The Idea Dude


Friday, August 31, 2007

On top of the world

Standing on the top of Whistler Mountain at over 7000 feet, I'm overawed by the majesty of it all. Just me, fresh air and as far as the eye can see. How ironic that 3 hours later, I'm sitting in deep Vancouver traffic breathing fumes from all the cars around me.

Hours later, looking at my pictures and stitching the panorama you see above, I realized that pictures no matter how well taken can never do justice of being there.

Made me think about participating in life versus being just a voyeur of life.

There is no life, unless you live it

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Usability rule #1

We're in our second iteration of design for one of our clients. The first was a prototype so everyone could feel and see what the elephant would looked like. The objective was to add everything including the kitchen sink. They got it! It was an elephant.

Now they can step back and not worry about features but on the community they are trying to build. I call it turning the elephant into a swan.

Reading TheGoodBlogs, I came across Grigor who posted on how we should treat our customers. His quote that hit me smack between the eyes?

We must not require from our customers to be heroes.

Wow! need I say more. That is probably the most significant and profound why to explain what usability really is. Heroes are people who go above and beyond, sacrificing themselves to reach a goal. Why should we make our websites so difficult that our customers have to be heroes to extract value out of our system?

We suffer from that same problem at TheGoodBlogs and I vow this day to stopping making our customers have to behave like heroes.

Thanks to TheGoodBlogs and Grigor, this dude feels incredibly energized this day.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

12 clones

Sometimes, we're so busy, we have no time to think or breathe. That seems like this dude's perpetual state. They say it's a question of priorities but what if they were all a 10? Made me think if I was able to clone myself. Could I have a dozen please?

  • Clone #1: for my wife, and friend, for all the times I was too damn busy to be there. You will finally have my full attention. Maybe too tired to listen, never too tired to care.
  • Clone #2: for my kids, seems like just yesterday, I carried you on my shoulders. You grow so fast, I need to savor every growing moment because each second is so unique.
  • Clone #3: for my friends I've left behind. Wouldn't it be cool to be able to hang out all day and talk about us in the past, the present and the future.
  • Clone #4: for my family. Visiting Dad and Mom should not be a special occasion but an everyday event. I just wanted to be like you Dad, just wanted to be like you.
  • Clone #5: for the blogger in me. To read the other 10 thousand wonderful blogs I never seem to have time for. I know you're out there... waiting.
  • Clone #6: for the geek in me. To have time write code the way I know how and not the way I must.
  • Clone #7: for the guide in me. To show the others that path I have taken in the hopes it will accelerate theirs.
  • Clone #8: for the human in me. To take the risks I was afraid to take, to walk the paths where I could not see the end.
  • Clone #9: for the musician in me. To play because each note stops time and resonates my soul.
  • Clone #10: for the artist. To draw and paint because each stroke can never be repeated exactly the same.
  • Clone #11: for me. To be a breeze that drifts in life and celebrate all that is around. Just because I can.
  • Clone #12: ?. For everything that comes tomorrow that I couldn't anticipate today.

    Send in the clones. Don't worry they're here.
  • Sunday, August 19, 2007

    New feature on TheGoodBlogs

    Having a ton of fun playing with our new feature at TheGoodBlogs, if you click on "View my profile" in the widget, it shows all the blogs that I care about (like a blogroll) but better. For me, it's the best way to keep up to date with who's just updated their blog, I get to see their faces and allows me to share with my readers who I read a lot and not just the blog name but their blog posts too. There's a recommended tab too, which we're refining, currently it shows blogs in the same category as I am.

    My communities have been stagnant for a while, I don't think we made the community feature easy to use (too geeky and totally my fault) but this new pop-up feature has pressured me to make sure I keep my communities in better maintenance, I can think of many other communities I want to create and showcase now. My Sobcon friends, my dots at Liz's blog, and so many more...

    They say that if you're at a loss of which feature to develop next, choose the ones that you will personally use. This was one of them. I found with all the consulting we're doing, I was finding a hard time keeping up with great blogs beyond the random ones that appear in my widget. I'm actually thrilled over what Tony has done here, kudos to him! I did the initial mockup and he did pretty much all of the leg work. Great job, Tony, aka Tealeaf!

    Now to find time to let our members know!!!!

    Friday, August 17, 2007

    11 things you should know about open source

    All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Explains why this blog went MIA this week. Being a single parent (for 2 weeks) plus an unhealthy work load has this dude exhausted.

    However, every cloud has a silver lining... being immersed in code all week, you can't help by being philosophical about open-source. Here's my wisdom scraped from fresh wounds.

  • Good: it's free
  • Bad: you'll probably do more customization to fit your needs, than you would for a bought product

  • Good: new features come up through the community pretty fast, you don't have to wait for quarterly upgrades which you probably have to pay for
  • Bad: the roadmap for the product isn't clear, no clear product plan, usually unpredictable

  • Good: if you need something, chances are someone had the same problem and already wrote a fix or an extension
  • Bad: the code or the feature is not always the way you think it should be written

  • Good: you write less code
  • Bad: you inherit both good and bad code with little or no standards across contributions

  • Good: you get to spend more time solving the business problem than building infrastructure
  • Bad: end-users make more demands because they know you can customize at will

  • Good: this is no critical point of failure because the community supports and extends it collectively
  • Bad: if you have to dig into the code, there is no-one within the company who can fast track you because it wasn't written internally

  • Good: lots of fixes and modifications available
  • Bad: hard to keep track of all the fixes and modifications, maintenance is an issue

  • Good: allows you to try with no cost other than time
  • Bad: end-users assume that the prototype you have built quickly is the product

  • Good: cost and time savings
  • Bad: wrong expectations are usually set because it is not zero cost, there is still the cost to learn and to extend/customize

  • Good: collective responsibility results in best of breed
  • Bad: could be bad if there is no initial strong consistent architecture

  • Good: lots of support from the community
  • Bad: no cost effective paid support if the community can't solve your problem

    Bottom line: if you have a finite budget, have savvy technical people on board, open source can cut your costs by a factor of 5 in time and money.

    The best part it allows you to fail fast.
  • Monday, August 13, 2007

    The best dots are the ones you don't own

    Boy, was I thrilled with this week's dots over at Liz's blog. Sometimes you read blogs and write about the ones that resonate with you not really knowing if that was the original intent of the blogger. So when the dots I found took the time to comment enthusiastically about the way I interpreted them, it was like getting zapped by static electricity when you come too close to something that's highly charged. These dots were highly charged!

    I know we bandy about the word, authenticity a lot. But that doesn't mean the word should lose it's meaning. I often wonder whether I should be bold and open up much of what I feel and what I've been through. These blogs showed me that there is so much to gain by doing so because our life experiences are hardly unique.

    And when we dare to share, we run risk that we may inspire somebody!

    Is that such a bad thing? I think not!

    I'm so grateful that Liz made space on her blog for my tiny contribution each week. She gave me the crayons and I'm having too much fun connecting dots!

    Generosity is so infectious, isn't it? Everybody gets to feel good!

    BTW: you can follow all the dots I've been collecting using this nifty feature we wrote at TheGoodBlogs. I use it to track all the posts I make on Liz's blog.

    Saturday, August 11, 2007

    Dude, where's your blog?

    Sometimes we take what we have for granted, only to realize their value once they are gone. A couple of blogs disappeared off our radar at TheGoodBlogs this week. They were blogs I personally returned to often to draw inspiration and or just to unwind. I felt like I lost some old friends, it is kinda sad.

    It's always sad for me to see bloggers stop blogging. Sometimes, their personal lives just simply overwhelm them. Or workloads prevail and before you know it, days go by and entries eventually stop. Often, we give so much of ourselves and creativity, the well simply runs dry...

    blog fatigue, the voice that sings no more

    That is part of the cosmos we call the blogosphere. But what saddens me more, is so much of the energy, thought and contribution is lost. If you pay for your blog hosting or host it yourself, a piece of legacy is lost when you switch off the light.

    This week as part of Liz Strauss's blog history on Open Mic Tuesday, I went down memory lane to visit Dan Bricklin and how he helped Blogger survive in the early days because as Dan puts it. I didn't like the idea of Blogger being lost in the dotCom crash. I was there, I read the posts by Evan Williams, founder of Blogger in real-time when he posted about his challenges keeping Blogger alive. His company, Pyra became a company of one. His servers were inadequate but he had a dream and he survived and today we should all be grateful. I read it then and I wanted to read it now because the posts were real...

    they moved me

    But I was especially sad when I tried to follow a link from Dan's blog to Evan's side of story. Perhaps Evan had moved his archives somewhere else, I couldn't find it. Evan had moved on. (BTW: Evan still has profile #1 on Blogger). But losing that bit of history was like losing the diary of a pioneer.

    Perhaps blog hosting should be free after all. Or at least a commitment by blog hosting companies that even if you stop blogging or paying for your space, the content will remain available.

    All of a sudden, I'm extremely grateful that Google bought Blogger because my blog stands a chance of being around even when I'm not.

    I don't know why but I remember my second blog post on this blog. It was what someone wrote on my t-shirt when I left a previous gig,

    "Barn's burnt down, now I can see the moon..." a haiku by Masahide.

    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    The future web where everybody is control

    Seems like nostalgia is the order of this week in my world. I found an old interview by Businessweek with Peter Morville, author of Ambient Findability. Peter tells us to ask three questions when building websites.

    • Can people find your website?
    • Can they find their way around your website?
    • Can they find your content, products and services despite your website?

    We get so caught up today whether edges are round or smooth, or whether there is video or not, dare I say, Web 2.0'ish that we forget some of the most basic tenets to good usability.

    Peter's correct in that if people can't find you, whether you're good or bad doesn't matter. Findability is an issue, with so many web and blog pages out there. Getting what you want fast is a problem unless you're in a very narrow niche or a have fine-tuned your sense of search like an Internet bloodhound.

    Our current and future Web generations both help create and solve this problem. They create the problem by being content generators at an unprecedented scale. By the same token, they can equally balance this by mass collaboration.

    In the past, we use products to find people (aka yellow pages), today we use people to find products (eBay, Amazon, MySpace) etc.

    The hardest question today and tomorrow is where to find authority amongst this morass of information. The problem is no longer too little information or too little choice, but rather too much of it.

    We went from taxonomies, to ontologies and now folksonomies i.e. organized by the people for the people. Like Peter, I believe it is a combination of all of the above. Creating straight hierarchies in taxonomies is too limiting. Ontologies and semantic nets are great except like Esperanto, believing in a universal and ubiquitous description and tagging system is naive (at least in the short or medium). Folksononmies and wikis have shown that mass collaboration is a much faster way of organizing knowledge providing your sources are trusted and credible.

    Knowledge management is not unlike government, ie. we need to allow the people enough freedom and creativity to innovate, organize and advance. At the same time, we need sufficient control to ensure we're all headed in the right direction.

    For example no-one relies solely on a doctor's diagnosis these days without consulting some online information resource or community and at the same time, only the foolish believe they can heal themselves without consulting a doctor.

    The communities that are going to be successful in the future will be those that combine the ability to amalgamate raw information with community recommendation specifically for your context.

    Friday, August 03, 2007

    Wellocities, a journey and not a destination... part 4

    As my conversation with Dr Amol Deshpande from Wellocities came to an end, I realized that for Amol and his team, it is the beginning of a new conversation for Canada. It is a conversation about empowering the patient. A conversation that will spark other conversations between patients, family, friends, caregivers and physicans.

    I asked Amol what final message he wanted to leave...

    As healthcare professionals, we're great at delivering healthcare to individuals. But we can only do it one person at a time. Caring should not stop when you leave a hospital or clinic. For those with chronic conditions, a visit to the physician is just an event within a long and often painful journey. It is many times a lonely one.

    Wellocities is about your journey. We want to be your guide to resolving health issues.

    Imagine the ability to search, based on your needs, and in one place, for the relevant people, places and things that help manage your health.

    Imagine the ability to store information on your symptoms, treatments, medications, conditions etc. and allow others such as your family, friends, caregivers and even providers to access this journal in times of need.

    Finally, imagine sharing your learnings with your health community and learning from them as well.

    With the ubiquity of online access and the emergence of social networks, we now have the technology and the medium to execute on our vision of a healthier Canada. I'm extremely excited to be part of something that can have a profound and long-term impact on all Canadians.

    For the last several months, I have spent many hours with the folks at Wellocities, building, sharing, teaching and learning. Like any startup, there is often lively debate but there is one thing the group has never been divided on... their success should only be measured by the difference they make to all Canadians who choose to travel on their journey with Wellocities.

    The reality is, their success in building a healthier Canada is inextricably tied to whether as Canadians we transcend from being merely consumers of healthcare to prosumers (producers and consumers) participating and contributing to the common good.

    Let the journey begin...

    Thursday, August 02, 2007

    Wellocities, a journey and not a destination... part 3

    The generation that is born into the digital age, the now-generation, questions everything. My friends and I share common experiences that when our children disagree with us, they counter our arguments by going to the Internet. Incapable of defending their points of view, they turn to Wikipedia, Google, blogs and forums to show us that we are wrong. It is so ingrained into their DNA that they do this without hesitation or forethought. For them, it is natural.

    They understand better than us that opinion whether professional or not is not localized to one individual. They understand the power of the collective. They celebrate it.

    I am surprised how different I am from them. I am after all from the then-generation. I assume the doctor is always right and the specialist is even more right. And when the news is bad, too often we feel there is no recourse. We never stop to ponder that these individuals are human after all, and like all of us, regardless of profession, can be extremely efficient in our sweet spots but are understandably inept at the fringes of our knowledge.

    I was reminded of this when Dr Amol Deshpande from Wellocities shared the following story...

    The journey starts with a woman diagnosed with breast cancer about 10-15 years ago. She was treated and did well.

    About two years ago, she had the misfortune of being diagnosed with brain cancer.

    She was found to be inoperable (not a surgical candidate) and was referred to a cancer-care centre for treatment. The first physician she met was unsympathetic, seeming to be more interested in treating patients that were suitable for their own clinical trial rather than searching for options to manage her cancer. She was told there was nothing else that could be done. She requested a transfer to another cancer-care centre.

    The second physician she met was much more empathic. But, again she was told there was little that could be done. Her father, obviously distraught, used Google to search for different treatment options. He discovered an 'experimental' medication that was being used to treat his daughter's specific type of brain cancer and mentioned this to the patient and her sister. At her next appointment the patient discussed this new medication with the oncologist and was told that they were unfamiliar with this medication but nonetheless stated it was not available in Canada.

    Her sister continued to ‘Google’ the medication and also contacted Health Canada who said the medication was NOT restricted but they had no idea how to obtain the drug.

    Further searching on Google, revealed an experimental trial was taking place on the patient’s specific brain cancer in Alberta!! Unfortunately, the trial was on animals. The organization in Alberta had a website which also had a forum. The patient’s sister went online and shared her experience with a lady in Alberta who had the same type of brain cancer as her sister. She was told by the woman that the medication WAS available in Canada and that the only thing she needed from her doctor was a prescription. Just a simple prescription that’s all it took.

    This journey is a true story.

    Before you say that this was a case of malpractice consider that both physicians worked in large academic cancer centres.

    Was the patient poorly educated? Actually, she’s a trained psychologist.

    Was this an unusual situation? unfortunately not.

    Now, what if that wasn’t any patient, but instead, it was your mother, your wife or your sister.

    It is likely that we all know of stories about our friends or our families in similar predicaments. What Amol describes is not unusual for any city or any country. What he describes is the reality that we are not all-knowing and even with best efforts our knowledge on any topic is ultimately limited.

    Amol's example shows how crowd-sourcing and mass-collaboration can take us out of local minima and find paths to solutions in unexpected ways. At TheGoodBlogs, I have seen many bloggers share their journeys, their experiences every day. I am struck by the generosity of the human heart.

    Could Wellocities be the lens to that generosity, to find opportunities for cure and comfort? Even if, it was only to know that we are not alone, it is worth the price of participation.

    In the final part of this series, I ask Amol to describe his vision of Wellocities and to tell us why his calling is now his passion.

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Wellocities, a journey and not a destination... part 2

    It's easy to jump on the Web 2.0 bandwagon these days. But you have to ask what is the value in creating another Digg, Facebook or Twitter. Do we really need another social network, news aggregator, or instant messenger? Like any new fad, the initial wave is built from unprecedented excitement and euphoria. It then rapidly dies down. The equal and opposite reaction of disenchantment and disillusionment. Benefits rarely meet such unrealistic expectations.

    We're not there yet, but that time will come for Web 2.0, surely as night follows day.

    From this, a second smaller and more mature wave appears. More pragmatic and economically viable. Bringing real value for both the consumer and supplier. To me, this could be the destiny of Wellocities. Most healthcare institutions seek to empower the patient by giving them data, either their electronic healthcare record or rich sources of unbiased information. To ensure that the patient is well-equipped with all the necessary information I hear too often.

    But in the end we are humans and what we seek cannot be found in books or words. It is found in voices and hearts. We seek someone who has personally felt that physical and emotional pain. Someone was has cared for others in similar situations.

    Someone who has travelled that same journey.

    For professionals like Dr Amol Deshpande, Web 2.0 is not a fad. It is opportunity to address issues that perhaps our Canadian healthcare system is not in the best position to solve.

    Amol explained it to me...
    Why an online social network for health? Sites like MySpace, YouTube and Facebook are popular because we all need to be part of a community.

    Epidemiological trials (medical studies that look at large numbers of people and follow them over lengthy periods of time) have looked at the effect of social networks on health since at least the late 1970’s. Studies such as House in 1982, Vogt in 1992 and more recently Kroenke in 2006 have all demonstrated the benefits of social networks on our health.

    They’ve repeatedly shown that patients who invest their time in developing larger social networks have a reduction in all-cause mortality and in some cases even lower incidence of disease.

    The most recent study, from Kroenke assessed women with breast cancer and found a 66% reduction in mortality associated with larger social networks, 66%!.

    So, not only do we feel better from being in groups but we could live longer.

    I for one know that, as a child, what worked better than a band-aid for a skinned knee was the hug and kiss that followed. Deep in my heart, I hope Wellocities remains true to my experience.

    Next, Amol will share with us a true story of one patient's journey where an ordinary miracle was reached through extraordinary means.