Archive for Tips + Pointers
by Steve King
You can’t miss all the noise around Twitter these days. A Google news search turns up over 50,000 Twitter news hits last week alone.
But we haven’t seen much on Twitter and information discovery, which is one of our primary uses.
Twitter is a great research tool. We use it almost every day to discover new information about topics familiar and unfamiliar to us.
The most powerful part, in our opinion, of using Twitter for information discovery is the role humans play. Tweets are, mostly, entered by people. This provides nuances and slants on the information sources that traditional search tools do not.
For example, if you search on “small business innovation” in Google the results are web pages containing those words. With Twitter search the results are tweets that a human thinks are relevant to the topic of small business innovation. We’ve found this to be a subtle but important and powerful difference.
Social search – considering the interaction or contribution of search users – is often cited as the future of search and information discovery. Twitter search is a form of social search that is here today.
You can also quickly find out who is passionate and knowledgeable about a topic through Twitter. We recently needed to learn more about the economic stimulus package and health care. Through Twitter we found several experts and were able to connect with them using Twitter direct messaging.
We still use traditional methods are search for information discovery, but Twitter has become a valuable research resource in our work.
by Celine Roque
Taking a cue from LifeHacker and also as an answer to Jenny’s recent post, I’m sharing my productivity and technology wishlist for 2009 here at The App Gap. These are just simple things that I hope get implemented in the coming year to make managing my online life a little easier. Let’s start:
Social Networks. I’d like more interoperability between networks, starting with the sign-up process. Social Network A should recognize my account from Social Network B, be able to import my profile and friends list either fully or partially depending on my settings, and automatically synchronize all my profiles whenever I make changes.
Email. Although there have been significant progress in fighting spam, a few still manage to squeeze their way into my Gmail inbox. Better filtering, tighter security, and fewer downtimes would be welcome. Also, a built-in backup system in Gmail would be very helpful, if only for peace of mind. The same goes for Google Docs, which right now can only be backed up by using third-party extensions.
Search Engines. I wish Google and other search engines could improve the ways that we navigate through search results. In particular, I await the ability to filter according to site format (is it a news site? a blog? A discussion board?), narrow things down to a specific time frame (when you’re looking for items that appeared in the past, giving “From-To” limiters), and arrange according to either relevance, date, or popularity.
Wireless Connectivity. 3G is starting to become widespread, but it has a long way to go. It would be great if in the next year, telecom companies would aggressively promote it by spending on infrastructure, starting on the most populated areas. Preferably, do so at HSDPA speed.
Displays. Lastly, I am fervently hoping for more computer displays to come out utilizing E-Ink or a similar technology, because they are kinder on the eyes. Being in front of the computer all the time has given me numerous headaches and has probably damaged my eyes even more. They’re a little expensive at this point, but if they catch on, mass production will eventually bring the cost down.
Do you have your own wishlist? Perhaps a few web app ideas? Please share them below.
by Matthew Hodgson
Taking care of reporting for IT projects can be rather tiresome. Often, the needs of a project are highly variable from managing expectations, educating end-users about functionality, to communicating project status and lessons learned – a task made all the more complex when there are multiple stakeholders involved with differing needs.
Some attention in the bloggersphere has recently turned to the use of social media to replace some of the more traditional project management tools. Microsoft has long since used blogs as a way of communicating its progress and issues with iterations of software like Windows and Internet Explorer , as has IBM and Sun Microsystems. Even some government departments, like the Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations in Australia, are starting to use blogs for project communication with key internal stakeholders across multiple jurisdictions of government.
The use of wikis, though, can lead to playing “whack a mole,” according to Dell’s Scott Griffin .
“Everyone is putting in data and keeping it organized is at least a part-time if not a full-time IT job. You end up in a mess … furthermore, the information is often added to wikis but not deleted when no longer relevant or accurate or updated when changed, he notes.”
It is important to note, though, that like their document management predecessors, Wikis are collaboration tools, not social tools, because social software focuses on the personality above all else — who is creating this, why did they create it, and who else should know ? This emphasis lends itself nicely to the use of blogs for the social side of projects – communication, storytelling, knowledge sharing, and discussion – as a natural complement to wikis – where the collaboration occurs in order to produce project information.
In order to get the best out of these tools in project management, try out my top 10 list, based in part on CIO’s article “How to use enterprise blogs to streamline project management“:
1. Rules of engagement
Lay out what the rules of engagement will be. That will make the executives more comfortable with going forward.
2. Start small
Blogs work well when they catch on virally, so you need to introduce the idea to the right people, who will then sell the idea to the rest of the organisation.
3. Curing the email addicts
“The primary communication medium is still e-mail,” says Jonathan Edwards, a Yankee Group analyst. “We’re all so accustomed to it. You can’t change the way people work overnight.”. One way to wean employees from e-mail communications is to use the sister technology to a blog: Real Simple Syndication (RSS) with invitations sent through email.
4. “Tag It” or “Bag It”
Teaching employees to use blog-editing tools isn’t hard, since they essentially look like a lightweight word processor. Instead, the challenge comes in reminding them to tag their posts with keywords that will help with later search and discovery needs.
5. “No” is not a good answer
If companies don’t adopt blogging technologies for the enterprise, line-of-business heads are just a credit-card purchase away from a hosted offering.
I’ve had this experience myself, where the project team has just gone to WordPress because its free and the internal support just isn’t there.
6. Wikis can be a challenge for users to learn
Although it’s easy to set up wikis, it’s not always so easy for users to take advantage of them. “Wiki platforms have a bit of a learning curve. You have to dig in to learn how to use it”. The use of wikimarkup instead of a WYSIWYG editor will definitely put some people off using it.
Blogs can use embedded material from a wide range of sources, including YouTube for project and stakeholder interviews, Flickr for pictures of workshops, and Slideshare material of PowerPoint presentations to the Executive. Even your team’s useful internet bookmarks shared through Delicious are likely to appeal to people reading the project’s posts. This will help your posts appeal to a wider range of people.
8. Don’t create a blogger. Free one!
The best Bloggers are those who are motivated to write, so utilise their enthusiasm rather than forcing someone whose heart just isn’t in it.
9. Low barrier to adoption
Wikipedia works well because anyone can create and edit just about anything. Even when there are errors they are typically fixed within a few hours .
Rather than putting in place hard security models for approvals, leverage the rules of engagement and encourage discussion and interaction by having few barriers (if any) for participation in the conversation.
10. Two-way, not one-way
Social media like blogs are about conversation, not the one way dialogue that project reporting typically adopts. Be ready to answer questions and engage with stakeholders openly, honestly, and with transparency.
Adults often forget that ‘play’ is one of the most effective ways to learn. Experimentation with different tools within a project will allow you and others to understand their use so that when it comes to employing them for external communications you’ll be well equipped to know the ins and outs of social media — what works, what doesn’t, and why.
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1. Schwartz, E. 2008.
Do’s and don’ts for managing IT projects with wikis. InfoWorld, 03 Sept. Online at: http://www.infoworld.com/article/08/09/03/36NF-wiki-enterprise-tips_1.html
2. Charlottetown, J. 2008. Wikis are not Social Software : Enterprise 2.0 Insights and Strategy. Socialwrite.com 03 Apr. Online at: http://socialwrite.com/2008/04/03/wikis-are-not-social-software/
3. Krupp, E. 2008. Wikipedia, Britannica battle over credibility. The Examiner, 10 Aug, Online at: http://www.examiner.com/a-1529791~Wikipedia__Britannica_battle_over_credibility.html?cid=temp-popular
by Patti Anklam
Stewarding and working with networks has some science (the science of the structure of networks), but it is mostly art. Because a human network consists of a set of relationships, it is in constant change. This is the very nature of networks. On the fifth day, I summarized the broad areas of purpose that can be ascribed to networks. Today, I offer nine sets of tensions, each a continuum, that are always at work in networks, whether they are made explicit or not. Distinguishing them, and bringing them to the foreground in network design or diagnostic is a critical task of net work.
- What is the balance between the value of the network to the network and the personal value that individuals receive by being part of it?
- Has the network been structured in a top-down way, with rules of communication and decision making, or are the network’s properties (structure, governance) emergent, flexible, and responsive to environmental context?
- Is the membership of the network closed, or is it open to anyone to participate?
- Does the network horde and and generate knowledge internal to the network or does it actively solicit and include external views, ideas, and opinions?
- Is the purpose of the network and the value it creates focused on outcomes and results, or do members participate for the promise of the discovery and dialogue?
- Are the interactions among members of the network oriented toward transactions that are task-based, or do the interactions principally support exchange and creation of knowledge?
- Is the value produced by the network primarily tangible or intangible? Is there a balance between tangible and intangible, and does there need to be balance?
- Are the norms of the interactions, outcomes, membership rules, and governance structure codified, or have these evolved through the life of the network such that they are known and passed down as tacit knowledge?
- Where does the network live? Does it exist only when members are together face-to-face, or only through online participation?
Managing and balancing these tensions is the work of not just the network leader, but of all members. Discomfort in a network may indicate that one of these tensions has passed the boundary set for it, and that balance needs to be restored.
by Patti Anklam
The purpose of a network is that which animates it and engages its members in caring about it. Because networks can be so rich and multilayered, I simplified the perspective by defining five broad categories of network:
- Mission: Social good or environmental improvement at the local, national, regional, or global level
- Business: Creation of tangible value — business development, production of goods and services, financial wealth, or any operationally output-focused endeavor.
- Idea: Generative thinking for innovation, problem-solving, or advocacy
- Learning:Continuous improvement and enhancement of personal or collective knowledge
- Personal: Individual support, growth, and knowledge
We see overlaps in all sorts, for example, we may develop a strong personal network in the context of our business or social pursuits, but the value we receive from each remains distinct. As I said in yesterday’s post, all networks have a purpose, and all networks produce value. The net work is to distinguish what that value is, and to take action to appreciate it and make it appreciate.
One of the exercises I include in my NetWorkShops is to ask participants to list the networks to which they belong, and to ascribe a purpose to each. People report overlaps, but also insights that come from clarifying what it is that they get from each network they belong to. This is part of the net work shift that comes with the network lens.
by Anita Campbell
Techcrunch has declared the death of packaged software, noting Microsoft’s opening of the Microsoft Store on the Web this past week.
Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say packaged software is “dead” and that suddenly all software will be purchased and downloaded from the Web. However, it’s clear that packaged software has been in the throes of death for a long time. But it won’t be a quick and painless death. It will be years before packaged software goes away, if it ever does completely. (What about the software that comes loaded on your computer from the retailer? Don’t see that going away anytime soon.)
The convenience of being able to purchase a software application on the Web and download it immediately can’t be beat. But it also raises another thorny little issue: what happens when you switch computers?
Typically you’re given an activation key and required to register your copy of the software. But those activation codes are hard to keep track of. What do you do if you get a new computer and need that activation key, but can’t locate the original version? It’s not in the software provider’s interests to help you re-discover your key (I know — I’ve had to ask a couple of times and each time the answer was “we can’t help you”). It’s especially an issue for small businesses of under 10 employees — typically they have no in-house tech support and usually are DIYers for computers issues.
Some small business owners I know have been using RoboForm to store the increasing number of passwords that you need for online applications. It also has a RoboForm2Go license where you store all the information on a USB drive and carry the USB drive with you. That way it stays independent of any particular computer.
Not only can a solution like RoboForm help you store passwords but it can keep track of all those software activation codes and other details you may need if one computer goes kaput or is inaccessible. When you have to do it yourself in a small business, a solution like RoboForum is an important detail.
by Anita Campbell
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Let’s say you want to check out the competition. You want to see the states where your competitor’s products are most popular. One way to do that is to commission a market research study. Depending on the product, that could be expensive and the results difficult to obtain.
Or you could go to Google Search Insights and in 2 minutes get a quick and dirty snapshot, state by state, of product popularity.
Google Search Insights is a goldmine of data. And its use doesn’t need to be limited to competitor products.
Let’s say you are a Web designer, and you want to know if you should be offering templates and set-up services for certain software applications.
To show you how to use the Google Search Insights data, I tried an experiment. I checked Google Search Insights for two software applications: WordPress and AMember.
WordPress, no surprise, is pretty popular all over the United States (the deeper blue the color, the more searches in that geographic area):
You can see, however, that WordPress is more popular in certain states than others, as judged by the number of searches using that word. California, Utah, Washington and Oregon have had the most searches since 2004.
Depending on which state your Web design business is located in, this could be helpful. It could be helpful even if you primarily market over the Web. For instance, if you were considering optimizing your business website for a local location, or wanted to run pay-per-click ad campaigns to advertise your services, or were considering which conferences and public events to exhibit at, this kind of geographical information could be a useful data point.
Google also breaks down the information by identifying specific search terms. Knowing those search terms is itself helpful.
But perhaps WordPress wasn’t the best example, because it is wildly popular all over the U.S. Let’s take an up-and-coming application that is less well known, a membership site software application called AMember.
Now you see a very different picture — here the popularity is clustered in about 10 states, including Colorado, California, Texas, Florida and some others. This may give you good insights into how and where to market your development services for AMember.
Google Search Insights is certainly not the ONLY piece of intelligence you would use. The information has built-in limitations — for instance, it is based on search volume, not actual buying behavior. But as a rough indicator of public interest and demand, it’s useful information. And it’s free and only takes a few minutes to get.
You can run this kind of test with any product or online software application. You can also break it down by time period, and see growth trends over time, too. You can also compare popularity of an app in different countries all over the world.
How you use this data has endless possibilities — for instance, use it to determine the popularity of collaborative tools used in the workplace. Your imagination is the limit.
Go to Google Search Insights to run your own tests and experiments.
(Hat tip to Aaron Wall for the idea, who pointed out Google Search Insights in his SEOBook Community.)