Monthly Archives: September 2009

Succession Planning

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in September of 2009.
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Idealware’s blog is not the best place for me to talk about my kid.  There’s Facebook and Flickr> for that sort of thing. But I want to talk about him anyway, and open a discussion, if possible, about children and the nptech community.

My career is in nonprofit technology (nptech). My plan is to continue working for nonprofits (or, if for profit, a for profit with a mission and a socially beneficial bottom line) until I retire or expire.  While my ten year old boy’s stated goal is to become a NASA engineer, and that’s great, I want him to understand why I chose my path of purposeful work and understand what’s involved in it, should he, at age 15 or 25, decide that NASA isn’t the only option.

A few year’s back, former NTEN CEO and current MobileActive CEO Katrin Verclas suggested adding a program for teenagers at the annual nonprofit technology conference. This is a brilliant idea. We have a great opportunity to educate children in the work we do: advocating for social justice and good; raising funds and resources in order to act effectively and independently; and collaborating in a  supportive community to accomplish our varied, but sympathetic goals.  Whatever our children end up doing with their lives, we have something worthwhile to teach them.

When I was a teenager, I was active in a youth group called Liberal Religious Youth (LRY). LRY was an independent group affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, but it was not a particularly religious group. The themes were more along the lines of addressing social concerns and building community. At ages sixteen and seventeen, I was creating flyers, renting facilities, giving presentations, leading sessions, planning menus and taking a leadership role that prepared me far better for my current career than high school actually did.

When I look at our nptech community, I see a similar environment, where our commitment and excitement regarding our work is bolstered by a natural adoption of supportive camaraderie and peer development. We definitely model something of value to our high school age kids who will face career choices and challenges like ours. We can develop a mentoring program that passes on our expertise in resource management, activism, fundraising, community building, nonprofit technology and social media as a social activism tool. This would provide them with an early introduction to the skills that will be needed when we retire to continue the important work that we do. As much as a grant, donation, or volunteer effort, this is an investment in our work and our world that we should be making.

I want my son to develop his skills and community with socially-conscious peers and mentors.  I want his generation to be more effective than we are at solving problems like poverty, pollution and social injustice. It’s not enough for us to try and save the world. We should be prepping the next generation to keep it protected.

Who’s with me?

Swept Up in a Google Wave

This article was originally published on the Idealware Blog in September of 2009.

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Photo by Mrjoro.

Last week, I shared my impressions of Google Wave, which takes current web 2.0/Internet staple technologies like email, messaging, document collaboration, widgets/gadgets and extranets and mashes them up into an open communications standard that, if it lives up to Google’s aspirations, will supersede email.  There is little doubt in my mind that this is how the web will evolve.  We’ve gone from:

  • The Yahoo! Directory model – a bunch of static web sites that can be cataloged and explored like chapters in a book, to
  • The Google needle/haystack approach – the web as a repository of data that can be mined with a proper query, to
  • Web 2.0, a referral-based model that mixes human opinion and interaction into the navigation system.

For many of us, we no longer browse, and we search less than we used to, because the data that we’re looking for is either coming to us through readers and portals where we subscribe to it, or it’s being referred to us by our friends and co-workers on social networks.  Much of what we refer to each other is content that we have created. The web is as much an application as it is a library now.

Google Wave might well be “Web 3.0“, the step that breaks down the location-based structure of web data and replaces it completely with a social structure.  Data isn’t stored as much as it is shared.  You don’t browse to sites; you share, enhance, append, create and communicate about web content in individual waves.  Servers are sources, not destinations in the new paradigm.

Looking at Wave in light of Google’s mission and strategy supports this idea. Google wants to catalog, and make accessible, all of the world’s information. Wave has a data mining and reporting feature called “robots”. Robots are database agents that lurk in a wave, monitoring all activity, and then pop in as warranted when certain terms or actions trigger their response.  The example I saw was of a nurse reporting in the wave that they’re going to give patient “John Doe” a peanut butter sandwich.  The robot has access to Doe’s medical record, is aware of a peanut allergy, and pops in with a warning. Powerful stuff! But the underlying data source for Joe’s medical record was Google Health. For many, health information is too valuable and easily abused to be trusted to Google, Yahoo!, or any online provider. The Wave security module that I saw hid some data from Wave participants, but was based upon the time that the person joined the Wave, not ongoing record level permissions.

This doesn’t invalidate the use of Wave, by any means — a wave that is housed on the Doctor’s office server, and restricted to Doctor, Nurse and patient could enable those benefits securely. But as the easily recognizable lines between cloud computing and private applications; email and online community; shared documents and public records continue to blur, we need to be careful, and make sure that the learning curve that accompanies these web evolutions is tended to. After all, the worst public/private mistakes on the internet have generally involved someone “replying to all” when they didn’t mean to. If it’s that easy to forget who you’re talking to in an email, how are we going to consciously track what we’re revealing to whom in a wave, particularly when that wave has automatons popping data into the conversation as well?

The Wave as internet evolution idea supports a favored notion: data wants to be free. Open data advocates (like myself) are looking for interfaces that enable that access, and Wave’s combination of creation and communication, facilitated by simple, but powerful data mining agents, is a powerful frontend.  If it truly winds up as easy as email, which is, after all, the application that enticed our grandparents to sue the net, then it has culture-changing potential.  It will need to bring the users along for that ride, though, and it will be interesting to see how that goes.

——–

A few more interesting Google Wave stories popped up while I was drafting this one. Mashable’s Google Wave: 5 Ways It Could Change the Web gives some concrete examples to some of the ideas I floated last week; and, for those of you lucky enough to have access to Wave, here’s a tutorial on how to build a robot.

Beta Google Wave accounts can be requested at the Wave website.  They will be handing out a lot more of them at the end of September, and they are taking requests to add them to any Google Domains (although the timeframe for granting the requests is still a long one).

NPTech Update

Notes from here and there:

  • On a different topic, NTEN’s Online Technology Conference starts Wednesday. You can still register, and, if you tell them that you heard it here, they’ll give you a 25% discount. Who’s says it doesn’t pay off to read my blog?

Is Google Wave a Tidal Wave?

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in September of 2009.

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“The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

Google is on a fishing expedition to see if we’re willing to take web-surfing to a whole new level.  My colleague Steve Backman introduced us to Google Wave a few months ago. I attended a developer’s preview at Techsoup Headquarters last week, and I have some additional thoughts to share.

Google’s introduction of Wave is nothing if not ambitious.  As opposed to saying “We have a new web mashup tool” or “We’ve taken multimedia email to a new level”, they’re pitching Wave as nothing less than the successor to email.  My question, after seeing the demo, is “Is that an outrageous claim, or a way too modest one?”.

The early version of Google Wave I saw looked a lot like Gmail, with a folder list on the left and “wave” list next to it. Unlike Gmail, a third pane to the right included an area where you can compose waves, so Wave is three-columner to Gmail’s two.

A wave is a collaborative document that can be updated by numerous people in real-time.  This means that, if we’re both working in the same wave, you can see what I’m typing, letter by letter, as I can see what you add. This makes Twitter seem like the new snail mail. It’s a pretty powerful step for collaborative technology. But it’s also quite a cultural change for those of us who appreciate computer-based communications for the incorporated spell-check and the ability to edit and finalize drafted messages before we send them.

Waves can include text, photos, film clips, forms, and any active content that could go into a Google Gadget. If you check out iGoogle, Google’s personal portal page, you can see the wide assortment of gadgets that are available and imagine how you would use them — or things like them — in a collaborative document. News feeds, polls, games, utilities, and the list goes on.

You share waves with any other wave users that you choose to share with.  User-level security is being written into the platform, so that you can share waves as read-only or only share certain content in waves with particular people.

Given these two tidbits, it occurred to me that each wave was far more like a little Extranet than an email message. This is why I think Google’s being kind of coy when they call it an email killer – it’s a Sharepoint killer.  It’s possibly a Drupal (or fill in your favorite CMS here) killer.  It’s certainly an evolution of Google Apps, with pretty much all of that functionality rolled into a model that, instead of saying “I have a document, spreadsheet or website to share” says “I want to share, and, once we’re sharing, we can share websites, spreadsheets, documents and whatever”.  Put another way, Google Apps is an information management tool with some collaborative and communication features.  Google Wave is a communications platform with a rich set of information management tools. It’s Google Docs inverted.

So, Google Wave has the potential to be very disruptive technology, as long as people:

  • Adopt it;
  • Feel comfortable with it; and
  • Trust Google.

Next week, I’ll spend a little time on the gotcha’s – please add your thoughts and concerns in the comments.

The Case Against Internet Explorer 6

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in August of 2009.

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Photo courtesy JChandler’s Tombstone Generator

Internet culture addicts like me have taken gleeful note of Mashable’s campaign to rid the world of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer version 6.  Anyone who develops public web pages (and cares if they are compatible with other and/or modern browsers) is sympathetic to this cause.  The hoops that we have to jump through to make our pages look acceptable in IE6 while taking advantage of the nearly decade old CSS positioning commands are ridiculous.  When I was doing web consulting a few years back, IE6 compatibility coding generally took up about 20% of the total project time.

Microsoft’s response to the Mashable campaign was to defend the brontosaurus-like pace of corporate IT Departments in performing application updates. Here’s the pertinent MS Spokesperson quote:

“[Corporate IT departments] balance their personal enthusiasm for upgrading PCs with their accountability to many other priorities their organizations have. As much as they (or site developers, or Microsoft or anyone else) want them to move to IE8 now, they see the PC software image as one part of a larger IT picture with its own cadence.”

Huh! This from the company that kept threatening to drop Windows XP support in order to force us to Vista.

But, sarcasm aside, this is a flawed argument.  The “cadence” in which an IT Department upgrades software should be influenced by changes in the general technology landscape. Business (and nonprofit!) networks use the Internet. Those networks are already integrated with the world at large. Since the web browser is one of the primary interfaces to external data, it’s easy to make the case that it needs to be upgraded more often than word processors and spreadsheets.

Many major webs sites are design with CSS 3.0 formatting. IE6 doesn’t fully support the  11 year old CSS 2.0 specification. IT departments that aren’t prioritizing this upgrade are providing poor support for users who need such websites.  They’re also creating more work for themselves supporting the workarounds. Large companies might have far more computers to upgrade, but they also have software that automates that process.  The key issue is training. Microsoft dramatically changed the user interface of Internet Explorer with version 7, but there are options to default back to the IE6 layout. The hassle of learning the new interface is certainly not as bad as not being able to properly use websites that are designed for more modern browsers.

What really irks me is the way that Microsoft has described the “IE6 must die” campaign’ as being intended to appease “technology enthusiasts”. The push to move users to modern browsers is not about my desire to use non-business applications like Facebook, Digg and YouTube (and classifying these web sites as “non-business”is a pretty debatable point as well).  It’s about my desire to benefit from advancements in web technology, and provide my staff with new tools that promote their mission-focused work.

With the HTML 5 specifications about to become the new standard, IE6 is obsolete. The types of things that IE6 doesn’t support are the things that are making web-based applications viable, affordable alternatives to traditional software.  Microsoft has been in the driver’s seat of the companies that set the pace of technology advancement. They should be consistent in supporting the migration and adoption to those new standards, given a reasonable amount of time.  Eight years is reasonable.  IE6 must die, and Microsoft should join the chorus.