IT dept as experimentation agent: Podcasting at MIT

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/05/18

Came across this MIT podcasting site via Dave Winer this AM.

What I find interesting is how their “Information Services & Technology” group is actively encouraging the intentional and informal exploration and experimentation of emerging learning technologies like podcasts. From the site —

IS&T encourages members of the MIT community to contribute podcasts and other audio downloads of content of value to the MIT community. We are pleased to collect these contributions and to promote understanding and use of this emerging communications mode. … Submissions from members of the MIT community that are more informal, ad hoc, and open. These submissions can be directly added via the IS&T Podcast Wiki.

Until our IT and Web groups see themselves as agents of exploration, we’re not going to see much of the exciting and promising informal learning technology take of “inside the firewall” of organizations.

It’s only through trying stuff on that we can find things that work.

Until our IT depts are not skittish around words like “blog-podcast-tags-wiki-opensource-wordpress-php-mysql-yada-whatever-amen”, we’re gonna have a hard time trying stuff like this on to see what works.

Kudos to MIT’s IT dept for showing us a different way to go about things.

Brightcove to TiVo: Screencasting just got epic

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/05/10

Another paradigm shifting announcement yesterday in the world of web video. Online video service Brightcove inked a deal with TiVo to bring Brightcove video to TiVo’s.

From the article —

“If it’s on Brightcove, you’ll be able to watch it on your TV using TiVo,” Jeremy Alliare, Brightcove’s CEO, said in a statement.

Now, if you are unfamiliar with Jeremy, he’s the guy that created Cold Fusion, Adobe’s (formerly Macromedia’s) easy to use server scripting language and was Macromedia’ former CTO.

What this might mean for eLearning is that, if you put a video on Brightcove, depending on the details, you may also be able to distribute it to TiVo.

If this is true, mark the day — screencasting just got epic.

Thanks to Prismix (a flex blog) for calling this one out.

Why Tags? Because “people are very bad and inconsistent at organizing things”

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/04/28

Had a great discussion with a colleague today about advantages to tags and folksonomies for navigating corporate intranets.

I know it was a good conversation because her eyes did not glaze over as I went on like a tech fanboy about why we should try re-architecting some of our web projects around these concepts.

(Quick note — since I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on the blog yet — I am now working remotely for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford — and yes I still live in Seattle — downtown Renton specifically — you know, the future home of the Sonics)

This was much better than my feeble previous attempts to advocate tags to other folks I’ve worked with on other projects.

(When someone’s eyes glaze over as I begin the third sentence of my explanation, it’s a pretty safe bet that I’ve made things too complicated.)

What happened between the two conversations?

I kept my eye out for concise descriptions that would help me craft a compelling “Why Tags?” nugget.

On that hunt, I came across this —

There were several severe problems with this folder-based approach. First, people are very bad and inconsistent at organizing things. One day will go into the “finance” folder and another day it will go into the “favorite links” folder.

It’s a quote from Ari Paparo’s “Getting It Right” post that I learned about via Scott Berkun back in December.

Ari was writing about Yahoo’s acquisition of tag leading — the cool thing about Ari’s post is that he’s writing from the perspective of an entrepreneur who started and failed with a web based bookmarking company back in the day (circa 1999-2000).

The main difference he points out between the very similar companies is that of tags/folksonomies — had them and has succeeded where did not have them and failed.

In his words —

Congratulations to Josh on the acquisition. Yahoo will make a great partner for the bookmarking service. Now a little part of me is cringing as I write this. Having founded a bookmarking company in 1999 with pretty much the exact same vision as the new crop of services, I’ve got to feel, well, a little stupid. (or angry, or depressed, or whatever). Maybe writing about it will make me feel better and maybe even help me make a point or two about product development.

As those of us in the eLearning space continue to flesh out our training ecosystems, we’re going to need to be able to concisely advocate things like tags that are going to help our users kick ass.

Cox on “Don’t Make Me Think” CMS litmus test

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/11/14

A couple of weeks ago, Jon Cox, of Xaraya fame, picked up on this post comparing Sharepoint to increasingly robust open source technologies (like Xaraya).

Jon noted that he did not think that Xaraya would pass the “Don’t Make Me Think” (DMMT) litmus test I referenced.

It was great to continue the conversation through comments to his post — I was able to clarify what I was saying and make a connection with folks I greatly respect and admire.

My main point there is — I think Xaraya can pass the DMMT test because developers/implementers can configure the various public and editorial facing interfaces into just about any presentational look and feel they want — which is not the case with the current version Sharepoint (though, I get the impression that this is going to change in upcoming versions).

This makes Xaraya much more powerful in my book — because usable interfaces can be slapped onto it when necessary.

Cox’s point is well taken though —

Xaraya is not very DMMT out of the box for the site implementer — it takes time to get your head around the way the system works — which makes sense for developers (where much power is possible, much training is usually required) — but this should never be the case when we are talking about the end users like anonymous site visitors or editorial contributors.

If software lived in meatspace

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/10/24

Great post on Signal vs Noise over at 37signals the other day proposing that “If software was physical you’d have to look away”.

It’s not only funny, but thought provoking as well (always a powerful combination in my book).

The idea came to mind again yesterday as I was talking with a friend who is a tech leader at a large healthcare organization in the Seattle area.

We were on the topic of content management systems (or knowledge management systems, if you prefer) and why the big expensive enterprise ones, like Microsoft’s Sharepoint products, result in so much suckage.

In reflecting on our discussion, I realized there are several ways to make the case — here are a few for instances —

For Instance 1: I can talk about how these types of systems don’t follow baseline “Don’t Make Me Think” usability principles — which works really well if the folks you are talking with are aware of Steve Krug’s work (and better still if they agree with it).

Even if they haven’t heard of “Don’t Make Me Think”, I’ve found that I usually sound smarter than I am (often the case — ha ha ha) because the title is funny and my sound bite description of Krug’s thesis often gels with folksy conventional wisdom — even if you don’t spend your free time studying human interaction and user interface design best practices.

(For the record, my soundbite synopsis of Krug’s thesis goes like this — “We think people use computers with much thoughtfulness, like many of us tech folks do — but, the research is showing they don’t — most folks actually go to a screen and just start clicking on stuff — often getting confused really fast and then giving up, or, alternately, settling into a process of smoldering frustration if they can’t accomplish the task at hand” — my colleague Christian Watson has posted this great picture of this point from the back cover of the book in his review of the second edition)

For Instance 2: I can describe how inflexible a Sharepoint system is when compared to some of the open source solutions that are quickly reshaping this business space.

For those of you that don’t know, there are a lot of free tools out there that are hands down kicking Sharepoint’s ass — examples include Xaraya (customer facing implementation of which can be seen via these sites from Sacred Heart Medical Center of Spokane, WA and The Schwab Foundation), Drupal, WordPress, Moveable Type, Mambo, Writeboard, etc.

For example — I can make most of the open source tools look like this or this or this (if it makes usability sense) but I can only make the Sharepoint site look like an ugly stepsister of this even if it is, to put it politely, not optimal for my users.

For Instance 3 (The Closer): I could take the 37signals cue and just say, “If Sharepoint existed in meatspace, you’d have to look away”.

The folks with good visualization skills would immediately feel nauseated, say “Yep — you’re right” and we’d all be moving on to the next topic.

This third method, in my book, is a noteworthy and cost effective method of rapid systems prototyping — ha ha ha

Tutorials overlaid onto live software applications??

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/10/17

I am back from presenting at the Cerner Healthcare Conference in Florida (hello humidity!). Got an interesting question from the lively Q&A following my panel presentation.

A clinical applications analyst (who is an RN) asked if any of us knew of eLearning systems that overlaid help or tutorials onto live software applications.

While I knew I had looked at one about a year ago, I could not recall the name of the product or vendor at the time of the session. Did a Google desktop search this AM and found it (that application is significantly increasing my daily productivity for finding info I know is somewhere on my machine, but is at the blurry edges of my recall)

Was thinking of the Epiplex (unfortunate name, I know — gives a connotation of perplexing epilepsy, which I, for one, do not associate with positive software system training experiences).

Had first heard of it mentioned in an article titled “Simulation-based Application Training: A Case Study” from Bersin & Associates December 2004 “What Works in E-Learning” newsletter.

Sounded like an intriguing concept and since Bersin seems like a pretty credible eLearning consulting organization, I scheduled a demo. Here’s the details of what I learned.

Epiplex is a product of a company called Epiance. It’s got a feature called ‘Desktop Assistant’ that is described on their website via the following —

Delivers Cue Cards, onscreen support for complex tasks and processes that guide the user through the application, encouraging and enforcing best practices.

If anyone knows of other products/vendors offering this kind of approach, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about them.

Most content management systems (CMS’s) fail because nobody wants to be an editor

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/10/04

Was having a conversation with a collegue today on why content management systems (CMS’s), or knowledge management systems (KMS’s), if you prefer, often fail.

I relayed a core idea I picked up last year from an article by Jeffrey Veen of Adaptive Path, titled “Why Content Management Fails”.

The nutshell that really struck a chord with me was that these projects often fail because no one wants to be an editor.

Content management is not a technology problem. If you’re having trouble managing the content on your Web site, it’s because you have an editorial process problem. Your public-facing Web site is a publication. Treat it like one. If you’re not in the business of producing publications, you won’t be able to do better by plugging in a technology and crossing your fingers. Rather, solve the problem with people.

Would really recommend reading the entire article if this idea resonates with you.