» Archive for May, 2009

Nielsen’s Reply-to-All Experiment

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

In January of this year, amidst much fanfare, Nielsen, a global concern whose businesses range from television and other media measurement to business publications, announced that the company would eliminate Reply-to-All functionality in their company’s e-mail client.  When I first read of this, I had to check my calendar to make sure it was not on or about April 1 and then make sure I was not reading The Onion.  Needless to say, I was somewhat skeptical.   But Gary Holmes, the company’s chief press officer, confirmed that this was in fact the new policy and for confirmation a memo from the company’s CIO, Andrew Cawood, is available on line .

The overuse of the Reply-to-All function in e-mail is, without question, a huge source of e-mail overload within almost every organization.  But there are still many instances where its use is not only warranted but helpful, including e-mail messages where only a few people are copied and a reply to all is warranted.

Instead of eliminating the button, Nathan Zeldes, president of IORG and former director of information overload reduction strategies at Intel, had a far more prosaic suggestion: move the position of Reply-to-All on the toolbar away from Reply, making people less likely to click it.  My advice is along similar lines: I would have recommended that Nielsen modify the e-mail client to notify the sender if he were about to send to more than five people and ask if he wished to continue.

Ironically, it appears that Nielsen did not actually disable Reply-to-All functionality but merely removed the button.  According to on line reports, many employees now use the more cumbersome keystroke “shortcut” or simply added the Reply-to-All button back by customizing the toolbar.  Much of the online discussion was at Techcrunch, where an article on the topic also appeared.  Posts there by individuals indicating they were Nielsen employees indicated that they were largely ignoring the policy through workarounds.

As to how the change is working for them, Nielsen declined to comment.

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

In the briefing room: Nordic River TextFlow

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Collaboration on documents is a given in knowledge work.  Seldom will one author be the sole contributor to a document; rather, two or more knowledge workers typically come together to create the content, make edits, fact check, and finalize.

Nordic River's TextFlow visual version management software

Nordic River's TextFlow visual version management software

There are myriad pitfalls in this process ranging from lost efficiency as a document is e-mailed around for review, requiring those involved to wait their turn to edit, and to version and save conflicts when different versions of the document are inadvertently created.  Manually combining the work of multiple authors and editors into one document is a time consuming process – and definitely not a pleasant one.

To date, the greatest advancements in document collaboration have been the simple track changes and commenting functions found in most word processors.  Being able to insert comments, make edits with the original text preserved, and, through the sometimes dizzying color coding, keep track of who did what and when, makes it possible to pass documents through a workflow process and arrive at a consensus without manually comparing multiple documents and manually merging them.

However, the track changes method is far from perfect.  Its use is premised upon there being a single master copy of a document that is circulated to colleagues and editors, either as a file or via a document repository.  In either case, there is one master copy and knowledge workers take turns writing and editing in a serial fashion.

Nordic River is a Swedish company trying to change that dynamic through TextFlow, an online document collaboration tool that takes a decentralized approach to collaborative document creation.  TextFlow is browser-based, but also can be run as an Adobe AIR desktop application.

The Flash-based system lets the user drag-and-drop documents into the browser window where they are automatically merged with changes shown for approval or rejection.  The suggested changes show up inline in the document (similar to the way a traditional word processor would display tracked changes) unless they are of a larger size, in which case the changes are presented in a color coded box with options to accept, move to scrapbook, hide, and reject.

All changes are also indicated by tabs on the left side of the page that are clickable to hide or show the changes.  A box in the window shows whose documents are being merged, and this can be changed at anytime to adjust which documents are being merged.  For example, it is possible for two colleagues who are subject matter experts to have their documents merged first, and then incorporate the changes of other authors.

TextFlow also serves as a repository by hosting documents on its server that also maintains an archive and history of each document.  Documents that are created in or added to TextFlow can be put into a workflow via e-mail to colleagues and split and merged as many times as necessary.  It is not necessary to be a user of TextFlow to participate in the workflow process.  Because there is no master copy, every collaborator has a copy and can work concurrently without fear of creating version conflicts.

For companies that find themselves struggling to manage the document lifecycle, TextFlow may provide a very simple yet elegant solution that simplifies the authoring process.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Information Overload – The Movie

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

“How does Information Overload impact you?” is a question I’ve been asking knowledge workers for quite some time.  In the past six months, I began to capture their answers with a high-definition video camera.  If you think Information Overload isn’t really a big deal, see what the people I interviewed, including senior executives from IBM, NBC, RIM, and Siemens, have to say.  The answers may surprise you.

Information overload describes an excess of information that results in the loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks.  Organizations of all shapes and sizes have already been significantly impacted by information overload: the problem costs the U.S. economy $900 billion per year in lower productivity and throttled innovation according to Basex.

Basex produced Information Overload – The Movie to illustrate the impact that the problem has on knowledge workers of all levels.  From top managers to administrative assistants, to knowledge workers in the trenches, information overload has a detrimental effect on our ability to perform at our best, leading to poor decision-making, slow project completion and stifled idea generation.  By 2010, the average number of corporate e-mail messages received per person per day is expected to reach 93.  Meanwhile, individual knowledge workers lose as much as 28 percent of the day due to unnecessary interruptions.

Information Overload – The Movie is immediately available in high-definition on YouTube, Blip TV, the Basex Web site, and  the Apple iTunes store.

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

In the Briefing Room: Vasont 12

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 by Cody Burke

The enterprise equivalent of reinventing the wheel, that is, the recreation of already existing content, is a major and costly problem.  It is also a symptom of information overload.  When an organization and its knowledge workers are not able to find what they are looking for, due to too much information, they often end up recreating the work of others, wasting valuable time and energy.

To counter this trend and better leverage existing content, companies need to deploy systems that promote the reuse of content when and where it is needed.  Content is traditionally thought of at the document level; when a knowledge worker creates a document it is named, saved, tagged, and categorized in folders, databases, and document libraries.  Unfortunately, this method does not treat content as modular on a more granular level.  A knowledge worker, viewing a document in its entirety, with its corresponding file name, tags, and other metadata, may miss the fact that a single chapter in the document is relevant to another project.  Extracting that single chapter for reuse could save hours of work recreating it.

One company that does look at content management precisely in this manner is Vasont Systems, a content management software and data services company.  Its content management system, now in version 12, focuses on what Vasont calls component content management (CCM), that is, content that is organized on a granular sub-component level, not a document level.  The advantage of CCM is the ability to store content once, and reuse it in a much more precise way.  CCM is particularly useful for multilingual content delivery to multiple channels.  Content components can be translated as needed, and assembled to form the document that is required.  The benefits of CCM include increased accuracy because content is the same in all instances it is used and reductions in recreation time due to individual components being easier to locate and reuse.

As a CMS, Vasont 12 allows users to create, store, and reuse multilingual content, with all content stored in a singe repository.  The  interface is clean and relatively intuitive; on the home page the user is presented with modules including those for notifications, tasks, workspaces, collections, and queries.  If changes are made to content, the change can be reflected dynamically in all other instances of that content, or other users of that content can be alerted via a notification so they can approve the change if they wish to do so.  Changes in content are indicated by a status icon, making component status clear.

In Vasont 12, project management capabilities have been strengthened to show overall status of projects and workflows in graphical form, a collaborative review process has been added, and a new translation interface shows the number of words and the percentage of a document left to be translated.  Also new is a preview panel that shows content in XML, with comments and annotations.  Vasont 12 is available both as licensed software and via the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Wolfram Alpha – Better Search?

Friday, May 15th, 2009 by David Goldes

Wolfram Research announced the launch of the Wolfram Alpha computation engine.  The new tool is intended to provide specific and precise factual answers to questions rather than present a list of Web sites which may or may not contain the correct answer.  A key problem in search technology today is that such systems provide “results” instead of answers.  50% of all searches fail as a result; we have found that 50% of searches people believe succeeded also failed in some other way, by not providing the most up-to-date, accurate, or correct information although the individual conducting the search believes the answer is correct at the time.

Back in March, founder Stephen Wolfram wrote on his Web site that, “[F]ifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed that they’d quickly be able to handle all these kinds of things … and that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question and have it compute the answer.”  We all know that’s not how things turned out simply by going to Google, currently the most popular online search tool, and entering a search query.

Wolfram Alpha, according to Wolfram himself, understands questions that users input and then calculates answers based on its extensive mathematical and scientific engine.

The system is scheduled to go live later today at www.wolframalpha.com.  We’ll find out then whether Wolfram has found a way to build a better search tool.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

In the briefing room: NewsGator Social Sites

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Cody Burke

With hundreds of millions of regular users, social software has become a part of many knowledge workers’ daily lives – outside of the enterprise.  But the value of such tools doesn’t necessarily end at the firewall.

One vendor recognizing the potential in this space is NewsGator, a company that, in the past, has been synonymous with RSS tools.  NewsGator supports collaboration and social networking in the enterprise through its Social Sites offering, currently in version 2.7.

Social Sites is a social computing layer that is added on to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 deployments.  It brings social features such as Ajax-based profiles, activity feeds, community creation, and idea generation functionality to SharePoint.  Social Sites enables the users to build both internal and external communities, increases use of internal portals, and uses social networking to enhance communications within an enterprise.  All of this takes place through SharePoint, which exports data natively in RSS, making it easy for NewsGator to hook on to.

At login, Social Sites provides a personalized start page that collects information based on a variety of factors, including one’s colleagues (the Social Sites version of Facebook friends), groups and communities the user is a member of, content preferences , and projects.  The profile is customizable and during set up the system will recommend colleagues, groups, and communities based on common tags and interests.  From profiles, a user’s details, contact information, ideas that have been generated, votes for ideas, tag cloud, and content subscriptions are visible.  An activity feed appears on a user’s profile, similar to Facebook’s activity stream, which features relevant notifications, such as bookmarking by colleagues, events, community and group activity, document creation and editing, and content from outside Social Sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  This feed can be sent out as an e-mail digest, in full or in a custom version around topics or certain kinds of activity.

Social Sites can create a social network graph linking an individual with colleagues based on common interests and activities such as tagging.  A mini profile of each individual is one click away but it isn’t possible to pivot from one person’s network to another’s at this time.  NewsGator says this may be included in a future release.

Communities can be created easily and quickly around projects, interests, and idea generation.  The idea generation and innovation aspect of Social Sites is a good addition to the social functions; it allows brainstorming to be conducted relativity seamlessly, without having to utilize a separate system or tool.

A key area featured in Social Sites is the idea of surfacing connections between knowledge workers who do not know each other, and may be working on similar projects unbeknownst to one another.  If Joe in Los Angeles is working on a presentation and posts something to that effect on his blog, and Frank in Munich is working on the same type of project and has added a wiki page on it, the system will make that connection and recommend they become colleagues in the system.

Social Sites is not intended to replace direct communication tools such as e-mail and instant messaging; rather, it serves as shared knowledge repository, be it through exposing users to content that may be relevant to them or functioning as a virtual brainstorming session.  It does, however, allow companies to add valuable social networking tools onto their SharePoint deployments without the risks that the use of public social networking tools entails.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In-flight Internet Access: The Return Flight

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

After a pleasant drive from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and a few days of meetings there, I returned to New York via American Airlines Flight 22.  Similar to the outbound flight to San Francisco, once we hit 10,000 feet, I was able to turn on my Lenovo ThinkPad X300 and find several Gogo hotspots.

Gogo became inaccessible 75 minutes prior to landing

Gogo became inaccessible 75 minutes prior to landing

For most of the flight, I was able to surf the Web, watch videos, read news, send and receive e-mail, and even check the flight’s exact position.  I was also able to use my BlackBerry Bold smartphone, including the BlackBerry Instant Messenger (BBM) feature.  Everything worked until 75 minutes prior to landing.  At that moment, the Internet became inaccessible.  The Gogo hotspots were replaced by locked access points labeled “Unknown.”  The purser on the flight said that the service goes down from time to time but it usually comes back on its own.  This time it didn’t.  Aircell, which runs the Gogo network, was unable as of the time of publication to advise what had gone wrong.

American was the first airline to install Aircell’s Gogo in-flight access on its aircraft and it reportedly costs $100,000 per plane to deploy the system.  The airlines clearly see this as an investment in both attracting and maintaining business customers and garnering incremental revenue.  Other airlines offering the service include Alaska Air, Delta, Southwest, and Virgin America. The rollout is in its early stages so, with the exception of cases such as American’s 767-200 fleet, where all of this type aircraft have the service installed and the routes (e.g. JFK-SFO and JFK-LAX) are predictable, it is difficult to predict on which flights the service will be available.

Despite the hiccup, in-flight Net access is useful to business and leisure traveler alike.  If only a tech support plane could have flown over to help us out….

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

Amazon Kindle DX: Is Bigger Really Better?

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Bucking the trend for smaller footprint devices, Amazon announced a significantly larger Kindle eBook reader.  The electronic paper display is 2.5 times the size of the current Kindle model and, at 535 g, the weight is double the current model.  It will store 3,500 books compared to 1,500.

The new device, dubbed Kindle DX (for deluxe), costs $489, or $130 more than the current and smaller model. Amazon.com is positioning it as a new way for users ranging from students to knowledge workers to read documents, newspapers, and textbooks. It will be available for purchase this summer.

Amazon Kindle DX

Amazon Kindle DX

The Kindle costs as much as an inexpensive laptop and more than an inexpensive netbook.  Neither of these devices is ideal for reading books, of course, yet they are far more versatile in many other areas.
Amazon.com is trying a different business model to sell Kindle DXs: three newspapers, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Washington Post, will offer it at a reduced price (not yet announced) to readers who live in areas where their newspapers are not available for home delivery (subscribers must sign up for a long-term subscription to the Kindle edition of the paper, making this similar to the subsidized purchase of a new mobile phone with a multi-year contract).  Articles displayed in the newspaper’s Kindle edition do not have advertisements and Amazon keeps 70% of the subscription revenue, an arrangement newspaper publishers are reportedly trying to renegotiate.

Amazon launched the device at Pace University and announced agreements with three major textbook publishers, Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, and Wiley Higher Education, to make their books available in the Kindle store.  Six universities including Pace, Arizona State, Case Western Reserve, Princeton, Reed College, and the University of Virginia, are slated to test the device with students in the fall.

So what does all of the extra size, weight, and storage get you besides strength training for your wrist?  To start with, the display size is much more suitable for reading newspapers and books with complex illustrations.  The auto-rotate feature turns pages from portrait to landscape, something that will be particularly useful for maps, graphs, tables, and even Web pages.  The Kindle DX supports PDF files natively, so, unlike with the current Kindle, files do not have to go through a converter.   I’ll reserve judgement at this point but since I most recently favored the Kindle for iPhone over the Kindle device, I’m not sure which way this will go.

You can pre-order a Kindle DX at Amazon.com.

Jonathan B. Spira is the chief analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Oracle Beehive

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira and Cody Burke

We recently had our first look at the new version of Beehive, Oracle’s collaboration solution and replacement for the Oracle Collaboration Suite.  Beehive is available both as an on-demand application or on-premises deployment and it goes up against two heavyweights. One is IBM, which created the groupware market with Lotus Notes and also offers Lotus Connections, Quickr and Domino (the Notes server). The other is Microsoft, which offers customers Exchange and SharePoint.

The effort behind Beehive is in part the handiwork of newly-arrived chief beekeeper and senior vice president of collaboration, David Gilmour, formerly CEO of Tacit Software, a provider of collaborative tools that Oracle acquired last year.

Beehive looks to have the makings of a Collaborative Business Environment (CBE), a workspace designed for the knowledge worker that incorporates all tools and resources in one overarching environment, which is starting to supersede the traditional desktop metaphor of separate and distinct tools.

Beehive 1.5 adds Web-based team work spaces along with wikis, team calendaring, RSS support, contextual search, and advanced file sharing.  Other changes in Beehive 1.5 include enhanced Web and voice conferencing including on-demand recording and retrieval and the ability for a presenter to see the delay between the screen they are sharing and what the audience is seeing.  Also included is integration with standard desktop tools that allows users to stay with e-mail clients that they already use, such as Microsoft Outlook, AppleMail, and Thunderbird (but not Lotus Notes) and instant messaging clients that adhere to open standards.

For tighter integration, Beehive has an Outlook extension that mimics the familiar interface of Outlook with Exchange when connecting Outlook to  Beehive.  It also has an extension for Windows Explorer that provides a folder level view as well as the option of using the included Zimbra open source e-mail software.  Behind the scenes, all data is stored in an Oracle database.

Right now, we’re only scratching the surface.  We will be looking at Beehive in greater depth in an upcoming report.

Jonathan B. Spira is the chief analyst at Basex. Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.


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