January 2006 Archives

edge cases and early adopters

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This week was the fourth version of Microsoft' "search champ" program, and the first one where I've been heavily involved in the planning (rather than simply being an attendee). It was a great meeting, with some amazing people providing input into new product development in MSN/WindowsLive. I got see to old friends (like Cindy and Walt), and be a fangirl (hi, Merlin!).

During the wrap-up session, when Robert Scoble was talking about designing tools that would optimize everyone's syndication experience so that they, too, could read 840 feeds, I called him an "edge case." He didn't like that. Not one bit. But his defense was, to me, unconvincing.

Robert's an "edge case" to me in this context because very few people will ever have the time or the inclination--regardless of how good the tools are--to read that many sources. Robert does not because he's some freak of nature, but because he's got a job that requires him to monitor activity in the technology community. When I worked at the Library of Congress, I had a job that required me to read dozens of newspapers and magazines every single day, looking for articles related to governmental initiatives. That made me an edge case. Most people don't read dozens of news publications every day, and it's not that they want to but simply haven't found the tools to do it. It's that they don't have a need for that much diffuse information.

He felt I used the term derisively, which I didn't. He's right that edge cases often push us in new directions, and I've got a long-standing interest in liminal spaces (the fancy academic term for those in-between spaces where contexts overlap and new ways of thinking and acting often emerge). But in his reaction, he confused what I see as two very different things--edge cases and early adopters. In this case he's both. But his response focused much more on how his early adoption of new technologies--from macs to blogs--foreshadowed broader adoption. That's about being an early adopter, which is not synonymous with being an edge case.

So what's the difference? To me, an early adopter is someone who recognizes the value of a new technology or tool before it becomes widely used or accepted, and often evangelizes it to others. They recognize trends before they're trends, and are the ones who are always acquiring the latest-and-greatest technical toys. An edge case is someone who's on the extreme edge of an activity, regardless of whether they're an early adopter. Someone who reads 840 blogs is an edge case. But so is someone who reads dozens of daily newspapers, or runs 10 miles every morning. Their choices may influence our behavior--those edge cases are great at recommending things to others--but most people will be far more moderate in their behavior.

There's a story I cite a lot when I'm talking to people about diffusion of technological innovation. Back in my early days as a librarian in the 1980s, online searching didn't mean launching a web browser and going to Google. Instead, it meant connecting via dial-up to an online database and doing a searches with complex boolean operators. Librarians loved this, and decided that the whole world needed to learn the "joy of searching." It was that whole "teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime" mentality. One day at a library conference, I heard a wonderful speech by Herb White in which he scolded librarians for this mentality. "I have no joy of searching," he told the audience. "I have joy of finding!"

In that context of online searching, librarians were both edge cases and early adopters--much like Robert is with blogs and syndicated feeds. They're edge cases because they do in fact love to search as much as love to find. They find it hard to believe that not everyone would want to learn arcane search syntax in order to improve their online search experience. But they're also early adopters--they were finding things online before the web was born, and they continue to push the limits on how you can use online search tools (one of my most popular posts ever was a transcription of Mary Ellen Bates' fabulous "30 Search Tips in 40 Minutes" talk from the 2003 Internet Librarian conference).

Anyone who's looked at aggregated query logs from a search engine knows that most of the people doing online searching these days aren't masters of the boolean query. They didn't become like the edge cases. But they did follow the early adopters--just in a more limited way.

So, Robert, my point wasn't that because you're an edge case nothing you do is relevant to other users. Nor do I think being an edge case is bad (I consider myself to be one, too). But the people who follow your lead as an early adopter won't do it the way you do. They're simply not going to want or need to read 840 syndicated feeds. And to try to optimize the user experience based on the needs of edge cases isn't, I think, in anyone's best interest.

the year in cities

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Following Kevan's post, which in turn followed Kottke's, here's my 2005 in cities.

Rochester, NY *
Atlanta, GA
Dubai, UAE
Austin, TX
Seattle, WA *
Los Angeles, CA
New York, NY
Monterey, CA *
Boston, MA
San Francisco, CA

One or more nights spent in each place. Those cities marked with an * were visited multiple times on non-consecutive days. Somehow I thought it was more. (Of course, there was a good bit of back and forth between Seattle and Rochester this year, so that may account for some of that sense.)

fitness update

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I've been sticking to my plan to change my activity level and food intake--better than I would have expected, actually. We've stocked the house with healthy foods, which helps a lot. And I'm getting used to getting up earlier in order to get to the gym.

So far, I've seen little in the way of actual weight or size reduction, which is a little disheartening--especially since my best friend and husband are shedding pounds like crazy. But I'm going to be patient. These are good changes, regardless of whether they satisfy my desire for instant gratification.

This weekend I got a free consultations with a personal trainer at our health club, which included height/weight/measurements, body composition analysis, and strength and flexibility tests.

The good news is, my blood pressure continues to be low, and my resting heart rate is lower than I thought. The really good news is that my strength tested at "excellent" (I hit a level that would have counted as excellent even if I was 18, which was gratifying). The bad news...well, let's just say I won't be sharing body comp or measurement numbers anytime soon. Maybe in April, if I've made significant progress, I'll share the "before" info for comparison purposes. Then again, maybe I won't!

Gerald decided to use the more prescriptive plan from Bill Phillips's book Body for Life, and after looking it over (and seeing how well it's working for Gerald), I'm going to give it a shot as well. The difference is really a focus on intensity, with a clear plan for 3x/week high-intensity interval-style cardio work, and 3x/week strength training. I did my first weights session last night with Gerald coaching, and it was definitely intense.

My blogging about my commitment to getting fit again had an unexpected bonus--I got email this week from another person who'll be attending this week's "search champs" event here at Microsoft, and we've made a pact to monitor each other's food intake at the various social events (at which large quantities of food are regularly served). It helps a lot to know that someone else is "in it" with me...and that someone will notice if I happen to reach for a brownie in the middle of the afternoon!

world of warcraft primer

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Over the past several days, a number of friends and colleagues have asked me about getting started with World of Warcraft, so I thought I'd summarize some of the key ponts here for others who may be wondering.

You need to buy the retail box for the software in order to start playing--each box has a unique registration code necessary for creating a full account. You can borrow a friends' disks and set up a ten-day guest/trial account, but to upgrade to a full account you'll need your own retail box. List price is $49.99, but it frequently goes on sale at game and software stores for $29.99 (that's what we paid for ours). Right now, Amazon has it for $39.99. When you buy the software, you also get one free month of play included with it. If you want to continue after the first month you can pay Blizzard $14.95/month directly, or you can buy prepaid cards for 30 or 60 days of play. We've seen 60-day cards on sale for as low as $24.99.

Once you set up your account, you're asked to select a "realm" (a server, basically) to play on. Each realm is identical to the others in terms of geography and content--they're each their own self-contained virtual world, on which thousands of players interact. There are a few differences among servers. Some are more focused on player-vs-player combat (as opposed to player-vs-environment or role playing). Some are geographically focused, to deal with both language and network issues.

Once you've selected a realm, you have to create a character to play. This involves choosing a race, gender and class for your character. Your choice of race places you on one of two sides ("factions") of a global war--either the Alliance side (composed of Night Elves, Humans, Gnomes, and Dwarves), or the Horde side (composed of Orcs, Trolls, Taurens, and Undead). You can create more than one character on a server, and can also have characters on multiple servers. So, for example, on the Khadgar PvE server I have a female Night Elf Druid who is automatically an Alliance character, whereas on t he Magtheridon PvP server I have a female Troll Priest who's part of the Horde. (I chose both of those servers because people I already knew had created guilds and invited me to play with them.)

While you can interact (typically by way of fighting) with characters from an opposing faction, most social interaction on the servers is among characters in the same faction. You can only add players from your faction to your friends list, and can only group with or join a guild with players from your faction.

Many aspects of the game can be soloed--played by your character without the assistance of others. However, a number of more complex quests and activities require the skills of a variety of players, which is where groups and guilds come in. You can group with other players on an ad hoc "pickup" basis, or you can join a guild and participate in regularly organized "raids" with other members of your guild. These collaborative efforts often take several hours, and thus are typically planned in advance.

There is, of course, far more to all of it. But that's the basic landscape. If you decide to start playing, consider yourself warned--it brings out the worst obsessive-compulsive tendencies in many people, and it's easy to spend far too much time playing.

accepting the challenge

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This week I attended several presentations at the Microsoft Women's Conference, a 3-day event held on the corporate campus in Redmond. There were hundreds of other women there--all Microsoft employees. So many, in fact, that several of the mens' rooms had been temporarily converted to women's rooms, prompting MSN VP Debra Chrapaty to exhort us to take advantage of our unique opportunity to make deals in the men's room. (Chrapaty was part of a wonderful panel of female VPs at Microsoft, and I loved her description of her own personal style--"outwardly casual, inwardly rigorous.")

When I registered for the conference, I made sure to select a session on "Body for Life for Women," based on the book by that name and presented by its author, Pam Peeke. Pam's a friend-of-a-friend--while in Seattle, she was staying with my good friend Linda Stone, who had strongly encouraged me to attend the talk.

Before the presentation was over, I'd ordered the book. Not only that, I'd ordered a second copy to be shipped directly to my best friend and workout buddy. (She may be 2500 miles away, but we can still be virtual workout buddies...)

Pam's approach centers around a 12-week "body challenge," which includes aspects of changing your mindset, your eating habits, and your exercise routine ("mind/mouth/muscle"). The book itself arrived wrapped in a thin strip of paper covered with before-and-after photos of women who'd done the 12-week challenge. The photos are inspirational, and I've put them up on my fridge as a daily reminder that I can do this. The stories that accompany the photos are in the book, and they're equally inspirational. These are real women, with real lives and real stresses. The message is clear--if they can do it, so can I. (She's also got a fabulous quote in the book from Eleanor Roosevelt: "Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they're in hot water.")

I'm also going to use her "clothes-o-meter" trick, which is to pick out a pair of pants that you think you ought to be able to wear when you're in good shape. They have to be pants that you can pull up over your rear, but not even come close to zippering. (Hmmm...I wonder if I could even get my infamous black leather pants over my hips any more. They're in Rochester, so I can't check.) You hang those pants in the front of your closet, so you have to see them every day when you're getting dressed. She then describes the message you'll get from them each morning: "Mornin'! Are you going to have a good day today? Great! 'Cause I'll be right here waiting for you when you get home!"

What I really wish I had was a local workout buddy who wanted to hit the gym with me on a regular basis. I know from past experience that it's the best motivator for me--I'm a lot less likely to hit the snooze button and burrow back under the covers if I know someone's expecting to meet me. But I've let that be my excuse for too long now, and I'm not happy with the results. When I turned 40, almost four years ago, I was in the best shape of my life. Since then I've put on nearly 30 pounds--all of it fat. Blech. I'm back where I started before I got fit, and I don't like it one bit.

So yes, I'm taking Dr. Peeke's body challenge. Starting this week, I'm embarking on 12 weeks of commitment to taking care of myself. Healthier food, regular exercise, and a commitment to not wearing my stress on my body. That puts my ending date for the challenge in mid-April, just in time for my birthday. I want to feel as good (and as good about myself) this year as I did in 2002.

When Weez was here she jumpstarted my gym attendance, and this week I've gotten up early three times to go do cardio and weights before getting to the office. Next week I'm going to start going daily--I know myself well enough to know that I'm more likely to stick with something that's part of a daily routine than something that I can put off 'til tomorrow. This morning I'm en route to California to spend a weekend in Monterey with some of the most amazing women I know. I brought workout clothes, and have every intention of getting some exercise every day. Here in the San Jose airport, I opted for a protein-enriched smoothie instead of a burger. Small steps, but steps nonetheless.

(Note to Weez: My ongoing reluctance to do leg workouts was backed up by Dr. Peeke! In her talk, she said that particularly if you're overweight, there's no real need to do weight training for your legs, that cardio will take care of them for you. "The heavier you are" she said, "the stronger your legs are. You're your own gym!" Instead, she said to focus on pelvis on up. She alternates days--chest/shoulders/triceps one day, back and biceps the next.)

I'm not going to chronicle the process here on the blog, but Weez and I are going to set up a private space (in Basecamp, probably)

here, and gone again

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I dropped Weez off at the airport this morning at 7am. Yesterday afternoon, my friend Linda asked her "what's Liz going to do when you're gone?!" Now she is gone--and I miss her already.

The drive back home from the airport was beautiful. Early light showing vague highlights of mountains, edges smudged by clouds, framed by silhouettes of trees. I love Seattle--the mountains, the water, the richness of texture. We took Weez out to the Olympic peninsula on Friday, and even in the rain it was stunning. (You can see the trip through my eyes...and through hers.)

I love the new friends I've made here, as well. Last night we had some of those friends over, and as the conversation and laughter bubbled around me, I kept thinking about how blessed I am by the wonderful people in my life.

As Weez was preparing for her trip, our mutual friends in Rochester kept asking her the same thing--"Is Liz coming back?" She didn't know the answer. Neither do I. If it were a decision based solely on geography, Seattle would win in a heartbeat. There's something about seeing the mountains (almost) every day that satisfies a deep spiritual need in me. I can feel that I'm happier since I've been here. But...there are other practical and personal considerations. Housing costs here are more than 4x those in Rochester (and rising daily), so we'd be hard pressed to afford a home we liked within an hour of work. Gerald and the boys have a much stronger social infrastructure in Rochester than they do here. I'm currently shielded from corporate politics by my visiting position, but wouldn't be if I joined Microsoft as a full-timer. After nearly a decade in academia, I'm rather fond of my 3-month summer vacations. Unlike RIT, Microsoft doesn't offer free college tuition for my kids. And there is that tenure thing.

If I could convince Weez to move to Seattle, that might be the factor that simplifies the equation. Unlikely, of course. But I can daydream.

Life is complicated but good. And I'm grateful.

(Oh, and Weez...as promised, the list of blogs from people you met while you were here: Nancy, Maryam, Ponzi, Shelly, Korby. I thought there were more, but those are all I can think of right now.)

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