Observations from where technology meets business

Lynda Moulton's Enterprise Search Blog

I am really diggin' Lynda Moulton's Search Blog, started just this year. It is pretty clear to me that "Search" plays a huge role in Enterprise 2.0. It is one of those areas that hits on all three characteristics of an E2.0 solution (a social component, leverages enterprise "data", and enables unanticipated/Long Tail/emergent uses).

"Search" (particularly "Enterprise Search") is certainly much more than what we expect from Google today. "Social Search" looks very promising. For more information check out Lynda's slides from a KMWorld Webinar that took place a couple of weeks ago.

Putting together the work habits and needs of a time-poor and information-rich community of knowledge workers in a post-processing environment where they can "mash up," tag and commentate their search discoveries is a natural evolution of search technology. It is remarkable to see how search companies that are serious about the enterprise market (search within and for the enterprise) are rapidly turning out enhancements for their audiences, now that they are convinced that "Enterprise 2.0" has a boatload of early adopters in the wings. Search should always be about connecting experts and their content. Add collaboration and the ability to enrich search results by searchers for the benefit of their colleagues and you have a model for, soon-to-be, heavily adopted products.

Source: Enterprise Search Practice Blog: Collaboration and Expertise Bring Focus to Enterprise Search

FYI: 4L Blogs

Checkout Lori's new blog over at 4L Designs. 4L Blogs will be covering topics such as web design, graphics design, Drupal development, and Adobe CS3.

Incredible Online Presentations and Lectures

I am updating our presentation from last year's Internet Safety Parent Forum for a another forum to take place soon. Our approach has been to balance concerns about Internet safety with how important the Internet will continue to be in the future. One of the topics I will be covering is the life-long learning opportunities the Internet provides.

Here are some of the online learning resources I am referring in the presentation:

Groove, SharePoint, and OneNote

In Mary Jo Foley's interview with Rajesh Jha, Corporate VP , Microsoft Office Live, we learned that Groove is being positioned "as the way that users will be able to access documents in their workspaces when they are off-line". Jha also is quoted as saying "Groove will be the way you take any Workspace offline."

Unfortunately, this still doesn't clear up Groove's future since, technically, Groove can do this today by synchronizing with a SharePoint document library. Longer-term, it makes sense to tie Groove and SharePoint together. However, I wouldn't expect this to be an easy task since there is significant overlap in function.

In addition, given the timing of the acquisition and the latest releases of SharePoint and Groove I doubt any accommodating architectural changes have taken place yet. To get these working as an online/offline duo we should see some significant changes under the hood, the least of which would be a common storage model.

However, while they have the hood up and are taking apart the engine Microsoft should consider bringing another piece of their portfolio into the mix. Microsoft OneNote is a fabulous personal information manager (a better description might be a personal information harvester). I have been using it to manage all of my "digital stuff" the past few months and have been very pleased. There is still plenty of room for improvement but, in my opinion, it does a darn good job and is arguably the best of its kind on the market.

OneNote's roots are planted in the Tablet PC. However, I don't use a tablet with OneNote. It's my understanding that 80% or more of OneNote users also do not use a Tablet PC.

One result of this heritage is OneNote's use of a freeform page in which you can embed just about any form of media including text, audio, video, images, and files in general (in addition to "digital ink" from a tablet pen). I personally make liberal use of OneNote's notebook structure to keep my growing personal database of information. I am able to consume all forms of digital information (and some non-digital via a scanner) as I come across it now that I have a place to keep it (and find it later). I also make use of OneNote's tagging capability for GTD-like task management.

In addition, OneNote has some simple collaborative capabilities. An interesting feature I haven't tried yet is the ability to host real-time shared note-taking sessions. This sounds intriguing since a OneNote notebook can become an online meeting's virtual whiteboard. After the meeting the shared notebook continues on as part of the team's normal collaborative (and personal information management) mode of work.

You can also share notebooks between computers allowing team members, for example, to work within the same notebook from different locations and during different times of the day. There are a couple of options to do this. From my experience the best way is via SMB file shares. Just point all instances of OneNote to the same file on the network. This appears to work quite well as I have shared OneNote notebooks between my personal laptop and one I take home from the office. Changes are quickly reflected between the two computers.

Teams can also share OneNote notebooks using SharePoint. This method, however, appears to be a little rough around the edges and if there are a number of changes the synchronization process is quite noticeable. It almost looks as if the entire notebook is being transferred during synchronization but I can't say for sure.

This is where Groove's P2P technology could come into play. Groove's synchronization methods are very robust and from my perspective appear to be much better than OneNote's synchronization using SharePoint. I have used Groove to share workspaces between multiple computers in various locations and I was quite pleased with the performance. This was the case even though one of the laptops involved was constantly going offline and coming back online in multiple places.

So imagine having a server back-end and web interface from SharePoint, synchronization and offline capability with Groove, and a rich collaborative team workspace and personal information management client from OneNote. Now that would be something.

Microsoft Office Live Workspace

On Sunday Microsoft unveiled plans for Office Live Workspace, touting it as their entry into the free online office suite market. The response, at least from the blogosphere, has been what can best be described as a collective yawn. There was only a brief conversation about it on SlashDot and hardly any presence at all on Digg.

Responses ranged from confusion:

"I wish I could give you a simple explanation of what the company is offering, but, this being Microsoft, what we have is a witch's brew of balkanized services, elaborate brand hierarchies, and jargon out the wazoo."

Nicholas Carr's Rough Type

...to indifference:

"There's nothing even approaching an actual online editor and, frankly, not much to compel anyone to use the new services. In fact, the only thing truly interesting about Office Live Workspace is what it doesn't do: create and edit docs in the browser."

Scott Gilbertson's Wired Blog

...to critical:

"The barbarians are at the gate, a new horde is on the way, but no one seems to be defending the castle. Instead, the Microsoft Office warriors are rebranding, repackaging and relaunching old products and calling them new."

Michael Arrington's TechCrunch

...to insulting:

"Microsoft readies Office Live Workspace, an online storage space for office documents. The catch? You can only edit the spreadsheet, Word doc or slideshow if you have MS Office installed on your computer. Uh, ok."

Lifehacker (the title of the post was "Dumb")

Microsoft Office received more attention for an error in Excel 2007. Adobe received more coverage of its announced acquisition of Virtual Ubiquity, an online word processor. Well that might be because it looks like Adobe may actually release an online office suite.

To me it appears Google is making progress convincing the public that online documents offer advantages over the document-as-file paradigm supported by client-based office suites.

It's also not clear if Workspace will be based on SharePoint or something else. The way it is described it sure sounds like SharePoint but nothing from Microsoft actually says it is SharePoint. I only found a brief mention of Workspace being based on SharePoint from Mary Jo Foley's coverage. But then Mary Jo contradicts herself in the same paragraph by saying documents will be viewable in a browser.

Attensa Feed Server Released as Virtual Appliance

Interesting to see Attensa releasing its latest Feed Server as a virtual appliance. These are standalone self-contained system images with operating system and application pre-installed. The customer only needs to "run" the image (to boot the virtual appliance) and then configure the system via a web interface.

The press release doesn't give any hint as to what virtualization platform it supports. However, the fact that they are using rPath to develop the virtual appliance says it likely runs on any rPath-supported virtualization platforms such as VMware, Xen, Microsoft Virtual Server, Parallels, or Virtual Iron.

rPath is a fascinating technology. Their tools provide a development environment for appliances (total system images, actually) in addition to other services to help keep the appliances up-to-date and easy to configure. There are a dearth of tools on the market that provide these types of services. Without these developers are left to using homegrown tools which could lead to inconsistent system builds and lower quality solutions.

rPath also can produce ISO images that can be used to create hardware appliances or standard servers. So build it once and deploy as the customer wants it. Way cool.

IMHO, rPath represents a layer in the software stack that creates opportunities for a new type of developer. One who is capable of integrating existing software systems to derive a total solution tailored to specific use cases with no need for a customer to install software.

In addition, these solutions encapsulate the operating system (and, hence, diminish the role of operating system vendor) since the customer no longer has to deal with it. It's a match made in heaven for Open Source integrators.

How NOT to tell a story

You'll love these amusing slides from Rowan Manahan.

Via Cognitive Edge

Killer App?

Two conflicting articles published this week about video conferencing:
  • Robert X. Cringely recently learned about telepresence (HD video conferencing) and predicts home-based units, possibly sold by Apple, could be the next "Killer App". Just bring to market an attachable HD video camera for the growing population of HD flat-panel TVs already sitting in American's living room and you have a home version of telepresence. Not ready to buy one yet? Well, Cringely says "This is 100 percent analogous to the introduction of color TV in the 1950s. People didn't know they wanted color TV until they saw color TV. But once they saw it, the lure of color TV was instant and obvious". Just imagine pointing a camera at the typical football fan watching the Lions take on the Packers Sunday afternoon. Smile!
  • BusinessWeek.Com just published "BT: Small Firms Snub Videoconferencing " in which "BT's general manager of broadband, VoIP and software services, Chris Lindsay" said "Customers are not seeing the increased benefit from having the visual piece over and above the audio" to explain why demand for video conferencing has been low.

What do you think? Do you need "the visual piece" to effectively collaborate? I don't think you do (in most cases).

To me this looks like a classic example of the type of problem technologists get into as noted by Pip Coburn in his book The Change Function:

"More often than not, products are created in a build-it-and-they-will-come mentality that relies solely upon Moore's Law for lowering prices and what can be called Grove's Law of generating 10x changes and improvements" (from Chapter Two of the Change Function; an abridged version is available at Fast Company).

All we need is a higher resolution video camera and display (which are already in many living rooms btw) along with higher bandwidth. Then, Cringely tells us we simply need to find the price point where it becomes "killer".

The problem is this approach forgets an important point. Does the product solve a problem for the potential customer? Coburn refers to a customer's problem as a "crisis" and says "If the level of crisis is higher than the total perceived pain of adopting a new solution, then a change will occur." By the way, "perceived pain "goes well beyond the cost of the product.

IMHO, put a video conferencing unit into the typical American living room and you will certainly create a crisis. But not the one Cringely would like.

Update: Melanie Turek reports Cisco is considering developing a home telepresence system. Apparently talk about this was hinted at during a discussion with reporters at a recent analyst briefing.

Am I managing "my" information or "our" information?

The scenario below is ultimately what we are after when using collaborative technologies. We are trying to collectively manage "information" ("data", "knowledge", pieces of content, files, etc.). Yet, for most of us (including me) we don't even know how to effectively manage our own information. How can we work effectively as a group if we don't have the fundamental skills necessary to work as a group of one?

When do we cross the line of managing "my" information (which is serviced by the technology segment called "personal productivity") to managing "our" information (which qualifies as "collaboration" or "knowledge management")?

To me, it all seems to be on the same continuum. So, how practical is it to enforce a single folder naming or hierarchy convention? In many cases, it may be possible. But for most I suspect the folder metaphor is insufficient and something like tagging may be better since it seems to strike a balance between personal preferences and group needs.

However, I am starting to think the best place to start is to train employees to manage their own information better. All collaboration initiatives are based on these fundamantal information management skills.

A few days ago, some of the senior leaders within our team got together to set out some "standards" for how we capture and manage information in our organization. Specifically, we decided to share information more effectively by storing the files and information we create for various consulting opportunities in a file structure that will make it easier to find and use information. Rather than each person creating and managing their own filing structure and guiding others to information, we're trying an agreed, standardized file structure based on a "taxonomy" we pulled together over a few hours.

Link to Thinking Faster: Organizing Information

"Client" and "Server" are obsolete

It seems to me the terms "client-based" and "server-based" computing have become obsolete. Now, there is just "computing".

Somebody else must have said this already.

Syndicate content