Thursday, November 4, 2010

Consumer Cloud

With all this talk of cloud services these days, I thought that I would focus on a cloud related subject that you don't hear much about. Consumer cloud.

The Internet is all a buzz about cloud computing where companies outsource their IT needs to third party vendors whom they pay on a per usage basis. If the app isn't used much, then the bill is low.

What you don't hear much is how cloud computing has trickled down to the consumer, usually in the form of a freemium based file sharing service. I would like to explore this new market by reviewing three players in this space;, Evernote, and Ubuntu One.

The service is quite similar to the more original which was recently acquired by Facebook. You upload files to a centralized service that you can share or collaborate with those whom you invite.

My biggest problem with the service is poor usability. The user experience for invitees is misleading which results in a huge abandonment rate. The user gets an email notifying them that someone has shared something with them and inviting them to click a URL to see the documents. What they are presented with at the resulting page is vague and leads them to believe that they already have an account here when they are really just registering in order to claim access to the shared documents and folders. Everyone that I invited to use the service during my evaluation abandoned the process before accessing any documents.

I am including Evernote in my list of consumer cloud vendors but their freemium model only allows you to type in notes by hand. You cannot upload files of any type when using the free service. Also, you can share files and folders with others but you cannot collaborate. Their access is always read-only. These problems go away when you upgrade to the paid subscription. They have a web based interface but they also have native apps for Windows and Mac OS machines. They also have an iPhone app.

The last vendor that I wish to tell you about is the Ubuntu One service. Unlike Evernote's aggressive freemium model, Ubuntu One has a kinder and gentler model where you get access to most of the core functionality with the free service. You can share and collaborate files of any type and folders with others. You can also store your contacts and notes in the service. The limit is on the amount of storage which is a generous 2GB. After that, you have to pay to be able to get more storage. Their iPhone app is also only for paid subscribers.

Ubuntu is also a distribution of the open source operating system otherwise known as Linux. They take the Debian distribution and customize it for a friendly user experience that, in my humble opinion, rivals the ease of use similar to the Mac OS and surpasses recent versions of Microsoft's consumer OS offerings.

Although I am a frequent user of operating systems made by Microsoft and Apple, Ubuntu is my OS of personal choice. So, I really like Ubuntu One because of its deep integration with the Ubuntu OS. In the file explorer GUI, you simply mark each file or folder to synchronize with Ubuntu One. There is a notes app called Tomboy Notes and any note that you write there will get synchronized with Ubuntu One if you configure your account to do so. Evolution is the default email client that comes with Ubuntu. Not only does it handle multiple POP3 and IMAP email accounts, Evolution also handles calendering, contacts, memos, and tasks. With the latest version of Ubuntu (Maverick Meercat) any contacts that you store in the Ubuntu One Couch DB list also get synchronized with the Ubuntu One service. There is also a web interface so you can share files with your non-Linux friends too. You decide who can access your uploaded files but your contacts and notes are private.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mind Mapping in the Modern Age

Originally pioneered by Tony Buzan, a Mind Map is a type of diagram that is a radial organization of an outline. Mind Mapping is taught in prestigious schools such as MIT.

I like mind mapping. I have always believed that diagrams are the instrument of thought and the mind map is a great diagram for composers of all types or simply for those wishing to organize their ideas.

Here is my short list of open source mind mapping tools that are thriving in 2010.

Summary of Mind Mapping Tools Compared

Labyrinth is a Gnome tool so it is for Linux users only. Labyrinth can be easily installed from the Ubuntu software center. It's not the best tool by far but I end up using it because mind maps created in Labyrinth can be indexed by the search tool Beagle. Here is a screen shot of a labyrinth mind map of this very blog.

Labyrinth Screen shot

Freemind is a great stand-alone tool for mind mapping. The GUI doesn't get in the way of your creativity. Freemind is written in Java so it can be run from Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux. Files saved in one OS can be opened in another.

Semantik is written on top of KDE so it is another Linux only tool. It's focus is to aid students in generating documents based on mind maps. Semantik can also be easily installed from the Ubuntu software center.

You don't install Mind Meister on your local machine because it is a web application that you access through your browser. Mind Meister stays true to the original concepts of mind mapping yet extends those ideas in useful and relevant ways. Mind Meister is a commercial company based on the freemium model so you don't get to fully access all the features without paying a monthly subscription.

Mind Meister diagram exported as a PNG file

At first glance, Bubblus diagrams don't look all that much traditional mind maps. Like Mind Meister, Bubblus is also a web application that you do not install on your local machine. Unlike Mind Meister, Bubblus is free forever so you get full access to all of its features without a monthly subscription fee.

Sample exported Bubbleus diagram

Mind mapping is a great way to explore the hierarchy of ideas through creative diagramming. These five free tools present the state of computer based mind mapping in 2010.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Integrating Email with Voice Mail

Last week, Google announced that they were integrating their VoIP technology with their email service.

Some interpret this as big brother closing the noose around smaller offerings such as Skype. Indeed, maybe that is why Skype is willing to be acquired by Cisco. Let the big boys battle it out.

I have been using Google Voice for a while and I do like the ability to see voice messages that people leave on your phone as text in an email style GUI. The usage pattern seems to be to use text to negotiate when to have a real time phone conversation so this integration does seem to be a natural next step for Google Voice.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Rise of the Social Media Aggregator

I think that it goes without saying that there is a tremendous impact that social media is playing right now on the Internet. Checking out the identity and entertainment lines on my favorite metro style web trends map shows how sites like Twitter, Facebook, Hi5, Bebo, Freindster, Plaxo, Orkut, and Friendfeed take up a considerable amount of the online traffic. Social media features are permeating almost every aspect of both corporate and consumer computing. Many users leverage multiple social networking sites such as 43% of Hi5 users also use MySpace and Facebook users tend to use 2.9 major social networking sites on average.

So, it should come as no surprise that there is now a plethora of applications presenting an aggregated view of multiple social networking sites. Apparently, it must make sense that the more sophisticated and active social networkers want a single UX that works across (and unifies) multiple, heterogeneous social networks.

I guess that the grand-father of this genus would be TweetDeck. They have versions for the Mac, PC, Linux, iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad and support for the Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Linked In, Google Buzz, and Foursquare networks.

Hootsuite is targeting the more dedicated media professional. They do support an aggregated UX for Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In. Their forte is a deeper integration and extension of Twitter with features for statistics, lists, workflow, and brand monitoring.

Digsby combines email, instant messaging, and social media aggregation. They support Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Linked In.

Gwibber GUI

Even the open source folks are getting into the act. Gwibber is a micro-blogging client for an aggregated experience with Twitter,, StatusNet, Facebook, Flickr, Digg, FriendFeed, and Qaiku. I recently ran across Gwibber because it comes pre-installed on the latest LTS (Long Term Support) release of Ubuntu, still the most popular distro for Linux users.

Since social media users appear to want a unified experience in their micro-blogging, how long will it be before there is a recognized need for a unified social profile? I suspect that it will be something beyond what Disqus and Gravatar can provide. Will Google's OpenSocial initiative satisfy that need?

What other brewing trends can you spot amongst the social media set?

Friday, February 12, 2010

3D Education

Two of my interests are virtual worlds and enterprise collaboration. I attended an event recently that touched on both of these interests. Two University professors talked about their recently released book on collaborative learning in virtual worlds.

In the early days of education, the predominant model was a master/apprentice one which didn't scale as the population grew and as democracy became popular. So, the model switched to a declarative one. Now, with the advent of 3D virtual worlds such as Second Life, the apprentice model becomes scalable since there is no economic boundary to physical location anymore.

Other movement has indicated an increased interest in virtual worlds for the enterprise. SAIC, Inc. provides scientific, engineering, systems integration, and technical services and solutions to various branches of the U.S. military, agencies of the U.S. Department of Defense, the intelligence community, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. government civil agencies, state and local government agencies, foreign governments, and customers in select commercial markets. They have recently acquired Forterra Systems, Inc. which provides a virtual world technology focused on enterprise training.

What do you think? Will virtual worlds ever mature beyond that of video games? Is there a legitimate use of virtual world technology in the enterprise? I'd be interested in your opinions.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Flat Enterprise Society

My company has a few collaboration products (Code-Roller and Cogenuity) so I often write about ECM because it is an exciting industry to be in these days.

Enterprise Collaboration is exciting in terms of growth but it is also exciting because its thought leaders have something interesting to say. Folks like Thomas Malone, Andrew McAfee, and Dion Hinchcliffe are doing a lot to advance modern corporate tribal thinking to greater levels of democratic culture.

Like any disruptive innovation, change is required in order to realize any benefits. Change has to come from both the board room and the water cooler in order for it to have any lasting effect. True change must come from above and below, from the executives and the rank-and-file. That turning point is what is usually called the watershed moment in the adoption curve of any paradigm shift.

That is why I got excited when I read this NY Times interview of the CEO of SunGard. Cristóbal Conde explains in day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground terms that any C level player can understand how the old ways of top down management simply won't scale in this modern age of global competition, cheaper communications, and the rising price of oil.

Conde does not come off as pompous. He talks about mistakes that he made before he understood the true value of collaboration. Other valid points that he makes include the fallacy of micro-management, the importance of intellectual curiosity, and the mental illness known as PowerPoint. Sounds provocative? Definitely give this one a read.