Archive for March, 2010

Real Simple Sindication (RSS) What’s it all about?

Posted in School with tags , , on March 31, 2010 by Lance Strzok

The story I usually tell when it comes to explaining Real Simple Syndication (RSS) is about me as a younger man in my early days as a sailor. I had a PO box for an address, and seems like it rains every afternoon when I got out of school in Orlando Florida. So off I went in the hopes of finding a letter in the mail from family or friends when low and behold, when I got there, all I saw was the back of the box. (Shaking it did not yield any better results). So off to my room in my now wet clothes I went.

What does it have to do with RSS you ask? Well, what if my PO box sent me an email that told me first of all that I had some mail in my box, and secondly, it game me a link to that letter? Nice eh, now I would not have to go to the PO box anymore, it would tell me when I had something, and give me a link to the content that is in the letter. Now I don’t even need to go there anymore.

So RSS is really just a signal that you get when you get new information that breaks some threshold that you define.

How do you use this great idea? Well you just go to the sites you normally go too, and if they syndicate (share or post information via RSS) then you can look for the familiar orange looking symbol or anything that says RSS or feeds and sign up for notification of their content. Some allow you to refine the search, or just receive all new posts. Take for example this blog. You can subscribe to my new posts, or new comments to this post. From now on you will know when I write something new, or when someone comments on something I have written.

As for RSS readers, some email clients have RSS capabilities, and some browsers do as well, but I like Feedreader 3 myself. It is a great tool for collecting your subscriptions and getting to the new content. If you want a web based one, I have not found one that even compares too Googlereader. It is my preferred way to ingest all the feeds I have as well as alerts I can set up with Google Alerts. This keeps me aware of all content that the Google indexer finds as it crawls the net that meets thresholds (or keywords) I set.

If you have comments or questions, please let me know. I would be happy to answer them for you or help you out.

Think Topically – Work Topically

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by Lance Strzok

Some very important values and ideas have been simmering for a number of years in the collaborative spaces across the government. The idea of “Thinking Topically – Not Organizationally” is one of the longest standing and has more meaning the longer I work in these collaborative tools. The discussion and approach below is being presented in an effort to avoid the “1000 silos of collaboration” which is slowly beginning to erode the base of a more true and genuine collaborative infrastructure that already exists, and simply needs to be more fully understood and utilized.

This article focuses on implementing a “topic” centric approach that enables better communication and collaboration across the various domains, and between the 16 agencies in our enterprise.

There are three major pieces to understand.

1. People as “Sensors on a network”. On any given topic, there are those that work it directly, and those that work it indirectly. How we find and organize the people that work that issue is described in another article, but as those groups form networks, it helps to think of them as sensors on a network, and links among the networks. All the people involved in these networks are spread across various agencies, academia, and the contracting world.

Three starting ideas

These networks have the technology to organize, and share information on topics that are important to them. By linking and enabling them to work together on issues of common concern up front, we have the potential to provide well rounded thoroughly vetted reports to our customers that highlight differences and agreements on content contained in the reporting. We also could reduce considerable overlap, time and money wasted on individual agency production that creates multiple products on any given topic and leaves it to the customer to find and identify among several reports the information they are looking for and the agreement and disagreement between the various articles. The unfortunate part is that often, the customers don’t have the time or resources to read and interpret the information provided to them. I would also argue that is what we should be doing on the front end. (Taxpayers should read this as “waste and duplication”).

2. A workflow that allows for the reduction in time consumed by each sensor on the network independently discovering, aggregating, sharing, documenting and producing on that information. In this process, each sensor puts their finds on the topic into a bin with all the others, and software within the bin recognizes duplication and removes the additional document, but adds a one up number and username to the suggested file which could be used in helping to determine value to the other team members. Additional software could be run against the data in the storage area looking for relationships, or add some natural language processing (NLP) techniques as well as a way to divide up the articles between members for review, or allow reviewers to rate and comment on the content as well as suggest whether it goes into the trash or needs to be used to update an assessment or start a new one.

3. Work topically by way of Community Of Interest pages. A shining attribute of one of our tools is the concept of a workspace. However, A-space is not available to the entire 16 agency enterprise. But the idea and functionality of a workspace can exist using tools already available at each agency and on all three domains (ICES services). It may not be as elegant, but at this point in our development as fellow collaborating agencies, the concept of a workspace can be achieved using a wiki page, a document management system, social bookmarking, a common publishing environment, a twitter like tool, and other supporting tools already available across the enterprise.

Having now identified the major pieces of the discussion, how is this supposed to work?

Why is this important? (Who has the time and responsibility to do this?) Do the customers have the time or responsibility to discover, read, disambiguate, and deliver best info to their decision makers? Is that their job?

What can we save for us, and our customers?

What can we do right now?

I have discussed this several times in the course I give, but I am looking to improve the model and the approach. All comments or idea would be appreciated. Thanks.

How do we move away from email?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by Lance Strzok

I started this thread as a response to Andrew McAfee’s blog. http://andrewmcafee.org/2009/10/how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-email/ .

There I shared the following thoughts on moving away from email:

I am living the truce with email, but I do think that email will act like a ball and chain on moving toward what could be, and what I think we agree will eventually be.

I think that the mindset for email should be as one to be used as a private communications path, with suggested replacement when possible with private chat and private messaging within chat for asynchronous discussion.

I think one thing we could do to move willing organizations toward limiting email and moving in the direction of other tools would be to disable attachments within email. Replacing them with links to documents in a document management system that is optimized for the media being linked too, (be it images, documents, video etc…). There are some added side benefits to this decision, reduction of the number of the same documents and the associated confusion over updates versions, and changes. There are other benefits, but I won’t go on about that.

A follow on move may be to declare that email will begin to be indexed and made searchable/discoverable unless it is flagged as personal and private. Encouraging employees to use private chat and chat messages for most of the personal exchanges that take place. This would enable us to start to use the email text strings (now without actual documents embedded). Maybe then email might not be “where knowledge goes to die” as you so appropriately put it. These emails (now text files) can indexed along with chat room logs (non private) and other text based tools as well. One additional thing would be that it may basically force a lot of people to review what they have, and delete those that are no longer worthwhile, thereby reducing total storage allocated to email from 20 years ago. (Can you believe some people are proud of that fact?)

The other uses of email would eventually need to be replaced with arguably better tools as well. Take for example the task list function, or the integrated calendar, meeting makers and the rest of the functionality we have come to love. Until we can point to a better solution in those areas as well, this is going to continue to be an uphill battle.

Then there are the customers and clients, we can change our internal methods and processes, but what about how we interact with our customers?

All good questions, but I just realized I started this long ago, and forgot to publish and finish it (busy).

Lastly, I will say that if you or your customers like Firefox as your browser, then linking your documents to Sharepoint is not the direction to go. They are only open for editing in Internet Explorer.