Write a Subject line!

I need to break form my passive del.icio.us link-blogging activities to quote a section from 43 Folder on “Writing sensible email messages

“You can make it even easier for your recipient to immediately understand why you’ve sent them an email and to quickly determine what kind of response or action it requires. Compose a great “Subject:” line that hits the high points or summarizes the thrust of the message. Avoid “Hi,” “One more thing…,” or “FYI,” in favor of typing a short summary of the most important points in the message”

As many of my friends know, I’m fairly adamant about email — ok, perhaps even militant, but one of my major peeves is email without a subject!

If your email has any importance, a relevant or as 43 Folders says, a great subject is IMHO the most significant element to an email message.

(In most cases) if an email lacks a subject, I simply will not read it.

Even spam includes a subject!

Business Information Management Trends

Shiv Sing posted an article on Line56.com regarding the Intranet Trends to Watch. Many of the trends Shiv lists are not surprising. Like for example, the corporate telephone directory is not the killer app on the intranet.

However, sadly with all the emphasis over the years on knowledge management, the recent hype around personal search tools and of course the web search power houses, Information Retrieval is still an unsolved problem on the intranet.

Shiv cites a recent IDC report and also provides a glimmer of hope with respect to how employee blogs can turn the problem inside-out:

“IDC recently reported that 40 percent of an intranet’s users cannot find the information they need to do their jobs on their corporate intranet. IDC also mentioned that searchers are successful in finding what they seek just 50 percent of the time or less. It is obvious that even with a plethora of enterprise search solutions in the marketplace; the information retrieval problem still hasn’t been solved. There is good news though, employee weblogs are transforming how organizations perceive, interact, value and share information. The emphasis is moving away from searching for specific pieces of information occasionally to scanning information across a variety of sources (primarily weblogs) on a daily basis. This weblog phenomenon reduces the importance of information retrieval while raising knowledge levels across the whole organization.”

For the most part I tend to agree that blogs in a corporate setting will transform the way organizations disseminate and manage information.

However, I believe what Jon Udell has been saying for a long time will have a broader impact. Specifically with more programmable email clients that embody extensible metadata.

Jon Udell: Meta-mail: “Most business processes mediated by email have both formal aspects (you ask me to perform a task by a certain date) and informal aspects (we negotiate, and realize something else we hadn’t thought of should take precedence). The conversational nature of email is its irreplaceable strength. That’s why we keep on re-inventing email within special-purpose applications. And it’s why I’ve long argued that our general-purpose email software has to be more programmable, and has to have robust support for extensible metadata.”

To me the perfect match would be a marriage of Outlook and InfoPath with an open standards base extensible metadata framework such as XForms.

Brewster Kahle Universal Access to Human Knowledge

The other day I watched Brewster Kahle’s inspiring presentation at last month’s NotCon session titled, “Universal Access to Human Knowledge” (Page with 54 Minute MPEG @ 120 MB — worth every bite ;-)

For those that don’t know Brewster Kahle, he was an early member of the parallel supercomputing company Thinking Machines. From there he went on to develop, found and sell to AOL WAIS, Inc. which was probably the internet’s first global search engine (years before the web took off). Later Kahle started Alexa Internet (the “related links” service in IE), which he sold to Amazon.com.

After the sale, Kahle has focused his attention on the Internet Archive whose mission is building a digital library of the Internet.

However, more recently Kahle has expanded this mission to provide universal access to all human knowledge.

There’s not doubt, this guy is a big thinker.

In particular, he is evangelizing and I believe funding the effort to digitally scan the world’s public domain out-of-print books and making them available on-demand via Internet Bookmobile, which is essentially a computer, printer, binder and satellite that can be stationed anywhere.

In fact, he says that it only costs $1 to print and bind a book, whereas it costs US libraries $2 to issue a book.

Of course there’s the upfront costs of scanning an entire book, which Kahle says costs $10 per book, but you get to keep the book! No more late fees!

Anyway, this is just a glimmer of what Kahle is up to these days. The video or audio of Kahle and other speakers at the NotCon event is certainly worth a view/listen.

Adobe Designer 6.0 preview

As expected, Adobe has come back at MSFT’s InfoPath with the preview release of Adobe Designer 6.0

Jon Udell of course is spot on with a review in his blog of Designer, which can also be found in this weeks print edition of Info World:

From Jon: “Despite evident weaknesses, the Designer/Reader duo offers two key strengths: digital-paper fidelity, and a ubiquitous runtime. Using the free Reader, I was able to fill out a Designer-built form, print a high-fidelity copy for my records, and post its XML data to a Web server. No matter how the future of e-forms unfolds, that’s going to be a popular scenario.”

Apparently the beta period has expired, but you can still get to the beta sign-up page via Google.

More on E-mail for Everything

Ironically, the week my InfoWorld subscription seems to have lapsed in the renewal process, Jon Udell, in his latest column, makes some of the very same points I mentioned yesterday regarding the bastardization of email for file sharing.

Jon writes:

“It drives me nuts when people send me multi-megabyte files as e-mail attachments. Don’t they know a better way?”

“E-mail is a poor file-transfer solution in many ways, but it makes perfect sense to users. An e-mail with an attachment compresses notification and delivery into a single step.”

Of course Jon is much more eloquent than I in his rant and he follows it up in his blog with some interesting responses.

Stop Using Email to Share Files

It is increasingly vexing to me the way email is the defacto standard for sharing files. The reality is that email was never designed for sharing files.

It is an all too common occurrence in a corporate setting where multi-megabyte PowerPoint and Excel files get slammed around to numerous recipients on a distribution list with disparate versions shooting back at the sender and no easy way to consolidate the flow.

Granted there are countless solutions to this problem that document management, collaboration, portals, version control systems and even peer-to-peer have solved, but the reality is that they usually require more effort than simply slapping that bloated file into an email and kicking it out to everyone and their mother.

Ugh! The madness!

Some day there will be a ubiquitous solution that is agnostic to an OS and a hardware platform. I suspect that given the killer-app-ness of email, it will be something that seamlessly grafts itself to that process.

Of course there are some very simple solutions like You Send It, which essentially saves your attachment to its web server then pops out an email with a link to everyone on your distribution list. However, as simple as it is to use, it is still an out-of-context process.

Perhaps next-gen mail servers with intelligent content distribution, version tracking, update/edit reconciliation and off-line synchronization is the way to go. And I’m sure there are solutions like that out there or in the works, but they are far from being everywhere like good ol’SMTP.

Someday the madness will end.

Flying the Two Way Web

After reading a bit about, Paper Airplane, my first impression is that it sounds a bit like Groove, but differs in that it’s integrated into the browser (Mozilla/FireFox currently) and built on-top of the Java JXTA and P2P Sockets framework. I haven’t tried it yet, but it seems worth a look even in its early beta state.

Paper Airplane is a Mozilla plugin that empowers people to easily create collaborative communities, known as Paper Airplane Groups, without setting up servers or spending money. It does this by integrating a web server into the browser itself, including tools to create collaborative online communities that are stored on the machine. Paper Airplane Groups are stored locally on a user’s machine. A peer-to-peer network is created between all of the Paper Airplane nodes that are running in order to resolve group names, reach normally unreachable peers due to firewalls or NAT devices, and to replicate content.”

Dude, I don’t quite get it?

I was (and still am) fond of what the OpenCola guys created back in the P2P buzz days, but this recent spin-off, “Dude, check this out!” [DCTO?], started by a few of the OC founders and development managers, has me scratching my head — albeit OC did as well. So perhaps I’ll simply reserve dismissal and keep an eye on the progress.

For the most part DCTO seems to be a hybrid of Metafilter, Technorati, Feedster and the Delicious social bookmarks manager.

Here’s a quote from the site:

Dude, Check This Out! is an entirely new application for finding, storing, and retrieving all the great stuff that you find on the Web. The Dude is the easiest way to share that stuff with your friends and other contacts, and it’s also a great way to meet people who think like you.”

In addition, it appears they are doing some clever stuff with all this meta-data:

“The Dude is powered by two extremely sophisticated search technologies: associative relevance and semantic search. The associative relevance search allows the Dude suggestion engine to suggest new items to you that are likely to be of interest to you, based on your likemindedness to other users.

Semantic search allows searches of the Dudesphere, so that you can find items on your own blog, or on the blogs of others. Our semantic search engine, called “ColaSearch (Collaborative Object Look-up Architecture Search) is the world’s first generic social search engine, and it will allow us to eventually rewire information content on the Web based on implicit social relationships.” (via the FAQ)

Social Networking in the Enterprise

Ephraim Schwartz writes in InfoWorld about how Social Networking Software is targeting the corporate enterprise, with startups such as
ZeroDegrees,
Interface Software,
ContactNetwork, and
Spoke targeting CRM…

“Leveraging advances in communication and integration, a new kind of application — corporate social networking — is being folded into the CRM feature set.”

“Companies like Siebel and Salesforce.com are watching this space. These social networking companies will be gobbled up real quick,”

In addition, I believe that Microsoft and IBM are watching this space as well, because in my opinion Social Networking Software is a natural extension to enterprise messaging software such as Exchange and Domino.

Web of Human Knowledge

Ross Mayfield links to a fascinating article on
Boxes and Arrows by Alex Wright about Paul Otlet: The forgotten forefather of information architecture.

“In 1934, years before Vannevar Bush dreamed of the memex, decades before Ted Nelson coined the term “hypertext,” Paul Otlet envisioned a new kind of scholar’s workstation: a moving desk shaped like a wheel, powered by a network of hinged spokes beneath a series of moving surfaces. The machine would let users search, read and write their way through a vast mechanical database stored on millions of 3×5 index cards.”

“This new research environment would do more than just let users retrieve documents; it would also let them annotate the relationships between one another, “the connections each [document] has with all other [documents], forming from them what might be called the Universal Book.”

There’s much-much more… The article is lengthy (compared to most blog posts), but well worth the time.

Serendipitous Data Connections

CNET News.com has an article on a new Wharton Team that appears to be using k-log-like techniques to rediscover serendipitous data connections.

“Although an unprecedented amount of information about technology is now available online, Ranieri notes that “everything is set up to look for exactly what you are looking for,” rather than to assist in the process of finding crossover, innovative applications. In addition, information is “stored in silos” that are hard for non-specialists to penetrate. Until now, there has been no way to search for attributes like “lighter, faster or quicker” with technology categories, he says.

The Wharton team’s new process aims to meet this challenge by using a methodology that “combines computer research techniques with human research techniques,” MacMillan says. Kimbrough likens the new process to the methodology Google uses. Although Google’s search engine is automated, it exploits information that thousands of individuals (at no cost to Google) painstakingly collected and loaded onto their Web sites. Kimbrough explains that Google’s page-ranking algorithm “exploits tons of work (done by) people who put Java links on their Web sites; it exploits their manual labor.”

the Wharton team’s new process searches through documents and makes connections between highly technical descriptions of properties–often familiar only to narrow “silos” of technologies–and broader terms that could suggest market applications to those who work in other areas. As Ranieri describes it, “We found a clever way to make a link between attributes and markets.”

Although it’s too early for developers to discuss technical details, Kimbrough acknowledges that this new process requires a significant amount of human input. “In part, we use human beings to create databases of attributes that can be matched up.”

Intraspect sold to Vignette

Via Due Diligence

“Enterprise collaboration and groupware company Intraspect Software has been sold to public company Vignette for $20m in cash and stock.”

Tim Oren has a nice quote about the space Introspect served too…

“This one’s a cautionary tale not only on the late-90’s investing boom/bust (Intraspect’s history covers nearly the whole saga), but on the long selling cycles and difficulty of extracting revenue from businesses for software of this type. Social Software advocates and investors take note.”

Indeed.

Collaboration Culture

Joe Wilcox of Jupiter’s Microsoft Monitor Research Service talks about MSFT’s collaboration culture within business groups and relates it to what former Apple executive Michael Mace wrote in his rant about Who Killed Apple Computer?:

From Collaboration: The Microsoft Way:
“Microsoft’s collaborative culture makes the company very responsive to competitive threats. The character also means Microsoft can quickly focus resources from multiple product divisions when executives see there is a need. These could be seen during the so-called browser wars with Netscape, when Microsoft rapidly churned out new Internet Explorer features and caught up with Netscape in about 18 months and three product versions…”

“Too often, success in any market has more to do with how well a business is run rather than how good the products are. Apple’s products often are more highly-regarded than Microsoft’s. High regard is fine, but in business sales count more; sales success is on Microsoft’s side. I believe the company’s collaboration culture is one of the major reasons.”

In general I would have to agree that this applies to any company or group. In addition, establishing a collaboration culture is not a technology problem, because as I said a few weeks ago, “…a healthy community doesn’t need a formalize process or a highly specialized set of tools to successfully collaborate.”

The collaboration culture needs to be fostered by good leadership. The solution will soon follow.