Monday, December 31, 2007

Reading :: A Whole New Mind

A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age
By Daniel Pink

In this book on the rising importance of conceptual work, Daniel Pink passionately argues that we have overemphasized left-brain thinking (sequence and details; text; science, mathematics, logic) over right-brain thinking (simultaneity; context; synthesis; the arts). And Pink models this sort of thinking as well, perhaps to his detriment. Pink strikes me as one of those exceptionally bright people who nevertheless emphasize breadth over depth, skimming over details and hastily synthesizing a big picture with an easy-to-grasp dichotomy (right vs. left, text vs. context, logic vs. creativity). It's this rush to develop a big picture that really damages the book: Pink uses headlines from a number of fields and personal anecdotes from his own drawing classes as evidence for this rapidly developing big picture, but fails to notice or try to reconcile opposing views or the subtle differences among the experts he cites.

Scott Berkun recently read this book as well -- the later paperback version, not the hardback that I read -- and posted his devastating review. I won't repeat that work here, but I will add that very bright people tend to be susceptible to grand unifying explanations such as this one. It takes some patience to be skeptical and to sound out the disagreements and incoherences among your sources when you think you see a big picture emerging, and often the impulse is to sweep those disagreements under the rug. Unfortunately, Pink was not able to summon this patience. Fortunately, someone -- probably the editor -- blunted the book's obvious conclusion by inserting hedges: rather than baldly stating that right-brain activities will be ascendant in the new economy, the book usually states that both halves of the brain will be equally important and that sequence, logic, and details will continue to have a place.

Friday, December 28, 2007


OpenTeams is web-based collaborative software that includes wiki-like collaborative documents. It stores documents in dynamic team folders, organized by tags, and also supports outlining and plogging. From the website:
To become an agile, innovative, Entrepreneurial Organization, employee engagement is essential. Business leaders are frustrated with email and groupware because it doesn't break through the bureaucracy - usually it creates more. In addition to project collaboration, blogging, social networking, community building, and knowledge management, OpenTeams is an innovative initiative development solution where employees collaboratively seed and mature new ideas for additional revenue, productivity, and cost-savings.

Unlike normal wikis, which suffer from user apathy and confusion, OpenTeams is intuitive for non-techies to learn and use. Its simple email-like interface makes it easy to create, organize, and navigate content while transparently tracking changes. This dramatically shrinks the learning curve and ensures adoption while ramping up productivity, payback, and employee engagement.
Looks like a Jotspot competitor, but with no milestones component.

OpenTeams - Collaborative Innovation for The Entrepreneurial Organization

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Powerset' open search box in pre-alpha

Powerset, which is working on a natural language search engine, has launched a pre-alpha version for people who have been invited to test its product. The search engine processes your question, such as "What are the symptoms of rabies?" (I watched an Office rerun last night), and searches Wikipedia for appropriate answers.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Socialstream research, user studies, and design

I just blogged about a capstone MA project at Carnegie-Mellon called Socialstream, which seems to be a prototype of the Universal Activity Streams concept that Google will launch next year. The Socialstream team has done a good job of high-level documentation on its research process, including user profiles, contextual inquiry, and iterative design. It tends to overdetermine user types, based on a quick reading, but still it's a nice example of an interface design process.


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Google' Universal Activity Streams

Google's OpenSocial will include support for "universal activity streams," which sound a lot like Facebook's Beacon feeds in that they dump your actions across all OpenSocial partners into a unified feed. Longtime readers may recognize this as an evolution of the lifestreams concept that has been floating around for a decade. And in fact it appears to have a more direct connection  with a project at Carnegie-Mellon called Socialstream.

The big difference with Beacon is that the universal activity streams are not to be commercial in nature. So theoretically it won't broadcast when you buy that Tears for Fears album.

Launch expected in February or March.
These “universal activity streams” are meant to combine all actions you take online, similar to Facebook’s Beacon, and present them as a line of text in your personal activity feed on Google or an OpenSocial partner site like MySpace or Bebo. Within Google, for instance, these feeds could appear in Gmail, iGoogle, or Google Reader. The universal activity stream is expected to launch around February or March of next year. [...]

For Google, “activity streams” were always part of the plan. In fact, developers already can create similar “activity streams” for their applications. Since launch, OpenSocial’s documentation (see here) has always included support for activity streams that report on a user’s action to whatever host the developer chooses. They are consumable through a widget based on OpenSocial’s activity stream API. But Google currently specifies that these streams are not to be commercial in nature[.]
Google Poaching Beacon Partners For “Universal Activity Stream”

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The most extraordinary thing about the Duran Duran concert

Yes, I went to see Duran Duran last week at the Austin Music Center. I am not really what you would call a fan, but my companion was, so we went to the (appallingly unfinished) AMC to catch the band. The most striking thing about the concert -- besides the fact that they didn't play Hungry Like the Wolf -- wasn't on stage, it was in the crowd. Here's what things looked like before the band took the stage:

Empty stage at Duran Duran concert
And here's how it looked once the band took the stage:
Duran Duran takes the stage
 Duran Duran - left side of crowd Duran Duran - right side of crowd
Dozens and dozens of mobile devices snapped open and started taking pictures and video. And they stayed open for nearly the entire concert. The band (and the bouncers) didn't even blink. Gone are the days of trying to stop bootlegging -- a virtual impossibility now that nearly every phone can take live video and photos. What's more, I saw some of the crowd using their devices as periscopes, angling them high above the rest of the crowd to get a ten-foot view. I'm quite sure the people with actual cameras were zooming in as well.

Here's something else. You've tried talking during a concert? Doesn't work well. My companion and I shared a phone, tapping text messages to each other and reading them off the screen rather than sending them.

So what? Just an observation that these ubiquitous mobile devices are seeping unnoticed into every activity. It's not like the people in the crowd had to think hard about using their devices in this context -- the use was obvious, and pulling the devices out was ... a reflex, the door to finding treasure in the dark.

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I plan to cut off voice communication...

Classic exchange about texting. I sometimes wonder if, like this guy, I should just get a two-way pager plus Internet appliance.

Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » New York City texting plunging towards… something

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I'm a loser

At FastCompany, Chris Dannon argues that using the social browser Flock makes you a loser. Take a look at his argument and you'll see that what he's mapping out is his own limitations, including what appears to be an appalling lack of focus.

Technology: Are You A Loser?

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Monday, December 17, 2007

This is a job for the talking snowman

On the heels of the recent YouTube debates, in which ordinary citizens (and sometimes operatives from rival campaigns) could submit questions for presidential candidates to answer during debates, Al Qaeda's own Ayman al-Zahwahiri is inviting the public to submit questions that he will then answer in an online interview.

How surreal. I wonder if Chris Dodd will submit something?

Ask Al Qaeda Anything! | Danger Room from

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Yahoo's political dashboard

Succinct and useful.

Political Dashboard - 2008 Presidential Election on Yahoo! News

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Velocity matters

This NYT article tries to think big about Google's cloud computing strategy, and generally doesn't get too far. But it has flashes like this one (my emphasis):
MR. SCHMIDT readily concedes that cloud computing won’t happen overnight. Big companies change habits slowly, as do older consumers. Clever software is needed — and under development, he says — to overcome other shortcomings like the “airplane issue,” or how users can keep working when they find themselves unable to get online.

Yet small and midsize companies, as well as universities and individuals — in other words, a majority of computer users — could shift toward Web-based cloud computing fairly quickly, Mr. Schmidt contends. Small businesses, he says, could greatly reduce their costs and technology headaches by adopting the Web offerings now available from Google and others.

It makes no sense to run your own computers if you are a small business starting up,” he says. “You’d be crazy to buy packaged software.”
Right, but more importantly, Google has focused on the collaborative aspects that have moved to the fore in small businesses. We're seeing a lot of knowledge work being carried out by sole proprietorships and contractors who come together in federations, complete a job, and dissolve again. Prime examples include graphic design and web design, and not surprisingly one of the big early successes in this realm was 37Signals' Basecamp. Google's apps, particularly its office apps, are all aimed at supporting this sort of collaboration. Microsoft, on the other hand, is busily protecting its turf on the desktop, and that hampers it from embracing cloud computing and the collaborative features that go with it -- MS does try to build in those features, but they work against the desktop-centric long-term strategy it has embraced. As broadband penetration becomes deeper and broader, the limits of that strategy will show themselves. Google will not necessarily win in the cloud computing market, but it's the pioneer.
Google Gets Ready to Rumble With Microsoft - New York Times

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Taser party!

By women, for women, modeled after Tupperware parties.
She has had parties in Phoenix and Scottsdale by invitation. Guests have the opportunity to shoot the Taser for the first time at a cardboard cutout during the parties. For safety reasons, no alcohol is served and no one is actually Tasered.
Tasers: The Tupperware of 2007 | Danger Room from

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Online word processor roundup


Write Here, Write Now, Write Anywhere: 13 Free Web-Based Word Processors -

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Collaborating on writing projects

Early this year I put together a presentation for the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs about collaboratively writing reports. Writing teachers -- and, I think, many in other fields -- tend to assign group projects without offering any guidance on how to plan, coordinate, or collaborate on them. No wonder students hate them. My presentation describes two complementary ways to deal with this issue:
  • planning the project strategically
  • using collaboration software
I've used this in my writing classes as well, and the results have been generally positive. What do you think? Leave feedback in the comments section.

Facebook more cluttered than MySpace

MySpace always seems to be designed like the Sunday Wal-Mart circular. But thanks to the proliferation of third-party apps, one user says, Facebook is now worse.

Ladies And Gentleman, I Present To You: Facebook Hell at franticindustries - web 2.0, social networking, IT technology trends.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Battle of the Book

Via Ann Althouse: The New Republic's editors have written a poor defense of traditional books, an unthinkingly conservative argument that confuses a particular medium with great literature -- and great literature with worthwhile reading. I have no brief against books, but TNR's argument amounts to hand-waving generalities underpinned by warrants that are generally indefensible.

In Althouse's comments:
A good comeback is "How can you call it reading if it's not carved on a clay tablet or a written with a feather on a papyrus scroll?"

The Battle of the Book

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gun plus person plus God

The recent story of an averted massacre at New Life Church in Colorado Springs made me think of Latour's famous discussion of guns in Pandora's Hope. Latour examined the dueling arguments that have often framed the left-right debate on gun control:
  • "Guns kill people"
  • "Guns don't kill people, people kill people."
Neither frame is satisfactory, he says, because they locate agency entirely in a human or a nonhuman. Instead, he argues, we have to think in terms of a hybrid: gun plus person. The gun can't fire itself; the person can't kill as readily by herself; put the two together and you have a complex or assemblage that acts in a way that the individual components don't.

Latour's formulation gets interestingly complicated by the story of the volunteer guard, a former police officer who responded to the gunman -- who had over a thousand rounds of ammunition and an assault rifle -- and faced him down with a handgun. She credits the Holy Spirit for keeping her hands steady.
"I was praying to God that he direct me" in what to do in life, Assam said. "God made me strong."
Gun plus person plus God? You don't have to believe in God to think that this is an interesting phenomenon. Did the guard's faith in God cause her to act differently from how she would have acted without it? Clearly. What else gets folded into such assemblages?

Security Guard: 'God Guided Me And Protected Me' - Denver News Story - KMGH Denver

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Basecamp inside out

RivalMap is like Basecamp, but instead of managing your own projects, you monitor those of your competitors. Brilliant -- another step toward total information awareness for a given project.

Scheme to Destroy Your Competition with RivalMap

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Learning our ABCs

I'll be speaking to the Austin STC on January 8. Trip on by if you're in the area. Newsletter: January Chapter Meeting and Program

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Forget the phone ring, get a phone bracelet

A Bluetooth-enabled bracelet that vibrates when your phone rings. Thirty pounds (about $60). I could use one of these.

Net PC Direct - Bluetooth vibrating Bracelet

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Saving lives with checklists

I've been fascinated with checklists, which appear constantly in my studies of office workers. This useful genre has spread out into various facets of literate work, along with close cousins such as the stack of papers, and serves to regulate work sequence. Now it's being picked up in medicine:
If a new drug were as effective at saving lives as Peter Pronovost’s checklist, there would be a nationwide marketing campaign urging doctors to use it.
My flagger sent me this New Yorker article, which is longish but fascinating. Technical communicators really should get involved in helping to developing and studying these checklists -- and grabbing some of the grant money involved.
Annals of Medicine: The Checklist: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

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Comfort your baby with disembodied hands

Via my flagger, pillows in the shape of human hands:
If you’ve ever wished for a “hand” to leave behind so that your baby would feel as if you’ve never left the room, your prayers have been answered with the Zaky.

The Zaky is an ergonomic infant pillow designed by a mom to mimic the size, weight, touch, and feel of her hand and forearm to help her baby with comfort, support, protection, and development. The Zaky can help calm your baby and help your baby sleep better through the night.
Yes, that should help your baby sleep, up until the point that she wakes to find that she has been comforted by the disembodied hands that you have left behind.
Zaky Infant Pillow – Simulates a Mother’s Hand

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Dutch Student Protests organized via instant messaging, text messaging

The WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, known as the "Battle for Seattle," is a fairly famous case for those who examine networks and netwar. In that case, protesters coordinated on the fly via mobile phones, a tactic that had not been seen before on that scale.

Now, Dutch student protests are being coordinated via instant messaging and text messaging.

Smart Mobs » Blog Archive » Dutch Student Protests organized via instant messaging (2)

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Mobile versions of sites

Yesterday, I noticed two mobile versions of websites I frequently visit on my mobile phone.
  • MySpace's new mobile interface looks really good -- much better than the previous effort. It compartmentalizes the overwhelming amount of information you get on MySpace, although perhaps a bit too much. I'm still trying to decide whether I like this better than the much more expanded Facebook mobile interface.
  • The Drudge report also has a mobile version at <>. All text, just headlines. Much easier to browse.

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Microsoft's answer to GDocs, Zoho, et al.

Doesn't sound good.

Office Live Workspace (Beta) Finally Goes Live. Still Needs Work.

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Doris Lessing: The internet is making you dumb

TechCrunch rips into Lessing's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which she points the finger at computers to help explain the fragmentation in our culture:
Whilst Lessing’s words should be taken somewhat in context: the ditherings of an ignorant old woman, Keensian (as in Andrew Keen) anti-internet speeches grow as the cultural elite in society continue to have their previous (often born-in-to) positions eroded. The likes of Andrew Keen and Doris Lessing ignore the many benefits the internet has provided in expanding access to knowledge to many, many more people than who may otherwise have had no access before. Whilst it may be easy to mock the utterances of hundreds of millions of bloggers and social networking site users, the 21st century will be remembered as the time that communication was democratized, a time where the power of a few was replaced by the power of many. Let them eat their elitist intellectual cake, because the world is changing for the better, and there is nothing they can do to stop this.
I'll just point out that the computer is way, way behind the automobile in terms of fragmenting culture.
Nobel Laureate Says The Internet Makes Us Dumb, We Say: Meh

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LinkedIn to get new API, homepage, tailored news aggregator

LinkedIn, the business networking site whose individual profiles look just like resumes, has been in the news here and there recently -- often not in a way that inspires confidence. Some have been suggesting that Facebook's new and upcoming features make LinkedIn redundant; others have floated rumors (apparently untrue) that it would be acquired by NewsCorp.

Now it emerges that LinkedIn is going to be upgraded with features such as an API a la Facebook, so third-party developers will be able to write LinkedIn apps the way they write Facebook apps. A new homepage will go live this Monday, which includes on-site messaging, network updates (that is, a news feed displaying your contacts' activities) and a news aggregator. The news aggregator will automatically pull news items of professional interest to each member.

These features seem like good adaptations of the sorts of things we're seeing on Facebook, MySpace, and elsewhere, and the aggregator in particular sounds interesting. Good news for LinkedIn, and for consumers.

LinkedIn API and New Homepage Drawing Near

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Sympathy for the Devil

A defense of political opposition research, from an opposition researcher. Sounds like fascinating work.

The Texas Blue | The Dirt: Opposition Research

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TechCrunch talks about mobile+real-world interactions ...

... in this discussion of LimeJuice, a mobile social network. The problem, well described by TechCrunch, is this:
Using your phone to create or enhance real world interactions is a killer application, but no one has cracked the nut yet. The reason is that the network is useless until it achieves a critical mass of users who are online and using the application via their mobile phone. If no one else is online, there’s little point in you being online, either. And presence detection is another (technical) problem. Even if people have joined the network, how do you know when they are near you?
LimeJuice's solution seems primarily positioned as a dating service. Great, but there are many other applications that are both important and perhaps more profitable. I'm particularly thinking of conventions and conferences as well as facilitated meetings of temporary federations of service providers (e.g., contractors and subcontractors).
LimeJuice’s Mobile Social Network: It’s Easy, And So People May Use It

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Banning Blackberries in meetings?

Scott Berkun says yes but cautions that when people break out the Blackberries at meetings, it's a symptom rather than a problem:
Any real meeting, where decisions are being made (e.g. not a status meeting) should require people’s full attention. If people are voluntarily comfortable half reading e-mail and half-listening, it’s an indicator to me that:
* There are too many people in the room.
* Few decisions are being made.
* I’m failing to facilitate the discussion to keep it on target.
* The information being conveyed is low priority.
* I’m wasting f2f time with information I could deliver in other ways.
He suggests running meetings that are completely optional -- you don't find it useful, you walk out. Unfortunately, academic meetings require a quorum, so we can't allow on-the-fly opt-outs. But the rest of the post is certainly applicable. » Should you ban blackberries at meetings?

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

, Leadership, New Media and the Future of Work ~ by Stephen Smith ~ | HD BizBlog | Productivity

Stephen at HDBizBlog writes about Facebook's troubles:
Ad Age Digital has an article about how 50,000 Facebook users joined a group to protest the new Beacon broadcast advertising service
Hmm. Is it really trouble if users are joining a Facebook group? If they're actually continuing to engage with Facebook? Look instead for disengagement.
The Facebook Beacon, and tools for information gathering like it, have massive implications for the future of privacy (we’ll get into this a little more deeply with a book review I have for next week). Will this kind of “Social Advertising” force consumers into creating multiple online personas? What can companies with less-than-honorable intentions do with this technology? And how long before a disgruntled college whiz-kid turns it on its head and does something that no one expects?
Consumers already create multiple online personas, don't they? I know I do -- I don't use different pseudonyms, but I do keep social networking and professional networking separate.
, Leadership, New Media and the Future of Work ~ by Stephen Smith ~ | HD BizBlog | Productivity

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Robot guitars!

Gibson shows new self-tuning guitar - Yahoo! News

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A sad milestone

Slashdot | AT&T To Decommission Pay Phones

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More about that NEA report on reading

Colin links to this sharp-eyed analysis of the NEA report on reading about which people have been talking. The conclusion:

There is little doubt that modern information economies require many more proficient readers than older industrial economies did. Because of changes in the nature and conditions of work, declining proficiency in reading among American adults might cause some concern if not alarm. It is surely also the case that educational institutions at every level can and should do a better job. Yet there is little evidence of an actual decline in literacy rates or proficiency. As a result, the NEA's core argument breaks down. Even if we assume that high school seniors in 1971 spent more of their leisure time reading books than today's high school seniors do (although there is no data going back far enough to support the case one way or the other), there simply is no evidence that today's youngsters don't read as well as Mr. Gioia's peers did at a comparable age. From the information available, we simply cannot construct any relationship, let alone a causal one, between voluntary reading of books and reading proficiency. 

if:book: reading responsibly: nancy kaplan on the NEA's data distortion

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More on mobile phones and video

Another startling statistic:
There are 1.5 billion TV sets in the world; and there are 3.1 billion mobile phones in the world. The total worldwide TV population is growing by about 30-50 million per year. The mobile phone subscription population grew by "only" 400 million this year.
Also, many of those phones now take as well as show video. And the success of the video iPod means that people are now used to the idea of watching video on the small screen.
Communities Dominate Brands: What is Mobile TV? More than TV, beyond just a phone

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More mobile phone subscriptions than TV sets?

The world currently has 3.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions, one for every two people in the world. Now, "more than 28% of all phone owners have two or more subscriptions," so it's not like 50% of the people in the world have a phone. But:
So out of the 3.3 billion subscriptions, how many different people actually own one or more phone subscriptions, that number is about 2.55 billion now at the end of 2007.

Still amazing numbers compared to other technologies such as the 1.5 billion people who own a credit card or TV set, the approx 1.3 billion who now have an internet connection etc.
More mobile phones than credit cards or TV sets. Amazing. No wonder people have been pushing mobile video services such as SprintTV. As mobile phones continue to gain sophistication, they will begin to displace these technologies as well as lower-level computing functions -- actually, that's already happening with credit cards, PDAs, and to some extent email, IM, wayfinding, and reference.

Communities Dominate Brands: 3.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions, yes thats half of planet

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Block Facebook Beacon

My flagger turned up this simple method for those of you using Firefox. The post also has links to fixes for Safari, IE, and Opera.

the Idea Shower » » Block Facebook Beacon

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Google Apps to soon support project management?

That's the word from Scott Johnston, former VP of Product Development at Jot, who now works at Google (which bought Jot).
First, Google Sites, an evolution of Google Page Creator, will launch in 2008. Google Sites will be based on JotSpot collaboration tools and will allow businesses to create intranets, project management tracking, extranets and other custom sites.
My emphasis. People have been speculating that Google was going to get into the PM game since Jot was bought last year. This is going to be a big deal for the emerging PM market, no matter how well or badly Google executes it, simply because it's Google Apps-related.

Here's something else:
* Will Google Apps support video conferencing in addition to Google Talk and Chat? Scott’s answer, “Not yet”. I got the impression from his body language that it’ll come someday, but nothing more was said.

Skype supports video conferencing, and Google is rumored to be considering a Skype acquisition. Skype's current owner, eBay, has a case of buyer's remorse.

Google Reveals 2008 Plans For Google Apps

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Speaking of services -- and OpenBox

I've been discussing the recent phenomenon of companies making their Internet-based services available as services  -- that is, accessible via other interfaces rather than strictly through the customers' websites. One really interesting example of this is, a data storage service.

One of's interns emailed me a few days ago in response to previous discussions and suggested that I take a look at their Facebook app. It's interesting in itself, but I'm more interested in the broad interoperability that Box provides. These include:
  • Mobile access. " gives you access anywhere to your documents, photos, and files from any mobile device with a web browser." Among other things, this provides competition with GDocs' mobile viewing capability, which I use all the time.
  • Document editing. " has integrated Zoho, a leading provider of online document editing. Now, instead of having to re-upload a new version of a document with changes, simply edit documents online. Online Word document or Excel spreadsheet editing is now possible. All you have to do is right-click on the document and select 'Edit Document.'" Zoho is one of Google's main competitors in the online office arena, and leveraging their ability seems like a smart move for both companies.
  • OpenBox services. "With the new OpenBox Services, you can bring the power of web applications directly into your existing Box account. Edit photos and images online with Picnik, work on your Word and Excel files using Zoho, publish documents for the whole world to see through Scribd, send your documents signed with EchoSign, and much more." Again, this interlinking of independent services provides a challenge to Google, which has attempted to keep all of these services under one roof.
Yes, I keep bringing up Google, which is on my mind a lot these days. Of course, Google is unveiling its own online storage service. It'll be interesting to see how the competition develops. - Free Online File Storage, Internet File Sharing, Online Storage, Access Documents & Files Anywhere, Backup Data, Send Files

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More on MyOffice

I heard from the MyOffice people a couple of days ago about their Facebook-based project management system. As that post and others make clear, I am really interested in the architecture they use, which essentially allows them to provide a service while handing Facebook the work of supplying other sorts of infrastructure.

They say that they'll be working on lots of other functionality in the next few weeks. These include -- and here I'm quoting from the email --
  • "Whiteboard
  • Advanced administration (configure notifications and user roles/acces on a per-project basis)
  • Live Chat
  • File Management"
Great, and necessary moves. Their aim is to make MyOffice into "a robust project management tool." And they do have a plan for monetization beyond ads, although they're not ready to discuss it at present.

I'm considering using MyOffice for students' project management next semester -- it's currently robust enough for that -- and am interested in seeing how it matures. Check it out if you haven't.

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Cobbling together a Flex suite

I talked about Buzzword, the Adobe Flex-based word processor, a while back. This article talks about Blist, a Flex-based spreadsheet, and mentioned SlideRocket, a Flex-based presentation tool. Rich internet applications built on Flex and Microsoft Silverlight are going to be big news over the next year, I think, since they appear to provide more interface capabilities than AJAX can.

» Blist - A Flex database/spreadsheet in the cloud | The Universal Desktop |

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TargetProcess, another project management system

TargetProcess appears to be geared for the agile software dev market. It includes the basic PM features, plus integrated bug tracking, test case management, and Subversion integration. Looks too specialized for general use, but may be a good fit for software development.

TargetProcess | Agile Project Management and Life-Cycle Software (SCRUM, Extreme Programming)

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Facebook's new Beacon policy ...

... is to relentlessly ask you whether an individual transaction should be broadcast or not. (It's unclear whether advertisers will still have access to it.) This is a big step forward, since you won't accidentally broadcast, say, that you just bought that Tears for Fears album. But to me, it sounds like Vista's tendency to ask for security clearance to do the most mundane tasks.

Official: Facebook Flips On Beacon

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All open, all the time

In addition to its open mobile OS, its OpenSocial API, and its bid for opening access on the 700mHz wireless spectrum, Google is now testing OpenID with Blogger. Sensing a theme?

Google Testing OpenID With Blogger, May Offer OpenIDs To Users

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beacon to be extinguished?

Report That Facebook May Cave on Beacon: Victory For Users May Be Nigh

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More on that Wired network-centric war article

Thomas P.M. Barnett provides another view on it, but his criticism is essentially the same as mine: the article is unnecessarily dichotomous.

Wired's subpar Iraq analysis (Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog)

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Finally, some criticism of the NEA studies on reading

It's buried in a WSJ op-ed on reading and the Kindle, but there it is:
One criticism of the NEA studies is that they don't capture the "new" ways people read away from work. This means the Endowment doesn't validate new pastimes, such as reading text messages on cell-phone screens. Add the input-output of text messaging to the data base of readers and the daily voluntary reading time likely rises from seven minutes to six or seven hours.

Is this literacy? In 50 years, no one may ask.
They shouldn't ask now. Obviously it's literacy. And perhaps a more engaged one than the one-way literacy for which the NEA pines. Take a look at this beacon of hope from the same op-ed:

A recent phenomenon on the streets of New York is people walking, amid crowds, their nose in a book. One sees it all the time. The subways are full of people reading books. On just one subway car this Tuesday one saw: "Tales from Da Hood" by Nikki Turner, "The Catcher in the Rye," "Don't Know Much About History" by Kenneth Davis. Small book clubs abound, as do book Web sites. There are small presses dedicated to writers "no one" is aware of beyond several thousand loyal acolytes. But they are reading.

Yes, think of all those people occupying the same space and ignoring one another. A very small percentage then occasionally gather in book clubs (which are getting harder to find due to market fragmentation) to discuss the book.

Now think of someone spending "six or seven hours" per day in literate practices that make sense to them, that involve producing as well as consuming text, and that connect them viscerally with others' lives in real time. Texting, blogging, social networking. And that's in addition to the eight hours of highly text-oriented work they conduct in their offices in front of their computer screens -- let's say about 12 hours a day reading and writing. Still worried about literacy? And if so, perhaps you can more clearly define the subset of literacy about which you are worried?

OpinionJournal - Wonder Land

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Collaborative vs. Collective

Thomas Vanderwahl describes a simple difference, applied to tagging:
Collaboration and collective efforts are often confused by those not familiar with both terms, but they are not similar and they are two distinctly different efforts. Collaboration is people working together (often with a common goal) to build one thing (think wiki page with one understanding). Collective efforts are the aggregation of people's individual efforts, sometimes in the same service, but do not have common goal or common effort ( page for a URL is the collective understanding of individuals tagging of that page for their own use.
He's tried to describe this difference in Wikipedia's entry on Folksonomy, but it keeps getting changed back and he receives nastygrams about it. Now that's collaborative.

Wikipedia Folksonomy is a Mess with Collaborative Misunderstanding :: Off the Top ::

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

That Wired article on network-centric warfare

Noah Schachtman has a decent article about network-centric warfare in Wired in which he tells a familiar story. It goes like this: The US military became really enamored with network-centric warfare, which amounts to lots of high-tech equipment for coordinating warfare and killing people. This technologically enabled warfare implied smaller groups of soldiers doing more work. But for counterinsurgency and stabilization operations, this approach isn't good enough, because it means overrelying on technological solutions and underrelying on measures that connect with local populations and win the battle for hearts and minds. In an O. Henry twist, "In Iraq, the Critical Networks Are Social — Not Electronic."

Some parts of the story don't fit, of course. When he interviews Gen. Petraeus, he is surprised that the General does not renounce network-centric warfare:

Yet he's a believer, just like a whole lot of other Army generals. He supports the $230 billion plan to wire the Army, a gargantuan commitment to network-centric war. "We realized very quickly you could do incredible stuff with this," he says. "It was revolutionary. It was."

I press my hands to my forehead. What about all the cultural understanding, I ask him. What about nation-building? What about your counterinsurgency manual?

"Well," Petraeus says, "it doesn't say that the best weapons don't shoot. It says sometimes the best weapons don't shoot. Sometimes the best weapons do shoot." A war like Iraq is a mix, he adds: In one part of the country, the military is reinforcing the society, building things; in another, it's breaking them — waging "major combat operations" that aren't all that different from what might have gone down in 2003. And this technology, he says, it's pretty good at 2003-style war.

Schachtman seems struck by the contradiction because it doesn't fit the familiar story. So he locates the contradiction in Gen. Petraeus. Instead, he should have examined the story more closely. Terms that experience a lot of success tend to also experience a lot of slippage -- as a cursory review of the rhetoric of science literature shows, for instance -- and "network-centric warfare" is one such term. Yes, it's been applied to Total Information Awareness schemes and to Rumsfeld's shift toward a smaller, more technologically mediated military. But it has also been applied -- for instance, by John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt, and others at RAND -- to social organization. And this work is fairly sophisticated.

The apparent contradiction in Gen. Petraeus' thinking comes from Schachtman's assumption that the technical and the social are two different kinds of networks that have to be addressed through two different doctrines. Arquilla, Ronfeldt, et al. describe sociotechnical networks, and I think Gen. Petraeus understands that.

How Technology Almost Lost the War: In Iraq, the Critical Networks Are Social — Not Electronic

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Update: David Ronfeldt just mentioned to me that although the concepts "network-centric warfare" and "netwar" have had some interaction, they really are separate concepts and NCW has to some degree impeded the reception of the netwar concept. Mea culpa.

Tracking people with cell phones

Two related stories:

FBI increasingly tracking people by cell phones, and so are you
Google Maps for Mobile Shows Your Location

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News Corp and LinkedIn

An alternate theory: LinkedIn would be integrated into News Corp's newspaper properties.

» What would News Corp. do with LinkedIn? | The Social Web |

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Google's strategy

Nicholas Carr thinks he has figured it out:
In The Google Enigma, an article in the new issue of Strategy & Business, I argue that the wide scope of Google's interest and activity is a natural and inevitable result of the fact that everything that happens on the internet is complementary to the company's core business. When looked at in this light, Google's strategy is revealed to be at once simple and extraordinarily unusual - so unusual that it's probably of limited use as a model for other companies.
So telecomm, the 700mHz wireless spectrum, energy consumption, etc. are all pursued not because Google is interested in everything, but because they touch directly on its core business on the Internet.
Rough Type: Nicholas Carr's Blog: Understanding Google

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Doctorow predicts that Facebook will die

Via BoingBoing, of course. Here's his reasoning, with my emphases:
For every long-lost chum who reaches out to me on Facebook, there's a guy who beat me up on a weekly basis through the whole seventh grade but now wants to be my buddy; or the crazy person who was fun in college but is now kind of sad; or the creepy ex-co-worker who I'd cross the street to avoid but who now wants to know, "Am I your friend?" yes or no, this instant, please.

It's not just Facebook and it's not just me. Every "social networking service" has had this problem and every user I've spoken to has been frustrated by it. I think that's why these services are so volatile: why we're so willing to flee from Friendster and into MySpace's loving arms; from MySpace to Facebook. It's socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list -- but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who'll groan and wonder why we're dumb enough to think that we're pals).
Weird. I have had no compunction against ignoring Facebook friend requests if I don't know the person and they're not in my professional area. (That's what I use Facebook for: professional networking.) If as Doctorow says, "It's not just Facebook and it's not just me," then maybe it's me. Or maybe people will have to learn not to be passive-aggressive on social networks.

How Your Creepy Ex-Co-Workers Will Kill Facebook -- Facebook -- InformationWeek

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More on MySpace catching up with Facebook

First, MySpace signed on to OpenSocial, meaning that perhaps we'll see third-party apps interoperating with it in a more distributed manner than Facebook does with its apps. Now, MySpace is adding a number of features, including Friends Updates, which are similar to Facebook News Feeds. But:
There are a number of key differences between Facebook News Feeds and MySpace Friends Updates. A key focus of the product appears to be not pissing off users. Other differences allow more granular control of news distribution.
Let's hope. My Facebook news feed has been cluttered lately by people giving each other gifts and turning each other into zombies. I'd love to be able to filter those out while retaining a social dashboard that can inform me of what I deem to be important about my contacts.

Frankly, Facebook needs to go back and get this right too. People have talked about the possibility that Facebook will roll over business networking site LinkedIn once it institutes levels of privacy. But I'm assuming that LinkedIn doesn't tell its members about zombie fights and so forth. Perhaps not coincidentally, LinkedIn is rumored to be News Corp's next acquisition target. Would it be that difficult to buy the brand, apply it to a more professionally designed version of MySpace, and have the two faces run off essentially the same codebase? Just blue skying here.

Screenshots And Details On Upcoming MySpace “News Feeds”

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Verizon's opening up its network

Everyone's reporting on this. Here's what TechCrunch has to say:
In what is either a response to Google’s Android mobile operating system or an attempt to butter up the FCC for the upcoming 700 Mhz spectrum auctions or just a smart business move, Verizon Wireless is opening up its cellular network to any device or application that meets the “minimal technical standard” to run on its network. That means pretty much any CDMA device or application, even ones that are not officially offered by Verizon.
As a longtime Sprint customer, I'm delighted that I can take my phone to a competitor should I choose to do so. Let's hope that this is a trend and that it will help the US telecomm industry to catch up with Japan and the Pacific Rim in terms of services and features.
Verizon Wireless Opens Up Its Network. Who’s Next?

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Not content with telecommunications, Google looks at energy production

It's like they're playing Monopoly and buying up the utilities. Perhaps water is next.

Google Press Center: Press Release

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Project management roundup

Back in 2004, I began experimenting with ways to track and manage my many projects. Originally I used Excel, which was both easier and cheaper than the desktop project management software available. But as I continued to manage projects at the CWRL, I found that I needed something that would work collaboratively across teams -- something that didn't need installing, something that could grant permissions to the appropriate people and that could provide dashboards for people working on a given project.

Although I experimented with features using the CMS we've adopted in-house, Drupal, I found that it wasn't flexible enough for our needs. Then I discovered Basecamp, a brilliant web app that did the things I needed. Mostly.

One of the things that worried me about Basecamp was the fact that data -- including some fairly private data -- were stored on Basecamp's servers. Yes, you could opt to store files on your own servers, but that required some tricky password work. And the wiki was run as a separate app, not fully integrated. Most vexingly, you have the "Your Basecamp or Mine?" problem: if two groups use Basecamp, the project has to live in one Basecamp account or the other, making a unified dashboard impossible. Finally, you have to pay for it.

So I turned to the open source workalike activeCollab for CWRL business. activeCollab is pretty decent, it runs on your own server with MySQL+PHP, and it's of course free. It also has some additional functionality, such as free tagging, which made it attractive to the CWRL. On the other hand, it requires more centralized administration, it's visually clunky, and it has some dashboard issues of its own (for instance, you can't get an intermingled, chronological list of upcoming milestones). And again, it's not distributed. You still suffer from the "Your Basecamp or Mine" problem.

Well, a lot of things have been happening in this sector recently. In no particular order, here are some other web-based project management systems, in no particular order, with brief commentary based on my initial impressions. If these impressions are incomplete, please feel free to follow up in the comments.

  • The pitch: Like Basecamp, but with Gannt charts and more email-centric
  • The pros: Email-centric, so projects more or less live in a familiar unified environment; milestones can belong to multiple projects.
  • The cons: Interface is complex, with a pane just for folders and lots of icons. I'm not a big fan of folders and icons: they tend to increase clutter and decrease information density.
  • The pitch. Like Basecamp, but with IM notifications, in-project chat, calendar, project blogs, ticketing system.
  • The pros. Additional features, simple interface.
  • The cons. Still Basecamp-plus. Integrates a lot of tools, and I'm worried about jack-of-all-trade applications.
Etelos Projects
  • The pitch. Leverage your Google Docs and Calendar.
  • The pros. Understands project management as a set of services distributed across providers. Integrates it into where you live.
  • The cons. I've thought about it a lot, and have concluded: no way in hell am I going to provide my Google password to a third party. Your threshold may be different.
  • The pitch. A Facebook app that does light project management.
  • The pros. As far as I know, this is the only one to solve the "Your Basecamp or Mine" problem. Dashboard integrates with Facebook dashboard, so you can get a panoramic view of projects and social life; since your project is populated with Facebook friends, you can see their personal status along with their project status. Free. Leverages Facebook contacts, messaging, and eventually levels of access once Facebook rolls these out.
  • The cons. Currently underdeveloped; unclear how this will be monetized beyond ad revenue; unclear how secure the data are or how secure Facebook's data are.
  • The pitch. Project management, task management in a GTD framework.
  • The pros. If you're into GTD, this software will reinforce the GTD concepts and ways of working. True mobile integration as well as clever printing formats.
  • The cons. From a brief look, seems more focused on the GTD aspect than the project management aspect.
TeamWork Live
  • The pitch. Like Basecamp, but relatively distributed; generates useful reports; team- rather than project-oriented. See my recent review.
  • The pros. Nice layout and functionality. Nice additions to basic Basecamp functionality.
  • The cons. "Team" can be confusing. Name can be confusing too -- sounds like a Microsoft product.
Overall, there are some great contenders here. Currently I am most intrigued with the least developed of these, MyOffice, because it provides a unified view of project and social landscapes and because it is potentially distributed in a way that I thought Google was going to achieve in February. MyOffice sees PM as a service that can be integrated in other web services rather than as a standalone application. On the other hand, this architecture doesn't let it do some of the things that the other project management systems can.

Ultimately, though, the CWRL will stick with activeCollab for the forseeable future, simply because it lives on our servers and we can control the security. For my personal projects -- well, there's a lot of options to choose from.


Sunday, November 25, 2007


My spotter sent me this interesting article, which reacts to the recent NEA report that "Less than half of the adult American population now reads literature" -- i.e., novels, short stories, plays or poetry read in leisure time. (I'm among the majority, since I almost never read any of these genres and rarely have leisure time.) The author wonders if lurking counts as reading:
Which brings me to my lurking problem. I can’t tell whether lurking is a devious violation of Web ethics or a return to luxurious nonparticipatory reading. I do know it seems indulgent. When I lurk, I relax, fall silent, become a cosseted 19th-century baroness whose electronic servants bring her funny pictures and distracting tales. I have no responsibilities. I’m entirely on intake. If I were reading Tolstoy or Anita Shreve this way, I’d be an N.E.A.-certified exemplar of civilization.
When it's put that way, leisure reading sounds incredibly selfish, doesn't it? What a new world we have, in which reading is meant to be interactive, constantly coupled with writing, and grounded in factual rather than fictional dramas.

Virginia Heffernan - The Medium - Television - Internet Video - Media - New York Times

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Bluetooth social networking

From, this description of a social networking service that runs on your Bluetooth-enabled phone:
Flobbi is a Bluetooth based social network. To get it to work, you’ll first have to download Flobbi to your cell phone. Once downloaded, whenever someone in the Flobbi network is in your proximity (within 20 meters), that person’s profile will flash on your screen. You’ll have the option to chat, and get to know each other as fellow Flobbers. Installing Flobbi can be done in one of three ways: register and download it over Bluetooth, have the software sent over to your mobile, or via a friend who has Flobbi and Bluetooth. The software and portal is cost free.
The notion of casually meeting people this way? Ugh. But I can think of some useful applications:
  • Meeting a blind date
  • Networking at a conference
  • Coordinating flash mobs and street protests
  • Finding your companions in a crowded environment (which, coincidentally, is what I was about to do when I read this story on my mobile phone) - Bluetooth Social Networking -™

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Open source warfare

Just bookmarking this article for a closer look. On the surface, this looks complementary to the"netwar" line of thinking that Arquilla and Ronfeldt have been talking about for lo these many years.

Slashdot | Technology Leveling The Playing Field In Modern War

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They don't draw interest, but they're more widely accepted than debit cards

I refer to mobile banking systems in Kenya.
Last week's Economist had a major story - and one of its Leaders (Editorials) about mobile banking. The best example in the story was from Kenya in Africa. Banking is very poorly developed in all African countries compared to the industrialized world. There are very big barriers to getting banking services ranging from anything like high costs of opening an account, very limited bank branches and services, remarkably bureaucratic needs to verify identity for banking - on a continent where identity documents are not always well available, etc.

So in Kenya, a country of about 37 Million in population, there are only 3 million bank accounts. But then consider this, their local mobile banking system, M-Pesa, is used by 1 million Kenyans ! So even if none of the people with a "real" bank account use M-Pesa, the mobile banking system has already cannibalized 25% of the total banking customer base in Kenya (and those whose math is not that strong, yes, the more there is ovelap, the greater is the cannibalization; if all who use M-Pesa had also a bank account, then the cannibalization would already be 33%)
Communities Dominate Brands: Still doubting that m-Banking has potential? In Kenya 25% of all bank accounts are mobile

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Google + Skype?

That's the most recent rumor. It's getting hard to keep track of all these rumors, and this one seems particularly vaporous. But it's fun to try to connect them, just like it's fun to build grand conspiracy theories.

Let's see ... Google buys dark fiber, Google unveils Android, Google plans to bid for wireless spectrum, Google plans to buy Sprint, Google plans to buy Skype. How about: Google puts together an IP-based telecommunications infrastructure that skirts existing telecomm regulation and is funded primarily through contextual ads? I have low confidence that this would actually occur, but it's fun to speculate.

'Google To Purchase Skype?' Chatter Lights Up The Blogosphere -- Google -- InformationWeek

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How long before they integrate into our society?!?

Slashdot | Robots Assimilate Into Cockroach Society

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The one thing I thought was really interesting about Kindle is that it comes with a free Sprint EVDO subscription. That's a really big deal, and I can imagine picking up one of these things solely to surf and check email. But it sounds like internet connectivity will be a lot more restricted than that, piped through Amazon's services. Ugh. I'd rather check blogs the way I do now -- on my phone.

Kindle: First Impressions

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GMail designed by Microsoft

Yes, I know -- it would look a lot like Hotmail. But this blog post is still wickedly funny.

What If Gmail Had Been Designed by Microsoft?

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We're number one!

Austinist: Break Out the Snot Rags, Austin Ranked Number 1 in Fall Allergies

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Monday, November 19, 2007

TeamWork Live

A comment on a recent post led me to TeamWork Live, a web-based project management system that competes with Basecamp and others. TWL has the basic sorts of things you would expect, including milestones, tasks, notes, and dashboard. But it provides a project space that can be shared across entities: if you have a TWL account, apparently you can share projects with other entities rather than asking "your Basecamp or mine?"

But it has several other interesting features:
  • A full-fledged team calendar that allows you to view milestones, tasks, and events.
  • An RTF editor that allows formatted text without learning wiki commands.
  • A variety of ways to provide alerts for project changes or comments, including RSS, email, and SMS.
  • Separation between personal and team workspaces.
  • Reports (!), including team status, open items, weekly status, and time tracking. The team status report gives you an idea of how much milestone and task process has been made, with green for completed, red for overdue, and gray for upcoming.
  • Estimate of hours to put into the project and billable rate.
  • Daily status emails, if desired.
TWL is team-focused, so rather than setting up "projects," you set up "teams." That terminology might cause some confusion, since organizations often have stable teams (e.g., marketing) that work on several overlapping projects with different timeframes and goals. But TWL appears to be thinking in terms of closed-ended projects -- at least, the focus on milestones and completion implies that understanding.

Overall, this thing looks pretty good. Like Basecamp, it's set up on a subscription model, and costs scale rapidly. The free plan appears to be more restrictive based on the pricing sheet, but I'm not positive of that -- the use model is different enough that it's hard to compare the two at a glance. If you're in the market for a PM system, it's definitely a contender.

TeamWork Live - Dashboard

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

MySpace undermines CNN

Well, sort of:
Maria Luisa, the UNLV student who asked Hillary Clinton whether she preferred "diamonds or pearls" at last night's debate wrote on her MySpace page this morning that CNN forced her to ask the frilly question instead of a pre-approved query about the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

"Every single question asked during the debate by the audience had to be approved by CNN," Luisa writes. "I was asked to submit questions including "lighthearted/fun" questions. I submitted more than five questions on issues important to me. I did a policy memo on Yucca Mountain a year ago and was the finalist for the Truman Scholarship. For sure, I thought I would get to ask the Yucca question that was APPROVED by CNN days in advance."
The story links to her MySpace page, which has (now?) been set to private.

Marc Ambinder (November 16, 2007) - "Diamonds v. Pearls" Student Blasts CNN (Updated With CNN Response)

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MyOffice: Facebook app for light project management

For a while, I've been agitating for a project management application that does what Basecamp does, but in a more networked fashion. Basecamp is great, but if person A and person B both have Basecamp accounts, and they decide to work on the same project, they have to answer the question: "Your Basecamp or mine?" One of them will wind up with two accounts, a "home" account and a "guest" account, and there's no way to achieve total information awareness on all projects.

I was convinced that Google would climb this hill eventually. It seemed like a natural: Google was pushing into the B2B collaborative market with GDocs, GCal, and GMail, and if they added a PM application, they could leverage that momentum easily. You could even get down to the task level, allowing one task to "live" in more than one project (not canonical PM, I know, but worth considering in a net work environment). And when Google bought JotSpot, the speculation was that they were going to unveil something like this. Maybe in early 2007, some speculated.

Well, here we are in November, and no sign of a Google PM system. JotSpot isn't even accepting new users. But a lot has happened in those months. Most significantly, Facebook opened its membership to everyone and it opened its API to third-party developers. And now there is a rudimentary project management system along the lines I described several months ago -- a Facebook app with the stunningly original name MyOffice.

MyOffice provides the basic features you may recognize from Basecamp and similar systems such as activeCollab: projects with members you can designate; dated tasks (similar to milestones); calendar events; file storage and sharing; and a dashboard so you can see what's going on. Actually, two dashboards: one for system events such as new task creation and one for all dated events (calendar events and tasks). Most intriguingly, you draw members from your Facebook friends, and as they accept your membership invitations, they simply install the app in their Facebook account. Suddenly everyone's in the same space, using the same app, and you don't have to juggle multiple accounts in order to get total information awareness on your projects. Similarly, messaging uses the Facebook messaging system, so discussions that take place within projects show up under Facebook's Notifications and will buzz your email address if you have Facebook set up that way. These seem like really clever ways to leverage Facebook's infrastructure.

The app is a long way from perfect. Annoyingly, tasks are listed under the Tasks tab in reverse order of their creation, not by the due date, and they don't even show a due date in this list. You can see them by due date under the Events tab, but you can't check them off there. So I imagine a lot of toggling between these two windows as people try to figure out which task to check off. Similarly, the dashboard split between events (under the Events tab) and changes (under the Overview tab) is not very useful, especially for those of us who are used to Basecamp or activeCollab. Finally, I don't have a good read on the security built into this app.

Nevertheless, for small projects, MyOffice should fit the bill. I'd be afraid to use it for a larger project, a mission-critical project, or one that demanded security, at least until the app matures a bit.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Google, mobile phones, wireless spectrum

The WSJ speculates that Google could run its own mobile network and points to Google's apparent plans to bid on part of the wireless spectrum. But can it compete with established players etc. etc.?

Sure. Take a look at how MCI competed with Bell. They set up microwave towers in certain markets and provided long-distance service between those markets. They caught Bell flat-footed because Bell was committed to serving all markets and built up a huge cross-subsidy burden, funneling money from profitable markets to subsidize less profitable ones. It was also committed to maintain the same high transmission quality across all lines, exacerbating the cross-subsidy. That was the deal Bell cut to run a monopoly, and since MCI didn't have that cross-subsidy burden, it could dramatically undersell Bell.

That cross-subsidy was a big deal in low-density markets. When you're committed to 100% market penetration, like Bell was, you have to erect telephone poles and run miles of lines to anywhere people are.  And you have to maintain them. When you're MCI, you put up a couple of microwave towers in high-density areas and you're done.

The cross-subsidy still exists in another form: every telecomm provider pays into the Universal Service Fund, which then goes to subsidize the service and maintenance in low-density and disadvantaged areas. Take a look at your phone bill and you'll see that cost broken out, as well as many other costs, such as the Federal Excise Tax that was originally instituted as a luxury tax to fund the Spanish-American War. One reason Skype is so cheap is that you don't have to pay those taxes to use Internet lines.

So here's the question: is Google going to pull an MCI? Can it set up a mobile communication network that falls outside the jurisdiction occupied by telecomms? Can it avoid the USF and the other regulatory taxes that make telecommunications so expensive in the US? If it can, look for Google to crank up lobbying efforts in Congress as well.

Google Has Even Bigger Plans for Mobile Phones -

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

JCMC Social networking special issue

Via BoingBoing. Looks interesting.

JCMC Vol 13 Issue 1

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RescueTime out of private beta

I've been using RescueTime for a few weeks now, and am pretty happy with it as far as it goes. Methodologically, it's dicey to simply associate apps with tags, since apps can be used for multiple purposes -- but I'm not how sure you would slice that problem, and at any rate there's a limit to how fine-grained you want your self surveillance to be.

TechCrunch has a good, short overview of RescueTime and its uses, as well as some background. (I didn't realize that it was being funded by Y Combinator, for instance.)

RescueTime Out Of Private Beta, Tracking How (Un)Productive You Are

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Monday, November 12, 2007

The networks' plan B?

Jeff Jarvis argues that the networks should have a Plan B for the writers' strike, one that leverages all that free content on YouTube. Sure, why wouldn't they do that? Maybe because people would realize they could cut out the middleman, Jeff?

BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » The networks miss the boat

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The Google Mobile OS ...

Looks really good. Complete with the obligatory demo of Quake, the sine qua non of open source handheld computing demos.

Tech Monday: First Look at the Google Mobile OS

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Etelos Projects: Good Ideas, Poor Execution? voices the same wistful desire that I have had for about a year:
I have been in the market for an online project manager I could integrate that would allow me to access and work on Google Docs and Spreadsheets, and Etelos’ integration with Google Apps (the all-in-one package that integrates with your domain) seemed promising.
Unfortunately, according to this review, Etelos Projects does not do this job well. I haven't checked the product out myself, but if I have time to do so, I'll post my own review here. CS
Review: Etelos Projects Offers Good Ideas, Poor Execution -

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Google thinking about buying Sprint?

Just a rumor. Personally, I think they would be crazy to do it for some of the reasons listed in this article.

Rumor Mill: Google Acquiring Sprint

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Writing Research across Borders

WRAB '08 is in February:

Writing Research Across Borders
An Interdisciplinary Conference

February 22-24, 2008
University of California, Santa Barbara

The Writing Research Across Borders Conference will bring together 550
research presenters that represent over 30 nations.  Its 150 panels will
represent research on writing at all levels of development, employing
approaches from the social sciences, sciences and humanities.  The
conference will provide opportunities to share findings, seek common
agendas, and lay the groundwork for future communication and alliances.

For more information, please visit our conference website at
or email us at

Early registration fees:
$195 Regular Registration
$120 Student/Adjunct/CA Educator

Fees After December 1:
$250 Regular Registration
$160 Student/Adjunct/CA Educator

*Conference Volume Included with Registration

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

New browser versions

Opera Mini 4 is out. So is the Flock update.

Opera Mini™ - Free mobile Web browser for your phone

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Buzzword preview

UPDATE: Virtual Ubiquity informed me that Buzzword does allow exports to .doc, .rtf, and Word 2003 xml via the Save As dialog. Apparently there's a bug with the radio button being grayed out.

I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Buzzword, a basic word processor built in Flash to facilitate networked collaboration. Today, I was finally able to try out the preview. Here's a quick pros-cons list based on a five-minute test drive.

  • This thing is just beautiful. Fonts render nicely, although there's only seven of them. The page is WYSIWYG, of course, but you can zoom in and out via a slider. Animation is discreet and appropriate.
  • The features are intuitive.
    • Buzzword's functionality is available primarily via toolbars for fonts, paragraphs, lists, images, tables, and contents; they're rendered in roughly the "ribbon" configuration offered in the latest Office, but are much better done here.
    • The scrollbar actually shows page numbers, which is incredibly smart.
    • Hover over a page element and you'll get a little, unobtrusive Comment icon. Click it to add a comment immediately. These comments stay in the margins, like Word's, not embedded in the text the way GDocs' comments do.
    • To add table rows or columns, you just have to click an unobtrusive plus sign in the table itself. No menus or key commands.
  • Sharing is finer grained than in GDocs: You can designate someone as coauthor, commenter, or reader, with appropriate permissions given to each.
  • The documents list is great, with various ways to sort the documents (alpha, by author, by your role, by date).
  • It supports endnotes!
  • Apparently it doesn't support paragraph styles, which is a big drawback.
  • Currently it doesn't seem to allow document uploading. The Save As feature indicates that you can save as Word format, but that choice is grayed out.
  • The History is very basic, not nearly as full-featured as GDocs' or Word's.
  • Oh, and it requires Flash.
On the balance, this product has some real potential for the online collaboration market. Some of the cons I've listed are clearly in the works, while others could potentially be added without much trouble. The UI, as I said, is really smart and does some things that would be clever even in an established desktop word processor.

My sense is that Buzzword isn't going to go head-to-head with Word -- the features are adequate for basic collaboration on short documents, but not for long documents or for more complex types of documents. That leaves GDocs, but I don't think they're competing head-to-head with GDocs either: GDocs' features are much more squarely aimed at intense collaboration (I'm thinking particularly of versioning) across multiple devices (especially mobile). But Buzzword would be very easy for students to use in writing classes, for instance, and its commenting features would be great for peer and instructor review -- better than GDocs' in that regard.

Virtual Ubiquity - Buzzword

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