» Archive for January, 2007

Report from Lotusphere

Friday, January 26th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

Going almost directly from the Information Overload symposium last week to Lotusphere in Orlando this week creates an entirely new level of information overload.

Let’s take a look at what we saw:

First and foremost, IBM announced the public beta of Lotus Notes and Lotus Domino 8 to commence in February.  Previously code-named “Hannover,” the new version, which supports composite applications and uses the Eclipse framework, replaces both Lotus Notes version 7.x as well as the Workplace tools IBM offered in recent years.  The Notes client will support enterprise mash-ups, linking multiple systems together in a variety of ways to provide better and more contextual information to knowledge workers.  The Notes 8 client runs on Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh, and Linux operating systems.

Features include “Recent Contacts” and “Message Recall.”  With Recent Contacts, users will get a one-click, dashboard view of recently sent emails and chats to quickly locate a key contact.  The Message Recall feature will let users quickly recall an email message after it has been sent by mistake, saving a user from a potential conflict or miscommunication situation.

Within Activities, knowledge workers can bring together various e-mail messages, instant messages, documents, and other items into one logical unit.  It uses Web 2.0 technologies including Backpack, Atom, Tagging, REST, Ajax, and JSON.

Notes 8 also includes productivity editors that support the Open Document Format (ODF).  Knowledge workers can create word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents in ODF format.  The productivity editors also support Microsoft Office and Open Office file formats.

IBM also announced Lotus Sametime 7.5.1.  The new version of the instant messaging and collaboration tool adds real-time point-to-point video, tabbed chat, integration with Microsoft Office applications including Microsoft Outlook, support for Linux servers, and Apple Macintosh client support.  The tabbed interface is especially useful.  The integration with Office should prove invaluable.

Although a lot of companies were at Lotusphere displaying tools that work with Sametime and Notes, one that stood out was Siemens’ OpenScape.  OpenScape has been around for several years but only worked with Microsoft LCS.  The new version, which is Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) based, has shed its LCS roots and is built on Siemens’ unified SOA applications framework.  It provides click-to-contact, click-to-conference, and what Siemens refers to as “full-spectrum” presence functionality to Lotus Sametime users.  Integration with Lotus Sametime will provide users with presence information about a colleague’s availability – before attempting communication – thus enabling them to choose the best method and time to communicate effectively on the first attempt.

Leveraging its research over many years, IBM entered what it calls Social Networking with Lotus Connections.  Social Networking may be a misnomer, first because it is not “social” but more importantly because it is what some might refer to as a knowledge management tool in disguise.

Connections is designed to connect users to communities of interest, facilitate participation in professional networks, and connect people with information more quickly.  Connections has five components: Activities, Communities, Dogear, Profiles, and Blogs.  Activities supports organizing work and interaction around a specific activity, allowing knowlege workers to organize, share, and collaborate with colleagues; Blogs allows users to create, post, and search through blogs and also supports Atom feeds.  Lotus Notes version 8 users will be able to access Activities directly from the Lotus Notes inbox, including support for dragging and dropping an e-mail message directly into an activity.  Websphere Portal and Lotus Connections users will be able to use light weight portlets to display new Dogear bookmarks, recent blogs entries, and search Profiles to locate an expert.

Last but not least, IBM announced Lotus Quickr, which replaces Quickplace.  The new offering is a team collaboration and content management platform that connects with desktop tools including Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes 7.x and 8.x, wikis and Weblogs, and content repositories.  Knowledge workers can save attachments into a document library or team workspace.  When sending e-mails with attachments, users are prompted to send a link instead of the attachment.  Quickr is built on open Eclipse technology and users can navigate through Quickr content using Windows Explorer or the My Documents interface.  Users may also syndicate content using RSS/Atom feeds.  A personal edition that includes desktop connectors and content library capabilities will be provided to licensed users of Lotus Notes and Domino at no additional charge.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Addressing Information Overload – A Steering Committee Forms

Friday, January 19th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

Although many believe this to be technology induced, the problem of information overload is not new.  Centuries ago, scholars bemoaned the problem of too many books and not enough time or memory to take it all in.  Scholars who wrote about the problem included Roger Bacon, Samuel Johnson, and Conrad Gesner, considered the father of the bibliography, who in 1545 in the Bibliotheca universalis warned of the “confusing and harmful abundance of books” and suggested reading strategies for coping with information overload.

This takes us to the beginning of this week.  20 researchers and corporate managers met for two full days in Redmond, Washington to begin to study modern day information overload, which some refer to as “infomania” or the “infoglut.”  The workshop was organized by Mary Czerwinski of Microsoft Research, Prof. Sheizaf Rafaeli of Haifa University, and Nathan Zeldes of Intel.  Attendees were invited based on their “proven track record” in studying and combating the problem.  The entire workshop was devoted to what was extraordinarily productive interaction (fulfilling the promises by Nathan Zeldes of keeping face-to-face time “relentlessly productive”), i.e. plenary group discussions and smaller round table sessions rather than formal presentations (there were none, no slide presentations either for that matter).

To reduce information overload during the event itself, the conference organizers created a wiki through which a lot of preliminaries were handled, including personal statements from attendees.  That allowed us to roll up our sleeves (metaphorically, since the Seattle area was in the midst of an ice storm and big chill) and get to work right away.

Attendees ranged from Gloria Mark, an associate professor at the University of California at Irvine, who studies how information technology impacts human behavior;  Max Christoff, an executive director in Morgan Stanley’s Information Technology department, who focuses on knowledge worker productivity issues; to Deva Hazarika, who founded a company, Clear Context, to build products that help knowledge workers use e-mail more effectively.

We started with an analysis of the problem, continued with a look at what companies and individuals are doing now to cope, what the impact of the problem is (some companies are estimating that the problem costs them billions of dollars in lost productivity and opportunity costs), and how the problem should be looked at going forward.

This was not just a one-time meeting.  The group’s activities will continue through the wiki, working groups that grow out of the main group, and future face-to-face meetings.  In part, I saw this as the beginning of a steering committee for addressing information overload in the knowledge economy.

After two days of continuous discussion, I’m on information overload myself.  It’s rare to attend a meeting where all of what is being said is so interesting and the discussions themselves are so participatory that e-mail and IM messages are only checked during breaks.

It will take me a bit of time to organize thoughts and conclusions from the event – but look for them in this space starting next week.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

CES, MacWorld, and NAIAS – What the Knowledge Worker Needs to Know

Friday, January 12th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

It was a week of sensory and information overload.  In fact, I cannot imagine a stranger confluence: the Consumer Electronics Show, MacWorld, and the North American International Auto Show – all happening at the same time.

Although the connection between these three events might not be completely self-evident, there are themes which recur through all three, a kind of technological convergence.

After three years of rumors and a false start (the Motorola Rokr, jointly developed by Motorola and Apple, which limited the user to 100 songs and didn’t look terribly different than the Motorola E398), Apple introduced the iPhone and in the same breath dropped “Computer” from its name .

Before Apple’s announcement, Cisco, which has owned the iPhone trademark since 2000 through its acquisition of Infogear (which was granted the iPhone trademark in 1997), announced it was very close to a deal with Apple on the trademark.  In mid-December of last year, Cisco’s Linksys unit announced the iPhone family of voice-over-IP solutions.  Yesterday evening, Cisco filed suit against Apple for trademark infringement.  According to published reports, an Apple’s head of worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller, defended Apple’s use of the iPhone trademark, saying that Apple was using the trademark for a “cell phone” while Cisco’s device was a “cordless phone.”

MacWorld doesn’t usually take place concurrently with CES so the iPhone announcement automatically meant that any other phone announcements were overshadowed, to say the least.  Following the announcement, Apple stock was up more than 8%, while Palm and RIM fell 5.7% and 7.9% respectively.  Motorola was only down 1.8%.

So, about the iPhone.  No surprise here: it includes a music player, camera, Web browser, and e-mail client.  It is elegant, has excellent ergonomic features (including automatic brightness control and automatic portrait-landscape switching based on how the unit is held), and without question raises the design bar for every maker of mobile phones.  But it also has its warts.  The keyboard, which appears on the beautiful glass screen, makes typing difficult (obviously there’s no tactile feedback); for data it supports Wi-Fi and EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution) but no 3G mobile data services.  Oh, one more thing: the iPhone’s design bears an uncanny resemblance to the LG KE850, which won a Product Design Award for 2007 from the International Forum Design.

Clearly some assumptions were being made, specifically that the iPhone was going to cut into Palm and BlackBerry sales.  But despite the beautiful design, innovative interface, and new functionality, its success is not a given.  While it includes Cingular and Apple’s new “Visual Voicemail,” which lets users (note that I am not saying “knowledge workers”) look at a listing of voicemail messages and click on a particular message, this works only with Cingular’s voicemail service, which, of course, works only with Cingular’s mobile telephony network.  It’s not unified messaging and don’t expect your corporate voicemail messages to start showing up on your iPhone any time soon”

The iPhone also lacks basic security features found in every BlackBerry and it costs three times as much (the iPhone sells for $499 and $599 for the 4 Gbyte and 8 Gbyte models respectively, compared to the BlackBerry Pearl available at $199.  These are all reasons that enterprise road warriors embrace the Palm Treo and BlackBerry design (not to mention the full QWERTY keyboard). The iPhone has as much chance of becoming enterprise standard issue as a Mac.  Another pothole along the iPhone road is that the market share for phones in the $500 and over price point is barely 1%.

Motorola, in the meantime, introduced the new Moto Q Pro, with VPN support and fairly robust security features that include complete data encryption, data wiping, and real-time event logging.  (Motorola also introduced Motomusic, a platform that promises to make it easy for users to take music from a Windows-based PC and load it on a phone.  It will also provide access to content from more than 200 online music services, along with a few new phones such as the Motorizr Z6, to take advantage of Motomusic.)

So, outside of Apple, what does the knowledge worker need to know?

Oqo unveiled their model 02, touted as the world’s smallest Vista-capable PC, featuring integrated mobile broadband capabilities from Sprint.

Nokia unveiled an updated the N93i video camera/phone hybrid, now lighter and slimmer.  It works with Six Apart’s new Vox videoblogging service.

Alienware introduced the Hangar 18, a component style PC with 1.5 Terabytes of storage, four built-in TV tuners (two analog, two digital), and a built-in 1000W amp and subwoofer.

Sharp introduced the ultrasharp 108″ Aquos LCD TV.

Zalman introduced a 3D monitor intended for gaming.

And at the North American International Auto Show, Ford and Microsoft unveiled Sync, a factory-installed, in-car communications and entertainment system .  Sync is designed to recognize all things Bluetooth and USB 2.0, and integrate them into the car’s systems.  This goes far beyond what automakers have been offering thus far; BMW was the first car maker to make Bluetooth available in its vehicles back in 2002, but the Bluetooth functionality was limited to wirelessly connecting a mobile phone to the car.  Sync supports mobile phones, smartphones, music players, USB drives, and iPods.  Using Bluetooth, a driver can wireless stream Internet radio to the car’s audio system.  From the demos Ford provided, their in-car interface looked a bit clunky but the speech recognition functionality makes up for that.  Sync supports full speech-to-text conversion not only for placing calls but also for selecting music tracks (“Play Beethoven Moonlight Sonata” or “Play Genre Jazz”).

Sync will also read text messages to the driver, allowing 20 predefined responses to be sent (“I am driving and cannot reply to your message without violating multiple traffic laws” might be one).  Sync promises to automatically transfer your mobile’s phonebook but I think this might be a bit optimistic; out of the 25 Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and smartphones that have passed through our offices recently, fully one third did not support phonebook transfer and several refused to work with the car, in our case a BMW, at all.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Promise of a New Year

Friday, January 5th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

What a difference one day makes.  On December 31, we are at the end of a year, recollecting its joy, sorrow, tragedy, progress, and setbacks.  By the time we celebrate the arrival of the New Year, everyone is ready for a fresh start.

On January 1, we have a tabula rasa; everything looks promising.

What a difference a single day makes.

Then reality sets in.  We start to work and we get interrupted.  Interrupted by IMs, interrupted by spam, interrupted by reporters calling about our research on interruptions. But I digress.

So what can we do about interruptions?

Let’s add one item to our New Year’s Resolutions from last week, specifically to learn the difference between urgent, important, and neither of the above.

Human nature is one of the culprits when it comes to dealing with interruptions in the workplace.  People don’t always know how to differentiate between the urgent and the important, or they think that everything that arises is both urgent and important.  A question about the financial report that’s due in six weeks is important, but it’s probably not so urgent that it can’t wait for a better time.  The opposite is also true: something that is not that important – even with a deadline – can wait until it’s truly convenient for both parties.  What then is a truly good interruption?  For the interruptee, it would be an interruption that is both urgent and important to both parties, a confluence of interests.

The cost of interruptions, which we calculated to be $588 billion to the U.S. economy (including “recovery” time, which based on our surveys and interviews of over 1000 knowledge workers can be 10-20 times the duration of a brief interruption), is not a trivial matter.  We can take steps to reduce the number of interruptions by acting only on “good” interruptions and putting off “bad” ones (presumably all of those that are not good) until a time where the impact of the interruption will be lessened.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.


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