» Archive for December, 2008

The Flip MinoHD

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

I am having way too much fun with the high-definition version of the Flip Mino video camera (Flip calls it the MinoHD and says it’s the “world’s smallest” HD camcorder).  It weighs only 85 g and can store 60 minutes of high-quality video, supports Windows and Mac (including QuickTime and iMovie), and is inobtrusive, as those you film will think you are holding your mobile phone.  Image quality is greatly improved over the original version, which wasn’t at all bad.

Here are two clips, a ride on the S-Bahn in Vienna and my attempt to conduct the virtual Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) earlier today at the Haus der Musik museum in Vienna.

It’s good for quick product demos as well and you can easily publish an edited video to YouTube or distribute it privately via a greeting card or e-mail sent via Flip’s servers.

Virtual Wiener Philharmoniker

S-Bahn from Vienna to Stockerau

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

Conference Call

Friday, December 26th, 2008 by Cody Burke

At 3:25 a.m,, the mortgage calculator tool on the FSK Bank Corp website crashed for 2 hours and 9 minutes, causing a minor inconvenience.  The next morning, a conference call is scheduled to get to the bottom of the problem.

This is the set up for the short film Conference Call made by former Basex analyst Andy Maskin and released last week.  Maskin wrote, directed, and produced the seven minute film, which gives the viewer a glimpse of the people on the other end of an utterly pointless conference call.

Conference Call is an inside joke, the kind of film that if you’ve been there, on that kind of call, is funny and all too true.  There are six participants on the call, led by smarmy Nick, who not only joins late, but interjects himself in the conversation mid sentence, interrupting a question about heavy network traffic with “Heavy traffic, where? 2-85 looked clear to me.”  Awkward small talk ensues.  As people join the call, it becomes apparent that no one really knows anything about what happened, and the attempt to investigate the mortgage calculator crash is a formality at best, as Phil, the one who will ultimately make the final decision, never actually joins the call.

There are some genuinely funny moments in the film, most involving Nick.  He hits the mannerisms of a self-absorbed and clueless manager perfectly, mistaking Kevin the Australian of being British multiple times, and spouting vague requests such as “When will you know when you will know?”.  A hungover and barely conscious Cindy also brings some great comic moments, including the classic escape technique involving “another call.”

A really enjoyable aspect of Conference Call is the pacing, Maskin manages to capture the feeling of watching time tick away as you wait for someone to join, find something, or exchange meaningless small talk.  Luckily, the film is a funny seven minutes, unlike the awkward real life calls it reminds one of.

Conference Call is presented by Flight Risk Films, and can be viewed here.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Calculating Information Overload

Friday, December 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira and David Goldes

A year ago, we announced that Information Overload would be the 2008 “Problem-of-the-Year.”  Now that we know that Information Overload costs the U.S. economy a minimum of $900 billion per year, it appears that it will be next year’s problem as well.

Whether sitting at a desk in the office, in a conference room, in one’s home office, or at a client, the likelihood of being able to complete a task (what many call “work”) without interruption is nil.  Content creation has gone off the charts and new forms of content are being pushed towards us at an ever increasing pace.  It’s not just e-mail, junk mail, text messages, phone calls, and monthly reports anymore.

Information Overload causes markedly lower productivity, diminished comprehension levels, compromised concentration levels, and less innovation.  According to a recent Basex survey, it also causes health problems: 35% of knowledge workers experience work-related back and/or neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, headaches, or stress related symptoms.

One reason the problem continues unchecked is that few people seem to recognize its cost to their organization.  Last week, to help companies understand the extent of their financial exposure, we launched a free, Web-based Information Overload Calculator.  The calculator allows you to calculate the impact of the problem on your own organization.

So far, well over 1000 people, in industries ranging from advertising to zoology, have calculated their exposure.  If you haven’t yet calculated your exposure, please fasten your seatbelt and go to http://www.iocalculator.com.  You’ll be glad you did.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.   David M. Goldes is President of Basex.

From the “You Can’t Ever Have Too Much E-mail” Department

Friday, December 19th, 2008 by Sachin Anand

Google has introduced a new feature to Gmail users, including those using Google’s enterprise e-mail offering.  We’ll let them tell you about it first.

From the Google Lab blog:
“When we’re working on features for Gmail, the email etiquette on the team is to reply all so everyone involved is kept in the loop.  Mark was an intern here this past summer who got frustrated when he’d reply to an e-mail only to realize that he forgot to reply all and had to resend the message.  Thus, this Labs feature, which makes reply all your default selection.”

Regular readers of this space know why using reply-to-all is a really bad idea as do members of the LifeHacker discussion forum.  To wit:

“Oh god, I hope people at my office don’t find out about the reply-all default preference.  I already get so, so many unnecessarily “reply-all”-ed e-mails it’s not even funny.”

“I have always hated reply-all, and now it can be a default?  *I feel cold* ”

“Reply All… that brings back some fun memories from my days in Cubeland.  I always enjoyed the 4 pages of quoted conversation, preceded by “Me too.”

“Setting Reply-to-All as the default should come with a big warning dialog advising the user that replying to all too many times can result serious injury or death, or at the very least, the recipients wishing these things upon you.  Or maybe you should have to pass an e-mail etiquette test before being able to change the setting.”

Sachin Anand is a senior analyst at Basex.

Information Overload: Now $900 Billion – What is Your Organization’s Exposure?

Friday, December 19th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

According to our latest research Information Overload costs the U.S. economy a minimum of $900 billion per year in lowered employee productivity and reduced innovation.  Despite its heft, this is a fairly conservative number and reflects the loss of 25% of the knowledge worker’s day to the problem.  The total could be as high as $1 trillion.

Information overload describes an excess of information that results in the loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks.  It remains a key challenge for companies that operate in the knowledge economy but it is nothing new. Indeed, it was very much on the minds of thought leaders of an earlier information age centuries ago, including Roger Bacon, Samuel Johnson, and Konrad Geßner whose 1545 Bibliotheca universalis warned of the “confusing and harmful abundance of books” and promulgated reading strategies for coping with the overload of information.
In modern times, information overload was first mentioned in 1962, in an article entitled “Operation Basic: The Retrieval of Wasted Knowledge” by Gertram M. Gross.  The problem was predicted by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock (1970), and in 1989, Richard Saul Wurman warned of it in his book, Information Anxiety.

Workers spend up to 50 percent of their day managing information, according to a recent survey conducted by Basex of more than 3,000 knowledge workers, and streamlining these processes can have a significant impact on productivity.  But determining the extent of the problem is the first step.

To help companies understand their financial exposure, Basex has created a free, Web-based Information Overload Calculator at www.iocalculator.com, allowing companies to calculate the impact of the problem on their own operations.  [N.b. Our legal counsel urges that users be seated when operating the calculator.]

Indeed, in order to remain competitive in 2009, companies will need to begin an information overload bailout, i.e. taking active countermeasures, in order to remain competitive.  Nothing is more disruptive to the way we work than information overload and we need to reverse this trend as quickly as possible.

Some companies are already doing so.  Intel, a company with 86,300 employees, sees information overload as a serious problem. “At Intel we estimated the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week,” said Nathan Zeldes, a principal engineer focusing on computing productivity issues at Intel and founding chairman of the Information Overload Research Group, an industry consortium.  “We continuously look at applying new work behaviors that can help reduce its impact.”

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

Book Review: The Status Seekers

Friday, December 12th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

The Status Seekers
Vance Packard

With so much concern about the “Digital Divide” which may occur in the United States between the Net-haves and the Net-Have-Nots, I dusted off my trusty 1959 copy (older than me!) of Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers, which is a very accessibly written book by a sociologist about class differences in the United States in the 1950′s.  Vance Packard first made his name in 1957 with his best-selling work, The Hidden Persuaders, which discusses how marketers influence and manipulate consumer thought and perception.

It’s very difficult to write about class and class differences and still come off sounding non-judgemental.  This is something which Packard does handily.  Packard starts off with a look at what many in the United States believe to be a classless society.  Of course, this is not the case, and is an impossibility in any society, as members of each class need each other.  Packard is at his best when he examines “Behavior which gives us away” – an honest and revealing look at habits and traits of different folk from different stratas of society.  He has his own vision of the American Dream: family, community, individualism, etc.  Today, we might call this “family values,” but Packard’s come without the right-wing extremism.

Granted, Packard is anecdotal and cites colleagues and stories far more than statistics.  Academics looked down on him in his day as a “pop sociologist” and marketers (thanks to The Hidden Persuaders) denounced him as a “morality huckster.”

In his later years, Packard was treated with greater respect.  He was the subject of a serious 1994 biography (by Daniel Horowitz).  And historian Jackson Lears, in a New Republic review of his work, wrote that Packard “deserves a place alongside more formidably intellectual figures in any history of twentieth-century thought.”  Packard articulated what others were afraid to say.  And he did so in a book that reached the very audience that needed to hear it.

Order American Social Classes in the 1950s (selections from The Status Seekers) (the original is no longer in print) online right now from amazon.com.

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

What We Are Doing About Information Overload

Friday, December 12th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

It’s once again time to report on what we are learning from our Information Overload Multi-Client Study.  So far over 3,000 knowledge workers have participated in online surveys and follow-up interviews.  (For more information on this program, please click here.

The root causes of Information Overload continue to include a marked increase in content creation, an increase in technologies used to receive information, an increase in e-mail traffic, more interruptions (which lead to an increase in recovery time), and even greater ubiquitous connectivity.

This in turn causes markedly lower productivity, diminished comprehension levels, compromised concentration levels, and less innovation.  It also causes health problems: 35% of knowledge workers experience back and/or neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, headaches, or stress related symptoms.

We are seeing that the work-life balance has become lopsided in many organizations and restoring this balance will be a challenge.

While some knowledge workers take reasonable steps to combat the problems, others are driven to extremes.  Here are a few comments from our interviews, where knowledge workers tell how they remain focused and work under the pressure of a deadline:

- “I break down projects into discrete tasks (and complete them) to avoid boredom.”
- “I turn off my IM and e-mail notification.  If I do check one e-mail before my designated e-mail time, I find I am completely screwed as far as focus is concerned.”
- “I take my laptop somewhere where I can hide.” and from another “I find a secluded spot… sometimes it’s my car.”
- “Truthfully, I tend to turn grumpy to the point where no one will want to speak to me until I am finished.”

Next week Basex will launch an Information Overload calculator that will allow anyone to calculate the extent of his organization’s Information Overload exposure.  Stay tuned.

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

BlackBerry v. BlackBerry

Friday, December 5th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Some of my favorite mobile devices of the past few years have come from Research in Motion, including the BlackBerry Pearl (which we named our 2006 Product-of-the-Year in part thanks to the innovative pearl-like trackball that simplified navigation) and the 8800 series.

Now Research in Motion has introduced two new BlackBerry smartphones: the Storm and the Bold.  The Storm is the latest smartphone resulting from the touch-screen hype that started with the Apple iPhone and it is also the first BlackBerry without a physical keyboard.

It’s also the first BlackBerry I can’t recommend.

Touch-screen mobile phones suffer from a unique set of problems: the bigger screens are a drain on the battery and the user has to look at the screen to do even the most simple task of placing a call instead of getting to know the device’s buttons by feel.

RIM made the display into one big button so that pressing a button on the screen gives the user a satisfying click and you actually feel that you are pressing a button.  That’s where the innovation both starts and stops and it’s about the only thing that is satisfying when using the device.

In using the Storm, I found that pressure from my cheek would regularly turn on the speakerphone during a call.  Also, the device would occasionally slow down or freeze and then function normally.

Web browsing was much slower compared to the Bold (we’ll look at the Bold next week) – what took me 1 min. to accomplish with the Bold took over 12 min. with the Storm.  There were delays of several seconds in moving from portrait to landscape mode.  And did I mention that the Storm does not have Wi-Fi?

To select something, you highlight and then click.  Highlighting was tricky.  In a list, the phone generally refused to acknowledge my selection and preferred either the item above or below.  Scrolling was equally maddening.  Instead of starting to scroll, the phone seemed to think I was highlighting and selected a random entry before scrolling.

Once you get past these glitches, the phone itself isn’t bad.  Calls on GSM networks in Europe were crystal clear as were the few calls I made in the U.S. on Verizon’s CDMA network.  It paired immediately with the new BMW 730d I was driving and transferred the phonebook perfectly.  The built-in speakerphone was excellent.

The Storm supports editing Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents.  And the display itself is dazzling.

Unfortunately, the phone’s glitches will keep you from using some of the best features in the phone until (hopefully) RIM fixes them via a software update.

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