Monthly Archives: August 2007

The shadow proves the sunshine

Phil Windley blogged about his user-centric reputation talk about AOL in Virginia today. “User-centric reputation” set off a cascade of thoughts, which are highlighted here (i.e. beware stream of consciousness)…

Recently the above catch phrase (i.e. Switchfoot song/lyric from Nothing Is Sound) came to mind while I was thinking again about content management and the role of people. That is, content proves authorship, and a fair bit of authoring is still a human-based endeavor.

Yet, much of information analytics within content management is focused on the results of authoring–the content–and its about-ness. This is an asset-centric or information-centric view to analytics embodied in clustering, classifying, tagging, summarizing, transcribing, translating, etc. There is value in this form of analysis; however, it simply creates more information–more content–while tending to cap the visibility of original authors and potential collaborators. I mean, folks are still out there, but I have to work to find them, to recall them, to (re-)engage with them.

Why aren’t there more systems that promote people first–treat people as the pre-eminent metadata? That is, why isn’t ECM more user-centric? Why doesn’t it promote reputation more effectively?

Information (+collaboration/behavioral) analytics can just as easily assume a contextual view centered upon people. It can help me understand potential collaborators in light of my current task or role or community affiliation. It can inform me of the “emotion” of a digital workspace (e.g. present a panel color or icon to flag a “heated” discussion currently underway–one that I may wish to avoid to run headlong into straightaway). It can go beyond mere presence display to mood display based on recent content-related activities by colleagues. It can help set my expectations for collaborative outcomes based on related process knowledge, social context and reputation.

Back to Phil’s blog and referenced presentation. Slide 50 talks about reputation in relation to trust, reciprocity and social benefit, in the context of social platforms like Facebook. I’ve recreated and redlined his graphic to emphasize business value where promotion of people and reputation is concerned (e.g. reduced time-to-innovation):

Business benefit of reputation

More on this topic to come, I suspect…

Flash fun

Over the years, I’ve slowly collected a set of Flash-based games. Thanks to Phil Haack (and his brother), I’m now happily wasting time on vacation playing Line Rider. So far I have my sledder/rider successfully performing a loop, an inverted flip and a forward “1800” (five tight flips in a row)…except that a complete wipe-out ensues immediately after touching down from the attempted 1800. :-)

Line Rider physics

Given that Line Rider is a Flash application, I wonder if there is a way to leverage a vector graphics tool like Illustrator to make building a spectacular, amusement park like “roller coaster” ride more feasible. Line Rider does allow you to save and load named course; so, there may be a way…

Mashup idea

Awhile ago, my wife gifted me with a Belkin TuneFM for my iPod nano. Pop the TuneFM into the iPod and optionally into your car’s power outlet and viola! You can use your car’s FM receiver to transmit music from your iPod over your car’s speaker system.

Belkin itself provides a service (based on frequency data from Radio-Locator) that will suggest an ideal FM frequency given a particular ZIP code–plus lesser alternatives.

The longer the drive the greater the benefit of not having to exchange CD’s. On the other hand, the longer the drive the greater chance that the ideal FM frequency you begin with won’t be ideal for the duration of the trip.

There are already numerous mashups that leverage Google Maps (e.g. open houses on the real estate market in a particular neighbor, etc.). So, it seems possible at least to take driving direction data from Google Maps (or MapQuest et al), combine it with FM frequency data from Radio-Locator (or Sirius et al) and produce a trip-long, location-aware FM frequency recommendation service. For extra credit, this mashup could produce a script that could be imported into your GPS device (e.g. an audio script: “change FM frequency to 92.9 in one mile”).

I wonder how easy or difficult it is to build such a mashup.

Update 9/2/2007: The approach taken by Mark Snesrud and Bob Mayo to decode the “San Jose Semaphore” is inspiring.

Stuff and information

Paul Graham’s essay last month, “Stuff,” really resonates with me. I strongly encourage you to take a few minutes and go read it. Good, isn’t it?!

Stuff appears to be a key contributing factor to the commoditization–er, evaporation–of my time. In fact, I can effectively replace “stuff” with “information” in Paul’s essay and feel equally downtrodden. I’m overwhelmed with information, probably just like you are.

To paraphrase and personalize some of Paul’s points:

  • Information has gotten a lot cheaper, but my attitude toward it hasn’t changed correspondingly. I overvalue information.
  • Once I’ve accumulated a certain amount of information, it starts to own me rather than the other way around.
  • A cluttered room [or computer file system or feed aggregator or …] is literally exhausting.
  • Another way to resist acquiring information is to think of the overall cost of owning [or even just managing] it. The purchase price [or initial download, even free] is just the beginning. I’m going to have to think about the thing for years–perhaps even for the rest of your life. Every thing you own takes energy away from you. Some give more than they take. Those are the only things worth having.

I’m known to be a packrat, which has certainly saved me and others in the past. However, the burden that comes with this mountain of information (stuff) is wearing. Techniques I’ve described before end up involved more about paying in time lost than in real value gained (i.e. organization for no apparent long-term benefit).

Earlier this week I was meeting with several EMC colleagues to discuss the whole REST/POX/SOAP/RPC/SOA/ROA(/DOA) thing. During this candid discussion–a good subject for another post–someone remarked, and I’m paraphrasing, “Forget about organization; focus on good search. Organization is an intractable problem, and one that no one is willing to pay for to solve properly.” This gave me pause…so, how do I leverage search on the web and on my desktop? Has search truly replaced navigation for me? If not, why?

Back to Paul’s essay and the realization that I may overvalue information, I got to thinking about physical books, digital books and links to books online. Paper is pleasant to hold and read, but it can burn and consumes shelf space. PDFs are fine on a big display, but they require software to read (albeit free) and additional electronic storage themselves–not to mention that they’re fixed/frozen, not dynamic/living, in nature. Links consume far less storage then documents on my hard drive–even nothing when placed into–but they can break or become useful when my ISP decides to disappear. When I go offline, how do I access a particular document given only a link? When I’m away from my computer, PDA, smart phone, etc. how do I read my softcopy document? When I’m away from my home library and a nearby book seller, how do I thumb through a certain chapter for that particular key phrase or figure?

Given all my questions, I need something empirical to help me to change my ways. Ironically, it seems like more data could help my information overload. :-)

The kind of data I’m currently envisioning represents the number of browse, read and write related actions upon sets of electronic documents. For example, if I navigate to a folder that contains two documents but do nothing more, then each document gets a +1 in the browse column. If I navigate here again and open one of the documents, both documents get another +1 for browse and the opened document gets a +1 in the read column, too. If I edit the open document and save my changes, then that document also receives a +1 in the write column.

I say “columns” to represent this metadata due to my leverage of a useful Windows Explorer add-in (i.e. shell namespace extension), Folder Size for Windows, which presents a new Folder Size column within the main file system navigator:


On the other hand, I’m not sure that adding three columns of numbers would be terribly useful.

Fortunately there are lots of ways to project this kind of information. I circulated Visual Literacy’s A Periodic Table of Visualization Methods amongst my colleagues at work back in May and it garnered a fair bit of praise and admiration. More recently, Jeff Atwood blogged more generally about catalogs of data visualization. For example, maybe I could apply Crazy Egg‘s “heat map” concept.

Perhaps I’m simply over-engineering the whole thing.

Taking a step back and returning to Paul’s essay, the following paragraph may represent the simplest way to my information tranquility:

A friend of mine cured herself of a clothes buying habit by asking herself before she bought anything “Am I going to wear this all the time?” If she couldn’t convince herself that something she was thinking of buying would become one of those few things she wore all the time, she wouldn’t buy it. I think that would work for any kind of purchase. Before you buy anything, ask yourself: will this be something I use constantly? Or is it just something nice? Or worse still, a mere bargain?

I’ve successfully applied this practice to physical books and music CD’s–I’m a sucker for both–but I’ve got a long way to go where general downloading and filing is concerned.

Update 8/24/2007: Not that TreeMaps are necessarily ideal, but I ran across a TreeMap-based disk drive content visualization software for Windows and MacOS recently: SequoiaView (Windows) and Disk Inventory X (MacOS).