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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