Helping You Filter Streams - Darwin Awareness Engine

I've promised Bill Ives that I'd write a blogpost about Darwin Awareness Engine a long time ago. Finally, here's my post about this new and interesting service. Sorry it took so long...

How do you keep up with the news, tweets, updates and feeds? We live in the wonderful world of information abundance. But many feel overwhelmed by the amount and speed of information. Some even talk about information overload.

I described how I keep up with what's going on in the world and in my area's of interest. But can't it be better?
Yes, it can. This is where all kinds of new(er) solutions pop up. Like Techmeme and Postrank. There's even talk of Web Squared, Web 3.0 or the Semantic Web, which should help us filter through loads of information coming at us. Not just by highlighting 'the best tweets and feeds', but my semantically analyzing and summarizing the information.

The Darwin Awareness Engine fits in this movement. And I think they're doing a good job. I can see why they won several prizes. It works and it's useful.

Bill Ives explains what Darwin Engine is about and what it does here.
Rather than using semantic technology to attempt to enable understanding by a computer, our approach to awareness based on Chaos Theory provides a visualization of results that better enables a person to make more informed decisions about where to look next. Then there are tools that allow for efficient drilling down into relevant details. It builds on a person’s expertise rather than trying to replace it.
You can try it here or built on Twitter here. You'll see it presents the information in tagcloud-like visualizations. It also shows a ticker-tape. By adding and removing terms (attractors) the results can be manipulated.

I used Darwin Engine for some time. I don't use it very often anymore. My experiences are:

  • Darwin Engine or Twortex was an extra space for me to watch (besides the streams that I already pay attention to). It was too much for me to also keep going there. I also wonder if this has to do with usability. Are the visualizations visual enough and is the interface self-explanatory enough for users to keep coming back? The biggest challenge for a new service is to get users to integrate it in their workflow.
  • I liked the application of the Engine to Twitter, called Twortex. It would be great to flip the standard Twitter timeline with a more visual one like Twortex. Not only on terms but also on my or one of my follower's timeline. I do find Twortex kind of slow. Sometimes is keeps on processing without showing results.
  • Related to the previous bullet: I think it would be helpful to have a more visual navigation of my feeds in Google Reader. I'd like to see the traditional feedlist and easily flip to the visual mode. Flipboard and Zite show there a market for more visual navigation.
  • As mentioned on the website, Darwin Engine is great for business and competitive intelligence work. And for information management departments. It would be neat to use the Engine on internal company information as well.
I'm curious where Darwin Engine is headed. I hope my remarks are useful to the creators and users  of the Engine.
Have you used Darwin Engine? What are your experiences? Please share your comments or blogposts here.

Foursquare Useless (for now)

Location-based services are very interesting, I find. And I see a big future for them. The fact that you can connect content to a location is intriguing. It's even more fascinating to realize that it's not just content linked to a location, but also the person sharing the content is linked to it.

I've been using Foursquare since the beginning, checking in regularly (now 1379 checkins). I changed my location sharing strategies several times: from sharing everything on Twitter to sharing nothing and everything in between. Looking at the numbers location-based services are growing, but they're still a niche. It's great to see businesses experimenting with these services. Starting now will give them an edge when things go mainstream.

But has it been useful to me? Has it made me more productive? Have I met more interesting people? Did I get interesting discounts? In short: No, it didn't. Let me explain.

  • It's great to get badges every now-and-then, to see where others are hanging out (although I hardly check the checkin feed, only when it pops up on Twitter). Getting a badge is fun and encouraging. But it's not enough to make a service useful to me. The same goes for the leaderboard.
  • Checking in to (unknown) places is fun as well. It feels like discovering something new. Checking in to the same place over-and-over is no fun. It would be better if that was automated.
  • The push notifications are kind of useful. It gives you some ambient awareness where your 'friends' are. Only once I met up with someone based on their Foursquare checkin. In another case my checkin led to a meeting later on during that day. ('Hey, you're in Amsterdam, shall we meet?') Wouldn't it be more useful to also be able to share where you plan to be during the day, making friend encounters more probable? Like TripIt or Forecast.
  • Not very many people use Foursquare. At least not in Holland and the places that I visit. (Some say there are 150.000 users in Holland. Others say 175.000 or just 20.000.) So, I found myself following people that I don't even know just to increase the likelihood I'd meet someone somewhere.
This doesn't imply Foursquare is useless in general. As I said, it has huge potential and some companies are successfully using  these services to promote their brand, services and products. We have all heard of the 'free coffee for mayors' and 'get a book for free after 10 checkins' offers. (I collected some examples here and here.) I just don't think it's useful now. This is clearly only the start. And I think that's the problem for these services as well. We've just started to understand what social media means for our lives and for business. Location-based services is a next wave to understand. It's just to early. At least in Holland it is.

So, what are your experiences with location-based services? Are they helpful? What sharing strategies do you apply? And is my perspective biased by the fact that I live in Holland? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, I'll keep using Foursquare, hoping for better times!

A Brief History of the Corporation

There are lots of good bloggers and blogposts out there. But every now and then I run into a post that is just great. This is one of them: A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100 by Venkatesh Rao. It's a long post! So, make sure you have some time to read and process it.
Why do I think this post is so interesting? Well, there's been lots of debate about what social media means for traditional business. Will it change or is it changing the way we do business? Is the traditional, hierarchical way of organizing companies sustainable? Is social media correcting the industrial revolution? Or should we say 'the industrial interruption', like 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' says. Is this enterprise 2.0 or social business?

Much has been and is being written about this topic. Just think of the books 'Wikinomics', 'Macrowikinomics' and 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' itself.
So, what is this post about. In it's own words:
The Age of Corporations is coming to an end. The traditional corporation won’t vanish, but it will cease to be the center of gravity of economic life in another generation or two.
And it goes on to provide proof or leads for this statement pointing to fundamental forces creating this shift in the world.

One of the things that also struck me was the way Rao writes about technology. As if it's an autonomous force. It's the same way of talking about technology that I'm reading about in 'What Technology Wants' by Kevin Kelly. (Note: You should check the interesting discussion between Carr and Kelly here.) Roa says about technology (and business):
It is technology, acting through business and Schumpeterian creative-destruction, that drives monotonic, historicist change, for good or bad. Business is the locus where the non-human force of technological change sneaks into the human sphere.
But what's the point of this all? Growth has changed over the years. And growth has never been limitless. In our time there may be an unlimited amount of ideas, but attention is not limitless. This has implications for business. 
The equation was simple: energy and ideas turned into products and services could be used to buy time. Specifically, energy and ideas could be used to shrink autonomously-owned individual time and grow a space of corporate-owned time, to be divided between production and consumption. Two phrases were invented to name the phenomenon: productivity meant shrinking autonomously-owned time. Increased standard of living through time-savingdevices became code for the fact that the “freed up” time through “labor saving” devices was actually the de facto property of corporations. It was a Faustian bargain.
Many people misunderstood the fundamental nature of Schumpeterian growth as being fueled by ideas rather than time. Ideas fueled by energy can free up time which can then partly be used to create more ideas to free up more time. It is a positive feedback cycle, but with a limit. The fundamental scarce resource is time. There is only one Earth worth of space to colonize. Only one fossil-fuel store of energy to dig out. Only 24 hours per person per day to turn into capitive attention.
Among the people who got it wrong was my favorite visionary, Vannevar Bush, who talked of science: the endless frontier. To believe that there is an arguably limitless supply of valuable ideas waiting to be discovered is one thing. To argue that they constitute a limitless reserve of value for Schumpeterian growth to deliver is to misunderstand how ideas work: they are only valuable if attention is efficiently directed to the right places to discover them and energy is used to turn them into businesses, and Arthur-Clarke magic.
HT Andy McAfee for pointing to this post!

It's Time to Try Social Technologies

Maybe you've already seen this great video by Kevin Jones? If not, go ahead, watch and reshare it!

Great, eh?! It's something I say in my workshops about social media strategy. Yes, it's important to think about social media concepts and strategy. What do we want to achieve with social media? Which social tools are we going to use? Etc.
But if thinking about these things keeps you from doing and experiencing social media, you're on the wrong track. So, I stress the trying, experimenting, doing part of social media. Hopefully this video will get you going! I loved it.

Social Media Silo's

Social Media should support networks within companies and over its boundaries. It should break down silo's in companies. The same goes for the silo's in people's lives, work and private life. But does it really?

I've been wondering about this topic for some time. I've been rereading The Cluetrain Manifesto and found it's been mentioned there as well. And now with the arrival of Google+ people are wondering if this will be the social backbone (must-read piece BTW!).

What am I talking about? Well, we have all these social tools that support parts of our lives. Some only work on the intranet, some only on the internet. Some are more for personal, private sharing, others are more work-related. Many have approximately the same functionality. So, you always get the question: Where should I share my information (without pushing the same information to all these services at once)? And where do I get an overview of all my social interactions?
I was hoping something like Friendfeed would solve this issue. It did, but then everybody left. I even tried to read tweets in Google Reader for some time. That didn't work well. So my silo's are still in place.
These silo's don't only affect creating of social content, but also consuming. A good step in the right direction is what Disqus is doing for blogs: collecting as much of the social interactions around a blogpost as possible. But what I can't do there is reply to a tweet directly from a blog comment.
And then Google+ popped up. Will Google+ solve this problem? I agree with this piece Google has a good chance. It's at least what they are headed for.

In my experience the overlap in functionality and social silo's are a huge barrier in the adoption of social tools. It's one of the reasons people stick with traditional tools, like email and even Facebook (compared to G+...). Everybody's in the email space, so why move to a space where only part of my social graph is?

I'm curious what your thoughts are on this topic. How do you solve this issue in your daily life?

iPad experiences

I love my iPad! What a wonderful gadget it is! When we got it (with a newspaper subscription) I was wondering: Is it really worth it? I have an iPhone and a laptop, what do I need an iPad for then?

But, again I experienced that using is believing.The iPad (- I have the iPad1) fits perfectly between the iPhone and laptop. In lots of cases it takes over usage time from the iPhone and laptop.

For instance, reading email is great on the iPhone and the iPad. Instant-on is a killer. Even my wife hardly fires up the (Windows) laptop to process email. Although typing longer emails is still done on the iPad, most emails can be processed by a quick and short reply using the iPad.

Reading news and feeds is wonderful on the iPad as well. Apps like Flipboard are mindblowing. I'm amazed by how quickly I can go through feeds, tweets, etc. using Flipboard, compared to Google Reader or Twitter itself. And I love the way news is presented. It feels and looks right. And I'm sure we haven't seen the end of iPad app development yet. That's one of the things that really strikes me. The real app development for the iPad has only just started. There are some cool and innovative apps, but we're still figuring out what its real potential is.

I mentioned my wife. I must also mention my kids (2 and 4 years old). They love the iPad! They watch videos, play games and read interactive books on it. The user-interaction seems to be made for them. Flipping through pictures is completely obvious to them, for instance.

The size and weight are ideal. We took the iPad along on our trip to the US. Using a laptop in the car or on a plane is OK, not great. The iPad fits there perfectly. And it kept the kids satisfied the whole way... 

Reading on the iPad is great as well. For example, I've been reading Wired on the iPad for some time. Every Wired issue shows what the iPad means for publishing. I really like the way they are playing with the magazine navigation, interactive articles and infographics, etc.
My newspaper (NRC) is a strange one. They have a website optimized for mobile devices, especially the iPad. But the newspaper itself is currently not much more than an interactive pdf.

In short, the iPad is great for browsing, reading, processing and typing short notes/emails.

We haven't even seen 1% of the potential of the iPad, I think. (Just compare the number of iPhone apps that don't have an iPad counterpart yet...) Some things I'd like to see:
  • It would be great if you could search through your iPad content. Most apps are closed and walled. Even within apps search is often poor. For instance, why can't I search through all my Wired magazines, as I can on the web?
  • Adding notes, highlighting and underlining content, etc. could be easier. Sometimes you can type comments, but that's not as easy as scribbling some notes with a pen. I think we need something like a pen. This is definitely the case when using the iPad in business environments, I think. Or will voice control do the trick here?
  • Sharing content from many apps is horrible. Again, I hope the walled feeling to the iPad and the apps will go away. Why can't I share a Wired article right from the app, like I can do on the web? Just to give one example. 
Does this relate to your iPad experiences? I'd love to hear them. Please, leave a comment or share a link to your post(s) about your experiences.

Books I'm Reading... Or Plan to Read

Writing reviews about the books I´ve been reading isn't easy I find. For some reason when I finish a book I postpone writing a review for a long time. I'm open to tips to posting it soon. Review while you're reading? Block the calendar, focus and type it out?

Well, I hope to share my comments on a couple of great books I've read. Free by Chris Anderson, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Macrowikinomics by Don Tapscott & Anthony Williams, Grown up digital by Don Tapscott and The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. These books were an interesting and enjoyable read.

Currently I'm reading two books and planning to read three more. I'm reading The Cluetrain Manifesto by Levine et al (actually re-reading it, with the 'Cluetrain-10-years-later-commentary') and What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly.
The other three books that are waiting on my desk are: The Living Company, The Information and The Power of Pull by John Hagel, John Seely Brown & Lang Divison.
Lots to read - as ever! But I'll make sure I post the promised reviews before September 1.

What are you reading? Are you reading or have you read one of the above-mentioned books? Please leave a comment.

Using is Believing

Yep, using is believing. Most of the time at least. Try to explain someone why he/she should buy an iPad. Or should use Twitter. Or Google+. It's not very easy (but some are really good at it). Sometimes it's even frustrating, when your audience scrutinizes every sentence trying to describe the affordance of a tool. It's even one of the things I catch myself thinking when I give social media strategy workshops. 'They should just start doing it (in a smart way)'.
In the meantime, this doesn't keep me from talking, blogging, demoing to trigger people. Just like the first link in this post triggered me to write this post!

Join the Digital Workplace Survey by @netjmc

How do you evaluate your intranet? There are lots of ways to evaluate. Interviews with users, intranet analytics, internal polls, scan by a consultant, etc. Participating in an international survey is another way.

For this reason I'd like to advise you to join Jane McConnell's Global Web Workplace Survey. By participating you get access to the survey results containing a huge amount of information about intranet trends but also the state of affairs of intranet in the world. Last year 440 companies participated. It would be great if even more would participate this year!

Just to give you an idea of the survey results, check out my posts about the survey reports of the previous year. As you see the survey questions can be used to evaluate your intranet. Did we miss important features and/or trends? And what are other intranet managers doing that inspires us to do so as well? Jane also collected some statements from participant here as well.

So I hope you will join, it's worth your time. Please leave if a comment if your are.