Observations from Portals 2005

When I worked at Dr. Dobb’s Journal, I did the software development and IT conference circuit regularly. Most of those conferences were incredibly boring, but they were rarely a waste of time. What made them compelling were the attendees.    (IM0)

I’ve been spoiled in the six years since. Not only have the conferences I’ve attended been more diverse and interesting, many of them have exploited collaborative processes that emphasized participant interaction. That’s obviously an advantage if the reason you’re attending is to meet interesting folks. Additionally, most of these events were more about social good rather than corporate productivity. As a result, the energy is much more positive.    (IM1)

Attending Portals, Collaboration, and Content Management 2005 these past few days was a blast to the past for me, which was exactly why I chose to attend. I wanted to reconnect with the corporate IT community and discover what they were thinking about these days, especially regarding collaboration. I also wanted to test my ideas with this crowd, to see if I still remembered the language of this community and if my message would fly.    (IM2)

I gave the first talk in the collaboration track, and it was very well received, moreso than I expected. There was a snafu with the program, which listed my talk as, “Collaboration: What’s In It For Me,” when the actual title was, “Collaboration: What The Heck Is It?” One woman approached me afterwards and told me that she was originally planning on attending my talk, then saw what the real title was and decided to attend a different one instead. Afterwards, she ate lunch with several people who did attend my talk, and much to her chagrin, they raved about it.    (IM3)

Several people told me they enjoyed the interactivity of my presentation. That was intentional. It engaged the audience, and it gave me a chance to learn from them. My plan wasn’t to teach, it was to stretch people’s minds, to give them an opportunity to think about things in new ways.    (IM4)

Folks who know me well or read this blog regularly know how much I tout highly interactive conferences. I think there is a huge opportunity for such an event for IT workers. I heard very little that interested me in the conference tracks. The attendees were far more interesting than the speakers, and most of my learning occurred during the meals. Several people even said as much, completely unprovoked by me.    (IM5)

Some other observations:    (IM6)

  • I ran into a number of people who had been with their companies for 15 years or longer. One person suggested that the reason for this was that companies liked to put their most experienced people in charge of portals. It makes perfect sense. These folks have an innate understanding of the organizational dynamics, which portals should parallel.    (IM7)
  • Kaliya Hamlin suggested that people attending this conference would be really interested in Identity Commons. Sure enough, several people said they were looking for good Single Sign-On solutions. However, despite my active involvement and evangelism with Identity Commons, I don’t think Identity Commons provides what these people are looking for right now. The real value of Identity Commons as an identity solution is inter-organizational, whereas most IT people are dealing with intra-organizational problems.    (IM8)
  • I was blown away by the proliferation of SharePoint in organizations. During my talk, several audience members realized that they were all dealing with similar challenges with SharePoint, so they gathered afterwards to discuss. I discovered many others in similar situations. I mentioned this to some folks at the SAP Netweaver booth, and they said they were blown away by the same observation. SharePoint seems to be making real viral headway in organizations, largely from the bottom-up. Ironically, some IT people are expressing the same misgivings about SharePoint as they do about Open Source software.    (IM9)
  • I love warm, summer nights. Yes, I realize it’s still spring. An April evening in Phoenix is about equivalent to a July evening in Los Angeles.    (IMA)

Collaboration Talk in Phoenix

I’ll be giving a talk on Tuesday — “Collaboration: What the Heck Does It Mean?” — at the Portals, Collaboration and Content Management Conference at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Yes, the title is wrong in the program.) It’s a more refined version of the talk I gave late last year for the 2005 Reuters Digital Visions Fellows at Stanford. Fitting that I’ll be speaking in Phoenix, because the kernel of this talk emerged from my ChiliPLoP workshop in beautiful Carefree, Arizona almost exactly one year ago today. You can download the slides.    (ILQ)

In addition to meeting folks at the conference, I’m looking forward to catching up with Linda Rising, who’s recent book, Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas, is getting some excellent buzz, including from my former Dr. Dobb’s Journal colleague, Mike Swaine. My turnaround is pretty quick — I’m flying back to San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon — but if you’re in the area and would like to meet up, let me know.    (ILR)

A Manifesto for Collaborative Tools

I recently wrote an essay entitled, “A Manifesto for Collaborative Tools.” It outlines a vision for how our tools can and should become more interoperable.    (1AQ)

The article is available both on the web and in the May 2004 issue of Dr. Dobb’s Journal. I’ll also be presenting the paper at SRI‘s Artificial Intelligence Center on Thursday, April 29 at 4pm in Menlo Park, California. The talk is open to the public.    (1AR)

What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

There were two good posts on careers in the blogosphere recently. Ross Mayfield advises future entrepreneurs in a piece entitled “Budding Entrepreneurship.” I liked all of his points, but my favorites were:    (15C)

  • Change your major.    (15D)
  • Take responsibility beyond your years.    (15E)
  • Have fun with failure.    (15F)
  • Do different.    (15G)
  • Be a businessperson.    (15H)

Alex Pang offers a much different, much more personal take in his essay, “Journeyman: Getting Into and Out of Academe.” Alex’s post resonated strongly with me, but before I talk about his essay, I first have to commemorate this moment. We haven’t actually crossed paths physically before (as far as I know; we both happen to be frequent patrons of Cafe Borrone, so it may have happened), but we’ve crossed paths spiritually in many ways, and this will mark the first time we cross paths online.    (15I)

I studied History of Science in college and have continued to pursue my interests in that field in small ways. One of those was an extension school class at Stanford I took in 1998. The class was on postmodernism, but Tim Lenoir, who taught the class, soon learned of my other interests and showed me a project he was involved with. It was called the MouseSite, and it was an online oral history of the mouse (the device, not the rodent). Alex was also involved with that project, and his name stuck with me because his middle name is Korean.    (15J)

Fast forward five years. I accidentally discovered his blog several months ago via GeoURL, and I’ve been enjoying his entries ever since. (I’ve bookmarked at least two of his past entries with the intention of blogging about them, but never got around to doing so.)    (15K)

I didn’t follow the same career path Alex did, but I did some of the same soul-searching that he describes in his essay. I have always loved scholarship, and to this day, I long for the days I used to spend lost in the stacks at the library, taking pleasure in all of the things I didn’t know. As brilliant and as diverse and as intellectual as the Bay Area is, it still does not come close to the experience I had in college of being immersed in scholarship and surrounded by scholars.    (15L)

The flip-side of this is that I’ve also always been interested in entrepreneurship and social change, neither of which are commonly associated with academia. Resolving this schizophrenia has not been easy. Pang suggests that the institutional language (at least in academia) is so narrow, we don’t even know how to think or talk about careers that deviate at all from the “path.”    (15M)

I chose to work in the “real world” and pursue my scholarly interests on the side. This was possible from the beginning because Jon Erickson — the editor-in-chief at Dr. Dobb’s Journal, my first employer, and a good friend — strongly encouraged this. As a curious side note, one of my responsibilities at DDJ was putting together its special issues on software careers, which included writing editorials. Of the five that I wrote, four were about the importance of spreading your wings and extending your learning outside of your given field. My favorite was a piece entitled, “Reading, ‘Riting, and R-Trees.”    (15N)

I loved my work and the people at DDJ, but I eventually left because it only took me 80 percent of where I wanted to go. The boom made it a great time to explore, which I did as an independent consultant for four years. Then the boom became the bust, and I had to start thinking seriously again about what I wanted to do.    (15O)

I did two things simultaneously: I applied to a few Ph.D. programs in History of Science and I started Blue Oxen Associates. I did the latter with the belief that my (and other academically-oriented people’s) skills and interests were valuable in convergent ways and that there was an opportunity to create something that took advantage of this. I was directly inspired by organizations like Institute for the Future (which currently employs Alex).    (15P)

Last spring, a few weeks before we threw our launch party in San Francisco, I received an acceptance letter from one of the programs to which I applied. I decided not to go back to school, a decision that was more gut-wrenching than most people probably realize. Blue Oxen was progressing the way I had hoped it would progress, and a lot of people at that point had begun to jump on the bandwagon. I couldn’t give up on the vision at that point, and more importantly, I couldn’t give up on the people who supported me and were counting on me.    (15Q)

We’re still progressing, but we’re also still several years away from my larger vision for the company. I probably shouldn’t admit this here, given how I rant about being action-oriented and changing the world, but part of that vision has me sitting happily in a corner of the library, following some obscure and fascinating train of thought, and then joining fellow researchers afterwards for coffee and speculation about the life, the universe, and everything.    (15R)

OCSI Meeting Synopsis

I was in Anaheim yesterday for the Open Collaborative Services Initiative (OCSI, pronounced “oxy”) workshop, which was part of the OMG Technical Meeting. Johannes Ernst, one of the OCSI organizers, invited me to present my manifesto on collaborative tools (which will be published in Dr. Dobb’s Journal and on the Blue Oxen Associates web site).    (WI)

OCSI is an attempt to get collaborative tool vendors to make their tools more interoperable. One of its early goals is to develop a shared architectural blueprint for describing collaborative tools, perhaps initially in the form of a white paper. This has been a refrain of mine for quite some time, and so I was very glad to participate in the group’s second meeting.    (WJ)

As it turned out, there was a tremendous amount of conceptual synergy in the room. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised. At the beginning of my talk, I explained that one of our beliefs (also known as the The Blue Oxen Way) is that Shared Ontology (which results in Shared Language) is a prerequisite to effective collaboration. OMG is a very strong proponent of Model Driven Architecture, which is essentially an instantiation of Shared Ontology. Not surprisingly, there was universal consensus in the room about developing a shared model of collaboration — both on the human-level (e.g. Blue Oxen‘s work with Pattern Languages) and the system-level (the topic of my manifesto).    (WK)

In his introductory remarks, Johannes made several interesting points:    (WL)

  • The word “collaboration” means many different things to different people. This simply underscores the need for a common vocabulary.    (WM)
  • Collaboration seems to be an “it” topic among CEOs and CIOs. However, as often as they mention collaboration and as important as they claim it is, the collaborative tools market has been flat the past few years. At first, this seems to be a contradiction. However, the number of corporate downloads of free IM clients over the past few years indicates that the need for collaboration is real. One of the problems is that tools are not interoperable enough.    (WN)
  • There is no horizontal industry initiative for improving interoperability of collaborative tools. However, several vertical industries have expressed interest. One of the challenges is to get the different industries to realize that they share common needs so as not to duplicate efforts.    (WO)
  • Johannes chatted with a few tool vendors about this problem. Their response: “That sounds great, but I have a product to get out.” The way to get vendors more serious about interoperability is probably bottoms-up — via the user community.    (WP)
  • In this regard, the Open Source community could play an important role. The prequisite for standards is Shared Language and free implementations. We have the latter, but we don’t have the former. If we created Shared Language and if Open Source tool-builders adopted it, we could build a compelling case for standardization. Johannes feels that it is vital to involve both the proprietary and Open Source communities in the OCSI effort.    (WQ)
  • Collaborative interfaces should be as transparent as telephone numbers. When we see a telephone number, we know what to do, regardless of the underlying service provider, protocol (POTS versus VOIP), type of telephone, etc.    (WR)
  • Cut-and-paste is a type of interoperability between collaborative tools. (A poor one, as I and others noted later in the workshop, but also a relatively effective one — a good example of loose-coupling.)    (WS)

Other talks of note:    (WT)

  • David Hartzband, VP of collaboration technology at , provided a four axes view of collaborative tools: synchronous, asynchronous, inline, and contextual. He also observed two trends in the collaborative tools space: business communications convergence (e.g. telephone integrated with email integrated with your documents, etc.) and enterprise application functional convergence.    (WU)
  • Carol Burt, CEO of 2AB, shared her vision for model-driven access management. Not only could such a model have ramifications for those developing secure applications and those selling security software, it could also potentially plug in to an OCSI model for collaborative tools.    (WV)

At the end of the workshop, Joaquin Miller (the other OCSI co-organizer) led a discussion about the next steps within the OMG umbrella. The consensus seemed to be to propose the formation of an OMG SIG, which could potentially evolve into an OMG Task Force. Not being an OMG member myself, the conversation both baffled and fascinated me at the same time. Nevertheless, the folks there seemed to know what they were talking about, which is always an excellent sign.    (WW)

The next meeting will be at the next OMG Technical Meeting in St. Louis next April. We’ll continue to collaborate via an eRoom set up by David and via the OCSI web site. Our action item for now is to share our individual high-level models of collaborative tools in order to identify commonalities and to serve as straw men for additional discussion.    (WX)