Friday May 25, 2007

Twitter at the Customer Engineering Conference?

I have to admit the Twitter phenomena has escaped me. I understand the draw for teens wanting to extend their texting networks, but not for educated adults. However, ETS Talk 22: Welcome to the Meta Hub  has made me reconsider. Cole discussed how Twitter has enabled him to connect with the Penn State community and vibe (my word) to a degree that's never before been possible.

The CEC is a Sun global technical training and employee networking conference. 3500 engineers from the Sales and Service organizations, as well as Sun partners, will descend on Las Vegas in October.

Wouldn't Twitter be a wonderful supplement to the CEC?  It would enable groups of like minded people to exchange relevant information in real time on things like:

  1. Hot breakout sessions, great speakers.
  2. Running into unexpected people, colleagues, luminaries, etc.
  3. Impromptu gatherings.

There could also be a primary CEC channel to communicate late breaking news, main tent event changes, and other goodies to create the buzz.

Seems like real win to me. Should the central organizing committee help facilitate the effort? Perhaps a wiki listing all the groups?


Thursday May 24, 2007

CE 2.0 - What's in it for you?

We are building a web 2.0 set of services inside Sun for our Customer Engineering community - the field technical folks (hence CE 2.0). The question with something like this is, what's in it for the user? CEs are busy folks with customer- facing responsibilities. They advise on very crucial technical issues that help our customers run their businesses. How will CE 2.0 help them, and how will they find the time to absorb the new technology while still doing their day jobs?

We think the answer is that it's all about community. OneStop is arguably the most valuable information resource for our CE community today, and it's almost entirely volunteer driven. Knowledgeable people sharing information and self-identifying so that others can contact them for more help. We are planning to extend this in several ways:

  • Enable easier contribution and editing, via wiki interface
  • Enable easy voting and feedback, so that others can get a sense of what content has been found most valuable
  • Enable easy tagging of content, regardless of type and where it is stored, to make it faster to find
  • Aggregate content in several different ways so that users do not have to remember where they (or someone else) put it
  • Enable dynamic community building based on skills, interests, organization, responsibilities - to make it easier for people to share information with those who are most interested in it
  • Extend the community outside Sun - to partners, customers, developers, and others over time
There's probably more, but the bottom line is to apply the principles of the Participatory Web (aka Web 2.0) to make it easier for people to do what they are doing today every day. To use the technology to enable community participation and knowledge sharing - we think all of our users will see the benefits.

Tuesday May 22, 2007

Penn State ETS Podcasts

I got such a kick out of Cole Camplese's podcast of his Web 2.0 lecture that I checked out Penn State's ETS (Educational Technology Services) podcasts. (available on iTunes) This is a weekly round table of Cole and a few peers discussing current tech products and trends, particularly as they have to do with learning, education and PSU.

Back in the 80s and early 90s I used to interact with people at universities a lot. It was the cool deal if you were a prof or grad student to have a Sun SPARCstation 1 in your office.  As you might know Sun has it's roots in academia, and SUN is an acronym that stands for Stanford University Network. The Sun founders were all from Stanford with the exception of Bill Joy who was from Berkeley.

As I've been listening to the ETS podcasts I can't help but thinking we have a lot in common with these guys! At least in the Web 2.0 and collaboration space we share many of the same issues, though we may be coming at them from different directions. I'd imagine there is much to learned from both sides of this fence.

My other thought was, these guys are good.  I'm a regular listener of the top tech podcasts such as TWIT, ExtremeTech, DL.TV, Cranky Geeks, etc., and think the ETS podcasts are at least their equal. They even broadcast in stereo, a feature I wish the others would adopt.

Web 2.0, collaboration, openness, and transparency are pretty cool.

 

Monday May 21, 2007

OneStop on a Diet

To some degree OneStop is a victim of it's own success. Content breadth has expanded far beyond the original scope of information about products. This is mostly good news, but effectuates  a new set of challenges.

The goal of the site is to be timely, accurate, and relevant. This is straight forward for current and mainstream products and technologies. New information is constantly made available. The OneStop author gathers it, posts it, and lots of people know to go to OneStop to find it.

There are two areas that we struggle with. The first is static content. We classify pages that cover areas (product/technology/programs) that only very infrequently have changes or new information to add, as static. Many static pages haven't been updated in six months, though they are still accurate and up to date.

The second area is low usage pages. The most popular pages on OneStop get about 1000 hits per month. The 100th most popular gets about 300. The 300th gets around 100 hits per month. We classify the pages that get below 50 hits per month as low usage pages.

Historically we've gone for the more is better approach. We tune search so that the more popular active pages appear first in the results. We segregate off archive pages (EOL products are an example) into a second A-Z index. We tend to populate the menus with the most popular pages.

However, people frequently arrive at the site via avenues we don't directly manage, such as SunWeb search. They sometimes arrive at pages that haven't been updated in quite a long time, or cover topics of limited interest. My suspicion is that many users make a judgment on the entire site, based on that one page, or experience.

To quote my colleague Robert, "we want to keep OneStop a lean, mean, fighting machine". However, this runs counter to offering a large number of static and low usage pages!

The bugaboo is that the authors are volunteers, and we try hard never demotivate a volunteer who trying to contribute to the greater good.

What to do? Should we go on a diet?

Friday May 18, 2007

University Podcasts

I'm excited! I just finished listening to Anxious Times: Seeing Beyond a World of Perpetual Threats, a 2 hour podcast courtesy of Stanford University, available at http://itunes.stanford.edu. This was a panel of luminaries such as George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, John Hennessey and others - hosted by Ted Koppel. In other words it was incredibly bright, articulate people talking about the tough issues in the world today.

Yesterday I listened to Web 2.0, courtesy of Podcasts at Penn State. It was fascinating hearing how Web 2.0 is presented by an engaging professor to a room full of college students.

If you spend time in the car, on the train, at the gym, or even walking the dog I heartily recommend taking advantage of these wonderful resources. I've been hearing for years about college courses being available on line, but this seems to be an opportunity to cherry pick and consume the very best of. There is an excellent index at Going Public: iTunes U.

Having spent most of my college days  trying to optimize my grades to effort spent ratio, and attempting to stay awake in (what was for me) really dry engineering courses, this is a particular treat. I can't wait until tomorrow to partake in the next podcast on the list of staff favorites from Stanford.
 

Monday May 14, 2007

The problem with Wikis

The good thing about wikis is they're written by geeks for geeks.
The bad thing about wikis is they're written by geeks for geeks.

I love wikis.

At Sun we're a techy firm - we have cool stuff - that's why I work here. Some of the things we use are in what I would call at best perpetual Beta... We have a test called 'the dog food test' - if you can eat it yourself and it's ok then it's probably good enough for customers using computers all day.

I believe for general public consumption the test is a lot harder - the Eskimo test. If you were an Eskimo and I gave you this product could you use it ?  Wikis fail. Don't get me wrong I love them.

But most (open source) Wikis currently lack

  • WYSIWYG editing - as Peter Reiser correctly stated - wiki syntax is dead. It needs to die - who needs multiple different syntax's for different wikis Twiki, mediawiki etc. when what we really need is a powerful  WYSIWYG editor
  •  A comprehensible navigation and categorization method / mechanism - preferably a hierarchical navigation model.  People who currently use the web are used to this - moving away from this without a killer search tool or navigation model is really hard
  • Business level (Sarbanes Oxley) control / security /Access Control - for both view and edit. All business
  • Some form of personalization / customization / portal functionality - a customized view of the wiki with pertinent user interface for each individual end user that comes to the site.
and the list surely goes on. 

Tuesday May 08, 2007

JavaOne Day One (so far)

The best thing about JavaOne is you bump into people you've not seen in ages. I bumped into Steve Elliott he's an ex-SE manager from Sun UK's software organization - these day's he's just a regular techy dude helping developers and helping promote and sell our software products - we talked about the JavaFX announcements - sort of cool. I'd like to think we're developing the $100 devices that will deliver educational material to the masses. I know we're not though ...  we're helping with the enabler/delivery software platform .....  we'll have to find a consumer hardware partner(s) for the delivery device. Who else was that I saw on stage - Sony Ericsson...

Loved Scott's pet project curricki  go check it out.  The pieces are starting to come together.


Update  - well this is part of it ..

Monday May 07, 2007

BackStage at CommunityOne

This morning should be fun - I'm backstage at CommunityOne. We have several fun things planned for the keynote. It's good to see Sun wholeheartedly embracing the Open Community. As a 17 year employee it feels like we're going back to our roots.

In one word it's Cool.

Mike and I use lots of Open Source Software as part of the toolset to develop and maintain OneStop - I think all Web developers and site owners do these days - it's good to be building open, transparent, strong links with these communities.

More later.

hey - check out Arun's picture's - we're having fun back here.....

 

UPDATE ....

ok - got toallt lost in the setup of JavaOne yesterday. There's going to be lots of cool stuff - one of the good things about having an all access pass is being able to see some of what's going on before the crowds get there.  There are going to be some fun things in the pavilion today - especially some cool robotic stuff. Go check it out if you have a chance.

 

Friday May 04, 2007

Is there anybody there ? / The process of author chasing

 We regularly email authors with different types of reports, a link checker report (are all the links on their pages working), possible content for their pages etc.

For all active pages the machine once a week runs a script that looks at when pages that are in an 'active status' were last updated. For authors have not updated their pages in over 30 days it'll send them a gentle reminder email asking them to update. If it gets to 60 days the wording is a little stronger, if it gets to over 90 days the authors get an even stronger reminder but Mike and I also get an email warning that the author may have disengaged.  When this list of potentially disengaged authors reaches more than 5 I normally start getting twitchy. I start sending the potentially disengaged personal / individual emails asking them what's going on. The wording goes something like this ....

 Email #1:

PLEASE RESPOND:
Hi ......


We've noticed you've not updated your OneStop:Web page for over 90 days. Please select one of the options below to let us know what's going on:

[ ] 0) I'm updating it now and I'm not even going to respond
(believe me we'll notice :-))
[ ] 1) I'm going to get to it in the next week... honestly ... I've been busy ......
[ ] 2) You should move the page to Static or Archive Status as nothings happening with the page now and that'll stop you bugging me with reminder emails
[ ] 3) I no longer want to author the page (you don't have to say why - that's cool, stuff changes...)

please select from above to let us know whats going on ...

- we just want keep OneStop as the lean mean killing machine ...

thanks
cheers
Robert

If they don't respond to that in a week they'll get something that's a little stronger ...

Email #2


PLEASE RESPOND:

Ok -- you didn't respond to the email we sent you last week + your page
still hasn't been updated. You still seem to be in the LDAP database so
maybe you're just having a really long, really nice vacation and didn't set
your vacation mail .....

PLEASE can you respond to my original email below letting us know
what you'd like to do with your OneStop page....

thanks again
The OneStop team
...


and then finally I'll try one more time ...

Email #3


We presume you're still there.... somewhere ??

Ok -- 2 emails - still no reply - this is the last chance for you to reply
if you do care and still want to author your page....

At this stage we presume you're disengaged - if we don't hear anything
from you within the next 48 hours we're going to reassign your page(s)
back onto the needs-author list or retire it.

Thanks again for all your contributions in the past.
We understand stuff changes - we have to keep OneStop moving forward
though and therefore have to monitor content. Stale content
is our enemy.


thanks
The OneStop Team



And that stage we put the page back onto the "Page's needing an Author page"..

Can't say we didn't try ...

Wednesday May 02, 2007

Close the Feedback Loop

At Sun we are forever responding to surveys. Only recently have we gotten better at sharing the responses, and more importantly the actions to be taken as a function of the responses.

For me, and I assume for our users, there are few things more frustrating than taking the time to provide feedback, then having it go into a black hole. I was listening to the Cranky Geeks podcast the other day and Dvorak mentioned that he occasionally receives searing feedback. When he responds reasonably he invariably gets a very pleasant response. The assumption, of course, is that the person was frustrated and just assumed their feedback was going into the void.

On OneStop we are very careful about closing the feedback loop. Every page has a feedback button, which initiates a custom form for feedback for that page. The author name is listed, as well as a checkbox saying "Do you want a response?".

Email is then sent to the author, copying to the OneStop HQ team (Robert and I) and logged in a DB. If the submitter requests a response, we make sure they get one.

Sunday Apr 29, 2007

Worth a Look

Driving traffic to the OneStop homepage is near the top of our priority list. One of the ways we do this is by offering what we consider to be the best news at Sun.

Basically we try and stay abreast of everything Sun related, filter out the info that is not of interest to our audience, and publish the rest. We generally publish 3-6 items per day. The goal is to enable users to keep up with what's really cool and relevant, at a glance.

As Robert and I are both info junkies, and stay connected most of the day, it's very little burden to post timely and relevant information. Our sources include:

  1. ZapTXT. A free tool that sends hourly updates for RSS/ATOM feeds of interest. The cool part is that you can filter the feeds for a string, such as "Sun". By watching feeds for The Register, eWeek, InfoWorld, CNET, ZDNet, and others we can catch all the late breaking stories.
  2. Google News Alerts with Search terms of Sun, Solaris, etc.
  3. "In Today's News". Sun PR publishes a daily news summary which is excellent.
  4. Sun internal aliases. Robert and I both subscribe to dozens of internal aliases. Oftentimes when people see an interesting article they'll circulate it on an alias.

We try and add little fun to the mix by posting the Dilbert cartoons that we think are especially funny. The Dilbert items are consistently the most popular. We know this as we carefully track click throughs.

When Yahoo!News added javascript popup summaries I found it extremely useful, so we added the same functionality.

 


Wednesday Apr 25, 2007

Integration with our Wiki

We've been struggling for some time with making OneStop more available for community editing. We've tried including a wiki section into each OneStop page, but found that mixing metaphors between html editing by one author, and wiki style editing by the community doesn't work well.

We have a very popular companion site to OneStop called CEpedia, which is a wiki based on the mediawiki codebase. As we'd like to minimize the number of sites  where users look for information, having  two somewhat overlapping locations is undesirable.

We now offer our users the ability to host their content on CEpedia, with all the advantages of community editing in a wiki, but also participate fully in the OneStop framework. The OneStop framework offers:

  1. Search that works
  2. Link check support
  3. Page Status reports
  4. Presence on OneStop homepage and menus, including most popular, recently updated, etc.
  5. A-Z and browse
and most importantly, the OneStop brand. The OneStop brand means that someone is paying attention to the currency and quality of the content.

Tuesday Apr 24, 2007

Teamwork

I particularly liked this in the Motley fool article article where they're talking about what we might annouce today.

"What a novel idea -- harness the enthusiasm, manpower, and expertise of "your entire customer base rather than micromanage your most valuable intellectual properties. Open platforms supported with open arms can do amazing things -- it's how IBM became the dominant system builder in the early days of the PC, picking standard parts off the shelf, and it appears to be working again for Sun. I'd draw parallels to the current state of the entertainment industry here, but that's fodder for a much longer article."

It works with authors too.  As Mike blogged yesterday - we often work on ideas, code and concepts with our author base. They're smart - some of them are really smart - they have great ideas for new functionality.

For example we're just had a great collaboration with Constantin  on a merged mediawiki / OneStop page ... really cool ...  wikis are the wave of the future ... wikis with a little more control, access control, content control etc ...   more to come later ..
 

Monday Apr 23, 2007

Have a Hacker or Two on the Team

We've never been much for heavy weight processes, in fact we were in perpetual beta mode far before it was fashionable.

 

We are pretty much the opposite of a traditional IT process  that includes analysis, specifications, design, implementation, test - and all that stuff.

 

When we see a need, or have a new requirement, we just do it. If it doesn't work, we back it out. Fortunately we have few interdependencies, so the downside is small. It helps that we have a staging machine and 4 production mirrors worldwide. If we mess up the staging machine we have all the production instances still working.

We use the SAMP stack (Solaris, Apache, MySQL, Perl/PHP) for most everything we do. In concept, at least from the infrastructure point of view, our stuff is really simple. We have no real need for robust transactional support, identity management, or many enterprise features at all.

Hacking up a new report in Perl/PHP, adding new javascript functionality, or adding new tools is something we can generally turn around in hours, or at most a small number of days. The process is generally:

  1. Mike to Robert, or vice versa: "Seems like we should add this bit of functionality".
  2. Robert to Mike: "Sounds good to me, why don't you change some part of it. Let's ask the authors if they like the idea"
  3. Authors to M&R: "That sounds useful"
  4. code, code for a few hours
  5. test on staging machine
  6. New functionality available





 



 

Thursday Apr 19, 2007

Content Recommendation Engine

Sun has lots of internal sources of information - which is really why OneStop exists in the first place. It's the author's responsibility to post the latest and greatest information about their product/technology/program to their OneStop page.

This can be somewhat daunting as new collateral and information is continually generated. Authors generally follow aliases and interest groups in their domain to keep up, but it's still difficult.

To make life easier on our authors, on a weekly basis we run the content recommendation engine. This engine interrogates the top document repositories at Sun and grabs the titles of the documents that have been added or modified in the last week. It then submits these titles to the OneStop Search engine. (See the Search Needs to Work Post.) It makes note of the OneStop pages with the highest relevancy scores for each of these documents.

We do some slicing and dicing and a list of the new or updated documents that are relevant to each OneStop page is assembled. The OneStop page is then scanned, for each relevant document, to make sure the author hasn't posted the new information already. A list of "documents to consider posting" is then emailed to each author.

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