Offline Web Apps – Please, Keep It Simple Stupid!

I noticed that my offline Web apps post got del.icio.us’d by Dion Hinchcliffe – he comments:

Yep, offline capability is a key checklist for the next generation of Web apps, particularly for things like Web mail (when you’re on the plane and have to get work done.)”

Hmm. Doesn’t that assumes that inflight Web access will never be available or too expensive?

Anyway, when I’m on the road and I won’t have Wifi access to the Internet I just download my personal email to my PDA, and my work email is already to sync’d on my laptop. Its already pretty easy.

Now this is not to say that I’m not convinced that offline won’t be a key capability on the checklist as Hinchcliffe suggests, but I just see us cycling back into resource hungry, difficult to install and maintain, fat-clients that we went online to avoid in the first place… I just hope in all of this we remember to KISS.

PS Andrew – if you want to take your wiki with you right now, can’t you just copy it with something like HTTrack?

Biffo between IT, users and the extended enterprise

Two sides of the current tension between enterprise IT and user-driven IT are represented in this post by Jeff Nolan and response from Mike Gotta.

Nolan says:

here in the real world we are seeing examples of business units taking more control of their IT environments and telling corporate IT to go away

Gotta responds:

When there is a lack of trust, cooperation, shared ownership, sense of community and governance spanning business and IT, bad things happen. Enterprise 2.0 does not change that situation. Indeed, it could easily exacerbate it. Giving business units rights to do whatever they want is a governance issue… it all comes back to business/IT alignment and the continual engagement involving all parties that is necessary so we avoid the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality that really doesn’t solve anything in the long run.

Meanwhile, over at Read/WriteWeb they introduce a third party – the Extended Enterprise:

What is the Extended Enterprise (EE)?… The modern enterprise is no longer one, monolithic organization. Customers, Partners, Suppliers, Outsourcers, Distributors, Resellers, … all kinds of entities extend and expand the boundaries of the enterprise, and make ‘collaboration’ and ‘sharing’ important… Few of these Extended Enterprise stakeholders are inside the firewall. They don’t necessarily have accounts in the Enterprise IT network, posing challenges and creating friction in the workflow.

It’s going to be a messy divorce πŸ˜‰

UPDATE: Who needs a CIO? Jeff Moriarty on the IT@Intel blog points out this post on the Long Tail blog and adds his thoughts on the debate:

CIOs shifting from being innovators to being focused on Keeping The Business Running (KTBR). As a result, they have become more risk averse and are heading for a showdown with the newer generation of employees who have an expectation of just wanting a wide open pipe of connectivity and want IT to get out of their way.

A Big Day Out in Sydney looking at Social Software for Business

Tuesday was a busy day for me, getting out of the ‘Gong early and up to Sydney where I started the day at Lotusphere Comes to You. The highlight of the morning was hearing and seeing a bit more about Lotus Quickr and Lotus Connections:

  • Mike Handes gave a great overview of Lotus Quickr, who described is a more interesting than talking about cricket at BBQs (ok, the Aussies aren’t doing to well at the moment…) and explained how the different Quickr connectors, templates and services will make it “open and flexible”. On the face of it, Quickr is a big improvement on Quickplace but on the other hand some of the views felt very familiar. Personally I’d like to see more things (if they aren’t already there) like support for simple Web 2.0 ideas such tag clouds and more complex Web 2.0 functionality like “widgets”. And while you’re waiting for Quickr to arrive on an intranet (or extranet) near you, Mike suggested we take a look at the free Blog and Wiki templates for Quickplace available from SNAPPS.
  • The Lotus Connections concept (“Profiles,Communities, Blogs, Bookmarks, Activities”) was also compelling and really suggests to me that IBM Lotus really do get this space. But to be honest I just want to get my hands on it to see how well it lives up to buzz in practice!

Later in the day, in a complete change of gear, I spent a bit of time chatting with James Matheson from specialist wiki consultancy, Saikore. There were two particular interesting parts to our conversation that I want to comment on here:

  • Firstly, the good news is that James feels that Australia has finally reached a level of maturity where wikis are beginning to achieve more main stream adoption. I personally hope this is part of a wider trend I’ve been watching coming to fruition, which will see more organisations adopting everything from wikis through to IBM Connections.
  • Secondly, some great observations about the essence of what makes an enterprise wiki a wiki, versus the wiki-like functionality appearing from the big software vendors like IBM and Microsoft. Some keywords for me that describe this are simplicity, solving specific business problems and being non-document centric. What this says to me is that the success of wikis in the business is more than just providing an edit button on every page and, on further reflection, why I don’t believe tools like Jotspot are really a wiki because they are just too complicated (that doesn’t mean they are bad by the way, just something different).

James doesn’t have a blog as such, but check out the news page on his Website. I also found out that James made some contributions to the Wikipatterns site.

Later in the day I caught up with some old friends at Ernst & Young to see how “KWeb” was looking these days, before heading over to help out at the NSW KM Forum’s first meeting of the year.

Phew.

Google vs Offline Web 2.0 Applications?

There is lots of buzz around the whole Google Apps thing at the moment, but an insightful observation from Josh Bernoff at Forrester Research:

Google believes in a future where everything is connected all the time, and they’re wiring up cities to help with it.  But this problem would be solved a lot faster if browsers ran apps, especially AJAX apps, offline. Then you could work on your gmail, your Google docs and spreadsheets, your calendar, in your browser. Offline browsing isn’t new, but this is more complicated, because once you connected up again your apps would have to sync up — the whole replication problem that Notes and Outlook take care of now. That’s hard — but not so hard that Google engineers can’t figure it out, especially with some help from Firefox, Adobe, and others trying to weaken the Microsoft monopoly (see Rob Drury’s post on this topic).”

This Mozilla Firefox offline applications thing is something I’ve been trying to get my head around too – we have a demo of sorts from Chris Double, showing Zimbra in offline mode, however incidentally there is an earlier example of this offline capability.

Considering the success of Web-based services and applications to date, I’m undecided at this stage about how important this is in the overall future of Web 2.0 – I mean:

  • If I wanted a fat client application connected to a server, I would still be using one;
  • Many of the benefits of social software come from providing simple access to common content that can be remixed, but offline mode is going to introduce the complexity of managing syncronisation conflicts in this shared data pool; and
  • It is built on the assumption of poor Internet access through a single device, rather than being always on, always connected through multiple channels.

I also think that I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of browser-based offline applications is that it smells like we are reinventing the wheel. Think about this: I’m not quite enough of a geek to read through all the specifications Chris Double points at in his post, but I did read enough of the DOM Storage spec to see this:

DOM Storage is the name given to the set of storage-related features introduced in the Web Applications 1.0 specification. DOM Storage is designed to provide a larger, securer, and easier-to-use alternative to storing information in cookies. It is currently only available in Mozilla-based browsers, notably starting with Firefox 2.” [Emphasis added]

So, at the moment we have offline capability being built around the functionality of a particular fat client application (even if you make sound good by calling the browser the OS)… hmm, this all sounds a bit like (dare I say), Lotus Notes.

But either way, who ever wins out, are we just on the verge of replacing one monopoly with another?

Mashup News and the Difficulty Curve

No time to comment fully on this, but some good stories and articles about enterprise mashups:

  • Jackbe, who describe themselves as “a provider of Enterprise Web 2.0 software that combines Ajax and SOA with reliable, optimized Web connectivity to deliver Enterprise Mashups, Rich Enterprise Applications (REA) and next generation user-driven portals“, have scored a great case study with the US Defense Intelligence Agency using its software. Reported in Computerworld.
  • Meanwhile, InfoWorld has a special report on enterprise mashups.
  • Finally, slow by steady E2.0 blogger Dion Hinchcliffe serves up a good analysis in two parts of the state of play by looking at the DIY space consisting of customisations, widgets and mashups.

Lots to read here, but I particularly like Hinchcliffe‘s take on the “Difficulty Curve“:

This reminds me of some of the conversation I’ve had recently about mashups and “super users”.

Honest Torrent

I blogged earlier in the month that Australian commercial TV is sticking its collective head in the sand about the disruption being generated by new social media technology. But I hear that Joost are busy signing up commercial content and now BitTorrent will be selling DRM protected TV shows and movies – from Wired:

The BitTorrent Entertainment Network was set to launch Monday with films from Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Lionsgate and episodes of TV shows such as ’24’ and ‘Punk’d.’

See, this could never happen in Australia. Whoops, forget that Internet thing is global πŸ˜‰

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Software Patterns, the Old and the New

One of the reasons I started thinking about blog use cases yesterday was an indirect link between a piece by Michael Sampson and the Wikipatterns site that I noticed has got a few people excited.

Michael Sampson‘s point is to explain that outcome is more important than the tool, but that it can be affected not only by software functionality but also personal preferences towards a particular software tool:

although the outcome quality of the coordinated effort may be similar for one technology vs. another, if you face the choice of turning the majority of people off by your choice of tooling .. that is, if there’s a substantial difference between people’s satisfaction with the process as influenced by tooling choices … investigate different tools.”  

In other words, if people hate product X, no matter how good it might be, then go with product Y or even Z because solution “elegance” isn’t the same a business outcome. That’s a good point.

Now this brings me to Wikipatterns:  There is nothing significantly new in the advice contained in Wikipatterns that we haven’t already seen with issues around adopting earlier forms of collaborative software. But in the context of Michael Sampson‘s post, this doesn’t change the value of Wikipatterns – its a very well executed site with clear explanations and guidance, all using the right jargon and addressing specific points of functionality in Wiki software.

So what’s my point?

I want to reiterate that there is no wrong way of using collaborative and social media software tools, only a best fit with your objectives. And I don’t care what you call it either. However it is a mistake to dismiss the experiences of the past because the language is different or the tools aren’t as slick. For example, one of my favorite “pattern” resources has always been The who, what and why of knowledge mapping, which provides the following roles in making and using knowledge maps:

  • Map maker – creates the details and sets the usage pattern of the knowledge map
  • Map users – use maps in order to accomplish their tasks and to develop learning potential
  • Map innovators – alter existing maps through use, reuse and diffusion of innovation
  • Map champions – uphold the need for knowledge maps as providing a competitive advantage for the organisation

They sound like they could be very applicable to a Wiki, don’t you think?

Similarly, we should not be afraid to draw on resources like Wikipatterns even if we don’t think we are using a “Wiki” in the purest sense. These patterns are applicable in many other collaborative contexts.

But what I think is missing is that we do need to be clear about exactly what the new patterns really are, else the outcomes will be the same and it will leave some people wondering what the hype was all about.