Archive for Collaboration

Mozilla’s Ubiquity is a great concept

// November 18th, 2009 // No Comments » // Collaboration, Cool Tech, Featured, Tech for the masses, Web 2.0

If you don’t use Firefox for web browsing, this probably won’t be of much use to you. On the other hand, if you don’t use Firefox for browsing… why not try it. OK, enough on that…. here’s the real intent of this article.

It may be old news to some, but I recently discovered the Ubiquity Project from Mozilla. What is it? Well the best way to understand that is to view the introductory video below:

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

If you didn’t watch the video… Ubiquity is a natural language based command interface that allows techies and non-techies alike, to create instant mashups as they browse and work on the web.

Although it’s integration with other web sites and web apps is still limited, it is conceptually a great idea, and the list of commands is growing everyday. I find my self using the easy twitter update and weather update constantly. I use the translate command daily as well. It also makes for quick short cuts to almost every web based utility out there, be it Google, Wikipedia or Youtube, etc…

If you use Gmail, you can really do some cool mashup, quite easily, but I wouldn’t make that a reason to switch to Gmail if you are happy with what you are using for Email. Now, if someone smarter than I builds an interface to Google Wave, then the possibilities will be endless.

My search for a Paperless Business Card

// October 9th, 2009 // 2 Comments » // Collaboration, Featured, IT Professionalism, Web 2.0

I remember, somewhat fondly, my first PDA (the original Palm). It had an Infrared port that allowed you to “beam” your business card to another similarly equipped Palm devices. I remember thinking, this is great, this will spell the end of paper business cards. Well, too many years later, we are still a drift in a sea of paper business cards.

OK, my Palm example was fraught with problems. First you had to find someone with a an IR enabled Palm, then they had to have the IR enabled, they had to have pre-setup their business card in their contacts, and then you had to get them physically pretty close to make it work. I quickly abandoned my use of beaming business card and went back to the old school paper cards.

Well, the other day I said to myself, surely there has got to be some better options available today, and so I went on the hunt for a simple, yet easily distributable, virtual (paperless) business card.

My criteria was simple, what I wanted was:

  1. Need to be able to store my particulars (for free)… duh
  2. Need to easily be able to share it with people
  3. Would be nice if the recipient didn;t have to manually re-enter my data
  4. Was cool enough that those I gave it to might be interested in trying themselves
  5. Elegant

Of all the options out there, here are the ones I tested (in no particular order):

  • is trying to be the of the virtual business card world. Here is a link to my business card. Although the interface is slick and I am happy with the appearance of the final product, it took me quite a bit of time fiddling with the settings to make it all fit within the displayed card (initially, it ran over and looked like crap). They also don’t have a field for your Title, although they do have the ability to add your own fields. In the end, to make it look nice, I ended up having to put my title and company name within the address box, which of course makes the download able Vcard useless for someone trying to load my info into their contacts automagically.
    Rating: Doesn’t fit the bill (or the Bill for that matter).
  • DUB
    This was one of the easiest to setup and worked as advertised. However, there is no way to share this card in a URL. You need to send an Email, or use a downloadable Blackberry app to it to your recipient. When your new contact gets the link, it asks them to sign up to DUB in order to store your info in their contact list. It’s too bad, because if they had my card URLable, I probably would have liked this the best.
    Rating: Fail…. don’t force the people I send it to, to sign up for the service!
  • Hoocard
    This was by far the coolest bizcard setup I tried, but they fall short in a couple of areas. Most notably, it doesn’t appear to be supported by anyone. Following their Contact link, took me to a page that gave me another link to go to, which when I went there, told me they had merged with someone else. In the end it was just too difficult to find an email address where I could send a simple question.
    Having said that, one of the cool things about Hoocard is that you can set up multiple business cards (ie: one business and one personal) and send which ever one is situationally appropriate. They have an interesting delivery mechansim as well. They give you a unique email address for each card you setup. To send someone your info, you address an Email to that unique hoocard email address, and enter the recipients email address in the subject line, and hit send. The recipient receives an email which contains the graphical representation of my business card, and an attached Vcard so they can load it into their contacts.
    No where on the site does it show you a direct URL to your card, but I managed to figure it out. Here is a link to my business Hoocard and my personal Hoocard.
    Rating: Does the job, I like the multiple card options, but I don’t like having to hunt for the URL
  • BusinessCard2
  • BusinessCard2 is by far the most professional of the group and is very simple and easy to use. Although they lack the fancy “send” options of some other players, it sets up an easily rememberable URL and does have the option to email the link to your intended recipient. Unfortunately, it only allows you one email address per profile/card, and I originally used my personal email, but entered my company info. So now I have 2 cards, one for work and one personal.. Here is personal BusinessCard2 card and here is my work one.
    After all my testing, this is the one I’ve landed on as my default online business card. It was easy to setup and is easily distributable. Just send your intended recipient the URL and they can go to the site and view your card as well as download a Vcard. The one thing I’d like to see them change though would be to send the actual Vcard with the email that contains the link, so save the recipient the extra step.
    Rating: Best of the lot
  • Do it yourself option
    Just for fun, I tried a little do it yourself project. I found a cool looking WordPress theme that did one thing and one thing only…. present your info in a cool way. Here is a link to my DIY Card.
    Although somewhat cool, it has the drawback of not having a downloadable Vcard. I suppose I could build one and insert a link, but…. meh…. I’lll stick with BusinessCard2 for now.
    Rating: Cool now that I have done it, but too much work if you are looking to do it yourself.

So, from this point forward, I will be sending people my paperless card rather than giving them a real one.

Let’s get together and feel alright!

// May 15th, 2009 // No Comments » // Collaboration, Featured, Tech for the masses, Web 2.0

OK, so this post has nothing at all to do with IT or technology….. or does it? The video below is powerful on a multitude of levels….

  1. Powerful message — One Love… unite the world !
  2. Powerful music — Who doesn’t like Bob Marley?
  3. Powerful demonstration of collaboration — People from all over the world, singing and playing in unison. But you know to make it look as seamless as it does, there were a lot of people collaborating for many hours to produce those few minutes.
  4. Powerful demonstration of Technology — Something like this would not have been possible just a few years ago, unless you had millions of dollars to spend.

Glimpse the future and the power of collaboration. It’s going to change the world, and this video encapsulates the how and the why!

UI of the future

// November 17th, 2008 // No Comments » // Collaboration, The Future of IT

Remember the holographic, hand gesture computers used in the movie Minority Report? Well it turns out that the technology was more real that we believed. One of the co-founders of Oblong (see video below) was the science advisor for the flick and much of what we saw in the movie was developed in his lab at MIT.

This technology is now available, sort of, to everyone (if you have the dough). As this system is meant to interact with projectors and computers in a specially designed room, it’s probably not something you are going to be able to buy at your local best buy soon. But it does bode well for the future, as more and more emerging UI technologies become main stream. The advent of multi-touch interfaces and the now infamous “Electoral Map” screen used by CNN during the election, means some of this stuff will start being main stream.

I for one, am excited about that prospect. The keyboard and mouse, and a single small screen (yes, even your 22″ wide screen is small) are limitations to creativity and the visual relationship of data.

Have a look at the future:

g-speak overview 1828121108 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

The future is here my friends, and it looks bright.

Business Meeting coordination made simple

// June 30th, 2008 // No Comments » // Collaboration, Email, Office 2.0, Tech for the masses

One of the things that has consistently annoyed me about trying to set up a mutually agreeable time for a meeting, is the amount of back and forth emails and/or calendar counter proposals that are required. OK, it may be trifling to you, but it bugs the heck out of me.

So… to the rescue comes a simple new web app called When is Good. I like this app for two simple reasons, one is it solves a problem that has annoyed be for some time, and two is does one simple job, simply and very well.

So what’s the problem? We let’s say I want to meet with Larry, Curly and Moe, and they all work in different places. I send out a meeting invitation at a time that works for me and I invite all three. Larry and Curly accept the invite, so they can make it at that time. Great! However, Moe responds that he can’t make it and sends back a counter proposal for a different time on a different day. I check my calendar and that works for me, so I accept Moe’s counter proposal and and new invite goes back out to all three for the new time. Great so far. Unfortunately, now Curly can’t make that new time, but instead of responding back, he calls and leaves me a voice mail, without letting me know when he is actually available. Arrghh! It shouldn’t be this difficult, and now, thanks to WhenIsGood. it isn’t.

Same scenario, but now using WhenIsGood. I goto the website and click on the get started button. I am presented with a simple screen that has days listed across the top, and time’s listed down. I simply click on ALL the times that are good for me, enter a name for my meeting/event, and click on the create button. I get a unique code for my event, which they ask you to write down. I then get a link that I post into an email to Larry, Curly and Moe.

Larry, Curly and Moe, individually click on the link they get and are presented with all the times I say I am available. They click on all the times that would work for them. I can optionally get an email telling when they have responded, or I can go back and check the site using my unique code.

When I go back to check, all the times I specified, where Larry, Curly and Moe have all indicated they can make it are highlighted in green. Now I know when I schedule the meeting and be assured that they all can make it.

So let’s review

  1. I create the Event on WhenIsGood and indicate my available times
  2. I check back to the website to see when a mutually agreeable time is
  3. Send out a meeting notice for one of those mutually agreeable times.

I like it when simple, good and useful all come together. Go ahead and give it a try. Organizing family dinners just got easier too.

Like it or not, Spreadsheets are here to stay

// October 3rd, 2007 // No Comments » // Business Intelligence, Collaboration, Office 2.0, The Future of IT

The venerable and well respected site CIO.COM has posted an article called “How to Say Goodbye to Spreadsheets“, which caught my eye. Having lived through the early years of spreadsheets, and having witnessed their evolution into a standard tool of business, I was curious. Having had to deal with the follies and foibles of spreadsheet usage within the companies for whom I have worked, I was hopeful.

But alas, just another case of sensationalized, presumptuous and misleading headlines.

To think that BI tools will eliminate spreadsheets is naive in the extreme. Can BI reduce your dependency on spreadsheets, absolutely, but eliminate them?? No way. I herein cite several major reasons for why spreadsheets are here to stay:

  1. People are basically lazy. Spreadsheets are easy and accessible, BI tools take time to configure and are generally restricted to a select few (due to high licensing costs primarily) within an organization. The poor relations will still be using spreadsheets and thumbing their noses at the BI enabled elite.
  2. BI tools are only as good at the data they have access to (ie: the predefined views that some techie type has deemed acceptable for the users to, well, view) A good portion of spreadsheets in any size organization will no doubt have data that exists no where else but in the spreadsheet. This goes back to number one above, as it’s easier to create a spreadsheet to track new data points than to get IT to build it into existing systems, and then get it into the views accessible to the BI tools.
  3. My experience with two major deployments of BI tools in large organizations, is… that most BI tool users, use the BI tools for 90% of the job and then export to Excel to finish it. It may be stupid, redundant and unnecessary, but that’s reality
  4. Spreadsheets are the tool of the masses. They are available to everyone and are easily shared. It allows anyone with just a little bit of training and a good deal of spare time, to build, maintain, discard and re-build virtually anything and everything. Just as Wikis have allowed anyone to contribute their ideas on any topic on the wiki, spreadsheets have enabled business users to do their own thing. It’s called freedom baby.

Now, I am not condoning the misuse of spreadsheets and I agree wholeheartedly with the reasons why BI tools are better, but from a practical standpoint, it will be a long long time, if ever, before spreadsheets are gone. Just look at all the free open source and free web based spreadsheet tools out there (eg: Open Office, ZOHO, Google Documents, etc…) and you’ll see their usage is growing. Even if corporate IT departments were to deploy MS Office without Excel, people will find a way to get access to the spreadsheets they need.
So, Philosphically, using BI tools in place of spreadsheets would be almost nirvana for large companies, but philosophies are what gets the user’s jobs done.

What’s your take?

Avaya bought for $8.2 billion! A sign of the times

// September 30th, 2007 // No Comments » // Collaboration, VOIP

The longstanding stalwart PBX giant Avaya was recently bought by Silver Lake Partners and the Texas Pacific Group for $8.2 Billion. Aside from it being a lot of dough, this illustrates the turmoil happening in the competitive corporate phone system business. From my perspective, I think they paid too much. Avaya has good brand recognition and has a large foothold in the Fortune 500 companies, but they don’t scale down well and they are expensive! With the growth in the VOIP market and smaller and cheaper competitors entering the market, I don’t see how Avaya can maintain their pricing for very much longer. The challenge then becomes, how do they make money selling for less?

For companies with less than 10,000 employees, their are viable (functionally better) and cheaper options available. While CIO at Peer 1 Network, we opted to put in a system from ShoreTel, after getting sticker shock from a quote for an Avaya system. In the end, Peer 1 will have 12 sites and at least 2 call centers (one large, one small) up and running on ShorTel for roughly the same cost as an Avaya system for 3 sites and one (large) call centre. And… the functionality and flexibilty of the ShoreTel VOIP system is arguably better than what you get with Avaya.

Given the alternatives out there for small and medium sized businesses, I don’t see how Avaya can compete long term.

Now having said that, there is no question that Avaya has good products. If the new owners are to get some return on their investment, they’ll have to change the direction of Avaya and focus on the SMB market as well as beefing up it’s VOIP offerings. Even then, they will be the ones chasing the ShoreTel’s of the world! Good luck to them.

A little dabble will do ya

// September 28th, 2007 // No Comments » // Collaboration, The Long Tail, Web 2.0

I recently stumbled upon a cool web 2.0 application called dabbledb. As the name might suggest, it’s an online database. So what you say, DBs are everywhere. The difference here is that for a very low price (free if you don’t mind other people seeing your data), you can house a number of databases and build an application interface which can link data from one DB to another. You can import data from almost anything that you can get into a CSV or Excel file. With Excel it’s a simple drag and drop, and dabble automatically figures out field (column) names, and creates picklists from repetitive data.

Essentially you can easily build your own web application and share it with almost anyone. This would be a great option for companies (or departments within companies) that need to have multiple people update Excel spreadsheets, or that have someone consolidating spreadsheets completed by multiple individuals. Why not create the spreadsheet in Dabble and have everyone access it in one place.

Dabbledb is not yet a competitor to a professionally developed database application, but it’s plugin capabilities will allow you, given enough time and creativity, to do almost any data manipulation you could dream of.

This is definitely something to keep in your arsenal of tools. You can try it out, free for a month with their special promotion that is on now.

What’s in a name… try $350 Million

// September 26th, 2007 // 4 Comments » // Collaboration, Email, Web 2.0

Yahoo recently purchased Zimbra for $350 million. This a great example of good things happening to good products. For those who don’t know, Zimbra is an open source Email, Calendar and file collaboration suite that is simply amazing. They have an AJAX based UI that is simple, elegant and IMHO knocks the socks off of Outlook. This package has everything, from simple administration to sophisticated add-on (called Zimlets) that expand functionality.

Last year, I was researching Email options and took a very serious look at Zimbra and was very impressed by what I discovered. There are similar Open Source products for Email, such as Scalix but for my money, I think Zimbra has a slight edge.

I’ve looked at apps like Zimbra and Scalix as Exchange killers, and indeed they are. However, what Yahoo has done with this move is potentially a Google Apps (or at least Gmail) killer. As an avid user of Gmail and Gmail calendars, I can say with confidence that the Zimbra interface blows gmail away. In fact, I don’t use the Gmail web interface if I could help it, I use my Outlook client, as it efficiently married my Email, Contacts (which I use a lot), and Calendars in to one nice interface. I use Outlook because there is nothing better out there, that is until now. If I could get the Zimbra UI on my Yahoo mail, I’d switch from Google in a heart beat.

So as much as this is good news for both Yahoo and the folks at Zimbra who are now suddenly a lot richer, this is great news for the internet community as a whole. It’s free enterprise at it’s best and positions Yahoo to provide real competition to the Google quasi-monopoly. What would make it even more interesting is if MSN where to scoop up Scalix and be a 3rd contender. Or why not have the tail wag the dog and have Scalix acquire or partner with  some of the Office 2.0 companies out there and be the 3rd alternative.