February 2007 Archives

microsoft innovation: features rather than products


Robert Scoble has a rather surprising post up claiming that nothing he's seen come out of Microsoft in the past three years has made him go "wow." It's surprising for two reasons.

First, for more than two of those years Robert wrote nearly daily blog posts about things at Microsoft that made him say "wow"--and that contradiction, to me, raises some credibility questions.

Second, and more importantly, despite the fact that I'm no Microsoft fangirl (as Robert knows, I'm a long-time Mac user, and a big fan of many of the startups he names), there are quite a few aspects of Microsoft products that have made me say "wow" over the past three years.

The thing is, they're not brand-new products or services--instead, they're features of existing products that I've discovered just as I needed them, or that changed the way I worked. And most of them are a function of innovative integration. Here are three examples:

  • Windows Mobile + Exchange email and calendaring. Nothing else touches this for a seamless experience. If I add a contact to my phone, it shows up on my computer. If I receive email, it appears on my phone. If I add an appointment to my computer, it shows up on my phone. No wires, no manual sync, it just happens. It's wonderful.
  • Microsoft Word + Excel + Entourage merge integration. This has been there for a while, I assume, but I never needed it before. Since I use Excel for grading, and Word for creating formatted gradesheets, it suddenly occurred to me this year that I might be able to email those formatted gradesheets rather than printing them out and using up paper. And it worked like a charm. Had me going "wow" and "cool" and showing it to anyone who'd come into my office.
  • Windows Live Messenger sharing folders. Makes me wish that people I know used Live Messenger, or that Live Messenger worked with AIM accounts--this is a super-cool feature that's hobbled by the fact that IM services don't all interoperate.

(And now, back to grading. Amazing how much more attractive blogging becomes when you've got an onerous task you're trying to avoid.)

the imaginary conference i wish i could attend

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Anil Dash has written some of the most compelling blog entries out there on why diversity at conferences (and in organizations) really matters. This week he's got two wonderful posts on the topic.

The first, entitled "The Old Boys Club is For Losers," takes aim at some of the people defending their events as completely meritocratic. What's wonderful is that they'll listen to Anil, and respond to him civilly--in a way that they might not if it was someone less inside the magic circle.

The second describes an imaginary conference with an amazing lineup of speakers--an event where, as he quite accurately notes, "nobody would even notice if the wifi went out." Alas, several comments in this one seem to come from people who completely missed the point of the earlier post.

Both are well worth reading, along with the comments that accompany them.

things i'm doing instead of blogging

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  • responding to the slew of last-minute messages from students panicked about exams and projects* grading final exams and projects
  • restarting the afghan for Lila Rose, because I didn't like the yarn I was using and the way it wouldn't lie flat
  • dealing with the chaos of kids home all day because of February break
  • reading and reviewing grant proposals for a meeting later this week
  • catching up on Battlestar Galactica episodes that were on the verge of being deleted from our list of recordings
  • leveling my troll priest in WoW--I expect she'll be 70 by the end of this week

I don't expect blogging to resume with any regularity until grading, proposal reviewing, and leveling are all finished.

sirsi dynix executive conference: stephen abrams

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I slept in this morning, catching up on the lost hours of rest from the night before. Then I relaxed for a bit in my lovely room, drinking surprisingly good coffee from the room coffeemaker and eating the delicious candy that I got as a thank you gift from the conference organizers. So I missed the morning programs for the conference, but this afternoon I've got the energy to actually blog again!

Stephen Abrams is one my favorite library world speakers. He's articulate, funny, and insightful. So his talk on "learning from web successes" is likely to be good.

Starts with a great YouTube video on librarians and IT

(there are several more in the series...search IACPL on YouTube to see them)

Also shows Introducing the Book, one of my favorites.

Then goes into a lengthy series of statistics. Demographic, technological, etc. (Not going to try to summarize them. Too many, too fast.)

The basic message? "Shift happens." We're in a period of intense change.

Why aren't we going to where the users want to be, rather than trying to force them to where we are?

How visible are the features of our libraries, and our library web sites? Is it like an enormous closed swiss army knife, where you don't know what's there or how to get it out?

I wish he wouldn't confuse "social networking sites" with "social networks."

Points out what a bad job most libraries do at providing a federated search interface to multiple databases. (This was painfully obvious when I asked my students to do a task analysis on the process of finding an ACM article on the RIT library site. They had no idea they should start with the ACM Digital Library database, and so it took them forever to find the article.)

Are we integrating the library into social and academic experiences, rather than allowing ourselves to be trapped by physical and organizational walls?

Makes book recommendations. Nothing new here for me, but probably new for this crowd... Godin's books, Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, Friedman's The World is Flat, Beck & Wade's Got Game, Freakonomics, The Wisdom of Crowds, Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, Ideaspotting, Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, Gladwell's Tipping Point and Blink.

fading fast

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As I alluded to in a previous post, I arrived quite late last night--checking into the hotel after midnight MST (past 2am my time). It took a while to fall asleep (always does in a new bed), and I woke to blinding sunshine through the windows and screeching toddlers next door (the walls might have blocked the sound, but the connecting door was less effective).

I was fine until about 3pm MST, when I could feel the energy start to drain out of me...thus the lack of afternoon live blogging. I probably shouldn't have had that glass of wine at the cocktail hour, and now I'm barely holding on to functionality--with a 6pm keynote I wanted to hear and a 7:30 dinner appointment still ahead. /sigh.

I'll catch up on sleep tonight, I think, and plan on joining the conference midday rather than bright and early.

sirsi dynix executive conference: my talk


As promised, my slides.

(It's a 13MB download, so proceed only with a fast connection...)

sirsi dynix executive conference: lee rainie

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I always have mixed feelings about being on the same program as Lee Rainie from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. He's totally amazing, and I love listening to him. But I hate having to talk after him, since he's such a difficult act to follow...

Starts with a confession ('because it's Sunday') that his initial proposal to Pew didn't even mention libraries as potential users of the data--but they turned out to be the biggest consumer of their data. "The library-industrial complex is amazing to behold."

Talks about how Internet use changes communities of learners. Cites McLuhan, and every technology having its own "grammar." If that's the case, their research indicates that the grammar of the Internet seems to be to create and foster communities.

93% of American teenagers use the internet!

Most notable gaps are age (young people use it more), education (increases use), disabilities (lower use), and language preference (new surveys on Spanish-speaking people indicate much lower adoption). Race is becoming less of an issue, at least from a cultural standpoint--it's economic class that's more important.

A growing number of broadband users see the Internet as a place to "hang out." They also see the Internet as their most important source of news.

People have phones, but (surprise, surprise) the majority don't use all the features they have access to. Partly they're frustrated by the interface, but more often they just want phones to be phones. They have "feature fatigue." (from an HBR article)

Women want maps on their phones.

Pictures are becoming a critical part of conversation and communication. (Yes! I"ll be talking about this.)

Wirelessness is more important as a predictor of active use of the internet than even broadband access.

55% of 12-17yos have profiles on social networking sites. 55% are users. These are not exactly the same 55%! Some lurk but don't have profiles; some have profiles but don't spend much time using the sites.

Girls use the sites to support and reinforce existing social networks. Boys use it to "meet new friends." 2/3 of profile creators limit access to their profiles. They're not indifferent to privacy.

Five New Realities

1) There are more people in more communities thanks to the Internet. 84% of internet users belong to an online community, including communities that pre-dated the internet presence. You can find the groups more easily online. Internet use is a predictor of whether people have joined any kind of social group!

2) Many communities with heavy online communities are highly socially meaningful. They often have a "real life" component. Online communities are tremendous places to build online capital.

3) New kinds of communities afforded by the Internet. The newer breed is built around individuals themselves. For example, communities that emerge when someone falls ill. (Or, perhaps another example, the community that arose around Jim Gray's disappearance.) Communities around user-generated content. Around a blog post, aYouTube video, for example. We're not bowling alone.

4) Communities behave in different ways. Groups are much more on "high alert" status, responding more rapidly to new inputs. Quotes Gillmor "If someone knows something in one place, everyone who cares about that will know it soon enough." (I may have that quote wrong.) Talks about Howard's idea of "Smart Mobs." (Tells a compelling story about 30 kids being notified and arriving at the scene of an accident involving their friends--before the police got there. People customize information not just for a daily "me," but also for a daily "us". (Yes! Facebook news feeds, for example.) Librarians should think of themselves as nodes in these information networks.

5) People in groups tend to need other people. ("Who knew Barbra Streisand would be right?") People who said the internet was useful in major life changes--34% said the net put them in touch with people who offered information and advice, and 28% said it helped them find professional sources. The internet, for most people, was tool to find other people. IN a world of information abundance, social networks and other people matter more and more and more. So, action item for librarians--you need to be a visible node in the network.

In conclusion...the people libraries want to serve are changing the way they interact with each other, and the way they learn. They're more self-organizing and self-directed. They're better equipped to capture and disseminate information. They're more tied to group outreach and knowledge. They're more tied to group insight. More attuned to friend and foe, competitors and allies, through scanning their networks.

sirsi dynix executive conference: jerome nadel

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(whoops. forgot to change status to "published," so this is going up hours after I wrote it...)

I managed to get myself out of bed at a fairly early hour despite a very late arrival in Colorado Springs, aided by the blindingly bright sunlight streaming through my windows. So I'm here for the first speaker of the day, Jerome Nadel of Human Factors International.

We're in the 3rd wave of the information age, he says. The 80s were about hardware, the 90s were about software, today it's about usability. We've had a shift to 'self-serve'--from ATMs to computer-based shopping. We don't want intermediaries. In the library, we want to query directly--from open stacks to OPACs.

He claims it's provocative for him to say that the library is no longer just a physical place. Um...duh? That's not exactly a new concept.

Things that work are both useful and usable.

What are the attributes of usable things? Can be distilled into three key factors: easy to learn, hard to forget, easy to explain. This means that wherever you are, the things you need should be there.

User-centered design is too user-centric, he says. It's not just about making the user happy. It's also about influencing the user through the interaction model you create. This is driven by business needs. Need to know the organization's success criteria, as well as the users' needs.

(For my 425 students: he's emphasizing the creation of personas, the cataloging of user types, with tasks specified by high and low frequency.)

He's frustrated with people talking about "2.0" as a collection of technologies rather than a paradigm. Having a blog, or a wiki, doesn't make you a "2.0" organization.

Shows a before and after from the Library of Congress web site--now it focuses more on the tasks and users that the library supports. The earlier version was designed much more around the library's organizational structure. (This is pretty basic IA stuff, but probably appropriate to this audience.)

Contextual pointing. Wherever I am, point me in the relevant next direction. Portals that work are "about you."

Says that you need a large "n" to use folksonomies effectively. I disagree. Smaller "n"s give you local picture. Invaluable for persona development, localization, etc.

Says people are less and less willing to use browsing because the browsing paths haven't been well designed.

Results are more important than search. (Not sure I buy his argument that libraries focus "too much" on the latter. How do you separate search and results? They're intertwined.)

lightweight and ubiquitous


No, not me. (I wish.)

My travel computing solution, which I'm thoroughly appreciating during this delay-ridden trip to Colorado Springs.

My lightweight (< 4 pounds) Vaio, plus a Verizon broadband access card, equals easy online access from anywhere...including this table at the Chili's Too restaurant in O'Hare. Lovely.

kicking off the spring travel season

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I leave Rochester this afternoon for Colorado Springs, where I'll be giving a talk at the SirsiDynix Executive Conference on "Social Computing and the New Community Environment." On the roster with me tomorrow is Lee Rainie of the Pew Internet & American Life project, someone whose talks are always interesting and informative, Gary Price, one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on search engine topics, and Helene Blowers, whose work with her staff on "Library 2.0" blew me away at Internet Librarian (alas, I think that post got lost when the servers hosting mamamusings died). So I expect to be a doing a lot of live blogging while I'm there.

I've never been to Colorado Springs, and I'm seriously considering taking the cog railway up to the top of Pikes Peak on Monday. I'm not afraid of heights, but I am a little worried about altitude sickness.

I haven't traveled to a conference since early November, which is a pretty long stretch for me. But the spring is going to be busy in terms of travel. After this trip I'm only home for a week before going to DC to serve on an NSF review panel. March is surprisingly quiet (I'm not going to either ETech or SXSW this year, alas), but in April I've got back-to-back keynotes at WebCom Toronto and Computers in Libraries, and in May I've got back-to-back keynotes at the Manitoba Library Association and WebCom Montreal.

The at the end of May I'm heading back to Seattle to start my ten-week stint as a visiting researcher at MSR. Yay! The boys are still in school during June, but will be heading out with me for July and August. Gerald will be there for all of July and August, and it looks the boys may alternate between Rochester and Seattle so that they spend some time with their friends this summer while still getting a chance to visit friends in Seattle. It's nice that they're old enough to be able to have some voice in their summer plans.

I suspect that the increased travel will lead to increased blogging, as well, since the three months here at home were wonderful for me, but not particularly filled with bloggable events!

alaska cruise advice?


(Yes, I'm still here, still healthy, but still buried under both snow and work. Thus the sporadic blogging.)

This summer I'll be headed back to Seattle for ten weeks, working with Lili Cheng's group at Microsoft Research (assuming she doesn't leave MSR again right before I arrive!). That means I won't get much of a vacation, so we wanted to make the most of the time we will have.

What we're hoping to do is take a cruise from Seattle up to Alaska, right after I finish up at MSR (my last day is 8/17). I'm guessing this is probably the time to start planning for it, so I thought I'd ask my readers whether anyone has had particularly positive or negative cruise line experiences, with an emphasis on the Alaska route. Keep in mind that the kids (Alex, age 10, and Lane, age 13) will be with us.

totally amazing video about the web

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In under five minutes, Michael Wesch gives us the history and future of the web, complete with linguistic and social implications.

Unbelievably good.

(via Jill)

software of men

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A great post from Karen Schneider:

Too much OSS is, in a way, Software of Men: grim, grey, and--for those who have ever attempted to ask a newbie question on an OSS list--pugilistic and thoroughly patriarchal. You either are part of the in-group or you are a "fugee" (Children of Men jargon for 'refugee'--a major subtext of the movie is the treatment of immigrants). If you are a fugee, God help you; you are no equal to the developers.

Now, before you think this is going to drift into "Command line execution is from Mars, GUIs are from Venus," I know plenty of women who think in code--women for whom a command line is bliss--women who are geek from the git-go. (I keep referring to the "guys" in my department, even though several of us, including me, are female.) I am also not going to describe us as the kinder, gentler sex--not after working in libraries for fifteen years.

But I will ask this of you, ye who are of the geekish inclination. Go see Children of Men, and then think about software development. Who do you want building your software? What kind of world do they come from?

I hadn't planned to see Children of Men (I tend to like my movies on the lighter side), but I think now I may have to.

sick sick sick of being sick -- again!

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I don't think I've had a single full week of good health since Christmas. This week it's been the miserable cold-from-hell. Everyone else in the family already had it, and I though perhaps I'd escape...but no. Last week I had three days of that awful "I feel like I'm getting sick even though I don't have any symptoms" feelings, and then it hit me like a truck, and I've been stuffed up and coughing since Wednesday night. I don't want to grade, I don't want to teach, I don't want to write, and I have to do all of those things.

Given how susceptible to illness I seem to have become, I think it's time for me to do a serious overhaul of my diet and exercise. I've become a slug, a slug that eats too much junk food, and I really need to make some changes. Right now I'm pretty much subsisting off of tea and matzo ball soup, but once I'm healthy again I'm really going to try to cut way back on all the sugar and refined carbs, and really really try to start exercising regularly again.

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