Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Author: Geoffrey Bock (Page 2 of 3)

Wither Web 2.0? Come to Boston

Perhaps it’s cyclical — like the long Indian summer we’ve been having here in the Northeast. The Web/Enterprise/stuff “2.0” buzz has died down (for now) and we seem to be into the hard business of real application development. Perhaps this is a good thing — running on hype does little to transform businesses or pay the bills.

Certainly there’s been a lot of excitement around Facebook as a collaborative platform for digital natives (and fellow travelers). Yet the long-lasting innovation, I think, is around the APIs and the notion of “open platforms.” Of course Google was first to open the komono with its wildly popular Web services API into Google Maps. Now we’re trying to make mashups of social networks.

I’m curious but not convinced. Facebook is building out its community — Google is not far behind, pursuing the notion of social graphing. So far we can do all kinds of useful things in the consumer space. My favorite this week is friend finding — which also leverages GPS technology. But business applications? I haven’t heard of anything really compelling, yet. I’m still looking.

Which brings me to a preview of coming attractions. My colleagues Steve Paxhia, Nora Barnes, and I expect to cut through the Web 2.0 hype next month and shed some light on industry trends. We’ll be reporting the results of our industry survey at our Boston conference. We’ll have a statistically significant profille of what collaboration and social computing tools are being using in American businesses — beginning with email and Web sites and assessing many popular forms of social media. We’ll snapshot how effective companies rate these tools and also report on what each tool is best suited for. And I expect that before we’re done, we’ll have a few indicators of next generation collaborative business applications.

So join us, November 27th – November 29th in Boston.

Notes as the New Mainframe

IBM released Notes 8 and Domino 8 earlier this month — two years in development and “the industry’s first enterprise collaboration solution largely designed with input from its customers.” IBM has devoted a lot of its efforts towards creating an integrated user experience — messages, calendar entries, file folders, and queries to business applications can all appear within a single, tiled window. With customized sidebars and tool bars, application developers can add “peripheral vision” to the user experience, and integrate a variety of plug-ins. While this user interface style is hardly revolutionary, it does cut down on window-clutter and will go a long way towards improving the usability of complex application environments.
IBM has also introduced “message conversations” into Notes email. Rather than messages being displayed as discrete items, they are concatinated into their discussion threads — with the root message and all the replies captured in a single list. This reduces Inbox clutter — 150 messages (the average daily total for a “typical” Notes user) can be reduced to eight or ten threads.
For organizations that made the Notes investment some years ago, there’s no need to consider alternatives or doubt IBM’s commitment to it’s core collaboration platform. Like the mainframes of an earlier computing era, Notes remains a solid messaging platform with integrated calendaring and contacts. It continues to serve as a development environment for ad hoc (workgroup-level) applications.
But I wonder about the growth opportunities for Notes. Many of us are quite comfortable with the “traditional” business activities engendered by this latest version — sending and receiviing messages, scheduling and attending meetings, contacting people. Yet when we have so much information readily accessable at our fingertips, we are continually looking for new metaphors for doing work — bringing people together over the network, restructuring business processes, improving decision making. More is at stake than simply “reducing clutter.” We need to focus as much on the “collaboration services” accessible within the network as on the quality of the user experience itself.

Mashing-up the Wikipedia Code

Now here’s an interesting tidbit from the BBC, courtesy of my daughter (who’s a graduate student in London): Wikipedia ‘shows CIA page edits.’ It seems that staffers at the CIA, the Democratic National Campaign Committee, the Vatican, and many other well known institutions (who may be trying to remain nameless) have been ‘caught’ sprucing up various wikipedia articles. (Well of course this is a tarty British take on the matter!)
And the secret sauce that pulls back the curtain? Revealed at the end of the article, a simple mashup that links the IP addresses of contributors to an article (obtained through the “history” page) with a directory of organizations owning IP addresses. Both are publicly available. The results are hardly surprising.
The point is that when information is so widely and freely available, we have to begin to worry about the sources of information and how it is presented. There’s not a lot of anonymity on the public web — and quite possibly this is a good thing. But building community also includes notions of trust, expertise, and terms of reference. For example, when starting eBay, Pierre Omidyar came up with the notion of “rate the buyer” and “rate the seller” as a way of organically building trust within the community of eBayers . . . and the rest is history.
I hate to admit it but perhaps Ronald Regan said it the best. “Trust but verify.” What’s interesting is that mashing-up sources and IP addresses provides a whole new dimension to verification. I wonder what else is possible? Let’s start a discussion — comments?

I’ve Got Infrastructure on My Mind

It’s been a rough few weeks for infrastructure.
Of course the collapse of the I-35 bridge over the Mississippi in Minneapolis last Wednesday is on all of our minds – how could the inspections fail and the road fall down? Significantly, there’s some videos that capture the moment, which hopefully will provide clues for determining the cause.
Closer to home, we had an eight-hour traffic jam on the I-93 loop in Braintree (a major highway south of Boston) a week ago Monday. A storm grate was thrown loose by a passing truck at the start of the morning rush, and landed on a near-by car. (Fortunately the driver survived.) Reportedly, the Massachusetts State Highway Department spent the rest of the day checking and welding shut all the grates on that highway. The next day, the same loose storm drain problem cropped up on a major road in Newton, near where I live. This time motorists were asked to dial a special code from their cell phones to report problems.
And then this morning New Yorkers awoke to a monsoon and a flooded mass transit system. The official M.T.A. web site could not keep up with the requests for information, and crashed when it was needed most.
You’ve gotta hand it to those hardy folks (and the New York Times) for that snarky, Big Apple attitude. Here’re a few priceless ones that I gleaned from NYTimes.Com during the day.

“Our transit system is not only frail but if it’s this vulnerable to rain attacks, then how vulnerable is it to terrorist attacks?”

“I walked from the Upper West Side all the way to work in Midtown, but thanks to Starbucks was able to stop in and cool myself every four blocks or so.”

(Now there’s somebody with brand loyalty!)

“And only the rats had no transportation problems.”

All this content about our physical infrastructure (user generated and otherwise) has the potential to bring social computing to a whole new level.
This got me thinking about the role of collaboration technologies for supporting our physical infrastructure. It’s great to be able to talk back — and let off a little steam. It’s even better to be able to call-in, and tell the authorities about the problem before there’s another horrible accident. But what else is possible? Could the bridge inspectors in Minneapolis have shared their observation reports, measurements, and perhaps photographs of the bridge’s structure over the past few inspection cycles, and had some semi-automated ways to detect the problems before the disaster? Unfortunately we’ll never know.
While I certainly don’t have it all figured out, I can begin to see some bread crumbs towards the workable solution we all want and need. We can no longer rely on human intelligence alone. Our worlds are much too complex and interdependent. We need to augment our understandings, and our abilities to take actions, by a variety of automated, concent-centric tools, such as semantic technologies. (With my colleagues Lynda Moulton and Frank Gilbane, we’re picking up coverage of this area, the ability to inject “meaning” and “context” into an enterprise environment. Be sure to check out the semantic technologies track at our upcoming conference in November.)
I’ve seen a couple of promising developments this month. SchemaLogic is finally reporting some progress in the publishing space, enabling publishers such as Associated Press to automatically repurpose content by synchronizing tags and managing metadata schemas. While pretty geeky, this is very neat! Now we need to see how this approach to managing semantics within the enterprise will impact collaboration and social computing.
Then project and portfolio management (PPM) systems — heretofore heavyweight (often mainframe) applications that are used to track resources for complex, engineering-driven projects — are being redeployed as Web 2.0 environments. In particular,eProject is now transforming its Web-based PPM environment into a broader collaborative tools suite. Seeking to capitalize on it’s expanded mission of bringing a PPM model to the Web, eProject’s also renaming itself in the process.
Where do these bread-crumbs lead? As a first step, we need to focus on how our collaboration infrastructure (fueled by our information architecture) can augment the work of people responsible for our physical infrastructure (ourselves included). At the end of the day, we need to be able to rely on this collaboration infrastructure to help us sense and respond to the challenges of simply getting from one place to another.

Links and Connections: Finding the Context

A provocative conversation broke out on one of the discussion groups I monitor last week. “I’m curious how you and others you know are using ‘'” the person asked. “For me, I like who’s in my network, [and] keep asking others to join; but overall I find it to be very static.”
A static network — now there’s a new concept! But there’s a good deal of truth to wondering how these links work within the business environment. Sure I too have a modest network; I check out my Linked-in account once or twice a month to see who’s doing what. For me, this substitutes (poorly) for the water-cooler conversations earlier in my career, when I was surrounded by lots of co-workers. There was always the lunch-time gossip and the hallway exchanges . . . did I know that so and so was working on this new skunk-works project? Had I heard that another sales team just surpassed its revenue goals or that a particular key customer now had a new set of requirements?
While linking-in through Linked-in is a poor substitute for the chatter of the co-located workplace, it’s at least the beginning of a business conversation. It maintains its professional aura, boundaries, and rules, in part by continuing to stove-pipe its connections, and not (yet) mashing up its links and membership.
Not so with Facebook, now trying to take the “digital natives” (those who grew up with the Internet ant the Web) into the workplace. This move — blending the power of networks with mashups — is raising a number of eyebrows. “Friend? Not? It’s One or the Other” Rob Pegoraro, the personal technology columnist wrote provocatively in the Washington Post last week.

You could stay in touch with your drinking buddies at MySpace, then schmooze with your business partners at LinkedIn.
But life isn’t always that neat. And when the private and professional overlap at these sites, you can spend more time worrying about your image than building your network.

To be sure Facebook has a slew of privacy setting — at least 135 according to Pegoraro — but having to define how I want to expose some of my activities to one group of friends and other actions to business colleagues adds complexity to what should be cast as a rather fluid interchange.
What’s missing to my way of thinking is not simply privacy but context. We all have our business personas and our personal personas. We have certain expectations when in a business context, others when in a social context, and still others when “being personal.” Many of our social networks are, in fact, rather complex.
To make these networks useful within a collaborative (and online) business environment, we need to be able to add (and manage) our business contexts. We need to be able to describe (and map) the business purposes for our social networks.

Counting How the Game is Changing

Nora Barnes (director of the Center for Marketing Research at UMass, Dartmouth) and Eric Mattson have a new survey report out on social computing — The Game Has Changed: College Admissions Outpace Corporations in Embracing Social Media. They compare how universities and companies in the Inc. 500 are using social media — blogging, social networking (whch I take to mean sites like Facebook and MySpace), message boards, online video, podcasting, and wikis. In a nutshell

Social media has arrived in college admissions. The ivory tower is innovating even faster than the elite Inc. 500. And the game has changed forever.

I cannot wait to see their detailed analysis.

Picking through their numbers so far, two things jump out. First, universities are almost as likely to use social networks as search engines when evaluating potential students (26% vs 21%).

Admission offices can find out all kinds of information about their prospects by googling them on the web. Tracking and tracing their social networks is close behind. Hum, I wonder what enterprises are going to be doing, both when reviewing job candidates and business partnerships, and when tracking performance. I can see it now — a new generation of “socially conscious” HR and business applications.

Second, we’ve been talking about blogs and wikis in almost the same breadth (thanks in part to Don Tapscott and Wikinomics and “how mass collaboration changes everything”). But not so fast. While blogging is more widely used in universities than in corporations (33% vs 19%), wikis are more widely deployed in corporations than in universities (17% vs. 3%). So we ought to take another breadth, turn down the hypemeter, and better understand how these different modes of collaboration are used in practice.

Here’s my vote. It’s all about the difference between self-publishing and supporting a business process. Blogging’s easy — I’m standing at my virtual Hyde Park corner (as in this blog), using my own time. Others who want to invest their time can read what I have to say. (Thank you, my readers!) But putting up a wiki is all about sharing information that’s part of a business process — I post, you modify, and our colleagues elsewhere in the world add their two cents. The outcome is a group project, the results of our “collective intelligence.” It’s a bit like co-authoring a report or developing a project plan for a group or . . . . you get the point — we share in the results through an interactive process.

Oh, one other thing. Business processes are tough to implement. They happen not by accident but by design. When the bloom is off the rose, we’re going to have to do a lot more work to make wikis really useful within the enterprise.

Let’s Get Serious about Social Computing

You’d think the CEO of a public company would have better things to do with his time than to blog anonymously about his company’s performance and trash the competition. But this seems not to be the case with John Mackey, chief executive of Whole Foods Market, whose “sock puppeting” behavior, “the act of creating a fake online identity to praise, defend or create the illusion of support for one’s self, allies or company” has now landed him in hot water with the Feds and competitors in the natural foods grocery business. Probably a gaggle of lawyers will figure out a way to solve the Mackey issue . . . at least for now.
Yet, this latest escapade got me thinking (once again) about the double-edge sword of social computing. Sometimes we can be too social – not just speaking out of turn but also crossing important organizational boundaries. In our era of instant communications, it is possible to communicate too freely.
What we need are a few good models for how we’re going to “collaborate” with one another over the Net—figuring out the boundaries without building walls. (By enterprise collaboration I mean exchanging and sharing both information and insights, to do our jobs better.) Behind all the Web 2.0 hype, I suspect there are a few pointers towards new models.
One of my current favorites for a new model is Lotus Connections, an integrated suite of five services for social software (IBM’s moniker for the market). These services are (a) communities, (b) social book marking, (c) enterprise profiles, (d) activities, and (e) blogs. Not surprisingly, these services are based on the ways that IBM typically does business. In fact, Connections productizes several internally developed IBM technologies.
I realize that I have the same feelings for Connections that I had with Lotus Notes in the early days of the groupware revolution – a terrific concept for a new computing paradigm, yet where the devil’s in the details. With a $110 per user price tag, IBM is focusing (for now) on the large enterprise marketplace. Designed to run inside an enterprise, Connections bundles restricted versions of WebSphere Application Server, DB2 Enterprise Database, and Tivoli Directory Integrator. To be sure, large organizations have large internal collaboration problems – such as quickly assembling ad hoc task teams of company experts who do not necessarily know one another to solve a pressing problem, or coordinating constantly changing schedules and deliverables.
But I am still bothered by the boundary problem of social computing – which Connections (despite all its promise) does little to address. Yes, as soon as we are authorized and authenticated by our networked environment, we can collaborate and share information. With current technologies, we’re living in a binary world. Either we’re inside the firewall/enterprise or we’re public on the Net. Either things are “private” or “public.”
In real life though, we’re dealing not with just black or white. Social computing’s going to have to do better, and be able to deal with many shades of gray. This means being able to manage content, schedules, and relationships across an “extended” enterprise – and being able to adjust the degree of connectedness we want to have with colleagues across different organizations.

What’s Web 2.0 All About? Let’s Start with the Infrastructure

Jacques Bughin and James Manyika at McKinsey have just published another thought-provoking report, “How Businesses Are Using Web 2.0.” They’re working with a beefy survey (2,847 executives worldwide, 44% who hold C-level positions), supplemented by an online discussion. Their conclusions:
“Expressing satisfaction with their Internet investments so far, [respondents] say that Web 2.0 technologies are strategic and that they plan to increase these investments. But companies aren’t necessarily relying on the best-known Web 2.0 trends, such as blogs; instead they place the greatest importance on technologies that enable automation and networking.” Companies that are using Web 2.0 technologies “have developed a new way of bringing technology into business . . . This new approach is easier to implement and more flexible than traditional top down approaches.”
Wow, so at the end of the day, our focus on Collaboration 2.0 is all about developing new, more flexible models for deploying business applications! Could it be that this year’s two-dot-oh rave is all about light-weight development models?
Well, perhaps — this is certainly the underlying logic of Google’s $625 million acquisition of Postini, an email security and management company, consumated today. As today’s NYTimes observed, “The deal underscores Google’s ambitions to become a serious player in the business of selling software to companies and organizations, in competition with Microsoft and others.” But as much as I am a fan of Gmail, I don’t think it is going to be the Exchange killer. There’s still going to be a big market for enterprise applications, enterprise email included. (I’m not sure how I would feel about my doctors using Gmail in the hospital when discussing my health and well being.)
Here’s the issue. We can rely on the Internet and the Web to provide an ever increasing set of business services. Some are advertising supported (such as Gmail); others are subscription based (such as Salesforce, Foldera, and Longjump). The savvy Web 2.0 vendors — including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, and various startups — are rapidly exposing their APIs for meaningful mashups, each promising to anchor a vibrant ecosystem for content sharing and collaboration. We’re going to have a lot more flexibility. Yet as business leaders and technology visionaries, we are going to have to plan very carefully how we will use the Internet’s power of instant connectivity for our strategic business advantage.
We often forget the amount of infrastructure we have readily available when we go online and exchange email. DNS, TCP/IP, some basic security, SMTP, HTTP — it all works now; earlier generations of technologies limited the scope of these services to enterprise islands. (Remember DECnet, PROFS, and WangNet.) Now we’re concerned about privacy, security, findability, records retention, manageability, and a whole host of knotty systems infrastructure issues.
The challenge facing the collaboration ecosystem vendors for the enterprise (whoever they may be) is to build the infrastructure required to support the “automation and networking” environments that the McKinsey execs have in mind. The jury is still to be convened.
I bet that we’re going to be hearing a lot from the mainstream enterprise vendors–Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP, EMC, Cisco–by the end of the year. With our continuing focus on enterprise collaboration and social computing, we are going to have to pay even more attention to the infrastructure services available over corporate intranets, partner extranets, and the public Internet. It remains to be seen how flexible these loosely coupled core services can be–and how they can be packaged into vibrant business propositions.

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