Content Management

Edging the enterprise forward

Thinking about schools, enterprises and intranets, I wanted to jot down here some things I've been reading in the last few days that make a lot of sense to me.

Headshift (1):

I am sure organisations will eventually be able to create, within their online spaces, the sort of interaction, collaboration and sharing that takes place in the "wild world" of the Internet. Until then, we just have to help them make the most of the tools they have (or get) and provide them ideas on how to, slowly, start rethinking their internal processes, culture and view of the world. 

That is one of the reasons developing the system is just one of the steps in the work we do. Engagement is the other big one.

Headshift (2 — Lee, 'Last week, a group of us at Headshift spent a day at the Blogging 4 Business 2007 conference'): 

In addition to the tools, success is also about: 

  1. concrete business use cases
  2. engagement & people support
  3. a connected infrastructure

This is why we focus primarily on use cases, and the mapping between a task and information analysis of these use cases and the behavioural characteristics of the tools, in order to find the right blend of social modes in each project we undertake. During the session, we announced that we are about to open source the use case library that we use internally to capture these examples, so hopefully this will help others get to grips with the many practical applications that currently exist for enterprise social tools.

Blogging 4 Business (via Lee's post and covering the same conference): 

Got to applaud Bryant for saying all this technology is really all about the people at the end of the keyboard. "With social tools, you get immediate payback because you use lightweight tools to organise information in a way that means something to you." Example - social tagging (picking your own keywords to identify and structure the information you post, not having to adhere to a hierarchy picked by those know-nothings in the IT department).

Representative of BT asks if all this new stuff means "the end of internal communications" as we know it (and I feel fine). Paraphrasing Lee Bryant: "Every generation of technologists see themselves as Luke Skywalker zooming in to destroy the Evil Empire" - but it's more about "layers".

Mike Butcher asks how the existing knowledge in company intranets can be adapted to new wikis. Fitch says we'll all move to "using the web to create communities of collaboration" - from a situation where companies have relied on static intranets for the last eight years.

Bryant says out-of-date material will simply naturally "fade in to the background".

Perfect Path (again, same conference): 

Q: MB: Lots of companies have huge intranets - should we just wipe them away?
DF: very familiar with this - there’s a huge wealth of material that’s useful but just couldn’t be found - so we did some work about improving search and findability but also looking at using lighter infrastructure to start again, which will involve some pain, people will have to go back and look at relevance for example, but that change is going to deliver the benefit that we’re moving towards creating communities and connecting people rather than just producing static content.
 

Q: GC: How do you deal with info that becomes out of date?
A:LB: different approaches - the most interesting is that in a mature implementation anything acquires its own context, tags etc so out of date stuff falls down as sediment in these systems. So then you need some sort of review system, but it’s more about letting more timely stuff come to the fore.
DF: it’s also so much easier to keep your stuff up to date, even for lawyers :), so just using lighter tools helps a lot.

Many things link to/flow from all this, but there's a core here — about people, concrete use cases and change-through-engagement — that I wanted to highlight and remember. 

And, to round off on the intranet theme, this from Read/WriteWeb

Finally I mentioned intranets - and how ContentExchange will integrate or complement them. Mark [Suster, Koral founder/CEO and now in charge of Salesforce ContentExchange] quoted me a stat from Forrester that only 44% of people can find what they want on a corporate intranet, whereas 87% can find what they want on the Internet. So ContentExchange will help raise that 44% figure, says Mark.


The value in tags

My interest in Dave Sifry's State of the Blogosphere update of 1 May (previous post) lay primarily in the report that 'About 47% of all blog posts have non-default tags or categories associated with them'.

Joshua Porter, who gave us the del.icio.us lesson in a post last December, Learning more about Structured Blogging, writes now in The Del.icio.us Lesson:

Del.icio.us tags aren’t like meta keyword tags because of the Del.icio.us Lesson. Meta keyword tags provide no personal value whatsoever. All of their value is social. They’re for aggregation engines to find and tell other people about. In other words, they’re for getting attention only. Del.icio.us tags, on the other hand, provide personal value each time someone uses them to recall a bookmark. … the Del.icio.us Lesson might help us parse Dave’s statistics, especially this one: 47% of blog posts have tags or categories associated with them. If the Del.icio.us Lesson is predictive, it would suggest that nearly all of that 47% would be categories that users are applying for their personal value on their blog, rather than tags applied for attention only. Any way to separate out those numbers, Dave?

Joshua Porter's new post is interesting in its own right (the second half is particularly valuable) and it links to a number of articles I hadn't come across before, including Rashmi Sinha on why tags are easier than categories:

… the beauty of tagging is that it taps into an existing cognitive process without adding add much cognitive cost. At the cognitive level, people already make local, conceptual observations. Tagging decouples these conceptual observations from concerns about the overall categorical scheme. The challenge for tagging systems is to then do what the brain does - intelligent computation to make sense of these local observations, and an efficient, predictable way to ensure findability.

Tagging is something I'm getting my students to use and I'm hoping that it will have a good future in our work. I take to heart Joshua's advice:

Just don’t try and make it the primary thing to do. Instead, make sure personal value precedes network value. Then you’ll have plenty to aggregate.

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Information

A couple of good postings about information overload have come my way via Alex's blog. Anne 2.0:

… you keep seeing the same blogs with different posts about the same topic or the same posts but linked by different bloggers or different posts by different bloggers that contain almost exactly the same information. … you need some sort of summary that ensures that you see the important stuff at least once and only once. We're a long way from something like that but it's not too much to expect that in 2006 we'll take a step beyond simplistic aggregators.

And see, too, Connecting the Dots. River of news aggregators, social smart aggregation …

Then I came across Elizabeth Daniel (Professor of Information Management, Open University Business School):

It is estimated that the average knowledge worker spends around 10% of their working time trying to find the information within their organization that they need to do their job.

These difficulties are caused by:

  • too much information, much of which is often out of date;
  • too little information about what is really important to the organization;
  • conflicting information.

The key to success, she argues, is to ensure 'that the organization is collecting and maintaining the right information in the first place'. And how should an organisation manage all this information?

The 5 principles of information management are:

  1. Ownership. All information within the organization should be assigned an owner and that owner’s name should be displayed with the information. Effective stewardship of that information should form part of the individual’s annual appraisal.
  2. Identification. The owner should also be responsible for labelling or tagging the information so that it can be classified and most importantly easily retrieved by anyone seeking that information.
  3. Lifecycle. As with other assets, information has a finite life. All information should therefore be reviewed at pre-agreed intervals and archived when no longer current.
  4. Storage. Considerations for information storage should include ease of access by relevant staff – ‘store once, use many’ being the maxim of many organizations – as well as issues of security and business continuity.
  5. Audit. Finally, organizations should regularly review their use of information including cost and value.

As these principles illustrate, information management is as much about people and processes as about technology.

Wow!  These principles would stir things up in every school I know.

On enterprise portals ('one strand of my own research over the last few years'), she says:

Enterprise portals seek to do what consumer portals and search engines such as Google do on the internet, that is provide easy access to a multitude of information, but within a single organization. Enterprise portals can tailor the information presented to staff according to their interests and responsibilities. The relative ease with which other programs or applications can be integrated into enterprise portals ensures that it is not only static information that can be presented to staff. Information from applications such as customer databases, accounting systems and purchasing systems can all be presented through the portal. This feature allows staff who are unfamiliar with the underlying applications to easily access the information they need.

I hadn't appreciated how Google is moving in on the enterprise area: Daniel links to this IT Week article.

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Weird feed behaviour

1) I've had to decouple FeedDemon 1.6 RC2 (a beta) from NewsGator: the synching between the two had gone haywire, ever since a problem that developed some time around 28 December at the NewsGator end of things, and it was driving me nuts.

2) More to the point here, apologies to my FeedBurner subscribers: FeedBurner has a range of services on offer — PingShot service and FeedFlare — and, I'm not sure, but changing my options on both of these seems to have set off a riot in that feed, posts reappearing as unread a number of times and (most recently) a strange 'noemail' address appearing entirely unasked for in the headers of posts. I've reset my options within FeedBurner and I hope things will now quieten down again.

For good measure, I've been playing with Technorati tags: in TypePad these have to be entered manually (TypePad's categories are read as Technorati tags, but categories are not the same kind of animal as tags) which is a little bit of work. (Within Firefox, Performancing semi-automates the process for you.) The work's worth it when the tags are read by Technorati, but I'm finding the process more miss than hit. As ever, Dave Sifry is very supportive, but we still haven't cracked the problem. Niall Kennedy at Technorati suggests it may be feed-related, which led me to validate my feed and the feed of a number of blogs. Errors abound everywhere, which made me feel a bit better. I still can't get the Technorati tags to work consistently, though, and the most recent ones have simply gone unnoticed by Technorati's spiders.

Web 2.0. Dontcha just luv it.

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Jeff Jarvis on tagging

Well, I've had a geeky good time with the subject of tags. But this isn't just another valentine to just another cool online trend; we're so over that. No, tags have a larger lesson to teach to media. They present a clear demonstration that the web is not about flat content. The web is about connections and the value that arises from them if you enable people to collect and communicate. In the old, big, centralised, controlled world of media, a few people with a few tools - pencils, presses and Dewey decimals - thought they could organise the world and its content. But as it turns out, left to its own devices, the world is often better at organising itself. Jeff Jarvis, Media Guardian

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Structured blogging

Structured blogging is back.

This is a marker so I don't lose sight of what might be a significant development next year.

Structured Blogging is a way to get more information on the web in a way that's more usable. You can enter information in this form and it'll get published on your blog like a normal entry, but it will also be published in a machine-readable format so that other services can read and understand it. Think of structured blogging as RSS for your information. Now any kind of data - events, reviews, classified ads - can be represented in your blog. Structured Blogging

Almost immediately, controversy. The engaged but non-technical punter is bound to be confused. On the one hand, Stowe Boyd:

My bet is that Structured Blogging will fail, not because people wouldn't like some of the consequences -- such as an easy way to compare blog posts about concrete things like record reviews, and so on -- but because of the inherent, and wonderful messiness of the world of blogging. Because blog posts don't have to conform to any structural standards, they can be used to do anything: nothing is out of bounds, because we haven't created the boundaries. The messiness of the world we are living in is one of the reasons that it is such a rich and rewarding experience. I am not sure who is benefitted if everyone falling into line and adopting consistent standards for the structure of blog posts. Perhaps companies like PubSub -- one of the driving force behind all this -- who would like to be able to sort out all the blog posts about hotels, gadgets, and wine out there, and aggregate the results in some algorithmic fashion, and then make money from the resulting ratings and reviews. But I am not sure that it would be a better world for bloggers, or even blog readers. So I favor the microformat approach, which is messy, puts more of a burden on the blogger, and will require a host of tools to be built to make it all work. But microformats will work bottom-up -- tiny little tagged bits of information buried in the blog posts -- as opposed to structurally. And I am betting -- as always -- on bottom-up.

This feels right to me, but the idea that 'The promise of structured content is that we would have an explosion of software aggregating it into useful, specialized services' (bokardo) is attractive (of course) and when I find David, Marc and Thomas all lining up behind it …

Another source of confusion is the link between this, or the lack of link between this, and microformats. Bob Wyman explains that structured blogging is what we do and microformat is just what it says on the can — the format we use: 'The two concepts are orthogonal. They don't compete. They can't compete. Verbs don't compete with nouns'.

One thing seems certain: if it's as unclear as this, how on earth will it take off (assuming it should)?


David Weinberger at the OII

Back in July, 2004, I came across David Weinberger's post about Three Orders of Organisation, and then I read about his idea of Trees vs Leaves. You can read him on the former here and the latter here. The material behind and in these two postings formed much of the substance of David's seminar at the OII on Wednesday morning. In addition, I've come across a third posting, The end of data?, which also fed in to what he said this week in Oxford. There's a book on the way, Everything Is Miscellaneous — overview here — and there's a summary of an earlier version of yesterday's talk here. Finally, the OII has a webcast of the talk.

The seminar was a whistle stop tour of some "high" points in the development of taxonomies — Aristotle on nesting, Porphyry's tree, Dewey and library classification (David has blogged about Dewey a number of times, eg here and here): 'all of these systems assume there's a top down view of knowledge' and seek to banish ambiguity and present a clear picture of reality/knowledge. Everything in its right place …

But in the bottom-up world of social tagging an item can be in many categories simultaneously (I don't think 'tags' are the same as 'categories', but I'm running here with the general tenor of David's argument), and users are contributors both to the stock of tagged items and to their ordering. In this world, trees will never go away, but we need to stop looking for The Tree. Instead, we should build a big pile of data (leaves), attach as much metadata as possible and filter on the way out not on the way in. Users will do the filtering, and the moment of "taxonomizing" should be postponed until the users need to do it. There is now nothing that is not metadata — data is metadata — and we can no longer predict what users want. Messiness is a virtue.

David sees this bottom-up approach to tagging as a reaction to the semantic web. There is no end to the way the deck of digitalised knowledge in this world can be cut and sliced. (Wikipedia, as Jimmy Wales says, is not paper: for one thing, David said, where the Encyclopedia Britannica restricts itself to 32 printed volumes and 65,000 topics, Wikipedia has no such restrictions and is currently running at some 800,000 entires — including ones on the Deep-fried Mars Bar and, famously, the Heavy Metal Umlaut.) In the world of multi-subjectivity, knowledge is never going to be "perfect". Instead, we must think in terms of 'good enough'. We are living through a revolution, a fundamental change to the way we understand knowledge and our pursuit of it. The global conversation that is the net changes the roles of filters and, therefore, our understanding of what a filter is.

In the questions at the end of his talk, it seemed to me that in fact David is prepared to admit much more nuance and to accept that top-down taxonomies are not going to go away. And, yes, he agreed that the web is both a distributed library as well as being something that is about and for connectivity. It was put to him that the top-down, authoritarian conception of the semantic web is only one model, and that there are other models where the semantic web is bottom up. I share the view developed by him and his questioner at this point, that the net can provide for many different ways of organising knowledge. And I'm sure he's right when he says that soon we will see people making a living through devising new classificatory systems.

There's a problem of scale, too: as David put it, too many taggers can make for an unhelpful, confusing tag-soup, counterable, perhaps, through cluster-analyses intended to disambiguate (eg, Flickr's Capri clusters). But in David's view, if 'good enough' is good enough then scaling should not prove a problem.

So is "good enough" good enough? Tom Chance probed whether it's sufficient in matters more important than the examples David used (eg, beer): when it comes to deciding about nuclear power, 'good enough' is surely short of the mark. My colleague, Ian, linked this point to one about the role of institutions in this new world. They're highly unlikely to go away (!), but the morning's seminar left me in no doubt that trust, and the verification of trust, in institutions is altered by the rise of online, do-it-yourself mass publishing. Yet, as Jonathan Zittrain said in his summing up, the desire for the canonical article on a topic continues.

At the start of his talk David remarked, 'This could be the bright, shiny period of the internet, of openness'. The net gives us many reasons to be happy, but there are many forces at work which may make history of David's visionary presentation. More about this soon.


Canter on Web 2.0

Matt Gertner:

… we should be wary of writing Web 2.0 off as vacuous before it has a realistic chance of achieving its potential, particularly since this is likely to take several years. … Web 2.0 may be a messy term, and it’s undeniably over- (and frequently mis-) used. But it’s still a useful way of encapsulating a real and important trend.

I'm all in favour of educated scepticism, but some reservations seem to fly in the face of what end-users are experiencing (and then to bring down the fundamentalist shutters on any further discussion). As usual, Richard MacManus has some sound reflections on the wave of anti-hype. (Incidentally, through his site I came across Michael Casey's LibraryCrunch and a posting there about libraries and Web 2.0 — something to which all schools and universities need to give a lot of thought.)

I've been reading Marc Canter's Breaking the Web Wide Open!: 'The online world is evolving into a new open web (sometimes called the Web 2.0), which is all about being personalized and customized for each user. Not only open source software, but open standards are becoming an essential component'.

Open standards mean sharing, empowering, and community support. Someone floats a new idea (or meme) and the community runs with it – with each person making their own contributions to the standard – evolving it without a moment's hesitation about "giving away their intellectual property." … The combination of Open APIs, standardized schemas for handling meta-data, and an industry which agrees on these standards are breaking the web wide open right now. So what new open standards should the web incumbents—and you—be watching? Keep an eye on the following developments:

Identity
Attention
Open Media
Microcontent Publishing
Open Social Networks
Tags
Pinging
Routing
Open Communications
Device Management and Control

… Today's incumbents will have to adapt to the new openness of the Web 2.0. If they stick to their proprietary standards, code, and content, they'll become the new walled gardens—places users visit briefly to retrieve data and content from enclosed data silos, but not where users "live." The incumbents' revenue models will have to change. Instead of "owning" their users, users will know they own themselves, and will expect a return on their valuable identity and attention. Instead of being locked into incompatible media formats, users will expect easy access to digital content across many platforms.


Audioscrobbler »»» Last.fm

More tags to be thought of, played with, explored: Last.fm (my profile here) has been relaunched this week as the the true face of Audioscrobbler-as-was — Audioscrobbler is now the name of the engine powering the service. For the history, Wired ran an article in 2003 on Last.fm and Kottke picked up on it here. The comments to Kottke's post are worth reading.

Richard Jones has posted this on his Last.fm Journal:

As you've probably figured out by now, the place to be on a day-to-day basis is here, at www.last.fm.

The audioscrobbler.com site will become a technology playground and resource for developers. We'll expose everything imaginable via webservices (RSS/XML etc..). This will enable some interesting new applications. For example, with the new tagging system we could create a free service doing something similar that moodlogic offers. Plugins for winamp (or whatever) that build smart playlists based on tag and profile data from the audioscrobbler webservices will be possible.

We have the data here, and as soon as we have the webservices, I want to be able to make smart playlists in amarok based on my favourite tags. It'll also be possible for other community websites to integrate music profiles into their site. Eg: users of example.com grab a plugin, and join the example.com group. The example.com site can then pull in profile data for its users. We could even generate neighbours within groups. That would rock as a music-addon for other sites actually.. Would be good to have your a/s profile integrated into your other favourite community sites.

More news to come on this when I've thought about it a little more :)

The forums are buzzing with "discussion" — lots about the new look, the disappearance of (some) stats, the new profile editor, the absence of the grapevine … Some of the criticism on offer is worthwhile and, positive or negative, meant well, but …  As dikonstrukt said:

… constructive, well-meaning criticism on how to improve things is no doubt appreciated by the dev team. However, I think it's disgraceful the level of respect many people are showing. Whether or not you like the new site, all AS users should recognize that an enormous amount of hard work went into creating the new site. If you have some criticism, you should at the very least acknowledge that. … When you add this to the fact that many of the complainers do not even donate, it is too much to believe. … As for me, I love the new site. Sure there are issues, but I know you'll work on getting them fixed. Thanks much for coming up with an excellent new site, I will definitely start my monthly donation back up.

Netiquette! What Ben Hammersley was talking about at Reboot.

I like the new colours. Tags were what we were asking for and now we've got them! I need to play with them a lot before I can see how this is going to go. In many ways, for all the differences between photos and music, I'll be comparing and contrasting my experiences here with those at Flickr. But right now, I'm grateful to the Last.fm team and what they're giving us: there's no cooler or better site online for music lovers.

Update! This is good: see what your friends are listening to, on one page. (Ah … this is a subscriber-only feature. Subscription = $3 / £1.50 / €3 / ¥350  a month.)


Three things I'd like to see

'And another thing' — taxi-driver mode.

  • A thorough reform of 'categories' in TypePad. Adding tags to a posting à la Technorati method is not effortless and categories themselves are too broad to be very useful as tags. People have been commenting on all this ever since Technorati implemented their new service back in January (Dave Sifry: 'Technorati now supports Tag Search across leading Social software sites'): eg, Suw Charman ('Until we have a way to automatically tag or create tag suggestions that can be approved or disapproved by the user, we are going to have to rely on people bothering to tag their posts') and Mathibus.com:

There’s one thing that really bugs me about all this: a tag is much more precise than a category. There is no denying that. Take this richly tagged photo of the Star Wars cast, for example. It has a lot of tags, I’m not even counting them. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with applying that many tags to a photo. In fact, I can imagine people wanting to search for C3P0 on Flickr.

Now, imagine that photo was a blog post you made. Would you create all those new categories, just to apply them to this one post, so it could be spidered by Technorati? I think not!

We need automated, user-friendly tagging processes within TypePad and then the facility to search and exploit these tags. Just compare and contrast where Flickr is now with tags!  A major blogging service, a social software service, needs, by definition, to be affording its users rich opportunities to share, discover and explore, and tags currently have a key role to play here.

In announcing new features at Flickr last week, the most important thing (I think) that Stewart Butterfield had to say was: 'Both interestingness and clustering rely a lot on what people are doing, whether it's with the photos they like, or the tags they are using. You can think about it as people-powered searching' (Yahoo! Search Blog, my italics). Blogging services as we currently know them are very top-down. This may now come to be seen as a curious thing: I wonder how long before a tipping point is reached and people want more freedom to mash and mix and access their and other's data beyond the constraints currently set for them by their service-providers. (Jeff Weiner's got it right: FUSE — find, use, share, expand.)

  • Comments. Another area where blogging software needs to be re-thought. We read each other's stuff, we like certain things, but we're too busy to post a reply/comment — or we don't have anything worth adding beyond, 'I was here, I enjoyed this, thank you'. Jyri made this point (and more) here, providing a mock up of a possible UI here. Something along the lines of gestures is needed to supplement what we already have in comments.
  • Conferences/events. Both at Reboot and Open Tech, I realised only afterwards, reading on the web, that people had been present with whom I've exchanged ideas in emails, or via comments, or whose blogs are, in any case, important to me. Frustrating, as well as bizarre, then, to know you'd been in the same space as them but had had no way of recognising them beyond a name tag — or even, in some cases, of knowing they were even there! I see Thomas posted about just this a little while ago, focusing on the central problem of aggregating identities across digital communities: 'The gap between digital and physical must close'.

(Not the same thing, of course, but this might also be a useful place to remind myself, at least, about those software initiatives being made that are intended to help us discover people nearby who are interested in what we're interested in: Six Sense, Nokia's Sensor … Such programs could be a monumental distraction, but, then again, I think of those times when I've had serendipitous conversations with interesting people at plays, galleries, films. Ways in which I might enable these to happen a little more often would be good.)