Tuesday, 18 December 2007
Hasn't 2007 been brilliant for new music? I still get a great buzz out of discovering new bands and artists, and any fears that I might develop the musical tastes of my parents (think: Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, anything by Rogers and Hammerstein) have now been firmly put to bed in, this, my 35th year. Hurrah!
So this post is written with all due respect and reverence to the people who have helped me find the music that made me smile in 2007. And, occasionally, jump around. I'm looking at you, eMusic, Pitchfork, @stephenbarber and @brackers, to name the main ones. I doff my cap to you, goodsirs. For me, these were the top albums of 2007:
The Go! Team, "Proof of Youth"
LCD Soundsystem, "Sound of Silver"
Blitzen Trapper, "Wild Mountain Nation"
Of Montreal, "Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?"
Okkervil River, "The Stage Names"
Gui Buratto, "Chromophobia"
The Field, "From Here We Go To Sublime"
Beirut, "The Gulag Orkestar"
Andrew Bird, "Armchair Apocrypha"
Dolorean, "You Can't Win"
Sean Hayes, "Flowering Spade"
Honestly, this was a hard list to whittle down to just 12 albums. Honorable mentions must also go to this year's efforts from Bloc Party, Maximo Park, The Klaxons, Deerhunter, Spoon, The National, Digitalism, Belleruche, PJ Harvey, Radiohead and the Shout Out Louds.
What were your favorites?
Monday, 17 December 2007
Contention: Rather like the Titanic after hitting the iceberg, even though it is still buoyant, I believe that the factors are now in place for the slow, steady and painful demise of Facebook.
Evidence submission #1: I'm hardly ever using it. The emails I receive drawing me in there are getting fewer and further between. On the rare occasions I visit, it's just to 'ignore' all the invitations I've received. OK, perhaps I get the odd message in my inbox too. Nothing useful that can't be done through email, twitter or flickr. And because of #3, I actually find myself looking at as few pages as possible, to give them the least possible page impressions. This is a first for me - I'm not normally such a bitter person! And if I feel like this, I'm sure others will too.
Evidence submission #2: My friends are using it less and less. You may find it hard to believe that not all my friends are geeks. Many of them are "normal" people, and therefore IMHO indicative of the average Facebook user. If they're using it less, then I believe that's a trend that taking place elsewhere too. And as many "normal" people look to geeks for guidance on what should be trusted online, perhaps this isn't such a surprising trend.
Evidence submission #3: I haven't read a positive thing about Facebook in the past three months. Just Beacon, Beacon, Beacon. The odd news-piece about how traffic is in decline. And then an apology-by-the-numbers by Zuckerberg. I mean, for heaven's sake. Doesn't he know that grand gestures like this count for nothing? I honestly don't believe he's sorry. He cannot be trusted, people. They don't give a damn about their users.
Conclusion: Of course, unlike the Titanic, this thing will never sink. I guess traffic will just level out and those who see Facebook as just-another-website will continue to use it. And that's the sad thing; those of us who recognised the potential this thing could've had will lament it's demise. If only Zuckerberg hadn't been so damned greedy, he could've had it all. We all could.
Post-script: I wish I could cancel my Facebook account, but I can't for two reasons. First, my area of work demands that I know how Facebook and other similar services work. Second, there is the remote possibility that someone will send me a message through Facebook. Where possible, my replies will come by email.
Positive, life-affirming post to counter balance this one to follow.
Sunday, 16 December 2007
It was just as good as it's ever been. We roughly split our time equally between old haunts, tourist spots and new places we hadn't been before and, as you'd expect, it was the new areas which were the most rewarding. We spent the best part of a day wandering round the Lower East Side, including the newly fashionable BelDel area (Below Delancey Street), as well as Sunday morning in Harlem. Very cool.
I've uploaded a set of photos to my Flickr account.
Thursday, 13 December 2007
The product we were presenting - RippleRap - was being worked on right up until 2am on the morning of the conference! So you can imagine how pleased and relieved we were that the product worked as advertised throughout the event. People were sharing their conference notes throughout the whole two days without any problems - mostly BT people, but we can see from the server logs that plenty of other people were registering with the service and receiving everyone else's notes.
Part of the reason we developed RippleRap was to help us tell the BT open source story. It's all about behaving appropriately in the open source arena, recognising the value of the community and respecting the etiquette and social nuances that exist there. And about giving back more than we take. And I think we got this message across pretty well. Certainly people we talked to at the stall (maybe 150 people over the two days) gave us an enthusiastic reaction. Robert Scoble, arguably the most famous blogger of all, interviewed me (picture) and hopefully he'll publish this video soon. And we're watching the blogosphere now for word about Osmosoft and RippleRap.
There was a lot of interest around "Enterprise 2.0" at Le Web, particularly after a heated debate on the web last week. I'm confident that open source is the way to go. Most enterprises are facing similar problems (when it comes to e.g. collaboration, knowledge sharing, and so on). Why can't they club together to solve these problems using code based on open standards? We all stand to benefit from our collective knowledge and expertise, which vastly exceeds that of any start-up. Being able to keep control of the implementation is critical. TiddlyWiki is a great example of how it could work - a base product with solid out-of-the-box functionality, but also, critically, it's highly configurable with over 400 plugins. And it's easy to build your own plugins, and share these with the community who can help improve them for the benefit of everyone - which is exactly what we intend to do with RippleRap.
One of the most interesting aspects of the conference for me was the breadth of interest in what we were talking about. Some people were interested in RippleRap / TiddlyWiki, or our open source story, or the SDK, or the social changes at BT - but rarely more than one of these. I'm pleased to say that several people expressed an interest in using RippleRap code, some in academic circles, others for business, and others for conferences.
The highlights? Apart from the nerve-racking-but-exciting Robert Scoble experience, JP's talk on stage (picture) about how enterprises need to adapt was invigorating, and he was abley supported by Phil Hawksworth, one of our own Osmosoftonians. You can of course download RippleRap for the session notes! :-)
You can see several photos on my Flickr set.
I'd like to give props to the SDK guys who attended the session, Nigel Pepper and Robbie Clutton. There were a few technical problems during the conference, and they helped keep the wheels turning. Also a high five for Johan Euphrosine, a member of the French TiddlyWiki community, who was on hand to help explain RippleRap and TiddlyWiki to French visitors to the stall.
So, what now? As I've mentioned on the group forums, we're now going to try and package up RippleRap so other developers can more easily implement it, and the open source community can help to improve it. We're open to all and any ideas. And we're already planning to use it at the Blogtalk conference in Cork on 3-4 March 2008. No rest for the wicked!
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
Development of RippleRap continues a-pace; we've decided to drop the blogging and microblogging functionality (probably) in the interests of driving up the quality of the rest of the core product. Meanwhile, our bat-phone has arrived (yay!). This will appear on our stall at Le Web, people will be able to call it using the BT SDK "click to call" functionality embedded in RippleRap.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
So I was pleased and surprised to hear that Sky gets it. Who knew? They have an 'outreach team' which actively seeks out people talking about their products so they can engage with them on their own terms. They're not pushy about it; they just provide the facts and let people make up their own minds (which they are wont to do in any event). They arrange for top bloggers in their fields to come along to relevant events, where they are given the freedom to say what they like. They talked about "Web 2.0 vs Organisation 0.5"; an admission that large organisations have to make big changes in the face of greater customer power.
Honda also gets it, although being a car company (rather than, say, a media or technology company) means they're behind Sky. But their intentions are good.
One interesting point which was made was that, as a large company, trying to interact with everything that appears on the web isn't scalable. To which I say: encourage people in your company to participate, then! They don't have to be in your marketing or branding team. Just lead by example and make sure your people know that they have permission.
Matthew Bishop of Microsoft let the side down a little, drawing attention to the Blue Monster and claiming that "I could delete this brand if I wanted to". He quickly went on to make the point that this wouldn't be a good idea, but it was still an ill advised comment, to put it mildly.
But the general theme so far is that the best way forward was being open, honest and transparent with your customers. Now isn't that better?
Wednesday, 21 November 2007
Must be the most popular website that I've never heard of. And the most bitter.
2/3rds of Osmosoft
Originally uploaded by Phillie Casablanca.
I recently bought a Polaroid Camera from a car boot sale (£5) and was thrilled to discover it works perfectly! Film costs about £1 a photo, mind.
We'll use this to take photos of esteemed guests at Osmosoft Towers, plus perhaps the odd celeb at Le Web in December.
Monday, 19 November 2007
OK, so I thought I'd cracked the nut of how to use Final Cut Express for creating screencasts. Turns out there was a bit more to it than that if you want good results.
It isn't good enough to simply match codec, frame rate and pixel count all through your project (although that's a good start). The manual says (on Page 203) that "You can import any QuickTime-compatible media files into Final Cut Express HD, but to avoid rendering, your media files need to match your sequence settings". Unfortunately I've found that this isn't always the case. I applied these settings to my FCE project: HDV 720p30, 1280 x 720, 29.97 fps, Apple Intermediate Codec; and also applied these settings to the incoming file, and it still insisted on rendering them. There's some fancy stuff you can do with Final Cut Pro, but alas I have the poor man's version.
So the first part as already discussed is to create something as close to this as possible. I've played with Snapz Pro X ($69) and iShowU ($20) for capturing the screencast, and there isn't much to choose between them in terms of output quality. Snapz Pro X won't capture video at 29.97fps (which is needed to match the above settings), and iShowU does, but FCE still tells me that both outputs still need rendering. I'm sticking with Snapz Pro X because it's easier to use and I've already paid for it. Make sure the quality is "Best" when you're exporting, H.264 is fine.
But here's the new trick. When you've imported your footage into Final Cut Express, and checked it in the viewer to make sure it's retained it's integrity, drag it into your timeline and then click it once to select it. Then select Sequence > Settings > Render Control, and uncheck the boxes for Filters, Frame Blending and Motion Blur before you render your selection. If you've been through what I went through, this will be the first time that rendered content looks nearly pixel perfect. Almost perfect, not quite, but good enough for me! If you find a way to make it pixel perfect using the above tools, please let me know...
The rest of the process is straightforward. Export from FCE using Quicktime Conversion, make sure it's set to the same settings as the project, and make sure Quality is set as "Best".
Hope someone out there finds this helpful!
And again I'd just like to say that Final Cut Express should do this seamlessly out of the box. Screencasting mixed with other footage shouldn't be this hard.
UPDATE 01/04/08: I've just found an easy way to convert files to a specific frame rate, pixel count and aspect ratio - have blogged about it here.
Friday, 16 November 2007
But that's the only the start of it. We're integrating a number of features which we hope delegates will find helpful.
Share notes: Check a box, and your notes will be shared with others, and theirs with you. This will be useful for seeing other people's perspectives, as well as picking up on points which you may have missed, but most useful (we think) when you miss a session and want to know what you've missed. If the conference wi-fi is unavailable, then notes will be shared in both directions the next time you connect to the web. This will be based on Jon's TiddlyChatter module.
Blogging / microblogging: Given that most blogging platforms (blogger, wordpress) and microblogging platforms (twitter, pownce, jaiku) have open APIs, we intend to offer the ability to compose a blog posting offline and post it to your blog the next time the conference wi-fi allows this. Likewise with the microblogs. This will be a modified version of Craig's blog plugin.
Get yr mojo on: Mojo is the fabulous new REST exposure of BT's SDK, and can be used for all sorts of cool communications stuff. We'll use it for a basic click to call function (so people can contact the Osmosoft stall for free if they want to chat), but also provide heaps of other information that can help developers get under the hood. Paul will be writing this functionality.
Of course all this is subject to change. We have limited time and resources, and some features will change or might not make the cut. We're exposing the plan at this early stage in the spirit of transparency and also to see whether anyone has any interesting perspectives on this initiative. Let us know!
PS The above screenshot is a very early prototype, just to give you a flavour of what to expect.
PPS Members of the TiddlyWiki community may already have heard about this under a different name.
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Privacy is not just about information. It's all about the defaults.Good point, well made. Read the whole post here.
If a couple is walking down the street, engaged in deep and quiet conversation, it certainly would violate their privacy to focus listening devices on them, record their conversation, and post it on the Internet. The couple wold feel violated not only because their "information" — their conversation — was published but because they had the expectation that even though their sound waves were physically available to anyone walking on the street who cared to listen, norms prevent us from doing so. These norms are social defaults, and they are carefully calibrated to our social circumstances.....when we violate these norms, various forms of social opprobrium ensue.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
In the book, Gladwell talks about the three types of people involved when something explodes in popularity;
- Mavens (people who have an almost obsessive interest in collecting detailed, expert knowledge and take pleasure in sharing this with their friends)
- Connectors (people who have many more friends and acquaintances than the average Joe, and who are in a great position to pass on a message)
- Salesmen (ignore the image which pops into your head; these are simply people who have a knack of taking a potentially complicated message, and tailoring it into a compelling 'sell' for the person they're talking to)
And most importantly, he talks about the power of context. It's human nature to label people with certain characteristics, such as "good", "unhelpful" or "generous", and these terms may apply in a general sense, but the same person might behave differently in different contexts.
TiddlyWiki has a diverse set of properties that appeal to different people in different ways. To my mind, the area where we can best improve the profile of TiddlyWiki - and potentially make it tip - is making it easier for the last group of people, the Salesmen, to describe or demonstrate the benefits of TiddlyWiki to people who might be interested. And perhaps this could happen in a context which makes TiddlyWiki particularly appealing.
More to follow....
Monday, 12 November 2007
The latest occupant of the fourth plinth is called "Model for a Hotel 2007". I took some snaps as I went past the other night, you can get to these through the below thumbnail.
It's worth pausing for a moment to consider the esteemed company it finds itself in; the other three plinths hold statues of George IV, Henry Havelock and Sir Charles James Napier, not to mention the main man himself. All fascinating characters, and with the obvious exception of Nelson, I doubt whether most people could name the people on the other plinths. I'm ashamed to say I had to look them up, and I walk past them every day. And so if the unusual artwork draws attention to the other guys, and the notable part they played in our history, that's got to be a good thing.
|Model for a Hotel 2007|
Friday, 9 November 2007
Thursday, 1 November 2007
Want cost benefits? Well, the savings in terms of licensing are dwarfed by the cost of vendor lock-in. This can tip the balance in a business case.
Want support? The communities established around popular open source projects provide richer, quicker support than most vendors.
Want flexibility? How can you get more flexible than being able to adapt the code to your specific needs yourself? And choose the open standards that make complex technology stacks fit together?
Want reassurance that open source is ready for the enterprise? It's already there. Linux, Apache, Firefox, MediaWiki - they're all widespread and best of breed. That's the start of a long list.
So it was great to see the focus being on the best ways to implement open source in BT, rather than on whether it should happen in the first place. And all with the support of the top brass. Brilliant!
There was a pretty good buzz around the stalls (including the Osmosoft stall, which included OLPCs, TiddlyWiki on the iPhone, TiddlyWiki running on the Wii, and TeamTasks), but one of the unexpected highlights was an awesome poster created by our very own Paul Downey. Uploaded to Flickr on Tuesday night, it's already had 33,577 views! Check it out here.
To top it all off, we went for a curry afterwards with the great and the good of the open source world. Followed by a drunken stumble along the South Bank, complete with surprisingly in-focus nighttime photography. All the shots from the day can be seen via the below thumbnail.
|BT Open Source Event|
Friday, 26 October 2007
Wednesday, 24 October 2007
1) Walled garden. If I add my content to Facebook, it's still my content. I should be able to do what I like with it.
1a) If I add a photo in Facebook, or add a video in Facebook, I can't embed a thumbnail link to it from my blog
1b) If I want to get my information out, I can't. This makes me very nervous about putting it in.
2) Sucky user experience. Where do I start?
2a) If I want to track all the changes made by all my friends, I can't. I just get a selection chosen by Facebook (alright, I can change the emphasis by stating my preferences, but what if I want all changes and all additions by all my friends?)
2b) What if I want to follow these changes via my chosen centralised tool (my RSS feed reader)? Answer: I can't.
3c) I've listed several others before. The above two annoy me enough to write this second post, though.
3) Poor treatment of developers
3a) As my colleague has found, if you build applications using Facebook's tools, they have a habit of changing their platform without warning. Net result; broken application. What if your livelihood depended on this?
3b) Some developers have reported that their ideas have been stolen by Facebook. There's no way of proving that Facebook weren't already developing these ideas themselves beforehand, but there is an awful lot of smoke.
It all smacks of arrogance. At the recent FOWA conference, Dave Morin (Senior Platform Manager at Facebook) talked about how the photo app was built in two weeks. And how the events app was built in a day. If they can make changes this quickly, why haven't I seen any improvements on the site since I started using it in March? Are they too busy playing frisbee with Google? Why aren't they communicating with us? I mean, one blog entry since 26 September is hardly keeping an open dialogue. And, I'm sorry, but not allowing people to leave comments means it isn't a blog, anyway. Ironic that they're something of a faceless entity, isn't it?
I've already predicted that future competitive products will be more open. Perhaps if this is true, Facebook will open up their platform to match. I honestly don't think they'll have much of a choice. In other words, they might be milking their current system (forcing people to their site to watch their adverts) for all it's worth for as long as they can. And we, their customers, simply cannot let them get away with this if it turns out to be the case.
To be fair, I've also been thinking about what I like about Facebook. I like the fact that I've used it to reconnect with friends I'd lost touch with. Some of the applications are interesting. And I like that I get some information from people that I wouldn't otherwise get. But most of the useful updates I receive via Facebook are from other people's twitter feeds i.e. I get those already. Now, if I could just convince my friends in Facebook to move over to Twitter, I wouldn't need Facebook any more. They can link to their photos on Flickr or Picasa Web Albums. They can link to their videos on Youtube. And we can follow and filter all this either in real time (via Twitterriffic) or at leisure (RSS feed). No need for Facebook any more.
They say that every time you hurt the web, a LOLCat dies. Well, Facebook, you're killing a lot of LOLCats right now, and I'll be the first to cheer when the LOLRSPCA pay you a visit.
What's your Facebook beef?
I've uploaded it to YouTube too, but for some reason the transcoding has screwed up the first few seconds. No idea why that's happened.
I'd like to mention one problem and solution in case someone else is doing a Google search for it. I used Snapz Pro X to do my screen captures (great product, btw) and imported these files into Final Cut Express HD to blend with camcorder footage and audio. The overall effect is quite pleasing, but for the life of me I couldn't maintain the (pixel perfect) integrity of the screen captures, they come through all blurry. It's a shame because I think they let down the overall quality of the presentation.
Anyway, I think I've made headway with the solution. It looks as though the pixel count and frame rate all have to be consistent between initial capture in Snapz Pro X, then saving in Snapz Pro X, then the project settings in Final Cut Express HD, and finally with the export to Quicktime. So the starting point, I think, is choosing your project settings in Final Cut Express based on the native resolution of the camcorder footage (assuming you're using some), working out what the resolution and frame rates are, and then applying this all the way from capture through to export.
How do you find out the native resolution of the camcorder footage? Go to the main menu in Final Cut Express, select "Easy Setup", and then select the type of camcorder footage you're using. DV-PAL, for example, is a common selection. Then go to the Final Cut Express user guide, turn to page 203, and you can see that DV-PAL uses 25 frames per second at 720x576 pixel size.
YMMV for Final Cut Pro. Or indeed if you're using a camcorder setting (or "sequence input") that isn't shown on the small table in the user guide - you'll have to figure out how to calculate pixel count and frame rate yourself, I guess. And if you're using anamorphic PAL, which is basically stretched PAL with black lines added in post-production at the top and bottom, I'm not sure how you should capture the footage in Snapz Pro X.
I think that a premium product like Final Cut Express should somehow figure all this stuff out for you and clean up the image, or at least make it easier to figure out. Or even come bundled with it's own equivalent to Snapz Pro X (hint: buy the company, Apple). Just my two cents.
UPDATE 01/04/08: If you've found this useful, I've done more blog posts on this subject, you can find these here.
Monday, 22 October 2007
Worst offence? "Hope your well". It's "you're", people!
Anyway, I was pleased to see that grammar and spelling nazis have their place on the interwebs. I love this blog, which highlights the "unnecessary" use of "quotation marks" (especially as they accepted my humble submission), and also this one which, literally, tracks abuse of incorrect use of the word literally. Thank you.
And now I've declared my dislike of these errors, I'm sure someone will find such an error somewhere on my blog. I offer a prize to the first person to find one, and a prize-and-a-pint if you happen to find one in this article. Good luck.
PS While I'm on the subject of pet peeves, can we please extend the national curriculum so the next generation don't get Big Ben mixed up with the Palace of Westminster Clock Tower (also sometimes called St.Stephen's Tower)? Even the mighty Beeb have got this wrong today. Grr.
Friday, 19 October 2007
From the user's point of view, it's not a complicated problem. I use Facebook, I blog, I twitter, I use an iPhone, I read RSS feeds, and I want to harness all this in my work as well as at home, for professional and personal benefit.
But when we start looking at things from a business point of view, the situation becomes much more complicated. The two main issues are technical support and intellectual property (IP). Technical support first; at the recent assignment, all the companies round the table were massive (all 100,000+ employees, I think). Supporting the technological needs of a company this size presents all sorts of problems, especially when you consider the breadth of employee technical competence. Computers are locked down to some degree, ensuring that virus protection updates and other software are pushed up to the user at frequent intervals, and unknown / unsupported software can't be installed. This makes the job of the IT department manageable, at least. And then there's IP; these companies all have ideas which need to be protected. Documents need to be stored safely, and the IT department is charged with preventing information from being leaked (either intentionally or accidentally).
But times change. Users are demanding greater freedom. The workforce is becoming far more adept at fixing their own technical problems. New technology and services offer significant benefits to the enterprise. And smaller, nimble companies (without support or IP legacies to worry about) are gaining a commercial edge through embracing these technologies. How should large companies change in this environment?
I believe there are a few principles which need to be embraced. First of all, recognise that this is first and foremost a cultural change. It isn't something that can be addressed just by changing a policy document. In the course of writing this post, I came across this wonderful description on Deborah Schultz's blog:
If you are an individual it is about creativity and expression and connection. If you are a company it is an attitude, behavioral and cultural shift. It should be about persistence and dialogue and being in it for the long-haul. It is strategic.Well put.
I'm sorry I keep bringing up the Cluetrain Manifesto, but once again it's totally relevant in this discussion. Customers are staff. Staff are customers. Technology is just an enabler. It helps us find new ways to engage in conversations, which lead to relationships, which lead to transactions.
The second principle is leading from the front. Why waste so much time focusing on weighty policy documents that staff don't even read? And which need to be re-written every time new technology challenges existing principles? The best way to help people understand the cultural change is by example. It also encourages people to share their findings, meaning the benefits multiply through the organisation.
That isn't to say there shouldn't be a policy. You need something which defines where the line is drawn. Some staff might need this for reference, especially if they're unsure. But I believe the main reason for defining this line is so that the security and IT guys agree how to support the employees, NOT as a stick to hit people with when they wander close to the line.
And that's the key. Define the people's needs. Design the policy and system around those needs. Keep the policy lightweight to keep it manageable and allow for the unforeseen technical advances to come. Then sit back, watch staff morale go up, watch innovation manifest itself throughout the organisation, watch staff retention improve and watch efficiencies spring up. Sure the IP and support issues increase, but the benefits outweigh the risks.
Jonny on the plinth
Originally uploaded by Phillie Casablanca.
On the eve of the World Cup Final, Madame Tussauds have put their Jonny Wilkinson waxwork on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square. Just wish I'd cleaned my lens beforehand...
More photos on my Flickr page. Going to have to go Pro soon...
Monday, 15 October 2007
We all know ways we can make a difference. And fifteen thousands bloggers (and approx. 12 million readers) so far are urging everyone to take action.
Looking for ideas and inspiration? Check out today's entry on the official Google Blog.
Sunday, 7 October 2007
As I mentioned previously, while I'm a firm supporter of the Cluetrain principles, I feel that the book dismissed "old marketing" a little too lightly. Mass marketing is still very effective for communicating product information and reinforcing brand presence. There are plenty of areas where it's done well, where it still works, and leads to increased sales. And so long as traditional media exists (such as newspapers), there still exists a demand for the humble press release and other traditional PR activities. How can we strip out the bad, leave the good, and augment it with these new principles?
I put this uneasiness to Deborah Schultz (internet-industry veteran and innovator) at the recent FOWA conference, which opened up an interesting discussion about how companies can achieve these objectives. Consensus was quickly reached that old marketing isn't going away any time soon. Quite apart from the fact that it still seems to work, we have to acknowledge that huge amounts of money are involved and people's livelihood depends on this industry. Resistance is inevitable and understandable.
The answer lies, in part, in the way that customer service is treated. Certain companies tend to treat customer service as another vertical installation, alongside HR, accounts, product development, traditional marketing and so on - sometimes going so far as outsourcing the entire customer service department off-shore. The counter-argument is that customer service is something that should sit horizontally across all the other lines of business, where it can be much more effective.
There are lots of reasons why this is the way to do it, ranging from the power of employee blogging (and being allowed to comment on blogs about your product/service), to the quality of your end product when the customer's goals are at the heart of the development process. But I'll focus on one element for now; the importance of one-on-one conversation.
This is where traditional marketing has fallen down, and where the new methods can make a huge difference. Customers have had enough of foreign call centres, scripted conversations, interactive call response, and other symptons of silo'd customer service. When customer service sits right across the company structure, this encourages a culture whereby problems can be handled by the right person more quickly, making it a far more satisfying experience for customers and staff alike. This conversational exchange leads to relationships, which in turn leads to transactions. This process turns disgruntled customers into loyal advocates.
Of course, to suggest all this can happen overnight in a big organisation is unrealistic. But the message to all large companies is that younger, more nimble competitors are doing this stuff already. Tech-savvies in their 20s and 30s are growing up with high expectations. It's time to innovate on an institutional level - or face the unpleasant consequences!
Of course, they've gone downhill in the last few years, since most people sell their best stuff on eBay. But there are still a few bargains to be had, and it's fun wandering round the stalls. We've mainly kept an eye out for toys, books and clothes for the kids (they grow up so fast, you know, and we're not made of money), but I've also kept an eye out for retro gaming equipment.
I hit the jackpot today! A full working Commodore 64, complete with packaging and leads, all for just £4! That's right, four English pounds! I could hardly keep my hand steady as I handed over the coins. I love the packaging and branding, it's worth reminding the kids that Apple weren't the first to do this right:
When I was in my teens, it seemed most of my friends had a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, or a Spectrum+. A few had Amstrad CPC 464s. But I was the only kid I knew with a Commodore 64. I'm convinced to this day that the graphics and games were superior. It kept me out of mischief for the best part of 5 years, until I sold it to raise enough money for my first proper stereo - a sale I've grown to regret as the years have gone past.
In fact, it's not precisely the same model I had as a callow youth. Mine looked like this, and the one I bought today is the 64c, and looks like this. But they're essentially the same under the hood. And they play the same games. And so I'm now off to eBay to look for games such as Gauntlet, Starquake, Summer Games, Knightmare, Bubble Bobble and Yi-Ar Kung-Fu. So much for saving money at car boot sales....
Friday, 5 October 2007
Enjoyed a nice session this morning on Mindshare Marketing with Deborah Schultz and Brian Oberkirch - all good Cluetrain Manifesto stuff. Oberkirch also mentioned this excellent blog posting on the subject of measuring successful web communities.
And this afternoon's sesh is on the subject of Interface Design for Web Applications (as opposed to web sites), by Michael Kowalski of Kitsite. Good clean fun.
Although I'm exhausted, I'd still warmly recommend this conference. Wednesday in particular was stellar. Ryan Carson and his team have done a smashing job. Yay, web apps!
Thursday, 4 October 2007
|FOWA - Day 2|
Short video clip showing the arrival of Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht for the Diggnation filming is here:
And what a reception! Diggnation is an irreverent look back at the most popular items on Digg. But our hosts seemed more keen to banter with the audience. Both Rose and Albrecht have great stage present and are natural comedians, and made sure the audience had a fun time. Keep an eye out for the podcast on the Diggnation site; it should be up in a few days.
And the other sessions have been pretty good too. Heidi Pollock walked us through the pitfalls of taking a web app onto mobile. Leah Culver (sole developer on Pownce) gave an insightful talk about building a web app on the cheap. And Suw Charman gave a good talk about taking applications into the enterprise. All relevant for our work at Osmosoft.
Photos and a short video will be posted just as soon as the wi-fi here steadies itself.
Wednesday, 3 October 2007
- Robin Christopherson of AbilityNet talking about making web sites accessible. Enlightening and humbling to learn about the range of disabilities that web developers ought to consider when designing websites. Google has an exemplar track record in this area and, interestingly, have gone as far as creating a text-only version of Google Maps for the visually impaired (for details see my twitter feed).
- Daniel Burka, Creative Director for Digg, gave an awesome talk that was almost perfectly tailored for my current needs. I've recently been looking at experience design in the open source space (see blog postings here and here), and he encountered the exact same problem when redesigning Mozilla products a few years back. Major backlash! Obviously one should be sensitive to the likely reactions, and he gave some useful pointers as to what one can expect. Too much info to go into here, but I'll drop my notes as a comment in response to this blog post.
|FOWA - Day 1|
As you'd expect from the name, there's a entrepreneurial spirit in the air. There's a heady mix of old school tech (Sun, Microsoft, Adobe), recent web app success (Digg, Facebook, Flickr) and too many unknown hopefuls to count. Plus the VCs and industry bloggers are in the house. All the start-ups want to know how to make their app a success.
They've kicked things off with what may be the eventual highlight. Om Malik, venerable blogger and founder of the Giga Om blog, is on stage being interviewed with Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch. It was a fairly relaxed chat, the salient points being:
We're seeing too many people entering the same space too quickly. Last year it was personalisable ajax home pages. This year, office app clones (people still aren't using them and the market is saturated) and social networking. All of them lose, except the early front runners.
How can web developers protect themselves from creating something on a platform and then the platform owners e.g. Facebook change their mind? If it's that good, go to the platform owners and ask them for support - if you take their money they're less likely to be competitive with you. But if you're a developer perhaps consider not putting all your eggs in that risky basket. Valid point: there are no killer Facebook applications yet. Why not?
What's the biggest gap in the web2.0 market? Om Malik says: Enterprise. Where are the widgets? For example, where is the widget which plugs into the Salesforce API, with the widget appearing on iGoogle or Dashboard? Michael Arrington says: iPhone development, more and more people will start using mobile devices above desktop devices. Only takes a couple of weeks to put together something useful. If you're going to fail, fail quickly and cheaply and move on.
Where will Facebook be in a year's time? Arrington: in the process of going public. Malik: facing all sorts of legal issues...
More from the floor later.
Sunday, 30 September 2007
One of the myths I'd like to try and dispel is that good design is something that can be bolted onto a product at the end. Heaven knows there are plenty of people out there better qualified to make this point than me, but whatever. There are even more people that pretend it isn't the case, so it's still a point worth making.
Good design takes place during the development process, not afterwards. In my previous post, I said that end users' requirements need to be incorporated into the design process, "through effective use of personas, timely user testing, validation of any assumptions, and an effective iterative process (as far as is practical)". But how practical is it to incorporate these ideals into the average open source project? Especially when a program of research and testing can cost tens of thousands of £££. Hardly something one can expect the average basement programmer to find the cash for.
But there are still options. Understanding why design is important is a good start. For this, I recommend reading The Inmates Are Running The Asylum by Alan Cooper, a developer himself. It's gaining in popularity in Osmosoft Towers, and I think it provides an enjoyable and persuasive overview on the subject. Readers of this blog are invited to submit their own recommendations.
For projects without cash, there's a sliding scale of the extent to which end users' perspectives can be taken into account. At the bargain basement end, just think about the type of users you've created the product for. Do any friends and family meet that description? Involve them in the design process. Get them to look at your work. Beg or bribe them to be honest.
Also, look for similar products to yours which are already successful. There are plenty of rich companies out there doing gold plated, user centered design processes, and there's no shame in learning from their successes. What is it about their sites that makes them so good?
Another option is, if it's an open source product, seek feedback from the open source community. Bear in mind that they're likely to be über-geeks like you (that's a compliment btw!), so take their feedback with a pinch of salt. But maybe they can be encouraged to share your work with friends and family who meet your target profiles?
There are a couple of important pitfalls to avoid.
First, it's tempting to add features that are easy to add, but after a point these will have a negative affect on the experience. Look at Microsoft Word.
Then look at the iPod.
Keeping the interface simple makes it easy to use.
Second, recognise the temptation for programmers to model a user interface based on the underlying software - and then try to avoid it. Try to design the UI based solely on the user's goals, and then manipulate the software to suit. Not always entirely possible, never easy, but always worth trying.
And this is the reason why design should take place at the same time as development where possible. If it's left too late, the later one leaves it, the harder it is to change the software.
That said, it's never too late to try and apply good design principles to a product. TiddlyWiki is a great case in point; both the website and the product have evolved in a myriad of useful directions, but as a result they've become quite complicated for the novice, non-technical user to understand. I've created a screencast which guides new users through the first steps, the making of which made it obvious that we can make it easier for new users to understand and adopt the software.
TiddlyWiki is not Osmosoft's or BT's product. It belongs to the open source community (well, legally, the code is being held in trust by the not-for-profit foundation UnaMesa. But you get my point). My plan is to enlist help to come up with ideas about how TiddlyWiki can be improved, and post these on the TiddlyWiki forum for comment. Watch this / that space for more on this subject.
Monday, 24 September 2007
Update 28/9/07: having the presentation embedded here was impractical as it made a lengthy call on the Osmosoft server each time the page loaded. So if you click on the below image, it'll take you to the osmosoft site where you can see the interview in full.
Friday, 21 September 2007
All good fun, and we've just returned from the TV studio where we recorded an interview with Jeremy on "The History of TiddlyWiki". It'll be published online shortly, but in the meantime there are several photos here taken over the past three days:
Wednesday, 19 September 2007
As a starting point, I thought it would make sense to try and state the problem.
Good experience design revolves around a few key principles, in my humble opinion. One person or a small number of people should take responsibility for the experience. The experience should be designed independent of the underlying software, as far as possible. End users need to be incorporated into the design process, through effective use of personas, timely user testing, validation of any assumptions, and an effective iterative process (as far as is practical). And the responsibility for the experience should last until the release of the final product - the buck shouldn't be passed to developers when coding starts.
Then there's open source. For the purposes of this discussion, let's assume that we're not talking about a traditional development process, with a closely bound, established team, who just happens to be publishing their code under an open source license at the end of the project. Instead, let's suppose that the open source developers are outside the enterprise, possibly in more than one country. They could even be working on a pre-existing product (such as TiddlyWiki or Ubuntu).
Put in these simplistic terms, the problem isn't a particularly new one. The pitfalls of a traditional waterfall methodology are there to be fallen into. If a solution is designed by one group and then thrown over the wall at the developers, it doesn't matter whether they're in the same room or on the other side of the world. I believe it's essential to build software incrementally in an agile fashion to minimise risk and allow users to provide ongoing input throughout the build.
I think there are three keys to success in this situation:
- Ensure that those designing the experience remain responsible for overall delivery right up to the end.
- Ensure that those responsible for the experience have an open dialogue with the developers throughout the build. Use WebEx, use video conferencing (Skype, iChat, MSN, whatever) use Instant Messaging, use VNC, pick up the phone, send screen grabs, send screen casts, whatever it takes. Both developers and experience designers need to fight hard for a common cause; building the best possible experience in spite of the geographical separation. There are loads of communication tools available and there is simply no excuse for not trying.
- Ensure that those responsible for the experience maintain their open dialogue with the end users throughout the build. The experience guy or gal must bridge the gap between the user and the developer.
I mentioned in a previous post how the innovation process can be stopped dead in it's tracks if the user experience is too tightly defined. The distinction that needs to be made is that TiddlyWiki is an evolving product, but when a specific need is identified for an evolving product then the experience design process should and must kick in.
What do you think?
Monday, 17 September 2007
My first impressions of Yahoo! mash are pretty good. Here's my mash profile. As you may have seen from my twitter feed, the temptation is there to compare it with Facebook:
- No advertising - yet
- Ability to change your friend's profiles for them, including adding widgets. Opted out of letting anyone else do this yet. At least until Snowbadger has got bored and gone elsewhere...
- The platform isn't open to developers yet, but this is coming in the "next few months"
- Flickr widget looks good, of course - and only 218 people using this most popular widget. Early days indeed.
- You can configure your own background, including full control over css - get ready for some MySpace-esque horrors...and some beauties, I suppose
- There's some kind of tamagochi creature called "The Mash Pet" that I can feed, poke, etc. I just made him happy by feeding him four times in a row...joy....
So, the million dollar question: will it be popular? The market is far more savvy than it was six months ago. The kids who moved from MySpace to Facebook are unlikely to want to do it again. Lots of people seem to like Facebook, for better or for worse. I think mash has to improve, and it has the potential to do so. Who knows, maybe developers will come up with a killer gadget that uses the "modify friends profile" function.
In fact I wouldn't be surprised if the support given to developers tips the balance, as Facebook has proven to be pretty unreliable so far, well documented by my colleague Simon. You screw with the developer community at your peril.
It's invite only at the moment, let me know if you want one.
Monday, 10 September 2007
As you'd expect at that cost, the laptops run open source software (including Red Hat Linux), and the front end has been tailored to make them more accessible to children. They have USB inputs, web cameras and wi-fi antennae. I know there are all sorts of arguments that we should first focus on the people that need basic food and sanitation, and there are plenty who don't have electricity. Obviously that deserves effort and attention. But I think using technology to help people to educate themselves is a worthy, parallel long term solution to the same problem.
I'm pretty sure TiddlyWiki will run just fine on the XO-1 browser (based on the Gecko engine used by Mozilla Firefox), although we had some issues with USB stick detection. This would definitely complement the educational aspects of the project.
It looks pretty funky too. Ironically it got more attention here than the brand new chunky iPod nano that Jeremy bought, which is about 1/50th the size and probably more powerful. Perhaps Nicholas Negroponte has his own reality distortion field? Anyway, click through to see the photos:
|One Laptop Per Child|
We made it as far as 2am on Saturday night before throwing in the towel and retreating to our hotel rooms. Next time I'll definitely be sleeping over. Some cool sessions on Sunday included a demo of how TiddlyWiki can be used to make coding easier; a session by the Flickr guys about their RSS services; a talk about micropayments, and then a talk about Facebook apps. All good.
I've managed to track down the entertaining, auto-rebellious Barcamp Manifesto:
"We the geeks hereby declare that we have the means to do it ourselves,Should really have 'Land of Hope and Glory' playing in the background, eh?!
so from this point forward we are not employee 95362 or 43671.
We are talented and sought after individuals who can and will find the
means to break free of your cubicles and ivory towers.
We dont give a dame if you have the attention of 10 billion sticky eyeballs.
We dont give a shit about sticky eyeballs.
We give a shit about people.
We are independent, empowered, and en-fucking-gaged."
Our gracious hosts at Barcamp deserve a special mention. Madgex were brilliant, and made every effort to ensure the event ran smoothly and everyone got what they want. Other sponsors provided lashings of fab food. Thanks!
Here's the final batch of Brighton snaps:
Saturday, 8 September 2007
Anyone can choose whatever topic they like to talk about here. We started the day by going through the whole (small, hot) room of 100+ people, where everyone stated their intended topic. Everyone was really passionate about their specialist subject and looking forward to sharing their love with everyone else. This is what I love about this business; everyone's here in their spare time, and we all do our hobby for a living. We're a lucky bunch.
I did my session on 'Open Source meets $$$', where I tried to explain what we're doing at Osmosoft and asked Open Source developers how they'd like us to engage with them. The feedback was very encouraging, and several people stuck around afterwards to shoot the breeze.
The sessions go on until about 8.30pm, and then who knows what'll happen? One thing is likely: most barcamp overnight sessions involve a game of Werewolf (also known as Mafia). I'm a Werewolf virgin as well as a Barcamp virgin, so I'm looking forward to the experience...
Friday, 7 September 2007
Cameron Moll (currently the Interaction Design Manager for the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, of all places!) had the graveyard shift, and he did his best to make his session as interesting as possible to keep everyone awake. One interesting comment was that, sometimes, design solutions can present themselves simply when the problem is described in the right way. Other than that, it was mostly a series of engaging anecdotes.
George Oates (Principle Designer at Flickr) & Denise Wilton (founder of b3ta, now working at moo) had a chat on the sofa about the growth of their web sites. The growth of b3ta was particularly interesting, given the techy audience; to get it started they experimented with what's now known as 'viral marketing'...back then it was called 'just mucking around'. This helped gather the momentum required to grow the community. Scruffy design made developers feel like they belonged.
Matt Webb (founding partner of Schulze and Webb) presented an A-Z about 'The Experience Stack'. Among other things, he touched on gameplay, where different games start in different ways (in at the deep end, tutorial, hand holding, etc.) each illiciting a different emotional response. The same lessons apply to web design. He also introduced us to the following wonderful quote:
"Design is the conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order" - Victor PapanekBut the really nice surprise came at the end of the day. Tom Coates, who works in the Tech Development Group at Yahoo!, gave an informative and very entertaining talk on "Designing for a Web of Data". He urged us to think of our products not just as mere web sites. They can run everywhere the network reaches. Every service or piece of data we add to the environment has the potential to make everything else more powerful. 90% of activity on Twitter is from APIs. Take Flickr, the photos are on Moo cards, digital photo frames, desktop widgets, etc. Networked physical devices such as Nabaztag and the Ambient Orb also got a mention as did Wattson. All very thought provoking.
The biggest laugh, though, was for his description of Twitter: "Twitter is a way of accessing error messages on the web". This was the all-too-familiar screen shot...
And so that's the end of dConstruct for this year, a good time had by all. It was a pretty good event, although I think most of the important lessons can be learned by reading Alan Cooper's Inmates Are Running The Asylum.
We're now off to the pub. Barcamp tomorrow. Yay!