier and safer (if you mess up you only kill your own work not the work of others - to fix it wipe and rebuild quickly if it is that bad). Digital Ocean also lets you setup your server as you wish in about a minute of creation time with OS, scripting, and database options there for your choosing.

In recently Marco Arment has written up the lay of the land for hosting options from his perspective, which is a great overview. I’ve also been following Phil Gyford’s change of web hosting and like Phil I am dealing with a few domains and projects. I began looking at WebFaction and am liking what is there too. WebFaction adds in email into the equation and 100GB of storage on RAID 10 storage. Like Digital Ocean it has full shell scripting and a wide array of tools to select from to add to your server. This likely would be a good replacement for my core web existence here at and its related services. WebFaction provides some good management interfaces and smoothing some of the rough edges.

There are two big considerations in all of this: 1) Email; 2) Server location.


Email is a huge pain point for me. It should be relatively bullet proof (as it was years ago). To get bullet proof email the options boil down to going to a dedicated mail service like exchange or something like FastMail, a hosted Exchange server, or Google Apps. Having to pester the mail host to kick a server isn’t really acceptable and that has been a big reason I am considering moving my hosting. Also sitting on servers that get their IP address in blocks of blacklisted email servers (or potentially blacklisted) makes things really painful as well. I have ruled out Exchange as an option due to cost, many open scripts I rely on don’t play well with Exchange, and the price related to having someone maintain it.

Google Apps is an option, but my needs for all the other pieces that Google Apps offers aren’t requirements. I am looking at about 10 email addresses with one massive account in that set along with 2 or 3 other domains with one or two email accounts that are left open to catch the stray emails that drift in to those (often highly important). The cost of Google for this adds up quickly, even with using of aliases. I think having one of my light traffic domains on Google Apps would be good, the price of that and access to Google Apps to have access to for experimentation (Google Apps always arise in business conversations as a reference).

FastMail pricing is yearly and I know a lot of people who have been using it for years and rave about it. Having my one heavy traffic email there, as well as tucking the smaller accounts with lower traffic hosted there would be a great setup. Keeping email separate from hosting give uptime as well. FastMail is also testing calendar hosting with CalDAV, which is really interesting as well (I ran a CalDAV server for a while and it was really helpful and rather easy to manage, but like all things calendar it comes with goofy headaches, often related timezone and that bloody day light savings time, that I prefer others to deal with).

Last option is bundled email with web hosting. This has long been my experience. This is mostly a good solution, but rarely great. Dealing with many domains and multitudes of accounts email bundled with web hosting is a decent option. Mail hosting is rarely a deep strength of a web hosting company and often it is these providers that you have to pester to kick the mail server to get your mail flowing again (not only my experience, but darned near everybody I know has this problem and it should never work this way). I am wondering with the benefits of relatively inexpensive mail hosting bundled into web hosting is worth the pain.

I am likely to split my mail hosting across different solutions (the multiple web hosts and email hosts would still be less than my relatively low all in one web hosting I currently have).

Server Location

I have had web hosting in the US, UK, and now Australia and at a high level, I really don’t care where the the servers are located as the internet is mostly fast and self healing, so location and performance is a negligible distance for me (working with live shell scripting to a point that is nearly at the opposite side of the globe is rather mind blowing in how instantaneous this internet is).

My considerations related to where in the globe the servers are hosted comes down to local law (or lack of laws that are enforced). Sites sitting on European hosts require cookie notifications. The pull down / take down laws in countries are rather different. As a person with USA citizenship paperwork and hosting elsewhere, the laws that apply and how get goofy. The revelations of USA spying on its own people and servers has me not so keen to host in the US again, not that I ever have had anything that has come close to running afoul of laws or could ever be misconstrued as something that should draw attention. I have no idea what the laws are in Australia, which has been a bit of a concern for a while, but the host also has had servers in the US as well.

My options seem to be US, Singapore, UK, Netherlands, and Nordic based hosting. Nearly all the hosting options for web, applications, and mail provide options for location (the non-US options have grown like wildfire in the post Edward Snowden era). Location isn’t a deciding point, but it is something I will think through. I chose Australia as the host had great highly recommended hosting that has lived up to that for that generation of hosting options. It didn’t matter where the server was hosted eight years ago as the laws and implications were rather flat. Today the laws and implications are far less flat, so it will require some thinking through.

May 2, 2012

The Data Journalism Handbook is Available

The Data Journalism Handbook is finally available online and soon as the book Data Journalism Handbook - from Amazon or The Data Journalism Handbook - from O’Reilly, which is quite exciting. Why you ask?

In the October of 2010 the Guardian in the UK posted a Data Journalism How To Guide that was fantastic. This was a great resource not only for data journalists, but for anybody who has interest in finding, gathering, assessing, and doing something with the data that is shared found in the world around us. These skill are not the sort of thing that many of us grew up with nor learned in school, nor are taught in most schools today (that is another giant problem). This tutorial taught me a few things that have been of great benefit and filled in gaps I had in my tool bag that was still mostly rusty and built using the tool set I picked up in the mid-90s in grad school in public policy analysis.

In the Fall of 2011 at MozFest in London many data journalist and others of like mind got together to share their knowledge. Out of this gathering was the realization and starting point for the handbook. Journalists are not typically those who have the deep data skills, but if they can learn (not a huge mound to climb) and have it made sensible and relatively easy in bite sized chunk the journalists will be better off.

All of us can benefit from this book in our own hands. Getting to the basics of how gather and think through data and the questions around it, all the way through how to graphically display that data is incredibly beneficial. I know many people who have contributed to this Handbook and think the world of their contributions. Skimming through the version that is one the web I can quickly see this is going to be an essential reference for all, not just journalists, nor bloggers, but for everybody. This could and likely should be the book used in classes in high schools and university information essentials taught first semester first year.

March 30, 2011

Late to Realizing Ovi Maps Does Exactly What I Wish

I been a big fan of Nokia's mapping solution built into its smart phones, Ovi Maps as it provides the best mobile turn by turn directions I've seen on any mobile device. But, this is largely because Nokia owns Navteq, which has long been the leader for on board mapping and driving solutions.

That FINALLY! Moment Reached

While I have been incredibly impressed with the Ovi mapping on my Nokia E72 device and often use the Ovi resources on the web, I hit that finally, somebody got this right moment with Ovi over the weekend. While, many web mapping solutions allow you to save favorites on the web getting those to sync to your mobile device, with your directions has been left out of most of these solutions (I have been complaining to friends at Google, Yahoo, and elsewhere for many years that this is a no-duh next step). Well, it seems Ovi figured this out quite a while back. (I noticed Google Mobile Maps provided this at the end of 2009, but have never been able to get it to work, even on my supported Symbian device.)

The simplicity and ease with with Nokia's Ovi pulls this off is rather stunning. With this aha moment, I feel like I was the last one to see this and sort it out, but in chats with other mobile maps and navigation users, they have been pained waiting for exactly this functionality, as most people it seems will get a location link and add it to their desktop maps (particularly for travel) but that does them little good as they don't take their desktop or open laptop into the car with them, they take their mobile. Understanding context of use is incredibly valuable.

Now may be a good time to check your device's capability, although iPhone does not seem to have this functionality supported by Google maps (surprised?).

December 31, 2010

Closing Delicious? Lessons to be Learned

There was a kerfuffle a couple weeks back around Delicious when the social bookmarking service Delicious was marked for end of life by Yahoo, which caused a rather large number I know to go rather nuts. Yahoo, has made the claim that they are not shutting the service down, which only seems like a stall tactic, but perhaps they may actually sell it (many accounts from former Yahoo and Delicious teams have pointed out the difficulties in that, as it was ported to Yahoo’s own services and with their own peculiarities).


Never the less, this brings-up an important point: Redundancy. One lesson I learned many years ago related to the web (heck, related to any thing digital) is it will fail at some point. Cloud based services are not immune and the network connection to those services is often even more problematic. But, one of the tenants of the Personal InfoCloud is it is where you keep your information across trusted services and devices so you have continual and easy access to that information. Part of ensuring that continual access is ensuring redundancy and backing up. Optimally the redundancy or back-up is a usable service that permits ease of continuing use if one resource is not reachable (those sunny days where there's not a cloud to be seen). Performing regular back-ups of your blog posts and other places you post information is valuable. Another option is a central aggregation point (these are long dreamt of and yet to be really implemented well, this is a long brewing interest with many potential resources and conversations).

With regard to Delicious I’ve used redundant services and manually or automatically fed them. I was doing this with Ma.gnol.ia as it was (in part) my redundant social bookmarking service, but I also really liked a lot of its features and functionality (there were great social interaction design elements that were deployed there that were quite brilliant and made the service a real gem). I also used Diigo for a short while, but too many things there drove me crazy and continually broke. A few months back I started using Pinboard, as the private reincarnation of Ma.gnol.ia shut down. I have also used ZooTool, which has more of a visual design community (the community that self-aggregates to a service is an important characteristic to take into account after the viability of the service).

Pinboard has been a real gem as it uses the commonly implemented Delicious API (version 1) as its core API, which means most tools and services built on top of Delicious can be relatively easily ported over with just a change to the URL for source. This was similar for Ma.gnol.ia and other services. But, Pinboard also will continually pull in Delicious postings, so works very well for redundancy sake.

There are some things I quite like about Pinboard (some things I don’t and will get to them) such as the easy integration from Instapaper (anything you star in Instapaper gets sucked into your Pinboard). Pinboard has a rather good mobile web interface (something I loved about Ma.gnol.ia too). Pinboard was started by co-founders of Delicious and so has solid depth of understanding. Pinboard is also a pay service (based on an incremental one time fee and full archive of pages bookmarked (saves a copy of pages), which is great for its longevity as it has some sort of business model (I don’t have faith in the “underpants - something - profit” model) and it works brilliantly for keeping out spammer (another pain point for me with Diigo).

My biggest nit with Pinboard is the space delimited tag terms, which means multi-word tag terms (San Francisco, recent discovery, etc.) are not possible (use of non-alphabetic word delimiters (like underscores, hyphens, and dots) are a really problematic for clarity, easy aggregation with out scripting to disambiguate and assemble relevant related terms, and lack of mainstream user understanding). The lack of easily seeing who is following my shared items, so to find others to potentially follow is something from Delicious I miss.

For now I am still feeding Delicious as my primary source, which is naturally pulled into Pinboard with no extra effort (as it should be with many things), but I'm already looking for a redundancy for Pinboard given the questionable state of Delicious.

The Value of Delicious

Another thing that surfaced with the Delicious end of life (non-official) announcement from Yahoo was the incredible value it has across the web. Not only do people use it and deeply rely on it for storing, contextualizing links/bookmarks with tags and annotations, refinding their own aggregation, and sharing this out easily for others, but use Delicious in a wide variety of different ways. People use Delicious to surface relevant information of interest related to their affinities or work needs, as it is easy to get a feed for not only a person, a tag, but also a person and tag pairing. The immediate responses that sounded serious alarm with news of Delicious demise were those that had built valuable services on top of Delicious. There were many stories about well known publications and services not only programmatically aggregating potentially relevant and tangential information for research in ad hoc and relatively real time, but also sharing out of links for others. Some use Delicious to easily build “related information” resources for their web publications and offerings. One example is emoted by Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb wonderfully describing their reliance on Delicious

It was clear very quickly that Yahoo is sitting on a real backbone of many things on the web, not the toy product some in Yahoo management seemed to think it was. The value of Delicious to Yahoo seemingly diminished greatly after they themselves were no longer in the search marketplace. Silently confirmed hunches that Delicious was used as fodder to greatly influence search algorithms for highly potential synonyms and related web content that is stored by explicit interest (a much higher value than inferred interest) made Delicious a quite valued property while it ran its own search property.

For ease of finding me (should you wish) on Pinboard I am


Good relevant posts from others:

September 22, 2010

Good Night Sweet Six Apart

Odd how news of business transactions hits. Today I saw Six Apart was bought by VideoEgg (yes, Six Apart that makes TypePad and MovableType). This news made me a bit sad and nostalgic.

Movable Type is Old Skool

As the young people used to say (they were still young back then) Movable Type (MT) is OG. MT was far from the first blogging platform, as Blogger and others like Grey Matter (this influenced the blogging platform under this blog a lot). MT was started by the couple Ben and Mena Trott out of their house in the dust of the test boom bursting. It was started as a blogging platform and build to be a well thought through platform for others to use. By 2002 it had been launched user tested and was the first underpinnings of Boxes and Arrows Magazine (as deployed by Jay Allen).

Those were good days and MT was a solid product. MT turned in to Six Apart and offered a hosted platform, TypePad, which my Personal InfoCloud blog is hosted on. The became the first real blogging platform company and it grew into a solid company.

The Show Goes On

The announcements around the purchase state MT and TypePad will continue to be supported. The big change is a new owner, a new company name (SAY Media), and possibly a new direction. I've had a lot of friends work at Six Apart or work with them.

The days of sitting up late talking blogging platforms in the early days at SXSWi and how all of this was more than just something the "broken one's" did. We have seen WordPress surface out of another platform and thrive as have many other personal sharing social platforms that have not only changed the web, but have also largely changed the world for the better. MT and other blogging platforms gave nearly everybody a printing press with a wider reach around the globe than any personal printing press ever had. As well the readers or people with affinity to the ideas shared, or even trying to get a new or different view.

I look forward to my new TypePad overlords and hope they are as inspiring and gracious as the kind, smart, gentle, and caring folks at Six Apart always have been. I also have my own hand rolled blogging platform that sits under, as well as my vanderwal on Tumblr blog, and all those other social platforms I share things within and on. Be well Six Apart as you move from a blogging platform company with a name on the door, to our collective blogged memories.

June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

I am finally bringing workshop to my home base, the Washington, DC area. I am putting on a my “Social Design for the Enterprise” half-day workshop on the afternoon of July 17th at Viget Labs (register from this prior link).

Yes, it is a Friday in the Summer in Washington, DC area. This is the filter to sort out who really wants to improve what they offer and how successful they want their products and solutions to be.

Past Attendees have Said...

“A few hours and a few hundred dollar saved us tens of thousands, if not well into six figures dollars of value through improving our understanding” (Global insurance company intranet director)

From an in-house workshop…
“We are only an hour in, can we stop? We need to get many more people here to hear this as we have been on the wrong path as an organization” (National consumer service provider)

“Can you let us know when you give this again as we need our [big consulting firm] here, they need to hear that this is the path and focus we need” (Fortune 100 company senior manager for collaboration platforms)

“In the last 15 minutes what you walked us through helped us understand a problem we have had for 2 years and a provided manner to think about it in a way we can finally move forward and solve it” (CEO social tool product company)

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

No, the workshop is aimed at a broad audience. The focus of the workshop gets beyond the tools’ features and functionality to provide understanding of the other elements that make a giant difference in adoption, use, and value derived by people using and the system owners.

The workshop is for user experience designers (information architects, interaction designers, social interaction designers, etc.), developers, product managers, buyers, implementers, and those with social tools running already running.

Not Only for Enterprise

This workshop with address problems for designing social tools for much better adoption in the enterprise (in-house use in business, government, & non-profit), but web facing social tools.

The Workshop will Address…

Designing for social comfort requires understanding how people interact in a non-mediated environment and what realities that we know from that understanding must we include in our design and development for use and adoption of our digital social tools if we want optimal adoption and use.

  • Tools do not need to be constrained by accepting the 1-9-90 myth.
  • Understanding the social build order and how to use that to identify gaps that need design solutions
  • Social comfort as a key component
  • Matrix of Perception to better understanding who the use types are and how deeply the use the tool so to build to their needs and delivering much greater value for them, which leads to improved use and adoption
  • Using the for elements for enterprise social tool success (as well as web facing) to better understand where and how to focus understanding gaps and needs for improvement.
  • Ways user experience design can be implemented to increase adoption, use, and value
  • How social design needs are different from Web 2.0 and what Web 2.0 could improve with this understanding

More info...

For more information and registration to to Viget Lab's Social Design for the Enterprise page.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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March 12, 2009

Catching Up On Personal InfoCloud Blog Posts

Things here are a little quiet as I have been in writing mode as well as pitching new work. I have been blogging work related items over at Personal InfoCloud, but I am likely only going to be posting summaries of those pieces here from now on, rather than the full posts. I am doing this to concentrate work related posts, particularly on a platform that has commenting available. I am still running my own blogging tool here at I wrote in 2001 and turned off the comments in 2006 after growing tired of dealing comment spam.

The following are recently posted over at Personal InfoCloud

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools focusses on the myriad of discussions I have had with clients of mine, potential clients, and others from organizations sharing their views and frustrations with Microsoft SharePoint as a means to bring solid social software into the workplace. This post has been brewing for about two years and is now finally posted.

Optimizing Tagging UI for People & Search

Optimizing Tagging UI for People and Search focuses on the lessons learned and usability research myself and others have done on the various input interfaces for tagging, particularly tagging with using multi-term tags (tags with more than one word). The popular tools have inhibited adoption of tagging with poor tagging interaction design and poor patterns for humans entering tags that make sense to themselves as humans.

LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow)

I have a two part post on LinkedIn's social interaction design. LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 1 of 2 looks at what LinkedIn has done well in the past and had built on top. Many people have expressed the new social interactions on LinkedIn have decreased the value of the service for them.

The second part, LinkedIn: Social Interaction Design Lessons Learned (not to follow) - 2 of 2 looks at the social interaction that has been added to LinkedIn in the last 18 months or so and what lessons have we as users of the service who pay attention to social interaction design have learned. This piece also list ways forward from what is in place currently.

August 19, 2008

Stewart Mader is Now Solo and One to Watch and Hire

There seems to be many people that are joining the ranks of solo service providers around social tools. Fortunately there are some that are insanely great people taking these steps. Stewart Mader is one of these insanely great people now fully out on his own. Stewart Mader's Wiki Adoption Services are the place to start for not only initial stages of thinking through and planning successful wiki projects, but also for working through the different needs and perspectives that come with the 6 month and one year realizations.

Those of you not familiar with Stewart, he wrote the best book on understanding wikis and adoption, Wikipatterns and is my personal favorite speaker on the subject of wikis. Others may have more broadly known names, but can not come close to touching his breadth nor depth of knowledge on the subject. His understandings of wikis and their intersection with other forms and types of social tools is unsurpassed.

I welcome Stewart to the realm of social tool soloists experts. I look forward to one day working on a project with Stewart.

June 11, 2008

"Building the social web" Full-day Workshop in Copenhagen on June 30th

Through the wonderful cosponsoring of FatDUX I am going to be putting on a full-day workshop Building the Social Web on June 30th in Copenhagen, Denmark (the event is actually in Osterbro). This is the Monday following Reboot, where I will be presenting.

I am excited about the workshop as it will be including much of my work from the past nine months on setting social foundations for successful services, both on the web and inside organizations on the intranet. The workshop will help those who are considering, planning, or already working on social sites to improve the success of the services by providing frameworks that help evaluating and guiding the social interactions on the services.

Space is limited for this workshop to 15 seats and after its announcement yesterday there are only 10 seats left as of this moment.

June 4, 2008

Lasting Value of Techmeme?

Tristan Louis has a post looking at Is Techmeme Myopic, which is a good look at the lasting value that Techmeme surfaces. This mirrors my use of Techmeme, which is mostly to have a glance at what is being discussed each day. Techmeme has a very temporal value for me as it is a zeitgeist tool that tracks news and memes as they flow and ebb through the technology news realm of the web.

Personally, I like Techmeme as it aggregates the news and conversations, which makes it really easy to skip the bits I do not care about (this is much of what flows through it), but I can focus on the few things that do resonate with me. I can also see a view of who is providing content and I can select sources of information whose viewpoint I value over perspectives I personally place less respect.

May 7, 2008

Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success

One of the things I continually run across talking with organizations deploying social tools inside their organization is the difficultly getting all the components to mesh. Nearly everybody is having or had a tough time with getting employees and partners to engage with the services, but everybody is finding out it is much more than just the tools that are needed to consider. The tools provide the foundation, but once service types and features are sorted out, it get much tougher. I get frustrated (as do many organizations whom I talk with lately) that social tools and services that make up enterprise 2.0, or whatever people want to call it, are far from the end of the need for getting it right. There is great value in these tools and the cost of the tools is much less than previous generations of enterprise (large organization) offerings.

Social tools require much more than just the tools for their implementation to be successful. Tool selection is tough as no tool is doing everything well and they all are focussing on niche areas. But, as difficult as the tool selection can be, there are three more elements that make up what the a successful deployment of the tools and can be considered part of the tools.

Four Rings of Enterprise Social Tools

Enterprise Social Tool: Components for Success The four elements really have to work together to make for a successful services that people will use and continue to use over time. Yes, I am using a venn diagram for the four rings as it helps point out the overlaps and gaps where the implementations can fall short. The overlaps in the diagram is where the interesting things are happening. A year ago I was running into organizations with self proclaimed success with deployments of social tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, forums, etc.), but as the desire for more than a simple set of blogs (or whichever tool or set of tools was selected) in-house there is a desire for greater use beyond some internal early adopters. This requires paying close attention to the four rings.


The first ring is rather obvious, it is the tools. The tools come down to functionality and features that are offered, how they are run (OS, rack mount, other software needed, skills needed to keep them running, etc.), how the tools are integrated into the organization (authentication, back-up, etc.), external data services, and the rest of the the usual IT department checklist. The tools get a lot of attention from many analysts and tech evangelists. There is an incredible amount of attention on widgets, feeds, APIs, and elements for user generated contribution. But, the tools do not get you all of the way to a successful implementation. The tools are not a mix and match proposition.

Interface & Ease of Use

One thing that the social software tools from the consumer web have brought is ease of use and simple to understand interfaces. The tools basically get out of the way and bring in more advanced features and functionality as needed. The interface also needs to conform to expectations and understandings inside an organization to handle the flow of interaction. What works for one organization may be difficult for another organization, largely due to the tools and training, and exposure to services outside their organization. Many traditional enterprise tools have been trying to improve the usability and ease of use for their tools over the last 4 to 5 years or so, but those efforts still require massive training and large binders that walk people through the tools. If the people using the tools (not administering the tools need massive amounts of training or large binders for social software the wrong tool has been purchased).


Sociality is the area where people manage their sharing of information and their connections to others. Many people make the assumption that social tools focus on everything being shared with everybody, but that is not the reality in organizations. Most organizations have tight boundaries on who can share what with whom, but most of those boundaries get in the way. One of the things I do to help organizations is help them realize what really needs to be private and not shared is often much less than what they regulate. Most people are not really comfortable sharing information with people they do not know, so having comfortable spaces for people to share things is important, but these spaces need to have permeable walls that encourage sharing and opening up when people are sure they are correct with their findings.

Sociality also includes the selective groups people belong to in organizations for project work, research, support, etc. that are normal inside organizations to optimize efficiency. But, where things get really difficult is when groups are working on similar tasks that will benefit from horizontal connections and sharing of information. This horizontal sharing (as well as diagonal sharing) is where the real power of social tools come into play as the vertical channels of traditional organization structures largely serve to make organizations inefficient and lacking intelligence. The real challenge for the tools is the capability to surface the information of relevance from selective groups to other selective groups (or share information more easily out) along the way. Most tools are not to this point yet, largely because customers have not been asking for this (it is a need that comes from use over time) and it can be a difficult problem to solve.

One prime ingredient for social tool use by people is providing a focus on the people using the tools and their needs for managing the information they share and the information from others that flow through the tool. Far too often the tools focus on the value the user generated content has on the system and information, which lacks the focus of why people use the tools over time. People use tools that provide value to them. The personal sociality elements of whom are they following and sharing things with, managing all contributions and activities they personally made in a tool, ease of tracking information they have interest in, and making modifications are all valuable elements for the tools to incorporate. The social tools are not in place just to serve the organization, they must also serve the people using the tools if adoption and long term use important.

Encouraging Use

Encouraging use and engagement with the tools is an area that all organizations find they have a need for at some point and time. Use of these tools and engagement by people in an organization often does not happen easily. Why? Normally, most of the people in the organization do not have a conceptual framework for what the tools do and the value the individuals will derive. The value they people using the tools will derive needs to be brought to the forefront. People also usually need to have it explained that the tools are as simple as they seem. People also need to be reassured that their voice matters and they are encouraged to share what they know (problems, solutions, and observations).

While the egregious actions that happen out on the open web are very rare inside an organization (transparency of who a person is keeps this from happening) there is a need for a community manager and social tool leader. This role highlights how the tools can be used. They are there to help people find value in the tools and provide comfort around understanding how the information is used and how sharing with others is beneficial. Encouraging use takes understanding the tools, interface, sociality, and the organization with its traditions and ways of working.

The Overlaps

The overlaps in the graphic are where things really start to surface with the value and the need for a holistic view. Where two rings over lap the value is easy to see, but where three rings overlap the missing element or element that is deficient is easier to understand its value.

Tools and Interface

Traditional enterprise offerings have focussed on the tools and interface through usability and personalization. But the tools have always been cumbersome and the interfaces are not easy to use. The combination of the tools and interface are the core capabilities that traditionally get considered. The interface is often quite flexible for modification to meet an organizations needs and desires, but the capabilities for the interface need to be there to be flexible. The interface design and interaction needs people who have depth in understanding the broad social and information needs the new tools require, which is going to be different than the consumer web offerings (many of them are not well thought through and do not warrant copying).

Tools and Sociality

Intelligence and business needs are what surface out of the tools capabilities and sociality. Having proper sociality that provides personal tools for managing information flows and sharing with groups as well as everybody as it makes sense to an individual is important. Opening up the sharing as early as possible will help an organization get smarter about itself and within itself. Sociality also include personal use and information management, which far few tools consider. This overlap of tools and sociality is where many tools are needing improvement today.

Interface and Encouraging Use

Good interfaces with easy interaction and general ease of use as well as support for encouraging use are where expanding use of the tools takes place, which in turn improves the return on investment. The ease of use and simple interfaces on combined with guidance that provides conceptual understanding of what these tools do as well as providing understanding that eases fears around using the tools (often people are fearful that what they share will be used against them or their job will go away because they shared what they know, rather than they become more valuable to an organization by sharing as they exhibit expertise). Many people are also unsure of tools that are not overly cumbersome and that get out of the way of putting information in to the tools. This needs explanation and encouragement, which is different than in-depth training sessions.

Sociality and Encouraging Use

The real advantages of social tools come from the combination of getting sociality and encouraging use correct. The sociality component provides the means to interact (or not) as needed. This is provided by the capabilities of the product or products used. This coupled with a person or persons encouraging use that show the value, take away the fears, and provide a common framework for people to think about and use the tools is where social comfort is created. From social comfort people come to rely on the tools and services more as a means to share, connect, and engage with the organization as a whole. The richness of the tools is enabled when these two elements are done well.

The Missing Piece in Overlaps

This section focusses on the graphic and the three-way overlaps (listed by letter: A; B; C; and D). The element missing in the overlap or where that element is deficient is the focus.

Overlap A

This overlap has sociality missing. When the tool, interface, and engagement are solid, but sociality is not done well for an organization there may be strong initial use, but use will often stagnate. This happens because the sharing is not done in a manner that provides comfort or the services are missing a personal management space to hold on to a person's own actions. Tracking one's own actions and the relevant activities of others around the personal actions is essential to engaging socially with the tools, people, and organization. Providing comfortable spaces to work with others is essential. One element of comfort is built from know who the others are whom people are working with, see Elements of Social Software and Selective Sociality and Social Villages (particularly the build order of social software elements) to understand the importance.

Overlap B

This overlap has tools missing, but has sociality, interface, and encouraging use done well. The tools can be deficient as they may not provide needed functionality, features, or may not scale as needed. Often organizations can grow out of a tool as their needs expand or change as people use the tools need more functionality. I have talked with a few organizations that have used tools that provide simple functionality as blogs, wikis, or social bookmarking tools find that as the use of the tools grows the tools do not keep up with the needs. At times the tools have to be heavily modified to provide functionality or additional elements are needed from a different type of tool.

Overlap C

Interface and ease of use is missing, while sociality, tool, and encouraging use are covered well. This is an area where traditional enterprise tools have problems or tools that are built internally often stumble. This scenario often leads to a lot more training or encouraging use. Another downfall is enterprise tools are focussed on having their tools look and interact like consumer social web tools, which often are lacking in solid interaction design and user testing. The use of social tools in-house will often not have broad use of these consumer services so the normal conventions are not understood or are not comfortable. Often the interfaces inside organizations will need to be tested and there many need to be more than one interface and feature set provided for depth of use and match to use perceptions.

Also, what works for one organization, subset of an organization, or reviewer/analyst will not work for others. The understanding of an organization along with user testing and evaluation with a cross section of real people will provide the best understanding of compatibility with interface. Interfaces can also take time to take hold and makes sense. Interfaces that focus on ease of use with more advanced capabilities with in reach, as well as being easily modified for look and interactions that are familiar to an organization can help resolve this.

Overlap D

Encouraging use and providing people to help ease people's engagement is missing in many organizations. This is a task that is often overlooked. The tools, interface, and proper sociality can all be in place, but not having people to help provide a framework to show the value people get from using the tools, easing concerns, giving examples of uses for different roles and needs, and continually showing people success others in an organization have with the social tool offerings is where many organization find they get stuck. The early adopters in an organization may use the tools as will those with some familiarity with the consumer web social services, but that is often a small percentage of an organization.


All of this is still emergent and early, but these trends and highlights are things I am finding common. The two areas that are toughest to get things right are sociality and encouraging use. Sociality is largely dependent on the tools, finding the limitations in the tools takes a fair amount of testing often to find limitations. Encouraging use is more difficult at the moment as there are relatively few people who understand the tools and the context that organizations bring to the tools, which is quite different from the context of the consumer social web tools. I personally only know of a handful or so of people who really grasp this well enough to be hired. Knowing the "it depends moments" is essential and knowing that use is granular as are the needs of the people in the organization. Often there are more than 10 different use personas if not more that are needed for evaluating tools, interface, sociality, and encouraging use (in some organizations it can be over 20). The tools can be simple, but getting this mix right is not simple, yet.

[Comments are open and moderated at Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success :: Personal InfoCloud

May 3, 2008

Getting Info into the Field with Extension

This week I was down in Raleigh, North Carolina to speak at National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) 2008, which is for the people running the web and technology components for what used to be the agricultural extension of state universities, but now includes much more. This was a great conference to connect with people trying to bring education, information, and knowledge services to all communities, including those in rural areas where only have dial-up connectivity to get internet access. The subject matter presented is very familiar to many other conferences I attend and present at, but with a slightly different twist, they focus on ease of use and access to information for everybody and not just the relatively early adopters. The real values of light easy to use interfaces that are clear to understand, well structured, easy to load, and include affordance in the initial design consideration is essential.

I sat in on a few sessions, so to help tie my presentation to the audience, but also listen to interest and problems as they compare to the organizations I normally talk to and work with (mid-size member organizations up to very large global enterprise). I sat in on a MOSS discussion. This discussion about Sharepoint was indiscernible from any other type of organization around getting it to work well, licensing, and really clumsy as well as restrictive sociality. The discussion about the templates for different types of interface (blogs and wikis) were the same as they they do not really do or act like the template names. The group seemed to have less frustration with the wiki template, although admitted it was far less than perfect, it did work to some degree with the blog template was a failure (I normally hear both are less than useful and only resemble the tools in name not use). [This still has me thinking Sharepoint is like the entry drug for social software in organizations, it looks and sounds right and cool, but is lacking the desired kick.]

I also sat down with the project leads and developers of an eXtension wide tool that is really interesting to me. It serves the eXtension community and they are really uncoupling the guts of the web tools to ease greater access to relevant information. This flattening of the structures and new ways of accessing information is already proving beneficial to them, but it also has brought up the potential to improve ease some of the transition for those new to the tools. I was able to provide feedback that should provide a good next step. I am looking forward to see that tool and the feedback in the next three to six months as it has incredible potential to ease information use into the hands that really need it. It will also be a good example for how other organizations can benefit from similar approaches.

Comments are open (with usual moderation) at this post at Getting Info into the Field with Extension :: Personal InfoCloud.

April 16, 2008

Explaining the Granular Social Network

This post on Granular Social Networks has been years in the making and is a follow-up to one I previously made in January 2005 on Granular Social Networks as a concept I had been presenting and talking about for quite some time at that point. In the past few years it has floated in and out of my presentations, but is quite often mentioned when the problems of much of the current social networking ideology comes up. Most of the social networking tools and services assume we are broadline friends with people we connect to, even when we are just "contacts" or other less than "friend" labels. The interest we have in others (and others in us) is rarely 100 percent and even rarer is that this 100 percent interest and appreciation is equal in both directions (I have yet to run across this in any pairing of people, but I am open to the option that it exists somewhere).

Social Tools Need to Embrace Granularity

What we have is partial likes in others and their interests and offerings. Our social tools have yet to grasp this and the few that do have only taken small steps to get there (I am rather impressed with Jaiku and their granular listening capability for their feed aggregation, which should be the starting point for all feed aggregators). Part of grasping the problem is a lack of quickly understanding the complexity, which leads to deconstructing and getting to two variables: 1) people (their identities online and their personas on various services) and 2) interests. These two elements and their combinations can (hopefully) be seen in the quick annotated video of one of my slides I have been using in presentations and workshops lately.

Showing Granular Social Network

Granular Social Network from Thomas Vander Wal on Vimeo.

The Granular Social Network begins with one person, lets take the self, and the various interest we have. In the example I am using just five elements of interest (work, music, movies, food, and biking). These are interest we have and share information about that we create or find. This sharing may be on one service or across many services and digital environments. The interests are taken as a whole as they make up our interests (most of us have more interests than five and we have various degrees of interest, but I am leaving that out for the sake of simplicity).

Connections with Others

Our digital social lives contain our interests, but as it is social it contains other people who are our contacts (friends is presumptive and gets in the way of understanding). These contacts have and share some interests in common with us. But, rarely do the share all of the same interest, let alone share the same perspective on these interests.

Mapping Interests with Contacts

But, we see when we map the interests across just six contacts that this lack of fully compatible interests makes things a wee bit more complicated than just a simple broadline friend. Even Facebook and their touted social graph does not come close to grasping this granularity as it is still a clumsy tool for sharing, finding, claiming, and capturing this granularity. If we think about trying a new service that we enjoy around music we can not easily group and capture then try to identify the people we are connected to on that new service from a service like Facebook, but using another service focussed on that interest area it could be a little easier.

When we start mapping our own interest back to the interest that other have quickly see that it is even more complicated. We may not have the same reciprocal interest in the same thing or same perception or context as the people we connect to. I illustrate with the first contact in yellow that we have interest in what they share about work or their interest in work, even though they are not stating or sharing that information publicly or even in selective social means. We may e-mail, chat in IM or talk face to face about work and would like to work with them in some manner. We want to follow what they share and share with them in a closer manner and that is what this visual relationship intends to mean. As we move across the connections we see that the reciprocal relationships are not always consistent. We do not always want to listen to all those who are sharing things, with use or the social collective in a service or even across services.

Focus On One Interest

Taking the complexity and noise out of the visualization the focus is placed on just music. We can easily see that there are four of our six contacts that have interest in music and are sharing their interest out. But, for various reasons we only have interests in what two of the four contacts share out. This relationship is not capturing what interest our contacts have in what we are sharing, it only captures what they share out.

Moving Social Connections Forward

Grasping this as a relatively simple representation of Granular Social Networks allows for us to begin to think about the social tools we are building. They need to start accounting for our granular interests. The Facebook groups as well as listserves and other group lists need to grasp the nature of individuals interests and provide the means to explicitly or implicitly start to understand and use these as filter options over time. When we are discussing portable social networks this understanding has be understood and the move toward embracing this understanding taken forward and enabled in the tools we build. The portable social network as well as social graph begin to have a really good value when the who is tied with what and why of interest. We are not there yet and I have rarely seen or heard these elements mentioned in the discussions.

One area of social tools where I see this value beginning to surface in through tagging for individuals to start to state (personally I see this as a private or closed declaration that only the person tagging see with the option of sharing with the person being tagged, or at least have this capability) the reasons for interest. But, when I look at tools like I am not seeing this really taking off and I hear people talking about not fully understanding tagging as as it sometimes narrows the interest too narrowly. It is all an area for exploration and growth in understanding, but digital social tools, for them to have more value for following and filtering the flows in more manageable ways need to more in grasping this more granular understanding of social interaction between people in a digital space.

Social Tools for Mergers and Acquisitions

The announcement yesterday of Delta and Northwest airlines merging triggered a couple thoughts. One of the thoughts was sadness as I love the unusually wonderful customer service I get with Northwest, and loathe the now expected poor and often nasty treatment by Delta staff. Northwest does not have all the perks of in seat entertainment, but I will go with great customer service and bags that once in nearly 50 flights did not arrive with me.

But, there is a second thing. It is something that all mergers and large organization changes trigger...

Social Tools Are Great Aids for Change

Stewart Mader brought this to mind again in his post Onboarding: getting your new employees cleared for takeoff, which focusses on using wikis (he works for Atlassian and has been a strong proponent of wikis for years and has a great book on Wiki Patterns) as a means to share and update the information that is needed for transitions and the joining of two organizations.

I really like his write-up and have been pushing the social tools approach for a few years. The wiki is one means of gathering and sharing information. It is a good match with social bookmarking, which allows organizations that are coming together have their people find and tag things in their own context and perspective. This provides finding common objects that exist, but also sharing and learning what things are called from the different perspectives.

Communication Build Common Ground

Communication is a key cornerstone to any organization working with, merging with, or becoming a part of another. Communication needs common ground and social bookmarking that allows for all context and perspectives to be captured is essential to making this a success.

This is something I have presented on and provided advice in the past and really think and have seen that social tools are essentials in these times of transition. It is really rewarding when I see this working as I have been through organization mergers, going public, and major transitions in the days before these tools existed. I can not imaging thinking of transitioning with out these tools and service today. I have talked to many organizations after the fact that wished they had social bookmarking, blogs, and wikis to find and annotate items, provide the means to get messages out efficiently (e-mail is becoming a poor means of sharing valuable information), and working toward common understanding.

One large pain point in mergers and other transitions is the cultural change that brings new terms, new processes, new workflow, and disruption to patterns of understanding that became natural to the people in the organization. The ability to map what something was called and the way it was done to what it is now called and the new processes and flows is essential to success. This is exactly what the social tools provide. Social bookmarking is great for capturing terms, context, and perspectives and providing the ability to refind these new items using prior understanding with low cognitive costs. Blogs help communicate people's understanding as they are going through the process as well as explain the way forward. Wikis help map these individual elements that have been collectively provided and pull them together in one central understanding (while still pointing out to the various individual contributions to hold on to that context) in a collaborative (working together with one common goal) environment.

Increasing Speed and Lowering Cost of Transition

Another attribute of the social tools is the speed and cost at which the information is shared, identified, and aggregated. In the past the large consulting firms and the slow and expensive models for working were have been the common way forward for these times of change. Seeing social tools along with a few smart and nimble experts on solid deployments and social engagement will see similar results in days and a handful of weeks compared to many weeks and months of expensive change management plodding. The key is the people in the organizations know their concerns and needs, while providing them the tools to map their understanding and finding information and objects empowers the individuals while giving them knowledge and the means to share with others. This also helps the individuals grasp that are essential to the success and speed to the change. Most people resent being pushed and prodded into change and new environments, giving them the tools to understand and guide their own change management is incredibly helpful. This decreases the time for transition (for processes and emotionally) while also keeping the costs lower.

[Comments are open and moderated as always in the post at: Social Tools to Efficiently Build Common Ground :: Personal InfoCloud]

April 10, 2008

Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration

The latest edition of the Communications of the ACM (Volume 51, Issue 4 - April 2008) includes an article on Getting to "we", which starts off by pointing out the misuse and mis-understanding of the term collaboration as well as the over use of the practice of collaboration when it is not proper for the need. The authors Peter Denning and Peter Yaholkovsky break down the tools needed for various knowledge needs into four categories: 1) Information sharing; 2) Coordination; 3) Cooperation; and Collaboration. The authors define collaboration as:

Collaboration generally means working together synergistically. If your work requires support and agreement of others before you can take action, you are collaborating.

The article continues on to point out that collaboration is often not the first choice of tools we should reach for, as gathering information, understanding, and working through options is really needed in order to get to the stages of agreement. Their article digs deeply into the resolving "messy problems" through proper collaboration methods. To note, the wiki - the usual darling of collaboration - is included in their "cooperation" examples and not Collaboration. Most of the tools many businesses consider in collaboration tools are in the lowest level, which is "information sharing". But, workflow managment falls into the coordination bucket.

This is one of the better breakdowns of tool sets I have seen. The groupings make a lot of sense and their framing of collaboration to take care of the messiest problems is rather good, but most of the tools and services that are considered to be collaborations tools do not even come close to that description or to the capabilities required.

[Comments are open at Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration :: Personal InfoCloud]

April 6, 2008

Selective Sociality and Social Villages

The web provides wonderful serendipity on many fronts, but in this case it brought together two ideas I have been thinking about, working around, and writing about quite a bit lately. The ideas intersect at the junction of the pattern of building social bonds with people and comfort of know interactions that selective sociality brings.

The piece that struck me regarding building and identifying a common bond with another person came out of Robert Paterson's "Mystery of Attraction" post (it is a real gem). Robert describes his introduction and phases of getting to know and appreciate Luis Suarez (who I am a huge fan of and deeply appreciate the conversations I have with him). What Robert lays out in his introduction (through a common friend on-line) is a following of each other's posts and digital trail that is shared out with others. This builds an understanding of each others reputation in their own minds and the shared interest. Upon this listening to the other and joint following they built a relationship of friendship and mutual appreciation (it is not always mutual) and they began to converse and realized they had a lot more in common.

Elements of Social Software Build Order What Robert echos is the Elements in Social Software and its build order. This build order is common in human relationships, but quite often social software leaves out steps or expects conversations, groups, and collaboration to happen with out accounting for the human elements needed to get to this stage. Quite often the interest, ideas, and object (all social objects) are the stimulus for social interaction as they are the hooks that connect us. This is what makes the web so valuable as it brings together those who are near in thought and provides a means to connect, share, and listen to each other. I really like Robert's analogy of the web being like university.

Selective Sociality of Villages

The piece that resonated along similar threads to Robert's post is Susan Mernit's "Twitter & Friend Feed: The Pleasure of Permissions". Susan's post brings to light the value of knowing who you are sharing information with and likes the private or permission-based options that both Twitter and FriendFeed offer. This selective sociality as known Local InfoCloud of people and resources that are trusted and known, which we use as resources. In this case it is not only those with whom we listen to and query, but those with whom we share. This knowing who somebody is (to some degree) adds comfort, which is very much like Robert Patterson and Luis Suarez#039; villages where people know each other and there is a lot of transparency. Having pockets where our social armor is down and we can be free to share and participate in our lives with others we know and are familiar to us is valuable.

I am found these two pieces quite comforting as they reflect much of what I see in the physical community around me as well as the work environments I interact with of clients and collaborators. The one social web service I have kept rather private is Twitter and I really want to know who someone is before I will accept them as a connection. This has given me much freedom to share silly (down right stupid - in a humorous way) observations and statements. This is something I hear from other adults around kids playgrounds and practices of having more select social interactions on line in the services and really wanting to connect with people whom they share interests and most often have known (or followed/listened to) for sometime before formally connecting. Most often these people want to connect with the same people on various services they are trying out, based on recommendation (and often are leaving a service as their friends are no longer there or the service does not meet their needs) of people whom they trust. This is the core of the masses who have access and are not early adopters, but have some comfort with the web and computers and likely make up 80 to 90 percent of web users.

[Comments are open (with moderation as always) on this post at Selective Sociality and Social Villages :: Personal InfoCloud]

April 5, 2008

Getting to the National Press Club's AFFIRM Event

Yesterday evening I had the wonderful fortune to speak on a panel for AFFIRM Web 2.0 event, which was held at the National Press Club. I really enjoyed the panel as the moderator (Dan Mintz CIO of the U.S. Department of Transportation) and other panelists (Chris Rasmussen: Social Software and Knowledge Manager and Trainer, National Geospatial - Intelligence Agency; and Geoffrey Fowler: Editor in Chief, CIA Wire) were all fantastic. The sold out audience was deeply engaged and asked really good questions.

Impediments to Getting to the Event

While I deeply enjoyed the event and conversation that followed, getting to the event was a completely different story. I felt like I was in a misinterpretation of the joke "how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice" with battling Washington, DC's often horrible transportation/traffic woven into the punch line. The event was to start at 5:30pm, it was raining and during rush hour. The drive from the office to the National Press Club normally takes 35 minutes with some traffic. I thought about taking the Metro, but the last couple of times I have used Metro I have been stuck with horrible delays and outages. I opted to leave an hour early, which I figured would work well. This was not enough it seems.

Technology Did Not Save Me

I made it to about 7 blocks from the National Press Club is great time then all went wrong. It started sleeting and in typical Washington, DC form the rules of the road were thrown out the window and chaos was deeply embraced. I was listening to XM Radio's DC traffic and weather channel in the car, which did not mention anything about downtown Washington, DC traffic had come to a complete halt. I flipped to regular WTOP on regular radio to sort out why I had not moved an inch in 20 minutes (having 10 minutes left to get to the event on time). Neither of these options were working so I tried to Twitter to get feedback and let others know I was running late (I was not actually connected to the people at the event - silly me), but SMS was not going out. I tried calling others at the event, but mobile signal was saturated and when I got through I got no answer and voice mail was full. I had been using the ever wonderful Google Maps and expanded my view to look at the freeway traffic congestion and all of the DC region was red (stopped in its tracks). I was able to get to Mobile Twitter to read and send messages, but it did not help traffic.

Finally, I was able to travel 4 blocks to get to New York Avenue after traveling 1 block per 30 minutes and turn and find a parking lot that was going to be open past 7pm (Washington, DC thinks people only work and go home). I walked the last remaining 2.5 blocks to arrive at 6:35pm, a wee bit late and a wee bit damp (even with an large golf umbrella). Thankfully, they waited and I was whisked to the head table and the event started.

March 30, 2008

Understanding Collective and Collaborative

I have finally blogged about the different between the two terms of collaborative and collective, which has been something bugging me for some time. Comments there are open, but are moderated (as they always have been). Those who have been to any of my workshops in the past year or so will see familiar information. Hopefully, the post will help those discussing and crafting social tools for the general web (or mobile) or large organizations will read and work to grasp the difference. I have had plenty of academics, researchers, and service developers push me to make this public for far too long so to start getting the misunderstanding around the two terms corrected.

March 23, 2008

6th Internet Identity Workshop Coming Up

The other event that I am finding to be fantastic is also in the Bay Area the week of May 12th is the 6th Internet Identity Workshop. This is the event for people working around identity related issues (any social application or service) that are now the core of nearly all products on the web and intranet. I have found that those who attend this event really grasp the meaning and deep impact of identity along with the needed tools and services around identity. It is really rare that I find somebody talking or writing about identity related issues in a smart manner that has not been part of one of the past IIW events.

As the discussion around the social graph has become hot identity (and the issue of privacy) has come to the forefront even more. Most services are not dealing with identity in an intelligent manner that is recognizable by a huge majority of people who are using these digital services. Much of the mangled discussion around social graph is missing solid understanding from a digital identity perspective and the use and reuse of statements of relationship that do not transcend various services.

Discussions around persona (not the IA persona variety) and identity abound and the need for services that grasp these differences are worked through. The need for better understanding the incredible value the role of identity in tagging services has also been discussed here, which is something many services do not grasp and are doing a dis-service to the people who want to tag items in their own perspective and context to ease their own refinding of the object (Twine really needs a much better understanding of tagging as their automated tagging is incredibly poor and missing many tangents for understanding that need to be applied for full and proper understanding of the objects in their service).

I am really hoping to get to part of the IIW event this time around my workshop in Las Vegas to continue with the great identity conversations from the past IIW events.

Data Sharing Summit Announced

The Bay Area the week of May 12 has a couple great events that many who read this blog should be attending. I will be in Las Vegas (putting on a Enterprise 2.0 Jumpstart workshop with Jevon MacDonald) for part of the week, but should be in the Bay Area for the remainder of the time (at least that is the plan at the moment).

Data Sharing Summit

Following on the success and interest from the event last year is the Data Sharing Summit held April 15th at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Data sharing is getting to be the next hot spot that social web services and enterprise tool makers really much deal with as people are not satisfied living in their single walled gardens that inhibit their ability to share, find, hold on to, and refind information, media, and knowledge that is of interest or needed by them. Understanding the limits of the partitioned spaces and embracing more open (particularly securely open) uses of the contributions made by the tools and services participants is vitally important as the participants and system owners are realizing there is rich value to be gained from a much better understanding of these interactions with participants and other services.

We are living in a digital sharing realm that was dreamed up by designers and developers scratching their own itch and in doing so the tools are self contained and not living in a social ecosystem that is based on intelligent interactions. This will likely be the focus of the discussion as people on all sides are working to vastly improve the value of their services and tools and the value that people get from using them with other tools. This is not an event to sell products, but an event for smart people to discuss where things are, where they are going (or went when we were not looking), how to progress with opening up in a manner that all the parties gain value (understanding what and where the value resides is critical), and how we can all move forward.

I will see you there, right?

February 11, 2008

Challenges as Opportunities for Social Networks and Services

Jeremiah Owyang posts "The Many Challenges of Social Network Sites" that lays out many of the complaints that have risen around social networking sites (and other social computing services). He has a good list of complaints, which all sounded incredibly familiar from the glory days of 1990 to 1992 for IT in the enterprise (tongue firmly planted in cheek). We have been through these similar cycles before, but things are much more connected now, but things also have changed very little (other than many of the faces). His question really needs addressing when dealing with Enterprise 2.0 efforts as these are the things I hear initially when talking with organizations too. Jeremiah asked for responses and the following is what I posted...

Response to Challenges of Social Network/Services

The past year or two, largely with Facebook growing the social networks and social computing tools have grown into the edges of mainstream. Nearly every argument made against these tools and services was laid down against e-mail, rich UI desktops (people spent hours changing the colors and arranging the interfaces), and IM years ago.

Where these tools are "seemingly" not working is mostly attributed to a severe lack of defining the value derived from using the tools. These news tools and services, even more so those of us working around them, need to communicate how to use the tools effectively and efficiently (efficiently is difficult as the many of the tools are difficult to use or the task flows are not as simple as they should be). The conceptual models & frameworks for those of us analyzing the tools have been really poor and missing giant perspectives and frameworks.

One of the biggest problems with many of these tools and services is they have yet to move out of early product mode. The tools and services are working on maturity getting features in the tools that people need and want, working on scaling, and iterating based on early adopters (the first two or three waves of people), which is not necessarily how those who follow will use the tools or need the tools to work.

Simplicity and limited options on top of tools that work easily and provide good derived value for the worklife and . As the tools that were disrupters to work culture in the past learned the focus needs to be on what is getting done and let people do it. Friending people, adding applications, tweaking the interface, etc. are not things that lead to easy monetization. Tools that help people really be social, interact, and get more value in their life (fun, entertainment, connecting with people near in thought, filtering information from the massive flow, and using the information and social connections in context where people need it) from the tools is there things must head. We are building the platforms for this, but we need to also focus on how to improve use of these platforms and have strong vision of what this is and how to get there.

[This is also posted at Challenges as Oppotunities for Social Networks and Services :: Personal InfoCloud with moderated comments turned on.]

Yahoo! Makes Good Call on Microsoft Purchase

The Wall Street Journal article about Yahoo! Rejecting Microsoft Bid (many more stories on TechMeme) was one that restored my faith in Yahoo! (not that it was really lost). I am proud of the Yahoo! board, but not for the reasons most are talking about. Since hearing about the Microsoft bid to take over Yahoo! I thought it was a really poor idea, well horrible idea. I really like Yahoo! and a lot of the things they are doing. I also really do like Microsoft (it is just some of their products that frustrate me to no end), in particular I think the MS Live group has come up with some great ideas out of research and that pleases e to know end. I am a giant fan of Ray Ozzie (oh, where have you gone Ray?).

Merger Would be a Giant Culture Clash

Yes, there are the technology concerns with some of the best open and shared technology development and augmentation coming out of Yahoo!, which is counter to the Microsoft focus on using their own tools (most of the web is built on open tools and Yahoo! helps make that a great platform to develop upon). This is not my big concern.

Where I see a giant problem is the management and employee culture. I know and have known a lot of employees and managers (mid-level and upper-level) at both organizations. Microsoft is a tough business culture with keeping the top percentage of employees and contributers on a project and moving others off to find a spot on other projects. In talking with many Microsoft employees (most were in the top performer group) this is often seen as horribly disruptive to the team when the changes occur. This management model also discourages sharing collectively and building collaboratively, which is also stated as a huge problem. These disruptions and metrics that are counter to strong development for the web and quick iterative cycles (not that Yahoo! seems to iterate quickly other than Flickr and a handful of other products) are quite counter to an open shared development process at Yahoo!. The clash of management cultures on this front, unless Microsoft did the unthinkable and adopted the Yahoo! approach, which could fix a lot of what has been holding Microsoft back (well, from current and former employees perspectives).

Related to the performance of employees the management teams go through similar reviews. But, many employees I have talked with (at conferences, networking events, airports and airplanes (there is always one within 10 seats of me it seams), and chat) have been really frustrated with management changes that can occur after 6 to 9 months. Having a new manager often changes focus and direction, which breaks momentum and continuity. Talking with great people Microsoft has lost over the past couple years, this management change was their biggest reason for leaving. The changes in management also often lead to conflicting measurement goals, which would make a great product or team look as if they were not working up to the standards. This is not management, but business process failure. This is not saying Microsoft has poor managers, quite the opposite in fact as many are some of the best I have run across in the business. But, the structure, processes, and measurement that the top management of Microsoft has established seems to be what has inhibited Microsoft from really top performance. What may work for some parts of Microsoft does not seem to work for other areas (actually, of all the Microsoft employees I have talked with from all across the organization the model does not work outside of sales).

The Yahoo! management has had more than their share of restructuring, but the disruptions this has made to product development and progress have been minimal. The goals, direction, and means to get the job done do not change for the most part (from what I have heard). Employees are flustered, but not demoralized. Yahoo! seems to have much greater continuity and central focus. Their products are well known, well used, and they iterate (over time). Many discussions with Yahoo! employees and managers outside the walls of Yahoo! are more frustrated by the silos and inability to work across the silos, but some the restructuring in the past couple of years has helped move to alleviate these problems. The cross platform team that works to help research, understand, and develop best of class solutions is a great step in this direction (from the perspective of many within Yahoo!). Yahoo! has known what has been holding back its efforts (Panama ate focus and resources) and has taken steps to alleviate the problems and move in a new positive direction. There are many things in Yahoo! that were more transparent two years ago than they are now (part of that may be those talking about things openly have been insanely busy). One of the things that seems to be problematic (from an outsider's perspective) is blinder focus and lack of concurrent development within groups.

Sum of Parts are Not Positive

When looking at the two cultures of the companies they are incredibly polar. One of the first steps in looking at a purchase or merger must be to look at compatibility of the cultures. Sure the products and services look like they may be a good fit by some at Microsoft, but those products and services are built by people with in a culture that propagates an environment to build wonderful things. Breaking that culture (Microsoft repeatedly iterated the vast savings the combination of MS and Y! would make) through integration of polar cultures has the high probability of destroying the value of what you believe will help. In this case a one plus one could equal less than one.

Partnering Not Combining

Yahoo! and Microsoft could have increased value partnering and working together though a Microsoft investment. What and how I do not know, but Microsoft needs positive outcomes and Yahoo! could use some financial boosts. Microsoft could also use a culture change, but that does not seem to be with in their vision as of yet and it is a huge organization to move in a new direction.

Yahoo! could improve its lot with partnerships, be it Microsoft, Ebay, Murdoch, Time Warner (AOL), and Google. I really do not want to see the Yahoo! search engine go away as the competition is good and provides alternatives should something go wrong with a one player or few player marketplace (oligopoly).

February 8, 2008

Getting More Value In Enterprise with Social Bookmarking

The last few weeks I have been running across a few companies postponing or canceling their social computing or Enterprise 2.0 efforts. The reasons vary from the usual budget shifts and staff changes (prior projects were not delivered on time), and leadership roles need filling. But two firms had new concerns of layoffs or budget cuts.

To both firms I pointed out now was the exact time they really needed to focus on some Enterprise 2.0 efforts, particularly social bookmarking as well as wikis and blogs. These solutions help gather information, find value across the organization, capture knowledge, build cohesiveness for members of the organization in time where there there is uncertainty. One of the biggest reasons that these tools make sense is their cost to deploy and receive solid value. As Josh Bernoff  (and others in from Forrester) points out in the Strategies For Interactive Marketing In A Recession free report from Forrester, the cost to deploy is in the $50,000 to $300,000 range (usually more expensive for large and more complex deployments).

Social Bookmarking has Great Value in the Enterprise

Every organization needs to know itself better then they currently do. The employees and members of the organization are all trying to do their job better and smarter. The need to connect people inside an organization with others with similar interest, contexts, and perceptions is really needed. I am a huge fan of social bookmarking tools to help along these lines as it helps people hold on to information they have need, want, or have interest in (particularly with future uses) and put things in their own context and perception. Once people understand the value they derive from using the tools to hold on to information out of their vast flow and streams of information and data that run before them each day they quickly "get it". As people also share these bookmarks in the organization with their tags and annotations, they also realize quickly they are becoming a valuable conduit to helping others find information and they grasp the value they will derive from being a resource that adds value in the organization. Other people derive value from information in the organization and outside it being augmented with individual perspectives and context. When this is pair with search, as Connectbeam does with their social search that pairs with existing FAST, Google Search Appliance, and others in-house search engines, the value the whole organization receives is far beyond the cost and minimal effort people are putting into the tools to get smarter, by more easily holding on and sharing what they know.

Nearly every attendee to the workshops I have put on around this subject quickly realizes they undervalued the impact and capability of social bookmarking (as well as other social computing tools) in the enterprise. The also provides a strong foundation for better understanding social computing to increase the derived value for all parties (individuals, collective users, collaborative users, and the organization).

Is is time for your enterprise to get smarter and provide more value inside and out?

[This is also blogged at Getting More Value In Enterprise with Social Bookmarking :: Personal InfoCloud with moderated comments turned on.]

February 5, 2008

Social Computing Summit in Miami, Florida in April, 2008

ASIS&T has a new event they are putting on this year, the Social Computing Summit in Miami, Florida on April 10-11, 2008 (a reminder page is up at Yahoo's Upcoming - Social Computing Summit). The event is a single-track event on both days with keynote presentations, panels, and discussion.

The opening keynote is by Nancy Baym. I have been helping assist with organization of the Social Computing Summit and was asked by the other organizers to speak, which I am doing on the second day. The conference is a mix of academic, consumer, and business perspectives across social networking, politics, mobile, developing world, research, enterprise, open social networks (social graph and portable social networks) as well as other subjects. The Summit will be a broad view of the digital social world and the current state of understanding from various leaders in social computing.

There is an open call for posters for the event that closes on February 25, 2008. Please submit as this is looking to be a great event and more perspectives and expertise will only make this event more fantastic.

January 16, 2008

DataPortability Video is Place to Start Understanding

Marchall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb has posted a good background about New Video Explains the Basics of Data Portability. The DataPortability - Connect, Control, Share, Remix video is under 2 minutes in length and explains the reasons why the group is important. It aims to ease the pain many are experiencing as they use more social media, social web services, social networks, and/or social computing services in their personal and work life.


The biggest piece in this for me is control with translates to services respecting privacy wishes among other desires around trust and control of sharing. As Tom Raftery points out With the rising interest in, and use of Social Networks (FaceBook, Plaxo et al) there is growing unease in what those sites are doing with your data, never mind the inconvenience of uploading all your data every time you join a new site. The aims to include in its focus data that is "shared between our chosen (and trusted) tools and vendors".

I have been working around the edges on a project whose aim is to respect these privacy wishes. This is one of the things that really needs to be at the core of all services entering into this market segment.

January 14, 2008

Ma.gnolia Goes Mobile

On Friday Ma.gnolia rolled out a mobile version of their site, M.gnolia - Mobile Ma.gnolia. This had me really excited as I now have access to my bookmarks in my pocket on my mobile. Ma.gnolia gives a quick preview in their blog post Ma.gnolia Blog: Flowers on the Go.

What Mobile Ma.gnolia Does and Does Not Do

First, off the mobile Ma.gnolia does not have easy bookmarking, which is not surprising given the state things in mobile browsers. I really do not see this as a huge downside. What I am head over heals happy about is access to my bookmarks (all 2800 plus). The mobile version allows searching through your own tags (if you are logged in). It currently has easy access to see that is newly bookmarked in Ma.gnolia groups you follow, your contact's bookmarks, popular bookmarks, your own tags, and your profile.

Mobile Site Bookmarks

One thing that is helpful for those that use mobile web browsing is having easy access to mobile versions of web sites. Yes, the iPhone and many smartphone users (I am in the Nokia camp with my well liked E61i) can easily browse and read regular web pages, but mobile optimized pages are quicker to load and have less clutter on a smaller screen. The iPhone, WebKit-based browsers (Nokia), Opera Mini, and other decent mobile web browsers all have eased mobile browsing use of regular webpages, but having a list of mobile versions is really nice.

Yesterday, Saturday, I created a Ma.gnolia Mobile Version Group so people can share web pages optimized for mobile devices (quicker/smaler downloads, smaller screens, less rich ads, etc.). One of the ways I was thinking people could use this is to find sites in this group then bookmark them for their own use with tags and organization that makes sense for themself. The aim is just to collect and share with others what you find helpful and valuable for yourself. This group will be monitored for spam as the rest of Ma.gnolia is (Ma.gnolia uses "rel="no-follow"" so there really is little value to spammers).

Ways You Can Use Mobile Ma.gnolia

This means if you tagged a store, restaurant, bar, transit site, or other item that has value when out walking around it is really nice to have quick access to it. It can also be a great way to read those items you have tagged "to read" (if you are a person that tags things in that manner) so you can read what you want in the doctor's office, bus, train, or wherever.

I have a lot of content I have bookmarked for locations I am work, live, and visit. When I come across something I want to remember (places to eat, drink, learn, hang, be entertained, etc.) I often dump them into the bookmarks. But, getting to this information has been painful from a mobile in the past. I am now starting to go back to things I have tagged with locations and add a "togo" tag so they are easier for me to find and use in the Ma.gnolia mobile interface. I have already added a bookmark for an museum exhibit that I really want to see that is not far from where I am. When a meeting is dropped, postponed, or runs short near the museum I can make a trip over and see it. There is so much information flowing through my devices and it is nice to be able to better use this info across my Personal InfoCloud in my trusted devices I have with me and use the information in context it is well suited for, when have stepped away from my desk or laptop.

I am looking forward to see where this goes. Bravo and deep thanks to the Larry and others at Ma.gnolia that made this happen!

December 18, 2007

T-Mobile Was Not the Problem with Twitter

Twitter has been having problems with T-Mobile USA customers having the ability to use Twitter's short code to send messages to Twitter (as noted in T-Mobile Shows Ignorance Blocking Twitter. But, as it turns out the problem for being able to use short codes was not T-Mobile, but was the messaging service Twitter uses to handle its messages. This highlights a couple problems with what happened: 1) Messaging service providers need better communication with customers; 2) T-Mobile was not blocking, but assumed it was.

Messaging Services Need to Improve Customer Service

I know quite a few people whose services for mobile access in the United States use messaging services to handle the SMS for them. All of them (about 7 of them, all in confidence) have said they are not fully happy with the service provider, but the options are rather thin. The two biggest complaints are poor communication when problems arise and maintenance (setup, managing, and monitoring) capabilities. The services are mostly companies who have built applications, servers, and network access to ease the sending and receiving SMS text messages to augment existing services. This is a tough market space to work as it constantly is changing and the costs can be high and staying on top of all the changes takes constant watching (policies of carries and settings change relatively often). What is missing seems to be a service that is proactive and works in a more transparent manner (alerts and metrics when errors happen).

T-Mobile Customer Service Still Good, but Management Reacted Oddly

Let me start by saying I was relieved that this problem was not T-Mobile blocking Twitter short codes, as that would have been a strong reason to move from T-Mobile. The last five years and more, I have been extremely impressed with T-Mobile's customer service. When I have a problem they answer the phone quickly or respond to e-mail quickly and immediately start working on solving the problem. I rarely have problems with their service and the odd occasions when there are problems (like getting international data roaming for a fix rate on my mobile that they do not sell) they work hard to get a great solutions and always seem to go the extra mile. This is one company whose customer service I am always quite impressed with how I am treated, the effort that is put in to provide an optimal solution, and the amount of time (relatively short when compared to all other telecom (mobile or landline - including cable)) it tasks from beginning to final resolution. T-Mobile is my measure for nearly all other customer service I receive.

What is really with the T-Mobile responses did not seem to come from Customer Service (who was not aware that there was a problem, which is slightly problematic but often attributed to a limited knowledge management application to handle trouble tickets), but came from T-Mobile management. There were quite a few people who e-mailed and escalated their problems with T-Mobile and received an [paraphrased]it is our right to block services as we see fit policy response from the management. This is quite problematic. One is that they can and will block services without notification. Second, they respond in this manner with out looking into the problem (this is incredibly counter to my experiences and I would not be a fan of T-Mobile were this the usual practice of ignorance and laziness). It seems that T-Mobile USA senior management needs to take a good look at its own practices and start learning how their customer service is done in the trenches and start replicating that as quickly as possible.

December 16, 2007

T-Mobile Shows Ignorance Blocking Twitter

Updated with response in T-Mobile Was Not the Problem with Twitter.

The news of USA T-Mobile Blocking Twitter Short Code (and now understanding of why I have been getting the service unavailable message the past few days) is deeply bothersome on many levels. First is I use Twitter a lot. It is a core communication channel for me. It is a viable outlet during emergencies. Lastly, when traveling and when out Twitter is a great broadcast medium to connect with friends to coordinate meeting and let them know of delays or problems.

These issues while they have great value and essential support, are secondary to a commercial entity blocking a service with out notice. I mostly use mobile Twitter, but the short code is something I use quite often, particularly to direct message when somebody needs a private quick answer. I don't have all of my friend's mobile numbers, but Twitter has decreased my need for them as one SMS (short code) suffices. T-Mobile is getting paid for use of the short code for the SMS traffic just the same as if I used my friend's mobile number for SMS.

Lacking Access to Twitter Short Code is Reason to Dump T-Mobile

The belief that T-Mobile has that is does not have to support any external service they do not have an agreement with is a giant problem for me the customer. I pay T-Mobile for service, if they decide not to provide service I decide to take my business to a company that will provide service. T-Mobile can cower behind its foolish policy statement, but those of us who are month-to-month with them (I own my own mobile device that I really like and I will not sign an agreement that has lock-in) should look at other options and make a decision that is in our best interest. T-Mobile seemingly does not support its customers by providing open transmission of messages/communication (this is why I pay them money, who is on the other end is never important). Lacking an understanding of why they get paid by their customers is a tragic decision.

T-Mobile Wants to Get in the Social Services Game

For months T-Mobile has been advertising for a Director for Community Products on its job board (now looking for a Senior Manager for Community Products), but to play this game T-Mobile must play well with other Community platforms. There is no lock-in as many people already have their own Community/Social platforms they use (Twitter, Facebook, Jaiku, etc.). The best way to build community is to embrace other platforms and allow open communication between the services. Rule number one in social software is people hang out and use services where their friends are. The corollary is people will use a service that easily connects with where their friends are (Jaiku gets this and has done well embracing this concept as it can pull in feeds from all platforms (allowing the listener to decide what feeds they want in their feed from the lifestreams from their friend's lives.

T-Mobile must learn this simple concept or they have proven they do not get the game and they will be moved out of the way.

December 7, 2007

Pffft! Social Graph, We Need the Portable Social Network

In reading Alex Rudloff's "Privacy as Currancy" post I had two thoughts reoccur: 1) privacy is a currency back by trust; and 2) Pfffft! Social graph? Where is my Portable Social Network?

I agree with what Alex stated about wanting to move out of Facebook as my trust in them is gone completely (mostly driven by even though they apologized (poorly) Facebook still receives trackings of all your travels on the internet after you opt out, Om Malik's Zuckerberg's Mea Culp, Not Enough, and Brian Oberkirk's Facebook Harder to Shake than the Columbia Record Tape Club (a great read on the hurdles of really getting out of Facebook)). I will likely blog about the relationship between privacy and trust in another post in the not too distant future, as I have been talking about it in recent presentations on Social Software (Going Social and Putting Users First).

The Dire Need for Portable Social Networks

When Alex states:

Beacon had me so freaked out that I walked through what would happen if I simply removed my account (my natural, gut reaction). The fact is, I'd lose contact with a lot of people instantly. There's no easy way for me to take my data out and apply it somewhere else. There is no friend export and there isn't anywhere suitable for me to go.

I think we need portable social networks (or Social Network Portability as it is also known) before we need the social graph. Part of the interest in the social graph (mapping the relationships) is based on Facebook, but Facebook is a really poor interface for this information, it has some of the connections, some of the context, but it is not granular and does not measure strength (strong or weak ties) of relationships on a contextual and/or a preferential interest level. This social graph does little to help us move from one social software service to another other than to show a linkage.

There are strong reasons for wanting and needing the Portable Social Network. One is it makes it easy to drop into a new social software service and try it with social interactions with people whom we are already having social interactions. Whilst this is good it is also really important if something tragic or dire happens with a social software service we are already using, such as it is shut down, it is no longer performing for us, or it has given us a reason to leave through loss of trust. As I noted in the past (Following Friends Across Walled Gardens") leaving social software services is nothing new (even predates people leaving Delphi for Prodigy and Prodigy for AOL, etc.), but we still are not ready for this seemingly natural progression of moving house from one walled off social platform for another.

The Call for Action for Portable Social Network is Now

I am finding many of my friends have put their Facebook account on in hibernation (Facebook calls it &#quot;deactivation") and many have started taking the painful steps of really getting all of their information out of Facebook and planning to never go back. My friends have not sorted out what robust social software platform they will surface on next (many are still using Flickr, Twitter, Pownce, Tumblr and/or other options along with their personal blogs), but they would like to hold on to the digital statements of social relationship they made in Facebook and be able to drop those into some other service or platform easily.

One option could a just having a Smart Address Book or as Tim O'Reilly states Address Book 2.0. I believe that this should be a tool/service should have the relationships private and that privacy is controlled by the individual that owns the address book, possibly even accounting for the privacy request of the person whose address is in the address book. But, this is one option of many.

The big thing is we need Portable Social Networks now! This is not a far off in the future need it is a need of today.

[Comments are open on the syndicated post at Pffft! Social Graph, We Need the Portable Social Network :: Personal InfoCloud]

December 4, 2007

Finding Real Community

This past week was really rough, but a good lightbulb moment for community. My wife had a bad fall on steps and badly broke her ankle. The response has been overwhelming from the people in our physical neighborhood, but also on Twitter and to a lesser degree on Facebook. The ability to hear from people offering condolence but offering assistance has been incredible. I lost track of the feedback on Twitter after 80 responses, all from a group of friends and collaborators I share with regularly. I have a similar number of connections in Facebook, but only received 10 or so responses (largely because the interface in Facebook is poor for tracking all presence messaging with social networks that scale (I have discussed this before in Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable and Can Facebook Change Its DNA?).

An Expanded Network of Caring

The people in the neighborhood bring food and offering help has been really comforting. I hear many people now living neighborhood where they do not know their neighbors and do not have this caring. I feel very fortunate to have a traditional neighborhood that cares.

The Twitter responses blew me away, as the sincerity and support went far beyond any offerings of connections in the past. Twitter has acted like a local neighborhood but with global connections. There are continual complaints about Twitter not being real community, but the short messages (140 characters), the interface, and flow to people I have personal contact with (not face to face, but just as real) is utterly impressive. Twitter triggered IMs, SMS, and messaging through Twitter. It was simple best wishes to many offers of being available for support to talk and offers to send anything needed.

This really floored me as it is an extension of humanity in the most touching way (other than face-to-face). Twitter has been my social environment for humor, sharing, calls for assistance (out and responding to), and in many ways that my old physical office space used to provide, but now the people connected are many more and it is far more manageable. I have grown accustom to this closeness and alternate means of socializing, but was still amazed with the real caring response.

Six Apart Sells LiveJournal

Yesterday the news came out that Six Apart sold LiveJournal. It is part sad news as the combining of LiveJournal was a good move when SixApart bought them, but as SixApart has grown their attention and focus has not been on LiveJournal. The upside is this shows SixApart is showing it is maturing and being clear-headed about their capability and focus.

Good Companies Focus

Good companies, particularly start-ups, focus (as much as possible) and it is done so to provide the best product possible. As start-ups grow and more importantly their market segment grows (getting more competitive with larger traditional companies getting involved) the focus must be there to provide a solid product.

It was very clear to the people using LiveJournal as well as people watching that part of the industry that LiveJournal was not getting the attention it needed with updates and improvements that were happening elsewhere. SixApart was aware of this and cares about the community using LiveJournal enough to do what it takes to keep that passionate community happy with the tool. The viable solution to do this was selling it to a company that can provide this solution.

Wins On All Sides

The LiveJournal community should benefit greatly by the sale (as the purchase by SixApart helped initially LiveJournal keep going and additional support of the SixApart team). This also helps SixApart focus on their existing tools of MovableType, TypePad, and Vox (somewhat of a competitor to LiveJournal but with vastly different group of people using the services).

Congratulations to SixApart for the move as it should help all parties.

November 3, 2007

Can Facebook Change Its DNA

I wrote and posted Can Facebook Change Its DNA as a follow-up to for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable regarding the changes needed in Facebook if it wants to be valuable (or have optimal value) for the business world.

October 14, 2007

Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable

Michael Arrington writes about Facebook has LinkedIn in their Crosshairs, but I have been finding Facebook becoming increasingly less valuable the more people I have connected in it. The converse is opposite for me, LinkedIn becomes incredibly more valuable the more people I have in it. The reason for my derived value is simplicity.

LinkedIn Scales Quite Well the More Connections a Person Has

LinkedIn focusses on a simple set of things (your connections, changes to your connections, simple activities by your connections, and connecting with other people) and lets the person using the service derive value. LinkedIn lets be easily download the updated vCard, which drops into my address book in two different applications, which I have syncing with my mobile device (now that I have a mobile device that does not suck). LinkedIn is partly passive for me as I leave it own in a tab in my browser and check it a few times a day, but where a contact updates their status I can update my address book and it is a trigger for me to send a note, using the services they prefer (I keep track of that). LinkedIn is moving to opening its service with an API as they blogged (The LinkedIn API Opportunity). This will permit other services that can add value and are also great at what they do to pair the services, like Dopplr or a calendar to show availability (a particular need of mine). LinkedIn understands the information in their service has value and is more valuable outside their service for many people. But, LinkedIn also understands a good interface that is not cluttered, and there for it can scale.

Facebook Scales Poorly the More People A Person is Connected To

Facebook has a few things going for it, a huge mass of people with accounts and it has a fairly good lifestream interface for one's friends. The value for people using Facebook for themselves is much less than the high dollar valuations given to it (the valuation is not because it is a great service or tool, but because they have a ton of accounts in the service that creates value for advertisers). A few weeks ago I posted some Facebook frustrations in Twitter that stated:

"Facebook is driving me absolutely nuts - there is no way to manage information or conversations"
"Facebook is like a grade school lunch room, cacophony and chaos as the rule of nature"
&auot;FAcebook has a lot of valuable bits of information flowing through it from my contacts, but it FAILS to allow be to do anything with them"

Unlike Twitter, which allows me to favorite bits of information that I find valuable, Facebook does not grasp that the information has value. They do not grasp that those of us people who use their service are sharing things with those we connect with (friends, acquaintances, work relations, etcera) and we would like these people to see this information. Facebook interface started breaking for me finding information shared for my seeing (along with many others) with about 75 connections. It became virtually unusable with 150 people. There is information about events, blog posts, published journal articles, job changes, travel to cities I will be in (the Dopplr application is helpful, but if does not make a connection to those people in Facebook and the information I should be seeing), and other helpful valuable information for me.

Not only was I having this problem, but I was getting many e-mails and messages through Twitter with my friends and contacts severe problems with the poor (at best) Facebook platform. Nearly every person I heard from had many instances of broken communication because Facebook has yet to sort out volumes of information and surface it in a manner that can be valuable for the people it is intended to communicate with.

Facebook developers have a huge amount of learning about information, information flow, and information use in people's lives. Information is part of social interaction and what makes literate beings stand out is doing something, often using and reusing information. One common statement about Facebook from friends of all ages is it is a service to connect to people and play Scrabble on, but that is the end of the value. Facebook really needs to wake up and build real APIs that allow ease of holding on to the information people share as part of their being social humans sharing. When Facebook broke the it ruined one of the solid values Facebook provided, updating my address book with ease from information my friends were sharing with me.

Facebook Groups Have Learned Nothing from Group Messaging Platforms

One area that is really frustrating is Facebook#039;s groups. Many groups start with good intentions of providing a place to gather and message around a subject area. But, most groups already have listserves and other discussion platforms and the walled garden and horrible group discussion board platform make the Facebook platform a distraction and only providing a means for communication fractured across channels. Finding valuable information in Facebook groups or reading and following along is horribly painful, there has been some good advancement in groups discussion forums in the past 20 years, but Facebook seems to have ignored all things good with groups.

There are some exceptions to this rule, as the Facebook group for Victoria Secret Pink has been brought up as an example by more than five of my clients in the last five months or so. The Pink group has good community leaders and engages the people in the group to connect with others.

Successful Social Group Filtering is Needed

One of the fixes that Facebook needs is the same fix that every group discussion platform (listserves, threaded discussions, and web platforms) needs. Popular discussion boards have problems as they scale and over time with repetitive discussions. After people have been lurkers or participants in a discussion services for a few months (some people grasp this much more quickly) trends appear. The trends are the identifying people we find add value for us personally (every person has different valued contributors) and there are subjects that we want to listen to and participate in and those we have little interest in. The next step for these tools will be to surface people we find valued contributions from and subjects we want to pay attention to and others that we want to not listen to (unless one of our valued contributors jumps in the conversation). Not all contributors are valuable to us in all groups, so that needs to have granular listening attributes and we need to have fuzzy semantic terms (we set a word or few and terms that are related to these words will draw our reader's attention and filter them out for us to easily see and follow). These solutions are also needed in RSS feeds and aggregated information services.

The Future of LinkedIn and Facebook

LinkedIn already is a good business tool with value and they need to protect what they do well, which is holding on to people we have met and interacted with outside LinkedIn and use LinkedIn to connect with others with similar interests or needs. Opening up the API for LinkedIn could help people share their linked in profile though mobile devices so to gather a digital business card or easily get a link to it as we meet people, not hours, days, or weeks later.

Facebook has a decent platform that offers more than the pure social network tools before it (Ryze, Friendster, Orkut, or MySpace), but it still has an really long way to go. It gets about 40% right, but it can easily just be another step forward for social networking tools, unless it starts solving some of the difficult problems. A Facebook like tool that gets communication and sharing right at scale for professionals will do really well. Tools like this are needed inside the firewall for enterprise and Facebook does have value in its current state for business, but it is really limited.

The promised addition of grouping contacts in Facebook will help provide a better tool for profession needs separating out value from the playful, but it will need a lot more than that. Facebook really needs to open up and to get a clue about people and information and the needs people have for information, such as holding on to that information and using it outside the system. Facebook is just fodder for the next social software service that does this right, on top of the 45% of things that Facebook got right and be the next media darling worth billions that never amounted to much.

August 20, 2007

Why Ma.gnolia is One of My Favorite Social Bookmarking Tools

After starting the Portable Social Network Group in Ma.gnolia yesterday I received a few e-mails and IMs regarding my choice. Most of the questions were why not just use tags and After I posted my Ma.Del Tagging Bookmarklet post I have had a lot of questions about Ma.gnolia and my preference as well as people thought I was not a fan of it. I have been thinking I would blog about my usage, but given my work advising on social bookmarking and social web, I shy away talking about what I use as what I like is likely not what is going to be a good fit for others. But, my work is one of the reasons I want to talk about what I like using as nearly every customer of mine and many presentation attendees look at first (it kicked the door wide open with a tool that was light years ahead of all others), but it is not for everybody and there are many other options. Much of my work is with enterprise and organizations of various size, which is not right for them for privacy reasons. I still add to along with my favorite as there are many people that have subscribed to the at feed as they derive value from that subscription so I take the extra step to keep that feed as current.

Ma.gnolia Offers Great Features for Sociality

I have two favorite tools for my own personal social bookmarking reasons Ma.gnolia and Clipmarks (I don't think I have anything publicly shared in Clipmarks). First the later, I use Clipmarks primarily when I only want to bookmark a sub-page element out on the web, which are paragraphs, sentences, quotes, images, etc.

I moved to try Ma.gnolia again last Fall when something changed in search and the results were not returning things that were in My trying Ma.gnolia, by importing all of my 2200 plus bookmarks not only allowed me to search and find things I wanted, but I quickly became a fan of their many social features. In the past year or less they have become more social in insanely helpful and kind ways. Not only does Ma.gnolia have groups that you can share bookmarks with but there is the ability to have discussions around the subject in those groups. Sharing with a group is insanely easy. Groups can be private if the manager wishes, which makes it a good test ground for businesses or other organizations to test the social bookmarking waters. I was not a huge fan of rating bookmarks as if I bookmarked something I am wanting to refind it, but in a more social context is has value for others to see the strength of my interest (normall 3 to 5 stars). One of my favorite social features is giving "thanks", which is not a trigger for social gaming like Digg, but is an interpersonal expression of appreciation that really makes Ma.gnolia a friendly and positive social environment.

Started with Beauty, but Now with Ease

Ma.gnolia started as a beautiful (it was not the first) and the beauty got in the way of usability for many. But, Ma.gnolia has kept the beautiful strains and added simple ease of use in a very Apple delightful moments sort of way. The thanks are a nice treat, but the latest interactions that provide non-disruptive ease of use to accomplish a task, without completely taking you away from your previous flow (freaking brilliant in my viewpoint - anything that preserves flow to accomplish a short task is a great step). Another killer feature is Ma.gnolia Roots, which is a bookmarklet that when clicked hovers a semi-transparent layer over the webpage to show information from Ma.gnolia about that page (who has linked to it, tags, annotations, etc.) and makes it really easy to bookmark that page from that screen. The API (including a replica of the API that nearly all services use as the standard), add-ons, Creative Commons license for your bookmarks, many bookmarklet options, and feed options. But, there are also the little things that are not usually seen or noticed, such as great URLs that can be easily parsed, all pages are properly marked up semantically, and Microformats are broadly and properly used throughout the site (nearly at every pivot).

Intelligently Designed

For me Ma.gnolia is not only a great site to look at, a great social bookmarking site that is really social (as well as polite and respectful of my wishes), but a great example for semantic web mark-up (including microformats). There is so much attention to detail in the page markup that for those of us that care it is amazingly beautiful. The visual layer can be optimized for more white space and detail or for much easier scrolling. The interactions, ease of use, and delightful moments that assist you rather than taking you out of your flow (workflow, taskflow, etc.) and make you ask why all applications and social sites are not this wonderful.

Ma.gnolia is not perfect as it needs some tools to better manage and bulk edit your own bookmarks. It could use a sort on search items (as well as narrow by date range). Search could use some RedBull at times. It could improve with filtering by using co-occurance of tag terms as well as for disambiguation.

Overall for me personally, Ma.gnolia is a tool I absolutely love. It took the basic social bookmarking idea in and really made it social. It has added features and functionality that are very helpful and well executed. It is an utter pleasure to use. I can not only share things easily and get the wonderful effects of social interaction, but I can refind things in my now 2,500 plus bookmarks rather easily.

August 13, 2007

Open Conversations and Privacy Needs for Business

I thought I would share the latest press bit around this joint, Thomas Vander Wal was quoted in Inc Magazine What's Next: Shout it Out Loud (or in the August 2007 issue beginning on page 69). The article focuses the need and desire for companies to share and be open with more of their data and information. Quite often companies are getting bit by their privacy around what they do (how their source their products/resources, who they donate money to, etc.) and rumors start. It is far more efficient and helpful to be open with that information, as it gets out anyway.

Ironically, in the same paper issue on page 26 there is a an article about When Scandal Knocks..., which includes a story about Jamba Juice and a blog post that inaccurately claimed it had milk in its products, which could have easily been avoided if Jamba Juice had an ingredients listing on its web site.

The Flip Side

There are two flip sides to this. One is the Apple converse, which is a rare example of a company really making a mythic organization out of its privacy. The second is companies really need privacy for some things, but the control of information is often too extreme and is now more harmful than helpful.

Viable Privacy

I have been working on a much longer post looking at the social software/web tools for and in the enterprise. Much of of the extreme openness touted in the new web charge is not a viable reality inside enterprise. There are a myriad of things that need to be private (or still qualify as valid reasons for many). The list include preparations for mergers and acquisitions, securities information dealings (the laws around this are what drive much of the privacy and are out dated), reorganizations (restructuring and layoffs, which organizations that have been open about this have found innovative solutions from the least likely places), personal employee records, as well as contractual reasons (advising or producing products for competitors in the same industry or market segment). Out side of these issues, which normally add up to under 30 to 40% of the whole of the information that flows through an organization, there is a lot of room for openness in-house and to the outside world.

Need for Enterprise Social Tools Grasping Partial Privacy

When we look at the consumer space for social software there are very few consumer tools that grasp social interaction and information sharing on a granular level (Ma.gnolia, Flickr, and the SixApart tools Vox and LiveJournal are the exceptions that always come to mind). But, many of the tools out there that are commonly used as examples of social web tools really fall down when business looks at them and thinks about privacy and selective sociality (small groups). The social web tools all around really need to grow up and improve in this area. As we are seeing the collaboration and social tools evolve to more viable options we start to see their more glaring holes that do not reflect the reality of human social interaction.

Closing the Gap

What we need is for companies to be more open so the marketplace is a more consumer and communicative environment, but we also need our still early social web tools to reflect our social realities that not everything is public and having tools that better fit those needs.

[Cross-posted at Personal InfoCloud: Open Converastions... with comments open on that posting.]

July 24, 2007

Sharing and Following/Listening in the Social Web

You may be familiar with my granular social network post and the postings around the Personal InfoCloud posts that get to personal privacy and personal management of information we have seen, along with the Come to Me Web, but there is an element that is still missing and few social web sites actually grasp the concept. This concept is granular in the way that the granular social network is granular, which focusses on moving away from the concept of "broad line friends" that focus on our interest in everything people we "friend", which is not a close approximation of the non-digital world of friend that we are lucky to find friends who have 80 percent common interests. This bit that is missing focusses on the sharing and following (or listening) aspects of our digital relationships. Getting closer to this will help filter information we receive and share to ease the overflow of information and make the services far more valuable to the people using them.

Twitter Shows Understanding

Twitter in its latest modifications is beginning to show that it is grasping what we are doing online is not befriending people or claiming friend, but we are "following" people. This is a nice change, but it is only part of the equation that has a few more variables to it, which I have now been presenting for quite a few years (yes and am finally getting around to writing about). The other variables are the sharing and rough facets of type of information we share. When we start breaking this down we can start understanding the basic foundation for building a social web application that can begin to be functional for our spheres of sociality.

Spheres of Sociality

Spheres of Sociality The Spheres of Sociality are broken into four concentric rings:

  1. Personal
  2. Selective
  3. Collective
  4. Mob

There are echos of James Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds in the Spheres of Sociality as they break down as follows. The personal sphere is information that is just for one's self and it is not shared with others. The selective sphere, which there may be many a person shares with and listens to, are closed groups that people are comfortable sharing and participating with on common interests (family, small work projects, small group of friends or colleagues, etc.). The collective sphere is everybody using that social tool that are members of it, which has some common (precise or vague) understanding of what that service/site is about. The last sphere is the mob, which are those people outside the service and are not participants and who likely do not understand the workings or terminology of the service.

These sphere help us understand how people interact in real life as well as in these social environments. Many of the social web tools have elements of some of these or all of these spheres. Few social web tools provide the ability to have many selective spheres, but this is a need inside most enterprise and corporate sites as there are often small project teams working on things that may or may not come to fruition (this will be a future blog post). Many services allow for just sharing with those you grant to be your followers (like Twitter, Flickr, the old Yahoo! MyWeb 2.0, and Ma.gnolia private groups, etc.). This selective and segmented group of friends needs a little more examination and a little more understanding.

Granular Sharing and Following

Unequal AccessThe concepts that are needed to improve upon what has already been set in the Spheres of Sociality revolve around breaking down sharing and following (listening) into more discernible chunks that better reflect our interests. We need to do this because we do not always want to listen everything people we are willing to share with are surfacing. But, the converse is also true we may not want to share or need to share everything with people we want to follow (listen to).

In addition to each relationship needing to have sharing and listening properties, the broad brush painted by sharing and listening also needs to be broken down just a little (it could and should be quite granular should people want to reflect their real interests in their relationships) to some core facets. The core facets should have the ability to share and listen based on location, e.g. a person may only want to share or listen to people when they are in or near their location (keeping in mind people's location often changes, particularly for those that travel or move often). The location facet is likely the most requested tool particularly for those listening when people talk about Twitter and Facebook. Having some granular categories or tags to use as filters for sharing and listening makes sense as well. This can break down to simple elements like work, play, family, travel, etc. as broad categories it could help filter items from the sharing or listening streams and help bring to focus that which is of interest.

Breaking Down Listening and Sharing for Items


Where this gets us it to an ability to quickly flag the importance of our interactions with others with whom we share information/objects. Some things we can set on an item level, like sharing or just for self, and if sharing with what parameters are we sharing things. We will set the default sharing with ourself on so we have access to everything we do. This follows the Spheres of Sociality with just personal use, sharing with selective groups (which ones), share with the collective group or service, and share outside the service. That starts setting privacy of information that starts accounting for personal and work information and who could see it. Various services have different levels of this, but it is a rare consumer services that has the selective service sorted out (Pownce comes close with the options for granularity, but Flickr has the ease of use and levels of access. For each item we share we should have the ability to control access to that item, to just self or out across the Spheres of Sociality to the mob, if we so wish. Now we can get beyond the item level to presetting people with normative rights.

Listening and Sharing at the Person Level

Granular ShareYesNo
Geo Listen/FollowYesNo
Geo ShareYesNo

We can set people with properties that will help use with default Sphere of Sociality for sharing and listening. The two directions of communication really must be broken out as there are some people we do not mind them listening to the selective information sharing, but we may not have interest in listening to their normal flow of offerings (optimally we should be able to hear their responses when they are commenting on items we share). Conversely, there may be people we want to listen to and we do not want to share with, as we may not know them well enough to share or they may have broken our privacy considerations in the past, hence we do not trust them. For various reasons we need to be able to decide on a person level if we want to share and listen to that person.

Granular Listening and Sharing

Not, only do we have needs and desires for filtering what we share and listen to on the person level, but if we have a means to set some more granular levels of sharing, even at a high level (family, work, personal relation, acquaintance, etc.). If we can set some of these facets for sharing and have them tied to the Spheres we can easily control who and what we share and listen to. Flickr does this quite well with the simple family, friends, contacts, and all buckets, even if people do not use them precisely as such as family and friends are the two selective buckets they offer to work with (most people I know do not uses them precisely as such with those titles, but it provides a means of selective sharing and listening).

Geo Listening and Sharing

Lastly, it is often a request to filter listening and sharing by geography/location access. There are people who travel quite a bit and want to listen and share with people that are currently local or will be local to them in a short period, but their normal conversations are not fully relevant outside that location. Many people want the ability not to listen to a person unless they are local, but when a person who has some relationship becomes local the conversation may want to be shared and/or listened to. These settings can be dependent on the granular listening and sharing parameters, or may be different.

Getting There...

So, now that this is out there it is done? Hmmm, if it were only so easy. The first step is getting developers of social web and social software to begin understanding the social relationships that are less broad lines and more granular and directional. The next step is a social interaction that people need to understand or that the people building the interfaces need to understand, which is if and how to tell people the rights granted are not reciprocal (it is seems to be a common human trait to have angst over non-reciprocal social interactions, but it is the digital realm that makes it more apparent that the flesh world).

July 21, 2007

Inline Messaging

Many of the social web services (Facebook, Pownce, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) have messaging services so you can communication with your "friends". Most of the services will only ping you on communication channels outside their website (e-mail, SMS/text messaging, feeds (RSS), etc.) and require the person to go back to the website to see the message, with the exception of Twitter which does this properly.

Inline Messaging

Here is where things are horribly broken. The closed services (except Twitter) will let you know you have a message on their service on your choice of communication channel (e-mail, SMS, or RSS), but not all offer all options. When a message arrives for you in the service the service pings you in the communication channel to let you know you have a message. But, rather than give you the message it points you back to the website to the message (Facebook does provide SMS chunked messages, but not e-mail). This means they are sending a message to a platform that works really well for messaging, just to let you know you have a message, but not deliver that message. This adds extra steps for the people using the service, rather than making a simple streamlined service that truly connects people.

Part of this broken interaction is driven by Americans building these services and having desktop-centric and web views and forgetting mobile is not only a viable platform for messaging, but the most widely used platform around the globe. I do not think the iPhone, which have been purchased by the owners and developers of these services, will help as the iPhone is an elite tool, that is not like the messaging experience for the hundreds of millions of mobile users around the globe. Developers not building or considering services for people to use on the devices or application of their choice is rather broken development these days. Google gets it with Google Gears and their mobile efforts as does Yahoo with its Yahoo Mobile services and other cross platform efforts.

Broken Interaction Means More Money?

I understand the reasoning behind the services adding steps and making the experience painful, it is seen as money in their pockets through pushing ads. The web is a relatively means of tracking and delivering ads, which translates into money. But, inflicting unneeded pain on their customers can not be driven by money. Pain on customers will only push them away and leave them with fewer people to look at the ads. I am not advocating giving up advertising, but moving ads into the other channels or building solutions that deliver the messages to people who want the messages and not just notification they have a message.

These services were somewhat annoying, but they have value in the services to keep somebody going back. When Pownce arrived on the scene a month or so ago, it included the broken messaging, but did not include mobile or RSS feeds. Pownce only provides e-mail notifications, but they only point you back to the site. That is about as broken as it gets for a messaging and status service. Pownce is a beautiful interface, with some lightweight sharing options and the ability to build groups, and it has a lightweight desktop applications built on Adobe AIR. The AIR version of Pownce is not robust enough with messaging to be fully useful. Pownce is still relatively early in its development, but they have a lot of fixing of things that are made much harder than they should be for consuming information. They include Microfomats on their pages, where they make sense, but they are missing the step of ease of use for regular people of dropping that content into their related applications (putting a small button on the item with the microformat that converts the content is drastically needed for ease of use). Pownce has some of the checkboxes checked and some good ideas, but the execution of far from there at the moment. They really need to focus on ease of use. If this is done maybe people will comeback and use it.

Good Examples

So who does this well? Twitter has been doing this really well and Jaiku does this really well on Nokia Series60 phones (after the first version Series60). Real cross platform and cross channel communication is the wave of right now for those thinking of developing tools with great adoption. The great adoption is viable as this starts solving technology pain points that real people are experiencing and more will be experiencing in the near future. (Providing a solution to refindability is the technology pain point that solved.) The telecoms really need to be paying attention to this as do the players in all messaging services. From work conversations and attendees to the Personal InfoCloud presentation, they are beginning to get the person wants and needs to be in control of their information across devices and services.

Twitter is a great bridge between web and mobile messaging. It also has some killer features that add to this ease of use and adoption like favorites, friends only, direct messaging, and feeds. Twitter gets messaging more than any other service at the moment. There are things Twitter needs, such as groups (selective messaging) and an easier means of finding friends, or as they are now appropriately calling it, people to follow.

Can we not all catch up to today's messaging needs?

July 18, 2007

Does IBM Get Folksonomy?

While I do not aim to be snarky, I often come off that way as I tend to critique and provide criticism to hopefully get the bumps in the road of life (mostly digital life) smoothed out. That said...

Please Understand What You Are Saying

I read an article this morning about IBM bringing clients to Second Life, which is rather interesting. There are two statements made by Lee Dierdorff and Jean-Paul Jacob, one is valuble and the other sinks their credibility as I am not sure they grasp what they actually talking about.

The good comment is the "5D" approach, which combines the 2D world of the web and the 3D world of Second Life to get improved search and relevance. This is worth some thinking about, not a whole lot as the solution as it is mentioned can have severe problems scaling. The solution of a virtual world is lacking where it does not augment our understanding much beyond 2D as it leaves out 4 of the 6 senses (it has visual and audio), and provides more noise into a pure conversation than a video chat with out the sensory benefits of video chat. The added value of augmented intelligence via text interaction is of interest.

I am not really sure that Lee Dierdorff actually gets what he is saying as he shows a complete lack of even partial understanding of what folksonomy is. Jacob states, "The Internet knows almost everything, but tells us almost nothing. When you want to find a Redbook, for instance, it can be very hard to do that search. But the only real way to search in 5D is to put a question to others who can ask others and the answer may or may not come back to you. It's part of social search. Getting information from colleagues (online) -- that's folksonomy." Um, no that is not folksonomy and not remotely close. It is something that stands apart and is socially augmented search that can viably use the diverse structures of a folksonomy to find relevant information, but asking people in a digital world for advise is not folksonomy. It has value and it is how many of us have used tools like Twitter and other social software that helps us keep those near in thought close (see Local InfoCloud). There could be a need for a term/word for that Jacob is talking about, but social search seems to be quite relevant as a term.

Related, I do have a really large stack of criticism for the IMB DogEar product that would improve it greatly. It needs a lot of improvement as a social bookmarking and folksonomy tool, but also from the social software interaction side there are things that really must get fixed for privacy interests in the enterprise before it really could be a viable solution. There are much better alternatives for social bookmarking inside an enterprise other than DogEar, which benefits from being part of the IBM social software stack Lotus Connections as the whole stack is decent together, but none of the parts are great, or even better than good by them self. DogEar really needs to get to a much more solid product quickly as their is a lot of interest now for this type of product, but it is only a viable solution if one is only looking at IBM products for solutions.

July 14, 2007

Understanding Taxonomy and Folksonmy Together

I deeply appreciate Joshua Porter's link to from his Taxonomies and Tags blog post. This is a discussion I have quite regularly as to the relation and it is in my presentations and workshops and much of my tagging (and social web) training, consulting, and advising focusses on getting smart on understanding the value and downfalls of folksonomy tagging (as well as traditional tagging - remember tagging has been around in commercial products since at least the 1980s). The following is my response in the comments to Josh' post...

Response to Taxonomy and Tags

Josh, thanks for the link. If the world of language were only this simple that this worked consistently. The folksonomy is a killer resource, but it lacks structure, which it crucial to disambiguating terms. There are algorithmic ways of getting close to this end, but they are insanely processor intensive (think days or weeks to churn out this structure). Working from a simple flat taxonomy or faceted system structure can be enabled for a folksonomy to adhere to.
This approach can help augment tags to objects, but it is not great at finding objects by tags as Apple would surface thousands of results and they would need to be narrowed greatly to find what one is seeking.
There was an insanely brilliant tool, RawSugar [(now gone thanks to venture capitalists pulling the plug on a one of a kind product that would be killer in the enterprise market)], that married taxonomy and folksonomy to help derive disambiguation (take appleseed as a tag, to you mean Johnny Appleseed, appleseed as it relates to gardening/farming, cooking, or the anime movie. The folksonomy can help decipher this through co-occurrence of terms, but a smart interface and system is needed to do this. Fortunately the type of system that is needed to do this is something we have, it is a taxonomy. Using a taxonomy will save processor time, and human time through creating an efficient structure.
Recently I have been approached by a small number of companies who implemented social bookmarking tools to develop a folksonomy and found the folksonomy was [initially] far more helpful than they had ever imagined and out paced their taxonomy-based tools by leaps and bounds (mostly because they did not have time or resources to implement an exhaustive taxonomy (I have yet to find an organization that has an exhaustive and emergent taxonomy)). The organizations either let their taxonomist go or did not replace them when they left as they seemed to think they did not need them with the folksonomy running. All was well and good for a while, but as the folksonomy grew the ability to find specific items decreased (it still worked fantastically for people refinding information they had personally tagged). These companies asked, "what tools they would need to start clearing this up?" The answer a person who understands information structure for ease of finding, which is often a taxonomist, and a tool that can aid in information structure, which is often a taxonomy tool.
The folksonomy does many things that are difficult and very costly to do in taxonomies. But taxonomies do things that folksonomies are rather poor at doing. Both need each other.

Complexity Increases as Folksonomies Grow

I am continually finding organizations are thinking the social bookmarking tools and folksonomy are going to be simple and a cure all, but it is much more complicated than that. The social bookmarking tools will really sing for a while, but then things need help and most of the tools out there are not to the point of providing that assistance yet. There are whole toolsets missing for monitoring and analyzing the collective folksonomy. There is also a need for a really good disambiguation tool and approach (particularly now that RawSugar is gone as a viable approach).

July 7, 2007

Yahoo Takes Shot at Own and Customer's Foot

I just got an e-mail that Yahoo Photos is closing September 20, 2007 at 9pm. I have been finding the closing of the site somewhat odd, mostly because the many of the people I know and run across that use Yahoo Photos rely on Yahoo Photos to always be there. They are often infrequent users. They like and love the service because it is relatively easy to use and "will always be there". Many real people I know (you know the 95 percent of the people who do not live their life on the web) visit Yahoo Photos once or twice a year as it is where holiday, travel, or family reunion photos are stored. It would seem that this user base would need more than a year's notice to get valuable notification that their digital heirlooms are going to be gone, toast, destroyed, etc. in a few short months.

It the good will lost through a class action lawsuit against Yahoo! brought by its regular people user base (the core of its business) will not make things better. You know legal action is coming as photos are a valuable part of people's life and memories. Many of the regular people do not check their e-mail regularly as they have more than one or two accounts. Many people I know chose Yahoo Photos over other competitors, because Yahoo had been around longer and understood how to maintain their memories over time. To many Yahoo Photos is not an experiment that would go away.

Yahoo Is Many Things To Many People

I absolutely love Flickr and have never really been a Yahoo Photos user, as I mostly put my own photos on my own servers prior to Flickr. Part of Yahoo's quandary goes back to last a memo last Fall, names the Peanutbutter Manifesto, which was written by Brad Garlinghouse. Garlinghouse railed against the Yahoo multi-headed approach to services. Some services were new and innovative, while others were older and more tradtional. To the novice it would look like they served the same purpose. Yahoo Photos and Flickr do both serve digital photos and provide online photo galleries. Flickr has been providing a good source of ad revenues and Photos has not been as profitable. This seems on the surface to be smart decision, but to the millions more users of Photos than in Flickr this will do little more than bring ill will. Ill will is not something Yahoo can really afford these days.

Innovation and Incorporation of Ideas

Yahoo in the past few years has been buying innovative companies that provide value and unique ways of interacting with people and information on the web. Yahoo has also been innovating in-house with its research labs and now, Brickhouse. Having similar service running allows for one to be innovative and test the waters, while keeping one a safe resource that is familiar to the many who want stability over fresh and innovative. Companies must understand these two groups of people exist and are not fully interchangeable (er, make that they are rarely interchangeable). Innovation takes experimentation and time. Once things are found to work within the groups accepting innovation the work becomes really tough with the integration and use testing with the people who are not change friendly (normally a much larger part of an organization's base).

It would have seemed the smart move to be mindful that Flickr is the innovation platform and Photos is the stable use platform. The two groups of use are needed. Those in the perpetual beta and innovation platform are likely to jump to something new and different if the innovation gets stale. The stable platform users often are surprised and start looking to move when there is too much change. It is a real smart understanding that is needed of who the people are that use, love, and depend on these services. Real smarts are needed to keep these two different communities happy and loyal. When this works well the innovation group is happily the test bed for new helpful tools for the stable platform (which will need beta testing of its people using the service as well).

Irony Run Rampant

While Yahoo is aiming to show it does not grasp the two different use groups of its two photo platforms, nor the loayalty the much larger group has entrusted in Yahoo, many other companies are following the trail Yahoo has put in place by setting up beta programs for their own innovation of products. Google has its labs, but is moving its second generation attempts into its labs. Nearly every large consumer facing web organization has set up labs and/or has been buying small innovative web properties to boost their relevance and ability to build to the future more easily. Most organization outside Yahoo are innovating, testing, and moving solid broadly usable components into their stable large use base products. These other organizations understand loyalty and their customer base. I really thought Yahoo grasped this, with Jerry Yang taking over I had thought a new smart direction was in the works. A Yahoo that snubs its loyal users who believed they placed their prized possessions in the hands of an enduring web property, is new but not innovative and not a lasting property.

June 23, 2007

The Social Enterprise

I am just back from Enterprise 2.0 Conference held in Boston, where I presented Bottom-up All The Way Down: How Tags Help Businesses Organize (thanks to Stowe Boyd for the tantalizing session title), which was liveblog captured by Sandy Kemsley as "Enterprise 2.0: Thomas Vander Wal". I did not catch all of the conference due to some Boston business meetings and connecting with friends and meeting digi-friends whose work I really enjoy face-to-face. The sessions I made it to were good and enlightening and as always the hallway conversations were worth their weight in gold.

Ms. Perceptions and Fear Inside the Corporate Walls

Having not been at true business focussed conference in years (until the past few weeks) I was amazed with how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. I was impressed with the interest and adoption around the social enterprise tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking/folksonomy, etc.). But, the misperceptions (Miss Perceptions) are still around and have grown-up (Ms. Perception) and are now being documented by Forrester and others as being fact, but the questions are seemingly not being asked properly. Around the current social web tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, favoriting, shared rating, open (and partially open collaboration) I have been finding little digital divide across the ages. Initially there is a gap when tools get introduced in the corporate environment. But this age gap very quickly disappears if the incredible value of the tools is made clear for peoples worklife, information workflow, and collaboration, as well as simple instructions (30 second to 3 minute videos) and simply written clear guidelines that outline acceptable use of these tools.

I have been working with technology and its adoption in corporations since the late 80s. The misperception that older people do not get technology, are foreign to the tools, and they will not ever get the technical tools has not changed. It is true that nearly all newer technologies come into the corporation by those just out of school and have relied on these tools in university to work intelligently to get their degree. But, those whom are older do see the value in the tools once they have exposure and see the value to their worklife (getting their job done), particularly if the tools are relatively simple to use and can be adopted with simple instruction (if it needs a 10 to 200 page manual and more than 15 minutes of training to start using the product effectively adoption will be low). Toby Redshaw of Motorola stated on a panel that he found in Motorola (4600 blogs and wikis and 2600 people using social bookmarking) "people of all ages adopt these tools if they understand the value connected to their work". Personally, I have seen this has always been the case in the last 20 years as this is how we got e-mail, messaging, Blackberries, web pages, word processing, digital collaboration tools (the last few rounds and the current ones), etc. in the doors of small to large organizations. I have worked in and with technically forward organizations and ones that are traditionally thought of as slow adopters and found adoption is based on value to work and ease of use and rarely based on age.

This lack of understanding around value added and (as Toby Redshaw reinforced) "competitive advantage" derived from the social tools available today for use in the enterprise is driven by fear. It is a fear of control that is lost from the top-down. But, the advantage to the company from having this information shared and easy found and used for collaboration to improve knowledge, understanding, and efficiency can not be dismissed and needs to be embraced. The competitive advantage is what is gained today, but next month or next quarter it could mean just staying even.

Getting Beyond Fear

But, what really is important is the communication and social enterprise tools are okay and add value, but the fear is overplayed, as a percentage rarely occurs, and handling the scary stuff it relatively easy to handle.

Tagging and Social Bookmarking in Enterprise

In the halls I had many conversations around tagging ranging from old school tagging being painful because the experts needed to tag things (meaning they were not doing the job as expert they were hired to do and their terms were not widely understood) all the way to the social bookmarking tools are not scaling and able to keep up with the complexity, nor need to disambiguate the terms used. But, I was really impressed with the number of organizations that have deployed some social bookmarking effort (officially or under somebody's desk) and found value (often great value).

Toby Redshaw: I though folksonomy was going to be some Bob Dillon touchy-feely hippy taxonomy thing, but it has off the chart value far and above any thing we had expected.

My presentation had 80 to 90 percent of the people there using social bookmarking tools in some manner in their organization or worklife. The non-verbal feed back as I was presenting showed interest in how to make better sense of what was being tagged, how to use it better in their business, how to integrate with their taxonomy, and how to work with the information as the tools scale. The answers to these are longer than the hour I have, they are more complex because it all depends on the tools, how they are set-up and designed, how they are used, and the structures of information inside and outside their organization.

June 17, 2007

Stitching Conversation Threads Fractured Across Channels

Communicating is simple. Well it is simple at its core of one person talking with another person face-to-face. When we communicate and add technology into the mix (phone, video-chat, text message, etc.) it becomes more difficult. Technology becomes noise in the pure flow of communication.

Now With More Complexity

But, what we have today is even more complex and difficult as we are often holding conversation across many of these technologies. The communication streams (the back and forth communication between two or more people) are now often not contained in on communication channel (channel is the flavor or medium used to communicate, such as AIM, SMS, Twitter, e-mail, mobile phone, etc.).

We are seeing our communications move across channels, which can be good as this is fluid and keeping with our digital presence. More often than not we are seeing our communication streams fracture across channels. This fracturing becomes really apparent when we are trying to reconstruct our communication stream. I am finding this fracturing and attempting to stitch the stream back together becoming more and more common as for those who are moving into and across many applications and devices with their own messaging systems.

The communication streams fracture as we pick-up an idea or need from Twitter, then direct respond in Twitter that moves it to SMS, the SMS text message is responded back to in regular SMS outside of Twitter, a few volleys back and forth in SMS text, then one person leaves a voicemail, it is responded to in an e-mail, there are two responses back and forth in e-mail, an hour later both people are on Skype and chat there, in Skype chat they decide to meet in person.

Why Do We Want to Stitch the Communication Stream Together?

When they meet there is a little confusion over there being no written overview and guide. Both parties are sure they talked about it, but have different understandings of what was agreed upon. Having the communication fractured across channels makes reconstruction of the conversation problematic today. The conversation needs to be stitched back together using time stamps to reconstruct everything [the misunderstanding revolved around recommendations as one person understands that to mean a written document and the other it does not mean that].

Increasingly the reality of our personal and professional lives is this cross channel communication stream. Some want to limit the problem by keeping to just one channel through the process. While this is well intentioned it does not meet reality of today. Increasingly, the informal networking leads to meaningful conversations, but the conversations drifts across channels and mediums. Pushing a natural flow, as it currently stands, does not seem to be the best solution in the long run.

Why Does Conversation Drift Across Channels?

There are a few reasons conversations drift across channels and mediums. One reason is presence as when two people notice proximity on a channel they will use that channel to communicate. When a person is seen as present, by availability or recently posting a message in the service, it can be a prompt to communicate. Many times when the conversation starts in a presence channel it will move to another channel or medium. This shift can be driven by personal preference or putting the conversation in a medium or channel that is more conducive for the conversation style between people involved. Some people have a preferred medium for all their conversations, such as text messaging (SMS), e-mail, voice on phone, video chat, IM, etc.. While other people have a preferred medium for certain types of conversation, like quick and short questions on SMS, long single responses in e-mail, and extended conversations in IM. Some people prefer to keep their short messages in the channel where they begin, such as conversations that start in Facebook may stay there. While other people do not pay attention to message or conversation length and prefer conversations in one channel over others.

Solving the Fractured Communication Across Channels

Since there are more than a few reasons for the fractured communications to occur it is something that needs resolution. One solution is making all conversations open and use public APIs for the tools to pull the conversations together. This may be the quickest means to get to capturing and stitching the conversation thread back together today. While viable there are many conversations in our lives that we do not want public for one reason or many.

Another solution is to try to keep your conversations in channels that we can capture for our own use (optimally this should be easily sharable with the person we had the conversation with, while still remaining private). This may be where we should be heading in the near future. Tools like Twitter have become a bridge between web and SMS, which allows us to capture SMS conversations in an interface that can be easily pointed to and stitched back together with other parts of a conversation. E-mail is relatively easy to thread, if done in a web interface and/or with some tagging to pull pieces in from across different e-mail addresses. Skype chat also allows for SMS interactions and allows for them to be captured, searched, and pulled back together. IM conversations can easily be saved out and often each item is time stamped for easy stitching. VoIP conversations are often easily recorded (we are asking permission first, right?) and can be transcribed by hand accurately or be transcribed relatively accurately via speech-to-text tools. Voice-mail can now be captured and threaded using speech-to-text services or even is pushed as an attachment into e-mail in services as (and similar to) JConnect.

Who Will Make This Effortless?

There are three types of service that are or should be building this stitching together the fractured communications across channels into one threaded stream. I see tools that are already stitching out public (or partially public) lifestreams into one flow as one player in this pre-emergent market (Facebook, Jaiku, etc.). The other public player would be telecoms (or network provider) companies providing this as a service as they currently are providing some of these services, but as their markets get lost to VoIP, e-mail, on-line community messaging, Second Life, etc., they need to provide a service that keeps them viable (regulation is not a viable solution in the long run). Lastly, for those that do not trust or want their conversation streams in others hands the personally controlled application will become a solutions, it seems that Skype could be on its way to providing this.

Is There Demand Yet?

I am regularly fielding questions along these lines from enterprise as they are trying to deal with these issues for employees who have lost or can not put their hands on vital customer conversations or essential bits of information that can make the difference in delivering what their customers expect from them. Many have been using Cisco networking solutions that have some of these capabilities, but still not providing a catch all. I am getting queries from various telecom companies as they see reflections of where they would like to be providing tools in a Come to Me Web or facilitating bits of the Personal InfoCloud. I am getting requests from many professionals that want this type of solution for their lives. I am also getting queries from many who are considering building these tools, or pieces of them.

Some of us need these solutions now. Nearly all of us will need these solutions in the very near future.

June 16, 2007

New Profession Unfolding In Beauty and Geekery

A week or more ago I ran across the incredible video of Blaise Aguera y Arcas presentation of Photosynth and Seadragon at TEDTalks 2007. The video is stunning work of Seadragon and Photosynth bringing a collection of images to life from one or more resources.

While the video and ideas behind the tools are incredible displays of where we are today with technology and where we are heading, this caused some ideas I have been trying to get to gel to finally come together. In this video Blaise states (my own transcription):

So what the point here really is, is we can do things with the social environment taking data from everybody, from the entire collective memory of what the earth looks like, and link all of that together and make something emergent that is greater than the sum of the parts. You have a model that emerges of the entire earth, think of it as the long tail to Stephen Lawlers Virtual Earth work. This is something that grows in complexity as people use it and whose benefits become greater to the users as they use it. Their own photos are getting tagged with metadata that somebody else entered. If somebody bothered to tag all of these saints and say who they all are, then my photo of the Notre Dame Cathedral suddenly gets enriched with all of that data. I can use it as an entry point to dive into that space in that metaverse, using everybody else's photos, and do a cross-modal and cross-user social experience that way. Of course a by product of all of that is an immensely rich virtual models of every interesting part of the earth, collected not just from overhead flight and satellite images, but from the collective memory.

Torrent of Human Contributed Digital Content

What this brought together was the incredible amount of human contributed digital content we are sitting on top of at this moment in time. This is not a new concept, but what is different is the skills, tools, and understanding to make use and sense of all this content are having to change incredibly. The Photosynth team is making use of Flickr content that has been annotated by humans (tags, titles, and descriptions), as well as by devices (date, time, location, etc.). This meta information provides hooks put pull disparate information back from its sole beauty and make an even greater beauty and deeper understanding. The collective is better than the pieces, but pulling to collective together in a manner that is coherent, adds value, and brings deeper appreciation is where get hard.

Much of information understanding and sense making to date has relied on human understanding and we have used tools to augment our understanding. But, we now need to rely on deeper analytics in quantitative methods and advanced algorithms to make sense and beauty out of the bits and bytes. The models of understanding are changing to requiring visualizations methods (much like those of Stamen Design) to begin to grasp and see what is happening in our torrent of information at our finger tips and well as make sense of the social interactions of our digitally networked and digitally augmented lives.

Amalgamation of Designer and Quant Geek

What gelled in my mind watching the Blaise demonstration is there is a skill set missing in the next generation comprised of amalgamated design, information use, analytical foundation, and strong quantitative skills. I have clients in start-up businesses and in enterprise that are confronting these floods of information they need to make sense of from folksonomies and customer generated content (including annotations and regular feedback). The skills needed for building taxonomies are not translating well when the volume of information the information managers are dealing with is orders of magnitude higher than what they dealt with previously. The designer, information architect, and taxonomist who have traditionally have dealt with building the systems of information order, access, and use are missing the quantitative skills to analyze and make sense out of a torrent of loosely structured information and digital objects. Those with the quantitative and strong analytical skills have lacked the design and art skills to bring the understanding into frame for regular people grasp and understand.

This class of designer and quant geek is much like the renaissance men, but today the field of those forging new ground is open to men and women. The need to understand not only broad but deep sets of data and information so to contextualize it into understanding is the realm of few, unfortunately as there is a need for many.

I know of limited pockets of people with the skills to do the hard work of querying the vast array of information, objects, and raw data then make something of value of it. But, there needs to be more of these people getting trained as designers with solid quantitative and analytical skills (or the converse). Design shops are missing the quant geeks and engineering shops are missing the visualization geeks that bring this digital world rich in opportunity into something that makes sense and beauty.

If you know people like this that are bored, please let me know as I am finding opportunities flowing.

June 13, 2007

Full-Day Social Web & Folksonomy Workshop at d.construct

Tickets for the d.construct Workshops go on sale June 14, 2007. Buying a ticket for a full-day workshop provides free access to the full d.construct conference on September 7th. I am presenting the following workshop on September 6th...

Building the Social Web with Tagging / Folksonomies

On September 6th, 2007 Thomas Vander Wal will be holding his Building the Social Web with Tagging/Folksonomies — d.construct Workshop — at Brighton Dome, Brighton, England, UK.

Thomas Vander Wal, creator of the term folksonomy, provides a full-day workshop on building the social web through a detailed look at tagging systems. The workshop will provide a foundation for understanding social software from the perspective of the people who use it. This perspective helps site owners solve the ‘cold start’ problem of social software not starting out social.

The focus of the workshop is to provide a solid foundation for building and maintaining a social system from the design and management perspective. The workshop will cover policy issues, monitoring, analysis, and tagging systems as features that are added to the mix of existing tools.

The day will provide a brief history of tagging from the days of tagging in the desktop era to current web use. The exercises will focus on better understanding what happens in tagging systems and use those lessons to frame how to build better systems and make better use of the information that is made relevant through those tagging systems. The workshop includes overviews of social web pattern interaction design and the wide array of features.

Folksonomy Provides 70 Percent More Terms Than Taxonomy

While at the WWW Conference in Banff for the Tagging and Metadata for Social Information Organization Workshop and was chatting with Jennifer Trant about folksonomies validating and identifying gaps in taxonomy. She pointed out that at least 70% of the tags terms people submitted in Steve Museum were not in the taxonomy after cleaning-up the contributions for misspellings and errant terms. The formal paper indicates (linked to in her blog post on the research more steve ... tagger prototype preliminary analysis) the percentage may even be higher, but 70% is a comfortable and conservative number.

Is 70% New Terms from Folksonomy Tagging Normal?

In my discussion with enterprise organizations and other clients that are looking to evaluate their existing tagging services, have been finding 30 percent to nearly 70 percent of the terms used in tagging are not in their taxonomy. One chat with a firm who had just completed updating their taxonomy (second round) for their intranet found the social bookmarking tool on their intranet turned up nearly 45 percent new or unaccounted for terms. This firm knew they were not capturing all possibilities with their taxonomy update, but did not realize their was that large of a gap. In building their taxonomy they had harvested the search terms and had used tools that analyzed all the content on their intranet and offered the terms up. What they found in the folksonomy were common synonyms that were not used in search nor were in their content. They found vernacular, terms that were not official for their organization (sometimes competitors trademarked brand names), emergent terms, and some misunderstandings of what documents were.

In other informal talks these stories are not uncommon. It is not that the taxonomies are poorly done, but vast resources are needed to capture all the variants in traditional ways. A line needs to be drawn somewhere.

Comfort in Not Finding Information

The difference in the taxonomy or other formal categorization structure and what people actually call things (as expressed in bookmarking the item to make it easy to refind the item) is normally above 30 percent. But, what organization is comfortable with that level of inefficiency at the low end? What about 70 percent of an organizations information, documents, and media not being easily found by how people think of it?

I have yet to find any organization, be it enterprise or non-profit that is comfortable with that type of inefficiency on their intranet or internet. The good part is the cost is relatively low for capturing what people actually call things by using a social bookmarking tool or other folksonomy related tool. The analysis and making use of what is found in a folksonomy is the same cost of as building a taxonomy, but a large part of the resource intensive work is done in the folksonomy through data capture. The skills needed to build understanding from a folksonomy will lean a little more on the analytical and quantitative skills side than the traditional taxonomy development. This is due to the volume of information supplied can be orders of magnitude higher than the volume of research using traditional methods.

May 31, 2007

Folksonomy Book In Progress

Let me start with an announcement. I have not had any answer for continual question after I present on tagging and folksonomy (I also get the question after the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud presentations), which is "where is your book?" Well I finally have an answer, I have signed with O'Reilly to write a book, initially titled Understanding Folksonomy (this may change) and it may also be a wee bit different from your normal O'Reilly book (we will see how it goes).

I am insanely excited to be writing for O'Reilly as I have a large collection of their books from over the years - from the programming PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby to developer guides on JavaScript, XHTML, XML, & CSS to the Polar Bear book on information architecture, Information Dashboard Design, and Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design along with so many more.

Narrowing the Subject

One of the things that took a little more time than I realized it would take is narrowing the book down. I have been keeping a running outline of tagging and folksonomy related subjects that have been in my presentations and workshop as well as questions and answers from these sessions. The outline includes the deep knowledge that has some from client work on the subject (every single client has a different twist and set of constraints. Many of the questions have answers and for some the answers are still being worked out, but the parameters and guidelines are known to get to viable solutions.

Well, when I submitted the outline I was faced with the knowledge that I had submitted a framework for a 800 to 1,000 page book. Huh? I started doing the math based on page size, word counts, bullets in the outline, and projects words per bullet and those with knowledge were right. So, I have narrowed it down to an outline that should be about 300 pages (maybe 250 and maybe a few more than 300).

What Is In This Smaller Book?

I am using my tagging and folksonomy presentations as my base, as those have been iterated and well tested (now presented some version of it well over 50 times). While I have over 300 design patterns captured from tagging service sites (including related elements) only a few will likely be used and walked through. I am including the understanding from a cognitive perspective and the lessening of technology pain that tagging services can provide to people who use them. There will also be a focus on business uses for intranet and web.

When Will This Be Done

Given that I have a rather busy Fall with client work, workshops, and presentations I set a goal to finish the writing by the end of Summer. It sounds nuts and it really feels like grad school all over again, but that is my reality. I have most of the words in my head and have been speaking them. Now I need to write them (in a less dense form than I blog).

Your Questions and Feedback

If you have questions and things you would like covered please e-mail me (contact in the header nav above). I will likely be setting up a blog to share and post questions (this will happen in a couple weeks). I am also looking for sites, organizations, and people that would like to be included in the case studies and interviews (not all will end up in the book, but those that are done will end up tied to the book in some manner). Please submit suggestions for this section if you have any.

April 13, 2007

From the HQ Office

It has been a good stretch of travel, mostly for work/professional life, but also took a trip to Florida for family holiday. At the moment I am back in the office working on proposals for upcoming projects of various lengths for clients and working through the process of writing, which involves dead trees at the final stages.

Web 2.0 Expo and SF Bay Area

I am soon off again to the San Francisco Bay Area to speak at the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo and have business meetings around the Bay Area (please ping via e-mail if you would like to meet-up during this time).

WWW2007 Workshop on Tagging and Metadata

Early next month I am off to Banff to keynote the WWW2007 Workshop on Tagging and Metadata for Social Information Organization. I am not sure how long this trip will be as I will have some pressing work around this time.

Social Software Summit

Lastly, I should note there will be a Social Software Summit that will run at the same time as the ASIS&T IA Summit next Spring (Spring 2008) in Miami. The Social Software Summit is still in its early stages of planning (the idea, dates, location, and interest have been launched). The dates are April 10-11 2008. I have a role in the planning and preparation for this event, along with some other incredible people.

February 22, 2007

Ma.Del Tagging Bookmarklet

Out of frustration with Yahoo MyWeb no longer surfaces results in Yahoo Search, which made Yahoo Search much better for me than any other web search. Now that this is no long functioning and there is no response as to if or when it will return I am back to Google and Microsoft Live Search (the relevancy is better for me on many things). But, this change also removes the value of MyWeb and this has me looking back to Ma.gnolia (also am a huge fan of Raw Sugar and their facets, but that is another longer post).

New Tagging Combo Bookmarklet

When I became a fan of MyWeb I used some glue to make and MyWeb Combo Bookmarklet.

So now I have done the same for Ma.gnolia and with the Ma.Del Marklet (drag to bookmark bar in FireFox and Safari only). This was built using the Ma.gnolia bookmarklet Ma.rker Mini as its base.

February 2, 2007

Stikkit Adds an API

Stikkit has finally added an API for Stikkit. This makes me quite happy. Stikkit has great ease of information entry and it is perfect for adding annotations to web-based information.

Stikkit is My In-line Web Triage

I have been using Stikkit, from the bookmarklet, as my in-line web information triage. If I find an event or something I want to come back to latter (other than to read and bookmark) I pop that information into Stikkit. Most often it is to remind me of deadlines, events, company information, etc. I open the Stikkit bookmarklet and add the information. The date information I add is dumped into my Stikkit calendar, names and addresses are put into the Stikkit address book, and I can tag them for context for easier retrival.

Now with the addition of the API Stikkit is now easy to retrieve a vCard, ical, or other standard data format I can drop into my tools I normally aggregate similar information. I do not need to refer back to Stikkit to copy and paste (or worse mis-type) into my work apps.

I can also publish information from my preferred central data stores to Stikkit so I have web access to events, to dos, names and addresses, etc. From Stikkit I can then share the information with only those I want to share that information with.

Stikkit is growing to be a nice piece for microcontent tracking in my Personal InfoCloud.

January 31, 2007

It is Finally IT and Design in Enterprise (and Small Business)

My recent trip to Northern California to speak at the UIE Web App Summit and meetings in the Bay Area triggered some good ideas. One thread of discovery is Enterprise, as well as small and medium sized business, is looking at not only technology for solutions to their needs, but design.

IT Traditions

Traditionally, the CIO or VP IT (and related upper management roles) have focussed on buying technology "solutions" to their information problems. Rarely have the solutions fixed the problems as there is often a "problem with the users" of the systems. We see the technology get blamed, the implementation team get blamed (many do not grasp the solution but only how to install the tools, as that is the type of service that is purchased), and then the "users need more training".

Breaking the Cycle of Blame and Disappointment

This cycle of blame and disappointment in technology is breaking around a few important realizations in the IT world.

Technology is not a Cure All

First, the technology is always over sold in capability and most often needs extensive modification to get working in any environment (the cost of a well implemented system is usually about the same as a built from scratch solution - but who has the resources to do that). Most CIOs and technology managers are not trusting IT sales people or marketing pitches. The common starting point is from the, "your tool can not do what you state" and then discussions can move from there. Occasionally, the tools actually can do what is promised.

Many, decision makers now want to test the product with real people in real situations. Solution providers that are good, understand this and will assist with setting up a demonstration. To help truly assess the product the technical staff in the organization is included in the set-up of the product.

People and Information Needs

Second, the problems are finally being identified in terms of people and information needs. This is a great starting place as it focusses on the problems and the wide variety of personal information workflows that are used efficiently by people. We know that technology solutions that mirror and augment existing workflows are easily adopted and often used successfully. This mirroring workflow also allows for lower training costs (occasionally there is no training needed).

Design with People in Mind

Third, design of the interaction and interface must focus on people and their needs. This is the most promising understanding as it revolves around people and their needs. Design is incredibly important in the success of the tools. Design is not just if it looks pretty (that does help), but how a person is walked through the steps easily and how the tools is easy to interact with for successful outcomes. The lack of good design is largely what has crippled most business tools as most have focussed on appealing to the inner geek of the IT manager. Many IT managers have finally realized that their interface and interaction preferences are not remotely representative of 95 percent of the people who need to or should be using the tools.

It is increasingly understood that designing the interaction and interface is very important. The design task must be done with the focus on the needs of real people who will be using the product. Design is not sprinkling some Web 2.0 magic dust of rounded corners, gradients, and fading yellow highlights, but a much deeper understanding that ease of use and breaking processes into easy steps is essential.

Smile to Many Faces

This understanding that buying a technology solutions is more than buying code to solve a problem, but a step in bringing usable tools in to help people work efficiently with information. This last week I talk to many people in Enterprise and smaller businesses that were the technical managers that were trying to get smarter on design and how they should approach digital information problems. I also heard the decision managers stating they needed better interfaces so the people using the tools could, well use the tools. The technology managers were also coming to grips that their preferences for interfaces did not work with most of the people who need the tools to work.

Technology Companies Go Directly to the Users

I have also been seeing the technology tool makers sitting with their actual people using their tools to drastically improve their tools for ease of use. One President of a technology tool maker explained it as, ":I am tired of getting the blame for making poor tools and losing contracts because the technology decision makers are not connected with the real needs of the people they are buying the tools for." This president was talking to three or four users on problems some of his indirect clients were having with a tool they really needed to work well for them. This guy knows the tech managers traditionally have not bought with the people needing to use the tools in mind and is working to create a great product for those people with wants and needs. He also knows how to sell to the technology managers to get their products in the door, but knows designing for the people using the product is how he stays in the company.

January 9, 2007

Digging Out of Digital Limbo

Things are mostly back to normal here. The new MacBook Pro has been wonderful (it is a bit odd to mostly focus on it as a tool and not the center of adoration as I normally do for Apple products) and even better getting my digital life flowing again. I found some gaps in e-mail had been backed-up in an odd place and they were restored.

The gap between sending my PowerBook out for data recovery (not possible as the drive was toast) and getting the MacBook Pro in my hands, even until the time of my first full back-up was one of trying to balance new info and old. Fearful of a "perfect storm" I was pushing my digital life out into corners of the internet. I have been pulling things back in to my laptop and re-building notes from paper I jot quick bits on.

Moving Forward

I have since picked up a Maxtor OneTouch III Turbo with one terrabyte of capacity set to RAID1 across its two drives (translates to mirrored 500MB drives). This seems like an insane amount of space, but knowing I can have more than one version of a back-up (that is part of what knocked me out) and can back-up my other external drive info (where my 70GB of music is stored) provides a nice peace of mind. I am also integrating my Amazon S3 into the equation as well as my .Mac storage. I am using Apple Backup and Retrospect Express to currently do my back-ups. I want a book able image for use on my Intel Mac, which it seems to have the capability of providing. I am still looking at other options. I have been a big fan of Carbon Copy Cloner, but it does not provide a bootable image capability on Intel Macs.

This New Year

I mostly have my feet under myself this new year, oh yes, Happy New Year! Work is taking off full bore and some of the bumps from last year seem to have been ironed out and lessons learned. I had planned to do a year end book wrap-up and a first year in business as InfoCloud Solutions, Inc., but the lack of a computer pushed those ideas off the table. I do not make New Years resolutions, as I try to make needed adjustments as they are needed and try not to put them off to some arbitrary date. I will be providing one or two most posts later this week, when the pile subsides and things go out the door.

Until then, enjoy Macworld and do your backups.

December 15, 2006

Ghosts of Technology Past, Present, and Future

The past two days have brought back many memories that have reminded me of the advances in technology as well as the reliance on technology.

Ghost of Rich Web Past

I watched a walk through of a dynamic prototype yesterday that echoed this I was doing in 1999 and 2000. Well, not exactly doing as the then heavy JavaScript would blow up browsers. The DHTML and web interfaces that helped the person using the site to have a better experience quite often caused the browser to lock-up, close with no warning, or lock-up the machine. This was less than 100kb of JavaScript, but many machines more than two years old at that time and with browsers older than a year or two old did not have the power. The processing power was not there, the RAM was not there, the graphics cards were not powerful, and the browsers in need of optimizing.

The demonstration yesterday showed concepts that were nearly the exact concept from my past, but with a really nice interface (one that was not even possible in 1999 or 2000). I was ecstatic with the interface and the excellent job done on the prototype. I realized once again of the technical advances that make rich web interfaces of "Web 2.0" (for lack of a better term) possible. I have seen little new in the world of Ajax or rich interfaces that was not attempted in 2000 or 2001, but now they are viable as many people's machines can now drive this beauties.

I am also reminded of the past technologies as that is what I am running today. All I have at my beck and call is two 667MHz machines. One is an Apple TiBook (with 1 GB of RAM) and one is a Windows machine (killer graphics card with 256MB video RAM and 500MB memory). Both have problems with Amazon and Twitter with their rich interfaces. The sites are really slow and eat many of the relatively few resources I have at my disposal. My browsers are not blowing up, but it feels like they could.

Ghost of Technology Present

The past year or two I have been using my laptop as my outboard memory. More and more I am learning to trust my devices to remind me and keep track of complex projects across many contexts. Once things are in a system I trust they are mostly out of my head.

This experience came to a big bump two days ago when my hard drive crashed. The iterative back-ups were corrupted or faulty (mostly due to a permission issue that would alter me in the middle of the night). The full back-up was delayed as I do not travel with an external drive to do my regular back-ups. My regularly scheduled back-ups seem to trigger when I am on travel. I am now about 2.5 months out from my last good full back-up. I found an e-mail back-up that functioned from about 3 weeks after that last full backup. Ironically, I was in the midst of cleaning up my e-mail for back-up, which is the first step to my major back-up, when the failure happened.

I have a lot of business work that is sitting in the middle of that pile. I also have a lot of new contacts and tasks in the middle of that period. I have my client work saved out, but agreements and new pitches are in the mire of limbo.

Many people are trying to sync and back-up their lives on a regular basis, but the technology is still faulty. So many people have faulty syncing, no matter what technologies they are using. Most people have more than two devices in their life (work and home computer, smart phone, PDA, mobile phone with syncable address book and calendar, iPod, and other assorted options) and the syncing still works best (often passably) between two devices. Now when we start including web services things get really messy as people try to work on-line and off-line across their devices. The technology has not caught up as most devices are marketed and built to solve a problem between two devices and area of information need. The solutions are short sighted.

Ghost of the Technosocial Future

Last week I attended the University of North Carolina Social Software Symposium (UNC SSS) and while much of the conversation was around social software (including tagging/folksonomy) the discussion of technology use crept in. The topic of digital identity was around the edges. The topic of trust, both in people and technology was in the air. These are very important concepts (technology use, digital identity, and trusted technology and trusted people). There is an intersection of the technosocial where people communicate with their devices and through their devices. The technology layer must be understood as to the impact is has on communication. Communication mediated by any technology requires an understanding of how much of the pure signal of communication is lost and warped (it can be modified in a positive manner too when there are disabilities involved).

Our digital communications are improving when we understand the limitations and the capabilities of the technologies involved (be it a web browser of many varied options or mobile phone, etc.). Learning the capabilities of these trusted devices and understanding that they know us and they hold our lives together for us and protect our stuff from peering eyes of others. These trusted devices communicate and share with other trusted devices as well as our trusted services and the people in our lives we trust.

Seeing OpenID in action and work well gave me hope we are getting close on some of these fronts (more on this in another post). Seeing some of the great brains thinking and talking about social software was quite refreshing as well. The ability to build solid systems that augment our lives and bring those near in thought just one click away is here. It is even better than before with the potential for easier interaction, collaboration, and honing of ideas at our doorstep. The ability to build an interface across data sets (stuff I was working on in 1999 that shortened the 3 months to get data on your desk to minutes, even after running analytics and working with a GIS interface) can be done in hours where getting access to the wide variety of information took weeks and months in the past. Getting access to data in our devices to provide location information with those we trust (those we did not trust have had this info for some time and now we can take that back) enables many new services to work on our behalf while protecting our wishes for whom we would like the information shared with. Having trusted devices working together helps heal the fractures in our data losses, while keeping it safe from those we do not wish to have access. The secure transmission of our data between our trusted devices and securely shared with those we trust is quickly arriving.

I am hoping the next time I have a fatal hard drive crash it is not noticeable and the data loss is self-healed by pulling things back together from resources I have trust (well placed trust that is verifiable - hopefully). This is the Personal InfoCloud and its dealing with a Local InfoCloud all securely built with trusted components.

December 4, 2006

Let Me Count the 24 Ways

It is that wonderful time of the year for 24 ways, the wonderful 24 gifts from one web developer to the rest of us. I deeply enjoyed them last year and am looking forward to the remainder of the gems.

November 10, 2006

New Podcast Interview of Thomas Vander Wal by Brian Oberkirch

I have been slow in pointing to a recent Podcast interview of Thomas Vander Wal by Brian Oberkirch. Brian and I have been trying to schedule this chat for quite some time. We cover a broad range of subjects that are of interest to me and I have been thinking about and playing with lately.

Brian has a great collection of podcasts interviews from his edgework series. I have listened to many and really enjoy them.

October 24, 2006

Rebranding and Crossbranding of .net Magazine

From an e-mail chat last week I found out that .net magazine (from the UK) is now on the shelves in the US as "Web Builder". Now that I have this knowledge I found the magazine on my local bookstore shelves with ease. Oddly, when I open the cover it is all ".net".

Rebranding and Crossbranding

In the chat last week I was told the ".net" name had a conflict with a Microsoft product and the magazine is not about the Microsoft product in the slightest, but had a good following before the MS product caught on. Not so surprisingly the ".net" magazine does not have the same confusion in the UK or Europe.

So, the magazine had a choice to not get noticed or rebrand the US version to "Web Builder" and put up with the crossbranding. This is not optimal, as it adds another layer of confusion for those of us that travel and are used to the normal name of the product and look only for that name. Optimally one magazine name would be used for the English language web design and development magazine. If this every happens it will mean breaking a well loved magazine name for the many loving fans of it in the UK and Europe

What is Special About ".net" or "Web Builder"?

Why do I care about this magazine? It is one of the few print magazines about web design and web development. Not only is it one of the few, but it flat out rocks! It takes current Web Standards best practices and makes them easy to grasp. It is explaining all of the solid web development practices and how to not only do them right, but understand if you should be doing them.

I know, you are saying, "but all of this stuff is already on the web!" Yes, this stuff is on the web, but not every web developer lives their life on the web, but most importantly, many of the bosses and managers that will approve this stuff do not read stuff on the web, they still believe in print. Saying the managers need to grow-up and change is short-sighted. One of the best progressive thinkers on technology, Doc Searls is on the web, but he also has a widely read regular column in Linux Journal. But, for me the collection of content in ".net" is some of the best stuff out there. I read it on planes and while I am waiting for a meeting or appointment.

I know the other thing many of you are saying, "but it is only content from UK writers!" Yes, so? The world is really flat and where somebody lives really makes little difference as we are all only a mouse click away from each other. We all have the same design and development problems as we are living with the same browsers and similar people using what we design and build. But, it is also amazing that a country that is a percentage the size of the US has many more killer web designers and developers than the US. There is some killer stuff going on in the UK on the web design and development front. There is great thought, consideration, and research that goes into design and development in the UK and Europe, in the US it is lets try it and see if it works or breaks (this is good too and has its place). It is out of the great thought and consideration that the teaching and guiding can flow. It also leads to killer products. Looking at the Yahoo Europe implementations of microformats rather far and wide in their products is telling, when it has happened far slower in the Yahoo US main products.

Now I am just hoping that ".net" will expand their writing to include a broader English speaking base. There is some killer talent in the US, but as my recent trip to Australia showed there is also killer talent there too. Strong writing skills in English and great talent would make for a great global magazine. It could also make it easier to find on my local bookstore shelves (hopefully for a bit cheaper too).

October 6, 2006

IA for Web Developers Presentation

My recent presentation at Web Directions South on Informaiton Architecture for Web Developers is now here live online. I am using SlideShare from Uzanto, which is Rashmi Sinha and Jonathan Boutelle in the Mountain View, California and others in India.

September 20, 2006

Understanding Folksonomy: Tagging that Works presentation posted

I have finally posted my Understanding Folksonomy: Tagging that Works (4MB PDF) presentation from d.construct. I have been presenting the content in this for nearly 2 years and have been iterating it. I have been wanting to get the Folksonomy Triad out in public as it has been getting really strong response in the 18 months that I have been using it (in the last 9 months I turned it into an animation that really drives the point home). I have not done a movie of the presentation yet, but that could be coming in the next few months.

I have not been posting the presentations, as the size has been increasing and when they get blogged elsewhere the bandwidth shoots up. But, I have been playing with Amazon S3 to store these files at lower cost and eat less bandwidth. I have been playing with the Python and Ruby scripts, but when Jeff Barr demonstrated the S3 Firefox Organizer I knew it was made really simple to upload, set permissions, and grab a sharable URL.

September 14, 2006

Trip and d.construct Wrap-up

I am back home from the d.construct trip, which included London and Brighton. The trip was very enjoyable, the d.construct conference is a pure winner, and I met fantastic people that keep my passion for the web alive.


The d.construct conference had Jeff Barr from Amazon talking about Amazon Web Services, Paul Hammond and Simon Willison discussing Yahoo and its creation and use of web services for internal and external uses, Jeremy Keith discussing the Joy of the API, Aral Balkan presenting the use of Adobe Flex for web services, Derek Featherstone discussing accessibility for Javascript and Ajax and how they can hurt and help the web for those with disabilities, myself (Thomas) discussing tagging that works, and Jeff Veen pulling the day together with designing the complete user experience.

Jeff Barr provided not only a good overview of the Amazon offerings for developers, but his presentation kept me interested (the previous 2 times my mind wandered) and I got some new things out of it (like the S3 Organizer extension for Firefox.

Jeremy was his usual great presenting form (unfortunately a call from home caused me to miss the some of the middle, but he kept things going well and I heard after that many people learned something from the session, which they thought they knew it all already.

Paul and Simon did a wonderful tag team approach on what Yahoo is up to and how they "eat their own dog food" and how the Yahoo Local uses microformats (Wahoo!).

Aral was somebody I did not know before d.construct, but I really enjoyed getting to know him as well as his high energy presentation style and mastery of the content that showed Flash/Flex 2.0 are fluent in Web 2.0 rich interfaces for web services.

Derek was fantastic as he took a dry subject (accessibility) and brought it life, he also made me miss the world of accessibility by talking about how JavaScript and Ajax can actually improve the accessibility of a site (if the developer knows what they are doing - this is not an easy area to tread) and made it logical and relatively easy to grasp.

I can not comment on my own presentation, other than the many people what sought me out to express appreciation, and to ask questions (many questions about spamming, which is difficult if the tagging system is built well). I was also asked if I had somebody explain the term dogging (forgetting there was a rather bawdy use of the term in British culture and using the term as those people who are dog lovers - this lead to very heavy laughter). Given the odd technical problems at the beginning of the presentation (mouse not clicking) things went alright about 5 minutes or so in.

Lastly, the man I never want to follow when giving a presentation, Jeff Veen rocked the house with his easy style and lively interaction with his slides.

I am really wanting to hear much more from Aral and Derek now that I have heard them speak. I am looking forward to seeing their slides up and their podcasts, both should be posted on the d.construct schedule page.

London Stays

The trip also included an overnight stay in London on the front and back end of the conference. Through an on-line resource I had two last minute rooms booked at Best Western Premiers that were great rooms in well appointed hotels. The hotels even had free WiFi (yes, free in Europe is a huge savings), which was my main reason for staying at these hotels I knew nothing about. I really like both locations, one near Earls Court Tube Station and the other Charing Cross Road and SoHo. The rooms were well under 200 U.S. dollars, which is a rarity in central London. I think I have a new place to track down then next time I visit London.

London People & Places

I had a few impromptu meetings in London and an accidental chat. When I first got in I was able to clean-up and go meet friends Tom and Simon for lunch at China Experience. We had good conversations about the state of many things web. Then Tom showed me Cyber Candy, which I have been following online. I was then off to Neal's Yard Dairy to pick-up some Stinking Bishop (quite excellent), Oggleshield, and Berkswell. I then did a pilgrimage to Muji to stock up on pens and all the while using Yahoo Messanger in a mobile browser (a very painful way to communicate, as there is no alert for return messages and when moving the web connection seems to need resetting often).

That evening I met up with Eric Miraglia for a great chat and dinner, then included Christian Heillmann (who has a great new book (from my initial read) on Beginning JavaSctipt with DOM Scripting and Ajax) in our evening. The discussions were wonderful and it was a really good way to find people of similar minds and interests.

On my last day in London I ended up running into Ben Hammersley as he was waiting for a dinner meeting. It was great to meet Ben in person and have a good brief chat. Somehow when walking down the street and seeing a man in a black utilikilt, with short hair, and intently using his mobile there are a short list of possibilities who this may be.


My trip I had a few full English breakfasts, including one in Brighton at 3:30am (using the term gut buster), which was my first full meal of the day. The breakfast at the Blanche House (the name of the hotel never stuck in my head and the keys just had their logo on them, so getting back to the hotel was a wee bit more challenging than normal) was quite good, particularly the scrambled eggs wrapped in smoked Scottish salmon. The food the first night in Brighton at the Seven Dials was fantastic and a great treat. Sunday brunch at SOHo Social in Brighton was quite good and needed to bring me back from another late night chatting, but the fish cakes were outstanding. The last evening in London I stopped in at Hamburger Union for a really good burger with rashers bacon. The burgers are made with only natural fed, grass-reared additive free beef. This is not only eco-friendly, but really tasty. I wish there were a Hamburger Union near where I work as I would make use of it regularly.

Too Short a Visit

As it is with nearly every trip this year, the time was too short and the people I met were fantastic. I really met some interesting and bright people while in Brighton and I really look forward to keeping in touch as well as seeing them again.

July 1, 2006

They are One

Congratulations to Clearleft on their one year anniversary. This is one of "the" web shops to work with. You should be so lucky to be on their client list.

June 30, 2006

Technosocial Architect

Those of you that know me well know I am not a fan of being labeled, yes it is rather ironic. A large part of this is a breadth of focus in the lens, from which I view the world. I am deeply interested in how people interact, how people use technology, and the role of information in this equation. My main interest is information and information use, when to people want it and need it, how people acquire it. I am utter fascinated by how technology plays in this mix and how important design is. I look at technology as any mediated form of communication, other than face-to-face communication. The quest began in the technology "quot;paper age" looking at layout and design of text and images on the printed page and the actual and latent messages that were portrayed in this medium. I also dove into television and video as well as computer aided visualizations of data (Tufte was required reading in quantitative methods class (stats) in the early '90s in grad school).

Well, this life long interest only continued when I started digging into the web and online services in the early 90s. But, as my interest turned professional from hobby and grad student my training in quantitative and qualitative (ethnographic) research were used not for public policy, but for understanding what people wanted to do with technology or wished it would work, but more importantly how people wanted to use information in their life.

Basis for Digital Design and Development

As I have waded through web development and design (and its various labels). Most everything I have done is still based on the undergrad training in communication theory and organizational communication. Understanding semantics, rhetoric, layout, design, cogsci, media studies, cultural anthropology, etc. all pay a very important part in how I approach everything. It is a multi-disciplinary approach. In the mid-80s I had figured everybody would be using computers and very adept by the time I finished undergrad, that I thought it was a waste to study computer science as it was going to be like typing and it programming was going to be just like typing, in that everybody was going to be doing (um, a wee bit off on that, but what did I know I was just 18).

People Using Information in Their Life

The one thing that was of deep interest then as it is now, is how people use information in their life and want and need to use information in their life. To many people technology gets in the way of their desired ease of use of information. Those of us who design and build in the digital space spend much of our time looking at how to make our sites and applications easier for people to use.

Do you see the gap?

The gap is huge!

We (as designers and developers) focus on making our technology easy to use and providing a good experience in the domain we control.

People want to use the information when they need it, which is quite often outside the domains we as designers and developers control.

Designing for Information Use and Reuse

Part of what I have been doing in the past few years is looking at the interaction between people and information. With technology we have focussed on findability. Great and good. But, we are failing users on what they do with that information and what they want to do with that information. One question I continually ask people (particularly ones I do not know) is how are you going to use that information. When they are reading or scanning information (paper or digital it does not matter) I ask what is important to them in what is before them. Most often they point to a few things on the page that have different uses (an article referenced in the text, an advertisement for a sale, a quote they really like, etc.). But, the thing that nearly everything that they find important is it has a use beyond what they are reading. They want to read the article that is referenced, they want the date and location for the sale (online address or physical address and date and times), they want to put the quote in a presentation or paper they are writing.

End-to-end is Not the Solution

Many companies try to focus on the end-to-end solution. Think Microsoft or Google and their aim to solve the finding, retaining, using, and reusing of that information all within their products. Currently, the companies are working toward the web as the common interface, but regular people do not live their life on the web, they live it in the physical world. They may have a need for an end-to-end solution, but those have yet to become fully usable. People want to use the tools and technologies that work best for them in various contexts. As designers and developers we can not control that use, but we can make our information more usable and reusable. We have to think of the information as the focal point. We have to think of people actually connecting with other people (that is individuals not crowds) and start to value that person to person interaction and sharing on a massive scale.

Our information and its wrappers must be agnostic, but structured and prepared in a manner that is usable in the forms and applications that people actually use. The information (content to some) is the queen and the people are the king and the marriage of the two of them will continue the reign of informed people. This puts technology and the medium as the serf and workers in that kingdom. Technology and the medium is only the platform for information use and reuse of the information that is in people's lives. That platform, like the foundation of a house or any building must not be noticed and must serve its purpose. It must be simple to get the information and reuse it.

Technology and Design are Secondary

Those of us that live and breathe design and development have to realize what we build is only secondary to what people want. It is the information that is important to regular people. We are only building the system and medium. We are the car and the road that take people to Yosemite where they take pictures, build memories, bond with their travel companions, etc. What is created from this trip to Yosemite will last much longer than the car or road they used to get them to the destination. We only build the conduit. We have to understand that relationship. What we build is transient and will be gone, but what people find and discover in the information they find in what we build must last and live beyond what we control and can build or design. We must focus on what people find and want to use and reuse while they are using what we are designing and building for them.

Information as Building Blocks

All of what is being described is people finding and using information that an other person created and use it in their life. This is communication. It is a social activity. This focus is on building social interactions where information is gathered and used in other contexts. Information use and reuse is part of the human social interaction. This social component with two people or more interacting to communicate must be the focus. We must focus on how that interaction shapes other human interactions or reuses of that information garnered in the communication with an other and ease that interaction. If you are still reading (hello) you probably have something to do with design or development of technology that mediates this communication. We are building social tools in which what is communicated will most likely have a desired use for the people interacting outside of what we have built or designed.

Technosocial Architects

People who understand the social interactions between people and the technologies they use to mediate the interactions need to understand the focus is on the social interactions between people and the relationship that technology plays. It is in a sense being a technosocial architect. I ran across the word technosocial in the writings of Mimi Ito, Howard Rheingold, and Bruce Sterling. It always resonates when I hear technosocial. Social beings communicate and inherent in the term communication is information.

Focus on People, Medium, and Use

Just above you see that I referenced three people (Mimi, Howard, and Bruce) as people who used a term that seems to express how I believe I look at the work I do. It is people, more importantly, it is individuals that I can point to that I trust and listen to and are my social interpreters of the world around me. These people are filters for understanding one facet of the world around me. People have many facets to their life and they have various people (sometimes a collective of people, as in a magazine or newspaper) who are their filters for that facet of their life. There are people we listen to for food recommendations, most likely are different from those that provide entertainment, technology, clothing, auto, child care, house maintenance, finance, etc. We have distinct people we learn to trust over time to provide or reinforce the information we have found or created out of use and reuse of what we have interacted with in our life.

Looking at many of the tools available today there is a focus on the crowd in most social tools on the web. Many regular people I talk to do not find value in that crowd. They want to be able to find individual voices easily that they can learn to trust. Just like I have three people I can point to people in social software environments look at the identity (screen name many times) as their touch point. I really like Ask MetaFilter as a social group "question and answer" tool. Why? Mostly because there are screen names that I have grown to know and trust from years of reading MetaFilter. The medium is an environment that exposes identity (identity is cloaked with a screen name and can be exposed if the person so decides in their profile). People are important to people. In digitally mediated social environments the identity is that point of reference that is a surrogate for name in physical space. In print the name of the writer is important as a means to find or avoid other pieces or works. We do the same in movies, television news, television shows, online videos, podcasts, blogs, etc. the list does not end.

Our social mediums need to keep this identity and surface the identity to build trust. People use identity as gatekeepers in a world of information overload. When I look at Yahoo! Answers and Yahoo! MyWeb (my absolute favorite social bookmarking tool) I get dumped into the ocean of identities that I do not recognize. People are looking for familiarity, particularly familiarity of people (or their surrogate identity). In MyWeb I have a community (unfortunately not one that is faceted) where I trust identities (through a series of past experience) as filters for information in the digital world around us, but I am not placed in this friendly environment, but put in an environment where I find almost nothing I value presented to me. This is the way Yahoo! Answers works as well, but it does not seem like there is the ability to track people who ask or answer questions that a person would find value in.

The tools we use (as well as design and build) must understand the value of person and identity as information filters. The use of information in our lives is one explicit expression of our interest in that subject, the person who created the information, or the source what housed that information. Use and reuse of information is something we need to be able to track to better serve people (this gets in to the area of digital rights management, which usually harms information use more than it enables it, but that is another long essay). The medium needs to understand people and their social interaction people have with the information and the people who create the information and the desired use. This use goes well beyond what we create and develop. Use requires us understanding we need to let go of control of the information so it may be used as people need.

Need for Technosocial Architects

Looking at the digital tools we have around us: websites, social computing services and tools (social networking sites, wikis, blogs, mobile interaction, etc.), portals, intranets, mobile information access, search, recommendation services, personals, shopping, commerce, etc. and each of these is a social communication tool that is based on technology. Each of these has uses for the information beyond the digital walls of their service. Each of these has people who are interacting with other people through digital technology mediation. This goes beyond information architecture, user experience design, interaction design, application development, engineering, etc. It has needs that are more holistic (man I have been trying to avoid that word) and broad as well as deep. It is a need for understanding what is central to human social interactions. It is a need for understanding the technical and digital impact our tools and services have in mediating the social interaction between people. It is a need for understanding how to tie all of this together to best serve people and their need for information that matters to them when they want it and need it.

June 21, 2006

Still Thowing Out the User

There is much buzz about getting rid of the term user these days. Don Norman talks about using the term person, PeterMe picks up on this, and others are not happy with the term "user generated content", like Jon Udell who would like to use "reader-created content", Robert Scoble who believes it is screwing the Long Tail, and Jeff Veen who talks about people writing the web. I have to agree, well I did more than agree.

Throwing Out the User

More than a year ago I got fed up with the user and wrote about saying Good Bye to the User. In years prior I have watched people having painful moments in usability testing. These people felt sorry that they could not easily use what we built and designed. They had empathy for us, but we just lumped them in the category "user". User is not a good word, it is a dirty four letter word. Far too many times designers and developers blame the "user". We tried to solve the user's problems. It was not the problem of the user, it is a real person's pain.

As designers and developers we know deep inside that technology is complex and difficult to use, but we often forget it. The term user has stood in the way. But using person or people, we can see the pain and feel the pain. Many of us consider ourselves users and we do not have these problems, but we are über users, who at one point had the same pain and struggles.

People are different, we have learned this early in life. We can take some characteristics and lump groups of people together, but there are so many important facets that that make us who we are it is difficult to lump people across facets. The only way to lump people separating ourselves as designers and developers out of the equation and putting the focus on regular people. If you are reading this, you are most likely not a regular person who has problems using technology as they wish or need to. It is real people with pain. It is real people who worry about privacy, identity issues, easy access to needed info for themselves and some easy access for some people they know but impossible access for most everybody else, etc. But, the problem with this is these real people do not know this is what they want or need until they do not have it an it becomes painfully aware to them.

Generating Content

I like approach of Jeff Veen and Jon Udell who focus on person-created content. In a hip world of popularity engines like Digg where the masses or crowd bubble up information we forget that most people listen and trust individual voices. We have done this with mass media for years. We trusted certain news anchors and certain reporters on television. We read and trusted certain journalist, columnists, reviewers, and opinion writers. This trust was not always to the wrapper of the communication, like a paper or the whole network news offerings. It comes down to people trusting people. Individuals trusting individuals.

Those of us who have been blogging for nearly a dog year or more understand it is about the individual. We are individual people creating content. We are individual voices. We may be part of a collective at times, but people trust us the person and over time may come to trust people we trust, whom our readers do not know and do not trust yet.

Bringing People Together with People

So what do we need in these social computing environments? We need to see the person. We need to have the ability to find the person similar to us. We want to find those whom are near in thought to us. This may not be the most prolific person on a subject or the most linked to, but their interests match our interests and or vocabularies are similar (often a very good sign of commonality). In the popularity engines we should be able to find those who have "liked" or "dug" things similar to that which we have the same feelings and/or interests.

Doing Without the User

The past year I have been asked many times how easy it is not to use the term user. Well, at first it was hard to transition because it was a term I just used with out thinking. It was also hard because many of my clients and customers I worked with liked using the term user (they also have had many of the problems that come with the term user). But, over time I have a few clients using people and the empathy for the pain that the people who use their products feel is felt and it is reflected in their work products.

One benefit that came from focussing on the person and not the user has been being able to easily see that people have different desired uses and reuses for the data, information, media, etc. that the products I am working on or my clients are developing. I can see complexity more easily focussing on people than I could the user. Patterns are also easier to see looking at the individual people as the patterns resemble flows and not steps. When we focus on the user we try to fit what we built to pre-determined patterns, which we have broken into steps. We can determine steps that are roughly common points of task changing in the flows (changing from seeking to recognizing in a search task it part of an iterative flow, which we can determine is a separate step, but whether that leads to the next step or iterates a few more times is part of a person's information workflow.

Steps are Broken

One of the steps that is getting broken by real people is that around process. People use tools in different ways. For years we have been looking at a publish and subscribe model. But, that is missing a step or two when we look at the flows. People create content and publish it, right? Well, not quite. We are seeing people skipping the publish and pushing it straight to syndication. There is no single point where it is published and has a definable address. The old publish and subscribe model assumed publishing would syndicate the information (RSS, ATOM, RDF, etc.). But, we all know that syndication has been a really slow adoption for traditional media. It was many years after those of us blogging and syndicating information saw traditional media pick-up on the trend. But, traditional media has always understood going straight to syndication with columnists, radio, and television shows. It was the blogging community and personal content creators that were late to understanding we could just syndicate the information and skip the publishing step in the flow.

Getting to Watching People and Flows

How do we not miss things? We watch people and we need to pay attention to their flows. Each individual, each of their desires, each of their different personal information workflows, across each of their current devices, and how they wish they could have what we build inflict less pain on their person.

The person should not feel empathy for those of us building and designing tools and systems, we must feel the person's and peoples pain and feel empathy for them. Where have we stood in their way of their desired flow? Now we must get out of the way, get rid of the user, and focus on people to build and design more effectively.

June 17, 2006

Cultures of Simplicity and Information Structures

Two Conferences Draw Focus

I am now getting back to responding to e-mail sent in the last two or three weeks and digging through my to do list. As time wears I am still rather impressed with both XTech and the Microlearning conferences. Both have a focus on information and data that mirrors my approaches from years ago and are the foundation for how I view all information and services. Both rely on well structured data. This is why I pay attention and keep involved in the information architecture community. Well structured data is the foundation of what falls into the description of web 2.0. All of our tools for open data reuse demands that the underlying data is structured well.

Simplicity of the Complex

One theme that continually bubbled up at Microlearning was simplicity. Peter A. Bruck in his opening remarks at Microlearning focussed on simplicity being the means to take the complex and make it understandable. There are many things in the world that are complex and seemingly difficult to understand, but many of the complex systems are made up of simple steps and simple to understand concepts that are strung together to build complex systems and complex ideas. Every time I think of breaking down the complex into the simple components I think of Instructables, which allows people to build step-by-step instructions for anything, but they make each of the steps as reusable objects for other instructions. The Instructables approach is utterly brilliant and dead in-line with the microlearning approach to breaking down learning components into simple lessons that can be used and reused across devices, based on the person wanting or needing the instruction and providing it in the delivery media that matches their context (mobile, desktop, laptop, tv, etc.).

Simple Clear Structures

This structuring of information ties back into the frameworks for syndication of content and well structured data and information. People have various uses and reuses for information, data, and media in their lives. This is the focus on the Personal InfoCloud. This is the foundation for information architecture, addressable information that can be easily found. But, in our world of information floods and information pollution due to there being too much information to sort through, findability of information is important as refindability (this is rarely addressed). But, along with refindability is the means to aggregate the information in interfaces that make sense of the information, data, and media so to provide clarity and simplicity of understanding.

Europe Thing Again

Another perspective of the two conferences was they were both in Europe. This is not a trivial variable. At XTech there were a few other Americans, but at Microlearning I was the only one from the United States and there were a couple Canadians. This European approach to understanding and building is slightly different from the approach in the USA. In the USA there is a lot of building and then learning and understanding, where as in Europe there seems to be much more effort in understanding and then building. The results are somewhat different and the professional nature of European products out of the gate where things work is different than in the USA. This was really apparent with System One, which is an incredible product. System One has all the web 2.0 buzzwords under the hood, but they focus on a simple to use tool that pulls together the best of the new components, but only where it makes sense to create a simple tool that addresses complex problems.

Culture of Understanding Complex to Make Simple

It seems the European approach is to understand and embrace the complex and make it simple through deep understanding of how things are built. It is very similar to Instructables as a culture. The approach in the USA seems to include the tools, but have lacked the understanding of the underlying components and in turn have left out elements that really embrace simplicity. Google is a perfect example of this approach. They talk simplicity, but nearly every tool is missing elements that make it fully usable (calendar not having sync, not being able to only have one or two Google tools on rather than everything on). This simplicity is well understood by the designers and they have wonderful solutions to the problems, but the corporate culture of churning things out gets in the way.

Breaking It Down for Use and Reuse

Information in simple forms that can be aggregated and viewed as people need in their lives is essential to us moving forward and taking the pain out of technology that most regular people experience on a daily basis. It is our jobs to understand the underlying complexity, create simple usable and reusable structures for that data and information, and allow simple solutions that are robust to be built around that simplicity.

June 9, 2006

System One Takes Information Workflow to a New Level

While at Microlearning Conference 2006 Bruno and Tom demonstrated their System One product. This has to be one of the best knowledge/information tools that I have seen in years. They completely understand simplicity and interaction design and have used it to create an information capture and social software tool for the enterprise. Bruno pointed me to a System One overview screen capture (you do not have to login to get started) that features some of the great elements in System One.

One of the brilliant aspects of System One is their marketing of the product. While it has easily usable wiki elements, heavy AJAX, live search, etc. they do not market these buzzwords, they market the ease of use to capture information (which can become knowledge) and the ease of finding information. The simplicity of the interface and interaction make it one of the best knowledge management tools available. Most knowledge management tools fall down on the information entry perspective. Building tools that are part of your workflow, inclusion of information from those that do not feed the KM tool, is essential and System One is the first tools that I have seen that understands this an delivers a product that proves they get it.

The enterprise social software market is one that is waiting to take off, as there is a very large latent need (that has been repressed by poor tools in the past). System One tool is quite smart as they have built e-mail search, file access, Google live file search (you type in the wiki (you do not need to know it is a wiki) and the terms used are searched in Google to deliver a rather nice contextual search. This built in search solves the Google complexity of building solid narrow search queries, but the person using the system just needs to have the capability to enter information into the screen.

Those of us that are geeks find Google queries a breeze, but regular people do not find it easy to tease out the deeply buried gems of information hidden in Google. Surfacing people who are considered experts, or atleast connectors to experts on subjects is part of the System One tool as well and this is an insanely difficult task in an enterprise.

My only wish was that I worked in an organization that would be large enough to use this tool, or there was a personal version I could use to capture and surface my own information when I am working.

You may recognize System One as the developer of retreivr, the Flickr interactive tool that allows you to draw a simple picture and their tool will find related photos in Flickr based on the drawing's pattern and colors. It is a brilliant tool, but not as smart as their main product.

May 30, 2006

Is Mechanical Turk for Digital Human Filters?

The New York Times article, Software to Look for Experts Among Your Friends, brought to mind a couple conversations from my recent trip to Amsterdam. At XTech there were a couple presentations about Mechanical Turk (as well as other Amazon web services) and the big question was "what is a killer application for Mechanical Turk?" Many of us through out suggestions, many good, but I have kept thinking about one.

The one killer application is not really a problem a human solves, but the collective interests and amalgamation of information and trained services humans use and have trained. You see, for me Yahoo's MyWeb 2.0 is my killer search solution as it pays attention to what I and my "community" have interest in and mirrors our vocabulary (we used our own vocabulary to tag items of interest on the web in the MyWeb social bookmarking tool). These items of interest in MyWeb 2.0 are offered to me first in my web searches and more often than not what I am seeking is in this collection of mine or my contact's.

These searches that are based on human filters and collaborative filtering of information and structuring what we find of interest and bookmark bringing the information out from 5 to 40 pages deep in the web. It mirrors our interests and perspectives. But, what if we need information outside of our own interests? Now we need not our own corpus of items and possibly one outside those in our loose collective. Let us think I need information about transmission of disease between monkeys. This is not something I have interest in and I am not sure anybody I know (or would be couple of degrees of separation away) would have interest in. This is where I would love to turn to Mechanical Turk to use the filtering and aggregation capabilities of another person's life filtering. I may not want to add the monkey disease transmission to my own corpus, but I need to use a corpus of somebody who has this interest. In a sense I need to uses somebody's digital brain and information attraction mechanisms.

I am not sure if this is really a job for Mechanical Turk, but it requires another person's interests and permission. The Tacit company seems to have a similar product, but only works on Windows and most of the people I would want to tap are not Windows users, but most have web-based information resources.

May 28, 2006

An Overview of the Local InfoCloud is Available

I have finally posted a write-up on Exposing the Local InfoCloud, which explains the attributes and components that comprise the Local InfoCloud. This is a write-up of an explanation that has been bubbling for a couple years and I finally put into a presentation last Fall for Design Engaged. The Local InfoCloud include resources that are familiar to us and can often be the social software elements with which we interact as trusted resources.

During a recent symposium on social software (I attended virtually) there was much grumbling around the term "community" and when I stated I was going to try and redact that term from my usage, I was quickly asked what I was going to replace it with. Community is broadly used and for most of my uses the components in the Local InfoCloud are more distinct pointers to what people can mean when they discuss community. The components are also can help us describe the human and digital resources that bring data, information, and media objects closer to us.

When I have chatted with people about the attributes and components in the past it leads to more questions and wonderful discussions. The point of this piece is to clarify the framework for the Local InfoCloud and capture discussion. I have incorporated the feedback from chats I have had, where it was convincing, relevant, and I was happy with how it jelled. I am looking for more feedback and discussion, which is part of the reason it is posted at the Personal InfoCloud (comments and trackback capabilities are available, but moderated, there).

May 25, 2006

Developing the Web for Whom?

Google Web Developer Toolkit for the Closed Web

Andrew in his post "Reading user interface libraries" brings in elements of yesterday's discussion on The Battle to Build the Personal InfoCloud. Andrew brings up something in his post regarding Google and their Google Web Developer Toolkit (GWT. He points out it is in Java and most of the personal web (or new web) is built in PHP, Ruby [(including Ruby on Rails), Python, and even Perl].

When GWT was launched I was at XTech in Amsterdam and much of the response was confusion as to why it was in Java and not something more widely used. It seems that by choosing Java for developing GWT it is aiming at those behind the firewall. There is still much development on the Intranet done in Java (as well as .Net). This environment needs help integrating rich interaction into their applications. The odd part is many Intranets are also user-experience challenged as well, which is not one of Google's public fortés.

Two Tribes: Inter and Intra

This whole process made me come back to the two differing worlds of Internet and Intranet. On the Internet the web is built largely with Open Source tools for many of the big services (Yahoo, Google, EBay, etc.) and nearly all of the smaller services are Open Source (the cost for hosting is much much lower). The Open Source community is also iterating their solutions insanely fast to build frameworks (Ruby on Rails, etc.) to meet ease of development needs. These sites also build for all operating systems and aim to work in all modern browsers.

On the Intranet the solutions are many times more likely to be Java or .Net as their is "corporate" support for these tools and training is easy to find and there is a phone number to get help from. The development is often for a narrower set of operating systems and browsers, which can be relatively easy to define in a closed environment. The Google solution seems to work well for this environment, but it seems that early reaction to its release in the personal web it fell very flat.

13 Reasons

A posting about Top 13 reasons to CONSIDER the Microsoft platform for Web 2.0 development and its response, "Top 13 reasons NOT to consider the Microsoft platform for Web 2.0 development" [which is on a .Net created site] had me thinking about these institutional solutions (Java and .Net) in an openly developed personal web. The institutional solutions seem like they MUST embrace the open solutions or work seamlessly with them. Take any one of the technical solutions brought up in the Microsoft list (not including Ray Ozzie or Robert Scoble as technical solutions) and think about how it would fit into personal site development or a Web 2.0 developed site. I am not so sure that in the current state of the MS tools they could easily drop in with out converting to the whole suite. Would the Visual .Net include a Python, PHP, Ruby, Ruby On Rails, or Perl plug-in?The Atlas solution is one option in now hundreds of Ajax frameworks. To get use the tools must had more value (not more cost or effort) and embrace what is known (frogs are happy in warm water, but will not enter hot water). Does Atlas work on all browsers? Do I or any Internet facing website developer want to fail for some part of their audience that are using modern browsers?

The Web is Open

The web is about being browser agnostic and OS agnostic. The web makes the OS on the machine irrelevant. The web is about information, media, data, content, and digital objects. The tools that allow us to do things with these elements are increasingly open and web-based and/or personal machine-based.

Build Upon Open Data and Open Access

The web is moving to making the content elements (including the microconent elements) open for use beyond the site. Look at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the open APIs in the Yahoo Developer Network. Both of these companies openly ease community access and use of their content and services. This draws people into Amazon and Yahoo media and properties. What programming and scripting languages are required to use these services? Any that the developer wants.. That is right, unlike Google pushing Java to use their solution, Amazon and Yahoo get it, it is up to the developer to use what is best for them. What browsers do the Amazon and Yahoo solutions work in? All browsers.

I have been watching Microsoft Live since I went to Search Champs as they were making sounds that they got it too. The Live Clipboard [TechCrunch review] that Ray Ozzie gave at O'Reilly ETech is being developed in an open community (including Microsoft) for the whole of the web to use. This is being done for use in all browsers, on all operating systems, for all applications, etc. It is open. This seems to show some understanding of the web that Microsoft has not exhibited before. For Microsoft to become relevant, get in the open web game, and stay in the game they must embrace this approach. I am never sure that Google gets this and there are times where I am not sure Yahoo fully gets it either (a "media company" that does not support Mac, which the Mac is comprised of a heavily media-centric community and use and consume media at a much higher rate than the supported community and the Mac community is where many of the trend setters are in the blogging community - just take a look around at SXSW Interactive or most any other web conference these days (even XTech had one third of the users on Mac).

Still an Open Playing Field

There is an open playing field for the company that truly gets it and focusses on the person and their needs. This playing field is behind firewalls on Intranet and out in the open Internet. It is increasingly all one space and it continues to be increasingly open.

May 24, 2006

The Battle to Build the Personal InfoCloud

Over at Personal InfoCloud I posted The Future is Now for Information Access, which was triggered by an interview with Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) about the future of technology and information. I do not see his future 10 years out, but today. I see the technology in the pockets of people today. People are frustrated with the information not being easily accessed and use and reuse not being as simple as it should. Much of this is happening because of the structure of the information.

Personal InfoCloud is the Focus

One thing that struck me from the article, which I did not write about, was the focus on Google. Personally I find it odd as Yahoo is sitting on the content and the structure for more than 90 percent of what is needed to pull off the Personal InfoCloud. Yahoo is beginning to execute and open access to their data in proper structures. Ballmer lays out a nearly exact scenario for aggregating one's own information and putting it in our lives to the one I have been presenting the last few years. Yahoo has the components in place today to build on top of and make it happen. Google is not only lacking the structure, but they are not executing well on their products they produce. Google does the technically cool beta, but does not iterate and fix the beta nor are they connecting the dots. Yahoo on the other hand is iterating and connecting (they need to focus on this with more interest, passion, and coordinated direction).

The Real Battle

I really do not see the battle as being between Google and the others. The real battle is between Yahoo and Microsoft. Why? Both focus on the person and that person's use and need for information in their life and with their context. Information needs to be aggregated (My Yahoo is a great start, but it goes deeper and broader) and filtered based on interest and need. We are living in a flood of information that has crossed into information pollution territory. We need to remove the wretched stench of information to get back the sweet smell of information. We need to pull together our own creations across all of the places we create content. We need to attract information from others whom have similar interests, frameworks, and values (intellectual, social, political, technological, etc.). The only foundation piece Yahoo is missing is deep storage for each person's own information, files, and media.

Microsoft Live Gets It

Microsoft has the same focus on the person. I have become intrigued with the Microsoft Live properties (although still have a large disconnect with their operating systems and much of their software). Live is aiming where Yahoo is sitting and beyond. Microsoft has the cash and the interest to assemble the pieces and people to get there. Live could get there quickly. Looking at the Live products I saw in January at Search Champs with some in relatively early states and what was launched a few months later, the are iterating quickly and solidly based on what real people want and need in their lives (not the alpha geeks, which Google seems to target). Live products are not done and the teams are intact and the features and connections between the components are growing. They are leaving Google in the dust.

Can Yahoo Stay Ahead of Microsoft?

The question for Yahoo is can they keep up and keep ahead of Microsoft? Google has the focus in search as of today (not for me as the combination of Yahoo! MyWeb 2.0 and Yahoo! Search combined blow away anything that Google has done or seemingly can do. Yahoo! does need to greatly improve the simplicity, ease of use, and payoff (it takes a while for the insanely great value of MyWeb 2.0 to kick in and that needs to come much earlier in the use phase for regular people).

I am seeing Microsoft assembling teams of smart passionate people who want to build a killer web for regular people. It seems Ray Ozzie was the turn around for this and is part of the draw for many heading to work on Live products. The competition for minds of people who get it puts Live in competition with Google, Yahoo, EBay, Amazon, and even Apple. I am seeing Live getting the people in that they need. Recently (last week) Microsoft even started changing their benefits and employee review practices to better compete and keep people. It seems that they are quite serious and want to make it happen now.

Yahoo Under Valued

Recent comments about Yahoo being under valued in the long term are dead on in my view. A recent Economist article about Google pointed out how poorly they execute on everything but their core service (search). This waking up starts to bring a proper focus on what those of us who look at regular people and their needs from information and media in their lives have been seeing, Yahoo gets it and is sitting on a gold mine. Yahoo has to realize that Microsoft sees the same thing and is pushing hard with a proper focus and passion to get there as well.

Google Overvalued

What does this mean for Google? I am not sure. Google is a technology company that is focussed on some hard problems, but it has to focus on solutions that people can use. Google aims for simple interfaces, but does not provide simple solutions or leaves out part of the solutions to keep it simple. They need a person-centered approach to their products. The addition of Jeff Veen and his Measure Map team should help, if they listen. Google has some excellent designers who are focussed on usable design for the people, but it seems that the technology is still king. That needs to change for Google to stay in the game.

May 23, 2006

More XTech 2006

I have had a little time to sit back and think about XTech I am quite impressed with the conference. The caliber of presenter and the quality of their presentations was some of the best of any I have been to in a while. The presentations got beneath the surface level of the subjects and provided insight that I had not run across elsewhere.

The conference focus on browser, open data (XML), and high level presentations was a great mix. There was much cross-over in the presentations and once I got the hang that this was not a conference of stuff I already knew (or presented at a level that is more introductory), but things I wanted to dig deeper into. I began to realize late into the conference (or after in many cases) that the people presenting were people whose writting and contributions I had followed regularly when I was doing deep development (not managing web development) of web applications. I changed my focus last Fall to get back to developing innovative applications, working on projects that are built around open data, and that filled some of the many gaps in the Personal InfoCloud (I also left to write, but that did get side tracked).

As I mentioned before, XTech had the right amount of geek mindset in the presentations. The one that really brought this to the forefront of my mind was on XForms, an Alternative to Ajax by Erik Bruchez. It focussed on using XForms as a means to interact with structured data with Ajax.

Once it dawned on me that this conference was rather killer and I sould be paying attention to the content and not just those in the floating island of friends the event was nearly two-thirds the way through. This huge mistake on my part was the busy nature of things that lead up to XTech, as well as not getting there a day or two earlier to adjust to the time, and attend the pre-conference sessions and tutorials on Ajax.

I was thrilled ot see the Platial presentation and meet the makers of the service. When I went to attend Simon Willison's presentation rather than attending the GeoRSS session, I realized there was much good content at XTech and it is now one on my must attend list.

As the conference was progressing I was thinking of all of the people that would have really benefitted and enjoyed XTech as well. A conference about open data and systems to build applications with that meet real people's needs is essential for most developers working out on the live web these days.

If XTech sounded good this year in Amsterdam, you may want to note that it will be in Paris next year.

May 16, 2006

Live Data Could Solve the Social Bookmarking Problem with Information Volatility

Alex brings up something in his Go and microformat stuff! covering what is in the works with Microformats at Microsoft. Scroll down to where Alex talks about "mRc = Live data wiring", now this live data access is incredibly important.

One of the elements that has been bugging me with social bookmarking it the volatility of the information is not taken into account when the bookmark is made. No, I am not talking about the information blowing up, but the blood pressure of the person bookmarking may rise if the data changes in some way. I look at social bookmarking, or bookmarking in general as a means to mark a place, but it fails as an indicator of state or status change of the information we are pointing to. The expressing of bookmarking and/or tagging is an expression of our explicit interest in that object we bookmarked and/or tagged. The problem is our systems so far are saying, "yes, you have interest, but so what".

What the live data approach does is makes our Personal InfoCloud active. If we could bookmark information and/or tag chunks of information as important we should be able to find out when that information changes, or better get an alert before the information changes. One area where this is essential and will add huge value is shopping. What happens with products in the real world? The prices change, they go out of stock, the product is modified, production of the product stopped, etc. The permeations are many, but those expressing interest should be alerted and have their information updated.

One of the things I have been including in my "Come to Me Web" presentations is the ability to think about what a person needs when they use and want to reuse information. We read about a product we desire, we read the price, but we may think about the product or put it on a wish list that is related to an event in the future. When we go to act on the purchase the information we have gathered and bookmarked may be out of date.

One solution I have been talking about in my presentations is providing an RSS/ATOM feed for the page as it is bookmarked so the person gets the ability to get updated information. I have built similar functionality into past products years ago that let people using data know when the data changed (e-mail) but also provided the means to show what the data was prior and what it had changed to. It was functionality that was deeply helpful to the users of the system. Live data seems a more elegant solution, if it provides the means to see what information had changed should the person relying on or desiring the information want it.

April 30, 2006

Popularity Overrated?

Matt McAlister brings up the problems of being popular. This is a subject I have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about the past few months. Matt has a statement that is at the core of my focus, "Popularity-driven models water down the value in those hard-to-find nuggets." I spend a lot of time with regular people talking to them about tagging and many of the newer web tools that are popular with the forward thinking web geek crowd. One of the biggest problems stated are around the popularity tools, like tag clouds and collective voting on news (e.g. digg, etc.).

The problems are related to popularity getting in the way of what they are seeking. The tag cloud is what gets noticed on pages, but most people think (or any other tool or service that uses tag clouds) is fully represented by the tag cloud. That is a huge problem as is a very broad tool, but a quick look at what is in a tag cloud or the new items on the front page has users thinking it is a very narrowly focussed social bookmarking tool that mostly attracts people with technical and web interests. This completely misses the communities that sit under that tag cloud. In popular tools most of the content and communities of interest are sitting below the tag cloud and are not represeted at all by the tag cloud.

Much of the value of human filtering, which is the capability of a social bookmarking tools (like, RawSugar, Shadows, and Yahoo's MyWeb 2) is in finding the those &#quot;hard-to-find nuggets" (as Matt states). The value in these tools is being able to follow certain people on specific subjects, which they bookmark and tag. Many of these tools are fairly good at this, but they must focus on the specific interests not just the person in that service. As the tools grow with more people using them the tools must scale to allow us to filter out the noise.

Popularity does not help filter, but it takes the fire hose of information and just focusses it. What we find with the popularity tools it that much of this information can be found elsewhere. Remember high school? Do the popular 10% represent the interests of the remaining 90%? Didn't think so. Now look at the popularity tools and interfaces and you begin to see the problems that the 95% of the web users have with these tools. They don't scale, they are tied to their interests that they celebrate as being popular. How do regular people fly below the tag cloud? How do regular people use a Digg or a memeorandum to find their interests (if these sites were that broad)? How do we (as web developers and designers) build for breadth and depths to surface that, which is lost in the regular web search engines?

Seeing how Yahoo's MyWeb 2 surfaces content that people in one's own community have found and bookmarked, it could be that tagging is one of the methods (MyWeb 2 is hands-down my favorite social bookmarking tool as it makes Yahoo Search the best search engine for me by a long shot because it focusses on my vocabulary and interests. Were my interests focussed on model railroading or knitting a tool along these lines would be far more valuble than any other tool. Finding new items, as well as the gems that are hidden, is quite tough on the web today and I don't see the popularity tools doing anything to fix this.

Does this mean that the popularity tools do not work? No, but their usage is limited.

March 17, 2006

SXSW Interactive and Austin BarCamp Overview

This year's SXSW was incredible. It started out a little overwhelming as I realized there were six distinct groups that I hang out with and they don't really intermix. But, this all worked out, as by Sunday I realized that there was enough time to spend time with each group. SXSW has always been the place I escape to so to have wonderful conversations and to hang with many like minds. This year was did not let me down, in fact there were many like minds.

The Tagging 2.0 panel I was on seemed to have gone well, based on the comments that followed. (My presentation with diagram will be posted in a week or so.)

BarCamp Austin

I went over to the BarCamp Austin and had a wonderful time for the hour or so I hung out there. I was a little late for Tara's "Marketing your project: Cluetrain style presentation, but I really enjoyed what I heard. I also got to finally meet Chris Messina and thank him for making the original BarCamp enjoyable and accessible for those of use that were attending virtually (he walked the laptop around when the people moved

Best Take Away Ever

My favorite part of SXSW Interactive this year was not only getting to meet Bruce Sterling (finally), but having him sign my copy (or one of them) of his Wired Magazine article on folksonomy and myself, ":Order Out of Chaos". I got a kick out of the "Dr. Folksonomy".

When you get a chance go grab the podcast of Bruce Sterling's closing remarks, which were stellar and moving.

Killer Digits for the Pocket or Hip

This year, not only did the official SXSW site have a wonderful service to for their pushing their schedule (only the things you want) to your mobile device, but there were other great tools used enforce. It seemed many people had logged into Dodgeball for Austin, a mobile service that lets you know where your friends are and lets you ping the service to share your location. This made connecting with your friends at the right party, restaurant, or bar really easy (I do not normally have a use for this at home). I also used Upcoming to track the events I had interest in and then push them to my phone so I had the time and location with me at all times.

This is a really great example of moving information that is of value out of the web and into our real lives. As a web developer I realized years ago that most of the information that is on the web is not really usable or reusable as it is not structured to be used in the place or context where it makes most sense. Most people do not live their lives on the web they live them in the real world. Information and media must be built with this understanding.

March 8, 2006

ETech is Emergent? [updated]

I thought this would be the year I was going to ETech, but with a few other things going on it was not the year. I have many friends that go each year and I see them very rarely.

But, I think I would have been very frustrated by ETech this year. It is still about the web. Achingly, still about the web. The problem is digital information and media is increasingly living beyond the web. The web is but one platform to distribute information, but thinking people live their lives in and on the web is silly. Want the information that is on the web, but need the information in their lives, in their devices they have with them, and in context to the rest of their life.

The panel that triggered this reaction is one by friends, Jesse and Jeff "Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps". In Tom Coates review the binary approach (web for reading and web for apps) sounds so short sited and really caused the trigger. Is Emerging Tech just rehashing the current and the past? Or can it move forward? I am not seeing much of that forward movement this year.

People live their lives attracting information and focussing on the Come to Me Web and Personal InfoCloud we know people need the information to better mesh into their personal digital information workflow, which involves very little of the web. People find the information that they want and need and work very hard to keep it attracted to themself for easy refindability. Other than social bookmarking tools and a few others web based tools, much of this is done with tools that are beyond the web. Some people tuck all of their needed information and links into e-mail, others calendar, to do lists, PIMs, text files, syndication, e-mail, SMS, MMS, documents, mobile syndication, mobile documents, outlines, wiki on a stick, etc. There are many tools and many ways of working around lack of web access when people need the information most.

Many people, unlike those of us that build web-based tools (I am in that category), don't live on the web and their digital information needs to live beyond the web as well. That is the future of the web, it is a platform for just one state of information. That state that the web represents is the state of information transience. The information is in the process of moving from the creator to the person needing that information for their own use or for their reuse. This use will most likely not be on the web, but the reuse of information may be on the web.

The web as it exists now is a tool for publishing and aggregating. Some will use the web for use and reuse, but we need far more options that the web for real people to adopt their future and our now. We, as developers of tools, information, and resources must pay attention to real people. We must pay attention to their lives beyond the web and the large box in front of them. We need to understand their problems that they really have, which revolve around refindability and information reuse in their environment and context.

Now please go back to paying careful attention to the great things that friends and other alpha geeks are presenting at ETech and other conferences and un-conferences as that information is needed, but remember we are moving beyond, far beyond this current state of the web.

[update] Um, well Ray Ozzie just made me wish I was at ETech. He just showed what is emergent and what is the future. It could answer many of the items I just listed above. You go Ray!

Upcoming Presentations and Conferences

Things have been a little busy around these parts, but activity and early Spring allergies will not keep me from letting you know that the road show is beginning again.


I am heading off to SXSW Interactive to participate in Tagging 2.0 Panel where we will discuss growth, changes, and new ideas in the realm of tagging.

I will also be hanging out with the Web Standards Project (WaSP) people as we are having our WaSP Annual Meeting open to the public.

This year looks to have some killer content at SXSW, not that it has not in the past, but there are more things than ever that I am interested in attending. I certainly hope they found larger spaces this year. Usually the corridors are overly enticing, but the session rooms could pose a challenge this year. I am looking forward to hanging, chatting, learning, and recharging my web vibe.

IA Summit

I am headed to the IA Summit in Vancouver, British Columbia later in March. I am on the Wireframing Challenges in Modern Web Development panel, which I will be moderating Nathan Curtis, Livia Labate, Bill Scott, and Todd Warfel. We will be looking at the wireframing challenges and solutions of the current web.

I am also presenting my IA for Efficient Use and Reuse of Information. As the web 2.0 meme rings out we realize there is a greater need beyond that as people actually want to use and reuse the information in their own personal information workflows and not always in one web application. I will focus on granular content inventories as well as how to identify content objects for information reuse and set the structure of that information for better use and reuse.

I am incredibly happy to see that Kevin Chang (along with Jane Jao) are presenting Communicating with Comics as a panel as well as a full day workshop. This could be the hidden golden nugget at the IA Summit.


I will be heading to Amsterdam, Netherlands for XTech in May. I am presenting "Developing for the Personal InfoCloud" on Thursday May 18. I will be discussing the Model of Attraction and Come to Me Web as foundations to focus on building for personal use and reuse of digital information and objects.

Microlearning Conference 2006

I will be one of the keynote speakers at the Microlearning Conference in Innsbruck, Austria held on June 8-9, 2006.

More to Follow

There are a few more that will be added shortly. I am also keeping busy with in-house presentations on the Come to Me Web, Personal InfoCloud, Folksonomy, and other related topics. If you would have an interest in having me present at your conferece, workshop, or an in-house event please contact me.

January 21, 2006

Changing the Flow of the Web and Beyond

In the past few days of being wrapped up in moving this site to a new host and client work, I have come across a couple items that have similar DNA, which also relate to my most recent post on the Come to Me Web over at the Personal InfoCloud.

Sites to Flows

The first item to bring to light is a wonderful presentation, From Sites to Flows: Designing for the Porous Web (3MB PDF), by Even Westvang. The presentation walks through the various activities we do as personal content creators on the web. Part of this fantastic presentation is its focus on microcontent (the granular content objects) and its relevance to context. Personal publishing is more than publishing on the web, it is publishing to content streams, or "flows" as Even states it. These flows of microcontent have been used less in web browsers as their first use, but consumed in syndicated feeds (RDF, RSS/Atom, Trackback, etc.). Even moves to talking about Underskog, a local calendaring portal for Oslo, Norway.

The Publish/Subscribe Decade

Salim Ismail has a post about The Evolution of the Internet, in which he states we are in the Publish/Subscribe Decade. In his explanation Salim writes:

The web has been phenomonally successful and the amount of information available on it is overwhelming. However, (as Bill rightly points out), that information is largely passive - you must look it up with a browser. Clearly the next step in that evolution is for the information to become active and tell you when something happens.

It is this being overwhelmed with information that has been of interest to me for a while. We (the web development community) have built mechanisms for filtering this information. There are many approaches to this filtering, but one of them is the subscription and alert method.

The Come to Me Web

It is almost as if I had written Come to Me Web as a response or extension of what Even and Salim are discussing (the post had been in the works for many weeks and is an longer explanation of a focus I started putting into my presentations in June. This come to me web is something very few are doing and/or doing well in our design and development practices beyond personal content sites (even there it really needs a lot of help in many cases). Focussing on the microcontent chunks (or granular content objects in my personal phraseology) we can not only provide the means for others to best consume our information we are providing, but also aggregate it and provide people with better understanding of the world around them. More importantly we provide the means to best use and reuse the information in people's lives.

Important in this flow of information is to keep the source and identity of the source. Having the ability to get back to the origination point of the content is essential to get more information, original context, and updates. Understanding the identity of the content provider will also help us understand perspective and shadings in the microcontent they have provided.

January 11, 2006

Real Time Flight Tracking Site for Your Mobile

Thanks to Tim Boyd I found a wonderful Mobile Flight Tracking Tool (the flight tracking tool is described by Jon Gales the developer. Tim took a photo of the flight tracking tool running on his Treo.

This is exactly the right tool to do the job that many need. Everybody complains about the lack of mobile interfaces to flight on-time information when they are needing to meet somebody at the airport. The airlines solutions either do not exist, are not detailed enough, or have interfaces that are cluttered (even on a Treo). Airlines suggested arrival times are a joke as they are trying to compensate for their tendencies for late arrivals, which they get penalized on. This has lead to a 45 minute flight from Washington to New York being stated at a flight time of 2 hours or more. On-time flight is not anything close to an efficient guide.

Most of the airline sites only think of the desktop for decent information, but where real-time flight arrival information is important is when you are on the go. Jon Gales's application solves a real life information need in the context of life. A standing ovation for his work is in order. I wish more apps like this were in existence, information solutions for people's real lives (we do not sit at our desktops and most do not carry their laptops where ever they go).

When designing for the mobile (this app horizontally scrolls on my Nokia 3650 and solving that is a relatively easy solution) we need to cut out the clutter. We need to understand the information need and the information that can be provided on that small screen. Paring away what is not essential is a vital task. Getting to what is important is also important. What is important is accurate and useful information for people's given the context that people wanting to use the information on the go face.

January 6, 2006

Yahoo! Go Launches [Updated]

I am quite interested in the newly launched Yahoo! Go, which is self described as:

Yahoo! Go - a new suite of products and services for your PC, mobile phone and even your TV.

Yahoo! Go allows you to access the information and content that is important to you on whatever device you choose.

So wherever you go, your photos, your music, your email, " your life&#quot; is right there with you. Ready to go.

The service provides your contacts (address book), photos, messanger, and mail. All great to have where ever you go. This is a very helpful service.

But wait! It is missing one thing. Yahoo! states, "allows you to access the information and content that is important to you". If that is true it is missing one giant piece. Where is the calendar? [Update] The calendar is actually there. Russ Beattie (of Yahoo! Mobile) provided the following response:

Y! Go also syncs the Calendar, it syncs with your Yahoo! Calendar and uses the Series 60 native calendar app on the phone for alerts. The SyncML service also syncs the calendar on phones like the SonyEricsson's and Nokias which support it.

What really impresses me is the SyncML work. That news is one of the most impressive things I have heard on calendaring in a while. I have been waiting for Apple to go this route for their iSync for the last couple revisions and I thought they would be the leaders on this syncing standards front. Yahoo! seems to understand the needs today and the future, which is one of the things that has impressed me about Yahoo! in the last year or two (they really get it, possibly better than any other large web company, yes I am considering Google too). If you want more info on Yahoo! and using SyncML Russ has the following post on Yahoo! Mobile Services: SyncML and More. I am still not sure why the marketing people left out calendaring. [/Update]

<ignore>Of all the things to leave out.</ignore> The calendar is one of two pieces of essential social data that people complain constantly that they do not have access to, or did not sync properly (the other is contact info). A large part of our social communication is about the "next". It could be the next call, the next meeting, the next lunch, the next... you fill-in the blank. Social is not completely about the now, it is about the future too. Not having a component to connect in the future and to ensure proper planning it is only a partial social tool.

One of my pet peeves the last four years, or so I have been working with the Model of Attraction and the Personal InfoCloud (your information you are interested, that you have attracted to your device, becomes attracted to you and moves across your devices so it is at your ready call when you want it and need it) is constant access to one's own information, which means whether you have connectivity or not and is available on the device you have with you (it must be device and platform agnostic). Yahoo! seems to get this all but for that one important bit.

In the past year Yahoo! purchased a company that provides event information (Upcoming), which could tie wonderfully into a calendar (either as events you are attending or potential events). Yahoo! also recently announced connecting Tivo and your Yahoo! calendar. We know they get the importance of the calendar. Where oh where is it? [Update] It is actually there just not advertised.[/Update]

January 1, 2006

For Many AJAX is Not Degrading, But it Must

A little over two months ago Chad Dickerson posted one of the most insightful things on his site, Web 0.1 head-to-head: 37Signals' Backpackit vs. Gmail in Lynx. You are saying Lynx? Yes! The point is what 37Signals turns out degrades wonderfully and it is still usable. It could work on your mobile device or on a six year old low end computer in Eritrea in a coffee house or internet cafe (I have known two people who have just done that in the last year and found Gmail did not work nor did MSN, but Yahoo did beautifully).

Degrading is a Good Thing

Part of my problem with much of the push towards AJAX (it is a good, no great thing that XMLHTTPRequest is finally catching on). But, it must degrade well. It must still be accessible. It must be usable. If not, it is a cool useless piece of rubbish for some or many people. I have been living through this with airline sites (Continental), commerce sites (Amazon - now slightly improved), actually you name it and they adopted some where in this past year. In most cases it did not work in all browsers (many times only in my browser of last resort, which by that time I am completely peeved).

When Amazon had its wish list break on my mobile device (I (and I have found a relatively large amount of others this past couple years doing the same thing) use it to remember what books I want when I am in brick bookstores and I will check book prices as well as often add books to my wish list directly) I went nuts. The page had a ghastly sized JavaScript, which did some nice things on desktops and laptops but made the page far too large to download on a mobile device (well over 250 kb). In the past few weeks things seemed to have reversed themselves as the page degrades much better.

Is There Hope?

Chad's write-up was a nice place to start pointing, as well as pointing out the millions of dollars lost over the course of time (Continental admitted they had a problem and had waived the additional phone booking fee as well as said their calls were up considerably since the web redesign that broke things for many). Besides Chad and 37Signals I have found Donna Mauer's Designing usable rich internet applications as a starting point. I also finally picked up DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model by Jeremy Keith, which focusses on getting JavaScript (and that means AJAX too) to degrade. It is a great book for designers, developers, and those managing these people.

I have an awful lot of hope, but it pains me as most of us learned these lessons five to seven years ago. Things are much better now with web standards in browsers, but one last hurdle is DOM standardization and that deeply impacts JavaScript/DOMScripting.

December 21, 2005

Delicious Lesson and Social Network Ecosystems

Joshua Porter brings up a wonderful point he is calling the "Delicious Lesson". The Lesson is incredibly important, as it is one thing that many tools and implementations of the social web do not get. The person must get value for their interaction in the service or it will fade.

I see so much focus on the technology, the interaction components, the network effect, etc. But, the driver for these services that are successful is that they have a direct primary value for the person choosing to use them.

A Little Effort for Greater Personal Payback

Jeff Hawkins (the inventor of the Palm device and pen-based writing language (Graffiti) Palm used) talks about the most important point for people to adopt and learn Graffiti was it gave the person value. Jeff points out that learning Graffiti took a little bit of time, but people could see value of learning Graffiti as it made for a quicker input of information. There was personal value that did not take a lot of initial effort to learn, which returned a much greater value.

Social Network Ecosystems

In social networks and personal interaction with web applications and their associated communities there is a ecosystem. The social networks have value chains. I have been playing with this idea for a few months (mostly with in the intersection of the Personal InfoCloud and the Local InfoCloud. I have been using it on some personal projects and it is weaving its way into my consulting practice (but with focus on the full ecosystem and values).

The personal interaction with the system/application/service and value derived is a viable measure, particularly when there are two points of value for the person. The first personal value is derived from the service returning direct value to the person for their interaction. In it is making one&039;s own bookmarks/favorites more easily refindable, the ability to expand one's own bookmarks/favorites beyond the functional restrictions of the browser, and having access to the bookmarks/favorites from any browser anywhere one has web access. The second value is the network value, which can be a feeling of digital philanthropy (doing it out of goodness), personal attention (being an authority, coolness, building points for alphaness, etc.), a driver for monetary reward (recognition increases clicks to an site with ad revenues, builds attention for a business, etc.), etc.

Attention is Value

Attention for those providing development, like in the widget communities for Yahoo! Widgets and Apple Dashboard is very important. In the podcast of the Niall Kennedy and Om Malik interview with Kevin Burton regarding APIs this issue gets brought up (beginning at 15:19 into the podcast). The example discusses Konfabulator (the original product name for Yahoo! Widgets) and Apple Dashboard. Kevin Burton (I believe) states Apple Dashboard has larger exposure than Konfabulator does at the moment and Apple could offer the developers more attention to get more people writing widgets for them. Here the initial value for the developers is attention, as is pointed out in the podcast. The developers are passionate about what they do (personal value in a platform for their expression of their development prowess), but the secondary value received is attention. In a limited pool of developers (not only for widgets, but APIs, and other open development arenas) value to the developer is attention, which can lead to monetary value. This value to the developer is going to be a driver for which service they provide their services (a secondary driver is ease of development). The value to the network is more widgets equal more cool things for the service, but the primary reason the developers are there, is often the value to themselves.

December 20, 2005 is Back

Yeah!! is back. After many hours, if not a day of being down due to residual effects from a power outage. I bet Joshua is looking forward to somebody else managing the servers.

I has been a bad week for the popular stuff on the web with TypePad outage problems in the past week as well (yes, that meant Personal InfoCloud was down).

Does it bug me? Not so much. being down meant I was not cross posting with Yahoo! MyWeb rather than to both places. If this site is down I am not too happy as my work e-mail is on the same server and I have been living in e-mail lately. But, I think with TypePad and and the like with their outages I have appreciation for what it takes to keep that up and running. I also know the problems inherent in scaling those type of services. At some point the killer ease of use applications become more about killer sysadmins and server/datastore optimization skills. That is where one learns to grow up.

Along those lines, I am quite happy to see Technorati get their server situation sorted out and they are now running at usable speed again (it was a seemingly long time coming).

December 19, 2005

Web 2.0 Dead?

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it was a little sooner than expected. Richard McMannus explains why Web 2.0 jumped the shark as an follow-up to his Web 2.0 is dead. R.I.P. post. This pronouncement has an impact as he is co-writing a book on Web 2.0 for O'Reilly Books (with Joshua Porter) and writes Web 2.0 Explorer on ZD Net. In Richard's explanation he gives the prime reason is to get away from the hype and cynicism.

Tim O'Reilly describes Web 2.0 in rather long detail. But in the more than a year that the term has been around it has not been used in any specific specific sense and it quickly turned into a buzzword with little meaning. There are some profoundly different things taking place on the web, when we compare it to the web five years ago. These things seem to be best described by their terms and pointing to what has changed and where we are going now. Richard writes that he will still largely be writing about the same things, but will not be using the Web 2.0 moniker.

The Rich Interface

During the past six to nine months one could easily see that the term Web 2.0 getting flattened into hype and mis-understanding. Many articles were written about new technologies that were changing the landscape, but neither were the technologies new, nor were they doing much of anything different than sites were doing or trying to do in the previous three to five years. AJAX was not new, it was a new name for xmlhttprequest (which most web developer worth much of anything knew about, but knew there was little browser adoption outside of Microsoft IE). Jesse James Garrett provided a much easier means of calling the long term, mostly to talk more easily about what Flickr and Google (in Gmail and Google maps) had been doing in the past year using it as part of their rich interfaces. The rich interfaces were absolutely nothing new as Flash had been providing the exact rich interface capability for years. The problem was much of the design world had not worked through its documentation and design specifications for a rich interface using Flash, but they jumped all over AJAX with out ever working through solutions to the problems of state, (re)addressing information, breaking the back button, addressable steps in a process, etc. Web browsers growing up and becoming consistent and more processing power and memory on the machines under the browsers have enabled the rich interface more than anything that gets credit for being new.

Web as Platform

The web as a platform is a great step forward, but it is anything but new, just ask the folks at Salesforce. But it has been embraced as a replacement for the desktop . The downside is most people do not have continuous access (or anything near it) and many do not want it. People have set workflows that cross many devices, contexts, and information uses. Thinking the web is the only way is just as short-sited as closed desktop applications. The web as a platform is insanely helpful, but it should not be the only platform. We have to work towards cross-platfoms and cross-device use development as an end not just the web.

Forbidden Term

Very quickly this year the Web 2.0 term was forbidden from usage from many conferences and large meetings I went to. It was forbidden as by that point it had lost its meaning and using the more direct terms, like social networking, social bookmarks, rich interface for mail, web as an application platform, etc. It was also noted that people should not say the new web, with out explaining why they thought it was new. There needs to be clarity in understanding so we can communicate, and Web 2.0 did not provide that as it was an umbrella term that was used as a buzz word to replace specific changes people did not understand.

Without a Term How to We Understand

There have been a handful of people who have been writing on the Web 2.0 changes and landscape and using the term well and describing the components that are being used in new ways. Richard was one and his writing partner Joshua is another. The group that is aggregated at Web 2.0 Workgroup are most of the rest.

With out the term Web 2.0 it will be tough, but it was more a marker of a confluence of many different things that shifted than a bright line in one or two areas. Understanding what has changed will make sense, which is a large part or what Joshua has been doing and a small handful of others. When the confluence is the streams and rivers of technology, social interaction (as Bruce Sterling calls it "technosocial"), interface, web services, application that provide uses that are needed, cultural and social changes along the lines of privacy (this could swing back massively), cultural changes with more people having comfort with social interactions using technology, trust, etc. take place there will be problems describing it. There will also be only a rare few that can cross the chasms and grasp, make sense of the subtle as well as vast changes, and explain them intelligently and simply to others. As the majority of writing has proven it is a very rare few indeed that have the background and wit to handle this challenge.

Now that I am at the end of the brain dump (some of it long festering), I think I am a wee bit sad to see the term losing traction. But, I don't have to think had to remember one of the vast many of poor articles that every journal has had somebody write.

In full disclosure I spoke on the BayCHI Web 2.0 Panel held at Parc in August. Been writing and speaking on digital information use across devices and platforms for three or four years and the underlying information architecture that is needed to support it. In this past year I frame the need for it as a change from the "I go get web" to the "Come to me web" (not quite equivalent to the push/pull analogy, but I will explain this later for those that have not heard the presentations or me just ramble about it). I felt it important to frame what I change I was talking about rather than rely on the Web 2.0 moniker.

December 14, 2005

Structured Blogging has (Re)Launched

Structured Blogging has launched and it may be one of the brightest ideas of 2005. This has the capability to pull web services into nearly every page and to aggregate information more seamlessly across the web. The semantic components help pull all of this together so services can be built around them.

This fits wonderfully in the Model of Attraction framework by allowing people and tools to attract the information they want, in this case from all around the web far more easily than ever before.

[Update] A heads-up from Ryan pointed out this is a relaunch. Indeed, Structured Blogging is pointing out all of the groups that are supporting and integrating the effort. The newest version is of Structured Blogging is now microformat friendly (insanely important).

December 9, 2005

Yahoo! and come together

Today brings wonderful news on the folksonomy front, is now a Yahoo! property (Yahoo! announcement). The tool and Yahoo! MyWeb are two of my favorite tools out there.

There are many things I would like MyWeb to do, but would be difficult as they would be treading on IP of, which is delicate territory (just ask Blackberry/RIM). would not be able to pull off the MyWeb improvements that come in the Yahoo! search, which now kicks anything Google is doing (Google has really fallen behind with search just because of this). Having both products, with hopefully becoming MyWeb 3, would make it nearly untouchable. Granted there is an insane amount of fixing that Yahoo needs to do with its social networking (or community tool as it calls it) under MyWeb, but that is not rocket science and hopefully would all be fixed in the next version of MyWeb.

Congrats all around on this one.

November 17, 2005

Design Engaged and Symposium on Social Architecture

I got back home late Tuesday night from Design Engaged in Berlin and Symposium on Social Architecture in Cambridge, Massachusetts at Harvard. I had a deadline to meet by midnight Tuesday. Much of Wednesday was spent unbolding e-mail and getting essential replies out (more of this to do today) and unbolding my feed aggregator (1500+ things). I also spent time posting photos of the trip to Berlin (currently at 216 photos, possibly a few untagged).

Design Engaged

Design Engaged was somewhat different from last year's event in Amsterdam. It was still interacting with many of my favorite people, but it was a little larger, in a new space, in a new city (one I was not familiar with), and had a larger representation of women. All of these turned out good, but I felt a little more disconnected. The disconnection I think was attributable to an unfamiliar city, staying at a hotel away from where the sessions were, and not having most of the people staying at the same hotel. I tended to stick with those staying at my hotel, which was good for those relationships. But, part of this was tied to my unfamiliarity with the city.

This unfamiliarity changed for the better and I have learned something about myself, and that is all good. The unfamiliarity shifted to familiarity. I got to know some incredible people and spend time with people I knew, but now know much better. I got to know Berlin. I have not been to a completely new city that I had time alone in quite a while (Brussels last month was new to me, but I was with a large group I had become familiar with, I all were staying in the same hotel, and I had very little interaction with the city itself). My first impression of Berlin was good, nothing more and nothing less. This was formed on an outing to Potsdamerplaz and walking back through Mitte.

Part of the Design Engaged experience is interacting with the city. A group of us headed out to Friedrichshain, which was part of East Berlin and is not being torn up and made western to the degree that Mitte or Alexanderplaz have been and are going through. This was the perfect outing for me as I really wanted to understand East Berlin or get a flavor of what pre-unified Berlin was like. I was interested in the Soviet style architecture and the working neighborhoods. Why? They are something I do not understand and had not experienced. I was utterly thrilled with our exploration of the area, both on our own and with a local who life is in that neighborhood.

I also learned a fair amount about myself on the Berlin part of the trip. I use various supports to explore that which is new. I use friends to guide in new surroundings and meet new people. Familiar surroundings to best embrace new people and expand my knowledge of the surroundings. I learned that having much new causes me to fall into an observation mode and a little less interactive. There are people I really wanted to get to know better and spend more time with. I tended to spend time with the people I already know well, in part to catch-up and get to know better. I also spent a lot of transit time trying to take in as much of my surroundings as possible. Understanding the lay of the land, the flavor of the neighborhood, trying to glimpse what the neighborhood was, what that neighborhood is becoming, and the expression of the people who live in and move through that area. The architecture, design layers (planned and emergent layers -- painted and overlayed), traffic patterns, lines of sight, etc. are all important components to understanding the people, their interests, and indicators of importance. Digging through the international layers (Starbucks (particularly behind the Brandenburg Gates is problematic), Duncan Doughnuts, American brand advertising, and global mass produced products), which in my opinion are disruptive to the local culture.

After returning home I know I have a much better understanding of Berlin and it is a city I would love to return to so to spend more time and explore. Now that I have a foundation of understanding I am ready to drink in more. I also realized that observation limited my getting to know others better than I would have liked. Ever single person at Design Engaged this year was utterly fantastic. It is a very special group of people. There are no egos. There are no agendas. There are people who love sharing, learning, embracing, and exploring. This is something very special and something very different from most any other gathering. Part of it is the event is not about certainty, but exploration, asking questions, listening, and growing all in a shared experience. Unfortunately I am more ready to engage others and interact now that I am home, but hopefully there will be more time.

Symposium on Social Architecture

Counter to the Design Engaged the Symposium on Social Architecture was in a somewhat familiar place, but I only knew a few people prior. I knew many from digital interaction, but personal "in place" interactions were limited. There were more people who knew of me, than I knew of prior. I was continually having to put people in context of digital and idea spaces (some of this is now connecting). I had somewhat slept much of the journey from Berlin to Boston (transferring in Washington, DC) so I was not really dealing with jet lag. On the first night there was a reception at the Harvard Faculty Club and I met many fantastic people. I noticed there was a fair amount of clustering by gender, which was bothersome as there were a few women I wanted to chat with, but I found some very good discussions in the men's clusters and did not break free. There are many women whose work I find insanely helpful and wanted to say thanks and engage in some longer conversations.

The symposium was utterly fantastic. Every session had something I really enjoyed and there was a lot of reassurance of my own understandings and directions. I am not as fully engaged in the social software realm as I would like as it is an insanely important component of how we do things on the internet and it is growing ever more important. Much of my work discusses the Local InfoCloud as an intersection with the Personal Infocloud.

I have a lot of notes from the day (but more complete notes will be expressed in a later posting). I heard a lot of mention of local (closeness drawn through interconnection in social contexts), which was a reinforcement of my understanding as well as the language (or problems with the language) I have been dealing with at times. I heard a lot of discussion of all current social software is simple software, as it is easy to understand what the value is and the barrier to entry is a relatively painless in comparison to the reward received in the perceived value. Many also discussed building tools that got out of the way, they just let people interact. This was explicitly stated by Tina Sharkey of AOL, which made me very happy as it was a large social portal that expressed they understood what to do and have done it. It is not the tool that is important, so much as it is the social interactions that are the key. The tools should be a platform for connecting and communicating not for controlling.

I also met one of the people responsible for Steve, The Art Museum Community Cataloging Project, which could be the most important folksonomy and tagging endeavor that is ongoing. The importance is in part their work, but the research into tagging and folksonomy is insanely helpful and seems to be the best work out there at the moment. The work proves the strong positive significance that tagging and folksonomy plays in connecting people to objects and information. Having the world framed in a language or vocabulary is incredibly helpful and that is not often a result of formal taxonomies as they tend to optimize toward the norms and not embrace the edges. I will be writing about Steve more in the future, but I was so excited to meet somebody tied to the project so I could have more conversations and learn what they have found to be helpful and not so helpful.

The panel on politics and social software, particularly in relation to Katrina, was great. It highlighted the problems with politicians and their lack of understanding technology that could better connect them to their constituents, but also technology that could better enable solutions and resolution for their constituencies. I was completely moved by this panel.

The piece I had disappointment in was the closing. Er, the closing was Stowe Boyd interviewing me about what I found of interest from the day and what I would take home. Stowe asked the perfect questions, but I learned something about myself, I framed my responses literally and too personally. I let myself down in the responses as they were too general and did not capture the whole of what I got from the day nor the strong themes I noted. I was still taking in the politics panel and re-digesting the day based on that context. When I get a new perspective or new information I run the world I perceive through that lens and adjust accordingly and then emerge with a slightly reshaped or more inclusive framework. I think my closing remarks were poor, because I was integrating the last panel into my understandings. The rest of the day went largely as I expected, but the wonderful politics panel disrupted me in a positive manner. I apologize for the poor closing observations. For me it was the poorest part of a great event.

October 21, 2005

Interview regarding Digital Identity and the Personal InfoCloud

Today I appear over on Under the Radar: That cloud kinda looks like you! in an interview by Scott Hirsch who is a partner at MIG5. The interview focusses on digital identity, which is integral to the Personal InfoCloud and interacting with other people and services in the digital world. Increasingly it seems digital identity is tethered to physical world identity for access to buildings, accessing our computers, medical services, etc. This has some problems around privacy that must be addressed and there must be trust in the services that interact with out digital identity.

October 5, 2005

Upcoming has gone to Yahoo!

Yahoo gets I think this is a great move on Yahoo's part as the tool Upcoming has been building is one of the best event calendar tools on the web. Hopefully it will help replace the event components in Yahoo! calendar and help Yahoo open up their calendar to read in iCal, vCal, RSS, etc. Oh, and spit out the same to use in what ever other tool somebody needs that information.

Congrats to the Upcoming guys for joining a great team.

September 25, 2005

Web 2.0 Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction

I posted a write-up on Mash-ups and the Model of Attraction, which explains the Housing Maps through the Model of Attraction lens.

Read and comment over at Personal InfoCloud.

August 19, 2005

Yahoo! MyWeb Imports Bookmarks and More Observations

Yesterday's post, MyWeb 2 Grows Up Quickly into a Usable Tool, had part of my answer delivered today by e-mail. Yahoo! had already built a import tool (as well as an Internet Explorer bookmark, Yahoo bookmark, and RSS import tools) to grab your bookmarks and tags out from

My import went well, um it took four attempts to get all 1,440 of my bookmarks into Yahoo MyWeb 2, but they are all there along with the 20 or so I had stored in MyWeb already. I wish it could have kept the dates from my bookmarks as the time puts those links in context for me with other things I was working on at the time I made the bookmark.

I am not abandoning my bookmarks and will keep feeding it as it is my only easy option at work at the moment. Now I am interested in a JavaScript bookmark that would post to both MyWeb and from the same form. There is community around one's social bookmarks as I know there are people that pull my bookmark feed into their aggregator, just I do that with other's bookmarks. This is part of their being social, yes?

Now I want to play with MyWeb with my 1,459 plus pages in it. As a personal bookmarking tool this will be a good test. I am now also curious with searching with Yahoo! if my own bookmarks will appear on the search page. This would be nice as I found Google somewhat scary when I started seeing my own blog posts showing up in searches I was doing from work. But, I started my blog (nearly five years ago) as a note to self tool, which also happened to be open to everybody else in the world. It is my outboard memory. This is also the reason I started my own personal site nearly 10 years ago, as a link tool so I could keep access to my web links from any web connection I could get. A lot has changed in these nearly 10 years, but so much has stayed the same.

I have a laundry list of interface changes I would love to see in MyWeb that I will be shooting to them that are interface related. I also have many social network improvements for their tool to get more fine grained in their connections between people in the social engine, which may take more than just a few e-mails.

August 18, 2005

MyWeb 2 Grows Up Quickly into a Usable Tool

Earlier this week I chose to use Yahoo! search rather than the default Google that I usually use. The search page on Yahoo! had sponsored links at the top of the page, but then a few other offerings followed by the usual offerings. The second set was dead on what I was seeking. What were these second set of links? They were the results of those in "My Community" in MyWeb 2 Search, which is similar to in that it is a social bookmarking tool with tagging.

This discovery from a community of less than 40 people really surprised me. Of those 40 people less than 15 have more than 5 pages they have bookmarked, but this community is one I share interests and vocabulary. I was partial shocked with amazement as when MyWeb 2 launched in beta a few weeks ago (or a few months at this point) I was completely under whelmed as most of the links in MyWeb 2 were for things I not only had not interest in, but did not care to have recommended.

As the net effect of more people adding their bookmarks to this socially shared tool grew the value of the tool increased. As it grows I am positive it the aspects of my community will need to get more fine grained so I can say I like the tags from person X (similar to the granular social network which would make better use of the social network for recommender systems that actually could be used and trusted). One of the benefits of MyWeb 2 is that it gets layered on top of Yahoo's search results, which is a great place for this information.

I would love to replicate my bookmarks and tags into MyWeb 2 at Yahoo. The next step would be to feed both systems at the same time from one central interface. There are things in that I really like, but the layering of the social bookmarking and with tagging on top of other tools adds greater value to the user.

August 17, 2005

User Experience Design in the Come to Me Web?

A question came up with Rashmi in the week prior to the BayCHI Web 2.0 event that I thought would definitely come up at the panel in the Q&A session, but most of the questions related to the application and technology side of things.

As content can be repurposed in and pulled into various tools with drastically different presentations than the sites they sit within. There seems to be a logical question as to the value of the user experience of the initial site. We are spending a lot of time, effort, and resources building optimal user experience, but with more and more of the content being consumed in interfaces that do not use the user experience should we spend less time and resources on perfecting it?

One answer is no, things are fine the way they are as the people that still consume the information in the traditional web manner (is it too early to call it traditional web manner?) are a narrower audience than the whole of the people consuming the information. The design of the site would have to add value, or provide additional service to continue enticing people back. I have been talking about the Perceptual Receptor in the Model of Attraction for a few years and the sensory components of design, look, and appeal should be targeted to the expected users so it fits their expectations and they are attracted to the content they are seeking in a manner that is appealing to them.

The converse to this is we are spending too much time on the ephemeral in relation to the benefit. With increasing consumption of the information done though RSS/ATOM feed readers and aggregators on the desktop, mobile, or web (as in Bloglines or My Yahoo) interfaces, which nearly all strip the presentational layers and just deliver the straight content with the option for the person to click and get to the site we developed. Information is also pulled together in other aggregators as summaries on various websites and versions e-mailed around. The control of the user experience has drifted away from the initial designer and is in the hands of the tools aggregating (some provide presentational layers from the content owners to show through on the aggregators), or the people consuming the information that choose their own presentation layer or just strip it for other uses.

With content presentations in the hands of the people consuming and not the crafting designer how does branding come through? How does the richer integrated interface we spent months designing, testing, and carefully tweaking? Branding with logos may be easier than the consistent interface we desire as the person consuming the content has a different idea of consistent interface, which is the interface they are consuming all of the information in. People have visual patterns they follow in an application and that interface helps them scan quickly for the information they desire.

Where the content creator puts their content out for aggregation in XML related feeds, they have made a decision at some level that having their content in the hands of more people who want it is more important than a unified user experience. Consumption of the media has a greater impact than fewer people consuming a preferred experience. All of the resources we put into the refined user experience is largely for the user's benefit, or at least that is what we say, but it is also for the business benefit for consistent branding and imprinting. The newer consumption models focus on the person and their getting the information and media they want in the easiest and their preferred manner for that person.

Is there an answer? One single answer, most likely not. But, I personally don't think we and crafting designer have a great say at this point. As tools people use mature, we may get more control, but optimally the person consuming is the one in control as they want to be and should in the "come to me web".

August 5, 2005

Quiet, Not for Long

Things are going to be quiet here for a few days...

Right, okay. We are fine on this end, but have just been a wee bit busy. We will be filling you in on the Fall Tour in a few days as we have been setting the initial groundwork for travel and blocking out dates.

In the short term Thomas is off the the Jersey Shore for "rest" and relaxation. Oh, since the Jersey Shore is in close proximity...

Right, okay. Thomas will be in the San Francisco Bay Area on Tuesday the 9th to speak on the BayCHI - Are you ready for Web 2.0? panel. Drop by and say hello.

July 25, 2005

Speaking at BayCHI August 9th

I will be in the San Francisco Bay Area August 9, 2005 to speak on the BayCHI - Are you ready for Web 2.0? panel. This will be at the PARC's George E. Pake Auditorium (formerly known as Xerox PARC). I am looking forward to the panel and being back in the Bay Area.

Did I mention I am only on the ground for 12 hours? I am flying in from vacation on the New Jersey Shore, but it will be worth it. I have a couple places I need to stop, but shoot me e-mail to meet-up or let me know you will be going to the panel. I have a long string of things to get to in the Bay Area that have been building since January, but this will not be the trip to knock all of them out.

I really need to get to the Bay Area more often, it is home (well where I was born and spent much of my life there).

July 17, 2005

Designing for the Personal InfoCloud presentation at WebVisions 2005 Wrap-up

I have posted my presentation from yesterday's session at WebVisions, in Portland, Oregon. The files, Designing for the Personal InfoCloud are in PDF format and weigh in at 1.3MB.

I really had a blast at the conference and wish I could have been there the whole day. I will have to say from the perspective of a speaker it is a fantastically run conference. Brad Smith of Hot Pepper Studios did a knock out job pulling this conference together. It should be on the must attend list for web developers. I was impressed with the speakers, the turn out, and how well everything was run. Bravo!

WebVisions is held in one of my favorite cities, Portland, Oregon, which has some of the best architecture and public planning of any North American city. I have more than 300 photos I have taken in 48 hours and will be posting many at Flickr in the next couple of days.

March 26, 2005

Yahoo360 and the Great Interaction Design Yardstick

Jeremy Zawodney talks about a Yahoo preview of Yahoo360 to which they invited "influencers" to provide honest feedback (Danah Boyd provides her wonderful view too).

What I really like about Jeremy's post is the repeated reference to Flickr when explaining things. The key thing is that Flickr (yes it is now owned by Yahoo) knocks the snot of of other's interaction design. Flickr set the standard and it is what many other web-based products are truly lacking. Getting the interface and interaction right is not half the battle, it is the battle. So few do it well and very few execs around the industry get that. What is lacking in so many products is design that creates, not just an ease of use, but a fun successful experience.

Flickr makes refindability of the pictures a person posts much easier by using tags that make sense to the person providing the tags. The interface for providing the tags is simple and does not take the user away from the interface (thanks to Ajax). The rest of the options are done simply from a person using the site's perspective. Everybody I know gets completely immersed in Flickr. This is something I can not say about Ofoto or other photo sharing sites, one goes to these sites to see the pictures somebody you know has taken. Flickr can be the most efficient photo sharing tool for uploading and managing one's own photos too.

Simply it is make things easy to accomplish tasks, focussing on what the person wants and need from the product. Accomplish this feat at the same time make it fun. There is no harm in making life enjoyable.

March 21, 2005

Outside of the 3rd World, Yahoo Buys Flickr

Once again we are back into living in the third world. It is the first day of Spring and we got a lightning storm and out goes the power. We have this to look forward to until Fall. Well, unless we move.

Once the power came on it was errand time, then time shout congratulations to Flickr and Yahoo!. The news was officially announced, that Yahoo! bought Flickr. The Flickr team is staying intact and in Vancouver. Flickr is one of the kick-ass products on the Web right now and with Yahoo! support it could stay at the forefront.

December 28, 2004

Information Waste is Rampant

Fast Company published costs facing business. The top four relate to poor design and information use: Poor knowledge harnessing ($1.4 Trillion); Digital publishing inefficiencies ($750 billion); Data quality problems ($600 billion); and Paper-based trade processes ($400 billion). That is 3.15 Trillion U.S. dollars down the tubes with no benefit.

The solutions are not that difficult, but everybody seems happy to use the rear view mirror to view the future.

Christina stated, "What me worry" about design and business. The whole CIO is a sham as the CIO is a technology driven person, which is tangentially related to information and technology still hinders information flow if not planned for properly (more on this is coming in the near future here on this site). There needs to be a chief level position that cares about the information, the people using it, and the people who create the information. To Christina's post I responded with the following on her site (posted here so I can better keep track of it):

It seems like the 80s all over again. The focus on design in the to late 80s, mostly with unified branding and creative practices formally brought in-house. There was a lot of push around design, mostly labelled branding (nearly the exact same discussions, but slightly different terms). Much of this was around the brandhouses like Landor. The business community embraced the results and tried to incorporate the creative culture as part of their own.
What happened? The innovators were bought by large advertising or public relation firms and the firms changed their industry term to communication companies. Companies created corporate communication divisions (comprised of adversising, PR, branding, and other creative endevors) and had high level management visability.
By the early 90s the corporate environment had largely subsumed the communication into marketing and business schools that has embraced the creative mindset followed suit. Today marketing is often what trumps design and there is no creative in marketing. The creative departments by the late 90s had been gutted by the web craze. This left business types with little creative craft understanding as those driving what was once good.
It is not suprising that currently named "design" is taking off, as what was good about the creative was gutted and most companies lack central design plans. There is tremendous waste in cross medium design, as few sites are built with an understanding of the digital medium, let alone cross platform design or true cross media design. Part of the problem is far too few designers actually understand cross-platform and/or cross-media design. There is millions wasted in bandwidth on poor web design that is using best practices from the late 90s not those from today. There is no integration of mobile, with a few exceptions in the travel industry. There is still heavy focus on print, but very little smart integration of design in the digital medium. This even applies to AIGA, which is a great offender of applying print design techniques on the web. How can we expect business design to get better if one of the pillars of the design profession has not seemed to catch on?

There are large problems today and we need to break some of our solutions were have been trying to get to solutions that work. Not only do today's solutions not work today, they will not work tomorrow as they are only stop gaps. Cross-platform, cross-device, and cross-medium design solutions are needed, but technology is not here to deliver and few that I have run across in the design world are ready for that change as they have not made the change to today's world.

Today's designer focusses on getting the information in front of the user and stops there. They do not consider how this person or machine may reuse the information. There is so much yet to improve and yet the world is progressing much faster than people can or want to change to keep up. There are designers and developers who will not build for mobile (it is not that hard to do) because they do not see them in the user logs. They fail to see the correlation that their sites suck for mobile and mobile users may test once and go somewhere else for their information. The people that are seeing mobile users in their logs are the ones that have figured out how to design and develop for them properly (most have found that it is relatively inexpensive to do this). This is not rocket science, it is using something other than the rear view mirror to design for now and the future.

December 26, 2004

Flickr and the Future of the Internet

Peter's post on Flickr Wondering triggers some thoughts that have been gelling for a while, not only about what is good about Flickr, but what is missing on the internet as we try to move forward to mobile use, building for the Personal InfoCloud (allowing the user to better keep information the like attracted to them and find related information), and embracing Ubicomp. What follows is my response to Peter's posting, which I posted here so I could keep better track of it. E-mail feedback is welcome. Enjoy...

You seemed to have hit on the right blend of ideas to bring together. It is Lane's picture component and it is Nadav's integration of play. Flickr is a wonderfully written interactive tool that adds to photo managing and photo sharing in ways that are very easy and seemingly intuitive. The navigations is wonderful (although there are a few tweak that could put it over the top) and the integration of presentational elements (HTML and Flash) is probably the best on the web as they really seem to be the first to understand how to use which tools for what each does best. This leads to an interface that seems quick and responsive and works wonderfully in the hands of many. It does not function perfectly across platforms, yet, but using the open API it is completely possible that it can and will be done in short order. Imagine pulling your favorites or your own gallery onto your mobile device to show to others or just entertain yourself.

Flickr not only has done this phenomenally well, but may have tipped the scales in a couple of areas that are important for the web to move forward. One area is an easy tool to extract a person's vocabulary for what they call things. The other is a social network that makes sense.

First, the easy tool for people to add metadata in their own vocabulary for objects. One of the hinderances of digital environments is the lack of tools to find objects that do not contain words the people seeking them need to make the connection to that object they are desiring. Photos, movies, and audio files have no or limited inherent properties for text searching nor associated metadata. Flickr provides a tool that does this easily, but more importantly shows the importance of the addition of metadata as part of the benefit of the product, which seems to provide incentive to add metadata. Flickr is not the first to go down this path, but it does it in a manner that is light years ahead of nearly all that came before it. The only tools that have come close is HTML and Hyperlinks pointing to these objects, which is not as easy nor intuitive for normal folks as is Flickr. The web moving forward needs to leverage metadata tools that add text addressable means of finding objects.

Second, is the social network. This is a secondary draw to Flickr for many, but it is one that really seems to keep people coming back. It has a high level of attraction for people. Part of this is Flickr actually has a stated reason for being (web-based photo sharing and photo organizing tool), which few of the other social network tools really have (other than Amazon's shared Wish Lists and Linkedin). Flickr has modern life need solved with the ability to store, manage, access, and selectively share ones digital assets (there are many life needs and very few products aim to provide a solution for these life needs or aims to provide such ease of use). The social network component is extremely valuable. I am not sure that Flickr is the best, nor are they the first, but they have made it an easy added value.

Why is social network important? Helping to reduct the coming stench of information that is resultant of the over abundance of information in our digital flow. Sifting through the voluminous seas of bytes needs tools that provide some sorting using predictive methods. Amazon's ratings and that matching to other's similar patterns as well as those we claim as our friends, family, mentors, etc. will be very important in helping tools predict which information gets our initial attention.

As physical space gets annotated with digital layers we will need some means of quickly sorting through the pile of bytes at the location to get a handful that we can skim through. What better tool than one that leverages our social networks. These networks much get much better than they are currently, possibly using broader categories or tags for our personal relationships as well as means of better ranking extended relationships of others as with some people we consider friends we do not have to go far in their group of friends before we run into those who we really do not want to consider relevant in our life structures.

Flickr is showing itself to be a popular tool that has the right elements in place and the right elements done well (or at least well enough) to begin to show the way through the next steps of the web. Flickr is well designed on many levels and hopefully will not only reap the rewards, but also provide inspiration to guide more web-based tools to start getting things right.

December 23, 2004

Mobile in Suburbia

Last weekend I stopped in one of our local malls to do a little shopping before Christmas. The mall, White Flint, is a decent small suburban shopping mall. The mall has just gone through a minor renovation. One of the things that was added were small sitting areas in the center areas of the mall. They are nice little conversation areas to stop and rest your feet, etc.

One of the things in nearly every hand in the lounge areas was a mobile device. The age range was 30s to 60s and nearly every person had a device in their hands. There where some mobile phones, but most of what I saw were BlackBerry's and Treos. I don't know what tasks these people were doing, whether it was e-mail, games, checking shopping lists, price comparing on the web, text messaging, or what.

It dawned on me. Suburbia is onto mobile. Coming back from Europe in November I was down about how far behind the U.S. is with mobile (and personal technology use in general). One of the things that gets a lot of attention is urban use of mobile devices, but much of the U.S. is not urban it is out in the 'burbs. Molly presented a view of suburbia at Design Engaged and it has had me thinking about how people deal with information and how they use personal technology in suburbia. The mobile devices at the mall was an eye opener (granted I do not live in test market America as a mall with valet parking may not count as representative of the rest of anywhere). The mobile uses in Japan are reported as largely during commutes and walking time. In Europe I witnessed similar trends. In the U.S. we are married to the car (for better or worse), but we do go to the mall and leisure activities for families in suburbia revolves around kids sporting events, extra curricular activities, shopping, and waiting in lines. There is a lot of down time and it seems mobile has an opportunity to be the snack entertainment and information consumption time.

The trick is how to integrate mobile into the rhythms of the suburban life. How to use mobile to check and reset Tivo settings, get store and price information for items on the mobile user's or their family's Amazon wishlist. There are uses for pointers about cheapest gas when your car is getting low or a nearby car wash just after it rains. The mobile device can make easy work of this and it does not require much computing power, only some location and predictive web services.

There is so much more that could be done, but the carriers are completely clueless in the U.S. about services. It seems like it is prime target area for a Yahoo, Google, or Amazon that can integrate related information and provide quick responses to the users of their service. It much be effortless and painless. It must be a benefit but unobtrusive. It must respect the person and their desires for sharing information about them, but still provide predictive input for the person's uses.

I think we just expanded the Personal InfoCloud one more rich layer.

October 8, 2004

Web 2.0: Source, Container, Presentation

At Web 2.0 Jeff Bezos, of Amazon stated, "Web 2.0 is different. It's about AWS (Amazon Web Services). It's not on the web site for users to see. It's about making the internet useful for computers.". This is very appropriate today as it breaks the information model into at least three pieces: source, container, and presentation. Web 1.0 often had these three elements in one place, which really made it difficult to reuse the information, but even use it at times.

The source is the raw information or content from the creator or main distributor. The container is the means of transporting the information or content. The container can be XML, CSV, text, XHTML, etc. The presentation is what is used to make the information or content human consumable. The presentation can be HTML with CSS, Flash, PDF, feed reader, mobile application, desktop application, etc.

The importance of the three components is they most valuable when they stand alone. Many problems and frustrations for people trying to get information and reuse it off the web has been there has not been a separation of the components. Take most Flash files, which tie the container and the presentation in one object that is proprietary and can be extremely difficult to extract the information for reuse. The same also applies to PDF files as they too are less than optimal for sharing information for anything other than reading, if the PDF can be read on the device. As mobile use of the internet increases the separation is much more valuable. The separation has always been the smart thing to do.

Today Google launched a beta of their Google SMS for mobile devices. The service takes advantage of the Google web services (source) and allows mobile users to send a text message with a query (asking "pizza" and providing the zip code) and Google responds with a text message with information (local pizzerias with their address and phone numbers). The other day Tantek demonstrated Semantic XHTML as an API, which provides openly accessible information that is aggregated and reused with a new presentation layer, Flash.

More will follow on this topic at some point in the not too distant future, once I get sleep.

October 7, 2004

Quick Links are Now Pulled from

We did a little house keeping today. We have been using our link tool as a replacement for the Quick Links. Today the Quick Links are pulled from We found that as we came across helpful links through out the day made it easy to add links and information. The tool also has made it easy to find similar information.

We extracted the vanderwal links from using their API and formated the information in a very similar manner to what was displayed in the Quick Links previously in the side bar. The Web Service is wonderful to work with and made this task possible.

We are hoping that over the weekend we will put up a page of all the previous Quick Links. We have it in our plans to add all the entries on this site into directly using this site's categories. The flat category structure is similar what we built here in 2001. The categories between this site and what we keep at do not synch so we do not have the categories from stored here. There is always something more to do.

We are also considering moving the quick links out of the side bar and place them in the main content area in a grouping. This will take some thinking. If you have ideas on this front please contact us.

October 6, 2004

Personal Information Aggregation Nodes

Agnostic aggregators are the focal point of information aggregation. The tools that are growing increasingly popular for the information aggregation from internet sources are those that permit the incorportation of info from any valid source. The person in control of the aggregator is the one who chooses what she wants to draw in to their aggregator.

People desiring info agregation seemingly want to have control over all sources of info. She wants one place, a central resource node, to follow and to use as a starting point.

The syndication/pull model not only adds value to the central node for the user, but to those points that provide information. This personal node is similar (but conversely) to network nodes in that the node is gaining value as the individual users make use of the node. The central info aggregation node gains value for the individual the more information is centralized there. (The network nodes gain value the more people use them, e.g. the more people that use the more valuable the resource is for finding information.) This personal aggregation become a usable component of the person's Personal InfoCloud.

What drives the usefulness? Portability of information is the driver behind usefulness and value. The originating information source enables value by making the information usable and reusable by syndicating the info. Portabiliry is also important for the aggregators so that information can move easily between devices and formats.

Looking a we see an aggrgator that leverages a social network of people as aggregators and filters. allows the user to build their own bookmarks that also provides a RSS feed for those bookmarks (actually most everything in provides feeds for most everything) and an API to access the feeds and use then as the user wishes. This even applies to using the feed in another aggregator.

The world of syndication leads to redundant information. This where developments like attention.xml will be extremely important. Attention.xml will parse out redundant info so that you only have one resource. This work could also help provide an Amazon like recommendation system for feeds and information.

The personal aggregation node also provides the user the means to categorize information as they wish and as makes most sense to themselves. Information is often not found and lost because it is not categorized in a way that is meaningful to the person seeking the information (either for the first time or to access the information again). A tool like, as well as Flickr, allows the individual person to add tags (metadata) that allows them to find the information again, hopefully easily. The tool also allows the multiple tagging of information. Information (be it text, photo, audio file, etc.) does not always permit itself easy narrow classification. Pushing a person to use distinct classifications can be problematic. On this site I built my category tool to provide broad structure rather than heirarchial, because it allows for more flexibility and can provide hooks to get back to information that is tangential or a minor topic in a larger piece. For me this works well and it seems the folksonomy systems in and Flickr are finding similar acceptance.

July 17, 2004

Now Delicious

Time has been very thin of late. In the past six months or so started noticing an increasing number of links from and started pulling the feeds of some folks I like to follow their reading list into my site feed aggregator. I had about four or five feeds in my aggregator (meta aggregation of other's meta aggregations - MetaAg MetaAg). This past week I was taking medicine that tweaked by sleep patterns so I had some free awake time after midnight and I finally set up my own vanderwal feed.

I like having the ability to pull [meta] tags aggregations that others have used, like security, which is a great help during the day at work. I can also track some topics I keep finding myself at the periphery and ever more interested in as they tie to some personal projects.

I did consider something similar with Feedster, but it was down for updating recently when I had the tiny bit of time to fiddle with setting something up. By the way, Feedster is now Standards-based (not fully valid, but rather close) and it loads very quickly (most of the time).

April 11, 2004

Stitching our Lives Together

Not long ago Jeffrey Veen posted about Will you be my friend, which brought up some needs to better stitch together our own disperse information. An excellent example is:

For example, when I plan a trip, I try to find out who else will be around so I have people to hang out with. So my calendar should ask, "Hey, Jeff says he's friends with Tim. Will he be in New York for GEL?"

This example would allow up to interact with our shared information in a manner that keeps it within our extended Personal InfoCloud (the Personal InfoCloud is the information we keep with us, is self-organized, and we have easy access to). Too many of the Web's resources where we store our information and that information's correlation to ourselves (, LinkedIn, etc.) do not allow interactivity between online services. Some, like Upcoming and Hilton Hotels do provide standard calendaring downloads of the events and reservations you would like to track.

Some of this could be done with Web Services, were their standards for the interaction. Others require a common API, like a weblogging interface such as Flickr seems to use. The advent of wide usage of RSS feeds and RSS aggregators is really putting the user back in control of the information they would like to track. Too many sites have moved toward the portal model and failed (there are large volumes of accounts of failed portal attempts, where the sites should provide a feed of their information as it is a limited quantity). When users get asked about their lack of interest in a company's new portal they nearly always state, "I already have a portal where I aggregate my information". Most often these portals are ones like My Yahoo, MSN, or AOL. Many users state they have tried keeping more than one portal, but find they loose information very quickly and they can not remember, which portal holds what information.

It seems the companies that sell portal tools should rather focus on integration with existing portals. Currently Yahoo offers the an RSS feed aggregator. Yahoo is moving toward a one stop shopping for information for individuals. Yahoo also synchs with PDA, which is how many people keep their needed information close to themselves.

There are also those of us that prefer to be our own aggregators to information. We choose to structure our large volumes of information and the means to access that information. The down side of the person controlling the information is the lack of common APIs and accessible Web Services to permit the connecting of Upcoming to our calendar (it can already do this), with lists of known or stated friends and their interests.

This has been the dream of many of us for many years, but it always seems just around the corner. Now seems to be a good time to just make it happen. Now is good because there is growing adoption of standards and information that can be personally aggregated. Now is good because there are more and more services allowing us to categorize various bits of information about our lives. Now is good because we have the technology. Now is good because we are smart enough to make it happen.

March 19, 2004

SixApart's TypeKey Coming Soon

SixApart's TypeKey looks to be a good resource to help authenticate those making comments on Web sites. I have been very happy with SixApart's TypePad, not that I am ready to move off my own system. Actually it sounds like TypeKey will have an open API that will allow those who have built their own weblogging tools to take advantage of the authentication services. This is one feature that has been on my own drawing board, but now I will be waiting for SixApart.

February 14, 2004

Rael on Tech

Tech Review interviews Rael about rising tech trends and discusses alpha geeks. This interview touches on RSS, mobile devices, social networks, and much more.

January 8, 2004

Lake Effect Snow in Washington DC

Lake effect snow warning or not, for Washington, DC. Yesterday, I had a handful of severe weather warnings popping into my mobile devices and my desktop. I read the alerts, which were for "lake effect snow" and blizzards in the next four to 12 hours. The area impacted were the counties around Washington, DC, including Washington. From there I checked a couple weather forecasts and live weather stats, 39 percent humidity and no clouds on the eastern seaboard.

A couple hours later a retraction was made by NOAA and the National Weather Service. It seems they were testing software alert messages and the tests were dumped in the live system database. Oops. Somebody got the lesson of a lifetime and a lesson on how to verify what system is being tested.

October 19, 2003

RSS on PDAs and information reuse

Three times the past week I have run across folks mentioning Hand/RSS for Palm. This seems to fill the hole that AvantGo does not completely fill. Many of the information resources I find to be helpful/insightful have RSS feeds, but do not have a "mobile" version (more importantly the content is not made with standard (X)HTML validating markup with a malleable page layout that will work for desktop/laptop web browsers and smaller mobile screens).

I currently pull to scan then read content from 125 RSS feeds. Having these some of these feeds pulled and stored in my PDA would be a great help.

Another idea I have been playing with is to pull and convert RSS feeds for mobile browser access and use. This can be readily done with PHP. It seems that MobileRSS already does something like this.

Content, make that information in general, stored and presented in a format that is only usable in one device type or application is very short sighted. Information should be reusable to be more useful. Users copy and paste information into documents, todo lists, calendars, PDAs, e-mail, weblogs, text searchable data stores (databases, XML respositories, etc.), etc. Digital information from the early creation was about reusing the information. Putting text only in a graphic is foolish (AIGA websites need to learn this lesson) as is locking the information in a proprietary application or proprietary format.

The whole of the Personal Information Cloud, the rough cloud of information that the user has chosen to follow them so that it is available when they need that information is only usable if information is in an open format.

October 15, 2003

Personalization is not a preference writes that a new Forester report states personalization is over rated. This comes from many of the portal tool developers who are trying to push the technology. In discussions with users, many like their one personalized site, ( or and they prefer to pull content into these single broad portals.

It seems like the folks selling the tools should be focussing on syndication rather personalization of everything. Syndication, such as RSS, can be pulled into what ever personalized interface the user desires. Anecdotally I have found users also like getting e-mail opt-in as a means to find out when information is updated.

The user does not really have control of the personalized information as it is maintained on an external resource and not one that is truly close to the user. Users often prefer to have the information come to them where they can control it and sort into a system that works for themselves. The one personalized site may fall into a user's personal info cloud as they have a central place to find information, but if every site is personalized it is the disruptive factor is still in place, which keeps the user from having the information that they need when they need it.

June 14, 2003

Trackback hype debunked

Joshua picks up on the trackback conversation, but there are many problems with the comparisons of trackbacks and referrer tracking (I am posting this for clarity not to poke at my friend Joshua and comments are not turned on for his entry or I would post there). It sounds like referrer logs are not set properly in what Joshua is using for a comparison to trackback. It may be that Movable Type is not set to take full advantage of referrers, which is sad. Joshua and the posts he links to explain trackbacks properly.

Of the three comparisons of trackbacks to referrer only one is correct, trackbacks do not require an actual hyperlink to the article to work properly (why one would not have a link to what they are discussing is odd as it is the Web). The other two comments are not correct if referrer logs are setup properly. In my last 100 referrers page I can see exactly what page a link came from (I used Charles Johnson's referrer as a base for mine). If the hyperlink is clicked from a permalink page I can see the exact page the link came from and if it links to my permalinked entry I can have categorical sorting also.

I have not seen a need for trackback on my site my referrer log (real-time) and access log show me exactly what is going on. Oddly there is always a lot of talk about trackback on blogs, but very rarely are they ever used. This may point to a usability problem with trackback. Referrer and access logs on the other hand do not need this extra step for the site owner to get the information.

Once I get unburried with paper work for work and have a clear head that the completion will bring I may implement a referrer version of trackback for public consumption, unless the lazy web does it first.

March 14, 2003

The Web, information use, and the failure of the spacial metaphor

Francis Cairncross' book title Death of Distance is a wonderful understanding of the world around us in many way and should now apply to spacial relationships on the Web. The idea of spacial relationships on the Web have been a stretch of the truth for a long time. Initially the idea of a person going out and "navigating" other spaces helped those new to the prospect of what the Web held grasp the Web concept.

The problem with spacial explanations of the Web is they do not work very well. The truth is we go nowhere on the Web, information is brought to us. The Web user is ego-centric and rightfully so, as the world of information and commerce on the Web revolves around the user. The Web is truly omnipresent. Information is everywhere at once. The Web can even follow the user on mobile devices. The user does not go out and explore different places, the artifacts of the places come to the user's screen based on what is of interest to the user.

I was reading David Weinberger's book Small Pieces Loosely Joined and it was painful to watch him twist and turn to get the spacial metaphor to work. A whole chapter in the book is devoted to Space [on the Web] (the book as a whole is very enjoyable and worth the time to read). Weinberger first discusses how we use the Web, using surf, browse, and go to a site. This is wrapped with an analogy explaining the Web is like a library where the user does not have access to the stacks of books, but a librarian (or clerk) goes and retrieves the book, based on the request the user made, and brings it to the user. He also states:

... this is perhaps the most significant change the Web brings to the world of documents: the Web has created a weird amalgam of documents and buildings. With normal paper documents, we read them, file them, throw them out, or sent them to someone else. We do not go to them. We don't visit them. Web documents are different. They're places on the Web. We go to them as we might go to the Washington Monument or the old Endicott Building. They're there, we're here, and if we want to see them, we've got to travel.

.... the odd thing is that, of course, we're not really going any place, and we know it.

This is just painful to follow. We keep bringing up this bloodied and battered spacial metaphor trying to make it work to explain more than the very tiny bit it did explain well. The spacial metaphor has long overstayed its welcome and it now hinders us as we try to build the future information interfaces, which include mobile information access and internationalization of information.

Yes, I am saying mobile information use is hindered by a spacial metaphor. It is more than hindered it is crippled by it. When prepare information now location is largely irrelevant, but access, device, application, and information form and highly relevant. Before we prepared information on paper and sent that information to people (which can be done today) and we largely knew how that information was going to be used. Today, with digital information the ease of information reuse and the user's ego-centric view of the information world, we must think of the user and how the information will be used. The proximity of the information to the user through access, storage, or personalization is what is paramount. Proximity is the only spacial element that has significance. This equally applies to internationalization as language and culture are the barriers to the information not space. A Brazilian may be sitting on the T in Boston and want to read the most recent information on rollout of WiFi in Rio. The user should not need to find the Brazilian neighborhood in Boston to get the information in the proper language (Portuguese) with familiar cultural inflections. The user can attract that information form easily, which can be brought to the user if that information and access have been prepared and enabled. The user may have come across a resource for this information while looking for a client's most recent press release and the user forwarded the link to her mobile device to read later. Access to information can and should be based on the users actions and choices.

The user can (and has been able to for some time) create their own metadata and retrieval structures. Communication with live people or machines that can and will convey useful information at the user's desire is not only the reality of the wired world, but what mobile use is all about. The user can set their proximity to information they have come across and connectivity conduits are enablers of that information they have yet to discover.

Up to this point the spacial metaphor only provided us with the navigation, but flat out failed us with what the user could do once they found what they were seeking. The user can browse, search, receive in e-mail (based on list subscriptions), read an information feed that brings to the user new information from sites the user likes or from aggregators, or a variety of other means. Once the user comes across information they have an interest in they want to keep that information attracted to themselves, via storage, putting it on a page that is accessible to a mobile or stationary device, and/or have the information delivered at a time that will be more convenient (getting a text message on your phone with the address and time of a party at an art gallery). Proximity also plays a role in location based services, such as bringing up restaurant listing and reviews when the GPS in our mobile device indicates we are near these establishments. The user should be able to identify favorites or preferences that can help provide "best options".

The realization of the failure of the navigation metaphor to provide for much other than a nice name for the grouped set of links that provide browsing options pushed me to investigate the Model of Attraction (MoA). The MoA is not perfect, but does provide a framework to think about information use and reuse as users currently interact with it. The MoA offers a method for us to work through how we allow the user to easily reuse information they found. The devices are just conduits for the attraction interaction to take place. MoA offers a framework that is also easy to understand, but is a literal description, which helps us see building, structuring, and preparing information and applications for the future.

Navigation -- R.I.P.

February 9, 2003

November 10, 2002

Tablet Hotels gets Experience Design and IA right

The November 2002 edition of ID Magazine reviews Tablet Hotels. For those that are not familiar, Tablet Hotels is a Web site that focusses on well designed hotels that are not from the cookie cutter molds of the large chains. These boutique hotels presented are from around the world. The site allows users the ability to select by location, amenities, and the traveler's agenda.

The response to "What was the biggest design challenge in creating the site?" points to the success:

The booking path was the greatest design challenge. We built our own proprietary real-time reservation engine, and when we began, we really wanted to create something outstanding and above and beyond the sterile process that's out there now. However, as we got into it, we found ourselves handcuffed by the antiquated systems that the engine had to connect to (GDS and hotel inventory systems). Throw in the fact that our site caters to an international audience and that the language terms and general policies of hotels vary greatly throughout the world, and we had our work cut out for us in our information architecture.

The small site of Tablet Hotels had not only their own information architecture (micro IA) to work through be the semantic variations of an industry so to digitally interact with various players (macro IA). The pairing of these two extremes seems to be wonderfully executed. The visual design of the site attracts the international customers searching for design and customer focussed hotels. Each hotel has a well written snippet and are photographed from design friendly perspectives. The reviews also offer a "citysense", which is a, self described, sensory guide to region covering: look, listen, taste, touch, and smell. The interactive components are also executed very well with allowing the user a the ability to select the elements/facets that are important to them when making the selection for their hotel.

The Tablet Hotel site is very well thought through and has spent much time and consideration walking through the whole array of Experience Design/User-Centered Design roles, including information architecture, to make a site that raises the bar for other hotel sites.

October 28, 2002

RSS in the near future

The RSS feed is in the works here and should be ready by the anniversary of the tool, which is October 31st. There have been many upgrades to the application that runs this site in the past year, but one that I really wanted was RSS. I have it running on my laptop and it needs only one tweak and then to get dropped into my main posting page. Did I mention I am loving having my a my development tools and full webserver with all the application elements running on my TiBook laptop again?

July 24, 2002

Microsoft embraces Apache Web server

CNet News discusses Microsoft's .Net set to link to Apache, which is a great step as the Microsoft IIS web server is increasingly being dropped as a viable option because of never ending security problems. This would literally doom Microsoft's .Net initiative as it would not be usable on the Internet without their Microsoft Internet server. By moving the ability to run the .Net framework on an Apache server Microsoft not only extends their ability to run their services on a superior Web server with far fewer security problems, but Apache is now recognized as a viable Web server by Microsoft. Apache owns the majority share of the Web server business and those of use that have had the ability to use it prefer it hands down to Microsoft's IIS.

May 1, 2002

.Net lock in

Eric (glish) Costello brings Chris Laco's comments about .Net to his own site as Chris' comments reflect Eric's comments. The main issue is lock in and severe lack of choice. No the security issue that plagues Microsoft at every turn did not show up. The speed improvement in .Net over the current ASP/VB/C development is noticed and raved about. With security a growing concern on many folks minds building applications with a system that only will run on one operating system, which has the worst security record hands down, is not a great option. There are other options available.

April 22, 2002

Perl XML to take advantage of Amazon

Amazox is just what you need to take advantage of Amazon Associates' SML. [hat tip Michael]

April 18, 2002

Business gets serious with Web writes the Beeb. The prediction is that Web services will take off an become part of the norm. The article states the current next step is defining the grammar and vocabulary, which sounds like a job for Super IAs.

March 30, 2002

Java founder, James Gosling has a Q & A session with Computerworld regarding .Net. This may not be an unbiased review, but Gosling repeats much of what most Microsoft developers I know have brought up. The memory problems and security, with very little that can be done to improve these two elements and keep in the MS family.

March 12, 2002

One thing that I have had the benefit of viewing and discussing while at SXSWi is Flash. Folks from Macromedia have shown their soon to be released version of Flash. Flash MX (as it is named) has some very good new features, in its providing common Web development objects to help developers create scroll bars and the like very easily. The application seems to provide object or extensions to Flash that streamline the process to building something usable and consistent in Flash.

The best new feature of Flash is content can now be made accessible for those with sight disabilities. This is greatly helpful as Flash is largely a visual information development and presentation tool. The information is now usable by site readers that read information aloud stored in Flash. This has been a large hinderance for many folks who would like to adopt Flash into their development tool belt, but had restrictions that limited the use of Flash because it locked out a segment of the users who had visual disabilities.

There is one large element in Flash that is completely disappointing still. The information is not accessible for reuse. All Flash can provide is visual information presentation, which restricts a user's ability to copy and paste or to have the information machine readable. The information is locked in an unusable format for these purposes. What does this affect? If a hotel provides their phone number and address in their Flash presentation the user can not copy and paste the information out into their PIM (Outlook, Access, Palm desktop, etc.), to an e-mail, or text message that the user could read from their PDA or cell phone (given messaging capabilities). The user would also be restricted from grabbing the information to put together a matrix from which to make decisions or to supply to others to make their comparisons. The locking of information in Flash requires the user to retype the information provided, which introduces the ability for errors in the information that was carefully crafted.

Not only do human users have the inability to re-purpose the information, which is a great benefit to those providing the information, but machines are precluded from accessing the information. If the same hotel wants to be included in their city's chamber of commerce listing on the CCoC Web site the hotel information can not be easily extracted by the CCoC as it could be from HTML (using an id tag) or XML. The information is locked again in an unusable and un-reusable format. The creators of the content lose, and could possibly lose big by not having information that is easily reused. This becomes increasingly important with the growing use of Web Services that rely on machine readable or machine accessible information.

Why the hotel scenario? Macromedia used the hotel demonstration to highlight some of their great new features. As I watched the presentation I kept wondering if the information was still unusable for purposes other than reading or having the information read to the user. It was later confirmed the information was still un-reusable, but Macromedia is also aware of this strong down side to the information presentation and is working hard at fixing the issues.

Yesterday was all about getting the synapses to fire in the right order at SXSWi. I was running on sever sleep deprivation from phones and alarm clocks ringing when I had not finished my needed sleep cycle. None-the-less I had a great time. I greatly enjoyed Steve Champeon's peer panel on Non-Traditional Web Design, as it focussed on the fine art of tagging content, understanding the uses of information, and the true separation of content, presentation, and application controlling the information. The Web Demo panel I was on seemed to go rather well as there were a broad spectrum of sites reviewed and the information from the panel to the developers was of great use (I hope) as I think we all learned something.

The evening provided good entertainment, a wonderful gattering at the EFF party. Once again many folks adjourned to the Omni Hotel lobby for the after-hours social gathering. I spent much of the time just listening to conversation and occasionally partaking. Of intrigue was Rusty of Kuro5hin and Adam of Brian of Slashdot discussion development of site tools that will help a dynamic site fly, keep in mind all these tools are in Perl.

February 20, 2002

Representational State Transfer (REST) and the Real World provides the ability to add security to XML-based Web Services, among other beneficial elements.

The school of hard knocks teaches us to learn where the pitfalls may lie in our plans as we are in the discovery and planning stages so we do not add to our "lessons learned". Web Services Pitfalls from O'Reilly Net and provides this wonderful bruise saving insight.

February 2, 2002

Web Services, the new plastic. More on Web Services in A List Apart article. Patrick Cooney provides a wonderfully quick background and foundation of understanding on WS.

The current term the neighbor from the Graduate would say is "Web Services". If you have Mac OS X, then O'Reilly Net's "AppleScript Primer for Mac OS X" is your passage to understanding how to do Web Services today. This means you don't have to wait for the expensive .Net Framework as you have the the technology now.

January 30, 2002

Web Services Interoperability from James†Snell on O'Reilly Net's XML.Com. This wonderful piece demonstrates, with code, the interaction that is currently possible with standard development environments. This is familiar territory for me from a recent past life, although it was not using SOAP, like these examples do.

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