The Bottom vs. the Top: Los Alamos Blog and Congress

Stories like this are wonderful microcosm of any organization. A Los Alamos employee starts a public weblog, people start writing and sending in complaints, all the type A, “leaders” in congress get all upset and start saying things like, “this all a bunch of griping!” As always, little Ricky must be thinking, mom an dad just aren’t listening.

From this, we can draw a useful, tactical pattern for bottom up action in any organization: if you complain, those at the top will label you as a whiner, and use that as an ad hominem attack against all your efforts.

That is, when you’re trying to do hard bottom up change (as opposed to change coming down from the top, e.g., congress-people, CEOs, Popes, etc.), unless you’re supra-lucky, the people at the top will resist with any means possible. If you complain about things — even justifiably from your perspective — the people at the top will characterize you as a broody spaz, and thus, no one who deserves listening to.

In most cases, people at the top are smart, energetic, full-on type-A people. Their view, learned from being that way and being rewarded with the success of being at the top, is that if you want something — change — you just go and fucking do it, no holds barred, Ashley. You don’t sit there and whine that you can’t get what you want. If you can’t get it in your organization, you go and get a new job, God damn it.

Obviously, not all top-people are like this, but there certainly is more of this operational-think at the top than the bottom.

So, what’s a bottom-feeder to do: the fact that they’re at the bottom, the very fact that there is a bottom, is often endemic of the powerlessness they actually have. That said, faith in that powerless mind-set of the bottom is often such in organizations that they’re not actively defending against it. If the bottom-feeders suddenly get active, if they’re fast and loud enough, the top will get effected.

Now, of course, I’d much rather operate in organizations where getting shit done doesn’t have to be cast in fighting-metaphors. But that’s the way it is sometimes…as the top-folk would probably be happy to remind me with a smile

[ Podcast] Episode 03: Finland, Ruby on Rails, DBs

Here’s the 3rd episode of The Drunk & Retired Variety Show (aka “podcast”), featuring Mr. Charles Lowell and yours truely again.

The recording quality is piss-poor. But, whatever, you know you’ll still like it…despite all the little pops and pips…and dog barking.

Previous episodes:

Episode 01
Episode 02.

No Weblog, No Trust

I was searching for info on someone today, just doing a typical Google search of their name, and I didn’t really find anything except a few quotes from some trade rags and some obvious “false-positives.”

It re-occured to me that, when it comes to “experts” or other authority figures, I don’t really “trust” any of them if they don’t have a weblog…usually that shows up on the first page of a Google search for them.

If you’re going to make a living being an expert, it’s time to get a weblog. All you have to do it put up links to start with. That’ll be enough. For the full-blown, bust-out, check out old-school consultant/experto tompeters!, he seems to have really jumped in head first.

Whichard’s Blogging Theorem

I’m always happy to see someone’s company-blogging light bulb off, especially in such detail.

Everyone knows that Brandon likes the weblogs, company-internal and otherwise. After having our internal blogs at BMC for awhile (1, 2), and getting some positive results from them, he came up with what I call Whichard’s Bloggin Theorem:

The number of people who read a weblog matters much less than who reads a weblog.

Put one way, in addition to all the benefits Marion points out, blogs are a supra-effective tool for internal marketing. And if you don’t think that’s important, you must work for the perfect company.

I’m an instant-evangelist for anything I like — booze, blogs, Apple products, etc. — so I tell everyone at work about our internal blogs: not just about them, but that they need to post to them. Many of them have the same reaction: “Yeah, I created an account. But only a couple people seem to post to them.”

The Blackhole

There’s either one of two perceptions: (1.) it’s not worth it posting to the blogs, or, (2.) the blogs are just the toy of a select groups of people. But then, Whichard’s Blogging Theorem comes in, and all bets are off.

There’re several high-level people who read the blogs, all NewsGator’ed up to suck down the RSS feeds every 30-60 minutes. If an idea starts at the bottom, it can instantly get high up into the management stratosphere.

We call this effect “The Blackhole.” You know, there’s all those movies where you can leap countless light years in space by zipping through a blackhole or wormhole (the second would probably be better, but the first is what’s stuck).

Linking to the New

But, back to internal marketing. In hooking up all these types of things at work — wiki, blog, Google mini powered search — I’ve found that the most effective way to advertise it’s presence is to somehow broadcast, essentially, ads into the traditional internal collab-space: email lists, the intranet site, etc.

That’s an obvious rule-of-thumb, but the take-away is that the early majority needs a bridge to new collab-applications. You can’t ask/expect all those people to jump a huge chasm between existing apps and new apps: you’ve gotta connect them together with a few links.

The problem with that, of course, is that different people often control the two ends of the bridge. The new stuff is usually all DIY: someone had a spare server, so they just install a wiki, a blog, or a build/development site. These folks don’t have access to dump links in all those traditional sites.

There seems to be a boot-strapping problem, as ever. Then again, if you’re in this sport, why not test the “theory of just asking,” and fire off an email or phone call?

[ Podcast] Episode 02: The Life Agile, Part 2

(Click here to download/listen to the podcast.)

There’s (above) the second episode for the old podcast. It’s the rest of Charles and I talking about Agile, software stuff, all girded by his time at ThoughtWorks. I think there’s some more StarControl sounds too…and dog barking.

You know you’ve been hittin’ reload on this page just waiting for this second episode!

[ Podcast] Episode 01: The Life Agile, Part 1

(Click Here to Download the Podcast)

I’ve finally put together the first Drunk and Retired podcast. This is part one of some back porch-chattin’ with my good friend, Charles Lowell about his time at ThoughtWorks, agile thinking, Star Control, and a few other things. It’s about 1/2 an hour, and you know you’ll love it!

Update: also, of course, the RSS feed contains an enclosure for this episode. So, you can just add the URL to iPodder, or whatever podcast aggregator you use.

Yahoo! 360

Thanks to the gracious Charlene Li, I got an invite to Yahoo! 360. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s Yahoo! social-net/blog/collab/etc. thing.

I invited most everyone in my address book that I thought would be interested, but if I missed you, just send me an email or leave a comment.

You can see my Y! 360 page at

(No doubt, and as promised to Charlene, I’ll write-up more as I get a better feel for it.)

Re: LinkedIn Job Posting

To flesh out my
LinkedIn job posting experiment
, I put up a free want-ad
with the same description on

So far, my notes on this whole experiment are:

  • After posting the LinkedIn want-ad, I immediately got a call (a
    phone-call!) from a recruiter. I hadn’t posted a phone number, so
    he must have had some BMC directory number. Man, what’s the deal
    with recruiters. They’re, like, totally annoying.
  • The night I posted the LinkedIn want-ad, I got an email from a
    guy who basically said, “I’m not interested in the job you posted,
    but I’m interested in ‘getting in’ at BMC.” Hmmm… OK.
  • After posting the listing
    I got more than 10 applicants in a
    . I’ve forwarded them all the applicable (some wanted to be
    part-time, not full-time, etc.) ones to the hiring manager. The
    quality seemed to range from “just out of school” to “long time

In summary… LinkedIn: 0 useful responses 2 days.
10 useful responses in 1 days. (a few days after posting it, I’ve gotten
20 applicants from craiglist and nothing else from

Quality of Applicants

Now, I have no idea about the quality of applicants from the craigslist
, but the quantity is certainly better than LinkedIn’s
0. We’ll have to see if/once we get any of them in here.

The person who contacted me through LinkedIn (who wasn’t interested
in the actual position, just establishing contact with a BMC person)
seemed well seasoned from his profile. But, again, he wasn’t applying
for the job I’d posted, so his application didn’t score points for

Past experience with

We got one of our current employees from another
want-ad I put up last summer. She doesn’t work in my group, but from
what I know, her quality turned out to be quite good.

Cost: $95 vs. free

The post I made to LinkedIn was free ’cause I slipped in right
under the wire of the free period for job postings. It’s since gone
up to $95/30 days.

The post I made to, since I was posting to Austin,
was free, as always.

Hypothesis: is better

I’m going to predict that will turn out to be a
better recruiting tool for the position (contract programmer) than
LinkedIn. The reason for this, I think, is that LinkedIn attracts
higher level, non-programmer types. Just surf around in the
Profile-pile, and you’ll see that most people are not “workers,”
they’re usually “management,” or, at least, “sales.”, on the other hand, seems to attract worker
types. I have no idea if it attracts management types.

Grassroots Recruitment & LinkedIn’s Missed Opportunity

BMC offers a referral bonus (in the low $1,000 range) for full-time
employees. That is, if you refer someone who gets accepted for a
full-time job, you get a nice little bonus. So, if you know, or can
, someone to fill an open, full-time position at BMC, it’s well
worth your while to talk with friends, or post your own want ads for

I’m tentatively calling this kind of recruitment “grassroots
recruitment” because it’s not done by the company’s official HR or
recruiters. There’s probably a sexier name to give it. Whatever.

My Experience as a Grassroots Recruiter

Because of the referral bonus, once I started working at BMC, I
would try to get all my programmer/IT friends to apply for open
jobs. So far, I’ve referred two people that way. Once I (and my other
friends) exhausted that pool of people, I started putting up want ads
for open positions. I’ve only done this once, but it brought in a
person who was hired for the job. So, I’ve gotten to referral bonus for
people I knew, and one for someone I found through a want ad.

Now, when it comes to me posting those want ads, I’m not going to
pay to post them. It’s not worth the gamble of me paying my own money
for the possible payout of a bonus fee. So, fits this
perfectly: it costs nothing for me to post but my time. It is
worth my the gable of “spending” my time to post these want ads.

So, therein lies the problem for LinkedIn: if they’re charging
$95/30 days for a want ad, I’ll never use them for recruitment. More
than likely, other individuals at companies won’t use them
either. Only the official channels (HR and recruitment) will use

Which is all to say that LinkedIn’s want-ads will probably only
attract the same listings that other sites have: those posted and paid
for by HR departments. In my opinion, both as a job seeker and recruiter,
that type of posting is the least desirable.

What Job Seekers Want: Real People

If I was looking for a job, I’d want to find posts from individuals
at the company, actual people, that I could start having a
conversation with because:

  • I’d know that if an individual was putting up
    the post, they’d be much more motivated to push my application/resume
    through all the bureaucratic hurdles that the HR department would put
  • More than likely, the individual would just forward my stuff
    directly to the hiring manager.
  • I could ask the individual about the position and get real answers from
    someone who knew.
  • The individual will probably have written a job posting that’s
    much more descriptive and accurate of the position than the official
    listing. Even if the write-up is vague, I could talk to them and get
    good answers (see previous point).

What Recruiters Want: Online Hipsters

The most ideal candidates will be your hard-to-find, smart, online
hipster types. These are the people who not only know what the
difference, in Java, between == and
.equals() is, but also are up to date on all the cool
knew software gadgets, ideas, and trends. You want people who have
fresh and new ideas, and the drive to get them done.

When they’re looking for a job, these kinds of people don’t look
through news paper want ads,, and other dumping grounds of
boiler-plate want ads. They go to places where individuals post want
ads, not where HR people do (well, unless they’re really with-it HR
people ;>). That is, they go to sites where grassroots recruiters
post want ads.

Generally, the people who go to the more traditional want-ad places
are…more traditional people. This might be OK in more traditional
industries, but in software, it’s not the most desirable characteristic
you want…unless you’re someone like SAIC or Lockheed who’s looking
for stable, FBI-vetted people who’ll work for 5-10 years on the same
missile simulators written in ADA. (There’s nothing wrong with that
line of work
, it’s just not my cup of tea.)

LinkedIn’s Missed Opportunity

So, the point is: the people you really want in software aren’t
going to be looking at sites like LinkedIn for jobs because grassroots
recruits aren’t going to pay the $95 to put up a want ad. I predict
that LinkedIn’s want-ads section will just be another dumping ground
for the same old lame want ads you find at monster, dice, yahoo, and
where ever else. It won’t help companies find extremely good software

What LinkedIn Should Do

To grab back the missed opportunity, LinkedIn should offer a free
listing service. Maybe it would only list your want ad for 3-7 days,
limit the description to 200 words or less (not the 4,000 their pay
ads do, if I recall), and do anything else needed to create a pricing
structure where they could offer both free listings and for pay

With this model, they can foster the grassroots recruitment that I
know they want to have: LinkedIn is about social networks, which is
about people talking with other people. By pricing
people like myself out of posting want-ads, they’re eliminating half
of the conversation.

Classifieds In General manages to be a successful classifieds site,
and they got bought by eBay. Any service providing want-ads
and classified would do well to study closely:

  • How is, as a company organized and run such that they
    can offer the majority of their services for free?
  • Why does your company have to charge for listings? Do you have
    too much over-head? Is your software written in too complicated of a
    language requiring lots of money for development and support?
  • Why does attract so many people? It’s free,
    simple, and open. LinkedIn seems to be on the verge of having none of those.

The alternative to learning from craiglist, and changing in
response to that new knowledge
, is to get out-marketed by the
scrappy, but hugely successful site.

Update: this post gets hit with spam comments way too often, so I’ve turned off comments. If you’d like to add a comment, please email me or simply add a link to this post in your own comment on a blog.

Blogines: Changing One Online Life at a Time

Susan explains how bloglines simplified her online reading:

I now go to one place and view all new items only. I no longer visit pages that have content I’ve already seen. I am able to consume far more information far more efficiently. I am quite simply in love with Bloglines.

In an email, she told me that she gets a panics feeling when she sees that a bloglines folder has 97 (or whatever) unread items in it…but then she realized that there’s always been those 97 unread items, it’s just that bloglines knows about them all instead of her having to hunt them down.

Re: Google Calendar

Damn, that’s a good insight. I’ve been longing for a calendar that would fit into my “digital lifestyle”: something with RSS feeds, the ability to make entries private/public/ACL controlled (at least like flickr has with me/family/friends/everyone), integration with Exchange (so I could load up all my work stuff), and sync’able to my iPod and other edge devices when they come around. Not all of those are ever together, so I haven’t really done any calendaring stuff beyond my work Exchange calendar. Even RSSCalendar doesn’t jump out at me as what I want.

All that me-blabbering aside, I like the thought of GMail w/Calendaring being a good SMB/Enterprise combo. If you put security all in it, you’d seal the deal. By “security all in it” I mean:

  • making so that email sent to other GMail people wasn’t “in the clear” like all Internet email is. This would allow you to knock out the concern that hosting all your corp. email would allow anyone who could sniff email to steal all your IP. So, if everyone in the company uses their email on GMail, you can have the same protection that an internal email server would have (where you don’t have to route emails out through the public Internet).
  • SSL up the entire connection to GMail (not just the login) so that people couldn’t sniff out your email while you were connected and reading it.

The other requirement for success would be to offer a free version (supported by TextAds, of course). Google could offer a pay one if they wanted that stripped out ads, added in domain names…whatever. The importance of having a free one is that groups within companies could skunk-works using it without having to go through the whole purchasing and IT gambits to get approval.

Once the groups started using it, everyone saw how damn cool it was, and that it had good ROI, TCO, and all around positive TLA compliance, then the wheels would be sufficiently greased to make it worth your trouble to go through the rigmarole that purchasing and internal IT departments foist on employees who want to pay for and introduce new technologies. It’s easier to officially start using something if you’re already unofficially using it.

And–BAAM!–Google would have another foot in the business-services market.

Text Ads Behind the Firewall

“Eric [Schmidt] had a great quote the other day. He said, ‘When we said all of the world’s information, we meant all.’ So that means FORTUNEs from the 1930s, TV content…there’s very little content we’re not interested in.”

Of course, the more material that can be searched means more opportunities for Google to place ads next to those search results.

The above from a Fortune article on Google got me thinking: what about text ads behind-the-firewall, at work? Sure, that’s kind of like Text Ad Taboo now-a-days (business allowing other business inside their walls to make cash), but only seemingly.

At our work, there’s advertising all around:

  • The TV in the breakroom always tuned to some news channel…with ads.
  • The Coke machines in the breakroom and elsewhere with their big ads for Coke, C2, and whatever else.
  • All the logos and company names on products.
  • All the advertising we see on web pages when try to search for the impossible.

In short, we’re surrounded by ads at work.

Piggybacking on Intranet RSS and Search

So, adding to the idea of adding RSS feeds to existing middleware products (as Baus summed up my post)…when you get all those RSS feeds, you have “more material” to put Text Ads next to. You just somehow have to figure out a way to allow companies to allow you put Text Ads in there: perhaps sharing in the profits just like I share in the profits of having Google Text Ads on my weblog.

Using Text Ads for Internal Advertising

Indeed, if you applied Text Ads behind the firewall, there’s more, new things you could do:

  • Sell ads internally. Different departments, teams, projects, whoever, could buy ads to advertise themselves internally. At large companies, broadcasting that you exist and what you do internally (never mind externally) can be a challenge. I’m not sure you would use real money to sell the ads. Probably something akin to “blue money.” The “KeyMatch” feature of the Google mini seems to do this.
  • More effectively get internal announcements and news out. Most intranet sites at large companies have news articles about goings on at the company. But, you have to go to the intranet sites and read the news. Instead, if these news items were laced in as Text Ads, they’d show up next to relevant feeds and searches that employees subscribed to and read. Meaning, that the employees who “should” be reading those news items would have a higher chance of reading them.

The Headhunters are Already There

There are, of course, problems with ads that the Business wouldn’t want employees to see: ads to join unions, ads for headhunters, or other ads that would be perceived as damaging the business.

The problem with that line of thought is that employees (as outlined above) are already saturated with ads, and they’ll just be seeing more of them in the future. In the information-worker business (and, increasingly in any other line of work in America), businesses that filter their employees information flow just end up looking stupid and clueless.

When it comes to the free-flow of information, what’s good for the goose is (probably) good for the gander.

Re: Why internal blogs don’t make it

Paul Vick lists some reasons why internal MSFT blogs may not be taking off. I’d add another, more positive reason: when it comes to content that can be public, I’d much rather put it on my public weblog than my internal weblog. That is, if I have an interesting link to an external source, or some talk-thinking about software development, I’d rather put it on my public weblog where the whole world can see it, getting me a wider audience.

So, the only content that goes on my internal, work weblog is content that needs to stay hidden from the outside world. There’s not a whole lot of confidential content that I feel the urge to post about, so my public weblog ends up having much more content than my internal, work blog.

It’d be nice if my blogging software, or the blog-o-sphere as a whole, had the infrastructure for me to have “one” weblog that syndicated it’s content to different “physical” weblogs. So, I’d post public stuff, and it’d show up on Or, I could post company-secret stuff, and it’d show up on my internal, work weblog.

Ideally, that system would be loosely coupled enough — like with web services that could reach behind the firewall — that I wouldn’t have to do lowest-common-denominator security and use whatever blogging software my work used. Instead, I’d use whatever blogging software I wanted, and tell it to contact my work’s intranet “blog-o-box” (how ’bout that phrase?) and post my content, making sure not to tie my weblog’s “life” to my employment at the company. Thus, if I were to stop being employed by the company, the non-work parts of my weblog would still exist, safe and sound.

Re: Enterprise Blogging in Practice, Notes

Obviously, I’m glad so many people enjoyed the post. A lot of people focused on my statement that introducing blogs hadn’t been a ragging success. I wouldn’t label the blogs as a failure at all. But, I would say that, as always, change takes much longer than I would hope it would. This is a basic fact of any company of course, things happen slowly, esp. when they’re not the primary focus of the business.

Scale | Free wrote:

So, although it’s probably easier to make the initial beachhead in IT / development and other technical departments, it’s probably harder to get a blogging culture established.

And Lunt said,

In addition, the reality is that change in an established company isn’t quick. The blog system takes time to establish a trust base and move people into using it. The ROI sell isn’t as obvious as email.

It Just Takes Time

On the other hand, as each week goes by, the blogs seem to be getting more traction, and are becoming a more useful tool for those who use them to manage their presence and efforts in the company.

So, I think that
should get your hopes up. Just be patient when everyone in the company
isn’t blogging the second day after you install the blogging software ;>

Blogging Frequency

Ed also raised this interesting point, that I’ve noticed is very true for myself as well:

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve noticed that my blogging tends to rise during peak stress times, it’s almost cathartic, and oftentimes makes me more productive in aggregate. But, as with other contrarian realizations, you probably don’t expect the Pointy-Haired Bosses to get it, so you just post to your offsite blog instead of the enterprise blog where you could actually post useful information.


I also noted that figuring out how to integrate blogging into daily work life has been challenging. My co-workers and I have tried out several aggregators, of various types, and I we’re finally (after all this time) settling on NewsGator Outlook Edition. We’re evaluating the trial, and we’ll probably purchase it if we end up liking it.

I thought I wouldn’t like it — simply because it lives in Outlook…I hate Outlook — but I think it does an excellent job of seamlessly integrating RSS reading into daily work life…despite being in Outlook ;> It has a few UI features that annoy the crap out of me (like opening up that news Page all the time when I accidentally click something), but overall I really like it.

As we use that tool more, I’m sure I’ll have more to report.

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Enterprise Blogging in Practice, Notes

In addition sparking off some thoughts about RSS security, the most recent Gillmor Gang got me to thinking that I should write-up my experiences with blogging behind the firewall, or “Enterprise Blogging” to use a trade-raggy phrase.

(I don’t like tooting my own horn, so pardon any tooting you hear. It’s not intentional.)

Setting Up the Blogs

A little under a year ago or so, I started experimenting with weblogs behind the firewall. I setup an instance of Pebble on one of my spare machines and asked a net-admin type to create an alias, “blogs” for the machine. So, folks on our intranet could type “blogs” into their web browser, and see a list of all the weblogs and their RSS feeds.

I didn’t ask anyone, or allocate time for it, I just installed it and told people in my group about it. This had worked out well 3 or so years ago when I setup a wiki, and at a previous company where I’d setup another wiki.

Eventually, I switched over to an instance of Roller, which had built in support for people signing up for their own accounts (Pebble didn’t, I had to manually create an account each time). Roller also has more editors and, so far, has been easy to extend with a JSP page here and there.

There’s executive sponsorship for the blogs (since last Fall), but there isn’t anyone whose job it is to take care, maintain, or develop them.

Current Use

Last I checked, we had about 80 people signed up for a weblog. A small percentage of those are “active” posters. Lots of people sign up for an account, make an initial post, and then never post again. A small subset of people post several times a day. And the largest segment of people post once a week or so.

At the department level, I wouldn’t say the blogs have been a wide-reaching, ragging success, primarily because people don’t post to them as much as you’d hope. However, for the people who do post to and read the blogs,
they’ve been very successful

What People Post

  • News stories in our industry and about our company.
  • Status of various test and performance clusters. So, instead of having to send out emails or answer phones all the time, you can say, “just subscribe to the performance cluster weblog. It’s always up-to-date with performance test status.”
  • Brain-storming about strategy, feature sets, and process.
  • Sharing customer visit/phone call notes.
  • The “I exist” posts. Like I said, a lot of people just post one initial, “I’m here!” post and then disappear.
  • Soliciting ideas/help. For example, one person recently posted the age old question, “when should I use wikis vs. weblogs?”
  • Off-topic posts, like pictures of stars (the space ones, not the Hollywood types) or what the frozen burgers in the freezer look and taste like.

Except for very early on (when I did them), other than the performance status posts, there hasn’t been a lot of “status update” posting. I thought that’d be the primary use of the blogs, but people haven’t taken to that use-case at all.

Problems with Blogs Behind the Firewall

The “problems” with “blogs for work” have been almost identical to the problems with wikis for work.

Most all of the problems have to do with getting lots of people to buy into, then read and post to the weblogs. There are, of course, some technical problems, but the bulk of them are related to pushing the blogs into the Plateau of Productivity…I don’t know if we’ve even reached the Peak of Inflated Expectations yet ;>

Here’s the problems I can think of, along with possible solutions, gotchas, lessons learned, and other notes that might be helpful to other people doing blogs behind the firewall:

Lack of time to maintain and work on blogs

Anyone in IT now-a-days is doing the work of 2-4 people. We’ve all got deadlines for other things. Finding the time to work on the weblogs, to do even the simplest 1/2 hour task, is extremely difficult. As such, technologically, the weblogs are pretty much frozen in the state I initially installed them in/at. For example, we need to move them to a better server, but there’s no time for that.

Unless you can get the time, the lesson learned here is to make the initial cut of your blogs install as ideal as possible. Get the beefiest server you can, the best blogging software, etc. If you’re lucky enough to find the time to set it up initially, more than likely, you won’t have time to improve it later. The biggest blogging software feature I’d suggest (other than the basics like RSS), is the ability for users to create their own accounts.

Holding Their Cards Close

Unless you’re working in an extremely dynamic, fresh-faced, Tom Peter’ed-up company, your co-workers aren’t going to be used to the concept of sharing information. Put another way, the idea of writing a blog post about what they’re working on, their ideas, or anything else is going to seem weird, foreign, and maybe even un-professional to your co-workers. People won’t post.

A small group of people, of course, will
“get it.”
So far, hoping for some sort of tipping point effect, I’ve just been trying to encourage and participate in the “discussions” that these people have: commenting on their posts, emailing them, or just talking to them in the hall. The corporate world is still in the early stages of the idea that blogging behind the firewall is natural and normal. Like I said, we’re probably not even at The Peak yet.

Hiding Out

On the flip-side of the adoption problem is the “oh shit, now people are actually going to read this!” problem. In the early, early stages of the blogging (when it was just me and 3-4 other people doing it), there was one person who posted very frequently, almost every day. But, as the blogs got more popular (when the executive sponsor sent an email to everyone in his department about them), that same person pretty much stopped posting.

They didn’t want to get in trouble for saying something.

I completely understand that. In any large organization, you have no idea who’s reading your stuff or what power they could wield to make your work-life difficult. It’s not quite that cynical of a situation, but, the point is, if you’re one of the only people posting, you realize how wide an audience you might have, and you start to get more cautious. Once more and more people start posting, creating more noise to “hide” in, this person will probably start posting more. I’m sure there are many other people in the company like that.

Too Much Noise

Another odd problem, considering the number of people posting, is that many readers have told me that there are too many posts from some people. For example, there are about 5-10 performance test status posts and news clippings posts a day. The front page of the blogs lists the most recent 10 (or 15?) posts, so it’s easy for those high frequency/quantity posts to cloud out others.

The solution to this is for readers to use aggregators: the can subscribe to feeds they’re interested in, and ignore the rest. Which brings up the next issue…

Aggregators Behind the Fire-wall

bloglines won’t work behind the fire-wall; and in it’s current state, you wouldn’t want it to. So, you have to find an alternative, which is pretty hard in the MS-Windows world. I’ve tried (in order) AmphetaDesk, SharpReader, Sage, and NewsGator Outlook Edition.

So far, I like the last one, NewsGator, the most: it integrates well with Outlook, it’s easy, and it doesn’t look weird. I’m trying to get the company to spring for some licenses, otherwise I might just buy one myself.

Sage is OK, but it’s not “independent” enough (you have to have Firefox’s history turned on, for example). SharpReader is actually a really good product, but I don’t like always having that separate application open. AmphetaDesk was just DOA for me.

As with any blazin’-hot technology, the problem with aggregators is getting people to know about them, and then use them. When I find the next slice of time, I’m going to use Camtasia (or whatever else) to record a screencast of installing and using NewsGator. I’ll put a link with big red letters on the main blogs page and hope people read it and think, “Ah-ha! That’s what I need!

There’s No Google Behind the Fire-wall

By far, the biggest problem with blogs behind the fire-wall is that there’s no Google behind the firewall. Without Google-quality search on your intranet (near real-time and full indexing, quick search results, page-rank, etc.), it’s extremely hard to find anything on the intranet let alone blog posts on relevant topics.

Search, from my seat, is a massive problem in the enterprise. If there’s one technology that indeed would make a difference to a company, it’d be getting good search behind the fire-wall. Companies have so much information on their intranets, but their employees can’t find any of it.

For the blogs, this means it’s hard to find posts and it’s harder to get discovered by people. Think of how many blogs or websites you’ve found when you’re searching for stuff in Google. That doesn’t happen on intranets: you have to know what you’re looking for, and where it is to “find” it.

My hope is to use Nutch to solve this problem. I’ve only had time to play around with it for a day, many months ago, but the results of that little proto-type were extremely positive. See below for another aspect of this problem when it comes to installing things like Nutch.

There is no Blog-o-sphere Behind the Fire-wall

The lack of good search behind the fire-wall is such a huge problem that I wanted to call it out on it’s own. But, it’s just a specific instance of a more abstract problem: all of the loosely coupled services “public” bloggers rely on don’t exist in the enterprise. There’s no Feedburner to keep track of your circulation; there’s no Flickr to easily host, share, and comment on pictures (diagrams) and other media; there’s no to keep track of bookmarks, and pursue other people’s bookmarks; there’s no Technorati, PubSub, or Feedster to connect together and surf through the blog-o-sphere.

You get the idea: there’s no services to help augment blogging.

Old Money Solutions

Companies like to spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars on the enterprise software they use. So, you might have sunk a ton of money into Vignette, and you’ve probably bought one of those enterprise licenses from Microsoft, so you’ve “paid for” SharePoint.

When all that money has been spent, it’s hard to all the sudden say, “oh, I guess we didn’t need to spend all that money…we can just install this (near) free software and get the same effect.” It looks bad, real bad, if you’ve convinced the purse-holder to part with some serious cash, and then you all the sudden decide you didn’t actually need to spend all that money.

So…when you suggest using blogs, you get answers like, “doesn’t SharePoint do that?” Or, “we’ve spent a lot of money of X already. Shouldn’t we use that?”

There’s really no way getting around this. You just have to install your blog system, and let it sell itself.


The most annoying problem so far has been the care and feeding of the blogs box. Like I said, I just installed it on an extra box I had in my office. The machine isn’t the strongest horse in the stable. Every now and then, the box crashes, and I have to restart it.

This’ll happen with any software, but at a company, you usually have people who make sure your enterprise applications are running smoothly, restarting them if needed. (Indeed, those are exactly the people my company makes software for.)

When you’re just skunk-working blogs on your own, you’re those people. You’re the one who’ll need to restart the box when it crashes.

Luckily for me, many of the people in my group are as enthusiastic about blogs as I am. They help out, a lot. So, when I went on a two week’s vacation, I got three of them to be the “blog nannies”: if the box went down, they’d go fix it. And, in fact, they had to reset the box once.

What About Your experiences?

I’ve been kicking these ideas around in my head for some time. Lots of the people you see in my blogroll have too. I’m hoping that by sharing them, I’ll get other people to share similar experiences with blogging behind the fire-wall.

As I was listening to that Gillmor Gang episode, I realized how much of the kool-aid I’d drank. Everything they said about enterprise blogging seemed old hand and taken-for-granted to me. Or, as Brandon‘s described this feeling before, “Yup. Welcome to the party.” I don’t really even feel like there’s a need to sell the idea anymore: it’s just self-evident that it’s a good idea.

Of course, like I said, I’ve had a whole trash-can, if not more, of the blogging kool-aid. And I had it a long, long time ago. I know all this isn’t obvious, or even true, for huge amounts of people.

So, what are your experiences with blogging behind the fire-wall? What are your thoughts on how effective/productive/good it is or could be? Does any of this even make sense?

Followup: see
my follow up post

Folksonomy (Tagging) in Practice

Steve alluded to recently
, I like tagging. A lot. Brandon used to poke fun at me (rightly so) from time-to-time about it.

So, as it’s become more “mainstream” (I’m sooo cool for liking it before it cool. Yay me.), what are some of the practices people have been using, or seen people using? By “practices,” I mean a things like:

  • Do you use the plural or singular? For example, would you use “friend” or “friends“? I try to always use the plural, figuring I’m not just tagging one instance of a friend, but all instances of my friends.
  • How generalized do you get? For example, if I find a link about XP, obviously, I’ll tag it with “xp.” But, I’ll also tag it with “agile,” the sort of “conceptual parent” of XP. I wouldn’t however, tag it with something even more general like “software.” How ’bout you?
  • On places like flickr, how do you feel about tagging other people’s photos? I didn’t realize this ’till Robert and I were hunting down some privacy settings for his photos, but by default, your friends and family can add tags to your flickr photos. They can’t delete other people’s tags though. I’d be happy for people to add tags to my photos, but I’m not sure how other people would feel about it.
  • If you’re tagging a bookmark to a story
    about the Symantec-Veritas merge
    , would you use both “symantic” and “veritas,” or just one or the other? (I used just “symantic“). An all too easy answer to this one would be, “if you want to be able to look up the bookmark by searching for/using veritas, you’d add veritas.” Yeah. As my dad would say, “no shit, Sherlock.”
  • How strict are you about how “close” a tag is to describing the thing being tagged. For example, I have a real strong urge (that I act on sometimes) to categorize anything about XML syndication as “rss,” whether it’s about ATOM or “true” RSS. You might call this “The Xerox Problem.” I’ve thought I should use something more general like “feeds,” but I don’t.
  • When, if ever, do you use abbreviations for tags? For example, instead of “philosophy,” I always use “phl.”
  • When do you “let yourself” not tag something?

I’m sure I could come up with more. That’s a question in itself for everyone as well, what questions, ideas, “open issues,” and thoughts do you have about tagging

Tags: ,

Tags: , .

Converted RSS Feed

My feed seems to be behaving correctly (not putting in repeat posts), at least in bloglines for the past month or so. So, I’ve converted my old RSS feed over to the new one, I setup a redirect, so you shouldn’t need to change any of your subscriptions: you can still use the old URL.

I like the Feedburner feed better because it splices together this weblog, my bookmarks, and my photos. Recently, I’ve been using the bookmarks as a sort of link blog: it’s easier to post quick links with rather than Consequently, I don’t post on this weblog as much as I used to. So, with the spliced feed, I’d hope, you can get more frequent content from me.

I also like the Feedburner feed because it has quick and easy stats reporting like the below (click to enlarge): Stats Screenshot

As you can see, it’s smart enough to figure out that the one request from bloglines represents 57 readers. It also tracks click throughs (when people click from their aggregater to go to the actual website). Since I publish full posts in my feed, this stat isn’t too interesting: I don’t think most people click through, I know I don’t.

If you have any problems, just leave a comment below and we’ll figure something out.

Re: Book Idea: XmlHttpRequest Enabled Web Pages, or, Pull Web Pages

Steve O’Grady expands on his XmlHttpRequest bookmarks, responding to
one of my posts from this weekend

The opportunity? Well, again, there are many, but if I was an XML datastore provider like iPedo, Sleepycat, Software AG, or soon, IBM, I’d be looking for iTunes-like sexy opportunities out there to get developers excited.

What’s most interesting to me? The cross-platform nature of the technique. IE has XMLHTTPRequest – and indeed pioneered it – but so do Firefox and Safari. This means that any solution provider who elects to can support virtually anyone on any platform. I think Coté’s right – there is a book in here somewhere, though not for me.

Also, it’s cool that Steve noticed the post, and kept the idea-thread going from his bookmarks, to

my post
, and now to his. I know that’s how this crazy weblog/RSS/social software stuff is supposed to work, but it’s rare, for me, to see it happen.

Book Idea: XmlHttpRequest Enabled Web Pages, or, Pull Web Pages

Since I’ve been writing the book, I’ve been having lots of thoughts about other books to write. It’s that same effect where, for example, someone points out a new type of shoe that you’ve never seen before, and then all the sudden you notice that “everyone” is wearing that shoe.

Push and Pull HTTP

Anyhow, I was looking through Steve’s links, and noticed that he had several bookmarks for XmlHttpRequest,
the JavaScript object that allows you to make HTTP requests in web pages, allowing web pages to pull content instead of just have web servers push content down to them. This is how GMail does it’s magic (according to Charles Miller…I haven’t dissected the source myself).

That all got me thinking that a book focusing on the use of “pull web pages” would be pretty damned interesting. It’d probably be about the size of the XML-RPC book. There’re more ways to do “web page pulling” than with the XmlHttpRequest, and there are, indeed, a handful of “patterns” and plenty of “gotchas” involved with it.

About 2 years ago when we were confronted with “GUI’ing” up our web interface at work, most of us outright rebelled at the concept of web page pulling: I must have said numerous times that it was heretical, or an abomination, or something like that. But, after having used GMail for about a year, I like the idea now. GMail’s so damn cool and works so damn well, and I want web applications I make to work be like it. Google’s new suggest feature is another good example of “web page pulling” that I think is really cool.

I don’t really have any time to work on a book like that until Chip and I finish
the JAAS book. But, if someone’s interested, I’d be thrilled to brainstorm on it. We could probably whip up a rough proposal and outline/ToC in about a week’s worth of calendar time.

Blogs Strike Again

“What’s fascinating about the Jon Stewart takedown of ‘Crossfire’ is not just what he said, but how his message got distributed,” Jarvis wrote. “The really stupid thing is that CNN didn’t do this themselves: ‘Hey, we had a red-hot segment…you should watch; here, please, look at this free download because it will promote our (hosts) and our brand and our show and give us a little of that Stewart hip heat.’ That’s what CNN should have done. Instead, they’ll charge you to deliver a videotape (what’s that?) the next day.”

“Jon Stewart ‘Crossfire’ feud ignites Net frenzy”