danbricklin.com/log

Starting January 25, 2007
Podcast with Toby Redshaw of Motorola on their continued wiki use, Two more chapters from Chris Daly, Interview with Vice Admiral John Morgan: Building a community of trust in a Pier-to-Pier world, The "$100 Laptop", Blogger Dim Sum podcast, Wiki deployment and adoption at Thomson Learning, Youtube videos in wikiCalc, Podcast with wiki inventor Ward Cunningham, Covering America draft chapters, wikiCalc goes 1.0!
25Jan07-20Mar07
2007_01_25.htm
Tuesday, March 20, 2007 
Podcast with Toby Redshaw of Motorola on their continued wiki use [link]
Last March I posted a podcast with Toby Redshaw, corporate VP of Motorola, in which we discussed their use of wikis and blogs. It has proven to be one of my most popular, with thousands of downloads. A few days ago I recorded another podcast with him to see how things have progressed and I've finished processing it and posted it today.

In this 45 minute phone call, Toby updates us on the use of Motorola's internal wikis and blogs. They have about 4,433 blogs (about 40,000 blog entries), 3,300 wikis (each with often many pages), several thousand FAQs, and 28,000 inquiries and responses in 2,400 forums. It was completely viral adoption internally, "without a single memo from upstairs". It is heavily used low down in the organization to get things done, and less used and less understood as you go up the organization. Three quarters of the company participates by posting to blogs, wikis, forums, and FAQs. He thinks his statistics show that all employees with access to a computer worldwide use the system at least every week. They do 2.5 million transactions a day on their system. They have 69,000 employees and 75,000 active users (including 8,000 in an extranet with partners, universities, etc.). They manage it with four people and some management. Any public-facing blogging or wikis (e.g., the CTO has a blog, there is a wiki for the Q) are something separate.

Examples of wiki use range from broad areas like digital six-sigma or some of the key engineering efforts which have hundreds of pages and many contributors to a pre-sales factbook for a certain type of network architecture component that they sell which serves a small, geographically dispersed group. Their content in the system totals almost 5 terabytes (!) which includes lots of text as well as engineering diagrams, etc.

They prune old and unused content, sometimes having a blog that lasts just a very short time. They work hard to keep it all fresh and up to date. They have knowledge champions in various areas who help do this. He feels these "domain owners" are an important part of facilitating the "quality" of the information and its organization. This is internally oriented, which has everybody with the same mission of advancing the company's goals and under the same governance to keep out bad behavior, etc. This is not Wikipedia on the public web.

Toby sees an evolution towards "enterprise mashups" with business process management, enterprise information management systems, structured data management systems, data warehouses, and wikis. Process management data that shows a choke point or other problem in a process can link back automatically to a search of wiki data to find prior material relating to that situation and even identify individuals to be called in. They are trying to use both structured and unstructured information.

He sees wikis as an important part of taking advantage of the brain power they get with acquisitions, by throwing the new people into their systems to add their knowledge.

These systems have replaced "...decisions based on very narrow amounts of knowledge...What's been eliminated is people making a lot of mistakes that other people have already made for them...cycle times have been improved..."

What does he wish he had known earlier? He should have concentrated on search sooner, given how fast it has grown. He also feels he should have made it a lot harder to set up a "confidential" site (which limits access to a small team). Just a small percentage really need it and then they lose the synergy of solving a common problem that can be then applied by others. He's also looking to how he can handle international, non-English, material better.

To listen to the podcast, go to my podcast page or subscribe to my podcast feed.

Friday, March 9, 2007 
Two more chapters from Chris Daly [link]
Professor Chris Daly has just posted two more chapters from the draft of his book covering the history of US journalism. These cover the period from 1830 to 1875. They are titled "Putting the News in Newspapers: 1831-1850" and "Rascals All! Covering the Civil War Era: 1830-1875". You'll find links to the PDFs of all posted chapters in the sidebar of his blog, www.journalismprofessor.com. In the continuing debate over who is a journalist and what should be protected (such as the issues with what's happening in France with respect to publishing images of violence), knowing the evolution of what we call news and journalism is an important part of having an informed discussion.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007 
Interview with Vice Admiral John Morgan: Building a community of trust in a Pier-to-Pier world [link]
Those of us involved with Open Source software or social media (such as wikis) often are greeted with skepticism by others who think of themselves as more "realistic". The idea that you can share information that used to be kept as secrets with entities with whom you may be in fierce competition is viewed as being inappropriately utopian and naive, and a sacrifice of value by the company. The success of Open Source projects like GNU/Linux, Apache, and Mozilla, and social software projects such as Wikipedia, help prove the "realism" of the open and sharing style. Still, some of that may be too technical for general management to internalize viscerally.

In the past few weeks to help people get a better understanding of this world in real corporate settings, I've been recording some interviews that relate directly to wikis, social software, and Open Source.

The last few days I attended Diamond Management & Technology Consultants' Exchange conference about "Competing in the Networked Economy". In the opening session, Diamond's John Sviokla talked glowingly about the use of wikis and other technologies and how companies need to develop new network-aware ways to interface with customers and within the corporation. In the hallway, Motorola's Toby Redshaw told me a bit about how wiki use has continued to grow at his company (we'll have an update in a future podcast). Other attendees told me about their company's growing adoption of Open Source software. Talk about wikis was serious among all the CIOs I spoke with, even the many who haven't actually started using them officially in their company.

The keynote speaker was Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy. He is the top ranking Naval officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has been advocating the idea of a "1,000 Ship Navy", a pooling of the resources among nations, a community of trust that includes the sharing of information among navies of countries that may otherwise be untrusting of each other for political or economic reasons. A "...free-form, self-organizing network of maritime partners..." This is a somewhat informal relationship more like the one that grew the Internet than the command-and-control style of more traditional military or corporate relationships.

Admiral Mullen's talk and the discussion that followed was, like most of the conference, informal and "off the record" (other speakers included McDonald's CIO Dave Weick who showed their strong moves into Internet media). Earlier, author Paul Carroll (there to discuss a book he is writing) joked that the Navy probably spells Peer-to-Peer differently than computer people. (We know from pervious presentations from the Navy that Peer-to-Peer technologies like instant messaging are well embraced by the Navy for even combat situations.) Unlike the music and movie industries, they have to deal with real pirates. In any event, our very powerful Navy is very seriously talking about relationships among competing entities in a way that would fit well into a conference on P2P, wikis, and "Web 2.0" ideas. Information technology is an important component of all this.

Admiral Mullen and others are going around the USA participating in public forums that discuss how our national maritime strategy should evolve. One of the others is Vice Admiral John Morgan. He was on a panel Tuesday morning titled "The Moral Consequences of the Networked Economy", sitting next to EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow and Diamond chairman Mel Bergstein. It is clear that trust and doing the moral thing for people is an important part of making sharing relationships work and an important consideration with real share-of-mind at the highest levels of the Navy.

Vice Admiral John Morgan
Writing all this is one thing, but making it so that others can get the feeling of commitment to such ideas by such a traditional, mainstream organization is another. Admiral Morgan agreed to sit down with me in the hallway for about 20 minutes Monday afternoon and record a podcast so I could share some of this with others.

To listen to the podcast, go to my podcast page or subscribe to my podcast feed.

I'm not a professional interviewer, especially not on military and foreign affairs, so my side is somewhat rough. Admiral Morgan, as you'll hear, is warm and patient. I tried to get the conversation to touch on a variety of areas that relate to how this "community of trust" (a term he used) came about and what it is as well as aspects of the current and future role of the Navy other than just shooting big guns, launching cruise missiles, or hosting fighter planes. There should be something in it for many different types of people.

Hopefully the consideration and adoption of cooperation/community-based techniques, close to the ad hoc nature of wiki use and Open Source development, by an entity so big, important, and visible (and so aware of the potential harm others can inflict), will help lessen the skepticism to their use in more mundane corporate situations. If the U.S. Navy finds it in the national interest to share ship locations with other countries, do joint exercises with China, and send a hospital ship to Indonesia for months, all without formal treaties, surely companies should consider trusting their employees to share data among themselves, share formerly proprietary information with their customers, and participate in shared development with their competitors.
 
The "$100 Laptop" [link]
At the Diamond Management & Technology Consultants' Exchange conference I got to play with one of the latest beta versions of OLPC's XO computer. Andy Lippman of the MIT Media Lab had one with him and let me have it for a few hours. It really does work -- I got a thrill when I typed in "javascript:alert('Hello')" to the browser and up popped an alert box. It's a real computer, even if it's still early and not ready for prime time (booting is slow like a Windows machine but with the familiar Linux logging of what's happening, no sleep mode or much power management, apps take many seconds to first launch, etc.). This is not a toy.

Here are some photos to show the screen (a new versatile, very inexpensive design) indoors and outdoors and some software:

Outdoors in the late afternoon with the camera application
Close-up of the screen with that image
Turned around facing the sun low in the sky

Word processing
Browser and wifi picking up hotel's network
Music application, including recording a short sample using the built-in mike
Next to my Toshiba 400M showing the size (it's child-size)

Sunday, February 25, 2007 
Blogger Dim Sum podcast [link]
Jessica Baumgart organized a Blogger Dim Sum brunch to coincide with Dave Winer's visit to the Boston area. I was one of the attendees and used it as an opportunity to try out some new podcasting equipment.

I spent most of the time talking to Dave about Chris Daly's book and to Amanda Watlington about a search engine issue I've been having. Early in the brunch when someone asked Shimon Rura to talk about Bar Camp I did a short podcast.

The venue was very noisy and I had to sit in one seat at a very large table (that sat more than 10 people). This was one of the hardest ways to do an informal recording. Here's a view of a little piece of the restaurant:


Here's our table, seen from my vantage point:





Normally I would walk around and hold a mike near each person's face to get a good recording, or pass around a wireless mike. I decided to try something different here.

My new "toys" are (in detail for those who care...) a Zoom H4 flash recorder and an Audio-Technica AT835B shotgun mike (with a Rode SM3 shockmount and Remote Audio REGRIP hand grip). The mike connects to the recorder using an XLR to XLR cable (the H4 has XLR connectors -- those big things on professional mikes) and I used one earplug to listen to the one channel I was recording. (The H4 can take two separate inputs for dual mike recording with separate level control.) I had the recorder set on "Compress" to even out the levels. I chose the AT835B because it got good reviews, was relatively inexpensive for a shotgun mike, and I had good experience with an Audio-Technica AT831b lavalier I bought a year or so ago.

Here's what that all looks like:


I just sat at my seat and pointed the highly directional mike towards whomever was speaking. You'll notice that when I talk, or Dave sitting next to me talks, our voices are very quiet compared to the person across the table unless I pointed directly to Dave or me even though the mike is much closer to us. I was at least 5 feet from Shimon when he talked, and he didn't speak that loudly at all.

You can listen to this recording to hear how this setup does in such a tough environment. The only audio post-processing I did was to put in a hard limit to clip off the two or three pops from when I bumped the mike, amplify everything so you don't have to turn your volume up, mix the mono into stereo, and then save it all as a 64Kbps MP3 (I record at 192Kbps). In Adobe Audition (the music editing program I used) this takes a couple of minutes. It really sounds the same as it does completely raw out of the player.

It seems that this setup works, but it would help if people speak up when they are at a distance -- as if they were making sure that the person holding the mike can hear what they are saying. Close up it sounds clear (with little background sound) like a normal mike up even closer. Even at 5 feet away in a very noisy place, the voices are intelligible. I look forward to using this for recording questions from the audience and maybe even panel discussions. (You see mikes like this on boom poles being held near people for TV interviews -- often the foam wind shield is replaced by cooler looking fluffy things.)

The 4 and a half minute MP3 is linked to on my podcast page and it's also included in my podcast feed.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007 
Wiki deployment and adoption at Thomson Learning [link]
I've posted another podcast. This one is with Asheesh Birla, Executive Director of Strategic Production Technology Global Production at Thomson Learning. I heard Asheesh talk last November at a Gilbane conference about his experience deploying a wiki at his company, starting with loading Open Source software onto an old laptop as the initial server. Given the great popularity of my interview with Motorola's Toby Redshaw on wiki deployment (still dozens of downloads a day a year later) I figured another example would be worthwhile.

I asked Asheesh to go through the deployment and adoption step by step, how he did it, what it was used for, who used it next, etc. I asked him about savings, what to do and not do, etc. He has hundreds of users actively editing wiki pages, including outside vendors. When he started, he knew little about wikis -- just that friends at other companies told him he should try using one.

You'll find a link to the 26 minute MP3 file on my podcast page and it's also included in my podcast feed.

Asheesh mentioned an article in the interview. It's "Thomson Teaches Tech Through Twikis" in Publishing Trends. Asheesh can be reached through his gmail.com account (his full name without any punctuation).

Friday, February 16, 2007 
Youtube videos in wikiCalc [link]
Steve Kohler of iWoorx (the company that is integrating wikiCalc into their hosted offering) put together a screencast that shows wikiCalc with a Youtube video embedded. For the video he used the popular (and wonderful) "Web 2.0...The Machine is Us/ing Us" from Michael Wesch (with permission) and he did the screencast in the style of that video. While it's embarrassing to see wikiCalc shown off with all those advances in technology, it is fun to watch, and it's heartening to read Steve's report that Dr. Wesch said that wikiCalc is "fantastic". It's really cool how it works out that editing in wikiCalc is done through Ajax in the browser in a way where you can do multiple edits while the video continues to play uninterrupted.

If you are interested, see "Watch Out! Videos in your Spreadsheets!" on Youtube.

The screencast was done to highlight what you can do when a spreadsheet can handle both regular text (where "<" has no special meaning) and HTML. I tried to make wikiCalc be more "of the web" than traditional spreadsheets and this is one way of driving that point home.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007 
Podcast with wiki inventor Ward Cunningham [link]
I'm finally back to being able to work on a wider range of things. I've been spending a lot of time with the Socialtext people (via iChat video and Skype and wikis). Now that wikiCalc 1.0 is released they are starting to put more resources (including much more of their programmer time) into SocialCalc. We'll see how long it is until you can see the start of the results.

Another thing I now have time for is podcasting and blogging. I spent time last week getting Chris Daly's blog set up. As anyone who has started a new blog for a friend knows, there's lots to do if the person is non-techie. You have to help them get a domain and hosting account, create a template they like (HTML, CSS, Photoshop, etc., skills to exploit...), and get the initial content up. Then you need to show them how to read the stats, etc.

This week I fired up my podcasting setup -- it had been cannibalized for on-location recording of family events over the last few months. I bought some more equipment I've been meaning to get (mostly to help me do things on-location -- more at some other time about what I got) and learned how to use it. One thing you might notice is that I now use a pop-filter over my mike.

Over the last many months I had asked a variety of people if they'd be willing to do a podcast and they said "yes". Unfortunately, I haven't be able to get to it until now. I've started slowly reconnecting with those people and setting up interview times. Today I did my first new recording.

Today's recording is a phone interview with Ward Cunningham. Ward is known, among other things, for inventing and popularizing the wiki. I met him at Wikimania last summer and we spent a lot of time talking. It was clear that there's lots we could talk about that others would find of interest, including from an historical point of view, so I asked him if he'd be willing to do a podcast interview. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of interviews with him. We had lots of areas we wanted to cover and only got to do about half of them...and it still took almost an hour and a half.

You'll find a link to the MP3 file on my podcast page and it's also included in my podcast feed.

Ward with glasses and beard
Ward Cunningham last summer at Wikimania 2006
Despite all my attempts to improve the sound, Mother Nature intervened and throughout the interview I heard this pitter-patter coming out of my earphones. It was the snow and sleet blowing against the window. As many of you know the East Coast got hit by a big winter storm today. I hope it's not too distracting, but removing it would have taken quite a while with my sound editing skills.

For those of you who space out listening to all the techie talk about Ward's background (which, you'll hear later on has relevance to his development of the wiki) and writing the first wiki, hang in there -- we do get to philosophical things about wikis, why he did certain things, what he dropped, and more.

Friday, February 9, 2007 
Covering America draft chapters [link]
Chris Daly has a new website and blog that many of you will find of interest.

Readers who have followed my writing for many years may remember the name Chris Daly. Chris is my next door neighbor. For many years he worked as a journalist, including being the Washington Post New England correspondent and the AP Massachusetts State House Bureau Chief. He is currently a professor of journalism at Boston University where he has been teaching for about 10 years.

Photo of Chris
Chris Daly
Chris was a major contributor to the ideas in the old "Good Documents" website I published back in 1998 that covered writing for the web, as well as my "Pamphleteer and Web Sites" essay in 2001. I linked to his "Are Bloggers Journalists? Let's Ask Thomas Jefferson" essay back in February 2005 after Apple sued the bloggers. Bloggers who are wary of "old school" journalists should see from this that he's not a knee-jerk anti-blogger and has good ideas to offer.

For the last few years Chris has been working on a book titled "Covering America" which is a history of journalism in the United States. I've been getting to be an early reader as he finishes each chapter. He's nearing the end, being up to somewhere in the mid-20th century.

I've found the book very readable, fascinating, and especially relevant to today. As we debate "net neutrality", the place for bloggers at the "news" table, and what tone and which disclaimers are appropriate, it really helps to see things from the perspective of how we got here. "Journalism" and the role and "freedom" of the "press" have gone through an incredible evolution, heavily affected by technology and the ideas and personal needs of individual innovators. It is just as likely that we are crafting major changes today. This book drives that home.

Chris is a talented writer so the book keeps your attention. He gives short, very human biographies of the people involved. A major theme is relating the evolution of journalism to the history of the country. I found that looking at U.S. history through the eyes of a journalism historian is quite interesting and illuminating. I've forgotten a lot from high school but after reading the draft chapters I feel I have a much better understanding of U.S. history and how "democracy" as we think of it (and some of the related institutions) developed. It was certainly not a quick, obvious move from mentioning "the press" in a constitution to what we have today.

Writing a book and getting it published takes a long time. For me this has been very frustrating because what I have read so far is in itself very relevant to discussions I have important topics, but I can't share the details with others except to say "wait until you read this book my neighbor is writing..."

Chris also has a to deal with writing the last chapter, covering the period of 1990 through the present, where getting input directly from others who have lived through it (and affected it) will be necessary because there are fewer other histories and biographies to use for source material.

To address these needs, Chris got permission from his publisher to post drafts of parts of the book. I've been helping him set up a blog to go with those drafts. This afternoon we got it to the point where he can tell others and start to participate in a more public conversation around it and the issues it deals with.

Go to www.journalismprofessor.com and take a look at the two chapters posted there. They cover 1704 through 1832. Send Chris any comments.

I took the photo used as the banner at the top of Chris' website. I used some stuff I found around my office, including my grandfather's portable typewriter. He was editor of a small newspaper in Philadelphia. I learned to type on that machine.

Thursday, January 25, 2007 
wikiCalc goes 1.0! [link]
After over a year and a half of work (part-time), I'm finally releasing the wikiCalc web authoring system as a "1.0" product. This means it has a pretty complete set of features for producing the quality output for which it was designed, has been relatively stable for a period of time, and has a reasonable amount of documentation. People who have held off testing or using the product until this point should now start taking a look. This is the code that will be the starting point for the SocialCalc project.

You'll find the new documentation, and a link to the downloads, on the new wikiCalc Product Home Page. This new documentation includes a "Features" page giving an overview of the product, a news page with an RSS feed, an "If you are new to wikiCalc..." page, and more.

The documentation on the website is much more extensive than before. There are separate pages with details about setting up "Edit This Page", "Live Viewing", and other technical topics. The product Help files are reproduced, too. It is written from the point of view that many users will be setting up remote-access to hosted versions of wikiCalc.

Coincidentally, the registration for the wikiCalc trademark just came through so I was able to reflect that in the code and documentation. It's now wikiCalc circle-R. I applied right around the time I started coding the product. Both things took time.

In honor of the step up to a version 1.0, I'm now using a logo for wikiCalc. It's based on the theme of some artwork I'll release later, but done in a way I can shrink down as small as a 16x16 icon. The theme is a representation of a wikiCalc sheet of individual cells as a flock of birds. It fits with the idea that different birds take turns being the lead bird (very wiki-like), the neck and wings of the bird look like a "W", the connection of "Free Software" and "free as a bird", etc., etc. I love the feeling of striving to go higher that I get from looking at the image.

Here's the current incarnation of the logo:

wikiCalc flying bird logo

Others have already started taking advantage of wikiCalc.

I designed it to be localizable into other languages, and reportedly Russian and Polish are far along, with more on the way including German, Italian, and Japanese. (I used Zbigniew Lukasiak's rather complete Polish translation to test a lot of the localization code and catch bugs.) One person has written code for parsing and searching the edit log audit trail that wikiCalc keeps. As I fire up the Open Source project with the Socialtext people I'll include places to post and keep track of these things.

There are companies in addition to Socialtext considering providing hosted services based upon wikiCalc. One that sprung up on its own is on the iWoorx website. iWoorx adapted the wikiCalc code to create a portal targeted at business users who use spreadsheets and email daily for exchanging simpler spreadsheets. They added more advanced user administration, cool graphing capabilities, and a "test drive" capability. They let users subscribe to some preconfigured collaborative spreadsheet pages designed for coordinating globally sourced consumer products.

You can try their "test drives" without signing up. They are meant as an educational tool to introduce regular business people to the "wiki-ness" of wikiCalc in a portal environment. Seeing wikiCalc integrated with animated Flash graphs (in their "Live ChartLinx" test drive) is really cool and is just the type of thing I was hoping to see from others who took advantage of the open nature of wikiCalc. I'm not involved in the iWoorx project and it makes me feel great to see what others are doing all on their own with my creation.

Steve Kohler of Ecom Partners, Inc., which created iWoorx, has a background in consumer products which influences his slant to the product. He wrote me that "we chose to develop with wikiCalc because it was uniquely designed for multi-person authoring, and it supported our LAMP open source strategy. And the code is really clean and well documented, too." (Thanks, Steve, for the kind words -- others may beg to differ about the clean code...)

iWoorx is the first product to include this optional banner:

Powered by wikiCalc(R) image

With all of the excitement around the experimentation with products and services lumped under the term "Web 2.0" it's time for a web spreadsheet engine that is open to all around which to innovate. I chose Perl for the implementation because it is accessible to a wide range of programmers with a wide range of abilities and is easy to get running on almost any system. Many people have already successfully started digging into the wikiCalc code to see how they can mold it to their ideas. Others are putting it into everyday use as is. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. Let me know how you're using it.

Now that wikiCalc has made the step to version 1.0 status, it is time to look to the future. There are many important features to be added and many people to bring into the project so that it can flourish. I intend to continue devoting a lot of time to this product.

Here's what will happen next: As I wrote back last June, Socialtext is going to integrate wikiCalc functionality into their wiki system and provide hosting and support to those that want it. They are also funding an open source project around the wikiCalc code so that I can move the product forward as part of a community.

This wikiCalc 1.0 code will form the base release to start what Socialtext is calling the SocialCalc project. While the Software Garden release of wikiCalc is covered under the GPL 2.0 license, Software Garden is the author of the entire wikiCalc product and owner of the copyright. There have been no "contributions". This will change with the SocialCalc codebase. That code will be developed much more in the open and will accept contributions from others (subject to my approval for now) who will hold the copyright to their contributions. My development work on new features will be going into SocialCalc, and Socialtext will be providing a lot of developer time, too, so that is where the future action will be. SocialCalc will be released under a Socialtext Public License that, being based on the Mozilla Public License 1.1, may be more appropriate for some companies who have issues with the GPL. (For users that want code covered under the GPL, this wikiCalc version 1.0 will always be available under that license.) There will be more news about SocialCalc at a later time.

For me, this is a major milestone. It's been a long time since I've brought a product all the way from conception to 1.0 release. I love programming and I love developing products and the last year and a half has been a treat. I look forward to sharing the next phase with others.
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