Finding Information in Blogosphere

Tom Coates applies Duncan Watt’s Small Worlds ideas to blogs and states: “For any given body of information on weblogs, no matter the rate of replication of information or the number of people who post exactly the same comments, close to 100% of the available insight can be reviewed by reading a disproportionately small number of sites – sites that will – as a rule – be among the first that they stumble across through their normal browsing and research patterns.”

Wikis for Business

NYTimes writes about how Wikis could be used for business:

A wiki the Hawaiian word for fast is similar to a Web log in that the software makes it extremely easy for anyone to publish on the Internet. But unlike a Web log, which is typically the work of a single author making diary-style entries in chronological order, a wiki is the collective work of many authors.

At first glance, a wiki looks like a bare-bones Web page, with simple text and no fancy graphics. But its streamlined simplicity is the main appeal. There’s no cryptic HTML programming or complicated software. To create a new wiki page, a user needs only to click on the “create a new page” link and then start typing.

The most distinctive characteristic of a wiki is that anyone in the group (or for public wiki sites on the Internet, anyone who visits) can edit, modify or even delete material on the pages. Such a free-form collaborative process can be messy and chaotic, and it requires a commitment to the group that may not sit well with some egos. But over time, wiki advocates say, a group voice or consensus emerges into what some enthusiasts call “emergent intelligence.”

The creative anarchy of the wiki is the philosophical inverse of conventional corporate groupware software. Groupware’s highly structured rules and processes do not always reflect the way people really work. Employees often ignore costly corporate-sanctioned software and revert to informal social networks whether simply e-mail or impromptu water-cooler discussions.

Given that wikis are easy to use, inexpensive and can be set up without a company’s information technology department, it is no surprise that the software is making its way into business organizations through the back door much as instant messaging and other stealth innovations have done. While wikis can be helpful for project managers and employees in charge of small teams, corporate managers who favor greater control are more likely to be wary.

An example of a Wiki set-up by Joi Ito for a discussion on LinkedIn.

What is interesting is that something which has been on the fringe (Wikis have been around since 1995) has suddenly started becoming popular, perhaps partially driven by the new-found interest in social software.

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Real-Time Information Management

Jayesh Matani referred this article in Optimize on the value of the digital dashboard:

In the complex, internetworked, overlapping, and multitier reality of today’s global business environment, information is routinely delayed, distorted, incomplete, or simply never reaches its destination. This may seem surprising, given that most information already resides in databases, data warehouses, or data marts that should be immediately accessible. But most databases become “islands of integration” where the information workflow required to make decisions demands unnatural acts of systems and applications integration. That’s because we typically integrate applications according to how they interface with one another, rather than how a particular data item might be routed throughout a company and used by business managers.

Enter the digital dashboard–also called the digital cockpit–for global management. It’s a graphical depiction of real-time business performance from far-flung operations. Most companies practice global-business management as a series of snapshots: Here’s a report on last week’s sales, or these are our accounts-payable positions as of last month, or that’s what our customer surveys indicated two months ago. In contrast, the dashboard provides a continuous stream of such information. Time is its most important element. This “now” view of the business effectively lets managers make decisions instantly, not in delayed mode.

Playing the Linux Game

IT-Director has an article on the Linux Game: “Players compete to make their business commercially viable in a world of Open Software. There are no rules.”

Linux getting traction on the desktop is clearly Microsoft’s nightmare. Microsoft knows how fast a market can flip over. After all, it watched Excel rip the spreadsheet market from Lotus in a few short years and it watched Microsoft Word perform the same trick on WordPerfect. Right now desktop Linux is still a market for enthusiasts and hobbyist, but the developer trend tells me that it won’t remain so forever, and the leaked email may even prove to be a trigger for change.

So Steve Ballmer insists that Microsoft will not port its products to Linux. Let me make a prediction.

Within the next 5 years Microsoft will announce that it is porting its office products and many of its other products to Linux.

An important point: “Platforms gain market share by virtue of applications. So for email, Windows is dominant, in web servers it’s a fairly even match, for running ERP systems Linux is on the up, Windows has some of the action and Unix, OS/400 and OS/390 are all players. The ultimate driver of the market is what developers are developing for.”

Linux needs to exploit its existing applications base. There are thousands of open-source apps, which need to be highlighted. The developers are already there; what’s missing is the aggregation of what they have developed.

Ads on Blogs

Dana Blankenhorn gives some suggestions, learning from the mistakes of the past:

1. Limit your ad inventory. You offer one or (at most) two ads per page, no more. When you sell out this inventory you raise your prices, you don’t create more inventory.

2. Sponsorship skins. Every page on every site is surrounded by some sort of “trade dress” for the publisher. What if we took that surround and made that the ad? An outfit called iLor has been trying to do this by offering sponsorship “skins” on pop-up services, like organized hyperlinks. What if we did this on the surround of an entire blog page, and sold that sponsorship by the day or the hour? The color would carry a brand message, a single advertiser’s message would surround the content, and that message would be absorbed slowly, on the user’s own terms. A sponsorship with, perhaps, a secondary ad from another advertiser that links off-site, is the maximum load any story should carry.

3. Shared Registration. Blogs need some sort of shared-registration scheme. No blog publisher has the money to build this, it should be done by a third party. Users should have one place where they can tell the blogosphere what their interests are, what kinds of pitches they might listen to. The ad they get on each page they go to can then be customized, based on these preferences, raising the CPM (cost per thousand) value of every ad. Registrants should be able to enter this database once, and have a cookie that can let them register at other sites with a single click.

4. Pay Per Action. Once ads are going to prospects instead of just suspects, through shared registration, sites should be happy to take payment based on action (like clickthroughs, completed registration forms or sales) rather than page views. Pay per action pricing can, through analysis of server logs, yield an implied CPM, and the company handling the shared-registration scheme should be willing to share that CPM with member sites.

5. E-Mail. This should be a benefit for registration, and it’s critical for improving the circulation of any blog. Integration of e-mail delivery with Web ad services – true integration – is essential to increasing circulation and delivering the cash bloggers need to keep going.

TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: OPML

OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) is the third element which is the foundation of the Memex. What OPML enables is the creation of outlines, which in turn enables the creation of personal directories. Why do we need personal directories? Isnt Yahoo or DMOZ good enough? The short answer is no. Heres the long answer.

There are two ways to navigate the Web today: search via a search engine like Google, or navigating a hierarchical directory like Yahoo. Both are impersonal. Both lack context. I had discussed this in a blog post entitled: The Missing Link In Information Management:

Let us consider Google Search. Of course, it is reasonably accurate in what we are looking for most of the time. Or at least that is what we think because we have no way to tell. But the results are the same irrespective of who does the search. We do not have an easy way of specifying clusters of documents to search, or a time period. In short, what is missing is a “context” for the search.

Navigating through directories like Yahoo also has its problems. There is a single global directory (or at best, country-level directories). Also, they do not take us to the document – they will leave us at the site’s home page. Most of the directories are also not scalable because of their centralisation and manual updation process. In fact, this is what created the opportunity for automatons like Google – the web had simply grown too big.

Into this Search Engine and Directory world have come bloggers. Think of them as a collection of ants, each of which makes its local decisions, and yet as a collective creates structures which no single ant would have been able to “command and control”. In other words, bloggers are creating an emergent system with their individual decisions of what to link to (and what not to link to). Bloggers are putting their own brains, their own knowledge at the centre and creating a nano-version of the Internet around their area of expertise.

There is a problem, though. What we say as a blog is actually a “what’s new” page – this is because it is organised reverse chronologically (by time, the newest entries on top). Yes, many blogs have categories, which is good, but even there, the entries are by date and time of post. What’s missing – even though its there embedded within the blog – is the overall context and perspective that is the blogger’s expertise. What’s missing is an Outline, or in other words, a blogger’s directory of the posts which are there.

Why is this important? When I go to a blog, I am not going there just for finding new links and comments on specific areas. I’d like to get a wider and deeper perspective, because I trust the blogger’s expertise. We like talking to experts because they help in putting things in context, like a good book. There is an introduction, there is a set of key ideas, each of which can be explored further, and there is also an overview of the latest developments. Today, most blogs and bloggers only make visible the last of these – the most recent ideas and news. As a reader, I want more.

As a reader, I want every blog to have an outline, a directory of the posts which provide the context. So, if there is an event or news item, I can now place it in the wider view of things, by just seeing where it is in the directory of items. The blogger has this mental map, it is just not visible on blogs today. The result is that it can make blogs and blogger’s viewpoints hard to understand quickly – one is just seeing a snapshot. It is like reading page of a book at random, without having the benefit of a Table of Contents.

Tomorrow: OPML (continued)

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