Off the Top: Communications Entries


April 30, 2015

The Humanity of it All

This morning started with my early morning reading and I found Om Malik Interviews Brunello Cucinelli after a more somber stretch of reading.

Om’s interview is a breath of fresh air for me. There is so much in this piece that resonates with understanding not only quality of product, but quality of life and living. There is so much wisdom and understanding the humanity of life and living. Not only are many of our social platforms missing this, but our work and the environments where we live.

There is so much that is fantastic in this piece, but the focus on sane work life and real balance is great to see. Also the focus on ensuring the whole ecosystem is sustainable and thriving is essential. But, the slice of this where Bruello says, “We need a new form of capitalism, a contemporary form of capitalism. I would like to add “humanistic” to that equation” is key. The article mentions “human” 15 times and to me bringing humanity into our work focus and life focus is essential.

There are so many good things in this it may be the best thing I have read in a while, but also highly likely to reread a few times.

Thank you Om



October 31, 2014

Deconstructing for Fun

There are two video gems I have fallen into really liking in the last year Every Frame a Painting and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Every Frame is a Painting

Every Frame is a Painting tickles the film nerd in me. This takes me straight back to a great class in media criticism by Father Mike Russo in undergrad. We not only learned how to watch film, but how to deconstruct it, which turned into how to make film for many in that class.

Tony Zhou who creates Every Frame is a Painting provides great insight into film direction and cinematography, by breaking down scenes and the make-up of a shot to convey a story through film. Film and its genres as well as directorial influences not only help see film with a new eye of appreciation, but the world beyond film. A lot of interaction design in technology heavily references film and the ability to direct attention and create an enjoyable experience.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee

I’ve wasn’t a fan of the Jerry Seinfeld show. I saw a decent amount out of inertia (was watching the show on same channel prior) or it was a lead-in to something I wanted to watch. But, while there were some gems, most was listening to people whine, which lead to that same whining tone coming from myself the following day.

But, Seinfeld’s stand-up was something I had appreciation for and enjoyed. But, he has a web video series with the construct of him driving a historic car to pick-up another comedian to go get coffee. Most of the episodes are 15 to 20 minutes of he and his fellow comedian talking craft and sharing stories.

Much like Every Frame… Comedians in Cars… puts the focus on deconstruction of the craft, background of the artist, and breaking things down. There is often quite a bit of humor, which also helps.

In college and the years when I lived in San Francisco I loved going to stand-up shows. There were a lot of really good comedians working through their craft in SF in the mid–80s to mid–90s. The best times were often at open mic nights where comics would try out new material and often spill out into the parking lot or streets for an hour or few of riffing and stories.

Deconstruction is Essential for Understanding

A lot of undergrad for me seemed to be about not only learning (building a corpus of knowledge), but learning to deconstruct and understand the world and craft around me. Comedy and film (media in general got this treatment) were two of many of the disciplines I learned to breakdown to understand at more atomic levels, so to understand how to build more than capably as well as much better.

Learning the craft of deconstruction through something fun like film and comedy is a great place to start. Warning - this will change how you not only watch and consume things and may change the enjoyment and mindless nature that is desired, but it does give enjoyment on many other levels.



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 vanderwal.net 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 28, 2008

Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0

Yesterday I made a few comments in Twitter that prompted a fair amount of questions and requests for more information. The quips I made were about the differences between Web 2.0 (yes, an ambiguous term) and Enterprise 2.0 (equally ambiguous term both for the definition of enterprise and the 2.0 bit). My comments were in response to Bruce Stewart's comment The whole "Enterprise 2.0" schtick is wearing thin, unless you've been monitoring real results. Otherwise you're just pumping technology.. In part I agree, but I am really seeing things still are really early in the emergence cycle and there is still much need for understanding of the social tools and the need for them, as well as how they fit in. There are many that are selling the tools as technologies with great promise. We have seen the magic pill continually pitched and bought through out the history of business tools. (For those new to the game or only been paying attention for the last 15 years, a huge hint, THERE IS NO MAGIC PILL).

Tale of 2 Tunnels

One comment I made yesterday is, "the difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 is like the difference building a tunnel through rock and tunnel under water".

That this is getting at is Web 2.0 takes work to build to get through the earth, but once built it can suffer from imperfections and still work well. The tunnel can crack and crumble a little, but still get used with diminished capacity. We can look at Facebook, which has a rather poor interface and still gets used. Twitter is another example of a Web 2.0 solution that has its structural deficiencies and outages, but it still used as well as still loved (their Fail Whale is on a t-shirt now and a badge of pride worn by loyal users).

The Enterprise 2.0 tunnel is built under water. This takes more engineering understanding, but it also requires more fault testing and assurances. A crack or crumbling of a tool inside an organization is not seen kindly and raises doubts around the viability of the tool. The shear volume of users inside an organization using these tools is orders of magnitude less than in the open consumer web world, but faults are more deadly.

The other important factor is perceived fear of the environment. Fewer people (by pure numbers - as the percentages are likely the same, more on this later) are fearful of tunnels through land, they may not have full faith in them, but they know that they will likely make it safely on all of their journeys. The tunnels under water have greater fears as one little crack can cause flooding and drowning quickly. Fears of use of social tools inside an organization is often quite similar, there may be many that are not fearful, but if you spend time talking to people in organizations not using tools (it is the majority at this point) they are fearful of open sharing as that could lead to trouble. People are not comfortable with the concept as they are foreign to it as they are lacking the conceptual models to let them think through it.

Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0

Another statement yesterday that garnered a lot of feedback was, "Web 2.0 does not work well in enterprise, but the approaches and understandings of Web 2.0 modified for enterprise work really well." The web is not enterprise or smaller organizations for that matter. The open consumer web has different scale and needs than inside organizations and through their firewalls. A small percentage of people using the web can get an account on a tool have have appear to be wildly successful correctly claiming 70 million or 100 million people are or have used their tool. But, even 100 million people is a small percentage of people using the web. Looking at real usage and needs for those tools the numbers are really smaller. Most darlings of the Web 2.0 phase have fewer than 10 million users, which is about 5% of the open consumer web users in the United States. On the web a start-up is seen as successful with 500,000 users after a year or two and is likely to have the capability to be self sufficient at that level too. Granted there are many players in the same market niches on the web and the overall usage for link sharing and recommending for Digg, Mixx, or Reddit is much higher across the sum of these tools than in just one of these tools (obviously).

These percentages of adoption and use inside organizations can make executives nervous that their money is not reaching as many employees as they wish. The percentages that can be similar to the web's percentages of high single digit adoption rates to the teens is seen as something that really needs more thinking and consideration.

Enterprise 2.0 is more than just tools (see my Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success for better understanding) as it also includes interface/interaction design for ease of use, sociality, and encouragement of use. The two biggest factors that are needed inside an organization that can receive less attention on the web are the sociality and encouragement of use.

Understanding sociality is incredibly important inside an organization as people are used to working in groups (often vertical in their hierarchy) that have been dictated to them for use. When the walls are broken down and people are self-finding others with similar interests and working horizontally and diagonally connecting and sharing with others and consuming the collective flows of information their comfortable walls of understanding are gone. A presentation in Copenhagen at Reboot on Freely Seeping Through the Walls of the Garden focussed just on this issue. This fear inside the enterprise is real. Much of the fear is driven by lacking conceptual models and understanding the value they will derive from using the tools and services. People need to know who the other people are that they are sharing with and what their motivations are (to some degree) before they have comfort in sharing themselves.

Encouraging use is also central to increased adoption inside organizations. Many organizations initial believe that Web 2.0 tools will take off and have great adoption inside an organization. But, this is not a "build it and they will come" scenario, even for the younger workers who are believed to love these tools and services and will not stay in a company that does not have them. The reality is the tools need selling their use, value derived from them, the conceptual models around what they do, and easing fears. Adoption rates grow far beyond the teen percentages in organizations that take time guiding people about the use of the tools and services. Those organizations that take the opportunity to continually sell the value and use for these tools they have in place get much higher adoption and continued engagement with the tools than those who do nothing and see what happens.

Gaps in Enterprise Tools

The last related statement was around the gaps in current and traditional enterprise tools. At the fantastic Jive Enterprise UI Summit in Aspen a few weeks ago there was a lot of discussion about enterprise tools, their UI, and ease of use for employees by the incredible collection of people at the event. One of the things that was shown was a killer path of use through a wide encompassing enterprise toolset that was well designed and presented by SAP's Dan Rosenberg who has done an incredible job of putting user experience and thinking through the needed workflows and uses of enterprise tools at the forefront of enterprise software planning. Given the excellent design and incredible amount of user experience thought that went into the tools behind the SAP toolset in the scenario (one of the best I have seen - functioning or blue sky demoed) there are still gaps. Part of this is identifying of gaps comes from traditional business thinking around formal processes and the tools ensure process adherence. But, the reality is the tools are quite often inflexible (I am not talking about SAP tools, but traditional enterprise tools in general), the cost of time and effort is beyond the gain for individuals to document and annotate all decisions and steps along the way. The hurdles to capture information and share it are often too large for capturing one to 10 quick sentences of information that can be retained for one's own benefit or shared with other where it is relevant.

There is another gap in business around the collective intelligence that is needed, which can lead to collaboration. Most businesses and their tools focus on collaboration and set groups, but at the same time wonder why they do not know what their company knows and knowledge is not all being captured. First there is a difference between collective and collaborative activities and the tools and design around and for those different activities is more than a nuance of semantics it is a huge barrier to capturing, sharing, and learning from information that leads to knowledge if it is not understood well. Enterprise has gone through its phases of knowledge management tools, from forms for capturing information, forums for sharing, and up to enterprise content management systems (ECM) that encompass document management, content management, knowledge management, and information harvesting. But, the gaps still exist.

These existing gaps are around conversations not being captured (the walls of the halls have no memory (well today they do not)) and increasingly the ubiquitous communication channel in organizations, e-mail, is being worked around. Quick decisions are not being documented as it is not enough for a document or worth completing a form. As the iterative processes of development, design, and solution engineering are happening at quicker and smaller increments the intelligence behind the decisions is not being captured or shared. This is largely because of the tools.

As has always been the case large enterprise systems are worked around through the use of smaller and more nimble solutions that augment the existing tools. Even in Dan's incredible demo I saw gaps for these tools. The quick tools that can fill these gaps are blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, tagging, Twitter type sharing, Veodia type video sharing, instant messaging, etc. There are many avenues to quickly capture information and understanding and share it. These tools get out of the way and allow what is in someone's head to get digitized and later structured by the individual themselves or other people whom have had the information shared with them in a community space. This turns into flows through streams that can be put into many contexts and needs as well as reused as needed.

Another point Dan stated at the Enterprise UI Summit that is dead on, is organizations are moving out of the vertical structures and moving to the horizontal. This is having a profound effect on the next generation of business tools and processes. This is also an area for Enterprise 2.0 tools as they easily open up the horizontal and diagonal prospects and tie into it the capability for easily understanding who these newly found people are in an organization through looking at their profiles, which eases their fears around sharing and unfamiliar environments as well as their related tasks.

[Comments are open and moderated at Tale of Two Tunnels: Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 :: Personal InfoCloud]



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.

Tools

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

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.

Summary

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 Last.fm 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]



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 DataPoratbility.org 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.

Control

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 DataPortability.org 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.



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 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.



August 21, 2007

A Sad Day for Great Customer Service

Today I made a call that was really tough. I canceled my Speakeasy DSL account. A few weeks ago the we upgraded to Verizon FIOS (fiber network) to get much faster internet service for less cost. The switch removed the copper wire coming to the house (although that may not be fully the case due to some law suits brewing against this practice - the copper may have to be put back for free if the case wins or is settled and Verizon is cutting their potential losses making it easy to reconnect).

Giving Up Customer Service

In making this switch I gave up one of my favorite customer service relationships I have ever had, which was with Speakeasy. Every time I have needed to call Speakeasy, which was not often as their service was nearly perfect in the nearly six years I used them, they were polite and were very helpful. In one occasion they suggested an option that would save me money. They also applied the lower rates to my service when the rates dropped. They have acted just like you wish every company would act. They treat you like a valued customer at every turn. They look out for their customers interests, even it if is making less money. For me Speakeasy would win my business if they could compete on a level playing field.

Verizon the Painful

I have had horrible customer service in the past from Verizon, with customer service agents flat out lying (their upper managers later apologized in each case and said it was not normal practice, only to have it happen the next call). But, with getting an oder of magnitude (10x) or faster internet for a third of the price, it was a really tough call. Before we even got the service installed we uncovered Verizon had signed us up for services we did not want and did not have in our signed contract. It has been painful to get that sorted out.

Why go with Verizon? Well, I figured I can put my battle boots on to get what I need (hopefully), which is just what is promised in the contract. I know that every conversation will be a lot of effort and painful, just like they have been the last 14 years and even getting the fiber activity connected proved they have not changed.

Lack of Competition Ensures Low Quality

I have been amazed that much of the rest of the industrialized and post-industrialized world treats its telecom infrastructure as a public good. It is a national interest. The copper wires we have/had are considered belonging to the public. It has been considered a core necessity to have up to date technology infrastructure by many countries, but not the USA. Today the USA is 14th to 25th in broadband availability, use, and average speed compared to other nations across many surveys. The USA is way behind and its model leaving infrastructure in the hands of those with no competition or incentive. In a capitalist market society there needs to be competition, but in telecom there is no market as their is an oligopoly (only a limited few strong players), which is not a market (open competition) in economic terms.

I like the model for DSL, which had many parties buying infrustructure and selling based on service. When DSL started there was largely parity (small companies and large with similar pricing) and competition on services was the difference. Then the courts ruled and still allowed access, but the telecoms created a playing field in their advantage where they could sell services for less by not providing "discounts" to other service providers. The competition then came to be solely paying more for better service (connectivity and customer service). For many paying to be treated by a human was worth the cost.

Today there continues to be no marketplace. But, there is no option for competition on service. The lines are now property of the telecom that laid them and others have to lay their own lines to provide access. This method tears up the road infrastructure and creates un-needed redundancy. The model is broken and is keeping the USA behind other countries. I would gladly pay $10 to $15 more per month for Speakeasy customer service for my fiber connection.

Infrastructure is Competition?

I have chatted with a few CEOs and CIOs who have global businesses. When they look at expanding they look less to the USA than to Europe or Asia. It is not so much the cost of people, as most will pay for good people. But, in the US the poor infrastructure comparatively means they need more buildings and to pay for infrastructure themselves. The big campus is not efficient to many businesses as the technology and tools to connect and collaborate have improved. But, to do this takes infrastructure in a country or region.

My upgrading my connectivity allowed for much smoother video chats and voice chats. I can share large documents more easily. But, my access to the infrastructure is extremely rare in the USA. In the Netherlands similar connectivity is at nearly every doorstep in the top cities, secondary cities, and even tertiary cities. Outside of their city centers many people I talk with there work from home 80 to 90 percent of the time.



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

 YourselfOthers
ShareYesYes/No

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

 Others
Settings
Listen/FollowYesNo
Granular
Listen/Follow
YesNo
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 del.icio.us 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?



June 23, 2007

Company Hallways Loose Great Ideas

One of the panels at the Enterprise 2.0 this week had a panelist mention in the past companies built large campuses so people to be close enough to interact and socialize, but todays tools make that much easier and do not require expensive campuses.

This made me think "company hallways are like the shower, you dont have the means to capture great ideas when they occur".



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.



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.



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.



August 21, 2006

Acceptance of Innovation Takes Time

This past week Boeing cancelled its in plane internet connection services, called Connexion. The service has been in development for six years, but only in limited service for about 18 months. Boeing stated it did not get the acceptance and use of the service it expected. While Boeing was using satellites, which produce solid quality, its competitors are using less expansive and more fickle cellular approaches.

Acceptance Takes Consistency and Ubiquity

If I remember right it was only two or three airline carriers (Luftunsa) that had this service only on some of their planes. The people who I knew who used Boeing's services on airlines loved it, but they were never sure if the plane they were flying on would have access. This lack of consistency lowered the expectations of those who loved the service. These early adopters were reluctant to encourage others as the service may not be available. There are many people that want this type of service and to the level of bullet-proof service Boeing provided.

Air travel (like many others in the service industry) is an industry that is build around habits. Heavy travelers all have very set patterns and even well patterned alternate habits. They have certain airlines they fly (affinity programs encourage this), what airlines they use, hotels, and rental car they depend upon. The big mantra is no surprises and consistency. Packing their travel bags and gear with expectations of that they will need, with a big nod to what will not be needed so it is not packed (lighter travel is better than heavy travel). Depending on internet connection on the plane for many was not consistent and could not planned around.

Be Patient

How would Boeing get to the expected customer base? As a start they should take a lesson from Amazon, which puts innovative ideas in place all the time, but then lets the users catch-up to the tools. With Amazon their early adopters will use and play with their innovations (around which Amazon uses the feedback and iterates the products). Did Amazon announce their gold box? No, they put it out there and tested it and over a couple years it has become a staple that many people use as part of their regular Amazon experience. Amazon is doing similar things with tagging on their product pages and it is growing slowly.

Tagging is another area that is a slow growth. Currently there is less than .5 percent (half of one percent - comprised from Nielsen estimate of 750 Million people on the web and a compiles number of 2 to 4 million people using tagging services, not including blog categories as tagging) of people on the web tagging. Even with all of the hype tagging is still out in the long tail, and is an edge activity. Will tagging hit the next phase of innovation growth and spike in usage, the hockey stick curve, in the near future? It will take patience, consistency, iteration, and much better light bulb moments (quick a ha moments for those not using tagging).

Broadband In Planes Doomed?

It sounds like there are other technologies that are doing similar things to what Boeing was trying, but not as solid. These technologies are less expensive to implement and lower costs for those that fly. Can a poorer technology take off? The VHS (a greatly inferior product to Betamax) took the market.

It seems there is a future for broadband for those companies that can stay for the long run and help build demand and wait for demand to catch-up to innovation.



August 19, 2006

kGTD is Getting Things Real

I/we got a love letter or what I did this summer letter from Ethan at Kinkless, you know the maker of the killer kGTD (for Getting Things Done fans on Mac) extension for OmniOutliner.

What I really enjoyed was the apology and lighthearted story. Yes, I am quite looking forward to the next iteration or two from kGTD. But, Ethan connected with his community to keep them close and let them know he still cares about them and even apologized for his absence and lack of communication. This was rare and well done. He just won the hearts of his fans (how have not had to pay for his great contribution to our digital lives).

One things to note (if you are not familiar with kGTD as you are not interested in Getting Things Done (I am not being snarky, just you are not part of the kult) or are on a platform other than Mac) is kGTD caused the software it extends to get redesigned/reengineered to better support the tool. The kGTD fans caused a spike in purchases of OmniOutliner that they embraced many of the fan requests for product improvement. In turn the OmniOutliner had performance increases and functionality improvements that made their over all product much better than it already was. It shows what a great extension or external product layered on top of another product that is open for modifying can do for the whole ecosystem. OmniOutliner had a avid fan base, but it grew even larger and more avid with this kGTD extension. All of the Omni products are great and have deep followings.

The human, "we are just like you", approach to connect with those that use and have interest in the product helps keep it real and friendly. We connect more closely with the developer and the person. It builds a better bond. I have been deeply impressed and interest rekindled.



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 26, 2006

Prefab and the Blog Template

I have been fascinated by prefabricated (prefab) homes for the past few years. It first started with "why"? Why would somebody want to live in a prefab home. But, that turned into, "Hmmm, there is something to this prefab stuff". Part was the Dwell magazine interest in prefab, which played out into a prefab competition and prefab competition winners.

Prefab Blogs

I had the same feelings toward the standard blog styles, templates, and themes. Quickly, the standard designs became the norm. Where we had personally designed pages that had their own distinct flavor and style we had beautiful generic designs adopted by growing masses. The level to entry to beauty was lowered. In doing so I began to have many friends with the same blog design (this personally caused me cognitive difficulty as I remember blogs by color and distinct design and the wonderful design of the generics made my methods of distinguishing one blog from the other null and void). This sameness may say something about my friends and their similar taste and my apparent lack of diversity in choice in those whose company I enjoy all through the lens of visual design.

Prefab as an Old Cultural Trend

The more I thought, and still think, about prefab homes the more I realize our modern post-industrial lives are prefab. The suburbs (even urban settings) are all based on a limited selection of "floorplans" and exterior designs. I have spent a fair amount of time traveling the past year or two in the northern and western hemisphere in urban settings. There is a sameness to the city center architecture in Amsterdam, Oxford (England), San Francisco, Berlin, London, etc. The homes, commercial, and public buildings have their set patterns that distinguish time, use, and taste.

I think about my home, which was built in 1951 and was part of a small sub-division, which had a limited number of options that included our "cape cod" floor plan and style. Our neighborhood is changing like many others around the country that have homes more than 20 years old the older homes are being vastly modified and expanded or are being torn down and new larger homes are taking their place. These newer homes are too quite similar in style and floor plan to each other.

Is Prefab Bad?

As my initial dislike of prefab has faded, I still keep wondering about good or decent design being mass marketed and becoming too familiar and creating a backlash. One purveyor or good design for everybody is IKEA, which everybody I know owns at least one or two pieces of furniture from, no matter their financial or social status. Prefab homes are not quite in the same category, but they are heading in a similar direction. In our post-industrial life familiarity and similarity breeds comfort for many. We see similar patterns of similarity even in those cultures of differentiation (punk, MySpace, alternative, etc.) where the rebellion against the "beautiful" and commonly accepted "good design" is subverted. Tattoos, piercing, mohawks (again, which is comforting and ironic to me), illegible text in designs, low contrast design of bold color choices, etc. all are part of the counter culture, but are all a blending and a culture of familiarity and comfort.

There are set patterns in our cultures. When personal websites started (this one is a variant of one I started more than 10 years ago) there was a handful of them, a few hundred or a few thousand handfuls. Personal sites were personal reflections. They were our playgrounds and our means to be different, as much a part of being divergent as they were emergent. In MySpace we see much of the same attempt to separate one's self from the crowd. But, at the same time with 51 million (give or take 10 or 20 million more) differentiation is only part of a much larger pattern.

Finding a Home

Prefab is not bad, but just a means to inexpensively and easily get a home. It is not the exterior, but the interior space that is the place for personalization. Just as templates in blogs are a means to get a good design as a starting point to personalize, but the personalization is minor edits to the design as one component. The real personalization is the content that fills the once blank spaces. It is what is put in the blank text box. It is the voice and the expression of our views and ideas that make the space its ours and theirs. Much like what activities, what we make of the places we occupy, and who we interact with that shape our physical prefab spaces it is much the same same in the digital prefab spaces.

We are all out to find and build our home. It is something that is ours. It is something that is a reflection of who we are, who we want others to believe we are, and/or who we want to be.



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 16, 2006

Upcoming Conferences I am Presenting at and Attending

Okay, things have been quite busy here. But, here will be changing as I am hitting the skies a bit in the short term. This means I may be near you so reach out and we can hang out and chat. I am completely looking forward to all the places on my schedule and seeing all of the people.

XTech

I am off to Amsterdam, Netherlands (no not that other one) this week to speak at XTech. I will be presenting Developing for the Personal InfoCloud on Thursday at 11:45 in the morning.

BarCamp Amsterdam

On Saturday I will be attending BarCamp Amsterdam for part of the time.

Seattle Area

Following the Amsterdam trip I should be in the Seattle area for work. I don't have dates as of yet, but if you shoot an e-mail I will be sure and connect.

Microlearning 2006 Conference

I will be heading to Innsbruck, Austria for the Microlearning Conference and preconference (June 7). I will be talking about microcontent in the Personal InfoCloud and our ability and desire to manage it (one means of doing this is folksonomy, but will be discussing much more).

Following Innsbruck I may be in Europe a bit longer and a little farther north. I will be in Amsterdam just following the conference, but beyond that my schedule has not yet fully jelled.

WebVisions 2006

I will be heading to WebVisions 2006 in Portland, Oregon July 20th and 21st. I will be speaking on Friday the 21st about Tagging in the Real World. This will look at how people are making use of tagging (particularly tagging services) and looking at the best practices.

The Fall

In September it looks like I will be in Brighton, UK for a wonderful event. I should also be in Australia later in September for another conference.

As these events get closer, I will be letting you know.

Yes, I know I need to be publishing this information in hCal, but I have been quite busy of late. But, I am moving in that direction very soon. You can also follow what I am watching and attending in Upcoming for vanderwal.



April 11, 2006

Odd Moments in the Day - Odd Moments with Technology?

Today brought an odd moment. I looked up at iChat (my IM interface) and I see my name (Thomas Vander Wal) and podcast under Jeremy's name, which means Jeremy is most likely listening to a podcast interview with me. I had never seen that before.

Now I decide to share that odd moment with Jeremy, which I did not realize would cause Jeremy to have an odd moment.

How can the world of pervasive/ubiquitous computing ever get off the ground when we give each other odd moments through our friendly stalking? By the way I prefer using stalking, where as some people like the term monitoring, but the term monitoring does not cause me to think about privacy implications that I believe we must resolve within ourself or learn to better protect our privacy.

The incident today still causes me to chuckle for a short moment then realize how open we are with things on the internet and how different that seems to be even though most of our life has been public, but to a smaller and more localized group. It also resignals that change that came with the internet (well and much of technology) is that we can not see those who can see us. In a town we know the local video store guy knows what we rent, but now Amazon knows what we bought as do those people on our friends list whom we share our purchases with so they can have some insight as what to buy. My local video store guy in San Francisco, near California and 2nd or 3rd Avenue, was amazing. He knew everything I rented in the last few months and would provide perfect recommendations. Did he use a computer to aid himself? Nope, he was just that good and his brain could keep the connection between a face and videos rented and if you liked that video. He knew my taste perfectly and was dead on with recommendations. Not only was he on with me, but most others who frequented his store. He was great recommending, but also could help people avoid movies they did not like.

Was the guy in the video store freaky? Not really, well to me. He was a person and that was his role and his job. I worked in a coffee house for a while first thing in the morning. After a couple months I knew who the first 10 customers would be and I knew about half of the orders or possible variations of what people would order. People are patterned, I could tie the person's face to that pattern for espresso coffee drink order and I could recommend something that they should try. To some this was a little disturbing, but to most is was endearing and was a bond between customer and shopkeeper as I cared enough to know what they would like and remembered them (I did not often remember their names and most of them I did not know their names), but I knew what they drank. If is the familiarity.

So, with technology as an intermediary or as the memory tool what is so freaky? Is it not seeing into somebody's eyes? Is it the magic or somebody more than 3,000 miles away knowing what you are listening to and then have the person whom you are listening to pop-up for a chat? I think it is we have collapsed space and human norms. It is also difficult to judge intent with out seeing face or eyes. I was in a back and forth recently with a friend, but could not sense their intent as it seemed like the tone was harsh (for a person whom I trust quite a bit and think of as being intensely kind and giving) and I finally had to write and ask, but it was written from a point where I was bothered by the tone. My problem was I could not see the eyes of the person and see they playfulness or gestures to know their intent was playful challenging.

While at the Information Architecture Summit a couple/few weeks ago in Vancouver a few of us went to dinner and we played werewolf (my first time playing). But, I was reminded that the eyes hold a lot of information and carry a lot of weight in non-verbal communication. I could pick the werewolf whose eyes I could see, but in two occasions the werewolf was sitting next to me and I could not see their eyes. There was one person in each of the two games whom I did think was the werewolf as their eyes were signaling similarly to people who were not telling the truth in the cultures I grew up in.

Could technology be more easily embraced if it had eyes? Should we have glancing as Matt Webb has suggested and built an application to suggest? But could we take Matt'a concept farther? Would it be helpful?

This was a long post of what was just going to be pointing out an odd moment in the day.



March 24, 2006

Portland Airport Understands Today

I am currently sitting in the Portland Airport between flights using the Airport&039;s free WiFi and free power in a free business center. This is such a smart idea. I will try to fly through Portland when heading to the Northwest from this point forward.

I was able to sync mail that I did on the plane. I have refreshed my RSS feeds. Now I just need Gmail to work again (who is this little start-up Gmail that has such poor email service of late)?



March 20, 2006

Folksonomy in Physical Space

An example of folkonomy beyond the web. In a Flickr comment the person describes objects they found and strangers properly annotated. Folksonomy is not the content owner or creator tagging and annotating it is others.

This is quite apropos as Flickr, while not offering full tagging by others (if a photo is tagged orange, there is no reason (or way) for others to additionally tag the photo orange, which I wish would get fixed) Flickr does offer the ability for others to comment fully and add knowledge (or humor) to the photos. The string of comments, which this example is pulled is from a query Esther Dyson posted about the type of tree she photographed. Knowledge does not have to come from within but can come from around us as a collective.



March 18, 2006

Face Tagging

This year at SXSW Interactive I was interacting with so many people and getting many business cards. When I looked at the stack I could only tie about a third of the cards to face and conversations. In person I remember conversations tied to faces. In e-mail I remember conversations with a name. But the connection between names, faces, conversations, and business cards at conferences completely hit the wall this year.

By Sunday night or Monday, I was so tired that the problem was exacerbated and I really needed to find a solution. Well, Tuesday I started handing business cards back to the person who handed it to me and I took a picture of their business card next to their face, much like Nick Finck did back to me. This solution worked like a gem. Now I really wish I could go back to Saturday through Monday and capture the photos to tie to the cards.

Even the cards that I did not get a good capture in photo I was able to tie to the person. I am now tying back the people in photos to the people's cards. I am also remembering the conversations and who else was there when we were talking. Suck a good life hack for a tired and filled brain.



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!



February 15, 2006

Thomas Vander Wal on PodLeaders Podcast

I have been quite busy of late. Between some InfoCloud Solutions client work and some other things (including family).

I really need to pay attention to my blog a little bit as I do have things to post, like Thomas Vander Wal interviewed by Tom Raftery on PodLeaders podcast. The podcast covers the "come to me web", folksonomy, InfoClouds, and InfoCloud Solutions work. I wish I could talk more about my client work, but that will come.

This was recorded over a Skype connection with Tom sitting in Ireland. I was using my Apple iSight and it worked rather well. I have been enjoying Skype for chats with friends and business relations in Europe, I really like the quality as well as the price. But the thing that I really like is that it is really personal, much like a mobile phone, you are pretty much assured of getting the person you wish to talk with rather than some answering service or other interference.

I am back to working.



February 4, 2006

Internet was down

I have been dealing with my internet access going up and down all afternoon. It seems there is some outage beyond my DSL provider, as I can get access to them easily, but the hops stop just after their router. This is what they are reporting also. I left about 5:00 to go get WiFi access at the local Starbucks, but they were out too. After negotiations at home to get work done that is all web-based, I finally found access about 10 miles north of us in Gaithersberg/Rockville. There were a few others at the coffeehouse (part of a small chain that used to be here in Bethesda also) that had been going through the same thing.

This new year I have had this discussion about an "always-on society" is fine until it is broken. I clear time to get work done around my son's naps and other down times, when the work load is light. When the network is out, increasingly this is the case, or the power is out I am sunk. More and more of our work is moving toward web-based applications, but our networks are not bullet-proof.

My trip to San Francisco nearly had me ready to give up on WiFi as it was really difficult to track down (it is not everywhere) and the carriers block so many port one can not send secure e-mail or other normal tasks. As WiFi expands its footprint is seems to be less usable. On my recent trip the most reliable connection was on my hip in my Treo, but I can not do the work on web-based applications that I needed to from that device. As web applications get richer interfaces the limits to what devices can use them. Unless the rich web interfaces degrade we are going to have problems with this diverging problems based on usage.

I get quite used to an always-on mentality and a instant or quick response communication. When it does not happen, it seems problematic and I wonder what went wrong. It was like this through the holidays as people who would respond in under an hour, or in at least a day were taking longer than a week. January turned into two to three week response times as everybody is swamped, or battling for their jobs with budget cuts.

As much as I like the public access to WiFi idea, it is not hear yet. The current state of things is making the mobile broadband cards from the mobile carriers look very tempting. It creates two classes of people, but the cost recovery (based on high rates while on business travel) and easy access is very tempting.



February 3, 2006

San Franccisco Reawakens the Need for a Smart Address Book

I am back home in Bethesda, Maryland from my trip to the San Francisco Bay Area this week, coming only a couple days after getting home from Seattle. Today I was wiped out, some from the travel itself (red-eye overnight flights and getting up at 4 am on the East Coast to catch planes), but mostly from 19 to 20 hour days this week. The brain begins to go a wee bit with this shift.

I met with many wonderful people and had great conversations and business meetings, as I always do in the San Francisco Bay Area. The downside it WiFi networks blocking secure connections. I have had more mail blocked or "reached my quota" notices to fill a year all in one short trip.

Need for Better Mobile/Portable Communication

I also realized we (those of us that are not always stuck at a desk or have friends or collaborators that are not stuck at some desk) need much better communication. We need an address book and multi-medium communication tools that are a hell of a lot better than the poorly thought through mess we currently deal with. I was needing to repoint a group of people from one location to meet-up to another at 4:30 for a 7:00 gathering. People may not be pulling e-mail (which I did not have access to the account I sent the initial e-mail from and that caused 6 of 15 sent to bounce back with spam challenges, which I did not get on my mobile device for some very odd unknown reason).

Solving Communication with People in Digital Context

What is the solution? Again, (again that is for those that heard or read my Design Engaged presentation on Clouds, Space & Black Boxes, that I have yet to write-up, but come to a same conclusion for a very different reason) I know we need a very smart address book. We need an address book that has exhaustive contact information, should the person permit us to have this information, for their communication devices and means of accessing them. The address book should have contact rules based on that person's preferences. Connecting to a calendar for that person could instruct our address book the best means to connect to this person. Another alternative could be a ping service that our address book queries that tells our address book what is the best means of contacting that person.

Smart Address Book Contents

Once we have a smart address book that has all of the rules, or could be easily updated through the same ping service for the address book, we prepare our message and our address book selects the best means of contacting that person. We would have some information going out to e-mail, a blast SMS/text message to mobile devices, voice script that gets dropped directly into voicemail, calendar updates, etc. Not only should our networks (WiFi, mobile device, broadband mobile, etc.) not inhibit out transmissions, but our devices should use the best or a combination of messages that work for that person, based on their current context.

The Smart Address Book in Action

Simply it would work like this (any device will do - desktop, laptop, mobile, etc): We create a message we need to send and mark it with the proper urgency and time to live (Tuesday night the message had 2.5 hours for time to live). In our address book we select the people we want to receive the message. Our address book pings that person's communication priority file, which checks who we are requesting the ping, the urgency, and the time to live of the message. The response back to the ping weighs our request and based on the person's preferences and availability (calendar or live settings) and a rating of how good we are in their eyes we are with our requests. The response tells our address book the preferred method(s) of contact for the information. Our address book adds the address/routing for the message in that person's preferred interaction mode and sends the messages. The smart address book and message preparation can be done on a device or on an external service. Either way we should easily have the ability to do it from any device we have at our disposal.

This should some much of the information routing problems we have. If our smart address book could also capture some of the addressee's preferences and rules it would be helpful too, such as they do not answer their home phone, but may answer their mobile phone, but their preferred method of hearing from us is IM or personal e-mail. I have really been noticing in the past couple of years that the world is made up of text people and voice people. It is all about preferences and understanding personal need and personal interaction efficiencies.

Attention to Personal Information Workflow

The rules could also account for often to contact a person when you have not heard from them on a request or deadline. There are cracks in life (some very small and some large) and things fall into these cracks. The smart address book and messaging system could trigger follow-up based on one's own known personal workflow.



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.



November 21, 2005

Language as a Divider

A wonderful piece about language and experience by Meg had me recalling recent language adventures. Having been in the Netherlands, Brussels, Berlin, and Boston in recent weeks the shifting of language (and jet lag) and its impact on communication was brought back to me.

While much of the Netherlands (particularly Amsterdam) is fluent in English, I always feel badly using it as my default. The downside is I really do not speak Dutch, I have a vocabulary of about 20 or so words (although this last trip thank you was about the extent of it) so I fall back on English very quickly. Being of Dutch ancestry is the driver for the guilt, I feel like I am letting down previous generations.

The trip to Brussels was a little more problematic as English is not spoken everywhere, but they do speak French (I know a little more French than Dutch)and Flemish (close to Dutch, but not my forte). I had to rely on friends (mostly Dutch) to navigate menus and other essentials. But, Brussels is a very English friendly city.

Now we get to Berlin. I speak some German (Deutsch) from years of schooling. I can get by with my remedial Geutsch, but it does not get me as far as I would like. I can ask, "what beer is she drinking" and then follow-up with "I would like a large one of those, please". Food is fine, but complex directions (particularly with a city whose parts I am not familiar nor the transportation systems) were lost on me. These needed English. I also found that nearly all of the channels on my television at the hotel were in Deutsch (except for a time slice of CNN interwoven), although others friends in the hotel seemed to have more English channel access (could be related to my horribly flakey WiFi, which they did not experience either). All of the newspaper options in the hotel were in Deutsch, which made the Financial Times not quite as wonderful as usual.

When I got to Boston and checked into my hotel I went out to go to the reception and passed a newsstand on Harvard Square that was selling the Financial Times I had been trying all day (18 hours already) to get my hands on. When I went to ask for the paper my English had failed me. I had lost all languages for a moment. Language quickly returned, but I could easily ask for the paper in Deutsch, as well as for how much, and say thank you in Deutsch or Dutch. This I knew would not get me far. I just sort of mumbled something in some language and tucked my paper in the back pocket of my Barber coat and went off into the night.

I usually have this problem in English as I can always think of the larger words, but always pause to think of the more simple words or the one that is more culturally appropriate. English is not one language, but many culturally loaded variants. The use of sofa rather than couch or supper rather than dinner frames who you are in other people's minds. Let alone various terms from cross professional disciplines, which can quickly alienate you or engender you to those to whom you are speaking. So I often pause to pull from the appropriate vocabulary, but most often I can only think of one term and just go with it, then hope I get called on it so I can explain I am not exactly the person they think I am (that rarely happens and inferences of who I am are sealed). C'est la Vie!



May 26, 2005

One Less Wonderful Merchant

Ismail Merchant has died. He and James Ivory's creations on films were magic. I clearly remember seeing A Room With A View at the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley, California when it came out. I later saw the film in Oxford, England at the Penultimate Picture Palace as well as on video tape there. The experience watching the film in two different cultures drew me to the film even more. In the U.S. the film was a period piece, but in Britain it was more of a romantic comedy. The film holds up to many watchings revealing details that may have been missed prior (opposed to the book, which has one good reading in it at best). It was this film that not only made me a fan of the Merchant Ivory productions, but made me a better fan or critic of the medium itself.

I have always enjoyed the interviews with Ismail as he adds depth and care to his creations. I believe that it is this care that should be poured into all of our creations and craft of our hands, mind, and soul.

Peace



March 17, 2005

Mail Bagged

Tomorrow night should be my night to start catching up on e-mail. I have been getting more than a fair amount in the last 10 days, but I have not been able to send back out from the various hotels. It seems that POP mail and ISAPI mail do not like going out (ISAPI did not work inbound in Montreal either). I have gone through and parsed most of the e-mail into buckets to start handling.

I have not forgotten about you. Really. I have shot back some short e-mails from my mobile, but for many of you I have a little more to say.



November 29, 2004

Removing the Stench from Mobile Information

Standing in Amsterdam in front of the Dam, I was taking in the remnants of a memorial to Theodore van Gogh (including poetry to Theo). While absorbing what was in front of me, I had a couple people ask me what the flowers and sayings were about. I roughly explained the street murder of Theo van Gogh.

While I was at the Design Engaged conference listening to presentations about mobile information and location-based information I thought a lot about the moment at the Dam. I thought about adding information to the Dam in an electronic means. If one were standing at the Dam you could get a history of the Dam placed by the City of Amsterdam or a historical society. You could get a timeline of memorials and major events at the Dam. You could also get every human annotation.

Would we want every annotation? That question kept running reoccurring and still does. How would one dig through all the digital markings? The scent of information could become the "stench of information" very quickly. Would all messages even be friendly, would they contain viruses? Locations would need their own Google search to find the relevant pieces of information. This would all be done on a mobile phone, those lovely creatures with their still developing processors.

As we move to a world where we can access information by location and in some cases access the information by short range radio signals or touching our devices there needs to be an easy to accept these messages. The messaging needs some predictive understanding on our mobiles or some preparsing of content and messaging done remotely (more on remote access farther down).

If was are going to have some patterning tools built in our mobiles what information would they need to base predictions? It seems the pieces that could make it work are based on trust, value, context, where, time, action, and message pattern. Some of this predictive nature will need some processing power on the mobile or a connection to a service that can provide the muscle to predict based on the following metadata assets of the message.

Trust is based on who left the message and whether you know this person or not. If the person is known do you trust them? This could need an ensured name identification, which could be mobile number, their tagging name crossed with some sort of key that proves the identity, or some combination of known and secure metadata items. It would also be good to have a means to identify the contributor as the (or an) official maintainer of the location (a museum curator annotating galleries in a large museum is one instance). Some trusted social tool could do some predicting of the person's worthiness to us also. The social tools would have to be better than most of today's variants of social networking tools as they do not have the capability for us to have a close friend, but not really like or trust their circle(s) of friends. It would be a good first pass to go through our own list of trusted people and accept a message left by any one of these people. Based on our liking or disliking of the message a rating would be associated with this person to be used over time.

Value is a measure of the worthiness of the information, normally based on the source of the message. Should the person who left the message have a high ranking of content value it could be predicted that the message before us is of high value. If these are message that have been reviews of restaurants and we have liked RacerX previous reviews we found in five other cities and they just gave the restaurant we are in front of a solid review that meets our interests. Does RacerX have all the same interests?

Context is a difficult predictive pattern as there are many contextual elements such as mood, weather, what the information relates to (restaurant reviews, movie reviews, tour recommendations, etc.). Can we set our mood and the weather when predicting our interest in a message. Is our mood always the same in certain locations?

Where we are is more important than location. Yes, do we know where we are? Are we lost? Are we comfortable where we are? These are important questions that may help be a predictor that are somewhat based on our location. Or location is the physical space we occupy, but how we feel about that spot or what is around us at that spot may trigger our desire to not accept a location-based message. Some of us feel very comfortable and grounded in any Chinatown anywhere around the globe and we seek them out in any new city. Knowing that we are in or bordering on a red-light district may trigger a predictive nature that would turn off all location-based messages. Again these are all personal to us and our preferences. Do our preferences stay constant over time?

Time has two variables on two planes. The first plane is our own time variables while the other relates to the time of the messages. One variable is the current moment and the other is historical time series. The current moment may be important to us if it is early morning and we enjoy exploring in the early morning and want to receive information that will augment our explorative nature. Current messages may be more important than historical messages to us. The other variable of historical time and how we treat the past. Some of us want all of our information to be of equal value, while others will want the most current decisions to have a stronger weight so that new events can keep information flowing that is most attune to our current interests and desires. We may have received a virus from one of our recent messages and want to change our patterns of acceptance to reflect our new cautionary nature. We may want to limit how far back we want to read messages.

Action is a very important variable to follow when the possibility of malicious code can damage our mobile or the information we have stored in the mobile or associated with that mobile. Is the item we are about to receive trigger some action on our device or is is a static docile message. Do we want to load active messages into a sandbox on our mobile so the could not infect anything else? Or, do we want to accept the active messages if they meet certain other criteria.

Lastly, message pattern involved the actual content of the message and would predict if we would want to read the information if it is identical or similar to other messages, think attention.xml. If the Dam has 350 messages similar to "I am standing at the Dam" I think we may want to limit that to ones that meet some other criteria or to just one, if we had the option. Do we have predictors that are based on the language patterns in messages? Does our circle of trusted message writers always have the same spellings for certain wordz?

All of these variables could lead to a tight predictive pattern that eases the information that we access. The big question is how is all of this built into a predictive system that works for us the moment we get our mobile device and start using the predictive services? Do we have a questionnaire we fill out that creates our initial settings? Will new phones have ranking buttons for messages and calls (nice to rank calls we received so that our mobile would put certain calls directly into voice mail) so it is an easier interface to set our preferences and patterns.

Getting back to remote access to location-based information seems, for me, to provide some excellent benefits. There are two benefits I see related to setting our predictive patterns. The first is remote access to information could be done through a more interactive device than our mobile. Reading and ranking information from a desktop on a network or a laptop on WiFi could allow us to get through more information more quickly. The second benefit is helping us plan and learn from the location-based information prior to our going to that location so we could absorb the surroundings, like a museum or important architecture, with minimal local interaction with the information. Just think if we could have had our predictive service parse through 350 messages that are located at the Dam and we previews the messages remotely and flagged four that could have interest to us while we are standing at the Dam. That could be the sweet smell of information.



September 26, 2004

Preview of Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World

I went on a little book buying spree this past week as I am finishing reading the last binge buy or two. I picked up a couple O'Reilly reference books (will review them later) and a few books from the interaction design, cogsci, and information design arena. The one that is standing out in as I preview them is the Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World : A Critical Sourcebook by Carolyn Handa. This book is a collection of essays and articles from various well quoted and referred to designers, writers, and academics. Looking through the references and end-notes the heros of communication research are used for the foundations of those chosen to write. Visual Rhetoric is focussed on the academic world, but if we are not learning every day we will never get better, and this book could fill in the gaps.

The book is broken into five sections: Toward a Pedagogy of the Visual, The Rhetoric of the Image, The Rhetoric of Design, Visual Rhetoric and Argument, and Visual Rhetoric and Culture. The names of the writers that jump out are Gunter Kress, Catherine L. Hobbes, J.L. Lemke, Rudolph Arnheim, Roland Barthes, Scott McCloud, Jeffery Keedy, Jessica Helfand, Keith Kenney, Michele S. Shauf, Richard A. Lanham, Robert Horn, and Bell Hooks drew my attention. I have a very strong feeling this will be a great resource. I don't think it will bump Digital Ground by Malcolm McCullough from my vote for the best book I have read this year, but it is proving 2004 is a very strong year for books.



June 17, 2004

Malcolm McCullough Lays a Great Foundation with Digital Ground

Today I finished reading the Malcolm McCullough book, Digital Ground. This was one of the most readable books on interaction design by way of examining the impact of pervasive computing on people and places. McCullough is an architect by training and does an excellent job using the architecture role in design and development of the end product.

The following quote in the preface frames the remainder of the book very well:

My claims about architecture are indirect because the design challenge of pervasive computing is more directly a question of interaction design. This growing field studies how people deal with technology - and how people deal with each other, through technology. As a consequence of pervasive computing, interaction design is poised to become one of the main liberal arts of the twenty-first century. I wrote this book because I ran into many people who believe that. If you share this belief, or if you just wonder what interaction design is in the first place, you may find some substance here in this book.

This book was not only interesting to me it was one of the best interaction books I have read. I personally found it better than the Cooper books, only for the reason McCullough gets into mobile and pervasive computing and how that changes interaction design. Including these current interaction modes the role of interaction design changes quite a bit from preparing an interface that is a transaction done solely on a desktop or laptop, to one that must encompass portability and remote usage and the various social implications. I have a lot of frustration with flash-based sites that are only designed for the desktop and are completely worthless on a handheld, which is often where the information is more helpful to me.

McCullough brings in "place" to help frame the differing uses for information and the interaction design that is needed. McCullough includes home and work as the usual first and second places, as well as the third place, which is the social environment. McCullough then brings in a fourth place, "Travel and Transit", which is where many Americans find themselves for an hour or so each day. How do people interact with news, advertisements, directions, entertainment, etc. in this place? How does interaction design change for this fourth place, as many digital information resources seem to think about this mode when designing their sites or applications.

Not only was the main content of Digital Ground informative and well though out, but the end notes are fantastic. The notes and annotations could be a stand alone work of their own, albeit slightly incongruous.



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 Upcoming.org, "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 (Upcoming.org, 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 5, 2004

Daytime E-mail Response

Outbound SMTP e-mail has been blocked at work, so I will most likely respond using my mobile account for personal e-mail that needs addressing during business hours. This restriction is understandable, but also limits the ability to shoot a quick e-mail to say I will be meeting for dinner this evening at place X. I loathe the telephone and find e-mail more usable as it captures the information for reuse and later referral, where as the phone does not permit this ease of reuse, or ease of accurate reuse as may be more appropriate.



January 11, 2004

Blogs highlighted on Meet the Press

While I am not a huge blog-for-blog-sake person, Meet the Press has a relatively long roundtable discussion on blog and the Democratic presidential campaigns. The talk about how Joe Trippi not only uses the blog to communicate with potential Dean supporters, but how he and others cull ideas from the blogs.

This highlight how new innovative ideas can quickly get posted by individuals, culled, and directly or with modification get implemented to better an endeavor. One clever idea that was culled from a weblog was the ability to have individuals share their unused weekend cell phone minutes and have the campaign use these minutes to call voters in Iowa. A rather clever idea and even smarter use of culling the Internet's vast cacophony of voices to find good helpful ideas to run a business/organization better and smarter.



December 21, 2003

Treo 600 Bluetooth answer

I found, not only a great article on the Treo 600, but the answer to the bluetooth question. I have been wondering if the Treo 600 will work with the current Palm SD Bluetooth card. It seems:

The Treo 600 family also adds an SD/SDIO/MMC slot. This slot, located on the top of the device was also found on the Treo 90, and on all current Palm models. It enables the use of SD and MMC media for storage of more programs and MP3 audio or video and SD content cards like dictionaries, or game packs. More importantly it also is SDIO enabled, meaning that it will work with hardware accessory cards like Veo's SD photo card, Margi's SD presenter-to-go, or Sandisk's upcoming Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards.

Handspring did not include Bluetooth into this device, but because of the SDIO slot it is an option in the future. Handspring told us that they are working with 3rd party companies to extend all the powers of the Treo to the Bluetooth card. This includes not only data synchronization like most cards, but the ability to use Bluetooth headsets, or act as a Bluetooth modem for a PC or Mac. Adding a Bluetooth SD card to the Treo 600 family will cost around $100 to $150. The current Palm branded card does not work with OS 5.

Phonescoop.com gives this interesting quote though: "Speaking of Bluetooth, the Handspring engineers specifically left room on the Treo 600 circuit board for a Bluetooth module. It won't be included in initial releases, but Handspring spokesperson Brian Jaquet said there was very strong possibility that an updated version would be released with Bluetooth."

Now the question is do I get one now or wait?

I did find that my current phone, Motorola Timeport 270c does have an optional Bluetooth battery cover, but it (like other Motorola products) does not support Mac, fools.



October 29, 2003

Time to step in to the present

There are days when you realize you are working in an environment that is the equivalent of one that switched from horse and buggy to the automobile a few years prior and is still trying to feed the car oats. There are some that see others putting a liquid in the autos tank so they boil the oats, strain the liquid, and put that in the tank. They have problems seeing why things do not run right.

Changing your environment from printing on paper to electronic information dissemination requires process change and formulating the information for easing the transfer into various presentation layers. Easily save into a PDF for distributing to those users that want to print and for information where layout is actually important to the information. Equally important is saving for Web presentation in valid (X)HTML. The (X)HTML is extremely valuable as it is a the a great means for users to consume the information on a wide variety of devices and provides the user the ability to reuse the information as the need and see fit.

When preparing information one must consider the the media used for presenting the message. It would also be wise to provide a great benefit to the user by considering information reuse. Preparing information for print, but not providing the data behind charts, alternate text for images, and other items that are required for accessibility (Section 508 compliance).



October 19, 2003

Peter explains Semiotics

Peter Lind post a great overview of semiotics and a what is semiotics, part 2 on his ever useful Tesugen weblog.



October 2, 2003

Death of E-mail

Ray Ozzie discusses the death of e-mail as a work process tool. Of course Ray has an interest in this as his Groove application provides encrypted shared workspaces for workflow and sharing. If you rely on e-mail for document sharing or an Intranet, Groove is a large step above and beyond these technologies. E-mail was not designed, many many years ago, for the type of tasks and volumes that are required of it today. As every work environment struggles with privacy and security most e-mail solutions do not provide a sufficient level of support, particularly with e-mail storage limitations.

E-mail also does not often provide portability and tracking across various work environments. Groove however does do this. I was testing and using Groove in a beta mode and the free version a year or two ago. Groove had these capabilities then.

Yes, secure e-mail is available on many e-mail platforms, but the portability and retention of state of work does not work as easily on other applications. The one downside of Groove for me is it does not yet have an OS X version,



July 24, 2003

WiFi in the Lecture Hall

WiFi in the lecture hall (in the New York Times) is the latest environment to add "back-channelling", which is members of the audience or class using instant messaging or group chat to discuss the lecture. SXSW a couple years ago was my first experience with WiFi enabled conference sessions and back-channelling, which was a little distracting, but at the same time provides another dimension to information input. Insta-fact checking would be very nice in work meetings.



July 9, 2003

Mobile video iChat with WiFi

Mike demonstrates iChat unteathered. Yes video chatting from the South Street Seaport in NYC all with WiFi (no wires). I am so glad Mike got to test this and posted it so we all could see it works.



June 27, 2003

iChat AV has spell check

One quick item of note: Not only does iChat AV have great sound and wonderful video (been privy to both), but it has spell check. Yes spell check in iChat! I have been waiting for this for so long. It does not seem to be documented anywhere that I have found, but when I mis-type the words get a red underline, just like spell check in Safari, and I have the option of fixing.



June 23, 2003

Interact Lab research papers

Department of Informatics, University of Sussex, Interact Lab, HCI papers provides offerings in: Pervasive Environments and Ubiquitous Computing - Shared Interaction Spaces; Playing and Learning - Tangibles & Virtual Environments - Collaborative Learning; Theory & Conceptual Frameworks; Technology Mediated Communication; and Interactive Art. [hat tip Anne]



June 15, 2003

Bullfighter from Deloitte Consulting

Saturday's New York Times discusses Deliotte Consulting's Bullfighter a jargon removal tool. This is used to make financial reports and business communication clearer. The application reportedly works much like spell check. The tool even works in PowerPoint, which a well known carrier is the business jargon virus.



February 3, 2003

Hiptop helps show extending the model of attraction

I am already enjoying my Hiptop for much of the reason that I picked it up. I wanted access to information. More importantly I wanted information to be able to follow me. I found information or thought of information I really have been wanting to have access to that information from where ever I am. I wanted the ability to share the information from where I was and have others be able to use that information to better their understanding.

Yes, I have had cellphones and have called others, but the information is not that useable in voice form. The information needed to be convered to data elements that could easily be used and reused. Voice only (at the current time) allows us to hear then act upon the information and not store that information in a searchable repository or to easily share that information back out.

Yes, I have PDAs (Palm-based handhelds), but they need to synch with other devices to share information and the e-mail capabilities were not the best around. The 3rd party applications on the Palm and the fantastic operating system that is fast and small are great features that will be hard to beat by anybody.

I have been looking for a solution to have the information I wanted when I want or need it in my hands. The Hiptop gets me much closer to that goal. I tend to use e-mail to share ideas with myself and others. This weblog is another method of doing the same. Being able to search for an address and get a map is a solid tool to have at all times.

This is a personal quest to have the Model of Attraction (MoA) extend back to myself. The MoA not only helps us think about the attration between the user and information during the finding tasks, to help improve findability, but in phase where the user wants information to stay attracted to them. My Hiptop is my information attraction device. I can push an e-mail to myself that has the name, address, time, and phone number needed to do to a party with friends that have come in from out of town. I can access my Amazon Wishlist when I am in a store to help remember the author or title of a book, CD, or DVD I have been seeking. This bookstore amnesia (or musicstore amnesia) can be a thing of the past. The Hiptop provides me the information in my hand and gives me the access to the information I do not have at hand wirelessly.

There will be some experiments to see if I can improve on the information attraction to keep the information closer to me. Am I getting rid of my Palm? No, as there is information in it that I prefer in the format it is in. I will be keeping my cell phone as it has great reception and is CDMA (I found having a non-dominant cell phone technology is an advantage during emergency times, like being in San Francisco during September 11, 2001, which is a TDMA and GSM dominant city. I was one of a few that had no problem getting a signal to call out). It is rather awkward having three devices with through out the day. We will see how it goes.



April 4, 2002


April 3, 2002


February 27, 2002

Decisionmaking about design is critical and demonstrated. This walk through of how design influences impressions of a product. Communicating a message is important in the words and visual design. Each of these samples builds an experience and expectation for the product.


February 7, 2002

An intriguing piece in the Mactopia section of the Microsoft site about Presentation tips from Dale Carnegie Training. The "plan" section reads:
  • Describe your audience as it relates to the topic Ăł their knowledge and experience, their needs, wants, and goals. Ask yourself, "What does my audience know about this topic?"
  • Define the purpose of your presentation as it relates to the outcome you seek. Is your intention to inform? Persuade? Motivate? Teach? When you clarify your purpose, you will more easily hit your target.
  • Plan the content of your presentation around your purpose and your audience's interest and level of understanding. Use words and phrases common to your audience, and focus on your purpose.
This sounds like it is straight out of a user centered design or user experience design article. This would even be at home in an advertising or public relations primer. Heck, it is just smart communication technique and one of the very basics, we must understand the user/audience.


November 5, 2001

Lawrence Lessig has a new book, The Future of Ideas, in which he discusses the freedom of information flow that drive innovation and commerce. He also discusses the hinderance that some industries try to place on this flow of information and the direct and indirect effects this has on growth of ideas and expanding markets.

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