Sunday, June 26, 2005

Blog Survey

The lamest blog-keeper in the world takes a survey about blog keeping!

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

Friday, March 11, 2005

Bill needs Flickr

Originally uploaded by billhd.
And this is just a test. Have you met my good pal Spongebob, by the way?

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Veen Needs IT: Veen's CMS Rant is Dead On

Jefferey Veen is a smart guy. And his comments about open source CMS usability (and, I would add "usefulness") deficits are great. He sets an agenda for open source CMS developers who, by and large, are motivated by what seems to be a genuinely altruistic motive: give publishing power to the people. Trouble is, as Jeff points out, the barrier is just too high right now for most people.

I like everything on Veen's list. And, I am happy that someone is already taking up the challenge. If anyone is still listening, I would add a couple of others. The first one is straightforward, the second one is kind of tricky:

1. Don't Assume that Folks Know Their Way Around the Server: I know, this seems a bit crazy to geeks and wannabes, but the truth is that many people who have legitimate needs for CMS don't understand how a webserver works. They not only don't "got root?", as the t-shirt sez, they also don't know that a "client" isn't a person.

Corrective action for this assumption falls partially into the realm of Veen's request for task-oriented documentation. In my best Technical Writing Teacher voice, I would say it this way: the user's task starts "earlier" than you might imagine, with "Tour your web server," or maybe "Talk with the people who host your web site."

But there are also some technology steps to take on the development side. How about a tool that polls the server to determine what CMS components might already be installed? This could help folks make choices about where they need to begin a CMS installation, who they might need to talk to about it, etc. And how about a system that lets you easily set up the CMS to run on a local host and just as easily move it when you figure out who can set you up with server access? (technically possible for many of the CMS's, I know, but not very easy to do; yes, I know about bloxsom and blojsom).

2. It's fine to use genres as a way to orient users to types of content, but genres are more about what users want to do than how content is structured: Users may want to post news for their organization, but they don't necessarily know about or want to know what the semantic structure of a news story is. So when you help users create a particular genre like a news story, think about what the functional purpose of the genre structures are, and cue users with those.

For example...

news is "new" - this tells us that time-ordered, sequential organization with the most recent item being most prominent is a good default; give users simple language to explain this, e.g. "In the "news" area, items will be listed with the most recently added item at the top. You will need to decide how many items will display in your news area at one time, and how long an item remains on the front page..."

news should travel - by word of mouth, by cut-n-paste, by RSS, whatever. This is why news items typically have headlines and leads. Prompt users as to their function: "The headline and lead paragraph not only introduce your story, they also stand alone in places where you story is summarized, linked to, or talked about."

news, over time, becomes institutional memory - so details that might seem too obvious to include when a story is breaking may be sorely missed when, looking back after a year or more, someone is charting the history of an initiative. Prompt users to add details to news stories that becomes part of the semantic structure so that these details can serve as index points.

...and I could go on. Don't get me started with genres.

shout outs: thanks Kairos News for pointing the way to this post. Veen's company, adaptive path, is worth a look too.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Aside: Need vs. Want

Before we get too far into this list of things I need, I thought I'd take a moment to explain what I mean. When I declare that I need something here, I will do my best to make sure that:

  • I have identified a type of work, a form of expression, or a routine task that I am engaged in and that would be enhanced by the technology.
  • I have thought through the circumstances of its use enough to explain them lucidly.
The first criterion is to make sure that I don't fill up the page with things I merely want. There's lots of stuff that I want and that I feel drawn to. But often I can't and don't feel the need to apply any rational effort to justifying why. I have a particular weakness, for example, for some types of shoes.

But I don't really need any more shoes. I can't think of a single case where another pair of shoes would make a significant impact on any sort of activity I do. Ok, maybe golf. But as golf shoes are my last equipment-centric excuse for not being any good, I am reluctant to get them. I need golf shoes more as an excuse than as performance enhancing footwear.

The second criterion is a nod towards implementation and/or evaluation of candidate technologies. I want to explain needs in a way that suggests the shape and function of technologies to others who might help me locate, identify, design, or build them.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

GotIT: Gmail

As a prodigious filer of e-mail, I am not yet convinced that I Need gmail...because to adopt it means that I would be moving away from my hard-won mail management strategies that keep me sane. You see, I am a prodigious filer of e-mail, and a zealous deleter too.

I like a clean inbox, because I mostly use it as a view of mail that I must do something with - a de-facto to-do list. I know I can still do this with gmail...that's not the problem. In fact, I don't see any problems with switching to gmail except having to rethink the rather entrenched set of work categories that currently name my e-mail folders...and rethink my work.

Ordinarily I am all about this sort of wholesale surrender to the fugue-state of inventio, but I just don't know.

What intrigues me about the possibilies of gmail's search vs. file approach to mail management, though, is the ability to see not just discrete moments of work in the form of individual messages, but whole threads. I've recently been working on projects that propose similar chronologically-ordered, thematically linked sets of communication events as useful units of analysis for understanding knowledge work and visualizing the composing process.

Perhaps gmail would be useful as a data collection tool for these sorts of endeavors? At least for projects that involve e-mail either as the primary medium for sending a message or as the platform for coordinating work via tasks such as file sharing, version control, and scheduling, to name a few. The article "Email as Habitat" by Ducheneaut & Belotti makes a strong foundational case for this, it seems to me.

Maybe I will try this for myself...perhaps using gmail for a specific project first before I switch alltogether. I'll report back when I have enough to say for a "TryIT" entry.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Got IT: Bibster, a Bibliographic P2P App

Clay Spinuzzi, whose reading list/review blog is among my frequent blog stops, points me to an application that might fill the need I talked about in the Amazon bib app entry.

Bibster, according to the excellent technical paper laying out the functionality and architecture of the application, is a much more robust platform for extracting and creating sharable bibliographic info than I was talking about. It's a pretty exciting manifestion of the heretofore abstract notion of the Semantic Web too.

Among the exciting things Bibster promises is a way to locate and understand the value of a given bibliographic source based on the way users of that source view it - and based on their expertise. This is interesting because it comes close to a model of the way a lot of us believe texts come to be valued, generally, through the social appropriation and representation of what they may mean.

I say "promises" because they haven't released any code yet. But when they do, I will have to try this out. I'll be interested to see if they stuck with the ACM Computing Classification System as their model for representing peer expertise, and how this will make the tool useful (or not) for someone like me who only lurks in the "soft" and dark recesses of that ontology.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Got IT: E-mail Attachment Reminder

Ask, and ye shall receive! At least that was my hope for this blog...and it is already working!

After tinkering a bit with Applescript to see if I could get the OSX Mail app to behave the way I mentioned in an earlier post (I thought that it would be nice to have a way for my e-mail handler to alert me when I was about to be a bonehead and send a message in which I had promised an attachment, but hadn't delivered on that promise...)

My wife says to me "hey, I know something that does that!"

Enter Attachment Reminder

It does what I suggested earlier, and more. You can tell it the words to look for in the body of the message.

The marketing of this product is interesting too. My wife sees an ad for this in Eudora when she sends an attachment, so that's how she heard about it.
Ironically, it seems that it is only available for Win 2000/XP running as an Outlook plug-in. Which means I won't be using it (stay tuned, if I get the applescript thingy going, I will post it)

In the meanwhile, have a look:

Need IT: Citation Applet using Amazon API

Problem: I go to Amazon all the time to use their site for a purpose that, while unintended, I suspect is quite prevalent among academic types like me. I use it to get citation information for books. Trouble is, they don't format the information very conveniently for this purpose. I can't cut and paste with one swipe. The publisher city isn't listed in a convenient spot, nor is the date.

I can't blame them for this. but I must say there is a real opportunity here for somebody to make Amazon the default place that folks like me go to in order to look up a book citation. And while I am there...I just might buy a book (or something else they are always recommending I get). This should be excuse enough for Amazon to do this on their own. But in case they don't...

Bill Needs: Somebody to make use of the Amazon API by writing a little web app that pulls info out of the Amazon product database and formats in various popular citation styles such as APA, Chicago, MLA, etc. Amazon's Web Services (AWS) description makes me think this is possible:

Using AWS, you can access catalog data, create and populate an Amazon shopping cart, and even initiate the checkout process. As an Amazon Associate, you can use our catalog data to create rich, highly effective sites featuring full product data, including accurate and timely product pricing and availability.

This sort of useful bit-o-functionality could be a big driver of traffic to a site, and if folks bought the books for which they had asked for citations by clicking through to Amazon, it could be a win-win financially as well.

Does this Exist? It's not listed among the example apps. But if you or somebody else has done this, show the way!

Need IT: Confirm Attachment Dialogue in E-mail App

Problem: Sending an e-mail in which you confidently announce and describe the contents of an attached file, only to discover after several replies that you *forgot* to attach the file. This happens to me all the time, on both sides of the send/receive equation.

Bill Needs: Nothing all that new...just a little process that kicks off when the user pushes "send" that scans the body of the message looking for variations of the word "attach" (e.g. attached, attachment). It should ignore any text marked as part of a forward or reply, only scanning text entered fresh by the user for the current message.

If an instance of the word "attach" or a derivative is found, the next step is to check to see if there is, indeed, an attachment associated with the message. If there is, do nothing. If there is not, throw a confirm dialogue that says something like

"Hey, did somebody say ? I don't see an attachment with this e-mail. Do you want to:

Button: Send it Anyway, it's just an expression (confirm)
Button: Hold up! I meant to attach this file... (cancel send, bring up browse...dialogue)

Should be easy enough to do. Could be demo'ed with a script, I imagine, but it should be built in to mail handler apps.

Does this Exist? By all means, reply and let me know!

Bill Needs IT, do you?

This is my place to collect needful things of a technical nature. You know, those ideas that pop into your head about a cool software feature or a device that you'd like to have. Sometimes the things I post about here will exist already, and I will point to them. Sometimes the things will exist, but I won't know about I'll count on others to point to them. And sometimes, the things Bill needs will be projects waiting to happen.

Over time, I figure this could be an interesting place to gather and reflect on technologies that I domanage to get my hands on.

Time will tell!