Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The End of Theory?!

Wired has a thought-provoking and interesting article by Chris Anderson, titled "The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete". This article has spurred a lot of discussion on the internet. I'm still thinking it over. But I'll put my two cents in: I wonder if Anderson's take is true for all of science. If so, everything is data and can be described by data. I know that lots of people think this is true (e.g. singularity theory). However I think reality can not only be described by data. For instance, can someones soul be described by data? And, doesn't Anderson's article itself show we always (or often?) need theory (hypothesis, believe, convictions) to say something about practice?
Anyway, large parts of reality can be described by data. And for this Anderson's theory is very interesting indeed, just ponder on the examples that he gives.

Some highlights from the article:

About the Petabyte Age: "It forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later."

"Google's founding philosophy is that we don't know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that's good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required."

"This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.
The big target here isn't advertising, though. It's science. The scientific method is built around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years.
Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coincidence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence. Data without a model is just noise.
But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete."
"There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot."
"This kind of thinking is poised to go mainstream. In February, the National Science Foundation announced the Cluster Exploratory, a program that funds research designed to run on a large-scale distributed computing platform developed by Google and IBM in conjunction with six pilot universities."
"Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.
There's no reason to cling to our old ways. It's time to ask: What can science learn from Google?"

Recommended links infoarch 07/30/2008

Monday, July 28, 2008

Social Media ROI

Jon Mell has been writing some really interesting posts on the ROI of Social Media tools, like blogs and wiki's. I'd like to point to the latest two here and here. The posts help social media evangelists come up with a business case/ROI calculation, although they'd rather say: "It just the right thing to do!" Richard Dennisson of BT has another take on this topic and protests again the 'reductionists' that won't start a (social media) project without hard numbers.

The difficulty with IT projects in general is defining a hard business case (- or maybe the 'hard' stuff is easy and we forget about the 'soft' part, like productivity improvement). My boss says - and I like this approach: "With IT projects it’s about the good idea first, numbers will come later."

I'm curious what you think about this topic. Please drop a comment!

Facebook Intranet at Serena

Do you want to know more about how Serena started and uses Facebook as their Intranet? I do!
Well, Andrew McAfee is keeping us posted. He (and Bill Ives) have written about it before (and I've pointed to those posts before here and here). Now McAfee serves us with an interesting long post with an interview with 2 Serena people on this topic. Go ahead and read it all. Here are some excerpts.

Reasons to use Facebook as their Intranet:
A third, and what we believe is a radical thought, is that most Intranets are built on a wrong assumption. They’re fundamentally built to make content available to employees and trickle only a tiny bit to customers. We believe that the vast majority of content an organization produces is customer facing, with only a trickle back behind the firewall for truly proprietary materials. This belief achieves two major goals: customers are better served and receive better and more frequent
communication in their language, and rather than companies pushing it through email (the "most evil" application of modern times) customers can pull it at any time. (...) We share the common belief that work and home lives are starting to become intertwined.
Answer to the question if Facebook isn't too open (confidential information etc.):
You’ll notice that we do all of this completely out in the open. Why? Because we believe Serena Software is a living entity, that companies should be personified as much as possible. We want customers, vendors, partners, prospective employees and anyone else who is interested to be able to easily find out more about our company. We want to be approachable. (...) Often we hear, "aren’t you concerned about confidential information being put on Facebook (or the internet in general)?", our response is "if someone wants to release confidential information about your company maliciously they will find a way to release
Do they have a policy how employees may use Facebook/their Intranet:
While we can certainly see why people might take offense to certain topics and/or opinions we have not changed our communications policy despite our social networking initiatives. At the end of the day, we trust our employees to use common sense. We consistently tell them "be smart, do what you think is right".
Should others also use Facebook as their Intranet?

We’ve only seen benefits so far, and feel that our employees are all gaining immeasurably because of it. The first question companies should consider is "what is the corporate culture we are looking to create?" The answer to that question will dictate how you move forward.

I'm curious what you think about this initiative. Do you know of other companies also doing this?

In the interview it says they didn't discard their "old intranet". I'm curious what kind of data/information they still have on there. Or to restate that: how open can/may a company really be?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Inbox Sand: Five Tips to Beat Procrastination

Idea Sandbox is an interesting site/blog on creativity and fresh thinking. They also have a newsletter I subscribed to. Not to long ago I received one titled: "Five tips to beat Procrastination". One of them struck me:
  • Keep Yourself Fresh: 48/12 Rule - For each hour, work for 48 minutes followed by a 12 minute break. This really works. The 12-minutes gives you a nice break. The 48-minute push helps you crank through your work. Even if you're on a roll, still take a refresher break. (Especially if your work requires using a computer screen... the 12-minutes is a nice break for your eyes... and in the end reduces overall fatigue).
This is basically the 80-20 rule! My experience is that most people find breaks signs of laziness, working all day long without breaks is cool and shows your tough.
But how many people actually apply this rule? For instance, if you have a two-hour meeting, you might stop for a short coffee break, but nobody I know stops for a total of around 30 minutes in a 2 hour meeting.
Anyway, maybe we should do this and see if it works. My experience is breaks open up your world, help you solve problems you were locked into and just make work so much more fun.

Recommended links infoarch 07/26/2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

Beyond Blogs

Just the other day I went into our company library. One of the magazines I always take a look at (- even though I also am subscribed to their feeds -) is Business Week. For some reason I decided not only to look at the most current issue, but to look through some older ones to. And then... all of a sudden... I saw the front page of the June 2 issue: "Beyond Blogs"! What?! How could I have missed that? Was it due to my vacation...? Anyway, I'm happy I ran into it.

The article is an update from an article written in 2005, "Blogs Will Change Your Business". This article was corrected and commented on here. Finally the article that was published in the June 2 issue is titled "Beyond Blogs". It's a very nice article giving an overview on what has happened in 2 years with blogs and social media in general. It's a great read for people that don't understand this world or are taking their first steps in this energetic space. It is loaded with interesting facts about e.g. the number of active/non-active bloggers out there. If you haven't read it yet, please do so!

Update 'Google Query as RSS Feed'

A couple of days ago I mentioned 'Feedmysearch' with which you can RSS-ify a Google query. Very neat, but the 'automatic subscribe button' on their site didn't work for me.
However it does work in this way:
- type in the Google query you want to RSS-ify,
- click 'Feed my search!',
- copy the URL (instead of hitting the 'subscribe' button),
- paste it into your feedreader (in my case Google Reader)
... and you're all set!

Recommended links infoarch 07/25/2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What's with RSS? Harnessing the Power of the Oh-So-Social Web

Just read the interesting article by Josh Bernhoff and Charlene Li, titled "Harnessing the Power of the Oh-So-Social Web" (published in MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring 2008). Lots of the article is a nice summary of the stuff that has been going on in the social media world for some time now and how it's being used.
What I really like are the tables on page 38 en 41. The table on page 38 is about "Participation in Online Social Activities Around the World". I was shocked to see the low percentage of people using RSS (8% in US, 3% in UK, 0%!! in Japan, 4% in Germany and 1% in South Korea). We RSS users have a lot of explaning to do!
The table on page 41 is about "Using Social Applications in Different Departments". It gives a nice overview of what social applications you can use in different departments and how.

UPDATE: Just found out this article was also translated into Dutch. It was published in Management Executive, juli/augustus 2008, "De kracht van social networking. Hoe kunnen organisaties de macht van het supersociale web 2.0 benutten?".

Get HR on the Intranet team and then what?

Ran into two interesting posts on Intranet. One is about the seemingly essential role of HR in the Intranet team. Jane McConnell of 'Globally local... Locally Global' just wrote about two companies that have HR in their team and gives insight in their Intranet approach. It looks like Intranets that are "the way of working" have HR on board.
So, now we have HR on board, what are we going to do? James Robertson of Column Two has an interesting post on how the Intranet team should spend their time.

The rule of thumb for intranet resources is:

  • 30% effort for day-to-day maintenance
  • 40% effort for projects and new initiatives
  • 30% effort managing relationships with staff and stakeholders

Recommended links infoarch 07/22/2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Balancing Email and Social Tool use?

Luis Suarez of IBM has been treating us with some very interesting post on using less (corporate) email and more social tools. I've pointed to several of those posts before and commented on several of his post.
Basically he wants to stop using corporate email (except for confidential matters) and move all communication to social tools. This is a neat experiment.
However I was one of the questioners that wondered how the time he spends/spent on email is compared to social tools. I understand his experiment is not about that, but I'm not asking it to be skeptic. I think it's a relevant question.
Of course shifting communication from email to social tools is cool, better and more productive/efficient (in the long run). But it does have to be in balance (or doesn't it?).
For instance, I can send back an email in a couple of seconds to someone with whom I share a certain context. I can leave out all the details when I reply to him/her. But when I want to answer him/her via my blog I also have to think about all the other people that don't share that context. Because they don't, they'll be frustrated when they read my post. Writing such a post (instead of an email) would take more of my time. Or am I missing something?
Also in this post Luis states that "Content is no longer king". I've read it before, but don't get the point. And I'm not sure it's true either. I'd say content is still key, the media type isn't (anymore).

I finished!

Well, now that I'm back at work I dare write about this. Some time ago I said to myself I want to walk the Nijmegen 'Walk of the World' (Dutch: 'Vierdaagse' - Nijmegen is my hometown.). This is the largest walking event in the world. It's four days of walking and you can choose between 30, 40 or 50 kilometers (per day). I walked the 50 (you don't get a medal for less in my age category). And... I finished! It was pretty heavy stuff. But here's the proof that I finished. Now back to work and blogging.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Google Query as RSS Feed

I've been waiting for this for some time: to be able to turn Google searches into an RSS feed. I've been using Google Alerts, but I don't like getting the results in my Inbox. Feedmysearch solves the problem nicely! It turns your Google query nicely into an RSS feeds.
Thanks Lifehacker for the pointer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Productivity Prophets

Insightful and nice overview of the history of personal productivity in theory and practice in Strategy+Business. It was written by Tom EhrenFeld. It addresses questions like: What is at the core of the visions of productivity prophets? What makes a good productivity 'system' anyway? And what productivity advice is timeless?

(For Dutch speaking/reading people: this article was also translated and published in Holland Management Review, nummer 117 - 2007. There's no online version, by the way...)

Toys and Web 2.0

Some time ago my Dutch newspaper, the NRC, ran an interesting article about "The evolution of place of play" (written in Dutch). This article was largely an interview with Maaike Lauwaert, a PhD student from the University of Maastricht (The Netherlands), that finalized her study on this topic.
The title of her book is: The Place of Play. On Toys, Technological Innovation and Geographies of Play.
Just recently I had time to read a large part of her (lengthy) thesis. I must say this is very interesting! In my simple words it's about how toys (physical and digital) and the place where kids play with them change based on technological and social developments (and vice versa). And what "the increasing technologization and digitalization of both toys and play" has to do with "the vagueness of borders between [toy/game] producers, consumers and players" ("participatory culture"). She uses Lego a.o. as an example of this change.
I browsed around to see if you can order her book somewhere. I don't think it's out yet. But I got the pdf-version from her directly. Maybe something to read this weekend, eh?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Changing IT

Interesting post about the (need for a) changing IT department/employee on ReadWriteWeb. Some highlights:
A good I.T. person, though, knows how to interpret "user-speak" and present them with the tools they need even if they didn't know how to ask for them in our language. (...)

The I.T. 2.0 guy will need to know not just what software is best for the company, but whether or not it should run behind the firewall, in the cloud, or a combination of both. (...)

The I.T. department, though, will have to adapt their current solutions to fit this new workforce - one that's not always connected to the company network, but surfing unprotected Wi-Fi from their local coffee shop or their own home wireless network. I.T. will need to find ways to push through the security updates and patches their users need, even if they're never remoting in to the company network. I.T. also needs to be more wary of lost and stolen company laptops filled with company data.

I.T. will be dealing with a technologically-smart crowd of young workers who aren't afraid to find their own tools for the job. (...)

I.T. is going to have to know the business - really know the business - and anticipate the needs the company's employees are going to have. Then, the challenge will be to research, locate, and deploy solutions that provide the ease-of-use the employees want, but also the security measures I.T. needs.
I agree this change is needed or already in progress. I'm wondering, though, if this change is needed within IT or should someone outside IT, moving between business and IT, have these skills. What do you think?

Recommended links infoarch 07/10/2008

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Future of Media Lifecycle Framework

Ross Dawson just released "the Future of Media Lifecycle Framework". Really interesting to take a look at. It really stresses the change in the lifecycle of media, being circular and not one-directional. And it also clearly shows the increase in types of media and how they relate.

Of course you can't fit everything in a/this framework. But I was wondering: shouldn't 'business' also be added (besides 'home' and 'mobile')? Or should it be 'home/business', assuming that these are blurring?

Recommended links infoarch 07/09/2008

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Social Networking at BT

In the past many companies tried Yellow Pages to help employees find other relevant employees to be more productive and effective. Of course, on the Internet, we now have social network tools that help us connect to relevant people from all over the world. Some companies are starting to apply this inside the organization. BT is one of them. They just released their social networking tooling. Very interesting! They "easily" built in on BEA AquaLogic. I've heard of other large companies working with PeopleAggregator, but I haven't heard what their experiences are.
What I was wondering is this: employees can mention their skills; do other employees also get to rate their skills? And what is the incentive to keep your profile up-to-date (- which was a big problem with Yellow Pages)?

Recommended links infoarch 07/08/2008

Friday, July 4, 2008


Started using GetFingerTips today and am excited about it. I'll let you know what my experience are soon. But for now, being able jot down tasks without going to Outlook is already a big improvement.

100 Lifehacking Tips (book)

A colleague of mine pointed me to a new (Dutch) book "100 Lifehacking tips". I always love to skim through these kind of books (and websites/blogs) to see if they have new tips I can apply. This book contains the best 100 tips from the Dutch Lifehacking site. After reading the book I decided to:
- turn off my 'new mail' notifier
- use a different color-code for emails that are cc-ed to me

I'm considering the tips:
- don't open your inbox until 11:00
- do the task you find most difficult and have to do that day first

Recommended links infoarch 07/04/2008

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Is Google Making us Stupid?

Nicolas Carr has written another fascinating article you can chew on. It's titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?". It relates well to posts about changes in reading behavior that I've been pointing to recently.

The central thought of the article is: "Media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought."

This is an interesting statement. However after reading this article I don't understand how this works, although I see it in practice. Does anyone no where I can find more info on this topic? The conclusion of the article seems to be: get used to less-deep-reading and more skimming. But is this really inevitable trend or we will people revolt every now and then? Just like with philosophical trends move between subjectivism and objectivism.


Here are some key citations from the article:

"It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of "reading" are emerging as users "power browse" horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense."

"We are not only what we read," says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. "We are how we read."

"Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It's not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains."

"When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in the Net's image. It injects the medium's content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed."

"The Net's influence doesn't end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations."

"What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind."

"Still, their easy assumption that we'd all "be better off" if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling. It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google's world, the world we enter when we go online, there's little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive."

"The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author's words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking."

Download World-Record for Firefox!

Thanks for the certificate. But first of all: thank you Mozilla for building a wonderful browser! Keep up the good work.

Recommended links infoarch 07/03/2008