New blog, domain

20 04 2010

I took the plunge, bought a few domain names and got myself some hosting. So I’ll be over here for the foreseeable future. What I’ll call it, I’m not sure. In Medias Res I kind of like, but I’m not sure that I really do jump into the middle of things. Often, I circumnavigate things or just avoid them completely. Maybe I should call it The Notworking Blog. Yeah. I kind of like that. For one, blogging doesn’t seem like working, and secondly, it looks like Networking, but I hate that too. Err, I mean, I like working, but not networking. Most of the time anyway. I should probably have it cross out the e and put the o above it or something.

That’s settled then. Join me at The Notworking Blog. Or Journal. Or something. For now.





Inbox Zero

5 04 2010

If you’re like me, you check email obsessively. Sometimes you’re waiting for something important, sometimes you’re bored. In either case you should probably be doing something else. Enter Inbox Zero.

Inbox Zero is the brainchild of Merlin Mann (great name!), founder of 43 folders – a site dedicated to helping you manage your most limited resource – time.

The video above, which is about an hour long (but worth watching if you have trouble managing your inbox(es)), takes you through his entire system and philosophy. If you’re short on time, it can be summed up fairly quickly:

1. Your inbox is not a task list. Don’t use it as one.
2. Don’t check your email, instead PROCESS your email inbox once or twice a day, and when you do, PROCESS every email so that when you are finished you have an inbox with ZERO unprocessed emails.
3. When processing your inbox, you may only take one of four actions on each email (or thereabouts depending on how you adapt the system). You may: do it (if it takes less than x minutes (generally 2 minutes or less)), delete it (in gmail, archive is pretty much the same since space is virtually unlimited), delegate it (don’t forget to follow up on it if you’re ultimately responsible for the outcome – ie. set a reminder on your calendar), or defer it (if you need to do it but it will take longer than x minutes – this is akin to creating a future to-do list).

For my personal email account, I use a modified system where I have two task lists – one that includes everything I must do (‘Action’), and one that is more like the ’20% rule’ – stuff I’m interested in but doesn’t matter immediately. Then I set about completing all the of the tasks marked ‘Action’. If I’m bored or need to reinstate flow, I switch to the ‘Someday’ folder and complete whatever tasks I might be interested in, or further archive items if I’ve now decided the item is no longer of interest to me.

The important lesson behind Inbox Zero is that we all need some form of a system to process the information that piles up on our virtual doormats everyday.

What system(s) do you use?





Improving the user experience

11 03 2010

I’m going to begin this entry a little off-topic, at least as far as the title goes; I was discussing browsers and ‘the browser war’ with a friend the other day when it seemed that I was, for some reason, ignoring my own advice, which was that everyone interested in speed should use Google Chrome. I was saying how I knew (‘knew’ in the sense that I had read in a number of reasonably reputable sources) that Chrome was faster than Firefox which in turn was faster than IE, and yet I persisted in using Firefox. We speculated whether Google had grown large and popular enough for my personality to turn away from the corporation, but of course realized this was false since (so far, at least) I love everything that Google does and, really, it’s getting kind of scary how much I trust them right now. My friend asked if I used Firefox extensions – of course, I said, they are great – and that of course was the true reason why I had tried Chrome and liked it but turned back to Firefox. Which is not to say that Google Chrome does not have its own extensions and plugins – it’s just that I am well-versed in the extensions of Firefox and so are my friends and colleagues, in which case there are too many productivity related (and, for that matter, non-productivity related) issues for me to switch to Chrome.

And this brings me to the topic of improving the user experience. First, let me say that I am about to whole-heartedly plug my favourite extension to date, because it has truly improved my user experience of browsing the internet, and that I will say right now everyone should be using this thing because it is really that great. The thing is called Ubiquity.

ubiquity

I will say a few things about it first, and then I encourage you to watch the video which I have (hopefully!) embedded correctly below.  (On that note, if anyone knows why I am so far unable to embed things in wordpress, please let me know.)  Ubiquity is about improving the way in which we interact with the internet.  The idea of the project is to create more  of a flow experience in that what you want to do online should really take as few keystrokes as possible – consider Ubiquity a shortcut to a less impressive but still amazing future not unlike the kind of object manipulation and interaction Hollywood has presented to us in films like Minority Report.  So, for example, if someone wants to meet you at a certain location and sends an address to you in an email, you should be able to press one or two keys and have a map of that place in front of you.  Ditto for adding that date to your calendar.  The idea (in my mind at least) is to create shortcuts that get away from the ol’ highlight text, copy, google search, click link, paste, hit enter etc. of yesterday and to get us closer to a future of true object and data manipulation in real-time.

From the Ubiquity about page itself:

The overall goals of Ubiquity are to explore how best to:

  • Empower users to control the web browser with language-based instructions. (With search, users type what they want to find. With Ubiquity, they type what they want to do.)
  • Enable on-demand, user-generated mashups with existing open Web APIs. (In other words, allowing everyone–not just Web developers–to remix the Web so it fits their needs, no matter what page they are on, or what they are doing.)
  • Use Trust networks and social constructs to balance security with ease of extensibility.
  • Extend the browser functionality easily.

While Ubiquity isn’t perfect, the great thing about it is that it exists today, it’s easy to install and use, it is fully customizable meaning you can program your own shortcuts (or mashups), and it really changes the way you think about all the little actions that make up everything you do online, at least in the sense that everything has a process, an order to it, which taken collectively makes the browser experience a series of repeated interactions and iterations that lack the level of interactivity that many of us have come to expect from the promise of a tomorrow that is never far off yet never quite comes into sharp relief.  The title of one of my favourite blogs sums it up best – Where’s my Jetpack?

more about “Mozilla Labs » Blog Archive » Introdu…“, posted with vodpod

The second design and user experience thing on my mind can really only be seen to be understood, and so I will once again try to embed a TED talk onto this site.  This gets a lot closer to the Minority Report ideal, but of course, while this thing exists, unlike Ubiquity it does not exist (yet) for you and me to use.  But it is definitely worth a viewing and it is less than 9 minutes long.  It is entitled Unveiling the ‘Sixth Sense,’ game changing wearable tech and it is presented by Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry, of the aptly-named Fluid Interfaces Group at the MIT Media Lab.

more about “Pattie Maes demos the Sixth Sense | V…“, posted with vodpod

My guess is neither of these will embed properly so I have, quite amazingly, used foresight and added links to each video.  Ubiquity’s is here and Patti Maes is here.  Man, I really can’t wait for the future when I can simply think and have a blog entry appear online.  Good times ahead folks.

What free online productivity tools do you use? Do you know of any other demonstrations of human-computer interaction that could change the way we use technology in the future?

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TED Talks

23 02 2010

This post has been a long time a brewin’.  In aniticipation I created a little ‘Great TED Talks’ sidebar over there which will have a rotating (and growing) list of some of my favourites.

ted_logo

First, what does TED stand for?  What’s it all about?

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

(retrieved from the TED.com FAQ)

My friend Matty G first tuned me into these talks and I have been all over them ever since.  We used them at BrainBoost Tutoring to engage students in the discussion of complex or philosophical ideas – because the presentations tend to be quite engaging, it was difficult for anyone to tune them out.  They had a way of making learning fun…not that it isn’t normally, but this was like ninja-style learning, as if you really had no idea what was going on, but all you knew was that you really wanted to be part of the conversation.  Your brain was always going, ‘Hey, wait a minute!’ or, ‘NO WAY!’, and you would generally have the urge to shout out something.  We even occassionally had students asking to pause the video so they could say something (not a common occurence in most classrooms where videos=sleep).

In any case, because the ideals of TED (a non-profit organization) are both lofty and inclusive (i.e. ideas have the power to change the world; they are free; so please spread them!), they really encourage others to use the videos in pretty well any way they see fit (so long as you don’t profit from them directly) – there is a list of ways you can help the TED mission on the site.  If you’re interested in something, I don’t know, maybe ‘urban design’, you just search for it there and at least a half a dozen videos pop up.  Or maybe you need a 20 minute break, just take a stumble through their themed archives and you are sure to find something extremely interesting.  Some pretty big names from just about every field you can think of have gone at some point to the annual TED conference and wowed the audience; notables include: Bill Clinton, E. O. Wilson, Dave Eggers, Jeff Bezos, David Kelley, Louise Leakey, Richard Branson, Richard Dawkins, Jill Tarter, Steven Pinker, Dan Dennett, Silvia Earle, Malcolm Gladwell, and my oh my, the list goes on.

For marketers, you pretty much have to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s talk on product design.

A ha!  Never mind!  I’ve learned to embed! Scratch that.  I most definitely have not learned how to embed video.   You will need to click through on the links provided. Damn you strikethrough!

And below here is one of my favourite talks that I forgot about until recently.  It is weird and wacky, but completely representative of the kind of creative and revolutionary thinking that goes on in the minds of TED speakers.  And best of all, it’s short if you only have a little time to relax and unwind.

Enjoy!

Update: New TED Talk from Evan Williams on How Twitter’s spectacular growth is being driven by unexpected uses. http://tinyurl.com/ba4uu7
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How we are linked

20 02 2010

I recently came across Nexus, an application that can map out the connections in and amongst all of your collected friends on Facebook.  The result is, I think, pretty neat.

friend-network

Network of friends from Facebook, listed by decreasing density - MBA, Regina, Vancouver (the two central networks), Family

As you can see, my friends form some interesting smaller networks, through which they are all connected to each other (at the very least) through me.  It is possible there are other connections which have not been ‘formalized’ through facebook, but at present this is how it stands.

The lower right collection of nodes are mostly representative of my life in Regina before I moved to Vancouver.  They are friends from elementary and high school, earlier university days and from my year there after I returned from travelling but before I moved out here.

The lower left area (two diagonal lines) consists mainly of my family – or at least, those of whom are on facebook – and (strangely) all of the friends I remain in contact with from Terra Breads, where I worked for two years upon arriving in Vancouver.

The nodes which are relatively connection free (mostly on the right side) are people who I met while travelling and working in Australia and Europe, from 2001-2003.  Not surprisingly, they know few of my friends from either my past or present.

The middle node is, to me at least, the most interesting.  It has in it my girlfriend, my friends who I lived with, and all of my closest friends here in Vancouver.  That entire network grew out of a chance encounter I had when I was looking for a second place to live after not really liking my first place or my roommates after arriving here.  In a sense, it is the reason I stayed put, and I am very glad of that because out of it came all of the happiness that I have today.

The secondary node just above it is why I started writing this post today as I reflected on a book I recently read – Linked (How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and what it means for Business, Science and Everyday Life) by Albert-László Barabási.  That book would probably describe that network as being fairly strongly connected internally but with a lot of weak ties radiating away from it – and it is because of that fact, and specifically that secondary node, that I: a) became a teacher/tutor for two years, whereby I; b) re-ignited my passion for learning and the world, which led me to; c) apply for grad school whereby I; d)  became a part of the very tightly connected upper network, which is a physical representation of all of my friends/aquaintances from the UBC MBA program.  Many of these people are now close friends who I will almost certainly know for most of the rest of my life.  The important thing to note is that each node (a person) is connected pretty well to every other node within the network.

Tightly-knit MBA network

Tightly-knit MBA network

Strangely (on the surface at least), it will probably be that central network, with its many weak branching ties to other networks, that gets me my next job and not the very tightly knit MBA network.  This is due in part to concept of The Strength of Weak Ties – a research paper written by sociologist Mark Grannovetter that was published in 1973 – which of course was described in Linked and which resulted in a, b, c and d in my own life.   In other words, when you’re looking for a job, as I and many of my fellow MBAs are these days, it is best to look amongst large networks with many weak, branching ties; in that way, you are more likely to come across information that is not already mutually known, for example, the job board we all look at called COOL, which stands for Career Options On Line (I call weak sauce on the name, by the way; looking for jobs is not ‘cool’ – looking for jobs sucks, and takes time, and is generally demoralizaing.  But anyway, I digress.)  Which is not to say that this MBA network is not worth something – in fact, I think the opposite is true – it will be extremely valuable in the future (to each of us) as we all branch out in the different directions our lives take us and remain, importantly, weakly connected to one another.

relatively-many-weak-branching-ties

The important central network with (relatively) many weak and branching ties

In any case, I encourage you to have a look at the nexus friend application and examine how all of your friends and aquaintances are connected to you and each other.  You can find it all here.

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Understanding twitter

18 02 2010

A couple of blog posts/articles I’ve been reading over have articulated more or less what I have been thinking about twitter lately.  I haven’t really used the service yet, but I’ve been ‘shadow following’ (for lack of a better term) several marketing type people and other friends in my area to try to better understand why it has the err…umm…following, that it has so far.  Because to me, on first impression at least, the thing seems redundant to your average internet joe.  In earlier entries I covered how some companies are using it to manage their online brand identities and to keep the conversation going with their customers – and of course, the same could be said of its purpose for your average internet denizen – after all, we are all supposed to have a personal brand that stands for who we are and what we do.  And I get that.  But I’m just struggling with why anyone would really want to know what I am doing all the time.  I mean, I’m really not that interesting, and while it may be true that others are more interesting, I don’t want to know what they’re doing 24/7 either.  I’ve already acclimated to Facebook and my friends with constant status updates (which is pretty similar to twitter) and I regularly ignore those – I mean, how much time does one have in this world?  Yes, I get that it is fun to stay in contact with friends and to know what they are doing.  But all the time?  Really?  Is that really what is going to make the world a better place?  Constant conversation between everyone?  Are we headed toward the hive mind after all?

Sigh.

I’m not done with twitter (I’ve barely even started using it).  I’m waiting to see if I can get into it on a personal level and make the thing work for me in some sort of powerful way, as David Pogue witnessed toward the end of his article in the New York Times. See, I get that it could be that good.  I get that it might be nice to have an army of followers who can help at your every beck and call.  Maybe I’m just used to physically writing things down (you know, pen and paper) when I’m curious about something and I want to explore it later.  Maybe I don’t need to blast out some request and have it answered immediately.  Maybe I’m already set in my ways (that would be kind of sad considering I’m not even 30 yet).  I like email, I like RSS and using google reader for my blog reading in the mornings over a cup of coffee, I like the google (anyone notice the launching of that service for the computer illiterate?  Seems funny, or offensive, or both, to do it that way, but hey, I’m laughing).  I can’t remember where now, I think maybe it was in Wired, but there was an article saying the blog is dead.  Well I say fuck that.  The blog is not dead.  The blog is here, and writing is here, and that is going to stay.  RSS definitely made following blogs a lot easier, and I absolutely love it, but I just can’t say that I will ever need someone to tweet to me that they have updated their blog so I can go and read it immediately – the world is full of plenty enough interruptions as it is, and very few things are so important that I would want my phone distracting me constantly.  Oh man, all this complaining is making me feel so old.

For similar thoughts, better written (and funny), go here.

Ideas, ways to correct me and make me understand, go in the comments.

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What we learned: How a few companies are successfully using the Groundswell Framework, and what exactly it is that they are doing.

6 10 2008

Listening – companies must listen to what customers are saying to gain better understanding

- Starbucks: My Starbucks Idea (www.mystarbucksidea.com) – a place where registered users can provide ideas, feedback, and talk to each other about the drinks, the food, whatever; Starbucks also monitors twitter feeds and responds directly to customer complaints or questions.

- Sprint: monitors twitter feeds about the company.

- New York Times: The TimesPeople application (http://timespeople.nytimes.com/home/about/) allows users to share and recommend articles more easily than e-mail (which it also supports, though requires some fields have input).

- (Eventually listening) Comcast: Comcast began listening to and acting upon customer complaints at the customer blog Comcast Must Die (http://comcastmustdie.com/). Eventually won that user over by changing service levels and becoming a more customer friendly organization.

Talking – Through social interactive tools (blogs, forums, communities), begin spreading messages to customers


- Starbucks: gives feedback on ideas at its idea site (above), and responds to concerns via twitter.

Example: Anon. twitters: “wtf – i thought starbucks had free internets now… gotta love random open network connections.” 09:02 AM September 26, 2008. Starbucks replies: @anon a registered Starbucks card will get you 2 hours of free at&t wifi … at: http://www.starbucks.com/ca… 10:28 AM September 26, 2008.

- Sprint – responds to twitter concerns directly – see blog post from http://www.brandflakesforbreakfast.com attached at end of document.

- New York Times: Over 60 blogs with content updated at least daily – many with world class authors such as Steven Dubner. Also uses twitter to send out headlines to followers (subscribers.)

Energizing – Determine who the most energetic users are and leverage their enthusiasm for the brand; essentially making them brand evangelists


- Starbucks: uses a leaderboard at the idea site to recognize significant contributors of ideas; contributors and members can vote for the best ideas which are then sometimes product tested

- Lego: the LUGNET group, which meets online as well as in person, consists of 25 ambassadors for the product and these positions are highly sought after – the title is, in essence, a reward that further incentivizes positive word-of-mouth.

- Apple: uses a reputation function to identify high quality posters among the many thousands who frequent their support and help forums

Supporting – Help customers support each other; an example is Dell’s user generated support forums – people have a natural affinity to help


- BestBuy: BB took this in an inward-facing direction – they set up Blue Shirt Network – a site where employees can connect, share their concerns, and get support from one another

- Apple: has user forums where users help each other

Embracing – After companies have succeeded in the first four steps, engage customers in product development through active feedback principles


- Starbucks: At My Starbucks Idea customer ideas sometimes become reality, as with their new smoother, richer hot chocolate that was obviously in high demand; also reversed their removal of the breakfast sandwiches due to customer feedback – customers have, in turn, responded positively and feel more like part of a community.

- Dell: the Dell IdeaStorm site has promoted user ideas and embraced changes – a site admin provides updates and personally welcomes new users that become solid contributors – many user generated ideas become reality, thus providing more impetus for fans to contribute again and again.

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