Monday, November 30, 2009

What's the other side of the FusionGarage - TechCrunch dustup?

I was checking my feeds, and noticed that Jesse Stay shared a TechCrunch post entitled The End Of The CrunchPad. Rut roh. Michael Arrington:

On November 17, our deadline date for greenlighting the debut three days later, the CEO of our partner on the project, Chandra Rathakrishnan, sent me an email with the subject “no good news.” Yuck, I thought. Another delay, probably with the screen that had been giving us so much trouble – capacitive touch at 12 inches isn’t trivial. And sure enough, the email started off with “no good news to update. updated hardware is still on its way , so that’s a timing issue. friday will be a challenge now.”

But the email went on. Bizarrely, we were being notified that we were no longer involved with the project. Our project. Chandra said that based on pressure from his shareholders he had decided to move forward and sell the device directly through Fusion Garage, without our involvement.

Err, what? This is the equivalent of Foxconn, who build the iPhone, notifiying Apple a couple of days before launch that they’d be moving ahead and selling the iPhone directly without any involvement from Apple.

Arrington is not the shy retiring type, and he made a couple of other points:

We chose to work with Fusion Garage on Prototype C and the launch prototype after we finished Prototype B internally.

We jointly own the CrunchPad product intellectual property, and we solely own the CrunchPad trademark.

So it’s legally impossible for them to simply build and sell the device without our agreement.


Ultimately there are two sides to every story, and they’ll certainly have their side. We will almost certainly be filing multiple lawsuits against Fusion Garage, and possibly Chandra and his shareholders as individuals, shortly. The legal system will work it all out over time.

So I guess everyone is wondering what FusionGarage's side of the story is. I visited their website, and found a blog that hadn't been updated since February. I did find a January post that read, in part:

There is an air of excitement permeating through Fusion Garage at the moment. Michael Arrington of Techcrunch just wrote an update on the Techcrunch Tablet Prototype B.

It’s our software that is running on the tablet as demonstrated in the videos embedded in the article. We continue to work with Louis Monier on the feature set and the user experience. We are thrilled with this progress and would like to take the opportunity to thank Michael and Louis for giving us the opportunity to work with them on the Techcrunch Tablet.

Note the differing interpretations of Prototype B. As far as Arrington is concerned, it's a TechCrunch product. As far as FusionGarage is concerned, it includes FusionGarage software. So if there is jointly-owned CrunchPad intellectual property, it looks like both parties brought some prior art into the equation. And when something is jointly owned, it's difficult to separate it into two parts if the joint partnership effectively dissolves. If you don't believe me, check the blog Dodger Divorce, dedicated to the dissolution of the personal - and business - relationship of Frank and Jamie McCourt. Either they co-own the Dodgers, or Frank owns the Dodgers, depending on which set of lawyers is talking.

While we're waiting for a statement from FusionGarage, it is likely that any such statement will emphasize the content which FusionGarage solely owns; will probably state that they have no intention of releasing a "CrunchPad"; and will presumably detail some reason as to why it was not beneficial to continue the relationship with TechCrunch.

But, as I observed on FriendFeed:

Step 1 in how to lose friends and disinfluence people - anger a popular blogger. No matter what the other side may say, and even if they have a legitimate reason for their decision, Arrington has the bigger megaphone.

If you're on FriendFeed, join the discussion in Jesse Stay's feed.

(empo-plaaybizz) The art of re-engagement

Certain businesses do not rely on repeat customers, but other businesses - for example, restaurants, sports teams, and advertising-driven free services - are highly dependent upon them. The business therefore needs to continuously engage you to keep you coming back.

Let me use an example from the gaming world. I've been playing Farm Town for several months, and recently I achieved my goal of reaching level 34 and buying my mansion. While I was still playing around with Farm Town, and adding things to my farm here and there, it wasn't the major time sink that it was a couple of months ago. This allowed me to devote time to Starfleet Commander (see my previous post).

But then Farm Town began tinkering with the game to try to get older players interested in it again. They offered seasonal items - Halloween pumpkins and the like. They offered more trees and crops. They even changed the levels, allowing you to go beyond the old level 34 (and redefining the levels in the process - level inflation?). These changes, while nice, weren't enough to really make me take notice.

But then Farm Town offered a new item in the real estate office.

Yes, you're now allowed to have more than one farm in Farm Town. As someone who's been busily acquiring planets in my local solar system, why not start acquiring additional farms?

So, what are you adding to YOUR business to keep people coming back?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Remove probe? It's hard to find a kitchen aid at

On Friday morning, something started beeping in the kitchen. Since there are several items in the kitchen with beep capability, it took me a while to isolate the beep. It turned out that our KitchenAid oven was telling us to either enter a temperature, or remove the temperature probe.

Unfortunately, we had not inserted a temperature probe into our oven.

Using my well-honed customer support skills, I proceeded to press every "stop" or "off" button on the oven control panel. This only caused it to beep more. Reluctantly, I realized that I would have to reboot the oven...but since the oven plug was inaccessible, I would have to reboot the house (via the fuse box).

But before I did this, I figured I'd look at the KitchenAid manual to see what help it offered for this situation. It offered none.

As I was waiting for the dishwasher to finish so that I could reboot the house, the problem cleared itself up.

That's when I decided that I'd conduct an Internet search to see if others had encountered the problem, and I found this thread at Early entries in the thread were not encouraging, beginning with the original question:

We don't have the oven probe. The oven thinks the probe is plugged in--the probe signal is on. The oven won't work because it thinks the probe is plugged in. When we try to start the oven, the display reads, "pull probe out".
We have turned the unit off (via the fuse box, so it's OFF), several times for extended periods, and the problem still doesn't go away. I've tried cleaning the plug where the probe is inserted, but nothing. A call to Kitchenaid's 800 number got us the great advice to call a certified repair man. We know that means big bucks. Anyone else had this problem? We're without an oven until solved. Thanks!

Here's one of the early entries in the thread:

Sorry, no advice from me. I too am looking for an answer as my Kitchen Aid stove suddenly displayed "Remove Probe" last night and I haven't been able to turn it on since, even after unplugging it for extended periods. I bought my first Kitchen Aid stove in 2000 and after 3 years the oven door froze shut after cleaning.
The repair man came, concluded the computer panel was shot and eventually I was offered the new model for $600. I had no choice. Now 5 years later I have the sinking feeling that my second $2000 oven will again need replacing. I'll keep you posted. Needless to say, stay away from Kitchen Aid stoves and if I had it do all over again, I'd completely avoid computerized units and opt for a higher end old school model.

However, as the thread progressed, solutions began to appear:

I have a possible answer!!! We had the repairman out...of course, our oven started working before he made it out. But he said the probe hole can get moisture in it and cause the oven to not work until it evaporates. Which sorta explains why several of us had it start working again. It looks like several people also had it happen Christmas, probably with lots of stuff in the oven for a long time, creating lots of moisture.

And there were various suggestions regarding ways to remove the moisture from the probe hole:

I took my blow dryer and blew air toward the probe for a few minutes then tried the oven again. It turned on but the icon on the front changed to 'push probe in'. I did then re-pushed the start button to 450 and it worked!

There were other variations on that same theme, but provided a wealth of advice, including some other types of suggestions. The entire thread is here.

This got me curious. What did KitchenAid's own website say about the matter? So I went to and typed in the search "remove probe." The result?

Your search for remove probe returned 0 results.

I then checked the "Customer Care" menu on the website. Its options?


After some further hunting and burrowing, I eventually found a link to I eventually figured out how to bypass the registration (they didn't support Facebook Connect) and got to a search area. I typed in "remove probe," and I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After a few minutes, looked much, much better than KitchenAid's own customer care. Incidentally, is provided by Amos Media Ltd. While Amos Media apparently prefers to be under the radar, they seem to specialize in these self-help kinds of websites -,

Although I wonder - if Kitchen Aid's own self-help website wasn't so hard to find and so slow, would people even go to the Amos Media sites?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

(empo-plaaybizz) Hey, .@theappslab - proposal writing is kind of like Starfleet Commander

No, I haven't posted a lot here lately. My normal goal is to post one item on this blog every weekday, but I haven't quite reached that level of blog writing over the last week. In fact, this is my first post since Friday, and it's almost Wednesday.

There's a reason for this, to which I previously alluded. Remember my new (old) job as a proposal writer? Well, I've been heavily involved in a rather large proposal, which we completed at 9:15 pm on Tuesday night...or roughly two hours ago.

As you can tell from the fact that we completed the proposal so late, proposal writing is not necessarily an 8 to 5 job. I was working on the proposal until 9:15 on Tuesday evening, and I was working on it until midnight on Monday evening, and I was working on it fairly late on Sunday evening, and...well, you get the picture.

And I certainly wasn't the only one writing this proposal. At one point I tried to add up the names of people who made a contribution to this particular proposal, and I came up with over three dozen names. Now that's quite a team, and it takes some effort (and some fairly consistent Outlook message tagging and flagging) to keep everyone moving in the same direction. While I was certainly writing my share of the proposal (although there was one person who wrote HUGE portions of the proposal), a lot of what I was doing was shooting e-mails here and there, and responding to same.

Between the writing and the e-mails and the use of the other tools, I found that I was spending my days, and some of my nights, working on this proposal.

And then a few days ago I began thinking more about gaming. Because while I was spending my days (and some nights) working on this proposal, I also found that I was spending my nights (and some days) playing Starfleet Commander.

Now Starfleet Commander happens to be a game on Facebook which three of my co-workers are playing. In [WHOOPS, "If"] you're not familiar with the game, it's a game in which you allocate resources (ore, crystal, and hydrogen) to various tasks which help you build different kinds of spaceships, colonize planets, and basically cause mayhem in the universe. To be an effective Starfleet Commander player, you need to coordinate various resources, dispatch different kinds of spaceships between planets, and make sure that all of your ships and planets are concentrated on your strategic goals.

Does anyone else see the similarities between my day job and my nighttime play? Luckily I didn't start to confuse the two:

"Craig, I need that security information so that I can destroy that Atlas class cargo ship."

"Hey, can that Artemis class fighter support NCIC/III software?"

But there certainly are similarities between shooting up the universe for fun and profit, and getting a major proposal out the door.

Now I've previously mentioned how the Oracle AppsLab in general, and Paul Pedrazzi in particular, have looked at games and the way that they can be incorporated into making better enterprise software. Now perhaps there may be a germ of an idea in the parallel between completing a game and getting a job done. Now the dozens of us who were working on this proposal were certainly motivated to do so, but could we have been more motivated if we could capture planets for completing proposal sections?

Of course, we still have to win the proposal, and then we have to deliver the solution. If we deliver early, will we get extra hydrogen?

Well, I'd muse on this some more, but since I don't have to work on the proposal any more, I need to search for some ore, crystal, and hydrogen...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Google Chrome - when reasonable people disagree

There's been a wide variety of opinions on Google Chrome that have been announced, and two people that I respect represent the two extremes of opinion. Let's start with Rob Diana:

ChromeOS will fail because the timing is not right. If mobile phones were still those nasty little devices that made even checking email a chore, it would have a chance. However, with new BlackBerry devices, Droids and iPhones, we have the web everywhere we go. So, if the major benefits are web-only applications and a small and fast operating system, what do I really need it for?

Diana believes that ChromeOS is actually the precursor to something else:

Maybe this is just a stepping stone until Android is really ready for your PC. That sounds like a real plan, especially from the likes of Google.

But another Rob - Robert Scoble - has a different view on the success of the Chrome OS.

I’m hearing a raft of new, low-cost, devices are coming that you will only need to have on the Web. For instance, I want a cookbook on my kitchen counter that just brings me cool recipes. Right now I use my big Windows 7 computer for that, or my big MacBookPro.

But what if there were a new device that costs less than $100 that JUST does cookbooks and other things I need in the kitchen? I would buy one. A Chrome OS is all that’s needed for such a specialized device.

Of course, this depends upon whether you want to buy a dedicated device (such as the Scoble Shiny Kitchen Aid), or a multi-purpose device (such as a netbook). On the one hand, while one would think a multi-purpose device would be more valuable, you do have a lot of people buying single-purpose devices, such as game consoles and GPS navigation devices. On the other hand, these very devices are having to become multi-purpose devices in order to compete.

The key, of course, is to attract developers - another point that Scoble made in his post. Developers can only do so much, which is part of the reason for the resistance to continued enterprise use of Internet Explorer 6 - time spent on IE6 compatibility is time that isn't spent on IE8 or Firefox 3.5 compatibility. And there is natural resistance to developing for a brand new operating system, or even for an old operating system that doesn't own the majority of the market.

The one question for which I haven't seen an answer - why should a developer spend time developing for the Chrome OS? Other than the speculation that a device with the Chrome OS will have a lower price point (partially due to Google-imposed restrictions on Chrome hardware, such as no hard disk drive), what's in it for developers?

There is no mass market

I sometimes take a perverse pride in completely missing things that are going on in popular culture. For example, back in the 1980s I was looking at a TV Guide article that talked about the immense popularity of Michael J. Fox. "Family Ties" had been on the air for about a year at that point, but I had no idea who this Michael J. Fox guy was.

This persists even today. On my desk at work, you can currently find a plastic cup that I got from Burger King when I bought an iced tea one day. The cup includes a picture of two guys and a girl - sorry, no pizza place - along with some scripted text that says

the twilight saga
new moon

Now I've heard that "Twilight" is a big deal, and have even seen some complaints that NTN Buzztime has completely succumbed to "Twilight" trivia, but I honestly could not tell you the first thing about "Twilight."

Now, I could tell you about various technical services such as Twitter and Facebook, and probably many of my readers are familiar with these services, but here's a stat for you - while you may think that everyone is on Facebook, the truth is that billions and billions of people are NOT on Facebook. And I'd be willing to bet that there are probably over a billion people who have never even HEARD of Facebook.

Perhaps that's an unfair example, since the world is a pretty big place. Let me limit things to my home country of the United States. While it's not technically correct, I have advanced the claim that the two biggest holidays in this country are Halloween and Super Bowl Sunday. And we all know that everybody in the United States watches the Super Bowl, don't we? Not exactly. According to, Super Bowl XLIII was watched by over 98 million viewers - which means that two-thirds of the estimated 300 million Americans didn't see the game.

The point? If you think that you can address the mass market, think again. At best, you're only going to address a small segment.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Why your phone company hates your local over-the-air broadcaster

A personal note - no, I've haven't written a blog post in several days. Let's just say that I'm spending a lot of time in the war room as of late.

But one interesting tidbit deserves a mention - the, um, war between the mobile phone folks and the broadcast TV/radio folks. The Los Angeles Times documents the blow-by-blow. First, the phone folks:

The Consumer Electronics Assn. and the CTIA (the main trade group for the mobile phone industry) urged the Federal Communications Commission today to consider reclaiming some digital TV airwaves and dedicating them to use with wireless devices. The chief executives of the CEA and CTIA sent a joint letter to members of the FCC, reminding them that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 required the commission to review how the digital TV airwaves were being used within 10 years of the first licenses being granted for DTV channels. Those licenses were issued nearly 11 years ago, so a review is technically overdue (not that deadlines seem to matter much in Washington).

Needless to say, the broadcasters want to defend their turf. And they have a powerful friend:

[T]he National Assn. of Broadcasters has some powerful friends on Capitol Hill. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and still a formidable player, sent a letter to the FCC yesterday expressing concern about any move to devote digital TV airwaves to other uses. Quoth Dingell: "I believe that a further loss of spectrum by broadcasters may have an adverse effect on consumers by limiting their choice in available broadcast television."

Now I don't know the percentage of people who still use broadcast television, but they obviously have some pull on Capitol Hill - remember how the switchover to digital TV broadcast signals was delayed for several months?

Needless to say, this decision will be driven by politics, not some theoretical definition of the merits of each case. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Revisiting Christine Young, and Blog(ing) With Integrity

Over the last couple of years, there has been a lot of talk about sponsored posts, freebies given to bloggers (and traditional journalists), and (more recently) about the recently-mandated FTC disclosure guidelines for bloggers. I've written about this stuff before - here's my December 2008 post about how Loren Feldman and Julia Roy handled disclosure in their Izea/KMart sponsored posts. And I've also linked to this comment on a Mashable post about the forthcoming FTC disclosure rules.

Steven Hodson recently posted his views about some of the doings reported in a Los Angeles Times article about the ways in which major companies are trying to woo the mommybloggers. Hodson's ire was particularly raised when he saw this quote in the L.A. Times article:

Christine Young, owner of the From Dates to Diapers blog, has a closet full of free baby products she never liked. She hasn't mentioned them in her blog.

They're still there, sitting on the shelves, waiting to be donated.

"My business is not to bash companies," said Young, 32, who lives in the Sacramento area. "My business is to create buzz for the products and services we enjoy."

Apparently Hodson wasn't the only one who reacted negatively to Young's statement, because Christine's husband, Ray, has posted a rebuttal. Here's an excerpt:

Christine will only talk about products, brands or services that she enjoys and trusts personally. If she doesn’t like it or if it fails in some way, she won’t talk about it. In fact, she has put together boxes of products to donate to Goodwill after deciding not to endorse them for one reason or another. You’ve never heard anything about these products from her. That’s because she’s decided not to brand bash – this site is all about our family and what we like and enjoy, not what sucks. For that, she gets criticized by some.

And it should be noted that Young does disclose. For example, if you look at her October post about the upcoming FTC guidelines, and scroll to the lower right of the post, you will see a disclosure statement, as well as a link to a disclosure page.


This policy is valid from 22 May 2008

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. This blog does accept forms of cash advertising, compensated giveaways, and sponsorship. We will and do accept and keep free products, services, travel, and event tickets from companies and organizations. The acceptance of such gifts will never influence the content, topics or posts published on this blog.

While I am compensated to provide my expertise (in the form of my consulting services), I am not compensated for reviews of products or services. I always give my honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on any topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely my own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider, or party in question.

This blog may contain content which might present a conflict of interest. This content may not always be identified.

For questions about this blog please contact me at

To get your own policy, go to

For my part, I have disclosed in the blog posts themselves, and although I sometimes joke about it a bit, the point remains that I am disclosing. In fact, the next time that I write about a particular northern California-based company, I'll need to make another disclosure.

But back to the Los Angeles Times article. The article also made a brief refrence to an organization called Blog With Integrity, so I went and checked out its website, which includes this pledge.

By displaying the Blog with Integrity badge or signing the pledge, I assert that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is important to me.

I treat others respectfully, attacking ideas and not people. I also welcome respectful disagreement with my own ideas.

I believe in intellectual property rights, providing links, citing sources, and crediting inspiration where appropriate.

I disclose my material relationships, policies and business practices. My readers will know the difference between editorial, advertorial, and advertising, should I choose to have it. If I do sponsored or paid posts, they are clearly marked.

When collaborating with marketers and PR professionals, I handle myself professionally and abide by basic journalistic standards.

I always present my honest opinions to the best of my ability.

I own my words. Even if I occasionally have to eat them.

The About page tells about the four people who had the conversations that resulted in the creation of the pledge. And what were they conversing about?

After a spring and early summer of polarizing debates about blogger compensation, sponsored posts and product reviews, an alarming increase in ethical lapses and idea theft, and a growing backlash against poor blogger relations practices, we believed it was time to refocus on integrity.

The Blog with Integrity pledge recognizes that there’s no single right way to blog and more than enough room in the world for different approaches.

What matters is the relationship with our readers. Meeting our commitment to them and to our community. Clear disclosure of our interests so they can evaluate our words. Treating others with respect. Taking responsibility for our words and actions.

Now voluntary pledges and FTC enforcement won't result in a perfect world. For every Liz Gumbinner or Chris Brogan or Loren Feldman or Julia Roy or (I'm eating my own words here) Christine Young, there are going to be people who take money or goods on the sly and don't mention it in their glowing praise.

But it's a start.

Friday, November 13, 2009

GE - we bring good things to...well, to everyone else

In the same way that the computer industry bounces between completely centralized and completely decentralized models, individual companies bounce between diversification and consolidation. When businesses enter a diversification mode, they build on their existing strengths and enter new areas, from which they will use their core talents to dominate new areas and bring their owners/shareholders a ton of money. When businesses enter a consolidation mode, they shed unproductive or satellite busineses, allowing the company to concentrate on their core competencies to dominate existing areas and bring their owners/shareholders a ton of money. Businesses can alternate between the two scenarios, expanding and contracting more than Lawrence Welk's accordion.

The American megacorporation General Electric is clearly in the consolidation mode.

For FTC disclosure purposes, I should note that one of General Electric's consolidation moves affected me personally, since my employer picked up a significant stake of the former GE Homeland Protection (now Morpho Detection). All I can say is that this business unit does some really cool stuff.

Another of General Electric's potential consolidation moves may impact everyone living in the United States. Over two decades ago, General Electric bought the National Broadcasting Company, then one of the three major television networks in the United States. The U.S. television landscape has significantly changed over the last two decades, and owning a TV network isn't what it used to be, so Comcast might get that part of GE. And it's a big deal.

Well, there's another part of GE that has definitely been grabbed, according to the New York Times:

General Electric said Thursday that it would sell its fire alarm and security systems unit to United Technologies for $1.82 billion, continuing a sale of what the industrial conglomerate considers noncore businesses.

And some marketing hack wrote a couple of quotes and attributed it to a GE person and a (currently) GE person.

“The Security business required significant investment in its capabilities to evolve and better serve the security industry,” said Charlene Begley, President & CEO, GE Enterprise Solutions, which includes GE Security.

“For our customers and our employees UTC is a natural fit,” Begley said. “The combination of UTC's existing product portfolio and GE Security’s outstanding, highly complementary products creates a broad set of offerings for our customers and partners.”

“Customers will see increased breadth and depth of product offerings, as well as a global reach that serves a range of industry segments,” said Dean Seavers, President & CEO, GE Security. “This is a great move for our Security business because we are bringing together teams who are committed to growing their presence in the Security industry.

And someone else - or perhaps the same person - wrote a quote and attributed it to one of the United Technologies people.

“We’re excited to invest in a company whose technologies will improve our growing position in the fire and security industry,” said [William] Brown. “GE Security has well respected products and brands that complement our existing portfolio and position us well for future growth.”

Some years ago, David Lucas wrote a jingle for General Electric entitled "We Bring Good Things to Life." (Which I guess is a step up from playing cowbells on "Don't Fear the Reaper.") Will GE subsequently commission Lucas to write a new jingle entitled "Electric Avenue"? Oops, that's been done, and the corporate entity that adopted that Eddy Grant song as its jingle didn't do too well in the long run. Interestingly, the original Montgomery Ward was owned in its last years by GE Capital. Interestingly, GE Capital has NOT been spun off from General Electric - yet.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

(empo-plaaybizz) The "game" of Facebook suggestions

I'm not picking on Facebook in this post; it's just the example that came to mind the quickest. And when you have 300 million users, you tend to come to mind rather quickly.

Over the last few weeks, Facebook has made changes in their UI to encourage people to interact in Facebook. Here's one example of their "suggestions" for me, with the names of the people blanked out.

Facebook (and other services, such as LinkedIn) will serve up suggestions, and if you follow the service's suggestions, it will continue to serve up more suggestions. In essence, this is kind of like the whack-a-mole game, except that this game is complete-a-suggestions. Theoretically, you could keep on following suggestions until the service runs out of suggestions to give you. I say "theoretically," because I've never followed every suggestion that Facebook, LinkedIn, or other services have offered to me.

But I want to take a closer look at the two suggestions above.

Now the first example is commonly used in social networks - "hey, this person is already friends with your friends, so you should be their friend too." Interestingly enough, Facebook's encouragement to become friends with this person can run counter to Facebook's stated Prime Directive - namely, do not become friends with people that you do not know in real life. But when it comes to gaining advertising revenue, the Prime Directive can fall by the wayside.

The second example is a little more interesting, because it tugs at another emotion. Poor - well, let's call her June - Poor June doesn't have any friends! She's probably sitting at home, crying, because she only has 16 friends on Facebook? John, could you dry June's tears and find her some friends on Facebook so that her life will have meaning?

But I've seen other examples that go beyond emotion and get to the ridiculous. You see, Facebook also suggests people that you should poke. Now I've only been on Facebook for a few months, and I haven't really fully absorbed the entire set of etiquette, but frankly, I've never poked anyone on Facebook. I'm just not going to poke people - at least in public.

But it gets better when you consider who Facebook has suggested that I poke. There's a guy named John who I went to junior high school with. Now John was a year ahead of me in junior high, and he was much taller than me. We had a Spanish class together, and each of us got Spanish names. One of us became "Juan," and one of us became "Juanito." I think you can guess who was tagged as "Juanito." Now many years have passed, and for all I know I might be taller than the other John now, but Juanito is still a little leery of poking Juan.

However, there was another poke suggestion that could have landed me in some huge trouble, since Facebook suggested that I poke my former boss. My female former boss. I'm not sure how she'd react to being poked, but frankly I'd rather not take the chance.

So Facebook's suggestions can get a bit out of hand...but as it turns out, I've seen nothing yet. You see, the second person on the list - "June," who has too few friends - is a co-worker. I've befriended a lot of co-workers on Facebook (yes, we talk about Farm Town a lot in the office). What would happen if I poked one of them? Would I be hauled in front of HR?

Now, I certainly don't fault Facebook for its suggestions. As has been noted before, "game" actions can be motivators for people to complete tasks. However, bear in mind that there are rules to the game that go over and above the supposed rules that Facebook provides for its games.

Don't call your co-worker unpopular when she isn't. (For the record, "June" does have a number of friends.)

And don't poke tall people or ex-bosses.

(empo-tuulwey) The non-Google wave

My morning drive sometimes takes me past a retirement home on a busy street, and lately I've noticed that a resident likes to take his motorized scooter out to the sidewalk. From his chair, he sits and waves at the passing traffic. Some people ignore him, some wave back. For all I know, some might give him the finger. (It's a tough world.)

From my perspective, the encounter is not overwhelming. I drive by and see one guy on a scooter, waving.

From his perspective, it initially appears that the encounters would be overwhelming - look at all of those people, and all of that traffic! - but in reality it isn't. The interface between the man and the passers-by is very simple. He sees people waving, or not waving.

Not like other things that I've seen.

P.S. For more discussion of Google Wave, see this post from TechChuff. Sample line: "Google Wave doesn’t actually *do* anything."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What the heck? He's in his eighties.

I thought this was kind of funny.

Hugh Hefner continues to maintain the image that he's portrayed for decades. Not necessarily just the image of sexual liberation, but the whole "living the good life" image to which Playboy readers want to aspire. Buy the magazine, Hefner whispers, and you'll sip fine wine and smoke fine cigars.

But - surprise, surprise - the image doesn't necessarily jibe with the reality.

Here are some excerpts from a New York Times article:

The [Playboy] mansion...has seen better days. During a July visit, the game house (the one with a room that has a mattress as flooring) smelled musty, while the bird aviary needed scrubbing. That famous grotto, with its Jacuzzis of varied depth, seemed more like a fetid zoo exhibit than a pleasure palace (although nearby shelves were stocked with enormous bottles of Johnson’s Baby Oil).

In March, with the housing market in a nosedive, he put his wife’s home, located next door to the Playboy Mansion, up for sale for $28 million. It sold in August for $18 million....

Mr. Hefner’s retinue insists that money is not tight, but a series of actions has made it look that way. The Los Angeles Business Journal reported last year that the mansion’s staff had been cut. People can now buy tickets (up to $10,000 each) to what were once invitation-only parties, which remain a vital part of stoking the Playboy brand.

But this one was the most interesting:

Former live-in girlfriends, including those who have appeared on “The Girls Next Door,” have portrayed him in interviews and a book as a control freak who enforces a curfew of 9 p.m.

Hefner lives with three young women, and he puts them to bed by 9:00 pm? The man doesn't need Viagra, he needs coffee.

Mark Cuban thinks Twitter's brevity is a plus

I recently wondered what would have happened if microblogs had become popular before blogs did, noting that brevity would become important.

I've also whined about the Associated Press and its issues with people quoting from their articles and pasting the quotes into blogs, even if attributed.

I'm not the only one, and Duncan Riley (among others) has been watching Rupert Murdoch lately, and noting that Murdoch could very easily keep all of his valuable content off of Google by implementing a robots.txt file. The underlying assumption is that Murdoch is too scared to risk the loss of traffic from people who follow other links to the News Corp content.

But Mark Cuban has a different view on the whole thing, noting that perhaps AP and Murdoch should block Google from reproducing their content. After all, there's a better way to get link love.

TWITTER IS SURPASSING GOOGLE as a destination for finding information on breaking and recent news of all types. Whats more, TWITTER POSSES NO THREAT to any destination news site. 140 characters does not a story make. Find it on twitter, link to a story on say, FoxNews and everyone is happy. The same concept applies to Facebook Links. Twitter and Facebook are not news destinations that can compete with traditional news sources. Google is. Rupert loves him some twitter. Google, not so much. interesting side benefit of Twitter's brevity - it FORCES people to come to your website.

Monday, November 9, 2009

(empo-utoobd) The surprising things that you can learn with Google Dashboard

Back in 2008 when I began the Empoprises series of blogs, I made a conscious effort to employ Google services as part of these blogs. In addition to the obvious ones (Blogger, for example), I used Google Docs to store some of my private files associated with Empoprises.

Well, I logged into Google Dashboard for the first time on Friday afternoon, and the extent of my Google use, both blog-related and non-blog-related, became all too clear. Account, Blogger, Calendar, Contacts, Docs, Friend Connect, Gmail, Reader, Voice, and several others...

...including YouTube.

Yes, my account is still permanently disabled, but Google Dashboard allows me to view statistics about my account.

Favorites 56 favorites
Most recent: Manfred Mann - Fox On The Run on Aug 17, 2009

Subscriptions 34 public
Most recent: schmoyoho on Sep 18, 2009

Most recent: Country Gentlemen - Fox on the Run on Aug 17, 2009

Contacts 4 public
Most recent: neuromancer2012 on May 25, 2009

Personal messages
Most recent: free tacos on me on Feb 23, 2009

Of course, if I try to click on any of the associated links, I still run across the "Your account has been permanently disabled" message.

And still, Google offers no way to un-disable your account, or even to discover the specific infraction that caused your account to be permanently disabled in the first place. Assuming that there was such an infraction; maybe some anonymous Google employee happens to hate "Fox on the Run" and took it out on me. If that's the case here, I hope that Google employee doesn't transfer to Blogger, or else I'm in trouble.

Yes, YouTube customer service is atrocious. While you do get what you pay for, this doesn't necessarily encourage me to pay for any Google services.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Empoprise-BI News - 8 November 2009

Empoprise-BI News

The news letter for Empoprise-BI - An Empoprises vertical information service for business news.

Welcome to Empoprise-BI News

Hello, hello, wherever you are. If you need to reach me, remember that I can be reached via the Gmail service via the name "empoprises."

Behind the Scenes

It's been a while.

I haven't written one of these "Empoprise-BI News" posts since October 4. Basically, Oracle OpenWorld and my company's own conference messed up my blogging schedule. While I had material to put in this blog and the other blogs, some other tasks, including my weekly news updates, pretty much fell by the wayside.

But I did have a few things to note this week, so here we go.

Special Features

Earlier this evening I was inspired to write a post entitled Meet the new boss, same as the old boss - Tara and Steven, the new middlemen may be worse than the old. Now I've already noted that I love to have fun with my post titles, and this title is of course based on a line from the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Wikipedia includes a good summation of the song and its subsequent history, including a battle between Pete Townsend and Michael Moore.


In a future episode, I try out Google Dashboard and discover something interesting about my "permanently disabled" service.

And perhaps I'll reveal the meaning of life. Or perhaps not.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss - Tara and Steven, the new middlemen may be worse than the old

It isn't often that I can call Steven Hodson a starry-eyed optimist, but I guess nobody's perfect.

Let's start at the beginning. Hodson was reading on the web, and he was inspired by something that Tara "miss rogue" Hunt wrote. Frankly, it's good to be inspired by Hunt, because she has an interesting and deep perspective on things.

Hodson was reading The Disintermediation Era. Now that is such a big word, but it hasn't quite been around since Richard the Third. (Sorry, had to do that; very old Human League song, if you're wondering.) But disintermediation means what it says. Here's a bit of what Hunt said:

There was a point not that long ago that the middle-man provided great value. The record companies brought music to the masses. The media created channels for the news to get through. The Blockbusters of the world housed thousands of movies for people to rent. Telephone companies laid the lines for us to connect with one another around the world.

But now these middle-men are our modern villains – using every desperate trick in the book to hold onto customers while we find creative ways to go around them, go straight to the source and sometimes just do it ourselves.

Hunt goes on to list the errors that the middlemen made, and then concludes:

And it’s only really beginning. We are at a turn. A shifting of an era. Entirely new business models were created during the Industrial era. These business models were created to help manage, distribute and promote to the masses. When everything was local, we did this through relationships. It was easy to manage on our own. But the internet allowed for inexpensive and simplified management, distribution and promotion for all. Farming these things out only makes sense if it truly brings value such as: convenience, money saving and peace of mind.

Hodson, after encouraging people to read Hunt's post, has a conclusion of his own:

As we discover new and better ways to bypass these dying middlemen and find a common ground with the content producers, the media creators, the product makers, we all will benefit and probably in ways we might not even grasp yet.

It’s no wonder the middlemen are scared shitless.

With all due respect to Hunt and Hodson, two people whom I respect and admire...they're wrong. And you only have to look at history to see what will happen next. Let me cite a few examples: France 1789. Russia 1918. Two cases in which many will argue that the revolution that did away with the old era ushered in a new era that was not better, but worse than the one before it. I'm sure that there are those that will add USA 1776 to my list above.

For a moment, let's assume that Hunt and Hodson are right in one aspect - the change in business climate is so dramatic that the old guard of businesses - the Tribunes, News Corps, and AOL Time Warners of the world - will simply wither away, like the Soviet Union did. I have my doubts about this, but I've been proven wrong before, and Hunt and Hodson may be on to something here.

But that does not necessarily mean that we are going to usher in a new era of direct connections and democratization and personal empowerment and all that.

Because, you see, the new middlemen are already here.

While it would be wonderful to assume that the emerging economy is intuitive, it is not. Tara, Steven, and I live in a cocoon of sorts, a world in which everyone understands how to navigate this new world. But most people do not live in such a world. Consider this: while we talk about the huge numbers of people on Facebook - 300 million, wow! - that simply means that there are, in the words of Carl Sagan, billions and billions of people who are NOT on Facebook.

Billions and billions of people who have not bought anything online.

Billions and billions of people who could not find a band website if their life depended on it.

But don't worry - while there are billions of people who don't know how to do these things, there are people who are more than willing to help them bridge the gap.

Let's dispense with the first group right off the bat - the SEO spammers. It's especially delicious to see people who claim to be able to get you large numbers of followers on Twitter...yet they don't have any followers themselves. It's obvious that they'll provide you with middleman services for a price, but the price is high compared to the services rendered.

Now there's a second group of people that I'd like to mention...and I count both Hunt and Hodson in that group. There are others that I'd put in that group, including Louis Gray, Robert Scoble, and Dave Winer. These are people who effectively act as middlemen (and Tara, I apologize for the sexism of the term) by guiding people through the maze of stuff that is going on around us. All five of the people that I mentioned, plus others, have blogs in which they provide their thoughts and advice to their readers at no charge. And they undeniably provide a valuable service. But if you want Robert Scoble or Tara Hunt to come speak at your function...there's a good chance that it's going to cost you. As well it should - these people have acquired a certain level of expertise, and they certainly should charge for their services.

The third group and the second group overlap, and you can argue about who belongs in which group. But my example for the third group is Jesse Stay. Yes, he blogs and provides advice for free - but Stay is in business to help people navigate the new environment. Perhaps you own a business, and you decide that you're going to set up shop on Facebook. You may ask yourself, "I'm on Facebook - now what?" Well, there's a book for that, and Stay co-authored it. Or maybe you want to use Twitter or Facebook effectively, but you need a tool to help you do that. Enter SocialToo, Stay's application that offers free services, but also has premium services for a price.

If you read the above paragraph closely, you should be able to pick out some of the members of the fourth group. These are the companies that were built to service this new economy...and to serve as the middlemen between people and enterprises. Facebook and Twitter are two of the platforms that are driving this new economy. (The links above don't go directly to the book or the application, but to the Facebook pages for the book and the application.) And if you want to make a direct connection with the Atmos Trio and buy their music, then you'll probably search for their website using a service from Google - or perhaps Microsoft. (I'll save you the search - But who hosts their website?)

Let's look at a personal example of all the middlemen I use every day. I use Google to blog and read, Facebook to farm, to listen to music. And to top it off, I use Verizon to get to all of those sites.

Now, I should be truthful and note that neither Hunt nor Hodson explicitly stated that middlemen were going to go away. But have we considered that the middlemen of the new era may be more tyrannical than the middlemen of the old age?

We complained about the three networks and their limitations - but what's going to happen if a content provider is induced to sign an exclusive deal with one phone manufacturer (Apple) - a manufacturer who has signed its own exclusive deals in this country with AT&T? (And I think the iPhone is exclusive to a single provider in Hunt-Hodsonland also.)

We complained about the RIAA and their ridiculous lawsuits - but what's going to happen when we decide that we want to hear the latest song from some indie sensation - and said indie sensation tells us to go shove it, she's not putting her songs on her website any more?

We complained about the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal and everyone who puts up walls, and we awaited the day when "citizen journalists" would bring us the news directly. Well, I hate to break the news to you, folks - Barack Obama isn't going to grant exclusive interviewers to John Bredehoft, blogger. Or to Steven Hodson or Tara Hunt. Probably not to Robert Scoble or Michael Arrington. News depends upon information from newsmakers, and those newsmakers will continue to talk to only a few people - and those few people will be the ones who control the content that the rest of us will talk about.

Will these new "media elites" be more responsible than the old "media elites"? Again, we look to history. One can say that television news came of age in the 1950s and certainly the 1960s, but even then television was not as well respected as newspapers. If someone on television said something, people wouldn't consider it official until the New York Times or Washington Post chimed in. And lest we forget, both the Pentagon Papers and Watergate were broken by the newspapers, not television. In my opinion, it wasn't until the 1980s that television news was as well-respected as newspapers.

The above paragraph, of course, is a gross generalization. First off, there are gradations of television networks, just as there are gradations of newspapers and gradations of bloggers. I hardly expect the CW Network to contribute to the health care debate.

Second off, opinions on the credibility of various news sources varies widely. Is Fox News more truthful than MSNBC? Depends upon whom you ask. Did the New York Times and the Washington Post save the nation in the 1970s, or did they destroy it? Depends upon whom you ask. Is TechCrunch ethical? Depends upon whom you ask. And this extends beyond the media. Is "old guard" McCain better, or worse, than "new era" Obama? Depends upon whom you ask.

So, going back to my question, it's impossible to say that the new "media elites" - or, for that matter, the new middlemen - will be better or worse than the old ones. But I'm not expecting the coming years to usher in a utopia of democratization and personal empowerment. Someone will wield the power - we're just rearranging the chairs.

(Picture source, license)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What if microblogs had come before blogs?

I just tweeted the following:

just used .@skype integration with .@microsoft ie to call montclair .@petco re their vaccinations (& all 3 businesses on twitter)

After I finished the tweet, it occurred to me that this could have been a fairly detailed blog post. I could have fleshed out the original thought, talked about my history with Skype, talked about the recent legal unpleasantness, or maybe talked about the person who tried to spam me via Skype, or the much more pleasant Skype contact that I received from someone here in the Inland Empire. Or I could have talked about the IE/Skype integration, or perhaps pursued the "businesses going to Twitter" angle. Or I could have posted pictures of my dog.

But in the end, I just wrote the tweet, and the tweet probably said everything that needed to be said.

I try to write short posts (one of my former blogs, mrontemp, even claimed to be "succinct"), but it doesn't always work out that way. The blogging style that I've used since 2003 often allows for introductory material, detours into interesting subtopics, coverage of conflicting points of view, and other things that make my blog posts a little long at times.

But what if microblogs had become popular before blogs? This would have forced an economy of presentation that wouldn't allow for in-depth exploration, but it would get the main point across very quickly.

I thought I'd look at a blog post or two and see what they would have looked like in microblog form.

Let's take a Robert Scoble post. Scoble used to blog a lot, then got more involved in microblogging, and now is trying to blog a bit more again. On Halloween, Scoble wrote a post...about microblogging. The title? "Twitter's lists make Chris Brogan feel bad." Here's how the post begins:

Chris Brogan wrote that Twitter’s Lists make Chris Brogan feel bad. Why? Because he sees them as exclusionary. Chris doesn’t like that lists exclude people, by their very design.

Here, look at my list of programmers. It excludes me.

That makes me feel bad, according to Chris Brogan.

Except, well, I’m NOT a programmer so why should I be on a list of programmers?

I can’t STAND this attitude that everyone should be included in everything.

But what if Scoble could only use Twitter to talk about Twitter? Perhaps he would have written something like this:

@chrisbrogan thinks twitter lists exclude, make him feel bad. but he doesn't follow all 45 million people on twitter. should they feel bad?

So, 139 characters to sum up the whole post, but no room to get into the examples of the lists from which Scoble excludes himself. But it got a point across.

But Scoble tends to communicate economically anyway. What would happen if we took a post from a really wordy person and tried to boil it down to 140 characters?

Hmm...who do I know that gets wordy at times?

You know where this is going. I've chosen this post of mine to see if I can condense it to the micro-level. If you haven't seen it before, it's one of my "empo-tymshft" posts in which I note that the supposedly new Amazon cloud computing model is really the same thing that CompuServe was using when they started out. I also end up talking about the two models of computing, ranging from extreme centralization to extreme decentralization (The Benevolent Model vs. The Rugged Individualist Model). And I veer off into a couple of other topics here and there.

But what if Google closed Blogger or permanently disabled it for me tomorrow, and I had to tweet all of this? Well, it would probably turn out like this:

@amazon cloud computing is basically the same thing that old @aol unit compuserve did when it started, just dressed up new. eccl 1:9

132 characters, and I had to use the Bible to "link" to a more complete thought. But I didn't use the Bible in the original post, so this is either better or worse than the blog post (depending upon your view of the Bible).

Friday, November 6, 2009

Another fast food pioneer - Troy N. Smith of Sonic

If there's nothing else special about the United States, we can certainly lay claim to innovations in fast food. Time doesn't permit me to detail our extensive innovations here, but suffice it to say that my country has continued to refine the development of fast food service ever since it was introduced in the 19th century.

Fast food businesses, by their very nature, originate in small localities, and while certain fast food chains may grow to worldwide status, others remain regional businesses that are unknown outside of their original area.

When I watch national TV shows, I'll see advertisements for Sonic. However, I only know of one Sonic restaurant in southern California. Coincidentally, it happens to be only a few miles away from where I work, so I did go there once. But I don't habitually visit Sonic in the same way that some of you may.

Sonic suffered a loss a few days ago - one that the New York Times reported:

Troy N. Smith Sr., who turned ordering a hamburger by speaking into a microphone from a parked car into a national habit, died last Monday in Oklahoma City, Okla. He was 87.

His death was announced by the Sonic Corporation, the nationwide chain of drive-in restaurants he founded in 1959.

The Times goes on to explain how Smith was inspired by the work of others to build his own success story. As the Times relates, Smith happened across a restaurant with a car-to-kitchen intercom, an innovation that allowed people to order food without even leaving their car. Smith adapted the innovation for his Oklahoma root beer stand, and eventually built a chain of restaurants. Other innovations were included:

He added an intercom system that made it possible to deliver food within three minutes; wired each restaurant with speakers to pipe in radio hits; added angular parking to increase privacy; and maintained a fleet of roller-skating carhops, even as other restaurants were cutting back.

Smith retired from day to day operations in 1983, but the Sonic chain continues, with locations in 42 states.

The picture that adorns this post was taken from this Flickr entry (license) by Flickr user William F. Yurasko. His experience in Myrtle Beach was recorded in a blog post:

We pulled into the SONIC lot and I ordered directly from the car. Despite never having car service before, we elected to sit at one of the picnic tables. Yes, we realized this could be controversial, but after spending 1/3 of the previous day in the car, dining al fresco was a welcome option. Just a few minutes after sitting down, a server arrived with a tray of food.

William, like I, ordered the french fries. When I did so, I was criticized for not ordering the onion rings or the tater tots. William was also told that he should have ordered the tater tots (see the comments on his post).

I actually haven't been back there in over a year, and I haven't run across any Sonics in my recent travels. It's time to return.

(empo-plaaybizz) How games control your mind

Two days after I wrote a post that was partially inspired by one of Paul Pedrazzi's previous posts on play...Pedrazzi wrote another post on the topic. I encourage you to go to the AppsLab website and read the post, which contains a wealth of ideas on play, work, and working playfully.

Let me quote just one brief example:

Games are not trivial technology, but more interestingly, they are not trivial in how the do what they do. The magic is that they get you to return again and again to do things THEY want you to do while thinking it is what YOU want to do.

Pedrazzi then asks:

Does this sound like it may be useful for work?

Food for thought - and if you're having that food at a restaurant, be sure to check in.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

(empo-tuulwey) War in the 21st century, or more on my return to proposals

I've previously mentioned that I've returned to proposals work after a several year absence. When some of my co-workers assume that I "know it all," I am fond of reminding them that I haven't done any direct proposal writing since the last millennium. You see, I left the proposals group at my company in early 2000, and did not return to the group until late this year.

A lot has changed in the intervening years. While some parts of the proposal process are familiar to me (in fact, some things that I was doing back in the 1990s have now become institutionalized in our document templates), our department has made a number of advances in the last several years.

One thing that the department has been able to do is to create a war room. The idea, obviously borrowed from another industry, is to have a central area that can be used for proposal generation purposes.

Since my return to proposals, one element of the war room that I have grown to appreciate are the corkboards that line all of the walls of the war room. For obvious reasons I can't take pictures of our war room, but I can tell you that those low-tech cork boards can come in really handy when you're working on a proposal.

And I'm not the only person who appreciates the low-tech touches. While wikis, on-line conferences, and other high-tech tools are certainly used in proposal writing and in other businesses, sometimes it's the small things that offer the most power. Sometime from the Tenrox software company visited a customer's war room and had this impression:

Recently, I was visiting a customer. As usual, I started by discussing with their VP of professional services how they use our software for cost tracking, billing and project management. But what he showed me next was truly an eye opener — he took me to his “War Room.” A traditional conference room had been transformed into the “battle bridge.” Whiteboards covered every wall. A couple of flip charts were placed at each corner with all kinds of “action item,” diagrams, and notes scribbled on them. In the center part of the room, a projector was connected to a computer running Tenrox software, displaying reports of live project financial data. This was the only “hi-tech” aspect of the war room!

What I discovered from the war room is that we’ve become too enamored with technology. Even with the best software systems in place, managers and team members can’t get a bird’s eye view of everything that’s going on.

Well, I guess you could...but you'd need to have really really big monitors to be able to see everything. And corkboard is less expensive than a battery of monitors.

(Picture source, license)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Following topics rather than people - additional thoughts

I just wrote a comment in The AppsLab blog that I should probably pursue further. In essence, I'm looking at the difference between following people and following topics. You may remember that I touched upon this topic in a September post:

[W]hy do content-emphasizing social media networks sometimes emphasize following the people, rather than following the topics?

Let's take Twitter as an example. Twitter's content-searching capabilities are admittedly atrocious, but one thing that is really easy to do in Twitter is to follow people. And when you follow people, you get the good with the bad. Perhaps you follow someone on Twitter because they posted an inspiration quote...and then their next 10 tweets are of the "make money fast" variety....

[P]erhaps there's a better way - follow by topic rather than person. That way, if you're interested in requirements management, you can see what people said about that specific topic, and ignoring all of their LOLcats stuff. FriendFeed now supports topic searching capabilities.

But let's go back to the present. The comment that I made today was inspired by Jake Kuramoto's post More Fun With Twitter Lists. In the post, Kuramoto wonders whether Twitter's new lists feature can serve as an improved barometer of authority. Perhaps the fact that John Jones is on 100 Twitter lists is more important than the fact that John Jones is being followed by 1,000 people. Perhaps not.

In the course of the post, Kuramoto noted that a "Friends of AppsLab" Twitter list has been created. You can find it at The list is explained as follows:

Anyway, now that lists are available to everyone, I figured I should show some love to you guys and add to your listed metric.

I created a “friend of appslab” list, including all people we’ve met over the years at conferences, here on the blog, at work, etc. It’s not complete by any means, and I’ll be adding to it.

This list, which happens to include yours truly, inspired me to write this comment:

One thing about lists - and, for that matter, followers - is that it focuses on people rather than topics. This could lead to issues.

The aforementioned Friends of AppsLab list presumably includes people whose interests are somewhat aligned with the AppsLab. Because of the diverse interests of the AppsLab - and because it is, after all, a lab - you would expect some level of leeway if you viewed the tweets created by the friends of the AppsLab.

For example, the fact that one of the AppsLab friends drank a banana split shake is, in a peculiar way, relevant. Oracle is, after all, an enterprise, and services such as FourSquare (the cited tweet was generated by FourSquare) suggest ways in which enterprises can engage their customers. This topic clearly falls within the realm of AppsLab interests.

But I challenge anyone who follows the "friends of AppsLab" tweets to find the relevance in this tweet ("it must take forever to film a hallmark channel movie. filming must stop for firefighters' day, millard fillmore's birthday..."). I feel sorry for the enterprise student who runs across that particular tweet in the AppsLab feed; the poor soul will end up invoking the former acronym for the Wisconsin Tourism Federation.

And the AppsLab list is a special case, because of its exploratory nature. What if someone were to set up a narrower list, such as "people interested in Oracle Database"? For that list, even a discussion of WebLogic may be considered off-topic.

While I know that social media is supposed to be all about people, in reality social media is also about topics that interest the people. For enterprises and enterprise workers to truly mine the information that is out there, we need better ways to do it. Following a person or a list of persons, while appropriate in a generic social media context, may not be appropriate in an enterprise social media context.

Unfortunately, our search tools aren't smart enough to do this at this time. I cannot think of a way to search Twitter for "AppsLab-y" tweets. When will our search tools become intelligent enough to distinguish "I just ate a mango" from "I just told FourSquare that I drank a mango shake at a local business"?

Perhaps I should pursue this line of thought further. Or maybe I should just try a mango shake.

What are your thoughts on following people vs. following topics?

(empo-tuulwey) Flossing with a screwdriver - Robert Scoble, FriendFeed, Google Reader, and you

I have refrained, for the most part, from commenting on the recent discussion regarding the pros and cons of using Google Reader vs. Twitter as the preferred method to read and share articles. Eventually the discussion got a little heated, with comments regarding the usability of Twitter for such purposes, and someone else talking about tweets being boring, and someone getting really depressed over...excuse me, I seem to have mixed this story up with the Stephen Fry Twitter story.

So let's go back to the Robert Scoble's original post on the topic (he's since written others). I'm going to take the liberty of quoting extensively from some of the eight items that Scoble listed (I'm not going to quote from all eight, since I really don't care about iPhone apps.)

1. Google Reader is FREAKING SLOW. It sometimes takes longer than a minute to open it up. "But my Google Reader account is super fast," I can hear you saying. Yeah, but you don't have any friends and you don't have many things you are subscribed to. Compare to Twitter lists or Twitter itself. I'm following 10,000+ people. More than 100,000 are following me. Yet Twitter opens instantly.

I actually discussed this in some detail in a comment that I made on Steven Hodson's personal blog, Shooting at Bubbles. Without going into detail or heading off on a biometric tangent, suffice it to say that when an application has a LOT of data, you can choose to either load all of the data, or just some of it. There are advantages and disadvantages to either scenario, but those can best be framed by how you use the information that is being loaded.

Using Robert Scoble's Twitter example, and assuming for the moment that he's using the native Twitter client, let's say that Robert opens up his Twitter page one day and wants to see what was going on an hour ago. Yes, the initial Twitter page will load up snappy fast - but it's only loading a portion of the tweets from the 10,000 people he follows. To see anything else, you have to click on the "More" button...and you may have to click it again...and again. On my own account (in which I'm following far fewer than 10,000 people), I just tried clicking the "More" button a half dozen times in a row. While I wasn't waiting for huge amounts of time after every click, the exercise can get tiresome.

As I mentioned elsewhere, MY problem with Google Reader involves that very scenario - namely, the scenario of partial loads of data. When I click on my Google Reader shared items category, I have to wait 10 seconds or more...and then I get the first batch of items. I scroll down...and get the second batch. Google Reader can't even tell me how many items there are in the category until I've loaded all of them - and frankly, I'm not going to wait around that long.

Let's move on to Robert's second and third items, which I will consider together since they're essentially related:

2. Google Reader's UI is too confusing. Yeah, I know how to use it, but really, do we need "like" and "share" and "share with note?"

3. It makes me feel guilty. I have 1,000 unread items. Twitter doesn't tell me that.

Now both of these have to do with the richness of the application. While Twitter's UI is more complex than is noted here (I could easy ask, "But really, do we need 'follow' and 'mention' and 'block' and 'add to list'?), there's no denying that Google Reader has a richer feature set than Twitter. Now the Google Reader fanboys could sneer at Twitter for not letting you know how many items are unread, and for making it hard to share items with other people, and the like. But the Twitter fanboys could retort right back that Google Reader is not...well, it's not Google-y. Google's search page is known for its simplicity, but Google Reader is anything but.

I could continue to go through Robert Scoble's list, and I could go on and launch into his retreat from FriendFeed, but in essence a lot of the issues involved - front-loading vs. continuous-loading data, feature simplicity, feature access - are all a matter of personal choice.

Does it make sense to do something because Robert Scoble, or Louis Gray, or Steven Hodson, or Miley Cyrus, or John Bredehoft told you to do it?

Maybe. Maybe not. If you personally believe that Miley Cyrus is one of the wisest people on the planet, then perhaps you will follow her lead when she makes social media suggestions. On the other hand, if you think that I listen to some pretty stupid music, then you're not going to look at my loved tracks.

I guess I could say that I disagree with Robert Scoble on both the FriendFeed and Google Reader counts. Regarding FriendFeed, a change in company ownership doesn't automatically mean that I have to abandon the service. Did you see a lot of Chevys parked by the side of the road when GM filed for bankruptcy protection? Now I'm certainly looking for alternative tools to do the things that I currently do in FriendFeed - for example, I'm interacting in Facebook a lot more - but in my case, there's no reason for me to stop using the FriendFeed service, or to stop feeding things to it, or to stop interacting on it. Maybe I'll change my mind tomorrow, but as of today, FriendFeed is still my number one spot to visit for interaction.

And Google Reader is still my number one spot to visit for information. Why? Because it fits into my workflow. For every item that I run across in Google Reader, I do one of four things with it:

  • Ignore it - mark it as read without doing anything else.

  • Star it - mark it so that I can do something with it later. Since my stars are private, I can mark work-related stuff there without tipping competitors regarding my reading habits. Or I can mark something I may want to blog about later. Or whatever.

  • Share it - push it out on my Google Reader feed, which (in my workflow) also pushes it out to my FriendFeed and my Facebook account. If I'm mobile, all I can do is share. If I'm at a laptop or desktop, I can share with a note. (And yes, I think "Share with note" is important.)

  • Do something RIGHT NOW with it - maybe I'll blog about it RIGHT NOW, or maybe I'll take something from the lastfmfeeds feed, go to FriendFeed, and like it RIGHT NOW.
There's one other thing that I wanted to address, and that was the idea that Twitter is the "wrong" tool for Google Reader kinds of things. If Robert Scoble wants to use Twitter for this purpose, he has my support.

When future generations write the history of the twentieth century, the towering feature of that time will be Angus MacGyver. If you are not familiar with this towering character, here's an excerpt from his biography:

MacGyver, or "Mac," as his friends call him, is a master of on-the-spot improvisation. He can use ordinary household objects to get himself and his companions out of trouble. All he carries with him is a Swiss Army knife and, occasionally, a roll of duct tape.

Now I'm sure that the purists who insist that Twitter is not an RSS reader would have a field day with MacGyver. But hey, if it works for MacGyver, then it works for MacGyver.

And if you want to floss your teeth with a screwdriver, more power to you. Just be careful.

And Robert, you can use Twitter any way you like - that is, until someone buys Twitter and you move on to something else.

(Picture source, license)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

(empo-plaaybizz) The difference between game theory and games theory

I've had a post brewing in my head in a while, and this excellent post from Michelle's blog prompted me to write my post. First, here's part of what Michelle said:

Identity introduces the concept of accountability. Social media tools allow us to bring our identity and our networks’ identities to the forefront. Basically if you hose somebody, they can now call it out to your friends and followers, which they would not be able to do in the often anonymous world we used to live in.

Basically, what Michelle does is analyze a particular transaction between two parties in which the decisions of both parties affect the outcome of the transaction. Michelle's post is entitled "Game Theory and the Use of Social Media," and she asserts that if the two parties know each other ("identity" above), the outcome to the game will be different. In essence, the t-word comes into play here.

Let me explain. As is noted here, game theory is a mathematical exercise in which rational players interact with each other to produce various outcomes. This is studied in economics and other areas. Probably the most famous example of game theory is the Prisoner's Dilemma.

A fascinating dilemma, a fascinating theory, and a fascinating observation from Michelle, but it has nothing to do with what I want to write about - not game theory, but games theory.

I define "games theory" as the application of games motivators to activities that appear to be non-game related. It is well known that we like to play games, so why not make a game out of other activities?

I spent some time thinking about this, and realized that I play games all of the time. This is as good a time as any to note that I reached level 34 of Farm Town on Monday evening. (Haven't bought my mansion yet.) And no, I didn't buy any sleazy products. Or fund terrorists.

More to the point, I've already shared some information about a couple of other games that I play. I have an entire blog devoted to the NTN Buzztime trivia games, and I've posted about the FourSquare location-based game that I play (for example, see my October 22 post).

One common feature between these two games is that businesses that encourage the game can potentially see revenue increases. The theory behind NTN Buzztime trivia is that if people stay in your bar or restaurant to play trivia, they order more beer and pizza and spend more money with you. Similarly, the theory behind some of FourSquare's advances to business is that if you encourage people to "check in" to your business, they'll spend more money at your business. I can attest that Foursquare has changed my spending habits - to maintain my mayorships at various locations, I've been more inclined to visit the locations than I would have been if FourSquare had not existed.

But you don't need a social media venture capitalist to conduct your own games. How many people make a game out of exercising, and if they do 12 repetitions of an exercise on Wednesday, try to do 14 on Friday?

But the Oracle AppsLab people are way ahead of me on this score, and they actually have the power to put their ideas into action. Even if I were still in product management, I suspect that I would meet serious opposition if I attempted to make our automated fingerprint identification system interface more game-like - although sending Pac-Man between fingerprint ridges has some appeal. The AppsLab people, however, might have a bit more leeway to design more game-like interfaces for the internal products used within Oracle.

And Paul Pedrazzi from the AppsLab goes one step beyond me in this post in the "Game the Machine" blog. While I just described some goal-oriented play (better physical workouts, etc.), Paul looks at my example in a different light:

[I]n the adult mind, play itself has not only changed, but in many cases, it has been lost altogether, morphed into some hobbled likeness of itself. Play becomes a scheduled 30 minute block on the treadmill or a set of reps that some trainer mandated be completed before gulping a protein shake of predetermined size.

So what is "play" to Paul?

If you asked an adult about the value of [playing in a playground], they would list off several: physical fitness, learning group communication skills, imprinting gross motor movements, and the list goes on. So clearly something worthwhile is being produced, but that is an observer’s perspective. That is looking at results and outcomes. That is the objective thinking of management. To the player – there is only one objective – to have fun. The moment the fun slips through their fingers, they drift to another activity meeting that simple criterion.

This distinction is essential since I posit that we can see work as an adult in the same way.

In Paul's original post, the next sentence is in bold:

The key is to understand that making an activity fun in itself does not remove, change, or eliminate the benefits of the activity – it just makes the activity inherently enjoyable.

Let's use Yogurtime (in Upland, California) as an example. They're listed in Yelp, and I'm presently the mayor of Yogurtime on FourSquare. But what happens once you get into the store? You pick up a brightly-colored cup, you squirt frozen yogurt out of a nozzle (after selecting the type of frozen yogurt you want, you sprinkle toppings on your frozen yogurt, and then you weigh it. Perhaps more could be done to make these activities fun, but even as it is, this is a lot more fun than picking up a pre-packaged frozen yogurt from a refrigerator shelf.

There are all sorts of directions in which you can go with the "fun" idea, and sometimes the fun may be your own secret joke. For example, my blog post titles are derived from all sorts of sources. In this blog alone, in October alone, I managed to sneak in a TV reference (Now is the time at the conference when we dance), a music reference (Don't worry about the government), another music reference (Oracle showed the video star), and...well, there are a lot of music references scattered in my titles. And guess what? The games help me enjoy my blogging more, which means (for better or worse) that you read more stuff from me.

But I'll close this post, appropriately written during World Series time, with a quote from former Pittsburgh Pirate Willie Stargell:

It's supposed to be fun, the man says 'Play Ball' not 'Work Ball' you know.


Monday, November 2, 2009

How will we "write the book on it" in the future?

One of my overused phrases (along with "So anyways") is the phrase "[PERSON] wrote the book on [TOPIC]."

I used the phrase during our company's recent conference for our users, in which we had three presentations in a row on one of our products. I gave the first presentation, and the second was to be given by one of our system engineers, who happened to be the author of the system administration manual for this particular product. So, needless to say, I stated that the second presentation would be given by the person who "wrote the book on" the product in question.

I ALMOST used the phrase in something I posted last Thursday. You'll recall that I said:

I was reading my Facebook during lunch, and one of my Facebook friends (I won't mention the friend's name, but the friend knows a lot about Facebook)....

Actually, I could have said that my friend wrote the book on Facebook (technically, he co-wrote it, but that's splitting hairs), but then everyone would have easily figured out who I was talking about. If I mentioned that my friend is the only person that I know who leaves home for a staycation, then it would be really obvious.

So anyways, I'm not the only person who uses the "wrote the book on" phrase. I'm sure that you can easily find countless examples of people who do this.

But what happens if we eventually DO arrive at the paperless office which people have been predicting for decades? I know that it's been predicted for a while, but there are hints that a paperless environment is actually getting closer to becoming a reality. Now my generation grew up at a time when there were books everywhere, but younger generations are growing up with newer attitudes. One of my former co-workers (she wrote the book on workstation marketing requirements, by the way) rarely uses paper. When we worked together, she would bring her laptop to meetings rather than printing out paper to read in the meeting. (In some ways this is more efficient, especially if a large document is being reviewed, but one could argue that there's an electricity waste. However, if you were going to leave your computer on during the meeting anyway, then there's no net additional usage of electricity.)

My former co-worker is just one example, but there are several factors (storage space, cost, political correctness) that may drive people to use less paper rather than more paper. Another factor is technology, as Internetwork Consulting notes:

Only recently with the excessive size and low cost of disk space, has it become more particle to store files digitally than on paper. In about the space of a cubic foot you can store about 24,319,400 pages of letter sized pages. And when you want to access these files, you don't have to leave your desk and physically sift through an ocean of paper, but type you search into the computer and focus on another task until it's found for you. Another added advantage is that when you are done with the file, you don't have to put it up!

And Internetwork Consulting didn't even consider the cloud advantages of accessing these documents remotely.

But as we move to the fabled paperless office, this means that the items that we refer to as "books" - or, better yet, "papers" - will increasingly be in electronic form. So will we persist in using these terms, devoid of their original meaning? Perhaps the terms will persist - a hitch in your giddy-up has - or perhaps the word "books" will draw a blank stare from future generations.