Tuesday Jan 05, 2010

What’s in for Me: Why Should I Bother?

now posted to http://mikebriggs.com.

Tuesday Dec 29, 2009

Reading Recommendations From People You Trust

Voracious readers, don't you love seeing a list of Must Reads from someone you trust, who has interests similar to yours? Whenever I see such a list I get all excited, login to half.com and buy most of them. I'm a big amazon fan and find the ratings and reviews very useful, but there is no substitute for that recommendation from someone you admire.

Note that people you respect and admire is not necessarily the same as the list of your friends, or is even a logical community or group on facebook or linkedin. It often isn't someone you know personally.

Recommendations often come from blog posts, but they are scatter-shot. One of my favorite bloggers is Brad Feld a VC at the Foundry Group. He posted a list of his favorite books about a month ago, and I gobbled them up. He (fortunately) has a Books link on his website.

So this is the OneStop Secret Sauce blog, mostly about Building Web Community (@Sun). How do reading recommendations fit in?

Isn't this a natural for some sort of community? It's not a community as per facebook or linkedin, but there should be some way to consolidate reading recommendations. Therefore, we've established a community on SunSpace called "READ", and we've seeded it with the reading lists from a bunch of notables.

For this community we hope to leverage the organization, in particular roles and job titles. The assumption is that many people will care about the books a Principal Engineer is reading, at least the technical ones. I'm interested in the business books that the execs are reading. To take this a step farther, I also care about the news sources (blogs, etc.) that the people I respect consume.

It's important to include meta information about the books, particularly date and a short description. Categorization (and soon tags) will help a lot.

The tables below are on the Mike Briggs page of the READ community, categorized into Daily News, Business Related, and Fiction or Just Good Reads,  Sorry, the community is only available on the Sun internal network. Maybe Brad will do one for his large external audience. :)

Daily News

Name Description
TechCrunch Ode to Mike Arrington. The emphasis is "obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies"
Business Insider started as the Silicon Alley Insider. Run by Henry Blodget, the former equity research analyst, now barred from the securities industry. This one is my favorite and the one I read first.
TechMeme includes current popular stories (particularly blog postings) on technology. Story selection is accomplished via computer algorithm extended with direct human editorial input.
GigaOm launched by Om Malik in 2006. Known for providing in-depth analysis of developing news stories

Business Related

Title Author Published Descriiption
Googled: The End of the World as We Know It Ken Auletta Oct 2009 The best google book I've read by far. Thoughtful and content full
A Colossal Failure of Common Sense: The Inside Story of the Collapse of Lehman Brothers
Lawrence McDonald
July 2009
Learn a lot about Wall Street from a real trader. Very well written.
The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook. A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal
Ben Mizrich
July 2009
Very simplistic. A fast read. Not Mezrich's best effort.
Behind the Cloud: Untold Story of Salesforce.com.
Marc Benioff
Oct 2009
Awesome. Contains a catalog of how to leverage community and collaboration.

Fiction or Just Good Reads

Title Author Published Descriiption
South of Broad Pat Conroy August 2009 Every bit as good as Conroy favorites such as Prince of Tides, Lords of Discipline, and The Great Santini
The Guinea Pig Diaries A.J Jacobs Sep 2009 Jacob's book Living Biblically is also a fun read.

Monday Dec 28, 2009

Better Search with Predictive Typing: Can We Do it Better Than Google ?

Many of my favorite sites including google, linkedin, and netflix now have excellent predictive typing support. It strikes me that we should be able to do the same thing on SunSpace, and maybe do it better.

In the case of Google, the suggestions returned will be what others are searching for. This list is  influenced  by your own search history.

The Netflix engine searches the universe of Movies and Actors. The list displayed is influenced by the popularity.

Your Linkedin type ahead universe is populated mostly by your connections.

We should be able to take the best attributes of the above!

On SunSpace we have more information to work with. Like Netflix we are searching a bounded universe. There are tens of thousands of movies and actors to select from, verses hundreds of millions of documents in the google index. In SunSpace we have less that 150,000 objects to work with, and lots of information on each object.

On SunSpace we know. (This is all tracked via opaque handles)
  1. Search terms used, for you and for all users on the system.
  2. The documents and wiki pages that were found via search and the search terms used, for you and for all users on the system.
Thanks to Community Equity we also know a lot about each user and each wiki page and document in the system.
  1. Information Value of each document or wiki page.
  2. Meta data for each document and wiki page. (author, tags, last modified, etc.)
  3. Equity value for each user. (based mostly on Information Value of the documents they own.)
As an example, let's say we are searching for Cloud Computing. Google gives the the following list of recommendations:

Cloud Computing
Cloud Computing Companies
Cloud Computing Wikis
Cloud Computing Leaders
Cloud Computing Stocks
Cloud Computing Architecture

In SunSpace we can provide you not only with the recommendation of the search term, but also
  1. the most popular cloud computing documents people have found with search
  2. cloud computing documents with the highest information value
  3. interesting meta data for each document.
I believe that people generally utilize type ahead as a time saver, verses as a recommendation engine, so we need to make sure the "expected" results appear at the top of the list. If a user as typing in "cloud computing" in a prior search, that term, and the document the user selected from the results list should appear first.

As a bonus, we can match against the corporate directory in real time, and provide phone numbers and locations for individuals. This is normally a 10-20 second endeavor using the IT supported tool.

Friday Sep 18, 2009

Disintermediation is the Friend of a Good Website

dis·in·ter·me·di·a·tion [dis-ˌin-tər-ˌmē-dē-ˈā-shən]
According to Wikipedia, disintermediation is the removal of intermediaries in a supply chain: "cutting out the middleman".

This morning I ascended the bully pulpit and gave our team a speech as to why our OneStop pages are an order of magnitude more popular than other pages we produce. (We produce pages for different sites/user communities including the public, partners, and sales people.)

As I've written about, prior, people like OneStop because the content is complete, accurate, up to date, and is in a consistent format. Easy enough, right? Not really. The question is, what ingredients are necessary, in the secret sauce, to produce this quality content?


The page(s) need to be owned by the content expert, or minimally some who is well versed in the content AND in the needs and expectations of the users. On OneStop we have the person's name, picture, and country flag on the page. The quality of the page is a direct reflection of the author.

Most of the sites our group works with are based on a structured update process. The content creator needs to submit a request with the update. It then goes through a couple of people for approval on correctness and completeness, and then goes to a web person for posting. This process can be time consuming, and often something is lost in translation. On OneStop the owner does the actual posting. The corollary to this rule is that it Needs to be Easy.

The owner needs to be a user
The best pages are the ones that the owner uses every day. This is the only was to get a gut feel for whether the page works. Are the items in the right order? Is it easy to find the highest priority items? Are there bad links? Is response time fast? Is the page always available? Many of the best pages on OneStop are authored by SEs. As SEs talk to customers every day, and use OneStop to look up information to support these customers, they can do an optimal job of creating a page that is useful for other SEs.

Needs to pass the what's in it for me test
It can be a decent amount of work to maintain a popular OneStop page. Having an author's name and picture featured prominently on the page gives credit where credit is due. Note that in a intermediated site the content contributor is often invisible.

Working feedback loop
I'm a glutton for feedback. [Particularly positive feedback. :) ] Bloggers are heavily reliant on comments and stats, often via google analytics. Internal content contributors often aren't so lucky. On OneStop we make a big effort to make as much data as possible easy available. I think of it as positive reinforcement.

Ask the users

On OneStop it is necessary to login, so we know who views, updates, and comments on a page.
In my experience, users love when you reach out to them. It shows you care and want to increase the quality and effectiveness of the page. There is always what I call a gem in the responses, a really good idea that you can readily implement.

As a closing thought, I like to emphasize people over tools and mechanism. It's not that I don't like mechanism, I'm a huge google fan (search, gmail, talk, reader, docs, etc.) However, I'd bet dollars to donuts that the developers use almost all the tools - on a daily basis - to do their jobs. See owner needs to be a user above.

Friday Aug 28, 2009

Wiki Gardening in the Enterprise

Web heads refer to the term wiki gardening. This is basically controlling the content in your wiki. Wiki gardening is easily manageable for wikis that are internal to an enterprise, but is more challenging for wikis that contain company content that is shared with partners and customers.

Sun has a large and vibrant website for partners, called Sun Partner Advantage Membership Center or Partner Portal. Partners can utilize the Partner Portal for everything from pricing information, to training, to product and program information. "The Portal" , in general, utilizes the walled garden approach. The Sun Partner  team both accepts and solicits content, massages it appropriately, formats, and publishes it. The advantages are obvious. The content is consistent, reasonably up to date, and only the appropriate content is shared.

But wait! There are occasions where more and better resources are available to employees, than partners. This is because publishing content to an internal wiki (yes, I'm referring to OneStop. This is the OneStop Secret Sauce blog after all.) is easier. It's much faster as there is no process or approval involved, and there are no worries about confidentiality or appropriateness of content. There are no forms or mechanism, it's basically WYSIWYG and update in place. It enables Self publishing so that the content expert is able to make the changes directly. Nothing is lost in translation, as compared to content making it's way through the process.

With our PartnerSpace project we hope to offer the best of both worlds. The goal of PartnerSpace is to make appropriate partner ready content that is behind the Sun firewall easily available to partners. The core of PartnerSpace is an easily consumable (by content providers) set of publishing guidelines. These guidelines include:

  1. Publishing Rules, including privacy and confidentiality guidelines.
  2. Content traits, as we need to happily coexist with PartnerWeb.
  3. Style suggestions, for consistency.
Perhaps the most important part of PartnerSpace is the definition of roles. Each wiki page, or family of wiki pages, that are made available to partners has a moderator. Content creators and owners stage a page in a Sun only area, and only when it is scanned and approved by the moderator does it become available to partners.

OneStop for Partners is the first instance of the Partner Space project. We are already seeing interesting phenomenon that we didn't expect. It turns out that some of the low hanging fruit is content that doesn't  fit easily into the existing Partner Portal or Sun organizational model. Two examples thus far are the Partner HPC Resource Center and the Solutions area. We are moving aggressively to complete OneStop for Partners with the traditional core of product, technology, and program information.

Wednesday Aug 05, 2009

Technocrat for Partners

The Technocrat is an internal Sun newsletter primarily targeted to customer-facing engineers. The goal is to make them feel plugged in with respect to products, technology and tools. As of June, the Technocrat is available to Sun Partners.

Aren't newsletters so 90s?
Yes and no. Newsletters certainly don't offer the virtues of social networking and collaboration. What they do offer is a push mechanism that enables us to highlight current news, what's working with our tools and communities, and snapshot summaries.

The most popular regular feature in the Technocrat is Interesting Stuff You Might Have Missed. It comprises interesting bits (white papers, feature articles, etc.) from various websites including sun.com and BigAdmin. The majority of items are links to good blog postings.

People are busy and it takes a long time to scan the latest and greatest on web sites, blogs, and wikis. The world is getting there with better search, feed readers, and the Semantic Web, but as of now there really isn't a great substitute for having a human with similar interests do this for you.

Lightweight is Good
The Technocrat offers a lightweight mechanism to share content. The editorial review is quick; the main rule is that the content be relevant and interesting to customer-facing engineers. If a contributor wants to spend (substantially more) time on a more formalized vehicle, BluePrints, White Papers, or writing a book is the way to go. You can always do a blog posting, but unless you've spent the time to acquire an audience, not many people will see it.

Most articles are between 500 and 2000 words. Does anyone remember Jeff Goldblum's character, Michael Gold, in the 1983 movie  The Big Chill? Michael was a writer for People magazine. He stated that articles were never longer than you could read during the average bathroom stay.

The Brand Means Something
We've been publishing the Technocrat for seven years, and internally at Sun it is acknowledged as valuable. If your article is included, there is a good chance people will see it. To receive the Technocrat, you have to subscribe -- we don't spam mailing lists or aliases out of principle. The subscriber base is currently around 2000.

To Come Full Circle
My heart was warmed when I received an email from Trevor Pretty, a Partner SE in New Zealand. He was a Sun employee for years, and was regarded by many as a star. The Subject of the email was Technocrat for partners - Feels like I've never left :-). I'm truly excited to be able to provide a mechanism that helps our customer facing engineering community share their considerable knowledge and expertise with our partners.

Wednesday Jun 17, 2009

Crossing the Services Chasm

Sun has a large and vibrant services organization, but historically the communications channel between Services and the Systems Engineering Organization has been somewhat limited. SEs tend to think in terms of products and technologies first, and services second.

It is of course good for Sun, and good for customers, if services are included along with a product or solution sale. Unless the sale is driven by a Professional Services engagement, services attach tends to happen at the end of the process.

So how does this fit with OneStop? Most SEs utilize OneStop to get help gathering information about a product, technology, or solution - and find the links to the appropriate sales tools, communities, etc. As Sun's roots are as a product company, that's how people think, and that is where people start the investigative process. It's not terribly clear to people where to find information about services, for a given product or solution.

As it turns out there is an excellent, but now well known, internal site that maps services to products. Our Eureka moment is that via a web service we are now able to dynamically populate a Services section of each OneStop with the services for that product.

Now, hopefully, the sales teams will be thinking about services earlier in the cycle, as the information will available with no friction.

Friday Mar 13, 2009

Search: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff with Information Equity

Search on corporate intranets is difficult, often because algorithms based on page rank don't work particularly well. In short PageRank is a “vote”, by all the other pages on the Web, about how important a page is. A popular document on the corporate intranet may have very few pages linking to it. Without page rank the search results are ordered largely by frequency of key words, meta data, and currency. This makes it almost impossible to find a given page with a popular or overloaded term in the title such as Solaris 10, Cloud Computing, Identity Management, etc.

SunSpace, Sun's internal enterprise wiki, with an integrated document repository, is based around the notion of Community Equity. Each person, and each document is assigned an equity value. A document's Information Equity is mostly based on:
  1. Hits or downloads.
  2. Updates.
  3. Number of different people accessing/updating the page. (very important in a collaborative wiki!)
  4. Currency. The equity decreases over time.
So how does this fit into search ... ?

SunSpace search has a 3 tier architecture. The back end is a commercial search engine that indexes the content (wiki pages and uploaded documents) and delivers the search results. We spend a lot of time tuning this engine so that the optimal weighting is given to titles, urls, keywords, and various meta data.

The middle tier is a set of feed readers that monitor all the updates on SunSpace. The feed readers create "stubfiles" for every document that contain all the meta data, which includes equity, tags, creator, and last updated date. The feed readers run continuously and notify the back end whenever a page is created or updated. A big advantage is that new pages and updates are added to the search index immediately, no more waiting days until the crawler finds the new documents.

The front end is where most of the action is. When a user types in a search query it is submitted to the back end and 100 results, in xml format, are returned. The stubfile for each result in then read. The initial results ordering is directly from the back end search engine, but the user is given the option to Sort by Information equity, or Sort by Date. We also display other relevant information such as tag clouds and communities for these 100 results. Each document has a creator, who is generally a primary contributor to the page. We assemble a list of the creators for the results, then credit each creator with the Information equity of the result they created - and display a list sorted by sum of information equity.

A few simple use cases:
  1. Find a new document. I am constantly creating documents on SunSpace, and generally am not careful with the titles. Two hours later when I have forgotten the title and need to forward the URL to a colleague, I simple search for myself, then Sort by Date.
  2. Find a popular document. The second case refers back to the beginning of this article. Let's say a colleague mentions a cool wiki page on Solaris 10 that's all the buzz. I'd search for "Solaris 10", then sort by Information Equity.
  3. Find the expert.  I have a big presentation on Cloud Computing, and need to seek the advice of a knowledgeable colleague. I search for Cloud Computing, then refer to the right of the results page for the people with the most Information equity. (for that particular search.)

Tuesday Jan 20, 2009

OneStop, A Trusted Community in Sunspace

I continue to hear that people are confused about the positioning of OneStop verses SunSpace. (for people who haven't read this blog, OneStop is a managed community within SunSpace.)

Peter Reiser, the architect of SunSpace, recently posted the blog entry Trusted content through facilitated communities. It's an awesome post, but I'm still struggling a bit with the word "trusted".

We are finding that the the need for OneStop has increased, rather than decreased. With Communities and wiki sites all over the place, people don't know where to look. Will a random community page be up to date? Will it be in a useful format? Will it contain the info SEs need? Will it be easy to find, either via browse or search?

I'm not sure the combination of the above = trusted, but I don't have a better word! Any suggestions appreciated. 

Tuesday Nov 04, 2008

The Value of Moderation

Good news! SunSpace is a raging success. Thus far 20,000 users have logged into the system. It is full of a variety of content, great, good, bad, irrelevant - and in a myriad of formats!

OneStop is now part of SunSpace. Users find this very confusing. Is OneStop dead? Has OneStop been subsumed by SunSpace? I'm hoping that referring to OneStop as "OneStop on SunSpace" might help clarify.

The success of SunSpace has amplified the need for (Sun internal users)to have an easy way  to find information on Sun products. If you search for Identity on SunSpace you'll find references in several dozen spaces. As we had hoped, we are seeing communities form around technologies, often based in geographical areas, many organizationally based.

Where should a user go to find information on Sun's Identity products, perhaps OpenSSO? What if you don't know the name of the product itself?

The answer is "OneStop on SunSpace". Here you will find a list of menus on the homepage that are convenient for browsing, particularly useful if you don't know the exact name of the product. You'll be directed to a OneStop page that contains the information you are looking for, which is in a consistent and familiar format. The page has an author (or moderator) so you can count on the fact that it is reasonably up to date. The OneStop team continues to work behind the scenes to help ensure content completeness and currency.

We're finding that useful search on SunSpace is challenging, just by virtue of the myriad of references to product and technologies in the different spaces. The implementation we are currently playing with segregates the results that link to pages in the OneStop space and displays them at the top of the results list. Google of course uses page rank to help determine relevance. SunSpace computes Information Equity per URL based on ratings, downloads, edits, etc. We'll be enabling search users to search for keywords, then sort those results by Information Equity.

Moving forward, perhaps we should simply create new tags that will imply that a SunSpace page is moderated and in a consistent format. Search could read those tags, then group the results accordingly. With the judicious use of tags we could also generate a useful browse mechanism so that the menus would not be necessary.

At any rate, the need for page ownership (moderation), and overall OneStop ownership (to help ensure content breadth, currency, and accuracy) continues to exist.

Thursday Aug 28, 2008

OneStop is not dead!

I've been hearing that people think OneStop is dead! This is not the case. OneStop is simply better and runs on a more modern platform. I try and describe what OneStop is in the blog posting What is Onestop - next ?. In short, users can continue to go OneStop and find a set of pages that are:

  1. owned and moderated.
  2. adhere (loosely) to the OneStop format. The familiar categories are in the same order.
  3. are up to date and accurate, or at least there is framework (people and tools) in place that tries to ensure this.
  4. are there. In other words the breadth of OneStop space is complete and controlled. Products , Technologies, and Programs of interest to Sun CEs (Customer Facing Engineers) will be there.
  5. are easy to find and navigate. It's a limited universe (~500) pages so we can make the menus, search, and a-z work well.

However, OneStop pages are now Wiki pages that support commenting and voting. There is also a WYSIWYG editor (albeit not a great one) that makes simple edits an order of magnitude easier.

SunSpace now has 200 communities and the number is growing rapidly. We're seeing a significant need for communities to have a OneStop page for "non community" members. No content redundancy is required thanks to macros like {include} and {simplelisting}.

We will take action very soon to ensure that a page looks like a OneStop page at a glance. Currently all SunSpace pages have a similar look.

Wednesday Apr 16, 2008

What is Onestop - next ?

Great news! We are now live  with 5 OneStop pages on CE 2.0. Anyone on the SWAN can now, optionally edit a page, in place, using a WYSIWYG editor. We've maintained our model of the author owning a page, with the new ability to control access.

We envision 3 general categories on CE 2.0:

  1. OneStop pages. These pages will live in the OneStop space, and each will have a primary author. The fact that it is branded a OneStop page means several things. The page:
    1. has an owner and is a moderated.
    2. adheres (loosely) to the OneStop format. The familiar categories are in the same order.
    3. is up to date and accurate, or at least there is framework (people and tools) in place that tries to ensure this.
    4. is there. In other words the breadth of OneStop space is complete and controlled. Products , Technologies, and Programs of interest to Sun CEs (Customer Facing Engineers) will be there.
  2. CEpedia. This space will be very similar to the existing CEpedia, as anything goes. It is not controlled. Users can create or update any page in the CEpedia space, in any format, at their leisure.
  3. Communities. The community area is really the thrust behind CE2.0. CE 2.0 communities have been described as a mashup -- Facebook meets LinkedIn with a content-management system thrown in for good measure. Historically email has been a primary communication vehicle inside Sun, so we offer the option to build a community, with membership and access control based on an email alias.

We're hoping for interesting synergy between OneStop and communities. A user might go to the OneStop space to find information on a product. While they are there they might notice there is a community built around that particular product or project, and actively engage in a discussion or forum. Finding the expert will turn into a non issue. We can do things like dynamically populate sections of a OneStop page based on how documents or pages are tagged in a particular forum.

Now, what do we call this new beast that we've been referring to as CE 2.0? (CE 2.0 has been our project name.) Onestop or Onestop2 doesn't seem to work as the OneStop brand implies all the stuff listed in section 1, but not social - web 2.0 community as we know it today. Users are tired of the new brand, or tool of the day. Maybe we should just stick with CE 2.0.

Friday Mar 07, 2008

OneStop and Community Equity

My colleague Peter Reiser has been making great strides forward with his notion of Community Equity. For a detailed write up see his blog post. He was even interviewed by Scoble on the subject!

(Heresy, heresy) but I have mixed feelings about Community Equity in the context of OneStop. I like the notion of community, and I really like the notion of encouraging participation. Having our users easily rate and comment on OneStop pages should prove invaluable. Ratings will supplement our current metrics of downloads and currency to give users a good solid indication of page value. Comments will evolve into discussions, where as we currently only offer page feedback. Discussions will then move into forums. All great stuff!

I'm a little more skeptical on the Community Equity front. I not sure our users will be motivated to participate (more) if their Personal Equity rises. Historically the lion's share of OneStop accesses has been from people looking for answers, and secondarily browsing for information. I don't expect that to change any time soon.

The big question is  "What's in it for me?". We're asking our users to spend their limited time, rating and commenting. In my experience people need a recognizable return on investment to participate. Is a high community equity rating, and being listed in the top 10 on the homepage enough? I don't know; I hope so. I do anticipate arguments about the formula in how CE is generated. Is it fair that a person who (perhaps without a lot of thought) rates 50 documents, gets a higher rating than someone who moderates a couple of OneStop pages that aren't popular products, or a person that has submitted one "white paper" or Technocrat article?

Wednesday Jan 16, 2008

OneStop Kicks Butt in User Survey!

The results are in! If you are on the Sun Network check them out.

We got 776 responses, an incredible number. Users feel very strongly about OneStop. We asked the question "How would you feel if we pulled the plug on OneStop?. (We don't plan to do this, but the question elicits great comments.) The results were:

 I'd be totally irate! 538
 I'd get by 153
 Don't care 11
It's about time 10


A typical comment was "That would treble my workload and response time".

We contrasted OneStop to other sites the SEs generally use and found that people almost always look to OneStop first, and give very high ratings (4.3/5) when asked "How useful is OneStop to doing your job? (1 low -> 5 high)".

A primary motivator for the survey, aside from understanding utility, is getting a feel for user priorities. Are social networking features important? Should we accelerate our move to an enterprise wiki?

Our users were very clear in expressing that the top priority, by far, is accurate, complete, and up to date content. They like the fact that content is easy to find on Onestop, and that the site is simple and consistent.

My conclusion is that moving forward with CE 2.0 we need to not break what's working. We need to be careful about adding complexity. Social networking features that enable community are cool, and will hopefully help us deliver even better content, but not at the expense of expedient access to information.

My feeling is that the majority of the users are not planning on being direct contributers, so we need to make sure we optimize that path. The browse experience needs to be robust, search needs to work, response time needs to be fast. Information should be no more than 3 clicks away.

Make sure you watch this space (follow on posts) for a discussion on how we hope to leverage Community Equity to help raise the bar on content quality.





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