» Archive for July, 2010

Richard Nixon and the E-mail Mess

Thursday, July 29th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

The term “expletive deleted” entered the lexicon in the 1970s when President Richard Nixon provided edited transcripts of internal White House discussions to the public with profane words and phrases indicated thusly.

President Nixon announcing his resignation in 1974.

Although most knowledge workers wouldn’t need this type of redacting, the problem of profanity in e-mail at Goldman Sachs has apparently reached critical mass and the firm announced that it will enforce a strict policy of no dirty words in electronic messages.  This action is notable because a June 2007 e-mail from a Goldman executive was extensively quoted at Senate hearings this past April, including the phrase  “that … was one s—– deal.”  The firm’s policy covers instant and text messages in addition to e-mail messages.

Our research tells us that the typical knowledge worker will receive 93 e-mail messages each day in addition to dozens of instant and text messages, not to mention phone calls and messages sent via social networks.

Knowledge workers have long complained that there is simply too much e-mail but, until recently, profanity in e-mail was not a huge concern.  However, the use of naughty words in some organizations has reached epic proportions.  The news about Goldman and e-mail has been making headlines in the business press and one comment posted on the Wall Street Journal Web site was telling.

Arun Nisargand wrote: “I am amazed at the lack of professionalism on the Wall Street and the investment banking community.  In the engineering community and large Fortune 500 corporation where I work, profanity has never been a issue.  It is not used or tolerated.  In verbal, written or e-mail communication.  There is no written policy or directive.  We just know how to behave.”

While cleaning up one’s language may indeed be an admirable pursuit, the emphasis on dirty words (think George Carlin) obfuscates the real problem, which is that we send too much e-mail period.

Perhaps, however, some good will come out of this, namely that the 34,000 people will, as a result of the new policy, end up sending fewer e-mails messages each day, and that the practice will spread beyond Wall Street.

Expletive deleted, maybe eliminating obscene e-mail is the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for.

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

A Brief History of Information

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

More than ever before, information is all around us and, while most people take it for granted, few can define the term. The word “information” in English is rather flexible and it means many things to many people.

The Urra-hubullu encyclopedia, one of the earilest of its kind

To borrow from Justice Potter Stewart, who was writing about the difficulty of defining “obscenity,” I know information when I see it.

When we need a phone number, we dial “information” (well, we used to, before the Web). We get information about a specific event (a party, a wedding) and we get information when we read a newspaper (be it online or a printed version).

We get information when we chitchat and we get information when we attend meetings and conferences.

The American Heritage Dictionary has one of the better definitions I’ve found, namely “knowledge derived from study, experience, or instruction.” It goes on to add “Knowledge of specific events or situations that has been gathered or received by communication; intelligence or news” and “A collection of facts or data.”

A brief look at the roots and origin of the word “information” also helps us to better understand it. The word comes from the Old French “informacion,” which in turn came from the Latin “informationem” (nominative “information”), which means an outline, concept, or idea. Informationem was the noun of action from informare, from which we derive our verb “inform.”

But I digress.

The reason information is important is because human beings simply have had to communicate with one another since the dawn of civilization. From cave paintings and oral history to the beginnings of a written tradition, mankind has documented and recorded that which is important and left it for future generations.

An increase in the human population, combined with improved tools for sharing information (starting with the tablet, paper, movable type, and going all the way into the computer age), has resulted in more information being created today than perhaps anyone had ever anticipated. What haven’t been developed in lockstep with this are tools that allow us to filter information so we get not only what we need but also that which we can absorb.

Despite great technological advances, we actually understand very little about how to manage information. Until we do learn more about managing what really has become a flood of information, all we can do is try to cope with the reality of Information Overload.

This Analyst Opinion is also available online at

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

Information Creation: To What End?

Thursday, July 15th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

It’s hard to avoid information. Not only do we live in a world full of it, making it nearly impossible to escape, but for some perverse reason, we actually like it.

Is it too much yet?

Indeed, we like it so much that we continuously create more of it and have even designed machines to do this for us as well.  In addition, we frequently compile information into metrics and ratios that describe other information.

A recent survey by a computer company showed that 90% of information was only looked at once after it was created.  The current Basex survey on how knowledge workers work already tells us that 50% of us spend one to two hours of our days creating information – and 15% spend more than three hours.  (If you haven’t already taken the survey, click here to do it now .)

Is this figure simply too high and are we in fact simply creating more information, not for its value but purely for the sake of making the pile bigger?

As we go about our day, it might be wise to cast a critical eye on our work that results in the creation of more information and ask ourselves some hard questions.  One, what is the practical purpose of the information that we are creating, and two, is it important enough to justify burdening others with it?

A quote generally attributed to Albert Einstein notes that “[N]ot everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

Perhaps it would do us all good to think about why we are creating so much information, and whether perhaps we could get by with a bit less of it.

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

Good-bye Windows 2000 and XP SP2 – Hello Windows 7

Thursday, July 15th, 2010 by David Goldes

Time to say good-bye

Believe it or not, until Tuesday, Windows 2000 was still a supported operating system as far as Microsoft was concerned.  Starting yesterday, however, Windows 2000 and Windows XP Service Pack 2 officially got dragged into the recycle bin as Microsoft ended support.  What this means is that the company will no longer provide new security fixes or provide any technical support.  If you do want to keep using one of these operating systems, you are on your own.

If you are still using Windows 2000, you might want to consider that it looked obsolete as long as five years ago.  As for Windows XP SP2 (the service pack update Microsoft issued in 2004), keep in mind that Microsoft released XP SP3 a little over two years ago and will only continue to support it under what the company calls “extended support” (patches for vulnerabilities) through April 2014.

It may be time for a change.

If you’re hiding in the shadows, still on Windows 2000 or even on XP because you were dreading Windows Vista, it’s now safe to come out.  We’ve been running Windows 7 on multiple machines here since its launch and it’s an entirely different breed of operating system.  While we’ve come up with a few things that won’t work (XP Power Toys for one), those are the exceptions, not the rule.  We’ve found Windows 7 very user friendly, easy to use and manage, and a worthy successor to the venerable Windows XP platform.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

The Knowledge Worker’s Day: Here’s What We’ve Found So Far

Thursday, July 8th, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

To find out a bit more about how knowledge workers spend their days and how Information Overload impacts them, a few weeks ago we launched a brief survey that asks you to look at your most recent full day at work and answer a few questions. If you haven’t already taken the survey, please stop here and take it now.

And how was your day?

Now that a few hundred people have taken the survey, we would like to share some preliminary results with you.

— 63% of knowledge workers feel they don’t have enough time to get all of their work done.

— 49% of knowledge workers feel that the amount of information they are presented with on daily basis is detrimental to getting their work done.

— 58% of those surveyed feel overwhelmed by information to the point of incapacity at least several times a week.

— 29% of knowledge workers have no time at all for thought and reflection during their day, and 58% had only between 15 and 30 minutes.

Please also help us get the word out about the survey by posting a link to it on your company’s intranet, your blog, your Facebook page, and anywhere else where knowledge workers might congregate. The more people participating in the survey, the better we will be able to take the first steps to increase our own productivity.

Participants will receive an Executive Summary of the survey’s findings and can also enter a drawing to win a set of Dilbert CubeGuard information overload blockers (three sets will be awarded).

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

Conversations with Microsoft: Office 2010

Thursday, July 1st, 2010 by Jonathan Spira

It is easy to forget when we are presented with a piece of software that nothing about it is random. Software does not spring forth fully formed from its developers as Athena did from Zeus; rather, it is the result of years of research, development work, and testing.

It is also easy to overlook the fact that all that work is done by people, not faceless programming automatons. It is the unique personalities and personal goals of these people that shape a product , drive innovation, and impact the end-user experience.

The users of a piece of software, however, typically doesn’t see any of this when they install and run a program. They see features, icons, wizards, and may benefit from upgrades and enhancements in new versions without really understanding – or even thinking about – how these came about.

Microsoft Office has as many as 600 million users worldwide, of which 500 million are properly licensed. That makes it the most widely-used application in the world – and the introduction of a new version can have a significant impact on millions of knowledge workers and how they work.

What we don’t get to hear very often is the perspective of the people involved in creating Office 2010 from the ground up. Microsoft allowed us to talk with its developers in the final months of the development of Office 2010 and we asked them what they did to improve worker productivity and what they were most passionate about.

You can find out what they had to say in Conversations with Microsoft.

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