» Archive for May, 2008

Overloaded by Comments: A fresh take on user reviews

Friday, May 30th, 2008 by Cody Burke

For anyone who has attempted to draw any insight from user reviews on a Web site, be it hotel reviews on a travel site or product reviews on Amazon, it will come as no surprise that the system is fundamentally flawed.  The current systems rely on either full text comments, which have to be waded through to find relevant information, or ratings – typically on some variation of a five star scale – that address only a few issues, with no room for subtlety.

Rating systems are extremely useful, they steer us towards what we want by communicating to us the experience of others, helping us to make better informed decisions.  However, if they are not quick to use, visually communicative, and most importantly, genuinely helpful by providing us with useful information, then they only contribute to information overload and slow us down while we search though pages of comments looking for relevant information.

We recently had a look at a prototype of a new tool by the name of Quick Comments, from Involve Technologies.  Quick Comments basically generates a tag cloud of terms that describe aspects of a product.  The terms text size becomes larger with positive ranking, lower with negative.  For example, a budget hotel may have the term “cost” in large text at the top of the cloud, but the term “cleanliness” in very small text at the bottom of the cloud.  Numerous other terms can be used, allowing for subtleties and creating a tag cloud that communicates strengths and weakness in a quick, intuitive, and visual way.

The shortcomings of traditional comments and rating systems – the pages and pages of comments and the rigidity of formal ratings – are eliminated in this model.  The size of the text clearly indicates if a term is positive or negative, and by allowing for a large number of terms, a more comprehensive picture of the product or service is communicated.

The utility of this kind of tool does not stop with the review of goods and services.  For the enterprise, potential uses abound – market research, internal expertise and content ranking, and employee feedback on initiatives – just to name a few.

Critically, tools such as Quick Comments are taking a fresh look at how information is conveyed and attempt to do so in a new and more relevant way.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

To File or Not to File, That is the Question

Friday, May 23rd, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

A few weeks ago, we discussed the trials and tribulations that a private equity firm was having in the area of e-mail filing.  Secretaries routinely spent 2+ hours per day filing e-mail messages.  I received numerous comments from readers but Chuck Piotrowski, Corporate Records Manager at Central Vermont Public Service, engaged me in a series of e-mails discussing the pros and cons of filing messages.  This is a discussion that will continue and I’m sure other readers may wish to chime in as well.

An edited version of that correspondence follows:

CHUCK:
I love the Basex newsletter. In the past I have been mostly in alignment with your opinions, but in this instance I am not.

I can think of at least 5 reasons to organize e-mail in a business:
1.) Collaboration – Share with those who need it and reduce redundancy.  When people leave the company they leave behind a mountain of unorganized e-mail.
2.) Business Continuity.
3.) E-discovery – who wants to wade through tens of thousands of unorganized e-mails during discovery?  Search engines are good, but they do miss a lot.
4.) Legal Retention – if you don’t organize by subject you’d have to keep all e-mail forever.
5.) Cost of maintaining info-garbage.  What costs more, backing up the joke of the day or having the employee delete the joke of the day daily?

Basex is a great resource and thanks for reading my feedback!

JBS:
I don’t disagree with your points but the basic problem I have with filing e-mail is that it makes you choose one file folder (not possible to choose multiples unfortunately) and do we put that e-mail in under John Doe or Project XY?

The time it takes for the knowledge worker to think about this each time creates friction and each bit of friction slows down the pace.

All this serves to point out that e-mail as it now stands is an immature medium and that we need to find better places to memorialize important issues.

Do you agree?

CHUCK:
I do agree with you that choosing one folder for an e-mail with multiple subjects is a conundrum.  A conundrum that the e-mail user should not be bothered with for every e-mail.  Now, it may be in Joe’s interest (or Joe’s company interest) to have Joe go through a bit of analysis upon saving the e-mail.

To your point [that] e-mail doesn’t have built in classification tools…yet, but you can make some EDMS systems demand a classification upon depositing an e-mail.   Some vendors even have “auto-classification tool” that will scan your e-mail repository and add classification tags.

15 years ago I heard “Send me an email, because my voice mail is full” and now…how many times have you heard, “If you really want to reach me, give me a call, because my inbox is too full!”

JBS:
Chuck, now we’re getting onto a slippery slope, having knowledge workers start to become knowledge engineers.  Let me give it some additional thought.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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

Keeping Pace With Gen Y: Technology gap between Generation Y and enterprise threatens productivity

Friday, May 16th, 2008 by Cody Burke

As a new crop of knowledge workers prepare to graduate from colleges and universities and begin to enter the workforce, it is worth reflecting on how the workplace is prepared for their arrival.  The fact of the matter is that most companies are ill-prepared for this group of Generation Y, or Thumb Generation, workers.  As a group, they have a unique familiarity with technology that vastly exceeds that of previous generations, and the expectations they have for their future work environments are shaped by the omnipresence of interactive and collaborative technologies in their lives.

What does this mean for the educators who teach these students, and what are the implications for the enterprise that wants to recruit and retain these knowledge workers?  As the next generation of knowledge workers enters the workforce, it is necessary to consider the following:

- Members of Generation Y, the “Thumb Generation,” have grown up in a vastly more connected and technologically sophisticated world.

- Educators are realizing two things, first they must prepare students to be competitive in a technologically advanced workplace, and second that students themselves have fundamentally changed and require updated tools and methods to reflect technological advances.

- The concurrent management of large and complex social networks and simultaneous participation in work or the classroom has become the norm for this group.

- Next generation learning spaces are changing the way that space and technology interact to meet the needs of students and pedagogy.

- Lecture capture systems are changing the way students learn and retain information.

- With technology rendering tools obsolete far faster than in the past, it is necessary to rethink how students are being prepared for the workforce and how the work environment is set to welcome them.

- These “digital natives” want immediate gratification and are already growing impatient with “tired old enterprise apps” that are the lifeblood of many corporations.

The disconnect between the personal adoption of technology by students means that the traditional “push” model of teaching may no longer be suitable in an environment where students regularly experience a more interactive learning experience outside the classroom.  For companies, understanding how to manage future knowledge workers will be of paramount importance for recruitment and retention.  This means that business as usual is not good enough for the newest crop of knowledge workers – companies need to rethink the needs and expectations of this group and take steps to appeal to a generation of knowledge workers used to faster and more streamlined tools.

Find out what you can do now to prepare – have a look at our new report, Technologies to Teach the Thumb Generation.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

How Do We Know What We Don’t Know?

Friday, May 16th, 2008 by Ellen Pearlman

China, Internet Filtration Technology, and Knowledge Sharing

There are 1.3 billion people in the People’s Republic of China, more than enough warm bodies for the government to employ hundreds of thousands of full time Internet censors, which they do.  I can not be certain if this missive is being read either on line or in the transmission stage from China to the States.  All messages going out of the country are filtered for key words as are all websites being accessed.  Therefore I will omit the most heinous key words (that have to do with current world events over a major once every four years sports event occurring in this country) and talk around it as if I were being censored.  Which, in essence, I am.

This filtration is called the “Golden Shield Project”.  There are only three points of entry to the Internet from China, two in Japan and one in Hong Kong.  All the international gateways have a “network sniffer”.  These were originally manufactured by Cisco but now China’s own technology giants make the same product.  The effects of sniffer use is most evident in the handling of messages that do not agree with the ruling party’s ideology when these messages are funneled through one of the major Internet e-mail providers.

Web sites are also filtered to varying degrees.  The simplest way this is done is with a DNS (Domain Name System) block that doesn’t let the request for information get through.  However, if you do manage to get the site, it may return with a “connect reset” or “site not found” message that is indicative of the second level of blocking.  Then there is the “URL Roving Keyword Block” of inflammatory politically incorrect terms that change depending on the political winds.  Lastly there is the page content blackout, as occasionally happens to CNN or the New York Times if the government does not like the information on their pages.  It recently happened when the female third most important politician in the States met with a politically banned person of note.

Part of the rabid patriotism in this country is heartfelt, and part of it is through direct and intentional manipulation of state media.  Unless I supply my Chinese friends with information they tend to be rather uninformed about the world events that tarnish the image of their country.  This leads to the question of how do you know what you don’t know?  The simple answer is that you don’t.  I mention specific events concerning world news to friends, and they are shocked.  They had no idea.  Even people who work high up in cultural and ministerial positions are unaware of the extent of manipulation and filtering of their own private data.  Such data manipulation is apparently no longer confined to the theoretical, it is a fact of life.

Other knowledge sharing “problems” can crop up in China that would be unlikely elsewhere.  One friend in a sensitive cultural post had the misfortune to use Yahoo.fr (France) as her Internet provider.  When the recent tensions with that country were at their highest, none of her messages went out, a terrible situation for a person in the government who deals with time sensitive international bookings.  However, once you understand the parameters there are many shades of grey and tints of brown and blue that enable one to find cracks in the blockading walls.  Knowledge is fluid and analogies go a long way.  Human sensitivity and nuance is vast.  Cisco routers can take you only so far.  In the meantime, those in China will have to rely upon the creative use of language.  Language is poetry and as we all know, poetry can set you free.

Ellen Pearlman is a senior analyst at Basex.

T-Mobile’s Sprint to First Place

Friday, May 9th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Could T-Mobile USA go from No. 4 to No. 1 in the U.S. mobile phone market?  The same week that T-Mobile announced the launch of 3G service (see MOBILITY), the Wall Street Journal reported that Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s parent, is considering a bid for Sprint Nextel, the No. 3 player.

Telekom is increasingly looking outside Germany to make up for lost ground in its domestic fixed-line business.  The company has seen its greatest revenue growth in the U.S. market; T-Mobile USA added 3.6 million customers last year, boosting revenue to $19.3 billion from $17.1 billion in 2006.  Telekom first entered the U.S. market with its €33 billion acquisition of VoiceStream in 2000.  The acquisition saddled Telekom with €67 billion in debt and caused the company’s stock to lose 90% of its value.  Then-CEO Ron Sumner and his successor Kai-Uwe Ricke were both forced out of the company, in part due to pressure to divest itself of the U.S. unit to reduce debt.

It wasn’t so long ago, less than a year in fact, that rumors were continuing to circulate over the possible sale of T-Mobile USA.  Last June, Deutsche Telekom slowed its overseas expansion and Rene Obermann, the company’s CEO, told the business daily Handelsblatt that Deutsche Telekom had other priorities at the moment.

But T-Mobile USA continued its expansion and, having spent over $4 billion on new spectrum as the top spender in a 2006 Federal Communications Commission auction of new licenses to use the public airwaves for wireless services, commenced significant network upgrades.  Although T-Mobile is arriving late to the 3G party in the U.S., that may be less of a disadvantage than one might presume.  Its competitors have already raised consumer awareness for new and faster data services available with 3G.  T-Mobile, with plans to roll out 3G services across major U.S. markets by year’s end, should be able to benefit from their collective efforts.

T-Mobile also acquired mobile operator SunCom, with 1.1 million subscribers, in September 2007.

Meanwhile, the Sprint-Nextel merger has been a disaster.  Given problems integrating the two companies’ networks and cultures, Sprint has seen its churn rate soar and its stock tank.  Sprint also saw the loss of 800,000 customers as Qwest Communications, a local exchange carrier, switched its customers to Verizon Wireless.

A Telekom takeover of Sprint would be simplified if the company were to shed its Nextel unit (talks to this effect have already been reported in the press) and move ahead with its $12 billion joint venture with Clearwire to provide ultra fast wireless Internet access for mobile phones and laptops.

Unlike T-Mobile USA and T-Mobile in the rest of the world, Sprint’s network, like that of Verizon Wireless, is based on the CDMA standard while T-Mobile and AT&T both use the European-developed GSM standard.  This could be resolved both by gradually migrating Sprint customers over to T-Mobile’s GSM and 3G network in the short term and in the longer term by migrating both to the next generation LTE (3GPP, or 3rd Generation Partnership Program Long Term Evolution) standard.

It’s unlikely that Deutsche Telekom will be satisfied with a No. 4 position (and a distant No. 4 for that matter, as T-Mobile had 28.7 million customers at the end of 2007 compared to Sprint Nextel’s 40 million) in the U.S. for long.  A sprint to first place is not out of the question.

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

Don’t Organize: Save Time and Get More Done

Friday, May 2nd, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the e-mail server meltdown occasioned by too many “reply-to-all” e-mail.

At the time, I thought this might be as bad as it gets.

I was wrong.

Yesterday, on a flight from London to Munich, I spoke with a person sitting nearby, the managing director of a private equity firm based in Germany.  The topic turned to technology and he asked me if I could make a recommendation to solve his biggest problem, namely the filing of e-mail.

My answer was simple: I don’t file e-mail.  I explained that our e-mail system (Lotus Notes) has full text search and that I long ago decided it was a waste of time to move my e-mail out of my inbox into folders.  I further added that the filing away of e-mail messages brings with it several problems, most significantly the choice of which folder one should use.  You can’t of course place an e-mail into several folders similar to the way you might tag something with multiple criteria.  For example, if an e-mail message could go into one of the following folders, Knowledge Economy, Professional Services, IBM, and Microsoft, which should I choose?

After further discussion, he told me his reason that the filing of e-mail was such a concern.  He recently discovered that his secretary spends two hours per day filing e-mail.  He further learnt from his secretary that she is not alone – everyone (i.e. all of the secretaries) spend ca. two hours per day in such endeavors.

Needless to say, given a decent number of secretaries in the firm and the fact that this was one of several points where their work was impacted by information overload, I was speechless.  (Yes, really, I was.)

I wondered out loud how they might get any work done at all.  Our managing director agreed with that assessment.

Further discussion led me to question whether e-mail was the right modality for the type of information exchange being conducted.  My fellow traveler will be discussing this with me shortly, I presume.

In the meantime, if you are wondering what legions of administrative assistants and secretaries might be doing that is keeping them oh so very busy, we now have an answer.

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


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