Off the Top: Community Entries

November 8, 2014

KM World 2014 Wrap

I spent much of this week at KM World 2014 in Washington, DC and the past few days I was working on notes and blog posts for here, but time to get them in readable form and posted wasn’t quite there, so today they became a Personal InfoCloud post, KM World 2014 is a Real Gem.

I had a great time with fantastic people whom I’ve known and people new to me. I spent a lot of time talking about work projects and being back on the consulting side again, but also getting content out and what makes sense with prioritization. I had a lot of great meetings and less formal chats about the state of things as well as trying out some metaphors for framing some things to gage how well they hold up.

I have a lot of snippets to explore and post that have come out of this past week, but I’m digging out of email, notes, snippets, and other things tucked away from this past week.

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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May 7, 2008

Enterprise Social Tools: Components for Success

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

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

Four Rings of Enterprise Social Tools

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


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

Interface & Ease of Use

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


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

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

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

Encouraging Use

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

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

The Overlaps

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

Tools and Interface

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

Tools and Sociality

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

Interface and Encouraging Use

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

Sociality and Encouraging Use

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

The Missing Piece in Overlaps

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

Overlap A

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

Overlap B

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

Overlap C

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

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

Overlap D

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


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

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

May 3, 2008

Getting Info into the Field with Extension

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

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

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

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

April 16, 2008

Social Tools for Mergers and Acquisitions

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

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

Social Tools Are Great Aids for Change

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

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

Communication Build Common Ground

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

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

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

Increasing Speed and Lowering Cost of Transition

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

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

April 10, 2008

Denning and Yaholkovsky on Real Collaboration

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

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

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

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

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

April 6, 2008

Selective Sociality and Social Villages

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

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

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

Selective Sociality of Villages

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

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

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

February 22, 2008

Remote Presentation and Perception Matrix for Social Tools

This post is also found at: Remote Presentation and Perceptions Matrix for Social Tools :: Personal InfoCloud with moderated comments turned on.]

Today I did something I had never done before (actually a few things) I sat in my office in my home and gave a live web video presentation to a conference elsewhere on the globe. I presented my nearly all new presentation, Keeping Up With Social Tagging to the Expert Workshop in: Social Tagging and Knowledge Organization - Perspectives and Potential that was put on by the Knowledge Media Research Center in Tübingen, Germany.

Remote Presentation Feelings

While the remote video presentation is normal for many people inside their large organizations and I have presented at meetings and conferences where my presentation was provided to other location on live video feed (my recent Ann Arbor trip to present at STIET was HD broadcast to Wayne State in Detroit), this home office to conference presentation was new to me. The presentation and video link used Adobe Connect, which allowed me to see whom I was talking to, manage my slides, text chat, and see myself. This worked quite well, much better than I expected. I did have my full slide presentation in lightroom view set up in Keynote on my external monitor on the side and used Awaken on the side monitor as well to help with timing.

The ability to get feedback and watch the attendees body language and non-verbal responses was insanely helpful. I have given webinars and done phone presentations where I had not visual cues to the audience responses, which I find to be a horrible way to present (I often will expand on subjects or shorten explanations based on non-verbal feedback from the audience). Adobe Connect allowed this non-verbal feedback to be streamed back to me, which completely allows me to adjust the presentation as I normally do.

One thing that was a wee bit difficult was having to change focus (I suppose that comes with use and experience), but I would watch audience feedback while presenting, peek to the side to see where I was with time and slides (to work in the transitions), but would then try to look at the camera to "connect". Watching myself on the video feedback the moments I would try to connect through the camera I would open my eyes wide as if trying to see through my iSight and boy does that come across looking strange on a close range camera. I also (unknown to myself until recently watching a video of another presentation I had done) use a similar facial expression to add emphasis, I am realizing with a camera as close as it is for web presentation also really looks odd. I am sort of used to listening to myself (normally to write out new analogies I use or responses to questions), but watching myself in playback from that close of a range is really uncomfortable.

One thing I really missed in doing this web video presentation was extended interaction with the attendees. I rather enjoy conferences, particularly ones with this focussed a gathering as it makes for great socializing with people passionate about the same subjects I am passionate about. I like comparing note, perceptions, and widely differing views. It helps me grow my knowledge and understandings as well as helps change my perceptions. Live face-to-face conversation and sharing of interests is an incredibly value part of learning, experiencing, and shaping views and it is something I greatly enjoy attending conferences in person. I am not a fan of arriving at a conference just prior to a presentation, giving the presentation, and then leaving. The personal social interaction is valuable. The video presentation does not provide that and I really missed it, particularly with the people who are so closely tied to my deep interest areas as this workshop was focused.

New Content in Presentation

This presentation included a lot of new content, ideas, and concepts that I have not really presented or written about in as open of a forum. I have received really strong positive feedback from the Faces of Perception, Depth of Perception, and Perception Matrix when I have talked about it with people and companies. I have included this content in the book on social bookmarking and folksonomy I am writing for O&Reilly and pieces have been in public and private workshops I have given, but it was long past time to let the ideas out into the open.

The components of perception came about through reading formal analysis and research from others as well as not having a good models myself to lean on to explain a lot of what I find from social computing service providers (web tools in the Web 2.0 genre as well as inside the firewall Enterprise 2.0 tools) as tool makers or service owners. The understandings that are brought to the table on a lot of research and analysis is far too thin and far too often badly confuses the roles and faces of the tool that are being reviewed or analyzed. In my working with tool makers and organizations implementing social tools the analysis and research is less than helpful and often makes building products that meet the user needs and desires really difficult. I am not saying that this conceptual model fixes it, but from those who have considered what it shows almost all have had realizations they have had a less than perfect grasp and have lacked the granularity they have needed to build, analyze, or research these social tools.

I am hoping to write these perspectives up in more depth at some point in the not too distant future, but the video and slides start getting the ideas out there. As I have been walking people through how to use the tools I have been realizing the content needed to best us the model and matrix may take more than a day of a workshop of even a few days to get the most complete value from it. These tools have helped me drastically increase my value in consulting and training in the very short time I have used them. Some are finding that their copying of features and functionality in other social services has not helped them really understand what is best for their user needs and are less than optimal for the type of service they are offering or believe they are offering.

February 5, 2008

Social Computing Summit in Miami, Florida in April, 2008

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

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

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

January 16, 2008

DataPortability Video is Place to Start Understanding

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


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

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

January 14, 2008

Ma.gnolia Goes Mobile

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

What Mobile Ma.gnolia Does and Does Not Do

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

Mobile Site Bookmarks

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

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

Ways You Can Use Mobile Ma.gnolia

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

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

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

January 10, 2008

Posting Elements of the Social Software Stack

I have been working for quite on finding a good way to explain the elements in the social software stack (or most of the important ones). I have blogged the result of the work as The Elements in the Social Software Stack (comments are open there).

In my public and in-house workshops I have worked through various graphics from others and my own to work as a foundation for talking to and through the subject. In November I finally sat down (in a hallway open space) the day before my workshop at the IA Konferenz in Stuttgart, Germany. It had all the elements that are part of a solid foundation, in progressive order:

  1. Identity
  2. Object (social object)
  3. Presence
  4. Actions
  5. Sharing
  6. Reputation
  7. Relationships
  8. Conversation
  9. Groups
  10. Collaboration

This and one other post that is in the works are becoming the corner stones for my work helping start-ups and enterprise work through social software (social computing) to properly solve their problems and address the issues at hand. It has also been the foundation for rethinking (mostly more clearly thinking about) social bookmarking and folksonomy. I am rewriting the work I have done toward the book based on these two pieces as it is making the communication of concepts clearer.

Who Does This Help?

People looking at the social software services should have a solid idea of the central elements, identity and the social object. After that it is a building process to account for the other elements leading up to the services full offerings. Social bookmarking (folksonomy related services) should get up to or include conversation. Tools like Ma.gnolia go up to groups for their social bookmarking service and they cover the elements leading up to that end point.

There is more that can be fleshed out in this, but it is a foundation and a starting point. The next piece will build on this posting and should be a good foundation for understanding.

Still here? Go read The Elements in the Social Software Stack :: Personal InfoCloud and offer constructive feedback. Thank you.

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.

October 14, 2007

Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable

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

LinkedIn Scales Quite Well the More Connections a Person Has

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

Facebook Scales Poorly the More People A Person is Connected To

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook Groups Have Learned Nothing from Group Messaging Platforms

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

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

Successful Social Group Filtering is Needed

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

The Future of LinkedIn and Facebook

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

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

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

August 30, 2007

A Stale State of Tagging?

David Weinberger posted a comment about Tagging like it was 2002, which quotes Matt Mower discussing the state of tagging. I mostly agree, but not completely. In the consumer space thing have been stagnant for a while, but in the enterprise space there is some good forward movement and some innovation taking place. But, let me break down a bit of what has gone on in the consumer space.

History of Tagging

The history of tagging in the consumer space is a much deeper and older topic than most have thought. One of the first consumer products to include tagging or annotations was the Lotus Magellan product, which appeared in 1988 and allowed annotations of documents and objects on one's hard drive to ease finding and refinding the them (it was a full text search which was remarkably fast for its day). By the mid-90s Compuserve had tagging for objects uploaded into its forum libraries. In 2001 Bitzi allowed tagging of any media what had a URL.

The down side of this tagging was the it did not capture identity and assuming every person uses words (tag terms) in the same manner is a quick trip to the tag dump where tags are not fully useful. In 2003 Joshua Schacter showed the way with that not only allowed identity, upon which we can disambiguate, but it also had a set object in common with all those identities tagging it. The common object being annotated allows for a beginning point to discern similarity of identityĵs tag terms. Part of this has been driven on Joshua's focus on the person consuming the content and allowing a means for that consumer to get back to their information and objects of interest. (It is around this concept that folksonomy was coined to separate it from the content publisher tagging and non-identity related tagging.) This picked up on the tagging for one's self that was in Lotus Magellan and brings it forward to the web.

Valuable Tagging

It was in that we saw tagging that really did not work well in the past begin to become valuable as the clarity in tag terms that was missing in most all other tagging systems was corrected for in the use of a common object being tagged and the identity of the tagger. This set the foundation for some great things to happen, but have great things happened?

Tagging Future Promise set many of out minds a flutter with insight into the dreams of the capability of tagging having a good foothold with proper structure under them. A brilliant next step was made by RawSugar (now gone) to use this structure to make ease of disambiguating the tag terms (by appleseed did you mean: Johnny Appleseed, appleseeds for gardening/farming, the appleseed in the fruit apple, or appleseed the anime movie?). RawSugar was a wee bit before its time as it is a tool that is needed after there tagging (particularly folksonomy related tagging systems) start scaling. It is a tool that many in enterprise are beginning to seek to help find clarity and greater value in their internal tagging systems they built 12 to 18 months ago or longer. Unfortunately, the venture capitalists did not have the vision that the creators of RawSugar did nor the patience needed for the market to catch-up to the need in a more mature market and they pulled the plug on the development of RawSugar to put the technology to use for another purpose (ironically as the market they needed was just easing into maturity).

The movement drove blog tags, laid out by Technorati. This mirrored the previous methods of publisher tagging, which is most often better served from set categories that usually are derived from a taxonomy or simple set (small or large) of controlled vocabulary terms. Part of the problem inherent in publisher tags and categories is that they are difficult to use outside of their own domain (however wide their domain is intended - a specific site or cross-sites of a publisher). Using tags from one blog to another blog has problems for the same reason that Bitzi and all other publisher tags have and had problems, they are missing identity of the tagger AND a clear common object being tagged. Publisher tags can work well as categories for aggregating similar content within a site or set of commonly published sites where a tag definition has been set (but that really makes them set categories) and used consistently. Using Technorati tag search most often surfaces this problem quickly with many variation of tag use surfacing or tag terms being used to attract traffic for non-related content (Technorati's keyword search is less problematic as it relies on the terms being used in context in the content - unfortunately the two searches have been tied together making search really messy at the moment). There is need for an improved tool that could take the blog tags and marry them to the linked items in the content (if that is what is being talked about - discerning predicate in blog tags is not clear yet).

Current Tools that Advanced

As of a year ago there were more than 140 social bookmarking tools in the consumer space, but there was little advancement. But, there are a few services that have innovated and brought new and valuable features to market in tagging. As mentioned recently Ma.gnolia has done a really good job of taking the next steps with social interaction in social bookmarking. Clipmarks pioneered the sub-page tagging and annotation in the consumer tagging space and has a really valuable resource in that tool. ConnectBeam is doing some really good things in the enterprise space, mostly taking the next couple steps that Yahoo MyWeb2 should have taken and pairing it with enterprise search. Sadly, (according to comments in their discussion board) is under a slow rebuilding of the underlying framework (but many complaints from enterprise companies I have worked with and spoken indepth with complain continually blocks their access and they prefer not to use the service and are finding current solutions and options to be better for them).

A Long Way to Go

While there are examples that tagging services have moved forward, there is so much more room to advance and improve. As people's own collection of tagged pages and objects have grown the tools are needed to better refind them. This will require time search and time related viewing/scanning of items. The ability to use co-occurance of tag terms (what other tags were used on the object), with useful interfaces to view and scan the possibilities.

Portability and interoperability is extremely important for both the individual person and enterprise to aggregate, migrate, and search across their collections across services and devices (now that devices have tagging and have had for some time, as in Mac OS X Tiger and now Vista). Enterprises should also have the ability to move external tagged items in through their firewall and publish out as needed, mostly on an employee level. There is also desire to have B2B tagging with customers tagging items purchased so the invoicing can be in the customers terminology rather than the seller terminology.

One of the advances in personal tagging portability and interoperability can easily be seen when we tag on one device and move the object to a second device or service (parts of this are not quite available yet). Some people will take a photo on their mobile phone and add quick tags like "sset" and others to a photo of a sunset. They send that photo to a service or move it to their desktop (or laptop) and import the photo and the tag goes along with it. The application sees the "sset" and knows the photo was transfered from that person's mobile device and knows it is their short code for "sunset" and expands the tag to sunset accordingly. The person then adds some color attribute tags to the photo and moves the photo to their photo sharing service of choice with the tags appended.

The current tools and services need tools and functionality to heal some of the messiness. This includes stemming to align versions of the same word (e.g. tag, tags, tagging, bookmark, bookmarking). Tag with disambiguation in mind by offering co-occurrence options (e.g. appleseed and anime or johnny or gardening or apple). String matching to identify facets for time and date, names (from your address book), products, secret tag terms (to have them blocked from sharing), etc. (similar to Stikkit and GMail).

Monitoring Tools

Enterprise is what the next development steps really need to take off (these needs also apply to the power knowledge worker as well). The monitoring tools for tags from others and around objects (URLs) really need to fleshed out and come to market. The tag monitoring tools need to become granular based on identity and co-occurance so to more tightly filter content. The ability to monitor a URL and how it is tagged across various services is a really strong need (there are kludgy and manual means of doing this today) particularly for simple and efficient tools (respecting the tagging service processing and privacy).

Analysis Tools

Enterprise and power knowledge workers also are in need of some solid analysis tools. These tools should be able to identify others in a service that have similar interests and vocabulary, this helps to surface people that should be collaborating. It should also look at shifts in terminology and vocabulary so to identify terms to be added to a taxonomy, but also provide an easy step for adding current emergent terms to related older tagged items. Identify system use patterns.

Just the Tip

We are still at the tip of the usefulness of tagging and the tools really need to make some big leaps. The demands are there in the enterprise marketplace, some in the enterprise are aware of them and many more a getting to there everyday as the find the value real and ability to improve the worklife and workflow for their knowledge workers is great.

The people using the tools, including enterprise need to grasp what is possible beyond that is offered and start asking for it. We are back to where we were in 2003 when arrived on the scene, we need new and improved tools that understand what we need and provide usable tools for those solutions. We are developing tag islands and silos that desperately need interoperability and portability to get real value out of these stranded tag silos around or digital life.

August 20, 2007

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

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

Ma.gnolia Offers Great Features for Sociality

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

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

Started with Beauty, but Now with Ease

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

Intelligently Designed

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

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

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

August 13, 2007

Open Conversations and Privacy Needs for Business

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

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

The Flip Side

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

Viable Privacy

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

Need for Enterprise Social Tools Grasping Partial Privacy

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

Closing the Gap

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

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

July 24, 2007

Sharing and Following/Listening in the Social Web

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

Twitter Shows Understanding

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

Spheres of Sociality

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

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

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

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

Granular Sharing and Following

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

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

Breaking Down Listening and Sharing for Items


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

Listening and Sharing at the Person Level

Granular ShareYesNo
Geo Listen/FollowYesNo
Geo ShareYesNo

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

Granular Listening and Sharing

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

Geo Listening and Sharing

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

Getting There...

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

July 21, 2007

Inline Messaging

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

Inline Messaging

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

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

Broken Interaction Means More Money?

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

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

Good Examples

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

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

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

July 7, 2007

Yahoo Takes Shot at Own and Customer's Foot

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

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

Yahoo Is Many Things To Many People

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

Innovation and Incorporation of Ideas

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

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

Irony Run Rampant

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

June 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.

February 1, 2007

Lessons in Identity

There is much consternation and gnashing of teeth today over the Flickr requiring a Yahoo! login from here forward, it has even made it to the BBC - Flickr to require Yahoo usernames. One of the Flickr co-founders, Stewart Butterfield, provided rationale that would have been a little more helpful up front. The reasons from Stewart are good, but are not solid value propositions for many.

Identity Lessons

There are some insanely important lessons in this dust-up. These lessons revolve around product versus mega-brand/mega-corporation; personal management of identity; and brand trust.

Product Brand versus Mega Brand

One of the primary issues in the Flickr and Yahoo! identity merging involves the love of Flickr the brand and what is stands for in contrast to the perception of the Yahoo!. Flickr was a feisty independent product that innovated the snot out of the web and bent the web to its will to create a better experience for real people. Yahoo is seen as a slow mega corporation that, up until recently, could not sort out how to build for the web beyond 1999. Much of the change in Yahoo is credited to the Flickr team and some others like Bradley Horowitz.

The change in Yahoo! has been really slow as it is a really large company. It seems to be moving in a positive direction with the changes to Yahoo! Mail (came from buying another company who got things right) and the new Yahoo! front door, but the perception still hangs on. Similar to Microsoft's operating system and software, changes to the corporation are like trying to turn a battleship under full steam forward. It is tough changing inertia of a corporation, as not only is it internal technologies and mindsets, but brand perceptions and the hundreds of millions of user perceptions and experience that are going to go through the change.

Take the hulking beast of Yahoo and pair that with a new product and brand Flickr, which is seen as incredibly nimble and innovative and there is a severe clash in perceptions.

Personal Management of Identity

There are a couple issues that are tied up together in the Flickr and Yahoo branding problem involving identity. First, there is the issue of being personally associated with the brand. There are many people who strongly consider themself a "Flickr" person and it is an association with that brand that makes up a part of their personal identity. Many of the "Flickr" people believe they are part of the small lively and innovative new web that Flickr represents. The conflating of the Flickr brand with the Yahoo! brand for many of the "Flickr" people is schizophrenic as the brands are polar opposites of each other. Yahoo! is trying to move toward the Flickr brand appeal and ideals, but again it is turning that battle ship.

The tying one's personal identity to Yahoo! is very difficult for many "Flickr" people. Even within Yahoo! there are battles between the old core Yahoo! and the new upstarts that are changing the way things have always worked. Unfortunately, with the flood of start-up opportunities the Yahoo employees who embrace the new way forward are the people who are seemingly moving out to test the revived waters of web start-ups. This makes turning the battleship all that much harder from the inside.

Second, is managing the digital identity and having personal control over it. Many people really want to control what is known about them by one entity or across an identity. I know many people who have more than one Yahoo! account so to keep different parts of their personal life separate. They keep e-mail separate from search and photos out of their own personal understanding of privacy. Privacy and personal control of digital identity is something that has a wide variation. This required mixing of identity really breaks essential boundary for people who prefer (mildly or strongly) to keep various parts of the digital lives segregated. Many people do not want to have one-stop shopping for their identity and they really want to control who knows what about them. This wish and desire MUST be grasped, understood, and respected.

Brand Trust

All of this leads to people's trust in a brand. People have different levels of trust with different brands (even if the brands are treating their information and privacy in the same manner). Flickr greatly benefited by being a small company who many of the early members knew the founders and/or developers and this personal connection and trust grew through a network effect. The staff at Flickr was and is very attentive to the Flickr community. This personal connection builds trust.

Yahoo! on the other hand is a corporation that has not had a personal touch for many years, but is working to bridge that gap and better connect with its communities around its many products (some of this works well, but much is neglected and the bond is not there). The brand trust is thinner for a larger organization, particularly around privacy and control over digital identity. Many of the large companies make it really difficult to only have one view of your identity turned on when you log in (myYahoo, Mail, and movie ratings are on and all other portions are not logged in - for example).

Conversely, there are those who would like to use their Yahoo! identity and login for things like OpenID login. Recently, Simon Willison (a recent ex-Yahoo) did just this with And, yet others would like to use other external to Yahoo! logins to be used as a single sign on. Part of this is single sign on and another part is personal control over what digital parts of one's live are connected. It is a personal understanding of trust and a strong belief for many that this perception of trust MUST be respected.

One approach that should NEVER happen is what Google is doing with Dodgeball. This past two weeks I have been contacted by a few people using Dodgeball (I use this service), which was bought and is owned by Google. I was getting contacted by people who found my Dodgeball account by entering my Gmail identity. The problem is I never connected my Gmail to Dodgeball and was going to drop Dodgeball over the required joining of the identities. Google in this instance flat out failed at protecting my identity and privacy, but it does that regularly (personally believe that Google is not Evil, but they are not competent with privacy and identity, which is closely tied with Evil). Had Yahoo! done this with Flickr it would have been really over the top. [I have introduced people at Google to the Digital Identity Gang to better understand digital identity and privacy issues, which is a great sign of them knowing they need to do much better.]


There are a lot of tangents to identity, brand, and personal association that seem to have been left out of the equation in the Yahoo! and Flickr identity merger. A more mature approach to identity at Yahoo! would not have required Flickr members to change over, as for many the changes to value added by conflating the identities is not of interest to those who have not done so yet. For many of those that are feeling hurt it is part of their personal identity that is bruised and broken. Hopefully, Yahoo! has grasped this lesson and will treat other acquisions (Upcoming,, and particularly My Blog Log (among others)) differently.

November 23, 2006

Adding Another SocialNet to Your List of Too Many?

Phil Gyford makes his plea for a single social network sign-on or as it was stated last week by Jeremy Keith on Twitter, "portable social network with XFN".

This post continues at Following Friends Across Walled Gardens at Personal InfoCloud. This covers identity services, Local InfoCloud, trusted friends, and web services. Comments are turned on there.

October 1, 2006

Sydney Update

A little update... The trip to Sydney has been fantastic, even if I have been working, preparing for presenting, prenting or deeply enjoying other's presentations at Web Directions and OZ IA. I am finally getting out to see Syndey and the bits around it today. I have been here since Monday morning and it is now Sunday, but that is the way it is and I would not change it.

Oddly, I not only lost a day getting here, crossing the dateline, but I lost a day once I got here as Monday and Tuesday really blurred into one another. This trip was one of the more brutal trips, as far as personal disconnectedness (jet lag to some), that I have experienced. It took until about Wednesday night for all my bits to start feeling like there were all in the same place. By Thursday everything was running "normal".

I have been spending a fair amount of time with people from the Web Directions conference, as they are the ones who made this fantastic trip possible. I have met many incredible people and I have been made aware of the vast talent that is in Australia. Count me stunned as I wash of the paint of ignorance that has kept my eyes from noticing this sooner. But, on the web I have no idea where anybody is (this year I have not been sure where I am at times). I have been really impressed with the people that are here from Western Australia both in their knowledge/skills and friendly nature. I became aware of the incredible Port 80 on this trip, which seems to be one of the most vibrant web sharing groups I know of. I was surprised to learn that Site Point is from Melbourne as I have been reading their site and books for years. I even found out that Google Maps was started here before being bought by Google (is Google the new Microsoft with the "not invented here" tag for all their killer services?) and is still driven from here.

To all I me at Web Directions and OZ IA, please keep in touch. In fact, just shoot an e-mail from the contact button/link to make this easier. I met many people who have inspired me and light a fire under my desire to spend time projects I care about and be the best I can be. The passionate discussions about things we all care about have been wonderful as well. The world on this trip became insanely flat, as I have had a really difficult time sorting out where I am (that should change shortly as I get out and actually see a little of Sydney and what makes Sydney unique).

I am already thinking about how I can get back to see more places and the people again, but on their home turf. It would be nice to see people in Western Australia, Melbourne, ACT, Brisbane, etc. There is so much greatness here in Australia, I am glad much of what I have learned and discovered is only a mouse click away, but seeing people face to face and hearing stories of their efforts to make a better web for more and more people is what it is all about. I am going to come away from this trip deeply inspired. Thank you.

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.

July 28, 2006

Platial Turning it Up

A few months ago a couple of friends pointed me to Platial a social geo-annatation site that is build on top of the Google map API. As luck would have it I met up with the creators and developers of Platial while in Amsterdam at XTech 2006. I was in deep "just got off an overnight flight" syndrome, but really enjoyed talking with them non-the-less.

Platial is headquartered in Portland, Oregon and on my recent trip I stopped in to say hello. Not only do they have killer developers and staff, an incredible workspace, but great things are coming to Platial. I left even more impressed with the tool and the direction it is heading than I was prior.

If you have not tried it, head on over and give it a try. Remember to keep coming back as they have more killer stuff in the pipeline.

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 28, 2006

An Overview of the Local InfoCloud is Available

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

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

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

April 30, 2006

Popularity Overrated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

April 7, 2006

CIO Magazine Gets Tagging and Folksonomy

CIO magazine has a wonderful article by Michael Fitzgerald on The Name Game: Tagging tools let users describe the world in their own terms as taxonomies become "folksonomies.". I get quoted in the piece, but aside from that the editorial is very good. Michael gets that putting information in each person's vocabulary is important. We loose so much information and having the means to pull it all back in and refind it is an incredible tool to have with in our reach.

March 20, 2006

Post SXSW Reality Change

Getting back from SXSW Interactive is normally a filled with feeling empowered and excited after hanging out with many like minds. This is normally followed by severe reality slap between my mind/soul and my pocketbook. I want to dive in and build and iterate projects, but where I was was not there in that same space I was there bringing them up to where things were in years past and older (sometimes expired) best practices.

I had thought this year I was going to have a similar experience to that of Ethan of feeling a let down not having people to talk to about the experience. Somehow I have kept the high from SXSW, in-fact I have been filling in the gaps on panels I did not make it to and deeply wished I had made it to by reading other's reviews and presenter's slides.

I think my changed experience is largely due to changing my surroundings this past year to focus on clients that really want to build services and a web that goes beyond the page and resonates in people's lives so that what they offer can be used and reused as people actually want and need to do in their life. As well I have been doing the same around tagging and folksonomy, which blends into social networking and refindability. Lastly I dove back into a project that I have been working on since November of last year, thanks to my trip to London, which is where the light went on and the project started getting framed and built in spare time (with the help of another with a tiny slice of time).

I have been increasingly putting my developer hat back on and scratching my own itch, while pulling in resources to make all of this come to life. SXSW helped put this into perspective. Now I just need to get my taxes and other corporate administrative stuff out of the way to build and finish preparing for the IA Summit in Vancouver, BC

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 17, 2006

SXSW Interactive and Austin BarCamp Overview

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

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

BarCamp Austin

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

Best Take Away Ever

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

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

Killer Digits for the Pocket or Hip

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

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

January 6, 2006

Yahoo! Go Launches [Updated]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 21, 2005

Delicious Lesson and Social Network Ecosystems

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

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

A Little Effort for Greater Personal Payback

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

Social Network Ecosystems

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

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

Attention is Value

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

October 16, 2005

Closing of the First Phase of the Fall European Tour 2005

I am back in Amsterdam tonight after a wonderful trip to Brussels for the Euro IA Summit. It was quite refreshing to talk to people that have a different perspective from Americans on IA, mobile, technology, privacy, and the possibilities for social interaction with digital devices. Last year after Design Engaged in Amsterdam I believed Europe to be farther ahead on internet and mobile (including mobile internet) than America. I now firmly believe Americans have a lot to learn from the Europeans.

I wanted to come and present the InfoCloud information in Europe because I thought they would be more ready for it. They would be able to provide criticism and questions that I do not get in America, mostly because the Europeans have been implementing mobile and trying to work through a means to access information in the environment and context where the information makes sense. Boy, was I right. The InfoClouds are more than mobile, as they are a means to think about information access, personally managing that information (or providing people the ability to manage, use, and reuse the information intelligently) and reusing it as that information is needed and framing the information in ways that make sense (web 2.0 fit this bill). I ran into smart thinking about web 2.0 here, not the just go do it, just open your information up, but working to think about if it made sense to do the cool and how they would do it intelligently.

The Europeans also really get cross-cultural sensitivity and are smart about how to approach working with other cultures. I was delighted to find what American's call internationalization is referred to as localization. How brilliant. How understanding. How unalienating. There is a distinct understanding that people are different and we need to understand that and embrace that. Hmm, there is a very strong reason why it is called the Personal InfoCloud and not the User InfoCloud. If you are not thinking in a local sense you will not get to the personal sense. You can get from localization to personalization, or from the Local InfoCloud to the Personal InfoCloud and also back. We all deal with more than one Local InfoCloud and I received some of the best questions about the interaction between the various Local InfoClouds and the Personal InfoClouds. Interaction be between the social part of personal it of immediate interest here. People are very tied to their communities here, it is a strong part of their identity.

I found myself surrounded this weekend by insanely smart people, who love what they do, and are doing things to help others. Everybody was incredibly friendly and genuinely interested in learning everything they could and sharing what they knew. I could not have asked for a better way to have spent any of this time. I would do all of this again in a heartbeat.

Thank you to all of those that I had the pleasure of sharing time with. Who were incredible hosts in their countries. Who asked and listened and from whom I learned to do the same, as when you listen you can learn. I learned an incredible amount. Thank you again. I am ever so much looking forward to my next two trips.


August 25, 2005 and MyWeb Combo Bookmarklet

I took two of my favorite bookmarklets (for and Yahoo MyWeb 2, put them in my javascript collider to get a Combo Tag Tool (drag this to your browser's bookmark bar.

By clicking on this bookmarklet you get the tag interface populated with the title. You also get a MyWeb entry pop-up window.

I have been seeing the early benefits of Yahoo's MyWeb, but I also want to keep the community I have in Keeping both up to date and in sync is my goal and hopefully this will help you do the same.

August 20, 2005

BarCamp is Rocking the Free World

I started following BarCamp on IRC, Flickr, and streaming video. Today I was able to participate in one of the discussions. This is one of the better things I have done lately directly on the web.

It has not been perfect as people go outside and gather, but nobody takes the streaming camera. It is like not having legs, or other communication means.

Go follow along. You are invited.

August 19, 2005

Yahoo! MyWeb Imports Bookmarks and More Observations

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

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

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

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

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

July 18, 2005

Say Hey - If I Knew

I have a deep love of digital technology as an assistive devise and even an enabling device. But, I need something that sits between the digital and the real so to join those worlds.

Here is the problem... I am continually not blanking at who somebody I know in a digital context (through e-mail, a social networking tool (one that works), listserves, blogs, etc.), but their face or just lack of some means of connecting those I know to who they are physically. It continually happens at conferences or when traveling. This happened three times to me at WebVisions with Matt May, Erin Kissane, and Kris Krug. With all three it took some time before it clicked, fortunately with Matt it clicked while I still had time to draw the lines. I would have loved to have chatted with Erin and Kris with the context of how I know them firmly in place. Part of the problem it did not register to me that they were going (I am not sure I checked close enough to the event Upcoming to see who was going to I could make a mental note (or otherwise) to say hey.

What would the solution be? The gap between digital and physical must close. I need my address book crossed with my digital social networks and get all of the pieces tied together with one identity that I can track. Sure everybody can keep their 16 screen names across different communities, but we need to aggregate those to one identity when it makes sense, such as meeting in person. I have been told Sxip can handle this, but I have not had the time to track that down.

The next step is to take the aggregated identity and go through events I am attending or places traveling and let me know who will be there. I am not see this as a privacy issue as there are established friend relationships and set with parameters of securely allowing access to our information, or it has be made public. I usually have a mental list of who I want to see and talk to prior to events, but that group is growing. There is also a group of people I normally only see at events and I always try to hang with that "floating island", but I am usually in contact with them long before.

It seems like a tool like Upcoming would be a perfect place to do this for a large chunk of events. It will still take aggregating the identities across all of the digital communities I belong, address books, and in-person communities. I would love for the next step to include an application in my mobile device that tipped me off to somebody on my friendly "say hey" list being with in "hey" range.

July 6, 2005

Social Machines in MIT Technology Review

In the August issue of MIT Technology Review in Wade Roush's cover story on Social Machines (posted on Wade's site) I get a nice quote. The article is well worth the read, even worth picking up the issue when it hits the stands. The article covers the social, mobile, and continuous computing world that some of us live in and many more will be doing soon. Those of us working at the front of the curve are working on ways to make it smoother for those who will follow along soon.

Convergence and the seamless transfer from stationary computing to continuous computing leads to drastically different interactions with information and media. We are already seeing the shift of people using mobile phones as just a voice communication medium to one that includes text and media interactions, or the from people listening to their mobile phones to looking at their mobile phones. Three years ago I made this shift and I was extremely frustrated as I had many more desires than my mobile phones could assuage. But, it is getting better today even if it takes more human interaction than is really needed to sync information, let alone have moved close to me (or whomever is the wanting to have the information or media stay attracted to themselves or have attracted in certain situations). It is this that is my focus of the Model of Attraction and the focus of the Personal InfoCloud.

June 29, 2005

Yahoo MyWeb 2.0 Goes Beta

Yahoo has launched Yahoo MyWeb 2.0 today. It has elements of Flickr but not the polish, nor the attention to detail. There are a lot of very rough edges, but there is a lot of potential also. I may spend some time playing around with it in the next few days and weeks. I surely will be sending a ton of feedback in. Hopefully MyWeb will iterate far more rapidly than their blogging software, which had rough edges and they still exist and no noticeable improvements have been made (I don't know many that will recommend it to nubies until the rough edges are fixed).

The tool from the very little I have looked at it seems like it has the broad folksonomy executed well. This seems to have many elements of integrated. I am curious is there is the capability to have community around tags (be same definition).

My curiosity is really piqued with the MyRank search engine. It seems to be a predictive engine of sorts, which really has my interest.

If you want to add me I can be found at tjvanderwal there in Yahoo! type places.

June 12, 2005

Designing with a Solution is the Problem

I finally put my finger on it. There has been growing frustration within me with where I work and as well with some of the leaders in the web design community of late. The problem and the solution has been known to me, but scattered in pieces and I did not pull all the pieces together until today. Why today? Well, it took a little doing, but I finally got my hands on this month's issue of Fast Company - June 2005, which I had been subscribed to until the May issue. It took a little bit of time to track down the issue as it was to the point in the month when the next months issues are getting put out. But, having that issue in hand (having read some on-line) I stumbled across my tipping point in the Be Cooler by Design column. I did not make it past the fouth paragraph when it hit.

It Begins with a Canyon

The paragraph has a header, "Show Them the Canyon" and discusses a designer at Ford, Giuseppe Delena, who would say, "Don't tell me you need a bridge, show me the canyon!" This was aimed at marketing people who would ask for specific design solutions, but not explain the problem.

That is my tipping point. Having to start with somebody's solution to design problems (most often solutions to the wrong problem). Not having the problems put forward, but an answer. An answer without anybody showing their work to how their arrived at the solution. For nearly four years I have been working, for the most part, with the end results of the work of others who started with a solution and worked that as a starting point, while never considering the problem (or in nearly all cases the multitude of problems they needed to solve). They did not understand the problems nor do they understand or know the standards and requirements that their end result must meet. Lastly they do not understand the medium in which they are working. In short it is a string of considerable messes that our team deals with continually. The sad complication is this is taxpayer money being spent (often quite nice sums) for end products that require incredible fixing to meet minimum standards and be usable on the web.

It is not my direct customer, who is in the same boat I am in as we support him (and he is one of the very few that really get what they are doing), but the "customer service" management and the management signing off on these projects that have become the problem. With the web, the business customer is not always right, the user is, as without the user their is no business customer. In our situation, by-and-large, the web being built is using what works for print and for multi-media, neither of which are solutions for text on the web. The business customer requires solutions for the wrong medium, which (as those who have sat through usability test find out) the tan text on brown background and all of the animated bits make using the information as is it is intended, nearly impossible.

Designers Must Explain Design Better

In part the design world is to blame as we have done a very poor job of educating the rest of the world as to what we do. We solve problems. We have spent an inordinate amount of time on learning everything we can about our medium, how people think, how people interact with our medium, how people interact with their devices (desktop, laptop, PDA, mobile, etc.) as they are all different, how to organize and structure for people interacting with what we design, how to build for people to give them freedom to choose the solution that is best for them, how to build for ease of use by people, and how to build for people to easily reuse what we provide (the list goes on). Yes, it is not a short list and I do not know a good designer who will truly claim they are done learning all of these aspects. We know what works best with everything we do know for the problems before us and we test everything we do and we iterate through our designs while always striving to make things better. Every designer I know loves to show how they got to their solution and document it for others to do, as their joy in designing is not repeating, but problem solving and innovating to better solutions. As designers we are always trying to learn what others do, so the good designers share in as much detail so others may learn what to follow and what to modify for even better solutions down the road.

In my current situation the lack of time to document and show our work is a major problem. The lack of documentation (or deliverables) is part of where the problem lies with the problems up the food chain (not that there are skilled designers or people that would understand up the food chain). If we had the time to show our work we could hand it to those at the beginning of the process so we could get better products with fewer problems when we receive them (although it is a very rare occasion that any of what we have produced for these purposes is ever followed). Many of the places up the food chain have sold a bridge with out ever seeing the canyon it is just a cookie cutter. It is rare when we get to solve the problems, either at the beginning or the end, we just get to fix it so it will just pass the minimum requirements, which are horribly low.

Understand and Explain the Problem First

This frustration has also flowed over to the web design community of late as there is excitement in the web community again. The excitement is not bad, actually it is great. But some of the new solutions are being framed as new wonder solutions without framing the problem they are solving. In the world of design (as it is with many other things) it is a realm where the answer to most every question is, "it depends". What is the solution? It all depends on many factors in the problem. Teaching how to understand problems and to walk through the decision process to get to the solution (or more correctly, one of many possible right solutions) is what raises the profession.

What has been happening of late in the web design/development community is looking at solutions that may be terrific implementations for a certain problem in a set environment, but proclaiming what is new is "the new way". For those that are not good designers or even designers at all, this approach reaches a problem point very quickly. It was not long after XMLHTTPRequest was coined AJAX that customers, and those I advise from farther away, started asking for their solutions to be AJAX. There are right places for AJAX, as it is just one of many solutions for problems where it may be one of the solutions. It is quite similar to aura around Flash as a solution, but AJAX has its benefits and detractors when compared to Flash.

Where the problem around the AJAX solution got tough was when AJAX was tied to a whole new exitement around the web. It was at this point the AJAX solution was being demanded from customers. I was hearing if from many corners, this great solution touted, was for customers the only way they would accept their final products. AJAX had quickly become the cure-all in customer's eyes, much like Flash had years before.

Our Responsibility

What we have to realize as designers, is people do listen and people want to believe there is one simple solution for all of their web problems, all of the information problems, etc. We know there is not a simple solution as of yet. In fact the digital information world is far more complex than it ever was, as Europe and Asia will attest, with the influx of mobile handheld use. (Europe and Asia have things a little better than the U.S. right now, as they have much less of a population that believes build for desktop (including laptop) solutions is the one way all design is heading.) Europe and Asia understand the world is far more complex and information far more useful when it can be used in context on a mobile device. The expanding of the devices and the realm of possibile solutions with their benefits and detractors across the many variables we monitor componded the problems we are solving. Simplicity is many designer's goal, but getting there is ever harder today and we must embrace the complexity (thank you Mike for turning that light on for me) and work through it. We also need to communicate the complexity to our customers so everybody understands it is not as simple as it seems.

It is this complexity of convergence around devices is also compounded by the flood of information people are experiencing, which is what has me loving the work I get to do around the Personal InfoCloud (and the Model of Attraction and folksonomy that are intertwined with it). This work is satisfying as it is not only defining the problems and working through possible solutions, but more importantly laying out frameworks to design and build solutions that others can use. There are increasingly people (who may become customers) that are coming and asking the right questions from the right perspective around the Personal InfoCloud, which may be another reason I really like working on it (we all love people asking smart questions). People are asking how to cross their canyon while describing the canyon and many times showing me the canyon they would like a solution designed for.

I think we all know what the next step is. It will not be happening tomorrow, but every day that passes makes the frustration that much worse. Knowing there is one point around which much of my frustration revolves may help me deal with it better.

May 30, 2005

Academic Cites for Interested Parties

One of the things that I am still mulling over that came out of the Social Software in the Academy Workshop is the relationship between academic cites and interested parties (non-academics researching, thinking deeply, and writing about a subject). Over the past year I have had some of the work I have posted on my web sites cited in academic papers. These papers have been for general coursework to graduate thesis.

In the academic realm these cites in other's works give credibility and ranking. In the realm of the professional or "interested party" these cites mean little (other than stroking one's ego). These cites do not translate to higher salary, but they may have some relationship to credibility in a subject area.

Another aspect is finding a way to tie into academic work around these subjects. There are often wonderful academic related gatherings (conferences, symposia, etc.) around these subject matters, but these are foreign to the "interested party". There is a chasm between academic and professional world that should be narrowed or at a minimum bridged in a better way. At SSAW there were some projects I found out about that I would love to follow, or even contribute to in some form (advisement, contributor, etc.).

I have a feeling I will be mulling this for some while, and will be writing about it again.

April 13, 2005

Presenting at Social Software in the Academy Workshop at the Annenberg Center for Communication

Add to my list of events where I will be presenting, Social Software in the Academy Workshop at the USC Annenberg Center for Communication. This will be May 14-15th. The focus my involvement will be around folksonomy and tagging. I will post more info as the time nears and I know more.

March 21, 2005

Outside of the 3rd World, Yahoo Buys Flickr

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

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

February 24, 2005

Folksonomy Fixed in Wikipedia

It looks like somebody finally fixed Wikipedia entry for Folksonomy, it no longer makes the mistake of calling the a folksonomy a blend of folks and taxonomy. The taxonomy has connotations of being formally structured, which as far from what is going on in from what I see, as the user's of can free tag and choose what ever they wish to tag an object with

Bless you, whom ever fixed this. It looks like it was done today. I have tried to get this fixed before, but my change was bounced, I guess I did not know enough about folksonomies. There is a lot more in the entry that has been added, including the semantic derivation. Thanks to whom ever is getting it right, finally.

This gives me less to complain about Wikipedia than I had before (I have watched entries go from being correct to wrong and stay wrong for quite some time). A co-worker stated Wikipedia is stated to be the current day Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy, which was wrong in spots to mortal detriment at times. I somewhat agree, although a little less so today.

February 21, 2005

Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies

I have been explaining the broad and narrow folksonomy in e-mail and in comments on others sites, as well as in the media (Wired News). There has still been some confusion, which is very understandable as it is a different concept that goes beyond a simple understanding of tagging. I have put together a couple graphics that should help provide a means to make this distinction some what clearer. The folksonomy is a means for people to tag objects (web pages, photos, videos, podcasts, etc., essentially anything that is internet addressable) using their own vocabulary so that it is easy for them to refind that information again. The folksonomy is most often also social so that others that use the same vocabulary will be able to find the object as well. It is important to note that folksonomies work best when the tags used to describe objects are in the common vocabulary and not what a person perceives others will call it (the tool works like no other for personal information management of information on the web, but is also shared with the world to help others find the information).

Broad Folksonomy

Let's begin with the broad folksonomy, as a tool like delivers. The broad folksonomy has many people tagging the same object and every person can tag the object with their own tags in their own vocabulary. This lends itself very easy to applying the power law curve (power curve) and/or net effect to the results of many people tagging. The power terms and the long tail both work.

The broad folksonomy is illustrated as follows.
visualization of the text on broad folksonomies that follows
From a high level we see a person creates the object (content) and makes it accessible to others. Other people (groups of people with the same vocabulary represented people blobs and noted with alphabet letters) tag the object (lines with arrows pointing away from the people) with their own terms (represented by numbers). The people also find the information (arrows on lines pointing from the numeric tags back to the people blobs) based on the tags.

Digging a little deeper we see quite a few people (8 people) in group "A" and they have tagged the object with a "1" and a "2" and they use this term to find the object again. Group "B" (2 people) have applied tag "1" and "2" to the object and they use tag terms "1", "2", and "3" to find the information. Group "C" (3 people) have tagged the object with "2" and "3" so that they can find the object. Group "D" has also tagged the object with tag "3" so that they may refind the information this group may have benefitted from the tagging that group "C" provided to help them find the information in the first place. Group "E" (2 people) uses a different term, "4", to tag the object than others before it and uses only this term to find the object. Lastly, group "F" (1 person) uses tag "5" on the object so that they may find it.

Broad Folksonomy and the Power Curve

The broad folksonomy provides a means to see trends in how a broad range are tagging one object. This is an opportunity to see the power law curve at work and show the long-tail.
Shows tag 2 with 13 people tagging, tag 1 with 10 people, tag 3 with 5 people, tag 4 with 2 people, and tag 5 with 1 person
The tags spike with tag "2" getting the largest portion of the tags with 13 entries and tag "1" receiving 10 identical tags. From this point the trends for popular tags are easy to see with the spikes on the left that there are some trends, based on only those that have tagged this object, that could be used extract a controlled vocabulary or at least know what to call the object to have a broad spectrum of people (similar to those that tagged the object, and keep in mind those that tag may not be representative of the whole). We also see those tags out at the right end of the curve, known as the long tail. This is where there is a small minority of people who call the object by a term, but those people tagging this object would allow others with a similar vocabulary mindset to find the object, even if they do not use the terms used by the masses over at the left end of the curve. If we take this example and spread it out over 400 or 1,000 people tagging the same object we will se a similar distribution with even more pronounced spikes and drop-off and a longer tail.

This long tail and power curve are benefits of the broad folksonomy. As we will see the narrow folksonomy does not have the same properties, but it will have benefits. These benefits are non-existent for those just simply tagging items, most often done by the content creator for their own content, as is the means Technorati has done, even with their following tag links to destinations other than Technorati (as they initially had laid out). The benefits of the long tail and power curve come from the richness provided by many people openly tagging the same object.

Narrow Folksonomy

The narrow folksonomy, which a tool like Flickr represents, provides benefit in tagging objects that are not easily searchable or have no other means of using text to describe or find the object. The narrow folksonomy is done by one or a few people providing tags that the person uses to get back to that information. The tags, unlike in the broad folksonomy, are singular in nature (only one tag with the term is used as compared to 13 people in the broad folksonomy using the same tag). Often in the narrow folksonomy the person creating the object is providing one or more of the tags to get things started. The goals and uses of the narrow folksonomy are different than the broad, but still very helpful as more than one person can describe the one object. In the narrow the tags are directly associated with the object. Also with the narrow there is little way of really knowing how the tags are consumed or what portion of the people using the object would call it what, therefore it is not quite as helpful as finding emerging vocabulary or emergent descriptions. We do find that tags used to describe are also used for grouping, which is particularly visible and relevant in Flickr (this is also done in broad folksonomies, but currently not to the degree of visibility that it is done on Flickr, which may be part of the killer interactive environment Ludicorp has created for Flickr).

The narrow folksonomy is illustrated as follows.
vizualization of the text on narrow folksonomies that follows
From a high level we see a person creates the object and applies a tag ("1") that represents what they call the object or believe describes the object. There are fewer tags provided than in a broad folksonomy and there is only one of each tag applied to the object. The consumers of the object also can apply tags that help them find the object or describe what they believe are the terms used to describe this object.

A closer look at the interaction between people and the object and tags in a narrow folksonomy shows us that group "A" uses tag "1" to find and come back to the object (did the creator do this on purpose? or did she just tag it with what was helpful to her). We see group "B" also using tag "1" to find the object, but they have tagged the object with tag "2" to also use as a means to find the object. Group "C" uses tag "1","2", and "3" to find the object and we also note this group did not apply any of its own tags to the object as so is only a consumer of the existing folksonomy. We see group "D" uses tags "2" and "3" to find the objects and it too does not add any tags. Group "E" is not able to find the object by using tags as the vocabulary it is using does not match any of the tags currently provided. Lastly, group "F" has their own tag for the object that they alone use to get back to the object. Group "F" did not find the object through existing tags, but may have found the object through other means, like a friend e-mailed them a link or the object was included in a group they subscribe to in their feed aggregator.

We see that the richness of the broad folksonomy is not quite there in a narrow folksonomy, but the folksonomy does add quite a bit of value. The value, as in the case of Flickr, is in text tags being applied to objects that were not findable using search or other text related tools that comprise much of how we find things on the internet today. The narrow folksonomy does provide various audiences the means to add tags in their own vocabulary that will help them and those like them to find the objects at a later time. We are much better off with folksonomies than we were with out them, even if it is a narrow folksonomy being used.


We benefit from folksonomies as the both the personal vocabulary and the social aspects help people to find and retain a tether to objects on the web that are an interest to them. Who is doing the tagging is important to understand and how the tags are consumed is an important factor. This also helps us see that not all tagging is a folksonomy, but is just tagging. Tagging in and of its self is a helpful step up from no tagging, but is no where near as beneficial as opening the tagging to all. Folksonomy tagging can provide connections across cultures and disciplines (an knowledge management consultant can find valuable information from an information architect because one object is tagged by both communities using their own differing terms of practice). Folksonomy tagging also makes up for missing terms in a site's own categorization system/taxonomy. This hopefully has made things a little clearer for all in our understanding the types of folksonomies and tagging and the benefits that can be derived.

This entry first appeared at Personal InfoCloud and comments are open for your use there.

January 18, 2005

Folksonomy Explanations

The past few weeks have seen my inbox flooded with folksonomy questions. I am going to make things easier on my inbox by posting some common discussions here. Many of the items I am posting I have posted else where, but this will also be a great help for me.

There have been many people who have correctly discerned a difference between the two prime folksonomy examples, Flickr and As I first stated in a comment to Clay Shirky's first article on Folksonomy, there are two derivations of folksonomy. There is a narrow folksonomy and a broad folksonomy. On August 26th I stated...

Clay, you bring in some very good points, particularly with the semantic differences of the terms film, movie, and cinema, which defy normalization. A broad folksonomy, like, allows for many layers of tagging. These many layers develop patterns of consistency (whether they are right or wrong in a professional's view is another matter, but that is what "the people" are calling things). These patterns eventually develop quasi power law for around the folk understanding of the terms as they relate to items.

Combining the power tags of "skateboarding, tricks, movie " (as you point out) will get to the desired information. The hard work of building a hierarchy is not truly essential, but a good tool that provides ease of use to tie the semantic tags is increasingly essential. This is a nascent example of a semantic web. What is really nice is the ability to use not only the power tags, but also the meta-noise (the tags that are not dominant, but add semantic understanding within a community). In the skateboarding example a meta-noise tag could be gnarly that has resonance in the skate community and adds another layer of refinement for them.

The narrow-folksonomy, where one or few users supply the tags for information, such as Flickr, does not supply power tags as easily. One or few people tagging one relatively narrowly distributed item makes normalizing more difficult to employ an tool that aggregates terms. This situation seems to require a tool up front that prompts the individuals creating the tags to add other, possibly, related tags to enhance the findability of the item. This could be a tool that pops up as the user is entering their tags that asks, "I see you entered mac do you want to add fruit, computer, artist, raincoat, macintosh, apple, friend, designer, hamburger, cosmetics, retail, daddy tag(s)?"

This same distinction is brought up on IAWiki' Folksonomy entry.

Since this time Flickr has added the ability for friends and family (and possibly contacts) to add tags, which gives Flickr a broader folksonomy. But, the focus point is still one object that is being tagged, where as has many people tagging one object. The broad-folksonomy is where much of the social benefit can be derived as synonyms and cross-discipline and cross-cultural vocabularies can be discovered. Flickr has an advantage in providing the individual the means to tag objects, which makes it easier for the object to get found.

This brings to the forefront the questions about Google's Gmail, which allows one person the ability to freely tag their e-mail entries. Is Gmail using a folksonomy? Since Gmail was included in the grouping of on-line tools that were in the discussion of what to call these things (along with Flickr and when folksonomy was coined I say yes. But, my belief that Gmail uses a folksonomy (regular people's categorization through tagging) relates to it using the same means of one person adding tags so that object can be found by them. This is identical to how people tag in Flickr (as proven by the self-referential "me" that is ever prevalent) and People tag in their own vocabulary for their own retrieval, but they also will tag for social context as well, such as Flickr's "MacWorld" tags. In this case Wikipedia is a little wrong and needs improving.

I suppose Gmail would be a personal folksonomy to the Flickr narrow folksonomy and the broad folksonomy. There are distinct futures for all three folkonomies to grow. Gmail is just the beginning of personal tagging of digital objects (and physical objects tagged with digital information). Lou Rosenfeld hit the nail on the head when he stated, "I'm not certain that the product of folksonomy development will have much long term value on their own, I'll bet dollars to donuts that the process of introducing a broader public to the act of developing and applying metadata will be incredibly invaluable.". These tools, including Gmail, are training for understanding metadata. People will learn new skills if they have a perceived greater value (this is why millions of people learned Palm's Graffiti as they found a benefit in learning the script).

Everybody has immense trouble finding information in their hierarchal folders on their hard drive. Documents and digital objects have more than one meaning than the one folder/directory, in which they reside. Sure there are short cuts, but tracking down and maintaining shortcuts is insanely awkward. Tags will be the step to the next generation of personal information managment.

December 26, 2004

Flickr and the Future of the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 20, 2004

Salon Writes Story on Flickr

Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski did a story on Flickr that captures what is really good about Flickr. She even, appropriately, includes folksonomy in the write-up.

January 3, 2004

Mixed Feelings about Apple Store in Bethesda Maryland

Mac Network News is reporting an Apple store coming to Bethesda, Maryland in Montgomery Mall.

I have very mixed feelings about the Apple store coming. While I trek to the Tysons and Clarendon stores in Northern Virginia and would love a store 5 to 10 minutes from my house, I still feel a very close tie to the local Apple resellers. I am a huge fan of the Absolute Mac store as they have an extremely knowledgeable staff, great customer service, and quick turn around times on perfectly done repairs and upgrades (I am willing to make the 20 minute trek to the store on Saturdays -- no late weeknight hours). (Absolute Mac has also been a fantastic resource to the local business community that understands Apple products let them get their job done and not have the computer get in the way.) I am also a customer of Mac Upgrades here in Bethesda and enjoy the ability to drop in on my way home from work or as a walk-in while doing other errands.

The local Apple resellers have provided expertise beyond what the Apple stores have provided and have better turn around on service times. The local stores are also very tied to the local community. The Absolute Mac store has been pushing to start a chapter of the local MUG, Washington Apple Pi, which would be a great meet-and-share for the Maryland Apple fans, while Mac Upgrades is a sponsor of Apple Pi.

All this said, I look forward to the Apple store coming to Montgomery Mall (my guess is it is going in where the Eddie Bauer store just vacated, which is near the official Palm kiosk). The Apple stores do a great job of introducing Apple products to the frustrated uninitiated PC consumers. The Apple stores are great venues to sit and watch new Apple users, be it iPod, iTunes, or Mac computers, come in and rave about their new found joy in digital consumer products and great computing products that actually let them do their job. I don't know how many times I hear customers stating they no longer battle their computer to do their work and are no longer wasting time or a lot of money on support for their PCs. These folks have been hardcore software programmers, business managers, store owners, students, designers, stay-at-home moms, etc. The love affair for Apple product grows from new seeds in Apple stores. The stores also provides hands-on experience to third-party consumer products and a broad array of software and add-ons.

While the Apple stores are great outreach and expansion devices for Apple and its great computing resources for consumers and enterprise buyers, the support and feeding on the Apple community has been performed by the local resellers and authorized repair shops. It would be great to have the Apple store offer repair and other services from Absolute Mac and Mac Upgrades, where applicable. Apple really needs to foster these relationships that have maintained and grown fans of great products for years.

December 30, 2003

Matt on Social Networks

Matt writes up this thoughts on the state of social networks. I agree with much of his frustration. I keep thinking many of these tools will provide some good value. The two that meet what I expect are Upcoming and LinkedIn. I like these are they offer small targeted offerings. Upcoming helps find and track events, while LinkedIn is a work related networking tool.

It seems a simple cross between LinkedIn and XFN or any metadata resource that can track relationships, trust, and taste along with tracking other items of interest would be greatly helpful. Matt does get the metadata problem included in his write-up, which is metadata is dirty and at best, biased (which can be good if you agree with the bias).

December 14, 2003

Amazon Wishlist is My Favorite Social Network

With the all the buzzing about Friendster and other "social network" site, I have lost nearly all of the interest I have had in most of them. I still have a couple that picque my interest, but the seeming most popular, Friendster, offers me nothing. There is one tool social networking tool that has never let me down and actually provides me a great service.

What is my favorite social networking tool? Amazon's Wishlist. I am always looking for new media (books, music, DVDs, periodicals, etc.) and I kept hoping Friendster and other social networks would do this I was let down. I kept wishing the seemingly simple tools Amzon provides would be incorporated by others.

One every month or two I cruise through my Wishlist, which I use from my Hiptop when I go to any book or music store to either add to my list or verify an items in front of me is actually the one I want. I also cruise it from a computer to remind myself of items of interest or delete them. I also browse those Wishlists I link to. I find gems I did not know about in others lists. I also have redeemed coupons from my Amazon Wishlist friends and forwarded to me when they make purchases. I was feeling bad when I forgot to click the send a link to a discount to your Amazon friends so that the messages would not be sent. I have been finding those I link to have been happy to receive the discounts and have actually used them. The e-mails have also promted e-mail conversations with friends I have not talked to in a while. This goes a long way toward a very good social network in my book.

Research Lab for Human Connectedness

The Media Lab Europe's research lab for Human Connectedness really has some great things in progress. The most news worthy of late has been tunA, which is a wireless sharing of your personal music device, which extends your personal info cloud and creates a local info cloud for others. tunA was covered in Wired News: Users Fish for Music article a couple weeks ago.

The group's focus tends to be connecting people by digital tools using aural and visual presentation methods. There are some very intriguing applications that could come out of this research.

Economy prosperity tied to doing what you love

I stumbled across the Richard Florida The New American Dream, which was published in the Washington Monthly. Professor Florida points to the Creative Class as a means to provide a successful community. One thing that really stands out in his article is reflected in the title's sub-heading, "The economy will prosper again when more Americans can do the work they love".

The best work comes from those that are passionate about that work they are doing. Are you passionate about the work you do? Do you enjoy the work you do? If not, why not? My common salutation to friends and co-workers is "enjoy". If you do not enjoy what you are doing, not only is it difficult for you to make it through the day and enjoy life, but the quality of what you produce is not going to be the best. People that care about their work and are passionate about it most often are the stars in their group.

Find what you are passionate about and dive into it.

More information about Richard Florida and his book the Creative Class can be found at Creative Class.

December 1, 2003

Catalog of the Cool

Wired's article on Kevin Kelley's Catalog of the Cool had me aching to get home and take a peek at the Cool Tools. I was a fan of the Whole Earth Catalog (now an online magazine) when I was growing up. I think we only had one copy that was bought when I was in fourth grade, but I always flipped through it. I was fascinated with all the different stuff that filled its pages. I was a particular fan of the log cabin and some of the other outdoor items.

I was very impressed with the Catalog of the Cool as it kept the same spirit, but with things I can find more useful. My only WEC did not have items that were of great use to me, but it inspired my imagination thinking of the adventures one would have with the items. It is even better than a J. Peterman catalog.

November 21, 2003

Jack into iPod

On the ride to work on the DC Metro today I read Feel Free to Jack Into My IPod from WiredNews and loved the story. Not so much for the sharing the actual iPod, but the later discussion of integrating Bluetooth and Rendezvous into the iPod. The "jacking" an iPod is a nice social idea, but the idea of being able to listen to another's playlist on the ride to work would be a great way to find new music, as radio sucks.

I would also love for an iPod to act as a source for my laptop or desktop machine. The technology of Bluetooth is relatively small and can fit in cell phones that are much smaller than an iPod. Rendezvous is a software application (if I have understood correctly). This combination should not be that difficult to produce.

This could lead to awkward moment where one person is following another person, not to cause harm but to listen into their iPod streaming. We could end up with random acts of Stream Stalking flooding the news.

November 1, 2003

Mac and Apple reseller in Gaithersberg Maryland provides a great alternative

The Washington, DC and Montgomery County, Maryland area has another great new Apple reseller, Absolute Mac, who has been doing business in the Washington, DC area for 12 years. They have been supporting small businesses to large businesses with technical services.

The retail store is in Gaithersberg, Maryland, just north of Rockville and Bethesda. The store is clean and bright with a great selection of hardware and peripherals as well as software and books. The store has a great audio and video selection and demo area, that flat out beats any Apple store in the area. The folks in the store were very knowledgeable, friendly, and kind. What makes this store very nice is they are near CostCo (less than a mile up Frederick Ave.). I really like supporting my local Apple resellers as they are the ones in the community supporting the faithful and helping others switch. Additionally the knowledge in local resellers seems to be better than the what many of the Apple Genius's provide (not to knock the Apple Geniuses, but the local resellers have been answering questions in the local community for many years.

October 26, 2003

iChat AV making our family closer

Tonight Joy, my Mom, Will and I had a video chat with my Dad from Maryland to California thanks to iChat AV. This was not only a great experience for everybody as it shortened the long distance between coasts, but my Dad stated that experience alone made the move to Apple worth it all by itself. He has already said that the Mac experience is so much better than the PC as everything is just easy.

October 24, 2003

Got Panther

I picked up Panther at 8:20 p.m. this evening from MacUpgrades, which was on my way home from work (yes I was there that late as my Win2k machine locked-up twice in a row and cause reboots as I was trying to get an e-mail off to India). The store was very busy with 20 or 25 people there checking out Panther, picking up a copy, or just enjoying the wine and cheese and cookies and beer. It was a nice little party and I wished I could have stayed longer, much longer.

I had a call after 9 p.m. from Fred and Paula, who are new Mac owners (iBooks) this summer and the first part of the month. They called to say the line at the Clarendon Apple store in Virginia had an insanely long line. This is their first experience with a release. I will have to find out in the morning how their wait in line went.

My dad, another new Mac owner (12 inch PowerBook) who has had his machine less than a week is going the delivery route as he is at a conference this weekend in a part of California without an Apple store in close (hour drive or less) proximity.

Welcome all to the world of Apple and welcome to the world of hype and delivery on that hype. It will be interesting to see if they are as side-tracked by the Jobs keynotes for major releases as many of the rest of us are.

October 22, 2003

Panther release party in Bethesda Maryland

Mac Upgrades in Bethesda, Maryland is having a Panther release party from 8 pm to midnight on Friday, October 24th. Mac Upgrades is a great small Apple store that has always been focussed providing great service to the Macintosh community. The folks at Mac Upgrade will give any "Genius" a run for their money.

If you pre-order Panther you get a free t-shirt. If you pick up you Panther on Friday night you get yet another free t-shirt. It sounds like there will be other fun and meeting others on Friday, with out the giant crowds of the Apple stores in the Washington, DC area (actually the Tyson's Store is currently closed for remodeling so the Clarendon store could be really packed).

October 13, 2003

Snapshots of Mac users

Robert Scoble (who incidently now works at Microsoft) ponders why most weblogers seem to be Mac users. This is a very good snapshot of Mac users. Webloggers are often considered word-based creative types.

Tim Bray observes nearly everybody at the O'Reilly Foo Camp weekend had a Mac (the Foo Camp was an event of some of the brightest folks in technology (not the richest, just the brightest) held at the O'Reilly HQ to share and expand understanding.)

August 17, 2003

10 year anniversary but still not home

Today was the 10th anniversary of my arrival in the Washington, DC area to live. I moved to this area from San Francisco, which I was ready to leave but always ready to return to, to go to Georgetown University for a Masters in Public Policy. I initially planned to get my masters in two years then give Washington up to two more years then move on.

Well it has been a lot more than the initial three or four years I planned on. Actually this is the longest I have lived in any one geographic area. I like and have liked where I live and have lived, the streets and areas, but the Washington Area as a whole has never felt like home. (Oddly I have New York and San Francisco categories for the weblog, but no Washington.)

I have great friends in Washington, well those that are left, but I also have kept friends from previous homes via the Internet and have made friends that I think of as close in mind and focus thanks to the Internet. Actually the Internet is what made Washington a place to live for 10 years. I guess most any place could be livable with the Internet keeping a community I know and trust close by.

Another asset of the Washington area is its proximity to other cities that do feel a little more like they could be home. Baltimore, Philly, New York, and Boston are all a relatively short trip away. Europe is about as far a the West Coast and that has made the experience here enjoyable too.

I am not sure if it will be another 10 years in Washington, but who knows. We enjoy our house, even in its disruptive state of updating and repair. We really like our neighbors and neighborhood (as much as I did living in Arlington, VA too). I guess it is all up to jobs, winds, and other powers that drive us and blow us as to where the next 10 years will take me.

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.

March 16, 2003

Social Networks with InFlow

Steven Johnson examines Vladis Krebs' InFlow software to find social networks. This is a visualization tool that draws the lines that make up the connections in our lives and interactions. More about InFlow and information about Krebs will help you under social networking from an automated perspective.

Graphviz provides similar (yet simpler) output.

February 17, 2003

BBS 25th Anniversary

It is the 25th Anniversary of BBS. The BBS or Bullitin Board Systems were dial-in digital resources for software, discussions, patches, hacks, games, sounds, and other digital goodies. The BBS' were run by hosts that gave out the phone number to their service, some charged and others were free. These were great resources that offered a glimpse of what was to come with the Internet. The BBS' were all test based and companies grew up around providing software to run the services. One company Mustang Software (or Mustang Software description) seemed to have the corner on the hot and easy to use BBS' by the early '90s. Oh, those were the days, but do I want to go back? No, I like where things are now.

February 4, 2003

Moblogging and Joe Average persona

The Online Journalism review offers up Moblogging the next big thing, which brings "Joe Average" into play. I am not sure Joe Average would want a Hiptop or find a use for a Hiptop. I do like the idea of the Smartmobs, but it is not for everybody.

In a discussion at the DC IA book reading group (this time it was The Tipping Point) we ventured on the topic of using mavens as a persona candidate. The person said they were looking for somebody less adept at finding information, like a "Joe Average". This is often how many of us build personas we go for the less adept, or make sure they are represented across our personas. The discussion later came to how to keep the mavens intrigued, which is also a valid discussion.

January 19, 2003

Smart Mobs and the Man

Jeffrey Veen reports on the mobile technology at the San Francisco anti-war demonstration. It is just another glimpse that the Smart Mobs are taking hold here in the U.S. (the Smart Mobs site captures smart mob use at SF anti-war rally too).

In a quasi-related vein the U.S. Congress is fighting to keep its mobile technology. It seems that members of Congress and their Senior staff are hooked on their BlackBerry devices. The BlackBerry is caught up in a patent infringement case that may limit the use of the BlackBerry (yes there is irony here as Congress set the copyright and patent laws that are making this a problem for themselves). Congress was not smart in creating the laws, but wants to be a part of the smart mob. It seems like they need to figure out what they are doing before they pick up their pen to write any more laws and may want to undo some of the poor laws they created.

January 18, 2003

Trust in the Friendster and Ryze social networks

I finally got around to joining Ryze a social networking site. After just a few hours I find that I am more impressed with Friendster for many reasons.

Part of my preference of Friendster is the trust factor, which Friendster takes advantage of and Ryze has left off. When I go to add a person to my friend list in Friendster, Friendster sends a note to the person asking permission. Upon approval from the person I wish to link as my friend the person shows up in my friend list. Friendster also provides "introductions" through people on your friends list and people can recommend friends to others. The testimonies on Friendster are a valuable commodity as they must be approved by the person receiving the testimony (granted this can become rigged, but it offers the ability to give a better sense of the person). Friendster also shows the relationship to others in the whole network. These are assets that are very important to me when building trust and components that are missing in Ryze

The focus of the two systems is different. Ryze purports to be a business networking tool, while Friendster is a social networking tool. The lack of the above mentioned features for trust in the Ryze tool seem to make it more vulnerable for abuse or misuse. In a business context trust is very important as investment and decision that can have a determinant impact on success are made from information. People are one conduit of an information flow.

To me, it seems important to have the ability to have a some measure of trust built into a representation of a human relationship that then provides information the user may then act upon. It is also important to know that this relationship is approved or reciprocal People entering my page on Ryze from a Google search may see that I have Peter Morville as a friend. The Ryze tool does not provide a mechanism to verify this is the case. The only method one may have to determine if Peter and I are friends and there is a mutual trust that may be drawn from that relationship is to see if Peter has listed me as one of his friends. The Friendster model asks the person being listed as a friend if they agree to be listed as a friend. This model also makes it easier to find connections between people.

The Friendster tool can help people find others for various reasons or used as a tool to open doors to new music, movies, or interests. In the week or two I have been on Friendster I have found new music to dive into. I have been bugged by two folks to add my music preferences as they are looking for new music to explore. This would also be helpful for Ryze in a business context, but I don't see digital trust mechanisms that would ease this transaction. Ryze is more tool to provide links and correlations for serendipity then a quick way to find people of similar mind sets or people to expand intellectual and/or monetary pursuits.

I will stay with both social networking tools, but I know which tool I have more trust in at the moment. The trust factor is built over time through interactions that ring true to one's own meter or metric for judging. Friendster provides a step up on the trust meter. The best analogy is a sidewalk meeting: Ryze provides a glimpse of two people walking near each other (we do not know the relationship as it could be victim and stalker, friends, or two people that started chatting on the subway); Friendster classifies the relationships of the two or more on the sidewalk and shows the approved relationship as friends.

January 10, 2003

Ticketstub memory shares lives

Matt shares a little bit of what the Web can provide, a resting place for open memories. This medium provides a place for connecting people through common understanding and interests as well as shared moments.

January 5, 2003

Friendster as a resource

I received an invite to join Friendster when it first opened, but thought it was somewhat silly for those that are married. Thanks to Jish and his invite to join I have found a rather interesting social networking tool. I have been having a tough time finding music, movies, and other media that is of interest (my taste tends to run slightly outside the mainstream pop - interchangeable Britney - mindset). I am not sure Friendster will provide an avenue for discourse, but it could help with media and finding new folks I have not discovered yet that I would be great to know.

Ticketstubs launches

Tickstubs is launched by Matt. This site is a story repository based on ticket stubs. I have many ticket stubs that serve as reminders of past events, travels, and adventures. I am glad to see there are others that have the same interest and are sharing them. I look forward to following along.

December 23, 2002

Emergance finally makes my reading list

My other reading on my quick trip to Spokane, Washington included Stephen Johnson's Emergence, which I am finally getting around to. It is a wonderful book that cuts across many fields of expertise and ties them together in a well thought through manner. Not much in the book is really new, but the connections of the cross-currents makes a fun read. It has sparked the Alan Turing interests in me again and has me looking for my Metamagical Themas by Douglas Hofstadter, which must still be in a box. Metamagical opened many of the doors Johnson opens in Emergence, but is a more approachable manner. I will hopefully finish Emergence on my next quick jaunt.

November 6, 2002

DC-IA book club

Those of you in the DC area the DC-IA group has their book reading tonight at Barnes and Noble in Bethesda at 7:30pm. The book for this month is Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, 2nd edition (the polar bear). Dan Brown who organizes the book club is reminding folk of the free coffee.

July 23, 2002

BBC News Two

BBC News now is providing a UK version and a World version of their news sites. I have IE looking reading the worldly site and Mozilla reading the UK version. This comparison brings to light the differences in providing to the different user groups. The previous posts noting the deaths of Potok and McKern were only easily found on one of the versions. Potok's passing was noted in the World edition and McKern the UK edition. Now to take a closer look. Anybody know of a write-up on this change?

June 25, 2002


Matt Jones introduces Warchalking. This is a great idea. Hmmm, I wonder if my nephews have any sidewalk chalk in their posession?

June 17, 2002

Meetup launches

I am very intrigued with Meetup, a new company/organization to bring people together face to face (f2f).

June 14, 2002

Break Bread with Brad Brunch

This past Saturday I had a wonderful time at the Break Bread with Brad Brunch in DC. I met some great folks and got to see Mike and Dineen (whom I only tend to see in when I travel) and now that Brad has posted photos and links I really can tie the faces and names (and URLs). I will post the few photos I have in a day or so. I deeply appreciate Brad putting this together.

Break Bread with Brad Brunch

This past Saturday I had a wonderful time at the Break Bread with Brad Brunch in DC. I met some great folks and got to see Mike and Dineen (whom I only tend to see in when I travel) and now that Brad has posted photos and links I really can tie the faces and names (and URLs). I will post the few photos I have in a day or so. I deeply appreciate Brad putting this together.

June 5, 2002

Seeing and Tuning Social Networks

Seeing and Tuning Social Networks by John Udell is dense read for this evening. There is some great stuff in here. Must come back to it a lilttle later.

June 1, 2002

Cities of Ideas

Today's New York Times provides Creative Cities and Their New Elite, which theorizes that cities with higher than normal gay and bohemian populations are fertile grounds for economic sustainability, innovation, and technical growth. There seems to be a strong correlation between open accepting environments that recognize the importance of creativity and intelligence and the other measures of successful city cores that are economically viable. The article focuses on Robert Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life", which fully fleshes out these discussions. The Austin American-Statesman expounds on the Cities of Ideas in their series. The core of growth is based on knowledge and ideas that provide the fuel for the local economy. The precept seems to account for the cities I truly enjoy, including Amsterdam and Paris.

March 30, 2002

IAwiki jump in points

Two items pointed out to me or found lately have improved the usability of IAwiki (an open collaboration site for information architects). 1) IAwiki categories and 2) Index of IAwiki terms. There is great information that the IA community has entered and built upon in iawiki, now I have points that can attract my attention and find the gems that are tucked away.

Building communities of practice

HBS Working Knowledge offers, Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice, which has some very good insights. [hat tip tpodd]

January 22, 2002

Peter Morville provides Innovative Architecture that looks at the future of IA, which incorporates collaborative IA. The users of many sites create or hone the IA through many components, such as Amazon's "people who bought this item also bought." I like the breadth of this piece and how it encompasses applications and community driving IA.

November 8, 2001

Matt points out a Web-based bookmarking tool b.. This can be collaborative in nature if you should so choose.

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