Microsoft enters the furniture market

I thought for a moment that it was April Fools Day again… but apparently not. In fact, Microsoft Surface is creating quite a buzz, including here, here, and lots more. Surfacefeatures a 30-inch tabletop display whose unique abilities allow for several people to work independently or simultaneously. All without using a mouse or a keyboard.” It all makes a bit more sense if you watch a demo:

Despite the buzz, this solution isn’t completely unique. For example, it reminds somewhat of the interface developed by Ted Han at Perceptive Pixel (covered by Wired) – you might remember this demo from earlier in the year:

Also have a look at Coeno and their Office of Tomorrow project. I’m sure there are other examples and related ideas out there.

Marching the intranet retreat

Another example of the march of the wikis into the intranet zone, this time Thomas Nelson publishing has switched from a “static” intranet to a wiki (care of Michael Sampson).

Another example, and a little closer to home, I noticed that Ark Group in Australia have an intranet tour during August in Sydney that includes a demonstration of Janssen-Cilag‘s wiki-based intranet.

Of course, it remains to be seen if these wikis work in a true Enterprise 2.0 style, or are simply turn out to be cheap Web content management systems (WCMS). Does it really matter?

Why would user-generated content commentators disable my mouse?

Sorry, a minor rant ahead.

Why would a Web-site that aims to covers user-generated content topics such as Blogs, Enterprise Web 2.0, Social Media, etc disable right-clicking? What’s more surprising is that this site has some well known Web 2.0 people involved. For that matter, I couldn’t find the RSS feed for the site anyway… so, they would lack some credibility don’t you think?

From another site, reasons why you shouldn’t disable right-clicking:

  • Annoying;
  • Pointless;
  • Disabling;
  • Unprofessional; and
  • Insulting.

Its certainly pointless, as you can easily re-enable right-clicking with a handy bookmark like this one available from the site.

I just don’t get it – can someone explain?

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Spreadsheets,Mashing and Social Software

Oregon State University have developed a new way to tackle the problem of spreadsheet errors. If you’re not familiar with the issue, spreadsheet errors are common and can cost organisations a lot of money.

Its interesting that they say Oregon State University say:

spreadsheet use and development is so common that it is frequently being done by people with very limited training or interest in computer software programming. These “end users” of computer software don’t have the background to investigate codes, programs or formulas, they just want the program to work, and often erroneously assume that it does.”

Of course, not every spreadsheet is critical, but if we think of Web 2.0 mashing tools as the conceptual descendents of the spreadsheet (an early mashing tool IMHO) then its important that we have safe guards in place. Ideally these could be a combination of automated checks, tested templates and the wisdom of the crowds (which is the icing on the Web 2.0 cake). This is something I’ve talked about before.

RSS’s dirty little secret

Bear with me while I pull a few different threads together here. What started this line of thinking was reading a Forrester paper on RSS and this post about JP Rangaswami‘s open email approach, discussed here by Stowe Boyd (care of O’Reilly Radar):

JP has set up a stringent approach to filtering his email. He throws all email where he is CC’d directly into the trash. Basically, he only reads email directed to him, alone. Of course, for this to have any influence on people’s behavior, he has to loudly and regularly let others know that he is doing this. More interestingly, he has opened access to his email to his staff. By treating his email as an open forum, he has found that his associates are more involved in his interactions with others.

Now, the Forrester paper presents a good argument for managed RSS services inside an organisation and even reminds us that you can “RSS-ify” other disparate systems (excellent!). It also starts to discuss feed analytics, optimization and filtering – all good. However, it is here that the paper begins to lose me, particularly with JP‘s open email approach ringing in my ears. I think where it misses the point is that while in positioning RSS as something to be managed, it becomes yet another information system that is implemented without requiring or taking into account the changes in behaviour that are required to make it work. Forrester simply base readiness for RSS on two factors: need and content availability.

Some time ago I wrote about my own thoughts on tackling email overload (see For better, or worse: Living with e-mail in the workplace [PDF, 81KB]) – part of that advice then was:

  1. Where possible, eliminate the root cause of the problem;
  2. Take control of your own inbox by managing it appropriately; and
  3. Lead by example and practice better e-mail etiquette and style.

I believe this advice holds true for RSS too, especially if you see it as part of a broad solution for dealing with information overload rather than means to an end. Otherwise, despite all the nice filtering approaches you might like to apply, RSS is going to end up contributing to information overload and not reducing it (of course, good technology makes it a whole lot easier). This line of thought has also found myself contemplating these two points of view on the surveillance society:

Thinking back to JP‘s open email approach again, the main barrier is not so much the technology but having the right behaviours and attitudes for how we communicate and share information. And some of those attitudes relate to our perceptions of privacy as well as control. So, if we take the open email idea and try to identify the root cause of the problem it solves, then I think it is more about taking a collaborative approach to information and knowledge management. And clearly, if you’re are familiar with JP‘s particular information technology philosophy, his open email approach is more about his mindset than the technology.

So if we think about this more broadly, is JP alone in taking this approach? I don’t think so as I’ve had the luck to work with some different organisations over the years where by policy they have pursued open information access – in one recent case they are starting to share email through a document management system where access is restricted only by exception. Fundamental to that policy is organisational change, backed up by technology that makes sharing information as easy as possible. And that is the secret to using RSS to successfully tackle information overload.

Popfly, some bugs, but a step in the right direction

Popfly is Microsoft‘s venture into the world of visual mashing applications, and is a Web-based offering like Teqlo and Yahoo! Pipes. Currently in invitation-only alpha release, I signed up to the waitlist for Popfly about a week ago and my invitation to join arrived today. In between time I had seen this review on a Wired blog, so I had already reduced my expectations a bit of what I might find with this alpha release.

What has lived up to expectations is the interface, and while I can see a fair bit of room for improvement I imagine as a Microsoft product this can only get better. However, I won’t hide my ongoing disappointment of Web-based applications that require the latest browser (Internet Explorer or Firefox only) and yet another plugin (in this case Silverlight) to operate correctly.

Unfortunately the main problem I had initially was getting mashups I tried building to do something and then run. My browser froze a couple a times or appeared to do nothing. I had a little bit better luck with mashups built by others, and then when I tried some simple mashups using RSS feeds. But with limited debugging tools or information, its hard to know as a user what was going on (or why something wasn’t working). I did at least manage to get an RSS feed converted into a table. Problems with the mashing interface also caused a few problems, such as blocks that created outside the middle of screen and become inaccessible – all I could do in that instance was start over from scratch again. BTW I eventually worked out that the RSS input is a bit picky doesn’t accept anything other than a true RSS feed, so forget Atom or even Feedburner!

Now, having said all of that what I do find promising about Popfly is that it provides the ability to create new “blocks“, which are written in javascript. Blocks are packages of programming that a user can string together to do something new, or as Popfly describe it:

A block is a piece of middleware that is contained in a single JavaScript file (.js), which provides methods for user generated code to invoke. A block may also make use of resource files such as XAML files, images, etc. A block can act as a middleman between externally provisioned services such as web services, or it may simply be a library of useful functions, e.g. a function that calculates the area of a circle given a radius. A block can also act as a display surface: something which takes data from other blocks and displays it in a meaningful manner, and allows the user to interact with it.

This means it is relatively simple for people who can script to add new functionality or data sources into Popfly. Hopefully because of this we will see more than just mapping and photo mashups, such as more options for displaying mashed up results in graphs, dashboards and spreadsheet-like tables. From an enterprise perspective, that really is an exciting prospect.

Overall, while I still not convinced based on any of my experiences to date that these types of tools will ever be easy enough for anyone and everyone to use (also see the “Difficulty Curve“), Popfly is another step in the right direction towards that vision.

Brad and Matt on Virtual Life, and Coventry

I noticed this post the other day about virtual worlds, but Brad has commented on the topic before I could and says:

Companies are using Second Life as an experimental environment to test collaborative spaces and new ideas, but don’t be surprised to see a massive growth in real world companies commercialising virtual worlds in the future (it is happening now but it will get much, much bigger). Simon Bucks from Sky News said: “We felt that Second Life has the biggest and most potential for growth.”

When the real world starts to run out of consumers, the virtual world might be the next best thing. As a consequence, this means not only a reshaping of our communication platforms, but also the content associated with it.

Locally I noticed that Telstra are also supporting the growth of Second Life as their ISP customers can access the software and site without paying any data charges, so I guess indicates how serious the media players see the opportunities.

I’m actually old enough to remember getting excited about the idea of MUDs as business tools – in this article from Wired magazine in 1993, Kevin Kelly and Howard Rheingold predicted:

Until now, most MUDs have been written by fanatical students in their spare time. But recently, new MUD forms involving researchers and scientists have appeared. The dawn of commercial MUDs, where virtual goods can be bought and sold, or political MUDs, where lobbyists and politicians schmooze in virtual hallways, can’t be far away.

So, were they ahead of their time or despite the improved graphics are we just seeing a repeat of the hype from a decade ago? Or as Matt puts it:

I have to admit to being a trifle puzzled about Second Life. I have enough difficulty managing my first one so I can’t promise that Ricardo5D Negulesco will get up to much but we’ll have to see. Quite why crude 3D renderings of a fantasy world would be appealing to large numbers of people defeats me (except here you can choose the body you want without resorting to expensive plastic surgery). I spent a year living in Coventry (a crude 3D fantasy world of crazed 50s architects) and have no strong desire to inhabit its virtual equivalent.”

Maybe if the technology continues to improve beyond crude 3D rendering that might really create broad adoption? Perhaps work will become more like a video game? I suspect the earlier adopters to watch will be the porn industry 😉

BTW If you’re not ready for Second Life, try MyMiniLife instead.