Friday, November 26, 2004 -- Long Live New Music!

Among the many joys of becoming parents, my wife and I were recently discussing some of the sacrifices of parenting 2 children under 2, including giving up live music for the time being.  From the many of fun things we used to do out-on-a-thursday-or-friday-night, we singled out seeing live bands as our most missed.

For music fanatics, live music is a package deal. it's part of a ritual of too-frequent trips to the record store, sitting through (and often loving) lots of opening bands, catching up with friends between acts, and shooting the breeze about ever newer music and upcoming shows. But by moving to a new city, away from family, while simultaneously starting our own little family, we've effectively taken that package deal off the table for now.

But beyond the joy of live performance, the pleasure of discovering new music isn't something we ought to have to give up. However without the exposure and exchange part of the package, we're missing out on the discovery part as well.

That's where fits in. is a service that lets you build your own radio station by adding albums you like or think you like, and then lets you stream them as your own "personal radio." But while you're listening, they're taking notes, both from your station and from your existing music library via an optional media player plugin.  From these stats, they start recommending neighboring stations, introducing you to other people with complimentary taste. You can then listen to your neighbors' stations as well!  In's own words,

" is a personalised online radio station that plays the right music to the right people. Songs spread from listener to listener.
You get your own online radio station that you can fill up with the music you like. This information is used to find users who are similar to you. With this information can play you new artists and songs you might like."

I have used music info/recommendation sites like epitonic and allmusic in the past and found them very helpful, but they always seemed incomplete.  I never integrated them into my music routine, more just for exploring or dabbling.  But by 1) giving you access to tons of free (nearly) streaming music and 2) letting you connect with and listen to the collections of people with similar tastes, has found a magic formula. The magic, as Suw Charman points out, is how they've skillfully integrated a social network to stand out from the crowd,

"I consider both of these sites to be social networking sites, even
though it would be possible to characterise Last.FM as a music site and
Flickr as a photography site. But both sites have at their heart not
the music or the photos but social networking and the sharing of
personal information. Without their social networks, both sites would
be pointless."

So now with my station I'm enjoying music I already know or know to check out, and from my neighbors' stations I'm discovering new music that's been more often a fit than not. Plus now that I'm donating a small amount via PayPal (I chose the amount), I can share my personal radio with the world, which completes the sharing cycle both inside and outside the network.  Check out my personal radio button to the right, or click: ehick radio

So while isn't babysitting for us until 2am, it's helping us enjoy, discover, and share new music in a natural and familiar way, which is worth a lot!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Intellectual Agility Powers Collaboration

Read two interesting and very different articles recently on the behavioral side of collaboration: CIO's A Travel Guild to Collaboration, and Dave Pollard's How We Can Improve Collaboration.  Both try to address why collaboration works, why it's hard, and why employing a collaborative approach to get stuff done eludes many teams and organizations.

CIO Magazine's straightforward A Travel Guild to Collaboration mainly addresses B2B collaboration, as opposed to ad hoc collaboration in the trenches.  It's a good, basic summary of challenges to collaboration:

  • win-lose mentality and mistrust

  • negotiating ownership of resulting IP

  • security & springing leaks in the data fortress

  • integration issues faced when systems need to talk.

As well as common tips like:

  • clarify mutual value

  • build trust

  • provide the right tools

  • value of independent 3rd party tool hosting. 

Not a ton new here, but good quotes and case study references always reinforce what we ought to be remembering.  In particular these two quotes from MIT Medial Lab's Michael Schrage added some spice,

"Having lawyers drive collaborative initiatives is like having drunk drivers drive Pintos on New Year's Eve in Boston," and

"It takes a shared space to create shared understanding.  If there's no shared space, there's no collaboration.  Period."

A more passionate presentation was given by Dave Pollard in his How We Can Improve Collaboration.  He covers with a number of general points, some of which echo the CIO article:

  • competitiveness can obfuscate collaboration

  • we're really good at collaborating in emergencies --> it's instinctive

  • when collaboration is working, it's fun

  • collaboration must be practiced and requires course-correction

  • recognition people contribute at different levels and with different styles

He also rips into some anti-collaborative realities that everyone loves to hate, like,  "Hierarchy, our cult of leadership, and the inflated egos of
managers." He actually goes overboard in vilifying leaders as being inherently anti-collaborative when he says, "I would hazard a guess that excellent collaboration skill is almost
entirely absent in those we call 'leaders' in all aspects of human
endeavor."  (Not sure why he used such a broad brush to paint leaders?)

But most interesting is his discussion of "intellectual agility" as a core driver and prerequisite for successful collaboration. He defines intellectual agility by contrasting a failed collaborative experience with a successful one:

"What was different in this earlier, failed attempt at collaboration? In my opinion, John and I exhibit what I would call intellectual agility,
while our colleagues in the earlier session do not. .... Intellectual agility is the
ability to allow yourself to fully understand, appreciate, adapt to and
integrate others' ideas and ways of thinking with your own, and, on
occasion, to abandon your own preconceptions quickly and entirely when
presented with compelling evidence of a better answer."

He's spot on.  Intellectual agility is what makes a collaboration valuable, and moves it beyond a coordination or info sharing.  And it is hard to come by --> collaboration can be difficult!  But here's were we need intellectually agile leaders.  They're out there, and they'll multiply quickly from network effects if they and their organizations following Dave's advice to practice, value and reward intellectual agility and a collaborative approach to getting stuff done.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Arielle Maria McMullan

I'm proud to announce the newest member of our family, Arielle Maria McMullan!  "Little" Arielle arrived at 9lb 13oz, 21.5" long, and everyone is doing great. 

My already sporadic postings might take a bit of a hit over the next week or two... ;)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

GroupWare to TeamWare to SituatedWare: Wikis Get the Platform Right

Wikis for Content

I've been writing quite a bit about Wikis lately. The first time I used a Wiki, I knew I had come across the most practical tool for ad-hoc teams to date. You know, the bread and butter of meeting agendas, minutes, capturing brainstorms, team research, team to-dos, etc. I collaborated on content, engaged in simple processes, and maybe even used a form or three, but never got too fancy.

Indispensable, addictive tools for sure, but for some reason I didn't put wikis within a larger functional or historical context. I noticed and followed the commercial offerings from startups like SocialText and Atlassian, but despite plugins and forms, I continued to keep them politely tucked on the aisle and shelf of "collaborative web sites for team content." (Maybe it was their continued association with blogs, or focus on wiki markup?)

Wikis for Applications

So when I caught wind of JotSpot's "application wiki" positioning and vision, I was intrigued. It's a vision shared with forward-thinking open source wikis like XWiki and TWiki, but I'd never seen it articulated so clearly. After beta testing Jot a bit, I started to get it. In my last post I even dotted a line between an application wiki and a platform for model-based/model-driven application development -- they seem like a promising match.

Wikis for Core Infrastructure

So now after digging in to Jot even more, and also letting Clay Shirky's idea of Situated Software (software purpose-built for a very small group of users) sink in (with help from techdirt and Jon Udell), my mental curtains have opened still further.

GroupWare, as pioneered by Lotus Notes, was a big and difficult email-centric enterprise collaboration product. But unless you were an IT programmer, you and your team were out of luck as far as carving out a little custom corner of Notes for secure, private collaboration. This gap was targeted by the first generation of "Internet team" products that came on the scene in 1997 to help pioneer the TeamWare market. Products like Inovie's TeamCenter (my company), Netmosphere's ActionPlan, and Instinctive's eRoom had missions to serve ad-hoc, browser-empowered project teams, who would come together, collaborate and share project plans and documents, and then disband. Some were more focused on collaboration, some more on project management, but they all pre-integrated a set tools for working with tasks, documents, reports, tabular data, chats, etc. Many more have come since, including OnProject, Basecamp, Groove, and Lotus Team Workplace to name a few.

The limitation with these TeamWare products is their strength: they nicely pre-integrate sets of tools that certain teams find very helpful, but if your team can't or doesn't care to work within the processes best-served by those tools, you're out of luck! There's never been a TeamWare platform that gave most teams immediate value out of the box, but could then be easily programmed to enable self-service, tightly integrated mini-apps for specialized needs (ie., Situated Software). From what I've seen of JotSpot, it's got the juice to be this platform (looking forward to understanding capabilities of SocialText, TWiki, etc., as well) :

  • Pre-built apps and templates to provide TeamWare's hit-the-ground-running with familiar processes and best practices

  • Well thought out, easy to use, easy to copy, tweak, and evolve data and programming model in JotScript, to foster a development community and capture the long tail of Situated Software

  • Blank-canvas approach of classic content wikis for content collaboration, web linking, and document sharing

  • XML-centric core to avoid creating a big island of information, and perhaps even acting as a "good-enough" platform for integration a la composite applications

  • Everything gets revision controlled (even the apps and documents), so everyone can sleep at night.

Sure there are always hurdles around culture, application management, directory integration, etc., but these strike me as solvable over time given the ingredients that go into application wikis. So whether application wikis grow up to become the platform for the diverse needs of model-based apps and/or TeamWare and/or Situated Software, their future looks bright.