Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Powerset is live

You can use natural language queries to search Wikipedia. I have played with this a little in beta. Not yet sure how much I will use it, but it might be a good way to go if you prefer to ask questions rather than select keywords.
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Android developers receive $25k for projects

And the projects look pretty interesting. Google has an uneven history of supporting its projects, but the mix of open development, developer incentives, and the capabilities of the platform make me optimistic that this platform will be useful and used. Personally, I'm waiting to see the Android phones come to market in 3Q or 4Q before determining whether to go with an Android phone, iPhone, RIM, or other. But if even half of these described apps reach even half of their potential, Android is going to be well in the lead for my purposes.

Fifty Android Developers Get $25,000 Each: The List
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Monday, May 12, 2008

Managing personal projects the Spinuzzi way

I recently received an email asking for suggestions about personal knowledge management. Since I like to reuse my efforts, here's a modified version of what I suggested.

Personal knowledge management is by nature an idiosyncratic thing, so my ideal ecosystem will be different from others. That being said, I came to the conclusion a while back that omnibus solutions don't work all that well: usually software will do one or two things exceptionally well but is mediocre at other tasks. So I've been gravitating toward mashup solutions that preserve interoperability as much as possible.

Also, I've gravitated toward solutions that leverage mobile tech as much as possible: services that offer mobile interfaces, services that take and send text messages. That's mostly because I'm not working consistently in an office, and I like to check the calendar and set tasks on the fly; your mileage may vary.

So here's the criteria I have for applications:
  • Tags. If you're going to work across services, you need to be able to filter everything via the same set of tags (or labels, in Google's terms). Tags allow you to specify project, role, etc. and to bring the same shape to data across services. Currently there's no way to synch tags across services, so I do this by hand, and ruthlessly prune. With a little initial effort, you get unanimity in tags across services. When it works, you can pull everything relevant into the same view. You can also assign the same data to multiple tags, meaning multiple roles and projects -- something that early web-based PM software such as Basecamp wouldn't allow.
  • Mobile interface. Mobile interface accessible through a mobile browser, SMS (texting) interface preferred.
  • Stability. Got to have uptime; preferably an established brand that will not disappear tomorrow.
  • Data portability. Don't want to get trapped in a particular service. When necessary, apps should be able to share. Open APIs.
  • Developer community. I don't write applications, but it's nice that others do. So I tend to use services that are supported by large user communities that develop plugins and etc.
So here's what I currently do:
  • Email: Google Mail. I use GMail's tags (aka labels) extensively, and I like that I can assign colors to tags so I can visually scan through messages as well as filtering by tag. You can set filters to autotag messages. GMail also has a great mobile application if you like to check email via phone.
  • Tasks: Remember the Milk, RTM has a GMail plugin so that you can see email and tasks in the same window. It also has tags. The tags aren't color-coded, but you do get a tag cloud, which is nice for seeing which projects are more fully developed. Mobile interface too.
  • Documents, outlines, notes: Google Docs. I collaborate extensively, so the sharing features are great. With Google Gears integration, you can work offline as well, although you might prefer authoring in Word and uploading. Tags are color-coded in the same way as GMail, and I use the same tags and colors across the two. I dump all texts into GDocs that aren't confidential -- notes, ideas, outlines, chapters. I also coordinate complex collaborations in a spreadsheet. An excellent search feature also allows search-as-you-type. Again, the big advantage is tagging, which allows you to filter by project, role, or whatever. Mobile interface too.
  • Calendar: Google Calendar. Same as above, plus GCal accepts appointments and sends reminders through text messaging.
  • Trip scheduling: I haven't used it yet, but I intend to use TripIt: <>. The big news is that when you get a trip itinerary emailed to you, you forward it to TripIt and it parses the email, creating a unified view that you can access via mobile and share with individuals or the world. TripIt accepts airport reservations, hotel reservations, etc. and offers granular control so that you don't share everything on the itinerary. If your acquaintances also use the service, TripIt will inform you when you and they are in the same city and for how long.
  • Notes. I've been using my blog to think out loud about tech issues and to review books; the book reviews in particular become raw material for my articles and books. The blog's an important part of the ecosystem, but it's not attached to particular projects, so I don't tag blog entries the way I do everything else.
Depending on your work habits, you might check out other more unified solutions. There are several desktop solutions such as CircusPonies Notebook <>, Curio <>, and DevonThink <>, but I've found them to be rather limiting.

Do you want to discuss your own information ecosystem? Leave your take in the comments.


Sahil Parikh, founder of DeskAway, wrote to me about his company's product:

a project collaboration service for small distributed teams. We are based out of Mumbai, India and while most people were concentrating on the outsourcing business, we decided to put our energy into building something scalable that people across the world could use. We are live with paying customers - mostly from US, UK, France and India. DeskAway's main goal is to eliminate guesswork  - when multiple people start working on multiple projects/activities together.

DeskAway follows the familiar Basecamp model for web-based project management, but it adds several features, some of which have become common in more recent web-based PM software and some of which I haven't seen.
  • Contact sharing
  • Team blog
  • Robust time tracking
  • Reporting and analytics for project summaries, project timelines, time tracking
  • An issues summary for managing and tracking breakdowns
  • Project wiki
I have not yet signed up for the free trial, but hope to do so soon. It looks like an interesting product, and I like the emphasis on reporting and analytics.

DeskAway - Project Management Software, Project Collaboration Software, Task & Issue Tracking Software
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Sunday, May 11, 2008

RescueTime data suggests Microsoft is still on top

That's the upshot of this (unscientific) data mining from desktop app RescueTime, which sits on your desktop, monitors your application and website usage, and allows you to tag those uses for your own self-analysis. I've used RescueTime for a while now (after switching from Wakoopa), and am really interested in the results and the potential for large-scale characterization of volunteer participants' application use. Of course, this initial report is also a way for RescueTime to indicate how it could sell this characterized data to app developers and presumably advertisers.

Early Adopters Still Spend More Time With Microsoft Than Google, Facebook, or Skype. But For How Long?
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Unified Activity Management is brought to the consumer

Michael Muller had a terrific talk about UAM at SIGDOC 2007. It's nice to see this fascinating approach being brought to Lotus Connections. UAM has a surface resemblance to lifestreaming (e.g., Facebook's activity streams) but is focused on bottom-up characterization among teams.

The AppGap » » IBM Lotus Connections - A Video on Activity-based Computing: News, views, and reviews of Work 2.0 tools, apps and practices
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Kinds of Twitter messages

ReadWriteWeb teamed up with Summize, a Twitter search engine, to characterize Twitter messages (tweets). From a scholarly point of view, this makes Twitter into a vast corpus. Here's the interesting news:
What we found is that there are three main types of conversations going on. First, there are status updates of every day occurrences such as, "getting coffee," "check out this post on X," "going to sleep," or other mundane life things. Second, there are short term memes where many people talk about some event before, during, or after it. These conversations are usually short lived -- ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. For example a TV show like "Lost" will have some buzz, before, during, and for a short time after the show airs, but will drop out of the stream very quickly. We saw that happen with "LSD" when the drug's creator Albert Hoffman died last week. The final type of discussion we see on Twitter, are long term memes. These are topics of interest that people talk about for days, weeks, or even months. Politics or new video games are great examples of these longer term discussions happening on the platform.
What People Say When They Tweet - ReadWriteWeb
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The question that political strategists need to begin asking

On TechPresident:
A Washington State state delegate named Suzi LeVine, looking for an easy way to organize her state’s Obama delegates, turned to free wiki service Wetpaint, which helped her quickly build the Barack Obama Delegates site. This is one of those sites that serve such an obvious function that we wonder how the delegates could live without it. So why haven’t supporters of the other candidates done anything similar?
techPresident – Obama Delegates Learn To Self-Organize
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Cellphone spam

Not a bad idea when built into the service and sharply targeted, as in Blyk; awful when broadcasted across phones that do not have unlimited texting plans. Frankly, this seems really boneheaded on the spammers' part: how many people will be eager to buy a product after having to pay for an unsolicited ad? Unfortunately, the result will probably be telecomms implementing overaggressive spam filters to avoid customer claims against them:
Now some consumers, like Ms. Lightfoot, are monitoring their cellphones more aggressively for unwanted messages and, in some cases, demanding refunds. Computer security companies have developed products to help fight mobile spam. And AT&T, Verizon and others are making it easier for customers to block unsolicited messages and keep spammers at bay.
Spam Moves to Cellphones and Gets More Invasive - New York Times
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Overlaying real world and game

I had thought of this sort of concept a while back, but it's interesting to see it being applied:
Using an iPhone or Google Android cell phone, Parallel Kingdom knows of a users physical location enabling a virtual character to move around in that area of the virtual world. Users can attack, trade, or mingle with people around them, and can pick on friends, build kingdoms, go on raids, wage war, or establish economic empires.
Parallel Kingdom: Role Playing Via iPhone or Android With Location Mashup
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filtering social media

An initial proposal for bringing some discernible shape to the streams being generated by social networking and social media tools.

Why Filtering is the Next Step for Social Media - ReadWriteWeb
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