Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Et tu, web 2.0?

Well, another KMWorld has come and gone, and beyond catching up with old friends and meeting new folks, there was a lot to learn this time around. I’d have to say in fact, that this was the most productive of the many KMWorld conferences I’ve had the opportunity to attend. Stuff was cutting edge—and applied—not just theoretical “here’s what we’d like to do in KM if we could”.

If I had to pick out the two themes I was most fascinated by it would be the web 2.0 stuff of course, and the number of times I saw social network analysis (SNA) used. While I use as much of the web 2.0 stuff as I can—RSS, IM, blogs, wikis, mashups, VoIP, social networking sites, podcasts, etc.—some of that is due to the fact that I’m both a remote employee as well as someone who’s on the road nearly 100% of the time. Using the web 2.0 stuff is about the only way for me to even attempt to stay on top of current events. Still, hearing all these speakers made me stop and take inventory of just what it is I’m using and if they’re really making my life easier or not. So let’s see:

  • RSS feeds: I’m inundated with enough reading material already, so my feeds are mostly entertainment oriented. Things like the language podcasts, talk radio, and old movies and radio shows. On the trip out to San Jose, I listened to the 1939 radio broadcast of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” It might have only been November, but it was still comforting to hear the story that I’ve seen so many times in film in so many ways (the Mr. Magoo version is still by far and away my favorite). On the whole, RSS is true to its namesake, and since I only use it through iTunes, it’s a no-brainer. I give this one a thumbs up.

  • Podcasts: Literally half of my 80Gb iPod is loaded with this stuff. Again, they’re mostly diversionary things like travel advice columns. Rick Steves is my favorite since I watch his TV shows also, but his podcasts are somewhat long so I have to be in the mood to pay attention that long. That also goes for some of the others, like Frommers, and the BusinessWeek ones, so I’m less apt to actually listen to them. My main client has a daily news podcast that I try to catch up on at least weekly, but that’s just because I feel like I must. The learn a language stuff? Not a chance. Spanish? Chinese? Japanese? Nada. I’ve got all three, but can’t figure out how to learn and retain the stuff after listening to them. A far bit more fun are the video podcasts like old movies (I’ve watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” on that tiny 3” screen), and other public domain stuff. I’m too cheap to actually pay for content. So while I could learn something using podcasts, I don’t, so this is a neutral.

  • IM: This is one of my favorites because it’s so easy to use and unobtrusive. Using Trillian to cobble together my AOL, Yahoo, and MSN IMs at least leaves me with only one interface to deal with. Unlike some folks, I’m not bothered by a spontaneous, out of nowhere IM popping up on my screen. For work colleagues, I like to use it just for signaling purposes—to ask if they have time for a call. For friends, just to say “hi” or have them let me know that I’ve (unintentionally) ignored them for too long. It’s quick, easy, and most importantly doesn’t clog up my email. For those who have their IMs forwarded to their cell phones even better. I hate texting on my phone, but being able to type out text messages to the phones of others is a good thing. Definitely a life enhancer and a big thumbs up.

  • Blogs: Well, truth be told, not so much—interest that is. Maybe folks have a story to tell, but first I’ve got to get out there to read them. Maybe I should use RSS to at least bring them into one place and read the headlines, but then I’m back to reading just to figure out if I should read more. I wonder what this really means for the knowledge marketplace. After all, the supply siders are definitely out there, just offering up their knowledge wares for the taking; but I’m not buying. In most cases, I haven’t even found the market. I had a running dialog with a reader of this blog once. I thought my rationale—and math skills—were spot on for supporting my non-reading of blogs. So it’s fait accompli—I generally don’t get around to them unless I have a specific topic I’m looking for. So what do I expect for this blog? Hello out there…out there…out there…A thumbs down here (so far).

  • Wikis: To be fair, I’ve only been a user and not a contributor to this most democratic of publishing mediums. Power to the people has never rung more true than for wikis. In spite of that—you can call me old school, or even just old—I don’t allow my MBA students to use wikis (read: wikipedia) as citations in their papers. Although I’ve discovered the value of wikis, mostly for arcane subjects that the Enclycopaedia Britannica would consider blasphemy even to breath the words, I’m still not ready to think of wikis as authoritative as those sources sporting an ISBN. A solid neutral here, since I have had fun with wikis.

  • Mashups: A cool idea. To be against them would be like challenging motherhood and apple pie (Sorry, that last inference was clearly intended for an American reader. Let’s just say they’re both really good things.). I’ve used a few, with the most memorable being someone’s mashup of Google Earth with music and locations of famous WW II battle locations like Iwo Jima or Pearl Harbor. Each element by themselves isn’t so unusual, but the cleverness of mashing them all together made for an interesting experience. A solid thumbs up for mashups.

  • VoIP (Voice over IP): Probably the best known of this group of apps is Skype, a free application that is also free to use between two users if communicating from computer to computer. There are variations on the theme, such as computer to landline or mobile phone, or personal phone numbers, or voicemail, but those cost money (of course). Still, when I’m able to chat with my daughter half a world away while she’s in Japan sans cost, I’m all for it. Over a DSL or better connection, the sound quality is pretty good, with little lag (although a lag sometimes is annoying, it can also be pretty funny to hear yourself at the other end again—kind of like speaking a ‘round’ by yourself). If there’s a drawback to this app, it’s only that I can’t find enough users to keep the cost to zero. Oh by the way, when I get stationary (this is being done at 35,000 feet), I’m supposed to call a colleague via Skype. She’s in Norway. I’ll be in San Diego. Interestingly, our biggest hurdle won’t be technology related. It’ll be finding a time that we’re both agreeable to. A big thumbs up just because of the frugalness in me.

  • Social networking sites: My site of choice is LinkedIn. Not because it’s so good, but because MySpace seems a bit scary, and FaceBook is off limits to me (according to my twenty-something daughter, who would never get over the embarrassment of her father having a page there!). While I still don’t think LinkedIn is fun to use, a key reason why I rarely go into it, I have used it both to help connect others as well as to ask others to connect me with someone. So for that purpose, the social networking aspect seems to work. A downside to not accessing it much I’ve found, is that changes to my resume or interests, or desire to connect with others doesn’t happen very often. Now fortunately, my resume hasn’t changed in the last 4 years, but I’ve noticed that some of my connections have out-of-date profiles, rendering this tool a bit less reliable. Still, I wouldn’t give it up—thumbs up.

  • Virtual worlds: Now technically, I don’t use VWs, even though technically I could. I do have a Second Life account, but don’t have enough connections with others there to make it worth my while to investigate more fully at this time. And, while the idea of flying around just by flapping my arms appeals to me, I still haven’t even figured out how to do anything but launch my F-18 Super Hornet straight into the ocean off the flightdeck of the CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagan in Microsoft Flight Simulator X. It’s safe to say that I won’t be picked for Top Gun school anytime soon. If I could figure out a use—with others—then VWs would get my nod. Right now it’s just an idea to me—thumbs sideways for life enhancement.

So if you’ve been keeping score (but why in the world would you?), that makes about half—5 of 9 to be exact—of the web 2.0 tools I’ve discussed a positive experience for me. I’m not exactly a technology luddite, so I wonder if this is just because I’m old? And, if you’ve come this far with me, then you know what comes next. What’s your experience with web 2.0 applications? Any Gen Y’ers out there willing to share?