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

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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”

Big Time Blogging

an article from Business 2.0

In theory, at least, blogs are a marketer’s dream. That’s because — unlike burning through millions of dollars on TV or print advertising campaigns — they are a virtually cost-free way to communicate with customers. And not just any customers. These are self-selected hard-core fans of a particular trend, hobby, idea, or product. “Bloggers are an incredibly influential consumer segment,” says Technorati CEO David Sifry. “These people are huge networkers. They get the word out quickly on products they like — and don’t like.”…The chief blog marketing goal, then: Create a community of knowledgeable insiders. “Done right, consumers will do all the marketing for the company — forwarding the information they found to their friend and encouraging others to visit,” says Lydia Snape, Internet services director for New York agency Renegade Marketing.

And then this note about Schwartz’s weblog:

Sun COO Jonathan’s Schwartz’s take no-prisoners style of blogging has apparently pushed Hewlett-Packard execs past their boiling points. According to a report on, HP has written a letter to Sun demanding that Schwartz remove HP from the target list of his sharp-tounged Web log commentaries.

Fear in Software Development

In software development, fear is what drives much of the smoke-screening and mirroring that occurs. These tactics have lots of names like “CYA” (Cover Your Ass), or the generic “politics,” and they all negatively effect the development of software. Software development is primarily about figuring out what the hell it is the customer wants implemented, and then how to implement it, both code- and schedule-wise. Put broadly, software development is figuring out unknowns or, as they say, solving problems. It’s hard to solve problems when the set of positive data and other inputs you have is filtered and limited.

If it’s true that the negative stuff above is caused primarily by fear then, it’d be handy to know what those fears are so you can address them. Here’s a list from

Planning Extreme Programming

Customers are afraid that:

  • They won’t get what they asked for.
  • They’ll ask for the wrong thing.
  • They’ll pay too much for too little.
  • They must surrender control of their career to techies who don’t care.
  • They won’t ever see a meaningful plan.
  • The plans they do see will be fairy tales.
  • They won’t know what’s going on.
  • They’ll be held to their first decisions and won’t be able to react to changes in the business.
  • No one will tell them the truth.

Developers are afraid that:

  • They will be told to do more than they know how to do.
  • They will be told to do things that don’t make sense.
  • They are too stupid.
  • They are falling behind technically.
  • They’ll be given responsibility without authority.
  • They won’t be given clear definitions of what needs to be done.
  • They’ll have to sacrifice quality for deadlines.
  • They’ll have to solve hard problems without help.
  • They won’t have enough time to succeed.

(Thanks to Joe’s Wiki for the original transcription of the above.)

In addition to the human tactics (talking to people) of overcoming this fear, using tools that encourage transparency helps too. There’s a huge chicken-and-egg problem, of course, with those tools: if people are afraid, they have to get over their fear to start using the tools that help reduce their fear. My opinion is my usual “whatever <shrug> better to try than to sulk.”

Also, when check out this short post on transparency in the business end of things.

Transparency, XPlanner, Making Dates

Once I asked an IBM employee that worked on the Eclipse project (a dev) how they could turn around builds so quickly and he said roughly paraphrasing “my current boss, most likely my next boss, and all my friends know what I said I’d do because it’s right there in the specs on the web. If I miss my dates, everyone knows.” As much as some might argue that (as Tom points out in his article) “familiarity breeds contempt,” I believe that transparency breeds accountability, understanding, and ultimately more buy-in to what we are trying to accomplish together.

“Transparency, snowmobiling, and other potentially dangerous, but rewarding endeavors?”

This reminds me of something interesting Alistair Cockburn said in his ITConversations interview:

[P]eople find in the Agile projects there’s no place to hide. And you get the weak developers, the pompous developers, you get people who just fill space. They get pushed out really fast, because it’s “show up and contribute or get out of the way” and some people have said, “There’s just no place for the weak people to hide.”

We’ve slowly been adopting XPlanner at work — we’re just using it to track our backlog now. Essentially, it’s a scaled down MS-Project on the web, except it’s XP-centric so there’s stories, iterations, and all sorts of funky XP-talk instead of the usual project-management jargon.

Anyhow, what makes XPlanner “transparent” is that everyone can see what everyone else is working on, their estimates, and their progress. People tend to cringe at this at first. Indeed, I’ve heard some stories of XPlanner going horribly wrong: if you show this stuff to people who don’t understand software development (it’s not just 8 hours solid everyday of typing away at the keyboard…shocking, I know. I thought it’s be just like factory work too!) they start using it to track the coders in a bad way, and then people start putting in bogus data, and it’s useless as anything but a check list.

Back to the point: one of my more interesting philosophy professors had a pet theory that shame was an incredibly effective tool in keeping society together. In fact, he said, it’s not used as much as it could be. People can be motivated to Do The Right Thing to avoid feeling ashamed at having done something wrong, or, feeling ashamed at having failed to do something. Of course, it works ex post facto as well: if you feel ashamed at something you’ve done, you’re likely to fix it.

The connection between transparency and shame is put well in a phrase much favored now-a-days:
“sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Which is to say, brining it back to software, with everything schedule-wise out in the open, as XPlanner provides, people are (probably) going to do higher quality work than if everything was locked up in an MS-Project file or spreadsheet somewhere.

Don’t confuse using XPlanner with the broader point here. That point being: in 90% of the cases in software development, the more knowledge that’s “public” in your team, the better off the resulting software and process will be.

Making Hay from the IM Stupid Network

As you may remember, AOL and Yahoo! closed
down their Enterprise IM a few weeks ago
. It

looks like they got a good deal from
: instead of having to create and support their own infrastructure, MS will
just allow their clients to talk to their IM Server, and:

Microsoft will pay AOL and Yahoo a royalty for connecting
to LCS. The companies declined to elaborate on whether these payments
will be based on the number of LCS users connecting to AOL and Yahoo.

You have to think this setup made it easier for the biz people to
tank their own IM servers. Now, instead of taking on the risk of
creating and marketing their own IM servers, they can concentrate on
their “public” IM clients. The more people that use the public
clients, the more money they make from the MS IM Server. Seems like a
good deal to me.

For Microsoft, it helps get over the tipping-point hurdle of IM in
the Enterprise: there’s a certain number of people you need using
compatible IM before it’s useful (and worth paying for). That
is, if you have 1000 workers, and 1/3 of them use AOL, a 1/3 of them
use MSN, and a 1/3 of them use Yahoo!, IM’s not really that useful. No
one’s going to want to lay out the cash for an IM server that only works
for a 1/3 of your people.

But, if all of those clients (or a majority of them) can
interoperate, you can get actual value from paying for the
server. And, of course, there’s all sorts of other features you can
build into applications (like Office), e.g.,:

if Outlook’s calendar shows a person in a meeting, it can
route voice calls to that person’s cell phone. Or, if someone sends an
IM to a user, the software can then prompt a Net phone call and record
a voice message.

Again, if only a 1/3 of your people can benefit from this, when a
sales rep is trying to sell you on Office 2050 with this feature,
you’ll say “so what, Office 2000 works fine, no need to upgrade.”
But, if everyone can benefit, then it’s a much better selling

Anyhow, point being: it seems like a shrewd move, for all parties
involved, to allow their IM’s to interoperate. I guess it’s one of
those “everyone can benefit from the stupid network” things.

Wipro CEO Interview, Innovation, CMM Level 5, Input Bias, Workspace

  • eWeek Interview with Wipro CEO – interviews with offshore execs are always interesting. They’re becoming less defensive in response to the usual “you’re taking away jobs” question/claim, instead suggesting that it’s not their fault, but the fault of the country that’s leaking jobs, for example,

    To every one of the millions of unemployed people in the U.S., that job created in India looks like that was “my job.” So, there is an issue of a job lost here is a job created there. As a result, there has been an enormous magnification of how much impact outsourcing has had. The second is, as a result of the type of economic recovery being made in [the US], companies are not willing to open up the gates to hiring. Now you take that circumstance that in a political year it becomes a platform issue. It doesn’t matter whether it’s right or wrong, it’s a political platform. You will see this issue being politicized because of the perception of “that’s my job sitting over there.”

  • “The Offshore Proposition” – in a related column, Lundquist brings up the point that all this IT stuff might be too expensive (thus, prone to lower costs by offshoring) by design:

    Somewhere along the line, service stopped being, well, a service and started being a profit center. Once the bean counters took hold of the equation, they started to look for ways to charge users more for service while having their company pay less for it. The next thing you know, you’re talking to someone in Manila about your cranky computer. Designing systems that don’t need service because they work as expected would be the best service offering vendors could develop.

    And, as alluded to in the above interview Vivek Paul, if offshorers can create such services, they’ll start their own product lines,

    Once the offshore companies realize they have the business development, design, manufacturing and service skills, they’ll begin asking themselves just what their U.S. partners are bringing to the table. This will bring about the emergence of new competitors among companies that were once partners, which, I predict, will be a hallmark of the technology market over the next year.

  • Bursting the CMM Hype:

    [W]hat matters is what’s behind the impressive-looking number. Is there a verifiable commitment to quality, process and training? Can companies demonstrate improvements they’ve made over time in customer delivery times, developer productivity and defect density? Will the project managers that went through the assessment be assigned to your project? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then a CMM Level 5 isn’t worth much.

  • Bias Beware – an interview discussing “input bias,” how the selection of information you’re given can lead to incorrect results. The ideas mix well with the bike shed by committee problem, for example,

    People’s judgments often depend on how easy it is to evaluate something. If it’s easy to measure the outcome, we may not rely on input measures. If someone is performing in the Olympics, their time is a clear measure of how they did. But in other cases, such as judging how innovative a pharmaceutical company is, it’s harder to reach a decision. So you might rely on whatever objective measures are available, such as how many patents the company has. But in reality, that’s not a good measure because more patents are filed for small modifications of existing compounds, and there aren’t really that many big blockbuster drugs involved.

  • Workspace Survey – most people give their workspace a C.

Links: Open Source Research, Dell Systems Management, Google Stickyness

  • Research Shows Effectiveness of Open Source Model of Developmentthe homepage for the research group has lots of interesting looking papers. The othe research groups at the ISR look interesting as well.
  • Dell Pushes Management Standards:

    [Customers] have to choose to invest in multiple proprietary vertically integrated management stacks from each of the vendors for their hardware in parallel to the management they’re using to manage their operating system and application deployment. That increases their costs of managing the environment. If they don’t do that, then ultimately they are locked into one or, if they’re lucky, two vendors, and have to live with the decisions that vendor makes, which won’t always be optimized to the business problem that they’re trying to solve inside their industry.

    We [in the high-tech industry] have tried to out-innovate each other, but ultimately that has driven up the cost of ownership for customers.

  • Google Stickiness, Command Line Interface to the Web:

    Google has decided that its customers should gather information through inputs of text search terms by using more or less the same simple interface to search for news, things to buy, or any other topic. That’s a small but important distinction. Google assumes that customers are smart enough to learn to search with words rather than with the graphical and pull-down menus used by most of its competitors. That’s an understandable bet. Google has gone from upstart to Internet star with a business plan based on that assumption.

    This is an interesting point: Google really is a command line interface (CLI) to the web. Well, of course, a sort of modern day CLI that’s done through a web browser instead of a shell. Nonetheless, it’s wide use and popularity gives hope that the optimist have been right about everyone being able to use CLI’s. They’re so much quicker (at least, for simple tasks) once you figure them out.

    Also of interest, and alluded to, is the extremely loose coupled architecture of Google’s services. To “integrate” with feeds and UPS tracking they didn’t have to exchange code with either of those companies, Google just used the most brilliant and simple RPC ever: the URL…and, implicitly, HTTP.

    There’s also this interesting marketing note:

    At the same time, being included among Google’s services could become a key selling point for companies such as FedEx. It’s not that much of a hassle to go directly to the DHL Web site to track packages shipped on that FedEx competitor. But when anyone can check package status directly from the Google toolbar, that constitutes a nice little edge for FedEx or UPS. In the brutally competitive package-shipping business, that small advantage can have a big impact.

Links: The Future, Prototyping, Combat Metrics, and Chinese Standards

  • Marc Benioff, of talks about The Future – another of those “tell us about the future” interviews…quite long, though.
  • Prototyping Toys:

    Two-and-a-half-years ago, Little Tikes could not show off a toy until six months before it hit the shelves. The company now demonstrates what the product is supposed to look like as much as a year ahead of time using stereo lithography. The difference, according to Little Tikes president Rory Leyden, is that only 60% of new products used to meet the company’s profit projections. Now, two-and-a-half years later, the success rate is 96%.

    Also of interest is that their documentation process is composed of MS Office files (Word, Excel, etc.) and SharePoint.

  • When Using Metrics is Wrong:

    “The issue of quantifying success in counterinsurgency operations is a fool’s errand,” said one officer based in Baghdad. “It is great for business management, but not for the conduct of war. It is something that is questionable in conventional warfare and downright dangerous in unconventional warfare, simply because it will force you into taking actions based on that which is to be measured and not on what needs to be done.”

    (Link from Ascription is an anathema to any enthusiasm.)

  • More In Depth Discusion on China Making it’s own “Standards” – as I’ve linked to other posts, China is starting to make up it’s own standards. Also found at Ascription is an anathema to any enthusiasm.

IRS Lost it’s Wallet in El Segundo, Finger Pointing Theatre

There are several articles about the IRS’s IT revamping, done by outside contractors lead (?) by CSC, getting out of hand 2 years into a 5 year schedule. They’re not very in depth, e.g.,:

“Both the IRS and CSC get blamed for failing to establish an environment of trust, confidence and teamwork between themselves. In fact, the report states, the opposite is true, leading to a tense and inefficient working environment and regular finger pointing. The report also criticizes the IRS and CSC for laying down an unrealistic program schedule.”

I can’t find The Report either at the IRS Oversight Board Website, though, there are some other interesting looking things there.

CNET has more (from the NYTimes):

The IRS says it can still process returns and send out refunds on time, but its dependence on the 1960s-era Assembler and Cobol computer languages makes it difficult to investigate and resolve taxpayers’ problems. Finding a record using the existing system can take a week; the new system is supposed to do the job in seconds.

. . .

Paul M. Cofoni, president of the Computer Sciences unit running the project…, said “in the early part of the program, we did a poor job of defining” what needed to be done. But that was in large measure because the IRS had no records of many changes to its old system, he said, and was reluctant to approve specifications for the new system until it could be sure that it would be able to find and display all the old information.

. . .

Five years into the project, some aspects are as much as 27 months behind schedule.

It looks like they’ve encountered Glass’s top two reasons for software project failure: missing requirements (and the inability to adapt to “finding” them re: schedule and over-all project re-jiggering), and, bad estimates (and the lack of revising the almost usefullness initial estimates throughout the projects).