» Archive for December, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions for the Information Overload-Minded

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million people and television only 13 years.

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Here's to less information!

It took the Internet a mere four years to reach that number.  Just last month there were 10 billion Web searches performed and most people didn’t find what they were looking for.

Indeed, 50% of all searches fail at first blush and, to make matters worse, 50% of the searches believed to be successful fail, unbeknownst to the user, to some extent as well.

Clearly something has to be done.  With the New Year almost upon us, we can start with a few simple New Year’s Resolutions that are time tested in lowering the amount of Information Overload we all face.

1.)    Learn better search techniques.  Control search results using Boolean logic by typing AND or OR and use advanced options to narrow the field.

2.)    Use restraint in communications.  Don’t cc the world, don’t include more people than necessary in any communication, avoid gratuitous “thanks” and “great” replies, and avoid reply-to-all at all costs.

3.)    Write clearly.  Better yet, refrain from combining multiple themes and requests in one single e-mail.  And make sure the subject is specific as opposed to general (writing “Help needed” without further details helps no one, especially the recipient).  These simple steps will add instant clarity with little effort.

4.)    Read what you write – before you click send.  Unclear communications result in excessive and unnecessary back-and-forth communications that would have been unnecessary were the first missive unambiguous and to-the-point.

5.)    Read what others write – before replying.  While it would be nice to believe that people will place the most important information at the very beginning, often times the key facts are buried in the closing paragraphs.  What you are about to ask may already have been covered.

6.)    Value your colleagues’ time as if it were your own.  If a response to an e-mail is not immediately forthcoming, don’t pick up the phone or send an IM saying “did you get my e-mail?”.

Happy New Year!  Prosit Neujahr!

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

In the briefing room: HP SkyRoom

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 by Cody Burke

A knowledge worker who is seeking to get a colleague’s input has myriad options available.

Can you see me now?

Can you see me now?

He can send an e-mail, fax or scan, share a screen, use Web conferencing tools, use a Webcam, use a telepresence solution, or simply invite the colleague into his office to take a look. Each of these options carries with it a potential disadvantage, ranging from lack of physical proximity to lack of an ability to share live images and show fine detail.

Indeed, collaborating with co-workers has become more complicated as knowledge workers have spread themselves across the globe and technological solutions have multiplied.

It is of course possible to share static screenshots of slide decks or documents and even live video via instant messenger clients, although this can be limited in terms of image quality. Often the most useful way to quickly collaborate with a far-flung colleague is to combine video chat with sharing part of one’s screen to simply show a live image of the work in question. There are many options, from the low end with Skype screensharing to the high end with advanced telepresence solutions.

But what about a high-quality video solution for the everyman?

With SkyRoom, HP is addressing that need. SkyRoom is a video conferencing system for up to four participants that allows users to select a portion of their screen to share. This is useful for limiting sharing to a document, slide show, or design being worked on while keeping the rest of the screen private. Meetings are initiated via a buddy list with presence indicators to show who is available, just as with an instant messenger client. SkyRoom also integrates with existing deployments of Jabber and Microsoft OCS.

The quality of the image is excellent and the system supports streaming of high definition content. In the demonstration we participated in, there was no discernible lag time; indeed, an engineering simulation that was shared between two computers over a wireless connection was crisp and looked identical to the original.

SkyRoom is a significant improvement from an entry-level solution such as Skype’s screensharing function and offers security features that make it a viable option for the enterprise. Although others in the meeting can’t participate actively, i.e. someone viewing an engineering simulation can’t make changes to it, the solution is nonetheless an effective way to collaborate on projects from the comfort of one’s office, without having to gather colleagues for a face-to-face session.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Search: How to Find What You Are Looking For (or 5 Tips for Better Search)

Thursday, December 17th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

50% of all searches fail in a manner that the person doing the search recognizes as a failure. 


What is it that you are looking for, my dear?

A far more significant problem is that 50% of the searches believed to have succeeded failed, but the person doing the search simply doesn’t realize it.  As a result, that person uses information that is at best out of date but more often incorrect or just not the right data.  When the “bad” information is then used in a document or communication, there is a cascading effect that further propagates the incorrect information.

In an age where Information Overload costs the U.S. economy ca. $900 billion per annum, finding the right information has become far more critical.

To increase the odds that you will find what you are looking for, we’ve prepared five simple search tips that should result in better and more accurate results, regardless of where you are searching.

1.)    Boolean logic
Search engines typically use a form with a search box into which one types the search query.  To control the search results, use Boolean logic by typing AND or OR.  Many search engines including Google default to AND when processing search queries with two or more words.  To exclude words, use NOT (java NOT coffee, java -coffee).  For increased relevance, use NEAR (restaurants NEAR midtown Manhattan).

2.)    Options
Most search engines include options (on Google, these are found by clicking on Advanced Search).  Use options to narrow down the field you are searching.  Examples include file format (.ppt, .doc, .pdf, etc.) or Web site (basex.com).

3.)    Search tools
When it comes to search, one size does not fit all.  Use a variety of search tools beyond Google.  Try search visualization tools such as Cluuz and KartOO on the Web and KVisu for behind the firewall.

4.)    Meta search engines
A meta search engine runs several searches simultaneously.  Tools that may be helpful include Clusty and Dogpile.

5.)    Archived (out-of-date) materials or nonexistent Web sites
The Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive is useful for both older versions of Web pages and sites that have disappeared over time.

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

In the briefing room: ViVu

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Online collaboration is tricky business.  It means many different things to different people.

Live, from New York, it's...

Live, from New York, it's...

For some knowledge workers, it means basic screen sharing and voice communications.  For others real-time video is key.  For most, however, typically deployed tools fall somewhere in the middle, in what is often a compromise of both ease of use and functionality.  Indeed, meeting attendees must often wait while technical glitches are resolved.

The next generation of online collaboration tools probably won’t resemble what we have become used to.  In fact, the very terms “Web conference” or “video conference” imply a certain aesthetic experience that has proven itself over and over to be not quite ideal for effective online work.  Sitting in a cubicle as a slide presentation whizzes by, accompanied by a faceless narrator or attending a meeting via an elaborate telepresence setup are not the only options.  Perhaps the next wave of online collaboration solutions will provide features that encourage true knowledge sharing, be it by slide decks, desktop sharing, chat, or video.

ViVu is a company that may very well be offering one of the first of a new generation of collaboration solutions.   Their solution is a Web-based videoconferencing tool that runs without any download or installation and features video, chat, desktop sharing, and the ability to share slide presentations.  The system is quite easy-to-use and the interface is clean and responsive and presents the user with modules that can be rearranged and resized on the screen.  Such functionality is quite useful; the video feed can be reduced to a small size and the presentation slides enlarged when necessary, or the slide deck minimized completely if the focus has shifted to the video feed.   Allowing the user to control his environment enables fine tuning that helps ensure sharp focus and maximum effectiveness.

The system scales from small meetings to large conference-style events.  ViVu is available as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) or as an on-site deployment that keeps sensitive information behind the firewall.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Venuegen

Thursday, December 10th, 2009 by Cody Burke

I recently had the pleasure of attending a meeting on the deck of a sailing yacht; the sky was clear and the waves lapped pleasantly on the boat’s hull as I listened to our host explain his company’s vision for the future of enterprise collaboration.

And it never needs cleaning...

And it never needs cleaning...

At times, he got rather excited, gesticulating and laughing at jokes.

The amazing thing was, I did this all without leaving my office.  Instead, I was immersed in a 3-D virtual environment.

Meetings have been taking place in online environments, such as Web conferences, on a regular basis since PlaceWare was launched in the 1990s.  While there have been some significant improvements since then, the basic model hasn’t changed.  Meetings remain a combination of screen sharing, audio call in, and perhaps some integrated functions such as chat, hand raising, and polling.  Unfortunately, many subtle communication cues are lost due to the lack of a richer interface.  Advanced telepresence solutions are available to a limited few, but the cost of these solutions will not lead to mass adoption in the near future.

Second Life, a pioneer in 3-D virtual environments, has struggled to find a compelling business niche.  Indeed there was an initial land rush to set up virtual store fronts and facilities in Second Life but most people seem to have moved beyond.

The Venue Network is a company that developed Venuegen, an immersive, browser-based 3-D environment that is strictly business.  The system is simple to use and manage and offers a variety of meeting environments, such as conference rooms, lecture theaters, a coffee shop, the set of a late night talk show, and of course, a yacht.  Venuegen offers useful functionality that allows organizations and users to personalize the meeting experience.  One example: users can upload a personal photo that is then used to create a life-like avatar.   As with more traditional systems, Venuegen supports a variety of content, including slides, documents, flash content, video, and integrated Web browser and chat.

Avatars also have a wide range of facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language options that can be either randomly generated or manually controlled.  Slider bars are used to set levels of interest, intensity, and posture.  The on-screen avatar reflects these settings with remarkably lifelike movements and gestures, a manager can express anger or happiness while speaking with sales agents at a meeting, meeting attendees can express their impatience with an overly long speech or laugh at jokes.

Venuegen is a huge leap forward in enterprise-level 3-D virtual meetings, primarily for the features that personalize and bring a human element back into the meeting.  We have lost many of the visual cues that play such a large role in human communication as we have moved towards more online meetings, and Venuegen may truly be an idea whose time has come.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

A Day Without E-mail

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Once again, e-mail overload was in the news, which is probably of little or no surprise to regular readers of this space.

When should one sign off?

When should one sign off?

Two Fridays ago, Belgium celebrated a day without e-mail, where people were encouraged to send as few e-mail messages as possible, according to the government minister who organized the event, citing Basex’ research on the cost of Information Overload as part of the justification.

Earlier this week, a writer for the New York Times published 10 Proposals for Fixing the E-mail Glut.  While a few of his suggestions were valid, one of the problems the author failed to mention is that, with e-mail, each knowledge worker uses it a bit differently.

And just yesterday, a report published by the University of California, San Diego, estimated that Americans consumed ca. 3.6 zettabytes of information in 2008, which amounts to ca. 34 gigabytes per person per day.

E-mail has become what I call the “path of least resistance.”  It’s frequently used when another – more suitable – tool should be used.  Examples of this range from word processing (writing long documents in e-mail) to instant messaging (asking whether I want Russian dressing on my sandwich is more appropriate via instant messaging than e-mail for a variety of reasons).

In October, a Wall Street Journal writer proclaimed that e-mail’s reign as “king of communications” was over.  Meanwhile more and more e-mail messages are sent every day. (My retort to this is here.)

While the author of that piece raised some valid points, the problem is that changing e-mail’s very nature is a daunting task.

Today, e-mail serves as a common medium that supports rapid and near real-time information exchange for hundreds of millions of people.  Making changes in a small organization can be difficult; just imagine what it would take to change ALL of those people’s ways of working.

Finally, while e-mail may seem to be an unending challenge for the knowledge worker, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.  Information overload is far more complex than too much e-mail.  It’s too much content, poor search tools, the list goes on and on.

It will take a lot more thought and reflection in terms of studying how millions of people communicate and interact through e-mail before we can really begin to effect positive change.  But that day will surely come.

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

In the briefing room: Socialtext SocialCalc

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Introduced as VisiCalc by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, the spreadsheet turned 30 earlier this year and continues to be one of the key lubricants in the knowledge economy.

SocialCalc adds collaborative tools to the process

SocialCalc adds collaborative tools to the process

For knowledge workers who are adept at their use, spreadsheets are a powerful tool for organizing, sorting, and calculating a wide variety of information. However, two elements that are necessary to successful knowledge work are missing, namely context and connectivity. Spreadsheets often exist in isolation and must be manually updated as new information (often from other spreadsheets) becomes available. This gap results in a loss of time, degradation of the quality of the information as it becomes stale, and a loss of context because the path that the information took is severed.

As we have seen with the utility and popularity of social tools such as wikis and blogs, adding context and creating dynamic links between content is extremely beneficial to knowledge work. The social element of those tools allows for users to explore supplemental information surrounding a piece of content, as well as have changes reflected quickly and in a traceable manner.

Socialtext is bringing these dynamics to bear on the ubiquitous spreadsheet with SocialCalc, its distributed spreadsheet offering. Developed by a team led by Dan Bricklin, SocialCalc is integrated into Socialtext’s collaboration platform, so all the features of the platforms, such as profiles, wikis, blogs, and microblogs, are present. Users set up spreadsheets that are dynamically linked to other sheets so that, when information is updated in one, it updates all sheets it is linked to. For example, a sales agent keeping records in a spreadsheet need not e-mail information to a manager; instead, the data will be dynamically updated in the manager’s sheet as the sales agent enters changes. This reduces time, friction, and a number of unnecessary e-mail exchanges.

Spreadsheets created in SocialCalc are publishable to Socialtext workspaces, where complete audit trails of who has done what are recorded. This is invaluable, as changes made to an e-mailed attachment are often lost. Additionally, the access controls from the workspace are applied to the spreadsheet, ensuring that only those with access to that particular workspace can see the sheet, even if sheets from various workspaces are linked together.

The spreadsheet was the original killer app and helped propel us into the information age. Today, social software is the latest in the information age’s arsenal of tools and the concept of adding context to spreadsheets via such tools holds the potential to allow knowledge workers to focus less on the tools and more on the information they contain.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

The Document Management Conundrum

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

How we create, write, and edit individual documents (for the purposes of this essay, a document is something that comes out of a word processing application such as Microsoft Word, Open Office, or WordPerfect) typically reflects the writer’s individual style.

doc mgmt paper mountain

How much is too much?

By this I do not mean how the actual words on the page are written, but rather how we manipulate and edit the text after the initial draft is created.

This may sound simple but that’s decidedly not the case. The way that we edit and refine a document does not just affect the author. Our work has become increasingly collaborative; documents are often touched by multiple knowledge workers, so the manner in which changes and edits are made has a ripple effect on everyone who is part of the process.

It seems as if every knowledge worker has a slightly different way of managing this aspect of the document creation process. Some print out the document and mark it up by hand; others use features built-into the word processing software; and still others have developed their own protocols for indicating changes, additions, and comments.

To find out more about people’s individual styles and preferences, we created a brief survey, which you can access by clicking here.

Participants will receive an Executive Summary of the survey’s findings and can also enter a drawing to win a $200 gift card from American Express. After you complete the survey, please share the survey link (www.basex.com/docs) with colleagues or forums where knowledge workers congregate; the more people participating in the survey, the better we will all understand how to manage documents more efficiently.

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