Sunday, February 26, 2006

Tonight: Jeff Conklin on Dialogue Mapping to Solve Wicked Problems

UPDATE: due to the flood warnings in Marin county, we have cancelled Jeff's presentation tonight and will need to re-schedule.  Very sorry!

Jeff Conklin is speaking tonight at the SDForum Collaboration SIG on Dialog Mapping and how it can help us solving "wicked problems."

If you've ever participated in a meeting that went nowhere and would like to improve, you need to know about Dialog Mapping

Come on by Pillsbury Winthrop (2475 Hanover st. in Palo Alto) from 6:30 to 9p tonight and learn from this lively and interactive session.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Groupware 2.0: SF Tech Sessions Kicks off with Joyent and Zimbra

Niall’s first SF Tech Session last night was a hit.  Oh so glad to have this kind of event in the city rather than the peninsula. It’s now a recurring event on my calendar, and I encourage anyone nearby to check it out next month.

Speaking of calendars, last night’s session brought three Groupware 2.0 startups in for a smackdown, er, joint presentation: Kerio, Joyent, and Zimbra.  Robert Anderson and Tom Bridge have comprehensive summaries of each presentation.  Here’s my take.

At their heart, all three are vying for their piece of the Groupware market, currently dominated by MS Exchange, IBM/Lotus, and Groupwise (having 93% of the market combined).  But one level down, these startups take very very different approaches.

» Kerio is an Outlook/Exchange clone for the web, and looked very nice as far as Outlook clones for the web go.  But really not interesting in 2006 from where I sit.

Zimbra-ss_po_numbers» Zimbra is open source and wants to be the Linux of Groupware,  They started off boasting of their 100,000 seat deployment to H&R Block, and after the demo I can see why they’re getting that kind of traction so soon after launch 6 months ago.  The app (web client + server) is incredibly fast, ajaxy-interactive, and in general a well thought out integration of shared email, calendars, and little apps called Zimlets.

A Zimlet is a better, Ajaxy versions of a Zaplet.  Zimlets allow integration with external systems at both the client and server.  Code runs on the server to do the heavy-lifting of connecting to web services etc., but the real joy is their approach to client integration. 

From the demo, client integration happens in two ways.  First, Zimlet icons can accept email and calendar drag-n-drop events to kick off the appropriate activity based on what was dropped. 

The second method is more tasty. A Zimlet can parse your email content and present previews and links based on the info it recognizes as interesting.  They demoed recognizing addresses to pop up Y!Maps and recognizing PO numbers to automagically pull in PO info from an external order entry system.  This was more than read-only integration — the popup presented an “approve” button to allow the user to take action.

Suffice to say I was impressed, and it beats the pants off  the service we’re using at JotSpot.  I hate that thing.

Zimbra is about to announce hosting partnerships, so look out for that.

JoyentScreenshot» Joyent, in contrast, is Groupware 2.0 for small teams.  Zimbra’s 100,000 user deployment pitch is very different than Joyent’s pitch as a hosted service with an offering that maxes out at 25 people.  Want 50 people?  Buy two 25–packs for now.  (Note: they’re working on alternate approaches to this limit, or you can buy and host your own “Accelerator” appliance).  Question the approach, but I admire a company that knows its target customer and sticks to it.

Of the three, Joyent definitely impressed me the most from a product perspective for two reasons. 

First they’re evangelizing “cubicle security”, aka everything is open by default.  The premise is that small teams work better when they share their inbox/calendar/people/files/pages, so why not default to “shared” rather than closed?

This worked for Flickr, but the jury is out if this works for your team.  They claim it works for current customers, and I actually agree in theory (except for the inbox part).  This default-to-public of course affects the interface in all sorts of subtle ways, which is one of the reasons it feels like a fresh, innovative product.  (Note: you can privatize anything — it’s just not the default.) 

Second is the interface itself.  It’s very well laid out, and the mail/calendar/people/file/pages/??? tabs all share an integrated look and feel and set of interaction metaphors.  For example they’ve gone hog-wild and made everything possible an RSS feed, and have taken a blogish comment approach to the reply-all email thread nightmare.  You don’t reply, you just comment.  I can see these things being the right approach to integrating this suite of apps.

It will be interesting to see where Joyent take this as a platform.  Their Ruby on Rails foundation, combined with their underlying hosting service (Textdrive) hints at interesting extension and partnership possibilities.  I wonder where they’ll take the core mail/calendar/files interface next…

tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mashup Camp: Another Successful User-Generated Conference

Mashup Camp was a total success and a lot of fun.  It was great example of a user-generated conference —  they really held true to the camp/unconference format.  This despite having 300+ people and what appeared to be a healthy amount of cash and in-kind sponsorships.  Congratulations to David, Doug, , Kaliya, Mary, Doc, and their team.

Building on many sources of inspiration, this camp’s success was based on how they found a way to give just about every attendee a chance to share.  The format alternated between all-hands-on-deck sessions, which gave 30 seconds of mic time in front of the entire audience, and appropriate time and space to gather and dig deeper.  For example:
  • API providers/enablers announced their wares, and could then grab a table and put up a sign for followups. 
  • Folks interested in leading a session on their pet topic were given the mic, and then given a free slot on the schedule. (They had a lot of rooms!) 
  • Mashup devs pimped their mashup to the entire audience, and were then given a table and ample speed-geeking time for demos.  The speed-geeking (think speed-dating for demos) ensured folks saw lots of demos in a short period. 
This was just the right amount of *camp style bottom-up vs.organizing structure IMHO.

I attended great sessions on business models, rapid app dev of mashups, and mashing wikis among others.

But the real action was the speed geeking.  I saw 15 mashup demos and each one impressed me in a different way. 

  Danny Markham mashed up EVDB to show you where your favorite bands are playing.

  The Mozes crew let you control a Flickr slideshow by sending tags via your cell phone.

  Anurag Nigam of Partysynch.  Organize parties with your mobile phone.

  David Quiec of for locations/maps.

  David Schorr of weatherbonk and skibonk.  Microclimates and maps  (a favorite).

  Stewart Nickolas of QEDWiki.  IBM’s version of a JotSpot Wiki (very nice).

  Robert Metcalf with FlySpy. Buy airline tickets by finding your spot on the price curve.

  Daniel and Taylor McKnight  Music and events and mp3’s (contenst winners!)

  John Herren of and  Get tag clouds and get notified of secret betas.

  Chris Radcliff of EVDB.  There ware a bunch of EVDB-powered mashups.

  Chao Lam of ClipClip. for copy/pasted web page clippings.

  Adam Trachtenberg with DudeWheresMyCar.  Fun eBay/maps mashup.

  Brad Hintze of Bungee Labs. Mashing up, MS Exchange, maps, and a bunch of others.

  Adrian Holovaty showing Crime + maps mashup.  (My favorite – check it!).

  Brian Richer with Mashup your exercise or health training program.

And to think I missed 12 others.  There were a lot of mashups on display, and I was struck by their overall quality. 

From the poll I took, the majority of these were started as hobby sites or to scratch an itch, and have evolved to become either resume sites or sites w/enough traffic that they’re looking to mine some ca$h.

One mashup I demo’d around a bit was a JotSpot Tracker / / mashup that alerts you to touring bands you’re listening to.  It’s is a Tim and Abe production and is very cool, but we weren’t quite ready to show it widely yet.

There’s already a signup page for the next mashup camp, details TBA.  Attend if you can!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Heading to Mashup Camp Tomorrow

JotspottournamentcropI'm heading to Mashup Camp tomorrow morning.  Looking forward to it -- I expect to learn a bunch and meet lots of smart new folks. 

I'm still amazed there are 300 confirmed RSVPs for Mashup Camp.  There were so many people who didn't sign up in time that SocialText is holding a parallel overflow event called MuchoCamp.  Nice!

BTW I'll be the guy with the JotSpot Tournament t-shirt on.  Say hi -- I may even have a Tracker mashup to show you if the demo gods are good to us ;)


Saturday, February 18, 2006

Love My New Squeezebox

Squeezebox_1For years I’ve been running a 50 ft. RCA cable from my PC to my stereo.  I just couldn’t bear to sit a PC in the living room, but was sold on the convenience MP3s.  At the time there wasn’t a single MP3–based audio product for home systems, so I bought a long cable and waited.

When we recently moved, I decided to pay attention and yes, there are now a ton of options out there.  After a bunch of research I opted for the Squeezebox from Slim Devices

The Squeezebox is a little wifi-powered device that sits on your stereo and talks to a computer running their SlimServer software.  It also browses and connects directly to Internet radio stations which is a real plus — looking forward to listening to KCRW.

BTW my second choice was the Sonos player because it’s remote control kicks booty (think color-ipod-as-remote-control).  But besides the higher price, they saddle you with an amp that you don’t need.  No thanks…

Oh one other cool thing about the Squeezebox is that their software is open source, and there appear to have an active community.  E.g. even though the standard remote is a bit boring, they’ve got a ton of remote control plugins.

First Impressions

I set it up this morning and my first impressions are actually mixed.  The device itself is beautiful.  I also really like the interface, and now that I’ve got it connected it works beautifully

The setup could have been so easy, but ended up feeling so hard.  The main issue was related to my wifi password.  I entered it, was given an IP, and all appeared ready to rock.  The little wizard took literally 3 minutes to run through after opening the box. 

Turns out the IP it gave me was some “fallback” IP (?) and I couldn’t connect to anything.  And no helpful error messages.

This started a bit of a wild goose chase to figure out what was wrong w/my setup.  Was it connecting to a neighbors network?  Did I have a problem w/my router? I turned to the support forums and was blown away by the responsiveness of the community.  I think I had 7 answers to my 6 questions in a half hour’s time.  Big bonus.

In the end I had a bad password.  I wish they would have told me that instead of connecting me to some phantom IP and sending me on a wild goose chase. The only other step was the need to poke 3 holes in my PC’s firewall.

Bug snaggy steup behind me, I love it.  They actually do an amazing job of marrying a standard TV-style remote to a big and beautiful display to make it very easy to browse your collection, playlists, etc.  The only thing missing is the album art.  Hint hint for SqueezeBox v4.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Need to Take a Simple Poll? Try Quimble

We've been working on a multi-month documentation project over on the JotSpot Developer Connection, and have been thinking about different ways to gather feedback. 

A poll is one obvious way, but Google "online poll" and it's a mess of results that I don't feel like wading through.

So last night I was reading the Renkoo blog and came across their poll on calendar preference powered by Quimble.  I took the poll, liked the experience, poked around the site, and in 4 minutes had signed up and had a nice little poll of my own on the JotSpot developer blog.  Nice!

Now all they need is multi-question polls, and away all us merry pollsters will go.

ps. And check out Renkoo the next time you want to plan your next lunch/dinner/drinks with friends and you can't figure out when everyone can make it or where to go.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Collaboration On the Brain

I went to a couple of fun “collaboration” events last week.  The first was “How Hackers Collaborate” put on by the SDForum Collaboration SIG (co-chaired by yours truly).  The un-panel format put some legendary Silicon Valley DIY “hackers” like Lee Felsenstein (Homebrew Computer Club) and Jim Warren (West Coast Computer Faire) with soon-to-be legendary nu-skool leaders like David Weekly and Jeff Lindsay (SuperHappyDevHouse) to talk about how tech folks get together to get stuff done. 

I really enjoyed hearing the juxtaposition of HomeBrew’s “benevolent dictator” model, where Lee would lead an auditorium of people in discussion and then call on and cut off people based on his discretion, with the bottom-up SuperHappyDevHouse/Barcamp model that uses a wiki and paper taped to the wall to organize an event.  Cris Messina summed the evening up when he said he feels like history is repeating itself, but in a good way, with new tools and spirit.

The second was the “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” workshop last Friday put on by Eugene Kim and Jeff Shults.  It was a great group of tool providers and tool users. We spent the day in small groups brainstorming the keys to successful collaboration, 

My main takeaway regardless of tool or environment, all successful collaborations require:

  • A clear goal

  • Aligned self-interests around the shared goal

  • Trust that parties are working towards that shared goal ongoing

Seems obvious, almost trite.  But I bet if you took an inventory of your life’s current collaborations (w/co-workers, neighbors, business partners, community partners), at least one of these areas would be need shoring up. 

Tools need too help ensure this environment is created, or they risk the dust bin.  Food for thought for us here at wiki and collaborative app provider JotSpot…

The second key takeaway was the impact of the goal granularity to successful collaborations.  Said another way: collaborating around a shared mission can be much less effective than collaborating around a shared project goal.

This was illustrated by the relative success of Democrats vs. the Republicans in the last decade. Democrat constituents try too hard to share mission/philosophy, resulting in stalled action on the ground because of hang-ups around big-picture themes. Republican constituents may differ greatly in overall mission (e.g. Christian right vs. business conservatives), but tend to ignore their differences in high-level mission and instead set granular goals like getting specific bills passed or voters registered.  Doh!

I also enjoyed the afternoon brainstorm with Chris and  Jeffrey Osborne about creating a permanent co-working space in SF, and how that might spread globally.  I want this to happen badly — folks need a creative place to meet, mingle, and work on gettin’ stuff done that’s outside the office and outside the home. 

Update: forgot there's a wiki set up for this:

, ,