Monthly Archives: November 2005

Meeting the Director

I managed to grab 2 minutes with the IT Director and almost got his attention away from the email in front of him and the meeting he was about to go off to. It was just enough to explain the idea of blogs enabling a dialog (rather than simple information dumping) and my aim of helping to sift through all the technical information that he and the senior management wish they had the time for. This in turn was enough for him to say set up a meeting, so I meet with him in 2 weeks time.

I have also managed to get a meeting for next week with someone from marketing, trying to address my other aim of getting blogs/news feeds in use internally and on our Internet site.

In the mean time I continue to post to the blog to keep the content fresh and hopefully keep those readers I have coming back.

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Talented or merely competent

I was at a dinner last week for street pastors and the speaker, Oliver Nyumbu of caret, talked about not being driven by a deficate model, in other words focus in people’s strengths not their weaknesses. We do this in all walks of life. Our child gets an A for Maths and a C for English, so we focus on improving the English rather than the Maths. Why? People have talents, we present natural ability in some areas more than others. Let’s grow the talent.

There was much in what he said that I could relate to the organisation for which I work. We use sets of competencies, insisting that everyone live up to this lowest common denominator. We put aside too often the fact that people are naturally gifted in some areas more than others. When we have people who are extraordinarily talented in some way (and often rather deficient in another) we don’t know how to deal with them. We tend to leave them to ‘get on with it’ and they are unmanaged, loose cannons. The result is they create as much chaos as they produce solutions, because no one understands what they do. Ultimately, by not properly using the talent we end up loosing it because people feel undervalued.

I’m not sure about the practical aspects of this; it is obvious that some level of competency is required. You can’t have a group of people trotting around doing only that thing for which they have a talent – too many things would just not get done then. Nonetheless, it was a challenging message.

You can teach a turkey to climb a tree, but it’s cheaper to hire a squirrel.

Microsoft – the good, the bad and the ugly

I blogged this on the internal blog last Tuesday. I enjoyed writing it so I thought I’d copy it here.

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Yesterday Microsoft made two announcements: an extension to RSS called Simple Sharing Extensions (see my earlier blog) and the standardisation of the Microsoft Office file format.

With Simple Sharing Extensions (SSE) Microsoft has taken an existing standard (RSS underpins news feeds and technologies like pod and video casting) and applied it to the problem of synchronising of data across applications irrespective of vendor or platform. Spotting the potential in the simplicity of RSS Microsoft sketched out a draft specification that models the replication of Lotus Notes. Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes, was one of the key architects of this specification.

The specification not only has great promise in the application of data synchronisation but promises to solve an immediate problem in the area of RSS news feeds. OMPL is a standard XML file format for specifying lists of news feeds. For example, you may be interested to monitor the feeds that I monitor, so if I provide you an OMPL file you can import that into your feed reader application and all my feeds get added. However, over time my list will change and you won’t get updates. SSE provides the answer, allowing you to subscribe to my OMPL list. Already feed readers are being written with this feature based on SSE.

Dave Winer, in his blog, writes concerning Microsoft’s announcement:

“In 1996, I wrote: “Here’s an invitation to truly embrace the creativity of others. Instead of beating your *** about how great you are, try saying how great someone else is. Look for win-wins, make that your new religion. Establish a policy that nothing will be announced unless it can be shown that someone else will win because of what you’re doing. How much happier we would be if instead of crippling each other with fear, we competed to empower each others’ creativity.”

“Now, in 2005, almost ten years later, we may be grown-up enough to actually work this way.”

(emphasis mine)

I think that says it all.

So what of the second announcement – and the BAD: the standardising of Office file formats. On the surface this might seem a good thing. Since the beginning of time Microsoft has closely guarded the Office proprietary file format in an anti-competitive way. Finally, with Office 12, Microsoft has opened file format, but has imposed licence requirements that prevent some competitors from using it.

So way would Microsoft feel the need to take this open file format and present to a standards body?

OpenDocument is an alternate open file format for office applications and is the main file format for the popular open source Open Office and Sun’s variant Star Office. The benefit of an open standard is that users avoid vendor lock in.

Recently, several organisations, most publicly the US State of Massachusetts, have stated adoption of the OpenDocument standard, stating that this is the only way they can ensure that archived documents will always be retrievable. Despite this pressure Microsoft has, thus far, steadily refused to support OpenDocument in Office 12.

I believe the real motivation behind Microsoft’s move to bring the Office 12 Open XML file formats to a standard body is to squash the competing OpenDocument file format.

That is UGLY!

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I confess to being a little big provocative, and perhaps one sided in the hope that I would get some comments, but that didn’t happen. I’m still suspicious of Microsoft’s motives here and their track record of ignoring standards doesn’t give me any comfort that once Open XML is an independent standard they won’t simply extend it to accomplish some new feature. Time will tell if this leopard has really begun to change its spots.

Getting attention

There are two things that I am trying to do with the blogs/news feeds in my organisation. Firstly, I have this content (that I talked about previously), which is essentially me and some other guys opining about what is going on in IT with a fairly tight remit. Secondly, I’m experimenting with blogs/feeds as a means of communication, so I’m looking for different applications within the organisation.

With regards the former, the major challenge is getting and holding attention. I’m sure there are areas of commonality in attracting readers in the public domain, like how do I get people to read this, an internally. However, there is a lot that is different. Firstly, mine is the first blog, so I can’t rely on referrals. On the other hand I have a captive audience if I get the content right, because a) I know them and what should interest them and b) for them to find this information themselves would require them to trawl around the net and they don’t have time for that – so I can scratch an itch.

However, despite these advantages I’m not sure it’s happening. Today I met with one of our internal communications people so discuss this (although primarily to sell the idea of using news feeds for internal communications). It was actually a very useful meeting as she had some insights into the struggles senior management (my target audience) experience in trying to keep up to date technically. So I’ll be playing around with more ways of capturing their attention. For one, I’m going to poll them to find out what sources they use to find information, or even better, what sources they wish they had time to read and digest. I’ll also be asking them if they would value a face to face presentation on ‘the best of the blog content’ on a regular basis.

Another challenge is generating content. I’ve not been given extra time out to generate content, so I’m fitting it in between things. There are several other people in our IT department who should be blogging as well, but only one has taken it on. There is nothing I can do but offer the carrot that if they blog (useful stuff) they will get the recognition it deserves. I have no solution to this one but to grow the carrot by getting traffic to the blog.

So my hope is that solving the first problem (lack of attention) will also solve the second (lack of contributors).

Introducing blogging

My organisation hasn’t made any use of blogs, news feeds or wikis and I’ve been on campaigning to explore the potential of this technology for the last few months. This has involved educating people (both in the ‘what is this’ and ‘what is the world doing with it’) and envisioning.

The most positive response has been to RSS news feeds, and this mainly as a means of internal communication. Generally communication is currently one size fits all – either through our Intranet site (which is not a portal) or through blanket email. There’s no ability for the consumer (employees) to decide what information/communication they feel they should be getting. I hold the ZDNet feed page up as a brilliant example as to how to offer choice in what news people receive.

Neither blogs, other than for information/communication linked with news feeds, nor wikis have really captured the imagination of those with whom I have spoken.

So what have I done?

I have been publishing a technology newsletter for senior management for some time. This seemed ideal content for a blog so I set up an internal blog server on an old desktop. It caused quite a stir to begin with, but I am concerned that unless I can get the content pushed to people (remember my audience is senior management) they will start to drop off. Obviously there is a challenge to keep ensure the content is relevant, but I am trying to get people to load a feed reader as well (RSSBandit being my favourite). I also have my newsletter in which I can push the blogs.   

Apart from the use of the blog site as a news letter others are starting to think of other applications for blogs. Already we have a bunch of people testing smartphones, and we have a blog set up for them to share their experiences.

The experiment is only 2 weeks old and I’ll post updates as I go. I’d be interested to hear of other peoples experiences in introducing this technology.

On the technology side I used the Community Server software because it’s all based around MS technology, so it has a good fit for us. It also offers a scalable solution with a Commercial licence and ability to integrate with Active Directory.

Trying wordpress

I’ve started this blog over on Blogspot but want to try out WordPress, so I’m posting to both for now.