Now this iLike

March 2, 2007

I’ve only just discovered this wonderful little plugin for iTunes and Windows Media Player called iLike. It posts your music playing history to a community site that you can then use to find new music, or simply see what your mates are listening to.

 If you’re at all interested, my recent plays are all here.

Software as a Service or Software plus Service?

February 27, 2007

At the risk of contradicting myself, I think Ray Ozzie is onto something with the Software plus Service approach. 

One of the current issues with SaaS for desktop apps is the lack of support for disconnected users. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Google apps doesn’t have a PowerPoint equivalent yet – how many times have you made last minute changes to your presentation on the plane -)

“Software plus services” seems to be a sensible choice for desktop applications at this point in time. However, I suspect this will change once we have broadband connections from our aisle seats.

<update> There’s an interesting announcement today from Corel, who seem to have already launched a hybrid software plus service application. 

Building an intranet through mutual respect and understanding

February 27, 2007

I’d just like to go on record: Toby Ward talks sense (well most of the time anyway). In a recent post, Toby discusses the language barrier between two groups who frequently get involved in intranet deployments – IT and Internal Comms (Toby actually uses HR as his example). I’ve had similar experiences with IC and IT, and the relationship between them can make or break a project.

However, I don’t think it’s enough for the communicators to put themselves in the shoes of the other party. Mutual respect fills in a big part of the communication gap, but there also needs to be recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of each group.

In general I’ve found that Internal Comms are the visionaries and IT are the pragmatists. The groups can work really well together as long as they play to each other’s strengths. I’ve seen intranet projects go badly off-track when the visionaries are expected to produce GANTT charts or the techies lead the design.

All I would say is that completing an effective intranet without both teams is pretty much impossible. So having everyone involved from the start, and defining roles up-front is the first step towards the perfect intranet.

The other thing that I’ve found is that most of my clients (IC and IT) aren’t prepared for the level of detail that’s involved in putting together an intranet, but that’s a subject for another post.

Google caught in a hailstorm?

February 22, 2007

With the launch of Google hosted applications that compete with Microsoft Office, it seems natural to look at the history of hosted apps to see if Google Apps will really threaten Microsoft. Mary Jo Foley  compares Google Apps to Microsoft’s 2001 hailstorm service. She has some good points, and anyone launching a hosted service will face the IT department’s resistance to letting go of company data. However, I also think that things have changed significantly in the 6 years since hailstorm and I think that Google will get a much better reception in 2007. So why do I think things will be different this time around?

  • The need to share information outside of the corporate network is bigger than ever. In order to do business, companies need to communicate quickly and efficiently with their geographically dispersed colleagues, suppliers, partners and customers. We all know that emailing large spreadsheets around is a poor way to manage information and an efficient alternative will be welcomed by information workers.
  • SAAS has also become part of the IT manager’s scorecard. The use of portals, and application servers means that they are used to working with data that sits outside of their control, so the tight grip on company data is loosening slightly.
  • There are clear precedents for outsourced applications (the obvious one being salesforce.com, whose subscribers only really started to take off in 2004/5).
  • And finally, I’ve seen a huge change in the way that IT is adopted by companies. BlackBerries, iPods and RSS all began their life in the hands of the end-user, and IT departments had to adapt to the ever increasing demands of their clients. IT departments are becoming more service oriented (I wonder if this has anything to do with the increased offshoring of IT). And if they’re not service oriented, then users are willing to go elsewhere. (I’ve just got off the phone from a client who was complaining that it took 6 months for their internal IT team to update the fields of one of her databases. She’s now looking to outsource it (and host it externally) so that she can get more responsive updates.

That’s not to say that Google Apps is going to have it easy. Attitudes towards enterprise outsourcing are changing, as the business benefits become clearer, but there still a long way to go before the default choice is to rent your application over the internet.

Web 2.0 and intranets

February 14, 2007

In my post on “The Death of Internal Communications” I mentioned the fact that “Web 2.0” technologies are altering the way that intranets are governed. In a recent article, Colin White discusses something similar. Usefully, he separates out two elements of Web 2.0 – “information collaboration” and “application development”. For me, these two are at the heart of everything 2.0’y.

The collaboration piece addresses the function of 2.0 – it aims to bring people together, to democratize information, and distribute the governance.

The development piece addresses some of the technical benefits – providing easy ways to integrate disparate applications (mashups) and rapid development of server based applications that run like desktop apps (AJAX et al).

I find it helpful to have a clear distinction between the two. The first is about the site vision, the second is about implementation. They are separate but equally important to define.

For any particular project I might want to deploy a web 2.0 vision (collaborative spaces) without the web 2.0 implementation (ajax), or conversely a web 1.0 vision (publishing company info) in a 2.0 implementation (a mashup). Understanding which elements the project calls for (if any) helps me to avoid getting caught in a sticky 2.0 web just for the sake of it.

One final thing, I’m convinced that for an enterprise deployment such as an intranet, the 2.0 vision doesn’t work in isolation. You always need the traditional top-down publishing piece to support it. So the Razorfish example in Colin White’s post only works if there is an “official intranet” to support it.

The death of internal communications?

January 24, 2007

Toby Ward writes in his blog that “internal communications is evolving, if not dying”. His comment may be a bit melodramatic, but in general I agree with him. I’ve also found that Internal Comms are managing most of the intranet projects that we work on these days, and they’re having to come to terms with a dramatically different way of looking at one of their key tools (the corporate intranet).

Social software (web 2.0) has been popular on the web for quite some time, but in my experience there has been a lag in seeing the social element appear on corporate intranets. One of the main reasons is that word – “corporate”. Many see that as a justification for turning the intranet into a one way publishing tool. But in the same way that corporations have started talking (and listening) to their customers through the web, they are now finding that the intranet is the perfect platform to do the same with their employees.

This means that Internal Comms are losening their grip on the information that they are managing. Sure, there is still a need for the “official corporate view” – a company is not a democratic institution, and the views of the senior management are final (almost), and still need to be communicated. However, if these views are to be respected, there has to be an open conversation and weighing of the evidence/views of others (employees, ciustomers and shareholders) before any decision is made. Again, this is where the intranet helps. Some of our IC clients definitely get this evolution in roles, others are slightly behind, but catching up.

I’d be interested in hearing if any Internal Comms people out there feel that there is a change afoot, or am I just imagining it?

Has Google won the SAAS prize?

January 3, 2007

There’s an article in the Economist this week that paints a convincing picture of outsourcing your email (and Office applications) to Google. The software as a service trend is no longer on the fringe, and with Googles agressive aquisitions they’ve got to be a real threat not just to Microsoft, but to anyone who is building software as a packaged product.

Do any of you have experience of GMail, salesforce.com or another SAAS, and if so how did it compare to your desktop experience?

User generated content

October 26, 2006

Peter Coffee at eWeek has some interesting thoughts on UGC. I particularly love the description of the schoolkid entering a competition to design a web page for his class: “It’s blank,” his sister observes. “Well, duh,” he replies. “This is the era of Web 2.0. Users get to generate their own content. Let’s say you want to know what the latest news is. All you have to do is type it out in this box that says ‘News’ and then you can read it.”

Google – spreadsheet surprise

June 6, 2006

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following Google – they’ve created an online spreadsheet to complete their collection of Gmail, Writely and Google Calendar.

It will be interesting to see how popular it becomes, especially given the sweeping UI changes due with Office 2007.

Old school animated giffs

May 26, 2006

There’s an interesting article on clickz about an AKQA designed advert for MSN Messenger. The ad that they’ve created is a single animated gif, with some very funky background music. Interesting to see that a technology that was innovative 10 years ago is making a comeback.