Silo (or Solo) – Collaboration – Social

I've lost count of how many years I've been dipping my toe into the collaboration waters. Certainly, it goes back at least to Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) thirty years ago. By 1988 this was formalised into a time/space grid, so that you had remote/colocated on one axis and synchronous/asynchronous on the other. Not a bad way to characterise many of the collaboration and social tools that abound today.

I mention all this because Agile Elephant's David Terrar invited me to a Future of Collaboration Conference triggered, in part, by the opportunities created by the convergence of cloud, social and mobile technologies. (To my mind, this equates to a transformation in reach and convenience.) Each speaker had ten minutes or so to share their vision. This was followed by a Q&A session and networking. The audience was also made up of industry people, so I expected the bullshit factor to be low. And it was.

Given my background, I wondered what I would learn. Let me list the participants and their roles, and then I'll tell you what I ended up thinking. I'll spare you the blow-by-blow details.

David Terrar chaired the event.

Speakers:

Jon Mell, Social Leader, IBM UK
Alan Patrick, Agile Elephant
David Moore, SAP
Simon Levene, Jive
Janet Parkinson, Agile Elephant
Chris Boorman, Huddle

Questioners (apart from David Terrar and me):

Phil Wainewright, Diginomica
Lucinda Carney, AdvanceChange

Baker Tilly, chartered accountants and business advisers, provided the accommodation and refreshments. (Lovely, thank you).

The first thing I noticed was the lack of evangelism, thank goodness. Quite often you turn up at these events and they're more like a religious revival meeting than a pragmatic look at business needs and applications. Okay – one chap said work should be fun, but he got a slight ribbing for that from some of the others. Work could become pleasant, fulfilling or rewarding maybe, but not fun. God forbid. (Mind you I quite often have fun when running training workshops, so I have some sympathy with his point of view.)

While 'email' and 'social' can be good in the right context, neither is much cop as a sole collaboration strategy. In fact two people branded email 'the enemy' of collaboration and another branded social on its own as 'a waste of time'.

Previous events have banged on about the need to change a company's culture or boasted of coming 'disruption'. Utterly unhelpful. This isn't how stuff gets done. Far better to introduce collaboration tools which fit business needs and, if possible, integrate it with what exists. Do this in a few key areas (with board level support, of course) and things start to catch on as others see (or are told about) the business benefits of these new ways of working.

Social – people communicating openly and freely (with business intent, of course) – isn't going to happen without trust and that doesn't come without knowing each other (usually through at least one face-to-face meeting, but relationships can form through voice, video and even, dare I say, email).

As collaboration, then social, activity spreads vertically and horizontally through an organisation, culture change will follow. When it extends beyond the company boundaries to partners and customers, it will alter the way the organisation listens, responds and collaborates. Silos will be breached and individuals will become more aligned and harmonised with business drivers.

Everyone – the company, the workforce, partners, customers and prospects will benefit. That's the promise. And it sounds good to me.

And now I'd better go, before I'm accused of being an evangelist.

Need to search for content in non-standard files?

Thanks to Dick Pountain for reminding me that the bleedin' obvious isn't always.

I was groping around for a desktop search program that could look into any file, not just some standard list of extensions such as those handled by Microsoft's search. I looked at loads of programs and even downloaded a few but none did what I really wanted: to index a bunch of largely text files with the .brn suffix. In fact I didn't even need them indexed as long as I could search inside them reasonably quickly. 

TpAs a web developer and occasional programmer of many years' standing, I'd been using TextPad as my editor of choice. And, when I wanted to do global edits, I'd use its 'find in files' function. It just never occurred to me to use it to look inside other files. Until Dick suggested it.

Now, I set the file type to *.brn, the root of the search to 'desktop', tell it to look in sub-folders and the search to whatever I'm looking for. With regular expressions if I'm feeling flashy. Bingo.

As a paid-up user, why didn't I think of it before? So simple, so quick. Thanks Dick.

 

 

 

This is not breaking news… it’s already gone viral

Why does something happen just when you can't get to the computer?

Yesterday a man (you probably know who) appeared on the radio and tv in advance of his company's launch of a new product. No doubt he couldn't reveal too many details, so the interviews were theoretically too early. But then, if he'd tried to get on today, the news would have already gone round the world and the programmes would have been less interested.

So, he arrived with a set of inward-looking and content-free messages which he was determined to deliver. If anyone had advised him about bridging techniques or addressing the interests of his audience, his memory clearly failed him.

He answered every question with a non sequitur, usually involving words like unique, new, proposition, experience, essence and transformation.Oh yes, and he found it "exciting", several times. Completely forgetting perhaps that he's paid to be excited.

In the end, one of the presenters was so anxious to get something out of the interview that they offered an open goal, "Sell it to us then." And he talked about "managing to find the way to transition the essence …"

Handling the media is not rocket science but I accept it can be stressful. That's why you need to prepare. Know what you want to say and what you can say. Make sure it is of interest and, hopefully, benefit to the audience. Say it in concrete language that they understand. Know how to bridge (I call it transition – am I guilty of the same crime?) away from the awkward question and get onto something interesting to the audience.

My mate and highly regarded journalist/editor, Dick Pountain, came up with a form of words that would have got the interview off to a racing start and actually delivered value to the audience within a few seconds. Sadly I can't share those words because it would identify our miscreant.

Online Marketing 101

If you need a crash course in online marketing, you could do worse than browse my recent collection of articles and blog posts by experts on the matter.

I had started off, a month ago, intending to investigate what's out there on the subject of 'web-based business to business collaboration' but, as I collected the links on Scoop.it, I found that 'marketing' was the theme that bound most of my discoveries together. Hence the title of this blog post.

When I was a journalist, I didn't really like having to interview marketing folk because they were too sanitised, too in control of their messages and hard to get real stories out of. (Good stories to a journalist are those which carry at least a hint of disclosure.)

However my Scoop.it investigations gave me a new respect for marketing, it really does seem to belong at the centre of B2B collaboration activities. 

Here's a snap of part of my Scoop.it collection (click on the image to see it full size):

B2BCollaboration1

It was 'curated' by looking at hundreds of suggestions from Scoop.it, reducing them to fifty or so, then throwing out the four or five that didn't live up to the promise of the extract.

The result is a neat little package of pieces, admittedly of variable quality, but all of which helped to round out my existing perceptions of how to approach online B2B collaboration.

Since so much work went into the curation, I thought it would be silly to keep it to myself.

See what you think. It's at http://www.scoop.it/t/b2bcollaboration

 

Eggs and baskets

Being away from here has given me a chance to focus intensely on launching a new magazine without too many distractions. We now have five issues under our belt and I have reaquainted myself with the rhythms of conventional publishing. I know where the peaks and troughs of effort lie and I can get back to a more normal and less distorted life in the troughs.

Creating, editing and writing for Blue & Green Tomorrow has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. And it couldn't have happened without Simon, Lori and Dominic (publisher, sub-editor and designer respectively) and, of course, our marvellous contributors. Other people take care of 'webifying' the magazine at blueandgreentomorrow.com. You can register (free) which gives you an account tab and access to digital copies of the magazine. Otherwise much of the content is publicly available under the various themed tabs.

Even through the mayhem of the launch, I've continued to do the occasional course on how to handle the media, often with my long-time partner in crime, Martin Banks. We used to call ourselves 'Press Here' but, when we both deviated out into analysis work, we sold the domain and renamed ourselves greybeards. One look at our photos will tell you why. I also run the odd writing skills workshop for business people.

And, now, here I am blogging again. Given the nature of the magazine, I suspect that I'll be blogging more about sustainability (could a word possibly sound more boring?) than about IT. But it's hard to keep me away from software. Talking of which, I now have an HTC Desire smartphone running Android, and jolly pleased I am too. That could be another running theme.

We'll see. But, as you can see from the title, I think that a deliberate spread of activities, providing I can do all of them well, will makes for a more balanced and fulfilling life than having all my eggs in one basket.

So, the last post turned out not to be The Last Post after all, just a pause while I gathered my wits.

See you again soon.

David

 

Track what’s important with paper.li

To my (slight) shame, I periodically purge the list of people I follow on Twitter. I simply don't have the time to read the minutiae of some of their lives, despite the fact they occasionally come up with worthwhile gems.

Now, I've discovered a way of getting the best of both worlds: I can keep up with the more interesting/useful Tweets from whoever I like while keeping down the number of people I follow in Twitter itself.

So, three cheers for paper.li – a free service that builds online daily newspapers: from a Twitter user and the people they follow; from a twitter list; or from a hashtag. It looks for Tweets that contain links and publishes an extract from the destination, crediting the Tweeter at the foot of the piece. You can click the headline to go to the original article/site

Paper.li earns its money from small display ads dropped into your newspaper.

Paperli

'envirolist' is my Twitter list of people who specialise in environmental and ethical stuff.

You probably can't see the detail in the above picture, but it has a 'trending topics' cloud and a live Tweet stream from the people in the list over on the right.

I currently have two papers running and I can create a further eight. My two are paper.li/tebbo and the one above, paper.li/tebbo/envirolist.

As a quick way to catch up on what's going on, paper.li is a corker. It requires minimal effort to set up a paper and it will even announce each new edition to your Twitter followers if you want, complete with the inclusion of some contributors' names.

Envirolisttweet

[Update Sept 7: I switched the notification off two days ago. While no-one had complained to me, paper.li updates were beginning to annoy some Twitter users. This could only get worse as the service became more popular. Today, the company has changed the notification to top story only and it has dropped name plugs. It helps, but if anyone wants to follow my papers, the links are in my Twitter bio. I'm not switching notification back on.]

With paper.li's simplicity comes a lack of flexibility but, once you start complicating things, you have to start learning stuff. This turns (some) people off.

As it stands, paper.li reminds me of my first encounter with Google – it was a shock to just see a text box and a search button. And look what that led to…

One Tweet leads to an improved infographic

Although I was delighted with the infographic I ended up with in the last post, I knew it could be improved. If only I could figure out how to use just a single .gif, sliding the overlay elements into view as the finger or mouse hovered over them.

If you've not read the post, I used over 20 separate transparent .gif files, laying each one over the top of the background image in response to the mouse/finger hover position.

My CSS skills (or lack of them) meant I was spending days wrestling with the single .gif problem. And the work I'd already done was doing a good job anyway. The total size of all the files involved was about 180k and I figured I'd be unlikely to save more than a third of that. But, the elegance of a two-file solution (HTML/CSS in one, all the images in the other) appealed to the erstwhile programmer in me.

At the point of giving up, I thought I'd throw out a plea for a CSS wizard and, blow me down, one Ben Summers responded. I'd written a piece about his Information Systems company, OneIS, in 2008.

I explained pretty much what I said in the previous post and within the hour, he sent me an email outlining how he would tackle the problem. He broke the log jam. I'd already prepared the new graphic in anticipation, slightly jazzing up the images as I went along, so all that was left was to replace bits of my code with bits of Ben's and insert the coordinates of the various bits of the new image.

This is a shrunken version of the new image with a ghastly yellow to show up the transparent areas:

ArchImage

The layout looks a bit peculiar because each overlay element needed to occupy its own rectangular area.

Ben's CSS used the z-index attribute to make sure that the hover layer was nearest the user, the overlay layer was next and the background layer (taken from the top part of the gif) was at the bottom. In my fumbled attempts to achieve a result, I got the hover and overlay layers the wrong way round, which meant that the hotspots were often hidden by the overlay element. Ben's code did it right, of course.

The hover layer was the bit that was giving me the most grief because I wanted to associate multiple hover areas with one overlay element. Here's the blended Ben/David answer for the transition element (the loopy thing about halfway down the image on the right):

#tr  .p1  {left:168px; top:301px; width:74px; height:70px; }
#tr  .p2  {left:243px; top:330px; width:46px; height:35px; }
#diagram #tr a:hover span.img
{
  left: 172px; top: 307px;
  width: 407px; height: 124px;
  background-position: -553px -1222px;
}

The first two lines define the hotspots and the third determines the hover action which is to display the overlay element defined in the lower curly braces. The first two lines in these braces determine where the overlay should be placed and the third shows where it can be found in the .gif image.

The HTML part for this same element looks like this:

 

#tr stands for the transition element. The 'a href=' anchor goes nowhere on click (but it could take you off somewhere else). The first two spans deal with the hotspots while the third slides the overlay in between the hotspot layer and the background.

If you want to explore the CSS/HTML and .gif in detail, they're at http://www.tebbo.com/howtohandlethemedia/index.html  and  http://www.tebbo.com/howtohandlethemedia/newarch.gif

Of course, it didn't end there. I offered to give Ben a hand with something he's doing. And, who knows, that may end up the subject of another blog.

Cheers Ben. Cheers Twitter. And good luck to you if you plan to go down the interactive infographics route. I've quite got the taste for it and I'm already planning my next one.