29 August 2008

Tech News

Given that Fairfax reporters are on strike, I figure here's my chance to fill the gap by recycling old news and presenting it as something that has just happened. Shame the KM front is a bit dull - other than the exciting news that the actKM08 conference just put out it's program and call for award submissions.

So here's some interesting technology tidbits I've picked up:

Windows 7 is moving ever closer to its eventual release, and you can track its progress on the new Windows 7 blog.

Windows 7 is the follow-up to everyone's favourite slow-moving target Vista, and is hoped to be the equivalent of 2000/XP, against Vista being the equivalent of the almost universally derided Windows ME. I have to say, I am actually quite fond of Windows ME - and not just because the ME OS-tan is so cute. I still have - and use - ME, and if offered the choice between ME and Vista, I'd choose the former, although I think Vista does cop more flak than it deserves (it still deserves quite a lot though). Still, there are some interesting KM asides in it that I will get to soon.

Apple is almost to be launching a new-look iPod nano (plus a revised Touch) and dropping the price of some of its non-iPhone range

Every so often I toy with the idea of picking up an iPod or an iPhone. Aside from the "cool and new" factor (which is significant), I keep going back to not needing one. I get around not having said funky device with other funky devices - a Nokia n95 and a Sony PSP. Convergence means a lot of the functions of these devices overlap, but the iPhone can't give me anything that I can't get from either, except maybe iTunes - and I'm not losing any sleep over not further supporting that DRM juggernaut. Still, the number of times my phone has died because I've used the mp3 player at the gym means I might still consider it. I'll see if the new range rocks as much as Apple claim over the next 24 hours, and Speaking of the old PSP...

New PSP is due in October

The new PSP is due in October, for what its worth - that's a hell of an under-rated piece of hardware, IMHO. I'm watching movies on it all the time (well, all the time I'm not playing games on it). I've got a MicroSD to MS Pro adapter plugged into it, which gives me an additional 4Gb of memory for about A$20 whenever I need it. 4GB is very handy - that's about 5 albums, an entire series of Doctor Who, and 2 or 3 movies on hand whenever I need them. Whenever I feel deprived about not having an Apple Something, a quick dip into Syphon Filter, Final Fantasy or God of War usually brings me around. Shame about the battery life.

22 August 2008

actKM08 - Conference Program Available

The actKM08 – Managing for Competitive Advantage conference program is now available from the actKM website. I know this of course, because I was the one that put it on the website – although this doesn’t explain why its taken me near 24 hours to post about it – that has more to do with the vagaries of the life expectancies of wheel bearings.

Anyway, after the (almost surprising) success of last year’s conference, great things are expected this year, especially with the line up of presenters including Dave Gurteen, Dave Snowden, Dave Williams, as well as KM practitioners and theorists who aren’t named “Dave”. Also expect a lot of “2.0” in some for or another – Web 2.0, World 2.0, KM 2.0, etc. I wonder if all the 2.0 will ever get out of beta testing, although my perspective is that good 2.0 is almost synonymous with beta testing, since continuous improvement and refinement is always part of it.

Also at the conference will be the actKM Awards, which recognise excellence in knowledge-based work. Last year's winner was a real cracker, and a great anodyne to the focus on 2.0 and technology (remember, this is ME saying that!). The awards are open to any Australian organisation, and the process and criteria for nominations is available here. If you’ve been doing something and would like to get the word out, you should have look.

19 August 2008

Google now acknowledge humans have feet

One of the biggest bugbears I've had with using Google Maps is the - not entirely illogical - assumption that you go everywhere by car. Its a real disadvantage when you look at getting directions off the thing when you want to go by foot, and has been the one clear advantage that whereis.com.au has (aside from the fact that I think whereis is marginally more accurate). For this reason alone, I've been reluctant to use Google Maps as a primary resource for map directions.

Well, Google look to finally have gotten around to this, with the addition of getting walking directions. This is especially handy in cities where you get a lot of one way streets that make no difference if you're on foot. This - combined with the ability to customise and personalise multiple maps and locations, probably gives GM the edge now. It’s just creepy that they know where I live!

13 August 2008

knols are stupid and confusing - and that's good news

You know, I started deriding knols because they had such a stupid (and to me, mildly offensive and potentially dangerous) tagline. I now find myself defending the effort, even though my POV is the same.

I've got to applaude Google for at least muddying waters that have been in danger of clearing, in terms of "authoratative" answers from wikipedia. What I like about the knols is that you can have the same thing defined multiple times, and so don't get the single answer that wikipedia appears to the average Web-Searcher.

The single answer is what most non-professional searchers are looking for, and the mirage of its existence scares me frankly. I don't have so high an opinion of most searchers that I think that they'll see the wikipedia entry come up in their search, click on it, read it, have the answer they need, and then go looking for more details that will make the answer less clear. Why would they? The same people know that a healthy diet will make them live longer, yet Hungry Jacks still exists!

I still think there are some fundamental flaws with the knol model, such as the option to earn revenue by placing ads against an entry. Also, it re-raises the question of how you can provide content as well as search content independently (Yahoo! Answers, anyone). Still, to me knols are trying to present an information landscape that is closer to reality, by making simple answers harder to get. Its not an intrinsically bad idea, any more than Yahoo! Answers or wikipedia are. Maybe the goal should be to force those 3 resources to be at the top of any search, regardless of the engine.

Legal Implications of Gathering Competitive Intelligence

From the world of competitive intelligence, comes this interesting bit
of speculation from the US
. It seems that there are concerns
about the legal liability of a firm in relation to any competitive
intelligence activities they undertake. I've been doing some work on CI
lately - in particular looking at using narrative to extract CI held
internally. (One thing that this does is make you a little bit paranoid
about things like blogging - what competitive intelligence might I give
away by talking about competitive intelligence. I can see how major
intelligence agency stuff can become so nutty. )

I've always thought that he really tricky legal implication might be the
'human intelligence' - the stuff you gather from people in the field. To
me, this is where the real wealth is, and where you are going to get the
legally questionable stuff if you undertake work to gather, analyse,
distribute, and act on it. Such an activity carries the inherent risk
that a bit of info gets passed around that really shouldn't have. Of
course, this is nothing new, but the use of narrative techniques to
gather this kind of information means that it is more likely to be
recorded and retrievable - I mean, that's the whole idea. And a
conversation that has been transcribed and stored on a hard drive is
much harder to deny any knowledge of (makes me wish that the briefings
to Howard Government ministers on SIEV-4, children overboard, and AWB to
name a few where undertaken using a narrative approach).

Previously though, I've had less concern around the stuff that's
publicly available because it's publicly available. A lot of the
information isn't overly useful on its own, and requires a lot of
gathering and analysis activity before it becomes intelligence. The
implication now is that the act of knowingly gathering this information
for purposes which are very nearly the antithesis of what it was
provided for - instead of selling a service, the information is being
used to guide a competitor on how to beat them to a sale - could be
illegal under current US laws. That makes a trick area of work just that
little bit trickier.

24 July 2008

Knowledge - Now measurable thanks to Google

Sorry, just have to say something about this

Apparently everyone that has been having trouble with measuring the impact of knowledge sharing practices in the workplace has been looking in the wrong place. Google have announced that they have come up with a measure: the “Knol".

A knol, according to Google, is “a unit of knowledge”. Coincidentally, “knol” is also the name of new blog-like service offered by Google starting today, having just come out of a private beta. A knol differs from a blog (theoretically) in that it seeks to add authority to a blog, by pinning the blog to a single topic, and having knols “rated” by readers

It all sounds a lot like wiki-how, among other things, and I’ll be interested to see how it takes off. I’d try it myself, if I thought I was the authoritative source for anything. Maybe I should invent a topic to be an authority on – it worked for Edward de Bono. No? Oh what the hell - I'll create one on Knowledge Management.

Anyway, now you know how to measure your knowledge programs. When it comes up to performance review time, you can proudly state the “knol” output of your program. If you’re challenged by your manager, just tell them “that’s how Google measure it”. Who can argue with that

Blogging by email isn't as easy as it sounds

Here I am, happily assuming a bunch of recent posts had gone up onto my blog, and when I went in to check today - nada. Looks like I haven't done anything in nearly 2 months. This isn't true - I've only done almost nothing in the past 2 months.

Anyway, I'm going through and putting the stuff up, and back-dating everything to when I wrote the post, because I have no problem with editing my personal history. I've become quite adept at navigating the tricky, somewhat contrdictory path of marrying the differences between retrospective coherence and retrospective cohesion when it comes to my own history. It only has to make sense to me. The Gods help anyone who has to take me through a complex narrative exercise - I have enough trouble being consistent with what I though happened 5 minutes ago.

14 July 2008

Ultimate Anecdote Circles

Shawn Callahan of Anecdote has posted an updated version of their “Ultimate Guide to Anecdote Circles”. It’s a great resource for those wanting to facilitate anecdote circle sessions. Very easy to read, and designed for people like me whose eyes tend to glaze over on any business document by about page 2 – just following the skim reading path (First the big print title, then the slightly smaller print orange, then the even smaller print black, and finally stories in very tiny print scattered throughout). If only more textbooks were written that way!

2 July 2008

From email to blog - how do I clip?

My last post talked about how to convert an "old" email newsletter/alert (email is so 1990s) into a blog, using Google. I should say that this is out of convenience - I'm reasonably certain you can achieve similar results elsewhere, but I don't think you can treat it as a one stop shop, especially when you factor in my next challenge:

Using the feed from my blog to create a clipping service.

Now, assuming you're doing this from home, there are any number of apps that can achieve this, and I'm not going to make the mistake of recommending one, because the tools I use at home are not good at it. But what if you're trying to do this in a business environment, where you can't install the feed reader of your choice?

My solution came via this blog post. You see, its possible to use a Google Spreadsheet as a feed reader. Its not a very good one for actually reading a feed, but it is good for getting into a format that is easily clipable.

What I needed was a Google Spreadsheet doc with 2 sheets. One sheet is to take the raw feed. A single cell entry is all you need, which will expand across a range of cells to hold different elements of the feed (date, heading, content, tags, etc.). Once this is working, I then use a second sheet that references the cells in the first sheet, taking the elements of the feed I want to clip, and putting them into the format and order I want.

If you're familiar with Excel, this is a fairly straightfoward task, if a little long-winded to set up. The result is, when I want to create an alert out of this, all I have to do is highlight and copy the data from the spreadsheet, and whack it together into an email.

The whole process seems ironic at first - converting a series of email newsletters into a blog, which I then use to convert everything back into an email newsletter. The difference is that I no longer have to go through each email, pull out the useful information from it, and move it into another email. Instead, all I have to do is let the emails build up in my blog, then do a single copy and paste to produce my newsletter. Plus, I can now give people the option: continue with the newsletter and get the info on a regular basis, or subscribe to the newsfeed and get it as it arrives, or do both.

If this is so easy - it took me all up about 8 hours, which included a lot fiddling about getting things looking nice - why doesn't everyone do it? The old fear of losing control of your information? Lets face it, once you email it, you lose control anyway.

I think perhaps its time for some of the more monlithic parts of government to wake up and realise what decade they're in, while they're still in it - they've only got 18 months!

1 July 2008

From email to blog - a painful discovery

What a day! Can you believe that - as the first decade of the 21st century works it way to close (less than 18 months, unless you buy into the 2001-side of the start of the millennium debate) - there are still major government organisations that don't provide an RSS feed of their media releases and site updates? To get this info, you still have to sign-up to the old email newsletter. Now, I have always maintained that a good KM system/tool can be as simple as an email account, but I want a way to keep that email account uncluttered. I also want to be able to clip and blog things I think might be of interest to people, without having to create my own stupid email list.

So today was all about answering the question: How do I turn an email alert into an RSS feed from the user end? It took me about 4 hours to come up with the answer (yes - there is one).

For this answer, I must stand on the shoulders of giants. My thinking was guided by this blog post on the subject. The solution didn't work for me, but it got me thinking in the right direction.

Now, the process for me is convoluted, but works. It involved the following steps:

  1. Create a new Google account

  2. Create a new Gmail account

    • This probably isn't necessary if you want to use an existing account to receive your alerts, but since you've got to create a new Google account and a Blogger blog, you might as well manage it all from the same place

  3. Subscribe to the alerts you receive using your GMail address

  4. Create a Blogger account

  5. Enable your Blog to accept posts via email automatically

  6. Create a Gmail filter for each alert you have subscribed to

    • You can create an autoforward of all emails in one step, but I have this notion of creating multiple alerts in different blogs, so I want to keep the ability to differentiate where emails are forwarded to

  7. In each filter, specify that you want to forward these emails to the email address created by your Blogger account

Voila! Your new blog now posts automatically every email you receive as part of the alert. You can then subscribe to this feed, pass it around, etc.

Those of you familiar with copyright law are probably wondering if we aren't entering into some dangerous water here in regards to republishing content on a third party site, and you are quite right. I have made the feed undiscoverable, however, so it can only be found by people I give the feed to, which salves my conscience a little. I'm also attributing the material back to it's source, and most of the emails are identical to a blog post anyway, since they pretty much all redirect back to the parent site. Still, if the AG comes knocking on my door asking me to not do this anymore, I suppose I will have to comply, and go back to forwarding his emails to other interested parties in an uncontrolled manner.

30 May 2008

Look ma, I can shill!

"We interrupt this blog with a brief message from our friends at...

Just a short entry today, in the form of a kinda testimonial. Astute viewers of this blog (who aren't using a feed reader) may notice I've put on an ad for da-da-DA: Dell. Its a link to a "game" that seeks to advertise their XPS range of premium computers (they cost more - a LOT more). The reason its there is 2-fold. One, it increases my chances of wining a new computer; and two, I actually like the XPS computers - I created this blog using one, and every post I've made has been from it.

Like any laptop, it has its setbacks. Little things that fail to be mentioned by helpful sales staff. For example, I've learned to be a bit more careful about graphics cards. When I bought this computer, it had a top of the line, high-powered graphics card. What they don't mention is that this is a custom job, and that you don't get regular updates like everyone else (I haven't received an official update in the entire time I've had this computer, which is coming up on 2 years). This isn't particularly useful for what's billed as a "gaming powerhouse".

Still for the dedicated and resourceful, there are ways around this, and I have otherwise been very happy with both the computer, and the service. XPS get their own support line, to kick you up a step from the plebs. When I've had problems, I've had good help, and free replacement parts - thus far I've had the Bluetooth module replaced, and a couple of months ago, I got a new motherboard during a service.

All in all, I've been fairly happy with my Dell, which would seem to a pretty rare occurrence, especially given some of their recent seemingly crack-induced schemes. Enough so that I'm looking at buying (and/or winning) another XPS. This time I'm going for something smaller, and in a nice sporty PRODUCT(RED).

Anyway, should you be interested, feel free to click on the link and play the "game", which is so-so.

Incidentally, while I'm on the shilling train, check out the Converse sneakers PRODUCT(RED) site, where you can design your own PRODUCT(RED) shoes! I can't guarantee that they are Fair Trade (which is really pretty ironic), but for some reason, I think the whole thing is inordinately cool.
...We now resume our previously scheduled blogging."

24 May 2008

So many choices, so little choice...

Having failed to secure my $30 million this week, I am left once again having to choose between competing pieces of tech, rather than buy everything - and Myanmar will have to make do with a smaller donation than I would like (the UNHCR is my charity of choice, say what you will about the level of corruption inherent in the UN - many do).

So, my choices at the moment revolve around a laptop - something small and light, that I can use to fret away the 2-3 hours I spend on the bus every 5 out of 7 days. (On a side-note, watch out if you've been using the FBT exemption on laptops to bring down the price.) This led me to look at 2 of the headlining options at the moment: the MacBook Air and the EeePC. Both make a lot of compromises, but achieve great results, depending on what you want to use them for.

One thing about both of these options is that neither has a CD/DVD/BD drive, which kind of rules them out, since one thing I want to have the option of doing is watching movies. I could, of course, rip a DVD, but that would be illegal (there are legal download options, but Australian Internet infrastructure being what it is, I don't really regard that as a workable option). And it being illegal annoys me. A lot. Because when I buy a movie, I want to be able to enjoy it in a way that's the most convenient to me, because I bought it, not rented, leased or subscribed to it.

In Australia, not having access to fair use provisions provided to consumers in other countries in the market for these products, the utility of the Air and the EeePC is far less. Its a great example of the way in which our copyright laws are irrelevant to they way people actually live (my favourite is the provision that says you can record something off TV, but can only watch it once, then have to erase it - must be fun enforcing that one). Roll on, Creative Commons and YouTube.

23 May 2008

Why Dave Snowden Doesn't Know Who Shot JFK

Yesterday I spoke about the presentation on SharePoint implementation at the recent NSW KM Roundtable. Today I want to talk briefly about the second presentation, which was on storytelling.

Well, it was billed as being about storytelling, because that how the audience thought of it, I suspect. It was actually about narrative and how to use it to supplement existing business reporting. So of course, when we're talking about narrative & business in Australia, who better to have come in than Mark Schenk from Anecdote.

Mark kicked off with a new story (or at least, one I haven't heard before), which I enjoyed. I won't tell it - It'll probably turn up on the Anecdote site sooner or later, so keep an eye out for a new "bathroom" story. Then he presented the framework for narrative, the old Cynefin, and used this to build on how to use narrative in business. All good interesting, and well worth listening to.

Anyway, I was looking at the Cynefin framework, and in particular the complex domain. Its been often (and better) explained in other places and forums, but basically, a complex problem is one in which you can only really make sense of what happened after it happened. Mark mentioned the Canberra bushfires as an example of this. Before the fire, we Canbrites (as I was at the time, and possibly still am given my despair over the performance of the Brumbies this year) blithely went on with life, giving little regard to the obvious danger we were in. The danger, however, was only so glaringly obvious in retrospect. After the fires, we could see all the factors that made it clear that 400 hundred homes would be destroyed on that fateful Saturday. This phenomenon of only being able to make sense of something after the fact has its own wonderful term (several, actually, but I like this one): retrospective coherence. Looking at it though, I began to wonder, "Isn't that how you get conspiracy theories?". This wonderful ability of humans to see patterns in the events that occurr around us also gives rise to the issue of seeing patterns where there are none:

The World Trade Centre attacks were funded by the US Government,

there had to be a second shooter behind the grassy knoll,

global warning has already doomed all life on earth and governments are covering it up, etc.

These are all acts of retrospective coherence - albeit flavoured with a little bit of cognitive bias, I would guess - but I wonder how you get around this when you are looking at complex problems.

I didn't have the chance to quiz Mark on this, as I didn't want to derail the line of questioning into something that was probably going to be more advanced than the audience was interested in. I'm curious though - where does understanding a complex problem end, and building a conspiracy theory begin? And how do you prevent one from becoming the other? Do you sometimes want to ensure that one does become the other?

22 May 2008

SharePoint cures cancer, ends world hunger - still fails to help solve business problems

Well, its been a while. The focus of my work lately has been on content management/ web design stuff, and so my KM learnings have been lean for the past few months. Still, the show goes on.

Anyway, I attended the NSW KM Roundtable yesterday, which was quite interesting. There was a presentation on SharePoint implementation, which wasn't bad, but was predicated on being given the choice of a range of solutions, and picking SP as the one you want. Nothing wrong with that, and more power to people that have the ability and the freedom to do that. What I probably wanted to hear, though, was success stories from people on to whom SP is foisted because their IT area purchased, and then told other areas that they had to use a SP solution for whatever their business need is.

My concern with SP has always been that it is very powerful tool, which can do just about anything that would be required by end users in your standard IT infrastructure, which is great. The problem with that is, for almost all functions, SP ranges from crap to average. EDMS - crap. Blogging - average. Content publishing - average to OK. Content management - average to crap. Wikis - crap. So of course, Sp has the power to convince people that these initiatives are too hard or deliver too little value, not realising that this is the fault of the system, not the idea. This is all aside from the fact that it locks you into a Microsoft solution for everything else, despite what it says on the box (and too be fair to MS, I don't think that's wrong - its not up to the vendor to throw away a competitive advantage to make life easier for you - you have to make them do it).

The driver here, I guess, is one of my favourite and enjoyable irritations - the command and control IT function. This is the practice of an IT area getting enough power to force a solution down everyone else's throat, then use that to leverage even more power by tyrannically controlling what can and can't be used. The IT departments that operate this way better wake up and smell the 21st century (the same way that 'Libraries' have to wake up and smell the 20th Century, and realise that just slapping up a few databases on a website to supplement loaning out books is the fast train to being closed - I'm looking at you Australian corporate libraries!).

If I have a Blackberry, Skype, mobile broadband, and remote access to my work files (and none of these things is particularly expensive - I could do the whole lot for less than $60 a month as well as use them for personal stuff), then I can basically bypass whatever IT solution they roll-out and use whatever the hell I want to do my work, that makes me the most productive.

Ultimately, and going back to the presentation at KMRt, I say if you go out and select SP because its the best match for supporting your business function, well done. I think you've already done better than most by deciding to look for a piece of tech based on a business function. If, however, you go out and buy SP because it makes it easiest to support your IT infrastructure, and expect the business functions to just adapt to it, well then, I hope you get a thrill out of being despised. And don't try to flog it as a solution to a problem just because you've been told it can (say for example, that SharePoint can be you "KM Solution"). I can use my butter-knife as a screwdriver, but that's only because I don't have access to a screwdriver, and I don't need to do a good job, and don't mind having to re-do the work in a few months time. Is that what you really want to do for your KM program (or corporate governance, or records management). SharePoint is good at what its designed to do, but it wasn't designed to do all that much.

A little rambling (what can I say - I'm out of practice), but there you go. I'll blog a little later on the second presentation, and the implications it had for understanding who really shot JFK.