Tag Archives: blogging

What I’ve been up to

Ah, poor, neglected blog. Wanted to post a few things here:

  • The Techcafteria website has been cleaned up a bit – consulting pitch removed, as I’m fully employed at Earthjustice; I also beefed up the documents section. I was happy to find my Non-Profit Times article on Data Management Strategy is now available in their free archives.
  • Upcoming articles: I’ve submitted a draft of an article on Document Management to Idealware, which might see publication in the next month or two. I’m a big proponent of enhancing the process of saving and opening documents, and I have a lot of experience with it, having spent most of my career at law firms. I’m also one revision away from a good guide to dealing with your domain name – how to register it, what to look out for, and what to do if things go wrong. My impression is that this is a big headache for NPO’s and I can’t find much written on it at Techsoup or other logical places.
  • The NTC is coming up quickly! I’m really looking forward to NTEN’s annual Non-Profit Technology Conference in New Orleans in March. I’m leading a panel on Change Management (“the human side of technology adoption”) and I’m participating in one or two Open API-related sessions, following up on my first Idealware article. I’ll say it again: Holly and the team at NTEN put on the absolute best event you can hope to go to. I’ve been to tech conferences put on by Microsoft, O’Reilly and others, and they should simply be ashamed of themselves. The planning and quality of the event, meals, sessions, locations for NTC always excel.
  • And I’m on the committee for NetSquared’s next Developer Challenge, tying in with the 3rd annual NetSquared Conference in May. Billy Bickett and others at Techsoup/Compumentor are looking to make it even more exciting this year than last, with a host of big name companies sponsoring and participating.

Shlock and Oh! Facebook’s social dysfunction

I am not a luddite. In fact, I’m a big advocate of most of the concepts of social networking, and a long-time participant. But, about a month ago, A persistent friend roped me into joining Facebook, which, as you no doubt realize, is about the trendiest web site on Earth right now, basking in more than it’s fair share of memespace. Man, am I hating it.

Facebook is decidedly social. You fill out your profile, connect to your friends, and, from that point on, every time that you or a friend do anything on Facebook, the rest of your community knows about it, as a constantly updating scroll of alerts keeps you up to date. I know that Scott won a Disney trivia quiz, that Holly is now friends with Heather, and that Michelle has been experimenting with Trac, my favorite source code repository software. That’s a lot more info than LinkedIn tells me about my associates when I log on there. I also know, or have good reason to suspect, that a co-worker of mine broke up with his partner recently, because he updated his profile to note that he’s single. That was more info than I really wanted to know…

Most of what can be done on Facebook involves using the custom apps that programmers and pseudo-programmers (like me) can easily develop for the platform. The problem is that the majority of these apps are astoundingly trite in nature. There are hundreds of apps to let you poke your friends and compare your pop culture acumens. But there’s little of substance. I know that what drew the bulk of my friends to this platform was the promise of using it as a mission-marketing and fundraising tool for our non-profit orgs. There are plenty of apps that support that, but I’m pained to see where this is a very effective tool for it, unless donating to something meaningful makes people feel a bit better about themselves after six or seven hours of online tickling, poking, and otherwise engaging in remarkably trivial pursuits.

Social networking takes a lot of forms on the net, from the little “people who bought this also bought that” notes on amazon to the web-based communities around games and mobile devices to the whole hog social networks. The latest educated speculation is that Google and Yahoo will start adding social networking features to their email platforms, and Firefox 3 will act as an aggregator, pulling data from multiple social sites into the browser interface. If nothing else, this tells me that I can choose to join Facebook or Myspace today, but next year the challenge will be opting out.

Slam the blogosphere if you want, but the social interaction there starts with someone writing something they care about. And if you read a blog entry that speaks to you, you can engage in a focused conversation via the comments. Or, as I’ve done a few times in the past, roundtable discussion among related blogs. Something about the trivial level of automated discourse on Facebook almost knocks out the potential for meaningful interchanges, and when something more real pops up — like someone changing their profile to reflect a very real change in their life and who they are — it’s awkward to see it scroll up, sandwiched between the latest flixter movie showdown and the news that some friend of yours is bored with their commute. This almost moves the level of discourse between my friends and myself about three steps closer to spam. The Facebook brand of social networking is far too dominated by the fact that, even for an internet junkie like me, the majority of things that I can do on Facebook are not that interesting, meaningful or real.

New Home, OpenID Redux

Okay, I finished the big job of migrating my blog from it’s old home to my new digs, and I think I have the bugs out, with thanks to the two blogs that linked to my OpenID article, and the two people who let me know that the email was broken (making it impossible for people to register). We’re off to a good start!

I offered some preliminary thoughts and asked a question about OpenID, proposing that, while this is a boon for users, it might have a negative impact on an organization’s ability to coax contact information out of web visitors, as providing personal info will no longer be a requirement for authenticating to a web site.

Johannes Ernst, a man who designs identity management software for a living, responded on his blog with a few counterpoints (which I’ll brutally summarize):

  1. People often present false information in contact forms anyway;
  2. “Because users can provide their OpenID that they also have provided to other sites, the site can actually learn more about the user — which other websites they frequent, for example.” Johanne qualifies this one with the rider that people won’t necessarily use their OpenID to share such data.
  3. With control of their identity, the visitor might feel more confident about sharing information.
  4. With single sign-on, and easier access to the authentication-required content, visitors might be more compelled to join and share.

Simon Willison, a co-creator of the Django Web framework, anticipated my question and replied on January 10th. Simon makes the clear point that OpenID will only replace the “enter your name and type a password twice” portion of an online registration. It won’t fully replace requests for further data and confirmation, such as the graphical Captchas that we’re all getting so used to. In fact, he proposes, the fact that a user has an open ID doesn’t mean that they aren’t a spammer — we shouldn’t accept it as full authentication, just a convenience for the password tracking part.

Simon has me fairly well sold that this isn’t as big a threat as I thought. But I still have a lot of questions about the idea, and I’m curious as to how it will play out once the standard is established (assuming it will be – I suspect so). if the authentication is as weak for the web service as Simon suggests, will an industry like SSL arise, adding verification to OpenID authentication? And I’m still intrigued as to what conventions will grow out of everyone having a personal web address, which, of course, will lead to some sort of web page.
Johannes made a comment that really intrigued me on his post, when he said:

” Personally, if I have a choice between knowing a URL pointing to your blog, and having the information you typed into a web form that I put up, I take the blog any time. (That might even be true if the form’s data was all correct!) That is not data that your typical CRM system knows how to manage, but as we all know in the blogosphere, extremely valuable to gain some view on the user’s social network and reputation and interests.”

Johannes has a pretty interesting idea for a marketing app there. While he suggests that the data is free-form, I’d counter that – most blogs follow very standard conventions, and many bloggers (hey, me included!) use the standard text that comes with our blogging platform to denote them. So just as HR staff no longer “read” resumes, how far can blog scanning be behind?

Why I won an Anonymous Blogger award at NTC

I’m just back from NTEN‘s wonderful annual conference, which was in DC this year. This is my third year attending, and my first in my brand new career as a technology consultant. You can check out that gig at my new domain, Techcafeteria.com. Right off the bat, at the Member’s reception, I was the proud recipient of an “NTENNIE”, which is awarded to those of us who are big NTEN supporters. It’s a pretty congenial and humorous honor – recipients receive a headset of antennae to wear, and my seven-year old boy was thrilled to appropriate that on my return.

I was somewhat surprized by the category I won in – “people most likely to be blogging anonymously”. I asked Holly which anonymous blog they suspected I was the author of, and she didn’t have one – they just thought that it roundly described me. So, what I take away from that is that people recognize that I have a lot of opinions and I’m not shy about jotting them down on public forums. But, clearly, my lack of attention to this blog has made it completely invisible.

Now, my last day, after six and a half years, as the lead technologist at SF Goodwill was Friday, March 30th. And the conference ran April 4th through 6th. The timing was great – I made a lot of good connections, and walked away with some serious referrals and opportunities to ply my new trade. It was really different attending the sessions, though, not as a representative of a large non-profit, but as an independent consultant, more interested in selling my services than buying others. I think I have a lot of chops that I can offer quality consulting with, and I’ve been picturing the work and looking forward to that. But the actual consulting is only half the job. The other half is business development, and that’s a bit of a stretch for me. At the conference, I conferred with a lot of other IT consultants and really started to work through what this career change means. It’s clear that I have to do what I pretty much did at the conference, and become a salesman. When all is said and done, it’s about paying off the mortgage and feeding the kid. But it’s also clear to me that the best way to sell my services is to be an active member and healthy contributor to the non-profit tech community, something which I’ve been unable to do successfully while working those 80 hour weeks at Goodwill. So I can’t afford to be an anonymous blogger. Heppy lend is going to pick up steam, and it will be republished at Techcafeteria, which I plan to build into a large resource and home for advocacy of sound technology practices at non-profits. The big issues, today?

  • Data standards, data management, data planning. This was my theme at NTC, where I led a session on “Managing Technology 2.0” and participated in the live version of the Open API Debate.
  • Breaking the myth that technology funding is overhead that drains mission-effectiveness. This is a battle-cry that needs to be brought to the technology-averse funders and CEOs who don’t understand that not investing in a technology strategy is equivalent to organizational suicide.
  • Deployment planning and strategies. Orgs need to have a sustainable approach to technology purchasing, development and implementation that factors in how they will keep it running, not just how much it will cost to get it installed. My second bullet is meaningless if there aren’t effective strategies for using the technology that’s deployed.

Overall, I’ve just stepped out of a 21 year career as a technology startegist and implementer, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way (I’d say “hard lessons”, but, the truth is, I’ve managed to avoid a lot of fiascos in my career!). There’s a lot more to technology deployment than just buying the server and training the staff. If technology isn’t tightly aligned to organizational strategy, objectives, and business processes, it’s a sinkhole – you might as well stick with the typewriters. So look for this to be the meat of this blog and the message of Techcafeteria.com for the near future.

Google’s Writely Beta

Google has opened up the beta of their online Wordprocessing application, Writely. Done in Ajax and, as usual, containing some clever features. I’m most intrigued by how cleanly it converts Word documents to HTML, something that Word itself is abominable at. But it also seems like a very nice interface for remote blog posting (yes, this wa a test!) and a decent tool for collaboration. Funny how it arrives just shy of Windows Live.