Saturday, February 24, 2007

Adopting wiki's - wikipatterns

How do you use wiki's in organisations? How do they fit in your information architecture? Aren't wiki's too loose? In what situation should I use a wiki? What is a good configuration for my project wiki?
An interesting new initiative has been launched to help companies answer these questions. It's called wikipatterns. Go ahead and take a look. Two good posts about wikipatterns can be found here and here.
Larry Cannell of Collaboration Loop (first 'good post') asked the following interesting questions after looking at wikipatterns:
  • Does WikiPatterns represent a key piece to enabling companies trying to fill the gap between IT and Business and help drive adoption of new technology?
  • Can patterns be applied to other technologies like Microsoft SharePoint or eRoom? Are product-specific patterns sustainable or do patterns only apply to a capability (like wikis)?
  • Are there, or should there be, patterns for blogs, social networks, or other Web 2.0 technologies?
  • Can a company harness patterns unique to its cultural norms and behaviors that give it a competitive advantage? Is this an example of how a company might create what McKinsey calls "a formidable competitive capability"?
What do you think?
I'll try to answer the second and third question. The other two require some more thought.
I'd say 'yes' it would be wonderful if we had "blogpatterns", "SharePointpatterns", etc. Due to the different types of information sharing tools, it's hard to decide what fits best when a customer asks for team/project/etc. support. Offering one standard solutions doesn't seem to solve the problem. But letting employees decide for themselves doesn't either. These patterns could be used to help decision makers decide what's best for their company (or am I now answering the first question?). These patterns give us a norm, some general consensus, that this seems to be the best way to go in a certain situation.


Information Overload

On the eMarketer site I found this interesting article about generating, digesting, judging and coping with information. Lots has been written about this topic, under the title 'Information overload' (or 'cognitive overload'). They also give some interesting statistics.
I want to comment on some parts of the article. It states:

"Like it or not, marketers today are on a constantly accelerating treadmill where they need to get data faster, make decisions faster, execute faster, measure faster and even make mistakes faster. Particularly in digital marketing, the game is not won by endlessly debating what might work, but rather constantly iterating within the marketplace," said Mr. Ramsey.

It is more important than ever to get the right data, quickly. Yet it is more challenging as well. The information-gathering process at most businesses is neither efficient nor effective, according to a survey of more than 1,000 middle managers in the US and the UK conducted by Accenture.

More than half of the respondents said that having to go to numerous sources to compile information made managing the information difficult. In addition, four in 10 said they accidentally use the wrong information at least once a week.

I think this is interesting stuff. As the article focuses on marketing, we all know this problem is not limited to marketing. All 'knowledge workers' have to do with this problem.

But, as you often find, this article simply stresses the problem. The real issue is: what are we going to do with this knowledge? How do we help ourselves and our colleagues to address these issues? There was a time that a separate department would help us solve this problem, the Information Management department (or what ever it is called at your company). And most companies still have such a department. This department is specialized in going through large amounts of information and filtering out just the stuff you need. And in many companies these employees are still valued. At university and college we all also learned to cope with lots of information. We had to be able to do this to pass our exams and write our thesis. But now were at work and sorting through and judging information often doesn't seem to be our core task. We got work to do...!

And of course, along came the Internet. All the information we want at our fingertips! And implicitly we conclude that we can now do our own information sorting, gathering, etc. But is this really true? Of course, I also think the Internet is a wonderful resource. I couldn't do without it. But even with all the nice supporting technologies as retrieval, RSS, Alerting, Filtering, Yahoo! Pipes, etc. it doesn't imply that we cope with information in a better way. These tools don't really help us make judgments and decisions. Although this is the central task for knowledge workers, skilling ourselves in that area doesn't not seem to be a high priority.

And lots of the time solutions can also be found in very practical directions. Awareness training for instance, addressing these issues during team and project meetings, etc. In this context I simply want to point to interesting research (and practical results!) the Metis project came up with to help 'knowledge workers' cope with information.


Thursday, February 15, 2007 -- Addictive Visualization of Collective Sentiment

The O'Reilly Radar pointed to an interesting new site called wefeelfine. What's it about?

"Basically, blog data is collected and searched for variants of the phrases 'I feel...' or 'I am feeling...' One of 5,000 predefined feelings is associated with the post and the other database attributes are loaded. The 'mobs' has options to display 'most common' and 'most salient' characteristics of the data. The animation is done in processing." (...)

The interface to this data is a self-organizing particle system, where each particle represents a single feeling posted by a single individual. The particles' properties - color, size, shape, opacity - indicate the nature of the feeling inside, and any particle can be clicked to reveal the full sentence or photograph it contains. The particles careen wildly around the screen until asked to self-organize along any number of axes, expressing various pictures of human emotion. We Feel Fine paints these pictures in six formal movements titled: Madness, Murmurs, Montage, Mobs, Metrics, and Mounds.

At its core, We Feel Fine is an artwork authored by everyone. It will grow and change as we grow and change, reflecting what's on our blogs, what's in our hearts, what's in our minds. We hope it makes the world seem a little smaller, and we hope it helps people see beauty in the everyday ups and downs of life.
When I first read this I thought: "Interesting stuff, good idea, nice visualization techniques. A visualization freak-colleague loves this and I'll mail the link to him." But I gave it some more thought. wefeelfine reminds me of an HBR article I read some time ago. It was titled "Leading Change When Business Is Good: The HBR Interview--Samuel J. Palmisano". (Publication date: Dec 1, 2004) This article was about how Palmisano redefined IBM's corporate values. What he did was set up an open digital forum. Then he gave all of IBM a couple of days to participate in this forum and tell what they thought their corporate values were. And if and how IBM-ers lived according to the values. With intelligent IBM text mining software they went through the posts and showed IBM what the patterns were that could be seen in the posts. Then IBM-ers were allowed to respond to those patterns. And in this way IBM defined their new corporate values!
This relates to wefeelfine in that sense that IBM tried to connect to their employees and what they think (feel) of IBM and murmur about. This resulted in values that go from the IBM board to the work floor and back.

But with the wefeelfine-approach you could also do this dynamically. Just tap into the corporate blogs (and memo's and internal reports?) and organize what's in there in a wefeelfine-way. This is interesting input for HRM, for manager and for colleagues. It could give the company more insight in itself. What are we murmuring about?


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Google Steps Into Microsoft's Office

Not to long ago I wrote about Google's information architecture. I didn't get any answers to my question what Google's info architecture looks like (yet). But I did get answers to this question I asked:
Although Google products are free and can also be used in enterprises, I haven't heard of many companies dumping Microsoft and using free web 2.0 stuff (from Google a.o.) from then on.
But then I ran into this article a couple of days ago: "Google steps into Microsoft's Office". One of the companies that's thinking about swapping their old email system for Google (Apps for your domain) is Pixar Animation Studio's.
Greg Brandeau is itching to dump the decade-old, homegrown e-mail system he manages at Pixar Animation Studios Inc.. And the senior vice-president for technology at the Walt Disney Co. unit is sure about one thing: The replacement won't be Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange and Outlook duo, whose e-mail, calendar, and other programs dominate corporate computing. Brandeau says it's difficult to manage the software because Pixar uses a variety of computers. His likely choice may surprise you: Google. (...)
"We're dying to use something like this," says Brandeau. He's "on the cusp" of signing a contract with Google.
Arizona State University plans to switch most of its 65,000 students to Gmail, Google Calendar, and a customized "start page" this month.
This is confirmed here (- this post from "Innovation Creators" also gives a example business case for adopting e.g. Google apps for my domain instead of MS Office/Outlook).
But this article goes on to say:
For now, Microsoft has little to fear. Many large corporations are wary of having an e-mail system run outside their own walls, where they can't be sure it's secure from hackers and spies. And even Google concedes its services don't have all the bells and whistles of Microsoft's products, such as centralized e-mail backups that help them comply with regulatory rules. (...) More traditional companies, with a desire for more control, will be tougher to crack. "Google Apps may hit a wall with Exxon or Bank of America," says Peter Rip, general partner with Crosslink Capital and an investor in corporate Web software firms.
But the funny and interesting thing is that:
"Employees may ask, Why can't I get the services that I have at home?'"
And that's the question we have to answer. At the moment I'd answer: "I can't think of a reason why you can't have these services at the office."


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Lego Mindstorms

Just got my Lego Mindstorms from the States. Of course I bought this for my son Nathan - as you can see. I really look forward to see him build robots and play with them.

What this has to do with 'information architecture'? Absolutely nothing. Just wanted to let you know I'm looking for ways to explain why a grown-up would buy Lego... ;-)


Friday, February 9, 2007

Read/Write Intranet

Lots has been written about the use of a (corporate) Intranet. Many companies puts lots of money in implementing and maintaining an Intranet. Usually this is a full-time job for several people, and updates of the content of Intranet is done by a small amount of heavily loaded people (that decide for everybody what information is relevant for the others). And what you see is that the Intranet is never up-to-date and users can't find the stuff they need easily. So they bookmark several Intranet links or set up an openingpage with relevant links and that's their use of Intranet. That's not a lot of use/usage for big investments...

An easy way to change this is being applied more and more. I ran into a post by Innovation Creators which confirms this trend. It says:
I believe that 2007 is the year when companies will start to understand that they need a read/write Intranet. Here is a list of some of the start-ups and large companies that produce systems that could be used to build a read/write Intranet.

Ideally, such a system would both help knowledge workers to get work done and help the company as a whole to work more efficiently. At this stage in the development of this new space, there are lots of different approaches. These companies are thinking about workflow, motivation, security, access control, and a range of other issues.

I completely agree with this vision and I think this will help Intranets to be easily (all users can participate!) kept up to date, maintained and dynamic.

(They also set up a poll which vendor would be the most likely to help companies set up such an Intranet.)