Saturday, August 27, 2011

Social Media in the Cloud

Here are some random musings as I wait for IRENE amidst the clouds and rain… and realize how to use Word simply to create my post for blogspot and yet retain style control... but now on to the post itself.

Most people don’t need to care and couldn’t find out anyway where their Facebook page is in the cloud. They just click on the link facebook/myfacebookname and voila: It’s there, ready for me to read my wall messages, upload some more pictures, or divulge personal information.

If however, you’re contemplating creating a corporate social media system like Facebook (whether inside or outside the firewall), cloud-based storage is appealing. If employees flock to it and upload vacation videos, you may need more storage than you expected and you can scale up rapidly. There is far less need for creating a complex infrastructure if you lease the cloud-space.

Cloud-based social systems outside the firewall can provide a myriad of benefits: Keeping closer to constituents, gauging outsider sentiments of corporate performance, and as a great public relations tool – especially in the face of a disaster such as the BP Oil Spill.

There are some concerns to consider before embarking on such a social media project however. As with any cloud-based application, know your vendor and consider vendor continuity. Is the vendor financially secure? And even if secure, how do you get your application (and more importantly, all your data) should the vendor get acquired and the new owner decides to eliminate that service?  How will your system be backed up, and –if you want to pick up your social marbles and go elsewhere—what format will you get your data in? Will you get both the content and the information about the content? Metadata can be as important as the content it describes.

If you share the cloud space, can you guarantee privacy (if needed) and maintain control over the application and data? Can you assure that you can put sections “on hold” if you receive a formal eDiscovery request for information? Suddenly that fun social media becomes “Electronically Stored Information,” and you will have to decide which constitute records you cannot destroy and maintain free of changes. Of course this assumes you considered the records retention aspect of that media to begin with.

It is hard to decide which is more challenging: Setting up the social media application in the cloud, or  deciding governance policies to oversee the cloud content.  I guess that’s why they call it cloudy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Email Dysfunction – Information Overload

Dysfunctional email

How long did it take for automobiles to standardize somewhat their controls, the way you drive them? Although it was long before my time, Charles Duryea built a three-wheeled automobile in 1893. This was not the first automobile (in 1803 Richard Trevithick of England built and ran a steam-powered carriage, called the Puffing Devil).  Antique cars today are generally considered to be those 45 years old or older. Still, if you get into an antique auto you can easily figure out how to drive it. Email of one sort or another has been around nearly as long as the automobile, if you consider digital Morse Code telegraph messages. You could consider the first widespread use of email to be Unix mail in 1972. I remember using a similar Data General email system in the late 70s. You could argue that the adoption of email is far greater than the adoption of automobiles. So why is each version so different? Comcast email does not look or work the same way as Google Gmail by a long shot. Delete one message in a related group ("conversation") and you delete the whole group. Use the Microsoft Outlook client, and things are even more dissimilar. Download Gmail to Outlook and you get lots of surprises – "sent mail" appears in the Outlook inbox. Use the Gmail Outlook client and things are similar but differ in important details. Are these differences due to each vendor wanting to maintain a competitive advantage? Why this dysfunctionality?

And all that just deals with usability. There are other "oops" events. Email vendors losing email. Differing SPAM policies so you either don't get email or you find it –well after it is of any use. Come on guys and gals, take a hint from the automobile industry (or kitchen appliances or house paints or… any modern product you can think of). You don't need to read the owner's manual to drive away a rental car. After nearly 40 years, this communication medium should be easier and consistent to use, and far more dependable.

And then there's information overload

I get about 200 emails each day. Some are due to "subscriptions" I never initiated; some are spam; most are authentic and worth reviewing. Fearing I may want to use some press releases, I create a full-text searchable collection every six months of over 1,000. SharePoint in my day job has become – to use AIIM's expression—a digital landfill. Government Computer News in October of 2010 wrote an article "You want the data? You can't handle the data!" GCN quotes a joint Avanade-Accenture study of over 500 C-level executives. 62 percent said they are "frequently interrupted by incoming data." 56% feel overwhelmed. Yet in the same study, 61% said they want faster access to data. How about those 20,000 search results from every Google query (delivered in .1 seconds, no less)?

A work colleague bragged to me recently that she had over 850 LinkedIn connections. I asked her if she was joking, and she said "absolutely not." She was proud of this achievement, and I'm guessing soon she'll be bragging that she has hit the millennium mark. My RSS reader shows 50 or so articles I might be interested in.

I think we are all addicted to information, myself included. There is no way we can consume all this information, much less pick out every critical needle in the haystacks. Luddite solutions may be part of the answer. I recently disabled text messages from my cell phone. At a recent company meeting, we were asked to vote on an issue via our cell phones, and those of us who couldn't do that were asked –a joke—to walk the "hall of shame" to come up and use a paper ballot. It was surprising how many fellow-luddites made the walk.

As with any addiction, curing it or at least making it manageable is painful. Maybe one way to start is to "just say no" to some of these information channels. We can always say we didn't get the email.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thoughts on Enterprise Search Summit 2011

It has been a couple of weeks since ESS 2011 in NYC, and I've had a chance to collect my thoughts about the conference.
The conference, as usual, was a don't-miss opportunity for anyone interested in search systems, search projects, or practical ways to improve search satisfaction. There were more attendees than last year. I found a surprising dichotomy among the attendees and vendors. As to the attendees, they were either new to search or long-time search professionals. Vendors included only one big name (Google, who else?) and many smaller vendors from both the US (such as Basis Technology, H5, and Vivissimo) to vendors from Europe and Australia (Raytion –Germany—and SpringSense –Australia).
As to the themes, they were many. Some could have been from a conference 5 years ago. The enduring themes dealt with such topics as Search projects, and bringing failing search projects back on track (my own presentation) to newer themes of integrating search with social media and search on mobile devices. I was very surprised and pleased to see eDiscovery as a topic and to see at least two vendors offering eDiscovery products and services (H5 and Clearwell).
About 1/3 of the attendees at my presentation requested a copy of Guident's free "Findability Checklist," now expanded with attributed quotes anyone can use in their own search presentation. I've expanded that to include general ECM quotes too. If you want one too, send me an email.
Other observations:
  • Google was somewhat cocksure about its position in the commercial search market. This is the second year in a row when I found their presentation hard to understand, hard to hear (speakers need professional presentation training), and as much marketing as new material. Nice water bottles at their booth though ;-). I still believe their search appliance inside the firewall is up against competition, from vendors small and large.
  • Improving Search user satisfaction. These systems must be intuitive, and in this respect, Google sets the standard.
  • No Bing. No surprise.
  • Delivering search on mobile devices, although that is still a nascent theme inside the firewall.
  • Personalizing search also remains a holy grail.
  • Search systems still have plenty of differentiation, and there is plenty of room for vendors (such as SpringSearch) to add value to others' systems.

Best of show, IMHO, was RealStory's "Search Vendors in 30 minutes." The only disappointment (and a big one) is that they did not make their presentation available after the show.
All in all, a show worth attending.