The Idea Dude


Monday, April 30, 2007

What's your SOBCon oneliner?

Click on this Bloggy Tag to find out where it all began.
  • One person, Liz
  • One thought, to blog
  • One blog, to ask
  • One question... are you a successful and outstanding blogger? SOB
  • One event, SOBCon07

What is SOBCon07? It is a commitment by bloggers to take the blogosphere conversation to another level. Liz is taking it and making it personal. We're heading out there because they are part of TheGoodBlogs, they were always the good blogs.

So here's my tagline of conference...

SOBCon07, Blog meets World

What's yours?

Click on the following good blogs to see what their SOBCon07 taglines...

Bonus oneliner:
What would Bryan Adams sing at SOBCon07? Click here to listen...
It ain't a party if you can't come 'round.

Hey, while you're at it. Click on TheGoodBlogs tag to see it all in one place.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Moving to an age of configuration

We're developing a portal prototype for a client. Part of the... "I need to work to fuel my blogging passion". In less than 4 weeks, we had a working version, fully locked and loaded. Now comes the hard part, branding and streamlining to get that look and feel they want. Five years ago, the discussion would have been... "this will take 6 people 12 months." From zero to launch in less than 8 weeks is generally unheard of. Courtesy of Drupal, we have configurable content types, security, roles, forums, blogs, chat, messaging, themes, the list goes on and on. Sure, there's a lot of code still been written, but mostly to refine, glue and configure the system to our client's needs. Behind it all, are the hundreds of thousands of lines of code, written by a couple hundred people. Other than the core system, we loaded around 100 additional modules contributed by the community. All code is not equal, some code is better than others but to counter the quality issue, we also have a large community that is testing and requesting features keeping the community honest for the most part.

10 years ago, open source was written as hobbies by smart programmers who tried to make a quick buck with shareware. What's different today is open source is not about the contribution of smart software developers, it's about hundreds of people who code to meet a need and then offer it to the community who collectively mash, integrate and redistribute their work. The total is truly greater, in fact, infinitely greater than the sum of the individual parts. The Internet, being free and open has made this happen. Richard Dawson in The Selfish Gene talks about the human race as being the only living organism that is altruistic. The Internet has that very characteristic, the collaboration gene. It makes us happy to share, because there is recognition but more so, I think, it makes us proud that somewhere out there, someone else is deriving some benefit from our contributions. i.e. we are adding value to the system.

The upshot of all of this is I think with the pervasive of the Internet and the multitude of solutions, we're moving into an age of configuration. The hard part is trying to figure out where to get the best solutions and how to integrate or extend them. The proliferation of open source brings a new complication and complexity where the real money to be made is how fast I can find the right silo solutions and glue them together at Internet speed. While it does take smart people to write great code, it is becoming harder to find smart people who can dip into the open source yellow pages and orchestrate a cohesive solution.

Just like a star...

That's our little girl. We're very proud of her. She took overall honors in the solo dance category last night beating over 100 other dancers. Her number was called Sophisticated Lady, very appropriate... All we wanted for her was to have fun and learn to be confident, instead she danced, she smiled, she shone, she won.

Whatever she does in the rest of her life, they can't take that one special moment away from her. As Corrine Bailey would sing, "Just like a star in the sky..."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What's the big idea?

Richard Watson wrote about garage shop innovation.. He maintained that random mutations and adaptations are the seeds for innovation. Through natural selection, the best ideas spread to become the norm, i.e. innovation evolution (is that an oxymoron?). Radical ideas come not from large incumbents but small agile groups or individuals who don't fit the norm or think normally (i.e. they think out the box or perhaps don't know there is a box). An interesting piece of information he shares is that 25% of Silicon Valley startups are created by either Indian or Chinese entrepreneurs. He thinks it's because they think differently having coming from diverse cultural backgrounds, they challenge what we would think is good and normal.

What it does mean is the best innovators are those who are curious and refuse to believe rules are not bendable or can't be broken. Many of our ideas at TheGoodBlogs has been a result of discussions with our bloggers, supporters and advisors. To believe we, as individuals, are the sole heirs to some great idea is short sighted. Building your idea network is not. What is an idea network? Find people who will take a statement you make and ask 3 questions you wouldn't have thought to ask. Rather say something, ask someone. If you ask 10 more questions each day, you would have learnt 3650 more things each year...

Here are some of my questions today.

  • So who is your idea network?
  • If you could only read 3 blogs, what would they be?
  • If you could only have 3 blog entries, what would you blog about?
  • If there was one gadget you couldn't do without, what would it be?
  • Who is the most influential blogger of this decade?
  • What is the smartest idea you heard about this week?
  • How would you turn your blog into a conversation?
  • If there is only widget on your blog, what do you want it to do?
  • When you're under stress, what's the first thing you do?
  • Where do you go for your next big idea?

Feel free to comment and add your ideas here or click on the following tag and join the conversation by adding the tag to your blog entry.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dedication to dance

Spent the last 3 days at my daughter's dance competition, she's 12. I do admire the judges. They spend 14 hours a day for 3 days. Breaks are limited to 10-15 minutes (including lunchbreaks). During that time, they watch 600 dances and give a mark and comment on each one on a mini-cassette during each dance. That's giving back to your art.

In the end, it was a successful weekend...
  • Dance lessons $2000
  • Shoes $200
  • Costumes $nosebleed range
  • The smile on her face when she won her solo category, 3rd overall and a special performance award?


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

Probably one of the most amazing and thought-provoking stunts I have ever seen. World-class violinist Joshua Bell with time-revered Stradivarius plays for 45 minutes at a busy Washington Metro. This is one of the nation's most respected musicians, winning the Avery Fisher prize which recognizes America's best classical musician. Over a 1000 people pass by during the rush hour, only a few stopped to listen. He made $32.17. The same man who could command over $100 for the cheapest seats and playing to standingroom-only packed houses, hardly gets the time of day in this context. Would you have stopped to listen to the music played by one of the most accomplished musicians of our time, using a world-famous violin?

I was so compelled by the story that I needed to write this post because I see the same every day in the blogosphere. Terrific bloggers, bloggers who write from the heart, bloggers with a story to tell, all struggling for exposure. These are the unsung heroes of the long tail. Orwellian theory suggests all blogs are equal but some are more equal than others. It did make me wonder if folks like Mike Arrington, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, Mark Cuban, Cory Doctorow started blogs today under pseudonyms, would they still be heard. The material would remain great, compelling pieces, but would they have the same level of readership and following and if not, how long would it take for them to achieve that without their personal brand. If Seth is right, the experiment would be the same, without brand, there is little trust, without trust, there is no permission, without permission, there is little chance of engagement. With no engagement where is the conversation?

So you thought the day-light saving change was harmless?

Think again. A US high school student in Westmoreland County was detained for 12 days because they forgot to change their clocks to reflect day-light saving time. Apparently, a bomb threat was made to the school hotline. However, due to the mismatch in time records from failing to reset the clocks, Cody Webb, 15, was arrested and charged with threatening to use weapons of mass destruction. Authorities were heard to comment, "Legally, we were OK, we didn't step on this kid's rights"...

Full story can be read here

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

If you care about communities...

Thought I finished for the night and checked our homepage in time to find a terrific post by Bob Glaza. He quotes Dr Margaret Wheatley, "There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about." If that's not enough to get you to go and check out his post, I'm not sure what will.

Gotta love TheGoodBlogs. My community enriches me everyday!

Is Sony going to win the next optical disk battle?

My son thinks so. He's only 15 and won't remember the betamax, vhs battle of the 70s which Sony lost because they tried to go proprietary, the public chose otherwise. The same can be said for the Sony MemoryStick, not having the same popularity of the compact flash (CF) and/or secure digital (SD) card. Apple despite having a strong foothold of the early PC market lost to the IBM clones that were cheaper and ultimately more powerful the Motorola based CPU. So why would it be different this time?

The key to his argument which I have to agree with is the PS3. With very little to choose between the Blu-ray and HD DVD technology (at least from a layman's perspective). Sony has shipped over a million PS3 units since its launch late 2006. What this means is that there are over 1 million blu-ray capable players out there, far exceeding the number of standalone HD DVD players that would be around 30% of market share. Is it enough to ensure blu-ray will prevail? Time will tell but maybe the PS3 will become their trojan horse in the consumer market.

Sidenote: thanks to human ingenuity in the form of Pat Glynn, my son has succeeded in using his sister's Wii bluetooth controller to play Half-life 2 on the PC. After watching him play ultra high resolution games on his PC and then PS/3 1080p HDTV, the Wii was less than impressive for me. However, my daughter thought differently, for her, it was interactive experience of waving the Wii remote around that had her engrossed for a couple of hours. It's not always about technology...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why I'm going to SOBcon07?

As SOBcon07 approaches, I wondered what others were thinking about SOBcon07. SOBcon07 grew out of Liz Strauss' Successful and Outstanding Bloggers. It was a commitment by a terrific group of people, Liz, Mike, Ben and Chris to take successful blogging to the next level, to meet and learn about each other and make the virtual conversation and real one. TheGoodBlogs took an important step to support this effort, as a sponsor, promoter, speaker and attendee, i.e. we felt it was worth the time and the money.

So here's why Tony (aka Tealeaf) and I (aka TheIdeaDude) took this step and what we expect to achieve at the conference.

  • It started off with the basic idea of meeting some of our members like Chris, Mike and Ben who were early adopters of TheGoodBlogs. They were great supporters of what we were trying to achieve and through the ongoing association, learning from their blogs and the email dialogue that followed, our respect for them as great bloggers, smart marketeers and terrific conversation conductors grew over time. Above all, they were simply great folk we were honored to call our blogging friends even though we had not met face to face.
  • Through Mike, we learnt about SOBCon07 and we thought there was a terrific synergy. Unlike many conferences, where the aim was to make a lot of money and showcase technology, this conference was about bringing successful bloggers together, to share what made them successful and how they could reinforce relationships and make each other even better bloggers. This is what TheGoodBlogs was all about. Perhaps it was naivety on our part, we genuinely wanted to promote the good blogs first and revenue second. It was instrumental in our decision not to seek funding because we felt it would drive us to paths that may not have been complimentary to our passion.
  • Just over a week ago, I had the pleasure to talk to Liz, a wonderfully warm, witty and intelligent woman. I knew after that conversation, why I started the good blogs, because if it was only for selfish reasons, I got to meet some terrific people that I would have otherwise probably not have met. My life would have been that much poorer otherwise. Liz, in her way, was on a similar quest, collecting good blogs (she calls them SOBs), but the idea was the same, to celebrate people who genuinely wanted to bring something to the Blogosphere.

So you can tell I'm's what I want out of SOBcon07.

  • To meet all TheGoodBloggers face to face and to thank them for understanding and supporting our dream. You really get it. Blogging is about conversations not monologues.
  • To share what we have learnt from the thousand or so blogs we have accumulated over the last few months. Bloggers see the world from their angle but it's like looking at the telescope from the large end. At TheGoodBlogs, we get to see it from the other end of the funnel.
  • To learn from successful bloggers what makes them tick. What they think are the ingredients of successful blogging so we can share this with our community.
  • To find out what successful bloggers want. Today, bloggers have so much choice beyond putting words to their blog. They can add pictures, video, podcasts, IM, blogrolls, widgets. What do successful bloggers really want? We really like to know because between Tony and I, we know we have technical skills that can make anything happen.
  • Finally, to hang out with some really cool people and paint our virtual world with a little bit of reality.

If you want to participate in this conversation, simply click on this tag and get the code to add to our blog entry. You'll see why conversations can be greater than the sum of the individual blog entries.

See you at SOBCon07.

Friday, April 13, 2007

So you think you're Web savvy?

BusinessWeek carried an interesting article on the web's new lingo. Do you know the answers to these?

  • Crog
  • Digg
  • Echo chamber
  • Flaming
  • Metadata
  • Moblogging
  • Spamdexing
  • Twittering
  • Vlipping
  • Vlogs
  • Wilfing

Click on their slideshow to find out their definitions.

This is the NOW generation

I was listening to a radio show about Generation-Y (commonly defined as the generation after the baby boomers) but anyone from 10-25, depending on who you ask. They mentioned that this generation was less self-reliant than any other generation. There was also a sense of NOW rather than planning for the future. Finally, there wasn't any defining music genre, like the big band era or the beatles era. I guess some would argue this decade is that of hip hop. I then thought about what Twitter, Digg, LinkIn, Facebook and MySpace was saying about our society (at least the digital society). Here are some personal observations based on our involvement in the Web 2.0 space as well as having two children who are Gen-Y's.

  • The sense of immediacy and the NOW generation can be attributed to the pervasiveness of the Internet. We are immersed in instant-messaging, text messaging, twitter, blogs, etc. We are so connected to each other and the outside world, it's no longer the 'let's meet up at the pub on Friday to catch up'. We know what each other is doing the moment it is being done or shortly after. In fact, we now crave to be up to date on what is happening with celebrities by the minute and breaking news isn't what's happening at the 6 o'clock news, it's what's happening now. While by being bombarded what is happening NOW, many of the generation-Y can hardly care about the past or the future because they are so busy trying to keep up with the present.
  • Music is as much about marketing as it is about the art. Record labels controlling large marketing budgets could traditionally define what era it would be simply by controlling the radio stations and tabloids through traditional marketing spend. Today, that marketing approaching is being disrupted by bands advertising virally on MySpace, YouTube and selling their own material on the Internet. As a result, the diversity that is generated has made it hard to define what music era this really is.
  • I think it is harder for parents to mold the environment around our children. 10-20 years ago, they were pretty reliant on what we told them, i.e. what to learn, what to watch, what to wear. Today, my son knows more about cellphone features and which are great PS 3 games than the people at the store. By watching what others are saying and the reviews that get posted, he has become more knowledgeable than the folks in the stores who don't have the time to figure out what's best for their customers. As a family, we routinely do all our research online before heading out to the store, an event that has just become the buying process rather than finding an expert to help us with our decisions.
  • As far as being less self-reliant, it's probably because we have so many digital products whether it is the cellphone, dishwasher, laptop that has made our lives convenient but at the same time less independent in many ways.

So what does this mean? perhaps 1000 years from now, evolution will show how our short-term memory capacity will be greater than our long-term memory... contrary to what it is now.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A bee in Technorati's bonnet

It's been one of those hectic days. However the following did get my attention.

  • Technorati announced it has acquired Personal Bee. It's a media collection platform and it was of interest because one of bloggers at TheGoodBlogs runs his Wripe.Net off that platform. That would be in line with their move to be more a media company than their early roots of being the next blog search phenomenon. Hopefully, it's not too late.
  • David Sifry, CEO and founder of Technorati also announced he was looking for his replacement. Having grown the company from a couple of servers in his basement into something that is representative of the new web, he has a lot to be proud of. Having 10 million unique visitors a month (I would have thought it was more) is quite an achievement. One wonders how much the board had to do with the decision, after 4 years and seeing other great acquisitions happening like YouTube, I'm sure there is some soul searching internally as to their future direction.
  • Completely unrelated, Sanyo announced that the recall of 1.3 million cellphone batteries by DoCoMo will cost the company $17 million USD. That's a lot of phones and a lot of batteries.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Form vs function is really about design vs production,

Doing some consulting work recently reminded me of how new menu items are introduced in top restaurants and especially in restaurant chains. While many think menu selection is simply waking up in the morning and doing what one feels like, it isn't the case. Firstly, the chefs and consultants look at market demands, customer tastes, seasonal ingredients and then come up with 2-3 choices. They then allow their creative minds go wild and create several great dishes for the head chef, owner (and all the stakeholders) to try and hone in the ones that will become signature dishes.

The next part is actually where the wheels potentially fall off. In addition to taste, the things that need to considered is to tweak each new item so that a) the ingredients are readily available, b) the entire cost of creating the dish is within budget so you can make a profit on each serving, c) the most important consideration of all, you can prepare the dish consistently and quickly. It is one thing to create one serving of a fantastic dish, it is totally another matter to do this for 50+ patrons every day. Even minor details of how the food is prepared, cooked and plated must be such that it is as efficient and as cost effective as possible.

The process of developing software solutions is really no different. Too often we sacrifice efficiency, ease of use and repeatability because designers forgot about the end-users. i.e. the design was great but functionally it scored low for usability and deployment. Sometimes, this is a result of designers not understanding the production ramifications of their design or refusing to compromise on their creative output. The designer and the production group must work together from the start to ensure that the design philosophy is reflected in the final product without breaking the bank.

Another analogy that comes to mind is the car industry where prototypes are usually radical and off the wall but the final product is more subdued, not only to suit consumer tastes, but to also make sure the product can be created as economically as possible using existing machinery and parts bins. Another is the fashion industry.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Excuse me, while I change into my avatar

If you thought Second Life was a passing fad think again. Nintendo introduced the Mii channel which lets you create customizable characters that you can use in games. You can create up to 100 Miis and carry them in your Wii Remote and swop them with friends and appear in their games. Sony is introducing Home, a 3D, avatar-based social environment available for users of the Playstation 3 network.

Role-playing games has been with us as long as I can remember, it allows us to escape our world and become heroes for a moment in time. BTW: one of the best I've seen so far is God of War II, with terrific seamless gameplay, incredible graphics and a good storyline. The difference has always been that you adopted the persona of the character that was created by the game company, i.e. you would be The God of War, Shrek, or one of the Mario brothers etc. Your ability to change the character was primarily limited to costume changes or weapons. Today with Second Life, Mii and others, you are not longer given a priori choices. You essentially mold the character and avatar to your personality or the personality that want the avatar to reflect. With the newer games coming this year, a few will take your picture and mold it onto the face of your character.

Is all of this not just a digital manifestation of what we used to do at masquerade balls or as children we would pretend to be our favorite superhero, or the policeman or the fireman? or even being like Dad or Mom. Role playing has been part of our lives in some form, what digital worlds have done has blurred the boundaries between fantasy and reality. Perhaps, the next thing you'll see is watching a movie and seeing yourself as one of the actors, far fetched? Not really...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Why blog statistics don't tell the full story

Mark Evans, had a post about web statistics. . Of course, we're all obsessed with statistics. Given no other measure for success or reputation, we use our visitor count as the ultimate meter stick. AWstats and some of the popular open source web stats packages do a great job of keeping track of that information. But stats do lie or perhaps our misguided interpretation of what the numbers really mean. My beef is that most of these stats are there for webmasters so that they can manage their websites. They are interested in issues such as bandwidth, bots and anything else that may degrade their website performance. Here's the truth about webstats:

  • Why the numbers are too high. Perhaps you're reading the column that counts pages served, that includes images, plugins and anything else you may have on your page. So your main page together with several images and 2 or 3 CSS files will run you easily to 10-50 hits on your server boosting your visitor count 10 to 50 times what it really is.
  • Why unique isn't really unique. So you figured that pages served is not a good measure of visitor traffic (but still useful to tell how hard your web server is working). So you look at the number of uniques. Well, 'uniques' is a misnomer, it's based on a time period that IP has requested a page. Assuming the time period is 15 minutes and you have a long post and someone takes 15 minutes to read or comes back after a phone call and clicks on another link, guess what, that's 2 uniques instead of 1. Or the bot that checks once a hour, that's 24 uniques a day instead of 1. On the other side if you're on a home or office network with only 1 external IP, you're being robbed of multiple uniques because 5 people in the network will look like 1 to you.
  • The trouble with bots. Most people will be surprised at the number of bots that actually hit your site every day. From Google, to Technorati, to Feedburner and a couple dozen smaller ones, each one crawls your site. Again, if they do that with regularity, they boost both your page count and your uniques. Your page count goes up dramatically because they crawl as many pages as possible and your uniques because they may hit your site several times a day. Not many packages allow you to easily remove or filter out those statistics.
  • Boosting numbers artificially.Say you have a network of blogs with different domains on the same server. They reference each other using images and even CSS files. Because they have different domains, each request artificially generates more hits because of calls to images and css files on a different domain and is seen as a different unique visitor by your web browser. So your numbers could double or triple depending on how many cross-references you have.
  • The single pixel image. Many sites and email marketeers do this. Add a single pixel image to the page and only look at downloads of that image. That would be a good way removing statistics of all the other pages served. Remember to serve this file with the proper expiry settings otherwise it may be cached on the browser side.
  • Using external sources. Barring server availability issues and installation issues, using an external source like Google analytics and Sitemeter gives you a far better indication of visitor traffic. Although they suffer from the same issues regarding uniqueness, they generally filter out the bots. Bots will usually only follow pages on the same domain otherwise they would end up crawling the entire web. The other caveat is to make sure you add it to all your pages. Sometimes blog platforms create a page for each blog entry in addition to the main page and these page may not call the external code or plugin if you don't configure your template correctly.
  • Time spent on a page.This is only an estimate of what the server thinks the user is doing on your site. They either track time spent between page requests or have a meta-refresh in the header that tells the server every x number of seconds your page is still being displayed in a browser. However, short of tapping into someone's webcam, you really have no clue if someone is really looking at your page or turn around to speak to someone for 15 minutes and then came back and clicked away.

BTW: feedburner is in some ways a better measure of loyal readers because these are the folks who take the time to add you to their RSS feeds although you have very little indication whether they continue to read your feed or just too lazy to remove it from their lists.

At the end of the day, the only real idea of who your real readers are is by the real-world dialog you may have with them through email, forums or comments on your page.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

So what does it really all mean?

Red Herring reported that ZoomInfo announced the first-ever semantic search engine. Having dabbled in AI since the late 80's, involved with some reasoning systems in the 90's and worked recently with a semantic search company for almost 2 years, I'm perhaps a little jaded and a little skeptical. Especially when there are folks like Doug Lenat running semantic companies showing the same skepticism about the claim. Doug wrote some pretty influential books in the early 80's that became textbooks on knowledge representation and AI. So semantic search is hardly new and its promise and success like Mark Twain's reported demise is highly exaggerated.

Make no mistake, there is some really cool technology out there and they do solve problems. My issue is that too often the problems they solve are aimed either at very narrow niches or applied to a corpus of data that is scrubbed clean and primed to produce a seemingly remarkable result. Like fuzzy logic, I have no doubt semantic search will find their way into our lives in some way but I would hardly doubt that it will be life-changing and dramatic.

The theory seems simple, create ontologies that represent rich relationships which, when applied to real world day, will reveal hidden relationships and associations that are not immediately obvious. Apply it to general data, it will determine with better accuracy which pieces of data are more relevant than others. Unfortunately, when you throw real world data that is noisy, ambiguous and sparse, it all falls apart. Then there is the matter of creating and maintaining extremely rich ontologies to maintain the quality of the results. We saw how knowledge-based systems aka expert systems in the 90's suffering similar blowouts (by my definition, it means, the results didn't live up to the hype). It isn't the technology that is wrong, it is the knowledge engineering part, i.e. the activity in getting the knowledge represented be it in rules or semantics. While we have made great strides in understanding how the human brain works, it is hard to beat the flexibility, fault tolerance and massive connectivity in our heads that never ceases to learn and absorb from the day we are born.

So is this another emperor with no clothes or is this a disruption that threatens the likes of Google. If they stay in a narrow business niche, they may stand a chance, to be the next search paradigm would be long shot.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Are you a conversation architect?

In a stroke of syncronicity this morning I was reading Jule's blog. She wondered if she should focus on her topic and area of expertise which is the telecom industry or add some more eclectic parts of her personal life. The answer of course was both, the content is interesting but for relationships to happen, personal content and personas are far more sticky.

Shortly after, I clicked on another of our TheGoodBlogs members, Bob Glaza. He talked about being a conversation architect. He was referring to a slideshow given by David Armano who gave a webinar and found it particular difficult because of lack of feedback that he would get if he had been in front of an audience.

It reminded me how hard it really is to blog. Most blogs get very few comments because often comments are left by people who actually know you outside your blog or have established some kind of dialog through your blog. Most 'strangers' would not take the time to blog and say 'that was a terrific entry' or 'that sucked!'. Ergo, most blogs are like radio broadcasts, you don't know who's listening or who cares.

Successful blogs are conversations and for conversations to be interesting, there should be some persona behind it, it may be who you are, what you stand for and what you like or dislike. i.e. it's what makes you different. As Seth Godin would say, are you a purple cow or just one of many that looked interesting but after seeing a couple hundred, ceases to be even noticed.