Thursday, March 12, 2009

Twine Not Ready for Prime Time

I saw an article by James Handler espousing the beta of Twine as evidence for uptake of Semantic Web and Web 3.0. While I am excited about growth of the Semantic Web, 20 seconds on Twine was enough to convince me it is not ready for prime time.

I was greeted on the screen with a form asking me to enter what I was into. I entered my three favorite sports team with excitement to see what a semantic smart engine would link me to. The results were not even close. Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Lotus Connections

IBM Lotus Connections is social software for business that empowers you to be more innovative and helps you execute more quickly by using dynamic networks of coworkers, partners and customers.

Microformat information:

Operating Systems

SQL Server, Oracle, DB2

Application Server

Microformats bring standardization in small baby steps

While the semantic web grand vision has been somewhat an academic exercise, microformats are creating easy ways for sites to share information in a fluid, flexible, and distributed way. I have just finished trying out Yahoo Search Monkey. It is cool and very easy to create custom searches that pull microformat data directly into the search results. This creates a customized look and provides the search results recipient with more helpful information which will only increase the likelihood that they visit your site.

Here is a sample XOXO list in microformats that details some of the benefits:

  1. SEO

    1. More precise searches

    2. Faceted search

    3. More meaningful search result display data

  2. Integration with other programs

    1. Add to my calendar

  3. Better browsing

    1. Firefox 3 provides easy API for adding and operating on microformats

    2. IE 8 uses hAtom for Web Slices and promises more microformat support as well.

Another example is the hDITA work at Lotus Information 2.0 Web Site

Friday, January 25, 2008

Capitalism is a Half-Developed Structure

I am in the process of reading Muhammad Yunus's book Creating a World without Poverty which is an extremely thought-provoking book. Muhammad is the Nobel-prize winning founder of Grameen Bank. Like many new ideas, the book is at the same time terrifying and exciting.

He challenges that capitalism in it's current structure neglects a significant portion of the world's population and is threatening the global environment. While he asserts that there is much that is good about a free-market economy and global economic expansion, he challenges that capitalism in it's current manifestation fails in that it takes a one-dimensional view of man:

We've created a one-dimensional human being to play the role of business leader, the so-called entrepreneur. We've insulated him from the rest of life, the religious, emotional, political, and social. He is dedicated to one mission only - maximize profit. ... To quote Oscar Wilde, they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

He claims that we are so conditioned to accept the free-market as it is that we can not even conceive of it having short-comings:

When believers in this theory see gloomy news on television they should begin to wonder whether the pursuit of profit is a cure-all, but they usually dismiss their doubts, blaming all the bad things in the world on 'market failures.' They have trained their minds to believe that well-functioning markets simply cannot produce unpleasant results.

Given this inability of profit-driven capitalism to solve many of the world's problems, he proposes a slight modification to the business model - the creation of 'social businesses.' These businesses operate in every way exactly like normal businesses except that they provide no dividend. All profits remain with the business to grow the business to do more social good.

Investors can get their original investment out of the business at any time but no more than their initial investment. He proposes a social stock market where shares in these social businesses can be bought and sold. Social stock markets provide returns for investors as stock valuation increases based on the social good provided by the social business.

While perhaps a little Utopian in its view, it is thought-proving and the book provides good examples of real social businesses in action including a joint-venture that Grameen Bank has with Dannon Yogurt's parent company Danone.

This is part of a very encouraging mega-trend in which business principals are being seen as the answer to addressing poverty instead of leaving this problem to government and non-profit organizations.

One example of this is from a conversation I had today with my friend Gareth Evans, the Deputy Director of Microfinance for World Relief. He has some very innovative ideas on how we might create online marketplaces to enable free-trade for some of the poorest entrepreneurs in the Third World.

These business people are currently excluded from the benefits of buying and selling at market prices. In local villages, farmers may have only one outlet for their crops and they have to take the offering price because there are no other competing bidders. Likewise, an entrepreneur in that same village could create a nice business selling solar powered generators but only with a market of potential suppliers of those generators to find the best wholesale price from.

An online marketplace, accessed by a local PC in the center of the village or by mobile phone, could change the income potential for them dramatically. Like the Grameen Phone project (see You Can Hear Me Now: How Microloans and Cell Phones are Connecting the World's Poor to the Global Economy by Nicholas P. Sullivan) this online marketplace could both be a successful business venture for a corporation and serve the poor at the same time.

This marketplace could perhaps link the people in established economies with these Third World businesses in the same way that Kiva is bringing personal Microfinance lenders and Third World businesses together.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Wisdom of the Crowd or The Crowd is Untruth

I recently read Soren Kierkegaard's "On the Dedication to That Single Individual" in which he discusses whether the crowd has truth on their side. Here is a short excerpt:

There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side. There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that "the crowd" received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.
This struck me as an interesting contrast to our Web 2.0 thinking on the "wisdom of the crowd" made popular through articles and books like "Wikinomics" and "The Global Brain." Not that Soren today would argue against collaborative crowd sourcing but he has some important points for us to ponder as we think about proper crowd sourcing.

First is the distinction between a community and a crowd. A community is knit together with common purposes and established interdependent relationships between the members. A crowd has none of that. A community is active. A crowd is passive. A community serves the members. A crowd can degenerate into a mob.

The second is the responsibility of the single individual. Again Kierkegaard states "For a crowd is an abstraction, which does not have hands; each single individual, normally has two hands." There is a passive nature to participation in the crowd which can not only take away personal responsibility but also personal creativity and innovation. In a crowd it is way too easy to follow along.

Proper crowd-sourcing is done by individuals maximizing their own individual creativity and sharing that through a community with a common purpose.

HP Printing Mailbox

For years my mother, like many people her age, has struggled to operate a computer which has excluded her from joining the electronic age with the rest of her family. This year, my sister fixed that with the purchase of an HP Printing Mailbox ( Being the one who installed this product for my mother, I got to see the "appliance-like" experience built into the product first hand.

There are two user roles involved in use of the product - the non-technical user of the Printing Mailbox and an Internet-savy user who serves as the account manager. The account manager sets up the e-mail account including spam filters and security controls. They link the account to the home phone number that the Printing Mailbox connects in from. Then they simply connect Printing Mailbox to the phone line and it dials in to configure itself and is remotely managed from the central server. The central server even does diagnostics and tells the account manager of any problems (e.g. if the printer cartridge needs replacement).

This is a very cool example of the appliance experience.

The Appliance Experience

Much has been said recently about appliances (hardware appliances, virtual appliances) as the new delivery vehicle for technology. However not much has been talked about in terms of what that true appliance experience should be like. Many vendors are dumping their software into a preload image on a piece of hardware and declaring appliance victory. There is much more to the appliance experience than a preload.

This preload-only-appliance leads to very unpleasant surprises when, after the first happy day experiencing the ease of install, the user returns the next morning to find that same old monster of a software program in all of its massive complexity staring them right in the face.

The appliance experience is much more than a simpler install experience. The appliance experience should apply across the full life cycle of use of the appliance.