Can Facebook Change Its DNA?

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , ,

The posting on Facebook for Business or LinkedIn Gets More Valuable received a lot of feedback and discussion. The e-mail discussions has urged me to post about the Facebook DNA and why it will be tough to transition Facebook into a really valuable tool for business without changing the services to a great degree. A social platform like Facebook is desperately needed for business, within enterprise, and organization that have information flows between the people interested in or that are members of an organization. The platform for this type of community has slightly different needs that Facebook does not provide.

Facebook and Its Initial User-base

It is not secret that Facebook started as a services that was by and for students and members of a university setting. The focus was connecting to people you have run across or will run across as friends, acquaintances from social events, or classmates. The services is quite conversational and does a decent job pulling together a person's shared digital lifestream (many others have done this for years and do it much better, Jaiku (now owned by Google) is one example of a much better approach).

Facebook as a service tended to focus on the current conversation as students largely are focussed on the now or short-time frame planning, e.g. it is Tuesday and what are people doing on Thursday through the weekend or who is going skiing this weekend and putting together a carpool. The time span of conversation and interest is etherial and Facebook very much reflects the short term nature of conversation. The focus is also students in networks framed as campuses, which enables this Local InfoCloud of familiarity to be used for memory, which is not needed in the service. This means if I see something in Facebook, say a good restaurant for a special date night, I can track down the person who suggested the restaurant or tap friends in the network (on campus) to recall the restaurant. This foundation of building a digital space for people in a common physical network does not need strong search or capability to hold-on to information that may have future value.

The reliance on building a digital services that replicates the frailties of physical communication (all hallway, classroom, or party conversation is lost to the ether and is reliant of human memory) is problematic when the people using the service are physically distributed.

Future Information Value

Facebook's largest failure is the lack of using digital conversation for the great value digital conversation provides, which is capturing conversation and information. This capturing of digital conversation has great value as the information that is shared often has much greater future value than current value. Take the same restaurant example from before, when a friend recommends a restaurant I may not have a need for that romantic restaurant now, but I most likely may need that information at sometime in the future. There are two things that I can do with that information: 1) Know the information is in the service and can search for it at a later time ("restaurant" and "romantic" in search, which may also find others have made the same recommendation); or 2) Mark the information in some manner for my ease of refinding (flag, favorite, or bookmark it with annotation from my perspective and context).

The Challenge Facebook has Changing

Making this shift in Facebook will be a huge challenge, not for the developers or technology (although Facebook has not modified its interface to handle the scaling of information flows of applications or increase in traffic, but that is another real problem that needs addressing) as they seem capable to make the minor technology changes that would be needed to use the service for improved search or holding onto information. The big pain point will be making a change that is counter to the understanding and use of those who still make up the core of its use-base, university students. When Facebook opened its doors beyond university students it created panic (well deserved) as their closed society was open to all viewers. The difficulty in holding on to information and searching through the services did not keep people from finding party photos or profiles that were meant for just friends and not future employers or others outside their immediate network. A large number of people left, or more accurately stopped using the service as much as they did (after removing the potentially problematic images and content).

There is an incredible mass of information in Facebook, most of it nearly impossible to find and hold onto at this point. Many of the people who have used the service have relied on this obscurity to keep from removing the (at the moment funny, ironic, humorous, or even not fully informed) statements made on walls, groups, status updates, and other places. Changing the core platform to create value for the people using the service as a digital information platform, that is similar to what is expected outside Facebook could have dire repercussions for Facebook as a service. But, not making these changes makes Facebook a really poor platform for business and knowledge sharing.

Valuable Lesson in Foundations

Having build many web base services, intranet, and networked services over the many years I have been doing this it continually comes back to the initial foundations are the ones that are hardest to shake. The initial people using a service shape it for the future and the initial technology decisions of a service often are the ones that are hardest to change. This change is difficult as the practices are socially ingrained into the understanding of the mores of the system and the social interactions are predicated on these understandings. All design and all interaction aspects of systems are political and drive people's motivation for use as they set the rules and social scripts for interaction. The components are not intentionally political, but they have do trigger reaction and alter motivations no mate how slightly. Not only does the medium have a message, but how the services works or does not work has a message that triggers a response for if and how it is used.

The Social Enterprise

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

I am just back from Enterprise 2.0 Conference held in Boston, where I presented Bottom-up All The Way Down: How Tags Help Businesses Organize (thanks to Stowe Boyd for the tantalizing session title), which was liveblog captured by Sandy Kemsley as "Enterprise 2.0: Thomas Vander Wal". I did not catch all of the conference due to some Boston business meetings and connecting with friends and meeting digi-friends whose work I really enjoy face-to-face. The sessions I made it to were good and enlightening and as always the hallway conversations were worth their weight in gold.

Ms. Perceptions and Fear Inside the Corporate Walls

Having not been at true business focussed conference in years (until the past few weeks) I was amazed with how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. I was impressed with the interest and adoption around the social enterprise tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking/folksonomy, etc.). But, the misperceptions (Miss Perceptions) are still around and have grown-up (Ms. Perception) and are now being documented by Forrester and others as being fact, but the questions are seemingly not being asked properly. Around the current social web tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, favoriting, shared rating, open (and partially open collaboration) I have been finding little digital divide across the ages. Initially there is a gap when tools get introduced in the corporate environment. But this age gap very quickly disappears if the incredible value of the tools is made clear for peoples worklife, information workflow, and collaboration, as well as simple instructions (30 second to 3 minute videos) and simply written clear guidelines that outline acceptable use of these tools.

I have been working with technology and its adoption in corporations since the late 80s. The misperception that older people do not get technology, are foreign to the tools, and they will not ever get the technical tools has not changed. It is true that nearly all newer technologies come into the corporation by those just out of school and have relied on these tools in university to work intelligently to get their degree. But, those whom are older do see the value in the tools once they have exposure and see the value to their worklife (getting their job done), particularly if the tools are relatively simple to use and can be adopted with simple instruction (if it needs a 10 to 200 page manual and more than 15 minutes of training to start using the product effectively adoption will be low). Toby Redshaw of Motorola stated on a panel that he found in Motorola (4600 blogs and wikis and 2600 people using social bookmarking) "people of all ages adopt these tools if they understand the value connected to their work". Personally, I have seen this has always been the case in the last 20 years as this is how we got e-mail, messaging, Blackberries, web pages, word processing, digital collaboration tools (the last few rounds and the current ones), etc. in the doors of small to large organizations. I have worked in and with technically forward organizations and ones that are traditionally thought of as slow adopters and found adoption is based on value to work and ease of use and rarely based on age.

This lack of understanding around value added and (as Toby Redshaw reinforced) "competitive advantage" derived from the social tools available today for use in the enterprise is driven by fear. It is a fear of control that is lost from the top-down. But, the advantage to the company from having this information shared and easy found and used for collaboration to improve knowledge, understanding, and efficiency can not be dismissed and needs to be embraced. The competitive advantage is what is gained today, but next month or next quarter it could mean just staying even.

Getting Beyond Fear

But, what really is important is the communication and social enterprise tools are okay and add value, but the fear is overplayed, as a percentage rarely occurs, and handling the scary stuff it relatively easy to handle.

Tagging and Social Bookmarking in Enterprise

In the halls I had many conversations around tagging ranging from old school tagging being painful because the experts needed to tag things (meaning they were not doing the job as expert they were hired to do and their terms were not widely understood) all the way to the social bookmarking tools are not scaling and able to keep up with the complexity, nor need to disambiguate the terms used. But, I was really impressed with the number of organizations that have deployed some social bookmarking effort (officially or under somebody's desk) and found value (often great value).

Toby Redshaw: I though folksonomy was going to be some Bob Dillon touchy-feely hippy taxonomy thing, but it has off the chart value far and above any thing we had expected.

My presentation had 80 to 90 percent of the people there using social bookmarking tools in some manner in their organization or worklife. The non-verbal feed back as I was presenting showed interest in how to make better sense of what was being tagged, how to use it better in their business, how to integrate with their taxonomy, and how to work with the information as the tools scale. The answers to these are longer than the hour I have, they are more complex because it all depends on the tools, how they are set-up and designed, how they are used, and the structures of information inside and outside their organization.

The Future is Now for Information Access

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An interview with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer in the in the San Francisco Chronicle regarding Steve's thoughts about the future of technology, information, and Microsoft (including their competition) sparked a few things regarding the Personal InfoCloud and Local InfoCloud. It could be the people I hang out with and the stay-at-home parents I run across during the day, but the future Ballmer talks about is happening now! The future will more widely distributed in 10 years, but the desire and devices are in place now. The thing holding everything back is content management systems that are built for the "I Go Get Web" and people implementing those systems that see technology and not a web of data.

Let's begin with Ballmer's response to the question, "Ten years from now, what is the digital world going to look like? To which Ballmer responds: A: People are going to have access to intelligence in multiple ways. I'm going to want to have intelligence in my pocket. I'm going to want to have intelligence in my TV. I'm going to want to have intelligence in my den and in my office. And what I may want in terms of size, of screen size, of input techniques, keyboard, handwriting, voice, may vary.

I think what we'll see is, we have intelligence everywhere. We have multiple input techniques, meaning in some sense you may have some bit of storage which travels with you everywhere, effectively. Today, people carry around these USB storage devices, but you'll carry around some mobile device.

The problem is people have the devices in their pockets today in the form of Blackberries, Treos, Nokia 770s, and just regular mobile phones with browsing and syncing. The access to the information is in people's pockets. The software to make it simple with few clicks is where the battle lies. My Palm OS-based Treo 650 is decent, but it has few clicks to get me to my information. My friends with the Windows version of the same device have six or more clicks for basic things like calendar and address book. Going through menus is not simplicity. Going directly to information that is desired is simplicity. A mobile devices needs simplicity as it is putting information in our hands with new contexts and other tasks we are trying to solve (driving, walking, meeting, getting in a taxi, getting on a bus, etc.).

The Information

Not only does the software have to be simple to access information in our Personal InfoCloud (the information that we have stated we want and need near us, but have structured in our personal framework of understanding). We also interact with the Local InfoCloud with is information sources that is familiar to us to which we have set a means of easing interaction (cognitively, physically, or mechanically).

This "intelligence" that Ballmer refers to is information in the form of data. It needs to be structured to make solid use of that information in our lives. This structure needs to ascend below the page level to at least the object level. The object level can be a photo with the associated metadata (caption, photographer, rights, permanent source, size, etc.), event information (event name, location, date and time, permanent location of the information, organizer, etc.), full-text and partial-text access (title, author, contact info, version, date published, rights, headers, paragraphs, etc.).

These objects may comprise a page or document on the web, but they not only have value as a whole, they have value as discrete objects. The web is a transient information store for data and media, it is a place to rest this information and object on its journey of use and reuse. People use and want (if not need) to use these objects in their lives. Their lives are comprised of various devices with various pieces of software that work best in their life. They want to track events, dates, people, ideas, media, memes, experts, friends, industries, finances, workspaces, competition, collaborators, entertainment, etc. as part of their regular lives. This gets very difficult when there is an ever growing flood of information and data bombarding us daily, hourly, consistently.

This is not a future problem. This is a problem right now! The information pollution is getting worse every moment we sit here. How do we dig through the information? How do we make sense of the information? How do we hold on to the information?

The solutions is using the resources we have at our finger tips. We need access to the object level data and the means to attach hooks to this data. One solution that is rising up is Microformats, which Ray Ozzie of Microsoft embraces and has been extending with his Live Clipboard, which is open for all (yes all operating systems and all applications) to use, develop, and extend. The web, as a transient information store, must be open to all comers (not walled off for those with a certain operating system, media player, browser, certain paid software, etc.) if the information is intended for free usage (I am seeing Microsoft actually understand this and seemingly embrace this).

Once we have the information and media we can use it and reuse it as we need. But, as we all know information and media is volatile, as it changes (for corrections, updates, expanding, etc.) and we need to know that what we are using and reusing is the best and more accurate information. We need the means to aggregate the information and sync the information when it changes. In our daily lives if we are doing research on something we want to buy and we bookmark it, should we not have the capability to get updates on the prices of the item? We made an explicit connection to that item, which at least conveys interest. Is it not in the interest of those selling the information to make sure we have the last price, if not changes to that product? People want and need this. It needs to be made simple. Those that get this right will win in the marketplace.

What is Standing in the Way?

So, the big question is, "what is standing in the way"? To some degree it is the tools with which we create the information and some of it is people not caring about the information, data, and media they expose.

The tools many of the large information providers are using are not up to the task. Many of the large content management systems (CMS) do not provide simple data structures. The CMS focusses on the end points (the devices, software, tools, etc.) not the simple data structures that permit simple efficient use and reuse of the objects. I have witnessed far too many times a simple web page that is well structured that is relatively small (under 40KB) get turned into an utter mess that is unstructured and large (over 200KB). Usable, parseable, and grabable information is broken by the tools. The tools focus on what looks good and not what is good. Not only is the structure of the data and objects broken, but they are no longer addressable. There are very few CMS that get it right, or let the developers get it right (one that gets it right is Axiom [open disclosure: I have done work with Siteworx the developer of Axiom]).

The other part of the problem is the people problem, which is often driven by not understanding the medium they are working within. They are focus on the tools, which are far from perfect and don't care enough to extend the tools to do what they should. Knowing the proper format for information, data, media, etc. on the web is a requirement for working on the web, not something that would be nice to learn someday. Implementing, building, and/or creating tools or content for the web requires understanding the medium and the structures that are inherent to building that well. I have had far too many discussions with people who do not understand the basics of the web nor the browser, which makes it nearly impossible to explain why their implementation fails. Content on the web has requirements to be structured well and the pages efficiently built. The pages need to degrade (not with an $80,000 plug-in) by default. Media on the web that is for open consumption must work across all modern systems (this should be a 3 year window if not longer for the "modern" definition).


So what is the take away from this? Content needs to be built with proper structure to the sub-object level (objects need the metadata attached and in standard formats). The content needs to be open and easily accessed. Portability of the information into the tools people use that put information in our pockets and lives must be done now. We have the technology now to do this, but often it is the poorly structured or formatted information, data, media, etc. that stands in the way. We know better and for those that don't know yet the hurdle is quite low and easy to cross.

SXSW Calendar the Personal Way

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , ,

I really enjoyed my short time at SXSW Interactive Festival this year. One of the things that helped me was their step to help people interested in SXSW to build their "own" calendar. Yes, they understood the people attending have a lot of offerings to consider and nobody wants to miss anything they really would like to see. The SXSW site showed the conference sessions and if you liked it you could add it to your SXSW calendar. This calendar could be accessed as an iCal, which means as you update the calendar on the site, or the calendar is changed by the SXSW folks, you calendar is updated. Being that it is iCal it is relatively easy to synch this to your mobile device.

Why is this important? It is not only a great step to help the people attending the Festival, but it builds a connection between the person and the SXSW site as well as a enables the person enjoyment of the Festival. Technology should help the person control what they would like to do and help them do it with out worry.

I remember my first SXSW in 2001, where they had a Palm Pilot that would beam you a packet including the conference sessions as well as food and other amenities. The application allowed you to add the SXSW sessions into your Palm calendar and restaurants into your address book. It was a great app, but you only got the application when you got there and you had to have a Palm device (luckily I did). This year's version greatly improved on this as it allows the person attending to build their own calendar and choose how they want the information to follow them. The person attending just added the information to their own Personal InfoCloud and the person consumed and reused the information as needed.

Brilliant and Bravo.

Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , ,

I have been explaining the broad and narrow folksonomy in e-mail and in comments on others sites, as well as in the media (Wired News). There has still been some confusion, which is very understandable as it is a different concept that goes beyond a simple understanding of tagging. I have put together a couple graphics that should help provide a means to make this distinction some what clearer. The folksonomy is a means for people to tag objects (web pages, photos, videos, podcasts, etc., essentially anything that is internet addressable) using their own vocabulary so that it is easy for them to refind that information again. The folksonomy is most often also social so that others that use the same vocabulary will be able to find the object as well. It is important to note that folksonomies work best when the tags used to describe objects are in the common vocabulary and not what a person perceives others will call it (the tool works like no other for personal information management of information on the web, but is also shared with the world to help others find the information).

Broad Folksonomy

Let's begin with the broad folksonomy, as a tool like delivers. The broad folksonomy has many people tagging the same object and every person can tag the object with their own tags in their own vocabulary. This lends itself very easy to applying the power law curve (power curve) and/or net effect to the results of many people tagging. The power terms and the long tail both work.

The broad folksonomy is illustrated as follows.
visualization of the text on broad folksonomies that follows

From a high level we see a person creates the object (content) and makes it accessible to others. Other people (groups of people with the same vocabulary represented people blobs and noted with alphabet letters) tag the object (lines with arrows pointing away from the people) with their own terms (represented by numbers). The people also find the information (arrows on lines pointing from the numeric tags back to the people blobs) based on the tags.

Digging a little deeper we see quite a few people (8 people) in group "A" and they have tagged the object with a "1" and a "2" and they use this term to find the object again. Group "B" (2 people) have applied tag "1" and "2" to the object and they use tag terms "1", "2", and "3" to find the information. Group "C" (3 people) have tagged the object with "2" and "3" so that they can find the object. Group "D" has also tagged the object with tag "3" so that they may refind the information this group may have benefitted from the tagging that group "C" provided to help them find the information in the first place. Group "E" (2 people) uses a different term, "4", to tag the object than others before it and uses only this term to find the object. Lastly, group "F" (1 person) uses tag "5" on the object so that they may find it.

Broad Folksonomy and the Power Curve

The broad folksonomy provides a means to see trends in how a broad range are tagging one object. This is an opportunity to see the power law curve at work and show the long-tail.
Shows tag 2 with 13 people tagging, tag 1 with 10 people, tag 3 with 5 people, tag 4 with 2 people, and tag 5 with 1 person
The tags spike with tag "2" getting the largest portion of the tags with 13 entries and tag "1" receiving 10 identical tags. From this point the trends for popular tags are easy to see with the spikes on the left that there are some trends, based on only those that have tagged this object, that could be used extract a controlled vocabulary or at least know what to call the object to have a broad spectrum of people (similar to those that tagged the object, and keep in mind those that tag may not be representative of the whole). We also see those tags out at the right end of the curve, known as the long tail. This is where there is a small minority of people who call the object by a term, but those people tagging this object would allow others with a similar vocabulary mindset to find the object, even if they do not use the terms used by the masses over at the left end of the curve. If we take this example and spread it out over 400 or 1,000 people tagging the same object we will se a similar distribution with even more pronounced spikes and drop-off and a longer tail.

This long tail and power curve are benefits of the broad folksonomy. As we will see the narrow folksonomy does not have the same properties, but it will have benefits. These benefits are non-existent for those just simply tagging items, most often done by the content creator for their own content, as is the means Technorati has done, even with their following tag links to destinations other than Technorati (as they initially had laid out). The benefits of the long tail and power curve come from the richness provided by many people openly tagging the same object.

Narrow Folksonomy

The narrow folksonomy, which a tool like Flickr represents, provides benefit in tagging objects that are not easily searchable or have no other means of using text to describe or find the object. The narrow folksonomy is done by one or a few people providing tags that the person uses to get back to that information. The tags, unlike in the broad folksonomy, are singular in nature (only one tag with the term is used as compared to 13 people in the broad folksonomy using the same tag). Often in the narrow folksonomy the person creating the object is providing one or more of the tags to get things started. The goals and uses of the narrow folksonomy are different than the broad, but still very helpful as more than one person can describe the one object. In the narrow the tags are directly associated with the object. Also with the narrow there is little way of really knowing how the tags are consumed or what portion of the people using the object would call it what, therefore it is not quite as helpful as finding emerging vocabulary or emergent descriptions. We do find that tags used to describe are also used for grouping, which is particularly visible and relevant in Flickr (this is also done in broad folksonomies, but currently not to the degree of visibility that it is done on Flickr, which may be part of the killer interactive environment Ludicorp has created for Flickr).

The narrow folksonomy is illustrated as follows.
vizualization of the text on narrow folksonomies that follows
From a high level we see a person creates the object and applies a tag ("1") that represents what they call the object or believe describes the object. There are fewer tags provided than in a broad folksonomy and there is only one of each tag applied to the object. The consumers of the object also can apply tags that help them find the object or describe what they believe are the terms used to describe this object.

A closer look at the interaction between people and the object and tags in a narrow folksonomy shows us that group "A" uses tag "1" to find and come back to the object (did the creator do this on purpose? or did she just tag it with what was helpful to her). We see group "B" also using tag "1" to find the object, but they have tagged the object with tag "2" to also use as a means to find the object. Group "C" uses tag "1","2", and "3" to find the object and we also note this group did not apply any of its own tags to the object as so is only a consumer of the existing folksonomy. We see group "D" uses tags "2" and "3" to find the objects and it too does not add any tags. Group "E" is not able to find the object by using tags as the vocabulary it is using does not match any of the tags currently provided. Lastly, group "F" has their own tag for the object that they alone use to get back to the object. Group "F" did not find the object through existing tags, but may have found the object through other means, like a friend e-mailed them a link or the object was included in a group they subscribe to in their feed aggregator.

We see that the richness of the broad folksonomy is not quite there in a narrow folksonomy, but the folksonomy does add quite a bit of value. The value, as in the case of Flickr, is in text tags being applied to objects that were not findable using search or other text related tools that comprise much of how we find things on the internet today. The narrow folksonomy does provide various audiences the means to add tags in their own vocabulary that will help them and those like them to find the objects at a later time. We are much better off with folksonomies than we were with out them, even if it is a narrow folksonomy being used.


We benefit from folksonomies as the both the personal vocabulary and the social aspects help people to find and retain a tether to objects on the web that are an interest to them. Who is doing the tagging is important to understand and how the tags are consumed is an important factor. This also helps us see that not all tagging is a folksonomy, but is just tagging. Tagging in and of its self is a helpful step up from no tagging, but is no where near as beneficial as opening the tagging to all. Folksonomy tagging can provide connections across cultures and disciplines (an knowledge management consultant can find valuable information from an information architect because one object is tagged by both communities using their own differing terms of practice). Folksonomy tagging also makes up for missing terms in a site's own categorization system/taxonomy. This hopefully has made things a little clearer for all in our understanding the types of folksonomies and tagging and the benefits that can be derived.

Two Sides of the Local InfoCloud

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

The Local InfoCloud (one of four clouds, Personal, Local, Global, and External) focusses on access to information that is based on location, as well as membership. These two elements are related, but also can stand on their own.

The Local InfoCloud often uses the Local Area Network (LAN) as an example of its properties. The information on the LAN is open to all that are connected to the network and in many cases have rights to access the information. The information is not organized by the user nor categorized by them. The need to be connected in an office to the LAN is not as important as folks can access by Wide Area Network (WAN) or through an Internet portal that will securely provide access. The Internet portal then allows a mobile user to access the information, which breaks the need to be in a certain location.

Conversely, a mobile user may have access to information based on their location. Projects like Urban Tapestries show what is coming with location-based information. Commonly location-based services have been tied to GPS navigation services in cars that explain with the closest ATM, parking garage, restaurant, etc. are located in relation to your current position. Interacting with digital repositories to provide a review of a restaurant that is accessible in front of the restaurant, or the history of a building when standing in front of the building is also part of the Local InfoCloud. It too is not user organized or user categorized.

The two most important properties of the Local InfoCloud are location and membership. Location is obvious, but membership is less of a obvious relationship to the local moniker. However, membership is often associated with joining with others that have a common interest, bond, or goal. Membership can be framed as a nearness of interests and exclusive of those that do not have an interest. The members have drawn together as they have that common attraction. The Internet connection easily allows this type of grouping to occur.

Stitching our Lives Together

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

Not long ago Jeffrey Veen posted about Will you be my friend, which brought up some needs to better stitch together our own disperse information. An excellent example is:

For example, when I plan a trip, I try to find out who else will be around so I have people to hang out with. So my calendar should ask, "Hey, Jeff says he's friends with Tim. Will he be in New York for GEL?"

This example would allow up to interact with our shared information in a manner that keeps it within our extended Personal InfoCloud (the Personal InfoCloud is the information we keep with us, is self-organized, and we have easy access to). Too many of the Web's resources where we store our information and that information's correlation to ourselves (, Flickr seems to use. The advent of wide usage of RSS feeds and RSS aggregators is really putting the user back in control of the information they would like to track. Too many sites have moved toward the portal model and failed (there are large volumes of accounts of failed portal attempts, where the sites should provide a feed of their information as it is a limited quantity). When users get asked about their lack of interest in a company's new portal they nearly always state, "I already have a portal where I aggregate my information". Most often these portals are ones like My Yahoo, MSN, or AOL. Many users state they have tried keeping more than one portal, but find they loose information very quickly and they can not remember, which portal holds what information.

It seems the companies that sell portal tools should rather focus on integration with existing portals. Currently Yahoo offers the an RSS feed aggregator. Yahoo is moving toward a one stop shopping for information for individuals. Yahoo also synchs with PDA, which is how many people keep their needed information close to themselves.

There are also those of us that prefer to be our own aggregators to information. We choose to structure our large volumes of information and the means to access that information. The down side of the person controlling the information is the lack of common APIs and accessible Web Services to permit the connecting of Upcoming to our calendar (it can already do this), with lists of known or stated friends and their interests.

This has been the dream of many of us for many years, but it always seems just around the corner. Now seems to be a good time to just make it happen. Now is good because there is growing adoption of standards and information that can be personally aggregated. Now is good because there are more and more services allowing us to categorize various bits of information about our lives. Now is good because we have the technology. Now is good because we are smart enough to make it happen.

(Originally posted at

PC Forum Eventspace - Users Make Content Their Own

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , ,

PC Forum Eventspace - Users Make Content Their Own seems to have only part of the equation correct.

It seems that the commercial ventures only partly understand the Personal InfoCloud. The panel, as I read the excerpts, (Rob Glaser of Real Networks, Lisa Gansky of Ofoto and Shane Robison of HP) understand users creation of information as content creators. Having used Real products and Ofoto, they do not seems to fully get the personal management of the information very well. These products set barriers to reuse and have poor interaction design.

Lets look at Ofoto, which has a good business model to upload photos to share them and allow the user and their friends to make prints of the photos. The tools for photo management have a lot to be desired. The tools only permit management of the photos for Ofoto's use. Users want more management than these uses. I have been frustrated with photos that have gone missing in Ofoto albums.

The tools do not allow the user to manage information across devices. Moving digital media easily from PC to handheld and to the Web easily and seamlessly should be the goal. This transfer of digital media and content is the idea behind the Personal InfoCloud. This is what keeps the users from using devices and technology in general to help their lives.

Maybe next years PC Forum will focus on better understanding the Personal InfoCloud. In the Great Weird Ideas notes Brett Fausett's ideas on Personal Data for Personal Services is on target with the Personal InfoCloud.

Tools to Manage Information On Your Personal Hard Drive

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

I have been battling the management of information on my personal hard drive on my TiBook. This is one element in my Personal Info Cloud (a self-organized information system that is managed by me and is there to assist me when I need information). I have been finding that my organizational structure is lacking on my hard drive as I have cross-purposes for the information.

An example is I am writing an article and I need to track down a journal article I have downloaded to my hard drive in the past. I store research info on my hard drive in directories by topic areas, such as an IA/UCD directory holding directories on user testing, facets, interaction design, etc. There are times when I am working on an article or essay and have stored helpful resources in a research directory in that project's directory, as I like to have information in close proximity to what I am working on. For each idea I am working on I nearly always have an outline building in OmniOutliner format and at least one graphical representation of the issue at hand, done in OmniGraffle. These two or more data sources are the foundation, along with research that help me further formulate the ideas.

I have gone far beyond what folders can offer, even using soft/symbolic links does not help me greatly. These files need metadata so that they can be better stored for searching, but they also need a project home. The project home should allow for note taking and links to files that are on my hard drive as well as external hyper links.

I have a handful of candidates that have been suggested over this past week from friends at the IA Summit in Austin or once I returned home. I will be downloading and trying them beginning next week (post Christening).

The Candidates

I have already loaded Curio and been trying it for a little more than a week. The tool is not as integrated as I would like. I have not had success dropping PDF or OmniGraffle files into the Idea Space. The external files are held in an organizer, but I can not annotate these files in a more direct manner. The Idea Space is much like a lightweight OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner, which I have and are better tools. I do like the Dossier, which is a questionairre for each project, but I would like to have more than one available for each project as it currently seems is the limit.

James showed me his implementation of iView, which is mostly a digital asset management system. James does most of his thinking in a notebook (possibly a moleskin) and is filled with text and wonderful drawings to capture his ideas. James in turn scans the contents of his notebook into his laptop and uses iView to annotate and view his ideas. The digital assets can be annotated and then sorted and grouped. This seems like it would work for some of my information, but not everything for me. I have not had a scanner for about a year and have not been used to having our new scanner available again so that I could scan in my graph paper notebook.

Jesse brought up VoodooPad as an option. VoodooPad is built on a Wiki technology. I am not a fan of Wiki technology for group project tracking, but for self annotation and having the ability to link to files on my hard drive by drag-and-drop I can see the value. Tanya mentioned she had a similar system using a personal Wiki that worked very well for herself in new environments. VoodooPad may be my next try as I really like having the ability to cross-link ideas.

I have been trying StickyBrain 2 for a few months now, but I have not been fully dedicated to trying it. The initial idea behind StickyBrain works for me, but the interface and the junk preloaded in it have cluttered the interface before I even began. The interface to add info into StickyBrian is very nice as it is in the mouse-related menu (right mouse click for those with such devices). Content in StickyBrain can be categorized, but that can get out of hand. StickyBrain also as a search tool, but unless I have annotated the information correctly, I do not always do so, I can not find it.

Bryan suggested AquaMinds NoteTaker, which I have not seen in action, but the site does offer very good movies that explain how information is entered and how the too can be used. To some degree this is how I use OmniOutliner, but NoteTaker seems to have far more functionality. This will be one I try and compare to OmniOutliner.

Lastly is Tinderbox a note taking tool and idea organizer. Tinderbox's strengths seem to be based on getting this information on to the Web, which is not my initial need. I know a couple people who have been very happy with Tinderbox in the past, but I do not know if they are still using Tinderbox. I looked at this tool when I was thinking about a change from my weblogging tool that I build, but I was not thinking in terms of finding a tool to better organize my digital thoughts and artifacts of thought.


I will be downloading these of the next couple weeks and I will be writing reviews on them as I try them. I have a couple articles and other items due in the next couple weeks so I may be texting by fire and not having too much time to summarize the results of my testing.

A Look at iPIM and Chandler

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

There are two articles that are direct hits on managing information for the individual and allowing the individual to use the information when they needed it and share it as needed. Yes, this is in line with the Personal Information Cloud.

The first article, The inter-personal information manager (iPim) by Mark Sigal about the problem with users finding information and how the can or should be able to then manage that information. There are many problems with applications (as well as the information format itself) that inhibit users reuse of information. In the comments of the article there is a link to products that are moving forward with information clients, which also fit into the Personal Information Cloud or iPIM concept. (The Personal Information Cloud tools should be easily portable or mobile device enabled or have the ability to be retrieved from anywhere sent to any device.

The second article is from the MIT Technology Review (registration required) titled Trash Your Desktop about Mitch Kapor (of founding Lotus Development fame) and his Open Source project to build Chandler. Chandler is not only a personal information manager (PIM), but the tool is a general information manager that is contextually aware. The article not only focusses on Mitch and the product (due late 2004), but the open and honest development practices of those that are building Chandler at the Open Source Application Foundation for Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. distribution.

Information Structure for Information Reuse

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

John Udell's discussion of Apple's Knowledge Navigator is a wonderful overview of a Personal Information Cloud. If the tools was more mobile or was shown synching with a similar mobile device to have the "knowledge" with the user at all time it is would be a perfect representation.

Information in a Personal Information Cloud is not only what the user wants to have stored for retrieval when it is needed (role-based information and contextual) but portable and always accessible. Having tools that allow the user to capture, categorize, and have attracted to the user so it is always with them is only one part of the equation. The other component is having information that is capable of being captured and reused. Standards structures for information, like (X)HTML and XML are the beginnings of reusable information. These structures must be open to ensure ease of access and reuse in proper context. Information stored in graphics, proprietary software, and proprietary file formats greatly hinders the initial usefulness of the information as it can be in accessible, but it even more greatly hinders the information's reuse.

These principle are not only part of the Personal Information Cloud along with the Model of Attraction, but also contextual design, information architecture, information design, and application development.

RSS on PDAs and information reuse

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

Three times the past week I have run across folks mentioning Hand/RSS for Palm. This seems to fill the hole that AvantGo does not completely fill. Many of the information resources I find to be helpful/insightful have RSS feeds, but do not have a "mobile" version (more importantly the content is not made with standard (X)HTML validating markup with a malleable page layout that will work for desktop/laptop web browsers and smaller mobile screens).

I currently pull to scan then read content from 125 RSS feeds. Having these some of these feeds pulled and stored in my PDA would be a great help.

Another idea I have been playing with is to pull and convert RSS feeds for mobile browser access and use. This can be readily done with PHP. It seems that MobileRSS already does something like this.

Content, make that information in general, stored and presented in a format that is only usable in one device type or application is very short sighted. Information should be reusable to be more useful. Users copy and paste information into documents, todo lists, calendars, PDAs, e-mail, weblogs, text searchable data stores (databases, XML respositories, etc.), etc. Digital information from the early creation was about reusing the information. Putting text only in a graphic is foolish (AIGA websites need to learn this lesson) as is locking the information in a proprietary application or proprietary format.

The whole of the Personal Information Cloud, the rough cloud of information that the user has chosen to follow them so that it is available when they need that information is only usable if information is in an open format.

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