Saturday, July 19, 2008


I work in Information Technology as a Business Analyst. My background is in Human Relations and Community Development - so I've ventured a long way from home. I feel rather like an anthropologist working with an tribe on some isolated island somewhere. I wonder what Margaret Mead would say if she studied Information Technologists?

My point is this. My management, and many others around me persist in the notion that an organization, and the systems that inhabit them it, as a big machine - which, if we could make it work and keep it properly greased would operate flawlessly. This mechanistic view was spawned by Sir Issac Newton (1643 - 1727). No question, Sir Issac was brilliant - I saw his biography on TV once. He must be great.

The mechanistic view (mechanism theory) is a theory that proposes all natural phenomena can be explained by physical causes. It suggests that if one understood it, one could write a mathematical formula to adequately express it. This working premise has served us well during the Industrial Revolution - but will it take us beyond? I think not. There are flaws.

When we look at organizations as mechanisms or machines we fail to understand an essence deeper than that of a machine. The organization, which is an assemblage of human beings, has the desire to survive. Therefore it must learn to self-adapt - according to the Red Queen Principle.

Organization are not machines, they are living entities or systems that have a will of their own. A will to service. Next question, are organization self-aware. Certainly they must react to the environment in which they exist - else they won't survive for long, but self-ware, that is questionable.

In the early 1980s I became aware of the term metanoic (from the greek word metanoia) - as it relates to organizations. The paper I refer to is entitled, "Metanoic Organizations in the Transition to a Sustainable Society" and was written in 1982, by a guy named Peter Senge - more. I first came across the notion around 1985 through this article, and a guy named Brian Smith who introduced me to the work of Robert Fritz and his notion of Structural Tension.

Anyway, one thing leads to another and all these years later I bump into another article by Peter Senge called - "Awakening Faith in an Alternative Future - A consideration of Presence - 2004."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Social Networks - How incredible work gets done.

If you scratch the surface of any business, you'll find two very different organizations,the formal organization - the one that can be represented by the boxes of an org chart,the informal organization - the one shaped by the day-to-day interactions of employees - conversations in hallways or in airport lounges, exchanges of messages through email and voicemail, glances and whispers in meetings. Social networks have become a hot discussion topic of late.

What makes the notion of Social Networking so special? There’s nothing new about them. They’ve existed since our cave dwelling days. It’s the “online” part that is creating the buzz. Social Networks like WOW, Second Life, Facebook, MySpace, Tube, TED, FORA.TV etc are changing the way we view social organizations that primarily exist in cyberspace.

A social network is a social structure made up of nodes that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency. Social networks are essentially about who knows who, and who knows what, as well as how quickly and well they can be assembled.

Our ability to adapt or co-evolve that determines our relevance and utility. As the environment becomes prone to continuous change (chaos), about ability to organize, disorganize and reorganize ourselves becomes a defining skill and being able to assemble meaningful social networks and have these network operate in a purely virtual/online fashion is considered a bit of a holy grail. Organizations that can increase abilities of social networking will advance.

Four broader internet trends at play

  • On-line social networks will change the way we think, interact and view our corporation and they will change the way we think about enterprise software.

  • The applications you thought to be "consumer services only" will be inside the enterprise.

  • The rise of user generated content is upon us like a tidal wave - and its coming to an intranet near you.

  • The age and demographic profile of your users, customers, employees and yourself has shifted.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Collaboration Microsoft Style

Collaboration is a common buzzword these days. Everyone is selling it - including vendors Microsoft. In actual fact, this moment in time echoes in a new era of computing - one that moves us from Personal Computing (PC) to Corporate Computing (CC). You are either now sitting at your computer doing corporate work or you're working in isolation from the whole doing what some kind of personal work. People who collaborate initially showed up on portals like Face Book, MySpace, YouTube or, god fobid, eBay. After all, collaboration is all the rage these days. Why? Because, collaboration has been going on for millenia but has suddenly taken on a new turn. It has gone global. Suddenly, corporate giants found themselves behind the amateur weekend enthusiast geek. After the early adopters came the hordes.

The new world will be governed by controlled vocabulary so I better explain exactly what I mean. Social networks or social networking or whatever you want to call it. . . it what differentiates us from the beasts. Humans are social to a degree not apparent in other primates. Why, language probably has alot to do with it.

My first introduction to Collaboration (social networking) Software - aka Content Management Software was with an open source product called Plone. It was recognized within the enterprise as a corporately approved standard and the price was right. Over a relatively short period, over 2000 individuals adopted the product at 100 different sites. Right about this same time, the Microsoft faction within the I&IT organization realized that they were getting displaced by an open source community - or so they feared. Their response was to put previously unsupported Microsoft Sharepoint into the running as an alternative to Plone. . . or so it looked. History has it that Sharepoint had previously been considered as a Collaboration Tool Service but had not risen to the corporate standard challenge. Evidently, it was not scalable.

My introduction to Plone was OK. I really liked the open source concept but found the interface to be awkward or better put - not Windows-based. The paradigm was different and although it created a much better environment for collaboration than anything provided by our corporate Windows-based environment it still lacked certain features.

This time last year, I was on special assignment in a business unit wanting to manage its content better. I broadcast that Plone was freely available and recommended that the division use it to better manage it's (LMDA) content. No sooner was this made public than the local IT folks announced that it was planning to support Sharepoint even if it was not recognized as a corporate standard. As soon as the division got wind of this, my recommendation went up in a puff of smoke. Why would the division use Plone when IT indicated if preferred to support Sharepoint. After all, it was supported by Microsoft - like all the other products IT already supported.

The history of Microsoft in this enterprise of 65,000 employees is amazing.

In the early days, and we must never forget, Microsoft Corporation allowed its products to be copied and freely distributed by anyone. This was unlike the leading PC software products of the day - Lotus 123, dBase and WordPerfect.

Now, at that time I was a bit of a neutral participant. In 1986, I used an integrated software product called SMART. Long before MS Office, I was writing code that integrated my database manager with word processor and Smart Spreadsheet - but that's another story.

The Lotus 123 zealots thought I was a little bazaar for not using their product. The Smart Database Manager was OK because in those days, as is still true today, few end-users know how to use a database of any kind when they can get by with a spreadsheet. It was the WordPerfect Users who laughed the loudest. They could not understand why a relatively small band of individuals bothered to use the SMART Word Processor when it did not have something as basic as REVEAL CODES.

While these people were busy laughing at me and my colleagues, Billy Gates and the boys were releasing uncopy-protected end-user tools called MS Word, EXCEL and ACCESS.

Although it was possible to get your hands on an copy of, say, Lotus 123, unless you knew the KEY CODE, it would not install. In the pre-internet, pre-email days of Lotus123 (the 1st real BIG Killer App.) is was not uncommon to get a 4 1/4" copy of the Lotus installation diskette. It was much less common to get the copy to install.

While Lotus 123, dBase and WordPerfect were making millions selling copy protected software, Microsoft Corporation systematically knocked each of them off their pedestals by releasing software versions that were not copy protected.

So, as a consequence of what will be recognized as the most brilliant marketing strategy of the 20th century, Microsoft toppled the 3 great software giants of the initial "Killer App" era - WordPerfect, dBase and Lotus123. Today, they are essentially dead.

So, what's the point. . ? Twenty-plus years later, Microsoft is again entering the software arena with a new generation of product. From personal productivity, to group collaboration we have moved - this due to a number of factors essentially the establishment of corporate intranet infrastructure and of course, its predecessor, the invention of the INTERNET - the semantic internet and web2.0 - blah blah.

Sharepoint has been hanging around for a number of years now, without much excitement. So, what's going on right now? It's called convergence . . . when the right set of circumstances arrive at the same place in time to achieve synergies that have been waiting to happen.

Oh yah, I just got back from Sharepoint training - a 4 day intro. I'll say that again - " A 4 day intro . " 20 years ago, in 4 days, you could learn everything you needed to know about WordPerfect, Lotus 123 and dBase to change the world. Today, 4 days will get you an overview to what some might think is an end-user tool while others will be convinced it is an application development platform - a place where IT can be told by the business who to AUTOMATE its operation.

Be careful. I will say that again. Be careful. The business, at this point in the 21st century has little appreciation for how it should be automated. When I asked Learning Tree Professor - Gord about the difference between Automation and Workflow, he told me they are the same. When I asked if all workflow can be automated or if all automation is workflow, Gord hesitated.

More about this later.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Collaborative Tagging

Traditional classification systems, like that devised by Melvil Dewey in 1876, have served us well. Nevertheless, it is time to reconsider the value of an approach that requires that a document be categorized in a single uniform way in order that it can be returned to a single place in a library somewhere. In today's cyber library people are not concerned with how a document is named (categorized) or where it is located. They only need to know what they need to know.

Formal classification systems require a trained professional to do the classifying in a consistent manner - over time. Once classified, the document is then moved to the physical location that corresponds to its code. To find the document, one need only know the code or ask the professional librarian for assistance. This process was further simplified by creating card indices according to Subject, Author and Title. This additional level of abstraction actually made it easier to live within the system of codification.

As we move further into cyberspace, the establishment is contending that a formal system of document classification is still needed. I describe these people as “establishment” because when probed, they maintain that a document can only be correctly classified or tagged in one specific way. When asked why this should be the case, the establishment has no answer. They don’t know why at document could not be coded more than one way.

In the old world, a book could only appear in one location. The code was used to locate the document and the rule stated that multiple copies of a book could not exist in more than one location. Every time you walked into the library you could be sure to find the document in its defined place. Not only that, if knew the code, you could walk into any library and quickly locate the document.

Cyberspace, would not be what it is today is it adhered to a rule that said a document could not exist of it was not first classified according to a unified codification system. It wouldn’t work. First, it would take too long to reach consensus on a universal system of codification. Next, organizations would need to create hundreds of thousands of new librarian positions to ensure that codifications were applied in a consistent manner. Finally, over time, the codification system will need to be modified and updated. What a horrendous task that would be. The Dewey Decimal System has been modified greatly since its inception – most recently in 2004. Imagine keeping an internet-based classification system updated.

The problem with traditional classification (control) systems is that they require constant maintenance. They require centralization in order to maintain control required to ensure that the document is returned to the same location every time in order that you and the librarian can be assured of retrieving it easily. The internet however works on a far different premise. It acknowledges that a single document can appear to be in several locations at the same time. In reality the document never leaves the shelf upon which it is stored and the need to have it diligently returned to its original location removed.

It’s probably too early to determine how collaborative tagging , also referred to as 'open tagging', 'faceted hierarchy', 'social tagging' and 'folksonomies', will be received. The Red Queen will help determine this. (So much for a controlled vocabulary.)

How about an intranet that provides an opportunity for you to tag a document at whenever you go to book mark it. Imaging what it would be like if your tag (categorization) was taken into account by the search engine along with the tags of all the others who took the time to contribute their two cents. Would it lead to meaningful search results? The jury is still out.

Also See Collaborative Tagging Sites Like:
- Flickr

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cluetrain & the Semantic Web

People of the world.
A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

So starts probably the first web site after which, in 1999, a book was written. The book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, can be read for free - click here if you're interested. It consists of 95 theses organized into a call to action for a newly organized community - the Internet (common unity or communal unity).

Now this notion of the internet may seem a a little old to us after the past 10 of 15 years but in 1999, the concepts presented therein laid forth the basis of what is now being called Web 2.0 or what will probably be remembered as the semantic web. The place the great conversation took place.

The internet, cyberspace or world-wide-web has shifted from the electronic bulletin board filled with messages to a dynamic environment rich in conversations and other unstructured transactions. The internet has become a place where people go to act, interact and transact. It is the new agora. The world is in the process of an enormous reorganization. The definition of community is being expanded to include virtual or fully abstacted and highly configurable groupings of people.

. . .In ancient Roman cities, the public market was located
on or adjacent to the forum and varied somewhat in shape.

Today, March 12, 2008, the term Web 2.0 is is wide use - more. The term Web 2.0 is credited back to Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media. The term however relates more properly to the web as a place of the great semantic conversation - or semantic web.

So the web, is the place where people go to converse, but with whom? People in their own community of course. But who are these people?

First, THESE PEOPLE, though they exist in reality have been virtualized. Separated from their mortal coils. By this I mean, my web page will exist for 1000 years. I have instructed by son to instruct his progeny - and so on, to continue paying $67 per annum, or whatever the falling rate is by then, for the service which hosts my site. This will represent a relatively insignificant compounded cost for the service if managed reasonably. I've also provided Darren with approximately 450 entries which should be included into this blog at a rate of 10 per annum. This will ensure that my personal entries will be continued for at least 40 or 50 years after my death and that is assuming I don't have time to compose at least another 4 or 500 entries before I say good by. As such, I am and will continue to be, in cyberspace, a virtual persona held to my mortal thread by perhaps only a very thin thread.

So what is a virtual community? it is one that can assemble and unassemble with little or almost no energy/efforts and can then reassemble without leaving much of a trace of it's previous footprint or existence. It is science fiction in action.

The virtual community represents the next level in social organization. An agile, mobile, highly adaptable organism equipped to respond to the measure of the day. It is relevant to an unstable or rapidly changing environment because is is an assemblage of many with little or no investment in current reality. Virtual communities are ready to move on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Re-Organizing the World

According to David Wienberger the old ways of organizing things don't apply in cyberspace as they do in the real material world. But more on Weinberger and his book Everything is Miscellaneous, later.

Progress seems to be based on our ability to move to increasing levels of abstraction.
The process of abstraction is at the root of progress itself. Let me try to explain.

From bare hands to tools and instruments, we constantly organize and reorganize our ability to do things better. A spear is an abstract projection (pardon the pun) of that which came before it - hurling a rock to bring down wild game. Before that, we probably needed to form in groups of collectives to chase down and corner wild game then with bare hands and objects, kill the beast for food and, at times, even lodging .

Beating the animal senseless with a rock was good but throwing a projectile was even better. The discovery of abstract concepts like projecting a rock (with bare hand, sling, or arrow) was simply a refinement over killing the beast with bare hand. Our minds, probably through accident, learned to create abstract extensions - extension of our selves out into what we recognized as reality.

We create and re-create at increased levels of abstraction our recipe for survival through progress and advancement.

For example, numbers are a form of abstraction. I can count the number of fingers on my hand by showing them to you one at a time or I can abstractly illustrate that number by having 10 pebbles represent that number. The pebbles are not that number, they are an abstract representation of that number. In a sense, the pebbles are data about the data - otherwise referred to as metadata.

Money is another example of abstraction. Exchanging 12 bushels of grain for a goat worked well. but what happened if I needed a goat but was not carrying any grain? Would you accept from me a promissory note as a symbolic abstraction of my commitment to pay you later... or better yet how if I gave you some tokens or coins of equal value to the goat? These are all abstract representations. When we take things to increasing levels of abstraction we stand a chance of advancement. But how to we do this, how does this work.

The nice thing about moving to increasing levels of abstraction is that material or physical limits get transcended. For example how could I use the number of fingers on my hand to represent the number 20? I know this sounds silly but look what happens once pebbles are used to abstractly represent fingers. Now I can easily gather 20 stones to abstractly represent or symbolize the number of digits on the hands of 2 people.

If we went to move to yet higher levels of abstraction, we'd probably end up inventing numbers as we know them today. Abstraction allows us to symbolically represent things in a non-material fashion and this is good because it is much easier to manipulate the symbols than it is the physical objects they represent.

We are really good at organizing the physical world at increasing levels of abstration. As a matter of fact, we call most important institutions ORGANIZATIONS.

Look, for example, at the way we have combine some simple rules to organize to create, for example, a library system. First a guy named Melvin Dewey came up with an abstract, rather arbitrary, library classification system. Next a rule was created that said a book needed to be classified and placed in a location that corresponded with its classification. The next rule specified that a book could be found in only one location in the library.

What we have in the example above is an abstract classification or codification system which when combined with simple rules forms a knowledge management system which revolutionized information access through the public library system. It even goes further than this. If we take each book and create an abstract representation of the library according to author on a 3 by 5 inch card, we can go to the card index and see a list of all the books or articles in that library written by a particular author. As many of us remember, a similar card index was organized by subject.

The interesting thing is that to make the system work, the consumer didn't need to know anything about the classification system or the associated business rules to make the library work for us. The same holds true of whenever we perform a web-search. We don't need to know how the internet is organized or the search algorithms (rules) used to locate content. By creating increasing levels of abstraction, our ability to locate information that is seemingly disorganized is actually increased. Most libraries are are organized around the Dewey Decimal System of categorization. By comparison the internet organizes or indexes almost every word on every web page. Next, companies look at which web pages get the most usage.

Think of the internet as a vast global library of information that is attaining new levels of virtualization or abstraction never thought possible before. Truly a remarkable feat. . . and all this is being done without a tidy decimal-based classification system like that developed by Dewey. By comparison the internet is an organizational mess but because it is organized at a higher level of abstraction it works very well. On the internet there is no need to know where, for example, a document is physically located or what it is physically called. When you think of it, this is a breakthrough.

Here are some video references you might find interesting. . . or better yet, go to the library and get Weinberger's book - Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the new Digital Disorder.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

OLPC - One Laptop Per Child - 2

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is an educational project not a laptop project according to founder — Nicholas Negroponte.

Nicholas Negroponte was the talk of Davos Switzerland when he unveiled his plan for a $100 Laptop - more.

This project has been highly controversial. Many people have argued with its choice of technologies (Open Source), business model (partnering with the United Nations and with national governments, rather than with private companies) was off target. Some people have questioned whether the computer itself is the critical resource bottleneck, citing Internet access as being an equally important and more difficult to solve problem. There is still a way to go.

There are still a few minor obstacles associated with a project attempting to ensure that every child on the planet not only has a computer but that it is connected to the World Wide Web of opportunities, information and possibility. Nevertheless the endeavour seems to be off to a good start and maybe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might lend a hand. Bob are you listening?

For Nicholas Negroponte podcast - click here.

For technical discussion video (35min) - click here.