Saturday, 25 October 2008

TiddlyTiller - Wikified Project Reporting

So as mentioned in a tweet or two, I've been spending some of my time creating a project reporting tool using TiddlyWiki.

We started with a main objective, and things kind of spiralled out from there. First, I wanted to share a weekly report with the client (simple list of things like budget, status, etc.) and have all these archived and searchable. Then I figured if we were using TiddlyWiki, we could add the minutes in there too. Group them using tags. Auto-generate some templates when needed. And what about maybe using some task management tools?

So I've decided to use Phil Hawksworth's teamtasks as my starting point - which is why it bears a striking resemblance to said wonderful product - and, in the interests of sharing early and often, here's a link to my early modest effort (use right click, save as to your desktop, then open it from there. Or open this version if you just want a play without downloading anything).

In keeping with the practice of giving TiddlyWiki based products ridiculous names, I've decided to call my product TiddlyTiller. As in 'steady hand on the tiller'. I'll be working on a product website a little further down the line, and have agreement from my company to release it under an open source licence (I did the extra work on company time). To most of the people reading this blog, it's simply the right thing to do - but it's a new concept to some of my colleagues. So they deserve credit for that.

So, next steps...I'm going to start using this on one of my projects. Hopefully the client won't have any security constraints that prevent it being opened and read locally. We'll see how we go and probably make some tweaks to improve the core product.

On a parallel path, I'm going to try and corral our designers at The Team into designing a product website for me. Might take a while as they're busy, but we'll see!

Feedback, comments, suggestions....all welcome.

Some things that have happened to me since last time I wrote a blog post

I haven't really had time to blog, what with the new job 'n' all. But to make up for it, here's a quick digest of things Casablanca.

I'm loving the new job! I'm working with a good bunch of people, and they've got some amazing clients - so far, I've just been working on the NHS Choices project. The NHS wants to up their game in terms of preventative medicine and treatment - not just reactive treament - and the website will play a central role in this initiative. So it's all about helping people lead healthy lifestyles. I'm starting off in a project management role, but will swap hats from time to time to lead innovation workshops, and that kind of thing. I'm currently trying to figure out what role VRM can play in all of this, and very much looking forward to the VRM workshops taking place in London on 3rd November.

I've also had fun trying to turn TiddlyWiki into a reporting tool for our project managers (for internal and external stakeholders). The subject of an imminent blog post...

I've resisted linking to our company website up to now as it's pretty awful. The good news is that it's going to be completely overhauled by Christmas, so I'll link to some design assets as soon as they're signed off internally. I can reveal that it's a considerable improvement...

And I've had great fun exploring the general area around my office too! We're based in London Bridge (11 Southwark Street), and I had no idea how interesting this area is away from the river. Apart from the luscious Borough Market, there's all sorts of interesting buildings and people, not to mention a brand of Monmouth Coffee Shop that's brimming with character. I've started taking photos which I'm sharing in a growing photo set on Flickr, but for now here's a couple of snaps from the weird and wonderful Cross Bones Graveyard just round the corner from our offices:

Winchester Geese

Cross Bones Graveyard

More photos here. And more details about the graveyard itself on the Wikipedia page.

In other news, I'm now the proud curator of a Macbook Air, courtesy of my new employers. I say proud; I wish for starters that I'd waited a day or two and picked up the new model with the larger hard drive. And I still think its a mistake building a laptop without an ethernet port. I have to walk around the building with the USB to ethernet dongle hanging out, and it swings like a tail. Still, apart from these minor concerns, it really is a smashing laptop and I'm one of the lucky few in the office to have a laptop at all.

What else? Oh, I've been watching True Blood. It's a new show from the ever dependable HBO, and the premise is that vampires have come 'out of the coffin' and are integrating into society in the US deep South. It's well worth the effort, although I should stress that those who don't like weird sex scenes should probably steer clear...

Last but not least, I've finally gotten around to finishing The Black Swan. I can put my hand on my heart and say that it's one of the most interesting, thought provoking and challenging books I've read in years. I'll never read or watch the news in the same way again. I'll be encouraging the project managers in my team to read it, no doubt.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog Action Day 08

Today is Blog Action Day, the day when thousands of blogs around the globe agree to highlight a key issue. Last year it was the environment, this year it's poverty.

Unfortunately, what with the pressures of a new job n' all, I haven't had the time to give this post or topic the effort it deserves. But I do believe that we all have a responsibility to do something about poverty, both home and abroad. There are numerous charities that help make this easy - for instance, why not visit the Oxfam site and set up a monthly donation? It's as easy as buying a DVD from Amazon. £10 a month goes a long way.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Cash-strapped Technology Choices

This recession will be great for free and open source because of the shortage of cash. Last recession saw the mainstream legitimisation of open source operating systems...because it was clear and away the most cost-effective choice. The saying I use is, "come for the price, stay for the quality". Perhaps this recession will legitimise many of the applications (CRM, finance, etc.) higher up the stack.
I think he's made a good point, but the impact won't be quite as high as he - or I - would like. The fact remains that the most important factor in a choice of technology is confidence in the technology. Large software vendors will continue to court the people making the decisions, giving them misplaced confidence about proprietary software, disarming any financial concerns through spreading FUD about TCO.

That said, I'm still optimistic that the financial crisis will mean open source software is at least considered more frequently where it wasn't before. Like I said, I agree open source makes even more sense during these cash-strapped times - my argument is one of impact.

I'm in complete agreement with Nat about open source / cloud services though:
Open source services and cloud computing will benefit from the tight financial situation where conditions will favour opex and not capex. It wil be nigh impossible to borrow to buy hardware or a major software license. An open source software product is free to get through the door, and services around it are delivered from opex not capex. Similarly, cloud computing lets a company pay a little to use someone else's enormous capital investment.
The comments are worth reading, too.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


I've been following Barack Obama's progress closely, and am thrilled to see his lead being extended in the polls. If he can do well in tonight's debate, then I believe he need only avoid an Arnie Vidick style disaster and he's almost home and dry.

Parenthetically, there are extraordinary parallels between Matt Santos' fictional campaign on The West Wing and Barack Obama's campaign in real life. Check this out to see what I mean.

Anyway, of particular interest now is the impact that Obama's digital campaign has had on his support base. To my mind, this has been one of the decisive factors in the establishment of Democratic support on the ground; I quote from the BBC Article:
The poll also showed that the Obama camp had a stronger organisation on the ground, with 43% of potential voters having been contacted by Democratic supporters, while only 33% had heard from McCain supporters.
We're watching a future case study as it unfolds. Some social software helps people make connections with people they've never met. And some helps people to establish and nourish relationships that exist in real life as well. Obama's focus on the latter is leading him to The White House. Lessons abound!

The Future of Branding

It's no secret that the web changes the way that companies should market or brand themselves. But there's still some confusion as to how these changes manifest themselves. So I'm pinning some colours to the mast.

Nowadays, the actual values of company staff are becoming increasingly transparent because of the web. This is standard Cluetrain stuff, but the message bears repeating. It has become damaging for a company to say they have particular brand values if these differ from the ACTUAL values that their staff has. And as more people get involved in online social networking tools, and their activity subverts the hierarchies inside company walls, the more visible their actual values become.

So how is the role of branding changing? For me, it's just like branding cattle, where the brand much reflect the actual qualities of the animal. With companies, branding allows a company to understand and present a consistent, unified image - but it must be the truth, never a contrivance. All companies have staff that hold a variety of opinions and perspectives, and a company's brand nowadays has to be sufficiently flexible to not just reflect this, but support it too. It is unwise to retrofit a desired perception onto the unwilling (or unable).

This has a knock-on effect right the way through the company, particularly on HR. You can't hire people and then say "here are your new values"! It's now more important than ever that the actual values of the company drip through every element of the company, from the hiring process through to how staff are treated day to day. And of course this should permeate through to a consistent visual language that can be applied everywhere.

So as with advertising and PR, I think there is an opportunity opening up for those who can understand how the landscape is changing and adapt quickly. Branding still has a key role to play. And it turns out that the companies that have already behaved in the above fashion to begin with have stolen a march on their competitors. Companies like First Direct, Southwest Airlines and Virgin have adopted these policies all along, and frequently feature in best company and best employer lists. Their warm and friendly brands are reflected in their people (well, in most cases anyway). They're also well placed to get through the financial crisis as a result.

And on the other side of the coin we have companies like Microsoft. It doesn't matter how many times Microsoft re-badges itself - and they've really struggled with this - it's an obvious veneer, and I'll bet many people assume Microsoft's real values are reflected in their aggressive and anti-competitive behaviour. Microsoft has many smart and well intentioned people in their ranks, and if their values were reflected in their corporate brand it wouldn't do Microsoft any harm at all. Much as I like the Blue Monster, and everything it stands for, it didn't have much of an impact on their brand image - not from where I stand anyway.

Personal Attack Cow photo shared under a Creative Commons licence on Flickr by Repoort.