Technology After Culture? Not in a Million Years

August 12, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Posted in Fun, social software | 4 Comments

The Wall St. Journal reported today that technology began 3.4 million years ago, which is one million years older than previously thought (“Researchers Say Fossils Uncovered in Ethiopia Push Back the Beginnings of Technology by Almost One Million Years” ).  I predict they will also soon find the remains of the first technology industry analyst to be 3.39 million years old.  Because as soon as that first, shiny new V-shaped rock showed up for cutting hides, I’m sure someone was there to give the same advice I find myself repeating:

  • Sure, the tool is cool, but think about whether you really need it first
  • Don’t just let everyone start using this tool on their collaboration sites – er, carcasses.  Plan out what it will be used for and guide its usage
  • If your need isn’t urgent, consider waiting until V-shaped rock service pack 1 comes out (there may be bugs in the original rock.  I mean real ones – you could get bitten)
  • And most important of all: The majority of problems with aren’t due to the tool, they are due to people, cultural, and organizational issues that need to be dealt with first

The article sheds some light on the origins of that last bullet – the tendency to think about the technology before culture:

An international research team working in Ethiopia has unearthed what it considers the earliest known traces of the use of stone tools, a discovery that could push back the advent of technology by nearly a million years to a time before the evolution of the human family. (emphasis added)

So basic technology evolved before the basic social construct – the family?  No wonder I still encounter people spending all their time optimizing technology only to find that organizational structure and culture sink their projects.  Well, give it another 500,000 years and I’m sure we’ll catch up.


Texting and Driving Starts Early in My Household

August 6, 2010 at 11:12 am | Posted in Attention Management, Fun | 3 Comments

Texting and driving has become one of the perils of our time.  But this is too much:


Yes, that’s my son, not even two years old.  He decided that driving his push truck wasn’t stimulating enough, so he took my aunt’s smart phone and began typing away while pushing himself around the basement.  I guess it starts early.

Interesting side note: at 21 months, his fingers are actually the perfect size for those little keys!

Technical Difficulties

March 19, 2010 at 7:48 am | Posted in Fun | Leave a comment

I haven’t posted here in a while, although it’s not for lack of desire or something to say.  For some reason, Windows Live Writer has decided to crash out immediately on launch and I can’t get it to come up.  I hope to get some time to reinstall it soon.

The Onion Peels Back Google Privacy

March 5, 2010 at 8:25 am | Posted in Fun, Google | 1 Comment

Leave it to the Onion to nail down an issue – in this case the amount of trust so many people are putting in a megacorporation that promises not to be evil.  Personally, I don’t put that much out on Google, but if they buy Yahoo, Zoho, Netflix, and my health insurance company I’d be very afraid …

The Onion: “Google Responds To Privacy Concerns With Unsettlingly Specific Apology” (3/2/10)


SharePoint Governance Process Saves Home Redecorating Project

February 25, 2010 at 7:40 pm | Posted in Fun, Governance, Microsoft SharePoint, portals | 3 Comments

I took a lot of vacation time at the end of the year for a big project – a complete home redecorating including wood floors, painting, furniture, and little stuff too.  My wife and I started running into some disagreements about various decisions and had to take a step back to analyze the situation.  I realized these issues seemed familiar.  Of course – SharePoint governance!  I just can’t get away from it.

My definition of SharePoint governance popped into mind and really helped clarify the problems that needed to be addressed.  I’ll relate it here in the hopes that it helps to illustrate how to use the SharePoint governance process in light of a much smaller, simpler situation that most of us can identify with.  My wife indulged me in this experiment.  (Note: she is a very special woman with a strategic IT background and patience for my technology experiments.  Do not try this at home!) 

My definition goes:

Website governance uses people, policy, and process to resolve ambiguity, manage short- and long-range goals, and mitigate conflict within an organization.

These were indeed the issues we faced.  The ambiguity about who was allowed to make buying and design decisions and how each party needed to be consulted was causing frustration.  Balancing the short range and long range was also difficult:  Should we quickly acquire cheap stuff that we can replace in a few years or spend more time and money to get higher quality pieces that last?  How much do we concentrate on furnishings that work safely for our baby knowing he’ll soon outgrow those needs?  And the need to mitigate conflict – keeping the disputes from ever getting to a frothy head in the first place – was obvious. 

It was validating to see how the same problems that the governance process addresses were the ones we were having.  But how to solve them?  Well, this definition is more than just a definition, but also illustrates how to proceed with solving the problems.  Back to my SharePoint governance process, I knew I needed to create a statement of governance that we could agree to. It consisted of people, policy and process.  I have posted it up here: Home Decorating Statement of Governance.

People: I started by defining a set of roles (designer, user, consultant) that clarified the responsibilities that needed to be assigned for each room.  Then, for each room, we agreed on the ownership by assigning the roles.  My wife is the designer of the living room, while I’m a user (but a consultant for the stereo setup).  I’m the designer of the deck, with my wife as user.

Policy: We had some discussions about our overall goals for the house.  Believe it or not, we hadn’t done this – we had just jumped into talking about specific colors and drapes and such.  Once our policies were codified, we felt better about leaving someone else to make decisions without approval as long as those decisions adhered to the policy.  In other words, the designer had freedom to make decisions, but only within the bounds of the agreed-upon policies.  These policies included items such as the Pricing Policy (anything over $200 requires review), Babyproofing Policy (we agree that unless a room is designated as an adult area, it should be babyproofed), and Gender-friendly Policy (nothing too lacy or too football themed).

Process: A few processes were needed based on these policies.  There’s one to determine the babyproofing room list, one for how to handle approvals of >$200 items, etc.

How did it work?  Well, we’re still in the process of redecorating, but it’s already made both of us feel better about what we can run with and where to stay hands off.  Conflict has been reduced.  And I think we’ll both feel more ownership of the result.  I think this experiment also shows that governance doesn’t have to be a big, bureaucratic sort of thing – this was self-governance between the parties involved.  Finally, as with SharePoint governance, the process forced us to talk through a lot of issues that were being left ambiguous and that would have remained as underlying causes of many smaller disputes if left unaddressed.  It’s the conversation and agreement that matters, not getting the document out the door.

"Up in the Air": A Technology Review

February 16, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Posted in communication, Fun | 2 Comments

For my day off, I finally got to see a movie: “Up in the Air”.  Yes, I know we’re a little behind, but we don’t get out much.  Now, I’m not a film critic, but I am a technology critic.  And as manager of a team that covers enterprise unified communication technology, I can attest that “Up in the Air” is an anti-web conferencing, pro airline movie.  Specifically, it asserts:

1) that frequent travelers may be sacrificing a sense of place for superficial rewards

Despite the deeper message of sacrifice, the movie is decidedly pro travel at the surface level.  It was clearly sponsored by American Airlines, Hilton, and Hertz, who all get repeated, prime placement.  And, unlike most travel movies, the frustrations and humiliations of travel never show up here.  Look to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (or the Seinfeld episode with the rental car counter) for that side.  In this movie, George Clooney’s character never has a flight delayed, unidentified stains on his hotel room sheets, or an apathetic rental car counter employee.

2) that technology inappropriately bleeds the humanity out of communications

What mega-corporations don’t get placement in this movie?  Cisco, IBM, and Microsoft. Communications technologies take a beating in this movie.  Most phone conversations go badly.  Crude IM usage is repeatedly spoofed, as with a break up via text message. But the most scorn is heaped on web conferencing.  The movie starts with the layoff consulting firm deciding to replace in person notifications with layoffs through web conferences.  There are clearly times when web conferencing is appropriate and times when it isn’t.  This is a humorously bad choice of when to use it.

Seriously, I thought it was a fantastic movie.  I highly recommend it.  If you don’t work for the web conferencing divisions of Cisco, IBM, or Microsoft.

Evolutionary Maladaptation: 2 Days

February 13, 2010 at 11:18 pm | Posted in Attention Management, Fun, Information Work | Leave a comment

I’d like to lay claim to control over the Wall St. Journal’s editorial page, remarkable prescience, or the luck of the Irish.  I’ll take any of those 3 I can get.  My claim is based on my February 10th blog posting “Information Overload as Evolutionary Maladaptation” and a WSJ editorial just 2 days later by Daniel Akst’s called “The iPad Could Drive Readers to Distraction“.  His article pretty much falls for every canard I warned about two days earlier, including the use of the exact same humorous caveman example.

Well, in case anyone thought I was putting words into hypothetical mouths on the 10th, Mr. Akst kindly decided to blatantly state the points I was disputing:

  • Roth: “I’ve noticed much that’s written about information overload starts from an assumption that a root cause of the problem is with humankind …”
  • Akst: “Distractibility, sad to say, is the human condition …”


  • Roth: “… the argument being used [is] that the response of information workers to the proliferation of information is an evolutionary maladaptation …”
  • Akst: “Distractibility … probably evolved at a time when … it was a survival adaptation. “


  • Roth: ““Ugh, more information always good! May help me kill sabre tooth tiger or mate with woman!”
  • Akst: “hey, is that a tiger?!”

My point was that I’d like to see more searching for creative solutions.  Arguing that sometimes we can’t help checking email or browsing fun sites when we should be working is like shooting fish in a barrel.  Of course that happens.  But is that always or only the case?  The “steely self-discipline” bandwagon is already full of bright people doing what they can to make a difference.  Mr. Akst’s article demonstrates the over-worn path his argument leads down.  I wrote that “If this is an example of humans being wired for self-destructive behavior, then it leads to lots of ‘protect you from yourself’ advice.”  And sure enough, his article gives a quick survey of software to “bar yourself from the Internet” or programs to “prevent yourself from wasting half your work day surfing celebrity gossip blogs”.

But isn’t there more to this issue?  Can’t questioning a few overly used assumptions yield some new avenues of exploration?  If one assumes that information overload is within the realm of consciousness and under rational control, different solutions can apply. Take a favorite culprit: e-mail.  Assuming e-mail overload is due to evolutionary maladaptation leads to half-jesting self-discipline solutions like Google’s “Take a break” feature.  But if you get past that and consider that users can apply rational responses, you can find many tweaks that get beyond pop-psychology and have a chance of making a real difference (see my posting “E-mail Overload: No Cure, but Enterprise Attention Management Can Shed Some Light“).

All it takes is to stop blaming our cavemen ancestors and start blaming ourselves.

Portal Quiz: What is WSRP?

February 5, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Posted in Fun, portals, Standards | 4 Comments

OK, it’s time for a portal quiz: What is WSRP?

Possible answers:

A. A Spanish-language AM radio station in Jacksonville, North Carolina

B. The Republican party state branch covering Microsoft headquarters

C. Web Services for Remote Portlets

D. A research project related to the biblical times of West Semitic peoples

It’s a trick question of course – they’re all true.  If you don’t believe me, see here, here, here, and here (for a fascinating treasure map from biblical times called the “Copper Scroll”!).

Well, now that I lay it out that way, my chosen topic for today – the Web Services for Remote Portlets standard – seems pretty boring.  But I’ll try to carry on.  A rating category called “standards support” has found its way into most portal evaluations I’ve ever helped with.  And WSRP support is usually on there.  Things get murkier when I ask what they really plan on doing with it:  “Well, we’re very into standards here … architectural guidance to use web services … there are a few different portal products in house that we may need to talk together …”

Unfortunately, WSRP shouldn’t just be a quick checkbox item on evaluations. WSRP can be useful, but in a limited set of use cases where it applies. And even if one of those use cases applies, you’ll also need guidance on how security, trust, UI frameworks, and optional services should be used. Usually if you’re just trying to solve portal proliferation problems, developing RESTful services for applications (or RSS/Atom for content) and then writing “last mile” portlets for each portal works better.

So what are those use cases where WSRP makes sense?  I did some digging and found three that hold water:

1. Syndicating a Branded Portlet to Users on Platforms Outside The Syndicator’s Control: This is where it’s not enough to just make the information easily usable in multiple portals, but the branding with it (the exact style, layout, colors, etc) is important too. But keep in mind that there are other choices (like Flash) if branding or formatting integrity—not the formalism associated with a portlet—is all you need.

2. Developing a “Portal of Portals”: If you want to create a new portal from portlets of existing portals, you could use WSRP wrappers to do this.

3. Exposing Portlets from Another Platform the Development Team Doesn’t Know: Are you Java based and your .NET programmers won’t talk to you?  Have them give you WSRP portlets instead of Web Parts and you’ll get along much better.

Now that I’m done with WSRP, you can get on to finding that ancient treasure. Let’s see … “In the Second Enclosure, in the underground passage that looks east…”

How Star Trek Informs SharePoint Governance Models

October 30, 2009 at 2:55 pm | Posted in Fun, Governance, Microsoft SharePoint, portals | Leave a comment

I just got back from an onsite visit to help a client work through their SharePoint governance issues, which includes talking about picking the appropriate spot on the governance continuum.  This is almost always some form of federation.  My definition of federation is “Groups in an organization recognize a central authority’s right to set high-level policy but retain the freedom to make their own decisions within the bounds of that policy.”

I’ve been asked before if federation can exist without a central authority.  I realize in some technical domains the word “federation” is used that way, like with P2P federation.  But for this domain, federation does imply a central authority. 

When talking about federation and governance, my model is federalism, which the U.S. was founded on.  Wikipedia calls federalism “is a political philosophy in which a group of members are bound together (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing representative head.” That’s how I seem to remember it from Social Studies class too, although that was a long time ago. 

For final proof, please note the definition of perhaps the best known, most advanced federation: The United Federation of Planets.  According to the Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki: “The United Federation of Planets (abbreviated as UFP and commonly referred to as The Federation) was an interstellar federal republic, composed of planetary governments that agreed to exist semi-autonomously under a single central government based on the principles of universal liberty, rights, and equality, and to share their knowledge and resources in peaceful cooperation and space exploration.” 

BTW – Apparently the UFP had an anthem too.  Click here to hear it.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

Information Overload Movie Clip

August 25, 2009 at 10:29 am | Posted in Attention Management, communication, Fun, Information Work | Leave a comment

Picture this situation: a businessperson on a plane checks her email inbox on her laptop and finally goes bonkers at how the emails keep piling up and never end.  The constrained ability to move on the plane and similar lack of control over incoming email leads to a sudden desire to escape.  A nearby passenger tries to shake this woman to her senses, but then another passenger wants to try too.  Now, here comes a professional information overload pundit!  The pundit comes over to shake her up and try to get her to snap out of it by realizing what “we” are doing to “ourselves” with this constant need to communicate.  But then more pundits show up – a book author here, a consultant there, a blogger/columnist next – all trying to outdo themselves on how to shake this woman to her senses.

Well, you don’t need to picture this in your head.  Just click on the link below for an accurate recreation of this event.

Get a Hold of Yourself!

Get a Hold of Yourself!

Calm Down! Get a Hold of Yourself!

Yeah, it’s just like that.  While they all seem to want to help, the sheer mass of them and desire to out-shake the last pundit makes them seem a bit too gleeful for the opportunity to slap her around.  It’s not tough to slap someone around on information overload – most people are guilty of poor attention management processes and most people feel info-stress from time to time.  It turns out, it’s so easy to slap people around on information overload that it’s actually fun – even cathartic! If only her seatmate would have tried to talk to her instead of slapping her down, this might have ended better …

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